Wilderness

Nonfiction / Spofford

:: Wilderness ::

1. An uncultivated land, this region is wild in character. [i] Along the coast of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve the beach erodes into water—logs, their ends worn into points, emerge from the soil, and the wood drops into pieces as it disintegrates. These logs are shattered manuports—stumps after a storm breaking from sand, remnants of a shelter built along the coast miles from the tree line. They are not what they appear to be—masts of tall sailing ships or even driftwood pushed ashore by the Arctic water. The first time I see this tumble is from a speeding boat heading toward Chamisso Island. I’m not in the national preserve, but the effect is the same—huge swaths of land falling into ocean, desiccated walruses littering the shore, mammoth bones eroding, and long spires of wood pinpointing the cliff sides. Because it is easier than imagining what happened to the walruses, I think about how I would feel if my house fell into the ocean. Shallow as it is, the water is cold. I think about what would happen if our boat capsized, how we’d swim to shore—the dogs outpacing us all, the wild screech of seabirds, the darkness of water camouflaging what’s beneath. The cliff sides are soupy because the permafrost is melting, and if I think about that too long I can’t breathe.

*

The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Northwestern Alaska comprises one part of a four-part system: Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Cape Krusenstern National Monument. Coastal Iñupiat societies—direct descendants of nomadic and tribal social groups—still live and work within this landscape. These logs signal a site of archeological importance, and they are quickly washing away. But history isn’t stagnant, nor is it alone. This year the population of Shishmaref, Alaska, just below the Arctic Circle, voted to leave their ancestral home and relocate further inland. The village, located along a swatch of barrier islands west of Shishmaref Inlet, is tumbling quickly—full houses dipping into the water. For thousands of years the Iñupiat have lived and worked along the Alaskan coast and, because of global climate change, that coast is eroding and disappearing at an alarming rate. It is not enough to simply say move—movement is loss, is distance, is the disappearance of home. These centuries-old societies have lived along the coast for a reason—for subsistence, for food, for history—and to say move is an erasure of cultural identity.

Alaska is called the last frontier partially because wilderness is the same as civilization; there is no line between them, no fence separating lawn grass from bear grass, Kentucky Blue never seen but tundra rolling soft and free. Houses are sided with plywood, built on adjustable feet to accommodate the malleable permafrost, walls two feet thick, windows double paned, double-hung. Many houses have fuel-burning stoves, and subsistence hunting keeps the freezers stocked. Here, if you were to wander, if you were to lose your way, your neighbors would know and they would find you and they would bring you home.

*

2. Beware or we will all become so lonely [see: disambiguation—the clarity of carefulness]. While I am in Kotzebue, Alaska, for an art/science collaboration, I meet Tommy, a scientist focused on melting permafrost. Using ground penetrating radar technology, he sends a signal into the ground, and by comparing the numbers he receives to the numbers he has previously recorded, he determines the rate of thaw. It’s melting quickly, the permafrost, and when it’s gone we’ll pass the point of no return, the event horizon of climate change when greenhouse gases cannot be stopped. Then, it’s go time—there’s nothing we can do, no amount of carbon emissions testing, no amount of green credits, no recycling. Tommy, and scientists like him, worry we’ve already passed that point and that our stop-gap efforts, while valiant, are in vain. We need to reverse the change, we need to innovate, or we will all sink into the ocean.

*

Here, north of the Arctic Circle, whaling is still legal, and each year villages are allowed a certain number of subsistence kills. Muktuk—whale blubber and skin cut and cured—is hard and oily, and, like seal oil, it dilates blood vessels. The captain’s cut is the best, and it is the captain’s wife who decides with whom it will be shared. Muktuk isn’t something you refuse to eat—it is a privilege and a gift—and a single whale can feed an entire village for a winter. The effect is a rush of warmth throughout the extremities, including the face and hands. In climates where winter regularly reaches negative eighty degrees Fahrenheit, this warmth is important and necessary.

In August the sun shines for over eighteen hours a day. This doesn’t compare to June when the sun remains mid-sky for twenty-four hours straight—eternal sunshine to match the eternal darkness of mid-winter. On the Fourth of July we ride bikes around the eight-mile loop road, eat snow cones dyed red and blue, and watch the yearly tug-of-war and blanket toss. The borough mayor participates in the blanket toss and flips as he’s thrown into the air, bouncing as he lands on the taut caribou hide, the entire town gathered around him holding the blanket tight. When he was a young man, he won events in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics—leaping acrobatic and free. The tug-of-war pits men against women, salt against fresh—people from Kotzebue against people from river villages. Later, we watch the Miss Arctic Circle beauty pageant; contestants participate in the blanket toss, too, their glittering, fur-lined clothes flashing as they fly.

In August we sit at a round table eating muktuk, indulgent and foolish in this heat; we sit, our faces burning red, our hands sweating, and share the bounty—seal oil heavily musked and rich as we swallow it, the pieces floating in the jar the texture of licorice but not the flavor. We eat frozen raw caribou dipped in vinegar and mustard. Here, mid-summer, it isn’t hard to conceptualize the necessity of cold.

In January, our bodies swaddled in fleece and wool, synthetic, waterproof, and natural, we walk along the seawall. The pack ice—sheets as thick as concrete blocks—pushes up against the wall and, in many places, is six feet thick. On New Year’s Eve we gather around bonfires and celebrate darkness, now near twenty-four hours, as the Aurora dances above us. Later we ride snow machines across the sound to the tree line, bouncing over divots and waves in the ice, trading tundra for a boreal forest. We watch for polar bears because they are ruthless and walk along the ice shore killing anything they can catch. I watch for polar bears because I want to see one, want desperately for the ice to hold and sustain both bear and human.

The ice road links village to village and opens up transportation in an otherwise isolated region. The people who live here respect the bears, and they, too, worry the ice is shrinking too quickly. This year the freeze happened a month later than usual and breakup—the loud cracking of ice thawing—happened earlier than usual as well. When it rains during the winter instead of snows, the snow that’s already gathered turns to ice, and the caribou and moose suffer most. Ungulates accustomed to cold, they can gather and step across snow—there’s traction, and softness, and they can nose beneath it for food. But when it rains and freezes, rains and freezes, they lose their traction and ability to forage, and the herd begins to die. Again, here, during the winter when everything is shuttered and the animals are hunkered, it is easy to see the necessity of cold.

*

3. Of open sea, of air, the place where land is sky. Kotzebue, Alaska, houses the National Park Service headquarters for Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Cape Krusenstern National Monument. Onion Portage, one of the most well-known and important sites of archaeological interest in Northwestern Alaska, is located in Kobuk Valley National Park. Named from the Iñupiaq word Paatitaaq, meaning “wild onion,” Onion Portage has been a site of archaeological interest since the early 1960s, but has been occupied by humans for at least the past 10,000 years. [ii] Incomplete back-filling of the dig site has created a space particularly susceptible to erosion—and a site particularly exposed to changing weather patterns. Douglas Anderson, Professor of Archaeology and one of the most prolific and respected social scientists of his era, describes Onion Portage as such:

A sand knoll dominates the wooded landscape at the site. Hunters both ancient and modern have used this vantage as a lookout for the thousands of caribou that cross the river at Onion Portage, moving north in the spring and south in the fall. From the knoll the approaching animals can be seen soon enough for men to be stationed for the kill at points where the herd is likely to cross the river. The fishing at Onion Portage is also good; several species of salmon migrate upstream during the summer. The prized sheefish, which is scarce in other Alaska rivers, is also caught by the local Eskimos. [iii]

Onion Portage is important because it holds pieces of the historical record—early human settlement can be seen along the banks of this oxbow, the place caribou cross the Kobuk River. Today, still, people camp along the banks of the Kobuk near the portage and wait for the caribou migration; subsistence hunters can take seventeen caribou a day back to their communities. In isolated villages—far from road systems and grocery stores—this annual hunt is necessary. In Kotzebue, milk can cost more than $13.00 a gallon, and gas is about the same. Subsistence hunters need the annual migration as much as the caribou need the seasonal change. Far from desolate waste, the northern parts of Alaska teem and pulse with life. I’ve seen videos of caribou rushing water, a herd of hundreds swimming across a river’s width, their gangly legs thrashing. The reindeer introduced to Alaska in the 19th century swim with the caribou, too, their stout bodies more compact, their heads held slightly lower to the water—the herd moves quickly and efficiently north and south.

Along Desperation Lake, the last respite for pilots flying north of the Brooks Range, heading further and further over the Slope, there are remnant game drive lines called Inuksut. Tall rocks set along the ridge, these lines direct the migrating caribou toward the lake itself. They resemble the heads of men peering over the edge of the mountain, and they are spaced a few feet apart. When they were used, and they were used for many, many years, hunters would gather at either side, convincing the caribou their numbers were many and driving the herd toward the water. From there, the herd could be culled and gathered, game dragged to shore, butchered, and stored in rock circles, caches that line the lake’s edges. The beginning of the Brooks Range looms over the lake so clear and dark the smooth rocks along the shore are visible through the water.

*

From the air, the silted oxbows of the Kobuk River, the Noatak River, the Nigu River—the myriad crisscrossing rivers that span Alaska—are orange and red and even brown, bottomed out or almost blocked in streams of clear turquoise water. They redirect water not sporadically—think the Mississippi River jumping course in the lower forty-eight—but by necessity: melting glaciers, overfull rivers, surging rainwater all caused by an increasingly warm climate. When this happens, ground that has been present for thousands of years, sites that have been frequented by humans for thousands of years—these places are washed away, and the history they hold is flushed into water.

*

4. The wilderness was full of danger. It was all so full of danger. A year after my first visit to Kotzebue my partner Mike, an archaeologist for the National Park Service, and I take a canoe trip up the Kobuk River to Gidding’s cabin, a Park Service structure located above the site of Onion Portage. In a year, the permafrost has continued to melt, and Tommy’s ground penetrating radar is recording distressing results. The previous winter’s snowfall was at an all-time low, and excessive summer rainfall has caused the Kobuk to rise by eight to ten feet. We land in Ambler near midnight, stalled repeatedly by torrential rain. Low-wing planes, like the Piper Chieftan we board first, can’t land in muck, so twice we are turned back to Kotzebue. We deplane and board, deplane and board, and finally arrive via Cessna Caravan, a raised wing plane capable of landing in mud, in Ambler.

Another small Iñupiat village, Ambler is set along the Kobuk River. A local man drives us to the riverfront. “And do you have a nautical radio?” he asks. “The river’s really high.” We have a satellite phone this trip and a GPS. He looks distressed, and he’s right—we aren’t prepared, we aren’t from Ambler, I’ve never been on the Kobuk, and we’re about to set off into an overfull river with backwash so fast we watch logs running by us upstream.

The water bursts along the river’s banks, biting away dirt edges in chunks, submerging every gravel sandbar—we’re watching, in real time, the same thing that happens along the Arctic coast. We decide to try anyway, a push of foolishness driven by a desire for adventure. We inflate our SOARS canoe and head downriver, our initial goal of forty miles a day squashed by the reality of a current moving backward—the backwash carries logs against the current, the current itself slowed from a projected 7-10 km/hr to a sluggish 1-2 km/hr. I shiver and steer as Mike paddles and rain beats upon us. Every time a log swims by we worry our canoe will be punctured, but we’ve come this far and we need to make it to safety and shelter. We hug the disintegrating shore.

There’s a point where we attempt to make landfall. Trees falling down crumbling banks sound like gunshots. A grizzly jumps from the bank and swims behind us, curious about our paddles thrashing. Mike stops paddling, and the bear, uninterested, swims away—further from villages bears are less habituated. They don’t yet associate humans with food and, when handled safely, will usually turn away when their curiosity is sated. Mike and I carry bear spray and trash bags (when unfurled they are unexpected and scary to bears) as well as a shotgun, though neither of us would ever shoot a bear. Out here on the backwards-running, thick and cold river, the rain is ceaseless, and, despite Arctic summer’s endless sun, the temperature continues to drop.

*

This rain, though typical for an Alaska summer, is atypical in its magnitude. A significant amount of Alaskan precipitation happens during the winter in the form of snow. The ecosystem relies on this snow, the cycle of freeze that allows both humans and animals to travel far wider distances than otherwise possible. The permafrost, too, relies on this weather pattern, and Shishmaref is the first to admit defeat to a changing climate. Kivalina, Alaska, will be next, sinking into the Artic Ocean. Point Hope will follow, eventually, and even Kotzebue—though protected by barrier islands and Kotzebue Sound, the rising sea levels will soon encroach.

The concept of “wilderness” does not exist in Iñupiat culture the same way it does in the English dictionary; people are part of the wilderness, part of the landscape in very integral ways, and when the land itself begins to dissolve, it is humanity and wilderness that are affected—in Alaska, there is no separation between them. When we talk about climate change, we talk about a distant future of higher seas, of a disappeared Florida, of what-ifs and somedays. But the occupants of Northwest Alaska are feeling the effects today—the subsistence hunters and conservationists and pilots, the visitors and permanent residents and polar bears and walruses and puffins.

As an anthropologist, this is Mike’s concern:

Coastal Iñupiat societies—dependent upon these imperiled ecosystems for survival—struggle to maintain subsistence independence and cultural identity. Places like the Native Villages of Kivalina and Shishmaref are among the most heavily impacted, as their traditional use areas, homes, and community infrastructure are ravaged by coastal erosion.

This is not simply a matter of history. While the history of these sites and the clues they provide about early human land use and the migration to and from Beringia is important, it is the current state of this landscape that is most troubling. These are not renewable resources and are, rather, what Mike identifies as “static resources”: paleontological sites and deposits that record and represent events in time. As these coastal zones are systemically impacted, an important record of human land use and migration in Eastern Beringia is being erased at an unprecedented rate. These remarkable resources are critical for understanding the history of humanity and for preserving the future of wilderness for humans, for flora, for fauna.

*

5. This wilderness, this life, is contrasted with the future life, so guard this wasting land, the land we can’t recall. Alaska, for me, is a near-religious experience. The landscape and air are different than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and when I return to the lower forty-eight, I always feel a sense of sadness, a resistance to the neatness and borders of my suburban neighborhood. I long for the large wooden crosses in Kotzebue cemeteries, the loop road and its weather stations, the way tundra feels as I lay in it collecting cranberries left over from last season.

On the trip to Chamisso our captain miscalculated our fuel, banked us along the coast, the boat run aground. We tied a rope to the hull and pulled the vessel along the shore, six of us in a line, waist deep in water near the keel, pulling around a point until the radio could signal Kotzebue. The captain’s brother came with extra fuel, and we trailed the shoreline as we returned to town.

