I am / you are
A Watershed Review Anthology
Supervising Editor Sarah Pape, Professor of English Poetry Editors Javier Lopez Noah Denney Joel Hall Fiction Editors Marie Cuenca Isai Jimenez Nonfiction Editors Heather Stogsdill Kennedi Turner Desirea Adame Introduction Marie Cuenca Joel Hall Cover Graphics Kennedi Turner Interior Layout and Design Heather Stogsdill Javier Lopez Noah Denney This anthology was conceptualized and produced as part of the required coursework for the Spring â€˜17 English 315 class at California State University, Chico.
Contents Introduction Our Father, Alicia Hoffman Andy Warhol’s Buffet of Thoughts at the Kahiki Supper Club; Columbus, Ohio, Rikki Santer Little Cities, Ann Stewart McBee Clinic, Age 4, Jennifer Gravley Broken Arm, Nicole Stellon O’Donnell Worksheet, Natalie Peeterse Miss November, Rebecca Boyd Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class, Clint Smith What We Mean, Rae Gouirand Take 1: conversant on the feral hog hunt, Katy Rossing THE SPECIAL, Ken Poyner Horse-Apple, Laura Madeline Wiseman Alexander McQueen Bop with Interviewer, Vallerie Wallace Oaxaca Night, Matthew Gavin Frank Louvre, September 2010, Cara Armstrong Island, Teow Lim Goh cadence, Bob Garner At Thirty-Seven, In Bed, Neesa Sonoquie In Name of Violence, Zackary Medlin First and Last Day, Katie Stine Contributors
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Introduction Since 1977, Watershed Review has been the voice of California State University, Chico’s literary lifeblood. When we made the switch into a fully digital platform and extended our calls for submissions to a national audience in 2012, the material we have received has continued to be nothing short of exceptional. Filled to the brim with engaging poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art, we’ve selected a handful of written pieces to bring to life on paper. It was difficult to narrow down which voices would represent the recent issues of Watershed Review here—with such a wide variety of genre-bending creative works and a diverse group of writers—and we played with many possible combinations. After much debate that led to our final selections and layout, we’ve curated the quirky face of our magazine into this, the Spring 2017 anthology. Our literary magazine works hard to showcase poetry and prose that touches on the social and emotional concerns of our time. For instance, the racial tensions within the American school system are elegantly portrayed in Clint Smith’s “Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class,” where he writes, “You, it seems,/are the manifestation/ of several lifetimes/of toil. Brown v. Board/in the flesh.” In her flash nonfiction essay, Katie Stine takes us through the tiny details leading up the pain of loss in “First and Last Day”: “As the nurses and doctor tried to get IV access on this tiny patient, I booted up my machine. I phoned the physician who I was on call with, but he didn’t answer. I washed my hands for thirty seconds, the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’” We also looked for the writing that delighted us in its audacity, as in Katy Rossing’s poem, “Take 1: conversant on the feral hog hunt.” Stretching our preconceived notions about white space and structure, her poem highlights moments of simple ponderings and small joys, as two hillbillies have a simple conversation in an oddly elegant way. Many of our selections experiment with structural elements that challenge and reward the reader. Rae Gouirand’s “What We Mean” is the i
essence of this. The poem utilizes an array of punctuation and syntactical strategies that both convolute and reinforce meaning: “(when we attempt to explain on another’s/behalf: ‘what she meant was—’)/(or, on our own behalf, when we interrupt:/‘I didn’t—’).” In our selections for fiction, we explore bizarre circumstances that exist just outside of reality, as in Ann Stewart McBee’s “Little Cities.” Our protagonist meets his five year old son Bosley for the first time, only to find out he is a giant, “as if not one boy, but three had combined in Karen’s womb.” Although these may seem unexpected bedfellows, their poetry and prose resonated with us in surprising and delightful ways. We hope they do the same for you. Watershed Review aims to appeal to a wide readership—from the literary traditionalist to the risk-taker. Our editors welcome you to explore in print the best recent work Watershed has to offer. We hope that you will find pieces of yourself scattered throughout stanzas and lines that map the worlds these authors have created.
Our Father Who art indefatigably delirious, who must have been unintentional in his desire to create, who art the artist unstoppable, the builder of arcs and light and shadow and also of crayfish and paper, who art the maker of the indisputably adorable squid but also of the bullet, the noose, the broken bridge over water, temple of steel, machinery and electricity, so hallowed be thy lake effect snowfall on a Tuesday night in upstate New York, hallowed be thy rain, thy kingdom come from the mollusk to the train car, the mud run to the shots fired into the faces of whoever must be listening to echo chamber of song and scream to give us this day unfettered, this day of bandwidth and radio silence, curved architecture over the plaza, the muffled flight of pigeon, wren, the laughter rising from the balloon man, the twists and bends of the rivers, the blood, thy will be a witness to the trespass, the forgiveness dripping off the sweating brows of cormorants, egrets, doves fat in their flight over cities stuffed to the beaks with leftover bread. 1
Andy Warhol’s Buffet of Thoughts at the Kahiki Supper Club; Columbus, Ohio I’m feeling like a pu pu pu pu platter machine. Here I am, the MSG of your party, your ambassador of kitsch. All this South Seas camp is so deliciously saucy. Bring me another steaming plate of quotation marks, please. I adore this place . . . it’s the Louvre of American irony. I’m getting swept away by the eye-shadow-turquoise of the Mystery Girl. But you need more Ken dolls at the Outrigger Bar. The Scorpion, The Headhunter, The Coconut Kiss— they all make me want to live à la Polynésienne. I could just tap dance atop one of those gongs while the gossipy tittle-tattle from that parrot seduces me. Wrap your legs ‘round a palm tree and I’ll make a lodestar of you with my Polaroid.
Rikki Santer Should I autograph your napkin— the tip of your tongue? I suspect this lingering afterthought of Spicy Kung Pao Shrimp is Duchamp’s doing. Even these leftovers are Time Capsule-worthy. I’ll have more of the soup.
Ann Stewart McBee
Little Cities Bosley is big. Not fat, just huge—as if not one boy, but three had combined in Karen’s womb. Perhaps on the same night, while I was sleeping sticky and nauseous on her futon, she crept out of her studio apartment and had her way with two more men before squeezing in next to me in the wee hours. That would explain how I, a diminutive man, had anything to do with this child. Karen didn’t decide to tell me about him until he was five and asking questions. She called me on a Sunday when I was at Kezar’s watching the game with my backpacking buddies, and I wished I had changed my cell phone number when I had changed states. It wasn’t so bad that every time I went to the pharmacy, the clerk had to backtrack, realizing with visible annoyance that I meant the area code and not the prefix, but now Karen was calling. She had pursued me for months before I graduated. She was six years older, a blown glass artist who refused to use her skill to make pipes “on principle.” Meanwhile, her store was full of figurines of tropical fish and dolphins and frogs and the occasional garden orb, which nobody wanted to buy, because all anybody ever wants from a glass store is a pipe. Most people have something to say when they call. A question to ask. An invitation to make. News. Karen called nonstop, but never had anything to tell me. Not even how business was at the store or how terrible the weather was. I’d offer some mumbling about how excited I was for the new Twisted Metal, or a project I was working on for school, but she never seemed to be listening. She would interrupt with bursts of the strangest sentiment, like You sound tired. Are you taking vitamins? Or I’m going to write you a poem. Which she never did. When I finally slept with her, it was just before I moved to San Francisco, a Mecca for techies like me. I had no intention of speaking to her again, and thankfully she never called me either. Until that day. And then she had news. I have to tell you something important, the voicemail said. I thought, Now this is a change, and couldn’t resist calling back. 4
Ann Stewart McBee The sheer size of Bosley shocks me so much that I have difficulty bonding with him. He sits in my living room, fingering my Guitar Hero console like a real guitar, something I neither play nor possess. His hands are so huge, the console looks like a ukulele in his grasp. His hair has been cut into an absurd flat top, and his head resembles an old-fashioned street lamp. His feet are like cinder blocks and are as dense. Every step seems to herald the advance of an army. I get terse answers to my questions, Are you sure it was me, I mean, look at us, and My God it had to be a C-section, right? Karen continues to drone on about the store, which is in peril of closing. She has moved onto larger art pieces, as opposed to garden décor and knick-knacks. She creates scaled down versions of mythical cities or scaled up versions of fairy villages with mushrooms for houses. Didn’t the Smurfs live in mushrooms, I ask, but she doesn’t answer. She needs money. Evidently not many people are willing to pay above cost for a blown glass Atlantis or Xanadu. I guess that Bosley has never been to the shop, picturing him demolishing the Smurf village like Godzilla tap dancing all over Tokyo. Out of ideas, I take them on a tour, doing things I myself have never done in Frisco. Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square. We go on a trolley ride, and I swear when it turns a corner that it starts to list on our side. Bosley’s bigness crushes us all into each other. At Pier 31, I hear someone mutter whale, and feel a brief sting, suddenly aware of the stares Bosley is collecting as we lumber along. I point Alcatraz out to him, and he smiles. He doesn’t talk much, perhaps having learned the futility of it with Karen for a mother. He leans against the railing, straining it I think, and quietly contemplates the Bay and the penny-colored Bridge. Maybe they unsize him. When we return, I write Karen a check for three thousand dollars and tell her there’s more to come. I’m doing well, and I think of what Bosley ate for dinner. Two hamburgers and fries. Plus my fries. A bowl of chicken and rice soup. Loaded potato skins. A glass of chocolate milk. A bowl of mint chip ice cream the size of a swimming pool. 5
Ann Stewart McBee At night I give Karen and Bosley my bed and take the couch. For a while I lie awake and think of Alcatrazâ€”not the prison, but the rock underneath, wondering if underwater civilizations make up stories about what exists there at the top of the mountain. The next morning I find Bosley alone on my bed, the sheets threaded between his legs and strewn over his vast chest. He emits a soft hmm with every peaceful breath. He looks like a toilet-papered house. I think at first that he has pushed Karen off onto the floor, but I know by the time I get to the other side of the bed to look that she is gone. From the front closet, I dig out my sleeping bags, the new North Face I use for backpacking as well as the old marshmallow-stained one from my childhood, and unzip them both. Then, with some labor, I zip the two together to make one colossal blanket, and with this I cover the sleeping body of my son.
