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© 2012 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-300-32673-1 photography © Kirsten Harkonen kirstenharkonen.com curated by Chris Cole & Evan Karp disembodiedpoetics.com evankarp.com book design by j. brandon loberg set in Absara "Text Me, Ishmael" by Caroline Goodwin is forthcoming: LPBmicro#2, Pontypridd: The Literary Pocket Book, 2012 (Wales, UK) "The Plastinator’s Diary" by Stacy Carlson, previously published in lumina "Touchdown Jesus" by Adam Hofbauer forthcoming from Flash Forward Press Promotional rights only. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from individual authors. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the author(s) is illegal. Your support is crucial and appreciated.
su bmit @ qui e tli g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by Chris
Cole & Evan Karp Harkonen
featured artist Kirsten
Caroline Goodwin staCy Carlson Candy shue ratty st. John Kyle Metzner José luis Gutiérrez
Text Me, Ishmael The Plastinator's Diary
Feeding Time: The Lion House 11 Traces Saviour Sleight-of-Hand If Only Fireweed don't don't don't don't How to Write a Lorrie Moore Story Touchdown Jesus Email First Impression Unemployment 15 17 21 22 25 29 33 39 41 42 43
Caroline Goodwin Karen Penley lisa Gordon
adaM hofbauer staCy MaGner barrett
Jennifer lynn roberts Matthew sherlinG
Chrysomelidae Hide No More 45 Edible Matter After Bill Knott To The Reader 59 61 62
sor • spon
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A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet Lightning is to foster a community based on literary expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on the first Monday of every month, of which these books (sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts. Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is currently: Evan Karp founder + president Chris Cole managing director Josey Lee public relations Charles Kruger secretary Meghan Thornton treasurer Kristen Kramer chair Jacqueline Norheim Nicole McFeely Brandon Loberg art director outreach design
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t e x t M e, is h M a e L
Ability to evaluate different genres of creative writing. Linked-In, Jim has switched from the Higher Education Industry to the Insurance Industry. Transferable skills. Your inner child galloping along the rocky ridge. Did you happen to catch the YouTube of the man trying to cross Halibut Point Road? So intoxicated he finally lies down and rolls. Himalayan poppies lining the wall, and huge marigolds under the windowsill. Breaking dawn, after another night, the husband trudges out into the morning’s mouth. He’s bending at the stern of the vessel, he’s hauling in the nets. What does he bring home through the door in the evening? What skill set? ii The hill is made of Old Red Sandstone from the Devonian Period. Out of the fort at Crug Hywel, the tiny iron figures marched onto your windowsill, bearing knives and bayonets. In the mean time, we brewed some strong tea. And inside the chambers of our hearts, matchsticks
formed the figures of men. Our sister crumpled in the ditch. Old friend, they lay you flat upon the table and lifted out the sour parts. And your new life began. Your children still clung to your hips; they did not know the difference. And I lit the lantern in the evening and I set out the bowls of seeds. Inside the greenhouse, under the wrinkled glass, our sister is standing up and dressing herself. iii Always trudging out into the morning’s mouth. Out through the front door and up the coast, across the seedlings, the artichokes. Goldfinches nesting in the hedge. Galloping child, hopeful daughter, friend request. There, the fringe is eaten away by moths. And there, bright snowberries decorate the creek. What smooth beast? Asters and geranium, a horse struggling in a ditch. Imagine that we had a long enough rope and the strength. That the carousel never stopped turning, the bright eyes and manes. How different each morning, and how long would you keep hauling it in, planting the pumpkins, gathering the fleece? Listen. The looms are clicking and thumping, wool pulled thin and looking for a place.
iv. Our sister, crumpled in the ditch. Months for the bruise to disappear, green lake filling up under a long flat sky. The surface looked as though it would spill right over… and we stared and stared but did not know any strategy with which to contain it. Lots of times they do remain behind bars. We thought about the shadows marching across the men’s faces. Not how to manage the fear or the tendency to return. Far away, several bottlenose dolphins headed for the West Coast at breakneck speed, carrying radiation from the spill. And somewhere else a hand stroked a harp. And our sister chewed the little pill. v. Linked-In, over the shining trees. A flock of sandpipers breaks apart, reunites, breaks apart again. In Fort Collins, the fire took more than 82,000 acres, 191 homes, 1 human life. Still, the tide rose and fell. I wanted to hold you, to reinvent the old rooms filled with one scent. I spent a year walking the shore. I lifted the stone, I stuck my head deep into the pool, peeked around in there. Cool water, still water. The giant green anemone fastening itself to the driftwood, rough as sandpaper, waving and reaching, every tentacle filled with nerves. And the mouth. Big flower. I wanted to bring it home but I left it there.
