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[

We still like Number

of an edition of

100

WSL Books / Oakland, California

]


We Still Like / Almost Managing Editor & Designer: Sarah Ciston Editorial Board: Tupelo Hassman, LJ Moore, Tye Pemberton Screenprinter: Helene Poulshock Publicity: Kate Regan Intern: Lois Smith Publishers: Chris Pedler & Sarah Ciston Printed in Oakland, California www.WeStillLike.com


Dear Reader What can we expect […?] Everything, but we won’t get it. — Frank O’Hara, “Personism: A Manifesto”

W

e almost always leave this letter for last. At this writing (now then, of course, but in that old now), the issue is almost complete, so tantalizingly close to finished that its future already stretches before it. Still, it does not yet exist. We could stop right now and it wouldn’t be — this is the incomprehensible power of Almost. All our contributors’ ceaseless toiling and all our ceaseless-except-for-copious-coffee-breaks efforts would be for nothing. The issue would stay locked away, awaiting its finish forever. Yet here you are, dear reader, (in the new now) reading this — so it seems Almost must have stretched itself further towards its shining future and made contact. We’re as surprised as you are. You’d think each issue would get easier; you’d think we’d be seasoned pros by now. But the obstacles seemed taller and broader this time. Our momentum flagged as the novelty wore off and the debt set in. Part of this was good, the effects of We Still Like growing into a “real” magazine. But suddenly: Pressure. Expectation. Budgets and errands and business cards and business all reared their ugly heads. It freaked us out. We were having commitment issues. We were taking ourselves too seriously. We were becoming exactly what we created this publication to oppose. And seriously: Who ever thought we’d get this far? When every obstacle felt more Sisyphean than the last, it seemed merely realistic to expect this was the boulder that wouldn’t make it. We joked the magazine was not bi-annual but TRY-annual, as in, we’re lucky if it gets made at all. This way, we could keep plugging away, that boulder made a little lighter with a hundred what-ifs. On our mission to make the best magazine that would never be,


we could allow ourselves to embrace the imperfections and hesitations necessary to pay homage to the incomplete. While we were imagining the issue we would have made if we had made an issue, an issue appeared. The magazine finished itself. You’ll see as you read, all those Almosts have been turned in the sharp lathe of time and come out whole — less but more. The Almost-ness of our selections completes them. We must keep re-learning this lesson: If we aren’t careful, we’ll get too careful. We’ll become too exacting, demanding, unthankful. The hard work of Almost returns us to humble roots, to watering seeds and finding what magic grows from dirt. All that planning and fixating and taking ourselves seriously had been nothing but avoidance, a morbid wish to leap past the limbo of living, as if we knew what lay beyond. All we really know is we can’t afford to skip it. Such shortcuts miss everything: Almost shivers. It is the space covered by objects shifting in a quake. It is the offset of your two eyes, the difference that creates depth. It is the how-close and the only-so-close we can get to one another — what is near and missed. Almost is the most tantalizing part, a sliver of skin scalloped between lace, almost impossible. Almost is Mad Libs and Zeno’s paradox: the gap yet to be crossed, forever shrinking, never closing. Almost is the every-other-place you could focus your effort and attention, the other lives you’d live if you lived differently. Almost is the raw material that makes up every choice. This time, once again, we choose We Still Like, and we’re ohso-incredibly glad you have, too. Please enjoy this Almost issue, this Issue We Would Have Made If We Had Made the Issue issue, this Double Issue — full of both what it is and what it isn’t. Turn the page. You’re almost there. Most of all, Sarah & Chris


everything almost Dear Reader. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 We Still Like Data. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83

Artifacts + Investigations Idea for a Halloween Costume, 1987. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Portrait of My Uncle Kaz. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Giants of North Beach. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Dave Merson-Hess Almost. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Meagan Cavanaugh If Only Writers Were Actually Anti-Social. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Seriously. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Molly Prentiss The Medicine Wheel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Mary Jo Fisher Cover Letter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Ali Lanzetta Symbolism Will Kill Me, Eventually. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Kate Regan Stories in the Possible Making. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Nathalie Boisard-Beudin Give a Monkey a Gibson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 Ralph Burrillo The First Time I Kissed a Girl I Almost Died. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Brian Houska Almost Cinema. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Tavia Stewart-Streit All of This Happened, and More. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 Jenna Bowers The Almost Lives of Tavia Stewart-Streit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .105 Tavia Stewart-Streit


poetry + Prose Almost. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Kim McQuaite Wing Chair. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Andrew R. Touhy omg, the valley! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Chris Pedler Winter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Zulema Renee Summerfield Southbound. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Lauren Quinn We Almost Stayed Young But Then We Got Old . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Molly Prentiss Guidelines for Wandering. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Sarah Ciston Ruin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Augustine Blaisdell Almost Honest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Rachel Witt The Trip. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Suzanne Kleid Three Sapphics (from Negative Fragments) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Rose Haynes Gravity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Dan Sanders Momentum and Matter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Elizabeth Nolan Brown Quake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 Susanna Kittredge Box Set. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .84 Tupelo Hassman the sky, a theater. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88 Jason Rosten


]



[almost a robot]

Dave Merson-Hess spends most of his time composing music for independent films, some of which have screened at Northwest Film Forum, Big Screen Project and the Guggenheim Bilbao.

[ Idea for Halloween Costume, 1987


] made up. Her favorite planet is Earth because it’s home and looks friendly in pictures.

Meagan Cavanaugh prefers things that are

Almost (noun) As in, the most of all; al- being the moment of completion, of the task being finished and the day being done. You will be able to sleep. You will wake the next morning and move to the next thing and your life shall continue in small, forward steps to a destination not on a map but a good one nonetheless.

[

(verb) Al-most; to lie in bed and wonder, “Why was it not done?”; to get up the next morning and do the things of your day with an immeasurable weight from yesterday. Alternate Usage In mathematics, almost is the sum of all time after that moment where al- was not created. If you’re lucky, the al- will present itself and you’ll hop out of bed in your night cap and you will do it. The next day the sun will smile down on you and you’ll smile back and things will be just sunny. But other times, the al- is a bitch. It changes. It winks and smirks and hides and bides so you can’t get it. This can last for an indeterminate amount of time.



[almost defined]


Kim McQuaite, with his poem, has moved from almost published to the actuality. Stunned at acceptance, he has nothing further to say.

[

ALMOST Almost is most of all. Mostly all might be almost But also some. The sum of some and almost might be all. But might fall short.

]

Mostly, Almost is most all, but not. Almost is unabsolute, phantom, a point on a continuum determined by context; Some Law, Almost. Almost is in-un-dis: unfecund, unfruition, unfulfilled, unmanifested, infertile, disconceived. Almost falls short: It shorts ALL, placates with MOST. But most of all, Almost Is epitaph or exhortation: Almost is almost.

[almost is]




] Andrew R. Touhy is pleased he’s still liked.

Among others who’ve liked him are Web Conjunctions, New American Writing and The Collagist.

WING CHAIR

H

[

e lay there opening and closing his eyes on the room, trying to recall what he’d committed to memory last night, something he’d wanted to remember, so badly, that he told himself to memorize it before drifting off, so that come morning it would be there, fresh in mind, on the tip of his waking tongue so to speak. What, he couldn’t say. It was simply gone. Yet why hadn’t he, if remembering was that important, just got up to write it down? Scribbled the words in the dim halo of lamplight, on the palm of his hand if nowhere else? The room had been darker than usual; no moon behind the window blinds, no ghostly brightening of their sheer linen. The blunted shape of the bed and his body under the covers stretched before him, dark, the walls and floor black as chasms. And cold. What lay beyond the door, the heavy old apartment at large, empty: kitchen, bath and water closet, the study, all absent of human activity, energy, warmth. Just the thought of his frenzied search for a pencil or pen and paper (these he seemed incapable more than unwilling to keep at the ready) had been too much to bear: the feel of the rough walls under his groping hands; beat of his bare feet (absurdly mouselike in the silence) down the long narrow hall; floorboards squeaking before each doorway, where he would hesitate needlessly, considering whether or not to switch on a light, until he reached the study, his desk, startled himself with a light, then opened one drawer after another… All so late at night — early morning in fact…earlier today, menacingly early — too much. He’d gone to bed. He’d been in bed. And it was sweet. Legs warming up, the layers of blanket wrapped about his shoulders settling, his balled-up hands curled with the crest of top sheet, all the gooseflesh on his calves and forearms softening. Simply to imagine unbundling himself had filled him with an unspeakable pressure, as if a stone wall were suddenly in his lungs, building

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itself out, filling his chest and then running the length of his body before expanding in every direction, until the room itself became the impenetrable ruin. Before such a monstrous thing, anyone would be powerless to act. Yet he obviously had magnified the monstrosity for just the purpose of self-sabotage, and felt little remorse at his defiance. That was what his mind deserved for racing forward when he was tired, when he had committed to the day’s end and announced as much. That a necessary thought should fire when he was least capable of addressing it had seemed a cruel trick, manipulative, an assault on his willpower, his inner resources. His resistance felt justified. His compromise a swift and reasonable solution. He’d acquitted himself nicely. Besides (here was what exasperated him), he trusted his memory. He had confidence in both himself and his mind — believed that their collaboration could be taken for granted. Certainly when he told his mind to remember something, coached it to that effect, it would. They would remember together. Upon their command memory would then serve up whatever they’d worked on, especially when it was something vitally important. He lay there growing more frustrated. His tenseness surprised him. The mask of worry he made of his face. He imagined himself looking ahead, eyes fixed on nothing, the invisible syntax and grammar of thinking, knots thought, and his very eyeballs felt heavy with age and worry. His eyes, he felt, held the weight of the old. Nobody wanted the worried eyes of the dying. He started from the neck down: relaxed his arm and leg muscles, tendons and ligaments. Then his jaw and face. He mock-yawned and ran his tongue over his gluey teeth before blowing an exaggerated breath through pursed lips. A little loss of memory was not worth his health. And tension only made matters worse. What was tension but constriction, paralysis, a frozen state. With memory, as with all things, one wanted a live mind — liquid, open, electric. Then it came: an instance of another time he couldn’t recall something committed to memory before bed. This was nearly a

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year ago, a dark and cold night then too, late in winter, and he’d awoken at sunrise with nothing to show for his efforts, only to stubbornly push and push after it past noon. He’d let it go. He’d tried but in the end determined that the way to find it was simply to stop looking. Something that important would present itself when ready, arise of its own accord, would be found precisely because he’d stopped chasing it. Had it? Come to him on the bus or later at work or later that week in the shower? Surely so great a struggle deserved that reward. He…didn’t remember. Which made recalling this something more pressing. Whatever it was, wherever he had filed it, it would be buried beneath his failure to remember it, not to mention his inability to force recall. One memory under another, covered by another until displaced, supplanted, ousted, until the whole mind was a void of forgetting, or a mire of remembering forgetting — he was seized by the fear that if he let this one go, any future vigilance was shot. This moment marked the beginning of his memory’s decline. His mind no longer the storehouse of memories and remembrances and recollections, but a Russian nesting doll of forgettings. Up (his fingers twitched at the thought). Move on, man. Start the day. Nothing’s forgotten, nothing lost. Any moment. It was early still; the room soft and gold with points of sun, fresh, morning, a new beginning, and everything was possible. These weren’t hostile surroundings; he had only made them so, infecting them with his sense of dread, his feeling that he’d made a terrible mistake. I won’t let this one go, he thought. I’ll let it come. But as he thought this he understood that his new certainty was false; certainty had been forced from under his belief, and what he knew was that he absolutely needed for it to come before he could move. He wasn’t moving an inch before then. His feet swung, however, in defiance of this directive, over the floor, pajama bottoms hitched above his pale ankles. He wiggled his pink toes.


They were knobby and bent in ways he couldn’t account for. The longer he stared, the stranger they looked, or the more his own scrutiny made them strangers. These short, wormy digits — his bluish, vein-puckered feet on the whole, hovering at the end of his legs — were made more alien by the odd patch of floor beneath: some boards were narrow and long as yardsticks, glowing with blood-orange stain that seemed to animate the grain’s dark knots and exotic whorls; others were square as tile and unfinished, the blanched wood scored and pocked with tiny nails. He heard and saw them in nearly the same instant — the birds. Looking up he found their shadows on the blind: hopping, landing, darting the length of the balcony rail and back. Their chittering came from somewhere else it seemed. The adjacent room of the apartment next door perhaps, from the balcony below or above. Perhaps every tenant got a personal set of birds each spring. But he knew they were at the feeder, which, before yesterday, had been swinging in the dirty rain and wind for months, empty. There was no excuse. He always kept a bag of seed under the stool below the windowsill. He simply hadn’t bothered. And for a time the birds had come anyway. No seed but they would come every day, they couldn’t help it they were so hungry. They had kept coming to the feeder because they remembered. Their memory of food would not dissolve or vanish. Back now, and rewarded, they staged a show in his honor. Black cut-outs at once jerky and fluid — each animal both puppet and puppeteer — danced themselves onstage or else fluttered away in what could only be described as a one-act celebration of eating. He couldn’t help himself. He stood, carefully drawing the blind into itself. Sunlight came through the window horizontally. He wound the cord to a clasp on the wall. The sky above was cloudless and the sun was edging over the treetops, full and warm, casting long shadows across the garden starting from the back corner of the yard. The birds were still there, as if they’d all agreed to stay put, and were patiently holding their arrangement, just for

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him; and this bit of kindness, though invented, was as touching as the sight of the birds themselves. One — a runty brown finch with clownish white rings around its eyes — pointedly observed him, as from behind a brainy pair of spectacles, before flinging itself to a higher crossbar with less than a hop. A barrel-chested scrub jay with ragged blue tail feathers yawned with what looked like a bored “Hi.” Another finch, as orange as a crayon, was busy using its beak to rake unwanted seeds from the lip of the pan. New birds formed a line along the peak of the feeder roof. The beautiful smallness of the animals, the perfect wild mechanics of them, their clean decisions and pipping declarations a surprise — it was delicious. Too delicious. Maybe he was delirious. But now it was as if he were invisible. All frustration, impatience and anxiety had drained off. His mind flew in pursuit of nothing. He was absorbed in watching, as if somehow he were watching it all in his own absence. As if somehow he were the watching. When he lifted the window the birds shot off as if pulled into the sky, and fresh air filled the room.

