Your Day

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From Preludes, a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

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Dave Malloy is a composer/writer/performer/sound designer. He has written eleven musicals, including Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an electropop opera based on War & Peace headed to Broadway this fall. Other shows include Ghost Quartet, a song cycle about love, death, and whiskey; Preludes, a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff; Three Pianos, a drunken romp through Schubert’s “Winterreise”; Black Wizard/Blue Wizard, a philosophical escapist fantasy; Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage; Beardo; Sandwich; Clown Bible; and (The 99-cent) Miss Saigon. He has won two OBIE Awards, the Richard Rodgers Award, an ASCAP New Horizons Award, and a Jonathan Larson Grant, has been a Guest Professor in music theater at Princeton and Vassar Universities, and is the composer for Banana Bag & Bodice. Future projects include adaptations of Moby-Dick and Shakespeare’s Henriad. He lives in Brooklyn. davemalloy.com

Lessons from the Salmon

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They could not shut them, elephant feet not my own, no, not
you either like a reindeer these belong to a higher order, poor
Edda before the butterfly in the mirror able only to recognize
home in its reflection, material, not moral elements, yes trout
but what about salmon? I loved you and you just slept a long
green sound out over the lake, you gave the lake a spine. Animals
have a country more complete than ours say the people at home,
that dogs are generous, cats make intuitive decisions. Still, for
the flax chaff, he didn’t know what to do with his hands, and
opted convivially for the wash. They were approaching the end
of the stick used to measure their patience as a sort of lifespan,
musing upturned in the morning dew who might be
brought to them and the thoughts each carried. It seemed
an impossible scene rendering vaguely a shovel renting the earth
flinging clods into the neighbor’s yard, insisting upon this. Then
to me, he squints because he is left-handed and leaves sour
the parade of bodies seeking refuge. Romanticism is a nice salve
to sanity, a border-comedy of laudatory miscegenations of the mind
among listenings to two lira repeated in the cave – the smell of soup
brands a people, sick beast the night was, birds loftier than man
for all his puffed-up malingering. I don’t see the need of it, down
compartment, took note feeling the space to be filled more
as an opportunity to define this tunneling than to dwell on what
was in it, though I am only borrowing these gloves, chains
to the ocean in a collective dream. Shadowed nonetheless, they
root in my old age, corrupt glory white shine of the rosy plump
darling set among the swinging sea, humans on land like dumb
buoys looking for balls in depth barred by their floating nature
tombs, poor Edda, flax chaff stuck to me in weekly sketches,
chickens chirping on the steppe so many millions with me in bed
their feathers derange my senses, and no longer tickle. Was that
wistfulness in my voice, or the fabled sigh accepting that long road
extends unchanging? A tall old lout holds in his mouth a solitary joy
so many sparrows share, who flee to the sea, flies on a sheet to stay.
If one can speak of irony in connection with ghosts and green ghostly
things, they appeared bigger because they actually were so. Now
I like being afraid. What are the words to the new green songs, oh,
the lanterns position themselves, create the water’s having corners.

 

Darcy Eldridge studied English at Purdue. She currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana where she works as a photo developer.

The Radical

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Three times Bogdân Ŗžič has refused to debate me. I have challenged him in print and in several public forums, and tonight, I will challenge him again, in person, during the lecture he is giving at Columbia University, and I will make him confront his own traitorousness to the leftist revolutionary cause. How can anyone expect the Revolution to come when our public intellectual leaders are the petit-bourgeoisie? What Bob Avakian says in his New Synthesis of Communism is right on this (and every) front: You cannot do something half-way. Instead of revealing the suffering and madness of the world, Ŗžič’s fusillade of distortion masks it, and that is unconscionable.

A number of Party members will be joining me at the lecture. Likely at Ŗžič’s behest, Columbia has refused to let me participate in the panel discussion that will follow the lecture, so we will distribute our pamphlet at the door. In this pamphlet I have once again challenged Bogdân Ŗžič to a debate, as I will again do verbally during the Question and Answer portion of the event. The debate is necessary, because Ŗžič’s views on the early Communist revolutions are not only wrong but harmful to the future of humanity.

I have called a meeting at my apartment in the Greenwich Village to discuss our course of action. My role is to make aware these youths (Aron, who, at sixty-one, five years older than I, is the exception) of the lies that Ŗžič is likely to tell tonight. I only pay $300 dollars a month for my one-bedroom apartment because it is rent-controlled and has been passed down illegally from revolutionary to revolutionary since the early 1980s. Every insurrection matters, even a small one like this. Enough micro-revolutions will lead to the “capital-R” Revolution. Avakian makes this clear. Ŗžič denies it. Therefore defying him is an important micro-revolution.

So far, Mamen, Sylvia, and Aron are at my apartment, and I have prepared us a light lunch. The bread is from a co-op in Brooklyn, and the produce is from a farm share. Mamen affectionately contributed what she found diving in a dumpster on the way over—juice, cheese, two bagels—of which I will exercise my right to opt out. We can hear the commotion outside, but there is also great commotion inside, as a discourse has commenced. Sylvia has become upset at Mamen’s inflammation that the Bolivarian Revolution was a failure. (Mamen is erroneous, but I let the discussion unfold. She must be allowed to come to the correct conclusions on her own.) Sylvia is shouting (almost with the same timbre that Chavez used to have) that even without meeting its own ideals, the Bolivarian utopian discourse was worthwhile, it being enough of a direct negation of Thatcherist rhetoric to forever disrupt the hegemonic politics of Western oppression.

“Everything is about oil,” says Aron, his bushy gray beard dusty with dumpster-bagel crumbs. “Black gold.” Aron is devoted to the cause, and is always a willing participant, but his years of action with Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies took their toll on his body and mind.

“Yes! The nationalization of the petroleum industry is an object lesson in how controlling the means of production doesn’t necessarily kill a repressive body-politic.” Mamen looks to Aron to see if her point is well received, but Aron seems to have nodded off. Mamen has obviously not yet read Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, even though I gave it to her two weeks ago. She says that she is young and needs to experience life before she reads about it in books. But these books explain how to live, I say. When I was twenty-three, I was already working for the Party as a grassroots organizer in downtown New York, and I was on my way to publishing my first essays. These were about Reagan’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. One was published on the Village Voice Op-Ed page. It was because of that article that I met Bob Avakian, who contacted me right after reading it. My life has never been the same.

There is a heavy pounding on my door, which must be kept locked, even during meetings. Sylvia opens it, and in flies Billy the Kid, shouting “It’s Faggot City outside!” He is referring to the Pride rally on Christopher Street, which is around the corner. I can feel the bleeding of Mamen’s social liberalistic heart as she looks at me with pleading eyes. But when her puppy-doggery is met with my adopted reticence, she scolds Billy herself, telling him plainly and passionately that the word is not acceptable. Billy shakes his cherubic curls at her and flashes a toothy, open-mouthed smile that is meant to convey violent disregard—for Mamen, for the rest of the caring world—but which needs more practice. He hasn’t yet learned how to manifest his anger, and continues to try out new deviations. While unfortunate, Billy’s anger is understandable. Although he is only fourteen, Billy has already experienced his fair share of oppression. His father, a black man, died during the illegal war in Iraq for a country that was more concerned with murdering non-combatants than with his own civil rights. A bank then took away his mother’s home. Billy discovered Insurrectionary Anarchism from some of the other runaways at the C-Squat, and now he comes to my apartment to plan his revenge. The Insurrectionary Anarchists have some good beliefs, the most important being the importance of Direct Action, but they are in general too narrow-minded. They are unable to diagnose the present while anticipating simultaneously both the near-future and far-future. No amount of Direct Action, therefore, will make an Insurrectionary Anarchist into a realistic revolutionary. Mamen says that she “refuses to be bound to a single ideology,” which is quite wonderful, in its naïve childish way. I have been giving Billy Guy Debord to read, and I believe he will soon come around.

The speeches from these feckless activists and community leaders outside the Stonewall Inn echo loudly, though unintelligible, in the courtyard behind my apartment. The Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act not four hours ago, and the LGBTI Community believes that it has achieved an important victory. But true freedom exists only outside the system, and these people are fighting their battles within the confines of the heteronormative body politic, which is de jure constructed on exclusion rather than inclusion. The only way to achieve inclusion is through a complete dismantling of the classist superstructure—that is, a Socialist Revolution. Anyone can see that the DOMA ruling is a false victory meant to lull the LGBTI Community into complacency. Likewise the rising tide of same-sex marriage legalization in the so-called “liberal states.” Billy says that a “suited dick” is delivering the speech that is currently echoing around my courtyard. Surely it is some lawyer from the American Compromising Liberties Union. Echoing and muffling is a good metaphor for what is going on out there (I must remember to include that in my next article in Kultura): as a message spreads, the more the superstructure absorbs the message’s value, leaving a remainder of watered-down pseudo-philosophical sloganization, such as is Bogdân Ŗžič’s pop-culture radicalism. There is no real prescription for how to proceed. Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis of Communism provides good examples of nations where gender inequality righted itself practically overnight after a social revolution. This is what we trying to achieve, and have patience for nothing else. I point to the photo of Avakian and me on the bookshelf, to supplement my point. The photo was taken in this very apartment during a planning session for last year’s march on the Court House. The kids are very impressed by this photograph. The march was a failure—though not through any fault of our own.

 

With a sweep of my arms I bring the room to silence. The food has been cleared away. We sit in a circle. Billy the Kid is already distracted, tracing the tattoo he threatens to etch onto his flawless baby face as proof that no one loves him, but a tug from Mamen, on the sleeve of his German military jacket, rouses his attention. I have already written and printed the pamphlets myself, so the first task is to familiarize everyone with their content. Mamen I do not have to worry about, on this. She watched me compose the pamphlet, which is broken into four sections, excluding the one-page introduction, the compendiary conclusion (titled: “A Call for an Honest and Immediate Debate”), and the bibliography. The four sections are: I) Real Stakes, Real Reckoning; II) ‘New Thinking’ is the Old Thinking; III) The De-Historicisation of the Maoist and Stalinist Project; IV) Bogdân Ŗžič’s Social-Chauvinism Vs. Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis of Communism. I wrote it in a frenzy the night I heard that Ŗžič would be speaking. Mamen sat next to me, and we listened to Phil Ochs and drank oolong tea that a longtime Party member brought back from a recent trip to the People’s Republic of China. Mamen had lots of questions, but I could not answer them. I was too busy writing. At some point, she fell asleep. Mamen is very beautiful when she sleeps. She must have been having wonderful dreams that night because she was smiling, delicately. I picked her up and carried her to bed and didn’t join her until I finished writing, at 3:00 a.m. If anyone at the lecture tonight questions Mamen about the pamphlet, I am confident that she will be able to respond intelligently enough. For the others, a review is necessary. As with all insurrectionary actions, it is important to have every detail and movement planned out in advance, and that all participants know their roles.

The lecture starts at 7:30 p.m., but we will arrive at 6:00 p.m. in order to distribute pamphlets to those waiting in line. Ŗžič has a large following, and lines for his lectures are typical. When the doors open, Sylvia, Aron, and Billy the Kid will station themselves at the three entrances of the auditorium and continue to distribute the pamphlet to anyone who walks past. Meanwhile, myself and Mamen will occupy a row of seats close to the front. I will sit in the aisle seat so that I can get quickly in line for the microphone during the Question and Answer portion of the lecture, where once again I will publically challenge Bogdân Ŗžič to a debate.

With everyone able to recite the plan back to me—I like to go around in a circle and make each participant say his or her role out loud, even if everyone’s role is the same; repetition is a very effective tool—we march ourselves out of my apartment and into the street. The Authorities have closed the blocks surrounding the Stonewall Inn, including my own, and the streets are packed with thousands of jubilant homosexuals. “What did I tell you?” says Billy the Kid, but I admonish him with a stern look. I try so hard with him.

The media—some of it even national—have turned out, their heartless satellites protruding like weapons into the sky. Upon their perches they watch the activists speak, while reporters shove microphones into the mouths of the ­everymen. With my comrades in line behind me, I blaze a trail through the throng. It is vital that we stay on schedule. But suddenly, while attempting to navigate us around a septet of entwined lesbians, Mamen grabs me from behind and spins me to a halt. Billy has cut from the ranks and is pushing his way westward toward the stage. My guess, knowing him, is that his path will terminate at the group of men sharing bottles of champagne. I send Mamen and Sylvia after him, and, frustrating as it may be, waiting on Billy affords me a moment to listen to the speeches. On a small, crowded stage erected in front of the tavern, a woman approximately my same age stands at a tall podium. She speaks into a cluster of microphones of different shapes and sizes.

This is history in the making! she shouts, and the crowd cheers its response. Children who are born today will be born into a world without marriage inequality. And those children who happen to be gay will be allowed to love.

The others on the stage clap and nod their heads. A few wear paper Uncle Sam hats.

But we cannot be complacent! Today, we have achieved a victory in the name of civil rights, but our fight is far from finished! It is our moral imperative to push on. It’s been forty-four years since we first stood together on this spot, and we still stand here until every American is permitted the freedoms granted by the Constitution!

But there is no swifter way to bring about inequality in a Capitalist system than to get married, I remind myself. Gender-regardless, marriage, being an institution inseparable from the oppressive state that governs it, creates a hierarchical, capital-determined relationship. Only after marriage is divorced from the state apparatus will its participants be equal partners. No matter how many times I explain this to Mamen, she refuses to understand. It has become an unfortunate point of contention between us. I would think that the amount of time we have wasted with this discussion would obviate its frivolity, but no. “What about love?” she asks me. There will be time for love after the Revolution, I tell her. “But Bob is married!” she shouts, knowing very well that this isn’t really pertinent to the broader philosophical argument, and also that I hate it when she calls Avakian, whom she has yet to meet, “Bob.”

The crowd is swelling, and we must get moving. Mamen and Sylvia have difficulty getting forward with so many people hugging. Sylvia calls out to Billy, who was apparently refused champagne. He gives Sylvia the finger, and then, with his hands together and arms extended out in front of him, daggers his way back to the group.

At this moment, the crowd begins to chant in unison. Edi! Edi! Edi!, they roar. There is no one at the podium now, but still they chant Edi! Edi! and they clap their hands, clap clap clap, in concert. Suddenly, there is a huge, ebullient cry—I cover my ears, it is so loud—as an old woman slowly climbs the stairs to the stage, one hand waving, the other clasped, for balance, to the hand of the last speaker. When she stands at the podium, she can barely see over it. The microphones are angled lower for her. The applause has not relented. Next to me, a woman weeps, and instead of wiping her tears away she lets them stream down her face. The old woman on stage lifts her hands to quiet the crowd, but it only makes them cheer louder, and they start chanting her name again. Edi! Edi! The old woman’s voice is too meek to rise above the noise. If only everyone would quiet down.

Just then, something pokes me in the shoulder. “Look at that,” says Aron, grinning under his tangle of hair. He motions beyond the crowd. It seems that in the moment I looked away from him, Billy the Kid was approached by a news crew.

Billy, with his curls and frail boy’s body, is what Ginsberg had in mind when he wrote the words “angel headed,” and in his unwashed, too big military coat, affixed with safety pins and punk patches, he is a strange site to behold. Clearly the producer has keyed in on what Mamen calls “viral content potential.” The lights are being adjusted. The reporter, a grinning corporate go-getter looking for a way up the “ladder,” explains something to Billy.

“Let’s go,” I tell Aron. Billy alone on TV is not a good idea. If I can get there before the interview starts I can at least give him some talking points about the Cause, if not go on air myself to explain the reality of this spectacle. The old woman, she who has garnered so much adoration from the audience, has begun her speech, but I cannot listen. The cameraman is already counting down from three on his fingers and the reporter is straightening his tie. Two, one, and the red light goes on. The reporter asks his first question: “As a young person, what made you come out today to celebrate?” I reach them right as Billy delivers his response:

“Fuck the Police!”

