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.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 19)

 

Welcome to Posit 19!  If literature is a movable feast, then the prose and poetry in this issue is especially rich: rich in imagination, rich in resonance, and rich in story.

Given that, as Buzz Spector points out, “in modern America / we need a new understanding of myth” (In Modern America), we’ve brought together a variety of tales whose brevity belies the depth of their emotional register, as does the thin and potent line on which they tread — or rather, dance: between universal and specific, archetype and individual. We’re thinking not only of the powerful prose of Jefferson Navicky, Marvin Shackelford, Stephen Nelson, and Daniel Uncapher, but also (since, as Matthew Cooperman reminds us in Gaseous Ode, “we don’t have to balkanize”) the lineated verses of Elizabeth Robinson’s After the Flood, Adam Day’s ‘neighbor’ poems, David Rock’s ‘homunculus’ poems, and Tongo Eisen-Martin’s unvarnished yet rousing evocations of our shamefully culpable polis.

And stretching that thin line even further to challenge the notion of authorship itself, we include a remarkable sampling of Laurie Kolp’s centos, and Buzz Spector’s collage poems.

Here’s what you will find in this delicious issue:

In Matthew Cooperman’s diverse trio of new poems, “[p]oetry readings are pretty cool but the format’s all wrong,” although “the awkward fumbling human figure and voice . . .[is] a good messenger” due, perhaps, to the way “senses / merge in the strange O chasm of the throat.” With unpretentious erudition, sonorous fluency, and a relaxed mastery of the line, he contemplates the Mother, the “Futurity of [her] Absence, stitchery in its indigo” and asks “What is it to make same and different? / What is it to make a difference?” when “[t]he earth is hot tonight with all of its angers.” Perhaps it is to “write a poem / with everything in it — ‘a beautiful abundance’” like we find in these rich new works.

With irresistible grace and unflinching directness, Adam Day’s terse, tightly-packed verses probe the resonant physicality of nameless but entirely specific, deeply recognizable ‘neighbors.’ These poems are populated with Everywomen and men who, like our ‘real’ neighbors, “believe most fantastic statements; nothing / to do with truth but opinions // which change” in this “[w]orld bent // on splitting itself” in a time — this time — when “[h]istory / [is] deformed by facts no longer.”

Turning his powerful attention to the forgotten and the ignored in plain sight, Tongo Eisen-Martin embraces his “new existence as living graffiti” to expose how “[t]he ruling class floats baskets of swathed neighborhoods off to be adopted” according to the “terrible rituals they have around the corner. . . let[ting] their elders beg for public mercy …beg for settler polity.” In a history covered up and buried by religion, “heaven sure is secretive” despite “[t]he staircase under this slavery / And one hundred slaves.” On these streets, in this country, Eisen-Martin deeply listens, making it impossible not to hear: “please give me / spare change and your word that I won’t be missing in a year,” since, “as is the custom, two humans make a humanity.”

In these haunting poems, Jessica Goodfellow sends us postcards from insomnia and relates grief to the “paradox of Gabriel’s Horn” which “can be explained by the method of infinitesimals, by partitions so small you can never see them.” Postcards evokes the punishing wakefulness of “all night turning sinistral shells over and over in your hand. At daybreak, lobbing them back into the sea,” at times when “[t]he night sky might think of stars as scars — pinpoints where memory burns and burns” — not unlike the revived bereavement that strikes when we reconsider what we thought we knew, “stupidly forgetting” what the reader of these poems cannot, that “depthless means both shallow and unfathomably deep.”

Built entirely from the phrasings of other poets, Laurie Kolp’s centos display remarkable conceptual unity as well as seamless musicality. These poems combine lines by poets such as Neruda, Frost, Bukowski, Smith, and Voung to trace the arcs of their internal arguments with a grace which not only gives the lie to the dread anxiety of influence, but poses a fundamental challenge to our concept of the meaning — and the significance — of originality. In so doing, they broaden our idea of what constitutes poetic ‘material,’ and demonstrate the transformative impact of context.

