I was asked over the summer to review the new David Berman album, the debut self-titled release of his new project, Purple Mountains. It was his first release, besides a one off with The Avalanches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTrz0yvxe0), in around a decade. The album is very good, and often brilliant, like the rest of Berman’s records. And his book of poems, Actual Air. And The Portable February, his collection of cartoons and doodles. And his essays, which are not plentiful, scattered and uncollected. I planned to write about the album and its relation to Berman’s genius, and his mastery of language and form. How it is the work of an old, tired master—an album without flash. One that is smooth, perceptive, prescient, and weighted with pain. I was to finish the piece after seeing Purple Mountains play a concert at Brooklyn’s Murmrr theater. That would have been in late August. 

This plan made sense to me for a few reasons. First, the symbolic. Murmrr was once a synagogue. And as a writer of a vague and intrinsic Jewishness, I feel a sort of kinship with Berman. We are wanderers in the same diasporic and Freudianly horny tradition. And, at least to me, a devoted fan, Berman, across his output, proffered something spiritual. What one might call a rabbinic element. A gesture at a fuller life beyond bodies and their doldrums. A life of language. A life of more and less living. 

noom

By Aram Saroyan

Opinion

Recently, going about daily errands, I came across an ad, on social media and on the radio, for a diet program improbably called noom.

Half a century ago in the sixties, in my minimalist phase as a poet, I came up with a one-word poem: noom.  It was published that year, alone on a page in outsize type, in John Perreault’s little magazine, Elephant. It also appears in my poetry collection The Rest (1971).  When Complete Minimal Poems (which includes noom) was published in 2007, followed by a rave in the New York Times Book Review, it went through four printings and was honored with the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams award.

Cul-de-sac

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Forty-Two

 

I was unemployed for three months. I came back to work at the oil refinery for one day and told them I was going on vacation for ten days starting Friday, and they said, “Holy shit.”

But this is also the story of three roommates. Stacey. Lindsey. And Rae.

 

Friday morning, 6 a.m., I got on an airplane with Rae. We flew out of Newark, bound for Los Angeles. As we boarded, one of the flight attendants let Rae go, but stopped me at the door, and served all of first class its orange juice and coffee. I didn’t care, I thought it was pretty funny. But the people behind me began to murmur. And then yell. And then scream. The flight attendant with the coffee went back into the kitchen and got more. She came back and filled more cups. A riot was about to break out. But then we were all let go, and we filled up the rest of coach. Rae said, “What the hell happened to you?”

Good Luck: Episode Forty-One

 

Attn: All living memories currently living in the house of memory, the Good Luck novel is now open for submissions.

We are seeking short fiction to be published within the novel. Word limit: 8000 words.

One winner will be selected, receiving a prize of $10,000 plus publication within this novel (attributed). Good Luck is expected to win top prizes, possibly National Book Award, maybe Pulitzer, could win the Nobel, hard to say right now.

We are looking for writing that will make our skeletons jump out of our bodies and scream Death in the face till Death jumps out of its skeleton’s skeleton or whatever. Send stories about clouds that want to be rivers. Birds that swim deep. True love that is wrong. Fantasy day jobs, reality moonlight occupations. Memories of memories. Music that can knock over a brick wall. Rainbows that disintegrate dreams. Dust and gold nuggets and no animal fear. Sentences that will make our souls explode, bridges combust in flames or flowers, spaceships say fuck it and fly into a black sun. Stories full of uncomfortable joy, monkeypaw wishes, jackasses. Please, no semicolons, metaphors, or exclamation points!

This is a great opportunity to launch your own writing career, on the coattails of Bud Smith.

Memory House

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Forty

 

I got a call to come back to work. An outage at the oil refinery. Four weeks, maybe five weeks. I got my welding stuff together. I couldn’t find my work boots and then I remembered they were in the trunk of my car, buried under the beach chairs. 

This call was good. I was out of money. 

I’d been unemployed for three months. I scraped by doing any odd job I could beg. I worked one weekend razing a small bungalow to the ground, clumsily operating a rented bulldozer. And I helped my friend set off some dynamite near his farm, to collapse the entrance to a cavern he worried children would wander into. I recorded some voiceovers for a podcast on sleep in a studio on 9th Avenue. I sold all my old Levis to a woman in Belarus.

QQ && AA

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Nine

 

Death writes in, “Who is God?”

