Land Yacht

Photo by Wayne Stadler

Sailing Sounds Like This

I heard NPR’s All Things Considered host Melissa Block interview Todd Snider, a musician, about a favorite “song of summer,” and he said what I thought he’d say.

“Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl,” from the New England bar band, The Looking Glass.

The fuzzy AM radio, his parents’ backyard with burgers on the grill and a hose filling a plastic pool, Snider said the song “transported” him to childhood.

“There’s a point on a western bay / serving ships a hundred miles away / Lonely sailors pass the time away / and talk about their home.”

“I miss this time in America,” Snider said.

***
I never knew it.

***
A Pleistoscenic sea once covered the American Upper Midwest. Skeletons of lizard fish emerge in the limestone of western South Dakota. Last week I tried on a tropical shirt in the Sun Ray thrift store off the interstate in St. Paul. The day before, the poet Gretchen Marquette and I emerged with Café Breves under a steel sky and felt the pathetic fallacy swell beneath our puddle-slapping boots.

“The wind is cutting,” she said.

“Everything’s so ominous.”

I am still looking for the sea.

***
Toni Morrison says, “Truly landlocked people know they are.”

Maybe this explains yacht rock. Blue-eyed soul. Soft jams. Music from the 1970s and 80s from pop stars like Steely Dan, Rupert Holmes, Ambrosia. I love it, fixating on its vibe, its suave.

But am I susceptible to it? I sometimes think I should be listening to country songs, songs about belt buckles, sexy tractors, and diesel pick-ups.

But have you heard Paul Davis’ “Cool Nights?”

***
Yesterday I drove past Atlantic, Iowa, named for being halfway between America’s two oceans. Apparently, railroad officials flipped a coin, figuring out which name to bestow upon the grove of trees.

I have been far from the ocean my whole life.

***
Some people, though, want to insinuate we’ve already had the yacht rock resurgence.

Rolling Stone called “Yacht Rock,” an indie YouTube comedy series, “a reimagining of a bygone soft-rock renaissance, courtesy of hipsters with fake mustaches, impeccable record collections and a love of smoothness.” Michael McDonald appeared on a song from Brooklyn bands, Holy Ghost! and Grizzly Bear. Daryl Hall used to invite friends to perform Hall & Oates cuts on his internet series, Daryl’s House.

But that was a while ago.

Last week I watched a YouTube video with Elliott Lurie, who put out two albums with Looking Glass. It’s from an animal rescue benefit concert in a cabana-style bar in Malibu in which an older Lurie says, “I think this song has named a lot of pets over the years.”

It didn’t seem as cool. He used fake horns played on a keyboard. He sounded flat. In the background, I listened for the waves.

***
Before I hit 30, I’d only seen the sea thrice: at 23, in Ireland; at 20, in New York City; and at 6, in Florida. For a while, I counted Seattle, but this was just the Puget Sound. Someone said they still had whales, which is what confused me.

My initial traipse into the sea was inauspicious. On a beach in Florida, I took a giant wave to the face and sat on the beach wrapped in a towel, my aunt letting me sip from her Diet Coke.

Landlubber.

But I remembered the grandeur.

For awhile, in response, I had a bad habit of imagining topography to fit my enlarged, disquieted sense of the world.

On our lake in northern Minnesota, I’d blot out the sky with my hands, like the director Martin Scorsece framing a shot, seeing white and grey mountains rising behind our lake. Or I’d envision a rushing river cutting through an open field.

Dad encouraged this, indirectly. On a notepad in the cabin’s wooden table, he wrote terse, telegraphic diary entries to the family cabin’s next visitors.

“Hot as hell this week.”

“Had to replace the trolling motor. Lost at sea.”

“The lake was angry today.”

Down on the dock, wind feathering through the White Earth reservation, scuffing the water into foamy knuckles, I stood cloaked in dripping towel on our dock, the neighbor’s pontoon slapping the surface, in the sound of a that, that, that thiissss, that, that, that, thiissss.

***
Once at the Bemidji Wal-Mart, I saw seagulls tossing a plastic bag back-and-forth, crying out…

Caw!

Caw!

Caw!

It’s only later, though, I’d realized I perhaps was missing something, a gnawing absence in my field of experiences. See, at 23, when I reached Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland and saw the flat blue rectangle rising to an undefined horizon, the furthest western point between Europe and Boston, when I saw the sea, it was then I remember thinking, why would anyone live anywhere but near the ocean?

***
On the boat-ride back to Doolin, while the waves sloshed my ferry into the air, the radio played—with its muted horns, smooth vocals, and tidy hi-hat—Van Morrison’s “Days Like This.”

***
In yacht rock, I’ve found a language for the landlocked.

Steely Dan, Robbie Dupree, Christopher Cross. These artists and their music is as smooth as my imaginary sea. Do people who live within 100 miles of a meaningful shoreline like this music, though?

I grew up in southern Minnesota 100 miles from a meaningful shoreline (the Mississippi River). Our nearest lake choked in algae blooms and shimmered with the upturned white bellies of dead fish.

Once I had the audacity to tweet, “Sperry’s are the Thinking Man’s Boat Shoes.”

This misnomer could happen because “yacht” was never a financial adjective to me, only aesthetic. Our rich kids on the plains drove 4-wheelers, not catamarans. In effect, what interested me wasn’t the prosody of yacht rock, but its cultural geography: apricot melodies, falsetto singers in Canadian tuxedos backed by tinny, percussive stamps suggesting the slightest drawstrings of disco. Songs carried the gyrations of waves scuttling boats, while shaded strangers lounge in linen spurt across a crystal clear bay, in view of distant, hoary cliffs.

Sure I liked it sometimes on-the-nose, such as The Beach Boys’ “Sail On, Sailor,” Cross’ “Sailing,” and Rupert Holmes’ “If You Like Piña Coladas.” But the stern, the pulleys, the jib, the canvas taught into leeward winds, the blurry rocky Maine coast hoisting a lighthouse is also found there in timbre and sonic elocution, in mood, like Andy Gold’s “Lonely Boy,” Stephen Bishop’s “On and On,” or Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” These songs turn like the wheel on smooth chromatics, trochaic downbeats, lyrically whimsical, falsetto melodies sung by diamond-eyed singers as gentle as the boat disappearing into the ether of the horizon line. I see this like I see Quint’s boat, The Orca, in Jaws, lonely men in tiny little kitchens, floating, with bottles of beer in rough hands, netting on the walls, metastasizing their woe.

