Daniel Uncapher

Vanishing Point

Sam afraid of Sam the sandman, bound handy, blue flowers underfoot. Winter exposure, and if yes smaller rooms than to each to her or to her own, colder weather. Mask collector: assassin mask, drinker mask, milk-drinker this for that, wealthier or not, unhealthy human habits in unmasked faces and she called it Samson, thrasher-in-the-dust. Sam the Samnite, fifth prefect of Judaea year 26 killer-Christ unemancipated, shorter winter less than magic, Christmas notwithstanding not alone, without that open spanning night and in that hot side-of-the-road anticipation, black forest wall to no avail, without nothing. She sat at the foot of her bed playing video games with herself in this imaginary state-of-mind, flight or free, full of boundary, and they woke that night the aggressor, sickwards pants forward, old maid the confessor. Soft looker so-called the parable, me about me, for example the prodigal son not one she understood well at all; it remained a mystery even as she came to terms with far more impenetrable myths. Went to play felt distinct new feelings. The effects of candles in cold spaces, worn muslin, relentlessly didactic, audio player, cold smell of single panes — replace them, glazier! Special benthic layer, line behind her and her world of her childlike her awe, so broken, sources of angst and despair, nothing connects, non-adhesive, disconnected tissue, nothing seemed connected then, it was constant anguish. Meaning without mark, presence without trace, no motion, full falter the faltering forward, on — so on trouncing downward, overdrawn. The subjugation of the Samnites and Samson go down without grace. Safe without skin in the toxic secretion, the suprastructure of mappable worlds, surface-reminiscence. She set herself apart by the movements she had no control of, the tectonic plates, the arrangement of atoms, the circumlocution of planets and stars. Mispronounced names, no correctors, non-reciprocal faith. The difference between an encyclopedia a reference guide a bibliography, hagiograph, macrophage. The defining quality of things: 10,000 performative verbs in a dictionary. Take her to task. Dressage, dancing horses, arrow-time. The message was clear: Samson Option, world obliterator. Two already, more to come; something to eat, something too sweet, something eaten, something weak. Ships crashing from the sky. Dead Philistines, empty coast, dry canopies. The parable of the prodigal son went on undeciphered. Nothing changed in her heart. She reached out if blindly in every direction but alas just two hands, just two directions, two simultaneities. Hubble-like hyperopia — the vision ends at reception. Samnite to Samson, collapser of pillars, under rocks now Sam, hypnogenic, surpassing Sam no longer of the world; only Samsara, the surpassive self, the stepping towards eschaton, Samsara who doesn’t exist, non-exaltant. The fruit has been picked from the plant and boiled to a reduction, the silhouette flattened into a single beam of asymptotic narrowing light no one washes, there is nothing to clean, no glom, no magnanimity, there is only Samsara, borrowed light, simply machine, only Sam sans Samson, sand without grain, waste no receptacle, and Sam as Samsara, who doesn’t exist.

Daniel Uncapher is the Sparks Fellow at Notre Dame, where he received his MFA. His work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Tin House Online, Baltimore Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, and others.

Marvin Shackelford

Far As Forever Gets You

They ran quiet, like the murmur of news on TV in the next room, but grew louder and nearer and finally exploded on the front lawn. Across the street, three police cruisers pulled into the neighbor’s yard. Kirk watched the last circle around, front tire edging into his grass, before lining up with the others. Lights flashing, sirens on a moment longer and then clipped. No porch light, none inside, the cops with flashlights looking along the eaves and knocking at the door. A Christmas play gone bad. Kirk tried to enjoy it, to imagine what was happening inside. Wouldn’t say murder, might believe a domestic dispute. He didn’t know those neighbors, barely anyone else nearby, but everyone fought. Things went south. If he’d been able to sleep, if they’d woke him, he’d have been upset, but he’d only been lying in the dark. His own disasters, plenty to think about.

They wouldn’t have come like this if things weren’t bad. They required real problems. He thought about dialing in an emergency, going over when they wrapped up, sneaking into an unattended car. They talked on their walkies, and one of the officers disappeared into the house. Kirk knew more about disappearing from a house but was unsurprised how the man was swallowed up, a child back into the womb. Flashlight beam and all. He wanted to call out, tell him to draw his weapon or run away, but it didn’t matter. People always came out, left a place as black as they found it and moved on in a squeal of light and wailing that sent a man deaf, ringing with what was lost. Okay, someone sooner or later said. Okay, Kirk said. Done here.

They eventually bundled a woman out. White nightgown, frosty breath, hands wringing and cuffed politely at her waist. A little gray in her hair. Calm. They stopped on the porch, the cops and the woman speaking at length around the gathered lights.

There’s no going back, she must have said. You take to the world and empty your soul into it.

Do you know how far we’ve come? an officer wants to know.

Far as forever until now gets you.

Ever light this place up?

I’m as lit as a long nighttime gets, honey. When I’m gone you’re still here. And here I am.

One of the men stepped back inside for her coat. Kirk gave up his watch, tried the bed again, lay with a red and blue winter throbbing through the windows. His insides stove up and broke. Doors shut. He knew what was gone, who they’d come for next. The house groaned around him, empty. He wasn’t sleeping.

