FICTION/POETRY

Two poems - Lisa Locascio

Lisa Locascio's work has appeared in The Believer, Bookforum, n+1, Santa Monica Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and on the Tin House website. The recipient of many awards and honors for her writing, which has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, translated into Italian, and anthologized, she is the first Anglophone writer to be granted an interview by Roberto Bolaño's widow Carolina López, a project which earned mention in The New Yorker and The Los Angeles Times. She holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and a MFA in Fiction from New York University and has taught at USC, UCLA, Colorado College, Mount Saint Mary's University, and New York University. Lisa is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University, co-publisher of Joyland Magazine, and editor at 7x7, a magazine of ekphrastic collaboration between artist and writers. Her anthologies Golden State 2017: The Best New Writing from California (Outpost19) and Retro 5: The Best of Joyland (Joyland) will be published in 2017. Her novel, Jutland Gothic, will be published by Grove Atlantic in 2018.

YOUR FEAR OF MY POWER

It must be grandiose as its muse. Big as a university library. It must have a face and hands and a tiny shrinking penis going full-cat-freakout before a giant vagina dentata, the way they do when the carrier comes out for a trip to the vet.

I must be the red and great fangs in your nightmare stripes. All dark emanating from the spaces between. My legs. My ears. My teeth.

Determined to indulge you this morning, in deference to your fear I was not even so pretty. A professional across a table.And then we began our discussion and you complained that the text in question utterly lacked eroticism. You felt no heat for its men, no differentiation, just a list of dicks. The author’s eyes switched, a tail. Savoring the best hint of real power you will experience in this life, you turned her nervousness in your palm and said you felt in her writing greater desire for her car.

Could imagine her waxing it with her great breasts.

Had imagined.

An illusory breast-waxing of which the narrative needed more.

The author blinked on a smile of allowance. Now I recognized you.

Remember when I was interviewing for a job in Tulsa and you took me to the hotel bar and gave lyric to all that fair skin of mine? Remember when we were in New York and you kept me after class to rhapsodize about your rediscovery of eros as I fiddled with my backpack strap? Remember when I was the girl student in the suburbs of Chicago who wanted to fuck you will all her fiery young heart and in your classroom you danced and joked with me and told me to leave before we had too much fun, and then after graduation you never spoke to me again?

Sometimes my desire makes me scream until I pass out. Sometimes it’s God, on my left arm, and sometimes it’s the knife I stalk you with, on my right.

You are in a black room with a creature whose size you cannot know. The beating of her house-sized heart shakes the world. Her bite is a concerto. Teeth deployed one at a time to exquisite effect.

Raise your eyes. Don’t resist. Don’t try. You don’t have to, not anymore. You don’t have to do anything. Not anymore. Let go. It’s okay. You want to. Close your eyes. I’m here. It’ll only hurt for a minute.

THERE IS A LIE IN MY HEART

Once it was that moment before going when one turned and thought better. Now it is the thinking better. Now I think it is not what it is not.

Harness, fairness, whip. Cracked it grants seventy years’ best luck; shattered, the dance starts. So we go up and down, me in your arms, the light from the sky dousing us, drying—

Long in the telling. My anxious pregnancy.Knocked up, chimera blooming in my gut, rooting in my blood.

Touch me. Feel: my lie.

There is a lie in my heart and I want to tell it. Beautiful balloon. Air into flame and flame into air. Rise into the violet sky. Get off. Tell all.

 

FICTION/POETRY

FOUR poems - jeffery berg

Jeffery Berg grew up in Six Mile, South Carolina and Lynchburg, Virginia. He received an MFA from NYU. His poems have appeared in glitterMOB, the Leveler, Court Green, Rove, Map Literary, Assaracus and Harpur Palate, and No, Dear. He has written reviews for The Poetry Project Newsletter and Lambda Literary. A Virginia Center of the Creative Arts fellow, Jeffery lives between Brooklyn and Queens and blogs at jdbrecords.  


PALM SPRINGS

Strange was the

dream out of

Manhattan

dry on the rocks

 

a torso of plaster

in gray booty shorts

 

a red-lit bar

of wrap-around booths

 

an Armani trench the

color of

pennies

 

blue highway ride

to a birchwood house

 

a room of white

carpet and pink heat

lamps

 

untie my trench

take away my purse

 

cacti and us

behind glass-ribbed walls

 

you call me faggot

retarded unable to

champagne pop

 

upside down you hang

me and then I ask

 

How much farther are we to go?

 

CALIFORNIA GOTHIC

From my apartment, now bare in Brooklyn, once full of

music, trash-picked furniture and sloppy sex,

I   box   up   books   to   send   to   my grandmother.

It’s mid-afternoon,   rainy out,   my   laptop   open   to Psycho

 

Marion Crane’s last drive: fingers on the dimpled wheel,

wipers with the strings like the knife-slashings that will do her in. Her

Ford, bought in the sun on a lot at Luxhall in Bakersfield,

that will end up pulled out of a swamp behind Bates Motel.

 

My   mom   believes   my   grandmother   started   going downhill when

my uncle took her car away.  Then she was isolated,  a shut-in,  

a monthly Martha Stewart  Living in the mailbox

close friends elderly and dying, downspouts stolen, a strange man

 

knocking  atthe back door early in the morning.

A house can trap you, windows staring as you walk up to it,

as you enter, unprepared for the knife-wield of a bun-wigged night-gowned man. I click

on pics of shirtless men, all pouty and spray-tanned.

 

Where will they end up? Against their will? I want to go

willfully to a room that looks like Hopper’s “Sun in an Empty Room.” In

1997, on a trip to L.A., from the back of my friend’s minivan,

I wanted   to   remember   everything   outside—to   take   it   all   in   with   a camcorder—

 

I don’t know where the tape ended up, or how I could play it, or if

I did, how I could watch it—a choppy, migraine-inducer.

In a neon green T shirt and black Adidas shorts, I sat in the sun

in a trolley as it rounded the corner and I recorded the Bates house

 

on the Universal lot. A sense of promise then that now feels

eroded. Later tonight when I talk to my grandmother,

she says thank you for sending more books, that she loved the last ones,

especially   the   one   about   the   Jew   who   escaped   the   Kishinev pogrom.

 

She   says,   although   what’s   the   point anymore,

I mean, really, of getting involved with all of these stories?

After hanging up, I picture the bitter night in Lemont, the trees bare, the

little gazebo out her window that no one sits in.
 

DRESS-UP

I make myself larger. I make myself small.

My pleasure points shift. Militant, then

soft. No surprise my first dress-up was Alice.

A flour-sack towel fashioned like a pinafore.

A desire for black ankle-strap shoes that lingers

more quietly thirty-odd years later in the Wal-Mart

aisle. In most imaginations—her dress blue. Something

irksome about imagination exclamation point, the Mary Jane

nonsense and the optics—piping tea kettles, gaudy,

big-hatted fashion—now slightly Hot Topic. The title of the song

“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” from what Stevie Nicks

in Victorian dress-up at 5 AM said to the songwriter.

Something eerie about seeing Alice morphing into

a life-sized frosted sheetcake, uneasily I watched

beneath the den table. It’s all me in the spin—Alice,

an easy, well-trodded analogy to the logic of dreams.

An easy one to fashion into the logic of poetry. “There is magic

all around you, if I do say so myself,” Stevie sings—done-up

in platinum curls and red lipstick, windfan-blown satin

in “Rooms on Fire.” Someone’s divorce anthem: I picture

a coke-fueled woman blasting it and singing it

in a black car, driving through mountains at dusk—the sky

pink like Alice’s cheeks where my beard grows, pink

like the flamingo erect as a croquet mallet. Carroll uneasy

around growing adults. Somewhere in the back

of my mind I was free in the swirl of synth pedals and the snow

of dogwood petals—I make myself larger, I make myself small,

there is the dream life and the life that I know.
 

MOTORCYCLE


Walking a different route, I listen to

“He blew his mind out in a

car.” At the intersection, a

motorcycle cuts through the

morning quiet,

 

almost hits me. I stand, shaken as

it blazes the empty street

in the bluish fog. At work,

the computer offers invoices, friends

 

I sometimes see, news

of flood victims, sunlit black

cars bubbling out of dark

water, a gif

of Grimace, purple and smiling,

 

with YOU’RE SO SEXY

written in glitter beside him.

I think of tagging this to a

star

I’ll never love. Walking back home,

 

the sky goes pink. Red lights

of police cars, a huddle

staring into the street.

Among them

a sitcom star with an iced coffee,

 

a girlfriend under his shoulder.

Some of the huddle begins to

turn, to take pictures with their

phones of him instead of what

 

in the middle of the road they

were capturing before: black

metallic bits, a motorcycle

smashed—laying on its side, some blood

 

on the road, a footless

Timberland boot.

FICTION/POETRY

three poems - Levi Rubeck

Levi Rubeck is a poet and critic from Wyoming, though his day job is at MIT Press in Cambridge, MA. He was an editor at NYU's Washington Square Review, is a co-editor at the online journal Paperbag, and writes on games for Kill Screen. More info can be found at dangerhazzard.com.


I

At the foot of paradise

I think only

of the time I wasted

draining my pen

to the gurgle.

My co-pilots

brought pencils,

Russian cowboys

wrangling against

the future.

I heard they even

ground out any

love of cooking

they might have had

before the trip

so they wouldn’t

miss it.

They wait in line

to pray. They

could learn some things

from me, like

a proper pirouette

on the fuselage

or the tiny joy

in expensive things.

My money lines the hull

and it just burns me up.

 

II

Heaven's residents

have gone full-feral,

leaving me here to punch up

the season finale. I'm thinking:

 

sexy border patrol, plucked

chickens in sombreros

and grand wizard regalia,

enough to embarrass

the moldiest state-run rags

 

There's no action

in the bunny clouds of paradise.

It's why everyone reads

the first volume and moves on.

 

Suffice to say I'm unimpressed

with the security and the spread.

Thirsty years mostly remembered

is a fair bit of living.

 

even without the cuts

and the fratricide.

So roll back the tape

and let me off at the recap.

FICTION/POETRY

Three Poems - Lisa Locascio

Lisa Locascio's work has appeared in The Believer, Bookforum, n+1, Santa Monica Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and on the Tin House website. The recipient of many awards and honors for her writing, which has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, translated into Italian, and anthologized, she is the first Anglophone writer to be granted an interview by Roberto Bolaño's widow Carolina López, a project which earned mention in The New Yorker and The Los Angeles Times. She holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and a MFA in Fiction from New York University and has taught at USC, UCLA, Colorado College, Mount Saint Mary's University, and New York University. Lisa is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University, co-publisher of Joyland Magazine, and editor at 7x7, a magazine of ekphrastic collaboration between artist and writers. Her anthologies Golden State 2017: The Best New Writing from California (Outpost19) and Retro 5: The Best of Joyland (Joyland) will be published in 2017. Her novel, Jutland Gothic, will be published by Grove Atlantic in 2018.

 photo by  Patrick Gookin |   www.patrickgookin.com

photo by Patrick Gookin | www.patrickgookin.com


SOME DUMB SHIT I’VE FOUND SEXY

The way he said “Auschwitz.” “Sibelius.” “Belle Isle.” “I love you.” “Turtles.”

