THE UNDERSTORY by Pamela Erens Tin House Books 169 pages (originally published by Ironweed Press in 2007) reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner I began Pamela Erens’ The Understory to find the main character, Jack Ronan Gorse, peering inside his coffee cup to reassure himself that he is indeed drinking black coffee. As someone who also only drinks black coffee, I identified with Gorse’s need to ensure the absence of cream and sugar. Of course, Gorse’s habit has an interesting origination; it developed after once finding sour milk in his coffee. This first introduction to Gorse is a telling characterization of him; he is a man in love with his habits and his routines, yet at the same time, restricted by them, using them to repress his desires for love and companionship. Gorse even goes so far as to insist that he cannot tolerate the company of other people, yet he is … chop! chop! read more!
ON LOVING WOMEN by Diane Obomsawin Drawn & Quarterly, 94 pages reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore “On Loving Women”: it sounds like a treatise. But Diane Obomsawin does not deliver the usual tome with this intimately illustrated collection of coming out stories, nor does she intend to. In contrast to similarly named philosophical texts such as Aristotle’s On the Soul or Arthur Schopenhaur’s infamous On Women, On Loving Women presents ten vignettes of first love without explanation or elaboration: they are whole ideas, answers unto themselves. And they are utterly delightful to read. Obomsawin begins each short narrative in On Loving Women with the speaker’s name and a single- or double-panel snapshot of her in her natural habitat: in a chair with a drink or dressed as Zorro, sword and all. For one speaker, Catherine, Obomsawin forgoes props to highlight her big, awkward eyes. These introductions could have easily verged … chop! chop! read more!
THE WORLD’S SMALLEST BIBLE by Dennis Must Red Hen Press, 232 pages DURING THE REIGN OF THE QUEEN OF PERSIA by Joan Chase NYRB Classics (new edition), 215 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin GROWING UP, MID-CENTURY Childhood is a kind of endlessly swelling pregnancy; the womb stretches and through the amniotic fluid of rooms and voices, odors and faces, the adult world becomes slowly traceable yet still distant, incomprehensible. Once in a while it ruptures and the child is forced to “grow up fast.” Otherwise, it’s the child who must give birth to her adult self. But perhaps I’m oversimplifying: for every child, eventually, will have to negotiate the various thresholds to the adult world and will do so not in a linear progression, but rather in some sort of prolonged iterative process of seeking and receiving, receiving and seeking, a rain shower that comes and goes, once in … chop! chop! read more!
DEAR GRAVITY by Gregory Djanikian Carnegie Mellon University Press, 104 pages reviewed by Anna Strong At the beginning of the fourth section of Gregory Djanikian’s Dear Gravity, in a poem titled “Beginnings,” the speaker, one of two “giddy / amnesiacs of the present” under the ‘disapproving glance of history’ gestures outwards: Here’s a new window to turn to, here’s a cloth to clean the mists (“Beginnings”) Though the poem comes at the beginning of the penultimate section, it is in many ways a suggestion for how to read the entire collection: as one enormous room of infinite windows to turn to, an insistence on presence in each individual poem, and an acknowledgement that history, however disapproving, is unavoidable, in both poetry and in memory. So many of those windows look out on landscapes and cityscapes, from Alexandria to Arizona to Philadelphia. Language preserves the memory and the feeling of those … chop! chop! read more!
MORE THAN YOU KNOW by Melissa Malouf Dalkey Archive Press, 240 pages Reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier Melissa Malouf’s More Than You Know intrigued and perplexed me right from its disorienting start. I’d barely landed on the first page when I fell down a rabbit role with narrator Alice Clark, chasing characters I hadn’t yet met: Hannah Jensen and her husband Bradley, always called Mr. Jensen; Barbara Delaney from Las Vegas; the “three dead young men,” Eric Langland, Richard Stone and Darrell Farnsworth, grad students in English and American Literature at UC Riverside. Unmoored (by early retirement) from teaching at a California community college, Alice doesn’t decide so much as she is compelled to travel cross country to Vermont to confront the Jensens and her role in her friends’ deaths. Through Las Vegas, Cheyenne, Omaha, and Peoria to the Jensens’ home in Chittenden, Vermont, Alice pursues a psychological mystery for which … chop! chop! read more!
THE OLD MAN AND THE POOL by Anastasiya Shekhtman Regardless of which creative field you look at, there is always talk about process. This postmodern world has rendered form and content inextricable in many ways, so when I look at work, it is always the same question that comes to mind: how does the form inform the content? Are there traces of the process in the work the artist presents? Much of the writing that I love does not humor such inquisition. Even lines related through a colloquial voice are likely to have been subjected to meticulous editing, were crafted in the grand scheme of the piece. Without access to the revision process of admired work, I often find my own attempts to write plagued—paralyzed, even—by self doubt. This project began very much like every other attempt, which is to say, by an overwhelming of imagery and inspiration from the … chop! chop! read more!
