T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Fall/Winter 2011
T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Fall/Winter 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 – Photography Editor 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 JoAnne McFarland, Filibuster Baby, oil paint Layout Design, Melanie Henderson For broad distribution. Electronic version not for sale. To purchase print version, email email@example.com or visit www.tidalbasinpress.org. © All Rights Reserved, Tidal Basin Press, Inc., Washington, DC.
Beguine: On Charles Olson’s Dictum
Nahual Portrait of the Widow, in Yellow Cardinal Directions
Bed of Bearded Iris
Dates, Oil on wood panel
Night of Last Flute
Yim Tam Wong
Yazoo Mountain Harvest
Michael A. Moreno
Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán
E=MC2 Judith Even When Sleeping Part III
Luke Cage, Hip-Hop Superhero for Hire What’s Beef: The Unauthorized Biography of Dr. John Henry Irons (B.K.A. Steel) John Stewart, The Black Green Lantern, Drops Science with Defiance
The Hip Collective
Mojo Working Daughter, Deliverer
Sunflower, Oil on wood panel
Ice Cream Truck
Hellebore, Oil on wood panel
The Grown Shore Warm Winds
Cedar Creek Bottoms Stifling Pot, 1963 The Scribbling Blues
Kazaan Stone, Taste, and Apples Cold Tile for a Mattress
Larkspur, Oil on wood panel ARTIST STATEMENT FEATURED ARTIST INTERVIEW
BEAUTY IS ____ DEEP. 67
Stunned By What She Saw, Oil on linen
We Come from Places We Have Never Traveled
Leola Dublin Macmillan
Poison in the Well: On the Subjective Nature of Beauty
Beauty Politics and Barbie
Essence and Object
Filibuster Baby, Oil on wood panel
Don’t Tell Me To the Woman on K Street Interference
To the Man Who Finds Me Unbeautiful
That’s What I Hear Hair Stories
April R. Gibson
Fifteen to Life Salt & Pepper Learning Sexy
Janice Lynch Schuster
On Beauty: Shopping for Blue Jeans
BEGUINE: ON CHARLES OLSON’S DICTUM David Lewitzky 1 of rhythm I‘m dancing the beguine on the lips of Pelee Fire Goddess, Mother of Volcanoes It‘s time gone by, a hundred years ago It‘s now, right now, right now Pelee‘s in my entrails, factory and pulse The beat and blasting breath beneath my throat She‘s rhythm, persistent and obscure And she batters me 2 is image Comes the vision of beguine Vision of my naked self Naked rabbi, dancing after meaning Naked sexton, polishing the altar Comes island vision of Pelee, of ruins Of suffocating jungle, of my body Comes beguine kaleidoscope of dream Movie of my lusts and aspirations
LEWITZKY ∫ 6
3 of image is knowing Beguine‘s the structure of idea My birthright and my madness Pelee‘s the devastation Goddess Terpsichore‘s her avatar, her form I‘m driven to reveal myself To purify myself To put words into the world Lest I be turned to ashes, lest I disappear 4 of knowing there is a construct The plan is voyage, build an ark Search for definition and identity The plan is landfall, Ararat Build statues in the wilderness The plan‘s Pelee who offers me destruction Beguine‘s the plan, and my submission The plan‘s to dance, to find my way to beauty Austerity, transformation, reconciliation
LEWITZKY ∫ 7
NAHUAL Meg Cowen It is the hour he walks out of me tracing horsehair fingertips of cobalt down the length of my spine. Flourish. Whisker. Grin. He is alive and his jackal-headed shadow powders itself in red dust to stave off the waking. Will he enter a different window, tear the water snake from another head, from another dream? With breath rolling out in pipe cactus needles he has bound the tongues, darned the lips of those who know the moon, sculpt their own hands after its crescent. He returns before the light, lungs heavy with lives of caimans and boys, to fill me with spice and smoke; my body a vessel—glowing holy basil— spinning with opals and stars.
COWEN ∫ 8
PORTRAIT OF THE WIDOW, IN YELLOW Meg Cowen Folding laundry was a missed opportunity to say a dead man was living in her left ventricle and that we can blame the name Henry on him. Unhinged clothespins could bring to mind his mustache curled into a copper pipe (and how the crew cut she shares a bed with now was her second choice). Her young face reflected in the wet, white sheet tucks, chin down, before a tinted booth curtain—staining her cheeks violet all the way to Normandy, where this man named Henry‘s pulse poured out of him like motor oil. The sun was the same as it is now, echoing phosphorus off her nightgown; steering axis at twenty-seven degrees, spine stiff as a steel strut. The scent of her granddaughter‘s hair, malted wheat, makes her sick, though she does not say so. Nor does she wish blue irises black; only takes a pin from her pocket and hangs another shirt—palm pressed up like a sunflower spitting its own seed.
COWEN ∫ 9
CARDINAL DIRECTIONS Meg Cowen Every azimuth blooms out of an appallingly red center. Compass slices, served north or west, taste bitter once meridians have rolled their tongues to the poles and licked the ice sapphire. The northern man with a face like burned toast wants to know: How welcome is a flesh-peeling wind to someone who sleeps, who swelters on a bed of ants? Who prays into the eye of the water wall to sweep him up under its fingernail when it passes? This man with frost-split palms is finding sharks in his waters like never before. Someone or something is salting away at his ground; he just moves on by dead reckoning. About as far west as you can go, the sand spirals lay down their claim, crack the ground like a mottled shell and pour out a yolk made of slack-jaws and ―Thank God we don‘t live there‖s—words exhaled by people eating the snow off their dining room tables.
COWEN ∫ 10
EIGHT MINUTES Jessica Simms ―My favorite color?‖ she says. It‘s an answer, but it sounds like a question. ―Pink. But not, like, a hot pink. More a baby pink.‖ Before tonight, you didn‘t know there was a baby pink, and that‘s not all you‘ve learned. The difference between a Bichon Frise and a West Highland Terrier; the political history of Armenians in Turkey; how to avoid the construction on I-75. These are the things people say in their eight minutes. The topics they choose. To find a dog lover, an activist, a commuter. A commercial to make you ask for their number. You‘re looking at Haley and she‘s blond with blue eyes, and you‘ve got four more minutes to find the catch. No one‘s here because they‘re good at getting laid. Haley‘s got an issue and it isn‘t on the outside. Could be something low key. There‘s a difference between a girl with daddy issues and the real headcases. The stalkers, clingers. Cat ladies. You ask, ―What do you do, Haley?‖ ―Oh. I‘m a student. At the university?‖ She takes a sip of her water. Her eyelids are painted purple (not a bright purple; a baby purple) and she‘s got something on that makes them glitter. ―What‘s your major?‖ ―Early childhood education. I‘ve always wanted to work with kids.‖ A biological clock is a good kind of catch because she‘ll be quick to jump in the sack. If you peel off those skinny jeans maybe she‘ll call you daddy and you‘ll both at least be happy for the night. It seals the deal when she asks, ―You like movies?‖ Because what‘s need-to-know for a relationship is different than what‘s need-toknow for sex. If Haley asks what do you do? or do you own a house? or how’s your 401k? then she‘s picturing this relationship lasting well past morning. She‘s got a good pair of tits, but they‘re nothing to settle down over. You tell her, ―I like comedies. Like, you know those Seth Rogen movies?‖ ―Like Knocked-Up?‖ A curl of hair drapes across her cheek. This angle and she looks like a Hollywood production. Her shoulders, tensed to give the perfect curve to her neck, lips gentle on the straw to keep from leaving lipstick stains. Haley pushes her hair behind her ear and says, ―I love Knocked-up.‖ She asks, ―Have you seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall? It‘s got that guy from Freaks and Geeks. I used to, like, love that show.‖ SIMMS ∫ 11
You‘ve just passed the two minute mark and you‘re talking in questions. Both at least pretending to care what the other says and no major warning signs, and if you‘re honest with yourself, she‘s pretty much as good as you‘ll get. ―That guy‘s got a new movie coming out next week.‖ ―Yeah. I know. It looks pretty good.‖ Just like comedy, it‘s all in the delivery. Smooth and cool. Casual. You say, ―I was gonna go see it Thursday night. Maybe I could get your number? If you wanna come.‖ And she curls one shoulder, kind of a shrug but it looks like she‘s trying to hide inside her hairdo. ―Yeah, sure. That sounds fun.‖ It‘s not quite a dealbreaker that her phone‘s coated in rhinestones. You take down her digits and she says, ―I don‘t think I asked you. What‘s your favorite color?‖ The buzzer goes off. You stand up. In the shuffle and squeak of pushed back chairs you lean over the table and answer, ―Light blue. Like the color of your eyes.‖ She‘s got that pale skin that makes for a real pretty blush. You walk away, sit down at the next table where the girl‘s wearing sunglasses and asks about your car. A sip of your water, a bullshit answer because you‘re not going to tell her you drive a Toyota and she‘s not going to see it. You glance at the clock. You‘ve got seven minutes.
SIMMS ∫ 12
BED OF BEARDED IRIS Lauren Hilger At eight I left my sneakers in a cornfield. There were irises around my house more underground than above. I thought of iris bulbs splitting upside down at night. The scent was real. I planted a tree, a magnolia, with my father. There's no place I miss, I say. Show me where to look. I was led to hollows hidden, filled in, fixed. I will pay for this passage and the managed mind.
HILGER âˆŤ 13
Date, 2010 Oil on wood panel 5" X 5"
MCFARLAND ∫ 14
NIGHT OF LAST FLUTE Amanda Montell There were chandeliers around each pair of pallid ankles in the room that smelled like so many cinnamon cigars. Glottal laughter echoed off the champagne flutes like hail. My pointed cocktail ring was the Chrysler Building. The staircase and my windpipe were strung with nectarine pearls. But in that Upper West alley, I traded him every last crystal for one splinter from the pier.
MONTELL âˆŤ 15
HIKE Yim Tan Wong The path was the same, but the hand was different. It hung from some kind of cactus, the size of an armchair, an armchair made of fishgutting knives, that is. The hand sang out a sweet tune, the kind whose instruments are skin, promising bright juice, and mangoey sweet, ripe ovoids begging to be picked, so I took the hand, uncurled its fingers, and lay the palm across my cheek. More like, I asked it to cradle me. I peered about to make sure no one had seen. But who‘s to say who saw? I wrapped the hand in my map, and knew I‘d found the compass I‘d sought and headed to the canyon to throw my question into it? ―Is that you? that-you? -you? -you? -you?‖ My echo lived longer than a fly and flew around the canyon upsetting nest eggs and Inuits. ―Is that you, deChirico, come to meet me, at last, at the waterfall? You darling delinquent, reveal yourself to me.‖ A key dropped from a sapling and sap ran from the eyes of deer who had collected in a circle round a circle circling a farm of fiddlehead ferns with heavy metal fiddling radiating from their heads like haloes of guitar distortion and speedy, overblown solos. My next instinct was to repel down the canyon to retrieve each echo, adding to my basket of treasures, but when I surveyed the environs, I saw lions and hawks tearing away at some poor zebra, legs up, and bloody. At that point, I could not tell you the value of the hand, my voice, life, or the disappearing path. WONG ∫ 16
YAZOO Kevin Heaton Before daddy left, he gave mama a brand-new feed sack dress, and planted one last crop; I was her: God‘s Perfect Number, the seventh heavenly stair step to kick at her backbone, breeched, then brought by a poor white trash midwife. That year, our windmill huffed the horse trough full of mule dust, and the persimmon cheeks hollowed in early September. A field of bluebells captured an awol rebel sun shower, then flanked a hackberry column on the north fence line, and drank the rest of the water. The old Southern Gentry had long since vanished, but only rich white folks could book space on the Glory Train. Martin wasn‘t born yet, so the saints weren‘t marchin‘ in. He left us south of the Mason-Dixon Line in a cottonwood sharecropper shanty, squat over the scratch dirt where an overseers pointer pup itched his worms, then hung a Rainbow Bread sign on our screen door to set it apart from the trees. I grew up along the Yazoo, where roly polys pushed each other across farmed out river bottom flatland, and ebony ivories still harped on ‗Delta Blues.‘
HEATON ∫ 17
MOUNTAIN HARVEST Kevin Heaton Waning, reminiscent sunshine licks the green frosting first from sugar maple leaves, then an early nip re-ices them in antique butternut for the harvest celebration. Eastern Cherokee bamboo flutes pipe dove songs along the Oconaluftee; beyond Newfound Gap. Once, I was their guest and touched the music. Hot flashes come further apart now with each ‗Indian Summer‘ daybreak. The change came mellow, like the slow drawl of a Tennessee storyteller. Vintners here wear bib overalls, and chase their tart apple cider with homemade dewdrops. Gray squirrels stuff pack rat jowls with black oak chaw, and salt the hardwoods with acorn hulls to the strum of a mountain dulcimer, and the throbjaw scent of roasting ear corn. Predawn hoarfrost snaps a chalk line at the frown wrinkle on old Clingman‘s Dome, just above the October tan line, where God still numbers every leaf, and each reward us for his faithfulness. Soon, snow will powder the summit‘s mossy hairpiece, and telltale red fox tracks at Bearmeat Corners.
HEATON ∫ 18
AN ERRAND Geoffrey Craig he cruised the dusty streets, the sun harsh in his eyes. a nondescript town: the desertâ€˜s edge, tarpaper shacks lining the gullies, potholes that could crack a tire, a moldy main street: bars grime-dark windows, stores gaudy junk. he had slept on sheets gray and frayed like the town, showered in a rust-stained tub, the motel redolent of piss and bleach. he cared not a whit. his business, god willing, soon to be done and the armpit of a town left in the dust. he cruised slowly, carefully there: an ochre house the yard uncluttered a brown woman: black hair tied back, swollen belly, wide hips, full breasts. she held a boy by the hand. CRAIG âˆŤ 19
she would do. he got her on the first shot. he considered getting the boy but drove on. god had said nothing about a boy.
CRAIG âˆŤ 20
ROADSIDE SUNFLOWERS Michael A. Moreno We needed to work so we could buy ice or maybe even get a place to stay. Our old blue pickup, with its peeling cap, pulled off the highway, which cut through higher land, exposing its history -- compressed red and burnt orange clay -- like a rusty knife slicing the hill. We ate on the side of the road. The tailgate was a table. Wild sunflowers, tall enough to cast their shadow over me, swayed to the accordion and bass of a Tejano song. The bologna floated in the ice chest, the water getting warmer with the sun.
