@

 

She researches genealogy. Collects. Organizes. Obsesses. Discovers distant relatives all along the Adriatic Coast. Roots stretching across continents and seas.

But don’t ask her about cells or strands of DNA. About heredity or the odds of what might be passed down.

Don’t ask her for the truth.

There is a story the family tells. Well-rehearsed. Plausible. By now, she may even believe it herself:

It is a hunting accident that killed her brother fifty years ago. A father, his two grown sons in the woods of Big Pocono State Park.

What they don’t say: These are seasoned hunters, antlers and disembodied heads displayed like trophies in their living room and den.

 Someone careless, the story goes, cleaning a gun.

Sing

By Naomi Kimbell

Essay

 

Sing of despair, of days, this song the abyss in you. The ocean is deep but Lake Vostok is deeper still. A person can’t float in it, can’t taste it. A person can’t even see it but only imagine with sonar and drills how cold and dark and still it must be. Although sometimes, somehow, you slip through a borehole into that fossiline water and sink through its radiance, a brightness not seen but felt in the freezing, a place where fathom pulls you to a depth you could never plumb yourself, a true straight line with no handholds to stop your fall. Days pass, and nights come, and mornings—and streetlights flash at dusk and dim at dawn and the garbage men bang the dumpster and the snowplow scrapes the street—and you have to hit the snooze and swim, and find the shore, and heave to land like a first live thing with legs deep beneath the southern pole and lay upon the rocks and just breathe, just for a second, and drink coffee or maybe tea, with cream or maybe milk.

A man you don’t know makes a joke online of which you are the brunt, you know the one—woman, kitchen, sandwich—that old droopy-eyed dog of a joke still rattling around under the stoop, its bark long faded to a hoarse cough. It’s ironic, someone comments, because he’s sooo progressive, a real champion for women, haha! and you wonder what it means when the champions use the same language as the oppressors, their lines interchangeable except that one of them, at the end, elbows you hard in the ribs and says, Just kidding. Tells you, Lighten up, take a joke, like they’re doing you a favor.

And aren’t they? Could be worse—at least they don’t mean it, right? At least someone’s having fun?

***

Not long after college, you meet your friend Tony* at the bar one evening for happy hour and find him waiting with your favorite drink—gin and ginger, tall, extra ice. He’s the kind of guy who will do that, who knows your drink and buys the first round while you’re stuck in traffic on your way over from work, the kind of guy who does it without expectation—no unanswered debt filling the space between you, crowding one of you out. But tonight he has an eye on the girl you’re with, the way she’s braided her hair and pinned it across the top of her head like a crown and has borrowed your turquoise earrings and listens with her whole body when someone else is speaking. Tony buys the second round too, because, you know, he’s nice like that, and then he stands close enough that his whisper in your ear trails a shiver across your neck, an arrow drawn back in the bowstring, unquivering: She’s deliciously rape-able in those jeans, yeah? And when you don’t respond because you’ve forgotten how to direct words out of your mouth he holds up his hands as if to fend off what he knows is coming, his smile unassuming, even genuine when he tells you, I kid, I kid. His betrayal is such a surprise that you know if you allow yourself a moment to linger beneath its weight it could snap each one of your ribs in half. Instead, you let your drink sit untouched on the table, the ice melting in your glass like a slow goodbye, and then politely refuse—and refuse again—when Tony offers to walk the two of you home. You sure? he asks, it can be scary out there, as if for even a moment you could have forgotten.

 

Cover_NarrowRiverWideSkyThe Minnesota relatives visited. Our grandfather had visited us. He walked among the thistles and goats and chickens while we showed him where the events of our lives happened – the place where I fell off the horse, the place where Brian found a big frog. The goats sniffed his shiny shoes.

Uncle John lived in a cottage behind the house for several months after he returned from Vietnam. He needed some time alone, Mom said. He’d gone to “Dog Lab,” become a medic, and served two tours. He left again to Minnesota, married aunt Barb and adopted the little boy she’d had from her first marriage, and they visited the farm. I remembered he said he wanted to spank his little boy one hundred times. After he spanked the child and joined us outside by the livestock gate, he said he’d counted pretty high, but didn’t get to a hundred. We’d heard a cry per strike. Mom told me not to speak about it as I stood beside her counting heart beats, blocking out the crying. I don’t know how many smacks I heard.

 

AuthorPhoto_JennyForrester

 

Who do you think you are? I mean, what makes you so special?

