The Kudzu Review: Issue No. 51

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Contents NONFICTION .............................................................................................................................................................. 3 “Gilding of Lily” by Skyler Johnson .......................................................................................................................... 4 “Shadow’s Gathering” by Brian Toups ..................................................................................................................... 7 FICTION ...................................................................................................................................................................... 8 “Imp Cloud” by Aria Yagobi ..................................................................................................................................... 9 “Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” by Peter Melero ........................................................................................................ 16

POETRY .................................................................................................................................................................... 28 .................................................................................................................................................................................. 28 “My Father Lectures Me From Venezuela” by Francisco Marquez ......................................................................... 29 “Serendipity (City)” by Max Mittler ........................................................................................................................ 32

Cover Art by Michelle Lafrance 2

Figure 1 Jordan Berns


Figure 2 Jordan Berns 3

“Gilding of Lily” by Skyler Johnson The place was a wreck. Her clothes, her brilliantly white, clean clothes were scattered throughout the apartment. If I weren’t home most of the time, I would think she was having an affair. It’s the way her shoes end up somehow on the dining room table, or her pants trailed into the bedroom, or her blouses hanging from the coat rack. *** The tights itch against the inside of my thigh. The women all have yellow teeth. Yellow teeth chomp down on that yellow gum. The streetlight above me is yellow, casting a yellow pallor on my tan skin. The yellow is making me ill. I look around to all of the chomping women, tug at the crotch of my tights. Yellow eyes study me from a balcony upstairs. I wish I had nine lives so I could live mine over. *** His eyes take on a sharper look. He blames me for it all. He told me the letter didn’t work, only made it worse. “She went out last night,” he chokes out. Out where? To dinner? To the grocery store? To another man? “Out with them,” he says as he flicks his eyes toward the street and clenches his fists. *** She demanded we put the sofa by the window overlooking the street. I was confused by why she needed it to be in that spot and not across from the television. She says the air flow is better near the window. Air flow? I kept walking back and forth across the room, trying to feel the air flow, tilting my face back and forth like a hound picking up a scent, but I couldn’t get it. I know why the sofa had to be in that spot. I watched her at night, as she stared for hours at the women below. Even the brutal cold couldn’t keep her from jamming her forehead up against the glass, and touching it so lightly with her fingertips there were barely ever any prints showing in the morning. *** My handwriting seemed too small on a letter that was so big. It was being forced. All I could hear was him saying, “You did this to her, you know. You stole her from me before she was even mine.” Oh, she used to radiate during the lessons, her eyes so bright. Bright and green like her favorite crayon. “Fern,” she would say, eyes wide like she was telling me something important, “my favorite color is fern.” *** Her hair stuck to the sweat on her face, frozen. The air froze it there. Her heels hit the cement hard, her breathing was labored. I wondered what could possibly be making her run like that. She pushed into the building, so I hid in the closet across from the kitchen, waiting for her to burst through the door. She did. She ran into our bedroom and rummaged around in the drawers. Her whispers made their way to my ears, something about it being what she had to do. Her long legs showed through the slats in the door. Fishnets. I couldn’t think of where she’d gotten those. She tugged against the door. 4

Please don’t, I repeated in my mind over and over, begged the door not to release her into that world below our window. Her protests got stronger as she tugged more violently and the door gave. *** The night I started, I had cut my hip on a jagged edge of the railing coming up to the apartment. Twenty stitches it took to sew me up. The painkillers made me nauseous so I sat up for a while, wandering about the apartment until I caught sight of them down below. They were magnificent. The street light they stood under made it seem as if they had an aura around them. Spindly arms hinged on sharp shoulders stroked the air as they brought the cigarettes up to their thin lips, their chests rising as if their life depended on the poison. Smoke drifted out their mouths and flooded up their noses. There’s a reason it’s called the French inhale. Perfection. They seemed as if they were born for it. *** Bent over the stove, spatula in hand, pushing the eggs tenderly from one side of the pan to the other was the first time I noticed the purple spots running along the underside of her right arm. It was six months since the night she went down on the street, six months since smoking the Gitanes with the dark skinned woman in a velvet miniskirt as town cars drove past slowly, perusing their options. *** Five years old and my mother would tell me to never look them in the eye. They were evils, she would call them. Never look them in the eye, or in the mouth because you never knew what was going to come out of it. I didn’t care if they were evils, I looked them square in the eye, looked at their twisted mouths and found them so beautiful, the way they lurked below, the way their eyes were so dark. They were so exotic compared to my mother and all the people who came for tea and attended the extravagant dinner parties. *** I watch the dark woman suck the smoke in, her eyes rolling back, gold eyeliner sparkling like the stars. Dark brown stains and lumps freckle the right side of the woman’s outstretched neck. Her eyes land on me, snarling, she brushes her hair in front of her neck, covering the rash. “Once you got the worm, spread it.” The woman says, puckering her lips, not blinking, raising her eyebrows as if in a challenge. *** The door shut with a soft click. I stood on the sidewalk, following the dark skinned woman’s movements through the upstairs’ windows, watching as she slipped out of her pants and unbuttoned her blouse. I moved my eyes away as the woman pulled the sheer lace of her bra over her head, and looped her fingers underneath the band of her underwear. I stood there, horrified at how much power this one person had over me. The woman in the window made no move to close the blinds. ***


Through the window, I saw her cheek was bruising, matching the color of her nipples. The burnt umber of her skin created a sharp silhouette against the backdrop of the sun on the white marble walls of her bathroom.


