Winter Quarterly – (Winter 2016 / 16.1)
Artist, Cheryl Dodds was co-editor/publisher for Urban Spaghetti, a literary arts journal. Her artwork has taken the form of mixed media, graphite drawings, photography, painting, woodcuts and multimedia as well as a few conceptual art projects. More of her work is online at AbsoluteArts.
What the River Holds
Its ebb and flow
hold you now, aventurine churned
from the detritus at Cherokee Dam.
From our bed you dreamed the Holston
until blood rivered, creel and fern
feathered your home before me,
until you had to leave
for the moss banks,
long-boned sycamores, let our other life
eddy past, its gold litter tainted. Tattered
brethren meet on the shoal, great blues
who may or may not receive your coming,
cast sometimes into minnowed reeds,
sometimes among stinging nettles.
This river never
clacked its beak for me, alive with trout,
never unhinged cane legs wholly from shadow.
I’ll not be wife or widow when your son
and daughter angle down the shallows,
where you said to stand and honor the ash
of your days, where no one speaks of
broken vows in dying light.
Linda Parsons is an editor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She served as poetry editor of Now & Then magazine for many years, and her work has appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and Shenandoah. Her fourth poetry collection, This Shaky Earth, is forthcoming from Texas Review Press. Her new play, Macbeth Is the New Black, co-written with Jayne Morgan, will be produced at Western Carolina University in early 2016.
The Trail, The Pool, The Snake
She had developed the habit of giving me the finger. Yes – my wife. Whenever she left for the day, there was the finger, raised, pointing up, wordless, and I adrift with the suspicion that she was cranky. She worked hard, my wife, and I’d lost my job 27 months ago, so for her I was a fraud. She said, “You seem too comfortable.” That was when she was talking at all, early on; before she started showing signs that to me she was growing allergic. Early on, I looked for work; I walked the want-ad trail. Shuttle-driver, apartment leasing expert, laundry technician, account executive, PHP developer, dog sitter, sleep study subject – I would do anything that seemed steady.
It was late October of last year that I began to rise late, to read a book over coffee, and then, for hours it seemed, instead of scouring Craigslist, to gaze at the surface of our pool. Sometimes leaves would scud over its ripples; other times it would be still; the unusually warm weather and the fact that I disdained chlorine allowed it to turn a pleasing pale shade of green. I watched the day lengthen over our house and the hills of the Sierra Nevada and over our pool and enjoyed it all because it was free. I was free. I rose earlier in the mornings and sat on a zafu by the pool before my wife left for work, timing my sitting so that I could prepare coffee for her before she left, before she left for work without saying goodbye save to raise that middle finger. Sometimes she cast a look my way, her eyes and skin glowing pure, emerald green, and mouthed that word. More often, nothing but the finger and the accompanying sound of the coffee machine gurgling, dying, the plinking of its drip.
The trees around the pool grew larger and wider, their leaves greener and greener, the underbrush thick, the little copse of dwarf palms lush. There were too many jobs out there, too many possibilities; and besides, each day here, by the pool, in the woods, I would see things: a turkey, deer, an owl, a rattlesnake. One day a rat. I was better alone; there was no group I wanted to join. I saw the snake eat the rat, bulging; I thought it would sleep or burst, so tumescent and beautiful was its tissue.
Charles Huschle is a writer currently living in Boulder, CO, and studying Buddism in divinity school. He has an MFA from UMASS/Amherst and is the father of three nearly grown children.
Across the Universe
NASA sent the Beatles’ song
“Across the Universe”,
to the North Star, Polaris,
431 light years away
via the Deep Space Network
of multiple antennas.
One of the surviving Beatles
sent his love to the aliens,
leaving us to wonder
what they might send back.
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. His poetry collections include Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press), Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, and Civilized Ways (Winter Goose Publishing). He is the author of two novels Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press) and Acts of Defiance (Artema Press), as well as a short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.
We heard something in the wall between our bed and the front yard – a gnawing sound alternating with a kind of tumbling, something performing gymnastics, trying to make itself comfortable. The cats pawed the plaster.
I went under to set a rodent bait and after a day or two no more commotion. But the second winter here it came again. When I went in the crawlspace to look, the bait was gone – even the box it had come in. There was no damage to the wood, so rather than a structural worry it was only annoying. Whatever it was was only trying to keep warm, so I felt bad about the poison and didn’t re-applicate. The cats gave the wall a look but they had prior experience and if we were not going to take an interest their attitude was that it was not going to bother them either.
So there was this problem. Problems are in the nature of houses. There are houses with tilting floors. Houses with unplumb walls. Some houses creak and some pop, settle, and groan. Some have places where the paint won’t stick or cracks that refuse to stay spackled. Ours smelled at times and in the wall was this occasional creature. When it bothered our sleep I’d scout in the snow and in the bare earth under the eaves for holes. Usually I didn’t find any, but when I did I would scoop in some pea gravel and put a brick on top.
