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.

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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]

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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 8.5x11 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.