MORENO âˆŤ 21
BINARY Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán i don‘t know how long this will take to reach you but i know light from my star many years in the distance is still bright burning for you. if perhaps its heat reaches you not you will lift eyes and in the distance see a glimmer remember our burning together. take this to warm you at night when winter colds your body yearns for spring. take with you seasons of our lovemaking into dawn. after i am gone, and we return to night our light will linger across space in the memories of those who saw our embrace and felt in its wake the wave of energy between us. across the stars you still burn a warm heat i take as i travel cosmos returning always to this our hurtling circle of love. BODHRÁN ∫ 22
E=MC2 Joshua Bauer Bright light behind your eyes finally, her skin after wandering under that mountain you mine where the flame is constant blue— I cannot say it— That portrait‘s walk snaps like a beak but her hair, it waltzes better than a dress. Some divinity there must be though her name is delicate to pronounce and she laughs gently when you get it wrong. It falls out of your American mouth like a gentle curse said in pleasure. Her body, a neon waxing crescent, hot, compact fruit, not quite an apple she falls into your snake jaws and convinces you of reincarnation. Your other poems, under the delicate vibrations of her heart shake like fine china on California oak.
BAUER ∫ 23
JUDITH EVEN WHEN SLEEPING PART III Joshua Bauer A brief sketch of the things that (during the seconds that her blonde hair flashed against the darkness) welled up inside of me or came at me from the outside: A flannel sleeping bag, its smooth vinyl outer skin, the smell of my leather jacket under my head, the cheap shag carpet of the floor, the hard cold wood underneath that floor, how things stack upon each other almost indefinitely, the density of the winter outside, her nearness to me and her distance to me being the same, the cotton throughout the room, the glow of moonlight off snow seeping into the window like fog, the anxiety dripping from her heart and drowning out her voice, the anxiety pulling up from my gut quieting my breath, the specific language between lovers, the childish play, the spreading out and thinning of the heart into the limbs, the satisfaction of sharing without revealing.
BAUER âˆŤ 24
BABY GIRL Rachel Furey Thomas‘s baby girl has a bone sticking out of her wrist. It‘s swaddled in a towel held tight by an Ace bandage, but the kid keeps tugging the towel back and holding her wrist up to her face, trying to steal a glance at the wet bone while Thomas drives. In the passenger‘s seat, she gently kicks her sneakers together while her studying her arm. She hums a song from school. And to think earlier that afternoon Thomas doubted her bravery. She came home from school with eyes red from rubbing, and as he handed over her afternoon snack, she told him her friends Gwen and Mary had climbed an apple tree during recess. They‘d collected blooms and woven them into their hair like goddesses while Stacy had watched from the grass. Thomas scooped his baby girl up into his arms and took her to the swingset he‘d built himself. He set Stacy down on the swing, told her to kick, and then pushed her as high as he could. His wife, Charlotte, who worked as a receptionist, wasn‘t home yet, would be there just in time to squeeze Stacy into her arms while he headed off to work the nightshift. Charlotte was good with numbers and order, and Thomas wasn‘t, but he thought he had things straight when it came to raising his daughter. Charlotte would always do the careful things – arrange doctor appointments, check homework – and Thomas would make sure his baby girl didn‘t grow up all girl. Under the afternoon sun, Thomas looked at his girl and told her to jump from the swing. She squeezed her fingers tighter around the chains. ―What?‖ She screamed, her mouth wide open, that hole where she‘d just lost a tooth sitting like a piece of licorice in between her teeth. Thomas stamped a boot into the ground soft with spring rains. ―If falling‘s what you‘re scared of, we might as well get it over with now.‖ Stacy tucked her chin into her chest and stared at her shoelaces. ―There‘s nothing but a layer of mud under the grass,‖ Thomas said. Then he plucked a dandelion, and because he didn‘t have any hair to thread it through, he stuck it behind his ear. He frolicked the way he thought Gwen and Mary might, danced long enough for his baby girl to laugh. When she finally jumped, her jean pocket caught on the board of the swing and she slipped out sideways, the left side of her falling toward the ground. Thomas knew he should have given the board another sanding after the winter‘s freezes and thaws, and although he thought he might catch his baby girl, he couldn‘t get there in time, even though the falling seemed to take forever, Stacy‘s eyes opening wide and her tongue slipping to the corner of her mouth. FUREY ∫ 25
When she first looked up at him after the fall, her hair sprayed out around her head, which wobbled with the weight of oncoming tears, Thomas told her not to look at the arm that had broken her fall, to look up at the clouds and find the one that looked like the cow that stood in the field next to their house. He‘d heard the crunch. It‘d already set him to thinking about where his keys were and how fast he could get his baby girl to the car. *** That first road into town is a dirt one, and although it rained yesterday, the road is back to dust today, churning itself up under the tires and rising like a fog behind them. Thomas steers the car past a tiny A-Frame house, its siding cracking, the windows boarded up. He can‘t remember the house, thinks he‘s missed the turnoff for the highway. He doesn‘t usually go this way, but Charlotte has this route taped to the refrigerator. She told him it‘s the most direct to the hospital. An oncoming car zips past. A cloud of dust envelopes the car. He thinks of the piano lesson Charlotte had planned for Stacy tomorrow – what a cast might sound like pressed against the keys. He squints through the windshield while keeping a steady foot on the gas pedal. His baby girl starts waving her good arm, rocking herself back and forth, groaning. ―We‘ll be there soon,‖ he says. She points a finger out her window and he thinks maybe she‘s spotted another green beetle smashed against the car, its shell still glowing in the sun. Her wine grows louder. ―Daddy,‖ she says. There‘s something in her voice that tells him she‘s probably not talking about a beetle. There is something he knows he‘s forgetting, something Charlotte would be shouting into his ear, slapping his shoulder about with a flat hand, if she were here. It feels something like that small chip of wood that sometimes gets stuck in his leather work glove. The one he can‘t find even when he turns his glove inside-out. Just another thing that‘s out of place, another thing to maneuver around. He looks over at his baby girl staring intently at something out her window, something close enough to her he can‘t see it. He opens his mouth. He‘s about to ask her what it is, if she sees one of the painted turtles they‘ve stopped to touch before. Then the car hits something on her side. He pounds the brakes. The tires turn up more dust. His baby girl shakes in her seat, pushes one open palm toward her other hand, as if to squeeze the two together. When she remembers one is wrapped, she squeezes her knee instead.
FUREY ∫ 26
―Stay in the car,‖ Thomas says. He takes a deep breath before stepping out of the car, and another before he rounds the corner. He sees the shoes first – a white canvas pair with green laces. Then the pink tank top. The jean shorts. Somebody else‘s baby girl on the ground at his feet. Charlotte is in his ear saying, don’t forget about Diane, the deaf girl that lives on that road, the one with the mother who can’t be bothered to watch her daughter. There must be a note on the refrigerator under the map about that. He can see it in Charlotte‘s handwriting now. Shifting his hands in and out of his pockets, he leans over the girl, her neck bent at an awkward angle, her cheek pressed into the road. His hot finger against her neck finds no pulse, and when he gingerly sets a hand on her head, she doesn‘t move. He looks up at the driveway that winds through the trees, the house on the top of the hill – the one he can barely see through the spring foliage. The car door cracks open and Stacy steps out. She holds her hurt wrist against her chest and opens and closes the fingers on her other hand. ―Get back in the car,‖ he says. Stacy sucks in a deep breath of air, holds her cheeks puffed full of air, then lets it all out. The day he accidentally mowed over her Barbie doll that she‘d left to tan in the backyard, he taught her this. No tears, he said. Not for a piece of plastic shaped like a doll. He taught her to take deep breaths, hold them for an instant, then let it all out. She peers into a bucket bobbing in the roadside ditch, one he hadn‘t gotten around to noticing yet. She fingers the plastic handle. ―I think she was collecting tadpoles,‖ she says. ―Probably taking ‗em over to the pond before the ditches dried.‖ A lump grows in Thomas‘s throat, thick like syrup, but rough like granite. ―Don‘t cry,‖ Stacy says. ―You said crying‘s for people with too much time on their hands.‖ He has said that before. Mostly because Charlotte is prone to it and he‘s not sure what to say, if he should rub her back or run his fingers through her hair. He wants to tell his baby girl this is worth crying over. Maybe not now, but later at least. They can do it together. Maybe she can show him how. He starts to gather his lips to say something, but his tongue is limp, too heavy inside his mouth. Stacy steps closer to that ditch now full of spring rains, but sure to fade fast. With her good hand, she picks up the bucket, then looks over at the girl. ―We can take her to the hospital, too. That‘s where we‘re going anyway.‖ She stares down into the bucket. ―I‘ll just get these across the road first.‖ She turns her back to him and heads toward the pond, tugging the bucket along. A few tadpoles caught in the seesawing of water slip right over the side. With her hurt arm still pressed to her chest, her shadow is a one-armed creature leaning heavily to one side.
FUREY ∫ 27
Thomas bends to the ground. For the first time, he sees the bracelet on the little girl‘s wrist. Its metal shines in the sun and when he takes it in between two thick fingers, he finds the name Diane in curvy script. His heart is pounding like crazy, reminds him of the time he operated the jackhammer at a construction site. It made all of him shake. His fingers couldn‘t hold steady for days afterward. Only Charlotte could make the shaking stop. She had a magic touch, a special massage that sent calming waves from his neck to his hands. Thomas checks Diane again for a pulse. He squeezes her hand, but there‘s no response. Tadpoles splash into the pond. Any moment now, Stacy will turn around. Thomas fills his cheeks with air then lets it out. He rests one hand on Diane‘s hip, the other on her shoulder. He pushes, rolling the girl right into the ditch. He swallows hard while the girl‘s nose slips under the water. He nudges one of her shoes deeper, forcing it beneath the surface. The water is murky, all stirred up from the tadpole catching. He can‘t make out Diane‘s tank top. Kids drown all the time. Charlotte told him that once – not to leave Stacy alone near any sort of water, even a kiddie pool. Kids get excited. They slip. They fall. It happens. He turns his back to Diane and watches his baby girl pace toward him, the bucket dangling in her good hand. She‘s squinting into the sunlight, searching the road for Diane. Her lips quiver, looking for words. Before Thomas knows it, he‘s telling her Diane was playing a joke on them. She‘s just fine. She went on running back through the trees. Stacy drops the bucket and he wonders if he‘ll have to come up with something else. He pushes his shaking hands into his pockets. His baby girl bites her lower lip. She squeezes the fingers of her good hand together and apart. Then she starts laughing, the sort of laugh that rocks her whole body, that makes her bend forward, her head seesawing up and down. It‘s so loud that Thomas worries it might carry up the hill to Diane‘s mom. He picks Stacy up, places her back in the passenger‘s seat, buckles her in, and continues the drive toward the hospital. He turns on the radio and taps his fingers on the steering wheel. Five minutes down the road, when Diane is a few miles away, when Thomas likes to think the tadpoles have surrounded her, are gently gliding over her body, helping Diane to make that transition to heaven, he glances over at his baby girl. Her head is tipped back against the seat, her arm resting in her lap. He lowers the volume on the radio. ―I don‘t think your mom needs to hear the Diane story,‖ he says. ―The swing story will probably be enough.‖ He winks at her. His baby girl, trying to take another peek through the towel, smiles and then winks right back. FUREY ∫ 28
LUKE CAGE, HIP-HOP SUPERHERO FOR HIRE Jonathan Moody My indestructible skin resists the battering ram of a fan‘s autograph request. Diddy doesn‘t want what happened to Biggie to happen to him. Every move this bad boy makes I counter like a chess piece cuz any one of these neon lights flashing from the DJ‘s booth could be a tactical, green electrosight laser sizing up my client‘s torso. Chillin‘ in the VIP section, he fills up a glass with pineapple Ciroc & nods his head to Cypress Hill‘s ―How I Could Just Kill a Man‖; the tight waves in his freshly cut fade are stenciled in deep like letters on a tombstone. It‘s my job to see death in everything so Diddy can enjoy life.
MOODY ∫ 29
WHAT’S BEEF: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF DR. JOHN HENRY IRONS (B.K.A. STEEL) Jonathan Moody after The Notorious B.I.G. Beef is when your weapons prototypes are leaked to engineer murders overseas & genocidal gang violence. Beef is when an innocent man has to fake his own death, switch names like license plates, & escape to Metropolis. Beef is when Lex Luthor assumes you can‘t scrap cuz you‘re a black ―with honors‖ graduate of Yale. Beef is when Superman suddenly saves your life & abruptly says you need to live a life worth saving. Beef is when Lois Lane gladly forgets about her exclusive so she can be your voice of reason. Beef is when the lesser of two evils fronts like it‘s the greater good.
MOODY ∫ 30
JOHN STEWART, THE BLACK GREEN LANTERN, DROPS SCIENCE WITH DEFIANCE Jonathan Moody In brightest day & blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship Evil’s might Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light. —The Green Lantern‘s Oath for Mitchell L.H. Douglas & Frank X. Walker Record labels insist trends can survive the hard vacuum of space unprotected, but earth‘s atmosphere distorts the industry‘s view of Art. My green lantern‘s light carries rap crews to remote space stations where moguls are devoted to developing music & do not send artists back down to Earth for making ambitious turns towards Mars. This ring, a hip alien named Afrika Bambaataa bestowed upon me, summons the intergalactic posse of meteoroids to crush Marketing: an evil force more formidable than Sinestro. 5: radiant, 4: energy, 3: emanates, 2: from the ring‘s center, 1: light goes Zih Zih Zih Zih Zih MOODY ∫ 31
preventing bionic brothers from signing deals thatâ€˜ll make debt skyrocket faster than success.
