Gated Community

Photo by Keith Macke

Managing Editor Robin McCarthy on today’s bonus story: Kathryn E. Hill’s “Turnpike” won my heart with the line “…she died like the Venus de Milo.” Forget how beautiful those words sound on the tongue—-all Hill’s words sound this bright, her use of repetition and assonance is pitch-perfect—-it’s the way the story moves us through haunting images, each pairing the beautiful with the grotesque. The result is a strange sadness, a heavy grief wrapped in language and imagery that delight.

Turnpike

And in broad daylight she was hit, her body backing up traffic eight miles on I-75. There was no livor mortis—everything spreading on the hot black tar, her back open, pulpy, wide. Her tricycle wheel, pink and silver, still spinning between her knees, people looked and drove and looked and drove on. (The gate had been left open behind the house. She had wheeled out.) The ambulance broke down in the backed-up traffic and she died like the Venus de Milo, her arms in a cornfield. The bees danced and tried to lick the reflectors on her wheels. Motors churned and motors sputtered and motors purred down and people watched and people watched. They passed. They moved on to lunch.

Her parents decided to burn her (not the arms) with her helmet on and put her ashes in a pink and silver cup that they would empty next to fern bushes and bent Coke cans in a crowded National Park, somewhere near the border, somewhere where all the trees had tiny signs punched into their bark, their names in white Helvetica. Somewhere nice.

At night her mother locked the gate. Her mother bought nine padlocks and locked the gate shut. She stared at the headlights, the lunging streams of headlights blurring past. She twisted the blue lock dials one more time. She went upstairs and swallowed twenty aspirin. She undid the locks in the morning. She watched, broad daylight, no cars with lights.

The tiny brown-faced grave was a pockmark in the earth, eight miles away from Sinking Spring in the shadow of a shaved gray mountain, shaved for skiing, shaved for coal. There were long sandwiches with wettening meat and machine-chopped lettuce at the funeral lunch. And red and silver Cokes. (They accidentally played Hava Nagila at the funeral. Her mother danced. They accidentally misspelled the name on the bulletins, misfolded.) Someone said there were six lasagnas in the fridge for them to take home with them, six lasagnas to mold in the back of the fridge. Her mother swallowed twenty-eight aspirin. Her mother swallowed and carried the lasagnas in from the overheating car.

Two weeks later he said he wanted corn for dinner, corn chopped and simmered in milk and butter. She told him to go fuck himself. She told him to go open the gate and go walk across the turnpike and pick his own goddamn corn. Told him to go look for his daughter’s rotting arms. Told him to go walk slowly. He came back ten minutes later and said the gate was locked. She swallowed thirty-four aspirin. He went back out with the bolt cutters. She watched herself be sick in front of the mirror.

Four days later the silver-pink wheel became a clock she made, a wall clock with backwards hands, minutes for hours, hours for minutes, turning and turning in the widening house, slouching toward the browning corn, across the humming stream of lightless cars, moving, moving on toward what.

Kathryn E. Hill is an MFA candidate in fiction at Arizona State University where she also teaches English composition. She works as a freelance copy editor and serves as a prose reader for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has been published in Glass Mountain and is forthcoming in Pamplemousse.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Rainbow of Ribbons

Photo by Fleur

We received hundreds of strong submissions to our Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize and Hrushka Nonfiction Prize this spring. Congratulations to the following writers, whose submissions have been added to the shortlists! Guest judges Lynn Emauel (poetry) and Steven Church (nonfiction) will announce their decisions later this summer.  All contest submitters will receive a complimentary copy of Passages North #37, in which winning entries will be published, due out in Winter 2016.

We wish to thank all the contestants who shared their carefully-wrought work with us; it is a pleasure to read your poems and essays.

Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize Shortlist

“Animals in Silent Movies,” Kara Krewer
“Antikythera,” Lindsay Means
“Ant Hour Gospel (The Body Distances),” Mark Wagenaar
“Dan River Gospel,” Mark Wagennar
“The Dead Go Bowling,” Kathleen Tibbetts
“Emptying the Ash Can at Night after the Snow,” Beth Filson
“The Gunnywolf,” Megan Snyder-Camp
“The Infidelity of Weather,” Cathryn Shea
“Lobster Charm,” Kara Krewer
“Metropolitan,” Katie Hartsock
“My Mother’s Cold War,” Kathleen McClung
“Nieve in the Desert Circus,” Jennifer Givhan
“Voyaging,” Melissa Anne

Hrushka Nonfiction Prize

Burying Things, Charlene Caruso
Chanty, Nick Neely
In the Name of the Fathers, LaTanya McQueen
The Last Supper, Shaelyn Smith
Marine Iguanas, Liza Monroy
On Nostalgia, Elizabeth Dickinson
Ossification, Katy Teer
The Seagulls and the Noise, Rachel Fauth
Something Between Us, Maureen Ogbaa
When We Were Vikings, Kate Angus

NF Runners-up

Angel is a Centerfold, Stacy Parker Le Melle
Eating Ali’s Mother, Adriana Paramo
Vogelzang, David Zoby
You’ll See the Sky, Brent van Staalduinen

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Watermelon

Photo by David Blampied

Managing editor Matt Weinkam on today’s short: This is my favorite kind of fiction. “The Books” moves fast, reads funny, and appears light, but surprises with strange turns and glimpses of human depth, real heartache. I remember the split melon and the cracked egg long after I finish reading. Like the best of Barthelme and the uncanny books that give the story its title, Young Rader’s three-part piece left me “haunted and transformed.” But that’s only half the story.

The Books

I.
Catalina was quickly approaching the end of her life and she didn’t like me. When I took her on her walks, I applauded the healthy nature of her shit. I said things like, “Good poop, Catalina. Good solid poop.” And I collected the poop delicately in a light blue poop bag scented like baby powder that I’d pulled from a plastic poop bag dispenser in the shape of a bone in the mudroom before our walk. Usually, I made sure to bring two poop bags with me, and on these walks, Catalina only pooped once. But when I brought one poop bag, Catalina pooped twice. This was the nature of our relationship.

Catalina was gravely ill, her owners, my bearded friend’s parents, explained to me. They were traveling to Sweden for two weeks to my bearded friend’s father’s birth city where, my bearded friend said, toilets could not be flushed during certain hours of the day and night because it would violate a strictly enforced noise code. They, my bearded friend’s parents, did not want Catalina to be alone, so their house was to be my house for two weeks, and my bearded friend’s bedroom was to be my bedroom. They were rich. They had a swimming pool and a kind of garden planned with elaborate carelessness that was messy with a thatch of thorny-looking plants with dark green pointed leaves.

