Monday, September 29, 2014

#143: "France in 25 Exposures" by Christiane Buuck


~This essay first appeared in Seneca Review (2005).


Paris
1. Meat
The white truck stops in the middle of the empty street. Its driver, dressed in a white plastic rain suit, leaves the engine running on the cobblestones of the rue Cler. He nods to the owner of the boucherie who has also just arrived. No words this early. The sky is still black, the lights of the Eiffel Tower extinguished. Up goes the door of the truck. Up goes the chain mail of the storefront. The owner of the boucherie props his door open with a wooden block. Inside the lights flicker and cast a sterile glow. He walks to the back, to the coolers. There is a sound like a mechanical bumblebee. A white metal arm extends from the back of the idling truck, dangling the carcass of a cow. The man in the white rain suit puts on his hood and his plastic gloves. He steps back one, two, three, four paces. Ready now. Find the focus. He lunges for the slab like a wrestler, everything throttling forward. Together they swing with the momentum, arc up like the swaying of a bell. At the crucial moment the carcass comes free of its hook. Its weight settles. He fights it, holding his balance, stumbling toward the door of the boucherie, a waltzer dancing his dead partner.

Monday, September 22, 2014

#142: "Coming of Age" by Lorine Kritzer Pergament


~This story was previously published in Bridges (2008).


Fannie Lipsky picked up her pay envelope at four forty-five. She counted her money and thought about what she might do with the nickel she usually kept before giving the envelope to her mother. Her papa and brother Oscar always went to the Havdalah service at the shul to thank God for giving them a day of rest and meditation. The Havdalah was the “great divide,” between the Sabbath and the rest of the week. For Fannie, it was also the great divide between men and women. She thought about how nice it would be to have a Shabbos day of rest herself, but the entryway sign in three languages at the Triangle Waist Factory was clear: “If you don’t show up on Saturday or Sunday, you’ve already been fired when it’s Monday.” She sighed, content with the thought that tomorrow, Sunday, was her day off, and even though she had to help her mama with the housework, that was better than going to work at the factory.
She glanced at the calendar on the wall – March 25, 1911 – only two weeks until her thirteenth birthday. She didn’t care that girls didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah service at the shul with a grand reception afterwards, like her brother Oscar had, to celebrate entry to adulthood. Fannie wanted only one thing – books.
            Back out on the floor she made sure the girls finished putting everything away properly. The eighth-floor watchman had just rung the quitting bell, and one of the girls in the cloak room started singing “Let me call you sweetheart.” Soon others joined in. “I’m in love with you...”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#141: "Winchester .351 High-Power Self-Loading Rifle" by Alexandra Teague


~This poem was previously published in 32 Poems (2012).



Winchester .351 High-Power Self-Loading Rifle
                    from an ad in The American Field, 1909

It was the love which the hunter has for living things,
and which he can only express by aiming his gun at them.
                                                Italo Calvino


Who doesn’t dream of a heart with all sights
attached, all moving parts enclosed? A love
that can shoot through steel? See how the cougar eyes
the bold word Winchester—its jagged rush

his body, whisker-close against the cliff, unflinching.
Already he’s prey:  his muscled legs like roots
too deep for springing; a pendulum stilling
for the chime of fate. Who wouldn’t lose

this skin for an instant of lightning—one
flash from the lightest, strongest, handsomest
repeater ever made? Who hasn’t gone
to a ledge like this and waited? The scent

on the wind that draws them:  lover or devil,
the heart reloading even as it recoils.



*****

Monday, September 8, 2014

#140: Three Poems by Ravi Shankar

 

~This poem first appeared in Gulf Coast (1998).

Before Sunrise, San Francisco  


Bruno’s by sallow candlelight,
The jacketed barkeep counting
Tips from a jam jar and horseshoe
Booths burnished a bit too bright,

Yet the stained mahogany walls
And the lazy lament of Spanish
Horns from speakers huddled
In the corner speak a different

Language altogether, one that rolls
Effortlessly off the tongue and fills
The room like myrrh, a promise sent
That four walls can indeed keep out

The world, that when horns wail
For percussion and those walls
Are elegantly attired, why there
Is no need to ponder the gristle

In the Mission outside, no need
To wonder why that one left you
Or why you are always too
Late. The weight of your existence

Roughly equals the martini glass
In front of you, the thick mass
Of the past collapses into brightness
As well-lit as the dripping star

At the center of your table.
Nod. Snap your fingers. Order
Another drink. Let horns grieve,
Let the wristwatch think on sheep

Before you leave. Tonight,
The only eyes on you are two
Pimentos stuffed into olives
Bloated with vermouth and gin.

*****

Sunday, August 31, 2014

#139: "Once Again to Zelda" by Kirk Curnutt



~This essay originally appeared in The Southern Review (2013).



