STOKED: VOLUME I
EL CAMINO EDUCATION by MATT BELL SOME OF OUR MORE USEFUL PLANETS by AMBER SPARKS NO MOMENT & FOLLOWING by DAN BAILEY VARIATIONS OF A BROTHER WAR (FRONTS TRIPTYCH) by J.A. TYLER HOW THE GIRL IN THE GLASS SHED HER SKIN by ROXANE GAY THE PROBLEM by SARAH CARSON AMERICAN BASEMENTS by RYAN RIDGE MISSED CONNECTIONS: ST. FRANCIS by BRIAN OLIU WHAT’S THE STRANGEST THING YOU’VE EVER FELT? WHAT’S THE STRONGEST THING YOU’VE EVER FELT? by MIKE YOUNG
When the man stopped the El Camino, I assumed he was letting me out, there on the shoulder of the rain-drenched highway. It had happened that way before, and I knew I’d be stranded for hours. I started to beg, but he hushed me with a wave of his hand. He got out of the car and walked around the back. While I watched, he removed the tarp covering the El Camino’s bed and threw it on the ground, letting it flutter wide in the wind. Underneath were all these boxes, boxes full of books and clothing and yellowed pictures in fancy frames. A black piece of lingerie hung from a bowling trophy, poking out of a crate of matched white dishes. He pulled the gate down, then returned to the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind him. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Have you ever been married?” “No, I haven’t.” “You’ve had a girlfriend though?” “Sure I have.” “You got one now?” “That’s why I’m hitchhiking. I’m going to see her, at college.” His left hand clenched the wheel, knuckles white, while his other turned the ignition. The engine chugged to life. “Do you love her?” “I think so.” I cleared my throat. “Yes, I do.” “Well, one day you won’t.” His teeth clicked together as his foot jammed the gas pedal. The tires kicked dirt into long muddy arcs, until finally we came free from the shoulder. The El Camino hurtled back onto the highway.
leaving a wake of personal debris behind us. “Stop that,” he said. “Do you see me watching?” I turned around and faced forward. I couldn’t look, but I could listen. The engine whined as the speedometer needle climbed. Glass broke, wood splintered. Things were lost. “Don’t you think that’s dangerous?” “To who?” “To other people. Other men, like us.” “That back there is dangerous. But not because of me.” I understood, but I didn’t believe. Not for many years. Not until I stood in my own house, wondering what I should do with all this stuff, all those things. It had happened both slow and sudden, as I know now it always does. Eventually, I loaded up my car and went for a ride. I drove for a long time, searching for a particular person, a particular kind of place. When my brake lights finally flashed on that rainy pavement, he ran forward and climbed into the passenger seat, smiling. I did not smile back. Instead, I pulled the lever that popped the trunk, then asked him the questions I had to ask.
Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, a collection of fiction published by Keyhole Press in 2010, and Cataclysm Baby, a novella forthcoming from MLP in 2012. “El Camino Education” was originally published in Drexel Online Journal in 2005. It was his first published story.
SOME OF OUR MORE USEFUL PLANETS AMBER SPARKS
Most planets are destined to be sad, to be beautiful and useless. They circle in blurred orbits, wondering, What is the point and can I ever stop circling? Yet we at the Society of Well-Functioning Devices and Designs know there is more to the mystery of the heavens than this. We know, of course, that we don’t really mean ‘circles,’ that Johannes Kepler taught us to say ‘elliptical’ and yet we suspect these celestial bodies do not relish the exertion. Some days they feel winged and worn like ancient birds, other days like the kind of miners that crack open the ground and peer inside. Diamonds are not hard for them to produce, but who needs diamonds in this age of digital metals? This is not usefulness of the kind we like to promote, to call brave and tall and pay in more than merely minimum wage. We are not exactly Ayn Rand over here at the Society, but maybe you’ll know what we mean if we say we’d like a planet to build us a skyscraper and not a forest, so we can get some productivity in place.
