Three Works

Art / Kelda Martensen

 From the artist

:: Account ::

These works aim to communicate the unresolved and to illuminate the poetics of home and displacement. I create and reposition forms on the surface to allow for physical movement within the frame and the free association of process, concept and material. I see collage as a code, a way of thinking and a vehicle for approaching a conceptual destination. With collage, memory and current experience can exist on one plane. I use architectural symbols (doors, roofs, siding, hardwood floors) in order to speak to ideas of place – specifically how memories of home and place are altered through current experience yet are forever associated with the architectural features of the past. I don’t see the past isolated from the present and so gather and create representations (photos, drawings, prints) from places I’ve lived at different times in my life and create new relationships between seemingly incompatible and disparate icons.

The reevaluation and repositioning of these images is a way for the viewer to travel within the work and to experience multiplicity within the frame. My passion in art making is both in the fixed, graphic mark of the print, and the more mobile and reactive tradition of drawing and collage. Through the collapsing of images and experiences, my work aims to disrupt the linear plane and allow for the possibility of new meaning.  

 

Kelda Martensen maintains a studio practice based in paper, book and print arts. She serves as full-time visual arts faculty at North Seattle Community College and received her MFA in Visual Art from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. Kelda was born in Tacoma, Washington and lives and works in Seattle. She can be found at www.keldamartensen.com.

Against Feeling Dumb

Criticism / Jen Hedler Phillis

:: Against Feeling Dumb ::

“If they don’t need poetry, bully for them. I like the movies, too.” 

— Frank O’Hara, “Personism: A Manifesto”

The world of poetry seems hopelessly divided into two camps: the lyricists and the experimentalists, the Blooms and the Perloffs, the Lowells and the Oppens, the Heaneys and the Hejinians. Add to that list Calvin Bedient, who advocates for a return to a “poetry of affect,”[i] and Kenneth Goldsmith, who advocates for a culture-wide embrace of “being dumb.”[ii] Although both men pose as defenders of their respective embattled aesthetic orientations, close attention to their arguments reveals that they occupy identical positions regarding a poem’s place in the world—a position, it turns out, that doesn’t believe poetry, in itself, is something all that valuable. 

Bedient’s argument in “Against Conceptualism” is that conceptual poetry is a mechanism for the repression of both emotion (in the form of melancholy) and political engagement (in the form of militancy).  He writes, “[m]elancholy and militancy, those contrary but subtly related elements of the poetry of affect, cannot be excised from literature, in favor of methodology, without both emotional and political consequences: misery in the first instance, cultural conformity in the second.” Before we can accept that the consequences of such unfeeling poems and poets are as dire as Bedient claims, we need to split his argument in two to see if it holds water. The first claim is that melancholy is central to the poetic project; the second, that poetry’s melancholy is a mechanism for militancy.

What is not immediately obvious in Bedient’s writing is whether he longs for a more melancholic and militant poet or a more melancholic and militant audience. The argument seems to be a rallying cry for poets; he chastises “[t]he uncreative heads” of experimental poetry who “shook off the body, everything that was alive enough to die.” If what he does intend is for us to gauge the poet’s melancholic level, then, it turns out we’re not judging the poem at all. Take the two great melancholic poems of the nineteenth century: Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” While Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle” is typically understood to be autobiographical, as is most of his work, we don’t have any hard evidence that attests that young Walt, once, on Paumanok, heard the lonely mocking-bird call out for his mate. We do, however, know that Poe never loved and lost Lenore, never flung the shutter, never saw the flirt and flutter of that stately raven. Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition” explains that the poem was devised following a basic set of steps through which he determined the length, tone, rhythm, and refrain well before deciding that the poem would mourn Lenore. Now, if we were to find Whitman’s own “Philosophy of Composition,” wherein he describes that he, in fact, didn’t much like being out-of-doors, found bird-song irritating, and wrote poetry because he (wrongly) imagined it would make him money, would “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” lose its status as a great poem? Of course it wouldn’t, and I’m quite sure Bedient would agree. Therefore, why ascribe the biographical poet with a melancholic affect? It can’t be the case that Bedient thinks only those of us with a particularly strong sense of melancholy should write poetry.

Perhaps, then, Bedient wants to locate melancholy in the reader. But, as it turns out, this isn’t a good way to go about things either, because just as when we measured Poe’s and Whitman’s respective melancholic levels and ended up not talking about poetry, if we’re worried about the audience’s melancholic levels, we’re talking about them, not the poem. Moreover, such a conversation is destined to lead nowhere. A poem that makes me feel melancholic (“Out of the Cradle,” certainly; Celan’s “Sprich auch du,” for sure; but also Frank O’Hara’s “Meditations in an Emergency”) might not make you feel melancholic. Despite this, we can still have a conversation about the poem. I can say, “‘Out of the Cradle’ dramatizes the hopelessness of the elegiac project while still insisting on its necessity,” and you, I hope, would say, “Yes, that’s what the poem is about.” Because when you and I are talking about poetry, we’re not talking about our emotions: we’re talking about what we think the poet meant for us to understand as a result of reading the poem. If you say, in response to my analysis of “Out of the Cradle,” “That poem makes me laugh,” then we’re not going to have much of a conversation: that’s a fact about you, not about the poem.

A generous reading of Bedient would set aside his seeming desire to analyze the levels of melancholy and militancy in artist and audience and instead posit that he believes good poetry is the kind that is intended to evoke a particular kind of emotional response in its audience (melancholy in “Out of the Cradle” or “Sprich auch du”; anger in Juliana Spahr’s “HR4811 is a joke”). If that’s the case, then the conversation we, as critical readers of poetry, would have wouldn’t stop at “that poem made me sad,” but would extend to questions about how the poet designed her poem to evoke such an emotion, whether or not it was effective, and so on. But, at that point, we still aren’t talking about how we feel, we’re talking about how the work of art is constructed and why we think the poet would do it that way.

So, melancholy—located either in poet or reader—isn’t much of a criteria for judging poetry itself. What about militancy? Certainly, poets have often claimed the political import of their work—we’ll see shortly how Kenneth Goldsmith, described by Bedient as conceptualism’s “able exponent,” understands the politics of his project; but we can also think of the anti-capitalist claims made by the Language Poets in the 1970s or Percy Bysshe Shelley’s nineteenth-century claim that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Bedient’s version of the claim rests on the assumption that one only gets political once one gets emotional. He writes:

Veined and vexed by the sensations organized around melancholy and militancy, the imagination is essential to politics: your positions make me miserable, make me mad. It is the imagination that has to conceive opposition. It has to feel it. Otherwise, it is merely being contrary, which is the conceptualists’ post-political position.[iii]

Bedient misunderstands what it means to “be contrary.” Here, he describes it as espousing a belief that one has no strong emotional investment in. But, that’s not quite right. “Being contrary” is the same as playing devil’s advocate: you take up a position not because you believe it, but just to momentarily occupy it. The difference between being contrary and advocating a deeply held belief isn’t emotional, it’s intellectual: to be contrary, you can’t believe; to hold a position, you must believe. But, just as he did with melancholy, Bedient occupies a position about which no debate can be had. I can say, “I don’t feel my politics, I believe in them,” and he might respond, “Well, I feel mine.” There is no criteria for judging whether Bedient is “right” in his position because when it comes to feeling, the categories of “right” and “wrong” simply don’t apply. I cannot call his emotional response “wrong” (I might call it “inappropriate,” perhaps, if he laughed at a funeral) for exactly the same reason I can’t say that it’s “wrong” that someone has a headache or the flu: humans have no conscious control over their physical or emotional responses to stimulus. (Bedient seems to get this, at least initially, as he contrasts conceptualism’s attention to thought to his poetry of affect’s attention to feelings.[iv]) In contrast, I do have conscious control over my beliefs. I believe in a particular political program because I have analyzed evidence, considered options, and come to a particular set of solutions to what I understand as the world’s problems. Admittedly, some days I am miserable and mad, but other days I’m rather complacent, even happy. On those happy, complacent days, the state of affairs that my politics hopes to address has not changed, nor have my politics changed. Because my beliefs, just like the meaning of poems, have nothing to do with how I feel.

All of this is to say that Bedient, throughout “Against Conceptualism,” mistakes feeling for meaning. So, we might think that conceptualism, associated as it is with thought rather than emotion, would offer a better account of how a poem comes to have meaning. If we turn to Kenneth Goldsmith, however, we’ll see that he misses the point as well, albeit in a slightly more interesting way.

“Being Dumb,” published in July in The Awl, reads like Arcade Fire doing stand-up, but instead of the jokes being “men walk like this” and “women walk like that,” Goldsmith distinguishes between “smart-smart” people (poet Christian Bök—who also appears in Bedient’s piece—NPR News, the New Yorker), “dumb-dumb” people (“racists and rednecks”), and “smart-dumb” people (Goldsmith—self-described as “perhaps one of the dumbest that’s ever lived”—as well as Andy Warhol, “Gertrude Stein, Vito Acconci, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, Seth Price, Tao Lin, Martin Margiela, Mike Kelley, and Sofia Coppola”).[v] The difference between smart-smart and smart-dumb that Goldsmith most cares about (he doesn’t really care about dumb-dumb) is that smart-smart “brims with value” while smart-dumb “owes nothing to anyone.” He writes that smart-smart, “[h]aving sweated for what it’s accomplished, […] pays a handsome dividend to those invested.” It is hard, in 2013, to read “dividend” and “invested” as references to the kind of personal satisfaction one presumably gets from, for example, having read a “smart” book. Instead, we must read them as references to the very tools that, just a few years ago, brought the global economy to a standstill and then re-rigged it in favor of the wealthy. Goldsmith valorizes this interpretation at the end of the article, when he writes that “[t]he world runs on smart. It’s clearly not working.” In contrast to the now ethically suspect “smart-smart,” “smart-dumb” “[t]rad[es] on the mundane and common, […] plays a low-stakes game […] and in that way it is free.” What differentiates smart-smart from smart-dumb, then, is not the superficial difference between preferring Christian Bök to Kenneth Goldsmith, NPR to Sofia Coppola, or the New Yorker to Tao Lin, but the way value either inheres or fails to inhere in their respective projects.

Initially, then, it seems that what Goldsmith is describing when he says that his art (as opposed to Bök’s) “owes nothing to anyone” is a very traditional aesthetic theory that posits the artwork as autonomous from the world. That is, Goldsmith seems to suggest that a particular kind of valuelessness (Kant would have called it purposelessness) is what marks the difference between his book Traffic (a transcription of traffic reports over a holiday weekend in New York City) and the traffic reports it transcribes. The difference between the two comes down to the object’s relationship to the world. While a traffic report’s success is judged on its accurate relationship to the world, Traffic is judged by a different set of criteria: the book isn’t considered a failure if a reader finds herself stuck in unexpected traffic; a traffic report on the radio would be. To put it differently, traffic reports would not exist were it not for the world. Traffic does not depend on any relationship with the world to exist.