At Gidding’s cabin Mike and I waited out the storm after hauling our gear uphill. We set up sonic alarms around the SOARS canoe because bears like to chew rubber and then unloaded the bear barrels inside the cabin door. We huddled near the stove, cold until we started shivering, then shivered again for a few hours until we were warm—the sun never set. The next morning we decided to call for a floatplane pickup, our forty-mile-a-day goal thwarted by the rain and flooded river, all sandbars submerged. We couldn’t camp along the banks, couldn’t pull the canoe to safety. We felt beaten by the Kobuk, by the weather, by the unexpected torrents of water, and foolish because we were so lucky. We found the cabin despite the breakdown of the shore, pulled to safety and climbed the hill despite the rain and cold. We dried our clothes along lines strung by the stove and set our boots by the fire to warm.

The thing of it all is that we could leave—the floods and the backwash and the heavy branches and logs. We could leave the gunshot crack of pine trees falling into water, the heavy splashing of cliffs eroding, the shores of the Chukchi Sea degrading into ocean, pieces of long-extinct mammoths falling whole from the sides of mountains, the dead walruses and the increasingly rare polar bears. Our house hasn’t been affected by glacial runoff, the meltwater of oxbowed rivers nor the shrinking space between land and sea. We have the privilege of distance to put between ourselves and the inevitable flood.

And yet we can’t leave; we can’t pretend we are sheltered from this ever-growing storm. We can’t decide we’re going to ignore the melting permafrost because we, humanity, are also wilderness. There is no line between us, and when one collapses, so too does the other. The death of the caribou, the lost herd, is also the death of a village, a relocation into increasingly crowded urban environments. We are intrinsically tied to these wild places, not separate from them. These ordered rows of bentgrass, bluegrass, red fescue, and rye can’t save us. The threat is already here, and the floods will wash us all away.

 


[i] All definitions modified from the Oxford English Dictionary Online.

[ii] Hardes, Jon, “Peeling back the layers at Onion Portage,” National Park Service 12 Sept. 2013, http://www.nps.gov/kova/blogs/Peeling-back-the-layers-at-Onion-Portage.htm.

[iii] Anderson, Douglas D., “A Stone Age at the Gateway to America,” Scientific American 208, no. 6 (1968).

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

My trips to Alaska are, as cliché as it sounds, life changing—it is awe-inspiring to witness the effects of a warming climate firsthand, but, as I explain in this essay, I am always aware that I can leave. And there’s something to that, the privilege to leave, to return to the lower forty-eight and go about my daily life in a way that is very different than the lives of people faced with an immediately changing climate. This summer was the hottest on record, and while Tennessee wasn’t pleasant, I didn’t have to worry about something as physical and personal as my house falling into an ocean. When we consider the changing climate, I don’t think we consider this immediacy—so many people have the privilege to leave danger, and that’s the point I’m trying to make in this essay. I’m constantly revisiting these themes because climate catastrophe is always on my mind.

Woven into this idea is the false sense that humanity and wilderness are two distinctly different concepts—we often forget that we came from wilderness and that we still exist within it (consider the coyotes on your street, the deer in your yard, the ferns you always cut back from your fence). This idea repeats over and over in my writing because I want to explore how we got here, how we see wilderness as a separate construct—the definitions, the lines, the borders we create between ourselves and the natural world, the separation we impose and imply as if we are not intimately connected.

 

Andrea Spofford writes poems and essays, some of which can be found or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Midwest Quarterly, inter|rupture, New South, Sundog Lit, The Portland Review, Sugar House Review, Vela Magazine, Puerto del Sol, and others. She has chapbooks available from Dancing Girl Press and Red Bird Chapbooks, and her first book, The Pine Effect, is available from Red Paint Hill Press. Andrea is poetry editor for Zone 3 Press and lives in Tennessee. Find her online at http://andreaspofford.com and on Twitter @andspoff.

Scrapbooking Settler Colonialism: Lists, Hotchkiss Guns, and Temporalities of Violence

Criticism / Kelly Wisecup

:: Scrapbooking Settler Colonialism: Lists, Hotchkiss Guns, and Temporalities of Violence ::

If you drive as far north as possible on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the last town you’ll reach before running out of road and land is Copper Harbor, a small tourist town, population 108. Situated near several eponymous copper mines that saw their heyday in the late nineteenth century and the harbor that connected the region to eastern ports in these moments of economic prosperity, Copper Harbor now relies on this past for its sense of identity. A set of painted wooden planters welcomes visitors to the town, proclaiming that this is “Where History Begins” and placing the town’s origins in 1843 (Fig. 1). This beginning is placed conveniently after copper was “discovered” by white men in 1840 and after the 1842 Treaty of La Pointe, in which Ojibwe nations ceded land in what are now called the Keweenaw Peninsula, Minnesota, and Michigan to the United States. [i] Copper Harbor’s welcoming planters and local history create a temporal rift that allows time to begin at a moment that emphasizes “pioneers” and their excavation of mineral resources. The story is one of resourcefulness, mining booms and busts, lighthouses, shipwrecks, forts, and mines. It’s also a story that some residents posit as explicitly at odds with Indigenous histories of the peninsula. A local tour guide insisted to our group, in response to one woman’s comment that Native people were the first “Americans,” that “our” history was pioneer (aka white) history and that it was important to the region to preserve that story. Copper Harbor’s history is aimed at making white settlers (like me) feel comfortable with the existing way of things and at assuring everyone of the continued viability of these histories and ways of life.

figure1

Fig. 1. Cooper Harbor. Photo by the author.

Native people are not wholly absent from the town’s histories, however: a small museum attached to the Minnetonka Resort advertises “Indian Relics.” These “relics” are held in a room packed with other unrelated objects: photos, antiques, old toys, an early diving suit, and family memorabilia. The back wall is devoted to cases holding the promised “relics”: the cases are filled with arrowheads, knives, and other tools that “man” employed for “war and domestic use,” materials that white settlers collected from the fields and beaches they claimed as theirs. One particularly macabre case arranges beaded bags, dolls, and collectible cards featuring Native leaders alongside an unidentified skull (Fig. 2). This case mixes domestic and artistic materials with items created specifically for collecting and circulating, in this way framing the dolls and bags—items made for play and for practical use—as the equivalents of the collectibles. Placed in the context of the case, the dolls and bags are disconnected from the people who made and used them; the exhibit transforms them into objects for display, the possessions of white settlers keen to contain the peninsula’s Indigenous histories and futures in museums.    

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Fig. 2. “Relics.” Photo by the author.

This image has been cropped to show only the cards and dolls, as an acknowledgment of the ongoing trauma produced both by local collections like the one in Copper Harbor and by more visible museum displays that feature human remains and other Indigenous materials. The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) required federally funded repositories to identify the lineal descendants and tribal communities to which Native American cultural items belong and to return such items. However, non-federally funded museums such as the one run by the Minnetonka Resort are not covered by the law and are thus not legally required to repatriate human remains and other materials.

Meanwhile, the unidentified skull stands as a claim to Indian vanishing and even perhaps as a threat to the imagined future for Native peoples that the dolls—the possessions of a new generation—symbolize. Placing the skull in proximity to the dolls, the case suggests that all of the objects are the materials of a dead and vanished people while also erasing histories of Indigenous removal and of persistence (the latter belied by a photograph across the room of a “halfbreed Chippewa” woman who lived in Copper Harbor). The placement of the cards, human remains, and dolls in a single case points not only to the nineteenth-century fondness for arranging items in eclectic configurations but also to the ways that settler colonial history rests on collapsing object distinctions and temporal categories in order to tell its stories. The frame of the case generates relationships among these materials that otherwise might not exist, using spatial proximity to create a story of death, disappearance, and settler possession. Rather than establishing relations across histories that might prompt settlers and other viewers to attend to pre-existing and ongoing Indigenous histories, the move to conflation and collapse acts as a vehicle of erasure. [ii] The museum (and the town) need not acknowledge their dispossession of the Ojibwe people whose homelands they settled, nor the continued presence and influence of Ojibwe communities in the area. [iii]

The museum of Indian relics, the claims that Copper Harbor is “where history begins,” the insistence that pre-existing and alternate histories threaten settler colonial ones: these are nothing new. [iv] If anything, Copper Harbor’s narratives are simply a more explicit than usual articulation of the connections between histories of vanishing Indians and national progress that continue to dominate US American statements about Native people. But as I write this in this summer of making America “great again” with proposals for border walls and bans to prevent Muslims from entering the US; of black men killed by police in Chicago, Milwaukee, Baton Rouge, and Minneapolis; of Indigenous men and women killed in Saskatchewan and Albuquerque; and of news reports designating Standing Rock Sioux people protesting a pipeline on their reservation as “occupiers” of their own lands, Copper Harbor’s ongoing insistence on settler histories cannot be seen as just a nineteenth-century throwback. [v] Instead, the town’s histories participate in an ongoing mode of visualizing time and belonging that continues to feed contemporary structures of violence. This structure depends, just as it did in the nineteenth century, on settlers’ claim to be able to choose their own origins and to disconnect history from dispossession and from violence against Indigenous peoples and other people of color to preserve and justify settler privileges.

In one response to the events of this summer, activists have deployed social media as a tool for organizing and for broadly exposing just how frequent, linked, and ongoing this violence is. Both Black Lives Matter and Idle No More—some of the most visible movements protesting violence against people of color and settler colonialism—spread news of their protests quickly and widely using Twitter. [vi] But the use of media to respond to colonialist violence isn’t new either: the activist uses to which Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds have been put have a forerunner in a set of nineteenth-century scrapbooks compiled by a Seneca man named Ely S. Parker.

A scrapbook might seem an unusual material object to compare with social media. But scrapbooks and social media alike present information by accumulating and stacking excerpts or clips in a central location that users can access in multiple ways: linearly, by reading the scrapbook from beginning to end, or scrolling through a Facebook feed; nonlinearly, by reading around in the scrapbook or on the feed; or by using a particular excerpt as a platform out of the page to explore a topic in depth. Like Facebook and Twitter, scrapbooks are, formally, lists: they do not necessarily generate their own content but have as a key function their ability to arrange entries and objects next to one another. These media are nonsyntactic, not oriented by time. Instead, they posit a non-narrative temporality that links the different months or days or weeks in which an event took place, compressing the space and time between them.

In 1891, Ely S. Parker, an adjutant to General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War and the first Native Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Grant’s administration (a post comparable to the contemporary position of Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs), collected and arranged newspaper reports of the Wounded Knee Massacre. [vii] On December 29, 1890, U.S. soldiers killed between 150-300 Lakota men, women, and children who had camped with their leader Big Foot near Wounded Knee Creek under a white flag. News reports manufacturing salacious accounts of an imminent threat by “Sioux hostiles” circulated through reporters who had accompanied soldiers to Pine Ridge Agency, on Lakota lands within the newly minted state of South Dakota, where they had been sent to put down an alleged uprising (Fig. 3). Drawing from multiple newspapers, mostly published in Chicago, Parker excerpted and pasted these stories into a Mark Twain Scrapbook, a hefty bound book with printed page numbers and blanks for an index, as well as pages pre-treated with adhesives. Parker includes no rationale for his selection and arrangement of news clippings, but the Wounded Knee Massacre was the subject of only one of his twelve scrapbooks, now held at the Newberry Library in Chicago. He collected thousands of newspaper articles about Native Americans, ranging from images of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and local antiquarians’ self-satisfied tours of Plymouth Rock to smug notices regarding Dakota writer and physician Charles Eastman’s marriage to the US American poet Elaine Goodale.

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Fig. 3. Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks. Photo Courtesy of The Newberry Library, Chicago. Call # Ayer MMS Parker, Scrapbook 6.

When read successively, the scrapbooks produce a tally of popular, often racist stereotypes of Native people that circulated in the media. Parker’s scrapbooks represent the American public’s fascination with what one paper termed “Aboriginal Fragments”: stories and accounts of Native life, material culture, and history. [viii] In this way, the scrapbooks might seem to reflect their participation in and documentation of what Brian Hochman has called the “ethnographic origins of modern media technology.” [ix] Focusing on the photograph and phonograph, among other technologies, Hochman argues that our contemporary media have their origins in salvage ethnography and in US Americans’ conviction that Native peoples’ lives needed to be recorded before they vanished. Technologies like the camera, sign language, and phonograph, among others, claimed to protect Native people from time by isolating them in a particular historical moment. [x] Indeed, Parker collected news stories in a context in which artists, ethnologists, antiquarians, farmers, local boosters, and others found it both exciting and the most natural thing in the world to collect arrowheads from one’s field, travel throughout North America to paint or to photograph Native people, or place human remains, dolls, and beaded purses next to one another in a small Midwestern museum.

But Parker’s scrapbooks, as antiquated and analogue as their pages might seem in comparison to smart phones and social media sites, offer conceptualizations of time and of colonialism’s materials that contest the narratives of Indigenous vanishing and settler innocence circulated in both the nineteenth-century and our own moment. Parker’s scrapbooks intervene in the “ethnographic” work of modern media by positing time as something one can manipulate. As he selects and arranges images, flips through the book in a nonlinear fashion, Parker (and other readers) make their own path through history, even a history circumscribed by the popular media and discourses of vanishing. [xi] Or, should one take a linear route through scrapbook 6, the accounts of tensions at Pine Ridge Agency accumulate as one turns the page, with clippings from Chicago newspapers reporting “hostiles” coming in to surrender, “hostiles within range,” “Sioux sure to fight,” and a series of headlines suggesting that the “Sioux” were deliberating whether to fight or surrender.

In the middle of these reports from Wounded Knee, Parker pastes a long article about the Hotchkiss gun (Fig. 4). He arranges descriptions and illustrations of the “modern instruments of war” over four pages which detail the gun’s technological capabilities: its accuracy, its ability to throw “explosive shells,” and ultimately, its success convincing Ghost Dancers that they were not protected from the US Army’s bullets. The article details the gun’s ammunition, compares it to the Gatlin gun, and comments on potential accidents involved in operating the gun. It also notes that Chicagoans narrowly missed seeing its power in “sweeping away a mob at the time of the Haymarket riot.” [xii]

figure4

Fig. 4. Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks. Photo Courtesy of The Newberry Library, Chicago. Call # Ayer MMS Parker, Scrapbook 6.

When the firing started at Wounded Knee, it wasn’t just rifles killing Big Foot and his people but also four Hochkiss guns with their explosive shells and vaunted accuracy. The four scrapbook pages detailing the gun’s technology, inner parts, and ammunition intervene in the building pace of reports of Lakota “hostilities.” Parker pauses—and makes his readers pause too—before articles titled “It’s a Real Surrender” and “Hostiles in a Panic” and before reports and illustrations of the massacre to think about a gun and its capabilities, its effect on the bodies of Lakota children, elderly people, and men and women. The four pages devoted to the gun take hold of time, slow it down, ask readers to live in the moment between uncertainty and massacre. The pages urge readers to stop amid the onslaught of settler colonial anxiety about “hostiles” on which the papers focus and to think instead, as Parker must have, about Lakota families in the middle of a cold winter on their way to Pine Ridge Agency for protection and of the four Hotchkiss guns on the hill above Big Foot’s camp.

