Long(ing)

Longing

Monamie Bhadra Haines

At the threshold of meeting
Let us linger at this moment before we meet, this space of anticipation and apprehension and possibility, before you invite me in or shun me, before we assign each other categories, before we harden our minds in judgment. Let us run our fingers against the door, passing invisibly on either side. Let us yearn for acceptance without conditions even as we recognize its impossibility. Let us be open to each other’s language, so I might comprehend your fears, desires, and experiences, and you mine. Let us be brave, and reveal our weaknesses and insecurities, and be humble when we demonstrate strength. And above all, let us meditate on peace, and hope that once the doors are opened, violence will not follow.



Murmurs outside the India Gate
You, Government of India, may ask in the spirit of friendship/curiosity/suspicion/indifference/fear who I am. But even before the question of identity passes your lips, you hesitate at the door, squint through the peephole. Why am I here at your doorstep, asking to be let in? Shall I repeat to you now what I have written in the application for my research visa? If I say, “I wish to conduct dissertation research funded by the American Institute of Indian Studies at the University of Chicago on the political and social dimensions of nuclear energy in India,” would you, Government of India, open the door? As seven copies of my application are flung to seven corners of the Indian bureaucracy, I keep ringing the doorbell and wait and think of all that that remains unsaid, of how it is about nuclear energy and so much more. But there is never a line on the application to write of these matters…

Before you let me in, then, let me try to lay myself bare, so we can start from a place of candor.

Ask me anything and I will answer.

The United States of America, and the State of Texas know me as Monamie Bhadra Haines. Arizona State University and all my academic affiliations know me by my maiden name, Monamie Bhadra. Perhaps you will allow me this little feminist affectation? But, for you to know who I am, Government of India, you want to know of my family. You need the assurance that my lineage runs long and straight through India, avoiding detours in Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan, all places terrorism could seep into our bloodlines. And if I can prove my political purity, you will want to know I belong to a “good” and “upright” family.

Let me give it a try.

My father (or Baba, as we call him) is the eldest son of a homeopathic doctor, who died of a brain lesion in 2005, and his wife, who died of a stroke in 2003. Both passed away in their house in Kolkata. But I know the death of Indians in India is not enough to prove my Indianness. Birth is key, but for me, is murky. My grandparents were born in a village in present-day Bangladesh. During Partition, my grandparents fled with an assortment of my grandmother’s younger siblings to West Bengal, and gave birth to my father there. I hasten to add that we have no ties to Bangladesh anymore—well, maybe a sibling or two of my grandmother’s. But we haven’t spoken to them in ages.

Will you still let me in?

You may want to know what kind of man my father was, because in your eyes, I bear the sins and virtues of my family. May I tell you what he was like as a boy? I like to remember his childhood, because it reminds me of the person he used to be. If you like him, maybe you will be more disposed to like me.

Baba was a dreamer. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, he crowed the good news to his friends, hoping they would share in his awe and wonder. Instead they balked; Baba was not right in the head, they thought, and no longer invited Baba to play cricket and football. Although friends were few, there were books aplenty, and Baba devoured books about science fiction, science and technology. And his time at the famed Ramakrishna Mission only whetted his appetite. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were his muses, Homi J. Bhabha and Satyendra Nath Bose were his heroes, and the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore was his soul.

You see, my father embodies the “scientific temperament” Nehru tried so hard to instill in newly sovereign Indians. For Baba, nuclear energy symbolized the boundless possibilities of technology to create a truly better future for all Indians and the world beyond. And he yearned to be a part of it. Having passed in the first class division in the Bengal Engineering and Science University, Baba came to the United States in 1972 to work as a civil engineer in the booming nuclear energy industry.

What of my mother, you wonder? I wonder, too. The word, “deceased,” next to her name should do.

What about me? I was born into this history in 19— in Charlotte, North Carolina. My father tried to instill the scientific temperament in me from an early age through science experiments, watching Star Trek, and taking me to the Epcot Center in Disneyworld. He taught me algebra when I was six, the theory of relativity when I was seven, and the workings of nuclear fission when I was eight. We built a telescope together when I was five and together squinted into the angry red eye of Jupiter.

If my father gave me the scientific temperament, my mother cultivated in me a love for literature. Unlike Baba, I read widely from authors of mystery (Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie), science fiction (Octavia Butler, Mary Shelly), love stories (the Bronte sisters, especially), adventure stories (Jack London, Mark Twain) and stories incomprehensible to me at a young age (Shakespeare). I didn’t understand everything I read, but I learned to appreciate complexity in our world, accept its inherent contradictions, and admire the diversity of human experience. Perhaps most important of all, I learned to empathize with characters and see through their eyes—even that of the villains’, if the author was really good.

There is one other thing about me you should know, Government of India. From a very early age I strove to be the Indian my parents expected. I spoke Bengali at home. I recited Tagore’s poetry from memory (though I scarcely knew what I was saying), ate Bengali food (when I craved chicken nuggets), read and wrote Bengali script, painted Hindu deities, and danced to Rabindra Sangeet—all for my parents’ happiness, which seemed somehow fleeting and precious. But, after years of imitating Indianness, I still don’t feel Indian, even after living in Calcutta for two years after my mother’s death. And my whole life since has in some way been a search to understand India and feel Indian.

I know, Government of India. You have your flashcards of categories ready for me. You have deduced I am a Bengali woman, possibly of the merchant Kayastha caste from my last name, and most likely from a middle-income family. You may also think me an ABCD (American-born confused Desi) for social purposes, and an NRI (non-resident Indian) for visa purposes. And since you must have inferred I married a white man from Brooklyn, you may well think me a coconut—brown on the outside, white on the inside.

I may be all of those things. But can you also see me as I see myself? Can you see a person who can bring together the “scientific temperament” and social sensitivities to ask different kinds of questions—or maybe the same old questions, in a new way—about how to think about science, technology and development policies, and how these choices should be made?

As Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.”

Please, I want to write my dissertation on nuclear energy, science and democracy in India so desperately.
Please grant me a research visa so I can keep my fellowship!
Please don’t derail my hard-won academic career!
Please grant me a research visa!
Please—

Sorry. I got ahead of myself. I won’t allow myself to beg just yet.

If only I had picked a safe topic, the decision would end at the Indian Consulate of Houston, and I would probably be granted my research visa. But I have chosen nuclear energy, and now it falls to you, Government of India, to decide whether I can come through the door.

How impudent you must think me, to imagine I could waltz into India without resistance! What audacity you must think I have, to believe I could learn something new about nuclear energy that you do not already know! Or, perhaps you are worried of what I might learn. Maybe it’s both. In your mind, my degree in English and my honors degree in Geology are no match for your experience and knowledge of nuclear technology. And you are right. I cannot quibble with you about the finer points of reactor design. When you tell me that your science proves to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that nuclear reactors are safe, what can I do but either accept the dictates of science or intervene with flighty emotions and gut feelings to the contrary? I could do nothing but accept your self-professed expertise on nuclear matters. And that has defined the relationship between you, Government of India, and your citizens for a long, long time.

