1 Cover –
6 Fiction – “The Rocket Man” by Nathan Dixon
9 Essay – “Breakfast of the Gods” by Briane Pagel
13 About Us
This is where I write something nice about fall in New York once again, the beginning of our fourth year as trans lit mag and all the wonderful things that have happened in the last three years, the beautiful pieces we’ve read, the kindness of friends and strangers and all that, about coming together in agreement, about watching as those in charge refuse to come to agreement, refuse to compromise, both for and against, and in some ways this is what we need to do to be the artists that we are, the community that we strive to be, in some respects we need to be intransigents, and in others we need to collaborate, to come together to carry through, to carry on together, to reach for agreement, so that’s what we will do, those will be our goals, and it will be lovely. Warmest,
– Christina Phelps
Nathan Dixon graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008 with degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing. Since then he's spent time rock climbing and traveling through California, New Zealand, Europe, and South America. For a year he lived in Brooklyn selling waffles from the window of a big yellow truck. He now lives in Durham, NC, bartending and reading and writing.
Briane Pagel: I am standing on State Street, in Madison, Wisconsin. It is 1995, late spring. I am staring up at Bascom Hill, which is the seat of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am remembering that I started school here in 1987, as a pre-med freshman, only to drop out 6 months later when I got an A in a literature class, a D- in a chemistry class, and an Incomplete in calculus, which I'd dropped midway through the semester after getting a 17% on the mid-term. I am now – in 1995 – getting ready to go back to UW-Madison to attend law school, having subsequently broken my neck in a car accident, gone skydiving, traveled to Morocco, and worked as a dishwasher en route to getting a B.A. in political science. I am wondering, in 1995, if I have what it takes to come back to the scene of my previous failures and this time succeed. And after a few minutes of staring up at the green grass and leafy trees and statue of Lincoln staring down the Library Mall to the state Capitol, I go and buy a "Jim's Journal" coffee mug.
10.29.2013 – trans lit mag begins transmitting issue #11, “intransigents.”
“The Rocket Man”
by Nathan Dixon
Back in March of ’86 there was a man on Ninth Street who called himself the Rocket Man. People said he was crazy – the adults did – but we liked to listen to him. Probably in his mid-30s, maybe his 40s, pacing around in a tin foil space suit with a fishbowl on his head, standing beside the rocket that he’d built out of cardboard boxes. There was a chalkboard on wheels that he rolled out to the sidewalk every morning, and on this chalkboard he’d work out complex math problems, scratching from left to right, from top to bottom, the indecipherable script trailing out in neat little symbols behind his hand. He talked to himself. None of us knew whether or not the numbers and letters added up. We were young.
More kids began to stop and listen during the second week. We brought friends. He’d stand there, even in the rain, shouting about the wonders of space. Then he’d clam up, draw into himself like a little hermit crab and whisper in a coded speech that we couldn’t really hear, let alone understand. Scratching away at his chalkboard, frowning as he worked along, waving his arms, pausing to put a hand to his chin. Until he came to the end when he’d turn with a smile to his confused observers. It was during the third week that he claimed he’d soon depart. That he’d soon blast off – taking to the skies to hitch a ride on Halley’s Comet – into the outer reaches of our solar system.
None of us knew where he went at night until Jack Chalmers and Lefty Larson followed him down the train trestles to the bridge over the river. Apparently he tied a rope around his middle when he left his spot on the street corner and totted the chalkboard and the cardboard rocket along the metal rails of the train tracks. They said he had a camp with a couple of tents and bunches of radios and electronic gadgets that beeped and buzzed in the night. Strange voices reaching through the static.
Tommy Powell said there was no way he could have electricity down there without wires running to it, but Jack and Lefty stuck to their story. They said there were telescopes, too, and more chalkboards, colored lights blinking in the dark, and big metal objects. They said the whole time the Rocket Man whispered to himself, busy with whatever it was he was planning.
The day came gray and wet. We’d all seen the Halley Comet, though none of us had been that impressed. I said I’d seen it, I’d looked to where my dad pointed in the sky, but I wasn’t really sure. Our science teacher told us it was still about 40 million miles from Earth. The same as driving around the planet 1,600 times.
But the Rocket Man didn’t seem deterred. He showed up to the corner wearing his aluminum foil suit and his fishbowl helmet. He told us he’d have to launch from the old ball field because it’d be too loud and dusty to do it on the street corner. We marched behind him, down Ninth Street and onto the dirt road that would lead us there. There were maybe 12 or 15 of us, and though we shouted questions at him and kicked up dirt and horsed around in the pale light of the afternoon, he kept right along in front, a man on a mission, whispering always to himself.
No one had used the ball field since summer and the weeds had grown taller than the smallest of us. In the middle of the outfield a circle of tall grass had been mowed, and in the middle of the circle was a rocket. A real one. Not the cardboard cutout he’d been setting up on the street.
This one was made of metal, though it still looked pieced together – made up of rusted quarter panels and sheets of copper and steel. It must have weighed a ton. We all took off running as soon as we caught sight of it, but we stopped in the tall grass on the fringe of the mown down circle. Curious, excited, skeptical.
The Rocket Man took his time, never changing his pace. He walked through the infield, into the outfield with a smile on his lips, his head in the fishbowl bobbing up above the grass. It began to drizzle, and it was strange how it smelled like summer with the cut grass in the ball field. The water dripped from the glass sphere on his head, and he told us that we’d have to back up. That we’d get burned if we didn’t.