“Shadow’s Gathering” by Brian Toups I’d never sight-fished for specks before. The bayou behind my house in south Louisiana is too murky for that. But here on Pensacola bay, you can see everything under a bright light at night. I have a glow in the dark lure that’s crab-shaped and lucky as a pelican in a bait bucket. I cast it as far as I can. They have a nice rig here, my cousins. The light is from a high-school football stadium and I can’t look at it. The pier goes out far enough to feel alone in the dark. I’m sitting on the sun-splintered planks, and the water is close, but shallow. It’s quiet and awfully still. The water is pale yellow in the light, and I can see big monster specks cruising the bottom—speckled trout—good eating, fried hot with some Tony’s. My cousin Daniel is back from icing his second one, and he’s casting with me. His line goes two boat-lengths to my one. He’s helping me, but only because his folks said to. “Let go of the line a little later when you cast,” he says. “Okay, like this?” “Still a little later.” He’s holding his line like a sword, reeling smooth. He jerks it every few seconds like he’s fighting, or maybe dancing. “The fish like movement,” he says. “You make it look easy.” “Just wait,” he nods toward a school of ten or more. “You will too.” I’m done reeling and cast again, a little deeper into the dark. The shadows move in and out of the light. That’s what fish look like in three feet of water—shadows. I look up at Daniel’s face and he’s got shadows, too. He’s staring hard at the fish. His pole is charming one close. It’s intimate. He does this all the time. So I’m looking at him: he’s got the same face dad had when he was making mom laugh. It’s a face that knows I’m watching but doesn’t look back. He’s working at something, measuring every motion of his hands as his fingers roll that twine over and over. I know then that I’ll never be a fisherman. “Got a bite?” I ask. He hushes me, still looking ahead and reeling faster. Now he really looks like dad. The stubble is dark on his jaw. There’s a shadow under his neck, shifting with his frown and gathering like no one’s watching. I want to push him in the water—to reach out and push him in and hold him there, deep. I want to put my heel on his bare neck until his shoulders roll in and he’s just another shadow, chasing bait until the tide goes out. Then he laughs and he’s Daniel again. “Got another one!” he looks at me, excited, jumping on his toes. “Get the net, Toby.” I jump too, afraid he’d heard me thinking. “Where?” “By the shrimp boiler, hurry. This one’s a pappa.” 7

Figure 3 Kristen Howard


“Imp Cloud” by Aria Yagobi It was just past seven on Halloween morning when Arty Ross shook me awake. The sun was starting to creep through my curtains, but I was in no mood to get up. There wasn’t even a client. Arty had gotten an anonymous call, something about a disturbance over in a suburb in Raleigh, North Carolina—some sort of weird clouds had been showing up every night for a week. He had a hunch about what was going on, and wanted to follow up on it, for the public good. I was in no position to argue. Ross & Weir, Supernatural Investigators. He’d put my name on the window, but that didn’t mean I had much say in the matter. I was still sleeping rent-free, courtesy of Arty, in the apartment above the office. As far as I was concerned, how Arty ran his business was none of mine. He treated it more like a hobby than an occupation, and rightly so. When you had as much money as he did, you got to do whatever you wanted. Me, though? Without that apartment and the cut of the profits Arty gave me, I would have had to work some shitty nine-to-five, maybe even move back in with my parents. If I wanted to keep getting paid, I had to do what Arty wanted. I threw on my black canvas duster and holstered up a pair of revolvers, then hopped in the passenger seat of the pickup. We got into town that evening. The last bits of light from the sun lit up a greenish-gray cloud over a gated community on the south side of the suburb. “Imp cloud,” Arty said. “Knew it.” He parked across the street from the entrance. “Looks like we’re dealing with an imp herald. If we do this right, question the guy before we kill him. I’ll get a sample of imp breath.” Arty hopped out of the car, and I followed him, hoping that he’d fill me in on what we were dealing with without going too in-depth. We walked through the open gates and started working our way around the community. Arty kept his eyes open for any signs of the imp herald, but I didn’t have much of a clue what he was looking for. A swarm of kids slowly flooded in after us, their parents walking with them and trying to keep them in check. It must have been a rich community. Every kid knew that rich people had the best candy. Vampires, skeletons, witches, ghosts, werewolves, and zombies were everywhere, and for once, I didn’t have to shoot any of them in the face. The kids headed for the houses near the front. A few of the houses had unguarded bowls of candy next to the door. I guess some people had more trust in kids than others. That, or more candy. “At least we’ll fit in with everyone else tonight,” I said, eyeing Arty’s bizarre choice of attire. Strings of half-dollar-sized clay beads were hung around his neck, wrists, and ankles. He wasn’t dressed like that for nothing—he was a shaman, the beads his weapons. Each one had a different spell he had made in advance. Whenever he needed to cast one, he just had to crush a bead. With me and my duster, neither of us were the most normal-looking sort of people. Still, I was about guns, and he was about magic. The perfect crime-fighting duo—as long as the criminals needed to be shot or burned. Or frozen. Or eaten by spiders. Arty pretty much had it all down. Since he had such a wide range of spells, Arty was well-equipped to handle most of the monsters we dealt with. He still had use for my help, though. Bullets were much cheaper and easier to get than his spell beads. He had to craft those himself. Some had relatively common ingredients, but others 9