April Fool

This year I won’t reward sleep. I won’t eat until I’m awake. I won’t drift when we’re sitting to dinner, when the girl asks what we’d like to start with this evening. I won’t have that last nine-minute dream the alarm clock makes. I won’t remember it anyway.

* * *

I will turn my body to steam at every opportunity. I’ll gather with the desert waters hidden about our home. The day will have to lift us loose with the heavy prybar of its length. Overhead, still distant and mooning down at us, they seed rain in the sky. It will only wash us loose of our fossils.

* * *

Along the road into town I collect soda cans, beer bottles, wildflowers. Most of it I dump beneath the Interstate overpass. Neatly piled. The semis and long traffic dive miles down the valley and roar through the shitty grins of my treasure. I take the cleanest, longest-stemmed dandelions home. You say you’ll be smiling all summer.

Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.

Stephen Nelson

The Woods Are Mine

1.

Someone was walking in the woods as the train passed. It was autumn and the woods were crimson and brown. It was hot in the train so I opened a window and let the smell of autumn in. The ticket inspector came and checked my ticket. He looked grumpy and bored, not at all like the man in the woods. I had nowhere to go, so I got off at the next station and walked back to the woods. The clouds were entertaining divas. The leaves were sad songs the man hummed along to. I wondered if the man was married. Another train passed heading in the opposite direction. Someone waved at me from the middle carriage, a man walking alone in the woods. I waved back but it made me feel lonely and frustrated. My life was spinning out of control. I had never married and the girl of my dreams had three children to three different fathers. A leaf fell at my feet and I started to wipe it against my cheek. It smelled like leather so I stuffed it in my pocket and sat against a tree. I waited till twilight. I wanted people in passing trains to see me covered in leaves. I thought that might be of interest.

2.

The woods were owned by the Duke of *********, whose ancient castle hangs over the river on the other side. Sometimes I’ll walk the length of the river, stumbling over fallen trees, just to reach the ruined castle. It’s possible I was a peasant in a previous existence but I’ve never been a Duke and nothing can ever be proven. Politics is of no consequence in the woods now, although once it might have been. There is no political answer for loneliness. Under the castle, I’ll eat a sandwich I prepared at home from the last slices of a Warburton’s loaf. I sense the deer sniffing the scented air, getting closer. The Duke who hunted deer is dead now and buried in an ornate mausoleum. Some say he was murdered in his sleep by an angry peasant. I don’t know the truth about that but I want to leave a piece of my sandwich under the castle for the deer. A rainbow drops over the castle into the river. The people of the parish have never been happier, now that the Duke is dead.

3.

Deep in the woods there’s a convent, and a garden in the convent where the nuns walk and pray. I watched them from a distance, imagining we were married. One time I approached and asked the nuns to exorcise my demons. The left side of my body was a dark, damp bog. The nuns carried on rejoicing, unused to men and requests for exorcisms. Eventually I left and lay in a stream to ease the pain in my body. Everything in me was empty and rattled like an old sack of rubbish. I imagined the nuns in a shower of leaves, hoping the stream could bring some uniformity at least. My wet clothes gripped me. A train passed, rattling like an old metallic ghost. Someone saw a man lying in his clothes in a stream like a ghost. Someone else prayed.

4.

There’s a crumbling wall in a clearing in the woods. I sat on top and waited for a train to pass, wondering about the wall. Brambles grew at the foot of the wall and I kept thinking I might fall into them. Some of the brambles had been nibbled by deer. The wall was once part of a storehouse the nuns used when the war was on. I dropped from the wall and collected brambles for my journey. I was travelling back to the war. A train passed full of school kids. Can you take me back to the war, I shouted. The kids waved but some shouted weirdo and perv and some hadn’t even heard of the war. I ate the brambles and drank from a stream but only ended up back at the wall. I sat on top and knew the war was nearer than I could ever imagine.

5.

At sundown I met the man I’d seen from the train. He looked afraid and backed away into the woods as I held out my hand for him to shake. People used to call me Fox and I admit I hadn’t washed for days. My hand smelled of earth and river water and was rough like a rotting leaf. If only he knew how much I’d admired him from the train while he walked alone in the woods. I don’t have any heroes left but there’s a song I like which seems to say it all. It occurred to me I hadn’t eaten since I’d finished the Warburton’s loaf. The only way to make friends of the deer was to leave a trail of food for them. In a wave of bitterness I concluded the man had no clue there were deer in the woods and even if he saw one he’d probably be ashamed of being alone in that environment. At least in my loneliness I could reverence the deer.

Stephen Nelson is the author of several books of poetry, including a Xerolage of visual poetry called Arcturian Punctuation (Xexoxial Editions). He exhibits vispo around the world and has published poetry internationally. Find him at afterlights-vispo.tumblr.com.

Jefferson Navicky

The Butler’s Life

Mark has left for work. He said he’d send a patrol car every hour and look into a Cease & Desist. But I know none of that is necessary. The butler wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. He’s too good a servant.