Catalina was beautiful, a cream-colored Chow Chow. Her eyes were little brown triangles. It was hard to believe she was sick. She had some kind of cancer. I came over to the house before my bearded friend and his parents were to leave for Sweden. They wanted to show me certain important things regarding Catalina’s special and fundamental diet. I liked my bearded friend’s parents, but they were slightly crazy. My bearded friend’s father gave me a quick tour of the house. “This is a bathroom…that is a toilet and that is a sink…this is a room…this is another room. Door…window. Hallway. Another window. Lots of windows in this place. Haha. Stairs,” he said. He instructed me, in great detail, on how to operate the oven, microwave, and TV, and even handed me the TV remote so that I could “try it out.”

My bearded friend’s mother led me outside to the garden. She said, “My garden is my heart.” She pointed and let me know which plants should be watered and when. “That one gets water everyday. That one, once every other day.” She stepped sedately down a flagged path covered thickly in crustlike lichen, and continued on with her instructions. “That plant in the corner never gets water. The one next to it gets water every three days, or four, but never every other, or every day. Make sure you water that one over there after the sun has set, otherwise it will surely die. That one should be watered no more than once a week…” Catalina’s food was prepared with an assortment of different powders, exactly three drops of white milky liquid, chilled purified water, two different kinds of pills that had to be rolled in peanut butter, and love. This was quickly explained to me, the love part emphasized, then my friend and his parents were off to Sweden.

At first I thought Catalina liked me. She followed me everywhere I went. I mixed her special food uncertainly, afraid that she would die at any moment. She let me pet her head between the ears and even licked my hand lavishly with her blue-black tongue. I thought I must have been doing something right. Catalina made sure to sleep in the same room as me. I listened to her dreaming, watched her paws gesture in quick pulses. I thought I liked her too. But as the first week drew to a close, we realized we were not so fond of each other.

My bearded friend told me I could use his desktop computer. I looked under History and clicked on all the pornographic videos. I didn’t like it when Catalina was in the room when I watched the videos my bearded friend had watched. When I steered her into the hallway and closed the door, she barked and barked, a deep explosive bark that pummeled through the door, and it was hard to concentrate on the videos. I could see her Chow Chow nose trying to slip under the bottom of the door.

After I came, I was light and hollow and clearheaded and the day seemed to gain innumerable, dreadful hours. I opened the door. Catalina looked bored and angry and I didn’t care. She looked at my face, I thought, with eyes that were tired of looking at my face. I mixed her food and ordered pizza from Pizza Pronto.

I tried the best I could to water the garden, my bearded friend’s mother’s heart, but I was doing it all wrong; her heart, a mesh of skulking florae, was slowly shriveling up and turning as rust-brown as the scattering of needles that had shed from the neighbor’s hulking pine tree. When I looked up at the tree, the first word that came to mind was: corrupt. Catalina watched me gracelessly fish the needles from the swimming pool using the too-long aluminum pool skimmer. She was criticizing me, I thought. I wanted to tell her that I could never look at a swimming pool the same way after I’d read a found copy of The Desperado while visiting my grandparents in Florida; but she was Catalina the dog, and I only really talked to her about healthy, solid defecation.

My grandparents lived in a gated residential community called Century Village. In order to live in Century Village, one had to be over the age of 70. And that is why most everyone who lived outside the gates of Century Village called it Cemetery Village. I found The Desperado in Cemetery Villages’ Bunco and Bingo rec room and, because Bingo would not be played for several more hours and I had exhaustively soaked my eyes in reality TV for a solid week, I immediately started to read it.

It was about a man, a Lawrence HoHopkins, who was trying to design the perfect swimming pool. The perfect swimming pool, according to Lawrence HoHopkins, was a sacred form that could touch the underside of what sat just below the surface of the skin and engaged the entire self when a person was immersed in “living water” with the naked body. It was a shame that more people didn’t embrace the idea of swimming naked, Lawrence HoHopkins explained to his friend, Jimmy, while they were out fishing on Lake Okeechobee. “‘The flesh, Jimmy, should be touched all over and simultaneously with the same urgency!’” Lawrence HoHopkins’s character says as he scrapes the scales off a fat sunfish. Jimmy looks on, drinking a sweating beer. It is a beautiful book, really, with parts like an overexposed photograph. At its core, I think it’s about Man and Nature. Not Man versus Nature. No, no.

I was naked and Catalina growled. Her lower teeth were missing, so I knew that if she lunged and bit me, it wouldn’t hurt. I dove into the swimming pool. Catalina trotted around and around the pool’s perimeter, as if at any moment she would jump in and overtake me. The water was surprisingly cold and something strange and irrepressible worked its way down from the back of my head to my tailbone before cutting into the rest of my body. I moved in ways I never knew I could. I sank to the bottom despite frantically kicking my legs and when I pushed back up with my feet and broke the water’s surface, I sensed that the experience of my life had somehow widened. I pulled myself out of the pool and lay shivering on the patio stones, trying to catch my breath. Catalina sat down in front of me and probed my head hesitantly with her Chow Chow nose. It wasn’t a seizure, but I knew instinctively that what I had just experienced in the water was a sign that something was wrong inside my body.

My bearded friend and his parents returned safely from Sweden on the Fourth of July. Goodbye, I said to Catalina. Goodbye, I said to my bearded friend’s mother’s neglected garden-heart. Sometime in August, after I’d left a medical facility where I’d gotten some tests done, I spotted my friend eating breakfast in the middle of the afternoon. I was feeling lightheaded and scared because I’d had my blood drawn and all I could do was wait. I wanted to spread myself out like a blanket on the earth, but instead I picked at the swab of taped cotton in the crook of my arm where the needle had bit. I ordered orange juice. Things were not altogether well. I knew that my bearded friend’s mother had been devastated with the state of her garden. It had held her body and soul together. I had never felt so capably poisonous. I finished my orange juice and my bearded friend told me that Catalina had died.