MOODY âˆŤ 32
THE HIP COLLECTIVE Cynthia Manick The hip is critically acclaimed. Made primarily of two mounds: tumbled and heavy. (too much for the pumice stone) You can find them hidden beneath ponchos, on posters, or on T.V. and film. Pam Grier was one bad motha__. Dark skinned plums plump nicely like the shadow Bessie used to wear. Bands played like a secret to see the girls shimmie shimmie. Ella‗s silhouette stopped crowds: core the pit of a peach taste the nimble place the weight in the hand search the dark spot the jived jimmy that‘s where the heat lies The curve likes to keep the heart clenchin. Blow apart, spectrum, the physics of the walk. Dance until the mind feels clean. Tease the brown. Refusing to be tamed by some low down tickle, back door man, or honey dripper. Hips don‘t fight: water‘s rhythm bias cut skirts too tight to cinch in pink porcelain dolls blond barbie‘s on nitrates the rose rose rose It wants to go to France and fight the euro over there. Cause black matter holds the universe together. Grandma always said, ―in the ancestral house lies our core.‖ People fear the heat and stirring of home grown Black silhouettes.
MANICK ∫ 33
MOJO WORKING Shayla Hawkins Detroit, Michigan, circa 1980 Rhythm pulling me like a magnet to the door outside my father‘s den and The Electrifying Mojo, deejay of deejays, talking smooth and deep as thunder, comes through the radio and music rides the lush carpet of his voice straight into my heart Soul, techno, rock, R&B Mojo doesn‘t care: If it‘s good, he spins it and tonight he‘s spinning ―I Wanna Be Your Lover‖ by some new cat from Minnesota called Prince This guy I think must be nuts, putting all his business out in the street, singing sexy over keyboards, bass and guitar to a woman about things my crayon-wielding, Kindergarten self isn‘t supposed to know, yet somehow I do And I get so caught up in the lovecrazy magic of this song that I think for a moment it‘s possible to crawl through
HAWKINS ∫ 34
my daddy‘s stereo to WGPR on East Jefferson where Mojo‘s in his studio working the records that drip a honey-sweet funk into my ears and thank him for planting a wish in my little girl heart to be a woman and have a man singing to her with all the passion of that loony dude from Minneapolis
HAWKINS ∫ 35
DAUGHTER, DELIVERER Shayla Hawkins During one of her last trips on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman returned to her native Maryland and rescued her own parents from slavery. As you once birthed me from blood into light, tonight I return the favor. You delivered me from darkness to life. Only you can call me daughter. Tonight I return your favor. Some call me Moses, Redeemer, North Star. But only you can call me daughter. So I pay you back with freedom. Others call me Moses, Redeemer, North Star. Tomorrow let Massa wake to find you gone, and see that Iâ€˜ve paid you back with freedom. Tonight, let us run while he dreams. Tomorrow, Massa will wake and find you gone. You delivered me. From darkness to life, tonight we will run while he dreams, as you once birthed me from blood into light.
HAWKINS âˆŤ 36
Sunflower, 2011 Oil on wood panel 8" X 8"
MCFARLAND ∫ 37
ICE CREAM TRUCK Jennifer Hurley Moses was one of the only white kids at the black high school. After the first few years people stopped harassing him—then he was merely ignored. Senior year his father moved out, taking the blind dog with him, and his juvenile delinquent younger brother moved back in, pretending that he was only ―crashing‖ for a while, obviously a lie, because he‘d brought the birds. The birds ended up in the aviary that his brother had built (using a cracked window and scraps of stolen fencing) in what was now Moses‘ closet. Most nights Moses gave up trying to sleep and went out to the living room to play games on the computer. There he‘d often encounter his older brother, who drove an ice cream truck for a living and came by at odd hours to raid the fridge. His brother had scraped several cars trying to squeeze into tight parking spaces, and as a result the truck was covered with spray-painted obscenities. It bothered Moses for some reason, but his brother said no one cared, not even the parents. Maybe they took it as the usual price to be paid for living in that neighborhood. In any case, the ice cream continued to sell. Moses met Mandy at a coffee shop, where a communal game of Uno was going on at two in the morning. She was a shy girl who was trying, with her black clothes and spiky jewelry and long burgundy hair, to look angry. Moses was charmed by the way she blushed through her white, powdery makeup. It was St. Patrick‘s Day when she came to pick him up for their first date. Moses had no car, not even a driver‘s license, although he gave his mother rides whenever she drank too much at a bar. His mother welcomed Mandy with squeals and a hug, and shoved a green beer in her hand. They all sat around for a few minutes watching TV while Mandy took polite sips from her beer. On the television someone was wielding a gun, and his mother stood up, shouting, ―That‘s my gun! I killed someone with that gun.‖ Moses was too mortified to speak. His mother launched into the story, the same story he‘d heard for years, now seen through Mandy‘s eyes. What kind of mother shoots someone, even an ―evil rapist?‖ What kind of mother shares beer and cigarettes with her underage children? If he didn‘t get Mandy out of there, pretty soon his mother would offer to make her a grilled cheese with the bulk packages of American cheese that she stole from the cafeteria where she worked. Finally they were outside, where he could freely apologize about his mother. Mandy said she thought his mother was nice and ―so open,‖ which made Moses wonder about her own mother. All he knew—all he‘d ever know—was that her mother had money. She had a black Mercedes SUV, which Mandy drove most of the time. Moses had never been inside a car like that, so plush and hulking, with enough dials and buttons to power an airplane. It took Mandy several minutes to maneuver the car out from between two beat-up vans. HURLEY ∫ 38
―I hate this car,‖ she said, and she looked as if she might start to cry. Moses loved it. It was fast and smooth. He didn‘t have the money to take Mandy anywhere, but he did know places where they could drive—along the 8, which was lined with palm trees and retro motels, and up the winding road to Mount Soledad, where they could look down at the lights of the entire city. Sometimes they parked the car in Kensington and walked around admiring the Spanish bungalows and petting the cats they encountered. With excitement and dread he let her see his bedroom. She didn‘t mention the huge dent in the wall from when his brother had accidentally driven his motorcycle into the house, and to his surprise, she loved the birds. They stayed up all night kissing while the birds chirped. She was a virgin—he knew that without her having to say so—and he was determined not to rush her. He wanted to be a gentleman, the sort of man his father and brothers wouldn‘t even understand. They were still dating in June, when they both graduated from high school. In sports‘ competitions Moses‘ high school didn‘t play Mandy‘s, probably because it would be too depressing for the athletes in Moses‘ school to see the uniforms and pompoms of Mandy‘s, or maybe it was the other way around. In the fall Mandy was going to the state university; Moses had already gotten a job at the indie movie theatre downtown. The theatre had rats, but it played good movies, and he could eat all the popcorn he wanted. Some days, especially toward the end of the month, it was his only meal. The night before Mandy was leaving for school he took her to a midnight show. They drank beer that he‘d smuggled in and propped up their feet so the rats wouldn‘t scurry over them. He knew how the story would end between them. She would meet other college people and lose interest in him. If she didn‘t lose interest of her own accord, someone would persuade her to. In his bedroom that night, after looking together through an art history textbook for one of her college courses, he broke up with her. ―I thought we were going to have sex,‖ she said. ―I wore these stupid underwear. I‘m so embarrassed. Don‘t look at me.‖ He felt terrible, even worse that this scene was taking place in his hideous bedroom. How he could he make love to her in that room? He wanted to point out all the evidence against it: to show her the cruddy green carpet specked with over a decade of accumulated boogers, the places where his brother had drawn spewing, inhuman penises on the walls. ―Please,‖ she said. And so he went ahead with it. It was not as he had pictured. They were both tense, and before he could absorb the significance, before he could feel how much he loved her, it was over. Then Mandy was crying and trying to hide it. ―Are you hurt?‖ he asked.
HURLEY ∫ 39
―No.‖ She slipped on one of his T-shirts and went to go to the bathroom. He lay there waiting for her to return, feeling his heartbeat in his fingers and in his penis. One of the birds, the yellow and blue one, was cawing and would not stop. ―Shut the fuck up!‖ he yelled into the quiet night. ―You shut up!‖ his mother yelled from the other room. Mandy tapped on the door before entering. There were stripes on her face from the streetlight coming through the blinds. ―Stay and sleep next to me,‖ Moses said. ―My mother will kill me if I stay out all night,‖ she said, but lay down beside him anyway. They nestled together on the side of the mattress where the springs didn‘t poke through. Just as he was about to fall asleep, he heard something outside, something that sounded like a car crash. ―Did you hear that?‖ he said, but Mandy was already asleep. A few minutes later the door to his bedroom was flung open. His older brother stood in the doorway. ―What are you doing?‖ Moses said. ―Your girlfriend drives a black SUV, right?‖ he said. Mandy sat up. His brother had his head in his hands. ―Oh, shit. My truck—it was an accident. You don‘t want to see it.‖ ―You‘re such a fucking idiot,‖ Moses said. ―It‘s fine,‖ Mandy said. ―Whatever you did to it, I don‘t care. I hate that car.‖ It wasn‘t what Moses expected her to say. Her face looked determined, almost triumphant. For the first time it occurred to him that she really did hate that car, maybe as much as he hated his mother‘s Dodge, and for the same reason. ―I‘ll be paying for this the rest of my life,‖ his brother said. ―Me, too,‖ Mandy said. HURLEY ∫ 40
MOMMA ILLUSIVE Daniel Davis Eventually, Randy began to wonder if his mother was even real. After all, he told himself, he could easily have imagined most of it. She could've died years ago, and he just never noticed, or noticed and forgot it. The woman who nagged at him, who beat him with a spatula, who screamed his name in the middle of the night because she'd wet herself, that woman could be a figment of his imagination—or, rather, his imagination carrying on the life of a woman who'd already died. He wasn't sure when these suspicions first came to him. The previous Christmas? Before? It came gradually, through a realization that took some time to put together: it'd been years since he'd seen his mother interacting with another person. They were never out in public together; usually, it was Randy who went out, but occasionally, when Luella went to the market or a movie or bingo, she went alone. They hadn't been together in public since the death of Randy's uncle, and that had been three years ago. Whenever anyone rang the doorbell, it was Randy who dealt with them. No one ever came for Luella. That, of course, could merely be coincidence. He believed in coincidence; he was one himself, the random result of a broken condom. That's what Luella told him, and though he had a tendency to doubt some of the things she said—though secretly, he believed every word—he happened to know it was true, because even his father had admitted as much, and Randy's father had not been a man to lie. He hadn't been blunt, either, just honest and good-willed, which was why he hadn't survived long as Luella's husband, nor too long after that, either. He died when Randy was six, at which point he'd been divorced from Luella for four years. He'd died single, in a roach-ridden apartment that Randy had visited once a month, because that's what the judge had ordered. At the time, Randy had been grateful he hadn't had to live with his dad. He felt guilty about it afterwards—if only a little—but at the time guilt was an alien concept, and he was happy every time he left the stained, torn, damp dwellings his father had called home. As a kid, there had been visitors. The odd family member, though Luella's own relatives didn't tend to stick around her for very long. Randy's friends, of course, the few that he had, though none ever spent the night, and by high school he was pretty much an only child in every sense of the word, cut off from his peers and classmates. He went to prom, but only at Luella's urging—it wasn't normal, she said, for a boy, even a whispery freckle like himself, to skip his senior prom. He hadn't danced; he hadn't spoken a word; he hadn't even worn a tux, because Luella hadn't wanted to pay for one. "A vest'll do you good enough," she'd said. She was a big woman, which didn't help, because he was such a small boy, and then a small man. Randy used to try to think of other words to describe her, but by twenty-five he hadn't come up with a single one. He'd lived with the woman his entire life, spent every waking moment possible with her, had watched her hair turn gray and her breasts sag and her hips bulge out. She'd never shrunk, not once; she just got bigger. DAVIS ∫ 41
Her voice became louder; there was a rasp in it, eventually, a grating sound, but that only served to make it stronger, richer, more authoritative. Her face became wrinkled, though with all the makeup she wore, you could barely tell; yet, even when the wrinkles showed, they just seemed to broaden her face. It was her mind, he decided—her mind had stayed as sharp as ever, no decay as you'd expect with age. By seventy—he'd been a late child of course; most of the condoms had held up—she could outthink any college professor, an exclamation she never seemed to put to use, except during Jeopardy. She was good with questions; that was her trick. Questions, questions. Where the hell were you, Randy? It only takes ten minutes to walk back from school. What are you doing in there, Randy? You don't need fifteen minutes to push through a stool, and you know what'll happen if you were touching yourself again. What's for dinner, Randy? Did you go shopping today? Did you get the car fixed? Did you tell your boss to kiss your rump? Randy? Randy? Every mother asks questions; he knew this from television and Hollywood and the books he was allowed to read (not that he was very good at reading). But not every mother asks nothing but questions. Luella's questions never hid anything else—no sentiments of love or worry or fear. They were simply questions, and they demanded answers. She'd once asked him if a bear shat in the woods, and because he'd heard it used rhetorically on the playground, he hadn't answered. She threw an egg at him to get his attention and repeated herself. His answer: "I guess so, Mama." Mama. Did other boys call their mothers that? They didn't in public. Not that anyone talked to him much; not that he blamed them, either. He wouldn't talk to himself, and he didn't, unless of course, as it took him twenty-five years to get around to questioning, he was making all this up. Perhaps his mother was dead. Perhaps Mama now existed only in his mind. He worked in an auto-parts store, stocking shelves. He didn't know a muffler from a bumper; he knew how to find the nearest Midas, and that was it. But it was a job that required no thought; he only had to match up words—which he'd learned to distinguish from other, similar words, though he knew the meaning of none—and, on good days, put the same color of boxes together. Because he didn't have to think, he usually didn't; once he'd gotten through high school, the only time he didn't have to think was at work, in one series of minimum wage jobs after another. He worked for the same reason he'd gone to prom: because his mother said it was the normal thing to do. They didn't need the money—Luella had inherited a lot from a dead relative. She said it had been a dignitary, a great-aunt or someone. A person with connections high up—up where, she never said. "Up her ass," his father had once remarked, not to her face of course, but on one of Randy's visits, near the end when he'd been liable to say just about anything, because whatever was eating away at his brain had enjoyed randomness. Sometime during the spring of his twenty-fifth year, however, Randy began to think during work. He thought of his mother. It was surprisingly hard to do, at first—he was so used to not thinking about her at work. But he tried, and he accumulated various DAVIS ∫ 42
pieces of evidence. The lack of outside contact. The way her face hadn't seemed to change lately. The way her mind worked, at her age, and how she didn't need a walker, or any help getting around. There were logical explanations for all of it, but of course there would be—for anything that's actually real, there are multiple interpretations. So the fact that he could rationalize it all away was, in itself, suggestive of the fact that Randy's mother no longer existed in the real world. What he couldn't think of, though, was a way to broach the subject. It wasn't just that it was such an unusual topic, bound to throw her—real or not—into a rage; it was the fact that Randy was never expected to speak first, unless it was words of praise or encouragement, in which case he was expected to speak immediately and enthusiastically and a lot. Finding the courage to begin a conversation with Luella would take time— ended up, in fact, taking until August, a few weeks before his twenty-sixth birthday. At least he knew what brought about the strength to take an initiative: it was a comment his boss had made, one day while Randy was leaving work. "You're birthday's coming up," his boss—who's name Randy could never remember—had said. The date must've been in Randy's file. Randy nodded and said nothing. His voice was so soft, he probably wouldn't have been heard anyways. "Your address hasn't changed in four years, either." Randy shook his head. "Which means, Randy, that you're still living with your mother? Don't you think you should move out? I can give you an advance on your next couple paychecks, if it's a money thing." Randy, not sure how to respond, stood there, looking at the floor, his body mostly turned away. His boss tried a little longer to get a response from him, and then sighed, wished him a goodnight, and walked away. Randy left immediately, almost running home (he had a driver's license, but was only allowed to use the car on errands). Inside the house, Luella asked him why he was so flustered, and of course Randy told her. She flew into a rage, throwing things around the living room, not even leaving the sofa to do so. She called his boss various names, many of which Randy had heard only from her mouth— never on TV or in movies. When her temper retreated—though it still poked its head out every now and then—she said, "Well, you're happy here, Randy, and that's that." He agreed that he was and fixed dinner. But he didn't sleep much that night, nor the next. And two weeks later, at breakfast, his mother eating the waffles he'd fixed for her, he asked her the question. She looked surprised, at first—not at what he'd asked her, but that he'd spoken. Breakfast was usually a silent affair, unless there were complaints on her end. DAVIS ∫ 43
After a second, she finished chewing her bite. Then she set her silverware down, pushed the plate away, crossed her arms, and asked him to repeat himself. Her calm took him by surprise. He'd never seen her calm—he'd seen her many ways, but not calm. He hadn't thought it possible. He stammered as he said, "Are you real?" Luella watched him for a few seconds, perhaps even a full minute. Her face was almost lifeless, her eyes impenetrable. Her hair was still up in curlers, pulling the skin of her forehead taut, so much so that Randy wouldn't have been surprised if it'd torn in two. Finally, she said, "Why do you think I'm not, Randy?" He told her. She listened to it all, and then said, "I'm real, Randy. I'm here in front of you, and I'm real. Do you believe me?" He said yes immediately. And then, while she waited, he shook his head and said no. Even her sigh was big—a gust of wind that almost rocked him out of his chair. She said, "I'm very real, Randy, and I'll prove it to you. Do you want to know how I know I'm real? Because, Randy, you simply aren't clever enough to imagine me. Are you? Do you think you are clever enough to create a person who seems so real, you can't tell the difference between dream and reality?" He admitted he wasn't that clever. "But you still don't believe me, do you? I can see it in your eyes. They're so open, your eyes. I wish I could fix that. You're like your father, like that—you'll get your life swindled away from you because of your eyes." She pushed her chair back. It squeaked on the linoleum. She stood. "Stand up." He stood, not bothering to push his chair away from the table; he almost tripped over it. "Come here." He walked towards her. She towered over him. "Hit me, Randy." He balked. "You heard me." Her mouth set into a hard line. "Hit me. I want you to feel me. I want you to feel how real I am. Hit me." DAVIS ∫ 44
And, after a moment's hesitation, he did. He slapped her lightly across the left cheek. His hand drug across her skin, sticking slightly on her nose and upper lip. It came off and fell limply at his side. Unbelieving, he lifted his hand and looked at it—her makeup was smeared across his palm and fingertips. On her face, he had left a smudge, a streak that looked like a welt but wasn't, because he couldn't have hit her that hard even if she'd wanted him to. "Do you believe me now, Randy?" He could still feel her flesh against his hand—warm, yielding, tangible, physical. He closed his hand into a fist, encircling her, trapping her there. He opened his hand and she was still there. He nodded and said that he believed her. "Good." She sat back down. "Now wash your hands and finish your breakfast." Even the water, scalding, hot enough to raise blisters, couldn't wash her away.