THE BIRTH OF NO by Patricia Colleen Murphy I remember everything but in an order I cannot control. It was suicide season. I was 14 and I couldn’t believe my mother’s thrift, like she had missed a few zeros. It was in a room where everyone was known for something. The doctor was wearing a goddamn double-breasted suit. Later, I walked far away while pondering What do I have to do to live to 15? I passed that neighbor who was always doing something ugly with his land. He asked me a question and when I quoted Proust he asked, Who is that? A family friend? Now the neighbor’s fighting the hose. I keep counting his trucks, thinking I am missing one. What if, for today, I touch everyone I see? I’m not afraid to hit someone if they need it. Patricia Colleen Murphy teaches at Arizona State … chop! chop! read more!
THE LAST ONE IN by Mary van Ogtrop A bridge cuts a straight line across the sky, connecting one wooded area of Richmond, Virginia, to another. Imagine a bridge and you’ll see a parabola, the structure’s midsection arching high in the air as though the water below were molten lava. The imaginary people traveling from one side to another are lofted as high as possible, lest they be burned alive or, more realistically, drowned dead. The bridge in Richmond isn’t like that. It has the distinct and exclusive purpose of transporting trains, whose multiple cars and shifting cargo call for complete flatness, a slope of zero. The Richmond bridge, classified as a railway bridge, has no rise in the spot equidistant from the shores of the James River below, as the six kids currently huddled at its center could tell you. There are exactly three reasons for someone to walk … chop! chop! read more!
by Rachel Estrada Ryan
It has been seven days since we’ve run out of meat and vegetables in the freezer and most of the cans and boxes and jars in the pantry. My husband reminds me that we have not run out of money. He says this as he leans against our stainless steel refrigerator that matches the stainless steel stove and the stainless steel dishwasher and the stainless steel built-in microwave. Of course I know he’s right; I also know we probably never will. No, we will always have too much, and the people on the charity websites will never have enough, and frankly if I have to spend another afternoon hauling reluctant children and unforgiving paper-or-plastic bags I might just lose it once and for all. I’m not sure I can ever go to the supermarket again.chop! chop! read more!
“VULNERARY” AND AN ART WITCH by Laura Mecklenburger When I try to describe my artwork to others, I often say that I make ritual objects and installation art. But I didn’t set out to make installation art from the beginning, and I certainly didn’t expect, when I decided to make art my career, that it was going to explicitly include magic and ritual. I still blush when I tell people I am an initiated witch. I am faintly surprised at myself that I have made such an intimate part of my life so public. But the path I took to reach this work has felt inevitable and rewarding. As my favorite author, Neil Gaiman, told the graduating class at the University of the Arts here in Philadelphia, “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and … chop! chop! read more!
THE GREAT WAVE CARRIES YOU FORWARD by Nick Kolakowski Marie’s husband Zachary passed away in early March, followed two weeks later by the dog. Marie would never confess this to anyone, but she missed the dog a little more than Zack. At least the mutt could stick to one bed. Marie would never confess this, either, but a deserted house can be pretty enjoyable. She took down Zack’s framed Bullitt poster from its prime spot in the living room and, with the help of an online art class, painted a giant wave crashing onto a skiff of Japanese fishermen. None of her friends knew it was a copy of “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa,” the famous Hokusai woodcut from the Edo era—they just assumed the pummeling whitewater was a metaphor for depression, a cry for help, and reacted accordingly. Her life filled with dinner parties; bone-crushing hugs arrived at random … chop! chop! read more!
BRANDED by Zachary Lundgren He was drunk and I’m sure it helped when I took the iron from the stove: a loud red, a cruel star. I held the iron like a relic of some religion we’ve all long forgot but is still always burning always holy, always the shackle and the wrist. I didn’t ask if he was ready because that’s how it goes. The iron bit into his calf, greedy to share. After, he laughed he displayed his leg like a king, like a city limit sign. Not like the night, last of last summer, when I collected photographs, old shirts and notebook paper into a bantam fire and made goodbye Zachary Lundgren received his MFA in poetry from the University of South Florida and his BA in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder and grew up in northern Virginia. He has had poetry … chop! chop! read more!
AN EVEN, PERFECT BURN by Royee Zvi Atadgy Come here, he said. No, you can just watch me and then afterwards we’ll go to sleep and that’ll be the end of it, she said. You mean that we’ll go to sleep like it never happened. It never did, she said. In the glow of the single desklamp, yellow glow, onionskin, he watched her shed her black cardigan like a snake in the darkness, revealing first the shadowy bones of her shoulder blades—very thin and on the verge of falling out of her back like two ice shelves. Then it was the middle of the back, almost all spine and the shadows played on her disks as if they were small mountain ridges in a diorama. There were two moles he had never seen before and a scar, pink-shaded, about three inches long that lay diagonally across the bottom of her left … chop! chop! read more!