Ca roli ne Goodwi n
In the mid-1990s, a German scientist perfected a method by which he could chemically transform a human corpse entirely into rubber. He called it Plastination. July 19 The recipe: 1. Fixation. Formaldehyde, etc. Dilate hollow organs. For thin sections: freeze to near –70 degrees Celsius & cut into 2.5 mm slices with bandsaw. Dehydration. Full acetone immersion. Apply freeze substitution to –25 degrees Celsius. Acetone replaces tissue water & most fat. Equipment: deep freezer (explosion-proof), acetonometer Impregnation. Vacuum forces acetone solvent out. Enter polymer* Curing. As with beef, expose specimen to heat (gaseous catalyst, ultra-violet). Use biodur s6, a liquid that vaporizes at room temperature. Equipment: plastic box, stretch foil, membrane, aquarium pump.
* Like the hedron, the polymer is a unified alliance of molecules. A many-faced muse. Silicone, epoxy, polyester. Non-toxic, odorless, durable. By the grace of science, enter here.
In these four steps, science will nip Death’s heels. July 20 A dream: with Dennis in a cellar. We sit at a small table. One light bulb hangs from the ceiling with an open, upside-down umbrella for a shade. I look down and notice, through my translucent skin, a small white fish swimming in my arm. I scream. Dennis becomes very alarmed; he takes hold of my hand in his, using his other to squeeze the fish out, as one would squeeze a pimple. As the fish emerges it becomes a winged insect, a moth. Symbols noted: 1. cellar 2. arm 3. fish: creature of the unknown -lifting Neptunian veil-also Biblical penance 4. Dennis: agent of transformation. 5. moth: psyche or soul escaping the body. July 21 Death demystified. When corpses become rubber, what then? Sacred flesh and bone is fit for burial or fire. But burning plastic? Burying it like rubbish? Imagine pulling out a drawer to show your daughter her great-great-great-grandmother, unchanged from her moment of passing, in period costume. If children grow up bumping into rubber corpses, society will change. Plastic transforms.
July 22 Dear Ruth. Words cannot convey the depth of my…. no. Dear Ruth, I was distraught to learn of your loss. Please understand I…no. Dear Ruth, Please accept my condolences on the passing of your husband. I am so sorry for your loss and will miss Leonard considerably. I have been absent from church these last several months. I miss seeing you and other friends. My research has taken me far afield, into a realm of science where magic is afoot. My life is changed; in my studies I find a new lens with which to survey earth’s wonders. Through this lens, objects dissolve into myriad ricocheting parts. Nature’s ambiguous symmetry, like a kaleidoscope, wheels me and wills me to record this different vision. I’m writing to ask for your help. Plastination is a new science. I am virtually alone in this pursuit, but my findings will have far-reaching scientific significance. I am writing to ask that you help me in the most important moment of my life. As you know, Leonard was a consistent source of support and encouragement in my research. Remember those long evenings, Ruth? I know he would want to contribute, even now. With all respect for you and your family, I humbly ask: will you donate Leonard’s remains to plastination research?
Sta Cy Ca rlSon
July 23 A dream: I sit on the edge of a swamp, on a log, with my legs dangling in the water. At my back is thick underbrush, and out of it a creature creeps. It’s a swan with great yellow feet, dirty white feathers and no head. Its neck ends in black and pink flesh. I push the swan away. It flaps in the underbrush but comes back. I push it away again. Again it comes forward. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a movement under the water. Symbols noted: 1. swamp: primordial, etc. 2. swan, headless: symbol of spirit twisted on itself, becoming its opposite? July 24 The inevitable question of art. At the natural history museum, I sit on a bench watching reactions to the mummy. The science of history precludes art here; the mummy is anything but sculpture. Emotions noted: 1. squeamishness (especially children) 2. repulsion (especially mothers) 3. Fascination. All other artifacts in the room ignored. July 25 Substance is everything. Pollock shellacked a roach to his painting. Leland placed a dead cat in a plastic case and people flocked to watch it decompose. Imagine the same crowd observing a plastinated woman, reclining on a couch. The woman’s pregnant
abdomen is open, displaying the perfectly plastinated fetus, placenta and umbilical network. As in a wax museum, a plastinated bystander, also observing the exhibit, will shock the crowd. As they gasp and nudge each other, they see the art is not contained in glass cases but at large beside them! Near the coatcheck station, a plastinated man holds his skin, like a wetsuit, over his arm. July 26 A dream: A theatrical performance involving one martyr. In an outdoor amphitheatre, two men escort a man to a small fire. The intent is to destroy him and he has volunteered for it. As I watch, the men force the volunteer to his knees, pushing his face into the flames. Screaming follows. He recants, but it is too late.
