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 XXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX 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 “XXXXXXXXX XX XX XXXXX XX X “XXXXXXXX, 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

makri21

New Mem­ber

 

Join Date: May 2012

Posts: 0

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

________________________________________________________________

 

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.