A purple condom on the first dick I ever saw. A video camera in that same basement. A boy with bleached hair and Rivers Cuomo glasses.

Anorexia. Black hair dye. A violin hickey, festering and ripe. Hanging out in the hammock with a third party, getting fingered. Doing it in an alley in January right before first period in ninth grade. A garbage truck full of pleather from Hot Topic. Black lipstick. A kilt I had to buy for him, which could only be kept in a plastic bag in someone’s trunk for unspecified dad reasons.

The serial killer vista of a grown man’s living room with only a dress form for furniture.

The act of opening the car door, of closing it.

The way he closed his eyes and wept “No” when I asked him to go down on me. More than once, more than one man.

 

DO YOU LIKE TO BE TIED UP?

I wanted to ask you in bed. I couldn’t anywhere else. Not when I had you in front of me, chair to chair in my office, not the one time we were in a house I did not own. Not after, while I drove you home. Not when I let you out of the car I didn’t own, either, and watched you go inside, and not in the photographs of you I saw. After. 

The question wasn’t with me then. It bloomed as I read letters we wrote to each other. A ribbon woven through the textile of our exchange. I traced that ribbon. Imagined binding your wrists with it.

You and I might lie in bed in such a way that I could inquire as to your feelings on such a binding. Might find ourselves bound, might bind. But you didn’t have to do it with me if you didn’t want to, not ever. The space in which I would learn was what drew me. Your breath moving your hair. Mine.

So I lit the fire beneath the cauldron. Tossed in a stocking, fingernail and pubic clippings, my caution. Pissed and bled in, let it boil all weekend. Soon enough the smoke would wind around your fine ankles, up to those smooth-boned wrists, slipping eventually over your head. We’d be there together, wrapped up gold, and you’d tell me.

If you liked it. Like it. If you think about it—the rope or cord, twisting. If it is something you do to yourself, or might do to me, or would allow me in my mind to do to you. All I wanted was to know if you liked it, thought about it, the way that I think about it, too. A lasso, tying us together.

 

HOW TO MAKE ME YOUR GIRL

You don’t know what I do with the memories you give me. Like flying. Like you like it. I mean. The dreamiest night of my life, maybe? Struggling with myself in every bathroom. I’m glad you liked my dress.

I’d show you the primordial way. To make you feel good. To be in your thrall. Darling oh you don’t know I trust you. I’ll take off my clothes. I’m warm enough now.

Yes. Vulnerability is power. I know.

Brutal intelligence, huh? Certainly it feels brutal. I go dark places full of light. (Pity the fools in the dark, said the oracle.) 

After all this I feel minimalist and ecstatic. Another human body! I’d die.

I liked feeling so alive. And everyone as sleepless and jumpy as me.

You aren’t coming unless you do. Until I can come only by imagining your humiliation. Do you want that?

At dusk I’ll take a walk around the river, repeating, “God is with me.”

At dawn I will burn you from my life unless you stop me.

Not you. My little pink heart I’ll burn.

I’m not asking, I’m saying. I know. Now that I belong to you, I know everything.

FICTION/POETRY

Raki Kopernik - Two Stories

Raki is a Jewish, queer, experimental fiction and poetry writer. Her work has been published in Duende, Restless, Monkey Puzzle, Wilde Magazine, Not Enough Night, on her blog, Night Stories, was shortlisted for the Black River Chapbook Contest, and received an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and currently lives in Minneapolis. You can find more of her work here: rakikopernik.wordpress.com

The red-lipped fedora girl

I met a girl with a fedora and a huge red mouth. She smiled all the time, a big wide smile. Her mouth was so big that when she opened it I could see all the way down her throat to her heart. More than once I almost fell into her mouth and down, into her body.

The fedora was dark gray with a light gray band and it lived, permanently, fixed on her head. She would flip upside down and still, the fedora stayed put. When she showered she put a plastic cap over it so it wouldn’t get wet.

Every day, I visited her at the teahouse down the street where she worked. On warm days I drank bubble tea with aloe bubbles, and when it was cold, spicy chai with whole milk. At night we’d go to the bar down the street and play ping-pong, a soda on her corner of the table, a cheap beer on mine. Once in a while she had whiskey in her soda and even then, even with whiskey, her fedora stayed in place.

Our ping-pong game got to the point where we could play so fast the ball looked like a shooting star. People started to stand around us and cheer. Then the local news came. We got on TV and in the newspaper.

Red-lipped fedora girl and small hesher take ping-pong to outer space!

When she read that headline she hugged me and kissed my forehead, leaving a big red lipstick mark from my right temple to my left. Then she looked in my eyes and I put my mouth on hers. She didn’t swallow me even though I thought she might. She just kissed my lips slowly and licked my gums. Her mouth tasted like a campfire. I licked her gums back. When we pulled our mouths apart, her lips were still perfectly red and her fedora sat in place, unmoved. I tried to ask her how it was possible but she put her fingertips on my mouth and said, Lets drink coconut chai.

Okay, I said.

On her birthday I bought her a shiny black top hat, thinking she might want a change. She smiled in her Guy-Smiley way and kissed my cheek, leaving a red lipstick mark from my right ear to the edge of my mouth.

I’ll put it on top of the Christmas tree, she said.

But you don’t have a Christmas tree.

I’ll get one for the hat, she said.

It was July. And she was Jewish. But she was good with plants.

For Rosh Hashanah, we ate apples with honey for a sweet new year.

This year I will change my style, she said.

I hoped that maybe she would get a new hairdo and want to show it off. Instead she started wearing black thigh-high boots. Nothing to complain about, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what was under the fedora.

By winter she had left wide red lipstick marks in various places on my body, like my arms: shoulder to elbow, and my lower back: hip-to-hip. Once she kissed my butt and was able to cover both cheeks in one kiss.

When it finally snowed she invited me to sleep under her down comforter to stay warm. We ate toast in her bed. She put my whole hand in her mouth and it came out red with lipstick. I kissed her neck. Then we slept. She tossed and turned and still, the fedora stayed fixed in place.

In the morning I woke before her. Her lips were perfectly red, parted a little. I wanted her mouth to be opened wider so I could crawl inside and be warmed by her breath. But more than that, I wanted to take off the fedora. I touched its velvety rim between my thumb and fingers. I stroked the light gray band with the back of my hand. I put my wrist in the valley on top of the hat. She didn’t wake. I stared. I watched her sleep. I touched her red mouth. I thought some more. How could I really know someone without ever seeing her cowlick?

I held the brim of the hat between the fingers of my right hand. I tugged upward as gently as I could. The hat didn’t move. I tugged again, a little harder this time, and heard a faint tear. Nothing dramatic. I pulled a little more. Another undramatic tear. I kept going. Gentle tug. Little tear. Small pull. Rip rip. I kept pulling. Slowly. The hat lifted inch by inch. She slept through the whole the thing. When the hat was almost disengaged with her head, when her skin had undone itself, a small light shined from her forehead and then from the top of her head. I rested the fedora, still connected to the back of her head, on the pillow. My face was lit from the bright white light shining out of her head. She was a heat lamp, a spotlight, a lantern. I felt my pupils turn to slits. The light was blinding. I couldn’t see anything else inside. I crawled in. It was warm and cramped but comfortable enough. I reached up and pulled the fedora shut, closed my eyes, and went back to sleep.

 

I go to parties with my cat

We ended up in Randomville, Arizona. Sami and I go there often, but I don't know the place well. In Arizona you can sit outside without feeling air on your skin. We sat at an outdoor cafe eating onion bagels and cucumbers when a girl that looked like a girl I went to high school with came over to our table and invited us to a house party. Sami was on the prowl, so right away she said, yes.

Okay let’s go, the girl said.

We followed the girl for a few blocks and arrived at the party. I knocked on the door even though I didn’t know who’s house we were at and an extremely tall person answered. The door answerer noticed my noticing her tallness and said, Oh I’m just wearing stilts for a second because, you know, I just am. Then she said her name, which was the same as mine.

I said, Sami she has the same name as me.

The person said, I don't go by she. 

I said, oh sorry I mean they.

Then they said, no I go by he.

He was deeply offended so I thought I got off to a bad start at a party where I knew no one. Sami was already gone, flirting shamelessly with girls. I walked away, alone.

As is often the case in Arizona, there were cats all over the party. My cat included. In the bathroom line I told someone that my cat came to the party and she gave me a look like, who do you even know here that you can bring your cat. So I quickly reassured her that my cat doesn't fight with other cats and is very nice to people. She was gone before I finished my explanation. Maybe she didn't really have to go to the bathroom. Most of the people at the party seemed to be in their own impenetrable bubbles and I didn't know the secret password. So I walked room to room around the party, giving Sami time to flirt and possibly make-out with someone, and to checkout out the cats. I kept reaching toward cats I thought were my cat, only to see a foreign marking, like a white spot on the tail. I started to wonder if I was a still a good cat mom if I couldn't recognize my own cat of eleven years in a sea of other cats I'd never known.

I called out my cat's name and she came running to me without a meow. I picked her up and told her it was time to go home, even though I wasn't sure how we would get there. I wasn't as distressed as Dorothy trying to get to back to Kansas, but I closed my eyes anyway and tried her trick, there's no place like home there's no place like home there's no place like home.

NONFICTION

Two work time incidences of masturbation, one (*several*) in the stock room at Blockbuster Video, and another not by me at all

Simon Pinkerton is a nebulous concept who lives with his wife and two sweet boys in London, England. He has the craziest expression!! Please read his stories and show him some love on Twitter @simonpinkerton


There are two jobs I’ve enjoyed in my life so far: delivering electronics for a department store (John Lewis), and working in a video-rental shop (Blockbuster Video).

At John Lewis, there were a couple of noteworthy adventures: I was chased out of an apartment block by a voodoo priest — almost naked, arcanely-painted, hair covered in a white powder, crazed eyes, spewing nonsense. When the customer called to ask why his TV hadn’t been delivered and I told him, he apologized and rescheduled for “a time when Rodney isn’t in the building.”

During another delivery, I was invited in by a thirty-something lady in a robe who had placed an order for a stereo. She had placed a sex toy on the dresser and eyed it, and me, suggestively when I asked her where she wanted me to stick it. She said, “to the side of the mirror please,” and promptly started masturbating on her couch as I knocked the vibrator (enormous) to one side and wired up her new stereo (eyes flicking to a reverse image of her reclined form, mind strangely transfixed on whether she was going at it clockwise or counter clockwise and how the mirror affected my perception of this). I wired it up incorrectly, or so I found out after I got back to the shop (she had called). But, fuck if I was going back there to fix it. I sent my friend Wayne, having told him the buyer was really friendly. He asked me how I managed to mess up such a routine installation, and I told him there had been something on my mind. I was confident he would be fine, as it was rumored he had been compelled to pay a Berlin prostitute double her usual price for a blow job at a bachelor party, such was his lack of romantic appeal. He never refuted the claim.

