Thomas McCafferty

Contributions:

Post, Doc

I was inside Husky Stadium today, returning my wife’s cap, hood, and gown, so that the University of Washington wouldn’t charge her any more than the minimum $100 rental fee. She graduated with a doctorate that took eight years to earn, an accomplishment in which I naturally take a deal of pride. Next, she’s on to her postdoc. And so, as I signed the ledger for the return that some silly, barely pubescent undergrad presented me, I told him, “Yes, she’s a PhD,” and the words rang out with smug superiority under those cavernous bleachers. Then, turning, I stepped face-first into a pole! One of those enormous steel I-beams. And down to the ground I went! Oh, I  got up quickly enough, brushed myself off, and answered that, yes, yes, I was certainly fine, and even ran back to the car to show what a hurry I was in and show how spry I was. And I suppose there’s a moral there about pride and condescension, but my head is still spinning, so I can’t quite think of it right now. I’ll lie down and see if it hits me.

Nature Morte

Broom hare
 
I’m always painting dogs these days.
And Broom hares.
One in the other’s mouth
or both on the ground
in decay.
 
She asks about my sanity,
she says, because she cares.
She asks, I think,
because I’m poor.
 
Once, she told me I brought something organic, vital,
and in juxtaposition to the concrete city surrounding us
truly substantial
to the table.
 
I should have laughed in her face.
She should have laughed in mine.
 
Can I really leave a canvas blank?
Take a shower, shave, find a job?
Play a critic with a blog?
Or, like Robert Malaval,
to escape the boredom of repetition,
put a gun in my mouth?
 
I mean, it’s either that or
keep painting dogs, right?
 
And Broom hares,
 
alone, together,
one in the other’s mouth
or both on the ground
in the grass,
on the rocks
with the grubs—
photorealism is only any good
when you can’t turn away.

Feeling Lousy

Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy… How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this?… We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice. from Tropic of Cancer, 1961, by Henry Miller

Before reading that page 1 paragraph, I had never before connected lousy with lice (perhaps owing to a privileged life led lice-free) and indeed had never before connected lice with the singular louse. A big thank you to Mr. Miller for clearing things up.

 

Illustrating Hirschworth

I saw a friend of mine today, Mike Oneppo, who works at FiftyThree, which is the company that created the Paper app, which is by far the most intuitive illustration app I have worked with, and which is what I’m using now to illustrate our new posts in Hirschworth.

Paper and other illustrative tablet and phone apps have completely transformed the illustration marketplace—I think very much for the better—in part by increasing the accessibility of digital illustration and in part by giving artists new tools.

When I first started illustrating semi-professionally, I was a teenager doing work in watercolors for Field & Stream Magazine and the L.L. Bean Hiking and Backpacking Handbook. This was the in the mid and late 90s, and hand-drawn illustrations for pretty much any kind of publication save children’s books were becoming less and less fashionable. Fluency with Adobe Illustrator was increasingly vital to getting work. I tried to figure out Illustrator but found the program illogical and slow and the experience extremely frustrating. Now, plenty of people are wizards with Illustrator and it’s a powerful program, but it was never going to be a good fit for me and so I pretty much gave up on digital illustration (and stopped getting illustration work, too). It seemed like artists who knew Illustrator were in their own little protected kingdom, safe and secure with their esoteric know-how, commissions, and paychecks. This was a crazy thing to have thought and rather unfair. The point is that I was jealous of them. Very jealous because one of my sources of income had dried up and I was left feeling inept.

Then, sometime not too awfully long ago, when Mike had moved back to Seattle and we had both become fathers, he started telling me about this free app he was working on with a big team of people. I went home, started playing with it, and became completely hooked. Paper is a marvelous way to illustrate. The layout makes sense. The tools you use are direct mimics of the tools you use in real (non-digital) life (scissors, pens, pencils, brushes, etc.) and they behave with each other to rather elegant effect. Add to this that the app is ever evolving, getting more and more sophisticated and more and more powerful (for example, the resolution of the images created is higher now than when I first started working with the program, and the magnify feature is a thousand times better), and the overall experience is delightful. I started illustrating a children’s book (not yet done) and pretty soon got work doing a piece for an article in Bright Ideas Magazine. I haven’t yet used Paper with the Stylus Pencil they created, nor have I have tried it out an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, but I hope to soon. In the meantime, the results I can create with just a finger on an iPad 2 will turn up right here, every week, with every new post. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Skullduggery

skullduggery salmon
 
Is slicing a king salmon head off the backbone
and stuffing it down your pants
and going about your day,
daring anyone to ask
about the swell
or smell.
And sure it’s kinda crude,
and maybe, yeah, you’ll lose your job,
and maybe you’ll go and horrify your mom,
and maybe your friends won’t take your texts,
but at least it isn’t suicidal, homicidal, crazy violent,
delusional, arrogant, self-important, a run for president.
At the end of the day, man, it’s just a crown for your head.
Just a jewel to brighten your sorry scepter.
A fishface to munch your worm.
Just a fish, man, a fish!
A fish, man!
A fish!
 

Remembering Jim Harrison

Eight years ago, Jim Harrison generously offered to meet me on the Missouri River. At the time, I was an assistant editor at Field & Stream Magazine, and I was sitting in my cubicle in our New York office with a telephone to my ear. Mr. Harrison was at his winter home in Arizona, I believe. He was writing a piece for the magazine, and by luck I got the job of clearing up a detail in the story because our publication deadline was nearing and the senior editor in charge of that piece was out for the day. I have no idea any more what that particular detail was, but I will always remember hearing Mr. Harrison’s measured, gravelly voice on the telephone and his willingness to let the conversation turn to fly fishing in Montana and comparing some of our favorite spots.

We didn’t speak long, and I never spoke to him again. It’s the same old story—I got busy. Busy leaving New York and finding new work in Seattle, busy getting married, busy becoming a father. Calling up to say, “Hey, remember that five-minute phone conversation we had back in ’08…” starts to feel increasingly absurd. Surely it would have been absurd, too, though I don’t think he would have minded in the least and I even like to imagine that he happily would have made the trip if he was able. He left that kind of impression on me.

But I am writing all of this really just to say that I am extremely sad that he has passed. He has been one of the biggest influences on my own writing since I first read Legends of the Fall as a teenager and then went on to devour a good number of his books, spacing them apart a bit because I don’t like the idea of running out of them, my rationale somewhat akin to that of a kid trying to make his Halloween candy last (a habit I also apply to the novels of Raymond Chandler, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf among others). I think now I will go back to his catalogue and indulge my sweet tooth. His books are wonderful treats.

 

THE RETURN OF HIRSCHWORTH

 
You may have noticed that our site has been out of operation some time. The reasons are several. One is that I’ve been ill, off and on, since mid-November. This illness ultimately required a brief hospital stint. At that time, I was forced to step away from Hirschworth indefinitely. While Hirschworth has staff and contributors, publishing itself was a one-man show and unfortunately that show had to end—temporarily.
            I am exceedingly happy to report that I am now in much better health and Hirschworth will re-launch soon. The date is not yet fixed—we are redesigning and reconfiguring the site in exciting ways: increasing aesthetic beauty while maintaining a simple layout and a straightforward presentation of content.
            Regards the above, new content will command Hirschworth’s front page longer as we make the move to twice-weekly publication—at least as concerns stories, essays, poems, and other finished pieces.
We will also, however, have a new section of the magazine for more spur-of-the-moment thoughts and off-the-cuff editorials. This will appear under the heading “Odds & Ends” and will be displayed as a sidebar.
            When Hirschworth was conceived, one of our goals was to have a place where the merits of artists and art pieces of all forms could be discussed, lauded, and critiqued, as well as a place for making note of more of-the-moment movements, trends, and stories. In Hirschworth’s real world conception to date, however, that sort of discussion has been impossible—unsuitable to appear alongside proper published pieces as well as awkward to post in social media where anything longer than a sentence is passed over without being read. I sincerely hope that our new section will ameliorate this problem.
            Humbly, I ask that that all of you be patient with us a little longer. Hirschworth’s best days are still ahead. Many thanks to all of you.
 

MARITAL BLISS, IXe, 64 BVD. HAUSSMANN, PRINTEMPS HAUSSMANN, 6th FLOOR, BRASSERIE PRINTEMPS, SPRING 2013

MARITAL BLISS, IXe, 64 BVD. HAUSSMANN, PRINTEMPS HAUSSMANN, 6th FLOOR, BRASSERIE PRINTEMPS, SPRING 2013: poem cover
 
Mon Port Au Prince prince
prints prints
in le Printemps 
en le printemps,”
she cooed,
thrusting out our son,
quarter-dollar baby.
Prince prince prints prints? 
You dream that up all by yourself?
with that big brain of yours?
“You’re a bastard,” she said. 
Always abuses me with English.
Why you love me, isn’t it?
“Maybe it’s your money.”
I nursed a Cassis Blanc.
She nursed the boy.
What to do you do when wifey,
beloved object of/subject to obsessive,
worshipful, depraved desire
admits to being in it for the cash?
You picked the wrong writer for
goldie gold diggin, my golden
Goldie Lox.
“Don’t try salvaging yourself with words.
Mine were much more clever. 
Non, non love. Buy something por moi.
Something that tick tocks.
Something by Piaget.
If you need to, put it on the card.
If you can’t, beg. 
If begging doesn’t work, steal. 
If you fail stealing…”
I whispered to my son,
“Bite her, boy! 
Go ahead and 
bite her hard!”
 

LAUNDROMAT ATTACK

laundromat
 
Tazer’s paperwork.
I pull it out, don’t do nothing, paperwork.
I fire it, more.
I hit the sumbitch, reams.
Court dates.
My ass in jail.
If he has a heart condition,
well—
and if he dies—
don’t use no Tazer.
 
Mace the same.
Hydraulic needle pierces that cornea,
permanent problems.
Potential for positional asphyxiation.
Adds up to a welfare shitshow,
and me on the wrong side of five to ten.
 
Baton’s the shit.
Hit a leg just hard enough.
Don’t break it.
Put him down.
Slow him.
Hobble him.
Have a chuckle.
Wait for police
while you show your smile.
 
The convenience store-cum-Laundromat on
6th and Cormorant was just not the right place
for a five-finger discount. The attendant was the size
of a refrigerated truck and moved a good deal quicker.
I’d just witnessed him running down a thief, tackling him,
tumbling end over end like comical hoop snakes intertwined.
I kept looking at the recoveries in his hands.
Of all the things to steal.
Gummy worms.
A Mountain Dew.
And the thief well over fifty.
Guess he had a real sweet tooth.
 

HIRSCHWORTH PHOTO SHOOT FINAL IMAGES

behind-the-scenes-48

 

As a follow-up to yesterday’s behind the scenes essay, we thought it would be fitting to show a few of our deliberately staged images. Many of the photos we incorporate with the poems, stories, and essays we publish are collaged and heavily altered to better illustrate the written content. They are always, at the very least, cropped into squares. We’re taking this as an opportunity to show our comparatively unadulterated photographs the way we think they look best. Whether we’re trying to portray beauty or ugliness, sexuality or even simple shallowness, we always care about the intrinsic aesthetic. For a good read on hipster photography, which one could argue our images embody to a T, check out this article by @MarcoBohr. But enough words for once. On to the images…

Model: Emily B.

Photographers: Richard C. Armstrong III and Thomas McCafferty

emily model shoot finals-5Behind the scenes-9 Behind the scenes-20 Behind the scenes-42 Behind the scenes-44     emily model shoot finals-8  emily model shoot finals-11 emily model shoot finals-12  emily model shoot finals-14 emily model shoot finals-16 hirschworth behind scenes-14hirschworth behind scenesemily model shoot finals-19 emily model shoot finals-21   emily model shoot finals-25  emily model shoot finals-30 emily model shoot finals-31 emily model shoot finals

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE FIRST HIRSCHWORTH PHOTO SHOOT 

hirschworth-behind-scenes-23
 
Back in September we held a photo shoot in a fantastically colorful house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with the lithe and lovely Emily B. 
 
The reason for the shoot was several-fold: 1) Photo shoots are cool, we thought, so let’s do one; 2) Our standard images at the time were a bit tame and our aesthetic sensibilities cried out for something provocative or at least strange; 3) We needed a larger portfolio from which to draw for the illustrations that accompany our poems, essays, and prose. Several readers and contributors have inquired about these illustrations. Briefly, they are images derived from photos that I or one of our other editors have taken that are processed in Photoshop or Lightroom and sometimes collaged with other images. When we started this magazine back in July, most of our illustrations came from vacation photos. Now we are conducting more shoots with the aim of creating ever more interesting visual work–or, in the immortal words of our Culture Editor, Richard C. Armstrong III, “Photos that don’t suck.” 
 
Tomorrow we will follow up this post with a selection of some of favorite edited images. 
 
– Thomas McCafferty
 
Behind the scenes-5 Behind the scenesBehind the scenes-10 Behind the scenes-12 Behind the scenes-13 Behind the scenes-16 Behind the scenes-25 rich behind scenesBehind the scenes-28 Behind the scenes-31 Behind the scenes-32 Behind the scenes-33 Behind the scenes-37  Behind the scenes-45 Behind the scenes-47 Behind the scenes-49 Behind the scenes-52 Behind the scenes-54   
 

BEAR ON THE OP

bear-op
 
 
Today, I hiked down-mountain to the Humptulips
where I meant to reach a bank of sprawling rocks and sand
and slow eddies where I’d have a good view of game trails.
But I took the wrong path off the wrong road in the wrong drainage.
I didn’t recognize the error until I was overlooking the river—
such is the overgrown nature of the country
that one trail can look quite like another.
This was a tight clearing on stretch of fast water
where a creek cascaded deafeningly upstream.
Had I arrived providentially? Would a black bear
happen by me, rewarding my mistake?
I sat on the bank in the rain
with a tarp on my legs,
a rifle in my arms.
Water seeped in my jacket cuffs,
soaking my shirtsleeves.
Hunting in the Olympics
is like diving in a pool—
you’ll never come out dry.
Dawn turned to day and I
scrambled up the slope,
slipping in the mud, scraping through brambles,
my heart rate doubling, sweat seeping
into any clothing not already wet.
Why hunt on days like this?
Why hunt here at all?
I knew a man
who was lost two nights in these woods,
in this interminable downpour.
And it’s not like I’ve had much success,
not like animals keep bounding into my lap
and meat freezer.
But fall after fall after fall,
the Hump draws me back
like a salmon that just won’t die. 

PAY FOR PLAY

courtesan
 
 
Three-hundred years ago, I’d like to think you’d have been a courtesan.
I’d like to think I could have bought your affections,
your body, your lungs.
Think how quickly I’d have accelerated our romance.
Think how much more we’d have gotten done
if our passions were based on monetary transactions
instead of a glamorous ballet of household chores:
dinners, dishes, exercising the dog.
Never any time to exercise the cat.
You only love me when the house is immaculate
and the kid’s asleep, and the pets aren’t shitting the bed
—once a month at best and sometimes
when I’m out of town, which sounds dubious
when I think it out.
Say, who bought you those Manolo heels,
that Gucci dress? Who’d you have to screw
for that Channel bag?
I don’t want you to answer.
Just know this:
I’ll give you more:
diamonds, a Cadillac, a fox fur shawl.
Wrap it round your neck.
Strip everything else,
hop into bed.
This is the kind of relationship
I can get behind.
 

EXISTENTIALIST BEASTS

existential-beast
 
 
I was thinking about hyena spots, claws,
and predilections for aging,
living lion flesh. The greatest
dog-cat fights are
lion-hyena bouts, which
is an inaccurate statement
since hyenas aren’t canines.
That’s beside the point:
just imagine packs of hundred-pound
razorbacked grunters tooth to tooth
with quarter-ton kitties.
Makes me dwell on
my own mortality,
modern homo sapiens being
lucky or unlucky enough
not to have to worry
about becoming parts
of the macrobiotic diets
of other mega fauna.
We go through life thinking
in the end, we’ll be composting
worm meat. We worry about whether
or not we’ll be loved, remembered,
alone; in heaven or hell or the ground;
whether we’ll die slowly, painfully,
or quickly, suddenly.
Whereas lions know from the get-go
they’ll be killing hyenas literally
until the day they die when those
same carnivores will eat them quite alive.
No pretense of quiet ends, heartfelt goodbyes.
The empty wild, fangs, howls, yips,
blood-matted hair, and eager snouts
munching intestines.
If I had a lion’s outlook,
I think I’d be keen to get
more done while I’m still
in the good graces
of the pride.
 

ABOMINABLE ABDOMINAL

abominable
 
 
I was twenty-five days old on Halloween, 1982,
swaddled in green in the Montana snow,
spittle on my chin. A dragon’s egg
would be a liberal interpretation
for that costume—or a rather large
mountain lion turd.
I’ve been more adventuresome
in the thirty years since,
having tricked and treated in
a half-melted werewolf mask,
a home-sewn Tyrannosaurus Rex suit,
a Yankees uniform (odd: I was two; my parents were BoSox fans);
I’ve squeezed into a woman’s elf costume,
dressed as a dominatrix,
and was briefly smitten with the idea
of portraying a stillborn child (troubled lad)
before thinking better of it and going as Jay Gatsby instead,
then as Fitzwilliam Darcy,
then my favorite, as Captain Ahab,
replete with a peg leg and a speared, papier-mâché Moby Dick.
Now my May-born son is ready to slobber through his first
All Hallow’s Eve day (eve itself is bedtime).
He’s such an edible boy, my homunculus—
cheeks begging to be bitten,
tuna-pink in the cold—
that we decided he should be
a nigiri roll: sticky rice,
seaweed, toro, and
and pickled ginger.
I’m getting hungry.
I’ll start by nibbling
his pudgy fingers.

poem #62

echoing rain
 
ECHOING RAIN
 
In the distance, in the rain
lies the echo of your name
don’t bother to call it pain
same old sameness,
same old flame
 
– Virginie Colline

poem #61

the end of something
 
THE END OF SOMETHING
 
Beneath the window’s bay, in a perfectly
angular square of shade, there slopes the
sunken hollow beside a mound of grassy loam.
And in the space lies her remnants, arched yet
lifeless as the void dictates, an existence
rendered idle by the motion of the blade.
 
She is consorted in indolence, (just
as in the feats of covetousness)
by her partner lying prone in juxtapose.
They were red hot lovers these two,
joined in a licentious collective, until their
ardor paid heed to the soft brogue of steel.
 
Its whisper so persuasive, as the
contentions of an adulterous tongue,
beguiling lives along a barbed incline
to meet their end. Fleet, sinuous thrusts,
and their vigorous monotony, soon
curbed the wield of fanciful promise.
 
Whilst song, their song, diminishes to resonance
through a density of fabric, gallant fleets
of soil bound in time to throttled beats.
From a plunging brink towards the fractured
earth, each altruistic wisp gives itself to the
necessary exploits of reprisal. 
 
– Lewis R. Humphries
continue…

story #21

Taking Flight
 
TAKING FLIGHT
 
I looked down at my license—Carolyn White. That’s not me anymore. I glanced down at muddy water, slipped off my Christian Louboutin heels, threw my wallet as hard as I could, and placed my feet in the lake. The sun hung low on the horizon; darkness was near. I slowly stepped further into the vast water until the edge of my dress embraced the wet. I took a deep breath and immersed my body in the warmth of the lake. I let the water take me into it: my legs, chest, head. Before I knew it, I no longer belonged to myself. I belonged to the lake. I stood up and brushed my hair back out of my face. My dress clung to me like a glove. I walked out of the water just as the sun faded. As I took one last look back at Carolyn White, a crane swooped down and landed at the edge of the dock. Its elegant neck and its graceful demeanor were beautiful. In a moment, it flew away from me—from Carolyn. That’s when I knew I was now Vivian Crane.
              I snuck around to the back door that was facing the lake. My childhood home had changed a lot since I’d last seen it. The wild Georgia woods and kudzu had all but taken over the narrow strip of land. I was instantly haunted by the memories of summer cookouts and Fourth of July fireworks as I crept on the porch. The noise of my heels was making me anxious, so I decided to carry them the rest of the way. When I reached the door, I wiggled it a little in hopes that the property manager would have left it unlocked. No such luck. I looked around for a key under dead foliage in ornate pots but found nothing. There has to be a key around here somewhere. Think, think. Just then I saw slight shimmer of something above the doorway slightly overhanging the trim. I reached and pulled down the key, unlocked the door, and toed into the house as if someone else would be there. After a moment of standing on the tiled entryway in silence, I realized it was safe to move carelessly in the house. Almost every piece of furniture was covered with drab white sheets, except for one—my dad’s favorite chair. It was in the living room with a small end table next to it. I knelt before his old chair, ran my fingers down the wicker arms, and outlined the dull plaid design of the vinyl. I closed my eyes and saw my dad sitting there nearly fifteen years ago, smiling, laughing, and looking at my mother with the most longing, loving eyes. Instantly, a streak of pain jolted my heart, and before I knew it, tears flowed from my eyes.
              I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I last opened that yester-year file in my mind. I would give anything to have my parents back with me, but I can’t make any more pacts with the devil. That’s what got me here.
              I was afraid to turn on any lights in the house. I knew the neighbors kept a close eye on the place. That would surely get me a visit from the local P.D. God knows, I didn’t want that. Luckily, the uncovered windows let in enough moonlight to allow me to see my way around.
              After days of intense travel, I couldn’t find my childhood bed fast enough. One of my mom’s white cotton nightgowns was in her closet and I put it on, slinging my wet dress over the bathtub curtain. A pale pink comforter was in the linen closet, and it wasn’t long before I lied down and finally felt at peace again.
___
 
I awoke to a loud bang. My eyes jolted into an alert state, but the darkness kept me from being able to see. I sat in silence a few moments thinking that I’d hear it again. Nothing. Had I locked the backdoor? I remembered that Mom had always kept an oil lantern and a set of matches in every room of the house in case the electricity went off, which happened almost every time it rained here. The oil lamp was on the nightstand. I reached in the drawer and felt around for the matches. Come on. I know you’re in there. My fingers wandered aimlessly until I felt the sandpapered edges of a small box. I slid the match across the rough surface and lit the lamp. Its glass orb quickly filled, and I slowly I walked out of the room. When I reached the hall, that’s when I heard it—the very distinctive sound of heels on the tiled floor. I froze. I had no idea what to do. Where do I go?
              “Find her,” I heard her say.
               I hurried back to my room, shut the door quietly, and sat the lamp back on the stand. Just before I was able to blow it out, the door opened.
              “Well, there you are, Carolyn.” Her face lit up with a deceitful smile.
               “What are you doing here, Margaret?”
               “We’re here to see you, of course.” Her eyes left mine and looked to be evaluating the room. “She’s in here, Katrina!”
               With every heeled step I heard coming our way, my heart beat faster.
               “We need to talk,” Katrina said as she appeared from darkness. “Let’s sit down like adults and have a nice conversation, shall we?” She walked towards the living room. “Bring the lamp too, please.”
               I walked into the living room while Margaret followed behind with the oil lamp. Katrina pulled off the sheet that was covering the couch and sat on the edge of the cushion with her legs delicately crossed. Margaret sat the oil lamp on the side table next to my father’s chair and stood behind it. I felt that they meant for me to sit there, so I obeyed. A minute or two passed without anyone saying a word. Katrina stared at me and then looked around the room, while Margaret never moved. I ran my hands through my long, brown hair and acted as though I felt comfortable, confident. It felt like the calm before the storm, the moment before eruption, and the anticipation was killing me.
               “How did you find me?” I finally asked.
               Katrina snickered. “The two days it took you to get here was all it took for us to find out every place that you have ever lived. We were surprised that this lake house was still in your possession. Tino was led to believe that you had sold all of your parents’ properties after they died. Actually, we should be thanking you for making it so easy on us. This was our first stop.” She readjusted and crossed her legs in the other direction, which caused her black wrap-around dress to reveal a gartered holster on her perfect thigh.                
               The silver tip of her 9mm caught the light, and she caught that I noticed.
               “Let’s get down to business. You have something that I want. Tino has tried his best to convince everyone that you don’t have it, but it’s just too convenient that the day you go missing, so does it. I’m just here to make sure that it returns back to our family.”
               I had no idea what she was talking about. I hadn’t taken anything. I left with only the clothes I was wearing. What is Katrina even talking about “our family”? She doesn’t even belong in that family. They just took her in after her father was killed. Now they’ve got her doing their dirty work?
                “I didn’t take anything.” That’s when I noticed the giant engagement ring sitting on my finger that Tino gave me six months ago. This is what she wants. She’s always wanted him. “Here. You can have it. I meant to leave it there, anyway,” I said taking the ring off and handing it to her.
                “I don’t want your damn ring,” she screamed while grabbing it and throwing it across the room. “Where’s the money?”
                “I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about any money!” I felt myself begin to panic.
                “Margaret, tie her up.”
                I knew that they were armed. There was no sense in fighting. No one knew I was here. No one could help me.
                Margaret pulled rope from the black bag she had brought. She was dressed in solid black with laced boots up to her knees. Her masculine hands wrapped the woven rope around my chest, arms, and legs, leaving me unable to move from the chair. Margaret and Katrina took the lamp and searched every room in the house, one by one. I heard a lot of things breaking, and I cringed at every lost piece of my mother’s memory.
                I could tell that they were frustrated when they both came back to the living room. Katrina stood over me looking at me in restrained anger. Margaret took up her place behind me. I saw them exchange a knife. Katrina held the knife carelessly in her hands, spinning it with her fingers until Margaret brought in a chair from the dining room and placed it right in front of me. Katrina didn’t sit in it, though. She hovered over me, running the dull side of the blade across my neck lightly. I began to speak, to tell her that I promised that I didn’t have anything. But she wouldn’t let me get one word out.
               “Shh… tell me your secret,” she said with her eyes closed and her warm breath lingering on the side of my neck.
               “I don’t have any secrets,” I answered and turned to look at her.
               I glared at her long, dark lashes as they opened and revealed her bright blue eyes. There was a darkness about her. Her lips curled at the right corner causing slight wrinkles on an otherwise porcelain face. That look—her look—sent chills down my spine as I watched her glide to the seat in front of me. I knew what she wanted.
               “You tell me a secret,” I dared. While my heart raced a thousand beats a second, I focused on keeping my body relaxed, yet firm.
               She smiled and raised her eyebrow in amusement. “You really are a beast, aren’t you?”
               “If a beast is an ordinary woman, then yes,” I answered while casually tugging at the wicker on the armrest and trying to pace my breathing.
              “Ordinary? Really? That’s the word you’re going with?” She laughed under her breath.
              “There’s nothing special about me. I’m nothing like all of you. I left because I didn’t want to be. I’m not hiding anything. I just want to go back to an ordinary life.” My heart rate began to slow as honesty fell from my lips.
              “I agree with you. You are nothing but ordinary. Why Tino ever loved you is beyond me.” Her eyes fluttered with vulnerability. “I’m glad you left. You were nothing but crippling to him. He wasn’t able to function like the family needed him to with you there. He was too scared of someone hurting you in retribution for something he’d done,” her voice trailed.
              “We need to get on with it. It’s almost daylight,” Margaret interrupted.
              “There must be something about you that made him want you like he does. What’s your secret, Carolyn?”
              “I never tried to make him want me,” I whispered. Instantly, I saw that she understood what I meant. She stood, pulled her dress together at the bust, and glared at me with forceful eyes. She took the knife and forced the blade into my left cheek just under my eye. I screamed for mercy but found none. She cut in a downward motion until the knife found the edge of my jaw. The look she had on her face, I will never forget. It was of satisfaction. I felt the warm blood drip down my neck and onto my mom’s pure cotton gown. Tears flowed reluctantly as I tried to stay strong.
              “We’ve got to get out of here,” Margaret reminded her.
              She didn’t find the money. She’s not leaving. She’s going to kill me. I panicked. I started trying to force my way out of the chair. I bounced and screamed and shook.
              Katrina backed away. She gave the crimson stained knife to Margaret, which she threw into the black duffle bag. Katrina looked at her hands. She had a small amount of my blood on her index finger. She brought it to her lips and sucked it off. I stared in amazement. You’re the beast.
              She and Margaret headed for the back door. What’s happening?
              “What about the money?” I asked trying to make some kind of sense of all of this.
              She laughed a wicked laugh. “Just remember this, if you ever come back to Tino or our family, I’ll kill you.” She meant it. Her voice was still and cold. Then she gave me one last smile to remember her by.
              I sat in amazement. I listened to her heels until they eventually faded. That’s when I found my mind again. I knocked the chair and myself over, and I was able to wiggle the rope loose enough to slide out the top. I rushed to the mirror in the bathroom. I looked away just before my eyes met my reflection. I knew that it was bad, deep. It took me a moment, but I was able to gather enough courage to look. I didn’t know who I was looking at. It looked like Carolyn, but it felt like someone else—like Vivian. The tears of blood poured down my left cheek and suddenly my fear of seeing an ugly face was gone. That mark was my courage and my strength.
              I cleaned the wound and held a warm wet cloth to my face. Suddenly, I heard a knock. I jumped in reflex. Criminals don’t knock. I breathed out a sigh of relief. I walked to the front door, opened it, and there stood an old man in PJs that looked to be in his seventies or so with a shotgun by his side.
              “Are you alright?” he asked. He took notice of the bloodstained bath cloth I was holding.
              “I’m okay now.”
              “I heard screaming when I took out our Sugarbear this morning, and I went ahead and called the cops. They should be here any minute.”
              “Thanks.”
              “What are you doing here anyway? This is private property, you know?” His caring demeanor morphed into a good-citizen aggression. He clutched his shotgun a little tighter.
              “I’m good friends of Carolyn White’s. She owns this place.” His skepticism was apparent.
___     
 
I told the cops that I did not know the assailants. I said that they were looking for money, which was a half-truth, and that they left without finding much. In the detective’s search of the house, they came across my engagement ring. I told them that I had thrown it in hopes that they wouldn’t find it and take it. They tried calling the number on record for Carolyn to confirm my story of why I was there, but they had no luck. They ended up letting me go after a few hours.
              Over the next few weeks, I had my name officially changed to Vivian Crane, and I went on living in the lake house. I still thought about Tino all the time despite my trying not to. Something had felt wrong for a long time when I was there with him. The whispers, his coming home late, the black eyes, and his nonchalant trips to the E.R. were all signs that I had chose not to read for a long time, but I couldn’t go on living a life where violence was sitting on the doorstep waiting to pounce at the first visitor. The vision of Tino lying in that hospital bed will never leave my mind. I didn’t want to be married to someone whom I would fear for every time he left my sight. I always sat waiting, half-way expecting to get a phone call any minute, hearing that he had been either arrested or was dead. What kind of life is that? It’s all over now. While I was trying to pick up the pieces and force other pieces into this new life of mine, I felt like something still wasn’t right.
___
 
On February 29th, I decided that it was time. I got up that morning, went into the bathroom, and waited while three minutes went by in what seemed like hours. I stood over the counter as I watched the pink cross slowly develop in the narrow rectangular screen of a pregnancy test. Memories of my love with Tino flooded my mind. I could see us as one normal family, but that was only a dream. That can never be. Fear started to creep into a thought, but it was voided by my reflection. I looked at my new self in the mirror and knew that Carolyn couldn’t have handled this alone. I ran my fingers down my developing scar and knew that Vivian could.
 
– Vanessa K. Eccles
continue…

poem #60

desire
 
DESIRE HAS NO OBJECT
 
Desire has no object,
As in fall the maple’s leaf
Is borne unto the breeze
And sent away, a flicker
Across the open fields.
 
You that I am wanting,
I live now in a foreign city,
Where the days are empty streets
And the nights an endless boulevard,
And I cannot possibly know
Anymore where to turn or
Just what it is
That I ever really wanted.
 
– Matthew Saks
 

poem #59

smile
 
SMILE
 
Imagine a smile
as a stained glass painting.
 
Now imagine it disappear
in dwindling reds
until it becomes a flat marshland
of compressed grey.
 
It’s almost as if to say
things as beautiful as paintings
should never exist
in the first place.
 
– Andreyo Sen
 

essay #13

racism lunch
 
RACISM FOR LUNCH
 
My mother used to make me lovely lunches. My favorite was her homemade dumplings. We would invite our neighborhood friends over to roll the dough, cut vegetables, and hand-form the delicious, iridescent balls. We had two big pots of boiling water into which went batch after batch of pork and Napa, pork and scallions, and plain vegetarian dumplings. The house filled with voices, laughter, and song in a mingling of Chinese, Taiwanese, and English. Most importantly, we stuffed ourselves with dumplings and pickled cucumbers. Afterwards, we’d have many leftovers, which my mother froze. Since I loved her dumplings, she would steam them and pack them for my school lunches.
 
When I was thirteen, my family moved to a new city, which was challenging to me as the only Taiwanese-American in my new school. I wanted to fit in and I mostly did. The only real differences between my classmates and myself were in our eating habits. I had noticed these differences the first time I was invited to have dinner at a friend’s. Our entire meal was set out on one plate—I was used to having a bowl of rice, which I would eat with a variety of small dishes in tapas style. And for lunch, it looked like my food was alien in comparison to everyone else’s—or exotic anyway.
 
Eww, what’s that smell?” someone asked. My friends and I were in sixth grade, sitting in the hallway, and I had just opened my bento box with Hello Kitty painted on it. They all peered in. My mother had packed homemade dumplings. My classmates poked at a dumpling, dissected it with their forks, and deciding that it was not something they had seen before, promptly told me it looked disgusting. Also, it stank they said. I was embarrassed. If they thought my dumplings were was disgusting, did they think I was disgusting, too? Someone handed me half a ham and cheese sandwich. “Have something normal.” I was only too grateful to stash my dumplings away.
 
Every lunch after, if my mom packed dumplings, I would throw them out before the bell rang and share in my friends’ Pizza Lunchables and chocolate and vanilla puddings.
 
The problem with pretending that I didn’t have a lunch was that sometimes I would forget to throw out the dumplings and they would sit in my lunchbox for a day or two until my mother asked for it so she could repack it. So one day when she found rotten dumplings, she asked me why I had been letting the food go to waste. I got angry at her. I told her I wanted to trade in my “smelly Asian food” for simple sandwiches.
 
“Why can’t you just give me what my friends eat? Dumplings are gross. They’re stinky. People make fun of me.”
 
I saw the hurt on her face. She had handmade these, put love and care into each dumpling, packed them for her daughter because it was her favorite food, and now her daughter was too embarrassed to bring them out for lunch. My anger turned to guilt, but I couldn’t understand why she didn’t see that the food we ate marked us as different, and even worse, sickening.
 
My mother stopped packing dumplings for me after that, and the pain she felt was more than just about a bratty daughter wanting to eat what was cool for lunch. She questioned her decision to raise me in the States at all. Would I lose my sense of culture? Would I reject the traditions my grandmother had taught her? Would I grow up to be ashamed of being Taiwanese? To my mother, dumplings weren’t just a traditional food item, they were little purses of love. I was only in middle school then, but I wish I’d had the gumption to stand up for myself and my dumplings, to tell my friends to taste them and really try to enjoy them because there was nothing repellent about a single one.
 
I didn’t, of course. And I regret to say that incident (amongst others: being scolded for slurping soup straight from the bowl in high school; hearing taunts for feasting on udon for breakfast in college)—and my classmates’ prejudices—created distance between me, my mother, my culture, and my entire heritage.
 
Food is a reflection of identity, personal and cultural. Rejecting and expressing disgust for pickles, say, or sushi, venison, or entire categories of foods is insidious. Too many people classify personal tastes as facts—if salmon roe looks unusual, it must be nauseating. But even when veiled in a more subjective light, statements like, “I just don’t like Indian cuisine,” betray a self-important snobbery that borders on racism.
 
I’m twenty-four now. I work at a sushi restaurant in a trendy part of town where we serve our miso soup without a spoon and only set the tables with chopsticks. People of all different ethnicities come in to try rolls and sashimi and tempura and soups they’ve never had. Some are timid, some are obnoxious, but in most cases, the abolition of ignorance through the simple act of eating is all that is needed to turn hesitation and even disgust into pleasure.
 
For myself, I’ve made it a goal to explore as many different kinds of food as I can so that I am never constrained to eating a  “normal” lunch again. It’s the best way I know to make amends with my mother.
 
– Kat Chen
 

poem #58

Mischievous
 

MISCHIEVOUS

at dusk

I return the shadow of a cat

to the cat:

every mouse recognizing hyperbole,

sensing my predatory nature-

in conference deciding who will

place a bell on Kitty’s neck,

who will catch her cat-napping,

which one will roll away fear,

like a ball of unraveling yarn.

 – Michael D. Brown

 
continue…

poem #57

through borders
 
THROUGH BORDERS
                     
Those who listen for the sound of ash
say fire is an animal
that grows by drinking
the sap of wood and bone
and speaks in guttural continuo,
 
gold on yellow waves
scored over black char.
 
Embers taken by wind scribe
the intent to crown
every need for rebirth
with a given fact of darkness,
 
that exile pulled back overnight
through borders the moon traces.                    
 
Guarding hope
in white light
dilutes the magical,
coyote not heard singing
the code to unlock all gates
and drop flints up moon-lit paths,
 
wings stacked on a bone-dry slope.
 
– Charles F. Thielman
 
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story #19

on the button
 
ON THE BUTTON
 
Now of course all my regular customers are teddy bears to me, but Steven and Olivia are the lumpy, understuffed monkey and fish you sewed in Ms. LaMay’s 8th grade home ec class, and that you’ve never lost track of, even once, in all the years since. They’re the only adulterers I know. I think so anyway.
            Steven and Olivia drive up from the city in a Hershey-colored Japanese car on the third Friday night of every month. The next morning, Saturday, they glide in between 8:00 and 8:20. Steve is eggs benedict with black bean and green pepper hash, light on salt, a ramekin of maple syrup on the side, and coffee, black. Olivia is two cranberry johnnycakes, no syrup (not even on the side), and chamomile. And “real butter.” She asks for “real butter” like a little orphan who’s just hearing about it for the first time, every time. The first weekend Steven was so nervous about the adultery that when I sat them in the booth by the window he introduced himself as Rodney and tried to shake my hand. So cute. Olivia leaves a twenty and a ten on a $19.88 check. He reads the front page and then skips to the jobs section of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
            One month, Steven slouched in and then another woman, a woman with a red buzz cut followed him. Then Olivia came in behind her. This new, growling-like woman was wearing a lily-print blouse that smelled like dust. Steven looked at the wall and asked me for a table.
            I never eavesdrop on my regulars. My conviction is that this brings us closer, because I’m never distracted by how much debt they’re swimming in or how small his sack is. I can serve them for who they really are. But that day, Lily Blouse was louder than her shirt:
            “There’s still an us here,” Lily Blouse said. She knocked over her water.
            “Just because you went out and made a you-all with him doesn’t meant that the us we had before you-all just stopped. The thing you have doesn’t come up to half what us is. And if you think it does, go ahead and leave, Olivia. And slut kiss your apartment goodbye.”
            I still didn’t realize, not until after the lunch rush when they had long since slunk single file back out the door, that Lily Blouse was married to Olivia, not Steven.
            The funny thing is: The walls at The Rose B&B, where Steven and Olivia stay, they’re basically just two sheets of pink wallpaper stuck back-to-back. And Sheila Wigand, who owns The Rose, she swears they’ve never done it there. And Sheila’s been tuning in so long, if two dust mites were doing it in her place, she’d know.
            Steven and Olivia vanished after that. Months later, a tired priest with stringy hair that was fading blonde to grey came in and ordered Dutch cinnamon oatmeal, and I accidentally brought him black bean and green pepper hash. I imagined my two regulars having run away for good, lying together on a cloudy beach in a country not known for its beaches.
            Then at 8:00 on a drizzling morning, Olivia came back. Lily Blouse came right behind her, and you wouldn’t believe it, but she was wearing the exact same shirt as a year before. And it still smelled like dust.
            Lily Blouse demanded Belgian waffles with lemon whipped cream, extra raspberry compote, and a Coke. She couldn’t stop smiling as she asked me about each antiques store in town. Olivia ordered her usual, though she didn’t specify real butter. I didn’t mention it because, oh well, I assumed we all were starting over.
            But then the next month it was Steven and Olivia. They were back and like teenagers. They did jittering impressions of Lily Blouse catching diabetes from last month’s breakfast. (Even though my sister has diabetes, it was funny.) Steven couldn’t get over how smart Olivia was. This was so smart, he said. Celia (that was Lily Blouse’s name) didn’t need much at all, he said.
            I should have told them that I was on their side that morning, because we were never able to get our rhythm back. Every month they shuffled. Steven and Olivia came one month. Olivia and Lily Blouse the next month. Then no one for two months. Then Steven and Olivia again. Lily Blouse never ate the same thing twice. I didn’t feel too bad for her. She was like a kid. She didn’t know. I looked up to Olivia though, more and more. She did what needed to be done. Or most of it, anyway. Sheila Wigand said she didn’t think Olivia was doing anything with either of them.
            I was stupid. I’d been thinking all along that Steven and Olivia only truly existed here, in the beat up blue booth by the window that looked on the parking lot of the Herb Garden Cafe in Hudson. But that was just the tip. They were talking all the time. Obviously they had an agreed upon schedule, because Steven wouldn’t have come in here with a girl if he had the slightest fear he’d get caught. He was too pale a man for that.
            I say girl, but she must have been forty-five. Her chin was slowly sliding down her neck, and her hoopy plastic earrings swayed just a bit as she inhaled and exhaled through her mouth. As I walked back to take their order, I felt as if I’d been going down stairs and suddenly missed a step. Steven was eggs benedict with black bean and green pepper hash. The girl couldn’t decide.
            “Olivia, the other woman that I’m with, she really likes the wheat toast,” Steven said. “They use real butter.”
 