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[almost recalled]


A version of this work appeared previously at MollyPrentiss.blogspot.com

H

]

ere’s the writer’s dream scenario: a cabin in the “middle of nowhere” (which actually means some town “upstate” that’s close enough to New York or San Francisco for social or intellectual emergencies), preferably surrounded by birch or redwood, preferably with an organic garden situation going on so you can get “back to the land” while you’re getting back to the drawing board, where you can just sit, and think, and finally get all that reading done, and write. And write. And think. And write. Because your life now just doesn’t allow it because everyone’s calling you, emailing you, texting you, asking you to work their shift, Facebooking you, asking you to drink beer with them, asking you to drink whiskey with them, asking you to have a glass of wine with them, cheese with them, Thai with them, Thai fusion with them, and it’s really hard to say no when your apartment’s kinda shitty and you’d rather not go back there and you kinda feel like a beer/wine/whiskey anyway, and writing sounds kinda hard anyway, and you should catch up with that person anyway and there are so many anyways it feels like there’s no way that there could ever be any “real” writers in this world because those cabins are not real! Here’s the predicament: Writers are supposed to be anti-social by nature, because writing is something that you have to do alone. But writing is also something that’s so hard you’ll do anything to avoid it, so by nature you say yes to every social activity you’re invited to. And because you don’t have a “real job” and you haven’t “published a book yet” you can’t really use “work” as an excuse to get out of the social activity anyway. And this is how it happens.

Molly Prentiss lives in Brooklyn and is a resident writer at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Her work can be found in Fourteen Hills, La Petite Zine, Switchback, The Furnace Review, Miracle Monocle and elsewhere.

[

If Only Writers Were Actually Anti-Social

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Writers, who are supposed to be dweeby, end up staying up the latest/drinking the most cider at the Christmas party/talking too much and too long so that they don’t — god forbid — have to do those same things alone. At their desk. In their kinda shitty apartment. And so the cabin idea is actually bunk. We don’t want to be alone out there! We don’t want to be even lonelier than we already are! We write because we’re lonely, not in order to be! The birch trees would kill us! The silence! And worse, we’d get so much writing done, which is the scariest thing of all, because someone might actually read it and ask us about it at the bar.

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[almost nowhere]


Chris pedler co-publishes this magazine. He has received an Academy of American Poets Award, and his work has been featured in Invisible City Audio Tours and in you are here.

[

omg, the valley! everything pauses: blue-dawn holds its breath. altostratus brush the black-toothed back-lit Amargosa Range. dry rain falls. morning halts, resumes as stopmotion photographs of weather moving west. each second leads the next, discrete, a series laid in storyboard. I watch time occur. one frame per breath, day drips fire-shades. red cliffs catch in layers. sun undoes the dark, exposes the whole horizon. everything pauses. nothing stops. time continues. sandstone seas erode, cycle through air into dunes at the center, the absolute end. the desert’s breath draws its own shadow, as a circle on the earth defines a space, or bent lines make the valley’s name: death.

[panamint city]

it is in quartzite cuts and limestone falls, horse-high thickets and impenetrable time stripped naked. it is a vision reclaimed from the desert cajoled into spring. it is around a

]

[zabriske point]

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canyonbend and through some rapids. it is over this hill, just the other side of the earth’s slow curve, where the horizon hides what’s promised us. it is up in the merciless blue or deep in the dirt, hacked after in silver mines shadowed by Telescope Peak. it sits on the fringes of thought, glimpsed in peripheral: a goat, a cat, a scattered flash of gold amid the silt. it is a palm tree at the end of each of our minds, the bloom of a bottomless emptiness, a lack we all detect. it is god’s lost puzzle piece, a hole in the center of your heart, our demons set free so we have something to shoot at, a destination to order our thoughts and an easy excuse to gut everything with flamethrowers. it is this bent religion that gets us out of bed in the morning, drives us through the world with the engine of a willed and impossible transcendence. it is only sometimes beautiful, mostly from far away. it is a city alit in a canyon, firelight beacons twisted in wind, where since the very beginning we told ourselves we wanted grace — we prayed for it — but in the end, even after the flood, it is only that we wanted more. [china lake]

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raptors carve clear air. wide-winged gliders slice through thermals’ liquid shimmer. an eagle shrieks. deafening heat. echoes play the hollow lakebed: jet-booms deep as space — or T-Rex


footsteps. cue the menacing music. rising panic. terror warnings. doom arrives in rainbow, not in black. a clown without jokes. an F-18, bro. see it low over hills, the long delay and slow vibrations, wind displaced, a high-pitched whine, the sound the sun screams: total white. pure porcelain, hit with a missile, glistens. watch the next one come: [ballarat]

violence is hunger. hearts are famished things. scarred and exhausted, thrown at the wall of the present like a prisoner bent on death or escape. furious things and impatient. all hatred is hatred of time. this second followed by that and by all the ones following after. one. one. one. always beginning again the same plod forward, never reaching tomorrow. I spend most of my time imagining ways to break out of here, get around this incredible traffic jam, or just quit altogether. I think I’ll tear open my chest. out would pour rays of blinding gold, I’m positive, and we could cut out the bullshit. what could be more eloquent? the problem is language: words noth-

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ing but wedges pressed into space, blocks we build walls with, billboards obscuring a fathomless appetite. words words words masquerade a plot with coherence, today’s different from yesterday’s. sure. here is a story: I tell you my secrets only so later you will chase me around with them, eager to stab them into my heart. random as weather, the details change, but the theme was written on tablets forever ago. because those were lost, I smash whatever is handy. this is the story I know to be true: I hunt the person right next to me, you, as if this really gets to the point of it, as if it’s not the reflection of me that I’m after, pursuing and trying to flee. as if just for a moment I could stop this impossible need to be elsewhere, anywhere other than inside my body. [saline valley]

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[almost deserted]

naked sky hums like cicadas in summer, switchblade blue. squint into it. hard light leaves marks: a tattoo cut by sun. your edges bleed heat. a fluid boundary steams your body into silence. brittle ridges ring this basin’s empty bowl. hold your heartbeat. stop. become specific. pry loose your skin scorched new by blazing noon.


]

n winter we put many coats on and crawl into bed. “we love winter!!!” we scream, and we mean it, too, mostly, for the most part, from the tops of our heads down to our tippy tippy toes. in winter we put many coats on, crawl into bed, cry for more blankets, pile on the more blankets, watch movies about the jungle, think “does the word ‘jungle’ exist anymore? does the jungle exist anymore?” my husband grows his beard out — all in one day — and then acts all surprised, like, “look at this hair! my face is exploding with hair!” and i hand him a pair of scissors but winter makes us reticent and unsure of change — more coats? sure. but change? real change? ugh. throw up in my mouth. we watch a movie about the jungle and i say, “you’ve been there before? you’ve been to that very spot?” and he says, “not that one but that one right there,” and points to another spot and the another spot looks exactly the same. in winter we wear many coats and squish things with our fingers and look at all the rain falling outside and think about god and the adaptability of the world’s creatures, all the world’s creatures except ourselves, and later, it turns into a fight. “no, but what i’m saying is that you’re more adaptable than me.” “and what i’m saying is that that is not true.” “it’s not an insult,” but it doesn’t matter anymore because by now it’s already a fight, the fuck you is already in his eyes. he goes into the other room and grows his beard and i stay here bleeding like a sacrificial goat — no cramps to speak of, just bleeding like a god-damn gutted goat — and it’s winter and there’s blood on my coat and the coat beneath that coat and the coat beneath that, and he stamps his feet and yells, “I’M A GOOD HUSBAND,” and i stamp my feet and yell, “I’M A GOOD WIFE,” and he comes back in the room and says, “you’re bleeding, why are you bleeding?” and i say, “your face, there’s hair all over your face!” and he walks to the window and he says, “look! winter!” and i say, “ugh, winter. is it over yet?” and he says, “almost,” he says, but that almost? it just keeps going for a long long time. [almost spring]

Zulema Renee Summerfield holds an MFA in creative writing from SF State. Her work has appeared in 580 Split, The Sand Canyon Review and others. Her book, everything faces all ways at once, was winner of the 2010 Michael Rubin Book Contest.

I

[

winter

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[ composing music for independent films, some of which have screened at Northwest Film Forum, Big Screen Project and the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Dave Merson-Hess spends most of his time

] portrait of my uncle kaz


A version of this work appeared previously in the Greene County Medical Journal.

E

]

very year that I practice medicine brings me new insights into healing. Healing is so much more and so much less than becoming free of disease. When I treat patients, I am only a small part in their healing; only a small part of what I do for them contributes to healing. My husband has metastatic colon cancer. He has had four surgeries and chemotherapy since his diagnosis eleven years ago. Presently, he lives with half of his colon, one third of his liver and approximately two thirds of his lungs. His chance of being free of disease is probably close to zero. Nevertheless, he is healing. One summer, I watched and shared in a tiny part of this healing. On the spur of the moment, we planned a family trip to Yellowstone National Park. It fell together swiftly, as if it were meant to be. Miraculously, our two children agreed and cooperated. Incredibly, there was a room available at Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Vacation time was arranged and off we went. On the way, we found the Medicine Wheel. At an elevation of almost 10,000 feet, well above the treeline in Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming, is a national historic monument called the Medicine Wheel. Marked by one lonely road sign, it would be easy to miss the turn. A rough dirt road climbs sharply away from the highway for several miles without giving any assurance that the destination is ahead. The road levels out at the top of a long narrow ridge from which one can look down on hawks soaring on the gusting wind. Small patches of snow speckle the parking lot even in the summer months. From the small park kiosk, it is a 1.5-mile uphill walk along the ridge to the sight of the Medicine Wheel. For between 300 and 800 years, a huge wheel of stones has

Mary Jo Fisher is a practicing physician and teacher of physicians. Previous non-medical publications have appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Greene County Medical Journal.

[

The Medicine Wheel

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lain on the rugged wind-whipped grassy slope of Medicine Mountain. From a central cairn, 28 spokes radiate to the 245foot circumference of the wheel. Six smaller cairns stud the outer rim. It is not known which Native Americans created the wheel or for exactly what purpose, but it has been a sacred place for hundreds of years. I stepped out of the car armed with my park information flyer, anticipating an interesting educational experience. Under the sharp blue sky, the sun battled the wind. It was a pristine day, and I was totally unprepared for the powerful emotions that blindsided me. There was no sadness, but tears came to my eyes. There were no voices, but the presence of ancient souls was palpable. Ambushed by these unnamed emotions, I struggled to look unaffected. I continued my trek around the wheel. I listened to our guide explain the archeology and the anthropologic theories of the Medicine Wheel. I saw the hundreds of flags and pouches tied to the protective rope rail by other visitors. Did everyone who visited this place feel its power? I could see that my family did. I thought about healing. People knew about healing long before modern medicine. People continue to heal in addition to, or in spite of, modern medicine. This ancient sacred place may have been part of thousands of journeys toward healing. It was part of ours. On that bright windy day on the side of Medicine Mountain, we shared a time and experience that brought us closer together and somehow farther along our own healing journey. As my children climbed into the car and my husband shot a few last photographs, I approached our guide. “Does everyone feel it?� I asked, without elaborating. He just smiled.

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[almost healed]


Lauren Quinn is a writer and poet from Oakland. She writes the blog Lonely Girl Travels.

[

Southbound Fog so heavy it wept the dust from my windshield what I’d carried with me, wore on me, up and over a road soggy with night — always becoming, becoming just up ahead.

]

So this is driving across the Golden Gate — yellow halos, the swallow of white, pillars into nothing, and beyond the railings — black, black, the hiss of black underneath the stereo speakers, whispering, “this is the end of the continent” and you can’t even see it.

[almost the edge]

25


] ident writer at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Her work can be found in Fourteen Hills, La Petite Zine, Switchback, The Furnace Review, Miracle Monocle and elsewhere.

W

e came together in herds in packs of ten twenty maybe thousands we were all the same age we had the same tastes we liked old things that were newly expensive we liked artisanal sodas, freelance, hardwood and hardware, warehouses, house-sitting, sitting around, and no one had parents and cigarettes were okay and pork belly was better and we had stairwells, for christsake, stairwells and when we didn’t have stairwells we had stoops. I miss the days where nature fascinated me where I could pick up a slug and watch it sparkle where I could do an impersonation of the position of a leaf where I could photosynthesize with the best of them where I could roughhouse near the outhouse or rattle the rattlesnakes or catch up with a kite…I miss when a redwood tree was more fascinating than a Rauschenberg and a date was just a wrinkled fruit and nobody knew anything because there was so much to know. We did drugs sometimes there was a dime bag somewhere we got so dramatic we got so dreamlike there were wood beams still because we weren’t in the city, not quite yet, not yet, just a little longer, let’s hold out, let’s stay pure up here, up in the fog house, we had houses, for christsake, houses and apartments were something foreign something fucked we didn’t know how small the bathrooms could be we didn’t know how sad the sinks. I miss the days where I traveled and was miserable but knew it would be good for me in the future like that time when we blasted through Barcelona to the beach and I slept next to a half-Asian who half-liked me and we could beach ourselves on the beach, we could blast off to another barrio we could get so salty so salty I could love you, maybe, if you bought me another carafe of Rioja, if you took

[

Molly Prentiss lives in Brooklyn and is a res-

We Almost Stayed Young But Then We Got Old

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me in a canoe, if we could sit in the church blasting trance music while it rained outside and you just kept me a little bit warm. We almost stayed young but then we got old and it was all because of the city, it was all because of the airplanes, their little snacks, their blue-blue scratchy seats. We flew out of the country and into the city and now in the city we can be close but far away because everything in the city is close and faraway at the same time and we can be real together here because we are up against the fake together here, we are washing our faces in the kitchen sink, buying aloe plants at the liquor store, making macrobiotic rice in the microwave, there are twenty of us, thousands, with the same taste, the same artisanal freedom, the same hand-picked post-modern paraphernalia, deer antlers, dive bars, camera phones, and I can love you now, we can be sisters again, it’s raining, I’ll let you hug me, remember when we were kids, remember when we watched the mud, when we hid sometimes, when we hadn’t let buildings into our bodies yet, when we were made of musk strawberries, eucalyptus, pine smell, when we were so mild, and wild, and green.

