From birth I easily succeeded. Only through great effort have I failed, and not very well.
JEREMY TENENBAUM, FOUNDING EDITORwith ALEC CALDER JOHNSSON, ALYSSA SHEA, ARIA BRASWELL, DANIEL DIFRANCO, DEMREE MCGHEE, EMILY ZIDO, GABRIELLE DECKER, KAILEY TEDESCO, ROSANNE LEE BYRNES, AND WARREN LONGMIRE
WITH ADDITIONAL GLORY VIA BETSY HERBERT, BRENNA DINON, BRITNY PERILLI, KELLY RALABATE, NICK PERILLI, AND VICTORIA MIER
AND PLEASE WELCOME FIONNA FARRELL, Director of Intern-al Affairs
SORTES is indexed or abstracted in EBSCO.
Cover Image: Fluxfilms Labels, George Maciunas
Joshua St. Claire
“Things I Remember from the Eighties”
Ronald Regan is a rain cloud.Protecting secret identities is of the utmost importance.The smell of Grandma St. Claire’s acid green slip covers.A smoke ring is a torus of alien energy.Aunt Helen wears a wig. She won’t be coming to grandma’s anymore.Changing spaces behind easy chairs.The ease of chestnuts, but the resistance of walnuts.Dad used to live in one of these houses when he was me. Then we lived in Flickerville.These are of the utmost importance: Prince’s green suit and his purple guitar.The cry of the train.No, but we can get the frozen tube of orange juice concentrate.Michael Jackson reaching the brim of the teacup.Rain rain go away. Come again another day. Little Johnnie wants to play. Rain, rain go away.His were much quieter, but I could tell from his eyes.Listen for trumpets and the jangle of horsemen. Madonna comes in crosses draped in purple and scarlet.The mayfly life of sparklers and bottle rockets.The friendliness of the oxygen delivery man.Arcana. Archimedes. Archaeopteryx. Archaeologist. Archangel. Archmage. Archbishop. Archduke. Arcade. Arcadia. Arcadia. Arcadia.The fragrant rainbows of leaded gasoline.Some dogs can sense when people have seizures.Hands rolling jeans. Hands tying shoes.After it happened, no one else came except grandpa. Sometimes, he brought red gallons of chocolate marshmallow ice cream.Things don’t always go according to plan.Perhaps one day I’ll slip my skin like Johnny Cougar.From the windows of the hospital waiting room, the darkness.Two wooden spoons.Before the storm when there were two spruces by the asparagus patch.Now that I think about it, one time a priest came. He brought a Rube Goldberg machine with a missing piece.Mrs. Walker thinks that reading ahead is disruptive. I should read what she tells me to read and not what I want to read.Aunts in hospital gowns.I am a 1955 double die penny. I’ll never find a 1955 double die penny.Quaking all over, her eyes rolled up.Each summer day is exactly the same and completely different. Each summer is exactly the same and completely different.If I touch the brown tanks, my fingers will fall off.MTV is a portal to another world.So few memories from before it happened: a black spot of paint on the pane, the antique decanter, being held to a shoulder, how I got sick, too, but then I got well.Make a single file line. Walk quickly to the hall. Sit down. Cradle your head with your hands.
these green hills bred
the bread of a hundred generationsnow on these asphalt hills
mycelium digests farm corpsesstrip malls mushrooming
strange fungal cornucopiaswollen gills bursting forth
with hills of tawdry handbags, lattes,
and plasma screen TVs
Three Prose Poems
I’d like to take home an artifact of America -- George’s wooden dentures, Teddy’s spectacles, a hair plucked from Tom’s flowing locks -- but it’s hard to find a purchase on this rock face. Maybe that scrubby branch sticking out of Abe’s nose will break the inevitable fall, render it balletically Cary Grant-ish instead of clumsily pathetic. I picture myself sliding down the shiny surface of a Presidential cheek, slick as an aisle in a Walmart suddenly upended by a prehistoric monster revived after centuries of sleep. The curious beast gripping the tiny box-store and shaking shoppers loose -- the same shoppers who rushed in when the doors opened now falling from the sky, clutching their lists -- and me afraid to salute them for fear of losing my grip.
One ode, no longer needed. Used essay, some language in need of repair. Panegyric, parts missing, perfect for the handy person. Philosophical musings, assorted sizes, some rust but good working order. Passing conversations, good as new, just file off the sharp edges. Bag of old tweets, free, pick up in alley after five. Exclamation of delighted surprise in several languages, leave message. Thought bubble from 1961, collector’s item, no professionals please. Passing fancy, lots of character, use your imagination! Obituary, just fill in the dates and you’re good to go.
You were lying in the hotel room’s single bed, your skin a dusty sheet barely covering your skeleton. The translucent windows. The terrible silence. Someone wanted to know if ending a letter they were writing to you with Have faith would be offensive. I said I didn’t think so, it didn’t offend me, but who was I to say? Later, workers carried you through the street in a wheelbarrow, like so many others, and paused at an intersection so I could pay my respects. You were too big for the wheelbarrow -- your limbs slung over the side, dragging on the sidewalk -- but as I stood there, you dwindled away until nothing was left but a scattering of dirt and twigs and a handful of pine needles arranging themselves into an approximation of a face. I don’t know how I knew it was you, but I did. I was impressed that you’d found a way to slip out of the hotel room without paying your bill.
For a while, all of the music I made sounded like something else. So I made something unlike anything I had heard before: a chant steeped in electronics. The words came first and I couldn't figure out the melody until I used a musical saw for accompaniment, which is an absurd sentence. Its lyrics describe how dating apps corrupted the opinions I held of myself after I went to college. They replaced my childhood confidence with an unfortunate cycle of dating prospects that never worked out. In each loop, things would go well until the person said a line that somehow felt wrong. The line was harmless, a slight misunderstanding or a sentence with too much pity, but as soon as I felt that hurt, I knew it was over and the cycle of loneliness, hope, investment, and disappointment would begin again with someone else. The otherwise solemn song ends with a beat, a choir, and laughing for a couple reasons. I am not alone in feeling the painful effects of the online dating cycle and there's no way to end the cycle without a Buddhist disregard of your own emotions. There’s joy even in pain when you know it’s necessary for something beautiful, a chance to love someone.You can also listen to "The Cycle" on Spotify.