Unfortunately, Goldsmith undoes his initial paean to valuelessness at the end of the piece, where he writes:

I want to live in a world where the smartest thing you can do is the dumbest. I want to live in a world where a fluorescent tube leaned up against a wall is worth a million dollars. Or where a plumbing fixture on a pedestal is considered the most important artwork of the century. Or where building an eternally locked Prada store in a vast expanse of empty Texas desert is considered a stroke of genius. Or where all of the numbers from one to a thousand can simply be classified by alphabetical order and published as a poem.[vi]

So, it turns out, that the one thing that sets smart-dumb apart from smart-smart—its valuelessness—is the thing about smart-dumb Goldsmith would most like to change. Of course, there’s a joke here, and one that Goldsmith is in on: the world he describes is the world we already live in. Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light sculptures have sold for around a million dollars at auction; Duchamp is, if not the most important, one of the most important artists of the 20th century; Prada Marfa received a lot of press when it was initially installed in 2005 (and, a reproduction of its sign appeared in the van der Woodsen apartment on Gossip Girl, a show that uniquely captured our contemporary moment); and Nick Monfort has produced a computer program that alphabetizes Roman numerals from I to M. What this reveals, then, is that while “Being Dumb” might describe aesthetic preference, it doesn’t describe how aesthetic preference works.

When we turn to Goldsmith’s explicit statements about aesthetics, we find that he isn’t so different from Bedient. His most recent project, Printing out the Internet, was a primarily crowd-sourced project: people from all over the world printed out any number of pages of the internet and sent them to the LABOR gallery in Mexico City; at the same time, the gallery held marathon “readings” of the internet, using the crowd-sourced pages as the script. Goldsmith described the project initially as a tribute to hacker-activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide while awaiting trial for having downloaded millions of articles from JSTOR. As the project developed, however, it was met with massive environmental protests, culminating in a change.org petition to stop the project. In an interview with C-Net, Goldsmith responded to the protests generally, saying, “[i]n the tradition of conceptual art, […] the discourse surrounding the show is, in fact, the real show.”[vii] If the point of conceptual art or poetry is not the artwork, but what people say about it, then the artwork is, as it were, incidental, as decorative as the Prada Marfa sign hung on the set of a television show about the foibles of billionaire teenagers. If Goldsmith believes the point of art is the discourse it generates, then he cannot simultaneously believe that the work of art has any meaning on its own. Its meaning must be formed in collaboration with the audience. Such a belief undoes the theory of art implicit in “Being Dumb”: art isn’t autonomous; instead, it waits for an audience to fill in its meaning.

So, despite Bedient’s desire to make the “poetry of affect” different from conceptual poetry, and despite Goldsmith’s desire to set his own aesthetic practice apart from other poets and artists, both men have the same fundamental belief about art. Art, for Bedient and Goldsmith, only has meaning or value once it becomes part of the world. For art to count as art, they believe, the audience must respond to it. That is, they believe that the poem—whether a conceptual poem or a poem of affect—is ultimately defined by the audience, not the poet. While Goldsmith is less proscriptive—he would likely say “more democratic”—about what that response will be, even a cursory examination of both their positions reveals that neither cares much about the art of poetry at all; they care about what it might do to an audience. In other words, both Bedient and Goldsmith define meaning as if it were a property of the body or of a community of consumers. As such, they cannot simultaneously believe that the art of poetry is an autonomous aesthetic activity. If that’s the case, we can go ahead and do without poems altogether, can’t we?

 


[i] Calvin Bedient, “Against Conceptualism: Defending the Poetry of Affect,” Boston Review, July 24, 2013, http://www.bostonreview.net/poetry/against-conceptualism.

[ii] Kenneth Goldsmith, “Being Dumb,” The Awl, July 23, 2013, http://www.theawl.com/2013/07/being-dumb.

[iii] “Against Conceptualism.”

[iv] Bedient traces the division between conceptualism and the poetry of affect to the end of the 1960s, when those “uncreative heads effectively shook off the body.”

[v] “Being Dumb.”

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Leslie Katz, “Artist wants to print out entire Internet to honor Aaron Swartz,” C-Net, June 6, 2013, http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57588137-1/artist-wants-to-print-out-entire-internet-to-honor-aaron-swartz/. And that show has indeed been entertaining. Goldsmith has responded in a few ways, none of which are particularly smart-smart (or, smart-dumb, really). In the same interview with C-Net, he pointed out the essential wastefulness of all art, citing the Venice Biennale and Jeff Koons’s use of “strip-mined aluminum,” a classic version of the “But, Mom, everyone at school already has an iPhone 5” argument. On the Tumblr dedicated to the project, he provides two additional responses: first, “[y]our environmental concerns are displaced anxiety about democracy; Secretly, what you hate most about Printing out the Internet is its democracy, that anybody can be an artist with a simple cmd/ctrl+p”; second, “[t]hink of how many invoices could’ve been written on all this paper had we not printed the internet on it. What a waste. Shame on us.” (I want to note that it is perhaps inaccurate to attribute these responses to Goldsmith; they appear on the Tumblr anonymously. They were, however, also tweeted by the UbuWeb account, which Goldsmith maintains.) It would be easy—fish-in-a-barrel easy—to describe why these responses are dumb-dumb, indicating, first, a fundamental misunderstanding of what is at stake when we talk about democracy (it has nothing to do with whether or not people are allowed to be “artists”) and, second, a fundamental misunderstanding of how capitalism works (it is not wholly reliant on the world’s paper supply).

 

Jen Hedler Phillis is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her dissertation, Lyric Histories, traces the appearance and disappearance of history in twentieth-century American poetry, arguing that the development of the historical in modernist and contemporary poetry mirrors economic developments both in the United States and Europe. She has presented work from her dissertation at the Marxist Literary Group Summer Institute and the New School for Social Research. For the record, she quite likes Arcade Fire.

Excerpts from [SIC]

Fiction / Davis Schneiderman

:: Send-a-Dime Letter ::

by Davis Schneiderman

PROSPERITY CLUB

In God We Trust

Mrs. Christine Galuppe 828 29th St. Denver, Colo.

Miss Alice Ferguson 1440 Marion St. ” ”

Mrs. Carl Ferguson 1440 Marion St. ” ”

Miss Katharyn Wiley 2317 Dexter St. ” ”

Miss Thelma Hardy 2317 Dexter St. ” ”

Mrs. Villa Pickens 1320 St. Paul St. ” ”

Faith Hope Prosperity

This charm was started in the hope of bringing prosperity to you.

Within three days make five copies of this letter, leaving off the name and address at the top and adding your name and address at the bottom, and mail to five friends to whom you wish prosperity to come.

In omitting the top name, send that person ten cents (10c) wrapped in paper as a charity donation. In turn, as your name leaves the list you will receive 15,625 letters with donations amounting to $1,562.50.

Now is this worth a dime to you?
Have the faith your friend had and the chain will not be broken.

SchneidermanImage1

(Photo courtesy of Andi Olsen)

:: From “Farewell address by Davis Schneiderman, January 17, 1961” ::

by Davis Schneiderman

Good evening, my fellow Americans.

First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunities they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening.

Three days from now, after half century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor. This evening, I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

Like every other—Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

….

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

….

You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations’ great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its few spiritual blessings. Those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibility; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; and that the sources—scourges of poverty, disease, and ignorance will be made [to] disappear from the earth; and that in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I look forward to it.

Thank you, and good night.

SchneidermanImage2

(Photo courtesy of Andi Olsen)

:: From Reality Hunger: A Manifesto /Chapter y: manifesto ::

by Davis Schneiderman

588

It’s a commonplace that every book needs to find its own form, but how many do?

589

XX XXX XXXX XX XXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXX, XXX XXXX XX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXX XXXXX.

590

All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one. LXX XX XXX XXXXXX XXXXXX XXX. XXXXX. XXXX. XX, XXXX X XXXX XXXX XXXXXXX XXXX XX! “XXX XXXX XX XXX XXXXXX.” XXXXXXXXX XXXXX XXXX. XXXXXXX XX XXXXX’X.

591

We evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention.

592

Jazz as jazz—jazzy jazz—is pretty well finished. The interesting stuff is all happening on the fringes of the form where there are ele­ments of jazz and elements of all sorts of other things as well. Jazz is a trace, but it’s not a defining trace. Something similar is happen­ing in prose. Although great novels—novelly novels—are still being written, a lot of the most interesting things are happening on the fringes of several forms.

593

XXXXX (XXXX XXXXX), XX XXX XXXXX XX “XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX” XX XXX XXX, XXXXXXXXXXX XXXXX XX XXXXXX-XX-XXX-XXXX XXXXXXX, XXX XXX-XX XXX-XXXX XXXX-XXXXXXX-XXXX XXXX-XXXXXX. XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXX XXXXXXXX XX XXXX XX XXXX XXXX.

594

XXX XXXXXXXXXXX, XXX: X XXXXXX’X XXXX XXXX XXXX XX XX XXXX XXXXXXXX XX XX. XX XXXXX XX X “XXXX” XXXXX XX XX XXXXX XX X “XXX” XXXXX, XXX XXXXXXXXX XXX XXXXXXXX XX XX XXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXX XXX XX XXXXXX XXXXX XX XXX XXXXXXX XXXXXXX XX XXXXXXXXXX XXXX.

595

XX XX XXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXX XXX X XXX XXXX XXX XXXXXXX XXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXX XXXX XXXX XX XX XXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX?

596

If literary terms were about artistic merit and not the rules of conve­nience, about achievement and not safety, the term realism would be an honorary one, conferred only on work that actually builds unsenti­mental reality on the page, that matches the complexity of life with an equally rich arrangement in language. It would be assigned no matter the stylistic or linguistic method, no matter the form. This, alas, would exclude many writers who believe themselves to be realistic, most notably those who seem to equate writing with operating a massive karaoke machine.

597

A novel, for most readers—and critics—is primarily a “story.” A true novelist is one who knows how to “tell a story.” To “tell a story well” is to make what one writes resemble the schemes people are used to—in other words, their ready-made idea of reality. But a work of art, like the world, is a living form. It’s in its form that its reality resides.

