The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

June 28th, 2016

1 poem

Subject to Sunlight My mother is a lost little girl a thief not an outlaw my mother is th th fa fa ief ief a leaf * Amanda Deutch is the author of five chapbooks most recently, Pull Yourself Together (Dancing Girl Press, 2016) and a forthcoming (currently untitled) chapbook from Propolis Press. Poetry appears …

Subject to Sunlight

My mother is
a lost
little girl
a thief
not an outlaw

my mother is

th
th
fa
fa
ief
ief

a leaf

*

Amanda Deutch is the author of five chapbooks most recently, Pull Yourself Together (Dancing Girl Press, 2016) and a forthcoming (currently untitled) chapbook from Propolis Press. Poetry appears in The Rumpus, Revolver, Bone Bouquet, Shampoo, Denver Quarterly, Watchword Press and elsewhere. A graduate of Bard College, she has been awarded grants and residencies from the Brooklyn Arts Council, Footpaths (Azores) and The Betsy (Miami). Born and raised in Manhattan, she lives in Brooklyn where she curates Parachute Literary Arts.

What motivates her to create?
Locomotion, location, echolocation, memory, human beings.

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June 23rd, 2016

1 poem

The First Airborne Division, Harlaxton, 1943 In dim light over the kitchen rooms RAF pilots drew on the walls parachutes and Pegasus wings: the patches on their shoulders: and the long legged women they’d not yet met. They listened for cough pop engines taking off and landing: the sound like certain disaster: against a silver …

The First Airborne Division, Harlaxton, 1943

In dim light over the kitchen rooms
RAF pilots drew on the walls
parachutes and Pegasus wings:
the patches on their shoulders:

and the long legged women
they’d not yet met.

They listened for cough pop engines
taking off and landing:
the sound like certain disaster:

against a silver smelting sky
the plane’s underbellies
like a school of fish in formation
the acrobatics of peril
smoke trailed strange punctuation.

And they boasted about girls back home
ones from villages, ones from London

ones whose knees they swam between
pond silt breath held
ankles grabbed, smooth calves stroked

looking up at the washout blare
looking up at their ripple distorted bodies

not underwater dreaming then
as they did waiting in those rooms
of the horse haunch gadfly sting:
its rider thrown headfirst
down the gods’ mountain
thistle and stone tossed
sparrow broken to the ground.

*

John Walser, an associate professor of English at Marian University in Wisconsin, holds a doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Barrow Street, Nimrod, Spillway, The Pinch, december magazine, Fourth River, Superstition Review, the Evansville Review, and Bird’s Thumb. He was a featured poet in September 2014 at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. The recipient of the 2015 Lorine Niedecker Poetry Prize as well as a Pushcart nominee and a semi-finalist for the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, John is currently submitting three manuscripts of poetry for publication.

What motivates him to create?
I know this may sound mildly masochistic, but…I like the pain behind my eye that I feel when I’m not coming up with the right word or image or line, when I can’t make it work, when I don’t know how to finish a poem. The process as much as the finished project is what makes me happy. I want to see how it turns out. I want to see where it branches off. I want to see how it shimmers or shimmies or shatters. That’s what motivates me to write and to create.

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June 21st, 2016

Moon Ballet

Even the cruellest of days can be tamed, not with whips but dancing shoes, fox-trotting over parrot- green dunes, scavenging the earth for childish clues to lick the moon on the driest parts of her salty milk lips. * Christy Bharath is a writer by profession. He has been working as one – in some …

Even the
cruellest
of days
can be
tamed,
not with
whips but
dancing shoes,
fox-trotting
over parrot-
green dunes,
scavenging
the earth
for childish
clues to lick
the moon
on the
driest parts
of her
salty milk lips.

*

Christy Bharath is a writer by profession. He has been working as one – in some capacity or the other – for over a decade in domains such as Media, BFSI, Travel and Tourism, IT/ITES and Healthcare. He has played many roles in his career – copy editor, newspaper columnist, corporate blogger and creative consultant, to name a few. Currently, he heads a communication team for a technology company. He also runs a blog about bird-watching in India and life on planet earth at http://verseherder.wordpress.com. Over 3,000 followers and 4,100+ email subscribers seem to like what he has to say on a regular basis. The WordPress editorial team has featured his as a special recommendation twice on their website. He can also be found at https://medium.com/@verseherder.

What motivates him to create?
My first-ever career aspiration involved a friendly Tyrannosaurus Rex with an equestrian saddle and townspeople in need of a masked hero. Two decades ago, I gave up on it and decided to do something less dramatic instead. I became a writer because each of us have a primordial instinct to create, design and develop ideas and principles. Later, it turns into an urge to share these creations and change people with them. I am motivated to write because I don’t know I can wake up in the morning, and feel good about life without the role that writing plays in my life.

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June 16th, 2016

1 poem

Muffled Screams The cellar smells like being buried alive and awaking like an earthworm paralyzed to wiggle to the surface before dirt sucks all moisture away leaving a fossilized shell like the shelves of peaches, apricots, green beans and tomatoes encased in glass — formaldehyde specimens or pharaoh’s favorite bobbles crowded around him in death. …

Muffled Screams

The cellar smells
like being buried alive
and awaking like an earthworm
paralyzed to wiggle to the surface
before dirt sucks all moisture away
leaving a fossilized shell
like the shelves of peaches,
apricots, green beans and tomatoes
encased in glass —
formaldehyde specimens
or pharaoh’s favorite bobbles
crowded around him in death.
Eyewitness by the light of the door
or a lone flashlight beam,
but feeble comfort inside the tomb
when the door slams shut
or the battery dies,
and only darkness remains
under the earth mound
with muffled screams inside.

*

Diane Webster‘s goal is to remain open to poetry ideas in everyday life or nature or an overheard phrase and to write from her perspective at the moment. Many nights she falls asleep juggling images to fit into a poem. Her work has appeared in “Philadelphia Poets,” “Illya’s Honey,” “River Poets Journal” and other literary magazines.

What motivates her to create?
Like most writers, I have to write. Something triggers my senses, and I start playing with images in my mind. I create a kind of movie, and I describe what I see as it unfolds. The excitement is what corners I turn to discover different directions I can take my images or where my images take me. My environment motivates me to create. Quiet to allow those images to rise and to be written.

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June 14th, 2016

1 poem

Bourbon Street Angels I hear angels hang out on Bourbon St. They survey their territory, stomp old stomping grounds, elbow each other when some drunk drifts out of Lafitte’s to his car. They do not guide or save anyone, they just survey the doings of folks with a dollar or two craving booze-lit zydeco, prize …

Bourbon Street Angels

I hear angels hang out on Bourbon St.
They survey their territory,
stomp old stomping grounds,
elbow each other when some drunk
drifts out of Lafitte’s to his car.