 

The Editor writes in, “Did that say Death? Death is in this book now? I don’t know about this, man. I’d cut Death if I were you.”  

 

Yeah, I’m not happy about it either. I guess, mentioning The Seventh Seal is what did that. Not sure how to fix it.

 

Jackson Frons writes in from Los Angeles, California, “What’s the world’s biggest dog?” 

 

Nah dude. I’m not letting the world’s biggest dog in this novel, we’re already dealing with Death, his scythe, his hourglass. Look it up yourself.

Q & A

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Eight

 

A living memory asks, “What is time?”

 

Webster’s Dictionary says it is, “A nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future.”

 

But they are wrong.

 

Time is when the lightbulb burns out and you’re down in somebody’s basement doing a job, no clue where the stairs are, and in that darkness I remember another darkness, missing you, before you died, when you were off gathering sticks to make our campfire, while the moon rose, and I was just a child, sitting cross legged on the dirt, and you came back and said, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, Buddy.” And soon after the trees danced with light and everything was glowing, sparks popping, you saying there’s nothing in the dark, which is true, after a time, my eyes have always adjusted to it, and I slowly make my way out, find the stairs, open the door back to the bright present.

 

Anonymous from Unknown asks, “What happens when we die?”

 

Great question. I am trying to find out myself. So far, jury seems out. But I’m hoping within the next few days to get an answer. Check back in the novel later. Thanks.

Survival

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Seven

 

 

I brought the U.S. Army Survival Manual to the beach.

She brought yarn and knitting needles.

My driver’s side window was broken.

I opened the door, and leaned out, gave ten dollars to the ranger in her tiny hut.

We drove down the narrow road. Pine scrub, Juniper (you can roast the berries and grind them, use as a coffee substitute according to the army), turtle crossing.

Rae put the receipt on the dashboard.

I’d been reading FM 21-76 to her at night like it was a bedtime story. I suppose it’d saved many lives.

I was halfway through it.

One of the best books I’d read in forever.

I’d learned how to make a swamp bed, and how to avoid a passive outlook. I’d seen engineered blueprints to construct my own igloo, which I could heat with a lone candle.

Note to self, get some candles.

But FM 21-76 was also accidentally hilarious, accidentally poetic, accidentally thrilling.

You should read it one day.

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Six

 

Before I called it the first draft, I changed it.

The screen door slashed open, a woman stabbed the man through his belly with a katana. She let go of the handle, he fell sideways on the kitchen floor, sword stuck in. He groaned. She stepped forward, yanked out the sword, his guts spilled across the tiles. She started a fire in the bedroom. This was my final draft of the first draft.

In the second draft, the story went on, all the way to ‘the end.’ The man crawled out of the house as it was burning down, ending up in a glass atrium, where he listened to rain slap on the roof. The last of his blood oozed out. Black smoke filled the atrium. As he was about to die, he thought of how squids hide themselves on the ocean floor, how they make a dark plume and disappear.

Later, in draft twelve, the squid ink thought was edited out, and I was satisfied. The story was stronger when it ended abruptly. Now I had the penultimate ending, and it stayed that way until the actual final draft.

I called the story “The Squid.”

Then I called it “Whatever Forever.”

Then I called it “Young Turks.”

Then I called it “No Cats.”

Then I called it “Love Birds.”

Then I called it “Beauty and the Beast II.”

Then I called it “The Raft of the Medusa.”

When it was published the editor didn’t like the title “The Raft of Medusa.” They asked what else I had, I said I didn’t have any other ideas for titles, so it ran that way.

My back hurt. I stood up from the chair and stretched. I’d thrown it out so bad. I’d thrown it out exercising. So I’d stopped exercising. But then my back hurt worse because I’d stopped exercising. I needed to exercise to get my back stronger so it didn’t hurt but I’d hurt it exercising. I sat back down in my chair.

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Five

 

Dear lighting bolts, no thanks. Dear thunderclap, no thanks either. Love to you both anyway, Bud.

 

Dear Mom, it was good to see you the other day. I’m sorry that you had identity theft on your clamming license and someone else is out there pretending to be you and getting your clams out of the Barneget Bay. Love, Bud.

 

Dear Dad, happy birthday, one month late. Here is one hundred dollars. Also, Happy Father’s Day. If you think one hundred dollars is too much for your birthday, maybe just think of it as fifty for Father’s Day and fifty for your birthday. Also, thanks for telling me that story about seeing the UFO flying over town hall when you were running those drills with the volunteer fire department, I enjoyed the diagrams and I do agree with you that UFOs would be attracted to flashing lights, I mean, everything else is. Love, Bud.