***
Geographically I should’ve been listening to John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow, especially that title, track. “Rain on the scarecrowd / blood on the plow!” But I knew people in Mellencamp’s 1985 opus maybe better than he did. This music never made me wonder. It never had pathos, loss.

And it’s not as if the sea is more tragic than the fields. On “farm safety day” in the fall, FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids covered straw dummies in loose-fitting flannel, set them in the path of runaway John Deere tractors, or chucked them into vacuum of a grain auger to show us what happens when we don’t button up around farm machinery. My fifth grade teacher talked about the man she once loved before her husband killed by a train coming home from the fields.

She was driving behind him and saw the twisted steel and shattered glass.

“She could feel the ocean fall and rise, its rage and glory.”

***
But knowing this land—the Coteau des Prairies or Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota, the foreclosed farms and bearded pig farmers and dusy combine seasons—has prevented its sonic elegies from mythologizing in my head.

Instead, I followed disco, bright lights about shimmery cakewalks in translucent cities. Or the music of a leisure class, a separate anxiety I’d never know.

Also, I think I became a man when I discovered the major-seventh on the piano.

The night in high school I bought a CD with “Brandy” on it, America’s top song for one week in late August, 1972, I drove home from the Wal-Mart in Albert Lea, Minnesota, sailing like a speedboat over the cracked county highways, zipping on S-curves around cornfields, lights from the combine lit-up like the spots docked atop barges or shipping vessels.

***
In theory, yacht rock, which is really just a pejorative term for “soft rock,” should resist reference points for continental folk. The writer Nick Flynn told a dinner table in St. Paul he couldn’t imagine understanding Moby-Dick without a proper relationship to the sea, and I stammered out something about the whiteness of the whale before my thesis advisor—from Michigan—told us she never understood the prairie-to-ocean analogy. I was sinking.

But then, a glimmer.

“I didn’t know the Mississippi ran through Minnesota,” Flynn said.

And I thought, see, see!

***
But it’s true. How does this music talk of the sea to people who’ve never been? And I’m not a synesthete, but I believe the translation is understood, similarly. I feel yacht rock more because my absence of the ocean, like tasting the color red, only possible because there is no taste of the color red, and thus whatever taste I hold in my mouth when I imagine tasting the color red is far more spectacularly imagined. The same goes with the sounds of swirl, tempest, and turgid waters, of Cayman beechwood and unbuttoned blouses and Borsalino hats, arrested in me by songful emotions that aren’t limited or “checked” by realities, such as jerks from school who wore unironic boat shoes or talked about summers on the Cape.

***
But I also shouldn’t pretend this avoidance of the sea hasn’t come without consequences, without its own payment.

For starters, there’s linguistic damage.

On the prairie, we call things that don’t belong to the sea, in fact, oceanic. Early white adventurers described a wave-like movement of the tall grass, blushing in the wind. My ancestors rode the land on “prairie schooners.” Now, along the river, they throw around the word “port” indelicately, as though the stopping-off-point for the barges carrying scrap metal needs romantic rhetoric.

As a child, a friend went to the ocean and came back with a large red welt on her forearm.

“A Portuguese Man-of-War…” she said. “Bit me. It’s a jellyfish. I nearly died.”

I just didn’t understand.

In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, jellyfish played the marimba.

Finally at 17, I visited the Shell Aquarium in Chicago on a marching band trip, amazed to discover sea horses are microscopic, not saddle-able, coming up to at least my chest, ridden by mer-people with long waving hair hoisting spears. They’re beautiful, complicated insects.

When you miss the sea, when you lack its proportions, you start allowing yourself to imagine more is possible in the world than really is.

***
In college I interviewed a man who dug up dinosaur bones on a South Dakota reservation who told me he didn’t believe dinosaurs existed, that the world was only 6,000 years old.

“But you’re holding the femur,” I said, “of a dinosaur!”

“God put those bones there simply to busy people like me,” he responded.

This kind of stuff makes sense when you don’t grow up near the ocean. You think God can do this. But God can’t do this. Or He wouldn’t do this. He was too busy building the sea.

***
Toni Morrison writes, “Once the people of the lake region discover this, the longing to leave becomes acute, and a break from the area, therefore, is necessarily dream-bitten, but necessary nonetheless.”

But I have not been able to leave. I have been stuck here on the prairie since childhood, since birth.

So have my parents. Maybe they’re to blame. They’re the ones who listened to the jazz-referential songwriting and college-educated sounds of the blue-eyed soul heroes, such as Billy Joel and Jackson Browne and Boz Scaggs. At night, I’d fall asleep to James Taylor records playing in the basement. These artists aren’t cornerstones of the yacht rock movement, but the sonic DNA—tons of treble, layers of harmonies (America, anyone?), and walk-away lyricism about giving up or giving in. Can we see now what fruition was brought by Robbie Dupree in “Steal Away?”

***
My father is now retired from teaching band and is principal at a Catholic School, serving the parish of St. Canice in Kilkenny, Minnesota. Last fall we ate at the harvest dinner at St. Canice. Walking into the dinner, Mom said, “Canice was patron saint of the shipwrecked.”

The settlers from Ireland landed in Minnesota and knew they’d never leave, so they brought their gods with them.  It was breathtaking. On the way in, we’d passed a small lake surrounded by a cornfield and a few shelter belts. In town, a black-and-silver-haired woman stood next to an Irish bar, smoking a cigarette in her maroon-and-camouflage jacket. She’d walked to a steel-siding building to grab a bag of fried chicken and Styrofoam cup of mashed potatoes and walk back. Her hair—like my mother’s—was Irish. Thick, black, turning grey. Hair tough for whipping winds on coasts, genetics of geography still lingering.

***
Christopher Cross’s father grew up in South Dakota. Cross is the Harper Lee of the yacht-rock era, the reclusive everyman thrust into the limelight who delivers one smashingly successful work then retires. Cross had a couple, I suppose. His debut record, 1980’s Sailing, was a mega-hit. The album produced top-20 hits such as “Ride Like the Wind,” “Sailing,” and his second album, Another Page, came out in 1983 put out “Think of Laura.” In between he had the Oscar-winning song, “Arthur’s Theme.”

The lyrics for his biggest hit, “Sailing,” start like this:

“Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me

And if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquility

Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see.”