SchneidermanImage3

 (Photo courtesy of Andi Olsen)

:: Download [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman ipad mobi pdf

kindle ::

by Davis Schneiderman

05-28-2012, 10:41 PM #1

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Download [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman ipad mobi pdf kindle

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Download [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman ipad mobi pdf kindle http://ebook.getnow.org

 

It’s no surprise that book reviews of [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman — everybody’s have great reviews about it. LA Times and NY Times reviews gave the book [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman 5 star rating. The B&N Review by top critic spends most of the time describing the plot, and delineating the differenc­es between [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman and other books as well as offering tidbits of dialogue. Washington Post said that it is best book of the year for sure.<BR />And the were right! [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman gets best reviews from everyone.<BR />It seems like this book has superseded its own sta­tus of book, and become more like a weather vane for the publishing industry as a whole — a sacred totem, because readers of [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman go crazy about it.<BR />Could it be that massive popularity on this scale trumps any kind of literary merit? People are just going insane and stand in line for [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman.<BR />It is very interesting, that even who criticize it change they view about [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman and after that give book better reviews. The tone, over­all, has been near insane. The criticism is spoken in a quiet small and that is mostly about marketing or other things that is not in concern of book.<BR />Fans follow [edit] Works invented by Davis Schnei­derman on Facebook, author on Twitter and other social portals, on release date buzz was so big, that book run out of copies. But that’s such a horrible position for other books to be in — as readers in book­shop probablly will choose this book.<BR />I know that you have to review [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman, but there is nothing bad to say about it, I read it 3 times already. Now reading forth time on my iPad. Trust me, it is so easy to read [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman on iPad, it`s just perfect. Even pictures look good. Anyway for summary if you don`t have <b>[edit] Works invent­ed by Davis Schneiderman</b> then it`s time to download it on iPad! I mean who in this day and age keeps books in dust, digital copy is the way to go if you ask me. You can download [edit] Works invented by Davis Schneiderman at <a href=”http://ebook.getnow.org”>http://ebook.getnow.org</a>.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Statement on [SIC] of the DEAD/BOOKS trilogy (Jaded Ibis Press) 

[SIC], the Latin abbreviation for “as written,” includes public domain works I have published under my name, including “Caedmon’s Hymn,” an excerpt from Sherlock Holmes, and the prologue to The Canterbury Tales

[SIC] also includes works in the public domain after 1923, and so includes Wikipedia pages, intellectual property law, genetic codes, and other untoward appropriations.

The text also pivots on Jorge Luis Borges’s story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” taking the publication history, in all languages, through a replicated series of Google auto-translations to produce a new version of that story that references the original’s copyright status by virtue of its manipulation in [SIC].

[SIC] will have images from visual artist Andi Olsen—a few of use here—an introduction from Oulipian Daniel Levin Becker, and, for its web prescence, sampling-based tracks, already created for other projects, from Illegal Art label acts Yea Big, Oh Astro, Steinski, and Girl Talk.

The fine-art edition ($24,998.98) will be packaged with a biological pathogen, which the reader may choose to deploy over the text. In this way, the book [SIC] will make the reader sick — sick about copyright. The book is timed to the release of 25 free, full-text e-books — including The Red-Headed League and Young Goodman Brown, now marked with my name.

I am the author.

Olsen’s photos are of me in a Lycra suit, around Paris, a pathogen inserted into the text of (For Ink., the future follow-up and last in the DEAD/BOOKS trilogy, Tim Guthrie (cover photographer for [SIC], has taken photos of me in a black Lycra suit, in the woods and other natural settings. Those images will be inserted as loose pages into the book, hand dipped in ink.) 

[SIC] is a completely appropriated work, ideal for a world populated and reduplicated by copies.

This is not my idea, nor is it new.

Therefore, journals are free to republish works previously published by other journals. The Account has selected works entirely from the third portion of the book, and therefore all of the materials are drawn from the post-1923 period.

Of course, not one of these texts are new or original, with the exception of my name as author and their form in [SIC]. The contract offered to me by The Account, also, is not original. The document mashes-up extant contracts to create a document specific to the desires of The Account.

Therefore, this contract would be an excellent addition to the next edition of [SIC]. One need only add “by Davis Schneiderman” below the title of that text.

Here’s one to cut out when you print this page:

“by Davis Schneiderman.”

 Here is one larger, in case, like me, you’d enjoy cutting out larger text:

“by Davis Schneiderman.”

Wait, I realize that it’s odd with the quotation marks. Let’s try again, and go just a bit bigger:

by Davis Schneiderman.

Much better.

Now, some parting advice:

Be inspired. Be spontaneous. Be original.

I know I will be / again / before long.

Why?

Because, as publication in this fine magazine demonstrates, I am an AUTHOR!

AUTHOR!

 

Davis Schneiderman‘s works include the novel, Drain (TriQuarterly/Northwestern); the DEAD/BOOKS trilogy (Jaded Ibis), including the blank novel, Blank: a novel , with audio from Dj Spooky; and the forthcoming [SIC] (Fall 2013)—excerpted in The Account. He is editor of The &NOW AWARDS: The Best Innovative Writing (vols. 1 and 2), Associate Dean of the Faculty and Director of the Center for Chicago Programs at Lake Forest College, and directs Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books.

Two Poems

Poetry / Valerie Wetlaufer

:: The sound of woodsmoke ::

Tether. The shape of your lips,
an O to blow across the bottle.
I took your tail in my hands.
Shadow patterns, pine &
salt. The cedar smell of piñon.
I put the lime in my mouth.
I put the fakery.
Ribbon encircles your wrists.
Tightens.
I let my mouth rest there,
beside yours. I tasted breath
& blood.
Yesterday begat today.


:: I gave you my — ::

          carefully folded, swooned, postpartum

          posthaste —

          my letter to you, I gave —

          curious, you said uncanny you

          said the color of my eyes in this light

          is a different shade of green said

          you don’t eat meat but you wear

          leather outside the birds

          & inside the sun on the chair

          & my thighs spread &

          stick to the plastic &

          you said you loved

          it, & the ampersand & my swoon

          silently inside my skirt & the ochre

          on the building changes to umber

          in the light & the tree outside is

          bare & I am, my foot inside my slipper

          my toes curled behind & ow & yes

          & some days are sunny days & some

          days are



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

In 2010, I started writing a poem every day. My rule is that it doesn’t have to be good, or perfect or polished (revision will come later), but it has to be at least 10 lines. By making space for a daily writing habit, I found the quotidian creeping into my work. While I used to avoid writing about current events, and what I thought of as the mundanities of the everyday, both became presences in my poems, and it’s clear—at least to me—exactly where I was when I wrote about a certain shadow on a wall or an elk or birdsong or washing the dishes. Welcoming the domestic daily into my work did not, as I feared it might, narrow the focus of my poems, but, rather expanded it. I started reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere and Alfoxden journals, and Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day. In Midwinter Day, Mayer records her process of writing while living. In diaristic fashion, she details the minutiae of everyday life while she cooks, takes care of her children, goes to the grocery store and generally goes about her daily routine. At the same time that she is recording the playful babble of her daughters, she meditates on her literary precursors. Throughout the text, Mayer is concerned with female literary influence and ancestry, even cataloguing her lineage of female writers. Though she doesn’t include Dorothy Wordsworth in her list, the two writers are engaged in similar projects. I am trying to do something similar.

I used to sit down to write with a specific idea in mind, and I still do that sometimes, but writing every day has opened me up to a wider variety of subjects. I tend to write whatever is on my mind that day. When I have time, I like to compose poems in the mornings, so my dreams—their subjects and imagery—appear, and all are deeply rooted in location. These poems were written in my sunny Salt Lake City apartment, and that dry landscape shows up here in subtle ways. These poems are more associative and looser in form than I used to write. I give them space to play and just say whatever words are flowing through my mind. Of course these are revised from their initial daily rough draft version, but I see a freedom in them, like a woman who has at last unlaced her corset and can breathe easily again. Each of these poems is from my first book, which will be published in March 2014 by Sibling Rivalry Press. The book is mostly populated with poems that began as poems of the day.

 

Valerie Wetlaufer is a doula, poet, editor, and teacher. She edits Adrienne, a quarterly poetry journal of queer women. She has a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Utah and an MFA from Florida State University. Currently, she is a professor at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her first poetry collection, Mysterious Acts by My People, is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March, 2014.

Two Poems

Poetry / Jon Tribble

:: Risen ::

Because on Friday we filled the metal tomb
of the walk-in refrigerator with the bodies
and blood of hundreds of birds flightless
and naked in their waxed heavy cardboard
sarcophagi, resting on a sea of melting ice.

Because on Saturday every corner of each
wire shelf crowded with slaw, potato salad,
three- and baked beans, and the sweet parfaits
gleaming in their plastic cups, and the walls
of spongy rolls and mountain of flour sacks

and herbs-and-spices mix and the rest
of the dry goods waited for the cock’s crow.
Because come Sunday morning our sunrise
service on the year’s second-busiest day—
not quite honoring mothers but better than

giving thanks on the third day—, our gleaming
start in the shining stainless and spotless
squeaky floor and untouched waiting counters
shattered with a first popping and steaming
metal chariot transporting the twenty golden

birds fried together at once in the great machine
of pressure, grease, and elements of remarkable
heat swayed, wavered, and suddenly crashed
down when a shaky wheel found an open drain
left uncovered the night before during the last

cleansing wash as someone hosed away a long
day’s leavings, and now, like a horse might
stumble when a hoof sinks in a rabbit hole,
this weight headed earthward, uncertain
ground and gravity too much to overcome

and what should have been safe in ready
warmers scattered in a scorching slick mess.
Because the front doors would not be open
for another hour, we knelt down, gathered
back together each tray and every part

of the collateral chickens from the scene
of the accident, nested the trays back
in their crib of metal, and we returned them
to their searing bath for two quick minutes,
knowing the machine’s heat could purify,

knowing resurrection may be real but came
with the price of faith and filtering the hot oil,
knowing these breasts and legs and wings
and thighs would disappear before anyone
would have a chance to testify to the truth.


:: In the Hall of the Mountain King ::

The grease wore me like a golem-child,
cousin raised from clay, blood, and sweat
melting all night to a puddle for morning.

Sixteen-hour summer shifts pressure frying
cemeteries’ worth of bird for the Colonel
closed each day near midnight with steam-

hoses then a joint or two blazing beneath
the empty parking lot’s bug-crowned lights.
At home in the basement cave I’d helped

build separate from bumper pool and foosball,
I locked my flimsy door, stripped off the red-
and-white-striped shirt, pried free steel-toe

boots, peeled away sodden jeans and socks
and shorts from my fish-white puckered flesh.
I tasted bleach in my dreams. But I was wired

every night, nailed between deep fatigue
and adrenaline like the pine two-by-fours
and wallboard that slapped up this refuge.