W.P. Osborn’s collection Seven Tales and Seven Stories won the 2013 Unboxed Books Fiction Prize, selected by Francine Prose. He has short fiction in journals such as Mississippi Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, and Gettysburg Review and poetry in Hotel Amerika, Main Street Rag, and Pinyon Review. He is a professor of English at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, where he teaches Shakespeare and other classes in literature.
Long slow night
moody lumbering freight train
the journey of a millennium begins
with a rumble in the dark
the Milky Way shimmers above
a thousand words tremble
on a thousand tongues
stars cartwheel in zero gravity
oblivious to wishes
miracles are in the mind
and stars are only gas
Charlotte Hamrick lives in New Orleans where she doesn’t eat gumbo every day and doesn’t ever say “chère”. Her work has been published in numerous online and print journals, most recently including Connotation Press, Literary Orphans, and The Poetry Storehouse. She was a finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize and is a Pushcart nominee. Her original writing can be found on her websites – Zouxzoux.wordpress.com and NOLAFemmes.com.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
The Parallel Lives of Anna K
a) 20th Century
The river is frozen solid and it glitters in a manic way in the afternoon sunlight. As if the thick sheet of ice is faceted, tessellated. As scoured and clean and cold as the surface of the moon. Both sides of the river are heavily forested; the trees extend down almost to the water’s edge, the saplings now frozen. A hawk flies south and vanishes in the clean air. Otherwise the ice is silent, but still moving, almost imperceptibly— the river still runs beneath it, as it does, as it always will. But Anna doesn’t see this. She sails out across the ice, a black velvet ribbon tied around her neck. She cuts arabesques into the hard surface, her blades; razor sharp as she skates over and over, carves out the symbol of infinity. We admire her grace. And her acumen, especially for a woman of the 20th century.
It’s colder than she had anticipated, and knows she should go in, a wind from the north gathers strength, her cheeks and lips are numb, but she is almost hypnotized by her own grace, intoxicated with her beauty and the world around her. The longer she skates, the more she leaves herself behind, the deeper she goes into the spiral. The first crack is almost inaudible, but it registers in her bones. She stops for a moment, laughs at her fear, and starts up again. This is her fatal mistake.
The ice cracks, she falls at a right angle. The river rushes up and swallows her. But the second her body hits the cold water, her brain goes to sleep. She calls out once, but her cry is silenced by the afternoon wind. And because it is early February, the sun sets low in the west, and casts shadows on the tessellated ice so that her departure is never noticed. It’s as if she vanishes, cast down into Hades. Except her lover is not waiting for her on the other side.
b) 21st Century
Instead, she wakes to her life in the future, a white moth hovering inches over her head. Twenty-first century Anna is in the club car on Amtrak, warming up a ham and cheese sandwich in the microwave, pouring out a glass of cheap white wine. She leans her head against the cold, damp window. She is leaving her husband and her lover. She is leaving home. She will never understand the symbolism of the white moth, the silver lake in winter, or the tessellated ice. She is headed south. She’s packed a bathing suit, shorts and couple of t-shirts. She has her credit cards and her driver’s license. Her great aunt Lucy has a home from the 1950’s in South Miami; terrazzo floors, jalousie windows, and a cactus garden.
She married her husband because she loved him, but she wasn’t in love with him. This distinction is important. He was the right kind of man; responsible and patient. Wealthy. They had babies. And then her inevitable love affair with a younger man. She hardly recognized herself rushing out the door after dinner with a vague promise to call later. Her need for him, to be naked with him, in a cold hotel room, embarrassed her and thrilled her. People said she lost herself when it all blew up, but she disagreed. Her arc had never been clearer. And this was her fatal mistake.
Off in the distance, she sees a long low bridge over the Mississippi, and her old, unreasonable fear of trains surfaces. She counters with another glass of wine. Shouldn’t the train slow down? What will Aunt Lucy have for dinner? She wants to sit out in the cactus garden, on wrought iron chairs, and drink dry martinis made with Russian vodka. And wonders whether the blue geckos still climb the walls at night. But she is still very nervous as the train rounds the bend before the bridge. And of course the weight is too much. Anna’s car is the first to plunge into the water, but look– the moth escapes.
She already knows she is dreaming.
Lillian Ann Slugocki has been nominated for Best of the Web and a Pushcart Prize, and is winner of the Gigantic Sequins prize for fiction. She’s been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Non Binary Review, The Manifest-Station, and The Daily Beast.
I hoist my bag of chains
prepared for all the tugs
of travel from the drive to the airport
to ticket desk to security scan
to boarding desk to designated seat
my bag of chains overhead
my shoulder bag under the seat
my belt cinched tight my mobile powered off
prepared for the great lurch
that will fling me into the sky.
