Jamie Fisher is a freelance writer, Chinese-English translator, and budding manuscript conservationist working out of Philadelphia. She graduated recently from the University of Pennsylvania, where her majors were Linguistics and East Asian Languages & Civilizations. Read her New York Times review of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy by Phyllis Birnbaum here.
We don’t often read literature from Azerbaijan, for many reasons. It’s a small post-Soviet country that is hard to find on the map, with a Turkic language that makes finding translators difficult, and a government that still censors its writers Soviet-style. We don’t generally stroll down the aisle at a bookstore and discover the “Azeri” section. The only thing harder to find might be Georgian, and I’ll only say “might.” Probably most of us have no idea what novelists in Azerbaijan write about, what kind of social justice concerns they have, or what kind of risks those writers take to address those concerns.
Written from the perspective of an unnamed Argentinian art critic, Optic Nerve flits from her present to her childhood memories, to her culture’s memories, in order to develop a lineage between self and cultural artifacts, become an optic nerve transmitting information from the external to the internal. The most representative instance of this transmission takes the form of a historical moment remembered by the narrator: while Señora Alvear, “once upon a time the famous soprano Regina Pacini,” sits at her dinner table beneath a painting by French animal painter Alfred de Dreux, “her eye travels back and forth constantly between the deer in the picture, still alive, and the other one, dead and served to them in lean cuts.” Optic Nerve spends much of its time traveling back and forth like this.
It’s hard to find communion with a living thing in winter. Anyone with a burrow crawls in, wraps their tail around their eyes. The other night, when snow had just started falling, I braved the interstate on my way to another city, to share a friend’s burrow. Some black ice spun me around, and I slid off the road, stopped in the median, my tread marks looping back through the new snow like a confused shadow. I’m fine, thanks. I didn’t turn around, kept driving, couldn’t bear missing a chance not to be alone. The car’s fine, too, just brown all over from the dirt I scooped up. I haven’t washed it yet. I like chauffeuring dirt around the city, an unanswered text message from the world of matter: I’m still here.
Originally released as an E-book by Instant Future in 2015, essayist Elissa Washuta’s Starvation Mode is now reborn in corporeal chapbook form. At 50 pages, it can be read in one sitting, and I recommend this approach for best absorption of its nutrients. Nutrients, numbers, rules—Washuta is constantly searching for a calculus that will solve the problem of what goes into the body: “I would like to return to a time before it got so hard to eat,” she writes in the chapbook’s opening, “but eating has always been the hardest work I’ve ever had to do.”
A Conversation with Elizabeth Mosier Author of EXCAVATING MEMORY: ARCHAEOLOGY AND HOME from New Rivers Press, 96 Pages Interview by Nathaniel Popkin Elizabeth Mosier logged one thousand volunteer hours processing colonial-era artifacts at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park Archeology Laboratory to write EXCAVATING MEMORY: ARCHAEOLOGY AND HOME, which uses archaeology as a framework to explore personal material, including her mother’s memory loss, the layering of shared experience in creating family or community narratives, and the role that artifacts play in historical memory. The essay titled “Believers”, a 2015 Best American Essays Notable pick, first appeared in Cleaver. Novelist and essayist Elizabeth Mosier has twice been named a discipline winner/fellowship finalist by the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, and has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Millay Colony for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her nonfiction has been selected as notable in Best American Essays, …chop! chop! read more!
What is a free life? This seemingly simple question is, of course, anything but simple. Theorizing a possibility of a free life with a recognition of the various structural oppressions in society is a challenge brought to vivid life in Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman.
STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT by Carroll Sandel STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT Hospital Service Association of Pittsburgh April 22, 1943 Patient Mrs. Margaret Smith Hospital Sew. Valley City Sewickley Subscriber David Smith Group 1143 Contract 55788 Statement of Account This statement from Blue Cross details the charges for the subscriber’s wife and their baby’s thirteen-day stay in the hospital following the birth on April 8, 1943. The subscriber fulfills his financial obligation for this bill as he will all others during the ninety-four years that will span his life. Throughout his adulthood, he will disparage those who abdicate these responsibilities as “free-loaders,” as “deadbeats,” will flare his nostrils when talking about his brother who was forever calling him for a bail-out. In a thank-you letter to this baby when she was in her late forties, he will tape a three-quarter inch clipping from a magazine: “Depression dad, he was like so many other …chop! chop! read more!
THE ANT LIEUTENANT TELLS ME OF HIS RETURN by David Callan Black soil collapsing onto rock. Beetles with shining blue backs humming over the water chilled with rain. Pike angling in the chambers of the dank, waiting for the naked in the rainfall, stripped clean, gutted, redrawn from memory by a blind boy against the stiff legs of the herons. Mothers huddled in stone kitchens, dropping fish, egging the molecules of the water into frenzy from the pot’s hot walls. Skin, scratched through, dangling into a snowflake of dolomite sinking slowly in the mossy brink. My fingerprints are flying toward my eyes, too quick for me to blink. My hand arcing over colorless glass, finger wet against the rim: the cylinder caught in the motion of the fingertip, hum— glass shifting into another pitch. Had been petals in a cut glass bowl, what’s beautiful is dirt. I want oil, hands …chop! chop! read more!
I was no stranger to poetry. As a child, I was a poor reader; I’m a dyslexic, a term that was barely known at that time. But my mother, who didn’t understand why I was such a poor reader, tutored me daily through my middle-school years. Books were a struggle for my tutoring sessions, but when Mom switched to poetry it was fun. She would read the poem first, and with my good memorization skills the words, rhythms and meter clicked with me, and I – for perhaps the first time—felt that I was comprehending written expression, an idea compressed into words.
THE DAMAGE IS THE TRUTH by Roy White Ice on the stairs, brief flight, pain and an impossible angle. A minute’s blindness, preview of coming subtractions, then pins and wire, a ropy scar. My arm waves a credible good-bye, but will never be straight again. Sometimes the abductees report probes, even operations. Sometimes there is damage, a bit of the patient misplaced or misconnected. In this year of entropy, when the Festiva’s snapped axle sends it on a final charge into a merciful snowbank, when Lobster dies and we can’t bear to hear “Tiny Dancer,” we are the egg that can’t be unscrambled. Always there is pain, but we are not resentful. It’s flattering, in a way, it shows they care, even if mistakes are made. The caves of Dulce feel empty now, now that they’re gone, some dead, some flown away. My dogleg of an arm’s a fitting emblem …chop! chop! read more!
ME AND MRS. BEE by Rae Pagliarulo When Mrs. Bee leaves her house, she uses a metal cane to get down the steps, the kind they sell at Rite Aid next to the plastic bed pans and ace bandages. It taps against the concrete at perfect metallic intervals, tink, tink, tink, as she lowers herself down. I hear it even when she isn’t home, when I lock things up for the night, when I nap with the windows open. It’s a small block I live on, houses jammed together in squat, red brick rows. You don’t miss much on a street like this. ◊ Years ago, on the other side of the city, I shared a second floor apartment with my boyfriend. His amusing irritation, once directed at the world, shifted at some point to contempt, aimed squarely at me. Life with him was a full-time job—I managed his moods, …chop! chop! read more!
In the pink glimmer streaking the bottom of the sky, crows stuttered east in pursuit of their resting place. The woman looked up and thought how they seemed right where they should be and sure of the journey. She was not. If this was a journey, it was a fractured, unsure turmoil of one. And the end of it might be soon and brutal and would erase everything that had gone before.
The stage curtain of my dreams
needs an alteration. Ka-Pow!
Ambient billiard balls. “It’s always
broccoli with you.” And it is!