They do not guide or save anyone,
they just survey
the doings of folks with a dollar or two
craving booze-lit zydeco,
prize any soul who drops change
in the cup of some poor boy tap-dancing
on the street to help his mama make rent.

Come first light, they pretend to have breakfast,
knock powdered sugar off each other
while they watch the couples
stopping for coffee and beignets
after a few hours between the sheets.
They know there is nothing like the taste
of sugar after the taste of sex.

They call each other cher but don’t speak
French, don’t speak to anyone but themselves.
No one can see them, that’s how they want it.
They look perfect, undiminished,
but only to each other. They never have to face
mirrors, their stories told, silenced long ago.

*

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Her most current chapbooks are “The Coincidence of Castles” from Glass Lyre Press, and “Romance and Rust” from Blue Horse Press. “Down Anstruther Way” is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).

What motivates her to create?
I can’t not. If I touch just one person with my words, if one person feels less alone, or connected, I have made a difference. That is all I could ever wish for, and what I hope to accomplish.

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June 9th, 2016

2 poems

Apples and Oranges I was peeling an orange and the department secretary said you should eat an apple instead because it’s local, and our bodies have evolved to eat local food. So the apple belongs, while the orange does not. Well, I thought, since Jesus spoke in parables, and we walk here under crosses: who …

Apples and Oranges

I was peeling an orange and
the department secretary said
you should eat an apple instead
because it’s local,
and our bodies have evolved to eat local food.

So the apple belongs,
while the orange does not.

Well, I thought, since Jesus spoke in parables,
and we walk here under crosses: who is who?
There is Selmas: working the land,
growing his gnarly apple trees,
trunks painted white against disease…
And Ahasuerus: the wandering Jew,
a foreign fruit lacking local roots…

Thus, her nutritional advice
may be boiled down to this:
“Let us cast aside all oranges
so that the body of our people
should grow strong.”

Well, I told her. I don’t think that’s true.
Vitamins are vitamins and oranges have quite a lot.
Besides, whence these apple trees?
And the potato, our national food,
is something hoary national heroes never ate.
It comes from dark-skinned, Inca roots.

I come from the new world too,
despite my gentile Lithuanian stock.
And I suspect this grafted apple tree
has some foreign strains.

Orange I am, then, (eating with glee)
wandering Europe, wandering the world,
a wandering Jew
who imagines in his folly
that the Great Synagogue of Vilnius,
(rising from its roots like an ancient oak)
still stands.

*

There is this life

The first gaze
Broken
I rolled out of the crib
And stood at the marriage altar
Handed in the papers
Died
It was ordinary
And inane
People
Caught in the web
Crows in a tree, cawing
Starlings warbling
Wind rustling hands
Branches like a map of nerves
Open
To inroads of smoke
And concrete fields of will
With glimpses of a silent well
Along the way
What was gained?
Pleasure – but
So easy to say
The sudden injection of a two-note song
The slow drip of honey between mouths
The grip of a hand like gravity
Holding us to the ground
The fingers of a child
In a dream
In which someone else awakens
And breathes

*

Rimas Uzgiris is a poet, translator, editor and critic. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, AGNI, Atlanta Review, Iowa Review, Quiddity, Per Contra, Hudson Review and other journals. He is translation editor and primary translator of How the Earth Carries Us: New Lithuanian Poets (Vilnius, 2015). His translations of Ilzė Butkutė and Judita Vaičiūnaitė are forthcoming from US publishers. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University. Recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, he teaches literature, translation and creative writing at Vilnius University.

What motivates him to create:
Is anyone sure why artists feel a need to make things? To express themselves? I don’t feel right if I am not making things with words, especially these linguistic things broken up into lines on a page we call poems. I suppose one of the underlying currents that motivates me is the awareness of mortality, of the ephemerality of all that we know and love. I want to preserve something of that, something that matters. And to share it. I use language because I love what language can do. English enthralls me. And I want to share that too.

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June 7th, 2016

Good Hygiene

I lived alone at the end of the ward, in a room across from the payphone. My door was open. David talked lightly into the receiver. I sat at my creaky, wooden desk. The top was engraved with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, hearts, Raymond loves Patricia, Thug Life. I was writing a letter to my grandmother. …

I lived alone at the end of the ward, in a room across from the payphone. My door was open. David talked lightly into the receiver. I sat at my creaky, wooden desk. The top was engraved with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, hearts, Raymond loves Patricia, Thug Life. I was writing a letter to my grandmother. I chewed my pencil’s eraser and watched David’s hunched back. His long hair was wet from the shower he took after rec. He loved death metal. Dismember and Dark Tranquility were his favorite bands. He’d crank the volume on his Sony boom box and shake his hair to the power chords and guttural voices until a healthcare tech or nurse told him to turn it down, he was disturbing the peace. We learned quickly we disturbed the peace inside the walls of Dorothea Dix Hospital. David clenched the metal cord with his free hand. He breathed heavily between whispers. His father did not love him.

“Why do you hate me?”

Little sobs replaced the breaths. His shoulders shook. He turned his head. Bloodshot eyes.

“I’m not listening,” I said.

“You better not, fucker.”

I was a hospital veteran who’d heard it all: drug deals, escape plans, sex talk with girlfriends. Nothing shocked me.

“He loves you,” I said.

“What?”

I resumed my letter. My grandmother wrote the most beautiful letters. Her handwriting was amazing. Mine sucked. I’d told her many times I was ashamed—ashamed of my handwriting, ashamed of my brain, ashamed of my body and hygiene. Did you know, I wrote, they use “hygiene” for everything? Like, how is your “mental hygiene” today? My brain is not an armpit or set of teeth.

David hung up.

“I’m done, nosy ass.”

“Good,” I said.

He stood in my doorway. Study Time would soon begin.

“You’re wrong,” he said.

“About what?”

“My father.”

“He loves you.”

“No he don’t.”

I knew his father hated him. I’d heard his father screaming through the receiver. I’d seen him in the folding metal chair, crying after his father hung up within five seconds of answering his call. I understood why he lost himself in those primal, gruff growls and frenetic guitars.

“How do you know?”

“I’m psychic.”

He wiped tears from his face with a shirt sleeve. He wore a San Diego Padres sweatshirt. We were in Raleigh, North Carolina. The shirt was donated like much of his wardrobe. The boom box was a Christmas present from a Methodist church that set up a tree in Crabtree Valley Mall. We were surprised to get a mall tree. Usually, those were reserved for kids on cancer wards, the kids on TV with translucent heads who got visits from half of Hollywood and most of the NFL and NBA. My therapist at Dix once told me bipolar is not a casserole illness—don’t expect folks to show up on your doorstep with a baked macaroni and cheese. The church kept our names private because we were mental patients, which was the worst thing in the world, like one tiny step above leprosy. My paper ornament read: “Boy, 14, loves sports, music, reading. Would like a CD Walkman to listen to classical music. Mozart’s his favorite.” So I received a CD Walkman and listened to Alice in Chains, Ice Cube, Tupac, Nirvana, and The Geto Boys.

