the benevolent otherhood

Vol. 1 Summer 2010

the benevolent otherhood Volume One, Summer 2010

Table of Contents S. Sandrigon The Ballad of Joe “the Rat” (or, “Fart of Darkness”) Singer, and setting the stage for rampage. Alisa Dodge The Driving Lesson Apotheosis Corinna Lefkowitz Untitled I Untitled II Cathlin Goulding What I Hear When My Students Write About Sex, Drugs, and Hip Hop Pepper Luboff loop, a former landfill 2-26-07 S. Sandrigon Sacred Massacre

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The Ballad of Joe “the Rat” (or, “Fart of Darkness”) Singer, and setting the stage for rampage.

What a panic’s in Joe the Rat’s breast: He’s first at being worst, The little coward, cute in spite of his acute cussedness, His iron smile’s a magnet for fists, His FBI file’s filed in the slits in his wrists, He’s lost his sandals--, it’s like he’s lost in Jesus’ hearse–, But with a cup of splenda-sweetened coffee, he feels quite reimbursed.

I met Joe the Rat at the Princeton Graduation Parade, Dressed in a Paisley orange-and-black sports jacket, His silhouette was like Mohammad, His brunette girlfriend drinking anisette In the Jersey sunshine. I asked him if he was afraid Of the Pine Barrens, and he asked me if I was getting paid.

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In Late May before the beaches are cleaned up–, (I’m a robot on a planet of toe mold and plastic bottles) –, A plastic detector can detect synthetic turtles. She leaves her egg on Neptune, and waddles Into the Atlantic Ocean: And Joe the Rat, too crooked to be corrupt, Like a Panjandrum of the filth, makes an omelet out of her abandoned pup.

I met Joe the Rat at a nasty bar literally underneath the Turnpike. Splendor! Splenetic and waspish, there wasn’t one free bar stool, So I sat on the floor in a pool of someone’s drool, His splenda-sweetened voice was measured but cruel When he asked me if I would like his seat, his squinty glance like a sniper’s snipe, And in wafted odors from the Natural Flavoring factories which smelled exactly like pickled honeycomb tripe.

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What a panic’s in Joe the Rat’s breast: now the scandal’s broken, too, The little coward blames the gossip industry For shopping for more than it can stir-fry, And petty fogs more ostentatious than actually costly. Now the scandal’s broken–, he’s lost his bus token, too–, It’s like he’s tied up in Jesus’ noose, among the choken few.

I met Joe the Rat nude in an antique store, And asked him if the conspiracy goes all the way to the top, and fast: What do you want? his brunette girlfriend asked, And told me that the first shall be the last: Every valley shall be exalted–, but wait, there’s more, And then she grabbed onto Joe’s tail & they scurried into a hole in the floor.
S. Sandrigon

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The Driving Lesson The rain had been following us for days, continued to linger overhead as we drove in silence to the cemetery entrance where he stopped, threw his keys into my lap, “You drive,” he said, although I’d only done it once before. I straddled the gear shift, the pant cuffs baggy around my gangly legs, catching an old soda can, the radio knob. He strolled around to the passenger door, sat next to me, head matted from the wet world outside. The key felt warm and heavy as I slid it into the ignition. I looked over for a reassuring nod, a confident smile. Nothing. He just looked forward, with the coldness of a stranger, unfazed, with a stillness (common these days), the presence of a ghost. I drove us up the windy road toward mother’s grave taking round-abouts two or three times over to extend the journey. Inside, to myself, I started to laugh at ridiculous scenarios like what if I hit a tombstone, releasing spirits, like the water of a fire hydrant, cut loose from capture. The rain drops (the dead, spitting?) began to lessen as I pretended that my dad and I were really going somewhere, to a life beyond this one where no one knew our names where our histories faded with lack of recognition, where sorrow escaped as the identity that locked it in, kept us wedded to it, disintegrated. I began to weave the car back and forth and back