[Almost INNOCENT]

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]

Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul? — Oscar Wilde, “De Profundis”

Y

ou are almost there. Don’t worry. Certain strategies may be employed to prevent your arrival. Thinking, “You only think that’s what you want,” for starters. Here. How about instead: Turn left. Draw a circle on the ground. In chalk, or in spray paint if you’re so sure. Write “island” in the center. Step into specific concrete. Become invisible from the outside. Try walking in one direction with your neck craned around in another until you accidentally run into someone. On purpose. Try thinking of the color blue. Make it a heathered gray-blue or the deep aqua of the sea in the pink before twilight. Think of blue moving slowly away from you; make it everything you’ve ever known. Think instead of the wide, round globe, of it rising up to meet you like a proverb. Think of it made of paper, strung up in a tree, spinning faster. Think of its longitude strands let loose across lengthwise, tying up neatly at each end. Think of its parallels, circling, bringing you home. Do the opposite of what you were just thinking. The opposite is just as obvious, of course, on the same worn course but moving backward. Make sure it’s not because you’re bored. Or because wandering is more familiar than any one familiar place, than rest, than becoming someone to count on. Make sure it isn’t your inertia, just another way to punctuate your sentences.

[

in Oakland, CA, where she co-publishes this magazine. Her fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, sparkle+blink, you are here and Invisible City Audio Tours.

Sarah Ciston is an editor and book designer

GUIDELINES FOR WANDERING

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Drive far enough away that you begin to see people who look like other people — their long parade through your private moments won’t stop even if you do. Change your plans to accommodate a conversation. Choose your direction with a spin. Roulette blooms broader than a compass rose. Games forget their importance. Pack a deck of cards. Pack light. Forget the ground beneath you and look up. Don’t look up anything about where you’ll go before you go. Look everything up, then go somewhere else. Do not leave a forwarding address. But let your mother know where you’re headed. Still she’ll worry. There’s no helping that. Someone should be worrying about you back home. Find someplace familiar. Now move through it as someone else. Get stuck at an airport for hours. Before you’ve even left you’re already gone. Forget the order of things. First, come home. Kiss them with the mouth you only use when leaving. Pull the lines you long to say from the curved capitals of maps. Reassemble Pangaea into a love letter to your future states. Know there is an aggregate magic in postage stamps, in address lines obscured by the stains of in-between, gone undelivered. Leave before your lover fully wakes. Leave in the half-sleep cooing warmth of morning, when the sun and language are still slow, while the road to the highway is still empty like a promise. Leave who you are with her (with him) with her (with him). Another you is still asleep, does not need the road to shake its bones alive, does not need alone to feel holy. Another you finishes another life another way. Another you goes back to bed and curls into something warm, restarts today an hour later with a conversation while coffee drips and wafts. Somewhere instead one of you is out there, your own lost soul finding the edges of its orbit, searching for the trajectory that pulls you home.

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Read the books you’d otherwise never let yourself read at home, where you’re expected to be more serious, where you’re expected (by yourself) to be yourself. Make someone promise you what you already know is impossible. Pack before the promise is broken. Find disappointment by your own charts if no one else will help — all your cards stacked tower-high in order to catch the breeze. Except for one thing, little tomato, you need your stake to grow. Structure sustains you. How else do you account for how your skeleton lets you move? Go first. Let your speed increase up hills. Leave what is behind. Lean into the wind. Lean with the wind. Let the leaning do the work. Listen to the trains running on time, closer in the quiet night. Know you could be on any one of them. Know you are here instead. Here is another form of wandering — staying. Make sure you’ve got a home to return to, or else that you’ve left nothing at all behind. Did you turn off the toaster oven? Check between the cushions? Leave the mess. Your own wrecking crew will demolish whatever’s almost-built behind you. Pack light. Remember these guidelines. Tuck them in your pocket. Make sure to wear a dress with pockets. Follow no lines, least of all guidelines. You are already lost if you are looking for the referent to the reference. The map does not match the story. (Reverse.) Get lost. The reason you can get lost is that you know where you are not. Each time close the gap halfway. The point is you won’t get there. Think all this. Now go. 30

[almost there]


]

ear Brandeis University, Please hire me. I want to teach creative writing. Why? Because I love creative writing. Unfortunately, I don’t have any time for creative writing since I’m so hell-bent on finding a job teaching it. By the time I find a job, or, by the time I finish this teaching statement, creative writing may have dried up inside my brittle heart, and you’ll be able to hear it cracking at all its strings and dry joints when I open my mouth to begin my first lesson. The elbow of creative writing will be sore, having elbowed the wrong elephant, and I’ll be trampled, mashed to the ground like a hot potato, blushing as I go down. Do you hear me? Brandeis University? Dear Brandeis University, My roommate is playing “Fast Car,” by what’s-her-name, and I’ve got a ticket to anywhere, but not really. I need a ticket to Waltham, Massachusetts, where I can ride my bike past your petaled maples in September and into the general store on the corner of this and that, demanding to Be Someone. Dear Brandeis University, Here’s why I want to teach: Actually, wait, I learned a word today, and I would like to share it with you: sensorium |sen’sôrēm| noun ( pl. -soria |-sôrē| or -soriums ) the sensory apparatus or faculties considered as a whole: virtual reality technology directed at recreating the human sensorium. ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from late Latin, from Latin sens- ‘perceived,’ from the verb sentire. I wonder if this is hitting you right there between your papering ribs, wads of paper applications and bad, dry letters clogging your warm, wet heart, and all you wanted to do was to take a breath

ali lanzetta’s work has appeared in Hunger Mountain, Verse, Switchback, Eleven Eleven and Invisible City Audio Tours. She is enamored with giraffes, whose hearts are over two feet long.

D

[

cover letter

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and smell the last flake fall. Is it snowing in your belly? Right there in the hollow, where I tip you upside-down to see if anything falls out, and your front door swings shut in a frosted whirl? Dear Brandeis University, I’m supposed to be writing something like this: To what end? By what means? To what degree? Why? The last one really gets me. Why is this so difficult? Why, my darling? I wish you wouldn’t look at me that way. Dear Brandeis University, Because I want to stay in bed with my book and talking trees who will save the city. Because I am learning French so I can write a book called L’encylopedie de Ce Que Je Connais. Because I want to streak through the biggest park when everyone else is sleeping. Because I want to know everything all at once and I want it to be a secret. Sorry to get off-topic. Because, because, because, because, because. Because of the difficult things she does. Dear Brandeis University, I’m only hiding in my little wooden room with Richard and his flowerburgers. I wrote a poem about that, and I even called it a poem. Would you like to see it? Too bad. Dear Brandeis University, How I measure my effectiveness: Take only a tiny spoonful. It’s fluid and golden as if molten, but not on fire. It’s from bees in a friend of a friend’s backyard. I didn’t know anyone in San Francisco had bees in their backyard — there’s a term for this. Urban beekeeping. We keep everything here, we file it away into different corners of the city. My friend M. was artist-in-residence at the city dump, where she rooted through piles of our forgotten everything like the secret underwear drawer of the world, like silent animals hide under tall piles of good caramel-colored leaves at the edge of the tree line. She took a photo of a rubber band that looked like infinity. The bees live in a backyard, and the honey lives in a mason jar in this friend of the beekeeper’s backpack. “Taste it,” he said, pursing his lips in a smile and quiet. I spooned


out a sliver of the tender heart of the city. I had forgotten what it might taste like. Another friend said bees do yoga in the hive to communicate things to the queen. Shh. A tiny garden still grows, trumpeting miniature lilies behind my eyes. Dear Brandeis University, To what end? I want you to learn to look up, in case someone in an airplane might be waving at you. Dear Brandeis University, To what end? I want you to learn to knit words together like a daisy-chain, then set the daisy-chain on fire, then pee on the fire to put it out. Do you get what I mean? My dog is wagging her tail in her sleep, and elephants everywhere are asleep standing up. Their wrinkled faces Buddha, bowed. As if in prayer. Dear Brandeis University, I would like to teach my friend B.’s book — because her imagination is so big it pushes through the windows of the house, spits it out in splinters, and goes barreling down the block like a magic bowling ball, making the scenery up as it goes along. Everyone applauds. Pieces of the house rain down on the neighborhood like falling stars. Make a wish. Dear Brandeis University, I wish you’d stop asking me these questions. I’m getting tired. I have to go. I’m thirsty. Are we there yet? Dear Brandeis University, This is becoming a problem. I would like to answer your first question (which I’m just getting around to) with a question: What does your last answer taste like, the one about the wish? Is it going down cool and all right, or is it all about to come right back up? You take up space at the bottom of a secret drawer. Rummaging around me for reasons to get carried away.

[almost hired]

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] Augustine Blaisdell is currently working

on a book on women and men in the 21st century.

Ruin

“R

[

ome wasn’t built in a day,” Joy says to me with a look. I know this look well. I know the way she releases air out of her mouth when she says things she thinks are highly unlikely. But Joy is not one to give up hope. I want to tell her how much I miss her, how everything in my life is her — was always her — but now she doesn’t trust what I say. So instead I say, “Well, we don’t really know that for sure, do we?” I am impatient. I do not want to wait for our friendship to come back again. I just want it to be here. But it’s my fault we are here, our empire crumbling, not built on such solid foundation after all. I don’t believe this but she does. “We’ll just see what happens.” This is always her answer for everything. This is always where the conversation falls to laughter and another tangent, but there is no laughter and there is nowhere to go except deeper into the ruins. “It’s our choice,” I say, but she doesn’t believe this. It’s her choice now. When we were in Rome together, we went through the Coliseum. Looked at the ruins. Took lots of pictures. Smiled. Laughed. Danced drunk by the Trevi Fountain. Traveled all through Italy, down to Palermo, ate squid in the morning, climbed to the top of Mount Etna the year before it erupted. How fate follows you. No one rebuilds Rome. We just build around it and try to preserve what’s left.

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[almost history]


A version of this work appeared previously at lookatthisfuckingblog.tumblr.com

I

]

f you know anything about me, you know I’m big on symbolism. It’s everywhere. It finds me. I find it. It gets me into trouble. It keeps me out. Today I think I really topped myself. Let’s start from the beginning. I woke up, showered, talked to a friend on the phone, packed up, and walked out of the house bound for my car which would take me to BART which would take me to work. Normal. I get outside and I don’t see my car. Perhaps I parked somewhere else? I’ve been a little absent-minded lately so it wasn’t out of the question. I walk around the block, and no, the car is not there. Long story short: The car is gone and it’s not coming back. Send further inquiries to my publicist. I convince my mom to let me drive her to work so I can borrow her car and deal with what one deals when with one’s car is stolen. She obliges because she is cool like that and I drive her to work 40 minutes north and then drive 1 hour south to handle things. It takes a long time to handle things. I get scrappy. I get in trouble. I don’t get sad though. It’s hard to get sad when you are filled with rage. Anyway: I finally get home two hours before I have to get back in the car to go pick Mom up. Fast forward to me in the car headed back north to American Canyon on 80 East. It’s really trafficky. I had been listening to 105.3 all day — they seemed to be on an Offspring/Nirvana/Blur kick and it kind of fit. I am listening to it really loud. I am in the stop part of stop-and-go traffic about to move forward with the go part… I got my head checked

Kate Regan is an astrobiologist who dabbles in spelunking.

Just kidding.

[

Symbolism Will Kill Me, Eventually

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by a jumbo jet it wasn’t easy but nothing is no and woooooo hooooo…! … the driver behind me plows into the back of my Mom’s car. (Note: One of my bigger fears is being in an accident on the freeway.) After a call to 911 and a whole lot of beeping and gesturing, I get to the side of the road and get out of the car to meet the woman who has just iced my cake. We trade information and — get this — her name is Love. I wait in the car for the police officer to get there. It takes him 30 minutes. When he finally arrives, I notice his name: Law. Officer Law did not forget his biceps. Love tries to finagle her way out of a police report. She is unsuccessful after I tell Love ’n’ Law that, police report or no, she’s going to pay to fix my car and me and whatever else I feel needs fixing. Sorry, Love: You’ve got everything to do with it today. Law goes back to his car to write up said report and I go back to mine even though Love wants to talk more. Love is so chatty. I hate Love. Law finally approaches my vehicle and hands me the “collision card” and tells me to call the number on the back and then pay $10 to get the police report he just filed. I slip my sunglasses down the bridge of my nose and ask him if he really just told me that I needed to pay $10 to get a police report of an accident that everyone had already decided wasn’t my fault. He agrees that is ridic and gives me his cell phone number. He’ll figure out a way around that $10. I bet he will. So let’s recap: Today I was rear-ended by Love and hit on by the Law. This would all be really hilarious if it happened to someone else.

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[almost unreal]


]

tory of a tall guy with eyes like green solar flares. Story of a ship lost in a sea of sand. Story of a fortune desk calendar that dictates the events of your day. Story of a marauding forest. Story of a living person haunting a ghost — can ghosts dream? Story of the lemony scent of magnolia flowers. “No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen.” — ghosts on film. “Old stars keep seeing themselves on the screen and forget they are dead.” “To kill time for those who like it better dead.” A meme that kills. Old muses (in a pension house) — possibly in connection with the previous one. An earthquake off the coast of Chennai thrusts a submerged geological ridge into the sunlight — revealing an unexplained metallic anomaly within those slabs of shell-encrusted limestone. Scientists called in to investigate are almost immediately hospitalized after visiting the site, suffering from headaches and nosebleeds. Instruments, however, record a complete absence of radiation. Intriguingly, the exposed metal structure appears to be growing… A psychic burglar wills locked doors to remember the time they were opened (and how). The world doesn’t stop because children suffer. It would never turn otherwise. Cloud creatures — a child with his head in the clouds. “To delete this building, press 4.” Somebody who is stealing the days of the week from under the feet of stressed people. Haunted tea bags. [almost written]

Nathalie Boisard-Beudin is a French lawyer having way too much fun with words, pictures and food. Her work has been published in Qarrtsiluni, Membra Disjecta and others. Visit spacedlaw.blogspot.com

S

[

STORIES IN THE POSSIBLE MAKING

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] in Portland, OR, with her husband and two young sons.

Rachel Witt is a freelance writer and lives

Almost Honest If I were honest, I’d confess I’ve been thinking about running away. But mothers don’t do that, so I’ll be almost honest and claim I’d be happy with a new house.

[

I’d answer that I was quitting because I hate this place. But that would burn bridges, so I’ll let you believe I’m leaving to raise my family. I’d tell you I’m annoyed that our gestures of friendship aren’t reciprocal. But that would make things awkward, so I’ll understand that things have been busy for you. I’d respond that it’s because you bore me. But that would be mean, so I’ll say I just need to hang with my friends. I’d admit I don’t trust you anymore. But I don’t want to start an argument, so I’ll mumble that I’m too tired to talk. See, there’s still a lot we can’t talk about, a lot we avoid. And let’s be honest — we prefer to leave it that way.