BUNGALESE CONSTRICTOR by Jason Kapcala No one told me that Carlos’s gallery exhibition was that night until after I’d wrangled the Burmese python from under the porch and I was drenched through with rain and covered with dead leaves and muck. Storm clouds hung low in the sky as I slammed shut the sliding door on the back of my truck and nodded to the woman on the porch. Her husband had been the proud owner of the exotic snake and a ten-month-old Pit Bull; now he was just the proud owner of an exotic snake. Former owner, at least. The snake was tan with brown hexagons—its body thick like one long muscle, the head a small diamond with tiny black eyes. It had taken me forty-five minutes to drag and tug and wrestle it from the hole in the latticework where it had crawled with a full belly to … chop! chop! read more!
IN SEARCH OF DEATH by Olive Mullet Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me. —Emily Dickinson —So why are you working at Hospice? Death is my thing. I’ve read all the books on it, most of them disappointing. Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened Of, for example. All he talks about is his fear of death, and he quotes philosophers on death. —You are not here just to give massages. No. I want to find out what it’s like to die. —So you ask the dying what they are feeling? Yep. (long pause) —And—what have you discovered? If the person was nervous in life, he’s nervous about death. If he was calm and accepting, he goes “gentle into that good night.” The fighters for life were fighters in life. Of course, they eventually lose. And maybe they did in life too. —And some may just … chop! chop! read more!
ALL EARS by Rick Bailey A few weeks ago my father woke up almost totally deaf. He already had a significant deficit. For years he has worn hearing aids. One for each ear, they are a microphone, amplifier, and loudspeaker all in one small plastic device the color of ear wax. He pokes at them with his index finger to dial the volume up and down. He changes their batteries with the same ethic of care that he rotates the tires on his car. More often than not, through most of a conversation, they feedback and squeal like a miniature PA system. A sound anyone in the room can hear. He does not. This deafness, I suspect, is in his genes. His mother was similarly deaf. But while my father has always been open about hearing loss, my grandmother was more of a covert deaf person. When you spoke to … chop! chop! read more!
BLACK RAINCOAT, BLUE STOCKINGS by Anthony Wallace Nobody took Rhiannon there, and nobody took her home. She managed the whole thing by herself. When she woke up, it was dark outside. A light was on in the living room, and she could see it through the open doorway. She lay in bed with her eyes closed, trying to decide if it had really happened or if she had dreamed some version of it and it hadn’t happened yet. She hoped it had happened and that it was finally over, and at the same time she hoped it hadn’t yet happened, something that was still out there, a possibility among other possibilities. She lay quietly in the place between happening and not happening, between what had been and what might yet be. In the doctor’s office she’d waited longer than she’d expected to. She read a couple of magazine articles. One … chop! chop! read more!
IN MY TIME by Shannon Viola I have a love-hate relationship with Hemingway. Sometimes when I’m writing, he’s over my shoulder. He seizes my hand and slashes the Latinate adjectives on my page while I wince and moan. He tugs at one of my curls every time I craft optimistic characters. When I really anger him, his hot fist squeezes my shoulder. Then he prods my side. “What are you doing? Get at this.” All I have to do is flutter my eyelashes at him, and he releases his grip. He always did have an Achilles heel for women. My youthful face, however, is useless when he sees that I have concocted an eighteen-word sentence. He grabs the entire mass of my hair so hard that my neck bends at an unholy angle. He holds my head below his. “Would you like to omit some words there?” Hating, hating, hating … chop! chop! read more!
WINGS TO GO by Jane Carroll There’s a chicken place on Ridge Avenue called “Wings to Go.” I occasionally wait for a bus across the street, and that sign always seemed to me a little too poetic for a wing place. It makes me think of my mother. Not because of anything having to do with chicken or food, but because I often wished I could give her wings. I wanted to see her fly away from the stuffy room in the nursing home where she lived for seven years until her death at 92—fly through the plastic window blinds and away from the hospital bed and the carpeted hallway that inexorably became her whole world. She needed to take flight, but her heart was like a tap root—long and strong, growing straight down into the earth. Her body hung on to be fed and bathed and laid down again, … chop! chop! read more!
IN THE MEWS by Nicole Callihan Two feuding gardens are thought to be responsible for the most recent blooming. According to the rain, in late summer, a band of tiger lilies recruited a pack of peonies, and those peonies, comely as they seem, have been holding stamens against the backs of wandering clouds. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t really notice when things blossom on the other side of town. In my tidy neighborhood, I tend to my little potted plants and sing them well, hardly ever forgetting to water them. Nights, I wipe their leaves with a soft, clean towel. It’s true what they say about talking to them: my baby gets bigger and bigger, flush and blush; the window crowds with her brush. I had thought my street so safe, my safe street, I might have called it, even though it is a city street and … chop! chop! read more!