I ask myself these questions all the time. I imagine people asking these questions about me behind my back. So, I wanted to include them at the beginning of this Self Interview. They’re actually important questions. Even though some people would say we shouldn’t be this hard on ourselves, I think we should. I think we should come to the page, whether we’re writing the page or reading it, with a sense of urgency.

man-1123130_1920

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damn, you’re sexy.

For a work convention.

What do you mean uh-oh?

Not everyone in Vegas is doing coke and getting blowjobs from hookers.

It was great talking to you…I don’t want the night to end.

Do you want to come up to the room and order some room service?

No? Then how about breakfast tomorrow morning?

Why do you keep asking me that?  I told you, I’m divorced.

In Memory of Scott Von Lanken
Joshua Cummings, 2017
Joshua Cummings, 2017

 

1. Do nothing after you find out from a mutual friend via Facebook messenger that your once-best friend, Joshua Cummings, just allegedly shot and killed a Denver RTD security officer at point-blank range, then wonder why feelings about this person you haven’t spoken with in five years and haven’t heard from in two are creeping through you;

2. Say I told you so to no one about the worrisome content of his social media accounts now plastered on multiple news sites, content you actually viewed a few years ago when, via Facebook, he reached out to your wife who he used to run cross country with in college, and also say I told you so to yourself as confirmation that you made the right decision back then not to get back in touch with him;

3. Say nothing as you watch your old college classmates and fraternity brothers talk on Facebook about how wonderful he was or how fucked up he was, how shocked and/or unsurprised they are/are not;

4. Write a long response about why everyone is right and why everyone is wrong about your friend and what he did or did not do and that if we really saw it coming, then why didn’t we say something, but never hit send;

Mother could be you

 

A year ago I was pretty, people noticed me in the train. I had this way of not looking. That’s the trick, isn’t it? You present yourself, your perfumed body, soft at the right places, a straight back and tall, strong bones. Living the busy life, giving everything but. And that but is what the weak-hearted want. They’ll crawl for it; they’ll kiss your heels. I know this so well. It’s a model of love, handed over from generation to generation. Mothers who say: go play in the street honey because Mother is busy. Mother has her lover waiting. Mother wants to take a nap in the sun. You really want to play with the other kids, but you wait on the porch for Mother to open the door.

 

Shout Outs

By David Zoby

Essay

NWA

Late for class again, late and permanently disorganized, wearing my jeans jacket despite the chill. I could cut class and what difference would it make, but for a brief feeling of regret? Who was I letting down? The lush grasses between academic buildings? The professors who seemed there and not there? The low and somewhat jumbled Allegheny Mountains to the west framed my 1989. I was a senior at Virginia Tech, living in an all-male dorm, one semester away from drift. It felt as though I was living in a diorama where everything was multiple choice, colored in with a number two pencil, or left blank. Fog was flowing in from the ridges and hollers. It was a fogbank that told you a cemetery was nearby, that battles took place near here. It was tattered and worn on the edges, like the comforter I had rolled myself in for the last four years. Of course I cut my Human Development course and went back to the dorm to boil some ramen. Who wouldn’t? I was rolled so tightly in that fog I could hardly hear the students coming and going to classes, the refitted elevators ascending and descending, a door closing, the hallways hushing. My books were in there, rolled in the cocoon with me: Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, and Sherwood. I guess this is where it all started, my resistance to 1989.

I was the head resident advisor in Pritchard Hall, a towering, Cabrini-Greene-like building completed in 1967 with questionable ventilation, but otherwise solid construction. Intimidating on the outside, Pritchard was steel and Hokie Stone, common granite that the university hung on all its buildings. Pritchard contained nearly 1,600 college males between eighteen and thirty years old. We RAs had to show up a week before the students. The scent of fresh paint hung in the air near the lobby. The painters knocked off at noon to attend the annual staff barbeque. I lay awake all night listening to workmen putting the final touches on the breaker boxes, testing the fire alarms, water pressure. The elevators were sliding nicely on new oil.

There haven’t been many weeks since the summer of 2014 ended in which I haven’t thought about or someone hasn’t reminded me of #90for90, that time we did 90 events over 90 days in a train station bar. When it ended, it felt like those corny movies where our characters have a terrifying, exciting, overwhelming, but ultimately unforgettable summers that forever change them. In many ways, none of us—Jessica, Peter, Judeth or myself—have recovered from it.

10636169_10203569940022097_951881115049773340_n-e1486649553886

1557279_10202842441290851_1524261412_o2We’re so sad to report that Cynthia Hawkins, our Arts & Culture editor, has lost her long battle with cancer. We send our deepest condolences to her husband and two daughters, and all of her family and friends. We will always be grateful for her great spirit and many contributions to this site and its community.

