Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#250: " Where the Highway Ends: Sketches of Denise Levertov & Mitchell Goodman" by Mark Pawlak

~This essay was previously published in Hanging Loose (2007).



“Life and memory of it so compressed they’ve turned into each other.
Which is which?”—Elizabeth Bishop
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”—Cesare Pavese


Preface
I came to MIT in 1966, on a scholarship, from a Buffalo, New York, working class family, a family where books were suspect and my decision to go to MIT instead of a local college surprising. I was majoring in physics when, during my senior year, I took a poetry writing class with Denise Levertov. In Denise, and her husband, Mitch Goodman, I found the intellectual family, and the wider world, that I had been searching for. Over the years, I continued to live and work in the Boston area, mostly in Somerville and Cambridge. My relationship with Denise continued as she became my confidante, my poetry mentor, my guide to a life of the mind broader than just physics and mathematics. I was soon admitted into her large but intimate circle of friends, social activists, and writers. This included becoming an invited guest at her country house in western Maine. At some time in the early 60s, Denise and Mitch had bought a farmhouse in the township of Temple—literally where the highway ends. It served them for years as an escape from the summer heat of their Greenwich Village apartment. After they moved to Boston, as it was closer to the farmhouse, they took off to Temple more frequently and in all seasons, as indicated in the following sketches from memory. As you read them, imagine the effect on a young mind of this couple, poet and novelist, well-read intellectuals, and political activists.

Summer
I remember flying with Denise in a small prop plane from Boston to Farmington. The twin engines thrummed as we skimmed the green treetops of Maine’s endless woods. It was my first visit, August. Mitch was there to greet and drive us in his Volvo to their Temple farmhouse.

There was always at least one other Volvo parked on the front lawn. Over the years, with each visit, I would find the collection had grown. Mitch bought them for spare parts to keep one aging Volvo running. His answer to inquiries was always “You can imagine how common a Volvo dealer is in rural Maine.”

The kitchen window looked out on a lone apple tree beside a fieldstone fence a short distance behind the house; beyond the fence was a broad, grassy field. It sloped up from the farmhouse to a tree-lined ridge; to the right of the house the field descended sharply in the direction of Temple Stream. A granite slab served as the front-door step. Denise and I sat there one morning as she read me the poem she’d just written: “night lies down/in the field. . . .”

Monday, November 6, 2017

#249: Three Poems by Bruce Robinson

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant editor, poetry


~This poem was previously published in Spoon River Quarterly (1991).




Dialing and Dolor
                                    la vida es sueño

            Selena’s on the telephone. Richard
is in conference. Philip’s on hold.
Rosalie is calling. Kevin
is dialing. Mark is listening.

            At the front desk Pat is decding
whether to be masculine or feminine.
Most of us have already made this decision,
some have lived to regret it.

            And where is Caroline?  Philip calls Selena,
there’s no answer. He calls Bob, but
Caroline’s not there.  He calls me,
I’m holding for an open line. “Mark, is Caroline there.”

            She is not. She is in the conference room,
speaking to herself, practicing eye contact,
practicing doing without cigarettes
for an hour and a half, studying inflections, weighing nuance.

            Through the skylight the sun lights
without connection or warmth; it’s working on a
concept, it’s on to something big. The sun is so much
like light it’s almost uncanny,

            As if masculine were feminine,
or dialing listening, sometimes there’s just
the warm contours of the telephone
when you’ve been on hold.


*****

Monday, October 30, 2017

#248: "Who Owns This?" by Nathan Leslie

~This story appeared in Boulevard (2011).


