About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom, winner of the 2017 Washington Prize, Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, New American Writing, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, Verse Daily, and VOLT.

Judith Henry

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Artist’s Statement

During my art career I have used various multi-media techniques to both explore and hide identity. I examine the friction between the interior life and public self. To stress anonymity, I have often used masks in my work. In this issue of Posit I am showing work from two series done recently. Beauty Masks is a book consisting of self-portraits made by covering my face with “found” faces. There are 120 self-portraits in this book. I juxtapose images of model’s faces ripped from fashion magazines over my own face as a mask. The images I have chosen to disguise myself are diverse in their race, hairdo, accessories and dress. There’s a stark contrast between the retouched and made-up faces and my actual hands and body — a reminder of the commodification of idealized beauty and a reflection of the fear of death. The second series, Casting Call, is a collection of almost 300 miniature sculptures made of detritus found in my studio, on the streets and in my kitchen. I utilized adhesive tape, push pins, paint tubes, sponges, cotton balls, swabs, nails, clips, screws, anything and everything I was able to glean. These recombinant icons emerged as an installation at BravinLee Projects in 2018.They extend my exploration of personal identify by creating humanoid surrogate identities that stand in for my hidden persona(s). The diversity of forms reflect the huge disparity found in any crowd. Having pursued a detached, perhaps secretive, or voyeuristic observation of people throughout my career, I believe that my work has evolved into a unique and revelatory depiction of human nature in all its diversion and mass commonality.
Judith Henry is a multi-media artist, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. After receiving a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, she moved to New York and started making art that explored the misalignments between cultural representation and inner psychology. She utilizes drawing, photography, typography, video, painting, sculpture, and bookmaking. Henry has shown her art in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Cleveland, Philadelphia and internationally in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London and Switzerland. Her most recent solo shows were at BravinLee programs, New York, 2015 and 2018, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, 2016 and The National Arts Club, New York, 2017.

Lizzy Golda

Stone House

A gnarly thorn bush,
like a giant yarn ball filled
up the breakfast nook,
and there was no roof,
no roof at all, covering
any of the rooms.
An abandoned place.
That’s technically what this was.
No one likes to be
abandoned but we enjoy
escaping problems.
Happy as I am,
when adrenaline touches
me between the eyes,
I’m riding a horse
so giddy she thrills to throw
me like winds throw rain.

Xochiquetzal

Come to me wearing
indigo with redwood seeds
tucked inside your hair.

My double the storm
approaches you with violets
and flooded houses.

Your double the drought
is ecstatic, electric
on the laguna.

A man strips himself
down in your outdoor shower,
just to be near you.

All the little seeds
of every fruit and flower
are inside of us.

When you rise, your hips
are golden and substantial
like the headland slopes.
When you touch my heart,
I am a tomato plant.
Your hands are the earth.

We won’t ever die,
I laugh with you, with my tongue
curled around a star.

My Face’s Real Shapes

Velvet, lavender
with gemstones, purple, plastic,
sprinkled on top and
pink freesias preserved
in hour glass shaped vases
and magenta lights.
An r&b song,
wistful and graceful repeats
in the other room.

I want the angel to get
close and kiss me,
when the earth’s fuming,
a calendula orange
like skies after fire.
A best friend touches my hair,
a keyhole between
my breasts in a night dress is
my world in order.

I just want my friends to see
my face’s real shapes.
Watching a movie about
a house from heaven,
with a chartreuse four poster
that needs repairing.
When the woman wipes away
the dust of years past,
the faces of goddesses
appear, like our mom,
exactly when we need her.
My eyelids rest: hammocks
between two small apple trees.
Vineyards like a mote.

The Dybbuk

I’m a Yiddish play
full of music no one knows
in a dead language.

Our language – it died.
They thought we were so ugly.
They still think we’re rich.

Pomegranate seeds
fall out of black gauche handbags,
into shallow graves.

Now I’m just flopping
around on top of your grave
because I’m earthquakes.

Silver candlesticks:
two double souls on Shabbat.
That was you and me.

My body shimmered
like heat on a summer road.
Then I was thin air.

Lizzy Golda has published poems in Prelude, No, Dear, Luna Luna and elsewhere. She was a graduate teaching fellow at CUNY Queens College. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at a high school and a synagogue.

Robin Croft

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Artist’s Statement

Nothing can be taken for granted. Constant change proves to be the only reliable point of reference. Equilibrium being as fleeting as life itself, one fuses an array of thought fragments retrieved from memories into a drawing of graphite, metal or wood. By doing so, the artist builds a fragile mental world of metaphor that lends meaning to his largely unnoticed visit among the general population.