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[almost lying]


Dave Merson-Hess spends most of his time composing music for independent films, some of which have screened at Northwest Film Forum, Big Screen Project and the Guggenheim Bilbao.

[ Giants of North Beach

]


]

Behavioral Ecology and the Evolution of Sexual Selection (of Douchebags)

C

ontrary to theories of human evolution that exaggerate the primacy of larger brains (an example of tail-wagging-dog), the freeing of our hands is a popular and far-more-likely catalyst for the development of human intelligence, and it answers questions about basic social behavior that continue to this day. It sheds considerable light on the fact that girls prefer guys who can play guitar, for example, even if they can only play the first three chords of about five songs by John Mayer and one or two by Tom Petty — the bare minimum, in other words. I’d never really gotten my head around this unusual contingency, because, being an unwitting child of the “evolutionary” mythology that is still so prevalent in modern intellectual circles, I’d always assumed that people evolved to select for mates with adaptive traits that underscore their fitness as spouses and childbearers; why, under that narrow paradigm, would broad swaths of young women be more attracted to a bearded, awkward, and often jobless immature man-child than to a rugged, intelligent, hard-working young man? (I harbor no illusions about the fact that my wonder emanated primarily from basic jealously, which springs eternal.) How could the very aspects that make someone a terrible provider also make that person inordinately appealing? At last, evolutionary theory and behavioral ecology have provided a reasonable answer. Beginning several million years ago, humans started to walk upright rather than on all fours. The reasons for this are still unclear, and hypotheses range from the ability to grab fruit from trees to the ability to see farther away to, believe it or not, the ability to keep one’s head above water when evading water-shy lions by standing in a river. Whatever the reason, our upright stature

[

gist, outdoor guide and author. His work has appeared in Curios, On Course, Ellipsis and Cracked. He is currently working on a postgraduate degree at the University of Utah.

Ralph Burrillo is a professional archaeolo-

Give a Monkey a Gibson

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subsequently freed our hands from the previously monopolizing purposes of forward ambulation and/or climbing. Suddenly, what with our opposable thumbs and all, we could grab, manipulate and utilize tools, and it probably didn’t take long — the mere blink of an eye in an evolutionary sense — for this to begin having significant implications for the morphological future of our ancestors. Biological evolution is a non-linear, non-directional process of adaptation to environment by the selection and retention of preferable traits. This is typically, although certainly not always, done through the ubiquitous Darwinian method of “natural selection,” whereby limits and parameters of an ecosystem apply the selective pressures. In a cold climate, for example, animals with thick insulation and efficient homeostatic systems are the most likely to thrive; in snowy environments, animals that are lighter in color are the most likely to evade predators; and so on. When environments change, it is those animals that adjust in the fastest and most thorough manner to the new environmental parameters that gain the reproductive upper hand. But the term “environment” can be misleading, especially in our modern era of “environmentalism” which, at least in the popular sense, translates roughly to “ecstatic love for all natural things that aren’t human.” An environment is a conglomeration of living conditions, pure and simple, and environments can span the gamut from very basic organic ecosystems of soil and rain to exasperatingly complex constructs of concrete, steel, automobiles and computers and processed food-like substances. A house is an environment; so is a workplace, a community, a city, a country. And environmental conditions need not even be physically tangible things — in the modern world, for example, it is expected that people will obey laws and act in certain ways, even though expectations aren’t physical things and do not physically exert any force. And a person with a propensity to fulfill the incorporeal expectations of a cultural environment is “fit” in just the same was as an animal

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with a propensity for camouflage in a snow bank. This is known as “cultural selection,” as opposed to natural selection, and the erratic and largely unpredictable offspring of the two is called “sexual selection.” In his exhaustive tome The Ancestor’s Tale, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins notes, “Rapid, apparently arbitrary spurts of evolution in quirky directions say one thing to me: sexual selection.” Sexual selection doesn’t really follow any rules, at least not in the sense that “rules” in science are thought to be logical constructs. Two of biologists’ favorite examples come from the world of birds. Peacocks have enormous fans of brightly-hued tail feathers, which take considerable and expensive proteins to construct, are heavy and bulky, cause the bird unnecessary trouble in flight and are effectively a PEACOCK OVER HERE sign to any predators that aren’t totally blind. The peacock’s elaborate fan is, in other words, opposed in every way to what logic dictates should be an advantageous adaptation, and yet the beasts proliferate — why? Because the sexual success of peacocks with the biggest and most alluring fans gives their genes a significant edge in the game of reproduction, such that a peacock with a gigantic and burdensome fan will likely father the bulk of offspring in a given area before succumbing to an almost-inevitable death in the jaws of a predator. The other favorite example is a species of small birds that live in Papua New Guinea called bower birds. Male bower birds go to practically unbelievable lengths to create practically unbelievable twig-and-branch constructions, called “bowers,” that often look like gazebos or backyard canopies with elaborate collections of colorful items — flowers, bits of fruit, beetle wings, leaves, mushrooms, rocks — carefully and deliberately arranged inside like displays in a museum. Some of them are as large as garden sheds. Amazingly, these bowers are not simply large, densely decorated nests; the birds live and sleep in small, unassuming nests of com-


mon shape and size. The bowers are used exclusively to attract mates. More amazingly, these considerable showpieces also follow regional “customs,” so that a bower which may be considered a perfect and exemplary product in one area will not attract a single female mate in another. Parallels with human culture and its own regional customs are tantalizing. Meanwhile, the amount of time and energy involved in a small bird constructing something of that size, and amassing the requisite collection of baubles arranged throughout its interior, is a behavioral example of the same lack of logic that underlies the physical adaptation of peacock fans. But, again, the advantage outweighs the disadvantage: While a male bower bird may attract predatory attention and/or totally exhaust itself while erecting the most attractive bower in the region, he has a competitive edge over his rivals for passing on his genes beforehand. While these examples seem to be inconsistent with commonplace logic, they do fit comfortably into the predictive framework of behavioral ecology. As an evolutionary approach to understanding behavior, behavioral ecology approaches behaviors as sets of traits selected for their economic rather than mechanical fitness (note: economic in the sense of general value, not in the specific sense of money). In the light of mechanical models of evolution, peacocks’ tails and bower birds’ twig museums are unfit adaptations, being inefficient uses of energy and burdensome, predatorattracting frivolities; but, in the light of behavioral ecology, these same phenomena exhibit fitness for their environments because their value to mates outweighs their mechanical disadvantages. In other words, even though gaudy tail feathers and excessive artistic displays wouldn’t seem to do anything for their creators other than shorten their life expectancies, the attractiveness of these things to members of the opposite sex is sufficient enough to neutralize and, indeed, exceed such limitations in the overall scheme of the environment. Their up-front value as attractors is greater than their long-term deficiency as perils, and so they

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are beneficial. In behavioral ecology this is known as “marginal value,” the idea that immediate value changes with quantity — be it amount or duration in time — and that something perceived as very valuable will be utilized immediately and excessively before it gets exhausted or depreciated. This isn’t always true, certainly, but in many cases it is, and in the case of sexual selection it appears to be true in spades. So what’s the connection between all of this and our upright stature and large brains? Chances are that, upon adapting and learning to walk upright, ancestral hominids almost immediately started using their dexterous and newly-freed limbs to manipulate (literally) tools. And chances are just as likely that they immediately started using this newfound boon to outcompete one another. The better one is at using his or her hands for constructing houses, collecting nuts and berries, hunting, building fires, weaving textiles or baskets or whatever else can be imagined, the more likely that person is to have his or her genes passed along. In the beginning, it was almost definitely pure natural selection that exerted the selective pressure on the winners and losers in this scenario, as the people best-suited for survival were probably those who could best manipulate physical things to assure it. He or she who gathers the most food and keeps away the most lions is likely to have the most kids. All the while, as manipulation techniques and, eventually, tools became more and more complex, so did the intellectual capacity that directed them — bigger brains, in other words, are most likely the result of increasing complexity of tasks related to manipulation of materials, or so the modern gospel goes. Additionally, at some point it is likely that simple ecological pressures were joined by the vagaries of sexual selection, and the same hands that were once used to secure survival and subsistence started to be used to impress others. This may or may not have been a conscious or deliberate development, and I rather suspect that it wasn’t, but it still goes a long way toward explaining artistic propensity and its exaggerated marginal value


in at least one culture that comes to mind: mine. And now we come back to the issue of girls and their inordinate attraction to scruffy guys who can play guitar but display practically nothing else of social or biological worth. Bearing in mind that I am talking about my own experiences in contemporary Middle America, and that I can’t make any pronouncements on the male/female interactions in other societies for the simple reason that I’ve never lived in any others, I can say with certainty that this plays itself out over and over again in the modern United States and is by no means an unusual circumstance. True, the details may vary — in some cultural settings it isn’t guitar-playing but dancing, or snowboarding (an example of physical aptitude, to be sure, but by no means an example of fitness as a parent) — but the basic model is awfully common. In light of the revelations of behavioral ecology and the current evolutionary model that puts manipulative dexterity at the center of the development of the human animal, it seems not only likely but in fact very probable that people will, at some or several points in place and history, place far greater value on behavioral traits that are at once expensive and useless than on ones that are more advantageous in a utilitarian or parental sense. For at least the foreseeable future, bower birds will continue to build extravagantly frivolous art galleries until they’re too tired to fly away from jaguars, peacocks will continue to waste egregious quanta of calories on tails that make them look just as appealing to their mates as to predators and poachers, and douchebags will spend all of their free time learning the catchiest bars of “American Pie” instead of studying math or exercising — and all of these will succeed gloriously in the face of logic and reason. No dog bites its own tail quite so hard as science, and we scientists are a toothy breed. I should have learned to play the guitar.

[almost evolved]

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[ Brian Houska

]

(in between drawing a comic every ten years) tinkers with computers and watches TV. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and pets.


Wherein we introduce a new column that answers the age-old question, “Should I watch this?” with the answer, “Nah.” Seven Pounds (2008) Starring Will Smith

W

]

e’re all super busy people with highly active imaginations, and most of the films out there are serious time-wasters. I used to fast forward through movies that were wasting my time, then I discovered an even faster way to “watch” all those sub-par movies I wonder about: the Internet! These days, why see a movie when you can just watch the preview on YouTube and read the plot summary on Wikipedia? In five minutes (ten if I read the whole Wikipedia page), I can do what used to take me hours. That means I can catch up on sub-par films faster than you can say Will Smith (oh snap). Speaking of Will, the first movie I’m going to review based on what the Internet says is Seven Pounds. Before I begin, I’m going to ask you to put this magazine down (momentarily) to watch the trailer. It’s very important you follow what I’m about to say. Done? Great. What the hell is happening in this preview, right?! All I got was that there is a guy who likes to drive in his car (a lot), who has rented a hotel for two weeks, and he’s got this short list of names. He also has a “plan” that requires him to lie to people about his name. The plot seems to revolve around meeting a pretty lady who is sick and who is or is not a part of this plan. Oh, and there is a blind man. After watching the trailer, I couldn’t help but go immediately to my nearest Wikipedia where I found out so much more. So this is what happens: [SPOILER ALERT] Will kills seven

Tavia Stewart-Streit is the founder and executive director of Invisible City Audio Tours. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Spark and elsewhere. She recently collaborated on the book Ready, Set, Novel, out in August 2011 from Chronicle Books.

[

Almost Cinema

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people in a car accident and is determined to make it up to the universe by saving seven people, donating his house and all the body parts he can muster up. His sidekick in this endeavor: a pet jellyfish. I’m not joking. He falls in love with the sick girl named Emily and, right after an “interlude” (Wikipedia) with her and an unexplained “run in” (Wikipedia) with his brother, Will goes back to his hotel room and commits suicide by taking an ice bath with his pet (Pet!) jellyfish. I’m assuming this is truly the ONLY way to give two more pounds of his flesh to those in need. And guess what body part goes to Emily? I’ll give you one guess. That’s right. His heart goes to Emily! And the blind man I mentioned, care to guess what he got? Yup. He got Will’s eyes. Pretty sure you can’t donate eyeballs to someone and have them work, but whatever, it’s a movie! And just when you think the Wikipedia article, I mean movie, could not get more ridiculous, the film ends when Emily runs into Mr. New Eyes and…she recognizes the eyes in this other man’s face as her dead boyfriend’s eyes! I would like to wrap this up with some sort of thesis on what all this says about cinema in our time, but all I’ve got is this: That shit’s crazy. Fin.

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[almost watched]


]

take the redeye from San Francisco to JFK and disgorge into the overcast, hot rainy world of New York City at 6 am. We take the subway back to the apartment C. is house-sitting in Brooklyn. I know only a few things about the people who live here: One, they have two little boys. Two, they bought this building. Three, it appears that they are so overwhelmed and exhausted with childrearing that they have no time or money to spend on cleaning or decorating the house. Four, they have a geriatric cat who perches angrily on the lip of the toilet, resentfully hissing each time that we humans have the audacity to, yet again, shit in his drink. Five, I know what C. has told me about the wife and mother of this peeling and cluttered yet no doubt million dollar home just a block off Prospect Park: That she announced, in front of several friends, that she doesn’t love her husband. That they stay together for the kids and for her green card. Their king size space-foam bed upstairs is the most comfortable thing I have ever slept on. When C. invited me out here, I wanted to know what kind of trip this was going to be, maybe an ill-advised attempt at something that should never be attempted. I thought to myself, I will sleep on couches. We will not have sex. We clear the cat litter and kid toys out of the bathtub. I put on the black halter dress I bought especially for this trip. He puts on some pants, covers up his vaguely ridiculous baby-pink legs. In his head-to-toe black ensemble, sunglasses, and even his expanded gut — which he did not have, back when I loved him — he has developed literal and figurative Gravitas. He suddenly looks like an Artist. “Hey I like your dress you look nice give me a kiss we are going to kiss right? We might as well get it over with it’s okay if we kiss right? Okay?” He doesn’t remember that this is almost word for word what he said to me the first time we kissed, all those years ago. C. never uses one word when 20 will do. And just like the first time, a spar-

Suzanne Kleid manages Readers Bookstore at the Main, which is a used bookstore inside a library. She is a regular contributor to The Readers Review. Her reviews and fiction have appeared in the Believer, Bitch, Other Magazine, Pindeldyboz and other places.