PLACES TO WALK OUT TO by Gabriel Ojeda Sague I read the note scribbled wildly on torn paper: “Language is not the signifier nor the signified. It is the significance.” The only constant is the height of buildings. I hate the way you find things like that and I’ve just now realized it’s the smoke that’s making that taste of oranges in my mouth. A yellow cat bolts through a black street. I am drunk and swinging through concrete paths, my legs twisting and stumbling, pivoting and sliding. Billboards sneak into my field of vision. “For tough cleaning, toughen up with Husky brand paper towels.” “No more pests with Nomopest bug spray.” “Feel the fragrance. Be the woman. Rise. Rise, by Vaudlin.” The night is long and I hate the names of streets. “Washington St. Mulligan St. Perricone St. Franklin St. Jefferson St. East St. Hawke St. Levi St. 15019 … chop! chop! read more!
MARCH 5, 1953 by Robert Wexelblatt The funeral was flowerless. Every early spring bloom had been expropriated by the KGB for their boss. Scarcely forty people dared show up. Charged with counter-revolutionary bourgeois tendencies, tormented and shunned by the Composers Union, his wife and sons held hostage in Siberia, he composed wretched anthems to power plants and worse, Zdravitsa. It was a case of write our der’mo or die. Nevertheless, masterworks of “anti-democratic formalism” continued to pour forth. His meager stipend was cut; he very nearly starved. Given another decade and he might have sluiced out all that filth with a flood of new symphonies, freshets of ballets; but the tyrant outlived him. A stroke felled him and then, only fifty minutes later, with surpassing irony, the other. I like to imagine all those grief-stricken Muscovites in the grainy newsreels, ten deep on the ugly sidewalks, shedding their Russian tears … chop! chop! read more!
CONFESSIONS OF A FACEBOOK MOM by Melissa Duclos I’m with Teddy and Elliot, sitting on the floor amidst a pile of Legos and a stack of books, and I find my eyes wandering up to the shelf. My fingers get a little twitchy. I find a reason to stand up. “Hold on, honey. Mommy just needs to check something.” I slide my finger across my touchscreen, unlocking the phone. The familiar blue banner appears, and I swipe my finger upward, my eyes scanning the Newsfeed. Pictures of other people’s kids, other people’s dinners, other people’s yards covered with snow. Justin Bieber got arrested; Derek Jeter is retiring; there’s an interesting article on parenting in The Atlantic; a good op-ed on writing in the Times. The kids play happily together—they’ve just entered this magic phase of chasing each other giggling in circles with rarely any fighting—while I stand leaning against the … chop! chop! read more!
HOW TO MASTER SOCIAL MEDIA by Brennan Cusack Take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror because it’s got a frame like a photograph and you need the practice. Move around and play with angles until you find the most flattering position. Now practice snapping into picture position. Repeat until it’s automatic. Practice makes perfect. Smile perfectly. The next day you sign up for a photo class with Abby. Pick up your rented cameras and practice your photo smile as Abby points the lens towards you. Click. You look pretty, she says. Make it your profile picture. You’re on the right track. As the professor drones on about camera settings, begin laying groundwork for network popularity by scrolling through your newsfeed and liking pictures and statuses accordingly. Watch as your name appears across the newsfeed as you click, think of footsteps in the sand, think of I came, … chop! chop! read more!
Philadelphia from Belmont, hand-tinted engraving, 1873 ON THE ROMANCE OF PARKLAND by J.C. Todd for Erica Upstream, a shadow crosses the oxbow of a river whose flood plains are silted by paternal names of grant-holders. Their slaves tilled the alluvial bottom land, turning up flints and the bones of Lenape. So much loss in the torrents of plunder and order thought to be gain. No wonder the broad plateau that sweeps in folds to the river has gone fallow— such sorrow breaks plow shaft and blade. Better to carpet over the turmoils that clear cut one people’s woodlands to plant another’s prison farm, another’s estate. Better to leave it a meadow of clovers and broadleaves obscuring the blood-rusted soil. To proclaim it parkland, to name it Fairmount as if the elevation were destined to display your picnic aspic, as if the rhizome undernet were meant to cushion your lavender cakes. … chop! chop! read more!
JACKSON LISTENS TO THE BIRDS for Jackson born 2/5/07 by Kathy Lou Schultz Memphis is a huff of spring grandiose pink blossoms about to pop a rainstorm lurking in the palpable air It’s you and me rounding the corners of Midtown lush and nowhere to go, a soliloquy of hands It’s the season of no conclusions of orioles, blue jays, and doves fighting sleep his eyelids close and open close and open, sheltered in the trilling air Jackson listens to the birds Kathy Lou Schultz is the author of four collections of poems, most recently Biting Midge: Works in Prose (Belladona) and Some Vague Wife (Atelos). Her monograph, The Afro-Modernist Epic and Literary History: Tolson, Hughes, Baraka, is part of the Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Series from Palgrave. Schultz’s articles have appeared in a wide variety of scholarly journals including Contemporary Literature, Journal of Modern Literature, … chop! chop! read more!
