Table of Contents
1 Cover Art – “Untitled (red nude)” by Elizabeth Tenenbaum [2011, Oil and house paint on wood,10 x 20 in.]
3 Letter from the Editor
6 Photography – “110 BW Grain Storage” by Keith Moul
7 Fiction – “Autograph Session” by John Grochalski
22 Poetry – “[With toasted sandwiches]” by Emily Threlkeld
23 Photography – “Roma” by Emily Threlkeld
24 Fiction – “The Highway” by Jennifer Stark
25 Photography – “243 BW Tracks Near Priest River” by Keith Moul
26 Fiction – “Jane” by Laurie Perini
28 Photography – “321 BW Palouse 22 Steptoe Butte” by Keith Moul
29 Poetry – “Feasts/Week 4” by Mark DeCarteret
31 Fiction – “The Bernabel Case” by Robert Wexelblatt
43 Poetry – “Personal Myths” by Howie Good
44 Fiction – “She Said, She Said” by Reuben Hayslett
53 Translation – “Urrós” by José-Flore Tappy, translated by John Taylor
55 Fiction – “Punk Rock in the Daylight” by Simon Jacobs
Letter from the Editor
This is where I write something nice about how unbelievable it is that I’m introducing the fifth issue and what a wonderful first year it’s been in our little corner of the literary world, and something about what literature and the literary world, the literary life, means to all of us, and either a more professional picture of myself or just a photograph that is representative of the season without being too self-centered (maybe just me in Bilbao, but nothing that implies the way this picture is is the way the world is because this is the only world that matters, because it’s a big world out there), and then I’ll write something meant to be inspiring about writing or art or what trans means and what transmutations might suggest, something about mutating and changing form, about the process of changing in substance, about being transmuted, with the echo of being muted somewhere in there, and then we’ll see how we do. Warmest,
– Christina Phelps
Mark DeCarteret’s saints have also appeared in beard of bees, Cannot Exist, Dark Sky Magazine, Fact-Simile, horse less review, Omphalos, Segue, tinfoildresses and The Towers Journal.
Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of the full-length poetry collections Lovesick (Press Americana, 2009), Heart With a Dirty Windshield (BeWrite Books, 2010), and Everything Reminds Me of Me (Desperanto, 2011), as well as numerous print and digital poetry chapbooks, including most recently Love Dagger from Right Hand Pointing.
John Grochalski is the author of two books of poetry: The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press, 2008) and Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010). Grochalskicurrently lives in Brooklyn, New York, the section where you can still buy a cheap beer on a Friday Night.
Reuben Haayslett is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University. His work has appeared in the Oregon Literary Review, The Splinter Generation, and most recently in the Surreal South ’11 Anthology.
Simon Jacobs is a young writer who often feels like taking a brick his surroundings but rarely does. At his best, he edits the Safety Pin Review, a wearable medium for fiction under 30 words. At his worst, he does his own writing, most of which can be found somewhere around simonajacobs.blogspot.com.
Keith Moul’s poems have appeared widely for more than 40 years. His chapbook, The Grammar of Mind, was released last November by Blue & Yellow Dog Press. He is now 65, thankfully retired from the insurance industry, and free to roam with his camera or sit in contemplation and write at home. He hopes our working contributors do not begrudge him his pleasure in life.
Laurie Perini is in the market for a new house with a spacious library. Mostly because she’s been forbidden by her fiancé to bring more books into the house until she finishes the towering backlog. Now that her dissertation has been handed in for the Kingston University MFA in Creative Writing, she can start on that stack. Otherwise, she’ll be spending her time writing (and rewriting), working in London, and petting every kitty she passes in the street.
By day, Jennifer Stark works as an engineer in Texas. By night, she lives out her childhood fantasies by writing,
drumming, or singing at small coffee shops with very limited attendance. She writes a lot about music
and Dave Grohl in her blog, jennyquixotic.wordpress.com.
José-Flore Tappy was born in Lausanne in 1954. She is the author of five volumes of poetry: Errer mortelle (Payot, 1983), Pierre à feu (Empreintes, 1987), Terre battue (Empreintes, 1995), Lunaires (La Dogana, 2001), and Hangars (Empreintes, 2006). She has won two prestigious Swiss literary awards: the Ramuz Prize and the Schiller Prize. She works as an editor and scholar at the Centre de Recherches sur les Lettres Romandes at the University of Lausanne. In John Taylor’s translations, her poems have appeared in the Antioch Review and the International Literary Quarterly.
John Taylor received a 2011 NEA grant for his project to translate Georges Perros’s Papiers collés and a second grant, from the Sonia Raiziss Charitable Foundation, to translate Louis Calaferte’s Le Sang violet de l’améthyste. He has recently translated books by Philippe Jaccottet (And, Nonetheless, Chelsea), Pierre-Albert Jourdan (The Straw Sandals, Chelsea), and Jacques Dupin (Of Flies and Monkeys, Bitter Oleander Press). Taylor’s most recent collection of personal writings is The Apocalypse Tapestries (Xenos). He is also the author of the three-volume essay collection, Paths to Contemporary French Literature (Transaction), as well as Into the Heart of European Poetry (Transaction).
Elizabeth Tenenbaum is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Elizabeth is a collection manager for major private art collections and co-founder of InContext Tours, a small venture taking collectors and art enthusiasts inside artists’ studios all over NYC. “Untitled (red nude)” can be found on her website.
Emily Threlkeld attended Edgar Allen Poe Elementary School, Sidney Lanier Middle School, and a high school which was not named after a writer, but by that point it was too late. She recently earned a BFA in student loan accumulation with a minor in poetry.
Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals, two story collections, Life in the Temperate Zone and The Decline of Our Neighborhood, and a book of essays, Professors at Play; his recent novel, Zublinka Among Women, won the Indie Book Awards First Prize for Fiction.
9.21.2011 – trans lit mag begins transmitting issue #5, “transmutations.”
10.16.2011 – our first trans lit mag transverse the city
110 BW Grain Storage
by Keith Moul
by John Grochalski
Frankie’s old man pulled the beat-up shell of a white car over by Gate C, and let it idle while Frankie fidgeted with his satchel. Gate C was all the way down by left field, and not even close to Gate A, which was where everyone had to go to get into the stadium that day. Frankie had told his old man this, the whole ride to the ballpark. But did the old man listen? Nah. He was too busy fiddling with the radio, hopping from one blowhard talk radio guy to the next, stopping on a music station only when it played a song from his glorious past, the music a conduit between fresh rounds of hate and bile. Frankie had no clue what those guys were talking about on the radio. He just knew that if his old man agreed with them then they must all be crackpots and, most importantly, wrong.
“I’ll pick you up here in a couple of hours,” his old man said, pointing toward nothing.
Frankie looked out at the left field wall. There was a statue of one of the old, great ballplayers there, a guy Frankie had only seen in film clips or on the fading gloss of old, expensive baseball cards. He wondered if Bobby Mo would one day have a statue outside of one of the gates, but his old man said that Bobby Mo would be long gone by then, probably blowing his millions on cheap women and booze in some South Beach club. Frankie clammed up whenever his old man had something to say about Bobby Mo. Even the memory of those kinds of comments made him mute. He looked at the short distance ahead of him, the sign for Gate A protruding out of the sandstone color of the ballpark, at packs of kids and their fathers all heading toward the proper gate. He just wished that his old man listened from time to time.
“You can’t pull up a little bit more?” Frankie asked.
The old man surveyed the scene. There wasn’t much to take in, just a long, golden bridge full of fans walking across it. There were a few bars but they weren’t open on non-game days. The team had set up some activities for littler kids along a closed-off street in the distance, like those blow-up rooms full of plastic balls to jump around in, or one of those batting cages. There were lines of cars with other fathers dropping their kids off for the day. It was a mess of traffic that was sure to delay his getting over to Sal’s for an early round, some bullshit, and that prime seat by the video poker machine. At least Gate C wasn’t congested. Frankie’s old man could back the car up, just a little bit, just a tad illegally, and head right down Spring Way without getting caught in any of that miserable shit.