Because lists are not narrative, they’ve been the sort of object that literary scholars often disregard for allegedly more “literary” texts and that historians often admire for their supposed ability to get close to the past. But Parker’s scrapbooks suggest that textual and material lists are more complicated than descriptions of them as non-literary or as documentary evidence might indicate. Lists, like Parker’s scrapbooks, make no promises to tell a story or to resolve conflict; instead, they sort, arrange, and order information on the material space of the page. “Lists do not communicate,” as Cornelia Vismann argues, “they control transfer operations”; they “sort and engender circulation.” [xiii] Focusing on these qualities, scholars have viewed lists as a key transition between orality and literacy, marking their appearance as a culture’s early turn toward the permanency and stability of writing. [xiv] Yet Vismann argues that the list’s ability to circulate information links it not to the oral-literacy binary but to administration and thus to law. Creating lists, Vismann argues, legitimizes and authorizes the state by producing a material object that stands as a site of regulation, administration, and power. [xv] Moreover, because lists and the files they create both communicate and document an act—“writing up while writing along”—they take on a reputation as objects that can relate the past without the obfuscation and deception of narrative. [xvi] Files offer information not only about an event but also about the extraneous happenings, speeches, documents, and so on that led up to that event. They seem to “captur[e] the immediacy of speech acts and other acts.” [xvii]

By performing the acts of sorting, filing, and managing characteristic of lists, Parker’s scrapbooks create an expansive record or file of US stories about Native Americans and specifically about Wounded Knee. However, they establish a very different relation to the past and to power than the one Vismann theorizes. Rather than claiming to record and order the past, Parker’s scrapbooks expose how history is created through the circulation of news reports and their repetition of fears about “hostiles” or claims about Indian vanishing. His lists also go beyond “controlling transfer operations” or circulating information. [xviii] Instead, scrapbook 6 offers an alternate, material space in which to grapple with the massacre at Wounded Knee, one that exists alongside and at times in tension with the spaces of the reservation, of Wounded Knee Creek, of a world’s fair, of boarding schools. This alternate space rewrites dominant histories by locating alternate causes for events and imagining alternate futures. Such futures are by no means utopian, as Parker’s Hotchkiss interlude shows; instead, they more often excavate US military and colonial violence that reporters erased from accounts of Wounded Knee. [xix] The scrapbooks also connect seemingly unrelated acts of violence: the Hotchkiss gun becomes a link between the Wounded Knee massacre and the Haymarket affair; it relates Potawatomi and Lakota lands (or what newspapers called Chicago and South Dakota), police and military violence against labor protesters and Lakota families. Parker’s scrapbooks offer no answer to this violence, but they also provide no excuse to turn away. If anything, they ask readers to linger on these moments of violence, to consider the justifications by which it is perpetuated. It’s this lingering, this moment when you realize that you’ve been reading about a Hotchkiss gun for four pages, that makes it impossible to read the successive reports of the massacre as an isolated incident or as the consequence of actions by “hostile” Lakota peoples. The scrapbook opens up spaces of relation in the dominant history told by newspapers, and in doing so, it intervenes in the linear time of the modern nation state, remapping historical and spatial relations among people and places claimed by the US and reconnecting stories of violence, dispossession, and nation building.

Against the stories of certain death and vanishing that the display cases in Copper Harbor and news reports of Wounded Knee aim to produce, activist uses of non-narrative forms like lists and social media feeds disrupt the timelines that the US and other nation states create to dislocate the present from histories of colonialism, dispossession, and racism. Crucially, this disruption is located not only in the pages of scrapbooks or on digital sites but also in readers’ and users’ interaction with these sites. Readers of Parker’s scrapbooks speed up and scramble time by linking the invention and use of Hotchkiss guns with the massacre at Wounded Knee and the Haymarket riot, in this way complicating narratives of violent Lakota men and certain US dominance. This summer, in response to activism and protests, the Chicago Police Department moved quickly to release footage showing a police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, in effect speeding up the time of reporting and accountability. [xx] The Dakota and other tribes currently protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline’s planned route through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation interrupt oil companies’ timelines of extraction and production, while the Twitter and Facebook stories about the protest disrupted and contested the news cycles from which accounts of the protest remained largely absent for months. [xxi] These varying temporal arrangements not only emerge out of literary forms and technologies that circulate information, they also offer possibilities for revising that information to account for the violence on which North American settler histories rest.

 


[i] This treaty contained provisions allowing the signatories to continue to use the ceded lands for certain purposes, but the state and federal government generally ignored these provisions.

[ii] Indigenous histories of the Upper Peninsula long preceded settler ones, often circulating in oral forms or being recorded on materials like copper plates. See William W. Warren, History of the Ojibway People (first published 1885, Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009), 53. Moreover, several Ojibwe men published written histories of their people after the Treaty of La Pointe in which they clearly contradict Copper Harbor’s claim that history began in 1843. See Warren, George Copway, The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation (London, 1850), and Andrew J. Blackbird, History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan (Ypsilanti, MI: 1887).

[iii] There are multiple signs of this presence and influence: Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is located an hour and a half from Copper Harbor (http://www.kbic-nsn.gov); the local NPR station features regular news segments about the Community. Readers of The Account may also be especially interested in the poetry of Shirley Brozzo, a poet from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. See Brozzo, “Circle of Life,” in Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry, ed. Kimberly Blaeser (Bemidji, MN: Loonfeather Press, 2011), 37.

[iv] For one study of such narratives, see Jodi Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

[v] Jack Healy, “Occupying the Prairie: Tensions Rise as Tribes Move to Block a Pipeline,” New York Times 23 Aug. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/us/occupying-the-prairie-tensions-rise-as-tribes-move-to-block-a-pipeline.html?_r=0.

[vi] For coverage of some of these activist uses of social media, see Bijan Stephens, “Social Media Helps Black Lives Matter Fight the Power,” Wired (Nov. 2015), http://www.wired.com/2015/10/how-black-lives-matter-uses-social-media-to-fight-the-power/; Elizabeth Day, “#BlackLivesMatter: the birth of a new civil rights movement,” The Guardian 19 July 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement; and Shari Narine Sweetgrass, “Social media major driver in Idle No More movement,” Aboriginal Multi-Media Society 30, no. 11 (2013), http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/social-media-major-driver-idle-no-more-movement.

[vii] Parker was the first Native American Commissioner of Indian Affairs; he worked throughout his tenure in the position to reform federal Indian policy, especially by insisting that the US honor its treaties. For an excellent study of Parker’s work, see C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa, Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight Over Federal Indian Policy After The Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[viii] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks, scrapbook 6, Edward E. Ayer Collection. The Newberry Library, Chicago, IL.

[ix] Brian Hochman, Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology (Minneapolis, University of Minneapolis Press, 2014).

[x] Ibid., xvi.

[xi] On scrapbooks’ ability to offer alternate histories, see Nicole Tonkovich, The Allotment Plot: Alice C. Fletcher, E. Jane Gay, and Nez Perce Survivance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012).

[xii] Sunday Inter Ocean, 18 Jan. 1891, 9.

[xiii] Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 6. As Ellen Gruber Garvey has pointed out, nineteenth-century newspaper clipping scrapbooks offered a form of “active reading” that made white middle class readers into agents who could change the meaning of their “saved items” (47). Scrapbooks allowed readers to “save, manage, and reprocess information” (6), acting as “filing systems” that recorded how people read (4). See Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). See also James Delbourgo and Staffan Müller-Wille, “Introduction,” Isis 103, no. 4 (2012): 713, who comment that lists “inventoried and organized the accumulated world.”

[xiv] See Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (New York: Routledge, 2012), chap. 4.

[xv] Vismann, xii.

[xvi] Ibid., 8.

[xvii] Ibid., 9.

[xviii] Ibid., 6.

[xix] Likewise, for all their activist uses, social media have also been the sites of harassment and much racist, xenophobic, and sexist commentary. Their possibility as activist tools is, like Parker’s scrapbooks’ relation to newspapers, always in conflict with ongoing settler colonial and racist narratives and histories. On the ways that digital media reproduce colonialist terms and relations to Native Americans, see Jodi A. Byrd, “Digital 2.0: Digital Natives, Political Players, and the Power of Stories,” Studies in American Indian Literature 26, no. 2 (2014): 55-64.

[xx] See Annie Sweeney, Jeremy Gorner, and Alexandra Chachkevitch, “Videos capture dramatic police shootout with carjacking suspect,” Chicago Tribune 18 Aug. 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-police-officer-shot-video-met-20160817-story.html.

[xxi] See the hashtag #noDAPL for example.

 

Bibliography

Blackbird, Andrew J. History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan. Ypsilanti, MI: 1887.

Brozzo, Shirley. “Circle of Life.” In Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry. Edited by Kimberly Blaeser, 37. Bemidji, MN: Loonfeather Press, 2011.

Byrd, Jodi A. Digital 2.0: Digital Natives, Political Players, and the Power of Stories,” Studies in American Indian Literature 26, no. 2 (2014): 55-64.

—. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Copway, George. The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation. London, 1850.

Day, Elizabeth. “#BlackLivesMatter: the birth of a new civil rights movement.” The Guardian, 19 July 2015. Accessed September 1, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement.

Delbourgo, James and Staffan Müller-Wille. “Introduction.” Isis Focus: Listmania 103, no. 4 (2012): 710-15.

Garvey, Ellen Gruber. Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Genetin-Pilawa, C. Joseph. Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight Over Federal Indian Policy After The Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Healy, Jack. “Occupying the Prairie: Tensions Rise as Tribes Move to Block a Pipeline,” New York Times 23 Aug. 2016. Accessed September 1, 2016.
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/us/occupying-the-prairie-tensions-rise-as-tribes-move-to-block-a-pipeline.html?_r=0.

Hochman, Brian. Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2014.

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Parker, Ely Samuel. Scrapbook 6. Edward E. Ayer Collection. The Newberry Library, Chicago, IL.

Stephens, Bijan. “Social Media Helps Black Lives Matter Fight the Power,” Wired (Nov. 2015). Accessed September 1, 2016. http://www.wired.com/2015/10/how-black-lives-matter-uses-social-media-to-fight-the-power/.

Sunday Inter Ocean, 18 Jan. 1891.

Sweeney, Annie, Jeremy Gorner, and Alexandra Chachkevitch. “Videos capture dramatic police shootout with carjacking suspect.” Chicago Tribune 18 Aug. 2016. Accessed September 1, 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-police-officershot-video-met-20160817-story.html.

Sweetgrass, Shari Narine. “Social media major driver in Idle No More movement.” Aboriginal Multi-Media Society 30, no. 11 (2013). Accessed September 1, 2016. http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/social-media-major-driver-idle-no-more-movement.

Tonkovich, Nicole. The Allotment Plot: Alice C. Fletcher, E. Jane Gay, and Nez Perce Survivance. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Vismann, Cornelia. Files: Law and Media Technology. Translated by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Warren, William W. History of the Ojibway People. 1885. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009.

 

 

Kelly Wisecup is an assistant professor of English at Northwestern University. She is at work on a book called Assembled Relations: Collection, Compilation, and Native American Writing, about the strategies with which eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Native American writers intervened in colonial collecting projects. She is the author of Medical Encounters: Knowledge and Identity in Early American Literatures (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013) and essays in The Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal, Early American Literature, Early American Studies, and Atlantic Studies.

 

Sarah Sillin, Guest Criticism Editor, received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and is currently a visiting assistant professor of American literature at Gettysburg College. Her book project, entitled Global Sympathy: Representing Nineteenth-Century Americans’ Foreign Relations, explores how writers envisioned early Americans’ ties to the larger world through their depictions of friendship and kinship. Sillin’s essays have appeared in Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States and Literature of the Early American Republic.

Three Works

Art / Susanna Heller

 

From the artist

:: Account ::

I walk every day up and down the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, over the bridges, along the waterfronts, and up onto the high perches of various tall towers, wildly sketching/drawing the movement and gestures of the urban landscape from all vantage points. (For example, one precious year spent on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center, North Tower, in 1999 – 2000.)

My paintings focus on space and movement; I want to suggest a constant sense of motion on the canvas, my implication being that ‘static’ or ‘complete’ are terms that don’t exist in our experienced lives! The seemingly contradictory pursuit, that is, using a very static and finite form as a painting or drawing to express these ideas, is exactly what intrigues me. It’s the way we humans interpret through the sensory, emotional, and social languages that I am negotiating. Through my application of color and paint, I have spent decades depicting wind, light, and smoke, and even travel, time, TIME PASSING. I want to bring clarity to the energy, smells, and sounds of the city; perspectives are distorted and are multiple in each work.

Often from a bird’s eye view, I am depicting moods of an urban atmosphere at the mercy of the natural elements, influenced and changed by dawn or rain, and an accompanying sense of flight or heady vertigo. My paintings encapsulate entire cityscapes: buildings crowded together below massive weather systems, full of energy and in perpetual turmoil.

Even in the most expressive paintings of sun or storm, the city is always present; it is a distinct reminder of our home and heart and life under the enormity of the skies.

A painting, like a walk, connects the physical experience: (feet on the ground/paint on the canvas), to movement, energy, and space. Past, present, and future are all ignited with each moment of seeing or each step taken. We all live in different ‘nows,’ but in a painting, you enter and travel in a multitude of ways at the same moment, a time element that is not linear but cyclical!

I love to read, interpret, and depict the thicks and thins of urban routes. A painting can bend, stretch, and multiply space and time in a single place. It can bring that which is invisible or unconscious, unnoticed or unnamed, into the forefront of a seemingly ordinary moment.

The high-pitched intensity of cities (mostly New York), can be expressed through chaotic masses of paint that explode above and below minimal skylines, which I like to make shift and disappear. These are sourced from hundreds of drawings done on sight during long wanderings on foot throughout the city. The paintings are about the city, but mostly they are about the thickness of paint and the ability of the human hand to move it.

 

Susanna Heller was born in New York in 1956, but grew up in Montreal, Canada. After completing college at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Heller returned to New York. She has lived and worked in Brooklyn since 1981. Her awards include grants and fellowships from the NEA, Guggenheim Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, Canada Council, and Yaddo. She is represented by the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto and MagnanMetz gallery in New York.

Portrait of the Artist as a Crazy Cat Lady

Nonfiction / Andrea Lambert

:: Portrait of the Artist as a Crazy Cat Lady ::

I told the handsome UCLA student in the bar that I was almost forty. He looked at my slim figure in leggings and scarf.

“How is that possible?” the boy asked.

“I do a lot of yoga and take care of my skin,” I replied. I also don’t date anyone under thirty-five.

The disclosure of my age killed that opportunity as it must and was intended to do. After my last twenty-something sugar baby I am no longer interested in that sort of relationship. It’s not worth the dick.

