Monday, July 17, 2017

#238: Three Poems by Lori Lamothe




~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant poetry editor


~This poem previously appeared in New Madrid (2016).

Forecast


At the border between properties
a galvanized washtub collects falling
snow. Hours later, the white’s risen
so high it brims over emptiness.
I want to kneel down before it
and rinse my bare arms in its cold,
clean comfort. I want to let the idea of
an original, untouched world accumulate.
Because there are so many spaces inside me
waiting for renewal. The heart with its huge
barn doors thrown open in anticipation
of love’s galloping horses. The mind
and its attic of memories, or even the hands
held out for work, its solid, familiar tools.
Above me, the clouds open their trap doors
all at once and flakes sift down, blanketing
everything with a marvelous innocence
that will surely last long enough this time.



Monday, July 10, 2017

#237: "My House Wordship" by Richard Kostelanetz

~This piece was previously published in Home & Away (1991).

I sit here in this old house alone.
–Edmund Wilson, Upstate (1971)

My apartment became famous for a day, early in September 1985, when it appeared at the top of the front page of the widely read New York Times's Thursday "Home" section. Accompanying a feature article on "Living with Too Many Books" was a photograph of me sitting beneath towering shelves tightly filled with paperbacks. Whereas most features in the Times are forgotten a few days afterwards, this one is often remembered, mostly by those likewise crowded. The article said I had ten thousand books, which seems too high, for the only figure authorized by me was "956 running feet" of shelves containing books. Those more experienced insist that the count must now be closer to fifteen thousand, which is the result of reading roughly a book a day for forty adult years.
            What the size of this library mostly reflects–a point missed by the writer, specializing in interior design–is not that I "collect" books, because I don't, but that I've worked my way through several intellectual fields. After taking degrees in American civilization and American history, I became interested in literature and literary criticism; more recently, I've written about other arts. By contrast, no one pursuing a single discipline would need so many books at home. A second fact shaping the size of the library is professional independence. Whereas professors can rely upon a university library, I can use only the New York Public. However, not only is its stocking erratic, but even the famed research central at 42nd Street is missing many items listed in its catalog.
            A third, more personal fact is that my books are extensively annotated, not only with marks on their pages but also with sheets of paper filled with handwritten notes. When I want to find something that I remember being in any book of mine, I first consult these sheets. In a practical sense, these sheets and annotations are more valuable to me than the books; for unlike the books, they are irreplaceable.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#236: "When the Saints Go Marching Out" by Roland Goity

                                                                           

~This story originally appeared in Talking River Review (2006).


August 24, 2005:  Ivan boasted a warm, alcohol-fueled grin from his window seat as he and Katrina descended upon Louis Armstrong Airport. It had already been a long day; they rose before sun-up to catch their flight from San Jose, and had a long layover in St Louis (two Lynchburg Lemonades) before catching their connection to The Big Easy, Crescent City, The City that Care Forgot, N’Awlins. Katrina napped beside him with her mouth open, and Ivan nudged her awake. “There it is, baby: a place with class, with history, with style,” he said. “Get out your beads and get ready to party!” 

August 29, 2005: Sheryl and her six-year-old daughter Markeesha sat on the lumpy, sunflower-patterned couch in their Garden District apartment and sang one song after another. By the time they got to When the Saints Go Marching In, they were on their feet and tapping beats on the hardwood floor. When they finished, Sheryl hugged Markeesha whose eyes pooled with tears. Torrential rainfall and triple-digit winds rapped at the boarded-up windows and Sheryl did her best to hide the sinking feeling she had. “You sure Nana’s okay?” Markeesha asked again. Sheryl nodded and sighed with relief. Through fate, her mother was spending the week with friends in Shreveport. 

August 25:  After a night of Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and making boisterous fools of themselves at Preservation Hall, Ivan and Katrina were at it again. They were on Day Two of their planned tour to hit every nook and cranny of New Orleans’ famed French Quarter. And Ivan could hardly believe it. Only two days before he was in Silicon Valley pushing e-commerce solutions to anyone who’d listen; now he was strolling about cobblestone pathways and wrought-iron gates on Royal Street, taking drunken horse-drawn carriage rides in the shadows of stately mansions on St. Charles Avenue.  Jazz music drifted along the street, from bars and clubs and sometimes the sidewalks themselves. The street musicians were so good, in fact, Ivan guessed they’d probably command top dollar in most cities. This was Ivan’s utopia; this was “Disneyland for adults.” Indeed, it wasn’t long until he and Katrina arrived at a bar on Bourbon Street and were coaxed onstage by the long beckoning finger of the bass player in a ZZ Top-style trio: a rangy black man with an old-style ‘fro and instrumental chops not unlike Stanley Clarke, the king of Ivan’s self-congratulatory musical hierarchy. As they danced alongside the band, it seemed somehow natural to Ivan that he and Katrina were now improv entertainers of the Old Absinthe House. Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory himself, often celebrated there back in the day, and at that moment Ivan felt he’d forged a spiritual bond with the great general and president. This marvelous southern city satiated his ego, and as he danced the “po’ fool white boy” before the lively crowd, Ivan wondered what might someday be his own claim to fame. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

#235: "Hiking with Kierkegaard" by Mark Liebenow

~This essay previously appeared in Chautauqua (2014).