I believe I understand what nuclear energy means to you, Government of India. Nuclear energy is the pinnacle of human achievement, and the beloved offspring of imaginative, ingenuous, and tenacious men. In India, these traits shine especially brightly. To create nuclear energy, you have had to dig deep and find resources and resourcefulness in the face of being labeled a nuclear pariah. And despite all that adversity you have succeeded. Even when scholars note that you have accepted foreign help in building nuclear reactors, it does not at all take away from their indigeneity. You own it, have your heart in it. Nuclear energy is in many ways an avatar of Lords Rama and Krishna (so many of you are Hindu!), which will help rid India of its economic and social woes. Who am I to rip that child from you?

I don’t want to take nuclear energy from you. But I do want to offer you something else. My dissertation is not about challenging you about your nuclear science. It is about trying to understand you, Government of India, and the anti-nuclear activists, too. I want to understand why the politics of knowledge around nuclear energy have not changed in the last 30 years. Why have you forgotten, judging from your shock at the recent protests, that fishermen in Tamil Nadu have been opposing the Koodankulam nuclear power plant since 1989? Why do villagers tend to trust anti-nuclear activists more than you? Why do communities readily believe that as soon as a nuclear power plant is built, they will start to develop cancer, grow extra fingers, and give birth to deformed children? I want to understand the vitriol against nuclear energy, and how experts respond to these criticisms, and what all this means about the future of nuclear energy and Indian democracy. It may be, that in the process of answering these questions, you might rethink your investment in nuclear power. But what I want to contribute above all, is to help you and anti-nuclear activists forge a common grammar that will allow both of you to respect one another and have a legitimate deliberation on the future of nuclear energy.

I do believe that despite your apprehension, you really do want to know how to achieve this elusive goal. You are always portrayed monolithically as a villain when it comes to economic development, social justice and environmental protection. But please believe me when I say, I don’t think you are evil! I have an inkling of the burden you face. You have 400 million citizens without access to modern forms of electricity, and a rising middle class that wants the trappings of modern living from air conditioners to automobiles. You still have a middling, lackluster Human Development Index. On top of this, you are trying to maintain domestic peace and create solutions to prepare for and fight climate change.

Still…

A movie came out recently, Cosmopolis, based on a novel by American novelist Don DeLillo. In the film, the protagonist, a high-powered Wall Street investment banker, practically lives in his luxurious limousine and observes the world through his tinted windows in cool detachment. You, too, Government of India are living in that limo—not in the sense of the lavish accoutrements, but in the sense of being unable to empathize and connect with your lower class citizens.

I think you have become immune to the massive movements of outrage and indignation that channel Gandhi, the anti-colonial revolution, and the idea that Indians are more powerful together than as individuals. For you, the would-be leaders of social movements are nothing more than badly drawn characters you watch from the cool remove of New Delhi. You grow weary of the endless reenactments of the Great Struggle—the drone of morality when talking about the responsibilities to the poor, of social justice, of cultural diversity, and environmental protection. And why not? You want more action, fast, and not more thought. You know what needs to be done to build the nation! An 8% growth rate. Poverty, sickness, poor sanitation, malnutrition, child labor, sex trafficking, religious foment—all social ills—will slowly disappear with a bigger economy. And you have used the very best science-based policies to make this happen.

And I would like to gently tell you that perhaps you are so invested on this premise for reasons other than science. The neo-liberal economic model has become so naturalized that it is easy to internalize. It is easier to retreat from governance and leave it to the new class of industrialists to take the reins. But so many of your people look to you for help! And you have done so much already. You have passed the
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and are working hard to revamp the colonial Land Acquisitions Act of 1894. But there is so much more left that you must take a lead on.

Nuclear energy is one place to start. Although it is true that nuclear scientists have tried to speak to everyday people and those who are “scientifically innocent” through newspapers and public forums, there is always a palpable condescension in these efforts. I know you are the expert, but sadly, expertise no longer has the value it once did, and there is little you can do to change that when it comes to nuclear energy. After people saw the tragedy at Fukushima happen before their own eyes, they did not need or trust expert interpretations any more. And when one of your officials said, “There was no nuclear accident or incident,” expertise lost even more credibility.

What can you do to regain trust? What can you do start communicating with anti-nuclear activists, instead of talking passed them? Stop charging protesters with sedition and war against the state, to start. I’m sure that a government must maintain a sense of healthy paranoia and avoid complacency, but peacefully protesting villagers should not be detained or harassed. You could even offer an apology. But stopping physical violence is just an obvious and easy remedy. What you should do is much, much harder. I don’t think you can regain trust with more demonstrations of your knowledge and expertise. What you need to do, then, is find it in yourself to cultivate an openness to the experiences and knowledge of people who are very different from you, whose interests you are supposed to represent.

The conversation about whether or not pursue nuclear energy should have happened long ago. I understand why it didn’t. Even Gandhi himself did not always trust Indians to make the best decisions. And Nehru wanted to create Indians with the scientific temperament to make ideal citizens. But it has been sixty-five years and the model Indian citizen is nowhere in sight. What you do see, however, are thronging, unruly citizens with a great diversity of experiences and wealth of knowledge, often based on their lived experiences, who look to you for leadership and representation. It falls on you to learn how to recognize the value in this diversity, to hear their voices, their fears, their hopes with compassion and honesty, and take them into serious consideration. And if you let me in, I might, in a small way, help you become more responsive.

You are known as the world’s largest democracy; make it a substantive one. But creating scientific literacy will not usher in this democracy, let alone bring into being the kind of citizen who will unconditionally accept nuclear energy and your model of development. What is the scientific temperament after all but a way to make sense of our experiences? Even science would agree that we understand our world, not through rote rationality, but through our cultural, political and emotional experiences. You do not need more science, but a cultivation of compassion and openness.

I have written at great length, but now it is time to plead. Please make the right decision. Grant my research visa.

The Nonwriter

Pat Guiney

Huge, beautiful expanses of time. Quiet, cold, serene—like clean, untrodden snow on the rolling lawns of a pretty college campus, twinkling in the moonlight. Awesome stretches of time: seven months, two weeks and three days. One year, four months, two weeks and one day. Three months, three weeks and six days. Each period—containing events momentous and minute, from the universal to the personal, calamities, births and deaths, droughts, weddings, military coups and shooting sprees; crossing the seasons; calendar pages flying into blackness—had its own quality, its characteristics. Sweet, peaceful, sad or angry. Some were green. Some were dark purple, or opalescent blue.

These were the periods when he didn’t write.