Among the works shown here, A Taunt Done, eh? is an homage to Duchamp’s “Étant donnés,” which extracts the perspective aspect of his barn door, wall and the distant waterfall, then reverts them to an actual outdoor setting. (The wattle enclosure with window was constructed about 100 yds from the dam’s spillway). Perpetual Notion Machine (aka Sisyphus machine) is from a “Railcar/dolly” series of metaphorical self-portraits embodied by abandoned wheeled vehicles featuring absurd routines, introspective dead ends, malfunctioning equipment and failed objectives: A ball bearing sitting in a receptacle beckons the viewer to insert it in the upper hole, and the unseen ball makes a loud clanging that resembles an idling steam engine as it traverses a staccato path to the lower cup. Perpetual Notion Machine tacitly invites the viewer to attempt to operate manual controls, hit the kill switch, read the solar-powered temperature gauge’s gibberish, and blow or poke a ball bearing (the dilating eye) from one side to the other.

Robin Croft “draws” ephemeral, outdoor sculptures using naturally occurring deadfall, driftwood and stone. His metaphorical images reflect a love of draftsmanship that incorporates autobiographical and formal references. In a sense, the work parallels naïve art by avoiding prevailing trends and building upon rugged drawing guided by intuition. In the studio or outdoors, his forms address tragicomedy, decay, abandonment and homage. Croft’s production of conceptual metal sculptures grew until they filled his home and studio. Lack of storage space prompted making impromptu “drawings-in-the-wild,” essentially translating studio ideas to park, wilderness, river, beach or urban settings.

Rose Auslander

It

better keep its hands
to itself, better not
slit your wrists &
say you did—no,

it won’t admit
trouble
sleeping, won’t look
in the mirror,
will hold
no dew, no
slow afternoons,
or home or tide
swirling or otherwise,
would rather explode—oh it
refuses to feel
the wind on its cheek,
mouth
hanging open
crying out, it
denies pain, my dear,
it will watch you
eat your heart
as if anyone
would know,
don’t say I love you,
pant at its feet,
call it sweetheart
call it what you want,
its teeth
will etch
its face
in your body,
look
its seeds float
in the air
you breathe,
root in your hair,
it is twilight
sleep, the coyote
ripping your neck,
your eye
watching—please

may it sweat
from you, may it
sweat
from your pores.

no telling

it vibrates

flat then sharp
pain

in my own flat-
chested voice

& carrion flower says

ssssshhh
lie still
smell hot dirt let yourself
root down below
low enough
to warm you who cares
how deep it might reach up
in you don’t
picture horror show
tentacles let it
feed you earth water
swallow your toes rooting
into it like this taste it
let it hold your arms

&
plumped up

yeasty baked golden       steamy

in hunger for red

of berry, blood of lamb

it seasons me

in weeds & mud

until

softened, seeping  

 

I
become
frankincense,

almost. like
forgiveness
invisible, pure
sure
it
will be different
until
limp
I float
praying to god
to let me sink

& indifferent
slithering down

feeling        up
groping crudely inside

it rises
uproots

me       some tree       whatever       takes
what it will

bark       skin       hair       dirt       leaves

the floating thing

waking

its ashes inside me

lord knows why

maybe a breeze
from an open window

maybe I wake singing
just a note       maybe two &

it steps on my throat.
says smile.

in dreams sweating       poison down
my legs          kicking               talons
ripping, paunch bloating
pregnant with flesh it
licks. lips me. like
ice cream
says cream
on it. submit. let it rain in-
fection. be sticky, shiny. see-
through

if feverish remain
unspoken. curdling inside let it
slide in. & moan. the way
a woman moans pretend to sleep

let it

write my name       in stairwells & bathroom stalls
my holy unholy broken city / voice / song
beyond mending even with the finest gold       oh beautiful beautiful lucilla made money
from her body       so say the cloth launderers says the owl on the old urinal wall       so
broken beautiful I bend       I open

my skin still soft

don’t look

like I’m not

here, I can hear
myself singing

across the room—
come on now, watch:

men wade in,
breath seeping

through my floor—
see

look
the bonfire

in their eyes
no please don’t

mind the char.

rendered

its bony knees still
piercing

the soft spot
where my wings

would shiver if
I’d had strength

to push
it off,

oh

it loves
a good piggy—

Rose Auslander’s book Wild Water Child won the 2016 Bass River Press Poetry Contest; her chapbooks include Folding Water, Hints, and The Dolphin in the Gowanus and look for her poems in the Berkeley Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Tinderbox, Rumble Fish, RHINO, Carve Magazine, the Main Street Rag, and A & U: America’s AIDS Magazine. @rausland; facebook.com/rausland

Kirstin Allio

Adaptation II.