Three Illustrations & Two Poems
Great goals cropped
Sky-high efforts flopped
Not as smart as I think I am
Not big in Japan, not as tall as I want to beBack to looking down, worshiping the ground; the lower the better, sinking in freely
Drinking like a tree, in descending order only
Dirt's smearing kisses clinging on
Whispering the way
“Not A Drill”
“Meaning What Exactly”
this is not a poem
just a screenshot of one"just" takes the signifier down a notch
proclaims the signified Authenticsometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow but
letters are tribes -- glued together -- Osound-image-memory-emotion
extended relations overstayingsay what you mean
just say what you meanneeded: connection via communication
not needed: another meaning for "literal"anyway, same words signal elsethings
otherwhere, fear resembles a mosquitowhat does your "red" look like?
description attempts circling -- Odiscrete definition depleting
category containers competingsans blood and roses
sans trading ocular nerves:photon wavelengths 400-750
cone-borne electricitythis is not subjective (?)
this is decodable (?)--love note, black licorice smell
hearts"love" note, Glycerrhiza Glabra
irrelevant cardiovascular renderings
“poem with the mouth of a fire”
gas hiss -- then ban. clickclickclick
burner starting. blue eaten by heat,
then -- ban. oldest girl at we care
daycare had a waffled scar in place
of the palm. ever since sight, flesh has
wanted to touch flame. flesh sizzles
in a pan, sparks, smokes. teeth tear
through. eyes water, fan starts. fire
-- bane. flame -- banish. flesh --
bandage. follow exhaust back to
ignition. follow explosion back to
the start. trace soot back into ash.
frantic -- bunker. safety -- snuff.
“life's a circus, i'm a clown!”
color me foolish, paint me purple
i mean plum i mean purpureus all
the way back to 1382 i could mean
periwinkle but i don't i mean phlox
i mean purple pizazz except i hate the
word pizazz, i mean liserian purple back
to 1912 i mean palatinate i mean pansy
i mean i am a pansy i mean haven't you
had enough time to paint me by now?
i'm a performer but i'm no good at puns
i'm a buffoon i'm here to baffle you i'm in
my cap 'n' bells i'm juggling balls i'm not
a comic but i am comedic if i were older i
could be a belatro and get paid but i'm a baby
unemployed bard put me on a marionette
i'll be a mime call me slapstick and i'll cry
i wield a marotte i mirror the monarch i
agree with martin that monks should be
free to fuck as they please i'm a natural
fool i'm the king of comedy i'm a defect
who thinks he's perfect i'm a tool made
to be used i'm apocryphal but i assure you
i can be trusted with the deepest of secrets
Lena Mandel, Translator
Paintings by Karineh Arutyunova
The neighbor's name is Bronya, and she doesn't need much. Maybe half an onion. Her silhouette is suddenly framed by the vinyl-covered door with numbers on its forward-facing side that you know by heart. Whatever happens, one must remember the apartment number.
Repeat: Perov Boulevard 42, apartment? Right, 18 (one of the digits is upside down, but it makes no difference).
The neighbor goes all mushy: What a smart kid you've got there!She squeezes into the foyer and looks around with avid hunger. Everything fascinates her -- what kind of wallpaper we've got, where we bought it and how much we paid, how come we are not buying a decent sideboard, why do we have so many books, who reads them -- and then, with a sycophantic smile: your son in law is such a learned man! A prince among men!The onion forgotten, she sits at the kitchen table, her silhouette now in a different frame -- a window, a curtain, a windowsill chockfull of jars of all shapes and sizes, a line stretched across the kitchen for drying laundry.The hum of their dialogue is like the monotonous rustle of groats being sorted mixed with radio murmur in the background --scratchy, careful coughing (you can just hear Bronya's innards sloshing around), whispers (just in case), grandma's squeaky tittering (like pleas for mercy) -- and she said, and him, what did he do, and then I aks him (she says "aks") -- the rasping sh, sh, chsh, ks … the meaning is drowning in these sounds, and I think, despairing, that my parents will not be back for a while yet, and the foreseeable future will be filled with these sh, chsh, ks.
Really? Am I supposed just to take it? Oh yeh? -- Bronya's high-pitched screech is unexpectedly young, the hurdy-gurdy of her ample bosom emits a sharp, piteous moan, and then the rasping starts again, as if something is slinking across the table, like a silent fish, eyes a-bulge.
I am meandering across the yard looking perhaps for a likely stone (as any normal tomboy would), perhaps for the treasure buried last Thursday, trying to shake off the mealy Valya from the third floor. She says: "anyways," "pops smacked me good," and "should of" and rubs at her piggy, tin-colored eyes. She is from an alien world that I do not understand. Nobody beats me at home, and there is a mesmerizing painting of a naked woman atop a three-legged chair on one of our walls. Although there is laughably little space in our room, my parents sometimes twist and rock-n-roll there. Their young vibrant faces look odd against the shabby window frame through which one can see a monotonous row of five-story buildings and the fish store that carries ivacy herring and -- if one is really lucky -- even carp.But none of this is forever. The boring building, the laundry line, the rows of three-liter jars, the balcony choked with the exuberance of inedible grapes... The same recurrent dream. The entryway, like a deep well, burying all sounds, smells, memories. Like an out-of-tune musical instrument -- its keys getting stuck time and again -- that gets trapped in the eternally repeating melody.I (rigid in the heavy manacles of foreboding) am slowly ascending the stairs and see (oh no!) the same numbers on the vinyl-covered door. One digit is upside down but, as you already know, it makes no difference.