The butler is out in the garden. He took up his post yesterday. He looks very dignified standing rigid among the squash. He really was born to serve. His back is so straight you could use it as a tomato stake. Black coat and tails, a white napkin folded over his forearm. His shoes, we think, must be suffering in the garden dirt and the butler won’t like that, but he’s too good a servant to abandon his post. He’s also got, we notice through the kitchen window, quite a sunburn on his bald spot. Little Daniel thinks to bring him out a baseball cap, but he, of course, refuses. Little Daniel cries when he returns inside.

It was early in our marriage when I started calling him the butler. He was simply so good at serving people, at serving me, so thoughtful, so helpful, that it seemed like a natural nickname to me. Then we had Little Daniel together and the world got small. One thing led to another, sadness upon sadness, and I met Mark at an Indians game in the beer line. Mark says there are two things that can happen to a person after a break up: you can either get better or get worse, but you can’t stay the same. You can either acknowledge the karmic rightness of what’s happening and make the best of it, or you can fight against it and make life miserable.

Some rain last night, but still the butler will not abandon his post among the squash. Mark says he’ll snap out of it, don’t worry. But I can’t help myself, I worry. I’m a professional worrier. The butler is a bit sun-faded now, which of course is not his fault. Is it me, or is he wilting a little? Still straight, but imperceptibly bent?

So I take my coffee out to the garden. I do a little weeding before I say, I release you from your service, Jeff. You can’t really do this, here, it’s not right. You’re not a butler. It’s a bit much.

I go inside to do some laundry, breathe, and when I look back out to the garden, the butler is gone. My chest almost cracks in two at his absence and at all the posts we’ve abandoned.

Moon Park

I’m going to give you a magic nose, Spoonman said and placed it over the top of the little boy’s nose. So you can smell all the smells under the smells. They were in the back seat of the car on its way to the beach.

I smell poop, the little boy said. I’m going to poop in your mouth. You’re going to eat poop.

Don’t say poop, his mother said from the passenger’s seat. It’s not nice. And it gets you all riled up.

It doesn’t matter, his father said. He’s on vacation. Let him say what he wants.

I’m going to give you a magic set of ears, so you can hear what’s really there, Spoonman said and hung them from the little boy’s ears.

I hear poop, the little boy said. There’s poop dripping out of my ears.

Okay, that’s enough, his mother said. Don’t egg him on.

For Christ’s sake, his father said. Let the kid be.

They arrived at the beach. The waves went out, came back gentle. There was a breeze like the ages. The little boy dug in the sand. He pulled his hands through the sand with a backhoe’s burden. The mother read a magazine. The father squinted at the horizon. Spoonman tried to sleep.

The little boy came up to Spoonman with a closed fist. I have something for you, he said. Close your eyes and stick out your hand.

The little boy dropped a golden tooth into Spoonman’s hand.

I found it in the sand, he said. Put it in your mouth so you can eat the magic poop.

Spoonman looked down at the golden tooth. It was scratched quite badly, but still held a buried fire.

Don’t be a pest, his father said. Go swim.

The little boy released a large sigh. I want to have magic teeth, he said, and popped the tooth into his mouth.

What did you just eat?! his mother shouted, but she didn’t get up.

With the first crunch, it sounded like he was chewing a stone. With the second, the little boy’s teeth started to give way. By the third, they were gone.

What Spoonman would remember: the little boy’s open-eyes as he spit the mealy mass of tooth shards and bloody pulp into Spoonman’s outstretched hand.

Picking through the mouth’s detritus, Spoonman found the golden tooth. He saved it. He knew the little boy would want it.

Spoonman heard the shouts. He rode in the car. They sped. How could you. Why. Luckily there’d been a pediatric dental surgeon on call. Luckily. What’s wrong with. What kind of child does.

The little boy crushed six of his teeth, three molars and a few others. Why did you keep chewing? the doctor wanted to know. The little boy didn’t answer. He looked down at his hands. The vacation was over. The mother looked at Spoonman. This is your fault.

Jefferson Navicky is the author of The Book of Transparencies (KERNPUNKT Press, December 2018) and The Paper Coast (Spuyten Duyvil). He works as the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, teaches English at Southern Maine Community College, and lives on the coast of Maine with his wife and puppy.

John Sibley Williams

Untitled {luster}

Flares only illuminate the ruined part of the road. The rest is a night so perfect constellations disband & the stars, one by one, blow out. Still there is plenty for the dogs pushing into the city to pray to, eyes wild & wide & red as a tangled metal body catching the glow off these burning sticks that circle what’s left of his truck. Blue uniforms comb waist-high weeds for crushed beer cans or splifs or some reason six blocks will go powerless tonight. Snapped tibia. Downed pole. Everything now dead nouns in a world built on verbs. Me & one parent & a paralyzed moon, stuck in our orbits. For all I know this is how our story returns to its beginnings. Calculate the trajectory with string then follow just how far we can fly with some push. & I can-not close my hand around his hand until I’m told it won’t hurt, as if it will ever not hurt. & now the dogs are pawing at something they think holy, & wailing. & a sweet, brief cometlight pauses, passes overhead.