Cross, if you don’t know the story, is the poster-child of this music—a whiny rich kid plastering lush string arrangements behind a maudlin tune about white privilege.

Who gets to go sailing? Most of us aren’t sailors. We’re more like Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob, a half-mad jester duct-taped to the mast screaming out, “I’m sailing! I’m sailing on my first try!” as the boat skims through the horrified flotilla.

And thus fate dealt a fitting hand to Cross, whose career cooled off as dramatically as his ascent—a victim of the music video age, with his jowly paunch and fastidious gaze. Or of an increasingly punk-like America. Cross wasn’t a bad boy nor a charmer. He didn’t dance. Your father liked his songs better than you. And so he sailed into the egg-yoke sun with his flamingo-themed logo.

***
But now he’s been sailing back.

In an interview with the CBS Sunday Morning Show, in 2012, Cross said he’d found peace with his career’s peripatetic nature. He’s still making music. He has a wall of gold records. And when the interviewer asks him what he’d tell his 30-year-old self, he quotes his father, who told him, “One of the tragedies of life is experience is non-transferable.”

***
Cross’s father was a doctor, who worked at Walter Reed, so they moved around a lot as a kid, eventually settling in San Antonio (within reach of “the border of Mexico” as iconized in “Ride Like the Wind”).

In a story that he tells at his shows, that he also shared with the CBS Morning Show reporter, Cross says the real story of his most famous song, “Sailing,” wasn’t about sailing at all (“I only went a couple times”) but rather about art. Canvas refers not to the tarp of a sail but the painter’s medium, suggesting the transformative power of the artist to move yourself spiritually or emotionally when unable to physically.

Mom was in the audience at a casino in Iowa when he shared this tale two years ago. She’d driven over with her sisters. They waited in line afterward to get to meet him. In all my years, I’ve never known her to drive so far for a show.

***
Songs of melancholia near the sea come from various cultures.

In Portugal, the musical genre of Fado exists—heart-strong love-songs taken from the Portuguese word “saudade” (“suffering”), sung in guttural tones for lovers lost at sea.

Then there’s the sea-shanty, not just that bromide of an image of the thick-necked man with steel ring around his neck pounding a cow’s hide-bass-drum while grunting and sweating men pull on long, wooden oars. But the sing-out of uproarious melodies in French by pirates or merchant marines. In 1961, Stan “The Last Shantyman” Hugill, who wandered around for photographers in a ribbed stocking cap half pulled off his churlish blonde hair with a pipe’s ladle chewed and worked for twenty years on boats as a merchant marine, published Shanties of the Seven Seas, collecting scraps and melodies he’d heard of sometimes ancient tunes sung down by men swabbing the poop deck and hauling line.

One formula of sea music—like many working songs—is sharing tales of travels.

“Have you ever been to Frisco Bay?”

And the “ae” vowel cues up the response.

“And seen a girl named Molly?”

I’m not sure who Molly is or if this is even a song, but you see what it’s about. Songs condition and compel movement. If, as Morrison says, we can’t be on the sea, we might still travel on a tune.

***
Woody Guthrie, born in Oklahoma far from the sea, put “this machine kills fascists” on his guitar in 1941, after writing a song against Hitler. It’s a nice wish. But, of course, music has authoritarian possibilities—songs of nationalism, songs of chauvinism, songs of hate. They can all be played on a guitar quite easily. Songs of identity or consensus can be the scariest, and maybe if I were living in Maine with a family of blue-blooded, wine-swilling dock shoes, I’d be cautious about my thesis from this voice. But, to me, a son of public school teachers from the Midwest, yacht rock feels like one of the least authoritarian mode of music for me as it inspires exactly what I don’t and never will have: the sea.

Last year (2016), I was able to visit the sea three different times: Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and New York City. I understand that D.C. is not the sea. It is the Potomac. But I am talking about maritime culture. And that was on full display, as we went for a morning run through Alexandria’s Old Town district, where I saw a pelican perched ambassadorially on a thick wooden pole submerged into the mucky bottom of the pier, and men and women in pastel and mint shorts and shirts wandered the cobblestone in Sperry’s, and I felt a vile taste in my mouth. This was not me. I wouldn’t be a yacht clubber in a tidy polo as clean as the vacuumed carpet in the brig. I felt the prairie call to me, the husk and flannel and buffalo with yellow bird roosting on its furry butt.

Robert Frost in his early poem, “Mowing,” uses the letter “S” often to invoke the sound of a scythe swooshing and swishing through stalks of tall, summer grass.

This was a memory I knew. A memory of the land and culture within me, and when I returned to the prairie, all I could think about again, was the sea.

***
Mom’s family—the O’Connor’s—crossed the sea from Ireland in the 1880s. In the 1960s, she remembers Christmas Eve nights, going out to the big farmhouse south of Beresford, South Dakota where all of her relatives ate not ham or turkey but cod, fresh from some godforsaken place near Sioux City. My grandmother, whose grandparents crossed the ocean, only moved away from Union County in South Dakota once, when she moved down to Vermillion, South Dakota, to live with Tillie Geppert and care for her children.

One of those kids—Leo—grew up to be a doctor who after years moving between Army bases eventually landed in Texas, where he raised his own family, including a son, Christopher, who says only demurely that he had a “rough” upbringing in the CBS interview, playing in bands around San Antonio and eventually, upon signing with Warner Brothers in 1978, changed his last name.

He never really came back to the farm in South Dakota. But when he’d played the area over the years, there are often cousins and second cousins waiting backstage.

***
The website AllMusic wrote in 2014 in praise of yacht rock, with an expanded definition saying, “[T]he term has only gained strength, coming to describe a whole smooth aesthetic that existed roughly from 1975 to 1982, expanding far beyond the white soft-rockers of LA and encompassing smooth jazz and “Yacht Soul.”

In recent years, the stigma around the term has softened as indie movements, such as respected, so-called “chillwave” or “bedroom pop” artists like Ariel Pink, Beach House, and Mac DeMarco have emerged giving if not verbal at least sonic send-ups to their denimed, longhaired forbearers.