The goose steps tentatively
The bulbous head atop an aiming neck.
He will fly a thousand miles tonight
Not thinking of the arduousness
Of the journey, just
As his ancestors of millions
Of sky miles did before him,
Only to stand erect
In a shallow pond wary
Of a snapping twig.
Robert Persons is a retired computer support engineer who has been writing poetry, short fiction, and opinion pieces since he was a teenager. His works have been published in Voices International, Tangent, Kaleidoscope, Amalgamated Holding Company, The Camel, the Lion, and the Child, Caryatid, Tempest, Ford Times, Trails, The Wisconsin Academy Review, and Jupiter SF.
The curtains were yellow. He stood in the street looking up at the third story. He looked left then right, cautious for cars but the streets were empty. The day was dying. Clouds were building up and the sun was going down.
Like all the apartments on Detroit Street, this one had red brick and steel framed windows. He used to live here but he hadn’t been back in a long while. Not since he chucked a television out the window. He was frustrated with Maya, she’d given him all he could take, and so he had to break something. That was a turning point. He left, Maya stayed.
Now, Maya was somewhere inside. The curtains moved as she walked past. But was there someone else inside with her?
He walked to the building’s entrance. A metal box on the wall with the names of tenants and a little white button next to each name. He pressed Maya’s and waited.
She told him he could come up but that he couldn’t stay long. She had plans. He said, That’s fine.
They sat in the living room in chairs across from each other as she opened a gift he’d brought her.
What’s this for? she said.
It’s for my birthday, he said. You probably forgot it was yesterday.
I didn’t forget, she said.
This is something I do now. I give people gifts for my birthday.
She unwrapped a small box wrapped with newspaper. She opened it and found a ring. She looked at it, then put the ring back in the box and closed it.
Now wait a minute, he said. Just wait a minute.
What’re you doing? she said. What is this?
It’s nothing. It’s change. I’m telling you maybe I was wrong.
She put the box aside, crossed her legs, then looked at the clock.
Put it on, he said.
I’m not going to wear this ring Wes, she said. I don’t know how much you spent on it but you should return it.
If you’re not going to wear it then throw it away, he said. I’m not returning it.
She stood up and walked to the kitchen and threw the ring into the trashcan beneath the sink. He shrugged.
Is that it, Wes? Is that what you came for?
I came to say I love you.
What am I supposed to do with, I love you?
Try on the ring, he said.
I don’t know why you did that. When have I ever worn a ring?
It’ll look nice on you, he said.
She looked at the clock again.
I have to take a shower, she said.
He said that it was fine if she took a shower. He didn’t mind waiting. She did not say he could stay, but she did not tell him to leave either. She was indirect. She took a fresh towel from the linen closet and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. The water started.
He put on some coffee. By the sink were two dirty plates and two tall glasses. He sniffed one of the glasses. Vodka. He washed them out and put them back in the sink.
As he drank his coffee he looked at the record player he’d bought her and all the records they’d collected in their time together. The records he had refused to take with him when the split happened. He had left them and the apartment behind; he had hid his belongings in the various nooks of the house, in places she wouldn’t look, until one day she did. Then she would miss him. She hadn’t called in all this time so he assumed she had not found anything. The records were all there and a few new ones had been added to the collection. One was still wrapped in plastic with a sticker of a bear from a record store in San Francisco. He slipped an older record from its sleeve and put it on.
He pulled aside the yellow curtains and stood facing the window in half light, eyes closed against the setting sun. Breathing, holding it in. Letting it out.
The buzzer rang. He looked out the window down at the street but could not see anybody. The buzzer rang again. He walked to the front door and pressed the button to allow whoever it was to come up. Then he waited with the cup of coffee steaming in his hand.
Someone knocked on the door. He opened it and found a man smiling in the doorway. The man’s smile slowly faded. He checked the apartment number to make sure it was the right one.
Hey, the man said. Is Maya home?
Who are you? Wes said.
The man checked his watch. I’m a little early, he said.
Are you her boyfriend? Wes said.
No. Well, I don’t know—I’m sorry I feel rude not asking your name.
Are you a friend of Maya’s?
I’m her brother, Wes said.
Of course. Of course, I apologize.
It’s alright, Wes said. We’re sort of going through something right now. Family shit. It’s probably best she’s left alone for a while.
Is everything alright? Is she okay?
I think she’s talked about you before, Wes said. She said you have bad breath.
Wes closed the door. He took a sip of his coffee. He could feel the man on the other side of the door thinking. Then he heard him walk back down the hallway, the ding of the elevator. Then he was gone. Wes found the phone on the kitchen counter nestled between some cook books. He unplugged it and tucked the wire in behind the counter.