I

[

The Trip

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row in a tiny cage somewhere in me starts beating its wings, and I lean into him, bigger and taller than I remember, shockingly almost 40 now, but still and always an exhausting, needing, swirl of a man. I was his girlfriend for nine months, five years ago. I was on a plane all night. I am so tired. The bed in the Brooklyn apartment is amazing. One can sprawl out in all directions without touching your bedmate, which I suppose is the perfect bed for a couple not in love. The cat has taken up residence at the base of the spiral stairs, and every few hours all night long it screams at us. It wants to sleep on our heads, steal our breath, paw at us while we sleep. I tell C. I am sour on the very concept of reconciliation; he wants to know what I mean. And I say that for a million reasons there’s no way we will ever get back together. We get a ride to Massachusetts via the Hudson River valley. Everything is lush and green. We sing along to Fleetwood Mac the whole way there. C. and a dozen others have been employed to execute elaborate drawings in pencil and crayon on the walls of a new museum. The estate of a minimalist conceptual artist has negotiated this multi-million-dollar coup. They spend their day with straight edges, pencils, crayons. They are making a series of geometric patterns and shapes, arcs and lines, squares and circles. They are living in various huge old ramshackle houses around town. C.’s house contains four guys and has the unmistakable odor of unsupervised maleness: generic brand shaving cream and empty bottles of beer. One end of main street has three churches with soaring steeples. The other end of town is the museum in what used to be a textile mill. At one point, God and the factory were the twin powers towering over this place, asserting control with ton after ton of brick and quarried stone. Most of the downtown storefronts are boarded up. Between God and the factory, I have to wonder which one abandoned this place first. I have to wonder


what they think of the imported black-clad city folk demanding better espresso and decent bagels, fawning over the local color. I catch myself half-gawking at the townspeople, deciphering their accents, observing with condescension their Republican-ness and distance from everything. They have lightning bugs, and no avocados, and rent is often less than 300 dollars a month. This place is so utterly bizarre and foreign to me. I have to remind myself that a small working-class town in summer is about as American and as normal as one can get, and if anything is bizarre and foreign here, it is not the Good People of New England. It is us. I tell C. I am writing about this trip, and he says, “The problem is getting past the ‘nobody gives a shit’ factor.” He’s right. There is nothing unusual about our story. We dated and then we broke up. He was in my muscle memory, like a phantom limb. Now five years later we are lying on his bed, both of us fatter than ever before, and without even thinking we have assumed the position we always used to lie in: me on the outside of the spoon, him pulling my arm around to hold my hand. “Of course I loved you, I never could have been with you if I didn’t love you on some level,” he says. “You told me that you didn’t,” I remind him. I can’t tell if he remembers. C. has been thinking. He’s been observing his married friends and has discovered in his research that many of them are happy and fulfilled. They have forged partnerships, they are two halves of something “nurturing and useful,” he says, they are not all just idiots acting out a fantasy that will ruin their lives. He can see now why someone would get married. He can see what Husband Material consists of. I ask if he ever imagines an alternate course of history, one that ends with us happily ensconced in our own peeling house in Brooklyn with a gaggle of redheaded children. C. is convinced that his DNA is broken. That he ejaculates an alphanumeric soup of unbalanced chromosomal translocations, and we would conceive nothing but pairs of retarded twins.

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“We could name them after your ex-boyfriends,” he says. I don’t bother trying to convince him that he might be wrong. He might be right. But apart from that, some kind of ice has broken on this insane, stupid, ill-advised and deeply improbable question: What if we did it? What if we got married? C. spends his days on a scaffold with the woman from Brooklyn. They are drawing white lines from the center, corners and sides of a long black wall. He asks her: You said you don’t love your husband. So why do you stay with him? “What? When did I say that?” she says, incredulous. “I do love him. I love him.” When he left the West Coast C. gave away almost everything he owned. One thing he kept was his collection of civil war era daguerreotypes. Each is one of a kind; it has no negative. It is not reproducible — the image is actually mercury vapor on a metal plate, sealed to a piece of glass with lead and then put inside a curlicued gutta-percha case. “I bought this one specifically because the couple is holding hands,” he said. The couple in the tiny photo are young, but like all people from the olden days they seem older than they probably were. Because of the exposure length — up to one full minute — every person in a daguerreotype has the same vague unsmiling expression, staring into the middle distance, focused more on the task of not blinking than on anything else. Maybe this is why their entwined hands look so relaxed and natural. Their faces are masks, but their hands are completely unguarded, giving away something of their affection for each other. “They’re like travelers in a little time machine,” C. says. What would they think of us? What would they think of the fact that they’ve lost all their documentation, and now no one knows who they are? This is undoubtedly the only photo that these people ever had taken. They have been stripped of their context, sealed in a glass and gutta-percha time machine, clutching hands for a 200-year trip into the future. That night we finally have sex. It happens without a word from


either one of us. We don’t turn the lights on. We don’t make a single unnecessary sound. In the airless summer night we keep most of our bodies apart and avoid sticking our humid skins together, which is nearly impossible. We find each other by taste and smell and the sounds of breathing. It is minimalist conceptual sex, we could give it the same title as one of the pieces they’re working on at the museum: Ten thousand straight and not straight lines. Fifty randomly placed points. Arcs and lines with two lines crossing. He falls asleep holding my hand. In the dark I stare up at the ceiling, trying to maintain a pleasant expression while not blinking for one full minute. I can’t do it. There’s two ways this thing could play out. Scenario One: I go home at the end of the week and resume my life. Five years from now when my hair is all the way gray, I can laugh at the bullet I dodged by not falling for such poisonous pipe-dreamery. But hope is a dangerous thing. It beats its little sparrow wings against the cage bars and sets me dreaming on Scenario Two: Five years from now, my hair will still be all the way gray but I am an artist’s wife. We will live in our own dilapidated brownstone with our own angry senile cat. My sack of a belly will go taut with life. A technician will smear goo on my stomach, and a 3-D image of our baby will appear on a screen. The little divot under his nose will swoop into a perfectly kissable cupid’s bow of a mouth. We will gasp at this glimpse of our son’s face, because it will occur to C. and me that he might be too beautiful to have any real problems. He will be as alien to us as all beautiful people are. He is perfect and whole, and there is nothing wrong with him. Just as there is nothing wrong with us, and just as there is nothing wrong in this whole wide world.

[almost different]

57


] Rose Haynes is still at work on a series of re-

constructions of Sappho — translations of the negative space around the fragments — using the original Sapphic form and meter.

Three Sapphics from Negative Fragments Note: Translations of the fragments (here represented in bold) are by Anne Carson.

[

9. Carry my first drink of the sea in colored glass, for all this water π]αρκαλειοιτας ε the new waves seeding wild calm fish in the tide πάμ]παν οủκεχη so bright as your ερ ἐόρταν shines this night μαν [’ Ή]ραι τελε sacrifice tastes of summer sew my gowns from octopus feathers, fish scales, bones of eel ἇς ἄ an arm. This water agitates without dashing itself out like the birds against the rock. Then teach me new like the ocean teaches breaking open, salted, my mouth with tastes of seaweed and butter

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9. Carry my first drink of the sea in colored glass, for all this water invites the new waves seeding wild calm fish in the tide all not so bright as your face shines this night for Hera sacrifice tastes of summer sew my gowns from octopus feathers, fish scales, bones of eel as long as an arm. This water agitates without dashing itself out like the birds against the rock. Then teach me new like the ocean teaches breaking open, salted, my mouth with tastes of seaweed and butter

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21. Grow old, body, celebrate other pleasures lavish feasts, meandering light on meadows mind and simple sympathy. The heart fails as freely as flesh fails while desire, that opulent sham, awaits us casts us under, lashes us without αν δ’ ὄλοφυν who can, knowing, look at the sea with τρομέροισ π.[. .]αλλα who can break free of fierce waves, then break free of πάντα] χροέα γῆρας ἤδη descends blindly, ravenous, quick it ν ἀμφιβάσκει beauty. Let it go — if love ς πέταται διώκων misery follows Fly away then, body of aging τας ἀγαύας features, take delight in the goddess, εα· λάβοισα out her favorite instrument she’ll ἄεισον ἄμμι [τἁν ίόκολπον] slip untethered breakable only ρων μάλιστα bound in gauze shrouds. Reckless while life ας π[λ]άναται leading even already vacant shadows beauty can’t linger

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21. Grow old, body, celebrate other pleasures lavish feasts, meandering light on meadows mind and simple sympathy. The heart fails as freely as flesh fails while desire, that opulent sham, awaits us casts us under, lashes us without pity who can, knowing, look at the sea with trembling who can break free of fierce waves, then break free of flesh by now old age descends blindly, ravenous, quick it covers beauty. Let it go — if love flies in pursuit misery follows Fly away then, body of aging noble features, take delight in the goddess, taking out her favorite instrument she’ll sing to us the one with violets in her lap slip untethered breakable only mostly bound in gauze shrouds. Reckless while life goes astray leading even already vacant shadows beauty can’t linger

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22. Sorrow finds us even as love will find us hiding fresh wounds, turning from old love we ἔργον, πηλ ἀπ fancy toward the most lovely ν ῤέθος δοκιμ or youngest sing to me, goddess lost because I dreamed with animal force αἰ δ]ὲ μή, χείμων fragmented under your eyes say τοισαν ἄλγεα. although we both know it pains us heavy as dust fearing only loneliness κ]έλομαι σ’ ἀ[είδην [Γο]γγύλαν [Ἄβ]ανθι λάβοισα μα [πᾶ]κτιν, ἇς σε δηὖτε πόθος τ enters ὰμφιπόταται τὰν κάλαν· ἀ γὰρ κατάγωγις αὔτα[ς σ ’ ἐπτόαισ ’ ἴδοισαν your thoughts. ἔγω δὲ χαίρω seeing her. καὶ γὰραὔτα δήπο[τ ’] ἐμέμφ[ετ ’ ἄγνα [Κ]υπρογέν [ηα, ὠς ἄραμα[ι singing, intrepid my lips τοῦτο τῶ[πος rising slowly as smoke in dark rain, [β]όλλομα[ι Though I cannot break free of wanting my love, forgive me

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22. Sorrow finds us even as love will find us hiding fresh wounds, turning from old love we work fancy toward the most lovely face or youngest sing to me, goddess lost because I dreamed with animal force if not, winter fragmented under your eyes say no pain although we both know it pains us heavy as dust fearing only loneliness I bid you sing of Gongyla, Abanthis, taking up your lyre as (now again) longing enters floats around you, your beauty. For her dress when you saw it stirred your thoughts. And I rejoice seeing her. In fact she herself once blamed me Kyprogeneia because I prayed singing, intrepid my lips this word: rising slowly as smoke in dark rain, I want. Though I cannot break free of wanting my love, forgive me

[almost ancient]

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] Invisible City Audio Tours and on QVC, the leader in televised home shopping.

Dan Sanders’ work has appeared in Hobart,

GRAVITY

W

[

alking is impressive. It doesn’t feel that way because you are young and you are good at it, or you are old and you are angry at it. Walking is falling. Your weight shifts forward and somehow when you were very young you gathered the bravery to let that weight go and trust that your legs would catch you before you fall, collapse in a heap, hit your head, die. You let the momentum of that bravery propel you across the carpet and into a laughing parent’s arms, who held you way up high and let you see all that danger below that you’d finally conquered and it was horrifying but they brought you into their arms again and put your head next to their neck, to ground you in the thud of a heartbeat as excited as yours. You forget all this because you were very young and it was all very traumatic. You get older and you flaunt your prowess over your own body. You run. And then it’s impressive, but then it’s sad. Everything eventually eases down into sad. And then you’re 70-something. You really should have moved before now. Before worrying over the staircase. I meant to move. But there aren’t many reasons to go out and the elevator is going to be fixed next month, or last, or the one before last. Pay the rent — they’ll come and bang on the door. But the stairs. The stairs are just outside the door, about 4 feet of eventuality and 27 of them deep and straight down and all of the pieces of person that need to move forward cannot possibly situate themselves in any proper way that will move down the stairs in any organized fashion. Should be simple enough. Straight down and out into January and so afraid of being held so way up high. And you should have moved. You should have let them take you wherever they’d wanted to because there are 27 stairs and your hands look as though you baked them overnight and have perhaps never been strong enough to keep you from careening down the stairs and out into January where you’ll bleed to death if your heart

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doesn’t crack. Which it would and might anyway. Weight shifts to the side and underneath all the aching and popping there is to be done you always think of how easy things were, and you hate it. You hate that it’s so much of your time and how heavy all of you has become, all the better to shatter the stairs, all those bones and not an ounce of trust. The left can’t be lifted, not above the height of the last stair, so it just slides off and thuds down and it’s enough to make echoes in the stairwell and sparks in your eyes. The stairwell is cavernous and gray-green paint flakes off and flits down like dead leaves above the dizzy bottom of everything. Your cane clicks and you have heard children racing up them before they shake your whole room as they run by. It’s just stunning — that’s everything shaking. The whole room. That’s everything shaking. All the bits you managed to keep anyway. Condensing. There wasn’t much work done. Mostly you laughed with your feet up and hoped someone else would catch whomever did whatever to whomever. Once you’d run down a purse snatcher, and it felt like a ticker tape. People came out of everywhere and applauded, like you’d done it for show. Like he’d been wearing a striped shirt and raccoon makeup. It was horrible and when you hit him he hit the ground and his face scraped along and there was red on her purse; that red did not belong to her but she carried it home like it was something to mark the occasion. When good triumphed over evil and my bag it got wet with the justice of it all. His elbow went into your ribs and they went Thack. You bought a gold-tipped cane after the knee went, salvage your dignity in a stylish thing. And it says Thack on the stairs. The cane wasn’t much but an attempt to be dignified and it’s just holding you for ransom for it. One slip and you’re over. Flitting down like dried paint and landing quietly in the powdered leather of your remains. Or it’s a racket. Your knees knock out the banister and the edges of the stairs crack off and the kids erupt from every blank door and yell in different languages for their

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mothers and it all clatters down after you. Hard to say. Depends on if you’re there for it or not. Thack. That lady. With the bag. She got a handle on your address. Pretty. It went sideways from there. It never felt like it was in your hands. She kept the bag. You wish that she hadn’t. It reminded you of all the horrible things you did then. There would be more. You wind up having more of those than you’d think. Probably everybody does.

