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R XAVIEREVIEW 34.1-2, Fall 2014

XAVIER REVIEW


Xavier Review, a journal of literature and culture, is published twice a year. Š Xavier University of Louisiana. Ralph Adamo Editor Katheryn Laborde Managing Editor Thomas Bonner, Jr., Violet Bryan, Biljana Obradovic, James Shade, Robin Vander, Mark Whitaker, Nicole Pepinster Greene Contributing Editors

Editors, Xavier University Studies, 1961-1971: Rainulf A. Stelzman, Hamilton P. Avegno, Leon Baisier Editors, Xavier Review, n.s.: Charles Fort, 1980-1982 Thomas Bonner, Jr., 1982-2002 Richard Collins, 2000-2007 Nicole Pepinster Greene, 2007-2011 Managing Editor: Robert Skinner, 1989-2010

Unsolicited manuscripts may be submitted in typescript or by email attachment with a brief letter of submission and a self-addressed envelope for reply to the Editors, Xavier Review, Box 89, Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA 70125. Essays should conform to the MLA Handbook for Writers with parenthetical citations and a list of Works Cited. Manuscripts accepted for publication will be requested as electronic files. Subscriptions are $20 for individuals, $25 for institutions. Editorial inquiries may be addressed to Ralph Adamo at radamo@xula.edu. All other inquiries may be addressed to Katheryn Laborde at klaborde@xula.edu. Xavier Review is indexed in the MLA International Bibliography and the Index of American Periodical Verse, as well as other indices. Current support comes from Xavier University, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Commission for Catholic Missions. Sources of previous support include the Louisiana Division of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. http://www.xula.edu/review ISSN 0887-6681


Editor’s Note For Volume 34 of Xavier Review, we present a double issue, and in keeping with the theme of doubling, we have multiple stories by two writers, as well as two lively and distinctive interviews, and even an object of art approached poetically by two people, who happen to be a couple. We have as well reviews of two new books of poems by poets long associated with New Orleans. The reader will also find several remarkable translations, one of them a real transportation to a different time and place. There is as well a heartfelt eulogy by a major writer of a major figure in art, a reminiscence by a man of letters of his long-ago experiences in the country that was China. And a personal encounter with Flannery O’Conner. In addition, we present lyric poems, tale tales, modern stories and a thorny meditation on Jesus. That’s right: we are continuing our quest to demonstrate that a literary magazine can be many things to many people, and of interest in general to any reader who picks it up and takes a chance. On the home front, we congratulate our Managing Editor Katheryn Laborde, on the publication (with Oliver Hennessy, our English Department colleague who himself has just published a book on Yeats and Shakespeare) of a twenty year retrospective of work appearing in New Voices, a Xavier student publication. Contributing Editor Robin Vander’s long labor of love, Percival Everette: Writing Other/Wise (edited by Vander along with Keith B. Mitchell, Xavier Review Press) has also just come out, as has a book by your editor, Ever: Poems 2000-2014 (Lavender Ink.) This issue owes the usual debt and then quite a bit more to former editor Tom Bonner, who contributes a review and steered both the John Ed Bradley piece and the J.M. LeMaster essay to Xavier Review #34. Thanks, Tom. Finally, we at Xavier Review are saddened to learn of the passing of recent contributor Naton Leslie, who is given a proper send off in The Hollins Critic (October 2014).

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Xavier Review 34.1, Fall 2014 Editor’s Note — v Malaika Favorite An Interview by Philip C. Kolin — 9 Five Poems by Malaika Favorite — 25 Peyton Burgess Three Stories — 35 Tim Fitts Thatch, after the Iron Lady — 54 Tom Holmes Exile on Longleaf Trace — 58 Ron McFarland The Prayers of Seeds — 64 Georgia Tiffany Meditation On ‘The Prayers Of Seeds’ — 65 Jyotirmoyee Devi Ungendered — 68 Translated by Apala G. Egan Robert Stone An Interview by Kevin Rabalais — 81 Peter Koch Maravillo — 90 Richard Spilman On the Road to Emmaus — 94 Erin J. Kast Nature as Christ: Muir’s Retelling of Humanity’s Relationship to her Mother — 95 Joshua M. Hall Hapless Dispersion — 106 Hard-Won Understanding — 107 Hegel’s Big Five in the Den — 108


John Ed Bradley John Clemmer (1921-2014) Eulogy Clemmer Memorial Service, May 9, 2014 — 109 Carrie Chappell Passionately Discontent: A Review Of John Gery’s Have at You Now! — 115 Harry de la Houssaye Ken Fontenot Revisited — 119 Keith Alexander Laps at Midnight — 122 Ty Cronkhite Breakfast With Caroline — 124 Abigail Allen Two Stories — 135 Katheryn Krotzer Laborde Mourning Flannery — 140 Thomas Bonner, Jr. A Review of Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. — 149 Ivan de Monbrison The Lookout — 152 Victoria Mary Fach Allegretto — 154 Zach Powers The Loneliness of Large Bathrooms — 155 J.R. Lemaster Memories Of China — 160 Contributors — 163

Photo of Malaika Favorite on Front Cover by Huon Le. Photo of Robert Stone on page 81 by Phyllis Rose.


Malaika Favorite

An Interview by Philip C. Kolin

Through her art and her poetry Malaika Favorite (born 1949) has

contributed immensely to the history of civil rights. The second of nine children, she was born in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and lived across the road from the Mississippi River. With T. S. Eliot, she can say, “The river is within us, and the sea is all around us.” She was the first black student to attend a previously all-white school district. Her name in Swahili means “Messenger,” an apt epithet for Favorite’s artistic mission and triumphs. Drawing upon her own experiences and those of her ancestors, she graphically recounts and enshrines civil rights struggles through her own “backdoor” view of history in her paintings, sculpture, murals, looms, and prints. Widely praised for incorporating recycled materials (plastic bottles, coffee pots, scraps of cloth, dress forms) and domestic objects such as washboards and garments into her art, Favorite uses these “found objects” as icons of slavery and survival, black sacrifices and creativity. Favorite has won numerous grants and awards f or her colorful paintings and other artistic achievements and has traveled extensively in the US and overseas. Her works have been featured in one person shows and are included in such impressive collections as the Absolut Vodka and the Coca Cola Company in Atlanta, the Alexandria Museum of Art, the Louisiana State University Print Collection, the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, and the Rosel Fann Center in Atlanta. She has also been commissioned to create historical murals in Atlanta, including “West End Remembers” for the Atlanta Belt Line. Equally gifted as a poet, Favorite has published her written work extensively. The magic and amazement that we find in her art also seeps into her haunting poems. Her first volume of poetry Illuminated Manuscript (1991) and Dreaming at the Manor has recently been released by Finishing Line 9


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Press. Another long cycle of autobiographical poems rooted in her cultural memories growing up in Louisiana—Ascension—is in progress. Combining the textual with the visual, she has incorporated poetry into her art. In one of her most famous collages (Furious Flower Poetry Quilt), a representation of 24 influential African American poets, she has inscribed key lines from each poet into her images of them. The following is the first extended interview with Malaika and was conducted in February 2014. In our email conversations, she focused on her strong faith at the center of all she does, her role as a Southern artist, the influences on her work, the way in which her art and her poems evolve, and the function of “found materials” in her art. At several junctions in this interview, she quotes one of her poems to elucidate the connections she makes between words and images. Malaika Favorite has earned a high place in contemporary American and world art for her representation of black history. PCK: So many voices are heard in your poems and through your art. Give us some background information about yourself to better understand these voices? MF: I was born at home and delivered by a midwife. We lived across from the levee in Geismar, Louisiana, in a duplex; my great grandparents lived on the left side and we lived on the right. The house was on what is now called the River Road. When you opened the front door you saw the levee and behind the levee was the river. It runs throughout my poems, especially in Ascension, and my art. The river was the place where my great grandfather fished. When I wrote about the river, I was imagining the voice of the river; it had to be more than just water. I began to imagine that everything had a voice and could talk; only we did not understand their language. My parents and grandparents had a deep respect for nature and the environment. PCK: How did your education shape your art and your dedication to Civil Rights? 10


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MF: I received my BFA and MFA in art from LSU in 1967-1973 and wrote many angry, cursing poems that I read at every Black Culture program. I also spoke at the Free Speech Allies, an open forum held on the parade ground on campus. The other students were afraid of me because I wore a denim jacket covered in protest buttons and had a large Afro. But I was a very shy person and this was my disguise. I also protested against God and told him he was moving too slowly on race relations and I was going to do things my way. Previously, I had some negative experiences with the Baptist Student Union. I encouraged some friends to go to a breakfast there where, supposedly, we were to select a church based on the invitations made by the pastors from each church. But when we selected a church, the leader of the BSU pulled me aside to say that the churches decided not to seat Blacks. Of course, my friends were devastated, and I was embarrassed for the church and for God. We tried to integrate the local white Southern Baptist churches but were asked to leave. I attended University Baptist for a while because it was the only church that accepted Blacks, but my experience caused me to break with the church and become more militant. PCK: What was your art like at the time? MF: My early works were mostly protest pieces. Before that, I painted still life and figurative works. The professors at LSU did not have much background in Black art so they suggested I study Gaugin because he painted dark skin people. I worked in the style of Matisse and Picasso for a while; as with most young artists, I was enamored by their bold colors. PCK: How have your art and poems reflected your close faith? MF: I feel like I have an ongoing dialogue with God, and sometimes what I write is a continuation of our discussions. When I was separated from God during my militant period, I was miserable. I was trying to do things the hip and cool way as other people I knew in the struggle, and usually God was not a part of this. I was lonely for that closeness; I walked around feeling as 11


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if there was an empty space inside of me, and nothing could fill it. It took a tragedy to make me realize that I was missing my relationship with the Holy. Even during the dark periods, I consulted God when I was desperate, but it was not the same as being in constant contact with holiness. I believe God is always talking to us; we just don’t hear him. PCK: How does God talk to you? MF: If you get quiet you will hear God breathing next to you and if you keep the door between you and God open the Holy Spirit will be with you. If I am stuck in a poem or painting I can ask the Spirit what to do; he may say let it rest or that perfect word may come to me right after I ask. I see the Trinity in everything and express it in my work. For me the Trinity is masculine, perhaps because of my socialization, but mostly because I feel more comfortable with God as a father figure. PCK: Some of your most powerful works deal with the Virgin Mary—e.g., the Pieta of South Africa, Mother and Child, etc. What role does Mary play in your presentation of African American women? MF: The wonderful thing about Mary is that she transcends cultures because we identify her as a mother figure and the universal wonder of Mother Love. For me whenever I see a mother and child I am seeing Mary; when I painted the series of portraits for the Marian Library in Dayton, I wanted to show that there is a Mary in all our lives. I often thought God could have just dropped a baby on a roadside and allowed a woman to find him but, no, he chose to identify with us by selecting one of us to be the mother of his son here on earth. That is deep to me. I use African American women for Mary because we have always been bombarded with white Mary and a blond Jesus and this is not the historical Mary. PCK: How has the South shaped your work? Would you characterize yourself as a Southern artist? 12


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MF: I am a Southern artist by virtue of having lived in the South all my life. I have visited many other places but the South is in me and I can only process information from that viewpoint. Though I get very angry with the South, I cannot divorce it because it is my tribe and my family and, even if I divorce myself from it, the South will follow me no matter where I go. Once I was embarrassed to be Southern, but now I see it as an honor because it has given me ideas and visions that no other place can give. As a result, I have inherited the flavor and cadence of the place; they come out in my art and writing without my having to evoke them, because they are in me. I accept that, and I consider myself a delicious person because I taste like home. PCK: Your art has been described as “Afro Modern.” Do you agree? How do you see yourself in terms of other modern African American artists such as Lois Mailou Jones who, like you, worked in so many different media? MF: I think my work can easily fit into that definition, though I tend to avoid defining my work into a particular movement. I am still in process and can’t say where I am going or what it will be like when I get there. I do see my work as a part of a larger whole, i.e., the Diaspora of Us, spread out across the planet. The works of Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden inspire me, but as I learn from them I go beyond them into whatever voices are calling me. I don’t want to be just like them because they have already filled their own shoes. PCK: What inspires you to write and to paint? MF: I am fascinated by creation, the wonder and arrangement of it all. I take walks simply to be dazzled. After I receive the sacrament of amazement, I come in to make art. Somehow a small portion of the magic seeps into my painting or poem, a little speck of it, sufficient to make me cry, just enough to make someone else cry and be amazed. That is my inspiration. 13


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PCK: How do ideas or subjects for your paintings evolve? MF: It varies. Sometimes I dream a painting, almost as if I am being shown a picture and then I wake up and do a quick sketch so I won’t forget. Other times the poem tells me what to paint. For example, I have always loved the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, by James Weldon Johnson. When I received a grant from the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs to do a series of paintings based on the anthem, I created paintings based on each phrase from the hymn. In that sense, poetry determined the subject of the paintings. Eventually, I did about 60 paintings based on that one hymn. Much of my art comes from playing with things. I have an item that I like and I juxtapose it with other objects and eventually I find two or three things that work together and then a painting is born. On the other hand, poems are different. PCK: How are they different? MF: Poems are strange things. Sometimes I don’t think I wrote them. I fear someone whispered in my ear and I think I thought it up. I get instant visions; they are so quick that if I don’t write them down I forget them. Usually, they are about people I don’t know, but I see them in a brief second as clear as if they knocked on my door and said hello. For example, I dozed off briefly in church and I saw a poorly lit room with steaming teapots along the wall. Some Asian women came in and began pouring tea into tiny cups; then they served it to workers in green shirts. One woman turned to face me. She was crying and some of her tears were in the cup she offered me. I never try to explain these visions; if I find a place for them I write them into something or I paint them; they are a gift from somewhere, why waste it. I never think I may be going mad nor hallucinating because I am an artist, and when you are a creative person the universe knows, and somehow you get connected to the mysterious. You can accept the offering or get scared and see a psychiatrist. PCK: Did the tears and teapot vision ever develop into a poem? 14


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MF: Yes, I used it in a nonfiction piece and in a poem entitled “Drinking Steel.” PCK: Like your art, your poems are hauntingly beautiful, visionary. Do you see poems as verbal tapestries? MF: Yes, in the end it is all painting, whether it may be words, art, or objects. Overall, I think in pictures or visual images. Words are often like a foreign language that I must translate into my native tongue of visual images. I get so used to drifting between visual images and words that they often blur. When I am writing a poem, I am really describing a picture I see in my head. I probably live too much on the right side of my brain, and crossing over to the left is difficult. PCK: Your first book, Illuminated Manuscript, contains both poems and prints. How does your written work inform your art and vice versa? MF: It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes they just flow into each other. In Illuminated Manuscript, most of the prints were pieces I already did that happened to work with the poems. But I had a poem called “River Witch” that I felt could use a visual image so I did a block print of the river witch. When I worked on the paintings for the Lift Every Voice Series, I invented poems as I worked to further discuss the emotions evoked by the painting. For example, I did a painting called, “The Blood of the Slaughtered,” but I added a portion of my poem “Lynching of the Preacher” from Ascension. That series was very difficult, and I often found myself crying while painting and slipping into lines of poetry born of the emotions I felt while painting. That was evident in a piece called the Dark Past from the same series. The poem, “Blacker than Last Night,” flowed down the side of the painting, and so I repeated words. Let me read an excerpt from that poem: We became what you said we were 15


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ugly something to be desired In the Prussian blue of night When the storm stole all visibility When the rooster lost his pride When the kiss of betrayal wet your lips We betrayed ourselves. PCK: You have art commissioned by the city of Atlanta, the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, and by Absolut Vodka, St. Gabriel Health Clinic, St. Gabriel, Louisiana. What is your approach to these commissioned pieces? MF: With most of the commissions I work closely with the community, the stakeholders, who play an important role in deciding on the final design. Once they approve the design, they expect me to stick to it. This is difficult because you get tempted to add something that you feel would be exciting, but they didn’t want. The discipline of a mural is that it is a joint venture. The community is as much a part of the design as I am; it really belongs to them, not to me. So I respect that, because history was a major part of most of my commissions, I do much research about the local and national history behind the art before my design is submitted. PCK: You have called yourself a “painter of ideas.” Yet, as you have just noted, in many ways you are a “painter of history.” How has your work—both your art and your poetry—portrayed the civil rights struggle still ongoing as well as its past triumphs? I am thinking of your exhibit on the Spirit of Martin, the Portraying of Lincoln, the Furious Flower Poem Quilt, or the poems in Dreaming at the Manor, etc. MF: History is inspiring, especially since it needs to be rewritten by the tiger and not the hunter. I see myself as filling in the gaps of Black history—the parts that were never told or only partially spoken of. There has been a great deal written and painted about the South but not my South, not my parents’ 16


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South, and not my relatives’ South. Even as I try to interpret the larger events of the civil rights movement I tell it from the backdoor point of view, e.g., how we saw it from where we sat or lived or dreamed. I am trying to dig deep into the soul of my piece of the South. Let me explain. From the historical point of view, the civil rights movement focuses on the great leaders in the struggle, their lives and families and the meetings that led up to the great events. While these are important details, they do not center on the everyday lives of ordinary Black people, other than to say that they were very poor and oppressed. But what did being poor and oppressed mean to us at that time? I try to answer those questions in my art and poetry because I saw it from where I sat at the backdoor observing my people struggling through life. My motto is anything can be made into art and art is always for keeps. PCK: Your art is renowned for turning “found objects,” discarded and/or domestic materials, into art. How does the process work for you? MF: In writing as in art, I pick up scraps. In art, I find pieces of cloth, embroidery, old pots, pans, washboards, labels from cans, leaves, old toys, and other odd items that interest me. The objects may or may not find their way into my art, but they are there in case I need them. An old pan often serves to display collaged items as labels or old drawings. I reuse a lot of drawings and sketches by collaging them into the paintings. In my poetry, I reuse lines that were dropped from other poems, in writing, I collect scraps of words and unfinished ideas or thoughts. Sometimes inspiration could come from some long forgotten memory or an event that happened in the community. For instance, the poem “River Witch” was based on a true incident in my hometown. Of course, I explained the incident to myself by inventing the river witch; thought I do believe the river calls people like a siren and people reluctantly answer. I saved that incident in my mind until I had the poem to go with it. 17


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PCK: You mentioned washboards. Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, has written many plays that include her trademark iconography of digging holes. Washboards seem to be your signature icon. Why? MF: Washboards have been a staple in my art since 1980. They were born of desperation. I was very low on funds, and I was out of canvas and paint and I complained to God. He told me to work with what I have. I had my mother’s washboard and a few I had saved because I felt they were perfect for expressing my ideas about Black history, representing the struggle of women in general and Black women in particular. The use of recycled materials was a part of growing up in the culture I came from. My earliest memories of work are of my mother bending over a washboard scrubbing socks, shirts, and pants. When I traveled, I saw that in countries all over the world the washboard is still a necessity in a woman’s life. In America, modern machines replaced the washboard, but it represents a history of hard labor and enslavement to “a woman’s role.” I chose the washboard to symbolize women stuck in a form of self-imposed slavery. In our past, we were tied to the washboard out of necessity, but today we choose our slavery by accepting the oppression of the American concept of beauty. We gladly torture ourselves to fit in to this concept. In my poem “Miss America of the Washboard,” I question our need to define ourselves by what we wear and not by the content of our character. This is a protest piece that poses a question about what is an American beauty. One of my early poems from Illuminated Manuscripts, “The Washboard,” exemplifies my use of the washboard as an icon: The Washboard Women in the East rub rocks with wet clothes; the rocks are worn smooth by successive generations of rubbings. The widow’s washboard is a fish 18


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designed to swim the water of her tub. Horizontal grooves are cut into the wood like scales. It has the silent eye of a wood knot, a spot where the wood once connected itself to the tree and held promises of a better future. It is much like me expecting to make walls talk but limited to the dreary but necessary task of cleaning shirts and socks. The future of a washboard is silence, a fish forever washing out its mouth with soap. Women everywhere bend to some form of washing. We are silent washers of history. Today we wash with words, paint is our soap, canvas our boards. Our clotheslines are for musical scores. We hang out fresh poems, pages of novels we fold. We dance across the land, washing out bad decisions. We wash the world. PCK: Given your interest in illustrated African American history, it’s not surprising that the American flag, like washboards, is a recurrent image and motif in both your art and poetry. MF: Yes, the flag fascinates me I guess because it represents us whether we agree with the country or not. In a sense, we are our flag. When I traveled overseas in anti-American countries, every time I opened my mouth my accent 19


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made me the flag, flying wherever I went. The flag is one of those themes I cannot escape because I see it as being true and false at the same time but; it is a two-faced image, and most Black people were aware of the other side of the flag. I try to discuss that dichotomy in my art and in poetry. It is a love-hate relationship; you love your country but you hate some of the things she does. PCK: How did your ideas about flag art develop and how has this aspect of your art been received at various shows? MF: My first flag painting was entitled The Flag Needs a Washing. At the time, I didn’t have a series in mind. I was working on washboard paintings, and sewing pieces of cloth together to make a whole canvas when it occurred to me to make a flag and drape it over the washboard. That piece was selected for a show in California, curated by Samela Lewis. My next flag painting was The Swing in the Red Room which showed a girl leaning on the flag. I did that one when I was working on the Red Sky Series, (a series of paintings in red white and blue with a few minor colors) but I was criticized by someone who wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper saying the painting was anti-American. She thought the girl was swinging on the flag, but I meant the painting to show a woman who was contemplating suicide but leaned on the country for hope and support. If the country lets you down, then you fall. That was my theme. Every now and then I did another flag painting just to see what I could do with the image. Most people I talked to hated flag paintings because they were seen as unpatriotic or as a cliché. In 2012, my friend Kathie Hambrick suggested I put on a show in New Orleans at the McKenna Museum of African American Art featuring my works based on the flag and entitled Oh Say Can You See. When I did the series about Lift Every Voice, I thought about the flag but I did not use it as much; it wasn’t until I did the series based on African American poetry that I got into flags as a theme. PCK: Have you written a poem that you would pair with your flag paintings? 20


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MF: Yes, I remember a flag poem that I wrote; I totally forgot about it until now, but it reflects the love-hate relationship the flag arouses. When I did a collage on paper of a torn flag, it inspired the following poem that I incorporated into the collage. Wounded Flag Bullet pierced, torn and scorched Must be the flag Lincoln had When Wilkes Booth shot him in the head Yelling, “sic semper tyrannis” (thus always to tyrants) Bullet pierced, torn and split Must be the flag King had Helping sanitation workers in their strike When James Earl Ray shot him dead Bullet pierced torn and cut Must be the flag we laid Across the coffins of three thousand soldiers Coming back from Iraq. PCK: Besides washboards and flags, fabrics/clothes seem to be a major trope running through your poetry. Your character Lucy, for instance, in Dreaming at the Manor, comes to mind and your art, e.g., the Caner’s Shirt, your Garment Series. How do clothes fit into your creative process of representing African American history? MF: Clothing figures prominently in my art. My family received handme-down clothing from white families. There was always this sense that it was a positive thing in one way because we were always happy to get something new for us; but in another way we wondered when when we would get out of having to rely on other people’s used items. So clothing was symbolic of the reality of my growing up in the South during the struggles of the civil rights 21


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movement. Garments thus suggest another haunting theme that springs from getting leftover clothes from white families that my relatives worked for. This was a part of our reality and I have always felt that clothes should never end. Once they are worn, they should be reborn in art or literature. I like the way a garment defines what the painting will be about just by being so present in the work. Like the washboard, a garment is a part of my emphasis on the domestic life of Black women. PCK: One of the most haunting lines from Dreaming at the Manor is “love’s language changes with age.” That seems to be a topic sentence for the layered voices we hear dreaming about a lost past and a present audience that forgets the legacy of those dreams. In surveying the “hills of years” of your speakers at the Manor, you take readers in and out of time, in and out of pathos and biting satire. How and why did you write this powerful collection about residents in the Manor, an ironic title for this sad nursing home. MF: Dreaming at the Manor started after I made several visits to friends and family in a variety of nursing homes in Louisiana, Atlanta, and Augusta. Several of the poems in Dreaming at the Manor were based on things patients said to me when I visited. The 3 poems “Dreaming at the Manor 1, 2, 3,” were based on actual conversations I heard at the nursing home. You can’t invent characters like Arnold who was only allowed thick liquids or Alice in Dreaming #2, for example, who was so positive despite her deplorable situation. To my surprise, there was a common thread linking them all, e.g., lack of acceptance of the current reality, disappointments, and longing. The strange thing I realized about being confined to a nursing home is that your close friends are reluctant to visit you, not because they don’t care about you, but because of their fear of seeing a friend reduced to circumstances below their former lifestyle. We would rather not know that part of the story. Instead, we want to remember our friends in the places we left them when they were fine and living well. PCK: Yes, but in so many ways Dreaming is another vision in your 22


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theology of art, isn’t it? You save so much history, images, objects in your “pickle jar of memory,” as you’ve termed it. MF: Yes. Dreaming explores that reality and appreciates my friends and family who were patients. After all, it is the last stop on the train of life, and it does not matter how famous or rich or poor or well educated you are, the train waits. I think the development of better medicines and machines to keep us alive is good and bad, but we accept it because most people don’t know that there is another train a-coming, so they approach the nursing home with trepidation. My grandparents died at home in their own beds with close family members waiting on them, but in our society, few people get that blessing. I wanted to honor those who go there as well as tell their stories. As with most of my works the poems in the collection are part of an ongoing series. PCK: Your yet unpublished collection of poems Ascension is divided into three major sections on Ascension of Place, Ascension of History, and Ascension of Self. Why in this order and how do the various parts of this collection relate to one another? MF: Ascension was actually started after I completed Illuminated Manuscript. I have been submitting it for over 15 or more years now. Every time it was rejected, I changed it and sent it out again because I believe in it. At one point I wrote it as a sort of word recital, hence the poems in 2 or more voices. At first I had it arranged according chronological order, youth to maturity, but that changed a few years ago as I began to see the themes in the whole work… Ascension Parish is Ascension Place; I am from Ascension Parish; how could I not use that gift? Ascension of History; how do we transcend a terrible history? Ascension of Self; how do we climb out of history into wholeness? Like Jesus, we must ascend ourselves, climb above who we were into who we need to be. Many of my poems, especially in Ascension, came from stories my parents told me or from stories told by other relatives. For example, the poem “Dead Wagon,” recently published in Christianity and Literature, came all from my mother who told me about Uncle Neg and 23


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what he did for a living and about funerals when she was growing up. PCK: What are you working on now? MF: I seem to be constantly revising my unpublished works, but I continue to write new poems. I try to do one new one per day, good or bad. In my art, I am still working on the garment series; there is still a lot I want to say using that technique. Stay tuned. PCK: Thank you, Malaika, for the gift of your art and your words.

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Five Poems by Malaika Favorite If I Plant You, Will You Grow? My father was ordered to get off the train, there was no room in the Colored only section for his bag of plus size aspirations. He tried walking towards success, but got no further than the house down the street where he met my mother. As soon as I was born he took out his seed-packets of dreams and started feeding me. I had no choice but to swallow. Mom planted me with rules and responsibilities: A girl must, a wife should, a woman is expected to show only so much. She slipped stories into my pocket: We used to, we had to, we did what we could. They sent me off to the Negro school where I was plowed into rows. Cornrows in my hair, cornrows in the field of memory. Put in a seed take out a cucumber. Put in a vine take out a sweet potato. Drop some words dig up a sentence. The Negro school sharecropped me out to the white school. The garden there was tall, fertilized with green bills. They kicked me around and tried to uproot me, 25


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but I grew myself a fence of holy words. They transplanted me into the hothouse of Louisiana State University Agricultural and Mechanical College to learn modern farming techniques. How to plant wet words How to grow numbers, add, multiply and divide large quantities of seeds. How to extract meaning from the lines in a naked body. How to graft oil base paint into fields of cotton canvas. I became a farmer of cotton-duck selling by the yard at the local farmers market. I dug up Daddies’ dreams and dusted off Momma’s stories replanted them in fields of washboards, scatter them on solid white cotton pages. I am firmly planted.