Moira Nash had left Ireland along with a slew of other starving people to set sail for America five days after leaving home. She had no idea what to expect, but she hoped at least to quiet the vacant rumbling in her stomach. There was no one left at home to say goodbye to, her ma and da and all seven brothers buried in the graveyard out back, most of them packed two to a coffin due to the shortage. The last to go had been Little Jimmy who'd been born unlucky anyway, with one leg shorter than the other, slowing him down for farm work and making it seem as if he was dancing a half jig with every step he took. She'd managed to secure him his own coffin, a donation from the Quakers, as a way to try to make up for things. Little Jimmy'd been her favorite, not just for the freckles sprinkled across his nose and upper cheeks but for his good humor. She'd held his hand at the end while telling him he was going to a better place than this, and that, all things considered, she'd more than likely see him there soon enough."Take your time, Moira," he said to her. "No need to rush."It was those words that had stuck with her, prophetic in their delivery.Moira Nash was not a beautiful woman. Her jaw was square and set in place, her whole face in fact more squarish than any other shape, certainly not heart-shaped or oval, as she'd heard other girls' faces described. Her eyes were small and gray. When she trusted a person, they lit up, turning a kind of silver-blue; dislike made them dark gray, ominous like storm clouds gathering; and with indifference, which Moira rarely felt, her eyes became opaque gray, like smoke.It was not a difficult decision to make. She'd never thought about marriage or enjoyed the things she'd come to understand other girls usually liked. She'd worked as hard if not harder than any of her seven brothers, and her da often said, "Don't make sense you being in that girl body. You're more a boy than me sons." First she took the scissors from her mother's drawer and cut all her hair off; then she wrapped linens around and around her breasts, which were small enough anyway. She looked through her father's and brothers' clothes to create an outfit for herself, and when she was satisfied with her appearance, she looked in the mirror, stuck a hand out as if meeting a stranger, lowered her voice, then said, "Name's Jimmy Nash. Nice to meet you.""I'm not rushing to see you in heaven after all, Jimmy Boy." She talked to the memory of the little brother she'd loved as she stood on the ground upon which she'd once labored so hard, taking in the dismal landscape. "I'm taking part of you -- your good Christian name -- to America with me."As if risen from the dead, a few years older, and miraculously cured of his awkward gait, Jimmy Nash set out.
Seven (Short) Poems
The glass jar
At the beach house
Full of strange cookies.
Before a ruthless battle.
This is the kind of weather
You would expect to find
Far out at sea,I remark to the barista
As he swabs the deck.
Like a penny,
Too hot for your pocket.
Of sword and shield
Upon an undiscovered planet.
In the orange window
And pet the moon.
In the famed Woolworth Tower
For many years --Don’t tell a soul.
Todd Easton Mills
I was watching a story on YouTube about people living in cars and vans who look like regular Joes. They call them the "invisible homeless," and I thought: That story is about me. I survive by being a plausible copy of the domiciled. I pass by blending in. I wear clean clothes (which I buy at the Salvation Army), shave daily, shower at the gym. Lately I've been dumpster diving and eating free food at the local Happy Hour.I was catnapping in my van, watching the waves by the point at California Street. A man knocked on my window and startled me. "Hey, bud," he said, "got any wax?"I shook my head and went back to sleep.A half hour later the dude came back and said: "Sorry to bother you. I saw your workbench and tools. Are you a locksmith?""Inventor," I said casually."Do you build everything in the van?""Not everything.""Is that silver disc one of your inventions?"I thought about that question. To see my invention, he had to be peeping. I thought, What the hell, and jumped over the front seat and slid back the door. "The idea is to open the disc and remove the silver dollar.""My hands are wet," he said, wiping them on his Pendleton. "Looks deceptively easy. Aluminum, right?""That's right."He was a 62-year-old man, slender, bleached hair, wearing white tennis shoes. He struggled with my mechanical puzzle for about ten minutes. "What's the gimmick? A magnet?""No magnet." I gave him my business card, which read: Force equals mass times velocity squared."Is that the solution? Interesting. Where can I buy one?""I only have one. This is my prototype.""Too bad. Opportunity knocks. Open it again for me."I showed him my one-handed move."God damn, that thing is beautiful!"
A week later I got a call from Mr. Richard Summerland, who sounded like a kid. "I figured it out! I couldn't stop thinking about it. Is the solution -- never mind, you don't have to tell me over the phone. Let's meet at Aloha for lunch."At lunch Richard asked me a lot of questions about myself. How did I support myself, was I married, did I have a girlfriend? I didn't mind the questions, and I liked the way he talked, like a college professor."Did you bring it? I know it's not like the Rubik's Cube, where it takes a sequence of moves. It came to me in a flash! That's the fun of it -- the eureka moment! The aha feeling! Did you bring it?"He held it up and wiggled it. Wobbled it in midair. Held it to his ear to listen for the pins. Laid it down on the table and spun it. "Let me see how you do it again."I laughed. "Thought you figured it out, eh?"We ate a big lunch with beers, and he treated me to a slice of chocolate pie. He told me he had been surfing for forty-two years but can't surf like he used to on account of his back. I asked if he thought about riding a paddleboard. Then I said: "It's a bitch to get old, isn't it?" which I regretted."It's no fun."He told me he was the inventor of Benevolent Nails. "You know it, right? Everyone knows it.""I had one in seventh grade.""Put it on your face, didn't you.""Of course. Everybody does."He looked pleased."I wanted to see how long my nose was. I remember putting it over my face, and it made a long tunnel, and I thought, my nose must be pretty long. How many did you sell?""A million. I was the inventor, promotor. I did the trade shows -- everything. Marketing is ninety-five percent."During the meal I realized my hair had collected metal filings from the van. Some dropped on my plate. I itched my scalp and Richard noticed and laughed."How old are you, Keith?""I'm twenty-four," I said."Is the disc your only invention?""I have others but they're in my head.""You look like a surfer.""I was. I sold my board.""What do you do for money?""Well, I sold my coin collection and lived on that for a while. I'm broke, so I need a job. I applied at Target.""I just figured something out. Can I try it again? Yeah! Fucking brilliant!""Wow! You did it!"
