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.

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.

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.

Laurie Stone

Bus

Richard said, “Get a cab.” He said, “Get an uber.” When he said, “Get a cab,” I said, “I’ll call you later.” I was sweating, and my hair was frizzled. It was 4 o’clock, and there was no shade along the eight-lane road, banked with baking vegetation and fast food. I crossed to the other side to wait for a bus. A woman was on a bench in the sun without a hat, her shoulders turning the color of a rib roast. She smiled and said a bus was due to arrive, and there it was, rounding a corner. The driver was large and beautiful behind the wheel with red lips and thick dreadlocks secured at the base of her neck. The bus was cool. I said to the driver, “A waitress gave me wrong directions to my hotel.” She said, “Of course, a waitress,” sniffing. I was in Orange, California and I had walked eight miles the wrong way. I had a phone. I had GPS. Nevermind. The driver’s name was Joanne. She said the ride was on her. Once when I was trimming an agave in our back yard, I was bitten by fire ants. I thought they would not bite me because I was helping the plant. Joanne was full of life’s happiness. I stood close to her, and when the bus stopped we looked in each other’s eyes. The smell of roses wafted in and disappeared so quickly it might have been an illusion. Only poor people ride buses here. Everyone was a little rickety from exposure. I was watching movies about women who trekked long distances in scorching conditions with inadequate preparation. Why women? I said to Joanne, “I will not forget you.”

Stathis

I see my sister, this beauty. Brown ponytail, heart-shaped face, round calves. She has met a man. She is 19 or 20. I am 13 or 14, and I am in the city with my sister and this man, a hairdresser, a Greek named Stathis with thick red hair waving back from his forehead. He cuts her hair, and they go out, and she is in love. She is in love with the sex they have. We have a meal in a Japanese restaurant. I have not seen sushi before. There is some pain. He wants me to like him. He pats my hand on the table. He wants to be right for my sister. Let’s say I see his apartment. Let’s say he lives in Hell’s Kitchen, and there are cooking smells in the hall. Let’s say I find it exotic my sister cares what I think. I understand I am a go-between. My parents think my sister is made for better things. She is going to run whatever life she finds herself in. That is what she is looking for, to run a life, and everyone can see this except my parents. Stathis is under the spell of my sister. She is beautiful. She laughs easily and looks at people as if they matter. I am interested in the sex spilling out of her half-closed eyes, and the day I spend with them is yellow amber with ancient bugs pressed inside. Stathis has large hands, and they smell good.

Laurie Stone is author most recently of My Life as an Animal, Stories. Her work has appeared in Fence, Open City, Threepenny Review, Creative Nonfiction, Anderbo, Nanofiction, and many other journals. Her latest collaboration with composer Gordon Beeferman, “You, the Weather, a Wolf,” will be performed in New York City in December 2016. To read more about her work visit lauriestonewriter.com.

Dale Smith


from Another Sky

All that time I had been thinking what love’s wild terrain cruised, like a pickup in the dark on rough limestone, flint outcroppings. Some distant scene of youth — fishing or hunting. Along scrub oak trails a pretended wilderness interiorized like dream energy, an origin or self-sampling of how to one day be. Grow wild in cobbled destiny — it’s yours. A rare turning or value like a view of battered moonlight you had known. Drunks stammered to their cars the parking lot lit up. Loud V-8s like nineteen seventy something. All those years to tear one up with are carried in shadows by hackberry, walnut. A beginning takes root in quiet circulation of blood and nerve we are.

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A first name in the coming frame of identity. Dogs and rabbits, private pets of shared circumstance. The sky rains fuel and snow. Pear blossoms open. Reinvent origin to suit late tale’s completion. Côtes du Rhone and crackers. My children read of distant lands, allow themselves to raid pathways of neglected deities. Through a window snow passes a glowing streetlight. In my memory days reach toward faceless, non-seeing expansion. Breath and light travel my spine.

In a cabin in Texas when I was fifteen drinking cheap wine for the first time staggering to piss under hackberry’s barky roughness, I saw my breath against porch light between me and black sky. Now unsettled, another rider approaches. Her eyes widen as if awakened by voices rendered by letters. No ease of seasonal surfaces.

