“Some one came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Some one came knocking;
I’m sure — sure — sure;”
Walter de la Mare, “Some One Came Knocking”
EDITED BY JEREMY TENENBAUM AND KEVIN TRAVERS
“Every Cat A Sphynx”
This is a story about puzzles.
It is a bit of a fairy tale, in that much that is impossible or at the very least improbable occurs in it. Nevertheless, it is a story and it is true. Such things happen.
There was a certain gardener. That is, he was an old man who gardened. What he did for salaried pay and in his youth is inconsequential to the story. Perhaps he was an actuarial accountant. Probably he was. And in the cold calculation of the end of lives, he grew a fondness for the roundness of life, its coming and going, and so later in life, he bought a large plot of land adjacent to his house and began a garden.
A year came and a year went. The garden was sown, grew, blossomed, fruited. The old gardener looked forward to the herbs he'd grown spicing his food, and to the tomatoes he'd grown overwhelming his senses, and the melons he'd grown filling his life with sweetness, and so on.
The herbs were a delight, but when it came time to cut into his earliest summer squash, the old man was shocked to find that there was a shard of glass in the fruit. "How curious!" he thought. Then he cut into another squash, experimentally. There, too, was a piece of glass, and this one, he noticed, had a similar shape to the first, almost as if they would fit together. But they did not. The third squash was just a squash. So the old man shrugged, made a note to ask a more experienced gardener about it or perhaps post on an internet forum, and then continued to prepare his supper.
The next day, the old man began to pickle his cucumbers. The day after, he cut one up for a salad with his greens. There was a sparkling little glass piece, curiously shaped. "So odd!" he thought. "Is my garden that full of glass?" He decided to look into the history of his plot of land, as well as consult with other gardeners.
All through the summer, the gardener found shards of glass in his produce. Each piece was oddly curled and jutting, hardly sharp at all, which was fortunate, for many times the old man found them by biting into the fruit first. It is lucky that he did not choke. Other gardeners told him that sometimes a plant can grow around a piece of glass, but that there usually is a scar where the glass entered the fruit, not just smooth deliciousness. The county told him the plot had been a house, which had burned down. The old man supposed that is where the glass came from. "All those windows, " he thought.
Summer waned and autumn passed by. The old man had put the garden to bed, and kept all the glass he had found in a small decorative bowl, as it was of diverse and beautiful colors, and made an interesting conversation piece for when friends came over. Over that winter, the old gardener became increasingly interested in jigsaw puzzles. There was a sensuality to the way the pieces yearned for each other, and he found, despite his age and his solitude, that there was almost an erotic thrill in finding the right piece for the right curve. The realization temporarily embarrassed him, but a blessing of a life spent looking at actuarial tables is the knowledge that life is too short for shame. So he continued with his puzzles.
One day, having completed a particularly obtuse and dizzying puzzle, the old man was flush with victory and arthritic sensation. He dipped his aching hands in the bowl of rounded glass pieces to cool them, ease their aches. As he did so, he realized for the first time that the pieces resembled puzzle pieces in their desperate, hungry curves and suggestive protrusions. He chose a piece at random, allowed its cavities and bulges into his memory, mirrored them into the necessary missing piece, and went looking for it. After about an hour of searching, he found it, and fitted them together.
The gardener dedicated the next wintry weeks to caressing the pieces of glass together. It was for a time unclear what shape was forming, but eventually a large enough aggregated collection of pieces revealed a delicate appendage, rounded and fanned out at the end, rising into an uneven pillar. It was the paw and leg of some sort of animal. Over time, a cat took shape.
The cat's glass body was incredibly articulated. As the gardener assembled its form, he was astounded by the delicacy of the details. The curvature of the back. The way the glass whiskers shimmered in the air. The tufts of hair on the bushy tail.
Eventually, there were no more pieces to put together. The gardener sat back and looked at the patchwork glass cat. It was remarkably lifelike, and as the light poured through it, it was stunning in its loveliness. He stroked the cat's crystal fur, and found it oddly warm to the touch. He almost wished to bury himself in the nape of its neck, like a real cat. On a whim, he leaned in close to peer at its yellow, translucent eyes. Which blinked.
The gardener startled backwards. The glass cat took a long stretch, opening a mouth of pearlescent teeth and a rose-tinted tongue in a wide yawn. It shook itself, seeming to either not notice or be completely used to the gardener's presence, and then began to clean one delicate, translucent paw. Finally satisfied with the cleanliness of its paw, it stretched again, and jumped off the coffee table on which the gardener had assembled it, and began to explore the living room.
The gardener was torn between his shock at the strange occurrence of a mysterious jigsaw puzzle coming to life, and his delight in the beauty of the cat, as it moved through the weak winter light, which poured through the house's windows but also through the cat. Stunned into silence, he was completely taken aback when the cat, who was perusing the bookshelf, turned towards him and in a deep, resonant voice, said, "Have you read all this Proust?"
The voice had a faint musical quality to it, rather like the sound that is made when one runs a finger around the wet rim of a wine glass, or blows a note on an empty bottle. The gardener was so delighted that he almost rudely neglected to answer. "Oh," he eventually stammered, "yes, I've read a great deal of Remembrance of Things Past, though I have not finished it." The cat nodded, solemnly. "One cannot finish it, even if one reads the final words. It is a memory, not a book, and the only thing one can do with a memory is lose oneself in it."
The cat continued to stalk the bookshelf, making observations on the books, which the gardener found most penetrating and wise. They spoke long into the night, until the gardener was stifling yawns. "Forgive me," said the cat, melodiously. "You must be quite exhausted. Let us adjourn until morning. Please, enjoy your rest."
"It is as if this cat believes itself to be the master of this house!" the gardener thought, as he went upstairs to bed, "but then, I suppose that is just the way of cats." As he fell asleep, he realized that he had not asked a single thing about how the glass cat came to be alive, or how it showed up in pieces in his summer garden. He resolved to ask it tomorrow.
When he awoke, however, and came downstairs, he found the cat sleeping in his armchair, and he moved quietly through his breakfast so as not to wake it. When it did wake up, he first offered it food, which it declined, politely, as apparently it did not need to eat. Instead, it began again on a topic they had wandered around last night, about the naturalism of Guy de Maupassant. The day passed on, and indeed, the winter did as well, without any additional clarity on the cat's origin. The gardener decided, after much thought, that perhaps it is gauche to ask a cat where it comes from. "And I do not want to give offense," he thought, "for it is the best company I have had in years."
Finally came the spring, with the thrill of life through all, and the gardener returned to his garden. At first the glass cat seemed reluctant to join him outside, and instead, would spend the mornings and afternoons reading, or lounging prettily in the new, strong light through the windows. Eventually, however, it began to prowl about the door, in the way of cats. So the gardener let it outside, and it stalked around the yard, resplendent in the spring sunshine. The gardener, watching it, was suddenly filled with memories of the cool, protuberant pieces of glass that formed the glass cat, how they fit in his hand, the warmth of the cat itself now that it was alive, and its dazzling displays in the light. He realized that these memories were his great comfort, even more so than his comfortable life, even more so than the sweet roundness of a tomato, or the crisp crunch of a homemade pickle. He felt a great adoration for the cat, and half started towards it, as it investigated the edge of his garden. He was frightened the cat would go away, that it would leave him. He nearly shouted "Cat! Please! Stay forever!" but just then the cat turned back to him, and his panic ebbed.
The cat sat before him, and cleaned one paw thoughtfully. Then it spoke. "There used to be a great house here." The gardener nodded and said, "Yes, the county told me that." The cat nodded. "Did you know the woman who lived there?" it asked. "No," he said. "It burned down before I moved in. There was a woman?"
"Yes," said the glass cat in its humming baritone. "A woman." It stared out at the garden for a while. The gardener said nothing. Finally the cat nodded, as if it had made a decision. "And I was her soul." it said.
The gardener furrowed his brow. He felt oddly triumphant and satisfied, as if he held between thumb and forefinger the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. But still there was so much he could not see. "I… do not understand," he said. The cat yawned, stretched and nodded. "Yes. I was her soul. I am a creature of tremendous delicacy, and that is because I am at the core of a human being. I was her soul, and one day, she entrusted me to another. Who shattered me."
Here the cat looked solemn, and the old gardener felt terribly sorry for it, wanted to reach out to it, hold it close to him. But before he could, it continued.
"This betrayal over, I remained with my woman, though in pieces, though impossible to repair. She withdrew into a house. The house that stood here. She invested it with the shards of her soul. A framed picture here. A carefully arranged bookshelf there. A lovingly pillowed couch. A fully stocked kitchen. A well-appointed house is a poor substitute for a lover, someone to hold your soul gently and well. It cannot put a soul back together. But it can serve, to home a soul, to comfort it, to hold its many contradictions and pieces."
The glass cat looked thoughtfully at the gardener for a long time. It was somehow an awkward silence. To break it, the gardener said, "What became of her? What became of the house?" The glass cat sighed a deep sigh. "Oh," it said. "She died. She became old and forgetful. She left a burner on. Her precious house burned to the ground, and she with it. I entered the soil still shattered."
Here it looked at the gardener, then walked up to him and brushed against his legs. Instinctively, he reached down to stroke its warm, crystalline fur. It purred, a sound like a wind chime. It said, "You grew my pieces out of the darkness of the soil, you pieced me together. And that…is that love?"
The gardener reached down, and for the first time, picked up the cat, gingerly. It allowed him to cradle it in his arms. "Yes," he said. "I love you." "Good," said the glass cat. "For I love you."
So they lived happily ever after.
