“If books don’t get published, they don’t live,” argues Marian Schwartz, the prolific and award-winning translator of over seventy Russian works. Thanks to Schwartz, significant 20th and 21st century Russian books have been brought to life, including work by Nina Berberova, Polina Dashkova, Mikhail Shishkin, and now Leonid Yuzefovich.
Thank goodness Magela Baudoin’s first book to be translated in English, Sleeping Dragons, is so short. The fifteen stories in this collection (adding up to only 140 pages) are so precise, bursting with such potency, that to increase the collection to 200 or 250 pages would just about kill the average reader. Nearly all the stories are perfectly formed, energetic little spheres—like new tennis balls, popping with their own elasticity the moment they drop out of the canister—and only so many of these spheres can hit a reader between the eyes before she must stop, dazed. The overall impression is of a writer with years of craftsmanship already behind her, ready to don the halo of South American literary fame.
Excellent writing is often lauded for its ability to transport and disembody the reader, to enrapture so completely that its audience floats along the sentence and forgets their place in the room. Meghan McClure’s Portrait of a Body in Wreckages does not do this, instead, much of its excellence is found in its proficiency to embody the reader, to address them in their own physicality, and move along the level of the cell as well as the sentence.
Chaya Bhuvaneswar is part of a unique legacy of writer-physicians—Nawal El Saadawi, William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekhov, to name a few—and the unexpected harmony of these pursuits is showcased throughout her collection White Dancing Elephants, winner of the 2017 Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize. Written with a straightforward, refreshingly uncluttered voice, these stories center on the urgent human desire to heal and be healed.
Ada Limón is the author of several poetry books, including the National Book Award finalist Bright Dead Things, which was named one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by the New York Times. This year Limón released her fifth book, The Carrying, to wide acclaim, including being named a Best Book of Fall 2018 by Buzzfeed. Since the release of The Carrying, Limón has been traveling extensively for poetry events but was able to take some time out for Cleaver to discussthe new bookand aspects of craft in her poetry. She lives in Lexington Kentucky.
At the beginning of Guadalupe Nettel’s newly translated novel After the Winter, twenty-five-year-old Cecilia moves from her native Oaxaca to Paris. She arrives there without the usual image of Paris as a “city where dozens of couples of all ages kissed each other in parks and on the platforms of the métro, but of a rainy place where people read Cioran and La Rochefoucauld while, their lips pursed and preoccupied, they sipped coffee with no milk and no sugar.”
I hoist the case up onto my desk and struggle to release the typewriter. I don’t remember my portable typewriter in college being this cumbersome. Plug it in, feed a sheet of paper through the roller thingy, and flip the switch. Oh yeah—I’d forgotten that motor sound. Do I remember how to use this thing? I consider the keys. My fingertips find home row. Like getting on a bike again. The next thing I know I’m typing. Energy flows into my fingers. I can still do this! Even though it’s been more than thirty years. Through the serial number, Barbara confirms that this typewriter was manufactured in 1964. I was only eight years old then, trying to pick up Dad’s bowling bag. Talk about a time machine.
The paradox in writing a postmodern memoir is that the author must somehow convince readers she’s telling the truth—typically by admitting to subjectivity and fallible memory, and by interrogating her version of events. But that’s not the strategy Vanya Erickson employs in her post-WWII coming-of-age story, Boot Language. With vivid detail and some implausibly long passages of remembered dialogue, she presents herself as the sole reliable narrator of her life in California, where she was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who failed to protect her (but did “soften Dad’s blows” with inherited money).
The motor of Strange Weather is the slow love that builds between Tsukiko and Sensei. At a neighborhood bar, they run into each other after decades of absence. Maybe at another time they would have exchanged pleasantries and moved along. But they are both living in the same kind of underwater blue. They chat and find that their language is the same. They start to build an intimacy without schedule, running into each other at the bar, sharing meals and drinks, telling simple stories, laughing at their inconsistencies.
Light Years: plurisy, renewed nostalgia for each moment
as it goes, the dream returning as it’s escaping. / His wife’s
demonic pain, his fuckall, to have failed separately
too long too much together, by the minutes ganged, contemned,
When we couldn’t dance around it any longer, we set mousetraps and started imagining our two toddlers, Henry and Suzanna, losing their fingers one by one: limp pinkies crinkled like sun-wilt, severed rings, scattered middles, dirty orphaned pointers curling into themselves as if for protection.