“I heard what happened last night,” David said, grinning.

“Hypocrite.”

“What?”

“Nosy. You’re nosy too.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

I’d been caught masturbating the night before by Ms. Mann, the third shift nurse. I couldn’t decide which was worse, a woman catching me who’d consider me a pervert and future serial rapist, or a man who’d remember his own youth and chuckle as I stopped mid-stroke. Well, in my case, I’d been caught by both in the last month: Mr. Jones, a tech, caught me the first time, and Ms. Mann caught me three weeks later. She wouldn’t look at me during morning meds. I swallowed my lithium with state orangeade, refused breakfast in the cafeteria downstairs, and hid under my covers until hospital school. We called it hospital school because a few kids attended Athens Drive. They were dropped off at a special bus stop away from the hospital and pretended to be normal, but they weren’t. You weren’t normal until you were discharged. I wasn’t interested in attending Athens. David attended hospital school too. We were both 9th graders, though he was a year older. He leaned on my doorframe.

“Choking the chicken,” he said.

“Like you don’t,” I said.

“I don’t get caught, retard.”

“Fuck off, asshole.”

Mr. Jones stood behind David. He was working second and third shift.

“What’s going on here?”

“Nothing,” we said.

“It’s Study Time,” he said.

I pulled out my books: North Carolina History, Pre-Algebra, and Great American Short Stories.

“I need to talk to Mike,” Mr. Jones told David. “Go to your room and study.”

“Okay,” David said. “Right on.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yes sir.”

David slipped behind Mr. Jones, who was tall as hell. Basketball tall. Dude had played college ball. We loved shooting hoops with him in the yard. He showed no mercy. Mr. Jones was the newest hire and seemed cool.

“Mike, I heard what happened last night.”

I flipped through Great American Short Stories. English was my favorite subject. We were assigned Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” for homework. Nick Adams, a World War I veteran, returns to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan after the war. He likes to hike and fish. He’s alone in the woods with only his thoughts.

“Mike,” Mr. Jones said. “What’s wrong with you?”

Nothing, I thought. Was it terrible to beat your meat?

“Sorry.”

“You should apologize to Ms. Mann. What if your mother caught you? What’s wrong with you?”

I lowered my head and tried to read, tried to ignore him. I’d thought he was cool. He’d only laughed the first time.

“You caught me first.”

“I couldn’t be your mother. I’m a man, but you shouldn’t let me catch you either.”

“Okay.”

“I’d never do that in my mother’s house.”

“This isn’t my mother’s house.”

My mother had abandoned me for booze and her loser boyfriend four months before my father committed me to Dix. As usual, she’d snuck in my room and drunkenly kissed my forehead and talked gibberish. She’d return soon, I’d thought, but never did. Glass shattered downstairs. She yelled at my father. A car pulled into our gravel drive. Headlights shone through my blinds. It was her boyfriend. What if he shot my father? What if he shot me? My body shook. My teeth chattered. I squeezed my pillow. My paranoia got worse. Four months later, I sliced my wrists in the shower before my mother’s boyfriend could climb through the bathroom window to blow my brains out.

“Until you’re discharged,” Mr. Jones said, “this is your mother’s house, and her name’s Dorothea. Ms. Dorothea Dix.”

“Okay.”

He uncrossed his arms and left. My chest popped and the dam broke. I buried my face in “Big-Two Hearted River.”

*

After Study Time, I washed my eyes and hit the dayroom to watch Jerry Springer with the fellas. The Zenith TV sat on a particleboard stand with a VCR and movies we’d watched a million times. Goonies, Blade Runner, and Boyz n the Hood were my favorites. David loved wrestling and watched Wrestlemania III to death. We also watched sports. We all loved sports, mostly basketball and football. Half of us, including myself, were Carolina fans. The other half were Duke fans. But there was no debating Jerry. We all loved Jerry. Jerry was the best. Jerry could do no wrong. We were his biggest fans. His number one fan club. He made us normal. If someone on the outside called us a freak, we could say, “don’t you watch Jerry Springer? Yesterday, a man French kissed his horse, Bella, and pleaded for a marriage license to marry it. Yes, it. A horse. I don’t fuck horses, so there.” After Mr. Jones’s talk, I needed a strong dose of Jerry.

I plopped on the end of the couch that held Terrell and Douglass. David sat alone on the other couch. Both couches were upholstered with a blue plastic-y material. The wood frames showed. There were only two couches. When they were full, we sat on the brown-carpeted floor. This wasn’t your grandmother’s plush carpet—this was thin rug on concrete. Jerry talked into his microphone.

“Let me introduce my first guest…”

At the top of the screen was, My man is cheating on me with my mother!

“…Darla, whose trust has been violated by her own flesh and blood, the woman—the very woman who gave birth to her twenty years ago at the precious age of sixteen…”

“Darla ugly as shit,” Terrell said.

“The mother’s fine though,” Douglass said.

“She still backstage, Doug E. Fresh.”

“It’s a rerun.”

“Oh,” Terrell said. “Well, don’t spoil.”

“Well,” David said. “Daughter’s hot too.”

“I’d fuck her,” I said.

“Man,” Terrell said to me. “Perverted ass!”

“Whatever, man.”

Douglass turned to Terrell.

“You’d fuck her too,” he said. “Don’t front.”

“Might,” Terrell said. “Might not.”

“Shit, I would,” Douglass said. “It’s impossible to get booty up in here.”

The girls lived on the other side of the ward. The nurses’ station and tech station separated the two halls, and staff monitored male-female interactions closely. If you were caught macking on a girl, staff would put you on MIX for an indeterminate time, which meant restricted interactions with the ladies during rec, group therapy, school, music therapy, art therapy—basically, your entire existence.

“You gotta point,” Terrell said to Douglass.

It didn’t take long for Jerry to bring out the mother to meet her son-in-law/lover and daughter, or for the women to roll around on the floor in their slutty dresses, or for the tattooed son-in-law/lover to enter the fray and end up in the audience, on the lap of a woman ready to swing her purse upside his head, or for Steve, the bouncer, to break it up, or for the son-in-law/lover to return to the mother and daughter right before the mother’s left breast popped out, or for the producers to blur the breast, or for the audience, who saw it live, go bananas, or for the mother to grab her daughter by her hair—a blonde wig—and pull it off and wave it in the air, or for the audience to catch the Holy Ghost at the sight of the dejected daughter, bald as Sinead O’Connor, crying as her mother swapped spit with her no-count man while still waving the wig.

“Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”

“Pass me that orangeade,” Terrell said to me.

I passed him the orangeade in a plastic two-liter milk jug. Meals and snacks were sent on the food truck from central campus.

“Thanks, perv,” he said.

