I met a smart, handsome man at an art opening last week. “Theo” and I ended up talking for the whole two-hour reception, then went out for coffee and closed down the place. He asked me out to dinner on Saturday and it was lovely. We like the same music and art and movies, have a similar sense of humor, care about the same issues, and vote the same way on them. Icing on the cake: he does fascinating work and makes a ton of money doing it. The problem—which begs the question, since I am about to ask you whether it actually is a problem—is that Theo turns out to be deeply religious. I am an atheist.
Now I am not sure he is even third-date material. Do you think we have a chance?
—Skeptic in Schenectady (I’m not really in Schenectady, but I like the way that sounds.)
Just let me finish my story. Listen. I was at this party at a house on Vanderveer Street off of Hillside Ave in Queens. I was having a great time with my friends, then near the end of the party, I had to leave because I wanted to help my mom. She had called me, you know, she’s older and needed my help, I don’t know, can’t remember, something about her house, maybe the garbage disposal or something, so anyway, I said I’d be there after the party. Well after a while, I thought I had hung around long enough, mingled enough, so I went to the front of the house to look for my shoes, and I couldn’t find them.
Meanwhile, in the airy labyrinth,
in a bathtub full of corn liquor,
in the red barn on a hillside.
While you were squinting in tomorrow’s sun.
When the lion purred deeply.
While you were paring your nails
and twiddling with the radio,
incident brushing against incident,
willpower crooking a finger,
intention taking a short vacation,
‘in the meantime’ on your breath,
time an old fire in an older world,
time a sniper, a deer in its crosshairs,
an arrow coursing from one moment to the next.
My mother told me nothing is safe. I’d grown up fenced in playpens, leashed like a dog, harnessed in strollers. I was buckled and belted, handheld and sandwiched, life-vested, sunblocked, helmeted, braced, and warned. My vaccines were up to date. My laces double-knotted. She told me never go out alone, my friends weren’t friends but “buddies.” Each time I built up the courage to timidly test the limits of her invisible fence, things went wrong. I’d think maybe she was right. Or this was a bad idea.
The coyotes are judging me.
The coyotes are excellent judges of character
attuned to minute oscillations of will
opportunistic in their insight. they are misanthropes at heart, the coyotes,
also canids, and therefore cynics
and proceed from the assumption of not the best or the worst
as the essence of the human condition but inertia
the failure to bestir ourselves to invention
so it begins [spring] leopards from a crowd of moss hills bloom
I don’t live there; I built my ship sailed jungle bound
to procreate among the mongoose sifting through sand ponds
this is where
I wait, sunburnt
Speed-free for two days now and stuck waiting on the 116th Street A train southbound platform with a hard two-train hour down to my job at the Gansevoort Meatpacking District, I have this packet I got at the bodega at 113th and Broadway, this over the counter Ephedrine bullshit in its bright blue waterproof packaging, and this is what I’m reduced to, trying to pound two little pills to dust without splitting the plastic, using my fist against the greasy wooden subway bench, and though there are five or six other people waiting, no one is going to say anything to me, not at 3 a.m. at 116th Street—maybe not anytime—and finally I have it powdered but with nothing to snort with, not even a single dollar bill; just a pocketful of tokens supplied by my girlfriend Kiley the way a parent might pin a child’s lunch money to his coat along with a note, I have to lean my head back and pour half down each nostril, snorting as hard as I can and it’s worse than speed, the burning and the small sharp shards that didn’t pound cutting into my nose and soon I have another nosebleed going and the train still hasn’t come and after this there’s another switch at Columbus and another wait, then ten hours of hard work and the whole thing in reverse and it has got to be the worse but given all this, it’s still better than staying home, waking up to her and all that goes with her.
The wind hesitates, the sky like to sing, so blue. Tiny Boy writes his name in dirt, slow and careful. The Lockett’s hound jitters in dream and the same old flies circle and circle. The day is Thursday and Tiny Boy will eat his dinner with Gran, pork chops he hopes, and applesauce. She don’t make pies anymore which is a loss to all concerned, meaning Tiny Boy and her church-friend, Marla. Down the street, shirts hang on a line in the backyard of a house gone empty months ago. Bleached now, in sun streaks. Tiny Boy tries to whistle. Carter tried to teach him 3 or 4 times but he still can’t get out but a huff. Carter’s gone now, too, like the people in the house.