Friends

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Four

 

My friend, the playwright, invited me to breakfast. So I climbed on the train and took it across the water. A perfect spring morning.

I knew for sure it was a perfect spring morning because out an open window on 11th Street, I heard someone singing an opera.

I stopped to listen.

Italian, or Greek, or German.

Whatever it was, bombastic. I didn’t know any other language besides English, which was a shame, it was limiting my ability to make friends.

If I spoke Mandarin, I could go to Taiwan and make Taiwanese friends, or if I learned Russian, I could go to Belarus and make Belarusian friends. Instead, I was stuck with the English. Still am.

I leaned against a wall. Flies buzzed around a garbage can. I looked at them and thought, It’s too bad I can’t speak Fly, because then I could be friends with the flies too.

A lot of my friends are books, some of them written in other languages I don’t understand. Sometimes a translator becomes my friend by translating a book so I can read it. Friends everywhere.

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Three

 

 

Two Cats

 

Editor: Hmmm.

Bud: Slaughterhouse-Six?

Editor: Hmm, what else you got?

Bud: Salt and Pepper

Editor: Okay, let’s use that for now.

 

Salt and Pepper


Three in the morning, the back door opens, four people enter the dark house. Black jeans, boots, jackets, gloves, ski masks. Nothing said. They’ve been here before. The moon is full, but so what.

A screened in porch, dim blue light. Kitchen sink dripping. One of them shuts it off. They part a beaded curtain and step into the bedroom, where The editor of this column is sleeping beside his girlfriend.

They surround the bed, staring down at the sleepers. Two cats watch too. Silence. Then breathing, the sounds of the night, bugs outside, frogs, wind. Each time they come back here like this, they stay longer.

 

Editor: I’m not really sold on this concept.

Bud: I know it’s kind of weird.

Two Cats

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Two

 

Three in the morning, the back door opens, four people enter the dark house. Black jeans, boots, jackets, gloves, ski masks. Nothing said. They’ve been here before. The moon is full, but so what.

A screened in porch, dim blue light. Kitchen sink dripping. One of them shuts it off. They part a beaded curtain and step into the bedroom, where the editor of this column is sleeping beside his girlfriend.

They surround the bed, staring down at the sleepers. Two cats watch too. Silence. Then breathing, the sounds of the night, bugs outside, frogs, wind. Each time they come back here like this, they stay longer.

Mystery

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty

 

My memories are locked up in a wooden house, each year growing and distorting.

No roads or rails get there.

The house is over the hills, and across a wide valley, past two raging silver rivers, beyond a seemingly endless golden field stupid with wildflowers.

Some years I even believe the house gets farther and farther away.

Beyond those forever fields there is a maze of forest, which recently just filled up with wolves.

Long I’d suspected my house of memory had fallen into squalor. I’d seen the signs, recalling something and finding it wrong. A memory of my grandmother as a rabid woman. No.

Every year a new room is added to this house, and the maintenance gets worse. I should get there soon, I thought. Then I didn’t go. I should open the windows and air the place out, pull the vines down that are creeping up the downspout.

Focusing on the present, I’d let the past evade me.

Forgive me, Rachel Buleri.

I’d forgotten our sixth wedding anniversary.

Good Luck: Episode Twenty-Nine

 

Hamlet wakes up in the underworld. He is up on stage. Act 1: Scene 1, Elsinore, the rampart walls of his familial Dutch castle, except something seems wrong. Part of the castle is made of plywood, and painted gray. Other parts of the castle are styrofoam molded to look like stone blocks.

Up above him on the rampart walls, he sees men dressed like Spartans because the wardrobe people are idiots. The guards hold spears, are keeping an eye out for Norway who is coming soon to kick everyone’s ass.

The guards address each other as Bernardo, Fernando, Marcellas, and Horatio, but Hamlet knows those men, and the guards are not those men. Hamlet thinks he’s dreaming. The imposter versions of Bernardo, Fernando, Marcellas, and Horatio, begin talking about a ghost they have seen. Hamlet climbs the stairs to join them on the rampart walls. Halfway up, he hears them say that the ghost that has visited them two nights in a row is Hamlet’s father, the recently slain King of the Danes. Okay, Hamlet thinks, I’ve heard this one before.