When I stepped out of the car I smelled coolant as steam lifted from under the hood. Lake, summer, jerking off in an Oldsmobile. Radio and a sad bird sound, not a dove, but maybe a whip-or-will like a forlorn Midwest fantasy. We would hunt at dusk and the older boys sipped whiskey by the fire near our tents. Snow hardens in April cold. The stories will not focus — they spill. A mythic energy being raids the old fields quietly for sudden amusement. In those days the woods pulsed with lore of unknown origin.

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Faded Polaroid of a man and his son by the crow statue. Cerberus toy, an ancient hammer. Boys laugh, “rough-housing,” my father said. They brush teeth in a cold bathroom while wind rattles our windows. Like a ghost, another sky comes to waken the gene domain. A corridor in the skeleton contrives wild branchings. Elms heavy with snow.

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Oval window sky lifts white to see. Linear stances, wires. I had been hoping to reach an old memory, a place with pop and candy. My father’s station wagon and hunting rifles. This morning snow came thick, wet. A snow globe intensity of whirling motion. In the window light invited awe. Slushy ice on my boots. My children mixed batter for crepes. Now the sky’s reach eases anxiety. A mechanized bell. Sugar cookies packaged in Savannah. Turbulence and word pace. Pakistanis deported from Lesbos. An interior ache no bodily comportment can find.

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Like Houston heat and grackles. Gulf wetness, sun, oak branches. Serial departures from old friends. Past selves pillowed by labor or expansive regimens of age. Tonight in my parents’ house listening to my father cough; I drink Centenario and pilsner in a climate for those whose heart rates have reduced to a minimal capacity. Blood’s hot glow like bright live oak leaves newly burst. Days to drain approval or moody sustenance. Learning always by love’s distant visibility.

Or the talk of sentences, the beauty of an extended line of thought; a corporeal arrival of inner adherence to outwardly mobile deliveries. Eggs and hand-made corn tortillas with green salsa and habanero sauce. Bowl of fruit — juicy tangerine, apple, banana. Pine planks under bare feet. Climate of the Swiffer—party preparations. And sentiment’s strong course enlivens directed ethos, devotion. The personal’s impersonal endurance where friendship coheres not as meaning but as arrival again into our now.

And to hold in mind the certainty of erasure, a body’s absorption into nation’s intensity. Migrant child’s head shorn at Greek entry. Bearings or entrance, an enlivening of tongues to train whose warrant? Sound of an owl shapes twilight. Suburban deer, a fantasy of returning, daring. Never here, as in “here,” but prolonged by robust orders of misplacement. To say how we come to see begins a jubilant lingering in condominium morning. A pattern intervenes — we entertain its prescience, a driven nation. Not even the syntax means what we say.

This selection is from Shine, a prose/verse study situated in Toronto with global overlap.

Dale Smith is the author of five books of poetry including, most recently, Slow Poetry in America (Cuneiform 2014); he is also co-editor of An Open Map: The Correspondence of Robert Duncan and Charles Olson and Imagining Persons: Robert Duncan’s Lectures on Charles Olson, both forthcoming fall 2017. Recent essays and reviews appear in Brick, Boston Review, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He teaches at Ryerson University, Toronto.

Benjamin Hollander

Louise Victor, "White Lies"

Louise Victor, “White Lies”

Woman in Kimono

 

Except for unearthing the memory, nothing about the story they heard at dinner resembled De Kooning’s Excavation. After dessert, Louise, whose densely subterranean brushwork of figures and faces could be seen in a piece she called White Lies and which was hanging on loan in Eve and Benny B.’s apartment, turned to Eve and said: “you must see this painting at the Art Institute.” Since she could not be trusted with them, Eve told Benny B. to remember the painter and the painting. Two weeks later, walking through the Modern American Art Room in Chicago, she turned to Benny B. and asked: “what was the name of that painter and his painting?” Benny B. forgot but had a big thought instead, which he articulated like this to the security guard: “Excuse me, we were told there’s a painting here we must remember to see — can you help us?”

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Toshiro had come from Japan to study portrait painting in Paris in 1971, when Eve met him through her friend Eiko — at least this is how everyone at dinner heard Eve tell it. At the same time, Benny B. learned later, Willem De Kooning had returned from Japan under the influence of Sumi brush painting and calligraphy — which surfaced in his inks on stone and in a sequence of lithographs the genesis of which took place in Hollander’s Workshops in New York: washed ink prints named Love to Wakako and Japanese Village. This was, Benny B. thought, no coincidence, more like frames from parallel film strips unrolling backwards through time, momentarily frozen in order to have the chance of meeting.