What is this fat hen squawking about? Michael tries to open his right eyelid, so he can see the nurse better, but it is sealed shut. His left is barely a slit. Through the haze of milky sleep scumming over his pupil, he makes out a whitish blob topped with frizzy orange lint.
“Fat? You’re already in enough trouble, mister.” This nurse he has never met before heard him. She walks to the wall beside the door. He fights the urge to think in case another insult slips out. What if he has hurt her feelings before having a chance to prove the opposite, and she thinks him an ogre? His head feels like it weighs thirty pounds, fifty, as he rotates it to better set his good eye on her. He senses the unmade hospital bed beside him, the television plopped onto a cart in front, and the wheelchair in which his large body rests. This room, this ward, is unfamiliar, but he tries to stay calm. The nurse rips off a length of brown paper towel from a leaden dispenser triggering an artery centered in his brain to pulsate and deliver short punches to the surface of his face and into the boggy fluid of his stomach. His gut quivers as he tenses the muscles above his left eye to raise his brow and lower his cheek, which is like trying to prop up a fallen roof with a toothpick.
in Afrika there is a way you beg forgiveness
for future sins
today in a broken language
the same way you beg blessings and blessings
for memories to be left behind
for gods soon to be forced to answer and answer
prayers yet to be said
in Afrika you beg forgiveness and forgiveness
for only future sins
The slow snow first and then the hard snow with left and right men shoveling, cars swerving, stalling, spinning out, and drip by drip the icicle daggers sharpening, waiting to descend as we women lug logs up the porch steps and the dogs slink off, shivering, tails between their legs.
I never knew you were Baptist.
Nor, I suspect, did you.
Perhaps it was the funeral director
or your most recent ex
that finally got you into church.
Your waterless baptism, surprise testimony
to the suddenness of your saving.
It is a relief to pass beyond
the flesh and become instead
a column of information.
Puerile, we watch pulp
mills break down the big
coastal forests with sulfite.
Tender mushrooms from
distant pastures, we grind
them into dust, a magic.
Telepathy inside the car.
Before Del opened his eyes he knew the kid was gone. That panic feeling. That guilt. That screen door slamming in the wind. It had broken into Del’s dream, and as soon as he realized what it was he gripped the arms of the threadbare recliner and launched himself upward. His feet hit the carpet and he was down the hall with his head spinning and vision blurry. By the light in the house, it was hard to tell whether it was morning or evening.
Am I sweating? Goddamn Jack Kennedy, may he rest. I never cared about the faults in my face before that SOB. Thank God for Pat. Smile, shake hands, remember key points: differences, future, enemies. Smile. “Hello, hello.” Smile. Breathe. Do not bob your head. Clasp hands behind. Clear throat. “Ready?” Yes. OK. Breathe. “Mr. Vice President…” Shit, my nose itches. “As we look to the future.” Forget the fucking nose, Dick. “We must realize that the Government of the People’s Republic of China…” You are announcing history. “We will have differences in the future…” This, this will be my legacy.
There must be more of them than you suspect, here in the Midwest—maybe every tenth, every fifteenth woman you pass. Those who used to ride clinging to some guy’s leathery back, bruised and battered and passed from one biker to the next, and then re-applying makeup in the fender’s reflection. Like the one who dropped by my office last week, her second skin peeled back to reveal her trinity: Harley, Triumph, BMW. Her name was Lorca, after Garcia Lorca, I hoped, imagining one of his dark Gypsy ballads recited at her conception.
Play. It’s 7 a.m. in Erie, Pennsylvania. Two young men sit at a bus stop on East 6th Street across from a paper mill that closed the previous year (2002). One young man, Dan Morey, is recently returned from a West Coast university, where he earned a master’s degree in English. When people ask him what he’s doing now, he tells them he’s “considering a PhD.”