“No can do, son,” the old man said.
“Fine,” Frankie said. He grabbed his satchel and got out of the car.
“Two hours.” The old man held up two of his calloused fingers just in case Frankie forgot what the English language was.
“Gate A?” Frankie asked, hopefully.
“Gate C.” Then his old man backed up the car, cutting it quickly right. Black smoke plumed out of the back. He honked once and then was gone down lonely, narrow Spring Way.
“Lousy drunk,” Frankie said. He wasn’t sure if this was true or not, if his old man was, in fact, a lousy drunk. He knew that he drank beer at night after work, and on the weekends whenever he was outside, “mowing your mother’s goddamned lawn.” But he didn’t know if this qualified someone as a drunk. Frankie had certainly heard his mother call his old man one enough to believe there might be some level of truth to the statement.
Frankie stopped over by a vacant hot dog stand and checked the contents of his frayed satchel. Three National League issue baseballs. Check. A color 8X10 photo of Bobby Mo going deep. Check. One glossy Ticket to the Crusaders All-Day Autograph Bash. Check. Frankie scanned the necessary articles again and nodded proudly. He’d done well. He’d covered all of the collectible bases. How could he not? Frankie had been waiting months for this event to arrive on his Crusaders’ calendar. Crusaders All-Day Autograph Bash. It happened once a year, the morning before the first Saturday night game after the All-Star break. All of the Crusader players sat in groups of three around the stadium. They sat on these risen platforms and looked down on everyone like the Gods they were. The fans ate this interaction up, packing the stadium in a way that the Crusaders couldn’t do during a beautiful Sunday afternoon game against a division rival. Fans, dedicated and casual, lined up to get autographs and their pictures taken with their favorites.
Frankie had one true favorite, Roberto Morris, AKA, Bobby Mo. Bobby Mo was the Crusaders to Frankie. He was lone hero on a team that was destined to lose ninety games this season for the third straight year. Bobby Mo had a .380 batting average at the All-Star break, and people were already throwing his name around with Teddy Ballgame and the immortal mark of .400. Bobby Mo had just made a splash at the division series in New York last weekend, going 3-4 two nights in a row, and hitting in the final three runs on the deepest triple anyone had ever seen on television. Of course all the television announcers could talk about was how this was Bobby Mo’s free agent season, and that chances were good that triple was the first in a long line of big moments for him in New York. Screw that, Frankie thought. Bobby Mo came up with the Crusaders. He’d been in the organization since rookie ball. Bobby Mo lived in one of the wealthy suburbs of the city, and his wife did charity work here. He defined the Crusaders. The team wouldn’t be anything without Bobby Mo, and the Crusaders knew it. They’d pony up the money. Bobby Mo wasn’t going anywhere.
Of course, Frankie’s old man hated Bobby Mo. He called him a hot dog. He said that Bobby didn’t hustle for the ball out there in right field. Frankie’s old man said that Bobby had a bum’s arm, and wasn’t worth all the money those goddamned owners were going to throw at him once the season was over. It pissed Frankie off to hear this, so much so that he quit watching the games with his old man. He’d go down to Mickey’s house and together they’d watch the games with Mickey’s old man, a guy who loved Bobby Mo and could appreciate a .380 batting average in July. Mickey’s dad said that Bobby’s arm was average for right field, but that his bat more than made up for it. Frankie’s dad said that Mickey’s dad probably threw like a bum too.
Frankie made his way toward Gate A, and the throngs of people working to get in. He felt the baseballs in his satchel, and wished that he didn’t have to do this alone. Mickey was supposed to come. It was supposed to be the two of them, but Mickey’s goddamned mother had to go into labor that morning, and Mickey’s grandmother had to be in town to stop him from going. One of the baseballs in the satchel was for Mickey. The other was for Mickey’s dad. Frankie had a shiny new ball holder at home for his baseball. It came with an extra slot for a baseball card as well. Frankie had already selected the card; Bobby Mo’s rookie card. Now all he needed was that third ball signed. The glossy 8×10 was going on his wall of fame; the third wall in the room, the one covered with Crusader pennants and used game tickets. The Bobby Mo photo would be the centerpiece.
“You got your ticket, kid,” the usher at Gate A asked.
“Um.” Frankie fumbled around in his satchel and pulled out the ticket. It was only a little bit bent. “Here.” The usher scanned it, handed it back. Then he sent Frankie through the gate with the other excited masses.
It was like being at a regular Crusaders game, Frankie thought. All of the concessions were open. You could smell hot dogs and popcorn, and even some stale beer. The team gift shop was open and there were tons of people inside, buying souvenirs, and getting last minute things for the players to sign. Frankie walked over toward a row of box seats, and looked out onto the field. He sighed. The field looked beautiful and green, like a verdant diamond out there. The scoreboard even looked better from this vantage point.
Frankie looked to right field and imagined Bobby Mo firing one in to home plate. He cringed. Well, at least he could picture Bobby Mo lobbing one to the cut-off man at second. Then he touched one of the dark, plastic seats in front of him. He never got to sit in the box seats. They were too expensive his old man said. When they went to the game they sat in the nosebleeds and Frankie’s old man bought him a hot dog and a soda, and sucked down three beers for himself while ripping Bobby Mo to shreds. Just once Frankie would’ve forgone the six-dollar hot dog and three-dollar soda, for a chance to sit so close to the action. He would’ve gladly eaten at home. In truth, he was just glad to be at the ballpark.
Then his cell phone rang. “You lucky bastard,” Mickey said.
“I know,” Frankie answered, still looking around the place with awe. “I wish your gram would’ve let you come.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Nothing,” Mickey said. “Just something my dad says when he’s mad. Anyway you still got my ball?”
“Get him to sign it on the sweet spot.”
Mickey sighed. “Bobby Mo’s name written right on the sweet spot.”
“You’re goddamned right about that,” Frankie said, trying to sound like his old man.
“Are you getting a picture with him?”
“I don’t have anyone to take my picture. It was your job to bring the camera.”
“Damn,” Mickey said.
“How’s your mom?” Frankie asked.
“Who cares?” Then Mickey’s grandmother began yelling in the background. “I gotta go.”
Frankie hung up the phone and looked around the stadium, trying to figure out where the players were. Around the Taco Hut he found the first group of them: Charlie Grissom, Mark Presley, and fireball relief pitcher Neal Rivera. Charlie Grissom was the big stud rookie who’d just come up in May. The sportswriters called him the future of the franchise. He was currently batting about .235, and had yet to knock one out of the park. Presley was good when he wanted to be, and Rivera had been spot on in his day. Frankie liked them all as much as he liked all the Crusaders, but Grissom, Presley, and Rivera were no Bobby Mo. No one was Bobby Mo. Frankie looked further in the distance, at another batch of players, but couldn’t make out who they were. Finally an usher walked by. Frankie grabbed his arm and the guy gave him a gruff brush.
“Excuse me,” Frankie called to him.
“Where’s Bobby Mo?”
The usher groaned then pulled a sheet of paper out of his back pocket, examining it as if it contained vital, secret information. Frankie knew that it did. “He’s down that way.” The usher pointed in the opposite direction of the Taco Hut. “Down toward Left Field.”
“Yeah. You shoulda used Gate C.”
“Shit,” Frankie said to himself. He began the long walk back toward Gate C.
There was a huge line. Of course there was. You couldn’t even see where the players were sitting. The line was filled with boys carrying satchels full of memorabilia, and old men with big, graying caterpillar moustaches; they were sports merchandise peddlers, holding stacks of glossy 8x10s. They all smelled of cheap cigars and beer. Last year one of the peddlers tried to pay Frankie and Mickey to go into lines and get some of the stuff signed, but they refused because of all the security guards standing around. There wasn’t even enough time for them to get autographs, even with Bobby Mo missing the big session due to a groin injury.