With regards to the latter job, proximity and laziness pulled and languidly pushed me to apply for and get a job at the Blockbuster Video right next to my home. I’m maybe writing about this as a nostalgia-piece for myself and my contemporaries because such a job doesn’t really exist anymore -- or if it does, I haven’t seen it for a long time anywhere near where I live in London.

For the benefit of younger readers, Blockbuster Video was a franchise of physical Netflix stores. Instead of scrolling through selections, you would enter the store and walk about looking. Upon making your selection, you would take an empty box representing your chosen tape or DVD or game cartridge to the desk where you would have a social encounter with a member of staff, who would take your box and swap it with a box of a videotape or DVD or game and then make a sarcastic comment about your choice before half-heartedly trying to upsell you M&Ms and bags of popcorn. Netflix doesn’t represent the old experience of video stores in a number of ways, but the main one for me is that there are no digital homeless people wandering around on your screen. Perhaps a future patch will rectify this omission?

Before too long I naturally excelled at stacking boxes, chatting with customers, selling M&Ms, and masturbating in the stock room, so I was functionally made the number three guy in my small store (a sort of manager’s assistant without either the concomitant extra wages or the badge with the star on it). I even impressed the big corporate bosses one time with my winning smile and attentive customer service -- this despite having lost my voice the previous night screaming at friends to be heard over 90s pop in a tawdry nightclub, and having an intermittent bass-baritone lower than Barry White. Extra responsibilities were layered onto my role until I was in charge of opening the shop most mornings and taking care of the necessary marketing and sales tasks that were beamed to me via what felt like magic (imagine the World Wide Web without a browser to view it on) and swathes of paper on a dot-matrixprinter (an old printer with shitty resolution).

Due to living next door, I was able to set my alarm for five minutes before opening-time (a generous 9 am), roll out of bed and into my uniform, and open the doors and start the printout. When there were no customers I would go back to my house and make breakfast, shower, and watch from the front window in case anybody arrived. At 9:30 I would go back in and settle myself behind the counter, steal and eat a chocolate bar, and then get up again and look for any new soft-core pornography DVDs that had arrived. Blockbuster didn’t carry the hard stuff because it was a family store, but it did carry some very odd, very loose parodies of popular films but with boobs, and occasionally what my co-worker Ben used to call biff hair.

When Ben would come in for the morning shift at around 10 or 11 am, I would demonstrate the new haul of erotica and we would play the most incredible-looking one on the store’s screens, fast-forwarding to the parts most likely to show boobs and biff hair. We’d watch it while we tidied and sorted the DVDs and merchandise and other miscellany. After this I would mostly be in the backroom doing the money stuff and he would be shop-side: he had the remote control in hand to stop the DVD when a customer came in, unless it was a homeless person in which case he just let it roll.

On many occasions we were nearly caught out by mothers who would come in early with their kids looking for cartoons on tape. Some were suspicious so I would tell them that when a tape or DVD was returned faulty it was our duty to check them on our equipment, but because some of the movies were unsuitable for children, we were obliged to stop them when children came into the store. This believable tale was all my own work, and Ben thought I was a genius.

On one occasion however, he hit pause instead of stop, and the three or four screens positioned strategically throughout the store framed a gigantic close-up of a vagina. I distinctly remember the lady who was in there at the time with three noisy children: she had jodhpurs and riding boots on, and she smelled vaguely of manure. I caught her eye as I popped my head out from the backroom, and I saw a fire in it — the kind of fire you see ignite in the eye of somebody sequacious who stumbles upon a situation in which they can be the centre of attention: the fire that shows a realization of control, of added power (especially bureaucratic/legal).

There are few situations as humbling and sleazy as getting berated in front of the whole staff by a manager the same age as you but much stupider, for watching really bad soft-porn while there were children in the store. At least I had Ben next to me to share my dry-mouthed, red-faced shame. We didn’t get fired, which was a bonus, but I was functionally demoted to number four in the hierarchy. A bearded man named Chris was now tasked with opening-up, and I was switched to evening shifts so I could be supervised at all times.

I never masturbated in the stock room again. I could barely look at the soft-core video boxes without feeling nauseated. When a man I knew who owned the toy store down the street returned a DVD of a pornographic Buffy the Vampire Slayer and apologetically said to me, “I thought it was the actual Buffy the Vampire Slayer” I didn’t sarcastically ask him why he would want to watch Buffy in his mid-40s, but instead took the DVD in hand, placed it behind me, and wistfully said, ”I understand. There’s no biff hair in that one is there?”

It was still a great job though. I got to rent up to seven movies or games a week, free-of- charge! Which in this age of streaming (stealing?) anything you want at any time and mostly anywhere gives my story a farcical bent to the modern Millennial.

But let me assure you, teens and young-twenties: back then, that many free rentals made me a king among men, and my witty disdain of your choice of movie was the talk of the local franchise.

FICTION/POETRY

Matt Broaddus - 2 poems

Matt Broaddus is a Cave Canem fellow whose poems have recently appeared in Small Po[r]tions, NightBlock, The Offing, and The Baltimore Review. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and tweets sporadically @mattbroaddus. 


Where I live

 

What is behind

a blue door

concerns me.

America

dish washing,

moose heads,

the ornamental

surveyor’s tools.

 

What concerns me

is behind a blue door.

Specifically,

the literal line.

I’m standing in

the imperium’s yard

while it smokes

cigars in the solarium,

whatever that is.

 

What behind

blue concern

is a me door.

I have been practicing

my astral projections,

time travel, flight.

I wondered if

we could be friends,

but I’m afraid to ask.

 

What me is

behind a blue

concern door?

I could be

anything

you aren’t

which is scary enough

to build subdivisions.

 

What blues me is

concern behind a door.

If I knock

will you burn

down the house?

Will I burn

down the house?

Where is this house

we speak of?

 

What concern

is me behind

a blue door?

I am not

an electrician,

but on blackout nights

I can jigger the fuse box,

pull levers until

there’s a sky.

 

Cat Burglars

Lost in the woods,

I answer to no name.

I call out stone to separate it from the orchid.

By naming, I name the illusion.

If I wait patiently

the Large Magellanic Cloud will

drift through space to dock with the port of myself.

Desperate for sapphires,

I swim in emeralds.

Tautological is a word

I can never remember the meaning of

but it’s apt when considering:

Who are you and who am I?

The realization like fireworks

escaping from a vault.

 

 

FICTION/POETRY

Dan Nielsen - The Itch Insect Magnified Two Hundred Times

Dan Nielsen drinks bourbon and plays ping pong. Old credits include Random House and University of Iowa Press anthologies. Recent work in: Jellyfish Review, Bird's Thumb, Major Literature[s], Storm Cellar, Spelk, and Pidgeonholes. Dan has a website: Preponderous, and you can follow him @DanNielsenFIVES. 


itch insect.png

C. C. Vanderbeck awoke with a feeling of vertigo, violent pain in the head, listlessness, torpidity, and a desire to remain lying down. He googled “medical symptoms” and found that his condition was favorable to the propagation of epidemics in consequence of the predisposing agency of putrefying emanations. C. C. called in to the comb factory. His boss, Edward J. Stanley, told him not to worry about it, that the last thing they needed was another epidemic.

C. C. then called his doctor, Joseph G. Richardson, M.D., and was informed that there were no available appointments that day, but that if he were willing to come in and wait the doctor might be able to squeeze him in.

Dr. Richardson’s office was within easy walking, running, or even leaping distance, but C. C. called a cab because walking, running, or leaping is liable to bring on enlargement of the veins of the legs, and sometimes to produce hernia or rupture.

The Itch Insect Magnified Two Hundred Times was seated at the kitchen table eating Honey Nut Cheerios with milk and banana. 

“What’s up, Pops? How come you’re not at work?” 

C. C. loved his son, but preferred not to speak to him, or acknowledge his existence. To maintain composure, he inhaled slowly through his nostrils, forcing the inhalations toward the last, keeping his chest well thrown out, until his lungs were filled with air. He held the air in for a full minute, then opened his mouth, and gently, slowly, exhaled, resulting in a hacking, spasmodic cough.

“You sick, Pops?”

More than anything, C. C. wanted to be an artist, but it was too late for that. An artist lived to be 44.46 and C. C. was already 47.54. On that particular day, C. C. wished he were a wool sorter with a life expectancy of 47.55. Unfortunately, C. C. was a comb maker, and would live to the ripe old age of 51.38.

“Hey, Pops, there’s a cab outside! You call a cab, or something?”

***

C. C. got in the cab. The driver was chatty.

“What is your occupation, if I may ask?”

“I am a comb maker.”

“Wise choice, life expectancy wise. As a driver, I will live a full 13.22 years fewer than you."

“Yes,” C. C. said huskily, “but you drive a cab while I spend my days making combs.”

The cab stopped. C. C. paid with a credit card and chose the 20% tip option. The driver was not through talking.

“Sir, what do your initials stand for?”

“My first name is Catarrh, which is fitting because of my hacking cough, pain in my head, discharge from my nostrils, husky voice, and general debility. My middle name is Consumption, which also fits because of my spasmodic cough, pain in my chest, night sweats, flushed face, emaciation, and fever.”

“My name is Enlarged Spleen,” the driver said, and they shook hands.

“Enlarged Spleen is a fairly common name,” C. C. said. “I’d recommend ten to fifteen drops of fluid extract of Bear’s Foot three or four times a day, applying a plaster composed of Burgundy pitch and belladonna, and also the use of massage over the affected part.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

***

The nurse, Aletris Farinosa, R.N., was large and beautifully oval. She had a wide, high, and prominent forehead. Her ears were medium-small and pleasingly shaped. Her face was small and not very muscular. Her jaws were not prominent. Her chin was prominent and large.

“Have a seat. The doctor will be with you in a moment.”

The waiting room was empty as always. No one saw doctors anymore. What was the point? C. C. sat in his favorite chair, the one closest to the coffee and furthest from Fox News on the TV. The choice of magazines was limited to back issues of Diseases Peculiar to Women. In an article titled, “Divisions of a Woman’s Life,” C. C. read that these divisions are infancy, puberty, maturity, menopause, and senility.

C. C. felt warm breath on the back of his neck and looked up to see Dr. Richardson standing directly behind him.

“What brings you in to see us today, Mr. Vanderbeck?”

The doctor was small and oddly shaped. He forehead was narrow and smooth. His eyes were reddish slits. He had large, ugly ears, and a large, muscular face. His jaw was aggressive. His chin retreated.

C. C. put down the magazine, saving his place with a finger. He listed his symptoms. Dr. Richardson stroked his nearly nonexistent chin.

“I advise morphine, one-quarter grain, hypodermically, to be repeated as necessary. When the condition becomes less severe an opiate may be given by mouth or rectum in the form of laudanum.”

***

There was a Walgreen’s directly across the street, Alexander Hanson, Pharm. D., filled the prescription and charged C. C. the minimum two-dollar co-pay.

In the Men’s Room, C. C. injected himself with morphine, and, for good measure, stuffed his rectum with laudanum. Feeling much better, he leapt all the way home.