Sta Cy Ca rlSon
t h e Li o n h o u s e
The air is still, stale, ravaged by the sweat of the big cats and the under air of their wild breath. Their keeper, the zoo’s self-styled hatchet man, wants to let them loose. His hands dance toward the locks under the control of some force--not lakewood, not whippoorwill. Civilization in him resists the temptation, his evolution ransacked by the roars that erupt when he brings out the meat, be it beef or horse on the bone. He has been the cats’ custodian for three years and at first it was just a thrill to be so close to them, to see the way their muscles moved sinuously under their fur. Over time, he has started to move that way himself, with his skin loose and his muscles rolling languorous underneath. He has adopted a hirsute haircut and wears his blue coveralls on his days off. Sometimes he stares into the cats’ golden x’ed eyes before he puts their meal through the metal box of the locked and gated cages, stares at them until they lower their gazes and sit back on their massive haunches, not exactly patient and definitely not docile, but watchfully respectful. It is noon and the cob coal is cooking in the sky,
F e e D i ng t i M e :
the lion house a dutch oven baking in the onlookers’ desire to feel the felines pacing and baying from the pit of their being. The profile of the pinkish-beige building looks like an art deco movie palace. Inside, the railing is a minimalist installation; anyone could lean across it to ogle a lion’s open gullet. There is nervous laughter and gasping from the assembly when the tigers begin to rumble from deep within their throats. It is stirring to be so close to being eaten alive, but to not be in any real danger; to be reminded of Nature’s vast food chain without worrying about becoming actual food. “Bring it! Bring it!” some older boys holler while outlining the air with karate-slash-dance maneuvers. A baby in a stroller, being the smallest and most vulnerable, begins to cry, which sets the other babies in the cavernous room crying in shared distress. Their mothers scoop them up and hold them tight, more out of fright than comfort, though they don’t quite understand themselves: Is that a piece of coiled rope that looks like a snake, or a snake that looks like a piece of coiled rope? Will the sound of crying babies draw the lions’ attention away from their given meal in search of fresher meat? I stand a singing bowl in the center of the crowd, ringing with the cats’ echoing chants. Their howls send sweeping vibrations across the cement floor and through each of us, starting from the soles of our feet and traveling up and up through our bodies: our legs, our torsos, our arms, our necks, and lastly out of the
tops of our so many heads; each of us a bell, a gong being struck continuously at the appointed time in an ancient temple, each of us feeling, feeding on what we need.
Candy Sh u e
TS S T. JOHN
When I brush my teeth I know what my pussy tastes like. Don’t let your mind automatically go there—I’ve got boyfriends and an adroit hand if it should come to that. It’s just one of those things. Standing wet-haired at the sink in an old T-shirt I can taste the inside of my body, chest loosened and hips giving slightly with each genius stroke. I used think it might be the repetitive brushing motion, or the nearness of my body to nakedness at nighttime, freshly-lotioned and worn-in by the mandatory sunlit hustle, but now I know it’s something subtler, something between me and the steamed mirrors. It’s something more attuned to the tiny sting of blood in the slits between my teeth when I push the brush too hard too long and point my eyes towards the ceiling rather than at my reflection, moist and giving in the glass. In real-life I am quick and lean, but in the bathroom brushing teeth I become suddenly passive, my center shifts from belly-button to brown-nipple, and I wish my hair Godspeed. I dredge from the billowing skin of my mouth an
intimate taste like reprieve. Like flesh: familiar and nononsense. A capsulated sigh. It’s sort of like nostalgia, but for something I still have, or am. Like tonight. Tonight I had so much to clean out of my mouth—weed, kisses, curry, cum, cigarettes, and oranges. A boy with bad skin and a spike through his septum was rolling a spliff in my bed. We took the long way home and he gave me his jacket, black fabric made heavier by the smoky b.o. and inevitable ocean-shaped blotches of beer. We marched through the dense woods, collecting dirt and calling out. He called out to me still, practicing my name in the supposed privacy of flowered sheets (pink background strewn with red). We were both students of obscurity, and sluts on top of that: tacky and jacked-up on hope. I’d gathered so much since the sun simmered down. In two public restrooms, I’d had my moment: bent-double with love in an under-aged club, and later slowed to a halt by implacable shame in the dingy barely-lit gas station bathroom. It had been a busy day, a day full as a placid face that I would shortly come to hate. I should have been the last thing I could taste right then. And yet as I brushed there it was, swelling up from the back of my throat like a nickname, soft and stern and tragic. A balloon blown from the inside-out. A secret left for too long on the countertop. You can call me Catalina. The unholy amber of the horse’s eye. My parents got it wrong.
The dudes following us definitely wanted to be black. Or their idea of black. Or Puerto Rican or Latino or anything but white. Which is what they were. When Jay and I finally noticed them, we paused and dabbed our brows and sipped Vitamin Waters. “They are like a mirage.” Jay said of the gleaming white posse slowly closing the gap between us and them. The bright sun played tricks, and from across the endless strip mall parking lots it appeared that we were being stalked by a glowing white octopus, all arms gesticulating angrily, bouncing baseball cap brims throwing wild shadows, and who wears a hoodie in this heat? Every so often we’d hear the white octopus shout some garbled words, followed by “Biiitch!” Jay and I had been trudging into the sun all afternoon, taking turns carrying the heavy cast iron crucifix he just bought from a religious salvage warehouse. The cross was the size of a pizza box, but weighed a ton. The Hungarian importer assured us that all his items were obtained legally from Eastern European cemeteries and churches,
but the way he smiled when he said it felt like a dare. The flat black spraypaint job on the cross began sticking to my sweaty arms. “You’re turn.” I said as I placed the thing into Jay’s tattooed hands. He’d always saved these types of adventures for my visits. If he had a car, or if he knew how to drive, these would be mundane errands, but since Jay was always on foot, errands morphed into epic journeys. “Motha fucka!” yelled the white octopus. I have known Jay since kindergarten. I was standing next to him in the water fountain line, right after morning recess, when Daniel Krueger burst through the front doors, gloriously tardy as always, and shouted, “the space shuttle has exploded! The Challenger blew up!” Jay broke down crying, was brought to the nurses office, and was eventually sent home for the day. He rarely stepped into a motor vehicle since then. Distrusts all machinery. Never even learned to drive. For a while, before dropping out of college, he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. “ I would have laid my body on the launch pad if I knew those O-rings could fail,” he drunkenly said one night. “ Those engineers knew! I’ve seen the reports! And they did nothing!”