I knew Terrell was joking, but it wasn’t the right time. I wondered if people really saw me that way for doing something normal.

“I’m playing, M-Dawg.”

“Okay.”

Jerry cut to a commercial break. Jim and Harold entered the day room.

“Saltines,” Jim said. “Save me some, bitches.”

“And Nutter,” Harold said. “We want the Nutter.”

We ate Saltines with peanut butter and washed it down with the orangeade. Jim and Harold took the last two couch spots. David sighed.

“It’s our couch too,” Jim said.

David pouted.

“You’re emotional, dude,” Harold said.

“Emotional as shit,” Terrell said.

“Man, fuck y’all,” David said.

We gave each other shit to pass time. We were kids trying to survive the hospital. We were nervous when visiting central campus to see a doctor in the infirmary for the flu, strep throat, or a bladder infection, where in the waiting room adults stared at us, drooled, and talked to themselves about government conspiracies and relatives who’d abandoned them. Once, I saw a scowling man in his thirties flip off a corner-mounted TV. A Pampers commercial played. The baby giggled.

“Jew baby bastard,” the man said.

The baby clapped.

“Should’ve been aborted by your whore mom.”

“Hush,” Mr. Williams, my tech chaperon, told the man, then turned to me.

“I’ve known Dennis for years,” he said. “He’s got major problems.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re lucky,” he said. “He’ll die in here.”

“Okay,” I whispered.

Often, rec staff drove us in a van to Haywood Gym, next to Spruill, the forensic ward where Michael Hayes lived. Spruill’s windows were barred and the yard was barbwired. Hayes was a serial killer who blasted nine strangers one night from a rural road outside Winston-Salem, killing five. The victims, he said, were demons coming for him in their cars on Old Salisbury Road. It was either him or the demons. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Dix. People across the state were pissed. None of the fellas believed me—they called me crazy—when I said Hayes watched us from his barred window whenever we filed off the van with basketballs and dodgeballs.

And man, I worried what my classmates and friends thought back home, if they knew where I lived. We all did. We imagined friends at the lunch table: He’s at Dix Hill. Must be nuts. That’s where Michael Hayes is holed up. Child molesters live there too. Fuck! Dix Hill, as it was called, sat on rolling hills overlooking Raleigh. The hills were the nice part. We concocted future lies about where we’d been, and why we suddenly disappeared in the middle of the school year. We practiced the lies on each other in the day room. I moved in with my grandmother in South Carolina to help her out around the house. When she died, I returned home to my parents in North Carolina. I felt bad but hoped my grandmother would understand. God too. I prayed every night after tearing a new page from my discharge desk calendar, one day closer to 6/4/94, the magical day my father would take me home for good.

“What y’all gonna be for Halloween?” Terrell said.

Jerry mediated a truce between mother and daughter. The lover/son-in-law frowned. The tables had turned. Both women screamed in his face.

“Too old for trick o’ treating,” David said. “What are you, ten?”

“Naw, there’s a party at my parents’ house. I gotta home pass.”

“Oh,” I said. “Rub it in.”

“That’s right!”

“You’re trifling,” Douglass said.

The women screamed and pointed at the lover/son-in-law.

“Blood’s thicker than water,” Jerry said.

“Yeah!” both women said.

“We’re in a mental hospital,” I said. “We don’t need Halloween costumes.”

“Yep,” Harold said.

“Finally,” David said. “He made a funny.”

“Shut up,” I said.

“Seal it in a jar,” he said.

“Y’all shut up,” Jim said. “Jerry’s talking.”

“Word,” Terrell said.

We watched in silence until Jerry said, “Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.”

*

I returned to my room to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer until Lights Out. I’d borrowed it from the Cherry building library. I was a big reader. No one could touch me. I was finishing 2-3 books a week not counting school work. I was a nerd. I loved libraries, bookstores, and the smell of book pages. I couldn’t stop sniffing the pages of library and school books. I did not discriminate. I was an equal opportunity book sniffer, a book freak!

Cherry was the locked long term adolescent ward. Ashby, where I lived, was the unlocked long term adolescent ward across the street. Hospital school was on the first floor of Cherry. We’d all spent time in Cherry and Williams, the processing and locked short term adolescent ward between us and central campus. Ashby housed kids who could be trusted, but Mr. Jones and Ms. Mann didn’t trust me, a contagious, unhygienic pervert. I hated myself. Hygiene—a word used against patients. It didn’t matter if you brushed your teeth, showered, cleaned your nails, and wore deodorant—a bad nurse or tech would accuse you, the mental patient, of poor hygiene.

One Saturday, we were lounging around the ward. No school, therapy groups, or organized rec. A typical Saturday in the loony bin. I forgot to bring fresh clothes into the shower room and didn’t realize it until suds ran down my body. I finished, dried off, and dressed in the sweatpants and Nirvana t-shirt I’d slept in the night before. I would change immediately in my room. Boy, you would’ve thought I’d disgraced the human race. Ms. Mann, working second shift for Ms. Pickett, rode my ass hard. She was sitting at the desk outside the nurses’ station when she saw me exit the shower room in my offensive attire. She lectured me on proper hygiene like I should be chained up in a basement or attic.

“You need another shower,” she said.

I ran to my room and grabbed my fresh clothes, then headed back to the desk with my head down.

“Let’s see,” she said.

She studied my tan cargo shorts, boxers, plain white t-shirt, and eyed my shower flops.

“Okay, you’ve passed inspection. Get in the shower.”

Inspection. I prayed in the shower. I prayed for myself and every current and former Dix patient who’d been shamed and humiliated since 1856. Many of the staff were good but the bad apples ruined it for everyone else. Psychological abuse could be worse than physical abuse. I’d rather be slammed against a quiet room wall than deemed trash. The water was getting cold. I hurried and rinsed my body for the second time in ten minutes. I thought of slicing my wrists again, my blood circling the drain, Ms. Mann crying, begging my father and grandmother for forgiveness. But it was a fantasy. I’d submitted to the hospital. I wanted to be discharged. I’d come too far—Ashby was the last stop. I followed Ms. Mann’s orders that day. I’d left the shower room clean for a mental patient. Now, David knocked on my door. I put Tom Sawyer on the windowsill and sat up in bed.

“Sorry about earlier,” he said.

“It’s cool.”

“Um, I’m out of quarters.”

David tore through his allowance trying to call his father. We told him to only let it ring a few times, but he never listened.

“I have a quarter,” I said.

I hopped out of bed and went to my desk. I kept my tiny yellow allowance envelope in the drawer. We used our money for phone calls and store trips to Food Lion and Kerr Drugs, sometimes Taco Bell and McDonalds, while David blew his on trying to call his deadbeat father. I had seven dollars in ones and a quarter. A nurse or tech could break a one for me to call my father or grandmother. They always picked up.

“Here,” I said.

“Awesome.”

“No problem.”

“This will be the one,” he said.