Frankie stood on this toes and craned his neck. In the deep distance, he could see him. Bobby Mo was sitting on the left side of the table, signing things, and talking to a guy standing to his right. The guy was wearing a suit, had sunglasses on, and his gray hair was slicked back. It was Sean Horton, the big sports agent. Everyone knew about him. He was the agent for most of the big stars in the game. Frankie looked at Horton talking to Bobby Mo and then into his cell phone, and a small surge of hatred well up inside of him. Frankie’s old man thought that Horton was a genius. He said Horton was going to get Bobby Mo out of this shithole city by hook or crook next season. He had it all worked out on the down low with one of those teams in New York. If only something could be done about Sean Horton, Frankie thought.
“Are you a big Bobby Mo fan?” some kid asked. Frankie took his hateful gaze away from Sean Horton, and looked at the kid standing in front of him in line. He was some fat loser with blonde hair and glasses that were too small for his face. He had a replica Bobby Mo jersey on. The jersey didn’t even fit him right.
“Yeah,” Frankie said, hesitantly.
“What do you have?” the kid asked, trying to look down into Frankie’s satchel.
“Some balls and stuff.”
The kid nodded. He was holding a replica Crusaders helmet, so Frankie didn’t bother asking him what he was getting signed. “They’re only signing like one thing.”
“Bullshit,” Frankie said.
The kid’s eyes widened as if he’d never heard the word before. “No, it’s true. My brother got Charlie Grissom’s autograph, and the guy before him had like a stack of things to sign and they wouldn’t let him.”
“That’s because he’s one of those sports merchandise guys,” Frankie said. “They never let those guys get more than one thing signed. We’re just kids.”
“Well, I’m just telling you what my brother said,” the kid said.
“Well, I don’t care what your goddamned brother said.”
Frankie turned away from the fat kid and looked back up toward Bobby Mo. He was still signing away and talking to Sean Horton. This line will take forever, Frankie thought. He wanted to throw down his stuff and shout at the people around him, get things moving a little bit. He hated waiting. Waiting was all that Frankie did. He waited for his mother to get home from work to make dinner. He waited for his old man to finish dinner, before he’d toss him a few pop flies in the backyard. He waited for Mickey, waited countless hours for Mickey, to get done digesting food before they could play wiffle ball in the street. He waited until almost seven every night for the Crusaders game to come on, and for the announcer Jim Farrington to say, “Sounds like some hits to me,” when Bobby Mo came to bat. Life was one big, goddamned wait to Frankie. His old man told him to get used to it. He said get used to waiting, hangovers, and back pain, whatever that meant.
Standing in line took forever. It took over an hour, and there’d be no time to get anyone else’s autograph before his old man was waiting back at Gate C. But Frankie didn’t care. He was less than four people away from his hero. He looked at Bobby Mo. Bobby looked bigger in person than he did on television. The navy colored short-sleeve shirt that he was wearing made his muscles bulge. Frankie wanted muscles like that. He and Mickey spent hours lifting weights in his basement, and then holding a baseball bat the way that Bobby Mo did, taking swings, pretending to knock the stuffing off of a ball. Mickey had even perfected doing that thing Bobby Mo did whenever he missed a ball. Bobby Mo would walk out of the batter’s box, clasp the bat with both hands, take in a deep breath and look up at the sky as if praying to God, before lightly tapping his helmet with the bat and stepping back in the box. Mickey had it down pat. Frankie always missed the intake of breath, so his Bobby Mo was less than perfect.
He was next. The fat kid stepped up to the table, and set his helmet down. Bobby Mo didn’t even look at it as he signed. He kept his head turned toward Sean Horton, talking to him in between Horton’s cell phone call. The fat kid kept trying to talk to Bobby, but Bobby wouldn’t answer him. He spoke only to Horton. Bobby Mo won’t do this. Bobby Mo won’t pay that. Bobby Mo won’t play there next season, unless they’re serious about winning. Frankie heard all of this talk and his heart dropped. But then he thought maybe the fat kid was just a drag. Bobby Mo better be getting paid that, or they can find someone else.
The fat kid was gone. Frankie took in a deep breath, the way Bobby Mo did it, and stepped up to the table. He figured he’d ask Bobby about his .380 batting average and what it felt like chasing Teddy Ballgame. He reached into his satchel and pulled out the first ball. Bobby Mo took it without looking at him, and signed that ball underneath the table. Frankie couldn’t see where he signed the thing.
“Bobby Mo wants at least a mil,” Bobby Mo said to Horton while he signed Frankie’s ball under the table. Horton turned away from his phone and nodded. “I’m serious, Sean.”
“Mr. Morris,” Frankie started. But Bobby Mo didn’t even acknowledge him.
He gave the ball back to Frankie. Actually Bobby Mo set it on the table and let it roll. Frankie grabbed the ball and looked at it. He hadn’t even signed it on the sweet spot, and the signature was smudged. Damn it, Frankie thought. His heart raced. He could feel the sweat collecting underneath his Crusader’s hat. Bobby Mo wants at least a mil. Quickly he grabbed his second baseball and tried to hand it to his idol.
“Bobby,” Frankie started again.
“Kid,” an usher said. It was a woman, some tall, lanky chick. It felt like she came out of nowhere. “The players can only sign one thing.”
“But,” Frankie looked at Bobby Mo for some help, but Bobby Mo was asking Sean Horton about his car commercial deal. “I have some more stuff.”
“Everyone has more stuff,” the usher said. “One item per person.” And then she pointed at the huge line behind Frankie as if to get her point across.
“Can’t I just do one more thing?” Frankie asked. He appealed to Bobby Mo, but he was talking to Sean Horton about his deal with Pepsi.
“No,” the usher said. “There’s still time to get someone else’s autograph. How about Charlie Grissom?”
“Come on, kid,” another usher said, some pimple-faced college student this time. He took Frankie by the arm and pulled him out of the line.
Frankie sulked up against a wall. He watched Bobby Mo sign for a few more minutes, stupefied. One goddamned item? But it was true. Nearly every person that came up after him had to be told the same thing. Kids with baseball cards and pictures were turned away after one signature. Sports peddlers were berated by the ushers, and escorted promptly out of line by security guards if they got too loud. Sean Horton even made it a point to interrupt one of his phone calls to yell at a guy. Bobby Mo didn’t say anything to anybody except Horton. He didn’t even say anything to the blonde usher when she handed him a cup of water. He just kept on saying Bobby Mo this and Bobby Mo that. Frankie’s world felt crushed. He looked at his one signed baseball, the smudged signature that wasn’t even on the sweet spot, tossed it in his satchel, and he headed out of Gate C.
There was a garbage can right by the unused hot dog vending cart. Frankie opened his satchel and took out the glossy 8×10. He took one last look at Bobby Mo going psycho on a baseball before he ripped the picture and tossed it into the trash. Then he took the two unsigned baseballs and threw them away as well. Lastly he came to the signed baseball, the tainted jewel that had a ball holder waiting for it at home. Frankie looked at the signature. It didn’t even look like Bobby Mo’s signature, at least not the way he wrote his name on all of the balls that they had for sale at the sports store in the mall. Tears welled in Frankie’s eyes. He brushed them away, feeling like a fool. But the pain still lingered. It was a new kind of hurt; disappointment mixed with liberation, but only deeper than both. It had no name. What was it? He wondered. Frankie was just about to throw the signed baseball in the garbage can when he heard his old man’s horn honk.
“Two hours, right on time,” his old man said, pulling up to the curb. Frankie got in the car and stared straight ahead. “So was it everything you hoped it would be?”
“Yeah,” Frankie said, quietly.
“Well, let me see them.”
“They would only let me get one thing signed.”
Frankie handed the baseball to his old man, and his dad examined it. “Didn’t even sign it on the sweet spot, did he?”
“No,” Frankie said. His old man tried to give the ball back, but Frankie wouldn’t take it. So his old man leaned over and put the ball back into the satchel. “Bobby Mo doesn’t sign on the sweet spot.”
“I see,” his old man said. Then they were silent a while, the car still idling outside of the stadium, as happy kids and their fathers walked by. Frankie breathed in deeply, the way Bobby Mo did. The whole car smelled of sweat and stale beer.
“Can we just go?” Frankie finally asked.
“Sure,” his old man said, pulling the car back out onto the street. He made a left and took them down Spring Way. “How about a burger and a Coke at Sal’s?”
