T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Summer 2011
T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Summer 2011
Tidal Basin Press Founded 2010 Washington, DC
Editors Randall Horton – Editor-in-Chief Melanie Henderson – Managing Editor Tori Arthur – Fiction & Non-Fiction Editor Truth Thomas – Poetry Editor Fred Joiner – Poetry Editor Marlene Hawthrone Thomas – Photography Editor Editorial Assistant Shakeema Smalls Poetry Reader Jacey Blue Renner
Tidal Basin Press, Inc. Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010 (as Tidal Basin Press, LLC) Washington, DC
www.tidalbasinpress.org A Publication of Tidal Basin Press, Inc.
Cover Art by Ronald Davis, Secretary for the Spirits, digital collage on acid-free paper, glass frame Layout Design, Melanie Henderson For broad distribution. Electronic version not for sale. To purchase print version, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tidalbasinpress.org. © All Rights Reserved, Tidal Basin Press, Inc., Washington, DC.
On a Forest Trail in Early September
Devotions St. Mathew’s Pentecostal Church
Rot Questions for the Last Relative Slave
One Part Marciano / Two Parts Frazier Dear Darkness: Joe Frazier Writes Mike Tyson
FEATURED ARTIST INTERVIEW victory, Collage
DeLana R. A. Dameron
Wings Seeping Out the Bone How to Teach a Black Girl to Sing
That’s the Sound of the Men Working on the Chain Gang On Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
Water Sign What to Do
beautiful birthright, Collage
Martha Stewart Packs for Prison Night Shift on Death Row
The Hindenburg American Ronin
Claude Clayton Smith
From the Florida Room
For Langley Park
collage (untitled), Collage
L. Lamar Wilson
What of a Body
What She Remembers Staccato I Stop Praying
Matthew Diomede, Ph.D.
Turkey Bone Gumbo The Gospel According to Joseph
Deep Night Nausikaa’s Sister
She Has a Name, He Has a Name Too Inches of Her
I Think I Lost the Remote
Leaving Us Taxidermist’s Wake The Taxidermist’s Shack
secretary to the spirits, Collage
And the Girl Got a New Dress
Curtis L. Crisler
The Kitchen: Miles Davis @ the Sutherland Hotel Lounge 1960
Passing Time The Prisoner
C. A. Schaefer
LIBERATION SQUARE Nadia Ibrashi is where I caught the bus to Cairo University, weaved in the swell of traffic to devour pizza and Newsweek at the Nile Hilton, and nearby, the Museum of Antiquities sheltered mummies, awed visitors with its ancient gods prancing in vivid hieroglyphics, but now the square is bloodied, dazed, blurry-eyed as it lifts the tail end of a comet, fending shrill Molotov cocktails and rocks, while a convocation of hope infuses its palimpsest with gods, in thrilling new shades.
IBRASHI â&#x2C6;Ť 6
OUTSIDE IN Susan Scheid . . . in trying to heal the wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a manâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s work (Garcia Lorca) 1. Outside I know about the strip searches after our visits as if our presence left you with a piece of humanity that had to be removed. I know how you kept to yourself, reading praying, adrift in darkness, to avoid answering dangerous questions. I know you were embarrassed by the number of letters arriving daily, missives from those who loved and missed you, while others around you were often ignored. I know on the nights you could not phone, how you asked God to send a message that you were safe so we would sleep quietly, dreamlessly. I know you saved apples and crackers, stockpiled them like treasures, to improvise pie and a slice of home on a Sunday afternoon. I know how you learned that trust could be a word divided between tru(e) and us. 2. Inside On the day you returned, we stood outside in the sleety rain, nothing but a cartoon umbrella to protect us, and we waited for the gates to open. We watched you approach in too-big clothes carrying the remnants of your life in a transparent bag. There were no secrets that day. SCHEID â&#x2C6;Ť 7
And after you had showered, regained your human scent, we fed you a kingâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s banquet grilled cheese and tomato soup. We covered nearly every inch of you our skin on your skin as if to hold you in that moment forever. And on that first night, you found the sky unbearable, all that open space and vulnerability. And that was how I came to know the prison you carried home from your cinderblock lodging. The one you hide behind your smile the one under your easygoing laugh the one residing in the dark spot of your eyes. I know this prison rattles its chains inside you; my ear pressed to your chest, I think I hear the metallic sound of keys, the click of a lock. I am not sure whether it is opening or closing, I only know that I am on the outside and I am trying to get in.
SCHEID â&#x2C6;Ť 8
ON A FOREST TRAIL IN EARLY SEPTEMBER Pete Sipchen (for Maura) Attended by trees we stood in a shifting mesh of shadow and sun, gnats clouding at our eyes, heads bowed over the pale orange persimmon you'd picked up, palmed and pulled apart. I peered at its four horse brown seeds in their jellied chambers, restless to get at the rich, secret heart of life, unaware we were already there.
SIPCHEN â&#x2C6;Ť 9
DEVOTIONS Derrick Austin All night, you pace between our bed and another room in the house, fetching glasses of water when you mean shots of gin. The candle doesn‘t catch your naked body—a leg, the cut of stubble—but the shadow of its leaving, the whole of you uncontainable like the moon, its kissable face and its darker chambers. Mary offers her mangled son like a matchmaker from the dollar-store votive by the bed. (Other nights John the Baptist rolls his eyes at me.) You‘re the one who stayed, or at least never left. You stay because of hard rain, or dead magnolia on the drive; or is it custom for the wounded to care for the wounded? Where are you? I need a solitary room with you in it. Wall me in. Lie down on me.
AUSTIN ∫ 10
ST. MATHEW’S PENTECOSTAL CHURCH Derrick Austin The choir sways, mouths wide with air and light. In the back pew, I stand and clap beside a man with years of Jim Crow etched into his face. I‘ve never seen someone so intent on listening. His cane on the pew, he stands and sings, a credo when you‘ve lived long in the country. Chariots whisk our troubles to God‘s country. Sister Jones‘s hat, trimmed with light blue flowers, shakes when she rises and sings a different song. She moves past the old man and me, trembling, muttering, listening to her own invisible rows of black faces. She looks to the ceiling, then falls out. His face sweaty, the old man says, she actin’ country. Girl ain’t got no damn sense. We listen to her speak in tongues, half a language of light, half Patti Labelle. I’m going to meet the man, going to meet him down by the water, she sings. To see himself crowned in light, a boy sings like Sister Jones. His mother pops his face. The crowd applauds and cheers. Some men sigh. Seen too much in Alabama‘s countryside. A stained glass cross, like blue fire, lights a ring around our congregation listening to one woman‘s spectacle. No point listening. Who says the Lord bears white roses and song? Expect a fire to the heart. He will press His light into our bones and mouths, wear our simple faces. Bless the fool who enters the Lord‘s country expecting Him to love like any man. Bless us who have known the touch of man where it‘s lifted and dropped us. Bless us listening to spirituals demeaned in King Cotton‘s country. Bless us who shake and sob, without song. When we wait by the twisted cedar and face the river, dappled with light, a stone inside our guts called light, and listen to a lark sing another country, looking for the Man‘s face—bless us.
AUSTIN ∫ 11
BURYING GRANDMA Menoukha Case There's no way around it: Verna‘s stuck in a limo for six hours with Dad, the driver, and the shiny black canister of Grandma‘s ashes. We‘d escaped the ride because we all live in different directions. She‘s his neighbor, she‘s broke, and she‘s adamantly against wasting fossil fuels. She can look at herself in the mirror tomorrow, but if she‘d put another car on the road she'd consider committing suicide. ―As if we aren't, on the installment plan,‖ she adds. Dad‘s saying the kinds of things that used to fill our friends with envy ‗cause he was cooler than their Dads. It doesn't exasperate her like it used to. She feels smug: she knows his good and bad points, deals with him like any other covertly vicious predator she‘d meet on the job, in the store, on the street. She‘s convinced we meet many daily yet go about our business: nothing we‘d said made a difference, right? Dad tells jokes. She looks out the window, acts like she‘s listening: a habit. He comments on the nice conversation they‘re having. More jokes. When he gets really loud the driver, Ed, yells "What?" "He's telling a joke" she yells back. Ed stops responding to loud voices. This could be a problem since he's new to Brooklyn, needs directions, needs them shouted because the back seat is way back: there‘s a capacious leather lounge between them, room enough to house her, almost. Which is becoming an issue: she‘s on the verge of homelessness. This predicament shapes on her tongue and slips past her teeth. "Oh dear" Dad mumbles, eyes darting toward the tinted window. It‘s been raining and now it‘s pouring. Dad wipes his forehead. His left knee swings back and forth. He launches another joke. Verna shouts directions. Somehow Ed knows she‘s not telling jokes and listens up. The rain stops, thank God. She can‘t allow rain to touch her head. They pull into the graveyard and she realizes she has no candy, and worse, just two coins. Ed‘s been popping sweets the whole drive. "Ed, could you give me three pieces of that candy?" "Sorry, ate it all." He feels around in his pocket with his right hand while scratching his head with the left. The car rolls on, unguided but sure. Ed‘s left hand wakens ruminations. CASE ∫ 12
"You're hungry?" he asks. "We could stop on the way back." He grabs the wheel as they get to a curve. The rest of us are already milling around the graveyard gate because Verna and Dad are late because Ed overslept because he was talking to his mother the night before and forgot to set his alarm clock. That‘s what he‘d told Verna in the parking lot that morning where she waited thinking maybe Grandma would end up in the backwoods after all. That‘s what Dad wanted: sift her onto sylvan humus, pocket the limo and burial dough, ignore her wishes. Verna tries to open the window, but Ed has to do it. Rich people are immature, impulsive, need child locks. Poor people don‘t have cars, and Grandma‘s left money for this limo. We get in. Verna asks our sister if she has a coin, candy, Tums, anything. "Your stomach‘s upset?" "No, I want something sweet." "We have dry apricots." Verna takes four, eats one. Everyone else eats one and they‘re gone. Our sister hands Verna a penny. Ed follows another limo sixty feet right down among the dead. A man gets out of the first limo, bows his head gravely, flourishes fingers at the end of a stiffly extended arm, indicating a small pile of dirt half-way down a row of headstones. Two young guys with hair in their eyes and a day‘s growth step away and lean on their shovels. Unlike the graveyard honcho who keeps his eyes down, they watch unblinkingly with total lack of curiosity. There‘s a hole about eight by eight inches maybe two feet deep. Must've taken all of ten minutes to dig, for which the honcho received 500 plus of which he gave, she‘s guessing, twenty each to the guys waiting to fill it back in. Verna notices pebbles on the gravestones. She puts a pink one on Grandpa‘s. Ed hands Dad Grandma‘s canister; he puts her in the hole. ―Should we put a shovelful of dirt?‖ Dad asks, doing it. ―I've seen this in movies.‖ We pass the shovel until our sister takes it and efficiently fills the grave. ―I always think of her as a girl, really. Had me when she was sixteen‖ Dad says. That‘s the eulogy. Dad, Ed and Verna get back in the limo, the rest of us to walk to our cars. Verna asks Ed to leave the window open. As they pull out of the graveyard CASE ∫ 13
she passes the apricots and pennies along her arms, legs, belly and back, throat and head, throws them out the window over her left shoulder. Ed catches the action in the rear view mirror and closes the window without a word like it‘s something nice Jewish girls do. Ed clearly isn‘t Jewish, never met an Africanista. They stop at a pizza joint. Dad assumes lunch is part of the funeral service, that Ed will pay for it. Verna remembers: Dad‘s insane. All the time she was riding down she‘d managed to avoid that thought. Ed and Verna share a pizza. Dad slurps pasta in white clam sauce, drinks white wine, wipes his white beard with a white napkin that stays white. Verna‘s napkin gets bloody with red sauce. Ed eats pizza with a knife and fork. His unnerving chewing is small, subtle motions and she wonders how the food gets mashed. He can eat and talk and never look like he‘s talking with his mouth full. He‘s been alone in the driver‘s seat for hours, bursting with things to say. ―I feel so lucky to be here‖ he starts. Seeing they just buried Grandma she figures he‘s talking about living. Turns out he means his new job, apprentice mortician at Haggerty Funeral Home. He‘s part of the family, it‘s almost perfect, he says, except Mr. and Mrs. Haggerty don‘t get along. ―She says he talks business too much. She‘s the third generation, her daughter‘s the fourth, Mr. Haggerty took over from her father. She grew up in the business.‖ Verna nods silently; she can‘t eat like Ed does. ―It‘s sad for a man when his wife doesn‘t appreciate him‖ he continues. Dad gulps wine, nods agreement. Is that a tear or reflected light shining below his left eye? ―You‘d think she‘d appreciate Mr. Haggerty‘s dedication. I do.‖ Something about Verna encourages people to talk, she‘s never figured out what. Dad gets up to pee and Ed‘s even more confiding. ―Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a mortician. I got a job at Lego but every day I drove by and said, one of these days I‘m gonna walk in and ask.‖ ―Ask who what?‖ They talk but they never listen so Ed goes on. CASE ∫ 14
―I worked my way up, look at me! I do so much good! Legos, kids choke on ‗em! Legos kill! At the funeral home we don‘t kill ‗em, they‘re already dead,‖ Ed explains. He‘s proud, his face red. Verna‘s fascinated. She cuts up pizza like Ed does, knife and fork in hand. Dad returns past a booth where a little girl and her mother share pizza. He leans over at the girl as the mother smiles uncertainly. Verna jumps up, grabs Dad by his suspenders; they stretch way back but he‘s a rock. She dives between his legs and pops up on the child‘s side of the booth where Dad‘s hand creeps towards the child‘s small thigh. Verna stabs him between his thumb and first finger with the fork that‘s in her hand thanks to Ed. Dad‘s lips draw back from his teeth as he backs up to the table where Ed chews. ―Families are happy their loved ones look so good when I‘m done with ‗em. I mean, they come in really awful and they smell bad‖ Ed continues, oblivious of Dad slumping in his seat, napkin finally red like Verna‘s. She doesn‘t tell Ed about when Haggerty shaved her father-in-law down to a pencil-thin mustache touched-up with black dye so no one recognized the grizzled woodsman. ―Uncle Bud‘s dead for sure‖ her ex-husband said, ―dead‘s the only way he‘d be caught looking like that.‖ ―They‘re dead‖ she reminds Ed. ―Yes‖ he beams. ―We take care of that. It‘s amazing!‖ Ed‘s an artist like Dad. On the ride back Dad reminisces about our cousins: remember when Mona taped family stories for school? Remember when Natalie lived in Hoboken and we got lost and the lasagna was burnt? Remember when Marian broke her ankle? Do you remember when you raped them, Dad? Behind closed eyes Verna sees our mother shake her head. She keeps her mouth shut - she‘s done her bit today. Dad talks about a blanket he and Mom bought on a sheep farm where it was made from start to finish on German weaving machines like the ones his father operated from 1913 to 1965 every day of his American working life at the mill where they wove everything from mesh bags to stockings. Grandpa was the first worker to figure out how to adjust for different weaves. Until then they‘d imported Germans with the looms. It was World War II; he was a Russian Jewish immigrant; everyone was proud of him. ―I wrote a poem about that visit,‖ Dad finishes. ―I still have the blanket, I sleep warm and safe. Good feelings.‖ CASE ∫ 15
For the first time all day he‘s silent, then ―I have the blanket but lost the poem.‖ She can hear her mother howling anger at his sentimental self-obfuscation. She changes the subject, asks him about Grandma. ―My Mom?‖ he says. ―She was insane.‖ He gives her a photo of Grandma, not the smiling young woman he remembers but seventy-nine, in a wheelchair, a red parrot on her shoulder. The eyes of the bird in the photo are more humane than the delirious fury pouring from Grandma‘s narrowed slits. Grandma was ninety-six when she died. She had a good long life, Verna said, and she‘s where she wants to be, next to the man with a pink pebble on his noggin. She‘s glad they‘re dead. And the dead, she asks, are they gone? I get an undeniable urge for a white hat, turn right, turn left, take this road, that. I‘m mercilessly driven by this little crocheted skullcap, overcoming logic and laziness. But I‘m down to two dollars, lost, car broken down at a post office selling bologna sandwiches; the mustard smells good but those two bucks are for my hat. Sure enough, there‘s a box in the corner between corn flakes and bleach flanked by an old woman rocking in her sleep, hands in her apron pocket, mouth open. I gasp at hats spilling from cardboard. She jerks awake, sends the chair careening and claps her leathery paw on my mouth. ―He‘s sleeping!‖ I roll my eyes in compliance; she removes her hand and gestures with her chin to an easy chair tucked behind mailboxes. I want to scream when I see Dad snoring two feet away but the prescient crone drags me outside with a bone-crunching grip to a sunsilvered splintering picnic bench. ―What do you want?‖ she asks. ―A hat.‖ ―One day that old man with his beard down to here ... imagine how old his mother was ... comes in tears, crying, her fingers is gone numb, she can‘t knit! Like to break my heart, I embroider myself, him with her and that box full of hats, been here ever since goin‘ on six years.‖ She stops, smooths her apron. Now I‘m open-mouthed. I laugh nervously, wincing like I was peeling a kiwi with lacerated fingers, ―What color are they,‖ I ask. CASE ∫ 16
―She couldn‘t knit no more. Crying, I tell you, heart fit to break. Had to take ‗em in.‖ ―What color are they?‖ ―What color?‖ ―Are any of ‗em white?‖ ―Here I‘m telling you your long lost father cried like nobody‘s business and you‘re asking, are they white!‖ she snorts, a drop of moisture at the end of her nose. ―No wonder he left. You‘re a cold little heartbreaker.‖ Next morning I confront Dad in a white hat that cost my last two dollars, one of the last things Grandma touched. ―Dad, you should‘ve called.‖ Dad bites his lip like he‘s going to repeat the crocodile performance that earned him his keep. ―Why didn‘t you tell anyone?‖ ―I did.‖ ―Who?‖ ―Your sister,‖ he lies. ―Why didn‘t she tell you? Ask her that.‖ ―I can‘t, my car‘s broke down and I don‘t have a dime.‖ I knew there was some reason to get a white hat. Did it hit me when Grandma died? Did she guide me to Dad, broken down and prevaricating to his heart‘s content in a shabby room above the post office of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, tended by a lunatic embroidering shiny daisies on her apron with hairs plucked from his beard in lieu of rent? Can I forgive him? The hat snug on the crown of my head tells me blood‘s quicker than highways. I make Dad brush his teeth. I put the toothpaste on the bristles. ―C‘mon, up‘n‘down, round‘n‘round.‖ I watch blood drip from his mouth ,run down the drain as he obeys. He sticks the toothbrush in my face. ―Brush.‖ CASE ∫ 17
―I already did,‖ I lie. ―Brush again.‖ ―Got anything to eat?‖ ―I said, brush‖ he commands. His neck turns red, his face white, as close as Dad gets to passion. ―Rinse the brush.‖ ―My TV‘s broken.‖ ―I‘ll tell you a story. Once I wanted a white hat.‖ We buried Grandma yesterday. She‘d been propped up in the walk-in freezer with a box of yarn balls on her lap, her crochet hook behind her right ear. Dad just couldn‘t give her up. Now that‘s passion, I think, but is it love? We cry over Grandma‘s grave. Three months later my car‘s fixed and I‘m leaving. ―Roses are blooming on Grandma‘s grave.‖ ―Did you brush your teeth?‖ ―Of course!‖ He‘s offended - it‘s a habit again. ―Grandma‘s grave - you called her Grandma, not Mom‖ For the first time in his life I exist. ―Do you want to come with me, visit Verna?‖ ―Naaah, I gotta tend the roses.‖ ―Can‘t the postmistress do that?‖ ―Who‘ll pay my rent while I‘m gone?‖ ―We‘ll send it special delivery. This is a post office.‖ ―Naaah.‖ ―Ya sure?‖ ―Sure I‘m sure. I‘ll brush.‖ CASE ∫ 18
Let him live out his life on bologna sandwiches, watching that woman‘s apron sprout new daisies till it looks like an angel-hair brillo pad. Trim this or that leaf off the rose bush that wilts in the yard, next to the picnic table, next to the gas pump. Over Grandma‘s dead body.