I am an excellent mid-life crisis girlfriend with my cultural capital, beauty, and family-funded unemployment. That is the only role I am auditioning for in Hollywood. I don’t want to ever get married or live together. I will never be the wicked stepmother to your children. Kids are a deal breaker up there with being unstably housed. All I would ever want is monogamous dating.

I am not even sure I ever want to date again. I take a vow of celibacy until the white skunk streak that I am growing out reaches my shoulders. I am content alone for the moment. A drama-free life is a blessing.

“Watch out for the sober lesbian widow, she’ll tell you a lot of weird shit,” is probably what was said about me in the bar I used to frequent. Along with what I was told was said: that I was bone thin and probably anorexic. Now that I don’t drink, there is nothing for me in bars. I can talk to my friends at home or in coffee shops.

The doctor I saw about losing forty pounds said that with my normal eating habits, sobriety, and daily yoga practice, it wasn’t an eating disorder or much to worry about. Might be my thyroid. I decided untreated hyperthyroidism was a luxury problem I didn’t mind having. Stocked up on ice cream. Decided to love my body rather then fear it. Ditched the boyfriend that took issue with it because if he disliked my body this much, he didn’t deserve to have sex with me anymore.

The box of condoms I bought the last time my boyfriend and I broke up sits unopened in a drawer next to my vibrator. I doubt I will open it for a while. Condoms for the single woman are a good staple to keep around like coffee or batteries. Despite my IUD I believe in safest sex with all new partners. Yet condoms expire. These might. Sex with women doesn’t require them.

My herpes and HPV are another reason that box of condoms will probably stay unopened. I simply can’t ethically do casual sex anymore. I know that. My STDs are a ticking time bomb if I don’t disclose and a reason for a potential fling to flee my bed in the middle of the night if I do.

“Bought the ticket, took the ride,” is how I feel about my herpes. With the amount of sex I’ve had in my life I’m just grateful I’m not HIV+. I take Valtrex every morning so I can’t transmit it and don’t have outbreaks. Any snooping hook-up could find the Valtrex along with the Xanax, Klonopin, Trileptal, Prozac, and Saphris in my medicine cabinet. Better to just not take anyone home to avoid that awkward conversation or benzodiazepine theft.

I know my limitations. I live within them.

At this point with the public way my transgressive writing dictates my life I would far prefer a potential lover to read about my STDs and come to terms with them before they approach me. Radical honesty both liberates and stigmatizes me but beats living with secrets and fear.

If this essay ensures I never get laid again, YOLO. I’m kind of too busy anyway.

I set dating on a shelf as I turn forty. A time capsule to open later. In a few years, perhaps, once I’ve published the four books I finished this year. When I have more time.

My entire life is free time, yet I am extraordinarily busy for someone without a job. I keep busy with writing and art so I don’t get sucked into my old wasteful self-destructive pursuits.

Romantic relationships with men and women are not something I have given up forever, but they are not a priority right now. Unlike the HBO show I watch I am not Looking. I have given up living like Sex and the City. Having read Tales of the City, I am trying to write a series of books like that.

I am content to wait until the trail of Internet breadcrumbs I create leading back to my witch-cave brings me another lover. I’m in no hurry. All I have is time.

I tell myself of this resolve as I reread what I have written here. I rinse my cat’s dish clean of her seventh birthday wet food. Cockroaches scatter in the sink.

The hardwood floored Hollywood one-bedroom where I’ve lived alone since the death of my wife becomes my paradise. My ivory tower of privilege with the cable television and cleaning lady. My tragic Miss Havisham jail where I lock myself up day after endless night hammering away on novels, poetry, and essays that may never be published.

Two books published in Europe seven years ago and a string of queer, Los Angeleno, and CalArts anthologies line the website I update religiously. With each publication and press link that accretes like coral over the years I hope with a fervent flaming hope that what I am devoting my life to is worth it.

What else is there for me? I have made my choices.

I know that it’s too late for me. To take back anything that I have published, tweeted, or done. To get back the forty years of halcyon delight and pain behind me. To change the course of this path I plot across a treacherous sea.

All I hope for in the fifty more years of isolated work and a series of cats that I see before me is to die in this same apartment in the four-poster bed my wife and Schizophrenic grandfather died in. I dedicate this face I lovingly coat with makeup to be eaten by a later cat. My fondest dream is to keep things as they are so that I can write and paint more, then die alone.

Is my desired future going to happen? I don’t know. Life intervenes. There are many things I have no control over, including gentrification and Ellis Act evictions. Yet intention is part of the battle, I would like to hope. All I can do is hope.

I pick up the cat shit from the bathtub with a piece of toilet paper. Drop it in the toilet. Flush. Come back into the living room. Look at the pile of paintings leaning against an antique chair. Put a few edits into this essay. Drink a sip of iced coffee. Smile.

It is what it is. Could be a lot worse. I really didn’t expect to live this long, what with the life I’ve led. Turning forty seems a blessing not a curse.

I choose to see blessings rather than tragedy as I must accept what is. Allow me my happiness and I won’t bother you further.

I read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in junior high and fell in love. Let this “Portrait of the Artist as a Crazy Cat Lady” act as litmus test. If I am to love again, it will find me in time.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Embarking upon my forties single, living alone with cat, could bring about a shiver of pathetic despair. I just broke up with my emotionally abusive on-again-off-again boyfriend of three years. My beloved wife committed suicide four years ago. I am alone except for a few female friends and a network of Internet community. Yet I am strangely content.

I decide never to marry or cohabitate again. I take a year-long vow of celibacy in order to avoid my tendency toward abusive relationships and financial entanglements. I go to therapy weekly. Journal for endless pages about my many deal breakers.

Yet instead of crying I sit alone in my apartment in triumph. This time I actually want to be alone. I get so much more done this way. I am a writer and artist. I am on SSDI for my Schizoaffective Disorder, thus I don’t and can’t have a job. My creative work becomes my sole focus and pleasure.

Everyone must make their choices, and for some people some of the choices are made for them. I didn’t choose my genetic mental illness. The litany and expense of medication, psychiatrist, and therapist are my crosses to bear. But the concurrent free time is a blessing I am trying to maximize.

I could throw myself into going to bars sober with my millennial best friend as I did the last time my boyfriend and I were broken up. But the last thing I want to do is spend money to hook up with alcoholic shitshows who may steal my things. I’m already so sick of answering questions about my tattoos and why I’m drinking Red Bull. I am incapable of small talk because I always get too deep too soon. I scare my prospects away like frightened bunny rabbits.

Vulnerability, honesty, and potentially risky disclosure are hallmarks of my personal essays. I am Google poison. I know that yet accept it to do the writing I am meant to do.

Every time I submit something new, I assess all of the terrible things that could happen. Sometimes I take a prescribed Xanax. Not every time, though; I submit a lot of work, and it’s not like I have an endless supply of benzodiazepines. Only enough to get me through the especially rough days. The psychiatric crises. Those moments in the grocery store or after finishing an especially problematic novel draft that my Anxiety Disorder cries out for relief.

No Xanax was consumed in the writing of this essay as I am comfortable with what I am saying herein. Only coffee and my regular five pm prescribed Klonopin and Trileptal.

At CalArts I read Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborg’s Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Critical theory discussing how the feminist who takes psychiatric medication is a cyborg. I prefer neurodiverse cyborg to broken failure, so I will roll with that.

Haraway’s essay states, “The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence.”

So am I. So is this essay.

 

Andrea Lambert is the author of Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin, and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Artist. CalArts MFA. Her work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Fanzine, Entropy, Angel’s Flight Literary West, HTMLGiant, Queer Mental Health, Five:2:One Magazine, and ENCLAVE. Her work has been anthologized in Haunting Muses; Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices; The L.A. Telephone Book, Vol. 1, 2011 – 2012; Off the Rocks, Volume #16: An Anthology of GLBT Writing; You’ve Probably Read This Before; and Chronometry. Find her online at andreaklambert.com.

Their Sons Return Home to Die

Fiction / JD Scott

:: Their Sons Return Home to Die ::

A tableau vivant: the sky like toy stuffing, polyester dyed sea foam, like goose down, like loose down, and when the plush clouds open, their sons descend down. Their sons come with wings too small for their bodies. The wings are costume, but also attached to their skeletons. The bones are part of their bodies. The wings are real too.

The families do not look at the theatrical sky when the sons return from the place they went—the place that is here—the place we look down from with our inversed telescopes pointed toward the earth. The families looked the other way when the sons first adorned themselves with wings and ascended.

Two thoughts occur simultaneously:
1) The wings were always there.
2) For a while, there were no sons across the earth.

Like a political cartoon our cumuli are solid sidewalks we walk through. One thousand meters above them—this is where we live now. Avenues we cross in long white robes jutting out at our ankles, a gilded sash around our waists matching the halo that hovers above our heads. The halo as a piece of copper attached by wire. It is an ensemble, but it is also sincere. If we look familiar, chock it up to coincidence.

Their sons are dying. The sons did not choose to die like they did not choose us, like we did not choose each other, although we did: a dummy blood, a counterfeit family. The sons return to their first families, the ones who inhabit the earth. The sons believe in a responsibility. The sons believe they need to go earthbound for their deaths to have meaning. We are the families of the sky. We are the ones who come second.

If the families looked, just for a moment—up—they would see scintillation in the darkness, the ultraviolet outline of blacklights. Glow, glow, fog rolling out of fog machines. A discothèque that rivals the sun with its glimmering void. Drops of beer leak from our impossible province in the sky. They could even be mistaken for rain. Their sons descend on a welkin beam. They return to the place the families inhabit, a clay and muddy place where the only gaze is inward. A place of gravel.

They are sons because they had parents, not because they are young, although some still are. Some have boyish features. Some could even be described as cherubic—the round curvature of the face. We are one Cupid after another: is this is how you want to imagine us?

The sons have returned because: pathology. Because: experience. Because suffering. The families do not have wings, never had wings, do not want to gaze upon the careful fan of feathers, two from each shoulder because the body was created in symmetry, the body was created perfect, although it’s not.

The families live in a variety of small towns. Some have one gas station that serves as a general store, sells fried chicken: and that’s it. There’ll be a post office, maybe a Walmart, but everything else is tree, tree, lake, tree, tree, lake, beating forth across the landscape in a careful rhythm. It is a familiar country, refusing its own diminuitiveness.

Each house holds an oldness to it: the faux-wood paneling shooting up and down like a heavenly beam. Linoleum flooring, formica counters. The sons have returned home to die. Their parents call them Michael, call them Gabriel, call them Raphael, but those are not their names. The longer the sons stay, the more the lights dim, the more the houses shift into something funerary. Not funerary. An actual funeral home.

Notice the word: home, as if a funeral home were a permanent dwelling, as if it were a proper place to do anything but yearn. The families wake up one day and their houses are longer, corridors that go to dead ends with red velvet curtains swooping inward. Urns appear, waiting to be filled. Tall bookcases disappear. The books remain at awkward corners until they do not. Glass figurines and paintings, too, go. The house is becoming elemental, becoming a vacated stomach, becoming a place between the past and a future notable for its casualty. A simple carpet, flecked, equally red, replaces all the shag. There are uncomfortable couches and fake flowers in vases. From somewhere unseen, a church organ plays.

Their sons have good days and bad days. Their rooms have not changed since they first ascended. The rooms stayed the same, dripped in a molasses of age eighteen—younger. The worn-out football poster, the supermodel tear sheet, the concert tickets attached to the headboard of the bed with thumbtacks pushed deep. Their sons return to a mental space they once inhabited. It is a young space, a teenage space of anything. The thin wisp of hope moving across the horizon. The ingenuity of desire, of looking at a mirror so close that the enlarged eye is all that can be seen. Under the sheets they dreamed of a thing. Imagine two doves folded into a shoebox together, the four wings frantically beating into each other. It would be like this.

Their sons tie their wings with childhood shoelaces, with package string; they slip them inside of their bleached robes and sit at the kitchen table, laughing. The families laugh too. It could be like before. They could love each other. They could be the same. They could time travel to when everything was simple. The families serve pancakes as tall as a torso. It’s comedic, the giant cube of butter, the way all that syrup slides down. Get it? The food is life, the food is symbol, the food is continuation, but the sons can’t keep it down all the same. Corn syrup and corn starch and the starched sleeves of the robe refusing to fold. There’s the body getting weak, throwing up an ooze over itself. The discharge. The vomit leaking down the chin. Couldn’t the sons make it to the bathroom first? But they are so weak. . . .

Everything stinks with a pock of nursing home, with a pock of things-to-come. There are facades of stained glass windows in the long hallways, LED lights behind them pretending to be sun. No one asks where they came from. They feature saints that no one can name.

The sons feel good and go for a bike ride. The sons feel good and go to Wednesday service with their families and read black books in small rooms that also have wood paneling, that also feel ancient, feel funerary, feel small.

Their sons feel good and miss us, and we miss their sons.

Up here we gallop and we mourn, we turn the knob of the music up and ugly-cry in the bathrooms of the vault of heaven. We make cocktails called Obituaries—two parts gin, a quarter absinthe, a quarter vermouth—dry—we dry our wet faces on our sleeves and guffaw through our morbidity and dream of descending to the other small towns where we are not their sons, but we knew their sons, we are their sons, we love their sons with a complicated blood.

Their sons get better and worse, better and worse and worse and worse. Pews appear in the garage. The sedan parked in the driveway becomes plumper, longer, taller, resembling a hearse. The sons walk through fields of mayapple, ragweed, heal-all, goldenseal, cat’s ears, bluets, bellwort, bloodroot, trillium, liverleaf, blazing star, verbena, snakeroot, Queen Anne’s lace. We play our trumpets, we hark, we send a tiny song through the breeze that reverbs on all the wildflower petals. It is overwrought, but we are overwrought with this sad devotion that throbs through us.

The sons feel good, for a moment, and then: the bed. Death not a noun, but a verb stretching out. Although certain. Their sons are blue-black, are a yellow-white, are a pink and a red and a green and the opalescent refract of a seashell. Their sons, no matter the color, pale. The familiar sight of cheekbones sinking.

The bound wings flake as aged doilies. They yellow. They rot. Still, they are beautiful to the eyes of us who watch from the empyrean.

The families decide. They sit at the edge of the deathbed with garden shears. They trim. Like a plastic Christmas tree disassembled. Like a hobby, a craft. The blood is not one color. It is dark and thick and leaks like ancient simple syrup. There are horseflies caught in the sweetness. Gnats. They stink and buzz and flap their tiny wings as they fall out of the bonetubes which once were the sons’ wings. Wings inside wings inside. . . .

The bone at the base of the shoulder blades is too hard. It can’t be trimmed. It looks fake. It looks like someone attached PVC pipe to skin with Sculpey, applied SFX makeup for the blend between avian and human. Although, can the hollow bones of birds ever look real on the anthropoid?

Most of the parents cannot gaze at their sons anymore. Most of the parents cannot stand to watch them die like this. But didn’t they deserve it? Didn’t they tell them not to go? Even if words like retribution and discipline cross the minds, no one wants to see a son suffer, not fully.