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on the maze of empty roads framed by neatly mowed grass, the verdant life cradling stone. I started singing. He smiled slightly. I think I saw his foot tap. And for a second, a freedom caught us in a forgetting of where we intended to be. My left arm tingled, tickled by the rays of the sun’s escape, a fleeting reprieve from the dampness that had us cloistered for days, in front of the television. And, we ascended, the gradual incline taking us closer to the sky. My foot pressed on the gas pedal until we began to slow. I started screaming, I kept pushing. The car felt heavier and heavier, its corps hardening as I began pumping the pedal, to resuscitate, to bring breath back into this feeling, as the hand of the fuel gauge unapologetically dipped below the red line. We stopped smiling. Stopped tapping. I pressed my forehead into the steering wheel, cold, the leather like clammy palms. Slamming my fist into the wheel’s heart the horn’s wail chased the sun’s rays away, abandoning us to the clouds merciless melancholy. We opened our doors only to slam them shut, to walk, in silence through the rain to find my mother’s name. 13

Alisa Dodge

Apotheosis What is divine? I draft maps, a list of landmarks: birds, flames, the stars to calculate distances, the travel needed to meet a deity I can live with I consult a lover’s lips, the way his tongue slips with ease between my thighs-like silk through the eye of a needlesoftly shaking the skin’s layers awake, until the quakes kick in, vibrating my skull breaking the great sepulcher of the brain from its foundation You consult altars, the way beads weave between, becoming fingers. Replicate, reiterate, to venerate ancient deities with hymns and prayers, Our Father who art in Heaven with knees raw, forgive us our sins with submission, pleading for redemption, lead us not into temptation a stone cradle rocks you, softly, asleep but deliver us from evil in the bare branches of surrender 14

Are we merely blood-letting? Purging the stagnation from our veins, driving bad humors away by redefining renunciation so that Light-headed, nearly syncopal, I lie, tethered to iron, You bow, wedded to wood To take precautionary measures my lips lock into my lover’s neck, teeth gnawing leather yours ripple in chains of prayer before the fits And, revelations, through skin or stone prayers or moans, happen. It’s the way our eyes roll back to search the brain for something familiar It’s when we, tremulous, release screams that climb octaves in taut gasping breaths belly pulled in pushed out hard and supple fist and palm denying and inviting breath

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It’s the final exhale that snaps the diaphragm free of its core Before you flail and fall to the floor, with a final Hallelujah, flapping arms like an epileptic Before a lover’s body, brackish and damp, slips along my back so, like salted slugs, he and I stick, then melt into an unmade shape

Alisa Dodge

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Untitled I

Of heavy passages I do regret. Some belie shreds of a night’s echo, an arm’s length of goodbye or salty baths, or the brevity of dreams. Of heavy passages I do rectify myself, apologize for mishandlings and my own degradation. I ask not for vacant worship or distracted fervor. I ask for crisp, bright mornings, for bustling streets like revelations. Ships upon my vision, hands like elastic gripping my thighs. The train tells the night to let loose its canyons, imagine its own hell, bleed from the mouth. I have no palpable reason to ask to be bound.

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I do not hold my own trembling body long enough to comprehend its ceremonies; the task of aging, the theatre of fragility. Darkness is not sensible. It contains fragmentary silences, hymnal alarms, unhinged questions, sack-loads of meaningless words and territories of uncut wheat.
Corinna Lefkowitz

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Untitled II Fissure, wound, back, fallout, surrender. The sun fractures all around us. I see water rising to meet me, the stillness entering the calm, legs, entangled. Hold me as if the prairies laid down in prayer. I, grass, strength. Found again and held forth.

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Sink, retch, close. Closer, it’s closer, it’s always closer. And I have felt the force, the climb, the sun, the blood.
Corinna Lefkowitz