The cameraman spins the camera away from Billy. The reporter stands flabbergasted. Two NYPD officers, apparently bored with “keeping the peace,” start making their way toward Billy. How many times must I tell Billy that police brutality is a product of the violence inherent in the global capitalist system?

“Fuck the police!” he shouts again. I grab Billy by his dog-collar and pull him toward the subway. It is time to go. Nothing is more important than tonight’s action.

 

*

 

When I debate Bogdân Ŗžič, I will hold him accountable for his many hypocrisies. I suspect that Ŗžič is a skilled debater, as he was educated in a Soviet system, but a debate on a practical application of Communism will not allow him to hide behind his beloved theory, and I will triumph.

With the pamphlets distributed, there is nothing to do now but to wait, and to listen to the lecture. I am sitting on the aisle, as planned, with Mamen on my right, then Sylvia, Aron, and Billy the Kid, and beyond him a group of what appear to be graduate students speaking Polish. The auditorium is filled to capacity, and latecomers are forced either to stand in the back or to sit in the aisles. Everyone here will be witness to my challenge, making it impossible, for Ŗžič, to back out. The auditorium is not as loud as at the rally, but it is loud, and Ŗžič walks on stage to ridiculous applause.

The event begins. The Italian post-structuralist Lucio Regio introduces Ŗžič with what is barely more than a confused sycophantic ramble. Sad to see such a brilliant thinker (or so I once thought) fall so hard for Ŗžič’s Yugoslav charm. The topic of the lecture is “Post-Hegelian Rationality and the Specters of Catastrophe,” and it is, quite simply, ludicrous. According to Ŗžič, the rising tide of international social unrest thus far in the twenty-first century actually results from a lack of theoretic substance. In order to radically transform the violent reality of the post-imperialist capitalist state, he says, these movements must further move toward the void. Absurd. Avakian’s body of work is an unflinching refutation of this idea, even that which was published five years ago. Mamen keeps shushing me when I try to point out the flaws in Ŗžič’s logic. She says that she wants to listen, and, yes, she must be allowed to come to conclusions on her own. I admit that I, too, am having trouble listening with all the rhetoric swirling around my head.

“We will now open up the floor to questions,” Regio says suddenly, Ŗžič’s lecture apparently over despite no practicable conclusion being reached. Lines are already forming at the microphones. Mamen prods me in ribs. “Get up there. What are you waiting for?” she says. I’m going, I’m going. I must formulize my demands. I step into the aisle and get into line. There are two microphones, one at each side of the hall, and Regio alternates between them, meaning that I will be, at best, the seventh questioner.

“If you don’t get to speak, you must still challenge him,” Mamen whispers to me from her seat. “Interrupt him if you have to. Make him listen.” I wish she’d shut up.

Grad students ask their ridiculous questions, trying desperately to appear smart in front of the famous philosopher, naming this and that theorist. My demand will be quite jarring in this setting. Perhaps I will catch Ŗžič off-guard.

“I’m afraid we are running out of time,” says Regio. “We will take three more questions.”

I am next. A professorial-looking man asks a question about Adorno or Habermas in relation to the Palestinian situation, and then it is my turn. I step to the microphone.

Ŗžič looks right at me. This is what I have come for. I look at Mamen. She smiles, mouths “go! go!” I smile at her. At this moment, in her encouragement, she is very beautiful, and suddenly I want to grab her hand and leave this auditorium. Maybe take her to meet Bob. She will like that. Regio says something I do not hear, an invitation to speak. I look back at Mamen, and, now unsmiling, she points at Ŗžič. Ŗžič appears calm, sips the expensive water Columbia has purchased for him. I take a deep breath.

“My name is Peter Bibben, and I am an activist, writer, and an advocate for Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis of Communism. Bogdân Ŗžič, it is not true, as you allege, that the first wave of Communist-Socialist Revolutions was a failure. It is wrong, it is harmful, and it is unconscionable that you continue to use your stature to try to close the door on the way out of this horror and madness, which is the New Synthesis of Marxist Revolutionary tactics.” When speaking publically, it is important to punctuate one’s statements with forceful hand gestures. I strike the air in front of my chin with five fingers pressed together, like a beak, or a fascia. “Bogdân Ŗžič, I have challenged you to debate me, in print and in several public forums, about the history and prospects of effective Marxist Revolution. Nothing could be more important. This concerns the future of humanity. My question to you, Bogdân, is: Why have you refused to debate? Can we decide, right here and now, in front of this audience, a time and place to have this debate?”

Ŗžič’s confounded silence stimulates the audience to laughter. Sylvia and Billy the Kid stand-up and cheer. Some people are booing, and Billy shakes his fist at them, not realizing that they may actually be booing Ŗžič, who has been exposed.

Ŗžič takes another sip of fancy water and looks at his notes, shaken.

“Let’s take another question,” says Regio. “This will be the final one.” Everyone behind me at the microphone goes to sit down. I consider doing the same; they will never stop trying to silence true believers. The student on the other side of the room starts to introduce himself.

“Wait,” says Ŗžič. “Wait, I want to address this gentleman’s accusation, or question, or whatever it is.”

“You don’t have to,” says Regio, and gestures for the student to speak, the dog barking away intruders from his master’s door.

Ŗžič interrupts again: “Can you repeat what you said earlier?” he says to me.

I take a step back toward the microphone. “My name is Peter Bibben,” I begin again, the microphone popping harshly on the P. “And what I said before, what I said was that I don’t think the first wave of Communist-Socialist revolutions was a failure. Like you say it was. It’s wrong, bad, I think, for you to close the door on the madness and horror and madness, which is the New Synthesis—that is to close the door on the way out of the matter, the way out being Bob’s New Synthesis, Bob Avakian’s. I also said that I have challenged you to debate me about the history and prospects of the Marxist Revolution. And so my question, Mr. Ŗžič, is why have you refused to have this debate? Can we decide, right now, on a time and place to have this debate?”

Ŗžič pushes aside the papers in front of him, leans toward the microphone.

“In response to your first question: It all depends on how you think of failure. If you are referring to my essay ‘Overworld: Badiou, the Death Drive and Mao,’ you must remember that I’m quoting excessively from Laclau. What I am saying is that the ultimate result of the Great Leap Forward was a betrayal of its authentic revolutionary inception. The ultra-Capitalism of Beijing indicates to me that there had to have been some weakness present at the onset. Mein gott, I was praising the Cultural Revolution!”

“What about the debate!” Sylvia shouts. “Are you scared?”

“On this point,” Ŗžič continues, “I don’t think I’m the liar you make me out to be, and I must admit to you that I wasn’t aware of your challenge, and I sincerely apologize.”

“He hadn’t seen my challenges,” I say to Mamen. She frowns. I’m finding it harder and harder to decipher her. I have failed somewhere in my teaching, maybe. She turns away from me.

“You’ve heard my challenge now!” I tell Ŗžič. “I challenge you to debate me!”

“Pistols at dawn!” yells Billy the Kid.

“Ok, we will. We will. I say this publically here. I commit myself. I will be in New York for the rest of the week. If you make the arrangements, I will be there.”

“We will have this debate!”

“Yes. We will. That is what I am telling you: I am committed. Just don’t bring your Lost Boys to interrupt me.”

The audience breaks into laughter and applause again.

“Ah! Ah! Don’t make that gesture,” says a smiling Ŗžič, who is making a wild, exaggerated shrugging motion amid the laughter. “I saw you!” he says to me, mimicking whatever he thinks he saw me do, which I did not. “This gesture, which in my Stalinist experience means ‘What will I do when people protest?’” Again, the audience laughs, although I do not get the joke. Ŗžič repeats: “I promise. This week.”

Regio brings the lecture to a close. He thanks Ŗžič, as well as the audience, and the auditorium quickly clears out.

 

There is celebration in my camp. The youths high-five and then Billy starts to sprint back and forth across the tops of the rows of empty chairs. Sylvia explains to Aron what happened, as he had fallen asleep. Around us, undergraduate volunteers pick up loose papers left under seats, wadding my pamphlets up into great, big balls.

Ŗžič’s assistant, a Romanian grad student, comes over to exchange contact information and to give me a copy of Ŗžič’s schedule. Billy trips and falls onto the carpeted aisle.

“You did it,” Mamen says softly. She holds my hand with her two. “You did it, Peter. You must tell Bob. You have to publicize the debate right away. You don’t have much time. Do you have a moderator in mind? Where will you hold it? I can call the libraries first thing in the morning. The universities, too. What’s the matter, Peter? Ŗžič’s accepted! You are going to debate! What are you thinking, Peter?”

 

 

Daniel Tovrov has an MFA from Columbia, and is the recipient of a 2015 Pushcart Prize.

“My Schedule” and “Public Library”

by

 

My Schedule

 

I clean out the fridge and

scrub the stove. My mom keeps saying

you have no idea how

happy this makes me so I leave

 

for New York for like

a week and for instance

on the train these girls ask a guy

if they passed Times Square already

 

I fell asleep, the guy says

rode the train all the way to

Bay Ridge so now you’re on

my schedule. So like we

just stay on this train?

 

and even at the bar

through the front window

I think I see someone

I know      it’s impossible

 

 

Public Library

 

All the people who came in

and left the Chinese restaurant

without saying a word

 

and I equally said nothing

or took a picture of

lunch: they are here

 

now. Sitting at a broken

computer that might work

for all I know on a damp floor.

 

It is just one girl, full

disclosure: wearing

a pink hat. She is dancing

 

with her elbows and raining

outside. It seems we both

come from that restaurant.

 

 

Nick Chrastil is from Minneapolis, MN. He is currently studying journalism and history at Louisiana State University.

“Grizzly Peak” and “First Day”

by

Grizzly Peak

shows Mount Diablo in the distance:
the last time they think a grizzly killed a man
was 1865, Strawberry Canyon.
This was also the last reported sighting.
The dregs of that canyon’s creek slices Berkeley campus.
They killed the biggest ever found in California
in Valley Center earlier that decade. 1868,
the UC opened: lux fit. Last summer
we drove out to tour lavender farms, got lost
off the 395, argued, gassed up,
got there, were made
serene. “Grizzly” describes
the golden and grey tips of its hairs: golden
poppy, alumni who Bleed Gold. Tan splashing children.
Students jump Strawberry Creek’s narrow parts
to get to class. It rarely rains, so the creek
rarely swells.

 
 
 
 

First Day

Saw Amanda in neon and black—
Drank coconut water, agreed to meet at their party garage,
Glittered at the mouth and touched brows,
Bought potato chips ending up spicy, walked over twenty blocks,
Went with to get ice cream pressed between two cookies,
Drank coffee at ten and later at seven, showered,
Dragged shoes and blue clothes—
Bruised one hip on a table, kept silent from arrogance,
Kept silent from fear, was needy,
Was critical, took it bad when Carlos called “sweetie,”
Saw Andrew and told him to call if ever not well,
Read over a shoulder Voltaire “go to heaven,” caught a lot of periphery,
recognized the great joke of the process—

 
 
 
 

Kayla Krut is a fellow at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work has recently appeared in minor literature[s], Contemporary Verse 2, and American Chordata, and is forthcoming in the Berkeley Poetry Review. She is from California.

So The Pretty Roommate Dies

by

It happens. People die and their rent checks bounce.

Not because their mortal records, checking accounts and all, are suddenly stricken from existence the moment the voltage overwhelms their hearts, but because they’re generally sloppy with money and that last check was always going to bounce anyway. Not to mention your favorite mug, the one from that college you fell in love with while visiting, but never attended, is currently crusted with foreign tea leaves under the unwashed dishes cluttering the sink—a bright red lower lip imprint at its rim. The same mug you’ve loudly been looking for whenever your roommate was within earshot. Though none of that actually matters now because, well, Jesus… death. Life ended.

So the check, and the mug, and your favorite bottle of wine—which tastes lighter, looks thinner and waterier than before when you hold it up to the light—none of those things are relevant anymore. Death excuses it all, makes you conscious of the forest and not the trees. Et cetera and whathaveyou.

It’s always a loss, this death business. But for your peers, for young people—young people with flawless skin, bright eyes, and even features—a deeper sense of tragedy follows. The-could-have-been of it all. You tell yourself that this self-reflexivity is your version of mourning.

It’s in the liver spots she’ll never get, in her hair that will stay bright auburn and never dull, and in the breast exams she won’t have to learn to keep track of. It’s both the trip to France she won’t half-plan and quarter-enjoy, and the latest episode of her favorite show now buzzing in your TiVo, that she’ll never get caught up on. Small, inconsequential facets of this tragedy that only you will ever know about. It’s not loud or bright, no chest will be clutched or candle lit, but you believe this still counts.

The unopened tub of Nutella, a pink “NOT FOR SHARING!!!” Post-It stuck to its side, feels heavier in your hand somehow. That’s it, you realize. The difference between what it weighs now and what it weighed when hastily picked up from the corner market shelf a month ago when she last did the groceries; that’s the exact weight of this tragedy.

~ ~ ~

If someone’s life was to be assessed in the ripples generated by their sudden plucking from the world, you think hers would be a three—three ripples. Important but localized; irreplaceable only to those who already loved her. Family, obviously, and close friends, no more than four or five of those, and then immediate co-workers—those who saw her face every day. And only if she was chatty, made herself known, which you suspect, on account of her chattiness at home.

The roommate, the cohabitant, ought to be next in line for grieving. You were the last person she saw on most days. You knew her smells. Her hair still lingers on your cushions and feels familiar between your fingers. You could mechanically answer intimate questions about grooming habits, eating habits, and toilet habits. Yet for all of this intimacy, the ripples stop dead with you. There is no grief here.

On the phone, her Grieving Mother sobs. There are wet pauses, tangents, mentions of generic traits you find yourself nodding along to without having ever yourself witnessed. She was unafraid as a child and had ridden horses at an early age. Sure. Even when her cousins were too afraid, content with feeding the huge beasts, she herself hadn’t been frightened. She was eager to ride on the very first class, and this impressed the teacher. She was just that kind of girl, full of life. “That sounds like her,” you say, nodding.

When you feel like it’s your turn to drive the conversation, you aim to say something uplifting, something that’ll bring her peace, comfort, if only so she remembers you fondly. You share a saying from a grandmother that you invent on the spot. “Death is its own graduation,” you say. “You throw your hat in the air and it just keeps floating upward, like a feather going back where it belongs and taking you with it.”

She hums across the line, confused but wanting to capture the meaning underneath. You always stumble under pressure. The rest of the thought takes shape in your mind but crumbles in your mouth and all you’re left with is the sucking of air between your teeth, which you hope will come off as a sob. “She was so kind,” the grieving woman says. “She was,” you agree. “We were like sisters.”

She lists all the things she has to do for the funeral. She says the state will ship the remains. It’s a reverent word. Remains. What does remain now, you wonder, of her even features, striking eyes, and shiny hair? She invites you to the funeral, of course, but it’s a long way to Minnesota and there’s no obligation, really. You say you’ll check in with work and let her know as soon as you can. You hang up with a “God bless.” And why not? He just might.

All in all, you believe you’ve played your part well in this exchange between Grieving Mother and Unknown Roommate. You didn’t mention anything about her daughter’s bounced rent check. It would have been cold, and you didn’t want her to think her daughter died living with a heartless person. You’ll dig into your savings like you would have had to anyway. It’s your own way of suppressing the image of your roommate’s pulpy viscera spread across the subway tracks, mopped up by weary city workers in the night. You wish you could cry, that the impulse was even there. You want the ripples, you realize.

~ ~ ~

You use two of your Sick Days at work and plan to spend them sleeping, processing. An acquaintance of The Pretty Roommate stops by, waking you in the process. It’s already dark outside and, slim as the chances were, you had hoped to sleep right through the afternoon, night, and most of the next day as well. The voice across the intercom is male and rings uncertain, optimistic, and eager all at once. It’s almost offensive; too much for you in your sluggish state. Eight p.m. on Thursday. A date probably. A date she would have met downstairs in the lobby, as was standard pre-mortem practice. You never met her guys.

