PHENOMENON by Donna Vorreyer Homes awash in moonlight, in streetlight, the whole neighborhood hunched and hiding, watching the sky. All of the children are adrift, huddled in bushes, running under branches well past their usual bedtimes. It is a strange phenomenon, but one that goes unquestioned. In the morning, the grown-ups confess that they thought they saw a UFO, a strange streak that grew then slipped away too quickly for logic. For the next night, for the rest of the weekend, a vigil, lawn chairs clustered, poised to catch a second glimpse. The pleasures of these evenings were many—playing late in the dark yard, the low rumble of the men’s voices mooring us close enough for safety, even television allowed when it got late enough for pajamas and later still when their eyes would spot something moving—usually a plane—before they would laugh and finally retire, carrying us to bed. … chop! chop! read more!
TOURIST by Barbara Nishimoto It was July, winter in La Serena, Chile, and Lily sat in a pretty little plaza, her feet resting on the battered train case that her mother had bought at Sears long ago. Hard shell Samsonite. Part of a set for the family trip to Hawai’i. “Don’t pack it too full,” her mother had said. “You’ll break the mirror.” In all her travels with Adam she had never used the case; it seemed too old fashioned and clunky. But she was glad she had it on this trip. It provided a place to sit or put up her feet. The rest of the luggage was arranged around her—the rolling duffle, the cargo bag, the camera backpack. All within reach. “In case someone tries to rip us off.” Adam shook his head, smiled, “I’d like to see someone try to run with one of those bags.” … chop! chop! read more!
THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT by Lynn Levin The day of his wife’s forty-fifth birthday party, Norbie Bernbaum let Jerry Rosen talk him into an afternoon at the Dirty Martini, a strip club on the edge of downtown where Hot Pantz, Double Dee, and The Bride seduced the clientele to one degree or another. Rosen had been there a couple of times, mostly during weekdays, and he made the place sound so irresistible—the women were just like showgirls—that Norbie was panting to go. “But what about Donna’s party?” Norbie groaned as Schpilkes, the family dog, came by and leaned against him. “Just tell her you’re going out to buy her a gift,” advised Rosen. “You’ll be back in time for brisket with the in-laws. I promise.” Norbie hadn’t bought Donna a birthday present, so this sounded like a plan. He hurriedly splashed on a bit of cologne, brushed his teeth, and … chop! chop! read more!
VINYL by Brian Druckenmiller I was ready to die, so I jumped off the highest bridge in town, the river a dark frozen mass ready to accept my mangled mess of skin and insides. I detached from my descending body and watched it fall lifelessly while I drifted through the air with the winter breeze and the stars and those snowflakes that instantly melt when they land on you. I saw or imagined my mom’s house from the sky, about six miles from the bridge. Her house had been empty since I left nearly four years ago. Well, that’s not true. She lived there. I drove by occasionally but I don’t know why. Well, that’s not true either. I did know why. I wanted to make sure she still existed. Did she know I still existed? One time I drove by and she was unloading groceries or something from her … chop! chop! read more!
ROMEO & JULIETTE by Kevin Tosca Romeo sent this text to Juliette: “Goodnight Julie.” She didn’t respond. It was their first night not sleeping together in two years. He didn’t know what she was thinking. The next morning, he had to return to the suburb where they lived to get the rest of his stuff. They agreed he would call before he left, and he did so beside the stairs leading down to the subway. The call went to Juliette’s voice mail. Romeo took two trains. When he got outside at the appallingly familiar bus depot, he tried to call again, and again the call went to voice mail. He became worried, decided he didn’t want to wait for the bus, so he started walking toward the home they had made together. On the bridge, about a mile from their apartment, he stopped and sent another text: “Here. Walking. … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Teresa Leo Miniature Sawtooth sky reins in its pomegranates and the carnival shuts down. We duck behind the House of Horrors for in-touch, downright, face-to-face clarity. The ground’s a popcorn mess, stepped over and on, near a chain link fence to keep out what inevitably wants in: a man with a cartoon axe, then a lady with a halo for a head, unflanked but expectant, a mouth that is not a door but a chant, and in the distance a radio broadcasts what’s red-blooded and American— no secret society, no wind, no whole or scene or parts, just what’s left after premature E, teenage illumination, not the E in evacuate or in escape, the carnage an unnamable E— for now it’s all straps and buckles and snaps, what’s bluesy and small-town true. Over our shoulders the Tilt-A-Whirl, quiet now, the Zipper stuck in midair, Lucky Cups, the … chop! chop! read more!