Sometimes turkey dope and whiskey
cut behind the edge of tension our family doctor
prescribed useless Soma for, then Quaaludes

that friends on the bus crushed up to snort
on the long ride over to Horace Mann Jr. High
all spring. But these summertime seventy-hour 

weeks cashed in overtime and nothing else. 
Then one morning I remembered the Great Bøyg
and Song of Norway, a forgettable film I’d seen

with my grandmother almost eight years before,
and I went out, bought Grieg’s incidental music
for Peer Gynt. She had died that April and I

felt like death, felt like a buried child lost
under a mountain, and this troll-song, this 
unlikely lullaby, bassoons and cellos, stillness

and stuttering forward, the frenzied rising
to timpani rumble and cymbal explosions
excavated my mind from its stone tomb.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Poetry about work has always fascinated me as a reader, whether the work is recognized in the larger cultural and historical ways like in Walt Whitman’s “A Song for Occupations,” Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” Sterling Brown’s “Strong Men,” Philip Levine’s “They Feed They Lion,” or Ruth Stone’s “Eden, Then and Now”; or the poems explore the intimate ways work can shape our relationships with others or our environment or our sense of self like Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” Elizabeth Bishop’s “Filling Station,” Gary Soto’s “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview,” or Rita Dove’s “Daystar.”

I hope the poems “Risen” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King” are able to touch on some of the ways the fast food industry shapes the individuals clocking in and doing the work, and that each poem speaks to the broader issues of the cost of such labor for a society that has seen these “entry-level” jobs become the only available work for so many people. 

Both of my poems revisit the sense memory that still is so much of the experience I carried with me from the years I worked frying chicken and doing the tasks that came with the job. “Risen” takes a little different approach from “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by playing with some of the conventions of religious liturgy while considering the humor and unpleasantness in a narrative of the events one particular Easter Sunday, while the poem “In the Hall of the Mountain King” tries to dig down to the essence of the experience of day after night after day of the work itself, the larger-than-life weariness and despair of the job weighed against the way the individual is left feeling so small, tired, and helpless. I do hope both poems, which are part of a series of poems about this fast food work, give their readers some new insights about the price someone pays for the things we have come to expect as cheap and easily available to us at drive-thrus and counters not only in America but now in cities and towns all over the world.

 

Jon Tribble’s poems have appeared in the anthologies The Jazz Poetry Anthology and Surreal South, in the print magazines Crazyhorse, Poetry, Ploughshares, Quarterly West, and South Dakota Review, and online at A Poetry Congeries (June 2013) from Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. He teaches at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by SIU Press.

Two Poems

Poetry / Evie Shockley

:: morning: what you knew when it was quiet ::

                             —sometimes the light leans 
					                              into the mountain
 
								                                              the grass yellow
				                         in the curved green dark of trees
 
the mountain meadow stretches
			                 belly up to the sun
 
 
						                                    sometimes fear is the only shadow
 
 
		                   you are as able as a cedar    an un-
	  imported						                                        native plant
 
 
before the light knows its power
				                       finds its fist
 
							                                  it places its warm palm
			              along the mountainside
 
					                           and everything green of the mountain
	        reaches up
 
 
				              sometimes fear is only the shadow
									                                         of your reaching—




                          :: in the california mountains, far from shelby 
county, alabama and even farther from 
			                   the supreme court building, the black poet 
	        seeks the low-down from a kindred entity ::

seep-spring monkey flower, growing
		           up from the scorched earth of last
	      year’s planned burn: looks like you,
			                too, know how to get what you need

		           under cover of darkness. sunshine’s
only half the story. when light becomes
			                fire, we reach down and let our roots
	      sustain us till the topsoil’s ready for

our comeback. we’re all aware there’s
		           no justice in drought: and whoever
	      says this weather’s nobody’s fault has
			                just bought a bridge they hope to resell.

		           like you, we’re perennial in warmer
climes. we’ve also been called monkey, 
			                and didn’t get to vote on that either. 
	      so: can we pay a poll tax with pollen? 


 

From the writer

:: Account ::

These two poems were among the gifts I received from my participation in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop in June 2013. We gathered for a week, there in the Tahoe Basin of the Sierra Nevada mountains, to recharge, expand, and deepen our connection to poetry by writing a new poem-draft each day and sharing those drafts the following morning for a quick round of focused and generous feedback. Being in that space—not only an amazing community, but a beautiful and (for me) unfamiliar landscape—tends to bring out of me work that lies in the more metaphysical and attuned-to-“nature” zones of my poetic spectrum. Among the many voices that I gratefully heard and absorbed that week, Brenda Hillman’s and Sharon Olds’s were noteworthy (conscious) “influences” on the poems I wrote. Also, the spirit of Lucille Clifton, who is a part of my earlier memories of this place, looms large there and encourages particular kinds of bravery, humor, and linguistic economy. Though the workshop is a retreat, of sorts, news of the world beyond the mountains did reach us, and an especially infuriating event (amidst other happier stories) sparked one of these poems. Lastly—and with a nod to NourbeSe Philip and Robert Hayden, whose work was central to the craft talk I gave that week—I’ll note that these poems are marked by my ongoing interest in the possibilities of form and structure in poetry.

 

Evie Shockley is the author of the new black (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), awarded the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2006), as well as the critical study Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2011). Her writing appears widely in journals and anthologies, recently including Contemporary Literature, Mandorla, Tin House, and Russell Atkins: On the Life & Work of a 20th Century Master. She is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University.

1946

Poetry / Stanley Plumly

:: 1946 ::

To leave for Ohio the year after the war,
four of us pinched in between possessions
in a ‘29 Ford sedan, which you have to
talk to before you crank it up and even
then it farts and sputters and spits back. 
How many times it tries to break my arm,
how many times it sparks and kicks and fails.
My mother sits in the backseat with my sister,
my father drives like a soldier finally free.
I’m seven and crazy to be killed, riding shotgun
through the heart of summer, all the windows down.
We drive and drive that long first day a whole hour
after dark on narrow roads with narrow passing lanes.
We drive and drive—I don’t remember now ever having
stopped, except to pee or find a bar somewhere, usually
at the tag end of a town, the neon flashing off and on,
Ohio being forever in front of us and the way things are.


 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve taken a few lines from a short, short poem I wrote 40 or so years ago and found the “truth” in the experience by running it through memory a few more hundred times. Hence the new poem. The ‘29 Ford was a four-door with a crank in front that had to be wound up, so to speak, to get it started. It had a real and dangerous kick to it, and it did almost break my arm more than once. Somewhere there’s a picture of me with my great-grandfather standing in front of the car. He’s the father of my mother’s mother; a one-room school teacher all his life, who rode his bicycle to school every day, the bicycle he bought from the Wright Brothers shop in Dayton at the turn of the century. 

 

Stanley Plumly’s most recent book of poems is Orphan Hours (W. W. Norton, 2012).  He has just completed The Immortal Evening, which Norton will publish in early 2015. He is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland.

A Tab of Iron on the Tongue

Poetry / Sandra Lim

:: A Tab of Iron on the Tongue ::

Each time you see a full moon rising,
you imagine it will express 
what your life cannot otherwise express, 
that it’s a figure of speech.

This really means watching yourself
turn something unknown into 
something manageable.

As human tendencies go, this one is not
so terrible, and possibly winsome, besides. 
Say November, and you name 
the death working itself out in you,
season after season.

Call the bed you lie down into each night
a raft or an island, depending on
whether it’s love or work you’re running from.

Every moon has so much to say
about the unsolvable losses. 
When it disappears behind a cloud, 
filled with its own shining intentions,
it’s an important translation.

When Schoenberg pointed out 
the eraser on his pencil, he said, “This end
is more important than the other.”


 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I like a poem to be a formal enterprise that can open into a new way of thinking or feeling; I love how it might capture a life unevenly developing or picture the figure of thinking. As for the effect I dream of, I often think of this image by Isak Dinesen: “I had seen the royal lion, before sunrise, below a waning moon, crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears.”

 

Sandra Lim is the author of The Wilderness (forthcoming, W.W. Norton, 2014), selected by Louise Glück for the 2013 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Loveliest Grotesque (Kore Press, 2006). She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Two Poems

Poetry / Karen An-hwei Lee

:: The Anarchist Gardener ::

A willowy man on Shenkeng-Tofu Road 
		         opens a leafy bao, 
			                The Anarchist Gardener.

Avant-garde Taipei acupuncture—
		          pressure points for urban renewal  
	     in artist villages, warehouses, gardens.
		               A square cigarette zhi—
a seahorse of privacy, rose-hip

of blood, slashed cord of his wrist—
Wild dogs?   

	     The city killed me, he says. Confession—
		               as a healer in a glass house 
I lined up tiny bottles on my coffee tables,

prayed for anti-venin in my veins,
			                           an urban acupuncturist— 
	      this garden of flora and flame.  

Civilizations rise and fall—

Holy volumes of sandalwood 
	      rose to heaven—on this flesh-rung, 
		               if I only remember you, no others—

	      is this amnesia or healing?


:: Post-Scarlet Blossom of Aporia ::

Fragrance clings to the hand offering you roses 
is English, not the original Mandarin.

What is translation—
		                  I touched a rose in the dark mouth
of its death. What was a priori—
if an aroma once winged the air,  
         is paloma equal to dove in Spanish?
Does fragrance testify to its aromaticity
if a word opens? Does a double-rose exist
in mythical shades as a phoenix?

How about a cane-boring wasp laying eggs 
in a rose-pith snapping in the wind?
What if the name—jin-niao fan lu meigui—
		                  fans the water as a flaming gold bird—
if the only evidence for our propositions 
about a rose is a first-person soliloquy,
			                        post-scarlet blossom of aporia,

tabula rasa of perfume as a puzzle 
or a state of loss. 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

“On a Poet’s Field of Labor” 

So, how does a poet earn a living? 

I buy the field no one would ever want, one passed over by hundreds of eyes. When I write eyes, I mean years. Passed over by hundreds of years. I know there is no salt mine locked under the field, no aquifers or cities of undiscovered gold.  Eyes. It is a field no one else would buy, and that is enough. I compost a tea of rice hulls and nettles so it is fertile enough to hold root. If the earth is too fallow, I work it with agua to make red clay for flower pots and roof tiles. 

If it cannot hold a shape, I dig a ditch to see if it holds water and put the grandchildren of an underground gardener’s fish in their new home.  The underground gardener, by the way, tends sea-water caves. That is a story for another time. There is a lot one can do with a field no one wants, if one has an eye and patience. A field may hold water if lavender, acres of flowering milkweed, or new acacias and evergreens are sown. A field may sit on oil, coal, or bones. A hundred fish children are schooled in rooms of their own to learn about their nature, one of the first lessons.

If a body of water is not in motion, then sadly it stagnates and starts to vanish. 