You knew the ring of their voices only by way of the hushed whispers and late night giggles that came through your closed door. Occasionally, these would accompany the tinkering of dishes, uncorking of beers, one then another, and the low hum of the microwave.

“She’s dead,” you say. After a beat, the man’s voice garbles at the other end of the line, confused by what you believe to be a very simple statement. You picture him downstairs, wearing a stylish pea coat and scarf—generic but elegant in the winter chill. A touch above the occasional plastic parkas and Mets caps that litter your own romantic history. He’s travelled by subway—maybe even the fateful R train—but from here they would have taken a cab to the restaurant, and something in her eyes would have glittered at the disposable income in his hail.

“It’s Richie. From the site?” the voice insists. The inflection of his voice makes you want to squash this coiffed, peacoated man from five floors up, spit on his head as he backs away dejected.

“She’s fucking dead. Don’t come back here!” you enunciate, louder, clearer. You want to sleep some more, unbothered with putting on displays of false grief. You need your rest. Your roommate is dead—it’s a very trying time for you. The buzzer whines some more as you walk away, and only with the covers over your head does the noise eventually stop. A man too easily rattled by rejection, you think.

You try to fall back asleep, imagining her sounds coming from the kitchen. The weight of her socked steps or the clacking of her heels, the order in which she went from right-hand pantry, left-hand pantry, fridge, and microwave. Maybe this is your grief, you think. Or maybe it’s just the smell of these unfamiliar sheets, playing with your brain.

~ ~ ~

She might have been a smoker, you think the next morning, reading a magazine that does not interest you, still sprawled on this bed that does not smell like you but now belongs to you. Or maybe the man you heard sneak out into the hallway four nights before the incident was the smoker. Maybe it’s his ashy scent now clinging to your skin. You think about ashes and look up state crematories. In any case, that box of nicotine patches you’d come across in the medicine cabinet now seems like a cruel joke. ‘Smoke up, girlfriend’ you want to say to her.

Between the sobbing and the awkwardness, her Grieving Mother had said, “I’d really appreciate if you could maybe box and ship us her things? We don’t care about the furniture. But anything you can. Please. We’ll mail you a blank check for the expenses.” She spoke in the plural, making it sound as though there was an entire estate out there in Minnesota waiting to go through The Pretty Roommate’s trinkets with shaky hands, eager to share anecdotes and imagine the last time this or that outfit was worn in the city. The Grieving Mother’s grief had focus to it; you admired that.

You think The Pretty Roommate would have liked her death had she read an article about it, or seen a news segment covering the ditzy young woman who fell onto the subway track while peering down the tunnel to see if the train was coming, and who, after dusting herself off, embarrassed and presumably distracted by the various substances now staining her coat, had accidentally stepped on that fateful third rail—the one you absolutely must stay clear of as the stories go. Oh, yes. She would have laughed that delightful laugh of hers reading about the improbable death of a girl so airheaded that she managed to do herself in twice: first electrocuted, then pulverized by the oncoming train, which was actually running on time.
Or she might have sighed, solemnly shook her head, and given you that scrunch face, her Midwestern sensibilities wounded by your callousness. Who knows what her moral line was; she was a roommate, not a friend. And although it had taken you four years in the city to grasp it, you knew the distinction by now.

Friendships were things built on the progressive breaking of boundaries. Kisses on the cheek, hugs, arms around the shoulders. The borrowing of a stick of gum, then clothes, then lipstick. ‘Roommates’ however, was a status that defined itself in the exact opposite manner, in the irrigation of limits.

Could you not do that?’ The Quiet Roommate from two years ago, about turning the radio on while you cooked.

I’m going to need you to maybe keep that in your room. Allergies,’ the Julliard Roommate, here for a year, regarding your fuzzy orange blanket thrown over the couch.

‘You should still go sleep in your room. I really don’t want to complicate things.’ The Boy Roommate, your head on his pillow.

It was geometric cohabitation you realized, nothing more. They rented their room, half of the kitchen cabinets and alternate usage of the bathroom alongside the transversal that was the hallway. A third of the living room also went to them—a third only because most of your furniture was already in place and you didn’t mind sharing your electronics. This was a concession that, two bags at her feet, and one blue milk crate of toiletries in hand, The Pretty Roommate hadn’t minded. ‘It’s a relief actually. My last living room was literally just a mattress in the corner,’ she’d said upon moving in. ‘Maybe we can have movie nights or something.

~ ~ ~

The Pretty Roommate is also not the name you would have picked for this one.

The ‘Fresh-Off-The-Greyhound Roommate’ was your first thought, upon meeting her at the corner deli after a few e-mails in response to your Craigslist ad. The Effortfully Beautiful Roommate, maybe. The Girlie Roommate and The Olympic Dater Roommate were also early contenders. These names were usually signatures that only revealed in due time, as things were ending.

But the world saved you the trouble of having to wait this one out. You stepped out of the shower that one morning, curls wet and legs unshaved as you were already running late for work. You’d found Carlos, the building’s super, in your living room, along with an associate whose face you recognized, but whose name you didn’t know, both sweating at the neck and speaking animated Spanish. Your couch was pushed into a corner, exposing the screeching thermostat that had been sending bursts of rusty dust into the air for days, which stung your eyes when you walked into the living room. Carlos was trustworthy, friendly even, but also walked around in full awareness of the access the set of keys dangling at his gut granted him.

“Ah, miss! We thought we would get to it today, yeah?” Carlos had said looking away in an assumed shame that his partner didn’t bother mimicking. That it was fine so long as they put the couch back when they were done was all you’d managed to say before withdrawing to your room. From the corner of your eye, you’d seen the man make a face.

“It’s not for her. It’s the other one, the pretty roommate. This one, I don’t even know. She never smiles,” said Carlos. Like that, ownership of the space you had brought her into had shifted to the more pleasant shape of her face, and the thicker hips she used to rest her hands on. You, the Strong Chin and Weak-Nosed roommate. Her, the Pretty Roommate.

~ ~ ~

Away from the sheets, the space smells like any other unkempt bedroom. There is no warmth to the desk chair, no lingering aroma to be romanticized. On the small Swedish-made and floor-assembled desk, is her laptop, which tells you that it hasn’t been turned off in sixty-seven days, twenty-two hours, and nine minutes. It was the last thing you had seen her touch in the room, coming back one last time, coat on and scarf tied, dragging thin wet lines of sidewalk snow into the hallway to check alternative routes, her usual train shut down for the weekend for repairs. Her browser opens to its home page, some blog called Things Organized Neatly.

You recognize it, having often glimpsed the passing sight of her in curlers and sweats, cocooned in front of the bright screen, seemingly mesmerized by the sight of these household items positioned neatly and photographed artfully—occupying the exact space they were meant to and not an inch more.

Something about it must have soothed the disorder—yes, disorder you would say—of her own life. The clear disappointment of having been in the city for months now and not yet fallen in love or met those lifelong friends she was promised on Sex in the City. The fact that her roommate was not a partner in crime, but merely a presence, off-putting and judgmental, who stayed in and kept to herself. Every morning and every night, The Pretty Roommate sat at that desk, putting on her coat and scarf. You understand the ritual, having witnessed it enough times through her open door to badly mimic it and browse the pictures for a few minutes, hoping to tap into something, but ultimately failing.

Her email is still open. Twelve unread emails. Somehow, you expected more. You draft a letter, a note really, informing all acquaintances of the passing, creating ripples elsewhere, maybe even a few tidal waves. You believe your two paragraphs to be long enough for a devastated roommate, a friend unsure of the boundaries of propriety. You try to finish on a sincere, if not borrowed note.

The girl I knew found beauty in simple things. She lived unencumbered and unafraid.

One particular piece of correspondence, 11:28 pm the previous night, catches your eye. Subject line: “RIP”, I guess.

What happened? You didn’t have to pretend to be someone else. Coulda just cancelled.

COMPLETE MISUNDERSTANDING you swiftly type, offering seven exclamation points. What comes after is more impulse than logic. The lengthy reply writes itself and after hitting ‘send’, you also change her password, preferring numbers to words. 19852014. A tribute of sorts. It’s easier this way, you believe: just streams of data and numeric interacting in cyberspace.

~ ~ ~

Very early on, you had concluded that she was of a more reckless breed than you could like. The type that lived their lives like a performance for an audience that was not there. The one time you had tried to bond over drinks at a bar down the block, she had complained about the atmosphere—low-key by midtown standards, perfect for conversation—and proceeded to get drunker than necessary. Eventually, she’d garnered the interest of two suited men, one table over. One spent the night with his hand on your knee, and the handsomer one had taken The Pretty Roommate home to his place in Morningside Heights, playing up the fact that he could afford a one bedroom in the city. They had been in their late thirties at least, but she only referred to them as “those boys,” for weeks on end. We should go out again. We had so much fun!

After that night, you lived mathematical, parallel lives, and mostly only interacted when you bumped into each other in the kitchen, or as she would get ready for her dates in the living room, using the floor-length mirror she’d found in the building’s laundry room, but that she had no space for in her own bedroom.

My clothes would look so much better on me if I had your body, she’d once said, pressing and pushing at the sides of her midriff in front of the cracked glass. Like, I see them in magazines, online, on girls in the streets and I think, yes, that right there, that’s my palette. I see it so clearly, y’know. But then when I put them on, it’s all wrong. And it’s not just the size. Even when they fit, they don’t fit, y’know? It’s a concession. These amazing clothes lose something when I put them on. It’s like, fine, I’m an eight tonight, but the dress is a perfect ten, so really, doesn’t that make me a negative? Does that make any sense? She held her hair up with one hand and turned back to you expectantly. You shrugged, said nothing as you returned to your room. In bed, you felt guilty. Why could you not bond with her? Was lack of compatibility really a transgression to be punished?

~ ~ ~

Her makeup feels lighter on your face than your own and you’ve taken note of the brand.

You order what you think she would have ordered—a small salad, flavor on the side—hoping it will be enough to remove the processed aftertaste of the Nutella you had while getting ready. He smiles and says something about girls always ordering salads on dates, but doesn’t suggest an acceptable substitute meal before moving on to talking about his work, something on the low-end of the finance spectrum. He isn’t rich, but sees himself getting there.

She liked salad, going by her side of the fridge. Lettuce, kale, greens of any kind: foods she could enjoy without counting. She read labels carefully and you knew which food items belonged to her in the pantry because she kept their packages facing inwards, nutritional factoids then available for her perusal. ‘That’s three of this,’ she would say about your breakfast, holding up a bowl of gruel when you pulled a Pop Tart out of the microwave. But, who knows, maybe that was her being friendly. There was only hindsight now.

“I was worried I had screwed it up before you even saw me!” he laughs. The sleeves of his peacoat, grey, hang off the sides of his chair.

“That’s my roommate,” you say. “She’s a complete freak.”

“But that you were dead though? That’s pretty morbid,” he says.

You repeat yourself, weighing the words. A complete freak.

“I have to admit, I already was pretty nervous about meeting you in the first place,” he continues, throwing a perplexed glance your way that you try your best to smile through. “Not a lot of people do the whole blind date thing these days. A picture doesn’t really show anything, y’know? Why don’t you video chat, by the way?”

You know the answer to this.

You had brought the ironing table to the living room, and was greeted by the spectacle of The Pretty Roommate giggling and flirting with a blurry guy somewhere across the city, a hand teasingly glued to her laptop’s camera, occasionally removing it at lightning speed before he could get a look. Why don’t you just have a regular conversation with him? you had asked her, just the once. Oh, I hate that angle, she had said, looking scandalized by the very notion. The camera is right up your nose. It widens the jawline. During that exchange, she talked more slowly and with an audible stupidity, every other syllable inflected upward, ringing.

“I prefer to go by real life chemistry,” you smile at him. “I want a real connection.”

“Sure.”

Your salad arrives shortly after. Your water is topped off, and his has to be completely refilled. You wonder if he gets this thirsty on every first date or if it’s talking to you that is so parching.

“Plus, I hate the angle of the camera,” you say as the waiter walks off. “It’s right up your nose.”

He laughs at this, and his shoulders appear to loosen. “I’ll raise you one,” he says proceeding to tell you the story of a video interview he had in which the Senior Vice Something had a dangling booger in his right nostril throughout the entire conversation. You laugh. You laugh again when a woman accidentally knocks a waiter’s tray. When he mimics a coworker. Your face hurts. He doesn’t ask any questions about the haircut you said you’d just gotten. Or mention that your nose seems bigger than the picture he saw. It was a good angle, he must tell himself. People put their best foot forward online. Why ruin a good evening by asking too many questions? Maybe he lied about his own picture, you think. It might have belonged to his own roommate, now lying dead in an alley somewhere.

~ ~ ~

You fumble with your keys and then shush him when he chuckles at your nervousness.

“Is your roommate around?” he asks.

“I don’t know. Probably,” you whisper loudly. “She never goes out.”

You kiss against the wall by her bedroom. You haven’t slept in yours in days now. You keep your back arched and your knee high, your heel resting on an electrical socket. You think it looks better this way; at this angle he can enjoy how skinny you are. His lips occasionally detach and linger above yours. He doesn’t smell the death, doesn’t pull you off in a frown, sensing something wrong.

You turn the doorknob behind you, and back into the dark, like you imagine she does, kicking off her heels one after the other. You feel the dead cells of clipped toenails dig into your feet as you step onto the shaggy pink carpet at the foot of the still unmade bed.

“I’m a mess,” you say, excusing the chaos you’ve made of this room. It smells like you don’t even know what. He says he likes your mess. He liked your dress, liked your eyes, liked the neighborhood and liked your living room; of course he likes your untidiness too. He seems to like your neck also. You wonder if you are better than she would have been and then realize the pointlessness of those questions that will never be answered.

I love you, you suddenly want to shout. I love you so much that I hope you never leave. You imagine him impregnating you right then and there. We’ll name him Cedric. You’ll hold my hand in the delivery room. Afterwards, I’ll take Pilates, do the Kegel work, and two months later, we’ll be right back here, all because we love each other so damn much!

The Pretty Roommate might have had issues.

Just like she might have deserved the thrill of saying ‘I love you’ one more time from beyond the grave as opposed to simply hearing it through the sobs of family and friends she already knew loved her. Her ripples would continue if you did that. He’d tell the story for years to come. But you say none of these things, of course. You bite your lip against his and even in the dark you can tell that he takes it as a compliment. He comes in sputters, repeating her name a few times, filling each syllable with however much intensity he thinks she deserves. To your ears it sounds only like a moderate amount. You come. Ish. There’s pleasure somewhere in your middle, by the pancreas, over the intestines.

Afterwards, he caresses your back, looking at you like a puzzle that’s just been solved. “You didn’t have to use someone else’s picture,” he whispers. The lamp has been turned on and there’s now dead air to be filled. He gets up and slips on his underwear as he continues. “No really, you’re gorgeous, babe.” Under the light, you now see pudge amassing in his folds as he brings his foot up to the side of the bed to put on his socks.

“Thanks,” you say, wondering what he would do if you told him he had just slept with a dead girl. “You should go.” You nod towards the door. “The roommate’s a real bitch about overnight guests.”

“That’s the worst,” he says, now buttoning his shirt. “Mine’s all right.”

“Really?”

“Sure, he’s a bartender downtown. We hang out. We could check out his bar,” he says and then stops with a frown, catching up to his words. “Well, I’m out of town next weekend.”

“It’s okay,” you say. “Don’t worry about it. I had a good time.” You’re not a pillow sharer anyway.

“Me too,” he smiles. Relief makes people smile.