LITTLE FISH: A MEMOIR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF YEAR by Ramsey Beyer Zest Books, 272 pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott It’s a familiar notion, the sense of being a little fish in a big pond. This awareness may arrive at an early age for some, while running inexplicably late for others. But for eighteen-year-old Ramsey Beyer, a lover of lists, lakes, and bonfires, this epiphany arrives with a traditional right-of-passage: the start of college. Beyer, now ten years beyond this awakening, chronicles her transition from Midwest high school senior to city-savvy first year art student in her debut memoir, Little Fish: A Memoir of a Different Kind of Year. Like many pre-undergrads, she precariously balances on the teeter-totter of change and consistency that comes with college acceptances, graduation, and the unstoppable arrival of the first autumn away from home. Beyer demonstrates maturity and insight when constructing a list of … chop! chop! read more!
by John Sibley Williams
reviewed by Anna Strong
Controlled Hallucinations is a collection of questions, interiors, and barriers—stepping into the world of these poems means being alone with your thoughts and the images and associations your brain creates only in its quietest moments. The title of the collection already suggests that these poems will occupy a space far removed from the outside world, but John Sibley Williams invites readers into this space with an introduction to the collection in the form of an untitled poem (following the dedication, which is to “the coming extinctions”). The introductory poem is a series of infinitive clauses (“To be the effect. / To be a thoughtful pause / and restrained response. / To the the passion of raking nails.”) which collectively define what can be expected from the ensuing poems.chop! chop! read more!
THE GRAVEYARD by Marek Hłasko (1956) in the first English translation by Norbert Guterman (1959) release December 3, 2013 Melville House, 140 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin The moment of truth in this book of deceit is treated in a most unusual way: it isn’t treated at all. Or more precisely: it isn’t even needed. The consequences for Franciszek Kowalski, the protagonist of Marek Hłasko’s unforgettable 1956 novel The Graveyard, indeed for all of humanity, are damning enough. Slender Citizen Kowalski had fought bravely in the underground in 1945; after receiving a nearly fatal chest wound, his faith in international socialism had willed him to live. Now, at 48, the sober Kowalski is a proud Communist Party member and a factory manager in a Polish city. One night, he runs into a comrade he hasn’t seen in years. The old fighters set off to a bar to reminisce, and despite … chop! chop! read more!
MY DIRTY DUMB EYES by Lisa Hanawalt Drawn and Quarterly, 120 pages Reviewed by Margaret Galvan My Dirty Dumb Eyes, released last May, may be comic artist Lisa Hanawalt’s debut text with a major publisher, but it highlights her preexisting popularity. Indeed, Hanawalt’s text shows its chops through its diverse array of humorous comic vignettes often originally commissioned for well-known print and internet periodicals—from New York Magazine to The Hairpin. A few months prior to its release, one of these comics, “The Secret Lives of Chefs,” first printed in the pages of Lucky Peach—a magazine co-created by Momofuku-founder, David Chang—was nominated for a James Beard, the preeminent award in the culinary world. In addition to “The Secret Lives of Chefs,” where Hanawalt creatively imagines bizarre skeletons in the closet out of the public personas of renown restauranteurs, she weighs in on the world of fashion and film in other comics. … chop! chop! read more!
A CONVERSATION WITH AUTHOR NATHANIEL POPKIN by Roberta Fallon Nathaniel Popkin’s new novel LION AND LEOPARD is set in early nineteenth Century Philadelphia, and features historical figures such as Charles Willson Peale, Raphaelle Peale, and the German painter John Lewis Krimmel. A historical incident sets the plot in motion—a mysterious death at a mill pond— and the novel’s descriptions are so earthy you can almost smell the cowpaths. Yet Popkin says Lion and Leopard is not historical fiction but rather a contemporary piece that deals with universal themes of originality, duplicity, family, friendship, power struggles and unexpected twists of fate. Indeed, the dialogue-rich writing uses slang that you might overhear on the streets today. And the issues are familiar. I sat down with Nathaniel earlier this month to ask him about the book. [Editor’s note: You can preview a sample chapter of Lion and Leopard, “The Dig“, in Cleaver Issue No. 1.] How … chop! chop! read more!
PACHYDERME by Frederik Peeters translated from the French by Edward Gauvin Harry N. Abrams Press SelfMadeHero imprint, 88 pages Reviewed by Brazos Price A cinematic opening: a woman’s heeled boot, a 1950’s traffic jam in bucolic Romandie, a downed elephant. Carice Sorrel, a woman who “simply must get to the hospital,” to see her husband who has been in an accident, heads into the woods rather than wait for the elephant to be removed. In Pachyderme, by Frederik Peeters, this transition from the road – through the woods – and into the hospital, quickly feels like a trip into the subconscious. When Carice first sees the hospital, the reader sees her have something of an out of body experience. Ultimately, the image seems to suggest that she is replaying, reinterpreting, and reworking recent events while asleep or unconscious or insane or dead. She wanders through the hospital and her … chop! chop! read more!