If you would like to contribute to a fund that will help Cynthia’s family weather this storm, you can do so here. Every donation, however large or small, helps. Please give what you can.

Dear God

By Allyson Darling

Essay

1

 

Are you there, God? It’s me, Allyson.

They never came. The boobs. You know the ones. Aunt Emma has them. Hers are bigger than avocados but similar in shape. And I know—you already know that. You know everything.

I was sent to the office again for skin showing above my jeans, the smallest crescent moon of pale. Mr. Frost handed me a clipboard that clamped a note. The note held words: “dress code violation.” And he asked me to take it to the office. The girls pull their thongs above the bands of their jeans to show the boys behind them in class. The room is a sea of lace funnels into asses, but Mr. Frost doesn’t notice. He talks about Spinal Tap for fifty-three minutes.

My thoughts dawdle back to last weekend, reliving scenes and events, picking them up to consider, like the shape of rocks for skipping…

My mother is unyielding. Can I stay home instead? I think I’m getting sick. I have cramps. Terrible cramps and it isn’t my fault I have this stupid uterus.

No. You’re going.

She says. I would complete this final step in being confirmed into the Catholic Church. Whether I wanted to get married in the church or not, whether I wanted to get married at all, or not. And I would not complain about it.

me

On behalf of the entire TNB community, I want to send love and appreciation to Cynthia Hawkins, our longtime Arts & Culture editor, who is battling cancer with uncommon grace and determination. All of us here–and of course I’m referring to our far-flung tribe of writers and editors, both past and present–are deeply moved and inspired by you, Cynthia, and we want you to know how much we care about you and your family.

With this in mind, we figure a good old-fashioned, comment-heavy post here at TNB will cheer you up and give you some more good energy. (All readers are invited to join me in offering positive thoughts on the board below.)

bball 1

 

“Nobody would pass me the ball. Even friends who I thought were my friends wouldn’t pass me the ball.” These words from my nine-year-old after another round of recess Darwinism style bounced around in my head like a bright orange basketball stealing my sleep at 2:00 a.m and making me despise a group of four-foot tall 4th graders.

 

“I blame Trump,” I tell my husband (also at 2:00 a.m.). In a mumbled sleep chatter he reminds me that childlike cruelty existed well before Donald Trump became the President. I know if my husband was fully awake he would share yet another tale of the bullying he experienced as a child, which is supposed to make me feel better because look at him now, but I’m a fire sign, I’m a fighter, and even though he has fallen back asleep I continue this fight with the cracked plaster on our ceiling wondering what the world would be like if we all simply believed in passing the ball.

 

It’s not like I’ve ever played in a basketball league before, but as a native Angelino I did grow up in the era of the Showtime Lakers. By default that makes me a Chick Hearns-style sideline expert on the benefits of passing the ball. Of course most of the Lakers back then were known for their dynamic running game and flamboyant offense, but then there were players like Coop. If you called him Michael Cooper you clearly didn’t grow up in Los Angeles. Cooooooooop, heralded for his defense and his beyond belief Coop-a-loops he would slam-dunk on his rivals after retrieving a perfectly timed pass from Magic Johnson or Norm Nixon. Even NBA all-stars of a basketball dynasty recognized to win the game they needed to pass the ball.

 

It seems if you’re not open it makes more sense to pass the ball. It also seems a team would get more open shots the more times they moved the ball. But 4th grade asphalt antics aren’t about the open shot. It’s about taking the shot whether you can make the shot. It’s about ego and arrogance and power. It’s also about a pack mentality where one group of kids endeavors to dominate over the other, especially if the “other” is different from the pack.

 

TRS 1

 

My friend gave my pages back to me. He said, “If you’re saying this is rape, you need to make the scene clearer. You need to make us hate this guy and feel shit for this chick.”

I attempted to explain. “What is not rape about it? He put all his weight on her. He took off her clothes. She did not have a real opportunity to protest.”

“She went out to his house. She talks about how he’s hot and how she’s into him. He’s nice to her for awhile.”

Yes. And she wanted to be wanted. She needed men to want her. That’s how she felt good about herself. She wasn’t looking for sex. Maybe at some point, but not on that night. Sex was not her agenda. I know these things.

My friend pressed. He said, “That’s not how it reads. You wrote a sex scene. All I read here is sex.”

He stripped her, and held her down, and said, let me feel you, and then started fucking her. She didn’t have time to protest. It was one thing and then he was fucking and consent should not be passive.

My friend shook his head. He didn’t buy it. Didn’t buy her. Didn’t buy her motives. He did not believe her. He wanted more booze, maybe. More rape.

“We’re going to need more rape.”