CASE ∫ 19
untitled - 24h x 16w digital collage / jpg-only
ROT Rio Cortez All the tall buildings in downtown Havana have halos of carrion crows. The autumn sun burning Italian tourists is obscured by black Vs in the sky-blue sky. They hiss and grunt into the palms, almost blind, circling by smell. They say they‘re the vultures other vultures follow to prey. After the hurricane, running along the malecón I saw two white dogs bloated, floating near the rock bank. Do they circle, mistaking diesel fuel for flesh. Or is it the mold, eating the wooden frames of our houses, the iron filigree swallowed by rust. Walking to Vedado, I crack the head of a dead bird with my sandal. Or is it something coming. Something about to die.
CORTEZ ∫ 21
QUESTIONS FOR THE LAST RELATIVE SLAVE Rio Cortez for Paul C. Howell What about the trees Did he love trees Or would he think them killers Would he rejoice after storms Finding peace in their boughless, husked remains Butchered by the wind Then, did he love the wind?
CORTEZ â&#x2C6;Ť 22
ONE PART MARCIANO / TWO PARTS FRAZIER Derrick Harriell Nothing a little bullshit can‘t fix, a few laps round Philly being pursued by poor kids who‘d never think a five-two heavyweight champ is cool. Nothing a little make believe can‘t knock out, southpaw Fairy Dust mixed with left hook bullshit. Peter pan the camera round me as I circle raw meat that don‘t swing back just like Joe said he did. Be sure my face is showered red with dye, show me how to be bad. Film me chasing chickens and rubber balls, dress me in soulful fedora, some black leather gloves, catch me snapping fingers next to doo-wopping street brothers on Philly street corners. Leave no room for questions, let poetry fall from my awkward vernacular. Write in a woman for me to love, someone who believes I can beat Apollo Creed, that Clubber Lang won‘t make her a widow.
HARRIELL ∫ 23
DEAR DARKNESS: JOE FRAZIER WRITES MIKE TYSON Derrick Harriell Philadelphia, PA 1981 the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart- Victor Frankenstein (in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) There was no laboratory, no Victor Frankenstein that made you, only the bones and worn eye sockets we gave to the Gods of bloody gloves. Your destiny is no mystery, no puzzle or secrets why you here, you must destroy everything. They won‘t understand you Mike, the crosses you throw at old women, shitty bird cages you lay around. They will understand the wreckage, the overcast inside you, the howling thunder that sent Prometheus running.
HARRIELL ∫ 24
FEATURED ARTIST RONALD DAVIS COLLAGIST AND WRITER
DAVIS ∫ 25
AN INTERVIEW WITH DIGITAL COLLAGIST AND WRITER, RONALD DAVIS, AND TIDAL BASIN REVIEW POETRY EDITOR, FRED JOINER (Interview conducted via email July 2011) Fred Joiner: Because the art of naming and onomastics1 is an important element of African and Diasporic African life and culture, I have to start with your name, upfromsumdirt. What does it mean, where did it come from, and is it tied to some very specific dirt? How does that dirt inform your work? Ronald Davis: The name "upfromsumdirt" is taken from a line in a poem where I said I was "up from some dirt, like a pyramid" - a line that referenced my political aesthetic at first, but came to equate itself with rural life for Black folks in Africa and in America's rural south. Sounds and names and naming-ceremonies have definitely affected my own personal, artistic philosophies. I always use the movie ―Ghost Dog‖ to highlight my approach, especially the scene in the movie where three Italian mafia guys are sitting in the back room of a Hispanic-owned Chinese restaurant contemplating names and culture. They talk about how beautiful and noble-sounding traditional Native Americans names, such as Black Elk, Running Bear, Sitting Bull, etc., were while simultaneously dissing the cultural merit of rapper names, like Flava Flav, Big Daddy Kane, and Kool Moe Dee - positions the mafia guys all share because they didn't viscerally connect to the contemporary side of urban culture. The irony is that these same mafia guys have names like Johnny Twofingers, Tony the Bull, Bowlegged Lou (okay, maybe not that one) - they connect to the cultures they romanticize about while distancing themselves from the ones they loathe, even when cultural similarities are shared. That movie scene highlights what motivates me as a writer and as an artist: the lack of mainstream romanticism for positive black creativity; remember how black consciousness was heavily criticized in the late '80s for romanticizing Africa? Well, my romanticism for Black culture and Pan-Africanism is what pushes my hand to create because every respected culture romanticizes its origins in art and in literature; no one ever admonished an American-born poet for building upon or reinterpreting the mythologies of ancient Greece. African-American morality tales have died out because we've been made to associate those stories with the era of slavery instead of the civilizations we had prior to it, or even with the societies we imagine for ourselves in the future. FJ: Can you talk about how location and place play into your work? I‘m thinking about the south and its rich cultural history. How do you intersect, or reconcile the two within your work? RD: I‘m from Louisville, a city that's fully southern in cosmopolitan clothing. So, by definition, I‘m already dysfunctional. I‘m southern by nature, but citified by make-believe. 1
Onomastics or onomatology is the study of proper names, and the origins of names. DAVIS/JOINER ∫ 26
Or maybe vice-versa. But, if you would have called me ―country‖ (like most young AfricanAmerican men prior to the use of "The Dirty South" as a source of pride), I would have keyed your Cadillac. After reading the historical works of Cheikh Anta Diop and Dr. John Henrik Clarke and the fictional works of Chinua Achebe, Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler, and Haki Madhubuti, I began to realize that pre-colonial Africa and the Black South gathered its strengths from our connections to the land we lived upon. The South's "rich cultural history" to me is a direct extension of Africa and therefore my own identity; I couldn't love one and dislike the other. What made the South "rich" was Africa standing up in our awareness of self; this was Africa fighting back, reasserting itself as the base for our culture. There is no need to reconcile because nothing is at odds; it's more epiphany than reconciliation. The most reconciling I‘ve had to do was accepting the fact that I am both a visual artist AND a writer and that I can be blue-collar AND eccentric. Those were hard. FJ: How do you think about cultural memory and trauma when thinking about the brevity of a visual work? RD: Every generation has its own form of wiggle-room, but none of us can outrun the losses from not having a positive cultural memory in education and in the media. We trip over trauma waking up, but most of us have learned to compartmentalize it in relation to how we work and live on a day-to-day basis. We don't think about it unless we create. Then we think about it or others think about it for us, appropriately or not. As a result, creativity is only brief in relationship to the individual artist. But, in actuality, it is an amalgamation of all that we have been and will be. The only hindrance is that Black Art has not yet been allowed to be canonical unless it is allowed to ride the artistic movements from other eras. I love and appreciate the works of European artists, but fundamentally, my art comes from "a long line of long lines:" the Black Arts Movement, Négritude, the Harlem Renaissance, Black Folk Art/Southern Art, Abolitionism, Ancient Africa. My time as a torch-bearer is brief, but the spirit from which I create goes way back. FJ: I would like to ask you about process with respect to your collage work. Much of your work is created digitally. How does this change the collage craft as we have become familiar with it (Rauschenberg, Bearden, etc)? Does ―cleanliness‖ of working in a digital medium dramatically alter the feeling you are going for or the ability of the viewer to connect with image? RD: The digital medium itself is clean. But, if I create as I intend, then the goal is to artistically step into something unclean and drag my foot across the digital canvas. Art should always alter our feelings in one way or another, but it should be because of the composition itself and not because you look at it and say "oh, yeah... that's digital all right." Sometimes, the medium can play a part of and be seen in what we do, but personally I don‘t want "digital" to be the first thing you see when you look at my work. I‘m heavy-handed on my use of color; color is always my intended tool for the feel and mood of my collages, especially for the ones I print for exhibits and galleries. DAVIS/JOINER ∫ 27
FJ: A few years ago at a lecture at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., artist Kerry James Marshall put forth the notion that artists create to enter ―the conversation‖ with something, be it another artist's work, a specific set of ideas, or body of knowledge. Who or what ideas are you in conversation with in your work? RD: Most times, it's my 6 year-old self communicating with my 106 year-old self. Other times, it's the graphic designer in me communicating with the visual artist... or the preacher with poet. It's always an internal conversation because I‘m deeply introverted. All of my split-personalities are anti-social, even with each other at times. But, when they do talk, it's like a ceremonial gathering of elders holding court to condemn a camel thief or to set the dowry for a prized bride. FJ: In a NatCreole article/interview, you said that ―Black‖ artists' are stuck in 1980's/1990's. Do you think the source of this stagnation is internal, the artists themselves not challenging themselves, or external, art biz writers/critics/collectors not casting their attention net wide enough? What do you think your body of work, process, approach or aesthetic is doing to move ―Black‖ art forward? RD: That's a question that's above my ability to fully address. I have a knee-jerk sociopolitico answer and I have one that I feel is deeply thought-out. In the end, neither is right or wrong because we can't lump 40 million African-Americans into the same aesthetic or reasons for that aesthetic. By tradition, we are considered a call-and-response type of people. But because many of us have lost our own sense of mythology, sometimes our 'response' is just a rephrasing of 'the call' and isn't as definitive an answer as it could be. FJ: A lot of your work is very bright. What are you thinking about when you choose color? RD: Bob Marley once sang, "I want you to know I‘m a rainbow too." Well, I‘m with Bob. FJ: I wanted to shift away from your visual art to talk a bit about your ―word‖ work, you as a writer, lover and supporter of language. You and your wife, poet Crystal Wilkinson, recently reopened Morgan Adams Books store as the Wild Fig. In our current economic stagnation, with brick and mortar bookstores large and small folding across the nation, what was your motivation in shouldering this kind of enterprise and what do you think that you can bring to this opportunity that other business owners have missed in the model of running a bookstore? RD: I had worked the last year and a half with Morgan Adams Books and was going to need a job anyway. So Crys and I turned to each other and shrugged. Next thing you know, we were the owners of 10,000 books. We both believe fiction (and good fiction) has a lingering affect. We just want The Wild Fig to be good fiction for as long as we can make it last. But, if push comes to shove, we're not above turning the bookstore into a quality brothel! DAVIS/JOINER ∫ 28
FJ: As a writer, who is also a visual artist, I am curious about how your writing, more specifically your poetry, coalesces and informs your visual body of work? Are they in conversation with one another or are they two separate trains running? RD: My art and my poetry are hand-in-hand, biting off more than they can chew, attempting to recreate a Modern Black Mythos that could have existed had it not been for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade's disruptive holocaust to African culture in North America. I was born a bullshitter. I will die a daydreamer. All of my crafts should reflect that. FJ: In a Whohub.com interview, you said that you ―would like to get back into painting and photography.‖ I would like to know what caused your departure from those crafts and what drives your desire to return to them? Is there something you can express in painting and/or photography that you cannot express in the digital medium? RD: I chased being like my parents, two extremely blue-collared types of people. Mama often encouraged my artistic side. But, I always felt that the best way to honor them was not to chase and fulfill my own desires, but by showing them I respected their sacrifices by imitating them. If I was going to be an artist, then I would be an architect. If I was going to be a writer, then I‘d be a historian. I was a horrible student, so I ended up working in a factory for 15 years with little time for self-discovery. I was Romare Bearden and Lucille Clifton in my own mind. That was always satisfaction enough until I learned from those who cared about me to define 'satisfaction' for myself (something I still in fact wrestle with). FJ: In almost every interview I have read with you, there are always comparisons with Romare Bearden. I think that African-American artists making collages for many years to come will bear the blessings and burden of that comparison. As the TBR editorial staff sat with your work, we seemed to be struck by the same pieces. I think this is mostly due to the sense of rhythm, space, perspective, and the unique manner in which those considerations manifest themselves in the visual elements of your art. People responded to Bearden‘s work for similar reasons. In looking at beautiful birth right, secretary for the spirits, collage, and victory, can you talk a little bit about rhythm, space, perspective and the ideas and questions you are trying to call to the viewer‘s attention? RD: First of all, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to soapbox and such. I deeply respect and appreciate TBR and its staff. Thank you! Bearden is always an influence and his shadow and light will eternally loom over the work of most African-American collagists. I think Krista Franklin has already been called "the hiphop Romare Bearden" and I tend to describe my work as "the love child of Romare Bearden and Pedro Bell" (Sir-Nose for President!). My work is littered with politics and social commentary, but told from the perspective of what is being called "afrofuturism" or what I like to call abstrack-africana. I do sometimes wish I could be more minimalist in layout, but because the African image has already been maligned with social commentary and stereotyping, I often feel compelled to be heavy-handed with theme and composition. DAVIS/JOINER ∫ 29
There's something unseen about Black Folks to the eyes of modern society in regards to history, place, and our relationship to universal humanity and critics expect anger or begging or an invitation of sorrow towards the social frameworks placed upon us. But, those are inventions to help placate any sense of "first world" responsibility for the holocaust done to us. No doubt, colonialism and slavery have left us fractured in many regards, but there's not a living people on this planet who should begin their Origin-stories with "and the Heavens opened and the Gangplanks lowered and out descended our Enslaved Elders In Shackles." No one wants to be that people so no one romanticizes that and if no one dreams of being you, your warriors or your royalty, then upon what foundation can they begin to respect you? It all begins with what we dream about, with our fantasies, and with Man's ability to rise above the events that plague him. That's where ―space,‖ ―composition‖ and ―rhythm‖ come into play regarding the art I make or attempt to make: seeing it as a place where our dreams, philosophies, and ancestral memories have playdates with politics and popular culture, a place for Black Folk Art to embrace PanAfricanism, becoming pop-art or fine-art in the process; that‘s the basis for the idea of ―multiculturalism.‖ If all of its participants haven't first fully explored who they were, are, or might possibly choose to be, then multiculturalism doesn't truly exist. Art allows us the opportunities to explore the many multiple African cultures that exist within us. My art invites outsiders to eavesdrop on me talking directly to my people.
Ron Davis is a fat vegetarian; co-founder, poetry editor, and art director for Mythium Literary Journal; and a co-owner of The Wild Fig Books. a fervent daydreamer, he creates visual art and abstract poetry under the pseudonym "upfromsumdirt." can't sing for shit. is a rabble-rouser in his own head and a grand speechifier; "wordy" or "worrisome" his mama says... please, don't get him started. Fred Joiner is a poet and a Poetry Editor of Tidal Basin Review.