“Right.”

“I have a feeling,” he said.

“Sure.”

I sat at my desk and pretended to draw. The quarter dropped. I imagined calling my mother who didn’t know I was in Dix. Would she pick up? Would she disown her dirty, bipolar son in a state mental hospital? Would she side with Ms. Mann and Mr. Jones? I’d realized my status in the world a few weeks after my commitment, around the holidays. We sat in folding metal chairs in Haywood, people of all ages, watching a charity troupe perform a Christmas Carol on the gym’s stage. Michael Hayes stood to the side in shackles with two burly techs. I couldn’t stop staring at him. Finally, he stared back. A knife stabbed my chest. My face burned. He laughed. I was nothing.

“Dad,” David said.

“Are you there?”

“Dad.”

“Please.”

David hung up and stared at the yellow wall for ten minutes. Then, Mr. Jones walked the hall and spoke through cupped hands.

“Lights Out,” he said.

David wouldn’t move.

“David,” Mr. Jones said.

“What?”

“Lights Out.”

David stood up.

“I’m not playing,” Mr. Jones said. “Move.”

“You’re not my father.”

“Move.”

David went to his room.

“Lights Out.”

David slammed his door.

“Lights Out, Mike.”

I would cut my lights, but only after I tore a page from my calendar and hoped for a better day.

*

Michael Fischer’s writing has appeared in Phoebe, Natural Bridge, Beloit Fiction Journal, Green Mountains Review, The Rumpus, and Wigleaf, among others. In addition to a story collection, he’s working on an essay collection about his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and adolescent commitment to Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, NC.

What motivates him to create?
To die better. As the great Walter Payton said, “Never die easy. Why run out of bounds and die easy? It’s okay to lose, to die, but don’t die without trying.” Everything I write is an attempt to confront mortality. Most writing doesn’t stand the test of time, but who cares if you show up to the desk?

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June 2nd, 2016

The Explorer

Once upon a time there was a great old house on a lonely street set away from the bustle of a busy city. It was a house that seeped magic from every weathered piece of wood, from every sagging eave, from every hanging, rusted nail. Even the weeds blowing in the unkempt yard sang of …

Once upon a time there was a great old house on a lonely street set away from the bustle of a busy city. It was a house that seeped magic from every weathered piece of wood, from every sagging eave, from every hanging, rusted nail. Even the weeds blowing in the unkempt yard sang of magic.

The house nestled in the middle of the street, hidden amongst the regular, un-magical houses like a grandfather oak in a forest of rotting trees. As is so often the case when dealing with a strange and possibly dangerous creature, the best means to approach the house was from the rear. For yes, the house was indeed a creature; it was most certainly alive, as all who lived along the block or any nearby environs could attest. And yes, despite its forebodings, the house was often approached: its soft voice calling like the famed sirens upon a distant rock, and with similar sunken outcomes for the curious listener.

Once, after entering the mis-hung door, a man got trapped in a trinket and never escaped. Once a boy played a flute grasped from a window ledge and was never seen again. Once a plumed teen leapt the creaking steps, only to become invisible to the world. These unfortunate tales did not stop the men however, by the dozens, scores of them, teeth clenched, exquisite flashlights strapped to bands around their heads, compasses in weathered hands. They climbed the back stairs, clattered the rusted screen door and entered a world of pink scent and warmth, only to remain too long, to grasp too deep, and never return. The stories said it was the objects that did it, that trapped them; if a man picked up anything from the house’s interior he would disappear forever. To a faraway place, possibly the hell of our fathers, the stories told.

The exterior objects: an ashtray, a flowerpot, did not have the same permanence, but were thought to toss the offending grasper several miles, possibly even into the neighboring state. One brave young boy tried to purloin a yard gnome. His mother thought he had been abducted, abused by perverted men. He was lamented on the six o’ clock news. His face appeared on milk cartons. Some months later he was found in the Utah desert, a dazed expression on his sunburnt face. Though questioned at length by police, he has not spoken of the event, or the gnome, or the house. Most believe he never will. He will hold the secret to his grave, a fate, given his infirm mental state, perhaps all too soon.

One time even a girl was so disappeared. She pulled a dusty dress from a trunk in the house’s foyer, put it on and flew straight to heaven. The neighbors heard her scream as the black wings pushed from her back. The boys and men were thought to go the opposite direction.

On the fateful day in question, a man like the many before him decided he would enter the house, but he would escape the fate of the others, he knew. He had heard the stories yes, had heard them many times. But this man was different. He was too prideful and too courageous to be daunted by fish stories of other failures. The man was a famed treasure hunter and had heard of the great wonders and magics the house possessed. He would enter and return alive and his career would be made. The man was certain he would succeed in his perilous task. He would succeed and live in fame and glory forever.

He would treat the house no differently than the many others he entered in the past. Houses often thrived on their own stories he knew. To disregard the stories was to mute their power. He would have no spelunking helmet, no GPS tracking system or other fancy equipment. He would walk in upon his old boots, fill his burlap sack with myriad booty and return not but an hour or so on, a star and a hero.

Walking up the rickety stairs the man felt tightness in his chest, the clawing embrace of excitement and fear. His foot slipped out from underneath him, the rotting board given away, and he fell to one knee and ripped his pants. There was a collective gasp from the gawking crowd lining the back alley. He touched the new blood now trickling from his cut knee and wiped his hand on his pants. He raised his hand to reassure his fans before continuing. They sighed, again collectively. The man swallowed and spoke a quiet mantra to himself: “I am a man. I am an Explorer. I am a man whose name is written in learned books on the arts and mysteries of exploration. Yet without my name, without my gender or profession, I exist in this world and beyond.” The man took the last few steps quickly and reached for the swinging door. It opened and he entered. The crowd milling in the alley gasped as his back disappeared into the house.

The man felt the absence in the sense of presence. Could sense the myriad people who had once set foot in the house but were never seen again. “This house is empty because it is full,” he whispered, wary of disturbing the ghosts that lingered in the corners. “Its emptiness is the precondition of its fullness. The same in fact. Because it is full it is empty and because it is empty it is full. Ghosts exist only in the absence of ghosts.”

He picked through the kitchen muttering softly, “I am a child, I am a son, I am a father, I am the father of sons (and daughters too) beyond count. I have lain with many women and even the occasional man. I am a queer, I am a philanderer, I am a deadbeat, I am a darling sweet child. I am none of these things and I am them all.”

His brow creased, trying to understand the train of thoughts he spoke aloud. “My nature is my nature and all natures and no natures. I have none and am nothing. In this void I do not exist, yet I am here, walking in this place, searching for the moment that will define my life.” He grimaced and stood still. The house unbalanced him, confused him in a way that no house had before; its strange consciousness a riddle he could not solve. He looked at the calendar hanging on the wall, July 1963; there was a picture of windsurfers. A spice rack. Dusty cobwebs swayed in in the space between the fridge and the stove.