GILGI, ONE OF US By Irmgard Keun (1931) in the first English translation by Geoff Wilkes Melville House, 210 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin You push through the small, enclosed, almost claustrophobic rooms at the head of “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, like an exile from a provincial village, and there you are face to face with Léger’s masterwork The City. Now free of the repressive ties of the parochial, you’re not there yet. The City—the city—looms, an inscrutable machine. “At once spacious in its lateral spread and aggressively frontal, it offers the eye no reasonable focus and the body no comfortable place to stand,” says the show’s curator, Anna Vallye, in the deeply informed essay, “The Painter on the Boulevard,” in the exhibition catalog. “To approach is to hazard.” But Léger’s painting is no warning. Rather it’s a syncopation of the moment … chop! chop! read more!
SIDEWALK DANCING by Letitia Moffitt Atticus Books, 158 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin A sidewalk dance is the step or two that strangers on a sidewalk make together in an effort to get out of each other’s way. Sometimes, says Letitia Moffitt, they naturallly move in tandem, like dancers, until they collide. Sometimes they stay that way, perpetually in each other’s path, never moving past each other. This suspended state of existence—one imagines cells tumbling around a petri dish—infects Moffitt’s novel Sidewalk Dancing (Atticus Books), the story of Grace Chao, a Chinese immigrant to San Francisco, and George McGee, a peripatetic and dogmatic city planner, who intercepts Grace at the diner where she waits tables, and pulls her half knowing into a life of mutual abeyance. The couple moves to Hawaii, where George designs an impossible house, fails to convince his colleagues of the importance of the latest planning ideas, … chop! chop! read more!
BLINDING: THE LEFT WING
by Mircea Cărtărescu, in the English translation by Sean Cotter,
Archipelago Books, 464 pages
Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin
It starts in adolescence. The questions come to you while lying in bed (certainly now with a growing awareness of your sexuality), the walls of your room expanding into endless grainy darkness, as if the room itself could encompass the entire world: why am I here, why is there anything at all?
The questions may haunt you at age 13 or 15 or 17, but by adulthood they tend to feel banal. Unanswerable, impossible, if taken seriously debilitating, they are in a word blinding, and so you tend to avert your gaze. But suppose you can’t, suppose the inviolable white light only draws you closer, to madness possibly, to paint or write or drink or pray (to what God, tell me?) almost certainly. And so perhaps you scribble, the pages of your notebooks filling with furious script, like eons of sediment piling into sad mute mountains no one else will ever excavate or carve or climb.
Unless, perhaps, you are a writer of the caliber of Mircea Cărtărescu, the celebrated Romanian author of the 1996 book Blinding: The West Wing. Cărtărescu is a poet, essayist, and novelist of unsurpassing imaginative vision and startling bravery. He has won several Romanian literary prizes, but beyond Romania and France, where a few of his novels have been translated, and Holland, where he has taught, Cărtărescu, a child of the post-War communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, is rather unknown. His only other novel to be out in an English edition is the 1993 Nostalgia, published here in 2005 by New Directions.chop! chop! read more!
WHERE SOMEBODY WAITS by Margaret Kaufman PaulDryBooks, 201 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Critics never thought much of Ettore Scola’s 1987 film La Famiglia. Vincent Camby, writing in the New York Times, said that it has “the manner of a film that was conceived as an idea…The characters and events were thought up later.” But the idea, to capture time as it drifts through a single family in the space of a single apartment, is so powerfully melancholic that I’ll sit and ache through the film any time. Even despite the soft filter gauze of the mid-1980s. That same ache ventures forth from Margaret Kaufman’s debut novel Where Somebody Waits, out this month from Paul Dry Books. The tidy paperback, with its glancing, storyteller’s prose, covers about 60 years and four generations of the Davidson family, Jews in a small Arkansas town. While La Famiglia centers on the scholarly, even-handed … chop! chop! read more!
WE WON’T SEE AUSCHWITZ by Jérémie Dres SelfMadeHero, 199 pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott Everyone has a story, a collection of historical inner workings and familial memories that makes us who we are. But not all desire or are able to physically retrace the steps of those who laid our ancestral foundation. In We Won’t See Auschwitz, author Jérémie Dres does precisely that: embarking on a pilgrimage to Poland in search of the “drop of cool water from a spring” that he likens to his Grandma Thérèse, Dres winds his way through the history of the country and retraces his grandmother’s steps while simultaneously forging his own. The reader is dropped immediately into the action, rendezvousing with Dres in Warsaw’s historic Old Town as he searches for his grandmother’s original home on an unseasonably warm June afternoon. Together we search with him through the clouded eyes of the past for … chop! chop! read more!