If passwords
were business
models angels

like locusts would
venture down.
Only old crack

pots like me
use old addresses,
as if to capitalize

or cannibalize
my own secrets. Every
one was a special

character back in the day.
Or phone numbers
still waiting for that weeping

girl to vacate
the booth fogged
with the primitive

bond of jargon,
supply-side’s
lopsided cycle.

I miss the taste
and touch of things.
Atrophied capacities

revisioned as means
of being on
line, production

of the wrong magic,
the thinning of time.
I use old

addresses in order
to remember how
I got here.

Adaptation III.

The phone is now never
not modified
by a progressive pronoun.
Both modest males
and self-possessed
females have spiral horns.

That coy is in coyote,
pausing unhidden
in a winter field.

Adaptation IV.

Fear of death is a strange virtue
To cultivate to deal with living under the owning
Sun and stars coined to describe the view
From the butt end of the earth,
The small-talk of birds like table salt.

What I mean by fear of death is Enlightenment
Thinking. The Euro-I, the aphoristic:
I have the same taste in masks
As I do in underwear. I’m always
Suspicious of people who have
Two cars the same color.
And it would be really exciting,

If somewhat discordant,
Were someone else to clear my bowl
And spoon, meaning men
Have hogged all the wars, leaving women
Shorthanded when it comes to the dishes.

Demeter

There was no one she could call
For help for days
Were long lite
Nights

And winter had synchronized
Its commercial breaks
To prevent the permeation of song.

No canary
No hack
Mule decked out
With headlamp could retrieve
Her daughter’s cellular
Chaff for the rape

Kit. No way out
But to wait.
Pain was being
One with pain.
Spring her station
Of the cross—mother

As original
Insomniac. Hard to imagine

The seed of a common land
Scaping bush traveling
In birdshit like a wild
Flower seed.

Dreams encoded
Out of fear of exposure
To a bright bland
Reason a stagnant
Season an anti-love—
Despair was no refuge and
It was easier to imagine
Snow in a street
Light on
Screen than
To really look
Through the dark.

Icarus

Wax-wings, thanks
For the prototype
Upright positions & lavatories
Like caskets:

Try stretching
The sentence in there
Don’t even try smoking
Carries a sentence

A genuine masterpiece:
Self-discover that genius
Baby in the aisle
The air as stale

As drinking your own palm
Wine, pee, ancient acuity tea:
In opening shot
After opening

Shot, the sentence
Of technology foretold
By the incubation temp
Of Mt. Rainier’s first

Name, Tacoma, tool
Of record, rising as if
From another earth, wholly
Unimpressed by human flight.

Wild

If I were that Rohingya woman who had to choose
which child, if the lovely
orthodontist pictured in the New York
Times, in dark
green (silk
slissing through seagrass),
had to deliver her still
born, hallucinating
drugstore balloons,

if I were the doctor with hairless hands
would I have paused

before the red rose on her door?

I borrow tragedy that trades
as knowledge. Yet
on a basic level, I’m groomed
for the drug of not knowing
why the grassy bank across the hard
working river remains wild.

(A crab with a side
arm side-walks
across asteroids.) No spinal,
I thought I screamed, no longer
sure which body
was mine, was my neck
in stirrups, my feet
on their backs under the doctor’s nose?

Some days, all
I see in the cemetery
are wives who out
lived their husbands
by hundreds of lives.

Kirstin Allio’s novels are Buddhism for Western Children (University of Iowa) and Garner (Coffee House), and the story collection Clothed, Female Figure (Dzanc). Recent work is out or forthcoming in AGNI, American Short Fiction, Bennington Review, Conjunctions, Fence, New England Review, Plume, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Brown University’s Howard Foundation and MacDowell. kirstinallio.com

Editors’ Notes (Posit 28)

 

It is with great pleasure that we welcome you to this 28th issue of Posit.

In these times, when discouragement threatens to become permanent and loss is increasingly entrenched, the works in this issue offer views of unexpected benefits and under-appreciated treasures – the silver linings of hardship, the x-factors of deprivation, the collateral benefits of constraint. In these pages you will find literature and art that makes grace from the found, the fallen, and the discarded; harmony from entropy; and humor from sorrow.