It was May and I had signed a contract with Richard where he agreed to pay for the patent, trademark, manufacturing, and marketing of my invention and pay a $10,000 advance against royalties. He gave me $2,500 as good faith.With the money I rented a one-bedroom house with a detached garage on Thompson Street. Richard said the garage would be a good place to store the puzzles to fulfill the early orders."Did they give you that raise yet at Target?" he asked."Yep. Eighty bucks more a week. How is the manufacturing going?""Slowly. As you know, it needs to be made precisely or it doesn't work.""Not easy, is it?""I have a guy who can do it in Diamond Bar. He makes parts for the defense industry. Keep your day job, Keith. Getting to profit takes time. We need to create some buzz. And get you on Oprah.""Is she still on the air?"At Aloha we had a couple rounds of beers. Richard asked me to pick up the check. "Don't worry, I'll pay you back. Or don't you trust me?""Funny," I said. "Did you really sell a million units?""More."I was happy to have a mentor. My father died when I was ten, and my mother had a serious meth habit.
The next time I saw Richard, we met for drinks at the Tiki Room. I knew the waitress and she comped us the first round and bar snacks. This impressed Richard and I told him I used to come here when I was broke, and Mila always gave me lunch. I asked Richard when I was going to get the rest of my advance."I'm spending a lot of money on improving the prototype so that we can manufacture it in quantity. Do you know how difficult it is to hold the tolerances? You can't do this kind of work in your van. Do you shoot pool, Keith?"
"You need to work on your key shot," Richard said."Nobody plays straight pool anymore," I said. "But I like the game. I can run balls but I never get shape for the break.""Play to fifty?"I won. We played the second game for a dollar a ball. I won by ten balls, and Richard said: "I didn't bring my wallet. Can you pay for time?""You still owe me for lunches and beers.""You worry too much about money, Keith. I'll buy lunch, you pay for the time."I didn't like that idea, and it showed on my face."I recently had a stroke," he said. "It affected my memory. It happened at four a.m. I turned on the bedside lamp and couldn't see the other side of the room. Joan, my wife, helped me out of bed. I couldn't stand. She called 911. The doctor said I had an ischemic stroke. It's when the brain doesn't get oxygen.""That sounds bad. Do you take meds?""For my back. I shouldn't be surfing. I take meds for pain.""What do you take?""Oxy.""Street?""No, I have legal prescriptions -- more than one doctor. I've been on Oxy for twenty years."
We were eating pho at Banh-Mi Grill on Thompson. Richard said he had just placed an order with a metal shop in Santa Maria for ten thousand units. He was having trouble eating the noodle dish with his chopsticks. "As you know, it's a difficult product to manufacture. If just one of the pins sticks, the puzzle won't open.""They need to hold the tolerance," I said."Yeah, like me.""What do you mean?"Richard looked away. "Nothing, forget it.""How many pills do you take?""It depends on my pain level." He changed the subject. "I know I'm not getting enough oxygen when my fingernails turn blue.""Are you worried about another stroke?""Among other things."
We were at Stix Billiards. Richard was standing at the head of the table and shook a handful of pills out of his vial. He didn't count them. "They don't help.""Richard, I don't want to bring this up, but you owe me two hundred fifty dollars. I'm not going to play for money if you don't pay me.""If you pay time, I'll buy lunch. Don't look so serious. I'll make a withdrawal at the ATM."
Mila, the bartender, made us Zombies and gave us free tacos. There had been construction going on at the bar; the roof leaked after a big rain, and somebody put black-and- yellow police-barricade tape around the barstools.Mila knew all about Richard and liked to talk to him. She agreed he talked like a professor. "I think he went to law school," I said. "He's kind of mysterious about his past.""How do you make a Zombie?" asked Richard, smiling."Puerto Rican rum, Pernod, lime juice.""She makes them right," Richard said.The bar lights were turned down…but the illuminated fish netting, glass floats, and pufferfish lamps cast a soft glow. For the first time I noticed a small picture of Betty Page in leopard skin over the bar."You're funny about money, aren't you, Keith?" said Richard."You guys can pay next time you come in," said Mila."What the fuck," I said, irritated. "Don't do that to Mila." As we walked out of the bar, I noticed Richard was limping. "Are you okay?""It's not just my legs. I have other problems. I fell in the driveway, and I can't remember what happened. Apparently Joan dragged me back to the house and put me to bed. I don't remember a thing.""Did you have another stroke?""Something.""You don't look good.""I know, I'm sweating."
Mila was dressed in yoga pants and a loose sweater. Her black hair was cut straight across just above her eyebrows. Without makeup I could see she had acne scars, but somehow I found them attractive. She kissed me on the mouth. "You taste good," I said.We sat on a blanket covering my old sofa with Bill Evans playing softly on the hi-fi I bought at the Salvation Army store."What's going on with your friend Richard?""He's got a bad addiction," I said."I thought he might.""He takes Oxy for his back. He also has a drinking problem and had a stroke.""He looks shaky," said Mila. "I see a lot of people like him.""Richard is a funny dude. We're partners -- and I think we're friends. It's weird, I never had an older dude for a friend.""Is he gay?""Maybe.""That could be it."
Richard now owed me $1200 after we went double-or-nothing. It was 7 a.m. and I was sitting in my van, thinking about our deal. He hadn't made any progress with the new machine shop. They had old CNC machines and couldn't hold the tolerance. It was foggy and impossible to see the pier. I was working full time at Target and didn't have time to find an alternative myself. He said he mentioned me to his poker buddies.