Then I went on a walk in the cemetery with a girl I liked. I bought the smallest, roundest watermelon I could find in a giant cardboard box filled with melons at the grocery store. How will we eat it? she asked when I arrived at the cemetery gates. I held the melon in my hands and looked at it. I raised it as high above my head as I could and let it drop to ground. It gasped wetly when it split open into two perfect halves. I was enormously stupefied. It is possible that there are some people who are sorry for me, but I only let myself think about such things occasionally.

 

II.
The book is not very good, but I am a diligent reader, and maybe even a little desperate. My eyes move over the next sentence: “Now in the summer of Phillip’s fourteenth year the still surface of youth receded and gave way to the more unfamiliar patterns and directions and growths of adulthood that had suddenly risen up to meet him.” I close the book. The book’s title is The Dancing Thumbs. The word provocative appears on the back cover in red, twice. There is a blurb from a well-known author who has claimed to be “haunted and transformed” by the book’s premise, which “serves as a commentary upon the normal with curiously complex characters. It is horrifying and slippery…wow,” the well-known author’s blurb concludes.

Let me tell you more about the book. The book is about a boy, Phillip, who becomes obsessed with a much older man whose appearance and sex constantly changes from chapter to chapter and confuses poor Phillip, drives him to holy misery. For some reason it is crucial to know that Phillip grows two inches taller in one summer and styles his bread-colored hair with pomade. Basically, he becomes a stud. Then he goes crazy, and a crazy stud with a pompadour is truly light and sad on my heart. He cries a lot and there is a “chill in all his words.”

It is not very long. That is one reason why I bought The Dancing Thumbs in the English Bookstore around the corner. There is no one here I can talk to without feeling that all my organs are contracting, so I patronize the English Bookstore. The Dancing Thumbs is a used book and has a good used book smell to it. It has a vibrant yellow cover with one line-drawn head enveloping a smaller line-drawn head. The title also appeals to me because it is one of the more ridiculous titles I’ve come across. And if I am being honest, another reason I purchased The Dancing Thumbs is because it was cheaper than the other book I considered buying instead. The other book was longer and heavier, and its pages were slightly crepitated.

I cheated and looked at the last sentence of The Dancing Thumbs before I read the first sentence. The last sentence is: “It is nothing.” I went on a long walk in the Tiergarten and bit my nails and a handsome man showed me his penis. He stood in dappled shade and held his penis in his hand, offered it to me with a shake, but I didn’t know what had happened until after I’d passed by him and thought: There was a penis in that man’s hand. I walked out of the Tiergarten with clumsy feet and ate a hamburger and ordered a beer. My sudden hunger seemed bottomless. A woman in a nearby booth reached out across her table and caught in her palm the peas that tumbled out of a much older man’s mouth. That’s when I cheated and opened The Dancing Thumbs. I read out loud: “It is nothing!”

I’m sure none of my friends back home would read The Dancing Thumbs. They are mathematicians. I don’t even know how we became friends, but we are, and it has been good. I like to watch them raise their hands and mangle the air as they explain how to crease hypothetical spaces. I picture a Chinese folding screen, panels decorated with silk stars and moons, opening up and closing, opening up and closing above the mathematicians’ waving hands. When I ask them what exists in these hypothetical spaces, the mathematicians tell me to stop trying to imagine something in nothing. I tell them that if you hold a book long enough, it begins to carry your scent, and that that is something!

They are always hunched over, drawing countless shapes on paper, drawing lines and saying that there are an infinite number of points within the lines that they’ve drawn. Faces, vertices are words they use. They eat spoonfuls of Nutella instead of crying, never open their windows or water their plants, wear extremely colorful socks, and one of them even claims to have once rested his forehead against a dry cow’s belly only to have the unborn calf on the other side kick and knock him unconscious. They tell me, half-jokingly, that I am their dumbest friend.

It is true none of us has ever been in love. We wait. We are waiting.

Here is something: start with an exceedingly high number. Then begin to count backwards by seven in your head.

 

III.
For my twenty-sixth birthday, my sister and my friend each sent me a different edition of the same book. The book is called The Dutiful Servant, and it is a book I should have liked in theory, but didn’t. Later, I told my friend that I didn’t like the book, but I will never tell my sister. The edition my friend sent me is small and thick, light green, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and nice to carry in and out of cafés, the bedroom, bathrooms, etc. The edition my sister sent me is larger and dark blue, with a busy cover that is easily marked. I have never opened it.

*

On my twenty-sixth birthday, I taught composition at a community college in the Midwest, where I lived on a haunted farm whose address included two opposing cardinal directions.

*

Propped up against a wall was a broom that toppled over at exactly eleven o’clock every night. No matter where I moved it, the broom slid to the floor and clattered at exactly eleven o’clock every night; and though I didn’t really believe in ghosts, I made sure to pick up the broom every morning and prop it against the wall.

*

I didn’t know too many people.

*

I got daylong headaches; red splotches appeared in the center of everything I looked at.

*

The well water tasted like blood and colored my white t-shirts brown, stiffened cotton so that when I pulled on my socks, the threads cracked and formed small holes. Cold air constantly pricked my ankles.

*

The sheep were dumb and I liked them and their lambent eyes reminded me of glowing keyholes.

*

There was a young fox that stalked the hens, and on my twenty-sixth birthday, I spotted bloodied feathers scattered in the dried-up creek bed. I pictured a hen in the fox’s maw, her snapped neck bent at an impossible angle, her beaded orange eyes shiny as buttons, and her slack red comb sweeping against the ground like a paintbrush.

*

A young woman drove her car into a tree and died on my twenty-sixth birthday.

*

Formal papers with page numbers please, I reminded my students on my twenty-sixth birthday.

*

The Dutiful Servant is a quick read. It is about a monkey named Hieronymus and a bear named Benno and the servant that cares for them in a manor house. Sometimes, I like to imagine the two editions of The Dutiful Servant I was sent on my twenty-sixth birthday as the two animals, the smaller edition as Hieronymus and the larger edition as Benno.

*

Every now and then my sister enters my thoughts and when she does, she sits down.

Takes up space and makes herself at home.

In high school she used to run away to New Jersey for weeks at a time and I wondered what it would be like to have a sister who had been murdered in a motel in New Jersey. That’s where I pictured her and that’s where she really was. The guidance counselor took me into his office one day during second period and asked if I was OK. His name was Mr. Sukinik, and he would be dead nearly a year later. Perhaps then, as he asked if I was OK in his office—his folded arms resting on an unmarked desk calendar, his thumb and forefinger working tediously around a pink eraser—the cancer deep in his esophagus reaching down into his stomach was only a slight discomfort, a light yet persistent cough. I told Mr. Sukinik that I was OK, but secretly wished I wasn’t OK. I would only learn how to lie later. My sister always returned. She looked the same, only tired, and once with her bellybutton pierced, and once with small blue rhinestones embedded in her nails, and every time smelling of the car freshener, a velveteen yellow evergreen that spewed a scent called vanillaroma; and she saw a psychiatrist twice a week.