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The way Eve told it, she was only twenty when he had come up to her at the entrance to the Hotel Henri IV and politely asked to paint her in a kimono. She nodded, both of them trying to not look shy and helpless sans the other’s language. Months later, after the painting was finished and she left Paris to return to New York, Eve started receiving what she thought were love letters from him, which she imagined, so she remembered, in a childlike miniature calligraphic French. She never answered them, though the thought occurred to her more than once over the years, and now at dinner she articulated it: “I’ve always wondered if I could be hanging in some museum in Paris?”

As they walked outside, Benny B. turned to his friend, Nick, a photographer and film editor: “Listen, Eve’s 60th is in a month and I’m stumped on what to get her.”

“Easy,” Nick said in a moment of inspiration, “give her the picture.”

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“A wild gesture,” Benny B. thought on the ride home with Nick, but which painting: the one he did not know the name of or the picture in her memory which had been lingering there somewhere over time? They seemed almost the same, with Time the subject of both. Two lost works — fallen into a universal Art wormhole. If the second one, then how to find it, how to realize the gesture, how to uncover a 40 year old painting that could be hanging anywhere from an hotel lobby on the Place Dauphine to a show of Contemporary Japanese artists in Paris, at least this is how Eve felt it could be, when she remembered it.

If only she had been Japanese, Benny B. thought years later, he could have easily imagined finding her image under the name, Love to Wakako, which was, as both paintings were, invisible to him.

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Benny B.’s first thought was: how could the French make this easy for him? He wondered: if it was possible over 40 years for the enlightened among them to undress “the stranger” among them by making it a crime to wear the Islamic veil in public, as they had done not so ironically during the so-called Arab Spring, why couldn’t they take a moment in the next month for the government to prohibit the public exhibition of white women in kimonos only to more clearly reveal their unwanted presence milling around in the spaces of the Liberal State?

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No such luck. So Benny B. went online, the de rigueur of the day, July, 2011, a month from her birthday, and started sleuthing.

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On the virtual highway, people, unlike objects in the rear view mirror, seem closer than they are. This is what Benny B. had no clue of when he immediately found Toshiro online, just as he had anticipated. Of course, he had to read the small print in his bio to see how far he had come from the young man he had heard of at dinner. His career, it turned out, had a taken a graceful yet forceful turn. He had made a name for himself as a dan in the Aikido racket: a foreign art student transformed into a Master Aikido instructor who once took on a cameo in James Bond’s Moonraker before going on to train a random host of Canadian militias in hand to hand combat. Instead of unveiling a romantic saga of auctioned canvasses and signature brushes from a suicided Japanese Bohemian in Paris who had fallen on a ceremonial sword and then lingered for 24 hours, Benny B. had to settle for you-tube videos in which the man he was looking for was flipping people half his age with sticks.

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Benny B. latched onto the first email address he could find online, an Aikido club in France:

To Whom It May Concern,

I hope you understand a bit of English. I am trying to contact a man you would know of as Toshiro. I am the husband of an American woman, Eve, whom he knew many years ago in France, where he was an art student. In 1971, he painted a picture of her. I was wondering where the painting is located today, since I would like to surprise her for her 60th birthday with, if not the canvas itself, then at least a photograph or slide of the painting. I can’t describe it in detail, since I’ve never seen it, but he could have named it, “Caucasian Woman in Kimono.” There can’t be too many of them around.

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That evening, he sent the email. The next morning it bounced back.

He thought of writing another, more local and forceful:

To Whom it Must Concern,

I imagine you understand more than a bit of English. I am trying to contact a man you know as Toshiro. I am the husband of a young American woman whom he knew in Paris and drew in a kimono when he was a student studying portrait painting before he became a Master Aikido instructor and appeared in James Bond’s Moonraker. People like this just don’t disappear. If it were me, I would have called the painting, Love to Wakako.

It bounced back again.

When he was about to surrender, Benny B. enlisted the Sisters of Eve in his search.

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“Artists like this don’t discard their paintings,” the Sisters wrote Benny B. “We found a club in France whose President is Mr. Tong. Write Mr Tong.”