In Matthew Kosinski’s hands, the poetic phrase beguiles and challenges in equal measure, daring us to keep up with the honed force of its clarity and paradox. Like the “savior music” they describe, these verses “accomplish transfiguration” by ranging “from a shiver to a howl” in the face of which, happily, “conventional wisdom balks.”

Jefferson Navicky’s bracingly original yet understated tales flicker between the surreal and the recognizable. The Butler’s Life depicts an unexpected and yet recognizable servitude, considering how much we will sacrifice to avoid abandoning another post. And the dark fairy tale, Moon Park, contemplates what we will do to “smell all the smells under the smells,” and “hear what’s really there.”

Stephen Nelson’s The Woods Are Mine tweaks such tropes of the 19th century novel as the train, the woods, the castle, the Duke, the convent, and the intimate narration by a mysterious stranger who “wanted people in passing trains to see [him] covered in leaves” because he “thought that might be of interest.” In Nelson’s hands, these familiar elements are subtly and intriguingly skewed, inhabiting a dream-like world in which “[t]he clouds were entertaining divas” and “[t]he leaves were sad songs the man hummed along to;” an interior world, perhaps, in which “nothing can ever be proven” and “[t]here is no political answer for loneliness.”

In After the Flood, Elizabeth Robinson ponders the uneasy state of our relationship to nature and each other. “What is your stake in this?” the narrator is asked, while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Although she offers food to a man “whose presence is fundamentally unhoused” he ends up disappearing. It occurs to her “that all attention is a form of loss because it cannot create perfect reciprocity with its focus.” Nonetheless, despite the fact that “[t]he world, we may agree, is ending badly,” “there are ameliorating coincidences. There are pleasures.” Perhaps the poet’s stake, and our own, is that “[d]espair may always be true, with its glare,” but “beside or aside it, rapture has its own kind of patience, groping in the dark.”

David Rock’s meditations on human agency borrow Descartes’ notion of the ‘homunculus’ to juxtapose and collapse the trappings of ordinary contemporary life with that of a Tibetan Monk, Odysseus, the victims of the Siege of Leningrad, and Moses, demonstrating that “[a]ll situations are life-and-death situations” in a reality, like ours, in which “the world could always end / but hasn’t” and “it would be a shame / to bail on what’s left of a pretty good party.”

Marvin Shackelford returns to Posit with two more exceptional stories, proffering their characteristically unsentimental but deeply compassionate insight into the messy interior of the human predicament. With masterful, economical, and often lyrical prose, these stories suggest what it is to “take to the world and empty your soul into it,” trying your best to get “’[f]ar as forever until now gets you.”

Even while they fashion new wholes from the found language, colors, and textures which Buzz Spector dismantles and reassembles, his collages underscore the pervasive quality of disconnection permeating literary culture “in modern America” — especially “the dangerous effects of living a lie.” What emerges from these recombined and fractionated book blurbs floating on colored paper fields are meta-texts built from meta-texts. The results not only expose but repurpose the misleading grandiosity of blurbs as a cultural convention — even, and perhaps especially, in the face of their raison d’être, as inherently secondary to the books they praise. In the process, these collages offer a clear but pixelated view — and hence, critique — of the culture from which they spring: the “hypocrisies, and desires” “that characterize our historical moment.”

And Daniel Uncapher’s Vanishing Point is a hypnotic incantation to an individual psyche (Sam) as well as to the infinite multiplicity of psyches contemplated by reincarnation (Samsara). In this rhythmic, compelling litany of sound and image, the narrator’s identity “remain[s] a mystery” even as we “[come] to terms with far more impenetrable myths.” This piece opens the reader’s mind to no less than “the defining quality of things” inherent in the beautiful truth of “meaning without mark, presence without trace . . . the suprastructure of mappable worlds.”

With our gratitude for your interest and attention,

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann

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Welcome to the visual art of Posit 19!