One night she emptied a bottle of aspirin into her mouth and crawled into my bedroom to say that she loved me and that she was going to die. I was studying for an AP U.S History exam. I turned around. She was curled up with one had clutching her stomach, the other sadly pawing the green carpet. I told her that I heard in school that aspirin didn’t kill you, only gave you painful, bloody ulcers for life, and that she had to throw-up if she didn’t want painful, bloody ulcers for life. She wept, I think, out of frustration into her long, loose shirt—a Grateful Dead t-shirt with a spiral of bears on a tie-dyed background. I heard her in the bathroom making desperate, choking sounds, the pelleting of half-dissolved aspirin, the bright jostle of the tipped toilet lever, and the sound of rushing water.

*

I could never have imagined then that she would mail me a book when I turned twenty-six. Her edition was carefully wrapped in blue and white wrapping paper and tucked snugly inside a cardboard box. There was a small card attached, a message inside written in large, looping handwriting that ended with: Love, Your Sister. It was handwriting that spoke of a happy, carefree life.

*

When I was twenty-six, I read The Dutiful Servant, taught composition, and even though I loved animals, I learned how to kill grouse from a man who had a wasted look and lived off the grid after his house had exploded from a natural gas leak.

*

“Going off the grid is no game,” he would tell me.

*

Pink twisting birthmark on his neck that I thought looked perverse.

*

He turned the birds upside down and set their heads through a narrow opening in a cone and gripped a knife and ran it across the pouches in their necks and we watched the hot blood spill out and spatter into a barrow filled with straw and send up sluggish curls of steam; the birds convulsed and became cold and perfectly still and we scalded them in a drum of hot water and plucked their beautiful feathers out and tossed them into the waste bin; and the birds’ meat in stew was chewy and gamey and I felt sick and ashamed.

*

“You choose the grid you want to get off of,” I heard the man’s voice boom inside my head.

*

I saw the tree the young woman drove into, its impressive splay of branches, its magnificent trunk I imagined her body breaking so easily against like an egg brought down on the lip of a nice glass bowl.

*

When it was dark, the coyotes came out to play. I listened to their busted laughter. It keened wickedly like whirling firecrackers, and dread scooped into me; my body vibrated. The coyotes sounded so close, but I knew they were near the wind turbines across the field. I turned off all the lights and stood at the window and looked out, just like I had when my sister crawled into the bathroom the night she’d swallowed all the aspirin.

*

I listened. But then there was nothing. I waited.

*

Somewhere in the house, a ghost passed through the wall and saw what a mess I’d made.

*

The broom handle smacked the ground.

Young Rader’s work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, Little Star, and elsewhere. He was a 2014-2015 Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

accordian

Photo by Sooz

Sarah Bates on today’s bonus poem: How much of ourselves do we give to the mundane? To Tuesday and Thursday, back stairwells and morning? How much of our life is surviving spare rooms and the sound of winter? John Hart’s “How to Celebrate a Birthday” gives a voice to the things we give to dust, the secrets we tuck away but sometimes show up for cake anyway. Asking, how much can you give? What is it you want to be yours?

How to Celebrate a Birthday

Like a greeting card, the things with secrets speak up:
ghosts in the back stairwell making dust,
the accordion tucked away
near your dress boots in the closet
of the spare bedroom.

It’s been evening since morning; morning
frost still covers the rotten hedge apples
neglected along the edge of the drive,
as though survival is not so slow a process
                            or life a quick one.

The farm, once, was yours.
The accordion built strong backs
and there was no spare room.
But winter sounds like a breathing machine.

When a cowboy is part of the land,
it’s his.
You bailed the hay,
               tagged the cattle,
                         scratched the chiggers
but offered little of yourself.
—Remember when your son was sick from the tick bite?
He sucked butter from his toast but refused to eat;
yawned like a bailer,
                         slept like winter hay.
Tomorrow, not lighting a candle to blow out,
you’ll eat two pieces of your cake that casually,
like they are already leftovers.

John Hart was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He currently resides in Apopka, Florida. His work has appeared in the Antioch Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, and Washington Square Review.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Natty Wallpaper - Aubergine Sea

Photo by Wyatt Kirby

This week, Mike Jacoby asked our crew what they would name their fantasy lit mag.

Amy Hansen
Associate Editor, Poetry
Sycamore, Illinois

I would call my journal “Meh” and publish photocopies of workshop comments on first drafts.

Jen Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

I always wanted to found a journal and call it “Spread.” The word felt layered in good ways to me, speaking most literally to the two-page layout of the magazine itself, but also to diffusion and expansion and maybe to something sexier as well. But I just used “The Spread” as the title of a rabies/zombie/kissing story, so I suppose that dream is out the window.

James Dyer
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Lowell, Michigan

I would title my journal “Slit Moist Kumquats,” and we would focus on publishing mysteriously uncomfortable sounding prose.

Sarah Bates
Associate Editor, Poetry
Covington, Virginia
My first thought was to call it “Hundred Aker Room.” But then people yelled at me for being unoriginal, so instead I would call my own magazine “Seven Dollar Milkshakes,” and I’d look for works that use food to talk about the hard stuff. Love, loss, is there a god? I want poems about wings and beer!

Matt Ftacek
Associate Editor, Poetry
Niles, Michigan

Well, my family has a newsletter called “The Birds Eye.” In honor of that, I would name my journal “Birds Eye Review.” I would look for poetry and prose that has a strong sense of home, family, and food.

Jill Harris
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Livingston, Alabama

I’d call my magazine “Narwhal” and would solicit things that were weird and exciting!

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Steel Mill - Bethlehem , PA

Photo by Bob Jagendorf

The Novel and Our Lives

I never first set out to write anything about the steel mill. Rather, I came home from a twelve-hour shift one day, scrubbed the grease and dust from my elbows and ears in the kitchen sink and sat down at my Brother 2500 Word Processor. I hadn’t thought about what I might write or planned to describe the cavernous pores in the watershed. It never occurred to me that I might mention the time that Paul Slaughter walked into the Corner Pocket, thirty-eight-years old, slammed a tiny manila envelope down on the bar, and asked if anybody wanted to buy a drink for a guy who had just lost his last tooth. I had never thought about writing that, because it had actually happened, and I’d been learning how to write fiction, which, I was lead to understand was made up.