A SAD, LOGICAL CAPITULATION (after D. H. Lawrence) by Justin Nicholes The day a welding rod shimmied down Zou’s collar and combusted his shirt into singed tendrils, the same day my stomach caught traction in the scoop of his lower back and I knew I was in love, also the same day the building gave way, all of us died. It’s how these things happen, I guess. During our lives our bodies ricochet along until all we stumble into, all that’s rolled our ways, amasses into these blurred mirrors (I’m getting at corporeality here; I’m getting at ghosts). The building’s integrity flagged, and we all lurched ground-ward in common cataclysm. It sure did surprise us. I mean, we built this place. Just that morning we’d been gawking at Zou’s computer at an image he’d found. It was what the building would finally look like. Twilight purpled on the Dell’s loose-hinged … chop! chop! read more!
ALL GOOD THINGS by B.A. Varghese The milk was white and it squirted out from under his hands. He pulled and pulled the cow’s udders one at a time to a rhythmic beat and I watched it fall down in spurts after each pull. I didn’t know that. I just didn’t know that. I was mesmerized by Appachan’s hands as he pulled and pulled and out it dropped and when it hit it made a metallic clink until the bottom started filling then it sounded like liquid hitting liquid. I didn’t want to come here. I didn’t want to leave home without my father. I told him I didn’t want to go but he told me I had to. He told me we didn’t have family here and that we had no one to help my mother once the baby came so we had to go. He told me I’d get … chop! chop! read more!
DEGENERATIVE DISEASES OF THE BRAIN by Juniper Green When I walk into her room Mrs. Goldberg does not recognize me. Every morning I help her out of bed, clean her up, and dress her. Every morning we meet for the first time. Some days she is thankful for my help. She calls me love, sweetheart, darling. Some days she curses me under her breath, scratches my arm when I try to steady her and cries out for a husband long deceased to come and chase the stranger out of their house. “Did she give you any grief today,” Sam says as we meet by the bin in the hall. “Nope,” I throw away a dirty nappy. “Sweet as a kitten.” “That kitten has claws,” he lifts his forearm. Three thin scars protrude from the skin. They’re smooth and translucent, catching the light as Sam flexes his arm. I want to … chop! chop! read more!
SHACKLED by Kim Suttell If it’s a fever you want, then I’m frenzied. What are you but an ice ax ear ache, an ice cleat hike down my throat, the churned Weddell Sea in my paunch. Hell, you’re the whole Antarctic. I ahoy you through blown globs of molten glass pincered and pounded with thin sparks bounced off withered in the cold before they can blink. I want you with the knife violent drive of having to piss and the diffuse warm pleasure after. I need you beyond aspirin, beyond rashness. Before I pass out, before I disappear like krill in baleen, before I feed this fever to you, examine me. Tell me it’s hopeless, say hmmm like you mean it and look away. Kim Suttell lives in New York City where she doesn’t make a living writing poems, but who does? She has had work published in Right … chop! chop! read more!
DAFFODILS by Daniel W. Thompson The main reason I drove four hours to be here was to sign a document giving me access to mom and dad’s security deposit box. Mom called it personal housekeeping. She said, you never know, Miles. What if something happens to your father and me? Somebody’s got to care for our affairs, and we all know your sister—. Well, you know what I’m saying, she said. When we got to the bank, they couldn’t find the form we needed. The person who prepared it was on her way, but it would be thirty minutes. Mom suggested we go pick daffodils behind the old elementary school while we waited. I said we should forget the bank and flowers and go home and eat lunch. I told her I wanted to get an early start back to Richmond. But Mom said it was too important I sign … chop! chop! read more!
FLESH AND BLOOD by Jamie Lin He’d done it again. Little puddles of sticky green glop all over the floor, specked with shards from the small glass bottle that’d held the apple purée. His fist clutched the plastic spoon as more pale green glop dribbled off his chin and onto the high chair. Ying had left him for less than a minute to attend to her dinner, which had been threatening to boil over onto the stove. When the bottle shattered on the tiled floor she moved quickly, striding across the small expanse from kitchenette to living room and lifting him clean off the chair and into his cradle, away from the glass. Her movements were smooth, instinctive. He gurgled, his expression untroubled, and using the spoon as a catapult he feebly flicked more purée onto the floor. As she looked over the mess a familiar warmth began to collect … chop! chop! read more!