Can the heavens ever function like a factory? We doubt it very much, and yet we continue to hope. As our members know, once a year we determine the most useful, well-rounded objects in the universe and award them a very special honor; this year we would like to announce that three planets are the recipients of this award. The winners will be featured speakers at The Society’s Annual Awards Gala; until then, we congratulate them and offer a few words about these planets. I. Mercury This trickster planet is capable of vast self-correction as well as selfimprovement, and can serve in many capacities: as a cloaking device, inside heating and cooling units, as a container for diet soda. Places Mercury can be applied: under the kitchen sink, behind the earlobes, inside the walls at night to smoke out wasps, bees, and termites. Mercury can also be used to kill fungus, cure warts, grant divorces, and can be taken internally to prevent the formation of liver spots and babies. Mercury is without a doubt our most useful planet, albeit our most eccentric. We at the Society do not officially sanction eccentricity, but when it leads to so much diversification, so many uses around the home and office, even we cannot help but be charmed. II. Jupiter Jupiter is certainly the most violent of all our celestial bodies, and violence can be incredibly useful, don’t you agree? If we at the Society want someone ‘rubbed out,’ to utilize the local slang, we just ring up Jupiter and he gets the job done. In fact, we contracted for his services only last year, and found the ‘hit’ extremely satisfactory, accomplished with deadly efficiency and with no disturbance to the planet’s smooth and steady orbit. What a professional. Jupiter is a bit brash and bold for our taste; we prefer our planets understated and tasteful. Still, this is a minor complaint and nothing to take away from the immediate usefulness of having death stacked on your shoulders like wood. Well done, Jupiter: our man in a tight spot.
III. Earth We must be honest here and admit that we struggled with offering this award to Earth, in the interest of avoiding the appearance of bias. We were her children first and she could have inadvertently influenced us in our younger days. However, the usefulness of Earth even and after the Late Heavy Bombardment period have filled us with great admiration and awe, and we cannot deny our fascination with her resilience. Furthermore, her partnership with her moon, the push and pull of tides and tilting of axis, is a perfect example of the high-functioning usefulness we seek here at the Society. So we must reward her usefulness, along with her habitability, her days and nights and long shadows and her strange relationship with the sun. We commend her, most of all, for her gracefulness. She has danced at Louis XIV’s French court, in the Ballet Russes, in Balanchine’s Apollo. No one is as light and lithe en pointe, though Earth has been afflicted by hammer toes and bursitis through the advance of age and decay. Our children, grown now, still treasure their posters for Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, smoothing them out from time to time to remember Earth dancing herself into enchanted sleep. It is a performance they say they will never forget; a performance that showed them how lovely things protect and predict their own endings. Even princesses. Even planets.
Amber Sparks’s work has appeared in various publications, including the New York Tyrant, Annalemma, Unsaid, The Collagist, Lamination Colony and PANK. She is the fiction editor at Emprise Review, and a contributor for literary blogs Big Other and Vouched. She live in Washington, DC with a husband and two beasts. You can find her in the tubes most days at www.ambernoellesparks.com.
NO MOMENT DANIEL BAILEY the what is that not is the truly whatever hey that is the teeth inside the walls gripping meat from the yeah of the address of here I forget where we are like I care but truly your oh is the ice skates across the walls the purpose wonâ€™t calm down and address us or forget the evidence of rupture is home the run in the veil that is fucked now no is the moment that runs as a truck down the shore of oh hell yeah get fucked and address angels all ever exposed like fallow confess that the weather is evidence to how now leave it and bow
Daniel Baileyâ€™s first book Sonnets (Magic Helicopter second book will be called Medicine (??????, 2012 be called Are You There B (??????, 2???). Daniel
was called The Drunk r Press, 2009). His d Mom, We’re Out of Cold 2?). His third book will Bobby? It’s me, Whitney Bailey needs yr lovin.