DAVIS ∫ 45
Hellebore, 2011 Oil on wood panel 8" X 8"
MCFARLAND âˆŤ 46
THE GROWN SHORE James O’Brien I am trying to figure out how beautiful you are: crescent-ringed with white concrete, the scar of Now upon your apron flesh. Your nectar-warm runoff shivers: emerald pubic gemstones, pentacles, perfect soft accidents. The ruins of rape cities, in miniature, smoothed to shapes — whalebacks — cracked, revealing fractal architecture. Everywhere I step, it hurts. Midmorning fog, milking muscle, flexed against pleats. I am trying to figure out how beautiful you are before the husband of all history hauls me offshore, bathtub-bound — smashed-nose for splash discovery.
O‘BRIEN ∫ 47
WARM WINDS James O’Brien I. the world then turned from the lectern, ham-hock hands cigar-plug tipped, purple at the podium‘s edge. turning, the world said: if you came here hoping for beautiful, then gather up your ink-blotch black pages, your cracked mirrors and filly-face foolwards, your hammer-swung glass-rack backs broken. and just leave. later, try to be yourself. II. the world, which we loved, with its maple-skin shine, gripped the wood with vienna-link fingers. it felt good, all that working. warm winds in the sunlight outside.
O‘BRIEN ∫ 48
CEDAR CREEK BOTTOMS Elijah Burrell Bullfrogs dry-heave in the chokecherry dark. Me and Andy have pup tents pitched by the creek bank, an east wind combs out tangles of leaves above our heads. The gibbous moon wanes like a baby butter bean, fat after itâ€˜s popped, shelled from its pod, weightless in a frenzied, dark boiling pot. Two devils hoof down our path, stop. They scrap. They howl when Andy pulls his blade. It glints in their eyes. They split. We hear their rig scratch gravel, scream across the hollow and shoot the dawn.
BURRELL âˆŤ 49
STIFLING POT, 1963 Elijah Burrell On Saturdays, he goes across the Alabama line to the cockfight at Grady‘s farm. He then begs the men for the meat of their crumpled, dead roosters so he and his wife can cook them for the kids after service on Sundays. A hundred-fifty years back, there hadn‘t been church for families such as theirs. The old ladies were anxious white folks might hear the children singing to Jesus Christ, Lord. They had to wear cast-iron pots on their heads to repress the holy prayer-songs hollered out to the sky. At night, from their squalid mattress, he dreams of falling feathers from the coal-dark rosecomb and white bantam that flap above the fifty-gallon barrels that keep the gamblers BURRELL ∫ 50
warm with trash-scraps from the week before. The air is pierced by screeching, aggressive crows like the ripping apart of sheet metal as hot dogs and coffee are concessions sold by the county constable for a quarter. The money‘s passing through hands all around the dirt pit. The white‘s two-inch steel gaff skewers one of the rosecomb‘s lungs, stealing the breath and song from his beak, before driving him down into the sandy earth: to the toiling iron pot of a Sunday afternoon.
BURRELL ∫ 51
THE SCRIBBLING BLUES Elijah Burrell Midway through the white page, my girls scrawled black lines like a reading of the squiggly-slack electric activity in a heart, a muddied Telecaster caked with the blues-bloodied earth of a Jug‘s Bend, Mississippi night. Or, it‘s possible, they drew the stream of air that‘s blown by stomps of a Ludwig speed pedal, the ride and crash of cymbals, the wail of a snare, or the scratches that cause my vinyl to drizzle pops, skip the stylus astray— It‘s probably none of that, but friend, when I play Hooker, or Waters, or Albert King, the gals want to wind around and rat-tat-tat the walls— these blues might be the best we‘ll feel all day.
BURRELL ∫ 52
KAZAAN Scot Ehrhardt her name a mountain she painted landscapes of our breathing curls and vectors twisted like fishing lines concentric shadows an underwater exhale substratum ghosts of a mislaid idea the space inside our mouths a lotus the first memory of my name the wanderer dripping from and from her lungs the truth of what we supposed to be fathoms
EHRHARDT âˆŤ 53
STONE, TASTE, AND APPLES Scot Ehrhardt For Donald Hall I read you backwards poem before poem last April |an anniversary of sorts, in suffering.| Your letters unwrote themselves, watermarks from an inkwell or coffee mug wrinkle, dessicate, while the peonies lift their heads and recede into the winter that conceived them. |You are younger, now, than your photographs.| Lung, liver, bone: glass vials of marrow and blood thinned to water. Those who never age begin slowly again, with a deathbed and machines. |Now the breath before that and that and | on the highest shelf of the pantry that is no longer a graveyard, her rag doll scissored at the joints |an amateur diagram of dismemberment | weaves together its frayed capillaries. EHRHARDT âˆŤ 54
Every white house the arsonist in you burned assembles in cinematic silence one before another: cinders, splinters, a painted bed unpainted. The quotidian of dying is only sunset in nineteen forty-four. A cardboard sign reads 5Â˘ A GLASS, tumblers clouded with the memory of cider. |Already you own the raw materials for loss: the origin of the watermarks, eyes in the photograph, a catalogue for your daydreams of an April so distant and untethered. In the pulp of your bones,| an apple blossom closes |faint notches for the grafting,| and closes |an orchard of empty from wind-sown mornings,| and |the soil you turn in your sleep.|
EHRHARDT âˆŤ 55
COLD TILE FOR A MATTRESS Scot Ehrhardt Of all the people I wanted lying against me, all the kitchen floors and patient storms and ear-to-chest reunions. Waiting for a quiet hum, she said Your hair was black that year. I told her how Things change; her neck warmed the frosted tile. The radiator kicked and breathed.
EHRHARDT âˆŤ 56
Larkspur, 2011 Oil on wood panel 8" X 8"
MCFARLAND ∫ 57
FEATURED ARTIST JOANNE MCFARLAND PAINTER AND WRITER
Photo: Andrew Lipton www.joannemcfarland.com FB JoAnne McFarland Artist firstname.lastname@example.org MCFARLAND ∫ 58
ARTIST STATEMENT: JOANNE MACFARLAND My motto is be humble and stay busy, so I‘m always working on either my poetry or art. I like to stay busy because that wards off depression, anger, anxiety, all those other modern ills that can so easily overcome us. I try to stay humble so that I am awake to things that may happen creatively, and so that I do not get too attached to or egotistical about successes, or stalled by failures. I keep materials on hand at all times — paper for poems, canvas or wood panels for painting, color scraps for collages. I go to the studio every day. Going every day means I‘m always a little bit ready. And I do something creative every day. I think of myself as a maker, stopping and starting within a constant stream of activity; so that a book is a stop, an exhibition is a stop, or a culmination I suppose. But really these are just ways of making manifest an overarching impulse. I tend to be particularly productive during the winter and spring. Summer and autumn are periods of gestation with what seem to be lots of false starts and stagnation. The work usually comes extremely fast. For instance, the ideas for my poetry collection Acid Rain, (slated for publication by Aquarius Press, Fall 2012) circulated in my mind for over a year, but the actual writing took only a few weeks. I‘m often disappointed how quickly the work comes, because I love making, while gestation hurts! I find having two fields of interest helps in this regard, because I can switch between them and stay busy. If I start a project I finish it. I have no unfinished pieces. My intention, when I first sign a painting, is that it‘s done. I finish things so that I can move my energy forward. When I‘m working on a painting or poem, I never look at what‘s come before, so that I can start each piece fresh. My studio walls are empty except for the piece I am working on. This tabula rasa allows me to sometimes make great mental leaps, to change my thinking in surprising ways. I know when something is done by how it feels. When I get to the end of a poem that is ‗right‘ I feel a kind of calm excitement, an organic vibration. A finished painting coalesces when I suddenly look at it, I don‘t find myself looking at parts of it, but become absorbed in the whole gestalt. My work serves as a kind of journal, a reminder of what I believed at a particular stage of my life. For that reason, I seldom change pieces once I decide that they are done. In fact, to avoid that temptation, I often varnish paintings just so I can‘t change them later. When I do opt to change a piece I do so with the understanding that I‘m co-opting a bit of my history. I‘ve chosen to publish much of my poetry rather than let collections languish in file drawers because putting them out there frees me to move on.
MCFARLAND ∫ 59
I find that I am able to accomplish more and more the less I push at my work. Having faith that the poem knows what it wants to be, that the painting itself is in control, allows me to be less critical but at the same time more attentive. Itâ€˜s kind of like when you watch an Olympic runner, you notice that they are focused but totally relaxed, letting their instrument do its work. I am always aiming for that.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH PAINTER AND WRITER, JOANNE MCFARLAND, AND TIDAL BASIN REVIEW EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, RANDALL HORTON (Interview conducted via email December 2011) Randall Horton: First of all, thank you for agreeing to be the featured artist for the Fall/Winter Issue of the Tidal Basin Review. A few years ago, after meeting you at the Cave Canem1 Retreat in 2006 at The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, I did some research of your artwork and noticed your obvious interest in the ideal of physical beauty, and more specifically, your interest in the construction of the female through societal structures. For the cover of this issue we chose a black doll baby. When I saw this image, I could not help but go back to my time in the city of Jerusalem. There I saw many depictions of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and other biblical figures as dark skinned with halos around their head that contradict certain western traditions/philosophies. What do you hope viewers get out of your black doll images? JoAnne McFarland: Thank you, Randall, for giving me this opportunity to share my work and philosophy with your readers. About the black doll, it isn‘t so much that I hope viewers get certain things, rather that I‘m interested in opening up a dialogue. Most folks have a strong reaction to the doll, either very positive or very negative. For instance, one person told me she didn‘t understand how I could have paintings of the doll in the same show, in the same room as paintings of my daughter. I found that fascinating, because I think the doll is incredibly beautiful—spiritually intact, radiant, erotic, magnetic. In the course of conversation, people will reveal what attracts or repels them about the imagery; some people find the intensity of the black skin disturbing, some people find the red lips unsettling, some people find the light eyes and unblinking gaze troubling, while others find it charming. Fortunately, several people have felt like they really must own one of these paintings, as if they were a sort of talisman. Personally, I see the doll as a tiny warrior, thus the title “Filibuster Baby‖ for the piece you chose for the cover. There is a song “Don‘t Trifle With Me Honey,‖ written in 1896 by Percy Gaunt, collaged to the frame. You are right when you speak of the doll as a spiritual object. Metaphorically, I see the black skin and white gown as symbols of creative states, open forms. As artists, as poets, we enter a deep, inky unknowing searching for…something, some treasure. The christening gown is a tabula rasa, a blank canvas, a virgin page, the leaving of here for an unknown there, and the earned joy in that journey. The red lips symbolize a kind of erotic power that can be held or shared, that tints every act. RH: I know that you are a very talented poet as well, and that you are a student of literature. Do you ever intentionally intersect art with literature? Please give our readers an example of that collaboration? Also, how does your poetry inform your art and the process of creating art?