Untitled {spectacle}

Why in their dancing for us circus elephants don’t pull the canvas sky down each night and trample our kids into soft little star-stains in bare earth, I’ll never know. And is there anything so damaged as a broken horse left to ride itself? Feather-plume, velvet saddle, so beautifully lost without a half-naked woman kicking dust and cool autumn dusk from its hide. And clowns all frenzy and laughter, angels until we start demanding demons. And then they stay demons forever. I’m terrified of what makes me cheer, that I’ll end up clapping whether or not this tamer’s head emerges unbitten.

Untitled {seabird}

Someone has misplaced a seabird so far inland this all seems more like fiction than just another Sunday lost in Kansas, circling a parking lot for the third time, avoiding the dark suits and fiery eyes of end-timers I secretly envy a bit in their sureness. To think the rest of the world is fury too. Not just this wild congregation of crows, hungry for scraps, broken by a single gull that has no business being here. Not just our bodies when the world refuses to submit. But the autumn oaks we’ve shamed in their undressing. And the clouds that cymbal and the swelling river and names we give to things that fight so hard to shed them. I think I’d like to believe in signs, that this strange white bird augurs something that only seems grave on the surface or that making a metaphor of man means we can harm with impunity or that hidden behind the visible a whole new world fierce as the world we scorn yet fear losing waits, hard as a father’s open palm, as forgiving as that.

Self-Portrait as a Hard Metal

Iron filings from where a saw wore down something solider than any of us blow about the workshop on little more than an open window’s breath. Tools meant for snapping, searing, and putting back together stretch along the walls, and pin-sized holes punched through the roof give us a perfect view of how the sky must look from the wrong side of an exit wound. More and more these days I hear my grandfather’s voice drill into the brief hush between hammer strikes: what is it you think you’re making of your life? If the true song of a man hums from where his hand reaches blindly into the darkness for another’s, even if they never touch, I sing best when alone, the numbing tremor of hard metals reshaping one another spreading up my arm, my entire body; slivers of what I hope I’ve made solider, useful, dancing weightless in the slim rays of light.

How to Build an American House

What the saw wants once sapwood has sung itself out. A hammer now that all the nails are flush. A boy after having most of his childhood pulled from his mouth like teeth, like song, leaving him a man. In any case, once the job is done the thing persists. The subject fades to object. Its verb loses agency. I am. At least I am. And the sun sinks into grass, staining the surface red. It’s good, for now, forgetting the world keeps going without us, that we are bright flecks of light dancing into a back-drop of more light. The saw hangs static from hooks above its creation. All the boards are in the right place. The child has a child he hopes will have a child someday. What is it he wants now that the house is ready for living?

Sanctum

What they’ve died in made sacred while what killed them is forgotten or forgiven. No wonder history is often pictured as a sky-bearing cross or a sharp cut of moon or an endless sea of candles in a guilt-darkened room. The story as some know it ends with tangled rebar. A shattered school. Empty promises made over a rich and distant earth. I’m more familiar with young men moving stones from caves and waiting for their fathers to call them home. It’s a ramshackle river we pretend to try to cross to see ourselves beautiful on the other shore. We are convinced we cannot be beautiful here. We find the signs we’re looking for, and they mean exactly what we knew they would. I’m looking for the world the world doesn’t like to talk about above a whisper. Some sort of unforbidden city. A beveled hilltop overlooking an impossible meadow made weightless by the dead. The dead here are so heavy. We may never be this beautiful again.

John Sibley Williams is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Disinheritance. An eleven-time Pushcart nominee and winner of various awards, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review. Publications include: Yale Review, Atlanta Review, Prairie Schooner, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Massachusetts Review, Columbia, Third Coast, and Poetry Northwest.

Jennifer Fossenbell

Preface to the Obvious

In the beginning there was hope and in the next beginning there was the vast metallic plain. Then nothing but vicious constellations with brilliant teeth.
Canis major, stalker Orion.
Dear Hunter, the impossible
distance between names and lights. Johnny the Apostle said an open mouth is what started it all. So jot it down. “Unmanifest” he might have said could he have signified.
Dear Broken Column, the people
laced up their brightly-colored shoes and into these have placed their embalmed intentions. Missing posters hung themselves from the disgrace of it all.
The mouths of the animals opened under neon,
swallowed every node of the Dog Star and shat pixilated tide charts. Sharp crudities gouged into soft furry surfaces.
This is where the goddess came in.
Dear Sir or Madam Firebrand, in the beginning was
the dayglow mythbird. She invited the Major to break her tether, and together they gagged and snuffed Orion the rapist, him begging a certain famous ambiguity.
She taped it, uploaded, counted slick
towers of hits. She harnessed scorpions to her flaming chariot, and they glowed under blacklight.
Dear History, I am one of them.
Waved a stinging organ that stands for exactly what you think it does. I sparked, in other words. Signified.
We travelled into everything,
arrived perfectly but in pieces, and dripping. This, she said, calls for a ritual, a cerebration!
Dear Shorn Beast, the animals are asking what it
all means.
Said she, let’s just come right out and say it.