I share a parable about faith, a lesson one learned years ago. The trial is arduous, fording a lake one thought was a pool, crossing a river one thought was a brook. Years ago, indeed, this was a rain puddle or stream. This season, a lake or ocean the fish children remember, finning under clear domes of a water basilica or lustrous salt mine rising over a blue oasis of various and sundry lives, new basis for their loves, basophilia.  Fish ancestors, long and beautiful, were bred in an underground garden.

Basophilia is a form of blood and a love for blue.

No one thought of death until two ate the crooked fruit. Bitter to the innocent, sweet to the thief.  A star appeared in the east, and the year is now turning, flowing to from one word-root to another. The lesson is this.

          The basis of faith is water
          never stagnant
                    always moving
          flowing generously 
          if you drink from it.

 

 

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008), and In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she lives and teaches in southern California, where she is a novice harpist. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

Two Poems

Poetry / David Kirby

:: Delacroix’s Liberty on the Barricades ::

I wonder what Delacroix was thinking when he painted
		          a half-naked woman leading a group of revolutionaries
	     into battle, though what I really want to know is what
Delacroix wanted us to think. Did she get so excited
		          as she shouted and waved her flag that her top slipped down
	     and she didn’t notice? Or maybe she thought about

what guys like and lowered her blouse to her waist and said, “Now
		          that I have your attention. . . .”  After all, you could be
	     on the roof of a twenty-story building 
with a college sophomore and say, “Oh, look, there’s a naked lady
		          in the street,” and he’ll go, “Huh—where?”
	     and start stepping off into thin air. The kid on her left

has gotten the message; he looks to be about fourteen,
		          and the way he’s brandishing his pistols suggest that
	     he’s a greater danger to himself than to the enemy
as he thinks, not “Death to tyrants!” but “I finally
		          saw a woman’s boobs today—wait’ll I tell Jean
	     and Pierre!” But it’s the guy in the stovepipe hat 

who’s got my eye, because he reminds me of myself;
		          in the painting, he’s closer to the Liberty figure 
	     than anyone else, but he’s not rushing ahead like
the kid is, and he’s toting his musket the way
		          a man would carry a piece of crown molding 
	     if he were a homeowner in the middle of a big remodel 

rather than a soldier going to war. Maybe he’s afraid 
		          he’s going to get killed or get his ass shot off, 
	     which would be worse, in a way, because then 
he’d go through life without an ass, which would
		          be bad if his side won, even more terrible if it lost. 
	     But who’s thinking of that now? He’s charging into 

the fray as you would, one eye on the enemy 
		          and the other on the woman and all that stuff he has
	     to step over: ladders, paving stones, lampposts, 
two-legged stools, three-legged chairs, tables with 
		          one, two, and three legs, and everywhere, rats. 
	     Careful—watch out for that splintered piano! 

And those manure mounds, too; remember, this is 
		          the nineteenth century. Yes, if I were going to be 
	     anyone in that painting, I’d be that guy, making 
my hesitant way to my death or wounding or to nothing,
		          more likely than not; who’s to say the enemy’s going
	     to show up when and where he’s supposed to? I could

rush out to see what awaits me and find that nothing
		          does and end up with you in our squalid little flat high 
	     above the Paris streets where I start a blaze in the fireplace 
and the two of us sit by the window and look out on it all, 
		          and I get up or you do and whoever does brings the other 
	     a glass of port and a plate with some biscuits, as happy 

as the kings and queens of France—happier, really, since 
		          no one is going to lead a revolution against us except
	     that old double agent Time, who even now is lurking 
in the street below, dressed as a beggar in rags. 
		          I see you, Time! And I know that you’re thinking: 
	     that you’ll slow my step, thicken my blood, chip away 

at the cartilage that keeps one bone from grinding against 
		          its fellow, gradually amortize my skin, and, soon or later, 
	     whisk the carpet out from under me altogether. Yet how 
can I be angry at you? Look at all you’ve given me!
		          Hours and hours of sex, and thousands of great meals
	     as well—not that the food is better than the sex, 

but a good meal takes a lot longer, plus you get an itemized bill
		          at the end that allows you to say, “Oysters, yes, risotto,
	     fine,” and so on, whereas sex is a few kisses and then 
whoosh! You’re here and there and everywhere, 
		          as the Beatles say, and sort of happy and disbelieving 
	     when you pop out on the other side. Same thing with war:

one minute, you’re grousing about the food in the mess hall,
		          and the next, you’re slinging lead like nobody’s business.
	     No wonder Sigmund Freud and your other high-bracket 
Middle European brain doctors equated the two. 
		          And no wonder the man in the stovepipe hat hesitates.
	     One moment he’s thinking that his time on earth

is too brief for him to sit around stirring his coffee 
		          when he should be rushing into whatever awaits him,
	     and the next, he’s looking down and thinking, 
“Damn—this is a gun in my hands. Should I charge into
		          battle or not?” You’ve come this far—to the barricades,
	     my friend! Then home for a cup of tea and a cuddle.


:: The Wedding Photo ::

            Reader, this is not one one of those ekphrastic poems
of the kind where you have to know what the painting 
	     looks like to understand the poem and is instead
an extended but, I hope, not too tedious reflection
		          on that photo I found while cleaning 
out the attic after the death of my parents, and there are three

	     people in the photo, and the one you notice first 
is the groom, who is snarling at a woman who 
	     is surely his mother-in-law, and it looks as though
he has shoved his shirt too far into his pants,
		          which is one of the worst things 
that can happen to a man in a crowd of people, because how 

	     can you fix it unless you unbutton yourself 
and pull everything out and start over, 
	     but you can’t do that in a church with your whole 
family and the bride’s family and fifty or sixty 
		          total strangers staring at you 
and saying, “Look, Maggie, Rick’s unbuttoning his trousers!” 

	     and “If you ever do that, Hollis, I’ll never speak 
to you again,” and the bride is watching all this, 
	     and the expression on her face suggests that 
her mother has just said something along 
		          the lines of “See? See what 
he’s doing? I told you not to marry him. You idiot! He’s ruining 

	     your life the way your father ruined mine!” 
Who are these people? Not my parents,
	     whose marriage remains a mystery to everyone
except them, to me, even, though I witnessed
		          all of it except for the few years before 
my birth, though I’m pretty sure I would have remembered it

	     if my father had said, “Have you prayed tonight?”
like Othello and then “I kissed thee ere I killed thee. 
	     No way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss” 
and guess it more likely that, if my dad seemed wistful
		          from time to time, it was because he, 
like Dr. Lydgate in Middlemarch, had marked how far he had

	     traveled from “his old dreamland” when his wife
“appeared to be that perfect piece of womanhood 
	     who would reverence her husband’s mind after 
the fashion of an accomplished mermaid, 
		          using her comb and looking-glass 
and singing her song for the relaxation of his adored wisdom alone.”

	     Yet my own wife and I wake more often than not
in each other’s arms, the first one to master his or her
	     powers of speech saying how happy he or she is
to wake next to someone they love so much and then
		          the other saying yes, yes, he or she 
agrees. Then we make coffee and get the papers from the driveway

	     and get back in bed and read and drink the coffee
and argue about art or politics or who has to shop
	     for dinner, but in the manner of people who love
each other and have been doing so for a long time
		          and hope to continue doing so for 
a good while to come, though you don’t have to have a PhD 

	     in Third Grade Arithmetic to realize that, barring 
astonishing developments in medical science, 
	     the years before us are fewer in number than 
the ones behind. Much fewer, come to think of it, 
		          but who’s counting? By now the couple 
in the photo have been through the same petty squabbles we have—

	     that or murdered each other, although, statistically
speaking, that’s an unlikely outcome. Chances 
	     are they’ve made their way past the Scylla 
of Whose Family to Visit During the Holidays 
		          and the Charybdis of What 
Kind of Sex to Have and How Often and are in a state of settled 

	     contentment, like other couples, though from time
to time one will say to the other, “You made it 
	     too hot in here” or “are you leaving your plate 
in the sink for me to wash?” and the other will say,
		          “Well, what about that wet towel 
on the floor?” and in that way remember the day it all began. 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The one rule in poetry is the same rule that dominates the rest of our lives: pleasure first. Sure, we want our food to nourish us, but it’s more important for it to taste good. And we want our sweethearts to make our time on earth easier, but really, didn’t we make them our sweethearts in the first place because we love to look at them and caress them and nuzzle their necks?   

So pleasure first, and after that? Once I heard the editor and essayist Ted Solotaroff say that a piece of writing is often a writer’s “only way to organize and to some extent comprehend life’s fullness and perplexity.” Surely that’s equally true for readers. And not just readers, either: surely anyone who takes the time to look at a painting or listen to music or watch a TV show is organizing their experience and, to use Solotaroff’s modest phrase, “to some extent” comprehending it. In the end, then, a poem for me is a little problem-solving machine.

But it has to give pleasure first.

 

David Kirby teaches English at Florida State University. The Times of London has called his Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Continuum, 2009) “a hymn to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His latest poetry collection is The Biscuit Joint (LSU Press, 2013), and there’s more information on www.davidkirby.com.

Two Poems

Poetry / Mary Biddinger

:: The Art of Fiction ::

You should have better endowed
your protagonist. His foil

shivers though it’s an indoor phone
booth and she is not too

drunk to dial the number inked
onto her blouse-cuff. Divorce papers

always look fake, like snow
or joy. Your protagonist’s teeth

are too perfect for his mien. No
proper mountain man recites Goethe

in public. No product of Chicago
turns down a jar glass for a demitasse.

Trees were in favor of the end,
or perhaps they knew it was coming,

like the team of painters in moon
gear, your protagonist drawing upon

his exquisite education to vacate
the colonnade just in time, all sorrows

partially itemized like harpsichord keys
in a parlor of rebellious silk.

:: A Tiny Poison Eye ::

You see, I had enough of all the rocks.
Of the counting names, and naming hoops
full of air. Like somebody peddling trophies
at a garage sale. Like anyone would fall
for that same sort of thing more than once.
And I do not want to see your magic arm,
even if it’s gold. The tea bags constructed
of authentic muslin, presenting themselves
as a miniature sanctuary. I was among
things too small to see with naked eye. I was
among an inhospitable element. Like anyone
would fall for the trick of what’s in my
pocket. It’s not so much the peddling of
trophies, but buying them. Like my name
was Matilda, and I could fit so much water-
melon in the cannon I built with my father
under a piece of corrugated plastic. My name
was your name and we coalesced until
we were both altar boys, until we cut hands
on the same pricker bushes, dropped our
lunches in the same puddles, vanquished
duplicate enemies. You see, I had enough
to go on, and then I got even more. Magic
arm, no magic arm, my grandfather took his
eye out and everyone screamed. Like anyone
would fall for that same sort of thing more
than once, or more than twice. It’s not so
much the eye but the hand that holds it.