[Salacious Sally engages drive trains with clutch pops]
Salacious Sally engages drive trains with clutch pops
our booster cables respond quickly to her sudden shifts
we seize another level to spring off the game of parachutes'
bawdy fondness for leaping lusts that jut the striking surface
she's the lines that rush out in sudden leaps from besieged
positions, she's the cut to later action of vertical aircraft
her emergent quick wit is a river rising in central
South Carolina flowing southeast to the Atlantic Ocean
a sally port for the Mdewakanton Sisseton Wahpekute Wahpeton
peoples of Nebraska Minnesota the Dakotas Canada the Americas
as assailed by the scriber's sauté penmanship
is assailed by unplanned random violence
upward seedpods burst apart in jubilant leaps
dance down upon gross insolence
bodily injury recoils back to former shapes
expressed in leaden calculation of free-weights
the somersault organs of rudimentary
balance, bareback bodice, hanging jumpers
the unpredictable consequences of their intercalary faith games, of delicate flesh
spawning in fresh swimming from salt, light or reddish orange to yellowish pink
the leap of the prickly shrub berries
the leap of her raspberry thirst.
He's a saint in the sack
no cock up in the crops.
So is she.
[Neolithic city of dried fish on dry land birthplace of Saint Paul]
Neolithic city of dried fish on dry land birthplace of Saint Paul
under Roman rule in southern Anatolia near the Mediterranean Sea
west of Adana among the calla and stinking ash, a bag of slow
ballet by Tardigrada Aquarius, a blister bloom without blood or pus
mud puppy lifts a floodgate leg to planer trees, to hemlock and
chestnut, to the clepsydra, the windy dowsers blow with sodium
silicate squirt guns aimed at the horny shields of old coots
waddling on hyacinth mint pond lilies, African
vines cultivated for the red and yellow melons
cottonmouth nymphs intoxicate us from a clear
dipper of carved cordierite, seascape scorpion
sprites of hydrogen and oxygen the solvents
for the livelihoods of freezing and boiling
we point to, the specific gravity of amniotic fluid, wavy
sheens of valuation beyond real value for the inviolable
transparent luster of my wedding
gem of a cherry brandy, not yet dry
or fully firm, soaking in humid sales of alcoholic
rain, my foggy Chicago fries drenched in gravy
ejaculation dreams immerse nurses who cleanse
who rub who scrub, the soak and rinse removal
carries me away by the lapping sweep of
fermented swill distilling into mouthwash
watery under layers of housepainters, swirling the separate
constituents of ore to hold up and not fade but spread over
thin layers of India ink draw
the rush and surge of waves
the turbulence of an oar in water, a
propeller in air, emotions of the airfoil
my Mind hydroplanes without gain
or loss, cleansed from top to bottom
following food stuff liquid renunciations
of Northern Hemisphere's cold misery and barren death
or grown during or fed in the spent wet season of cherry
black alder and Chinese lanterns, I flounder green behind
the honeydew melon and savory Hubbard squash, under
solstice wheat fire, the lightest of all gases
and most abundant element in the universe.
The H Bomb.
[electronegative waters of crystallization]
electronegative waters of crystallization
in a leather vessel, the inner ear's semicircular
canals connect in a membranous sac
a labyrinth, the amaranth bladder
one seeded fruit of Time stolen through a water glass
a dropsical road encysts the larva of a wave sprite
earns a soul by marrying a mortal
undulates to bear the child of Paracelsus
where the teeming surging swamps recoil on all sides
then simultaneously rise in waves of liquid animals
a water snake near Tucana and Mensa in the Southern Hemisphere
the many headed monster killed and constellated in the equatorial sky
near Cancer Libra Centaurus the naked cylindrical
body of tentacles that surround the oral openings
the water of life distilled from barley
……………………..fermented wheat mash
……………………..mash of rye corn mash potato
the Inner Ear
[Given medicinal drinking parties of fit to drink magic]
Given medicinal drinking parties of fit to drink magic
potions, fermented brews from malt flavored with hops
carbonated alcoholic extractions of roots and plants
heartily drunk at the southern border of biblical Palestine
received liquids that stain the Mind
saturate and permeate the soil, soaks
me up as if drinking inspired a staining
a conference for conversation to produce
a collection of topical writings wrung from
convivial drinking, music and intellectual
discussion among ancient Greek citizens
feasting on rectangularly Russian, flat
pastries, filled with finely chopped hardboiled
eggs in the canoe of a hollowed tree trunk.
“Mistake of Nature”
………..God says Who told you you were anatomically correct? and as the free-range chickens Doppler and Bernoulli whistle past a cemetery but dispassionately red shift if a picnic is the kind of picnic where left over there are twice as many plastic forks as plastic spoons compulsion settles for obsession maybe I'll go south and with a giant pair of scissors mugging for the camera cut some crime-scene tape if in New York I crop up maybe crop up in New Jersey simultaneously and let leopards change the spots on their imaginations to which battle of the bands ought I not dance?
………..Dishonor mimics to whatever extent they deserve. Did I say to dishonor mimics? I meant, mimic these dis-honorees.
………..I'm underwriting disappearing ink with innocence and vice versa, I'm more Honest Abe than Honest Abe. And following a night of flying I put on my wonder-garments one prehensile atavism at a time.
………..The body not of water, not of knowledge and the perfect body not of ashes, not of fishes, but concomitant of opposites, the call is coming from inside the house – the rising tide lifts only Noah's boat.
………..The deck is stacked, Casandra leaves them laughing, pugilists are languishing in rope and canvas corners and, deflated, Santa's but a plastic puddle, as in Phoenix Arizona it's another shirt-sleeve Christmas Eve.
“A Matter of Survival”
Kitty had to get fake teeth in the fifth grade after I punched her in the mouth for calling me a monkey. She had danced around in front of me, hooting and scratching her armpits, because the way I sat squat on the blacktop to read made me look like an ape. I grabbed her twisting blonde pigtails and yanked her mouth to my fist like my mother had talked about doing once to a girl in a parking lot when I was still a peach pit in her belly. The two front teeth skittered across the ground like dice, and the blood leaked from her mouth as steady as a faucet.
I collected the teeth and kept them in a sewing box. From then on, any fight I got into, even if I lost, I made sure to collect something. Fistfuls of hair. Scraps of shredded clothing. A pink acrylic nail that had been lodged into my arm.
My mother was mostly upset about how I came back home with my clothes streaked with blood and dirt. She was still dressing me well into high school, in pleated knee length skirts and stiff frilled blouses with white collars that crawled up my neck. My hair greased back into a tight bun. I went to school with rich white kids whose socks always stayed glaringly white, no matter how many times they stretched out on their backs under the bleachers, spelling each others names in spit on their bellies.
My mother bought me second hand clothes with the quarters from her teeth. Shining silver coins leaking from a hollowed slit in her mouth. My first memory is of me sitting propped on the counter of a Goodwill while my mother searched through stacks of clothes her friends had hidden behind the counter, thumbing through the least frayed and pilled dresses and jamming her thumb into her gums to make the coins spill past her lips like a slot machine.
Her teeth were one of many places she kept her money: closed in carved out books, taped inside a cow skin drum, tucked in the toes of rain boots. Before company came, she would instruct me to move the money -- swollen plastic baggies of quarters and rubber band rolls of cash -- to new hiding spots, and would tell me to do it again once company left. Once, she saw a five dollar bill fluttering out of my jacket pocket. She snatched it from me and her grip cut into my shoulders. I could beat you, she said. Breath iron sharp. I won't because I love you, but I could.
My mother always wanted me to be grateful for things she didn't do to me. Like when I met Kitty again in my senior year of high school in a swimming pool parking lot. She stood leaning against her car, barefoot in a bikini top and shorts. Her long blonde ponytails had been chopped and buzzed close to her head -- not nearly enough to grasp in a fistful. Two shining chili peppers bobbed from her ears, dripping water onto her shoulders.
We stared at each other until her eyes felt like hot stones against my skin. I told her she looked like a genuine dyke. She flashed a grin that showed all her teeth. I shuddered. I had expected to hurt her.
In the back seat of her car, I kept desperately trying to grab onto her hair while she rutted in my lap and tore open my collar to drink the sweat flooding in the hollow of my throat. My hands slipped against her buzzed head and fell to grip at her waist. My tongue grazed her top teeth. I though maybe I could feel how the front two might have been smoother than the rest, and I felt that because I had the real thing I had already conquered her body. I wanted to pluck the fake ones out and crawl into the empty space to live there, rot her gums black. Or did a bunch of dentists shove metal in her mouth to screw in her porcelain teeth? If so, I wanted to wear it down with my spit until it rusted, and she could think of me when ruddy saliva oozed from her mouth.
Kitty gave me a ride home and my mother watched me shamble out of her car with my shirt untucked and one of Kitty's shining chili peppers tucked into my fist.
I could move you back to Oklahoma, she cried, and we both understood this as a kind of death sentence. You'll be stalking those fields until you dig a rut for yourself to be buried in. I told her that sometimes it felt like I was drowning on land. I told her that sometimes I walked the two hours out to the beach and stood on the edge of the pier until I felt sea salt air corrode the strength in my knees.
She laughed. If only you had grown up like me. A story I had heard three times by then, about how my grandmother, Grandma Junebug, made her sit outside on the porch if she wasn't home by the time she said to be home at. If she left from the porch, my grandmother kept the door locked for longer. One time, my mother amassed three days on the porch, licking up food in bowls my grandmother had pushed out the front door for her and watching the sun shiver the horizon. Another time, she had tried to force her way through the window with her elbow, and Grandma Junebug sent her back out, leaving my mother to pick bloody shards of glass from her arm alone.