Preface to Salivation

Mild      unction
or extreme mortality can manifest fangs. I vampirize myself in flatscreen with these boorish milk teeth. Eye teeth. I seethe burningly, trundle flat-backed and inbred out from under my heritage.
Obedience      climbs
my elbow, hooks onto my architecture from a twist of its straight-legged splits. Never spit-fire, less oil rig than spigot, less derrick than divine human pet, tended and groomed by one good book or other. Armature unhinges along the spine and gnaws at its joints with a terrific jaw.
Preacher       said       six
wings there were: two and two and two, and this was called a sermon. This was hard-backed petitioning for new eyes (with teeth), the better my dear to bless you with, to piece you with two wings over your eyelets, pinking shears jabbering on along your selvage.
I’m      leaning      in
closer to hear what you’re hymning about, cocking my good ear, shaking my tags to wake the jangling chorus in your wreck. The wear of wings is a ratty paper cutting, a torn skin.
The      original      toothless      horror
show, blue-blooded smutty as ancient clans of butchers and weavers, soaked through from wet centuries’ counting of bones and boiling of shrouds and biting of hands. Coming and coming unto us, omg.

Jennifer Fossenbell currently lives in Beijing, where she works as a freelance writer and as the Managing Editor of the Beijing Youth Literary Review. Her poems, reviews, and translations have appeared in exhibits, poetry festivals, and publications in China, the U.S., and Vietnam, most recently Spittoon Literary Journal, Yes Poetry, and Ajar Hanoi.

Louis Bourgeois

The Coward

And he just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette…
—Bob Dylan

Outside the window was a procession of Mardi Gras going on: huge papier maché faces from Anne Boleyn to Nixon, screaming topless women with tattooed breasts, a boa constrictor wrapped around a hippie’s neck, adultery in a second room flat, hand-clapping, a lot of green stuff, heavy jars of whiskey, a dozen real Indians…

Inside the house, Lucas and Kramer were not looking out the window. Lucas turned down the television and said, “Throw all the cats back in the boat.” He made himself comfortable in the worn plaid chair and stared tight-faced at the television, as if he were trying to ward off some unaccountable fix on his mouth. On the television, the two of them were watching what was going on out in the street. Kramer had an awful grin on his face because Jim Beam wouldn’t stop burning at his stomach. This was due to the fact that, during Fat Tuesday, Kramer made no apologies for taking big sucking gulps. Kramer sprawled out on the bird brown ripped up sofa and said, “How is the value of cat quantified anyway? Is a cat intrinsically worse off than a dog? Or does it have something to do with how a cat perceives life, thus making cats so detestable?”

Lucas, in a low voice said, “Cats are God’s children.”

There wasn’t anything left between Lucas and Kramer. This was due to the fact that Lucas still worked at the banana loading dock and continued his weekly consumption of acid every Friday night. Kramer didn’t do that anymore, as if he’d just found out it was illegal. And not only did Kramer go off and get a college degree, but he was to be married in a week, and in a month’s time, he and his wife were to settle down in the subdivisions of Metairie. Kramer’s visits to Lucas had dwindled over the years until they became something of a duty, done only for some distant respect for childhood.

Lucas, becoming rather nervous, said, “A cat is worth, at a minimum, ten dogs easily. I know you don’t like cats anymore, but that’s because you don’t look at things like you used to. Dogs don’t mind if you throw them overboard. They’ll keep coming on back with a full grin, licking you all over while they’re shivering from the wet. If you do that just once, perhaps twice, to a cat, he’ll hate you for life. Cats are moral. Dogs are too stupid for that, always forgetting, forgiving, neglecting. They’re always wet, too, a cat only gets wet once or twice.”

Kramer, liking Lucas less and less, said, “Well, my dear old friend, maybe cats need to change their ways. More people like dogs because dogs are obedient. They savor love, not morality. Cats need to loosen up.”

Lucas often thought of hurting Kramer with a lead pipe. He had one too, he called it Itchy. But during Kramer’s few visits nowadays, Lucas was overpowered by Kramer’s presence. Kramer had gained so much more than Lucas in life that Kramer had a tyrant’s rule over him. For instance, even though Kramer had told Lucas about the wedding, he had not mentioned if Lucas was invited. Lucas felt sick, sick, sick when Kramer said he was getting married, for Lucas was foolish enough to believe that a boyhood promise could be kept.

Kramer, with his insides burning, looked out the window and compared the parade outside to how it looked on the television screen. The camera held all the important context of Mardi Gras in the right perspective. It seemed to leave out anything mundane, superfluous, or disgusting. There was one important thing that Kramer had learned that he thought served him well, which was that you can never beat all the negative elements in life. Therefore, it was best to ignore what you could and hope that much of it wouldn’t come your way.

Kramer said, “I agree that dogs can be a little stupid at times. I mean, they can be a little silly, but I still prefer them to cats. Cats are just too goddamned mean and selfish. They get lost in themselves without thinking about anybody’s feelings.”

Lucas said, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish, a few times and then he said, “Maybe they don’t want their own feelings hurt, so they just keep to themselves, because they’re smart, they know how cruel everyone else can be. You know, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish.”

Kramer, thinking of his fiancée, smiled and chuckled like he was the most satisfied accountant in New Orleans. He said, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever thought of cats as cowardly. Cats aren’t noble or smart, they’re cowards. Dogs are brave and honorable.”

Lucas, grabbing at his eye, and dealing with a twinging lip, said, “Dogs are much bigger than the largest of cats.”