The shower shut off. Maya walked into the living room with a towel wrapped around her torso, brushing her hair.
Was someone at the door? she asked.
No, Wes said, pouring more coffee. Want a cup?
Navid Saedi was raised in West Hills, CA, and most of his writing comes from that place, in one way or another. He is happy to be attending UCLA and would like to thank his family and friends for their support.
O bleak blind mindless death,
You come in silence:
The roar of the wind takes my breath.
Even if I had a gun
I could not kill you at such distance.
But the calves will not realize at all
Until you are very near
And their hysterical mothers
Driven by a knowledge carried like a curse
Will paw and throw their heads in anguish.
In a world of instantaneous communication,
Laser surgery, and space travel,
You come from the cave of history
To destroy at will, unafraid and unfettered.
Oh dog-cousin, wolf-brother,
What onyx lesson do you bring us
But to see that beauty can be evil
And evil can be beauty,
That blood sacrifices are still required
That tenders and keepers are neither:
Rita Quillen’s novel Hiding Ezra was published in March 2014; a chapter of the novel is included in the scholarly study of Appalachian dialect, Talking Appalachian, just published by the University of Kentucky Press. Her new chapbook Something Solid To Anchor To came out from Finishing Line in 2014 as well. One of six semi- finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, she received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Her most recent full-length collection Her Secret Dream from WIND Press in Kentucky was named the Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in 2008. Currently, she’s working on turning her poems into songs. She lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia.
You meet him at one of those cocktail parties held on top of a building in a loft with lots of windows overlooking Dallas. It’s 1980, and everyone here that isn’t smoking grass is drinking white wine. All of the young women are wearing silk miniskirts if we’ve had time to change, or else business suits with little bows at our collar instead of ties; we do this because we’re feminists who just got off work. A lot of us aren’t married yet. We’re thirty and we’re nervous.
You are introduced into a little knot of people, including one athletic-looking Stephen, who holds the little knot enthralled with hilarity. A gorgeous set of twins sandwich him: a woman with big breasts and strong legs, and her equally gorgeous brother, who is sure to be a tennis pro or a stockbroker. Jokes become increasingly sexual until Stephen tells one about a threesome in Italy. He looks at you the whole time, as if this last joke was meant specially for you. You throw back your head and guffaw. Afterwards you wonder if the way you laugh was feminine enough for such a catch as he. You wonder a bit about the twins and the joke and whether he asked for your number from the hostess.
He calls. Predictably, he owns a convertible, a rust colored Fiat. The twins are cramped into the tiny black backseat. The restaurant is in a seedy part of town, where the prostitutes cruise, but it’s the best Tex-Mex in town, and you feel safe: two men after all. You laugh some, but not as often or as loud as the first time you met. It occurs to you that the twins might always date each other, feel a little titillation at the thought, but you dismiss luridness. That kind of thing doesn’t occur except in soap operas.
Stephen doesn’t push you for sex before marriage. Instead, you neck and pet and fantasize over the phone. The twins are the wedding attendants, and parents are jubilant that, finally, their children are settled. On your honeymoon, Stephen makes love to you every other morning. He calls the twins every day from the hotel in Mexico. At home, they meet the plane, and in the Fiat, drive you to your apartment.
Routine sets in. Stephen works at Republic Bank, analyzing debts, and you work at Fair Abstract and Title, studying heavy plat books to prove that people will own what they pay for. Stephen insists on buying a house in the best part of town, but you don’t fight the decision: the house is ivy-covered and has a fenced back yard with a swing set. The twins start to irritate you, and when the girl-twin gets married, you’re glad for the relief. You arrange dates for the boy-twin but nothing works out. One date asks if the boy-twin suffers post-traumatic stress or something because he was so erratic the whole night.
Sex settles into habit, once every three weeks. You’re thirty-five and starting to panic about barrenness. The fertility specialist talks to Stephen alone. This makes you nervous, because Stephen storms out of the doctor’s office and refuses to return. You call the doctor to ask why, but he doesn’t return your calls. Then, as if God saw you tossing and turning at night, a miracle happens: you conceive. The baby-girl is born perfect and you rejoice.
Parental demands are more taxing that you could have ever expected; returning to Fair Title loses its appeal. Stephen is now necessary in additional ways. The boy-twin attends all family functions and Stephen insists on his being your precious baby’s girl’s godfather. “He’ll protect her. Know what I mean?” Stephan says this with a Marlon Brando accent then tweaks your breast. You cannot imagine why you laugh along with him. You remember the joke about Italy, and the intimate glance Stephen still gives you occasionally. At the christening, the boy-twin shows up with an engraved silver cup, vintage lace dresses, and Madame Alexander dolls.