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Dream Garment I tried on the dream again, it does not fit. Mom says I will grow into it. It sags around the waist, the shoulders droop over my small arms like a too big coat on an orphan. Dreams can’t come true until they fit, she explained. If a dream sags you haven’t grown into it yet. It’s secondhand I complained. She replied, all dreams are used. Do you know of a dream that no one has worn? Tie the thing around your waist, pin up the shoulders, practice walking in it with a book on your head. Don’t be embarrassed if people laugh. They used to dream too, but when their dream did not fit their reality they pulled it off, hid it in a draw under the pressed linen, planning to try it on again when they reached that right place. The dream dried up under the linen forgotten like an old scarf yellowed with time. 27


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Keep imagining, one day you won’t have to try it on it will be cozy on your person. No one will know It was a hand-me-down dream.

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Wear Me The hanger is the rod of redemption steadying the garment in the gradual lifting wind. The sun sets the pace for water to evaporate freeing the cloth to fly. The hanger holds it back gently cautioning: wait until you are worn then you may run as you dangle on a child’s shoulder, dance, as you skirt a girls waist, command, as the pilot orders the plane, sweating power. Quiet, as a nightgown soothes an elderly patient. Sleep now, I am wearing you as you once wore me. You clung to my even hem as the night fevers ushered you to distant lands. Early morning found you hugging me to yourself, cold from shivers of dreams that demanded suffering and despair. I was the contrivance on which you hung your fears. Now I dress your crumbling bones, 29


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And shape them into human form.

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Malaika Favorite

Sewing for the Home Use a seam ripper to gut out your old self. Cut away unnecessary dreams, burn them in a fire kindled by internal combustion. Measure the width and height of walls cover them with exotic fabrics from the countries of your dreams. Decorate your being with hidden ambitions. Mark your personality with tailor’s chalk. Stand in the mirror of your soul, pin your reality on with quilting pins. Add decorative trims from your mother’s sewing box. Sew your new self together by hand with assorted needles, size should vary according to the depth of your wounds. Embrace the female stigmata; the reproduction of life requires long threads of menstrual blood unwinding from a spool inside your womb. Use this thread to embroider patterns on your inner sanctuary; holy symbols from your ancestral tribe. Add zigzag stitches around the quilt squares of your history. Use straight stitches to secure your walls with a heavy lining; Employ gathering stitches in your family room to pull your clan together. Fold the hem of your home, stitch in place with a French seam. When life is cruel apply the ruffle attachment to crease cruelty into a book of blank pages. 31


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A blind stitch will hide images not suitable for public view. Weave a sacred welcome mat for your door. Leave shoes on the porch; give out white socks for visitors to tiptoe across your Persian feelings. Sew buttons on your heart; unbutton only to friends and family. Interview strangers before allowing them to see the lining of your slipcovers.

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Hogs The hogs were drinking at the stream; someone hacked the system, they got out through the internet screen? Who witnessed her death? She was absent, and could not testify because someone let the hogs out. She was working on her third unpublished novel, and her fifty-five poems then she screamed, surprised; the hogs were running in the Chicago Marathon, faster than the sweating runners, trampling the web site for pigs. No one could verify the implication that the hogs in the marathon caused her sudden death. After all, she wasn’t in; Chicago she was at home in Bountiful waiting for the perfect ending of her novel set on the Great Salt Lake, including a chapter on popular marathons. 33


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The hogs made it to Kings Peak, and ran down Uinta Mountain looking for the Jordan River. All two thousand ran to the river hoping to be baptized and rise up as sheep. It wasn’t their fault she was standing there observing actuality like a movie screen. They grunted, counted to three, grunted again, but she did not move. Who or what can stop when running fast down a hill? Some imagined she died trampled by swine. All two thousand closed their eyes believing in a miracle, but the demons were already inhabiting each a pig. The hogs were howling, the Jordan could not save, there was no hope of pig heaven.

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Three Stories On The Way End

We decided to spend my birthday driving home. It’s Thursday, so if

everything’s somehow back to normal somebody will be grilling something around ten that night on until four in the morning. “Thibodeaux!” I’m yelling into my phone. The wind is blowing loud through our car windows. “Hey, Thibodeaux. We’re in Hattiesburg.” “Yeah? I’m at Molly’s!” he yells, music scratching through from the background so I can barely understand him. He yells something else I don’t understand. I get the point and hang up my cell. We have just one hour left in the drive. “Just enough time to make something. Somebody’s gotta be playing something,” Baby Girl says. She’s rubbing the edge of her pencil against the car’s vinyl dash. She raises the pencil and peers at the tip with one eye and then blows the dust off it as she goes back to sharpening it against the dash’s rough vinyl. Besides it being my birthday, it would also be our first night back home since we had evacuated to Baby Girl’s mom’s house in Atlanta. We had rolled out of the 285 perimeter with that sounternplayalisticadillacfunkymusic busting from the trunk, nervous to see home but excited to hear a horn swooning through open windows and riding on humidity. I had purchased a 1994 Jetta with the $2,000 car insurance payout from my Camry. I wasn’t picky about the Jetta. It just needed to get me five hundred miles south. I had been bad in Atlanta. Complained about the no privacy, no sex. We were guests everywhere. I whined a few times about taking Mass too and then just stopped going. The whole thing had been a serious drag on both of us and whatever Baby Girl and I had going wasn’t going anywhere anymore. 35


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We hadn’t said it to one another, but it was clear that once we got back we’d use the chaos and the adventure to go our separate ways, disappear, and start anew, as they say. The Jetta looks pretty good. It has an amplifier and an eight-inch woofer that sometimes works. “Something’s burning,” Baby Girl says, cranking her window down a bit more. “Yeah. Like burning plastic.” I look at the engine’s temperature gauge, exhausting the extent of what I know about cars. “Look.” She shows me the charcoal drawing she’s been doing on her big sketchpad. It’s a giant drawing of Baby Girl giving some trumpet blower a big hug. She’s copying it from a photo that’s taped over the right A/C vent so she can look at it while she draws. All you can see in the drawing though is her smile and the dude’s cheeks blowing up on his horn. I try not to think too much about it all. “That’s encouraging,” I say. “Relax,” she says. The four-cylinder screams a buzz as I top off fifth gear, a fly on the scent of the rot that awaits us. I’m high on the cash that sits in my account, more loaded than I’ve ever been, $6,000 in the bank from a FEMA check I got for my flooded cottage. Baby Girl has even more, maybe $8,000. We would spend it on beer and food at the restaurants that had managed to open, new linens, maybe a couch. We’d go to the dentist at one of those non-profit medical encampments and get our teeth cleaned. That’d be a step in the right direction. Then I’d wait for Baby Girl to ditch me, and move my ass uptown maybe. But that smell Baby Girl picked up on quickly turns into smoke. Then little blue flames lurch out of the steering column and lick at my lap and Baby Girl’s bare brown legs. Baby Girl hugs the big sketchpad against her chest and pulls her legs up onto the seat, yelling, “Pull over! Goddamn, it’s coming out the A/C!” I stomp down on the brakes and clutch and screech the Jetta to a stop in the emergency lane. Baby Girl snatches the photo off the dashboard. After grabbing some clothes from the backseat, we slam the doors and watch the 36


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fire quickly spread through the cloth interior. We run about thirty yards back north thinking the car’s going to blow up. Will we have to dive over the hedges for cover? Naw. The flames fill the inside of the car quickly but then grow at an agonizingly boring sputter. “Why doesn’t it just explode?” Baby Girl says. “Yeah, this is nothing like the movies,” I say. The windows crack and shatter in slow volley, making sounds like the first corn kernels popping in a microwave. More oxygen whips at the fire. The flames grow and soon engulf the whole car, reaching twelve feet high. The gasoline from our full tank slowly trickles more fire onto the pavement. But the car refuses to explode. Baby Girl lets out a whimper. “What the hell, man?” Her shoulders slump and she lets her sketchpad drop to the ground. That bothers me. Baby Girl never cries, or she cries rarely enough that I’m not sure when she last cried. I don’t remember seeing her cry ever. Maybe I just figured out a way to ignore her crying. I know not it’s not fair but I do it anyway. “It’s okay. It’s just a car. I only had the thing for three days anyway so who cares,” I say as we stand on the side of the road. In what I realize is a selfish attempt to distract her from her own fears, I say, “This is one shitty birthday I’m having.” So she wipes her face dry. “Don’t worry. We’ll get home tonight,” she says. We watch the car burn from our shadowy safe place on the side of I-59, and we start seeing red lights flash against the wall of storm-splintered pine trees. Suddenly a police cruiser comes tearing across the median, slamming its brakes and screeching as it slides to a stop by our burning car. The cop jumps out and runs up to our automotive bonfire, shielding his eyes from the heat as he tries to look for survivors. “Is anybody in there? Oh, Lord, please!” the cop yells. “Oh shit,” I laugh. “Hey, hey!” Baby Girl starts jumping up and down. “We’re over here! We’re right here!” She turns and looks at me. “It’s not funny. He’s freaking 37


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out.” She picks up her sketchpad and runs toward the cop, waving and yelling, holding that giant sketchpad up like some kind of flag, the back of her longlimbed body black against the light of the fire. She reaches the cop and he stumbles back in alarm and then he grabs her shoulders in relief. He looks at me. By now the flames are big enough that I can feel the warmth on my face. Baby Girl is reenacting the moments leading up to the fire: she cradles her sketchpad against her chest with one hand, she flicks her other hand against her brown thighs like flames. Nobody asks how it started. Not the cop that gets on the radio trying to find us a place to sleep, not the firefighters that come two engines strong and exhaust both water reservoirs on the slow, endless trickle of gas feeding what eventually is just a glowing-red frame of a car we don’t recognize. As far as we know the fucking car could burn forever, because when we pull off with the cop in search of a hotel, Baby Girl sitting shotgun, me stuck in back behind the bullet proof partition, the firefighters are still wiping their brows from the unrelenting heat. The cop and Baby Girl discuss what to do next, where we should go, but I can’t hear much because of the partition, so I cringe and put my face as close as I can without kissing the grease, spit, and drunk blood dried to the bullet-proof glass. “Holiday Inn,” I yell. The cop turns, yells back, “The rooms are all filled with evacuees still. But don’t worry. We’ll find something. It may take awhile. But we’ll find something.” Baby Girl reaches in her back pocket and pulls out the photo of her and the trumpet blower. She puts it at the top of the drawing, pushing it in between the bound papers. She sharpens her charcoal with her dad’s old Buck knife and then goes to work on her nose, shading the base of the bridge. I think the cop says, Nice knife. Baby Girl turns around and knocks on the partition. “Stop pouting. Get your head off the window!” “Being back here, I’ve been thinking. With all this talk, you know, starting 38


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anew, I think tomorrow, when the hangover wears off, I should take the first steps to get my record expunged.” The cop pulls the car over. He turns to Baby Girl. “Record?” he says. Baby Girl puts her hand on the cop’s shoulder, smearing her charcoal all over his stripes. “Minor charges, sir. Drunk and disorderly.” Baby Girl is a good liar, not that she is good at lying, but when she does lie it’s for a good cause. I do have an assault charge and that isn’t fair. I had skipped my court date. Baby Girl told me she agrees with me that it’s not fair, but she probably just says that because she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. Lately, she says less and less of the kinds of things she should probably say to me but doesn’t have to because we both know it doesn’t matter at this point. “All that aside, sir, money isn’t an issue right now. If we could just get a room,” I say. “Or a rental car. That would be cheaper and we could still get home tonight. Is there a rental place open now?” Baby Girl says. “It’s too late,” the cop says. “You sure? Not a Hertz or anything around?” she says. The cop says nothing. She gives up on it and I can tell she just doesn’t want to drag out the trip any longer. I start to wonder if she even plans on spending that first night with me back home. We slow and pull up to a motel with a walk-up clerk window. There’s a locked, rusted gate in front of the office door. The glow of a Coke machine casts a light on a condom dispenser that accepts quarters only, but both machines look empty and unserviced. I notice the picture of Baby Girl and the trumpet blower, taped to the top of the sketchpad. It’s starting to curl at the edges as if protesting this vulgar place. “You know it’s only ten. I’d think we could get a rental now.” Baby Girl flips the cover of her sketchpad closed. “We can still get home tonight.” “This Hattiesburg, lady. The only twenty-four hours we got here are the truck stops. And all the hotels are booked with FEMA. Now I got the dispatcher trying to find y’all a spot to sleep. When was that D and D charge, young man?” The cop starts typing on his dash computer. “Either 2004 or 5,” I say. I’m honest with him. At this point, who cares? 39


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It might be better off if he just takes me in and Baby Girl can just go on without me. A clean break. “Don’t mean to be a bad host during your unplanned stop in my town, but I’m not in the business of helping criminals,” the cop says. I see an unlit reader board announcing “Hourly Rates”. Baby Girl, in a manner that stops me from losing my temper, keeps shading the bridge of her nose in the drawing. Her light brown hair, glowing more than usual because of the parking lot lights shining in from overhead, hangs down over her face so neither I nor the cop can see her face. The cop keeps punching keys on his computer. “Well, while you’re doing that I’m going to go see if there are any vacancies,” she says to the cop. She flips her sketchpad closed and gets out of the cruiser. I try to follow her but my door’s locked. I slide over and try the other door. “Sir, can you let me out?” “Sit tight, bud. The lady can check on a room,” the cop says, still punching keys on his computer. His screen flashes a red “Error” message. He gets on his radio. “Dispatch, can you run a warrant check in the Orleans Parish database?” “Negative, system is down,” a voice mutters back. “They got rooms!” Baby Girl yells. “You lucked out for now, bud. But I got your info and I know where you’re staying.” The cop gets out of his cruiser and opens my door for me. “Welcome to Hattiesburg. I’ll be in touch.” I know cop bullshit when I hear it so I just ignore him. I get our bags and struggle up to Baby Girl and the clerk’s window. “I told him we wanted to stay till six. I want to get out of here as soon as the sun rises,” Baby Girl says. Shaved shag nylon carpeting, yellow but browned with footprints, fills the air in the motel room with the smell of dust and bad sex. I put our bags on top of the dresser, afraid that the odor will seep into our only possessions if they touch the floor. 40


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“I don’t think we should take our socks off,” I say. “No. And I’m sleeping in my clothes,” Baby Girl says. She smiles at me as she searches through her bag. She pulls out her toothbrush and walks over to the sink. “Sorry, hun. But I think we’re going to be the first couple ever to make an honest establishment out of this dump,” she says. “Unfortunately, I agree.” She turns, scrubbing, drooling a little bit of foamy Colgate onto the counter. “Open the curtains and crack the window. I want the sunrise to wake us up.” My cell rings. Thibodeaux asks me where we are. “What?” he yells over the music. It’s even louder than the last time I talked to him. I’m so tired I just tell him that the car broke down, that we’re coming in tomorrow. “Happy birthday,” he says. “I’d come get you, but I started celebrating hours ago.” We start for Waffle House at dawn, lumbering with decaffeinated steps as our ill-fitting backpacks bounce against the tops of our asses. Baby Girl struggles to keep her sketchpad up under her right arm, her fingertips just barely able to reach and support its bottom. We had seen the Waffle House back near I-59, about four miles down the road. After eating breakfast, we would search for a rental car. “You want me to carry that?” I ask her. “No. Just walk faster,” she says. As the sun warms the grass, the humidity surges and I feel my back get wet with sweat. Baby Girl stops and puts her sketchpad down so she can tie up her hair with a yellow rubber band. The hotel parking lots all around us stay full with cars. The guests have nowhere to go. Maybe some will find the optimism to get up and drive home to start gutting their houses. They could give us a ride. We could pay for the gas. “We could hitchhike?” I say. “But then we’d be stuck there without a car. Hun, it’s going to be harder to get a rental car back home,” Baby Girl says. 41


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I guess I had figured things would just be better when we got there. Shit, it’s got to be better than this. Just then an old burgundy Chrysler with some of that fake wood side paneling creeps up next to us, the driver’s side of the car slumping dangerously close to the road. Bass rattling the rusted trunk, the car squeaks to a slow stop ahead of us. I see a huge shadow of a man sitting in the front seat. “I’m going to tell him we’d like a ride to Waffle House.” Baby Girl walks up to the passenger side window. As the Chrylser window rolls down the treble explodes out with David Banner lyrics and duets with the bass-rattling trunk, so that I can’t hear what Baby Girl is saying to what looks like a giant sitting in the front seat. She’s smiling, leaning against the door. Then laughing, Baby Girl stands up straight and waves for me to hurry up. “I can take you to Waffle House!” this fat guy hollers out at me. He’s busting at the seams all over the place, all over the emergency brake in the middle of the front seats, up against the steering wheel, his belly and tits can’t be held back by the seatbelt. A big green oxygen tank sits in the passenger seat, the tube running from it feeds into the fat guy’s nostrils. A collection of prescription medication is scattered across the dashboard. Baby Girl is grinning, showing all her white, straight little teeth. “Great, right!” Fat guy pops the trunk. I cram the bags in against the shivering subwoofers. Baby Girl, getting in the front seat, lifts her leg up to avoid the oxygen tank and eases herself down onto the cracked brown leather interior. “It ain’t a thing. Just right down the road…” I think the fat guy says. We start creeping down the highway at about thirty per hour. The bass, so early in the morning, puts me on edge and then I see that cop drive right by us going in the opposite direction. Baby Girl slowly turns and watches the cop. “Yeah, we need to get out of here. No offense, but this town gives me the creeps,” Baby Girl yells over the music. The fat guy pushes the mute button on his in-dash and the treble fades away and the bass bubbles down from a hard buzz to a calm rumble, like we just left a thunderstorm somewhere behind us. 42


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“Where y’all going?” “We were on our way back but had some car trouble and got stranded here,” Baby Girl says. “Stranded? Yep, things sure been a fuck-storm pretty much everywhere down here. My name is Antoine DuMonde.” “DuMonde?” I say. “Yeah, sort of a nickname. Just call me Antoine.” We don’t go above thirty per hour. Antoine takes the music off mute and allows it to bang and massage my back while the letters of the Waffle House sign ahead of us slowly grow bigger and bigger like batter blowing up out of an iron. Baby Girl slaps the photo down on Antoine’s dash as if calling her seat for good. She goes to work on her chin. Antoine nods down against his bloated neck. “Pretty picture,” Antoine yells over the music. “Thanks. Almost there. Just need to do some finishing touches.” He rolls down the window. “Hey girl, you mind turning that thing up a little more for me?” Baby Girl lifts her sketchpad off the tank and turns the oxygen up. Antoine takes a few deep breaths. “Thanks, girl.” “You alright, Antoine?” I ask. “Naw, not really. I mean do I fucking look alright to you?” “I guess not.” “I just got out of the hospital, man. Motherfuckers shoved me back in my car after I stabilized. I don’t feel stabilized. But they say they’re too crowded with all these people running inland to deal with a lost cause like me. I guess I understand.” “Jesus, Antoine. They really said that?” I say. Baby Girl lifts up her pad to Antoine. “Does that look like my chin?” “Hell yeah, it does,” he says. “What about the guy’s chin?” she says. “It doesn’t look sweaty enough.” 43


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“Cool. Thanks.” Baby Girl hangs back over the drawing. “I mean they didn’t say it like that but it was clear. Boy, what planet are you from?” He’s smiling at me through his rearview mirror. “Shit’s fucked up around here. My fat ass is the least of everybody’s worries!” The car bottoms out with our weight, wheels moaning against the wells, as Antoine eases us into the Waffle House parking lot. An eerie quiet wakes me from my daze when Antoine turns the car off and the music stops suddenly. I can hear the rush of cars on the overpass above us. Baby Girl and I get out, shut our doors. Antoine opens his door, but he doesn’t budge. “I need to catch my breath. I’ll chill here,” he says. I walk around and see his swollen legs. They’re wrapped with bandages browned with dried blood. He catches me staring. “Bedsores,” he says. Baby Girl orders two grilled cheeses, three coffees, one waffle and three servings of scrambled eggs to go. When they bring our food to us in Styrofoam, Baby Girl takes the coffee mug out the door with her too. The waitress waves at us as we walk outside. “Ah, screw it,” I hear her say. We sit down on the pavement by Antoine’s open car door. “Y’all didn’t have to do that,” he says. “It stinks like burnt bacon in there,” I say. Antoine and I tear into our grilled cheeses. Baby Girl picks up her waffle with her right hand, the one that doesn’t have charcoal all over it, and eats the waffle plain. I try not to look at Antoine’s legs as I eat. I feel the gravel on the pavement plant itself in my legs so that when I change my position little rocks and grit stick in my skin. “What’s next?” Antoine asks. “Rent a car, I guess,” I say. “We’re getting home today,” Baby Girl says. “You’re going to have a hard time finding a car to rent here. I imagine they’re all taken.” “I mean, we can try,” Baby Girl says. 44


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“I’m happy to drive you to some places,” Antoine says. Baby Girl takes our Styrofoam containers, still filled with food, and dumps them in the trashcan. Antoine reaches for some medication from his dashboard and then lets out a bit of a moan with his effort. He looks at the pill and then he throws it on the floor of his car. He explains how it makes his stomach hurt, and how the blood thinners make him get light-headed all the time, so he barely ever takes the stuff, which is another reason why the doctors are tired of him clogging up their schedules. We get back on the highway and head further down the highway to a Hertz. The sun, now high and strong, is making Antoine drip with sweat. He wipes his face with a white hand towel. My ass is sticking to the leather seat and Baby Girl is leaning at an angle towards the window so the wind catches her hair. She uses the oxygen tank as a sort of easel for her sketchpad. We pull into Hertz. Baby Girl says she wants to keep working on her drawing. The parking lot is empty except for one car so I walk in expecting to just walk right back out. “No. We haven’t had anything for some time now,” the woman behind the desk tells me without turning from her court show. “We’re under contract with insurance adjusters. It’s like that everywhere.” She turns to me and adds, “I’d be real surprised if you found anything.” So I walk right back out. Antoine is taking loud deep breaths through his nose, pointing at Baby Girl’s drawing. “I like that there. But make your cheeks a bit rounder, like how you’re smiling in the photo.” “Nothing?” Baby Girl asks, using her charcoal-covered hand to shield the sun from her eyes. “Lady said there isn’t anything anywhere,” I say. “I believe her.” Antoine gasps. “Turn that up again, would ya, girl?” “Well, we should try another place,” Baby Girl says as she turns up the oxygen. “I don’t know if it’s worth it. What about a bus station?” “Listen y’all. I need to get back home. I’m going to die right here if I don’t get home and sit in my A/C. I’ve driven you around. Now let me go home. If you help me get back in my house I’ll get somebody to take you to 45


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the bus station.” “Can you just drop us off at the bus station?” I ask. “I wish. But it isn’t that easy. Like I said, I need help getting out of this car and getting back in my house.” Antoine talks about how bad the bedsores got in the hospital. He sat neglected while trying to recover from a heart attack. His sister in Pensecola had her own problems to deal with. She wouldn’t come up and help. When he was discharged, the nurses had helped him into his car and never looked back. They threw an oxygen tank in the front seat and said good luck. And then they lied, You’ll be fine, Antoine. And he lied, Of course I will. It surely wasn’t legal, but I guess it was adopted as the way to do things after all the others that had already been left to die. The bass is back. Still thumping with a kind of power that seems impossible for this Chrysler to provide. Boom-boom. Thirty per hour, we drive into some abandoned farmlands with gnarly rusted barb and termite eaten posts. Boom-boom. We pull into the dirt driveway of a house that has an unfinished wooden door and a porch with all the screens busted and hanging into the azaleas. Boom-boom. Antoine slowly pulls the car onto the lawn so his driver’s side is at the foot of the steps. Boom. He shuts the car off. He tells us that we have to move the oxygen tank into the house first. “By the time y’all get me to the couch, I’m going to be huffing and puffing.” The tank, which is four feet tall, probably weighs about eighty pounds. The humidity and our lack of good sleep make it heavier. We set the tank down by the couch. I notice an old and faded blue eviction notice stuck to the front door of the house. Antoine waits in the Chrysler. We try three times before Baby Girl and I finally get him on his feet and leaning against his walker. My head is lost in his left armpit and Baby Girl is grunting from his right armpit. Our legs, quivering and wobbling at the knees, get him up one step at a time. We kick magazines and clothes out of the way as we go through his living room. When he falls back onto the couch we hear a support beam crack somewhere, maybe in the couch, maybe in the floor. Baby Girl places the tubes up to his nose and I crank the oxygen. We wait 46


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in silence, other than our heavy breathing, for Antoine to catch his breath and speak. “Go to the-” he pauses, swallows. “Go into my bedroom. In the top, right drawer there is a folder. Get it.” Antoine reaches behind himself and flips the A/C unit on. Baby Girl is filling up a glass of water as I walk back to the bedroom. His bed doesn’t look like it’s been slept in for a long time. The sheets, despite their brown and dusty appearance, are folded up neatly on top of the bare mattress. I find the folder. Antoine grabs the folder from me and flips through a collection of papers. He hands Baby Girl the registration and title to the Chrysler. “Go home.” Baby Girl smiles. “You serious?” “Wait, Antoine. We can’t just take your car, man,” I say. “All I want is the drawing. It’s a fair trade. Shit, that car isn’t worth more than five hundred.” “Naw, man. Let me give you some cash at least for it.” Baby Girl walks out the door and I hear her go down the front steps. I follow her. “I got so many hospital bills a little cash isn’t going to do a damn thing for me. If the girl gives me the drawing, I’m giving her the car,” Antoine yells after me. “This doesn’t seem right,” I say, chasing after Baby Girl. She’s slowly tearing the drawing from the sketchpad. “Listen, you want to get home? As much as I do?” “Yeah, of course.” “Well, then act like it.” She hands me the drawing. “We need to do something. You need to do something.” We both know Antoine’s lying when he says that he’ll be okay. And we know he’s lying when he says we’ll be okay. “Shit will be ugly down there, but you’ll be just fine. Don’t drive faster than forty-five. The front wheels are way out of alignment. Now shut the door and get out of here, you’re wasting my A/C.” We leave him sitting on his couch, the drawing of Baby Girl and the 47


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trumpet blower next to him. The bass line beats Boom-Boom again as we find our way back to I-59. Forty-five per hour south. The sun starts to set. Then we see the Bienvenue sign. Then we cross the lake. The smell of decay cuts through the humid wind. We don’t say a word to each other.