Kramer laughed and laughed and kept thinking about how good it was going to feel when he got home to his soon-to-be wife.

Lucas kept messing with his eye and sweated a lot.

Outside the window, creatures of various types crawled under a street light.

About a hundred yards from the house, and barely out of the frame of the television, six New Orleans policemen were hand-cuffing several rowdy, immoral, calamitous people from St. Bernard Parish. The trouble-makers were exposing themselves and shouting Maurice! Maurice! for no apparent reason. The police had no objections to either act. What did the St. Bernardians in was when one of them begot a contemptuous finger gesture intended for an extremely oversized horse-riding New Orleans police officer. Before the hand-cuffing was finished, several St. Bernardians had broken ribs and black eyes. A couple of them had very bad headaches.

Not long after that, a bare-footed and shirtless ten-year-old boy from Kenner had his foot crushed by a tractor pulling a float. The name of the float was What God Has Wrought, which featured twenty of the blondest blondes in the country. They, the blondes, were known as the White Goddesses. Each blonde had in her possession some form of technology never before seen until the White Goddesses gave their performance.

Nobody knew how this float got into the Krew of Eros, but it was by far the most popular. The closest runner-up was a float called Paraguay. It was an alternative that everyone forgot about when What God Has Wrought made its way following.

The ten-year-old boy from Kenner acquired a permanent limp.

When Lucas and Kramer were growing up in the suburbs of Kenner they swore to be different from their parents. They were to be real individuals. Lucas and Kramer were from divorced families and out of defiance, promised, with blood from a needle, that they would never get married, so as to stop the ugly flux of untruth. Kids from broken homes are often mad. When they were in high school, they still maintained this outlook on life and only went out with girls for ornamentation and primordial needs. They read only Existentialist literature and in their senior year started an underground press, but they were chided by their peers and got in trouble with the school and the cops.

Nothing had worked out. They were taught that it wasn’t in their nature to change their environment. They were beaten down and told that somewhere in their education they had misinterpreted the signs of what a decent human being is, according to the curriculum.

It wasn’t quite midnight on Fat Tuesday. At about twenty minutes till, the crowds outside were getting displeased. People were becoming careless and rude. A fat woman with a neon head bow was so drunk that she slipped on a small rubber ball and broke her leg. She was stepped on many, many times. Behind a dumpster a deranged man who had clear objectives went beneath, between, and behind an unwilling and very conscious woman. Right before she got into this mess, she had been looking for a corridor to the hotel. She missed it by what might have been miles. And Lucas had swallowed his last two hits of double-dipped coseismal acid. He sweated and sweated and sweated.

Kramer was indolently drunk; he turned from the television and caught site of Lucas having a hard time with the acid. Lucas had been eating acid all day long. He made little birdie noises, and thought his hands were God’s implements of creativity; then he started slapping himself.

Kramer said, “Another thing about cats, they can’t be trained to do anything. That’s why people hate them. They can’t be taught to have any fun. They’re so connected to their natural predisposition that it’s sickening. Cats are the loneliest of all things, next to the South American sloth. I hate cats.”

At midnight the crowds outside the window did not want Mardi Gras to be over and about twenty people decided they were not leaving the street, despite the police.

They were quite serious about it.

A black man from Algiers lost all his front teeth when he kicked the shin of a policeman’s brown stallion—a nice magnificent three-year old. When the black man got off the ground, he was a rabid, toothless, black man from Algiers (whose ancestry included cowboys from California) with a long-handled, thick-bladed knife. When the knife went in between the stallion’s broad shoulders, a bovine, blonde-headed, New Orleans policeman from Bunkie, Louisiana (whose ancestry consisted of stump grinders and root diggers) knocked the man from Algiers out of consciousness forever and forever with his gunmetal-blue club.

During this event, Lucas watched from the window and cried, “Get all the cats back in the boat. Dogs will kill you.” Lucas then sulked in the corner, trying really hard to thwart a bad acid trip, murmuring Oofish.

Kramer, reclining passively, and comfortably drunk out of his mind, watched all of this live on the television. The black man, in a body bag, was eventually carried off; passing right in front of the window behind Kramer’s back.

Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, an arts and education non-profit group based in Oxford, MS. He also the Director of the Prison Writes Initiative, a literacy and creative arts education program established for Mississippi inmates.

Lydia Davis

Five More Claims to Fame

 

Claim to Fame #2: Karl Marx and My Father

 

My father and Karl Marx both had daughters who grew up to become translators; both translated Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

 

Claim to Fame #3: June Havoc

 

My parents bought a small house in Connecticut from the actress June Havoc; June Havoc was a talented actress and tap-dancer, even as a tiny child, though she was not as well known as her sister, Gypsy Rose Lee.

 

Claim to Fame #4: Sally Bowles

 

My mother’s second husband, after their divorce, married the nightclub singer and writer Jean Ross, model for Sally Bowles in the musical “Cabaret”; their relationship resulted in a daughter, my half-sister’s half-sister.

 

Claim to Fame #5: Salvador Dali

 

My husband once, on his way into the Museum of Modern Art in New York City via a revolving door, looked up, saw Salvador Dali, who was opposite him on his way out, and stopped the door, deliberately trapping Dali inside it for a few moments; my husband then started the door moving again, ejecting Dali from the museum. He very much disliked the art of Salvador Dali.