Time passes. So fascinating is your baby-girl’s development, you hardly notice that you initiate lovemaking more and more of the time. Stephen and the boy-twin take up kayaking, and take weekend trips on rivers you never see. When they return, Stephen doesn’t kiss you before he reads the mail.
You ask him to stop going out of town. Baby-girl needs him: time not money. “Can’t you find a hobby for all of us?” you suggest. Stephen looks at you quizzically. “Give up the boating,” you repeat and you hear a dependent voice you would have deplored not even a year ago. Stephen replies. “Don’t be ridiculous.” The next time, you beg with a reddened face. “Why?” Stephen demands. You cannot bring yourself to answer. Finally, you insist. “Don’t do this,” Stephen replies, and heads to the garage to clean the kayak. He doesn’t touch you for months, but continues to tickle baby-girl’s feet and take her to the park every night while you do the dishes.
In the dark, when you find the courage, you reach for him. You stroke his face, his arms, his hips and his penis. Finally, he turns you over and rocks till he comes. When he leaves your body, he slaps you on the hips and says: “Thank you ma’am,” and laughs his golden laugh. As if nothing untoward had ever happened.
You turn your head into the pillow, fist the hem of the pillowcase.
Cynthia Sample’s credits include stories published or forthcoming in SLAB, Numéro Cinq, Summerset Review, Steel Toe Review, Sleet, After the Pause, and other journals. She was a finalist in the 2015 Reynolds Price Fiction Contest, Center for Women Writers. She hold an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Texas at Dallas. Find her at cynthiacsample.com.
December Diebenkorn #3
it hangs in my office
on the wall with my Spock
poster and all of the art
a mother accumulates over the years
it must have been
by the colors of the
there is a sand color
a shadow of coral
oh a stain of mulberry
the sandalwood hue
of an eagle
the yellow of its cry
the violet of its flight
every shade of sky blue
and the white of countless
Nancy Davenport’s poems have appeared in The Burning Grape, The Mountain Gazette, The Bicycle Review, The Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Quarterly, Red Fez, Full of Crow, MAYDAY, City Lit Rag and The Lake. She had poems included in editor Alicia Winski’s anthology Under Cover, her chapbook La Brizna was published in May 2014, and she has a poem included in editor Daniel Yaryan’s upcoming Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts anthology. Nancy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Two Odes to Oregon
Philippe Garrel looking and talking as if he has just been struck by lightning. Joe understands him. Understands what he has to say about sincerity in love. These Portlanders, however, are lost. They reek of fraud and failure.
Suicide and drugs no longer interest Joe, even if both are viable, accessible options. They bore him, like mental illness bores him, like Louis Malle’s Feu Follet bores him, like Garrel’s heroin bores him, like these Portlanders bore him.
Joe sees weakness in them, the boring kind, and that bores him. The strong ones are usually weak in a different, but equally boring manner.
Joe doesn’t know where he stands on the spectrum of bore. All Joe knows is that he is sick of sleeping alone.
Joseph takes his bicycle out, glides through residential streets. It’s a Sunday morning in October, in Portland. Quiet, magical, and sad. Wet and slippery. He takes his hands off the handlebars for the first time since he was a child, wonders if anyone sees him, is sure someone does. He thinks about his grandfather taking his Auburn out for one last ride before starving himself to death.
A man’s power, Joseph realizes as he parks his bicycle in the garage for the last time (the guy from Craigslist will be arriving any minute), is in his solitude and silence as he is observed through windows by weaker men.
The rest is boring.
Kevin Tosca’s stories have been or soon will be published in Redivider, Literary Orphans, Paper Darts, Prole, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Paris. He and his work can be found at www.kevintosca.com.
Georgia/Tennessee Line, Sunday Morning
After some slow dial-twisting I find him,
the AM-radio preacher who’s gotten
into a nice rhythm with his staccato HUP!
at the end of each line as though
a dog has wandered into church –
And the Lord sayeth unto him, HUP!
His barks working well with Amen!
shouted from the pews and tonic chords
from an old upright badly in need
of tuning, to help mask the fact
that he, if one tries to listen closely,
is not making a lick of sense.
Sentences begin with great Biblical promise
before coming to grief in a pile-up
of subordinate clauses preceding a verb
that often actions endtimes, his favorite noun,
the one he repeats so much you have to ask,
why is it plural? Isn’t one end-time sufficient?
How many times can you stop time?
But these are just my smart-ass questions.
I know what he’s trying to tell us –
that we (the sinners), the ones whose fathers
didn’t whip our butts as hard as his did,
we will never be quite obedient enough.
We deserve as many endtimes as it takes.
Eternal life also gets a lot of air time,
fundamental theology same as Episcopal
deriving power from the fear of death,
each set of hard-ass Daddies and pious Mamas
boiling it down, canning it and passing on
the promise of another life right after this one,
a life spared those unending fires of Hell!