– Louis Wittig 
 

poem #56

not about maps
 
NOT ABOUT MAPS
 
I was just reading Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map”
and remembering a former lover who wrote a sestina
about a topo of Greece, then tangentially recalling a colleague
who dashed off a sonnet about an aerial of the Sudan,
when I started thinking that I
should write about a map
or, hell, a bushel of maps, an atlas even,
one poem for every county/state/country
border by border, route by route, road by lane by byway,
latitudinal by longitudinal degree. A lifetime’s work.
It occurred to me, however, that cartographical verse,
whether penned by demigods or the guy du jour
who has the combo to my panties,
couldn’t be more bland, right?
Spare me
the two-dimensional letters/words/lines
that describe
the two-dimensional dots/dashes/rivers/mountains
that are obvious
metaphors/allegories/symbols
for
life/love/time/space/blah/blah—
somebody set fire to the map poetry industry.
Torch the
longing/pining/agonizing shit (of which I’m guilty, plenty)
while you’re at it. And the whiney and self-referential poems after that.
Stick ‘em all in the burn bin so none of us ever again
have to hear about the road from St. Lucia
to your bleeding heart,
aching cock,
or weeping ego.
Thanks, muchachos.
 
– Kirstin O’Connor
 

WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO BE SANTA CLAUS?

sledding
 
 
In 1999, I sledded a glacier
in the Wrangell Mountains
in Alaska: three-thousand
vertical feet on a
sixty-degree slope,
reaching speeds over
a mile a minute, meaning
I covered 3,400 feet distance
in thirty-nine seconds time.
No one believes me. 
Who’d pay for a helicopter
ride to hop on a toboggan?
St. Nick would, I answer.
Or any self-respecting
ten-year-old boy.
That’s when a woman
will invariably call me sexist,
and the whole conversation
about my sledding fascination
goes off the rails.

poem #54

splatter
 
SPLATTER
 
When I look at the ground in front of my feet,
I pause before reaching for the next step.
Where my brothers see a line extending from their toes,
knowing with certainty the orientation of that step,
I see a splatter,
a glob, like paint dropped from a height,
the edges fighting to decide the right direction.I place faith in my gut that I’ll meet my brothers
at our destination in the end,
as long as I accept that my path
might look a little messier, the manner of my step
a little clumsier as I slip in the paint
and skate my way across the ground.

 
– Leanne Rebecca 
 
continue…

story #18

L and wine
 
L & THE WINE LOCKER INCIDENT
 
Today I was looking into renting wine storage in SoDo with my wife when we unexpectedly bumped into L. Turns out he owned the joint: cavernous, spacious, white table, brick walls, electronically controlled temperatures kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. He’d never met my little lady (she’s such a saint) and took a keen interest. Apparently they have a lot in common when it comes to spirits and palates. I told L I was surprised to see him—not his usual digs, you know: industrial Seattle is cold, gray, rainier than hell any day of the week. He ignored me while stroking my wife’s hand, staring intently in her eyes, rhapsodizing about Pinot noir and the method by which he inventories every bottle stored with him, photographing the labels front and back then barcoding them in boxes so they can be read and tracked and computerized and scanned and such. He even has an online app. Quite impressive but then that’s to be expected with L.
            After paying for the storage (easier than backing out at the last minute–parting with money is the least of your troubles when you deal with L), I tried to explain to my wife with whom she had rather shamelessly been flirting. She wouldn’t hear of it—at first.
            I said, “I mean, that space is a dungeon, really. A torture chamber I’d bet anything after business hours.”
            “It was minimalist chic industrial,” she said.
            “You sound just like him.”
            “He speaks so beautifully. I could listen to him for days. Weeks.”
            “You know, I’m willing to bet half those wine cases aren’t even filled with wine.”
            “With what?”
            “Souls, naturally.”
            “Souls?”
            “You do know what L stands for, right?”
            “I didn’t, no. Maybe it doesn’t. He said he was in finance before this. In New York. Not collecting the damned.”
            “Well, yeah, he stopped first in Wall Street. A lot of his client base is from there. It’s only natural. I guess he burned out on it.”
            “Too fast-paced.”
            “Too breakneck, bleak, and false. What’s money but a lot of meaningless paper? Meaningless numbers on a screen.”
            “Not meaningless, darling. Abstract.”
            “Fine. But it’s the same difference. Not something tangible. Not something you could really sink a hoof or claw into. So he decided a change of scenery was in store.”
            “You really think he was flirting with me?”
            “I never know with him. Was he looking at your tits or your soul? It’s hard to tell.”
            “I bet he takes pictures of the damned just like he takes pictures of the bottles. And inventories them the same way.”
            “Yes, yes. Gluttons in aisle two, bin four.”
            “Surprisingly nice, isn’t he?”
            “Quite charming. Too charming. Once tried to sell me stock in Apple. I passed. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I figured. So I passed on it. I fucking passed.”
 
– Thomas McCafferty
 
             

poem #53

stable outing-2
 
the stable outing
 
take the horses anywhere they want to go
how do you know just ask them
ask the horse he’ll tell you anything you want to know
name the fifth at Hialeah a love sonnet for the wife
sure they’re smart that’s why we feed them bathe them brush
them doctor them drug them put them down
race them for the odd purse
of course in the old days you could get real work out of them
come on Jock come on me heartie
 
– Christopher Mulrooney
 
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poem #52

horsepocalypse 1
 
A HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE 
 
I’m not ready to get married yet but
when I am Miss Hooker will be my first
choice, she’s my Sunday School teacher and that
will be like marrying an angel and
get me in pretty good with God so that
when I die my chances of going to
Hell won’t be as great as they are now, I
sin a lot for ten years old but I’ll bet that
Miss Hooker, she’s 25, doesn’t know
the first thing about sin except not to
do it. I guess I could teach her but that
would land us both in Hell and me even
deeper because I’ll have led her astray
and that’s a heinous sin, too, as sins go.
After Sunday School today I caught up
 
to her in the parking lot before she
could drive away. I motioned for her to
roll down her window. She did and asked me
Yes, Gale, what can I do for you? I said
Ain’t you coming to church service today?
She blushed, which was hard to tell because of
her red hair, and said, I can’t come today,
I have to see a man about a horse.
I said, Oh–well, I hope he’s a nice one.
She said, Oh yes, he’s a real gentleman,
but she had a funny smile on her face,
almost as if she was lying to me
and maybe even fooling herself. No,
I said, I mean the horse–I hope he’s nice,
I didn’t know you liked ’em. Another
smile. Neither did I, she laughed. Well, goodbye,
she said, and waved, while I stood there
 
watching her ride off into the sunset
and it only eleven o’clock. Damn.
 
– Gale Acuff
 
continue…

story #17

brick 1
 
A BRICK IN TIME
 
Jasper’s face hit a brick with such force both eyes knocked together as one before retreating to their respective sockets.  It was quite a shock to everyone involved, especially Jasper who, until then, was wholly unaware of any bricks suspended in air, which, to his now addled brain, could be the only possible explanation.
     “And yes.  On my way.”
     It was a terribly odd statement by a voice no one had ever heard.  Carefully slipping a red clay brick into a notched leather holster buckled around his hips, the voice’s owner walked away with swift determination.
     The crowd, as it had become, circled Jasper and his twitching eyes in empathy, though none, as far as they knew, had ever met Jasper, or, consequently, ever been struck with a brick.  Regardless, outraged reigned, as they turned towards the retreating figure.
     “Hey you,” someone yelled.  “Where are you going?”
     It might have been a curious query in any circumstance not involving a brick, but as it was, the challenge took on a decidedly unfriendly connotation.
     “Are you,” the voice no one had ever heard until just then, and the one time before, boomed savagely, “addressing me, sir?”
     The someone drew back, startled.  The entire crowd in fact reacted as if they had been, well–
     “Slapped with a brick,” Jasper muttered.
     The someone, though not unkind, was glad to see the focus that had been so fiercely fixed on him revert back to its previous mark.  The crowd breathed a sigh of relief as well, patting Jasper on the back encouragingly.
     “What’d ya’–I mean, what’d ya’ slap me with a brick for?”
     It was a good question, appropriate even, but the crowd, impressed by the stranger’s obvious self confidence, said nothing.
     “I don’t even–I was just–” Jasper went on.  “Standing, you know–and then–bam–It–It really–”
     The man with the voice no one had ever heard except twice and again right now, strode within a foot of Jasper, exclaiming forcefully, “Would you have another, sir?”
     The crowd unconsciously leaned back, waiting and wondering, looking at each other.  Meeting a man such as this was not an everyday occurence.  The stranger was awfully authoritative and certainly seemed knowledgeable.  It was also, someone commented after studying Jasper’s wounded cheek, a well crafted brick.  The holster too, so went the rumor, of the finest ilk.  And of course, he had an exquisite speaking voice.  These attributes, as well as the agility with which the well crafted brick was swung, all added up to a man of some worth to be sure.
     “Answer me sir.”  Steadfast as well, the crowd nodded, smiling.  Jasper’s reply was eagerly anticipated, in that it would most likely lead to another beautiful line from the auspicious stranger. 
     No reply came for quite a few moments.  Restlessness set in as all eyes were on Jasper, who only rubbed his cheek meekly, still muttering unintelligibly.  Though Jasper had no enemies here, save presumably the brick wielding stranger, he had no friends either. The silence was expanding into the infinite and the crowd wanted some sort of resolution, or at least an entertaining comeback to prolong the situation.  It was, they felt, disheartening to hear such eloquence on one side, while only lazy utterances of the obvious on the other.  A dislike spread quietly through the onlookers.  Jasper was failing them all.  The crowd gave their eyes and ears over to the stranger who complied quickly, though it seemed he himself was unaware of the scrutiny.  They dutifully added perfect timing to the stranger’s list of pleasurable traits.
     “If you do not answer me forthwith I fear I shall have to take action, whether it is to your liking or not, sir.”
     Jasper’s muteness had lasted so long the question was all but forgotten.  The stranger supplied it with speedy accuracy.  “Would you have another sir?”
     “Well, I don’t–no–I guess not–I don’t even know what you mean,” Jasper sputtered, adding lamely, as if it were not already abundantly clear, “You smacked me with a brick.”
     It was a grossly inferior remark.  The stammering, plaintive whine in which it was delivered, and the swollen, sallow face it sprang from, made Jasper unfit on every level.  It was now under discussion that perhaps Jasper deserved a good smack with a brick.  After all, if the stranger was anything, he was a man of justice.  Perhaps some insult had been hurled, in a cowardly, maybe weasely voice, defaming the stranger’s impeccable character.  It would have been just like Jasper.
     “Am I correct in assuming another would not be appreciated, sir?”
     The stranger was right, the crowd knew.  Jasper didn’t appreciate anything.
     “I–no–just, just don’t,” the sniveling brat was at it again.  “Just don’t hit me with a brick anymore, okay?”
     Certainly not, the crowd almost laughed.  The stranger did not deal out blows unless they were warranted.  A few cries of “Give him another” rang out, but they all knew Jasper would get another when he needed another.
     “You may trust in this, sir,” the stranger’s voice took on a contemplative tone, reaching out like the hand of God.  “I will not stray far.  My brick knows no fear.  Its aim is true, its will unmatched.  If ever in this great land of ours’ goodness is threatened by malignant forces, my brick and I will smack the malignancy until it breathes no more.”
     The crowd was hushed.  Never before had it witnessed such fortitude and strength of spirit.  Had someone told them a stranger with a holstered brick would save them from people like Jasper (the worm) they would have said, “Get out of here with that.  We don’t believe you, liar.” Maybe pushed him or something, but–Right in front of them, here it was.  Here it damn was.
     “Do you understand me, sir?”
     The crowd turned their gaze on Jasper.  What could he say?  Someone this devastatingly moronic and weak was no match for the likes of the stranger.  Some hoped he’d just leave, run away with his tattered tail between his stumpy legs.  Others wanted a brick smacking fest.  Still others wanted only what the stranger wanted.  How could they deny him, who’d done so much?
     “Sir, I–”
     “Yes, alright!”  Jasper yelled without even letting the stranger finish, snot dribbling down his puny mouth.  “I understand, but I mean–Jesus Christ, you know!  I’m standing here, that’s all, just standing, not doing anything–”
     “Figures,”  the crowd murmured.
     “Just standing like everyone else, being a human being–”
     That was open for debate.
     “And a brick comes up and smacks me in the face!  I mean, a brick!  In the face!  For, for–Why?  For no reason!  Just because!”
     Good enough when it came to villains like Jasper.
     “And now you’re yelling at me and threatening me and so’s everybody else and I don’t even know who you are!  I don’t know who any of you people are!”  He stomped his feet and wrung his hands, letting out a frustrated scream.
     There was no sound.  The crowd stared, embarrassed, overwhelmed.  Each shifted their feet, not looking at each other, not looking at Jasper. 
     The stranger seemed set apart, distant now, as if only he understood.  Taking a step he bent his head level with Jasper’s, causing the still crying man to look up, a pause in his floundering.  The stranger nodded, somehow moved.  As he leaned forward, Jasper did not stir, allowing the soft contact.  A tiny click echoed, as the stranger unclasped his holster and smacked Jasper across the face with a brick.
     The crowd smiled.
 
– Kate LaDew
 
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poem #51

the tractor
 
THE TRACTOR
 
I was riding a tractor one time
with a mower attachment, cutting wheat fields.
The day started inauspiciously when I inadvertently
beheaded a bunny. The poor things feel the ground rumble,
get all quivery and scared, and sit tight. Too bad gophers
don’t do the same. In any case, I had my own fright
when the blades caught a stray strand
of barbed wire that snapped and
shot out in pieces every whichway.
One lodged in my left back wheel,
piercing the two-inch rubber like
rice paper. I was pissed ‘cause
I had to replace the tire. A few hundred dollars,
a few days’ pay. Now I think how lucky I was
that braided metal dart didn’t hit a few feet higher,
a few inches to the right, making a neat hole
in my back, kidney, liver, or lung.
I suppose the moral is
tractors are fun.
I mean, it’s the things that nearly kill you
that stick deepest in the brain.
 
– Lionel Harrington
 

story #16

simon harridan 
 
THE STORY OF SIMON HARRIDAN
 
In February of 2010, I flew from Boston to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras and got in a fight with a man whose name I never heard and never learned. He was enormous with skin the color and consistency of fatback and he pounded me mercilessly in the street. I can’t remember entirely why—I doubt I gave him any sort of good reason. I was checking my reflection in the tinted window of a Chevy Chevelle one moment, straightening my hair (I had excellent, slightly wavy hair that curled at my ears), and the next moment a hand the size of a skillet was mashing my cheek into the fender, and boots that must have had steel toes were slamming into my stomach. I would have screamed, I think, if I’d been able to breathe. But I couldn’t breathe. Two of my ribs were broken. My jaw and cheekbones were fractured. I was barely conscious. I tried to curl away from the man between kicks, and finally they stopped and I heard him unzip his pants. As he urinated on my face and head, all I could think, absurdly, was how lucky I was to be a toilet instead of a roach squished lifelessly, eternally into the asphalt. Why had I gone to New Orleans? Everyone there was crazy. Better to stay up north. To stay safe.
            I was twenty-one-years old at the time, tall and muscled thickly from years of playing squash at Harvard. By no means (in my estimation) was I a weakling, by no means frail, and I made a quick recovery after a ten-hour surgery and a return flight to blessed Boston (two weeks delayed). Rather sadly, my hair had the worst go of it—turning gray. But it still curled, and there were upsides: Bouncers and bartenders stopped carding me and I did rather better with women than I had before. I adopted the look and air of a silver fox, of a man wise beyond his years, and in 2012 when I moved to New York City, I was as proud as ever.
            A strange thing happened then: I had just started working at a well regarded restaurant in Carroll Gardens when I noticed the giant from New Orleans walking toward me on the street. I have met plenty of people coincidentally in my life but this was the most unexpected and unwelcomed such encounter. I nearly panicked. I nearly turned heel on Degraw Street and made haste back to the F train. Instead, I walked boldly toward the giant, locking eyes with him. As we neared each other, we slowed. Carefully, I slid my right hand inside the knife satchel slung over my back and felt for my eight-inch utility knife, an expensive, extremely thin instrument. I felt that if I could jab it quickly into the giant’s abdomen and slice laterally, I might have time to spring away before he comprehended what had happened—before he even felt pain. He was unlikely to recognize me, after all. With my hair so different, I looked nothing like I had. I was pulling the knife from the satchel when he smiled apologetically and, taking a transit map out of his pocket, asked if I couldn’t help direct him to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Howard Gilman Opera House. They were doing a Louis Armstrong tribute and he just had to catch it.
            With some bewilderment and as if overhearing a conversation in which I had no physical part, I listened to myself tell the giant to simply head over on Smith Street to Atlantic, jog right to 3rd Avenue, then just keep on past the intersection with Flatbush Ave. I even drew a line on his map with my finger. What was wrong with me? Here was the man who had nearly ended my life, a stranger, a monster, and I was making sure he wouldn’t miss his precious jazz? As he walked away, I ran my hands through my hair and with a slight tug decided to call in sick, to follow this creature, to see where exactly he would lead me afterwards. Didn’t I have to confront him?
            I started walking fast to catch up and nearly tripped over a raised slab of concrete in the sidewalk. My shoes scuffed loudly as I caught myself and the man turned and stared at me.
            “I wanted to tell you to make sure you head over on Smith,” I said. I sounded like a ninny of a child. “Or Hoyt. If you try to get all the way to 3rd on Degraw you’ll get stuck at the canal.”
            “Your directions were perfectly clear.” His words were muffled and honeyed and he sneered slightly as he appraised me. I could feel that he was judging me by my hair—trivializing me because I was so gray so young. He added, “I’m not a faggot.”
            What was I to make of that? Perhaps I should have stabbed him without another moment’s hesitation. Perhaps I should have turned and gone to work and done my best to forget him. Instead, I stuck with the plan—I tailed him (more carefully this time) to the opera house and then, after the show, to the subway and finally to a cheap hotel on Ludlow Street off of Rivington in the Lower East Side. I had never followed anyone before and was nervous and swore at myself when I noticed that absently I was futzing with my hair and now it was all perfectly straight, hanging like a worn mop atop my head, getting in my eyes. No matter. It would spring back in the morning after a good shower—and it did, though not with the same zest of curl I had anticipated and grown accustomed to.
            Over the next days, I followed the giant as he hit up Katz’s Deli, The Frick, MoMA, Staten Island, and Coney Island. He shopped with all of the other silly tourists on Broadway in SoHo, oddly spending an hour in Uniqlo of all places (a man his size!) and doing such other mundane things as taking in a show on Broadway (Porgy and Bess) and waiting in a frighteningly long line to go to the top of the Empire State Building (something I myself had never done). A week passed. Then two. I stopped calling into work. I stopped bathing. Now and then as I waited for him to leave a restaurant or bar, I would be sitting against the side of a building with a cap over my hair (which had become an embarrassment) and passersby would toss coins to me. I had no cup or sign, and I felt that these offerings were disdainful, that I had become a receptacle for unwanted nickels and loathsome pennies. I never expressed my disgust, however. Instead, calmly and unabashedly, I picked the little metal discs off the ground and thrust them into my pockets. Later, I told myself, I would surely give them to a real charity or a church. Maybe St. Patrick’s. I was thinking about the spires that decorate that cathedral when I fell asleep.
            An hour or so passed, and I was awoken gruffly by a police officer who told me to beat it. I protested that I was merely tired, that I had an apartment, that I wasn’t some bum. But I realized, as I counted my day’s change, that I had lost my studio in Sunset Park and that I hadn’t enough money for anything but street food—and only just enough for that.
            I lost track of the giant that night and was quite upset with myself as I sat on a park bench with a copy of the Post wrapped over my body for warmth. I knew I could put myself back together. I knew I had only to make the effort. What was stopping me? The giant, of course. It was always the giant and my lack of resolve in confronting him. If I confronted him, surely then, I told myself. Yes, then. Then I would get on with things. Then I would find another job. Then I would have the money to put a first and last toward rent. All wasn’t lost. I’d pawned away most of my knives but still had a paring knife in my pocket. Well, I would put it to use.
            The next morning, I awoke with the sun and trudged from Prospect Park over the Brooklyn Bridge, praying that the giant hadn’t yet left the city. A midnight blue Chevelle was parked outside the hotel where he stayed, and I found that rather fitting. I leaned my back against it casually as I waited. I took off my cap and slicked my hair. It was surprisingly thin and greasy and I knew I wasn’t doing it any favors touching it all the time. Had I been pulling it out without noticing? I dug my hands deep in my pockets, clenching the handle of the knife. Then he appeared, gargantuan and pale and appalling, taking up the doorway. I wanted to spring forward but the sight of the youngster at his side stopped me. Did he have a son? A nephew? I had no idea how the boy was connected with the giant, but his presence was, for me, an impossibility. Why hadn’t I seen this boy before? Why had he come here to ruin my life? I screamed and they looked at me with dumfounded wonderment.
            I smashed my hands against my temples. I shouted, “I forgive you! I forgive you! You did this to me”—I pointed at my limp, ashen hair—“and I still forgive you.” With both hands, I grabbed hold of what little hair I had left and yanked it hard from my scalp. The pain seared down my spine and again I screamed. As I walked away, I heard the boy say to the giant in a thick Louisiana drawl, “There are just too many crazies in this town. That’s the thing about New York. Too many crazies.”
 
– Thomas McCafferty
 

poem #50

neanderthal
 
NEANDERTHAL
 
I guess there’s a little bit in most of us—
some of us, more than others. It’s amazing
that a species so well hidden can be so exposed.
Millennial bones in a Belgian cave no longer garner dust:
thick browed remains of a race thought inferior escorted
to the laboratory, to test tubes, to centrifuge, to an ethereal 
network of electrons, and now, we have a larger map
of who we are, what we’ve become. We were like an ameba—
absorbing our genetics whenever we crossed paths. I like
the union of this, the liquid sense of it, the thought of 
somehow melding the many into one. So different from
tribal divisiveness, our obsession with differences. What
is this empire? Global domination? Religion? War? Are
we struggling with weapons and words to accomplish 
what came so naturally tens of thousand of years ago? Imagine 
those heavy bones still wrestling within our skin, a thick brow,
deep set eyes, skillful hands cleaving slivers of flint, 
a world of wood smoke and burning meat, the luxury of never having 
to do the dishes or to take out the trash. No wonder, I’m attracted
to tools and repetitive tasks. Secretly, I strive to activate
those last few genes, still hidden on that obscure chromosome. I
want to throw my smart-phone at a mastodon and make love
with those lovely homo sapiens.
 
– Bob Putnam
 
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essay #12

write and read
 
TURNING STONES: THE EDUCATION OF THE WRITER
 
“How did you come to write?” This is probably the most common question asked of writers and puts the cart before the horse, because all of us received our initial inspiration from reading.  The more revealing question is, “How did you become an avid reader?”  Was it because you liked to hear stories told when you were a child? Was it because your mother read to you from a very young age? I grew up in a family of story tellers and my mother did indeed read to me when I was very young.  But when I look back, I can trace the path I took to becoming a reader, and in time a writer, to a single day of my childhood.  It was a summer day, and I was playing with a neighbor girl in my mother’s rock garden when a snake slithered out from under a stone.  Marty screamed “Copperhead!” at the top of her voice, a scream my mother still recalls, because it scared her.   She came running outside, but by the time she reached the rock garden, the snake had disappeared.  That is, it disappeared from our sight.  But it did not disappear from my mind.  It fascinated me, that snake with its elegant movement as it crawled among the stones, its straw colored stripe that ran the length of its back, and the utter magic with which it disappeared, like liquid rope pouring into a seam of the earth.
 
My mother recalls that in telling the story that night to my father, he remarked that it was probably just a garter snake and entirely harmless.  Now my father only knew a little about snakes, but enough to know that a snake described as having a stripe down its back was certainly not a copperhead. In the Appalachian hollows of my childhood, nearly every snake was accused of being a copperhead, for the simple reason that copperheads were the only venomous snake in the region and ignorant people tend to assume the worst. Marty of course was not to blamed for the mistaken identity.  She was simply repeating the dreaded name that she had heard from adults. I would like to believe that people today are more enlightened about snakes than they were when I grew up, but I fear that most are not.  Snakes remain the least understood, most feared and most persecuted animals on the planet.
 
And, for me, from that day forth, the most fascinating.  Shortly after the excitement in the rock garden, my father caught a garter snake near the foundation of the house.  He handed it to me and taught me to pay it out like rope, letting it slip from one hand to other before it settled down and no long tried to escape.  I was surprised to find that it was not slimy as popularly believed, but its coils were cool, smooth and dry to touch. I also, for the first of what by now must be thousands of times, experienced the tickling sensation of a snake’s forked tongue flicking against my skin.  Eventually my father took it from my hands and released it into the grass, having no idea that the experience had transformed my life forever.
 
After that day, I determined to learn everything there was to know about snakes. How could I gain this knowledge?  I couldn’t learn much from adults.  My father only knew a little about snakes, which was a little more than almost anyone else.  Snakes were to be avoided, to be feared, to be awarded superstitious powers, to be exterminated from the earth.  Or at least from the Appalachian foothill country where I grew up in southeastern Ohio. My grandmother Inez, or Nanal as we called her, was so steeped in superstition that she believed “hoop” snakes would bite their tails, turning themselves into circles like bicycle tires, in order to roll down the hill and strike people dead.  She also believed milk snakes would crawl into a baby’s crib, bite the baby on the mouth and suck the air out of his lungs, turning the baby blue. “For pity’s sake, child,” she’d tell me, “I seen it with my own eyes.”  When she stayed with us, she would stuff towels under the door to keep the snakes I kept from crawling into her room.
 
In the face of such pervasive ignorance, the only place I could turn for accurate information was books.  There was one problem.  I was not yet in kindergarten and couldn’t read.  My mother, who was a children’s librarian, came to my rescue.  She began to teach me how to read, despite her misgivings about my motive, and by the age most children in my class were just starting to learn the a,b,c’s, I was reading Raymond Ditmar’s “Snakes of North America,” the most advanced and comprehensive book on snake identification, distributaries and behavior that the local library carried.  The lessons I learned from my fascination were as much about people as about snakes.  At an age when most children thought adults infallible, I grew to suspect them.  Many were ignorant, prejudiced and so fearful of a boy who played with snakes that they would not let their own sons and daughters near me.  This gave me an outsiders perspective on life, and helped form me into a person who suspected common wisdom and asked questions — traits that are very desirable for a future writer.  Life could be mysterious, beautiful, and misunderstood, as mysterious and as beautiful and as misunderstood as the snakes that hid under stones and in the folds of the earth, and I wanted to get to the truth.  I turned thousands of stones in search of snakes; later the stones I turned for the truth would be in my mind.  I became a devout disciple of that great sleuth and stone turner Sherlock Holmes, an avid follower of the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn — a reader, a searcher, and, in time, a writer. It all began with a garter snake in a rock garden.
 
– Keith McCafferty
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poem #49

screwdriver 1
 
SCREWDRIVER
 
Dora said that poetry is only a symptom
of a deep hurt and a lonely soul
and urged me, to the best of my ability,
to show kindness toward poets
and offer them mostly understanding
in my manner and behavior.
 
She conceded that kindness
with a firm understanding of boundaries
and personal limitations is a good way
to treat everyone, poet or not.
 
Dora thought it might have something to do
with bottle feeding babies 
being the initial act of rejection 
experienced by a heart seeking sustenance.
 
She has no theories or thoughts about musicians
especially jazz musicians and the harmonious
discords of the lifestyle in concert
with the ancient Giver of Delight,
 
but Dora concedes that most lyricists
are about the same as a poet
and if you offer one 
a morning-after orange juice 
usually they will ask
for vodka to accompany it.
 
– Kenneth P. Gurney
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poem #48

come eat with me
 
COME EAT WITH ME AND BE MY LOVE
 
Come eat with me and lose your scales
and gain lasagne, served with wine,
and ripe persimmons, plums and pears
my fragrant fruit, oh lover mine,
and we will laugh at diet cares
and low-fat bread that swiftly stales.
 
Come eat with me and feel our flesh
as soft as custard, warm as toast
as comforting as treacle tart
as healthy as a hot nut roast,
my love, who nestles in my heart
—no sell-by date. Forever fresh.
 
Come eat with me and be my love
with chana aloo, pilau rice,
with gravied pie and salted chips
and tiny pinkish sugar mice
and I’ll caress your curvy hips
forever, which won’t be enough.
 
Come eat with me. We’ll dine to please;
true love is not a certain size.
Our happiness is what appeals,
good appetite in both our eyes;
so let us revel in our meals
and never count the calories.
 
– Cathy Bryant

story #15

the next life 1 copy
 
THE NEXT LIFE
 
The sunrise is foggy these mornings, like my head much of the time. Black coffee from your wife in the dark hour of 6AM has managed to sharpen my senses enough to bring me home safely from the airport. You should be boarding soon and I am already back in my warm bed, but not to sleep. Instead I am watching neighborhood cats through my window and trying to remember how I got here.
 
This bed has been with me since just before my move to Florida; at least that much can be traced back to my former home. I see a jacket and my guitar across the room, and a sleeping bag intended for weather never to be seen in this region. These things, too, are relics of the past life. Atop the armoire sit a few archaisms as old as even my childhood, and one final vestige of time gone by can be seen through the cracked door of the closet: an old pair of sneakers that I still wear.
 
All else that fills this place is new, at least to me. These scant objects comprising nearly my entire amassment have all been ushered into view within the last 4 years, washing away any need to recall what came before. Even the relationships that fill my interpersonal life are all unseasoned, save a few that I’ve somehow maintained from across the wall separating this time and space from that one. Some piece of my former self remains within those people, and I intend to retrieve it.
 
Sometimes it seems as though a piece of her lives in you, as well. I think better of it, though, and realize that you are really just a mirror to the past who has intercepted the unreflective travels of my so-called growth. In youth I always hoped that age would not sentence me to forget myself as it seemed to have done to my father. It turned out not to be age that would trap my identity within a labyrinth of regret and confusion, but heartache. The pain has since subsided and yet my seity did not return. I’ve caught a glimpse of it in your eyes and in your words and I find myself wanting even to accuse you of utter theft.
 
Rationally I am grateful for you, for you seem somehow to see the old bits of me that I’ve retained and hidden beneath a bland exterior. To know that you are a wholly temporary installment in my life is a fascinating testament to the way in which we all seem to come and go just as is needed by those around us. I wonder what more I may learn from you in the little time that is left, and what you may learn from me. I hope I am able to reabsorb all the scraps of me that you carry before you cross the seas for the next life.
 
– Dominique R. Scalia
 

poem #47

spring fishing
 
SPRING FISHING FOR STEELHEAD, SATSOP RIVER C. 2002
 
A vision there
it was like a vision
frame by frame
 
spooling out
in front of me
my line bellied
 
and slicing like a cheese-
wire the surface of the river’s run
exploding into the shock-
 
bright of white water
all air-flung and with
a shake of the head
 
I was broke
off on the third
jump and you said “that
 
chromer was big sonabitch”
we don’t hook
many fish like those
 
we will hook another
one I said and we will keep it  
between you and me
 
you thinking I am not
so good a fisherman anymore
shrugging off a steelhead
 
like that you said
who’s this new woman
you’re wearing on your sleeve
 
oh she shows me planets
the moon I said the endless
middle of my mind
 
a moment you said
is the hardest so
infinitely divisible one
 
can easily wrap
one’s arms around
a decade a year a season
 
yes it is the season
for fish I said
up river
 
near the log jam
we might find another
 
fish you said lets look
 
– Richard C. Armstrong III
 
 
 

poem #46

escape
 
ESCAPE
 
She crafted wings out of pliers,
taking the metal
and making it flare out
against the sun.
No hollow bones for her
but ones poured out of silver.
She tested them,
her glittering limbs,
feeling each groove like teeth
against her skin,
and,
with one flex of her hands,
took off into the morning.
A shiver of light in the sky.
 
-Valentina Cano
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story #14

pardise
 
BURNING THE PARADISE VALLEY
 
Elliott Reins sturdied himself against a string of barbedwire that sagged between crisscrossed fence posts. The wire was hot from the sun, and holding it was calming. It eased the pain in his legs, which felt fragile to him. He didn’t trust them. He trusted his back, his chest, his arms. And his hands were a marvel, as wide and hard as paddleheads. They would get the business done. He wiped his brow. It was three o’clock and would get hotter for another hour but would cool by nightfall. Up the Yellowstone River, a patchwork of wildfires was burning through enough pine to lay a thick haze over the Paradise Valley. But August was ending, and soon the snows would come and snuff out the flames. And if they didn’t? Then the fires would keep burning. Elliott pushed back from the fence and glanced at his roan and at Rebecca who stood next him. She smelled like tobacco and lavender oil in a way that reminded him of waiting outside of church as a boy with the parishioners, the women all in perfume and the men in cologne, and everyone smoking.
               “I was never a big fan of perfume,” he said. “It’s overpriced. I’ve never seen people pay so much for ninety-nine percent water.”
               “I’m sorry I wore any,” Rebecca said.
               “Now yeast is a smell. You knead a dough of bread and get that alive smell down under your nails. It stays with you all day.”
               “I’m not much for baking, Mr. Reins.”
               “No? You look like you could put your back into a good Christmas bread.”
               “Really, I’m more a wine and caviar kind of girl. You know, fois gras and all.”
               “Only the best for a lady.” Elliott chuckled and looked squarely at his horse standing across the fence. Some people resembled dogs, but he thought he shared a lot more with the horse. The crud in the eyes, the thinning, brittle hair, the cracked skin along the edges of the nostrils and lips. “You know, this horse used to be beautiful,” he said. “A bit broken down now. I wrecked his spine riding him, and he threw me in a ditch. But we tolerate each other.”
               “I used to ride,” Rebecca said.
               “Rodeo?”
               “No, I raced quarter horses. I was a young woman and small. Then I filled out.”
               “Goodness, yes. And I’m thankful for it.” He straightened himself with a grunt. The pain in his knees never stopped and never lessened either. It was not like a smell he could grow to ignore. “I wanted to ride bulls when I was a boy. Now that’s a frightening animal. I stood outside a pen from one, about me to you, and never got closer. You have to be sort of crazy.”
              “Or bored,” Rebecca said. She put a finger on the brim of Elliott’s cowboy hat. “You know what else is crazy? There’s a man in Ennis who sells these things for two or three times what you pay for new. The more the hat’s beat up, the more he gets.”
              “Sells them to tourists?”
              “A lot of Californians.”
              Elliott absently turned his wedding band, which was one of a flat gold pair that he’d paid five hundred dollars for in 1980. The jeweler who sold it had told him not to twist it much or he’d lose it, but he’d fidgeted his whole life and was not about to stop, not after he’d just quit smoking at Johanna’s insistence. She wouldn’t allow for yellow walls or open windows on account of his habit. Rolling cigarettes, holding cigarettes, and smoking cigarettes had kept his fingers busy for half his life, starting in elementary school. He kept a pack Marlboroughs and strike anywhere matches in his pockets then, and once when he was waiting in line for the bathroom in the fourth grade, he rubbed against a brick wall and caught his pants on fire.
              The ring was one of three pieces of metal on his body, excepting fillings. Another, beneath his shirt, was a boning knife that hung from his neck in a leather sheath on a string. It rubbed and wore against his breastbone like a watch against a wrist, and had stained his skin a faint russet color. He used to tell his wife that it was the birthmark he always wished he’d had, because a birthmark is lucky and what better place than over the heart? “Oh, I don’t know,” she’d told him. “The knees, nipples, cock, ass, and perineum all seem pretty good.” He liked that list.
               And the last piece of metal was a silver and turquoise money clip he’d bought from a Sioux kid in Eastern Montana, who said the silver was for wealth and the turquoise for happiness. The plains were barren there, and the dry, loose topsoil would create another dust bowl if the drought continued a few years longer. It was a place that did not bode well for charms of wealth and happiness, but he’d given the kid a twenty for it because he liked the weight it lent to dollar bills. A little weight reminded him that the money meant something. He took the clip out of his shirt pocket.
              “Do you know how to polish silver?” he asked.
              “Pretty tarnished, isn’t it?”
              He squinted at Rebecca. Her body was nothing like his wife’s. Her calves were tanned and strong, and the tops of her thighs wrinkled with cellulite. She wore cut denim shorts and a tanktop that spelled LUCKY in sequins across her breasts. Her stomach was rounded from drinking beer, pushing just over her waistline, but he liked a girl who didn’t look like she’d snap if he touched her. He put her at about thirty-four years old, though she’d told him twenty-seven.
              “I like the way you dress,” he said, counting off four twenties. “Take this now.”
              From across the fence, the roan nipped at Rebecca’s fingers. He liked apples, carrots, grains, and hay, and did not like wheat, and Rebecca offered nothing. When he nipped again, she pushed her hands up on his nose, between his eyes. He shook his head, but she did not move. When he calmed, she drew her fingers down the white roman bridge of his nose, the tan of her own face reflecting on the light hairs.
              “What’s his name?” she asked.
              “I call him Horse. I tried calling him Joseph, but he wasn’t responsive.”
              “Maybe Joseph isn’t guttural enough, the way Horse is.”
              “I think he’s just ornery.”
              His hands sweated as he held up the bills for her and she reached for them. Her palm was tiny in his own. He snorted. When she dropped her head to count, and her sandy hair fell in front of her face and she looked handsomer.
              “I need more,” she said. “It was farther to get here than I thought.”
              “We had a price.”
              “Life and gas got expensive, Mr. Reins.”
              Elliot wondered if he’d made a mistake calling her, and the idea embarrassed him. After fifty-six years, he thought a man should get things right. But maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly that day. The smoke in the air burned his lungs and made him a bit light-headed. He touched the knife through his shirt. He said, “Maybe you want to go back.”
             “I’m not going back. I’m here for a job, for you. You can afford it—you’re doing fine. Your wheat’s gone to seed but you’re living. Now I’ve come out and I need the money. I’m more than worth it.”
             “I’ll judge it if you are.”
             “I’d worry more about keeping things up on your side.”
             “Another sixty if you’re good.”
             “I appreciate it.”
             “I’m sure,” Elliott said. “Walk with me.”
             He started along the fence to the north, and after a moment Rebecca followed, and the horse followed too, swaying his head and his pendulum belly as she swung her hips. When they entered the fields, Rebecca slowed. Grasses had polluted the wheat crops, and the dry sharp blades irritated her legs.
             “Why don’t you harvest?” she asked.
             Elliott’s shirt was soaked and the backs of his knees stuck to his jeans. He glanced at her, smiling when he noticed the scratches that covered her thighs.
             “Money is a beautiful incentive, isn’t it?”
             “What do you mean?”
             “I mean, you put up with a lot, but you price it.”
             “Yes,” Rebecca said. “It makes the world work in a logical manner. You start having emotional relationships and they go straight to hell.”
             “That’s not always true.”
             “Well you’re the one with a wedding ring, and here I am.”
             “And looking lovely,” Elliott said. He turned on his heels and continued on toward a gate at the corner of the pasture. The horse trotted past Rebecca to meet him there.
              The gate, built with heat-treated timbers, had been singed in a control burn ten years earlier but was still strong. Elliott anchored his heel against the base of one post and pulled the other toward it, then slipped off the wire bales at the top and bottom of each post and let the gate drop. The horse stepped through, and together they started into the expanse of the fields. Elliott had never neglected them before. They were light in color. The wheat snapped when he stepped on it.
              He was a good thirty feet in front of Rebecca, but heard her when she asked if he had any water. It was a funny question, he thought, because he wasn’t carrying a bottle and he doubted she’d seen the stable beyond the slope of the hill. But he said, “Yes, we’re close now.”
              “I don’t mean to ask a silly question, but why couldn’t we stay at your house?”
              “It isn’t any cooler there.”
              “The hell it isn’t. Air conditioning is a wonderful thing.”
              “I don’t believe in air conditioning.”
              “It’s not like religion.”
              “It’s unnatural.”
              “So is heat, but I bet you don’t freeze to death in the winter.”
              In fact, Elliott used a wood burning oven in the winter instead of a furnace, and cooked with natural gas, but he didn’t want to argue the merits or motives of his lifestyle, and fire was the last thing he wanted to think about right then.
              The grasshoppers were out, sawing their legs together and looking like locusts as they flew—and the fishermen down on the Yellowstone would all be casting hopper imitations against the banks, trying to entice big trout. Elliott preferred to fish the salmonfly hatch in June, and sometimes he still used worms because he liked to give the browns and rainbows a meal in return for being caught. But today fishing didn’t interest him.
              The stable was at the far edge of the field, at the foothills of the Absarokas, which were covered in sage and thistles. Elliott was a hundred yards from it now, and the corrugated aluminum roof, ten feet high at the open front and slanting to the ground at the back, caught the light like a razor gleaming against the land. A tin bucket hung from a lag bolt on the far support beam and collected runoff from the gutter. When he reached it, he saw a residue of water pooled in the bottom inch. He tasted it with his finger, feeling the metallic sting in his teeth. Then he lifted it off the bolt, tipped it, and drank.
              The horse brushed against him, and he offered the bucket. But after pushing its nose down, the horse only snorted and walked back toward Rebecca, who was taking a long tack through the field to avoid the thistles.
              “You’d think you were a goddamn camel,” Elliott said, talking to the horse.
              He moved inside the stable, into the shade. Pine slats boarded the triangular sides. Loose straw and horse blankets covered the ground. He liked the manure smell. Against the eastern wall stood bags of feed, rakes, shovels, pitchforks and scythes. Wire cutters, pliers, hammers, nails and staples rusted on shelves above them. He took the knife from his neck, dropped it on the ground, and eased himself onto a stained quilt, resting his back on the saddle behind it to wait for Rebecca. He hadn’t ridden his horse in two years.                   The horse had thrown him, and his knees had buckled to the side. Soon after, he wore through the articular cartilage between his femur and patella. He didn’t want to think about the bones rubbing. It wasn’t the time to pity himself. He looked out, watching Rebecca pick her way toward him through the field, the horse at her side.
 