Clinic, Age 4 You only go when you are the kind of sick that needs a shot. You go to the clinic and not a doctor. You see whatever doctor is at the clinic. The doctors have white hair and are men. Your mother holds you down over her lap while you get a shot. Your little sister fights everything so hard she hurts more. You have seen her face streaked with snot. You have seen her pound her limbs in front of strangers. You have seen her held down in the end. Her screams already live in the sponge inside your bones. You go to the clinic. You go before they open so you don’t have to wait as long. The waiting room is slick with sick. You aren’t allowed to touch the toys which are meant for you. Your ears and throat throb. You are the quiet one. This day the door is thrown open, and one girl bigger than you does not wait. Her daddy carries her like a baby. Her screams recall your sister’s screams hiding in your bones. She is gone before you can see how her hand dangled. Her hand dangled in the night. You stick in your plastic chair. Everything hurts as if you are fighting. The night is full of teeth.
Nicole Stellon Oâ€™Donnell
Broken Arm The teacher, all owly glasses and corduroy skirt, watches you stick a pencil in your cast, pull it out and smell it as you wonder at the minutes on the clock and when your mother will pick you up, cocoon you in the cigarette smoke of the Camaro. You wait for the moment in the beige office with a blade that cuts plaster but canâ€™t cut skin. How can it be sharp and not sharp? you wonder. No more plastic bags. No more rubber bands. All you want to know is that knife.
Worksheet 1. The kings who ruled __________ had courage and greatness. 2. Exposure : clash of chainmail OR a thresh of gear (circle one). 3. __________ was one good king. 4. __________ had sex for the first time when she was 11. And __________ cannot read (use the same answer twice). 5. Take the missed dose as soon as you remember. 6. Never before has a force under arms disembarked so openly—not bothering to ask when __________ dipped his balls in the teacher’s coffee cup, wasn’t it hot? Expelled not for that, but for drying them on a girl’s backpack 7. __________ hates me. 8. __________ unloaded about a hundred dime bags in the boy’s room during senior English before we caught him, the bags swirling in the toilet: green/black preen on the waves. 9. I think that’s a felony, Mr. __________ says to me, his eyebrows : question marks. Shit. I don’t want to go to court this summer. 10. __________ with the k-n-i-f-e. 11. __________ died of a heart attack yelling at the bus driver. 12. They fuck each other on the bus, you know? With the blowjobs. In a cruel frenzy. Slick with slaughter (circle one). 9
Natalie Peeterse 13. It was sheer vanity made you venture out on the main deep : 14. __________ blackmailed me with South Park. That’s not satire, he says, that’s reckless endangerment. We are church people, he says. 15. __________ is so fat the desk looks like a lost, wind-swept sea-plank stuck into him (he waddled, swaggered, sunk). 16. __________ only has four fingers, and I did not notice until January. 17. She says of __________ : this ain’t nothing but porno. My life upon her faith, I already know this junk. 18. __________ ‘s father once tied her down and __________. She lived. She went on into the next day and then the next and eventually into mine. 19. Three pieces of warm chocolate from under her coat—for __________. 20. The truth is, the sea-test obsessed you : the past greedily loping out there beyond the firelight—it is littered OR glittering (you decide).
Miss November When I was twelve, my father brought me home a Koolie Loach to add to my aquarium. He’d stopped at Harold’s Fish Nook on his way from O’Hare airport after being overseas for twenty days and when he walked in through the door, he raised the plastic bag towards me like a trophy—like a prize. Mom didn’t turn. She stirred white powdered flakes of instant mashed potatoes into supper at the stove. My father set his vinyl suitcase down beside the ivory coat rack he’d brought home from Zanzibar and tugged the belt of my school uniform. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s set this baby loose.” I looked at Mom, who looked right back at me, wide-eyed, and shrugged. I followed him into the den where odds and ends that he’d collected from his trips were meant to make the room feel African. He’d draped a leopard skin across the back end of the couch and up above it hung two ivory tusks criss-crossed upon the wall. My father lifted up the lid to the aquarium and set the plastic bag—still tied— adrift out on the surface of the tank. He let it float for several minutes until the Koolie Loach grew anxious, bumping with its nose against the plastic corners to get out. He said, “Time’s up,” and twisted off the rubber band to pour the eel out, swirling—like a cocktail—down into the waiting gulf of its new world. My father bent down, concentrating, close up to the glass. I felt myself grow smaller next to him and almost disappear. “Look at that,” he murmured as he watched the Koolie Loach, whose long, lithe body undulated in the light. It seemed to flirt with him, its shiny blue-green colors shimmering amid the fancy coral he’d brought home from Zanzibar. The light from the aquarium made his face blue. Lit up like that, he looked like someone else: less harried, younger, far away. He must have wanted something to remind him of his travels, something different and exotic, challenging to keep. The other fish—the big 11
Rebecca Boyd Black Molly, Neon Tetras, rusty Swordtail, and the pair of Angelfish— swam endlessly around the glassed rectangle—bored, it seemed—as if their lives would never end. My favorite was the catfish who poked in among the grits of gravel at the bottom of the tank, his whiskered face dunked downwards. When I pinched the flakes and scattered them along the surface of the tank, the other fish raced up to gobble them, but my wise catfish waited—busy and indifferent—for the flakes to settle slowly in the gravel where he’d happen on them casually, engulf them, spit them out, engulf them once again. The filter’s motor buzzed below the bubbles, mumbling and rising, bursting lightly on the surface. “Watch it move,” my father said. “You see that, Lee?” My name was Leena. “Cool,” I said. I went into the kitchen where I helped Mom scoop out rounded spoons of mashed potatoes. “Mom,” I said. “We eat like fish.” I pinched potato flakes from where they’d spilled out on the counter top and sprinkled them in her open mouth. She looked at me, wide-eyed, and smiled, handing me the steaming bowl of mashed potatoes to bring to the dining room. She’d placed the special plates out, ones with solemn soldiers marching with their bayonets around the edges, readying for war. She followed me into the dining room with pork chops and the salad, then she sat beside me, shifting the pink plastic flowers slightly to the center of the table. We waited wordlessly. Finally my father joined us, sitting down and flipping out his napkin before tucking it inside his shirt. He focused on the pork chop waiting on his plate. “How’s school?” he asked, and sliced his dull knife through the pork chop hard enough for it to slip and squeak across his plate. Mom mixed her mashed potatoes in with peas, and when I didn’t answer soon enough, he said, his mouth full, “Modern dance. How’s that?” I hadn’t taken modern dance since summer, so I didn’t say a word. He had no choice but swim his eyes across the table at my mom. “What’s new with you?” 12