The kid rides the dad’s buggy fast and quick. It’s him and her in the buggy with the handlebar and the seat he sits in with the kid standing at his back. He’s got a rare type of osteoporosis that only affects men, see, and though it hasn’t been diagnosed he knows this is what it is. He’s seen the weird hunched-over ladies with their reusable totes lugging veggies and fruit back and forth. Each time he sees them he thinks, You and me both, sister. The symptoms haven’t yet showed but he knows it’s coming. He can walk just fine if he wants. The buggy is more a preventative measure than anything else. Plus it gets his kid and him from A to B real quick. She’s in school, elementary, you know, the one where she’s gotta be there 8:30 a.m. or he gets a call. And he gets more than enough calls that’s for sure.
When the boy asked his father where his mother went he said she “had a bird.” He didn’t know what that meant, but maybe it was because she squeaked like one, he thought. Or maybe she used to have one and she lost it.
His father paced around the kitchen preparing for dinner. He pulled out the pasta strainer and put it on the counter but there was hardly enough room, only the corner. He peered over at Tommy. He grabbed the plates smeared with dried ketchup, pressed them together, and rolled them into the dishwasher. He glanced again at the boy, who looked like he had a question. In fact, Tommy was trying to reach an itch in the middle of his back and was squinting his face in desperation.
I grew a maple tree behind my shutter board house. It blossomed despite the stuffed weave of city streets. The first time I saw it, a single leaf had sprouted and turned its face to the sun. Those rays of light that the leaf caught fed the single branch, which pushed against the cobbled patio, displacing old bricks. It is a waking giant, I thought.
when he beat me up he had me against a row-house screen door, blows like birds flying at my ears as if they were feeders, my hands at the sides of my head protecting my face, I don’t remember the feeling of being punched but I remember my bully’s face, filled with paternal rage as if I’d committed a mortal sin not a wrong against him, his lips sealed, his cheeks red and exploding the energy of punishment, I shouted fuck fuck to show that even in tears I was brave enough to shout a word I knew was bad,
We rolled into Bakersfield in 1968 the way the Okies did in The Grapes of Wrath — with everything we possessed packed into a creaking car and trailer, kids stacked on top of each other and no place yet to call home.
Following a dust-devil down Highway 99, leaving my dad and his other wife at the Sacramento end of the Central Valley, my mom strangled the steering wheel of the Belvedere wagon until it and the U-Haul came to rest, hot and ticking, beneath the cement awning of the Capri Motel. Piling out, we could see the yellow arch across Union Avenue spelling out Bakersfield in bold black letters. Tall desert palms spindled the endless, empty sidewalk while sun-spotted traffic coursed by the motels and take-out shops and liquor stores. It was May and already close to 100 degrees.
WHAT WE SEE FEELS LIKE THE THING ITSELF Photographs by Micah Danges [ click any image to enlarge ] My drive to take photographs is rooted in the unpredictability of such a seemingly predictable process. I use the precision of the camera in conjunction with the limitations of its mechanics to generate a series of inspiring problems that I can solve. I know that the assumptions that I make while shooting the photograph, about how life will translate onto film, will be proven wrong after it is developed and printed. This shift compels me to slow down, study the printed image and isolate key moments of transformation. From there, I consider the surface of the print and build a material relationship with the image that celebrates its singularity. I want to continue to explore the photograph as a flexible medium that has the ability to be both image and … chop! chop! read more!
In 2013, a young journalist named Clara Beaudoux moves into a Paris apartment. The previous tenant, a woman named Madeleine, lived there for 20 years before passing away in her nineties. Strangely, Madeleine’s things have not been removed from the cellar. “All I had to do was open a door, the door to my cellar, for the adventure to begin,” writes Beaudoux.
The New York City of the decade in which The Future Won’t Be Long is set is a city in transition, sloughing off the dirty skin of a seriously fertile artistic period to eventually reveal a heartless skeleton scraped clean by Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD by the book’s end. From the start, the city is riveting for Baby, who describes how he “wandered New York, its manic energy seeping into my bones. The pavement vibrated, resonating with billions of earlier footsteps, centuries of people making their way, the city alive with the irregular heartbeat of its million cars and trucks, of its screaming pedestrians, its vendors and hustlers. The roar and clamor infected my blood, transforming my walk.”