FOLLOWING the prayer
everything having ended thine speedo having exceeded the echo of thine body o that angelic ringtone sings the girls all crazy into the beautiful tizzy o they sing a birdcall alright it is the call of the owl refusing to rest for the moon it is the yelp of the carcass through gullet of the new body the speech of the virus to the subjects of disease it is all right to learn nothing space won’t mind us ignoring it for a while nor will the red lights as we become born against them moving toward wreckage controlling our new body not caring for what we might damage
VARIATIONS OFA BROTHER WAR (FRONTS TRYPTICH) J.A. TYLER This My Toy In Miller’s hand a bull carved of wood, his father’s knife cutting racked lines into its frame. Miller making the sound of morning cattle. Gideon watching from the trees outside, swinging on a hung rope. Meat rendering in the oven. In clouds, Gideon seeing images of taking Miller’s toy, smashing Miller’s toy, throwing Miller’s toy into the metal-hinged oven door. Gideon with biceps in the curve of hills. Gideon with the bell of ammo ringing in his ears. And their father walking away, rifle slung, sunset eating away footsteps, only the smell of roasted potatoes left in this low valley.
This is Boys Gideon pushed Miller down into the river and held his head under until the air stopped coming out. Miller stood with a frozen gape and trunked his brother in the cold brow. There was a bit of winter in the air, there was a bit of Civil War in the air, there was a bit of broken bodies in the air. Underneath the hills Eliza was buried, waiting for their boy hearts to begin seeing. And when they did, her smile opened up rain in those fields, plumes of cloudlust, as if for once not only rifles could penetrate bodies.
How We Set Fires Gideon was a boy when he set fire to the valley. But the rain came and the fire went out and Gideon was back to looking up at a blue and clear and crystal sky. Eliza would like to set fire to Miller, to Gideon, to push them into one another until only one comes out the other side. Or Eliza would like to make of them one person, holding the same rifle, pledging the same war to fight. Instead of both as they are, standing on either side of these hanging trees. Instead of how this fire went out.
J. A. Tylerâ€™s most recent book A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed was just released from Fugue State Press, and his forthcoming titles include The Zoo, A Going (Dzanc Books) and, with John Dermot Woods, the image / text novel No One Told Me I Would Disappear (Jaded Ibis Press). He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press. For more, visit: www.chokeonthesewords.com.
HOW THE GIRL IN THE GLASS SHED HER SKIN ROXANE GAY Sasha is a child of war. She sees her father, his limp frame pendulous, hanging from the lemon tree in front of their Kosovo home. The fruit is ripe that day, the air rank with the smell of it. She sees her mother, in a body wasted by the rages of men, who falls asleep one night, never wakes up. She traces the gray hollows around her motherâ€™s eyes, then the cheeks sunken in. Her motherâ€™s bony hand threatens to crumble. She holds tight until she is pulled away. She is sent to America. She is seven. She quickly becomes very skilled at rearranging herself into exactly whom she needs to be. She is serpentine. For the family who takes her in, she says yes and please and thank you. She is quiet, clean, and neat. When she turns eighteen, she says thank you one last time. She says goodbye. She never looks back. Sasha becomes a woman who loves women. She does not need the world of men. She dates Alice, seventeen years older. Alice likes to tell Sasha what to do. Sasha lets Alice tie her up, hold her down, lead her around. She says yes and please and thank you. She enjoys feeling a body much like her own wrapped around her at night. Two years later, Sasha has tired of Alice and obedience. She steals away at night, leaving no note. In the morning, Alice finds the collar Sasha has