He kisses your cheek and disappears into the hallway, breaking into a mischievous grin when he turns back and finds you wide eyed with a finger at your lips in a way that says quieter still, my roommate is fucking insane, remember. He closes the door behind him and you lean back into your dirty sheets, stare at the ceiling, and listen to him tiptoe down the hallway, shoes in hand.

You hear the bathroom door open, the toilet lid rise, a weak, though steady stream followed by a toilet flush. The water runs, but there’s no interruption or weight under it, nothing rinsed. Eventually the front door closes, and this man that death had stood up has slipped out into the night with unwashed hands. You can’t sleep after that. There’s a filled condom in the garbage can a few feet away from you that needs immediate clearing. What this room smells like, you finally understand, isn’t her or you or sex or Nutella. It’s dirty, the exact fragrance of the thing. The sheets are rank, stained all over, and damp to the touch. You’ll wash them and they’ll get rank again, of course.

You brew some tea, enough for two, with half probably going to waste. You start look for boxes and packing tape. You quickly decide on what to send and what to keep. Anything that could belong to any girl anywhere but still holds an air of individuality, of essence, send. Your jewelry box and most of its content. A few teddy bears. A bathrobe. You strip your former room bare and close the door. Your next ad will say that you’re looking for someone adjusted, open. Not just a roommate, but a friend. A girl who will playfully rap at your door after nights like these and plop herself on your bed, asking for all the details. That will be a nice change.

Ben Philippe is a New York-based writer whose Culture coverage can regularly be read on Thrillist Entertainment, Esquire, BuzFeed, Vox, and others. He is also an MFA graduate of the Michener Center for Writers.

“The Takes”

by

Heather Keaton Painting

2016, 48″ x 48″, oil on canvas.

Heather Keton has been painting since childhood, when she was gifted a class in landscape oil painting and realized that combining birch trees and fireworks makes people uncomfortable. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she focused on writing, bookmaking and lithography. Her return to painting began as a break from her typewriter 15 years ago. She has since exhibited in Chicago, Portland OR, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn.

The Unfinished Eye

by

The Unfinished Eye

Written and designed by STEPHEN KAPLIN,
Based on artwork and texts by EVE KAPLIN.

First performed at Arts at St. Ann’s, Brooklyn, 1998.
Direction and Puppet Design: STEPHEN KAPLIN
Lighting, Sets and Sound: BILL BRADFORD
Costumes: JANE CATHERINE SHAW

Stage consists of two screens. Large Rear Projection screen is Stage left. A smaller paper screen is stage right. An overhead projector on a low table is set up in front of the Paper Screen.

The characters of CHAVAH, THE SERPENT and the PROJECTIONIST are played by masked actors. EVE is a bunraku-style puppet that can be manipulated by one, two or three operators.

NOTE:

EVE KAPLIN- Artist and designer in many mediums, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. She produced works in glass (studying with Dale Chahuly), ceramics, handmade books, puppets, toys, clocks, plus a line of costume jewelry and accessories that sold across the U.S., Europe and Japan under the name “Eve Kaplin Design”.
During the 1984 Christmas holiday season she travelled to Brazil with members of her Capoeira circle under the leadership of Meistre Jelem. They traveled between Rio and Bahia in a minibus, staying at friends’ houses, meeting other capoieristas and taking part in the end-of-year festivities. She died of a severe viral infection early January 2, 1985, in a hospital in Salvador, Bahia. Her sketch journal from this trip and a stack of postcards, written but never sent, are the source of most of the text for this show.

This project was initiated by Eve’s brother, Stephen about the time of the 10th anniversary of her death. It was workshopped and produced at the Arts at St Ann’s as part of their first Puppet Lab.

 

Unfinished Eye 1

1-

Image of TREE OF LIFE on large Rear Projection Screen.
[BIRIMBAU MUSIC]

Capoeira Dance. Shadows of musicians and fighters in front of Screen, SERPENT and CHAVAH’ s silhouettes battle and separate over and over.

Image of TREE OF LIFE on large Rear Projection Screen.

              Berimbau da fez chamada.
       Berimbau has called
              Ja e hora de lutar
       It is the hour to play (it is time to play)
              Quem mao luta fica longe
       Who does not play, stay away
              Quem luta pode chegar
       Who plays can come
              A Ogun que e Santo Forte
       To Ogun, who is a strong saint (powerful)
              Capoeira pede sorte
       Capoeria asks for luck
              Que essa danca e de matar
       Because this dance can kill (is that which can kill)
              Ie-e-e de matar

 

*****
SERPENT and CHAVAH unwrap EVE puppet. Her eye sockets are empty. Chavah unburies an APPLE from the foot of the TREE. She slices it open and takes out two eyes. She starts to paint them blue, but SNAKE intrudes. The result is that one eye is painted blue the other is half blue, half brown, CHAVAH inserts the EYES into EVE’s face. EVE comes alive.

Unfinished Eye 2

2-

PROJECTIONIST crosses with candle. Sits by overhead projector in front of small paper screen. With a mirror, she flashes OP light into EVE’s face. EVE walks over, looks into the hood and is blinded by the light. PROJECTIONIST makes her sit to one side and begins to instruct her. Draws a fish in sand tray. Gives Eve a marker and has her trace it’s projected image onto the paper screen. Puts more object on the OP table and EVE traces them onto the screen.

A list of symbols–
Water     fire      ice      fish    boat      house.
A knife, a boat, and an airplane.
A solid domed building rests on glass walls. or, the                        opposite case. We see what is inside.
Black drops of rain. red drops of rain.
inside we see mechanisms of control:
         the pillar stands alone.
The water floats in midair.
          10 x 10           10 of each
10 arms
a fiery wheel with 10 spokes
where voice spoke from the depths
This wheel would become a funnel, a tunnel, a channel to the future. There would be light in the distance (gravitation)
Gravitation/ gravity

Unfinished Eye 3

3-
JACOB’S LADDER appears on Large Screen. A vision of the Universe in the form of four colored disked linked by a perpendicular axis. EVE tries to draw this vision VISION onto the paper screen.

Everyone has gone in search of
                                                               various
                                                               words
                                                               palabauras
                                                               espicitos
                                                               ’ ’ [yod, yod]
                                                               floats on the page                    
EVE                   COLADA                     [CHAVAH]
LIFE===============[CHAVAH]
O NOME DE DEUS E (QUE)E?)

A Snake’s shadow slithers behind paper screen. Eve tries to pin the SNAKE’s shadow on the PAPER SCREEN. SERPENT’S HAND reaches up with matte knife and cuts the PAPER SCREEN. He bursts through the PAPER SCREEN and grabs EVE by the throat. EVE faints.

Snakes as in Chinatown-
the dry snake coil.
The snake became a wheel. The wheel became a wheel of fire. The wheel of fire spun across the sky. It seemed like a comet. it straightened out. Its tail stretched out across the sky. It traversed the sky in an instant. Again and again with the dawn, a strange, stinging sleet. the snake eats me, because of my name.
My name.
Name as destiny.
Destiny as luck.
as luck would have it.
any thing can be a snake. anything can be anything.

Unfinished Eye 4

4-
EVE PUPPETEER and PROJECTIONIST undress puppet. CHAVAH’s blue skirts become OCEAN WAVES. EVE swims and floats on her back. Swimming Dance. CHAVAH bathes EVE tenderly and redresses her.

As a daughter of the Sea, I can learn from my origins,
lesson of a wave crashing,
and a flowing, interaction crashing acceptance of
each renewal into oneself within oneself.

Unfinished Eye 5

5-

EVE puppet lounges on front edge of stage, picking through POSTCARDS and reads the back of them. She hands them off to SERPENT.

Resolutions do Novo Ano Dec. 31
Focus energy-
believe that I can learn to do anything.
(Capoeira, handstands, play music, etc.)
The “eye of mercy”- Keep open.
Be curious and not afraid.
Be listening, and learning-
If I know something, teach that-
Gather in, give out.

CAPOEIRA BATTLE between SERPENT and EVE.
SERPENT knocks off first one than the other puppeteer.
EVE dies.
CHAVAH lays her out on O.P. TABLE. and covers her with blue shawl.

TREE OF LIFE on the Large RP Screen.

FELIZ ANO NOVO
2 DESEJOS
PRA O
NOVO ANO

A lover
A good place to live and work

I would send these
wishes to the sea
in hopes of their
full fillment in the
coming year.

CHAVAH removes EVE’S EYES and plants them beneath TREE.
CANDLE pulled across stage on strings.
Blackout except for slowly moving candles and photo of Eve, on large RP screen, subtitled: “Eve Karen Kaplin, Chavah Gittel, Colada 1956-1985”

 

Unfinished Eye 6

Stephen Kaplin studied puppetry at UCONN under Dr. Frank Ballard and graduated in 1979. He received an MA in Performance Studies from New York University in 1989. Since 1981, he has lived in New York City, working in all aspects of puppet theater. Mr. Kaplin has been the co-Artistic and Technical Director of Chinese Theatre Works since its founding in 2001– designing sets and puppets, as well as co-directing and performing all major CTW productions. Mr. Kaplin is a co-founding member and co-artistic director of Great Small Works– a collective of theater artists dedicated to stretching the boundaries of live and puppet theater in New York City since 1995.

Heartsease

by

The chin is civil. Boring hair
worms through a chuck,
or doesn’t. Ingrown whiskers
wrestle. The worth of a weevil
depends. Inured evil,
as an enterprise, shills.
Even the upright magistrate
curves through a telescope,
which is his beaten wife. Indoors
his tight glands, a boy’s hands
cup an oblong rowanberry or
bury a row of oblong cups.
Competing examples bedizen.
Intestinal fortitude’s rigid
scrip. Loose schemata on
the quality of facial expression:
that it is struck open-handed.

 
 
 

Peter Longofono’s poems have appeared in H_NGM_N, fields, Luna Luna Magazine, and Tenderloin, among others. He serves as the Reviews Editor at Coldfront and makes music with Big Figment and TH!CK. His chapbook, CHORDS, was published in March 2016 by the Operating System. He lives in Brooklyn.

Lean Away

by

Review: ‘After Birth’ by Elisa Albert.

In 2013, there were murmurs of a new feminist manifesto emboldening women across the nation, reviving a stalled second-wave feminism. You might have heard it whispered by the women leaving book club meetings, heard it from the lips of Sheryl Sandberg herself, heard it from its weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list. Lean in, they said. Forget maternity-leave policies, forget the income gap, forget the corporeal necessities of your children or yourself, and lean in.

Ari, the narrator of Elisa Albert’s “After Birth,” has, effectively, leaned out: sequestered in a dreary upstate New York town with her ineffectual professor husband and year-old baby, she has all but abandoned her PhD dissertation on “Algorithms of Girl.” It’s been a year since she gave birth to her son via emergency C-section, but she is still plagued by the trauma of “effective disembodiment,” the forced experience of being “severed from hip to hip, iced, brutalized, catheterized, tethered to a bed.” Profoundly alone in her “shitbox town,” deep in the throes of postpartum depression and possibly PTSD, relief comes in the form of Mina Morris, legendary ex-Riot-Grrrl rocker turned poet, first nine-months pregnant then a newly minted single mother. United by their isolation and confusion, Ari and Mina form an alliance that exceeds friendship: a partnership, a radical union of shared breastfeeding and generous intimacy, the “raft of women” Ari imagines might have shared in the rearing of each other’s children a hundred years ago.

Ari’s relationship with Mina, and her relationships with all women, is complex. She forms intense, consuming friendships with women she idealizes, only to be betrayed by their humanness. Her feelings towards women are angry, traumatized, shrouded in loss. The same could, in fact, be said of her feelings towards almost everything. Albert roots her narrative deeply in Ari’s consciousness, so her alienation, her anger, her confusion and her pain are profoundly felt. Albert’s prose is carnal, severe, a well of interiority and witty, excruciating truth. It is fiercely human. Her cadences are stilted, disjointed, alive despite Ari’s feelings that she “had died, was dead, only a ghost, not fully gone.” Her sentences breathe Ari’s postpartum trauma: birth is “a nightmare blur of newborn stitches antibiotics awake constipation tears wound tears awake awake awake limping tears screaming tears screaming shit piss puke tears.”

But Ari’s trauma does not exist in isolation: it is descended through the maternal line, from her depressed, “bitch from hell” mother, long dead from DES-induced cancer, and by her grandmother, tormenter of her tormentor, a survivor of brutal Nazi rape in Auschwitz. Ari’s mother and grandmother are omnipresent apparitions, her mother’s voice chiming in to admonish Ari for her failures as a parent or wife, and her grandmother’s repeated rape cleverly conflated with Ari’s—and her own—forced, involuntary C-section. (“You were raped,” Mina tells Ari outright.) Ari imagines her grandmother “strapped down, drugged and thrashing, crying out” in an alien American hospital, “tied to a bed in a different country, begging someone to help her in a language no one could understand.”

Implicit here is the trans-generational PTSD so many Holocaust survivors bequeath on their children. Ari’s third-generation PTSD is borne not only of her grandmother’s savage treatment by the Nazis, but also of the savagery of systematic medical intervention. Ari views the industrialization of childbirth as systematic abuse as opposed to necessary medical intervention, responsible for her postpartum dysphoria, as well as her grandmother’s suicide.

It is evident that Albert, a doula and an outspoken critic of the medical industrialization of childbearing, is writing from a particular theoretical perspective: Ari criticizes second-wave feminism’s “bullshit” calls to “defeat the body and be liberated from it,” and makes reference to both Barbara Ehrenreich’s work on medical intervention in childbirth, and Adrienne Rich’s influential Of Women Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. It is easy to see how, in a lesser writer’s hands, this novel could have become a preachy, sanctimonious polemic. But Ari’s close, honest, rage-and-grief-filled interiority saves the novel from becoming a dissertation, replete with academic sources and statements like, “Feminism without focus on the body, the soul, the relationship between the two—biologically female bodies with distinctly female struggles—is of no interest to me.” In Ari’s point of view, these sorts of declarations feel characterizing: Ari is writing her dissertation in Women’s Studies, she’s a feminist, she’s angry and unwavering and as sharp in her insights about everything from menstruation to Jewish summer camps as she is about industrialized childbirth. There is no room for dissent in Ari’s psyche. Either you are with her or against her and, ultimately, all women.

Those who are against her include the women in her family, her husband’s colleagues, the members of women-only groups who inevitably “rip each other to shreds,” and the second-wave feminists, with their refusal to admit that “living in these female bodies is different. More terrible and more wonderful.” These are the women for whom childbearing is a vanity project, or the women pulling their pantyhose over their still-distended bellies, shoving their kids into daycare at three months and rushing back to work, the women determined to “make it to the Oval Office, win, win, win.” These are the women who are leaning in. One might imagine that if Ari met Sheryl Sandberg, she would swiftly flip her off.

Marianne, Ari’s thesis advisor, dismisses novels as “a rehearsal, an avoidance of politics and activism and rage and grief. A way for the writer to remove herself from the real problem.” Albert doesn’t avoid anything: she has created, in Ari, a character who will shout her politics, her activism, her rage, her grief—scream it, spit on it, burn it at the stake. Ari refuses to adhere to the rules of a culture that insists women shut up about their traumatic births and their sadness and isolation. She refuses to present birth as sanitized, mysterious, some sort of gratifying miracle. She is not the woman sending out mild-mannered birth announcements pronouncing that baby and mother are doing fine, resting well, feeling okay. If Ari were to have a birth announcement, it would read: “Why so numb, so enraged, so broken?” She is incapable of glossing over the gory corporeal details—or the gory psychological details—of new motherhood, and, consequently, what erupts from her psyche is refreshing, fierce, piercing truth. “We’re as fearful of childbirth as we are of death,” she says. “Why else do we do everything to try and numb and control it? Why else does no one talk about it?” Elisa Albert is talking about it, and everyone should be listening. ✧

 

Lisa Metrikin is the Editor in Chief of The Brooklyn Review. She is a second-year fiction MFA student at Brooklyn College, where she also teaches. Her fiction has appeared in the Monarch Review, Independent Ink Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a native of Toronto, Canada. Previously, she worked in editorial and marketing at several early-stage tech startups. Follow her on Twitter @LisaSkapinker.