Island of Point Nemo is a fast-moving adventure story featuring murderers, romance, and preternatural turns. But dig further into those turns, and the novel is ultimately a eulogy to books, both as physical objects and as containers for fiction. Written by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès and newly translated from French by Hannah Chute, Island of Point Nemo features suspenseful plotlines that intertwine in such a way as to make the reader question the natures of fiction, reality, and history.
Haunted by her father’s absence and riveted by her single mother’s cautionary tales, Cleaver contributor Andrea Jarrell longed for the “stuff of ordinary families,” even as she was drawn to the drama of her parents’ larger-than-life relationship. In her forthcoming memoir, I’m the One Who Got Away (She Writes Press, September, 2017), Jarrell revisits family stories starring wolves in cowboy clothing and lambs led astray by charming savior-saboteurs, to recount how she escaped a narrative she’d learned by heart.
The stories in Rion Amilcar Scott’s debut collection, Insurrections, are set in Cross River, Maryland, a small East Coast city you won’t find on any map. The city itself is a work of fiction, but the lives of its inhabitants feel startlingly real. Among the Cross Riverians—or Riverbabies, depending on who you ask—included in this collection are a suicidal father, an old man known as the slapsmith, and a pair of brothers separated by the constantly flooding Cross River, which gives the city its name and divides it into the affluent Northside and impoverished Southside.
The problem—or, rather, the question, since I would be embarrassed to call such a minor blip in happy life and a good set of relationships a “problem”—is Beth’s parents, and especially her mother. We are Jewish and they are super-WASPs. They wear clothes with little anchors on them and so on, and she has one of those “Muffy”-type nicknames. But so far the religious/ethnic divide has not been an issue. They seemed to be fine with the kids’ ecumenical wedding, and I have never heard an anti-Semitic remark pass their lips (although the Irish have not fared so well). They even came to the twins’ bris. And we are all very pleasant and friendly to one another, exchanging photos and recipes and so on.
But Muffy is a relentless and vocal supporter both of Donald Trump as a leader, and of what I consider the Republican policy agenda’s worst elements. I suppose that her husband basically agrees with her, but he is too wise, or cowardly, or maybe uninterested, to talk politics with the rest of the family. Beth and her brother are both quite progressive—like everyone in my family—but Muffy seems willing to let the younger generation be. Not so with my husband and me, although she hardly ever talks to my husband so he is mostly off the hook.
Posthumous novels are both a joy and, sometimes, a let-down. Left behind by an author whose polished work stands as a testament to the full capacity of his or her mind, the words on the page surface at first like an extension from the past. This one last bit of evidence left for us to find. The posthumous novel should be examined and praised as a rare object—hidden in a vault, locked in an old suitcase, tucked into an envelope—and given a small bit of license for being not quite the full body of work its author intended.
If we felt attached to and invested in the ground beneath our feet, how would the world be different? What’s the difference between feeling rooted in a place and feeling stuck there? And how is one to face the facts of geographic and human impermanence?
Lazi argues that mapping secrets and pain can be a matter of life and death, and Qiu’s suicide seems to attest to that. Considering the stresses of our present age, where identities and ideologies are masking and unmasking, the intrapersonal mapping of identity is even more significant for artists that would influence culture. That might be another way that Notes of a Crocodile is oddly predictive; or, its tendency to speak so clearly to our global present might mean that Lazi—and Qiu’s—struggle for self-identification is timeless. In either case, Notes of a Crocodile is an important addition to literature that addresses identity and sexuality, as well as a significant stylistic legacy from a writer prematurely lost.
The Apostle Killer by Richard Beard Melville House, 331 pages reviewed by Ansel Shipley Jesus is the enemy in The Apostle Killer: a socialist anti-establishment religious extremist. In the novel, Richard Beard creates a world that melds both the superstitious past, in which a self-described Messiah could amass a frighteningly large following, and the skeptical present that labels such men religious extremists and terrorists. “With Jesus, the trickery is without end. If he feigned his death he was extending a pattern that started with the miracles because what you see, with Jesus, is rarely what you get.” The protagonist, Cassius Gallio, is a counterinsurgency agent, a “Speculator” tasked with stamping out superstition and political threats to Rome’s control over Jerusalem. As a young man, Gallio found himself assigned to disprove Jesus’s miraculous resurrection and quickly became embroiled in a twisted web of uncertainty and dangerous machinations. A series of dead-ends … chop! chop! read more!