Cave Canem is a home for many voices of African American poetry. http://www.cavecanempoets.org MCFARLAND/HORTON ∫ 61 1
JM: I‘ve thought so much about this lately! My poems are actually quite visual, and my paintings usually tell a kind of story, so in that way the disciplines, as I practice them, overlap. Recently, I created a series called Use in a Sentence that breaks down the barriers between word and image. For example, I pair a painting of beets with the journalistic line, “Bound and beaten woman still lives to tell all”; and a painting of peppers with “Immigrant peppered with 41 bullets.” Again, I am interested in the conversations I can have around the work. The images of fruits and vegetables are very obvious; they represent a reality we easily share. But you have to construct the sentences, which suggest violence, word by word, and what you imagine, and what I imagine might be totally different. Also, I want to challenge the idea of taking something at face value. Is it a painting of beets, or is it something else? The viewer has to become intimate with the painting in order to ‗get‘ the message. I find that a lot of life works this way—that things, people, are much more complex than they initially appear. My latest multimedia project Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Girl enlarges further on the idea of fluid boundaries between disciplines. The project originated as a poetry collection, then expanded to include videos and an art exhibition, then expanded further to encompass a suite of poems entitled Querida, created in collaboration with four other poets: E.J. Antonio, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Robin Coste Lewis. Through this yearlong endeavor, I am working to expand our thinking about what we can do, either alone or in collaboration, so that more is risked, more is ventured. Together, we are open to just seeing how far we can travel. RH: The images that we chose for this issue are mostly oil on wood panel. Do you prefer to work with oils or, do you try to exhibit a wide range of aesthetic choices in your visual presentations? JM: I started my professional career working with pastels. I also did a lot of work with printmaking, particularly monotypes. I love working with oils because I‘ve found the medium to be the most challenging. As a kid I painted in oils, that‘s how I got started as an artist. I wanted to decode how the masters made such stunning, hypnotic, awe-inspiring works. I came back to representational oil painting in 2003 after a long career in collage and abstraction. I had never really answered my original question—how do they do that? And although it was risky, because I already had a well established career using other media, I wanted to try. This is where being a member of A.I.R. Gallery really helped, because the gallery‘s mission is to support women artists in making the work they want to make, whether it is commercially viable or not. So I was free to start out clumsily, not at all sure footed, at those early stages and that was okay. I still do a lot of work in collage. I have a dress collage series that‘s quite popular. And the dresses are funny, well, funny for me, which means kind of snarky funny.
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RH: I happen to know that you are passionate about light and the many contours that thread light into perhaps something more tangible. If you had to name those tangibles, what would they be? JM: I studied oil painting for four years with Andrew Reiss, a Brooklyn based artist and teacher. He said over and over, and over, you‘re not painting the object, you‘re painting the light. And this is true. So, if I think of light as the caress on which the entire universe is built, then I just need to paint that, the story of its path through time and space, what it bumps up against, rubs against, lies on. I arrive at poems the same way, bringing illumination to a state of mind, something I feel it is important to share, or maybe just to have as evidence, before a moment is lost. In naming what it is I want to show people through my work, it‘s that I know what darkness is. Like most of us, I have experienced an unlit world. In recognition of that, I offer something else—here is respite. I experience my own work, even my most hard hitting work, like my poetry collection Acid Rain which starts out from the vantage point of an abused woman, and ends with her triumph over circumstance, as a respite. RH: The poet Robert Duncan has a wonderful quote that I tend to keep close to my heart and that is: ―And this poetry, the ever forming bodies in language in which breath moves, is a field of ensouling. Each line intensely, a soul thing, a contribution; a locality of the living.‖ Do you think we can view art as an ever-forming body of language? Why or why not? JM: I definitely see art as a living thing, and the making of art as a sacred enterprise. I also think that the art experience lies beyond museums, galleries, and other traditional venues. I make art, and create generally, for interiors. The home is the most important artistic crucible there is. Anything is possible there, and what is born within that safe zone, if it is a safe zone, has the most profound, lifelong impact. I agree with Duncan‘s sentiments that each breath is both a victory and an opportunity, for change, for connection, for some kind of birth. RH: Would you say that your own art builds upon the many layers of language and meaning that have developed over years, over epochs and that there is a distinct echo of history in your work? JM: Yes, this is true in several ways. First, I believe that each of us has to erect a self, an agent who moves through the world. And we want this agent to be ―beautiful,‖ which is why this issue is so paramount in my work. The cultural confusion comes in thinking that ―beautiful” means pleasant to look at, which is maddening, because I don‘t mean that at all. And pushing back against that assumption absorbs a great deal of energy, particularly for women. What I mean by ―beautiful‖ is a certain integrated vigor, a moral plasticity that allows for both intention and intensity, but also for an openness to ideas, to input from others. So, in that way, I observe what has come before, lingering on what I MCFARLAND/HORTON ∫ 63
find provocative, delightful, and use that to build. Occasionally, I feel so inspired that I am able to attempt something revolutionary, even if revolutionary only within my own private lexicon. In fact, I find that private shifts have led to deeper public connections as time goes on. RH: In looking at your videos on Vimeo, I notice a very deliberate process involved in creating a type of narrative tension, though there was not necessarily a linear progression of events to follow. What is your process of creating those videos and all of the visual, textual and other elements at work in them? JM: Thanks for your insights Randall, because this is a totally new arena for me, and I‘m not sure what‘s going on in the videos! I like being off balance in this regard though. It‘s just like when I was developing my oil painting technique; I had to be willing to live in a space of not being sure for a while. My mother gave me some of my father‘s records. He was a composer of popular music in the 1950‘s through the 1960‘s. I thought it would be fun to use the music to intertwine his creative life with mine. Again, thinking about history, since my father passed away forty years ago, using his music would provide an historical reference, would be a way to see if I could marry past and present cultural concerns. The videos are an offshoot of poems included in my collection Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Girl. The first section ―HOW‖ deals with all the things black women are up against as they try to construct meaningful lives—higher rates of obesity, drug use, poverty, genital mutilation, HIV infection, and on and on. In the poems, I set these ills against simple domestic acts that are life affirming, that embody personal power—painting your bedroom, roasting a chicken, sewing on a button. These things seem almost trivial, yet they are the connective tissue in our lives, and can provide the domestic skeleton that supports joyous living. So, the loose narrative within all of the videos is that I know these dark forces are out there, but I still choose to live joyfully, as sole custodian of my body, my mind and actions. RH: Could you talk about the artists and poets whose work you return to again and again for inspiration? JM: I have more poetry books than any other kinds of books, many by Cave Canem writers. The first thing I do when I get to my studio each day, is read a poem or two. I might keep the same book out for a month or so, then select another one, or three. Rather than focus on one poet‘s aesthetic, I love the tapestry of voices. I can find something to love in just about any poem. I don‘t mean there aren‘t some poems I adore, but for inspiration, I‘m more likely to look really closely at philosophy—Heidegger‘s Poetry, Language, Thought for example, which I just can‘t get enough of, probably because it‘s so dense. Or, I might take a walk through my Brooklyn neighborhood. A good work day for me is integrally linked to the people I encounter on the way to my studio, often the same people! As for art, for technique, I am definitely inspired by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent. MCFARLAND/HORTON ∫ 64
RH: In the Fall/Winter 2011 Issue of Tidal Basin Review, our contributors explore image and standards of beauty. Your paintings touch on this theme often in a very original way. Tell us about your perspective of beauty standards. How does your work support, advance, and/or resist the status quo in terms of those standards? JM: At the very heart of all of my work lies my concern for women‘s erotic freedom. I see everywhere attempts to box women in, to confine eroticism to sex, and sexual desirability to physical beauty. These linkages are false. At the same time, it is absolutely critical for women to devote time to becoming more and more ―beautiful,‖ and to be perceived as ―beautiful‖ within their communities, without paying such lethal penalties for the inquiry that is a fundamental component of an erotic existence. I believe it is built into the human species for women to ‖magnetize‖ cultures, to develop the internal fortitude that anchors civilizations. This more authentic beauty has to do with honoring one‘s body, mind, and spirit as a ‖locality of the living,‖ as you quoted Robert Duncan above, to treat all one has to offer as part of a kaleidoscopic miracle.
JoAnne McFarland‘s poetry collections include Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Girl and Acid Rain, due out Fall 2012 from Aquarius Press. Her artwork is part of the collections of the Library of Congress and the Columbus Museum of Art among many others. A graduate of Princeton University, she is a member of A.I.R. Gallery, established in 1972 specifically to champion women artists. Randall Horton is a writer, teacher and the Editor-in-Chief of Tidal Basin Review.
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BEAUTY IS ____ DEEP.
Stunned By What She Saw, 2006 Oil on linen 52" X 42"
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WE COME FROM PLACES WE HAVE NEVER TRAVELED Melissa Sipin
call us dark-skinned, lookalike women our countenance is brown, muddy water we resemble what you say we are call us concubines with bright red heels say our lips were only made for contact we appear as what you say we are but if we bear one of your own, remember this: our daughters will have the same brown, muddy eyes our daughters will bear the same red toes and carry the same dark-skinned past we, the lookalike women, are born out of vastness from the rib cages of a foreign land raised in the same blue that carried our mothers, our eyes convey their silence we come from places we have never traveled and like our mothers, when we go beyond we never, never forget
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POISON IN THE WELL: ON THE SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF BEAUTY Leola Dublin Macmillan This special issue of Tidal Basin Review examines the notions of beauty and image. The idea for this issue was sparked by a controversial blog post from Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, a faculty member at the London School of Economics. The post, originally entitled "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Better Looking Than Other Men," was published on May 15, 2011 in Kanazawa's "The Scientific Fundamentalist: A Look at the Hard Truths About Human Nature." The Scientific Fundamentalist is a blog featured on the Psychology Today website. When I first heard about Dr. Kanazawa's article, I dismissed it. Entirely. I saw the headlines on several of my usual online information sources and mentally shrugged my shoulders. Years of counseling were activated almost instantaneously. I chose not to engage. I do that often. I seem to have developed an internal mechanism that quickly gauges the costs of engaging with something: time, energy, emotional strength, sanity, and actual monetary cost. This complex system of algorithms is something I rarely even think about. But as this issue of Tidal Basin Review came closer to its publication date, the background apps running through my mind started to produce results. That is the only explanation for one very clear notion that has recently dawned on me; I have fallen victim to the poison in the well. As a result, I have dedicated my life to warning others of the perils of what appears to be a safe source of something so vital. What else is there to make sense of the fact that after almost 40 years on this planet, I have never felt beautiful? This issue, much like my research, features work that speaks to the way in which contemporary Western society defines beauty, and to the importance we place on image. In an international publication, a "scholar" produces a "scientific" blog post that claims to "prove" why women of African descent are the ugliest women in the world. Included in the author's argument are lesser assertions about African American women. Collectively, Kanazawa declares, African American lack vanity, intelligence, and the self-control required to avoid being overweight. While the post's underlying racist bias is not new, for many, it is too painful to dismiss. Kanazawa claims that the study proves objectively that women of African descent are the ugliest women in the world. In contrast, the contributors of this issue demonstrate the very subjective nature of beauty. Whether it is the 13 year-old narrator in April Gibson's Fifteen to Life, whose skeletal 70pound body assures her that she will never be beautiful, or the woman in Laura Hartmark's To the Man Who Finds Me Unbeautiful, resigned to her lifetime banishment to the wallpaper - where all the uglies gather, there are reminders of how our society conditions us to strive for beauty. We are told to seek it out. Kyle Dargan's Essence and Object reflects on the power of the media to dictate the nature of our desires. The poem raises questions about autonomy and attraction. When we feel the pull of longing that draws us to another body, how much of that attraction is prescribed by societal notions of beauty? Alan King's trio of poems speak to the importance of image, and the wounds that come DUBLIN MACMILLAN âˆŤ 69
from falling outside of the realm of acceptable beauty. In Don't Tell Me, he dares us to consider what we would not do when presented with the opportunity "to gather up every insult and shove it back at 'em." The piece brings to mind a recent rereading of Sapphire's Push. To the Woman on K Street is a vignette that explores the ways in which others ascribe meaning to our self-presentation. Interference touches the senses and encapsulates longing. It is at once sparse and sensual, painting beauty not in features, but in the feelings that awaiting beauty evokes. Tina Fakhrid-Deen speaks to a different type of interference. Beauty Politics and Barbie chronicles her struggles to protect her 5 year-old daughter from the onslaught of mediated messages that eat away at Black girls' self-esteem. Fakhrid-Deen recounts her daughter's infatuation with Disney princesses and subsequent defection into the camp of a "stank" white Barbie. Ultimately, she interrogates her own issues and examines the extent to which she projects those issues onto her daughter. In this humorous and endearing essay, Fakhrid-Deen struggles to balance a mother's instinctive desire to protect her child from imminent hurts with the need to let a young girl articulate her own identity. Jaqueline Johnson's That's What I Hear laments the stigma of dark skin in children, noting how the narrator and Denny were able to find their own beauty only as adults. Hair Stories traces the familiar path of Black women and girls struggling to make peace with kinky, African-textured hair. She explores that tumultuous relationship we have with our hair, focusing on the powerless young girls who are indoctrinated into the belief that their hair is a wayward foe that must be tortured into submission. Hair Stories is at once familiar and tragic. It shines light on the legacy of shame handed down from generation to generation. In On Beauty: Shopping for Blue Jeans, Janice Lynch Schuster revisits the terror of shopping for jeans that women and girls alike share. What options are there for women who bear no resemblance to the bodies that clothes are patterned upon? How does an adult woman who has already come to accept this conundrum gently convey such a weighty matter to a young girl? Melissa Sipin's We Come from Places We Have Never Traveled touches a place in the heart of every daughter of the Diaspora. In it, she asserts the perseverance of the "darkskinned, lookalike women" who have been maligned and demeaned. She closes the poem with a warning: "we never, never forget," a reminder that fierce spirits survive and are passed along from mother to daughter. Laura Shovan introduces us to a perfect specimen of idealized femininity. Woman and alien, Futurotic presents an idealized woman, stripped of all value save one. These works are interspersed with the art of JoAnne McFarland. Stunned by What She Saw and Filibuster Baby feature a bald, jet black doll, adorned in a frothy white baptismal gown. Filibuster Baby is framed with the lyrics to "Don't Trifle With Me Honey," a song from 1894 whose first lines caution "If yer lookin' for a little callud lady. Don't yer trifle wid me, honey, don't yer do it." The interplay of the doll's exaggerated darkness, the DUBLIN MACMILLAN âˆŤ 70
whiteness of her clothing and the richly textured backgrounds of McFarland's paintings offer us more "ways of looking at a Black girl." I now find myself reconsidering the wisdom of dismissing Kanazawa's post. I cannot disengage. It would appear that my complex algorithms are not infallible. Responding to the Kanazawa post is something that I will do. It is something I am compelled to do. When I think about my role, I envision myself as an elderly black woman frantically shooing small girls away from the poisoned well. It is too late to prevent my own poisoning, but if I am vigilant, I can prevent others from my fate. With all the strength I can muster, I will warn any who will hear my voice and mourn the impending doom of those who cannot or will not. Years of scholarly inquiry and simple observation have taught me that the subjective nature of standards of beauty, in concert with a hegemonic structure that posits blackness as synonymous with worthlessness are at the heart of assertions like Dr. Kanazawa's. Yes, I disagree with the "science" behind his work. But the actual truth of the claim that Black women are the least attractive in the world is almost beside the point. What is most important is the way in which Kanazawa's work maintains an ideology that tells Black women and girls they are incapable of being beautiful. We may be attractive, cute, sexy, or handsome. Bootylicious, exotic, and glamorous are also options. Beauty, however, is off the table. And I, a talented Black woman with much to be thankful for, am unsure if I will ever make peace with the realization that I have spent more than three decades slowly ingesting the poison of this message. It is here that those algorithms again come in to play. Should it bother me that I do not view myself as beautiful? Are there more important qualities that I possess? Are other characteristics more deserving of my attention? I honestly do not know. I am fine with that. For now, I will keep my energies focused on containing the spread of the poison. I find strength in knowing that I am not alone. This special issue of Tidal Basin Review is all the proof I need. What the work of our contributors demonstrates is that beauty is never objective. Ever. No matter how we may try to cloak it in constructed notions of science and truth, beauty is ultimately subjective. Beauty, and the complicated ways we feel about it are presented here. The works are introspective, humorous, heartbreaking, haunting, and familiar. Above all, they are beautiful. Enjoy them. Let them resonate within your mind, your heart, and your soul. Let their beauty remind you of your own. Post Script Music is always present when I write. It fuels me, inspires me, and often surprises me with a particularly relevant song or lyric. Two songs in particular were with me as I drafted and redrafted this introduction. I would be remiss not to mention them. They are India Arie's "There's Hope," and 10,000 Maniac's "Poison in the Well." I think these two songs encapsulate how I feel as I offer this introduction to you.