Be gone, beasts of the forest! Black and green
iguanas. The infamous snake with
its head chopped off, the length
of its body a petrified curl. I walk along
the beach because it’s an easy decision.
I see ships hung like ornaments from
the horizon. I cannot reach them.
The ticker tape dropped from the unseen buckets perched high above the swarming city streets. If this was victory, the boy didn’t want another second of the crush of people, the taste of ash and paper on his tongue. His mother gripped his hand and though he couldn’t see her face, he knew she was crying. He was bounced by hips and knees, that little rubber ball at the end of the paddle until his fingers ached and he found himself alone at the mouth of an alley, struggling to breathe, sound, not air, filling his lungs. A soldier kneeled halfway down the trash-strewn pavement.
Lying on your side on the table, the gown covering most your body, you stare at the picture on the wall, placed precisely there to catch the gaze, to offer something while the unpleasantness of the female body is dealt with. No one has ever prepared you for such an encounter and because of this, you’re trying not to laugh at yourself for being here. Perhaps mocking yourself is already part of the problem.
Because I love her we will cross four states and a time zone to find a Waffle House, because it reminds her of home, but “only the good parts.” Because I love her we will order the hash browns scattered, covered, chunked, and smothered, with a side of waffles as big as the browns themselves. Because I love her we will sit on the same side of the booth, hold hands under the table, and down the hours-old coffee that holds a dull black pall even after six creamers.
I’m always sad when the gig ends. Three grueling weeks with a showroom crew I only see each spring and fall, preparing for the home textile market. I’ll especially miss the Flower Marys—a jubilant self-named group of gay men who fashion stunning floral arrangements. Peggy, Mary, Louise. Men whose real names I never learned or have long-since forgotten. Over time, a musician among them will marry the showroom designer. Others vanish into illness, addiction. The displays shrink, the crew downsize with budget cuts. But this warm spring evening, in the early aughts, it’s all still in place, and I’ve got one night left in New York, where old friends, commercial photographers soon to be forced from the city by hostile buyout, have graciously lent me their tiny West Village apartment while they’re out of town.
Yasmina Din Madden lives in Iowa and her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in PANK, The Idaho Review, Word Riot, The Masters Review: New Voices, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, Carve, and other journals. Her story “At the Dog Park” was shortlisted for The Masters Review Anthology: 10 Best Stories by Emerging Authors, and her flash fiction was shortlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions of 2017 and Pulp Literature’s Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction. She teaches creative writing, literature, and women’s and gender studies at Drake University.
You can live with something right under your nose, say a dot of mustard, without ever seeing it. Well, at least for a day.
It’s like when you forget what shirt you’re wearing or if you’re even wearing one, terror absorbing you until you look down to find, just the same as this morning, you’re dressed in that blue half-sleeved puffy thing you never wear, and that’s why you felt an eerily unfamiliar cotton-graze on your elbow right before that moment of clarity.
“He doesn’t want to work. He just wants to get drunk and grow his hair long.” I could hear my grandfather’s mocking voice as I stood beneath the rusted ass of a machine that roared and spit cranberry residue. It was the end of summer. I’d just returned from California, a cross-country one-sided love affair with a hippie woman and her dog that ended in disgrace when we settled in with her stunt pilot boyfriend in a San Fernando bungalow and I realized I was the third wheel. I was twenty-six and going nowhere, back home and living with my mother, who worked nights at a nursing home. After a few weeks I was hired at a juice factory through a temp agency.
On the first morning after our return to the old house, I listen to Brad sleeping beside me, his full-bodied inhale and exhale bubbling slightly, like water coming to a boil. At first, I forget where I am. But fresh paint, its sharp scent in my nostrils, reminds me of this new beginning we’ve made. As I open my eyes, I remember the boxes stacked high in the living room waiting to be unpacked.
