Blue Five Notebook – (January 2013 / 13.1)
Artist, Ira Joel Haber: Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn New York. He is a sculptor, painter, book dealer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in USA and Europe, and he has had 9 one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum & The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Haber is the recipient of three National Endowments For The Arts Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner grants and The Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant. Currently he teaches art at the United Federation of Teachers Retiree Program in Brooklyn.
Still Life in a Different Room
Chardin arranged a side of beef, onions,
a pitcher, mortar and pestle, a copper pot
on a white cloth, bunched up like the mind
when it’s uncertain. He put copper pot
on its side, its handle up, a half moon
of its shiny bottom visible. The pitcher hides
most of a ladle’s handle, and the side of beef
hanging over the table edge seems about to pull
the cloth and all to the floor any second now.
But nothing happens: the objects are in place
until time wrecks the oils on the canvas
beyond restoration. In such a way life goes on
with the man and the woman. Each knows what
to say whenever sorrow or frustration comes
to the other. Sometimes it’s not the words
at all that matter, but how they arrange
their bodies in the room. He can be reading
in the big chair while she sits near, saying she feels
things being pulled out from under her,
she can’t stand the stress much longer,
and he won’t move at all. No looking up,
no kindly smile that says There, there.
Just holding on, knowing time is going
to outlast whatever comfort she might take
from whatever comfort he might give,
the two of them in the room—can you see it?—
in their appointed and familiar places.
Lynne Knight’s fourth collection, Again, was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2009. Her previous collections are Dissolving Borders (Quarterly Review of Literature), The Book of Common Betrayals (Bear Star Press), and Night in the Shape of a Mirror (David Robert Books), plus three award-winning chapbooks. A cycle of poems on Impressionist winter paintings, Snow Effects (Small Poetry Press), has been translated into French by Nicole Courtet. Knight’s work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2000, and her awards include a Theodore Roethke Award from Poetry Northwest, a Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, an NEA grant, and the 2009 RATTLE Poetry Prize. She lives in Berkeley, California.
When he was asked what he wanted for his fifteenth birthday, Matthew Armstrong said that he wanted a guitar. “An electric guitar,” he clarified. “A Gibson.”
“A Gibson?” said his mother. “Really? I’ve always wanted a Fender Stratocaster myself.”
A Gibson, insisted Matthew. Then they got down to specifics: Flying V versus SG, SG versus Mary Ford.
Of course, they both knew the family couldn’t afford a Gibson, and besides, that was really a woman’s guitar. For his fifteenth birthday, Matthew Armstrong got a cheap Taylor guitar, a “Playing Guitar for Boys” DVD, and a voucher for guitar lessons.
They finally found a guitar teacher who would take him. She lived a couple of suburbs away, and as he waited in her living room for the preceding student’s lesson to finish, Matthew marvelled at the posters of famous guitarists on the walls: Wild Flag’s Brownstein and Timony grinning at each other as they played intertwining solos, Pleasants at the centre of Kylesa’s downtuned psych, Warpaint’s Wayman and Kokal photographed onstage at a festival as evening fell, the sun picking out contrasting highlights in their hair.
With a final strangle of the fretboard, the girl ahead of him finished her lesson, and in moments – having endured the girl’s surprised gaze – he was standing in front of the guitar teacher. This room was full of posters too — Clapton, Hendrix, Van Halen — but Matthew was too busy looking at the teacher to pay attention.
The teacher’s name was Ms Morton.
Ms Morton looked at Matthew. Ms Morton looked at Matthew’s guitar. Ms Morton did not look impressed.
“I’m sorry, Matthew,” she said, “but you’re never going to make it as a guitarist.”
“Why not?” demanded Matthew, already on the verge of tears.
“You’re … how old?”
“Fifteen,” said Matthew.