My mother did not send me to Oklahoma permanently, but she decided to send me there for spring break, after the rising threat of girls in bikini tops skating through the streets outside our house -- like chlorine soaked packs of gods -- plucked her nerves as the ground turned brittle beneath their wheels.
My Grandma Junebug: a woman whose skin stretched over her body like a thin billowing sheet. Bird wrists, downturned eyes. But her voice rose from her chest like a howling wind in a hollowed out cave, the strength of the sound proving there was life from the source it came from. She spoke constantly -- labyrinthine chatter that exposed the personal lives of neighbors and churchwomen. The point of conversation always seemed ten steps removed from its origin, and in the midst of her dizzying narrative she would put her hand around my wrist to invite me to laugh at her own joke, and I'd notice just how strong her grip was and how straight she kept her back while mine listed against the weight of an hour or two passed. But she'd still be talking, eyes glinting and focused on me. And do you want to hear what happened next?
When Grandma Junebug asked for something, she demanded it.
My mother thought I might learn some womanly traits from Junebug -- or at the very least I would be forced to copy them for a couple weeks, but the extent of any forced femininity stopped after Junebug took both my hands in her fierce grip, observed my short nails, and asked me if I wanted a manicure. She chose the color, a milky nursery pink. Then she brought me to bingo. Where one of the tubes of pink ink cracked and spilled down the front of my sundress and I absorbed a room's worth of cigarette smoke until she won. Later, Grandma Junebug asked me if I wanted to accompany her on her afternoon walks, at the hottest point of the day when the red dirt we kicked up mixed with my sweat drenched blouses and made them blush.
Grandma Junebug asked me if I wanted to go stargazing. She had her hand rested on a pistol in her nightgown pocket -- as if she planned to shoot the stars loose from the black sky, which seeped into the ground and finally made the red clay black. We could hardly see in front of us, and instead had to rely on the shrinking dot of light from the porch and the sounds we made between ourselves. Junebug's slippers slapping against her heels. Metal clicking against her thigh. The steady shuffle of grass broken by a flinching body, that made me gasp, and that Junebug confirmed to be some sort of threat. She swiped her gun from her hip and shot at the spasming thing. I took my phone from my pocket. We were both marked with sparkling confetti droplets of blood from the jackrabbit twitching in the weak stream of cellphone light.
We took the rabbit home. I carried it swaddled in my jacket like a baby, my finger plugged in the seeping wound in its neck. Junebug said rabbits were a good source of meat. Of course she wouldn't eat it, she told me, but she knew a white woman who shot and killed them all the time for her and her two kids. We would give it to them as a gift in the morning. I followed her voice without looking up, too busy watching the stars stream by in the jackrabbit's still eyes.
The kitchen light seemed eerily bright after traipsing outside all moon eyed. I caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror as we made our way into the kitchen. Oversized souvenir shirt blooming red at the chest, legs crusted with dirt and blood, sweat glowing across my forehead. Some distorted Virgin Mary.
Junebug took the rabbit from my arms and set it flat on the kitchen counter, taking the same knife she used to cut the skin off apples and jabbed it into the rabbit's side. She stuck her fingers into the new wound and tore back the skin with two hands, as easy as if she were peeling away a coat.
I learned how to do this after my husband left, she said, just in case he came back.
I had never met Junebug's husband. I had only heard the stories my mother told about her father, Johnny, a man who stood as a light beam for my mother when she was so anxious about my future, she could only stand to look back. My father, she would tell me, was the kindest man I'll ever meet. He provided for me the way I do for you, she would say, relentlessly. No matter how poor we were he brought me gifts: lockets on gold chains, slick black Mary Janes, miles of glittering ribbons for my hair.
I had come to like this man simply because of how my mother only seemed to smile when she spoke of him.
Junebug's steady wrinkled hands twisted the head off the rabbit's skinned body -- exposed crystalline muscle -- her mouth a grim rut.
She told me how she remembered him.
They first met on a dance floor, where she -- dripped out in pale yellow, hair a frothing halo around her head -- shimmied her way towards a man dressed in white who shook his hips at her like his dick was a fishing line.
The first thing Junebug noticed about him were his hands, curved delicately and gently cupped like a child, as if he had never done anything with them. When he gripped her body against his crotch, his nails dug into her hips so hard, four curved moons bloomed into her sides and still shone there today. I had never felt so desperately wanted before, she said.
Instead of asking if she would marry him, Johnny said, Baby, I've got to have you.
Their favorite thing to do was dance along to Junebug's record player. They swayed long after the music fizzled out, sweat sticking their bodies together in the summer. Junebug liked that Johnny wanted all of her -- the salt building on her skin, the scent of her. He kissed her as if he worshipped every tooth in her mouth.
When she couldn't dance with him, Johnny's body moved in other ways. He ate all the food in her fridge and grew upwards until the seams of his suit popped and his neck arched against the ceiling. The hair on his chest thickened and rolled down his shoulders and back, thick and black like the raised hackles of a dog.
He brought other women to Junebug's home and left imprints of their bodies in her couch -- their perfume and sweat embedded in the threads of her furniture. When she tried to shoo him away, like she would any dog, he turned and latched his teeth into her neck, snapping bone. She crawled into the bathroom and pressed bath towels against her wound, until her shallow breathing solidified into a whistle. The mis-healed bone stuck out against the skin of her throat, like a hand through a curtain.
When her belly swelled she thought lying on her stomach or hanging upside down or throwing herself down the stairs might capsize the pit in her stomach -- but she stayed. When their daughter was born, small and pale, she fit neatly in the center of Johnny's palm, like a pearl.
Junebug had been raised believing in God and therefore could not kill herself, like she wanted. So she played dead instead, curled on her bedroom floor, feeling the fabric of her dress catch air against her steadily shrinking body. Junebug said she thought she played dead too well. Houseflies crawled against the surface of her eye, the smell of her body filled the air, her daughter gurgled in the next room -- but she didn't move. There were moments during shallow inhales that she thought she had finally died, but the whistling from her cracked throat reminded her of the movement beneath her skin.
Johnny liked new and beautiful things and his daughter was new and beautiful. He doted over her, and came home every morning with necklaces and lace fabric strung between his teeth. Bruised flowers and ticking watches. He held them over her as a baby and watched her fat fists reach for whatever he dangled over her, and when she was old enough to go to school he sent her off in fur coats and diamonds, tinged pink from whatever woman he had bit them off of.
Johnny did not cook for her, instead their daughter lapped up drips from left behind bottles, sucked on the hems of tulle skirts, and gnawed on pearl necklaces to slurp down the strings. Her hunger swelled and the weight of jewelry anchored her weary body. She cried out for days, constant and drilling like a siren. For Junebug, the noise meshed together with her teapot throat and the humming beneath the floor. Johnny frantically tried to quiet her with more shining things. He dropped dangling earrings down her open mouth only for her to swallow and spit them back up, deboned of their jewels. Necklaces swirled and choked up her neck like horseshoe rings, wringing out the cries in her neck to a pitch. Junebug said she heard Johnny then, whinging and circling the floor in a frenzy, his dog ears sore.
Then, ringing metal, and a last choked off cry that she recognized only because of how similar it sounded to her own. She carried herself to that echo and saw their daughter on the ground in a heap of coins, all sprouting from her red coated mouth like a fountain. Johnny shadowed over her -- chest heaving, fist raised.
He turned to Junebug with his head bent, and she told me that she used to be able to tell where the man ended and the canine began, with Johnny. As if she were sectioning him off for cuts of meat, keeping the man (his child-like hands, the way he danced) and doing away with the dog (his loose dick, his bite). Maybe her eyes were still cloudy from all that time spent wishing she was dead, but she could not unstitch a man from a shadow. There was no use pretending a dog was not a dog.
She stumbled up to him, tripped into his body, and latched her dull teeth into the give of his shoulder. He howled and swung, trying to buck her off his body, but she hung onto him like a parasite, tearing away chunks of his skin until his arm hung loose from its socket, bone stark white against black fur.
When he flung her to the ground and her legs buckled beneath her, she did not stay down. She crawled after him with blood and fur in her teeth, chasing him out the front door -- hobbling on three legs instead of running on two.
I used my stained shirt to help wipe the countertop clean and threw it in the garbage with the other stray limbs and rabbit skin. Grandma Junebug held my hands, her grip as fierce as the dead. I didn't know how she saw herself. If things are just what they were, was she still dead? A ghost watchful over her porch steps. And what the hell was I?
I think it's better for you to mess around with girls anyway, she said. You'll have an easier time beating her when she tries to kill you.
When I came back home, I shook all my fight prizes loose from their box and tucked Kitty's loose teeth and earring into an envelope. I told my mother where I was going and who I was going to see. She wrung her hands, fighting the urge to quell whatever desire she thought she saw in me with her fists. I told her again. I wanted her to get used to me wanting more than the coins from her teeth.
In the pool parking lot, I tucked Kitty's envelope in her windshield and I felt her coming as I walked away, the skin on my neck sticking up, remembering her. She called out to me. I felt the same weakness in myself when I stood above the ocean, wondering how far I would have to fall to feel something that stuck around longer than the urge to die. Instead of turning to her, I let my body ache with that want, letting it settle in my joints and carry me to something else that could satisfy me.