And, yet, this place, the steel mill in which I grew up, my thinking of the mill, my writing of the mill, I worry, has become a parody of itself. That, I suppose, is when I know it’s gone on long enough. Was it Bahktin who insisted that a book could be any length, but a novel wasn’t a novel until the language of the book becomes a parody of itself? It is for this reason (and eight or ten others), I am certain, that I’m bound to novels; I’m bound to the form. For example:

I wrote a twenty-five page story one time that I called “Letter to an Old Friend” (it was, in some ways, a letter to an old friend, but it was much less than that, because it grew out of a particular sigh my old friend had let out the one day, so it was about my old friend, but it was about much less than that as well – love, the world, etc.). It was the kind of noncommittal sigh folks let out from time to time that the rest of us should all just let slide by without comment, but I, in response to that sigh, I got up and stomped out of our apartment, such as to say, “What’s that supposed to mean!” The kind of question that demands an exclamation point.

This letter to an old friend was about loss, clearly. It contained elements of the wasp-nest-thin walls of a tiny apartment behind a little garage, the garage itself behind a little house, the house cramped between other houses in a tight neighborhood full of narrow one ways streets which, well, when snow fell in the city of Erie became more like toboggan runs. “Letter to an Old Friend” is about a journalist of sorts who has taken to writing short essays about particular parts of his old friend’s body – not even necessarily the interesting parts or the parts that “count,” but usually things like the small bones in his wrist or a particular baby tooth. Eventually, the narrator writes an essay about a particular sigh his old friend once let out. The essay is called “An Eschatology for Your Breath” – it focuses on that particular sigh’s career and dissertation.

That piece of fiction is now called “An Eschatology for Your Breath.” Because the piece is only twenty-five pages long, if anybody else ever reads it, she’ll probably call it a short story. Me, I think of it entirely as a novel – precisely because it concerns itself with novelistic ideas through which the language learns to parody itself. But I might be wrong. It might not have been Bahktin who said that about parody. It might, in fact, be something I made up. The story, at times, is written like a letter, but, taken as a whole, it is actually an ekphrasis of George Bataille’s Visions of Excess, which includes, of course, his own ekphrasis of Salvador Dali’s The Lugubrious Game.

This is, I’ve found, often what happens to one in grad school. One learns what the word “ekphrasis” means, then one is willing to say any damn thing that comes into one’s mind. Me, most of the time, I use “ekphrasis” and “homage” interchangeably: see! see what I mean? Who would say something like that in real life?

Meanwhile, the very first steel mill story I ever heard was in the break room of the merchant/shipping department at Franklin Industries Steel Mill. Late June 1998. It was my first day on the job. I was a temp along with a dozen or so other college students – most of whom were my buddies, most of whom were badass enough that we all fit in alright in the break room but knew not to push our luck on the mill floor, most of whom knew how to sit contemplatively smoking a cigarette during break while Lacy Bullion told his story.

Lacy said, “My wife came up to me the other day and told me to stop hitting the kid. I said, ‘I ain’t hitting him, honey.’ I was just smacking him around, you know. She said, ‘It just ain’t right. It hurts him and he don’t like it.’ I said, ‘Honey, I’m just smacking him around a little bit. You know, peppering him. If I don’t, the kid’s gonna grow up to be a pussy.’” I can pull off a decent Northwest PA accent to this day, but the mill is a subculture within a subset, and I’ve been gone too long to try the accent face to face. Still, if you could have heard Lacy tell that story that day, you would have laughed, too.

There is something awful about the mill. I haven’t put my finger on it yet, and I’m not even sure what kind of metonymy I mean by “the mill” – or is it synechdoche? – when I’m talking about something much more specific than the mill. When I say “mill,” I am, always, talking about Lacy Bullion, who peppers his kid, no doubt, partially in response to growing up in a rough-and-tumble world, a rough-and-tumble kid, with rough-and-tumble folks who gave him a girl’s name. But I’m also talking about something much larger than the mill – capitalism, for instance, which peppers the vast bulk of us every first of the month, Lacy and his boy included. I’ve probably heard that story another hundred times: from Lacy, from Dan, from my buddies who stood beside me with their arms crossing their chests, smoking cigarettes, and looking fiercely at the white hats, from my mirror and its hateful misrepresentations. “If I don’t,” my buddies and I would often chant, “the kid’s gonna grow up to be a pu-ssy.” There’s the mill accent there: I almost had it . . . if you will permit me: the making of an insult into two words, the elongated u such that it’s almost an oo: poo ssay. Yeah, that’s it. Something awful in that place.

Several years ago, Dan sent me an email asking if we were just getting old or if we were becoming a bunch of pussies. I’d been gone from Home for a long time, and his note was heartfelt if uncertain, his way of getting back in touch with me after a long stretch of no contact. He didn’t specify, but it probably had something to do with his first successful year of his second marriage, how much he loves his wife, the baby on the way, buying and rebuilding an ancient house. It might have had something to do with the fact that his old man was getting sicker every day, that feeling of out of control while the world shrugs its shoulders and says, “What-are-ya-gonna-do.” (That ever-helpless question that demands a period.)

Well, look, so, I wrote him back, and here’s the thing – I grew up there, right. I know my business about that place; those are my folks. I would have said the same thing a decade ago that he had said in his email. But, at this point, I simply can’t have the gendered language. I’m not going to rehearse, here, my religious belief that saying “bitch” is the equivalent of any racial, ethnic, religious slur, though we accept it because our culture, deep down, despises women. (Despises, absolutely despises: otherwise, why would Lacy care if the boy grew up soft, happy with who he was, womanly?) I’m not going to practice my learned theories, not here. But I did in a response to Dan. It was a nice letter I wrote him – and I wrote it to him because I know he’s a thoughtful human being who constantly seeks self-improvement, who, along with working sixty-plus hours each week pushing steel was earning a degree in language at a decent university – but, still, in retrospect, I kind of missed the point. And, yes, I know what that response makes me back Home – foreign to my people, among other things.