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What I Hear When My Students Write About Sex, Drugs, and Hip Hop For most of the seniors in my Poetry course, it is their first time taking a creative-writing course. While they have written love poems during Algebra or scribbled lyrics in black and white composition books, this is the first writing they will do for a class not to present information, to persuade, to compare and contrast, to expound about a literary theme, but to express. The line between poems written in a personal journal and those that are acceptable to submit for a grade becomes blurry in a high school creative writing class. During the first week of the semester, with timidity, a handful of poets make small confessions of first kisses, smoking cigarettes in the baseball field, and sneaking out for a late night party. Many of the students invariably whip their heads around to look for my stunned reaction; however, they witness me only calmly nod and blandly smile at these first indiscretions. Being a writer myself, I cannot and do not wish to censor their first toe dips into creative writing. In the coming weeks, however, their boldness increases. They read pieces about their cousin JR who was arrested while dealing pot in the Sears’ parking lot. Or they read aloud poems fraught with bawdy complaints about “bi-otchs and hos.” Or they punctuate each of their lines with creative variations on the f-word. As they are reading, my temperature rises and my palms sweat. It is a reaction reminiscent of the time I failed to fast-forward through the full frontal nudity in the film version of Like Water for Chocolate or forgot about a rather chaste and passionless sex scene between two clones in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (a passage that a student showed her mother who subsequently showed the school administration).

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But my heatedness arises not so much from a fear of reprimand by my administrators, or that I am particularly shocked by the sex, drugs, and hip hop presented in their poems. Rather, it is, I suppose, my irritation at their lazy trafficking in taboo subject matter. These students wish to impress the class with their badness and it is roundly expected that I, the teacher, should react in an authoritative and restrictive manner. And I do react. Sometimes, I react with my mediocre Ricky Ricardo imitation in which I slap my cheek and say, “Aye yi yi!” while throwing a maudlin gaze up at the Styrofoam ceiling of my portable classroom. Other times, I plug my ears with both fingers, open my eyes wide, and singsong loudly, “La la la” in a theatrical show of don’t-ask-don’t-tell. It’s my comedic routine, a means of addressing the offensiveness of the language without shutting the young poets down. Uncomfortably, I have often played the role of Censor of the State, abruptly impounding poems mid-reading and giving the standard “not appropriate for class” speech. This always feels as though I am mimicking a stern principal from an eighties teen flick. To what extent do teachers limit both students’ exposure to and their expression of societal taboos inside of the classroom? And does censorship really make sense when teenagers operate among constant reports of violence in their neighborhoods and abroad? In five years of teaching creative writing to high school students, I’ve come to believe that the conversation about classroom censorship should not center on whether we should or should not let students read “inappropriate” creative work, but instead on the execution, craft, and purposefulness of taboo subjects in a poem or other kinds of expressive writing. The way that I’ve learned to preempt students’ forays into crudity is by showing them writers who do it with savvy and verve. Take for example, Charles Bukowski. He is a writer with a gift for alternating between crudeness and tenderness; while he incites an initial 22

revulsion in his readership he eventually wins us over with often very moving confessions. The speaker in Bukowski’s poem, “I want a mermaid,” for instance, kicks off with a speculation about where the sexual organs of mermaids are located. He tempers this statement with this admission: “I’d like a mermaid to love. Sometimes in the supermarket I see crabs and baby octopi and I think, well, I could feed her that.” At this eccentric revelation, we almost excuse the speaker’s cheekiness. However, he turns on us in the last section of the poem. The speaker looks at a (human) grocery store checker and slyly says: “I know where her sexual organs are located.” Using unsettling metaphors and alarming images, writers like Bukowski explore the profane in a manner that profoundly and good-humouredly supersedes the sloppy inanity of the f-word. A few weeks ago, after publicly reprimanding a group for reading a collaborative poem that revealed an undue level of detail about watching pornography, I decided I would have my students read Sylvia Plath’s “Fever 103.” “All right,” I thought to myself, “They want to read erotic poems? I’ll give them an erotic poem.” I passed out copies of Plath’s poem and then they took the first part of class to annotate and discuss it with a partner. We reconvened as a whole class and, standing up in my usual center of the room spot, I asked: “Okay everybody. Let me hear some thoughts. In this poem, how does Plath capture the feverish quality of love,” and after a momentary pause, I added, “and sex?” First, we looked at the very initial questions that Plath asks in her poem: “Pure? What does it mean?” 23