DAVIS/JOINER ∫ 30
victory - 28h x 28w digital collage / jpg-only
SOUTHERN ENOUGH DéLana R.A. Dameron My family believed I’d have words for others. - Elizabeth Alexander I hold only the truths my family told me and make do with what I have. I know only what I am given. As the result of a series of set hierarchies: age determines amount of information, and all of the good stuff happened before I was born. Most of my truths are one-sided. When I was young, I knew there were gaps between my known and unknown, between the actual and fantasy. But children were not to ask questions without reprimand. It is what it is. What was was. But I always found myself on the perimeter of adult circles snatching pieces of gossip. Even now I do not know if anything I have just revealed – that I used to snoop around like a truth-detective – is one hundred percent valid. Perhaps my family has told this to me too and that is how I‘ve come to know what I do – not experientially. I do not know which is true. What I know: as a southern-transplant in New York City, people I meet expect folklore to spill from my tongue. This is outside of the fact that I am a writer – but maybe it is magnified because I identify as one. Their rationale: isn‘t the South the breeding ground for Oral History – for stories ever-ready in the mouth? Upon identifying as a Southerner, the interested party will ask: ―Will you tell me about it? The South?‖ And I suspect they want what I cannot deliver: some complete fables rife with spirits and back roads, illicit moonshine in mason jars, Klansmen and burned crosses, ―For Whites Only Signs‖ above water fountains – a rural and backwards capital-S South, some romantic other-world. Most of these stories are expected to have been passed down from generation to generation – all the way back to slavery. The story‘s validity is intensified by the number of generations it must take to reach me. I tell the listening party I can‘t get my family tree past Georgia. But oh, the tales I do have: my paternal grandmother battled several ghosts while working as a domestic on the waterfront mansions in Charleston, South Carolina; my maternal grandfather performed autopsies on the mentally ill and brought home whole brains swimming in formaldehyde; my maternal grandmother washed and styled her dead mother‘s hair the night before my great-grandmother Georgia Mae‘s funeral. * I still do not know if it‘s a truth or a fabrication: the image of a living daughter and a dead mother and the ritual of washing hair. I do not know if it was told to me, or if I imagined or dreamed it happened. I do this a lot – dream about the dead. Despite the DAMERON ∫ 32
possible inconsistencies, the image is consistent with the kinds of things that go on in my family; I do not question its validity. I simply write an absolute. It happened; here it is. My maternal grandmother was a hairdresser. She worked at a mental hospital in Columbia, South Carolina where she washed and styled mental patients‘ hair. My grandmother, figuring out ways to save a dime, often insisted my sister and I come to get our hair done weekly in her salon. I remember walking into the salon of a mental hospital and sitting under the dryer next to a woman who cried when she talked. It is my experienced truth. Too, what is consistent with my women of the South is a close communion with death. That‘s why I speak of dreams of the dead so confidently. I hear voices; see visions. Yes, I said it. I‘ve inherited this. My last visit with my living grandmother was largely a conversation about the funerals she‘d just attended. Once, she helped another friend dress her dead relative before being placed into the casket. Another time, she fixed the stiff face of her cousin because it looked as if he was grimacing in his coffin. He should have, she said, looked as if he were sleeping. Where the story unravels about whether or not my grandmother held her dead mother‘s heavy head is in the details: how and where did she do it? By the time her mother passed away, my grandmother was retired from the Asylum Salon. It must have been at her friend‘s house: the funeral home delivered the body and let my grandmother wash her mother‘s hair one last time. * Age allows me access to higher rungs on the family hierarchy of information. I should, by now, hold many truths. Because I am concerned with archiving I want to preserve the story. Any story. My father knows this. Recognizing the stories that I know and have from my mother‘s side of the family, and my desire to keep them, Daddy has started beginning our long-distance phone conversations with: ―Maybe, one day, you‘ll write something about,‖ and tells me everything I have never known. While I am excited to know these stories, something about the unknown and the freedom and ability to create and fill in the blanks – mad-lib life stories, if you will – gives me reason to keep writing. My friend‘s parents profess to have traced their family‘s history from slavery, across the Atlantic, and back to a specific tribe in Africa. This is the story I am sure my Mid-Atlantic friends wish I could tell: how I got here. But I learned early my parents have no such interest in discovery. I used to hate them for it; their lack of desire translated into my lack of knowledge. We‘re all orphans. I hated them for not passing down traditions like my friends‘ families. How my family celebrates holidays is largely a miscellany of laziness, disorganization and practically no religious affiliation, even at Christmas or Easter. Mostly, we gather around a table of food and tell the same fragmented and halfkept stories. Isn‘t that Southern enough? DAMERON ∫ 33
* When my father‘s mother died, I grieved: I never got a chance to get the truth about the ghosts. I‘m not sure now I want it. I no longer want for clarification or details or more information than what I was fed as a child. I‘d rather keep my arrested development in the hierarchy of information. There is freedom in the ability to weave loose threads into a personal historical tapestry; my friend who can trace her blood back to Africa, her history is written, finite. Mine is malleable. I have this blessing: I can create a history; can have words for where there are none. To get clarification on the ghosts might mean I lose the magic. It might mean that my great-Uncle Isaac did not sit up from the coffin bed at his own funeral. I like believing that he did.
DAMERON ∫ 34
WINGS SEEPING OUT THE BONE Hafizah Geter she fears there are bats in the alley, caterpillars nesting her throat. worries butterflies and bumblebees will soon begin to mate. on the tips of highrises rooks perch and ready their clicksongs. they watch her, no mammal's grace in her legs, just arachnidâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; book lungs. she holds air in antiquated ways, breath a suitable breeding ground. in this way she fears winged things: the flapping bats that flock her belly, caterpillars remade. even under street lamps, nature comes to injure her, flares shivved teeth. butterflies lash their callous, fervid tongues. she is a creature hatched into prey. ready to subsume, bats stretch the pavement. every rook knows her tune, every bumblebee shivers, calls her blood to hive.
GETER â&#x2C6;Ť 35
HOW TO TEACH A BLACK GIRL TO SING Hafizah Geter hips kick, with the sass of women, we sing shimmy shimmy coco pop shimmy shimmy pow. summer keeps a two-four tap. a circle of blackness and girl, we write our narratives, synchronize stomps. snare drums on a back beat, our hands mark time, calluses, whipped by rhythm‘s birch switch. the down down baby and i’ll never let you go rides us piggyback in driveways. big boned, summer shakes its hips. chants till dusk rings curfew's bell, pulls brown skin home. put it all together and what do you get travels into houses. we drag rasp voices to washrags, boiled rice. mothers purge their songs in beef stew. eager daughters, we return each night, listen to women release their dirge.
GETER ∫ 36
THAT’S THE SOUND OF THE MEN WORKING ON THE CHAIN GANG Joseph Ross Imagine the Sam Cooke Song -- After Terrance Hayes There wasn‘t an orange jumpsuit small enough for the shoulders he woke up with this morning. But determined to breathe like the man his sixteen year-old mind told him he was, he took the small Department of Corrections suit off the hook and stepped into it quickly, pulling up the suicideproof plastic zipper with teenage energy. He could almost hide in the choir of this suit today while he and the others were allowed to go out and collect the free world‘s trash from beside the Beltway. He could wear this ridiculous scream of an outfit, that made him look like an emergency. He could work beside their van and its trailer carrying a Port-a-Potty, near the guards whose caffeinated fingers rested on their guns, their gaze never slipping far from his, and the other prisoners‘ orange-wrapped legs. Maybe he could hum as he breathed in all that free-world air racing past him at seventy-five miles an hour. Maybe he could even sing a little, imagining he was riding in one of those SUVs with a booming radio, or a red convertible compact car with the whipping air stealing his melody as quickly as he sings it, hurling his voice into the lanes of flying traffic. He could pull all that Sunday-air deep into his lungs and imagine he is a thousand courtrooms away from the side of this road, singing a song no one else can hear, a song that does not end with the slamming steel of a cell door.
ROSS ∫ 37
ON LANGSTON HUGHES’ “THE NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS” Joseph Ross You wrote of rivers that deepened you, of water doing what it does to earth, to us, cutting down and rinsing away anything that is not tomorrow. Today those rivers cut still. Mothers bury their sons in the sand of the Euphrates as the sun sinks below a barbed wire horizon. The huts clustered along the Congo are filled with human limbs, no eyes, no faces, and the married fingers have been stripped of their rings. The Nile still flows too, admiring the monuments of staring stone but along its banks crouch madmen, dipping their missing fingers into its moving water. And the only song rising from the Mississippi emerges from a woman left on her roof, shaking her fist ROSS ∫ 38
as the hurricane laughs, the waters rise, while some in her own country pretend she is dancing. There is only one thing to know here: we are meaner than deep, we forgive less than we harm. We are silent in the face of rain.
ROSS â&#x2C6;Ť 39
WATER SIGN Ellen Hagan Look at this. These bones expanding beneath me. Unseen. But you have fresh eyes. On me. Your eyes the afternoon. Chocolate milk in bed. All my weight, yours. Already a lullaby inside. Your palms to belly, breath on hip bone. You are changing, beginning to open. Too. And you, baby girl, or boy. Or two. Are just gills. Still. Heart in mouth. Red burst of newness. Fins. Fish or fowl. Shrimp are larger than you. Still, you are breaking me apart. Him too. Our hearts and lungs, and gills. Bursting You are stretching all, all of us. Open.
HAGAN â&#x2C6;Ť 40
WHAT TO DO Ellen Hagan be silent when your tour guide tells you "during the special period some families had no soap. like mine. we didn't have no soap," she says. don't think of the four fat dove bars in your medicine chest at home. excess. dodge the palm sized cockroaches, the million stray, skinny dogs. pretend you aren't scared of dogs, stray ones in particular. dodge the cats and kittens, but not the one black cat that double-crosses you twice on your last night. call it blessing. call it ceremony. don't call home. you won't know what to say. wash your underwear in the sink. stink. sweat through everything. twice. then again. feel overwhelmed. choking. eat at bernardo's friend's paladar. ask how to say paladar 15 times and then spell it under your breath. paladar. paladar. paladar. walk through vedado. say vedado. forbidden. walk the three floors to her home. paradise. paladar. drink rum and coke. feel 19 again, drink cristal on the bus and bucanero, and order in spanish. feel local, because in cuba you see people who look like you. ask Leticia to translate to Angellito, your bus driver, who is Lebanese and Syrian, that your mother is Assyrian. Watch his face glow. He'll tell you what his ancestors looked like. Dark. You'll tell him what your Pop looked like. Dark. And your mother. You'll feel communion.
HAGAN â&#x2C6;Ť 41
a beautiful birthright - 24h x 17.5w digital collage / jpg-only
MACHINE Gerald Fleming ―Anyway. Bernie, I must confess I‘ve got an ulterior motive in asking you to have a beer with me. See, I‘ve got this computer problem, and I don‘t feel comfortable just walking into a shop & describing the symptoms to someone I don‘t know—you know what I mean? O.K., I‘ll explain. ―You remember I bought that laptop in June. I was really excited—thought I‘d be joining the modern world—all my friends had a new one, kept teasing me, calling me Luddite, troglodyte, all the dytes they knew. I didn‘t care about that so much as the possibility that I could revise my poems without typing the damned things over—there were some I must‘ve retyped fifty times over the years—and I was beginning to hate it. ―And then also I had this idea that I could organize my work, maybe even organize myself domestically, as they say—it all appealed to me. I mean, Bern, this is not a purchase I took lightly—I planned it, and this wasn‘t cheap. ―Why am I talking in the past tense? Maybe I don‘t have to be—maybe there are still possibilities, but… ―So I buy the thing, get it home, set it up, go to my files, get out all my poems from the past twenty-five years—I‘ve got them in order—and start typing. ―After a few minutes formatting, as they say, screwing around with margins and underlines and italics, then doing some typing, I do a little math and realize that it will take me half the goddamn rest of my life to put these things in. Plus I find myself making changes even to that first poem, and at that rate... ―I know. I should take things one at a time—you‘re right. But I never do. I get overwhelmed, I admit it. ―Anyway I look in the phone book, hire this woman Beth, make photocopies of the poems, and bring ‗em all over to her house, she charges me a fortune, but in three weeks she delivers this little white plastic lozenge-looking thing with my entire life‘s work on it! ‗Just plug it into your computer,‘ she says, ‗drag the icon onto the hard disk and it‘ll copy to your machine. The poems are organized by year, just as you asked.‘ And she goes down the stairs and out. ―I open the laptop, do what she told me. It seems fine. There‘s a folder that pops us saying Poems, 1975-Present. Great. Everything‘s fine. But I have an appointment with my proctologist, so I put the thing on Sleep and leave. ―When I come back I‘m all charged up to work on some poems—really get into revision, go all the way back, history be damned. I get a cup of coffee, goose the mouse, wake the thing up. I open the Poems folder, and instead of the poems year by year, as FLEMING ∫ 43
Beth promised, there are other folders inside the big folder. I can‘t remember them all, but they‘re labeled something like JUVENILIA, JEJUNILIA, WHOLLY DERIVATIVE, BELONG IN BROADWAY SONGS, MISCELLANEOUS INSINCERITIES, INCOMPREHENSIBILITIES, REFUSALS TO GO DEEPER, and FAINT POSSIBILITIES. ―You‘re laughing? I‘m so upset I can‘t even open the folders yet, and I call Beth. My voice is shaking, I‘m accusing her, asking her if this was her idea of some kind of stupid joke. Tell her I‘m going to stop payment on my check. She doesn‘t seem to know what I‘m talking about, and she talks to me as if I‘m crazy. I end up apologizing, but I could tell I scared her. ―So I open the folders. I‘m furious. Some of my most subtle, deeply lyrical work has been put in Belong in Broadway Shows. Half my love poems to Jeannette are in Miscellaneous Insincerities. My most soul-searching work—especially about Dad—in Refusal to Go Deeper. ―Well, thanks. You‘re beginning to see how I feel. O.K.—so I leave the computer alone for a few days. I‘m half-undone. Walk a lot. Have a poem in mind one day when I come home from a walk, decide to take a leap and compose at the keyboard. Type a line, everything‘s fine. Type another and a little bell-thing rings and a box comes on the screen that says CLICHÉ! I can‘t believe it—it was a cliché, too, but I‘m just trying to get the poem down and deal with stuff like that later. So to get the box to go away, I either have to click CONTINUE or SUGGEST A MORE SOPHISTICATED ALTERNATIVE. I don‘t give a shit about the computer‘s sophisticated alternatives, click CONTINUE, keep typing. I go a few lines and get the bell again, this time PATHETIC FALLACY! Go more lines and get CONTRADICTS WHAT YOU SAID IN LINE THREE. At this point I‘m practically foaming with fear. I write five more lines, utterly unsure, do a double-return for a stanza break, and get another bell: STANZA ONE: TIN EAR. ―‗Tin ear? Tin ear,‘ I say, ‗Well, Fuck you!‘ and I half-expect the thing to ring its little bell and say, ―Fuck you, too. ―I keep going. Type another stanza. No bells, no whistles, but get to the end of that stanza and get this: TOTAL UNNECESSARY WORDS, STANZAS 1 & 2: 36. ―It gets even worse. The next day I‘m typing a poem that I‘d written by hand that morning, and the machine won‘t seem to let me use the word peregrinations. I keep typing it, nothing happens. So I substitute travels just to get on with it, and get the bell, the box: THAT‘S BETTER. Later on, it won‘t let me type soi-disant. I try six times, and finally get a box: PRETENTIOUS—KNOCK IT OFF. ―From that day, I quit committing poetry to the machine. But wait‘ll you hear this. I buy one of those Personal Finance programs to do my bills. It acts the same way. I write the checks, and when I come back the next day, its got them arranged in folders called REASONABLE, EXTRAVAGANT: NORMAL RANGE, MONEY DOWN A RAT HOLE, CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION, ECOLOGICALLY DESTRUCTIVE, ILLUSIONS OF SECURITY. FLEMING ∫ 44
―Very funny. I can‘t fucking believe it. So I do call a computer store, I simply say I‘ve got some problems with the way my computer sorts things, and with what do you call them—dialogue boxes. The guy‘s busy with customers—he says open a folder and run something called Disk Utility—it‘ll do what he calls a ―self-diagnosis,‖ and issue a report on the screen, and I can print it out if I want, bring it in. ―So I run Disk Utility. The thing whirs and buzzes and clicks: REPORT READY. I print it. I‘ve got it here—should I read it to you? ERRORS FOUND: MANY ERRORS REPAIRED: FEW BAD BLOCKS: MANY ORIGIN OF BAD BLOCKS: AMBITION, MONEY. FRAGMENTATION: SEVERE, PATHOLOGICAL, UNABLE TO REPAIR.
PRIMARY SUMMARY: BASED ON YOUR POEMS AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION, YOUR LIFE APPEARS SEPARATED INTO TWO SEGMENTS: ILLUSORY WRITING ABILITIES AND FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY. UNDER THE PARTITION ILLUSORY WRITING ABILITIES, YOU SHOW SOME FLASHES OF TALENT, BUT THEY ARE OCCASIONAL. IN GENERAL YOUR WORK IS PREDICTABLE—TYPICAL OF MANY WITH SIMILAR BIRTH YEAR WHO POSSESS AN INFLATED SENSE OF SELF YET LACK ANY ARTICULATED, DEVELOPED CORE. UNDER THE PARTITION FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY, YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION IS LESS PRAGMATIC THAN IMPULSIVE. YOU WILL USE ANY JUSTIFICATION TO BUY WHAT YOU WANT, AND THE LACK OF A COHERENT FINANCIAL PLAN HAS SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS.