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[almost published in WSL:gravity]


A version of this work appeared previously at MollyPrentiss.blogspot.com

T

]

he other night, while acting as wing-woman for a blonder, cuter friend (not that she needed me, her blue eyes were doing quite good work for her), the boy she was working on suddenly turned to me. “You’re so serious!” he said, knotting his eyebrows, maybe in genuine concern or perhaps mocking my own furrowed brow. I had not meant to or known that I was acting or looking serious, and I immediately took offense. Was it my less highlighted, newly central-parted hair that was doing it? The natural posture of my face (tight lips, a worried forehead)? My outfit: boyish pants, a grayish top, nothing flashy, as had been my MO lately? Was it in contrast to my buoyant, fresh-faced friend that I appeared so stern? Or was I actually, as this random tall man-boy proclaimed, so serious? Now serious is something I have always taken seriously, mostly because of the worry that I, as a woman-person, might not be taken as such. (Seriously, that is.) For as long as I can remember I have been concerned that because I am a) a girl and b) blonde and c) fun I may be dismissed as a) dumb or b) ditzy or c) casual. Yes, casual, the opposite of serious, was something that have I dreaded as a label. But then why was I so offended when being called serious by the man I was wing-manning for? Wasn’t it what I had wanted? Wasn’t seriousness, after all, the female goal of the century? Did it make sense, as displayed by so many woman writers or intellectuals, that if we want to be taken seriously we should behave seriously? At the un-serious job I have where I work to make money (making money = being taken seriously), I have the good fortune to be able to listen to the radio while I do my editing. I have been listening to everything from news shows to science podcasts to

Molly Prentiss lives in Brooklyn and is a resident writer at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Her work can be found in Fourteen Hills, La Petite Zine, Switchback, The Furnace Review, Miracle Monocle and elsewhere.

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Seriously

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punk music to audio interviews (this is all part of my seriousness campaign: I’ll be able to cite these small bits of knowledge in casual conversation later). Many of the interviews I have listened to have been with women writers, as I look to them for bits of writing life wise-ness, hoping, by some osmosis, that I will inherit a little bit of their vigor and intelligence by listening to them. What I have found is a serious conundrum: Many women writers, the ones I love at least, sound imposingly, almost forbiddingly serious. Joan Didion speaks as if she’s got nails in her mouth, Lydia Davis sounds like she could use a cup of coffee, and Mary Gaitskill just seems mean. Why do these great women, whose voices sound so poignant on the page, have this commonly strained voice, this only occasional (and also strained) laughter, and a tone that says: Don’t fuck with me, I’m smart as a whip and tough as my thickest hard-back volume? In order to be taken seriously, that’s why. Not that this is a bad thing: the tough, serious woman showing the world that she’s a force to be reckoned with. But it sure doesn’t make you wanna invite them to your birthday party or take them out for a cosmopolitan. They might scare you, intimidate you, or worse, let down their guard and show you that they’re just as goofy as you are when you get them alone. Either way, my question remains: Is it this sense of seriousness that has afforded these women the respect of literary and intellectual communities? And if so, to gain that respect myself, will I need to tighten my mouth a bit more, socialize a little bit less, stay inside a little bit more, smile a little bit less, read a little bit more, talk a little bit less? In other words, can I laugh a lot and still be serious? Let’s hope so, ’cause it’s about to be my birthday and I want to have some serious fun.

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[almost too serious]


]

s long as we’re here, having run into each other like this, I suppose there’s something I should tell you,” she said. You were sitting in a bar; the night was old, and you were both very drunk. You hadn’t seen her in probably two years before tonight. At first, it had seemed very good, very fortuitous. She was an old friend, an old fling. You had never been close, but had shared some good times. She was a fun girl, funny. Not exactly intellectual, but sharp. And she had gone on to do some interesting things since she’d moved to New York. You wanted to ask her about them. “Mindy,” you had tapped her on the shoulder, seen her from across the room. She was talking to a girlfriend at the bar, very animated. She had always been very animated. Her smile was broad, and genuine. Or genuine-seeming. She had broken into it immediately, was wrapping her arms around your neck. “Nathan,” she said, “It’s so good to see you! What are you doing in New York?” But that had been a few hours ago, before both of your friends had left, before you’d each had several more drinks, before the hour was late and the snow falling very visibly outside the bar windows seemed daunting and oppressive. And, “As long as we’re here, having run into each other like this, I suppose there’s something I should tell you,” she was saying. “I had an abortion once. It was your baby.” You stare at her for a few seconds, and then all you can think of to say is, “What?” She shrugs. “You…you’re serious?” “Yes. Weird, huh?” “Why didn’t you tell me?” you ask, which is kind of exactly what you mean to say, because you are curious, why didn’t she tell

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a writer, editor and filmmaker living in Washington, D.C. You can find more of her work at elizabethnolanbrown.com.

“A

[

Momentum and Matter

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you?, but it’s kind of not what you mean to say, at all, sounding all weird and accusatory as it does coming out of your mouth. She shrugs again. “I thought it would be weird, I guess. I thought it would be weirder if it was your problem, too.” “Yeah, but I could have, uh…” and here you are at a loss, because what could you have done? What would you have done, if she had told you that, then? Pregnancy is not really something you ever seriously considered, it hadn’t seemed like a possibility. Or at least not one that would be a problem; you guess you’d always assumed, had you gotten a girl pregnant, she would get an abortion. You just also assumed she’d tell you. “It was…after that one time, the last time, when we hadn’t slept together for so long, and the fact that we were even sleeping together was kind of totally random at that point. And when I found out…well, of course I was going to have an abortion, it’s not like I was going to have a baby at that point, and certainly not yours. And the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem there was any constructive point to telling you. You might be angry, or skeptical, and then you’d have to evince all that fauxconcern for me, offer to drive me to the clinic or something, and then we’d see each other around and neither of us would want to talk to each other, and it would have just made things worse.” You can’t really disagree with her on any of that. It certainly would have been awkward, would have been…unpleasant. You think about all the times you linked to her blog posts, and vice versa — for even though you have not seen each other in some time you still have an electronic writerly relationship — and how strange that would have been to do had you been thinking all the while, “I knocked this girl up.” Then you immediately hate yourself for thinking about blog posts. Yes, you may not really disagree with her presumptive interpretation, but you like to think that maybe you still could have helped in some way. You are overcome with irrational retroactive guilt. “I’m so sorry,” you say finally.


“What are you sorry for?” she asks. “Stop it. I’m not telling you this now to make you feel bad. I just thought…I don’t know, maybe this is what you do when you abort someone’s baby. You tell them years later, in a bar, in Brooklyn, when you are both very drunk and it’s snowing outside. Because it’s something you feel you have to tell them eventually. But it’s not something that has to carry momentum.” Not something that has to carry momentum. This phrase sticks with you for a week or so after. It’s an odd phrasing. Did she mean momentous, not something that has to be momentous? That would make more sense, but you do not think she is the sort of girl to mix up momentous and momentum, so you are left to take her phrasing at face value. The conversation had certainly lost momentum after that. It had been spilling forth, billowing, energetic, but it didn’t seem to have anywhere to go after the admission. You had both tried, a few commendable attempts at changing the subject, moving back out of the murky depths you had plunged into, but it kept sputtering, then eventually failing, every time and — also commendably — you had both been smart enough to acknowledge this, to not keep trying to make a go of it after the second or third time. “I’m afraid I’ve sort of derailed our conversational spirit,” she said. “Well, uh.” And then, “Yeah,” you had given in. If she was just going to call it out like that, then you might as well not even feign protestation, might as well follow her lead. “I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have ever told you,” she said, standing up and putting on her coat. “It really was nice to see you, though. I’m glad we got to talk. It was fun.” “Do you…how are you getting home?” you say. It is, again, exactly what you mean to say — you want to make sure she gets home safe — but not what you mean to say at all, either, making you sound lecherous as it does. “I’m just going to go out front and get a cab,” she says.

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“Let me walk you out there,” you say. And you do. She steps out into the street and hails one pretty quickly, turning around briefly to grab your arm as it pulls up. “Look, I…oh, I don’t know, tonight was silly. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Goodnight, Nathan Loreto.” She had a habit of saying both someone’s first and last name when greeting or retreating from them, in a way that came off both familiar and coy. She stepped into a cab. And, for the most part, you put it out of mind. Except, a few weeks later, you see an article she has written in some online magazine. It is not a bad article, something about young kids and music. You are glad she is writing this type of thing now, because, really, she never had what it took to be a political journalist, as she was once mildly pretending to be. You do not mean that in a derogatory way, but she just didn’t seem quite serious enough for it, or rather, had no interest in being serious enough for it. You somewhat liked that about her. You could not really appreciate the article, though, because with it — with the description of the not-quite-legal show space and the keg beer and the sweaty 20-something-year-olds, and whatever else it was — you just kept thinking about condoms, and zygotes, and operations. It is really mostly the condoms you kept coming back to — or, more specifically, the lack of condoms. You and she had never really used them. You had thought about this, intermittently, before, but now it is something you feel the need to get more in-depth with, and you are at a bar, with a friend, so you ask: “Do you and Stacy use condoms?” Stacy is your friend’s long-term girlfriend. “We did when we first started dating, but now we’ve stopped,” he says. And then, “She’s on the pill.” You nod. This isn’t exactly what you want to know, this is different. “What about before Stacy, when you were sleeping with other girls?” you say.


“Depends on the girl,” he says. Yes, of course, but what depended, what was the criteria? “Well, often the girl wanted to,” he says. “But if not — well, then how well I knew her.” On the surface, this seems reasonable; this was your general criteria, too. You had only once fallen on the definite-condomuse side of things. Most of the girls you slept with were like you, very educated, of a certain age and class and profession. Surely they were on the pill; it always seemed too insulting to even ask. And surely they went to the gynecologist regularly, girls did these kinds of things, they would know if they had any sort of diseases, any reason to worry, they would share that with you. There was a trust there. And surely they had only been sleeping with other people like you, like them, and these are the kinds of people who also were very conscientious about sexual health, who also would surely make sure they did not have any diseases, etc. It all made a kind of logic in your head. Except that you realized it was the absolutely stupidest thing you had ever heard. A kind of weird sexual class snobbery, if you will. “Well, sure, we’re all very delusional about this, because being delusional works out in favor of what we want to take place — namely, not using condoms,” your friend says. “Nobody wants to use condoms.” You wonder how far this fallacy extends among people of your generation, of your general milieu. You think it must be fairly common. And, all considering, it has worked out pretty well. Sure, it has ostensibly failed you, in this one instance, in the now-lamentable case of Mindy, but even this has not really affected you in any tangible way. You wonder if it has affected her; but, if she is to be taken at face value, to be believed from your brief encounter a few weeks back — and you have no reason to believe she is not — then it would seem to have not really mattered at all. The only problem now is whether this makes you — both of

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you — heartless and out of touch. But since you have always considered yourself — and by extension, anyone you know — fairly out of touch, and to no detriment, you do not see why it should have any special resonance in this case. “Why do you ask?” you friend asks, having until this point avoided divining any special meaning or relevance from your line of inquiry. You consider saying “no reason,” but the night is old and the bar you are drinking at is very dim, very dive-y, and the scotch you are both drinking is fairly expensive, or at least not cheap, and it is Wednesday night, and none of these seem like opportune or necessary conditions for being vague, so you say: “A girl I knew told me a few weeks ago that she had an abortion once, and it was my baby. Almost my baby.” “Oh,” says your friend, and you can tell that he wants to say more, but he does not. Well, except for, “Wow.” He says, “Wow.” And you say, “Yes. Anyway.” You do not realize this bothers your friend so much until a few weeks later. You realize because he keeps trying to bring it up, and in a way in which it is clear he is trying to suss whether you are bothered by it. Maybe suss is the wrong word. What he actually says is: “You know what you told me last week, about the girl who had the abortion? Why did you tell me that? I mean, are you bothered by it?” “I don’t know,” you say. “I would be bothered by that,” he says, and gives you a look that says he is Serious. Suddenly you wish you had never told him this. He was not the right person to tell; he was raised very conservative Catholic and is still much more influenced by this upbringing than he would like to let on. “I mean, it’s really kind of, uhhhh…a non-issue,” you say. He nods. “But that’s got to kind of make you feel…fucked up?”


“Ehhhh,” you shrug. “Not…really.” He nods again. “Was she upset about it? She must have been pretty upset about it.” “She didn’t say she’d been upset about it,” you say. “Why did she tell you?” You open your mouth to respond but then stop. You do not know, not why she told you nor why she didn’t tell you. You do not know. A few days later, he brings it up again. “Do I know the girl?” he says. “It was Mindy,” you say. “When did you see Mindy?” he says. “In Brooklyn. She lives there now.” “Have you talked to her since?” “No.” “I read her article about that band the other day,” he says. You nod. He keeps wanting you to say more, but you do not. The next time you go to New York, you think about calling her, but you don’t know what you would say. You Twitter about it instead: Heading up to visit friends in Brooklyn for the weekend. You pretend like this is a perfectly normal thing for you to post — I mean, in fact, it is; but you pretend like there is no ulterior motive, which of course is not true. Of course you hope she will see. You hope she will take the bait. She does not. At 10 pm, at a bar with your friends, after several scotches, you realize that this was too vague for strategery, that of course what was she supposed to say to that? So you Twitter the name of the bar you are at and: Any New York friends around? She replies: @nloreto hey! At a bar not far away. Soft Spot, 128 bedford? Stop by! “Does anyone want to go to Soft Spot?” you ask your New

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York friends. They do not. You have plans, you are all on your way somewhere else, somewhere predetermined. “It’s not far, we can stop by for a drink if you really want,” one says. No, that’s okay. You go outside to smoke a cigarette. What would it really matter? You fucked this girl, you used to fuck this girl, she was nice and pretty and now she lives in New York and once she aborted your baby — you need to stop using that word in your head, it is not what you mean, it was just a collection of cells, it is who cares it does not matter, once this girl had some cells with your DNA inside of her and she had them removed, it does not mean you should meet her for a drink every time you are in fucking New York. @mindyc ahhh, heading to a party now, not sure where. At my friends’ whims. Maybe next time. That is what you mean, you think. No, that is not what you mean. There is no next time. You will not contact Mindy again. Why did she tell you? What did it accomplish? You are glad she did not tell you at the time. You respect her for that. Mindy is a cool girl. Mindy is smart, Mindy was a good person to fuck; the fact that she did not tell you just proves how smart she is, how good a choice it was. Maybe you could have loved Mindy, you always really did have fun with her, she had a good disposition in bed and she never asked any questions. “Are you ready to go?” Your friends have come outside. They are ready to leave the bar, get on to this party. You pass by Soft Spot on the way. You do not glance in the windows, do not try to catch a glimpse of her. People tell you these things matter.