He did —

At the same moment, Benny B.’s brother Solo wrote: “Little American brother, if you could read a bit of French, it would help,” as he attached an image of Toshiro and some information in the other language he had found online. “If this is your guy, he’s in Quebec, in a studio. Try their email and phone number.”

He did —

The woman who answered was bilingual. So Benny B. thought, “I’ll try English.”

“Hi, do you receive the studio emails for Master Toshiro?” Benny B. asked. “I’ve sent him several.”

“No, that would be Nicholas, his assistant, but he’s not in.”

“Is there a way I can reach Nicholas?”

“Yes,” she said with a trace of a French accent, “I give you his number.”

In the meantime, Benny B. covered his bases, imagined what could happen, and wrote the Sisters again. They started worrying about him, since they couldn’t tell if his email typos and omissions and repetitions were appearing naturally out of his birthday gift obsession or if he was letting the occasional alien tone of the people he was dealing with get inside of his voice:

Sisters:

I may need some help tracking down Japanese guy. I give you his name and you can find him on the internet. His name: Toshiro. You can find him on the internet. What I know is he’s Master Aikido instructor who was in a james bond film and studied art in paris in 1971, when Eve was there. (I have his last name, but I don’t know how much of this I should keep in confidence, and whether — should I be scared for my life. Should I not be confident? As I remember it now, I am married to Eve and she never answered his love letters, so what if he gets curious and asks for our address when I ask for the painting and he says, “yes, I will send it, but where do you want me to send it?” Am I getting ahead of myself?)

Warnings appeared like pop-ups in his head, as he wrote the Sisters:

The man has trained Canadian militias.
The man has worn an iron mask while thrusting at James Bond with otherworldly cries.
The man’s panting black shepherds have chased beautiful women in transparent pink dresses through the Amazon rain forest. The killing always occurs off-screen.
His love letters unrequited, the man has every reason for revenge.
The man has an assistant.
The man flips people with sticks for a living.

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After hearing Nicholas’ phone go unanswered, but before writing him, Benny B. imagined he could be more forceful, maybe about the nature of art itself, to make the point about the importance of recovering this painting as a gift, like a memory print. “De Kooning once said,” Benny B. was prepared to drop the quote, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” Or, to press De Kooning’s point even more forcefully for this Québécois, “its raison d’être.

Dear Nicholas,

I’m after the Japanese Aikido Moonraker guy in Paris who got my wife into a kimono in order to paint her, so he said. I have no French, as she had no Japanese, as he had no English at the time he wrote her love letters she never answered, it was 1971, so I am wondering if you have a bit English and if you have it can you make a French translation for Toshiro do me justice for this birthday gift for her. Do you believe in justice? Do you believe in making justice visible? Do you know that Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented?

He trashed it before it had a chance to bounce back.

He tried again the next morning:

Dear Nicholas,

I was told you could get in touch with Toshiro, who was an Art Student in 1971 in Paris and who painted a picture of a young American woman, Eve, who is now my wife. I have been trying for weeks to contact Toshiro to see if he still has the painting, because I would like to give it or a semblance of it to her for a 60th birthday present. Can you help make it visible?

The reply was instant:

Hello again,

I can help you. You can reach him at this email_______. If this does not work, I can reach him by other means.

It was one of the emails which had bounced back weeks ago, so Benny asked for other means, and surprisingly, this Man from Quebec came through in the American way, what Benny B. had always been perplexed by and called out as “American exclamatory friendly,” evident when grownups like their teenage children could not help but see this that or the other as “sooo cute” or “soooo amazing,” or when a young woman dropped a cell phone right underneath her seat on the train and a bystander picked it up and the woman, not missing a beat, said: “Thank you sooo much,” or when a waitress who in any other country would just be doing her job brought a diner a napkin and heard in return “Thank you sooooo much!” and so Nicholas began:

Hi there again!

How are you? I am good!
Toshiro is out for now, but he will be back next Monday. I will talk to him then. This is a very nice story. I hope he still has a painting!

The Sisters could not resist:

“Oh, we’re loving Nicholas. Toshiro must still have the painting — artists do not discard their paintings — they put them in storage. It must be around somewhere.”