Rebecca Boyd She didn’t look him in the eye and went on stirring peas into her mashed potatoes till they made a different thing, then scooped a spoonful of that different thing and sucked on it, as if it were a taste she couldn’t live without. When she looked up at him, her face looked like it hurt. “We haven’t seen you in a while,” she said. “You go.” We listened while my father talked about the same old thing; the way the spice business was booming and how on the next trip he would make a killing and we’d all go on vacation somewhere afterwards. He swept a roll across his plate to soak up gravy. “Where?” I said. My father looked at me as though he couldn’t think of where he’d met me. Then he stopped his jaw from chewing. “What’d you say, sweet pea?” I swallowed the big hunk of pork chop I had in my mouth. “Vacation, Dad. Where to?” “The world’s a big resort,” he said. He twirled his glass in circles and then lifted it and took a swig of wine, swirling it around his mouth before he swallowed hard. “We’ll have to wait and see.” Mom stood and cleared her plate. My father shook his napkin out and said, “I’m beat,” and headed up the stairs to sleep off all the hours he had lost in flying home. We cleared the dishes. While Mom washed, I dried, and then I went up to my room to work on something for the science fair: a Sense of Smell test, made with spices brought from Zanzibar. And three days later, when my father was away again, the Koolie Loach hung limply on the surface of the water, dead. I scooped it out and carried it, still dripping, down the hallway to the bathroom where I flushed it down. Mom never cleaned the hallway bathroom. Since my father had changed jobs and started in with spices and the traveling, she’d moved his things out of the bathroom near their room. Scum lined his shower stall. Discarded razor blades and emptied bottles of shampoo lay scattered on the sink. My shoes stuck to the yellowing linoleum as I let go the Koolie Loach and watched it spin past hairs and circle clockwise in the bowl. 13
Rebecca Boyd When it was gone, I closed the toilet lid. My father kept a stash of magazines beneath the sink. I sat down on the lid and flipped the top one open to the centerfold. The naked woman, Miss November, had white skin. She lay next to a blazing fire on a rug and raised a glass of white wine in her hand. The index finger of her other hand— its perfect oval fingernail—was gently pressed up to her lips. She smiled at me. I’d memorized her Profile with its loopy handwriting—the i’s she’d dotted with an open circle. She loved horses, archery. The snapshots of her as a girl were cute—as a high school cheerleader, and holding up her cat. I hated cats. If I were asked to be a Playboy bunny, I would have to lie. I’d have to fake my handwriting and sports I played, like tennis, or photography, or tell them that my family owned a stable where I rode in horseback shows. But Miss November was my favorite, and because she held a finger to her lips, it felt as if we shared a secret. I knew she’d had to lie about her profile, too. That night, my father called and asked to speak to me from Zanzibar. “How is that Koolie Loach?” I heard a distant crackling on the line. “It’s dead,” I said, and waited. The crackling came again. I heard my distant father’s voice. “Hello? Hello?” I listened to him say Hello a few more times and when I’d heard enough, I said, “Can’t hear you, Dad,” and placed the phone back on the hook. My smelling test was coming along fine. It wasn’t really science, but my teacher said the spices added a rare touch to the whole fair. I’d glued ten different patches on a board so people passing by could scratch and sniff each one. Mom helped me attach Velcro labels to the board that you could switch around. If someone could correctly match a label to its swatch, they’d win a postage stamp from Zanzibar—my father’s contribution to the fair. 14
Rebecca Boyd My father never let us know from day to day when he’d be home, so ten days later when he walked into the science fair, I wasn’t so surprised. He walked up to my booth and sat down next to me. No one had stopped to scratch and sniff the board. Mom walked around the auditorium and looked at all the other projects. “Check this out,” he said, and pressed something into my palm. I opened up my hand to find a plastic treasure chest whose lid— if hooked up to the filter pump—would spit out tiny bubbles from its trove of shiny rubies, coins, and pearls. “It makes the fish feel special,” he said, moving closer to the board to “Let an expert try.” He sniffed and switched the Velcro labels till he almost had it right. He must have seen Mom working her way back to us, because he stopped and tapped the spice board nervously. He said, “I gotta run,” then hurried from the auditorium, his vinyl suitcase knocking at his knees. That night, he sat in his reclining chair and drank a vodka, straight, in front of the TV. “The Gold Diggers” came on. The women who popped on and off the screen with jokes and winks showed off their thighs in gold and shiny high-cut costumes that shimmered in the TV lights. I tucked my flannel nightgown down around my knees and felt self-conscious, laughing at Dean Martin’s jokes when he did, not knowing what to do instead. Mom came into the room, pronounced but silent, busy rubbing out the ashtrays with a rag. I stayed until the show was over, not because I liked it, but because I wanted him to know that I could stick it out. Mom snapped the lights off and I went upstairs, unsure of what it was Dean Martin and the women on TV had done to make my father laugh. In bed, I stared up at the ceiling where I’d made a constellation out of stick-on stars. The fish in Pisces chased each other in an endless circle, head to tail, and then the notes—the early ones—of what my father played on our piano down below began to reach me, slow and mournful, like a lullaby. I tried to picture how his face looked as he played, but I could only see the slivered ice cubes, melting, shifting noiselessly inside his glass. 15
Rebecca Boyd When I awoke on Saturday and came downstairs, I found my father in the den, alone. The morning light was watery and pale, and cast a silver sheen throughout the room. I watched him as he leaned in towards the fish tank, moving his lips silently, as if in prayer. “Dad,” I said. He startled, flushed, and backed up from the tank as if he’d been caught peeking through a keyhole. “You miss the Koolie Loach.” I said. He laughed, but awkwardly. “I didn’t know you could miss fish.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair to make sure it was smooth. “You think we need another one?” he said. I pictured how the Koolie Loach, its belly pale and bloated, had spun swirling down the toilet bowl. Inside I didn’t feel a thing. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” Mom came downstairs. My father backed up from the fish tank so she wouldn’t see him. She went off into the kitchen, humming something from the radio, and opened drawers, the freezer door, a bag of frozen coffee beans. She ground them up, then held the coffee pot beneath a rush of water from the sink and banged the cupboard doors to get a mug. When it was quiet, I could hear the busy dripping of the coffee through the filter and the shuffle of the paper as she sat down at the table and read every word. My father went out to the yard. I went straight to the attic, slipped the lid off of the fish food canister where I had found them first: the bunch of Polaroids my father kept that showed a naked woman posing, and a man—my father—smiling from a hotel room. I moved my eyes along the body of the woman who was plumper than my mom. Her skin was chalky white—pale enough to make her seem a ghost; her hair was dark and short. She glared at me, as if she dared me not to break a promise. I wedged the pictures back inside the canister. The sun had clouded over. I expected rain. I went downstairs to watch TV. Bob Barker stood among his costumed audience and asked a woman dressed in a white rabbit suit which door she’d choose for 16
Rebecca Boyd the grand prize. She picked door number two. A couple dressed like vegetables chose number three. Their curtain opened first, exposing a huge stack of Campbell’s soup cans. The audience let out a sinking groan. I switched to mute. The woman in the rabbit suit jumped up and down about the car she’d won behind door number two. The silence of the darkened hallway made me miss the sounds my parents didn’t make: the lullabies my father didn’t play, the pages of the newspaper my mother didn’t turn. I heard them, though, the way the next song on an old familiar album gets into your head before it even starts. I pictured Miss November’s and my secret safely tucked inside her magazine, an oval fingernail pressed to her lips. I concentrated hard and heard the faint but steady garble of the bubbles popping on the surface of the fish tank. I pictured my wise catfish working his way round the bottom of the tank. I thought about how cool the Koolie Loach had looked while undulating for my father in the coral and I realized then how much he must be missing it. I realized that I missed it, too: the way its long, thin body had displaced the water once—a spectral volume I could picture now, as real as if it were the ghost of the next song.
Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class You, it seems, are the manifestation of several lifetimes of toil. Brown v. Board in flesh. Most days the classroom feels like an antechamber. You are deemed expert on all things Morrison, King, Malcolm, Rosa. Hell, werenâ€™t you sitting on that bus, too? You are everybodyâ€™s best friend until you are not. Hip-hop lyricologist. Presumed athlete. Free & Reduced sideshow. Exception and caricature. Too black and too white all at once. If you are successful it is because of affirmative action. If you fail it is because you were destined to. You are invisible until they turn on the Friday night lights. Here you are star before they render you asteroid. Before they watch you turn to dust. 18
What We Mean (when we attempt to explain on another’s behalf: ‘what she meant was—’) (or, on our own behalf, when we interrupt: ‘I didn’t—’) (or hear ‘what’s that supposed to mean’ against ‘I don’t know what that means’—) (—it’s only the hands we see in our minds redistributing the air we speak into) (—not even words simultaneous face to face mean the same) (I don’t know why what rings definite can suddenly subtract the gist, turn silence absence, strike lines through all sense) (can’t even begin to split mouth, mind—) (once settled an argument by turning to the dictionary, caused a fight)
Take 1: conversant on the feral hog hunt one hillbilly says to the other hillbilly, tramping thru the brush spaces alot between things the other hillbilly says so it is the first hillbilly he goes all leg from a to b & how there is a plenty of American seafood the other hillbilly says so it is the first hillbilly he goes plenty of bits lots too small to be used the other hillbilly says so it is and then he says yet I reckon any more 20
Katy Rossing distance from the bomb is insanity and the first hillbilly goes the strong & honest are versed in trapping then the other hillbilly he says & when a man in a steel mill pisses, he pisses in the big smelt the first hillbilly interrupts, saying you smell that? boar taint but then the other hillbilly he keeps going, says but how I am glad to witness this piss
THE SPECIAL He bought the horse for his glaringly mediocre daughter: a fine quarter horse, purebred, and with papers and a lineage that could be respectably played out in long hand and framed. Everyone knew he paid more for it than some locals had put into their primary family cars. Fourteen hands, it had the look of well-cured, old royalty; with a way of turning its head that dismissed onlookers, no matter how distant they might be. He had a flick of his mane that curried butter, and a gravity that made you respect the grateful air around him. The whole town knew it was too much horse for the girl. You can’t stuff a thousand pounds of proud promise into a hundred pounds of edge-wise sassy. The girl was just not made for a show horse. She folded like a poor man’s wallet, and the line of her was a geometry that made sense to average boys. Her slick sided jeans were made for slipping off under the football stadium bleachers, not bearing the subtle pressure that brings a fine equine around to a human sense of direction. Nonetheless, the man loved that horse. He carried it everywhere he went, and people marveled at it, stood in line to stroke its withers, to look up into its falling-away eyes. The horse would wait patiently on the man’s shoulders, balanced with all four legs in the air, drinking in the attention of townspeople and visitors alike, expecting along every inch of himself to be desired and envied. He seemed to understand his public fame, and rested calmly in the place adoration had made for him. Sometimes he would be over the left shoulder, sometimes the right, and occasionally draped placidly around the man’s neck. He would hang with luxurious patience, hooves nearly touching the ground—but not quite—and his wondrous legs dangled delightfully down, as straight as a courting boy’s sex, and as equally unused. No one could understand the balance. Yes, the man was larger than most townspeople, but not so large as to make the horse an 22
Ken Poyner easy heft. It was thought that only the grace and peerless agility of the horse allowed the man to keep him aloft. Surely, the man had strength and talent, but it was the horse that completed the circle—the horse: whose long, luxurious and pure bloodline made its subtlety and grace an embedded, biological effect of its selective cause. Only in such noble blood would there be the ability to remain in equilibrium, to become with the man one unparalleled balancing unit: a magnificent horse, suspended in the air by a more fragile being, a supporting being of less regal elements, a being without such a panorama of possibilities that such a peerless horse, as this archetypal creation in look and bearing, must have. The man would walk into town with the horse, tilt the horse with one hand to best advantage on his shoulders, and still have one hand to use in greeting, or opening doors for strangers, or carrying his purchases. When he had to go into a building, he would carefully set the horse down, and the horse would stand there waiting while the man busied himself inside: the horse waiting with his head up, waiting without obviously being either waiting or not waiting, yet still being the center of attention. When the man’s business was done and he came back out, the man would lean sideways into the horse, reach around under his belly, shimmy his knees, and drive the horse up. I have seen him do it with half a week’s groceries towed in a sack in his other hand. The horse remained stone-faced throughout. This town is not so rich as to not be mindful of which stray bits and pieces of ordinary life might be turned into profit. Soon, the local businessman’s club decided to print up fliers, to impress them at the bigger towns along the road leading uncertainly here. People would want to see the fine horse, held aloft by the man who bought him and loves him and carries him everywhere. Visitors need a reason to come visit. This wondrous horse could be a reason. Restaurants and Five and Dime stores could, it was proposed, harvest the unsuspecting gawkers; hot dog carts could call ahead to find out where the man might be going that day and strategically place themselves in advance, parking where unsuspecting voyeurs might linger. People 23
Ken Poyner attempting to measure the horseâ€”to harvest some of the nobility of that noble horse, to mark how the man is ennobled by such a burdenâ€”would be rife for the street vendors, the small store fronts, and even the larger establishments proudly displaying sidewalk hurdy-gurdies. We would honor the horse, and be sustained by the return on the depth of our appreciation. Our venture worked marvelously. People came, and the man walked through town and the horse looked regally past everyone, staring out of the lower half of his eyes, dropping his business when he felt like it, the extra height focusing gravity and making for a remarkable thud, and on special occasions a splatter. The man carried the horse at home as well, and some guests drove out to his place, parked street-side to wait for the man, just in case he decided to come out, pick up the horse that was left idle by the working class entry back door of the middle class farmette home, and then stride about the yard, or carry the special animal to the drab barn. One man would walk along the street, hawking coffee and treats, feeding the waiting congregation from a stash of day old brew and week old pastries that otherwise would go to waste. I suspect the man nearly stank of pride in that horse. He had chosen a good companion. We all thought better of the man for his excellent choice in horses. His family became the object of speculation. Was the man so gifted at selecting other opportunities, other creations as well? The caliber of men and boys seeking to date his daughter markedly improved, and the scenery where she became their working flesh saw an up tick in class and refinement: with her entire experience of each carnal event having a more appreciative and longer lead in; and being speckled with more patternless small talk, more follow through, and an occasional repeat performance. Our luck would not hold out forever. We do not know how old the horse was when the man bought him, but by the time the manâ€™s daughter had saddled her second husband, the horse was surely old, and though happy to be carried, nonetheless was approaching his 24
Ken Poyner expected expiration. And then one day he died. We do not know what of. Maybe a ruptured spleen or some malady associated with the pressure of a rough shoulder in his belly. One morning the man simply went to the barn to pull out the horse and get him up on his shoulder, to settle him into the groove of his long utilityâ€”and the horse was over and gone. All that nobility and regal bearing, that peerless haughtiness and lovingly languid disdain, reduced to horse flesh that would need to be expunged in the usual way. The town was sad and indignant and without answers, each citizen holding on to his now somewhat thinner shadow and feeling as though the special had been spirited out of our lives. The man was heartbroken. He seemed bent in burden. He bought three graves across in the municipal cemetery, then started to take donations for a monument. The entire town turned out for the funeral, if only to see the broken man, to watch him pass the hat. But the man still possessed his strength, his drive. And with his daughter no longer of riding age, he could, if he had the will to stagger on, make a selection of horse more appropriate to the use he had in mind for it. We could not tell in his demeanor what his character would countenance. There was a buzz of it. Old couples would opine on the manâ€™s options in the pre-sleep banter that years before would have been the prelude to industrial sex. Concern for the man would be the introductory line in young couplesâ€™ opening banter before their training sex. One pastor referenced it in a small, cautious corner of his Sunday service. From two towns over, the man bought a draft horse: a great monster of a beast, noticeably outweighing the original royal equine, and the lifting of which would be some feat. Broad shoulders and thick in the limbs, the working horse would require more blind skill of the man; but better demonstrate his mastery of balance, and of the communication between muscle and bone. It is rumored the animal had hauled barrels at a craft brewery, one of those places that revel in doing business in primitive ways, draft horse and all, as though the 25
Ken Poyner primitive alone were in any way ennobling. The horse had pulled a cart or a sled or some other impractical means to accomplish practical ends, and was eventually seen as an economic liability. On an average day, he hefted the horse, and strode into town and people moved out of his way. The horse sat calmly on his shoulder, head moving side to side, looking always down, eyes always down, his tail swishing the back of the man’s neck. The horse would neigh, and occasionally kick, rock forward or backward awkwardly: making the man artfully adjust, swing about in nearly inhuman ways, skillfully arrange himself in rapid and fickle gravities, and contort into geometries almost no other man could accomplish. The tourists stopped coming. The hot dog vendors returned to the strip outside of the fairgrounds. The coffee vendors went back to selling their wares as cheap contraband to children. Locals would nod, but not stop to talk. Everyone was pleasant to the man, but his fame slipped ever quicker away, like the heat of a candle in a cold room, or the wisdom of a man who ceases to learn. He walked about, and the horse simply hung alternately limp, alternately fidgety, looking like the brute force whose time had passed that this horse truly was. He fouled the street with the end of his digestion; he smelled of sleeping too late in straw that needed to be refreshed. He was the type of horse anyone might see if practical feats of dumb, brute strength had not been turned over to simple, lithe machines. Poor man. He could not understand this was no longer the same; that the reason for this attempt at art was insufficient. Townspeople began to think he carried a once good thing too far, and muttered as much under their breathing as he strode overburdened through town. His exertions were seen as unnecessary; and even his daughter asked him to stop. And so he stopped. And the horse milled about in the open spaces behind the man’s house and he survived, thinly, the first winter—the shadow of an opportunity laced into the clothing of a mystery—but not the second. 26
Ken Poyner He was put into the earth beyond the edge of the barn and quite possibly on someone elseâ€™s untended property, the lines sometimes being a bit confused given the inutility of the land. Done and done, before the first good freeze, when the earth would turn too hard and unbreakable for such humility. Done. And so much for that beaten and befuddled man. Perhaps it would have been better had he never learned to balance a horse at all.