long worn in the void of their bed that still holds the shape and scent of her. Sasha doesn’t go far. She discovers cooking, fresh produce, local meats. She holds dinner parties to which she always invites eleven guests. There is wine, always red, sweet delectable things, and interesting conversation. She is a curiosity. Her new friends are enamored by her accent, her features. They want to know the where and why of her. Sasha tells a different story every time but never the truth. She takes a lover, a married man with a fetish for superfluity. She is adored. She revels. Her once lean body becomes corpulent. She is the fatted calf. One afternoon, Sasha catches her reflection in the window of a boutique. She presses her fingers to the base of her throat and inhales sharply. She does not recognize the girl in the glass. She never returns home. Instead she runs. She runs until her shoes fall off her feet, until her breath, dry and ragged, is all she can hear, until the folds of flesh her married lover so loved spill from her frame. She finds her way to the body she once knew. In another state, in a city near an ocean where the air is always thick with salt and smog, Sasha meets Ryan, an endurance athlete—all muscle tightly coiled around bone—who pushes his body, submits to his human frailty, tries to rise above it. He teaches her how to transcend her own frailties. They spend hours running along the coast. They find euphoria in the agony of their worn bodies. At night, they soak together in a deep bathtub, drink red wine. They compare wounds. They never make love. When Sasha’s womb stops bleeding, she knows she has found the depths of what her body can endure. She leaves Ryan a note, tucked in a worn pair of sneakers, thanking him for helping her with the cartography of her body. She drives across the country to the other coast where life is colder, moves faster. She meets Ivan, a Russian butcher, who is big and raw and cruel. He is open about his appetites. He reminds her of something she once knew. He doesn’t care about who she is or who she was, never asks questions so she never tells lies. He loves her and the way the bones of her
face hold strong beneath his fist. He loves the way her body bends away from his so that he can trace the secrets she carries in tight knots along her spine. He loves the taste of blood on her lips, and how bruises flower along her shoulder blades. Sasha’s womb bleeds again. She allows herself to hope it might one day sustain life. She tests the newly marked cartography of her body. She has endured worse. He touches her. He is greedy and indelicate. When he falls asleep on top of her, still inside her, she drowns in him. On the day Ivan takes more from Sasha than she is willing to give, they are in the kitchen. She is naked, save for an apron, slicing lemons for a roasted chicken, slicing onions for soup. Tears are streaming down her face. She is happy. Ivan is not kind enough to recognize joy. He wraps his arm around Sasha’s throat, squeezes until the muscles of his forearm bulge. When he loosens his grip, she gasps for air. She is calm. She turns around, lets the knife sink into his chest. The blade moves through his flesh easily. He slowly sinks to his knees, trying to wrap his fingers around the handle. He falls onto his back. Sasha sits next to him as his breathing slows and then stills. The taste of pennies fills her mouth. The air is rank with the smell of ripe lemons. She holds her lover’s head in her hands, brushing his thick black hair from his face. Sasha presses her lips to Ivan’s forehead, keeps them pressed there. She thinks about whom she will be next. When she pulls away, she stares at her reflection in the oven door. For a moment, Sasha recognizes the girl in the glass.
Roxane Gay’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney’s (online), The Rumpus, and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, a regular contributor to HTMLGIANT, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found at http://www. roxanegay.com. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.
SARAH CARSON When I suddenly suspected I might be a member of the mafia, I called you to get your opinion on the matter. I’m not sure what you were doing— working or showering or both—but you did not pick up, so I scoured the internet for some kind of litmus test or survey that might provide an answer. I found a guy who said he specialized in these matters and, for a fee, he parked his truck sideways across my lawn, ransacked a few drawers in an upstairs dresser, and roughed up my little brother. I gave him his check and he asserted definitively that, no, I was not a member of the mafia and that I should probably find a hobby and stay off the computer. I didn’t tell you any of this the next time I saw you because I wanted you to love me and, this, it turns out is an even bigger problem than the first.
Sarah Carson was born and raised in Flint, Michigan but now lives in Chicago where she is an editor at RHINO and the Communications Specialist at Switchback Books. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, Barrow Street, Diagram, Slipstream, Requited, and Limestone, among others. She is the author of two chapbooks, Before Onstar (Etched Press, 2010) and Twenty-Two (Finishing Line Press, forthcoming in 2011).