needed rarer stuff, and they all took days to mix and harden. Me? I only had to go to a store to stock up on ammo. It was surprising how many things could be killed with a few .44 hollow point rounds to the head. Whenever we dealt with something that couldn’t, Arty handled it, but he always gave me something to do. On the last case, he had me throwing salt at a ghost to keep it busy while he found a more permanent solution. “So, what exactly are we looking for?” I asked, risking information overload. If I didn’t know what we were doing, there was no point in me being there. “Imp herald.” Arty fanned through his small leather bestiary. It would have looked like one of those tiny black address books people have, if it’d been left out in the rain and dried over a fire. Each page listed a different monster and a few quick facts about them. He’d had it for at least a year by that point, since he started up his business. He never told me where or when he got it. It was a big step up from the books he had in high school. Even then, he was into supernatural stuff. That and pot. He was still into both. We were friends back in high school, and six years later, he looked me up to see if I wanted to join him in his newly formed investigation business. He’d heard that I’d dealt with some monsters on my own here and there since we’d last seen each other. I said no. I was still getting my head straight, handling some personal issues. My uncle, the only one in my family who I was really close to, the guy who taught me to shoot, was in jail, and I didn’t want to stick around and deal with the situation. I took an extended hunting trip in Mexico. When I got back roughly a year later, I called him to see if he still had a job opening. “Imp herald. A proto-imp type deal.” He began to read aloud from the bestiary. “All of them were once human, and a strong one can maintain human form. Other than the claws and the fangs, which, let’s be honest, should be expected by now, it doesn’t have that much going for it. It has wings, but can’t fly. More like flap and get a few inches. They’re fat little things.” “That, up there.” Arty pointed up to the cloud. “Imp cloud. A rare phenomenon, caused by certain types of residual magical energy. It forms over the course of a month, only becoming noticeable in the last week or so. Once it’s ready, all it takes is some imp breath to activate. Imp breath. A potion, usually ingested by an imp herald, that is then breathed out in vaporous form into an imp cloud. Drinking imp breath is what turns a human into an imp herald. Once they’ve had enough of it, the change is irreversible.” He looked up from his book. “I need a sample of it for a spell I want to try to make. You don’t get many chances to get your hands on imp breath, but an imp herald usually has a few bottles of it lying around.” He pointed out some purple clouds rising from the pink concrete house with a high roof at the very back of the cul-de-sac. I followed his finger down and saw a short pudgy-looking guy breathing some of it out before going back into his house.


“Looks like this guy is priming it with a few puffs.” He went back to reading from the book. “While the imp cloud remains active, which requires a constant stream of imp breath, imps are able to materialize from it. Imps—” “Okay, okay. Stop. No need for a lecture. We’ll just deal with it before it gets that far.” Arty was the kind of guy who went on forever. If I hadn’t stopped him there, he would have told me about what imps looked like, what imps ate, and what imps did for fun. By the time he would have stopped on his own, the imps would have already killed everyone and moved on. We made our way to the suspected imp herald’s door and knocked on it. When the short pudgy guy opened the door, I greeted him with a punch to the face, sending him staggering back. Arty and I walked in, looking quickly around the room. One of those “Halloween Spooky Sounds” playlists was playing in the next room, and a jack-o-lantern-shaped bowl sat on a table next to the door. I pocketed a brownie in plastic wrap with one hand while pulling a revolver on him with my other. “Where do you keep your imp breath?” Arty asked. The guy backed up against the wall. His eyes widened, and he put his hands up. “Did I say you could move?” I asked him. “Where is it?” “Please,” he said. Some imp breath escaped from his mouth as soon as he opened it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please don’t hurt me. There…there’s some money in the dresser if—” “Then what’s that stuff coming out of your mouth?” “It…it’s nothing. It’s a special effect for Halloween. I bought it this morning. It comes in little tablets. If you want, I can get you the rest. It’s just inside the kitchen. Let me go get it.” The guy started inching toward the door on his right that led to the kitchen. “He’s lying,” Arty said. “Shoot him in the arm. We’ll see how he holds up.” “Wait a minute. What if he’s telling the truth?” “He’s not. That’s imp breath.” “You sure about that? All I’m saying is, this guy still looks like a person to me. I’m not shooting a person. Not unless I have to. Don’t you have some kind of revealing spell? You were all hyped up about making one last week. Why don’t you use that on him?” “It took me a long time to get the ingredients I needed for that.” Arty clutched a clay bead on his necklace. “I’m not going to waste it on this guy. I already know what he is.” “Come on. Just do it. We don’t have time for this. The guy’s trying to run away.” I turned my gaze back to the guy and readjusted my aim. “Yeah, don’t think I can’t see you, buddy.” “Fine. Whatever.” Arty cracked a bead in his hand, but instead of a revealing spell, he sent out a small volley of rocks at the guy. The guy staggered back from the impact and realized that we weren’t messing around. It didn’t take him more than two seconds to change. His skin turned rust red, and tiny spiked wings ripped 11