There was this guy.  He called himself Franklin, though I found out later his real name was Charlie Smythe.  Well, Charlie (or whoever he was) liked the name Franklin.  Not Frank or Frankie.  Franklin.  He was proper that way.
            We both lived in the gated community, Meadow Haven.  I was working three nights a week at the Meadow Haven Club.  It was an upscale community pool—just for the residents of Meadow Haven.  The developers carved out a nine-hole golf course, a pool, a line of Jacuzzis, and faux-clay tennis courts.  The works.  Not that most of the Meadow Haven residents didn’t have their own means of entertainment (pools and Jacuzzis of their own), but I worked at the pool anyway.  If Meadow Haven residents wanted to be seen, they’d go to the pool.  That was the difference.  My job was to hand out towels (if needed) and make sure the residents signed their name and address in the assigned box.  I knew most of the regulars, so it was merely a formality.  I was good at being friendly, at smiling my clean-cut grin and validating the Meadow Haven ethos, or whatnot.  I’d get an occasional tip, a lawn-mowing gig.  It was generally relaxing.  There was nothing much to it.
            But back to Franklin.  Unlike most of the other regulars, Franklin always came to the pool unaccompanied.  Of course, our bread and butter were the housewives and their rug-rats.  Each afternoon Franklin would show up in his black Nylon jogging pants, his yellow or green t-shirt, and he always carried a twelve-ounce bottle of Deer Park water in his right hand—in between his finger and thumb as if it were a cigar.  He’d make a federal production:  unscrew the cap, take a small sip, lick his lips, lick his lips again, screw the cap back on dramatically with a flick of the wrist.  He liked being watched.  He liked attention. 
Franklin was a short man with a short man’s complex.  He had an Irish-looking face, with a pug nose and strawberry-blonde hair.  Franklin moved quickly, swinging his arms wildly, as if he were power-walking.  Overcompensation if you ask me.  He usually wore a rhomboid gold earring in each ear, pirate style.  When he took off his shirt I could see the weird, faded places where you could tell he had tattoos removed from his reddish skin.  But whoever removed the tattoos didn’t do such a hot job:  the ghost of his previous tattoos was still there.  When I knew him Franklin was maybe forty—the kind of guy who was not quite my father’s age, but certainly too old to be my brother or cousin.  But I was in college at the time, so my perspective of everything was skewed.
            So I was sitting at the desk reading an Elmore Leonard paperback propped on a stack of towels.  Franklin came up to me.  Most of the residents signed in, took a towel, said hello, and went for a swim.  I felt this guy standing there, watching me.  Just standing there.  Then I heard the smack, smack, smack of gum between his teeth.  His breath smelled like apricots.  Great, I thought, I have to look up from Rum Punch.
            “Hey, bub,” he said.  “Do you know who owns this?”
            I was dumbfounded.  The facial expression I screwed on probably shouted:  “That is a stupid question.”
            “Who owns this?  You do, really.”
            “Right,” he said, still chomping away on his apricot gum.  He crossed his arms as if to defend himself against the oncoming I-gotcha.  “But I still have to sign in.” 
            “You don’t literally own it,” I said.  “But the development owns the golf course, the pool, the Har-Tru tennis courts.  You know, your community association dues and membership fees help pay for maintenance.”  I don’t know why he didn’t see the big picture, but then I guess he wasn’t the first clueless rich guy in the world.
            “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said.  Franklin had an odd way of talking—some kind of aw-shucks 50’s amalgam, with a heavy dose of the new-agey that emerged as we became acquainted.  He was friendly, open-hearted; Franklin always was.  But there was something else there too.  Something.  I mean, “Bub?”  Who says that?  Franklin went on:  he just moved in and he figured he’d see if we needed a sculpture in our lobby.  “You have to have a sculpture,” he said.  He said it might add to the “authority” of the place, the overall “energy.”
            Now you have to understand, “lobby” is far too grand of a word to use to describe the area in which I sat—despite the dues and fees, which mostly covered salaries and upkeep of the facilities.  Aside from the desk, there was a scuffed miniature pool table with warped faux-cherry cues, an air hockey table, and a cheap, triangular, laminated coffee table—management used it for fliers and announcements and the like.  For penny-pinching reasons Meadow Haven didn’t give much thought to the lobby; residents complained it looked like the lobby of a public pool.  No room for a statue, unless it was a little desk-top paperweight do-dad.
            I shrugged, but Franklin kept pressing.  How the lobby needs a statue.  How every lobby should have a statue.  How a statue brings the “energies” of the room to focus.  How a statue makes a lobby feel homey, full.  Like I gave a rat’s ass.  I just wanted to be left to my own devices—to my on-the-job R&R.
            “I’ll have to ask Lynda,” I said.  I propped my head in my hand.  “She’s the manager.”  I let my gaze drift back down to Rum Punch, hoping he’d get the hint.
            “Great, thanks a mil, bub,” Franklin said.  “If you’d do that for me I’d really appreciate it.  And if you want a statue of your own, let me know, will ya?  I mean, I’ll sell you one lickety-split, on discount.”  He made clicking sound with his tongue and pointed at me as if we shared some inside joke.  We didn’t. 
            “Okay,” I said.
            “Just remember:  I’m a sculptor.  I sculpt.  This is my life-force.  Help support your local artist.  We are part and parcel.”  Of what, I thought.  I just didn’t get his whole thing.
            He smacked his gum and signed in, grabbed a towel, glanced at the name.  Even carrying a towel, Franklin somehow managed to swing his arms. 
            “I’ll ask Lynda,” I reiterated, trying to avoid his eyes.  The guy weirded me out from the word go.  I guess there are worse things; he was memorable. 
            Then I let Franklin dissolve into the background.  Went back to my Rum Punch.