I was eight when my grandfather died,
so when my grandmother moved in with us
I saw close-up her dissolution into
a fugue state of muttering, He will be
waiting for me when I get up there.
We will be together again.
Even as a boy I couldn’t buy this,
the first fault line I had noticed
in the cathedral of grown-up smarts.
Not that I became a child atheist
(the fires of Hell still worried me),
it’s just that this was when I first knew
I’d have to figure things out by myself.
Rupert Fike’s collection of poems, Lotus Buffet (Brick Road Poetry Press) was named Finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year awards, 2011. He has received Pushcart Prize nominations in fiction and poetry with work appearing in The Southern Review of Poetry, Natural Bridge, A & U America’s AIDS Magazine, The Buddhist Poetry Review and others. He has a poem inscribed in a downtown Atlanta plaza, and his non-fiction book, Voices from The Farm, is now in its second printing with accounts of life on a spiritual community in Tennessee.
How to Solve Our Nation’s Gun Problems
Make them pink.
Make them dildo pink.
Make it so that you have to pull your pants down to fire the thing.
Make them so you have to be having anal sex in order for the trigger to work.
Make them quit smoking.
Make them cop-cuddlers.
Make them so that everyone knows you have a very, very tiny penis. I mean, small like a pipe that’s on fire. Like a fire-pipe. A fipe.
Or don’t make them.
Stop making them.
Make generators to give electricity to sub-Saharan Africa instead.
Put your penis into someone you love.
Or have a vagina fiesta, which also includes a lot of love.
Or stop being racist and so worried that people are going to try to kill your family while you’re sleeping.
Go to sleep.
Fire a billion guns in your sleep.
You can kill as many people as you want while you’re sleeping.
But when you wake up, is it OK if you try to be a little bit normal? Thank you.
Ron Riekki’s non-fiction, fiction, and poetry have been published in River Teeth, Spillway, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Canary, Bellevue Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, New Orleans Review,Little Patuxent Review, Wigleaf, and many other literary journals.
He said he would bake her a cake. She should come round tomorrow to get it. What she did between now and then was of no interest to him. What he did, he made quite clear, was nothing to do with her.
She began by putting the smell of sugared English tea into her hair and then made her eyes go green. She drove her blue car into another time zone to when she was younger. She inhaled a golden apple and swallowed some cream. Someone said she tasted of peaches. She bounced against some pillows. She fell into a girl and onto a boy. She woke up amidst and drove home to eat a man with pancakes. Then she had a nap and dreamt of white and wet and warm.
When night fell again, she went to his door. He did not ask her what she had done. He did not tell. He gave her the cake. She ran home with it, holding the box safely against her chest. She unlocked her room and opened the box. She lifted the cake to her smile and bit into it, bit like it was diamond ring. The cake was made of soap. Her mouth made it wet and she let the bubbles cleanse her palate, washing away the last of her taste for him.
Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. In 2013, she published Tell This To Girls: The Panic Annie Poems. She is a columnist for PopMatters and rants and raves through her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss) at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.com.
Quarter Notes: Essays, Reviews, Interviews
INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL STAUB WEINBERG
Daniel Staub Weinberg of Chicago is a serious visual artist and poet who likes to clown around. By day, he is a part-time cataloger at the Gary Public Library in Gary, Indiana, but in his art life, he calls himself Shmooz the Clown. Weinberg attended the Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp in Buffalo, Minnesota for five days in July 2013. Some of his favorite clowns are Palunin, Jerry Lewis, Charlie Chaplin, Avner Eisenberg, Nikulin, and Lenny Bruce. His art has appeared online in Blue Mesa Review and The Packingtown Review and has been exhibited at the Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. Three of his pieces will be on exhibit at the DANK-Haus German American Cultural Center in Chicago from February 20 through March 19, 2016.
Bill Yarrow: Dan, you had some letters to the editor published in MAD Magazine. Congratulations! How many did you get published?
Dan Weinberg: Four.
BY: What year(s) did these letters appear? Which issues did they appear in?
DW: December 2010 (#506), December 2011 (#512) April 2015 (#532), and February 2016 (#537).
BY: What made you send the letters in the first place?
DW: I thought I was a writer and I always liked MAD Magazine. I liked their sense of humor and their politics.
From: MAD #532 © E.C. Publications, Inc.
BY: Did all the letters you sent get published in MAD? If not, how many did you send in total?
DW: I probably sent about eight letters all together and four got published.
BY: How does it work? Did MAD send you an acceptance letter or did your letter just appear in an issue?
DW: I would mail the letter to NYC. And then I would see the letter in the magazine. MAD did not send a letter of acceptance. I would get a box of stuff from MAD shortly after I saw my published letter. I received gifts like rejects from the New Yorker cartoons, music histories, dvds of kids’ movies, superhero character dolls, movie PR stuff, CDs of comic movie music, etc.