through his shirt. His eyes turned a dark red, almost black. Three-inch fangs burst out of his gums, and three-inch claws burst out of his fingertips, sending blood everywhere. At close range, that thing could have shredded a guy to pieces. Too bad for him that I wasn’t in close range. The feel of the kick. The smell of gunpowder. I put two bullets in his head before he could take a step. “Damn it, Gavin. I told you not to kill him.” “And I told you to use the revealing spell. See what happens when you don’t listen?” “Yeah, yeah. Fuck you. I’m going to go see if I can find the potions. He kept trying to get into the kitchen. I’ll check there first. You deal with that.” He pointed to the imp herald’s body on the floor. Arty went into the kitchen, while I put a knife through the guy’s heart from the back to make sure that he was dead. It paid to be sure. I didn’t want to risk the sound of another gunshot. The first two had come in quick succession. People were more likely to ignore it. They’d explain it away as a tire popping or a car backfiring. A third shot a minute later, on the other hand, would bring questions. “What did this guy even want to do?” I asked. “Why was trying to summon imps? And spare me the book-talk.” “Some people are fans of making chaos,” Arty said from the kitchen. As I pulled the blade back out, there was a knock on the door and a mass cry of “trick-or-treat.” Arty popped his head out of the kitchen, shooting me a concerned look. “Keep looking.” I grabbed the brownie bowl and opened the door. In front of me was a tiny skeleton, holding on to a frowning woman’s hand. He was trying to hide himself behind the woman, his mother. She looked to be in her late thirties, and wasn’t wearing a costume herself. The skeleton’s little painted face stuck out from behind her, and his costume-covered fingers wrapped around part of her leg. Behind him was another group made up of a larger devil, princess, witch, and robot, along with a woman in her mid-twenties who was dressed like a nurse. I couldn’t tell what the nurse was having more of a hard time with—keeping the four kids she was watching from running off, or keeping herself from having a wardrobe malfunction. I was lucky that the kids were only in the neighborhood for the candy. They had no clue that I didn’t live there. “Is that a dead guy?” the skeleton asked. The rest of the kids giggled. “Yeah it is,” I said, glancing back at the corpse in the growing puddle of blood. I held the bowl out to them. “And if you try to take more than one, it’s going to get up and chase you down.” I tried to put as much of a spooky emphasis on what I said, but the only one who looked scared was the skeleton. “Sure it is,” said the robot. Still, each of them only took one brownie. They may not have been afraid of the stiff, but they were definitely afraid of their moms. I quickly went back inside and shut the door behind me. Staring down at the body, I pulled out the brownie I grabbed earlier and took a bite. “Gavin, did you just give those kids some brownies?” Arty asked, stepping back into the room. “Yeah,” I said, chewing the brownie. It tasted delicious. 12

“He baked imp breath into the brownies.” Arty held up a few empty vials covered in chocolate, along with a full one. I scraped the bits of brownie in my mouth off of my tongue with my teeth, then spit a few times for good measure. Arty was already out the door by that point. I sprinted after him and took the lead, pointing out the kids we were after. Not too far from us was the nurse, still trying to wrangle her group together. Arty and I charged straight into them, knocked their plastic bags and pillow cases to the ground, and grabbed up the brownies. “What do you think you’re doing?” asked the nurse, standing in my way. “If you think for one second that I—” I didn’t have time to deal with her. I could see our last target, the skeleton kid and his mother, quickly getting away from us. I grabbed the nurse and spun her around a few times, then shoved her away from me, disorienting her and making her fall to the ground. Arty and I were out of there before the kids knew what hit them. All the nurse could do was scream and check to make sure that her costume was still in place. I made a beeline toward the skeleton and his mother, and Arty fell into step behind me. The kid was running zigzags in front of his mom, who was trying to catch him. As we got closer, I saw the problem. He was scarfing down the brownie. He shoved the last bit into his mouth and ran through the small clump of trees that separated the community from the one next to it, tossing the wrapper into the wind. His mom ran after him, with the two of us close behind. A four-foot-high fence with a “No Trespassing” sign stood in the middle of the trees. The kid was somehow already on the other side. The mom got caught on it, unable to get over immediately. Arty and I vaulted over the fence without a problem, ignoring the mom’s cry for help. When we popped out on the other side of the trees, we found ourselves in another gated community. This one was still under construction. The place was like a ghost town, just waiting to be completed so people could move in. The skeleton was in front of us on the side walk, all puffed up like a marshmallow. He was running in circles, breathing a stream of imp breath into the air. “Stop!” the mom yelled at him, running up behind us, face red with rage and strain. She turned to me and grabbed me by my duster. Her eyes were filled with a mixture of rage and fear. “You. Why are you here? What’s going on? What did you do to him?” A screech in the air above me made me look up, where I saw imps flying out of the cloud above us. They looked like thinner, smaller versions of the imp herald. In this situation, smaller was scarier. They were only about two feet from head to foot, but they still had three inch fangs and claws. The fangs propped their mouths open in a permanent grin, which would have looked hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying. The imps had nearly skeletal tails that added another foot to their lengths. Most flew off in packs, heading away in random directions, but some started heading straight down. I heard all the people in the community next to us scream in unison. No doubt that they locked themselves in the closest building and stayed inside for the rest of the night. Some weird clouds, a few gun shots, a dead body – all of that could be explained away on Halloween, but those imps were too real even for that night. 13