TARGETED SUMMARY: BASED ON THE POEMS FOUND IN THE CURRENT DATA BASE AND THE FINANCIAL FIGURES ENTERED, YOU APPEAR TO BE A SELF-SERVING MEGALOMANIAC INCAPABLE OF TRUE INTIMACY, WILLING TO PROSTITUTE THE MINOR ETHICS YOU CLAIM IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE EVEN LIMITED FAME AS A POET. THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOUR WORK IS WEAK AND THAT OVER THE DECADES YOU HAVE ALTERED YOUR AESTHETIC TO FIT WHATEVER STYLE IS IN VOGUE, COUPLED WITH THE CHEAP COMMERCE YOU FIND IN SNIDE COMMENTS ABOUT OTHER WRITERS—NONE OF THIS APPARENTLY DISTURBS YOU. YOUR SPENDING HABITS ARE ALTERNATELY MANIC OR DEPRESSIVE—GREAT PERIODS OF LARGESSE FOLLOWED
FLEMING ∫ 45
BY PERIODS OF PENURY AND FALSE ECONOMIES. YOU WILL DIE MISERABLE AND BITTER, AND UNFORTUNATELY YOUR WIFE, A GOOD WOMAN [BASED ON DATA SEEN HEREIN] ALSO WILL DIE EMBITTERED, IN POVERTY, HAVING ALLOWED HERSELF TO BE PULLED INTO YOUR IMPENETRABLE MIASMA.
―So there it is, Bern. In all its bloody glory. Anything to say?‖ ―Yup. Take the computer back.‖ ―Take it back? What do you mean take it back? I‘ve used it for three months!‖ ―Take the computer back, Tom. They gave you the French version.‖
FLEMING ∫ 46
MARTHA STEWART PACKS FOR PRISON Karen Sagstetter She stuffs her duffel with fat jeans and terrible plaid shirts, decides against underwear. Adds a baggy jacket, wrinkled bandanas, any old shoes. Floppy shorts for the exercise yard, skinny tank top, big T-shirt to sleep in. She gathers red, white, and blue sheets, her ―fruited plain‖calendar, bugle, and other patriotica. For after hours, she assembles ripe-red lipstick and ruffles, sequins, garters, feathers. For she loves the can-can. At last, a reprieve from gladioli and candles. Time to read about gunslingers and sheriffs from her library of westerns. Time for the sea stories she‘s longed to write. Time to study dollar bills in good light.
SAGSTETTER ∫ 47
NIGHT SHIFT ON DEATH ROW Karen Sagstetter for L. You jumped from planes over Asia into fierce webs of jungle, threaded through blackening dusk quiet like a needle You‘d spot the enemy, communists-a camp, just teenagers in rotting sandals, sipping lousy soup-kids you were told to shoot Now you work in America in real prison, the Big House with driveways and skinny landscaping shepherding hitmen toward sleep You serve snacks on a tray late at night tending their rabid stomachs so they will shut their loud mouths so they will calm down lie down so they won‘t punch so hard through your stiff uniform, armor the bosses gave you Watch out Watch out for the one who took aim at his son, the one who torched trains, who slashed his teacher, strangled a dog shoved wives off high bridges burned churches cracked the spell of god. Scan for thread, foil, pencils the gadgetry of uprising-for killers want to live and they are more intricate SAGSTETTER ∫ 48
than you Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;re balding, have bad knees but you step into midnight keeping proud You chisel through the four walls of insanity, hear unspeakable ranting You keep cool You do this job Here is a home for your rogue bravery where you are not just some clerk folding and unfolding your green beret.
SAGSTETTER â&#x2C6;Ť 49
THE HINDENBURG Michael Meyerhofer “Oh, the humanity!” —Herbert Morrison Measured against the contrails of cracked space shuttles, families sent up chimneys, Iranian earthquakes and downtown Manhattan on fire, how silly seems his grainy cry as flames whiten the dark underbelly of that tumbling canvas whale bursting over Lakehurst Station. Now, POWs in panties and dog collars, arms outstretched before Roman girls grinning in American camouflage. This is what we fail to learn: grief is the grandmother of mercy, the only part of us worth saving.
MEYERHOFER ∫ 50
AMERICAN RONIN Michael Meyerhofer His fists have shucked corn ears, silk tassels falling like mistranslated kanji. But in another age, they picked rice and folded roses from the shogun‘s silk, fished off coasts fat with cranes and snapdragons, Fuji‘s snowy tip rising through a pale blue gown of clouds. His lips have recited British rhyme, memorized the order of dead presidents. But once, they sang to ancestors while he pulled cold water from a well, moon in the folds of a kimono, dark braids held by a comb of bone. Each day, unarmed in his plastic sandals, he braves mazes of asphalt, strangers with round eyes. Hides his ache for jade and cinder-capped agarwood, faint memories of elsewhere— that moon-soaked market where tea leaves became top hats and gatling guns, a bay of admirals in melancholy stripes.
MEYERHOFER ∫ 51
AREA 58 Jim Hayes there is a black ash hole not a Taj Mahal, but a flak tower, radome, telephone exchange bad attitude echelon creators of billion dollar shooting stars
beyond laws and boundaries razor wire and flood lit perimeter unblinking orbital eye searching for enemies sending out remote control death
these are the secrets we keep from ourselves not because everyone doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t know but because that would be telling.
HAYES â&#x2C6;Ť 52
FROM THE FLORIDA ROOM Claude Clayton Smith Taylor Franklin is in the Florida room thinking things over. His wife has been dead for nearly a year. He himself has just retired. It’s time to retire, he hears himself saying again and again to his own reflection in the sliding glass door. Time to smell those roses everybody talks about. The truth is, he‘s been made to retire. Dean Hardwick plays hardball—has told him not to return in the spring, to clean out his office and go—sweetening the dismissal with a medical disability. Psychological, not physical, he took pains to make clear. And confidential, of course. Don’t you worry about that. A less-than-gilded handshake, nonetheless. He is fifty years old, reason enough for a mid-life crisis, but no one seems to notice or care. It is April of ‘99 and the world is obsessed with Y2K, the Millennium looming like an old friend in the doorway, its shadow large on the wall. Suitably apocalyptic, he figures (he is still grieving for his wife), giving him the parting thought with which he‘d left the gray-haired Dean: May the heavens open up, or the fiery jaws of hell, and consume us all. Beginning with you, sir. He‘s had his doubts about old Hardwick from the start. All because of a pair of ski gloves. He remembers the circumstances clearly from the Florida room: Angela is an avid skier—faculty adviser to the Spring Hill ski club—dragging him to the slopes as a way to get to know him when he joins the faculty. But he proves too clumsy in her presence, his feeble snowplow no match for the tight parallel arcs that she carves so effortlessly right down the fall line of the most difficult slopes. Still, he comes to know the value of good equipment, from snug boots to warm gloves. Like the gloves that sit in the box on the shiny end table just inside the door to Hardwick‘s office. The cardboard box—hand-lettered LOST ‘N‘ FOUND in magic marker by the Dean‘s secretary—is filled with mittens, scarves, knit caps, sweater vests, and other items of clothing abandoned in winter classrooms by students too eager to get out the door. He noticed the ski gloves in question when he descended into the bowels of Hawthorne Hall to change an incomplete grade for one of his fall-quarter students. Easily a two-hundreddollar pair of ski gloves. Men’s gloves, at a girls‘ school, no less. (He refers to the students as girls, although Angela insisted that he call them young women.) No doubt the property of a visiting boyfriend. The secretary from whom he had sought the change-of-grade form at the time (now retired herself) is out of the office, and so he picks up the ski gloves and studies them carefully, playfully trying them on. But they swallow his small hands—large, black, fleecelined leather ski gloves with reinforced leather strips across the palms to buffer the pole straps. With double stitching on the thick thumbs and fingers. With extra-long jersey cuffs extending well up the wrists to protect from snow during wipeouts (which in his case, despite Angela‘s tutoring, had come all too often). With small rings and a snap at the heel SMITH ∫ 53
of each hand, for attaching the gloves themselves to a belt loop of your ski jacket, so you won‘t lose them when you retreat to the lodge for a beer or a breather. And attached to the small ring on the left-hand glove in that cardboard box is a silver bar of the sort you find jangling from necklaces or charm bracelets, bearing the initials MSG. He had tried to think, way back then, of students with those initials—Michelle Gonder, Mary Gross, Miranda Grothouse (débutantes, all)—but couldn‘t muster their middle names, which he never recorded in his grade book anyway although they routinely appeared on the Registrar‘s lists. Then he remembered they were guy’s gloves. Then the secretary walked in. She‘d been ―down the hall.‖ Meaning to the ladies room. He remembers the conversation clearly: ―How may I help you, Mr. Franklin?‖ (She had always been cheerful.) ―Monosodium glutamate,‖ he says absentmindedly, dropping the gloves into box. ―I beg your pardon?‖ ―Did you know that the vast majority of vegetarian prepared foods contain a dangerous nerve toxin ingredient called monosodium glutamate? MSG for short. Angela told me. She‘s a vegetarian.‖ The secretary, an elderly single woman and a chain-smoker, has—ever since the campus went smokeless—been forced to puff her cigarettes outside, on the rear steps of Hawthorne Hall, taking a detour whenever she goes ―down the hall.‖ She reeks of cigarette smoke now, the stale pungent odor of some foreign brand, as she circles behind her desk, smoothes her gray tweed skirt, and sits down. ―Would that be Angela from the English Department? ―It would.‖ ―She doesn‘t waste any time, does she?‖ ―I guess not.‖ ―You‘re new here, aren‘t you, Mr. Franklin? I remember when you interviewed.‖ ―I remember you, too.‖ Remembers the stale pungent odor of those foreign cigarettes, rolled with tobacco that seems to have been soaked in prune juice. Remembers her short white hair, which resembles George Washington‘s wig. And the odd name embossed upon the nameplate in front of the typewriter on her desk—Miss Flavia Finyucane—Miss, despite the gains of female radicals the very age of Miss Finyucane, female radicals who founded the feminist movement. Despite the presence of women like Angela on campus. Then again, as Angela was fond of saying, Spring Hill, with its finishing SMITH ∫ 54
school horsy heritage, is no spring chicken. It had declared itself a university by adding a college of Arts and Sciences to the original equestrian college. After all, Angela had been fond of saying too, facetiously mocking the Dean, what is a university but an institution with more than one college? With all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. The upgrade to university status had doubled the duties of Charles Hardwick, making him Dean of Arts and Sciences as well as Chancellor. ―But what I need now,‖ he (he himself, Taylor Franklin, that is) had said at the time, ―is a change-of-grade form.‖ Miss Flavia Finyucane (in George Washington‘s wig) opens a drawer, withdraws the form, and hands it across the desk. He sees it all happening again from the Florida room. How he pivoted smartly and left. All those years ago. It was a week after that visit to the bowels of Hawthorne Hall that he had begun to have his doubts about Dr. Charles Hardwick (the distinguished title due to an honorary doctorate, from the Equestrian Institute of America), Chancellor of Spring Hill University and Dean of its College of Arts and Sciences—doubts that had increased incrementally in the ensuing years. A surprise snowstorm had swallowed the campus just like those expensive ski gloves had swallowed his small hands. Driving home to his apartment from his office in the Art Building that afternoon, he had come across Hardwick gallantly trying to push Angela‘s VW Rabbit from a snowdrift (to this day he can‘t understand why she had been able to ski so efficiently yet couldn‘t drive worth a damn). Angela in her bright yellow ski jacket and the Dean in his heavy black overcoat. And those expensive black ski gloves from the LOST ‘N‘ FOUND box. Which fit him perfectly. * * * But to the Florida room. It is situated on the south side of the modest ranch house. Hence Florida for the sunny southern exposure, for the sunshine that blazes through the three large sliding glass doors that form its southern wall, warming the unheated space in winter. But it is spring now—spring at Spring Hill—and the sliding glass doors, along with the double windows on the west end of the long room, have been opened to admit the breeze. The effect is all glass, light, and fresh air. The ceiling is white, with twin four-bladed fans—one at each end—to aid the circulation in the summer months when the breeze tends to drop. But it is spring now and the Florida room is all glass, light, and fresh air. The interior north wall of the Florida room is the original outside rear wall of the ranch house. Its shake shingles—forest green—lend a rustic touch. Toward the far end of this wall is another sliding glass door that leads inside to the master bedroom, offering easy egress—through the sliding glass door opposite—to the patio, back yard, and pool. Yet another sliding glass door, on the east end, leads to the dining room. There is but a single light in the Florida room, a one hundred watt bulb in a SMITH ∫ 55
frosted white globe just above the sliding glass door to the dining room. Originally an outdoor light, it became an indoor light when the original owner added the Florida room to the rear of the house. The original owner was a woman who had supervised the building of the house with her second husband—a man who trains and grooms the horses in the red horse barn on campus and coaches the equestrian team—then divorced him and moved away. The woman had been fond of knickknacks, plants, and furniture, and so the entire house, as well as the Florida room, had been unmercifully cluttered, so much so that it had taken an effort to imagine it any other way. Just close your eyes, Angela whispered to him when they first noticed the FOR SALE sign and stopped in. (She is whispering so the owner won‘t take offense. He can hear her again from the Florida room.) Picture your darkroom in the basement. Picture my canopied four-poster in the bedroom. Picture the Florida room without that clothesline and all that laundry and those hanging plants. And through this act of imagination the house had become theirs. Angela had believed in the Oriental notion that a room ought to contain but a single object—anything more was disrespectful, not only to the object but to the room itself—and so their bedroom had contained only her canopied four-poster, the dining room but a sturdy table and four chairs, the Florida room only a framed black and white photograph that still hangs in the center of the wall of forest green shake shingles. In addition to that framed photograph, the Florida room now contains a rickety card table and a folding chair in which he sits—staring through the mesh screen that admits the breeze through the first of the three open sliding glass doors. As he stares at the screen it blurs before his eyes, dissolving into an amplified gauzy version of the sun porch screen at his grandfather‘s tiny summer cottage in Connecticut. He is four years old. It is August, threatening rain, a suddenly dark afternoon. Thunder rumbles in the distance above the pine-filled ridge. The air is stifling and still. A streak of lightning cracks overhead with a simultaneous boom that shakes him. He hears the rain begin to fall, can feel it against his face, which is pressed against the dirty screen despite his fear of the storm. His grandfather sits behind him in a folding chair, at a rickety card table that has seen a thousand games of checkers, telling him that the thunder is only the Coal Man coming to deliver his black lumps of coal down the chute into the basement of the house. Not the basement of the tiny cottage—it has no basement—but the two-story house in Bridgeport, a two-hour ride from the lake beyond the pine-filled ridge. The sun porch screen seems so real now that he touches his face in the Florida room. His face is clean and dry. It is not the wet face smudged by the dirty screen of his childhood summers. After the storm passes he follows his grandfather from the screened-in sun porch of the tiny cottage into the lanky wet grass and humid air. He grabs the inflated inner tube that lies near the dirt driveway while his grandfather seeks a hank of clothesline from the tool shed. The two of them walk the path up the hill and around the corner to the pinefilled ridge, gradually descending to a sheltered cove that cuts in from the lake. The path SMITH ∫ 56
leads to a brief stretch of sandy beach near a grove of white birch trees. To the sturdiest of those birches his grandfather ties one end of the clothesline. The other is tied to the black inner tube, onto which he scrambles in shallow water, careful not to poke himself with its sharp nozzle. Paddling playfully, he works his way to the center of the cove. The long white clothesline is blurry and wavy beneath the surface. His grandfather sits in the sand, in the shade of the sturdy birch, and smokes his pipe. His worst nightmare in those days is that the clothesline will give way, sending him out of the cove into the wide lake beyond. His parents drowned in a boating accident in the middle of that lake when he was only nine months old, and so he has no memory of his parents, having been raised by his grandfather, a widower then (as he himself is a widower now). That cove, he now realizes, was a womb, the clothesline an umbilical cordâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;like the clothesline he had taken down from the Florida room as soon as he and Angela moved in. The hooks to which it had been attached are still in place, one next to the frosted globe that conceals the hundred watt indoor/outdoor light, the other above the windows at the far west end, above the sliding glass door to the bedroom. The coiled clothesline itself is somewhere on his workbench, right outside his darkroom in the basement.