“condone first-degree murder”
torn-out tongues & beaten rock-bods
strewn about the sensual rounds of a
live condonable until yr not,
wish a single death
on every ICE agent
Espinoza writes "is it possible
to destroy power without
first eating it?" & i feel the answer
lives in the entropy of capital, the brimming-
end of industry, the cold-
death of infrastructure,
& w clean-prison-eyes Kamala
Harris gives her pronouns
on CNN & someone on twitter says
wealth burns politics to aesthetics,
hahaha this is true discipline, babyyy,
a rat for every pore
a flesh for every whole
(kill kill kill kill kill!!),
mass threads of peeps
who live to be soldiers
after the Rev,
left my answers
in my cult-year,
whiteness straight kills
if left to fester
the frightful thing,
crawling 'cross the wooden floor,
"like, i j don't find
depictions of peeling
inherently feminine" or
something to that
right, rigged to
bend under the brittling heat
of the sodomistic drone slash
the low, low, boiling
fraying under the sun, so this,
this is where the fun all
out yr mouth,
like a tongue,
at rest in the cold,
hurting in angles, & bad
beneath the bone,
to labor-tense about
wrenched in twain,
the heat-death of the human hand
to wander down the drain,
like a dead germ
"& who all isn't
gouging them own heads
re bodily un-stringing" but
in real life, the big moon
lets u down;
an Arthur Russel-y fanfare to
cease the heart to,
a woman about to end,
"another wrathful death,
if i had to venture
a guess" between the spit
ready for complacence
& a wrenching,
tensed-em-up & trussed
"too much too shallow
too loose, the flesh
stretching as u pry
out" to sit still,
to wring quietly now,
staving off dying slower,
clipped & clean
“fuck, marry, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, & kill”
a friendly fire heaving, whatever(,)
self-consuming storm swelling my knees
(predating the rain), bedridden 'til
Joe Biden called on cops to maim, i quit
cutting years ago but miss the ache, i catch
Crash (the '96 one, u perverts) where James
Spader goes "maybe the next one maybe the
next one" while Deborah Kara Unger lies
living in his arms by a mad wreck, intention
like a sore rusts the exposed "bone" like
gay terror, like a confession, like plastic flowers
sprouting from my gums again, "kick rocks,
kid"-ing until the revolution, here goes
Danielle Gatto Hirano
Most things are best when you're four
at thirty you're freezing in
Philadelphia at easter, but
at four you're rocketing coatless up
the steps of the Franklin Institute.
At thirty you balk at the cost of their soup-
Eight dollars a cup, while
men sleep on those steps! --
but Certs and some Twizzlers will suit you at four.
And when you see the zoetrope,
you spin its wooden handle,
it will remind you of nothing.
Not your dead grampa,
your disappeared youth,
no sympathy pain for hours of
snipping clowns out of vellum,
no knowledge of ocular horseplay.
It will be magic.
I licked your chair.
I did, and your windows,
the rims of your bowls.
I pulled out some strands of my hair,
wound them around
your least favorite books.
In forty years your daughters will gasp,
disgusted, piling items into crates.
"Whose is this?"
"It's so long!"
We won't be around to explain
you used to know this loopy broad
who needed to be sure
she would never really leave you
even if she was so angry
that just the sight of you could
make her spit.
You can buy this scent,
you can, for $20 an ounce,
in a square bottle with a
and it will remind you of this.
Standing on a hill in autumn,
surrounded by milkweed
in the guava-colored sunset
smelling nothing but
our neighbor's burning tires.
“Times and Time”
Besieged, by an army of clocks, bigots, accessing, ancestral unconsciousness,
harrowing, post-fame, tawny ports and padlocks.
Freak winds, the morning, the bleeding began to stop, after a kick, from a wild
bullock, never getting, gobbled up, covering up.
Saturday night, baking, vegetable vans and cribs, down school corridors,
embossed, in silicone skin, Saturday afternoon, dream symbols, the back garden,
blind drunk, morphine pumps, destinations, twine-mouths, scratching a living.
Took a break, to come back again, in daylight, saving times, unravelling
Deuteronomic, Teutonic, oghamic and totemic mysteries, after a housefire.
In search of signposts, broken faced, slow fragmentation, digital witcheries,
the deeds of gaunt and plump, to go to far, into the darkness, where there,
can be no separation, of art and artist.
Unintelligible sounds, for songs, suspended from, unfamiliar percussive
beats, a man, who performed, gymnastic manoeuvres, to justify his own existence
and hide, his insatiable greed, another, could never, accept himself, as he was and is,
so, he did not, he just was and is, someone else, existing, beside himself, until death,
they do part, a builder's son, got a job, on a site, to sleep all day and all night.
Pitted, parched, arid, evening out, the bubbles and dents, left a lampshade,
on a post, the tassels, having blown off, in the wind, no damascene moments,
for blind arrogance, white noise, to quieten, some horrors, never invited in,
by the soul.
Triggered images, of dead fingernails, clawing, at wooden, window ledges,
queer-red, corn-stalks and wicker men, of parallel lines of telephone masts.
Rash decisions and rash-laden, flushed, blushed, faces of stone, without the
required essence, lost in a game, with no concept, of where, to lay blame,
for homeostasis and static, staccato movements, despite persistent attempts,
to propel the self, over the heads, of crowds, of sincere infantries, climbing
over their backs, with insincerity and little else.
Calmer, with the spectrums, of colours, of white noise, forgetting, of white,
chalky, porous bones and those, nursing hangovers, since, before, the BC era,
avoidable time and unavoidable time and times, time again, time, again.
Covering up, they often fall, from floors, one by one, or a few, at a time, timed to perfection, chess moves, to the kingdoms of oblivion, discommoding, discombobulating, disembowelling, in stiff, coloured shirts, dagger moves, under desks, in the hours, of light and darkness, necessities, being the mother, of all inventions, bent, rusty knives and safety-pins, carpets of nails, chairs of panel-pins and metatarsals and metacarpals, nailed into stone, before being jettisoned and thrown overboard, by the dog-faced, in cotton wool, blankets of blood, running, dried and crusted, drinking from, mugs of rum, dusted, in the corpses, of last year's trash.
Hiding the steel traps, with sharp, rusted, iron teeth, well used, to bone, in safes and presses, with the history, of hundreds of breakdowns and admissions, to asylums, for those luckier, than, the premature dead, deception, betrayal, callous disregard, intentional harm, ill will, spite, bitterness and pure, unadulterated hate and keyly's dead skull, used for potted plants and to hold, bird seed, the blood of the meek, the good, rarely, the bad, rotten inside out, like old, dry, peeling bark, from a dead and burnt out tree, claw-hammers, fox-catchers, vice-grips, an array of weapons, hidden, in mouth and print.
Scrawled, their names, in blood, on a fat one, with a Stanley knife and a scalpel blade, disposing, of the body, down a stairwell, to nowhere, left worse off, than prison, to face the cold, hard, unforgiving streets and an endless life, for stealing, a chocolate bar, off a supermarket floor, half-eaten, half not, cast down, cast aside, cast out with stones.
Broken in half, carried by a fattened calf, for another, thirty years, of desktop games, before the rolling pin, steam roller and death knell, flattened, wettened, weakened, to water and gibberish, barely, broke a rash, in the process of execution, by lethal procedures.
Left to kick, the rusted screws and tin cans, around vacant yards, of hard, cracked concrete, nooks and crannies, oil-stained, slates, covered in earthworms and woodlice and rat and dog carcasses, long gone putrid, the stench of death, unbearable, for any human constitution, where the porcelain dolls, wear prosthetic limbs and gyrate on barb-wires, disturbed, desperate, directionless, desecrated, devastated, dead.
“The Appearance of Truth”
Walnut, butternut, pecan, hickory. Lucky and Eimear attack the Eastern United States. They invite their friends. Gregarious feeding. Cheap party whistles.
No! No! No! You are not the centerpiece, absent brother. Neither should you wander to the periphery.
The pain is approaching now. Do not listen to what you have to say while under this influence except to restructure your thinking.
We have no rules. We have no ending but the temporary story that lives within the larger story and never really dies, but it starts over beyond the beginning.
When you wait, you are getting stronger. When you push ahead, you are using that strength and must stop to replenish it or hold it against yourself like a stone.
This is not the only place your heart must be found, but you have to discover the others on your own and insert them like a piece of the countryside that appears in your dreams as an animal and devours you and spits you back out because you didn't belong there, but you had to get eaten to learn that and to be less afraid the next time, even if the next time will not be identifiable as the next time until it's over. Still, your heart knows and gradually has more and more to say to you.
The past is easily ignored, even if it's still there. You can't go home now without building a new one that might even look just like the old one.
First you let Lucky warm the axe against your chest until your heart participates, and then you begin speaking as you strike, felling story after story, and at some point you no longer need the axe.
Three of anything is not a completion but a provocation. Ask Eimear. Ignoring it enlarges the size but not the number. Perhaps three more will come along and refuse to be six.
We've been waiting for the morning long enough. Nothing can happen in the dark that doesn't stay in the dark, but the morning can fall asleep partly open all day and still be there in the moonlight. We are talking now about experience, not planets.
Gold thread is not golden but merely desirable, and we use it to attach one desirable thing to another, as if we wanted to attach the thread to the rest of a life instead of the rest of a life attaching itself to the discovery of a different need for the "golden" thread. Sometimes the appearance of truth is greater than the truth and leads us to other hidden truths.
There are no rules except some things don't work. Ask Eimear.
“What He Was Good At”
My crawlers are reddish while I have a cameo-like appearance, a mature female, globular. There are no males. I'm tropical, don't mind the southern United States. I have an unusual projections of pink wax formations.
Three long lessons then, unseeing, unhearing, unspeaking, worshipping the inevitable jungle. I'll take a shower or two with me, just in case.