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The Boot

W

hen I walked inside the Army Surplus Store a brass bell rang. It was hot. In the far left corner there was a big black furnace with flames glowing inside. I started sweating out last night’s NyQuil. I took off my fleece and I smelled canvas and the air felt heavy in my nose. My footsteps felt soft and unsteady on the sawdust and sand that covered the floor. All the shelves were empty. And the garment racks stood bare. There wasn’t any merchandise in the store except for a tattered boot that sat on the floor near the store entrance. It was definitely a desert boot, but in real bad shape. No laces, a big hole in the toe, half the sole missing, and some brown stains. I was about to turn and walk out, shrug it off as closed, until an old man yelled at me as he came out from behind a thick green blanket fashioned as a curtain. He stood behind the counter with a brass National cash register. Wearing a thin but dark flannel and round-framed black glasses, he almost blended into the curtain. “Hello. Hello,” he said. “Please, can I help you?” I walked towards him a little bit to get a closer look, still feeling as if I could slip on the sawdust. He had an uneven shave and a tarnished but beautiful silver cross hanging from his neck. “I was just looking for a tent,” I said. “I’m going camping.” He bent down behind the counter, showing me the bony small of his back and a dry, cracked leather belt on blue jeans. “Let me see,” he said, and came back up with a large brown leather-bound book filled with thick sheets of yellow paper, “Inventory” labeled on its cover. A blue silk ribbon dangled from the top of the binding. “Doesn’t look like you got much of anything,” I said to the old man and immediately felt guilty. “Now just hold on, son,” he said, waving a hand back and forth. “You said you wanna go camping so let me see what I can do for you.” 49


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I approached the counter. I could see his feet. He was wearing some of those thick foam sandals, like the kind you could buy at the drug store. “If you’re gonna go camping you’re gonna need more than just a tent,” the old man started. “You’re gonna be thirsty so you need a canteen.” He flipped through several pages of the book. “Beebee gun, Buck knife. Here, Canteen.” He scanned the page, moving his head back and forth. “No.” He shook his head. I laughed a little bit thinking he was joking with me. “Well,” he continued, flipping through the book again. “You’re also gonna need a mess kit.” He flipped back and forth between two pages, picking one and again scanning the page back and forth. “No.” “Fresh out?” I said. “Listen, sir. I just wanted a tent and I doubt you have one so I’m just gonna go.” “Ah, yes,” he said and started flipping through the book again. “Why don’t you just give me your number?” I saw an old rotary phone hanging on the wall. A fan behind the counter made the unplugged phone jack sway slowly back and forth. “I’ll call you later about the tent,” I mumbled. Just then, the bell rang from the front door, a lot louder than I had remembered. The old man looked around me and he put his head down. I turned and saw a little man, hunched over, draped in a peacoat that swallowed his shoulders and went down below his knees. He didn’t acknowledge us at all. He just walked over to the old desert boot, grabbed it and walked slowly across the store to us. He sort of sauntered. He stopped behind me and I turned to look at him. His arms hung down but extended forward a little bit, like he was ready to draw pistols. I kept staring at him, wondering why he had stopped behind me. “Oh, sorry,” he said with an embarrassed smirk and tight, thin lips. “Thought you good folks were doing business.” He reached around me and threw a bill on the counter. “Just the boot, Mr. Pat.” I looked at the bill. It was a hundred, and that made no sense to me. “But that’s my last one, Sir,” the old man said. 50


Peyton Burgess

“The boot, Pat.” The little man shouldered me out of his way and placed his hands on the counter. “I’ll have nothing left.” The old man was begging now. He reached for the little man’s left hand and held it with both of his. “Nothing,” he cried. “Just let the old man keep his boot, man,” I said. The little man looked at me and his eyes were a soft blue and his skin tanned with just some wrinkles on his forehead and some around those soft eyes; he was handsome. Then he jerked his hand away from the old man and I heard a bang. When I heard the brass doorbell ring, I was sitting on my ass with my hands reaching behind me to push myself up. There was a burnt smell in the air and a gurgling sound, followed by a choked coughing. I crawled around the counter and found the old man on his back, holding his throat. The blood was coming out his neck and through his fingers as if he was squeezing a paint sponge. I screamed something and tried to crawl towards him but my knees and hands slipped on his blood. I tried ripping that blanket from the curtain rod but the material was too thick. I screamed something else that I don’t recall and then I started apologizing, looking around us for anything to stop the bleeding as I propped his head up in my lap. I grabbed the inventory book and started ripping pages from it. The old man’s bloody hands grabbed my arms and pulled them away from the book. His blood pumped freely and his eyes were big and he was shaking his head. As the bleeding came to a stop, the old man was blinking his eyes slower and slower and with one hand he reached for my shoulder as if to try and stand, and with his other hand he pointed at the whispering furnace.

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Xavier Review 34.1

Belatone Island has seven residents: our Maws and Paws, you, me, and Micro

Maw 2 and Paw 2 order us to find wood without grit in its veins (“It’s

a matter of survival”). We ignore the order and focus on the moat we’re building around fortress 1, our fortress, that’s been the thing ever since the Maws and Paws started letting us sleep together. To us, it’s most important that we build fortress 1’s moat before we invest too much time into building the actual fortress. All we got is a bed under a tin roof that shakes and thunders atop four logs. But we’ll do more after we have the moat. You’ve got to be all about insuring things when you live on Belatone Island. I get hit on the head twice by one coconut: the first time when it falls from its tree, the second time when you throw it at me because I try to bury my face in your pussy. We’re supposed to be working, you say. You tell me to keep digging; I’m thirsty and there’s a ringing inside my head for you. You shovel some sand into your panties (“For later”). You know I like sand on your toes and a little in my mouth. You explain, Not that I don’t want your mouth on me, but Paw 1 will kill you. We shan’t take advantage of the numbnut’s generosity in letting us two sleep together. The Maws and Paws have accepted certain things if they let us sleep together, is my argument. We’re thirteen. They expect us to act thirteen, you say. I stare at the sides of you that come out around the trim of your panties. You see me lost for a moment and you like it, letting your legs remain open, your sometimes veiled crotch touching the wet sand of our beach. You continue to dig our moat. Then, with the break of a small wave, some drowned furry animal of a thing washes up on our beach. It’s a dog. It’s a dog with no hind legs. By that I mean it’s a quadruped that only has front paws. It drags itself up the 52


Peyton Burgess

beach, closer to us, before letting out a little yelp, then a huff, as it collapses. You say, We have to help it. I say, I know. You say, We’ll call it Micro. Micro helps dig the moat because the dog only has two front legs and it digs, pretty much automatically, anywhere you lay the poor thing, like it’s still dog paddling for its life out there in the ocean. Micro has sad eyes that say, Listen I know I only have two front legs and you have to pretty much carry me everywhere but at least I can do this and I will for as long as I can muster. You say, It makes me kind of sad. I say, Me too, but I feel like it might be unfair to tell him, or her, to stop. Yes, you say, we all need reasons. We lay Micro where we want our foundation and Micro digs it.

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Xavier Review 34.1

Tim Fitts

Thatch, after the Iron Lady

Charles Russell holds a sheet of paper under a water glass containing a

wasp he has caught on the front porch. He dips a cotton swab in nail polish remover and slips it in the glass. “Check him out,” he says to Charles Russell holds a sheet of paper under a water glass containing a wasp he has caught on the front porch me. He looks at the wasp up close as the insect succumbs to the fumes. He tells me that the military has been trying to emulate the technological efficiency of the wasp for years and can’t even come close. He traps other bugs, too. Moths. Monarchs. Rolly pollies. He traps flying cockroaches and says you have to shoot Aquanet right up under to clog their spiracles. You have to get them good, because they come back to life. He traps big orange velvet ants, as well as giant black and yellow garden spiders, a male mosquito and a camel cricket. He takes them upstairs, hits a doob, pops little vitamin ephedrine tablets, then sits at his desk and creates detailed ink drawings that look almost like black and white photographs from across the room. The drawings even capture all of the sadness, anger and despair of the wasp, or the creepy microbe funk of the camel cricket, the clean springing power of grasshoppers, or the sociopathic precision of the praying mantis. Usually, when Charles Russell finishes a drawing, he walks downstairs in his cannabis haze and pins it in the middle of the wall. Less than an hour later, he steps outside and sets the image on fire. “I want you to see something else,” Charles Russell says, holding up a pair of keys. He says that while he was catching the wasp, Gina and her boyfriend Ronald saw him out front and asked him to walk their dog. “Every day?” I say. “No. They’re going up to Nags Head next week. They need somebody to walk Thatch. They gave me fifty bucks,” he says, pulling the bills from his pocket. “Seriously,” I say. 54


“They would have asked you, but they said you were a little off. Questionable, is what they said. They aren’t comfortable with you going in their apartment.” “They didn’t say that.” “Can you blame them?” he says. “You’re always coming home on your bike, sweaty. Half the time you got a cotton ball on your arm from the plasma center. Why do you leave that shit on all day? You roll out of bed at two in the afternoon, looking for a job wearing cut-offs. Face it, you look kind of sketchy.” “But they trust you,” I say, “catching wasps on the front porch.” “Look at me. I’m clean. I’m shaven. I got mad skills,” he says, nodding at his banjo bass, “and I’ve got a job. I’ve got work. I leave the apartment in a work uniform, and I come home at night in a uniform. You’re unemployed. Nobody likes unemployed people. Gina and Ronald said they hate people like you who mooch off the system, getting on food stamps and shit. They said you are a burden on society.” “I’m not on food stamps,” I say. “You could be. Besides, you’re not even in school.” “You’re not even in school,” I say. “But I look like I’m in school.” “They gave you fifty bucks.” “Fifty bucks,” he says. “To walk their dog.” “Listen,” Charles Russell says. “You need the money. I’ll give you half. All you gotta do is walk the dog out until it takes a shit, and then put food in the bowl. Morning and night. Twice a day. One week. Twenty five bucks. Consider me your broker.” I tell him he is a douche, but I take the offer. Twenty-five dollars will pay for my half of the electricity. Besides, the job is easy. Their dog is one of the few Dalmatians left that does not suffer from rage or dementia due to overbreeding. Gina and Ronald named her Thatch, after the Iron Lady. They have the kind of dog food that you mix with water, and it turns into gravy. I have to admit, after feeding Thatch, it is a little disappointing coming home 55


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to bean soup on mashed potatoes. Stirring up the gravy twice a day is almost a kind of torture. Plus, their house is clean. The carpets have vacuum rows, and they don’t have any sticky splotches on their countertops or coffee stains. Curtains free of dust. Shower curtains free of mildew. Framed pictures of Ronald and Gina smile from the mantle. Pictures hang in the bathroom, where their images bounce around the mirrors, creating twenty or thirty of their beaming images from any one standpoint. Pictures of the super couple are propped next on their bedside table. Their clothes are folded neatly on their bed, and none of the food in their fridge is outdated. Their apartment is a home. They have furniture. While Charles Russell and I have a beanbag and a barstool, Ronald and Gina have Scotch that costs more than I make in a month. Charles Russell chugged a mouthful from the bottle the first night. And money. Money everywhere. In the kitchen utility drawers, coins in clean ashtrays on the coffee table, and even on the back of the toilet – the toilet so clean, so bleached, free of gunk and blemishes that I have an urge to ladle the water into wooden bowls and reverse the aging process. That week Charles Russell started a new collection of drawings. I found the drawings in his room in a folder he kept in his desk. The title page was called Gina’s Things, and one drawing after the next – Gina’s socks, Gina’s high school ring, Gina’s cutlery, panties, soap, toothbrush, tampon applicator, bug spray, lipstick. The other side of the folder contained images of Ronald’s items – boxer shorts, deodorant, rubbers, sandals, pocket change, and even his Bible. I also found in Charles Russell’s drawer a folder of drawings depicting body parts, where the incision points were not layered like sketches for a medical journal, but jagged, damp with puddles of blood and torn tissue, as if fingers, toes and feet and been placed directly onto a plate and then carefully replicated. Knobs of exposed bone, and a close up drawing of a tooth. All with full detail and vivid wetness. In the middle of the week, one night I am out in the woods with my twelve-string, writing songs and trying to pick up a vibe, but mostly collecting scratches from blackberry bushes while mosquitoes siphoned off what the plasma center had left. I can see Charles Russell up in their apartment. He 56


Timothy Fitts

is in their bedroom, going through their things. The light flashes on in their closet, and you can see him rifling through drawers. In one room, then out the other, leaving all the lights on behind him until the place is lit up like a rock concert. I even see him chasing around Thatch, with what looks like two feet of PVC. Downstairs, he corners the dog in a space where Charles Russell is able to make contact while the dog scoots with its tail between its legs. Thatch backs up once and looks like she is going to give him a fight, but Charles Russell has voodoo on the dog, fakes a couple swings, then makes contact. From the woods, you can even hear the dog yelp, but sound travels slower than light, so the timing is off. Oddly enough, I can see that Selene is also home in the apartment between Gina and Ronald’s and ours. I can see Selene’s vague silhouette behind her shades. It’s funny. Though Selene harasses us with calls for even the slightest suggestion of decibels, not once does she make a move for her telephone to gripe about the yelping. Maybe the walls are thicker on the other side. Charles Russell frequents the apartment all week. He smokes cigarettes, smokes weed, ashes in water glasses he leaves around the house while he lounges about watching reruns of Alice and Magnum P.I. The apartment of Ronald and Gina, rife with onanism and sloth. By the end of the week, the house stinks of Marlboro Reds, and the furniture is rearranged to greater resemble his parent’s former house in Palm Harbor. He swings his banjo bass around his neck by the strap, whipping dangerously close to the ten gallon aquarium, but the final day is spent airing the place out and setting things back to normal. It works, too. Outside, at the edge of the parking lot and lawn, Ronald and Gina paid him cash in a white business envelope. I could hear their conversation from our front porch, twenty feet away. Gina shielded her eyes from the sun and said things looked a little different in their apartment. Charles Russell said things looked a little different because he had to move every piece of furniture in order to vacuum the entire place. He told her that you would not believe how dirty the place was, once you scooted things around, he said. Gina shot a look at me, then looked back at Charles Russell and handed him the money. 57


Xavier Review 34.1

Tom Holmes

Exile on Longleaf Trace Wisteria If you ever remove your orange velvet skirt, I will write clockwise songs down your back and counterclockwise notations of euphony up your thighs – but only if you gesture the yes to be entwined.

Crabapple I was first attracted to your stretch marks – shepherd’s crook scars like gray rainbows curled around each hip – complements to your mottled inner thighs – procreation and death from the wild hind.

Yaupon Three uninspired moments of inspiration: your hips sliding into my jeans, Sartre’s Nausea on the bar’s sawdust floor, you secretly whispering in my ear – drink this black.

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Tulip Poplar Each April, I hear words of your arrival. Sometimes in French, other times Celtic, though never my language of conjuring. Each time I hear your mistranslated name – a little deeper settles your spell.

Shortleaf Pine These are the letters you said you read but did not because I had not yet written them down or sent them out – these are all the words in our world that fell and settled like seeds.

Blackgum Our pillows are stuffed with feathers from quails, our mattress from partridges – the remains from a steady stream of meals to support us for as long as we fuck – until the river sinks our bed.

Supplejack Our first glass of red wine soothes our smoke scratched throats as it settles down counterclockwise. I feel susceptible like a caged peacock – your hand gathers what it’s brought forth.

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Chinese Tallow Tree That first time you drew a bath and folded my pants and the years following when you wrote letters with purple dye, you were like common rice – something most useful to me and stickier.

Bamboo During dinner, you presented well my food and drink. At last call, you ornamented me well and cured my impotence, if only briefly. You were so versatile and enduring – now a memory hobbled with splints.

Eastern Dogwood “This is the twin bed we slept on for years. Here is our new king bed.” “You won’t be able to find me.” “You will need to amplify my dreams.” – “I will bake you each night a narcotic cake.”

Sparkleberry The first night we didn’t make love, your eyes, the dull hue of blackbird eggs, shook with every heartbeat. When we returned to the wild and needed courage – I gave you the lungs and liver of a doe.

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Groundsel When I awake, you will have pinched me black and blue, and I’ll ask for the door. If instead I give to you a gift tonight – this lock – will you untwist your fingers – crack them in the hinges?

Loblolly Pine When I read the first page in your herbaceously bound book, I find copyright and colophon, then the accretion of poems – an inflorescence of meaningless rush.

Southern Magnolia You have never been to Mississippi except by email. You count happiness like buckshot wounds. You skip through every puddle like a scalpel through oil – I’m a Tiger tank spinning in muddy replies.

Sandalwood After you email me, I need a shot of whiskey and a long walk to where the hieroglyphs grow – where grass and sidewalk verge – walking back does not translate to reply.

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Sweetgum My dear, wild pears ripen very slowly even when drizzled with honey. Take this slice of dry apple in the while. You’ll like it just as fine – it ripened in the ice age and was stolen from a swine.

Elliott’s Blueberry When you fly and your ears cramp, it means you have a secret you don’t want to share. Chew on this parsley for courage. It blossomed up a chimney – from a pot of butter and dung.

Beautyberry You have arranged your dolls on the dining room table and bound them with rice straw. You serve them wine like adults and tell them how a baby is made – limbs and body stitched from skin of fallen cranes.

Wax Myrtle You have been carrying a stolen testicle since we met. You turn it in your pocket. On the gulf’s shore, as salt and rain settle in your hair, you layer kelp across my thighs – I sink in the sand broken, wormy, punky.

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Lilac It’s time for me to love you again – here is our bed and here are our tourniquets. Tie one to each pinewood post. I will write you a letter about oranges, I hope you will flute a bluish song.

Sassafras When I step away from the library of trees, the sky is flat and long, meandering. I smell words like first and last. You can consider this a reply – an ungerminated seed.

Longleaf Pine If you boil my letters, a yellow dye yields. Paint with it. If you burn them, like salt they will flame orange. Cook with it. If you cut them, weave the shreds into clothes – do whatever is essential or do not reply.

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Xavier Review 34.1

Ron McFarland

The Prayers of Seeds We who would be root, who would delve into the darkness of dirt, who would slenderly upthrust ourselves green into the photosynthetic sun, who would toughen in the variable air, who would rise and fall simultaneously, who would spread ourselves in all directions, who would leaf out laughing though heard by no one, who would furl up into buds and burst into blooms to await the coming of bees, who would carry bits of us away, in a manner of speaking, who would be converted (hallelujah!) into some heavenly substance, who would wither and be transfigured then into tiny dry miracles of ourselves pray.

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Georgia Tiffany

Meditation On ‘The Prayers Of Seeds’ All spring they tipped their heads, as if they had heads, as if they had eyes that could see, as if the earth could not keep them from emerging out of the clay, and it would have rained had there been prayers enough for rain enough to satisfy their thirst. All spring, and early into summer, they had readied themselves, avoided sleep, or slept in fear of never waking, waiting for rain to worm into the soil through all those layers of ancient breathing and finger their eager swelling. Such were their prayers and their longing. Instead, only the wind in heat. If only longing had not exposed the dark throat of the heart, that mother of mirrors, that succulent.

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The roots abandoned their need, the seeds resurrecting an infatuation with the dark.

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When Georgia’s cousin Sandria Cook sent us her image of a tent deer sculpture that she fashioned for an art show in Albuquerque concerning the drought, both of us were energized by her title, “Tent Deer Meditates on the Prayers of Seeds,” as well as by her work of art. We were drawn to her flirtation with what John Ruskin in the mid-19th century called the “pathetic fallacy,” which might be thought of as personification run amok. Separately but almost simultaneously Georgia & I began to explore the metaphoric freight implicit in the title: What would seeds pray for, if they could pray? —Ron McFarland & Georgia Tiffany

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Jyotirmoyee Devi

Ungendered Translated by Apala G. Egan

The maharaja’s birthday was fast approaching; preparations were afoot

on a lavish scale in the royal harem. The queen mothers, all widows of the former sovereign, doted on the young ruler and each took pains to plan a grand feast for him. The maharani, his principal consort, with the help of her ladies-in-waiting, was absorbed in planning the many dances to be performed in her villa to honor and fete the king. The lesser queens, the ranis, were no less eager to please their husband and daily their apartments reverberated to the beat of drums, clink of hand cymbals and the tinkle of ankle bells as their troupes of dancers practiced by the hour. The king’s favorite concubines too, organized and planned to the minutest detail festivities to beguile and flatter their lover. Each queen and courtesan ordered a delectable dinner be prepared in the royal kitchens on the day of his visit; the birthday celebrations, according to custom, would continue for almost a week. The responsibility for helping organize the many events fell on the shoulders of the chief eunuch. The lean grey-haired man, accompanied by his son, walked down the corridors of the harem and from each queen’s abode emerged a long list of desired items to be delivered to her villa at an appointed day and time, no less. The royal ladies and all the maids addressed the eunuch as Khushanjarji, a title which had been conferred by the king, although his real name was Allabaksh. The title itself meant ‘one who pleaseth’ and during the course of his life he had indeed performed many duties, some pleasant and some undesirable, to please his master. The sole male permitted entry into the pavilion of women, he alone knew of its innermost secrets. He sped from villa to apartment and mused on the fate of a handful of women. There were indeed some whose charms had captivated the king and whom by royal command he had escorted to his chambers, but there 68


were others yet, who had fallen afoul of either the king or his mistress of the moment; they had been incarcerated in the nether regions of the palace their days numbered. Over the years he had won the trust and approval of the king and had been rewarded with titles, gifts and a jaigir of an annual sum of three thousand rupees. He mused that perhaps during the king’s birthday celebrations he might receive the coveted royal title, Tazimi Sirdar, the highest honor conferred a commoner. He left the maharani’s villa armed with a long list and entered the dowager queen’s suite and took orders for flowers and traditional sweets for the ceremony, and made rapid mental calculations as to the number of vats of golden-brown gulabjamuns swimming in syrup that would be needed. He knocked on the doors of the next set of apartments occupied by the remaining queen mothers and once again received requests for fruit, flowers and confectionery. Moving at a brisk pace he arrived at the residences of the ranis and their attendants and took their orders as well. He ventured farther through the dimly-lit corridors until he came to the doors of the king’s favorite concubines. A handful of women, having attained the highest rank possible mere commoners, enjoyed a lavish lifestyle within the confines of the harem. They had sung and danced their way to the maharaja’s heart and had been granted the title Pashowan, while the lesser favorites but the king’s darlings nonetheless, were titled Pardayet. They vied with each other for a second royal glance. The eunuch paused and made a mental note of their varied requests. He was the first to learn which damsel among them was to be feted during the king’s birthday celebrations and who would receive the desired Tazimi award and customary gold anklets; he was also the first to know or sense who would face an unhappy fate. He navigated his way through the palace labyrinth and handed out the queens’ invitations for the banquet to the many palace dwellers. His keen eyes saw curtains whisked aside, doors opening and closing farther down the hallway, a wisp of veil vanish around the corner and his ears caught the sound of subdued murmurs and sudden silences. A whiff of intrigue, a scent of scandal and Khushanjarji found himself drawn into the machinations of the 69


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women. They pleaded with him for information of certain concubines trying to pry information from him using all their feminine wiles, but as guardian of the harem, he saw all, heard all, but remained tight lipped. Wherever he went, groups of girls clad in simple tunics and pantaloons gathered around him, gazing up at him with large kohl-rimmed eyes; raised in the palace from childhood to wait on the queens they surrounded the eunuch. Some stroked his tunic, others reached up to hold his hand, while a handful gazed in wonder at his embroidered nagra shoes. “What kind of food will be there at the feast?” they asked. The nourishment served them he knew was ample, but plain. Any pageantry provided them a refreshing departure from their daily fare, so he embellished his description of the pilafs, vegetables in piquant sauces, milk puddings and golden orbs of gulabjamuns until he felt his own mouth water. In a world where men were barred, the eunuch was a visitor from distant parts who brought news however insignificant, from the great outdoors. Life continued in a circadian rhythm save the occasional birth or death of a concubine’s child, so any revelry was a source of merriment, intense curiosity and speculation. The eunuch’s son, a youthful stalwart, following his father some distance behind, was also mobbed by a clutch of chattering children. Teenagers dressed in swirling skirts, choli blouses and long scarves peeped out as the harem guardian walked past, but when they saw the approaching young man they threw their filmy scarves over their heads and hid behind the curtains. The elderly eunuch smiled at the quivering draperies. Doe-eyed young saplings they were, with lacy patterns of mehndi on their palms and feet, he knew that they were all virgins and that their sole function was to perform in tableaus for the queens—until they caught the maharaja’s eye. He rounded a corner and knocked on the door to the suite of one of the king’s beloveds, and upon being bidden entry, he removed his shoes. Having handed the maharani’s invitations he returned to the entrance and stared at the floor his mouth hanging open. His footwear had vanished. In its place was a pair of tiny red slippers. At the sound of suppressed laughter he turned his head and saw the mischievous eyes of a girl, and in mock sternness he 70


Jyotirmoyee Devi

admonished her. She defied him with an airy insouciance then flung the shoes at his feet and disappeared down the corridor in a squeal of giggles. He gave an indulgent smile and continued on his way but his progress was slow. Feminine voices echoed in the hallways. “Khushanjarji, can you please get me some kohl for the eyes?” “I need more material to make a blouse.” “Can I have more hair ribbons please, mine are old and frayed.” Some of the young women shied away from him like startled gazelles, fearful that they had overstepped the bounds of propriety, but he smiled upon them with the utmost affection, answering all their questions and, wherever possible, acquiescing to their myriad demands. Khushanjarji completed issuing all the invitations and as the day drew to a close, he and his son, Khudabaksh, walked along the dark alleyways that encircled the women’s quarters. At intervals huge lamps stood on top of the walls the flames shedding a faint light on the path below, and high up were tiny grilles built into the walls. Circumambulating the harem the eunuch came to a small verandah where he prostrated himself and said his prayers. His day was not yet done. He still had to visit the courtesan Prem Rai and take her orders. Dusk was deepening and the eunuch walked in a measured tread along the walled passageway. Far ahead in the gathering gloom he saw the flames from the lamps give a violent quiver; puzzled, he stood in the calm of the evening and caught a fleeting glimpse of a pink veil, large eyes and a laughing mouth. The vision vanished as quickly as it had come. He smiled a little, no doubt it was a young dancer from the courtesan’s rooms snatching a quick look or more likely, had some request for his ears alone. He strode to the end of the corridor and to his surprise saw no one. He turned the corner and only bare walls and a deserted alley met his gaze. An oil lamp stood on top of the wall above his head and in the dim light he turned towards his son. “Did you see anyone?” “No, I did not,” the young man said. Khushanjarji paused. “Let’s see if we can find the girl. Perhaps she is hiding somewhere. I thought I saw someone flitting away in the dark. Could it be Kaveri Bai? No, that cannot be.” 71


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His son looked around with energy and peered into the cracks on the walls. “No, nobody is here. In any case, the gate to the villa is still shut. No one will dare leave things unlocked without your permission.” An absent frown furrowed the old man’s brow. “Yes, of course.” The door opened and Prem Rai’s maid ushered in the two men. A group of girls and women crowded around them, and murmured greetings. Khushanjarji responded with warmth while his eyes swept over them searching for a face, but try as he might, he still could not find the teenager with the pink veil. The king’s birthday arrived and was celebrated with due pomp and circumstance. Feasting continued well into the early hours of the morning while a steady stream of dancers pirouetted before the maharaja and his queens. A handful of beautiful young concubines, skilled in the arts, received royal honors and were promoted to the pardayet status, while a cluster of girls entered sakhidom. Khushanjarji received the sought-after Tazimi award, wincing a little when the solid gold anklets were fastened on him; his son Khudabaksh was awarded a prize too, that of a gold brocade turban. The entire palace was engulfed in festivities from the apartments of the maharani to those of the concubines. A few months went by and life in the palace went back to its time-honored routines. A servant came and stood outside Khudabaksh’s room. “Khushanjarji sends you his greetings and asks to see you.” Khudabaksh rose and went to his father’s apartment. The weather was unseasonably warm; the khus khus screens had been spattered with water, and in the darkened bedroom the old man lay on a raised bedstead of white marble. His hookah was placed to one side, and his turban rested on the edge of his bed. A servant stood behind cooling him with a fan. The young man bowed before his father. “Abbajan, are you not well?” The eunuch gestured toward a chair. “I’m fine, my son.” Khushanjarji gazed in an unseeing manner at the visitor, a faint frown on his brow. His brocade slippers lay on the floor and could easily be mistaken 72