Cross has even been resuscitated in the culture, getting mentioned on the popular television show 30Rock, as Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon wished for a special ode written to her and sung by Cross, paraphrasing the chorus from “Arthur’s Song”

“When you get lost between the moon and New York City…”

But Cross was far from New York City in an Iowa casino two summers ago when Mom saw him. After signing the record she’d purchased, Mom asked Cross about her sons—one a musician and the other a writer—who were struggling to get their work off the ground and how their struggles she tended to internalize, and then Cross told my mom, his second cousin he never knew until tonight, something his friend Steve Martin told him: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.”

***
But it is that far down to paradise when you grow up in landlocked Minnesota and never leave. My genes have gotten lost moving from tropics to temperates, from maritime to prairie climes. I’m in Des Moines today and there is a river and that seems enough. Seagulls swirl. A bridge is being built, so small motorized boats are anchored next to a miniature barge upon which workers in yellow hats scuttle. The sun is out, and because the way the water runs around the boats, the rive appears faster than normal, chugging along, like it’s rushing heavier, downhill toward something—what? A release, an escape, a sea—than is real.

It’s a mirage. A painting. An artifice.

But as I walked the East Village neighborhood, I sensed the dramatics that accompanies seaside villages or towns with larger rivers, closer to the ocean—a worldliness, a cosmopolitan urgency and contentedness, something we never had growing up.

***
Last fall at a yacht rock dance party, I won tickets to go see Firefall, who had a big 1974 hit.

“You are the woman that I’ve always dreamed of/ I loved you from the start.”

After offering them to Gretchen, I instead gifted them to my parents.

“Oh, it was wonderful,” Mom said, Sunday morning when they got home.

I happened to be home that weekend, trying to finish a book. They hadn’t seen my brother, either, who had moved into his shell a few months before he’d depart for Los Angeles on a music career. But my parents are starting to go to music again now that we’re long out of the house and not to return.

“They’re originally from Denver,” Dad said.

“And the venue was nice?”

“A really great place,” Mom said, referring to the jazz club, named for an indigenous culture, who was at home on the prairie, who traveled underneath the sun and moon across its stark horizon line, the grass its sea, its sailing grounds.

***
And so, too, is becoming my sensibilities—tethered primarily now to flatlands and grass. But I sense, still, crying out, I carry memories of the sea, fossils bedded in my rocks, like the sound of waves in a shell. Our ancestors cried and stayed awake drinking Guinness when family set sail for America, mourning not for the faces they would never see again, but for the children of their children, who would awake with only dreams of the sea and miles of endless, cornfields, dusty flowers separating from them the lap of the waves. That is why we sing songs of the sea. Why we put porcelain fish atop fancy restaurants in Midwestern capital cities. You miss the sea, even when you’ve rarely seen it. You dress for it. You sing for it.

***
When I lived in Minneapolis, a bar down the street hosted sea-shanty sing-alongs on Monday nights. Everyone wore sailor hats and cable-knit sweaters and slaked sloshy drinks. I never went. It seemed too sad. Us out here on the prairie, mistaking lakes for oceans. Friends still go. Maybe someday I will. And afterward, emerging onto the busy street traffic, not a sea in sight or smell, the falling snow might slick the sidewalk just enough for me to grab hold of the stern of the nearest street lamp, steadying my balance on the prow of this ship me and my bones have always known how to steady.

Christopher Vondracek lives in South Dakota, where he’s working on a memoir about Lawrence Welk.

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Moon Mockery

Photo by Carol VanHook

Rubber Bubble Rubble
Children who lose balloons
pop
throw up their arms, and watch,
outstretched.

Bursts wait
on the puffed purses of their mouths
as their eyes chew every bob,
silent spectators to a
drifting bruise.

Serena Eve Richardson is a poet, essayist, and singer/songwriter. She received her BA with a concentration in creative writing from Montclair State University. Her forthcoming album, Some Imaginings, features poems that have been transitioned into songs. Serena enjoys practicing Siljun Dobup, a samurai sword martial art in which she holds a second-degree black belt.

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The Green Monster (#2711)

Photo by Mark Sebastian

The Gaffe

The film was about making a drama, which was about making a thriller, which was about making a comedy about the making of a horror flick. There were five of us script supervisors, each responsible for the continuity of our assigned storyline. We had to make sure that no props and actors from the outer or inner films enter into the one we were in charge of.

The script was a hefty spiralled tome with annotations overflowing onto the margins like leafy branches. The screenwriter had color-coded the thing to signify what section belonged to which film. Inspired by this organizational move, the director chose to use different camera filters to visually assist the viewers. He praised the script as a masterpiece, golden material. It was too bad that the screenwriter never received the compliment. Sadly, he passed away of a brain tumor, leaving us with a plethora of unresolved riddles.

While the films had to be interesting by themselves, the idea was that the overall experience should be greater than the sum of its parts. The audience was expected to figure out the depths of the story after repeated viewings. The first time, it sufficed if they could figure out the actors and their multiple roles. Only a few actors appeared across all the films-within-a-film, the most central of all being the starlet who was supposed to get murdered in every instance using the familiar formula of the respective genre: with a gun, poisoned, falling down the elevator, and then, of course, slashed by a knife. She ran around set joking about the upcoming interviews: how the hell did she prepare to die that many times in a film!

We started our days by reviewing the storyboard and the scenes we were scheduled to shoot. During shooting, several shouts of “cut” echoed. But we knew only to listen to the director whose vision had brought this to life, and not to the actors whose roles asked them to play directors. After his cuts we scurried to the scene to validate everything was in order for the next take: that the camera filters were in place; that the actors knew who they were supposed to be in the scene to come; and, that the mise-en-scène was consistent. Inevitably, quarrels would ensue when one of us got it wrong, a more than likely case. The arguments would settle themselves one way or another with us smiling away our rancour and returning to our lair—five folding chairs—to wait for the clapboard to rise and thwack. Late at night we watched the rushes together to make sure there had been no gaffe: that the conspicuous red car in the thriller was not visible in the comedy or the horror; that the omnipresent heartthrob always appeared with the right haircut, the accurate accent. On our way to our beds, the scenes held their grip on us, and that grip tightened in our sleep. We dreamt not only in tones of black and white. At times it turned sepia, grainy, into saturated colors even. That was how we grew into the universe of our respective films. We felt ownership, became territorial. The dreams transformed into nightmares when we turned against each other, our fellow supervisors. It was as if our individual films were nominated for a prize and we were keen to throw each other out of the race. What began with a cooperative spirit turned into an unhealthy rivalry. We saw each other as trespassers, as usurpers of our own universes.