Monday, October 23, 2017

#247: Three Poems by Shahé Mankerian

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry

~ This poem was previously published in The New Guard Literary Review (2011).



The Mosaic of the Missing

We found the doll’s head
rolled under the chassis
of the charred Mercedes,

then one plastic sandal
on the cracked manhole.
Her mother fell

on the sidewalk, staring
at the feet of the crowd
that circled the bomb crater

like crows. They found
her braided pigtail twisted
around the telephone wire.

We heard the choked whisper
of the mother get louder.
“Ya, Souraia, stay home

and dress your doll.
We’ll have the damn okra
without bread.” We mistook

shards of glass for fingernails.
The three o’clock chimes
of the clock tower muffled

the siren of the ambulance.
The corner grocer needed
help behind the counter,

but his son was busy sifting
through bones and limbs
as if searching for souvenirs. 

*****

Monday, October 16, 2017

#246: "Getaway" by Rachel Vogel

~This story was previously published in Passages North (2009).
~Selected by Kenneth A. Fleming, Assistant Editor, Fiction.


            Ellen lies on a bed at the Plaza Athénée, idly stroking the satin coverlet. She and Jim have been on plenty of weekend getaways, but none like this. We just need some time alone, he has promised, and Ellen wants to believe.
“The water pressure’s weak,” he calls from the shower. He’s annoyed and Ellen wonders how long he will take to ease out of it. In the early days, a drink before dinner did the trick. Now, an entire bottle of merlot can’t shake Jim of the tension he wears like a porcupine coat. Ellen’s sister has urged her to consult a lawyer.
            “Should I call the front desk?” Ellen’s words sound foreign to her, as if another woman has spoken them, a common occurrence since the birth of their child. Spending hours alone with a toddler has atrophied Ellen’s mind. She barely glances at the newspaper each morning before flipping to the ad inserts in search of diaper coupons. She used to read Wittgenstein, for Christ’s sake.
            Ellen looks around the suite, which contains several furniture arrangements they will not use, and lets her eyes linger on a Chippendale breakfront stocked with porcelain knickknacks. It’s funny how all you really need is a bathroom and a bed. Jim would disagree. Their first weekend away, he spent forty-five minutes shuttling around The Four Seasons Miami with the hotel manager. Every room was too small or too noisy. When Ellen finally suggested they settle for a junior suite on the second floor, Jim admonished her. “You’ll never get anywhere if you’re willing to settle.” Where am I going? she wondered, but just in case, she kept her mouth shut.
From the beginning, Jim’s dark eyes and barrel chest made her heart dance in a million directions, and she loved his quick tongue. Sure, it had gotten them into trouble. Like the time he said “fuck you” to the American Airlines flight attendant and security guards “escorted” them off the plane to the cheers of the other passengers. But Jim’s unpredictability provided a certain excitement. Besides, you couldn’t expect to get all of the good and none of the bad in a marriage.
Jim emerges from the bathroom, a towel wrapped tightly around his waist. Ellen loves when he is freshly groomed—the sweet scent of soap, the rubbery feel of his damp skin, the minty smell of toothpaste with just a hint of his real breath coming through. She pats the bed and he sits down. Then he reaches over and squeezes her nipple. God, how she hates that. In six years of lovemaking, Jim hasn’t learned not to go straight for her boobs or her cunt. She likes these parts worked up to, yearns for a delicate path that meanders to an exquisite ripeness. But she wants the weekend to go well. If she offends him—and when it comes to sex Jim is easily offended—he won’t shake it off and they’ll go ten rounds. So she lets him plot his course, even gamely strokes his thigh. In another minute, though, she can’t stop herself from remarking,
            “I wonder if there were any more bombings in Baghdad today.”
            Jim, who follows the war obsessively, grabs the television clicker and looks for CNN. Ellen breathes a sigh of relief. She isn’t ready to succumb, not yet. As he works the remote, she stares at the walls, seeking inspiration. Above the bathroom door, the creamy paper is curling back, exposing a gluey yellow compound which casts a tawdry glow on the rest of the room. The antique furniture, at first glance so elegant, now suggests the tired finery of a brothel in an old Western, while the fringed skirting on a red silk divan dangles like a beaded saloon door. Ellen wonders how many couples have groped each other here, prostituting their better judgment in a last-ditch effort to blow some oxygen back into the dying embers of their passion.
“Can you believe those bastards killed off four more Marines today?” Jim says. An image of blood-drenched bodies and twisted metal floats across the television screen. “Blew them to bits with a car bomb and got away.” He sounds animated, almost gleeful.
Ellen wonders if the attorney’s business card is still tucked in her sequin clutch where her sister slipped it one night after a difficult party.
She wriggles on the bed, a twinge of excitement shooting through her. When Jim turns off the news, she is ready for him.