THE REST by Kimberly Grabowski Strayer I slept with a kitchen knife in my bedside table as a little girl, I don’t think even my mother knows. She loved all the shows about murder. I would tell her I was scared but she wouldn’t turn them off— if you’re scared, leave the room. The first few shots of each episode: victim who will not live out the next sixty seconds. A perpetrator with artfully hidden face. And screaming, always, screaming even in sudden attacks. I heard once that the word scream is too powerful to use in a poem, or too distinctly female, hysteric, blotting out the rest— here, we begin. After this, a shot of the team of criminal profilers, walking in to the office, discussing how to whip up the perfect plate of pasta, al dente, of course, to remind us they have ordinary lives outside of this television …chop! chop! read more!
One is waking up in a bedroom that you do not recognize. The scent of coffee makes your head ache, but you cannot recall what it tastes like. And you don’t understand because you thought you liked coffee, but now you are not so sure. You feel panic as it fills your fingertips and clogs your throat. The patchwork quilt stifles you, makes threats against you. The newspaper tells victims to put up a fight, but whose house is this, and what if they do not react well to strangers who thrash around in twin beds that creak?
ONTOLOGY OF FATHERHOOD by Luke Wortley Apparently Jack just learned the basics of genealogy. The lowest, sturdiest limbs branching out from roots of blood not my own. When I picked him up from school today, amid raindrops the size of a newborn’s hands, he told me about Memaw and Poppy and how they were Mommy’s mommy and daddy. “You’re my daddy,” he says. “Yeah, buddy, that’s right.” Though this isn’t legally true, yet. The Sperm Donor, as Poppy calls him, is in Chicago contesting my petition. “And Mommy is my mommy,” he says. “Yup. What’s Mommy’s name?” I ask. “Katie!” he screeches. “That’s right!” Something else about his friend Dontae having to go to the nurse and how it was Layla’s turn for computer time. Pause. Here it comes. “Who’s your mommy?” he asks. Over my speakers the buzzer cleaves his train of thought. Ringing weaves through our family tree. …chop! chop! read more!
This isn’t one of those stories where the twenty-two year old work-study assistant gets kissed on the cheek by the Chair of one of the country’s most prestigious English departments while she’s arranging cookies for the Visiting Writers Reading, writers whose names you’d surely recognize, like the author of the graphic novel about her coming out and the author who writes about horses, and the trim little poet who upstaged her husband last December at a reading for The Environment.
After I call Barney, I take a bath. I have my hair in a topknot, so it won’t get wet. But it’s been cold all day, and the hot water feels so good that screw it, I pull out the ponytail holder and submerge. It’s not like he hasn’t seen my hair wet 500 times before. It’s not like a date where you need to look your best.
THE REVOLUTION IS NOT DEAD: I’M WEARING IT by Holly Li It was a dingy street stall, somewhere in the back alleys of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The uninterested teenage boy manning the booth flipped through a magazine while I rummaged through bins of t-shirts wrapped in clear plastic. Some were printed with Chinese words; most had faces I didn’t recognize. “An old Chinese Communist hero,” my dad would explain as I pointed indiscriminately at one and looked to him. “Another old hero,” he chuckled, as I held up yet another generic grinning face, this one with rosy cheeks and a red star cap. For seven yuan (a dollar), I could afford to buy them all, but I took my time. I made piles of favorites, weighed options carefully on a rubric of juvenile aesthetic taste and shock value, then narrowed them down. Eventually, I settled on the Glorious One: …chop! chop! read more!
Photos of every winner of the Hungry Man Challenge hang on the wall of The Little Texan Steak Ranch. Four dozen photos. Mostly white men. So when Sandy Jenkins plops her red, heart-shaped purse on the counter and orders the Hungry Man Challenge, a hush falls over the restaurant. Sandy Jenkins at 5’2 with short downy dark hair like a baby chick and unsmiling liner-rimmed eyes already doesn’t look like she could eat 72 ounces of steak in one lifetime let alone one hour. But besides that, everyone in town knows Sandy isn’t the type of girl to sign up for anything. She’s the type to traipse through your tomato garden in combat boots and when you catch her, claim she is searching for a four-leaf clover (and you kind of believe her). She’s the type to steal pencil toppers in the shapes of cute forest animals from her classmates and display them on her dresser, and when her mother asks where she got them, lie that they were gifts (her mother is just relieved she’s finally making friends). She is the type who, upon realizing that she sticks out like a cactus flower in her homogenous hometown, instead of trying to blend in, leans into her differences—wings mark the corner of each eye, drawing their shape further up her temples, black hair shorn close to her scalp. Sandy is the type to avoid restaurants like The Big Texan Steak Ranch and tourist traps like the Hungry Man Challenge at all costs and, instead, suck on Slim Jims while perched on parking curbs in the local shopping centers.