Jasmine, the enthusiastic student who sits in the front row, asked a question about why Plath shifts from wanting to define purity to describing the “tongues of hell” as “dull as the triple tongues of dull, fat Cerebus,” an allusion to a three-headed mythological hound guarding the gates of hell. Trevor raised his hand, and per his usual analysis that all creative work is rooted in drug usage, redirected the discussion and asserted that the speaker’s “fever” is not a metaphor for love but instead represents a withdrawal from narcotics. Jonathan, the art-school kid with the black rimmed frames, pointed out the references to Hiroshima in the piece; Plath presents surreal, hellish images of “ghastly orchids” incinerated by radiation and “bodies of adulterers” that are blackened “like Hiroshima ash.” Many in the class were intrigued by Plath’s unabashed sensuality. “Darling, all night I have been flicking, off, on, off, on,” she explains mid-poem. “The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.” They were perplexed by the odd confluence of religion and sexuality: “I am too pure for you or anyone. Your body hurts me as the world hurts God.” What does it mean, they asked, for a body to experience so much pain that it is as though humanity is gravely disappointing God? And when I asked the class if Plath answers her own question regarding purity, we looked at the lines where the poem reaches its white-hot pinnacle for our answer. “I think I am going up,” Plath writes. “I am pure acetylene.” Plath’s speaker, who suffers feverish nightmares the entirety of the poem, finally emerges in a state so pure, so passionate, that she is as flammable as acetylene. As I looked around the room, I saw my students in a rare moment of intense intellectual focus that was on par with, if not surpassed, their engagement with the aforesaid Porno Poets’ presentation earlier that week. 24

Erotic? Plath’s poem might arguably be the sexiest poem ever written. After we finished our class discussion, I pulled up on the projector a black and white photo of Plath that often appears on the back covers of her books. The class saw her down tilted expression and the generous wideness of her eyes. They looked at the slice of her smile and her thick locks that unravel like pencil shavings. Together, we lingered in her half-smile, having been entangled in her puzzle of a poem—that is, a poem that reaches the peaks of eroticism through a relentless insistence on purity. There is not a single mention of the f-word or of nudity in “Fever 103.” It is taboo without being taboo. And for mastering that very contradiction, Sylvia Plath left both my senior Poetry students and I awestruck.
Cathlin Goulding

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loop, a former landfill 1. ground squirrels’ contented, vacant looks heads hinging they hug the earth - even with their mouths or on hind legs with limp forelimbs chew, chew their thoughts are sky are the porous bones of birds lifted 2. that leashless, greyhoundy mutt snoops ferreting squirrels slinky creep 3. the snake was here last time a lurker slaloming around, through the rocks a skulker muscling between shade and dark roughed water 26

4. fish kites gulp air make bones, muscle, guts of air the bearded kite man kidding kids loving kites is automatic 5. this curb lined with parked cars filled with people by themselves listening to news radio 6. a society for creative anachronisms he thrusts his baton; she feigns another lost limb, fights with one arm one leg 7. he’s crawling in the grass his gaze is skewed in his head some part of his brain in eclipse a dog being not our human being the people with him aren’t speaking english 27

they could be reasoning with him are they related he’s fair-haired they’re dark-complexioned he happy to be a dog but strained as if tugging against a leash 1. the squirrels are statuettes in states of repose - munching heads full of sun mouths of grass 2. that dog his drawn snout bulldozing the fragile 3. almost a piece of seaweed scooped ashore it froze when I looked moved when I looked away found it again near the lapping bay where it might have been seaweed or pleated water

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4. kites are not in need they’re air or not they hover they waver 5. if the people were teeth the cars and curb would be braces that channel radio waves a broadcast for many in your head 6. what if we found all anachronisms this freakish 7. the dog boy and his companions are gone
Pepper Luboff