One of the parents puts an ear up to the bonehole. They expect to hear an ocean. They hear panting. They hear a scream. The son lays quietly, as skeletal as the bone that protrudes. Essential. Reduced to anatomy without meat. There is no strength in the body, but in the noise that comes from inside the son there is a terrible life. It is a voice that is echoed, distorted in a strange way from within. It is louder and bigger than a body. There are snare drums and moans and laughter. It is the laughter of the son, it is certainly his voice, but it is not a laughter the parent has ever heard. It sounds like joy.

The parent puts a parent eye up against the keyhole of the son. Something ichorous is leaking. Something gilded and fluid and almost possessing a scream or song of its own, even as a liquid. It sticks to the face, the parent face is screaming, but still the eye pushes up flush and gazes into the son as if he was a View-Master toy:

It is a blur of arms. It is robes and lipstick and dollar bills. It is a choir, a chandelier, a leather sofa where we throne ourselves. The parent looks through a reel, through a glorious portal in the son’s body and sees us looking back. Through the disease they don’t even have a name for they see us, not as they think we are, but as we actually are. For one fragmentation our eyes meet in the dark room of the son’s body. Then, the room: obscura, closed, empty, unlit, rayless, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

Wherever the sons depart to, it is not here. The fake flowers are replaced with real flowers. The parents get their sons’ favorite flowers wrong, but we are not there to correct. If, only for a moment, we close up the sky. For once, for the burial, for the open casket, we do not look down. We do not want to see what we knew already. We do not want to see this unfamiliar thing that serves their parents, but not us. We do not look down at the corpses of their wingless sons.

We say their sons, but they were our sons too. They were our brothers and our brothers and our brothers and we had to pretend to be fathers and we had to pretend to be other-sons and we had to hold each other in this place where we created a new people, a new household, a new home. Yes, a home, some idea of permanence. Some idea of inhabiting that cloudy firmament we reside in until we too may have to return home to die. We fear this death that went through them and took them from this place that is here. They were our lovers and our lovers and our lovers and we would turn our backs to salvation in a second to love them again.

We will open up the clouds again. We will hold this impossible ground in the sky until their parents come out in the field and stare up. We will meet their scrutiny without our sons in the middle. We will connect somewhere between earth and air. They will acknowledge, and we will nod from the edge of our sky-stage, but we will not descend. We will look down long enough, if only for the angle of our haloes to catch sun. In the flat copper: a tiny refraction of light that looks like the faces of all those who left. The molecules of our sons inside the ashes scattered at sea, their atoms decomposing in wooden boats beneath the earth. We will let the reflection of that star beam down hotly. How fast light moves through the air! If only to blind them for a second. If only so we can be petty, if only so we can not forget. That deciding glare, descending, determining, the harsh light coming down to nick each parent in the eye and remind.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

One of the word-of-mouth narratives I encountered frequently after moving to Alabama was the story of the sons who returned home to die. There is something seemingly site-specific about the young gay men who could not find acceptance in their small Southern towns, so they moved away to bigger, urban areas—many up North. They replaced their families of origin—who rejected them—with their families of choice. When the AIDS epidemic broke out in the 1980s, many of these men ultimately decided to return to their places of birth to die. As the stories go, many of these men were rejected by their original families upon returning home. Ruth Coker Burks, known as the cemetery angel, took care of hundreds of gay men who were dying in and around Hot Springs, Arkansas. She buried dozens of them (in a cemetery plot she inherited) with her own two hands after their families refused to claim their bodies. Pride events are still very new to where I live in Tuscaloosa. Last year, we stood in a plaza and various members of our community came forward to speak. One woman, an older woman who could barely stand, was the one who said we Tuscaloosans were the ones who had to watch our men return home to die. Her refutation—the mournful, bitter fire in her throat when she spoke—this is what stuck with me, giving me the punitive voice to create a chorus of winged beings.

The South is both imaginary and real. Its borders are in flux. Its people are not the same. I have no interest in taking easy pot-shots at a place like Alabama, a place like the South, because these are not the only places guilty of rejecting loved ones, of thriving via religious zealotry, of denying queer people their humanity. Yet, still, the story of those who returned home to die is embedded into this geography. It’s here. It’s in the land like the bodies Ruth Coker Burks buried. I’ve always had a fondness for angels, finding them strangely transgressive, both in their androgynous features and in their homoerotic iconography. In my process, it made sense for me to feel out these images of angels, cemeteries, funeral homes, homeish homes, religious iconography, the AIDS crisis, afterlives. . . It all made sense to load up the strands and weave some fabulist retelling of this story that is ingrained in this place I currently dwell in.

In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando—my home turf, my first adolescence—the way I represented heaven as a kind of nightclub takes on another level of meaning. While I originally wrote this to be a fantastic reimagination of the AIDS crisis, I now hope the story of the men who left the earth for heaven, only to return to that same terrestrial world to die—I hope the icon of the angels can do more work—speak to the sadnesses and rages that continue to rise out of our guts.

 

JD Scott is the author of two chapbooks: FUNERALS & THRONES (Birds of Lace Press, 2013) and Night Errands (YellowJacket Press, 2012). Recent and forthcoming publications include Best American Experimental Writing, Salt Hill, The Pinch, The Atlas Review, Apogee, Winter Tangerine, and Tammy.

Behind the Velvet Curtains

Fiction / Andrea Quinlan

:: Behind the Velvet Curtains ::

The Wildflowers

Flora’s bedroom was on the top story of a nondescript terraced house in the least fashionable part of West London. It was a nice enough room, but the heavy wooden furniture and dark velvet curtains gave it a sombre and somewhat depressing atmosphere. This wasn’t ideal for Flora, who had been virtually bedridden with a mysterious illness for the last couple of weeks. Despite this, Flora’s sister Lottie was always close at hand to bring a little cheer. She had bought a bouquet of wild flowers from a street seller which Flora’s mother had arranged for her in a vase on her bedside table. They didn’t see much sunlight and were browning a little at the edges. It seemed a shame to have them in here when they could be enjoying a natural life out in the garden, but Flora loved them so and they seemed to bring life and color into her dreary room.

Elsinore

One of Flora’s favorite ways to pass the time in bed was in reading from her piles of poetry books and plays. Shakespeare was her particular favorite, and Hamlet was her favorite play. Lottie much preferred the romance of Romeo and Juliet but agreed that the tragedy of Hamlet was quite engrossing. Sometimes Lottie would join her in enacting scenes from the play in her room, and the confines of the bedroom soon disappeared and the sisters were transported to the castle of Elsinore. Despite her liveliness and Flora’s natural reserve—it was Lottie who favored the role of Ophelia whilst Flora played Hamlet. A picture of Sarah Bernhardt dressed in a dashing cloak, fur trimmed tunic and stockings was stuck in Flora’s mind. She pulled one of her rugs around her shoulders whilst Lottie used the wildflowers from Flora’s arrangement to decorate her hair.

A Visit to the Theatre

With each day that passed, Flora grew more and more restless. Her pictures and plays were no longer amusing to her. Even the flowers and treats from the bakery Lottie brought her couldn’t bring a smile to her face. Her mother and sister despaired until Lottie came into her room with a cutting from a newspaper. “Look at this!” she announced triumphantly as she sat on the end of Flora’s bed. Flora eyed the small cutting Lottie had thrown onto her bedspread. Lottie picked it up and threw it at her sister. “Well read it!” Flora picked it up and read the headline; “Hamlet at the Adelphi theatre!”—“And you, Mother, and I are going on Saturday this week! Our seats are booked already,” Lottie cut in. Suddenly it seemed that a little light was seeping into her room through a gap in the velvet curtains.

Anticipation

There were many preparations to be made before a big trip to the theatre. Flora and Lottie didn’t have the luxury of buying new dresses since money was tight for them and their widowed mother, but they could buy new ribbons—which Lottie arrived laden with one afternoon after a trip to the milliner’s. Flora and Lottie did magical things with these to give their best dresses new life. They made flowers and butterflies from velvet, satin, silk, and pearl buttons. They would be the belles of the theatre according to their mother. Flora knew her mother had hopes for both of them in making a match. It would save her from a world of worry. Flora couldn’t help feeling like it might be entering another world of all different worries and felt apprehensive when she thought of it. Especially about Lottie—who had a tendency to throw herself into things without giving them enough thought. But for now they would enjoy being young and being in the magical world of art and life which comes together at the theatre!

In Front of the Velvet Curtains

Soon the night of Hamlet had arrived and Flora, Lottie, and their mother were seated in front of the red velvet curtains at the Adelphi theatre. This was very different than being in front of the velvet curtains in her bedroom even though at present they both kept her apart from worlds. They were seated in the better seats of the second floor gallery and had a prime view of the stage. The theatre brought together all the people of London, from the upper classes in the private boxes to the working classes in the stalls and the pit and the middle class, of which they were a part, in the gallery. Flora and Lottie looked across to the boxes. There were two elderly ladies in one of them. There were two young girls with a young man in one of the others. The young girls were very beautiful with elegant evening dresses with no sleeves and hair in elaborate ringleted hairstyles. She momentarily felt like they were poor cousins to those girls in their mended dresses with cheap ribbons and bows added on—then she felt proud. They were different. What they had couldn’t be bought. Her thoughts were interrupted by the house lights going down and the stage lights going up. Soon they would no longer be in a theatre looking at a stage—but they would be in Elsinore. They would see Hamlet and Ophelia in the flesh!

Hamlet

In fact our heroines had to wait some time before they saw Hamlet and Ophelia in the flesh. The first scene of act one of Hamlet concerned Horatio, the soldiers, and Hamlet’s father’s ghost. The ghost was unnerving, but they really wanted to see the characters they themselves had embodied. It would be strange to be in the room with them. Hamlet finally appeared in scene two. He strode out into the centre of the stage and stared out at the audience with a gaze which went past them all. The young actor playing him was called Fabian Wood and was making quite a name for himself in London as a Shakespearean actor. Flora wasn’t impressed by any of that, however—nor with the fact that he was quite handsome with dark brown hair flecked with golden touches. She was looking to see if there was something in him. Something familiar and strange at the same time. She was still watching and thinking by the time Ophelia appeared in scene three. The actress playing her was called Millicent Tree. She was also known as a star of the music hall so had a much more worldly air about her than Shakespeare’s fragile heroine who was not of this world, or even Elizabeth Siddal whose likeness in Millais’ painting was a favorite of the sisters. She was more of a voluptuous Pre-Raphaelite heroine who didn’t look like she would throw herself into a river for any man. Flora and Lottie had to admit that Hamlet and Ophelia in the flesh were something to behold.

Back to Reality

The glimpse into Elsinore on the stage of the Adelphi theatre was all too brief. Soon they were seated on a chair in a rattling carriage taking them home. Their mother dozed on the seat opposite—her bonnet still neatly on her head. Flora and Lottie had removed their hats and gloves and were talking about the performance in hushed and excited tones. “You know what I’d like most in the world?” asked Flora eagerly. “To meet the dashing Fabian Wood?” Lottie asked. “No—to take to the stage as Hamlet and Ophelia ourselves. I want to feel what it is like to be them. I want to feel the weight of a sword in my hands for a start!” Flora’s eyes lit up. “Well we are not actors, so I don’t see how we are going to do it!” Lottie could sometimes be so practical. “You’re right. It seems hopeless.” Flora sighed and sank into the seating of the carriage, despondently.

Dreams

Even as thoughts of the play filled her with a certain excitement, unlike what she had known when art had been far from alive other than in her imagination, Flora felt despondent in the days after their trip to the theatre. Even though she hadn’t seen Sarah Bernhardt nor been on the stage herself—the performance had left a mark on her. Lottie teased her that it was the handsome Fabian Wood who had played Hamlet who she was now dreaming about rather than the fleshless characters of her books. Flora was a dreamer, so flesh and blood didn’t excite her as much as her sister may think. Yet her dreams had been strange and exciting each night since the performance. She had been running through the forest. Metal had clashed with metal. There had been cries and anguish. The Prince of Denmark had been there—but he hadn’t been the man she had read about in Shakespeare. He hadn’t been the man she had seen on stage. He hadn’t even been Sarah Bernhardt. He had been her very self!

A Plot

“Flora!” Lottie landed on the bottom of Flora’s bed with a crash that made the metal bedhead thump against the wall and Flora herself jolt partly with the movement and partly in fright. “What?! What’s wrong?!” “Nothing—in fact, I have had an idea of how we might make your dream a reality. When I went to the bakery this afternoon, I talked to the baker’s boy about the Adelphi theatre. He said that he could work out a way of us getting into the theatre on a Sunday afternoon when nobody is using it!” Lottie exclaimed triumphantly. “Wouldn’t that be wrong?! What on earth would the managers do if they found that we had broken in? We could be sent to jail.” Flora shivered at the thought of being trapped even more permanently than in her current invalid state in her bedroom. “It’s not breaking in. In fact, this boy says that his sister is a singer in the music hall with Millicent. If anybody comes we can say that we have a message from Mildred for Millicent!” Lottie seemed to have all the answers. “Well—I guess it does sound feasible but how will we get in?” Flora asked cautiously. “Well that’s easy—we wait until they have locked up and then with a handy little piece of wire—we unlock the doors to the kingdom!”

The Theatre in the Daytime

Flora and Lottie decided that they needed to figure out the workings of the theatre before they could stage their plan to get onto the actual stage! The baker boy set up a meeting for them with his sister Mildred. They were to meet her at a tearoom near the theatre in town. Then they would go to the theatre during one of Millicent’s rehearsals and meet her. Mildred would say that they were two young girls who had seen her performance and were dying to meet her—which wasn’t far from the truth. It would allow them to get the lay of the theatre before they returned and sneak in again at night for their secret performance! Although they both felt nervous dressed in their best day suits with gloves and hats in the tearoom—they soon saw a friendly face. “You must be Flora and Lottie! I’m Mildred. It’s wonderful to meet you. Sam told me all about the two of you.” Flora wondered what exactly he had told her. “I know of all of your plans, and I thoroughly approve of them!” She gave them a conspiratorial wink and took them arm in arm. “Let’s get some tea, and then we’ll go to the theatre and meet Milly! She will be most flattered.”

In Milly’s Dressing Room

Milly’s dressing room was a cave of delights fit for the royal Ophelia. It had a large mirror with candelabra on either side and a rack of costumes. Her various greasepaints and accessories were on a small table in front of the mirror. “Would you girls like to try on some costumes?” She gave Flora and Lottie a conspiratorial wink. “Oh, yes please!” Lottie shrieked. “Here—let me see.” Milly walked over to the rack and flicked through the hanging garments with a studied air. She pulled out a red velvet dress in an Elizabethan style. “Try this one, my darling.” She passed the dress to Lottie. “That looks wonderful! I’m sure you will make an even better Ophelia than Milly!” Mildred laughed. Milly gave Mildred a mock disdainful glance. “Less of your cheek. Now, for you!” She looked at Flora with a faintly amused look in her eyes. “I wonder. . .” She moved from one end to the other end of the rack. “How would you like to be. . . Rosalind?” Flora felt her cheeks burning as she gazed at the green and brown velvet tunic and breeches Milly held out before her. “I—I would like to be Rosalind very much. Very much so. Thank you.” She smiled and hugged the costume to her. “It looks like you have both met your matches!” Mildred clapped her hands together.