“Fine,” Frankie said, quietly. He felt serious hunger pains in his belly. Or maybe it was something else.
“He still throws like a bum,” Frankie’s old man said. Frankie looked up at his old man. He wanted to be angry at him, to cry, but instead he laughed. His old man seemed shocked at first, but then he laughed too. He took off Frankie’s hat and tussled his sweaty mop of hair. Then the two of them kept on down Spring Way, until you couldn’t see the stadium anymore, just houses and houses full of people doing ordinary and common things on a summer afternoon.
[With toasted sandwiches]
by Emily Threlkeld
With toasted sandwiches
and ten days of our own
we headed south
running down Italy’s spine
forgetting to fall back
sitting in terminis an hour early
wondering why the trains
were suddenly as late as the Poste.
We watched Verona pass through the window,
Florence, city of the perpetually lost
Rome, heavy with its history.
La Torre held
but my gelato didn’t
a scoop of lemon
melting between cobblestones
as the sun went down.
sand under our feet at last
you slept on the shore
while I swam
and when you awoke
I had a palmful of sea glass
the same color as your eyes.
by Emily Threlkeld
by Jennifer Stark
When she opened her eyes, she was driving. She’d lost track of how long she’d been driving. Long interminable minutes of staring at the cracked concrete in front of her. The auditory assault of her daughter’s music uninvitingly blaring through the car radio. The highway transverses linearly, the alabaster sky falling upon it. Ominous clouds threatening to hide the wan sun rays. The woman and her daughter sit in the mustard yellow 1976 Ford Pinto. Paint peeling from it like skin falling from a burn victim. Worn tires rolling along the highway without leaving a trace.
Without tire tracks, who would know they were even there. Who would count the infinitesimal rotations of every rubber sole touching the concrete, built up over years of travel and life and love. A snapshot of a life in that spot of the highway, so ephemeral and forgettable.
The girl sits in the passenger seat, fiddling with her pewter seatbelt strap, caging her against the unforeseen and unwanted gravitational forces of their journey.
I’m looking for a place to eat, her mother responds. Be patient.
But we’ve been looking for an hour.
I know. Take a look at the map.
She tosses her daughter the map and the girl catches it, poring over it carefully. The map, well-worn from many consultations, is stapled together. The girl flips through the pages, absent-mindedly rubbing the soda stains on the map with her fingers as she peers closely at page one. She traces the route with her index finger, looking up periodically at the exits her mother passes, then consults the map. They are at exit 358 now.
Mom, this map isn’t detailed enough. It doesn’t show any restaurant information.
It should have something on there, look closer.
No, it doesn’t have anything. You just printed the general Google route. You should have done a search showing which restaurants would be along our route. This is useless.
The girl tosses the stapled map in the back seat and crosses her arms. Looks out the window. One bird flying overhead, so inconsequential in the vast expanse of the sky. Such openness belying the need for symbiosis to the terra below it.
I need to go to the bathroom.
The girl crosses her legs uncomfortably and looks at her mother.
There aren’t any gas stations for miles. You will have to hold it.
But I need to go now. Can’t I just go outside.
I hope that was a joke. I raised you better than that. Maybe your father will let you conduct those shenanigans but you’re traveling with me now.
You take any opportunity to trash dad, don’t you.
She crosses her legs again and looks out the window. The woman glances sideways at her daughter and sighs.
Are you mad at me?
Yes. You are. And I’m sorry.
I’m not mad. I know you’re tired. And I just really need to go.
The woman drives silently for approximately four minutes before seeing the faintest outline of a structure up ahead of her, like a distant forgotten memory that an Alzheimer’s patient struggles to remember. Do you see something or is that just a mirage? she asks.
I see it too. Do you think they will have food there?
I think we will be lucky if the bathroom is clean.
You should ask for directions to the nearest restaurant.
I will. Be patient.
The woman pulls into the empty parking lot, the yellow lines delineating the spaces so old and worn that the woman can hardly see them. She parks crookedly at first. Cursing, she looks into the rear window, sees no one coming, looks over her shoulder, shifts the car into reverse, looks over her shoulder again, and begins to back up.
Mom, for chrissakes, let me out while you try to park.
Wait, let me pull in. I don’t trust you going in this place by yourself.
I’m not a little kid, Mom.
I need to ask for directions anyway.
She pulls in quickly and opens the glass door to the gas station. Enveloped in ancient, dusty fingerprints. A grizzly man behind the counter raises his eyebrow as the girl scurries to the bathroom.
Crimson, flowing through pain, enveloping porcelain. Does anyone know how she feels?
The woman drives with purpose. The nearest restaurant is only two miles down the highway. She presses on the accelerator.
Why are you driving so fast?
Because. It’s almost 5 o’clock.
So? We’ve been in the car all day, what does it matter.
We have to get there before everyone else does. I don’t feel like waiting in line for food.
They pull into the drive-thru. A homely, quaint spot. Local teenagers inside consuming unnecessary amounts of grease that their young bodies will metabolize quickly, until two decades later when the gelatinous fat will consume them.
The woman and her daughter browse the menu before a crackling voice booms through the loudspeaker.
Welcome to Bubbas Fries, how can I help you?
Um yes, can we please get two Number Twos.
I’m sorry ma’am, due to supply shortage, we are currently out of hamburgers.
The girl gasps and stares wide-eyed at her mother. The woman fights a rising panic.
We’ve been driving for so long without a meal. We need food. What do you have?
We have salmon burgers, ma’am.
The woman looks at her daughter.
I hate fish.
I know. But this could be good fish.
I don’t want fish.
Unless you want to drive for another five hours, I don’t think we have a choice.
Do you trust me?
Of course I trust you.
Then trust me. We will get fish. And it will be enjoyable.
The woman and her daughter sit on an antiquated bench. The mother opens up a ketchup packet and splatters it on the crispy bun. She inhales the scent of microwaved salmon and takes a bite.
How do you like your burger?
I told you.
I know. I know. I guess you are right sometimes.
They share a smile and eat in silence.
Infrastructures are built with a vision. Making travel to a loved-one shorter, faster, more accessible. The roads that bisect and intersect and transverse the country are overwhelming. Concrete. Frightening at night. Long after human life expires, they will remain until there is nothing left.
243 BW Tracks Near Priest River
by Keith Moul
by Laurie Perini
There was a large, dark bruise under her left eye. It was blotchy and purple; it must have happened at least a week ago, since lighter colors of yellow and green were starting to show around the edges. Her fingernails were ragged and dirty and dirt lined her mouth and nostrils. Her hair was cropped short, haphazardly.
She said her name was Jane, but I knew that wasn’t true as soon as it left her lips. It didn’t match the rest of her soft, hesitant speech. “Jane” came out forceful and planned. I let it go.
She said she needed to go as far as I could take her. She said she’d pay for gas.
After about twenty minutes of silence, I asked her if she was originally from Irwin or if she was just passing through.
She said she was from Plano, Texas. She met her husband at college and they moved up to Boston for his job. She had to head back down to Texas to take care of her sick mother. Her husband would to follow shortly, because he couldn’t get off work.
Her story sounded as rehearsed as “Jane” did. I wondered how many other drivers she told this story to. I wondered if she only let other women like myself pick her up, if she would be willing to drive with a man. I let it go.
We lapsed again into silence. I mulled over what she said. I stole quick glances at her, trying to figure out what her real story might be. Her husband hit her, I was sure, but was he a drinker? Was money really tight or did she just need to run? Her jeans and non-descript tee-shirt, peeking out from a black overcoat, didn’t leave me any clues either way. Did she really have family in Texas, or was she just heading as far away from that bastard as she could? Was she just hitchhiking, or was she still on the run from him?
She was quite a beautiful woman, under the wear and tear of the road. Her eyes were the color of the sea just before a storm when it becomes eerily calm as the clouds gather and the sun barely shines through. She had a strong, small nose and high cheek bones. Her oval face came down to a soft point at her chin, which she occasionally stuck forward slightly as she fought back tears.