Laura Madeline Wiseman
Horse-Apple maclura pomifera Your misunderstanding is you believe I am barb and wire, the crooked fence, swine-tight wall of wood, seeding the irregular line of land rooted in the grassland plains like rows of spines and spurs holding it all in place. What if youâ€™re not the master or namer of beasts your book commands, but the hard and fleshy fruit swaying in the tree? Not the hapless man who swallowed truth, but the heavy, yellow orb by which you fall?
Alexander McQueen Bop with Interviewer I’ve tried my best to get away from the Little Black Dress. That uniform makes mine eyes glaze over! How can you trust counterfeit elegance? There’s something ignorant in women who wear sparrows. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress. Waif who needs rescuing isn’t romance. I’ve seen naiveté I know what can happen. Someone’s life is burning from this world’s brutal kiss. I am/you are the voyeur/the mirror. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress. This is sartorial, but, O softness. O radiance. Leather, locusts, shells, fur The clothes I make don’t acquiesce. Here is the fang, the net, art of armor. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress. 29
Matthew Gavin Frank
Oaxaca Night Special Glasses In spaces we can’t see, so many of mystery moths wake up to the Mexican night—owlet, noctuid moths, future bat food, tucked into the crevices of the acacias. Drooling along this avenue named for Oaxaca’s early-1920s governor, Louisa and I try not to consider the things we can’t see—for this reason, we decide not to uncover a phone card, not to call Chicago, to maintain the tightness of the lid of our peanut butter jar world for a bit longer, to ignore the symbolism of Oaxaca’s many Ascalapha odorata—the hungry Black Witch moth, harbinger of death, mariposa de la muerte, the real evil attracted to our light bulbs, if only folklorically, rendering the mal de ojo Evil Eye superstition benign by comparison. The Aztecs named this malevolent moth, Miquipapalotl (Death Moth); the Mayans call it X-mahan-nail, or Borrowed House—its presence evoking the transience of our time on earth, or haphazard coffin-for-rent. Like me, these Death Moths love bananas. According to legend, should this moth fly into the home of a sick person, and visit all four corners of that person’s room, death is imminent. (In Oaxaca, we find that a popular moth-based joke stresses that if the Death Moth flies over a person’s head, baldness is imminent...). Oftentimes, in spite of their sixteen-centimeter wingspan, they are known to hide beneath people’s ears, attracted to the scent of rotting fruit and alcohol (a perfume which Louisa and I may very well be bearing, given our diet over the past few days). July 15, 2003, Brush Freeman of the Lepidopterist’s Society witnessed, in Texas, thousands of Black Witch Death Moths lazing in perfect I-Told-You-So fashion in the eye of Hurricane Claudette. Scientists believed these moths, having just emerged from their pupal state, hitched a ride when the hurricane made a rest stop along the Yucatan Peninsula. The only other instance of more than five Black Witches found in a single location in 2004 involved hundreds sighted in Grand Isle, 30
Matthew Gavin Frank Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, a region along the Gulf Coast plain that, strangely, does not have much in the way of food plants that would typically attract these beasts. The initial sighting report was dated June 15, 2004, Night, and the moths remained in the area, in abnormally large numbers, until approximately August 23rd. Exactly one year later, to the day, Hurricane Katrina collected herself over the Bahamas. Katrina, only a few days later, entered Louisiana via Grand Isle, ripping the island to shreds, severing it from the mainland by destroying its only connective bridge. One can imagine the residual Black Witches—the ones who didn’t flee, but stuck around, self-sacrificial, to check out their handiwork—driven to the sidewalks in Katrina’s winds, downed like tiny drops of mashed potato with wings anchored into them, shuddering like tiny sails, losing their powder to the weather they conjured. Harbinger of death, indeed... As such, many folklorists tie the Black Witch to the Book of Genesis and the Great Flood, and the survivors who, speaking a cornucopia of languages, migrated to Babylon and began to build their great tower. In fact, the Book of Genesis is believed to possess what has been dubbed by pictographologists as The Moth Code, revealing hidden secrets about the true natures of good and evil. Further, in Genesis 2:16, Adam is warned that if he should eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, he will, according to the Hebrew, moth tamuth, or “die a death.” Around us, many of the shops closed for the night, the oncebright stucco becomes antagonistic, the wind carrying the secret codes of all linguistics. Overhead the clouds seem to thicken. In my hand, perhaps due to this over-thinking of all things deluge, Louisa’s fingers feel more wet than usual, in a sticky sort of way. Chugging along García Vigil, our mouths lighting their own tiny vigil votives for our fallen tlayuda dinner, the light of them perhaps stirring the Death Moths from their rest, Louisa must notice it too, for she pulls her hand from mine to reveal a palm-full of blood. We should be surprised at this sign, but somehow, here, post evening bacchanalia, it seems, in these trees and flowers who must certainly be warriors and soothsayers, oracles and sacrificial lambs 31
Matthew Gavin Frank reincarnate—Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Spaniard—the ghosts and grandghosts and great-grand-ghosts of the region, Louisa’s impromptu bloody hand seems par for the course, burning bush, water from Moses’ rock. Oaxaca itself must embody the special glasses through which we can decipher the world’s secret codes. Still, this innate acceptance doesn’t prevent me from uttering (yes: merely uttering) a downright too-calm, “What the fuck?” Louisa answering with a drowsy, “Shit...” “What happened?” I ask. “I have no idea,” she says, but there it is, a ragged gash along her right pointer, going infected yellow-green at its borders already, coughing blood. Allergic, my left pocket perennially housing a wad of clean tissues (or toilet paper), my right housing the soiled variety, I dip my hand to my pants. I reach for the left and Louisa twists the Hotel Las Golondrinas’ so-thin-it’s-transparent shit paper around her finger like junkyard hospital jewelry. Overhead, crow morphs back into swallow, swallow into Black Witch, and suddenly, all flying things seem to disappear, hibernating the day away until they can hang in the cloak of night from our ears, whispering to us of our deaths by mystery gash and cancer, blood poisoning and hurricane. Trying to find our way, any way, back to Las Golondrinas and the smiling antidote of The Perm at the front desk, and garden and trees and birds, we pass a cavernous restaurant, now closed, serving, at dinnertime, six different moles, and further, a tiny closet of a bar advertising live music. Par for the course: The crooked sign over its doorway reads La Nueva Babel. We’re Not in Ipanema Anymore Just as the colors of the out-of-body experience are purple and orange, our blood is red, as evidenced by Louisa’s finger as it keeps opening and closing like a midnight-snack-seeking microbial refrigerator door—lighting up the things on the walls that don’t at this hour, want to be seen—domestic cockroaches, a stopped clock—the moon is 32
Matthew Gavin Frank black and white, resembling tonight some fish-out-of-water Humphrey Bogart finally losing his cool, and our drinks in the middle-ofthe-night blue stage-lights of La Nueva Babel bear the shade of some Ty-De-Bol ghost plumbing. Louisa and I sit cramped in the tiny back room of this breadbasket bar, the three-piece as-advertised flamenco-tango trio cramped even further onto a stage the size of a loveseat, the standing-room-only bar area filling up on the other side of the passageway to our right—the passageway that is now blocked with the hip night crowd swaying, this inebriated fire hazard of people pressing, like some Indiana Jones booby trap, closer and closer to us, until we will, most certainly, be pressed like oranges from our tiny backless stools at the foot of the stage, to the opposite wall. Through the sipping and howling and elbowing and rump-shaking, the band plays a music that tickles the thermostat upward with a satanically painted fingernail, and Louisa shouts something about sweat into my ear. Indeed, there is something decidedly sweaty about this music, all Stan Getz filtered through a soiled gym sock—somehow cleaner and much, much dirtier at the same time, as if here, in the New Babel, sweat is the new bubble-bath, cleaning him of everything, however small, that made him angelic. Guitar, keyboard, and drum conjure him, all samba’d-out and closed-eyed, along with Antonio Carlos Jobim, the two of them doe-see-doe-ing unexpectedly in the cigarette smoke over our heads. The trio—the guitar player short, stocky, and broken-nosed, resembling, according to Louisa, me, extracting his notes with thick fingers, thick arms drooping from black rolled-up sleeves, his dark bangs hanging like epaulet fringe from his black beret; the young, perhaps still teenage, keyboardist, concealing his youth beneath the brim of a grandfatherly white fedora with red silk hat band, headbanging in slow motion as he, with his knotted ropes of arms evokes a music as swirling as The Starry Night, if van Gogh were some Aztec ghost hell bent on revenge, the blue light of the room giving way to its own end and subsequent rebirth in a sound that’s first-cousin to 33