The state of suspended animation does not contribute to our further union.
More news about blues.
I don't do elevation. I matriculate. I arrange for the sitter to stand.
The liberation of territorial agendas simply produces more territories.
Arrested by my forward while my reverse falters.
What if life is God's one hate crime?
So Mama fox says to Papa fox, I've used up my beautiful arguments. I rest my empty case.
What a fop the angry lion becomes when he goes home to a brightly lit den, everything average and familiar.
Left an aural stain, left a distant doorbell.
Western Bean Cutworm
Heinrich dreams forward to the past he will have. The Western great plains. Damaged corn. Small groups of likewise.
His soul is a ghost and may never have really been there at all. It doesn't stop me from talking to it when he's not there although it may be me who answers.
Don't say it unless you have to. Don't offer moments of half belief without the thrust of necessity to power them beyond doubt.
Someone else's doctor will see you now. He will be another man with your beginnings. He will start over, but he will not be beginning. Inside the man there is more cotton. You may not violate his cotton. You may witness it.
Life is not snowing. Life is not shining constantly. Life is not easy to follow or lead. There is only one moment that accounts for this. Again and again.
When you visit, make yourself unobtrusive. It's best if Heinrich doesn't even know you were there.
Heinrich does a little sprint-away until suddenly away is here and he's arrived like one big wart of a purse looking smug and full of further arrivals.
The beauty of the takeoff, the spat of the landing. Followed by a did-you-see-that folding in of limbs.
I feel the greater pain of having known so little.
As the phone call comes finally in, I hear the fallen leaves along the way whispering about and sending slower messages on down through the soil to someone waiting.
Shall I answer it, or am I the caller?
Western Spruce Budworm
Poot Tunnelbuds earned his name, but he also chews needles all the way to extensive defoliation. His children are olive-brown, but he is among the highly variable in color. His wife is a good flier, as his kids will likely be. They arrived from shingle-like masses at the undersides of the needles they ate.
Poot is a carefully mistaken honor, but in which direction? Which part is x and which is y?
A dead man has no rudder, but a live one has no boat, only bodily notions in a rainstorm. Some days they sail and sometimes they drink, these skin profs with the experience Poot needs.
Poot listens to summer in the stones too long and Poot hears winter. The center hasn't arrived yet, but it promises to be a smooth one. Without walls, Without caps.
Remove the shroud and a faint light appears.
Remove the faint light and you are unavailable.
An absence choosing a presence so that it's leave-taking might become more noticeable, more dominant. A presence choosing an absence that it may return judiciously.
Translation: The best choice cannot remain the best choice, but it can replace itself with its own future.
One speaks. The other doesn't seem to be listening. Poot has learned more than I did yesterday. The lifetime before seems condensed, on its way somewhere unimaginable. I can't think of anything missing.
There is more to life than the creature, but the creature is the explanation for all else that is necessary.
“The Nobleman's Tree”
Branigan the Silent lives with paper wasps. He's social in their colonies, but without speaking. He makes paper nests and eats garden pests. Late in the season, he and his friends scavenge for meat and sweets in the high plains all the way to the Pacific Coast.
Branigan is yellow with black markings. He has a smooth body with no hair. Abandoned rodent nests make his favorite tables. He chews their vegetable fibers. Earthworms and carrion aid his more imaginative settings.
The first children are small, infertile female workers. They take over the home-building and rearing of the young. There will be several thousand by fall. The fertilized females survive what the males cannot. The houses are abandoned, not reused, just as so many ideas are.
One night Branigan had been exchanging intimate thoughts so long that the inevitable alternative silence, when it arrived, reached out and stroked the parts he had forgotten.
The nearby nobleman's tree was too crooked for a chair, so a poor man offered to take it away and feed it to the ocean. The seagulls offered their soft white spices, happy to be standing up for a principal that had nowhere else to go.
The ocean continued by telling jokes it didn't even understand. Do not speak, the ocean said, to the noisy strangers gesturing wildly in the familiar wet-halls, or you may find yourself alone, communicating only to yourself, not even able to see the words awaiting you.
Your local achievements finally sail on alone, as if they are children pointed in someone else's direction. That's what Branigan says without words when the paper nests get older. He doesn't notice how quickly he is aging.
The kitchen box was not unpacked, so Marty drank from the measuring cup: 4 fluid ounces or around 120 mill, he reminded himself, by lowering his head and twisting the handle around on the scuffed countertop. The copper swill inside wobbled as he did so, once, then settled. He took another warm sip then decided to dig around in the box for his icecube tray. After the fourth or fifth try, he gave up. On his fingertips now he could feel newspaper print as he carried the measuring cup back to his workspace in the main room, weaving around all the other unemptied boxes, doing his utmost to ignore the overall diminished charm of his new surroundings.
With anything metric, Marty invariably recalled the raunchy mnemonic his old labmate Bilksy had devised for the two of them back in 11th grade. That was twenty-two or twenty-three years ago. Dr. Welsh or Welch. It still came in handy. Marty was a freelance copyeditor now, mostly for medical magazines. There were some days his work seemed only to consist of the sounding-out of various incantatory terms of Greek derivation, such as luteolysis or brachiocephalicus. To his disbelief, these terms were never misspelled, however long or arcane, not once, yet he'd regularly catch a sloppy second 'i' in "thiis" or absentminded mixings-up of "their" and "there." Sometimes editors wanted the data doublechecked, or all their units converted to milli for the sake of readability. Otherwise the numbers took up half the column. That was the other reason this mnemonic kept replaying in his head as he tapped return to wake up his laptop. He clicked save out of habit. Then he proofread an opinion piece on what to do with tissue specimens from arthoplasties until 4:00.
Finished, Marty opened the spreadsheet for this account, noted his hours down to fifteen minute increments, then resaved everything twice, emailed it all off, and closed the programs. His eyes left the computer screen to look outside the window. For a full five minutes, he stared at the characterless courtyard, the overmown grass, not even a dandelion allowed to live. Dimly, he registered the fact that he had just enough spirit stored up to unpack his bookboxes or go eat. Sniffing his t-shirt, he found it inoffensive, but the tiny perforations he noticed in the front, caused by moths or perhaps by the communal washing machine, sent him to the closet to tug a button-down out of the suitcase opened on the floor. He whipped the shirt in the air twice to unwrinkle it a little, making that parachute sound each time. He did the buttoning on his way down the stairs.
In sandals, it took Marty twenty-five minutes to reach the Frontier Saloon. As he cut across his former tee-ball diamond, he sighed at the wooden statue of Crazy Horse, over on the roof. The polka-dotted colt was still rearing beside him. The bear was still stolen. He crossed at the light and entered through the takeout section, past the rows of refrigerated beer and wine spritzers, the Powerball machine, into the near-total darkness of the bar room.
A burly bartender he couldn't quite place sat in his Army coat atop a covered metal trash can behind the bar. The box fan on full blast beside him kept bending his beard. His ring finger was preoccupied with scrolling away from something on his phone. The only other customer looked up from his own phone to get the bartender's attention for the newcomer. Marty ordered Fingers & Fries, plus a Ying.
"You're Rebar, aren't you?" he asked when his beer arrived.
"You're thinking of my brother." The barman looked accustomed to the confusion, yet so exasperated by it also, Marty half-expected him to sulk back to his trashcan until he continued talking. "But if you're dying to learn about rebar, I'll tell ya about rebar. All it is is reinforcement beams you stick in the concrete. There's two kinds of strength. Tension and compression. So like an overpass -- "
"What's the difference?"
"If I sat on Terry here, that's compressive strength," he said, pointing at the other patron. Now that Marty's eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the loud birds-of-paradise all over Terry's Panama shirt.
"And if I took Terry's arms and --"
"That's tensile. You make a cage out of these beams. Then you pour into that."
When Marty's plate arrived, he was on his third beer, plus the 240 milliliters of Rye from earlier, and therefore grateful for the grease. He ate hurriedly then slid the plate as far away as possible. Eventually a tatted blonde replaced Rebar's brother, who then shifted to bouncer. A man in loafers with a feathered haircut brought his dog in under his left arm. The Phillies played the Cardinals, muted, on both TVs, while the place filled up with people decked out for some country line-dancing class. A little before close, Marty got too boisterous for your average Tuesday night at the Frontier. He needed to be chaperoned to the end of the block by Rebar's brother, pointed in the wrong direction.
For the next few days, Marty's brain committed itself to rehashing four years of drawn arguments between himself and his ex-fiancé. By now, he had located his pint glass and the icecube tray near the bottom of the kitchen box, though he still drank from the measuring cup anytime the pint glass held soaking utensils. On his trips to and from the freezer, Marty hated how Kristen could still insert herself into his thoughts the very second his attention was pulled away from the computer. His ex was an Art History professor at Temple, 31, on the verge of tenure, therefore doubly vulnerable, when they met by the dartboard at Dirty Frank's. He was 35 and put off by the gruffness of Delco women enough to ride the R3 into Center City five or six nights a month. Every First Friday, when all the galleries stayed open late, Marty liked to step through their unimpressive displays of cardboard, manipulated in the same six or seven ways, praying for a pretext to meet any edifying woman from the City. When he recognized Kristen from one of the galleries by her peacock skirt and reddish hair, waiting to order, Marty decided to challenge her with the second dart he was holding in his palm. The two of them played badly while she laughed at all his pat dismissals of the lousy art, mouth covered, the same way a gregarious nun might humor an irreverent joke. Upon last call, she gallantly insisted on walking him to his train. On the way, he couldn't tell if she was just clueless as to timetables or deliberately trying to make him late, but they took two wrong turns at her insistence and walked more slowly than an architecture tour. He missed the last train by over twenty minutes. During the shivery walk back to her place, Marty became unnerved by the exactness with which all of this matched his fantasy. His head began to flood more than a little prematurely with images of a more interesting life: advance showings and memberships, weekends antiquing, etc. Whenever Marty's brain worked too hard like this, regarding possibilities, he would grow noticeably silent. Not knowing him better, Kristen mistook his sudden hopefulness for simple shyness. She held the door for him. Upstairs, she poured them cognac in some Samovar glasses her father had brought back from a business trip to Moscow. Detail by detail, he took in what he firmly believed to be his future apartment. How easy it would be to slide that credenza over a couple feet so as to make room for his desk. His books could hide behind hers. Humming along to Etta James, Kristen made up the pull-out for him, where the two proceeded to have slightly workmanlike sex.