The Explorer turned the corner into the living area and saw it immediately. The largest Diamond he, or anyone, had ever seen. It was the size of a pomelo, shimmering gently on the streaked coffee table in front of the stained couch. He took a deep breath to calm himself, to prevent him from rushing over and grabbing it immediately. There would be traps, there always were. He searched the room for pressure plates, for tripwires and saw nothing. He bent to one knee, exploring the ground with his eyes. “Perhaps the mechanism is attached to the coffee table with intricate weights and measures,” he spoke, thinking of a long ago time in the Peruvian jungle. He frowned recalling the story.

His eyes scanned the bookshelves, looking for fake fronts or openings where a blowgun might wait, hidden until the moment it was too late. He saw dusty encyclopedias alongside rows and rows of old National Geographic magazines. His mind recalled his youth, laying on the floor in the attic under a bare bulb, looking through his grandfather’s copies of National Geographic, his nativity as an Explorer. Before he was even aware of the motion his hand was reaching out to grasp a magazine off the shelf. With a start, he pulled his hand back quickly before it reached its quarry. “Heh heh,” his wariness turned to mirth and he smiled. “You are a crafty house indeed. More so than any I have ever faced. I tip my hat to you stranger.”

He sat cross-legged and placed his hands on his knees – that they might not wander. “These books are not books, therefore they are books. The bookshelf on which they do not rest is not a bookshelf at all, therefore it is a bookshelf. This room is empty, therefore it is full. In its fullness, it is empty.” His closed eyes opened and went immediately to the Diamond he tried to ignore.

“This cup is not a cup. Therefore it is a cup,” he continued. “This plate is not a plate. Therefore it is a plate. I am not a famous Explorer. Famous Explorer is a mask I take up that I can just as easily put down. I am not a famous Explorer. Therefore I am a famous Explorer. The Diamond though – it’s like a softball – seems all too real. Unlike the plate or the spoon or me, the famous Explorer, it has a tangible (high) value to those on the street outside, those who see me as the famous Explorer, the image cast back by the looking glass. The image they place above their own false image; they do not know they are not what they see. They say ‘I am a shopkeeper,’ but they are not shopkeepers, or cobblers, or seamstresses, or exterminators. Were they only to say, ‘I am not an exterminator, therefore I am an exterminator.’ They look at me and say, ‘He is the famous Explorer,’ they say, ‘I too would like to be the famous Explorer.’ But they are not and I am not… This Diamond though, appears real to me. The Smithsonian would no doubt agree…”

The Explorer’s mind flitted between images of the beachfront hideaway he would buy with his proceeds from selling the diamond, the beautiful women who would worship his bravery, laying their sex before him, and the fat succulent pig he would roast at his beachfront property in the company of the beautiful women, as arguments of the Diamond’s veracity circled through his head. His eyes glazed over at the parade of images in his mind as he blankly stared down in the direction of the Diamond – for unbeknownst to him, he had in fact stood and crossed the room to stand above the gem, glittering softly in the reddening light. A trickle of drool escaped the creased corner of his mouth. He shuddered and awoke again to presence. “Are you reality?” he asked aloud, speaking to the rock. “Am I? What is this ‘I’ and ‘you’ I speak of, are we not one? What do I call you, what do I call myself?” The explorer grimaced, then chuckled, “These are esoteric concerns. Those outside know my name. Your name rings across time. Our names will chime together in a sonorous choir of delight.”

The Explorer turned his head to the dimming sky behind the dirty window. It would soon be dark and he must hurry, Diamond or no. He could hear the faint murmur of the crowds increasing too; they likewise knew he was running out of time. The Explorer felt the carpet under his feet through the rubber soles of his boots. He felt his gingham shirt on his skin. He felt the dried sweat under his three-day-old beard.

*

The crowd outside milled anxiously in the darkening gloom. Streetlights flicked on and moths danced in the hot summer air. “What do you think happened to him?” someone asked. Another replied, “He’s gone for sure.” Others agreed or disagreed in turn. A young boy sitting beside his bicycle started to cry. Older boys on skateboards mocked him without commitment before lapsing into quiet distress. Suddenly one of the boys jumped up, pointing to the back porch of the old house. “Look!” he shouted. A hundred heads raised in unison, searching for the Explorer. The screen door opened slowly and out stepped the Explorer, alive, here, of this world. The throng exploded in applause.

The Explorer, shoulders hunched, looked tired. His pants were torn, streaks of dirt on his face. His hooded eyes bemused and weary.

“What’s he got?” someone asked. “Doesn’t look like he’s got anything,” someone else shouted, noting the burlap sack hanging limp from his belt. The Explorer raised his hands sheepishly and shrugged, before slowly marching down the stairs.

The assembled crowd parted before the silent Explorer as he walked back to his Chevy SUV. Some wanted to speak, to ask him, “How could you fail? You the most famous and special of us all, how could you possibly not succeed?” but the solemnity of the moment held their tongues. It was as if the Explorer was walking in his own one-man funeral procession. The dead man and dying mourner joined to one figure, trudging through the night’s heat. The Chevy his ferry to the next life. The silence was broken only when the Explorer swung the door closed and drove away and one of the skateboarding teens yelled “Sucker!” and the others laughed. The younger children were confused, the older folks saddened, disabused of heroism and the righteousness of fame. They joined in huddling pairs or trios and began the journey home to a late dinner and the ten o’ clock mystery hour, a chapter or two from the bedside novel, the sleep of a saddened heart.

The newspaper articles in the following days were measured if unequivocal in their estimation of the Explorer’s failures. He was a middle-aged man in a young man’s game. He had done many good things, explored many dark and dangerous places, but his best years were surely behind him. Perhaps, most agreed, it was time for the Explorer to retire. For his part, the Explorer paid no attention to the articles, did not read a one of them in fact. Nor did he see the morning news special or the recaps of his career on the late-night chat shows. Since returning from the old house, the Explorer had sat unmoving in the leather chair in his study; he had not eaten for days and taken only small sips of water; he urinated but once where he sat. His focus was solely on his hands, tenderly cupped and resting in his lap, his face reflecting the glitter of the softball-sized Diamond.

*

Erik Wennermark has been living and writing in Asia for the last 5 years. Next stop: Tokyo. His work is available in Guernica, Talking Book, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @erikwmark.

What motivates him to create?
The genesis of “The Explorer” was basically that I was trying to write about meditation, which is sort of difficult as it wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting story: someone sitting still and breathing for 45 minutes. I was also reading the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries on the Buddhist Diamond Sutra – quite a complex text – and I suppose I was trying to make sense of it. The house is based off an ex-girlfriend’s in Chicago. So yeah, from the particular, the general: I am motivated to create by trying to make holistic sense of the disparate encounters in my life.