THE PROPERTY by Rutu Modan Drawn and Quarterly, 222 pages reviewed by Amelia Moulis A family secret. A tragic love affair. This could well be any book of the last millennia, and yet in Rutu Modan’s latest graphic novel, The Property, fresh life is given to these age-old tropes. After receiving the 2008 Eisner for her first foray into adult graphic novels with Exit Wounds, Modan’s second novel further cements her talent in exploiting the subtleties of the medium. Where Exit Wounds is a fast-paced and chaotic adventure, The Property follows similar themes in a calmer setting as a grandmother and granddaughter travel from Tel Aviv to Warsaw ostensibly to reclaim a property they lost in World War II. From the outset, grandmother Regina is established as a quick-tempered, strong-minded and endlessly stubborn character in direct opposition to the temperament of her granddaughter, Mica, who is practical and level-headed. As their … chop! chop! read more!
THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY: A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ALZHEIMER’S by Jeanne Murray Walker Center Street, 384 pages Reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier “I worry about Mother, mostly,” writes Jeanne Murray Walker in her memoir, The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s (Center Street), “but I also worry about myself, because I am beginning to get myself mixed up with her. What does it mean that, in company with her, I ‘live’ in the past so much?” This question shapes Walker’s story of caring for her mother Erna Kelley, who lost her memory and life to the disease. Seeking answers, Walker offers insight into how memory works and what remembering means. As she flies between Philadelphia and her mother’s home in Dallas, the author’s own 1950s childhood in Lincoln, Nebraska, keeps flooding back. Her own life seems boxed up with her mother’s stories about driving her brothers and sisters to school in … chop! chop! read more!
HALF THE KINGDOM by Lore Segal Melville House, 176 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost Late in life, after health issues led my grandparents to move to a retirement community called Stonegates, my grandfather referred to their neighbors as his fellow inmates. I am still puzzling over Lore Segal’s new novel, Half the Kingdom, but I think she beautifully casts some theatrical lighting on the full inner lives and personal histories of the inmates. It’s as though Segal lifts a lid on what she might call, here, the Crazy Box of stories inside her aging characters. The lives of Joe Bernstine, Lucy Friedgold, Samson Gorewitz, Ida Farkasz, and a few others intersect in the emergency room and on the seventh floor of the Senior Center of the Cedars of Lebanon hospital. The open lid won’t reveal enough: part of the story here is that though Joe, Lucy, Samson, Ida, and their … chop! chop! read more!
THE FARAWAY NEARBY by Rebecca Solnit Viking, 272 Pages Reviewed by Colleen Davis Once a month my Saturday morning yoga class swaps our beloved Iyengar teacher for a visiting Power yoga trainer from Manhattan. Captain Kate is not her real name, but that’s what I call the woman who drives us through 85 minutes of fast, challenging postures which are not all that different from our normal fare. What Kate changes is the pace of our effort and the time we spend holding each pose. Under her direction, my country classmates and I move at the speed she expects from students in her 105-degree New York studio. Our local practice site has no amped up heating system, but a class with Kate still leaves us drenched. This is her rigorous lead up to the final moment when we gratefully follow Kate’s instruction to “lower our head and bow our mind … chop! chop! read more!
RELISH: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN by Lucy Knisley First Second Books, 173 pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott Never crowd the mushrooms. It’s a mantra recited time and time again in cookbooks, culinary shows, and even some Hollywood films. But without understanding what this actually means, as one’s interpretation will invariably differ from another’s, the only result is a disappointingly inconsistent sauté. In the absence of visual representation, one may interpret crowding as tight as a tin of sardines or as light as a bag of fluffy marshmallows. Enter Lucy Knisley and her graphic memoir Relish: My Life In the Kitchen, a bright collection of stories and memories centered on food, her family, and her upbringing. Following Knisley from the countertops of her childhood apartment in downtown Manhattan to early mornings at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her homemade meals and grocery lists guide the reader through … chop! chop! read more!
THE STORY OF A NEW NAME by Elena Ferrante, trans. Ann Goldstein Europa Editions, 471 pages ELI, ELY by Ezekiel Tyrus Hardhead Press, 283 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Two Cities, Two Outsiders, Two Novels My thirteen-year-old daughter Lena got a hold of my review copy of Elena Ferrante’s new novel The Story of a New Name and the pencil stuck inside it for jotting notes in the margins. “Your journey starts now! Ready….go!” she wrote at the beginning of chapter 59 (of 125). On page 251, and then every so often to the end of the book, she wrote, “Pit Stop,” and drew icons for a bed, a cup of coffee, and the bathroom. At the start of chapter 75, she sketched stick figures of people lined up, as if along the edge of a marathon route. “Yay! You can do it! Come on!” she wrote, in a speech balloon … chop! chop! read more!
ON GHOSTS by Elizabeth Robinson Solid Objects, 64 pages reviewed by Vanessa Martini Elizabeth Robinson’s On Ghosts is, in her own words, “an essay” that seeks to understand the idea of haunting. As many teachers—perhaps just many of my teachers—like to say, to “essay” means to try, and what Robinson tries to do is to create a haunting so slowly and carefully that at first a reader does not notice. The structure of the text is simple: many small sections compound upon one another in an attempt to understand “the phenomenon of ghosts and haunting.” What seems at first to be an Explanatory Note quickly proves itself rather similar to many sections that follow; we readers are suddenly sucked in, like hikers who swear the day was clear until fog rose all around. Though it’s hard to say whether this is Robinson’s fault or my own, the first few sections seem … chop! chop! read more!