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BEAUTY POLITICS AND BARBIE Tina Fakhrid-Deen I am fighting for my daughter‘s beautiful mind and it is a down and dirty, grassroots, to the bone, 12th round battle filled with niceties, princess language and fear of defeat. My daughter, Khari, wants to be a princess with long, flowing hair, and not her natural born Afro puffs. She made me aware of this after her father bought her a picture book featuring real African queens and princesses and she retorted, ―Those aren‘t the types of princesses that I‘m trying to be.‖ She wanted to be Ariel, an exotic mermaid whose luscious red hair flowed along the waves and whose songbird voice made men quiver and take notice. Ariel was a rags to riches chick, going from the depths of the ocean to queen of the castle. And my baby loved that castle swag. My daughter also wanted to be Cinderella, a blonde-haired peasant girl turned ballroom diva with the most fabulous gown in all the land and clanking high-heeled slippers to match. I think it was the dress that my baby marveled at, bejeweled, sky blue and bold. She didn‘t want the man, at least not yet, just a fly dress and fierce shoes that let everybody know she was in the house. Next, she wanted to be Belle, a southern gal with a soft spot for ugly beasts and bountiful brown hair that cascaded down her waist. She wanted the same outfit that Belle wore, not able to decide if it was a coat or a robe, but knowing that it was pink, sassy and stately with its plush, white, fur collar. Then that bitch Barbie hit the scene, oozing her way into my child‘s consciousness. Khari kept her princess side-hustle in tact, but stepped up her doll baby game by entering the slinky, model-chick fashionista world of Barbie. But I had my limits. I demanded that if her mind was going to be poisoned, let it be a more politically-correct form, so friends and family were forbidden to buy Caucasian Barbies. Yes, it‘s dramatic, racist and inflammatory in hindsight. Yes, Public Enemy‘s Fight the Power blared through my psyche and I felt I had just cause. I was well aware of Dr. Mamie and Kenneth Clark‘s 1940 study and Kiri Davis‘ 2006 documentary about little black girls who preferred white dolls because they perceived them as nicer and pretty while these same children saw the black dolls as bad and ugly. I knew that our collective self-perception had been swirled in selfhate as one of the legacies of slavery and I refused to allow my daughter repeat the same destructive cycle. And let‘s not talk about the horrible body images issues that result from these disproportionately shape dolls, white or black. I was sick to my stomach over the whole thing. Of course, my defiant mother (who was supposed to be the stereotypical butch lesbian, which was supposed to be synonymous with hardcore feminist who burned Barbies for fun) refused to go along with the pro-black, anti-Barbie action plan, buying her precious grandbaby a thrift store Barbie with tangled, blonde hair and faded street worker gear. She quietly reminded me that I loved Barbie too at my daughter‘s age and FAKHRID-DEEN ∫ 72
that I should just let her live. I rolled my eyes and conceded. And quickly, that battered white doll became my daughter‘s favorite one. My daughter treated this old, stank-looking Barbie like the queen of the harem, quickly stripping the black Barbies of their new outfits to give to the poverty-stricken, homeless white girl. She even styled her hair in braids and beads to make her fit into the clan more seamlessly. Everywhere my daughter went, she asked to bring her white Barbie sidekick. At first I allowed it, trying to quash the inner racist in me. Then I asked that she bring one of the black dolls along with her white one to even things out. She agreed, but would only let the white girl come into the stores with her. Instead of sitting on the back of the bus, the black doll was relegated to sitting in the backseat of a hot ass Mazda. I couldn‘t stand the imaginary looks I received from black and white mothers who shopped alongside us. In the feminine products aisle, I re-emphasized that black was beautiful and that my daughter must love the black dolls just like she did her favorite white doll. She blinked and told me that she wasn‘t black. Huh? Where had I gone wrong and who was this child in front of me? She pointed at her arm and informed me that her skin was brown like Mommy‘s. When I tried to reiterate her blackness, she replied, ―I thought you said I was an African-American. Can‘t I be a brown one?‖ Touche, little brown child. Then I asked why she preferred the white Barbie and she said that the white doll was her best friend. Then she grabbed a lime green bag of super long Maxi pads off the shelf (the exact ones I used) and threw them in the basket. The girl was smart, just clueless. So my husband and I went commando and made her ―best friend‖ magically disappear one night. Don‘t judge me. I can see your little beady eyes and pursed lips right now. We were freaked out by this situation and tried to figure out how to undo the perceived damage that Barbie‘s ass had caused. In utero, I made sure that the house was full of books across the African Diaspora and other multicultural nations. So it wasn‘t that. She saw Mommy dreadlocked, afroed and permed. And none of my wigs or weaves were ever Beyonce or Mary J. blonde. She went to African festivals & cultural events, had black teachers and role models and even attended Baba Haki Madhubuti‘s African-centered preschool (you couldn‘t get any blacker than that if you tried). She had parents, friends, family, neighbors, and random strangers telling her how gorgeous she and her Afro puffs were. So it couldn‘t be that either. What had changed in her psyche? In my mind, I had failed my child and no matter how much I tried, she gravitated towards and loved all of the white versions of beauty. She started watching Kim Possible and Island Barbie videos in every restricted TV moment. She began playing make-believe, using her pink robe as flowing ―Ariel‖ hair that trailed in the wind. She borrowed my size ten high heels that my Birkenstock-spoiled feet couldn‘t even wear, donned her favorite blue sundress, and strutted back and forth teaching all of her ―doll babies‖ a school lesson with her jeweled tiara and magic wand in hand. And she was fierce. My daughter, at age five, knew who she was. I just didn‘t know who she was. Now I do. She is a wise, wondergirl who refuses to be defined by the box I tried to stuff her FAKHRID-DEEN ∫ 73
into. Yes, she is a brown-skinned African-American. Yes, she is brilliant. She wants to be a Spanish teacher and soccer star. She is also a whacked-out, pink-haired, high-heeled, super princess who rides on imaginary motorcycles instead of in carriages and prefers fantastical princesses of all sizes with cool super powers rather than real African ones who just look cute and have authentic lives. And she is content and self-assured about this decision. At age five. Yes, there needs to be more beautiful black princesses for all girls, regardless of cultural identity. Yes, the doll options need to be more true to African beauty and size. Yes, the TV programming for young, black minds is piss poor and needs to be overhauled immediately. We have the Proud Family re-runs. There‘s the Shanna Show, where the title character can‘t get through an episode without rapping and rhyming. As if. We have the Backyardigans and Madagascar and if you listen real close, some of the animals speak in black vernacular. The problem is that they are animals and that nonsense takes the race back about sixty-two years. But it goes deeper. Because of my own painful and jaded past, I projected all of my issues onto my daughter. I assumed that she would have low self-esteem like I did. I assumed she would covet white girls‘ long, flowing hair (and she did). I assumed that she would pray to be lighter, meaning more beautiful, like I had in my childhood and early adult years. I assumed that her love of her white dolls and other types of beauty meant that she hated herself and her own cultural identity. I was blind, seeing only what I wanted to see. Had I opened my third and more universal eye, I would have seen that she also loved, Tiana (an African-American princess), Dora (a Latina explorer), Mulan (an Asian warrior), Jasmine (an Egyptian beauty), and Pocahantas (a Native American princess), but in my own sick mind, the white dolls stood out as the favorite and ultimately, the best. I now realize that it wasn‘t sheer racism that made me want to burn all of her white dolls. It was a mother‘s natural instinct to protect her baby from the pain that she had endured as a result of a racist society that had historically seen her as second or third best and definitely not beautiful. I love white folks, just as I love myself and my blackness, but if I have to choose, I‘m going to choose me - and my daughter. The other is too painful an option. Screwed up world and post-racial politics aside, I think my baby will be okay. She will find her way to herself just as I did. However, she will have disdain for certain parts of her body just like 95% of the other women in this world. If it happens to be her hair, as torturous as that would be for me, I can‘t assume it‘s because she doesn‘t know who she is and that she hates her culture. Maybe it‘s because it hurts like hell to get through all of the thick, soft kinks because she‘s tender-headed. Maybe it‘s because it takes Mommy at least three hours to wash, moisturize, detangle, and re-braid it. Maybe it‘s because she doesn‘t realize that Ariel‘s waterlogged hair is just as tangled as hers and probably takes about four hours to get back to its lush fabulosity. And then again, maybe she won‘t worry about any of this. And in the end, does it really matter? Stealing a line from The Seer in the Matrix, what‘s really going to bake my FAKHRID-DEEN ∫ 74
noodle later is wondering whether my daughter would have loved herself, regardless of my tampering or regardless of my tampering, would she still grapple endlessly with beauty issues anyway? I‘ll probably never know, but until then, I‘ll keep trying to strike a balance and do the best I can. That‘s all a loving, overprotective, neurotic mama can do.
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ESSENCE AND OBJECT Kyle Dargan Research has shown that television, particularly entertainment programming, is the most important source of information and socialization for African-American adolescents […]. It has also been found that when comparing by race and gender, African Americans and women spend the greatest amount of time watching television. ~Stephens & Phillips, ―Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes‖ No longer can I discern whose recipe this is that sweats within desire‘s scorched pot. I want to think I love your breadth, the thick flesh upholstered over hip bones, because I have no choice—a romance like mother‘s milk, some suckled ideal, a gene-coded hunt for figure-swells and heft. *
We were born then wrapped within this age of prancing images. Before I could be weaned from the picture box— its bright screen, bass, relentless colors—hip-hop commenced proselytizing that I should want you swollen, that I should want you plush. Let‘s say more rhino, less impala, pelvis more elephant head than arrow. Listen to how hard I try to tether this to Africa, that westgenuflecting land mass, DARGAN ∫ 76
world womb. How hard I am trying to see the shapes etched in my head, the bodies, as the beauty I expect to shatter beneath—body soft yet heavy against my yielding body. *
This ethereal tug I feel between my groin‘s creases, I need it to be instinct and nothing a television taught me of want. Can you draw me a map of attraction as a realm beyond money and media? Wipe the sweat from your temples. Mark your location, a wet salt circle. Let it dry. Let me be merely mammal—sniffing, groping—let me crawl from thought towards your fragrant, burdened hills.
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FUTUROTIC Laura Shovan She was born a balloon Plastic girl with her uni-color skin unblemished. Plastic girl with realistic horsehair wig. Plastic girl with her mouth a permanent O. her futurotic vagina where a belly button should be Plastic girl with her footless legs ending in their points. Plastic girl with her legs shot out like a school compass, can‘t measure anything, not angles, not inches. Plastic girl who can‘t stand on her compass legs. where she might have been attached to her mother Plastic girl with her eyes outlined in black, fixed on the ceiling. Plastic girl who can‘t see the ceiling is made of glass. Plastic girl who never shuts her eyes. by a long rubber umbilicus. Plastic girl who doesn‘t need a wonder bra. Plastic girl who only needs a little air to unsag them babies. Plastic girl who has never been entered by tampon or speculum. It is her mother who thinks to fill her Her lips forever latex pink. Her nail polish without chips or peels. Her vibrating sucking jelly mouth with rotating tongue action. with helium, so she can rise and rise Her hairless crotch you can‘t really call a pussy. Her air pump and repair kit. Her slow escape of breath. one naked girl against the blue sky, looking down at us Her bubblegum mouth saying O.
