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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
“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.
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?
No such luck. So Benny B. went online, the de rigueur of the day, July, 2011, a month from her birthday, and started sleuthing.
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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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.”
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:
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:
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.”
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.
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?”
“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:
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:
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.
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…”
“Don’t worry, she’ll never see through them,” Billy spoke with confidence, “and she’d love to hear what happened.”
“Yeah, I think,” he insisted. “This is the reason storytelling was invented.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
In the Debris Field
We found it in the debris field while looking for my mother: a 1921 A-4 style sunburst mandolin, half-hidden in blue mud. Somehow it had sunk to the bottom of a heap of sodden instruments—warped guitars, fiddles, swollen banjos, an electric mandocello, a broken requinto made from an armadillo shell—but the mandolin was still intact, unscathed, double duct-taped inside a dry plastic bag. Look at this, I called to my grandmother, but she had gone on ahead, trudging through puddles with a broken aluminum crutch over her shoulder and a headless doll under her arm, and I ran to catch up. We found a cookie tin full of quarters and a pair of wire-rim glasses and a waterlogged black-and-white abacus and on the other side of the field a warped cello bow and a big sheet metal sign that read THIBODEAUX’S STRINGED INSTRUMENT REPAIR, and nearby, next to a burst cardboard box labeled GIDEON USA / POCKET NEW TEST. / 4 GROSS NFS, we saw two white shapes we thought were drowned Dalmatians but turned out to be dead and rotting goats. We stood a moment at the far edge of the field, eyes watering in the hot sharp stench. Then we left, lugging our loot back to the FEMA trailer where we’d been living since the previous hurricane. Sitting on the steps my grandmother examined the mandolin while I washed up with the garden hose; she held it to her ear and plucked the strings and announced that Good Dogs Are Evil; to my damp questioning face she explained It’s tuned in fifths, like a violin, and I said How do you know, and she said Don’t ask stupid questions, just tune it and play this, and she wrote out from memory the opening bars of a Czerny étude on the back of the Missing Person poster we’d made from a snapshot of my mother blowing out all 38 candles of last May’s birthday cake.
My grandmother told me later that jazz was invented in 1865 by freed slaves wielding abandoned trumpets and tubas and drums and coronets they’d found in the debris fields following the fighting around New Orleans. She said that not a one of them had electricity or sheet music or a grandmother who’d gone on full scholarship to Julliard, and that if Ignorant Negros could teach themselves, then by God, I, with all my advantages, could have no excuse.
I played Puccini and Bach and Chopin nocturnes and Villa-Lobos tremolo studies every day and listened to Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns and David Grisman every night for the next eight-and-a-half years and I slept cradling the sunburst mandolin in my arms and eventually, no matter how rapid or rococo the passage, if I could hear it in my head I could produce it on the instrument. At my Merle Fest debut they billed me as the Yngwie Malmsteen Of The Mandolin; when I started in on a theme from Paganini the crowd rioted, Old School people booing me and the NewGrass people booing them and cursing and throwing bottles, and I turned my back and kept playing. On the second day they put me head to head with a famous old man who had worked with everybody from Bill to Doc to Del to Ralph, and he slashed a few furious phrases at me, throwing down the gauntlet, but I took it right back to him, ripping into some Brandenburg-style counterpoint and some Baroque scales but adding my own thing to the mix, and just as it had been from the day I’d started playing, in my music was the anguished song of a headless doll and the rubato stagger of a cripple’s broken crutch and the smeared red words of a slaughtered lamb, and the old man closed his eyes and smiled and inclined his head. When I left that place the day after the festival, I struck my tent and carted my cooler and fold-up camp chair across a field strewn with every manner of dross: fastfood Styrofoam and wet pizza boxes, condoms and tampons and a backpack of disposable diapers, a shredded blue tarp torn by the wind, white and black bags of spilled trash, clumps of dogshit, about a thousand crumpled cans. Dark men moved through the debris, stabbing it with sticks. I picked up a sun-bleached Polaroid from a clump of weeds and stared at the image: a woman neither young nor old, hair falling over her fading face.