IN THE COURTYARD OF THE KABBALIST by Ruchama King Feuerman NYRBLit (e-book only), 203 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin As I was crossing the street just outside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem one evening this summer, I noticed a Palestinian boy, about 15 years old, flying a kite on the corner. It was about seven and the sun had disappeared already. The light was pink. The sky in the distance was a cloudless blue, but it seemed, at dusk, to have the texture of felt. An orthodox Jewish mother, wearing a headscarf and long skirt, came across to the traffic island, where the boy in capris and a t-shirt stood watching his kite fly over the honeycomb colored wall of the old city. The woman pushed a stroller, inside of which sat a nicely dressed boy of two. He was interested in the kite. The older … chop! chop! read more!
THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE POEMS by Dave Newman White Gorilla Press, 166 pages Reviewed by William Boyle Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems is a book about work and failure and desperation, about the ways we escape and survive and the things we do when we’re lost in the vastness of youth and sore afraid of the vastness of age. The speaker of these poems—which are all set in Western Pennsylvania between 1986 and 1989—is looking back on his days as a high school fuck-up who has just taken a part-time job at a slaughterhouse. A wide cast of characters surrounds him: slaughterhouse employees (one who is famous for juggling cow balls and ultimately gets fired for fucking a three hundred pound pig), buddies, girls he’s after, dive bar regulars, a 91-year-old bowling alley owner, too-young strippers, old men who sit on their porches with cans of Schaefer beer, and drug dealers. The book has … chop! chop! read more!
THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer Riverhead Hardcover, 480 pages Reviewed by Chris Ludovici Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is a beast of a book. At four hundred eighty pages, and covering forty years of half a dozen lives, its ambition is both broad and admirable. It is compelling when it offers a sustained, ground-level view through one of her character’s eyes, which comprises the bulk of the book. But its ambitions also exceed Wolitzer’s strengths; the book suffers from odd pacing, random shifts in perspective, and haphazard leaps in time. When considered as a whole, the pieces don’t fit together in an organic, satisfying way. The Interestings has an ensemble cast, but its lead is Jules Jacobson, who in the summer of 1974 finds herself inducted into the cool kid inner circle at Spirit in the Woods, a New England summer camp for privileged children. Jules, a plain middle class girl … chop! chop! read more!
INDIVIDUATION, IDENTITY, AND THE PARENTHETICAL by Toisha Tucker My conceptual works provide a foundation for introspection of the self and the other. They are distillations of ideas transformed into controlled environments or objects. Through text, sound, photographs, paintings, and immersive installation, I ruminate on literary modernism, magical realism, and the notion of benign indifference. Or I offer thought propositions to the viewer—some declarative, some open-ended—that are platforms for questioning or thinking more broadly about the social constructions we have come to accept as truths. Ultimately, my works are traces of thoughts and the interplay between the accepted realities and constructions of the spaces we inhabit and my own abstracted perceptions of them. Each work manifests my exploration of memory, time, and place while seeking to universalize the personal. Through my conceptual work, I continue to explore the landscape of my memory and my preoccupations with the malleability of language, history, literature, … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Jerrold Yam Picasso in 10 Lines Tell them the orange ocean. Make fear a nude woman. Two characters are more likely competitors than companions. Or the cautionary tale with shadows? Nothing is uglier than an angle struggling under the weight of mismatched colours. Lanterns are exaggerated faces. Be quick to judge but slow in remonstrance. See the fruit bowl stepping into a trompe l’oeil? Follow its lead. Stub your pencil out. Snow Leave us. There is no generosity in unwelcome surprise. Already the neighbour’s yard clenches its earthen jaw in anticipation; kids sprint to windows upon waking. If you have to cheat in the middle of the night, vanish by morning. Tell me how kindness works in taming an undependable being. Born in 1991, Jerrold Yam is a law undergraduate at University College London and the author of two poetry collections, Scattered Vertebrae (Math Papre Press, 2013) and Chasing … chop! chop! read more!
NEW WORLDS ARE OLD NEWS by Matthew Harrison The pilgrim in Stop & Shop: broad hat, cloak. In the cantaloupes, the pilgrim. No fruit coaxes. Nothing ripe on sale looks new. When I shout “extra safe!” my wife cries for Saint Benedict, learner confirmer. Who will not lie nude? The sunburn in Stop & Shop: flip-flops, bikini. Seagulls flock each unsunburned spot. Cabinets of milk. The crotch is an animal knot. I bitch out the loud window AC unit while asleep, sleep-bitching evil dream starfish with teeth. They bite. Who knows the oceans of our blood? In Stop & Shop the kid calls a split kiwi a cooter. White Keds, Atlanta Braves cap backwards. The man-kid. But fruit is edible sex. Parked in the Stop & Shop lot post gym, I’m sopping sweat, I’m hard up, craving chicken. In a bind: a coop. Any cooked muscle is chicken. The pilgrim … chop! chop! read more!