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And so everyone waited. Weeks passed — Toshiro was still out of town. Benny B. sent reminders. Nicholas wrote back: “I spoke to Toshiro’s wife, who said he is still out of town, but she will tell him what you are looking for. Yes, this is a very nice story.” And Benny B. wondered: why does his wife have to find out? The warnings in his head re-appeared. He waited.

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To remind him of what was at stake, one day, back at the Art Institute in Chicago, he overheard Eve and her friend Sasha, who had roomed with her in the Hotel Henri IV in 1971, talking in one of the museum rooms about the past: “Do you remember,” Eve said, as they approached a De Kooning, “Eiko’s friend Toshiro and that painting he drew of me in a kimono? I wonder whatever happened to it.”

Sasha, who Benny B. had earlier clued in on the birthday search, looked back at him with a quizzical smile, not knowing how to answer Eve as they approached the painting. “Is this it?”

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“Is Toshiro back yet?” Benny B. asked Nicholas towards the end of their correspondence.

“I believe he is. I will speak to him tomorrow, and I hope for a good outcome!”

The news was not “a good outcome.”

“Unfortunately,” Nicholas wrote, “Toshiro does not have the painting anymore. He remembers it quite well and sends his regard to Eve. I am really sorry of this outcome. I would have like to be part in this really good birthday present!”

Benny B. did not want to let go of this really good birthday present, but the guy did not have the painting — he tossed it, he burned it, he sold it, it didn’t matter. Pressing the point by repeating things he knew he had mentioned in prior emails, but hoping for a different outcome, he wrote back, sounding like a child trying out magical thinking:

Hello Nicholas,

This is too bad. I was wondering: did he ever take a photograph or slide of the painting? Perhaps he still has a photograph or slide of the painting? Or does he know what happened to the painting? If he lost it, or does not know where it is, then let me know, please.

Benny B. wanted to be sure his questions were covering all bases, and that the possibility of a birthday painting could be found out of an answer to one of them. He got his wish:

Hello again,

I also asked him if he has any photos and he does not have one. He did take note of the request and should the painting come up he will let me know and I will send you the information via email.

Benny B. latched onto the discrepancy between the two emails. How could a painting which at first “he did not have” suddenly “come up” in the future? And the fact that “he did take note of the request,” meant that the request could be met, otherwise why take note. For sure, all this meant was that the painting had not been burned. Or it could still be buried in storage. Or it could have been sold for gold to some enemy combatant of Toshiro who had discovered it and promised for the right price not to tell Toshiro’s wife, which would have been a moot point at this moment, at least since Nicholas had told her, which meant it could be returned without risk, at some point if, that is, if it was not hanging somewhere, just like Eve had imagined when she remembered the story.

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Benny B. was depressed by the veiled possibilities. A month’s search, he thought, and he was back to where he started, or rather, to where Eve started, with the difference that now everyone knew the search had gone nowhere in public — the unrealized present of a painting which was only, in the end, a wild gesture. He called his friend, Billy, a poet, and told him the story:

“I’ll tell you,” Billy said, “that’s inspiring to hear.”

“No way,” Benny B. exclaimed.

“Think of it,” Billy reflected, “Nicholas never ruled out the possibility that the painting could still be hanging somewhere.”

“Well,” Benny B. replied without confidence, “that was only after my persistence put him in an untenable position. I have no idea if what Nicholas said is what Toshiro actually meant, or if Toshiro blew him off sensing a stalker in the Americas, or if it was a bad translation, or if it was just Nicholas sensing my desperation, wanting to be friendly and accommodating, and adding on whatever hope he thought I could latch onto. After all, he wanted to be a part of this birthday present from the start, right, so maybe It’s his way of wishing it still may arrive. Anyway — it doesn’t matter — I’m coming to her 60th empty handed. I’m stumped. What do I give her now?”

“Give her the story,” Billy said, “tell her what happened. Write it down. She’d love to hear it.”

“You must be joking,” Benny B. blurted. “Not only is there is no point in that, but there’s no justice in it, since half the story is speculation, invisible, maybe even untrue. I’ve got nothing to give her, just a month’s worth of detective work to surprise her with, innocent enough, to be sure, the way some lies can be, but no gift of a painting to show for it.”