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for those of a girl’s. Of slight build with a copper-colored face, there was little resemblance between him and his tall, well-built son. On the bed an open letter lay fluttering in the gentle breeze administered by the toiling servant as he wielded the fan with vigor. “Do you remember your mother at all?” the father said. “Yes, I do.” “You don’t really know much about your mother. How she came to stay with me…” Khushanjarji ‘s voice trailed off as he looked into his son’s face. The young man crinkled his forehead. “No, I suppose I don’t.” “I first met your mother in Delhi. That was fifty years ago. His Majesty wanted to visit that city after his pilgrimage to Haridwar and Brindavan. I had to go on ahead and make all the arrangements. The maharani was going too, and a handful of her ladies-in-waiting as well, so the responsibility for the entire trip naturally, fell on my shoulders. You can imagine what a to-do that was. Strict purdah had to be maintained, so all the carriages had to be shrouded with curtains. I was quite young then, not much older than you.” A smile lingered on the eunuch’s lips. “While making the preparations for the pilgrimage and tour, I ran into an old friend of mine near Delhi. He told me of your mother. She had been the wife of a distant cousin of theirs, but was recently widowed. She had a very young child with her, and was in dire straits.” He paused and looked hard at Khudabaksh. “You were that toddler. Your mother was young and attractive, but had no interest in marrying again. She had nowhere to stay and no one really wished to extend her anything more than temporary shelter. Other than owning a few pieces of jewelry, she was destitute. Your father had a store selling glassware, but upon his death that closed. “Meanwhile, for a long time I had felt that my house needed a woman’s touch. But what could I offer a lady, and what would her relationship be with me?” Khushanjarji stopped and almost choked on his words. He glanced at his son who sat before him with his head bent, listening in rapt attention, hands clasped over his knees. “I have never told you how I came to be here. My family was very poor, 73


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and when I was but a mere child, a relative of ours saved the life of the then chief eunuch at this palace. Perhaps my uncle saved him from being attacked by a tiger at a royal shoot, I really don’t know.” The old man took a deep breath and fidgeted with a button on his tunic. “I have very little memory of what followed. All I know is that out of gratitude the eunuch offered to take one of us children to alleviate my family’s distress. I cannot recall my mother’s face or that of my father’s. The only parent I have really known is the man who adopted me, the previous chief eunuch. He raised me in his house on the palace grounds, this very bungalow that you and I now live in. I was so very young then, that I cannot even recall at what point I was initiated into eunuchhood.” The heat in the room was stifling. An immobile Khudabaksh continued staring at the floor. The water carrier, or bhisti, came by and sprayed the green khus khus screens from his goatskin bag and a sudden, fresh breeze enveloped the two men in the room. Khushanjarji stared at the far wall, lost in reverie. When he spoke again the timbre of his voice had changed, it sounded thin and tired. “Well, that’s past history. Now let me tell you about your mother. In our kind of household, it makes no sense to have a woman around. Who ever heard of a married eunuch? So I sent word through my friend explaining the whole situation, saying that I would offer her shelter, but could not provide marital bliss. I knew that she was destitute, and wished to help out an old friend by providing his extended family with support. If she chose to live with me and manage my household, I would claim her as a distant relative and she would live with me as an equal, not a maid. “I must confess my motives were not entirely altruistic. I had seen you with your mother once and wanted you. Why? Kings, princes, nobility, can bequeath their wealth to their sons and heirs, even the lowly peasant leaves his ploughs and plot for his progeny, but I, who have won the supreme trust of the king and am a person of wealth, can have no descendants—ever.” The man’s face flushed beneath his deep tan and he tugged at the buttons on his shirt till they ripped out, and clenched his left fist. “By the customs of the kingdom however, even if I cannot have a son I can still have an heir. You 74


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were a fine-looking boy and would be an asset to any palace. Your mother was very poor, I knew, and believed that in time she would agree to my adopting you and have you follow in my footsteps. “She could live in comfort all her life, since you would inherit my property and sizeable hoard of gold coins and continue to amass wealth of your own as a chief eunuch. Who can say no if flashing gems are dangled before their eyes?” Khushanjarji paused and pulled at his hookah. The fire had gone out and he tried to smoke his pipe in vain. His son called out to the servant for more tobacco and with a touch of impatience told him to light it. The afternoon drew to a close. The wind rose in the valley; the servant raised the khus khus screens to let in the southern breezes. Light flooded the room and the sun dipped behind the Aravalli hills. A rush of air swept over the moat around the castle and the atmosphere inside the room turned balmy. The old man’s voice dropped. “Your mother agreed to live with me as a make-believe relative and to my joy I had the two of you. She was young, only twenty-two or three, and you were a toddler. Her name was Noor Nihar. She died rather unexpectedly, three years later from a brief illness. I had meant to ask her permission to adopt you, but had not the courage. What if she objected? So, I kept delaying matters and was indeed saddened by her death, but to my delight, found myself your sole guardian. At last you were mine.” The elderly eunuch avoided his listener’s gaze; he had inflicted a grievous injury on his adopted son. His own desire for an heir had deprived the handsome youth of his manhood. In the stillness of the room, the only sound was that of the water trickling down the bamboo screens as the bhisti continued spraying from his goatskin bag. Khudabaksh stared at the floor. He heard a crackle of paper in the faint breeze that had crept into the room and only then did he raise his head. “Here is a letter from Gulsurat, one of your mother’s distant relatives,” Khushanjarji said. “She has two sons and has been recently widowed. They would like to come and stay with us. She arrives at the city tonight with her children, so please go meet the family and bring them here.” 75


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Khushanjarji’s house resounded to the sound of childish laughter. The staid environment of the eunuch’s household was thrown in disarray. The home appeared enormous to the two boys fresh from their derelict rooms in Delhi and they scampered up and down the stairs, raced around playing hide-andseek until they were called to order by their mother who was overwhelmed by her plush surroundings and the exuberance of her sons. Toys lay scattered, the children chattered non-stop, calling out ‘Grandpa’ as the eunuch returned at day’s end and swinging on his arm. In the old man’s eyes a sparkle appeared and he stooped less. His adoptee Khudabaksh, whom Gulsurat respectfully addressed as Bhai Saheb, fell into the new routine and in his spare time ran around the garden playing assorted games with the children. Months went by and with each passing day the harem guardian appeared increasingly feeble and began delegating most of his duties to his heir. Gulsurat meanwhile, added a unique feminine touch to the home, evident in the daintiness of the floral arrangements and the array of delicacies for their meals. This was the first time in their young lives that her sons were able to eat wholesome food and she took great pride in preparing nourishing viands in her kitchen using only tender cuts of lamb, and the freshest vegetables and choicest grains. One afternoon Khushanjarji awoke from his nap and called out to his son. Khudabaksh was in the garden enjoying the spring sunshine which was as yet still mellow, a prelude to the scorching haze of the summers. A light breeze rustled through the trees and the air was heavy with the fragrance of jasmine and roses. Scarlet hibiscus burst forth flaring petals and long stamens from the profusion of bushes at the edge of the garden. The wind rippled through the boughs overhead sending the sun-dappled leaves into an ecstasy; the young man strolling below breathed in the aroma of the flowers and felt his blood quicken as the warm air caressed his skin. Upon hearing his name he was instantly at his father’s bedside. “Please sit down,” Khushanjarji said. “Do you remember the maharaja’s birthday? You and I went and handed out invitations. Do you recall the moment 76


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we came near Prem Rai’s villa?” “Yes, of course I do.” “Remember that pretty girl we saw slipping away? We both looked, but could not find her? Well, I saw her last night and not only that, I also recognized her.” Khudabaksh gaped at his father. Nobody from the harem had ever visited their house—so closely guarded were the women that every movement of theirs was monitored. The elderly eunuch sat upright. “Her name is Godaveri Bai. I saw her in my dream last night, the pink wisp of veil, her pretty face, she was walking ahead of me. Suddenly, she veered to the left and disappeared down a flight of stairs and as she turned I saw her face. All this time I have often wondered who this girl was and why we could not trace her. Where had she hidden? Last night I realized that she did not hide herself. Yes, she was Godaveri Bai.” The son looked at his father with rising concern. The man was old and feeble, but was he also losing his grip on reality? Khushanjarji paused and stared at the wall through rheumy eyes. “I had thought that I would be able to save her, but I could not.” He turned his head and gazed out of the window his thoughts flying back over decades; a beautiful girl, part of Prem Rai’s entourage, dancing during one of the palace revelries. The maharaja, glancing in her direction, had remarked on her exquisite grace. The following day the girl had been taken ill. She had been sequestered by maids and placed in seclusion in a ground floor room of the courtesan’s villa. The royal doctor had been summoned and potions prepared and fed daily to the girl, but to no avail. After a brief illness, she died. The eunuch had suspected that the healing potions had been laced with something else by the concubine’s maids and had tried to plead her case but had been summarily dismissed. Khudabaksh gazed at his father with apprehension; the old man’s mind must be wandering. He could not possibly have seen anyone that night. Why, both of them had scoured the alley that evening for that slip of a girl, no doubt it had been the shadow of a vine on the centuries-old castle walls. 77


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He recalled with a twinge of unease that the flames from the oil lamp had quivered in a strange fashion in that still air, as though a being invisible to any mortal had quickly passed by. Gulsurat came indoors leaving her sons playing outside. The old man smiled at the woman. “I have been thinking for some time now, that my days are coming to a close. That is why it is so good to have you all here with me. You probably know that when a royal eunuch dies, all his wealth reverts to the Crown. It is fairly obvious, is it not? After all, we can have no descendants. That is the reason why I was adopted, and that is also why I raised young Khudabaksh, so that he could carry on in my footsteps and moreover, inherit my entire jaigir, or property. I have also spent many a sleepless night pondering as to who might come next and get the booty after my heir passes on.” He stopped and looked at Gulsurat. “It was about this time that your letter arrived. I realized then, that you provided me with an easy solution.” Voices could be heard outdoors, as Haqiqat and Habib argued sundry points of a game with the robustness of youth. The palace functionary turned towards the window and remained lost in thought. “Yes, I have a great deal of wealth, who could I leave it to, has been my main concern until now.” His voice trailed off, and once again he stared out into the garden then swung round to face the mother. “My dear, I have sensed that you too, hope that I take one of your sons as a future heir.” The young woman’s voice was soft. “As you please, sir.” “What about you, Khudabaksh, do you want an heir?” Khushanjarji said. The young man sensed that for some reason that he could not yet fathom, his father seemed perturbed. “Whatever you desire, I will follow your advice,” he replied. “Tell Habib and Haqiqat to come in here,” the old man said. Khudabaksh left the room and returned with two breathless boys who scampered up to their mother. The eunuch’s eyes grew large as he gazed at Gulsurat and her sons. Bright-eyed, mischievous, with tousled locks falling over their foreheads, the 78


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two youngsters stood before him. He reached out and ran his gnarled finger down Haqiqat’s cheek and ruffled the dark curls of Habib and said, “Run along now, go outside and play.” They fled outdoors, eager to continue with their games. Khushanjarji looked at his heir. “Do you know what I have been thinking about all these days ever since our guests came to live with us? It would have been so wonderful if she could have been your bride and those two charming boys, your sons.” Khudabaksh hung his head and stared at the floor. Gulsurat’s face turned crimson. “Don’t feel ashamed my son. The dishonor is mine,” the foster father said. He paused for a long moment and tugged at his earlobes, then turned to face the woman. “My dear, I have decided that I will not take your children.” Gulsurat gasped and stared open-mouthed at her host. A windswept mirage of dingy, tenement dwellings in the back alleys of Delhi flashed before her eyes. The young man jerked up his head and looked out at their manicured garden and avoided his father’s gaze. “My days are numbered. I had initially thought that I would go ahead with the adoption, but no, I cannot.” The mother’s bosom heaved and teardrops trembled on her eyelashes. “Why are you so hesitant, sir? I have two kids after all. Why don’t you take one of them at least?” The old man smiled. “I know that you have two sons, but they each have only one life to live. You will not be able to give them another life. Those good-looking, active youngsters deserve a normal life full of everyday human hopes and longing. If I took one of your children, would not his life change forever? Have I been able to give my adoptee all the joys that a man can ask for? Let your sons attain manhood like other boys. If they remain poor, so be it—but at least they will be men. It was only my pride that demanded an heir.” Laughter could be heard outside. “Catch me if you can,” “No, you didn’t” “Yes I did,” and amidst all that, loud chuckles as the boys played their games in wild abandon. The eunuch sat on his bed, eyes downcast, as waves of childish mirth 79


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wafted in through the window. In a corner of the room an ashen-faced Gulsurat stood in frozen silence.

80


Robert Stone

An Interview by Kevin Rabalais

Born in Brooklyn in 1937, Robert Stone dropped out of high school in

1954 and spent four years in the Navy before working as a copyboy at the New York Daily News. He later moved to New Orleans, an influential period that inspired his William Faulkner Foundation Award-winning first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1967). In 1971, with credentials as a correspondent for the 81


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British magazine Ink, Stone travelled to Vietnam. His experiences there led to Dog Soldiers (1974), a novel that won the 1975 National Book Award. Stone’s other novels include A Flag for Sunrise (1981), Children of Light (1986), Outerbridge Reach (1992), Damascus Gate (1998) and, most recently, Death of the Dark-Haired Girl (2013). He is also the author of two story collections, Bear and His Daughter (1997) and Fun with Problems (2010), as well as a memoir about his life in 1960s counterculture, Prime Green (2007). Kevin Rabalais interviewed Robert Stone in New Orleans in November 2013. You’ve spoken of the ways that radio fashioned your early imagination. How did the radio shows of your youth influence your decision to become a writer? In what ways did the radio help to develop your understanding of the sounds and rhythms of language? Everybody of my generation learned a lot about storytelling from the radio. Beyond the printed word, it was the principle narrative medium. It was all we had instead of television. From radio, I learned everything you learn about the narrative process. It taught me about storytelling and dialogue. Radio also makes demands on the imagination. It stimulates aspects of the imagination beyond film or television simply because it requires you to set your own scenes. You have to be your own cinematographer, in a way. “There was a kind of secret language I learned to speak at the same time I learned to speak normally,” you’ve said. Language, in a way, is everything. It is the code and it is also the vehicle of pleasure. Language is as important as anything can be in writing. It’s what people enjoy, or don’t enjoy, about a novel or story. It is what literature is made of, whether it’s called poetry or prose. You worked on A Hall of Mirrors for six years. What were you learning about writing fiction during that time? When I was young and we were all goofing off, wasting our time misbehaving and doing stuff we ought not to have been doing when we should have been writing, I was just a very slow writer. I was not as diligent as I should have been. I was hanging out and not working very hard. But I was 82


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also learning during that time. And I was getting older. I was growing up. The process of getting older, maturing, and finishing that book all went together. What do you know now, after eight novels and two collections of short stories, that you wish you had known when you were writing A Hall of Mirrors? There are so many things that you might do differently if you knew a little more about one thing or the other. If I’d read Proust before I had started A Hall of Mirrors, it probably would have been a better novel. But you go on learning. I think a writer never stops learning, just like any artist continues to go on learning his medium. After finishing A Hall of Mirrors, you said that you felt desolate because you had put everything into the book. With a first novel, you have to put in every single thing you know. That’s what I did. Everything I could do, every bit of juggling and tap dance I knew, all went into that novel. How did that change with the writing of your next books? You become more restrained as you go on. You don’t feel that you have to constantly perform relentlessly before an audience. You still want to use everything you know, but when you’ve written a few books, I think that maybe you begin to take it a little easier. “Some books cost you more than others,” you’ve said. What does that “cost” entail? It’s an emotional cost, emotional intensity and melancholy. Sometimes it’s regret. Sometimes it’s just plain sweat. Sometimes you just have to stay up late at night and do it. Other times, it’s simple diligence and burning the midnight oil, all of the things that literary labor requires. Which of your books cost you the most? I think it was Outerbridge Reach. In that novel, I wrote about the paradigm of the life of the artist, the life of anyone who wants to achieve something, of anyone who wants to excel. As a writer at that time—the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was writing Outerbridge Reach—that was certainly me. For that reason, it was the novel that cost me the most. You’ve said that it was “an absolute necessity” that you become a writer. What brought about that necessity? 83


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This is the artist’s condition. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. So you create the necessity to do it. You must feel that necessity. A painter, an actor—I would think any artist—must confront themselves with the necessity of doing what they do. What about the necessity of writing a book when you write it? Why this book at this particular time? The book is ready. It’s the one, among all those in your catalogue of ideas, that’s ready to go. With Outerbridge Reach, there were various events in the world that occurred in the late ’80s and early ’90s that really struck me and that I wanted to write about. At the same time, I simply wasn’t ready to write that book. The time finally came when I thought I was ready to write it, or it was ready to be written. “I wanted to be an American Gogol,” you’ve said. “I wanted to write Dead Souls.” Elsewhere, you write, “I try to emulate, in spirit at least, the works that I most admire even though I know that I’m not going to do anything to rival them.” What are some of those works, and what tradition did you set out to follow when you were a young writer? Michael Herr just called me a little while ago, and we were talking about what the hell we thought we were doing when we were younger. I finally said, “Well, we were trying to be Hemingway.” We all wanted to be Hemingway—and why not? He proved that writers went out with beautiful women. They drank champagne in Paris and spoke three languages. They shot lions. Hemingway was also a hell of a writer. He made extraordinary technical discoveries about how American English worked. Hemingway influenced everyone of my generation to some extent in life as well as in writing. I’ve also always been interested in writers whose work in no way resembles my own. As a young writer, I admired The Great Gatsby. I still think it’s the greatest of all American novels. I took what I thought was the greatest and the best in literature, and I tried to learn from the best writers, even if their work wasn’t like mine, even if their tradition wasn’t like mine. I was ready to go to all traditions, to any tradition, to learn whatever I could learn wherever I could learn it. Why do you put The Great Gatsby in that position? 84


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Because of its wisdom and its insight into American life. It’s a very smart and insightful book with wonderful, mysterious, indefinable, yet endlessly fascinating principle characters. You’ve said that your subject is America and Americans. At what point did you know this would be the focus of your work? It was thrust on me. America is a bit of a mystery to all Americans, and I think that we try to take that mystery on. That’s the path I have taken as a writer. How did the four years you lived in England—1968-1971, between the publication of A Hall of Mirrors and Dog Soldiers—affect your perception of America? While away, I missed something about the country. And maybe I did too much reading of the European press. I think I accepted, perhaps too readily, some easy criticisms of America reading the press abroad, and I may have naively accepted more criticisms of America than I should have. But it was worth it to get a view from outside. Your novels are set all over the world—Vietnam; Jerusalem; a fictitious Central American country; during a circumnavigation boat race—and many of them address and investigate that mystery you just spoke about. You’ve said that you do “too much travelling.” How do you incorporate the travelling you do into the work? Are you writing during these periods of travel, taking notes, plotting? I’m not much at taking notes, but I’m a pretty good watcher, and I’m a pretty good listener. So while I travel, I’m listening and I’m observing. Certainly, I’m thinking about the relationship between America and the rest of the world. If you’re in Southeast Asia or Central America, you are constantly confronted with America’s role, its place in the world, its effect on the rest of the world. America as an actor on the world stage—this is an inescapable subject. How similar are these trips to ones that a journalist would make? In what ways is it different to be there, on the ground, as a fiction writer? It’s not a completely different ballgame. It’s different in that, as a novelist, you’re making up stories, but a lot of journalists make up stories, too. There’s 85


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a lot of fiction in good reportage. And there’s a lot of reportage in good fiction. You spent two months in Vietnam in 1971 before you started Dog Soldiers. In Prime Green, you write of that experience: “My role was somewhere between that of a tourist and a writer in residence.” Why did you go to Vietnam? Vietnam was the thing that was happening in the world. Vietnam was on everybody’s mind. When I was living in England, for instance, if you said, “America,” people immediately said, “Vietnam.” For that reason, I really wanted, I needed, to see it. It was the war of the time. It was America’s cross and burden. It defined America all over the world. I had to go there for that reason. How much of an idea for Dog Soldiers did you have before that trip? I didn’t have a plot when I left. I let things happen. In Vietnam, I stumbled into situations. I looked and listened. Many of your novels are broad canvases, such as A Flag for Sunrise and Damascus Gate. You’ve also written slimmer novels, such as Bay of Souls and Death of the Black-Haired Girl. What are the different processes of working on those different scales? The story imposes itself on the work. The people, the characters, do it. If you say that a novel or a story is character-driven, it means simply that it’s about the people in the work. Stories and novels are about people who are imaginary, and yet they must become, if the work is to succeed, more and more real as you go along. Literature is the human story. It is variations on the human story. James Salter believes that the slim novel is the most demanding for a writer. He compares it to the middle distance for a runner: every step must count. What has been your experience with this form? He may be right, but you can’t coast in any form. Conrad said it best, so I will just paraphrase him: Fiction must justify itself in every line. How do you reconcile the completed work with the book that has lived inside of your head? You never do everything that you hoped you would do. There is no perfect island. There is no perfect novel. In a way, it’s beyond you. You always fall 86


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short. You merely try to come as close to it as you can. Does that become the impulse to try again? With each new book, there’s always a lot of trying to put in what you left out of the last one. You’ve called yourself “very perfectionistic and very lazy, which is a terrible combination.” On what levels does that perfectionism come out? I want the word to be there. I want the word that I want, and I want it to be the word that’s required. If I have to go back and rewrite the sentence or paragraph eight times, I’ll go back and rewrite it eight times. I want it right. I want it to sound right. I want it to stimulate in the reader the thoughts and the emotions that I require at that point in the novel. On that level, how do you go about finding the appropriate tone for the work? What’s the process of finding the necessary voice for this book and no other? You listen to the silence until you hear the way you want it to sound. How does the work typically begin for you? Is it with action, character? There’s a section of Oliver Twist where Fagin’s kids are all talking to each other. One of these kids specializes in hanging around the courts and listening to the testimony. One of the boys says to this kid, Hey, do the police in different voices. So the kid does imitations of what the cops say in court. Writing is precisely like that. It’s a matter of doing the voices and making discoveries in the process. The structure of your work is often complex in that you introduce a set of characters only to leave that strand and introduce another, perhaps even another before weaving those threads together. That seems to be one risk in your work. Another risk is the title of Death of the Black-Haired Girl, which gives away what in another type of book—genre fiction, say—would be considered a major plot point. What is the importance of taking risks in your work? There’s a poem of Lawrence Ferlinghetti about a trapeze artist: “Constantly risking absurdity / and death / whenever he performs / above the heads / of his audience.” In a way, that’s the definition of a writer, of an artist. The stories in Bear and His Daughter were written over a thirty-year 87


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period. You’ve said that you’re “kind of in awe of the short story.” What is it about the short story that holds you in awe? It’s a magical, wonderful form. I thought for a long time that it was, perhaps, beyond me. I was in Macha Rosenthal’s class at NYU and a number of writing classes, and I got the Stegner Fellowship, and during all of that time I was in awe of the short story. We read the great short story writers, Hemingway and Joyce and so forth, and I was completely in awe of them and of the form. It’s still not easy for me to write a short story. Besides saying that writing must “cost” you, you’ve said that the work must give you pleasure. You find yourself taken with an environment or scene, or perhaps it’s a city or a person. A lot of writing comes down to the pleasure you take in describing the texture of that scene or city or person. In Outerbridge Reach, you write, “From a certain point of view, Browne thought, there were things about himself he hardly dared reflect on. Can it be, he thought, that everyone has this much to conceal?” Fiction, of course, can be a vehicle for uncovering what has been or is concealed. What are your responsibilities toward the characters you write about? What you’re after is truth about people. You want to discover everything you can about the human condition. You want to exemplify the human condition as completely as you can. “I see myself as a writer of novels,” you’ve said. “But between fiction and nonfiction there’s no line, really.” Again from Outerbridge Reach: “… it’s truth I love and always have. The truth’s my bride, my first and greatest love.” You write about truth again in Prime Green and about how when you got to Vietnam, you ended up writing mainly about bar scenes and rock concerts. “However, I got around a bit, enough to see that answers to some questions—such as those concerning the moral justification of war—are better pursued through the techniques of fiction than through any work a reporter can do.” What kind of truth can fiction provide that nonfiction cannot? There are surprises about the reality of things like war and moral extreme conditions that you happen on, when writing fiction, and these things can amaze you. You can surprise yourself with the unexpected realities, unexpected 88


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“truths,” that one happens on in extreme conditions. Having devoted most of your life to literature, you’ve compared the practice of the arts to “service.” “You never want facts to get in the way of truth,” you write in Prime Green. “That’s why fiction is more satisfying than nonfiction.” What is it about fiction that has kept you in its service for nearly fifty years? It is a vehicle of truth. It is a way of exploring the realities of life and the nature of the human condition. It is, perhaps, the best way to do this exploring. Writing is a mode of exploring the human condition, and I feel this is my responsibility. Because I’ve become a writer, that is my responsibility.