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Filibuster Baby, 2005 Oil on wood panel with song 'Don't Trifle With Me Honey, written 1896, collaged to hand-painted frame. 19" X 15"
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DON’T TELL ME Alan King you wouldn‘t have done it, or that you wouldn‘t have taken that money. S'pose you grew up broke. S'pose you had a childhood being teased for wearing hand-me-downs: Dresses so tight when you put ‗em on they could be snakes swallowing a whole animal. S'pose you had one of those dresses on and was overtaken by a swarm of whispers—people pointing and laughing, sayin‘ you wearin‘ a blood pressure cuff; people telling you your weave stink, that you look like aunt Jemima when you sweat. Let you have people sayin‘ you won‘t freeze ‗causa the whale blubber keepin‘ you warm. Let you go through all that, then tell me you wouldn‘t have lifted your bra on a dare, that you wouldn‘t have done it to see everyone on the restaurant balcony slack-jawed over the tray of fancy cheeses and the fruit platter. Tell me you wouldn‘t have taken the opportunity to gather up every insult and shove it back at ‗em with a smile. Tell me you wouldn‘t have taken that hundred dollar bill on principle. Come on. I dare you.
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TO THE WOMAN ON K STREET Alan King Is he gum pulling at her Fendi sandal heels, a car horn's solo in lunch time traffic? He's chased her for blocks, knows better than to touch her. His words barely catch up to big hips booming her Burberry dress like bass in a speaker box. He thinks she's the kind of girl whose city dreams and ambitions were too big for the small town she left and never looked back. He wondered if she grew up an ugly duckling, who, after watching fellas spoil the beautiful girls with expensive gifts, knew she was ready for finer things. He first saw her at a traffic light, reaching for lip gloss when a fifty dollar bill jumped out her bag. She looks when he says, "Excuse me." Do his Timbs and Rocawear jeans tell her not to look too long? She thinks she might have seen him posted up somewhere with his boys-guys, who, like liquor stores, depreciated the value of everything around them. Is that when "you dropped something" become "can I call you?" Is he mistaken for a shoeshine man's rag when she snaps her head away, or is he vomit on a sidewalk that hasn't been hosed down? KING âˆŤ 81
INTERFERENCE Alan King Say that you are late for a meeting. Say that a woman‘s arms and lips are waiting to greet you. Say you were an island, waiting for someone to be shipwrecked on your shores, someone whose sense of survival would have them search every inch of you for sustenance. Say that a woman waits like you once waited. Every time you‘re washed ashore, her arms are floral leis she puts around your neck. Her kisses linger like the tingle of peppermint soap, or like spearmint on a tongue. Whatever it is, can‘t it see you tense with urgency, that something stirs in your blood, like a whale pulled by some distant sonar? Does it know it‘s warm where you‘re going? Does it?
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TO THE MAN WHO FINDS ME UNBEAUTIFUL Laura Hartmark To the man who finds me unbeautiful, I have this to say: I know I am unbeautiful. it is true I am awkward, I walk backward into corners, linger from the wall, wallpaper stuck on me (as no-one is stuck on me but paper) sweating, the nape of my neck drips to the small of my unsmall back. It is true I am clumsy. It is some dumbfounding truth of me: I cannot fathom standing upright, rather I'd rather be curling into the smallest fetal ball of me. It is true HARTMARK âˆŤ 83
my face is twisted with hesitation, a hesitation that runs with no rhythm, a haplessness which looks like hopelessness and liability. It is true I am exposed the last leg that can't keep up is exposed in a herd bit bloody by fast cats I am the flawed gallop, the short trope the diminished hope, the extinguished smoke, the bent and broke the nearly extinct. It is true I am the flotsam, the jetsam the Let Her Go, and Throw Her Back. I get back. My nose is too big, and fat, my belly is ripped, torn and crosslaid with train tracks laid by fighting trains
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or lacerations made by surgeons on acid. My eyes slant wrongways, have too few lashes, like curtainless windows with splintering sashes Sometimes my eyes forget to close, as I forget to close the shutters, and leave the neighbors shuddering with regret. My gums recede from my teeth, like lovers who love others and never did seek the taste of me recede from me. My ankles are thick as Clydesdale's - See, I am a woman who does not fit under your arm, on your collarbone in your home or your shoe. You can't bag me, you can't get
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around me. You can barely carry me, I am the kind of woman who ought to be kind, the kind of woman who is called a heifer, the kind of thing that is slaughtered for meat. I am the kind of woman who is torn to pieces. So to the man who finds me unbeautiful: Yes, I am unbeautiful, I am unbeautiful it is true So I will go back now to wallflowering, with wallpaper papermache-ing to the sweat beads in the small of my unsmall back. And when I dissipate like evaporating sweat as all unbeautiful things eventually must do I will come back as water falling. Flowers will sing songs about me.
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THAT’S WHAT I HEAR Jacqueline Johnson I. I remember Denny and I, darkest kids on the block. Ugly. Scorned, teased, envied. Being seen and invisible at the same time. I hear now that he is grown Denny is so black and so beautiful he looks like black Jesus. II. It wasn‘t until I cut all my hair off bought earrings three times the size of my wrists that men from Ibadan, Benin Jamaica zoom in. Who is that woman with the big head? Who is that beauty? That‘s what I hear.
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HAIR STORIES Jacqueline Johnson for Michael Harper I. I was hardly the girl you wished for, brown lanky arms and legs, long waist. Kinky hair flowed to the center of my back, the Niger river and Euphrates were hidden there. Washing my hair -- one thing I could do myself. I pleasured in pearl yellow shampoo and creation of bubbles. This original afro air dried, twisted into Nubian knots. II. Hours later the ritual would begin; a towel thrown across my shoulders, Dixie Peach run all around edges of my hair. Your boys jack knifing through the kitchen missing the hot grease cans. You always started at the back, hot comb hissing like an angry panther. Your technique impeccable, mother of three sons, never burned me. Edges so rough, so uncooperative, so niggerish, they always reverted back to their African ways at the first sight of rain. Despite bending my ear beyond its capacity, hot iron teeth left burn marks, African American tribal scars. Each kink a bouncing black cloud becoming a language running from Aunt to niece.
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III. One day a woman's rage ran over you. "Sit down," you said. I was unprepared when you combed my hair over my face barely leaving the sky visible. It was just you and I in your now modern kitchen. Your reason remote, perhaps on the road with your husband. You walked around me with scissors in hand, cutting my hair six inches IV. Never would call you mother. Never could match the scream that came out of you with my mothers' quiet comfort. I with ebon kinks all over the floor would never be the same. Little girl anger, my small black beauty no match for yours.
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FIFTEEN TO LIFE April Gibson I. My body hangs in a corridor, the space blank with cold white. I am alone, bent, and weeping, a futile plea to divinity. The floors are frigid, hard like my skin, scaly, scabbed. I fall into the stale wall, I dig pale brown skin, shovel my ragged nails into buried agony. I roll in puddles of myself, cooking in a draining stew. The red globules wet my ashen legs. My feet lynch themselves of heat, a gasping dance, a laminate scuffle. Lonely midnight keeps my secret. The couch is ugly and itchy and dull. It is my seventh-grade home. There are no real people here. Just shadows of daddy and shadows of myself, a glimpse of my mother, sometimes my sisters or brothers. I barely know I‘m here. If I have to live on this couch it should be better looking. The cushions bead into icky lint balls, and I spend a lot of time picking them off while talking to Jesus. He doesn‘t listen though. I think I hate him now. Why would he shed his blood then let me live in a never ending pool of my own. They lied to me. Everyone. There are no miracles. There is only this stupid ugly couch. Only pills, pokes and passing out. There is no school, no fun, nothing but lying here in the living room like a display. Sometimes it‘s like I am just another piece of furniture. This is supposed to be bed rest, but my bedroom is too far. Every place is too far from the bathroom. I hate the journey. It‘s like a sick adventure to a fairytale land, but no castles, no princesses. A cold hell kind of place where my limbs freeze and other things burn. Nothing works right on my body, not even my feet. My little sister and brother step on my big toe sometimes because they think it‘s funny. It is an ugly toe, swollen with pus, and purpley pink. They think it‘s something off a cartoon episode, like an anvil or a bad prank. So, sometimes when I sit up on the couch and my feet touch the floor, they stomp on it. They always tease me about it. It hurts my feelings a little, but I don‘t care that much. I just want them to stop. Maybe if my parents were meaner to me, even if they pretend, maybe then my toe will be spared. I learned to hide my foot when they walk by, deep in the spaces of my ugly couch home. I am my own company. Books don‘t really count. I read a lot. I know lots of big words. My big sister always tells people about my vocabulary. She is like the sunshine. I always feel warm when she is around. But she will leave me. I know it. I tried to pray for her to not be pregnant. But I know better. God doesn‘t listen to me. That‘s why I‘m still on this couch. I wish I wasn‘t so sick. Maybe she could stay then. I‘m starting to feel like a disease. Ever since Thanksgiving when I couldn‘t hide my problems anymore, my family started falling apart. I wish the doctors could fix me. But they said it is for life. I will be sick for life. Forever. And I never even really kissed a boy yet. Now nobody will ever touch me. When I go back to school I lie. I can be anything but diseased. I know they will ask if I am contagious. I heard their parents ask mine already. I suck at lying. I can‘t explain why I‘m too weak to carry a backpack, or why my parents bring me special drinks for lunch. I hate GIBSON ∫ 90
my dad because he keeps trying to make me use that stupid sick people pillow. I know the school chairs are hard and uncomfortable, but I can sit through the pain, even though I squirm in my seat all day. Sometimes when I go home, I cry and I hate myself for being stupid. But I can‘t let everyone know my secret. I just can‘t. It‘s disgusting and dirty and they will say things like that. One day in class we took pictures. Polaroid pictures for the board. I didn‘t really know what I looked like until that day. I try to not look in the mirror. There‘s only one I have to see. The one in the bathroom. It is one of the long ones on the back of the door. I just keep looking straight ahead at the cabinets, then when I get up I turn around quickly to wash my hands. So, I really never look at myself long. But the picture was so ugly. I know I am only seventy pounds, but I didn‘t know I was so skinny. I keep looking at it and I realize that my skeleton shows in my face. Now I understand why my aunt couldn‘t wash my naked body that day. I used to be pretty, very pretty, prettier than most girls. But that was before it really mattered. I‘m almost thirteen now. I have to be beautiful now. Nobody likes ugly women. Just about none of the boys like me. I am not like the other girls. I pretend though, like when I stuff my bra. Boys are a little stupid. My teacher has to talk about problems like mine during health, or science, or something like that. I am always so nervous. She knows my secret. It feels like she is looking right at me and I think everyone will find out, so when they giggle, I laugh with them. I laugh at myself. The strained muscles make me bleed a little. I go to the bathroom. I have to pretend again. I say my pads are for my period like the normal girls. I can‘t get my period because I am always losing blood. I think that‘s why. I read somewhere that if you have Crohn‘s disease as a kid, you can‘t get puberty right. I guess I‘ll be skinny and flat chested for a long time. At least I won‘t have to worry about having a baby in high school like my sister. I miss her. I miss so many things. But, I do not miss Thanksgiving. I hate it. It is the worst day of my life. It is the day everyone found out my body was dying inside.
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II. the piths are sticky with ruined blood the pupils glossed in leaden yellow taut and swollen sinking to a drown my nose is buoyed between a stare empty as black sky they want the night i cannot shut them i cannot blink they sink into my pallid face of aimless stare as teeth grit slows the metallic taste of medicine This one has a Black Box Warning. Cancer or Tuberculosis, infection or something horrible. I don‘t really care anymore. I just want this disease to stop torturing me. I have graduated to injecting shit into my own flesh. This one reminds me of Mission Impossible. The vial is like some cool top secret gadget I must keep refrigerated. I can‘t see the needles. I just push down into my abdomen for ten seconds and try not to breathe. It‘s not fun, but not worse than the last one that took a whole afternoon to infuse into my veins. I do have a life. I guess. As usual, I still suffer from the common cold unlike anyone I know. That‘s why I hate being around people. On the plane from D.C. a woman coughs next to me five times. I‘m in bed for three weeks. Some miracle drug! It‘s been four months. The trial is over. I cannot move. My bones hurt like broken ones set on fire. My skin is rashed. The disease is winning. My body has failed to respond once again. I lie in bed and cry and hold my bones and rock. Weeks go by. I am still here. I think back 15 years and wonder if I had taken drugs then would my body resist everything now. I want to blame my parents. I can‘t. I want to blame boyfriends, jobs, kids, school, and all their stresses. I don‘t. I just lie in my bed, staring at white walls, the closet mirror, my throbbing skeleton. I think about that couch. It means something. Everything I cannot explain about myself. It is so much of my life, and it is so much of my dying. I hate it. There is no way to stop it. Months of agony. Just like the first time. It‘s like a sign. Like a circle. I don‘t know if that signifies an end or rebeginning. They say they will fix me some way. The last kind of way. The hard way. Surgery. ―Total Proctocolectomy‖ she writes. I sign. I weep. GIBSON ∫ 92
I am excited when I get the confirmation. It is as if I will get a new chance to live inside my own body. In preparation, I guzzle the drink, wipe my limbs with special cloths, and wear no jewelry. My nails are frosty with cotton candy nail polish. They make me scrub it off in the hospital bathroom with small alcohol pads. My hair is pretty and soft under the cotton cap. My face is fragile and pale. I am naked under a gown. My teeth anxiously clench one another in smile. I try to remember my last meal. I can‘t. Then nothingness. My eyes open to a blurry squint. This place is freezing and unnaturally bright. I scream. I worry how my body came to a fetal position. I am confused. Everything left of center is pain. I cannot feel one half of me. My spine. They must fix the hole in my backbone. There is no time to remember. The hospital bed. My room. My family. The ceiling. All these things are moving. My hands are moving too. They come for it slowly. My belly. I hold it and close my eyes. I listen. The sound, a rickety swing chain, a rusty door ajar. I try again to remember the missing things. I can‘t. Something like darkness stole my memory. Things are lost. I can feel it in my gut. I am empty. My pieces are no longer mine. I am carved hollow, pilfered apart. I wonder if I cried or fought. I beg for memory. It doesn‘t come. I cradle the hole with nervous palms. The protruding pink flesh stoma, stitched in regretful permanency is all that‘s left.