A bottle smashed behind us and we looked back to see the posse laughing and jumping around. There were seven of them now. One grabbed his crotch and yelled something to us. We walked faster. I was getting nervous, glancing back as we passed yet another rundown big box store. Seven wannabe thugs vs. two vegans with faux leather boots didn’t have a good outcome from my perspective. Jay seemed unfazed. They smacked their fists into their palms, the heat stoking their anger. When one stopped to pantomime kicking a prone body on the asphalt, the others joined in. “Faggots!” one yelled. This was more serious than I thought. I left suburbia 20 years ago and have taken for granted the fact that most city violence is business related. Debts unpaid or product due. Out here, boredom seemed like the main motive for most actions. As I sped up even faster, calculating how many blocks the train station was which would get us back to Jay’s, he slowed and fell behind. The thugs strutted hard now, quieting down and growing focused and intense. I began trotting at a decent clip, trying to conceal my jog by keeping my shoulders very stiff. My legs going double-time while my upper body looked cool and collected. At least in theory that’s how I looked. Jay slowed to a crawl.
Ky le Me t zne r
“Jay!” I yelled. He was midway between myself and the white octopus, barely walking now, holding the crucifix with one hand and unbuttoning his jacket with the other. His face looked calm, almost serene. I stopped running and stood there, my head wanting to run toward him but my feet cement. As the thugs screamed insults and threats and edged closer, Jay slowly trudged along, removing one piece of clothing at a time until he was completely naked in the middle of an abandoned Circuit City parking lot, iron crucifix in one hand, the other open and facing the sky. The thugs fell silent and stopped and looked confused and almost afraid as they veered off to the right and quickly walked away. Jay flashed me a huge grin, shook his head, and retrieved his clothes. I carried the iron crucifix for him the rest of the way back.
It’s the reason that poem about a bonobo aspiring toward celibacy doesn’t work. Sense being made to stretch like skin for narrative’s surgical fit. The word for rain should fall like rain and fire leap off the page like a cat. So claimed Hanshan or his distant relative Wu-Shoe. Remember one sublime articulation is all it takes to derange the moon. Let metaphor uncage you into errancy. Time to reshuffle the deck: make eye the heir to song’s lost currency. Feed certainty to the groundlings. For once and all acknowledge: flesh was the first simile we were given, to feel, conjure, never truly inhabit.
If only the sun had not set at exactly midnight that day. If only berries grew on trees not in flesh. I see you looking at me as the train roars in but I close my eyes and think of the ocean. There’s always an elsewhere of Whovilles and Joshua trees I’m willing to inhabit. There’s a symphony, an industry of cells that’s been humming in me like a third rail all these years. I think of arrivals and departures as coeval to the trajectory of beach stones. I think of insurance salesmen and ice cream and a hurricane that ploughed through my life once and briefly made a prison of my loss. If only the stars, the moon, the economy— if only this phylum had stuck to its allotted kingdom. If only the stars. Laughter. Pizza.
A change of key. A kiss to seal the distance from my mouth to the eververse of your lips. I hear quince are in season, that in Schenectady there’s a place where a new currency based on care is being freshly minted. Perhaps I’ll e-mail them this poem and in another incarnation receive an open invitation to Antarctica. I won’t go, of course: knowing it’s there is good enough.