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Peter Koch

Maravillo

The week before his sister returned—came down the trail by herself,

without the man who’d had her for six months—he was walking along the shoulder of his thoroughfare. Across from the ceramics factory was a restaurant whose drunker patrons, sitting outdoors, tended to dispense smaller coins and orts. Tonight two skinny serious men—Americans he guessed, though they were Irish, a cluster of empties between them, one of them looking down at his bare plate, the other, in front of whom rested a sandwich (steak?), curls and brown beans, watching the backside of a woman serving, a rhinestone crucifix on each chub cheek—received his quiet solicitation. The plate-watcher was unresponsive, and the gent fixed on the broad posterior, his thoughts vague, of woman-sweat, offered an apology perfunctorily, just half-glancing at this boy in the midst of what was too long to be a leer. Oscar kept on his way. But was called back, dumb to the literal meaning of the words but wise to what that sandwich, waved over the log fence abutting the sitting space, signified. Oscar didn’t consider the boost his effusive thanks might give the benevolent diner; the Irishman would make this waitress tonight—she’d seen the exchange—though the perfervid bite he later took into her soft cellulitic rump-half, to her loud feigned consternation and a warning, would have nothing on the unequivocal satisfaction Oscar felt now, as he ate what was indeed a peppered, catsup- and mayo-heavy cut of beef on a bun somewhat stale. When the food’s slow descent caused breathing trouble, he found a soda bottle in the gutter and facilitated things with its dregs. (Guilt grew commensurately with waning want; as the older sibling of Adrian and Joel, he had certain duties, one of which had just been neglected, but a stubbed toe on the walk home seemed adequate expiation.) It was the last good meal he’d had when Lisa came back. He was sitting on a stump in front of their low house, picking at his damaged nail, when the unexpected arrival occurred. She stepped evenly over the path, the dress 90


on her one she’d had when she left. His initial thought, wishful, was that this would be a permanent return, and for once Oscar was right: had it been one of the couple’s sporadic visits, the man she’d taken up with would have been with her. Lisa living with the man friend would benefit the family, Oscar’s mother had said, repeating her daughter’s words. If he wasn’t necessarily successful, he was better off than they were. Oscar had seen him laughing in high rubber boots with other mechanics on the side of the thoroughfare (on which he so often scavenged), bragging maybe about his new acquisition. The boy felt he should be working too, but he wasn’t big, and wasn’t intelligent or wily in the ways required to wangle what small chores were to be had around town. One object of his envy was Cisco, two years his junior, whose occupation, achieved Oscar wanted so much to know how, was to stand in a warehouse parking lot from six to six watching for car thieves, window-smashers and tire-stabbers, for which he was fed and provided what Oscar imagined was a considerable sum, though Cisco claimed it was negligible. Twelve hours was a stretch, but one stood or sat around regardless, so remuneration was of course better than nothing—and the young jobholder kept minds at ease and wore a whistle around his neck, and an orange vest. He spun the whistle on its cord with nonchalance, as if he’d been doing this for years. The slick, grime-clouded vest with two coruscating horizontal stripes; the free arm akimbo; the straw cowboy hat on Cisco’s head—these aspects acquainted Oscar with shades of misery he’d never imagined could outdo hunger pangs, and he was as worried his friend would find and sport a pair of opaque sunglasses as he was about finding his next small positive relief. When the man friend had announced Lisa would be going with him, he’d brought a box of crusty tricorn pineapple pastries, and Oscar while eating his had thought of his late father with no wish for him to be alive. The suitor was short (barely a five-footer), and his job was part-time, but she’d taken to him because he was amiable and did have some resources, as evidenced by the dispensation of the pastries (and later the small stipend delivered on their rare visits). A protruding jaw lent his eversmiling face a genial pugnacity. Lisa, taller than her intended, expected the union to make things easier for the rest 91


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of them; Oscar was convinced she, the person he cared about most and loved with surety so lacking in the other affairs of his life, who was more mother than Mother to him and his brothers, didn’t love this man who, Cisco assured him, would be committing any number of lubricious but vaguely defined acts upon her well-formed person—upon his sister, older by six years, educated for eight. Who’d tried to teach him the basics though he’d failed to be reached. His mother lacked spirit, and a husband to prod her. Cisco’s was wanting the latter as well, but temperamentally there was a gulf between the women. Rather than stare for hours into the trashed streamlet running behind the homes of these street-sharers, as his own did, his friend’s mo kept laughing company with guests various and frequent, her most recent caller being one Sir Vega: tall, dark, utterly bald and bearded blackly and bluely, grackle-shades. He’d related a story involving ugly twin sisters and the pair of jennies they owned, at which Cisco’s mother had cackled, leaning forward so her mams dangled for the teller through the wide neck of a shirt browned at the underarms. Oscar hadn’t understood, but upon receiving an explanation considered the tale excellent despite his bad grasp on it, and deemed Sir Vega a clever man, and had gone home sad to be hopelessly stupid. Two days after Lisa walked down the path, a reporter called Maravillo did the same, and with him came something Oscar felt he might have cause to be proud of. How this newsman had gotten wind of their trouble he didn’t know, though the resourceful elder sibling’s effort was probable. Little of the conversation between his sister and suddenly garrulous mother and Maravillo, a cracked cup of their black tea and his tape recorder on the low table before him, was initially clear to Oscar, who sat in the bedroom, listening and fingering the fig roll offered by this pale-faced interloper in crisp blue button-down and tan slacks, whose loose, shiny wristwatch he stole looks at from around the doorframe. The subject of the interview was initially reluctant to speak—her first opportunity to help her own had turned out so badly she was wary of this sudden second one, which might remedy the fallout of the previous; but the promise here was greater, and made, she’d decided, by an entity more dependable if nebulous. The repetition of pastries borne by a male registered 92


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with her as well. The man who’d discarded her wasn’t much of a man, she said, looking down and speaking her answers through her teeth, but she hoped he’d have her back regardless. In the room adjacent, Oscar chewed his roll as the words “pride” and “responsibility” were spoken by his spurned intelligent sister, though in what context he’d failed to catch, busy as he was with food. Eventually, though—two weeks later, once the story had gone to press—he realized something had happened, that there was another aspect of the wrong committed against Lisa (and by extension the family) the specifics of which eluded him, and though it had been Joel who was chosen as the younger sibling to provide what would become printed commentary on the situation, there were several incorrect attributions of this to Oscar himself, and he blithely accepted compliments from misinformed acquaintances. Cisco, much to his pleasure, appeared impressed and even sympathetic, and suggested, though it was almost over Oscar’s head, that he would let him take a shift or two were he, Cisco, ever indisposed. Oscar would need some income, said his friend, to help support the upcoming addition. To which the boy could only repeat a word Cisco had used: “Niece?”

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Richard Spilman

On the Road to Emmaus Like Achilles in Zeno’s paradox, by fractions eating my own darkness; like the African tribesmen who worship in cattle the souls of their kin, who drip cows’ blood onto twigs and eat, then tease it with earth into their hair: Your blood in my mouth, your blood on my hands.

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Nature as Christ: Muir’s Retelling of Humanity’s Relationship to her Mother

Despite all modernity’s technological progress, a growing community

around the globe is coming to realize that there is something very wrong with humanity’s current relationship to the natural world. From catastrophic oil and nuclear accidents to the ongoing devastation of the rainforest on every continent on which it is found, it seems the human race still has not, to quote Theodore Roosevelt in 1910, “passed the time when we will tolerate the man whose only idea is to skin the [land] and move on.”1 Indeed, global warming, water contamination, and resource scarcity has thoroughly impressed upon humanity the bitter realization that human abuse and negligence – whether perpetrated by individuals, collectives, or corporations – can no longer go on without repercussion. Some will argue that the current problems are fundamentally that of the industrial age; others argue they are grounded in modern technological advances and still others hold out human over-population as the crux of the issue. But whatever their provenance, the urgency of their solution is manifest and, as with many similar circumstances, it may be prudent to return to the prophets of the past in search of new understandings of the problems which – as the quote from Roosevelt clearly illustrates – though rooted in the past, remain with us today. John Muir was born in Scotland in the year 1838, but, after moving to Wisconsin in 1849, was to become one of America’s most iconic naturalists and conservationists, founding the Sierra Club and living the majority of his final years in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California.2 Though Muir lived at a time long before the likes of Chernobyl and Valdez, he still witnessed much of the great natural atrocities of the 19th century – from the scourge of the bison to the leveling of the great white pine forests of northern Wisconsin. Though environmentalism may often be associated with liberalism and irreligiosity today, this was not the case for Muir. Muir 95


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was raised in a strictly observant Scottish Presbyterian family and this upbringing had profound impacts on his perspectives on God and the natural world. It is only after acknowledging the melting pot of faith and wonder that characterized Muir that the astounding impact of his work, culminating in his establishment of the National Parks with President Theodore Roosevelt, can be fully appreciated. In fact, it is in this melting pot of faith, spirituality, naturalistic wonder and contemplation that the pertinence and explanatory power of Muir’s thought is most vividly illuminated. One explanation for the current environmental crisis is that humanity has lost her sense of the proper relationship between herself and Nature. For Muir in the 19th century, and arguably for every human being alive today, this imbalance was and remains an eminently spiritual one, and to spiritually rooted problems must be sought spiritually rooted solutions. In this respect, Muir’s now century old testimony becomes invaluable. For Muir, steeped as he was in the Christian tradition, Nature became a type of Christ, and this revelation, informed by the Christocentric theology of mystics both medieval and modern, may be used to glean an important lesson on not only what the right relationship between humans and nature may look like, but even more fundamentally, what it means to be a human in this world at all. In order to understand the manner by which Nature is construed as a type of Christ in Muir’s writing, it is first necessary to understand how Christ is construed by Christians. For Christians, Christ is the Incarnation, or God made flesh; a liminal figure through whom exclusively one might pass from one world, the flesh, to another, that of God.3 But for Christians the transition is not one way; as Howard Thurman writes, “the religion of the inner life at its best is life affirming rather than life denying…[it is an awareness of] what was there all the time…experienced not in fragmentations, in multiplicity, but in unity and wholeness.”4 Fr. John McNamee elaborates further when he writes that the Incarnation (i.e. Christ), far from being a one-way ticket out of this world of sin, was something more like a handshake, God saying “I’m with you” and thus offering humans the chance to, with God, “live and move and have [their] being.”5 Thus, for these and other Christian writers, the Incarnation was far more than simply Jesus; the Incarnation was Christ, 96


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Emmanuel, and the Messiah – Someone sacred, anointed, indwelling, salvific and transformative. In short, Christ was “the way the truth and the life” and, as Bernard McGinn puts it, “only in, through, and by Christ, the God-man, [was] access to God [made] possible.”6 The terminology Muir utilizes in his description of the natural world bears a striking resemblance to that used by Christian writers to describe Christ. One of the most quoted Old Testament passages interpreted by Christians from the earliest days as an augury of the Christ-child to come can be found in the ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah. In it it is written that the child construed by Christians to be Christ “will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (emphasis added).7 Over and over again, the peace foreshadowed by Christ can be seen interpreted by Christians in a myriad of ways, with only one example being that of the Quakers, for whom peace became a key locus of their spirituality. However, for Muir, Nature can often be observed assuming this same function as a locus of peace and counsel for the faithful. At one point Muir describes the wind as “the very breadth of Nature, whispering peace to every living thing,” while elsewhere he described the setting sun after a windstorm as seeming to say, with Christ, “My peace I give unto you.”8 And in fact, the notion of peace infuses all of Muir’s writing, as when he revels in the manner in which a grasshopper, suffering no “winter of discontent” in life will, at the appropriate time, merely “cuddle down on the forest floor and die like the leaves and the flowers” leaving no unsightly remains.9 Yet perhaps the most Christological terminology Muir employs in all his descriptions of Nature is that of Light. On multiple occasions the mystical naturalist freely mixes his description of Nature with the spiritually charged notion of Light – harkening immediately to the “Light [who] shines in the darkness.”10 He writes in his journal that the Sierras “well may…be named…the Range of Light” and elsewhere he writes that those who spend time on her mountainside will be “bathe[d] in holy mountain Light,” a light in which “everything seems equally divine.”11 Furthermore and in addition to his Christological lexicon, Muir’s selection of metaphors and analogies to describe Nature bear a remarkable likeness to Christ. One metaphor that arises repeatedly in Muir’s writing is that of 97


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Nature as a “window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.”12 He continues elsewhere by writing that “mountain days,” in their exceptional light and splendor, open “a thousand windows to show [humans] God.”13 This function of Nature – that of offering access to God – points in an intriguing way to the function of Christ as mediator mentioned earlier; thus for Muir it is here, through the incarnation of God in Nature, that humans “may more easily see God.”14 But indeed, Muir does not stop with a passive witness of God; instead, Nature is so caught up for Muir in the essence of God that in her rests the locus of human interaction with the Divine. In innumerable instances, Muir cites Nature’s powerful “sermons” issuing from rocks to rivers and birds to grasshoppers.15 These sermons reflect Mother Nature’s “wise, stern, and tender love” for all “her children in all sorts of weather and wilderness,” a role that needs no comparing to Christ and the Creator.16 Finally, and perhaps most convincingly, it is in Nature’s dialectic relationship with human beings that her Christ-like character in Muir’s writing is most forcefully revealed. Like the God made flesh, Muir is vigorous in his personification of humanity’s Mother. Indeed, much in the same way medieval mystics marveled at the humanity of Christ, Muir repeatedly marvels at the humanity of nature, writing of her “warm heart” being “full of humanity.”17 And again, “so human is [the rock and the sky]” that each tint, hue and shade of the mountainside “goes to one’s heart.”18 This wise, stern and tender Mother, preaching and nurturing her children, filled with the Divine so much as to be a “Godful” window to the Lord, then repeatedly calls out to Muir, beckoning “Come! Come!” recalling immediately for any Christian the same words spoken by Christ to the tax collector Zacchaeus and the apostles Simon and Andrew.19 The analogy is made complete in Muir’s essay “Save the Redwoods” in which he gives voices to the trees, writing that the wrongs done to them are done “in ignorance and unbelief” and it must be that the ghastly mangled trees are crying, in the very words of Christ their model, “‘Forgive them; they know not what they do.’”20 Given Muir’s remarkably Christian description of Nature, the next question must be that of what it would look like if Nature truly were, in some respects at least, Christ. To answer this question it is necessary to return to 98


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those who have known Him most intimately: the mystics. The Christian mystical tradition has long emphasized that to put off the old and put on the new; to be “clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ,” amounts to a world of change.21 In this re-attirement, the first and most fundamental change is the mystic’s sudden revelation of Christ everywhere and, as St. Ignatius of Loyola famously coined, “in all things.”22 This transformation can be powerfully observed in St. Francis of Assisi’s famous encounter with a leper early in his spiritual journey wherein, after kissing the leper, he writes in his Testament, “What had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”23 As with saints before him and with those that would follow, he had found Christ in “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” and because of Christ’s mystical indwelling, what Francis did for them Christ – in His own words – assures him, “you did for me” as well.24 Yet, critical for any discussion of Muir, what follows this recognition of Christly indwelling by mystics like Ignatius and Francis, is, for the mystic, radical transformation. This sea change is vividly adumbrated in St. Francis’ previous quotation – “what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.” “Turning” here represents the sudden and inevitable revolution of the mystic’s entire view of the world. For Thomas Merton, like Francis, this transformation came after conversion and it came on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the middle of the shopping district. He realized all at once that, “I loved all [the people around him], that they were mine and I theirs…we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like [the] waking from a dream…”25 For Simone Weil this transformation altered her understanding of people and texts she had known for decades: “After this I came to feel that Plato was a mystic, that all the Iliad is bathed in Christian light, and that Dionysus and Osiris are in a certain sense Christ himself; and my love was thereby redoubled” (emphasis added).26 For Marguerite Porete, the Franciscan transformation of what was previously evil to “sweetness of soul and body” can be seen in its reverse wherein the virtues, ordinarily conceived of as goods, become something to be placed “under [Love’s] feet” and indeed disbanded altogether by the perfect annihilated soul.27 Yet perhaps the transformation is nowhere 99


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more perfectly verbalized than in the journal of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers where he (Fox) writes: “Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond words can utter…the creation was opened to me…[indeed] the nature and virtues of the creatures were [] opened to me by the Lord.”28 For these mystics, recognizing Christ led inexorably to a transformation that altered all aspects of their life from the moment of transformation onwards. For Muir, Nature is a force of radical transformation, just as Christ was for the mystics. All things are seen with new eyes and heard with new ears and as Muir “puts on” Nature, he becomes all at once able to follow Christ’s exhortation: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”29 In the streams Muir hears chanting, in the birds he hears “a blessed evangel,” reverberating from the stones he hears sermons to the glory of God and in the rain he sees God’s messenger, an “angel of love sent on its way with majesty and pomp and display of power that makes man’s greatest shows ridiculous.”30 After a violent flood-storm, killing some people and many livestock, he writes wistfully of the day when “the beauty of storms will be as visible as that of calms.”31 And then again, similar to St. Francis, for whom bitterness turned to sweetness of body and soul, Muir recognizes the same violent flood-storm as “altogether united and harmonious” – “one harmonious storm of mountain love.”32 Indeed, only in Nature’s cradle could Muir recognize that “what seem[ed] an outbreak of violent and uncontrollable force” was in fact a permutation of Nature’s familiar “purposes of beautiful and delicate life.”33 But Muir’s transformation was not just in his understanding of Nature – much like Merton it exploded outwards to all aspects of his life as his “love for everything increased,” his friends and neighbors seeming “all the nearer however many the miles and mountains between us.”34 Nature had not only opened his eyes; she had taken out his stony heart and given him “a heart of flesh.”35 From Muir’s transformative experience of Nature he was able to recognize a fundamental corruption in the modern human’s existence: like the prodigal son we have left our home and now live in squalor instead of, as Muir might have put it, our rightful residence in “God’s first temples,” the windy forests 100


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and the thundering mountains of Nature.36 For Muir, the fundamental problem with modern existence is not an intrinsic coldness of heart for, as he writes, “when light comes the heart of the people is always right.”37 Instead it is a physical and spiritual misplacement – as when the flood-storm struck and he astutely observed that “few people” would be “fortunate enough to fairly meet with and enjoy [the] noble storm in its own home” in the mountains, and would instead remember it only for its destruction in the city.38 Human beings watch Nature at a distance, like Zacchaeus on the sycamore tree, and do not enter the relationship with Nature – the relationship with Christ – that is necessary for transformation.39 In city life, Muir writes, acquiring more goods can be a “consuming, life-long struggle” even after the necessities have been long over-supplied, and this constant “desire for more” results finally in the “dimming or shutting out [of] almost everything worth seeing,” harkening to Isaiah, “he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see.”40 In contact with Nature, Muir sees the return and fulfillment of humanity in its origins and Mother. In a description strangely akin to original sin, Muir writes that “man alone, and the animals he tames, destroy these gardens [of Nature].”41 In later passages he further mentions humanity’s perplexing susceptibility to dirtiness, foreign to all Nature, as well as the human’s unique need for burial.42 All these things point to a strange fallenness peculiar to humans. But, importantly, it is not without remedy. Muir writes joyously of those mountaineers who make pilgrimage to the Sierras: “And when they are fairly within the mighty walls of the temple and hear the psalms of the falls, they will forget themselves and become devout. Blessed, indeed, should be every pilgrim in these holy mountains!”43 The virtues may be expanded by the mere company of Nature, as in the case of the pika, of whose “lessons” Muir writes, “how they widen our sympathy!”44 In Nature, there is “no pain… no fear of the past, no fear of the future” for God’s beauty overwhelms all of these things – indeed, though humans may miss “the meaning of the torrent,” the love of God and the “smooth, pure, wild glow of Heaven” may be heard even in the simplest song of a water ouzel on the banks of a mountain stream.45 The sad displacement of the human race is not final; for Muir, in Nature is God and, should a person so choose to live therewith, Nature may reveal 101


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herself and “draw [him or her] up into God’s Light.”46 In Nature God has humbled Godself, and by remaining with Nature as the mystic with Christ, the prodigal humanity might at long last return home.47 John Muir’s characterization of Nature as well as the path of transformation this characterization lays out is as relevant in the days of drilling through the ocean floor as it was in the days of sawing through the mighty sequoia. For Muir, having grown up a devout and strictly observant Presbyterian, the Presbyterian conception of Christ became, at least in part, integrated into many aspects of his boyhood and maturation. Over the years, though the flavor of his devotion certainly departed from that of his father, the remnants of this Christocentric upbringing are still embedded like emeralds in his later characterization of Mother Nature as occupying a strikingly Christ-like role in the naturalistic theology of transformation he develops. From his discussion of Light and Peace to his ubiquitous parental and prophetic personification of Nature, she emerges from Muir’s writing not as mere matter to be manipulated but, similar to Christ, an exquisite vessel for human transport from Earthly to Divine (and, indeed, the reverse relation as well). This role, read in light of the mystical revelation facilitated by and through Christ in the writings of Christians from Fox to Weil, had to – and did – lead to Nature’s assumption, for Muir, of a radical and transformative power. For Muir, humanity’s problem was estrangement and her solution nearness. Just as the woman whose faith told her that merely touching the hem of Christ’s garment would bring healing, the mere company of Nature, for Muir, was sufficient to return the human to the awareness of God.48 It was once in this relationship, having entered into the giving and partaking of Nature with her children, that Muir found the human might finally realize his or her true location in Creation: all brothers and sisters born of the same Mother and the same Father.49 Then it would be humans’ want not to exploit but to worship, not to abuse but to journey together. For on that day, as Muir wonderfully wrote, the human race might finally and all at once recognize the hand of God in everything and in so doing realize that “[w]hen we try to pick out anything by itself,” – by the marvelous, “inevitable interest attaching” all things – “we [will] find it hitched to everything else in the universe;” we will find all things to be one 102


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united, harmonious Whole.50

Endnotes 1 Theodore Roosevelt, “Conservation” (Speech at Denver before the Colorado Livestock Association, Denver, Colorado, August 29, 1910), 51, accessed 8 December 2013, http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/ txtspeeches/692.pdf. 2 John Muir, “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth,” in Nature Writings, ed. William Cronon (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1997), 31. 3 cf. John 14:6 4 Howard Thurman, Mysticism and the Experience of Love, (Philadelphia: Pendle Hill Pamphlet, 1961), 3, 7, and 9. 5 John McNamee, Endurance: the Rhythm of Faith, (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1996), 97; Acts 17:28 6 Jn. 14:6; Bernard McGinn, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 221. 7 Is. 9:6 8 John Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra,” in Nature Writings, ed. William Cronon, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1997), 172; in the same collection, Muir, “A Wind-Storm in the Forests,” 473. 9 Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra,” 234. 10 Jn. 1:5 11 Muir, “My First Summer,” 187 and 292; John Muir, “Emerson & John Muir,” ed. Peter Y. Chou, (Wisdom Portal.com), 7. 12 Muir, “My First Summer,” 243; see also Muir, “Emerson & John Muir,” 7. 13 Muir, “My First Summer,” 187. 14 Muir, “Emerson & John Muir,” 7; see 1 Jn. 1:1-2 for a description of Christ’s similar role. 15 cf. Muir, Nature Writings, 60, 233, 238, 263, 301, etc. 16 Muir, “My First Summer,” 234; the first quote is not a direct quote, but is nearly so, with Muir having the descriptive words in adverbial instead of adjectival form. 17 Muir, “My First Summer,” 292-293. 18 Ibid., 296. 103


Xavier Review 34.1 19 Ibid., 295 and 191, see also 240 and 273; cf. Mt. 4:19 and Lk. 19:5 20 John Muir, “Save the Redwoods,” in Nature Writings, ed. William Cronon, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1997), 828. 21 Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 13:14 22 “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola,” Fairfield University Online Archive, accessed 8, December, 2013, http://faculty.fairfield.edu/jmac/se/ se.htm. 23 Francis of Assisi, “The Testament,” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents: The Saint, ed. R. J. Armstrong, J.W. Hellmann and W.J. Short, (New York: New York City Press, 1999), 124. 24 Mt. 25:40 25 Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, ed. Christine M. Bochen, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000), 90. 26 Simone Weil, “Spiritual Autobiography,” in The Simone Weil Reader, ed. George Panichas, (New York: Moyer Bell, 1997), 16. 27 Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, ed. Bernard McGinn, (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1993), 163 and 142. 28 George Fox, The Journal of George Fox (Revised Edition), ed. J.L. Nickalls, H.J. Cadbury, and G.F. Nuttall, (Philadelphia: Religious Society of Friends, 1985), 27. 29 Mk. 4:9 30 Muir, “My First Summer,” 263, 201, 233, and 225. 31 John Muir, “Flood-storm in the Sierra,” in Nature Writings, ed. William Cronon, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States Inc., 1997), 617. 32 Ibid., 611 and 590. 33 Ibid., 612. 34 Muir, “My First Summer,” 164. 35 Ez. 36:26 36 Muir, “God’s First Temples,” in Nature Writings, ed. William Cronon, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States Inc., 1997), 629. 37 Muir, “Save the Redwoods,” 828. 38 Muir, “Flood-storm in the Sierra,” 608. 39 cf. Lk. 19:4 40 Muir, “My First Summer,” 256 and 164; Is. 44:18 41 Ibid., 207. 42 Ibid., 186 and 234. 43 Ibid., 212. 44 Ibid., 244. 45 Ibid., 228, 213 and 191. 104


Erin J. Kast 46 Ibid., 298. 47 See Muir, “Emerson & John Muir,” 7 for the refreshment possible in a return to Nature. 48 Muir, “My First Summer,” 238; Mk. 5:25-29. 49 Ibid., 293. 50 Ibid., 245.

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Joshua M. Hall

Hapless Dispersion when i find a self i will marry him, whatever her gender, so anxious am i for sure-footed company.

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Hard-Won Understanding as the sun’s hot long before bright, so knowledge breeds through burning, & rapid breath that steams low skies: the tax on dazzling thought. thus stride to wonder, if at all, dear ones, pre-steeled.