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May 31st, 2016

The Question Is

The question isn’t why this store that carries a hundred and fifty kinds of cake mix doesn’t sell one bag of Queen Guinevere Cake Flour. The question isn’t how long it would take to drive down Route 17 to Chef Central to pay eight dollars for a three-pound bag. The answer is: longer than the …

The question isn’t why this store that carries a hundred and fifty kinds of cake mix doesn’t sell one bag of Queen Guinevere Cake Flour. The question isn’t how long it would take to drive down Route 17 to Chef Central to pay eight dollars for a three-pound bag. The answer is: longer than the sitter can stay. The question is: What would Amy Albrecht-Ross do?

Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross would never find herself in the A&P at this hour because she planned Reverend Ross’s birthday celebration weeks ago. It’s not as if his birthday is a moveable feast! She whispered into each of her four children’s rosy little ears their role in Daddy’s birthday festivities before she flew out Monday morning to present at the Aphra Behn Society, then back to teach on Tuesday. She ordered the cake, or, more likely, prepped the ingredients before she left, so she could cream the butter and slip the pans into the oven the moment she walked through the door. The children recited a poem they wrote in Daddy’s honor and presented him with sweetly grubby handmade gifts and cards. Reverend Ross was delighted. Professor Albrecht-Ross photoblogged the occasion on Pinterest.

No, what Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross would do is never the question.

The question is: would Paul know the difference between a Betty Crocker Super Moist Golden Vanilla cake and a meticulously constructed Rose Levy Beranbaum All-American Downy Golden Butter Cake concocted from ingredients that include Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, which this store does not carry?

That, too, may not be precisely the right question.

Why bake him a cake at all could be the right question. Anyone whose birthday falls on a Wednesday late in the semester can’t expect his wife to bake him a birthday cake, especially when she teaches all morning, then attends faculty meetings all afternoon, and the birthday boy’s office hours don’t end until seven o’clock, after which he has a long commute. By the time he gets home, the girls will be in bed.

Why not just wait til the weekend to celebrate?

But if it’s only November and he already feels December distant, lost in midterms, department intrigue, tenure worries, and the book due in February, wouldn’t a cake seduce him back? Isn’t a woman who smells of butter and sugar and vanilla, but who can also keep up with her husband intellectually– keep up?–more accurate to say, surpass him, as she did in grad school, where such extraordinary things were expected of her that none of their friends can quite believe which spouse is stuck teaching freshman composition in community college and which landed the tenure-track position at Fordham–isn’t that woman too precious to drift away from every semester until he emerges two weeks after finals, dazed and blinking in the light of marriage and family? Won’t she be just fractionally further away every time, that much harder to summon back?

Would a cake from scratch be any more efficacious than one from a mix?

And why does no one else seem concerned? Why have six or seven other women maneuvered around the cart to grab jars of artificial chocolate frosting, pumpkin pie filling, corn bread mix–for God’s sake! What could be simpler than corn bread? What was even in the box?–graham cracker crusts, brownie mix. They say excuse me and look annoyed, but then again, shouldn’t they be annoyed at someone frozen in the middle of the baking aisle, contemplating cake mixes at dinnertime a week before Thanksgiving? What do they imagine the woman is doing?

It’s none of their business, and what are they doing, anyway, buying all that fake garbage? They may as well just buy their pies of gratitude from a good bakery. It will taste a lot better and save them from the charade of pretend baking. No bowls or blades to wash, either.

But anyway, that’s not the question.

The question is: why carry a purse that weighs ten pounds and drags at the neck and shoulder? Phone, tablet, notebook, wallet, student papers, Hannah’s little ballet slippers, a novel. Why not just leave it all in the car and bring only the debit and discount cards? But professorial dresses don’t have pockets, and carrying a small, light, backup purse with only the objects needed in the A&P is too much to aspire to at present, far too Amy Albrecht-Ross.

The question could be why dresses so rarely have pockets.

A better question is why anyone in her right mind would bake a cake when Le Gateau Suisse is only nine miles away.

Better still: who is crying? Or is that two people crying? Who cries in the A&P? Then again, isn’t the riotous excess of options, the tens of thousands of micro-decisions that constitute every expedition through this temple to consumer choice and evolutionary irrelevance enough to make anyone with even a fraction of her soul intact sob with gratitude, guilt, and despair?

Does one still believe in the soul?

That can hardly be the question right now, can it?

Does academia ruin a person for normal life might be a valid question. Another: is it better to keep reading the text of the baking aisle, or just to get on with Tuesday evening?

Still another: why won’t that child stop howling? Furthermore, if one began crying in the A&P, how would one ever stop?

The question is, essentially: if baking is about domesticity, and domesticity is the rarefied, exalted ideology of female subjugation made sweet and proper and pretty, the friendliest face of fascism, as it were, then why does the most feminist husband among the alpha males of Alwyn Park, a man whose dissertation was a Marxist analysis of HD and Muriel Rukeyser, love nothing more than when his wife bakes for him?

No, not nothing more. Why does he love to spank her, with his hand or belt or hairbrush, until she is aflame and whimpering, then penetrate her from behind, grinding her face into the sheets or the carpet, her arms spread wide?

Why does it bore both of them any other way?

To put it still more succinctly–is baking, at its root, the patriarchal ideology of domination and submission rendered in sugar and fat? Is baking simply sex in the kitchen?

Is there a conference paper hiding somewhere in these questions? An article? Can the baking aisle be a legitimate text for scholarly inquiry? Who would even touch that? Feminist Review? Journal of Material Culture? Cultural Anthropology? Some Marxist journal? Were those any easier to get into than the Woolf or Modernist ones? Three articles in five years do not constitute a ticket out of Mooreland Community College. Maybe BDSM and cake mix do.

The question remains whether any tickets out are ever available, once a decision is made. If one had stayed in Missouri, alone in the faculty apartment, teaching five classes of polite, earnest students per year, one would have published two books by now, at least, plus articles and conference papers. One would be tenured at Missouri, or perhaps on tenure track somewhere more impressive. But, then, no daughters, and likely, no Paul. Twice a month was not enough, the frequent flyer miles no substitute for frequent meals, frequent lovemaking. Six more months in Missouri, and the shy, dark-eyed medievalist in the office across the hall would have filled in the lacunae and annotated the aposiopeses in one’s long-distance marriage.

Fordham outranks Missouri. Children trump ambition. The only solution to the two-body problem is to subtract one body from the equation. One brain.

The question is not whether having children was the right choice. Margot had won that argument with her first scream of life. A newborn’s immediacy resists interpretation. A baby represents–no, not represents; is–that rarest of all things: an absolute. By her very existence, Margot, and three years later, Hannah, negated the question of whether their being was the result of prudent decision-making. They were irrefutable. A third child is not yet unthinkable.