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[almost yours]


Susanna Kittredge holds an MFA in creative writing from SF State, and her poems have appeared in journals such as Fourteen Hills, Shampoo, Instant City and Salamander. She recently moved back to her native Massachusetts to become a teacher.

Prologue

[

Quake Some days I avoid the subway which might cave in and kill us in an earthquake, and stay, instead, in buildings which might fall in and kill us in an earthquake.

]

I have a friend who’d like to die by earthquake or ninjas, but I find terror distasteful.

Wind gusting around the corners makes a ruckus, shakes the house like a little quake. I’m safe in this Now, plaster intact, dishes quiet in their cabinets. Today there’s just wind, and walls will protect me from that monster that’s got all the trash cans moaning on their backs, forgetting themselves. § Word of the Day parse The innocent ground, in miles-wide chunks, rubs against itself, not knowing it has the power to shake a building into its component parts and make them deadly: cornice, soffit, pane, brick and brick, and cladding stone, rebar protruding like ruptured bone.

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Modifier presses and shifts against noun and the sentence settles into place with a quake. jeremiad O woe is me the quake will come and kill us all and I shall die single, and unpublished, or not die but lose my writing arm and live to see my friends perish or publish and I’ll be stricken with either grief or envy. supine In the grass at Yerba Buena park, the sky so blue — my slice of open air, my eavesdrop screen — “He gets this look on his face like he wants to do me harm; like he’s about to hurt me and enjoy it and I find it incredibly hot.” The well of sky holds tower tops at a distance; they can’t hurt you here. befitting What is a good way for a poet to die? A man on the hiking trail reveals that Frank O’Hara perished after being struck by a beach buggy. “Plunging off this precipice,” says the hiker, indicating the drop to our right, “that would be a better death for a poet.” fractious A fault line just itching for a fight.

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raffish The dishes are quiet in their cabinets, but perhaps the ground is not as innocent as it appears, a wolf


in turf’s clothing, a vulgar rake. Stays quiet ’til we think he’s drunk himself dead, then suddenly arrives at the party, turns the music way up, breaks bottles, ravishes girls, and everyone howls in outrage, yet can’t help but to love him. To lay down with him, the Ground, in the very end. He looks at me like he wants to do me harm. brackish The seismologists have yet to discover this truth: Our hearts throb, endeavor to break free of our bodies and love every last member of the human race. But our hearts dare not leave us for fear of killing our bodies and so they endeavor as well to check their own violent escape. And this tension, between the riot and the stillness, is transmitted as vibration through our bodies to the ground which amplifies it, shimmies and buckles and shakes loose our tears which become oceans, which are pushed ashore in tsunami by the writhing earth, and thus will humanity drown itself through the suppression of its own self-love. limpid San Francisco’s Marina District is built on landfill which drifts into the aquatic park and muddies the bay. This may or may not be a complete fabrication, a lie. Like the clear pools that are your eyes; in truth, I can’t even tell you their color. And in my dreams they are windows that open not onto the soul, but onto opaque curtains, always drawn. specious Falling boulders. My friends agree —

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that’s the way to go. cogitate Oh death, where is thy sting? Over there, over there, like flies; in headlines and the pit of my stomach. It’s far too much for the page. Let me speak of deaths that could be rather than of deaths that are. The best I can do is to live in my moment which is forever grasping at the future. In these troubled times, what are our responsibilities as writers? My neighbor’s dog takes a moment from her frolic to push her hard round head into my palm. Her vocation is to tear across the lawn, and be loved. stasis The city will fall down. I stretch my hands out, willing it to stay up. Stay, I tell it. Stay! terror There are those who want to hurt us (whom do they love?) My friends intend to leave New York out of fear of terrorists and I intend to leave San Francisco out of fear of earthquakes. Maybe we’ll meet somewhere in the heartland, see if we can find its namesake: tough red muscle, elusive organ.

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We intend to leave but find ourselves still at America’s extremities; her hands. Paused with pen above paper waiting for a jolt to action.


appellation I dreamt I was unsaying my name (“subanna…bubaha…”) until it was nearly divorced from me and I was in danger of losing myself. trepidation Well, that one goes without saying: My trembling fear: of walking into a room and finding the wrong person there; of waking in a room that has crumbled and dissipated; of working in a room until the pages are all [ ]. methodical Today I put papers in neat piles. All my Virgo grasp and file cannot forestall — taciturn Sometimes I manage to hold my tongue, do not Cassandra death and disaster. Sometimes we maintain radio silence until the static prickles our skin and our limbs fall dead asleep, that they may wake refreshed. somnolence My co-spooner wakes with a grunt, aborted snore that is the means to its own end, and tightens his tender grip around me; then drifts back to sleep and his arms go loose again and again he snorts softly awake… So that I am drifting too, in the waves of his embrace; no great romance, but a kind of grace. 81


profligate The dissolute plaster falling in chunks, dishes toppling to the ground. profligate Is this town more reckless and sinful, anticipating its imminent destruction? profligate Remember that time when I jumped to the conclusion that my friend was dying? I was living with my knees slightly bent, ready for tragedy from any direction. resolute All this wind can’t shake loose the green kick-ball stuck for months in the branches of my neighbor’s tree. oblation The graceful sweep of the hand with which the office girl catches the slender cord and pulls the little earphone from her ear to hear us. The full moon painting its long white reflection on the ocean, past the runway of streetlights. The quaint covered reservoir, seismically reinforced, and freed from its scaffolding. The seagulls above it, rising on their slender arms.

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[almost disaster]


We still like data the math of the magazine Women (18) 69% Men (8) 31%

Contributors: this issue

Contributors: all issues

Women (36) 58% Men (26) 42%

Women(18) (18)69% 69% Women

Women Women(18) (36)69% 58%

Men(8) (8)31% 31% Men

Men 31% Men(8) (26) 42%

First We Still Like Meeting Elbo Room 647 Valencia Street San Francisco May 2009

We Still Like Meeting farthest from home Pacific Ocean Malpais, Costa Rica August 2009

First submission received June 17, 2009

Last submission received March 18, 2011

Stores selling WSL

7

Screwposts used

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Best tweet @kateregan I’m making everyone wait for me to read a tweet or two while I tweet. #WeStillLike being meta-ridiculous.

contributors’ Locations (this issue) Bay Area (11) East Coast (7) Somewhere in the Middle (2) Europe, Etc. (2) Canada (2) Pacific Northwest (2)

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] ing and writing tours for Invisible City Audio Tours to be released in May and August, and her first novel, girlchild, will be published in February by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[…] marks the incomplete and impossible attempt to construct the “collected” artist, the categorized history, and the enraptured listener. — Mark Fenster, “Boxing In, Opening Out”

A

lbum Artwork: Step-by-step instructions for the drawing of a human ear. There is a yellow sticker affixed to the bottom front cover; it says, “Between the mixtape and the MP3, the phrase, ‘I made you a CD,’ has built and broken many a romance. Columbia House will eventually stop hunting you down…but this collection will always know where you live.” The sticker will never come off cleanly, a solvent will be required. Album Title: Love/Lobe The instructions include thoughts about the ear’s complications, the organ’s folds, and ways to attack its design for better representation on the page. The instructions use proper English, s’s take the place of z’s, there are ou’s where o’s might stand alone, and a’s instead of e’s. Thoughts about the tone of the ear, this means its color, take up most of the middle section, and there are notes about light, mid-range and dark tones, tones for every shade of listener. To her surprise, the instructions work. After only a few moments, there is an ear on the page but so lonely, page deaf. She spends hours erasing and redrawing the ear’s center, turning the irregular shape at its heart into the shape of a heart with traces of faint Ticonderoga #2. The heart seems natural there, almost organic, it beats on the page, a quiet pulse, and when she blows away the accumulated bits of eraser and paper, it quivers.

[

Tupelo Hassman owns 2012. She is direct-

Box Set

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Album Artwork: A child’s drawing. The paper is folded in half and on the side unseen a glass tips off a table, lives in mid-air. Her child’s voice prescient in the penciled caption under-


neath says, “Mom, I broke a glass.” Album Title: A Boy Is Walkin’ Away The stick figure of a man drawn in — what is presumed to be from the title — the distance. His torso is the usual t but his legs curve out like parentheses (and what they share is that he is a cowboy). No matter how invisible his horse, its existence is proved by this stance. His legs are traced and retraced. Thicker lines than the rest, they will be paid attention to. They bow and flare like chaps as a train rolls through just beyond the page. The hidden train hits a hidden track and her song whistles down the empty Main Street in the bright white of the paper’s high noon. Before the cowboy can think to draw, the air fills with the smell of hot lead and the ground at his feet is peppered with his death sentence: A Boy Is Walkin’ Away. Album Artwork: A nipple, wet with lipstick, kissed to cardstock. Album Title: Plumage (after the lipstick’s color, Plumage #10) Her breasts are wings, the feathers slice his lips as she rises above him and flies toward her nest at the top of a forgotten telephone pole. She built her nest there from cellophane wrappers, spent guitar strings. It is braided through with the shine of guts pulled from cassette tapes left on curbs where she’d land, pry open the cardboard boxes, peck through for songs that included her name, then toss those tapes up in the air so they might clatter, crack open on the sidewalk, the insides loosened. Leaping onto the naked cassettes, she’d nip their threads, hover, pull, her wings beating quarter notes on the sidewalk, unwind each one, then take off and up, streamers trailing from her beak as she moved silently through the night sky. In the nest thus created at the top of the telephone pole that has been forgotten by telephones, and warmed with the death of sound, two speaker cones nestle in the hollow. When she rests on them, her blood-tipped wings folded for sleep, the cones begin to tremble and shake, crackle with static, until the day comes when they fall from their perch in stereo, plummet, but catch themselves, flown speakers.

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Album Artwork: A copy of a copy. Black and white stock photos bearing the faintest allusion to the songs that are all listed in painfully tidy black print. The handwriting is almost machined, all capitals. There are no mistakes. There are no hidden tracks. Album Title: Effigy Bored of being hurt by his casual selections chosen in cursory scrolls through lists of MP3s, she gathers the CDs he’s made for her and burns his own songs back for him. It is a track list designed to mimic his posture, weight and girth. She paper maches him from his own favorites. Her glue and spit echo his. The headphones she attaches to his mocking ears are old-fashioned, large and cushioned. The noose she makes with their cord is old-fashioned as well. She strings him up from a festooned gallows glistening with tinsel. This is her Carnival. She sets a fire underneath, kindles it with record sleeves and liner notes. The flames tickle his feet, pull at his pants. She whoops, shakes her breasts free in the open air. She throws beads at herself in reward, catches them. This is her Mardi Gras. The fire crawls up his chest and licks his beard, moves to the gallows. The decorations sparkle and catch, disappear in the night. The headphones tumble to the ground, their rubber melts sticky on the pavement. This is her crime spree. She arrests herself for littering. She is her own police force. Hating paperwork, she lets herself off with a warning and with her one free phone call she dials herself direct. Album Artwork: It is a child’s writing, “The Dumst Boy in the Wrould,” there is no other artwork save an imagining of a geography where any intelligence is rated for insult and no intelligence is lauded, a landscape populated by a missing b and e, by an o and r inverted, by an unnecessary u. Album Title: The Dumst Boy in the Wrould 86


Album Artwork: The embroidered scrap of a pair of bloodied khaki work pants. The pants weren’t used for working, the blood is from a drunken fall. Album Title: Un She rocks in a chair whose paint peels, an embroidery hoop in her hands. Her stitching is careful but off. It is a sampler and, so, a prayer for idle hands, busy work for war time. Her needle sets down in the groove of the fabric, playing tunes distant and scratchy, the tunes of her mother, her mother’s sewing box open at her feet. The needle slips through, outlines blue lips, back and through. The needle spins a 45, wants B-sides. She traces the rust of the blood stains with gold. The needle passes on through, back and through, reaches the end, finds a track hidden there, a version of her song, it skips at her name, plays at the wrong speed, back and through. She fills the lips in, midnight sky, the needle moves faster, back and through, keeps skipping at her name, and she pricks herself, back and through. Her blood brightens the khaki, tangles down her arm, embroiders the floor, it muffles the sound like carpet, rocks it to sleep in the shhh shhh of the chair’s metronome.

[almost heard]

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] [

co. Previous work has received the James C. and Clara Hall Cortage award for humorous writing. Chapbook Some Obscure Protozoa forthcoming. Can be contacted, for practical purposes, at jason.rosten@gmail.com.

Jason Rosten lives and writes in San Francis-

the sky, a theatre Launching dead cats into the air by catapult on a chrome-bright December morning rich with smell of mown lawns and all the things one could expect, we laugh. Our expirations form plumes and the cats whoosh past our ears. The narrow, V-shaped channel built of wood, from which the dead cats feed into the cup at the end of the swing-arm, one after the last — it draws back by way of the swing of an oppositional weight determined by inertia —

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numerous, continues. Their path, the same precise space


each cat’s flight inhabits, becomes more sovereign with each clockwork launching, the way someone says,

over and over and over

forever, and makes over no longer a word but a new thing, its own hum.

A trance, a one-beat thought. Brushing the teeth. Sweeping the floor. Shuffling along the carpet, barefoot. I hug you from behind, like I am an enormous shawl, my fingers entwined across your belly. Their frozen-stiff bodies twirl like jacks as they arc over the horizon. Together

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we gently sway to the song-like repetition of their launching. You begin to hum to it, like a purr.

softly

The bits of frost crystallized in fur alight like coals in the morning sun move through the sky. “Your eyes are just like that,” I tell you, “Glittering in the bright cold winter;” the taut rope wrapped around

the piston creaks, the arm retracts, and as one peaks the empty cup clicks into place beneath the narrow, V-shaped channel, from which another

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dead cat rolls down into place. And the loss of that cat’s weight


in the channel allows the cup to once more launch. I pick at a fuzzball on your sweater. You lean your head against mine. Your hum grows into melody and we continue to sway. We name each cat with our eyes. I begin to tap out little drumbeats on your belly. “You’re bored,”

you say, “I can tell.” I say I’m

not. I say the crisp winter invigorates me. I say the mechanism of perpetual motion used to launch cats,

despite the constant progression of newer technologies,

remains fascinating.