He was a great nonwriter—maybe the best there ever was. An exquisite craftsman of the empty page, a master story-not-teller. What other people wrote was good or bad, maybe great sometimes. Probably not. But what he didn’t write was transcendent. Others slaved at their screens, sullying the page irretrievably with a single twisted, tortured glyph, then a lonesome, woeful word, and—when they still might cut their losses by shutting their laptops and seeing what’s on TV—deepening their ignominy by following the first word with another and yet another after that, a dreary sentence even, then a hopeless paragraph, a tragic chapter, and ultimately, a lost and irredeemable novel.

While he didn’t write window washers made their glacial progress down the facades of great buildings, reached bottom, and started all over again. Young couples moved into their first apartments, painted the walls in trendy pastels, bickered, and wondered whether they’d made the right decision. Two people were shoved to their deaths on New York City subway tracks. All this time he didn’t write a word.

Some strove to write about some of it, or all of it, even. Nothing they produced could possibly do justice to the beauty, the horror and the chaos. Only one thing could: not writing. And he was not writing powerfully. Poignantly.

Wasn’t most of the world not writing too? Yes—but no. He wrote from time to time. He had to—that was the only way to frame his true work, his anti-performance, his agraphic state of grace.

Thanks to experience and great determination, he found that his periods of writing grew shorter and farther between. Finally, he resolved to create his masterpiece. He would never write another word as long as he lived.

For years he kept at it. Nothing, silence. Nothing but the purest void, the essence of the universe, indescribably beautiful—and duly undescribed. Even as his body began to fail him—aches and debilities, minor at first and then a little worse, like everybody else—his spirit grew stronger, glowing within him like an ember that couldn’t die. He was the elderly master in his glory, like deaf Beethoven, like Picasso holed up in the south of France. Except death wouldn’t interrupt his work. It would prolong it into eternity.

Then one morning something happened. The garbage truck had come and gone. A crust of toast remained on a saucer on the kitchen counter. Everything was still. And he did something he immediately regretted. And he knew he would, but he did it anyway. He hated himself for it. But there was nothing he could do. He began to write.

Smith Generation

Anthea Schroeder

Mister Smith, Mister Smith/
He don’t give a damn/
Mister Smith, Mister Smith/
Mister Smith, Mister Smith/
Everybody’s man

“I’d like to introduce you to someone I think you’d like,” Gina lit a stick of Nag Champa in her one-bedroom flat. “Someone nice.” Karen, who was just over for the tea and chit-chat, was unsure whether her friend’s suggestion was out of the triteness of tradition or habit. Gina had been in her most recent fling with David for a few weeks. This was about that time in the relationship, Karen knew, when Gina started getting ideas for her single friends, as if they were completely incapable of meeting new prospects on their own. Maybe it was romantic idealism at work, or she was justifying her own horny, mismatched conquests. Karen didn’t want to say it, but David clearly was a passing fancy.

It was late December. The snow outside was still white; it wouldn’t be long before it was slate colored slush. Gina’s thought was that winter love could chase away the dread.

Whatever Gina’s justification for her proposition, the look on her face was not something new–that brow of benevolence, that downturned mouth of pity asking, “Are you ok?” What she really meant was “You don’t have anyone right now, do you?” and wanted so much to fix it, as if it would make everything right in the world.

“It’s not that hard, you know, if you want it. You put on your favorite choker and just the right shade of lipstick, carnal cranberry or red mystique or something,” Karen wanted to say, but it seemed so obvious at this point. Come on. It’s the ‘90s. She took a sip of her tea instead. Plus, they had gone out many times before. She wasn’t a hermit. Gina, who jumped from person to person, didn’t seem to understand that you didn’t always need someone.

Nevertheless, it was supposed to be that time in their lives when meeting someone could have some greater meaning: the start of a life. That phrase felt wrong. After engaging in third wave discourse at the university, Karen thought her generation would be a little more accepting of a different definition for “the start of a life.” No. Revolutionary speak stayed right there within the construct of the institution. God forbid anybody miss their marks. It didn’t matter whether they liked girls or boys; pair off into seriousness is what they did. And that was fine with her, but she didn’t expect that being alone would either make her feel like a radical, or someone for whom to feel sorry.

Gina smiled a little at Karen’s loathing. “I think you’ll find that James is different. You two have a lot in common. He and his band are on the verge, Kare. He’s into his music the way you are your writing. Neither of you are looking for that normal life.” Karen ignored the fact that Gina didn’t say that they were both musicians. It had been at least a year since she had written any music.

She remembered the last time Gina set her up with someone. Before she introduced them, she had described him as having long curly hair–”curlies,” she called them. What she didn’t say was that he wore oversized levis and a scowl. The scowl, pants, and “curlies” all overpowered his scrawny frame.

But this was ages ago. Karen didn’t want to be combative, so she gave Gina a time-earned pass. Things had changed. She agreed to meet this new guy, whom her friend assured was completely normal. In fact, Gina’s mother met him when she came to the city and asked why Gina wasn’t dating him instead of David. Maybe Karen had the wrong attitude. She hadn’t been able to shake the over analysis, paralysis, and bitterness that college had left with her. Normal life. Abnormal life. Who cares? You can never have too many friends.

Karen had just started writing again, her favorite past time, where the paralysis had most recently manifested. Yes, it had not only affected how she looked at relationships; it had impacted her art. She was usually private about it. She just wanted to make something, anything, it didn’t matter. But somewhere down the line, she started listening to what other people said. There wasn’t room for her to grow without being keenly aware of how others openly defined everything. Sometimes they were writing off other people. “Oh yeah, a chick who rocks. That’s cool. Do you play bass [like Kim Deal, like Kim Gordon, like D’Arcy, like Sean Yseult, like Tina Weymouth]? It seems like the girls in the band always play bass.” And the assumption was that it was easy. First off, she didn’t play bass. She played guitar. But more importantly, anyone who had tried to play a bass knew that the frets and strings were quite large and required a lot of strength, flexibility, and control, like any instrument. It started to make sense why Sleater-Kinney didn’t have a bassist.

Other times when people were trying to define what others did it came off as a way to categorize, and maybe it was just a way for them to feel smart or proud. Everyone deserved to feel that. She couldn’t say she was above it. But the definitions held a power over her abilities, and she couldn’t push through it. Gone were the days where she wasn’t aware enough to even pay attention to definitions and write-offs. She made things because she made things, just like one loves because one loves.

She was grappling with it. But writing was finally coming a little easier and taking up a lot of her time. She had just gotten a few pieces published in a couple of things, one more “notable” local source and a few ‘zines, and it was harder to meet new people because it took the energy she was devoting to getting back into something. This new person, though, could possibly mix things up in the right way.

Karen agreed to meet up with Gina at James’s band’s next show at the Yahtzee, a bar that showcased local up-and-coming bands. “He doesn’t even know you’re coming,” Gina assured her. She rarely frequented Yahtzee because its atmosphere was too nice to feel comfortable going alone but too casual to want to dress up and make it a to-do kind of night with friends.