The Prince of Denmark

Soon the day of the secret performance arrived and Flora, Lottie, and Mildred arrived at the theatre. It was empty as far as they could tell. They had waited in the shadows of the alley until the young theatre hand had locked the door and exited onto the main street. Lottie rushed over to the door and began fiddling with the lock with a long piece of wire. She soon had it open! The kingdom of Elsinore awaited them inside. “Where’s the props room?” Flora looked anxiously around. They had ended up in a long corridor. “It’s that way!” Mildred exclaimed. Soon they found it. Lottie ran and touched all the rich velvets and furs of the costumes and screeched with excitement as she danced around with a fur trimmed cape. Flora scanned the room looking for only one thing—and there it, or rather they, were in the corner. Hamlet and Laertes’ swords! She walked over to them and tentatively placed her hand on the hilt of one of them. It felt strange and heavy in her hands, but a rush of excitement crept over her. She walked towards Lottie. “I have found what I was looking for!”

Caught in the Act

“I can’t think why you like that sword so much. Is it because Fabian touched it?” She giggled as she made a beeline for her maiden costume. Flora was silent. “I don’t think your sister’s tastes lie in that direction.” Mildred gave Flora a knowing wink. Flora looked mainly confused rather than having a knowing answer. They could both think what they liked. Flora barely liked to let her thoughts form. Flora could wear Rosalind’s costume again, but—no—she couldn’t, or could she? She longed for one costume and one costume only. The tunic and cloak Fabian had worn. He had worn tights, hadn’t he? She searched and couldn’t find those—well Rosalind’s breeches would do again. The sisters both hurriedly threw off their walking suits and put on their new costumes. “Oh, my!” said Lottie looking at Flora dressed as Hamlet. “You make a very pretty Hamlet.” “And you make a beautiful Ophelia but hurry—we shouldn’t waste any time.” Flora picked up a sword and the three girls hurried to the darkened stage. Even though it was daylight outside they could barely see. “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!” Flora found her voice strange ringing through the empty and shadowy theatre. But she got bolder and was about to continue when suddenly the stage was flooded with light and the two girls—Hamlet and Ophelia—were exposed. What was going on? Flora could feel her heart beating fast.

An Audience

“That was marvelous! We wanted some light so we could see you better!” Flora looked out into the auditorium and two shadowy figures became clearer. It was Milly and she recognized that voice. . . it was Fabian who had spoken. “I knew you girls were up to something, even though Mildred wouldn’t tell me what was going on!” Milly waved her finger at Mildred, who stepped out from the shadows of the wings. Milly was dressed in an elegant Burgundy suit with a hat with a feather in it. Fabian wore a neat black overcoat over a pinstriped suit. “Please continue—we’ll all watch you from the gallery.” “Oh no—we can’t!” Flora replied, suddenly slightly ashamed and unsure. “Oh yes you can and you will,” Milly laughed—a ringing and rich laugh. “Or else I will tell the manager about you two, and we would’t want that now, would we?” Resigned to continue, Flora and Lottie picked up where they left off. Fabian, Milly, and Mildred whispered in low tones from their seats up in the gallery. “Flora is quite something,” said Milly. “She is,” agreed Fabian and Mildred. Whilst she was acting, Flora thought of the other Hamlet and Ophelia more than she thought of herself and Ophelia even though she knew that she should be letting the magic of the role overtake her as this was a chance to live her dream. Reality was a little different from dreams, though, and her flesh felt all too solid. She was aware of it in a new way. She was aware of a desire. It wasn’t exactly for Fabian like Lottie thought, or even for Milly like Mildred presumably thought. She might be hungry for experiences, but she knew that she wanted more than just love. She wanted art, and she wanted the world!

In the Light

After the performance Mildred, Lottie, and Flora packed up quickly. Milly and Fabian had invited them out for a fish supper at a nearby cafe. Soon they were all seated around a table. Flora looked at her companions. Unlike the characters in Shakespeare’s play, they were lively and full of life. This was a world outside of the confines of her room and her family—even though she loved them dearly. “Milly?” Flora began hesitantly. “Yes, my dear,” Milly looked expectantly at Flora. “What is it? Let me guess—you loved performing and would like to make it a more regular thing? Well, I don’t know that there are any openings at the Adelphi at the moment as they only take very experienced actors and actresses, as I’m sure you well know—but if you don’t mind something a little less regal. . . I believe we may have an opening at the Empress Music Hall.” “I’ll arrange a meeting for you with our manager.” Flora smiled. She had found her sword, and that was the world of performing in the theatre!

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I first had the idea of writing a story relating to a staging of the play Hamlet when I saw a punk version of the play staged locally. In this version, a woman played Hamlet. At about the same time, I also happened to come across a picture of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet on an artist friend’s Tumblr. This alerted me to a history of female actresses taking on the role.

Whilst I had initially thought of setting my story in the present time, I thought I’d set it in the Victorian era as I have been reading a lot of Sarah Waters’ novels recently, and she is a big inspiration to me. It is an era I have dealt with in my own work before too—my series of gothic poems The Mysteries of Laura, in particular. I also studied Victorian art and literature so research in this area is very familiar and endlessly fascinating to me.

Like Nan King in Tipping the Velvet, Flora is an unconventional character although she has been living the life of an invalid for a time. She is intrigued by the lives of actors—in particular the likes of the aforementioned Sarah Bernhardt who eschewed typical roles for women both on the stage and off.

This story is about how Flora sees her restricted world opening up. I could have made Flora see a female Hamlet, but I also saw the play well done locally with a more traditional male casting. In that sense it doesn’t matter who she sees playing the character. In Fabian Wood, Lottie sees a traditional romantic interest for her sister. Mildred and Milly have their own plans for Flora, but she takes control of her own life and knows that she wants to move in the world on her own terms and that the world of the theatre and performance have given her an opening to do this.

 

Andrea Quinlan is a writer and performer based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her chapbooks are We Speak Girl (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), The Mysteries of Laura (Birds of Lace, 2013), and I Wear My Heart On My Sleeve (Dancing Girl Press, 2016). She has had poetry published in various journals and zines including Wicked Alice, HAG, Finery, Poems in Which, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Chapess, and the Best Friends Forever anthology (The Emma Press, 2014). She also interviews artists for her blog, Cyber Fairytales.

From Party Spirit

Poetry / Candice Wuehle

:: & with the intervention of the profession::

wuehle-poem-1

 

:: & of where in the composition ::

wuehle-2

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The first poem of Party Spirit was written in Laugarvatn, Iceland—a small spa town I was visiting for one month to experience the Midnight Sun. Originally, I was interested in the impact twenty hours a day of sunlight would have on me somatically. I wanted to feel, as CA Conrad says, “seemingly infinite space between body and spirit by using any possible THING around or of the body to channel the body and/or in toward spirit with deliberate and sustained concentration.” The THING of the sun channeled my body into a state of uncertainty, a sense that the clock of my body was not tuned while engaging my spirit with an awareness of a terrible sublime, of a self-smallness that was not a problem but an avenue to understanding the impossible largess of ecology. This manifested through poems concerned with limit experiences and thresholds—masks, skin, steam, laughter, grief, spirituality. The Party Spirit, the X-cuctioner, The Professional Mourner, and other “characters” became figures that existed in the space resisted definition. The Party Spirit herself is forged through an event she cannot remember that renders her along the edge of a lake I imagine as George Oppen’s “unrimmed hole.” Her promise is represented by her total lack of engagement with the borders of what defines most of us as human: a society, law, time, a sense of how much physical or emotional space she consumes on earth. She herself becomes a site without edges that therefore is unable to consider a “relation” or lack of relation to the substances of her world. She is a generator of possibility; I tried to invest her with Derrida’s notion of “Limitrophy.” She doesn’t spend her life “effacing the limit, but in multiplying its figures, in complicating, thickening, delinearizing, folding, and dividing the line precisely by making it increase and multiple” (Derrida, The Animal that Therefore I Am 29). She connects to animals, weather, time because she no longer knows she is not animal, weather, or time. For me, she is a lockless key. An opening to experiences unimaginable; a “seemingly infinite space”; a radical connecter of experience.

 

Candice Wuehle is the author of the chapbooks curse words: a guide in 19 steps for aspiring transmographs (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and EARTH*AIR*FIRE*WATER*ÆTHER (Grey Books Press, 2015). Her work can be found in Tarpaulin Sky, The Volta, The Colorado Review, SPORK, The New Orleans Review, and Juked, among others. She is originally from Iowa City, Iowa and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Currently she resides in Lawrence, Kansas where she’s a Chancellor’s Fellow at The University of Kansas. She lives with William (a very fat bunny) and her partner, Andrew.

Two Poems

Poetry / Artress Bethany White

:: An American Moor in Spain ::

Motherland is as tangible
as the blackness of skin
and the kink of a lock 
of burnished hair 
under an Iberian sun.

This to a German child
visiting Spain says it all: 
You’re African. His words stated
so emphatically after assuring him
I am American that I can
feel the annoyance 
blossom in my chest 
and tighten my jaw.

How to navigate this moment
when a child professes to know
more than me about who I am
as his mother stands behind 
clasping small shoulders to her womb,
daring me to contradict
her son’s Teutonic intellect.
Her smirk saying go ahead, 
deny your continent, your birthright.

My nativity was cultivated
in the breast milk
of a native-born mother,
resting in the sinews of her progeny,
as precise an articulation as 
lips to breast, hand over heart
an unshakable pledge of fealty. 

This is not treason;
I am an American, though black. 
I am stolen goods
but can trace my family back 
three hundred years on US soil, 
longer than Whitman’s leaves of grass, 
longer than this anger will last
as I walk away muttering 
I am an American.


 

:: Role Reversal ::

	for Sandra Bland

The cruiser makes a tight u-turn 
                          on a rural highway, because 
an Illinois plate reminds him 
                          of a visit to Chicago’s Navy Pier 
on an early spring day so windy
                          he felt the hawk peck the skin
of his features like a knife, but today 
                          just wants to relive the sojourn 
with someone who will know
                          what he means when he says,
well, cold. And say, after relief 
                          brightens Sandra’s untroubled 
brown face, she tells the cop 
                          about the job luring her from
 Chicago back to this southwestern
                           place, and he swells with pride
pleasure unwinding in his voice 
                          while stating with a bow 
Welcome back to Texas,
                           I sure hope you enjoy us now.



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I find myself resolving traumatic childhood events in my poetry. This is a byproduct of clearly not having the intellectual tools as a kid to process a complex world. “An American Moor in Spain” reveals how a simple encounter around the issue of national identity as a teenager in Spain became a watershed moment in my first-hand experience with monolithic notions of blackness. It was a shock to be called out of my American identity by a stranger and to be questioned once I corrected the perpetrator. In the moment, I remember being angry because I was basically being called a liar. Later, I realized that my very right to exist in an American context was being questioned because of the color of my skin, a phenomenon I would come to know as de rigueur as an African American adult in the US. Similarly, the poem “Role Reversal” imagines a moment when a young black woman’s death could have been avoided if the motivation behind her being pulled over had been an act of benign randomness instead of calculated racial profiling.

 

Artress Bethany White, PhD is the author of Fast Fat Girls in Pink Hot Pants: Poems (Aldabra Press, 2012). She has received the Mary Hambidge Distinguished Fellowship from the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts for nonfiction and The Mona Van Duyn Scholarship in poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. New nonfiction is forthcoming in Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Letters and Song (University of Tennessee Press, 2016). Recent poetry has appeared in Poet Lore and Menacing Hedge.

« étoiles »

Poetry / Marci Vogel

:: « étoiles » ::

	 . . . trouver bien et mal, bel et lait, sens et folie, et fere son preu de tout par les 	
        examples de l’estoire.  

 	. . . find good and evil, the beautiful and ugly, sense and folly, and profit from all 
        through the example of history. 

						                                Les grandes chroniques de France
 

vogel-image-1 The queen consort enters Paris | August 1389

vogel-1-1 vogel-2

 

vogel-image-2 The king, seized by madness in the forest of Le Mans | August 1392

vogel-2

 

vogel-image-3 Bal des ardents | January, 1393

vogel-3

 

vogel-image-4 The Duchess of Orléans leaves Paris | 1396

vogel-4

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The unfamiliarity of words allows a certain freedom, and sometimes strange collisions. In Old French, the word estoire means “history,” but it’s also tied to the physical object that conveys the history—the chronicle itself, the narrative source. Estoire can also mean the story of a factual occurrence, which is both tied to time and extends beyond it.

How does our language about any one particular event shift from conveyance to legend, to a story we tell over and over again—like a star, outliving the moment of its birth?

These poems are part of a sequence called « étoiles ». They began as a means of translating a public history and personal story of late medieval poet, Christine de Pizan.

The daughter of an astrologer to Charles V, Christine was widowed at age 25. At that moment the door to our misfortunes was opened, and I, who was still very young, entered. Christine began writing to support herself and her family, engaging in a rigorous course of self-study with the aid of books from the king’s vast library.

As with most life-altering events, my introduction to Christine happened by accident. I was enrolled in a Chaucer course, but my attention kept wandering. One day in the library stacks, I came across a book with brief mention of Christine. Her story so compelled me, I began relearning French after an absence of thirty years so that I might get closer to her poetry.

But poetry, made of language, is not separate from the consciousness of its maker, who exists in a particular place and time in history. And so my wandering continued to unfamiliar waters. As it happens, another definition for estoire is “a fleet of ships,” or an armada. Christine lived in a time of intense historical and political upheaval, and she very intentionally wrote to effect the betterment of a court beset by devastating mental illness and vicious infighting.

The illuminations depicted here, accessed through the digitized collection of the British Library, are from the Chroniques of Jean Froissart, one of the most popular vernacular histories of fourteenth-century England and France. Secular manuscripts such as Froissart’s and the Grandes chroniques de France were typically much larger than devotional books, with lavish narrative illustrations of factual persons, battles, and spectacles. Their audiences included nobles and royals. As Tracey Adams notes, Christine would have relied upon them as an important source for her work.

Charged with brilliant hues, grand pageantry, and dramatic urgency, these centuries-old illuminations relay immediate access to histories inhabited by Christine, and the possibility struck me that our eyes had gazed on the same pictorial stories. Not only the ones in the chronicles, but the ones in the sky.

I began to wonder what shape a poem might take if it were a constellation. How might it tell the story of a young queen? of a king, suffering terrifying incapacity? of tragic entertainments? of a foreign-born noblewoman, unjustly wronged?