PSYCHOGENIC FUGUE by George Moore Every time I leave home I begin a new life. I am a boy again, sometimes a girl. My memories are so discrete that they talk to each other, gather in rooms, develop friendships without knowing. My wives and husbands are the victims of love. My children all disappear into the crowded river of years. I like to think I was once an artist, once a musician, a technician, a gambler, a fool. In the end, I can only recover who I am, after the sun warms my many faces, there is nothing left but the moist earth, the call of exotic birds, and then I rise from a dozen graves. George Moore is the author of two new collections, The Hermits of Dingle (FutureCycle Press, 2013), and Children’s Drawings of the Universe (Salmon Poetry, 2014). He splits his time between Colorado, … chop! chop! read more!
BEYOND RIVER, BEYOND CANYON by Michael G. Smith Once a year I backpack my ischemic-stroked brain and body into the Grand Canyon. To test. Observe. See what lost physical move I can do again. Metamorphosize. Twelfth trip: like the Earth, I have the partial wisdom of ongoing trial and error. Experience. First morning. Booted, poised at the rim’s crumbling edge. Plant hiking poles. Step down forward. Start reverse. Vertical fault line: twelve years ago I twisted my neck, dissected the right vertebral artery running through my brainstem. My neurologist: Another millimeter or two and we would not be having this discussion. The artery clotted. Three days later two clots released. Lodged in my cerebellum: center of balance, muscle control, proprioception. Vision stroked into nystagmus. Movement stroked into stillness. Isostasy. Ahead: layers, conglomerate rubble. Layers. Rubble. Primordial Earth. Mighty Colorado River flowing all away. Re-learn to see. Balance. Walk. My path … chop! chop! read more!
MIRABEL RIVER GIRL, CHAMPION SPELLER by Shannon Sweetnam I was twelve when my Daddy got a long iridescent motorcycle, his first to my unemphatic, unpathwayed, what-I-recall. I wandered the shop façade near the cow-bell laden door, while he strode around back to cast a final gaze at his newly purchased ride. I perused the store in white leather sandals, ambulating back and forth among the sharp smells of steel and sawdust, amongst the stink of after-shave, rubber, and gasoline, under the reverberation of bleak fluorescent lights. I yearned for something to read. When Daddy returned, I laid hands upon his new manual and parked myself outside Jim’s Hardware atop a cooler, foraging for spelling bee clinchers: crankshaft, flywheel, cam chain, hydraulic steering damper. I was to be a world champion speller; I was to win the national spelling bee in the great capital of our country that very spring. Daddy predicted … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Lauren Hall The Miser “He was never a nice man,” she confessed, rolling her stockings slightly below her knees. “Nobody liked him much, not even me.” Through the screen door, I can see my great-grandfather swinging an axe at a scrawny pine, ducking invisible branches as he works. No one can tell him to stand up straight, he’s not tall enough to hit his head. No one call tell him we don’t need any firewood, it’s July. The air up here is heavier than the whole mountain, blackberries on the bush shriveled and abandoned by the birds. He gathers what’s left. “Don’t you eat any,” he warns, teeth stained purple with juice. “There isn’t enough.” When the lake dries up, he makes a list of possible suspects: me in my bathing suit; pipe tobacco sneaking into the well again; the fat water bug squashed beneath his fishing … chop! chop! read more!
PIGEON by Thompson Mayes He was hot, too hot, walking on the sunny side of the hard stone streets through tourist stickiness of dripped gelato. He felt as wilted as the reddish-pink blooms that drooped out of the doorway, and he could smell the roach poison they must use here, wafting up from small dark gaps at the base of the buildings. He avoided the pigeons, suspected they were diseased, though he could hear their burbling as they waddled on the dirty streets. It had been churches today, and each of the dim, frescoed interiors had been a calm relief from the crowds and the heat. But the religious art had oppressed him. In the last church he had stared at an awkward painting of Mary Magdalene, blonde hair covering her entire body, ending with sharp points like the tongues of flame. And there had been another Crucifixion, the blood … chop! chop! read more!
BETTER by Molly McGinnis I am salt and champagne. Salt and dirt and stars. Two-sided story, double-edged knife. Dinosaur bones and tambourines. I have walked into town by myself at dawn and seen my face reflected in the windows. I have danced down the aisles of the grocery store and blown kisses to the pharmacist with the one blue eye. I used to count tiles from the produce section to the checkout line, because I thought that if I didn’t, my sister would die. In school, I learn this is some kind of misfiring, and am warned that it could come back any minute, but for now I breathe carefully and wash the idea down the bathroom sink. I am on the brink of a brilliant war. Each morning, I move in spheres. I contain mirror neurons and sunshine. Porch lights and beer cans. July. Miss Irene lives next door … chop! chop! read more!