It is not only the visual artists featured here — Joan Tanner, Robin Croft, Judith Henry, and Sarah Sloat — who penetrate and re-imagine the undervalued, ignored, and overlooked. Michael J. Henry imagines humor as well as pathos in the interior life of a gun; Ian U Lockaby harnesses the energy of linguistic combination to spark unexpected connections; and Rose Auslander, Lizzy Golda, Bryan D. Price, Rebecca Pyle, Nathaniel Rosenthalis, and Marvin Shackelford synthesize value from loss and insight from despair.

We hope and trust that all of these remarkable works will revive your sense of wonder and even hope, as they have ours.

Kirstin Allio’s poems are marvels of compression and prosodic control whose wry and penetrating preoccupations wrestle with the challenge of adaptation to our digitized, mediated lives (Adaptation II, III, and IV); the bargain we must make with death (Demeter, Wild); and our problematic compulsion and capacity for invention (Icarus). In a time when we may “miss the taste / and touch of things” and recall that “Every / one was a Special // character back in the day,” the author warns us that “Enlightenment / Thinking” may yield too much “of the wrong magic” — “a bright bland / Reason a stagnant / Season an anti-love.” To embrace the alternative, these poems suggest, requires humility and courage: an endurance of pain that amounts to “being / One with pain;” an acceptance of “the drug of not knowing / why the grassy bank across the hard / working river remains wild.”

In Rose Auslander’s beautiful and haunting poems, despair is a demon that takes on various vicious yet beguiling masks to torment us, despite our defiance: “It better keep its hands / to itself, better not / slit your wrists & / say you did.” But the demon doesn’t allow a moment of contentment: “maybe I wake singing / just a note / maybe two & / it steps on my throat. / says smile.” Still, the self fights against the insidious “carrion flower says // sssh / lie still / . . . who cares / how deep it might reach up / in you.” At each new ambush, despite the menace lurking in even the loved guises of earth, water, or a breeze through the window, the self recognizes and captures it in the written word. Even as “it seasons me / in weeds & mud,” the psyche works to transform the “softened, seeping” into a beneficent essence to “become frankincense, // almost. like / forgiveness / invisible, pure.”

Robin Croft’s site-specific installations assemble found materials to explore the effects of time and place on meaning and form. Croft’s oeuvre, including his sculptures and works on paper, with their implicit and explicit references to such “greater and lesser gods” as Van Gogh, Camus, Kafka, Guston, and Duchamp, brings us face to face with the melancholic and bitterly comedic drama of mortality. Shipwreck Irene juxtaposes the locality of its materials with the incongruity of what Croft and his collaborators have so carefully constructed, grounding a ship in a forest, the vessel meticulously woven from the deadfall like an enormous basket. The same work “in decay” reveals its integration into its unlikely setting. In contrast to its challenging namesake (Duchamp’s Étant Donnés), Croft’s A taunt done, eh? creates a window onto an actual idyllic landscape without the shocking interposition of Duchamp’s spread-eagled nude. That work, like Pandemic Portal, with its vision of an arch reminiscent of a rainbow waiting at the end of our viral tunnel, seems to offer a glimmer of hope to balance the grim humor imbuing Croft’s works on paper, notwithstanding their reminder that there “ain’t nothing funny about despair.”

A life force animates Lizzy Golda’s poetry, which casts a clear gaze on life’s joyful and generative dimensions side by side with its pain, abuse, and demise. Contemplating the remains of a home, the narrator, observing that “No one likes to be / abandoned but we enjoy / escaping problems,” nonetheless identifies with the ruin, since: “when adrenaline touches / me between the eyes, / I’m riding a horse / so giddy she thrills to throw / me like winds throw rain.” (Stone House). An address to the Aztec goddess of love and beauty celebrates the fact that “All the little seeds / of every fruit and flower / are inside of us,” while The Dybbuk speaks for the haunting and haunted spirit of a “Yiddish play / full of music no one knows / in [the] dead language” of people “They thought . . . were so ugly.” These poems sing with sensitive attention to life in all of its complexity with a gifted “tongue / curled around a star.”

Judith Henry’s photography and sculpture delve beneath the surface of appearance, broadening the implications of identity by troubling the line between self and other, us and them. In Beauty Masks, the self-portrait is re-imagined and expanded as the self is multiplied yet hidden by magazine images, composing new identities from the expected and the ‘found.’ Casting Call repurposes detritus from the artist’s studio to sculpt a fanciful assortment of humanoid figures which evoke the multiplicity of identity itself. Henry’s use of juxtaposition and repurposing enact the complex relationship between the surface and the inner life; between the notion of beauty promulgated by the fashion magazines from which her images are sourced and a deeper layer of identity hidden beneath the ‘acceptable’ and expected surface – depths into which these works allow us to peer, even as they peer out at us.