Gabe Brown offers a beautifully designed meditation upon the balance between the natural and man-made worlds. Her thoughtfully constructed paintings consistently evoke a gentle back and forth between naturalistic elements and a synthesized universe. They are suffused with rich and generous color which harmonizes the elements in each painting to imagine the possibility of an artistic universe free of conflict, suffused by beauty and delight.

Riffing on the form of hat known as a ‘fez,’ Camille Eskell works with complex notions of identity, cultural heritage, and religion. Her pieces tell her own family story, tracing their journey through the Middle East and India. At the same time, this work embraces a wider sense of history and storytelling, posing questions applicable to all families with rich and complex histories. Exquisitely crafted from both traditional and non- traditional materials, this body of work is deeply moving, even as it transcends genres.

Though the timeline of the work represented here is wide, this selection demonstrates Melissa Meyer’s longstanding interest in collage, and the consistent way in which she has approached it. The works from the early 70’s reveal deep connections to the pieces from 2018. Rich layers of jewel-tones carry an almost musical beat, and her forms practically dance off the page. They are joyful and vibrant, expressing a deep love of the medium, and of the act of creation.

In his current work, Joakim Ojanen creates a gentle, funny, universe full of humor and emotion. His deceptively childlike figures portray a profoundly human desire to connect with each other, and with and us. They smile at the viewer with a delicate and goofy plea to be liked. Ojanen creates a beguiling mixture of tenderness, humor, innocence, and technical sophistication. Working in clay and simple glazed colors, he captures the small moments in life that often linger in our memories.

Etty Yaniv’s densely layered assemblage and collage works make one keenly aware of the materiality of her practice. Her pieces pop off of the canvas, and then sink back into it. The fluidity with which her rich and wide array of materials are handled —from found objects to paint and paper — creates the impression that her pieces were “born” the way we find them. Although labor- and process-intensive, this work has a deep sense of grace. Each of these pieces carries us through its private narrative, enveloping us in its own story.

Enjoy!

Melissa Stern

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.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 11)

 

Welcome to September, and to Posit 11!

It is a special thrill to introduce the masterful poetry and prose Bernd and I have gathered for this issue. Not only has another summer come and gone, but we are in the last stages (if not throes) of an American election cycle in which the complacency of most notions of “normalcy” have been shattered, giving rise to an appropriately pervasive anxiety about the depth and scope of the humanly possible. In its own provocative and evocative ways, the work in this issue addresses that anxiety, and even musters some degree of optimism. For tragedy rendered inseparable from the beauty of its vehicle, consider the stark profundity of new work by Michael Palmer and Fady Joudah; the disturbing resonance of two parables by Marvin Shackelford and Eric Wilson; or the tender melancholy of verse by Jeffrey Jullich, Stephen Massimilla, and Simon Perchik. For an inspiring balance of critique and optimism, take a look at Sharon Mesmer’s tragic yet emancipatory tributes to undervalued women poets, Sheila Murphy’s inimitable and ineffable pull-no-punches constructs, Sharon Dolin’s disciplined frolics, ambitiously braiding tribute and lampoon, or Anne Gorrick’s high-octane mash-ups of web-commerce parlance examined and re-examined to reveal rich veins of resonance. And on the brighter side, bask in Felino Soriano’s linguistically untethered odes to transformation.

Whether you are absorbed by the anxiety of our historical moment or weary of its seep, I hope you’ll take some moments to explore:

the tightly packed wit and wisdom of Sharon Dolin’s allusive riffs on Conceptismo, W. C. Williams’ So Much Depends, Niedecker’s ‘condensery,’ and the fraudulence of linguistic obscurantism;

the looping logic of Anne Gorrick’s expansive assemblages, artistic antidotes to our day-to-day “doses of forgetting” the “fine tunings built into” these rocking, rollicking litanies in which “invisible empires of products, fireflies and songs add to the beauty;”

Fady Joudah’s profound and miraculous condensations, with their masterfully chiseled, spare, and haunting visions of oppression and its internalization (“Election Year Dream”) sanctuary in the face of damage (“Monastery”) and the devastation of love (“Coda: A Fragment”);