 

Claim to Fame #6: Rex Dolmith

 

In Taos, New Mexico, in 1949, my parents in their rental apartment were bothered by the constant noise from the family in the apartment above them; their upstairs neighbors were the family of the Taos painter Rex Dolmith.

Lydia Davis’s most recent collection of stories is Can’t and Won’t (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014). Among other works, she is also the author of the Collected Stories (FSG, 2009), a new translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (Viking Penguin, 2010), a chapbook entitled The Cows (Sarabande Press, 2011), and a long narrative poem entitled “Our Village” in Two American Scenes (New Directions, 2013). In 2013 she received the Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Man Booker International Prize for her fiction. She lives in upstate New York.

Alina Stefanescu

At Inappropriate Hour

We are watching that show about the psychic and all I can think is how lovely the way her front teeth overlap in two places and how esemplastic all intergalactic hinges because I like her teeth and hope stardust will solve her work-life balance in pixels. That one child might inherit hypnotic snaggle-teeth. /// All I can think is children not ready for school in less than four hours no lunches yet packed and your snore never settles into an earnest jazz-club clutter but always this jagged shaft coming up /// rattle stroke out rest /// always this uneven paddle when we canoe. I think who said the bed is a boat. Maybe they were married to you. ///// The psychic heroine pretends to look tired with that extravagant yawn since bags below the eyes are impermissible forms of carry-on luggage for females at security check points haggard leaves one stranded yet all I can think is how I promised tonight would not find me awake at the hour when Steve has gone silent. /////// Steve has gone silent anyway Steve is an unlikely name for the barred owl who nests in the tree near our bedroom window but what could you expect me to call a creature who foretells our deaths every night for the past seven months one of us will die in the morning eating all the Raisin Bran we have left without milk I forgot // All I can think is how a promise might be less than an omen as a toothache is less than a broken jaw as a head circles the room without one single landing strip in sight all I can think is how perhaps you are a better person at the end of the day when all is counted you close your eyes and become a shepherd while I scan the foreground for what comes next as if it can’t come come home without me watching as if I am some pretty tv-show psychic who looks sexy when she yawns and yawns and yawns and ///// I am the liar who lives in her head / let’s call it a day, let’s call it a bed / but promises to be there when you need me brewing coffee and muffins with bacon. /// All I can think is three nights in a row and this psychic show but nothing ever happens. Not yet.

In the Car I Savor Scars

It no longer excites me to drive without a seatbelt. Old yearnings fall off like patches or sun-baked scabs; wounds of former-wanteds neatly shut; little scars with lips seamed tight; a line of children saying they didn’t do it.

A line is a list of body parts waiting: an elbow speckled by silver scar coinage; knee covered skid marks, standard staples; palm you can’t read given the white lines scrawled over original fortune.

It no longer excites to be reckless and so I sit behind a song for whom bass is a scabbard and don’t even consider plastic surgery. Don’t permit a revision of history to make people feel better. To say no one got hurt. Don’t allow what has been dodge-balled to dislocate the scar’s merely-decent dazzle.

Car radios sing about love and bitches and oft-blandished objects. || A burgeon of limpid-cowboy-bathos. || A busybody-bunting of better-business-bureauing. || See how the words get sewn together. || See how the story piles up. ||| See my scars, my streetwalking versions of shameless self, each step slurring skin and good paper. |||||||

These scars must be savored, I announce to the duck crossing which keeps us from flying. And have you seen me nude with nothing but a blacklight? Have you seen what a blacklight does to my body? Oh, you would never stop looking.

We Are Not What They See We Are

To leave a look behind is to be seen forever. Long-lasting looks which others hold against us as evidence of the character who shares our name. Lookey-there looks. Here-comes-cookie looks,               We are not what they say. Nevertheless, we are something they have seen and confirmed in a look.                The family-portrait pout we wish we could take back for all the explaining required every Christmas. The pout that makes us look bad at funerals when what we want to look is sorry and mournful. The contemptuous teenaging look which repudiates our claims to having been angst-free and well-behaved throughout. The unhappy camper look that demolishes our reputation as profound and somewhat sensitive nature-lovers. The girl of the wild in doubt. We want to be pixies but the look is not a pixie look.                Devise                anodynes instead, correction of original bad choice. Knowing better now, this era of anodyne-paradigms pocked upon our model houses. We snap eons of selfies to repudiate the looks they say define us.                We post selfies everywhere. Post and post and post until our faces freeze into selfies.     Then pre-selfie faces and post-selfie faces.                It doesn’t take long for expectant-selfie faces to emerge. We are shameless selfie-faced. Two-faced is not enough for us. Two-faced is a trap and we want more than two faces to the three-dimensional human form.                We are not what they see we are in that look they save.                The look is a corpse in which they bury us. Even if they bring flowers we say it’s still a corpse and we won’t be part of it. We improvise solutions. Snapshitshot.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. A Pushcart nominee, she is the author of Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), Letters to Arthur (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and Ipokimen (Anchor and Plume, November 2016). Her first fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the 2016 Brighthorse Books Prize. She can’t wait for you to read it. More online at alinastefanescu.com.