Two years after my liberated and pedantic response to his sincere if oppressive note, I stood with Dan in the driveway of his parents’ house, drinking a beer. We stood there, acting like this house was the same house it had been thirty years ago when he’d been born here, sixteen years ago the first time I’d stood on the front porch, thirteen years ago when I’d fallen out of a tree out back and fractured a vertebra, twelve years ago when we walked out of that house and into the steel mill for the first time, eight years ago when he’d moved back home after his first failed marriage, seven years ago when I left Pennsylvania for grad school in Utah, two years ago when we’d exchanged an email conversation separated by a shared language, or a week ago, when his dad was still alive. Dan and I were having a beer in that driveway, yes, but grief, sometimes, is sobering. We’d fallen out of touch or pushed each other away silently, slowly, without catastrophe. Just sort of both of us starting to turn away, and neither of us ever turning back, and never ever once, you know how we are, ever placing or taking any blame, never once acknowledging that one of us missed the other, never once talking about this. He’d been somber all day, dealing with his dad’s early death that we’d all seen on the horizon for years. He said, “You know, I resent your wife.”

I was in my fifth year as a PhD candidate. He’d been working the mill and finishing his undergraduate degree all this time I’d been in grad school. We’d seen tough times, held real jobs, bought cars, graduated college, owed debt, paid bills, had kids, driven across the country. I’d defended a master’s thesis about the steel mill, which was largely, let’s face it, about Dan. He’d sat in that break room all these years, listening to stories of tiny wars and rumors about stories about tiny wars. I’d towed a 7000 pound boat from Annapolis, MD, to Salt Lake City, UT, through one of the worst snowstorms in decades. He’d had reconstructive facial surgery after getting mugged. I’d married a woman with three kids shortly after her first husband had killed himself. All of which is to say: we’d done things, things had been done to us. We weren’t infants in so far as the “real world” was concerned.

I mean. His dad had just died. The world doesn’t get realer.

Still, when he said to me, “You know, I resent your wife,” I felt as though I were entering adulthood.

I held the beer at my side, watched my breath float away into another January sky, and said, “I know.”

He said, “It feels like she’s taken you away from us.”

I said, “I know it feels that way, but it’s not true.”

He said, “I didn’t say it was true.”

And I nodded. I stood there a father of four, full of debt and history, confident enough to walk into a faculty meeting or factory break room and take notes about either, but I am certain that was my first moment of adulthood. Or, let me put it another way, if most of us enters adulthood in our twenties, there must be more stages between then and a hundred and twenty (my ideal age, I believe), and that conversation brought me into some additional stage. I might even have felt as though that was the most sincere conversation I’d had since childhood proper. I’ve said before that the day I was accepted into a master’s program was effectively the end of my fifteen year friendship with Dan, and that’s still true, but that friendship echoes through my life, in my writing, in the mill. And that reverberation, at the end of the day, is what I mean when I say parody, that years ago, the narrator of my steel mill writing named Dan, (loosely based on my dear friend standing in the driveway beside me) had said, “I mean. His dad had just died. The world doesn’t get realer.” It’s just that, at that point, I didn’t know what was parody, the novel or our lives.

Jackson Connor builds, teaches, and writes in Appalachian Ohio with his spouse (the writer Traci O Connor) and their four kids. “The Novel and Our Lives” is a piece from his memoir manuscript Barely American. Other Barely American pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, North American Review, AGNI, River Teeth, Post Road, and other journals. “Barely American” is the title of his guest blog at hillbillyspeaks.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Lonely Cloud

Photo by Michael Akerman

Tracy Haack on today’s bonus essay: Kimberly O’Connor pairs unexpected images to simultaneously grow and shrink the world. Her writing slows time to give the soul a moment outside of the body, a moment to look back and see what we have done and what we will do. O’Connor invites us to ask: Were we right?

Clairvoyance

It Is Dizzying To Have These Eyes
My friend who is learning to be clairvoyant says the soul’s greatest hope is to enter a body. When a soul enters a body, it’s thrilled. It’s like the best thing that ever happened to a soul. My other friend who is an accountant doubts that. She says it’d be better for a soul to be separate. Why would the soul want to deal with a body? A soul can’t drink wine, I point out. We are at a wine bar. The soul can’t run and jump, see colorful leaves, etc. She’s not buying it. But I believe. My friend’s friend who owns the wine bar brings us more wine, for free. Pear, she is saying, and honey.

A Hundred Dead Bees
The world we cannot heal, that is our bride are words from a poem by Alicia Ostriker that I have written on a Post-It above my desk, which is another way of saying everything is everything—the soul returns to the one, my friend says—but it made me feel better. The poem, I mean. About not being able to do anything about the bees, about driving past people with signs saying Anything Helps without giving them money or even waving. How lucky, to be me instead of them.

I Become Myself
I am telling the story of visiting my friend’s clairvoyance class to our other friend. It’s a real class, one I would like to join. They did a reading, not of my future, more like my present. My auras. Were they right? she asks. Well, they said I had a lavender rose, with one leaf. Leaves correspond to number of children so that’s right. They also said I had an outdated belief that women can’t be powerful. Is that true? It probably is. Around the same time I had a chance encounter with an Indian fortune-teller. Like from India? Yes. And she said in the fall I was going to get a new job, but I had to think big. Don’t think about being in a fishbowl, she said, think about being in an ocean. That was first, before I visited the class. And at the class they said I was swimming in scuba gear. And I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting anywhere. Because what I couldn’t see was that I was in a fishbowl. This is a good story, and true, but she looks skeptical.

Violence That Trespasses
I tell my other friend her hair is beautiful, and she gasps and covers her head with her hands. It’s—she pauses—well, thank you, but we’re going away next week, and after that there’s my presentation, and I need to make an appointment. In the light of the wine bar, her hair looks like gold. This was before my friend said that about the voice of the soul as the voice of God. Maybe if it had been after it would have been different.

A Very Small White Cloud
It’s difficult, to love the body. It’s difficult to live in the world. Already today I could tell you a hundred sad things. It’s not true that in a firing squad, only one gun has a bullet. It’s only one gun that doesn’t. This year one of my students has a bruised face. I hope his soul is still happy to be with his body. I hope his life gets better so he can look back from the end and be happy. Like looking out the window of an airplane. The world growing smaller and bigger at the same time.

[Author’s note: The italicized section titles are from Andrea Rexilius’s Half of What They Carried Flew Away.]