Hiking With Kierkegaard      
The Struggle Between the Idea and the Experience of Nature: A Debate Informed by Goethe, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, the Velveteen Rabbit, and a Hike to the Top of El Capitan.


            Before dawn in late September, I stand on a bank of the Merced River, below black mountains in silhouette, and watch the river’s dark blue water flow out from the forest and surge quietly past. The undulating surface reflects glints of silver from the sky’s early light. Mist hovers in the chill above the autumn meadow. When there is enough light to see, I begin a ten-hour hike by going up the steep switchbacks on the canyon’s north wall to the top of Yosemite Falls.
            An hour and a half later, catching my breath on the canyon’s edge, I glance back at Half Dome across the valley, locate my trail, and head into the forest for El Capitan, anxious to see what it looks like from above. From the valley floor, El Cap is a smooth granite monolith that rises 3000 feet straight up. Rock climbers travel from around the world to spend days pulling their way up its vertical face; for them it’s a rite of passage. I prefer to hike over the mountains and explore the forest along the way.
            In a shaded grove near Eagle Peak, I pause for a quick drink of water, but as I look around the landscape at an elevation of 7400 feet, a strange sensation invites me to sit on a boulder. What’s confusing is that on a long hike I don’t usually stop for water because I want to get back to camp before dark. I just swing my backpack around, grab a bottle and drink without ever breaking my stride. Setting my drive to get to El Cap aside, I wait to discover what is causing this feeling.  It seems like something that I’ve forgotten or lost.
            The growing heat of the sun filters through the trees and balances the crisp, cool air of early morning. Chickadees are chirping, chipmunks are scuffling through the dirt and leaves looking for stray acorns, and the breeze hums as it twirls needles in the sugar pines towering above me. I am energized by the quiet sounds and scent of pine, and the moment feels perfect, although this doesn’t say it right. I feel physically connected to the land. This says more, but the words don’t say enough. I linger for twenty minutes letting the presence of the landscape deepen.
            I come into nature because of surprises like this, whether I’m hiking in Yosemite, canoeing among the moose in the Boundary Waters above Minnesota, walking the old prairies of Wisconsin, or poking around tide pools on Oregon’s serrated coast. Yosemite Valley is seven miles long and one mile wide, and by camping for a week I experience something of the rustic life of John Muir. Nature’s architecture has created a place both intimate and open where people can explore the boundary between self and the wilderness.
            This trip I’m also here because grief has morphed into Moby Dick at home and I’m locked in a battle like Ahab, unable to kill it or let it go. Five months after my wife’s sudden death in her forties, I’m stuck in anger, depression, and apathy, and I’m hoping that nature can help me with this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#234: Three Poems by Scott Dalgarno

~These poems were selected by assistant editor Clara Jane Hallar.



~This poem previously appeared in The Yale Review (2007).


JESUS TURNS UP IN VAN NUYS, BUT HIS NUMBER IS STILL UNLISTED

I was raptured, temporarily, then recalled
due to a clerical error. There was the office
generated apology, of course, with a cc to God.

Des Moines looks so different to me now. Not nearly
so plural. Apparently I wasn’t missed, but then,
I’ve always been the penguin in the red muffler.

Sure, I want you to notice me, but I still want you
to have to look. Like the rest of the half-wit
world, I beat my gong with a spent cucumber.

We’re all of us faking it, right? Only the young
don’t know that . . . . which makes them young.
Everything shifts over time. Now they’re saying

filthy is the new dirty. Don’t get me wrong,
I welcome the chance to come clean about my hiccup
with Jesus, but my people have always adored their

secrets, hording the unstutterable, holding their cards
under the table. My grandmother was a Shaker
all her life. She had teeth made from old mah

jongg tiles. Even her husband didn’t know. What
must Jesus think of the news that all these years
he’s been married; his wife, a rehabilitated Bible

whore? Hell, we don’t even know what he looked like.
Maybe dark short, with splayed feet and an eye that
wanders. Christus Domesticus. See them commuting. 