Overnight, each took a turn at vomiting as noiselessly as possible.
Late the following morning, Marty felt afraid to object when she offered him another man's clean poplin shirt on the way to their very first brunch. They waded through a crowd of seated men inching baby strollers back and forth. At their table, she found out what he liked, ordered for the both of them, avoiding eggs and salmon for him, then launched into an autobiography that indicated they were ultimately on the same pressing schedule. Kristen's childhood held an instant alien fascination for Marty: homeschooled, packed with precocious projects and family excursions far too lengthy to call vacations. There were three sisters in all, in order: the Yoga instructor, the Professor, and the baby of the family, a semi-successful Actress none of whose commercials he had seen. Their father lived somewhere like Singapore. Their mother had her flighty causes.
When Marty's turn came, his own backstory sounded so grim alongside hers that he instantly learned a trick he would rely on for the next four years. He turned it all into a badge of honor. Most of his friends were skinheads in recovery. His mother was undiagnosed bipolar, out of the picture. There was a distant sister he saw every couple Christmases. Caring for their cancerous father had fallen wholly to him while he was a student, commuting to Temple of all places, five days a week. A four-year degree stretched out to seven, eight. Changing majors twice didn't help. Together they marvelled at how he'd managed to accomplish even this much with his life, what with so many premature responsibilities heaped on him. After college, he'd gone through several jobs peripheral to healthcare or copywriting, none of which had seemed related to one another until he hit upon this idea of catching other people's typos from the backporch of his Secane apartment. Growing up, he'd turned himself into a careful reader, despite the dearth of any books in the house. It dawned on him, brainstorming on the train one night, that he'd developed a healthy list of medical contacts. He'd even gone far enough with Pre-Med to appear conversant around any doctors he encountered. That's how this modest business of his got started.
By the middle of her Spring semester, Marty was spending three nights a week at Kristen's place, Fridays into Monday usually, waiting for her to have him move in so he could both trim his rent and cleanse himself of Delco life for good. Awaiting the 4:15, Friday afternoons, Marty always grabbed a City Paper from the dispenser down the end of the platform. All ride, he circled possible diversions but presented only the best two or three to her, barely off the escalator where she picked him up at Suburban Station. Unfortunately, there was always grading to do, or something else work-related that took precedence. Kristen's tenure clock was ticking loudly, which made her terrified to miss even a single department gathering. Marty tagged along for most of the lectures and dinner parties, yet fairly early in their relationship, he should've admitted to himself her world was not at all what he'd anticipated. All her colleagues did was gripe about their students or talk departmental procedure in a private dialect which left him feeling left out of every outing in the exact same way. Nobody asked him what he did.
Saturdays were reserved for her Giotto manuscript, so he worked too, assuming he had any articles left over from the week to proof. More often, he sent feelers out to academic journals, trying to build up his client base, borrowing her login to skim through their backissues. At a certain point, he'd cock the laptop at an angle where she couldn't see it, open up a second screen, then peruse the local events calendar, unsure what it meant that they still hadn't been to the Mutter Museum, or to a single fleamarket or jazz festival, or done a daytrip out to New Hope, or even gone back to Dirty Frank's for some sentimental darts.
One of those weekend mornings, Marty didn't know what he was clamoring to do, but he was positive he could not stand another gorgeous day indoors, pretending to be productive at his laptop. He kept glancing over from his screen to watch her work. Kristen only used her thumbs and index fingers, yet she typed almost maniacally fast. She had on his Minor Threat shirt, a white wifebeater she'd commandeered months before because it was comfy and flattered her tits. A couple terms came to him. Areola. Stroma. He was focused on the nearer one, debating whether to get up and sneak his hand inside there, try to lure her back to bed at least, but she was typing so furiously now that he postponed the urge and opened another journal instead. Almost an hour went by before her typing stalled. He started to tell her about a rare phobic condition he'd just been reading about, specific to Japan, taijin kyofusho, where the sufferer develops a pathological shame about his own body, fearing its odors or functions, even its mere presence, might offend those around it. It seems Americans are catching it. She blinked into her screen several times. Yes she'd heard of it before. The light scolding he then received drove Marty out for the rest of the day in order to avoid what had become their standard quarrel.
Purple hyacinth and daffodils lined the pathway out to Pine Street. Overhead somewhere in one of the other apartments, that neighbor he'd expected to meet by now was practicing another solo on his vibraphone. All nine blocks to Rittenhouse, Marty's brain shifted blame back and forth over what had just transpired. Sure he could understand how some trains of thought can't afford to be broken. What was less clear to him was why he nevertheless felt so justified. He walked the length of the Square twice, gradually working out the presence of a mild rage inside him over how hard he'd had to scrabble for every piece of edification he'd ever earned for himself. Kristen had lived three or four lifetimes to his one, however, he could see now how they both were suffering under self-imposed deadlines. The Square may as well have been empty. He was standing with his back turned to a gazebo, likely being noticed, wanting to rush home and apologize, though he could sense the timing would be wrong. To return within an hour would come off as co-dependent, or worse, it might seem like some cheap tactic only meant to escalate their fight. So Marty forced himself to do what he should have been doing all along -- catching up to her.
First he played some homeless shark at chess, hazarding $1 per game for a net loss of $3. Next he crossed the street and finally tried falafel. Then he sought out that Gayborhood bookstore they'd driven by in that taxi once. He flipped through every book on their Men's Health table. A nosy gentleman, milling around the much younger cashier, eyed him all the way out the door. This took less than ninety minutes, so he headed a few blocks up Walnut next, then zigzagged until he'd found the entrance to the Mutter. Inside he leaned forward and squinted at each and every cross section of brain on display, all the diseased organs in formaldehyde, the scores of skulls. He read a brief evolutionary history of the coccyx fixed to the wall beside a jarred human tail. Here was what he'd been after all along! To turn a corner and glimpse the shared liver of the Bunker Twins gave the whole visit a feeling of minor pilgrimage. Yet when the guard announced they were closing in fifteen minutes, as politely as possible, Marty rushed around a slow group of seniors for the exit.
As he turned the second lock with the spare key, he heard some scurrying behind Kristen's door. For a tenth of a second perhaps, across his chest, also up the cords in the back of his neck, Marty felt his body physiologically preparing itself to catch Kristen at it with some performance artist, or that Theology colleague who attended everything. Instead, all he found was her, eyes done heavy black, pulling his Misfits hoodie up off over her negligee as if she'd been waiting in it for him so long she'd grown cold.
Inside of a week, all of Marty's shirts had ended up on different doorknobs throughout the new apartment. His jeans were always somehow on the windowsill. Anywhere from one to three pairs of socks would be balled up beneath the table. His daily routine was well in place by now: black coffee and emunctories, proofread roughly from 11:00 to 4:00, inebriated shower, then airdry himself in the center of the room, groins powdered, taking stock of all he'd yet to accomplish. Most of the boxes remained unpacked. Even the mattress was still in its shrinkwrap. Starving by this point, he'd promise himself to do one thing -- unpack a box, connect the printer, dishes, anything -- as soon as he returned. Then he went around gathering up the clothes he needed to venture out to the Frontier.
On the walks home, he'd typically stop at the Acme behind his building for a jug of iced tea or deodorant. His end of the complex was separated from their loading dock by a partial fence. An eighteen-wheeler was usually idling in the alley while an unloading truck pulled pallets from its back, beeping in reverse. It was always messy back there. Lettuce found its way to the ground. Even in this heat, it took the stuff a day or two to fully deteriorate into the pavement. Anytime he wanted to take his shortcut from the boulevard, Marty had to step down off a short ledge and then avoid all of the perished vegetables. Often at dusk, he'd surprise the landscaper who'd quickly cut the throttle on his weedwhacker, swinging it away from the sidewalk so Marty could pass.
Most of the mail, whenever he checked, was for the previous tenant. He left anything important-looking wedged in a gap where the mailbox surface had separated from the wall. There seemed no point in changing the label. Two of the publications he proofread for preferred to issue paper checks, and so he simply added c/o Kubicki, the previous tenant's surname, to his billing address on those accounts.
Lugging whatever he'd bought for the night ahead up the stairs, Marty understood why older people gravitate to supermarkets every single day. It used to annoy him how they clogged up all the aisles, rearranging their four cans of soup apiece on the conveyor belt. Now he saw the inexorability of it all laid out before him like some physics problem, time minus space, the awareness of shrinking possibilities versus our basic need for destinations. He would set his own purchases down on the countertop, then doctor himself a drink and take it out to the table. It kept occurring to him, sitting there, that he was almost to the age his old man had been when the tumor appeared just below the start of his descending colon. Their divorce was nearly finalized by that stage. Marty's mother was living down the shore somewhere. Last he'd heard was Cape May. His father had just found himself a suitable efficiency in Folcroft. He was so thrilled at the prospect of reentering the Delco bar scene. The old man kept pestering the son to come shoot a rack with him until the diagnosis came. Marty hardly knew how to access memories of his father, prior to his dying, anymore. Whenever Kristen had wondered about the man, he steered every story back to all that had been asked of himself, how trapped and overwhelmed he'd felt during those fourteen months. The detail that affected her the most was of a younger Marty composing his college essays from that rubber armchair while his father watched the Phillies, muted, chewing icechips from that hospital bed.