The next day C. C. return to the comb factory where he made combs for another 3.83 years before quite expectedly dying.

 

Portions of this story were inspired by, or taken directly from,

MEDICOLOGY by Joseph G. Richardson, M.D.

Copyright 1903

FICTION/POETRY

Devin Kelly - Two Poems

Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in New York City. He is the author of the collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence (Anchor & Plume) and the forthcoming collection, In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (ELJ Publications). He is working now on a collection of poems inspired by Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. He has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes. He works as a college advisor in Queens, teaches poetry at Bronx Community College, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.


MIDDLE AMERICA
 

It began with a river & its crossing,

     a whisker of grain pulled out of a dead

boy’s mouth, fur strung tight & propped

    with bone. A gunshot, a silence, 

& another. Believe me when I say

     I was raised alright. You can

forgive a marriage for having a child

     but you cannot forgive its love.

It began with want & ended with more. 

    I wanted to lower the horizon line

until it hovered before my toes, so that 

    I might step into sky & be bluer

than a feeling. You can say it began

     with rib torn from body; you can 

say clay; you can say dust. Who is it

     you want to excuse from evil?

I was taught love is patient & kind.

     In this, I was taught love, simple

& burning, exists. I am a fool. It began

     with my hand on objects. It ended 

with the way an object can hold a soul,

     become a kind of body. Look around. 

There is nothing here but the high fever

     of waving grass as far as the eye can see. 

There's no room for shadow. When I wanted

     to hide, I had to crawl inside my body. 

 

AT THE END OF EVERY HARD-EARNED DAY

Last night in the glow

of an empty parking lot

I stood, the haze of water

hanging from a storm burnt

to orange, the night’s plum

bitten open & left for flies.

I wanted to sit down, wet

my ass on pavement, feel

the purr of everything

buzz against my cheek,

& think of the way my father

sometimes stood for too long

in his underwear looking

at nothing but his own reflection.

When I believed in God

I used his name to stitch together

what I didn’t know. Maybe

I’m wrong about everything –

that the murmur of electricity

singing through a wire singed

by the slow burn of time

is a kind of god. That the hush

of a cloud shying behind

the dark cloak of night just minutes

after crying is a kind of humanity.

You know that feeling too, don’t

you? How you sometimes cry

without crying & how one day

you are struck by a desire

to go home, simply, & sit

by the window near your bed

& do nothing but hear yourself

breathe. You are alive, I know.

Here is the parking lot of your

existence. Notice how the empty

spaces puddle with rainwater,

butts of cigarettes little boats

that know no shore. Here is

the light hanging like dust

caught in another room you

remember now. Here is a memory

of your father in that room. Here

are his feet, the ample simplicity

of his body, how there are days

where you know nothing

but the longing to be held.

& who taught you that? That

the difference between want

& need is only how you make

up your mind. It’s alright,

I want to say. To the lamp,

the throb of a car starting

somewhere, the scream

of someone screaming along

a song through the window

of a bar. I am not always kind.

There are days I give up. The night

thrums like silver dropped

from some great height. I once

held a baby to my face & kissed

her nose for the longest time.

To be wide & soft, to lay

your body down & feel

the gentle moan of everyone

ending their day atop you –

if you told me I could do this,

I would believe in anything.

When I was little, I held

an ear to my father’s gut

just to hear him breathe.

I needed to know

there were others

somewhere in the midst

of all this dreaming.

Life is big & I don’t know

what to do with it. If I have

to sit down, tell me

you will sit beside me.

We will eat each other

like plums. We will hum

a melody that never repeats

itself. We will put our ears

to our bellies, be still, & listen

to the throb still throbbing.

 

FICTION/POETRY

Three Poems - Simon Kim

Simon Kim lives in Chicago and tweets @walcum.


Laguiole Knives

shooting the moon

from a sinking ship. 

a glass drops

shatters

we don't. I've always

nevered. I'd like

a life rarely out of

spite. this isn't

really about god

or motion. you'd

returned from the

water as you. this

you cannot destroy.

 

The Thirty Years War

fool me once you know.

fool me infinite times shame

on god. irksome text & response.

what I should've said wasn't what

I should've said. I am always

repeating myself. we all hustle for

how we'd love. the insolvent scenery.

bats fluttering out across evening.

 

Don't Quite

I mess up. lyme

disease is forever.

tarantula under

glass. a surface

to snort stuff off

of. I lose poems.

you can read this

& what does

you will. tiny

undies. cats in

the greenery.

public hair.

NONFICTION

SEX AND FEAR, MID-TO-LATE NINETIES, APPROXIMATELY

——1

It’s November. It has to be November, because I am going to Disneyland with my family (if we go to Disneyland, we go in November). We are stopping to visit my parents’ friends on the way. I am nine or ten years old. Their son is older than me. He has Downs Syndrome. I run up with him to his room, and we sing into a karaoke machine his parents bought him. It’s not much of a karaoke machine. It’s just a tape player with a cheap plastic microphone and a shitty speaker. He has way too many toys, the sort of stuff you find in the pediatrician’s office. We hop around the room like kangaroos. We slither on the carpet like snakes. I jump up on his bed and start hooting like an ape.

He grabs me and pins me down.

I try to wrestle my way out of it, but he’s incredibly strong. He pins me down again and plants some blunt, weird kisses on my forehead, then he starts squirming all over me, really worked up. His face scrunches. He wiggles for a while, then gets extremely tired. He lays there panting on me. It looks like he’s going to pass out. I writhe out from under him and walk downstairs, angry because of—I can’t tell? What just happened?

I tell on him, and his parents freak out. They’re going ballistic. My parents freak out. I don’t understand why everyone is freaking out.

——2

Sex was presented to me as a system of predator and prey. There was danger lurking around every corner. Girls had to guard themselves because, given the chance, teenage boys would fuck anything that moved. If you were a man, you were a walking, talking erection. You were supposed to be thinking about sex twenty times a minute. Women were supposed to tolerate sex for the emotional benefits, but if they actually liked sex, they were disease-ridden sluts. Gay men were even hornier than the straight ones, and gay women were ugly combative man-haters.

I learned all this before I’d ever had an orgasm, when I still thought women got pregnant by men pissing inside them.

——3

I am in sixth grade, and Kaiser Permanente is putting on a play called Nightmare on Puberty Street. We sit cross-legged on the floor of the gym. The set is blank except for a spraypainted backdrop of silver geometric shapes and neon squiggles. A fog machine fills the stage with blue haze. Then a dozen or so teen actors emerge from behind the backdrop, pushing each other around in a typical playground name-calling scene. They clear out for some reason, but a single kid remains center stage. The spotlight hits him, and he bursts into song: “Noooor-mal!! Am I noooor-mal? What is noooor-mal?” The rest of the play doesn’t matter much. A conversation about moms buying kids jock straps. Something about a suicide scare. “There’s not actually a bone in there,” someone explains, “it’s just called a boner.” The actors stick around after the performance to counsel students. My friends and I joke about boners.

——4

When we were young, health class told us sexual feelings were normal, nothing to be ashamed of. We watched grainy videos from the ’70s of dudes in bell-bottoms watching girls play soccer and feeling something funny going on, of guys prepping their younger brothers for a first date, of girls talking their younger sisters through their first period. Cartoons shimmying beneath bedsheets, then, nine months later, a baby.

But as we got older, health class became sinister. The teachers read lists of STD symptoms: shaking, spots on the legs, parasites, warts. Dementia, heart failure, impotence. We saw photographs of everything. If you had HIV, you wouldn’t know until it was too late. It invaded your bloodstream, turning your white blood cells into virus-ridden bio-bombs, and as soon as the symptoms surfaced, it would be over for you. You’d get a cold, which would turn into a bronchial infection, then pneumonia, and without any white blood cells to fight the infection, you’d be dead. That’s how it was described to me. Another acting troupe dramatized the quick spread of HIV through a group of strangers. I think the play ended with a funeral, but I may be wrong. Don’t have sex, kids.

——5

I kept a laminated business-card-sized abstinence pledge in my wallet. Something like “I commit to save myself for marriage.” I received the card from my church, after a youth group sex talk. “You see,” the youth pastor explained, “all forms of intimacy lead to sex. There is a lot of gray area, like, you know, uh, heavy petting, and, uh, other forms of intimacy, but these are all designed to get you ready for sex. So you need to draw the line at a safe spot and stick to it.”

I went to the youth group with my girlfriend. We never really talked about sex, but we were having plenty of it. We didn’t think it counted, because back then everyone said penetration was the only thing that really mattered, and the rest was all part of an ever-shifting baseball system. Was oral sex was “third base?” I’m not really sure.

——6

I worried that I didn’t think about sex as often as men were supposed to. Was there something wrong with me?

I did have a scar on my penis from a clumsy circumcision. Was that it? Deeply submerged psychosexual terror from a traumatic infant experience?

——7

Sometimes I wondered if I was gay. Maybe that explained why I wasn’t thinking about sex all the time. In health class, they said it was okay to be gay. It didn’t seem like the adults believed it. Most of the adults I knew were Christians. I’d hear fragments of their conversations when the AIDS crisis was blooming: “. . . bathhouses . . . what did they think . . . judgment . . .”

——8

My J.V. high school football coach sees a bunch of guys bent over, hands on knees, after running laps. “Keep standing like that," he says, "now look behind you and spell ‘run.’ R-U-N, get it? are-you-in?”

“Ha ha ha,” we laugh.

“Now stand up straight, bitches. Robertson over here gets it. He used to be a tight end, but now he’s a wide receiver, right? Tight end, wide receiver. Don’t let that faggot get on top of you. He’ll fuck you like the pussies you are!”

“Ha ha ha!”

We walk single file  to the field, our spikes clicking the pavement. The other team is lined up in front of the chain-linked fence at the entrance to the football field. They point out the players with the biggest bulges and laugh.

After the pre-game stretching, we huddle up in the end zone, underneath the goalpost. Our breath becomes a cloud in the crisp autumn air. “Okay,” says Brad, the linebacker, “these are the same pussies we destroyed in the preseason. We kicked their asses then, and we’ll fucking do it again!” Yeah! The scattered, emphatic assent is like an amen. “These cocksuckers are coming here, into our fucking house, under our fucking lights, all the way from Danville, just to get their asses handed to them!” Yeah! “Now get in close, here.” Our hot breath gathers over our heads, a misty halo beneath the bright lights. “We’re the best fucking team in the league, and we’re not going to let a bunch of faggots from Danville score a single point against us! (Yeah!) We’re gonna fucking murder them! (Yeah!) Now get your helmets together, in here.” Our silver helmets knock against each other, knock knock thud. Brad starts to chant, quietly. “We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage-and-burn; we’re gonna rape-kill-pillage-and-burn. Eat babies!” We join in, chuckling at first. The chant crescendoes, and we’re all getting into it now, we’re all fucking vikings! “We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage-and-burn! We’re gonna rape-kill-pillage-and-burn! EAT BABIES!”

My imagination goes nuts. Trains crash into each other. I tear some guy’s arm off. I punch a guy so hard that his head swivels. He crumples to the ground. I imagine my fists are smoky blue, glowing with an evil fire, like the final boss in Street Fighter II.