*****

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

#245: Three Poems by Kate Bernadette Benedict

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



~This poem was previously published in Without Halos (1988) and Pudding (1993)

“Early Lessons: Submission”


She hates it, they make her eat it,
she mustn’t leave the table until every slice
of cold boiled carrot is off her plate.
6:30, 7:00: she sits there, staring
at those vomit-orange pellets
on pink Melmac, stabbing
at them with a fork, smelling
their sickening odor.
7:30, 8:00: now and then she thumbs a wedge
into her pressed mouth, gagging.
8:30, 9:00: her father holds firm,
she has to eat them.
Her mother warms them up and makes
a carrot sandwich: carrot bits,
pocked with mayo, poking
out of soft white Wonder bread.
It feels moist and lumpy in her hands
but the ruse helps.
She gets most of it down
and is released to one TV show,
a cupcake, her sheltering bed.
Then it’s time for breakfast.
They feed her boiled eggs
with raw running whites,
and orange juice, mossy with pulp,
and bacon, blubbery with slick fat,
and she hates it and has to eat it.


*****

Monday, September 18, 2017

#244: "Go Back to Where You Came From" by Rita Ciresi


~This essay previously appeared in Divergent Voices (2014).

            Like everything else in our house that plugs into a (working) electrical socket, the record player comes on The Truck. My father knows a guy. Who knows a guy. Who knows a guy. You never know which guy will barrel The Truck up our steep asphalt driveway: Ugly. Shorty. The Schnozz. Big Willy.
            Whoever si chiama, the guy flings open the back of the truck and deposits the unsealed box on the back porch. No money changes hands, at least in front of my mother. 
            I don't ask no questions, Ma says.
            The record player comes in the swankiest color of 1967: avocado green. My three sisters and I haul it into the living room and drop to our knees to worship it—like it's the Archbishop's gold ring that contains a sliver of Christ's cross. 
            Sister Uno plugs it in. Sister Due puts the 45 on the turntable. Sister Tre pushes the lever that makes the record drop and the arm lurch over. 
            The speakers screech.
            I cover my ears. The record player is a piece-a-shit, like everything else in our house—the washing machine that doesn't wash, the dryer that doesn't dry, the baccaus that clogs so often I am terrified to cacca in it.
            Needs a needle, Sister Uno says.
            Ma heads for her sewing box. Sister Due digs through the Styrofoam and plucks out a silver stylus, thin as the slivers Ma yanks out of the bottom of our feet when we don't listen to her (you kids, you stunod kids, you don't listen to me, you never listen!), and walk barefoot on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. 
            The needle picks up every pop and scratch on the record. Then a deep, commanding voice enters our living room: Welcome to Italian One. Lesson One. Greetings. Listen and repeat. 
            We listen. But do not repeat. 
            Buon giorno, Signora Rossi, come stai? (Ding!)
            Bene, grazie, e Lei? (Ding!)

Monday, August 28, 2017

#243: Three Poems by Michael Morell

~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor, Poetry



~This poem was previously published in Paterson Literary Review (2004).


The Ghost of My Grandfather

I.

It was a summer night in August
when my grandfather came downstairs from his bedroom
wearing an undershirt, scarf, dress pants and hat,
and asked my father to call him a cab because he wanted to go home.
Gramps was eighty-two, I was ten, and he’d lived with us for seven years.
When my father questioned him, reminded him that he was home,
Gramps gave his boyhood address in Darby, two towns from where we lived,
close enough for a man to smell the ham and cabbage
his mother cooked for him on special occasions.
After hours attempting to convince him
he lived with us, fruitlessly showing him his bedroom,
my father called for a cab, slipped the driver extra cash
and asked him to drive Gramps around the block a few times
before bringing him home. Fifteen minutes later
he was sound asleep in his bed.
Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you, son, my dad said.
Three weeks later my grandfather died.