Kimberly O’Connor is the Young Writers Program Director for Lighthouse Writers Workshop and was Lighthouse’s 2013 Alice Maxine Bowie Fellow. Her poetry has been published in Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Inch, Literary Mama, Mountain Gazette, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VII: North Carolina, storySouth, Tar River Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Moment alone

Photo by Ponyinthedark

In this week’s column, we get a taste of our staff’s contingency plans in the case of a zombie apocalypse. We also get to note how little mention is made of attempting to rescue friends and family in the face of the living dead…

Tyler Dettloff
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Kinross, Michigan

In the case of zombie apocalypse: Return to where I grew up in Michigan. There is a big swamp called the Delirium Wilderness there that can supply enough cattail root, cranberries, fiddle-head ferns, and wild game to supply food all year. The swamp is thick and has rivers that run through it, zombies would sink in the muck because they move so damn slow–gotta be quick to get through Delirium. That’s one reason why they turned the defunct Kinross airbase into a prison. The surrounding swamp acts like a moat to keep the prisoners from runnin off. I think I can survive in that swamp moat better than prisoners. And zombies.

Kaitlin Kolhoff
Intern, Fiction
Mt. Pleasant

My plan in a zombie apocalypse is to throw myself into the line of fire. Immediately become one of the horde. Unless AMC is there to document it, I’m probably better off being a zombie.

Josh Brewer
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Hot Springs, Arkansas

Assuming zombies function like capitalism, I would flee to the Porcupine Mountains to live with the bears. I would, of course, plan to live in my Volkswagen bus where I might complete my novel before freezing to death.

Ania Payne
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Monticello, Arkansas

If there was a zombie apocalypse, I would use all my money to hire a boat/plane to take me to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. I don’t think zombies have the motor skills to swim through strong currents, so I’d probably be safe…but if they did get me, at least I’d die happy on a tropical island.

Cam Contois
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Marquette, Michigan

In an occurrence of a zombie apocalypse, I would go to my uncle’s hunting camp in the Upper Peninsula woods. The UP is a sparsely populated area and there would not be too many zombies around. Also, there would be hunting rifles at the camp to ward off the Yooper zombies wandering the woods.

Paige Frazier
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Louisa, Kentucky

I have thought about this question in-depth many times. Assuming I had survived the initial onslaught of zombies, and 98% of the population is either dead or a zombie… I would first try to find a U-haul truck. I would ditch my car and steal it and bring it back to a garage near my apartment where I could fortify it and fill it with supplies. I, of course, would nail my cats’ litterboxes to the floor in the back and create a bed for them so they could come with me wherever I go. Then I would stuff it with canned foods, flashlights, tools, tents, guns and ammo, knives, extra clothes, etcetera. I would head south. Maybe Louisiana. And I would look for a farm with lots of land where I could grow food. I would also want this farm to have barns so that I could keep animals that I rescued post-apocalypse (assuming that this strain only infects humans and is not a Resident Evil-style strain that also mutates animals). I would fortify this farm as best I could. And the animals and I would live happily ever after. I am from Louisa, Kentucky, a place where there is not much else to do except fantasize about the zombie apocalypse.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

Drying

Photo by Aldan

Annie Bilancini on today’s bonus short”: Dana Diehl’s writing is symphonic. It’s a movement. On the page, the low hum of strings is matched with the lilt of a lone woodwind, that gorgeous narrative voice, that music. What drew me to “Animal Skin” first was this musicality, the orchestral swelling that, line by line, builds toward a final paragraph that nearly took my breath away the first time I read it. Like a carefully wrought symphony, this small story is more than the sum of its parts; it will take you somewhere new. In the plainest terms: I love Dana Diehl’s writing, and I think you will love it, too.

Animal Skin

My daughter comes out of the bathtub crying.

She says she’s found a spot, a dark shiny spot on the skin below her bellybutton. She lifts her shirt to show me, and I recognize the curved back of a tick, soft as an eggshell, shaped like a teardrop. I run my thumb over its hard-shell back, and my daughter squirms.

It’s the first time I’ve seen my daughter’s bare stomach in six months. She’s seven, and since around Christmas she hasn’t let me see her naked. A year ago, I was still bathing her every night. A year ago, she’d tie a towel around her waist like a loin cloth in the morning and leap from couch to couch in her bare, pink, new-animal skin. Now, she changes with her bedroom door clicked shut. Now, she pulls the shower curtain around her body like a cape when I enter the bathroom to retrieve toilet paper rolls. The other moms at her school tell me this is normal, that girls become self-conscious about their bodies earlier than boys, but still its unsettling to have a body that was once part of my body hidden from me.

My daughter crawls up onto the counter, lies on her back, and lets me roll her shirt up below her ribcage. I find a flashlight in the junk drawer and tell her to hold it steady so that the light is on the spot. I don’t say the word tick yet.

I retrieve tweezers from my bathroom. I place a hand on her belly to steady my wrist, and she sucks in. She says, Cold hands. I pull back, warm my fingers in my armpits, try again. The tick barely looks like a tick. It’s the size of a pencil tip, buried deep enough into her skin to look like it’s part of her. A mole, or a birthmark. I pinch it close to its head, avoiding the tick’s engorged belly. I pull. My daughter’s skin is soft under my palm. She smells like rising bread.

The moment I lift the tweezers, she eels out from under me onto the kitchen floor, sprints into the living room to turn on the TV. I drop the tick onto the white back of a receipt, and tape it in place with Scotch. It doesn’t move. I hold it to the light. I can see all eight of its legs. I can see its belly swollen with my daughter’s blood. In this moment, it is more her than I am.

***

My daughter goes to bed at nine, and I take my laptop to the front porch. I can see the shapes of deer moving through the neighbor’s front lawn. Probably the same deer that brought the tick to my yard, to my daughter’s stomach. I light a cigarette, and the deer raise their heads in unison. Half-chewed grass hangs from their fleshy lower lips.

I log in to my OkCupid account. I have three new messages, from men who write that I have a nice face, that they love a woman with kids, that I look like someone they’d like to take out for coffee. All three men are at least ten years older than me. They have haircuts that remind me of my daughter’s father. I erase their messages.