 
Two months earlier Elliott walked into The Pines, a dive bar and strip joint on highway 89 where truckers and Hollywood cowboys mingled and got loaded at night, obliterating class distinction with alcohol. It was endearing, he thought. He’d only recently returned to Montana from the Florida Keys by himself. He wouldn’t know the dancers anymore, but he wanted to get out of his ranch house, where he felt alone.
             It was eleven a.m. The Pines consisted of a single large room with a stage at the back, looking like a church with a nave before the chancel. It was empty. Velour curtains hung from the walls and from the stage platform. White Christmas lights lit the aisles.
             A woman in a black robe walked on stage barefoot from a door in the back, bent down, spat on the wood, and wiped it with her shirtsleeve. Elliott seated himself at a round table with an ashtray and a drink list. If they had Plymouth, he wanted sloe gin. The woman studied him, then returned to her cleaning. Her breasts and belly rocked as she scrubbed. She had all the glamour of a pissing dog, he thought, but there was something erotic to that.
             He’d taken his wife to The Pines once, for her thirty-fifth birthday. The trip had been his idea, which he acknowledged was selfish, but it excited Johanna who’d never seen strippers working, had never deposited bills in cleavage that smelled of beer and sweat. He bought her three lap dances that night, and after a redhead stuffed Johanna’s face in her breasts she forgot to be embarrassed anymore. She signaled the next girl with her finger, and spread her legs like a man. Elliott had never spent money so well, he thought.
             Coughing, the woman left the stage and went to the bar. Dirt showed on the backs of her heels and her feet splayed as she walked. Maybe she’d studied ballet, he thought, and saw stripping as just another form of dance. But not many people were that naïve.
             Glasses clinked, and he turned toward the bar. The woman had untied her robe, her white stomach and lace underwear showing between the black. She came to his table, set down two shots of clear liquid, and pulled up a chair.
             “Take a vodka,” she said. Her voice was quiet but deliberate. “I bet you could use one.”
             “It’s early.”
             “To the morning, then.”
             “All right.”
             “Call me Rebecca,” she said, after finishing her shot. “Or Becka. I don’t give too much of a damn which, but I don’t like Becky.” Her face had seen too much sun. It had looked childish on the stage, but he realized she was much older.
             “My name is Elliott Reins,” he said. “I’m looking for company.”
             “Try making friends.”
             “It’s important to me. Maybe you know a girl.”
             “I’m the only one here, Mr. Reins.”
             “I mean for another day, at my property.”
             “You a farmer?”
             “I used to grow mustard and wheat. Mostly to stay busy.”
             “Retired?” She pushed back her chair, took a pack of Camels out of her robe, rapped it hard against the table, then put one in her mouth. “So you got all day to drink with me.” She laughed, lay the pack on the center of the table and then took out a book of matches that had the club’s name and address printed on the front in green.
             “I used to come here when it was still The Black Stallion,” Elliott said. “I guess that name was a little offensive.”
             “Who’s it offending? All the white people in this state? I grew up in Miami Dade, and I’ve never seen a place so white in my life.” She got up from the table, and when she returned she had a bottle of Denaka. She refilled the glasses and said, “You’re paying for these, by the way.”
             Elliott nodded. “I just came back from the Keys last year. The clubs packed a few more people there, in the day I mean.”
             “I never got farther south than Miami, and I don’t remember much of Miami. All you can drink for a fifteen dollar cover? I was lucky to leave South Beach alive. Please, I was so fucked up from Florida I had to start working here to keep off withdrawal.”
             “What brought you here?”
             “A lot of shit I don’t want to talk about. But you know what I tell people? I tell people I came because of the snow. Everyone said Montana’s full of snow. So much snow you get sick of it. And then I say, ‘I didn’t know they were being literal.’ People like to hear ditz stories.” She drank her vodka, then placed the glass topside down on the table. “Excuse me now,” she said, flipping the match book to Elliott. “It’s going to be a long day and I need a pick-me-up.”
             He watched her bustle through the empty seats. She either meant cocaine or coffee, but he decided it didn’t matter which. Inside the booklet was a phone number written in ink. He laid fifteen dollars on the table, and as he left he picked the day’s Chronicle off the bar to check the headlines. Another drought year. It was June 15th, and fires had already burned seven thousand acres in the valley.
 
 
He tried to picture Johanna now. She’d slept with him there in the stable once—it was raining, and for a long time they lay next to each other and listened to the drops ping against the roof, and when the rain didn’t stop at nightfall they ran back through the cropped wheat. He was forty; she was a year older. He couldn’t envision her face clearly anymore without looking at photographs, but he remembered pushing her shirt up with his nose, kissing her stomach, lifting it to his mouth with his hands.
             Rebecca tipped the pail. A line of water and rust trickled from it to the ground and splashed on her bare feet.
             “Took the good stuff for yourself, Mr. Reins.”
             “It’s hard to think in this heat.”
             They were both still naked, and the evening light caught the sides of Rebecca’s body and the unnatural curve of her breasts. On the western horizon the sun was enormous and blood red through the smoke above the Gallatin Range, and the color cast the strip of blond hair on her crotch in a brilliant orange. She walked back in the stable carrying the pail, and the crescent of her belly hung as she knelt to take her cigarettes out of her shorts.
             “You be sure to smoke over that bucket,” Elliott said. “We don’t need the whole place on fire.”
             “What are you, a ranger? Don’t you see I got it?”
             She sat cross-legged and leaned over to smoke. She’d been a good lay, he thought, though he didn’t have many women to compare.
             “I want to ask you a question,” he said. “It embarrasses me. It’s a question of vanity.”
            “You were pretty frisky for an old dude, if that’s what you mean.”
            “You know, I never used a condom before.”
            “How’d you like it?”
            “Not so bad, I guess. Not so great either. I don’t like things that aren’t, what’s the word these days, organic.”
“Well honey, get yourself some lamb skins for next time, or find a girl cracked up enough not to care. Those days are past for me.” She tapped her cigarette ash into the pail. “If you’re still married, you could go back to your wife.”
            “I do wish I could,” Elliott said. “But Johanna, she got caught in an accident a long time back. She’d be fifty-seven in October.”
            “I’m sorry to hear it.”
            “I get by.”
            “It doesn’t look that way,” Rebecca said. “You ought to get yourself another girl.”
            “Girl like you?”
            “No, I think someone closer to your age.”
            “I was just teasing.” He looked out hoping to see his horse. Maybe it had gone back into the pasture again. “The truth is, I’m not too interested in finding another girl. Doesn’t seem right to me.”
             As Rebecca dressed to leave, she found the boning knife under her clothes. She picked it up by its string and removed the sheath. A single piece of steel ran from the butt to the blade, which curved at the tip.
            “Why do you have this?” she asked.
            Elliott propped himself on his elbows and pointed at the indentation on his chest. “I always carry it here—seems I use it every day.”
            She tossed it to him. “Are going to put your clothes on and walk me out, or do I have to escort myself?”
            “No, I’m staying here if you don’t mind. My legs need the rest.” He paid her the other sixty then, and folded his shirt behind his head as a pillow. “Don’t worry about closing that gate. It can stay open.”
            She folded the money into her shorts, replaced the bucket on the lag bolt, and left through the field, making a straight line to the fence. She didn’t try to walk around the thistles this time, and he knew that her legs would be itching that night before she slept, wherever that was. It’s a hard thing to fall asleep when you itch. He remembered getting hives from the wet heat in Florida, and from eating too many strawberries, and staying up for hours before finally taking antihistamines. He hated the taste of medicine.
            As her silhouette disappeared at the edge of the fence, he wondered if he was the last man she’d see that night—probably he wasn’t.  Then he reclined on the horse blanket to sleep.
 
 
Elliott awoke at dawn having to pee, which was funny because he was thirsty. How could you be dehydrated and still give up fluids? He had some idea why from a biological standpoint, but from the perspective of common sense it was harder to grasp. He fought his legs and stood—he wouldn’t make himself walk—and he pissed on the straw and stared at the obscure figure in front him. It was the horse.
            “You’re a son of a bitch,” he said. “Keeping me waiting, like you don’t even care.”
            When he finished, he lay back on the ground and rubbed his thumb over the butt of the knife. He thought Johanna would understand.
            They’d met when he was twenty-one and working for her father in the Keys, commercial fishing for spiny lobster and stone crab out of Islamorada. In 1974 they married, then moved to Montana. With their savings and a bank loan, they bought six hundred acres that stretched from the Yellowstone River to the base of the Absarokas. They cropped mustard and alfalfa, and a little bit of wheat near the house because Johanna liked the color. A spring creek ran through three miles of the property, and Elliott taught himself to flyfish. At Johanna’s suggestion, he opened it for public use, at a price. The land didn’t farm well but it was full of trout and by 1985 they were clearing close to five hundred dollars a day from summer sport fishermen. By the 1990s, it was over a thousand, but Elliott kept farming to stay fit.
           Then in August of 1996, they were lighting a backfire at the western edge of their property when the wind changed. The flames kicked up and spread through the fields, catching Johanna at the fence and engulfing her body. Elliott watched, less than two hundred feet from her, upwind. That was ten years back.
           After her death, he hired a man to look after his property, then took her remains to the Keys. The water turned pale green where he scattered her ashes in the ocean.
           For a while he stayed in Florida. Johanna’s father was still alive and glad for the company. Elliott learned to sightfish in the saltwater flats. He couldn’t cast worth shit, but somehow managed to put the fly over the occasional bonefish, and once he caught a permit. It fought like hell. When the old man passed, Elliott returned to Montana. The man he’d hired offered to stay on, but Elliot let him go. He felt about it, and hadn’t been able to explain himself well. He’d insisted he could handle the work alone, though it was obvious that he couldn’t.
            Now he ran the knife over the back of his forearm, shaving the hairs. No one could say he’d been careless about the blade. In front of the stable, the horse swished his tail through the grasses, and mosquitoes rose like seedheads in the wind. Elliott flexed his hand, then with a clean motion slit his throat.
 
-Thomas McCaffertycontinue…

poem #45

solitary fire 2
 
SOLITARY FIRE
 
The shore is dry as the tide retreats and dabbles with the moon
The waves are a far echo of a cave, a canyon
 
The life that consequence brings and abandons at our doors
is a garland of flowers long ago tossed by someone walking
 
Through passageways that disappear into waterfalls
and the soft sounds of everything still and eloquently wise
 
The dialogue of places begins in the thaw of knowing
that every longing has its syntax and solitary fire
 
Every heart is a gap in an echo that would resound
uninterrupted but for the weeping beyond hearing
 
All of everything is not a sum or a loss but a grief
and the zero penetration that frost becomes in winter days
 
With the incessant drifting of boundaries and the need
to leave the whispering and loss behind
 
– Christina Murphy
 
 continue…

story #13

sick as secrets 1
 
SICK AS SECRETS
 
This treatment center houses cockroaches and rats.
 
In the waiting room, I sit next to a girl who is withdrawing: shaking/panicked/pissed off. Her family-size bag of M&M’s tells me she wants heroin but is settling for methadone: the underwritten alternative/the controlled burn/velvet handcuffs. 
 
Her face is a gravel road. She has the broken-back posture of a prostitute. The electronic monitoring device on her ankle grounds her right foot with its weight.
 
A man with a Billy D. Williams smile greets me from behind bulletproof glass. He asks me if I’m a probation officer. This is the first time anyone has mistaken me for a cop. He hands me a blank Post-it note. I write down the name of the woman I’m here to see with a blue ink pen. He glances at my breasts and tells me to wait.
 
A blond woman in denim, dripping in turquoise jewelry, leads me into a conference room with tall, textured windows and ten ancient coffee urns sitting on a long white table. I remove the sunglasses perched on my head in reaction to her disapproving gaze. I show her my ID.
 
She tells me that my client has disappeared with an unidentified male/That I should notify child protection immediately/That my client’s clothes and personal effects will be housed in plastic bags in the center’s storage area for seven days/Her child will be transported to emergency foster care after school/All parental rights will be terminated/Thank you.
 
I walk out the front door, into the late afternoon sun, and light a cigarette.
 
My parking meter is paid for another forty minutes. I need a cup of coffee.  
 
– Ivy Louise

story #12

he who wrestles with god
 
HE WHO WRESTLES WITH GOD
 
Martha’s best friend, Taylor, was a party girl. She was the kind of girl who changed her clothes at minimum five times before she could go to the nearest WalMart. She was small, with the build of a preteen and a child’s face. She maybe reached five-foot-four in heels. To compensate, she smudged thick rings of smoky eye shadow and exotic liner around her large, brown eyes. Each eyelash was precisely mascaraed and stuck out like a spider’s leg against her powder-tanned skin.
             Taylor had invited Martha over to her new apartment—a two-bedroom deal in a four-story building. It was close to CSU and full of students tasting their first few licks of total freedom. Martha was used to the dorms at her private university several hours away. In comparison, Taylor’s apartment was a Mecca of glamorous debauchery. Jello shots of a bright, Christmas red were made in one batch in an old saucepan stored in a mostly empty refrigerator. The only furniture was a large screen TV and a gaming chair, which were both hooked up for the use of Taylor’s overbearing male roommate. He hid in his room whenever Martha passed. She felt unfit for her surroundings, but that wasn’t anything new.
             Martha was carefully disguised for her role as wing-woman. Black jeggings, a knee-length, lace-trimmed fashion tank top, and bootie heels were her camouflage. They couldn’t cover the discomfort and worry displayed on her face, though. Martha practiced looking pleasant in the mirror, where she could also monitor Taylor as she finished primping for her party. Martha knew Taylor was planning to drink plenty tonight, even though she was, by nature of her size, a lightweight.
             The party had something to do with a boy that Taylor had hooked up with in the first couple weeks of school. Martha knew nothing about him, save the fact that he hadn’t bothered to speak to Taylor after they had done the deed, even though he and she shared a nine-a.m. together every Monday and Wednesday. Taylor had decided to throw this party in an attempt to get back at him. She told Martha that she was going to make sure that he knew that she, in all her one-hundred-pound glory, was too much woman for him.
              Recipe for disaster. The guests piled in to the small apartment promptly at nine o’clock. It was too early in the semester for them to play coy, while still not being late enough for them all to play desperate. Martha watched as Taylor milled in between them, touting around her saucepan of alcohol-saturated Jello, begging everyone to share her laborious, sticky offering.
              Martha, for her part, clung nervously to the half-wall counter that separated the living room from the kitchen. Her gray eyes traced Taylor’s movements as a prioress does a novice’s—worried, with a touch of forced confidence that belied the future mother slumbering within her. She had always loved Taylor in the way that women always seemed to love the weakest in a crowd, desperate to hold in place any brokenness, like a splintered bone, until it healed.
               As Taylor spilled through the burgeoning adults huddled in her apartment, it was apparent that she was barely holding up. Martha stood vigilant at her post, half-heartedly paying lip service to those who attempted to distract her from her duty. She was a weird one, they said as they moved to more receptive pastures. Martha didn’t mind. She knew what people thought of her. But she wasn’t here to please them. She was here to watch over Taylor, and that was what she was going to do.
               Taylor was asking for a cigarette—no. A cigarillo. One of those thin, peach-flavored woman cigars that came in cellophane wrapped boxes that always seemed so exotic to Martha no matter what gas station they were bought at. Martha begged one off of Taylor’s roommate, and then went over to join her friend. She and five others piled outside, breathing deeply the fresh air and the smoke of summer. The burn of a season they couldn’t imagine ever burning out. Martha stood beside Taylor, taking small, cautious drags as they watched parades of returning students laughing their way up the four floors of the building, barreling across the concrete with their arms full of Jameson and tubs of margarita mixes.
               “Hey! Room two-oh-five!”
               Martha was the first to respond, her head snapping up immediately at the stranger’s call. He was leaning over the railing of the balcony above, his torso hinged over it almost naturally. He smiled and then he waved. Martha looked at Taylor and pointed him out.
               “Someone’s calling you,” Martha said.
               Taylor took a drag of her Swisher Sweet and looked up at the boy. Though she made no sign that she recognized him, Martha knew that Taylor would never admit that she didn’t know him. It would look bad, whereas acknowledging him could make Taylor look popular in front of that boy who had crossed her.
               “Of course he is,” Taylor replied, crushing the cigarillo beneath her heel as she turned to the stairwell and began wobbling her way up to the third floor. Martha hovered close, and their smoking partners followed. Room 205 marched up to Room 300. It was a corner room with a faded welcome mat and a wide open door.
               “The name is Israel,” he said as he ushered them inside, “Though you can call me Ray.”
                Martha saw that he was a tall boy, around six-foot-four, with a build stockier than most his height. Around his thick neck hung a large silver Star of David. It was suspended right in the center U of his collarbone, exposed by his mint-green button-down. His hair was medium-long, light brown, and feathered. His eyes were green, flecked with caramel and butterscotch. His lips were smooth and stretched thin. His bones were near impeccably structured.
                 His kitchen was well lived-in. Half-open letters and advertisements littered the circle table that dominated the room. Craft-project frames hung from every wall and sported pictures of bleached blonde beauties flanked by their volleyball teammates. Ray said that his roommates weren’t due home for another week. All of the Fat Tire and Shock Top in his fridge were going to waste! Taylor lost no time in taking two of the former, skipping past the entrance, and disappearing into Ray’s bedroom. Martha followed suit, nervously fidgeting with her one unopened beer.
                Ray’s room was bigger than his kitchen, though not by much. A queen-sized bed with royal blue sheets took up most of it. On one side: the desk with the Mac and rolly chair that Ray sat down at. On the other: a cheap bookshelf filled to the point that it was a wonder that Ray could extract a single volume to read without the whole thing toppling over.
                 As Taylor flopped down on the bed, laughing too loud for comfort, Martha felt herself called to the books. Mesmerized, she scanned their spines. Each shelf contained tomes of theology from a different religion. From Islam to Taoism, from Faerie religions to Christianity. As she gazed upon the titles, she felt a fire stirring up in her that she thought had long ago been extinguished—her years of religious fascination, repressed when her classmates had thought her odd. Debates that had been eventually delegated to the classroom, and nowhere else. Reaching into her shirt, she pulled out a small wooden cross, hanging on a thin piece of black yarn, and gripped it in her palm.
                 “I’m a biology major,” Ray said, breaking from his earlier discussion with the rest of the group to focus on Martha. “But my real passion is religion. Reclaiming traditions, you know?”
                 Martha ran her hands along the shelves where the books of faith were categorized meticulously into sects. No dust settled there.
                 “Me too,” she whispered, more to the books than to him.
                 “We can talk about the Messiah, if you’d like to,” he said.
                 Martha nodded, almost tearing her necklace in her enthusiasm. It had been a confirmation gift from her mentor. She thanked God for the little blessing she had been granted.
                 They spoke of eschatology, of their fears of ending. They spoke of the crucifix, of the beauty of a bleeding body, and of its terror. They spoke of Exodus, of Genesis, and of righteousness. They mocked the prophets, chanted the Psalms drunkenly, and praised the chutzpah of Job. Their voices rose with excitement, and little by little the rest of the party left the bedroom for the sanctuary of the kitchen. Martha noticed Taylor slipping away with them, but she didn’t much care. She just continued her thanksgiving, clutching to Ray’s words as if they were meditations all their own.
                 Surely, this was a moment within which God lived! A space revealed just for her into the divine wonder of paradise. A Jewish theologian who matched her devotion for devotion across the aisles of salvation so fiercely that Martha felt their faiths melding into a cosmic whole. Such clarity of grace!
                 Ray laid a textbook out on his desk, words tumbling out of his mouth seemingly without needing breaks for breathing. His eyes shone with a fearsome intensity, the entire world forgotten save for himself and Martha. Martha listened intently as he reached into his desk drawer and withdrew a packet of pure white powder. Martha started to lose her train of thought as he dumped the powder onto the book, arranging it neatly into a single stroke.  He paused for barely a moment, laid his face on the cover and snorted the line of cocaine in the span of a single heartbeat. He consumed it as easily as a man drinking water, without a second thought. As if refreshed, he smiled and put the textbook away, and continued as if without pause:
                 “That’s why I find it hard to believe, as a Jew, that the Messiah would have to sacrifice Himself for our sins, you know? Why not just go right down to Sheol and start the liberation there? My Messiah’s not going to be the type to submit to public execution, that’s for sure.”
                 Martha nodded. She paid no heed to the words he said, but rather stared at the place where the textbook had lain. The ritual, secular act had happened so quickly. She’d barely had enough time to acknowledge it, much less act. Her mind buzzed with all of the things she could remember being told about people like Ray—how to stop them, how to ask them all the right questions to make them stop, how to refuse them. But how could she refuse what hadn’t been offered? How could she stop what had passed in the fluttering of a heartbeat? His voice sounded like grace poured out onto desert sand.
                 If only he’d left the textbook out a little longer. She could have put her hand on it. She could have held it. She could have looked into his eyes and told him with conviction that she loved him, that he was worth more—couldn’t she? If she could feel the powder there beneath her fingertips, would it give her the courage to confess to the divinity that she had thought she had seen, glimmering there in his wild eyes? She could have had the courage, she was sure. If only he’d left the textbook out.
But now there was only Ray’s voice. Why couldn’t she hear Taylor or the others messing around in the kitchen? She fidgeted with her tank top. Suddenly her head ached. Her ribs ached. The room was too small. In one sniff, Ray had sucked out too much air.
                 “I need air,” she said, standing abruptly. Ray smiled: a faint, half-dim smile that slowed down his face, even as the rest of him sped up and outward.
                 “It’s cold out there. Take my coat,” he said. She did, reluctantly, and padded out into the empty kitchen. Ray was never too far behind, reaching around her to open up the door for her when she found that she herself was shaking too much to do it.
Martha stood barefoot on the bristled mat, gulping down her citrus beer to give her mouth something to do. It had gotten warm, having been held tightly in her grip. How long had she listened to him? Looking out across the concrete hallways that linked apartments together, she saw only three lights shining in the floors below them. The night was quiet, with only scattered bursts of drunken laughter and shuffling feet to interrupt it. Martha could almost hear her own heart breaking. Ray watched her and said no more of God.
Taylor had most likely already gone to sleep. Her guests had all but returned to their own homes, leaving Martha and Ray as the sole guardians of the complex. Three A.M. had come and gone. Martha stood still on the doormat of Room 300.
Ray spoke, and Martha couldn’t tell when he had begun to speak like a scratched record. He was in the doorframe behind her, his arms hanging lose at his sides. Martha tried not to look back at him too often, but found him hard to completely ignore. He was calmer than she had imagined a cocaine addict would be. Apart from the way he couldn’t keep the words from coming out of his mouth, and the way his long fingers twitched as his spoke, he seemed like any other boy leaned up against a doorway on a late night.
                Martha tried to focus on his fingers, on those occasions when she couldn’t resist turning his way. They were beautiful, insofar as one’s fingers could be beautiful. All of him had been beautiful to her, only a couple of hours before. His fingers, his hair, his collarbone, his words. Was she allowed to find him beautiful now? She gripped her necklace tight, nearly ripping it from her neck. She knew what people said about people like Ray, about sinners. Was she allowed to thank God for him now?  She couldn’t stand on his doorstep any longer.
                “I have work in the morning,” he said as she tried to hand him back his coat, “You keep it. I’ll come and get it before I leave.”
                His voice was full of hope. Overflowing with it. It grated on Martha’s ears and she smiled politely. She left Room 300 and let herself in to Taylor’s apartment. The only place left for her to sleep was the floor. She curled underneath Ray’s large jacket guiltily, like a dog. She fell asleep immediately and dreamt of angels.
                 In the morning, she left at sunrise. Taylor seemed glad to see her go. The coat she left on Israel’s doorway, taking care not to make enough noise to wake him. The note she had written him remained crumpled in her left hand.
                 She was not ready to face God again just yet. 
 
– Elizabeth Rose
 
 

essay #11

cave painting
 
WHY NARRATIVE WRITING MATTERS
 
As hunters and fishermen, we have a need to tell stories. It has always been so, since the beginning of recorded time. The first stories that humans ever told, that we are aware of, are recorded in the pictographs painted on the cave walls of Lascaux in southwestern France. They are more than 20,000 years old. They do not tell stories of love or war, or of politics or philosophy. They tell stories of hunting. Paleolithic scholars believe that some of these drawings of bison, cats, bear and rhinoceros are accounts of past hunting successes and are a mystic ritual to improve the chances for success in future hunts.
            As outdoor writers, this is the tradition we come from. Our Paleolithic ancestors were the first storytellers. The need to tell our stories, to record them so that others might read them and learn from them and draw inspiration from them, is one of the oldest human impulses. It began with cave art and the oral tradition. As we developed written language, our hunting and fishing stories became narratives on pages made of papyrus, wasp nests, and finally wood paper. Narrative writing does not have to instruct, though it can instruct. It does not need to illuminate larger issues or reveal fundamental human truths, though the best of it can do that too. Its primary purpose is simply to tell a story.
            One of the greatest fishing stories I ever read was written by Roderick Haig Brown and began something like this: “I’ve told this story before in different ways but as it is the best story I know . . .” –he then proceeds to talk about trolling in a rowboat for king salmon in a place where nobody had caught salmon before. There is no moral to his story except the unwritten one, that the best fishing, and hunting, too, has a sense of discovery at its core. Nobody wants to read a story about fishing for hire, a man casting his line where a finger points, or a man pressing the trigger after the guide has done all the real hunting. The gun writer Elmer Keith wrote one of the best hunting stories I ever read, and it was just his account of one soggy, rainy day’s hunt up on the Lochsa River in Idaho. Keith is the only one in the story, turning the bowl of his pipe down so the rain won’t put it out, and tracking elk, killing elk, and dressing them out in the dark, providing winter meat for his family and the families of those other hunters back in camp. Keith wrote stories as if he was telling them to a friend and in fact in his later years his stories were dictated. His detractors, and there were many, fault him for being ungrammatical and not having the slightest idea how to use punctuation, that compared to someone who had real writing skills like his nemesis Jack O’Connor, the late great gun editor of Outdoor Life, Keith was a very poor writer. They entirely miss the point. Good writing may accompany good storytelling, as it does in Haig-Brown’s stories but isn’t necessary. A raw story, told straight, like Elmer Keith’s, is often better and more memorable than an elegant story that lacks narrative drive. The skill is not in the perfect crafting of sentences, but what those sentences say, the art of storytelling.
            Let me make that point in another way. When I was preparing this essay, I started by making a list of what are to me the greatest hunting and fishing stories ever written. Of those, only three were written by undeniably great writers. The are William Faulkner’s “The Bear” from Go Down Moses, “Big Two-hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway, and “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” also by Hemingway. Let me excerpt a couple pages from the beginning of the “Short Happy Life.”
           
It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.
       “Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?” Macomber asked.
       “I’ll have a gimlet,” Robert Wilson told him.
       “I’ll have a gimlet too. I need something,” Macomber’s wife said.
       “I suppose it’s the thing to do,” Macomber agreed. “Tell him to make three gimlets.”
       The mess boy had started them already, lifting the bottles out of the canvas cooling bags that sweated wet in the wind that blew through the trees that shaded the tents.
       “What had I ought to give them?” Macomber asked. “A quid would be plenty,” Wilson told him. “You don’t want to spoil them.” “Will the headman distribute it?” “Absolutely.”
       Francis Macomber had, half an hour before, been carried to his tent from the edge of the camp in triumph on the arms and shoulders of the cook, the personal boys, the skinner and the porters. The gun-bearers had taken no part in the demonstration. When the native boys put him down at the door of his tent, he had shaken all their hands, received their congratulations, and then gone into the tent and sat on the bed until his wife came in. She did not speak to him when she came in and he left the tent at once to wash his face and hands in the portable wash basin outside and go over to the dining tent to sit in a comfortable canvas chair in the breeze and the shade.
       “You’ve got your lion,” Robert Wilson said to him, “and a damned fine one too.”
       Mrs. Macomber looked at Wilson quickly. She was an extremely handsome and well-kept woman of the beauty and social position which had, five years before, commanded five thousand dollars as the price of endorsing, with photographs, a beauty product which she had never used. She had been married to Francis Macomber for eleven years.
       “He is a good lion, isn’t he?” Macomber said. His wife looked at him now. She looked at both these men as though she had never seen them before.
       One, Wilson, the white hunter, she knew she had never truly seen before. He was about middle height with sandy hair, a stubby mustache, a very red face and extremely cold blue eyes with faint white wrinkles at the corners that grooved merrily when he smiled. He smiled at her now and she looked away from his face at the way his shoulders sloped in the loose tunic he wore with the four big cartridges held in loops where the left breast pocket should have been, at his big brown hands, his old slacks, his very dirty boots and back to his red face again. She noticed where the baked red of his face stopped in a white line that marked the circle left by his Stetson hat that hung now from one of the pegs of the tent pole.
       “Well, here’s to the lion,” Robert Wilson said. He smiled at her again and, not smiling, she looked curiously at her husband.
       Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.
 
            In those short paragraphs, Hemingway introduces three vividly drawn characters and sets the stage for the unfolding of the story. A man has turned and run when charged by a lion. From here the story will flash back to the hunt for the lion, and then forward to the next day when Macomber must face his demons and try to resurrect his manhood while hunting Cape buffalo. It is a story of redemption. It is not only a great hunting story. It is a great story, and widely considered one of the most perfectly crafted short stories written in the English language.
            Now, what does this story share with the other two I’ve mentioned, besides artistic merit and the subject matter?
            There are two things all these stories have in common that strike to the heart of great narrative writing. The first is that all three are fiction. “The Short Happy Life” was inspired by a story Hemingway heard about a titled European woman who accidentally shot her husband while on safari, and the white hunter, Robert Wilson, was based on two professional hunters who were friends of Hemingway, Philip Perceival and Bror Blixen. But the story itself came about in the customary manner—one person shutting a door and stringing together lies summoned from the ether. That’s not to say that all great writing has to be fiction—but all great writing draws from fiction; it relies on fiction techniques. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, for if it is true that ancient hunters and fisherman were the first storytellers, I’m guessing it is equally true that they were the first liars. I can image some cave man finding a mountain goat that was killed in a rock slide and dragging it home to his cavewoman and while she cooks it, painting a picture on the rock wall showing the goat charging and the hunter standing firm with his spear. And her shrieking, “Liar! Liar! Liar!” like the wife of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride when he’s trying to breathe life back into the Man in Black with a bellows stuck down his throat.  And let’s face it, has that really changed in 20,000 years?
            Who amongst us can honestly say that no one has ever accused him of stretching the truth in print, or at least around the campfire? Where I live in Montana, I hear stories about 20-inch trout being caught every day of the season; I’ve seen some of those 20-inch trout, which invariably grow to 22 inches by the second telling, and they were 17 inches. Honest 20-inch trout, unless you fish at night, come to the net once or maybe twice a summer. We are natural born liars. And this isn’t something to be ashamed about. In fact, it’s to our advantage. It gives us a leg up on other writers, those soulless city dwellers who read literature in which nothing ever happens but bad behavior and then, when they try to emulate it, find they may have ink, but what their pens lack is blood. I have a friend, Barbara Peters, who owns the Poisoned Pen Press and The Poisoned Pen Mystery Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. Barbara has mentored a great many writers over the years and likes to say that a story that doesn’t work can be fixed, but that there’s no cure for a boring writer. You’re either interesting and vital or you aren’t, and we hunters and fishermen have the right stuff. It’s in our DNA. All we have to do is get out of way of ourselves and let the stories we were born to tell find their way onto the page.
            Now, there’s something else the three stories I mentioned have in common: They’re old. Really old. “Big-Two Hearted River” was written in the 1920s. “The Short Happy Life” was written in the mid ’30s. “The Bear” was first published in 1942.
Great hunting and fishing stories, fiction or fact, endure. To my mind, the greatest true hunting stories ever written were Jim Corbett’s tales of man-eating tigers and leopards. I was six weeks in India following his footsteps. Much of Jim Corbett’s India no longer exists. Most of the tiger habitat in the India Corbett knew is no more, and in many areas the tiger itself has disappeared into the realm of myth. But the stories in “Man-eaters of Kumaon” are as thrilling to read today as they ever were.      
            The greatest reading experience of my life happened when our Volkswagen bus broke down when my family was on a camping trip in the Rocky Mountains. We had to be towed into Denver to get a new engine put in the van. I was nine years old, and at one point, my mom dropped me off in a public library to read for a couple hours. My dad had told me about Jim Corbett and I found one of his books in the library. I thought I’d only have time to read one story, so I chose the longest one in the book, which was “The Talla Des Man-eater.” On that first trip west from our home in Appalachia, I caught my first decent-sized trout, saw my first bear, saw the sun come up to illuminate my first ever mountains. But what I remember most is reading the story of a man with an abscess that threatened to explode inside his brain, who was in so much pain he could no longer sleep, and who, with one eye squeezed shut and his right eardrum destroyed, hunted on foot and alone, at night as well as by day a man-eating tiger in the foothills of the Himalayas. I opened that book wanting to lead a life of great adventure. I closed it wanting to write about it.  
            I think what I’m trying to say is that the craft of narrative writing matters. It has the power to move us in ways that other forms of outdoor writing can’t and the best of it is timeless. Read an article about how to catch fish and it is out of date in ten months. Read a piece about where to hunt elk and there may be no elk there by the time you shoulder your pack. Stories about gear are outdated before they are published (in hardcopy, anyway).
            But read a great story and it stays with you the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if you can’t recall where you read it or that the magazine you read it in has been composted and the paper returned to the earth. It is alive in your mind. When you are the writer of the story, it takes on yet another dimension. It becomes a record of those times in your life when you lived most fully. I have never kept a journal, I wish I had, but I’ve written hundreds of stories and they run together to form of diary. Those stories are what I read aloud, hour after hour, as my father lay in his death bed, hoping but uncertain that he heard them, and those stories are the legacy I will pass to my children. This is who your father was. This is who his father was. This is what I thought about taking you hunting and fishing with me, before you were ever born. Take what you will from them.
            So, that’s my pitch. That’s why I believe that outdoor writers need to pay attention to the narrative as our highest and only enduring form of art, and it’s why the editors who are so fixated on service articles should shake some of the leaves of “how-to” and “where-to-go” and “what-to-buy” to the ground, so that they can see the tree standing behind them, the one form of outdoor writing that has roots, and find some space to run our stories.
 
– Keith McCafferty
continue…

story #11

angels
 
ANGELS
 
There are four angels that work at New York Presbyterian Hospital, not guardian angels, but union workers who step in to offer technical support every now and then. Mostly, they end up helping the guardian angels find their way around. There are over a thousand beds and you wouldn’t believe how lost they get. Just last the week they found one of them wandering around in the sub-basement. She was crying and everything, damn near hyperventilating, in fact. Finding ones like that takes up a lot of angel time. Other than that, the hospital angels spend the majority of their time playing cards in the cafeteria on the second floor. Once in a while they flutter around the atrium doing loop-the-loops. Their wings aren’t anything to write home about, but they still get the job done.  Angels wings are like our hearts or lungs. They are always beating even when the angels aren’t paying attention. Most angels can fly a little, but a lot of them can’t fly very well because they don’t practice all that often and it’s like anything else. Sometimes, when the Angel Louis gets tired of the others, he flies up through the ceiling and out over the Hudson River. He’s better than average with flight. If he were visible, he’d look almost like a bird from a distance. The trees and water shimmer.
 
The others worry about him, even though they don’t say so. They also think he is a little crazy and don’t know what he’s on about half the time. Why, just the other day he started up about how he wants to go to medical school, never mind his invisibility. He says he’ll just sit in back and soak it all in. And he’s been spending time in the OR! He hovers over the operating table, sometimes even brushing a wing against a doctor’s hand. The others know because they follow him. One day, between games of bridge, they confront him about it. What gives? The Angel Louis is reluctant to answer. Finally, he says that he wants to learn about medicine because he wants to see if maybe he could be reassigned. They are doing all kinds of amazing things now with hormones, and he’s always felt like a Hindu man trapped in the body of a Judeo-Christian angel. The others aren’t sure what to make of this. Two of them are pretty sure he’s full of shit. The third thinks he’s confused, but is touched by his desire to go to medical school even though she’s pretty sure he won’t actually go through with it.
 
But who knows? she thinks. Maybe he really could get reassigned. Maybe when their rotation ends. But God only knows when that will be.
 
– Benjamin Resnick
 

poem #44

continuum
 
CONTINUUM
 
The thoughts. The hope. The ludicrous and ravaging expectations. Boundaries have been set and I walked far over the limit. I almost lost myself, I clearly made myself a predator as much as a prey. Devastating monster he called himself. I think he is more like a tumor, a gangrenous, malignant mass. Calcified yet not impossible to extract.
 
Already, in a surgical way, I incised the numbers, the pictures and all the words left here and there so as to hide all the shameful secrets from the eyes and the ears of the formidable fairies.
 
Now there are feelings—the hardest to combat. Like a storm they shatter everything into tiny pieces, they flood all the space I have kept for the one and only, my lovely leprechaun.
 
–  Walter Ruhlmann
 
continue…

novel #1.5

cadillac 51
 
BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC
 
Chapter 5 (To read this novel from the beginning, click here)
 
To his credit, JJ tried to pay for the damage to my Miata after craning his neck to see my smashed up front bumper. That’s before he understood who I was, when he still thought a few dollars could get him out of the embarrassment of being caught cock-fisted and bleeding on his upholstery. I insisted we go by the book and take down each other’s insurance and snap photographs. He opened his glove compartment, retrieved a checkbook and a pen, and started writing. “Ten thousand,” he said, waving the check at me between his fore and middle fingers as if it were a cigarette. I took it. It was a personal check, which showed at least some good judgment. He had scribbled it out in a shaky hand with the words Pay to cash. I would have preferred it if he’d left it blank, allowing me to insert any word in the world. If I were to put down say the name of a known drug dealer or child pornographer, I could make life rather sticky for mister Jud Junior. No matter. I folded it, put it in my wallet in my purse, and said, “Aren’t you kind? And here I thought I was in the wrong. Let me park and I’ll buy you a drink.”
            “I don’t drink,” he told me.
            “A soda, then? Or a tonic water? Or a juice? I’ll buy you whatever it is you do drink.”
            He looked awkwardly at me and then at his shirt and pants, the stains of blood dark against the off-white fabrics.
            “We can go to my place,” I said. “Or yours. We don’t have to do the club.”
            In my mind, given enough options, JJ would have to say yes. He had been disturbed, if somewhat violently, in the midst of pleasuring himself, and I felt that by leaning forward and displaying what modest cleavage I could, surely the prehistoric parts of his brain would get the better of him. I admit that I was tempted to forgo this line of flirtation, to tell him bluntly what an ass he was, to ask him if he’d ever heard of Pap. Pap, I knew, would get a kick out of all of this. But what would I gain by showing my hand? Wouldn’t I gain more with the promise of showing my breasts, my buttocks, with the promise of touching his ears with my lips? Wouldn’t it be interesting in at least an anthropological way to see the path this man would pursue? To get a sense of his desires and fetishes and animal perversities? Was he a magnum or a pencil pusher? A lover or a sadist? You will understand that I have, for the last ten years, been supremely self-confident when acting within the role of my profession. I am an arsonist. A con artist. A criminal. A woman. I am five-feet-nine and one-quarter inches tall in my bare feet, heels firmly on the floor. I weigh an average of 136 pounds when I awake, according to a digital, biometric scale. My percent body fat rounds up to five. During the course of the day, I gain an average of three pounds in water weight that shows in my paunch like a burgeoning beer belly. I cannot be scared or sloppy or start second-guessing myself when I am handling a client or servant. I have to play whatever part I choose with my whole heart, mind, and body down to the tremble of my lower lip, the thrust of my hips, and the whisper of my breath. By turns I am a predator, a floozy, an intellectual, a virgin, a bitch, a lesbian. I carry out these roles as required to whatever extent necessary. I use protection usually. I carry mace always. I have once employed the high-prong setting of an emerald cut ruby ring to slice a man’s thigh nearly to the femoral artery. He proceeded to strangle me until I lost consciousness, and I am still not sure entirely why didn’t kill me. Certainly from the standpoint of pain and terror, that incident ranks as the closest I have come to my own death. But all of this is only to say that I have gauged the risks of my profession through personal experience. I am not a simpleton. I am not a naïf. I am not overconfident. And I am not to be pitied.
            My right headlight was out and I didn’t feel like risking getting pulled over on the highways so I parked in a garage on Evernia Street then joined JJ in the Cadillac. He was dabbing at his shirt with a wet napkin. Without looking at me, he said, “Where do you live?”
            “South,” I told him. “A guy’s there. Maybe. Maybe not be the best place to go.”
            “I’m out in the country,” he said, his words coming out in defeat. Who was this man? A virgin? An ineffectual depressive? I realized how very little I understood him. I let him sit with only his own answer for a minute while I buckled and put my hands on the hem of my skirt. Finally, bashfully, he lifted his eyes. “Isn’t too far. Hour drive is all.”
            A wonderful lie! It was an hour-and-twenty minutes doing eighty on the highways in the light of day. At night? A good hour-forty. Unless he had a different place in mind.
            “Good thing for you I’m a country girl,” I said. “Take me the hell out of this city, mister. West Palm ain’t good for nothing but dinging up my car.”
 