I wanted to know everything I could about her, from what games she used to play as a little girl to what her favorite type of wine was. I wanted to softly touch her cheek and tell her that everything would work out and that she could come home with me and stay with me. I could make things right for her and I would never hit her. I would only hold her when she needed it and give her all of me. I looked down at my wedding ring. I let those thoughts go.
After another, longer silence, I tried to make some small talk with her. She mostly gave short answers that told me very little about who she really was. I wanted to tell her what I really felt and tell her how lost I was too, but I glanced at my wedding ring again and stopped myself. The once perfect circle, now bent and scratched from years of heavy treatment, shone back at me.
A few hours later, after many long silences, I told her this was my stop on the highway, though it was actually far from where I lived. I told her I didn’t need any gas money and instead gave her a twenty and told her to use it to buy her favorite wine. She thanked me profusely, tears in her eyes again, and shut the car door.
As I drove away, I watched her become smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror and I let her go.
321 BW PALOUSE 22 STEPTOE BUTTE
by Keith Moul
st laura vicuna
these incest victims’
hymns curl up towards You tainted
st john the almsgiver
we’ll wait on the shore
where no more is asked of us–
bankrupt but His boat
st francis de sales
after being marked up
His body’s now this proofed text –
prescription strength lovesick pill –
side effects? stoneheart
for thy stomach’s sake
some wine Paul advised as he
saw to your foreskin
st angela merici
rather than raising me
let me remain w/these roots
st thomas aquinas
st(r)uck in your tower
you forwent flesh to pencil-
in our true lineage
The Bernabel Case
by Robert Wexelblatt
LVIII. If two or more agree to combine their flocks then, when an animal is sold, the gain shall be divided between them.
On the death of Anastasius Makarion, a misanthrope who lived a solitary life like the pastoral hermits of old, Paul Bernabel, his great-nephew, inherited the old man’s property. The estate comprised the small freehold on which Makarion had lived for two decades – one-third copse and two-thirds pasture – a wretched hut and two still more wretched outbuildings, one arthritic sheep dog, and a flock of thirteen sheep.
Bernabel, a thirty-year-old businessman, had lived his entire life in the capital city where he had just opened his second pharmacy. With a mixture of pleasure in becoming a man of property and irritation that this property should be so small and distant from the city, he reluctantly abandoned his business for three days in order to view his new estate, assess its value, and figure out what would be best to do with it. It made him uncomfortable to leave the place under the supervision of a neighbor he had not met and whose motives he could not judge.
This neighbor was Thomas Neerghen, whose land bordered Makarion’s on two sides, the two holdings being separated by a low fence put up by the old man. Neerghen’s land was more than ten times the size of Bernabel’s; it produced tobacco and beets as well as supporting a dozen cows and an extensive flock of sheep. Neerghen, a sociable, generous, but level-headed farmer, well-regarded in the vicinity, lived with his unmarried sister Leda and two hired men. He had offered on more than one occasion to buy the land from old Makarion but the recluse would never sell.
So perhaps it was with an eye to making an offer on the property that Neerghen wrote to Bernabel undertaking to look after his property – including the dog and the sheep – until he could make his own arrangements. Neerghen’s letter, however, made no mention of any offer to buy and displayed only a spirit of neighborliness and a rare willingness on the part of a country man to help out a city dweller.
As soon as Bernabel arrived and had taken a room at the local inn, he had himself driven out to look over his land. As he was inspecting the fence, which was not in the best repair, Neerghen approached from the other side, introduced himself, and invited Bernabel to dine with him that night.
Once again, there is no evidence that on this occasion Neerghen made an offer to buy the property, though it is possible that he hinted at his interest. In any case, Bernabel had decided to hold onto the land, at least for the time being. He had found a reason for wishing to maintain a connection to the country. For some time he had been feeling the lack of a wife, and he took note of how well-run and orderly Neerghen’s household was, as well as the good-humor, modesty, and comeliness of Neerghen’s sister. After his return to the city he began a lively and sentimental correspondence with Leda and, when he judged the time was ripe, he traveled again into the country to make his proposal. She accepted the following day, a development which is believed not to have greatly pleased her brother, for whose permission Bernabel had not troubled to ask.
While he was hard at work in the city, Bernabel hired a local man to take care of his property, particularly the sheep, though Neerghen advised him against employing this undependable loafer. The consequence was that a section of the fence between the two properties was allowed to collapse and Bernabel’s sheep joined Neerghen’s flock.
As soon as he realized what had happened, Neerghen wrote to inform Bernabel. In reply his new brother-in-law wrote that he had his hands full as he was getting his new pharmacy on its feet as well as setting up his household. If Neerghen had no objection, the sheep could stay where they were and the problem would be dealt with later. Neerghen was uneasy about this arrangement and suggested that they draw up a legal agreement concerning Bernabel’ssheep. Ironically, this sensible proposal that might have prevented so many difficulties, was opposed by Leda. The idea of a legal contract between her husband and her brother frightened her. She believed it to be poisonous for relatives to have recourse to contracts. She reminded Bernabel that he had promised that, if his business prospered, he would turn the property into a summer home. What did a few sheep matter? The result was that, in legal terms, all that existed between Bernabel and Neerghen was, at best, a verbal agreement, though to this day there is no agreement as to what was agreed.
Unfortunately, Bernabel’s business did not flourish and, by the following spring, he found himself in serious straits. It was a random comment from Leda, who yearned for nothing more than good relations between the two men, that led to all the trouble – a second irony. One morning, looking out at the buds on the tulip tree in the front yard, she remarked that it would soon be time for the selling of spring lambs. A week later, after consulting his lawyer and without telling his wife, Bernabel sent a formal letter to Neerghen demanding half the profits from his sale of spring lambs.
Though astonished and indignant, Neerghen replied in measured terms. Thinking of his sister, he offered to try to determine whether or not any of the lambs marked for sale could justly be called Bernabel’s property. However, he could not resist pointing out that for some months he had borne the burden of caring for Bernabel’s tiny flock which, owing to Bernabel’s own negligence, had mingled with his own. In this way he implied that Bernabel’s claim to half of the proceeds of all spring sales was plainly outrageous.
The very day he received Neerghen’s reply, Bernabel instructed his lawyer to file suit against his brother-in-law. Neerghen, grieved but also incensed, decided he would have to hire a lawyer in the capital. He chose a well-respected advocate, the son of a famous judge who later had much to do with instigating the controversy. Neerghen instructed his attorney to offer Bernabel the return of his sheep or, since it was no longer possible to determine the ownership of individual animals, a number equal to his original flock plus a number of lambs to be determined by an expert.
Somewhat reluctantly, but in accord with the instructions of his client, Bernabel’s lawyer refused this offer, insisting on the fifty percent, adding that he would press the lawsuit.
The case began to make its way through the courts. Bernabel, made bad-tempered by the struggle to maintain his failing business and furious with Neerghen, never visited his property and even forbade Leda to see her brother. Nevertheless, she wrote to Neerghen regularly, begging him to arrange some sort of settlement with her husband. This, he replied, he had already attempted to do and on generous terms. “You have chosen him. So be it,” he concluded what turned out to be his last letter to his sister, who by then was pregnant.
The lawyers were still filing arguments and counter-arguments and the case had already begun to spawn public debate when Leda, who had grown melancholy and was not putting on adequate weight, suffered a miscarriage. Worse yet, there were dangerous complications.
“I’m deeply concerned,” said the doctor gravely to Bernabel. “She’s not getting better as she should. It’s as if she has lost the will to live.”
On her deathbed, Leda implored her husband to drop his suit against her brother then made a bitter joke. “You’ll soon have something to share other than a few sheep and a few acres.”
Though it put an end to the legal proceedings, the death of Leda Bernabel has scarcely checked the spreading, apparently unstoppable contention set in motion when, out of rashness or desperation, her husband decided to sue her brother. Despite the withdrawal of the suit, the debate it set in motion really has taken on a life of its own. It has grown ever more tangled and abstruse and, at the same time, more dire, even menacing the foundations of our society. To many of us it appears that, like the Bernabel case itself, the controversy is rushing toward a catastrophe.