“A Surprise of White Lies…”

“Kind of…”

“Don’t worry, she’ll never see through them,” Billy spoke with confidence, “and she’d love to hear what happened.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I think,” he insisted. “This is the reason storytelling was invented.”

—for Rosemary

Benjamin Hollander (1952-2016) was born in Haifa, Israel and as a boy immigrated to New York City. He taught English, writing, and critical thinking in the San Francisco Bay Area. His books include: In the House Un-American (Clockroot Books/Interlink Publishing, 2013); Memoir American (Punctum Books, 2013); Vigilance (Beyond Baroque Books, 2005); Rituals of Truce and the Other Israeli (Parrhesia Press, 2004); The Book Of Who Are Was (Sun & Moon Press, 1997); How to Read, too (Leech Books, 1992); and, as editor, Translating Tradition: Paul Celan in France (ACTS, 1988). With David Levi Strauss, he co-edited the last several issues of Acts (including A Book of Correspondences for Jack Spicer), the literary magazine associated with New College of California and its Poetics Program of the 1980s. A tribute to his life and work by Joshua Schuster and Steve Dickison can be found in Jacket 2. An excerpt from In The House Un-American can be found in The Brooklyn Rail.

Louise Victor has worked in painting, printmaking, photography, installation, encaustic, and sculpture for over 35 years. She received her BFA from Northern Illinois University and pursued graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. Her work can be found in many public and private collections, and has been shown across the United States. Also a pilot, Louise was one of the first women to fly for a major commercial airline and the second woman in the world to become a Captain on the Boeing 767.

Eric G. Wilson

Bowl

W.’s wife stole his bowl. She hated the way he chewed his food, so thoroughly it turned liquid. He fled the small wooden house into the middle of a road.

W. saw that no car was going to kill him. The drivers were too skilled. They swerved away from him or stopped before they reached him.

W. took to the forest.

He wandered without food or water for many days, imagining this would be an easier way to go.
He still was not dead when he looked at his hands. An eyeball was embedded in each palm. He found he could see out of these eyes. With them, he studied his face.

He was no longer a man that he knew.

He was something quite different.

Was this how death was?

Maybe the hunger and thirst had worked. He closed his palms and willed his attention to the eyes in his head. If this was the land of the dead, he wanted to look through his old eyes. He noticed nothing different. There were trees, and on the ground, brown leaves. Stones large and small were about.

W. saw a stone the size of a head and remembered, I have a young daughter, and then he thought, I’ve got to go back.

She had lost her bowl.

W. had walked so long, he was lost. He looked at the sky. The sky was gray.

He lowered his head, and there was a small wooden house.

W. fled from the house into a road. He stood in the middle. Cars sped toward him. None touched him.
He rushed into the forest near the road. He walked. Hunger weakened him, and thirst.

W. tripped over a head-sized stone. With his hands, he broke his fall.

There was pain in his hands. His palms were gashed.

W. studied the cuts. Inside each, he glimpsed white. He recalled bones and eyeballs. He imagined seeing his head from his hands.

The head he saw was not the one he remembered.

Pain was in his hands.

He imagined seeing his hands from his head. The gashes were red.

The head W. had felt bigger than the stone he stumbled over.

He had a young daughter, a child, and she had nothing to eat.

He would save her.

How to reach her?

A house appeared, small and wooden.

Through a window W. saw a woman. She was holding a spoon before the face of a girl.

W. rushed onto the porch. He grabbed the door knob. The metal scalded his hand. He jerked it away. He stared at the palm. The shape of a spoon’s oval bowl reddened its center. There was pain there.

W. touched the shape to his lips.

Pain. Tongue, teeth, throat.

W. imagined living inside of the pain, seeing the world from there.

He saw three people before an oven, a man to the left, and a woman to the right, and in the middle, a small girl, who was holding the hand of the man and the hand of the woman. The girl was looking up at the woman. The woman was plump. The man was gaunt.

W. was seeing from the pain. He was starving. He was falling down. A small hand was holding the hand not burned. The hand slipped away and he fell.

From the leafy ground, he saw near his head the head of a woman. Where the woman’s eyes once were, was blood.

W. could drink the blood. He had no bowl.

He struggled to raise himself and flee to this vessel.