We were having breakfast at the Busy Bee Diner. "I don't want to flip for it," I said."Why not?""You won't pay me.""I have money.""Did you bring your wallet?""Don't insult me.""Show me."He opened his wallet and showed a ten and two singles. "We were talking about you at the poker game. I told them you are always worried about money. Are you ready to flip?""I'm going to order bacon and eggs.""I've increased my dosage.""How many do you take?""Twelve daily.""Your doctor doesn't have a problem prescribing it?""I can get as much as I need.""Jesus, Richard.""I know you like to read, Keith. Do you know Aldous Huxley?""Who?""Never mind. This book has the best description of pain I've ever read." He pulled out a paperback The Possession at Loudun. The pages were yellow and had a slip of paper for a bookmark. Richard began reading, then put the book down and recited from heart:"The guard brings the accused to a room lit by candles where the friars read him a list of his crimes. He is asked if he is ready to confess. If he says no the friars open a cabinet containing instruments of torture and explain how they will start by separating the joints of his toes using the smallest wedge first. They tell him how the pain will be unbearable and he will lose consciousness but they will revive him and he will be asked again to confess. If he refuses, they describe how they will proceed to the bones of his feet, breaking them one-by-one, with the middle wedge. Next comes the knees, where a the wedge must be driven by the heaviest wooden mallet." He lowered his voice, speaking hoarsely: "Let me read you this line: But the friars could extort no admission of guilt, only that screaming, and in the intervals, the whispered name of God.""The church was incredibly cruel. Is that how you feel? Like a condemned man, Richard?"
Richard lit a cigarette."I'm sorry, sir, you can't smoke in the restaurant," said the waitress."But we're sitting outside," Richard protested."Sorry," she said.He stubbed it out in a planter that barricaded the restaurant from the street. Richard looked pale. "I was in Burbank to see a film and blacked out. I'm not sure if I had another stroke or if I hit my head on the sidewalk. I woke up in the hospital with a bump on my head.""When?""Tuesday afternoon. My doctor said I was going to fall more often. He warned me that if I didn't stop taking Oxy, I would need a liver transplant. I told him: 'I can't stop cigarettes. How am I going to do that?'""What are your options?""I don't know." He looked at his fingernails. "I have a shotgun. Have you ever contemplated suicide, Keith?""Not really. I've been very depressed at times. When I was homeless.""I bought a shotgun and sometimes I sit in a chair in my garden. I don't know if I will be able to pull the trigger. Anyway, I'm not there yet.""What are you talking about? You've got family. Children.""They're grown.""What about Joan?""If I kill myself, she'll be free. I have composed a list. I have ten items on the list. Would you like me to show it to you?"I doubted Richard's truthfulness. "Do you carry the list with you?""I didn't bring it but I can tell you what's on it: Number One. If I can't drive my car. This one is more important than it seems. If I can't drive I will be completely dependent on Joan to buy my cigarettes. Number Two. If I can't walk. Number Three. If I can't feed myself.""You're talking bullshit, Richard. People love you.""Do you love me, Keith?"
Richard moved around the table in slow motion, stabilizing himself with a cane. We played straight pool to twenty-five points and I won. I was returning the ball tray when I heard a loud crack. Richard slammed his cue stick against the table and almost broke it."Hey, you can't do that!" somebody yelled. "You'll crack the slate!"Richard looked confused. He reached into his wallet, stuffed twelve dollars into my shirt pocket, and said: "Here, let's go.""It's all right," I said. "He's sick." I held him up with my arm around his shoulders as we walked out."Where's my car?" he demanded."You parked behind the hairdresser.""Maybe it was towed."
A week later we spoke on the phone. Richard said his depression had lifted completely. "It's a funny thing, Keith, I feel really good." He asked about Mila."She wants to get together for dinner.""Let's go to Aloha, I'm buying."
Mila tried to keep it light. She asked how the manufacturing was coming. Richard wanted to talk about his own invention, Benevolent Nails. He asked her if she had one as a kid."Oh, sure.""Did anyone ever tell you you look like Betty Page?""I get that all the time.""How's your back?" I asked.Richard appeared to be studying the menu. "It hurts. Meds aren't helping.""I'll have the wedge salad," I said, regretting the word.Richard laughed."You look good, Richard," said Mila."'A man who has resolved to kill himself is a god.'""Who said that?" I asked."Nabokov.""Have you been honest with Joan about your depression?" asked Mila."She knows everything."Mila looked at me. "Does she know about the shotgun?""I've only told two people -- Joan isn't one of them.""But you told Keith," she blurted out."I am closer to Keith than to my son.""What are you saying, Richard?" I asked.Mila had tears in her eyes.
The sun was setting over the Ventura Pier. I could see silhouettes of surfers against a red-orange sky. They straddled their boards, looking for a mounting swell, waiting for one last ride of the day.I drove Richard back to my place, where he got into his car and left without saying goodbye. Mila had gone to her parents' house and said she wouldn't be spending the night. I took a hot shower and fell asleep with the TV on.A day later, I woke up at 6 a.m. feeling something was wrong. I could hear rain beating against the gutters and wind creaking the branches of the eucalyptus trees. The phone rang."Hello, Keith. It's Joan."I sat up in the bed."Keith, there's been an accident. Richard shot himself in the face with a shotgun. It's very bad, Keith. I think he tried to commit suicide." She started to cry and hung up.I felt my heart beating fast. I knew my role in this.Later in the morning, Joan called again. "He's suffering, Keith. He's suffering badly.""Oh God, Joan! It can't be! The last time I saw him he was -- ""I left early to go to work. A neighbor found him in the garden. She said it looked like he had been punctured by nails. He didn't leave a note. He's a writer, Keith, and he didn't leave a note. Did he say anything to you?""Nothing."