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2-26-07 The urge, then I grow. Without intention. Acid tumbleweed stomach, seltzer head, and I eat, and I grow. Say I plant corn: The corn grows of its own accord, if the rain and sun come of their own accord. If aphids, locusts, and crows are distracted elsewhere. And fed and grow. The dandelions have little to do with me, if I let them alone. Expansive and regenerative. Tidal waves of it, me, him, her. The top layer of my skin is a snowdown cemetery. Let the reeds bend from, then net in, snow. Let stones hold heat or cold longer than you. But if I say “Let,” don’t listen. “The truth does not blush.” Pink ladies and holly berries blush. I suspect abstractions because they’re motivated. The barista swirled milk froth into a wheat sheath. I sip and stretch the pattern open. Drink and bloom. Once he made a heart. I tried to gather something from his look. I learned to edit towards dispassion. A big debauch on one of the Bay Islands. On the boat over, our skins were either bronze balloons or crumpled crepe from the sun. The ladder rungs, so hot they melted palms off. Dark, electronic - the fire dancers showboated. One boy pulled me aside, cuffed his fingers to my wrist. I unlatched him, and found the eely Belgian. We laid down half on shore, half in sea. I bore between his ribcage and sweater. In the morning, I found the Irish med students, and plied us with Barcadi Gold. They sang and expounded from hammocks, and asked me to make a maraca of a water bottle and sand. The fire dancers were blistered and smelled of match heads and kerosene. I laughed at how typically beautiful the Belgian was, and looked longingly at the scuba instructor. The Irish and I minstreled back to Utila. I bedded one, my ass rashy from beach sand. Unctuous monsoon. Like licking up watery snot and tears. Grows. Against a golf cart. Blushes. Is intent on. Is motivation simultaneous with satisfaction. I groped for good intentions in the eternal present.
Pepper Luboff

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Sacred Massacre

A voice is heard accompanied by pipes & drums–, Tweedle, tweedle, dub-a-dub, Weeping & mourning in the corner pub–, A dictum over the railways, a rider this way comes, A failsafe second chance, wave your hand to air the fumes, And all the little wishing fishes Clear the table of their dirty dishes. Meet me by the Salton Sea at high tide: That’s no way to talk about a mass infanticide.

Escape into the new moon, pipes & drums as a diversion–, Tweedle, tweedle, dub-a-dub, Merrily, merrily, there’s the rub–, A smiling but cordial Persian orca, in this version Is the agent of a wet holocaust, a sort of saltwater extermination. And all the little wishing mammals Pack up their kids like one-hump camels, And drive towards the Salton Sea, be there by high tide: That’s the highway to avoid mass infanticide.

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An insolent king will succeed the high priests–, Tweedle, tweedle, dub-a-dub, A jealous one-eyed incestuous hubbub–, And mix his dictum in a cauldron with nightshade & wildebeest meats, Certain right revolting fantasies, one of the damnedest amplest feasts. But the blue veins on his mother’s mammaries Will be a map towards the safe territories. Rachel weeping for her children, & there is no place to hide: The only way to react after a mass infanticide.

Did you hear the ululating? did you hear the drums & pipes–? Tweedle, tweedle, dub-a-dub, Hide your corn liquor in the bathtub–, Not just the Maccabean blood, but all the bloody stars & stripes, From Malibu to mishmash, all different types of baby bottom wipes. And all the little wishing ducklings, Follow their leader like newly-weaned sucklings. Did you hear me complaining by the seaside? How dare you make bad jokes about a mass infanticide?

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Escape into the water, Elle Mary, traveling so soon after nativity–, Tweedle, tweedle, dub-a-dub, And psalmody sung by an immortal cherub–, That such a feud should be between a king & a baby, All over a rattle, like Tweedle-Dum & Tweedle-Dee, And like the little wishing pundits, They nitpick pish-tosh like tats for tits. The king will kill his own pig & eat it refried, His own personal loss from his own mass infanticide.

A voice is heard in Tijuana, & with ancient pipes & drums–, Tweedle, tweedle, dub-a-dub, Carousing till 4am at a degenerate nightclub–, None of these mothers have totaled their sums, Unimpregnated, unbirthed, indifferent to the rider when he comes, And all the fishes wishing to be born Will have to wait till after massacre morn. Down by the Salton Sea, a refugee sat down & cried, That’s no way to talk about a mass infanticide.
S. Sandrigon

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The Benevolent Otherhood is a secret writing society in Oakland and Berkeley, California. Founded in 1899, its current members include Alisa Dodge, Cathlin Goulding, Corinna Lefkowitz, Pepper Luboff, and S. Sandrigon. Cover art is by Mario Zamarripa. Art by Olaf Mary appears on pages 7, 9, 11, 33, 35 and 37. Art by Minnie Molly Mary appears on page 16 and 25. Art by Chris Rae appears on page 31. Please contact The Benevolent Otherhood at: benevolentotherhood@gmail.com