SCORCHER by Alina Grabowski June had been eating a creamsicle on the front porch when she saw them. It was the third week of July and the entire house was sweating, drops of condensation sliding down bookshelves and chair legs. Her father was having his annual boys’ weekend with some college buddies, and her mother was at an artist’s retreat in Vermont, working on her new series of collages. June was left to babysit Lily, whose tyrannical seven-year old behavior she’d only expected the heat to magnify. Instead she had become drowsily acquiescent, content to sit in the shade of the porch as long as she had a constant supply of chocolate milk and coloring books. June laid on her belly on the shadowed porch, coloring mermaids and dripping creamsicle syrup onto the page. “No mermaid has brown hair,” Lily said, leaning over with turquoise stub in hand. “It has … chop! chop! read more!
ARACHNICIDE by Ray Scanlon An organ pipe mud dauber is building a nest in the ornamental tin-roofed wren house Cheryl hung by the door. I hear her stridulating at her masonry work, and see her carry a small ball of mud into the bird house, a first for me, even though I’ve casually watched her predecessors for years. Our paths are bound, by simple proximity, to intersect before long. One day she emerges just as I step outside, rockets up, appraises me, hovers motionless at point-blank range. I freeze. She stares me in the eye. I gain a more mature understanding of “in your face.” Iridescent steely blue-black, she—an insect—has goddamn presence. Even though I outweigh her by roughly 343,000 to one, I’m the one who backs down. I inch my hand up to make the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign and will my body to slide backward several … chop! chop! read more!
ASSEMBLING AN ANATOMICAL LIFE by Laurie Blauner To Annie I labeled all the dancers’ body parts and told them how to use them. I prepared resonant music, a prescription for feet that kaleidoscoped from room to room. I described what I wanted, a mouth yanked upward, ankles and hands telling a phantom story, heads grouped into archipelagoes. I was the one going nowhere. I theorized, discussed, directed their bodies, which leaned against one another’s shoulders. “Arm?” one asked. “If you want one.” There was a movement of undressing and tiptoeing toward the unlocked door. They floated and spun, lifting themselves. The floor parked itself beneath them. Air congealed, then became inflamed by their motions. They rightfully absconded with my best advice. I helped strangers, reassembling them. At night boxes sheltered the dancers’ animal parts. Morning light combed their human hair. I knew what to hold and what to let go, correcting … chop! chop! read more!
DEPT. OF SPECULATION by Jenny Offill Alfred A. Knopf, 177 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost Here’s an idea for a book party. Hold it in the Guggenheim. Set up an exhibit of all the pages of the book. Frame each page and display them in sequence, ending at the bottom of the ramp. Enlarge the pages 10X the size of the Borzoi Book edition pages, because the first line of the book is “Antelopes have 10X vision, you said” but also so that it’s possible for many viewers to be reading a single page. Hope for crowds. Leave the walls behind the framed pages white, to call attention to the writer’s use of white space as well as the visual appeal of the blocks of text in this accomplished second novel. See if anyone at the bottom of the ramp wonders if the experience of the novel is like what … chop! chop! read more!
THE HYPOTHETICAL GIRL by Elizabeth Cohen Other Press, 256 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost Like so many of the characters in Elizabeth Cohen’s fifteen incisive stories in The Hypothetical Girl, Emily in the title story is truly suffering. Her affliction is contemporary. Girl meets guy online, falls hard for him, and is rejected by him before their relationship ever has a chance to develop out in the real world. What happens when people connect online, on sites like Letsgethooked.com, Flirtypants.com, and Yummybaby.com? Many of the stories have a sad, humorous and twisted logic. Emily—who meets Nick on Matchmaker.com—walks right into the new anxiety. “I think I miss you,” she says to Nick. “Can one miss someone one has never met?” Nick’s answer (“You can, but it is ridiculous”) is devastating. In a way, it is a simple case of unrequited chat love. Nick does not see Emily as a real … chop! chop! read more!
THE DISMAL SCIENCE by Peter Mountford Tin House Press, 275 Pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin It seems fitting that Peter Mountford’s novel, The Dismal Science, is being published just as certain global emergent markets—Brazil, Turkey, India, South Africa, and Indonesia, nicknamed by investors the “Fragile Five”—are failing. As the book opens, in 2005, at a World Bank conference in Washington, DC, Vincenzo D’Orsi, a Milan-born, 24 year veteran Bank economist, is leading a panel discussion on the state of global markets. The subtext of his introductory talk, in the woozy gestalt of Bank and IMF bureaucrats: Politics had matured, capitalism was working. Stability had taken hold and the emerging markets were now actually emerging. “It’s almost on autopilot,” says Vincenzo. Vincenzo is speaking of himself, too. Professionally, he’s peaked, after a long climb through the bank’s politicized bureaucracy; fundamentally allergic to simplistic, ideologically fraught rhetoric, he’s grown bored of spouting … chop! chop! read more!