“Pick a lane,” he says, “Any lane, I don’t care”
(Mary likes to take her half out of the middle). Afraid
of being left behind, she’s forever offering

to drive, while Jesus leans into the tragic like some reckless
geek magician. Profiled in PEOPLE, they’re
like rock stars on holiday; see them walk, A-framed,

purling their way down Sepulveda, that Picasso body
of hers moving like a crab. He could fix that,
but likes her crooked, pink, & halting.

*****

Monday, June 12, 2017

#233: Three Poems by Ava C. Cipri

~Work selected by assistant poetry editor Clara Jane Hallar

 

~This poem previously appeared in Western Humanities Review (2008).

 

Queen of Swords


i.
you are the curator the loud custodian    one set of keys

one pass    single access

you stand guard at the gate

no other entrance no other may come

ii.
fast forward if you are looking for the protagonist
a woman of reticent character by this name [H.] you will not find her here

fast forward nor will you find her       Heath[er] . . .
no time

I write it down

rewind    I will not witness

iii.
the sky pinches back from its corners    fast forward

I know your window from the bus shelter & the hour
it crests the wall then the snow heaves the way I

watched the end from outside myself steeping
from that porch dismantled for three full seasons

iv.
it’s the photograph I continue to pick up the one my grandmother never
     displayed

too often    declared the futility of being a writer & want of spontaneity
photography at my command to have a camera around my neck
yesterday there was a tall blond amazon    her hair tightly pulled back in a
    leather-band

the season halts from November’s edge

v.
your door    and the season
it cuts the city the way a dancer
his partner clipped in the distance vanishes
into night into dreams too far
I return from your absence and limp into my life

knowing terror for the second time
overhearing the scream

vi.
for two Septembers I walk out into traffic

wonder the month it stopped—you finding my hair in the drain behind the
    stacks of books
under the suitcase which was our table

vii.
the walls of you the way you pulled me into those voice-filled fields until

no one could make you come as hard    fast with the trains extinguishing
    behind us


*****

Friday, May 26, 2017

#232: "Blind Spot" by Roy Kesey

                                                                                                

~This story was previously published in Harpur Palate (2005).


  
            It’s early, just barely light, and driving to work I get the feeling again, a car hanging right in my blind spot. I whip around but the street is empty as far back as I can see. That’s always how it happens. Things go bad sometimes.
            A few minutes later the feeling comes again, and I check my mirrors, catch a glimpse of a dented grill. I’ve never gotten a good look at the car so I’m not sure how I know it’s a blue convertible. I’ve never seen the driver, no idea who he is, but he’s been showing up more and more often, cutting it closer and closer. I whip around again and the street is still empty and you don’t have to tell me how weird this is. I know how weird it is.
            I get to the warehouse, shut off the engine and just sit quiet until Goat pulls up alongside. Yesterday Old Red sent Goat and me to the docks to see about a crate. It went a little rough, and Goat got his arm broken, and now he’s wearing one of those fiberglass casts, only this one’s bright orange, so I hassle him a bit.
            We go inside and say hi to Vid and Marty. Nobody wants poker or rummy this early so we just sit there and smoke. Something’s happening, no question, but we never get told until it’s time to go, and for the moment we’re twitchy like spiders.
            We watch seagulls for a while. We watch tugs and scows. We tell stories and ask each other what about lunch, and then Old Red comes out of the office, waves me and Vid to the Cutlass, tells me to drive.
            - I got a thing in my eye, I say.
            - What kind of thing? says Vid.
            - I don’t know, maybe some sawdust.
            - You got a hankie, so use it, says Old Red.
            - Vid knows how to drive too, I say.
            - If I wanted Vid to drive, I’d have told him to drive.
            I take out my hankie and pretend for a second, get in and start the engine, and we’re not ten minutes out when that fucker in the blue convertible slides into my blind spot again.
            - Take a right at the light, says Old Red.
            I nod, signal, catch a glint off the convertible’s windshield, look back at the empty lane, look again fast and there’s still nothing there. I ease over, make the turn and speed up.
            - Since when do you drive like a hundred years old? says Vid.
            - Leave him alone, says Old Red.
            So he knows something’s wrong, which isn’t what either of us needs. Old Red always has things on his mind but lately it’s been worse. He points us down to a Chinese restaurant with dirty windows and peeling paint. In the back there’s fifty or sixty small boxes wrapped tight. Then there’s some kind of problem, and before things get cleared up I take a shot to the nose, gives me a real gusher, but it’s mostly stopped by the time we get back to the warehouse.
            - Nobody teach you to duck? says Goat.
            I look at him and he goes back to watching seagulls until Old Red comes and tells us to unload. He leaves with Marty and Vid, and it takes Goat and me almost an hour to put all the boxes away.