JoSé lu i S Gu t i é rre z
Fir e w e e D
for J. i
it was dawn, there were thrushes up and down the path, moss gathering the light, gathering the rain and the men hauling in the nets, the nets filled with silver coins, jewels, oil, an abundance there was frost waiting in the mountaintops and we wanted to show you all the crystals that stood underneath the needles waiting they were waiting for you to notice them and take them in hand ii how long had you been gazing west how many afternoons did you see his face, did you want to touch his face, was he waiting, did you ask
him to bring you, did you request your own canoe (how neatly it cuts through the channel) were you hopeful did you ask were we wrong about everything were we iii everything waking up now as it always does fern hillock hummock root wad tide pool and a hairline fracture where the light crawls along and the spines and the moss after nightfall and the faces of the women lining the riverbed holding out their baskets one by one by one by one they step up to the trunk where the water shines and the tiny root hairs reach into the cold invisible like nerves iv nothing could hold the salt nothing could capture the paint nothing could hold the wind nothing could cover the stones
v did he say it, did he touch you, did he call, was he there, did you believe him, was there smoke, were there rattles, were there teeth, did you ask, did the blanket hide you did the wind spill through the channel, did the ice feel right, were there matches, were there needles, could we have spoken better, could we have held you tighter, could the light have traveled any more quickly into your heart vi afterwards, we could see him traveling through the village we didn’t want to see him we didn’t want to see but he just kept limping along there and sometimes he stopped at the window and we closed the blinds and he tapped and he tapped with a fingernail a mussel shell a piece of fish a cup of oil a twisted bone a hunk of wood an ivory goose a thorny grin and we opened the window after all
Ca roli ne Goodwi n
vii there were the baskets and bowls and blankets and your daughter carried the nets and the nets kept filling up, we couldn’t stop them (her wrists adorned with silver and garnet) and when we gathered at the roadside there was light there was ice and rain there was the sound of the ice touching down onto the earth and there were the thrushes there were the songs all along the path and there was your voice twisted into the woven leaves we were sure of it
D o n ’ t D o n ’t
... mom loves me but she is the only one otherwise there are all these boogers these booger people that will come in through the window and pick off your clothes with their corn husk hands and scrape you with their teeth along your skin and make you dance in your underwear as they slip a finger in the waistband and look down into your privates and talk to each other in soup gravelly voices about what they see
‘just imagine’ song a few lines
I found several tiny bodies inside my holes. They were sleeping like they’d been drugged. It’s cause I was slapping them so much slapping them to shut up that they got drugged. you have to be nice to them now.
What is nice? I dont know, maybe not slapping them so much? Maybe just listening to them and seeing what they want to do, like get down on one knee like get down on one knee like you’re going to propose marriage to them, but don’t because they probably won’t accept because you were slapping them so much. I will get tired of waiting for them because I need to run around. Mom says it’s healthy for my body, for body and bones. anyway anyway anyway (upside down) You don’t have any children, do you? Do you know how to take care of them? Whoops, one of mine may have fallen out, but they are so tiny I can’t find them. oh well oh well oh well (with hands on hips jumping) This is how you do jumping things. I like to run around and grab the hula hoops things that are in the air like on the monkey bars and the jungle gym. It makes my body strong, it makes my arms strong, so I can punch you in the face like if you try to get fresh and try to get fresh with me like reach out with your hand and try to feel my boob. I can run around and run around but I am all by myself. I have no friends that are in my pockets. Where did thems go that were hiding in my hidey-holes.
Probably they look like maggot worms. Probably they are so small they are invisible. But if you are quiet, you can hear them you can hear them say, ‘wait’ like a teeny tiny prayer to the gods, god of chocolate god of bread god of tuna god of mayonnaise god of jam and peanut butter god of sprinkles. It is so quiet in here. I talk and talk but nobody listens to my words. It is like a vacuum. It’s like someone is vacuuming up all my words. Who is that that is doing that? It is like I am in the refrigerator. Pretty soon there will be no air.
i put my fingers up my nose and open it out so i can breathe up the good air inside my body oh i think i caught one. achoo. i think i can get a sneeze. those are big in your head it’s like your head explodes for a minute and you dont know who you are for a minute. that is nice.
Ka re n P e nle y
a Lorro w t o w r i t estory ie M o o r e
First, try to write like anyone else. Anyone. Best if it’s a mediocre novelist who no one has ever heard of. Ever. Then, get your heart set on teaching at a prestigious college somewhere on the east or west coast. Nowhere in the middle, except if it’s Iowa, which it won’t be. Wait, first you must actually write things. Open your computer and stare at the screen hungrily. Write about unrequited love as if it’s a new religion and you’ve been touched by God. With each word that comes out think, I have it. I totally have it. When your mom asks to read what you’ve been writing (because of course you’ve told her you’re going to be a writer), say no. When the unrequited love boy passes you in the hallway without so much as a glance, despite knowing you’re there (because you’re always there), feel your heart sink and then float up again, because you realize that love is “what it’s
all about”, and this imposes a darkness on you that only writers understand, which must mean you’re legitimate. Apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, without knowing that she teaches there, or who is she is. When you tell people you want to take creative writing classes and they say, “ooh, with Lorrie Moore?” say, yes, definitely, that’s why I am here. Still, out of laziness, do not read her books for a very long time. Open your computer and stare at the helpless pieces of “fiction” you’ve strung together in the last couple of months. Fix a word or two there, remove a sentence here. Consider it finished, and to celebrate, have a beer with your new roommate who smells like daffodils and has an ugly boyfriend and keeps a switchblade in her pocket because she is from “New Jersey”, which means nothing to you. Not that she is from New Jersey – because being from Massachusetts, you know a thing or two about New Jersey – but the fact that she needs to carry one because she is from there. Ignore it. She’s someone to drink with, and she has blonde hair. Tell her you want to be a writer, and when she stares at you blankly, assuage your insecurity by telling yourself that only real writers know what it means to want to be a writer, and those are the kinds of people you should be associating with.