From: MAD #512 © E.C. Publications, Inc.
BY: Dan, what gifts specifically did you get from MAD?
1. Story of Island Records (book)
2. The Best of the Rejection Collection: 293 Cartoons That Were Too Dumb,
Too Dark, or Too Naughty for The New Yorker (book)
3. Yellow winter cap from Despicable Me
4. Music of DC Comics: 75th Anniversary Collection (cd)
5. Despicable Me (dvd)
6. Big Bang Theory: Complete Third Season (dvd)
7. Raquet Sports – Playstation 3 (cd)
8. Al Jaffee’s Mad Life: A Biography (book)
9. V: The Complete First Season (dvd)
10. Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy (dvd)
11. Cartoon Network: Adventure Time – My Two Favorite People (dvd)
12. A 10-inch Finn figure.
13. Batman: Year One (blu-ray)
I did not get the box that MAD sent for the 2015 letter because somebody stole the box from the downstairs mail area in the apartment building where I live. I wrote a letter to MAD, I emailed them, and I telephoned them, but there was no response about the box of stuff for getting my letter published. After continuing to harass MAD with phone calls, email, and faxes, they eventually sent a replacement box of stuff as payment for the publishing the letter.
BY: How would you characterize the responses of the MAD editors to your letters? Were you pleased with the way they responded to your letters?
DW: I felt fine about their responses. They picked up where I left off. Actually, one letter I wrote [the letter in issue #506] they edited out and replaced it with something they wrote. But they still gave me credit.
From: MAD #506 © E.C. Publications, Inc.
BY: How did it feel to get published in MAD?
DW: Felt great. I thought for a few seconds that I was a comedy writer but then reality set in. So now I am more of an artist of drawings with captions. Blue Mesa Review, an Internet journal of poetry and art, recently published a drawing of mine in issue #31. I am retiring from my librarian job at the end of this year, so I will have more time to work on art and letters to MAD. Maybe I will try to get one hundred letters published in MAD!
BY: Tell me about your art. What media do you work in?
DW: I draw about politics, social issues, Jewish themes, and family stories. I use pen and ink, different colors along with markers and regular pens and watercolors.
BY: How long have you been doing it?
DW: I have been drawing on paper for three years but thinking about it for almost sixty years.
BY: How many pieces do you have?
DW: I have more than 30 framed and about 20 unframed right now.
BY: How did you get your show?
DW: The Intuit show I got by showing about twenty-five framed drawings to Leonard Cicero, the curator at Intuit. He liked them and said to return around Thanksgiving and then we would finalize the show. So we met before Thanksgiving and he chose fifteen drawings of which thirteen were put up.
BY: What is the connection, if any, between your art and your writing?
DW: There is a tenuous connection. My art is idiosyncratic and personal and so is my writing.
BY: Which artists are your favorites?
DW: Chagall, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Ivan Brunetti, Chris Ware, Jacob Lawrence, Mr. Imagination, Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Spencer Hutchinson and Saul Steinberg.
BY: Who or what inspires you?
DW: My family, son, current events, the weather, animals.
BY: What are you working on currently?
DW: I have a number of new ‘writing art’ coming out soon that is personal and political.
Permission Notice from MAD Magazine / E.C. Publications, Inc.: The Material may not be republished, carried over, excerpted, or otherwise used in any manner, or for any other purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising, publicity, or promotion, without the permission of DC Comics. In addition, the Material may not be cropped, retouched or otherwise modified in any manner.
Essay: Bill Yarrow
WE MUST NOT SAY SO
As a first rule of writing, do not add descriptors to things inherently described. A ball need never be described as round because a ball, inherently, is round. Grass need never be described as green because grass naturally is green. Milk need never be described as white because milk normally is white. Adjectives are required only when the object to be described deviates from its inherent self. Thus a lozenge-shaped ball, blue or yellow grass, pink or speckled milk.
No need to say he watched with his eyes or she touched with her hands because we use our eyes to see and we use our hands to touch. If she touched his shoe with her toe, however, that’s a different story.
No one would write, “He sneezed with his nose,” “She danced with her feet,” or “He breathed with his lungs,” but people do write, “She pinched him with her fingers” (or worse, “with her thumb and index finger”) and “He kissed her with his lips.” Why? Let kiss be kiss and pinch be pinch. Over-scrupulous specificity is not a good.
Let the normal be normal and never over explain. He opened the window is sufficient. “He placed two hands on the window pull and lifted upward” or “he grabbed the door handle and pulled it outward” belabors the action and obscures the obvious. If you have something to say, say it directly. He kissed her. He parked the car. He cleaned the toilet. Add a detail only if it is an unexpected detail. He kissed her on the chin. He parked the car on the lawn. He cleaned the toilet in his suit.