If you live in San Francisco, if you
live here, if you have lived here for
a certain term of years, if you
have lived in San Francisco for acertain term of years, you will have a
circle of friends, here in San Francisco,
wider than you imagine, friends here
as in any other city not San Francisco,friends who are close friends and friends
who became acquaintances, and friends
of friends, and acquaintances who became
friends, and among those friends and friendsno longer friends but acquaintances, and
acquaintances who became friends, and friends
of friends, here in San Francisco, there will
be one or more, tally me at two, who -- closefriends, distant friends, friends who became
acquaintances and acquaintances who
became friends, and friends of friends, here
in San Francisco, this most beautiful city,celebrated for its foghorns guiding
passing ships by its treacherous
mouth, and the reddish-golden bridge
that sparkles at sunup and atsun’s set, connecting this spur of land’s end
to a paradisical county of green meadows
and cascading waterfalls -- will come to you
like a stab or shock in the middle ofyour drive over the Golden Gate Bridge,
listening to the radio or talking
aimlessly, their faces and music
gone, silenced in the blue waters below.
BEE LB is an array of letters, bound to impulse; a writer creating delicate connections. They have called any number of places home; currently, a single yellow wall in Michigan. They have been published in FOLIO, Figure 1, Scud, and manywor(l)ds, among others. Their portfolio can be found at twinbrights.carrd.co and their workshops can be found at poetryasplay.carrd.co.CARSON BLACKALLER PIERPONT is a writer living in New York City and can be found strolling around Washington Square Park with the ghost of Jack Kerouac. He prefers the trailer to the actual film and thus writes poetry instead of prose. His work can be found at Yes Poetry among other journals.JOSHUA ST. CLAIRE is an accountant who works as a financial executive for a large non-profit rural Pennsylvania, USA. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Lana Turner, Modern Haiku, Burningword Literary Journal, Delmarva Review, and Ligeia Magazine, among others. He is a Pushcart Prize, Rhysling Award, and Best of the Net nominee. His work has appeared in the Dwarf Stars Anthology and he is the winner of the Gerald Brady Memorial Senryu Award.KARINEH ARUTYUNOVA has ten books of short stories published in Russia and Ukraine. Her writing has won many prizes, including the Andrei Bely Prize (St. Petersburg), Vladimir Korolenko Prize (Kiev), Ernest Hemingway Prize (Canada), and Mark Aldanov Prize (New York). In addition to writing, she also paints. Born in Kiev, she emigrated to Israel in the early 1990s, where she lived until 2009. Currently, Karineh lives and works in Kiev.LENA MANDEL (translator) holds an MA from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, an MS in psychology from Columbia University, and a JD from Rutgers University. Now retired from a career as an attorney, she focuses on literary translation. Her translations have appeared in OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, Packingtown Review, and )Peauxdunque Review.PETER ANDERSON is a native of Michigan living in Vancouver, Canada. His work has appeared in Best Microfictions 2022, Frigg, Unbroken, Sublunary Review, Thieving Magpie, the American Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. His collection of prose poems. Mutter, was shortlisted and placed third in the 2023 Raven Poetry Chapbook contest.PIER ROBERTS is originally from California where she currently lives after spending many years abroad. She loves teaching Great Books and Creative Writing at an all-girls Catholic high school. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic Unbound, Spotlong Review, Clackamas Literary Review, and Travelers’ Tales, Turkey, among others. She lives with her rascal teenage twins and two rescue cats. Her passions are reading, writing, swimming, hiking, cooking, and hanging out with friends.ROBERT ROTHMAN lives in Northern California, near extensive trails and open space, with the Pacific Ocean over the hill. His work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Tampa Review, Willow Review, and over one hundred other literary journals in the United States, England, Canada, Wales, Ireland, and Australia. Please see robertrothmanpoet.com for more information about him and his work.ROBERT WOLLE is a prose, film, and music writer from Baltimore. He has published multiple times in the University of Maryland's literary magazine Stylus and its film festivals. He has won the Jiménez-Porter Literary Prize for prose. He is also Praeter, a multi-genre music project with ambitions aimed high. He recently published No Promises, an EP exploring the mundane horrors of online dating, self-image, and the working middle class. His debut album Sol is coming soon: a concept album traversing both the solar system and Wolle's own life. As his day job, he is a researcher in quantum computing while pursuing a PhD in physics from George Mason University.SAM ALEC is a mostly unknown artist currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some impressive accomplishments include: successfully evading desensitization, a few major demolitions and reconstructions of personal belief systems, a well-cultivated affinity for the ugly and uncomfortable, a handful of lessons learned the hard way, and staying alive this long. More poems from Sam can be found in such fine publications as Troublemaker Firestarter, The Metaworker Literary Journal, Oddball Magazine, Hidden Peak Press, Digging Through the Fat, Home Planet News, WordSwell, and haikuniverse.TODD EASTON MILLS for many years defined himself as a traveler, working as a laborer, equipment operator, cook, and teacher in Papua New Guinea and other remote places around the world. He co-wrote and produced the documentary film Timothy Leary’s Dead. His stories have appeared in ONTHEBUS, Voices, The Coe Review, Yellow Silk, the Santa Monica Review, Serving House Journal, Barely South Review, Alabama Literary Review, Entropy Magazine, Oxford Magazine, Big Muddy, Euphony, Alabama Literary Review, Non-Conformist, Blue Lake Review, Fogged Clarity, Storgy Magazine, and others. His poetry was featured in the anthology Poets on 9-11. He is a graduate of Antioch University.
SORTES supports local, charitable, and community-based groups. Here's one important organization that SORTES supports:
"ArtWell was founded in 2000 to respond to the chronic community violence in Philadelphia by introducing a preventive, educational, arts-oriented approach to reach underserved communities and youth facing discrimination, poverty, violence, and the everyday challenges of growing up. Our mission is to support young people and their communities through multidisciplinary arts expression, education, and creative reflection to celebrate their strengths, thrive while facing complex challenges, and awaken their dreams."Charity NavigatorThe people who have worked on this publication support this cause and we urge you to as well.