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SALT & PEPPER April Gibson I take off everything, but the gray tee. I want my thin breasts to uncurl and lay under the sheet of the shirt. Below my waist, the faint shine of sparse hairs, gray as the cotton wrinkled softly on my skin. The pale centimeters make me think of babies, wisdom, sex, the stress of these. I was fearful when I first discovered the gray. Thinking I was so exhausted with life, the strain of it all had ruined every corner of my body. Then I thought about god. Some remnant of hell fire fear allowed me to believe for a moment that I was being punished. That because I had sex and babies so young, never married, and never cared, that lord almighty had stricken me to shame. Then I was left with only the scapegoat of wisdom. But this was nothing I could pull back into a graceful bun, like a crown or halo. With no explanation, I destroyed them, again and again, until I grew to love my immortal parts.
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LEARNING SEXY April Gibson under the bed bagged and cut to triangles and squares of black lace chest hair gold chains and big hair styles torn film splits figures curls limbs and squints eyes a secret treasure. i find it. i pride it. i show it. and they say it‘s a word spoken when you shake your head sideways and throw hands to air. a finger command, the backdoor the alley, the trash can. they tell me it‘s dirt, (but I think it‘s sexy).
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ON BEAUTY: SHOPPING FOR BLUE JEANS Janice Lynch Schuster The only thing worse than trying to buy a new bathing suit is trying to find a pair of jeans that fit. And the only thing worse than that is shopping with a teenaged girl, looking for jeans that fit her. The entire endeavor reveals to her the cruel reality of fashion—that clothes are designed for impossibly thin, tall, and boyish models and movie stars, and that the rest of us mortals are reduced to tears and frustration in poorly lit dressing rooms with brutally revealing three-way mirrors. As the lifetime owner of a pear-shaped body, I can attest to this. I remember my own ego-flattening experience when The Gap opened at Landover Mall, when I was in seventh or eighth grade. Until then, I don‘t think jeans had ever been an issue—my mother sewed outfits for my sisters and me, and we tended to wear the kind of double-knit polyester that she and her friends felt had revolutionized fabric care. By the time I reached middle school, though, everyone wore Levi‘s. I was impressed with the stacks and stacks of jeans and cords the Gap offered, all precisely arranged by waist and length, color-coordinated throughout the expanse of the store. We were used to Sears and Garanimals, and the Gap appeared to offer a kingdom of blue-jeaned cool. Until then, of course, I had no idea that I had something called a waist, or that its measurement, especially compared to that of my hips, would cause me a lifetime of sartorial suffering. While my pre-pubescent sisters slipped into their 23 inch waisted jeans, I struggled from size to size. Finding hips that fit meant the waist sagged and the hem dragged. I may finally have settled on what then seemed like an enormous 28-inch waist pair, and worried that others would read the label and note my girth. It went like that for years. For a while, when high-waisted jeans were the rage, it was not so bad—they almost seemed designed to fit women shaped like me. There were the salad days of my twenties, when I could fit into anything and seem almost wraithe-like, but children and age have left me at a stage where I will settle on whatever mom jeans let me sit in comfort. If that means a dose of spandex, so be it. If the size is double-digits, so am I. I have had a lifetime to resign myself to it. But comes now Alyson, 15, with a body shaped like a normal woman‘s and a mall-full of stores offering jeans shaped for bodies that never saw puberty. Earlier this summer, we endured one stressful afternoon of shopping for jeans. Like me, by the time something fit her hips, the waist was impossibly large, and no matter what style she chose, they needed to be hemmed two or three inches. She had been in the dressing room for an unusually long time with just a few jeans when I knocked to ask how things fit. She was in tears with the jeans piled around her. We found a few pairs of shorts and left it at that. The jeans are all low-rise or ―skinny‖; one store offers skinny, skinnier, and skinniest, and I am wondering what skeletal message of beauty this is meant to deliver to girls. Which is why my heart fell the other night when Aly asked me to take her LYNCH SCHUSTER ∫ 96
shopping for jeans. We are on the verge of fall and cooler weather, and her comfy shorts will no longer do. Perhaps she is hoping that in the few short months of summer, fashion mores have changed and jeans have expanded. Perhaps the inches she grew over the past few months will ameliorate the need for deep hems. Perhaps, like most women, she maintains that infernal hope that something that fits will appear, magically, if she just tries one more store or flips past one more hanger. I wish my grandmother were still alive; she used to comfort me on my jeans-shopping ventures, and comfort me by telling me, ―Doll, you look like a girl!‖ My beautiful Aly is my beautiful girl, and I hate the way the jeans-hunt will leave her feeling. I wish I knew how to sew, and I‘d make her a perfect pair. I wish someone who designed jeans would come to a few dressing rooms with us, just to see the torment of not fitting into the skinniest jeans in the store. I wish she believed me when I tell her there are other measures—surely bikinis and jeans are poor metrics for what really counts in a body.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Joshua Bauer holds his M.F.A from Portland State University. He currently lives and works in Eugene, OR. His most recent publications include Matchbook, Tin Foil Dresses, and The Broken Plate. Photo: Kendra Oakes Ferguson
Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán is from the South Bronx. He is the author of Antes y después del Bronx: Lenapehoking (New American Press) and the editor of an international queer Indigenous issue of Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought. He is completing Yerbabuena/Mala yerba, All My Roots Need Rain: mixed-blood poetry & prose.
Elijah Burrell's poetry has recently appeared in Measure, The Sugar House Review, Muscle & Blood, Swink Magazine, The Furnace Review, Stymie Magazine, and The Honey Land Review. Burrell was the recipient of the 2009 Cecil A. Blue Award in Poetry, the 2010 Jane Kenyon Scholarship at Bennington College, and a finalist in the 2010 Pinch Poetry Contest. He resides in Jefferson City, Missouri with his wife and two little girls.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Megan Cowen's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Louisiana Literature, Barely South Review, A Cappella Zoo, Connecticut River Review and other journals. Recently, she was chosen as a finalist for Weave's 2011 Poetry Prize. She is currently publicity manager and staff editor at Noctua Review.
Geoffrey Craig‘s fiction and poetry have appeared in a variety of literary journals. He has received two Pushcart Prize nominations. Five of his plays have been produced. He has a BA in English, an MBA and an MA in history. He had a successful banking career before turning to writing. He served in the Peace Corps.
A recipient of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Kyle Dargan is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Logorrhea Dementia. He is the editor of POST NO ILLS magazine and was the former managing editor of Callaloo. He is currently a professor of literature and creative writing at American University in Washington, D.C. Photo: Marlene Hawthrone Thomas
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Daniel Davis was born and raised in Central Illinois. His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at www.dumpsterchickenmusic.blogspot.com.
Leola Dublin Macmillan is a Doctoral Candidate in American Studies at Washington State University, where she also teaches English. A North Carolina native, Dublin Macmillan was raised in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She received a B.A. in English from the University of the District of Columbia. Her scholarly work examines the connections between contemporary representations of Black women, and more specifically, Black women‘s bodies and the larger structures of power within the context of the United States. Her work articulates these connections and then explores their potential impact on identity development in Black adolescent girls.
Scot Ehrhardt is a writer and instructor of abstractions. He currently teaches the Imagination course at Johns Hopkins University. His work has appeared in Lines + Stars, Infinity’s Kitchen and Little Patuxent Review. He lives with his wife and tortoise in Baltimore.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Tina Fakhrid-Deen is the author of Let‘s Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents and she sunlights as a high school teacher. She holds an M.Ed. in Educational Policy and an MFA in Creative Writing. She resides in Chicago, IL with her lovely family. To read more of Tina‘s work, check out her website at tinafakhriddeen.com.
Rachel Furey received her MFA from Southern Illinois University and is currently a PhD student at Texas Tech. She is a winner of Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize for Fiction and Crab Orchard Review’s Charles Johnson Student Fiction Award. Her work has also appeared in Women’s Basketball Magazine, Freight Stories, Terrain, Waccamaw Journal, Hunger Mountain, The Prose Poem Project, and Sweet.
April R. Gibson is a graduate student in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Chicago State University, with an emphasis in creative nonfiction. She is a 2011 recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Writer‘s Award. April tutors university students in English and Writing, and teaches her children at home. She resides in Chicago, Illinois, with her two audacious boys.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Laura Hartmark received her MFA in Poetry from George Mason University. Her poems have appeared in International Quarterly and The Boston Review. She is the recipient of the Bard Writing and Thinking Scholarship, and has taught writing at Lehman College, Hunter College, Russell Sage College and the State University of New York at Oneonta. She lives in Albany, NY with her daughter.
Shayla Hawkins is a poet, fiction writer, and Cave Canem fellow whose work has been published in North America, the West Indies, Europe, and Asia including The Caribbean Writer, Pyrta, TORCH, Reverie, Solo Café, Paris/Atlantic, tongues of the ocean, Carolina Quarterly, and the Taj Mahal Review. Her first book, Carambola, will be published in Fall 2012. She lives in Michigan.
Kevin Heaton lives and writes in South Carolina. His fourth chapbook, Chronicles, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in early 2012. His work has received both Pushcart, and Best of the Net nominations for 2011, and has appeared in many journals and anthologies including: Raleigh Review, elimae, Foundling Review, and Fortunate Childe-Vintage. Visit his website at: http://kevinspoetrysite.com/ Photo: In His image Photography
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Lauren Hilger has published poetry in Sonora Review, New Delta Review, Sugar House Review, Rune, Cider Press Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Moon Milk Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, Danse Macabre, and The Westchester Review, among others. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College where she served as Managing Editor of LUMINA. Photo: Monika Anderson
Jennifer Hurley‘s stories have appeared in Front Porch, The Arroyo Literary Review, and The Mississippi Review, among others. An alum of Boston University's graduate creative writing program, she currently works as an Associate Professor of English at Ohlone College in the San Francisco Bay Area. She lives in Alameda with her husband, four cats, achiweenie, and innumerable books. Read more of her work at www.jen-hurley.com.
Jacqueline Johnson is a mutli-disciplined artist in both writing and fiber arts. She is the author of A Gathering of Mother Tongues published by White Pine Press and is the winner of the Third Annual White Pine Press Poetry Award. She is also the author of Stokely Carmichael: The Story of Black Power, Simon & Shuster Books.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Alan King is a poet and journalist who writes about art and domestic issues on his blog at http://alanwking.wordpress.com. He is a Cave Canem fellow, VONA Alum, a Stonecoast MFA candidate, and a two-time Best of the Net nominee. He's also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Drift is his first collection of poems.
David Lewitzky is a 71 year old retired social worker/family therapist living in Buffalo, New York. As a young man, he studied with Charles Olson and considers him his spirit- father. Nine years ago, he resumed writing poetry after 35 years of silence, of being a poet not writing. His recent work appears in Nimrod, Red Wheelbarrow, River Oak Review and Third Wednesday among others.
Janice Lynch Schuster is the author of the collection, Saturday at the Gym. Recent work has appeared in Poet Lore, The Broadkill Review, and Life In Me Like Grass on Fire. A member of the Maryland Writer's Association, she is a senior writer for Altarum Institute where she focuses on health issues. She lives near Annapolis, Maryland. Photo: Alanna Hays.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Cynthia Manick is a freelance writer and poet. She holds a BA from Hollins University in English and Philosophy and a MFA from the New School. Her work is forthcoming in the La Patasola Female Writers Anthology, East Coast Edition. Her lost loves include George P. Clinton, Sly Stone, and Curtis Mayfield. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
JoAnne McFarland‘s poetry collections include Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Girl and Acid Rain, due out Fall 2012 from Aquarius Press. Her artwork is part of the collections of the Library of Congress and the Columbus Museum of Art among many others. A graduate of Princeton University, she is a member of A.I.R. Gallery, established in 1972 specifically to champion women artists. Photo: Andrew Lipton
Amanda Montell grew up in Baltimore and is now a 19-year-old Linguistics student at New York University. She loves Augusten Burroughs, iced lattes, and watching reruns of Six Feet Under. Amanda has poetry published in The Stone Hobo, Edgepiece, Sole, the Analectic Online Journal, as well as fiction in Mouse Tales Press and The Journal of Microliterature.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Jonathan Moody received his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and is a Cave Canem fellow graduate. His poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gathering Ground, good foot, The New Yinzer, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PLUCK!, story South, Xavier Review, and is forthcoming in African American Review. He lives in Fresno, Texas, and teaches tenth-grade English at Pearland High School.
Michael Moreno teaches writing at American University in Washington, D.C. He is a native Texan and has worked in agribusiness, banking, and information technology. His poems are also forthcoming in REAL: Regarding Arts & Letters.
James O'Brien‗s poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. In 2011, he was named a Poetry Fellow at the St. Botolph Club, in Boston. O‘Brien is a Ph.D. candidate at the Editorial Institute at Boston University, researching Bob Dylan's other-thansongwritings — focusing on the artist's unpublished poems. More information about O'Brien's work can be found at www.jamesobrien.cc.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Laura Shovan is editor of the journal Little Patuxent Review. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize in 2010. She is the editor of Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems (MWA Books), featuring 50 Maryland poets. A Maryland State Arts Council Artist-in-Education, Laura is currently co-editing an anthology of student poems for MSAC. Photo: Jennifer Lewis
Jessica Simms is an MFA candidate in fiction at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Melissa Sipin is a writer from Carson, California. Cofounder and creative director of TAYO Literary Magazine, she is also a VONA/Voices alum and graduate of the University of Southern California. Her work has been published in Kartika Review, Lantern Review, and Maganda Magazine, amongst other publications.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Yim Tan Wong‘s first full-length poetry manuscript, not yet published, has been a Finalist for Four Way Book‘s Levis Prize and the Kundiman Poetry Prize. She received an MFA from Hollins University and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Portland Review, Spillway, Off the Coast, Crab Orchard Review, MARGIE, and Michigan Quarterly Review, among other journals. Photo: Lauren S. Humphrey
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Tidal Basin Press, Inc. Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010 (as Tidal Basin Review, LLC) Washington, DC
The Fall/Winter 2011 Issue features the art, JoAnne McFarland, and the creative works of 31 writers, including center-featured series poet,...