“Only fifteen, and look at your hands. They’re man hands, Matthew. Look at my hands” — she held out her slender fingers for inspection. “You have to have precise fingering to play the guitar, and for that, you need small fingers. Look at these posters on the wall, Matthew.”
Matthew looked. He had never thought that looking at pictures of his favourite guitarists could make him so unhappy.
“Does Erica Clapton have man hands? Did Jenna Hendrix?”
He had to admit that they did not.
“And look at Edie Van Halen.” The poster was Van Halen playing her most famous piece, “Absorption”. Both her hands were on the neck of the guitar, tapping out the notes that flowed from her fingers: her small, neat fingers, precisely placed on the frets.
Matthew didn’t stay to hear any more. He did not hear Ms Morton call out that he should try the bass or the keyboards, both instruments suited to boys’ long fingers. He ran until he could not, then walked home in the gathering dark, his tears drying on his cheeks. When he arrived home, he went straight to his room and locked the door.
For weeks, he haunted YouTube. He found videos that made him feel better – “World’s Best 15 Year Old Guy Guitarist!” – and then he found the spiteful or dismissive comments beneath them. He found out about boy bands that no-one ever talked about any more: the Schoolboys, the Runaways. He practiced using his headphones and his little pre-amp, wearing out his fingers, wearing out his picks, hour after hour after hour, maneuvering his long, thick fingers around the fretboard until no-one could say he played worse than a girl.
RockQuest time. All over his school, bands were starting up. The music room was crowded with girls striking Guitar Heroine poses, while boys comped along on the bass in the background.
“Guitarist Wanted” ads choked the noticeboard. Matthew would take note of the numbers to call, then chicken out at the last minute, his phone clutched uselessly in his hand. He couldn’t face the laughter, the ridicule.
“Guitarist Wanted – We’re Desperate!” So was Matthew, he decided: desperate enough to call.
To Matthew’s huge relief, a boy answered. They were all boys, as it turned out, and that’s why they couldn’t get a girl guitarist. They called themselves Andesite. Their sound was indie rock meets metalcore. “It’s pretty technical,” the guy said, but when they had him over for a tryout, he could handle it. “You’re in,” they told him.
They were up fifth in the school’s RockQuest heat. The first three bands were so-so, but the band that played fourth had a great guitarist, and they showcased her to full advantage, their song finishing with a two-minute solo that had the crowd rising to its feet at the end.
Then it was Andesite’s turn. He could hear a ripple of surprise through the crowd. “All boys?” someone in the front row said. But there was no time to think about that. He was thinking only about fingerings, the shapes of the chords. There wasn’t enough foldback from the monitors. It was hard to hear his bandmates, hard to keep up.
Their song came to the breakdown, where the drums drop out and the guitars slow down, riffing in lock-step, the slightest error exposed. Sweat poured from his forehead as the notes crawled from his guitar – and then the drums kicked back in, Andesite’s vocalist doubled up on the chorus, and it was over, the crowd … yes, the crowd was cheering. It was over, they were done.
They didn’t win – of course they didn’t win. But the judge went out of her way to commend them, and backstage they were just one among many bands, some bickering, some happy, all sweaty.
He was getting ready to go home when the guitarist from the preceding act, she of the two-minute solo, sauntered over, all eyeshadow and ringlets. She looked him up and down.
“Not bad,” she said. “Not bad at all, for a boy.”
His man hands dangled by his side as he watched her walk away.
Tim Jones is a poet and author of both science fiction and literary fiction who was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. He lives in Wellington. His third poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained, was published in late 2011. His story “The New Neighbours” is included in The Apex Book of World SF 2 (2012). He is currently working on stories for a new collection. For more, please see Tim Jones: Books in the Trees.
In the Mission, after Lines from Pasolini
The steadfast eye is agony.
The soul no longer grows.
Along the inner Mission
the street people clamor
for change and little boys
scatter from alleys like mice,
cursing from the pumped up
barrels of their chests at elderly
shopkeepers and delivery men.