Waiting for a table at the diner, I won round after round of I Spy with my son. I spy with my little eye something green (the 7-11 sign across the street), something ephemeral (the time between now and when this boy will be too heavy to carry to bed), and also something getting truer (there is no silence left in this world).
I lie on the couch wide awake, cramps gouging my uterus. In my stupor, I picture the trappings of a baby girl, her translucent skin, her nail-less fingers, her snake-coiled legs. She has Jake’s smile, I think, the way the edges of her lips twist up, the way her left cheek dimples. I wonder how her laugh sounds, if it comes from her belly like his.
My earliest memory of Po-Po is her cooking: the thick aroma of beef and bok choy wafting through our old kitchen, and the sight of her tightly permed semi-afro through the steam gathering over the stovetop. After dinner, she would humor me as I tried to teach her English. I never had much success, but I remember her nodding and smiling along as I read my favorite picture books to her.
I wonder at the little dead lady on my carpet. I found her as I was picking up tissues from the floor of my bedroom, underneath the bed, lying on her back like a lentil. I had an urge to put her in my mouth, but then I remembered that she must be the same one that was crawling around my room in September. I had identified with the little lady, indecisively flitting around the room, landing on the white plastic blinds, walking along there for a while until she came to what she thought was the end of the earth, and beyond that the buttery yellow fabric of my curtains: heaven, for a bug.
How am I supposed to know that? Maxwell thought. He didn’t go to Escher Middle School or the Dalí Institute like the rest of them. He hadn’t learned underivatives or nonce poetry or taken any anti-rhetoric! Frustrated, Maxwell scrawled “Why don’t marshmallows have bones?!” for the first question, and for all the rest he drew faces with tongues sticking out.
While my husband frantically searches the house for his misplaced eyeglasses, I watch Marie Kondo fold socks, then stockings, then a sweater into neat little rectangles. They look like origami handbags. In her signature white jacket, the Japanese tidying expert instructs viewers to stroke each garment. She says, “Send the clothing love through your palms.” She runs her hands gently down both the sleeves and the body of a fluffy, white sweater, and my skin tingles.
I consider myself a painter who photographs. I had given up on painting about ten years ago since I didn’t feel I could authentically express what was mine to express. Then, about eight years ago, I fell into photographing what I came to call my “magical landscapes.” These images came almost effortlessly and opened up worlds I never imagined. I credit this experience with giving me the courage to explore the real world. During the last five years, I have traveled around the world twice for extended periods of time. I tend to perceive now that most every landscape has the potential to be a magical landscape, given the right lighting and composition.
A police siren echoes through the valley as a yellow bird I’ve never seen before glides into view from behind the mountaintops. The bird makes a sharp outline against the blue sky as it floats downward in loose, lazy zig-zags, almost too close to the treeline.
Then it’s three years since—since displacement
then it’s flesh on
foil and planks spilling out oilcloth
remnants—then we are formless,
but choosing berries wisely on the dirt
strand watching a man carve nipples out of
cypress—watching him swell—
GIANT POSSUM DRAWS CROWD IN NICETOWN by Khaleel Gheba From the west, a swell arrives with pomp, its wet regalia slaps my windowpane. I want to die so very much tonight. Not for want of love or peace, but for a slow tone’s constancy in my ear. For uneasy light off scuffed metal. For insecure shelving’s squeak. For no one can make a left without effort. For that sphere of hot pain in my wrist, behind tendons like cell bars, like cello strings. A beleaguerment by moments as constant as rain, as standard as a thing of the woods arriving without invite. Everyone gawks at its size. “How can this even be?” Khaleel Gheba received his MFA in Poetry from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2014. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Redivider, Bayou Magazine, the Bellingham Review, Split Lip, and elsewhere. He currently lives in …chop! chop! read more!
His smile is a Spanish quarter, lopsides us down
Campania street inclines, dodging grime bullets.
Cerussite silk plunges down to nothing;
our stems swing steps in atomic tangerine
to highlight a something which nonne wag
their fingers at from melon stands, flag shops.
First inning. The summer had been hot, so goddamn hot, and of course Bill’s air conditioner had kicked out last night, and wouldn’t you know it, his landlord was on vacation, so he had slept—or rolled around, really—in a river of his own sweat. The restless night had cost him sixty-one minutes—a negative seventy-one for the three hours of sleep and a plus ten for the sweaty rolling—but, honestly though, he wouldn’t have minded if the life watch strapped to his wrist on his burnt arm had said something like five minutes because here he was in the stadium, in the sun, with his bald spot sizzling like a fajita, his back on fire from the heavy red bag of peanuts slung across his shoulder, his throat burning from chanting into the humid air, “Get your peanuts, here! Large bag of peanuts!”