Arty cracked a bead and fired off a gigantic ball of fire into the air, dropping a wave of scorched imps. Their corpses thudded to the ground, bouncing up a foot or two before coming down again. I took a couple of them down myself, including a few that swooped in at Arty. I had to sidestep their falling bodies. The burned ones sizzled, and the ones I shot bled nearly black blood, the same color as their eyes. A few that landed nearby twitched and contorted for a few seconds before dying. “He’s changing” Arty said, pointing at the skeleton. Tiny claws and fangs burst out of the kid, only half an inch long, but still worrisome. The imp breath was turning him into a full-on imp herald—teeth, claws, and everything else. His mom amped up her screaming. “Lady, shut up,” I said. Arty, who hated it when I got distracted on the job, cracked another bead and fired a glob of green goo at the mom, knocking her back into an open dumpster. The goo stuck her to the inside of the lid, which swung down with a clang and trapped her in with the trash. “I’ll take care of the imps,” Arty said. “You deal with the kid. He didn’t ingest much imp breath. He’s not too far gone. Just get it out of his system.” “How do I do that?” I asked, turning from the kid to Arty. In the few seconds that Arty had taken his eyes from the sky, a couple imps had gotten through. They dove down, bit into his shoulders, and carried him off over the trees. I shot at them and killed one imp. I hit the other in the wing, giving Arty a slower descent. It was the best I could do, but it left me with the kid close by, and Arty and his answers far away. I didn’t want to hurt the kid. He hadn’t done anything wrong. It was my fault he was like that. Still, I had to get the imp breath-laced brownie out of his system somehow. Every second I spent thinking let more imps out of the cloud. An incident involving my cousin Jessie from when we were growing up popped into my head, and I knew what I had to do. I tackled the kid and tried to jam my fingers down his throat. Bad idea. I pulled my hand back out quickly, barely avoiding having it clamped in between his teeth. I thought better and swung the cylinder out of my revolver, letting the bullets fall to the ground. Then, I shoved its barrel down his throat while keeping my hands out of harm’s way. He wasn’t too keen on the idea. He started scratching at me, tearing my clothes and leaving thin gashes on my arms and chest, so I punched him in the stomach a couple of times. And just like that, he threw up. The imp breath stopped. The claws and fangs retracted. All I had in front of me was a tiny kid in skeleton makeup, bleeding from his gums and fingertips. What kind of job was this? I sat down next to him for a minute or two, using some scraps of his costume to patch him up as best as I could. As I finished up, Arty limped up next to me. “I landed on top of a lady on my way down,” he said, pulling out the vial of imp breath and checking it for damage. “I punched a four-year-old until he threw up.” 14

“Yeah…let’s get out of here before the cops show up.” We came in to town to help, and we left a kid bleeding out on a sidewalk. We left his mother trapped in a dumpster and the imp herald’s body in the house. Arty got his precious imp breath sample and made a spell from it, which he never used. The ingredients were too rare. For the next few months, I checked online for any news about the kid. Nothing. The whole deal was covered up, without mention of the kid in the official police report. I never found out what happened to him. So much for the public good.


“Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” by Peter Melero I used to be the bassist for a ’90s art house band no one can remember by name but frequently cite as influential to their self-actualization during their “experimental” years. We were called The Broom of the System, after that David Foster Wallace novel that everyone in the 1991 Chicago art scene pretended to have read in order to circle jerk about their superior commitment to high art, and that made them so elevated from the Midwestern proles that lived below the South Chicago boarder. Basically, the type of people who use the word “droll,” without a shred of irony and on a daily basis, to describe stuff that’s simply amusing in the conventional sense. It was nowhere near as “progressive” as everyone imagined. I didn’t play bass guitar, either. That would have been too pedestrian. I played a double bass—you know, for authenticity. Also for wetting the panties of women old enough to remember the last time the Cubs won a World Series. The principle guitarist, songwriter, and “singer” of the band was a fucking ridiculous tool, the type who keeps a container of bee’s wax in his breast pocket for waxing his handlebar mustache between songs. I’m hesitant to call him a singer. Really, the guy fancied himself a slam poet—meaning he would pseudo-rap Dadaist, non-sequitur garbage into the microphone rather than singing in the traditional sense. The real shtick of the band though, the one that made us ooze hip, was our fourth member, a DJ. Basically, he would use his sampler and turntables to punctuate the bland standard-ish rock trio arrangement with scratches and samples of “edgy” esoteric shit, like Dixieland jazz and vocal snippets extracted from sex-ed films circa the 1950s. The DJ, whose name I never learned due to the fact that everyone just called him “Cactus Wolf,” has since moved back to his native Australia to run an ostrich farm. Our drummer, Yusuf, was too good to be playing with us. In fact, I think he has a gig these days playing with the bona fide god of art music himself, John Zorn, in the electric incarnation of his neoklezmer outfit, Masada. That’s cred. These days I’m bumming around from gig to gig, playing mostly in the studio but also in this super pretentious post-rock band with upwards of 20 members and no song that clocks in at under half an hour. Meanwhile, the fucking clown who wrote our awful, flatulent songs is now a big shot art dealer here in Chicago. His name is Fred Rogers, but back when we were touring in Broom, he went by “Fuck Rogers,” as not to be confused with Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood fame (i.e. someone with talent). After about 12 years of going to absurd and increasingly convoluted measures to avoid him, Fred finally found out I was still living in Chicago and invited me to go as a special guest to this ultra hip gallery he’s curating at the Art Institute. It’s supposed to be a sort of combination showcase/smorgasbord/sampler—his words, obviously—of young “transgressively-minded” artists that are new to the Chicago scene. I agreed to go, not because I want to see his stupid face or a bunch of insufferable art aficionados eat each other’s shit, but because I haven’t been out of the house in any