In these poems by Michael J. Henry, intimate and often surprising aspects of American aggression and its existential angst are embodied in the persona of a gun. Sympathetic as Gun is — he “wants to feel good / about coining of phrase, knowing the known,” Gun is also like “us fellas, us boys” who are “all knowers . . . big talkers . . . always lecturing.” What’s more, Gun is lonely, “his body far from all other bodies,” perhaps because, even to his own dismay, his mere attention is destructive: when “Gun thought of a hockey game — / the ice rink melted and /became a tsunami.” His thoughts alone are capable of “smashing everything to smithereens.” These poems’ analogy to American meddling is as inescapable as their evocation of its pathos is perceptive: after the “teens running from the high school . . . didn’t seem to appreciate / the kind gesture” of his “kind” wave, we are reminded that Gun “curled up fetal on his creaky bed / and wept.”

There are practical truths as well as wit and wonder in Ian U Lockaby’s pieces on work on a farm where “the sides of the well collapsed, vegetable and anxiety farmed all up the sides of the water source.” In these poems, dense with linguistic energy and implication, “the meter is the motor” and “all utility must be watched.” Lockaby’s brilliant and rhythmic use of wordplay recalls Gertrude Stein’s arch linguistic play (“There’s water in the well, well, well;” “To nib with the dibble is to wear the long red gown of the weather”) even as it beautifully conjoins the language of the trade with a seasonal and poetic sensibility. We are left with the home truths of the laborer — or any of us, for that matter – but with a brilliant and elusive twist: “Shuffle your green and wilting feet. The work’s not over it’s under you. Rising up in to and through you.”

In Jonathan Minton’s evocative espistolary poems — letters, perhaps, from another civilization, or from an imagined future for us all — the addressed “you” is a powerful personage as well as a lover. There is something of the yearning of Donal Og in Minton’s repetition of the second person address: “When I stitched my mistakes into yet another monster, / you said it was fate, but you locked the tower gates. / You took my grief into a faraway kingdom, and built a room for it, / where impish creatures scratch the floors in the dark.” But the yearning is based, perhaps, on regret for a collapsing civilization as well: “The wood is dissolving around the nails and rare coins. / They are like smooth, lidless eyes staring up from their depths.” However, it may be that memory, like a lantern, is what will keep us going on: “I carry this memory like a lantern or a cup into its next sentence. / Something imaginary keeps it there, as with all ships in their harbor, / or swords that carve their plunder into smaller treasure.”

Bryan D. Price’s starkly beautiful poems speak to, and for, all of us whose lives are “held in place with safety pins,” “just / gesturing toward life and persisting.” Despite the desperation of their “cr[ies] for help” these poems remind us of “of trying to / be your beautiful actor,” urging us not to “waste the / command to go forth and reciprocate.” The harshness of Price’s assessment of his fellow “self-contained vessel[s] of putrid annoyance” also manages to encompass and enact an implicit belief in the value of observation and representation, in “render[ing] pain . . . us[ing] small words as bitten down as seeds” “until you have made sense of the brutality.”

The women in Rebecca Pyle’s mordant and witty stories live predominantly in their own imaginations, convinced, even to the literal moment of death, that “royalty really is in your head.” Yet, somehow, there is pathos in their preference for dreams and their perseverance in what they acknowledge as impossible loves, and impossible hopes. Both stories feature idealists who “could have found someone. But they didn’t want just anyone. Not yet. They were holding out for the perfect one.” Both are “almost-astronauts” hoping to dodge “the law of averages” by which “outer space . . . would kill you somehow . . . Unless you had extreme backing, extreme luck, extreme in-the-right-place at-the-right-time luck.” In Cartoon of Goodness the narrator provides a service called “Hold You Close” in which she offers her “sweetly laundered” bed as a temporary “home base, to which frightened almost-astronauts returned.” And in The Dying Plane, the protagonist is returning to the US, soon to move “to a huge numb city in America,” after a year away in “the red-velvet-dressed great sweet bed of geographical amnesia.” As she falls asleep on the plane, thoughts of the smartly dressed airline steward, Norse-named English towns, King Lear and royalty all mingle until she wakes to the knowledge of a disaster she considers “a tailored match to her despair.”