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Hegel’s Big Five in the Den then she turned her almost 71st annual head and looked at him like a Mahler symphony, he shot back a Vermeer wink and touched her Michaelangelic wrinkled knee David Lloyd Wrightly while his mother (her daughter) sat in a stanza of Rimbaud

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John Ed Bradley

John Clemmer (1921-2014) Eulogy Clemmer Memorial Service, May 9, 2014 Modernist painter and sculptor, John Clemmer attended the New Orleans School of Art of the Arts and Crafts Club. He studied under the artistic greats of the day—Paul Ninas, Xavier Gonzales, and Enrique Alférez. Clemmer became director of the art school, the city’s first contemporary art gallery and for many years the only art school where men could study art. Clemmer taught at Tulane University’s School of Architecture from 1951 until 1978. He then chaired the art department of Newcomb College, an institution devoted to women’s education, until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1986. Clemmer, who maintained studios in New Orleans and Sheboygan, Wisconsin, exhibited his work in regional, national, and international exhibitions. —Judith H. Bonner, Senior Curator and Curator of Art, The Historic New Orleans Collection

He kept an old Carnival mask hanging from the top of a window frame in his studio. It was up near the ceiling, held there by a string. There were small holes for the eyes. The mouth was a dark red smear. The skin had yellowed with age. He’d painted it many years before, when he was a young artist in the French Quarter. He said it was the last one he’d painted, the last of hundreds. I wondered if he kept it as a reminder of how far his life had taken him. I was so in awe of John I thought it was a masterpiece and belonged in a museum. “How much you want for it?” I asked him once. “How about a thousand 109


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dollars?” “For that?” “Okay, two thousand. I’ll write you a check today.” “I don’t think it’s for sale,” he said. Then he looked at me admiring it. “Why don’t you take it? Just don’t tell Dottie.” He was only teasing, but I wasn’t. Later it occurred to me that the reason he kept the mask ten feet off the ground was to make sure I couldn’t reach it. Many of you had the pleasure of visiting John in his studio. It was just around the corner from the big Victorian where Dottie and John raised Jonathan and David. You climbed stairs up to a wooden porch, and there was a small sign tipped back against the window that said “3618 Studio.” You knocked and waited and finally the door pulled open. And there he was: white-haired, smiling, glasses perched on his nose, New Balance running shoes on his feet. “The Great John Clemmer,” I liked to say, bellowing for all the neighbors to hear. Classical music was always playing. Sunlight fell in puddles on the floor. On your left there was a poster taped to the wall for a Pierre Bonnard exhibition. In front of you was a long cypress table crowded with cans of colored pencils and his most recent drawings. On your right were shelves piled high with brushes and tubes of paint. Further on there was an old desk holding little ant mounds of paint. Then there was his easel, a big homemade thing with wheels that could support large canvases. You’d sit in director’s chairs and talk about art and the artists he knew until it was time to walk to Barcia’s Grocery for shrimp poboys and Barq’s root beer. When he entered the ladies behind the counter would say, “Hello, Mr. Clemmer. How are you doing today, Mr. Clemmer?” There’s a funny story John liked to tell. He’d finished work on one of his greatest paintings, and he showed it to one of the Barcia children, who was then a teenager, and asked for her opinion. She appraised it for a minute then shook her head sadly and said, “Not enough blending.” John loved that. Whenever I visited him and saw a new painting in the works, I’d give my head a shake and say, “John, not enough blending.” I’ll tell you how I met him. It was twelve years ago, and I was obsessively 110


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collecting art. On my days off I liked to go to the Williams Research Center and read through the artist files. It seemed every story in those files included his name. You read about artists who exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Club in the 1940s, and there was John Clemmer. You read about Paul Ninas or Xavier Gonzales or Enrique Alferez, and there was Clemmer. You read about Newcomb or Tulane: Clemmer. The Orleans Gallery? Clemmer. Finally I asked for the Clemmer file, and a research assistant brought me a huge folder filled with old news clippings, photographs, and fliers for exhibitions. I spent hours poring over it. John’s story, I realized, was no less than the story of art in Louisiana in the twentieth century. I decided I had to meet him. So I went home and wrote him a letter. And before you know it he and Dottie and I were sitting together in their condo on St. Charles Avenue. I put a tape recorder between them and started pitching questions, most of them about artists whose work I’d collected. What was Alberta Kinsey like? I asked John. “She was marvelous,” he said. And he served up stories about her, one after another. Kinsey died in 1952, but John brought her to life for me—the way she dressed, the smell of flowers in her garden. He took me into her home on Royal Street, where she was giving private instruction to a chubby little boy named Jimmy Lamantia, who was sprawled on the floor drawing pictures. What about Paul Ninas? I asked. “Paul was rather exotic,” John replied. And now I was with the two of them, walking the streets of the Quarter. Paul wore a brightly colored sash around his waist instead of a belt. At his home on Esplanade Avenue he kept a piece of driftwood in the living room. Yes, driftwood. John invited me to his studio, and soon we were getting together a couple of times a week. I must’ve asked him about two hundred different artists, and he knew them all. “Oh, sure,” he’d say, each time I brought up another one. It seemed incredible. Could his memory really be that good? One day I did an awful thing. I decided to test him, since he knew so much, and I invented a name. This artist never existed; I made him up. “What 111


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about Leon Bowie, John?” He perked up. “Leon Bowie?” “That’s right. I’m sure you knew him.” “Never heard of him,” he said. He gave me permission to dig around in the racks where he kept his paintings. Some dated back to his youth. “What about this one, John?” I’d yell when I found something interesting. “Which one?” And he’d come shuffling over for a look. “Oh, that’s ‘Noon Visit,’” he said, and he told me the story that inspired it—an ill-fated love affair, rendezvous at noon, the plane crash that ended it. What a perfect name, I thought. He told me how he’d used paints hand-made by a guy named Larry Bocour. You couldn’t get them anymore, Bocour was dead, but put your fingertips on that surface, feel the grainy texture. That’s what Boucour’s paints gave you. No surprise, I was enthralled by John and his world. I was then in my forties but I already felt old and used up, while he was in his eighties and driven like mad to paint. You would’ve thought he was in the spring of his career, the way he worked each day. I went to see him one morning and he was sitting in his chair looking at a painting from 1947. It was leaning back against his easel, and he was studying it intently. I told him how much I liked it, and he said, “It’s not finished yet.” “Come on,” I said. “How can it not be finished?” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just not. But we’ve been talking to each other again. It’s doing this…” And he curled a finger in on itself. John and I had a lot of adventures together. One day we went to the home of an amateur painter who’d repeatedly called him asking for an appraisal of her work. Seems nobody would give it to her straight—Was she any good?—and she thought she’d get a master to give his opinion. The walls of her home were festooned with her work. There were paintings from floor to ceiling, paintings stacked behind chairs and in corners, paintings under beds, paintings hanging from doors. It looked like my house, in other words, but these paintings were all by her hand, painted in the throes of some desperate fever, which explained the 112


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palette. The lady liked color—color before anything else. You risked cornea damage if you stared too long. “What about this one, Professor Clemmer?” she said. John stepped up to it. “Oh, yes,” he said. “And this one?” “Oh, my,” he answered. He was so patient with her. So gentle. He understood that she really didn’t want his criticism. What she wanted was to be acknowledged. She existed; she had done what she could with what she’d been given; here was proof. We went all through the house and finally came to a small painting on the second floor. John tipped his head back and studied it through his glasses. “Lovely,” he whispered. She was straining to hear him. “Lovely,” he said again. Tears poured from the lady’s eyes, and he turned and faced her. And something in her countenance seemed to lift. A burden, a fear. If ever John’s decency was on display, it was at this moment. “Thank you for a pleasant afternoon, my dear,” he said. And we left. We went to gallery and museum exhibitions. One day at the Milwaukee Art Museum Dottie and I became separated from him. He seemed to have disappeared. We searched from room to room and eventually found him standing in front of a big Pierre Bonnard oil painting. John greatly admired Bonnard. I should’ve known he would be here. “John, we thought you were lost,” I said. He didn’t look away from the painting. He was pressed up close to the surface, examining it. “How does he do that?” he said. Then again: “How – does – he – do – that?” By now Bonnard had been dead for almost sixty years, but John was referring to him in the present tense. He was alive because his painting was alive. Another day in New Orleans John and I were driving down Magazine Street when he suddenly reached over, patted me on the arm, and told me to stop. I did as instructed. He was peering through the window at a two-story 113


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house built close to the street. “I lived there once,” he said. “You and Dottie?” I asked him. “No,” he answered. “With my family when I was a boy.” Then he told me a story. He’d been playing with friends about a block away, when a terrible blast rocked the neighborhood. He went running toward the noise and turned the corner. A gas explosion had ripped through his house. His mother was dead. So was an old aunt who lived with them. I didn’t know what to say to him. In November of 1937, when the accident occurred, John would’ve been sixteen years old. And he was in his late eighties this day. It struck me that he’d been passing by this house for seventy years. The memory would’ve been unavoidable. “John, what do you remember about your mom?” I asked him. “I remember she was beautiful,” he said. “What else?” He kept looking through the window. “Just that,” he said. “That she was beautiful.” He patted me on the arm again. “Okay,” he said, “let’s go.” I had a writing instructor at LSU who said to me once, “There are years of my life that aren’t worth days of my life.” He was no lightweight, this man. But I was 21 years old, and I didn’t understand what he meant: “There are years of my life that aren’t worth days of my life.” How could this be? I think I understand now. I wouldn’t trade days with John for whole years I lived before I knew him. 1973, for instance. Give me a handful of mornings with John and I’ll give you 1973. 1987. I’d give you all of ’87 for just one more afternoon in his studio. Not enough? How about 1999? Take it. You can have them both. Give me John. We get up, get dressed. We stumble out in the world. The car starts, the road is clear. We drive to his studio and park where we always do. We pass through the gate, the gate squeaks. We climb the stairs, we knock on a door, the door opens. There’s music, and light everywhere. And John. There is always John.

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Carrie Chappell

Passionately Discontent: A Review Of John Gery’s Have at You Now!

T o follow whole-heartedly a life in art begets both dreams and

damnations. John Gery’s newest collection evidences the struggle of this pursuit—its situational and serendipitous deliverance of inspiration and isolation. Have at You Now!—a title plucked, courageously and ominously, from the final murderous scenes of Hamlet—stirs up a question: is Gery’s poetry lethal? To converse with scenes that bring the dead is an insurrection against the living. Yet, following poisonous words is where Gery chooses to begin his interference: The thing about an empty page is not the neatness of it, nor its play to memory, nor the pleasure it gives being turned, nor its lack of illustration

“Thing”—the second word in Gery’s proem, “Clearance”—first grabs the reader. “Thing”—that grossly ambiguous creature of language. With so much context already supplied—the title, the arrangement in five acts, the epigram bringing together, snuggly and sharply, the death of literature’s belovéd hero, this word, “thing,” feels acutely out of place, but in Gery’s hands, the reader discovers, expertly chosen. Thus, the book’s tour through “old habits” that are “newly strange” begins. This empty page reveals no longer an open stage but rather a ghost-filled drama. Yet, even in this admission, Gery’s speaker is only partially disheartened, for he spans another eighty-two pages. Passionately discontent, he travels through real and imagined histories to grasp the garish present perchance to glean what will come tomorrow. 115


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Gery’s speaker acts gently and disparagingly as he approaches time syllogistically. In “English Is Dying,” the reader observes attempts at a linguistic equation in hopeful yield of emotional salvation: so to keep what we prize from oblivion we must devise a future we need to believe in as just the same, like me with you sometimes, inventing our past. Indeed, Gery’s poetics work philosophically. Even though the speaker is devouring by deduction, he also musters a bit of wealth in reverie. However, this is the mental adjustment of which the speaker is most skeptical; he cannot deny the disintegration of hope. Yet, of a dream, the speaker does address his will as he closes in, “Re: Volition,” wishing for a “trick”: “somehow to nurture without leaving stains.” It is among dusty residues, then, that Gery’s speaker picks up, must map his experience and refine his definitions. In “Disaster,” the speaker illustrates the futility of change in the face of destruction: …What sweeps through us, whether from an argument or a disaster, deposits itself in corners and under foliage like toxic dust, stray pellets, or lust, benefiting no one, but befitting everyone. Gery’s affect of the factual and his inclusive declarations serve to comfort and disquiet the reader in her readership. Situated in a voice of defeat, the speaker, in fact, antagonizes the reader’s posture, her presumed passivity in the act of scholarship. In the following poem, “When Nadine Gordimer Spoke,” the poem as critical vehicle draws a relationship between the activist’s frailty and that of the speaker. After picking at their bookish activism, the speaker asks of the objects: “what purpose [do] [books] serve?” 116


Carrie Chappell

Closing the second act, Gery bravely addresses his family. The poem, “For Biljana, Who Says the Older She Grows, the Less She Knows,” provides a hint towards achieving the “trick,” for in it the speaker addresses less his wife and more the nature of his son, who is seen “…[putting] his hands under water—/ to cleanse, perhaps, but more to bring the sink/ into his perception…” And, though Gery’s speaker appears to be stumbling towards clarity, redemption in this backwards land, he struggles to relinquish the question. Have at You Now! is a fatally crafty collection. Weaving in and out of scenes of absence and irreparable loss, the speaker populates the collection with a comedic invective of the erotic, the bourgeois, and a tired library. As the speaker finds more untenable the “Forever in between, ” as quoted in “Lag Time,” so does he admit the recklessness of his quotidian: …—I linger by the kitchen door fingering a small book’s pages as though I had an hour to kill when I have murdered years In the world of this collection, being “mindless” spurs the creation of a whole poem, as in “Bestial Oblivion,” whereas later “Hesitation” reminds the reader of better options: to be stainless. However, the poet persists, the mind returns in an analog of personalities, such as Donne, Whitman, Delmore Schwartz, Manet, Fitzgerald, and Anne Bradstreet. In a gregarious madness, the speaker turns to a line of O’Hara’s and delivers an entire poem, nay crucifixion, in appropriation of famous names as different parts of speech: “To Nathan Hale with her! To Trollope off/ so unGrace Kelly. She should be Nabokov of herself!” Beyond this humorous disorder, this indictment, and almost-sense, the speaker eventually steers the reader to a new question: is poison an anecdote? Caught off guard by disaster, this speaker makes a thorough and harrowing search for order once again, “[cries] a lot” in wake of loss “in order to identify/ what remains…” Wrestling a deep intellectual skepticism in want of peace 117


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can humiliate the heart, stunning it into a negative nirvana. Towards the end, the reader witnesses the speaker knocking around his literary shelf. In these moments, where the past becomes present, Philip Larkin becomes “more succulent still” while Fitzgerald disconcertingly familiar. It is this tension that the speaker must temper so as to allow his work eventually its own and right place in the world. Gery’s collection is surprisingly entertaining to read, despite its many airs of anguish. “The thing about an empty page” becomes, in Gery’s choice hands, a reminder not of what is lost but of what is left to be imagined or fulfilled.

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Harry de la Houssaye

Ken Fontenot Revisited

Ken Fontenot, a New Orleans native, transplanted to work for the Civil

Service of Texas in Austin, has produced a very excellent new book of poetry entitled In a Kingdom of Birds, a winner of the 2012 Texas Institute of Letters Award. His poetry is a mix of the wit and force of intelligence found in the Southern work of Percy and Toole, and a wide ranging cosmopolitan sensitivity and interests. Mr. Fontenot owes a great deal to the contemporary poetry scene, but he also possesses an urgent strain of originality. The opening section of In a Kingdom of Birds is a fallback to the modern poetic interest in a poet’s childhood, but the poetic voice and intelligence cannot resist an intrusion. The depth and dimension of that intrusion is extraordinary. In his remembrance of his mother, formally entitled, “Maria McGee,” the poem wittingly bounces from childhood memory to memory, as though in considering each item it is attempting to place a finger on exactly what Maria McGee meant to the poet. These reminiscences are to be given their due, but at the end the poet’s voice intrudes “when will mothers ever be given their due? When doesn’t the light around their hearts ever warm our cold bodies.” Here the tension between bereaved memory and the suffering mind goes unresolved. These memories are insufficient. This is not to say that Mr. Fontenot’s voice is sentimental. It is plaintive and vituperative. In a poem about his mother’s early morning housework activities, the poet’s voice once more intrudes into his poem of memory, “. . . he says light has everything to do with pain and darkness has everything to do with love.” His is a dark assessment of a theme a lesser poet would let bleed into sentiment and then sentimentality. Mr. Fontenot’s opening blast also deals with the South Louisiana range of fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, 119


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aunts, uncles, and childhood friends. A study typical of the extended families of French Catholic Louisiana, it resists the fading interest in modern times in the people that surround us. The reader would assume that given Ken Fontenot’s disposition to the use of wit and intelligence his poetry would work effectively by the shift from subject to subject within a theme. In many of his poems about his recent life and surroundings, the poet does cast around rather feverishly; but he is capable of lyrical flight. A poem about his encounter with two lesbians, “A Study of Two Girls,” moves in a simple direction, and the language soars. The poem is a questioning of the poet’s ability to love and seduce. Each line reinforces the previous one, and the poem concludes on the lyrical note, “and to think I cannot even bleed when it counts.” Mr. Fontenot is capable of falling back on nature as being wiser than mankind, and has written several nature poems in a straightforward way that are simple and lyrical. Other poems concerning the poetic present are self-effacing and dark as is the beautifully Hopperesque poem “Internal Revenue Service.” The poet moves from observation to observation in a dry fashion, but the work is selfreflective. Another poem that stands out is one in which he is bold enough to ask, who prays for the father, like God. His questioning is hugely intelligent as his force of wit and observant smarts intrudes on poetry that is also observant. This is one of Ken Fontenot’s original and most valuable talents. As has been previously mentioned, Mr. Fontenot is equally both a philosophical and nature poet. He trusts and is familiar with the disarming charms of bird’s song, as he is Goethe. The poet holds an M.A. degree in German from the University of Texas at Austin and is widely read in Teutonic philosophy and language. He is fluent in the language he loves. While his cerebralism is impressive, it plays only a defined and limited role in his work. To his credit the surprising informal joys of everyday life are as important to him as the mundane struggle to love and survive. He constantly returns to the effects of birdsong upon him “. . . Birds, apt to remember more than we imagine they can. A cool creek. Clouds: meticulous and devout. A just god which some of us call nature.” This is the third book of Mr. Fontenot’s and by far his most accomplished. 120


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His keen observation and force of his original intelligence make his poetry well worth reading and a joy to examine. Don’t miss this example of what happens when southern regionalism combines with cosmopolitan sensitivity.

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Keith Alexander

Laps at Midnight For some it is Salzburg, Madrid, Indianapolis, or ancient Troy. In dreams it’s 1939, 1986, or just noontime. Some light cigarettes in bed. Some stand on balconies listening to traffic after nightfall. In Frankfurt a man stares at the moon, ashamed of the flag staked in lunar soil. A Belgian travels with nervous disorders she treats as she would precious lap dogs. Each one gets pills or liquids. Each one is groomed to sleep. On this planet diarists keep record of bowel movements, night sweats, tremors, sexual longings and partners. Mostly they’re lonely and are writing to themselves. A man contemplates fractal geometry in water stains on the ceiling above the bed. Come dawn he will drive seventy miles to Linz to sell slaughterhouse machinery. A suicide? He’s not killed anything more than a cockroach. Even then he felt eerie to himself. Some wake unable to recount where they are. They search receipts, fumble about for hotel letter head. For some it’s a southern hemisphere. A translator on assignment in Buenos Aires finds constellations she’s not seen, and one star at a time reckons an older order, not having to think how to go on, how to survive, unlike the American in Bristol, 122


an insomniac swimming laps at midnight, a bruised look to her eyes, damned to so much time and a perfect breast stroke.

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Ty Cronkhite

Breakfast With Caroline

One time I met this guy at the bar. He only had one leg. This is not a

joke. First of all, just because a story begins with a guy in a bar it doesn’t mean it’s a joke. Secondly, this guy couldn’t have walked into a bar anyway because of the condition of his second leg, which as I have already said, was missing. So this guy walked into the bar. He hopped into the bar, without the use of a crutch, and so I asked him why he didn’t use a crutch and he told me he lost his crutch several years ago and couldn’t afford another. Not a decent one anyway, so he just started hopping. “Don’t crutches come in pairs?” I asked. “No.” he answered. “I’ll buy you a beer,” I said, and he agreed that if I bought it he would drink it. So I bought him the beer, and I bought one for myself as well. His name was Chance. I paid for the beers with a hundred dollar bill my parents recently gave me for living expenses. When the bartender brought my change I gave him a tip and laid the rest on the counter in front of me along with my iPhone. “So how’d you lose your leg?” “I didn’t lose my leg,” he said, “I know exactly where I left it. I lost my crutch, and that is a much more interesting story. Aniak. Nineteen seventynine…” By then my beer was fully half gone. “Listen,” I said, “I’d like to hear that story, but I’ve got to take a piss. Do you mind watching my money and my phone for a sec?” It was as if I thought, because he only had one leg, that he had nothing better to do than watch my stuff for me while I went to the bathroom. But that wasn’t it. I thought that I was paying a compliment to him, in a way, by trusting him not to steal it, having only just met him. At the same time, if he 124


did choose to steal it I knew he would be easy to catch. “Sure, no problem,” he said. When I came out of the bathroom I was more comfortable and anxious to hear the old man’s story of how he lost his crutch. But in the hallway was a friend of mine. A girl. A college girl by the name of Caroline who was very pretty and who I enjoyed being seen with. She wanted me to come with her, so I did. We went to a party with a keg of beer and a lot more pretty girls, not all of whom were named Caroline. They didn’t matter to me though. I was mesmerized by Caroline. Caroline, Caroline. She always had a lot going on. She knew how to keep several guys chasing her at once. I was just one of several for a while. But then we broke away from the party and it started to seem like I had a chance with her. She was getting pretty drunk, and I guess I was too. We went to the park with a bottle of alcohol. She told me about how I was the coolest guy she ever met, how I was the only one who really understood her. I mean, really understood her. Like no one else had ever understood her. “You really get me, you know what I mean?” she said. “Totally,” I said. We rolled around in the cool grass and when we got up she had leaves in her hair and one eye wasn’t focusing. But she was still pretty. Soon we were hungry. We couldn’t remember where her car was. Denny’s was a short walk from the park. At Denny’s we both ordered chicken fried steak and eggs. The next thing that happened was our waitress put the food on the table in front of us and we ate it while we put our hands all over each other and kissed. We were tongue kissing and eating at the same time. “Do you want to go to my place and have sex?” she asked. At least that’s what it sounded like she said. She had a mouthful of hashbrowned potatoes at the time. Maybe she said “do you want to go wipe your mouth and pay the check?” I’ll never know for sure. If she did say that then I wouldn’t have been able to pay the check anyway because I left all my money at the bar with that guy. 125


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We walked out without paying the check because she didn’t have any money either, but we got in trouble when we had to go back in to call a cab. I told the manager there the story about how I’d left my money at the bar with this guy named Chance and how I’d be back in a little while to pay our check. Finally she let us go because she turned away when the cab pulled up and we ran out the door. Once at the bar I leaned forward, taking my hand out from under Caroline’s skirt. I told the cabbie to keep the meter running. “I’ll be right back,” I told Caroline. I walked into the bar, now crowded and loud. I saw my money where I left it, but had to fight my way through the line at the bar to get to the old man. “Must’ve been one hell of a piss, cap’n’” “What’s that?” “Hell of a piss.” “Sorry. I got into a entanglement.” “What?” “I said I’m sorry. Buy you a beer?” He pointed to his full beer. “Okay, I got to run,” I said and reached for my money and my phone on the bar in front of Chance. “I’d like to hear that story but…” Just then the crowd surged and knocked me onto the half-empty barstool right next to him. “Aniak, nineteen seventy-nine,” he said. “I was a bush pilot out of Aniak. I didn’t have no regular employer, just folks who’d call on me when they needed. I had a DeHavilland Beaver with floats on it. Cost me my house and wife in Delaware to buy it, but it put me in business up there in the bush. “Anyways, this group of hunters came to me with eighteen hundred dollars. Wanted a drop off at a camp site up off the Kuskokwim about a hundred and fifty miles. Pretty remote, and it was late September so there was always the danger of ice. Normally I wouldn’t have done it but they has this girlie with them about twenty-two and built, you know what I mean?” He elbowed me when he said that. I elbowed him back and mentioned that in fact, I did know what he was talking about because there was someone 126


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similar waiting for me out in the cab. “Sos I told ‘em I’d take ‘em up there but I couldn’t make any guarantees about picking ‘em up as late as they wanted me to, which was ten days after the moose season was over. Early October when sure as shit there would be ice starting to form in that goddamn lake up there. I handed them a radio and told ‘em I’d give a flyover about halfway through if the weather was good. “We loaded in the next morning. Four guys and this one girl seemed like she was a girlfriend. It was like the guys were the Beatles of hunting, okay, and, and she was the Yoko Ono. You could tell who wanted her there and it was really only of those guys if even he did. His enthusiasm for her getting on was rather lackluster. I had to help her aboard myself with my hand on her ass. She was wearing a pair of leather sandals over wool socks and drinking a can of beer. They made her sit up front with me while they talked about other stuff. Truth is, she didn’t have a whole hell of a lot to say. Just kinda looked out the window and fiddled with her sunglasses and her silver rings. “Well I kinda forgot about them until a week or so later there was forecast some bad weather. I figured I oughta get up over there and check on ‘em and then as sure as shit before I even circled the campsite they are on the radio mayday mayday, which I ain’t never heard anyone actually say on the radio, but they was sayin’ it loud and clear. “Now here is the thing, that in between the time that I dropped them off and the time I remembered to go do an overfly and check on their status I busted my ankle slipping on some ice on the front steps to my cabin. That kinda reminded me at the time of the fact that we were getting dangerously close to the end of float plane season because it was the first ice I’d seen all year. But even though I had it in a good homebuilt splint, two ace bandages and three layers of socks, my ankle I mean, it made it difficult to use the rudder pedals. Mainly I had to work two pedals with one foot and that was quite a trick. “Complicating this was a thirty knot crosswind to land on the only skinny sliver of a lake had access to their campsite, and that there could be ice on it. But after talking with them it was clear they needed help. “Now by the time I taxied up to the shore there was two of them there all 127


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talking at the same time and making gestures. I got my crutch which they gave me at the pharmacy back in Aniak, which was really just a back closet in the general store. But it was a good crutch. I holstered my sidearm too, just in case. I had no idea what these two hillbillies was talking about because they couldn’t shut up either one of them long enough for me to make any sense of it. But I hobbled after them in about four inches of snow. “The campsite was in disarray. There was a pool of blood where they had slaughtered a bull moose. One of the hunters was forty foot up in a pine tree with a bottle of vodka, a headband, and a three-forty Weatherby trained on me. I was a little uneasy with that. The girl was tied to a hind quarter of the moose with some kind of contraption strapped around her waist. She was hissing and trying to spit on me when I got close and I couldn’t figure why. “The two hunters that led me there said she tied herself to the meat and rigged up some kind of explosive device from a cassette tape recorder and gunpowder. She said she wasn’t going to let anyone touch the dead carcass because she didn’t believe in the eating of animals. Why the hell would you bring someone like that on a hunting trip, I asked them, but they never answered. “In any case, this was the situation now and they had no idea how deadly this device was, so no one wanted to mess with her. She seemed serious. “They told me they wanted me to take her and the meat the hell out of there and turn her in to the local authorities. Now at that time there weren’t no local authorities, but I took her anyways. “We made it back to Aniak without much trouble except that visibility was extremely poor and I had to navigate by the signal of the AM radio station out of Bethel. Turned out to be the blizzard of seventy-nine. “Once I beached the Beaver we set out for my shack. I didn’t know where else to take this girl, so I figured she could weather the storm at my place. But it was a half mile and getting dark and my foot hurt like hell. That damn wind was still blowing and my socks were soaked due to me having to step in the lake while we were loading that moose into the plane, just the three of us with the girl still tied to it. It was like trying to fit an elephant up a coon’s ass. “We stopped by my friend Pat’s house for a big bottle of alcohol and he 128


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gave us a ride. It was only a hundred foot ride but by that time my foot was aching so bad I couldn’t of made it. I was already hitting that bottle hard before I even shut the door to his truck. I fumbled around with the bungie cord a little to secure the door but forgot about it to focus on what Pat was saying. I just held the door shut with my arm instead.” My iPhone vibrated on the bar in front of Chance. I could see it was a text message but couldn’t make out the name. “When we got back to my place I couldn’t take the socks off it hurt so bad so we just drank that whole bottle right there between the two of us. She started to lighten up and not be so serious and sometime during that three days I took her on kinda as my girl even though she was half my age. Hell, I wasn’t in any shape to judge anything except I liked her and sometimes I understood what she was saying. “That booze though wasn’t cutting it with my leg so I called Joe down at the pharmacy on the short wave to send up some kind of pills. Joe was a good man and even though he didn’t want to he heard the desperation in my voice and sent up the pills and some more booze, said he’d get my doctor’s prescription when I saw one. Well he knew damn well I didn’t have no goddamned doctor but that don’t matter. That just goes to illustrate the fact of how he’s a good man and all that. They were good pills, and that girl liked ‘em too. “She just kept talking and stuff and I would listen sometimes but I was half in and out of consciousness all the time. She was putting on her clothes and taking ‘em off and one minute she was in bed with me the next minute not, talking about the destruction of forests and all that shit that goes along with vegetarianism and the animal liberation front and stuff which she was part of, only it wasn’t a heard of organization back then. She was one of the confounding members.” “Cofounding?” I asked. “Yeah that’s right, co-founding. So finally I got her to take my wet socks off despite the pain and the whole leg up to just under my knee was blue and parts of it including all my toes was black as tar. Black as tar. I knew I was in for it. 129


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“Then she told me she was missing her boyfriend and I realized the storm had passed. I had a few moments of clarity but I don’t remember it. I remember it was a clear night and a half moon and she wanted to go pick up her boyfriend. I did a quick weight and balance calculation and thought well without that moose meat we should be safe to fly. But now I never thought about it being night outside. I was in a semi, let’s just say in a semi-not-lucid state of mind. “She had Pat there with his truck all ready to take us to the plane and he was questioning me like Chance, you gonna fly tonight? Are you crazy? I explained to him I had calculated the weight and balance and everything appeared to be foolproof except it was night and there was ice on the river and my foot was turning black. My iPhone was vibrating again. Another text message. This time it kept vibrating, working itself slowly toward me. I hoped it would get close enough so I could casually grab it and see what it said, but just as it got nearly within my reach it stopped. “Something had happened to the moose meat on our way back to Aniak the first time. You know, three days before when I took her and the meat out of that camp. And what it was is that the girl maneuvered that two hundred pound half a moose ass out the door of my plane and sent it crashing into the forest to liberate it. She was a hundred and ten pounds if that and I still can’t figure how she did it but it pissed me off ‘cause I was expecting to cut a couple steaks off that thing as compensation for the extra trouble that goddamn John Lennon was being to me. “We have to go pick up Ringo and John, Pat, I said to him as if that should explain everything. Okay, good luck to ya he said, knowing I had gone crazy and knowing too he couldn’t do nothing to stop me. I’ll get that, he said when he saw me fumbling around with the dirty yellow bungie cord to secure his passenger door. “Now through the combination of hard labor and a hand winch we got my plane out on to the ice and pointing kind of into the wind. But it was mainly a crosswind the headwind component of I didn’t bother to calculate. That’s just the way bush pilots did things then. We took into the account the 130