STRING THEORIES by Jason Gordon 1. It’s still December still July a blue cloud walks a dog across the lake my hands fall off I glue them back on my head falls off I warm it in the oven I no longer exist I will exist again tomorrow I can’t remember my name can you remember my name? it’s cold in the microwave 2. Even dogs have feelings even fleas but fleas are not important the Stanley Cup is important energy drinks are important lighter fluid is important it makes fire for smoking pot and pot is important God is important he has feeling he has blue fleas in his beard this isn’t the 60s or it is he can’t tell time his bones dance on the sea 3. You steal my hubcaps I buy them back you eat a peach with a fork made of blood it’s an old … chop! chop! read more!
MY BITTER LOVE by John Oliver Hodges Miko seduced our mom with a gruesome story about Jews. When he was a boy, he told her, he followed the American soldiers into Bergen-Belsen. He saw the dead bodies and the bodies that were not yet dead. This he shared with her during singles night at the Unitarian Church three years after the divorce. Miko said his purpose there was to profit off the rich Nazis who’d come to bad ends. Thing is, the bodies moved him to compassion. He just helped the Red Cross workers, that’s all he could do. Miko told our mom this after she told him her granddad was liquidated by Hitler. I got two brothers. We love our mom. We boys have turned out well, so it was good to see her happy. Miko was of high intellect, a sensitive man of the world. Name a country … chop! chop! read more!
NAVIGATION BY SPOONLIGHT by David Poplar Six hundred thousand children in the Horn of Africa are dying from ribcages bloated with hunger. They wait for helicopters filled with peanut butter. –from “To the father at the restaurant” by Julie Krystyna Cheng Helicopters of peanut butter stick To the marshmallow clouds. Like raisins In pristine white dough—the type of bone-ground Dough that will someday become fine china. No, you see, the sky is not the limit; The sky is just a small round bowl. We bounce around the edges, Never finding the corners. But in the serrated light of the spoon, I hear a voice. It sounds like someone old And very, very tall. I’m not sure If he is the one with the spoon, or if I am. He tells me I have high cholesterol. I don’t eat enough fiber, almost no fruit. David Poplar is a graduate student at … chop! chop! read more!
CATHEDRAL by Kieran Duddy Ling turns up for class every other week and falls asleep halfway through the lesson. I watch her from the other side of the room as her head drops. Her round cheeks redden and her hair falls over her face. At the start of term I talked to her just before class. She told me that she once saw Saint Patrick march down O’Connell Street in Dublin. She says she likes the Irish and enjoys a good Guinness. I don’t take offence when she mimics my accent. I find her hilarious. Today she has arrived late again. She sits at the end of the row of tables with a brown notebook and a pen. At first she seems attentive, nodding her head while the teacher talks about Notre Dame Cathedral. Ten minutes later I watch her droop. She fights to keep her eyes open. Eventually her … chop! chop! read more!
THE WASPS AND THE QUEEN by Sarah Van Name In the back of the house Sherry and Miranda were playing in the plastic swimming pool. It was blue on the inside. The plastic made the water seem blue. Sherry stepped out of the pool, shards of grass and flecks of black dirt clinging to her feet. Her knees were brown and red with unhealed scrapes, and her hair hung wet from her head. Over the course of the summer, it had faded from white-blonde to green, a color like the sky when a tornado is approaching. The heat of the sun had warmed her shoulders to fever pitch and now set about drying the damp parts of her body: a hip here, a hand there, the bread dough curves of her calves. It was a warm August day and the third straight month of mornings spent playing with her sister. … chop! chop! read more!
ADVENTURES IN GYM CLASS by Hannah White Put your feet in my old sneakers for a minute. They’re nine years old and smell like a pubescent locker room, so hold your nose and just do it. Now, let me take you back to my middle-school gym class. Every day in “physical education,” as the euphemism goes, you are allotted five minutes to do the following: change into your uniform, lock up your stuff, tie up your hair, and sit down criss-cross applesauce in your assigned seat on the gym floor. This is all easier said than done. First, see, you have to remember to shove your gym uniform and your Asics into the bottom of your backpack that morning. (Your backpack is purple, and monogrammed, and you’ve had it since the fourth grade. It’s embarrassing.) Then you have to remember your combination lock and—crucially—your combination. Then you have to navigate … chop! chop! read more!