A year ago, I couldn’t date. A year ago, I’d go to work with jam-stains on my blouses, come home to my daughter screaming, laughing, reaching always wanting. Now, my days contain unexpected pockets of free time. The photos on my OkCupid account are ones that I took myself. Alone in the afternoon, I carry my camera in my purse. I set the self-timer and balance the camera on a ledge, on a root, on the roof of my car. I have ten seconds to arrange myself. I know exactly how long it takes to walk from one end of the frame to the other. I know how to cock my hips so that my shirt rises just an inch above my pants, so it looks like an accident. I know how to move so that my cesarean scar is hidden under the flap of my T-shirt.

A tick will reach you where you are most vulnerable. Armpits, soft paunches of belly, the crook of your neck. It’s attracted to your warmth, to the small vibrations your body makes without knowing it. A tick will stick itself to your skin with its own saliva, bury itself in its blood feast. If left alone, a tick will swell to a light-gray blue.

My daughter snores in her bedroom. The sound travels through the open windows, and I wonder what she was dreaming about. Once, my daughter was a fist of cells, connected to me by a thread. Once, my blood was her blood. I felt her knuckle against my skin and knew where to find her. I think of the tick, only half full, still alive under clear tape, and in that moment I want to let it go. I want to follow it through my house. I want to let it be my guide. My guide back to the soft, hidden places that I’ve forgotten how to reach.

Dana Diehl currently serves as editor-in-chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Hobart, Swarm, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }

stack

Photo by hobvias sudoneighm

What Was True Then

I try to imagine a specific reader in time and space. Sometimes I imagine myself. Not the current one, but a recent one: Steven back in 2011. And I write for him. He is twenty-three. His head is shaved, skin is darkly tanned, his temperament is easily aggravated. He lives in a remote valley in the Hindu Kush mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. Steven—let’s call him Steve, actually, he’d be fine with it: Steve carries a standard black M-4 carbine, firing the standard 5.56 millimeter, packing the standard 210 rounds. He likes the idea of standards. It reminds him there are people outside this valley, carrying the same precise amount of weight as him. In other valleys just like this one, all through these mountains. The people in his unit are not the only ones who are alone.

Steve hasn’t shaved in a couple of days because the outpost has a limited supply of bottled water and they have been told not to waste it shaving. The outpost, too, has limited official oversight, so this minor transgression can happen. His every meal is an MRE chased with instant coffee. His every solid waste must be splashed with diesel fuel and set on fire, then stirred with an iron poker till it’s gone. He sleeps in a sandbag bunker dug into the ground, because the outpost doesn’t have enough walls yet to offer any protection. Instead, there are loops of concertina wire that separate the known from the unknown. The unknown: according to recent intel, the unknown includes between 100 and 500 Taliban fighters in this immediate vicinity. Which means Steve and his unit are outnumbered either 2-to-1 or 10-to-1, depending on what you choose to believe. Steve chooses not to believe these reports at all; he simply respects them.

The previous platoon here did most of the digging on the bunker where he sleeps, but Steve dug a little further so it was large enough to bring a cot inside, and when he’s off duty he lies on the cot and puts on a headlamp and he reads. He dug a shelf into the side of the bunker where he keeps the book. It’s a hardcover with a dust jacket. The dust jacket is smeared with actual dust. He likes that, too.

The inside of the bunker is dark and cool, about as big as the interior of a car. Metal beams cross overhead to hold up the double-layered sandbag roof.  He has not been attacked here yet, but he expects it will happen soon, and he is right. The previous platoon that lived here was hit more days than not, but right now the fighters in the hills are feeling out these new people, waiting to see what they’ll do. But it’ll come. Until then, he takes his shifts on the guns, watching over poppy fields, villages the same color as the rocks, roads that are merely parallel tracks of dirt. Then he goes back to his bunker and reads, then sleeps, then starts over.

***
So there is a lot of unfair pressure on this book to be a really good book. It’s the only book he has. He used to have more room to keep books, but he’s living out of a ruck sack now, and the ruck is full, there’s only room for one at a time. He mailed the rest home, back when there was still access to mail, and now he reads this one on his cot, in his hole. The headlamp takes AAA batteries, which are rare. So the amount of time spent reading is also known as the amount of time spent using up AAA batteries. So it is extremely important what is actually inside the book. Shipped all this way to read in a dark hole in a dangerous valley where often it is better to just sleep because it may be a while before you will have another chance. What is actually inside the book: It feels silly to say, but it seems like the first time this question has ever occurred to him. What are the words in there, and what do they do, and could we get by just as well without them? Never while studying literature did it seem like stories were responsible for anything. People simply like to tell them, it’s a cultural thing and it’s fun and it goes on forever. But here the book has its own shelf dug into the rock. Dirt is smeared onto the dust jacket. The book is full of words, as if for the first time. Really, he needs this book. Not simply as a distraction, but he needs the book to tell him something he can keep. He doesn’t know what he needs exactly, only that he needs.

Turns out, the book is crafty and smart, but if there is anything to keep, the meaning is so far down he can’t get to it. So he gives up and shoves it in his ruck. He sleeps more instead.

***
I try to imagine him as a reader because it is discouraging to think that a book had made it so far but wasn’t enough. And I understand that plenty of books would’ve been, but still: I want to hand him something of mine now. A stack of paper. An essay. And say, try this one. To see if he’ll like it. And I know this is a dramatic example, but honestly, what was true then is still true. The words ought to matter in just that big a way, and I think dramatic examples can clarify issues that we might obscure or take for granted when we have the generous privilege of time and resources. My less-than-rigorous criteria being, if I handed some writing to Steve way back then, would he give a damn, or would he use that paper as a fire starter for the trash pit?  Which is to say, I believe in nuance, but I also believe it is possible to hide in nuance, use your literary knack to ensure only the most elite, patient, indulgent readers will have any idea what you’re talking about, because it is scary to think of a truly desperate reader looking you in the eye, across time and space, asking, what can you do for me?  I try to act like it’s my job to have an adequate response, which might be arrogant as all hell, but I remember being in that bunker and thinking fuck this book. And coming back from that is not a very graceful thing; it is not very easy.

So I try to think about how the language would happen in the space of that bunker, beneath a flashlight. What length each passage might need to be to hold the attention of a reader under some psychological distress. What do you give someone who doesn’t know what they need, but yet needs. What made him shove the book so deep in his ruck, and what could make him dig it back out?

Steven Moore is originally from southeast Iowa and currently lives with his wife in Corvallis, Oregon. He is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Oregon State University.

pixelstats trackingpixel

{ 0 comments }