 

From the Writer

:: Account ::

When I was a child in Illinois, we had to take tornado warnings seriously. Forget the siren. We read the tone of the trees, the direction of sweat down the backs of our necks. Sometimes the ducks broke into factions and raged at each other, then the lighter ones took flight and we knew not to complain that vinyl car seats were too hot, or to point out the corner of blue sky that contradicted all of our intuitive knowledge. When I was a child, I learned how to feel lit up by silent information. Sometimes at night my AM radio pulled in the strangest signals, and I learned not to switch them off.

It’s too easy to claim that writing a poem is like observing the same set of mallards over a period of time, then drawing conclusions about their motivations. Tornadoes form and ravage and move on, but poems linger. Poems start like a warning, with the feeling and the signs, the sense of being somewhat “off” yet electric, but they can occupy the passenger seat of a car, or sidle up alongside the dentist’s chair when piped-in music turns to a particular smooth jam. A poem needs to achieve liftoff, and it needs to spin. It contains equal measures of devastation and awe.

I often wonder why I look to recollection as a way to begin a poem about the not-distant past, or the present. It’s because I felt so much more back then, feared less, saw things without tiresome connotations. When I look at photographs from 1985, the world seems like it was much dimmer; evergreen trees in the yard sulked rather than towering. If all of my poems are about one thing, it would be longing. My poems want to go back. My poems want to make everyone look up at the sky.  

 

Mary Biddinger’s most recent poetry collection is O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2013). She is also co-editor of The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics (U Akron Press, 2011). Her poems have recently appeared in Crazyhorse, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and Sou’wester, among others. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Akron, where she edits the Akron Series in Poetry and Barn Owl Review

 

Five Micro-Essays

Nonfiction / Nicole Walker

:: Microbags ::

At Fry’s Grocery and Drugstore, the plastic bags are tinted brown. Thin enough to see through, they should be strong enough to hold at least three items. But the clerks at Fry’s dig their hands into the abundance of bags and love them for their singularity. Stacked like money, peeled like sawbucks, a bag wraps a carton of eggs. Another, for a half gallon of orange juice. Another for a pound of butter. Another for a quart of milk. A loaf of bread. You know the song. Each bag makes each item precious. How can I eat this butter now? I should preserve it in a cabinet of wonder, but by the time I get home the cabinet of wonder becomes merely a refrigerator. The loaf of bread. The quart of milk. Each item re-shelved in the icebox of my future—I now can make béchamel, French toast, Crème Anglaise, Pasta Carbonara, countries of recipes, thanks to bags of permanence and transportation.

The bags, emptied, do not realign. I cannot stack them. They do not fit in my billfold. I bunch them up. I crush them into the reusable canvas bags that I sometimes remember to take to the store. The bags live in the garage. Unlike the refrigerator, the garage is not airtight. Sometimes, I leave the garage door open. Sometimes, there is a wind. Sometimes the wind comes in and steals the plastic bags as if the wind had some groceries to make precious. The wind takes the bags, plasters them against ponderosa, wraps them around pinecone, flags them against a decaying stick. The stick isn’t going anywhere now. The ponderosas are preserved. The pinecones, seeding inside of the bag, with the benefit of a dusty rain, grow their own tree inside the bag. Inside the bag is a perfect microcosm. A hundred million individual tiny planets floating across the state, blowing their forevers across the highway, through the forests, across the ocean, establishing themselves as singular as continental cash. 

:: Microchip ::

Lays were her favorite. So were Ruffles. She didn’t mind Fritos. Kettle-brand organic were fine. She missed regular Doritos but that didn’t make her unique. Everyone misses regular Doritos. One thing you can count on, fleeing the Midwest for the west coast, is an ample supply of vending machines. Vending machines are portals toward freedom. They are the dial-uppers toward the next town. They do not store memories in their machines, just quarters of smudged fingerprints. No one can catch you, pregnant and sixteen, if you keep your feet to the right of the asphalt’s white line and your stomach pumped full of you-do-the-math: fourteen hundred calories per bag, each bag a dollar and a quarter. If you can multiply, your factor is the potato chip. Too much togetherness and you beget a product.

If she would have stayed home, she could have saved up those quarters, a dollar twenty-five a day, but it would have taken her half her life to halve her life and she didn’t have the right phone numbers.

She didn’t like calling the baby baby. She called it crunchy. She called it salty. She called it full of maltodextrin. She never thought she was hurting the potato. She never thought, as she hitchhiked through Idaho, that the road doesn’t always go west. Sometimes it turns south, toward Utah. Sometimes, the abortion providers, even in Mormon town, take one look in your eyes and give you a discount. She skips lunch the next day because, thank god, she’s not so hungry anymore. That night, she forces herself to eat a chip. She was afraid the chip would flounder. That it would fall soggy in her mouth. But it didn’t. It was crisp and salty and as nutritious as it had been the day before. Not everything changes. 

:: Microtrain ::

A regular-sized train can’t do it. The tracks crisscross in too many layers. There is not enough money in the world to build four million bridges deep. But if the train is small enough, fiber optic, microscopic, the tracks could bend and weave and thread. Instead of stopping at crossings for cars or for anti-abortion protesters, the veins could thread like those in a body. In that body, red could stand for oxygen and blue for carbon dioxide and the world would be happy to get and return either. In a body, the reliance on input and output would be a fair and reasonable thing. In the lungs, the carbon dioxide exchanges for oxygen with the justice of stoichiometry.  Transformation is always possible. The oxygen has persuasive arguments. The CO2 has its own. No cell changes its body, it just changes its mind. This body holds its power in its tiny mitochondrial engines—forward moving but not at anyone else’s great expense. This is a kind of country I could live in. One day, I will be small enough. 

:: Microsoccer ::

I tried to bring a book. I tried to bring a chair. I tried to talk to the other moms. I tried to talk to the dads. I tried to bring the team snack but failed, bringing carrots, which children do not consider a snack. I tried to get a sense of rules that say you can’t kick the ball first if you’re the one who kicked it off, but I think I have that wrong too. I tried to pull the grass and eat the milky ends, but there was elk shit all over and dog piss probably too. Really, there was nothing to eat except carrots and therefore I had a hard time paying attention. She didn’t kick the ball hard enough and when she did kick it, the ball went out of bounds. Sometimes, she kicked it the wrong direction. Sometimes, someone kicked it hard in the wrong direction and all the kids ran all the way out of bounds, offsides, down the hill, over elk shit and dog piss chasing a ball that would never come back. For me, it was good for a metaphor anyway—soccer balls as youth or boys or hungry members of the Cervidae family looking for edible grass on the other side of the mountain where perhaps the fire or the drought didn’t wipe all the grass out. Metaphor breaks all the rules. Unlike youth and boys, the ball comes back. Maybe edible grass too.

I apologize for the melodrama. But I need to stay here and think about the end of the world because I wasn’t going to get up off my chair or put down my book and join them in chasing that ball. I knew I’d never catch it and the team would never forgive me for getting in the way of a game whose rules have nothing to do with a lesson on how to eat the crumbs of broken metaphors.

:: Microsmooth ::

You have to sound hyped up. You have to sound breathless. You have to use words like “broadly-connected” and “an approach unusually taken.” You have to make it sound like this is their good news too, even though you’re the one going to be on TV. You have to believe that we all share in the wealth of the land, that we all share in the wealth, that we all share in the wealth of the wealthy land that is TV to make it clear to them that this is their good opportunity although they themselves will not be on TV. TV is where they offer microsmooth technology to cover up your micropores because if you are on TV the camera adds exponents to your skin, yours, not theirs, gratefully, since TV is not for everyone. However news is for everyone and you and they can stand together and hold hands, although you will be out in front and they will stand just a touch to the side, a little farther, and united in this endeavor. To insure, because that’s what this moment is, insurance in the wealth of nations, insurance that we will all go on sharing in the wealth of land and nation and TV,  this moment is as good as can be, you assure them they can let go and applaud. Just the sound of hands clapping sends good news right through your skin. 

 From the Writer

:: Account ::

When I wrote these microessays, I was working on a big essay project about microorganisms. These microorganisms did such amazing things: they could reduce pollutants in water by chemically engaging with the pollutant. They wouldn’t so much eat them as throw off electrons, changing the chemical make-up of say, nitrate, which is bad, into nitrogen, which is good. What I loved was the way microorganisms could adapt to their surroundings while simultaneously adapting their surroundings—just like humans. It made me think how everything adapts its environment to suit it. So does the writing. How could I write a big gigantic essay that tried to tell a very long story about the behavior of microorganisms? If I really wanted to tell a story about things micro, I should tell it microscopically. Or at least briefly. In these short essays, I strove for dynamism and adaptability. In brevity, you can duck and cover. You can wrap your mind fully around one idea. Like a camera, you can take a big idea, put a frame around it and make it small. Small enough to matter. 

 

Nicole Walkers nonfiction book, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, won the 2011 Zone 3 nonfiction prize (Zone 3 Press, 2013). She is also the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street, 2010). She edited, along with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Nonfiction, which was released by Bloomsbury in March 2013. She is nonfiction editor at Diagram and associate professor at Northern Arizona University

 

Coming Home

Fiction / Jared Yates Sexton

:: Coming Home ::

After weeks of negotiating, my wife Vanessa finally agreed to let me come home. I’d been holed up in a Best Western on the other side of town, getting my dinners from the drive-thrus and washing clothes in the sink. Half the time I spent camped out on the bed, drinking until I couldn’t drink anymore. The other half was with my girlfriend Mackenzie, whom my wife had discovered via a moment of absentmindedness on my part. That could be forgiven, my wife said. Everything could be washed over and forgotten about, I could come home and be with my family once again, if only I said goodbye to Mackenzie and that time in my life.

All things considered, it seemed like a rather sweet deal, but something about giving up that girl didn’t sit too well with me. Vanessa said it was a typical have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situation.

“You can’t have me and Bradley if you want to be with that girl,” she said over the phone one night. Bradley was my four year old son. “It comes down to this,” my wife said. “Either go run around with that slut and sow whatever oats you’ve still got, or come home and be a husband and a father. You can’t have both.”

But I wanted both.

There was something wonderful about sitting down for roast and vegetables with the family, drinking a glass or two of wine, helping with the dishes, and then making up some excuse as to why I had to go back to the office—papers to grade, classes to prep—and then choking the life out of the evening by crawling bars with Mackenzie and her hot-tempered friends. It was the best of both worlds, the perfect combination of ice and fire that made my life so very enjoyable. When I was at home, listening to Vanessa go on about whatever Bradley had done that afternoon, or Bradley talking about the backyard and the animals and insects who lived there, I was perfectly content, but I still longed to be out and about, my arm wrapped around my pretty young girl, the music pumping from the speakers while we found a dark corner and grinded against one another. When I was there, her thin, jeaned legs pumping against mine, I found myself excited about the culmination of it all—the ride home where I would dart about in an effort to avoid the authorities, my sneak into the house and into bed with Vanessa, who I knew would be ready for some messing around if only I sucked, ever so gently, on her earlobe.