HONEY by Carlo Matos You could tell they weren’t from around here by the way they spread their honey, with a finger instead of a spoon—all thin, pilling at the rug of bread. It was like the day she finally admitted she had Hitler mannerisms: those arms, the contortions, the albedo—even the way the sweat flew off her cheeks—the fact that she always seemed to be yelling: her spit, an electron planning its next escape. Already there were so many things she couldn’t do—just to be on the safe side. She would never grow a mustache, for example, but, of course, now she really wanted one. She would never ride bikes under a blood sun elbowing down the horizon: a siphonophore with its chain of red bellies trawling the deepest sea. Luckily, although she had not always felt this way, adventure was no longer something you had to go out … chop! chop! read more!
CANDYLAND by DC Lambert Every day, as I drive down Main Street and then turn in to the high school where I’m a long-term substitute teacher ($65/day), I pass rows and rows of $2 million houses. It’s a fairy tale I can see but can’t join. The houses are sort of like Candy Mountain and Gumdrop Hill. A few years ago, in fact, Money Magazine voted the town a Best Town To Live In, a watershed achievement that was trumpeted in a banner across its Main Street and plastered on its idyllic, quaint storefront windows: the Starbucks (needless to say), the adorable toy store, The Happy Hippo, the obligatory “Oriental rug” shop with $10,000 area rugs “on sale” in the front display, the upscale consignment shop, Jamaican Me Crazy, where a used shirt costs more than three brand new outfits at Target. Did you know the town’s schools are “top … chop! chop! read more!
A NICE PLACE TO VISIT by Lindsay Miller My sister told me she was so hungry the night before that she had licked the inside of an empty sugar packet. “I found it in the couch cushion and tore it open and ran my tongue along the inside of it,” she said. “Pathetic.” She said this over the phone from Los Angeles, or from a place close enough to Los Angeles that she could get away with calling it Los Angeles. She had arrived two months before with the intention of getting a job in a tanning salon or coffee shop for a while before catapulting to international superstardom. I told her I was sorry but I did not tell her I felt a little responsible, which is what she wanted me to say, I think. When we went to LA together on spring break my sophomore year in college, … chop! chop! read more!
WHAT THE STARS ARE SAYING by Olivia 子琁 Tun When I hear about the death of a friend’s baby, it usually takes my heart two or three days to catch up to the news, to feel what a heart ought to feel, something like sorrow, or anger, or befuddlement, not necessarily in that order, and generally all at once. When Daniel’s baby girl died at just eleven months old, I downloaded all of her pictures on facebook, stared at them for hours, days, until I resembled less of a mourner and more of an addict, having no intention of giving up her addiction. “Emma will be forever missed,” someone posted on Daniel’s wall. Emma is (was?) short for Emmanuel: God with us. When Corey’s baby boy died yesterday, at nine months old, I went to the coffee shop two blocks from my apartment in Long Island City, found my usual spot by … chop! chop! read more!
DO NOT USE QUOTATION MARKS TO INDICATE IRONY by Anthony Wallace David Sarnovski taught only one creative writing course at Boston University, so he didn’t have an office. Sometimes he conferenced students in the Espresso Royale at BU Central, sometimes in a filthy Chinese restaurant at Kenmore called the Jade Inn. Sometimes he would just pull into an empty classroom, have a seat at one of the desks, and start talking about whatever he thought the issue was. Madison had met with him twice before and had tried to follow through on at least some of his suggestions, but the grades only seemed to be getting worse. He’d given her a B on the video store story, then a B minus on the Dog Chapel story. One of his comments was “do not use quotation marks to indicate irony.” Sure, she’d done that a few times, but it was hard … chop! chop! read more!
Click to view the update in higher resolution. Jim O’Loughlin teaches in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the coordinator of the Final Thursday Reading Series and publisher of Final Thursday Press. Read more here.chop! chop! read more!
IT’S NOT A CONTEST by William Winfield Wright But if we wanted to, we could paint speeding cars, sneak into business class, eat oysters in months with a W, turn back clocks with just our fingers, and mend the wind-up toy versions of both our broken hearts. “How,” says the movie Indian inside your tired and frantic brain. “Weight,” says the bathroom scale we both got on together. “Clear,” says the busy maitre d. “Stile,” says your backyard fence full of flowers. The noisy kitchen’s full of “bathe, warm, coddle, grate, zest.” “Here, here,” says the old British guy on TV. “Join,” say the corners of all your sturdy furniture. “Wing,” say the birds in your small tree. William Winfield Wright is a Fulbright Scholar and a Fishtrap Fellow. He was born in California and lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he teaches at Colorado Mesa University. He has … chop! chop! read more!