And then it happened. In the middle of filming, while the real camera had the starlet and a fake camera within the same frame, the starlet jerked her right hand, unscripted, and placed it on her left shoulder. She gasped, took one step back. Her left hand moved in the air, seeking something to lean on. She seized the back of a chair. But it collapsed and took her with it. None of the directors, the real one or the actors, shouted cut. We all gazed at the scene, wondering to which of the films this act belonged, which death she was dramatizing. After a few seconds of disbelief, the crew dashed toward her, calling out her name, yelling for a doctor, and all the while, we five remained slumped in our folding chairs, casting accusatory glances at each other as if to discover the culprit. We leafed through the colorful scripts hoping they’d hold all the answers in the world, while the sirens approached and the paramedics rushed to carry the starlet’s lifeless body away on a stretcher.

The film never finished; it remained an incomplete masterpiece. We parted ways; we didn’t collaborate ever again. We omitted that botched project from our resumes, doing our best to erase its memory. But, after years, we still wake up at night with a shriek, yelling at ourselves, or at one of our unfortunate bedfellows, that it wasn’t my fault, it didn’t happen in my film.

Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. One of his short stories in Persian won first-place in the Sadeq Hedayat 12th Annual Short Story Contest in 2014. His fiction has appeared in The Malahat Review, Hobart and Litro and is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review and Portland Review.

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Photo by David Marvin

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our editors how they’re kicking off summer.

Jackson Keller
Associate Editor, Fiction
Livonia, Michigan

Swearing that today is finally the day I’m going to clean my apartment before going outside to frolic in the woods for three hours instead.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Massachusetts

Visiting much-missed Dunkins and beginning to read thesis books.

Ethan Brightbill
Associate Editor, Fiction
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Bombarding lit journals with my work. I’ve been terrible about submitting since starting grad school, so I’m making up for lost time.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In New York doing some research for my thesis and eating as many bagels as I can.

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raccoon

Photo by Jack Satta

Lower Columbia Watershed Haibun: Field Notes on Going Home Again

1. There are no watersheds downstream, only the ocean. There are no watersheds downstream, only the ocean. The ocean, the repository for everything. Microbes, salt, aluminum foil. Herbicide, pesticide, plastics, oils. The taste of your cheeks when you cry. No watersheds downstream. Upstream, the Willapa Bay watershed and the Lower Columbia-Claskanie watersheds, where also you have lived and wandered the logged hills, the fished rivers, the lusted-after foxglove you hoped would stop your heart from longing, from wanting, wanting anything but these logged hills, wanting anything you didn’t have, which was everything except your body, the body you pressed like a flower, tired of filling in the gaps, into the pages of a book until it was flat and thin. You drank the flower (to stop your heart from wanting a boy?, any boy who didn’t want you); you were stupid and malleable, you were not yet a feminist, you were always a feminist, walking into those hills was a way of walking into an ocean of fuschia, of waves, a meadow of not-metaphor. You wrote and you wrote and you wrote. No writing it out ever satiated your thirst. These flowers are still one way to die, drowning, electric current plushing your heart, slowing it until it stops beating and you fall into the river below. Chemical defoliant. Fleshy waste.

          On your father’s nightstand:
          a revolver
          in its case.

2. One can access the EPA reports of each body of water, the watershed summary reports, the microbiological, contaminant reports by organization. For example, the Shoaltwater Bay tribe reports, in 2009, on the Metal(80), Microbiological, Contaminants(314), Nutrient(339), Pesticide(4052), Physical(4293) toxins in the Willapa Bay. In the 1990s, you run the clear cuts of these watersheds. In 2014, the local oyster industry sprays the bay with a known toxin, marketed to the public as disastrous near any water source, in order to suppress the shrimp population so the oysters can thrive, so the locals can continue their reign as the oyster capital of the Pacific Northwest. All of the oysters fished in Willapa Bay are now toxic, but if you drive through Raymond, you can still see the piles of oyster shells, Babylonian in height, their insides gleaming with a moony glow in the daylight.

          Microbes, salt, aluminum foil.
          Herbicide, pesticide, plastics, oils.
          It’s raining. It’s raining again.

3. Driving, driving like an Inland American, you can reach this corner of Washington State. There’s a freeway of Scotch broom. Yellow yellow yellow. There’s Tacoma/ Neko Case. There are scabs of sawed down hemlock. Then foxglove, beautiful slippers on a stalk. Your partner tries one for the first time. Your reader wants to, but is afraid. (He’d have to try a thousand. She’d have to want to die to eat enough to die.) Exit at the turn for Olympia. You’re heading way out of town. Skirt Raymond, skirt Montesano. Remember your young legs in Montesano, or on a dock in Brownsmead, on a slough, on a spit of desire. Remember how much you desired? Remember desire, that slim stalk with the bloom you can reach, the bloom, the actual bloom? Is it reality? Is it part perception?

          Foxglove, Scotch broom
          bouqueting for hours
          the watershed of your heart—

4. Scotch broom in oceanic waves of yellow, flotsam/jetsam washing up along the roadside. Its smell is non-native, invasive, potentially allergenic. Its pollen is transported by wind, not bees, so it will survive the apocalypse. Its smell is everywhere. Roll down your window: let it in your car. Let it in your car because the wood can make beautiful pens; you’ll learn this later, you’ll learn so much, it’ll never be enough; and you’ll still be alive. Let it in your lungs because it won’t really hurt you, unless you’re allergic, unless you’re non-native. According to The Everett Herald, Scotch broom was spread by highway workers kicking up seed when they widened the freeway. According to The Everett Herald, the widened freeway disturbed the soil, made way for the bushes. According to gardeners and educators, the plant was imported from Britain to California. It was 1850. They wanted to control erosion.

          How can you control the erosion
          of a teen? Will she slide
          downstream with the mud in the rain?

5. In the 1990s, you want to control the erosion of your heart. It’s 1996. You’re juvenile. You’re a  teenager. You’re pretty and stupid. You’re ugly and smart. You know there are no watersheds downstream, only the ocean. You know the names of all/almost all the plants, the trees, bushes, ferns, and mosses. You are learning the mosses. You make a book for biology class, once in Astoria, and when you move across the river (Columbia River, straight to the ocean), you make one again in Naselle. What you learn in one state is often repeated when you move to another. What you learn in one small town is often repeated in a smaller town, in a county school, in a classroom where everything feels repeated. What you learn as a teenager is repeated when you’re an adult, what you learn is what you learn, is you never learn. You are learning the mosses. You are learning the veins. You are learning the heart, the roads, the watersheds. You are learning there are no watersheds downstream.