SMITH â&#x2C6;Ť 57
FOR LANGLEY PARK Constantine Kulakov Though I‘ve heard of your fierce gangs, I haven‘t met the gunfire yet. Now, I only know your strollers pushed by rose-cheeked mothers at the light. I know too, the fussy neon signs, the thick smell of pupusas, the charred chicken by Taco Bell‘s drab. Then, our red altar, that ATM, calling each Friday for windy, restive lines with checks. And not far, the McDonald's where I won my first job and never showed-up; the Drive-thru where I once sat, a pale, electric teen, with a girl that still spills dream-fulls of worry. Langley, it was here where I first met you, driving fast, afraid of our love. And it is in your strangeness that I now leave myself. Now, I pick at my rice, stare-out the fogged window, steamed by Chinese cooking, and think, ―My kids may, too, walk here, see unexpected bliss. They too, may see the ruins, as when, years ago, I sat in the back seat of our car, and saw the Hispanic man, standing by two, crumpled cars, trying to walk a straight line, barked at by cops.‖
KULAKOV ∫ 58
collage (untitled) - 24h x 33w digital collage / jpg-only
DAVIS â&#x2C6;Ť 59
WHAT OF A BODY L. Lamar Wilson that cannot lie, of sinews that do not obey when commanded to cease their quaking? What of a body that scoffs at holy water‘s conditions, of pores that hunger for a tongue‘s fetter, of nerves deaf to homilies of by & by & boom bye bye? Who can hold this body in his hands, silence its tender, muted moan beneath scars that will not heal?
WILSON ∫ 60
WHAT SHE REMEMBERS Katherine DeBlassie 14 years old and she was working beneath green and purple neon lights on the cusp of downtown. The city held her— sidewalks broke her fall. Friday nights he watched her read. This week, To Kill a Mockingbird. Her copy worn from hands that had passed over it before hers. Pages missing— pages ripped. Her teacher Xeroxed replacements, but she preferred the empty spaces. He didn‘t let her touch his hair, he folded his pants and placed them down carefully, she threw hers on the floor. After trying for too long, they stopped, laid down on the bed and talked until he had to go. A deep channel of a scar ran across the center of his palm; she saw it— his hand on the wheel, as he drove her back to school. She put the book in her backpack, and it settled among her other papers.
DEBLASSIE ∫ 61
STACCATO Katherine DeBlassie You never leave your voice on my answering machine, it‘s always the sound of a guitar. It felt like we ran the whole way to New York only to spend 4 hours in an empty apartment, on an air mattress, the humid air against us like a wool blanket. Outside the station at night they‘re singing oye cayuco just loud enough that we can‘t hear each other lying shoulder to shoulder, so I grab your hand, to see if you will pull away. Pull away— though it‘s never dark in the station even on my birthday, even though we ran the here together, you couldn‘t find me until I was on the bathroom floor, and you realized we were something born— leave me alone, I say, and you call me Callida, and I call you Friend (by your full name) before I pull away, you grab me, and in this dark room we become our lost things.
DEBLASSIE ∫ 62
I STOP PRAYING Katherine DeBlassie Like David Smith and The Lost Nudes your drawings are half-shapes— no fleshed out figures. Variations of bodies or a body— move to the body under a bus at Port Authority, the one you didn‘t recognize as your friend. It was his body, but you couldn‘t reconcile the images, until it was on the news and he no longer showed for work and you realized this is how people become things that fit in coffins. I‘m tired of people crying and how I crave human touch, but no one puts their fingers in my mouth— not even my father. Not you, your fingers in the mouths of other girls, not even at a funeral, or when remembering a funeral. I still don‘t believe the box held all of Tom or that he was dressed, instead I imagined he was naked and restless in there and I couldn‘t get people to stop praying long enough to tell them.
DEBLASSIE ∫ 63
BAIT Tony Burnett I own four perfectly seasoned cast iron skillets, the oldest of which I‘ve had for almost 40 years. My late mother gave it to me when I first permanently moved out of the home place during my junior year of college. It came with a complete set of kitchen ware – plates, glasses, utensils, everything. I still have the skillet. I learned to cook by the time I was nine. I was the oldest but my brother and sister had to learn too. When we each turned twelve we became responsible for preparing the dinner meal one night a week. Both my parents liked to cook and they were good at it. They also liked to get snockered and they were good at that too. When all three siblings were teens dad and mom got snockered any night when there was no school function but thanks to the kids we all ate well. I probably enjoyed cooking more than anyone in the family. It was a creative outlet and if I did the cooking I didn‘t have to wash dishes. I don‘t even like to load the dishwasher and we didn‘t have one. When I was tall enough to reach the back of the stove, I received my first cooking lesson. My mom said, ―The way to a man‘s heart is through his stomach.‖ At the time I assumed this was some strange sort of anatomy lesson as I had just finished helping my dad butcher a dozen rabbits. He would teach me the names of the individual organs as we eviscerated the animals. Once I understood what my mom really meant I was still a bit confused. I was a boy. Did she assume that just because I didn‘t like sports, I was a homosexual? I didn‘t like sports because I was as gangly and clumsy as a day old colt, plus there were no girls. Contrary to her opinion, I did like girls, a lot. I can‘t remember back to a day when I was not sexually attracted to girls, women, females. I was born horny. But I digress. Now my kitchen is a state of the art studio of cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic and glass. No aluminum or plastic will be found in my creative space. I have some of the finest quality utensils imported from around the world. ―I Have a Wok and I‘m Not Afraid to Use It‖ was the title of my first, well only, cookbook. It sold a whopping 318 copies. My publisher said I probably jumped onto the stir fry bandwagon a bit too late. I‘m more inclined to think that I cook much better than I write. As I‘ve mentioned, I‘m a big fan of women. I think the best age for women is their thirties. I started dating women in their thirties when I was seventeen. At 60, I still prefer women in their thirties. I even married one once. I was twenty-six. She was thirty-three. It lasted six years. That was my only marriage and probably my longest relationship, seeing as how we still got together fairly often for another five or six years after our divorce and her rather immediate remarriage. She said she out grew me. ―Don‘t worry,‖ I told her. I‘ve heard that from much younger women than you.‖ I don‘t think I saw her again after that. Sometimes I tend to spout off without really considering the impact of what I‘m saying.
BURNETT ∫ 64
―Mouthy Bastard!‖ is how Jeanine described it. She was one of my ―calendar girls‖. I call her that not because she was drop-dead gorgeous, although life is too short to hang out with ugly women. ―Calendar girl‖ to me means someone with who you can measure the length of your relationship on a calendar as opposed to a clock. I like to spoil women and I‘m good at it. ―Extremely talented,‖ according to Becca, another ―calendar girl‖ who actually made it through two calendars. The downside of that is I end up with needy women who eventually either get whiny or get over it. Either way, one of us gets bored and calls it quits. That‘s usually just a temporary setback. I learned a valuable lesson from mama even though I had to adjust the gender. Women love to be cooked for. They love having gourmet coffee served to them in bed. They will do almost anything for (or with) a ripe California strawberry hand dipped in dark chocolate. ―Don‘t you get it? There‘s more to life than food and sex!‖ That was Claire. I don‘t think she took more than a month out of the calendar. ―Really? What could be more important than food and sex?‖ There goes that mouth again. Her face turned an extreme shade of purple just before she screamed. ‖You know what I mean you arrogant shithead!‖ She slammed the door behind her before ever answering my question. So why am I driving all over the county with my cell phone to my ear, weaving on the road and calling every pertinent number I can think of? It‘s Rhonda. Rhonda is not even in her thirties. She‘s forty four or forty five. She was already 40 when we met. She‘s not the same as most of the women I‘ve known. Oh, she likes being spoiled enough but she doesn‘t seem to need it. She never allows any score cards in our relationship. ―You do what you want. I‘ll do what I want. Maybe we can have some fun together.‖ It was four years ago she told me that and four months before she moved in. The day she moved in I made stuffed trout and creamed broccoli. She did the dishes after dinner and brought me a margarita on the rocks. She took a sip of it, sat on my lap and said ―This just might work.‖ It did work. Hell, I thought it was still working. We got up early, had breakfast together. She went to her job. I went to mine. We came home, glad to see each other, and talked about our day. We planned outings. We shopped together. We made love frequently and passionately. She even overlooked my occasional off color or thoughtless comment. Whenever we go anywhere in the car, she drives. That‘s fine with me. I would rather observe the scenery. She knows the names of every other driver on the road, either ―Asshole‖ or ―Son of a Bitch‖, which I find entertaining. It only takes a minor infraction on another driver‘s part and she identifies them emphatically. I snicker under my breath and she cocks her head in my direction. ―Well he is!‖ A couple of weeks ago we were sitting at the table over a breakfast of migas, potatoes au gratin and toast when she put down her fork in mid meal and asked ―What do you want to do with your life?‖ BURNETT ∫ 65
―I‘m doing it.‖ I replied. ―No, seriously, I mean long term.‖ ―I am serious. I‘m perfectly happy. I love you.‖ I was being honest. ―Well, I love you too but there has to be more to it, some goal.‖ ―I‘m going to retire in a few years then I can really spoil you, like a house husband.‖ ―We would have to get married for that.‖ She observed. ―Okay then, I‘ll be your concubine, your love slave.‖ ―Can you just be serious for a minute?‖ ―If I do will you still love me?‖ ―Why don‘t you try me?‖ ―I am serious. I like things the way they are. What do we need to change?‖ ―I don‘t know, it just seems like there should be more to it.‖ I mentally checked the calendar. It wasn‘t that time of the month. Her birthday wasn‘t coming up. It must be something in the water. I let it pass. The next few days she seemed a little distant. I bent over backwards trying to make her comfortable. I washed her hair. I gave her massages. I prepared her favorite seafood dish. Still the cloud would not pass. Today, when she didn‘t come home from work, I tried her cell phone. It‘s was turned off. I called her office. They said she left early, something about needing to have her car looked at. She had not mentioned a problem with her car but as distant as she had been lately it didn‘t surprise me. I started looking around the house. Most of her things were here but some of her clothes, most of her makeup and a couple of suitcases were gone. I was concerned. Now it‘s approaching 11pm. I‘m out looking everywhere, calling all her friends. All but one knows nothing. Her friend, Joel, from work says, ―You‘ll have to talk to her‖ and hangs up. That is ominous. I‘m heading back to the house when the phone rings. ―Meet me at Kerbey Lane on Lamar. I have to show you something.‖ She sounded happier and more excited than she had in weeks. ―That‘s twenty miles. It‘s almost midnight.‖ BURNETT ∫ 66
A long pause. ―Never mind.‖ She now sounded dejected. ―Why don‘t you show me when you get home? ―I‘m not coming home.‖ Shit! ―I‘ll be there in half an hour.‖ I hoped she didn‘t hear the exasperation in my voice. ―You don‘t have to come.‖ ―Are you kidding? I love surprises!‖ Maybe I could bring back the lilt I heard earlier. ―Cool.‖ The call ended. I have two words to describe what I do when a woman goes skitsy on me. ―Run away!‖ This time, I let my curiosity get the better of me. Besides, I felt like what Rhonda and I had was at least worth ending face to face. Twenty five minutes later I was pulling in to the Kerbey Lane Café. The parking lot was crowded but I didn‘t see Rhonda‘s car. I decided to wait inside. As soon as I entered, I saw her at a corner table by the window. She smiled when our eyes met. ―Hungry?‖ She asked. ―I could eat.‖ now that my stomach had stopped churning. ―Good, I waited to order,‖ she said, trying to be nonchalant but I could tell she was about to pop. I wasn‘t going to let her off that easy. ―Where‘s your car? I asked. ―Right there.‖ She pointed out the window. ―I don‘t see it‖ ―The black one,‖ she smiled. Just outside the window was parked one of those little two-seater convertible sports cars like guys named ―Asshole‖ drive. ―Cute, ain‘t it!‖ She almost giggled. BURNETT ∫ 67
―Can you afford that?‖ I asked, knowing full well she could. ―Gee, I hope so.‖ She was back to her bubbliest. ―So that‘s what you wanted to show me?‖ ―Nope.‖ Okay, now I was stunned. ―Well, what then?‖ Just then the waiter came to take our order. The special looked good but for once my mind wasn‘t on food. ―I‘ll have the special‖ ―Me too.‖ Rhonda agreed. ―Okay,‖ she said. ―Here‘s the deal.‖ She slid an envelope across the table. ―Well, these can‘t be divorce papers. We‘re not married. Are you suing me?‖ That mouth again. She literally growled at me but I could tell by her eyes she was playing. I opened the envelope. Inside were two round trip tickets to Milan, departing at 10 am on what was now this morning. ―I, my job, what about? - I‘ve got to get clothes. – I don‘t see how? – We can‘t do that!‖ ―I brought your clothes and passport. You‘ll have to work out the rest.‖ I knew what she meant by that. My stomach was churning again. Our meal came. I stared at it. Was I scared or excited? A million reasons not to go entered my mind. It was irresponsible. She was crazy. I‘m too old for this shit! ―I need a shower.‖ ―You can shower at my hotel room.‖ She offered. ―Cool.‖ I picked up my fork.
BURNETT ∫ 68
INCOHERENT PATTERN Matthew Diomede, Ph.D. I weave a thread of day, a different pattern for each twenty-four hours. It‘s not this I worry about—it‘s when I pull the stitch, and the whole thread runs loose I begin to worry.
DIOMEDE ∫ 69
TURKEY BONE GUMBO William Greenway sounds like a blues you‘d sell your soul in at midnight at some crossroads in the Delta, or a secret soul-food recipe: boil the carcass in the same hot oil you‘ll boil in yourself someday, till the skeleton floats up fleshless to the top, bobbing in the bubbles like those bodies in the acid vats of The House of Wax. Add The Trinity—bell pepper, celery ribs, onions for the tears, and stir it all into a roux dark as swamp water like your mama used to do. Okra, from the slave islands, filé (that‘s sassafras to you, been hexed by Marie Laveau), over rice been harvested wet-back fresh from the paddies on Bayou Teche or the hard-time prison up at Angola. Blood-red Tabasco and you got supper maybe even The Last though your only ax, the frets of a neckbone, slid along with a busted bottle, makes a devil of a song.
GREENWAY ∫ 70
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOSEPH William Greenway For now we see through a glass darkly. — 1 Corinthians 13:12 It was that time of year again when men and boys took off watches and glasses, donned white sheets and wimples, and abided in the fields, though we looked like we were marching for the Klan (this was Georgia). Wise men fared better with sewn gold sequins, bathrobes, and towel turbans, though once Balthazar forgot and left his horn rims on, as if trying to see into the future. Tall, I was typecast as cosmic cuckold to coal-haired Brenda Wilkie‘s madonna, the girl most wanted. In rehearsal I kept my specs on to see her hover over the manger, and fell in love with the word suckle. On Christmas Eve it ended in the usual way, angels watching as I got to lose what I never had, the barn stuffed with the spiritual bulk of Magi, kneeling shepherds and oxen, even a baby deity. And suddenly, I could see into the future, a place crowded and uncrowned, where I‘d always have no time on my hands, and everything look exactly like a blur.
GREENWAY ∫ 71
EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE Alan Elyshevitz If you resolve to deploy a suitable defoliant you can‘t be harmed It will pass — this swarm of critics vulnerable to the Doppler effect Their mandibles squeak in the greenery — their legs brittle filaments of irritation Even Congress in its hive engages in labor bent on herbicide You can‘t be harmed for what you do to expand the limits of your masonry You have the right under Article II to dissolve the shade trees forcibly You wield powers — particular blights sufficient for any species
ELYSHEVITZ ∫ 72
RUGELACH Charish Halliburton When I was younger I wanted to be a rugelach. I wanted to say something in Yiddish for once. I am not Jewish, but I know words like putz. I have known a schmuck who was constantly schnicker and who drove his mother meshuganer. I wanted to be a rugelach with old world cinnamon, Brooklyn apples and chopped walnuts. ―Eat a rugelach bubula, they‘re your favorite.‖ Were I a rugelach, I could have fed my grandchildren treats from the ―old country.‖ We could have sang old Hebrew songs and noshed ―If you come visit Nana, I‘ll tell you stories about life growing up in a shtetel.‖ I would be a treat for the children.
HALLIBURTON ∫ 73
DEEP NIGHT Colleen Abel By the time you‘d left my house, it was half past one, and by quarter of two, you were on my phone, driving in deep night, telling me how the world had turned itself inside out to fairytale: you‘re driving slow through woods and at the roadside, one deer, one raccoon, one possum, one rabbit, flicker by as if by magic, their bright eyes holograms, staring you warily down. That was long, long ago, as the fairytales say, and like those stories, I lost you as wholly as if you‘d been turned to sea foam or swept down the dark wolf‘s gullet. I should have known: what do those stories teach us, after all? That two women are little else but two faces crowded in the same mirror, one fairest, one not. I should have read you the true version: two girls whose kindnesses together break curses, whose names are roses. You knew only the story of thorns.
ABEL ∫ 74
NAUSIKAA’S SISTER Colleen Abel About beauty, girls learn many lessons. Once my father said, not every sister to princess is princess herself With some women beauty is like birdsong so pure and constant you forget to hear it but some women are the burners of ships She is the burner of ships Once a man crawled from the sea wearing only salt and belts of kelp I was afraid. I dropped my washing and hid Her gaze was as level and cool as the wild horses‘ For months after, I went to the shore alone where only the terns beheld me. Noon sun banished all shadows but one
ABEL ∫ 75
boy - 24h x 18w digital collage / jpg-only
SHE HAS A NAME, HE HAS A NAME TOO Ama Codjoe for Je’Rean Blake and Aiyana Stanley-Jones In Arkansas on New Year‘s Eve one thousand blackbirds fell. Red-tipped wings pressed against black top, gravel, & grass silent of flutter & wind. Carcasses dotted the lanes & groves. The sky shook her angels down-down. Trees took one step —over— said: ―There is no place for you here, no limbed perch, no cover.‖ If a child can be murdered in her only shelter, can be shot through to her dreaming, & if a boy is gunned in daylight with juice in one hand two bills in the other, then trees can pull out from under a million birds, & skies can expel any angel, fast, so there is no dying just death, song-less trees, & blue skies. There is nothing strange here. Je‘Rean‘s blood rusts the back car seat sienna for six more miles of the body‘s expanse. These are familiar hands CODJOE ∫ 77
that tuck her into coffin & perch him on the mantle (beside his brother‘s ashes). Bless our children dead. And by bless I mean remember: Je‘Rean up-up, Aiyana, fly.