Snapshot One: Graduation, Three Forks High School. Amanda wears a dark blue cap and gown with honor cords. The photo is out of focus and off-kilter since it was taken by Daddy who was probably drunk at the time. The principal is handing her a large envelope, which will turn out to be a full-ride scholarship to Mountain Valley State College in Billings. Granny is impressed, but Mama will say she doesn’t understand why Amanda would accept such a thing, since the money is from people they don’t even know.
Malu’s daughter Lotte and Lotte’s friend Charelle were playing their favorite game: Mutant Vampires. They pressed their arms against their ribcages underneath their tight, glittering t-shirts so only their hands stuck out of the lacy sleeves, and stumbled through the kitchen groaning blood, blood, blood. They were both eleven years old.
“Mom,” I call, “Steven’s sick!” It’s nighttime and I’m standing in the dark hall outside my bedroom, a long corridor that connects my room to my little brother’s. I am nine years old, and Steven is seven. The light is on in the bathroom at his end of the hall, it’s bright, the bathroom very white in the darkness. He’s thrown up in the hall just in front of the bathroom door. I woke up to the sounds of him heaving and the acrid smell of vomit. I hug myself, trembling in the cold.
“Billboards?” William asked over the phone. His voice seemed small, reaching us, I imagined, from somewhere inside his mother’s house in the mountain, where he liked to play the grand piano and persecute the help, whom he refused to by their names, calling them only that: “the help.”
Born with multiple spinal malformations. Missing ribs on the left side—only flesh to guard the collapsed lung. One right lung won’t keep a baby breathing. Slice her throat, insert a trach and attach her to a ventilator. Construct a chest wall with the Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib. Insides on the outside. Red balloon, dark blue tether. Breathe.
I sit in the waiting room of an animal hospital, holding my phone in my lap and my head in my hands. I tap my feet and rub the dust between the tile and each shoe’s worn sole. Magazines cover a table beside me—Popular Mechanics, Martha Stewart Living, Highlights—all months old. I grab my book from under my chair and spread it open. The characters are dead on the page, interred in type. Nothing can change what befalls them. There is no “is,” no “will be”—only what was. If only my fate were so determined.
On a February afternoon, overcast and promising but lying about snow, we pull into the long driveway, slow past the patch going natural with volunteer cedar and white pine, slow along the wide frosty lawn dotted with Norway and spruce, down the driveway, so happy to be here, snowless winter or not, since crackly woods, big sky and a morning walk alone on the beach await.
A man dressed as a rooster, mask and all, was in the parking lot doing the worm, the moonwalk, the Bernie, twirling a poster board shaped like an arrow with the words “Super Pollo Rico” printed on it. I thought, What’s this Rooster Man doing out there? He should be on a professional dance team or something.
Until recently, I’d only traded in one Punch Voucher and that was the time I hit Chuck Mellon in the nose when we were kids and broke his glasses. He didn’t make crying noises, but his eyes sure watered. We stayed best friends, though. Right up until he hanged himself.
A NATIONAL EMERGENCY 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, she has been named Humanities Scholar in Residence at Drexel College of Medicine where she will teach medical students how to draw their own stories in words and images. Her visual narratives No Collusion! (2018), Paused (2018), Berlin Story: Time, Memory, Place (2017), A Mid Summer Soirée (2015), Broken Eggs (2014), and The Modernist Cabin (2013) have been published in Cleaver Magazine. Her graphic novel memoir, Graphic Therapy, was published serially in Smith Magazine, and her short comic, Blogging Towards Oblivion, was included in The Moment (Harper/Collins). She earned her M.F.A. and B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a lecturer in Fine Art at Penn State Abington. You can see more of her work at emilysteinberg.com. …chop! chop! read more!
My sight breaks up; orange rivulets
drop down my eye; against my chest,
a pain thwacks and clocks.
I am holding a book. I am holding a book.
Passengers clutch cardboard signs, as if my ears
were blocked, as if they were trying to tell me
something that I cannot bear to hear.