Matthew Gavin Frank FLUSH!; the sultry drummer in white tank undershirt, multicolored beads threaded into his armpit hair, his head-hair loose and long, squashed into the rear of the stage, room enough only for one multi-tonal drum pad, and a drum speaker box, on which he sits, spread-legged, playing at least two different sounds on the surface just beneath his cock—all of them confident enough to fix their gazes on the crowd, first one person, then another, until the audience, each in each, Louisa and I included, are forced to look away, sip from our glasses, then look right back, safe again. Into their pants, the “Girl from Ipanema” surely sneaks, kissing their asses, 1-2-3, with her tongue. Over our heads, the bottom corners brushing our scalps, a paper poster advertising a future show, featuring the jazz funk band Sutra, bears a video game rendition of George W. Bush, a Xeroxed shoe flying at his head, a faux ad for the new Nintendo Wii game, Zapatilla. The bare arms of the men and women at the neighboring table caress our own and, as the room fills, our shoulders touch, our knees, our ribcages, our bodies shivering against those of so many others as we move like snakes slithering in place, to the music. The drummer, eliciting some serious bass thumps from his crotch-box, wags his tongue at the crowd, at Louisa, at me, the silver stud at its center emblazoned with—I have to squint in this light to really see— either a crucifix, or a naked woman sunbathing, or a Speedo’d body builder flexing his biceps. The guitar player spins like Beat It Era Michael Jackson and I can see Louisa checking out his rear end, the keyboardist caught in his endless rhythm of headbang and writhe, headbang and writhe, headbang and writhe, headbang and writhe... The music drops and drops, water spitting from a half-clogged cheap motel, room-by-the-hour showerhead, the barely dressed girls at the room’s rear standing in from of the open barred window, through which blows the scent of firework gunpowder, and the rank white-green blooms of some ornamental pear tree, stinking of old sperm, but still, somehow, in the face, or lap, of this twelve-beat meter, making everyone’s pants jump. Jumping with the rest, I dip my 34
Matthew Gavin Frank face to my snifter of Mezcal Tobalá, the ancient and rare Zapotec wild mountain elixir (originally called Duub-Bá-Lá, or housed maguey— maguey that grows like truffles in the shade of oak trees), whose mere mention in these parts inspires people to swoon and touch, with their fingers, their hearts or mouths, and sip, the rich tobacco honey of the stuff breaking over my ringless tongue with the seafoam of cinnamon, mango, the musk of mythological deer. Louisa drinks long into her glass of vino caliente, hot red wine spiced with orange peel and clove, and touches my thigh without breaking eye contact with the trio. The rhythm builds—tertiary, binary, tertiary, binary, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12—the frequency jumps, and in this new pitch, the guitar player steps out of his shoes, an elastic, braless girl wraps her long arms around Louisa and me, breathing heat into our ears. The keyboardist rocks like shock therapy, the drummer nearly doing the splits, his tongue uncontainable now, his hands so fast they blur into the smoke. Stan Getz rips away the Loincloth of Death, tosses his saxophone to where my dead musician grandfather can reach it and tries, and fails, poor, horny spirit, to sip from my rarefied glass. Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, the original A Garota de Ipanema, surely lurks in the bar-back smoke, ready to inflame Getz further with the stretched sequined garter and white teeth of the still-alive and still-sexy. Into his microphone the guitar player utters the only vocable of the evening thus far, the low static, sick-cow vibration of the letter V, held between his upper teeth and lower lip, breath-forced into the room until our glasses rattle, VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV... as the instruments begin screaming at one another, this dysfunctional sonic family, now coming together, making up, group-hugging with fingers crossed behind their backs, holding just enough acid to ignite the next song, and...OUT! The music cuts in a burst, I believe my eardrums may have exploded, the tiny hammers losing their heads, and in the brief silence before the clap, the girl leaves us, but her breath, like the pear tree, endures, other bodies charge into us like canned sardines making for the kitchen light at the end of the tunnel, and Louisa’s swallows her hot wine and mouths, Wow. 35
Matthew Gavin Frank The applause is the stuff of an air-raid, of pissed-off stormcloud, and I wonder if the gods have stuffed plugs into their ears, watching over us on MUTE, wondering themselves if in this strange human ceremony, hand coupling hard with other hand, we are trapped in ovation or some kind of violent prayer; if, there is, in the face of New Babel tango-flamenco, any real difference between the two at all. Hard Penis, Soft Astronomy We stumble beneath the streetlights, their gauzy orange conferring with the stucco facades, which are finally, at this hour—nearly 2am—dimming their colors. Two fireworks duke it out in the distance and we are one step closer to sobriety and sunrise. Before unlocking the door to our room, we bushwhack through the thick of the garden to the protests of the leaves and the swallows, find, hidden among the foliage, an iron spiral staircase, its entry barred by a locked fence. Beneath Andrómeda and la espada de Orión, we press our bodies through the bars and spiral to the open rooftop. * At the risk of shoving frilly science up into the crannies of an even frillier “We are stardust, we are golden” view of ourselves, we are, if not golden, indeed stardust. Perhaps our seemingly outsized interest (and outsized budgetary spending) in space exploration when, as detractors so often wail, We need to fix the problems here on Earth first!, lies in the astronomical/evolutionary theory that we human beings, derive, in part, from the stars, making space exploration just another example of our self-interest. According to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (which of course means their members likely derive from, or are former, hippie U.S. West Coasters—and we all know how they are...), “Astronomers today believe that a large fraction of the atoms in our bodies were 36
Matthew Gavin Frank once inside stars that became supernovae, and that they were ‘launched’ into the universe when these stars exploded. Furthermore, we believe the explosions of supernovae have flooded the Galaxy with high-energy radiation that probably contributed to the radiation background that produces mutation and drives the evolution of life on Earth. Also, in recent years, we have found intriguing evidence that the formation of our own solar system may well have been triggered by a nearby supernova more than five billion years ago.” We are, literally, stardust. These scientists further stress that the hemoglobin in our blood carries the very same iron atoms that once belonged to now-dead type 1A supernovae, which themselves resulted from the violent explosions of white dwarf stars (which we all know were companions to the Bullet Star, which may or may not have had something to do with Kennedy’s death, but had everything to do with his life, it seems). Early Aztec stargazers associated various constellations, including what we now call Orion’s sword, with Quetzalcoatl’s erection. According to Elizabeth Hill Boone’s translation of the mid-sixteenth century Aztec Magliabechiano Codex, a pictorial exegesis of religious and cosmological beliefs, Quetzalcoatl “washed his hands and then touched his penis and caused semen to drop on a rock. A bat grew from this union of semen and rock who other gods sent to bite the flower goddess Xochiquetzal. This bat bit off a piece of her vagina while she was sleeping and took it to the gods. They then washed it and from the water that was spilled came forth flowers that smelled bad. This same bat took the flesh to Mictlantecuhtli [Quetzalcoatl’s father and Lord of the Place of the Dead] where he washed the piece of flesh and the water that he used brought forth sweet smelling flowers the Indians called xochitls.” Brian Swann’s translation of the myth of Quetzalcoatl, from the sixteenth-century Aztec recorded by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, furthers the connection. In order to ignite his own cosmic resurrection, Quetzalcoatl whips out his own penis and wags it in the face of godly-Death, implying triumph and rebirth. It is believed that the 37
Matthew Gavin Frank Aztecs, in honor of this moment, “erected” a giant stone phallus, which has yet to be unearthed. About said phallus, which the devout believe was built by Quetzalcoatl himself, Sahagún’s recording stresses, “They say that anyone might have once pushed it with his little finger. It had indeed been set in motion, rocking back and forth. Yet, they say, when many pushed it, then it absolutely would not move. Though many together might make the effort, desiring to push it, it could not be moved.” Talk about the power of the individual! Must be all that star dreck in our bones. Swann further speculates, “...lastly, the hero [Quetzalcoatl] exhibits his erect penis, as he does also in another version of the Quetzalcoatl myth, one of almost equal poetic merit, in which at the moment of victory over death we encounter the double entendre [worthy of Three’s Company, AC/DC, and the like], acoquiza in iyollo quetzaltototl, translated (1) “the heart of the quetzal rose upward,” or (2) “the inner part of the precious penis rose upward” becoming, if we are to connect the dots, a constellation with whom we share our atoms, our origins. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific leaves out the penis parts of the story, but believes that denser elements, such as gold, exist on earth due to the same exploding supernovae that belched Louisa and me onto this planet and onto this Oaxaca City hotel rooftop, which was of course created by folks who were similarly belched. So, fuck it: I hate to admit, but Joni Mitchell was right—we’re golden too. Exhausted, we glance upward at the stars and reach vaguely for our crotches with one hand, our chests with the other, squinting to notice the connective tissue between them—the cosmos, the gods and goddesses, genitalia and the heart (which linguistically, depending on the translation, are the same thing), the mix of shit that birthed us. In the sky above, in our middle heartbeats, and in our pants below, our ancestors are screaming answers, but we can’t hear them over the night-birds and bats, moths and grasshoppers, our own stardust blood. We stand into the night at the level of the iglesia bell-towers which will in a few hours be ringing, the lights of the city sprawling 38