The loudspeakers play “We Will Rock You.” The crowd stomps along with the kick drum. Thump thump CLAP! Thump thump CLAP! Somehow, Freddy Mercury totally fits with our teen aggression ceremony.

So what?

Fucking Danville!

Those fucking faggots!

——9

A kid contracted HIV from a blood transfusion, my mom tells me. He was so brave, she says. His name was Ryan White, and they kicked him out of school, but he fought it, bless him. He lived five years longer than the doctors said he would. He passed away, from complications brought on by bronchial pneumonia, but his hope was in the Lord. He said so, as he lay dying in the hospital bed, to whomever came to visit him. And lots of people were visiting him. Famous people. Michael Jackson bought him a red Mustang convertible. He even wrote a song for Ryan, too. Elton John bought his family a house. The kid met with President Reagan, went on TV, talked about his illness. Raised awareness. He was a hero. He didn’t deserve to get that disease, my mom says, but he was so brave. She shakes her head. The Lord surely used him. He didn’t deserve to get that gay disease.

——10

“You have this wild, intense energy about you—one of the most incredible auras I’ve seen.”

“Thank you,” I reply. I’m at a girl’s birthday party in Laguna Beach. I’m hoping to hook up with her tonight. I’m eighteen or nineteen. I’m upstairs chatting with a twenty-something psychic, who assures me he’s not hitting on me. He can tell by my aura that I am not into him, he says. I like hearing him talk about my aura.

Another guy, the psychic’s ex-boyfriend, picks up a small toy monkey and dangles it in front of my face. He swings it back and forth, as if he was a hypnotist: “Be gay! Be gaaaaa-ay!”

The guy is trashed and is trying to grope me. The psychic tells him to knock it off, and the guy goes outside to smoke. As I watch him leave, I see the birthday girl lead someone else by the hand into her room.

“Whoa,” the psychic says, “your energy just spiked. Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” I say, “yeah, no, I don’t know, fuck it.”

I am almost crying. I don’t know why. It’s all so embarrassing.

I drive to the cliff to watch the ocean. I masturbate in the car and fall asleep. I wake up in the middle of the night, confused, full of fear. I hear the loud sound of waves crashing against the rocks. It takes a long time to remember where I am.

 

NONFICTION

untitled 5152016 - Marcus Cap Williams

Marcus Cap Williams is a writer living in NYC. He tweets at @mswthug


High uptown w/ squad playing this card game Palace but I sit the first round while cleaning Deadbody’s kitchen. I wash the dishes w/ those lil yellow sponges w/ the perpetually­fatigued green scrubby side; I throw those out to use the plain purple sponge, stove’s next; at the stove: wipe burners obvi but then go at the walls/cabinets that surround the hood & the knobs & eeem the knobs’ grooves, knocking out brown gunk with the back of a match; oh & the refrigerator gets some too. Everything is dingy under the kitchen lights. Two outta five are dead after the Grape Rillo & two rounds of Palace. ‘You’ve been recused from the broadcast bruv.’ Get off Yale dick, I think. You know we talk that stick talk. B. and A. are snoring so I know they good. ‘He aight he aight.’ The lacrosse commentators are coming at players’ body parts. Bum­ass knees & fucked up ACLs & etc. I woulda copped the Beyoncé I Ain’t Sorry tank w/ Boy Bye on the back for the summer­t if it wasn’t $50. Navy’s jerseys are more a John Legend beige than the accented gold it emulates on their dark blue helmets. Deadbody dies. ‘Let’s go baby Navy, let’s go!’ Thought about creating a zine and expression. General glumness on the streets of East Harlem: a dude runs west towards the Metro­North dragging his cello’s bag & another small rolling suitcase, wheels clicking & footsteps clopping; homeless men talk to themselves & shady hoodie’d muhfuckas huddle in the shadows of $1­pizza spots, giving sharp looks, whispering they got smoke; police Command Centers broadcast their classic warning of blue and red against McDonald’s & Rainbow & bodegas, Duane Reade, Jimbo’s Hamburgers. General glumness at the 125th 4/5/6. Crowded af. 13­minute trains—somebody threw themselves on the tracks. I check the time on my phone & I notice a saved photo of some woman holding bundles of Jackie Robinson’s guwop. It’s/she’s beautiful. New poster for Black Excellence.

FICTION/POETRY

Diary Logs from The Big Sisters Club - Scherezade Siobhan

Scherezade Siobhan is an Indo Rroma Jungian scarab moonlighting as a clinical psychologist. Her writing has been translated into multiple languages as well as featured in various digital and physical spaces and can be found in literary magazines, anthologies, international galleries, rehab centers, and in the bios of okcupid users.

Her digital collection of poems “Bone Tongue” was published by Thought Catalog Books and her full length poetry book “Father, Husband” was recently released by Salopress UK. A pamphlet of her sufi poems are forthcoming via Pyramid editions.

She is the creator/curator of a global dialogue on gendered violence and neurodivergence at www.thwmiraproject.tumblr.com and can be found squeeing about militant bunnies at www.viperslang.tumblr.com or @zaharaesque on twitter



You are sitting in the portico making hedgehogs out of alphonso mangoes. The Younger One is breaking out her first pair of 6-inches heels for a party themed gangsters & flappers. You always wondered how the word flapper sounds less like a mob boss’s moll and more like a beluga whale. Oh well, you mumble as she tumbles and then collapses onto your grandmother’s rickety rocking-chair like a tree-tangled parachute. 

 

This is hard, she says.

Being a girl is hard, you say.

She looks at you with a mix of panic and hope.

 

You toss her a slice of mango. Sweetsourtangy. She giggles and gets back to the pirate’s walk.

During another summer, not so long ago, she was 12 and you had to go to her school filling in for your workaholic, academician mother struggling with two jobs so she could buy the two of you the biggest birthday cakes every year without concocting fake scientific trivia about how an excess of vanilla and chocolate would turn your skin into a zebra imprint.

Her pudgy, rodentesque principal welcomed you with a lecture about the epidemic of undisciplined girls threatening the spiritual health of the very pious country.  “NO SHAME ONLY!” he grimaced. “THESE GIRLS OF TODAY ARE TOTAL SHAMELESS!” His words amplified the unbearable fetor of tobacco wafting through the room. The sentences slugged about haphazardly in that dust-thickened Delhi air like local laborers drunk on desi liquor.

You did what somewhat shameful Big Sisters of TOTAL SHAMELESS! Little Sisters are expected to do. You nodded profusely with a hint of apologetic pathos even as the ghost of a grin knocked on the doorknob of your teeth. Gently but with persistence.

 

What did she do? you asked.

Bit a boy, the principal hectored.

Then she scratched him till tiny cicatrices of blood roses bloomed all across his forearm.

 

You slowly felt the grin shape-shift into a giggle. But why, you asked. He pulled up her skirt, it seems. You can’t bite people just because they try to pull up your skirt. Not in this country at least. This is RESPECTABLE INDIAN SOCIETY, MADAME! (Here you let men undress women in peace as has been clearly denoted by the rich mythological tradition no? Exhibit A: Mahabharta.)

 

Anyway, what kind of a woman would she grow up to be? he queried.

A sharp one, you almost blurted out.

Instead, you contemplated that homemade technique of pinching the fleshiest part of your leg to control both -- a desire to laugh and the need to pee. 

 

The principal paused to gaze at his counterfeit Quartz watch. The rhododendron of his moustache quivered as if a pudgy prairie dog was hiding in its shrubbery. “THESE DAYS GIRLS BEHAVE LIKE ANIMALS!” he barked and a thin trickle of spit leaked from his lips. You could almost feel his Pavlovian brain awaiting the appropriate break in the conversation so he could deftly insert his sympathies about how being raised by a single mother without any positive FATHER FIGURES! had ruined us two formerly shameful but now TOTAL SHAMELESS! Indian girls.

Right at that moment the bell blatted its war-cry. School was over.

Tch Tch, he croaked in his finest imitation of a bullfrog’s mating call. Only animals likely display such feral behavior, he sighed.

 

Or Wolverine, you mused. 

 

WHAT? his sigh went to a snigger in less than 0 to 30.

 

His eyes nearly popped out like two soft-boiled eggs peeled out of their shells. You quickly tucked your words back into the dimly lit recesses of your mouth. 

 

You pause. You suddenly realize that your hands are now sticky from all the mango juice. A caravan of black ants is inching toward you in an eager march. Why do ants have a queen but no king??? she’d asked when she was 8, still learning the fine art of stealing bits of omelet from your plate without being caught. Because queens can have babies and kings can’t. That is a stupid reason, she declared with the confidence of a seasoned conspiracy theorist. Queens should be queens because they can beat kings at thumb wrestling. When I become a queen, I will ban all babies, especially boy babies. She munched calmly while gesturing in the air as if she was slaying imaginary, tiny demon ant kings with a swish of her fork.

You should teach her some manners, the principal eventually part sneered, part spat out his closing statement so as to indicate that his profound monologue was finally over and he was quite eager to proceed toward the frolicking squadron of young, female basketball players gathering in the schoolyard for practice. The principle doubled up as a coach for the girl’s team. Illustrious multi-tasking manly man FATHER FIGURE!!

From the half-blinking window in his office, you could see the group jump around in a typical pre-teen glee that remained undaunted even when placed right under the blasted furnace of that afternoon sun. Their tiny skirts swayed and swished as they jumped up and down failing to make a single basket.

The principal looked satisfied with their skirts. Their collective skirts didn’t add up to a TOTAL SHAMELESS! in his calculations. As long as he got be in the vicinity of those skirts.

You thanked him for his time and advice as you clasped her hand into yours as tightly as you could manage. She kept staring at her shoes as she had been doing the whole time you both were sweating like broken pressure cookers in the stuffy office heat. You sped out of that pigpen and went straight to the local sports center to enroll her for a beginners’ class in karate. 

 

Biting is unhygienic and dirty, you told her. There are better & cleaner ways to fight. 

 

You paid for her lessons with your first salary.

You decided your new bag could wait another month.

 

FICTION/POETRY

Anxiety Fruit - Delia Rainey

Delia Rainey is a writer, musician and artist living in St. Louis, MO. Her band is called Dubb Nubb. Find more of her poems and prose on deliarainey.tumblr.com.


She is spending the weekend snowed-in at a house that her boyfriend is housesitting. The owner of the house, a family friend, is an older gentleman in the Transcendental Meditation movement who works in insurance. He travels for work, so her boyfriend lives at his house temporarily, feeding his cats.

They are in a long distance relationship, but for these couple of days, they get to live in a house together. She feels like they are actors, practicing for a play, but they are sucking, and the play is about depression.

The walls of his house are decorated with kitschy art of fairies, mermaids, angels, and cows in a field. There are groups of birdhouses hung up. A glass fish-tank is filled with plastic and metal fish instead of water. Her boyfriend plays an acoustic guitar violently among all of this.

He says, “Do you want to write a song together?” He has never asked her this before. Which is weird because that’s how they met – playing music at a house show in some kid’s garage. Her band played and then she watched his band - he danced around in cheetah spandex shorts and sang. He asked for her number so she could book him a show in her old town. This was years ago.