meaningful way in the last three months. But more importantly, I want to see if I can leverage my Dlist musical fame in order to get some pussy without really trying. I don’t know if the prospect of sex is even worth it. Now that I’m here, I remember exactly why I accrued such a caustic unwillingness to be anywhere near these things. It’s like a bohemian circus here. I really hope someone had the gall to do something truly outlandish, like sculpt a bust of Allen Ginsberg using only KY Jelly and his preserved pubic hair. It’s the only surefire way to tell with any sort of certainty if someone slipped ketamine into my coffee again. “Is that Iggy I see all the way over there? The greatest bassist I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with! Come over here, you big piece of shit! Give me some sugar!” Twelve years. Twelve years and he still has a goddamn handlebar mustache. Apparently the dream of the 1890s is alive in Chicago. I want nothing more than to rip it off and hang it over my toilet. “Hi, Fred.” “It’s been far too long. I’m so glad you could make it. The artists featured are absolutely sublime. There’s a performance piece going on in about 20 minutes that I think you’re really going to dig.” “Is that so?” “It’s so-so. A bit So-Ho, really. Ha!” I could take that lovely anachronistic fountain pen over there, just idly lying next to the petition to ban male circumcision in Malaysia, and jam it into my trachea. I hope it’s full. I want to make sure everyone can see the suicide note I etch into the back of my throat. “Iggy, you have to meet my lover, Imani. Imani! Come over here, love! I want you to meet an old friend from when I was with the band.” This woman is at least a foot and a half taller than both me and Fred. I don’t even believe she’s a real person. She looks more like one of the instillations dealing “women’s issues in postcolonial Africa” or some bullshit like that. For fuck’s sake, she looks like an African fertility goddess, what with her imposing height, Swiss treasury’s worth of gold rings around her neck and arms, and long, flowing Kente Cloth dress I could easily use as bed sheets. I also find it personally insulting that she’s wearing heels taller than the length of my erect penis. “Hi. Ignacio. It’s a pleasure.” “That it is, Monsieur Gonzalez.” She’s French too? Seriously? Who told her my last name? I’m convinced at this point that the art scene in this city has devolved into a game of who can form the most unorthodox couple and display their weirdness at numerous high society public functions as to intimidate rival couples. I hate to break it to Fred and Imani, but I’m pretty sure that the sixty-year-old Indian dwarf and the S&M black leather-wearing guy (the one who’s tastefully adorned with a large hunting arrow lodged in his septum) he’s with takes the cake—vegan, gluten-free, and dolphin-safe of course. We’re not savages. Maybe if I look at the gallery pieces it will help me meditate internally and not let out a primal scream of knotted up agitation. 17