I see the lifted chins of art students
who sling their work home
in canvas bags, their pierced faces
glinting like mica in a languid stream.
And always the panning of these eyes –
marveling lenses – snap shooting
the subtle changes in the tint
of the clouds reflected in windows,
the scuffed apricot of taxicabs
shearing the mad street corners
with rubber screams and “fuck you”.
My hand in her hand as the damp
scent of her hair whips like tiny pins
against my face, the strident flesh
of ice plants searing the blue-black shadows
of the median flecked with garbage
as if we had displaced our old wounds
onto the world with our seeing.
The hush of no pedestrians for half a block
as we lean our bodies towards
her doorway redolent of pine wreaths
and the pensive flare of garlic
burning the slanted stairs that climb
from the street with the ache
of a wholesomeness so ripe
that I disappear into it, believing.
Gary Sloboda is a lawyer, writer and musician, not necessarily in that order. His work has appeared in such places as Rattle, Drunken Boat, The Cortland Review, and EOAGH: A Journal of the Arts. He lives in San Francisco.
Richard speaks about front rooms and back rooms in museums. He means the official version versus life behind the velvet ropes. When we visited Hampton Court, Henry the eighth’s summer palace, I thought about Anne Boleyn’s severed head. When we found an abandoned garden in a courtyard, it seemed more fitting of the castle’s melancholy than the pomp and heraldry around.
A flower bed was bare, a white rose bush studded with dead blossoms—the severe brown of old death, white gone to brown. The dead flowers reminded me of the flies in the Damien Hirst show we’d recently seen, a ghoulish, flashy exhibit that featured another severed head—this one belonging to a cow. Maggots fed on the cow’s head in a Plexiglas box. In another part of the box, flies were electrocuted. You could see their bodies glow, then drop to the floor, leaving behind a black leg here and there along the red wire. You had to feel for your own place on the line, and that, Richard said, was where the art was.
Two women were in the garden, rubbing yellow sap on their hands. They were gardeners with little lines on their faces from working outside. We were all about the same age. They said the sap cured warts. I didn’t see any warts. One broke open a pod and seeds rolled around her palm. She said, They look like tiny eyeballs, don’t they? She laughed and tossed them away, but the eyes followed us, and I realized I had stopped resenting my mother. She had been dead for three years, and nothing was there but a room without furniture, an abandoned garden with leaves swirling in a corner.
It was like finding a back room in myself, and the garden looked beautiful in its disarray. The sun swept past a curtain of clouds, rushing from the shower to meet a lover. Wild strawberries grew along a border. I picked some and popped them in my mouth. They were sweet, and sweeter stolen.
Laurie Stone is author of three books of fiction and nonfiction, a former writer for the Village Voice, and a member of the music-and-text performance troupe FlashPoint. Her stories have appeared in Open City, Anderbo, The Los Angeles Review,TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, and Threepenny Review, among many publications. In 2005, she participated in “Novel: An Installation,” writing a book and living in a house built for her in Flux Factory’s gallery space. She is at work on My Life as an Animal, Some Kind of Romance and The Pain of Language, a collection of essays. She can be found at Flashpoint.
Anti-Generation Disorder: Episode 1
Wilfred Owen times thousands
composed two lines on the Western Front
and dug graves that knocked glory off couplets.
Hamlets cough up skulls to this day.
The profound synapse tunnels misfired
round and round an European genius
that would shrink back into the brain.
In capitols where progressive amnesia
sucked on sockets for a century
a gargling victory sent boyhoods
to the cattle chute. Hell-shocked word-warriors
mumbled gore into the mud and snow
in the bolgie where a collective character split.
The frontal lobe leaned into Germany,
into Belgium where gun butts and bayonets
nursed wounds to prevent disgrace,
while the French prepared the trenchant
delicacy mustard gas on toast:
the prognosis that promised syndromes
to end all later brought on symptoms.