CODJOE ∫ 78
INCHES OF HER Ama Codjoe Nobody knows how long I was alone fortunate enough to feel the body‘s treason even as it caught me like a pin the paramedics found me lying on the floor head cocked as if in question legs like shredded tire on the side of the road someone called my youngest I heard her wail I reconsidered— widowed for ten years I have pictured what it would be like to touch my wife (as if death was a highway with exits and round-abouts and she could come back to me) our reunion looked like this: I would be at the kitchen table reading the paper as usual she‘d float back into the house dressed in that long nightgown I resented I‘d sense her shape fill the doorway like morning coffee I‘d kiss her ankle be satisfied with only inches of her then she‘d search the pantry and say mercy there’s no bread in the bread box her first words fuss her first words honey if death is a highway it only goes one way I must go her way she cannot come back mine— Our daughter‘s wail worlds away I billow through the crowd a paper-thin cloud thick with rain cracked in wet green thunder electric with wait that first marvelous inch of her a downpour
CODJOE ∫ 79
I THINK I LOST THE REMOTE Brian Sullivan My window was opened just a crack, but I could hear the crickets gently cooing ―Mr. Bojangles‖ to an audience of one. Behind me was a lamp with a dusty shade. Light from the lamp penetrated through the dust and surrounded my computer screen in a fuzzy hallow, but the light did not break the night-time ambience generated by the still darkness. ―I don't know anymore‖ was the last sentence Dennis wrote in his blog at the end of August, about two months ago. The past few nights I‘ve been reading it. The blog is plain and brown with black lettering. He didn't have a title or any ancillary information other than his name, DENNIS JONES, centered at the top of the page. He wrote an entry about every other day in New Times Roman font. His blog was set to private so only his friends could access and read what he wrote. He currently has no friends. Dennis's parents didn't know of the blog until his suicide letter, which consisted of Dennis scribbling on a loose-leaf sheet of paper his Blogger website, username and password, and underneath he signed in cursive – Love, Dennis. Watching LOST season one has made me feel like the guy from Infinite Jest, you know, the one who quarantines himself in his basement, the ―Swamp‖, becoming more and more crazed and obsessed with the television show M*A*S*H. That character is from the Capital Region too. Talked with Hugo last night, after Jack sank the putt and won the bet Sawyer made against him. I told Hugo about Lou and RCA and how I was feeling: how my lungs felt like empty freeze dried bags, how my head throbbed, and how my heart was either empty or robbed. He was trying to console me, like he always does, trying to make me see that everything will be alright, things'll work out, that we'll get out of this together, but I just can't help but find myself toying with Hugo. Well, toying I guess isn't the right word, but I seem to be leading him on, making him feel better about trying to help me feel better, when it seems like I can't feel better, I can't escape. It's like I‘m looking for an exit from a four walled room with no windows or doors. I was sitting on the beach as the sun set, digging and curling my toes in the light, soft sand. I hugged my knees and stared out at the calm, endless sea. ―Cheer up Denny,‖ Hugo said patting my shoulder. I turned and looked up at the smiling, bloated man and lowered my head between my knees. ―At least you‘re not talking with Yoda,‖ he said sitting down. ―Because Rocky‘s one jealous serf.‖ SULLIVAN ∫ 80
―Huh?‖ ―Don't you think Yoda training Rocky Balboa in the ways of the force is better than Luke Skywalker?‖ ―I never really thought about it.‖ ―The Skywalkers are weak, both Anakin and Luke, forget Leia. Now, I‘m talking about the original, good-guy Skywalkers, not Anakin when he joins the dark side and becomes Darth Vader. Vader is a sick character. ‗Luke, I am your father‘, you know? With the voice of James Earl Jones? Forget about it. Have him read a script for a diaper‘s commercial and I‘d need a diaper change, man.‖ ―Still in training?‖ ―Anyhow, Darth Vader has these powerful moments, because he‘s a powerful character. The Skywalkers? The Skywalkers are pathetic and weak individuals. They aren‘t leaders of men. They aren‘t warriors. They would more aptly be civil servants, servants. And they were supposed to restore order in the universe and be like Jesus Christ?‖ ―I don‘t know about that.‖ ―I mean, you can make the argument that the Jews, I guess, (I think this is it) were looking for, in their savior, a David-like figure, a warrior, a crusader, a leader and that this wimpy Jesus didn't fit the bill. But Christians believed that Jesus was their savior, that he was the son of God. Stars Wars delves deeply into religious mythology. But, getting back to the point, we are talking about these rail-thin kids twirling lighted wands and they were the saviors/prophets of the religion of the Force. Replace the Skywalkers with this blue collar, tough-as-nails dude, with a serious speech impediment. He could be my savior on Saturday and Sunday. You know what I'm saying? The Italian ‗freaking‘ Stallion, man. Yoda as Mickey, with a black woolen cap. Come on, tell me you wouldn‘t watch that movie? ‗Eat lighting and crap thunder, you will.‘‖ ―Yeah.‖ ―You alright dude?‖ ―I'm fine, just trying to catch as much sunlight as I can before it sets.‖ ―Well, you better get out your fishing pole, because that sun'll be swimming soon.‖ Hugo was wearing olive green shorts, frayed just under his knees and a solid gray tee shirt. His legs were spread and laying on the sand and his hands were behind his back, bracing himself as he squinted and looked up at the blue cloudless sky. In a low voice, I asked, ―Why do you think we're here?‖ SULLIVAN ∫ 81
―What do you mean dude?‖ ―You know, I don't understand why I'm here. It doesn't make any sense. I try to rationalize but ...‖ ―Why are you rationalizing? Why do you care how you got here or why you‘re here? Look around, you're in paradise.‖ I looked left to right, across the vast vacant beach with tall, glossy green palm trees behind me and the empty, desolate ocean in front. The rhythmic sound of waves crashing onto the shore blended with the chirps of a few sea gulls flying over head. ―You don't have to get, love, or agree with all the bad or good things you encounter, just live your life. ― ―I just want to feel normal Hugo. I thought I found something, something that made me feel normal, but …‖ ―Nah, dude.‖ ―What?‖ ―‗Finding something.‘ Whatever it is you‘re looking for will find you. It‘s hard to explain. It's different for everyone. It finds some earlier than others and for some, unfortunately, it'll never find you, but if it gets ahold of you, you can't lose it, it can lose you." I shook my head and kicked the sand. "You're not telling me anything." "I'm telling you a lot dude." "Hugo, lose the platitudes and give me something. Give me something concrete." "Ok. I'll give you something – Rocky and Mickey." I shook my head and felt like crying. ―You useless lump of …‖ Then I saw Hugo holding a key connected to a maroon rabbit-footed key chain. The room was dark and the light from the 27 inch TV was bright. The blinds were shut SULLIVAN ∫ 82
and down and I blinked my eyes many times sitting in bed, my back leaning against the wall and my bed sheets and pastel colored affagen pulled up to my waist. I didn't know if I just woke up or if I was seeing things. I think I just fell asleep and dreamed this, I hope. Well, I was in bed watching LOST and I was how many episodes ahead in season one from when I could last remember? But Hugo, it all seemed so real. I was saying to myself, ―It was just a dream. Was it? Had to be." shaking my head and looking at the TV. Then I heard, "It's not that simple dude." I turned to my left and a hairy, shirtless Hugo was lying on his stomach next to me in bed. I yelped and popped out of bed and onto the floor. I laid on the floor for a minute or so, paralyzed and scared. I then inched my head up to the top of the bed and saw Hugo with his sweaty back against the wall, hand in a bag of cheese puffs, watching LOST. "Want any?" he asked pointing the open bag at me. I turned to the TV, LOST was still playing. Then I turned back. Hugo was gone. I put both my hands on mattress and pushed myself to my feet. The sheets on the mattress were splayed in a way that looked like someone had been laying there. I walked to the light switch, turned on the ceiling light, and turned off the TV. My hands and shoulders shook uncontrollably. I took a pack of cigarettes from my dresser drawer. I sat at my desk and turned on the computer. I lit a cigarette while the computer loaded. Then I started writing this. This has been happening too often. I just don't know anymore. I lit and pulled on a cigarette and exhaled out the open window. My legs were crossed. My left hand held the cigarette and my right cradled my face. I'm not sure what to think. There wasn't anything suicidal in the blog entry; it was rather some sort of weird, narrative tale on the "Stay Puff marshmallow", as Sawyer would say. But maybe this was where things were progressively getting worse. Or Dennis didn‘t delve into what he experienced, not providing an opinion, just providing an objective stream of what happened, or attempting to. I don't know what to believe, to trust Denny and what he wrote, whether he thought he actually saw these things or if this was something he wrote for kicks. But then I return to the fact that he's dead and that he killed himself for a reason – an ill conceived, whimsical reason or a reason with horse teeth. I think something's behind this sort of style; why else would he do it? Why did he want people pulled into the story of his day as he did? Was he bored? Was he trying to be different? Was he told to do this? Was he trying to write something BIG? I don't know. ―I don't know‖, as Denny wrote.
SULLIVAN ∫ 83
LEAVING US Randy Parker Our son molted like a field cricket, climbing out of juvenile exoskeletons and leaving them in piles behind the bathroom door. He became ever more elusive, the one chirping somewhere within our walls but nowhere to be found. And then he crept away, chirring far afield, far afield, far afield, stridulating effortlessly with cellular wings.
PARKER â&#x2C6;Ť 84
TAXIDERMIST’S WAKE Randy Parker Here I am, Dad, a good boy, Not the one you had little time for, Here today in this bright funeral light. I greet your friends as they file past, Hunters with the deepest respect for you, And your ability to offer eternal life. You let them hold the wild and the dangerous, to see up close what is usually fleeting, to feel in their fingers the fur of possibility. And now It‘s my turn at your casket, at your body. You wear your glasses as well as any man, living or dead, and I can see myself in them. I can put my hands on you, and there is no flinching, I can touch you for as long as I want. Or until somebody pulls me away.
PARKER ∫ 85
THE TAXIDERMIST’S SHACK Randy Parker I burned the shack, Dad, since you were dead and all, gasoline mixing with formaldehyde in the dark, all those eyes melting together in their bins, the heat chasing me all the way out to the highway. But I let the animals go first, you see, the squirrels, the raccoon, the turkey, the big buck‘s head, even the largemouth—set them loose in the wet woods where the fire lit their relentless eyes. We watched the building flare and fold, heard the broad crack of its spine. I felt it suck all of the oxygen out of me. I loved you, Dad, as you loved this splintered shack, now blackened, diminished, consumed, but still popping wildly like the first day of dove season.
PARKER ∫ 86
SCALD Destiny Birdsong In a small house a child Crouches in the dark. She can smell dried pee On her panties; she can smell Dog shit and dead grass Stuck to her shoes. She can smell her breath In her cupped hands— A bad back tooth. She is suddenly aware Of all the parts of herself That are wrong. But this time it is only about Her hands. The hands that slammed The bathroom door so hard It broke the new mirror Her mama just ordered from Fingerhut. ―Seven years bad luck,‖ the sister chirps, Dodging the screen door into the calm Of a still-sunny evening And other children— The day‘s final games. The girl didn‘t get to play Outside. Not today. Today she sat still While the mother cleaned and, In fits of remembering, Yelled about the broken mirror. There is a way The pitch of her mama‘s voice Can find the weak hollows Of her bones. The girl can‘t describe it—it might be Like acid clouding your marrow; Like hot grease dashed in your face. Like a boiling pot falling toward you, BIRDSONG ∫ 87
And the too-late second When you finally realize Your mistake. Tonight in bed, the girl will smell The smell of her mouth on her pillow. It is a rank smell. It is a harsh smell. It is a guilty smell. But she will think This is my smell. And it is only right That I should smell This bad, bad way. The scent of her mouth is the thing She will hide, and hold on to. Soon, the stale pee Crusting the crotch of her panties Will not be there. Soon the sour grass Clotting the soles of her shoes Will not be there. And the boiling water? There was never really any boiling water, So it wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t be there either, But the burn will.
BIRDSONG â&#x2C6;Ť 88
secretary for the spirits - 24h x 18w digital collage on acid-free paper, glass frame
AND THE GIRL GOT A NEW DRESS Jade Foster 1. with his fists in his pocket jeans and a button up the boy fresh cut shaped up the boy with magnolia in his mouth the boy like a bird like a bird that ain‘t keep daddy buried the boy with the wind. 2. —girl got to hoop and holler like somebody would catch her big nose self when she fell. I got this new dress, bad butterscotch Donna Karen. The shoes, now, in retrospect wasn‘t fly but hey, Nine West used to do it for some people. They almost dropped his casket. casket was a tophat on their shoulders. Since he was Muslim, the women couldn‘t get out the car. It was bad enough we had to bury him in 3 days! Now, I couldn‘t get out the car. It was the men, the men. I still felt safe room full in that buried my daddy six feet. But they wasn‘t there. They didn‘t see his head cave in, they ain‘t hear the echoes left of his temple. They don‘t know the secrets carved in the coroner sheets. This is the sound of dirt against flesh and wood. We sitting there stagnant, can‘t breathe, looking at each other and everywhere else, dumbfounded by death and petty things. Nah, I never wanted… I had on a grown woman type bra/ slip/ under the dress. My grandma had let me wear one of her long coats, a camel coat. I shoulda worn some black or brown or gold boots… I sat leaned back with my legs cross right over left. There wasn‘t nothing on the radio and the ash trays was closed. Sometimes I looked over towards the gravesite, and other times I didn‘t. Everybody shoulders a little slumped. Sophia moaning to herself. Was Beverly in there with us? Either way we was gonna see Jerrod after the repast. I don‘t remember the repast. I know the church always serves chicken rice gravy and overcooked string beans with potatoes in it. That‘s what we ate. This is the sound of dirt against flesh and wood. FOSTER ∫ 90
Yeah, right after. All the men had a shovel, even Ejesse. Chad mighta hugged us before they left out. He got to throw the first dirt. Ejesse followed. Then all the men, started throwing dirt all over my daddy‘s— They looked like a boundless gang. My foot was tapping, wasn‘t no music playing, Sophia was moaning. My grandma wasn‘t talking, my grandma usually always talking. Then, all of a sudden Cousin Tony threw the shovel, out, up towards the wind. Like he was mad. The men stopped. Dirt. Or no, they kept on. This is the sound… Cousin Tony with the pretty eyes, who play basketball and live over Sursum Corda, was crying like a bitch, like he ain‘t have a job. Someone sitting in a long, black— ―They don‘t let the women to the site, because they say we‘re too weak,‖ my grandma repeats. Of dirt against flesh. And I‘m like, ―Look at this nigga right here! He crying! I ain‘t crying! This don‘t make no sense.‖ I‘m screaming in my head, with my legs crossed. Then a woman starts walking up to the site, she has braids, she got a funny shape. I start tapping the window. Dirt. Like, look! Hitting against the glass window for it to let me out, screaming, ―Get the fuck away!‖ But she can‘t hear me. Sophia is chiming in, ―Don‘t she know?!‖ My grandma is saying ―calm down,‖ and I bang the window, she just going to help Tony. Fuck Tony. So I‘m like if she get to go, I get to go. I motion for the door and my grandma, something goes wild in her eye. Wild dirt against wood. Without a word, a word I can remember, I slink back into my seat. Dirt. Cross my legs right over left. FOSTER ∫ 91
Dirt. I wipe at my eyes. Dirt. I change seats, look out the other window, the tint, the silk against the leather. Press the silver buttons that wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t go up or down. Nah, I never wanted a limo for prom. Dirt.
FOSTER â&#x2C6;Ť 92
CATCHING TRAIN Curtis L. Crisler …. We three stepped back on train platform as the wildness in the red-haired drunk man wanted our audience. His woman, appalled, opposite platform, facing us, showed how fear played with death on her face, when love sat there a minute before— tenor sax riff. Sparks were expected. Talk of a third rail jumps out a child‘s mouth, small boy who never knew stupidity had red-hair, freckles—flat piano chords. Danger arched our minds like 3-D streamers in a hot Chinese New Year celebration. But no flashes. Mr. Freckles stumbled before all waiting for DC‘s red-line to screech over his woman‘s loud embarrassment. That fast—danger evaporated. What‘s hot transformed to something cold. The train swallowed us. Lodged in its teeth, we held on to leather tonsils. Were we Jonahs or were we Pinocchios looking for how to make inanimate a human touch? Death shrank from big to small, and the air burnt stale with a light halitosis of mixed breathing, streaks strident down hot rails, the night‘s blue. A woman tasting tears on platform. ….