AMERICAN BASEMENTS RYAN RIDGE
As a young man, wasting my high school years getting high in my parent’s basement in Nonfictionville. Remembering now not remembering much else about that basement except its smell. Also taking LSD in the same basement numerous times. Losing mind temporarily. Losing virginity forever there, too.
Some men can live up to their loftiest ideals without ever going higher than a basement. Unquote. Theodore Roosevelt.
Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son, Tad, lost in the bowels of the U.S. Capital building’s basement. The same basement allegedly haunted by a demon cat. Color: black.
Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote “The Black Cat” in an American Basement in Baltimore.
Perennially overrun with rats, mildew, and foul smells. Said Secretary of State, William Stoddard, of the White House basement circa 1863. Stoddard, who often accompanied Mrs. Lincoln to the basement to retrieve fine wines.
The White House basement turned bowling alley circa Truman.
The basement of an American Home in Hartford, Connecticut, Noah Webster haunts.
Curious as to the origins of the thousands of human bones buried in the basement of Benjamin Franklin’s British Home. Also wondering when and if they’ll excavate the basement of his American Home.
An impromptu nightclub in John Wayne Gacy’s American basement where he seduced underaged boys with alcohol and money. Telling them it was all in the name of science. Thomas Edison, age 10, building a science lab in his parent’s basement where he spent days on end experimenting. Edison’s father, Samuel, attempting to bribe his son out of the room with pennies. Failing. Neil Armstrong, age 14, building a wind tunnel in his parent’s basement and testing its effects on model airplanes.
B.F. Skinner’s basement, where, as an adult, he discovers his inner-child.
Remembering a story about Jackson Pollock’s best painting locked away in an Iranian basement.
Alfred Hitchcock. Terrified of everything, especially basements.
Pee Wee Herman’s quixotic quest for the basement of the Alamo. Davy Crockett, who did not die there.
Basements, which gave Kurt Vonnegut visions of Dresden and fire.
Kurt Cobain liked to nod off in basements.
Elliot Smith’s posthumous album: From a Basement on a Hill
Samuel Clemens, who thought up the name Mark Twain in an American basement.
Q.: Where can you go when your money gets low? A.: In the basement. This, according to the gospel of Etta James. The Louis Armstrong Museum in Queens, housed in the basement of Armstrong’s former American Home.
Sinatra’s basement, where he kept his toy trains.
The lost Woody Guthrie records discovered in an American basement in Brooklyn.
Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.
Johnny’s in the basement. Mixing up the medicine. I’m on the pavement. Thinking about the government.
Muhammad Speaks, the newspaper Malcolm X printed in the basement of his American Home. As a method of treating mental illness, Patrick Henry kept his wife, Sarah Shelton, locked in the basement of their American Home. Sarah Shelton, who originally coined the phrase: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death. Don’t you ever just want to lock some things in a basement and just throw away the key? No basements! Said Frank Lloyd Wright who hated basements and rarely included them in his American Home designs. James Fennimore Cooper, visiting Italy, laments the lack of basements. I, The Narrator, living in an apartment with no basement. I, The Narrator, revisiting my parent’s basement in Nonfictionville. I, The Narrator, who feels sentimental every time I hear the word basement. Basement.
Ryan Ridge is the author of the forthcoming story collection, “Hunters & Gamblers” (Dark Sky Books). His writing has appeared in Artifice, DIAGRAM, PANK, The Los Angeles Review, The Mississippi Review, and Salt Hill, among others. He lives in Southern California.