(To read BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC from the beginning, click here
 
– Candice Cousins

poem #43

PBJ
 
SHE BUYS ME PEANUT BUTTER TO SHOW ME LOVE
 
My mother was in the Comfort Army-
her battle was against fearful men. They
opened her legs like oyster shells to
look for pearls they could never hope to
find there; to dip in the salty brine of
my mother’s aspirations, leaking down
her chin. She sends me sensible shoes
and peanut butter on my birthday so
I can remember that these things are
not always bought with money; although
some men are generous, maybe like
my dad. She tells me that he was the
nicest one, even though she still drank
dong quai after he left so that his child,
her daughter, would never be anything
more than a dream. So I would never learn
how to stare through eyelashes like picket
fences until the shuddering nights when it’s
best to not look, or how to hide bruises
with sliced potatoes. She sold all her dreams
for the key to the bed of a man who was
guilty enough to marry her; so I bought them
back with my diplomas and jelly sandwiches
and the way I whisper in her ear, “Mother,
you birthed pride and I rose up out of terror
with a neck as straight as matriarchs,
your pain was the foundation upon which
I will lift you up; on a dais will I comfort
you with every drop of my love. Come
home, dear soldier, you don’t have to fight
no more.”
 
 – Pattie Flint
 
continue…

poem #42

miss carols dumplings 3
 
MISS CAROL’S DUMPLINGS
 
Every month or so
on a Sunday afternoon
I skip the football game
and get in my truck
and drive out from the city
into farm country
to visit Miss Carol
and get my hands
on her plump dumplings.
Biggest I’ve ever seen.
Best I’ve ever had,
terrific with her
legs and thighs.
When she lays out 
her chicken dinner  
on that white tablecloth
I start drooling before
I even get a hand on it.
A farm girl, she says 
she’s never met 
a man like me
so nuts am I
about her dumplings.
Usually, she says,
men like breast meat,
when it’s moist,
and I allow how I
like that as well
but not as much 
as her plump dumplings
on a Sunday afternoon
and her pluperfect
legs and thighs.
 
– Donal Mahoney
 

story #10

pillow talk
 
PILLOW TALK
 
He had seen them come and he’d seen them go. Young ladies, full of promise but never having the gumption to see it through to the end.
            Then along came Cindy.
            Before he met her she would walk through suburban neighborhoods carrying her Little Mermaid pillow and looking for a fight.
            Maybe it’s more accurate to say they found each other. Whatever the case, potential without training and a firm guiding hand becomes just another cliché played out to an uncaring audience. That’s what he told her anyway.
            He liked to think of himself as more of an Aristotle than a Don King: perhaps that’s why he gave her the moniker Cindy the Great. He taught her the game and she did what she was told and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich came together… with chips.
            It wasn’t until he was able to get her invited to some slumber parties in the inner city that she realized just how rough and tumble the world she was about to enter could be. Let’s just say that these little girls never needed someone to wrap a string around their baby teeth and give a yank to dislodge them. Some nights the tooth fairy left with her bag full up.
            Cindy never gave less than 100%. She did the pushups and the sit-ups and she chased the chickens as instructed. She drank the raw eggs because she saw that in a movie once. 
            He tried to convince her to switch to a cotton pillowcase, but she was loyal to her old nylon one. She said it felt comfortable in her hand.
            She had a swing that came along once in a lifetime. Sometimes they would have to pry the other girl out of the drywall. Once he was done polishing her technique, working on her center of gravity, getting her to pivot from the hips and follow-through correctly, she was unstoppable.
            Cindy the Great had arrived.
            She barnstormed through the circuit and soon her dance card was filled every Friday and Saturday night. Sleeping bag in one hand and cold compresses in the other, she set out each weekend to defend her title.
            And then just as quickly, it was over.
            She was about to turn thirteen. Teens weren’t invited to any of the high profile get-togethers. Pillow fighting was a young girl’s game.
            He sat at her bedside on the eve of her thirteenth birthday. His last night as her mentor.
            “You remember the end of Million Dollar Baby?” he asked her as he stroked her hair.
            “The one with Hilary Swank?” she asked innocently.
            “Yep. That’s the one.”
            She looked up at him. “Doesn’t he kill her at the end?”
            “Yes. Yes he does.” He gazed leisurely up at the ceiling.
            “Are you thinking about killing me?” the girl asked half-jokingly.
             After a deep sigh he slowly looked back down at her and  returned to stroking her hair.
             “Nope. Just funny that he used a pillow.”
             She relaxed a little and said, “Yeah, I guess that is funny.”
 
 – Lance Manion
continue…

essay #10

Max the Cat-2
 
KAT CATCHES A CAT
 
I have never been a cat person. I’ve never had a cat. I had a dog once, and for a while I managed to keep a hamster alive. But I’ve never had even a single cat-tending experience, so when called upon to capture and care for my neighborhood stray, I was hesitant.
              I first met him after my roommate Kara and I moved into the bottom-floor unit of a four-plex that bordered a trailer park and a street that doubled as a freeway entrance. He was a handsome cat of stocky build, a sturdy 20 pounds, white-whiskered with pale blue eyes, and the tip of his right ear was missing, marking him a warrior of the streets. He was also “intact” as they call it – a fact that was obvious as he strutted by us with his tail held high and slightly crooked in greeting, showing off two enormous furry cat balls.
              While it was still warm out, we would leave the front door open, and he would let himself in and rub his head vigorously against our legs, purring so loudly and deeply it was almost a growl. I soon met his owners, the family who lived in the unit above my own. The father looked to be in his early-thirties, wiry-thin and pale with black hair, and his wife looked the same, except with washed-out blond hair. They had an adorable one-year-old son. I once caught Jake – the father – sitting on the stairs outside, petting his cat.
              “Your cat is so friendly, he hangs by our door all the time,” I told him.
              “Oh yeah? That’s good. He’s pretty choosy about the folks he likes.”
               “What’s his name?” I asked, letting myself into my apartment.
               “It’s M…” was all I heard before Jake went up the stairs and I closed my door.
               When I retold this encounter to Kara, she asked me if I ever figured out the cat’s full name.
               “I’m not sure, maybe it was Max or something.”
                And that’s how he became Max the cat.
                I didn’t much interact with Jake again, but for those first two months, my roommate and I heard multiple episodes of yelling and cussing coming from upstairs. Max would hide under the steps next to our front door. I would sit and keep him company but it seemed like he was always there, waiting for his owners to let him in or pay him some attention. And as the weather turned colder, the father didn’t seem to be around anymore, and Max was constantly outside. When it started consistently raining, as it does in Seattle, I would try to coax him into my house, but he would stay stubbornly under the stairs. The girls who lived next door told me they’d heard that Jake had gone to rehab.
               “For what?” I asked.
               “Meth,” one girl whispered.
               “No, it was Oxy,” said the other.
                I never found out definitely what Jake had to be rehabilitated from, but the girls agreed that the mom had moved out with her son to live elsewhere with her family. The unit was empty.
                I didn’t see Max during the months of December and January, the coldest time of the year in Seattle. I had started leaving dry cat food and a bowl of water outside by the stairs but it was rarely touched, and when it was, after close scrutiny, I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t just a raccoon or other animal eating it. Finally around mid-February, I caught a glimpse of a black cat slinking around the shrubbery by the stairs. I put out cat food again, but this time I used the canned kind, hoping the strong stink of tinned tuna would attract it. That night I glimpsed a cat coming out from under the shadows to sniff at the bowl. I was returning from work and as soon as it heard me, it ran under the stairs and disappeared. No matter how I looked around the complex, cat food in one hand, flashlight in the other, I couldn’t find the cat. I left the food outside and gave up. The next morning, the bowl was licked clean.
                Kara and I started leaving cat food out once a day and it was almost always completely finished by sunup. We began to see the cat more frequently, but it was still too skittish for us to confirm that it was, in fact, Max the cat. Finally, one day when I opened the front door, instead of darting away, the cat froze, gave me a good hard stare, and continued eating. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was Max but he looked so different: so much smaller, his skin and fur dangling from mere bones and muscles. And his bright blue eyes had turned black, pupils dilated from starvation. His fur was much darker than before, too, dirty and matted from sleeping outside. He had a deep cut above his right foreleg, which extended to his chest, and although it was scarring over, it was definitely a fresh wound.
                For months, we fed and coaxed him every day but were still unable to get him to come inside the house. Our year-long lease was ending. Kara was moving out to live with her boyfriend and his dog, and I was moving into a townhouse with two other friends. We were all worried about Max. He was becoming less skittish and friendlier but we had found traces of blood on our front steps, possibly left by a cat that had tried to help itself to Max’s food. We couldn’t keep leaving cat food outside if it was attracting other animals, nor could we ask the next tenants to continue feeding him, and since Kara couldn’t take him, I was left with either trying to catch him with the hope of changing a wild, tough, outdoor, cousin-to-lions tomcat into a domestic, indoor Garfield, or leave him to continue fending for himself for who-knows how much longer. I chose the former.
                 First, I recruited the help of two other people. We tried to lure Max into a kitty kennel with food, treats, catnip, toys, and a laser pointer. When Max found that he couldn’t get to the food in any way besides bodily entering the cage, he laid down a foot away from it and gave us a look that clearly said, “Fuck you.” One of my friends was able to pick him up but as soon as they approached the kennel, Max kicked his hind legs into my friend’s side, squirmed out of his hold and once again walked just out of reach from us. He began cleaning himself. We went home after that. I knew I had lost that night.
                 A week later, I waited for two hours on the steps of my empty apartment with cat food and a book, but he must have been too busy that day.
                 The third time I tried to catch him, I was so determined that I even scheduled an appointment at the veterinarian’s office for the next morning. That afternoon, when Max showed up, I didn’t wait around. I had my boyfriend with me, and he propped the kennel up vertically, door held open, and I distracted Max with some foul-smelling food, and when he started eating it, I quickly picked him up and plopped him tail-first into the kennel and locked the door before he could react. The car ride home was filled with yowls of complaint. But Max was finally mine.
                 Now, I wonder if I did the right thing. Successfully catching a ten-year-old cat was certainly nothing I’d ever planned for in my life. Have I rescued or captured him? Does he hate me for taking him away from his life of outdoor adventure or does he appreciate the effort my friends and I have exerted in order to find him a good home? Max now stalks around our house, demands loudly to be fed, and has marked my bed as his own. Perhaps he has caught me and not I him.
                 One thing is for sure: dogs are so much more grateful.
 
– Kat Chen
 

poem #41

weather map 2
 
WATCHING THE WEATHER CHANNEL IN JULY
 
Hot and dry, upper 90´s in Dubai.
The rains remain across England.
Typhoons once more, south of Lahore.
New York is humid as usual.
 
Spain dry, Belgium wet.
Jakarta, Doha, Rio, Peru:
faraway places, shaded red or blue,
white for snow. They don’t seem so, so
faraway. Perhaps I will call
an old lover in New York
and ask if it’s all really true.
I will say, ´So it’s humid in New York.´
Every day, she will say. Every single day.
 
Baghdad is hot, as Baghdad ought.
Germany got the rain it expected.
London is rainy, predictably grey.
The storm moves south on Tuesday.
 
Typhoons in Malaysia,
typhoons in Jakarta,
a time for sun, a time for fog.
The timing of the storm
was right on time.
 
But things cannot be like they are,
said a faraway voice, insisting.
How are you there? Are you really there?
I do not think New York today
feels at all like New York.
 
Dubai hot and dry,
rain in Berlin,
floods in Bangladesh.
Dubai was Dubai,
New York was New York,
I was myself,
it was all as it was,
it’s always cold in the mountains.
 
You were you,
I was me,
my life was my own
to live
and reality –
well, that’s reality.
 
Of late I begin
to disbelieve the weatherman.
Things are not, perhaps,
at all what they are.
Today Dubai
is hot and dry
and raining, raining, raining.
 
– Matthew Saks
 

poem #40

ocean going
 
OCEAN-GOING
 
We sit on rocks, dangle toes over striped-gray sand.
The water’s always coming in, always going out.
With the ocean so restless, why shouldn’t we be?
I could just as easily be with another,
but eventually I’d come back to you.
You feel that same pull away from me,
then the inevitable tug into my arms.
Ten years together, ten years of such tides.
But some water stays behind, burrows into sand,
laps about the stones, froths in place.
We can dip our fingers in it. The coldness soothes.
A small pond but a page out of our life story:
the stillness, the small circumference,
and yet contentment in the lack of movement,
the manageable horizons that never get away from us.
We love the beach like we love each other,
awed by the oceans but safe in our pools.
 
 – John Grey
 
continue…

novel #1.4

bigger than a cadillac 4
 
BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC
 
Chapter 4 (To read this novel from the beginning, click here)
 
Together, Jud and Jud Hanson Jr. (JJ) operate the largest cattle operation in Palm Beach County, which in itself doesn’t mean much. They rear cattle, sell cattle, and show cattle—and the selling and showing means moving livestock across state and sometimes international lines. This is the aspect of their business that concerns Pap and therefore me. Because Pap’s been looking for a way to move merchandise ever since SunKoro, the outboard motor and dirt bike company we formerly employed, went up in literal flames two months ago. En fuego. A giant industrial complex spouting soot and gorgeous orange flickers and flashes and fireballs in the dead of night. Hard to put the thing out. Damn near impossible, really. And such a waste. The good people at SunKoro just couldn’t understand how replaceable they were—they wanted to increase their per transaction fee, which is not a negotiation you try with Pap. Pap negotiates you.
                I won’t say how that fire started. But I’ll say this: no one was on the property when the first delicate flames lapped the air. I’ve always done my best to keep clear of murder charges. That’s what Pap’s got Bruce for—too bad for the SunKoro people. Anyway, the bitch of it is that those pasty patsies (of the palest American skin, for what it’s worth—trailer trash frat boys using a fake Japanese company name, Lord knows why, maybe to sound like more legitimate competitors with Yamaha)—have actually proved pretty tough to replace.continue…

poem #39

Composed decomposed
 
COMPOSED YET DECOMPOSED
 
At the Point, the fog horns bellow
in shades of gray so desperate
I can feel the rock shore tremble
with pity. The upthrust of schist
and pale weathered gneiss challenges
my shaky old legs, but I step
from ledge to ledge by faking
grace I’ve never received. Farewell
to the island view, the sailboats
that might be tacking out there.
Farewell to ghostly kayakers
slipping too close to the breaking surf.
The fog renders distance useless,
folds the shore and surf together.
One misstep and I’ll break something
and flop like seafood while the gulls
peck out my liver and share it.
At low points, tide pools whisper
about crabs and barnacles and weed.
I try not to listen, but musings
in low tones the ear can’t define
always distract me. By noon
this fluff will whisk itself away,
leaving a sheen on dimensions
too delicate or stubborn to hide,
but for now the imposture’s complete.
No wonder I’m a little dizzy:
I forgot my dawn medication,
that creepy little pill that sears
the throat and settles like ballast.
In this density I’d forget
my name if it didn’t adhere
in five syllables to my pulse.                     
Three terns pose against the gloom.
I’d snap a prize-winning photo
if the effort wouldn’t topple me
into the foam. Better sit down
on a dry slab and recover
what remains of my senses.
I’ll convince myself a horizon
still lurks out there to help me
distinguish upright from prone.
 
– William Doreski
 
 
continue…

short story #9

Winnebago
 
FATHERS
 
The twelve-foot underpass on this two-lane backroad momentarily stopped us. Mr. Hester was borrowing the ten-foot Winnebago from his father-in-law and never made the connection that he had a three-foot air conditioner on top.
            He was driving our Methodist church youth group to a summer music festival at Camp Sumatanga, a thankless endeavor given our crew of teenaged hormones.
            Greeeeeaaaaaaaak.
            “Goddamyoumotherfuckinsunuvafabitch.”
            The last five syllables, barely comprehensible, hit decibel levels beyond the nearby hills.
            “Benny!  Get out and check it!”
            And so Benny, his son, did, stepping in fresh dog shit on the roadside, and muttering to himself as he returned to the rolling cabin on his way to the shower stall. 
 
My father laughed when I told him this tale the next day.
            “What a schmuck,” he said.
            He never went on such trips, never volunteered to go. He never owned a Winnebago either, or wanted to. He was wiser than Mr. Hester. 
            And Jewish.
 
– Terry Barr
 
 
 
continue…

poem #38

if all goes well
 
IF ALL GOES WELL
 
He’s leaving soon. Very soon. I’ve been thinking lately that it’s strange how I feel about
it. He’ll be missed, of course. He’s a regular installment in the house now. But for some
reason when I think about the leaving, I can’t see beyond to the return. I can’t picture
him coming back. It’s like I’m never going to see him again. Oh, he’ll come back. But it
won’t be the same. He won’t be the same. Something in him that has caused him to find
himself in this place in his life will leave him, if all goes well. It has caused his family
to see that he needs a change. It has caused him to see that he needs a change. And he
knows it’s about to happen. When he goes away, he won’t come back the same. He’ll
come back without it, if all goes well. A piece of the boy in him will stay on the remnants
of that glacier that has been destroyed by the global warming that doesn’t exist. The
freezing tumultuous terrain will shoot cold splinters of manhood through him, if all goes
well. A lot of grief has been in the making of this expedition, and a lot of love and care. It
will all be worth it in the end, if all goes well.
 
– Dominique R. Scalia

essay #9

blue jasmine
 
BLUE JASMINE
 
In his 1949 essay “Tragedy and the Common Man,” Arthur Miller defines tragedy as a crisis of “personal dignity.” Tragedy, he says, is about our “underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world.”
 
I was thinking of this classic essay as I watched “Blue Jasmine,” Woody Allen’s new film. “Blue Jasmine” tells the story of Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett), a Manhattan socialite who is very much displaced. When we first see Jasmine, she is standing on a San Francisco sidewalk toting Louis Vuitton luggage and looking utterly discombobulated. “Where am I, exactly?” she asks. The question is literal (she doesn’t know San Francisco very well) but also reflects her existential disaster (she’s lost all sense of her place in the world).
 
Jasmine is in San Francisco because she’s moving in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine’s fall from Manhattan high-society is a fable for our times. Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is a successful financier and, while times are good, the two spend their days lounging on sundecks in the Hamptons, hosting parties in beautifully appointed rooms, and debating the merits of different brands of private plane. Alas, Hal turns out to be a Madoff-esque crook and ends up in jail.
 
When the government confiscates all of Hal’s ill-gotten gains, Jasmine is left bereft of everything that gave her life meaning: money, status, her morning Pilates class. Shattered, she retreats to her sister’s apartment in San Francisco to piece her life back together. The Mission district of San Francisco is portrayed here as a blue-collar, rough-and-tumble foil for Manhattan. It’s neither here nor there but in the Mission as I know it the biggest danger is that you might overpay for a jar of artisanal Mayonnaise (small-batch, of course).
 
Theater people will recognize the film as an homage to A Streetcar Named Desire. Jasmine, like Blanche Dubois, is a quivering wreck, flitting through each scene like a fatally damaged butterfly. The role of Stanley Kowalski is shared by two blue-collar lugs that her sister Ginger dates: Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and Chili (Bobby Canavale). Both are brilliant casting choices. Dice Clay’s final monologue is a revelation, so good that you wonder if you’re really watching that Andrew Dice Clay.
 
The real star of the film, though, is Cate Blanchett, who steals literally every scene she is in. She’s almost too good for this film. There are many scenes, or individual lines, where Woody Allen has written the script in his breezy, intellectual style and Cate Blanchett just demolishes the levity like a wrecking ball. Blanchett is intensely attuned to her emotional core. She can tap into it and produce a thousand shades of anxiety or sadness at the drop of a hat. Woody Allen’s script has Jasmine frequently self-medicating with Xanax and vodka, for instance, but Blanchett expresses the entirety of Jasmine’s pain and repression with one nervous smile.
 
Ultimately, the film does diverge a little from the spirit of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” At the end of “Streetcar,” Blanche is defeated by Stanley and his cruel realism; we don’t necessarily side with Blanche and her penchant for fantasy but we pity her. In “Blue Jasmine,” Augie and Chili aren’t that cruel, they’re just regular Joes. And Jasmine’s lying is not that harmless but is seen as part of the fraud infecting the financial sector during the 1990s and early 00s. Her and Hal’s lies actually hurt people.
 
“A Streetcar Named Desire” wants to say something about the ambiguous nature of self-invention. “Blue Jasmine” wants to make the more pedestrian (but timely) point that there is a fine line between self-invention and self-delusion.
 
So what happens when we are “torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world”? In tragedies, this conflict is never resolved. King Lear goes mad. Willy Loman kills himself. Jasmine French ends up homeless and mad, sitting on a park bench talking to herself. I suppose that these are all cautionary tales for the rest of us since, as Arthur Miller suggests in his essay, we all experience this sense of “displacement.” No one is ever quite identical to their chosen image of what and who they are; there is always slippage. The only choice we have is to get comfortable sleeping on our sister’s couch in the Mission or else wind up sleeping in the park.
 
– Matthew Saks
continue…

editorial #2

Seamus Heaney
 
ON THE DEATH OF SEAMUS HEANEY
 
I awoke this morning to a crying baby and the news that Seamus Heaney was dead at the age of 74. Somber notes to start the day. If I’d taken his death to heart harder I might be drinking a whiskey neat as I write. I feel as if I should be. Instead I’ve been reading “The Skunk” to my three-month-old and telling him what little I know about Mr. Heaney, which is as follows:
            One, he was a fabulous poet. He had an ear reminiscent of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s and a knack for fantastic juxtapositions of words, images, and ideas. (To read more on Mr. Heaney’s ear for music, see Matthew Saks’s excellent essay at DenverCritic). I have always felt, upon opening his collections, that I will be in for a treat. Simply holding Opened Ground seems to expand my vocabulary and general intelligence if only by heady osmosis. 
            But the other thing I told my son is that Mr. Heaney will likely be best remembered historically for his translation of Beowulf, widely hailed as the most readable and lyrical translation of that epic ever penned for contemporary readers. Mr. Heaney’s Beowulf came out in 1999, was adopted into the Norton Anthologies in 2000, and pretty much every high school, college, and graduate student in the English-speaking world who has been assigned the poem since  has read Mr. Heaney’s translation. I slyly told my boy that it’s a story about swords, monsters, and dragons that he’ll love and that he needs to have consumed it by age six. Of course, he’ll probably resent me. But if I had to squint at that tiny Norton typeset for hundreds of pages then so should he. Actually and perhaps partly in retrospect and out of nostalgia, I find that I quite like Beowulf and am looking forward to slogging through it again.
           I will always love Mr. Heaney most, however, for his shorter verse, and will leave you now with these opening lines from “The Skunk,” which seem appropriate on the occasion of this sad day:
 
Up, black, striped and damasked like the chasuble
At a funeral mass, the skunk’s tail
Paraded the skunk.
 
– Thomas McCafferty
 

poem #37

socks
 
LOVE AND SOCKS
 
My fiancé relishes his nudity: no undies, no wife beaters,
no Brooks Brothers khakis, and no sneakers,
which would be fine if he wore no argyle socks
to boot, so to speak. They cling to his feet
like twin leeches with diamond blood patterns
imprinted on their black skins. Starkly, they offset
(and seem to consume) his calves, knees, thighs,
crotch, and torso, too, which are a paler
shade of ecru. He’s thirty but looks eighty 
in those socks. I say, “Take them off.”
He tells me the feet et la tête
(he’s a Francophile, God bless him)
are responsible for ninety percent
of human heat loss. Sans socks, he’d be cold.
The claim is absurd, but I can’t get in a word
edgewise, can’t get him to see that practicalities
don’t have to dictate reality, anyways,
that it’d be better for my eyes, sex drive,
and therefore him if he’d peel his socks
down his shins and roll them off his toes. 
He rubs cock-first against my denim-clad buttock
as if to prove his virility in this state of temperate harmony
he’s created by wearing only nasty socks. My feet are bare.
I feel like I’m trampling over miniature tumbleweeds
of dust and lint wherever I walk.
“The wedding’s off,” I tell him.
“You never sweep the floors.” 
 
– Kirstin O’Connor

poem #36

teddy pathology
 
TEDDY BEAR PATHOLOGY
 
Someone once said,
a teddy bear is a projection
of your early fears of spaces
& absolute stillness.
Of losing yourself in the shafts
endless as you. You rip Teddy to shreds.
You stitch him back together.
Tell him it was all just a misunderstanding.
You tell him to be quiet.
 
– Kyle Hemmings
 
 
continue…

novel #1.3

Cadillac 3
 
BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC
 
Chapter 3 (To read this novel from the beginning, click here)
 
As Pap snaps back Bruce’s pinkie, it occurs to me that if the man is gonna be so scaredy about security then he should also inspect our phones for bugs and our persons for wires. He has never done this, however, probably because his paranoia is married with his penchant for self-important superiority. He doesn’t believe we’re intelligent or resourceful enough to sneak anything by him in any sophisticated manner, and in his mind he knows we’re too frightened to go the police or any other agency that might help us with the difficult work. He is smart enough not to let me bring a purse inside. I argued this briefly, saying I had certain necessities in that purse (lighters, mace, toiletries, etc.). Once a month, I made a point of telling him I needed to use the restroom and “borrow” a tampon from Chelsea. I did this mostly to irritate Pap. He finally got pissy about it and, on what he said was Chelsea’s advice, bought me a Diva Cup. Now I hold my tongue.
             Bruce scrunches his face and flexes the muscles around his eyes and in his neck as he works against the pain. He makes a muted, animalistic sound nonetheless that’s reminiscent of a raccoon yowling. Pap lets go, and Bruce’s pinkie is angled obtusely, grotesquely away from his other fingers. Then it falls obliquely back in line, the color bright against his tan. Any sane person would wrap his hand in ice quick as can be, but Pap won’t allow it. The swelling is part of the punishment, an instance in which Pap’s behavior veers away from the judicious and lands on sadism. I think that’s where his heart is, really. I think that if he didn’t love his girls and Champagne and money and golf carts and club memberships so much, he’d wallow very happily in a world of hands-on pugilism, rape, and thieving. As it is, he dabbles in these areas mostly at arm’s length, allowing himself only an occasional moment of gratification, as he has here, grinning broadly, staring down at the finger that has already doubled in circumference.
              For half a minute we are all quiet, studying Bruce’s broken digit. The silence is awkward because Bruce, if he ever decided he’d had enough abuse, or more realistically if he ever became so frightened and angry that he lashed out, could be a quite formidable threat to Pap. The two men are similar in height and build with Bruce being an inch taller and some ten pounds heavier. Unquestionably, he is less intelligent than Pap. Probably, he is not as quick in the fast twitch muscle department. Perhaps he does not know as much about fighting in close quarters. Nevertheless, if I were Pap, the prospect of backlash would give me pause. Does Pap gain confidence from my presence? Does he think that I would assist him because he employs me? Honestly, I’m not sure if I would or wouldn’t. I sympathize with Bruce and usually fancy that I am in this line of work more because I’m good at it and enjoy it and not because I need the money. The money, however, is quite a perk and if the moment ever comes, the thought of future paychecks might just sway me.
             Finally, Pap shakes his head, looks sourly at Bruce and says, “Pendejo. Use that enormous head of yours. You’re no good to me without your hands.”
              Bruce nods back and forth in a rhythmic manner of agreement that translates down through his whole body. It is a motion employed more to handle the sensations in his finger than to affirm his understanding.
              Pap goes to the refrigerator and comes back with a Negra Modelo. He does not offer one to me or to Bruce and we do not expect him to. I have often considered that if I wanted to kill Pap, one of the best methods would be to spike his cervezas with some poison or other. How I would pop the caps to access the liquid, I’m not exactly sure. I suspect that Pap is careful enough that if the fizz and hiss are not perfectly consistent upon removing the cap then he would drain out the contents. I am not sure of this. It is conceivable that carefully prying off the cap, dropping in a tear of cyanide, and replacing the cap just so would do the trick.
             After taking a swig, Pap says, “Tell me what you know about Prince Rupert.”
             He doesn’t mean the city in Canada. He means the bull over in the western half of Palm Beach County. It’s a great big Chianina bull. It is rumored to weigh two tons, and on Monday that rumor will be put to the test by the good people at Hanson Dairy and the Guiness Book of World Records.
              “He’s a damn big animal,” I say.
              “He’s as white as my hand is red,” says Bruce. This is the kind of nonsensical thing that occasionally spouts from his lips when he’s trying to show how thoughtful he is—in this case to show how much of a team player he can be even as he suffers. I sympathize but can’t help rolling my eyes.
              “He is extremely white,” says Pap.
              “He’s going to break that record.” I feel I can say this with a deal of confidence. I have seen the bull. I have seen his size. He’s bigger than a damn Cadillac. Must be heavier, too. A truly stupendous animal.
              Pap spreads his hands, palms up. “Yes, if he is weighed, he will get the record. But you see, I cannot have him get the record.”
              “We could kill him,” Bruce says.
              “They would still weigh him. They would still honor him—or it’s very likely they would. And Hanson must have twenty pounds of that bull’s semen already in a bank. So it will not help me to have the bull dead. Let me add that it would be a nightmare to steal him. Where would we put him? How would we get him? Would we pasture or slaughter him? It’s difficult logistically. No, I want him to be weighed. I want him to be tested, and I want him to be disgraced.”
 
(To read BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC from the beginning, click here
 
– Candice Cousins

poem #35

The Goat-2
 
GOAT GRUFF
 
How many times has it chomped my fingers,
how many times has it tasted my earlobes,
how many times has it charged
my behind, butted my belly,
bloodied my clothes,
trampled my toes,
bruised my bones?
How wicked is the goat,
braying with laughter when I stumble?
 
There in the dirt pen, hen-pecked and speckled
white, brown, and gray,
there in the alfalfa, mowing the green,
there at the mailbox, splayed obscenely,
waiting to nip a postman’s hands,
a sheen of sweat on its neck,
a cake of dung on its tail,
in full regalia lies the goat,
barking with hatred when I approach.
 
Down in its soul, it knows it will die;
down in its blood, it pules with fear;
down in the muscles under the roots
of its hairs, it tenses, it twitches,
it bristles; it opens its eyes
and regards the barrel
of daddy’s pump gun.
Away runs the goat,
old billy, whinnying like a kid.
 
Now in an oven, tossed with carrots,
turnips, shallots, white wine,
now on a plate with suprêmes of clementines,
now in my mouth, pulling apart,
masticated, luscious, lovely,
a buttery treat for my tongue
and tummy is the meat
of the ornery goat.
I say, “Pass the gravy.”
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

poem #34

Venice Reprise
 
SLEEPLESS AGAIN IN VENICE (REPRISE)
 
Close my eyes and they’d
arrest my pasty ass, call
me a public nuisance, and
book me on a malfeasance
grievance. Eyes open, though?
No problemo.
Wait, isn’t that
Spanish?
 
I’m bloated on pizzelles.
I’ve got this moldy anise
stink. Fifty-six sleepless oras
in the Venice streets.
Too low on soldi
to afford both
a hostel bed
and
a sugar high.
 
My teeth are as fuzzy
as the fluffy cattail
bristle of a bulrush.
Got no toothbrush.
No mouthwash neither.
Just a George Dickel fever,
bottle to my lips, cocked like a pistol.
 
My sister says I’m an ugly American tourist.
She’s a boorish Puritan absurdist.
What’s wrong with tipsy?
Aren’t I class act? 100%
Tennessee lass. Notes
of sour mash whiskey
on my breath. A crucifix
between my breasts.
My God loves me
whether or not
I piss and
pass out
in San Marco Square.
 
– Kirstin O’Connor 

essay #8

Orange New Black
 
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
 
As a general rule, TV shows and movies cannot be too depressing or else no one would watch them anymore. They may take on tragic subjects, but they must conclude with some kind of saving grace. We like our entertainment to inspire, uplift. Over two thousand years ago, when the Greeks invented tragedy, they had a different idea about the role that drama should play in our lives. The Greek tragedians – particularly Euripides – wrote plays of extreme brutality. Just in the Oedipus story alone there is patricide, incest, self-mutilation, and exile – not much uplift at the end of that story. The Greeks believed, however, that it was only in being confronted directly with the unfiltered terrors of existence that an audience could achieve what they called katharsis, a full purging of the emotions that ultimately had a renewing or restorative effect on the viewer.
 
I can think of very few modern works of art that are so black that they truly yield no light. Malevich’s famous “Black Square,” perhaps. Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita. This probably means that we’re not as high-spirited as the Greeks were, because it takes tremendous joie de vivre to fully submit oneself to tragedy. That said, I am incredibly enthusiastic about the last season of Breaking Bad, because it appears that the show is speeding towards a firmly tragic conclusion. No way is Walter White getting out of the drug game with his life or his family intact.
 
All of this is really to preface some things I’d like to say about Orange is the New Black, the hit series now airing on Netflix, which I’ve been binge-watching every night until I’m exhausted and have ensured that I will be a waste of space at work the next day (seriously, it’s a problem).
 
The show is based on the real-life experience of Piper Kerman, who recently published a memoir of the same name. Piper is a self-described Boston WASP. Majored in Theatre at Smith College, speaks fondly of vacations in Provincetown. You get the idea. After college, in an experimental phase, she briefly dated a woman named Nora Jansen, who at the time happened to be employed as a heroin trafficker for a West African drug lord. Piper became entangled in the drug trafficking and ended up helping to launder a suitcase of cash internationally. After a few scary but exhilarating months of this, Piper moved on to San Francisco, where she met the man that would eventually be her husband, and together they moved to New York to start a life together. Five years later, on an afternoon in May, she was in her pajamas in her West Village walk-up, working at home as a freelance producer, when two customs officials showed up at her door to tell her she had been indicted on charges of drug smuggling and money laundering. She ended up having to serve 13 months at a federal corrections facility in Danbury, Connecticut.
 
The show is great but, for reasons I’ll elaborate, I hate it. It’s certainly riveting. You really feel like you’re getting a sneak peek inside a woman’s correctional facility. You see the hardships (bad food, sadistic guards); you see the unique social organization of the prison (cliques run along racial lines, segregating whites, latinos and blacks); and you see the general despair that goes with being incarcerated. And Piper Chapman is surrounded by a fabulous cast of characters: Sophia Burset, a courageous transsexual; Pennsatucky Doggett, a former drug addict who fervently preaches the gospel to the other inmates; “Crazy Eyes,” a hyperactive and slightly unhinged black woman who has a crush on Piper; “Red” Reznikov, a tough-as-nails former member of the Russian mafia who runs the prison’s kitchen. This is all highly entertaining, as you might imagine, and that’s why I hate it. It’s really too entertaining.
 
The story’s premise is a prime opportunity for tragedy, but the show dodges it. Life in prison, for all of its bleakness, is still portrayed as consistently exciting. Every one of the characters is quirky and unique and interesting. And whether it’s the annual holiday party or someone’s birthday, the inmates always seem to be singing or dancing. It begins to feel like the cast of Rent was sent to a women’s prison for a year. And none of the characters seem capable of speaking a line that is not provocative or witty. Nearly every line is a zinger. Just once, I’d like a character to say something like “We’re out of toilet paper” or “Pass the salt.”
 
And it’s not just the language. Every scene, too, is larded to the max with dramatic tension. Someone is either killing or threatening to kill someone. People are either having sex or upset that they’re not having sex. Someone is either doing drugs or smuggling drugs. The inmates are either ostracizing Piper or embracing her. Life does not get this exciting in Connecticut. It’s as if someone ripped out the first page of Screenwriting 101 – “Every scene should have conflict…” – and faxed copies to the all the writers with the instructions that the rule must be strictly followed upon penalty of death.
 
TV shows have no obligation to faithfully reflect real life but by portraying life in prison as a non-stop romp the show does make me wonder about exactly what it is trying to accomplish. In a recent NPR interview, Jenji Kohan, the creator of the series, gave us some clues. She discussed how, while the supporting cast of characters is wonderful, a series featuring only them could never have succeeded. They needed the character of Piper in the prison to make the story “relatable.” Relatable to whom? Presumably, their target audience: upper-middle class, college-educated, white women like Piper. Later in the interview, Kohan discussed how the series made a conscious effort to includes scenes detailing what all of the women’s lives were like before they went to prison. The main reason for this, Kohan said, was that it would be too bleak to shoot an entire show within the prison walls, and flashbacks allowed them to shoot scenes in the real world. Otherwise, she continued, the show might have been “potentially depressing.”
 
Now, entertaining the public is no crime. But the show is also capitalizing on the perception that it courageously depicts the realities of life in prison. They want it both ways. They want to talk about life in prison (a conversation our country desperately needs to have) but only if it’s from the narrow perspective of upper-middle class college-educated women and only if it’s not “potentially depressing.”
 
The truth is that there is a tragedy out there begging to be told and when it is fully told it will be plenty depressing. America incarcerates around 2.3 million people, more than any other country in the world. A vast number of those prisoners are non-violent offenders serving draconian sentences for drug-related crimes. Black people account for about 40% of the total prison population, even though they comprise only about 13% of the US population. Hispanics account for about 20% of the total prison population even though they comprise only about 16% of the US population. The tragedy is right there. It is a story about families and communities torn asunder. It is a story about prosecutors and law enforcement systematically targeting minorities in the name of a fraudulent “War on Drugs.” It is a story about legislators cruelly ratcheting up prison sentences decade after decade so they can proclaim that they’re “tough on crime.” There’s certainly a tragedy here, but what Orange is the New Black suggests to me is that we’re not ready yet to face it head-on.
 
– Matthew Saks
 
This essay originally appeared on August 18 on denvercritic.com. Read more from DenverCritic here.

short story #8

sunset cliffs
 
THAT TIME AT SUNSET CLIFFS
 
The girl sat with her legs crossed, sand covering her legs and dirtying her dress and underwear. She didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t wearing a bathing suit. She scooped the sand with a cracked plastic cup, building turrets and scraping out a moat. It wasn’t the prettiest castle, he thought. But it was good to a see kid playing in the sand. Sandcastles were wholesome. Sandcastles were the antithesis of television.
        The girl’s mother was holding a cigarette toward the sky, making sure the smoke didn’t blow in her daughter’s face. Maybe it was an older nanny and not the mother. Or an aunt or other relation. He watched the girl with envy, realizing he hadn’t built a sandcastle for years. Hadn’t even covered his feet with sand since he was a boy. He was eighteen now. He wriggled his toes then started scooping up the fine, dry, gray-gold sand into a mound on top of them.
        The wind picked up and blew over the beach from the ocean and whipped the pages of the book he had open and he lost his place. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He was still in the early chapters and hadn’t been paying much attention. Too much backstory, too much philosophy, too much politicking, and not enough love.
        To his right and a few feet behind him, two women were sunbathing. One was lying on her stomach and had the top of her bikini untied so she wouldn’t get tan lines. The other was sitting erect with her legs crossed and her hands folded in her lap. She wore enormous sunglasses. She looked like she was meditating but for all he knew she was staring at him with lust or loathing. Or maybe even crying. It didn’t matter. He loved California.
        There weren’t many other people on the beach, but then it was the middle of the week. Two teenaged males ran up the shoreline with their shirts off where the sand was damp and compact. The soles of their feet slapped as they hit, and he laughed at this ugly display, thinking happily that he could beat them in a race. There were people who ran around to look cool and exercise, and you could tell them by their lousy form, and people who knew how to run flat out, and he fancied himself a man who knew how to run. He was eighteen. He’d been a cross-country star. He’d been a track star. And now he was bumming around solo for what was really the first time in his life, visiting colleges.
        The air was hazy from the smog of San Diego. Not as bad as it had been in LA, but the beaches in LA had been richer with women. He’d lucked out with these two. Up in Montana, in March, girls were still bundled in sweaters and jeans. The next day he’d tour the campus at San Diego State then cross the border to Tijuana and see what kind of trouble he could get into. He was a man. He had condoms in his car. He carried a lighter around even though he didn’t smoke. These were the things men did when they were single.
        With increasing horror, he watched the joggers veer away from the ocean and come up and stop beside the sunbathing girls and begin flirting candidly, unashemedly. He felt he could only continue to sit by and listen, taking in every mortifying word. Why had he lacked the nerve to say anything to the girls himself? His feet were half-covered in sand, and he felt stupidly young. He felt as if he were a seven-year-old, seeing the world but not really living in it—dabbling in the sand, his thoughts constricted to his own head, no one minding him in the least, and no one wanting to listen if he spoke or caring what he had to say, irregardless of his wisdom.
        He grabbed his book, leapt up, and strode through the little girl’s masterpiece, smashing it with his bare feet. Mother and daughter shrieked discordantly, the sunbathers gasped, and he began to run—to really run, to sprint. The shouts of the young men reached his ears. They were chasing him but what for? They would never catch him. He was so much faster even with Lady Chatterley weighing him down. He shot up the beach, going far past the parking lot, heading toward a distant pier. Would he stop at the pier? Would he head to Ocean Beach? Would he cross the outlet of the San Diego River and keep on clear to La Jolla? But by then, once again, no one would care what he did.
        He stopped on his heels and let the boys catch up. They were younger than him, darker in complexion. Their chests were thick. They smelled of sweat and of ocean water and their fists were small and hard and their arms were strong. He he fought them off the best he was able, knowing he had to fight well because he was quite alone.
 
