People ask me where I live,
I say, “where the wind sings
a quarter-moon howl.”
They pretend to know –
nod in silent agreement

People ask me where I work,
I say, “where the sun sleeps
behind a silver-skinned blur.”
They are reassured –
carry on with their day

People ask me where I love,
I say, “where the earth breathes
sweet within steady lungs.”
They act surprised –
bury the other questions

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Deb Olin Unferth. Her new novel Barn 8 is available from Graywolf Press. It is the official March pick of the TNB Book Club.

 

This is Deb’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 178 on May 29, 2013.

Unferth is the author of six books, including Wait Till You See Me Dance and Revolution. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes, and was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Her work has appeared in Granta, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, and The Paris Review. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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Know the Ledge

By TNB Poetry

Poem

One of the social functions of art is to document and respond to the human condition. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, The Nervous Breakdown presents three poems by three contemporary American poets.  This poem by Adam Tedesco is the third of three daily installments.


Know the Ledge

The clay here is afraid
of our shovels
our hard heels
of bread and ends of meat

The wind didn’t get here
by trying, says the neighbor
of laughter, the sting
of too much data

I am afraid
of my nostalgia
for all of their faces
spread across the sun

I work against my pettiness
so I can call it not myself
these strings
of too much knowledge
that blind materiality
of what fits in my pocket

They had to show me
the wounds for me
to remember
your human breathing
the elastic ring
of heartedness

There was too much want
to carry, where I was
what they flew away from
a clear plastic echo, blued
ether through which they moved


You might’ve noticed life’s a bit bleak right now. Most people I know, myself included, are glued to their phones looking at  doomsday algorithm after doomsday algorithm, Trump fuck up after Trump fuck up.  I check the confirmed cases and death count every morning, while I drink my coffee, after I go on my jog and before I teach my classes on Zoom.

My point is that these are not normal times. And during these not normal times, I want to celebrate the people who are writing on their blogs and on Medium because this is where I’m finding stories that feel the most human, vulnerable, transformative and emotionally impactful. So I am going to be, as often as I can, sharing links to these blogs as part of this COVID-19 Diaries series.

One of the social functions of art is to document and respond to the human condition. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, The Nervous Breakdown presents three poems by three contemporary American poets.  This poem by Aimee Clow is the second of three daily installments.


Chapel Hill Meets at Nightlight

Trudge the swampy divot of your city yard
to conjure the possibility of fruit.
Or vegetables. Roots.

No one is to talk these weeks but touch
only ground and locked air.

Cats will be contented
by constant companionship.

A network of signal threads
pretends political deviation,
what amounts to baskets of food
gifted on door steps.
We really wanted
better communication.
We get what we get,
signal around it.

Who does not hoard becomes a list
of empty shelves and bargains.

Dumpsters dry up as demand stays home.
We become wishes for the rotting.

Pretend four walls are open sky.
Press your tongue in the acid-washed mud.

I’ll believe what I believe.
We will take what we take.

Economics of a virus, the radio whispers,
deviate because of fear, the locked in here,
this indefinite.

You need to pretend you are really, really, really alone.
Now you need to tell me we are not alone.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Monika Woods. She is a literary agent and founder of Triangle House Literary in New York.

 

Woods’ clients have won the PEN Bingham Award, been listed for the National Book Award, The Kirkus Prize, The Edgar Awards, LAMBDA Awards, and the Believer Book Award, appeared on the New York Timesbestseller list, and been named books of the year by The New York Timesand NPR, among other honors.

She is a graduate of SUNY Buffalo and the Columbia Publishing Course and has worked closely with leading voices in contemporary literature over her decade-long publishing career. Her interests include literary fiction and compelling non-fiction in cultural criticism, food, popular culture, journalism, science, and current affairs.

She is particularly excited about plot-driven literary novels, non-fiction that is creatively critical, unique perspectives, a great cookbook, and above all, original prose.

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Support the show at Patreon or via PayPal.

One of the social functions of art is to document and respond to the human condition. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, The Nervous Breakdown presents three poems by three contemporary American poets.  This poem by Shira Dentz is the first of three daily installments.


The Singing, Ringing Tree

somersaulting through tunnels,
hollow spools—

threading anonymously,
pins, plows, spikes:
                                     tag
hide & seek, you’re it

mustard seed in my stomach
is a yellow corona

tongue, fire, smoke
like paper, scissors, rock:
                                              shoot

a green specter cauterized
in my mind’s film, blessed

tethered to supernaturals
are we ruined?
we are mined for our lives

 

I find your title quite confusing. Can you explain it?

The toothless house is an image that came to mind when I was working on this book, which is primarily about parenthood. I imagined that the experience of raising children was akin to being a krill swallowed whole by a blue whale. One minute you are just swimming along happily minding your own business, and the next minute you are in the belly of the whale. Blue whales do not technically have teeth, they have baleen, which are similar to the bristles of a brush. Though one’s house isn’t technically a jail and bristles aren’t technically teeth, escaping intact in either case would be quite difficult.

I know that is a ridiculously convoluted (and probably scientifically inaccurate) metaphor, but there you have it.

Parenthood has turned out to be the best experience of my life, but this book is about the first years, which were like knocking up against the bristles, both physically and emotionally.

I saw a long line of cars.
I saw a big white house.
The ground was mottled
and abraded like
the back of a buffalo.
I saw a chicken coop,
a muddy ditch,
the padded cell
of the sky.