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thing that Supreme Court justices call the totality of the circumstances and then we made our best guess. Flight computers are for flight schools. They don’t belong out there in the bush. “But getting a float plane up in the air off an iced over river with a crosswind is near to impossible. “The floats weren’t made for ice. You can’t steer on the ice with floats. That plane will weathervane into the wind every time. So I put that girl in front of the controls and I told her how to work them. I had a plastic sled I tied to the left wing, the wing opposite the wind and then I propped open the door to add some more drag on that side. Hell man, you can steer a plane at speed just by using the doors. “But the problem was to get up enough speed to be able to steer with the rudder, you know, before it turned into the wind and headed for the rocks. Now remember that I’m still on my crutch, that’s what’s holding me up while I’m doing all this shit. So I instructed the girl to pull open the throttle all the way whilst I sat on the sled to give it some weight against turning into the wind. Which she did and, I’m still hanging on to my crutch and my foot is all wrapped up and I’m looking like elephant man there’s so much wrapping on it, and the plane is cruising to about thirty or forty knots and I’m hookeybobbing on that sled, pulling myself toward the plane so I can try and crawl on before the bend in the river. The girl was steering pretty good now with the rudder and holding the controls just like I showed her so it was going good. I got onto the float and let go of the sled. I inched toward the open door and reached my free hand in to get a handhold when the damn door slammed shut right on my hand. Save Ringo and Paul, I kept saying to myself, save Ringo and Paul. Fuck that quiet Beatle. Finally I had to let go of the crutch to get the door open again with my left hand.” “Oh man,” I said, laughing, “that is some story. Shoot, I got to go, but that is, that is certainly quite interesting how you lost..” “Luckily,” Chance continued, his arm resting across my money and my phone, “that old crutch got tangled up in the rope along with that piece of shit plastic sled and the girl somehow got that plane in the air right before the bend as I was hollering pull back pull back. 131


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“Now right there I shoulda died so I count it as good fortune even if I only got one good leg out of the deal. I just left that sled and crutch out there in tow, hoping we didn’t lose them. Now them painkillers in combination with the booze was still working to make me feel like I was the god of the world. Invincible. For a little while. But the site of the camp was an hour off and after about a half hour I was nodding off no matter how much I drank. Then there was another stroke of luck and that was that the girl had some other kind of pills for that. I took ‘em and then I was awake and drunk and painless all at the same time. “A few minutes later I spotted the thin sliver of the lake and made a perfect landing except that we ran out of lake while still skidding along the ice at thirty knots and crash landed into an outcropping of rocks I never saw before. The damage was extensive and I couldn’t locate my crutch. My head was bloody and I kept slipping on the ice whenever I tried to hop around. She wasn’t in great shape either. A crash will do that to you. There’s a period of time where you just walk around dazed and stupid. “The fact that there wasn’t nobody around for a hundred miles didn’t make us look any less like idiots. When the sun came up we shut ourselves in the cabin of the plane and held each other close. The body warmth and that of the sun streaming through the windows kept us warm. We slept a good part of the day. She slept a good part of the day while my leg throbbed and I took pills every couple of hours and then vomited them up. “When she woke up I was still crazy. I had frozen vomit stuck all over me. None of it seemed real. There was nothing familiar about that lake and the plane was beyond repair. After two hours of walking in circles I found my crutch in a tree and I was so happy I cried and danced with it in the snow. I named it Benny Goodman and promised to marry it. “Eight days went by and there was nothing to eat. I faded in and out while she tried to do things like fix the radio and forage for food. She took to eating the bark off trees. She hated me. We stopped talking about the sixth day. I spoke only to Benny Goodman. When I did, I told him how much of a cunt the girl was and how I secretly hoped she would die. “One night I woke up and there was a fire. She was dancing around the 132


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fire and eating a turkey leg off the bone. I felt sick and vomited before she approached me with a big stick and I lost consciousness again. “I woke up with the sun. I had been covered with a wool blanket. The fire was still smoldering. The girl was sleeping peacefully. Where’s Benny Goodman I asked, and I realized how silly it was to have named my crutch. She looked real pretty sleeping there against the tree. Propped up next to her was a bloody hacksaw that normally stayed in the plane. I felt better than I had in days. There was no pain in my leg. “Then I started remembering things. I remembered her calling me names. She was telling me I stunk like a piece of shit and that she wasn’t going to let good meat just rot away. “It came to me slowly at first and then all at once with a rush. “She was breaking Benny Goodman over her knee and throwing him into the fire. She was cooking a turkey leg over the fire. A big turkey leg with black turkey toes. “I remembered everything but I couldn’t move. I wanted to kill her. I couldn’t bear to lift the blanket to look at my leg. “My senses started to come back to me slowly. I kept on the pills, but the pain wasn’t nearly like it had been. She had been kind enough to cauterize the wound and to carefully bandage the stump of my leg to stop infection. When she woke up she couldn’t look me in the eye. I told her step by step how to remove the battery from the plane and wire the radio to it directly. I told her to check the ELT, the emergency locator transmitter, to see if it was on. I told her to check the light and monitor the frequency. If it wasn’t broadcasting, I told her to smash it with a rock. She did all those things just like I told her. “A day and a half later a plane flew close by and she was able to contact them on the radio. Six hours later I was being loaded onto a stretcher to board a Medevac helicopter. The last thing I remember is that that goddamned vegetarian bitch had taken a shit not twenty feet from our camp and I remember staring at the pile of crap. The day before, that pile of crap was my leg. I looked down at where my leg used to be. I looked at the pile of crap melting through the snow. That goddamned, steaming pile of crap used to be my leg. “Here’s the funny thing. The medical professionals tell me I would have 133


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died from the infection within a day if she wouldn’ta sawed off my leg. So in a twisted way she saved my life. Still, I’ll never forgive her for burning my crutch. I loved that crutch. Plus I had to pay the pharmacy twenty-two dollars and eighty-seven cents to replace it with a brand new aluminum one.” Now the bar was emptier. The college students were filtering out. I looked at my watch and told chance I really had to go. I grabbed my money and my phone and went outside to find the cab still there waiting for me. According to the driver the old man’s story had taken seventy-two dollars and forty cents to tell. Caroline had left about thirty dollars ago with some other guy. I gave him the change from my hundred dollars and he took me back to Denny’s where I ordered a free cup of coffee and drafted an email to my father explaining the circumstances surrounding my need for extra money this month. Just before I hit send the phone powered off due to a low battery condition.

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Two Stories Spiral

He and the tall man were standing on the shoulder near the tall man’s

pickup truck looking down at the car. “Have you got a rope or a chain?” the tall man said. “I can try to pull it out.” “In the trunk, you mean?” he said. “Don’t know.” He took a deep breath and exhaled through his teeth. “I’ve got a ham in the oven. We need to hurry.” “All in good time,” the tall one said. “It’s on a low heat,” he said, “but still.” “I wouldn’t worry about it,” said the tall one. “I figure it’ll take at least a half hour to get it up on the road, if we can do it, if I have a rope or a chain in the trunk, which is doubtful.” “Right.” “ I’m surprised you don’t have a chain or something in your truck. I don’t carry that kind of thing around in my sedan.” “I don’t anymore,” the tall one said. “Let’s have a look in the trunk.” They slid down the embankment to the car, and he popped the trunk open. “Well, I’ll be damn,” he laughed. “A rope!” “Let me see it,” the tall one said, taking it from him. “Good,” he said. “It’s nylon. Might be strong enough.” He whipped it through the air and cracked it with a flick of his wrist. “Hey, that was pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t know you could do that with a nylon one.” “I have a way with ropes,” the tall man said. “Put the car in neutral.” He put the car in gear while the tall man tied the rope to the front bumper. “Let’s get started,” he said when he got out. “I’ve got to see about my ham.” “It’s a good thing I happened along,” the other one said. “This road 135


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doesn’t get much traffic. I haven’t been out here in a long time.” “I was lucky.” They were climbing back up to the truck. “Looks like the rope’s plenty long enough. That’s luck too. I must’ve gotten it at a yard sale a while back.” The tall man tied the rope to the truck’s rear bumper. “It’s a spiral,” he said. “What is?” the tall man said as he opened the driver’s side door. “The ham,” he said. “It’s a spiral-cut ham.” The tall man paused and looked at him, then got behind the wheel. “It’s on a low heat,” he said, “but, still.” “Wait over there,” the tall man said, gesturing. “Direct traffic if any comes along.” He started the engine, and the truck inched forward. “Even at a very low heat, like it’s on,” he shouted, “it could dry out.” The truck continued forward, the rope tightened, and the car moved toward the road. “All I need is to get home and find the thing dried out and shrunk to the size of a pea,” he said to himself, “after all the work I put into it.” The truck pulled the car up past the shoulder and kept going down the road. “Hey, what the hell!” he called out. He started to run after the sedan and then felt embarrassed when it came to a stop behind the truck about a hundred yards away. The driver got out and walked toward him, smiling. It was getting dark all of a sudden, and he noticed how the man’s teeth glinted in a light that was coming from somewhere, probably the setting sun. “We did it!” he called out, trying to make up for his mistake, his sprint behind the car, “we did it!” The truck driver had stopped to untie the rope from the two vehicles and whipped it through the air with a loud crack as he came toward him. An image of his kitchen at home flashed through his mind as the man continued toward him, and the full weight of his grief—which had merely flitted around the edges of the sky till now—bore down on him.

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Back Up

S

he and Cris were sitting in Cris’s car while Cris looked through a pair of binoculars at some trees across the field. “These new binoculars are wonderful,” Cris said. “Didn’t you bring yours?” “No,” she said. “I don’t really want to look at them up close.” She started pushing her cuticles back with her thumbnail, then stopped herself. “I hope they haven’t already flown out for the evening,” Cris said. “It’s almost dark. I think they fly out at dusk.” She put the binoculars down and turned toward her. “Is it still dusk?” she asked, her eyes widening. “I think so,” she said, starting to push one of her cuticles back, then stopping herself again. “It’s not pitch dark yet anyway.” “We’ll stay a little longer,” Cris said, turning away and looking through the binoculars. “I’ve got to get dinner for Roy and the kids, not that I mind. I love my family,” she sighed. “Of course,” she said. “I think I’ll get out and do a little stargazing. You don’t mind, do you?” “Hmmm?” Cris said. Then she looked at her again, smiling. “Oh, no, I don’t mind,” she said. “Suit yourself.” She got out of the car and took a deep breath. It was hot. She looked up at the sky. There were a few stars. She looked at the gravel road Cris had parked the car on. She walked around, picked up a couple of rocks, and put them in her pocket. Then she heard Cris calling and went back to the car. “Did you see them?” Cris said when she got in. “The bats?” she asked. “Yes,” Cris said. “There must’ve been a half dozen!” “I missed them,” she said, “but I’m glad we weren’t too late. I’m glad you got to see them.” “Oh, you missed them,” Cris said. “I’m sorry. Maybe you’ll get to see them another time. We’ll come back here again soon.” “Yes,” she said. “We’ll have to do that.” 137


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“Isn’t it nice here?” Cris said. “Roy and I used to come out here and picnic before we got married. I think of it as our place, even though, of course, it isn’t.” “I’ve been here before,” she said. “Really?” Cris said. “Why were you here?” “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. She started pushing her cuticles back, then stopped herself and took one of the rocks out of her pocket. “I used to drive around a lot after the divorce, especially at night.” Cris was turning the car around. “I’m sorry she said. I didn’t mean to remind you of that.” “Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “It was a long time ago.” She remembered seeing a large oval light hovering over the field one night, probably fifteen years ago, while she was driving by. She drove by it very slowly, and it didn’t move at all. By the time she turned her car around and came back, it had disappeared. She never told anybody about it. They would’ve just thought she was crazy. “Back up,” she said to Cris. “What?” Cris said. “Would you mind backing up?” she said. “I want to see something.” It had been so long ago, but she wanted to walk around that field. The light she’d seen could probably have been explained by some natural phenomenon, or maybe it was part of an experimental project the government was working on. She had pushed it out of her mind at the time, but now she wanted something—a clue or something—in that field. Cris backed the car up and took a flashlight out of the glove compartment, and they got out. “Did you lose something here?” she said. “Shine it on the ground,” she said as they walked around in the field. There were weeds and grass. She didn’t see any indication that anything had landed here, but why would she? She had seen a light but didn’t know what it could’ve been attached to, if anything. She kept her eyes on the ground, anyway. “What’s that noise?” Cris said, grabbing her arm. “What noise?” she said. They had both stopped. “Listen,” Cris said. 138


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Then she heard it. It was a cry, coming from a ways off. “Do people live around here?” she said. “I don’t know,” Cris said, “but I think we’d better go. It might be a panther or something.” “Or a baby crying,” she said. “A baby?” Cris said. “Listen,” she said. “I’ve got to get home.” “We can’t just leave,” she said. “What if it’s a baby? Nobody lives around here.” “I don’t know,” Cris said. “It does sound kind of like a baby, but we can’t go walking around in the woods at night. We might get lost, for one thing. You stay here, and I’ll go over by the trees and see if I can tell where the sound is coming from.” “No!” she said, taking the flashlight from Cris. “I want to go. You need to get home.” She walked toward the woods, the flashlight shining before her. She heard Cris calling, telling her to come on back. Then she heard the baby again.

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Katheryn Krotzer Laborde

Mourning Flannery

Milledgeville, Georgia, Thursday afternoon. I was sitting on a leather

couch in Blackbird Coffee. It had only been a few months before that I had applied for a grant from my university in order to prepare a new course about Flannery O’Connor. The course being an interdisciplinary one, I was not alone in my pursuit of money to guarantee the pursuit of knowledge, and when that grant was awarded my colleague, a Theology professor, purchased books that considered her fiction as it related to religion. Already having a shelf-full of books on O’Connor, I proposed to take a short trip to Milledgeville, Georgia, the writer’s hometown, in order to do a little fieldwork. More specifically, I planned a trip to Andalusia, the 544-acre farm where she lived with her mother, the widow Regina Cline O’Connor, during the last fourteen years of her life. By May, I had the four-day trip all mapped out. I was to leave early on the first Tuesday of August and arrive in Atlanta with plenty of time to rent a car and drive to Milledgeville. I had made reservations at the new Fairfield Inn that was located almost right across the highway from the property’s entrance. In doing my homework I saw that there would be points of interest for those not interested in O’Connor: while currently the county seat of Baldwin, the town had been the capital of Georgia from 1804 to 1868, losing its prestigious position during Reconstruction. For many years, this move cast Milledgeville as a representation of the “old South” as commerce and attention were shifted to Atlanta. If that had not been enough of a blow, the town was associated with the state’s first public mental hospital that was, at one time, one of the country’s largest, as well, housing as many as 13,000 patients. In the days before mental illness was recognized as a disease, bad children throughout the South were threatened with being sent to Milledgeville as punishment. My sights, however, were set on a more particular, if not peculiar, history, and so had set up appointments with the manager of Andalusia and the director of Georgia College State University’s O’Connor Collection. One morning 140


had been earmarked for a walk past the Cline family home, located near the old Governor’s Mansion. Finally, being that the trip would coincide with the forty-seventh anniversary of her death, I made time for a visit to her gravesite at Memory Hill Cemetery. Much of my whirlwind tour of all things Flannery was behind me by the time I walked through the glass doors of the coffee shop. Downtown Milledgeville was ripe with pedestrians that afternoon, and the street was heavy with traffic and bleary with heat. Blackbird Coffee offered a welcome respite from the sunbright sidewalks. The back of the shop itself was cool and bar-dark, save for the bright gleam of August light that poured through the large plate glass windows up front. I had the couch to myself. At one hip was a sloppy pile of thick books (about O’Connor’s life, about O’Connor’s Georgia, and the like) and a notebook filled with the this-and-that of my findings. In my lap was a leatherbound travel diary. I was sipping an iced mocha, filling pages quickly, and quietly, gently, crying. Why do we know so little about Flannery’s last days? I wrote. I do know, even as I ask, that Regina would have wanted to maintain her privacy. This is how it was back in the day. One didn’t put her business out there for all to see. But still, I wonder…did Regina ever spend the night at the hospital those last few weeks? Did she go back and forth to Andalusia? Or did she stay in the nearby Cline home? Was she there the moment she died? Did she cradle her daughter’s lupus-ravaged frame one last time? Did Flannery, in death, become once more the girl Regina remembered? I paused, took a sip, wiped away tears. I could not tell you why this feeling of grief had suddenly hit me, but it had, and there I was in a coffee shop, alone, mourning Flannery, mourning her death. Or perhaps it was that I was grieving for what she had not experienced in her thirty-nine years, and what she had. In learning more about her life over that brief sliver of time, I was realizing what I did not know about her painfully real suffering, about her very human existence and passing. I felt inconsolable as I imagined Flannery’s last days, spent in a hospital, dying from the bite of the same “red wolf” that had killed her own father. 141


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Dying, and perhaps reliving the death she had witnessed at fifteen. Dying, and working to finish a short story collection, knowing she would not be around for its publication. I looked around for a diversion. From where I sat, the light-blasted windows upfront appeared almost as an opening to a cave. The room felt almost as empty. A young woman sat on the couch across from me, the light from her computer screen illuminating her face. She raised her coffee cup to her mouth, took one quick sip, and then another. When the final days came for Flannery, I continued, was she denied the blessing that is coffee? She died of renal failure… in the end was she allowed to drink at all? Could she raise a cup to her own lips? Did she sip through a straw? Was she covered with the lupus rash? Had she lost all her hair? Was she in a hospital gown, or a soft and familiar robe from home? Did she rail against death, or cry, or did she simply lie there until her life evaporated? Pausing for a second or two, I was startled by a question spoken suddenly in my direction. “Excuse me, but is the college still a girl’s school?” She was blond and flawlessly coiffed and dressed in a deep pink suit. She was sitting at another couch. She had a thick Southern accent and a rope of pearls that dipped into her freckled cleavage. I wiped the tears from my cheeks. She repeated her question. She was likely not much older than me but she seemed worlds more grown-up. Gold glittered from her manicured fingers and tennis-tanned wrists. She reached for her cappuccino, nodding as I explained that I was not with GCSU, but knew for a fact that men now attend the school that had once been known (alternately) as Georgia State College for Women and Women’s College of Georgia. I had seen male students myself the day before as I had walked around the campus, wondering about how different this stately red brick campus was from the university I call home. My decidedly urban university is so close to the Interstate that the students are serenaded by traffic. The main grounds are separated from the west campus by a canal, and to reach the southern campus one walks through a neighborhood some dorm-dwellers call the ‘hood. 142


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* The blonde turned to the young woman sitting on the red couch across from me. She asked her if the college is co-ed. Co-ed? I winced at the term. The blonde leaned forward, adjusting her skirt as she did, and said that her daughter attends a women’s college. “They recently had a vote to see if they should let men in,” she said, “and they all decided no.” The young woman nodded, and as she did a loose lock of hair fell forward. Her hair was wet and the longer pieces hugged her neck and shoulders. She combed her fingers through her hair then gathered it up and away from her neck and twisted it into a rope of sorts, which she quickly released. I looked past her to the windows where a flatbed logging truck carrying pine trees, stripped of their green, rumbled by ever-so-slowly, the way everything happens so slowly on an early August, late afternoon in the middle of Georgia. * I could have made my trip to Milledgeville at almost any point that summer, I suppose, but in truth I knew I wanted it to coincide with the anniversary of her death. My devotion to O’Connor had begun in the mid-70s, not long after the time that Alice Walker and her mother made their nowfamous trek to Andalusia. The story I read had been just another American Literature assignment in an Honors English class, but I came away from reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” moved, changed, and believing I was Flannery O’Connor reincarnated, a funny reckoning made all the more humorous when one considers that her complete commitment to a staunch pre-Vatican II brand of Catholicism would have prohibited her from agreeing with this idea. In the short seconds that followed after finishing the story, in that little bit of time spent flipping the pages to the back of the book to read about the incredible author with the funny name, one fact was obvious: I could not be her reincarnation, as I had been a prissy two-year-old when she died. But that hopeful delusion was immediately replaced by an even more ambitious and confident conviction: that I, too, was a writer. It was an odd conclusion to reach, I know, but I was convinced (or maybe I should say converted) suddenly, no logic needed, no more proof required beyond an 143


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overwhelming admiration for O’Connor’s writing, and my own faith in the scrapbookful of Literary Fair prize ribbons at home. Yes, I had started the trip to Milledgeville on a Tuesday morning, about a month or so before I was to turn fifty but, in many ways, this journey had begun when I was a fourteen-year-old wearing peppermint-flavored kissing gloss. Flannery O’Connor was not so much a favorite author I wanted to visit, but a personal patron saint of prose that I needed to thank. Knowing I was there on the anniversary of her death, I fully expected to find some kind of something going on. A potted red geranium placed by her grave, perhaps, or a gathering of devotees reading from her letters. I drove through the cemetery gates and passed a team of prison workers cleaning the grounds, with a sense of anticipation. It is ironic, then, that the one person I met there that Wednesday morning was a woman who did not think much of O’Connor’s work. She was elderly, walking her Yorkie on the grounds before the heat of the day grew too intense, and her accent and voice recalled the “pinched” timbre of an O’Connor character. But while she didn’t think much of books and stories (“only a Yankee would like them”), Miss Jane did know exactly where Milledgeville’s most famous daughter was buried, and she said she would lead me right to her. Though she did not say as much, I could tell she wondered why someone would cross a handful of states to visit the grave of a writer who wrote in a way that Miss Jane and others of the Milledgeville old guard admitted to not liking or even fully comprehending. “I’m among some of the people who did not understand what she was writing,” she said. “A lot of us compared it to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” And though she did not point out a single headstone other than the one I was there to see, or mention that the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, I could sense her wondering why someone would go to so much trouble to walk the grounds and not take it all in: the graves of southern statesmen and Confederate soldiers; slaves and mental hospital patients; a spiritualist and a stagecoach robber and the University of Georgia’s first football coach. Why only see the gravestone of such a writer as O’Connor? 144


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“It’s a lot of us in town who feel it’s only the Yankees who appreciate her book,” she said. “I never read it. But the Yankees loved it. “Well, you know, let’s face it— it wasn’t Gone with the Wind.” That was a comment O’Connor had heard more than once in her lifetime. Milledgeville had been the antebellum capitol of Georgia, after all. The cemetery has great patches of shade here and there, resplendent with cedars and magnolias, pines and oaks, but the flat marble graves of O’Connor and the six others in the O’Connor-Tarleton plot lay in the full face of the sun. They were close to a chain link fence that separated the cemetery from the street below. Cars zipped down West Franklin. An artificial poinsettia plant sat at the foot of her father’s grave, but there were no flowers for Flannery. There were, however, eleven pennies that dribbled down the length of the cross that was engraved on the stone. Reaching into my purse for a penny, I added a twelfth to the others. Sunlight glinted off the copper painfully. * I had reached the sweet chocolate-laced bottom of my drink, but resisted the urge to slurp it through my straw. The coffee shop, near empty when I had entered, was suddenly loud with chatting. To the right, a girl talked to the barista who in turn talked to two boys. Another girl sat at a table, texting. A young man with a curly crown rested his chin in his hand as he drank espresso nonchalantly, a book open before him. “My other daughter is in the military,” the blonde said. “She has already done a tour of Iraq.” The younger woman said that her husband was stationed in Japan. “I’m going over there,” she said. “As soon as I graduate. I’m going.” She was twenty-five. She was almost finished with school. The diamond heart that slid along a golden chain winked from the hollow of her throat. “I’m going to teach,” she said. “It will be nice to be together, and in Japan of all places,” I said. “You must miss him.” The blonde straightened suddenly. “Well, the town is so pretty,” she said. “We came through here to avoid Atlanta.” Atlanta is a two-hour drive away from Milledgeville, and one I would be making the next day on my way back 145


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home. But I didn’t add this to the last embers of a conversation. Instead, I nodded in agreement to the prettiness of Milledgeville and let my gaze drift to yet another flatbed toting a bundle of naked logs. * I had spent that morning at Andalusia taking a tour with the site manager and the director of O’Connor Studies, and, for part of the time, with the director of the Andalusia Foundation. I was given the official tour, but because I was there as a scholar of sorts, and because I was the only visitor at that point, and because the mood seemed easy and relaxed, I was given a little extra attention here and there. The tour was redirected, at times, by my questions, and peppered with laughter and insights. It was in a light moment during the tour that the manager, Mark, removed boxes that blocked a white door. Everyone laughed, and I was jokingly asked how much reality I could take. We were in Regina’s bedroom, a room not decorated and not really part of the tour since it was more or less a gathering place for boxes and other items. I had wanted to know if the door led to a closet, or to the back yard, but in truth it led to the small bathroom that Regina and Flannery had shared. Mark cracked open the door and mentioned that the overhead light did not work, so the little room remained dark. From where I stood all I could see was the side of the toilet tank and seat. I would be lying if I were to say that I didn’t get a small perverse thrill seeing such a personal room, particularly since it was not a part of the standard tour. If nothing else, this glimpse told me that Mark respected my sincere efforts to not simply pay homage to a literary idol but, rather, to try to absorb as much of O’Connor’s world as possible. But the brief look at the old and rusting toilet brought to mind the idea of Flannery grabbing her crutches and making her way down the hallway in the middle of the night. I wondered if Regina slept through such actions, or if she woke with the slightest sound, no matter how ordinary. I wondered if she worried over her daughter at such moments, or if she would simply turn over, fluff her pillow, and try to fall back to sleep before morning crept past the homemade curtains, calling her to the monumental tasks of both caring for an ill daughter and running a dairy farm. 146


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I was shown the front parlor, and the newer back parlor, and the kitchen. I saw a silver martini set placed on top of the Hotpoint refrigerator that was purchased after the sale of a short story to General Electric Playhouse. I saw the formal dining/living room, a space made more memorable by a heavy wooden buffet featuring a carving of a pig carcass being drained of its blood. I went upstairs and saw the bedrooms Flannery could not access. And I saw Flannery’s room, with its single bed, and its high-backed wooden chair, and a wooden desk, and a typewriter. I saw a pair of crutches leaning against the bookcase. Flannery’s room was cordoned off, and arranged in such a way as to suggest how she had worked. Regina’s room was not set up for show, but it was in that room that I spied two photographs I had never seen before, both casually placed among the jumble of storage overflow. One was a portrait of an obviously ill Flannery, face stern, eyes peering through heavy glasses, hair thin but parted and arranged, her hand gripping the roll handle of the typewriter as she adjusts a sheet of paper. The dress is smart and the necklace stylish, but she is swallowed by both. The sun coming through the side window is unkind for it shows that, although she is not yet forty, she has the face of an old woman, systemic lupus erythematosus having stolen her youth. That youth was evident in the second photograph. The Flannery of this photo could be no older than fourteen, back when she was still known to all as Mary Flannery. Her face is free of cumbersome spectacles. The print of her dress is floral. Her eyes are wide apart and wide open and her lips are parted, not in a smile but in an expression that comes across as one of discovery. I wonder if Regina had ever thought of her daughter as two daughters -- the adult Flannery who had existed before the diagnosis, who had gone to college and then to the Writers Workshop in Iowa, who had signed a book contract, who had moved to New York and then to Connecticut, who was just beginning to taste success, and the Flannery who had come home one Christmas for a visit and never left, who had to learn from a friend that the diagnosis pointed to lupus, the Flannery who forever after walked through Andalusia on crutches, who could not use the stairs, nor take the brick steps to enter her home through the front door, the Flannery who grew thinner and 147


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paler, who wrote every morning then either entertained or rested or responded to letters every afternoon, always too sick to help out around the house. The Flannery who time and time again wrote stories of farms run by domineering mothers whose impatient adult children lived at home. And once wrote that, in her family, the only acceptable emotion to show was that of irritation. Perhaps, had Regina been asked, she would have said there had been a third Flannery, or rather the original, one that had been a quirky only child whose father had been snatched away by lupus at the age of forty-five. It would have been that Flannery, that fresh-faced Mary Flannery, who would have known Andalusia well, though not as home for by that point she lived in the Cline mansion. At that time she would have known it as Sorrel Farm, the land owned and tended to by her uncle. Sorrel Farm was a great place to escape the reality of life without father. But it was so much more than that, for it was on those green and rolling acres that the girl Mary Flannery would ride horses in the long days of lost summers, hidden from the world by a black line of trees that the author Flannery O’Connor would write of later, and I would see for myself that last night in Milledgeville, standing there in the hotel parking lot, leaning against my rental car, listening to the metallic rasp of thirteen-year cicadas and breathing in the piney night air.