Max Ridge’s poetry is “Half mettle and half swoon” if not also “equal parts honest and bleach.” With charming archaic phraseology (“Grains green up / and the ewe doddles / probably”) and thoroughly modern insight (“That’s the shanty, and / that’s the turncoat / who made the check out / to scandal and personality”), Ridge takes account of the suspended time we are all cognizant of living right now: “the present, / where careful heroes sit waiting / for photographs to tint.” Maybe this “time vs time” we are living through has given us a clearer self-knowledge. As the persona in Hello, Caesura says wryly: “We need not be perfect. / I, for one, gave up good / in August,” although “When I love someone . . . I want to give them everything. / I give them everything in the wrong order, / or allow it all at once. That / is how I beach the thing.” “With / interpretation, inpatient warmth” these poems’ insightful and “provocative passes at the truth” can be counted on to hit their marks.

Nathaniel Rosenthalis’s “Self Portraits” address unvarnished elements of love and longing with haiku-like economy. The blunt candor of these spare poems is balanced by their aesthetic control to combine pathos with bathos and insight with humor. Plain-spoken and vividly imagistic, these poems convey the pain of abandonment and desire for attentions that are far from idealized: a kiss like “a tiny / desktop garden / of fake succulents,” or “embarrassing / underarm stains.” These poems confront the gulf between ‘seems’ and ‘is’ when even the former is far from ideal. The intimacy of their revelations is as courageous as it is funny, and their poetic craftmanship as masterful as it is modest.

It’s easy to envision Marvin Shackelford’s vivid work as film. He has an eye for the cinematographic glance that gives the viewer the complete scene. In the hospital: “The door to five was closed, locked, but someone the other side bleated like a sheep. In four a woman lay snoring loudly, a rhythm to her breath suggesting the tremulous ringtone of an older phone.” But Shackelford’s stories move swiftly from the almost surreal-real we recognize directly to the threatening deep: “And there at the entrance you shucked rainwater from your pink umbrella. The fountains of the deep threatened to swallow you.” In The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail, a brilliant characterization of a recognizable persona in our world, the “third living pope,” explores the tailoring of religion to fit a charismatic individual who “wonders aloud what the keys he’s taken hold from Saint Peter are actually supposed to start. He pictures Heaven like a cherry-red Mustang and Hell its fuel tank, launched into the backseat when it’s struck just right.” Shackelford’s secret skill is in getting the reader to see the irony in our behavior, and yet to sympathize with our frailty: “We weren’t the warrior sons and priestesses’ daughters who took this place by force and sealed it in stone. We were a disappointment,” say those left with a world destroyed by the storied ancestors in whom they “wanted to believe.”

Sarah Sloat layers cryptic aphorisms reminiscent of Franz Kafka and Jenny Holtzer along with digital graphics over archival postcards whose relationship to the overlying material is anything but straightforward. Layered almost ominously over these quaintly antiquated scenes, Sloat’s texts and graphics seem to loom over the unsuspecting innocence of a bygone era. Against our contemporary backdrop of Instagram and SnapChat, Sloat’s revival of the postcard is pointedly resonant, reminding us of the long pedigree of the bourgeois impulse to display just how far one has come from where one began. Despite the compositional grace and mysterious beauty of these assemblages, they convey a subtle unease: All is not right in Sloat’s worlds, and nothing is simple.

The title of Joan Tanner’s series, FLAW, exposes just the kinds of assumptions her art explodes. What, after all, is a flaw? How are we to look at what is imperfect, discarded, or no longer useful? Tanner’s sculptural compositions reveal the shallowness of our hierarchical and utilitarian assumptions. Her complex groupings of category-defying materials and unidentifiable forms ask us to attend to the actual in all of its unruly and unexpected grace. Tanner re-envisions the materials of utility and function –– unfinished plywood, tubular steel, nuts, bolts, netting, gear chains, plastic tubing, wires, etc. — in forms that suggest no recognizable use. Although she neither ornaments nor refines her materials to more predictably identify them as “art,” Tanner arranges the detritus of the functional in compositions that transcend it. By suggesting such purely “artistic” images as landscapes inhabited by figural groupings, clouds, and waves, or subtly biomorphic forms floating and dancing like birds or butterflies on currents of air or water, these works transform how we perceive, until what at first blush seemed harsh or chaotic becomes graceful and harmonious. Tanner brings out the hidden music in the everyday world we might otherwise ignore.

Thank you so much for visiting. Stay safe, stay well — and take care of each other!

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann

Lucy Zhang

Spear Against Shield1

A man is trying to sell a spear and a shield. He boasts that the spear is so strong it can pierce anything. He continues to boast that the shield is so strong it cannot be pierced. When someone asks what will happen if you pierce the shield with the spear, the man falls silent.