In the seventies, my mother began storing paperbacks in an oval drum table kept in our basement. As an only child, I had long claimed our downstairs as my sovereignty, and I took great objection to this adult incursion into the kingdom of my toys, especially after I was issued explicit orders not to go anywhere near her books. At ten or eleven I already suffered from boring bouts of insomnia, so on nights I could neither sleep nor relax, I would sneak out of my adjoining bedroom to rifle this forbidden stack. I was curious to know what knowledge I, the son of a teacher, could possibly be prohibited from learning.
The question wasn’t long in the answering. Among the titles in my mother’s collection was Coffee, Tea, or Me?, a steamy pulp featuring swinging stewardesses; a self-help manual called The Sensuous Woman by someone so salacious she could only publish under the pseudonym “J”; and a memoir whose title deeply perplexed me because it was the exact nickname my father gave me whenever I tried to shoot baskets, one-handed, over his head: The Happy Hooker. Needless to say, I found these books equal parts enthralling and confusing.
The one that would have the greatest impact on me wasn’t read until much later. I can remember flipping through its pictures, however, because one specific image gave me nightmares. I’ve since come across that photo countless times in my research, and never without experiencing the same shock of recoil. The photograph is of a slightly stooped woman with cadaverous cheeks bundled in a fur coat staring listlessly at the camera. Her expression is forlorn and faltering, self-protectively irresolute, as if by submitting to a pose she was relinquishing something of herself she would never get back. I would need a poetry class or two to find a phrase to describe that face: ’tis the distance on the look of death.
The picture wasn’t of Emily Dickinson but of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s not an especially famous photo, but a telling one, taken in February 1930 during a vacation to the Constantine gorge in Algeria only a few months before the breakdown that would land her in a Swiss sanitarium and thereafter render her one of the more enduring cautionary tales in American literary history. The book itself was Nancy Milford’s biography, simply titled Zelda. It recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, and though not as controversial today as it was in 1970, it still possesses the power to polarize. In Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography, Linda Wagner-Martin summarizes its legacy: “What struck readers in 1970 was that Milford’s story of Zelda’s life with F. Scott Fitzgerald had so often been told inaccurately. By most accounts, Zelda’s drinking and bothering of her writer husband had led to his drinking and his inability to get work done.” In contrast, “Milford enabled readers to find in her protagonist a woman that nearly everyone could identify with. Zelda’s story became its own drama,” a story of “rebelling at the prescribed roles beautiful women were made to play.”
For other scholars, however, Zelda is the source of the most pernicious canard to haunt Fitzgerald’s work—namely, that he “plagiarized” her very essence in creating the iconic character of the flapper, often stripping her letters and diaries of specific, enchanting passages. Every so often I’m invited by a reading club or academic group to dilate on this debate, and so I iron my tie and fire up the PowerPoint and do my best to be balanced. I’ve also spent many a literary conference adjudicating the argument, often unwillingly over dinner tables and bar tops where, honestly, I’d rather be exploring topics that didn’t leave me wondering if I have a life outside of work. In recent years I’ve actually grown less interested in the biography’s influence on literary studies, and more intrigued by its sway on everyday readers who sent it spiraling onto the bestseller lists.
Readers, in other words, like my mother.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#138: "To Do in the New Year" by Anna Lena Phillips

~This poem first appeared in International Poetry Review (2011).



Be ribbon. Be bone.
Be lace. Be stone.
Make a bow of yourself—no,
make of yourself a bear.
Furl fur, steer windward.
Make of yourself
a byre. Shimmer. Ray,
then bow: ends
unravel, ravel,
unfurl. Make of yourself
a curl, a funnel. Bay.
Whine. Say
soon, daffodils
will, miracle
gone before we know.
And that is how time.
And that is how.
Be still. Steal in. Stare.
Make of yourself
a string unwinding
forever, fire,
make of yourself
a halo of obstacles, make
inroads, make a solution
of sunshine, be seed.             
Cede. Be siloed.
Cease for a while, be
quilted; in creases,
fall seaward. From hulls,
rise, riled up, increase, raise up
sounds of your name
in water, make yourself
golden, yield.





*****

Monday, August 4, 2014

#137: "Thong Panties" by Wendy Reed

~This story previously appeared in Analecta 24 (1998).
                                          

            Ed bought Vera another pair of thong panties. He took them home to her after work. Vera politely opened the pink sack stenciled with fake lace and removed the tissue paper. She unfolded it and tore the taped end.
             "Thong panties,” she said, wadding up what there was of the underwear. “How nice." She stuffed them back into the bag. 
            "Don’t you like the spots?" he asked.
            "They're right colorful."
            "Well. What about the stripes?"
            "They're right vertical," she said.
            Ed could tell she didn’t like them.
            "Well, aren't you going to model them for me?" he asked.
            "Ed, you know I have a yeast infection."
            "Oh, I forgot," he said.
            Ed hadn't really forgotten.  He was hoping a gift of lingerie would stir her up a bit.  God knows something had to.  It’d been so long since they’d had sex for one reason or another, he wasn’t sure he would remember how.  He’d thought a trip to the lingerie shop might be just the thing.
            Ed had spent nearly a whole hour in the lingerie store wandering between the maze of panty trees and panty pools trying to find something that might work.  He’d studied the steel arms of the racks where each pair hung by its own hanger and realized that these panties not only came with their own hanger, but with the highest price tags, too.  So he'd begun fishing in the overstuffed bins where the cost was a little less. Here, clear plastic flexi-glass separated the layers of panties into a panty dessert trifle: lace panties, then crotchless panties, then the truly edible layer.  Ed spent most of the hour looking at them, rubbing them between his fingers and checking the price tags. When no one was looking, he even licked one pair of the edible ones.