You drive for hours and hours to see yourself again, this maze of water, this topography of loss and lust and hormonal mess. It’s spring. It’s spring and the roadsides are blooming, blooming back into the hills. Everything’s blooming on State Route Four. Everything’s blooming, shoring you up.

It’s more like the smell of honeysuckle than death, more like warm wet wood than a heart, opened, on the table. On the table, your watersheds, unfolded, repeating.

You turn away, look out at the house just torn down so all that’s left is dirt where the house once was. The house where you lived. The highway just a few steps away.

          Where the house once was:
          a hole full of water.

          Where the house once was,
          your heart:
          a hole full of flowers.

Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of Rust Fish (Lost Horse Press 2011), Yesterday, the Bees (Floating Bridge Press 2015), and the forthcoming collaboration (with visual artist Carrie DeBacker), Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts (Entre Rios fall 2017). When she is not cavorting in geologic landforms & waterways, Maya teaches poetry and poetics at Central Washington University and/or parents two small children.

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Greenhouse tomatoes at the ITC landfill and recycling center

Photo by World Bank Photo Collection

Editorial intern Brian Czyzyk on today’s bonus poem: Lindsay Illich’s “I Explain the Dark Center” carries an earthy sensuality and juxtaposes a curious combination of images: a bathtub, tomatoes, and volcanic rock, as a collage of heartbreak. Loss paints the narrator’s Earth blue with “warm sorrow,” and stone-like hips are worn down to bone within Illich’s tight and evocative lines.

I Explain the Dark Center

It started with your eyes
calling from the tub to come

get me, bring me your warm
sorrow. The part of losing you

I can’t get over is how you grow
despite my not watering you:

I threw seeds out the window
and this year I pick all the tomatoes

I want. You said, it’s the humidity.
Yes, I approve the antediluvian.

No rain but everywhere lush
the Earth found blue.

Your hip crests, a caldera of pumice
we rubbed and rubbed like worry

until we were worn down
to the bone.

Lindsay Illich’s first book, rile & heave, won the Texas Review Press Breakout Prize in Poetry.

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Twisted Contrails

Photo by Marcus Ward

A History of Morning Clouds and Contrails

So you think that you can live remote
from city streets paved with bullet casings,
the beheadings of girls sprayed from cable TV.

While the intricate lace burka of contrails smothers dawn’s blush,
sky blasts dogma to smithereens over mountains
too distant to notice the woman barricaded
down the road at Fox Fire,
her automatic rifle aimed at police.

Each morning, ravens carve black questions
that go unanswered by light.  Assailed
by head winds, they sheer, intent on laughter
as they bank nearly upside down to sing.

Sun climbs hand over burning hand
through aspen leaves going to gold bullion
anyone can spend regardless
of what bank they believe in.

Go out, lie in last season’s sinking tomato bed, pull
dead plants around you and spit seeds
at the chemical ooze of contrails jets expel
bisecting the blue intelligence of sky’s water dreams,
crosshatching quadrants between clouds
gauzy as love slipping between finger cracks.

The woman is desperate, mistakes bullets
she jams in her ex-husband’s gun for
her own screams for his incessant fists.
How else can she feel secure? She, too, inhales
toxins saturating sky.

Lean to the warmth of an otter’s last dive
before ice takes the river, the exhausted heart of the land.
What we’ve relinquished in the name of security
to the awful gravity of military science
manipulates what we deep breathe.

Interview with Pam Uschuk by PN’s Poetry Editor Patricia Killelea

Some readers may know Pam Uschuk’s poetry from her collection One Legged Dancer, Scattered Risks, Crazy Love, which won an American Book Award in 2010. The Michigan-born and raised author of four full-length poetry collections as well as multiple chapbooks, her work has appeared in Poetry, Parnassus Review, Agni Review, Pequod, Ploughshares, Beloit Poetry Journal, Hunger Mountain, and many others. Now her work comes to Passages North online in the form of “a History of Morning Clouds and Contrails,” a poem filled as much with indictments of normalized violence and mechanized greed as it is with crow’s wings and rivers turned to ice.

I first came to Uschuk’s work through Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, since it regularly features voices from diverse writers, including up and coming Native American voices. I asked her about “A History of Morning Clouds and Contrails,” since it takes on some contemporary issues affecting us all: gendered violence, technology use and misuse, as well as the link between voice and environment.

PK: One thing I noticed with this piece is that you are especially concerned with the experiences of girls and women as related to violence, both in the context of the brutal beheading, domestic violence, the armed standoff. This is atypical of representations of these overt forms of violence in the media, which are often focused on men’s doings. Could you talk a little bit about your interest in gender and how it intersects with violence in the media and how that relates to your ideas about poetry, both in this piece and beyond?

PU: My interest in women’s issues stems from my own experiences growing up and living in a male-dominated culture. As a young woman, I had male teachers, male bosses, I read mainly male writers, looked at art made mainly by males.  The dearth of women artists, writers, explorers, sports heroes, and warriors was disturbingly apparent. This poem is based on a real incident that occurred outside of the tiny town of Bayfield, Colorado where I lived for many years.  I imagined a woman, driven to extremes, with a long history of being threatened, belittled and beaten by her ex-husband.  I imagined what that scenario would be.  She managed to get her ex-husband’s automatic rifle, to shoot him and barricade herself in her house. I remembered, perhaps, the woman prisoner in Wyoming, where I conducted a three-week poetry workshop for women felons.  This woman, kind and gentle, had murdered her husband after he knocked out all her teeth.  He’d abused her their forty years of marriage.

How can anyone live in our culture without witnessing violence against women?  Most murders committed against women are committed by abusive husbands and boyfriends. Indigenous women, as a group, are more often victims of domestic abuse and rape than any other racial of ethnic group worldwide.  Thousands of rapes are never reported because women are afraid to come forward, knowing that more often than not perpetrators go free.  One of my close college friends was raped on her way back to the dorm from work.  The rapist beat her ferociously, breaking her ribs and cheekbone.  I was horrified to see her face.  Her suffering wasn’t simply from physical wounds.  There was something broken inside of her.  The rapist was never caught, never brought to trial.  I’ve known several women, including my sister, who were victims of physical and emotional domestic abuse.  One of my best friends was hospitalized when her then husband beat her so badly, she suffered a skull fracture.  More than one friend has been threatened with murder by her husband/boyfriend.  The list of these women is long, and it is hungry.  My sister-in-law committed suicide just last year in a battered women’s shelter after her long and violent marriage.  She had left her husband several times but always went back to him.  The cycle of abuse is well documented, but it really hits home when it happens to a family member.