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH by Isabel Greenberg Little, Brown and Company, 176 Pages Reviewed by Stephanie Trott There is no sole way to tell the story of our planet. Whether one chooses to uphold a belief rooted in science, religion, or some amalgamation of the two, our interpretation of man’s early days will never be a precise match to that of our neighbor. Many origin stories regarding that ancient spark of life cross cultures that span the globe, each holding vaguely similar elements and lessons with the introduction of new heroes, heroines, beasts, and locations. Isabel Greenberg has taken this philosophy into account in her graphic novel The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Though not a non-fictional encyclopedia, Greenberg has reinterpreted familiar childhood stories of valiant journeys, jealous siblings, and—of course—the gravitational pull we call love. Her tales, which are framed as the life story of a nameless Nord man, … chop! chop! read more!
THE OLD PRIEST by Anthony Wallace University of Pittsburgh Press 2013 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, 170 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin “Let’s leave Limit,” says Anna to her husband Phil, the narrator of Anthony Wallace’s story “Snow behind the door.” Limit is a fictional New Jersey town near Atlantic City and a metaphor for the physical and emotional borders that confine Phil and the other protagonists in this searing, surprising collection. Phil and Anna want to escape—their neighborhood is in decline, the neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking—but at what cost? To what end? What’s keeping them? What’s begging them past the border? Phil and Anna could leave. She suggests they open a restaurant in an old industrial town in upstate New York that’s “just begging for this kind of thing.” But Phil’s grandmother Rose is dying; they can’t leave her, not yet, anyway. He needs her too—as he listens to … chop! chop! read more!
BLOOM IN REVERSE
by Teresa Leo
University of Pittsburgh Press (Pitt Poetry Series), 104 pages
reviewed by Anna Strong
From the dedication page, Teresa Leo’s Bloom in Reverse props itself against the fence between the living and the dead. Dedicated to the living but in memory of Leo’s friend Sarah, the poems carry the dual burden of trauma and memory. How do we process, how do we articulate trauma? If we’re at all like Teresa Leo, we recognize that in art, in poetry, we remember the the Sarah Hannahs of the world and bring them into a collective consciousness. She is not forgotten.
Donald Hall wrote an astounding collection of poems chronicling his wife’s cancer and death, Without. Bloom in Reverse reads much like that collection—in each poem, we feel the keenness of the “without,” the strain of recollection, the reconstruction of the smallest moments of friendship and intimacy in the clearest language accessible to the speaker. Many of the poems are two-line stanzas, heavily enjambed and riddled with fragments, clauses that build and build on each other only to be let go in a kind of sigh—we feel the struggle to hold onto whatever memories come to mind, only to realize that that’s all they are. The ending of “She Said: It’s Not that Things Bring Us to Tears, but Rather, There Are Tears in Things” struck me as the most poignant of these conclusions:chop! chop! read more!
THE NEW YORK NOBODY KNOWS: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William Helmreich Princeton University Press, 449 pages BAGHDAD: THE CITY IN VERSE edited by Reuven Snir Harvard University Press, 339 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Writers, this one included, have long struggled to capture in words the dynamic and multi-layered ways that cities change. Cities themselves are powerful change agents in the wider world, but they are defined and redefined constantly by the evolving tastes and desires of their residents (who themselves are always changing), technology, culture and religion, structural political and economic shifts, and the feedback loop of history and history-telling, characterized through myth, poetry, and mass media. Here’s how I try to make sense of it in Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books): Think of the city as a collection of swarming cells that change, adapt, grow, shrink, and grow simultaneously. Imagine hundreds … chop! chop! read more!
HERE COME THE WARM JETS by Alli Warren City Lights, 104 pages reviewed by Vanessa Martini Diving into Alli Warren’s Here Come the Warm Jets is at once exhilarating and slightly overwhelming. Warren pulls no punches with this collection. The reader is at once plunged into Warren’s intricate linguistic code, and she does not wait for or expect us to get used to her from the start. The only comparable experience I can call to mind is seeing a Shakespeare play: the language is difficult to follow at first, being at a slight remove from our everyday speech, but by the end of the first act—or the first several poems, in Warren’s case—this wall has dissolved, and we are left free to absorb as much wonderful language as possible. The collection shares a title with Brian Eno’s 1974 album, and this gives an immediate clue to how much cultural cross-pollination … chop! chop! read more!
MERMAID: A Memoir of Resilience by Eileen Cronin W.W. Norton, 336 pages reviewed by Colleen Davis When I read a memoir, I feel like I’m climbing into the kitchen of someone I’ve never met to see if their recipes for life trump mine. It’s amusing—and sometimes shocking—to discover the great variety of messes humans can create with similar ingredients. Lives get twisted and re-shaped by crazy family members, creative impulses, and random events. But some people get a truly strange variable thrown into their stew. Eileen Cronin, for example, was born without legs. You might think that if you’ve spent your earthly time in prime physical condition, her story will not connect with yours. But that’s not how Cronin’s memoir, Mermaid, comes across. Sure the young Eileen is at a great disadvantage in her early years. She must “squiddle” from one place to another instead of walk. But once she’s … chop! chop! read more!