Matthew Gavin Frank into the ether, over mountains and into valleys, spilling orange and orange as a workhorse. Up here, the things buried into the earth commune, electrically, with the things that fly over it, all bone and flying saucer, red wine and spiced milk. The wind tonight, panspermiatic, sways us like ships’ masts, all of our ballroom astrobiology concentrating at the tips of our tongues which, as passengers themselves, can only, in the face of it, at rooftop level, kiss and eat and kiss and eat. We falsify our memories (one of the primary benefits of the night), we star-children and thereby distant cousins of the Black Witch moth, the bat, the grasshopper, the god prick and goddess pussy, and the swallow, the garden courtyard in which the swallows sleep, the ancients who killed the swallows for their medicine and eye-stones—the same swallows who, in a stunning tweet of in-your-face bitchery, forsook Hernán Cortés, live, like all dead things, inside of us, connecting us— me to you, you to Newton, day to night. About the latter, Louisa says, “It’s beautiful,” and she’s right, about all of it, as we balance, on two feet each, above the earth, stare out over the spines of Oaxaca’s roofs, the clay shingles downturned, giving way to the red light of a distant radio tower, blinking to warn the planes.
Louvre, September 2010 Glass erupts out of stone as I’m walking, following Edith’s red turban skimming across cobblestones, see Thursday’s half-moon caught in a cage. What I didn’t know: the best light in Paris glimmers underground. I am ready to worship with moles. I slip wafers of glass under my tongue, carry it with me—light, and the silver hippo tooth, the star the last king of France ate before they cut off his head to display it, the scarab beetle, hash marks on its belly spelling out a secret name for god.
Teow Lim Goh
Island Before I was born, the sea rolled up to my grandparentsâ€™ house, but the view I knew was the strip of asphalt beyond the barbed wire. The garden was overgrown with mango, guava, and jackfruit we picked ripe off the branches, the sole rambutan that could not bear fruit, the coconut decaying from within. I caught butterflies. I flicked my wrist, pressed their small brown wings. They left skeins of powder on my fingers. Then I let them go. I imagined the sea rose and flooded the garden. The coconut fell and bobbed in the waves, too dry and hard to eat, the shell broken only by a knife.
cadence like an upside down question mark, dot over jig i row over the hook of river to the groan. over the deadly ding-dong dittyâ€™s disconnected bark into the swindled heart beat of a poem.
At Thirty-Seven, In Bed From this world pulling through the eye of a needle I have learned to make myself very small. I have learned to adjust the ways I love like a cross-country clock, its bird trail of shacks and hot pink freeways, gassy patches of artichokes whose tiny cities boil all night with what isnâ€™t broken yet. I have learned to be frightened of how much I donâ€™t care. Epic planetary entanglements can carry on their hot jealousies, their soapy intercourses in this big dark mouth, and I am worried about my face. I cannot see it. I cannot see it. What I love in my way is sleep and my inability to fail within it. I am a pilot whale, I am a white chair, in the plastic box of sewing needles, I am every one. In the apricot room of my ear, there is peace and tranquility. Having written this I remember that I have been courageous, that the gifted spaces of silvery light and the radial trill of a fat-assed California from this world spins another one behind my breastbone and I feed it with what time I have left. That hours are flat, ugly things. I want to be touched in the beery industrial glare of now. I want to love with effervescence and fortitude, the way a pinwheel minds a big wind.
In Name of Violence name me one of the dead or nothing
without thinking the tragedyâ€™s victims seem like fever dreams you know that happened
except you in a bed for years alone enough
you wake up hollowed too much a barren absorbing the ichor to bake this bread
if we count then we count we do not add we do not count
our thoughts enough bodies separate silently anything but a maelstrom names as something else
our bodies let them be as nothing we can name
our flourishing ardors vicious with one another weâ€™ve known ourselves ourselves a type of violence
First and Last Day The nurse on the phone was frantic. I rolled out of bed; it was after midnight. When I walked down the stairs, my phone rang. I assured her again: I would arrive in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in less than twenty minutes. I drove to the hospital, retrieved my echo machine, and walked to the NICU. The walk to the NICU was the longest portion, and in the middle of the night, after the third phone call, I ran, pushing my machine the size of a washer/dryer unit as fast as I could safely take the corners. As the nurses and doctor tried to get IV access on this tiny patient, I booted up my machine. I phoned the physician who I was on call with, but he didn’t answer. I washed my hands for thirty seconds, the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”; they got access, my machine was up, the baby was small and grayish-purple. I asked questions to the air, receiving answers from whomever was in earshot, as I put ultrasound gel on our tiniest probe, the 12 MHz transducer. Think of the classic number two pencil. Now turn it around so you can write with the eraser. A stone settled in my gut when I saw the problem: there were two good-sized pulmonary arteries exiting the heart, but the pulmonary valve itself didn’t develop. Blood couldn’t move from the right ventricle to the pulmonary arteries, taking used blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The patent ductus arteriosus, a structure open in utero, should close within the first twenty-four hours. Here, the blood was going across it in the wrong direction, the only way this baby was still alive, and this lifeline was shrinking with each passing minute. Not enough oxygen was getting into the bloodstream, which was why the baby was the wrong color. I called my physician again. And again. And again. I rested my phone on my machine, so I could see any new text. 45
Katie Stine I knew the problem. I told the NICU nurses, and they retrieved the neonatologist. She asked questions about what we could do. I answered the best I could, but in order for all of this to be legal, to act on what I had discovered, I had to get my physician on the phone. I called another doctor in our practice, hurriedly apologizing, explaining, I needed that piece of paper that hung on his wall, the letters after his name. He got to the NICU quickly, in scrubs, pleasant and alert, despite the time. He confirmed my findings. They gave her medicine, prostaglandins, to keep her PDA open, but it didn’t work. We took more pictures, documenting the shrinking of her lifeline. She failed repeatedly, and the nurses and doctors gave bicarb and epinephrine to keep her alive. I took pictures again and again, a crowd of us at the bedside hoping for the prostaglandins to take hold and make a difference. But it didn’t. There are only small windows in the unit, high up on the walls, and when the overhead lights are on, day and night are indistinguishable. Her mother was still in an outlying hospital. There wasn’t any family within fifty miles of here. And she wasn’t going to make it. She was blue now, a terrible color in a person. The neonatologist asked my doctor if they could get her to a surgical center now, would she live? They gave more medicine. He had already been on the phone to Atlanta; they were willing, but the baby had to be stable for the forty-five minute flight. But she wasn’t. The nurses disconnected all of the IVs. They put her pink knit cap on her head and swaddled her tightly, expertly. Her nurse picked her up and nestled into the recliner they keep bedside for breastfeeding mothers. All of the nurses gathered, all laying their hands on this baby, cradled in the nurse’s arms, not yet one day old. They bent their heads and said a non-specific prayer, sending their collective love to this tiny, dying person. They removed their 46
Katie Stine hands, leaving to tend the other babies in the unit. The babies that might still live. The babyâ€™s nurse held her until she took her last breath. It didnâ€™t take long. I checked my phone. It took me fourteen minutes from the first phone call to take the first picture of the babyâ€™s heart. There was nothing for me to do. I went home and cried. There were so many what-ifs. What if she had been born closer to our hospital? What if we had gotten her on that fixed-wing and flown her to Atlanta anyway? But I knew the answers, sitting cold and hard, like pits in a hopeful fruit. We did what we could, and in the end, the nurses gathered, calling to them the best powers they had: they loved her in her last moments. To be so comforted, to be so loved; we spend a lifetime to achieve what she had on her first and last day.