PK: Your poem asks readers to directly confront the ways that we often turn our faces from the stories and realities of struggle around the world. Even in a time when we are all more connected in terms of communication (internet, television, etc.), it seems like there is less and less empathy. In addition to television, you also bring in other forms of technology: guns, airplanes, and military science. Could you talk a little bit about why you decided to address technology in this way, and why (perhaps) you think poetry might be useful for thinking/feeling through our relationships with technology?

PU: Technology as a double-edged sword often finds its way into my poems. It can save us or destroy us—in medicine, at our jobs, in our homes. Technology is just another name for our sophisticated tools. Like this computer I am typing on.  I can rearrange sentences, correct grammar, revise my quick thoughts, but the screen is sending out energy that changes me at a cellular level, shaking up my neurons for good and for ill.  This screen affects my eyesight and my mental state, but I use it for efficiency. T.V., computers, cell phones have distanced us from our emotions.  We are anesthetized to the pain of others because we are bombarded with images of the pain and suffering of others.

We have developed extremely sophisticated weapons, automatic weapons, drones, super-bombs, atomic weapons—tools that can destroy humanity and most life forms on earth.  Our psyches have not, for the most part, advanced much further than Neanderthals.  In my poems, I can’t fail to address this disparity.  Sometimes, it seems the more advanced weaponry we develop, the more we retrograde to brutality.  Look at the current administration, the President’s hair-trigger anger, his authorization of bombing raids and dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Syria and Afghanistan without congressional approval.  This administration’s threats of nuclear retaliation have me worried.  We have a long way to go to advance on an emotional, empathetic, humanitarian level.  I feel a need to address this, and so I make a connection between domestic abuse and military science, our advanced weapons of war that could easily destroy us.  Violence is violence.  Bullying is bullying, abuse is abuse, whether it’s perpetrated on a playground, on the natural world, in a kitchen or on an international scale.

PK: The juxtaposition and overlapping of images of the natural world with those of the human world really drew me to this piece; of course, it’s a total illusion that these worlds are separate. I love the way you bring in the ravens as witness, the skies and land as agential and likewise affected by these human happenings. Could you talk a little bit about why you think it’s important to bring in non-human perspectives and land relationships into your poetry?

PU: I grew up very close to nature.  When my grandmother talked about birds, she talked about them like beloved relatives.  She was particularly fond of a wren who nested in her magnolia tree each spring.  I grew up on an 80-acre farm in Michigan. We lived in intimate proximity to all the creatures on that land.  My father named all his cattle, and they came to them when he called, following him around like puppies.  When he plowed his wheat and oat fields, he made islands around rabbit warrens and trees, so that there were islands pocking all his fields.  He taught us never to kill anything we didn’t eat.  We were imbued with a love of and a respect for the natural world. He taught us that life was sacred.

Whether it was on Michigan lakes or rivers or on that beautiful mother, Lake Michigan, my father loved to fish.  My mother’s father also was a fantastic fisherman.  From my father and grandfather I learned all manner of things about fish, but, mostly, I learned to respect them. My parents took us often to the woods, taught us the names of creatures, plants and trees.  On vacation, we drove to the Upper Peninsula, walked in the woods in Seney Wildlife Refuge, hiked to Tauquammenon Falls, walked Lake Superior’s shores, jumped into its icy waves.

My father’s family were immigrants from Belarus and the Czech Republic. My Czech grandma, Anna, worked with medicinal plants.  She was an intuitive healer and psychic. She taught me the names of plants and their medicinal uses.  She taught me the names of birds and their habits. For both sides of my family, wild nature was central.  Some of my elementary school friends were Chippewa.  I learned from all of them to love the land and animals and trees and plants.  From both sides of the family, I learned that animals and trees were my relatives.

All those things show up in my poems because they are such an integral part of me.  Wild nature is essential to my wellbeing, essential to my work.  At our great peril, we ignore or trample on our roots in the wild natural world.  When we destroy the natural world, we destroy the most essential part of our psyches. We destroy our hearts.  I am very much concerned with maintaining our connection to the natural world.  It’s one of the few things that can save us from our own greed and power-seeking ignorance.

You can learn more about Pam’s work and Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts here.

 

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Wuhan / 武汉 | The black of the pool

Photo by Tauno Tõhk

Associate fiction editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today’s bonus story: Douglas Macdonald’s tiny piece starts off as a fast-paced, gorgeous picture of two kids, Vito and Avril, on a regular summer’s day, and suddenly—and shockingly—turns futuristic, otherworldly, and sinister. This story and its culminating image stuck with me long after the first read.

The Flies at the Pool in DC

Through the hedge a gleam of azure. Beyond the black iron railings the pool glistened like a layer of sky ripped out and spread before us like a blanket at a picnic. Me and Avril. No one else around. Sundays are like that in DC. So screw all those signs saying GOVERNMENT PROPERTY KEEP OUT.

—We need a fix from this fucking heat, Avril said, smoothing the hair off her forehead.

—No suits.

—So what? If we’re caught we’re caught—we’re kids.

On our bellies we crawled and squiggled under the iron pickets. We were surprised how easy. Big buidling beside the pool with antennas. Quick selfie—Avril in her panties and t-shirt and me in my polka dot boxer shorts by a lounge chair. First time I noticed her hips starting to bulge with womanhood. We held hands in the foot chill of the shallow end on the first semicircular step.

—Vito, you go first. Her voice a silver quivering wire. Sucked in my breath dove along the surface, skidding, blue shrapnel of splashing I was born anew in our rebooted universe. Soon Avril was beside me, shivering and whirling, her lips all wet tangerine lipstick. We were just old enough to start kissing and not anything much else.

When the first big furry black fly flew over the pool we scarcely noticed it. We were in the deep end now, hanging onto one of the ladders. Soon a number of flies were buzzing around, swooping over our heads, sailing off into the blue, and returning.