 

Tie a Tie

 

Russell cannot tie his tie and cannot accept that he cannot learn it, that this part of his brain is just gone. In the bathroom mirror, I watch his fingers fumble with the tie as the upturned scar on his forehead purples with tamped down rage. 

“Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop,” he says. 

I respect Russell’s perseverance, that despite his traumatic brain injury Russell does not acquiesce into helplessness and rely on the assistance available to him, like some other residents tend to. 

But after so many Sundays, I must admit, I am not optimistic. After so many Sundays, I know that this episode only ends one way: with him asking for my help. 

“Russell,” I say, hoping to move things along. His half-sister hates when we’re late. “There’s plenty of stuff I can’t do, either. I can’t do calculus or knit sweaters. I can’t eat dairy products or peanuts or watch Christmas movies without crying. I can’t roller skate.” 

Russell ignores me. “Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop.” 

 “I can’t think about the deep ocean without existential dread,” I say. “Or sleep without draping a heating pad over a pillow and pretending it is another human body. I can’t volunteer at the humane society.” 

 “Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop.” 

And as Russell’s fingers fumble, I continue listing my shortcomings. I list them and the list grows long and painful. But I do not stop. I keep listing because I want Russell to understand that we are all deficient in some fashion.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Sam Farahmand. His debut novel, Chimero, is available from dr.Doctor Press.

 

Farahmand is originally from Los Angeles. His writing has appeared in Electric Literature, Hobart, and PANK Magazine.

He lives in Nashville.

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Typos

By Eric Rawson

Poem

The chromosomal kinds often result

in minor improvements to the species

 

The fat-fingered mistakes that used to plague

a typist encourage online porno-

graphers and herbal-supplement scammers

 

New words are added to the lexicon

as was the delicious dord in Websters’

1939 edition and old

 

Morals undermined (see the King James which

in 1631 did not command

the flock not to commit adultery

 

resulting one supposes in a mid-

century spike in bastardy)—careless

proofing yields a meditative moment:

 

The mindswept plain of western Nebraska

 

Instead of meteorology an

epistemology—Instead of top-

ography a description of pureness

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Erin Eileen Almond. Her debut novel, Witches’ Dance, is available from Lanternfish Press.

Almond is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and reviewer. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe, Colorado Review, Normal School, Small Spiral Notebook,and on Cognoscenti.com, and The Rumpus.net.

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Support the show at Patreon or via PayPal.

The following is an excerpt from Andrew Weatherhead’s new book-length poem, $50,000. It is available now from Publishing Genius.

Order a copy here.

 

 

The intercom’s paging someone named Ned Spaghetti 

 

 

Streetlights flicker on Church Avenue

 

 

Distance sweeps through the city like a plague

 

 

The wind stops, but the clouds keep moving

 

 

My face hurts from frowning again

 

 

I’m having obvious feelings…

 

 

Mike Tyson: “All of my heroes were truly miserable bastards, and I emulated them my whole career”

 

 

It feels like I’m floating, but I know I’m not

 

 

Dreams of total narcissism and self-involvement

 

 

Google searches for emotions, feelings, bars near me

 

 

Rivers that never reach the sea

 

 

Constant fear is the natural state of man—a path from the real to the abstract

 

 

Gavrilo Princip finishes his sandwich, steps outside, and assassinates the Archduke Franz Ferdinand

 

 

World War I begins

 

 

World War I ends

 

 

Trees rustle overhead

 

 

Time is a jelly—it wooshes

 

 

I walk quickly past Café Mogador

 

 

Friends of friends haunt me

 

 

Lunch meat drives me insane

 

 

Cus D’Amato: “The hero and the coward feel the same thing”

 

 

Vi Khi Nao: “My soul is a cul-de-sac”

 

 

Everyone else’s problems seem worse

 

 

So I go home and go to sleep

it’s winter in san diego
the sound of your feet on wooden planks

down to the water

 

white skies, white waves

 

there’s a woman swimming naked
in the cold, her child at her side

doesn’t seem to mind.

 

Last night I held your hand

under the table, your sister sat across from us
her baby didn’t like me, you laughed
gave a squeeze, I held on tight

 

I love the beach in winter. It’s nice to share the ocean
with the dogs in the water, lolled heads of seaweed
hissing onto the shore – but it’s also nice
to have the ocean alone.

 

Ladling soup last night (pot gleaming, steam, an orange bowl)
– I finally let myself cry

 

next to me in the kitchen, your father drank undisturbed
you kissed me in the hallway
I’m afraid of him, you told me once
I pressed my head into your chest
it was goodbye, you didn’t know, gripped my wrist

 

just to let it go.

 

here in San Diego
you can’t tell the homeless and the surfers apart
deeply tan, sunbleached hair
tears in their clothes

 

I guess we all search for something, on whatever side

–so the dark men build houses on the water
chucks of white marble in their hands
glimpse the sunset, leave them for someone else

and the blond boys go on dreaming
of Hawaii, of better, bluer water

 

I stand on boulders, strangely curved, remember currents

of water
and wind, too. I sit,

 

quiet with the birds. Horizon, an endless line, presses

 

down on all this blue.

 

and the woman

slips in, a silver coin necklace

flashing on her chest,

 

 

brightest thing in the waves.