– Lionel Harrington

poem #33

Snakes
 
BOUND IN COILS
 
Fox snakes, worm snakes, garter snakes, green snakes
brown snakes, milk snakes, kingsnakes, queen snakes,
black racers, blue racers, timber rattlers, rat snakes,
earth snakes, copperheads, copperbelly water snakes,
hog-nosed, red-bellied, ring-necked, ribbon snakes,
Kirtland’s, Massasauga, and smooth earth snakes
are the serpents of Ohio.
 
My son has caught at least one of each.
Every spring, he brings a specimen home,
puts it in a fish tank, feeds it a mouse, a goldfish,
or a big locust, and calls it his pet. You’d think
that’s the kind of childhood fun a boy should have.
But he’s nineteen and last year gave his fiancée
a baby rattler in a glass jar with a cheesecloth lid.
She screamed and dropped it. We’re lucky
it didn’t shatter, lucky the fabric didn’t rip.
It’s the babes of the bunch that don’t know
the punch they carry, that let loose
with every drop of venom from their glands.
 
This is what my son says. He’s a zoology major at Duke
and has been injecting trace amounts of fer-de-lance juice
every day for the past month to build up an immunity
so that he can handle the buggers quite literally
without worrying that he’ll die.
Already, he’s been bitten some twenty times
by everything from cotton mouths to cobras.
For the sake of my heart,
I wished he’d spare the details.
 
But for the sake of curiosity, I’m glad he tells me.
I’m the one who taught him to catch them in the first place,
to hold them just behind the head, to keep them from hurting themselves
or hurting him. I find their motions fascinating: Water moccasins swimming
or sidewinders shimmying across the sands of the Mojave desert.
In my dreams, I see hoop snakes, tails in their mouths,
wheeling across the plains. I could watch
a death adder slither
all the livelong day.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

poem #32

slick pig
 
SLICKER THAN A GREASED PIG
 
The real business behind the curtain
swallowed up that April’s sun as soon as it arrived.
 
Bad-luck-struck from the get-go, unable
to see the multitude for the tree-peoples
of personal hopes and dreams, we were
(simply put) only somewhere:
 
still behind the eight-ball of everything,
still the mocked sons of industry’s fallen king.
 
How long could we carry on just carrying-on?—
The carrion of a generation’s education
spread thin amongst the vultures of the information age?
 
How far would the veil be pulled up over
our heads before the slow satin of another era’s
dawning would drop fully down upon us?
 
Bleakness became us.  Built for the blunderbuss,
we were abandoned in the realm of the battle rifle.
 
The ballistics of corporate realities had us
rightly bought-out before our very eyes…
 
There once was a man who said
at the heart of any true endeavor
 
is a tethered ego and a willingness to release
that which is rightly ours to hold onto.
 
Yet to give up more
than that which belonged to us in the beginning
is an impossibility.
 
All we really ever had
was our own lives to live.
 
– Richard C. Armstrong III

novel #1.2

cadillac 1-2
 
BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC 
 
Chapter 2 (read Chapter 1 here)
 
Walking beside Bruce is like walking beside a cranky horse: he’ll more or less go along but if I get careless, he’ll kick me square in the chest and run whinnying off into the night—or worse, stick around to stomp on me. So I’m staying attuned to his huffs, pauses, and changes of step.
            Call me Retha for what it’s worth. Like a mix between the singers Aretha Franklin and Reba McEntire. My parents liked to think they were being soulful and a little bit country when they named me. That’s what I tell people, leastways. Though it’s not the worst name for a mutt like me: black, white, Creole, maybe a little Mexican, a hundred percent Americana chica anyhow. I like to say I’m from here, Lake Worth, because no one is. Sets me apart. In truth, I was raised outside Tucson. I remember spending a lot of hours in a mesh pen with a desert-dirt floor, tending to a flock of Andalusian hens. In retrospect, I think they were tending me while Moms and Pops got work done. She was a sex caller. Had one of those breathy voices born of 10,000 cigarettes. He had a truck with our phone number on the side and the words I DO ANYTHING spelled out in big block letters. When I was thirteen, someone spray painted FOR WEED after ANYTHING. I’m not sure who did it or if they knew much about Dad’s habits, but the message was pretty much spot on and he never bothered changing it.
           
We turn off Lucerne Street and head down South Lake Drive before reaching the Intracoastal. Pap’s got a bungalow on South 5th that opens onto the water, a three-story affair decked out in stucco and terracotta roof tiles. Beats the shit out of the shack I sleep at on North 4th and L Street. This whole hellish town is numbered and lettered like a damn chessboard. Not real creative thinkers, the founders of Lake Worth.
            According to my phone, it’s three-seventeen in the morning when we amble up the walk and let ourselves into Pap’s. Pap always makes us turn off our phones when we come in. He’s paranoid about being recorded. He checks at random. If you got a phone still on, he breaks a finger. It’s a simple equation and because he enforces it universally and consistently, excepting only himself and the women he screws, we have come to accept and even expect it. Similar to how you’d expect to be mauled if you pulled out the whisker of a catamount. Once you get one finger broken, you tend not to foul up again. For me it was a left pinkie that now, when I start to close my fist, flops down like a dead worm. It is otherwise functional, however, and cosmetically no different than before.
            The only lights on in the house are the recessed bulbs in the kitchen, which is an expansive, tiled space with bright orange granite counters and pink-painted walls. Pap is at the island in the center of the room, cutting up salumi, perspiring freely, and bringing the weight of his upper body down through the knife with each slice. He weighs a solid two-twenty, stands just over six feet, and all of it’s muscle. His real name is Amado Crespo. For the life of me, I can’t tell if his origins are Italian or Spanish. His hair is curly and cut uniformly short. With a razor, it has been shaved in a hard, manicured line at his temples, above his ears, and at the back of his neck, giving the appearance of a trim black beanie. I suspect that he spends so much time and money on his hair because the rest of his face is on the broad, uglyish side and would never be considered beautiful without radical cosmetic surgery. I have seen brochures for collagen injections, Rhinoplasty, and Botox strewn around his house. But I have also seen brochures for breast implants, and I don’t suspect Pap of wanting a gender change. No, his girl du jour Chelsea is the one who is, I believe, interested in self-improvement. Or at least in spending Pap’s money and having something to chitchat about with her girlfriends. The social culture surrounding plastic surgery terrifies me.
            “Stale,” says Pap. “Chelsea let it get stale and now it’s particle-board meat. Just try eating it. You’ll lose a tooth. I’m breaking it up small. Then I’m going to sauté it in butter for an hour and add in tomatoes and make a Bolognese.”
            “I’ll chop it if you want,” says Bruce.
            “And slip and cut your hand and bleed all over my kitchen? I don’t think so. No. No, thank you.” Pap puts down the knife, rinses his hands in the sink, towels off, and walks over to us. He says, “Phones.”
            We lay our phones on the counter. Mine is blank and stays that way. Bruce’s lights up with the picture of a mostly nude stripper. Bruce looks apologetically at Pap then glances at me as if to say, Why didn’t you remind me? As if I hadn’t done enough turning my phone off in front of him at the door. Poor Bruce is a little hard-up on the learning front. To date, Pap has broken his left pinkie and left ring finger. Now Bruce holds out his right hand. He’s a righty and I’m sure will hate losing any dexterity with one of the digits responsible for gun-holding, check-signing, and cock-spanking, but I guess his left is too banged up to take another loss. Pap looks thoughtfully at the photo of the girl. Her face is obscured by a shock of blonde hair. She’s got her ass up in the air. Her buttocks are a pale blur, and she has one finger under her G-string band, lifting it an inch.
            Bruce’s eyes are as wide as a frightened Boston terrier’s.      
            Pap squeezes a fist around Bruce’s right pinkie and says, “Nice looking chickadee. Nice cheeks. You’ll have to introduce me.”
 
– Candice Cousins
 
Read Chapter 1 here
 

poem #31

muldoon
 
WITH APOLOGIES TO PAUL MULDOON
 
In my opinion, New Yorker poetry is shit,
to say nothing of the shittier fiction.
So of course my friend’s piece
on transubstantiation
was accepted.
I had to congratulate her.
“Dear,” I said, “I think you can be
another serialized
hack now,
stripped
of vitality and identity
the rest of your pitiable life.”
To which she replied,
“Fuck you, Kirstin.
Fuck you.”
 
– Kirstin O’Connor

editorial #1

Hirschworth 1
 
THE PUBLISHER’S CONUNDRUM 
 
As Hirschworth enters its second month, and begins its second issue in a way, I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all of our readers and contributors who have made this magazine’s start a success: so far, we have published 30 poems, 7 essays, 7 short stories, and the first chapter of our serialization of Candice Cousins’s novel Bigger than a Cadillac [1].
          In the month ahead, we will be publishing more new writing from a greater number of writers, providing you with more varied content that will, in my opinion, enrich the experience of reading this magazine. Hirschworth was founded in part to be a venue where people could access myriad voices, styles, ideas, and approaches to creative and critical writing and to art. In this way, Hirschworth stands for being an anti-arbiter of taste. We are not trying to push any particular aesthetic or politic on you.
           Yet, we do have certain preferences for subject matter (the sea, food, fowl cooked or living, etc.). And we cannot publish everything that comes our way. For example, the content of some submissions does not make sense to us; some submissions, to us, are overly indulgent with wordplay; some are profane in a way that, no matter how well-intentioned from an artistic standpoint, come off only as mean to us. To publish these would be to shirk our responsibility to you, our readership, and would be an easy excuse for shirking for our own responsibilities as editors. This leaves us in the paradoxical state, as one of my colleagues said, of being a magazine that is pretentiously unpretentious, that acts necessarily as an arbiter of taste even as it rages against that role.
          That is all to say, we certainly do not see ourselves as above criticism. 
          Keeping the the above in mind as a glaring qualifier, we are, from time to time, going to set about critiquing those established publications that unabashedly act as arbiters of taste, foremost of which is The New Yorker. We love The New Yorker. It and Harper’s are the only major, broadly read magazines that regularly publish fiction and poetry, that regularly make these art forms available to a general, not strictly literary readership. Secondly, we often find ourselves bewildered and annoyed by The New Yorker because of the content and quality of the poems and stories contained therein (though there are gems to be found, too) [2]. In my opinion, it is because The New Yorker acts as the de facto ambassador of what contemporary fiction and poetry are to much of the public that it should be evaluated (both positively and negatively) on its performance. In the coming weeks, we will be examining The New Yorker more closely on an issue-by-issue basis. We hope that you will weigh in with your own thoughts.
           Now, I would like to kick off this second issue of Hirschworth with a poem from Kirstin O’Connor entitled “With Apologies to Paul Muldoon” [3]. It is not a poem for everyone, but it is fitting here, and it is perhaps a poem for you. As ever, and as much as we are able, we leave it to you to discuss the merits and demerits of our content.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Thomas McCafferty
Editor in Chief
 
 
 

[1] Sometimes a piece is very much in a gray area between a short story, a poem, or an essay, and while we do pick labels for each one, these labels are meant more to be organizational tools than decrees. I remember a friend of mine named Slim saying his favorite book of poems was Finnegan’s Wake, which seems perfectly valid despite its status as a novel.
 
[2] We are focusing on The New Yorker at the moment more than Harper’s because of the discrepancy in circulation (as according Wikipedia). The New Yorker boasts a total circ of over 1,040,000; Harper’s has a total circ of about 187, 000.
 
[3] Mr. Muldoon is, of course, Poetry Editor of The New Yorker. He is also one of the finest poets alive in our humble opinion. 

poem #30

tristeza
 
SORROW

How could you describe sorrow?
That deepest sorrow that demands silence, to
keep you from screaming.
I like to guard in my heart the good, the loving.
I weed to dig out what worries me, but now
I have to save it and it oppresses me,
sealing my mouth.
I hadn’t wanted to, to stay confident,
but I couldn’t.
How long can this last?
Why should this happen to me, when it
happens to no one else?
Did I do something wrong?
Too many times my mind has wandered
while I stand fixed in the same spot…
When it seems happiness will come over you,
the heart assualts you.
I never wanted to learn, but I realize that
the science of love is life and experience.
It is the absence of innocence.
 
– Kire (translated from the Spanish by Kire and Thomas McCafferty)
 
TRISTEZA
 
¿Como se podria describer la tristeza?
Esa tristeza profunda que hay que callar, que no
puedes gritar.
Me gusta guardar en mi corazon lo bueno, lo amoroso.
Suelo sacar afuera lo que me preocupa, pero ahora
tengo que guardarlo y me oprime.
Sellare mi boca.
Yo hubiera querido no hacerlo, tener confianza,
no se puede.
Cuanto tiempo durare asi?
Por que me tiene que suceder esto, que no les
sucede a nadie?
Tanto mal hice?
Tantas veces he partido
quedando fijo en el mismo lugar…
Cuando parece que se va acercar la felicidad,
te asaltan el corazon.
Nunca quise aprender, pero me doy cuenta que
La ciencia de la vida y del amor es la experiencia,
es la falta de inocencia.
 
– Kire
 

short story #7

paternal question
 
THE PATERNAL QUESTION
 
I will always remember the day my father said, “Your mother and I are gay, son.” He was a big man, six-three, two-fifty. Used to be a fullback at Kent State. His voice was a sort of rumbling bass that reminded me of an engine idling. “I mean to say,” he added, “that I self-identify as a lesbian. And your mother is a queen.” He flashed an ironical smile meant to tickle and embarrass me. A week later he was dead of heart failure, which is a problem that runs through my family like a trigger-happy madman with a shotgun, taking aim at any man over forty.
 
Twenty years on and I can’t remember my father’s face but his jokes stay fresh in my brain. I have my own boy now. I wonder how he’ll miss me if I die young. I’m not as funny as Dad was. If he were here, he’d get all serious and ask why I think too much.
 
– Ricky Henry Harris

poem #29

conversations
 
CONVERSATIONS THAT MY FRIENDS WOULD HAVE IF THEY WERE HONEST WITH EACH OTHER
 
A:  “I like men who look good on paper.”
B: “But treat you badly in actuality.”
A: “I like to think I can mend them.”
 
B: “I like men who aren’t ambitious. Who are sweet when they’re with me.”
A: “And cheat vigorously when they’re away.”
B: “I have stunted self-esteem.”
 
C: “I like men who have bottomed out already and have zero expectations.”
D: “And never take you on vacations. Or buy you anything.
C: “I know what I won’t be getting.”
 
D: “I like men who like other men but are with me for religious reasons.”
C: “That and you dislike sex.”
D: “So what? Amen to that.”
 
– Kirstin O’Connor

poem #28

powers
 
THE POWERS THAT BE
 
Yesterday, my eighteen-year-old son met a Don,
which is strange to jot down.
Wouldn’t it have been better
if he’d met a dean?
 
Deans have no pull at smelting plants, he tells me.
Deans got me in this mess in the first place, he tells me.
He admits, The Don didn’t say a word or even nod
in acknowledgement.
 
Nonetheless, he got the job. How do you say
thank you to that kind of favor? Send over
homemade cider? Or write a letter
expressing your opinion
that your boy never
should have seen you
to begin with?
 
Now my son will have a lifetime of black lungs
because one summer he wanted to earn enough
to cover college and leave Ohio for good.
 
I think if I were to tell the Don, he’d laugh.
He’d say I’m in the emotional throws
of motherhood.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

novel #1.1

cadillac 1
 
BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC
 
Chapter 1
 
“You look beat,” says Bruce. He’s fifteen years older than me and tends to seesaw between condescending passes and out-right grab-assing. When he says I look beat, what he means is I shouldn’t have walked here. He’d prefer that I call and, like a schoolgirl or imprisoned maiden, ask for a ride so he can be all gallant and pick me up in his Isuzu Trooper. How many of those are even around anymore? That way, giving me a ride, I’d owe him a favor. He’d try to get his dick licked in the bargain. I shit you not. As it stands, I’m here in the dead of night on business and don’t give a half a damn if my eyes are puffy and my makeup’s off and my hair could use doing.
            “Pap wants to see you,” I tell him.
            “Pappy could have called.”
            “Asked me to fetch you,” I tell him.
            Bruce is naked and sweating freely in his sheets. He thinks he’s an eco-crusader for not running AC in South Florida. I think he’s a nitwit. The lights are on full and his joint is hanging out lackadaisically like a dead lizard. One of those invasive geckos in a brown phase. The man is tan. I mean from toes to crack to earlobes. He swipes a big paw, trying to rake me into bed with him, but I’m a step too quick even if I’m still groggy.
            “Why you gotta doddle?” I ask.
            “What’s Pappy want?”
            You gotta be pretty stupid to ask Pap why he wants anything. Serves you better just to shut up and do. Bruce knows this and I don’t feel like indulging him with explanations. Truth is, I don’t know what Pap’s got his mind on. Doesn’t much matter at the moment. From my purse, I take out a matchbook that says Teasers on the front in script and strike a match and flick it on the sheets. Some people call me a pyromaniac but I’ve always felt pretty calm when I get going and shit starts burning. Bruce cusses me pretty good but I keep throwing the little yellow flames his way. After the sixth, he finally gets his ass off the mattress and pulls only slightly stained tighty whiteys over his quite-low hanging fruits. He says we’ll drive over in his Isuzu. I tell him we sure as hell won’t. It’s six blocks to Pap’s and I got no desire to give Bruce the chance to make a ten-mile detour so he can stick a hand in my undies. Last time he tried that, I broke his left index finger. He still managed to get a palm on my tit. And give it a hell of a squeeze. He’s good at ignoring pain. He’s tougher than I’d like to admit.
 
– Candice Cousins

poem #27

fox
FOXY
 
Reverence is a concept
that reminds me of lost objects
like the life-sized fox I sewed
and gifted to my first beau
when I was fifteen: a labor
of love, Nubuck, and deer leather,
filled with down feathers.
He collected that kinda thing.
 
I presented the fox with a bow
round its faux fur neck,
matching the collar I wore.
I was otherwise unadorned, buck-naked
and unawares I was bearded, too.
He thanked but didn’t fuck me,
and called me his buxom lady, but
what he wanted was a cocksy lad.
 
Now I wish I had had the sense
to cuckold my foxy beau
and keep my stuffed fox
in reverence for
the time I spent
mocking and chalking and
cutting and sewing it up.
 
– Kirstin O’Connor

poem #26

tuna eye
 
AHI EYE
 
It’s a heckuva
tuna flapping
on deck and
bleeding from
the gaff wound.
 
Wound up and
plenty still alive,
looking me over like
humanoid roadkill,
wanting to damn me
to some shitsphere.
 
Algiers comes to mind,
my UN buddy having
got hisself blowed
up and all apart
there via car
bomb
in ’07.
 
Fishy here’s
sure enough
murderous,
meaning to rise
up with the swell,
bring its muscle
to my face like
a ahi anvil, snap
my neck back.
 
Shitty luck for
Mr. Skipjack. ‘Cause
I got me this fileting
knife. And I got me
this appetite. And
I’m gonna be all
eating me sashimi
in the glory of
South Pacific 
sunlight.
 
– Ricky Henry Harris

essay #7

Experimental fiction
 
ON EXPERIMENTAL FICTION
 
The below columns are meant to be read individually as separate pieces then together as one whole piece, ignoring the column break:
 
An American Nude2
 
          In 2004 when I was living in Lake Worth, Fla., and reading Moby Dick in a sweltering apartment and listening to Belle and Sebastian and Jack Johnson a lot, I had this notion that literature could be as layered as music—in a more overt way than it already was. I wanted to set two stories side-by-side with only a slender column break between them. Each would be whole and complete in itself and, when reread as one, ignoring the break, a third story would emerge that would be both its own story and a commentary on the first two. Perhaps these are the kinds of visions you have when you are twenty-one and losing body weight by the pounds/hour in the form of sweat and replacing that perspiration with cheap beer. A sort of romantic delirium.
          Nonetheless, I set out to execute my vision: for the idea to be anything more than a gimmick, I felt it should be at least 150,000 words. An epic. And eventually, at the end, the two columns would split to three, then four. And of course the subject matter would have to justify the inherent fractured nature of the aesthetic and the disjointedness of the telling.
          I never came close to that goal. What you see above is more of a cursory attempt to see how difficult it would be to try to do the thing at all. I think it could be done. Just not by me. Maybe someone else will take it up. Though I’m not sure it’d be worth the effort.
          For my part, I got back to basics with short stories and working on a good old fashioned novel. Trying to tell a straight story without technical gymnastics is hard enough, I think. Moreover, the best stories are layered. Fiction is already in a fine shape.
 
– Thomas McCafferty

poem #25

busses and peace large
 
BUSSES AND PEACE NO MORE
 
Every drop of blood reminds me
It was never in the cards
It was never in the stars
It was never in our future
I was never in your heart,
Save some little space reserved
For the temporary visitor
Like a guest house
Mother-in-law suite
Or drawer under your bed.
Run around the entire earth
Fifty times if you can
So slowly you ran
It was always your plan
To never find a home.
 
– Dominique R. Scalia

poem #24

Venice
 
SLEEPLESS AGAIN IN VENICE
 
Yawning under the Bridge of Sighs
feels tragically malaligned.
Alas…
 
– Kirstin O’Connor

essay #6

Tour d'Argent-8  
CONVERSATIONS WITH L: LA TOUR D’ARGENT
 
“You must get the Champagne,” L. told me. He hadn’t aged a minute since I’d last seen him. A dashing gentleman in an impeccable gray linen suit. Clean shaven. A new look. “They serve the best. Not too cold. Deliciously French.”
            We were in the lobby of the Tour d’Argent, if you could call it a lobby. It felt so much like a strange, antiqued little house. Under a glass casement was a what looked like a miniature canon. It took me a moment to realize it was a wine rack in the shape of a canon. Perhaps it would blast the cork. Phenomenal.
            It was August, and I had never before been to the restaurant. L. had been many times. It was one of his favorites. He happened to be in town at the same time I was, happened to have a reservation at the same time I did, and had convinced that maître d’hôtel that we should sit together, ignoring my protestations that we should not—because we were not friends, and though I found him interesting, I rarely enjoyed his company. He was always trying to get something out of me.
            I told him I couldn’t afford the Champagne—even if it was very French Champagne. As if it could somehow be more French than any other Champagne. L. has always had a way of describing things that I find infuriating. He signaled the waiter with his finger and told the man to bring two glasses. And to me he said, “I’ll pay of course. In one manner or another. You simply cannot come here and be cheap. Be cheap every other day. You only have so many chances to be extravagant.”
            When he spoke, I found that he seemed to be singling me out quite apart from himself, his use of the word ‘you’ being specific and not generic, the implication being that he himself was often extravagant and seldom if ever cheap. Quite belittling. Rather rude.
            After downing the lovely drinks, we were whisked upstairs in an elevator and brought out into the most spectacular dining room I’ve seen: windows all around opening onto views of the streets of Paris, of the Seine, and of Notre Dame looking like an enormous, metallic Horned lizard.
 
Since I was a child, I’ve many times heard the story of my mother’s trip to the Tour d’Argent with her parents. She was a teen. Her father was a businessman and gourmand. She spoke beautiful French. He had a thick American accent. They were seated toward the back wall, as far from the windows as the room permitted. Then my mother began to order in French, and the waiter was so impressed that he reseated them on the lowest level, directly before the windows, offering up the best view. This story has always impressed upon me the importance of eloquence, accent, and learning new languages. Sadly, such understanding has done nothing to actually help me with my facility with French (or for that matter, Italian or Spanish). I knew that opening my mouth would do nothing to improve our standing in the eyes of the waiters who oozed class and unapproachable sophistication the way maple trees ooze delicious sap. I let L. do the talking. His French is perfect if also, at least to my ears, syrupy with pride. In the end, I’m not sure the wait staff or sommelier much appreciated him.
            After ordering, L. said to me, “Did you know, in the second world war, that they built a false wall in the wine cellar here to save their best wines from being stolen from the Nazis?”
            “I’d heard something about it.”
            “They even added cobwebs to cheaper bottles to make them look vintage and expensive. Quite ingenious. One of the bottles they saved was a 1921 Chateau Margaux. I had the pleasure of drinking one myself the other year. Supple. Liquid velvet fit for a prince. Really, you must make some money so you can afford to broaden your tastes.”
            I quoted Ian Flemming, saying that the only money worth having was was not quite enough, and we argued over finances and pretentions and the wars while enjoying quenelles de brochet André Terrail (pike dumplings), saumon chaufroité à la Parisienne (cold salmon Parisian style), soupe de poisson au fenouil et à la badiane (fish soup with fennel and star anise), and of course the filet de canette de Vendée, chutney de tomate au citron et wasabi (roasted ducking fillet with a wasabi and lemon flavored tomato chutney). The Tour d’Argent is famous for their ducklings, having served over a million (each diner served gets a postcard that contains the number of his specific duck: mine was in the 1.03 million range). It was, undoubtedly, the best duck I’ve ever tasted. I told L. as much.
            He said, “The best duck I ever tasted was a freshly killed pintail that had been roasting over an open flame in the Adirondacks. I had just tricked a starving man into trading it to me in exchange for a quarter million dollars. Of course, he died of malnutrition before spending the money. I have always enjoyed having my canard and eating it, too.” He smiled wickedly.
            As I have said, the man is unbearable.
            When the bill came, L. was conveniently was in the restroom, taking his time, doing lord knows what. I paid. Our glasses of Champagne had cost 60 euros apiece.
 
– Thomas McCafferty
 
La Tour d’Argent
World-class food. World-class view. Perfectly stuffy service. Bring your French and your appetite, too.
15 Quai de la Tournelle  
75005 Paris, France
www.latourdargent.com
 
 
Tour d'Argent-9
Tour d'Argent-2-2Tour d'Argent-3-2Tour d'ArgentTour d'Argent-3Tour d'Argent-2Tour d'Argent-4Tour d'Argent-5Tour d'Argent-6Tour d'Argent-7

poem #23

Ohio
 
OHIO
 
When he doesn’t touch me,
I think about the others
he may have known,
in the biblical sense,
in the Ardennes or
in Morocco
or in Turin.
 
He drove locomotives in the nights
from ‘42 to ’44, running
with no headlights,
not knowing
if dynamite
was on the tracks.
How can Steubenville
compare with that?
 
The only pictures he’s shown
depict him smoking
colorlessly with
infantrymen
in the shade
of buildings
that may have been
brothels, chickens
at their feet.
 
How do I measure with damen,
femmes, and donne?
Widowed, young,
saintly, or plain?
I wear a stained
apron.
Cynically,
I’d might as well be
a chambermaid.
 
How do I understand when
the worst thing I’ve done,
experientially speaking,
is put a bullet
in the brain
of a maimed
Paint Horse
when I was ten?
 
I’ve known him since age five,
but I would not fault indiscretions.
And I do not need confessions.
He didn’t woo me
until after the war.
Were those three
years a blessing
or a nightmare?
 
I will never ask directly.
He didn’t bargain for
forward questioning
when he bought me
a ring in 1945—
after he’d returned to
an empty home, his father
dead of a stroke, his mother
hanged on a rope, his brother
full of gin.
 
I’ve patched him up,
given him children,
washed his clothes,
cooked his meals.
At least he’s in
working order,
in the strict sense,  
driving trains again,
and futzing in the garage
with odds and ends.
 
He’s so busy now that he’s quiet.
He’s so quiet now that I worry.
Where are the girls he loved?
Where are the boys who died?
I’ve never seen him cry.
I’m not sure
I could bear it.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

short story #6

fire island
A DAY AT FIRE ISLAND
 
At last, David thought, things feel easy and simple. David and Marina lay next to each other on beach towels, watching the waves from behind dark sunglasses. The tongue of the Atlantic Ocean lapped the shore softly, and then withdrew, and then beat in again, and out again…A parasol was wedged stylishly into the sand behind them, giving shelter from the sun. “My idea,” David privately congratulated himself. At last it was quiet, and the teeming crowds of the morning seemed far away.
 
They had met at Penn Station around eight that morning, along with the rest of New York City apparently, and packed themselves like chattel into the train to Long Island. As the train bumped along, Marina’s breasts pressed heavily against his arm (intentionally or was it the push of the crowd?). In the heat, he could feel her cotton summer dress cling stickily to her skin. 
 
From the train’s terminus on Long Island, the clamorous crowds streamed en masse to the waiting ferries. Now the atmosphere was party-like. Beach balls floated dreamily above the sea of heads. Packs of gay boys in tank-tops and jean-shorts laughed and horsed around. Now the pungent smell of suntan lotion, like coconut and sunshine, conjuring all of the summers of childhood.
 
On the ferry to Fire Island, there was a little more space to breathe and they chatted easily, shifting between Russian and English. Marina talked of her old life in Moscow—the life of a young kindergarten teacher in a tough city. He saw a wave of cynicism flash across her face and vanish quickly into a smile.
 
David was touched that she would be so open with him on their second date. Russian women are like this, he mused. With men they want to be fraternal, honest, a tovarischt, even at the same time as being sexual or romantic. David talked about his work. His hours were very long, but he respected his colleagues. And his work was intellectually stimulating—he enjoyed that.
 
He found it a bit amazing, however, that Marina had been a kindergarten teacher before she came over. There were a few things that happened on their first date that lingered in his mind. During dinner she had quizzed him about his previous girlfriends, what they looked like, how often they had sex; it was forward, odd. After dinner, he walked her to her subway platform and, while they waited for the train, Marina asked him to hold her wrist. Without warning she fell backwards towards the void of the train tracks, only David’s grip keeping her from plummeting onto the rails. Afterwards, she couldn’t stop laughing. He kept replaying the scene in his mind when he was home later, like a puzzle he couldn’t solve. She was clearly a little crazy, he noted to himself, but he was drawn to her. She was attractive. Sex crackled just beneath the surface of her smile.
 
They stepped onto the old wooden dock at Fire Island and the ocean wind blew their hair wildly. Restaurants advertising fresh seafood and beer. The sun beaming above from a cloudless blue sky. 
 
“The weather’s so breezy…Why can’t life always be this easy?” David rapped. No recognition from Marina.
 
“You know Kanye West, right?”
 
“Rap, right?”
 
“Yeah, rap. Hip-hop.”
 
“No,” Marina demurred, “I don’t like that black music.”
 
“Great, now it’s black people,” David thought. He filed this comment in his mind with the comment she had made on their first date about the there being “too many Mexicans” in New York. It had been a big turn-off and later when he was alone he chided himself for not saying anything. 
 
“Well, little does she know she’s dating a dirty Jew…” What if she knew that? He had mentioned to her on their first date that his parents had immigrated in the early 80s—a lot of Jews had. And then his last name. Would she piece it all together?
 
Whatever. Strolling through the quaint lanes and hedges of Fire Island, you didn’t worry. People were smiling in the street. The ocean breeze was briny and life-giving. In the middle of a lane, David stopped, closed his eyes, and absorbed the brilliant sunshine on his face, undoing months of confinement in his windowless cubicle at work.
 
And now they were just chilling on the beach. They chatted amiably under the parasol, Marina peppering him with all sorts of questions about life in New York. She was still learning the ropes and was living with her sister in Harlem for now, but wanted to live in Brooklyn someday. The wine was everything David had hoped, equally dry and citrusy.
 
David had been sure to bring his “wine picnic” satchel, a prized possession he had found in a boutique in Park Slope. In the elegantly designed bag there were compartments for a bottle of wine, ice packs, a cork screw, glasses, and two beach towels. David diligently observed the beach ban on glass containers and had packed paper cups in lieu of wine glasses. 
 
The wine itself was a young Sauvignon Blanc he had carefully picked out. But it was now gone. Marina had kept refilling their cups. Was she trying to get them drunk or what? 
 
Marina gazed worriedly at the empty bottle lolling in the sand and then suddenly smiled: “Tell me again about your girlfriends…”
 
“I already told you—”
 
David didn’t want to sound like a wimp so he gamely described a few of the women he had been on dates with lately.
 
“Online dating has its pitfalls—present company excepted, of course—but it’s still really the only—”
 
“And what do you like?”
 
“What—what do I like? What do you mean?”
 
“I mean, sexually. Tell me about your fantasies.”
 
“Fantasies? I don’t—I don’t know—I guess—I don’t think I have any specific—”
 
“Oh, you’re so sweet. I’ve embarrassed you!”
 
David felt shamed. The tone in her voice was the tone one uses with an orphan kitten.
 
“I have many fantasies,” Marina offered matter-of-factly. “I like…doing it rough sometimes…I like…pretending to be other people…”
 
“Role-playing.”
 
“Yes. Role-playing. And I really like doing it in public…where people can see… In St. Petersburg I liked to stand naked in my window until someone could see me, and then hide. Now, at my sister’s place, we are on a very high story, so it’s not possible.”
 
Marina reclined back on her elbows and cast a lubricious smile in his direction. David looked at her lying prone before him and decided that she was not beautiful. Her facial features were a bit blocky—her nose, her chin, and her forehead were all slightly too big. These blunt features—and her penchant for racism—made her seem dense, provincial. Her body was bangin, though—that was undeniable. Her legs were long and miraculous. They shouted sex (lying down, she let her dress fall to her upper thigh). Her breasts were obviously ample. Yes, she was sexy and unbeautiful.
 
“I would like some vodka,” Marina loudly exclaimed. 
 
“Vodka. Okay…You want me to—to go get some?”
 
“Yes. Aren’t there stores?”
 
“I guess. Okay. I’ll go get some vodka. Why not?”
 
David stumbled up the beach, delirious with wine, sun, and Marina’s legs. Vodka! 
 
When he returned with the vodka and some orange juice to mix it with, Marina was in the water splashing around. He lay on the sand and admired the handsome label—“Tito’s Handmade Vodka…Crafted in an Old Fashioned Pot Still.”  Further down the beach a solitary man dashed into the waves. A deep sense of harmony. On Monday morning, he would be sure to make casual mention of his day at Fire Island to his colleagues—sans vodka, of course!
 
Marina emerged from the water, and walked back dripping wet to their towels. David tried to but could not avoid gawking at her in her bikini. Her body really was tremendously sexy.
 
The first stirring of arousal, like a single note plucked on a guitar, resonating deep and long.
 
Marina flung herself cheerfully onto her towel.
 
“Ah vodka!”
 
“Yes, help yourself. Orange juice too. I think I’m gonna take a swim.”
 
“No, first we drink, then we swim.”
 
“Yeah that’s a great idea. You would be the world’s worst lifeguard.”
 
Marina snatched the bottle and poured shots. One shot down. Then a second. Now he was looking at her lips. There was something discordant, misshapen about them, but lusty, and they were soon making out underneath the umbrella. Reckless, drunken kisses. He dared his hand to caress her thighs. In response, she grabbed his cock through his shorts, jolting him.
 
Her grin seemed hideous to him just then, her face flushed and ruined with booze. A sudden impulse to flee—he pictured himself running to the ferry, abandoning her on the beach.
 
But now she was taking his hand and leading him into the water. “Let’s swim.” 
 
They stumbled down to the water and collapsed into the waves. The ocean was invigorating and woke them up from their boozy slumber. 
 
“Jesus, I’m wasted,” David noticed.
 
The cool water was marvelous on their bodies. David wildly resolved to himself that he would do this every weekend.
 
Collapsing onto the towels again. Marina hovered over the cups like some malignant wizard, carefully pouring yet another round.
 
“Jesus, how about some orange juice with that…”
 
“Juice?” she scoffed.
 
“OK…OK, I get it…” Unmanned once again. A soft American. She was old-world… He drank the vodka, and then another.
 
The afternoon was suddenly late and the morning’s royal blue sky now washed-out, fading to white. The sun hung low above the island. 
 
David closed his eyes.
 
After a minute—or ten minutes, or thirty, he wasn’t sure—he felt a finger poking his ribs.
 
“David. David.”
 
“Wha—hey. I’m awake.” David lurched up. “Hey, what’s happening?”
 
“Nothing’s happening.” She paused. “Show me your dick.”
 
“No,” he said, a little more squeamishly than he meant to. He looked around the beach. “There are people around.”
 
Marina reached over and firmly pulled down his shorts. David froze, stunned. There was his dick greeting the rest of the beach, like some guest arriving late to a party.
 
Marina appraised it objectively. “It is a nice dick. It is big, I think.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
He hurriedly pulled his shorts up (despite an impulse to not pull them up, to climb just a bit further along the ledge).
 
“You’re like a doctor. You checked me out.” He tried to joke.
 
“Yes. And you are very good.”
 
His mind reeled and he did not know what to say, so he pitched towards her and they tumbled together onto the sand, working violently with their tongues.
 
And then the sun fell beneath the houses on the beach and the night rose up around them. David sat up and checked his watch. How was it so late? Time was playing tricks…No, it was Marina…time was weird when he was with Marina…The beach was dark under a moonless night sky. A voice from deep in his consciousness commanded him that he must go home. He was wasted and had to get home. 
 
“Shit. We have to catch the ferry.”
 
“Ok.”
 
David jammed the towels and umbrella into his picnic satchel. Marina poured out half of the bottle of orange juice onto the sand, poured the remaining vodka into the orange juice bottle and hurled the empty vodka bottle into the darkness.
 
“We take this with us… To sip on the train…”
 
“You didn’t—we shouldn’t just leave the bottle…”
 
Marina rolled her eyes. “So go find it…”
 
Careening now through the crowded streets of the island, Marina clutching his side, trying to sink her teeth into his neck. Groups of shirtless boys with supermodel abs milled around…A distinguished older man and his wife walking down the street sucking lollipops…David looked into a bar and thought he saw a transvestite spanking a small blonde girl…No… Against a brick wall a couple was making out, practically fucking. No—it was them, they were against the brick wall…He grabbed Marina’s arm and lurched into the street again…Someone said she was looking for coke, did he know…Was it Marina who said that…? Now rising white and large at the end of a lane, the ferry, a specter, unreal… 
 
The train back to the city. The world slowly comes back into focus. The familiar submarine light of the train. No idea how he got there.
 
He began to notice the other riders around him. They seemed absurdly quiet, like they were in church. He tried to observe himself: were his legs splayed drunkenly into the aisle? Was his face twisted violently with vodka? Or did he look normal? Maybe…
 
Marina, he noticed, was cuddled against him, her face buried in his chest. She then dropped her hand into his swimming trunks and began giving him a hand job. He yielded to the sensation for a long second and then pulled her hand out firmly.
 
“Jesus, people can see. We need…privacy…”
 
“No…” She put her hand in his shorts again. He grabbed the luxury wine-satchel and put it on his lap, a desperate, futile effort to cover up.
 
“Listen,” he pleaded with her, “Why don’t we get off the train. Go to a bathroom. We can get off at my stop…Let’s go to my place…”
 
“No,” she moaned. “I have to go back to my sister’s. I have the only key…”
 
“Let’s just get off the train…Right here…”
 
“No…I want to suck your dick…I want your dick in my mouth…”
 
“We should get off the train…People—”
 
“People…people…” she giggled mockingly. She began working his cock vigorously. He hated her. He pulled her hand out and, with surprising strength she pushed his hand out of the way and began again.
 
David tried to look disinterested, not show any expression to the people all around him. How could they not see what was happening? But they didn’t seem to see. But how could they not see…. Anyone could be on this train. His boss, his friends, old people, children. Insane. Insane. They were in Manhattan now and more and more people piled on to the train and huddled around them. He was sweating copiously. Sweat pooled on his face and trickled onto his shirt. He had to stop her but he couldn’t, it was too far. He was rock hard now and her fist was flying up and down his shaft. He was desperate to finish. He wanted to explode in her hand. But he couldn’t, not there, not with so many people…His body was now perfectly equidistant between torment and ecstasy. 
 
The train pulled into Penn Station and she moaned in his ear “I need…I get off here…my sister…” They tumbled out of the train and into the bustling crowd.
 