A man is trying to sell a spear and a shield because the rice fields painstakingly test his labor and patience and yield no more than a steady trickle of money. The patties sweep across all the land in sight, and a donkey trots beside one field with sacks of rice tied to its back and over its sides, ropes taut against the sag. An abandoned straw hat rests on the dirt, a speck of yellow among tiers of green terraces. The rice paddies stretch and cascade along the faces of the mountain, forming a color spectrum, the product of different rice harvesting times, and if he just looks up, he might think it a marvel of nature. The man looks up to see how many more hours of daylight he has left to sell. Customers spend much too long haggling with him and pointing out imaginary flaws in his products but he stays resolute: his greying hair and tan speckled skin from long days under the sun and wrinkles branching over his face–under his eyes, across his cheeks–fail to dull his discerning gaze, even as customers clamor for weapons. Last month, the neighbor’s son broke his leg and narrowly escaped the draft–and after the neighbor sensationalized this blessing-in-disguise tale to anyone who would listen (temporarily forgetting that the son would never walk properly again), everyone had been spooked into buying weapons, terrified of the rumored battlefields of men wielding iron swords and daggers and archers mounted on Mongolian horses. He tells the customers: if you buy both a shield and a spear, you’ll get one additional weapon of choice free. Mian fei. The magic words that drive sales crazy.

A man is trying to sell a spear and a shield. He boasts that the spear is so strong it can pierce anything. He continues to boast that the shield is so strong it cannot be pierced. When someone asks what will happen if you pierce the shield with the spear, the man responds: how about this gun.

 

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1 自相矛盾: direct translation – interacting spear shield. A Chinese idiom meaning: making a contradictory statement or claiming the impossible.

Playing Zither For The Cow2

The guzheng has thirteen brass strings stretched across movable bridges and a large wooden board decorated with carved lacquer and calligraphy. The musician wears bamboo plectra on four of the five fingers on each of his hands. His right hand plucks notes with such precision that even the children fighting over the last fresh zhi ma qiu, a deep-fried ball of glutinous rice flour coated in sesame seeds and filled by sweet red bean paste, stop to watch. His left hand presses the strings, producing an intense vibrato that strikes the hearts of the elderly performing their morning tai chi. He rotates his right thumb rapidly around the same note and the resulting tremolo turns the head of the farmer lugging sacks of millet to the market. He plucks another string, and a moment later, presses down to raise the pitch before finally releasing, the rapid alternation emerging as ripples, and the salesman whose shouts about discounted spears and shields goes quiet.

When the musician finishes playing, the children and elderly and farmer and salesman resume their tasks and he scoops the pile of coins on the ground into his pocket and heads to the rural side of town. He finds a soft patch of grass shaded by a tree and sits and closes his eyes. One of the grazing cows nears and snorts, waking the musician up. Upon seeing the cow walking in his direction, the musician wonders, perhaps the cow would like to listen to something beautiful, and begins to pluck notes into a song. The cow stops, bends its head down and chews at the grass. The musician incorporates Sweeps Without Bends, Two String Rising Slide, Flowering Finger, Moving Water Fu, Thumb Shake–his entire arsenal of skills. The music becomes so long and varied, it is more saga than song. The cow uses its tongue to grasp another clump of grass and bites it off.

The musician closes his eyes, thinking, perhaps the cow is too shy to show its appreciation of such musicality. And as he taps and strikes and plucks to the view of the backs of his eyelids, he wonders how long it has been since he last listened to his music.

 

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2 对牛弹琴: direct translation – to play zither for a cow. A Chinese idiom describing someone who is trying to tell something to the wrong audience.

Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work appears in Best Microfiction 2021 and Best Small Fictions 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and Pithead Chapel. Find her at kowaretasekai.wordpress.com or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Nance Van Winckel

This Before That
This Before That
The Meteoric Life
The Meteoric Life
The Storied Place of the Story
The Storied Place of the Story
Just Snip the End
Just Snip the End
Nance Van Winckel’s ninth poetry collection, The Many Beds of Martha Washington, appears July, 2021 with the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series. She’s also published five books of fiction and is the recipient of two NEA fellowships, the Washington State Book Award, a Paterson Fiction Prize, Poetry Society of America’s Gordon Barber Poetry Award, a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes. She teaches in Vermont College’s MFA in Writing Program and lives in Spokane, Washington.