Phaethon Apparatus

by

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MAC WELLMAN’s recent work includes 3 2’s; or AFAR at Dixon Place in October 2011, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (with composer David Lang) at Montclair in the fall of 2006 (and elsewhere more recently), and 1965 UU for performer Paul Lazar, and directed by Stephen Mellor at the Chocolate Factory in the fall of 2008. He has received numerous honors, including NEA, Guggenheim, and Foundation of Contemporary Arts fellowships. In 2003 he received his third Obie, for lifetime Achievement. In 2006 his third novel, Q’s Q, was published by Green Integer, and in 2008 a volume of stories, A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds, was published by Trip Street Press as well as a new collection of plays The Difficulty of Crossing a Field from Minnesota Press. His books of poetry include Miniature (2002), Strange Elegies (2006), Split the Stick (2012) from Roof Books, and Left Glove (2011), from Solid Objects Press. His novel Linda Perdido won the 2011 FC2 Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction. He is Distinguished Professor of Play Writing at Brooklyn College.

“thralldom” and “enemy”

by

thralldom

brain braid. of purple flower. she to the wickerwork. of fern.
pine bark. hello you deaths. so brain beat. trusted lavender.
to throb. she with sweat. her hours with chins. haircuts.
triangle mouth out. peninsula and her one finger. on the leaf.
ear to the ground. other in the sky. fill with rain water.
with mud. the other. her own body. amplified. can’t she know
the bottle emptied. cap in her hand. her ears still on
both sides of her body. a fault. where to. deadbeat
wishing and stiff-eyed. swamplily. you foamflower.
the whole run of flesh. with hair and nails. that flowerpot.
stuck between the two fingers in her ears.
some every. thing. made with her hands.
 
 
 
enemy

in a dream you are broken into, house violated and burglarized
by the apparition of him. you lay and write a letter into a blank
book. she and her mother wear rouge paper robes.
their teacher iman mersal. they can never contact. all they have
is their good book with the catalog info, author bio, advanced praise.
there are 33 blank pages inside the hard cover. I’ve stolen her book.
I write to her in it. the dog was beat to death when I got here.
your mother had a black eye. you call me while I write. I hear
in your voice that you know I’m placing ink in your book. but
it’s not your book. you are not her. you begin to imply accusation,
the best offense against the liar. the man stands in the doorway.
he killed the dog. he black-eyed your mother. there are more
terrible things than this book thrown somewhere
in this ransacked house. the man does nothing. I realize the woman
on the phone was here to read the words I placed in that book.
she killed the dog and punched out the mother. she needed to know.
and took what she wanted. the man hands me a phone number.
on a yellow sheet of paper. he’d found it in the street. my car
had been burglarized. they’d taken nothing again. I keep nothing.
but now I watch for them and wake up in the night and look.
 
 
 
Sean F. Munro lives, listens, writes, and teaches in New Orleans. Other recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The Offending Adam, ILK journal, and Spork. Nice to meet you.

“All Colors Change”

by

All Colors Change

 

72nd Try

 

Apple Picking

 

Flattened

 

That’s where I’ve been

 

Brian Russ is a photographer, musician, writer and teacher who has been living in Brooklyn for the past 11 years. He has played music in over 80 different venues in New York City, exhibited photos in several galleries over the years here and continues to teach middle children how to discover and pursue their inner passions.  He’s always chasing a song, novel, poem, or perfectly framed shot.  He lives in Sunset Park with his wife, Lauren, and their 2 year old son, Simon.

No One to Miss

by

She may remember how the air sounds, late in the morning, once a bird has stopped singing and gone away. She might consider her own stillness—or how the bedroom, in a way, has become empty. Her fingers, gathered together softly, are somewhat in the position of a hand holding a pen, which makes it seem as if she’ll soon begin writing, once she can remember what she’s forgotten—the color she sees when her eyes are closed, maybe, or her name—certain words.

The view of a path which stretches, like his or her body, out ahead of him—a path with rows of nameless trees on each side; tall trees, which lean toward one another, creating a roof of some sort, or a small night. He loiters at the beginning of the path, with his hands in his pockets. There, he looks down the path as far as he can, lonely, like someone lost in a hotel hallway. He assumes he knows where the path leads. He can imagine what will be there—at the end—so that, when words return, a small list of what would not have been there may be made: wicker chairs in a garden, a pulling of wind, some laundry-line of outgrown dresses. Nothing to see for himself.

Small moments of feeling nothing beneath her feet; the sensation set in pattern above the sheets. She thinks to herself without words. She notes the clearness of space. Meanwhile, language comes rushing across the well-groomed plane (the constant field; the unnoted silence), chasing her, like a parent. She isn’t amazed by her feet continuously finding an object of hardness. There’s this ladder that she’s got to get down.

[The dancer—wearing a black leotard beneath a black skirt, which plumes outward at the waist—flirts with what’s the center of the stage, while the audience, in the dark, watches. She rolls her shoulders, and then her hips, as she dances in a tightening circle—which, in turn, creates another circle within the circle she’s drawn, a lonelier and smaller place, where she designates her absence. And she watches without sound, or sympathy—as she spins—this enclosing. Lifting her hand, she touches her cheek. Then, for no certain reason, a low wave of applause scatters through the blind.]

“An empty branch,” says a sudden gust of vacuity, “is too unremarkable to be the site of life in the future. How can stillness promote an act of relocation?” And the condom is withdrawn.

She remembers the story she heard as a girl, the one about the woman who took a felling axe from the shed behind the house, late at night, when her husband was sleeping. The story about how the woman walked into the woods beyond her field, wearing her nightgown—the head of the axe, the bit, dragging through the grass behind her and, in doing so, forming a trail. She remembers how she heard the story many times, since the woman lived in a small town—the one where she grew up—and how, in some versions of the story, there would be a light falling of rain. She recalls the way certain tellers of the story would lower their voices as they told her this part: how, come morning, the husband woke and followed the trail of the axe—and, as he went, they said, he could he hear what he thought was thunder. The husband walked into the woods and came upon an unexpected clearing, a circle of recently downed pine trees, where he found his wife sitting in the grass. And it was never raining anymore, now. There was always a clean morning light shining on the woman. She had the axe—the tellers said—and the hem of her nightgown pulled above her crotch. And the husband could only watch—they told her—as his wife, surrounded by the blooming stumps she had made, cut lines into her thigh. And she remembers how the women, as they ended the story, would explain quite plainly the blood dripping on the needles beneath her, unlike the men, who never seemed to mention the color of a low burning fire, or the relief in the quietness.

He stares over at the bedroom door, the embalmed wood, which is locked, although he is alone. He touches his body, now calm, or muted, like another piece of architecture.

[The dancer, who has all this time been moving, takes a moment to be still. Speaking of light, there’s only the single band of some unseen spotlight. It falls from the ceiling, out of a darkness more complete than the layer spread over the audience, to land in a circle around the body of the dancer. The dancer and the light, like sisters, are taking a long moment to be still. Because of this, someone near the stage can observe the freckle on her shoulder. Someone can observe that it is large, brown, and oddly-shaped, somewhere between the outline of a rowboat and the body of a mattress: a space of disparity which is vast enough to recall, strangely, the feeling of waking late at night without knowing who or where you are, there in the dark, as only someone—the clock, on the far wall, heard but not seen. Then the dancer steps backwards, twice, leaving the light in front of her. Everyone attempts to feel sure she’s still there, just beyond their vision, meaning past the location of the light: off, within the fullness of the dark.]

An empty bedroom can mean different pictures: 1) bedroom unpopulated by a thing that’s alive enough, or conscious enough, to understand the space it occupies is a bedroom; 2) room with no decorations, dresser, or shelves; no books or clothes on the floor, a room without even a bed, which may not be a bedroom; 3) a field without houses, walls, fences, or trees; unlit.

His ( body stretched across the mattress on his back; a freedom of hair on display, the overgrown grass of him: a slight reminiscence, while watching his chest, of some abandoned backyard where she used to lay as a child. Yet there’s no one to call her home, now, when she’s already there. Memory extends and then returns. She watches his penis, as it shrinks, forgetting what she meant to him, only a moment before) or her (on her side by his side, one knee on top of the other; the door now closed. She closes her eyes when he looks at her. It’s a pleasure to let his vision roll down her body and not be surprised. The falls, the rises—her neck and her waist—he navigates the turns of her skin like a man driving home. During the length of her thigh, the wheel is released; the quiet of the night takes over. Between them, there is either nothing to say or the luxury of sharing silence, from body to) body. There’s the feeling of missing someone, with no one to miss.

With the windows open, with a thin cloud set before the sun, the light in the room shines in a soft and ashy hue of yellow. And the feeling within the room, like a small feeling of loneliness, seems to nestle inside the cavity of her chest, where it feels somewhat warm, somewhat fibrous, as if she could unbutton her shirt and begin unbraiding her sternum; as if she could dig hands into her body, past skin and past bone, and put her fingers on the feeling (the light (the room)) and untangle each and every thing.

[When the light finds her again, she is already dancing with all of her body. A good dancer, like the dancer that is here, humiliates the air above a stage. She reveals the emptiness around her. She does this without the sadness of language. And the audience—because the end of the dance, which is coming soon, will mark only the end of itself, and not the end of such things as walking alone through one house or another in the morning, or discussing the weather when there’s nothing to discuss, or starting over—the audience is preparing, in silence, to describe what they have seen, along with what they haven’t, and just however they can, or like we have.]

 
 
 
Travis Vick’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Booth, H_NGM_N, The Mid-American Review, PANK, Parcel, Waxwing, Wordriot, and others. He is from Texas.

Roland Flint

by

Excerpted from a longer work.

Grant us that we’re Roland Flint and that we’re not;
Yet who remembers Roland Flint? And who will
Remember him tomorrow? Mark Vinz, it’s true,
Marked Flint, remembered and was Roland Flint. But
    What was it he remembered? In
A poem he sees himself as Roland Flint, which makes sense,
Because he is Roland Flint. His act of remembering
    Is thus a thinking of himself;
Not a remembering of Roland Flint, no,
But still a remembering of Roland Flint. What then does
It mean to be thankful for good words, words that

Come from who knows where, as Vinz and Roland Flint
Were? Edward Hirsch remembered and was Roland
Flint, Hirsch, whose son would also die, who recalled
Roland Flint’s indignant anger at the first
    Gulf War, and his coincident
Attachment to his bourgeois life, his garden, the comforts
Of a home in suburban Maryland, the Tidewater
    Region, whose “subtle beauty and
Energy” Rita Dove felt Roland Flint’s work
To be “chock full of,” for Rita Dove is and remembers
Roland Flint, Rita Dove who described Flint as

“Roly poly” in the pages of the Washington Post.
Susan Kaye Rothbard remembered
And was Roland Flint. The writer
    John Balaban, known for his poems about
Vietnam and for his translations of Vietnamese
Poets, as well as poems from Romanian, also

. . .

For Roland Flint was a stout man, Roland Flint, who dreamed that
William Stafford would outlive him
And was surprised to hear that Bill,
    Sitting on a chair post run, got up, walked calm
As could be to his wife who’d called him to their kitchen, then
Fell down dead on their kitchen floor, Roland Flint who wrote a
Poem about Stafford’s death, who
Wrote about the lives and deaths of other poets he knew
Or admired, for of course he was those poets, Roland Flint
    Whose goal was to be counted among poets
Whether his work was read or not;

Flint, whose writing was an existential act
Of self-assertion, -preservation, -defense,
An almost compulsive urge to put pen to
Paper, although he tried to “quit poetry”
    Several times in his younger years
After getting some harsh rejections he could not forget;
Roland Flint, who wrote about his father’s rage and his own,
    Who wrote about how poetry
Failed to temper rage, who wrote about yelling. . .

Robert Farrell lives and works in the Bronx, New York. His poems have recently appeared in the journals Underwater New York and unLost. Originally from Houston, Texas, he’s a librarian at Lehman College, CUNY.

Someone Someone Someone

by

Someone: I don’t remember how the yellow rods were positioned.
Walking shadow. I had to be pulling on the wheels,

one after another. Two points

of lighter color on a black rectangle define the mouth of the curve.
Two weights: one weight
breathing, one weight returning

to a pile of dirt on a pile of snow.
Someone: the curve touches the support at a second location.
Someone: a brick next to a bed.

The brick is outside? The bed is outside?
 
 
 
Oliver Strand is an M.F.A. candidate at Brown University. His furniture and wooden spoons have been exhibited at the New Hampshire Furniture Masters’ Gallery, Soloway Gallery and HENRY. His poems have appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Synecdoche and Anomalous.

Letter From the Editor

by

Since Allen Ginsberg, John Ashberry, Jonathan Baumbach and the students of the Brooklyn College MFA program founded The Brooklyn Review, we have been a place of continual evolution, growth and experimentation. While we originally focused on the poetry, prose and performance pieces of our own students, we soon expanded to include exceptional new writing from beyond our small corner of Brooklyn. For almost thirty years, we published new work by writers including Wayne Koestenbaum, Mac Wellman, Young Jean Lee, David Levinson, Sapphire, and many others.

But as we endeavored to evolve further and plunge into the online sphere, we entered a period of silence. We wanted to honor our storied history while continuing to publish in the spirit of experimentation with which we were founded. It took us a few years to reemerge, but now we are back. We’ll be publishing in a new format—online—in addition to our annual print issue. We look forward to introducing you to audacious and exciting new poetry, prose, and performance art, and to celebrating all forms of telling and creating, experimental and traditional, by curating them in this new space.

We are proud to present the first online issue of The Brooklyn Review.

 

—Lisa Metrikin, Editor in Chief

 

That would be a chance to meet someone new

by

Excerpted from a longer work.

That is why, the distance eliminated, something one carries
rotates around a radial axis in front of the chest, this along
the exterior wall, disappearing out of sight

I will bring her her bag, extracting in a way with my hand
even amounts

What that partition is now—it might never have been pins
and needles

//

As an outward expression, that is the distance one carries
around

Looking out on the scenery might allay what is felt but not
there

Folded though equal, it is no longer a box, to be counted
outward, eliminating space

____________________________________

Each fish for a grid We count twelve then eighteen
Once more we expect some result, scratching the resin from

the wood, something to keep with our fingers
A spigot, was it a heart, was it a little change often

//

As the space between could either be happening twice or
not at all, anything would either be carried, fast, or empty

A bridge, as it is taken by a ravine, puts the material back
in

It would be the same as carrying a box in front of the chest

____________________________________

In it, the twisting lines do not come around through, as a
steel frame seen from a moving vehicle But for an awning
dipped by rain

There in this could be a lap

Without something to carry it through, won’t it have been a
way of sitting, of moving fingers

//

Not aqueous, not of the lightest color possible, quivering, it
is in miniature that anything is successful and prohibitive

Their paths intersect, one above, one below, the birds to the
water

Climbing into bed the hum of her feet

____________________________________

This might be why a bird, to dip its beak into the flesh of
the fish, sees the others who wait

This in the wing, the way I see

The beak be a forearm, also a bridge

//

In motion, looking back, the distance measured is a feeling
of vision made real

So we would, standing, circle an origin

From outside, the floors of a building wouldn’t be trees or
fish or anything—they could be seen all at once

And like the breath of a tree is only oxygen, these layers
collapse In a way it is a relief, in a way it is exactly a
flattening

____________________________________

So a bridge is not a sudden shrinking, but for the little hairs,
but for a little change often

A projection from the face of a wall, challenging our
expectation, a close-fitting garment

She would not compare bodies, as there is no point in
asking

//

Speaking, reaching out, I imagine this to be a mediation of
weight

These attentive energies are endless space in equal
direction, an outward-moving sphere

Then a truss can no longer hold, and in our way of reaching
we hope not to ruin the feeling ✧

 
 
 
 

Adam Greenberg is from the Seattle area. He crochets text-blankets and installs them on benches around Providence, RI, where he currently studies, teaches, and translates.