As everyone now agrees, the case forced open previously ignored fissures between our legal experts. Of course disagreements about the laws and how they are to be interpreted have always arisen and perhaps we common folk were even aware of them; however, it is easy to underestimate differences of opinion when people are careful not to exacerbate them, when no one dares push them to the limit. Now, quite suddenly, all restraint seems to have evaporated. The acrimonious quarrels among our scholars, judges, lawyers, and clergy have left us unsettled, bewildered by the rapidity with which the stability of our laws has turned precarious, their solidity dissolved into a muddy river of polemics. The experts are aware that the populace has become alarmed by their debate; however, this has only led them to try to settle matters by advancing their own views with greater ferocity, which has only made things worse.
We are a law-abiding people. One might even say that devotion to the laws is our distinguishing trait, the linchpin of our society and unifying theme of our history. Our laws have come down to us from a period steeped in legend, when intercourse between gods and men is supposed to have been commonplace. Prior to the Bernabel case, people did not question too closely the origin of our laws. It was enough to believe that the law was the law and, when applied to the facts of any given case, would automatically yield justice.
The orthodox maintain the traditional view that our laws are of divine origin and, as such, absolute, immutable, and, above all, applicable to all situations; for how, they point out, could what is divine ever be less than perfect, comprehensive, and entire? Because it is in the nature of human beings to err, dispute, and disagree, the gods gave us infallible and comprehensive laws, equal to any contingency. They contend that these laws and our faithfulness to them have sustained our people through all generations and to doubt their authority would be a disaster worse than the basest treason.
Others, no less respectable, learned, or numerous, while accepting that the laws are inspired, insist that their origins are human, not celestial. They claim that they are able to imagine a different set of laws, adding that what is devised by men can be challenged by men. This relativism, however, does not prevent certain among them from being, if anything, stricter than the orthodox. The moderates simply say that it is not unreasonable to allow for a wider latitude than has been customary in interpreting the laws. The radicals, however, favor not only amending our laws but the creation of new ones; for, they maintain, laws so ancient, even excellent ones, cannot be continually stretched to cover modern conditions.
This division into two parties is a vast simplification of the true situation, perhaps only a measure of our need to make order out of the spiraling chaos. For example, among the orthodox there are exegetes so nimble that they can make the laws fit not only any case but, in the role of hired advocates, argue that the laws always support their clients. This might be considered cynical of them; however, as devout believers in the divinity of the laws, they go about their work in a priestly spirit, genuinely convinced of the justice of the cause they are paid to defend, so that it never appears that the laws are dancing to their tune but just the opposite. It is not exceptional to find orthodox advocates for two contestants in a suit equally persuaded that the gods are on their side. Conversely, among the opposing party are many who insist on the most inflexible application of the letter of the laws, vehemently asserting that the least departure from a literal reading of them would in no time reduce our society to anarchy; for, they say, what other standard of civilized life have we but our laws, what other barrier against the chaos of our unruly nature?
The myriad of arguments which have been generated by this case did not begin with cosmic issues about the origins of our laws but technical ones about the meaning of Law LVIII, whatever its source. For example, quite a debate has been raging over the phrase “when an animal is sold.” Some partisans of Bernabel insist that the words “an animal” do not refer to a single lamb but to any number of sheep that may be sold. What if Neerghen were to sell off his entire flock, they ask? In that case, under the law, the proceeds for every animal sold would belong equally to him and Bernabel. As they see it, the crucial point addressed by the law is not the number of animals at all but the agreement to combine the flocks. Everything flows from that, they assert.
To this it has been objected that the law, in referring explicitly to “an animal,” means precisely what it says; that is, one and only one. In other words, what the law foresees is not the selling of large numbers of animals; rather, the clear intent is to rationalize the sale of a particular animal whose ownership cannot be established owing to the mixing of flocks. In the case of the spring lambs, the greater part of the profits would unquestionably belong to Neerghen, given the number of ewes and rams belonging to him relative to the few that strayed from Bernabel’s land. As further proof they argue that the phrase “divided between them” obviously suggests that scrupulous account must be taken of the contributions of each party. In any business enterprise, they say, profits are distributed among shareholders in proportion to their investment and this case is no different.
Others object that the law does not refer to all businesses but only to sheep or, at most, livestock. In fact, the law takes for granted that an agreement to combine flocks would be made only if no party expected to lose by the mingling. Neerghen’s having acceded to Bernabel’s flock joining with his, even reluctantly, may have been prompted by all kinds of motives, from sheer laziness, to shrewd calculation, to preserving peace in the family. Legally, however, his motive is of no moment. The fact is that he did go along with it and with that agreement Bernabel became entitled to half of the proceeds from the sale of spring lambs.
Suppose, says one of these canny lawyers, that there were only three sheep involved. One partner contributes a ram, the other a pair of ewes. Is it just for the owner of the ewes to claim title to all their lambs because it was his animals that gave them birth and suckled them? Clearly not. It is obvious that the owner of the ram has an equal claim to the lambs, even though his original contribution was half that of the other.
Not at all, reply those favoring Neerghen’s position. The owner of the two ewes is entitled to two-thirds of the proceeds from the sale of every lamb. There is no other reasonable interpretation of the phrase “divided between them.” By not saying “equally divided” the law implicitly intends “fairly divided,” and, in this case, fairness demands an unequal distribution of profits.
Nonsense, came the riposte. This argument begs the question of what is, in fact, “fair.” Actually, the law is, as always, sufficiently clear. Precisely because it does not indicate how the profits are to be “divided between them” the law must mean that the division will be equal. Law LVIII is the locus classicus of the principle of equity which, as the word itself proclaims, means equal division, a moiety to each.
No part of the law has escaped this scrutinizing and stretching, this scraping with legalistic chisels. For example, a pompous dispute has developed between two scholars over the word “combined.” One insists that it means simply the merging of ownership, all animals to be held jointly, while the other, with no less vehemence, contends that “combined” does not mean merged at all. Sugar and hot water merge, he reasons, while oil and water may be combined, but in such a way that it is easy to pour the oil off and leave the water. In the same respect, in using the word “combine” the law declares that ownership of specific animals, and thus of their offspring, remains with each partner, who is responsible for them, must run the risk of their dying from disease, starvation, or predation, and so is entitled to the profit from their sale. Properly understood, the word “combine” signifies that the law is only concerned with the sharing of pasture, not the ownership of lambs.
“If your argument were to prevail,” replied his opponent with both scorn and sorrow, “then the law would mean nothing at all.”
And so, though the case itself has become moot, the dispute has gone on and on, deeper and deeper.
Are our laws human or divine? It is a tremendous question for us, a problem to keep us up nights, a question that we cannot help but yearn to have answered. And yet, in a recent article, an audacious law student has written that one must ask whether it really matters so much. He writes as follows: “In the end the laws are meant to govern our relations with one another so as to achieve justice. Therefore, our laws, whether devised by gods or men, no matter how ancient and hallowed, and regardless of how often they have proved their worth, remain what they were at the first, which is only a means and not an end. In making an idol of the law we are like men who invent new weapons to make themselves secure only to discover that our enemies have fashioned identical devices, and for the same reason. This is precisely what has gone wrong in the disputes arising from the Bernabel case: our national obsession with the means has ended by threatening to devour the end.”
Though his language sounds reasonable, the young man’s argument has been attacked by his elders as not only misleading but unnecessarily unnerving. It is all well and good to speak blithely of means and ends, they say; however, how can the end be achieved if the means to it cannot be trusted? The law should not be compared to a weapon, they insist; the law is our alternative to weapons. In a public rebuttal of the young man’s essay, the father of Bernabel’sattorney, who had been jousting in the lists almost from the outset of the debate, wrote: “A certain tyro has recently argued that the laws are merely a means to some end called justice. This is a shallow thought. In fact, long experience has proven that ends and means are indistinguishable, that justice can be achieved solely through the application of the laws.” In the opinion of this venerable magistrate, the Bernabel case has been given far too much attention and has been manipulated to raise questions it would be better not to have raised at all. He concludes with a variation on the platitude that bad cases make bad laws. “It is not the laws which, I should like to remind everyone, were given us as a blessing by the gods that are to blame for the confusions rising like so much smoke from this infernal case; rather it is the opportunism of so-called legal geniuses eager to exercise their misplaced virtuosity even at the price of endangering our social order and the faith of the people on which it is grounded. In sum, bad arguments subvert good laws.”