It’s Valentine’s Day and she tells him she’s hungry for dinner. He suggests a frozen pizza. On her laptop, she pulls up some photos that her best friend just tagged her in on Facebook. They’re images from an iPhone, taken during summers in her old town when she used to live there.

One picture shows her standing on the college campus, wearing high-waisted khaki shorts, her hair pulled up in a bun that reminds her of an angel. The flash of the camera has distorted her eyes into animal eyes, glowing like two flashlights. 

She was standing next to a trashcan that was knocked over, all the trash spilled out onto the concrete. It must have been one of those very drunk weekends where boys in shorts and flip flops ran around the town, fucking with anything.

On the picture, her friend comments: “There's another version of this with Chase popping his head in and laughing and you are turned around staring at the trash.” She saves the picture as delia_trash.jpg on her computer. 

The picture as a symbol of her old self: a night creature, comfortable in the trash space; a raccoon. On her notebook, she taped a drawing of a raccoon on the cover, also a set of pink fronds she drew, and a halved lemon.

She’s always trying to place symbols on parts of her life that never asked to be defined. She cannot handle her life without symbols. It’s painful. The lemon, the raccoon, and the unnatural-looking plant become a soothing order. That’s what poems are, anyway.

Some weeks ago, her boyfriend and her went to a Chinese restaurant after lying in bed crying for two hours, but not breaking up. The restaurant used to be an old movie theater and the screen is used for karaoke now. Since it was a Sunday, it was swarmed with Chinese families eating dim sum.

She Google-searched dim sum on her iPhone while her boyfriend was in the bathroom, and one description said, “Not to be eaten by romantic couples.” She was horrified.

They ate the meal and discussed the legitimacy of polyamorous and open relationships. The food wasn’t very good, but she ate greedily. An old lady rolling a metal cart filled with little tin and wooden boxes of steaming buns asked if they’d like any dim sum. She said, “No thank you, we already ordered.”

They had ordered garlic eggplant, and after the tray arrived filled with about fifty tiny eggplant halves, shiny with grease, they realized they hated eggplant. It has the slimiest texture: the smooth skin, the seed-bitten flesh.

They went up to the front of the old theater to pay. By the counter was a fake decorative tree, spotted with plastic oranges. As soon as she saw it, she loved it. She made it into a whole ordeal, pointing at it and staring. She had a thing for plastic fruit, symbolically.

He took a picture on his iPhone of the tree and sent it to her. He explained to her that this picture was a love-note sent from him.

For Valentine’s Day the week after, he bought her garlands and garlands of plastic oranges from Amazon. She was thrilled. She placed them around his neck, a hero. The oranges were unnaturally small, like cherries.

She posted a picture of the fruit on Instagram to show everyone how much her boyfriend cared about her and understood her. Many people post pictures of gifts they receive on Valentine’s Day. You can scroll through all the duplications of chocolates, flowers, and homemade dinners.

Her gift to him was a new notebook. She taped drawings on the cover, too: a spiky rose, a dog, a flexing bicep. Her boyfriend is interested in gender performance. He loves to go to the gym and then come home and read Judith Butler.

In the older gentleman’s house, he sits on the ground recording the acoustic guitar part he just wrote. He gets up to preheat the oven and suggests that they put walnuts and bell pepper on the frozen pizza. She looks over at him in disgust, but immediately takes it back and says, “If I don’t like it, I’ll just pick it off.”

She rubs her belly in anxiety. Her shirt is velvety, a cheetah print crop top from Goodwill. She smooths it out with her palm. The shirt looks like a Halloween costume, she thinks, but it was probably just a child’s shirt from the early 2000s.

In fact, she wore a shirt just like this in 2000 for her cousin’s bat mitzvah party in Seattle.

It was one of the only times she had ever gotten her hair and makeup done by a professional in her whole life and she was eight years old. The hair lady had wound little bunches of her hair into squiggly buns on the top of her head, held together with sparkly butterfly clips.

The bat mitzvah party was on a boat, bobbing on the water as teenagers were dancing to popular songs at the time. All the teenagers were in a big chain, grinding, making the adults upset.

She remembers wanting so badly to be a part of this chain of humping kids, having no knowledge of sexual desire. There was a game the DJ facilitated where the songs would switch every 30 seconds and you had to switch dance partners. She ended up dancing with a teenaged boy for 30 seconds, a popular boy with spikey hair.

She put her hands on the teenaged boy’s waist, totally unaware that he felt silly dancing with an eight year-old. She felt washed over and tingly, like she was the boat.

For the rest of the night, she danced at the front of the room. She won an award for best dancer.

It’s true that she was always attracted to men. Whenever she played pretend or Barbies, she always wanted to play the boy character.

Later in life, she would deny this as part of her sexual interest, but more about wanting the freedoms and non-judgment of being male in a patriarchal world.

The night before Valentine’s Day, her boyfriend was running sound at the bar in his town. It was snowing all night, a white dust world. It was a Valentine’s Rave. Only one girl arrived at the bar in rave gear – a tiny tutu, a rainbow fur tail, ears, and legwarmers – but everyone else was dressed normally.

She was feeling extra ugly that night. Her hair was in a ponytail that couldn’t decide which side of her head to flop over. She was wearing an oversized jean shirt with cottages embroidered on it, and an unflattering striped turtleneck – all thrift-store finds that an older woman might have donated.

A friend of her boyfriend, a very bright and beautiful girl who was still in high school, came over and introduced herself. It was strange pretending they didn’t know each other, because the girl had friended her on Facebook the day before.

She was wearing a black kink collar and a red sweatshirt with a smiley face on it. Instantly, she felt threatened by her.

Her boyfriend didn’t seem bothered by her though, except when another friend bought all the high school girls shots of tequila. The older friends taught the young girls how to pour salt on their hands, lick it, swallow the shot, and then bite into a lime wedge.

The girl in the kink collar asked, “What pronouns do you use?” as she shook her hand, IRL.

“She and her,” she answered, but she was embarrassed. She wasn’t they/them, something the younger girl didn’t want to assume.

After the shots, the group of high school kids plus her and her boyfriend hit the dance floor of the rave – a small group of people shuffling, as snow filtered by the window. Her boyfriend is a very good dancer, always has been. Fast, sexual, like a boy-band. She tried to dance seductively, but she was tired of everything. She found herself staring down at her boobs, thinking to herself, she and her.

Later in the night, as the three of them smoked a cigarette in a stairwell, the high school girl announced that she had gotten into CalArts for experimental music. “That’s SO great. College is the best years of your life,” she responded, genuinely, but it came off sarcastic.

She had gone to a state school in Missouri, where frat boys pushed over trashcans at night with their flip-flop feet. Everything about the situation fed her jealousy and girl-hate, although she was a feminist and scorned these feelings. All the tequila had fucked with her.

The girl in the kink collar had short curly yellow hair, like an angel. In her mind, she pictured her boyfriend fucking the girl, clipping a leash onto the kink collar, and pulling her neck, moaning. It was a horrible image. She pictured the girl without any pubic hair, like a child. Just admitting this daydream makes her want to throw up.

Holding the blade of the pizza cutter in his hand, her boyfriend becomes distracted on his iPhone from an app that teaches him how to speak French. She stares at a set of the orange garlands, still in its plastic bag, with a barcode.

After she got his number, she did book him a show in her town. The first time, it was at a DIY space that never got a proper name, so folks just called it by its address. It was an old warehouse where illegal immigrants used to stay. He had set up these foil panels covered in light bulbs that he made. In the dirty space, he lit up, he was an angel.

When he performed, he sang things like, “I don’t wanna know what it’s like without you.” At one point, he was dancing so intensely, that he climbed the PA speaker and jumped up into the loft storage space of the warehouse. His body dangled at the ceiling, and then he jumped. Her fear for him was wild.

What is the symbolic meaning of the plastic fruit? The falseness of bodies? The body that can be duplicated, for visual pleasure, but is not functional.

She wants to leave the older gentleman’s house, but the barrier of snow outside feels limiting. Her body arranges around the guitar noise, the digital trash, and her boyfriend saying the word “orange” in French.

404 Not Found - Stories found in HTTP Response Codes

I got interested in  HTTP response codes recently after coming across the ubiquitous 404 error. When read all at once they felt ominous, bleak, and a bit nuts. The exception, of course, was 200-level codes, which felt like the zing-snapppp-’n-lock feeling of finding the right thing/one/person/idea.

HTTP response code stories are: stories found in HTTP response codes. 200 OK.


Disappointment

 

205 Reset Content

300 Multiple Choices

 

412 Precondition Failed

 

205 Reset Content

300 Multiple Choices

 

405 Method Not Allowed

409 Conflict

400 Bad Request

 

205 Reset Content

406 Not Acceptable

 

205 Reset Content

403 Forbidden

 

205 Reset Content

408 Request Timeout

 

205 Reset Content

429 Too Many Requests

 

400 Bad Request

308 Permanent Redirect

 

417 Expectation Failed


 

End of the World

424 Failed Dependency

525 SSL Handshake Failed

525 SSL Handshake Failed

413 Payload Too Large

 

409 Conflict

409 Conflict

409 Conflict

409 Conflict

409 Conflict

520 Unknown Error

 

499 Request has been forbidden by antivirus

530 Site is frozen

 

444 No Response

523 Origin Is Unreachable

503 Service Unavailable

 

524 A Timeout Occurred

404 Not Found

404 Not Found

404 Not Found

 

404 Not Found


 

Where is My Mind?

 

101 Switching Protocols

508 Loop Detected  

 

206 Partial Content

 

500 Internal Server Error

500 Internal Server Error

 

508 Loop Detected  

 

422 Unprocessable Entity

523 Origin Is Unreachable

 

420 Method Failure

 

508 Loop Detected

508 Loop Detected  

 

405 Method Not Allowed

415 Unsupported Media Type

 

506 Variant Also Negotiates

 

508 Loop Detected  

508 Loop Detected  

508 Loop Detected  

 

206 Partial Content

 

500 Internal Server Error

500 Internal Server Error

 

508 Loop Detected  

508 Loop Detected  

508 Loop Detected  

508 Loop Detected  

 

301 Moved Permanently

 

418 I'm a teapot

418 I'm a teapot

418 I'm a teapot

418 I'm a teapot


 

Love story

302 Found

 

100 Continue

102 Processing  

 

200 OK

 

202 Accepted

 

200 OK

 

420 Enhance Your Calm

420 Enhance Your Calm

420 Enhance Your Calm

 

100 Continue

 

200 OK

 

301 Moved Permanently

200 OK

100 Continue

200 OK

FICTION/POETRY

3 Poems - Rosie Allabarton

Rosie Allabarton is an English writer who lives in Berlin. A graduate of Birkbeck's Creative Writing MA, she is currently working on her debut novel about the family unit and the strange things it does to us. When she's not writing, or trying to write, she likes to eat overpriced banana bread with black coffee. You can see more of Rosie's writing here.