Over here it seems we have a first edition copy of Jaws suspended in formaldehyde and encased in a cute little titanium-bound glass cube. You’re a clever one Mr. and/or Mrs. Found Object McArtsyFart. If you’re going to shamelessly knock-off someone, you couldn’t find a better target than the prince of thieves himself, Damien “Bedazzle Bones” Hirst. It’s not a complete rip off though. Next to the left side of the glass tank, there’s a post card from British Hong Kong that has a bunch of—what is that? Portuguese?—scribbled over the nice pictures of oriental skyscrapers. Something something subaltern. Oh look, a movie. What do we have here? Looks like someone beat up a couple of Bert and Ernie puppets, proceeded to piss on them—which I’ll be charitable in attributing to pure alcoholic inhibition—immediately realized that they looked pretty hardcore soaked in urine, and thus proceeded to use them in this uncomfortably juvenile Super 8 film. At least he had the decency to cover up the piss stains with literally four drag queens’ make up purses worth of glitter, as if to convey the illusion that a unicorn came glitter onto them, and thus symbolically onto our own inner child—the subconscious puppeteer to our adult puppets, or something like that. Wow. I don’t have my glasses on, but I’m pretty sure this film just abruptly cut to two bifurcated penises scissoring each other. Do people still do that crap? Butcher their junk like that? I thought the whole “modern primitive” thing died out sometime in late ’98 when everyone involved realized they had no more flesh left to tattoo, pierce, and otherwise mince with hooks, knives, and cattle prods. Moving on. And what’s this? A can of open Spaghetti-Os gingerly perched on top of a red ceramic teapot. Do these people not have nearly as much empathy for the janitorial staff as they do for those circumcised Malayan boys? There’s day old, rancid Spaghetti-Os all over the floor next to the “piece.” It also smells like someone peed on it. In fact, my many years of playing shows in dive bars and literal hole in the walls has engendered me with an acute and incredibly accurate olfactory mechanism for the sole detection of even the most trace amounts of urine hidden in any liquid or soaked onto a solid material, not unlike a dog. There is no doubt in my mind that someone, most likely the artist—but I’m not prepared to rule out any of these colorful whackos cavorting around, especially that S&M guy that makes a nauseating squeaking noise after each step—urinated onto the mess of Spaghetti-Os that currently stains what was likely a once proud and noble concrete floor. I mean, this is a joke, right? It’s like a lazy, old school post-structuralist deconstruction of a pop art relic. “Ah, yes. I like your eye there, Iggy. That’s a Jacob Schtoli piece. It acts as an old school poststructuralist deconstruction of a pop art relic. Very playful. Very kitschy. When I was in New York last month for the opening of—” I’m not paying attention to the rest of this masturbation. “Hey Fred, I’m really sorry to interrupt, but I really got to go. Where’s the restroom in here?” “Oh. There’s a hallway adjacent to that large video instillation in the corner over there. The restrooms are back there.” I’m guessing he means that video collage of what I think are a bunch of photo negative Albrecht Dürer woodcuts set to very somber, Eastern European-sounding cello music. I would say that the music is quite tasteful if it wasn’t for the fact that someone decided to turn the volume up to 11. That shit has been droning in my ear canals since the moment I got here. 18

“I fucking get it already! Just because it was shitty to live in medieval Germany doesn’t mean you people have to impose your sad, dysfunctional phallus all over the rest of the art!” “What?” “Nothing, I just have to go. Acid reflux acting up again, you know.” “Of course, but try to hurry up, tonight’s main performance starts in seven minutes.” Don’t worry, I won’t. Did they really have to place a black and white checkerboard tile on every single surface of this fucking hallway? It’s literally nauseating, like I’m being thrown head first into the MC Escher Memorial Lavatories. Now I really do have to vomit a little. The right-side-up pink triangle on this door probably means it’s the men’s restroom. It’s either this one or the door with the pink lowercase lambda. This totally is not confusing whatsoever, especially not if you’re in a rush to use the restrooms and only have time to quickly glance at the obtuse symbols on the doors. You know, the ones that don’t look similar at all and aren’t the same color. Thankfully, no one’s in here. This place is eerily normal. Just a regular florescent-lit restroom. I was expecting the urinals too look like Day-Glo Virgin Mary sculptures, complete with some poor intern standing next to the sink blowing on people’s wet hands in lieu of drying them with normal, eco-unfriendly paper towels. Even though I only have to pee, there’s no one here, and the possibility of someone coming in here is slim given all the distractions outside, I’m going to use the toilet in the stall with the door closed behind me rather than one of the open urinals. There’s something mysterious, romantic even, about the man who chooses to distance himself from his restroom-going brethren by choosing to pee in the stall when there are available urinals within the same walking distance. Is it because he has a shy bladder problem, rendering him unable to pee if there’s even so much as a fly in the same room? Is it because his cock is huge, choosing to forgo the urinal as a clandestine gesture of kindness to other men, as to save normal-to-small-sized urinators the embarrassment of facing their physical mediocrity head-on in a moment of vulnerability such as urinating in public? Or is it the opposite? Is his cock so small that he’s left with no other choice than to urinate behind the closed doors of the stall, the only act that saves him from a full on existential break down triggered by the mere possibility of someone discovering the truth about his shameful member every time he’s forced to fulfill his bodily functions? Whatever the reason, it’s a subtly bold act, one that subverts the status quo far more effectively than any of those whiny asshats’ “art” out there. I think I’m feeling a bit better now. It’s a shame I have to go back and be hounded by Fuck and his gang of talentless hacks. “Iggy, hurry up! It’s about to start!” What the hell is going on here? I didn’t even think this many people show up to these things anymore. They’re all huddled around what was earlier the big empty center of the gallery, squirming around and eagerly fidgeting like a bunch of lampreys to a freshly dead whale carcass. “Quick! Come over here!” 19