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Thomas Bonner, Jr.

A Review of Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013. 96pp.

Roman Catholic life in Protestant Georgia, the last years of World War

II, undergraduate studies in social sciences, and interest in journalism marked Flannery O’Connor’s experiences at the age of twenty-one when she entered the University of Iowa for journalism and then enrolled in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Reared in an intense Irish Roman Catholic family and educated in Catholic parochial schools through elementary grades, she also studied at an experimental secondary school in which the students chose all of their courses. During her college years she changed her name from Mary Flannery to Flannery—name changing being significant later in “Good Country People.” The spiritual discipline and independence she experienced contributed to her struggles to focus on her roles as writer and person as reflected in the journal she kept in 1946-47 at Iowa. A Prayer Journal includes a facsimile of the composition book entries written in her hand and a printed version as well as an introduction and note on the text by W.A. Session, a friend of O’Connor and emeritus professor at Georgia State University. Although the holograph text of the journal follows the printed version, a more intimate sense of O’Connor’s commentaries emerges from a reading of her unusually legible hand writing. Because most readers of this little book will be those familiar with her fiction and letters, reading the holograph text with its scratched out words and insertions first offers a richer and more insightful experience. The frontispiece is a photograph of O’Connor in Iowa City, made by Martha Sprieser, her roommate there. O’Connor is standing in front of a columned porch next to ground covered with snow. Wearing a fur coat over a University of Georgia sweat shirt (with bulldog caricature), she has a scarf about her smiling face. This image is significant in depicting an adventuresome 149


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young woman during an extended stay in a part of the country far from the cities in Georgia she knew for so long: Savannah, Atlanta, and Milledgeville. The columned house—almost Southern-- is behind her, the snow before her and near her feet. This photograph reflects her journey to Iowa as a “retreat” to look back and forward before moving into her future. Aside from her courses and her writing assignments, O’Connor kept, as Sessions notes, a journal from January 1946 to September 1947, “that was, in essence, a series of prayers” (vii). She addresses God early in the writing—her initial pages are missing. She shows certitude about His presence and a freedom to address him about herself and her struggles as faithful soul and writer outside the conventions of traditional prayers. Her journal reflects, however, the basic forms of prayer, according to Roman Catholic theology: praise, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving— frequently commingling them. O’Connor is also revealing herself to God (and now to us readers) as a person reaching out to her God and fearing that attention to herself could get in the way: “You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon” (3). Prayers of petition dominate the journal; she writes, “Oh God please make my mind clear. Please make it clean” (4). She offers prayers of thanksgiving frequently as she does in thanking God for a story: “When I think of all I have to be thankful for I wonder that You don’t just kill me now because You’ve done so much for me already & I haven’t been particularly grateful” (12). O’Connor invokes the aid of the Virgin Mary often: “My Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for me” (37). Throughout her writing she explicitly acknowledges the power of God (her being his modest instrument) and His love for humanity, her reflections being a form of praise: “Give me the grace to adore You with the awe that fills Your priests when they sacrifice the lamb on our altars” (8-9). During this period O’Connor was writing stories that would compose her MFA thesis and an early version of the novel Wise Blood, which would win the Rinehart-Iowa fiction prize in 1947. The title story of her thesis collection “The Geranium,” first published in Accent (1946), reflects her own departure from her homeland and the alienation she was experiencing as a writer, as 150


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she noted in her journal: “I do not want to be lonely all my life” (29). In “The Train,” she creates Hazel Wickers, who prefigures the protagonist of Wise Blood and further suggests the yearnings and tensions caused by separation and alienation. In the journal she uses the phrase “up here” (35), referring to Iowa and echoing those feelings in a spiritual context when even daily Mass “has left me unmoved” (35). O’Connor offers readers much in this little book. It is clear that she has a deep knowledge of her faith( for example the sections on the theological virtues) and its writings, including St. Thomas Acquinas, in both her thoughts and inferential phrases. She explicates her responses to major writers of Modernism like Proust and Kafka. And she offers sentences that stay in one’s memory: “No one can be an atheist who does not know all things” (25) and “The Sex act is a religious act & when it occurs without God it is a mock act or at best an empty act” (31). What is especially striking in these reflections and prayers is that in writing to console herself, O’Connor has written clearly and cogently for many audiences in their searches for self-knowledge and for their missions in life.

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Ivan de Monbrison

The Lookout Au pourtour du silence cette usure rend caduque la forme du mort parmi nous. La main tendue au ciel recueille des morceaux de nous-mêmes. Il n’y a que les os qui demeurent dans ce cadavre brisé par la lumière. Les routes entraînent ces diligences de fous expulsés des asiles nocturnes. Les rêves carnassiers empêchent les enfants de rêver. Nous n’irons plus marcher sur ces sentiers qui déchirent le paysage. Nous n’irons plus rêver de voyages intemporels. A la chute de l’image le crayon se suspend un instant. Le guetteur s’est crevé les yeux sur la vigie. Il retire son regard sans racines. Il pèse chaque moment l’un après l’autre Et son habit de peau s’envole avec le vent.

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At the edge of silence this wearing turns obsolete the shape the dead man among us. The hand outstretched to the sky collects pieces of ourselves. Only the bones remain in this cadaver broken by the light. The roads take away these stagecoaches of madmen driven out from nocturnal asylums. Carnivorous dreams are preventing children from dreaming. We will not go to walk on these paths that are tearing apart the landscape. We will dream no more of timeless journeys At the he falling of the image the pencil holds on for a moment. At the he falling of the image the pencil holds on for a moment. The watchman has gouged out his eyes on the lookout. He withdraws his rootless glance. He weighs up each moment one after the other. And his garment of skin flies away with the wind.

Translated from the French by the author.

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Victoria Mary Fach

Allegretto In every corner of dawn swallow and sparrow, finch and lark embroider grace notes; high-strung, they don’t include me in their remarks and yet I absorb their song like rain and bread. My father speaks to me in tongues, signals allegro beyond quatrain, sends me a mockingbird to improvise a symphony over my head a waterfall of psalm that seems to redeem the earth.

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Zach Powers

The Loneliness of Large Bathrooms

With nothing else to do, in almost any situation, I count things.

Hotel lobby. Twelve people. Four couples. Remove eight from the equation. One man, three women. Two of the women, forty-plus. Remove three. One woman remains. I smile at her from across the room. I stand and move to the bar. She follows, a few seconds behind. When she arrives I have already ordered two drinks. Vodka cranberry. It’s a drink I’ve found most everyone likes well enough, especially women who follow strange men to bars. She sits on the barstool, shimmies into a comfortable position. The position does not actually look more comfortable, but it allows her to lean forward and rest her elbows on the bar. It is a position that thrusts out her chest. Perhaps this is a request for further thrusting? There is a glossy black baby grand piano in a corner of the bar. A white haired, white mustachioed man plays familiar songs in unfamiliar arrangements. I have never heard Take Five orchestrated so lushly. Its carefree bounce is replaced by a forced, false emotion. It is thrust at us. We are told how to feel, and for the sake of convenience we allow ourselves to feel that way. Like a shot of alcohol, it is a shot to the system. Immediate effect is favored over the delicacy of the flavor. “Are you in town for the conference?” asks the woman. “No, but I like meeting new people. That’s all a conference is, anyway. A chance to meet.” “The shaking of hands and the reading of nametags.” “After so many meetings, you still drink at the bar alone?” “Are you going to leave me here?” “I’ll be leaving here at some point” I say. “Whether you are left is up to you.” She smiles and sips her drink. I have already finished mine, which makes 155


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it not much better than a shot. The bartender offers me another. I order bourbon instead. Whiskey in a Glass, I call it. No mixer, no ice. The smell stings. The sting is like a toothpick slid between the teeth, a mixture of pain and pleasure and the promise of release. I take a toothpick from a bin on the bar. It is plastic and shaped like a sword. It is not designed to pick teeth but to garnish martinis. To slay tiny pirates. I slide the toothsword into my drink. I count twenty different types of whiskey behind the bar. “My name is Natalie,” says the woman. I do not respond with my own name. Like an ancient fairytale, tonight my name is the source of my power, and to reveal it after only one drink would be irresponsible. That’s the kind of information that is blurted out only at the end of the night, drunkenly, to the shock and embarrassment of all. I am a little disappointed to know Natalie’s name. It came too easily. Thrust forward. Drooping neckline. A small slice of shadow. “I like this hotel,” I say. “I like to watch people pass by in the lobby,” she says. “They all have a look of disorientation.” “This place, the hotel, is their temporary home, but they recognize nothing of home in it.” “Sometimes you see a frequent traveler, one who moves through the lobby with confidence.” “He has seen this lobby and a thousand like it.” Natalie touches my hand. “You have that same look. One of unflappable familiarity. Have you been here before?” “I never visit the same hotel twice.” “Do you want to go up to your room?” “I don’t have a room here. Your room?” “I don’t have a room, either.” “The lobby, at least, is ours.” She wraps her fingers around my hand and pulls me from the bar. I follow a step behind, like a child being led through a department store by his mother. We pass the elevator. It dings. Four men step off. They wear blazers with elbow patches and khaki pants and shirts unbuttoned too low. The white hair 156


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on their chests pokes out. One of them winks at me. He remembers his own youthful trips to hotels. The women he left hotel bars with. Somewhere an old wrinkled wife waits for him. I think fondly of her wrinkles, their depth a sign of permanence. I do not think of them for long. The smooth flesh pressed to my hand is of more immediate importance. Natalie leads me into the men’s room. Bottles of cologne and lotion are lined up on the counter, arranged by color. Sixteen bottles, from red to blue. They all contain substances scented like flowers so the bathroom smells of a distant garden. An old blind man sits by the sink. He is dressed sharply in a tuxedo and wears obsidian black sunglasses that reflect back nearby images as if from the void of space. His face is round with protruding jowls. His breaths come out raspy, as does his voice. “Go ahead,” he says, “all the stalls are free.” Natalie leaves me for a moment and takes the blind man’s hand in both of hers. She lifts it to her mouth. She plants a light kiss there, on the back, the skin drawn and papery. I can see through the skin to his tendons. His arteries and veins. The shapes of the tiny bones inside. There are twentyseven of them. Natalie comes back to me and takes my hand. In it I see none of those same components. Natalie opens the first stall. It is less like a stall and more like a walk-in closet, walled from ceiling to floor and sealed with a slatted door. I count fifty-four slats. There is a toilet inside. Thick quilted toilet paper spins on a brass dispenser. Above the toilet hangs a print of a generic landscape. We move to the second stall, the third. Each one Natalie opens reveals a similar setup. It isn’t until after she opens the fifth door that I begin to wonder. She is searching for something. The row of stall doors stretches indefinitely into the distance. I can see at least forty stalls, and I don’t doubt that there are more beyond my perception. Each looks like the same door set in the same floral-papered wall. There is no mark, scratch, or smudge to distinguish one from the next. We inspect several dozen stalls, not stopping at any of them. Air conditioned mist puffs from the vents. I shiver. Natalie wraps her arms around me and hugs me like she would a brother. Like a brother she has 157


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not seen in a very long time. I appreciate the warmth of her body, but I do not like feeling like family. My thoughts, until this moment, have focused on the shadow between her breasts. This new familiarity, this comfort, is uncomfortable. I pull away. She smiles and slides her hand down my chest in a way that is not sisterly. She opens the next stall. It is the forty-seventh. I have been counting. “Through here,� says Natalie. This stall is not like the others. It is not a stall at all, but a hallway. I cannot tell how long it is. It is long enough to be a hallway and not a stall. I step inside and Natalie follows. The walls are hung with photographs. Each is a picture of me. None of the frames match, different sizes and shapes, materials and moldings. In each picture I am sitting in a hotel lobby. The first is of me as a child. I sit in an overstuffed chair, which looks ready to swallow my tiny body. I am five years old. I remember that lobby. I remember the number of people there. Twenty-seven. The photographs are arranged chronologically. As I walk deeper into the hallway I move forward through time, seeing in frozen black and white each and every lobby I have known. I don’t know how many photographs there are. Lobbies are maybe the one thing I have never counted. They exist one at a time. It is only now, counting the pictures, that I begin to realize the vastness of their number. In the photographs, the chairs on which I sit change. From squat and contemporary to ornate and wingbacked. Sometimes just a stool. How often does one consider the variety of chairs? The background in each picture is different: bare walls or picture windows or the blur of distant objects. The only consistency is my expression. I am observing. I am counting. We have passed many of the photographs before I notice the small brass plates beneath them. On each plate is a number. I recognize immediately that this is the number of people in each lobby. 7, 16, 32, 5. The numbers go on and on. I stop looking at the pictures, paying attention only to the brass plates and their numbers. I add them together in my head. I divide the sum by the number of photographs. By the number of lobbies. Natalie follows close behind. She looks at me and not the walls. 158


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Ahead, I can see the end of the hallway and in it a door. Light escapes from the crack underneath. I look at the last picture on the left wall. It is a picture of the hotel lobby that we just left. The plate beneath it reads 12. This photograph is taken from a wider angle than the others. I bear the same expression, but my gaze, the calculation of my eyes, is directed across the lobby at Natalie. In the picture she is dressed differently, in unassuming clothes with a modest neckline. A sweater slopes down her shoulders. Her skirt flows out and hangs past her knees. The promise of her figure remains, but it is concealed. It is wrapped like a gift. I look at her in person, in the hallway next to me, and she is dressed in the same clothes as in the picture. There is an empty frame on the right-hand wall. The frame is white and perfectly square. The brass plate below it is etched with a number: 2. It is the only instance of this number in the hallway. Every other lobby was occupied by several people at least. In my memory there is no lobby so empty. It is contrary to the nature of lobbies. They are a place to meet. A place to converge. And while they are most often passed through, enough people are passing with enough regularity to keep them full. Can a anything less be called a lobby? Is two enough? “Open the door,” says Natalie, “move on to the next number.” I open the door. I step through. It is another lobby, small and quaint, like a secluded inn. The furniture is mismatched. I can’t see out the windows because they are bright with the sun. There is no one else there. Natalie moves beside me. I count us. We are the only two. I count us again to make sure. I sit on a sofa next to the fireplace. The fire burns low but steady. Natalie sits beside me and leans back against my chest. In my mind I see us in the picture missing from the frame. The scent of cedar fills the lobby and Natalie, up close, smells like a distant garden. With nothing else to count, I talk to her. Even as the hours accumulate toward night, we continue talking, until, with her head cradled to my chest, we sleep. To my last question, the answer is yes.

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J.R. Lemaster

Memories Of China

It was the month of September, and in Beijing leaves were flying like

memories from a distant past. Faces and places come and go but memories, forged deep in the heart, are as solid as Prometheus’ rock. Even the vultures beware. I remember a wizened little man with wire-rimmed glasses — a Chinese Benjamin Franklin, though somewhat shorter. High over Texas he convinced me to help the Chinese reopen their schools following the Cultural Revolution. And I did. Things that stand out in my mind: that my wife Wanda and I were under surveillance at all times, being considered spies for the CIA, being stopped in the center of the campus and asked by a fellow teacher why I “really” came to China, watching children and parents hold hands at Purple Bamboo Park and talk on a Sunday afternoon, watching our student tour guide being thrown against a brick wall and screamed at by a member of the secret police for being in the company of foreigners, living in a walled-in compound built by the Russians for engineers. Other memorable incidents include that a Chinese friend lived in an abandoned classroom building with no hot water for shaving or bathing because he divorced his wife—punished by the Communist Party Secretary for the school, the man who made all final decisions. A friend from Chicago who came to do research spent several months in prison charged with stealing government secrets. Most pleasantly, though, Wanda and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary on the Great Wall with a glass of wine and a good dose of poetry by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning June 4, 1989— Tiananmen Square Massacre. I asked a young girl where they were going. Answer: “To conduct a revolution!” Students moved heavy metal bleachers from the sports field, climbed upon them and vowed to die before letting tanks pass the North Gate. 160


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Others took hostage a convoy of army trucks loaded with equipment. A lone bicycle stopped at a red light transporting a father, mother, and daughter of about ten holding onto a violin as though it were her last possession—obviously trying to flee the city. Other scenes that grip my mind are those of four ranks of eighteen-yearolds defending the Great Hall of the People against a mob of thousands. I examined the face of a Buddhist monk in that mob and saw that he was knowingly signing his death warrant; having dinner with and presenting a Bible to a Communist military officer who was reared a Methodist and whose father and brother were both Methodist ministers trained by the missionaries; receiving a phone call warning me not to leave the compound where I resided surrounded by a wall three feet thick and ten feet high because my life was in danger over a poem I had read---and had written—which angered the cadres at the university; lectures cancelled I flew back to Beijing on an old Russian cargo plane to find my beautiful wife Wanda patiently waiting. I have many wonderful memories from my years in and out of China and many not so wonderful. The worst are of the Communist Party boss at Jilin University. All through my China years someone had risked his or her life to save mine. When my friend and I arrived in the city of Jilin on a May morning for me to deliver five lectures it appeared that from the time of my second lecture I was in trouble. I angered party members who intended to make me regret it. In the middle of my second lecture it dawned on me that the words “…In China people go to prison for less than that….” were meant for me. I had made the mistake of reading one of my poems titled “Christmas: 1980. The remainder of my lectures was canceled and I demanded that I be on the next flight back to Beijing. I was told that I would be taken to meet the president of the university the next morning, but that did not happen. I was taken to see Comrade Wu in all of his glory. We argued and I knew he would call the party boss at my school in Beijing. He did, but my fears of going home were not necessary. At the security gate during my Waco flight a few days later I was made to realize that I had been protected all along. A friend whom I had seen rifle my desk in search of suspicious documents on more than one occasion stopped me and said, “Dr. LeMaster, we have known 161


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all along what happened up in Jilin but decided not ,to bother you with it.” This was even more the case later when a former student told me, “Every time you came to class I was scared to death. I was afraid they would arrest you and put you in jail. You said and did everything a Chinese teacher could not.” For all of those who risked their lives to save mine, I am grateful. I still keep in touch with some of them. As for the woman with the message at airport security, I keep in touch with her. As for Comrade Wu, I have heard nothing.

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Contributors

Contributors Abigail Allen grew up in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Mississippi Review (online), Mississippi Review (print), Mid-American Review, Confrontation, Crania, Apalachee Quarterly, Phantasmagoria, and others. She has also published fiction and poetry under the pseudonym Hiram Goza. Her novel, Birds of Paradise, was published under that name in 2005. Keith Alexander, a MFA graduate from Antioch University, lives in Los Angeles and part of the year in the Frankfurt. He has had poems published in numerous magazines, including Prairie Schooner, AGNI, Seneca Review, Salt Hill, Hanging Loose, and The Sun Magazine. At present he is finishing a collection of poems, his first, called The Book of Treatments. Thomas Bonner, Jr., Professor Emeritus at Xavier University of Louisiana, has books and articles on Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Southern fiction, and Southern poetry. His most recent publications include a short story in War, Literature and the Arts and an essay in Critical Insights: The Awakening (Salem Press). He served as editor of Xavier Review and its press. John Ed Bradley is the author of eight books. He’s written for Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and many other publications. He lives in Mandeville, Louisiana, with his wife Kimberly and daughter Hannah. Peyton Burgess lives with his wife Ryan in New Orleans. He teaches writing at Loyola University where he recently served as fiction editor for New Orleans Review. His work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Salon, Exquisite Corpse, Otis Nebula, La Fovea, and the anthology Everywhere Stories. He received his MFA in fiction from New York University in 2011. Carrie Chappell is originally from Birmingham, Alabama. Currently, she lives in New Orleans, where she serves as an instructor of English Composition at Delgado Community College and a Writer-in-Residence with Big Class. Some of Carrie’s work has appeared in Bateau Press, The Offending Adam, Thrush Poetry Journal, Iowa Review, Juked and THE VOLTA.   Ty Cronkhite is a student and teaching assistant at the University of Northern Colorado, currently pursuing an M.A. in English Literature.  If all goes well, he will graduate very soon and go on to attend the University of New Mexico for a doctorate in English Literature.  He graduated from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in 1999 with an MFA in creative writing.  His research interests are focused on underground graffiti autobiographies.  He 163


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currently stays near the Seven-Eleven in Greeley, Colorado, where after twenty-five years he has almost, but not quite, become oblivious to the smell of cow manure. Born Jyotirmoyee Sen in 1894 in the kingdom of Jaipur, Rajasthan, she wrote under the pen name Jyotirmoyee Devi during her long widowhood. She won several awards including the prestigious Rabindra Puraskar for Bengali writing in 1973. Her work is part of the Women’s Studies curriculum at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She died in 1988. Apala G. Egan grew up in India and is fluent in Bengali and English. A former community college instructor in California, she devotes her time to translating and writing. She has visited Rajasthan numerous times to research the backdrop of the stories. Victoria Mary Fach grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, and spent a decade on the East Coast, until a move to California provoked a seismic upheaval in her gardening and other assumptions. Geography’s rootedness in the soul has been a core concern of many of her poems. Her poetry has appeared in many literary magazines and other publications in both the U.S. and Canada, most recently in New York Quarterly, The MacGuffin, and The Lyric. She has taught creative writing and creativity in middle school when not being entertained by her six children or blowing her own (French) horn. Malaika Favorite is a visual artist and writer whose art work can be found in major collections in the U.S. She has published a collection of poetry, Illuminated Mansucript (New Orleans Poetry Journal Press, 1991). Her poetry, fiction, and articles appear in numerous anthologies and journals, including Pen International, Hurricane Blues,The Maple Leaf Rag, Visions International, Louisiana Literature, Louisiana English Journal, and Art Papers. She is the winner of the 2005 Louisiana Literature Prize for Poetry. Timothy Fitts’ work has appeared in journals such as the Gettysburg Review, Granta, and CutBank among many others. Also a visual artist, he lives in Philadelphia. J.M. (Joshua) Hall has a small chapbook collection (entitled Bachata Adobe) forthcoming in RedOchreLiT, and many poems in literary journals internationally, recently including Euphony (at the University of Chicago), Shampoo and The Montucky Review. Since earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt University in 2012, he has also secured a book contract for an anthology of essays (entitled Philosophy Imprisoned) and publication of twelve peer-reviewed journal articles (including in Philosophy and Literature and Southern Literary Journal).  He also has eighteen years’ experience as a dancer and choreographer. Tom Holmes is the editor of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose and the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently The Cave, which won The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013 and will be released in 164


Contributors

2014. His writings about wine, poetry book reviews, and poetry can be found at his blog, The Line Break: http://thelinebreak.wordpress.com/. Harry de la Houssaye lives in St. Martinville LA and teaches at South Louisiana Community College. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School. He received a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Erin Kast was born in the Midwest and is now studying as an undergraduate student at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. He plans to graduate in 2015 with a double major in Biology and Religion and concentrations in Islam and plant molecular biology.  In addition to his undergraduate studies at Swarthmore, Erin has spent a semester studying Islamic law and culture in Morocco. Philip C. Kolin is the Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Southern Mississippi where he also edits the Southern Quarterly. He has published more than 40 books on Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, Adrienne Kenned, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edward Albee, and David Rabe. Also a poet, Kolin’s most recent collection is Departures published this fall by Negative Capability Press. Peter Koch was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Katheryn Krotzer Laborde is a writer of prose. She is currently working on a creative collaboration that explores and re-imagines the paintings of Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall. She is Managing Editor for Xavier Review and Xavier Review press, and an Associate professor of English at Xavier University. J.R. LeMaster (1934-2014) taught English and American Studies at Baylor University for forty-seven years. He also taught at institutions in the People’s Republic of China and in Estonia. His twenty-one books include poetry and literary criticism, especially on the writing of Jesse Stuart and Walt Whitman. His work has also appeared in Xavier Review and Landscape and Epiphany (Xavier Review Press). Ron McFarland teaches literature & poetry writing at the University of Idaho. Pecan Grove Press published his most recent full-length book of poems, Subtle Thieves, in 2012. McFarland & Co. (no relation) will publish his study of Ernest Hemingway as a fictional character, Appropriating Hemingway, this fall. Ivan de Monbrison is a French contemporary poet, writer and artist born in Paris in 1969. He currently lives in both Paris and Marseille, five poetry booklets of his works have been published: L’ombre déchirée, Journal, La corde à nu, Ossuaire and Sur-Faces. His poems or short stories have also appeared in several literary magazines in France and in the US such as: Jointure, Arpa, Friches, Phréatiques, Les Hommes sans Epaules, Harfang, The Boston Poetry Magazine, Ante Penny Feud, The Coe Review, The Germ,... His visual works have been shown in a few galleries in both Europe and the US, and also printed in a several art and literary 165


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magazines. Zach Powers lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Review, Forklift, Ohio, Phoebe, PANK, Caketrain, The Bitter Oleander, Quiddity, The Nervous Breakdown, and elsewhere. He is the founder of the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live (SeersuckerLive.com). He leads the writers’ workshop at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, where he also serves on the board of directors. His writing for television won an Emmy. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com. Kevin Rabalais is the author of The Landscape of Desire: A Novel (Scribe, 2008) and co-editor of the forthcoming Conversations with James Salter (University Press of Mississippi, 2015). Richard Spilman is the author of two collections of poetry, In the Night Speaking and Suspension. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The Southern Review and Image. Georgia Tiffany’s work has appeared in various anthologies (most recently Poets Of The American West), and in such publications as Threepenny Review, Poems and Plays, Hubbub, Agenda, Willow Springs, and Weber Studies. Her chapbook, Cut from the Score, was published by Night Owl Press. A native of Spokane, Washington, she now lives in Moscow, Idaho.

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Andre Dubus studies? Consider

XAVIER REVIEW PRESS

Over the years, Xavier Review Press has taken a particular interest in the work of Andre Dubus, a Catholic writer from Lake Charles, Louisiana whose career was built on publishing pieces in small, but distinguished, literary journals. His realistic writings often explored the turbulent relationships between men and women. Books‌special journal articles‌ check out what we have to offer!

For more information or to order, visit our website www.xula,edu/review or drop us a line at klaborde@xula.edu


Literature & reviews? Consider

XAVIER REVIEW

Xavier Review, is the oldest American literary journal based at a historically Black university. It was founded in 1980 and is published twice a year. In addition to the prose and poetry it publishes from writers both known and new, Xavier Review prides itself on the interviews it has published over the years. Subscriptions are $20 a year; individual journals are available for purchase, as well. For more information or to order, visit our website www.xula,edu/review or drop us a line at klaborde@xula.edu


Xavier Review 34:1 & 2  
Xavier Review 34:1 & 2  

Featuring Malaika Favorite and Keith Alexander, Abigail Allen, Ty Cronkite, Thomas Bonner, Jr., John Ed Bradley, Peyton Burgess, Carrie Chap...

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