Edwin Torres

CELESTIAL SUITE: if I’m talking to you it’s because you can hear me

: : : NORTHERN STAR : : :

 

look at how I listen
to the wrong thing again
— disturbing a sky again
solstice calls
for more than feel-stice
action winter tea cup spiral
are you still with your love
who painted mine — what we say
to hear what we hear
— poetry can anything
if you let it —
wanna try to shadow twitch with tradition
look at how I listen
— to the wrong thing again

: : : EASTERN HIGHWAY : : :

               — Sueñosima — when you see me — let me join this waking world —
driving for how long … and still no sun between these lines … for how many hours on the coast … with Spotify numbing … no singer’s lyric … no someone else … no summer sung at 4am … on a lonely highway … turn off and wait by the road … shuteye for a few winks
               — I’m all about the luminal
said the liminal … flatness is a virtue … for a dispossessed globe … let me close my eyes … and see if something else … comes to me … wants to enter … this prime season … of endless white lines … on a black year … past horizon … that gesture of … your turn now … to reach through what I’m given … not an ending … but a sequence

 

: : : WESTERN HORIZON : : :

I liked living in the not-knowing
I liked the fog I was in
when I didn’t have a clue about you

there are fewer chances for mystery
as I move forward in my not-knowing
fewer moments of genuine void

that freefall is exhilarating
I wonder if that momentary arrival
in lack of ground

is made present
by the clearing
or by the letting

 

: : : SOUTHERN CROSS : : :

to be animal at the crossroads
to pack knowingly spare
to step inside the crevices by avoiding them
to reciprocate knowingly spare
to elevate ephemeral half-truths
scars of semiconscious attenuation

I had you in mind
the week is beginning or ending tonight, so I thought of you

the scent of your outline
mirror to mine, reach back
through a poem’s longest line, made longer to prove a point
honor the lost image
the forgotten form
once fleshed in spirit

we invent realities to explain our wants
the connective tissue of missing imperfections aligned
by the edges of our flight
if we were to scrape the burn impaled by our aim
by the faceless overture of awakening to creatures
we’ve never been

a crossing I visit
often, too many times, in midstride, I’m there
head turned, in each direction
crescent observers
me and my crossing, both of us, wondering
who moves who

Edwin Torres has taught and performed his multi-disciplinary bodylingo poetics for many years. He is editor of the inter-genre anthology, The Body In Language: An Anthology (Counterpath Press), and author of ten books of poetry including The Animal’s Perception of Earth (Doublecross Press), Xoeteox: the infinite word object (Wave Books), and Ameriscopia (University of Arizona Press). His work appears in Manifold Criticism, American Poets in The 21st Century: Poetics of Social Engagement, and Kindergarde: Avant Garde Poems for Children, among others.

Hester Simpson

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Artist’s Statement

 

The echoes of childhood define who we are. We live in memory. — Benjamin Bush, Dust to Dust

My abstract paintings are founded in early memory, creating an emotional space that pervades my everyday life. This emotional space is what I paint. When I paint, I mix thinned acrylics to a pourable consistency, allowing an even flow over panel. I work slowly, building strata of paint in even, smooth layers, evolving mutable patterns. In this way, I record time spent, an accumulation of memory and of returning again and again to the activity of paint on panel. Color is the expressive component of my work, informed by dreams, memory, and theory. The interaction of purple, brown, green and yellow, for example comes directly from a dream, in which a visitor to my studio points to four colors on my palette and states, “These are your colors. This is what you must do.” I know immediately that these colors represent my immigrant grandparents, influential in my formative years, and essential to my present. While I play with systems of pattern and color, challenging what I know, I revisit these seminal colors during times of change.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke describes this phenomenon:

And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time.

Such change recently occurred in the wake of my mother’s death and the clearing of my childhood home. What has emerged is a new form which pays homage to the life of trees, and how they bear witness to our own existence. My research tells me that we share 25% of our DNA with trees. As I pass them on my daily walks, they speak to me of regeneration. I respond with new paintings.

Work creates its own time. — Ad Reinhardt

Hester Simpson grew up on Long Island’s north shore in the embrace of her immigrant grandparents. Her grandfather, a painter, lavished his enthusiasm for art in every corner of life. Today, decades since his passing, Simpson credits his spirit with her own passion for her practice. Simpson studied at Carnegie-Mellon University and Cranbrook Academy of Art, and has been a Visiting Artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Tyler School of Art, and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, among others. The highlight of her 30-year teaching career, however, is in leading and evaluating workshop programs for the homeless, the disabled, and the incarcerated. Simpson is represented by more than 30 works in the William Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, a philanthropic arm of the Harlem Children’s Zone. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Gottlieb Foundation Grant, a Wolf-Kahn Exhibition Grant, and three residencies at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico which transformed her sense of light and color, profoundly influencing her painting to this day. Simpson has exhibited her work internationally and is represented by Ricco Maresca Gallery New York City, where she has had five solo shows. Phyllis Braff of The New York Times has described her work as “mesmerizing.”