Stephan Salisbury has been a cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than three decades. Britt & Jimmy Strike Out, his first novel, is a dystopian, satirical quest story about branding, live streaming, social media, and commercialization of lived experience. Britt and her friend Jimmy set out into a blighted urban landscape to find answers when Britt’s online brand starts to fail, friends start disappearing, and mysterious men show up at her home to intimidate and threaten her for not getting in line with the President’s brand. Ken Kalfus describes it as the “first great novel of the Trump Era.” Stephan Salisbury is also the author of a non-fiction book Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland about the anti-Arab hysteria after 9/11 and its devastating effect on people’s lives.
Joanna Ruth Meyer’s second YA novel, Echo North, opens with a classic fairytale premise: Echo, who was attacked as a small child by a wolf, is scorned by her village because of the brutal scars on her face. When her father remarries, the cruel new stepmother takes every opportunity to let Echo know just how ugly and worthless she is.
Every self-professed American optimist should read the oeuvre of Walter Kempowski—not that they ever will. The chronicler of brutality was never given a fair shake even by his fellow Germans, and despite strong book sales, by literary award committees. Kempowski had plenty of reasons to be angry—angry at his Nazi father whom he betrayed, at what the agonized Sebastian Haffner once called the “moral inadequacy of the German character,” at the literary world for snubbing him, and at every center of power involved in WWII: the Russians, British, Germans, Europe itself. The triumphant Soviets—without whom WWII could not have been won—were responsible for imprisoning Kempowski as well as his innocent and elderly mother.
Melissa Duclos’ debut novel Besotted is a lyrical, urgent love story about two young American women, Sasha and Liz, who run away to China to try to find themselves. Sasha has fled all the trappings of her privileged life, including her father who disapproves of her sexuality. Liz, the object of Sasha’s desire, has packed up and left her predictable existence and Amherst-educated boyfriend, having grown tired of being an afterthought of his otherwise-enchanted life.
Grief is a waiting room with broken blinds. Cracks in the slats reveal some light outside, but since the pulleys won’t move, it’s impossible to know when—or if—the sun will shine on us again. The first time you lose a parent, this room feels strange and its shadows thwart your compass. Like death itself, you’ve been told that grief brings anguish.
Consider the phrase, “We’re not out of the woods yet” meaning “we are still in danger.” This phrase can refer to innumerable types of danger. A doctor may say to the loved ones of a sick patient: “She’s not out of the woods yet;” or in the middle of a trial that seems to be going well the lawyer may say to his client, “We’re not out of the woods yet;” in a traffic jam that seems to be moving again, a driver may say to a passenger, “We’re not out of the woods yet.” The insinuation is that those involved are thinking about being out of the woods—there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a glimpse of something safer, better, or in their control—but it is not yet certain that they will reach that light; there is still a chance that the threat—the woods—will overcome.
Adiós To My Parents is a universal family story. Although the setting (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala) is unfamiliar to me—I’ve lived in the Chicago suburbs all of my fifty-one years and, regrettably, have taken only one Spanish class—the people in this book are so richly drawn that I know them instantly.
One imagines this first existing as a notebook, non-committal if tending toward provisional completion, then, as Stein might put it, becoming what it became. In his most explosive work, Trilce, César Vallejo’s more formally complex poems are not necessarily more ambitious than those done in prose, in which he tends to offer greater immediate clarity, yet equal force. In fact, some of these explorations are more heightened and exploratory than the often-sentimental and casually conventional Human Poems.
“I hope you’re working on your platform,” wrote my agent last year after I sent a substantive revision of my manuscript. I had previously published three nonfiction books with small presses, but I typically spent more time following other writers on social media than promoting myself. That might not be unusual, but I did have one unique challenge: I needed to build online visibility, but I didn’t have a smartphone—a conscious decision. I wasn’t sure how to boost my social media presence without carrying a screen in my back pocket. But I was determined to try.