Submission & Contact
SORTES is the very model of a modern major journal.
To submit contributions, comments, questions, or suggestions, please email
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SORTES is a spinning collection of stories, poems, songs, and illustrations to help while away the wintery June nights. It’s an oddball grabbag wunderkammer mixtape offering distraction and refreshment.We have neither theme nor scene. Each issue is its own creature. We publish both the sufficiently strange and insufficiently boring: swart stories, hoity poetry, magical surrealism, beatnik travelogues, hard modern haiku, pulp, fantasia, antibiography, crooning balladeering, experimental sentimentalism, and grainy sideways photography.We also host online readings, old time radio performances, and other beloved gimmicks as they occur to us. Previous issues are available via the site’s Archive link.
SORTES considers unsolicited submissions of poetry, prose, illustration, music, videos, and anything else you think may fit our format. Feel free to poke us; we’d love to find a way to publish dance, sculpture, puzzles, and other un-literary modalities.SORTES is published quarterly. Each issue includes approximately ten works of lit, visual, or performance art. We like a small number of works per issue: artists and readers should have a chance to get to know each other.SORTES, you’ll notice, is primarily a black-and-white publication, and we like to play with that (by featuring monochrome videos and photography, for example), but we’ll happily consider your polychrome submission.Submissions are ongoing throughout the year. We consider artists with both extensive and limited publishing experience. We accept simultaneous submissions but please inform us if your work has been accepted elsewhere. We publish translations and reprints on a case-by-case basis; please send us a note describing your interest. And while there's no restriction on the number of pieces you can submit, please have a heart.There’s no need for an extensive cover letter or publication history but please tell us who you are, what kind of writing or art you do, and a bit about what you’re sending us. There are no formatting requirements for text submissions. There is no fee to submit. Please send submissions as email attachments whenever possible; multimedia submissions may be sent as links.
You asked and we provide: what's up with publication rights and ownership?Simple: When you publish with us, you give SORTES one-time publication right for your work. You retain all right to your work after publication. Work published with SORTES will remain available via our online Archive.While SORTES retains the right to link to or excerpt your published work, we do not have the right to publish your work in new formats (including print). If we would like to pursue publication of your work in new formats, we'll ask you and hopefully agree to terms.
SORTES was created by founding editor Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and emeritus editor Kevin Travers. It's edited by Alec Calder Johnsson, Alyssa Shea, Aria Braswell, Daniel DiFranco, Demree McGhee, Emily Zido, Gabrielle Decker, Kailey Tedesco, Rosanna Lee Byrnes, and Warren Longmire. Fionna Farrell directs Intern-al Affairs. Additional vim provided by Betsy Herbert, Brenna Dinon, Britny Perilli, Kelly Ralabate, Nick Perilli, and Victoria Mier. Many of us live in Philadelphia but we invite writers and artists everywhere to live the SORTES fantasia.
SORTES regularly offers readings and performances. For upcoming events, please check here and our Facebook page.
Join us for the
SORTES Spectral Winter Annual Reading
Sunday, December 10, 2023 @ 7pm EST
SORTES’s Spectral Winter Annual is a jolly knife in the neck!For this rare physical publication, we specially commissioned ghastly short stories and poems showcasing a dead man’s special deliveries, a judgmental seaside specter, the pains of an aging table-rapper, the heartwarming war on the poor, the Jersey Devil's unsung siblings, and the electrifying end of the year / world.So join us at our Zoom reading to celebrate the Annual’s publication and this evilest season. You’ll hear some, maybe all of our authors: Daniel DiFranco, Jean Zurbach, Kailey Tedesco, Max D. Stanton, Mordecai Martin, and Nick Perilli.And there’s still plenty of time to grab your own copy of the Annual! It makes a heartwarming gift for yourself and all the heartless folks you love.
ID: 852 9114 2584
Call in: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kb7HPW2WXh
A Suspense-Full Halloween, October 29, 2023
On October 29, 2023, Radio SORTES presented A Suspense-Full Halloween -- live performance of two old time radio Suspense episodes -- "The Screaming Woman" and "Ghost Hunt" -- each dripping with period music and sound effects.From 1940 through 1962, Suspense, "radio's outstanding theater of thrills," terrified radio listeners with macabre true crime and supernatural horrors.Our production was reanimated by the electrifying Radio SORTES Players: Alyssa Shea, Betsy Herbert, Dan DiFranco, Demree McGhee, Eliot Duhan, Emily Zido, Fionna Farrell, Iris Johnston, Kelly Ralabate, Lino, and Nick Perilli. The performance was adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and Aria Braswell, with direction and sound by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.
Scary SORTESies To Tell In The Dark, October 30, 2022
On October 30, 2022, Radio SORTES presented three ghastly and unnerving old time radio stories, including original adaptations of Arch Oboler's "The Dark," Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains," and
and Oscar Wilde's “The Canterville Ghost,” plus poetry from "Weird Tales" magazine.Our infernal Radio SORTES Players included Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Christina Rosso • Demree McGhee • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Kelly Ralabate • Lino • Luke Condzal • and Rosanna Lee Byrnes. The performance was written, produced, and scored by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.Radio SORTES is an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine, whose events and readings are always free, open to all, and ideally less than two hours. See SORTES.co for inexpressibly brilliant literature, art, and upcoming events.