Smoke cigarettes because the boy you ran into on the street coming home alone from a party one night asked you if you wanted one and you said no because you were too scared. Bring your laptop to the top of Helen C. White and sit near a window. Look at all the pretty people and wonder what their lives are like and if you should write about them. Decide, no, you want to write about real things. Attend your first writing workshop with confidence. Look around at your competition and think you’re just where you need to be – not too punky, not too artsy, not too academic. It’s hard to tell where you’re from by looking at you, and this pleases you. When the writing fellow introduces herself, pretend you’ve heard of her before. When she asks everyone to go around the room and say their favorite author, panic. You were not prepared for this. Not prepared at all. Two people say Alice Munro, one person says Denis Johnson, and six people say Lorrie Moore. You will not be one of them. When it comes closer to your turn, let your face glow red. Say, I’m new to this, and hope the fellow accepts it, which she does, with a condescending smile. Read your first assignment, which is a short story by Joy Williams. Be amazed. Decide you’re not going to be a writer. Go to the bar with your roommate, and when she leaves to go to the lake with her ugly
li Sa Gordon
boyfriend, sit at the bar alone and wait for someone to talk to you. The next boy that does, think, I’m going to let whatever happen happen. But the next boy that does is a biomedical engineer from somewhere in Minnesota. Turn him down, and walk home alone. Suck in your cheeks against the cold, which is a kind of cold that seeps through your veins even after you’ve taken a hot shower. Take a class with a famous South African non-fiction writer who you are too young to have a crush on but will think about later and realize it was a serious missed opportunity. Read “Nickled and Dimed” and feel changed. Consider your other major, journalism, and wonder if you should drop writing all together. Keep smoking outside Helen C. White, where you occasionally run into the boy from Manhattan who wears boat shoes with the laces always sexily untied and collared shirts with chest hair poking out. Talk to him about Salinger, then go home and read Salinger. For the next three days ask your roommate to call you Zooey. Endure your first workshop for a story uncreatively entitled “The Girl.” Feel your heart race when the instructor says in that low but unsoft voice of hers “things we liked, things we didn’t like.” Brace yourself when someone says that the emotional breakdown on page 4 didn’t feel “earned”, and when the girl with the strip of magenta hair says that it was “lyricaly moving”, want to grab her knee under the table and
tell her you’d consider being a lesbian for her, but probably only for a night, and probably only because you’d like to get a story out of it, which you quickly realize you couldn’t workshop in this class anyway. Wait until your walk home to read the comments from your instructor, who called it “average/mediocre with signs of talent” and be undecided as to whether or not to be pleased or extremely dismayed. Wander through the Rathskellar. Stand in line to buy an ice cream, then leave the line. Sit by the lake and write in your notebook the beginning of what you believe might become actually, somewhat, moderately promising. Go to your first reading because your instructor has made it your homework to attend at least three readings over the course of the semester. It is at University Bookstore. It is some man named T.C. Boyle. Sit in the back. Nod at a fellow classmate who wears sweaters that are too big for him. You are supposed to take notes, so take out your notebook to take notes, but instead, while T.C. is reading, begin to write. Write and write, your hand furiously filling the lines. Complete 14 pages, front and back. Continue writing even after the reading is over, after the questions have been answered, and people are standing around the podium waiting to talk to the T.C. author. Feel overjoyed. Do not look up until a man who appears to be the TC author is standing over you. When he asks if you are a student, say yes. Because you don’t know who he is and if he is even at
li Sa Gordon
all famous, you are not sure if you should be nervous or not, so instead you are flat, and sort of bored, and nonchalant. When he asks where he can get a decent beer on campus, say, before you even know how or why, only if you buy me one. Then feel embarrassed and ashamed when he looks at you inquisitively, and then says, “I don’t do that anymore.” You’re not entirely sure what he means by that, but you’re pretty sure, and because you want him to go away you tell him to go to Paul’s Club because it’s the bar with the tree in the middle where there are sure to be actual adults and no frat boys throwing up in the bathroom – though of course you can’t make any promises – and he says thank you and really does seem to mean it and you continue to sit in the chair for a while, your pages feeling full in your hands. Later, when you have to submit your write-up to prove you attended a reading, submit verbatim a copy of the conversation that went down between you and TC, who you have by then looked up and discovered to be a particular kind of literary God, followed by a weird stream of consciousness prose-poem type of reaction to it, and then feel incredibly self-conscious immediately upon handing it, and then feel more like a writer than ever before.
to u ChD o w n jesu s
Just north of where I grew up, outside of Cincinnati Ohio, a church built a statue of Jesus. I have photographs of my father standing by the ten foot tall hand, before they raised it on the frame. He regards it with consternation, the grasping fingers reaching out for him like some kind of theist King Kong. They built it out of Styrofoam and fiber glass, and when it was done it was sixty feet tall. It starts at the waist, so most of that height was arms, raised over Interstate Highway 71 in an, “It’s good,” kind of gesture that earned him the name Touchdown Jesus. He overlooked the highway for years, keeping score maybe from the end of a reflecting pond filled with fish. Until a few summers ago. When one of those booming mid-western thunder storms came in across it all. Lightning came down, because that’s what lightning does, and one of the strikes came in for Touchdown Jesus. All that Styrofoam went up in flames, because that’s what Styrofoam does when you strike it with lightning. Poor Touchdown Jesus lit right up, burning there by the side of the highway. In less than a few minutes he was gone, just a charred metal frame casting weird shadows on a fire scarred amphitheater. As a nice little punch line for the Age of Aquarius people, Jesus melted
into big puddle of pious glop. He flowed downhill and into his reflecting pond, and he killed all his fish. And yes, the Church will build another, bigger this time, out of concrete and stone. It would take an earth quake to knock it over. Some might call that security. I call that asking for it.