Amidst this clamorous controversy few have taken note of those who provoked it or what became of the scrap of soil from which it grew. Two days after his wife’s death Paul Bernabel, in accord with her last wish, withdrew his suit against her brother. The following day Thomas Neerghen formally purchased the land Paul Bernabel inherited from his misanthropic uncle, excepting only the small plot in which, standing side by side, they buried Leda NeerghenBernabel.
by Howie Good
The red of fire reminds me of my father’s face. I was born at six in the evening. Rumors that the doctor wore black gloves are untrue. The rivers and lakes were full. My mother put stones in her pocket to keep from floating back up. It was November, and the click of a revolver could stop a heart.
I came to a fence and climbed over it and then realized I had forgotten my bag on the other side. There was nothing in the bag I actually needed. I was traveling to a faraway country, where the word for rain was more real than the rain itself.
A fluttery bird spoke up. It’s what happens sometimes. The sky brightened, but only for an instant.
We were friends before we were a couple, but unreliable narrators before we were either. When I opened the door, I found a small Midwestern city, suicidal and dimly lit. I couldn’t explain it, not even with complex equations. We agreed to act as if these were things that mattered.
Mother dying, the wind said, come home. I closed my eyes to rest them. When I looked again, gilt trimmings glittered on military uniforms in the gaslight of the Hotel Brunswick’s crowded ballroom. Such people usually leave misleading clues as to their whereabouts. I kept on toward another birthday. Why the shawled whores in the doorways had limbs that had metamorphosed into wings.
The road just ends. It’s been a long time. I enter a house with covered mirrors, buttercups brightening the curtains.
I can hear people whispering outside the window. The voices sound Gaelic, like James Joyce speaking through broken and rotting teeth. Sometimes I wait to be rescued. Other times I remove the rope from around your neck
One had a dangerously fast heartbeat. The police knocked one down. One was mathematically eliminated – what you get, I suppose, for asking who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. One tilted like a helicopter at takeoff. My dead. There have been years I haven’t been able to visit you. There are days like this when that’s all I do.
My heart has been dismissed for being drunk on duty. You yell from another part of the house that your watch has stopped. Nothing works as well anymore as the perfume of decay. Later a man returning from sleep will wave his arms to ward off marauding dogs. It’s night again, I yell back, and the chance of sunshine zero.
She Said, She Said
by Reuben Hayslett
The wedding put us in debt so Mary takes up Waffle House waiting, third shift, on the weekends up on Watson Blvd. She slips into bed Sunday morning. Half-sleep, my hands still find her fleshy parts above the bend in her knees.
“Don’t touch on me, James,” she says, rolling over.
I’m up for church in an hour but she won’t go. Pastor Dave preaches about Job and being in the trenches. When I get home Mary’s laid out on the couch. The living room smells like waffle dough; she hasn’t showered.
“My mama missed ya at church,” I say.
“I ain’t going no more.”
There’s three weeks of this. One sentence swaps and days between bathing. Mary’s hair curls into naps. She sleeps on top of the sheets when I’m under them and then under them when I’m on top. She picks up cigarettes again. I call Pastor Dave.
“I’m sorry.” Mary says, itching her scalp, “I’m just tired is all.”
“Baby girl.” Pastor Dave says, “your husband’s thinking you don’t love ’em no more. Now, go ahead and say otherwise.”
“I still love you, James.” But she doesn’t take her eyes off the piece of floor between her feet.
“Quit the Waffle House, Mary. I just want you home,” I tell her. She takes my hands and works up a smile. I still think she’s beautiful, even with the hair like it is now.
Pastor Dave ends with a lecture on the body being a temple, about the cigarettes, and we wish him off. On the porch I put my hand around her hip and whisper as we wave Pastor Dave’s pickup down the street, “I bought that white wine you like, for tonight.”
Once we’re back in the house though, Mary lights up a smoke again.
“You better sit down,” she says. She sits on the coffee table across from me, eyes still down.
“Couple Saturdays ago, something happened.”
Somehow I can hear my stomach like it’s in between my ears and I dig my toes into the carpet.
“I can’t say it no simpler than this: I got called up.”
“Called up by who?”
She lifts her head and points up to the ceiling. Her voice cracks through her words, “Them up there.” Then her face is a wet mess buried between her hands.
Takes hours until she can stop crying and speak clear and then she tells me all about the bright lights, and the ships, the laboratory rooms and instruments. About how she thought she was gone two years, maybe three, and about how those probes aren’t as invasive as the quackers on TV say.
“I think some of those guys like that one, up there. And they just can’t shut-up about it.”
“Baby,” I say. “What are you talking?”
“I’m talking we ain’t alone!” She stubs one cigarette out and grabs another. After a hic in her lungs she blows out the smoke. It hits my face warm and smells like death. I just stare at her.
Mary won’t quit the Waffle House. She uses the tips she gets to buy herself a computer and she’s up all night during the week. The monitor glow bounces off every wall somehow, making our house light blue and keeping me up. The boys on the car lot see my eye-bags and laugh about newlyweds. I just keep my head down. I start calling Pastor Dave from my office phone, when no one’s looking.
“She needs Jesus!” He tells me, “This’s false idol, boy. Sinful.”
But there’s no talking to Mary. She smiles at me like I’m a four-year-old with melted ice cream and says, “James, I’ve seen the actual light.” Or she’ll tell me something about being up there, about how she thought they’d take me up too eventually.
“I told them all about you,” she says. Her face softens up, talking about aliens. One night I keep her going on more and more about it, just to see her face like that again. She flushes out and her cheeks get dark like they used to when I passed her notes in high school, or like later, in college, when I laid her down on a blanket underneath the Sweetheart Circle trees and kissed on her. Pastor Dave tells me this is sinful too. I’m playing into Devil’s ears.
The other waitresses at Waffle House leave stuff on our porch that they think might have to do with aliens. There’s quartz rocks that they think are cut into inhuman pieces. Mary chats with people online and they send her maps through the mail. Some are supposed to plot out where people get taken up; some are star maps, plotting out where they think they’ve been taken to. I tuck ’em away into kitchen drawers when I get home from work but she just takes ’emback out again. Pastor Dave says to write scriptures on the maps. “Speak her language,” he says.
She gets plane tickets from a man out in Roswell and that’s when we get into it.
“You’re stopping this now, Mary! I done had it!”
“You don’t have shit,” she puffs her smoke at me, “cuz you don’t know shit!”
“I know enough not to strike you now, but that’s slippin’!”
She just throws the cigarette on the carpet and grabs my arm up, right in line to come down on her.
“You do it,” she says, “cuz you can’t do nothing they ain’t done to me.”
She won’t let her eyes up off of mine. Hers are cement-strong while mine are quivering.
“Baby, I’m sorry,” she says, taking my arm down. I plop down on the couch, trying to suck back into being the man. Mary folds onto my lap, the closest our skin’s touched in months. She pecks her lips on me just below my ear lope and I want my wife back. I want to take her right here and tire myself out into her.
“Sometimes I hate them too,” she says, “for taking me away so long.”
“You didn’t go anywhere, Mary.”
I get counseling from Pastor Dave Saturday afternoons.
“God’s testin’ you, James. And this is the test of your life.”
I nod my head.
“Now, you been good your whole life. Treat your mama right, went to school, come to church. The Lord sees all this.”
“Yessum. And he had to be tried. It’s the Lord’s way.”
“I’ve been thinking, maybe it’s the same, you and Mary. I mean, it’s the Heavens up there.”
“Now that’s fool talk, boy. The Devil done tricked your wife and using her to trick you. Let’s pray for strength.”