Buckshot: A Rashomon

by

CAST (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
QUEENY NEWSCASTER
ROGER THE CAMERAMAN
JOE, ROGER’S BROTHER, AN ACTOR, AN APE, A TOTAL FUCK-UP
AUTISTIC MOMMY
COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROFESSOR
TERRY THOMPSON, OWNER/PROPRIETOR, ZANESVILLE WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE
DEAD LLAMA
AUTISTIC SONNY

 

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

“I’M GONNA DIE. Coming Outside.” I wrote these two sentences in long hand in a café in the tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. I am Kathy Acker. MEOW. Oh, this old thing? My bullet wound was cancer. This life, it’s a bullet wound. Reincarnation. We die over and over. For this go round the ferris wheel, I thought I’d be a growly bear. That’s how I imagined it, though a poetic fact can sometimes get lost in transcription. In 1990, my crystal ball needed polishing. Clearly. That’s not a euphemism. I’m not stressing it, at least I was kind of close. Animal, mineral, vegetable. Growly bear. Tiger. It came to me in a vision, in the Pussy Pirate book. “I’M GONNA DIE. Coming Outside.” A growly bear. This is better. LOOK AT ME! I have an awesome tiger haircut, and a cock! MEOW. When I was just a cub, I used to crawl down to the man-made pond, stare at my reflection and laugh and laugh and laugh. If they could see me now! OHIO!!! What a trip!

I polish my crystal ball twice a day now. Maybe next time I’ll come back as a PULITZER PRIZE. I traced that into the linoleum with my pencil claws. I’m dead in the kitchen. Here goes my soul. It’s dribbling out my eye-socket. Up up and away, again. Over and over. The policemen are holding hunting rifles, some are smoking and dropping ashes onto the tiles. Terry Thompson’s feet are prone, his skin purple. I can’t believe they haven’t removed his corpse yet. A photographer flashes over and over, he’s from the ap or reuters. I wonder if we’ll all go to the morgue together. Terry set us free this morning, two am. Most of us crept through the pre-dawn darkness toward a wilderness that doesn’t exist. I stuck around to see what Terry was up to. He put the hunting rifle between his legs, took off his shoes and socks. It was all so Hemmingway-esque. Bang. The body fell to the floor, I pushed the screen door open with my bulk and put his head in mouth, crunching down just a bit. I must have left a mark because they wrote about it in the paper. What they didn’t realize is that I wasn’t trying to eat him. I performed emergency brain surgery, using my tongue to scoop his brains back into his skull. Terry was brilliant. A healer, really. Misunderstood. The cops came in to investigate, saw me with my mouth around Terry’s body, and shot me on the spot. Right through the eye. Yet another hunting rifle.

This moment takes longer than I remember. Dying stops time, for a second. I can hear the television anchorman. He is at a safe distance. My leg jolts in a rigor mortis spasm. His eye twitches. The anchorman is THIS CLOSE to doing a queeny-correspondent-on-the-spot-viral-video-OH-SHIT-IT’S-A-SPIDER-IT’S-A-TIGER routine. An instant youtube sensation. Let’s laugh while he screams. 4 million hits. Every time a clip is liked an angel gets its wings. Hooray Amerika. We are united in our cruel humor.

Kathy takes her place on the ground, prone, the newscaster is holding a microphone, approaches her, stands at a somewhat risky distance to her pencil claws. The Kathy/Tiger corpse is still, and then, BANG, a claw darts out in another spasm. the newscaster loses it, screaming to the cameraman.

QUEENY NEWSCASTER

(closeted as fuck but the door swings open)

Oh my gawd
Oh hell no
Oh shit
It just moved
It just moved its paw
Its not dead
Roger what did i say
We should have done this shot
From the driveway
Not the kitchen
Its gonna eat me
I’m not scared of snakes or the dark or nothing
Just cats
Big cats
Great big pussy
Cats oh shit
Its gonna eat me
It’s gonna bite my fucking head off!!!!
Pussy cat pussy cat fuck fuck fuck.

ROGER THE CAMERAMAN

Relax dude, the floor is covered in his brains, man, the animal is dead as a doornail.

QUEENY NEWSCASTER

Uh-hem. Can we, uh, cut tape. Let’s do that again, thank god this isn’t live. Roger, destroy that tape. Let’s try that again. Is my hair okay? Give me that hanky. Make up. MAKE UP! Ok, Roger. Ready? Let’s do this thing. FUCK!

“There were 13 or at least 10 tigers according to reports. 50 animals in all, valued at over one million dollars. Rest easy, residents of Zanesville. Every wild animal has been shot, killed, tagged and will be carted off to the community college science lab for testing. There isn’t room enough in the morgue.”

CUT. I guess we should get on that story, the one about the assholes who tried to steal a carcass. Roger. Did we get the shot? THE SHOT? Roger? Roger? Earth to Roger.

Long Beat.

ROGER THE CAMERAMAN

Don’t call my brother an asshole.

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

Joe is Roger’s brother. This is Joe. He’s hot. I would like to fuck him with my tiger cock.

JOE, ROGER’S BROTHER, AN ACTOR, AN APE, A TOTAL FUCK-UP

(a confession)

Ricky, Bobby, Johnny and Duck drove the truck. The bodies were lined up, right there, along the highway. We thought we’d make venison. I don’t know why we did it. I still have my ankle bracelet on from the last time I got caught up in their bullshit. But there was a lot of whiskey involved. I’ll do anything for a sip. They call me the party animal.

I tried to pick the tiger up myself and threw my back out. I thought it’d be stuffed like a beanie baby, a bean bag, you know. His fingernails were giant pieces of pencil lead. The guys laughed and got me laughing and I just about pissed my jeans. It was dark out and our breath made clouds in the flashlight streams. Duck and Ricky moved the tiger’s arms like it was a giant puppet, TIGER, MEOOOOOW, swung it around like that, one guy on the front one guy on the back. Heavy as a refrigerator, trying to swing it up into the back of the truck. The body kept hitting the bumper with a thud. Boom. Boom. The damp air held the sound like a lover. The brown cat eyes rolled around googly, catching glint from our torches. The other two guys stumbled over to grab handfuls of hide, the ribs slippery underneath protecting organs that didn’t play no more. I guess we should have moved quicker, cuz all of sudden Duck drops his side of the tiger and starts running for the woods. That’s when I seen the red and blue lights and Johnny shouts, OH SHIT. The cops came, they snagged me first on account of my bad back, and the ankle bracelet makes it hard to run. It makes a clinking noise when it shakes. My brother Roger used to call me Jacob Marley…THOSE CHAINS, THOSE CHAINS.

Now I’m in this cage. I’ll probably do 18 months. It goes by quick. I like to masturbate. I pretend I’m a gorilla and the warden is an old man who visits me at the zoo. One day some shit’ll go down. That’s what I always think. There’s a park bench with his name on it. Edward Albee told me so. I read about it in Zanesville High. AP honors – the whole nine yards. I was gonna be an actor before I realized I’d need money to do that. It’s cheaper to work here, keep a motorcycle, drink for fun, do dumb shit like this, write poems. My favorite sound in the world is a cage being closed. Just call me monkey. I wonder what that venison would have tasted like. Tiger jerky. We could have made a fortune. I’d sell it on e-bay, use the cash for acting lessons. Then I’d go to hb studios and do the real “Zoo Story.” Off-broadway. Maybe find a boyfriend too, though I always do in the clink, so it’s not so bad. Enough so that my arms grow hairy, my chest sprouts, and sometimes I bang it with both fists. When I cum, the warden looks up from his paper in disgust. Sometimes they pass a mop through the bars and make me clean it up myself. I like the smell, like bleach. It feels like the cell is clean when I do that, even though it just gets sticky. It feels wet on my bare feet. I wonder when my TERRY will set ME FREE? Or will I get shot? Or maybe an acting award? An obie? The boyfriends never talk to me on the outside. I see them at the food lion and they look right through me. Sometimes their skin flushes, I guess that’s a compliment. HEY WARDEN WHAT’S FOR FUCKING DINNER?

AUTISTIC MOMMY

Terry Thompson is unreliable. Like this bistro table. He wobbles when he walks, his voice tremoloes when he talks. He is rough around the edges, as we like to say around here. Gruff. Sometimes his mouth is painted a deep purple like the top of a wine jug. Kool-aid man. This is usually on Sunday. He never goes to church. He’s not a man I care too much for, and now I don’t really have to, but I needed to be here, today, at his wake, because he gave me my little boy back. You see my son’s autistic…

QUEENY NEWSCASTER

Mondays and Wednesdays provide a steady stream of field trips at the Muskingum County Animal Farm. Terry coordinates visits with the local school districts, a flat rate, paid up-front. Teachers write permission forms to be filled out, asking parents for a few of ten bucks, about the price of two happy meals, but the experience is worth it. Children are allowed an up close view to exotic animals they have only seen before in books. The trip is the equivalent to going to Jurassic Park for these kids. These fields might as well be the jungle. These are children raised on concrete playgrounds, fed on happy meals and piss, like we all are.

The baby animals are dosed with a mild sedative. Nothing too altering, but enough to keep them docile and dew-eyed. One autistic fourth grader speaks for the first time in several years as he holds a tiger cub in his lap. He strokes the animal and cries, I love you, I love you. His mother is a chaperone. She writes Terry a letter disclosing that she had forgotten the sound of her own child’s voice until that day. He tapes this letter to his refrigerator. There is a brown spot stain on the letter now. It is a skull fragment.

AUTISTIC MOMMY

My son has that spirit in the sky crimson and clover type of voice. Shiny like a brass trumpet but tremoloed or early electronic sounding. Something at once old-timey and from outer space. Not steampunk, mind you. More like an angel.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROFESSOR

I teach psychology and sociology and criminology and the fine art seminar and the poetry seminar and finally remedial reading at Moskingum CC. This whole thing has an air of Greek myth, or sociopathology. Did you hear one of the animals ate Terry’s head, or tried to, after he’d fallen to the linoleum in the kitchen?

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

He’s talking about me.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROFESSOR

Most of the beasts had used the opportunity to get as far away from the ranch as possible, seeking out new territories and hopeful for a wilderness that just doesn’t exist anymore. They had been microchipped. And everyone has a cellphone now. There’s no escaping the gaze.

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

Hey newscaster, you take a picture with your iphone.
A picture of me with a bullet through my eye.
It is elegantly cropped.
You upload it to your profile, seeking assurance of its beauty.
The picture gets seven LIKES. This is satisfactory.
Three friends comment with these phrases:

ROT IN HELL
GOOD RIDDANCE
OH NO HE DIDN’T!!!!

You read this thread and laugh out loud while you check your profile in the tgifridays.

A nest of baby robins has been found in the rain track outside the restaurant. A cleaning person is batting at it with a straw broom. A child watches from its booster seat. One of the birds falls from the gutter and lands on the concrete. It waddles on jelly legs into some shrubbery, where a radio speaker has been hidden.

Bruce Springsteen’s
“Born To Run”
blares from the restaurants’ speakers.

WITH TRAMPS LIKE US, BABY WE WERE BORN TO RUN.

Why don’t you go fuck yourself again with that tiger balm? I heard it has soothing power. WHY AM I NOT A PULITZER PRIZE YET? WHY AM I STILL HERE IN THIS HAIRY BODY WITHOUT AGENCY? IS THIS SOME KIND OF TEST?

ROGER THE CAMERAMAN

(to the QUEENY CORRESPONDENT)

The conversation you could have with your lover disappears, and a buffalo burger is consumed in silence. You each edge further from the other like magnetic force in reverse and slowed down to imperceptibility. Your hiccup is an earthquake. You check your grindr account. Another missed opportunity.

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

STATUS UPDATE:
The last living rhino in Vietnam was killed today by poachers. Unhappy face emoticon.

QUEENY CORRESPONDENT

The weather turned on the protesters in Zuccotti Park. Thousands of dollars in equipment is destroyed by a sudden rainstorm. Now they use the desktop casings as table legs and place hot meals on a piece of plywood for the occupiers. The homeless who used to sleep in the park are gone. They all are in jail now, 50 zoo animals. I saw a young man holding this sign: Gentrify the homeless! It got seven likes. They get one meal a day and no phone call. Rights are read willy-nilly. Who cares when your brain is scrambled eggs? They are lazy. I can’t pay my student loans.

JOE, ROGER’S BROTHER, AN ACTOR, AN APE, A TOTAL FUCK-UP

I beat my chest chimpanzee style and stick my tongue out, too. Hand me a cigar and a slogan. I’m not homeless. I am occupied. The homeless were pre-occupied. Now they are caged. AT HB STUDIOS I PRETEND I AM JAMES DEAN. Endlessly talented and pre-Stonewall queer. Can someone take this bracelet off my ankle? I want to drive my roadster at top speed, dreaming of topping Sal Minneo.

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

Oh, Joe. You look better with my glasses off. The light here is softer than I remembered. I can hear the two children crying from their window in the backyard. What were you thinking with your wild jerky? The animals are splayed out like on a scale at a butcher’s counter. From the window it looks like an overturned toybox. The brothers watch guts spill slowly from the tiger’s side, one of my pride. Their mother is playing a church service over the radio and the music mingles with their racing minds. One brother smells incense. The other, older one, smells cum. Joey if you’re hurtin’ so am I.

TERRY THOMPSON

There is a zoo and it is free now, if only in spirit. I know why the caged bear shits itself. This is a suicide note.

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

(writing in a notepad with her pencil claw)

I am dying in a field outside of Zanesville. A river of blood bubbles up from the place where my eye used to be. My heart is telling a story very slowly, in whispers. The whispers sound like bird calls and more animals come, thinking I am friendly. Their guns go up to the sky. On a clear day you can see Columbus. Did you know it is the gay capital of the Midwest?

A baboon stalks the horizon looking for trash to eat. Maybe some old sliced ham with mold on it, smashed egg shells tarnished from the dye of a jcp circular in the Sunday newspaper. He pulls the pieces from a ripped garbage bag and puts them in his mouth. This is called survival.

Joe, that’s the way I describe you. Do you like it? Or does it make you seem too submissive?

AUTISTIC MOMMY

The lion looked right at me in the grocery store parking lot. The food lion, from the sign. It was seated like an obedient dog. Fetch, Leo. I got in my escort and called the police from the iphone. Then I took a picture and uploaded it and it got seven likes.

A DEAD LLAMA

I thought the cops would bring elephant guns but instead they used pepper spray and guess what? It worked. We cried ourselves to death. Four dead in Ohio? More like forty plus. Why would you shoot me, a llama? But you did, and I cried and then I died.

TERRY THOMPSON

It is Noah’s ark in reverse. I build the ship and then we are shipwrecked. The flood is in my wet brain. The cops take turns with their crosshairs. It is a team building exercise. They ask to have the carcasses stuffed. There’s a guy in town who does it for free as a gesture of good will for the men, he calls them heroes. The force. The animals are mounted on wooden plaques. They make a noise in the back of the truck. It is the sound of objects. They are delivered to each officer, wrapped in butcher paper. The funny thing is, I sold them these elephant guns three years ago, out of my barn, running guns on the black market. I used the cash for more birdseed and meal for the animals. Now I’m dead, the cops use my black market guns to kill my children. Oh the irony.

KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER

Danger. Wild animals.

PRISON WARDEN

If you see something, shoot something.