“I’ll take you to your train…” he muttered vaguely. She clung to him crazily as they walked. She scratched his face and body with her nails, and tried to choke him, and kiss him. 
 
At the top of a set of stairs, he pulled away from her. “Your train’s that way.” Leave her here. He had to get back to his apartment. He had to snap out of this dream. 
 
She stood wobbling in front of him, plastered, her face glowing with a beatific, idiotic expression.
 
“David…I want you to slap me…Hard…On the face.”
 
“No…Seriously?”
 
“Yes…Slap me…Hard…Please…”
 
“No…”
 
David tried to think—but he couldn’t. 
 
“David…” she pleaded.
 
From within, a sudden desire, a wave welling up and beating home to shore. He raised his hand high above his head and brought it down viciously upon her face. 
 
She staggered back a step and rubbed her jaw. She flashed a psychotic grin. “Oww…That was good…That hurt…That was good.”
 
She straightened herself, looked him firmly in the eyes, grabbed his crotch hard, and turned away to walk to her train.
 
A group of police officers standing nearby had watched what David had done and were already racing towards him. Just as he turned around to face them, one of the police officers barreled into him and slammed him onto the ground. This officer used his ape-like forearms to grind David’s face into the pavement, while another unseen police officer kicked and stomped on the rest of his body. They couldn’t get enough.
 
– the end
 
– Anonymous
 
 

poem #22

the professor
 
THE PROFESSOR THINKS ABOUT TURNING BACK
 
The rage of time inside the space
between his cupped hands and ears
was proof enough—he’d gone too far.
 
But it would be silly to turn back now,
halfway through a life, hunched over
at the long table in the cafeteria,
 
surrounded by gibbering omnivores
with their compartmentalized trays,
their divided lives…
 
He had a good chance at getting the Chair
if the Chair ever died. And his next book,
the important one—they’d expand
 
his Wikipedia entry. And what would he do
if he stood up right now and walked out, the pilaf
still steaming on his tray? Fishing?
 
TV? The Plebeians seemed to get by fine
with a six-pack and a lineup of celebrity game shows,
vampire sitcoms. He could blend right in.
 
The Korean man at the deli
wouldn’t think twice if he brought a bottle
of malt liquor to the register, asked for a pack
 
of Camel Lights. Thanks, Lee. See ya t’morrow.
And what would he be giving up?
After the lectures, the office hours,
 
the board meetings, the applications,
the hiring committee, applying for grants,
grading papers, reviewing the relevant journals,
 
after all that, to burn, to crave the unapportioned time
to sit down and what? Write his articles,
chase a fly around the room with a dish towel,
 
crack his neck, pace? And if he did give it up,
then at parties, when someone’s wife said,
And what do you do, Martin?
 
he could say, I work at the Port, offloading containers,
or, I run my own landscaping business. And she’d say,
No, you silly man, I mean, what do you do
 
do? What makes you get up in the morning?
And he would say, What do you mean?
And she would say, Never mind.
 
But of course, he wouldn’t be at parties like that,
at the parties he’d go to, no one would ask
what you do do. That would be nonsense.
 
But it wouldn’t be so easy as all that,
to get a job at the Port, start a business, etc.
And he’d put years of his life
 
into getting where he was now—a respectable position.
No, it would be silly to turn back now.
To turn away from the one thing he was good at.
 
Which was what, exactly? Obsessive
introspection? An unparalleled
ability to sit inside his own head
 
without going mad? Without going
mad? Without going mad?
Hello, class. I’d like to begin today’s lecture
 
with a thought experiment. Let us
imagine a man. He is just like me,
only older, and fatter, balder,
 
more able to get away with
being the acerbic asshole
he’s always been. He doesn’t drink.
 
He’s divorced. He wakes up at seven each day
and masturbates, before
making a pot of coffee, or plopping
 
a few ice cubes in the remnants
of yesterday’s pot. He eats
a bowl of cereal while grading the papers
 
he didn’t finish last night, he rushes to class,
discusses chapter six, catches himself staring
at the Chilean girl, gets flustered,
 
eats lunch by himself, arrives
at his afternoon lecture, locks the door,
puts a .38 special to his head
 
and says: What is happiness? Answer
in the form of a short essay. You have
until the end of the period.
 
– Horace Thursby Blandemeal, PhD

short story 5.3

guns company 3
 
GUNS & COMPANY (PART III, THE LAST PART)  (READ Part I, Part II)
 
Alice was a communicative lover in the sense that she made known what she wanted in a detailed if discreet manner, whispering to Gerald in her room, directing his body with her hands, scolding when he focused on his own desire instead of her fulfillment. They were quiet for the benefit of Christy, whose room was on the other side of the wall. The parents, she told him, were vacationing in Tucson. “They’re birders,” she explained. “When they go birding, I get laid.”
           He began realizing that Alice was a bit more experienced skin-to-skin than himself. His own exploits were more or less limited to his grandmother’s funeral a year and a half earlier when he’d been riding from Bozeman to the family property on Flathead Lake in a Suburban with the other grandchildren. He’d been sitting on the backbench with a relative newcomer, Charlene, the stepdaughter of his father’s sister. She put his fingers down her panties. It had been a singularly transformative experience, and after helping scatter his grandmother’s ashes off the dock, he stole a bottle of peach schnapps, grandma’s nightcap of choice, and rowed Charlene out in a johnboat. They finished each other off on the lake for better or worse with the sun on their backs and waterskiers racing by a quarter mile off the bow. It was all a rather sad and boozy affair. He’d never found a way to explain the incident to any one, even Will, and was grateful that his aunt lived in Topeka and that in all likelihood he would never have to see Charlene again as they were both due to hit college or what adults called the real world and occasionally the marketplace, which in Gerald’s estimation was either a euphemism or simply a terrible label for a shitty capitalist stopover en route to the grave.
 
A gunshot woke him to the dawn of the New Year, a crack that came from an uncomfortably close distance and that seemed to throb within his head as his eyes adjusted to the light. For a moment he thought it was a lightning strike but that would be fabulously rare on a winter morning. He’d heard of thundersnows but doubted very much he was in one. He was naked in Alice’s bed and quite alone.
            When he got himself dressed and got outside, Alice was standing over the dead calf with a synthetic-stocked Ruger in her hands. The snow, which had yet to subside, was building on the animal’s flanks.
            “Sylvester’s gone,” she said.
            Gerald found it odd that the calf had a name. He puzzled over it silently before saying, “You shot him?”
            “Jesus, Gerald.” She knelt in the snow. “Sylvester’s my horse. This is just a five-hundred dollar calf.” She stood and began pacing up the hill toward the mountains before stopping and kneeling again thirty yards out. He thought she was rather beautiful bundled up in layers and obscured in a veil of falling snow. Here was a Western woman. Here was a Western bride-to-be. Maybe not for him but somebody.
            She waved to Gerald to come up. He was empty and cold but didn’t realize it. Death and adrenaline were keeping him strong.
            She was pointing to another spot of blood in an enormous hoof print. Then she started explaining how she’d seen a mountain lion attacking Sylvester, her roan, and had shot it but the bullet went through and must have deflected because the calf was now quite dead. “The calf was not in the line of fire,” she said. “I saw to that. My dad’s gonna skin me. But I hit the sonofabitch, didn’t I? Look there. I smacked that cat. Didn’t think I did for a minute because he never gave up killing my horse. Strangling my poor horse.”
            Why a mountain lion would attack a horse when it had a perfectly tasty calf on the menu was baffling to Gerald, but then animals seemed to get unpredictable whenever you started thinking you understood them. Gerald had once found a bull moose that, best he could tell, had fallen to feline teeth and claws in a cottonwood bottom in the Gallatin River of all places, so certainly the size of the horse was not exactly a deterrent. Maybe this cat had an appetite. Maybe it liked horsemeat. He harrumphed and said he figured that if the cat was nicked then the blood trail would peter out and if it was hit well it’d eventually fall off or die holding on and either way they should probably get moving to recover the horse unless Alice wanted to wait an hour for the cat to bleed out.
            “Really, we should call Fish & Game,” he added.
            “We should be find my horse,” she said. She was starting to have a hard time talking with tears coming and pumping up the redness of a face already bright red from the cold. “It’s my damned horse.”
            “Then we should get on with it.”
            “I gotta tell Christy. Someone should know what we’re up to and where we’re at.”
            She ran off and made a fuss over having Gerald wait for her. His stomach was growling and he asked her to bring him something to eat because he knew he’d need it hiking through the drifts. The request sounded a bit crass but he felt it was reasonable and she didn’t argue with him. He was glad he was wearing his good winter boots. When she returned, she had a water bottle and a big end slice of banana bread smeared with cream cheese. They took turns eating and drinking and he wanted badly to kiss her and make her happy again but nothing about the situation was real inviting.
           
The horse prints looked like post holes and were easy enough to follow. Alice said she had another horse but it was too old to carry them and besides they’d stay warmer on foot. The blood spoor was brighter as the storm ebbed and the going was steady until they hit the treeline. They were scrambling up a field of scree when Gerald had a sick feeling as he looked at the tracks and realized how little blood was in the snow for a horse dragging a wounded mountain lion.
            “Sylvester should be bleeding, too,” he said.
            “I’m hoping for a miracle,” she said.
            “Maybe I should carry the rifle a stretch.”
            She frowned but handed over the gun. “You miss that cat, I’ll kill for you it.”
            This did little to reassure him and as they climbed into thick timber, he thought, I have gotten myself into a different world. And I’m lost in it. It occurred to him that in some ways this was exactly the sensation he’d been hoping for when he decided to leave Bozeman the day before only out here he was a bit colder than he would have been in say Reno.
            In a little hollow protected from the wind, they spotted the horse. It was remarkably healthy looking though streaks of red were on its belly and legs. Gerald searched for any sign of the cat and was increasingly less surprised when the only tracks he saw were human. Smallish boot prints. Probably a woman’s. He turned from the ground to the horse. The blood on its hide was not its own.
            “Alice?” he said. He kept closely abreast of the horse. He didn’t want to expose himself anymore in the hollow.
            “I really didn’t mean to kill the calf,” she said. “I was unloading the rifle. Guess I wasn’t real careful. You can put it down. It’s empty.”
            He checked the chamber and magazine but stopped short of tossing the gun. She might have the bullets in her pockets. The day had quickly become a nightmare and thoughts of New Year’s and of her body were becoming paradoxically clearer and more distant. In the trees, a figure moved black against the snow toward them. The figure broke-up in subtler and subtler shades as it neared. He knew it must be Christy. He knew that the gun slung over her shoulder was surely loaded. He figured she was sixty yards off and he had a choice between trying to ride the horse the hell out of there or doing the best he could on foot.
            “You don’t want to die a horse thief,” Alice said.
            “I don’t want to die,” he said. “I don’t know what I ever did to you.”
            “You and Jack pushed my brother off a bridge.”
            “That didn’t have a damn thing to do with me. I didn’t touch him.”
            “Maybe you didn’t hear he died month later. Brain aneurism. I been thinking for a long time on that. Only time he ever hit his head was in that fall. No way to prove it in court.”
            “I didn’t know and I didn’t push him and I’m sure as hell sorry to hear it so maybe you can tell your sister to put that rifle down.”
            “Jack knew. Jack sent us flowers.”
            “He never told me.” Gerald was hedging around toward the front of the horse to keep out of line with Christy. He was thinking about getting to the scree field. A running horse might struggle in the scree. Then, thinking finally in a semi-coherent manner, he swung the stock of the empty Ruger hard into the front leg of the horse. It reared and barked and he dropped the rifle and ran, trying to move in a zigzag through the pines. The blasts of Christy’s rifle echoed through the hollow and deafened him and he continued to run, to clamber up the hill. He was nearly out of sight of the girls when a bullet ripped through the side of his gut and sent him stumbling along the ridge. He regained his balance but now he knew that the run was becoming futile, that he was wounded, and that the girls could play with him at their leisure. He tripped as he hobbled through the scree and another bullet smashed into the rock at his side and shards ripped into his thigh. He crawled down through the scree and began to hobble out through the last pines and into the field. There was an odd sort of symmetry when he thought of the girls following his bloody steps just as he had followed the horse’s track out. He realized in horror that the blood had been Jack’s blood. He wondered how long Jack had been dead. Perhaps not long. Perhaps the girls had invited him to a New Year’s party, killed him, and had been celebrating their success at Sweet Street when he himself stumbled into them. And what did that make him? A sacrifice plopped in their laps? Christy must have been taking Jack out on the horse to bury him or leave him for the eagles and crows and coyotes to tear apart.
            At the edge of the field were the ranch house and cars, some three hundred yards distant. He had to make a choice between trying to get to a vehicle or cresting the near ridge and crossing the barbed wire and getting onto another property. Christy still had his keys. He didn’t know what to think. His world had become too dazzlingly bright and cold and he tried not to look at his side or his feet. The pain was starting to arc through his body as the shock of the gunshots wore off. He kept on toward the house. Maybe Christy had run out of bullets. Maybe he would find his keys or the keys to the truck and get down to the Madison Valley, to the highway. He could race into Ennis and die in the ambulance to Bozeman or die trying to get there. He wouldn’t mind dying, he decided, as much as dying at the hands of the sisters.
            How strange that they should be so full of hatred toward him. He remembered Jack calling them sluts when his car had broken down and he’d hopped a ride with them. Hadn’t he told Jack to be less conservative? What in hell did they want him dead for?
            Something was strange about the incident. Even with the brother, the silly tragic brother, and he couldn’t weight the brother. He’d only seen the kid once. No, the brother was an abstraction, to him and maybe to them, too. The brother was an excuse. Perhaps not even a real one. Had the girls killed their brother? Were the parents even in Tucson, as Alice had said, or was the entire ranch a cemetery? Here we slaughter the animals. And there the men.
            As he reached for the backdoor, he envisioned a bullet traveling 2,200 feet per second, smacking him in the spine, a soft whump followed by the echo of the shot. He would fall to his knees and would see the world blank before him. And he would die painting it with his blood.
 
– the end
 
– Lionel Harrington
 
– to read part II, click here
– to read part I, click here
 

poem #21

morning omelets 
 
[MORNINGS SOME EAT OMELETS…]
 
Mornings, some eat omelets,
evenings, marrow stew.
Regardless of the hour,
I nibble only you.
 
The English dine on cod,
the French on croque-monsenieur.
But I am just a mutt,
and all I crave is you
 
Passover is gefilte fish,
Easter is spring ewe.
Is it irreligious if
the meat I munch is you?
 
-Evelyn B. Hirschworth

essay #5

animal wonder
 
WONDERS OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
 
A fly was on my wall. Half-dangling, feet outstretched, wings against the wood. Quite dead, taunting gravity, no webs holding it. Sometimes I laughed at the fly that saw nothing and that, in expired attitude, was embracing the entire room.
            It’s gone now; I guess it could only fool with physics so long. I almost miss it, but not much.
 
This morning, while vacuuming, listening to that musical, domestic hum, I found the fly. Musca domestica. There, on the floor where it fell. Supine, feet outstretched, wings against the carpet. I turned off the machine to get a better look.
            I was about to pick it up when my cat beat me to it, pouncing between my legs, licking it up. Mister Roland’s a filthy thing, really. Fond of dead flies—live ones, too, but he has a hard time catching them. I once brought him to a friend’s cabin that had been vacant half the summer. I think he ate forty-three lifeless houseflies and six enormous horseflies before vomiting on the upholstery. It was none of it a very pretty sight.
            Roland left quite pleased with himself and began to preen. I felt a little queasy as I got back to cleaning.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

poem #20

canibalism
 
INTRA-SPECIES ANNIHILATIONIST QUANDARY
 
The other day, I got caught up in an ethics lecture, saying,
“Suppose a cannibal’s wife, full of pregnancy and
large with bursting breasts and belly,
has a stillborn as she enters labor.
Mr. Cannibal says, ‘Delicious!
What a tremendous mistake!
Mind if I wash her down
with a sip of colostrum?’
What should we think?
Let us say she acquiesces.
He begins nibbling,
sharing with his wife,
suckling her breasts,
holding some milk in his mouth,
kissing her, and dropping into her mouth
her own milk to compliment the meal.
Certainly, we have moved beyond
good taste, yes, but is the story
offensive to cannibals?
And does that matter?
Or are cannibals, like Nazis,
a group to whom we can attribute any evil
without self-reflective worry, morally speaking?
Of course we must analyze the evocation of ‘evil,’
but so what? I wish only to say, here we have man and wife
feasting on child, glugging on mother’s milk, and isn’t it
the least bit
funny?”
My professor
said to me, “No.”
 
– Kirstin O’Connor
 

poem #19

Begin again
 
BEGIN AGAIN
 
“It isn’t what I wanted,” he said.
“It isn’t quite perfect,” he said.
“This life isn’t fair to me,” he said.
“I think I’ll quit it.”
 
“Did you leave a note?” she asked.
“Did you give two weeks?” she asked.
“Is it fair to them?” she asked.
But he had bit it.
 
– Dominique R. Scalia
 

essay #4

dumplings
 
DUMPLINGS ON THE BRAIN
 
Because of my father, I was exposed to a wider array of cuisines than I had any right to be growing up in Montana in the 1980s and 90s. That was a time when my hometown of Bozeman had a few decent French restaurants, one Chinese restaurant, bars, and sandwich shops. My family rarely ate out, and I don’t think we missed much (for what it’s worth, Bozeman now has a vibrant culinary scene).
           Dad oftentimes made dishes with the game meat from the ducks, deer, elk, or antelope he hunted. A few times we even dined on bighorn sheep and moose. He would grill the loins and tenderloins and serve them with a Béarnaise or whiskey cream sauce. The rumps and other roasts he would stew or turn into burger. One of his favorite cookbooks was Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (it’s an invaluable book). We ate a good amount of Cajun and Creole food made with Montana wildlife. But not until Emeril Lagasse came on the national scene in 1993 with his first cookbook, Emeril’s New New Orleans Cooking, did my Dad make us American dumplings. I’d never had them before. They were tremendous.
            A Southern-style American dumpling is essentially white flour, milk, butter, seasonings, and baking powder combined into a gooey ball about the size of a shooter marble then either dropped into boiling liquid or steamed on a rack or colander where, after a minute or two, it puffs up and becomes an airy little cloud that will lovingly absorb all of the flavors of whatever you put it in. These dumplings are usually served with chicken in either a soup or a gravyish roux. I love them so much that I once seriously considered starting a food truck (to be named Bun/Cock) that would serve a sort of inverted Southern chicken and dumplings dish. I wanted to make the dumplings on a huge size so that they would act as the bun into which I would slop my chicken and gravy roux. I experimented around with proportions and ingredients (pig fat, eggs, yeast, minced onions, green onions, mushrooms, more baking powder) and eventually pulled off a good, fluffy, bun-like prototype. I even priced out ingredient and equipment costs before deciding that putting every ounce of my energy and every dime of my savings into a food truck was perhaps a misguided venture when I had a baby on the way. But for a minute there I thought, This will be my contribution to world cuisine. The tiny Southern dumpling turned into a sandwich.
 
Din Tai Fung-3
 
THE OTHER DUMPLINGS
 
Back in 2001 when I left Montana to go to college on the East Coast, I got a bit confused about dumplings. I knew what I meant when I talked about dumplings, but anyone else who told me, “Oh, I love dumplings, too,” turned out to be talking about a different food entirely, which was usually though not always Chinese dumplings.
            Chinese dumplings are commonly made by rolling out a flour and water-based pasta, cutting it into squares or rounds, dolloping on a mash of pork and/or other ingredients and seasonings, closing each one up, and either steaming them or steaming then frying them. To me, these were less dumplings than ravioli variants. I was a young man and, you might say, pigheaded—but I wasn’t so pigheaded as to not want to try them.
             Turns out, I love Chinese dumplings (especially the steamed kind), and I’ve been fortunate to get a very good fill of them lately. Specifically, I’ve been making the pilgrimage across Lake Washington to eat at Din Tai Fung in Bellevue. For those who may not know, Din Tai Fung is a Taiwan-based chain/foodie sensation that specializes in pork dumplings (see above; they also serve many other dumplings and dishes such hot and sour pork soup, shrimp and pork shao mai, and shaved ice: see below). Eating at Din Tai Fung is essentially a way to consume Taiwanese street food in an upscale setting. You can even peek in on the dumpling-making process through a window (at least in Bellevue you can). My mother-in-law, who was born in Taiwan, tells me that the street dumplings in Taipei are superior. Nevertheless, she loves Din Tai Fung. And how could you not? The food is sensational (and with a new location opening at University Village here in Seattle this fall/winter, what reason will I ever have to eat at home? Other Din Tai Fung locations: Los Angeles, Australia, South Korea, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and of course Taiwan).
             A plethora of other dumplings exist, too (from Italian gnocchi to German knödel to Nepalese momos to Jewish matzha balls and many, many more. For a list, see the Wikipedia dumpling entry). It would be an interesting endeavor, I think, to sample all of them. And since I don’t have the money to travel on a whim, I guess I better get cooking. Will this mean that I eat dumplings in one form or another for the rest of my life? Or at least the remainder of the year? Perhaps. And would a dumpling binge be so bad? Definitely not.
 
-Thomas McCafferty
 
Din Tai Fung-2Din Tai Fung-4Din Tai Fung
 
 

poem #18

beachfront psyche
 
BEACHFRONT PSYCHE
 
Asking too much of me, this life has never-the-less
made a turn for the better.
And I am as surprised as the next guy about it.
 
It’s not like I’m the most nominated film of the year,
but (speaking cinemaphorically) I’ve put the few million bucks worth
of butts in the seats it takes to break even.
 
Consumed by desire, I am going to give it all another try.
My self-hypnosis cassettes are rewound placebos:
My subconscious is crammed full of surface-level self-esteem.
 
Beauty is in the boredom, I think.
I think a lot too,
although that is a strange thing to say because
 
even always thinking of nothing
is a lot of thinking,
I think…
 
– Richard C. Armstrong III
 
 

poem #17

digging for love
 
DIGGING FOR LOVE
 
Rick Diamante was a Piemonte vintner
who loved currants and ginger.
He said he owned a diamond mine.
He asked if I would make him mine.
He wasn’t brilliant.
 
Greg Argentum jammed in Kingston.
He wooed me with a silver tongue.
He said he owned a silver mine.
He asked if I would make him mine.
I didn’t trust him.
 
John Aurum was from Harlem
where he lived in a gilded loft.
He said he owned a gold mine.
He asked if I would make him mine.
I found him soft.
 
Kyle Cuprum collected pennies
in the Spanish Pyrenees.
He said he owned a copper mine.
He asked if I would make him mine.
His love was tarnished.
 
I have no silver, copper, or diamond mines,
no golden valentines, no fortunes.
I’m a hard-hearted woman.
It’s just as well.
The man for me
is a man of steel.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

essay #3

Hot Foie Gras
 
ON TERRIBLE FOOD & ART
 
“Make it terrible or make it great.”
            That is what my professor Stanley Whitney told me when I was a
a twenty-one-year-old whippersnapper studying painting in Rome, and he specifically meant that I couldn’t settle for painting something merely mediocre. He wanted paintings good enough for the best galleries and museums in the world, and to hell with what would merely go up in a coffee shop with a $500 sticker. That was in 2003, the year I also began to really cook.
            I was reminded of his words last night when I was preparing a Marco Pierre White recipe (from White Heat) for “Hot foie gras, lentilles du pays, sherry vinegar sauce.” I had no troubles with searing the foie, but the lentils and sauce presented problems: 1) I had only a quarter cup of lentils and needed three-quarters more; 2) the sauce called for Madeira and sherry vinegar, and I had neither. Add to that a time crunch (when isn’t there a time crunch when dinner is at stake?), and I was feeling a bit of stress.
           The final stressor was Joyce Liu, a friend of mine and a former roommate of my wife’s, who’d been staying at our house. She’s a fantastic chef who’s been moving up the culinary ladder mostly under the tutelage of April Bloomfield for the last five years, since graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. My own time on the line has been less glamorous and my knowledge and skillset are infantile comparatively. She’d cooked for us the previous three nights, and now I was making food for her.
             I decided to par cook the lentils ahead of time (adding jasmine rice for volume) but screwed up and boiled them into a mush. Bland but edible. At that point, I had three options: Keep it as is, knowing it will never be that good; toss it and cook new; or try to make it great and risk making it truly terrible. And I couldn’t toss it. I had no time and no more lentils and making my guest eat foie gras on rice or perhaps couscous instead wouldn’t at all be in the spirit of the dish. I’d been simmering a mirepoix of carrots, shallots, and celery in butter in a pan on the side. I turned the flame high, added a scoop of pumpkin seeds, dumped in the mush, and did my best to fry the hell out of it. The result was an oily, soggy, heap. The texture was still poor, the taste somewhat better. I strained it to get rid of the extra oil and set it aside, hoping for an idea later.
            It was after my chicken finished roasting and I was looking at the delicious drippings that it occurred to me to strain about a quarter cup of that golden juicy fat into the heap—making it even soggier, pushing it toward a savory, bastardized congee with a French flavor profile. I cooked it into oblivion and when I was done it looked sort of like purple mashed potatoes. But! The texture was that of a good mash, and the taste was quite rich.
            Regards the sherry sauce, I managed to foul it by trying to reduce dry sherry with a drop of white wine vinegar, the result being far too bitter. This was an easy fix: red wine, tawny port, and foie gras drippings brought it together into a sweet and savory syrup.
           The end result was very tasty and I was excited to eat it with our guest. Was it as good as what Mr. White’s recipe called for? I think he would say definitely not (or something more profane). And wasn’t I lucky to have chicken drippings and foie gras drippings on hand? Certainly. But when you cook (or write or paint), you sometimes manufacture your own luck, and I never had the time or ingredients to make the right thing to begin with. I needed some luck and I needed to be willing to screw everything up.
 
– Thomas McCafferty

poem #16

i don't like you
 
I DON’T LIKE YOU
 
“I don’t like your poetry,” a man said to me the other day in the street.
“It’s all everyday observations. Dig for something more interesting.”
Yes, yes, I agreed. I’ll write some good confrontations next.
He walked off smiling. In retrospect, I see
my aesthetic sensibilities
killed the tension.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

poem #15

the pomeranian
 
THE POMERANIAN
 
The cod skins accounted for the stench,
which I knew, though I didn’t remove them.
“I’ll have to dispose of those fish,”
I told myself, day two,
between bourbons,
before drinking
two more.
 
The third afternoon, the skins transcended
into an olfactory veneer that made me
lightheaded. “Have some respect,”
I said. “Don’t be heroic,
persevering.
Take the
trash out.”
 
I met a Pomeranian, then, yapping at my step.
“Too late,” I told it. “The cod is bagged.
I’d bag you, too, if I wanted.”
It bounded at my heels
like the grease
that sparked
when I fried the filets.
 
I’d compare the pest to my ex-wife,
but she died; and my current wife
has separated (from me) bodily
into an alternate social ether,
more akin to carbon
monoxide
than a punky dog.
 
I’d compare it to Cobain’s hair or Warhol’s wig,
but Kurt and Andy have also passed
while the Pomeranian is vivaciously
wedging its pig-face through
my cracked door
as I take the trash
sack to the alley.
 
In its excitement, I’m sure the Pom will piss and retch
everywhere, as dogs do—the way my son used to
as an infant. I’ll coax it back
by extracting the skins
and flattening them
flesh-side up
on the doormat.
 
– Thomas McCafferty

short story 5.2

guns company 2
 
GUNS & COMPANY (PART II)  (to read Part I, click here)
 
Meghan met them at the door of the cabin. “Well, goodness me,” she said. “The Thompson cousins.”  Her hair was a dyed golden blonde and she was dressed in heels and a miniskirt, both black, her V-neck shirt dropping well into her cleavage and accentuated by a gold chain with a cross. No doubt the best advertisement for Christianity, Gerald mused. The gaudy image both attracted and repulsed him. She said, “And Gerald, looking so ridiculous and dashing.”
            “Yes, like one of Rembrandt’s fantasy portraits, he said. “Duchess”—he thought the title suited her—“you look like a cheap silkscreen.”
            “None of us care, Gerald.” She frowned at Will with raised eyebrows that seemed to say Why did you bring this idiot to my party? then dropped her face behind the door, straightened herself, and opened it. “You’re always welcome, Will, you know that. I would be bored without you.”
            The cabin was something of a log mansion—Meghan’s folks’ summer home, actually, and since she was going to school in Bozeman she used it all year for hosting parties. Will and Gerald had permanent places: Will because Meghan loved or hated him, both probably, and Gerald because she found him interesting; also he’d introduced them, if reluctantly—Meghan had been in a painting class with him and her paintings were terrible, but then so were his own. She and Will had been having grand and hopeless affairs ever since.
            And so nother party at Meghan’s Wonderland, as Gerald deemed it, is upon me.
            The parties weren’t so novel anymore and Gerald usually made it a point not to attend unless he knew he’d be able to talk with Will or even Miss Meghan back when he first knew her and was attracted to her himself. This would be the last one. The guests were already milling about, munching hors d’oeuvres. Like slugs in a garden. Two crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, highlighting the lead crystal glasses, the Champagne, the gleaming caviar; lighting the moisture on Meghan’s lips as she asked Will for a massage. “Tell her you’d rather vomit in her shirt,” Gerald suggested, but his cousin’s nerve had already wilted and he promptly excused himself to pursue some “nice anti-social observation.” His favorite game, when it came to this, was to plop himself, shrimp and caviar in hand, amongst several groups and take in the multiple conversations at once, or at least piece them together in a single continuum. Gerald knew it was hollow but went to work. The trick was to switch attention from one to the other on transition words, and so he began: Yeah, I can’t believe she gave you a C, Rachel, I mean it’s like dollar is just shit to the bitch is, like, completely just back from London—it’s like twice as much there to get your grade changed—Yeah, my parents said that beer is so fucking good and my parents are but, dude, they are hot. They walk around in nothing, man besides totally A quality paper. Gerald knew everyone and they knew him. He wondered if his presence unnerved them. He stared when they glanced. Still, the whole situation disgusted him, and he felt lousy for playing his game.
             Will and Meghan had left, to the boudoir, Gerald imagined. He didn’t want to imagine them in the boudoir, however, and he needed to scoot. He called them on Meghan’s cell phone from her own house phone until she picked-up. He said to her he was leaving and to be a good hostess and come and wish him farewell, and to bring his cousin when she did. And so they came.
            “Goodbye,” Meghan said.
Gerald tipped his hat. “Goodbye, darling,” he said. He turned to Will, “It’s ok if I leave now?”
            “It’s not even midnight,” Will said
            “I’d rather not be here when it is,” Gerald said. “No one to kiss. You know, you should come with me. Leave this rot and leave the Duchess. I’ll drive you to Bozeman and you can pack.” Gerald looked into Will’s eyes and Will stared back and for a moment Gerald hoped, and he said, “and we’ll go.” But dropping his eyes and bowing his head, Will broke, and broke between them. Gerald tossed his arms around his cousin and pounded his back. “Good luck, then,” he said. “Goodbye.” He hurried out into the night and the snow.
 
Gerald headed south on State Highway 93, trying to get out of Montana to Idaho. His hope was to reach Boise by morning and maybe keep on clear to Texas then hook east into the Deep South. He’d never been to the South and it seemed an excellent place to escape the suburbs, to find something real and vital still beating, something sad and beautiful still lingering. He was taken with a romantic vision of a heat that roiled his mind and blood, and of women in sheer dresses and children in overalls. And all of the colors—the Black, Hispanics, Asians, and every other ethnicity he’d never seen, cultures he’d never glimpsed. Montana was so limited. How could you understand life here? How could you understand art?
             The snow stopped him. It came in great white gusts that tore into his vision and obliterated his fantasies along with the night, the road, and the markers along it. Even with his headlights dimmed, he couldn’t see. In the hollow of the Madison Valley, the wind twisted and pounded his ’88 Honda. You’re being so stupid. His eyes ran in fear along the tops of the white crosses cropping up beside the road. He envisioned the car catching an edge of ice and shooting and rolling off the shoulder and into barbed wire. An old farmer would drive past in the first light of the New Year and see the overturned sedan, the windows shattered, and Gerald crushed inside with the braided metal strands gashing his flesh. His fish shirt, his favorite shirt, would be torn and bloodied so that he could not wear it in the casket, and finally, at the funeral, Will would only think he was a goddamned fool. He would be missed briefly and forgotten—he had accomplished nothing of importance in life, had not even really lived, so he wouldn’t much matter.
            He pulled over when he saw the neon lights for a bar called Sweet Street that glowed as if in a dream, as if suspended in the night and snow.
             The name did not fit—Sweet Street served no pastries, chocolates, or desserts of any kind. It served alcohol, so far as he could see, and Gerald thought it irresponsible, watching the drunks leave—because this was a bar only accessible by car. That’s what Montana was, though, and self-consciously he considered that maybe he sought just this—but no, boozing and driving was as much a middle class, suburbanite problem as a country standard. The bartendress—he liked the sound of the word and smiled to himself—was a middle-aged woman who wore no makeup and looked strangely beautiful but for the wrinkles in her wind-burned face. He wondered how old—maybe only thirty-five, he thought. When he met her eyes, he felt compelled to order or look away, his courage weak from the storm and from staring at her destroyed skin. He asked for coffee and she pointed him to a vending machine by the entrance of the bar, crowded in by a coat rack, a pool-cue rack, and a picture of a man in a blaze-orange hat holding up the head of a buck mule deer and grinning. Three nice racks, and not one belonging to a woman. Regardless, the vending machine coffee did not look appealing. He asked how long the bar would stay open.
             “Till there’s no business,” she said. “All night if there is.”
             Gerald felt good about his chances—he’d drink and wait out the storm and drive back to Ennis and pass out in the local library pretending to read a book and then drive on again in the day. The idea was just cheap enough. And it’s New Year’s, he told himself, and I’m too sober. He ordered a Maker’s Mark straight up with a glass of water on the side. Going to the South, he figured it time to start an appreciation for bourbon. The was didn’t ask for ID—Gerald was disappointed—he’d never been carded since he turned twenty-one over a year earlier and he felt the odds going down every day. He liked the whiskey and sipped it and let his eyes wander about the bar and noticed it was too bright, with a sort of diner quality to the lighting. Yes, people could see each other too clearly—every wrinkle and mole and scar, every point in every eyebrow where a hair had not been plucked, where zits erupted, and even the faint fuzz on upper lips. Everything that a bar was supposed to hide, that alcohol was supposed to hide, they failed to hide here. On the other hand, showing off flaws was more honest and he figured somewhat admirable.
             The intermittent opening door and accompanying touches of cold kept off the whiskey and kept him awake and conscious. The cold had an immediacy to it like hunger and pain, which would let up only in anticipation of death—it kissed the back of his neck, his fingers.
             His eyes came to rest on two women at a table across the way. The nearest to him was facing away, showing only the back of an auburn head of hair on slight shoulders. She wore a bright red shirt. Red had recently become his favorite color. He preferred green in the past but now it seemed too naturally ubiquitous—nothing was dangerous about green. The other girl, whose face he could see, was attractive and not so intriguing—her features were unremarkable, her shirt cold and white, and straight blond strands framed her rouged cheeks and bright red lips. The two were talking with animation, and he found them pleasing to watch through the smoke of the room.
             “It’s not that hard.”
             Gerald turned. He felt a strain in his neck, a knot wrenching at his shoulders just under the blades, twisting and running deep between his buttocks and neck, pulling taught his sinews, pulling with a pain that strained his eyes.
              “Talk to ‘em,” said the barkeep.
              Gerald wanted to say something but didn’t know what—and he felt at that moment he could see her weathered skin so clearly, with a purity of consciousness, and he could the gray bar and even himself, as if he were looking down upon them both after death.
               “I know them,” he said.
               “Then talk to them.”
               He rose and said to no one particularly, or even himself, as if going over a fact in his head, “I will talk to them, then,” and he adjusted his shirt and felt the smoke and lights burn his eyes and crossed the room with a deal of self-conscious stepping, finding his way nonetheless to the side of their table. He smiled at the face of the girl in red—he still thought of people his own age as boys and girls; it seemed to him there were really very few people mature enough to be labeled men or women, and sometimes he thought of maturity as a haven for death, and so he preferred boys and girls, or guys and gals if he was in a colloquial mood. He said, “Hello Alice. Hello Christy.”
               “Gerald Thompson,” Alice said. She was drinking vending-machine coffee—they both were and Gerald felt himself flush for having scorned it earlier.
               “I couldn’t help noticing your shirt, you know—I had to see the girl in the bright red shirt.”
               “Really?” Alice said. “But what are you doing here? It’s New Years.”
               “I was leaving,” he said. “Going south, trying to get to Boise. I’m moving to Louisiana. Or Florida. I haven’t decided.”
               “Leaving us poor souls to ourselves in Montana?” Christy asked.
               “I just needed to leave Bozeman, you know. I have to get out. Then I’m trying to drive in my little Honda, same car that blew the fan belt, and screw it in this storm, so here I am.”
               “Sit down,” Alice said.
               “Yes,” said Christy, “and you look as if you need a drink.” She called, “Mandy, this darling boy needs a drink—tea, I should think—you look dazed—please, Mandy, a cup of jasmine tea.”
               “Pretty word, jasmine,” Gerald said.
               “Yes, but that doesn’t matter, does it?” said Alice. “It’s about how it tastes and smells.”
               “Yes,” Christy said, “and it smells wonderful.” She called, “Mandy, bring three cups!”
                “I’m so glad,” Alice said. “Now we can have a tea party and celebrate the New Year properly.”
                “Oh we can,” Christy said.
                The tea came on a silver tray with three clear glasses and a tarnished silver pot of boiling water. In the sheen of the metal, Gerald could see Mandy’s gray eyes, hollow and magical, looking at his own. He wondered at the strange course the night had taken—the world had become unreal and he didn’t understand.
In each glass was a bulb wound with string at the ends—Mandy poured the water and the water took on a green tint as each bulb opened with hundreds of little petals, the string unwinding and the little flowers unfolding like glorious bursting suns drawn in calligraphic line, as if designed by Alfons Mucha. Mucha’s work is only design, Gerald thought, beautiful and contrived. He watched Alice bend over her cup and touch the water with a little pewter spoon: the green saturated the water and she smelled the perfume of the tea and sat back in her chair and blinked slowly.
                “Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked.
                “It is,” Gerald said. “I’ve never seen a tea like this.”
                “It tastes delicious, too,” Christy said. “It’s like a drug. Alice and I don’t let ourselves get it too often. Only on occasions. And this is an occasion.”
                “We grew up here,” Alice said. “We’ve known Mandy Hutter a long time.”
                “I saw her talking to you at the bar, only I didn’t recognize you,” Christy said. “She must like you.”
                “Really?”
                “Don’t play with Alice’s head, now, Gerald. We all know you came to see her.” Christy’s words were teasing and cross. “It’s just that Mandy must think you’re okay.”
                “She’d of told you we were both taken if she didn’t,” Alice said. She touched Gerald’s fingers with her own. She was not classically beautiful but he found her striking—her eyes were so soft, he thought, her face hard yet full and healthy, her round cheeks dimpled in smile. She said, “You silly boy—you’re forgetting all about your tea.”
                 “Yes, yes,” Christy said. “Drink up while it’s hot.”
                 Gerald did and they did not stay on long when the tea had finished. He was happy with the tea and with Sweet Street and Mandy Hutter, too, and with Christy and with Alice, particularly. The girls seemed to understand each other without speaking. But then they were sisters. Will was as close to a sibling as he’d ever had. He hated leaving, but the girls stood in unison and he followed. He thought he saw Ms. Hutter watching from behind the bar counter with the glass mugs and cups and taps and silver trays. He thought she looked at him pitiably, but he couldn’t say for sure.
 