Avril’s scream was a shock. —It bit me, she shouted. The loud buzzing panicked us.  Once one fly found us they all learned. We ducked under. Her legs were so pale beneath the water, scissoring wildly back and forth like a hurt octopus. We thrashed to the shallow end. How to get out, get out, get out and not get stung. Avril started up the steps but the flies swarmed over her. Shrieking she fell back into the water. Couldn’t talk. Something had gotten into her mouth. I reached in her mouth with my middle finger and thumb and felt a big fly still buzzing. Felt solid. Pulled it out. It was metal. On the bottom of its belly were some tiny numbers. Shit. A man in a blue uniform was coming towards us from a door we hadn’t noticed.

Douglas Macdonald has published poetry widely and recently returned to the short story/flash scene. He has won several prizes for his short stories and poetry. Recently a story of his was published in the volume Visions of Life (2015).

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syrup

Photo by Anaxolotl

Associate poetry editor Sara Ryan on today’s bonus poem: This poem by Kaitlyn Duling is intimate and moving. It questions. It quietly hints at something more. The relationship between the brother and sister in this poem is humorous, maybe awkward, and hopeful. There is a knowing between them, a knowing glazed with maple syrup and the stark geography of home.

Poem in which my brother doesn’t come out to me, his gay sister

His first time in my new state,
I point out the window and say “There,

those are ‘rolling hills’ like we always
read about and hear about in movies,

see?” And we get pancakes at the place
where President Obama supposedly loved

the pancakes and had his picture taken
while he said so. The quote is on the wall

in a glass frame. I take him to the zoo
where we have to ride an escalator

to get anywhere close to the animals and
I pull my arms up high, show him how

I live in mountains now. No more of that flat,
quiet earth that waits you out. The first time

I drove through Pennsylvania, I couldn’t breath
because of all the closing in around me, I tell him.

I never knew dirt could be piled up that high.
I want him to see the high dirt and eat his

pancake and believe me when I say I’m happy
here, so far from farmland and flat spots and all that.

Obama dripped syrup all over the floor, I heard,
when he stopped here on his way around the country.

I say this and wave my fork around and make
eye contact. Later, I take my brother to the incline and

point at the river and say “Look, that water isn’t
drinkable” and he says “Huh” and quietly

we drive back down the mountain, stopping
for ice cream to fill his endless teenage stomach

and I grip the wheel because it’s so easy, here,
to fly off the road and down and down and down some more.

Kaitlyn Duling currently resides in Pittsburgh, where she manages the Storymobile program at Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh. She is a graduate of the Program in Creative Writing at Knox College, where she studied poetry.  An Illinoisan at heart, Pushcart nominee, and winner of the Davenport Poetry Award, her poems have found homes in Denver Quarterly, Big Muddy, Ninth Letter, IDK Magazine, The Fourth River, and Wilde Magazine, among others.

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The guilty cooking companion

Photo by Kurt Thomas

Assistant editor Tony Piatti on today’s bonus story: Colonization meets consumerism in this formally written complaint by Aaron Morris. Complaint re: MicropeopleTM is a disquieting expression of consumer expectations in a narcissistic world where the line between needs and wants does not exist. You won’t forget this piece. Read it on your iPhone for the full effect. 

To: AAMicropeople@ICA.gov (Associate Administrator of MicropeopleTM Manufacturing)
Reply-To: FoyDad1@cheapisp.com
Subject: Complaint re: MicropeopleTM

Dear Sir or Madam,
Like most people, I found myself caught up in the toy craze of the MicropeopleTM. It was most serendipitous that the International Cloning Administration (ICA) discovered the MicropeopleTM technology during a project to clone super warriors, and the toys are an outstanding idea. Who would have thought that one key genetic algorithm coded backwards would result in these tiny imitations of people with docile personalities? The idea to sell the MicropeopleTM as toys was genius, since the profits on toy sales funded the revised super warrior project. Our country’s dominance in the new War on Terror, Drugs, and PovertyTM would not have been possible without funding from toy sales. This project makes me proud to be an American.

I am, however, writing to express my extreme disappointment with a flaw I found recently in the latest MicropeopleTM model. Since the beginning, I have been a staunch defender of your product. I recommended the toys to my friends, even after the announcement from that television preacher who decried the sinful nature of premature birds-and-bees lessons when he discovered his male and female MicropeopleTM Mark I models in flagrante atop the fluffy confines of his children’s sock drawer. As you know, the children were witness to the entire lewd event, prompting the preacher’s outrage. Still I was an advocate for your product.

A second flaw, witnessed firsthand soon after the preacher’s broadcast, involved the nature of blood in the MicropeopleTM. As you can imagine, it was upsetting to children to find a red puddle oozing through their hip pockets after inadvertently sitting on a MicropeopleTM.

It is my understanding that during the R&D process for the Mark II models, ICA Geneticists learned how to clone Mark IIs with transparent, highly evaporative blood. I also understand that the ICA discovered that the modifications necessary for transparent blood in the toys also cured hemophilia. I considered this a win-win situation for everyone, and I applauded the technological progress. I remained a staunch advocate for your products.

Last week, I became less of a fan. My dog used one of the Mark II models as a chew toy, and, I must say, if her shrieking hadn’t been so shrill then perhaps my dog wouldn’t have thought the Mark II resembled a squeaky bone from PetWorld. After this unfortunate mistake with the dog, I bought a new MicropeopleTM Mark III for the family. Once I brought her home, the Mark III asked for a guitar in her miniature, squeaky voice. I told her in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t afford to buy these tiny trinkets. The very next day she asked to be let out of the MicroterrariumTM. She said she wanted to travel! I explained to her the ridiculous nature of her request. “Stay in the Microterrarium – You’re a toy,” I told her.

This brings me to my request. Please ask your geneticists to eliminate the tears in the next MicropeopleTM model. The crying is off-putting. Who wants a toy that won’t stop crying?

Yours Truly,

Foy H. Worwarton

123 Belonger Lane
Friendswood, TX 77546

P.S. I heard on the news that the new ServopeopleTM will be available some time next month. I look forward to owning one. It will be nice to finally have some help cooking and cleaning the house.

Aaron Morris is an MFA fiction candidate at Old Dominion University, who also works full time as an aerospace engineer at the NASA Langley Research Center. He writes poetry and fiction with damaged characters set in harsh landscapes. He is currently working on a humorous, satirical novel.

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