Eric G. Wilson has published three books of creative nonfiction, all with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: Keep it Fake, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, and Against Happiness. He has also published a memoir, The Mercy of Eternity (Northwestern University Press). He has recently published fiction in The Collagist, Café Irreal, and Eclectica. His essays have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, The Oxford American, The Chronicle Review, and Salon. He teaches at Wake Forest University.

Marvin Shackelford

Your Lifeboat, Your Friend

You plainly see the lifeboat, and you’re damp, but the ocean remains out of sight. You’re neither woman nor child, but your friend, beside you on the disappearing deck, was an only child, a mistake with which his parents could not part. All in this world, he likes to say, bows to the random rope and chain of blood. He’s unconcerned, but you believe the line cannot end here. There’s meaning in the knots that link him all together.

In the water, black and foggy, rolls a joke a hundred years old. One produced again and again on film, struck into books and whispered through genealogies, but not a part of life in this age. You see the point of your murderer in the distance. You expected, at worst, pirates, their machine guns and pillage. Even that was far off this course. You were afraid to fly and quickly have learned to feel silly, God bless you. You’d imagined a Puritan’s vacation, a reversed exploration.

“Filling fast,” your friend says. “Everything. And these were assigned. We’ll be swimming, soon.”

“You should get in.”

“What about another one? Later?”

You have no answer. But only so much is about you, about your lifeboat, your friend. You force him into escape, shove him into the mix. His balding head peaks up from a gaggle of women. He’s surprised when they lower, patient and steady, into the water. He goes on without you. Your last glimpse of him is a future long delayed, fruit of the line secured. You know you’ve done the right thing.

Later, a small man in a sailor’s cap says it’s surprising how dressing the part has made him feel. He asks if you’re holding up well. He offers you a cigarette. Overhead a flare rises, and you think of your friend shepherding, shepherded by, his new little seaborne flock to safety. Where they land is the last surprise. You imagine something vastly more Pacific, leis and luaus and a woman on each arm. The finest wish you have for him is, finally, tropical.

There’s little of the ship left above water. You feel the tilt and slide. Your lifeboat, the dressed sailor informs you, is being prepared as you speak, at last, and for the first time you doubt his authority. You ratchet up some faith. Around you men begin songs of children gone, children yet born. They speak with their fists of climbing higher. Across the water you see the circling specks of other lifeboats, the fortunate and timely. You think of all preserved there, and you prepare to dive.

Marvin Shackelford is the author of a poetry collection, Endless Building (Urban Farmhouse Press). His stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Epiphany, NANO Fiction, Southern Humanities Review, FiveChapters, Folio, and elsewhere. He resides in the Texas Panhandle with his wife, Shea, and earns a living in agriculture.

Derek Updegraff

Café

They are sitting at a café. This is a story about him and her. That’s all you need. Him and her. But what can happen to him and her? They are not sitting at just any café. They are sitting in a Denny’s on 7th Street. It is 4am. Did they arrive together? They did, yes. Are they early risers, or did they come to the Denny’s after a late night out together? The latter’s expected, so these two—this pair sitting in the glow of Denny’s 4am light, this pair divided on two slick booth seats—got out of bed together, dressed near each other, drove there together, and now they are here, Denny’s cream colored mugs with brown rims on the tabletop, different shades of coffee in each mug, a similar steam from the fresh pour rising, his hands encircling one mug, her hands out of view, and from this side view their faces are not quite visible. Only they can see their faces. We will not see them this time, and when the pair first came into side focus and when the tabletop that must link or separate took shape between them, I was going to tell you that we don’t know why they got up so early, and I was going to tell you that all we know is that one of them will leave the other. Him or her. I was going to say that I would like to tell you otherwise. I was going to say that the only thing I’ve known since They are sitting is that one is going to leave the other while the air stays crisp outside and can be nothing other than crisp outside while they are inside, in some café. And I am wanting to write But look now, sweet reader, but instead I write, But look now, sweet writer, and so I look, and her hands rise from beneath the tabletop, brought forth from her lap, and they settle on the clean surface between them.