In close proximity to the word estoire, my library dictionary lists the Old French word for star: estoile. And if your eye wandered just a bit further, you’d find estoile: see estoire. Which might be translated to mean: History is written in the stars.

Maybe poetry is what illuminates the stories we read there.

 

Marci Vogel is the author of At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, winner of the 2015 Howling Bird Press Poetry Prize. Her writing and translations appear or are forthcoming in Plume, Waxwing Literary Review, Brooklyn Rail, Prairie Schooner, and Quarter After Eight. She recently served as a guest commentator for the Jacket2 series, « A poetics of the étrangère » and as a writer-in-residence at Marnay Art Centre in Marnay-sur-Seine, France.

From PRE-

Poetry / Barbara Tomash

:: [per-] ::

the breaking (the striking or tapping)

of chest, back		stem, leaf 	with fingertips

as the hammer of a firearm against a powder cap
 
commit (a blunder)	hitting one body against another 	

as tambourine		as diagnosis

impose bewilderment	 	a child’s word for 	

something evil


 

:: [ab-] ::

the leaving out or substituting letters / the taking in & not reflecting 
	the sucking in & changing into heat

by black surface / lack as in absence of evidence / as in a line cut off   
	as in away, from, from off, down 

a small change in position / the formal giving up	
	source, cause, agency & instrument / drink, drank, drunk 

to wash off that makes clean / the failure of light rays to shudder
	the motion of earth & of light polishing

to converge to a single focus / as in entanglement (barbed wire)
	or a barricade of felled trees with branches facing

to shrink away from 
 	an error in a mirror 


 

:: [a-] ::

in a wind from straight ahead / in an imaginary line / in an un-
manageable condition / marks like scratches / rid of color 
to rise in waves / headless (futile) / weakened form of  
small dry fruit / no part of the body / differentiated / because of 
(harshness of words) / hyphenated or un- / a sudden shift in wind 
to astonish



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The poems in PRE- spin out from dictionary definitions for words beginning with particular English prefixes. All the language is found—but, fractured and juxtaposed with a free-hand, freewheeling approach. I am working instinctually and with a method that is perhaps more common in the visual arts. I lay out the materials I have gathered—in this case words and phrases from the dictionary—and examine them disassociated from their source—then, in a process of trial and error I begin creating an assemblage out of them—the assemblage is the poem. I don’t know where the juxtapositions will take me—that is what I want to find out—that is my inquiry.

What meanings and emotions can arise out of this instinct of mine to put non-narratively attached language pieces together? I don’t want to create a new narrative—I do want to transform. I want to metamorphose the purposeful, explicatory, directive language of the dictionary into something that surprises and glows, that stumbles, make mistakes, that disregards and regards. One of my attractions to prefixes as a jumping off point is that they are agents of transformation—and that that is all they are—they do not stand outside their agency. By creating a new beginning (and they create it by the action of butting up against and thus hold the art of collage within themselves) they change the world/word into something it wasn’t before they arrived.

I don’t know what the assemblage (poem) is going to “mean” or the emotions it will hold until it starts to take shape. As it takes shape, I get a feeling that has a movement or direction—this movement is the lyric element, the lyric response—it is a response within the making, not outside it. This feeling/thinking that comes out of the act of juxtaposing directs the choices I make. Perhaps a theme emerges—and since these come out of my unconscious preoccupations, I do find shared themes throughout the work—a preoccupation with the body (female), its intimacies and vulnerabilities; the human in concert with and alienation from nature; death, transformation, and the spirit; human created catastrophe (war, devastation, cruelty), natural catastrophe, displacement, and exile.

And voice is an inquiry too—the voice of the process itself—not of a speaker, per se— I hope this voice of juxtaposition, with its odd sounds of rearrangement and strange sutures, is invitational to the reader, sparks thinking and feeling. Where I (the writer) come in as voice is as the shaper of the process, or more truly the user of the process—obviously this same process in other hands would create completely different poems. Is the hand that chooses material and makes juxtapositions equivalent to voice? Can language taken out of the “telling” context be flexible and pleasurable and emotive and even personal—a talk between writer and reader? That is an inquiry too.

 

Barbara Tomash is the author of three books of poetry, Arboreal (Apogee, 2014), Flying in Water, which won the 2005 Winnow First Poetry Award, and The Secret of White (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, New American Writing, VOLT, Bateau Press, Verse, Jacket, OmniVerse, ZYZZYVA, Parthenon West Review, Third Coast, Five Fingers Review, Witness, and numerous other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.

In Case of Emergency

Poetry / Michael Marberry

:: In Case of Emergency ::

Run, do not walk. The slow are the first to die in the movies. At the movies, the people are always running forward and upright, blurredly like a time-lapse diagram of bipedal evolutionary movements. The movies remind us of what it’s like to run toward trains, away from raptors. (It doesn’t matter.) In case of emergency, first assess the situation: if your life is filmed by Michael Bay, you must ready yourself to escape from the baddies by bolting through an office building, through the glass cubicles with squibs and projectiles creating a cascade of overwhelming visual spectacle, through the parade of 8.5×11 confetti and pyrotechnic sparks, the flicker of fluorescent lights, some schmuck’s coffee mug that reads “World’s Best Dad,” which shatters like an IED of porcelain sight-gags. If you fall, you can fix it in post. If your life feels too frenetic, take an aspirin—it’s only Tony Scott. If woozy, Greengrass. If epic, Ford. Suddenly, and without any warning, the world seems to slow on its axis. No, it’s Woo or maybe Peckinpah. This is perfectly normal, this is perfectly normal. God help you should you find yourself in a sports biopic, where you must outrun the coal-towns of your parent’s sudden death or disapproval via montage. Or perhaps you’re Tom Cruise and the movies just exist to send you sprinting. (Bless you! You’re disliked, sure, but you move like the maniac of Darwin.) There are at least three notable examples worth mentioning where running saves someone it ought not in the movies. One: in Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, the beautiful actor-robots outrun the cold in post-apocalyptic New York City. Two: in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, Mark Wahlberg and friends outrun the wind. Three: in John McTiernan’s Predator, a glorious film, Arnold Schwarzenegger outruns an atomic bomb which the alien detonates with Sonny Landham’s laugh, boisterous and loud like a fuck-your-mother. Somewhere, Buster Keaton is alive and saying, Fuck-your-mother! I once outran a mountain! In case of emergency or onset existentialism, it’s important to remember how many idiots it takes to greenlight even the worst disaster. Silence your cellphone. Focus on the nearest illuminated EXIT located at the front and rear of the theatre. Do not shout “Fire!” falsely in the crowd (as in Schenk v. US), but you’re encouraged to falsely lay your panic at the feet of “the Muslims!” or “the Mexicans!,” whatever’s convenient. You’re free to send them running. If, as you are running, you have reason to reflect, consider: should I save the baby? Also: why, pray tell, is the baby here? And would you call this a photogenic baby? And is this baby on fire?

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

This poem is from a longer project exploring various aspects (past and present) of the film-going experience. Of course, there’s nothing new about a poet exploring cinema—e.g., Lindsay, H.D., Baraka, Ashbery, Rankine, etc. etc. etc. Film is my favorite art form, so I try my best to watch something every day, although I can’t always do that because of life reasons. This particular poem attempts to use a common film trope as a means by which to explore danger and how we might react to perceived danger, in both the cinematic world and in current political discourse. There’s personal stuff here too, but that’s all of limited interest to anyone other than me. Mainly, I hope to do right by the movies. In another sense, I’m not sure if this poem (really) “works” for much the same reason. I’m still trying to write a good one, I guess.

 

Michael Marberry’s poetry has appeared in journals like The New Republic, West Branch, Sycamore Review, and Waxwing and in anthologies like The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best of the Net, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and New Poetry from the Midwest (forthcoming). Currently, he lives in Michigan, where he studies the intersections between poetry and film and serves as coordinator of the Poets-in-Print Reading Series. More of his work can be found at www.michaelmarberry.com.

Sorrow

Poetry / Shara McCallum

:: Sorrow ::

There are too many poems on the subject of sorrow.
Why pile one more on this dung heap of sorrow?

Once upon a time always promises wonder. We remember,
too late, the breadcrumb-less woods of sorrow.

You fall asleep nightly rehearsing a lie:
Tomorrow I’ll end it, my love affair with sorrow.

A woman is singing again. Who is she this time?
No matter. Her voice grinds the whetstone of sorrow.

What a choice we’re given: to hold on to the dead
or let them vanish to try to vanquish our sorrow.

I speak my name out loud into my shiny new iPhone.
On the screen, Siri spells it out for me: sorrow.



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ll begin on a lighter note regarding the poem’s origin story. I received my first iPhone a few years ago, and at first, when using the voice recognition software, “Shara” would be transcribed as “sorrow.” Siri corrected this after a short time, but the irony of this slippage of language was not lost on me, and I jotted down two lines that led to this poem. Having worked with the ghazal before, I heard in those lines a tongue-in-cheek “signature” that is a feature of every ghazal’s closing couplet, and I decided to write a ghazal using “sorrow” as the poem’s refrain. Other couplets that followed in the drafting of the poem came, like the first one I wrote, in a voice darkly humorous—addressing in angular fashion a subject that typically announces itself elegiacally. But no matter the tone, the idea of the elegy was underpinning the poem.

It’s not really rocket science to deduce that with more time on the planet the chance of accumulating losses increases. These days, I watch myself and others around me having to exert greater and greater efforts to dig ourselves out from under “sorrow.” Sometimes the source of it might be traced to the daily news and the sense of impending doom that accompanies the majority of the reports from around the globe. Sometimes the trigger is the death of someone near to us—forcing us to face mortality anew—or a less dire personal loss that is yet keenly felt, or some failing in ourselves we confront. Sometimes, the origins aren’t accessible or knowable. Nonetheless, the feeling of sorrow pervades. The ghazal, with its obsessive refrain, allowed me to meditate on the kind of sadness that goes beyond the passing blues, the kind of melancholy or grief that overstays its welcome until we feel we cannot extract it from who we have become.

 

The poem included in this issue will appear in Shara McCallum’s fifth book, Madwoman (to be published in January 2017 by Alice James Books in the US and Peepal Tree Press in the UK). Originally from Jamaica, McCallum lives in Pennsylvania where she teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University.

Two Poems

Poetry / Anthony Etherin

:: Geometry ::

I nest a cone’s apex,
angles in veer;
a concave, 
penta-tangential 
or a pit hypotenuse.

Up, we bisect here
phrase or line 
a plane, 
or, linear, a sphere.

Web I sec.—
then use up
a pithy potential 
or a tangent;
cave per a convex angle,
sines,
a penta-cosine. . . .


 

:: Pieces of the Solar System ::

Mercury Moon Deimos Herculina Veritas Alauda Eugenia Hebe Doris Palma Jupiter Europa Leda Metis Elara Arche Autonoe Sinope Sponde Aitne Carpo Herse Himalia Prometheus Hati Bestla Pan Calypso Daphnis Skathi Aegir Anthe Helene Tethys Uranus Titania Perdita Belinda Neptune Neso

Venus Earth Mars Phobos Ceres Pallas Patientia Thisbe Interamnia Euphrosyne Ganymede Callisto Thebe Euanthe Dia Erinome Pasiphae Aoede Saturn Hyperion Enceladus Dione Atlas Iapetus Pandora Loge Rhea Epimetheus Juliet Miranda Puck Ariel Triton Naiad Pluto Charon Haumea Eris

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

“Geometry,” a poem celebrating the aesthetics of mathematics, was, fittingly, composed according to a strict mathematical constraint. The poem is what I call a “heterogeneous palindrome”: unlike the more common “homogeneous palindromes” (which are, more often than not, palindromes by single letter units—e.g., “To oscillate my metallic soot”), heterogeneous palindromes employ palindromic units that vary in accordance with a premeditated sequence. For example, “Melody, a bloody elm” is heterogeneously palindromic in the sequence 1-2-3-4: M(1)- el(2)- ody(3)- a blo(4)- ody(3)- el(2)- m(1).

Taking inspiration from its subject, “Geometry” is a heterogeneous palindrome in the sequence 31415926535897932384—that is, in the decimal expansion of π. To further highlight the complementarity shared between poetry and mathematics—two disciplines whose interrelations have a rich history—the poem employs the language of geometry in order to obliquely discuss the composition of formal verse, making use, where possible, of terms meaningful to both disciplines.

. . .

This second, experimental poem presents two lists, each featuring the common names of various planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, and moons located in our solar system. Presented in order of their distance from the sun, the objects in each list are further determined by a strict literary constraint: the two lists are perfect anagrams.

The goal of this experiment was to undertake an anagram for which, so restricted was its vocabulary, there may be no solution. It struck me that such a predicament is not unlike that faced by all poets: even when formal requirements can be easily satisfied, one inevitably meets with the prospect that the “right words” might not exist. By way of a constraint, I had made this a very literal possibility!

My subject, the contents of the solar system, was chosen to reflect the uncertainty and joy of discovery that comes when exploring the entities bound to a space—be they physical bodies in a star’s thrall or words upon a page.

 

Anthony Etherin is a UK-based writer of experimental poetry, prose, and music. He has had leaflets published by No Press and Spacecraft Press and has several e-books available online. Find him on twitter, @Anthony_Etherin, and via his website, songsofinversion.com. (Email: songsofinversion@gmail.com.)

Two Poems

Poetry / Stephen Burt

:: Fuzzy Golem Doll with 6” Keychain ::

	Altneu Synagogue, Prague
			
Protector of children from boredom, of parents from fear
of not bringing anything halfway appropriate back,
I want to be chosen. I have seen,
week after week, cliques of visitors check
my price tag. I keep trying to count them. I keep losing track.

My grandfather and namesake lived for truth
or a word that meant truth,
and was killed by the word for death, and brought to life 
by a collective wish for a dispassionate
lowbrow hero with feet of clay.
Whatever made him famous he did with his hands.
He may or may not have been able
to do a good deed,
to interpret, as well as follow, simple commands.

Once I belong to you, you can take me downstairs.
A queue of high stains on the wainscot serves to remember
the existential threat of 2002,
when the Quarter flooded, and the water entered. 
Each wooden seat bears a brass nameplate. In the one center
of the sunken, holy, rectilinear area,
a cast-iron cage awaits cantillation and prayer.

What you inherit depends
not least on what you can make.
In my own recessed and featureless
interior I hold,
along with a spell or scroll
for strength, a rabbinical saying.

Carry these two truths in your back pocket
and take them out as occasion demands:
on the one side,  I am dust and ashes,
on the other, The world was created for my sake.


 

:: My 1983 ::

When I told Marina I liked her new striped tunic
but there was a hole in her armpit, under her sleeve,

I thought I was making a generous, helpful gesture,
an appropriate social move. 

That was the year when we studied the Great Depression,
the business cycle, and macroeconomics.