e M ai L
Yesterday it was dark out and I had things to do but wanted to do none of them. I watched the first hour of an improv award show and then had to meet a finance friend’s fiancée at a bar. I cracked a joke, was denied a laugh. I am wearing a knit tie today, tied to no one. A hundred people in better ties than me laughed at retreads of tired tropes and I sense overwhelm. The faint smell of Columbian medicine wafts out over the unisex bathrooms. Almost everyone wins the lottery here but to buy a ticket you’ve got to crush someone else’s dreams. My apartment is at the end of a cul-de-sac and the corner is nondescript. The night was dark, too, and I pulled on my tie, ending the evening.
for Chris and Al Because I’m many bottles away from you, I can’t make out your voice. Your hand gestures, I see, and I want to reach them and am drinking the bottles that are in my way. Later, sitting in a classroom, I ask you what your first impression was, of me, and all you can remember are all the bottles I drank, and how my hands looked, loose about their necks.
A square of couch used Certain keys fading like “enter” I am curled in the same position You left me in I applied myself so many times today I can’t apply myself to you
Sta Cy Ma Gne r Ba rre t t
ER LSNN ROBE
hiDe n o M o r e
scene Table at restaurant. Madeline, a playwright in her fifties, sits with her daughter, Midge, late twenties, and Midge’s boyfriend, Henri, mid-thirties. henri I think it’s rude to put it out there publicly. midge Henri, stop. madeline I don’t know why everyone’s getting their feathers ruffled. It’s a play. henri It’s a play about your daughter. madeline It’s not about Midge.
henri The main character drives a Ford pickup truck. madeline That’s your evidence? henri Yellow with a white stripe and a left rear tire that ceaselessly goes flat. madeline I may have taken inspiration from my environment, but Her Majesty is not about Midge. henri The character’s name is Midge. madeline I’m not very creative. henri You should’ve asked her, that’s what I’m saying. midge Henri, stop. The play isn’t about me. henri The character’s favorite color is saffron. midge If it were about me, the tone would be much more
judgemental. madeline Thank you, dear. (to Midge) You know you don’t need a hero. midge I know. madeline Because you’re vibrant— midge Yes— madeline Intelligentmidge I knowmadeline And strong. You’re the strongest woman I know. midge He loves me. madeline Yes, well. You just remember how unique you are. Your favorite color is saffron, after all. (to all) Henri, if I were going to write a play about midge,
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I wouldn’t be so obvious. It’d be blanketed in metaphor and absurdism. That’s how you get away with writing about family. midge And have you? madeline Have I what? midge Gotten away with it. madeline Darlingmidge You have, haven’t you? henri Of course she has. It’s what she does. madeline What I do? henri Put people in your plays and puppet them around however you wish. madeline Henri’s still upset over last year’s production, I see.
henri I’m not a buffoon. madeline It was a baboon. I swear, did you even see the play? midge You picked on him unnecessarily. madeline I thought it was very necessary. henri I was a laughing stock. madeline By who, darling? I never revealed the inspiration behind the character. henri You named him Henri. madeline Common name. henri With an “I.” madeline I’m drawn to all things French.
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midge Except Henri. madeline Henri’s not French, he’s from Cleveland. henri My family’s heritage- See? This is what she does. Don’t ever get on her bad side or she’ll eviscerate you on stage. midge Have I been on your bad side? madeline All children are on the bad sides of their mothers at some point. midge Which play was about me? madeline I thought we were here for lunch. henri You don’t need to torture yourself, Midge. midge It was the one about the boy who turned into a bee by plays end, wasn’t it?
madeline It was a beetle. midge But it’s about me, isn’t it? A beetle! madeline How many of my plays have you read? How many have you come to see? Besides the one Henri’s ego brought you to last year? midge Plenty. I’ve— madeline You didn’t know it was a beetle. midge I knew it was a bug. madeline Insect. midge Same thing. madeline Not the same thing at all, darling. Not all bugs are insects.
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henri It doesn’t matter. madeline But it does. It matters because she asked. henri She didn’t ask to be correctedmadeline No, she asked about the play. I’m telling her about the play. henri I don’t know why we try, Midge. madeline You try, Henri, because that’s what families do. They try. (to midge) So try. What was the play about? midge The boy told lies and was turned into a beetle. madeline You’re thinking Pinocchio. henri Pinocchio was turned into a boy not a bug. madeline Insect. And Pinocchio lied and was thusly punished.