Whatever. I’m already in too deep as it is. OK. Wow. I guess I wasn’t too off in regard my “whale” quip. There’s a mildly obese, twenty-something East Asian woman wearing a suffocatingly tight, shiny scarlet unitard. The matching red sequined heels she’s wearing are also taller than the erect length of my penis. Actually, now that I get a good look at them, I think they’re taller than Imani’s. Cartoonishly tall, in fact. I would have actually liked to see her waddle over here in those things. And on the floor around her, we seem to have upwards of 50 sticks of unsalted butter, haphazardly opened and plopped on the floor around her in the shape of a circle. “That’s Lenore Ho. She’s only 24, but critics are already putting her in the same league as Ono and Cunningham. The piece she’s performing tonight is called ‘Mambo de Mantequilla.’ It’s a— ” “Butter Dance?” “Well, yes. But the way she performs the dance, incorporating unorthodox materials in a way that expertly translates notions of hybridity and—” It’s hypnotic, the way her rolls of fat undulate in and out of her core, as if she’s performing Russian ballet while also smuggling an anxious adult boa constrictor in her unitard. All this, while gracelessly tripping over enough butter to be the envy of any Midwestern suburban family’s refrigerator. I know full well that this is the ultimate case of “the emperor has no clothes,” but it’s that exact brazen pompousness that draws me in even closer. I hope she never stops. Spoke too soon. She fell on her ass, bounced what had to have been a full meter in the air, and knocked the back of her head on a cloudy pillow of stiletto whipped butter, with an audible thud as the cherry on top. This is perfect. Now she’s embracing her undaintiness by literally rolling around in the butter, stopping only to scoop large fistfuls of it into her gaping mouth. And the crowd is going insane, hooting, hollering, and clapping as if she just successfully performed an occult ritual to bring Duchamp back from the grave. It’s like a pretentious Pentecost. I’m even starting to feel it. I bet I can get away with saying whatever I want, without fear of attracting glares and/or snooty condemnations. “Bullshit. Bullshit? Bullshit! Fuck you Fuck! Fuck! I finally don’t have to hear your elitist horseshit anymore!” Motherfucker. I shouldn’t have overexerted myself like that. Watching all that butter gave me some wicked heartburn. It’s so fucking claustrophobically hot in here, too. Shit. I need some room to breathe. I’m just going to lie down for a few minutes. “Iggy? Iggy, what happened?” “…fuck you.” “Give him some room! Iggy, are you alright?” “…” “Oh my god, what’s wrong with him? He’s, like, convulsing!” “Somebody get him some herbal tea! Kava!” 20

Figure 4 Kristen Howard

Figure 5 Genaro Heredia 25

Figure 6 Abigail Smith 26

Figure 7 Olivia Wright 27


Figure 8 Amanda Schattie


“My Father Lectures Me From Venezuela” by Francisco Marquez You looked purple when you were born, Your mother had given all she had Nearly dying To see you. However,

Seeing you step in the girl’s bathroom was my first real memory of you. I Began chain-smoking the day after. You cried every time your mother dropped you off at school, I slapped your limp wrists down when you held them too high. You cried

When Benjamin called you gay In the school cafeteria, you cried Over everyone’s clamor, but you never Pulled your punches because your hands were made of stardust. Your favorite Elementary school teacher Was Mr. Miner. He reminded you Of a werewolf, Held your hand in the haunted house because you were too scared of men, And their fathers, their father’s father, and me.

You grew up, read poetry, and Dressed in red pants. First there was Allen. Then Oscar, Walt, Federico, Reinaldo, Frank. Your mother In the corner crying. Your sisters Far and away, and I remained painted 29

Military green on the living room wall With my macho boots and toolset I meant to give you when you would Finally become a man.

You would carry your pen in your mouth. You wore orange pants when you left for college, your suitcases red and green, lover’s spit and letters stashed in shoeboxes, closet cupboards, and vintage tin cans.

Your goodbye was like that time you got lost at Disneyworld, That I felt you let go Of my back pocket. I waited, feeling sorry For that time I got drunk when I told you to marry the neighbor girl. Or for that time Your mother said She wouldn’t be your friend if you sucked cock, so please,

When you leave here, remember Not to talk to strangers With handkerchiefs hanging from back pockets. Men with keys hung from a metal clasp 30

attached to a belt hoop, or earrings on their right ear.

Don’t walk alone at night. Look both ways before you cross the street.

Always give a firm handshake.

And hold on tight to my back pocket, kid.


“Serendipity (City)” by Max Mittler It’s no coincidence that everyone who lives here has forgotten their age.

We have a new paradigm: ability over humility!

We have a secret language: Persé vollimune: Pour yourself some tea.

It’s no coincidence that everyone who lives here has forgotten their age. We have a new paradigm: ability over humility! We have a secret language: Persé vollimune: Pour yourself some tea. We have laws and an economy, I’m sure of it. We have laws that everybody follows but nobody reads.

The velvet wood 32

staircase in my mother’s town home was designed by Frank Wright, and the restrooms in City Hall by Duchamp.

We rack our brains to K-pop and Moroccan dance tunes trying to build a tunnel system that is also a library, though we already have three libraries and I have an overdue copy of the mayor’s dream journal.

Y tipid neres: star among stars! come burn the suburb come to the new summer, when the weather is apart from your cloudy eyes, you’ll see new colors and the breadth of universal frivolity.

We don’t use lights at night but I still stay up thinking how little there is to change 33

We have laws and an economy, I’m sure of it. We have laws that everybody follows but nobody reads. The velvet wood staircase in my mother’s town home was designed by Frank Wright, and the restrooms in City Hall by Duchamp.

We rack our brains to K-pop and Moroccan dance tunes trying to build a tunnel system that is also a library, though we already have three libraries and I have an overdue copy of the mayor’s dream journal.

Y tipid neres: star among stars! come burn the suburb come to the new summer, when the weather is apart from your cloudy eyes, you’ll see 34

new colors and the breadth of universal frivolity.

We don’t use lights at night but I still stay up thinking how little there is to change