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I say the cats are as beautiful as they ever were, and I say, “and so are you.” “No,” you say, “I know when you’re bored. Just tell me you’re bored. Just tell me.” I insist that I am not bored. I make hand gestures. I point to the cats and to the sky. I gesture to your stomach,

where my hands had rested, fingers entwined. I am not bored.

Bored, you always say. Bored. As though bored defined anything. As though bored could be a national cuisine or stamped letter; the notches in a femur. Bored. I am not bored, but I realize we’ve forgotten the cats. They continue into the sky; our gazes remain upward,

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but we’ve forgotten them. We may wonder about origins or semantics or how or why, but the song has stopped;


you’ve stopped your humming; or worse, if you are still humming it is the humming of refrigerators: a monotonous hum of rows and rows of dumb refrigerators, blunt as a field of horses, disappearing: a humming too dull to even hate the sky. And now we must grapple with the fact, I tell you, that I am not your piece of decor; a sad couch, a strict black cabinet, crown moulding, your great wide shawl, acrylic knit; protection from the weather and from the world patterned after lapses in attention, patterned in interlocked octagons, chestnut and teal, but a man, draped against your back, staring into the sky like it was television. [almost romantic]

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] aspiring musician who finds freedom outside of a prescribed format. She is humbled by this particular story, a piece of nonfiction. She would love to say that it isn’t true, but that wouldn’t be true.

[

Jenna Bowers is a creative writing major and

All Of This Happened, And More I was born 3 years and 3 weeks later my sister came We ran in the woods, whispered in the night Without warning we were women I led her down the aisle She came when I called She began to blossom Growing rounder every moon Until, in the grandest display of womanhood I have seen, She burst Bloody and brave A boy Our boy Never was there a baby boy so loved We would swoon when he crawled into the room We laughed when he laughed, which made us all laugh He always reached up Up Until one day Gravity and god reclaimed him

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When a star dies The void left is so great It becomes a deafening vacuum The absence of light


We fumbled In the darkness We are fumbling still There is a new star now And though we cannot feel its warmth Its light shines on us all All of this happened, and more Look up When you see the brightest thing in the sky You will know Before and After I was high up in the hills of northern California, working on a pot farm. I slept the whole night without even having dreams about the unimaginable things taking place at my home in the tip of Idaho’s panhandle. It was almost twelve hours after it happened that I found out. That moment took my life and painted it in two very distinct shades. Before my nephew died, and after my nephew died. When I say it, I still can’t believe it’s true. Now I’m lying in bed. Listening to my Suzuki practice album. Suzuki is a method for learning the violin. Learning the violin is hard as hell. That’s why I’m not learning it for me. I mean, I’ll benefit, but, let’s be honest. I could give up on myself. But I’m learning it for Keiren. I could never give up on him. Most things I’m doing these days are for him and because of him and in spite of him being gone and in honor of him having been. I will play until I can play a lullaby that adequately expresses every Keiren-related feeling in my heart. That will take a lifetime. There are a lot of feelings in my heart.

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Then My mom said the words and everything fell down. I could hear the sound of a hundred hearts shattering. I couldn’t breath, couldn’t see. I just said no no no no no nononononononononono. Then I hung up and walked outside, to the edge of a cliff. I could see again, out across the vast green valley and up to the next mountain tops. The light was distorted, or maybe it was just me. My friends held me. I don’t know when I left the cliff’s edge, if I even have yet. Unable to think or act at all for myself, my friends undressed me and put me in the shower. I needed to get home, back up to our little corner of Idaho, and I couldn’t go anywhere like I was: three days into trimming weed in the same clothes and I was covered head to toe in sticky, smelly green. The last thing I needed was some sort of trouble for that. It’s always good to have friends, but in times of crisis, it’s absolutely crucial. If they weren’t there I would have probably started walking down the road, gotten lost and ended up somewhere in Nevada two weeks later, muttering to myself, reeking of marijuana and eating sticks. Instead I was clean and packed and strapped into the van and headed down the hill, within what may have been an hour but actually was a thousand lifetimes. We drove. Or, someone drove and someone held my hand and I wept endlessly looking out the window as all the light faded away. Eventually we arrived in San Francisco, where I slept without dreaming and woke early to board a plane.

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Now I’m so tired. The violin album is still playing. There is so much to learn it’s completely overwhelming, but I get excited when I hear Bach’s “Minuet 3.” Will I really be able to play that someday, Suzuki? Truly? Listening to a dozen variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” well, it’s bizarre, and not just a little bit devastating. There is just so much. How can we cope with losing our loved ones, in a world where “The Song of the Wind” exists to


be learned by aspiring violists? As I drift off to sleep, the notes dance their way into my dreams…A, E, F#, D, C#, B…twinkling and blowing around in the sky. Then I wish I could say that the rest was a blur. But its crystal-clear vividness is etched into my mind like yesterday’s movie. I arrived at the airport. The drive from Spokane to Sandpoint has never taken longer. I was the last to arrive at my mom’s home, where my whole family was gathered. We embraced and wept and embraced and wept and when I held my sister all of the sadness of the world wrapped us both in its long thin arms. We spent a whole week in that house. I guess you could call it a “wake.” The mornings were the hardest. Waking from a long night of barely sleeping, remembering in the first slow and groggy instant of consciousness that Keiren was gone. We would gather quietly, eating from the plates of baked goods dropped off by well-intentioned neighbors at a loss for how to handle such a situation. People would come by throughout the day. If it was the first time seeing them we would have to go through the initial grief again, together. It was easiest when it was someone from our village. Then we didn’t feel the need to speak, we could just share the broken silence. By the evenings things would take on a more celebratory tone, aided by bottles of expensive scotch. Our large group would circle, drinking and toasting and singing and telling stories and even laughing. This made it easier to sleep, though we still took sleeping pills, lest our nightmarish visions kept us tossing and turning. Which they did, nonetheless. Now I’m at school today. I should be doing math homework, graphing linear inequalities and so forth. But I just came from poetry class, where a woman who lost her best friend to suicide read to us today —

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Separation by W. S. Merwin Your absence has gone through me Like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color. — so that’s what I’m thinking about instead of linear inequalities. School. Having taken about 13 years off since high school, there is a sort of novelty to being back in class. Doing homework. Earning grades. School feels good right now. It goes well with the mode of learning I’m in. I’m trying to remain humble and open to new experiences and ways of thinking and doing. Like a child. Like one child in particular. It’s the Least I Can Do Like a child I move Forward Gulping colors Words Tastes and smells The feeling in my fingertips Moving Like him His spirit etched into A star A scar An eternal ache

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I take his eyes Use them as my own Has grass always been so green? Has blood always run so thick?


I can’t live with him Anymore So I use his ears The song of the wind echoing In my shrill violin Singing him, Forever, Into peace Until my own heart stops I will use his Loving all of everything Without fear of falling What kind of child would I be? If I feared death — So I move Forward Fearless Every step, using his feet Until I walk the whole world So that his eyes May see past each horizon Then We did leave the house. The first time it was for the candlelight vigil. The whole town bundled up, hats and scarves and heavy hearts, and headed down to the park. I quietly passed out candles to sorrowfully smiling neighbors, friends and strangers. Everyone stood in a circle, silent. Someone began to sing. “Amazing Grace.” The flames from hundreds of candles flickered and glowed and lit up the low-lying October clouds. The next time we left the house was to say goodbye to his

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body. I walked into the funeral home with my sister and brotherin-law. He was lying on some sort of bed or cot or something. His eyes were closed and he had makeup on. There were ice packs under his clothes. His skin felt so cold. It was nothing like the boy I remembered. The tears, they had become like breathing. But this was something different. It throbbed and ached to cry so hard. To kiss his cold cheeks. My sister wailed. His body was there, but he wasn’t in the room. He was long gone. The next day a wooden box of ashes sat on our coffee table. Now There is a fire in the fireplace. I am waiting for someone to show up. It’s a long story.

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Long Story We met in May of 2008. John walked through the door, sunlight behind him. It was love at first sight. He sang songs. We sang songs. We tended fire and told stories and cast spells and smoked weed and slept side by side and rode bikes and said goodbye. Not for the last time. I listened to his songs. I loved other men. I’m sure he loved other women. When we met again it was the same thing. Golden. Shining. I asked him to spend the night with me. He said that he couldn’t. I went home alone. He drove across the bridge and wrote a song. Words were still shared. Love was still felt. There were always his songs, finding my ears. There were always our dreams, crossing the distance. There was so much. I almost moved across the sea to live with another man. It didn’t work out. When I came back with my trunk of belongings he was there again. It was more of the same. Songs words love. He sang me my song and walked me home in the middle of the night. Something shifted. We began to write more frequently. Talk more frequently. I wrote him a poem. We drove for hours to drink tea together. The dreams came more often, more intense. Everything got more intense.


Then The third time we left the house was to go to his memorial. It was on the lake at my uncle’s house. The last time I had been there was with Keiren and John, on a golden afternoon a million years before. It was raining all around us, but it somehow missed our gathering. A fierce wind blew. The clouds opened up above our heads, and the cold October sun came down. Everyone was there. Keiren was there. Not the baby boy I remembered, but a great spirit that was everywhere. I walked to the edge of the lake, sang him his lullabies. The wind kissed my cheeks. I held the sun in my arms. Long Story By the time John arrived at my house late one night in March, it was already too late for me. I tried to keep my hopes in check, but what can you do when the man you love is in your bed, singing you songs? His life is so complicated; he’s always leaving, always saying goodbye. Women love him in every town in the country. He has a hundred songs about it, a hundred stories. I see how this could rip him wide open. How it has. I understand why he has walls. My compassion seems limitless. My love seems limitless. The possibility of pain seems inevitable. Every touch burns. Every word cuts further into my heart that has broken so many times it falls away effortlessly. I can’t get his songs out of my head. I can’t take my eyes from his face. When someone you love asks you not to love them, what then? How can you give them anything but what they want? Almost When the wind comes down I feel it first in the middle of my chest I know My heart is on the left But tell that to my heart It feels everything in the center

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Especially the wind Aching for it like a lost lover Or more like A lover that always floated invisible above my bed Without ever really touching down But always felt In the center Of everything The wind is like that I like that about it We embrace briefly But it has to keep moving I understand Now Pain can’t help itself. It finds its way into every place we leave open. Like water it trickles in, filling empty spaces and seeking lower ground. My feet are heavy today. Then One of my lullabies was a song of John’s called “Still Exists.” My favorite line to sing to Keiren, as he drifted off to sleep on my chest, was: “Love is not a cold, love is not the flu, I don’t think getting over people is what we’re supposed to do, love is a gift. Thank you love.” It meant something different to me before and after. Everything is different now. He still sings that song, but now when I hear it, all of my love and pain rises in my chest. Love is a gift. Now I don’t know where to go from here.

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Later We said goodbye. I tried to watch him drive away, but the wind blew my hair into my eyes.


Fucking Goodbyes Fucking Goodbyes Now I’m learning how to play “Still Exists” on my violin. I had to transpose it, applying lyrical mathematics. It’s in E, a key full of sharps, which would make it difficult even if it wasn’t a song by the man that I love impossibly, a song that I used to sing to my nephew before he died. But, since there is nothing as difficult as living without them, playing the violin is almost refreshing. A challenge I can undertake, with the possibility of actual success. Besides, it makes me feel closer to them. I don’t think getting over people is what we’re supposed to do… What I’m Learning There is love and there is pain. Everything in between ranges high and low, hot and cold, but in the end there is just the two. They go together. My heart has stretched so far to these corners that I can hold everything inside, the whole world, all of its love and all of its pain. It’s hard to believe a person could survive so much weight. I’m learning how to carry it. I’m finding a place for it all to fit. Making Room I knew the time would come When the sun would set on all things once golden I’ve been trying to prepare myself for years But how? There must be some place for it to live now I’m making room in my body Pushing back into corners There is a space between remembering, forgetting It’s narrow

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I might be able to fit it into my left shoulder Close to my heart But apart Still Exists (E B C#m A E G#7 A B E C#m A B E) Funny how things in life can be like songs, they begin, they end, and then they’re gone. You stopped singing me yours a long time ago, but I haven’t stopped thanking you for each one that I got‌

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[almost all]


]

his is my almost memoir. This is my first confession of what didn’t happen, but nearly did. Things that were one tiny yes/no away. I almost lived in San Diego, IN/NEAR the town I grew up in living a simple, religious life AND/OR near the ocean AND/OR married to a recovering heroin addict AND/OR as a hippie with dreadlocks, following Phish THEN some other jam band after Phish broke up OR as a psychologist AND/OR a housewife AND/OR a mother of children living in Los Angeles as someone in the music industry (whatever that means) OR as a life-long waitress AND a mess of a person AND probably an alcoholic living out a short-lived dream in Taos in an Earth Ship THEN coming home because people there were weird AND BECAUSE it was cold in Montana with a cheat THEN home disappointed AND BECAUSE it was cold

Tavia Stewart-Streit is the founder and executive director of Invisible City Audio Tours. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Spark and elsewhere. She recently collaborated on the book Ready, Set, Novel, out in August 2011 from Chronicle Books.

T

[

The Almost Lives of Tavia Stewart-Streit

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living in New Jersey as the wife of a republican AND/OR a mother of children living somewhere else OR with someone else here happier OR/THEN less happy OR/THEN just as happy never knowing the difference.

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[almost you]


]

his is my almost memoir. This is my first confession of what didn’t happen, but nearly did. Things that were one tiny ________________ away. I almost lived in ___________________, IN/NEAR _______________________ living a ____________________________ life AND/OR near the ______________________________ AND/OR married to ________________________________ AND/OR as a _________________________________ THEN some __________________________________ OR as a __________________________________ AND/OR a __________________________________ AND/OR a ___________________________________ living in __________________________________ as someone _____________________ (whatever that means) OR as a _______________________________________ AND a __________________________________ AND probably _____________________________ living out a short-lived _________________ in __________________________ in ____________________________ THEN coming home because ___________________ AND BECAUSE it was ___________________ in _____________________________ THEN home _________________________________ AND BECAUSE it was ___________________

__________________ is a __________ living in _____________ who __________________ ______________________________________ _____________________________________.

T

[

The Almost Lives of


living in ________________________ as the ___________________of a _________________ AND/OR a ____________________________________ living somewhere else OR with someone else here ___________________ OR/THEN less ____________________ OR/THEN just as ______________________ never knowing the difference.

Cut here

[almost sent] Fold here, grab a piece of tape

______________________ ______________________ ______________________

Mail here:

We Still Like 4232 Terrace Street Oakland CA 94611

Stamp here

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