Lights and flashy garlands still hung hopefully from Yahtzee’s wood trim and walls, masking the nails’ scars from years past. If the place left them up all year, it would mean they’d get dusty enough to have to clean them (which probably wouldn’t happen) and faded enough to give away just how cheap and flimsy the decorations really were. Instead, like most businesses, they left them up long enough for everyone to get sick of them–just past New Year’s. When Karen arrived at the door to get carded, she could see that Gina and James were already at a table talking. The back of his blonde dreadlocks hung over the shoulders of his tawny suede jacket.

Gina smiled upon seeing her and waved excitedly. Karen waved back as the doorman tried to hand her i.d. back to her. Her body felt just out of her control, so that anything she did seemed unnatural. She smiled at him and attempted to take her card but didn’t quite grasp it at the right time, and it fell to the floor. She went to pick it up. I don’t even know what my intentions are, and I still have nerves. This is why prefaces don’t do anything for a situation. It’s impossible to avoid intention if you know someone else has them for you. Still, for the occasion she had put on her cranberry lipstick and favorite black choker with the silver sun & moon medallion.

She was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t trip as she walked over to the table. She sat down next to Gina, who went through introductions. She tried to smile. She could already tell that he knew about her in the way that she knew about him. A bit doe-eyed for a musician, she thought, but he had “the look”: Doc Martens, Out of Time t-shirt and flannel under his jacket, five o’clock shadow that was more like ten o’clock, and cuffed relaxed fit jeans. His clothes wanted to be worn out and lackadaisical, but the colors and seams were too crisp. She was old enough to know better than to fall for the implications of attire. There was something about the crispness, however, that felt like the first shoulder tap of a red flag.

Karen didn’t expect Gina to get up so quickly, but she had spotted some people she knew and took the opportunity to leave them.

The place was already packed, so they had to yell. “So Gina tells me you write. That’s cool.” Karen thought about how Gina had never actually read anything that she had written but liked to tell people she was a writer. “What type of stuff do you write?”

“Well, short stories mostly, but–” she was about to tell him about her recently published work that was more non-fiction when he cut her off.

“Oh yeah. Well, you know, a song is a lot like a short story. At least the way I write them. I’m always thinking about characters. They may be people from my life or just made up. But, you know, I’ll just… go to a diner by myself and think about them. Sometimes it’s like they’re talking to me, and I’ll jot notes down on my napkin, but I find that if I take paper with me, it blocks me.”

“Yeah, a lot of–”

His voice got louder. “It’ll–It’ll just feel like the characters have something to say, so I’ll jot it down on my napkin. Sometimes I tell the story like they’re me and sometimes I’ll tell it like they’re someone separate from me. I think that’s called perspective…” She was ready for him to draw her a diagram, much like her grade school teacher had on the chalkboard to help the students understand the difference between first, second, and third person.

“It’s–”

He cut her off again and continued on about his writing process, like how to combat “the voice in my head that tells me what’s wrong with my work” (to which she almost shouted “inner critic!” over the crowd but didn’t feel up to it), and what techniques to use to make phrases rhyme. Every time she tried to add something about art, about music, about writing, she got a consonant in and maybe a vowel, and then he’d interrupt her. Then suddenly he stopped talking, and there was a pause in the conversation. She realized she could take the floor if she wanted it, but by that point she had stopped listening to what he was saying and had lost anything she had wanted to say, so she said nothing. And the two sat silently for a moment.

“So I hear you’ve been signed and you just finished a new album,” she inquired to break the silence.

“Yeah, we’re in the packaging process, which is, like, the final step. One of the reps that’s been helping us with promotion thinks that this one song could be a hit. It’s about one of those characters I was telling you about. He’s like one of my favorite older people that hang out at one of my favorite bars. We always look at women together…“ His voice drifted off, and he looked at her like a kid who had gotten caught doing something wrong, like she was about to be his angry mom. He shrugged and smiled: he couldn’t help liking good looking women, much like boys can’t help getting in trouble.

She didn’t feel like an angry mom and wanted to make sure he knew that but didn’t know what to say without making it sound like it actually bothered her. There was nothing wrong with looking at attractive people. They were everywhere. The only thing she found a little perturbing was that this was a regular thing that he and his friend hung out and did. Maybe talking about this sort of thing was charming to some women. She had no gauge for what normally “worked” and didn’t. Would it matter?

“Hey,” a tall guy in a baggy Grover t-shirt who looked about their age approached James, whispered in his ear, and walked away.

“That’s my drummer. Time for me to get ready. But I really enjoyed talking with you. You’ll be here after, right?” He looked at her hopefully. She couldn’t fathom what he was so charmed by to say something like that, but couldn’t help but be flattered, so she agreed. She wanted to find Gina and David to see how their night was progressing, and to hear James’s band. She was curious.

She found them near the stage waiting for the show to begin. Gina asked, “So what did you think?”

“Well,” Karen made a face.

“What? No spark?”

She sighed. “No, he just talked a lot.”

“He’s probably just nervous, Kare! Give him a break. His last girlfriend really broke his heart. Some people just talk when they’re nervous.”

“This one is, uh, off our new album,” James said as he leaned slightly away from the mic and held the back of his neck. He seemed comfortably awkward on the stage, and the audience looked relatively engaged for a bar. He strummed the first clangy chord on his red Jaguar; the crowd clamoured. Karen noticed that a lot of people were smiling in recognition, glad to see this group on the stage. They had a following. “It should be coming out next month.”

Come down to the local joint where I play/
Order some Old Crow and have a say/
Which gorgeous gal is gonna have her way/

Mister Smith, Mister Smith/
Mister Smith, Mister Smith/

But we know that one day /
It won’t always be this way/
We’re going down in history anyway/
Isn’t that right, Mister Smith? Isn’t that?/

Mister Smith, Mister Smith/
Mister Smith, Mister Smith/

Hate to say it, Mister Smith, but she’s eyeing me./
Hate to say it, Mister Smith, but she’s vying for me./

“Oh, this is my favorite part right here!” Gina yelled in Karen’s ear. James stopped bouncing, tilted his head, and put one side of his mouth onto the microphone while looking up at the ceiling.

Maybe you’ll get the next one/
I said maybe you’ll get that next one/
Maybe you’ll get that next one, Mister Smiiith/
because we’ll always have fun.

“Because we’ll always have fun. Ok. Good for you,” Karen thought to herself. She didn’t hate his music; it was more that she didn’t know what to make of it or of the crowd responding so enthusiastically. What made this band different than the others? Everyone else seemed to know. Even though she wasn’t exactly enjoying the music, she felt left out.

After the set, Karen, Gina, David, and James all stood together when a girl, probably about 18, sheepishly came up to James. “That part where you sing about how you and your friend want to be famous? I can really relate to that.” He thanked her.