Dennis Barone

Vast Oculus

Away from the window there is no searing flash of light. It is enough to stop the blows of the compass. Images upon an inkwell, it is all very confusing and mute resignation accompanies this section, the sunlight and fresh air. At the shop attached to the assembly hall we used to sing with a weary expression anything that made us feel excitement. Another world existed beyond the armchair — like the point of a rapier! Yet I was happy and seemed somewhere beyond the horizon. Who knew the tremendous emphasis placed on school? The ditch-digger managed to smile. Away from home I was restless, brooding, and took to wandering the streets. The doctor had gone and I started munching a sandwich. Experience taught us to discuss success, but the words would not come. The idea was that in everything new we have free passage. Once more life in a metropolis existed between excitement and a bored waiting for half that amount, two pages well-translated. What exactly fascinated and tormented children? It was the same old story. Shortly before, we finally got around to an important lesson which could never be bound to money. It was good enough for the outside world. It was as if the church might scheme to stay on with last-minute comments. It was the short-answer type of question and the place upside down. It was the accumulated dead and the boys working longer for a few barrels down in the cellar. This neighborhood of problems and casual talk: the beautiful new costumes, the days of tension and struggle. The deciding factor fetched downstairs among salves and dance halls. All this was in addition to those dishes still avoided at lunchtime. See how eager they become? Strike home with the truth, something preying on the mind for a long time. It was here in the new building until late in the evening and the students had walked out in protest. But the crowd and the police and the teachers, everyone had an uneasy feeling that somehow the permanent record would be marked in pencil.

He came without money which means defeat sometimes. He was, in fact, lean and sickly. Beside his bed, there was a child. He was forced to stay in bed. It was a horrible thing that he had to do: the immobile furniture, the weight of sunken desires, and a sort of silence that happens every day. In every house by the windows the heart remains in the night something wrong as if dust and brushes. There are some flowers on the window sill, a tangle of unmown grass. One fellow goes away from the world, gets up with scattered ash. Another voice says not to fear the truth, to understand the neighbor, the houses, and this land. Don’t say, here it is and God-knows that’s why and of course! He may dream a sky, a grey mirror over the vault, a whole day at the bottom of laughter, reeds and geraniums. And look, is he going to gesture open-eyed and independent? In the darkness he’ll be irresponsible then bewildered by sudden light. And, as if this were not enough, the continual uproar of a blast furnace meddles and nags this damning sentimentality of personal tragedy. He cannot let others talk. He doesn’t see sweet words, these features of a face in the air and old worlds meant to be obvious and noisier then any required simplicity, an apology to the admired fine slang of tenderness and hope. But we are not through. Let’s open the words themselves, a word moldy and trotting on, anything — the wrangle of sleep and dogma and color, the sky, the utterly impractical necessary. He was born and he has lived a little bit with the emptiness of forgotten inky pens.

The world originated in ferment. Nor was this all. Talk emerged in a pure unadulterated form. There are elements held out to decipher between them a fitting memorial, a spin-off of the true practice. Birds by any standard prospered as a force to contend with until too many years later they became our last resort. Reaching out to the suburbs had managed to be discovered and that welcomed their nests wide. They had no pressing business and would neglect social compromise. In no case was it said that certain food needed to be served; that they eased themselves over monuments and lost count at feasts. What is noticeable between tradition and a lone voice crying against abuse needs to be added to so many perfect gemstones. Let us cast some of this in more sophisticated terms. Elites by and large must be seen as overtures to a creative and decorous order, an assortment of friends. And they mutely support an old esteem for nature but keep community gifts bound to their paper creations. Seen in this context, exalted reason advances enough of us to force all creation toward the very best. To pick a rose works through their efforts nearly all of the hours. Closest of all as a model are the fateful syllables, the generalized ethos of this wood and that holiday. Turn back the dedication and continually use the already-cited names, the best construction that can be made of its marble so violated and brought to our chests. The fields in the first two verses have been a source of great pride for us and the last line may be intentional — a bearer of joy — or simply abandoned for a song.

It is not difficult to know what place makes us examine our remaining books. These works have everything palpable and known, a harmony that makes us forget the incontestable. We leap from the enormous weight and follow ideas without bodies: poetry. Let us then lose the world. Memory holds the rattle and peaceful feelings. A few words become embroidered in thought that should be a nest, a house. If we want to find such spectacles spoiled, then stray from each letter. Everything goes straight to the fireworks when we remember who said suffer horror, nothing positive, whatever. Then bitterness and fear unite in thoughts that start here in front of a better heart, the very best one. We make the spirit, the other roads into shadow; the glow and the fire. We speak of air and the moment igniting. We go into the step that reverberates like white wheels that will never diminish the surface of the day. Under us, this sun and yours too — space, everything, an infinite spin.

Dennis Barone is the editor of Garnet Poems: An Anthology of Connecticut Poetry Since 1776 (Wesleyan University Press 2012) and the author most recently of Sound / Hammer (Quale Press 2015) and Beyond Memory: Italian Protestants in Italy and America (SUNY Press 2016).