II.

I drive to my parents’ house for Friday night pizza
and my eighty year old father, who no longer looks like
he’ll live forever, calls to my mother like a crow
home home I want to go home. Later, I drive my father to Darby,
where he was born, where his father was born, past Fitzgerald
Mercy Hospital where I was born. He sees the pointed brown bricks
of his childhood, overlooks new storefront signs, falls back into
1940 and penny candy, today’s Soul Food Store once again
Waxman’s Shoes, smell of glue, rubber, and polish permeating the air.

III.

I have always wanted to go back in time and meet my parents
as children, eye them walking home from school or chasing fireflies
on a summer evening, begging their parents for one more minute
of playtime before surrendering to the darkness, and now, here
my father sits, man, boy, dad, son- a mixture of everything he is
and was, time stripped aside, years peeling away like old paint
to reveal bare, clean wood, a moment where the sea of consciousness
is parted by some invisible staff we cannot grasp.

*****

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#242: "Permanently Cool: A Tattoo of One’s Own" by Alice Lowe

~This essay previously appeared in Soundings Review (2014).


January: The idea worms its way into my head as I start anticipating—you might even say obsessing about—my October birthday. While I accept my senior status and its dubious benefits with appropriate aplomb and all the grace I can muster, damn it, I won’t go down without a fight. I want to do something symbolic, something tangible and visible, something out of character. A tattoo—that’s it!—I’ll get a tattoo. And I’ll write about it.

February: It’s a dramatic undertaking for me. Once it might have been thought radical or subversive—foolish for an old broad, maybe—but not now. I read about the recent proliferation of tattoos on women in Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo, which traces the phenomenon from a Native American captive in 1858 with a chin tattoo to the explosion of popularity over the past 20 years. Until recently tattoos carried a stigma of tawdriness for most women, although they became a fad in late 19th-century European and American elite society (usually tucked away in places that could be covered by clothing). Winston Churchill’s mother—the infamous Jennie—had a snake eating its tail, the symbol of eternity, inked on her wrist. Janis Joplin was one of the first celebrities to display them—a bracelet on her wrist, a tiny heart on her chest. Now they’re a fashion statement across age and class, and in 2012, for the first time, women got more tattoos than men. A political statement too: Mifflin sees women’s tattoos as “badges of self-determination at a time when controversies about abortion rights, date rape, and sexual harassment have made them think hard about who controls their bodies—and why.” Right on, sisters!

Monday, August 14, 2017

#241: "House of the Ancients" by Clifford Garstang


~This story was previously published in REAL (Regarding Arts and Letters) (2008).

  
Nick—having learned from his Lonely Planet guide that the Mexico City subway is cheap, but infested with pickpockets—clutches his shoulder pack to his chest. He knows that the obvious anxiety marks him as an American or, at best, a Canadian, but right now, eyeing his fellow passengers, he doesn’t care. He’s been walking all day, like a zombie for the last hour. He’s worn out. The blister on his heel burns. He detects, via the low-pitched growl at the bottom of his gut, that he might soon be laid low with whatever it is that keeps Alexis tethered to their hotel room. And now he needs to know—it’s essential that he knows—that he is headed in the right direction. The guidebook falls open where he’s dog-eared the subway map. He boarded at Auditorio and the train has just left Constituyentes. Good. South, just as he wants, toward Barranca del Muerte. Ravine of Death.
As the train pulls into Tacubaya, a sprawling station where three lines meet, he slips the guidebook back into the bag. At least the flood of new passengers won’t identify him immediately. Unless the shiny Nikes give him away. Or his White Sox cap. Or his Levis and University of Chicago t-shirt.
When the doors hiss open, a family enters: a dark man with a guitar slung over his shoulder, a woman with a babe-in-arms, and two small boys. At the head of the subway car, the man unslings the guitar and hugs it close, plucking the strings tentatively as he sings in a piercing voice that rises above the train’s clatter. The lyrics don’t penetrate Nick’s meager Spanish, but the other riders, who nod appreciatively with the staccato beat, seem to recognize the song. The wife takes a seat with the baby and keeps her eyes low. The boys—Nick has assigned them names, Roberto for the older, and Pablo for the little one—the boys make their way through the car, Roberto down the left side, Pablo down the right, each with a grimy hand extended, stopping before every promising passenger, waiting for a coin or a head shake, or a scowl.
It is tiny Pablo, wearing green sweat pants and a tobacco-brown sweater, who stands before Nick, gazing up at him with wide, dark eyes. The father’s voice sails through the car, an arrow Nick thinks is meant for him, and Pablo bounces his open hand, a hand no larger than a cat’s paw, on Nick’s knee. When Nick presses a peso into Pablo’s palm, there is no smile, no acknowledgment. The boy breaks his gaze and moves on. At San Pedro de los Piños, the boys jostle through the rushing passengers to join their parents, and the family passes into the next car, to be replaced by a grim-faced young man selling DVDs of a rock concert that he displays on a portable player held above his head, sour chords blaring from the machine’s tiny speakers as the vendor maneuvers through the oblivious crowd.
The train hurtles through the tunnel, a passage in time for Nick, back to his Chicago commute, images of Alexis flickering on the black windows, their future together, healing the strain of faded newness, feeling their way toward something solid and lasting.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#240: Four Poems by Michael Hettich