Gina nodded. “He is wise. And he has such a way with words that makes me feel what he’s singing. To me it’s about that hope because you never know what’s around the corner.”

James didn’t say anything, but he was obviously flattered. “Anyway, uh, what did you think?” he asked Karen.

“Heyyy, Mr. Smith,” a girl from the audience drunkenly approached and fell into him. It was difficult to tell whether she tripped and stumbled or threw herself at him; maybe it was a combination of both.

“I think I’m going to head out,” Karen said.

“Really? Oh…” He looked at her as if they had known each other for years, and she was letting him down.

“Yeah, it’s been a long day. I got up really early.” It was partially true.

She said her goodbyes and walked out into the night towards home, stripped of any pretension. She welcomed the stillness and the cold air on her warm, slightly buzzed body.

“So are you going to see him again?” Gina asked her a few days later on the phone.

“No, I think we’re just not right for each other.”

“Oh.” Gina paused. “You know, he really likes you. I was asking him about you the other day, and he is smitten. He said that you’re really something.”

Karen didn’t know what to say. She had barely told him anything about… well, anything. And she had bailed early that night. “I just don’t think it’s right.”

Gina couldn’t believe what she was saying. “He’s a really special person. You both are really… unique, and there are no two people like you. You both have a way of looking at the world differently.”

What was Gina trying to say about both of them, and why was she trying to push them together like that (in such an empty-phrased, cliched way again)? Karen wasn’t sure. She decided that she wasn’t going to go out anymore for a while.

Over the next week, James called Karen a couple of times and left messages on her machine, telling her he’d like to see her again. Gina left a message, as well, telling her to come out to Yahtzee with David, James, and her one night. Karen didn’t call them back.

She didn’t have many friends besides Gina who still liked to go out to bars, so she spent a lot of nights at home writing. She imagined what it might have been like if she had decided to join the three of them to become the ultimate pair of duos. The nights would probably be filled with a lot of booze and small talk, bonding, possibly some gossip, and little jokes that wouldn’t be remembered the next day. We’ll always have fun. Cathartic in the moment, but not long lasting, so they would go out again. She couldn’t have kept it up for very long. It was better that she opted out.

Months later, while cleaning her tub and listening to an alternative station, she heard a familiar set of clangy chords. “Come down to the local joint where I play…” It was James’s “Mister Smith” song on the radio. That awkward night, something she hadn’t thought about in a while, came right back. Well, he wasn’t kidding about this song.

She scrubbed, listened, and thought about what Courtney Love had said about when she heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time on the radio. She and her friend looked at each other and knew they were thinking the same thing: they could have written it. But how could they have really known that? Not that “Mr. Smith” and this anthem of a generation could be compared, but how much of “Smells’” popularity was about the song itself? Was it the production, the band’s image, promotion? Was it just a matter of the right place, the right time, and the right people? When it came down to it, even if Courtney really could have written that song, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Of course, Courtney went on to marry Kurt. Karen thought about what would have happened if she had gone on that second date with James. Maybe she could have deliberately fallen into him and then faked her way into a relationship. She might have gotten something out of the whole thing, at least free booze and food, whatever that meant. Whether it was true or not, women were known and often resented for this type of behavior. The idea was silly and a bit repulsive, but it was enjoyable to entertain the thought. She wasn’t pushy enough to be a Courtney and make a music career out of it. She also couldn’t be like a Casey Niccoli, the talented videographer who directed her boyfriend’s band’s hit video and spent her acceptance speech at some popular award show continuously praising him and his talent. He couldn’t even show up to hear it because he was too busy smoking crack.

“He’s such a genius and you don’t understand!” Karen said and laughed, rhythmically scouring to the music.

Ghazal

Karla Sutton

High dive. Bent figure standing over the water.
Slight motion. Don’t look down at the water.

Concrete seeped in laughter and chlorine,
Mold, and old sunscreen left by the water.

Where do sharks hide? Like cops under cover?
Under their folklore? Down deep, under the water?

I’ve dreamed of falling, but never of flying.
Would you catch me, regardless? Would you be the water?

Time beats.
It’s waiting, the cold embrace of the water.

We played mermaids at sea in the backyard that summer.
And after, eyes burning, I shivered Iooking back at the water.

One Way To Listen

Tishon

in hopes that this reaches Patti Smith

at sunset the dead speak
casting a language
of eye and rust
sea and fire.

the dead speak to us
as we whirl about
anxious as marbles
through tambourine leaves
and whispering traffic.

they know about heights
and how they are among
earth’s most unforgiving things.

how blessed we are to have
been planted firmly
as mountains.
they say

between us
is only time.
all measurement
is of time.

every sky is a word.
many words.
one of Earth’s many
dead languages.

The Abraham Lincoln Clones

Ian Demsky

When I think of their histories,
each one bright as a mint-perfect nickel,

the image I get is pure Tarkovsky:
a convoy gliding through ill-lit tunnels
under some foreign capital.

I’m reminded of the work
of an American photographer whose name
I can no longer place, black & white

neutron-bombed streets, Akrons of streetlamps
and side view mirrors, naked on-ramps
under greywhite skies, but always
a sense of destination—

I hear they travel in identical black Escalades,
secreted each third of July
from military installations disguised as office parks
to the country’s waiting Wal-Marts

and whisked into specially built chambers
outfitted with a psychic version of the Fresnel lens
for their yearly day of service
as national tuning forks.

That famous face they share
once homebound again, shrinks
in the orange tunnel light
with the same drowned look
worn by their nearly identical drivers.

It’s easy to admit it’s a little sad.
Everything they know they learn from television.
They only see the sun through tinted glass.

To believe in them is folly.
To underestimate them is cliché.
To dream of their rescue is slightly sweet

in the way of people who quit
eating meat for a few weeks
when they get to feeling sorry
about killing animals.

Fwy

Sarah Grieb

Fwy

i forgive you

Tyler Combs

i forgive you

Without a Doubt

Scott Schuer

Wigs, old movies, people doing
tedious things, and
boring.

Too much work for
too little gain.

Razored and tooth-brushed, I
seek creams in tubes on top of
others, on top of another.

The current state pretends
toward the mega, the ultimate – but,

in wanting to know,
really, all is here in shape and form,
identical to the form and shape
otherwise.

Names of people, references to
places, and the defining of things – poetry
does not make.

If that’s the case,
what does poetry make?

Hypertensive, hypothermic, and
every degree in between;
Sandberg’s “Ten Definitions…;”
Ink on paper, or
blood on the sand; A child with
screwed-up eyebrows, conjuring
screwed-up, imaginary
friends.

This list is, with notable
exceptions,
exhaustive.

To Feel It Pound

Edward Alan Bartholomew

I hold my heart when thunder claps,
I hold it when the courier raps
Upon my door—to feel the beat
It often hides—it drums so sweet
And then subsides to tender taps.