Budapest

Made up for two

I intervene

taking blankets to the living room;

that grey area that grows

between us.

 

My dog bed

is wet through

from hot tea and

we clasp chairs close to our chests

like the children you

categorically don’t want

and I do.

 

We laugh, eyes

on the ground that is temporarily ours;

mine wet, my belly loud

and insincere, chest puffed out

and, catching myself,

I breathe out –

the sound a soft whistle through

gapped teeth. Mine.

 

On the other side

of the partition door

you Buda, me Pest,

your cough is a bark in the darkness

and later

(ear to wall)

I catch you calling out across the Danube.

 

Murder

There have only been waking states;

holding the morning back with my hands

holding the curtains closed

against thick light

that becomes so easily thin

and frayed at the edges.

It slips through my fingers,

clings to the particles of dust

that lurch through the air;

a crowd

grounded, small patches of joyful filth

making a home on my clothes and skin.

His top lip curls when he says my name and

standing too close he asks a question

he doesn't want an answer to,

the sound of his own voice pearls

in his cloth-ears

sodden with vowels.

The king of that unwanted morning

asks how I am and laughs

when I answer, laughs

before I'e even answered

and under the covers

dust under dust

I kill him nightly in my dreams.

 

horse

My hair was a crown and

I was a horse

as you walked past the house

and I galloped across the road.

Hooves against glass

I peered through the café window, only

to see us eating eggs

in the dark;

our smiles glowing over coffee,

butter that I thought was cheese and

across the years

that have passed.

It was silent inside and

I snorted.

The chairs were stacked high

on the tables that were islands

and menus fluttered like leaves

to the freshly washed floor.

 

FICTION/POETRY

satellite poems

Hamburger Suit

I think of a person in a hamburger suit. The suit is the size of a dorm papasan chair. It has rubber lettuce, tomato, meat, cheese, bun, smile, round eyes. The person’s legs in green tights poke out the bottom of the suit.

 

“I have sesame seeds on my back!” says the hamburger person.  

 

Somewhere in California’s Mojave desert a man lies face-down on the hot road, wheelchair capsized more than an arms’ length from him. People leave him in the desert sun.  

 

“He had some sores and his skin!”

“He was gross!” they say.

 

The hamburger person stands next to the man. “I’m made of cow!” says the hamburger. Rubber eyes stare at the desert. Steam rises from the asphalt.

 

In Ohio, a man with no friends and no living family lies on the floor in a room lined with cages of chinchillas and guinea pigs. The man has opened the cage doors so the animals can scurry over his body.

 

The hamburger person is there.

 

“Ooh! Squirrels!” squeals the hamburger.

 

The Ohio man pushes the hamburger face down on the floor as he chases the chinchillas and guinea pigs who have run out the door the hamburger person left open.

 

The hamburger person giggles, fluttering feet against the carpet.

 

shut up, mind

I cram thoughts inside a box so that their faces are pressed against the glass and spots of round fog appear, drips of condensation:

I wish he would stop my arm itches my turn I said that first I’m in line you cut me  off  I  want  it  more  you  can’t have  it  I  am  skinnier than her I think I  wish  she  would disappear  why  are  you  here?  This  sock  is  bunching I  don’t  like  his  shuffling she smacks her mouth you’ve never had Taco Bell? I never knew that why did I paint this? There  is a crack  in the sidewalk  my  stomach hurts I want you to put that  down  stop  it  Don’t tell  me that  why  do  you  always  say  that?  I  love watching cats the first time I saw that movie I was twelve when are we going?  

I grip under my eyebrows, peel up my scalp and grab one: a hornet flashing yellow that stings the inside of my palm and I want to let it go it stings me I want to open my palm, but instead I open the box of thoughts and shove my fist deep,

allowing some of the other yellow stinging thoughts float out as if they were filled with helium, bump out, drunk from suffocation — relatively harmless except in great numbers when they would eat me alive,

which is why I put them in the box in the first place.

My head throbs blood drips over my temples while I close the box’s top and place it on the river where it flows away and the undead stingers flitter in the air like moths, dropping down a bit

then fluttering upward.

FICTION/POETRY

(Cactus in the Post)

Russell Bennetts is the founder and editor of Berfrois. His books include Relentless (2014) and Poets for Corbyn (2015). Rauan Klassnik is the author of Sky Rat (2014), Holy Land (2008) and The Moon’s Jaw (2013). Bennetts and Klassnik are the co-founders of Queen Mob’s Teahouse.


Tora Borrow dreams of cleavage drenched in snows

when pigeons mate

while Silicon Valley innovates

I cut the red wire

Pierce Brosnan

 

clubs a seal to death

in every one of his paltry dreams

$$$$ mean everything, DNA

 

lead raincoats

tongue-whistlers flipping over the pizza slice

to eat it

anything grows

 

addicted to the frisson of a public house.

 

Help Out Stamp [

7 sisters, Seven Germanys

Headbutt the day. Please.

i am becoming a girl with a cross round my neck.

i am seeing the way yr voice is a dining rabbit. I can't breathe. Plz Harvard still take me epically,

Sonata. 

 

Closed for loss

Muzak sounds better when you’re spending

Satan, O, that sounds great

red, dead

and a time to bed

 

There is a reason

Filled with salt and tacos

 

All for hire, fire

Hair, seven sins]

 

Drones Legs

Cold fish, so cold to touch burning on his underside fish don’t feel like

we don’t ever feel how can?

 

I've traveled as far as Birmingham to touch your mouth. You said my lips were thinning.

 

pausing time as green aeroplanes spiddle 

into buses

 

call me within the muddle of a sweetened

nite full of rope = hope

ya dope, fill me with iron rope

 

and drop me into oblivion

where all we do is buy buy buy

 

bitter, thy name is a strawberry dribbling down

camgirl passwords just threw me into

home             sweet             home

 

If you love the gym so much you should marry it!

Not just fucking it with such religious ardor. You cheat on him

With donuts, murder and sloth. You

Squeeze a cloth full of

that stolen strawberry suck

 

And shuck open a poison book. Look, the tale is a-

chicken curry nap running

Over all the cricket re-runs.

 

The soul puts on its pads.

 

The soul stands &evening luxury heartbeats

That's all man. A mint as you walk on out.

FICTION/POETRY


Songs I put on the mix CD for my father’s funeral:

1. Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” because my dad always said the dock Otis wrote about was the next one over from where our houseboat was moored in Sausalito.

2. “Freaking at the Freaker’s Ball” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, because he claimed to have interviewed them for a newspaper once, and it seemed to be an appropriate description of the people coming to his funeral.

3. “Hallelujah,” because it seemed like a good song for a funeral. I used the Leonard Cohen version because my sister said he liked Leonard Cohen, even though the Jeff Buckley cover is far less corny. 

4. “G.I. Blues” by Elvis Presley, because my dad always told people he was stationed on the same army base in Germany as Elvis.

5. Shred-rock cheesefest “Surfing With the Alien” by Joe Satriani, because I was listening to a tape of it when I was 14, and my dad pointed at the cassette desk and said, “Now, that’s a riff.”

6. Two songs by Joe Tate and the Red Legs, perhaps the only band from the Bay Area not to make it big in the late ‘60s, which I’m told made them the cornerstones of the local scene and part of my father’s social circle.

7. Any song by Janis Joplin, because he insists she lived next door to him on The Haight, though, as usual, no one can confirm his claim. I go with “Me and Bobby McGee” because “Ball and Chain” is too long.

8. Another Elvis tune, “U.S. Male,” because my father worked as a mailman before mov-
ing us to Oregon and pursuing his long career in afternoon naps.

9. “Hello Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson, because though my childhood seemed to indicate otherwise, I’d really like to believe he loved my mother, whose name is Mary Lou. Making this mix was my only job in preparing for the funeral. My mom and my sister Julia took care of the snacks and flowers, but most of the arrangements were handled by Avram, the man who took care of my father’s affairs after we could no longer stand the sight of him. 

Maybe my mom knows Avram’s last name, or his backstory. But to me, he is mononom-
med and mysterious, like Prince. I could easily find out what his deal is, but I don’t want to. For years now, Avram has been lurking about the shadows of my life, attending my perfor-
mances or taking photos of me on the street and then spiriting the dirt back to my father. Agent Avram was on the case even before the dementia set in. The collection he amassed, now in a metal box in my bedroom, was stalkeresque. 

Once Arnie, my father, moved into assisted living, Avram began giving my father’s phone number to friends I hadn’t seen in years, hoping they would deliver it to me hundreds of miles away, and I would call and heal the father/son relationship. But what Avram didn’t understand was that I didn’t want to heal anything, I wanted to forget I shared genetic material with this man. I was so good at it that I often came across as an orphan. Now, my seemingly small role in the funeral feels as gargantuan as the gulf between my father and myself. The act of putting together a mix tore those walls down in a flash, plunging me back into the emotional chaos of trying to understand a man who seemed to delight in distortions, even before the mental illness caught up to his warped perceptions. It took me a week of procrastination, three days of anguish, and four false starts. I would have rather loaded his body into the incinerator myself than had to puzzle through my record collection to find what songs best celebrated the life of a man I’d spent a lifetime working to forget.

And now, after all that, the tunes and the turmoil, the memories and the memorex, all the synagogue has is a fucking tape player.

“It can play tapes? Well, that’s okay then,” my mom says when I inform her.

“Maybe if it was 1987,” I snort. Sarcasm echoes hard in an empty, high-
ceilinged room.

My mother seems not to notice, totally comfortable believing you can play a CD in a cassette deck.

“I’ll figure something out,” I grunt. There are few life skills I possess. Inasmuch as it can be called “a life skill,” music is one of them. I suspect my mother knows this, part of why the CD is all she asked of me.

She returns to the synagogue kitchen to make coffee, and I start opening cabinets and drawers near the lectern, searching for some way to play the mix. The clickety-clack of boot-heels echoes through the room behind me. I turn and see the rabbi approaching. He looks too young for this job, about two years older than me.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he says, putting one hand on my shoulder and grasping my palm with the other. We are alone among the pews, so there is no way to dodge or escape his prolonged handshake or the sincere well-meaning of his gaze.

“Well, you know, shit happens,” I shrug.

My plan was to show up, smile, and not say what I was really thinking. I blew it right out of the gate.

“Um, yes, I suppose it does,” he concedes.

“Hey, do you know if there’s a CD player here? I made a mix CD, but all I can find is a tape player.”

“I don’t know,” he says. “That’s Sheila’s department, not mine.”

“Is she here?”

“She will be shortly, but you know, if you want to talk at all — ”

“Oh don’t worry. I’ll figure something out.”

Talking about my father is the second to last thing I want to do. Talking about his death with someone who is guaranteed to steer the conversation toward the sort of metaphysical hooey that so divided our relationship is the last. I did six years of hard time in Sunday School and remains as Jewish as can be when it comes to sarcasm, gesturing wildly with my hands, and all other manner of cultural stereotypes, but my only remaining interest in the actual religion is seders, the world’s most compelling form of dinner theater.