I pray in Pastor Dave’s office, and at work in my office. I find myself praying at home, washing dishes, but can’t think where to send it all if it ain’t upward. Sky’s Mary’s now, like she owns it. We don’t talk about nothing but aliens. She says they got it all wrong. They ain’t got big bald heads and huge eyes. She says they look beautiful, with pink jellyfish eyes and that they got pearls in their skins. But she can’t quite tell it right.
“I wish you could see ’em. There’s no fear there, James. They know more than we do but they don’t mean to hurt us.”
“You don’t, pray to them, do ya?”
She laughs at me, “Ain’t that the most ridiculous thing!”
“You think they’ll come back for ya?”
“I can’t reckon what they do.”
“You want ’em to?”
“Baby, I don’t wanna leave you again,” she says.
“You and Pastor Dave got me feeling you already have.”
Mary steps into to me and wraps my arms around her. I smell the cocoa butter lotion on her skin and it hits me like liquor.
“I try to be here as much.” Mary says, “It’s hard.”
I ask Pastor Dave about relations during the trying times and he tells me not to. The little bit of Devil in me, he says, in all men, it can feed off that Devil in her, especially since she ain’t God-fearing no more. He says it’s the Fear’o’God that keeps relations clean and bodies whole. Mary’ll be too wild with that Devil. Pastor Dave leans back in his desk chair and says, “uh huh” a few times staring off into the wall behind me.
“What’s it look like?” I ask him.
“That Devil in her? It got a face?” He narrows his eyes down at me but I keep going, “or arms or skin or something? I mean, I ain’t never seen pictures.”
“That’s cuz it takes all forms. It ain’t of this world, from below. And like the face of God, we can’t behold it proper.”
I flip my Bible back to the pages of Genesis.
“She think she knows what they look like? Don’t she?” Pastor Dave asks me. “Oh Lord, boy, we best pray.”
On Sunday, Mama takes me back to her house for lunch, just the two of us. She warms leftovers in the oven and folds her dry towels neatly on the counter.
“Pastor Dave says you’ve been going through some times. With Mary,” she says.
“Mama, I’m sorry–”
“No, you was right to go to ’em first.”
“Mary’s saying things, Mama, you wouldn’t believe.”
Mama joins me at the dining table and says, “I don’t need to know your details, James. My mama used to tell me marriage is its own faith, back when your Daddy was off in the world. You might not remember.”
“No, I do.”
“He came back. Love’ll bring a person back. And I know you love her.”
The next morning Mary gets in from work and slides under the sheets with me and her head finds the spot just under my shoulder, like it used to.
“Did you ask the aliens to take you back home?”
“You know what? I don’t think I did.” She says, “not even at first, cuz I was too scared to ask anything. They’d put you in with people, not like in bed or nothing. Rooms like waiting rooms. And each time I’d think it was gonna be you. That I’d get into a room with you and you’d smile at me and we wouldn’t need this house or nothing.”
“You can barely touch me now.”
“I just stopped thinking about you. It would hurt and they didn’t want no hurtin’ up there. I had let you go.”
“I didn’t go anywhere,” I tell her.
“But I did. I went everywhere.” Mary breathes out on to my chest and I can feel it moving my chest hairs. She says, “you got work in a few.”
“I don’t wanna go in today. I’m not up to it.”
“But we’re gonna need the money.”
I usually call Pastor Dave on my lunch break but thinking about what Mama said stops me. It takes some clicking around on the internet to find “ufologyconventions” but I find one, in Phoenix. It’s next week. The plane tickets, the hotel and the rental car cost most of my paycheck, and Mary knows this because when I try and surprise her with it, she just nods slow and takes up a cigarette.
On the flight, Mary holds my hand and then falls asleep. It’s just enough to make me feel that charge in my spine like on our wedding day. I treat her to dinner by the airport and for the first time since all this, we don’t talk about aliens.
“You don’t wonder about those years your daddy left?” Mary asks me, spinning pasta around her fork.
“Well, I did for a while.” I tell her, “could never get nothing out of him but ‘Atlanta and D.C.’”
“I’m sure your mama knows a little more.”
“What it’ll solve, though? Daddy came home, Mama took him back. Everything went back to like nothing happened.”
“I remember his passing.” Mary says, between chews, “He looked at us but didn’t it feel like he was looking through us?”
“Where?” I almost laugh thinking about it, “to Atlanta?”
Mary scrapes her plate with the fork a few times, staring down at what’s left of the sauce. She says,“I was gonna come to one these, James. With or without asking you.”
“Thank you for it. It’s better with you this way.”
In the morning, we drive to the convention center and it’s decked out with green neon. Folks walking by have fake antennae or Halloween pointed ears. I see a few men in green spandex suits, full body ones, and I pull Mary closer to my side. Once we get through the doors and register though, I see that it’s not all crazies. The internet did say college professors would be here. And scientist folk. They huddle together and talk smart.
I had my hand on Mary’s waist but now she’s pulled out and we’re holding hands. She’s reading the schedule they gave us at registration and glancing up to look at all the booths. People are selling costumes and star maps and satellite pictures of crop circles. DVDs and books and Area 51 dirt. Mary’s gone before I could have said anything to her, slipping through crowd of alien costumes and collared shirts. She steps light with her head tilting every which way but back behind her. My wife is an explorer.
I find a plush chair away from all the salespeople booths and take a seat. I think to pray, but find out that even just that is enough. Wanting for her does the trick; it rolls the time by until my wife will come back to me.
by José-Flore Tappy
translated from the French by John Taylor
against house walls
in the doorways
white thread in their hands
they sew absence
their voices fade out
on narrow stools
their old skirts
blackened by chores
with what quivers
the inaudible dust of cries
Near them it’s the knowing
on their knees
into which bats slip
Between the cod and the soap
its disk turns
and takes its place
on the ravaged table
sucked by the wind
no matter how long
it remains whole
putting itself back together
in the dark mouth
the greedy mouth of the wind
A taste so bland
who could forget it
since it makes
even an insomniac sick
No arms legs
stuck in a sack
I hoist myself up
drop back down
a torso imprisoned by a life
with its four limbs ripped off
“Urrós” is excerpted from the sequence “Lunar Poems,” which was first published by Éditions La Dogana (Geneva, 2001) and then included in the volume Terre battue / Lunaires (Moudon, Switzerland: Éditions Empreintes, 2005).
Punk Rock in the Daylight
by Simon Jacobs
Through the automatic sliding doors and into the CVS pharmacy. Mug for the security cameras. I see my face in the screens hanging from the ceiling, and grimace. My Mohawk – like straw, unwisely slept on without taking provisions, which I’ve been continuously running my fingers through because I like breaking it apart – is flattened in places, jutting out oddly; it looks neglected. The green dye rarely lasts more than two weeks. It’s thrash-beaten. I’m thrash-beaten. In we go.
What few eyes there are roaming the aisles at this hour of the morning all turn to look me over. Or: so I imagine. I slouch down the nearest aisle, then spread. Dawdling by the hair care products until I’m approached by a red-vested employee, whose features if I described them would be indistinguishable from those of my father. In reality they look nothing alike, but part-to-whole they do. Qualitatively different. “Can I help you find anything?”
“Yes, do you have any, like, just little styling combs?” The counter-everything part of me screams: No! Stop! Don’t call it a style! Don’t admit that it’s something you work to maintain! “You know,” I say regardless, almost affably, motioning at my disheveled head, “gotta keep this in order.”
Counter-Everything goes: Idiot! What are you doing? Don’t acknowledge it! Where’s your pride?
The balding employee who generically looks like my father laments that he can’t do anything “like that” with his hair “anymore” and then shows me what I’m after, a bin of black plastic combs on a bottom shelf. Two for $2.99.
Counter-Everything says: Steal them.
I kneel, pick up two, slide a third into the pocket of my shorts. Proceed to the register: $3.21. As I pull my wallet from my pocket, a black plastic comb slips out along with it and falls to the floor. He sees, but says nothing. Takes my three dollars and gives me a receipt.
Once through the automatic doors and into the parking lot, the counter-everything part goes: That’s okay. At least he knows what you are. Good.
I run my fingers through my hair, and try to ignore it.