My heart is shy when only maps
Can dare expound what hungry gaps
Consume the ground between our feet.
I hold my heart

And tear the envelope that wraps
The lifeblood printed on your scraps
And feed my veins like summer heat
Is supped by rains. Until we meet
At last again when storms collapse,
I hold my heart.

Kind of Spring

Susan Lyon

Just because the cherry blossoms came out early this year doesn’t mean that it’s spring. It was a fluke. Frankly, it will only ever become spring once I’m happy, you’re happy, we’re happy, they’re happy, and then we have world peace too. Sustained world peace, I mean, not the kind you read about in the newspaper that vanishes a week later.

Since that isn’t going to happen this year, we are all going to have to settle for a regular cold spring. It is going to be the kind of spring where it’s early March and you’re still shivering on the way out the door to work, then by midday the fog burns off to reveal a brief, toasty sun. But you’re trapped indoors all day until it’s dark out again anyways, so you see the sun without feeling it. Maybe you step out for coffee, or maybe you don’t: does it matter?

I know it’ll be that kind of spring – a certain kind of spring you can predict and see coming a mile away.

First, there’s one perfect day. Out of nowhere, you find yourself spontaneously stepping out onto a patio-roof-promenade-sundeck-porch type situation for a beer, with a wonderful new friend, ripe for the taking: the mystery and allure of a summer relationship altogether still intact. It’s so sunny, crisp, and windy that day, all at the same time, that you get an accidental sunburn. It’s perfect; you burn only the tip of your nose, wearing no SPF. You return home exhausted but somehow relaxed, ready for anything, but mostly ready for more spring days. You are full of hope.

But then, it unknowingly turns into that certain kind of spring you knew was coming all along – you didn’t have a say in this. It’s the kind of spring where a young person wearing headphones doesn’t offer a seat to the old lady on the bus. It’s the kind of spring where you don’t see or call your family as much as you should. It’s the kind of spring where time passes both more slowly and more quickly than you’d like, so you graciously allow it to pass. You don’t forget to pay the rent: March, then April, then May.

It’s also the kind of spring where something bad happens to somebody else and you feel schadenfreude – but your pleasure comes to be mixed with guilt. Susan Sontag and Aristotle felt schadenfreude too, you know. You shouldn’t worry so much about being a bad person.

It’s the kind of spring that suddenly becomes fall before it was ever summer. Suddenly it is cool again, even though it was never very hot. You seem to recall that first day, with the beer on the porch, being a lot hotter and more perfect than it was.

“How did I let this happen?”

You interrogate yourself endlessly, wondering what happened to your time and your life. Were you enjoying it, or weren’t you? It was either an endless spring, or a forgotten summer – it’s unclear which: does it matter?

It’s the kind of spring that ends before it ever began.

How do I know it’s going to be that kind of spring, you ask? I know because last spring was like this too. I’m a little nostalgic.

Entry 481

Zachary Bushnell

It was once common for our males to arrive at the dwelling of whichever female he might care to court carrying with him a boulder, often having brought it miles, to drop down before her on whatever ground her birth family might inhabit in a display of strength and adoration, suggesting with this action his capacity to provide her with care and protection, as well as a home – the boulder representative, it’s believed, of a primitive door, as in the adage: “Open the door, and the house will follow” (which makes less sense if one is stepping out; but who are we to gripe about our axioms). Many of our young men, setting out across the difficult terrain separating us from neighboring villages, were lost in the enactment of this ritual, crushed eventually by the great weights they strove to heave upon the earth before beloveds they only knew by tales of their beauty, breathed by the occasional traveler or tradesperson, not even being sure whether the phantastic objects of their admiration remained available, unapproached already by other such eager stone-toting suitors, or even existed at all.  Why, if word passed about the birth of a particularly lovely baby girl born to a woman known far and wide to be ravishing, of which I could scarcely count, boys would begin to scour the landscape in a fever, intending to depart with the most prized geological specimen our humble country could provide in the tenth year of her birth and expecting to plop it at her feet at dawn on her 16th birthday.  (For everywhere from here is far.  Though the countries have been found to be equidistant from each other, the cities are not, and the closer one comes to a neighbor the harder, inevitably, gets the going.) 

Many of our women have been won in this fashion, replaced upon the arm of some wooer or other, leaving our streets and pastures littered with the rubble of foreign lands – as the ritual bears no code for the removal of said devotional objects; indeed, its deposition is the only rule, for should a suitor be deemed worthy, his burden is meant to be replaced by the contestably burdensome condition of matrimony, which none ever deny, the suitors, having brought their weight so far and feeling, for the first time in what might be years, its lack upon their shoulders.  And those dismissed by their prospective partners are rarely wont to heft it again given how the initial venture went, and shuffle beneath the load of their new-borne rock of rejection, in which direction who knows.  Every so often we’ll catch sight or story of one of our reviled departed, our fools, whom love has used so harshly – it is rarely pleasant.  In most cases they’ll continue to try for a time, varying the stone: its size; its shape; its quality or aspect.  Some go so far as to use the stones left somewhere by previous suitors.  The law on this is gray, especially as in some wastes it’s uncertain whether a stone has come there by the hands of man, or glacier, or have always been there, waiting.  What is known is that should one be recognized it would mean shame forever, both for the author of its removal and for the village from whence he came, were it not our strict policy to disown him in such cases.

(As a matter of clarification: while we have been saying ‘He’, it is only by way of tradition.  There have always been stories of women performing the ritual, though in the beginning it was often in secret.  In later years it became more accepted, and even a great honor, for a man to be carried off by his devoted bride.)

But this is ancient history.  Over time the ritual has altered to suit advancements in technology and consciousness (though of the latter we hold there have been depressingly few).  People began to feel the original too crude and taxing, inhumane, an investment of too much time – somethingwhich, due to technological progress outstepping – or even on occasion running counter to – those of consciousness, began to be counted as if it were something finite, more-so even than trees or rocks, which are, in fact, mostly time.

Involuntary

Jeni McFarland

It’s like the moment after
crashing, when you feel
for blood and broken bones,
push the airbag aside,
try the latch
and escape.
And the other driver emerges,
shaken, blinking, bruised,
but seemingly whole. And you
meet on the pavement,
exchange information, assess
the dented panel,
the tire-tracks snaked on the road,
the dangling mirror.
Of course, you both deny fault
and his denial makes you
question your own involvement,
so that as you drive away
the tears begin to rain.

Or it’s like waking in the morning
with a certain heat, a certain
wetness, hair disheveled,
nightshirt slipped
from one shoulder,
but with bright eyes,
and a feeling that if
you reached, you could
almost remember.
A curl of dark hair.
A hand slipped downward, and up,
A hot, violent rush.
But no, your mind dwells on
the alarm clock,
the morning traffic report.
The memory strains,
so you have to drag the ebbing dream
to even drudge up the hair, the hand.
And nothing more.