Chekhov writes to Gorky: “You understand it at once when I say, ‘The man sat on the grass;’ you understand it because it is clear and makes no demands on the attention. On the other hand, it is not easily understood, and it is difficult for the mind, if I write, ‘A tall, narrow-chested, middle-sized man, with a red beard, sat on the green grass, already trampled by pedestrians, sat silently, shyly, and timidly looked about him.’ That is not immediately grasped by the mind, whereas good writing should be grasped at once—in a second.”
Description should be eloquent and precise, not fevered, not desperate, not consumed by the greed to be foolishly exhaustive and insanely comprehensive.
Consider these lines, both of which come from the William Carlos Williams poem that begins “By the road to the contagious hospital”
• “the reddish / purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy / stuff of bushes and
small trees / with dead, brown leaves under them”—that description is
unfocused, desperate, inept.
• “the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf”—now, that description is eloquent,
precise, thrillingly good!
Do not double up on words. Use “separated,” not “separated out.” Use “divided,” not “divided up.” Use “together,” not “both together.” Use “sat,” not “sat down.” Use “fell,” not “fell down” (unless “down” is used as a preposition and requires an object, e.g. “down the stairs”). Use “lifted,” not “lifted up.”
Never exaggerate. Let words speak for themselves. “Hot,” not “scalding hot.” “Cold,” not “freezing cold.” “Handsome,” not “dashingly handsome.” “I sweated,” not “I sweated bullets.” “I jumped,” not “I jumped out of my skin.” “Red,” not “beet red.” Or “blood red.” Or “firehouse red.” (An exaggeration is never far from a cliché.)
Do not add an adverb which does the same work as the verb. No need to say “moaned softly” when “moaned” will do. A moan, by its nature, is soft. No need to say “missed terribly” when “missed” will do. Adding “terribly” dilutes the force of “missed.”
Do not use “so” as an intensifier without using the word “that” to complete the comparison. Not “I was so embarrassed,” but “I was so embarrassed that I could not speak.” If you complete a comparison, make sure you are adding to the original idea rather than merely reiterating the idea. “I was so embarrassed that I turned red” is a reiterative sentence because people who are embarrassed do turn red. Better to say simply, “I was embarrassed” or “I turned red.” One or the other.
If you are going to sin, sin on the side of clarity. Add more words than fewer words. Repeat words if the repetition will help clarify the action or the idea. Consider the shortened form of the sentence from the preceding paragraph: “If you complete a comparison, make sure you are adding to rather than merely reiterating.” Add words for clarity.
Good writing is rhythmic. Prose rhythm may be established in a number of ways. [Note: not “a number of different ways.”] Thus there are no hard and fast rules regarding word choice, particularly the number of words used. “I showered” and “I took a shower” are both fine ways to express the same idea. Two words are not universally preferable to four words. Choosing always the smallest possible number of words may make writing more difficult to decipher—like reading a telegram. Writing needs to breathe. Repetition is OK. The use of parenthetical elements is OK. The use of parallel phrases is to be encouraged. Triplets are to be admired. Good writing owes allegiance to precision, not constriction.
• Use “sprinted” rather than “ran quickly,” not because “sprinted” is one
word rather than two but because it may be the precise word you are
• Use “reclined” rather than “leaned back,” not because “reclined” is one
word rather than two but because it may be the precise word you are
• Use “contemplated” rather than “thought carefully,” not because
“contemplated” is one word rather than two but because it is the precise
word you are looking for.
• Use “labored” rather than “worked hard,” not because “labored” is one
word rather than two but because it may be the precise word you are
• Use “glanced” rather than “looked quickly,” not because “glanced” is one
word rather than two but because it may be the precise word you are
• Use “shouted” rather than “called loudly,” not because “shouted” is one
word rather than two but because it may be the precise word you are
But “sprinted,” “reclined,” “contemplated,” “labored,” “glanced,” and “shouted” may not be the precise words you are looking for, so, in that case, don’t use them. Use whatever words you need whenever you need them.
Those people who see style as affectation see everything as affectation.
WE MUST NOT SAY SO
(with apologies to John Berryman)
Milk, friends, is white.
We must not say so.
Swans, friends, are white.
We must not say so.
Grass, friends, is green.
We must not say so.
Birds have two wings.
We must not say so.
River water is wet.
We must not say so.
We clap with our hands.
We must not say so.
The sky above is blue.
We must not say so.
but trucks sputter (or brake)
butter softens (or burns)
the factory closes (or hires)
the soil erodes (or dries up)
lips blister (or tighten)
leaves scatter (or shimmer)
paper cuts sting (or heal)
radiators knock (and hiss)