“I don’t think you understand,” I told Vanessa. “You have to know I love you, love you both. This isn’t a matter of that.”

“Well,” she said, “what’s it a matter of, then?”

“Of freedom,” I said. “Of choice. Of taking life and sculpting from it that which you want.”

That didn’t sit too well with her, though. Vanessa wasn’t one who appreciated abstracts, things of questionable weight and application. She scoffed at the idea and said that maybe it was her fault, maybe she should’ve known better than to get involved with a man of letters. “It’s so hard to get you to take anything seriously,” she said. “It’s like making Bradley choose his lunch.”

My son was the reason I finally relented. I was lying there at the Best Western in mid-August, picking through a tray of supermarket sushi, when I realized that the boy needed his father around. He was a sensitive soul, took after me of course, and without intervention his mother could have done irreparable damage to his susceptible psyche. I mean, here was a little boy who chose long walks over television, who cried at the sight of a particularly beautiful bird. His emotions and sensitivities were a gift to me, but sometimes they wore on Vanessa to the point of contempt.

“He needs to stop sucking his thumb,” she was fond of saying. See, Bradley was a thumb sucker. If left unchecked he would’ve sucked on his thumb from here to eternity. But Vanessa was worried about the medical problems, the looks from other parents, the inevitable notes from his teachers he would come home with after he started school. “Just imagine what people are going to think,” she would say.

She even found a term for it. Stereotypic Movement Disorder. She looked it up on the computer and found pictures of mangled jaws. She would stand over Bradley as he put his thumb into his mouth, or when she came across him, and say the words slowly, as if chanting them. Stereo-typic-move-ment-dis-or-der. Bradley, ever the angel, would look up at her with this happy expression, his tiny thumb disappeared by his lips. “We need to get this checked out,” Vanessa said. “We should see a doctor and get this taken care of.”

How could I have left poor Bradley alone with that? How could I have abandoned him and spent the rest of my days ordering watered-down drinks at dives and pubs, trying desperately to make small talk with Mackenzie’s bohemian friends just so I could continue getting into her hip-hugging pants? I couldn’t, that’s how. There was a decision to be made, a real, adult decision that I had to come across if I wanted to help raise my darling son in an environment that somewhat resembled sanity.

So I came home. I packed up my wrinkled clothes and books and drove the five miles to the suburbs and pulled into my driveway for the first time in two months. It looked the same. Nothing was different—no new paint scheme, changed locks, nothing. I carried my bags up to the front door, knocked, and Vanessa answered. Bradley was at her hip. He smiled while she did not. They moved to the side, I walked in, put my bags by the couch, and then the three of us sat and watched a television show about a judge who solved mysteries in his spare time.

After dinner that night, as we were scrubbing dishes in the sink, Vanessa asked me if I’d broken things off with Mackenzie. “Have you done it yet?” was how she put it.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll drive into town and do it tomorrow.”

“I don’t like the idea of you going to see her,” Vanessa said. “I shouldn’t have let you come home.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, wrapping one of my soapy arms around her waist. “It won’t take long. And then this whole sordid episode will be behind us.”

Vanessa looked at me through squinted eyes. I could tell she didn’t trust me, didn’t believe what I was saying. There was a distance there I’d grown used to since she’d found a letter Mackenzie had written in one of my coat pockets. It hadn’t necessarily been romantic or loving, but there was enough on the page to let her know that I’d been, for lack of a better term, running around. “We’ll see what happens,” Vanessa said. “We’ll see if you do the right thing or not.”

After putting away the dishes I went and took my first satisfactory shower in weeks. The unit at the Best Western had rarely kept hot water for more than a few minutes. I scrubbed and soaked and grabbed a fresh towel as I stepped out. In the mirror I looked at the scruff I’d grown out of negligence. From the cabinet I took a can of shaving cream and lathered myself. A set of new razors, unopened from the supermarket, sat in the cabinet as well, and I removed one and ran it under the hot water. When I was finished I recognized myself again and ran my hands over my smooth cheeks.

Vanessa was lying on our bed when I exited the bath. Instead of her usual slip, a rose-colored number that hung tightly over her thighs, she wore a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. I had no hope of starting anything, whether I sucked on an earlobe or not, but I cuddled up to her all the same and tried to work my magic.

“You’re not going to get anywhere,” she said.

“It’s worth the try,” I said.

“It’s not,” she said. “Besides, I need something from you.”

“Oh?” I said, dropping my towel on the floor.

“Don’t get too excited,” she said, reaching for a magazine on the nightstand. “I need you to talk to Bradley. Tonight. Get him to stop it with the thumb.”

I bent down and picked up my towel. “Why?” I said. “What’s the harm? Let the boy suck his thumb.”

“He’s four,” she said. “And it’s time that he stops and gets over the whole thing.”

“Maybe he enjoys it,” I said.

“Enjoys it?” Vanessa said. She set the magazine down on her chest and breathed in so deep that it raised into the air. “I don’t care if he enjoys it, it needs to stop. Go and talk to him. You’re his father. Do something.”

If I hadn’t just returned from exile I would’ve put up more of a fight. For months we’d been having that particular argument and I’d always stood firm. Whenever she got after him for the sucking I’d say something like, how about we just calm down, or who really cares? It’d led to conflict after conflict, probably more so than any other subject besides Mackenzie, and I knew that if I caused a fuss that night I could’ve gone ahead and booked my room again at the Best Western. So, instead of picking an argument, I threw on some clothes and made my way to Bradley’s room.

He was lying there on his bed when I walked in. There was a light next to him that had a rotating shade with animals cut out of the sides. It threw shapes on the walls, shapes like giraffes and bears and rhinoceroses and everything else you could imagine, and he was lying there in the half-dark, his thumb plopped in his mouth.

“There’s my boy,” I said to him from the doorway.

“Daddy,” he said, removing his thumb long enough to speak.

“How’s the weather in here?” I said. “Too cold? Too hot?”

He laughed and mimicked something I’d read to him in a story before. “It’s juuuust right,” he said.

“Just right,” I said. “Good, good. You know, it’s good to be home again, sport.”

“Okay,” he said and smiled. He plopped his thumb back into his mouth. “Where’d you go?” he said.

“Away,” I said. “Just away for a little bit.”

He rolled over onto his side and touched the shade of the lamp. “But you came back,” he said.

“I came back,” I said. “Listen, your mom wants me to talk to you about something. About you sucking on your thumb. She’s said something about it to you before, right?”

“Right,” he said.

“About how it’s not a good thing to do?”

“Right.”

“About how big four-year-old boys shouldn’t suck on their thumbs?”

“Right.”

“Okay then,” I said. “Then you know?”

“Right,” he said again.

“Well,” I said. “That means you’re going to have to stop.”

“Sure,” he said.

I walked over to his bed and patted the lump that was his leg. He smiled big and bright despite the digit stuck between his lips. I sat down and touched his hair. “I remember when my mom made me stop sucking my thumb,” I said.

“Grandma,” he said.

“That’s right,” I said. “Grandma. Grandma sat me down one day and said I couldn’t do it anymore. Said I was too big.”

“Were you sad?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “That’s too long to remember. But she was right. I was too old to suck on my thumb. Little kids suck on their thumbs. Little kids who don’t know any better.”

“I’m a little kid,” Bradley said. “I’m still just a little kid.”

“You are,” I said. “But you’re not that little anymore. You’ll be going to school next year, won’t you? Are you still going to be sucking on your thumb when you go to school?”

Bradley thought about it a second. He rolled his head back on his pillow like he was really searching for an answer. The sucking action on his thumb stopped as he gave his sole attention to the question at hand. Finally, he nodded. “Yes I am,” he said. “I’m going to suck my thumb forever and forever.”

I said, “Well, how can I argue with that? If you’re going to suck on that thumb forever and forever.”

“Forever and forever,” he said.

I brushed the hair from his eyes and looked at him bathed in the light from that lamp. It was a great thing to see my boy after all that time, to finally sit there and take stock of my son. He was a beautiful creature, soft and vulnerable, fragile in a very real sense. I wanted to pick him up and hold him like an infant for the rest of our lives, hold him like that until I just collapsed one day from the weight of his growing frame. “Tell you what,” I said. “You keep sucking that thumb, tonight and tomorrow. After that, though, we’re going to have to put an end to it. I don’t think Mommy would be too happy if we didn’t.”

“Nope,” Bradley said. “I don’t reckon Mommy would be too happy.”

I fixed his covers and flipped off the lamp. I left him there, in his bed, and returned to my own. Vanessa was there still, flipping through her magazine and paying little attention to anything at all. I laid down next to her and pressed my face against the skin of her arm. I inhaled and smelled all those wonderful female smells, the cleanness and the perfume and soap, and I inhaled again and again.

“What’re you doing?” she said.

“Remembering,” I said.

For a while I fell asleep and dreamed I was back in the Best Western. I think I was eating some fried chicken out of a box and mashed potatoes from a Styrofoam cup. The TV was on, but I couldn’t watch anything. The dream went on like that for a very long time, it seemed, and I just remember thinking to myself, how’d I get back here? What am I doing? And, just as I was thinking that, Vanessa woke me up. She was climbing atop me and reaching into my pajama bottoms. When I opened my eyes there she was, her hair cascading over my eyes, her breath ragged.

“I missed you,” I said, still half-asleep.

Instead of answering she just continued. I tried to speak again, saying this and that about having regretted everything I’d done and all the harm I’d caused, but regardless, I couldn’t get an answer. Vanessa was too busy with the act, with pawing and gripping at me, pushing her face into my shoulder and moaning and sobbing interchangeably. I moved my hands up and down her body, looking for an appropriate place to rest them. I leaned up, in the dark, and did the only thing I could think of doing. I took her ear into my mouth and gently tugged on it with my teeth. I did what I had done so many times before.

 

The next day I was sick with worry and regret as I walked to Mackenzie’s apartment. I thought of early on in the relationship, the first few times I’d skulked over there in the middle of the night, and how nervous and aroused I’d been. I had practically been shaking when she answered her door with a smile so lovely that it terrified me. We sat on her futon in the living room and listened to records for over an hour before I worked up the courage to lean in and get that first and fateful kiss. Within fifteen minutes we were fumbling toward the back bedroom and stripping each other of our clothes and mashing our mouths and lips together as we fell into the sheets.