More like a feeling
in your chest, your arms,
or just behind your eyes,
almost suffocating, almost breathless,
almost hyperventilating. Or rather,
beyond the primitive need to breathe.
The smell of static air
at sunset, the rose-pink glow
at the horizon.
A feeling that if you close your eyes
and stretch your arms
and hold your breath
just so,
then maybe you can hold it
even for a second, grasp it
before it slips away.

“The Game”—For Women!

Brie Hero

All the mysteries of seduction and the art of the pickup adapted for the female sex. Want to spend your life carelessly bedhopping? Read on…

Select a target. When out at a club, bar or party, look around for your target. Make sure it’s someone you don’t like. You may be wondering, how do I know if I like him or not, because I am just in the process of looking around at some hot club? Meaning, my gaze is clouded by Axe fumes, my judgement is clouded by novelty shots and many gin-and-tonics, plus it’s probably dark? While these dark and cloudy conditions may mean I am not likely to find someone I do like, how can I be sure I will find someone I do not like? That is an excellent question. Sometimes finding someone you don’t like can be almost as difficult as finding someone you do. Make sure you do it with care. Picture a guy who you do like very much — a guy whose charming, considered and responsible masculinity embodies why you remain hetero, who makes you feel open and expansive, with whom you watch Netflix curled up with your head on his chest while he feeds you cookies and says sarcastic things about the movie — think about that guy, and look for his opposite as hard as you can.
Sleep with him. This is so easy it doesn’t require explanation. If you have selected your target correctly, simply saying “Want to have sex?” will be 100% effective. If you don’t feel like saying that, just mash your face into his face. If you feel pangs and/or qualms about doing so, order another drink. If your pang-qualms persist, repeat.
Don’t let him say anything that might cause you to like him. I hope you selected your target with care: that he has the requisite amount of dime-store clearance gel shellacking smelly, unwashed hair. That he bit you while you made out in the cab; that he said something dick-ish about your apartment, and — at least once — he drunkenly burped in your mouth. But! If, perhaps while you are staring at the ceiling of your darkened bedroom after the conclusion of several seconds of sex, and he opens his mouth: beware. He may say he trains seeing-eye dogs for a living. He may have a funny discussion with you that ranges into why everyone you know is getting married, or may say something insightful and weirdly supportive about your problems at work, or recommend a restaurant you later visit and love. Don’t let it happen. Defenses include making up a weird lie that means he needs to get a cab and leave now.
Don’t compare him to other people (such as the guy you’re trying to get over, who never gels his hair or does horrible biting things, the guy who let you know, post-Netflix/cookie moments, that he’s not looking for anything serious).
Do not let him call you again. Giving a fake number is an amateur move. If you make the mistake of doing so, and he goes, “oh, let me call you and then you’ll have mine,” there are a few ways to play it off. Pretend your phone is silent (angle it away from him hastily). Or, if you’re feeling like a real pro: just stare at him. He sees your phone. He sees it’s not ringing. He goes: “uh…” You continue to stare. Now, at that point, a smart man blushes and runs away. But if you selected your target correctly, we’re not dealing with a smart man. So you may need to explain to him that you have given him a fake number and, thus, your phone is not now ringing when he calls it. Then explain you gave him the fake number because you do not want to see him again. Exhausting.

Better yet is to avoid that amatuer move and just give him your number. Ignore all texts, and if he calls, pick up. Say: “Oh, yeah, you. Can I call you right back? Five minutes.” Hang up before he can assent. Never call him back.

Don’t repeat. Next time you’re a at club, bar or party, don’t bother to look around for targets. You now remember why this is a bad idea.
Get drunk, causing you to forget why this is a bad idea again.
Repeat.

The Exit

Jason Ed Collins

She lay on her side, naked under the covers, which she had pulled up under her chin. The bed felt lighter, colder, and the blankets fell down over her shoulders and the small of her back more snugly than they had half an hour ago, when she’d last woken up and felt his chest swelling and compressing behind her with each passing breath. A creak in the floorboards. She opened her eyes, peeking through crescent slits, careful not to open them the whole way cause then he’d know she was awake. Secretly spying, she lay there, still, breathing through the desert of her mouth, only now she saw the fuzzy outline of his head, his shoulders, his bare torso bent over the clothing draped across the chair in the corner of the room. With his jeans in hand, the dimple in his ass cheek tensed, frowning at her over the top of the blankets piled at her feet. Her eyes barely open, still, watching him rummage around for the rest of his things. She couldn’t let him know she was watching. That would somehow make it more painful, awkward. The exit. They always leave. Sure, they say nice things, make it sound like they’ll hang around a while, until the next morning. Always leaving. On to the next warm body.
Another creak in the floorboards. She lifted her head and saw him tip-toeing through the door, hunched over, his arms full. He dropped a sock and reached over to pick it up and lost his boxers from the top of the pile. She sighed, and fell back on the pillow. “You even gonna say goodbye?” The floorboards quit creaking down the hall. She listened. “You there?”
“You . . . uhh . . . you wanted me out,” the awkward voice returned. “That’s what you said. Said you wanted me out first thing.”
She sat up in bed. “I said that?”
He nodded, confused, naked, and embarrassed down the hall.
“Made a big deal about it, remember?” He reached down with his wadded-up boxers and covered his man parts. “Told me to get out last night but I was too fucked up to drive.”
“Huhhh. Guess I did.” She fell back in bed, looking up at the patterns of light sneaking through the curtains and playing across the ceiling. Her head still awash, blinking. Through the alcoholic haze, she began to recall telling him to fuck off cause he wasn’t fucking her right. Just get off me. Stop. Leave me alone. He was sweaty, eager, and the coke gave him turtle dick. She heard the floorboards creaking down the hall and a moment later the front door shut.
They always leave.