Soon enough Marty was noticing the first symptoms of all this nightly isolation. He began to hum and twirl his way around the little studio apartment. Tail ends of phrases he'd been thinking would suddenly be voiced aloud. Twice he caught his senses lying to him. The second time he actually thought he was hearing notes from a vibraphone coming in his open window, only to realize he had momentarily forgotten where he was, when it was. Where he was was at the table with his chair turned towards the mattress on the floor, using his bookboxes for a footrest, and he had to stand up and go over to the windowsill and reason with himself a minute to be sure.
Another night, his brain kept circling back to the last apartment the two of them had shared in Northern Liberties. Soon after they got back from Kristen's sabbatical in Florence, almost six months ago, engaged, their fighting had grown so regular, sort of aided in its movements by the open-plan arrangement of their new loft, that Marty began to develop a horror of running into anyone in their building. His shame at facing the neighbors grew so ingrained, he would actually turn around and reenter their apartment at the slightest sound of foot traffic. Unaware how ludicrous he looked, he used to wait with eye pressed to the peephole, shushing her behind him with both hands. Either that jobless couple would go by, or the Korean family always with their packages. He'd listen for a door to unlock and relock, then storm out and walk the neighborhood until he couldn't feel his feet.
Realizing this was precisely what he needed now, Marty found pants and stuffed next month's rent into a pocket to slip under the Super's door. Right as he'd taken his first step down the stairwell, however, there came the sound of a deadbolt snapping into place upstairs. For a moment, Marty froze. But then it hit him. Neighbors needn't be avoided any longer. That whole ordeal was lifted. He could be the friendliest guy in the building if he wanted, the extrovert that other couples took elaborate pains to avoid. The old words for clean slate, tabula rasa, echoed sarcastically in his head all the way down the stairs and out into the Delco evening.
To wander aimlessly awhile was his only objective, so Marty took the opposite direction from his shortcut in order to avoid the usual destination. It'd been too warm all week, but it was after 8:00 and cooling off. Nobody else was out. Some lightning bugs hovered under every tree on Sylvania Avenue. Marty gladly surrendered all decisions to his feet regarding where to turn and where to cross, focusing instead on all the moving silhouettes in every curtained window. People gesticulated more here than the City. He was carried down the numbers until 6th, then turned towards Ridley high school. He walked that block where any black families had lived when he was little, then stopped and gazed across the street, not at one high school this time but two, his own alongside some half-constructed new one slated to replace it he supposed. Marty crossed the street and peeked up at the set of windows he believed had once belonged to Dr. Welsh or Welch's laboratory. The man didn't have a PhD, but everybody called him doctor anyway. He'd have to be in his eighties now.
Marty took the cinderpath down to that fence around the track, ending up on the footbridge over the creek to Woodlyn. The bridge ran straight into a cemetery. Half the school lived on this side, so there was a crossing guard assigned to prevent any loitering around the graves from 3:00 to 4:00. Marty's father wasn't here. His aunt was, though, on his mother's side. Her son lay underneath her in the same plot. The boy had M.S. They were withholding him from family gatherings already by the time Marty was in middle school. Some remote respect for blood relations made him pause at least and glance in the direction of their tombstone, on his way out the other side.
He'd been walking for over an hour now. He turned the corner at Tancredi's and went into the Wawa for an iced tea. The younger sister of a girl he'd slept with in 11th grade was working behind the deli. She didn't seem to recognize him. He drank the whole bottle down under the lit awning outside, searched around for a recycling bin, then tossed the plastic bottle in the trash.
Marty must've walked another three miles after that, the equivalent of four or five kilometers, barely looking up to pick his turns, before he realized he was no more than a block or two away from Bilksy's house. He doubled back to the corner to make sure. Amosland Road. He couldn't see the old house from where he was standing, but the floodlight was clearly on up in the driveway. For the first half-block or so, Marty was only approaching to see if that crumbly porch had finally fallen off the front or not. Well before he reached it, he could hear the muffled hardcore reverberating from the stereo. A light was on in the attic. The only change in the facade he noted was the old green swing was gone, replaced now with an ordinary bench. A waxy roller-shade hung down too far to see much else.
Up on the stoop, he noticed the floormat was crooked forty-five degrees. Leaves were smushed into the cement where it should go. Behind the door, over the music, he could hear obvious sounds of struggle: furniture shifting, someone egging someone on, all to cheering female laughter. Old customs took over. He turned and descended the stoop and walked along the cruddy aluminum wall to let himself in the back.
A man about his age looked up at Marty from a glowing toaster when he saw the screendoor being opened. He was paunchy everywhere but in the face. His hair was high and tight. Suspenders dangled down his jeans.
"Yo Marty," the man said.
"Yo Karate Mike." Marty looked down to check his old friend's bootlaces. One black, one white. "What belt you up to nowadays?"
"Blue still. I flunked the purple test. But I can take it again next month." Marty nodded back as encouragingly as he could. Karate Mike kept glancing up and down from the toaster. "Hey! We got an extra Turbonegro ticket for the Troc tomorrow. Face value. You want it?"
"What's face value?"
Marty shrugged and made a face to say he'd mull it over as he slid between Karate Mike and the kitchen table. He passed the closed basement door, through which he heard the opening theme-song to a cop show blaring, and stepped under the wider archway of the living room. Two men had set their bomber jackets down to wrestle in the center. The coffee table had been pushed against the front door to make more room for them. Locked down together at the necks, their legs resembled the four limbs of a single bull, hopping in circles around the room. Marty recognized the older of the two. Rawhide got his younger opponent into a neckhold, but then this unfamiliar kid snuck his boot behind Rawhide's knee and knocked him to the floor, then started choking him. Rawhide smiled up at Marty through his gasps. A vampish girl of seventeen or so was watching them excitedly, knees up in the middle of the wraparound sofa. Bilksy's back was turned. Without a word, the fighting stopped, and Rawhide exhaled loudly. Bilksy cocked his head around to see who everyone was looking at.
"Arty Marty!" he shouted, springing up, "Arty fucking Marty! C'meer and smooch my pickle!"
As they hugged, Marty felt the possibility of a crying fit, welling down in the vicinity of his lungs. He squeezed Bilksy and shook him roughly in order to contain it.
An opened PBR was jammed into his hand.
He sat down a cushion away from the girl and the other red-faced kid. They were about the same age, but they didn't seem to belong to each other. Bilksy explained that Lauren was from Jersey, and Marty garnered she must be indefinitely crashing in the attic. Between sips, he snuck separate looks at her cleavage through her saggy wifebeater, then her choppy hair and curling silver sideburns. Rawhide dragged and kicked the coffee table back into place, then he and Bilksy stood there grinning at their oldest friend. The wallpaper looked waterlogged on the wall above their heads. Communal copies of Romper Stomper, Clockwork Orange, Sid and Nancy, and Suburbia were stacked behind them on the entertainment center with a dozen ancient bootlegs, skate tapes, etc. He recognized two tapes that once were his.
"I know what I need from you, hold on," Bilksy said, shaking his fists. That same demented leer of his filled a much fuller face. Marty listened to the sound of jumpboots creaking up then down the attic stairs. Bilksy reappeared, bearing sideways in his palms some kind of tarnished ceremonial sword. He offered it to Marty. "I want your opinion."
It was brass-handled and scuffed in spots. When Marty turned it over, the sight of the swastika caused him to shake his head and snicker. The closed handle made it technically a sabre.
"Where the fuck you get this?"
"Think it's authentic?"
"Might be. Pretty sure it's a sabre."
"Check out the stamp."
Bilksy pointed at a spot below the hilt. The town of Würzburg was engraved, name and cityscape, with some short code of numbers and letters (E-608-A) that meant nothing to either of them below that. Marty handed him his sabre back.
"Tell him where you got it," Karate Mike said with a mouthful of something, leaning against the archway.
"This sword collector. He lost his job. He was saying they wore these for parades and shit. He wanted $200, but I got him down to $80. Guy had tears in his eyes."
Marty's eyes were aimed now at the floor. They traveled up the two red laces holding Bilksy's jumpboots, the rolled jeans, the tattoos whited out beneath his Fred Perry shirt. When they reached Bilksy's face, Marty recognized that look of aspiration in his eyes.
"How do I make sure it's authentic? Go to the Army-Navy store?"
"You'd have to take it to Antique Row. Get it appraised."
He pictured the whole excursion he knew Bilksy was also envisioning. Boarding the R3 stop in Morton with a skinhead carrying a sword. Holding his Nazi regalia for him while he dragged his chain-wallet out and paid the likely black ticket collector. Startled looks from people boarding the train.
"Where's Antique Row at?"
"Like two blocks from Dirty Frank's."
"There a charge for . . . for getting it appraised."
"Might be complimentary. They'd tell you first. Act like you don't want to sell it. Good find, man."
"Thanks," he chuckled, "Right place, right time."