~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry.


~This poem was previously published in The Great River Review (2015).


The Milky Way

If we could imagine that every word we speak
were an animal or insect, the last of a species
ever to be born, that the very act of speaking
brought extinction even before our words 
had been heard and replied to, we might get a feeling
for the vanishings we witness but don’t see. And if every
conversation were understood as a kind
of holocaust denuding whole landscapes, some people
would simply fall silent—as far as they could—
while most others would keep chattering on. Just imagine
the vast forests of lives, the near-infinity of forms 
brought to a halt with a simple conversation.
And I would be one of the talkers, despite
the fact that I knew what my talking destroyed.
And so I would mourn every word I said,
even while I argued passionately for silence
and for learning to honor the sacred diversity
of life. Just imagine watching the stars
go out on a dark night in the far north, a clear night,
one after the other until the sky was black.

Once, when I was taking out the garbage, just walking
dully across my back yard, a huge bird—
as big as a vulture but glittering and sleek—
rose from the grass and flew into my body,
knocked the breath out of me, then flew up and away
with a powerful pull of its wings. I could hardly

see it in the darkness. And then it was just gone.


  
*****

Friday, July 28, 2017

#239: "Old Men Don't Need Much Sleep" by Richard LeBlond




~This essay was previously published in New Plains Review (2015), as “Higher Ground: Old Men Don’t Need Much Sleep.”


 Old Men Don’t Need Much Sleep

I set out from Broken Bow, Nebraska, on the last day of spring 2011 to visit Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was the third day of my annual trip west from North Carolina. I grew up in Oregon but had moved east nearly 50 years before. Most of my family remained in the Portland area, and I flew out every Christmas. But when Mom died in 2002, Christmas lost its cohesion, and I started driving out in summer. In addition to visiting family, I wanted to revisit places from my past and explore the unknown. Time had also become a factor. My bucket list had gotten more crowded without having to add new entries.
Wounded Knee is the site of an 1890 massacre of more than 150 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children. It is regarded by many historians as the final conflict for the West. The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but is not promoted for public visitation by U.S. or tribal authorities. There used to be a small village there with a trading post and museum, but these were destroyed in 1973 during an occupation by members of the American Indian Movement and consequent facedown with federal authorities.
In recent years I have been reading more about the removal of Native Americans from their homelands, the forced settlement onto reservations, and the causes of conditions that persist on those reservations today. Books are dangerous. They awaken curiosity. They prompt journeys.
Since I regarded my visit as something close to trespass, I decided to bypass the reservation town of Pine Ridge, pay my respects quietly at the Wounded Knee cemetery, and leave unnoticed. As usual, things did not go as I imagined they would.
It was raining when I woke up in Broken Bow, and it rained all morning as I followed Route 2 through the green sandhills of northwestern Nebraska, the largest region of dunes in the Western Hemisphere. The unrelenting drizzle was becoming a threat to the outdoor lunch I had packed. On the road I look for a natural setting for lunch, but if raining, I look for a restaurant. Skipping lunch was not an option. A life without lunch is a life without meaning.
By late morning, an indoor lunch appeared likely, and Pine Ridge was the only town around, about a dozen miles from the cemetery. It was still raining as I approached the reservation from Nebraska a little after eleven. I had been up since 5:30 and decided to have lunch before going to the cemetery. I was getting hungry, and it would give the rain another chance to realize it had made its point.

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.

*****