CRISLER ∫ 93
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“THE KITCHEN” MILES DAVIS @ THE SUTHERLAND HOTEL LOUNGE 1960 Bethsheba McGruder Jerome, a toasted almond hue, hip, cool, slim and kind gent stood in the thin wooden lined mirror of his bedroom closet with his left and right palms tracing the fine fabric of his two-button gray sharkskin English suite from Brooks Brothers from Madison & Michigan, nodding his head with approval at his reflection. He lightly splashes French Pinaud against his cheeks and neck. Mrs. Jones, Jerome's mother calls out to him. "Jerome, Lenny is here." "Good evening Mother Jones." Leaning into a stout built woman whose cocoa skin is flawless Lenny plants a kiss on her cheek. "Evening Lenny, you and Jerome are sure looking swank and all dressed up to go see Miles Davis. You two be careful, no needs to drive four blocks away and stir up trouble with that car of yours. It's a nice evening for a cool, stroll down the boulevard." Jerome walks down the narrow hall coolly, he and Lenny place their shiny black shoes to the pavement of Drexel Boulevard and started their stroll towards 47th. From 51st to 31st street their neighborhood is known as "The Valley". Everyone that is someone and the nobodies live there. Two row houses down two ladies just finish sitting in the kitchen frying chicken and comb pressing each others hair, sipping on a glass of gin & tonic. The lady of the house holding the half silver metal black ironing comb, puckering her lips together and releasing air onto the comb blowing smoke, then placing it on the dish rag while picking up her glass of gin with the other hand and taking a sip. She took the last back section of her girlfriend's hair and holding it firmly with her right thumb and forefinger and with her left hand pulling the hot comb through her hair. The sizzle and pop, the smoke, the heat, the thick air and scent of burnt hair grease, seasoned meat, cigarettes and liquor, cloud the air. Laughing and drinking, both ladies go to the closet and tear the plastic off their tailored black cocktail dresses from Miss Mimi the neighborhood seamstress. Grabbing white satin gloves out of the top drawer of the giant size oak wood dining room cabinet chest, gloves and a pair of black pumps brought from Saks on State Street last Saturday afternoon, both carefully balance their right and left foot into the thin black seam line stockings that lay right down the middle of their shapely legs making sure not to cause a run or mess-up their polished nails. They dab perfume behind the fold of their ears, and place their sleek black hand bags under their left arm and pull back their oak wood front door and plant their delicate feet to the concrete of the boulevard, walking towards 47th to the Sutherland Hotel Lounge, just ahead of them were Jerome and Lenny. A beige 6 story building stood on the edge of the boulevard, black and tan people joined at the hip of each other Northsiders, Southsiders, Westsiders, the rich and poor people were all dressed up to see Miles Davis. MCGRUDER ∫ 95
Ladies took calculated steps from the entryway to the powder room and back to their men, heels cradled into the plush mauve carpet. Each crystal chandelier sparkled and a thin line rainbow shadow cast against Tom Collins and high ball glasses poured with heavy hands to ensure the greatest pleasure. To see Miles is one thing, to hear him play is anotherâ&#x20AC;Śthe temperature in the air was comfortable but limbs were pressed tight to lovers and strangers. Fingers clasped tight to smooth shoulders, arms stretched around hour glass waists and limber petals like flower arms rested on strong shoulders of men, all eyes gazed into an atmosphere that transitioned in to iridescent blues and greens. The classical jazz story beginsâ&#x20AC;Ś. The Miles Davis Quintet was made of pianists and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderly. Each man stood great in their own right and played a solo. John Coltrane and Miles Davis shined, exuberated, beyond exceptional performance. "So What", "Freddie Freeloader", "All Blues", Blue in Green" and "Flamenco Sketches". Like a father begins a conversation with his son about life, Wynton Kelly on piano begins the first sentence, by the eighteenth note a long sweet note bellows evenly from a gold horn, with each note and striking of the keys the melody sends patrons in a trance. Hotel maids, busboys and cooks dressed in their crisp white chef coats and top hats that lean to the side, line up in a single line and trace the wall of the lounge transfixed on a coal black man, with white shirt, black tie and tailored black pants playing the most simplistic tune in jazz history. Jimmy Cobb on drums circles the whisk round and round like grains of sand, smooth yet edgy. Cannonball Adderly stands still saxophone in righthand. Miles Davis with his gold horn continues the fatherly lesson while the piano records and plays back the story. A cloud of grey haze slithers under the feet of patrons, silently and unnoticed wraps of smoke curl around ankles, legs and hips. A cloud of smoke fills the air and no one notices a thing. Miles is playing out a story that allows each guest to write their own words. Far in the distance fire trucks and ambulance sirens are ringing down the boulevard. Firemen enter the lounge and walk briskly to the kitchen. No one is bothered by these men or the smoke. No one knows a fire started in the kitchen, everyone knows that Miles is on stage and nobody moves. My father, Jerome Mcgruder, told me in 1960 fresh out of Francis Parker High School not old enough to enter a lounge, he went to see Miles Davis at the Sutherland Hotel Lounge on 47th and Drexel in Chicago. The Lounge was packed and Miles was playing Blue in Green. A fire started in the kitchen, smoked filled the room and Miles kept playing and nobody moved. This story is a tribute to my Father for introducing me to the wonderful world of Jazz!
MCGRUDER â&#x2C6;Ť 96
PASSING TIME Jennifer Jean On a loop at the end of a rope that hung from a jut of rebar at the top of a train tunnel façade, we‘d fit and fashion a cardboard square like the seat of a swing. Tasha and I straddled that passage like pumas on crags while my brother Joe pulled at Rick —seated fast in the loop— back along a plateau on the right side rock face flanking the penny strewn tracks. We watched Joe let go and Rick whoop across the gape then kick off the left side face and swing back scrambling. Without Joe to catch him, Rick would lose height, swing light, then hang still, at the tunnel mouth, waiting for the train to strike. There never was time to shimmy out and leap over tracks, and break bones in the leaping. * They began to time their trick to the oncoming trains—when engines entered the rear of the tunnel the boys swung and shouted the fat number they got off. Five swings was the record in the beginning. * Soon they tied a second noose and swung in from either side of the hole. Tasha and I held them and learned to let go. We got strong. We named the things chariots, as in, The second chariot must swing lower to avoid each other, duh. We‘d get off at least four synced swings, the boys high-fiving as they crossed in the middle before the roaring of the killer winded past, hot and full of life. * JEAN ∫ 97
Soon six swings was the record. And I craved a shot but the guys said no. Somehow they could say no. No matter—Tasha and I could see each other broken against a snub nosed Amtrak, our brown hair and blood bouncing off thick windows guarding gaping people heading away. So we kept swinging boys till seven was the record. * We all called it passing time. Alone, the boys called it hypnotizing trains. And Tasha called it our killing spree. ―Your mom‘s gonna kill me,‖ I‘d tell Rick as he was on his way out for the last time that day. But she wouldn‘t. Not for this. I remember his sister and his mother— white trash knocked about by the men they loved—how Rick came begging at our window at dinner time. How we‘d feed him our spaghetti. How he wanted to know his father‘s name. Lucky bastard. * ―You‘re gonna die,‖ I started whispering to Rick when eight was our best. And it felt good in my body to mean this. There was bliss in sweating and squatting and yanking those boys back over the red boulders and scruff. I didn‘t need to be at the end of a rope to get high. JEAN ∫ 98
* My belly has since gone soft around that old roiling delight that made my core so hard. Not soft so much as numb, like a father in a lean-to under an overpass, or face down near the tap at Gold Diggers. Like a father in my bed. * When he went for a ninth Rick begged me to swing him. He was barely a boy then. He'd be a father soon. "Don't worry," he said but I wasn't worried. I was readyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;I was weak and I let go. It was a win-win.
JEAN â&#x2C6;Ť 99
THE PRISONER Jennifer Jean Why poetry? Because content needs form. And form needs attention. An inmate in Hungnam, in the waning days of the Korean War, washed his red chapped, limeburned body with half his water ration. He stretched pectorals, hamstrings, and psoas before dawn while the whole death camp slept—the inspired air elongating his ligaments and stamina. When form is attended content rises from a deep. The mayflies can be seen mating in flight, in the latrine. It is a kind of love in the sulfate mist. It is enough— hefted he can heft one hundred and thirty bags of acidic manure from conveyor belt to truck. From conveyor belt to truck he took care with 40 kilo bags of crystalline shit sent to feed the gardens of his enemies. He took on the tonnage of his team, converting their eight hours unto death into five unto life. These fast friends sat out the day meters away from an ammonia surge, their broken skin weeping blood slower in the lightening, in the little coup, in the cold. Anything can be shared with the other. Even half his rice ration. Less is more he said, blooming. Even prayers in prison can be sung for the other; imagine, he sang to his beloved Hananim, Heavenly Parent, Don’t worry about me… Imagine, I pour forth content into this container and the poem lives and gives, meaning I‘m set free. This is a miracle.
JEAN ∫ 100
BLACKOUT C. A. Schaefer Ice grew on the outsides of things. The sign that advertised the Sky Salon, the fake chalkboard: walk-ins welcome! The box that held free newspapers, advertising erotic massage and pub quizzes. Kaitlin broke off pieces of the ice on her way into the salon, splintering them and dropping them before her. Gingerbread crumbs, or slivers of ice— which fairy tale was that? Having to spell eternity. She bit her lower lip, catching a piece of dry skin with her teeth. Hop over a mound of snow. Crumble more ice. She liked to play these private games with herself. Don‘t touch the sidewalk cracks, the tire treads. Ball the snow up and stuff it in the empty mailbox. She thought about walking away from the salon, to go get a cup of something that steamed hot under her mouth. The dressing room had a door that shut but didn‘t lock. It reminded her of the rooms she usually changed in for the show, rooms behind the stage or down the yellow stairs. Sweaters and ski jackets hung behind her. Hangman, hangman, she mentally chanted, not looking at her face in the mirror. What was that from? She put the smock on over her head, in the swallowing dark. She smiled and lifted her arms, wriggling it over her underwear. Now. She looked like every other woman in the salon: slightly bored, hair waiting to be given shape and light. When she glanced back in the mirror she caught a glimpse of the acne dotting her lower jaw, and she looked away again. ―Kaitlin,‖ Lara said, coming forward to hug her, to sweep her up in her wake, perfumed with soap and the sticky salt spray. She had changed her hair to an asymmetric crop above her shoulders. Stripes of color ran down her head, red on brown on white. It was probably supposed to be edgy but somehow it just looked thick and crunchy, almost like the ice on the sign outside. Kaitlin had to resist the temptation to reach out and crumble it. ―You look great,‖ Lara said. ―Not really.‖ Another stylist stepped around them to sweep up a haystack of wet red hairs. ―Your hair looks wonderful.‖ ―Thanks,‖ Lara says. She squeezed Kaitlin‘s forearm. ―Come and sit down. What‘s your hair been doing without me?‖ SCHAEFER ∫ 101
―Not a whole lot.‖ And right in front of her, the mirror with its carnival reflections. The worst rehearsal spaces had mirrors lined up against the walls. Kaitlin stared at the shelves that bordered the mirror. A silver can, two black round brushes. A toothpaste-like tube of pink gel. ―I love your hair,‖ Lara said. ―Have I told you that? I really do.‖ She fluffed the ends, running her fingers through the clusters of dark curls. ―It‘s so pretty and thick. I wish my hair looked like this.‖ Part of the reason Kaitlin went to Lara was that she liked this, her admiring resentment. She had never let Lara color her hair or perm it, put deep copper highlights in or just add a wave to her hair. No hard feelings, Lara said jokingly, and put both hands up. It‘s pretty without me. ―Thanks.‖ ―Anything special this time?‖ Lara picked up some hair and draped it over her fingers. ―Not really. Can you take some weight off, though? It‘s taking forever to dry in the mornings.‖ ―Got it.‖ Lara touched a finger to the corner of her eye, where the mascara and eyeliner had smudged together, upturning the slant of her eye and darkening the skin. ―Let‘s go wash it.‖ Lara‘s hands were almost too warm, slippery and heated against Kaitlin‘s scalp. What was it like to have to touch all these people? She wondered if it was anything like prostitution, knowing that you were stuck with whoever made your next appointment. Kaitlin always showered, she wore makeup and dressed nicely, but not everybody here would. And she got a guilty thrill of pleasure anyway, knowing she was paying for the privilege of people — Lara, she guessed — touching her. Shaping her, teasing her about the weight of her hair. ―Have you done anything fun lately?‖ ―Not really. I just got abandoned,‖ she said, trying to make a joke out of it. ―Two of my girlfriends went down to Texas. You can rent a beach house for really cheap in the winter, so this is their winter break. It‘s cold but it‘s pretty. I went there last year.‖ ―How come you‘re here? You doing any shows?‖ Lara asked, still pushing shampoo through her hair. She tightened hair into a soapy knot. Lara had an idea that Kaitlin did shows regularly. She saw her infrequently enough to pretend that she did do shows and she auditioned constantly. I‘m an actress, she had told Lara the first time she came in. My day job is an assistant but really I act. ―Not really,‖ she said. ―I mean, there‘s some auditions but I‘m kind of taking a break right now. I just couldn‘t get off work to go on a long trip.‖ SCHAEFER ∫ 102
―Why are you taking a break?‖ The water weighed down Kaitlin‘s hair, gravity to the point where she could disappear underneath into darkness. The water was devoid of light, crowded with her hair and suffused with an unfamiliar warmth. ―It‘s kind of complicated.‖ Lara made a noise, a low hrur that disappeared into the hiss of water. Kaitlin wondered what Lara did with herself. She imagined that Lara‘s day was filled with endless coloring and stripping of her hair, recreating herself from the neck up. Kaitlin had ruined the plastic hair of her dolls with a curling iron. It melted and fell off. ―I tried out for this play,‖ Kaitlin said. ―And the director, afterwards, he knew me and he pulled me aside and told me that I was a dramatic actor in a character actor‘s body, and I should think about how I was presenting myself.‖ ―That sounds mean,‖ Lara said. ―It was mean,‖ Kaitlin says. She blinked. Ignore that guy, she heard her mother say. He‘s just a jerk. He doesn‘t know what he‘s talking about. ―I mean, he was an asshole for saying it. Even if that was how people saw me, sometimes. But I‘ve played lots of dramatic parts and even gotten good reviews.‖ ―So why did he say it?‖ ―I don‘t know,‖ Kaitlin admitted. Do you know what I mean? Right girl, wrong body, he had said. She must have smiled at him, like she always did. She liked his innocent sexiness, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. After he left she looked at her frozen yogurt, and tried to wonder what a comic actor‘s body looked like. Maybe it was her face that was clownish, or the size of her breasts and the soft ring of fat above her pelvis. Maybe her hair. ―What a jerk,‖ Lara said. ―Is that was why you quit?‖ ―Not really. But that started things. Made me think. Or not think, which was maybe the worst thing. I just stopped going to auditions. I didn‘t make any money off most shows. But I hate that it bothered me. It shouldn‘t really matter, you know? He should be able to say whatever he wants. Maybe he even did me a favor by letting me know. Everybody else was too scared to say it, or something.‖ Lara kept massaging and slicking conditioner into the long folds of hair. Kaitlin‘s neck pressed against the basin rim and water dribbled down past her nape. ―Still,‖ Lara said. ―That seems mean.‖ SCHAEFER ∫ 103
The light inside the salon dissipated into the window glass. It was the same familiar warmth as stage lighting, the dizzying bright that went destructive. It melted makeup and wore down the costumes with sweat and relentless body odor. The damp smell of something pressed between skins. ―I could do something with it,‖ Lara offered. ―You know. I know you don‘t want to color it but we could go shorter, shape it a little more.‖ ―Do you think so?‖ ―I really do.‖ Lara skimmed her hand over and through Kaitlin‘s hair, twisting the curls that fell into fat coils and frizzy twists. ―If it was up to me I wouldn‘t even let you go any lighter. Just highlights. Caramel, maybe. Or mahogany.‖ ―That sounds pretty,‖ Kaitlin said. When Lara said caramel she could hear the sweetness in the word. ―It would be,‖ Lara said. Kaitlin hesitated. She thought of John‘s face, slightly averted from hers, his apologetic smile and touch. It just feels like you’re in the wrong body sometimes, you know? ―Go ahead,‖ she said, and in the mirror Lara‘s face widened in a grin, and she spun Kaitlin twice, her hands behind the chair. ―I won‘t show you till the end,‖ Lara said. ―You‘re going to love this.‖ The brush swooped into Kaitlin‘s scalp. Lara tugged a razor through Kaitlin‘s hair and tossed handfuls of curl onto the floor. ―Don‘t be scared,‖ she said. Kaitlin folded her hands underneath the black cape and studied the intersection outside the salon. Not the mirror; she wanted a surprise. Behind her she heard the crisp scissor cuts and the muted dryers. ―You have a lot of hair,‖ Lara said. ―Trust me, we can get rid of a ton of it and it‘ll still look gorgeous.‖ ―I believe you,‖ Kaitlin said. The slush had built up in the gutter outside and the sidewalk had been pounded down. The snow looked demoralized now. ―What have you been up to these days?‖ ―Not much.‖ Lara twisted a thick clump of hair and clipped it. At stage left another woman shuffled in, her hair already folded up in the foils. Her face was spackled with makeup a shade too dark for her. ―Ooh,‖ Lara said. ―One second, you.‖ She patted Kaitlin‘s shoulder and Kaitlin sat up, her startled gaze almost shifting to the mirror. She caught herself and studied the smooth, worn grooves between the tiles. ―I gotta say hi.‖ SCHAEFER ∫ 104