I hustle back into the next room, where my sister is laying out the snacks. Cheese. Fruit. Cookies. A baked apple crisp. Hot water for tea. I don’t remember if we ate this well as children. Arnie’s cooking style was a little more experimental.

“How’s it going?” she says.

“The rabbi said he was sorry for my loss and I said shit happens.”

“You’re not wrong.”

“Still.”

“I know,” she says. “We just have to get through this and then we never have to think about him or deal with any of this ever again.”

I seem to recall my mom saying the same thing about our extended family when her mother died only a few years earlier.

“The temple only has a tape player,” I say.

“You made a CD, right?”

“Yup.”

“Did you look everywhere?”

“Yup.”

“Well, try looking again, I guess.”

“A regular genius, you are.”

“I’m just trying to get through this also you know,” she says, rearranging the cookie trays on the Titanic for the umpteenth time.

I’m slightly stung, but she’s right. My all-encompassing awkwardness feels positively atmospheric, like a fog filling up the temple, but I know I left first, leaving her to face nearly a decade of my father’s pining for me, never once seeming to appreciate her. She’s more dutiful than I am, but she wants to be here as little as I do.

I return to the dais in the next room to futz with the audio equipment. The Chanukah story springs to mind. The Maccabees returned to the sacked temple and found only enough oil hidden in its cubby-holes for a single night, but the oil miraculously lasted eight nights. I don’t find any oil, just a few prayer books, an old microphone, and that same fucking tape player. Then, I have my moment of Maccabee. It’s not a tape player — it’s a dual-deck, with a a CD slot as well. I put the CD in, hit the play button, and turn up the volume to hear Otis croon that he’s sitting in the morning sun.

I return to the next room feeling victorious. But as soon as I step into the snack room, the feeling fades. The CD is only playing in the temple room, and now people are filtering in, congregating around the snacks as if this is some sort of wedding. 

Cussing under my breath, I recruit my sister to stand in the doorway as I return to the dais and try every knob on the mixer, shouting at her to ask if there is any change. No dice. I release my sister from duty and take a seat in the pews, frustrated, just as the driving beat of “Surfing With the Alien” comes on. It was the song I was most looking forward to hearing, perhaps because it will make no sense to anyone in the room. The punk in me was even hoping they might find it a bit distasteful. But the temple is empty. Except for the damn clickety-clack of a certain helpful rabbi approaching behind me.

“You got it working.”

“Only in here.”

“We might have a portable CD player you can use in the next room.”

“Yeah? That’d be great.”

“I’ll just have to ask Sheila,” he says.

“Is she here yet?”

“No.”

“Of course not,” I grunt.

“She’s on her way. Should be here anytime.”

“Okay. Just find me when she gets here I suppose.”

I go back into the snack room again and stand by the door with my sister, shaking hands and greeting people as they enter as if I’m one of those poor fucks posted at the entrance of a Wal-Mart.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” is a common refrain. “I’m sorry for your’s,” I say back to most of them.

A woman I’ve never met asks if I remember her. I don’t. Someone tells me they knew my father for 10 years, to which I politely say, “I didn’t.” My father’s mechanic introduces himself and tells me all about Arnie’s transmission issues. I barely recognize my uncle when he arrives. Homelessness and a serious kidney problem have not been kind to him.

Avram is inching toward the entrance, so I decide it’s time to circulate.

The first person I bump into is Carol, a family friend who tormented the younger me at dinner parties with whatever macrobiotic food craze was big with aging hippies that week.

Carol shows me a box of memorabilia she brought and has spread out on the table. There are old photos, newspaper clippings, and a coloring book some enterprising bohemian penned, which includes a pencil sketch of our old houseboat.

“Also, I found this,” she says, handing me a CD. “It’s Joe Tate and the Red Legs.”

“Oh. I made a mix. I put two Joe Tate songs on there,” I say.

“Right, but this is a whole live performance,” she says. “Play it when you get the chance.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I say, somewhat bitterly.I turn and find myself face to face with the woman I didn’t recognize.

“You know, I’m a baby boomer,” she says. “And the feminine is very important to us, and — ” Her eyes well with tears. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a smooth, polished rock. “I want you to have this, it’s a moonstone,” she says. “It represents the feminine, and if I can offer you any advice, it’s to explore your feminine side.” She presses the rock into my hand.

The satire of this moment is overshadowed only by the sincerity of the grief shining like moonstones in her eyes. This time, I manage to follow the original plan and clam up.

“Thanks,” I say, putting the stone in my breast pocket. “I’ll look into it.”

Mercifully, Sheila chooses this moment to arrive with a large boombox. I take my leave of the woman I don’t recognize, set the boombox up by the snack table, and put in my CD, not Carol’s. Eager to share my one contribution to this crowdsourced performance art, I hit play.

But Otis is lost in the noise of shared memories. I turn up the volume. But there is no happy medium that can pierce the din without sonically assaulting anyone getting a cup of coffee. I do my best to ride the volume knob for a few songs, but it’s futile. No one can hear.

That’s when the rabbi calls us back into the temple for the actual service. Annoyed, I hit stop on the boombox and move back into the room with a useful stereo. I sit at the front, all the way to the right.

As funerals go, this one is pretty much an open mic. The first act is a pair of Czech accordion players who, unlike me, get to share their musical memories to an attentive audience. They’re followed by a parade of speakers and “poets.” A man Arnie knew from his retirement home talks about how much he respected Arnie for his time serving in the Special Forces. Another man claims to be one of the original beat poets in New York. The mechanic relays the legend of Arnie’s dodgy transmission once again.

“I always liked working on his car because he’d tell me such great stories while I did,” he throws in.

My mom gets up to speak. Chuckling, she compares Arnie’s life and legend Big Fish,the Burton movie about a man who struggles to forgive his father for filling his head with tall tales as a kid, tall tales he sees as outright lies once he grows up. That’s one take. But for me, my life with my father always seemed closer to Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, a memoir by Nick Flynn about his experiences meeting his father for the first time when his father checks into the homeless shelter Flynn works at. Flynn’s father was a self-destructive wreck of a man who’d spent his life chasing the great American novel, but had never put down more than a few chapters. In Big Fish, the father lies to his son. Arnie’s lies were a major rift between us, the single biggest reason we stopped talking when I was 18. But what stood out to me about Another Bullshit Night in Suck City was the father’s total self-deception. He wasn’t an absentee alcoholic loser because he was obsessed with a pipe dream long past its prime; he was a writer. 

That was what Arnie used to call himself, how he introduced himself. A writer. But on the day in school when we all had to share what our fathers did, I said he slept on the couch a lot. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said he had a hard time convincing his wife that time spent staring out the window was actually time spent writing. The difference between F. Scott and my father is that F. Scott put pen to paper. Arnie seemed to prefer dictating the great American novel to his mechanic.

In yet another tacky move, the rabbi announces a cap on the open mic, trying to move the evening along before it gets stale. For a man who supposedly specializes in the human spirit, he doesn’t seem to grasp empathy. Both he and Avram keep looking my way, prodding me with their eyeballs to get up and share. But there isn’t enough time, enough patience, enough anger. To scratch the surface would take an hour, minimum. And the moonstone-wielding grayhairs from Planet Woodstock aren’t the kind of people who want to hear finely articulated rage. Everything I have to say that’s fit for human consumption is on the CD.

Avram and the rabbi give up, sing a brief prayer, and send us all back to the room with the snacks and CD player, the CD player which is now blasting out the long-lost live recordings of Joe Tate and the Red Legs.

“Fuck it,” I mutter, tossing my CD aside and hitting the snack table.

Tiny snack-cheeses in hand, I leaf through the gathered pictures and clippings. One picture of my father looks almost exactly like me. It reminds me of think of a time when I was a kid, and he brought a picture of my grandfather at my age to a restaurant, then approached all the other tables, pointing at the photo, and then at me, shouting, “Don’t you think it looks just like him?”

People slowly filter out. The woman I’d never seen before is one of the last stragglers. And it’s not because of the snacks or the lively conversation. She has the look of someone without anywhere else to go. But once we start packing everything up, she ambles off into the night, looking genuinely devastated. I truly am sorry for her loss. The person everyone had described at the funeral sounded pretty cool. He just wasn’t the man I knew.

We begin loading the various funereal implements back into the car. But even with the help of Avram, our shadow-uncle, there just aren’t enough hands to carry everything and hold doors at the same time. 

So Avram props the door open with the urn.

And with that, I’ve had enough of this circus. I leave my load on the floor and make for the parking lot.

But as I’m walking out, Avram catches me and hands me a manilla envelope.

“What’s this?” I ask.

“It’s Arnie’s writing,” he says.

“What writing?”

“His writing. All of it I could find, anyhow.”

Being all too familiar with my father’s shenanigans, this seems like the setup for some elaborate prank or life lesson that will end in therapy. The long-rumored but never-before-seen Complete Arnold Gross remains coiled for attack in the palm of Avram’s hand.

“I made a copy for each of you,” he says.

There are about a million things I’d like to say to Avram, and almost an equal number of places that envelope full of emotional bile can be shoved. But all I manage is, “Huh.”

Unsure of how else to make the moment end, I take the envelope and walk out into the rainy Oregon night, the only remaining window to my father’s fucked-up head tucked under my arm.

FICTION/POETRY

poems from the red desert

Sour

It’s dark and your pants wet to the ankles.

Bottom of a well.

The water becomes ink, blood.

 

Your hands scrabble rock,

knock dust.

 

A black

cat hears you.

 

She hides.

 

The blood is water again.

Doesn’t matter if it’s tepid,

or freezing.

 

It soaks you.

 

“Black cat! Come back!”

 

She curls her tail.

 

Green eyes flick.

 

You’re souring

someone well.

 

 

Arson

The sun and red eye glower.

 

Seeds blossom in your blood.

 

Trees burst into flame: you turn away—

marked and stung,

sick and blind.

 

If your eye offends you,

cast it out,

or your whole

body will be cast

Into the fire.

 

 

Host

If you swallow it,

it dissolves in your belly,

 

Becomes ash,

Becomes rock,

Becomes jerky.

 

It veins,

leeches,

smothers.

 

Break its fingers

from your neck. 

 

 

Desert god

White chalk,

red rock eureka.

 

Here, washes

and streams

are scars.

 

From the fingers of the desert god

drip gold.

 

From his eyes, quartz.

 

From his feet, chrysolite

and opal.

 

Under his soles, sapphires.

 

No one lives

near his face

scorning

hot scrawl.

 

Painted Desert

In bones are souls.

 

The petrified tree

knows the painted sun

has drunk her colors.

 

Hissing rattlesnake,

desert patterned:

diamonds, exes, hexagons.

 

Joshua tree

smells like churned dirt.

 

There, you bow, forehead to root,

ribs abandoned to sand.

 

War/Love Song

From your eyes, dew—

your mouth, flowers.

 

Like hearts offered

to the desert god,

yours feeds the sun.

 

Fear

Hollow in your pounding ribs:

bad dreams.

 

A chain saw

popped your tires

and left you in the Mojave

where they'd

dropped rocks

from the sky.

 

There,

the desert

took over and you became bones.

 

Millions of years later,

splinters of your body

washed ashore.