Contributors Cara Armstrong Cara Armstrong is the illustrator and author of Moxie the Dachshund of Fallingwater and the tri-lingual Counting with Cats who Dream/Compte avec les Chats qui Revent/Contando con Gatos que Suenan. A visiting Assistant Professor at Norwich University in the School of Architecture + Art, she is currently working on The 15th Letter, a chapbook of poems and companion paintings.
Rebecca Boyd Rebecca Boyd received her MFA from Benningtonâ€™s low-residency program and has been a fiction editor for Post Road Magazine since its inception in 1999. Her work has been published in Harvard Review, Mississippi Review, The Sun, Pif, and elsewhere. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Mathew Gavin Frank Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of the nonfiction books Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, Pot Farm, and Barolo; the poetry books The Morrow Plots, Warranty in Zulu, and Sagittarius Agitprop; and two chapbooks. His essay collection/cookbook, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through Americaâ€™s Food, is forthcoming November 2015 from W.W. Norton: Liveright. He teaches at Northern Michigan University where he is the nonfiction editor of Passages North. This winter, he tempered his gin with two droplets (per 750ml) of tincture of odiferous whitefish liver. For health.
Bob Garner Bob Garner is a retired assembly line and foundry worker, bookseller, songwriter, poet and visual artist. He studied art and art history at Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles and Lake Tahoe Community College, and art and creative writing at CSU, Chico, where he received a BA in Art in 1992. Bob has had poems and prose published in a variety of journals including Watershed Review, Painted Hills Review, Contrapposto, Brevities, California Quarterly, CNR, Re: Home and, most recently, Travelogue for Two: Poems by Sanford and Friends, an anthology (QuickBooks Press, 2014).
Teow Lim Goh Teow Lim Gohâ€™s poetry, essays, and criticism have appeared or are forthcoming in PANK, Pilgrimage, Winter Tangerine Review, The Rumpus, Guernica, and Open Letters Monthly, among other publications. She has completed a manuscript of poems regarding the Angel Island Immigration Station.
Rae Gouirand Rae Gouirandâ€™s first collection of poetry, Open Winter, was selected by Elaine Equi for the 2011 Bellday Prize, won a 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award, and the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award, and was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, the Audre Lorde Award, and the California Book Award for poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Columbia, Seneca Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and many other journals, as well as two recent volumes of the Best New Poets series. An adjunct lecturer in the Department of English at University of California, Davis, Creative Nonfiction Editor for California Northern Magazine, and Director of the Keywords Workshop for teen writers at the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center, she lives in Davis, California. 49
Jennifer Gravley Jennifer Gravley makes her way in Columbia, Missouri. She is a writer of sentences and a watcher of bad television. Her work has recently appeared in North American Review, Heron Tree, and Sweet, among others.
Alicia Hoffman Originally from Pennsylvania, Alicia Hoffman now lives, writes, and teaches in Rochester, New York. Author of Like Stardust in the Peat Moss (Aldrich Press, 2013), her poems have appeared in a variety of journals, and have recently been included in Radar Poetry, Word Riot, One Throne Magazine, Rust + Moth, A Minor Magazine, Redactions, Hermeneutic Chaos, and elsewhere. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she holds an MFA in Poetry from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.
Ann Stewart McBee Ann Stewart McBee was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She graduated with a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she taught undergraduate composition, creative writing and literature, and served as an editor for Cream City Review. She has published fiction and poetry in Ellipsis, Untamed Ink, So to Speak, Citron Review, Blue Earth Review, Palaver and At Length, among others. She now teaches English at Des Moines Area Community College, and lives outside Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and a smelly terrier. Her unpublished novel, Veiled Men, is looking for a home.
Zackary Medlin Zackary Medlin was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, but currently resides in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is a recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Project award and holds a MA and MFA from the 50
University of Alaska Fairbanks. His work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review and Almost Five Quarterly.
Nicole Stellon O’Donnell Nicole Stellon O’Donnell is the author of Steam Laundry. She has received fellowships from the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, Brevity, Passages North, and other journals. During the winter of 2016, she traveled to India on a Fulbright to research poetry instruction in Indian schools. She teaches incarcerated teenagers in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Natalie Peeterse Natalie Peeterse has an MFA from the University of Montana. Her poetry has appeared in Blackbird, Sonora Review and Strange Machine, among other journals. Selected poems have appeared in the anthologies A Cadence of Hooves (Yarroway Mountain Press) and I Go to the Ruined Place (Lost Horse Press). Her chapbook Black Birds : Blue Horse, An Elegy won the Gold Line Press Poetry Prize in 2011. She has been a fellow with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a participant at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and an artist in residence at the Caldera Institute. She lives in Missoula, MT.
Ken Poyner Ken Poyner has lately been seen in Analog, Café Irreal, Cream City Review, The Journal of Microliterature, and many wonderful places. His latest book of short fiction, Constant Animals, is available from his website, www.kpoyner.com, and from www.amazon.com. He is married to Karen Poyner, one of the world’s premier power lifters, and holder of more than a dozen current world powerlifting records. They are the parents of four rescue cats and assorted self-satisfied fish. 51
Katy Rossing Katy Rossing lives and writes in Tuscaloosa, where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama’s MFA program.
Rikki Santer Rikki Santer’s work has appeared in various publications including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Margie, Slab, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, and The Main Street Rag. Two of her published chapbooks have explored place: Front Nine and Kahiki Redux. Clothesline Logic was published by Pudding House as a finalist in their national chapbook competition, and her most recent book, Fishing for Rabbits, was published by Kattywompus Press.
Clint Smith Clint Smith is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University and has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and was a speaker at the 2015 TED Conference. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in American Literary Review, Harvard Educational Review, Mason’s Road, Off the Coast, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in New Orleans, LA.
Nessa Sonoquie Neesa Sonoquie received her B.A. in English with a Minor in Creative Writing and a Certificate in Literary Editing and Publishing at California State University, Chico, and recently earned an M.F.A. in Poetry at Portland State University. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon with her cat Jezebel and spends her time working a handful of ever-changing jobs while continuing to indulge in the joys of reading and the trouble of writing. And she is definitely not a hipster. 52
Katie Stine Katie Stine received her MFA from University of Alaska, Anchorage. She has published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in publications such as The Anchorage Daily News, The Anchorage Press, The Peralta Press, Occam’s Razor, Atlanta City Mag, and The Coe Review. A short film she wrote and starred in, “How To Be Sexy,” was shown at the film fest, Film & Her in March 2016. She also appeared in a documentary “Bouncing the Well,” from January 2016. She is currently writing two very different novels, The Square Grand and A Lady’s Glass.
Valerie Wallace Poet, editor, and teacher, Valerie Wallace was born in California and lives in Chicago. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wallace is an editor at RHINO and on the advisory board of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. She was selected for the Atty Award by Margaret Atwood and has received an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award and the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference Poetry Award. Her chapbook, The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping, is available from Dancing Girl Press.
Laura Madeline Wiseman Laura Madeline Wiseman’s books are Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience, Queen of the Platform, and Sprung. She is also the author of the collaborative book, Intimates and Fools, with artist Sally Deskins, two letterpress books, and eight chapbooks, including Spindrift. She is the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence.
This anthology is the culminating project for English 315: Introduction to Editing and Publishing. Curated from the previous digital issues...
Published on May 10, 2017
This anthology is the culminating project for English 315: Introduction to Editing and Publishing. Curated from the previous digital issues...