1950s Western / Sci-Fi Double-Feature, February 25, 2022
The talented Radio SORTES Players performed two old time radio episodes broadcast live via ethereal wireless right to our audience's home receivers.We galloped into the unknown with a 1950s western / sci-fi double-feature: The Six Shooter episode “Battle at Tower Rock” and the Dimension X episode “A Logic Named Joe” -- each with music and convincing sound effects.The all-star Radio SORTES players were: Abbey Minor • Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Daniel DiFranco • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • Kailey Tedesco • Kelly Ralabate • Kevin Travers • Luke Condzal • Nicholas Perilli • Rachel Specht • Rosanna Byrnes • and Victoria Mier.Radio SORTES -- an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine -- was produced and directed by Kevin Travers and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Radio SORTES is always free, open to all, and less than two hours. See SORTES.co for upcoming events.
The 39 Steps, February 19, 2021
The Radio SORTES Players performed this classic adventure story, written by John Buchan and adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum from Hitchcock's 1935 film and the 1937 Lux Radio production. It starred Brenna Dinon • Heather Bowlan • Rosanna Byrnes • Betsy Herbert • Iris Johnston • Warren Longmire • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Nicholas Perilli • Kelly Ralabate • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Victoria Mier • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • and Kevin Travers.
Halloween Eve Special, October 30, 2020
Suspense, "The House in Cypress Canyon"
Inner Sanctum Mysteries, "Voice on the Wire"
The Radio SORTES players presented a live Halloween Eve special: two programs of classic old time radio horrors. The shows -- including dialogues, music, and sound effects -- were performed for a live Zoom audience.The Suspense episode “The House in Cypress Canyon” was originally broadcast December 5, 1946 and the Inner Sanctum Mysteries episode “Voice on the Wire” was originally broadcast November 29, 1944. Both programs were performed by Kevin Travers • Sean Finn • Britny Perilli • Don Deeley • Brian Maloney • Betsy Herbert • Kyle Brown Watson • Nicholas Perilli • Emma Pike • Susan Clarke • and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Between episodes, we presented an original commercial in period style written and performed by Kevin Travers.
Announcements and correspondence
Like any genius literary journal, SORTES invites readers and contributors to fight amongst themselves. Please email us to compliment our stellar authors and artists. Spicier fans may want to howl and bellow. Or maybe you have an announcement about a book, art project, impending marriage, &c?Be a part of the problem: comment on our stories and poems, other letters, and the SORTES demimonde in general by emailing
“SORTES continues to ascend the summit of artistic authenticity with every new issue its editors publish, showcasing the works of talented writers in a clean format that is accessible to the reader. There are no gimmicks here or busy links to click through, just the authors and their words. Read em'.”
James Feichthaler, September 8, 2022
James, we appreciate your words mammothly but we delicately disagree: SORTES is one transparent gimmick after another. It's a ruse wrapped in a gambit baked inside a flaky shenanigan potpie.
“You: M/early 30s olive skin and a nose like a fleur-de-lis, burgundy sweater, pumpkin scarf.Me: F/38 eating olives out of pumpkin rind, lily patterned dress
The bartender sent me a glass of burgundy 'from the gentleman' and you tipped your hat. We talked about SORTES, the paper magazine on the internet, and sang karaoke of our favorite submissions. Drunk on bons mots and pithe, you knocked over the wunderkammer and were ejected by the bouncer. Let's meet and collage a poem!”
Iris Johnston, September 12, 2022
Me: That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my nose.
Credit and Debit
SORTES is a mostly online journal, as you know, but every so often we can't resist existing.
The SORTES Spectral Winter Annual 2023 revives the tradition of haunted holiday fiction. This beautifully crafted 44-page paperback anthology features ghastly short stories showcasing a dead man’s special deliveries, a judgmental seaside specter, the pains of an aging table-rapper, the heartwarming war on the poor, and the electrifying end of the year / world, as well as poems celebrating the Jersey Devil's unsung siblings. Authors include Daniel DiFranco, Jean Zurbach, Kailey Tedesco, Max D. Stanton, Mordecai Martin, and Nick Perilli. The Annual makes an ideal holiday present for any dear friend or family member who loathes the living.
SORTES Sampler 2
A SORTES Sampler 2 is a slender tasty book collecting weird fiction by Max D. Stanton, surrealist collage art by Danielle Gatto Hirano, and a poetry cycle by Uri Rosenshine. It’s a handsomely designed but affordable little snack of a book. We have incredibly limited copies on hand, and every day they become incredibly more limited, so leap today.
SORTES Sampler 1
NOT QUITE SOLD OUT! We've uncovered a secret cache of 3 remaining copies!A SORTES Sampler 1 was our first attempt to make the ephemeral real. It contains a dystopian farmstead fantasy by Iris Johnston, paper cutout art by Abi Whitehead, and a Coney Island noir by Mordecai Martin. Copies now available only in your dreams.
But are there deals? I have just decided there will be deals!
Buy any two for $15: use discount code SORTES15
Buy all three for $25: use discount code SORTES25
While despairingly slim supplies last. Prices don't include shipping. To receive these special rates, items must be purchased together in the same checkout cart.
Or delay your delicious fulfillment and
Buy In Person
When in Philadelphia, please gobble up your copies from:Brickbat Books, Head & Hand Books, A Novel Idea on PassyunkPlease note that not every publication is sold in each location. If these fine stores are sold out, march to the counter and sweetly demand more SORTES.
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SORTES is dedicated to free: every online issue is lovingly brought to you for zero dollars while each Radio SORTES entertainment is beamed gratis to your Zoom dial. Our masochistic editors tell me they’re delighted to put in hundreds of hours for no money and paltry recognition.However, the rest of the chilly world is less dedicated to free and much the opposite: our website, our Zoom, our physical publications, and so many other digital nickels and dimes sap us more each year.We must fight back – and we need you to help us! Every dollar supporting SORTES goes to creating a strange literary world in which you’re a citizen. To delight you, we’re dancing in our red shoes down to our nubs.Why don’t we accept advertising? Because we hate it and it seems like too much work anyway. It blocks the bucolic view. It spoils the fine pleats in our website.So we turn to solicitation, which is much more up our alley. Patreon revives a tradition old as Roman poetry and frumpy chapel ceilings.
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