ST. FRANCIS BRIAN OLIU
Did I ever tell you about the time I was a priest? It was raining, of course--the bridge that connected where I was and where I was going was slicked over with water as the cars slowed below. I tell you this not to be dramatic: that I fell in love with a girl with hair longer than the Bible, that my arms across her waist made me reconsider the pleasures of the flesh, though, of course, I would not use that word--I hate that word-I would use a word like ‘skin’, a word like ‘you’. I know, it is not the time to joke about the word and words--capitalized or otherwise. I am, of course, being dramatic--it was simply a moment in between then and today, when nothing was certain. Of course, this is the basis of faith: belief in something without proof, without anything to hold. This is why I am here and this is why you are here: because we believe that we are meant to be here--how blessed it would be if we met in a church: how we both had too much to drink last night but something compelled us to set an alarm before talking in tongues into our pillows, that we heeded the alarm, how we put on our Sunday best. Let me let you in on a secret: God
can hear your thoughts even when youâ€™re not making them--he knows I am staring at your calf muscles, flexed if only for a second as you kneel to pray. He knows you are passing the time in between the old women refusing to touch the body with anything but their tongues, the children walking up with both hands on their opposite shoulders like warriors, like a flag, to pass the time as we all sit in silence before we hear the echo of the tabernacle shutting, telling us that we can stop thinking about those we have lost and start thinking about what we need to do that day: what to have for breakfast, who to have it with, of courses, of course, of the course. We do not think of the path that is set for us: I leave, touch my forehead. I leave, touching my fingers to the water, fascinated at how quickly it dries on my flesh, my skin, my you. I shake hands with the priest, I touch God. Yet His hand is not the one I wanted.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Work is published/forthcoming in Hotel Amerika, Sonora Review, Puerto del Sol, Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, & elsewhere.
WHAT’S THE STRANGEST THING YOU EVER FELT? WHAT’S THE STRONGEST THING YOU EVER FELT? MIKE YOUNG #8 I knew this woman. She went into politics. Advocacy, I mean. Not something I associate much with emotion. Pathos, but not emotion. You know what I mean? Method acting. But anyway, her son died. This is why the advocacy. Ecoli poisoning. Shitty beef. Feed a cow corn instead of grass and you’re asking for it. You don’t need me to tell you that shit. You’ve seen the movie. It’s hard to escape information, right? That’s what I’m talking about, this big information racket. One endless flood of advocacy, a whole bunch of data panhandling for outrage. But I know this woman. Her son died. And every night, she searches for new deaths. Types “ecoli death” into Google News. Some people eat turkey to sleep, right? Well, not her. Find a “new normal” is what the quacks say. I’ve known her to drive to an all-night McDonalds and ask if they’ve got wireless. She finds the deaths, the outbreaks, the kidney failures. She reads them off out loud.
#18 Before I knew how to play tennis, I had a dream of driving through the woods and finding this tennis court. Lit up. Someone very in charge ushering us in, saying go for it, do your worst. Not a dream exactly. More like a memory I wouldn’t defend. This is not how tennis really works. Tennis, well, I’ve won and lost, okay. Maybe all this means is I would like to run around under lights. I think the placement of light is important. I think it’s important to know the light is coming from a very tall pole, and I think it’s important to know that whoever built the light has left. When I say I think, I hope I am not interrupting my feelings. When I say we drove through the woods, I would like you to feel like maybe you have died. When I did learn how to play tennis, I would say I was decent. Maybe I sabotaged myself. I would say I never got so good that I forgot about— statistically, there’s a good chance I could beat you. Your serve might be better, okay. Yes, there was definitely someone there. Someone I played against. No, it wasn’t you. I’m sorry. But it wasn’t.
Mike Young is the author of Look! Look! Feathers, a story collection, and We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough, a poetry collection. He co-edits NOÖ Journal, runs Magic Helicopter Press, and writes for HTMLGIANT. Find him online at http://mikeayoung.blogspot.com.
Rights remain with authors Copyright Stoked Press 2011 “How the Girl in the Glass Shed Her Skin” by Roxane Gay originally appeared in Gargoyle 56. Stock resources used from: Richard Davis, Adrian Florescu, Obsidian Dawn, LunaNYXStock, & Taeliac Stock. For more information: email@example.com
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