AUTISTIC SONNY

(stroking dead Kathy Acker the Bengal Tiger)

If you see something, it is yours. You are a lord of it. It is for you. This is the law of the land. As far as you can see, Simba, this land is your responsibility. You are a king in captivity. You were born with your crown (and your student loan debt). All you have to do is put it on (and wear it to your funeral).

TERRY THOMPSON

Maybe this is possession. I climbed a hill this morning, before I shot myself, and at the top of this hill I found a pigeon. It was eating a turd. A human turd in the park, The bird was picking out the chunks that hadn’t lost their nutrients. It can’t all be waste, what our bodies throw out. It could be called impatience.

Johnny Appleseed wasn’t tossing seeds, he was shitting them. Everyone has this idea that he was an altruistic young man. Really he just loved apples and had irritable bowel syndrome.

There is no such thing as a middle class. There’s a beginning and an end, but no middle. No autistic tiger left behind. At Community College, I GAVE MY ZOOLOGY TEACHER AN APPLE. My toe catches the trigger, Occupy Zoo Story. BANG.

Terry falls to the floor.

Kathy becomes a pulitzer prize.

Autistic Sonny clutches the pulitzer prize, stroking it.

AUTISTIC SONNY

I love you. I love you.

Queeny Correspondent makes out with Joe the Ape.

Roger uploads the newscast outtake to youtube and likes it seven times.

Autistic Mommy admires her pencil claws.

Autistic Sonny eats a handful of animal crackers. His mouth is mic’d and amplified with delay. The crunching commingles with the first few bars of “Spirit in the Sky.” The rock and roll music rises and rises and rises and rises.

 

END OF PLAY

 
 
 
 
Brian Bauman is a poet, playwright and the artistic director/founder of Perfect Disgrace Theater. His plays include: Atta Boy (HERE Arts Center, Wild Project, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Broad Art Center/UCLA), BUCKSHOT: A Rashomon (CounterPULSE), A Crucible (Wild Project, La Mama Galleria), Elegy for A Midshipman (Dixon Place), and Porridge (Dairy Center for the Arts). He is currently developing Rosebud, an adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby that tackles gentrification and gay marriage. He earned an M.F.A. in playwriting from the California Institute of the Arts.

Migration

by

Something was up that week so Cass wasn’t surprised when she opened the fridge and heard an egg scream. Cass was there for a snack, but she was open to dialogue.

The egg, the size of her fist, said, “I think it’s time you met my mother.”

Mother?” asked Cass, startled by the forwardness of the egg as she placed it on the table.

“Yes,” Egg said. “I’ve already sat through breakfast with yours and she wouldn’t say a word to me.”

“It’s not you,” Cass said. Cass’s mother was pissed that she’d brought home the carton of duck eggs from the neighboring farm on a day when she was supposed to help with the chickens. Her mother called the farmers unnatural, but from what Cass saw they simply had a bigger, brighter barn.

“You willing or not?” Egg asked.

“I guess,” Cass said, wondering if now was a bad time to grab some cheese.

“Let’s go,” Egg said.

“Now?” Cass asked, glancing at the moon through the kitchen window.

“You want to stay here?”

Egg had a point. Cass’s sisters had just woken her, rubbing her with chicken parts. Yet somehow the stink of blood from a claw clamping her nose didn’t stop her stomach from gurgling. “Only if we have a picnic,” Cass said.

“All right,” said Egg. “But bring enough for Mama.”

Cass nodded, though she wasn’t certain exactly how much to bring. She packed her bag with a tablecloth, frozen peas, and bread, then started off for the next-door farm.

“You don’t want to meet her, do you?” Egg asked.

“Sure I do,” Cass said, unsure if that was true.

The wind was breezier than expected when Cass put down the cloth so she held it down with stones, careful that Egg didn’t rock.

“You can start,” Egg said.

So Cass ripped into the bread and sprinkled out the peas to be polite, though she knew that Egg wasn’t about to eat. Soon enough the other ducklings gathered—bigger than Cass remembered—diving for the peas with welcome gusto.

“Are you really gonna be picky?” Egg asked.

Shamed by Egg’s good manners, Cass went for the peas nose-first, joining in the rhythmic camaraderie, like a party of jolly jackhammers.

And that was how she met Egg’s mother—teeth smeared green with dirt.

Mama Duck was tall as a house.

“What are your plans for my son?” she asked.

Breakfast seemed an inappropriate answer.

“You have a job?” Mama Duck asked.

Cass shook her head.

“You thought about kids?” Mama Duck asked.

With an egg? Cass thought, unable to look at him.

“These are questions you must think about before we finalize your commitment,” Mama Duck said.

Cass channeled her nerves into shredding what was left of the loaf, and threw it to the ducklings.
“Junk food,” Mama Duck tsked.

Her tone was the same as Cass’s mother on the mornings when Cass ate jellybeans for breakfast. Her mother had never understood that Cass only ate them to avoid her sisters at the table; she could fill her pockets and leave.

That way Cass could pop candy while watching the farmers across the fence. Every sunrise the old farm couple scooped the ducklings up, and would waltz in unison, stroking till their feathers poofed.

The closest Cass’s own mother got to their chickens was with a cleaver. Even now her sisters would be sneaking into her room, stuffing her sheets with chicken heads.

“Don’t you love me?” Egg said.

Cass felt something blossom inside her and she cradled Egg in her arms. She stroked him as if she were finger-painting her love onto his shell, melding her fingerprints onto his membrane, linking their identities as one.

Suddenly Cass felt itchy. Her arm hairs prickled into feathers and her feet knocked off her shoes. Her toes wiggled into long webby, hominoidal digits.

“Mama?” Cass asked.

Mama Duck replied with a nod, gathering her ducklings close.

They all breathed together as Cass yawned up her arms. And as she plucked Egg up with her feet, they all lifted off for the South. ✧

Julienne Grey’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Joyland Magazine, Slice Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and theEEEL, among others. She attended the 2014 Tin House Writer’s Workshop after receiving the 2013 Slice Literary Writer’s Conference Scholarship. Follow her on Twitter @JulienneGrey.

An Interview with Wells Tower

by

From the archives: Evelyn Spence talks with Wells Tower.

Does fiction begin with the story or the sentence? Pick up any Wells Tower story, and the first thing that jumps off the page is the language: It’s in turns dazzling, tight, comic, and dark. In “The Brown Coast,” a house is “broken out in pediments and lathework grenades and ornamental buboes.” The sun looks “slick and orange, like a canned peach.” An extramarital affair has “no joy in it, just a two-week spate of drab skirmishes in a basement apartment that smelled heavily of cat musk.” In “On the Show,” a man says, “I’d eat her whole damn child just to taste the thing he squeezed out of.” It’s dialogue that makes one laugh—bitterly. In Tower’s acclaimed debut collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, the Brooklyn writer seems, as one reviewer said, simply incapable of writing a boring description.

But language has to serve a story and its characters. And in Tower’s fiction, language serves a assembly of down-and-out men and women who face their uncomfortable problems—and inhabit their often-glum worlds—with striving and hopeless self-knowledge. The narrative arcs are traditional, yet the situations are anything but: a group of Vikings pillage a tiny island with brilliant grotesqueness, but come off as a bunch of ordinary guys. A cocky older brother eats turned moose meat to prove a point to his younger adult sibling. A retired optometrist bites his stepson on the leg. A short-tempered man drives his ex-wife’s boyfriend home from an ashram after he busts his ankle. Tower, 37, gets under the skin of insecure teenage girls and tottering old men, of the guilty and the clueless, the resentful and the deformed, in equal measure.

Tower’s voice has found a place in the sometimes-diametric worlds of both fiction and nonfiction: Harper’s, The Paris Review, GQ, The New Yorker, Outside, Washington Post, McSweeney’s and The Believer. And his real-life reporting experiences—as an operator of a pirate-ship ride with a traveling carnival, for instance—occasionally seep into his stories, often years later. All writers pull from some corner of their autobiography; Tower manages to blend meticulous observation and free-wheeling imagination into taut and small epics. Recently named a Cullman Center Fellow at the New York Public Library, he’s set to expand his reach into a first novel.The Brooklyn Review spoke with Wells Tower, who lives in Brooklyn and North Carolina, by phone.

What was your early life like and what made you want to write?
I had a true appetite for language and story from a pretty early age, and I always really liked words. My parents were big readers—my mother was a classicist and fed me a steady diet of Greek mythology. The first things I remember writing were a couple plays in first or second grade. I studied anthropology and sociology at Wesleyan University, and soon after graduating, I started figuring out ways to get a paycheck writing. I thought I big victory would be something like writing a bulletin for a paper towel corporation. A dream. I ended up getting a job at the University of North Carolina Urban Planning Department—and convinced my boss to write a monthly newsletter. I just wanted to do something that let me write sentences.

What about where you grew up? Did it influence your language?
It’s probable. I suppose I could give a canned answer and say that I grew up in the South, around lots of phenomenally good banjo-playing storytellers, but that’s not really true. My parents weren’t Southern. I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is a geographically diverse place. There may be a particular kind of story that people in the South tell—certain reportorial habits that Southerners have that they are particularly proud of. I kept my ear out for particularly striking, charming, funny expressions from a very young age. I remember listening very carefully to the way that people talk. And I’ve remained a big collector of conversations.

What was the first thing you ever published?
I wrote a column about comics in the high school newspaper. Did stuff for a lefty weekly in college. A ’zine with my bandmate Al that was somewhat literary—we’d review surgeries and car accidents, not records. My first big story was for the Washington Post—I pitched a story about being on a traveling carnival, and even though I didn’t have reporting experience, they took a chance on me. And some of those notes ended up, much later, in “On the Show.” But the first real fiction I published was in The Paris Review—while I was a student at Columbia. They found me in the slush pile.

What are your writing habits like?
I really try to be at my desk by about nine in the morning, and I work until three or four o’clock. Much more than that and it becomes counterproductive. I’ve come up with all sorts of Internet repression methods in my life: I don’t have high-speed wireless. I use an old word processor, I write longhand, I have a typewriter. To me, the Web is truly lethal to fiction. Plus, I don’t really believe in the whole self-promotion thing. For one thing, I’m kind of allergic to it. Particularly with fiction. It’s simply in opposition to the work. And I’m not going to bully people into reading it. Or even make the case that they should read it. It’s just stuff that I wrote, which I can leave up to everybody else to be interested in. The work itself should be more of an organic process. And I’m not going to try hard to sell people.

There seems to be a disconnect between the process of writing fiction and then the process of promoting it.
That’s very true. And even the book tour part of it, the literary festivals, any of the public part of putting out a book—

Even this.
Even this! The thing that’s very strange about it is you suddenly go from being a solitary person who makes work to being a spokesperson for a product. I spent about a year just doing the public routine for Everything Ravaged, and that was strange. I found it, psychologically, pretty difficult. I was in the groove of trying to write, and being taken away from that—going from writing to telling people what a writer-person does—was odd. It really becomes this other thing. It stopped being the stories I put obsessive effort into—and became a congealed item that was subject to public perception.

What happens when you write a story?
I view Everything Ravaged as a solid apprenticeship in short fiction. I was trying a bunch of different ways to skin the cat with that book. The short story is a great laboratory for trying different narrative approaches. It wasn’t as if I was setting out to write in a certain mode. Usually I was looking back and fretting over the deficiencies in the stories I’d already written. Trying at least to write new ones, that didn’t suck, in different ways. So that at least if the story sucked, it would suck differently. [Laughs.] There are some stories that were trying to be very tidy—like “The Brown Coast,” which was the first story that I ever wrote. In the first draft, the sentence craft wasn’t particularly elegant—I was trying for a self-consciously Southern vernacular. Others, like “On the Show,” was me trying to succeed with very careful, even twee, language. There are others that are sort of memoir tricks—like, okay, I’m just going to write a really emotionally naked story with no elaborate language and no jokes. Take “Leopard.” But I can’t talk about what happens when I write a story without taking about how much they were all revised.

So…
To me, you don’t know if you have a story until you’ve written it. And it takes me months. And then, when I have the first possibly publishable draft, it still is a process of trying to trick myself into believing in my characters and places. And then the main purpose is going back, after the story is out there, and thinking about what is really going on here. What is the emotional core that the story is dancing around? What’s a way to get at that core in a more meaningful way?

Do you tend to write a lot, and then throw a lot away?
I think I’m uptight enough about language that I don’t write really careless drafts with terribly painful prose. That’s because usually, when I’m writing, it’s not the characters I believe in first. It’s the language. The technique winds up being the strength that keeps the whole thing going. I start with terrifically indulgent sentences, and then the characters start to emerge. When I write the first draft, it’s hard to know what to get excited about, because it’s hard to get excited about a void. It’s a matter of bringing something out of a muffled little object, something that’s bigger than I imagined. Also, it’s a matter, in the later drafts, of being suspicious of that impulse to keep in the indulgent language—you can’t just write a story where you’re playing with words. You need ideas. The language has to be in service to some bigger problem. Otherwise, it’s masturbatory.

Where do your stories come from?
“The Brown Coast” came to me as a fully-formed anecdote from a friend of mine who is a bartender, and then I tricked it out. “On the Show” was taken from my experience as a carnie. Some of my stories began in things that I did when I was younger—you know the young girl, Marie, in “Down the Valley,” who put her mouth over the gearshift? I used to do that. It’s so weird. And I was thinking, I wonder what would be the most awkward situation in which a father could see his child sucking a gearshift. Probably it would be in the company of his ex-wife’s holier-than-thou boyfriend. And in the title story, there is the whole “blood eagle” description, which a friend of mine told me about. [“Then he knelt and put his hands into the cuts. He fumbled around in there for a second, then drew Naddod’s lungs out through the slits. As Naddod huffed and gasped, the lungs flapped, looking sort of like a pair of wings.”] We thought it was such an overly fastidious thing for the average, blue-collar Viking guy to get into. What if you were a Viking thinking about doing a blood eagle—and instead said, “Screw it, let’s just get a beer.”

What characters are you attracted to? Are they doing what matters?
I like morally ambiguous characters who have certain low impulses that get in the way of their loftier ones. I’m interested in people who are in trouble, and something has to happen, dramatically. I was just reading some Lydia Davis stories, and they are amazingly gripping. I could never write narratives that manufacture an emotional crisis in such a tiny space. Stories about a woman who could leave a glass of water on the bedside table where it might leave a mark, or she leave it on a book, and it’s a crisis. A tiny, tiny little crisis that contains so much. I can’t write like that. I’m more traditional. I write about what happens. But I love writers like Lydia Davis or Nicholson Baker.

Like Baker’s The Mezzanine.
Right: A guy takes an escalator to go get some milk and then goes back to his desk and that’s the novel. It’s brilliant. I just don’t think I could do it. I feel like I need to tell stories with a more traditional arc. I may want to abstract the form down the line, but I’m also pretty new to stories. I’m trying to get my head around the realist short story and its dramatic objectives. I feel like I need to know more about the form before I can abstract from it.

There is something about your language that is so careful and joyous and witty.
I think that I want my sentences to do all those things. I want my work to be funny—and have a light touch. But I don’t want to write merely comic stories. I want to reach into a bigger space. I want the language to be careful, but I also want it to have exuberance and humanity. I’m obsessed with sentences. And if you’re not obsessed with sentences, you shouldn’t be a writer. It’s amazing to me to see how many of the books on The New York Times bestseller list are written by people who have no interest in sentence craft. And it’s amazing that so many people want to read them. Whenever I open up a book and see sentences, it’s like I’m picking up sheets and feeling for the thread count in between my fingers. If there are thin sentences, then I’m not interested in reading.

Do you know when a story is done?
I would revise for years if I could. I really need editors to take the stories away from me. I hope that I can become a little bit more level-headed about it. I get sort of crazy. I reach down to the micro-micro level, go over and over every word. Even when I get the architecture into place, I still do a bunch of passes. It takes me a while to get there.