That’s not what happens in my play. (beat) You don’t know because you didn’t come. midge I didn’t come. henri Let’s go, midge. midge I want to stay. henri She’s just going to keep making you feel bad like she always does. midge (to Madeline) Tell me. henri (gets up to leave) Fine. You want to do this to yourself, do it. But, I can’t listen. I’m going to the bar. madeline Be a love, Henri? Bring me back a gin and tonic? midge (to Henri) I’ll be okay.
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henri I hope so because I’m not sitting through Postcards from the Edge again. Henri leaves. midge Why did the boy turn into a beetle? madeline He stood out. He was unique, and for this, he was bullied until all he wanted was to fit in with the other boys. And one night he wished upon a magic blade of grass that floated into his window. He wished to be unseen, to act and behave in a group that wouldn’t draw unwanted attention. In the morning he woke as a leaf beetle. Leaf beetles have camouflage abilities. midge He was able to blend in. madeline He wasn’t seen, anymore. midge You think I’m hiding? madeline I think it’s hard for you. Being my daughter. midge I didn’t think you noticed.
madeline How could I not? You’re my beautiful, strong, willful, and loving daughter. midge I don’t feel strong. madeline I know, darling. I sat on you too much. midge What? madeline To protect you from predators, I sat on you like the mother leaf beetle does to her brood. midge I think you did. madeline And in turn, the female leaves early. Face it. We belong to a unique subspecies, you and I. We have hard shells. midge I’m the beetle. madeline You don’t need a hero, midge. You never have. And any time someone mocks you for saying saffron is
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your favorite color, you can release some toxins. midge Why couldn’t you say these things to me? Why couldn’t you tell me how you felt about me growing up? madeline It’s an unsatisfactory answer, I assure you. midge I want to hear. madeline The best I can come up with isÉI didn’t know how. There it is: the raw truth about my inadequacies is ignorance. Mothering doesn’t come naturally to all of us. But I did try. midge By sitting on me. madeline Yes. midge (seeing Henri coming back) He loves me. But he’s sitting on me, isn’t he? madeline Yes.
Henri arrives back with the drinks. madeline I must be off. (shoots the drink) Henri, what can I say? (to bartender) A cab? midge (to Madeline) Wait! Does the beetle turn back into a boy? madeline Anything can happen in a play. (kisses midge and leaves) henri Boy, she is something else. madeline (smiling) Yes. She really is. henri Ready? midge Not quite, Henri. We have to talk. Lights. End Play
Je nni f e r lynn roBe rt S
I see what might be rain or what might be the irreducible grain of vision who cares who cares abt long boring words abt coping w/ the unknown abt the difference between theoretical sadness & actual sadness who cares if I rehouse myself in a dark thicket if my brain is a field occupied w/ space if I light my thoughts on fire
time is here so everything doesn’t happen at once the subtle perception of the way things are we come out of this world like grass trying to keep itself cut like rivers that can’t swim spaceships w/ islands inside them until the quiet comes give me yr shadow of me accidentally achieve serenity w/ me then bring me pandemonium where would we be w/out each other I am an alien impersonating a human in the ‘animal soup of time’ happiness is a warm plum that looks fresh but has worms
aFter biLL Knott
if you are still dead when you read this, open your eyes. I am on the tips of your eyeballs, growing bright.
Mat t h e w Sh e rli nG
to the reaDer
I write this while I’m drowning I write this while I’m watching a film that makes me physically ill I write this as I drive down the superhighway to find the garden I write this while I’m checking my Gmail I write this in the stony woods I write this as grass imitating a pooltable I write this in a hundred nameless deserts I write this as there is no beer I write this out of respect for my miserable bedroom I write this as a preface to my clock I write this as a non-utilitarian building I write this pregnant with emptiness
I write this during Picasso’s Blue Period I write this sitting in a bonfire I write this as a deranged pantheist I write this as Paumanok in 1855 I write this in a rockingchair on 328 Mickle Street, March 26, 1892 I write this to delay nirvana I write this because, when in my life has it not been now I write this as advanced daydreaming I write this as hyperactive drone I write this while I eat a plate of smoked ham I write this in the course of gravity I write this to meet myself today as I was then I write this while I listen to the ravings of Hitler I write this as a lamentation for sticking legs on a snake
Mat t h e w Sh e rli nG
I write this as a negative theology toward sleep I write this as a homeless hymn I write this while someone plays pingpong w/ an eyeball I write this from a mobile standpoint I write this because we are relatives I write this shocked at the manifestations of power I write this because the brain regulates a thousand body processes I write this for the organic pattern of the physical world I write this to clean the ears of the musically educated I write this to look for the horse while I’m riding it I write this as trash to a pigeon I write this as irrational science I write this as liquid boiling at an unpremeditated rhythm I write because, I feel therefore I think
I write this because the spontaneous has arisen I write this because a plant’s emotional response to humans can be recorded by a machine I write this as a piece of driftwood in the Pacific Ocean I write this because of electronic intelligence I write this as an old goat on a lonely rock I write this as a study of the nervous system I write this as a pot of bathtub gin I write this to plant a row of trees I write this while a bird walks on water I write this out of the big bang of my existence I write this as an antiparticle w/ zero mass
Mat t h e w Sh e rli nG
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