Outside, Christy said, “Gerald, walking about in this weather with no coat and no hat and only a fish shirt—”
                “Is fairly stupid,” Alice said.
                “Isn’t it?”
                Gerald looked at his little Honda. “I hope this isn’t the point where I have to say goodnight,” he said. He realized he had not been invited any further. They had only asked if he would not also be leaving.
                “Of course not,” Christy said. “We wouldn’t let you go along all by yourself—follow us to the ranch—I don’t even think we can let him drive, can we, Alice?”
                “We certainly can’t.”
                “Gerald, you shouldn’t have been drinking, but oh do let me drive your car,” Christy said. “You can ride up in the truck with Alice. I love little cars.”
                Gerald fairly had no idea what to say to anything and walked along following Alice to the truck in compliance. He remembered hopping into the cab before and he tried again but slipped on the ice and only caught himself on the handle inside the door and pulled himself in and Alice laughed at him and pulled his face to hers and kissed him greedily. Then they drove out through the snow, following the red little taillights of Gerald’s Honda like eager children led on by two candy red cinnamon hots, going north along the highway then east into the foothills and ranchland of the Madison Range on a gravel road caked with snow. The faintest glints of light silhouetted the slopes of the mountains—this must be the reflected light from the moon, though Gerald couldn’t see the moon.
                “They’re amazing, aren’t they?” Alice asked.
                “Yes,” Gerald said, “Jack and I used to hike up Gold Creek after work.”
                “I shot an elk in Gold Creek this winter—in a big timber flat on the far side of the Sphinx. It was beautiful and so lonesome and quiet—no one goes there. Gerald, this is country. And you can’t find country lacking. I don’t know how you can grow up here and not know that but none of you Bozeman kids do and you even worked here.” Her voice was sad and accusatory and far away from him. “Bozeman is such a lot of hell.”
                “That’s why I’m leaving it.”
                 “You’re leaving this,” she said. “You don’t even know it—and you live in your goddamn head and you ignore it and you ignore me.”
                 “I’m not ignoring you.”
                 “Why didn’t I see you again after that day? Why did you disappear?”
                 “I don’t know. That was three years ago—you were sixteen.”
                 “So now I’m older and you follow me like a stupid lamb and I’m supposed to love you because you dress like an idiot and you’re an artist and kissed me once and you know I like you. But maybe you’re just pathetic. Maybe you listen to Jack, that ignorant shit who calls me a slut. Says I blew his brother. Fuck him and fuck you.” Alice slowed the truck, and in the glare cast by the snow and headlights, Gerald could see her crying. “I’m going to kill him, Gerald. I should kill Jack. I’m sorry, I know you don’t understand it—but I get hell for it. From everyone—we know each other here—we all know everything and every rumor and every hell.”
                 “I didn’t know,” he said. He didn’t know what to say that was right. He liked Jack.
                 “Yes,” Alice tried to laugh. “Well, you’re lucky I’m a tough girl, really—and all this shit is almost over.”
                 She laughed nervously and drove on, and Gerald looked at her with some bewilderment and felt his stomach begin to turn.
 
– end Part II
– to read Part I, click here
 
– Lionel Harrington

poem #14

ballade
 
BALLADE
 
Brothers who live while we have died                        
Don’t turn hard hearts against us, we             
Are poor, and if you pity us    
God will sooner grant you mercy        
You see us dangling, five or six                                   
The flesh which once we so sated                               
Long since was eaten, is putrid                                               
Our bones are now ash and powder                                       
Let none laugh at we misfortuned                              
But pray God give us His pardon.                   
 
If we call you brothers, don’t deny                 
Don’t disdain, we were slain justly                 
For as you may know, by and by                                            
Not all men have sagacity                               
Then ask our pardon from Mary         
The Virgin’s son, since we are dead,                                       
See that his grace hasn’t wilted                       
That he keeps us from hell’s doldrums            
Let none harass us, we are dead                      
But pray God give us His pardon.       
 
The rain has rinsed us and dyed us                 
The sun left us blackened, blistery
Magpies and crows have scooped our eyes      
And torn our beards and eyebrows, we
Are never easy, resting free                             
Here, then there, as the wind is mended         
At its whim it blows us suspended                 
More pecked than thimbles of pewter
Don’t in our brotherhood be joined               
But pray God give us His pardon.       
 
Prince Jesus, of all empowered,                                  
From hell’s reach keep us unbounded             
With Satan we owe no payment                                 
Men, this is no joke that’s uttered                  
But pray God give us His pardon.       
 
– Francois Villon, translated from the French by Elliott Dawes

poem #13

animal dynamism
 
ANIMAL DYNAMISM
 
A woolly dog is under
my neighbor’s primrose bush
eyes closed, belly in the dust
 
every day in the same position
from which he’s never moved
though his hairs glisten in
 
and out of rhythm
so I’m pretty sure
he’s breathing.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

essay #2

Food 1
 
A MAIALINO LINE COOK DISHES IT UP…
 
I was recently reminded of a well-known diner in Montreal called Wilensky’s. It’s a simple and straight-shooting institution that serves and has always served most notably the Wilensky Special, a pressed all-beef fried salami and bologna sandwich on a locally baked Kaiser roll. Its notoriety derives from its old mustard policy—if you DON’T want mustard on your sandwich, it’ll run you an extra 10 cents (previously 5 cents). Nowadays, mustard is compulsory. 
            This modest eatery could not be further away from the celebrity chef constellation of New York. And yet, next to Maialino, where I work, it raises an interesting distinction. What is the uneasy foxtrot between the curated vision of the chef and the wants and desires of its guests? In many ways, this question enters the oldest dialogue in history. In Plato’s The Republic, he asked why we would let ordinary people run society when we have philosophers. He reasoned that would be akin to passengers on a boat navigating the ship instead of the experienced captain. If we compare chefs to rock stars (as it has often been done), would you ask Mumford and Sons to change the lyrics or key to suit your whims? Rather, isn’t it the other way around where you gravitate to a song because it profoundly delights your palate, perhaps even surprises you?
            A condemnation this is not. Obviously, with a magnanimous willingness to accommodate a majority of requests, Maialino has a legion of regulars the likes I have never seen before. They include not only admirers from the neighborhood but also those who seek a place of comfort whilst going about their daily lives – whether it be business meetings, breakfast bites or special dinners. Standing alongside the unwavering excellence and accessibility of the dishes going out of the kitchen is the unobtrusively deft service that is always there when you need it and not so much when you do not. It is about your enjoyment and that alone. The food and its delivery is thus subsumed under the larger orbit of one’s dining experience rather than demanding a stage for its own vanity (though it has much to boast about).
            So, Wilensky’s is undoubtedly a cool place, with its old world appeal and quirky fascism. And perhaps truth be told, a fried salami sandwich just isn’t the same without mustard. But chances are, and if given the option, you would return to Maialino again and again because no matter what the words on the menu say, you can get that delicious mushroom and goat cheese frittata to go, just like your mom used to make. 
 
– Anon
 
 
 

short story #5.1

Guns and Company 1
 
GUNS & COMPANY (PART I)
 
The calf had died in the snow that covered the spot, its blood visible only faintly, a spatter of light pink that glowed through the fresher flakes—Gerald almost didn’t notice. He had to squint to see anything in that light. But he’d heard the screams of the calf distinctly, and he thought he understood something now. Yesterday, he’d known only that he would leave, saying to himself as he strolled in downtown Bozeman, “Gerald Thompson, this is a marvelous day.” He hadn’t thought of the coming storm; he hadn’t thought he’d see Alice again, though she’d tripped through his mind and he’d smiled thinking about her, sitting in the fields with her, kissing her. Now she stood behind him, watching.
            The wind bustled down from the mountains at his back and burned along his ears and through his fish-checked shirt. Gerald shifted his weight. The tiptops of dead wheat stalks poked above the snow like a blonde five o’clock shadow on a pale face. He rubbed the snot out of his eyes with his knuckles and looked down and kicked the snow and kicked up the frozen blood and the fine, white hairs. It happened, he thought. It was real and not in his head. This was life, come and gone.
 
*
 
Gerald Thompson, this is a marvelous day—cold, opaque and you are the glistening ray of sunshine lighting the streets, the snow, each little crystal blinding each little passerby. Gerald, my boy, you are a fine, no, a superb specimen of a human being. He stopped in front of the glass of the Leaf & Bean and admired his reflection through the lenses of aviator sunglasses. He was dressed in corduroys and a suede trench coat that he thought of as a nice piece of cow. The outfit was topped with a felt fedora, the front brim of which he’d folded down in Humphrey Bogart fashion. All had come second hand, given him by his father, excepting the sunglasses, the material find of his life that had been waiting just for him, he fancied, half buried in early August under the trash and napweed that lined the side of State Highway 93. Napweed was a green gaunt and wiry noxious plant that sent roots down as far its two-foot stocks and grew lavender buds that overnight would bloom and turn to seed and spread in the wind. He remembered working along that highway, digging in the gravel with pry bars and picking up cigarette butts and bottles and pounding the blue steel rod through the earth over and again with all his back and arms to get the plants out by the root. And he had looked beneath one of the fallen purple flowers and seen the gold-rimmed sunglasses through the dust. It was the same spot he’d blown a fan belt and hitched a ride to town with two high school girls in low-cut tube-tops. “They’re sluts, man,” Jack had said. Jack was three years younger than himself. “You want nothin’ to do with ‘em.” Gerald had grinned and told Jack he was too conservative and with a hop had pulled himself into the front cab of the truck.
            The sunglasses took up most of Gerald’s face. He adjusted his hat a turn and walked into the Leaf & Bean, the coffee shop that still, three years out of high school, he found himself coming back to. He ordered hot-spiced cider, which just tasted like sugar. No one went there for the quality of the drinks. They went to talk and escape the cold of winter during the day, before the bars opened. And high school kids went year-round because they couldn’t go anywhere else. He felt suddenly old looking at all of the young faces, only a handful of whom he knew. He used to know them all. It alienated him until he sat down with his cousin Will at a fake marble-top table and began to focus on conversation. 
            “You mean it?” Will was asking. “If you really mean it, you’re leaving.”
            “I’m on the skedaddle. As surely as the day is short.” Gerald sipped his cider, realizing he should have brought some Scotch to spike it. Will was nursing a cappuccino. Gerald felt along the corrugations of his corduroy pants, so soft; he wondered if they looked as soft. “Bozeman’s just a big suburb—it’s thirty thousand white people watching sitcoms. I gotta get.”
            “Yes, but you know it’s arbitrary to care that it’s suburban. I like it here. Even you like it here.”
            Gerald sank into his plush armchair and dropped his eyes and watched the steam from Will’s coffee dance and fade into the air. Beautiful, he thought. “It’s nauseating to me now,” he said. “It’s such a censored kind of bantering monotone—all the same and nobody with anything to say. To really say. We talk back and forth because it’s no good saying nothing so we all just talk about nothing instead. It’s like there’s nothing risked, so what’s here to gain?”
            Will’s face was deep in the shadow cast from the hair that struggled up like a blazing black flame from his scalp. He rapped his fingertips on the saucer, absent-mindedly wiping up little coffee stains, blinking his brown and gold eyes—they almost glow in the shadow of his face, Gerald thought.
            “I wish I didn’t have to go,” Gerald said. “But I’m making jackshit that’s any good here. My paintings are boringer than the city.”
            “You’re coming to Meghan’s New Year’s tonight?”
            “I didn’t plan to.”
            Will looked down at his cappuccino—it was empty and Gerald knew this, and he watched Will sitting so stark against his wooden chair that didn’t seem to hold him quite right. A picturesque image insofar as they looked perfectly out of place together—odd how picturesque changed over the years from what did look right to finding beauty in what did not, Gerald thought; he didn’t like to see Will look down, but, he thought, there was beauty.
“I should paint you like that,” Gerald said, “you’re perfectly misplaced.”
            “Sure,” Will said. “But come to the party.”  
            “If you’re going, I wouldn’t miss it.”
 
Another December thirty-one and no girl, no resolutions, no decision, no direction. La di da to that. Gerald stood facing his dorm’s head-to-toe warped dressing mirror that made him look stocky. Tough. His dorm room was small and bland and naked now and somehow prettier without all his old paintings hanging from tacks and tape. He spent little physical time in the room, purely to sleep. The paintings had been embarrassments, anyhow, proof that his old standards of art fell low of the mark. Maybe Florida would hold the answer. He’d packed: his paintings rolled in and around shipping tubes, his father’s canvas duffle bags jammed with clothes, two boxes filled with books, and all in his car. He hated the room and hated the linoleum-tiled floor, soft in the mornings beneath his feet with the fuzz of dust and cold. He frowned at the mirror—navy dress pants and a deeper, near black fish shirt patterned with salmon, crappy, bass, trout, and sunfish, over-worn and beginning to fade, only a hint of whimsy remaining from what had once been outlandish. This was goodbye. He placed the fedora lightly on his hair, pulled on his suede coat, and thrust his fists deep into the pockets, fingers finding old tissues balled and disintegrating. He pulled these out and tossed them on the floor and turned, catching himself in profile. “An Adonis of a bumpkin,” he said, and he left.
            Snow drifted through the light thrown off by the metal halide bulbs over the parking lot, the streetlamp poles hanging bright and gray, splitting and curving in opposite directions at the tops, like the frozen necks of great dead swans, he thought. He hated them, hated the parking lot: All so ugly. Not even so ugly. Just so damned boring. Too nice, too well kept. No razor wire, no stench of piss, no needles. Disgustingly safe. Only his imagination could produce a moment of apprehension, but he had come to view even imagination cynically. In elementary school, they teach you to use your imagination so that you can get through the goddamned boring and bland hell they raise you in without complaint, without going out of your mind because of how disturbingly mundane it all is, and lifeless—everyone running scared, living in the drama in their heads because they have no real dramas in their lives. Gerald was young enough that he found such notions terribly poignant but astute enough that he understood his own tendencies. “Hard for me too to keep the goddamned drama out of my own head,” he said. “Screw it.” He pulled the suede coat off and folded it up inside out and tucked it under his arm and walked out in the snow to his car. The steering wheel was frigid to the touch and he cursed himself for packing his gloves in his duffle bag. 
 
Will stood outside his own dormitory, waiting, as Gerald drove up.
            “You don’t look well,” Gerald said. Will was annoyed. Terribly dressed, too, Gerald observed. It was like he had never seen colors outside of black and khaki. Stubborn in a naïve kind of way. “You ever gonna spiff up for any goddamned thing? It’s fucking New Year’s.”        
            Will considered. “I don’t know,” he said. “I see you packed.”
            “Yeah.”
            “How do I get back?”
            “I’ll drive you,” Gerald said, “if you don’t end up staying, you know.” The qualification seemed unnecessary.
            “I’m not getting back with Meghan,” Will said.
            “No,” Gerald laughed, “never.”
            “Fuck you.”
            “Nothing like revisiting old horrors.” He regretted saying that. He loved Will.
            “Jesus Christ. Don’t turn your goddamned patronizing act on me—your intellectual superiority insecurity complex, like I’m one of them that you can observe and fucking know.”        
            “Ah, fuck it, man. I know you’re not one of them,” Gerald said. “No one really is.” He wanted to say, “Let’s drop it,” but didn’t let himself. He knew people who said that and it annoyed him; he liked to argue things out until both parties were equally alienated or somewhat reconciled. He’d always hated when people would just shut up and say nothing. That’s what’s patronizing, he thought, the idea that they know better than you and are too good to tell you, or that you’re too stupid to understand. Of course, it’s true enough that most arguments don’t end well, but fuck—fuck it; he was bored with it.
            Will looked out the windshield, watching the snow and lit-up billboards pass as they left town, left Bozeman and headed into the Madison Valley that stretched out great and black before them in the dusk. “We’re all conceited,” he said.
            Gerald looked at him a moment and grinned. “No,” he said, “you and I aren’t rich enough to really be conceited. I think the best we can do is pretentious.”
           
Gerald had driven up the canyon so many times—not to Meghan’s so much, like Will, though enough times to know how to get there, but really he used to come up—they all did—to hike, to fish, to drink, to work. He remembered driving with Jack once with a bottle of red wine they’d found dusty but unopened in the work shed. They’d gotten ripped out near Pioneer Campground, laying on the grass beside the river in the sun—it was beautiful, then, so hot, and he could smell the grasses and pines, and Jack had brought a pack of cloves, and they had smoked and drank and Jack had said, “It’s a hell of a life.” Sure it is. “All we need is a couple girls.” We’d fuck it up. “Whatever happened with those chicks in the car?” Like I’d tell you, man, you’re too young. “Ah fuck that. I bet you didn’t do nothin’ with ‘em—best for you, anyhow.” I wasn’t that lucky. How are they, anyway? “I don’t really know—they’re older’n me—guess they’re still workin’ out the ranch their uncle owns, but I don’t know.” They were nice girls, and Alice was damned cute. “Both ‘er pretty hot. Sluts, though. My older brother—” Fuck it man, you still hung up on that shit? “Ah, I don’t know.” They’d walked the couple miles back to the truck to sober up, and there were some kids bridge jumping or waiting to start bridge jumping or perhaps just finishing up and anyhow sitting on the rails. Jack had known the biggest of them.
            “William,” Gerald said, “did I ever tell you about when Jack punched that Wilkins kid?”
            “No.”
            “So we’re walking back the road at this bridge, the one just after Pioneer Campground, and Jack sees this big kid, blond guy with a crew cut, wearing one of those long striped swimsuits all the high school guys wear, and his chest is sunburned and he’s with this other guy who was just there, I think, and a girl he’s trying to show off to or something and he’s chewing a big wad. Name was Jonathon Wilkins. I didn’t know who he was then, though, and he spits a wad in front of Jack and says to him, ‘Say hi to your brother for me,’ and he laughs—Jack’s brother’s in prison for making meth, stupid kid, but Jack’s touchy about it—and Jack, three years younger than this guy, stops, and he looks at me, and he says to me, ‘You know Alice and Christy?’ Yep. And he walks up to this guy, just sitting on the railing, and says, ‘My brother says your sisters give good head,’ and punches him in the face and the Wilkins kid falls back off the bridge, and Jack and I walk over and look over the railing and his face is bleeding—he’s ok, and Jack spits at him, and we drive off and he’s all climbing back up the bank cussing and saying he’s gonna get Jack and shit like that.”
            “Crazy.”
            “You remember those girls I told you I got a ride with?”
            “Yeah.”
            “Yeah, they were too young, then. Cute girls, though.” 
            “Like that stopped you.”
            Gerald laughed. “Well, I kissed Alice, anyway.”
            “I don’t see you’ve gotta go, really—go back working summers on the ranch.”
            “I don’t know,” Gerald said. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen Jack for a while now. Winston would hire me back, but—I’ve been here too long. I gotta leave Bozeman. I mean, it’s not like you just coming to school here—I’ve lived here, what twenty-two years. I’m done, man. Fuck this place. The art department sucks anyway.”
            “Graphic design’s good.”
            “And fuck graphic design, man. That’s advertising. That’s selling yourself.”
            They drove on in mutual ease and silence. The snow no longer fell so much as it came swooshing up and from the sides with the gusts of the wind, mesmerizing sworls in the headlights. Beyond the snow lay the road and beyond the road the pines that all broke up in shades of black. Gerald blinked with a conscious effort to see the snow and the road and the trees and understand them—to legitimize them to himself as a reality, concrete and tangible, and he strained all of his attentions and touches and memories—he knew them, almost, but still they passed, images flitting effortlessly, two-dimensionally by—and he could not get there—it was all a film. It was something Alice had said to him. They were sitting just off the road at dusk—his car had been towed and Alice had offered to drive him home—and he was smoking a joint with her and twisting stems of wheat in his fingers and running his fingers up the shafts, pulling all the seeds of wheat into a bunch at his thumb and forefinger and blowing them away to the ground, and Alice had said, “No one knows it—no one knows this.” She picked at the dirt and wheat and leaned against Gerald’s chest. “Everyone sees it and goes on and no one tries to see it and feel it.” And she’d kissed the tip of his nose. But he could not get at that memory—it slipped away quickly—he wanted to stop and walk out to the trees and touch the bark; he blinked and drove on and he had the feeling that he had lost touch with anything truly alive, that he had entered into a sort of limbo and was moving toward hell.
 
– end Part I
 
– Lionel Harrington
 
 

poem #12

not about the new prince
 
NOT ABOUT THE NEW PRINCE IN 17 LINES
 
“I hate topical poems,” she said. “Don’t you?”
Like about news? Yeah, but hang on a sec. I just read
that Will & Kate’s son was born eight pounds, six ounces
the same weight as Bailey, only sixty-eight days later.
 
“I hate overly referential poems,” she said.
Oh, the worst. Bad as stale Cheerios. Do you realize
this kid is so bald he actually makes Will look less bald?
They should name him, like, Mr. Potato Head.
 
“I hate metta poems,” she said.
All that self-referential crap?  Who even writes it?
I feel like tweeting nasty things at those sonsofbitches,
but in, like, a clever kind of way. With a rhyme scheme.
 
“I hate your poems,” she said.
I’m with you, there, sis. I mean, I’ll be with you
as soon as I’m done shredding this poem and
writing a new one for the new no-name prince,
 
that is, unless, #welcometotheworld sticks. 
 
– Thomas McCafferty

poem #11

roast chicken
 
[THE SHEEN OF PINK BREASTS AND PLUCKED SKIN]
 
The sheen of pink breasts and plucked skin
Peeked up from the roasting pan
You clucked, It’s a big hen
Then added rosemary and pepper
Shallots, thyme, and coriander
You bathed it in the Chardonnay
That I found fortuitously
You wanted white, not red
The bird mustn’t bake off color
 
I fell in love with chickens
Smothered in butter
 
I sometimes gauged us by the number
Of fowl we roasted and times we thundered
Against each other in the bed or kitchen
Dirtying oven pans and silk linen
One act as messy as the other
You roasted the chickens better
Than me—when I had cheddar
I bought the Champagne
 
You fell in love with me
You tired of that refrain
 
I tired of that refrain
We had nothing left to toast
No more chickens to roast
 
Evelyn B. Hirschworth

short story #4

pastiche revised
 
THE PASTICHE REVISED
 
Friday night, a woman who lives in my building, I quite forget her name, invited me to a party. We walked ten blocks to the wine store because she would not go to her friend’s apartment without a gift. We talked as we strolled, me chitchatting and trying to show I cared or at least that I was listening. She was preoccupied with the dress she was going to wear to an upcoming soiree of some import with a minister of state.
            After buying a good bottle of aged tequila, we went back up the street for the party. She was still talking about dresses and about the minister.
            Her friend’s apartment was nice: spacious for Paris with a large living room where twenty-somethings and thirty-year-olds mingled. I poured myself a glass of I don’t know what and entered into conversation with a woman I met at a conference. She was with her boyfriend who was a member of a metal band that was truly awful. They were encouraging me to join the mailing list on their website so I wouldn’t miss his next concert. Or the one after that. Perfect.
            I was relieved when the couple went looking for drinks and I found Thierry. He was a guy I had known through mutual acquaintances, but we had never spoken. He had slept with my good friend the previous year or, more precisely had tried to, but he’d been feeble. Soft. I thought about this while we were discussing contemporary bohemian culture with his jazz friends. Had I had too much to drink? I didn’t fully understand them. I had come in in the middle, and the subject kept eluding me. They were bullshitting about everything from electroclash music to Japanese graphic arts, speaking vaguely and always with a hint of rebellion and postmodern irony. I would have rather talked about sales. About work.
           After half an hour, it occurred to me that Thierry was hitting on me. He had his arms hugged around my waist, and he was asking me to leave with him. Despite the incomprehensible conversation, he reminded me of a quote I had read in a novel: “Charm is a quality that can sometimes replace beauty—at least in men.”
           At his bachelor pad, he told me, “You have a great ass.”
           Then we cuddled. I remembered what he had said last year to my friend on the subject of his impotence—that it was due to too much masturbation. He tried with me, I think, but not for long. This night, he blamed alcohol. I left.
 
Today, I lunched with my friend Helen in the Marais. She is a lesbian, but after frustrating relationships with women, she fell in love with a man who is too neurotic to have sex. Bad fucking luck. I told her about my evening with Thierry. I admitted that in my utter solitude, I found Thierry nice.
           She advised me: “Do not have an affair with a man who has problems of the penis. Do not do it.”
           I think she may be right.
 
– Adriana Nguyen, translated from the French by J. A. Chen

poem #10

jack and jill untold
 
JACK & JILL: THE UNTOLD STORY
 
Jack and Jill went up a hill
to pop a bunch of pills,
and Jack, bending back,
leaned o’er a pail of water.
But he wasn’t fetching it, no.
For in his hand, he held a crow,
And he was aholding its head under.
Jill gave Jack a smack and said,
“A crow’s a terrible thing to waste.
Let’s charge admittance.”
They painted a sign and the people
came and stood and gaped to see
the crow that would no longer breathe. 
Jack and Jill made more than a pittance
on that hill—but Jill’s ornery brother Phil
didn’t get a cent and in resentment
wrote the slander we all know:
that Jack fell down
and broke his crown
and Jill came
tumbling after.
In fact, Jack and Jill
bought more expensive pills,
kissed on windowsills,
and hung Phil
from a rafter.
 
– Kirstin O’Connor

poem #9

mfa blues
 
MFA BLUES
 
I said to her, “I wish I could undo my MFA. Don’t you?”
“Even college, I think, was a mistake,” she replied,
reading glasses obscuring her eyes.
“What if we’d been high school dropouts?”
“Wouldn’t that have made our writing vital?”
“I’ll create an avatar and name him Jason Parsons.”
“Don’t name him after a school,” she blurted out.
“Fine. I’ll name him Jason Mason.”
“I hate double first names. You’re trying too hard.”
“I know, but isn’t that something that someone who has no MFA would do?”
“Oh, name him Jason Jones, won’t you? JJ. He’s the kind of boy
I would have dropped out to be with.”
“You wouldn’t have for me?”
“You wouldn’t have let me.
You knew how important college was.”
“I miss college,” I said, sentimentally.
“Me too. And grad school. Workshops. Critiques.”
“We could re-enroll and get creative writing PhDs.”
“I used to think those were a joke. Doctor of writing.”
“Would people call us doctors?”
“We’d call each other doctors.”
“For about a day.”
“Let’s apply to the P-Town residency instead.”
“Oh let’s! Cape Cod and other writers. Artists.”
“Gay men and lesbians calling us breeders.”
“It would be so novel. So dreamy.”
“So dreary. So fantastically bleak.”
“In that Virginia Woolfish way.”
“We would be so cool.”
 
– Thomas McCafferty

poem #8

Cowboys and Candy
 
COWBOYS AND CANDY
 
His hair in tornadoes twists
his breath touched with a Mint Julep
his tongue, his lips, his whirlwind kiss
wrangle me to heavenly bliss.
 
– Casey Whittaker

poem #7

Kodachrome Days 
 
KODACHROME DAYS
 
In my applesauce was the face of God.
I fished out my Nikon
and a fresh film roll.
Wouldn’t you know,
I overexposed the shot.
“You made a green God white,”
my sister said. “Miraculous.
Easier for the masses to digest.”
But He was already pretty palatable,
I mean, my God, He tasted good.
 
 – Evelyn B. Hirschworth

essay #1

Before they were soldiers

BEFORE THEY WERE SOLDIERS

Calvin and Sean and Leaf and I start hiking into the Beartooth Wilderness in the late afternoon. The air is dry as we head up a lifeless trail past lakes that sit like Buddhas nestled in the mountains. We hike through meadows, yellow and brown with withering flowers and decaying grass. The peaks, at twelve thousand feet, terrible gods of ice and granite, command attention, respect, and fear. My muscles strain under my pack a little more each mile until I  can’t feel them. A dizziness, an ease of repetition hits you until you stop  a minute to drink and then, starting again, the sore bones and muscles that were nothing but dull pains before scream alive. After hiking for hours in silence, ignoring them becomes impossible. What little sound there is, is only the wind picking up, bringing clouds. The sky fills with haze that deepens to the intensity of black. Calvin turns to me, “We should set up camp before it rains.” I agree, though it means stopping short tonight.
            The tents go up in a drizzle, a slow leak from the clouds, exploding as we escape inside, rain pounding the granite below us in waves from the sky. Here we are far above the treeline. I open a window enough to look out and watch the lightning. No firework show could ever compete. Booms of thunder send tremors through the ground, keeping us from sleep. Across the lake, a crack, a million guns fired at once, draws me to the window and I watch the only avalanche I’ve ever seen. Boulders the size of cars slide down barren fields of scree. They look small from here. Then the storm is gone and the sky lightens and the clouds break. The last light fades into black, and we listen to the streams of water washing under the canvas tarp of the tent, runoff from the slopes above that fills the lake, which now sits as calmly as before.
            And my mind wanders to women, which is inevitable when you are sixteen and in the company of men.
 
– Lionel Harrington

poem #6

Elephantine Ponderings
ELEPHANTINE PONDERINGS
 
My newborn son wears a surprising number
of shirts printed with pachyderms.
My wife calls them cuuuute.
But is it paranoid to see
political conspiracy?
 
I mean, he’s never decked in donkey-dappled Polos—
am I unwittingly rearing the next Marco Rubio?
And is that bad? Isn’t it, from a certain light,
admirable that the GOP has invested so (top)heavily
in dressing our future generations?
 
“No, it’s creepy,” my wife tells me.
She has an answer for everything. She says,
“But the Dems are just as bad, my darling.
They back the nudist child movement.
Literally. Asses bared.”
 
– Thomas McCafferty

short story #3

Symmetry
 
SYMMETRY
 
Croft is watching the train pass by as he sits in the passenger seat of his grandmother’s sedan. He is thinking about the people who die beneath the crushing heft of the cars, which grind their bodies into the tracks. These tracks being near his grandmother’s house, where Croft lives, he marks them down on a mental list of nearby places to die.
 
Croft is depressed. Last week Croft decided to kill himself soon. Having once been told by his father that things worth doing should be done right, he waits patiently to arrive at the best plan. Every day when he gets home from school he rescues the daily news from the recycle bin in his grandmother’s garage and slips it in his backpack before he enters the house. After his chores, and after he and grandmother eat supper, he retires to his room for homework. This week, though, Croft has done no homework. Instead, he has spent all his free hours reading the newspaper and recording the ways that people have died.
 
In his journal, Croft keeps a page for each death. Headed with the name of the departed and footed by their particular means of exit, the rest of the page details any information Croft can glean about their life, along with an analysis of how they ought best to have died and what they seem to have mishandled in the events leading to their demise. The more he reads and the more he writes, the less connection Croft feels to the subjects of his study. His analyses become more calculated as he feels himself coming closer to the formula for a perfect death.
 
As the gates rise up to allow cars to cross the train tracks, Croft is thinking about the sermon he and his grandmother just heard at church. The preacher had described a life of sin as a runaway train. Once on board, he had said, it seems that all is still and the sinner is blind to the world rushing past them. Salvation, said the preacher, is as easy as turning to the side and realizing that you can simply step off the train and land firmly in the arms of Jesus. Croft wonders if Jesus, waiting by the tracks, will try to stop him from placing his 12-year-old body beneath the train. Such interference could complicate the attempt and ruin the chance for an uneventful death. Croft thinks hard about this for the rest of the ride home so that he will remember to write it down when he is left alone in his room.
 
Grandmother pulls the car into the gravel driveway and Croft is simultaneously unbuckling his seatbelt for a speedy escape. The radio has kept grandmother quiet all the way home as she has listened intently to callers from all over the country describe miraculous religious experiences. But at this moment Croft is snapped quickly out of his mortal preoccupation by grandmother’s first break in silence. “You clean out that shed today, Croft. Before you can go out and play.”
 
Croft feigns disappointment with a sigh and an “okay.”
 
As soon as the car stops Croft rushes into the house and up the stairs, slipping the newspaper from the countertop as he passes by and tucking it under his shirt. He had noted distinctly that grandmother said nothing of doing chores before he could go to his room, and he has no intentions of going out to play today, or any other day. There is too much work to be done.
 
In the Sunday paper Croft reads about a baby who is left in a closed car while its mother goes into the utility company building to pay a bill. While waiting in line, the woman has a heart attack and nobody finds the baby in the car until several hours later, after the woman has died in the hospital. By the time the baby is taken from its car seat, no life is left. Croft skips a page in his journal so that he may place the mother and baby next to each other and illustrate their connection more visually. Upon finishing the two pages, he presses his lips together and sits back hard against the wall, crossing his arms in discontent.
 
All of the deaths that Croft has documented have lacked a certain poetic quality that has kept them from meeting his settled upon ideals of the perfect death. Many of the deaths have come close, including this most recently discussed infant. But even the baby’s death seems to reach too far into the realm of unprecedented tragedy which Croft fears will scar his grandmother too greatly in his own death, she being the only person he imagines will care. If only his death could embody some sort of beautiful aesthetic quality or romanticism then perhaps her pain would be softened by an increased ability to view her loss as some unfortunate but unavoidable act of God.
 
Hoping to squeeze as much research into the day as possible, Croft picks the paper up off the floor and sets it on his thighs, pulling his knees up to bring it closer to his face. Pouring over the obituaries, which appear to be abundant in the Sunday edition with many people waiting for this holy day to honor loved ones, Croft comes across the first mention of a suicide that he has found all week. Having already noticed that many of the blurbs gave no cause of death, this makes him wonder how many of the dead folks’ families chose not to mention that the person had killed themselves. The obituary he has just found does not mention the means of the suicide and this does not surprise Croft. He has already accepted that the obituaries never give the level of detail found in the grisly articles that accompany news headlines.
 
Closing his eyes momentarily, Croft imagines how this death could have gone and then opens his eyes again to record the musing in the suicide’s journal entry. In his mind Croft can see the man, 43 years old according to the birth and death dates, standing in front of his bathroom sink and looking at himself in the mirror. The man has a large kitchen knife in his hands and without breaking his eye contact he raises it up and cuts across his throat from left to right. As he drops the knife it grazes his leg and then clanks to its resting place on the tile floor. Slowly the man’s eyes close and eventually he collapses to the side, hitting his head on the nearby toilet and losing consciousness. He dies soon thereafter.
 
Just then Croft hears his grandmother calling for him from the backyard. He stands up and turns around to open the window behind him, sticking his head out. He calls back to her. “I’m here!”
 
“Have you been up there all day? You haven’t even cleaned the shed yet!” She gestures to the open doors of the shed, which Croft has forgotten all about. He says nothing to her and after a moment she walks into the house. “It’s time for supper,” she shouts up at him after she closes the back door. He sets down his pencil and heads downstairs.
 
Reaching the bottom step Croft looks up and sees his grandmother setting out one plate of food on the table. “I’m going to the bingo potluck tonight, Croft,” she says. “Now eat your supper, and I expect you to clean that shed before it gets dark out. And be sure to get to bed at a reasonable time, now. I won’t be home until late.”
 
Croft says goodbye to his grandmother as she walks out the door with a green-bean casserole. Relishing the opportunity to eat alone, he runs up the stairs to retrieve his journal. With periodic breaks to shovel in mouthfuls of leftover chicken and rice, Croft writes about suicide. Given the way in which such deaths go so largely undescribed in the paper, he imagines that this is possibly one of the most difficult kinds of death for a family to accept. He knows that if grandmother thought he had taken his own life, she would somehow blame herself. It is essential, he determines, that his death appear to be a complete accident.
 
Some time has gone by when Croft finally looks up from his journal. His eyes finding the window over the kitchen sink, he realizes that it is already dark outside. He stands up from his chair, walks his plate to the counter, and heads out the back door. The shed is still open from when grandmother discovered earlier that it had not been cleaned. Past the doorframe Croft can see silhouettes of tall piles of boxes amongst various yard equipment and power tools. To the right he sees a very large crate that seems to block the path to the one light bulb in the shed.
 
Croft bends over and grabs the sides of the crate, which he can barely get his arms around. Pulling as hard as he can, he cannot get the crate to move. He sees a space just barely large enough for his body and smushes himself between the side of the crate and wall of the shed. If he cannot pull it, he reasons, then perhaps he can push the crate aside to free it from whatever blocks its path. He puts his hands up against the side of the crate and begins to push. It seems at first that the crate will remain an insurmountable challenge, but giving one final heave with all his might Croft pushes the crate over onto its side. Not prepared for such a move, Croft stumbles and falls on top of the crate as a new pair of garden shears are ripped hard off the wall and plant themselves firmly in the wood, just near his face. He stares at them without moving for several seconds. Finally he stands and returns to the house without finishing his work.
 

– Dominique R. Scalia

poem #5

Babylonian Gestures
 
BABYLONIAN GESTURES
 
I swear, the latest malfunction in the marketplace must be
a serious calf-cramp for whichever Last Atlas is supporting
the working class in a constant sphere of semi-solvency.
 
Down State Route 101 there is a sign for disposable body parts, $3.39/lb.
I drove past it eight times a summer, for eight summers before
buying $216 worth.  I bought it more out of pity for the struggling
body-part-harvester than I did out of a need for anything extra or disposable…
 
After quickly eliminating any immediate strategic uses
for extra body parts, I began to call into question the merits of
charity-consumerism; picking my nose with a pinky
selected at random from a bag  marked “MISC. FINGERS”
and making out a mental list of good friends deserving a call
from me that week, I drove away from the carcass-stand internally conflicted.
 
I began to wonder why it is so difficult to feel sympathy for the dead,
while, conversely, it is those living with a healthy ac/dc
of self loathing and self praise who, sympathetically,
find difficulty in the day to day.
 
Not surprisingly, the economics of ethical living
began to overwhelm me. I felt it was time for me to be rid
of the spare appendages. “Certainly,” I thought,
“there are charities that can turn anything harvestable
into a resource for rescue organizations.”
 
But then I thought, “Isn’t it better to drive
to the city, parcel up the appendages,
and sell them at an emergency
retail price to quack doctors in need?” 
 
So I stopped for ice to keep my flesh fresh,
then drove home.  That afternoon, I began to sell the spare parts
around town.  Before long I was down to a couple fingers and a leg.
 
The next morning I received a phone call from a street doctor
who had an uninsured patient— a former soldier, discharged while
still in Iraq, in need of a new knee cap.  I said I had one and could deliver.
 
The doctor thanked me profusely.  His patient, he said,
had been wounded by an explosion when his Unit failed
to fire soon enough upon a young boy with a hand grenade. 
 
The boy, he said, was trained by his parents to taunt American soldiers—
singing, dancing, getting closer and closer;
holding the grenade over his head,
pulling the pin in and out with his slender, boyish,
middle finger held high…
 
– Richard C. Armstrong III

poem #4

Rilke poem
 
[SEEK TO NOT UNDERSTAND LIFE…]
 
Seek to not understand life
for then it will become like a celebration.
And let each day happen to you
just like a child, with the passing of the breeze,
is given a cluster of blossoms.
 
To gather up and save them –
this never enters the child’s mind.
He shakes them softly from his hair,
where they were so happily captured,
and holds out his hands anew
to the glorious years of his youth.
 