―Okay,‖ Kaitlin said, but Lara had already stepped away and had taken the woman‘s hands in hers. ―You look beautiful,” Lara said. She stood in front of the woman and touched her round, sagging cheek. She smoothed her hand over the shorn hair, mummified in aluminum. Was this something she did with everyone? Of course it was, it was ridiculous to think that she told people exactly how they looked, but Kaitlin liked to think that Lara was more honest with her. More generous, she corrected herself, knowing at the same time that was not what she meant. ―You‘ve got to show me what Cee‘s doing with it,‖ Lara said affectionately. She squeezed the woman‘s hands again. ―I‘m sure you‘re going to look stunning.‖ ―You‘re sweet,‖ the woman said. Her face shone; too much oil. It needed powder or the matte paints used onstage. ―Sorry about that,‖ Lara said, and returned to her point behind the chair. ―She switches between me and Cee, but I just love her. She‘s so adorable.‖ She untwisted the piece of hair and raised it, making quick, practiced diagonal slices through the ends. ―She looks really nice,‖ Kaitlin said. She looked like what Kaitlin assumed to be a comic character. A flare of discomfort started beneath Kaitlin‘s navel, pulling her upwards in the chair and urging her gaze forward. Just to look. Kaitlin stared back towards the intersection stubbornly, aware that her jaw reflected in the mirror. ―Let‘s do your highlights,‖ Lara said. ―This is going to be gorgeous.‖ Lara left after the foils were finished. She handed her a cup of a tea without asking: here, drink this, you‘ll like it. The drink was muddy, swirling dark waters. Like everything else, it would be improved by adding something: airbrushing, caramel highlights, a teaspoon of sugar. She swallowed back obediently, still feeling that tugging in her stomach. It was the urge to get up and leave, to walk out of this audition. She sat and watched instead the reflections of the other women. Everyone else eyed their reflections with cheerful wariness. They either believed or didn‘t believe the lies their stylist told them; it wasn‘t a shock to realize that Lara didn‘t really mean it. That she would have said it to anyone. This is a problem, her last boyfriend had told her, earnestly holding her hand across the kitchen table. You‘re always bouncing yourself off of other people, trying to figure out where you fit. But they‘re like characters, she had said in response to him. Everyone could be crawled inside of, lives temporarily assumed. That would only last until she decided that this wasn‘t it; there had to be better lives, lives truer to herself, and she could return to the first Kaitlin. SCHAEFER ∫ 105
―You‘re going to look beautiful,‖ Lara said. She kept Kaitlin steered away from the mirror (did she guess, did she somehow know?). ―This is great,‖ she continued, and sprayed something acrid over her hair. The wet mist coated her neck. ―This‘ll give you some great texture, like you‘ve just gotten off the beach.‖ She rumpled Kaitlin‘s hair, almost affectionately, and wrapped it around the brush again. ―It‘s great for lowmaintenance care. Your kind of thing.‖ ―Do I have to do anything to keep the color up?‖ Kaitlin fidgeted. Her palm patted damply against her jeans. ―You can buy shampoo for color-treated hair. We have some here, I‘ll show you. We just have to take another hour to dry your hair.‖ Kaitlin laughed. ―Maybe two,‖ she said. There it was, the old comfort. The idea that Lara offered, that her hair was memorable. People would remember something about her, if only the color and texture and thickness. She closed her eyes. She would get her eyebrows thinned and arched, wear mineral makeup until she could assume herself as easily as anyone else. ―Yeah, we‘ll see,‖ Lara says, and released her hair before the warm air passed over her scalp. The hair dryer went out first, and Kaitlin wondered if it blew out the outlet, but then the lights faded almost immediately afterwards. The salon cooled almost immediately in the dark hush. ―Come on,‖ Lara says. She set the tools up on her station and cursed under her breath, low enough that Kaitlin couldn‘t catch the exact syllables. ―You have got to be kidding me.‖ Someone called that they‘d go check the circuit breaker, and Kaitlin turned her head and looked up at Lara. ―It‘s a load of crap,‖ Lara said. ―The minute snow looks sideways at the power I swear it goes out.‖ ―It‘s okay,‖ Kaitlin said. She turned her head, looking at how Lara‘s nostrils flared before she nodded and rubbed the back of her hand against her cheek. ―What a pain,‖ Kaitlin said. ―I hope they can fix it.‖ Lara swung Kaitlin‘s chair a few centimeters to the side. ―I hope so.‖ ―How is it?‖ Lara asked a man, this one thin and bald, a patterned scarf around his throat. SCHAEFER ∫ 106
―The power is gone,‖ the man said. He fixed his gaze towards where Kaitlin‘s knees hugged under her smock. ―The power company said maybe a couple of hours.‖ ―Well, shit,‖ Lara said. She turned to Kaitlin and pushed her fingers through the swoop of red strands. ―I‘m sorry,‖ she said, and turned the chair so that Kaitlin faced the mirror squarely, her chin centered just above the bottles of mousse and shaping gel. ―Can you see yourself?‖ There was the face, the light-colored eyes, but almost not. It was obscured enough to be foreign. The shadows curled over her lip. She could see lighter strips of hair burrowing in the dark. Kaitlin turned her head from side to side to admire the shadows. ―It‘s really subtle,‖ Lara said. ―It looked pretty with the lights on.‖ ―I‘m sure it‘s gorgeous.‖ ―It is, really,‖ Lara said. ―I promise that I‘m not just making it up.‖ She exhaled. ―You look so pretty. Like Greta Garbo, maybe?‖ ―I thought she was blonde,‖ Kaitlin said. ―Not all the time,‖ said Lara. ―Just when she was Queen Christina, or other people like that. I always thought she looked prettier with dark hair anyway. Right?‖ she asked, appealing to the stylist behind her. ―Like Greta Garbo.‖ Inside the dressing room things were completely dark. Kaitlin closed her cell phone and reached for her sweater by feel, letting the mohair settle over her breasts. She inhaled and the air swelled up inside her ribcage. Her hands extended blindly in front of her. No one was coming; she was one of the last people out of the salon. They might even forget she was here. It was the silence after the last curtain call, when everyone else had hurried to the dressing rooms to collect their friends and the occasional bouquet, promising dinner and cheesecake at Denny‘s. She wondered how long she could linger here before people would tap on the door, urging her to go home and get warm. She touched the cool surface of the mirror. A few years ago, she‘d played a handmaiden in The Winter’s Tale. She wound a ribbon around her head so that she didn‘t look so startled or boring. After Perdita was born and the queen was frozen into a statue, the tech crew had taken tiny squares of white fabric and let them fall from above the stage, timing it so the silk fluttered like snow, covering dark in light. Kaitlin always watched this from backstage. It felt like winter when they did this. She was not in the scene but she always wanted to dismiss everyone from stage and stand in the middle of it, wrapped in scarves and shrouds, her hands outstretched to see if it felt at all like ice. SCHAEFER ∫ 107
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Colleen Abel is a former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including The Southern Review, West Branch, Notre Dame Review, Willow Springs and Salamander. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Derrick Austin is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a BA in English and Writing. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, storySouth, Lambda Literary, Movingpoem.com, Relief: A Christian Literary Expression, receiving an Editor‘s Choice for Poetry, The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, Ganymede Unfinished, and Poets for Living Waters. (Photo: Micheal Rumore) Destiny Birdsong currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned an MFA in poetry and is a PhD student in English at Vanderbilt University. Her poems have either appeared or are forthcoming in Torch: Poetry, Prose and Short Stories by African American Women, Tabula Rasa: A Journal of Medical Humanities, Southern Women's Review, and RATTLE: Poetry for the 21st Century.
Tony Burnett is a member of the Writer's League of Texas. He writes a science and nature column for a regional central Texas newspaper and consults on sustainable construction. He lives with his wife, Robin, on a small farm on the blackland prairie southeast of Waco producing organic vegetables, melons and free range eggs. BAIT is his first published fiction.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 108
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Menoukha Case‘s publications include Tidal River Sediment, visual poems in Xtant and Fingernails Across a Chalkboard: A Literary and Artistic View of HIV/AIDS Affecting People of Color, and cover art for Randall Horton‘s Lingua Franca of Ninth Street, Truth Thomas‘s Bottle of Life, and FemSpec. Her academic work has appeared in Callaloo, Critical Sense, and the Writer’s Institute Newsletter. Ama Codjoe has roots in Memphis and Accra. She is an educator, dance artist, emerging writer and Cave Canem fellow. (Photo: Erica Campbell)
Rio Cortez is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the recipient of the Lucy Grealy Prize in Poetry. She is currently enrolled in the MFA program at New York University. Her work has been published in Dark Phrases, Through the Looking Glass & Clementine Magazine. Born & raised in Salt Lake City, UT, Rio now loves and lives in Queens, NY.
Curtis L. Crisler is an Assistant Professor of English at IPFW, and has three books: Pulling Scabs, Tough Boy Sonatas, and forthcoming YA mixed-genre novel called Dreamist. (Photo: William "Bryant" Rozier)
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 109
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ DéLana R.A. Dameron won the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, selected by Elizabeth Alexander, for her book How God Ends Us. She has received fellowships from New York University, the Cave Canem Foundation, Soul Mountain and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts.
Ron Davis - fat vegetarian; co-founder, poetry editor, and art director for Mythium Literary Journal; and a co-owner of The Wild Fig Books. a fervent daydreamer, he creates visual art and abstract poetry under the pseudonym "upfromsumdirt." can't sing for shit. is a rabble-rouser in his own head and a grand speechifier; "wordy". or "worrisome" his mama says... please, don't get him started.
Katherine DeBlassie was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize, her work has appeared in Zone 3, Urhalpool, Court Green, and Cutthroat. She received her MFA from the University of Maryland. She was a finalist for the 2009 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize and received a Work-Study Scholarship for the 2010 Bread Loaf writing conference.
Matthew Diomede has a PhD in English from St. Louis University and teaches English at the University of South Florida and St. Petersburg College. He has published prose and over 100 poems, some in The Centennial Review, Wisconsin Review, Kansas Quarterly. Bucknell University Press has published, The Master Builder, his book on 20th Century Italian-American writer, Pietro DiDonato. CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 110
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Alan Elyshevitz is a poet and short story writer from East Norriton, PA. His poems have appeared most recently in Poetica Magazine, Orion headless, and Serving House Journal. In addition, he has published two poetry chapbooks: The Splinter in Passion‘s Paw (New Spirit) and Theory of Everything (Pudding House). Currently he teaches writing at the Community College of Philadelphia. (Photo: Carol S. Skalky) Gerald Fleming‘s poetry and prose have appeared widely over the past thirty years. He edited and published the literary magazine Barnabe Mountain Review, whose archives live at U.C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library. His most recent book, Night of Pure Breathing: Prose Poems is just out from Hanging Loose Press in Brooklyn. He taught in the San Francisco public schools for thirty-seven years, and has published three books for teachers. (Photo: G. Gibson Fleming)
Jade Foster's nail polish chips after like three days! But she still pays for manicures anyway.
Hafizah Geter is a South Carolina native currently living in Chicago, IL. She holds an MFA from Columbia College Chicago and is a Cave Canem Fellow. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in BOXCAR Poetry Review, RHINO, New Delta Review, Packingtown Review and NANO Fiction.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 111
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ William Greenway is the author of nine collections of poetry, including Everywhere at Once, Ascending Order, and Fishing at the End of the World. His publications include Poetry, American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, and Shenandoah. He‘s won the Helen and Laura Krout Memorial Poetry Award and the Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review.
Ellen Hagan‘s poems have appeared in Pluck!, She Walks in Beauty: edited by Caroline Kennedy, and upcoming in Bop, Strut & Dance. Ellen holds an MFA in Fiction from The New School University. She is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjwomen, and co-founder of the girlstory collective. Crowned, her debut collection of poems was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. (Photo: David Flores)
Charish Halliburton lives in Columbus, Georgia, where she studies Existentialism and works at an Irish pub. When she's not pulling pints of Guiness, she's writing about the human experience. You can find her work in Gloom Cupboard, Battered Suitcase and South Jersey Underground. (Photo: Teryn Brown)
Derrick Harriell is currently a dissertator in UW-Milwaukee‘s English PhD program where he also teaches Creative Writing. He‘s worked as assistant poetry editor for Third World Press and is currently poetry editor for The Cream City Review. A 2009 Pushcart Nominee, Harriell‘s poems have appeared in various literary journals and anthologies. Cotton (Aquarius Press-Willow Books 2010) is his first collection of poems.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 112
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Jim Hayes graduated from Old Dominion University where he studied with John Bensko, and Gordon Ball, and from George Mason University where he studied with Kenneth Kovach.
Nadia Ibrashi‘s work has been a semi-finalist in Ebony magazine‘s and in Writer‘s Digest 79th competitions. Her essay appears in an anthology by Aquarius Press, and in Reverie magazine. She is editing her first novel and is an assistant editor at Narrative magazine.
Jennifer Jean is the author of In the War (Big Table), Fishwife (Whale Sound), and The Archivist (forthcoming in 2011). Her work‘s been published in numerous journals, including Denver Quarterly, Southern California Review, Relief Quarterly, Caketrain, and MOM Egg; she‘s a feature writer for Art Throb, is librettist for Fishwife Tales: Music, and teaches writing at Salem State University. (www.fishwifetales.com)
Constantine Kulakov was born in Zaokskiy, Russia in 1989. In 1999, he and his family immigrated to the United States. Living in the D.C. area nurtured his love for new language, cultural diversity, and written word. Currently, he is working on his B.A. in English and Philosophy at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland. His work has appeared in the Takoma Voice and Silver Spring Voice.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 113
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ BethSheba Mcgruder, Writer and Literacy Advocate, is known as the ―Book Maven.‖ She is the 2010 winner of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright award for college writers for her novel excerpt, "1950." She is also the former owner of a hip, Afrocentric bookstore in Hyde Park, Chicago. Now a full-time student, Mcgruder resides in Chicago with her two children. (Photo: Kenneth Simmons)
Michael Meyerhofer‘s third book, Damnatio Memoriae, won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest. His previous books are Blue Collar Eulogies (Steel Toe Books) and Leaving Iowa (winner of the Liam Rector First Book Award). He has also won five chapbook prizes. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Quick Fiction and other journals, and can be read online at www.troublewithhammers.com.
A husband, father, sailor, paddler, kayakfisherman, blogger and poet, Randy Parker makes his living as a marketing and advertising writer in Memphis. He holds an M.A. in English from the University of Memphis, with concentrations in creative writing and American lit. You can find his recent work in The Avatar Review, Sierra, and Barely South.
Joseph Ross is a poet and writer whose poems appear in many anthologies and journals including Poetic Voices Without Borders 1 and 2, Drumvoices Revue, Poet Lore, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and writes regularly at www.JosephRoss.net. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing at Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 114
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Karen Sagstetter grew up on the Gulf Coast and has published poetry and fiction in some thirty literary journals, two chapbooks of poetry, and two nonfiction books. She studied in Japan as a Fulbright journalist and has worked in museum publishing for many years at the Smithsonian and at the National Gallery of Art.
C.A. Schaefer is a PhD student at the University of Utah, where she studies fiction, letterpress, and books arts. She is a fiction editor for Quarterly West and is currently at work on her first novel. She lives in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Erin Rogers)
Susan Scheid has enjoyed many careers in her brief time on earth, one of which was archeologist. Susan has published her work in several small poetry journals, art-zines, and the artistwriter collaboration, Poetic Art. She is currently working on a chapbook. She resides in Washington, D.C. with her three cats, two sons and one husband.
Pete Sipchen's poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Poem, South Carolina Review, Poets and Artists, Clarion, and elsewhere. He lives in the mysterious hills west of St. Louis, Missouri, where he is at work on his first book of poetry. (Photo: Maura O'Neill)
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 115
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Claude Clayton Smith is Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio Northern University. He is the author of a historical novel, two children‘s books, four books of creative nonfiction, and serves as coeditor/translator of the world‘s first anthology of Native Siberian literature. His latest book is Ohio Outback (Kent State University Press, 2010). His work has been translated into five languages.
Brian Sullivan graduated from SUNY Albany in 2010 with a BA in English and Political Science. He currently works as a Calculations Clerk 1 at the Office of the State Comptroller of NY. This is an excerpt from a longer work and it is my first published piece of fiction.
L. Lamar Wilson, a Cave Canem fellow and winner of Cream City Review‘s 2011 Beau Boudreaux Poetry Prize, has poems in or forthcoming in African American Review, Callaloo, Connotation Press Online, No Tell Motel, Rattle, Tidal Basin Review and The 100 Best African-American Poems, among other journals and anthologies. His poems have been finalists for prizes from New Letters and Knockout, and his manuscript, Sacrilegion, was a finalist for Crab Orchard Review‘s 2011 Open Competition Award. By day, he‘s a PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill; by night, a copy editor. In the hours just before dawn, he writes. (Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 116
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