And now you’re writing a novel? How has that been a different process for you?
I am. I’m working my way through the first draft, and for now I’m just trying to be nice to myself. Short stories are such an airless medium—you’re constantly aware that readers will be looking, at any moment, to abandon ship. You really have to set sail immediately and then you have to make stuff happen. I think the short story is an incredibly demanding form. So far, writing a novel, I’ve been able to ease myself into it—letting it sprawl more and letting the characters breathe. I can be a little bit less uptight with the language, at least initially.

You’ve also written a lot of nonfiction. Does it feel different to you than fiction?
In the language department, in terms of fiction, there has to be something interesting going on in every sentence—whether it’s rhythm or word choice. Every sentence needs to be able to stand alone. In nonfiction, sometimes you just need to convey information. A lot of magazines don’t let you get away with a lot of show-offy sentence work—there are a few that do, like Harper’s. Maybe there are certain structural things in my fiction that may stem from nonfiction features: the anecdotal lead, the expositional second section. You can see that in a few of my short stories.

In your headspace, is it difficult to switch between the two?
It’s very hard. It really screwed me up the first few years. When I got out of grad school, I was doing a lot of magazine work to pay the bills, and I tried to do this thing where I used the long-form nonfiction creative process for fiction. With a nonfiction story, you go out and you report for a few weeks, and then soon you have huge mountains of notes, and then you sift through it and try to pull out a few nuggets and a few decent scenes, and then you come up with a contextual argument to make those scenes relevant. And then boom, you’re done. I once tried to do the same process with the draft of a short story—“taking notes” on all the possibilities and then trying to distill it into something coherent, and that was just wrong. It didn’t work. With short fiction, you have to do all you can to constrain the writing so it doesn’t herniate. And fiction needs a real emotional coherence. It’s impossible to write big gaseous reams of dialogue and expect to them to dovetail.

And are you getting better at switching back and forth between the forms?
It’s still hard. Physically, I have a fiction desk and a nonfiction desk. Remember, with nonfiction, it’s always so exciting before you go out and do it. Someone calls up and says, “We’ll send you to this offbeat event or this exotic country, can you do that?” You think, “Sure, I can bash that out in a couple weeks.” With fiction, you can’t work on something for a week, and then go away for a month, and then come back and expect to have any depth. There’s a certain immersion fiction requires that nonfiction doesn’t. You have to live it and breathe it. You have to make it your life. It’s a very delicate process: to get into the position that we can make our characters real to us. It’s a particular self-seduction. And a lot of time being alone. It’s amazing to me the people who have full-time commuting jobs, and they squeeze in writing when they can. Me, I need a good six hours to get two or three hours of work done.

Which is more true, fiction or nonfiction?
Fiction is probably truer. Fiction is much messier. I don’t psychologize my nonfiction subjects the same way that I do my characters.

Do you feel like your reporting experience influence the way you see the world and observe it?
I think the way I see the world is just the way I see the world. Reporting didn’t train me to see in a different way. Most of us are moved to write because we look at things that are going on around us and we find them interesting. And then we have the language available to express those moments. That impulse, for me, was there from the get-go. The nice thing that happened when I was out reporting—especially the stories that I tended to do—was that I often had no angle. I used to write three cover stories for the Washington Post Sunday magazine and the assignments would be like this: “We’re going to do a cover story on horse gambling. So why don’t you go hang out at a track for a month and see what happens?” Which is great but also terrifying, because you have to come up with story out of nothing at all. So I’d have no clue what I was aiming for. As much as I could, I would write frantic notes and put everything in there—every little detail, every moment. Even if nothing was going on, it was, okay, let me describe that terrible linoleum. I would constantly keep the pen moving. There’s no quest that puts the details in service of a story. Everything is potentially important. It’s almost the opposite of the deliberateness of fiction.

How do you hope your stories will impact people?
I don’t know how I want them to be read, other than people reading them and saying, “Oh, that didn’t suck.” [Laughs.] I write for people who love language, and people who like story, and people who aren’t averse to darkness—and the idea that in the midst of a lot of hard-heartedness, there can be a moment of decency that won’t trip their sentimentality alarm. People ask what I’m trying to say about the natural world, because there are a lot of animals and trees in my stories, and I’m sure there is a smart answer for that. A lot of European interviewers want to ask me what I’m trying to say about America. Whether I’m in dialogue with a French writer I’ve never heard of. It’s not a puzzle in a box. And I’m just writing a goddamn story. ✧

Memoirs of a Post-Analyzed Self

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 Review: ‘Adult Onset’ by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

 

A small crowd assembled at the back of Brooklyn’s BookCourt store to hear acclaimed Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald read from her third novel, “Adult Onset.” It was a small enough group—mostly long-time devotees of MacDonald’s first two novels, the 1996 Oprah’s Book Club pick “Fall on Your Knees” and its 2003 follow-up, “The Way The Crow Flies”—that MacDonald forewent the podium and conducted the question-and-answer portion from one of the chairs, speaking intimately with the audience, as if it were her own living room. When one audience member asked if the novel’s frenzied, turbulent style could be attributed to writing a novel while raising children full time, MacDonald agreed that yes, that was absolutely the reason. She realized from the early stages of writing “Adult Onset” that her process would be erratic: she would be lucky to cram an hour of writing in between chores and children and running the household. Her prose was similarly chaotic, but she went with it, because it emulated the real experience of motherhood.

The chaos of rearing children is one of many ways in which the novel, which MacDonald described as a “memoir of a parallel self,” mirrors MacDonald’s real life: the book’s protagonist, Mary Rose MacKinnon, is, like MacDonald, the daughter of a Lebanese mother and a Canadian army officer father, both originally from Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. Also like MacDonald, Mary-Rose lives in downtown Toronto, she is married to a woman who’s a theater director, and she’s taking a break from her career writing bestselling novels (in Mary Rose’s case, young adult novels) to raise their two children. The book takes place over the course of one hectic week in Mary Rose’s life, a week in which her wife, Hilary, is away in Winnipeg directing a play, and Mary Rose, known colloquially as “Mister,” is home alone with the children. Much of the book recounts the minutiae of Mary Rose’s mundane daily life as an “everyday housewife,” a world in which “it-got-better enough for her to be here now at her own kitchen table with her own child, legally married to the woman she loves, feeling like a trapped 1950s housewife.”

The novel follows Mary Rose as she collapses her Christmas tree stand, picks her kids up from school, does laundry, visits the gynecologist, and walks her dog. The pages abound with italicized technology: Mary Rose’s Facebook and her email bing! repeatedly, and Mary Rose deletes a drafted email to her father so many times that it feels like keystrokes begin to replace plot points. There are also long swaths of incoherent dialogue, pages of back-and-forth conversations that often read more like a stage script than a novel. The dialogue is often nearly impossible to follow, especially the conversations between Mary Rose and her elderly, possibly dementia-ridden mother.

But this is a deeply internal novel, and it is Mary Rose’s witty, anxious, and, at times, delirious interiority that saves the novel from becoming merely a tedious narration of daily pandemonium, 381 pages of chores and temper tantrums and ill-fated play dates. MacDonald’s prose is limber and deft, delving into Mary Rose’s psyche with piercing intelligence and palpable, authentic realism. Toronto is a place where “the trees are tight with buds” and “the last crusts of brown ice are trickling into storm sewers,” where Mary Rose, Hilary and their children live in a “shabby chic neighborhood where…higgledy-piggledy hedges and trumpet vines proclaim the prevailing left-leaning sympathies of the residents.” Mary Rose lives a life one could plausibly imagine: she’s reading a real book (Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself), she visits real stores in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood, listens to real CBC radio programs, and sees fellow Annex resident Margaret Atwood driving by. MacDonald cleverly edges close enough to reality that one forgets Mary Rose isn’t lurking in cafes in downtown Toronto, dodging the adoring young fans clamoring for her autograph, that she isn’t waiting for her son outside the Montessori school on Bloor Street.

An unexplained pain in Mary Rose’s arm invokes the memory of her childhood bone cysts, propelling the story into a vortex of remembered trauma, starting in her bones then spreading outward into her psyche, into the pain and possible abuse of her childhood, as she struggles with inexplicable rage against her two-year-old daughter, Maggie. In an attempt to explore whether or not Mary Rose was abused as a child, and whether that abuse may have triggered her bone issues, the novel weaves between Mary Rose’s close-third-person narration in the present and a distant, retrospective account of her childhood. The childhood sections mainly explore Mary Rose’s mother’s postpartum depression following the two stillborn babies who bookended Mary Rose’s birth. The distant narration, however, makes it difficult to discern whose point of view is recounting the past. Mary-Rose herself concedes that, although those years are “vivid in her mind, part of the family lore she imbibed from her sister and from her parents’ remiscences,” she can’t possibly recall those particular memories, many of which happened before she was born. The retrospective sections, then, feel like therapy sessions with Mary Rose’s analyst, hovering over the past distantly, fictionalizing her mother’s depression and dissociation from her children in sentimental, embellished prose. Much of what happens in the retrospective sections is a dramatization of what’s already been told in present exposition, and the connections to Mary Rose’s current mental state are heavy-handed and infuriatingly obvious.

Similarly cumbersome are the sections from Mary Rose’s two blockbuster young adult novels, both of which are jammed inexplicably into “Adult Onset.” The connections between these excerpts and Mary Rose’s psychological state are not only exceedingly obvious; they’re also called out explicitly on the page. At one point, Hilary reveals that, like Mary Rose’s stillborn sister, her YA protagonist’s doll was incinerated, though Mary Rose hadn’t understood that particular connection yet. A few pages later, the doll’s incineration is dramatized in one of the excerpted novel chapters. Mary Rose’s subconscious explodes out of the YA passages, dripping with regret and guilt towards the stillborn children. She “does not need to pay a psychologist to know that deep down she is convinced she killed [her stillborn brother] Alexander…it’s right there in the pages of her own book.”

Mary Rose, in fact, doesn’t need a psychoanalyst at all, because her entire narrative seems to have already been analyzed and processed by MacDonald. The prose is too self-aware, too conscious of the connections between Mary-Rose’s bone cysts and her parents’ later rejection of her as an out lesbian, the potential abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and the way she later repeats that abuse with her own daughter. MacDonald, who is an award-winning playwright as well as a novelist, loads her pages with glaring dramatic irony and heavy-handed foreshadowing. It is implied numerous times by both of Mary Rose’s siblings as well as the retrospective narration that Mary Rose’s mother Dolly had postpartum depression, but Mary Rose doesn’t fully realize it until the end of the novel. In that way, the novel often feels like it’s getting ahead of itself, feeding the audience information before it’s relevant on the page, or alluding to certain topics or themes right before they unfold narratively. For example, several pages before Mary Rose ponders the dichotomy between her tender relationship with her “sensitive, sweet” five-year-old son and her daughter, who is in the depths of the classic terrible twos, Mary Rose’s own brother, Andy-Patrick, points out that he and Mary Rose had entirely different relationships with her parents, that perhaps it was he, not she, who won the “family suffering sweepstakes.”

Perhaps MacDonald, who has spent the past seven years in immersive, three-times-a-week psychoanalysis, has written not a memoir of a parallel self, but instead a memoir of a post-analyzed self, a protagonist who’s too hyperaware of her own psychological underpinnings. There is no room for ambiguity in the novel, nothing left for the reader to discern for him or herself. Even the novel’s humor begins to feel affected, gratingly self-aware: Mary Rose worries her tomatoes are “wrong” because they’re from Israel; she thinks she “could fist-pump for joy, but that would be too American.” The novel feels not like the cathartic journey to self-discovery MacDonald has described, the “open-heart surgery” on herself she’s compared to writing it, but instead like a calculated self-psychology.

Even Hilary, Mary Rose’s wife, who is mostly absent from the page, acts almost as a proxy for Mary Rose’s therapist, discussing her childhood trauma, listening as Mary Rose analyzes her mother’s behavior, whether her subsequent rejection stemmed from some sort of guilt about abusing her as a child. Consequently, Hilary and Mary Rose’s relationship feels clinical, more like a patient-therapist relationship than spousal love.

Where the novel opens up, where it feels surprising and alive and raw for the first time, is when Mary Rose recounts her parents’ rejection following her coming out. “I’d rather you had cancer,” her parents tell her. “I’d rather you were dead.” Mary Rose’s mother issues her rejection of Mary Rose’s “lifestyle,” her choice in partners, “like an edict—a fatwa.” In one of the novel’s most compelling moments, her mother asks, “Who touched you? Did someone touch you? Did your father touch you?” One suspects this rejection is still somewhat fresh, still not entirely processed and worked through in therapy. The writing here pierces; it punctures through newly patched-over wounds, spilling out confused, painful truth. But this breakthrough arrives two-thirds of the way through the novel, and it feels like too little, too late.

And, eventually, even the post-coming-out section is psychoanalyzed on the page, composed in an email to Mary Rose’s father years after she reconciles with her parents. “I wonder if Mum’s problems with postpartum depression,” Mary Rose writes, “informed the fury with which she responded to my coming out years later.” Was her mother still consumed with guilt? Did she believe she’d damaged Mary Rose in early childhood? These are the sorts of inferences that a writer with a subtler touch might have hoped his or readers would eventually reach. MacDonald, instead, instructs the reader on what to think, what to feel, how to properly analyze her characters. There is nothing left implicit or enigmatic; the novel acts as its own emotional instruction manual.

Towards the end, the writing becomes increasingly less lucid. The past and present begin to merge as both Mary Rose and her mother seem snagged in a mass of mystifying dementia, forgetting and confusing things and people and each other. Even language begins to break down: “the day the daytheday the day is toobright.” “This is what you get in the end,” Mary Rose thinks. “Fragments. Parts of speech.” It’s a nice idea, but it’s difficult to discern what’s actually happening in this final section. The novel even abandons its steady, unhurried pacing for a mad dash to the finishing line, whipping through sections the reader’s been waiting for the entire novel, like Hilary’s homecoming. It almost feels like, in an attempt to be more symbolically chaotic, less sterilized by the heavy-handed psychoanalysis that informs so much of MacDonald’s writing, she conflates turmoil with emotional complexity, as if the abandonment of narrative convention will trick the reader into feeling moved by his or her conflicting reactions. Instead, one has the feeling of being jerked into murky terrain by an unreliable narrator and a novel that hasn’t made up its mind about whose dementia is setting in when.

“There was something that’s very intentional about this book,” MacDonald said. “[Mary Rose’s] dark week of the soul is triggered during a time where everything is fine. And that’s a classic kind of psychoanalytical moment.” One wonders what sort of writing would have ensued if MacDonald had abandoned the Freudian polemic and written this entire book with the brutal authenticity with which she wrote the post-coming-out section. Perhaps, then, this book might have felt less like the inexplicable unraveling of an “everyday housewife” and more like the penetrating, incisive self-biopsy MacDonald intended it to be. ✧

 

Lisa Metrikin is the Editor in Chief of The Brooklyn Review. She is a second-year fiction MFA student at Brooklyn College, where she also teaches. Her fiction has appeared in the Monarch Review, Independent Ink Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a native of Toronto, Canada. Previously, she worked in editorial and marketing at several early-stage tech startups. Follow her on Twitter @LisaSkapinker.

Silently Gathering Force

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Trinidad Escobar is a poet, cartoonist, and educator from the Bay Area, California. Her poetry and visual art have been featured in various publications such as Rust & Moth, The Walrus, Red Wheelbarrow, Solo Cafe, Mythium, Tayo, Maganda Magazine, the anthologies Walang Hiya, Over the Line, Kuwento, and more. Trinidad has been a guest artist and speaker at the San Jose Museum of Art, Pilipino Komix Expo, LitQuake, and The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Her graphic memoir Crushed will be published in 2017 by Rosarium Publishing. Trinidad teaches Comics & Race at California College of the Arts in Oakland, California.