Companies grew by meeting existing demand,
or else by showing people what to want.

I wanted programmable gloves that could make you bionic,
whose workings I laid out in series, in graph-paper pictures;

I diagrammed volts and resistors, tongue-and-groove,
the difference between graphic novels and newspaper comics,

also a paralleliped-based function for love.
I gave a whole set of ten-minute lunchtime lectures

about linguistics to playground structures. “Steve,”
my favorite teacher told me, “you’ll probably use

those facts someday, and your future colleagues will thank
you for explaining them, but we’d like you to think

about what might be interesting to your friends,
not just about what’s interesting to you.”



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

“Fuzzy Golem. . .” is one of a very few poems I’ve ever finished in my adult life with explicit Jewish content. It’s also one of what seem to be two poems that come from our visit to Prague last year (courtesy of the very-worth-reading Irish poet and critic Justin Quinn, whose new study Between Two Fires, about Czech, Russian, Irish, UK, and US poets during the Cold War, will surely interest Account readers). The old Jewish quarter of Prague, the Josefov, has four synagogues that tourists can visit, but only one, the Altneu (old-new—it was once the “new one”) synagogue still operates; religious Jews who live in Prague still pray there, but they are vastly, vastly outnumbered by international tourists, who are coming to see (a) evidence of the Jewish community that flourished in Prague for centuries and (b) ways to remember the Holocaust. It’s important that (b) not overshadow (a).

The second stanza uses some parts of the golem story that will be very familiar to some readers and alien to others. Golems are given life by the Hebrew word emet, “truth,” carved in the golem’s forehead or written on a slip of paper put into the golem’s mouth; they can be deactivated, or killed, by erasing the aleph at the begining of emet, which turns the word into met, or “death.” The most famous golem in Jewish folklore was created by Rabbi Loew of Prague in the 16th century to defend the community against the usual murderous anti-Semites; tourist Prague, and especially the Josefov, is full of golem kitsch, golem kids’ books and such.

There really was a fuzzy golem keychain on sale at the gift shop for the Altneu Synagogue, and the gift shop really is above ground and across the street from the synagogue itself, whose holy space is below ground. That holy space really was damaged (you can see the flood line on the wall) by the major flood that hit Prague in 2002. There’s something disturbing—not morally wrong, but nonetheless disturbing—about tourism around one genocidal calamity decades in the past, while another calamity, global climate change, threatens so many lives, and so many ways of life, worldwide: American Jews, and many other people who learned as children about the Holocaust, have been taught awareness of one sort of danger, while another sort threatens the world (and the Jews in the world, and the tourist sites in the world). Will physical force, or military force, or “awareness” (whatever that means) help?

Will art? If you are thinking about a role for art in confronting global climate change—or in confronting other world-historical forces—you might end up favoring art that feels like propaganda, discounting art that seems subtle, internally conflicted, interiorized: should we, indeed, subordinate our own reactions to kitsch (like the fuzzy golem), or to propaganda, in a time of emergency? Should art be, like a golem, created for use, not autonomous, focused on exterior goals and threats, not on interiority? The problems of two little people, as the film has it, don’t amount to a hill of beans; or, as the Hebrew Bible and some familiar liturgy has it, I am dust and ashes (though see also Genesis 18:27).

On the other hand, the people who will flourish or perish in the near future will have tastes, just as we have tastes: if you don’t respect your own interiority, your own tastes, your own consciousness, can you respect anybody else’s? Wouldn’t it be better to imagine kitschy golems, and people with questionable taste, and children, and tourists en masse, as having, each one of them, some interiority worth respecting, each of them someone for whom the world ought to be saved?

. . .

This second poem belongs to a series, most of them with the same title (“My” + year) and similar metrics (intentionally awkward, vaguely pentameter-ish lines, short stanzas, some rhymes); the series looks at especially embarrassing or painfully revealing moments in my own early life, and while not everything in it happened exactly the way that I say it did, it’s supposed to be painfully, accurately, autobiographical, if not (cough) confessional. The series shows up in my forthcoming book from Graywolf, where it will be shuffled in with two other series, one of them taken from my chapbook All-Season Stephanie, which explores the childhood I would have had if I had grown up as a cisgender girl, and the other a set of poems spoken by nonhuman animals and invertebrate objects—a block of ice, cicadas, a flashlight.

The “My” poems focus on shame in memory: how much does what shames you reveal you? How much have I been shaped by what shamed me, and how much have I been shaped (shame, and guilt, not withstanding) by whatever interested me as a kid? What’s the difference, in me, between the interests that I was able to pursue (science, and science fiction, for example) and those I never got to pursue since I was never raised as a girl? How much did my feelings about girlhood and boyhood and about individual girls resemble the feelings that other kids—“normal” kids—would have had? How much does my apparent lack of social skills at that age speak to whatever social skills, and whatever poetics, I have now?

Are my own poetics, or “confessional” poetics generally—in which you try to say what’s hard to say, what would embarrass you, what wouldn’t be socially appropriate—just a way to recycle or put to use my childhood cluelessness about what not to say, and to whom, since as a child I tended to say everything that seemed important to me, everything that came into my head, at the same time as I wanted other people (especially girls) to like me? And how much does the ordinary, and (we usually think) praiseworthy, training in social skills and social graces that grade school kids undergo—in which we learn how to appeal to other people—resemble the acquisition of the skills that you’d need to run a consumer business, trying to meet existing demand?

 

Stephen (also Steph or Stephanie) Burt is Professor of English at Harvard and the author of several books of poetry and literary criticism; The Poem Is You: 60 Contemporary Poems and How to Read Them has just been published by Harvard University Press, and a new collection of Steph’s own poems will be published by Graywolf in 2017.

Devil Ceases to See the Point in Introspection

Poetry / Charlie Clark

:: Devil Ceases to See the Point in Introspection ::

One night he watched a whole old cypress burn. 

When morning came he turned the dirt to confirm even its roots 

were just soft shots of cinder, then thought, now what? 

He knows the research underscores how important it is

that summer leave your children bored. One girl dug 

herself a hole, shoulder deep, in the dust that he’d engendered. 

For years he kept tabs on her 

to ensure it was the best thing she’d ever done and that she knew it. 

He knows all the metaphors people make of holes. 

Here, for once, the origin was real. She towed it like a soul, 

its insides a growing plug of dust, crotch hair, and hazy solar rays. 

To say she loved herself in spite of it is to misunderstand spite. 

The self. Love. Holes. When her modesty climbed into the earth, it burned. 

When he came to claim the ash he couldn’t stand the thing that rose. 



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I don’t believe in the devil, but I do find the notion of the devil fascinating. And generative. Ditto the supernatural. For close to a decade now I’ve been writing the occasional loose sonnet that uses the devil as a starting-off point. They usually come to me when I’m stuck with a subject or a few stray lines that I find interesting but can’t make cohere with any success. Enter the devil. Having the character of the devil present (even if the devil isn’t actually present beyond the title of a particular poem) provides an energy and a strategic position from which to proceed. It often helps the work cohere and to break through to something surprising. The idea that one can write through a character—not necessarily write a persona poem, but engage in world building by means of a fictionalized mask—is something that my wife (poet and scholar Sasha West) has done a lot of thinking about. Her work on this has been crucial for me in terms of clarifying what kind of exploration I’m engaged in with this kind of poem. In addition to Sasha’s work, this poem is indebted to a handful of writers. Namely, those I’ve been reading. (I find whatever I’m reading has a huge influence on what I write.) When writing this poem, I had been reading through the later books of Geoffrey Hill (Speech Speech and The Orchards of Syon), the Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing comics, and Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl. Living in the language of all three writers provided a sort of eerie, unreal/too real/dreamlike foundation from which to consider life/afterlife, grief, comic violence, the wit of vengeance, fallenness, redemption, and the pleasures available to one making a life in fallenness. (As a side note, Alexievich’s discovery of reported monologues is a real achievement in terms of the advancement of writing. I’ve only read Voices from Chernobyl, but I recommend that everyone go out and get their hands on her work as quickly as they can.)

 

Charlie Clark’s work has appeared in Pleiades, Smartish Pace, Threepenny Review, West Branch, and other journals. He has studied poetry at the University of Maryland and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Two Poems

Poetry / Chen Chen

:: how many coats does it take ::

to paint a car invisible & heroic? 
to keep each secret seat warm? 
what is the unit of measurement 
for your top-secret secrets? 
will they fit in a manila folder, 
a mahogany drawer, 
a gentleman’s drawers
in Manila at noon? 
where is the room-sized ear 
for your bloom-shaped whisper? 
how & when does one privacy 
unfurl into another, into a 
promise, a worry, one sweaty 
why of who’s? 


 

:: The School of More School ::

God is a honey  
flavored extra strength cough drop. 
I am another attempt to confess 

I have not read Ulysses. 
God is a webinar 
on how to be closer 

to your CV. 
I wear faux leather 
but engage in some real 

kinks. I talk to my neighbors’ 
cat. I carry 2 pencils & 1 purple pen
at all times. I can’t decide 

whether the university 
is a refuge for the bookish lonely 
or a T-shirt store 

run by a soda company. 
Late at night I go out 
to check my mailbox

as though a present 
has just been delivered. 
Tonight, a handsome bundle 

of air. Tonight, I am 
not my mucus. 
God is how difficult it is 

to stay calm. 



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve been listening again to Perfume Genius’s 2014 album Too Bright. Perfume Genius is the stage name of Mike Hadreas, an artist who’s insisted that he’s making explicitly queer music. However, in many of the reviews for Too Bright, critics (mostly straight) suggest that Hadreas appeals to the universal and that’s what ultimately makes his music so resonant. At Pitchfork, the reviewer went so far as to add “regardless of sexual orientation” at the end of a sentence praising Hadreas’s bold explorations of alienation and resistance. But Hadreas has said over and over that he wants his listeners to acknowledge queer forms of strength and anger, to critique “gay panic,” to confront homophobia.

In a song from Too Bright, Hadreas declares, “I don’t need your love, I don’t need your understanding, I need you to listen.” Most reviewers seem to miss this point—Hadreas isn’t striving to be “relatable” or “universal” in some “regardless of sexual orientation” mode. Another line from the album: “No family is safe when I sashay.” Every review I’ve seen quotes this line (from lead single “Queen”), and yet few reviews seem to appreciate it fully. The music of Perfume Genius is deeply human because it is deeply queer; it isn’t human because it “transcends” sexual orientation. Why is the “human” usually talked about in terms of ignoring difference? I’m suspicious of people who routinely conclude political discussions with some “But we’re all human” escape pod of a claim.

As Hadreas has pointed out, many straight folks still seem uncomfortable with listening to and liking a queer artist who is making very queer art. They would rather think that they are listening to an artist who “happens to be gay” and that what they like is a “universal” expression of feeling outcast. However, “feeling outcast” is not the same as, say, systemic oppression. When Hadreas sings of getting fed up with playing the gay best friend/pet of a straight woman in the track “Fool,” he is singing about that situation. Of course, anyone can project all sorts of emotions onto that song (the lyrics specify a problem, but when have lyrics stopped people from knowing a song’s just for them?). It’s a particular kind of heartbreak, though, and a particular rage that boils up when I listen to “Fool.” A particularity that another queer person, including another gay cis man, might not experience. And Hadreas doesn’t speak to how my queerness is bound up with how I’ve been racialized as Asian in this country. But these differences form the basis for any real connection between people. Ignoring difference further serves the status quo; it’s always the marginalized who end up having to deny their own full aliveness.

So. I want to say I don’t buy into universality. I’m getting more and more okay with not hiding/repackaging my emotions, which are human because they are queer Asian American. I am not “just like you.” I don’t want that. Need that. I need you to listen.

 

Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming spring 2017 from BOA Editions. A Kundiman Fellow, his work appears in two chapbooks and in publications such as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Buzzfeed, and The Best American Poetry. Chen is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. For more, visit chenchenwrites.com.

Translating Rilke with Some High School German

Poetry / Noh Anothai

:: Translating Rilke with Some High School German ::


I.

At once, from its entirely-green, the park
one knows not what, a something, seems to lose.
One feels it to the window coming close
and falling silent. Urgently and stark

there shrills from in the brush a rainday plover,
momentous as the Word sung through Jerome
must have been. From this arises so singular
a solitude and ardor that the storm

will answer. The walls inside the hall withdraw
from us with their all their paintings, as if these
are not allowed to hear that which we say.

Reflected in the faded tapestries
is the uncertain light of late midday
for which, as children, we felt such awe.

II.

Lord, it is time: this summer was so full.
Now let your shadow on the sundials lean,
across the fields allow the winds to roll.

Command the final fruits to be complete;
grant them just two more days of southernliness.
Urge them to their ripening, then press
into the potent wine its final sweet.

Who has by now no house will not build one;
who is alone will long alone remain,
will wake, will read, will write to friends long letters,
and wander up and down the tree-lined lane
disquieted, while leaves around him flutter.



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Man denkt an einem Hieronymus, reads Rilke’s original German, literally One thinks of a Jerome if my German is correct (and there’s no guarantee that it is). I learned while translating this poem that St. Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, creating the Latin Vulgate, so-called because the “vulgar,” or common, masses could understand it. To translate a text believed to be the word of God Himself from its original language must have been a radical act, and to hear it in a tongue that you can understand without mediation, equally revolutionary (though my understanding of this could likewise be skewed). Nevertheless, this conjecture gave me a frame for understanding the Regenpfeifer, the bird whose Stimme is so raw and elemental that the world responds from the edge of upheaval—and for deviating from a more literal translation the way I have.

I don’t know for sure, though, if this is actually the Jerome Rilke had in mind. There is a school that would deem my translation irresponsible or untrustworthy as a result, and it’s true that I could have done more homework. But I was mostly interested in what happens when a translator doesn’t know everything or have all his bases covered, when he approaches a poem not as a specialist in either the language or the author and doesn’t seek an expert’s opinion.

I took German all four years of high school in west-suburban Chicagoland, but the first two were something of ein Witz. Our elderly Herr was a lighthearted soul, and the clowns comprising most of our class never stopped taking advantage of this. A new, more by-the-book Lehrerin took his place my junior Jahr, but by then most of us were further behind than our peers in Spanish or French, who were already reading simple verse while many of us were still crunching sentence structure. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered Rilke’s work. Flipping through a bilingual edition, I was delighted by how much German I still understood—those years had not been a waste, after all—and intrigued by how much I didn’t. The interplay between them primed my imagination.

 

Noh Anothai was a researcher with the Thailand-United States Education Foundation (Fulbright Thailand) in 2011-12. His original poems and translations of Thai poetry have appeared both online and in print, most recently in Ecotone, the Tin House blog, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. Winner of the inaugural Lunch Ticket Gabo Prize for Translation and Multilingual Texts, Anothai serves as an assistant editor for Sundress Publications and teaches for the online MFA in Writing program at Lindenwood University.