Shortly after this, Rawhide went to the kichen and yanked open the refrigerator door, only to realize they were out of beer, so he now went around collecting tens from everybody. Marty handed him enough for two six-packs, then plopped his wallet on the coffee table. Rawhide and Karate Mike drove with Bilksy over to the Frontier before the takeout closed. The other kid decided to walk home. That left only Marty and Lauren. She peered over at him sideways several times as if waiting for some cue. He waited for her eyes to drop then looked her over thoroughly. He figured they'd be back in thirty minutes.
"Which exit you from?"
He needed to piss first, so he excused himself and walked straight back to the bathroom. A smell of hairspray filled his nostrils, reminding him how Bilksy's grandmother was the one who inhabited the basement. She'd been the graveyard cashier at the Wawa over twenty years. As he was rinsing his hands, he saw the countertop was coated in the same foundation she had always worn to work. Pots of the stuff were stacked next to the soap.
Lauren wasn't in the livingroom when he returned, so Marty listened for her footsteps through the ceiling. Had she left? After a couple minutes, he began to think she had. He chuckled aloud at how unaccustomed he'd become these past four years to such a total absence of formality, to never-locked doors, to ceaseless coming and going, family homes that functioned more like halfway houses. He was stretching for the remote across the sofa, hoping to catch the tail end of the Phillies game, when he noticed his wallet, still resting on the coffee table where he'd left it. He pulled one of the intercostal muscles in his ribs, sitting up too fast. First he checked the cash. If any was missing, it couldn't have been more than a couple bucks. His ATM card was there. So was his ID. Anxiously examining his opened wallet, he realized how stuffed with things from Kristen's world it still was. Card for the Architecture Foundation. An alumni library card she'd helped him get renewed. Friends of the Barnes. Friends of Rodin. Amici degli Uffizi. The words Vera Pelle were pressed into the soft leather. He'd assumed that must be some designer's name the day she bought it for him in that outdoor market. Her smile after she explained that it wasn't a name at all, that it just meant real leather -- skin -- had made him truly wish they'd never met.
Marty was elsewhere again, letting Kristen order all over for him in their regular place off the Via della Condotta, yet also fuming alone on Bilksy's wraparound sofa about all he'd hoped this walk would finally lift from him. At first, he didn't even hear the old woman calling up from the basement. She called her grandson's name a second time. A couple smoker's coughs followed. By the third time, he understood what was happening. He stood up, remembering how back in high school Bilksy every night would suddenly usher everyone into the living room, right around 10:30, so that his poor old granny didn't have to face the constant company without her face on. He opened the basement door partway.
"No, Mrs. Bilks. It's Marty."
Both of them paused. A bar of light cut at an angle across her legs. He could see her slippered feet under a pale blue robe.
"Isn't Ian up there?"
"He went out, Mrs. Bilks. He'll be back in a few minutes." As he said her name the second time, it occurred to him he wasn't even sure which side of Bilksy's mangled family tree she occupied. She might not be a Bilks at all.
"Alright. He usually makes my coffee for me."
He saw her hand rest on the railing. Marty had lost all track of time or space again. He couldn't be sure if they'd be gone another two or twenty minutes, and so he offered to make the old woman's coffee for her.
"Nah. It's too much trouble."
"It's no trouble. I'll start it. You drink the instant, right?"
"That's right," she giggled a little through another cough.
Marty found the kettle in the sink and got the water going. Then he opened cupboards at random until he'd found a clean coffee mug in behind her stack of measuring cups. He grabbed the red can of Sanka off the counter, spooned some into her mug, and waited. A toilet flushed downstairs. The moment he heard the railing creak, he understood the two embarrassments she must have weighed: ascending without her makeup on versus letting him descend and see the state of the basement. Better Marty should see her than see where she had to sleep.
CHRIS EAGLE originally from Delco PA, has also lived in Berkeley, Paris, Sydney, Berlin, Antwerp, Chicago, and now Atlanta, where he teaches health humanities at Emory University. He is the author of Dysfluencies: On Speech Disorders in Modern Literature. Recently, he completed the manuscript to the novel Dwell Here and Prosper, a dark comedy based on a diary his father kept while living in a dysfunctional assisted living facility somewhere in Delco. Chris received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and, like Robert McKee, is a former Fulbright scholar.
DANIELLE GATTO HIRANO (dmgatto.com, IG: dmgatto_visual) is a multidisciplinary artist working in digital and live mediums. With a background in directing for stage, Gatto's body of work includes interactive installations, analog collage and assemblage, original video projects, and documentation of live performances. Gatto is co-founder of the installation art duo Gatto+Hirano, with performance artist Makoto Hirano. Based in Philadelphia PA, Gatto's works have been shown at a variety of venues including The Ringling Museum of Art (FL), the Philadelphia Fringe Festival (PA), Da Vinci Art Alliance (PA), Asian Arts Initiative (PA), Culture Project (NYC), Vayo Collage Gallery (NY), Stone Valley Arts (VT), and the Scandinavian Collage Museum (Norway) as part of their permanent collection. In addition to her art practice, Gatto also works as a counselor with survivors of domestic violence, teaches self-defense, and trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
DEMREE MCGHEE is a literature and writing student at UC San Diego. Her poetry and prose is either featured or forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Wax Nine Journal, Burn All Books, The Spectacle, and more. You can read more of her work at demreemcghee.com.
FAYE CHEVALIER is a Philadelphia-based poet and seltzer-appreciator. She is the author of the chapbooks future.txt (Empty Set Press 2018) and fleshwound (Accidental Player Press 2020). Her work has been featured in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat Books 2020), bedfellows, The Wanderer, Peach Mag, Yes Poetry, the tiny, and elsewhere. She has been widely recognized as the first poet ever to have work published in a cyberpunk tabletop RPG podcast (Neoscum 2018). Find her on Twitter where she cries about River Phoenix, vampires, and having a body: @bratcore.
GAVIN BOURKE grew up in Tallaght, West Dublin. He holds a BA in humanities from Dublin City University, an MA in modern drama, and a higher diploma in information studies from University College Dublin. His work has been published in Crossways Literary Magazine, A New Ulster, Qutub Minar Review, Writers in the Know, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Poesis Literary Journal, In the Dead Heat, Prachya Review, E-Ratio), and many other journals. Gavin has published numerous poetry collections. His first book was shortlisted by Hedgehog Poetry Press and he won the Nicely Folded Paper Trois Pamphlet international competition for his book Towards Human (Hedgehog Poetry Press). Gavin has worked in public service for over twenty years.
HEIKKI HUOTARI, in a past century, attended a one-room school and spent summers on a forest-fire lookout tower. He's a retired math professor and has published poems in numerous literary journals, including Spillway, the American Journal of Poetry, and Willow Springs. His fourth collection, Deja Vu Goes Both Ways, won the Star 82 Press Book Award.
IRIS JOHNSTON used to live in Shanghai and she can't shut up about it. Once a linguistics student with dreams of writing a dictionary, she now focuses mainly on painting, embroidery, and the occasional zine. She lives in Scranton without her cat.
MORDECAI MARTIN is a Jewish writer working in the culturally contiguous territory of Lenapehoking. He lives in a small but beautiful house with a small but beautiful cat and a tall and beautiful wife. His work has appeared in Gone Lawn, X-Ray, and Funicular, and is forthcoming in Timber and Peach. He tweets @mordecaipmartin and blogs at MordecaiMartin.net
NICHOLAS KARAVATOS was recently assistant professor of poetics at the Arab American University of Palestine near Jenin in the West Bank. He was a US Ambassador’s Distinguished Scholar to Ethiopia at Bahir Dar University and assistant professor of creative writing at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. At the Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, he was senior lecturer in humanities. His first year as an expat worker was on the faculty of the Fujairah Technical School in the UAE. Nicholas is a graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata and New College of California in San Francisco.
RICH IVES has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission, and Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation, and photography. He has won Bitter Oleander's Francis Locke Poetry Award and the Thin Air Creative Nonfiction Award. His books include Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press), Sharpen (The Newer York), The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books), Old Man Walking Home After Dark (Cyberwit), Dubious Inquiries into Magnificent Inadequacies (Cyberwit), A Servant’s Map of the Body (Cyberwit), Incomprehensibly Well-Adjusted Missing Persons of Interest (Cyberwit), and Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press).
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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.
Each issue is its own creature. We have neither theme nor scene. We like whatever makes us shiver, plotz, turn on, and/or freak out. We've published what might be called magic realism, dirty surrealism, fantastical biography, experimental poetry, tender balladeering, elusive allusive elliptical poetry, and sweet ol grainy photography.
We will periodically host contests, readings, calls for entries, and other spry gimmicks to keep things interesting. 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.
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.
SORTES is edited by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and Kevin Travers. We live in Philadelphia but we invite writers and artists everywhere to read, contribute, and adore us.
SORTES regularly offers readings and performances.
For upcoming events, please check here and our Facebook page.
SORTES 7 Reading
October 1, 2021 @ 7pm EST
Nights grow nighter and sites grow cider and SORTES Magazine returns! with a shambling new issue and an ALL STAR reading event that will shiver with prose, poetry, collage, and indescribable Other Things.
JOIN (WITH) US for a reading that may very well feature some or all of the following devils:
Danielle Gatto Hirano
Your humanish host will be SORTES co-editor Kevin Travers. The event is free, public, and compulsory.
ID: 860 0642 6176
Call in: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kg0X1TsMS
See Events for upcoming Radio SORTES performances.
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
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 • Kyle Brown Watson • Susan Clarke • Kyle Brown Watson • and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Between episodes, we presented an original commercial in period style written and performed by Kevin Travers.
Suspense, "The House in Cypress Canyon"
Inner Sanctum Mysteries, "Voice on the Wire"