A legitimate question remains, however, about whether these choices betoken the squandering of an expensive education, a question Mom and Dad politely refrain from asking, though, as their other daughter, the childless pediatric nephrologist often observes, they have every right to be furious with the result. But that raises (not begs, as one constantly had to remind students) a further question: if motherhood and community college mean that one has wasted a world-class education, is the damage permanent? Could one start over, out west again, perhaps, where a doctorate from the University of Chicago commands awe? Could that path wind far past the ranks of Fordham and onto something greater? Could an academic career have a caesura?

Maybe not. Amy Albrecht-Ross gave birth to each of her children in late May or early June. Professor Albrecht-Ross took no chances.

If the damage, however, were permanent, then couldn’t one simply give up? Join a book club? Watch those cable series everyone always tweets about? Take up tennis again? Stop feeling guilty about time wasted on the Internet? Learn, if it is not too late, how to relax?

Dr. Brenner, the chair of the English Department at Mooreland Community College declared at the tenure appointment, “You can teach here until your grandchildren have to drive you to work.” The years instantly spooled out ahead, skin collapsed into wrinkles, hair drained to white. Dizziness compelled sitting. Tenure, then, was not a prize. It was a life sentence.

Is it necessary, then, in the evenings after dinner, dishes, homework, bath time, bedtime, and grading, to join Paul in his study, log on to the Fordham library with his credentials, and read journal articles, take notes, formulate question after question in hopes that one might give rise to a theory? Is there any point, in the absence of colleagues with whom to volley ideas?

Why doesn’t Paul want to talk about Woolf these days?

The question is not why that woman on the PA system believes that children will love their mother if she brings home warm bread from the store bakery. The question is how she knows them so well. Baking a cake will have much the same result. They’ll say someday at the shiva, “Mommy baked the best birthday cakes, didn’t she?” Her children shall arise and call her blessed.

Why do we call it “performing gender identity,” anyway, as if anyone ever does it on purpose? As if a woman at home with young children won’t slip unconsciously into patterns as ancient as the archetype of the hearth-tending Divine Mother? As if giving children a sane upbringing didn’t require, on some level, the abnegation of certain crucial aspects of the mother’s identity? Require the mother, on some level, to embrace, even celebrate, the death of those precious facets of her soul?

Are we back to the soul again?

Why does the ability to name patriarchal tropes grant no power to destroy them?

Is it even possible to bake this ridiculous cake tonight is an outstanding question. When will there be time? After the children are asleep? But if he comes home exhausted at 9:30 to a house that smells like caramel mousseline (tricky to make, but divine in texture, smooth as the inside of the cheek, light as a butterfly kiss, sweet as pleasure itself), won’t the smell charge up his limbic system, draw him instantly out of theory and politics, students and colleagues, traffic and bridges, and return him to his senses? Would Paul be horrified–decent midwestern Lutheran that he was, Marxist feminist that he is–to recognize the atavistic charm of what arouses and satisfies him?

The question is whether irony is funny anymore.

Has Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross ever stood, paralyzed with indecision before a display of cake mixes while other shoppers pushed and wove around her? Nonsense. Amy Albrecht-Ross is not a woman paralyzed with indecision about anything. Surely, she would have tweeted it, or Instagrammed an indecisive selfie, or composed a meditative blog post about it, connecting it to one of her husband’s Episcopal homilies, or maybe to Julian of Norwich.

The question is whether one can constantly read against the text of one’s life and still live it.

The question is why people are crying in the A&P.

The question is whether there is any point in asking these questions, once all the choices have been made and the consequences manifested.

The question is why I, too, am now crying in the A&P, and whether this is, considered correctly, hilarious, and–more to the point, if it is possible to stop either laughing or crying.

The question is: what time does Le Gateau Suisse close?

The question is: who is that screaming in the meat department?

*

Julie M. Goldberg is a writer, librarian, and teacher. Her fiction and essays have appeared in River, River, Mothers Always Write, Magnificent Nose, and on her blog, Perfect Whole. Julie lives in the Lower Hudson Valley with her husband and their two children. She is an obsessive reader, an occasional jazz singer, and an enthusiastic baker. “The Question Is” is a chapter from her current work in progress.

What motivates her to create?
In my early forties, I came to understand that I would die whether or not I ever finished writing the book I’d been dreaming about for years, and decided that I didn’t want to die without having written it. Procrastination born of self-doubt would not extend my time by one moment. It was urgent to create. And now, as I work my way through my second book (a chapter of which is “The Question Is,”) it remains urgent.

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May 27th, 2016

Waffle House for Carter

Dammit, Carter, this greasy morning coffee, spattered and scattered breakfast will not blind the poet’s eye. The juke box goes cold until the swolled woman in the red pleather coat checks out of her hotel room and into a booth. Among the spatulas, waffle irons, grill scrapers, the clatter of breakfast utensils, this woman is …

Dammit, Carter,

this greasy morning coffee,

spattered and scattered breakfast

will not blind the poet’s eye.

The juke box goes cold until

the swolled woman in the red

pleather coat checks out of her

hotel room and into a booth.

Among the spatulas, waffle irons,

grill scrapers, the clatter of breakfast

utensils, this woman is slipped

up under some man who is not

her husband he feeds the juke box

and Otis, Al and Luther rattle

out of the busted overhead speaker.

There’s a dope dealer with a cell

phone in his ear and an orange soda

in his hand covered with gold rings

at the booth across the way.

The Waffle House workers are

checked out, clocked out, off

the floor except for Belinda,

the blond headed black lady who

keeps my coffee full and hot.

I harmonize with the noise of

minimum wage workers and Al,

Luther and Otis and when the lady

stuffs her last dollar into the what-could-be

a Wurlitzer, I feel the need to move

or are my feet just stuck to the floor.

Four cups of coffee are enough to move

a man with prostate problems, eggs

and sausage can’t hurt this heart that’s

been scattered and splattered like the faces

of the patrons at the Waffle House

Early Bird Special. Two rode

hard white alcoholic painters

pulling overtime to keep from

losing their doublewide, a bald

headed brother with Bluetooth

and cheap gold chains hustling

knock off Tim’s out of his

Mercedes with thirty-day tags,

the poor little white girl with big ears

and shiny new braces that her

step-daddy barely can afford on

the tithes he gets from his part-time

gig at the store front church, preaching

to a congregation who believe in waffles,

the salvation of maple syrup. Now Miss

Belinda makes another round with extra

creamer, we all need lightning up she jokes,

I’ve seen it all. What comes out after

midnight ain’t worth speaking about

and church people are piss poor tippers,

Granddaddy said, can’t trust a town where

there are more steeples than liquor stores.

*

Marty Silverthorne holds degrees from St. Andrews Presbyterian College and East Carolina University. He has published six chapbooks including his latest Holy Ghosts of Whiskey. He has received several grants from the NC Arts Council and in 2015 he won the NC Poetry Society Poet Laureate Award.

What motivates him to create?
I’m infected with the sound of words and what they convey.

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