I’m thinking of asking Gary’s son if he would like to read the account of his father’s life, but I don’t know whether it is ethical to share emails that may have been written in confidence. The son wrote to thank me for the childhood photos I sent to the huge listserv of Gary’s friends and family. Gary had often shared photos and thoughts on that listserv.
An aging and dying actor, a blank slate, a forgotten man. This is the first narrator the reader meets in Dennis Must’s 2016 collection of seventeen short stories, Going Dark. The narrator of the title story, though a nobody, shares much in common with the other narrators and characters of the stories that follow in the collection. Indeed, throughout the collection, Must’s characters wrestle with important questions about identity, sanity, and morality, as their lives are colored by the particular details of their lives: their cars, the music they listen to, and their work. . The reason the first narrator, the actor, considers himself a nobody is that his identity is simply that of every character he has ever played. His own identity is simply lost.
In Nico Amador’s Flower Wars, the lines of poetry are full of flesh and voice, both of which are sure of their uncertainty and masterfully show the reader that, if we would trust an author to write their own poem, we should absolutely trust someone with reordering, preserving, mangling, and or perfecting the syllables of their own humanity. If you are a person and or a body, Flower Wars is relevant and vital reading.
Portland is where the nice go to be nice, where the humans go to be human, and where everyone goes to eat lobster. So yes, it’s a wonderful and liberating city to create in, but regardless of where you are or the tools at hand, it’s important to recognize that you can achieve that kind of creative liberation in all of your travels as a photographer or a tourist. A good photograph tells a story that allows the viewer to fill in the blanks or complete the story themselves. Keeping this in mind while you travel is vital to travel photography. Don’t just take snapshots, because you want people to be as stimulated as you were when you felt the moment needed to be captured. The images you make on your journey say something about yourself and the nature of your experience, so seek out the frames that will capture that essence and make them immortal.
Herr Eduard Saxberger lives in a pleasant apartment overlooking the Vienna Woods. Each night after spending the day in his civil service office, he eats at his usual restaurant where he interacts little with his companions beyond small talk and basic requests, and goes for a walk. His life is stable, if a bit empty. But one day a young man named Wolfgang Meier appears at the door, clutching a copy of the Wanderings, poems by Eduard Saxberger, and the somewhat bumbling, bourgeois civil servant is thrown back into a past he hardly remembers.
My mom’s big sister, Aunt Barb, loves to criticize me. She is never openly mean, but always “helpful,” and in fact many of her worst zingers take the form of backhanded compliments. She will tell me that I have a beautifully proportioned figure, and so imagine how great I would look if I could just lose 10 or 20 pounds. Or that she always regretted that my parents didn’t force me to practice more, because there is a real chance I inherited my grandparents’ musical talent but now we will never know. The other day she told me that I am a nice person inside, but should pay attention to the way my face looks “in repose,” because people might think I was angry or unpleasant. I am pretty sure this was her way of saying that I should smile more because I have Resting Bitch Face.
Hindsight never fails in providing a comprehensive scope of recently-felt chaos—this is the key narrative tool Claire Messud employs in her intimate coming-of-age novel, The Burning Girl. The Burning Girl offers deep insight into a seemingly minuscule and ordinary loss of two young Massachusetts girls, and quietly probes us to ponder the necessity, ridicule, and unfairness that results from a society prizing itself on the lack of innocence as means of survival.
Anyone who has written and submitted anything—poems, stories, essays, books—knows that immediate acceptance is extremely rare. When that happens, we celebrate and try not to let it spoil us. Much more often, we receive negative feedback in the form of outright rejection, advice, and/or an invitation to revise and resubmit (an option much more common in the academic world than in the poetry and fiction publishing scene).