This poem was written by Rainer Maria Rilke and translated from the German by Matthew Saks
 

short story #2

The Loche
 
THE LOCH
 
This time of year, Montana turns cold. Precipitation falls from a cloudless sky. It is neither snow nor rain, but its crystals glint and stretch the space above land and river so that the foothills and Spanish Peaks on the southern horizon appear fragile and dimensionless, bands of muted color marking October.
            I am alone and hungry. Eric Crane, perched on the stone river bottom. My twenty-eight years have brought me just here, watching a fly line as the wind clips my ears and my nose. Downstream a mile, the pineboard gable of a chapel scrapes above a peninsula of wheat like the point of a razor. The current hooks around the granite escarpment at the peninsula’s tip and slaps and erodes the opposite bank, revealing the sinuous roots of a cottonwood tree. At the near bank lies a flat of dead water and the fish that I am after hold in the riffles beyond it. This run is called the Loch, perhaps to honor the brown trout introduced from Scotland’s Loch Leven over a hundred years ago. It has been aptly named. It is in this run that my father hooked what he called the “loveliest brown” he’d ever fought. He said, “You should have felt him, Eric. I thought I’d snagged a pylon at first, but he started moving and ran out like a bull. Like to God he’s big.” Now, if I work quickly and step between every cast, I will reach the Loch before the light fades.
            Beyond the peninsula, the east fork of the Gallatin meets her western sister, and they run wide and fast together. Here, however, the river appears stopped. Perhaps it has stopped. A static if remarkably corporeal shape, like the outstretched arm of a man. Light flickers over the shallow undulations of the skin. The current, however, chills my fingers. Maybe the fish will be as credulous as I am. Small ones, mostly, but a couple get fat in pockets and under the overhanging dogwood limbs. Prosopium williamsoni, the mountain whitefish, of course, abounds. My father used to say that every whitefish with its pinheaded catfish face and oval sucking mouth counts as one less worthy trout. He saw them as parasitic, which I didn’t agree with as a child. I preferred the slight tug of a whitefish to no fish, if I had to choose. It wasn’t until I started fishing in the cold autumns, which froze my hands with every dip in the water to pick the fly from the mouth, that I began to resent them.
            I had some pity, then, for my father, for the last fish he caught. Night had struck, and I had hiked back upstream from the cottonwood groves that I will not reach tonight. He had stayed at the Loch. I found him kneeling at the water’s edge, bent forward with the reverence of prayer. His headlamp illuminated his chapped hands and the pallid belly that they held. He slipped the barbless stonefly from the fish’s lips, and whispered, “You sweet louse.” When he released it, it hung in the water before faded like a pale shadow back into the river.
            The Loch lures my return now, though not with the promise of my father’s fabled brown trout. That would be too much to ask. I have come for my father, though I don’t know exactly how. Pausing in the stretch of river above the Loch, I tie a wan fox fur streamer with pink eyes to my leader, mimicking a baby whitefish or maybe of a bloodless finger. Mine own fingers are brutally cold, ten numb appendages that sprout from fingerless wool gloves. My father would have asked me if I had confidence in this fly. I would have told him, “It’s too cold to tie a new fly to a new knot.”
            Indian Summer still held a week ago. I waded wet out through the cowpie flats that now have frozen solid, that then had only crusted at the top, so that with every step I broke through and sank to my thighs in the sediment and dung. When I reached the river, I washed. I had not fished the Loch for two years, had seldom found the time to make the trip, and when I had, I’d brought my father to that spot which had once been his to give to me. I caught nothing that day but enjoyed the rhythms of the casts and the ache in my arms. Then, over the wheat field, I glimpsed a figure walking into the pineboard house that I have always called the chapel because of the white paint that once covered its walls. I have often felt a presence in these fields, as if I were being studied. Still, I never saw anyone there. I have fished here nearly twenty years, since I was nine, since my father graduated me from flipping spoons and dipping worms in the Three Forks Ponds to casting flies.
            He was a strong man, then, at forty-nine, and his stiff limp would carry him eighteen more years. I could not keep with his pace as he strode through the cattle pasture, and in the haze of summer the silhouette of his figure appeared like a mannequin puppeted away by the thin rod attached at his shoulders. He had fashioned that rod with blond cane, a six-foot, three-weight that made healthy trout feel as large as paddlefish. It is my rod today, a sort of deliberate instrument. The action is smooth and the touch is intimate. Playing a fish is like courting a reluctant lover.
            No fish bite now, as I stand to my knees in this river, cold even beneath the insulation of neoprenes. The stone bank is far behind me, the cowpie flats and pasture farther still. Fifty yards downstream a large shape like the severed trunk of a cottonwood lies in the water. I can’t make it out clearly, but it will be my marker. If I have no luck before I reach it, I’ll change flies.
            Here, the river washes against steep banks of frozen mud and the rusted iron debris that litters them. Old scoops and car doors and pipes and oven grates that look like saleable antiques next to the other trash, the tire stacks and plastic bottles. “Ugly, but nothing compared to mining waste,” my father told me. “They killed the Clark Fork with their mines. There is no reason to go to Missoula now. There are no fish.”
            Sometimes I catch myself voicing his opinions, wondering how different we ever were. He died of liver failure, a month ago. A gelding had thrown him nearly fifty years earlier, stomping his right leg at the malleolus, shattering his tibia and ankle. His addiction to pain medications lasted some twenty years after that, up to my birth. At the end, his breath smelled of garlic when he spoke. He said to me, “I missed every war because of that horse, but it still killed me.”
            The East Gallatin is narrow and suited for the cane rod. I put each cast to the deep slow slot of water against the far bank, mend line to keep the streamer in the slot, pulse it as it crosses the current, search for stable footing a yard down, and cast again. The line floats like the green whisker of a dragon on the water. I still tense when the fly bumps the bottom or hangs up a moment on a rock, that sensate pause that anticipates the weight and pull of an invisible fish.
           The shape in the water is not a cottonwood log. It stinks of fermenting hay, and magpies fly from it as I wade near. It’s the carcass of a Hereford, an animal that I feared as a child. Walking through the cattle pastures that led to the river, the mid-bellies and nostrils of the beasts came level with my face. Cattle held a mythic status in my mind, then, bred from watching rodeo bulls—I cared little for their riders—the torrents of thousands of pounds of flesh that bucked and contorted, muscles graceful and horrific, the flock of the damned. Outside of the rodeo, people see cattle as fixtures on the landscape, unmoving shapes of variant bleak gradation. Walking among them, smelling them, they were very real to me. My father told me to lick my palm and stamp it with my fist whenever I saw a pure white cow. It would bring luck. But it never has and I can’t see that it’s right to wish for luck upon the dead. Water washes the beast’s face. Its hair is matted in rigid whorls, and I don’t care to smell it in any longer. Still, I must change flies and hope that fortune changes too. Something dark, more visible. A number two streamer, black marabou, with strands of flash, my father’s standby, which I have corrupted by adding golden eyes.
            Thirty feet below me, a logjam creates an eddy near shore. I wet the knot of the new streamer in my mouth then drop it. There isn’t much day left, but I am at the wheat peninsula and the Loch isn’t far. In the summer I was fifteen, I came here alone for the first time. I envisioned owning the fields and the chapel and walking from its door to the river when I pleased, living so simply. At the edge of the bank, slack braids of barbed wire fenced off the land. I stepped over them then crossed the field that dazzled with fresh seed grains and stalks dropping in the wind, here and there exposing the pink flowers of bull thistle and Indian paintbrush. From the back of the field, the pentagonal face of the chapel neared. Its outer boards had faded and splintered. I ran my hand over them, up their vertical seams and over the frame of the door, emblazoned by the initials RJ. It opened when I pressed the handle. I slipped into the chapel, coughing. Everything of use had been emptied or was caked in the dust that moved through the air like minute insects. Sunlight lit the edge of a table and across it was a branding iron. RJ again. When I touched it, heat entered my fingertips. I ran out of the chapel even as I told myself the iron had only been heated by the sun. I can’t remember if I closed the door. I headed for the river, keeping my eyes at my feet, trying to keep my balance.
            I have never again believed I would own the chapel or the land. And now a light glows from beneath the eave of the roof. And a human shape is at the far edge of the wheat. I have half-a-heart to cross that field and introduce myself and relate my years’ old indiscretion.
            The line goes taught in my fingers, only a moment. A weak tap at the fly, then another, then nothing. I make the same cast, twitching line inch by inch, casting again, repeating the process, and each time with less hope. It’s hard to tell whether I tease the trout or it teases me.
             As twilight approaches, I hurry downstream past the logjam then walk the shoreline to reach the Loch. From the top of the granite escarpment, the groves of cottonwoods form as a single block above the fields, slightly darker than the deepening madder of the sky behind them. The stranger breaks that block, alone in the center of the field, closer now, legs shifting.
            I amble from the stone into the river flat. The water goes to my navel. I force myself to cast with patience. The line loops out to the head of the current then arcs into the slow water as I twitch it back. There is a tap on the fly and a tap again, the fish jostling it with his nose. Then the rod bends to the cork. As I strike and set the hook, a brown trout breaks the water, rolling its thick brass body on the surface then rushing out through the chop, through the swirling depths as I follow clumsily behind. The fish is my otherworldly guide. The reel labors against my palm, line spooling to coarser, thinner threads of backing. I am thankful when the trout turns and stops though even as I bring him into the dead water, as he nears me and slips beneath the surface on his side, messing it with his pectoral fin, he may still burst again into the current. Until he rests in my hands, I can only imagine the markings on his body, the umber stripe over his head and hump, the dark rings and dots on his yellow flanks and the black demarcation on the hook of his jaw. The trout pirouettes about the line, displaying his girth, some eighteen inches, perhaps, which I cannot touch though he is close. Finally, the line slackens, the hook is out, and the fish leaves me with my rod and string and steel and the knowledge that I tricked him, hooked him, fought him, and still he bettered me.
            It doesn’t matter. I felt him in the rod and tonight, we’ll both be tired.
            The unremitting noise of thoughts vanishes with the fish. The Gallatin slaps against the cottonwood roots. The world has changed again: so much less of it is knowable at night, yet darkness brings intimacy, an enclosed space. I leave the Loch and regain the bank. On the other side of the barbed wire, wheat stalks crack sounds as a figure approaches. A woman’s voice says, “Too bad you lost him.”
            She sounds young—odd that I consider my own age still young—the sound means little, and I step nearer to her. She is not short, though her face looks up to mine, from across the fence. Her cheeks are gaunt and she must be older than I am, maybe only a few years but touched by Montana’s winters. I tell her, “He fought hard.”
            “I’ve seen you before, a while back.”
            “I came here a lot when I was younger. I never seen a light in that house.”
            “Guess you didn’t look on the right nights.”
            “I trespassed there once.”
            “Maybe next time you’ll knock. Bring a whitefish. They’re not bad smoked.”
            I tell her that I will, and she walks into her field and I turn back upstream and flip on my father’s old headlamp. The ground moves in stark, monochromatic spaces between the yellow stalks and their shadows. I march home in that light.
 
– Lionel Harrington

poem #3

The Fall of Jesse James
 
THE FALL OF JESSE JAMES
 
I bought a mirror for twenty bucks
that’s smaller than a Cadillac
but bigger than a Buick.
 
My calico toppled it, broke it,
and brought me seven years bad luck.
 
In the slivers on the ground,
I thought I saw a gunslinger on a chair,
unaware that his buddy had a gun to his neck.
 
I wanted to say, “Hey, Jesse, look quick.”
But I tripped and cut my hand.
 
Damn the cat.
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

short story #1

Mr. Fish

 
MR. FISH
 
April 5, 2000
Father, his white hair sunlit, sits before the window in the seat of a wooden chair that I once called my throne. But I’m thirteen now and I try to describe things by the right names because an older girl should. So you see, I’m no longer Little Anna May Adams. Just Anna’s fine.
            I lay down in the shadows, across from Father, wedged in the airy pillows of the couch. My cloud couch! There I go exaggerating what things are again. The couch is plain stuffed velour. Father says that I’m dramatic that way. I prefer to think of myself as imaginative. I get my imaginative strength the same as Sampson did: through my hair. It’s a fine golden hue and it pours off my head in curls like Mother’s used to. Father’s hair is light as the the room’s walls, and smells like our fish tank used to:
            Mr. Fish! We thought, then, a year ago, the cat got him:
            But the room began to smell. I looked through the glass fishbowl, hairs growing up the walls, the water alive and fuzzy and stinking. We had a little plastic red ship, sunken, torn in half, that rested in the bottom with fake seaweed as a kind of shelter and decoration. I pulled it up and green rocks tumbled from its sides. Then I pulled free Mr. Fish all slipperish in my fingers. Where I touched his body, gray scales peeled off like wet dust. I flushed him. Poor Mr. Fish—trapped in the ship meant to brighten up his home. I scrubbed down the bowl—it’s been fishless ever since—and then I said to Pop, the cat, “Darling, you didn’t eat Mr. Fish. I’m sorry for scolding.”
            The fishbowl still sits on the windowsill where Mother put it before she died, behind my chair, behind Father. It’s like a glass halo behind his head. A smell’s still strong in the air, but it’s the untidy smell of soiled clothes and trash and not of a molding, rotting fish. The laundry consists of piled socks and skid-marked underwear that belong to my father. His white hair, razzled like the light of an eclipse, is far lighter and cleaner than the underwear. He’s thrifty in the worst way, which is always.
I try not to lie to my father when I speak to him—I try to be blunt, but sometimes my imagination or my dramatic tendency or whatever you want to call it gets the best of me. Outside, through the window, the pines are blowing in the wind.
            Neither of us ever sleep much these days. Maybe that’s why I’m always lounging on the couch, but I don’t think it is. It’s fun to squirm in the big poofing pillows. The upholstery—you’ll love this—does not uphold me and I sink way down.
            “Daddy,” I say because I’m bored, “I’m tired.”
            “You can sleep.”
            “No. Oh no. Daddy, if I sleep do you think the house will clean spontaneously?” Spontaneously I just learned in English class. “Do you think it will put itself back together neat and tidy, like oil does when the water burns away?”
            “Like oil?”
            “Yes like oil.”
            He looks at me, eyebrows arched and forehead wrinkled, with that beaten, supercillious face that means he wants me to shut up. His fingers work along the serrated edges of the morning newspaper, but he rolls his head along the chairback, his face searching the ceiling, the squares of shadow and pale light that look so much, to me, like Rothko panels. My mother always liked Rothko as far as painters. She made stained glass windows, herseslf.
            I sink into the couch cushions, big, white, and puffy like the backs of swans. Now I am tired.
 
The very cold 20th of February, 1994
It’s my seventh birthday and what I don’t like about birthdays is that I have to wear a dress all the time and stockings. And pink plastic jellies. The stockings are white and stitched with red roses and the roses bulge. My dress is white and has a little blue ribbon at the waist. The bench I’m on is green velvet. Like Scarlet’s curtains in Gone with the Wind. That’s Mother’s favorite movie. In the pew in front of me is a red leather Holy Bible.
            I say as fast I can, “Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather,” but I can’t say it real fast. I’m saying “yellow yeather” on accident. Mother tells me to shush.
            The other people on the bench are old or very young. One man’s head is bald and spotted. I don’t like ugly things. I don’t like the room. It smells like a lemon basement.
            In my basement, one yellow light glows when I snap the light switch at the top of the steps—steps’ top: the snap is high and echoes. I
                                                                             snap back
                                                            and snap forth.
In the daytime, turning on the light doesn’t make the basement much lighter, but I still click the light switch to listen to the snap. In the basement are boxes of wrinkled magazines and books. Sometimes earwigs cross the carpet and I squish them with pens. The ink and old pages and dust  make me sneeze. Church smells a lot like my basement, except for the lemon smell. Lemons are supposed to smell fresh my mother says. And real ones do. It’s the fake lemon smell that’s so awful.
            The stained glass windows in church show pictures of men with long robes, straggly beards, crowns. They show pictures of men with halos and bare white feet. Mother says, “They weren’t white like us, but they’re always shown white. They are pictures of Christ and his disciples.”
            Her own stained windows hang from threaded silver wires. They look like see-through spiders in our house. One is a circle with a sun in it. Mother titled it The Sun. It sits on an iron stand on the coffee table in the middle of the living room. I like to pick it up and take it to the windowsills. The Sun is clear and pale yellow and white and sometimes I’m not sure it’s a sun, just shapes. I look through The Sun and the window glass and watch the people outside. They get all warbly like fingers. When I put The Sun up to the real sun and look at it Mother says not to. She says don’t ever at the real sun because it will boil my eyes. I know it isn’t true.
            She sits next to me in a dark blue dress that is so dark it’s soft and I smile looking at her, but she is not so pretty now. I can see her nose bones. I tell her I can, and she says they’re cartilage, not bones, and it’s not polite to talk about peoples’ noses. Her mink coat is piled up between us because Father is parking the car and he needs to sit somewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit on the mink? It smells soapy. Everyone is talking.
            Mother ducks her face right to mine and I can see her wrinkles behind her blush. She whispers, “Do you like church?”
            I shake my head no. “It’s very ugly.”
            “I don’t like it either.” She pulls her black shiny purse to her lap and takes out a wrapped butterscotch. “Did you know your Sun Sign is Pisces, Anna? That’s your sign.” She smiles and tells me it means I will live in dreams. “Now don’t tell your Father—he doesn’t like me talking about that.” When she wraps the mink around my face the fur is soft. “You’re very pretty,” she says. “You look like royalty.”
            “I don’t like tea.”
            “Isn’t she adorable?” says the woman next to me, all folded and wrinkled. I can’t see her eyes because light is shining on her glasses, but I can see msyelf all stretchy.
            Father sits down in time to hear us. He has a beard that’s brown and gray. His skin, under his beard, is dented. Pocked, Mother calls it.
            “Anna is adorable,” he says. “But someday she’ll grow up and then we’ll just have to see.”
            Mother whispers, “You won’t ever grow up anymore will you? I like you like this.” She touches my cheek. Her hand is cold. “Promise me now that you will never get older.” Her fingers are pressing on my cheeks.
            I don’t want to promise. I push my hands under my dress, under my legs, lifting and wriggling in the mink. “Daddy,” I say, “do I get to open my present after church?”
            “Only if you don’t get any older—if you get even a day older you will be too old and then you’ll have to wait another year.”
            “But church is only an hour.” 
            “How old are you?” the crumpled woman asks.
            I peek at her from beneath the mink. “I’m seven. You look very old. How old are you?”
            Mother tells me I’m being impolite. She says sorry for me.
            The crumpled woman adjusts herself. “Well, what did you ask for, Anna, for your birthday?”
            I want a cat and tell her so. Then the minister talks. His voice is wet and he wears green robes and stands in front of a tub that sometimes he puts people into. I don’t think I want him to put me in. Sometimes he comes to our house with his wife and eats with us. I would like for him to eat his wife. She is very boring, and boring and ugly are pretty close. She talks about people I don’t know. If the minister ate her, maybe he’d have enough food and would stop coming to dinner.
            Everyone stands and starts singing. Not me. I’m hiding in the mink, looking out through the long hairs that are like needles on a Christmas wreath, and the light is soft and I feel soft. The people stand in rows like dumb soldiers. They sing long and dull songs, songs with Hallelujah, songs with Him. The H is a capital and I know it. They end them all with Amen. The voices tick tock the Amens. I want my present. Tick tock tick tock. Amens, Bibles open, Bibles close. The minister tells us to pray. He says Mrs. Alabaster. He says Mr. Harrington’s brother. He says Mrs. Adams and I look at Mother, and he says other names but I don’t pay attention. He always says Mrs. Adams and Mother always smiles with her lips closed. She never closes her eyes and I don’t, but Father closes his. She blinks and takes my hand and squeezes it. 
 
The present is wrapped and round. I frown at Father. He smiles sort of in his beard. Sometimes he tells me he didn’t always have a beard. But I tell him that Mother says he always did. He says he didn’t have one before he met her. At night he takes me outside and tries to put my hand in his and points at stars with his other hand. Constellations he calls them. I can see the Big Dipper but the rest just look like stars. He tells me that he does something called astronomy and it’s the closest thing to studying heaven. I ask is it closer than the Bible, and he tells me I’m a very sly girl. He ruffles my hair with his hand.
            Mother is with him now and she says, “Open it.” She touches his shoulder, puts her arm through his.
            I put my fingers between the gold and white striped wrapping tissue, in the seam. Something hard is beneath them. I pull at the strips of scotch tape. The wrapping rips and I rip all the tissues and it’s a glass bowl. It’s a fishbowl, and a single goldfish flips his fins in the water. Tears are in my eyes and I’m saying, “But I wanted a cat.” I turn to Father and tell him, but he walks away.
            “Anna May Adams,” Mother says. She kneels beside me and pulls me close to her with her arm around my waist. “Anna, you know we can’t have a kitty.” I am looking at Father, at his dropped eyes and at the beard hiding his mouth. I feel Mother’s arms brush across my dress and she sits back on her heels, holding my wrists in her hands. I see her veins bulky in her arms and the skin spotty and freckly. My skin is clean. She shakes me in her hands, and I’m crying. “Anna! You know we can’t have a kitty.” She stops and closes her eyes very tight like I do when I wish for things like crowns. “And goldfish are prettier. And the bowl—see how pretty the glass is? Kitties don’t get glass bowls. They drink from dirty ones on the floor. Isn’t this prettier? It can go in the window so the sun can shine through it.” She picks up the bowl and the fish and puts them on the windowsill. Light is in the water and on the fish, making lines. 
            “It’s pretty like your windows,” I tell her. I walk to the bowl and look closely at the fish and press my face up against the glass and wonder what the fish thinks. He must think, Anna May Adams, your eyes are puffy and ugly and red. And he’s right. I can see them in the fishbowl, and it makes my nose look wide too. My nose is not wide but it bumps up at the end a little. The fish darts in the water, to the other side, then swims back and darts again. It’s a stupid fish. I step back and put my hands around the base of the bowl and tilt it.
            “Anna!” Mother says.
            I shake it back and forth and watch the water spill up over the sides and watch the light swell with the bubbles.
            “Anna!” Mother runs to me. She presses the fishbowl down from the top and I can’t shake it anymore. “Don’t you ever do that again,” she says. Father has left the room. She says, “Don’t you ever, ever shake your fish like that.”
            “Thank you Daddy, thank you for the goldfish.” I say it loud, at the room, and smile. I like being a sly girl. “I’m going to name him Mr. Fish,” I tell my mother. 
 
Mr. Fish and I swim through the days watching the house bend with the glass where it’s thick. Mother’s skin is loose and it wags from her arms and falls from her face. She’s filthy. Sometimes she goes to the hospital for the day. Mostly she stays at home and works on her windows in the garage, in her studio. She works on one red window a long time. Copper wires and lead and glass pieces are everywhere in the garage. There’s a light table, too. Sometimes I sit on it with the light turned on and it warms my bottom and I feel like I’m all lit up. But it hurts my eyes when I look down between my legs.
            The minister comes to dinner, still, and it’s always when I don’t want him to. When he does I sit in my throne at the window and talk with Mr. Fish. “Mr. Fish, you are very smooth. You have no hairs.” Mr. Fish is handsome that way. The minister is not. He’s hairy and I dislike like him because when he thinks I can’t hear he talks about cancer. But of course I can hear because they all get quiet. People must think I’m dumb. Maybe I’m dumb. But one night Mother says to the minister she doesn’t want pity and tells him to leave. He doesn’t come back, and she stops going to church. Father still goes though with me. He says that maybe I’d like to be baptised. That’s getting put in the water. When the gold trays with little clear cups of red dark liquid pass he lets me drink one. It tastes like grape juice. I don’t know why grape juice is a big deal.
            Mostly we stay home. And I go to school, too, but I don’t like it. When my best friend Sarah comes to the house, we walk around looking at each other through the stained glass windows, and one time she looks like a penis and I tell her, so she cries. She says it’s a bad word, but that’s how she looks. I know it because boys have showed me pictures. I told Mother boys had showed a dick but she said it’s a penis and not to touch it.
            When it’s Christmas, Father and I buy her a black velvet bathrobe. She takes it in her hands and rubs it over her cheeks. She wears it all around the house with her hair up in a bun at the back of her head. She looks like a queen. I say, “Mommy, come sit in the throne with me and Mr. Fish.”
            “Of course.” Her eyes are wide and dark. “We can make Daddy run around the house and fetch us things. We’ll make him bring us chocolates.”
 
I hear the word cancer still, through my bedroom door at night. Mother and Father think I can’t hear them say it, but they’re stupid. Not me. I hear them and it makes me hate them. “It’s the lux,” she says. That’s the stuff in the windows that sticks the copper together. She showed me once. 
            Father doesn’t talk much anymore. He passes and pats my head. He squeezes my shoulders. Sometimes he looks at me a long time like he’s trying to remember something that’s hard. Maybe he’s trying to remember how to spell Saskatchewan.
 
It’s January of the new year, and Mother has finally finished the red window. I call it Red. It’s a circle of red shapes that get darker and darker at the center, all stuck to each other with thick black copper. She hangs it over her bed. I prefer the whites of The Sun, and really Red looks very like The Sun but it is so dark red and the lines are so much thicker and blacker. Father asks her to take it down but she won’t. Mr. Fish is jealous of it, I think. She used to look at him with me but now she stays in her room.
When I visit her room she’s cloaked in bed covers. We both look at Red hanging over us.
            “It’s pretty Mommy. But The Sun is my favorite.”
            “I’m glad you like that one best.”
            “Don’t you too?”
            She looks at her dressers and the lines of photographs on top and her jewelry. Her mink coat ruffles out of the closet. “Would you like to wear it?” she asks. “Go put it on.”
            The sleeves hang over my hands. Mother pulls at the collar and rubs it in her fingers. “I want you to have it. Promise me you’ll keep it.” She says, “Anna, you know I love you.” She pushes up the sleeves and holds my hands in hers. I feel her velvet robe on my skin. Sometimes I imagine she’s just the robe, so soft, loose. I run my hands along it and over her wrists. I feel her veins through her skin.
            In the morning the snow’s piled up in heaps. It looks like the yard is covered in giant marshmallows. Mother is in the shower and Father tells me to shovel the walk. Usually he shovels, but today he’s lazy and I tell him so. He helps me dress into snow pants, pulling them up around me and pressing my tummy. They’re bright pink. I wear a white coat and a white hat with mittens, and I feel all puffed like a marshmallow too, except for the pink.
            The outside smells clean. Cold things almost always smell clean. I wander in the snow with the shovel, pushing it in zig zags for us to walk through because it’s more fun that way. I look at the sky, and the sky is gray but the snow that falls out of it is white, and isn’t that strange? It’s still snowing when an ambulance comes, moving fast. Wouldn’t it be awful if it crashed because of the snow? Ambulances are always moving fast and always going somewhere, but I never see where, except that I know they go to hospitals. But this ambulance stops in front of me, in the street. Men run out and slip and run up the sidewalk and mess up my zig zag. I follow them back into the house and try to follow them to the bathroom, but Father stops me. He tells me to stay in my room. I am very hot inside in my winter things and the snow is melting on me. I listen to the voices and the sounds the men make walking and moving, and when I don’t hear anything I pry back the door and go down the hall that glows yellow even though the walls are painted white. Some yellows are pretty, but this is more gray and brown like a squash. My mother likes things beautiful, so I don’t know why she doesn’t change the hall. And I’m looking real close at the painted wood of the bathroom door when I open it. 
            Father pulls me away, but I can still see the room in my head, the bathtub full of red water, and I’m crying. He says we have to go to the hospital and then we can see Mommy again and she’s okay. But he’s so stupid, just like Mr. Fish.
           
Mother does not get better, and I’m not allowed to see her. The doctor tells me she moved on, but I hear what they say when I leave the room. They think I’m so dumb that I can’t hear. Maybe they can’t hear. They say she took aspirin and cut her wrists.
            When we get home I walk into Mother and Father’s room. I swing Red against the wall and smash it and the glass falls on my hands and arms. A few pieces get in my skin, but I don’t bleed much. Father runs and takes me away, and he pulls out the glass with tweezers and pours peroxide on my hands. I like the way peroxide stings.
           
Everyone’s nice to me afterwards. Very damn nice, Father says. He says he wasn’t planning on it but gives me a kitten when I turn eight. Mother was allergic but he isn’t. The kitten smells a little the way socks smell. He jokes that I should name her Virgo, but won’t tell me why it’s funny. I should name her Pisces if I’m going to name her after a stupid constellation because I’m a Pisces, but he says I’m a girl and a person and signs are made up. He’s an astronomer, he says, not an astrologist, and there’s a difference. But I don’t understand. And I don’t understand when he tells me to pray for Mother.
            I name my kitten Pop, and when Sarah comes to see him we hold Pop up to the fishbowl and watch Pop watch Mr. Fish. Sarah calls it playing but I think it’s boring. I say we should throw Mr. Fish back and forth and keep away from Pop, but she won’t. She has clean arms. They’re too clean. I try hard to keep mine dirty. I scrape them along desks, along fences. I write math on them and play tic tac toe, hangman, and practice my cursive. I cover them in mud and let it dry. When I scrub them off they turn red.
 
April 5, 2000
“Daddy, I want a new fish,” I say. “I miss having a goldfish.”
            He crinkles the newspaper in his fingers.
            I’m scrunched up like an N in the pillows, and he sits at my feet and sighs, regarding the ceiling again with a deadish gaze. He rests his right hand on my knee, rapping my jeans, pressing firmly with each rap. When I place my palm on his hand to stop him, he slips his fingers along the curve under my thumb. He says, “But aren’t you tired?”
            “I don’t want to sleep. I want a new fish.”
            “You’re very damn spoiled, aren’t you?”
            “Am I?”
            “Yes.”
            My hair cuts and curls in front of my eyes, flaxen blurs that fade to soft browns at the bottoms where they grow long. The sun bleaches my hair lighter the higher up you go in the summer. In the winter, it’s really much duller. More uniformly wheatberry, I suppose, but in the summer people are always telling me how pretty it is. Angelic is a word I hear a lot, and it’s not one that I like. I watch Father’s fingers trace the lines of my kneecap. I pull my hand from his and drop it in the pillows. “I just want to get a fish,” I tell him. “It’s not like I’m asking for a horse or a fucking car.” I slouch deeper in the cushions. “Just a fish.”
            Pop strolls around the couch purring and hops up because he wants attention. I plop him in my lap—such a darling kitty, such thin long fur, even softer than my mink—he looks at me cross-eyed, then pushes his head against my nose. If I pet him too much he’ll paw me, and if I don’t stop he’ll scratch. Silly Pop.
            “Come on.” I slip onto the floor with Pop in my hands, arms outstretched. His legs splay in the air. Super kitty. “Come on,” I sing to Father, “let’s get a new goldfish.” I turn to Pop. “Let’s all go. Pop will come too. He can paw at which one he wants.”
            “We’re not taking the cat,” Father says. “And please don’t speak like a child.”
            “Ob, but you like me like a child,” I say, using my sophisticated voice. It’s my little way of giving him what he wants.
            “Don’t speak to me ever like that.” He grabs my hands, and I drop Pop to the floor. He arches his back and rubs against me. I dig my nails into Father’s skin. His eyes are placid and so flat. “Don’t ever,” he says.
            “We’re all going, Daddy. We’re getting a new fish.” I watch him for a long time, until Pop gets bored and starts to bite at my toes. I say quietly, “Let go.”
 
It doesn’t matter so much about the goldfish I want—that it’s spotted and ugly—I know it can’t be Mr. Fish. I actually ended up loving Mr. Fish, but I don’t think I realized it until he was dead—poor Mr. Fish! To die trapped in that ship! So maybe I can’t love this fish but I don’t plan to. That’s why Father won’t buy just the one, though. He buys two—because I have to let one go. Because if I let the only fish go and we bring home no fish then I’ll want another fish, and still another, and he’ll have to keep driving  me. Sometimes the man, old as he is, understands a situation remarkably. Even a slippery one.
Pop romps around in the car searching for a place just dark enough to pretend everything’s okay. He hates driving, and I’m sorry I insisted he should come. He wasn’t any help picking out fish, anyway.
            “You know it’s silly to let that fish go,” Father says. “It won’t survive.”
            I smile and lean forward with the seatbelt pressed between my breasts, which exaggerates them, which is fine. I run my fingers along the steering wheel and drag them to his hand, to the river. His hair is very white and his beard gone. There is only the dented skin now and the faint stubble. He squints across the dash as I curl my fingers into his. I feel the old scars, the hairs, the place where his fingernails run into the skins. I feel the heat of his fingers in mine and the cool of the fish in my lap, swimming round and round in a plastic bag. The world passes to the country, to wheat fields and cottonwoods all green and brown like decaying broccoli. I’m a bit hungry and wouldn’t mind broccoli, steamed.
            We stop in the wheat fields that span the valley of the Paradise River. Close to the river are the trees and the pricks of fence posts that probably used to hold up barbed wire. There’s cow shit in the weeds by the car, and I smell it strongly. Along the fence runs an overgrown dirt road, leading to an old bridge of iron and rotted wood.
            Outside the car I hold the fish in my right hand and say in my kindest voice, “Daddy, you know I hate you.”
            “You love me,” he says.
            The bag sparkles with flashes of yellows and orange. I hold it at my chest and laugh and begin singing some nonsense about chapels, and then I realize it’s that old song by the Dixie Cups and my version isn’t half as good, but I don’t care too much. I’m walking and twirling down the road. Father follows, Pop in his arms. We all go in procession toward the trees and the bridge.
            The shadows of the cottonwoods spread like blood vessels across the dirt and the mud and the slow, heavy water that pulses and pulses. I tuck the fish beneath my shirt and call out my song and the notes are perfect now. I like the world outside, the clean smell of the grass and the moving river. My two fish are close to my breasts, the bag cold and squishy, and I’m running and I can hear Father behind me but I reach the bridge first. I take off my clothes.              
            “What are you doing?” he calls. Maybe he thinks it’s okay, still.
            “I don’t want dirty clothes,” I say. I shuffle my jeans off and step in the water in my underwear and squinch the mud in my feet. Each little toe. And I look for glass. Beer bottles are broken in the dirt, but I don’t like brown glass, so I walk through the mud until I find a clear triangular scrap. I pick it up with my right hand, careful not to drop the fish with my left, and run it under my nose and smell the earth. Maybe it belonged to a rum bottle once, or a vodka bottle. I slit the top of the fish bag just an inch, and twist it so that one fish is trapped beneath the other, and I wade to my waist in the river. The water pushes me a little bit up with each step as I lift my feet, as if I’m walking on a liquid moon. “Is that what moon river means?”
            Father doesn’t answer. He’s running up the bank, his reflection flickering at the edge of the shore.
            I pour the top goldfish from the bag and tell it goodbye.
            Father is still holding Pop, petting his head but he’s scratching at Father’s arms and at the air.
            “Won’t you come out now?” Father asks.
            I don’t know exactly. I like the water buoying me about, so cold. The current rises and falls at my waist and I feel the cold climb my legs from my knees, and pull at my crotch, and fall away and run thick and flat into the big swirl holes. The bridge’s pine boards above me are marred with burned sap and tar. They are bound and strapped and stitched with rusted iron beams and iron bolts, but they’ve warped apart and the light of the sun needles through. I wade through the shadows in zig zags and toss the other little fish to Father when I’m close. The sack lands on the ground and untwists and the little fish flops and flops in the mud. I bet Pop would love to wriggle free of his arms and eat up the little fish, but Father holds him tight. Unshakeable man. “Oh Pop,” I call. “You are just hysterical.”
            When I step out of the shade the sun warms my skin. I sit down in the river. I drag the glass through my left palm and between my thumb and forefinger and over the top of my hand. I only bleed a little and it sort of stings, and the edge of the glass is red. I hold the glass to the sun so that the line of red is full of light, and it’s beautiful. Father runs into the water and begins to pull me, his fingers digging in the skin under my arms. He’s finally dropped the damned cat. I thrust my head into the water, before he drags me out, and for a moment my eyes are so wide beneath the waves, and I’m there with the fish, seeing the rocks and the sand so clearly and the shapes of light at the top of the river,  just like them. 
 
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth

poem #2

Ode to Bailey
 
ODE TO BAILEY
 
Home, hearth, a piecemeal Jacuzzi,
and Harry Potter DVDs playing ceaselessly,
preludes to the first mewls;
Mom and me sit in tub or on toilet,
listening to the midwife impatiently:
Push, push, push a little more
 
Eighteen hours’ labor and no son:
Speed to the OR, to epidural injections,
a C-section—wifey on the table, scalpel
at her navel, belly bronzed, legs splayed,
a turkey; the anesthesiologists say
Does that feel cold? Does it pinch?
 
A grand entrance: bloody glory,
eight pounds, six screaming at me,
expanding cat-sized lungs; the brunette nurse
lets me cut the umbilical that was already cut;
the blond nurse prays; Bailey lays on his mother,
And like he was born to, takes her breast.
 
 – Thomas McCafferty

poem #1

Custom Bailey pics

 
BAILEYS
 
Bailey, from the Middle English bayles,
bayles being the outer walls
of medieval castles.
 
O bayle, grant us asylum lest we perish!
 
Bailey, from the Latin balium,
meaning something along the lines of heather thatch.
 
O balium, be our roofing!
 
Bailey, homophone of baillie,
which has to do with stewardship
or jurisdiction.
 
O baillie, show us scribblers lenience!
 
– Brent McCafferty
 

restaurant review #1

Shanik-2 Shanik-3 Shanik-4 Shanik-5 Shanik-6 Shanik-7 Shanik-8 Shanik

SHANIK

Big joints often break up space with mashed clusters of tables and false walls in order to be cozy. Small restaurants (in terms of square footage) usually feel like hampers. Shanik, however, with fifteen-foot raised ceilings, dangling bulbs, and an open dining room that peeks over a wide pass to the kitchen, maintains a lively atmosphere while feeling almost grand. The bar at the back is separated by a lattice and even it is luxurious.
            What this means is that the host and waiters have a relatively small and manageable space and a limited number of guests to navigate.
Service was excellent from the first: cold water and steaming chai (homemade and truly standout, see the recipe here) arrived at the table as soon as I did. Piping mouthfuls of vegetable tempura soon followed. Complimentary delicacies are always a treat, and when they arrive at the beginnings of meals are especially welcome. I was never in doubt that I would leave hungry or feel that I had overpaid. Shanik shines in this area, especially compared to less ambitious Indian restaurants: dishes that should come with rice or na’an do, no need to order separately or worry about extra costs. My server was good enough to let me know this fact up front so I had no need to bother as I scanned the menu.
            Meeru Dhalwala and Oguz Istif brought quite a reputation and a lot of buzz with them from Vancouver when they opened Shanik here. Unfortunately, I am not sure the hype has been deserved. The best I can say for the food itself is that it tasted good, sometimes very good, and that two appetizers, one vegetable entrée, and one meat dish quite handily stuffed three people. The worst thing I can say is that the flavors and textures were much the same throughout
            I had my first forebodings when the samosas arrived. They were lightly breaded and nicely crunchy (though they could have been flakier) and stuffed with potatoes and bell peppers. The problem was that the curried chickpeas that accompanied them were remarkably similar in terms of texture and taste to the stuffing—only the curry was spicier and tastier. I could have done without the samosas altogether. I would have been happy as a bumble bee on a marigold. Instead I was left wondering why the samosas were made to compete with the curry at all.
           The Brussels sprouts with bell peppers, cashews, and paneer? Spicy, yummy, and missing any quality that wows. The entrée of roasted eggplant and butternut squash with black chickpeas? Much the same, and because of the chickpeas, too similar to the samosa app. Only not quite as good.
            Finally, the spice-encrusted lamb popsicles: I had high expectations for this dish. I love lamb. I love mutton. I was excited about the split pea and spinach mash. I was intrigued by the sound of coconut curry. But I found all of it just so similar to the sauces, vegetables, and curries in the dishes I had just finished. The lamb itself was blackened and cooked between medium rare and medium on all three cuts of the rack. The spicing was excellent. The meat was yummy. But the coconut curry should have popped and it did not. And the spinach and peas should have tasted green and they did not. Too much butter and oil was at play, which was apparent from the first: the sauce was breaking in the dish, oil rising and gleaming at the top. This is an especially bad move with rack of lamb that is quite naturally oily and fatty already.
             I will add that the cocktails were topnotch, which is no surprise in Seattle. The Bollywood 411 was particularly fine. And the English-style Machine House Gold ale on tap was superb. I found myself in the confused state of being happily sated and slightly disappointed when I left. The food just could not live up to the promise of that first cup of chai and crunchy morsel of vegetable tempura—too much the same note. I have noticed the problem of food that declines over the course of a meal many times, and that was not exactly the case here. But the food did not get better and it should have. If a restaurant serves entrées, the entrées should be the stars if only by virtue of cost. Here they were not—for more on this topic, read My Entrée is Cursed—and so my recommendation for Shanik is this: expect tasty food, but go for the ambience and service.
 
– Thomas McCafferty
 
 
Shanik
www.shanikrestaurant.com
500 Terry Ave. North
Seattle, WA 98109
206-486-6884
 
Upscale/casual
No reservations
 
 

criticism #1

Cursed Entrees
 
MY ENTRÉE IS CURSED
 
When I moved from New York City to Seattle in 2009, I vaguely felt that I had abandoned a concrete wasteland in favor of verdant, vital greenness. The Emerald City. A city that celebrates life. And Seattle has not let me down: from hiking and hunting in the mountains, fishing in the Sound, and imbibing the excellent local spirits, brews, and wines, I have come to adore Seattle. And of course I love the fresh fish, local produce, and mushrooms here, too. But on the subject of cuisine, I have found a caveat: I have come to dread entrées in Seattle restaurants. So often they disappoint. Specifically, I am referring to those restaurants in which appetizers, cocktails, ambience, and service are all good to great, but the main courses fail to deliver.[1]
            Why and how is this?
Shouldn’t a chef who is able to concoct a great one-bite appetizer likewise succeed with a filet of fish or slab of meat? Is it just easier to work on a small scale? To create one moment of contrast and interest that pops? Are Seattle chefs more willing to take risks with appetizers, or more willing to tinker? Are entrées harder somehow? Is the traditional inclusion of protein, starch, and vegetable all on the same plate too limiting or imposing?
Answers vary by the establishment, but let’s put this problem in context. An entrée should highlight the meal. I’m paying more for it than anything else, aren’t I? Shouldn’t it be better than the ceviche I had to start? A good entrée, as a general rule, consists of multiple food elements on a plate with each element succulent in its own right as well as succulent and interesting when mixed with the elements around it. This can be as simple as steak, sauce, potatoes, and spinach, or as bizarre as noisettes of lamb with calf brains on a bed of carrot and zucchini fettuccine. But any way you look at it, the seasoning should be judicious and the taste should leave the diner wanting more even if the portion is filling. Is this really asking too much?[2]
            I believe two interconnected problems are largely at work:
            First, self-awareness, criticism, and feedback within the establishments must be inadequate. Whether in the conception of the entrée or its execution, someone should be saying, “Hey, this just isn’t that good.” Now, I was a sous chef for the last three years and I know how hard it is to say Let’s redo it. But if the problem is only in the execution, that has to be said. If, however, the problem is in the conception, addressing it can be next to impossible for line cooks and wait staff. Too much ego is at play. Then it’s up to the owner and executive chef. This leads to the second problem:
            Diners and critics are way too easy on restaurants here. The Seattle Times and Seattle Magazine give rave reviews and hand out best of this and best of that for mind-boggling no-better-than-decent food. I am just amazed by this. Are some of these so-called critics going out stoned and starving? Or walking in wearing signs that read, “Food Critic: Go Get the Head Chef Now”?
And as for diners, well my friends, raise your standards. Otherwise, you won’t get better food. Laughing, smiling, and saying, “That hit the spot,” when all it did was fill you isn’t doing your taste buds any favors. And certainly don’t come back again tomorrow. Don’t reinforce mediocrity. Restaurants are businesses foremost, food is always secondary, so it is your spending that really runs the show. Amen to Yelp! but Yelp! is not enough—you actually have to not go.
            Okay. Glad that’s out. The next time an entrée leaves me glum, I’ll let you know about it.
 
-Thomas McCafferty
 

[1] Now, this is not a problem exclusive to Seattle and it is not a problem that is ubiquitous in Seattle, either, but it is prevalent enough that I feel it worth mention. Offhand, I can think of fifteen restaurants that fit the bill (It would be wrong to name them all with one sweeping stroke, but going forward I will write them up in reviews). I can also think of a handful that are stellar beginning to end, the exceptions that prove the rule.
[2] This article is going to be a rant now. I wish it didn’t’ have to be, but my hand is forced. If you don’t want to read a rant, stop.