Jeffrey Jullich’s grimly beautiful constructs, evoking the hazard, sorrow, and insignificance of existence as revealed by the “metamorphosis of seraphim,” “Nostradamus contradictions,” and “a cloud/hung between my life—and life itself” in which “intelligence is only – a fraction – a niche for omniscience;”

the mystery and beauty of Stephen Massimilla’s chiseled lyrics, gesturing towards the elusive and tragic lightness of love, loss, and existence itself, in which “so many little masks (marks, tasks) / make a life” until one is reluctant “to come down from the lightfastness / of this insomnia high;”

Sharon Mesmer’s lyrical tributes to women poets of the Americas which, by “beating all sorrows/into beauty” themselves fulfill the determination to be “no mere witness/to inertia” by evoking, among other notions of liberation, the freedom of radical departure — in what her fans will recognize as a masterful departure from the pyrotechnical virtuosity of her signature Flarfian poetics;

Sheila E. Murphy’s confidently quiet, powerfully enigmatic new works evoking the intimacies of existence anchored by “the palpable act of witness, witnessing” in which “pounce marks levitate a posse / of connect points” in our appreciation of her bracing linguistic montage;

the incomparable music of Michael Palmer’s austere and profound masterpieces of compression, sternly confronting us with the tragedy and horror of a world — our world — in which a child is “set afire / before blindered eyes / a world’s eyes” and authors “lost at sea / in a storm of words” stand idly by as their “books consume . . . the fire”;

Simon Perchik’s moving lyrics of love, loss, and memory, gently guiding us to “listen / the way all marble is crushed” and witness how “inside each embrace // the first thunderclap and shrug / no longer dries”;

Marvin Shackelford’s haunting parable of shipwreck, survival, and friendship, with its “reversed exploration” of the great parable, Before the Law, replacing Kafka’s eternally-withheld judgment with rescue, but, gratifyingly, perhaps not redemption;

Felino Soriano’s “relocated” lyrics, as musical as they are disjunctive, enacting the generative power of the transformations of which they sing; “alters” “of improvised becoming” in which the day is “a dangle of marbled light, an / algebra of sun” for the reader to gratefully absorb;

and the disturbingly resonant infinite regress powering Eric G. Wilson’s “Bowl,” ruled by the labyrinthine, archetypal, Escher-esque logic of nightmares.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

Susan Lewis

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Welcome to the visual art of Posit 11!

Christopher Adams’ background in biology and science informs these environmental installations of ceramic sculpture. He creates small universes of hundreds of individual elements reminiscent of creatures from the biological world, as filtered through Adams’ imagination. Installed on walls painted in brilliant, deeply saturated colors, they seem to vibrate with energy, transporting us into another dimension.

Yura Adams works in a diverse vocabulary of forms united by her nuanced and thoughtful vision of the world. Based on both scientific and intuitive observation of the natural world, this work encompasses a lovely tension between loose drawing and complex patterning. Her use of rich and beautiful color reinforces this dynamic.

Kate Brown’s solidly painted compositions address one of the basic constructs of painting – the push and pull between positive and negative space. Using a carefully controlled palette of color, she has created an exploration of figure and ground that transcends the academic idea and emerges as glorious paintings. Big gestures are offset by architectural spaces. These works are luscious and bursting with energy.

In John Hundt’s hilarious and odd collage pieces, we see a world of biology and evolution gone strangely awry. Unlikely combinations of creatures are meticulously constructed from Hundt’s trove of imagery. Building upon the grand tradition of Surrealist collage, he has created a world of creatures found (hopefully) only in dreams.

With intricate and delicate etched lines, Renee Robbins explores the biology of the ocean. Her etchings, all based on actual creatures, evoke the undersea world caught in mid-motion. Her images are simultaneously scientific and dreamily ethereal. Rendered in softly psychedelic tones, they are like specimens on view through Robbins’ artistic microscope.

I hope you enjoy!

Melissa Stern