CONVERSATIONS OVERHEARD IN A BOWLING ALLEY WHEN THERE IS A CITY WIDE POWER OUTAGE by Jennifer Faylor My childhood sweetheart left me because I am an ancient jar of honey, forgotten about but still sweetening in a cool dark place, a thousand furious bees having loved me into existence. My mama let strangers hide under my bed, then fed them in the morning; cold coconut soup, her specialty. Well, the day of my birth my pop was no where to be found, and legend has it he was hunting down a local villain, it’s that or he was on a park bench with a handful of breadcrumbs, conducting interviews with a sampling of the pigeon population. I’d like to learn the language of god, so I can chat at night when everyone else has gone to sleep. The hardest part is that I don’t think god uses an alphabet. I … chop! chop! read more!
ON THE MIRACLE MILE by Andrea Jarrell It was lunchtime on the Miracle Mile—a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles that’s not quite downtown and not quite the West Side. My mother, who always hated the hot, walked beside me in her crisp linen dress. Beneath the linen, her stockings and slip made a fft fft shifting sound, keeping time to the click of her slingback pumps. Heat waves bent the air. The streets were empty—streets that had civilized what was once ice, then tar pits, then desert. All had made way for the city of angels. Beside my mother, I was office appropriate in a banana yellow cotton skirt and top combo. I was eleven and it was 1973, when all the clothes were Laffy Taffy colors. From elementary school through high school, I spent my summers working with my mother, who was a secretary in a lawyer’s … chop! chop! read more!
THE BIOLOGICAL NEED TO ADAPT by Lily Brent If I miss one thing it’s the butterfly mobile I bought in Mexico, now hanging on a nail and gathering dust. One of the painted cardboard butterflies has already been crushed and smoothed out and you can still see the seams. I don’t remember exactly where I bought it, only that it was at the green side of a gravel road. I want to say it was at the bottom of that pyramid of stairs, but maybe I’m only trying to glorify the place in my mind. If I’ll miss one thing it’s the market. The teenage boys grinning and joking and slapping me on the back. The women calling out my name and touching my arms and pinching my waist to tell me I’ve grown fat or thin, when really it’s neither. Making me feel I belong when we all know … chop! chop! read more!
HIDE-AND-SEEK by Alex Schmidt He hides under hot lamps and sandpaper eyes. Lay your wrist on the sidewalk. I can draw chalk in your veins, father. Whatever we are turns the corner, frozen despite his friction, friction despite my icy eyes thanks to mother. A pressure that’s bonded my mind to hers like the bolts of this bridge but over his void. Father, wait no longer and wander further with me to the felled park. All lands must wait their wait for a green of crops. A mystery exacted only until its black blanket smother of wall a distance between father and son. And now its time one of us admits we’ve already arrived. You burgeon into peony as air unfurls its density, warmth, puff balls. Rather, father, let them around your pedals. Duck back away into the trees, close your eyes, we can hide differently this time. Alex Schmidt holds … chop! chop! read more!
THE RUNNER by Jane Sussman She has begun to go to the gym twice a day, once in the morning, once in the evening. She will run fast, moving up the speed every five minutes, until it is going at nine and she can barely breathe. Roxy’s body has transformed in the last year; no more arm fat or slack ass, she is all sinew. Her shoulders have ridges, indents. The weight room is emptier in the morning and she can stand in front of the mirror watching her triceps, her deltoids. Roxy gets lost on the way to her aunt’s, and by the time she finds the right street she knows she will have to turn around pretty soon. Her father had warned her, so Roxy is not wholly surprised at the mess of the house, the smell. “Lenore,” she hugs her, “You need to get a cleaning service … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Paul Siegell *WE’VE COME FOR YOUR BLOOD TEST RESULTS* On the bridge, the birdgirl waits with a weight in her ribcage. Symbolically, a sailor and his sweetheart. A sparrow pecking at a cigarette. A sparrow pecking at salt for snow. Next to the pizza place, she keys up a door with a horseshoe over it, then goes to sleep with hair clips in—Like the firepower rainwater has on Fort Torch Falls, the level rises in a surge—Exhausted, she whispers into her pillow: “Bring me things with wings.” *WE’VE COME FOR YOUR YUENGLING YAMMERING* Frank O’Hara has a few nosey people coming over: “It’s a party!” he announces, then into the parking garage he disappears like the Boston Bruins blowing a three-games-to-none lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers. To my knowledge, Frank Zappa isn’t being played in any of the elevators in … chop! chop! read more!
THIS by Chavisa Woods Last night you wrote me a letter a smile big as a swollen peach gushing on your face while your mother intently told you everything about the people she hates Last week you phone fucked me on my childhood bed while my Southern Baptists slept resounded in the next room (Everything Southern Baptists do is resounding; not like my pitiful whispering.) In the morning I woke to a crow on a tree the imagination of you shaking in my belly and the news that my mother’s brother had swallowed the entire morphine clinic to the point of absolute death it made me feel like I was being eaten by the mouth of a grey sun, of a sun in an overcast sky but hotter than I’ve ever thought to beg for Later, sitting next to a strummed guitar on a rotting porch watching my brother toss … chop! chop! read more!