The memory was enough to shake me. I reached to knock, but couldn’t make myself follow through. Again, it was August and the summer heat bled into me and caused a manic sweat to break out. The plan that had seemed so simple the previous night—say hello, tell her the affair was concluded and that I was giving things with Vanessa another go, wish her luck and love and happiness, and say goodbye—had all but unwound completely. I didn’t know if I could do it anymore, if I could say goodbye to one of the few people I’d ever loved and lusted after, and I thought of alternatives, of writing a letter like an old-fashioned coward and slipping it into her mailbox, or calling when I knew she’d be out and leaving a cropped and impersonal message. I was navigating these possibilities, searching for some kind of method, when the door opened.

Standing there, looking out, was my Mackenzie. She smiled at me, but it was less the smile I’d grown used to and more of a mischievous glare. To my surprise she was wearing her puffy winter coat with a fur-lined hood. It took a moment to remember again that I’d found myself on her doorstep in the throes of August and not December or January.

I tried to begin my plan, to say hello and then goodbye, but all I could manage was, “It’s nearly a hundred degrees out.”

“No, it’s not,” she said. “It’s freezing. Freezing cold. You’re out of your mind.”

She let me in then and pointed at the window A/C unit that sat just behind the futon where we’d shared our first kiss. The plastic frame was lying on the floor and the wires were sticking out like wild hairs. Next to the frame was a grab-bag assortment of screwdrivers and hammers.

“Your air-conditioner went out?” I said.

“Uh huh,” Mackenzie said, wiping a thick bead of sweat from her brow. “Trying a little bit of the ol’ reverse psychology to help the situation.”

It was typical Mackenzie. She was a child of whimsy, a delightful cocktail of fancy and disorder that filled my cup when it’d run over with cynicism. She dressed differently, relying on hand-me-down sweaters and blouses, and accumulated piercings and hair colorings whenever it pleased her to do so. That winter, when I’d first met her and gone to her apartment to listen to music, she’d constructed a family of snow-people outside her door and dressed them in her winter clothes. The puffy jacket she was wearing had been thrown around the shoulders of the smallest one, the child of the family, I suppose. I’d asked her why and, with a shrug and a smile, she’d told me that children were our future.

“Do you want me to take a look it?” I asked, pointing at the air conditioner.

“Knock yourself out,” she said. “I’m just going to sit over here and enjoy some hot chocolate.”

And I’ll be damned if she didn’t. She sat right there on her futon and held a steaming cup in her mittened hands. I took off my coat and rolled up the sleeves of my shirt and got to work. I didn’t know the first thing about air conditioners, not really anyway, but I got down there on my knees and messed with the wires and tried everything I could think of. I’d do this or that, but nothing ever happened when I hit the power button.

“That’s okay,” she said, finishing her mug. “You gave it your best shot.”

I said I was sorry and went into the kitchen and got a glass of water. The cup I grabbed from the cabinets had Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks on the side. I guzzled down that water and tried my best to cool off. It was eighty degrees in that apartment, though, and I couldn’t get my breath.

“Let’s go somewhere,” I said. “It’s awful in here.”

“You sure?” she said. “I hear it’s going to sleet today.”

Through the window by the door I saw a couple walking down the sidewalk hand-in-hand. They were dressed in thin undershirts and wearing shorts and sandals. In the distance the air crackled with humidity. Then, looking back to Mackenzie, I saw her sitting there on that futon, huddled up and play-shivering, looking just as happy as could be.

“You’re a funny gal,” I said.

“You think so?” she said.

“I do.” I walked over to the futon and sat down like I had that first night. Mackenzie nuzzled into my shoulder and then came near to my face. I thought of what I’d come there to do, how I’d meant to see her in the doorway and tell her that things were over between us, but in the moment I couldn’t help it. She looked so cute then, so magical, that I leaned in and kissed her as soft as I could manage.

“Hey,” she said, afterward. “You want to get in some long-johns and hop into bed?”

“Tempting,” I said. “Maybe we should go out, though. Find a place where the air’s not boiling.”

Mackenzie shed her winter coat and ran her hands through her sweaty hair. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, walking over and grabbing her keys off a kitchen counter.    

 

Whenever Mackenzie and I weren’t running around with her hedonistic friends or making love, we went to this art theater downtown. It was a wonderful little place, and wonderfully air-conditioned, so we snuck in some bottles of booze and camped out in the back row. The movie itself wasn’t anything too special. It was a cheaply made short film with a lot of symbolism and tons of unsigned artists providing the soundtrack. The story concerned this young, beautiful couple who were running away from their families. There was no end to the scenes where they drove through the countryside, saying nothing and listening to moment-appropriate songs. I don’t think Mackenzie or I really appreciated the movie, but we held each other there in the theater and took turns drawing off our bootlegged hooch.

When the credits rolled we returned to the heat and the setting sun, drunk and happy. Nearby was this cafe that a couple of Mackenzie’s friends owned and operated, so we got a table on the porch and ate sandwiches and drank homemade wine. The temperature was letting off a bit, and it was comfortable enough that we weren’t sweating or cursing the weather.

At one point I said, “This is nice.”

“It is nice,” Mackenzie said. “The very definition of nice.”

“That’s exactly what I was just thinking,” I said.

“You know what they say,” she said between bites. “Great minds, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam.”

I laughed hard when she said that. I couldn’t help it. She was the funniest girl I’d ever come across. I’d spent so long at that point trying to distance myself from her and solve the Vanessa problem that I’d lost sight of that fact. I was reminded, though, that August day, how much I truly adored that girl, and I started remembering the fantasies I’d carried around for so long then, of the two of us moving to the country somewhere and raising beautiful children of our own in a home filled with music and art. I thought of her standing at the altar, a picture of beauty and health and free-spiritedness, a daisy or a sunflower poetically tucked behind an ear or woven into her long hair.

“Well then,” I said, “can you guess what I’m thinking about now?”

She took a drink of her water and grinned. “Was it about how you came over to end things?”

I tried to deny it, to pretend like that’d never been the case, but couldn’t.

“I haven’t heard from you in over a week,” she said. “And for the last two months you’ve been showing up in wrinkled clothes and smelling like booze and a hotel. You think I can’t figure out where you slept last night?”

It seemed I was caught red-handed. There was no explanation, no alibi or manufactured story to offer. “I told her I was going to say goodbye today.”

“That’s what I figured. That’s what I figured was going to happen all along.”

“Really?” I said. “It’s been that obvious?”

Mackenzie drank her water again and turned her plate on the table. Someone nearby said something into a phone and a car honked its horn. “He always goes back to his wife,” she said. “It’s a story as old as time. Everybody knows it, if they’re being honest with themselves.”

“Huh,” I said.

“Huh,” she said.

Right then I did the only thing I knew to do. I reached across the table and grabbed her hand. I rubbed the pad of my thumb over her skin and knuckles and wrist and looked at her. “You know I love you,” I said.

“I know,” she said.

One of the friends who owned the restaurant came out onto the porch then and talked to us. Her hair was strange, in that half of her head was shaved and the other spiked like a mohawk. She and Mackenzie discussed something that’d happened at a bar the night before. They laughed, both of them did, but Mackenzie’s looked forced and fabricated. Every time her face lit up, I could tell it was masking tragedy. I wanted to interrupt, to ask if she wanted to take off right then, like that couple in the movie, and head west to some new town and new life. I had enough money that we could’ve made it a good ways, maybe found some hotel like the Best Western and hunkered down until we found work. Then maybe we could have the house in the country, the kids, rooms full of songs and love.

I didn’t, though. I got to thinking about Vanessa and Bradley, the two of them probably sitting in the dining room right then, picking over their cooling food, and it stopped the proposal dead in my throat. Instead, I paid for the sandwiches and the wine and drove Mackenzie back to her apartment.

We got to the doorway and I tried to say my goodbyes. I kept telling her that I loved her, that I cared more than she’d ever know, and then I’d turn to leave but just stand there. At one point she was crying, and I was crying, too. She asked if I wanted to come inside and clean up and I did just that. In the bathroom she dabbed my face with a washrag and made sad attempts at jokes. I told her she’d make a beautiful mother someday, and the both of us sobbed.

We went into the living room again, and I looked at the winter coat draped over the arm of the futon and the air conditioner with its guts spilled all over the floor. She sat down, and I sat down next to her. There wasn’t music, not really a sound at all save for the neighboring apartments and their tenants milling about, but it felt then just as it had that first night, like the world was bursting forth with new opportunities. She kissed me this time and I kissed her back. We hummed a song that’d played that first night, a sad little tune. I told her how I wished I could have it all, how I wanted her and Vanessa and Bradley, and she stroked my hair and brought me in close to her chest.

I laid my head there, and I thought for a good long time. For some reason I remembered my mother, too, standing in the kitchen in the house I grew up in, and the way her hands smelled like dish soap and steaming hot water. You’re growing up, she’d said, patting my cheek and turning her head adoringly. There’re things you’re going to have to do, she’d said.

I thought about that and Vanessa and my boy. From where I was I could hear Mackenzie’s heart quickening and then slowing. It made a shoosh in my ear. Shoosh. Shoosh. Shoosh. And then something happened. I felt the tip of my thumb breeching my lips and heading for the roof of my mouth. I let it. I closed my eyes and let everything flow around me.

 

From the Writer

:: Account ::

A lot of the time I come up with stories because of some random piece of knowledge that floats by like so much flotsam. This particular effort started after I got curious about thumb sucking. It’d happened after I’d watched a friend of mine argue with his little boy as to why he couldn’t suck his thumb anymore. The regular answer—“you’re too old”—wasn’t working, and my buddy soon had to resort to the old standby of “because I said so.”

But after watching this incident I wanted to know exactly why continuing to suck your thumb was a bad idea. Obviously I knew it was, but I needed to find out in case I ever had to match wits with a five-year-old. That’s how I came across the term “Stereotypic Movement Disorder” and all of the damage it can cause.

My curiosity satisfied, my thoughts tended toward the kinds of actions people have to quit for much more abstract purposes. I thought about growing up, maturing, and the sacrifices necessary to lead a healthy and kind life. From that I found my protagonist (a too-smart-for-his-own-good academic), plot (caught cheating, he has to give up his affair in order to return to his family), and tension (will he give up a girlfriend who’s made him happy?). The voice was a leftover from a previous story I’d tried to write a few years earlier that’d never gained traction. Somehow, when I combined all those elements, it blended together into one cohesive unit. 

 

Jared Yates Sexton is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University and serves as Managing Editor of the literary magazine BULL. His work has appeared in publications around the world and has been nominated for a pair of Pushcarts and The Million Writers Award. Sexton was also a finalist for The New American Fiction Prize. His first book, An End To All Things, is available from Atticus Books.