Named after a 19th century British novelist by his professor father he was a boy I’d never noticed until we were grown and his mother told me he was far from home in his first real job and lonely I should write she said and so our seduction began with letters by two people who knew how to write them then emails then phone calls where he’d hold the phone up to Louis Armstrong playing on the Victrola he’d bought instead of paying rent
Scrapped leaves, the orange the gold the crimson,
scratch along, clump, stop. Crumble. Rot.,
Blow off where it all blows. Aaannd are gone.,
Goes, too, the wide green tight green ends in,,
frou-frou for debleaking (Ablur? Ablur),
stark stonescapes that never otherhow were.,
In a neighborhood in the north of Copenhagen, there is this cemetery, though really it’s more of a park.
The locals go on walks there, have picnics, drink in the shade. In the summer, the evenings are cool and infinite here, as though coming from afar, because Denmark is a Northern country. I happened to walk through the cemetery on exactly such a summer evening and so the two have become linked in my mind, the evening and the cemetery, along with a quiet sense of dread which is in essence what I want to tell you about here.
where we come from by Patricia Hartland tiny springs meet the red red sand the sea we built our little huts of buoys of tern wings and of jelly fish purple perfectly in a pool in the belly of the spade we gather them with days of red clay the seal under glassy dark peers into our mouths full of fish or of sky our faces struck out over the white cloud of the row boat the salt the oars magnificent splinters we leave in our palms in place of almost anything trusting skin to its magic and in the wind gusting scream or laugh or salt catches us from the shore somehow our sisters and our brothers their voices in our ears of endless twisting conch and we could be in any wind mud holiest water compels the bygone the hoofclad the painstake when we were strung by seas …chop! chop! read more!
It was really dark and it scared Billy. Really very dark. Yes, really very very—made him think of when he was young and every time he turned off the light to go to sleep started remembering ghost stories. Every ghost story he’d ever read or heard or, well, just every one and his sock feet would hit the floor and his hand would hit the light switch and they didn’t go away, the remembered stories, but they settled, soft in his mind and it was okay again.
I’m waiting for you in Paris. Waiting in the Champ de Mars, the park next to the Eiffel Tower. Standing on a patch of grass, wearing a tuxedo, and holding flowers. One among many men who wait, but they’re not like me. They stay for varying amounts of time—some holding signs, some sitting under trees—but eventually they leave. Not me. I’m here for you, Jess, waiting patiently, if not excitedly. And when you get here, we’ll embrace, and we’ll climb up the Eiffel Tower, and we’ll be together again, in love.
The summer after my senior year of high school, I worked in a donut shop selling macchiatos and breakfast pastries to young office workers in downtown Portland, Maine. I decided to get a job because my best friend Emma wanted a job and we were drunk off the prospect of making money and never having to go back to high school. We promised that the rest of our lives were going to be spent with only each other so we better start saving money so we could eventually live in Paris or New York or somewhere else far away from where we grew up.
NO COLLUSION! A Visual Narrative by Emily Steinberg Emily Steinberg is a painter and graphic novelist and has shown her work in the United States and Europe. Most recently, images from her visual narrative Broken Eggs were featured in an exhibit titled Sick! Kranksein Im Comic: Reclaiming Illness Through Comics at the Berlin Museum of Medical History @ the Charité, Berlin, Germany. Her graphic novel memoir, Graphic Therapy, was published serially in Smith Magazine, her short comic, Blogging Towards Oblivion, was included in The Moment (Harper/Collins 2012) and her visual narratives Paused (2018), Berlin Stories: Time, Memory, Place (2017), A Mid Summer Soirée (2015), Broken Eggs (2014), and The Modernist Cabin (2013) have been published in Cleaver Magazine. She currently teaches painting, drawing, graphic novel, and the History of Comics at Penn State Abington. She earned her M.F.A. and B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and lives just outside Philadelphia. …chop! chop! read more!
I was following my father down our long hallway to the bathroom, pulling the cord of my toy telephone behind me. It was an old-fashioned rotary kind, with plastic wheels, a red handle, and big ogling eyes.
“Absolutely not!” He slammed the bathroom door in my face. A long, forceful stream of urine rang into the toilet bowl.
Mom remembers the call, my sister doing her best to keep her composure on the other line, I just called Babushka and she was talking strangely maybe check on her? And so she put me in her car and drove into the evening, calming me down I’m sure it’s nothing and me I’m sure it’s nothing too but the two of us dashed from the elevator to her room nonetheless.