We listened to him, all of us excited. Then something happened.
Lefty Larson stepped into the circle and said he wanted to go with him. We all knew he shouldn’t have done it, but we didn’t know how to stop him. Jack Chalmers said he wanted to go too.
We watched the three of them climb into the thing, listened as it began making all sorts of noises. We didn’t know what to do. A couple of kids ran back into the grass as the dust cloud came billowing out from underneath it. It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard.
I remember the rain on my face. I remember as it lifted off the ground. Up and up and up, fire blowing from underneath it. We couldn’t breathe. Kids coughed in the high grass. The dust was everywhere, everything was hot. But I watched the sky as the rocket roared into the clouds.
They never found them. Some of the kids told the police there’d been a beat up station wagon parked on the road. That it’d been gone when we headed home. But I never saw it. The adults said anything could’ve happened once that dust started blowing. That the Rocket Man could have crept away with our friends under his arms, but they weren’t there. They never found his camp under the railroad tracks, just some gizmos half buried in the mud.
A man was picked up two counties over a couple of weeks later, an astrophysicist who’d been fired from his university job under strange circumstances. They put him on trial, but it wasn’t him. I saw his picture in the paper. I think he went to jail, but I was never sure. They didn’t tell us kids that stuff, and my family moved away at the end of the school year.
It’s been more than two decades since that gray day in late March when Lefty and Jack disappeared with the Rocket Man. Halley’s Comet is due to pass again in 2061, a bright string of light in the night sky.
“Breakfast of the Gods”
by Briane Pagel
Cultivation of wheat began about 8,000 BCE, with increasingly better strains of wheat eventually reaching the point where they had enough gluten to make yeasted breads by 1,350 BCE, according to archaeologists.
Skip ahead, a few thousand years, to 1922, when some wheat bran is accidentally spilled onto a hot stove, resulting in baked brown delicious-tasting flakes. For over two years, in 36 separate mixtures, this accident was worked over until a way was devised to make those flakes strong enough to be put into a box and shipped around the world.
The cardboard box those flakes would be shipped in didn’t exist, in any form, until a German came up with the idea of folding hard corrugated paper layers into a cube. That was in 1817. But it would be 63 years of trying before someone came up with a way of mass-producing those boxes, a discovery by accident: a misplaced metal ruler resulted in paper-cutting going wrong, and the box was created.
The bowl you pour the flakes into has existed for thousands of years. The spoon you will use to pick up the flakes and put them in your mouth is a mere child by comparison, possibly not having been in common use in the western world until 1259 AD.
Milk for cereal has been available since 9000 BCE, though it was not until many, many years later that we would think to heat the milk up a bit before shipping it out so it didn’t kill you as you ate your cereal: heating liquids up to preserve them began with wine in 1117 AD. That method of preservation continued in France after 1795 and was applied not just to wines but to vegetables, fruits, and once, an entire sheep in a jar, but it would be 69 years before we progressed from appertising to pasteurizing, and milk followed a few years after.
2,513 years ago, people in India began boiling sugarcane to produce sweeteners. Sugarcane came back to Europe because Columbus had an affair with the governor of the Canary Islands on one of his voyages, and she gave it to him as a parting gift.
Canes of sugar are milled to extract juice, treated with lime, dipped in enzymes to destroy harmful bacteria, then concentrated through a series of evaporators until ultimately the syrup is packed into a vacuum to remove all air from it, then bleached by sulfur dioxide to make it whiter. Even then it is not ready for you to dip your spoon into and sprinkle it over those accidental bran flakes that stretch back 10,000-plus years, as it must first be immersed into a concentrated industrial syrup to separate the crystals, then the solids must be precipitated out by a process known as phosphotation, and then an ion-exchange resin is used to make the crystals even whiter, which is to say your sugar was run through a series of beaded polymers suspended in an insoluble matrix in order to trap some ions while releasing others so that it would be pleasing to your eye.
Even then, it is still not ready: it must be boiled and cooled and seeded with other sugar crystals that teach this as-yet-unrefined youngster how to turn itself into the pure white delight you have on the tip of your spoon, then spun in a centrifuge, dried, packed into bags, put on trucks shipped around the country, and eventually put into the bowl on your countertop.
While all that took humans millennia, about 93,000,000 miles away, a mass of hot plasma held together by magnetic bands compresses in on itself, taking its constituent parts, which are essentially just loose electrons, and pushing them together with so much force that they become something entirely new. It does this 620,000,000 times per second, and in the process, those compressed-and-made-new electrons emit energy, a burst so powerful that it can fly at a speed of 299,792,458 meters per second – the earth is only 4,000,000 meters in circumference, if you want a comparison, so this speck of light could circumnavigate the Earth 4,500 times in a minute—that light speck zipping through space, avoiding all obstacles, skirting around hot, metallic Mercury and past cloudy sulfurous Venus to enter our atmosphere, not hitting a single atom of air in the (relatively) dense soup of molecules piled 700 kilometers up from the ground, down down down through the sky and past the trees and through your window and over your shoulder until it strikes just right and reflects back off the paper and into your eye, at which point you finally realize, the end product of all of this, that you don’t understand the punch line to Garfield.
trans lit mag is a continually-expanding quarterly name-changing online literary magazine. Submission guidelines can be found here on our blog, where you can also find past issues. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Editor Christina Phelps
Poetry Editor Elana Seplow