Derek Updegraff’s short stories, poems, translations, and essays have appeared in Bayou Magazine, Chiron Review, Rosebud, Sierra Nevada Review, Natural Bridge, The Classical Outlook, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, and other places. He is an Assistant Professor of English at California Baptist University, where he started a BFA program in Creative Writing. A recent interview with him can be read at http://blog.sierranevada.edu/sierranevadareview/2015/10/22/an-artist-in-translation-an-interview-with-derek-updegraff/.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 8)

 

Welcome, readers and viewers! We’re delighted to ring out the end of 2015 with the extraordinary poetry and prose we’ve gathered for this issue of Posit. It’s an honor to publish such a rich mixture of innovative verse, short fiction, and poetic prose by literary masters at all stages of their careers, to wit:

Doug Bolling’s Scalapino-esque “…words carried from a valley a stream a mountain / just to be there cherished, fondled” by gorgeous metaphors creating “a poem of unknowns / a Magritte refusing all margins;”

Susan Charkes’ wry compendia on Practicing Panic (“adopt aroma of freshly cut cucumber” and “elude infinity”) and Unreachable Planets such as the PLANET OF CONSTANT DOWNDRAFTS (“Gravity: not an issue”);

Norma Cole’s ferociously beautiful narrative fragments of a fraught nation kept together and apart by the ‘Surface Tension’ of an iconography of sentiment and violence, in which golden angels and grandchildren eating butterscotch sundaes give way to women sleeping on sidewalks, Halloween “or some / other masks beheading,” and “the mortars again;”

Christine Hamm’s magnetically surreal texts, in which “You said the antlers in the bucket were part of you, asked me if you should burn your necklace, the one with someone else’s name;”

Zeke Jarvis’s masterful short story about art, artifice, and free enterprise, Las Vegas style;

Halvard Johnson’s disturbing ode to The Art of Deference with its haunting last line, complemented by the resonant compression of 14 Interventions, in which “poem grenades,” like “old leaves,” “turn to / reservoirs of life;”

Carlos Lara’s virtuosic excerpt from Several Night, a “monologue of another destroyer” “ready for whatever’s next play” and populated by “numinous projectile clouds” as well as “music looping the dream archer of dreams;”

Anna Leahy’s “exacting forms” “pregnant / with possibility of motion” mirroring the beauty and menace of nature as well as “the spark of brazen imagination;”

Christina Mengert’s mind-meld with Spinoza, yielding remarkable hybrid philosophical/poetic ‘Definitions’ “by virtue of mental trampoline, / bouncing into idea as a consequence / of grace” via a collaborative “intelligence / conceived through something / more itself / than itself;”

Carol Shillibeer’s magnificent “loyalties to worlds, words and their pleasures…” posing the question, “What work has there ever been but perception?”

Danielle Susi’s brilliant juxtapositions, in which “Volume sleeps on my tongue today / because teeth can sometimes look / like pillows,” provoking us to wonder “When two sides of an abrasion stitch / back together, what do they say?”

and Derek Updegraff’s haunting and suggestive story Café, “about him and her. That’s all” although it somehow manages, in 350 words, to open itself to the far reaches of the universe.

As always, thank you for reading.

—Susan Lewis and Bernd Sauermann

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It is my pleasure to introduce another wonderful selection of painting, photography, sculpture, and video in this issue of Posit.

Meryl Meisler has been taking photos since she was a teenager, chronicling her youth in Long Island and young adulthood in NYC in the 70’s and 80’s. Her keen eye has captured moments that are funny, moving, and offer wonderful portraits of an era.

Helena Starcevic’s carved and fabricated sculptures reflect a distinctly modernist sensibility. Cool and stripped down to their essence, these are elegant objects. Working with a restrained palette, she conveys the beauty of the form, using the contrast between matte and shiny surfaces to allow light to caress the contours of her sculptures.

The haunting videos of Pierre St. Jacques delve deep into the psychological realm of human relationships. The Exploration of Dead Ends, from which we present an excerpt, as well as still photographs and video installations, is a beautiful portrait of a man caught in the endless cycles of his life. The result is visually stunning and deeply moving.

The sweeping gesture of Heather Wilcoxon’s hand can be seen in all of her energetic and evocative paintings. Strong and committed markings typify these works. Human and animal forms live harmoniously amidst swirls of color and form in compositions dreamily reminiscent of a life lived near the sea.

The sumi ink drawings of Katarina Wong are bold, thrilling and often a bit frightening. She brings us face to face with an Inferno of emotions that swirl and whirl across the page. Recognizable human and animal features emerge and then sink into the energetic darkness.

I hope you enjoy!

—Melissa Stern