Buenos Aires

Karla Sutton

(A found poem from selected poems of Pablo Neruda)

Sabor Fantasma

Sabor fantasma
De lejanía
Siempre llena de
La luz de junio
Reposo de huesos
Mi alma
Aquí vivo
Con cosas rotas
Ojos dilatados y fijos
Muros de noche
No hay olvido
Sucedió
Vivía con árboles violetas

Ghost flavor

Ghost flavor
From far away
Always filled with
The light of June
Repose of bones
My soul
I live here
With broken things
Eyes, fixed and dilated
Walls of night
There’s no forgetting
It happened
I lived amid violet trees

I without U

Hakim Floyd

Stern words have never been spoken; no direction has ever been given. Strength unmentioned, love still needed. Wishes unheeded, not granted and grant it I may have anyway taking it for granted but at least for a minute that opportunity would have been appreciated. No baseball games, no nicknames, no words written down to use that would have made the chicks came. This isn’t poetry this is life, this is strife, this is my mother’s pain in the day and my tears at night. My sister on the bottom bunk this is our plight, or the pullout couch we shared for at least 5 years, well I can’t complain it’s just life. Or maybe not life, but at least mine, when my niece sheds tears for her father and I can feel her pain cause when mine walked out I felt that sting, impossible to clean up a mess when your heart is stained. So I promised my sister that for my niece I’ll be there always till my dying day. But cold shoulders make the coldest of winters feel less bitter, living off the memories prettying up a lie with more glitter. More allure, more bullshit, one fishing trip a few pickup games in the park and he’s pissed caused you missed some bullshit visit. I’m a MAN, but not the one I would’ve been if you would have been there. I see death and embraced it I feel no fear. But for you not to be here, I can never embrace that. Longing for a shot of love, but it seems that I’ll never taste that…

Para Vos

Karla Sutton

A letter, una carta
In stilted Spanish, no–
Castellano.
I had to ask you the word for longing.
I’m losing it, you’d say.
Te vas a perder todo.
And it’s cold there now.
It’s August.
The sun is down at 4:30.
But, in the mornings,
You watch it rise on the river,
El rio de la plata.

You said because of the river
The cold gets inside your bones.
“Adentro” means more than inside.
But, what exactly?

The ivy on the church
On Ricardo Gutierrez y Salta
(La esquina, I’d say
De Guti-err-ez y Salta
to cab drivers, taxistas.)
It’s grey vines on a brick wall now.
It won’t peek green till October.

I missed my old October then–
The jazz of crisp air,
Leaves, warm color falling.
I cried for it even,
Watching the church turn bud green
From the dining room table.
The jacarandas on the plaza;
There were parakeets
Escaped from somewhere,
You said, gone wild.

But, it’s still winter there.
August–
Making cold the days as they pass.
You’ll ride your bike down by the river
Wearing the wool scarf I gave you
And your bright yellow jacket.
You’ll drink chocolate candy bars
Melting in frothed milk,
And rub your hands together–
Añoranza

Longing

Jason Ed Collins

I’d wake in the morning and trace the delicate lines of your neck, your collarbone, with my soft fingertip, exploring; the play of light and shadow beckoning me, imploring me. Then my lips would follow in reverse, gently gliding over your skin. Your head would fall back in my hands, and I’d softly kiss your neck once, twice, three times, and slide the very tip of my tongue up toward your ear, where my lips had just been, and gently ever so gently take your earlobe in my mouth, between my lips, my teeth, kissing it and gently sucking on it, and back to your neck I’d kiss it more firmly, your head still in my hands, silky locks of hair playing through my fingers. You’d moan. I’d back away, looking you in the eye, full of desire, and smile. Our lips would meet, drawn together ravenously, but we’d kiss with some restraint, our lips brushing each other’s in a get-to-know-you-again-dance, and then I’d latch onto your bottom lip, ever so gently sucking on it, tugging on it, then I’d take your top lip in mine, if…
…if I even knew your name.

Elsewhere

Jane Fleming

Elsewhere

Turbid Reflection

Sarah Van Bonn

A retelling of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly based on a single viewing that took place years ago.

There is the salience of summertime. How it means the ritual of freedom from ritual. There is a table, al fresco. The atmosphere is lively familiarity, one of comfort derived from closeness, but of course at the same time of a question, a fear, of what’s underneath the surface, and of if, and of when.

There are so many men, so many patriarchs. And there is a young woman: she is sparkling, a light inside the eyes of everyone at the table.

The dinner unrolls the way that dinners do. Maybe a glance is exchanged or words when she is out of the room, or maybe even she’s exchanging them. But the main thing is that the night air is warm and it’s calm, and she’s there. And she’s warm and she’s calm and that’s important too. Like winter is behind us, and its return is not something you think about when it’s spring.

***

In bed, it is her and her husband, who is not her father but is not NOT her father. Who is her caretaker. Who has chosen her and doesn’t unchoose her. She is not tricking him into staying there. She loves him in the way that she can. And he is attuned to her, and can feel the shift, just a slight change in the scent of the air; he sees/feels/smells something and he wonders if it’s real, if it’s IT, if the thing is back.

She is awake in all the quiet small moments, when you feel most alone, and she hears the fog horn, hears the mystery of what it’s saying, or the certainty, the dread of its voice, its message, which sits like a weight inside her and grows heavier and heavier.

***
There is a body of water, vast, that lies at the edges. And it is filled with sounds and with things that are unknowable, and it’s always there. Right at the edges.

***
There is some discussion, some negotiation, and the hope, if it can just be addressed scientifically, adultly, responsibly, if it can be classified, it can be treated. There is the hope that it can be treated. That it WILL be treated.

***
Someone goes swimming or fishing. Maybe a month has passed, or a week, or just a few days. Summer always seems too short. Some of the group (the patriarchs) go on a day trip, or a supply run. They will be gone for a while. But things have begun to change with her, in a shallow way, and by the time they get back, the shadows will be deep.

***
There is the boat. The creaky boat, old and leaking. There is the safety of the familiar. There is the beauty of her and how anything must be done, that beautiful wildflower. How to care for it? How to make it your own?

There may be a storm coming. The boat may be shelter, it may be safety. It isn’t a boat that works. It is a shell of a boat.

No one realizes it was wrong until after. But it is the turning point. Like autumn, the fall.

***

Then there is the end. The day trip returns, from getting food, or medicine, help. They can’t deny it now. It’s back. It is not her but it is her, the other her. Did the brother know who it was? Was he trying to fix her or just comfort her or just comfort himself?

She is in a room that for her is a prison. The room, the world, the mind is a prison. There is movement, pawing at the walls, pacing the floors. There may be something in the room, or in the walls. She is waiting. For help? Maybe she is looking for something, or waiting, not for help but for it to reveal itself. Or she is hoping it will stay hidden, and she is terrified of seeing it emerge. Help comes but there is no help. They are talking like lion tamers, like police to a pistol-brandishing suspect. Put down the gun.

Then something does show. It is the helicopter that is a spider that is god. It is the monster that’s been hiding. It can’t help. All is lost, she is gone. But maybe she is right. God is a spider, or god is a machine, or god is the monster hiding in the walls. God is the promise of help that never arrives, god is a misinterpretation. And the fine line that prevents us from seeing what she sees is a very thin curtain, and behind it is the chaos and fury, not of one deranged mind, but of everything.

***

The water is always there, and it never changes.

At a Friend’s House for Dinner

Karla Sutton

The back of your neck in a photograph
Dusk, starched collar, party clothes
A bit of white t-shirt peaking
Skin dark like it was summer
That piece of your hair
A bit too long, curling the way it does
Head stooped to hear someone beside you
Your elbow pulled back
I could slip my arm through its crook
Stand just behind you
My hand there on that space
Between the curl and the collar
I could re-live your texture