Gaze

By Tamara Sellman

Essay

 

It’s a perfect night for sleeping outside. I told my husband so, but he said I was crazy.

Why would you want to do that?

I dunno. Fresh air? A chance to be swallowed by the night sky? To watch the Perseids?

I spend all day at work on a computer. Craving the aboriginal—dreamtime in suburbia—is nothing if not an act of psychic survival.

Whatever.

I flatten a sleeping bag on the sun chair, plump a buckwheat pillow. I hear my husband now, snoring through the open window above me. I unzip my down wrapping, find carbon-free climate control by slipping my foot into the cool August night.

 

My aunt died in a car accident when I was six. We buried her, a fetus in her belly. She was only 26.

I try not to hear my own biological clock ticking. I came across a chart. It was labeled, “The Age Factor.” There’s a picture of a healthy pregnant woman. Above her, the caption: “Likelihood of a woman conceiving after trying for a year.” To the right of her belly are percentages broken down by age group. My group, 40-44 is 36%, not bad, but the one after it, the one I’ll be in soon, 45-49, is only 5%.

Sunday morning, in my twenties, a baby is crying somewhere in the apartment complex. I lie in bed amazed at its fierce demand. I want not to cry. My father always said, Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about. I learned to cry softly so no one would be bothered by it, to do it with muffled sniffles and the silent roll of hot tears, not like this baby, crying with all its might. After a few hours, I wonder if I’m hearing things. Is that a baby or just my own sorrow? Finally, another neighbor yells, “Shut that fucking baby up. I’m trying to sleep.” The baby stops so suddenly I wonder if they’ve put a pillow over her face.

Dreams

By Joyanna Priest

Essay

 

Sixteen says indignantly that she hasn’t taken pills in a month.

Since she got caught, she means.

Oxy was her favorite. I never tried Oxy, but I used to love heroin more than my own dreams.

 

***

 

There’s darkness beneath the glamour, I warn her, but her ears are closed.

 

***

 

What I point out: addiction dulls brightness, makes ideas go nowhere, splices generosity with blinding selfishness, makes a person betray themselves so they’re left with no one to trust.

What I say: “I’ve never seen anybody get out whole.”

“Not you, though,” she shakes her head like it’s the only true thing in the world. “You’re the best person I know. You kept your brightness.”

No, daughter. No.

 

 

I’m thinking about dislocation. About place. Wondering how to set myself in it, like Wallace Stevens’s jar in Tennessee, so I can change the place and the place can change me. An exchange. A connection. But then again, I just reread his poem and the jar gives nothing back to its surroundings. This wasn’t the story I remembered from school. I remembered a more generous jar.

I’m wondering how to make a scene that another person can enter into through words on the page and feel welcome in this story of displacement. I want you to feel out of it while you’re here, like I tend to feel, but in a nice way, so you might want to come back.

Y’all come back now, ya hear!

 

How did I get from standing on the bimah for my son’s bar mitzvah three years ago to visiting my son at the adolescent wing of a psych ward? Raphael is here on a 72-hour hold, a “5150.” This is where a social worker from the Psychiatric Emergency Team (PET) evaluates a person under 18 to see if he is at risk to himself or others. This is the first time my son has been put on such a hold related to his escalating drug use. I drive somewhere down the 605 towards Santa Ana to a hospital with an adolescent psych unit. I am buzzed into a locked unit. I enter and sign in, looking eagerly around for Raphael. The large room where the visits take place has posters on the wall. Some are informational—rules—others are friendly with pleasant scenes and inspirational quotes, but it doesn’t take away from the stark, institutional look. This will not be one of Raphael’s favorite places for a psych hold. Subsequent adolescent wards and treatment centers we pass through will have bright murals, and I will not remember where this one was, that it was only a waystation to the next step that I had hoped would arrest the downward slide. But the physicality, the geographic location, of this first 72-hour hold he goes on, will mostly be a giant blank in my memory. I’ve been told that trauma can do this, above and beyond the normal menopausal memory loss.

 

Sometimes a gal just needs to get away.

My sister and I had been talking about taking a trip together. No kids. No husbands. Just her and me for four whole glorious days. Our first ever sisters trip.

We would be able to talk and giggle all night. Eat ice cream in bed. Even jump on the bed. Sleep in. Walk around in our underwear. Share lipstick. See girly tourist sites and stores no male eyes want to bother observing. Go to tea or coffee and sit all day just chatting about all the things that connect us and make us sisters that share the same blood and childhood so that we know each other better than we know ourselves.

Separation

By Kerry Bramhall

Essay

 

 

 Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

S. Merwin

 

Girl Mother Memory:  Six stories high. Will she make a sound as she flies? Her wisps of hair and wide forehead just like her mother. Get me out of this room. She is too small today and I can’t feel my hands. Turn your back to the windows…Don’t throw her out. That would be wrong…and very bad…Lots of trouble for me. Jail. Blood. Hard cement below. I should make dinner now. Find the warm kitchen. There is no mother here for any of us now. Windows can let me out or hold me in. I want my own lost mother to crush me with love and stop this scream inside my throat. I am thirteen. My sister is six.

 

This is a comic.

Not really. But okay.

Comics aren’t Media Mail.

What?

Go across the street, right there. To the comics store. They’ll tell you. They do all their comics parcel post.

But these don’t have advertisements.

It doesn’t matter.

So a book of pictures isn’t Media Mail but a book of words is? Is that it?

Yes.

But these have pictures and words.

 

1.  Choose a horrific moment in history you know little about, in a country, Argentina, you know little about, but which seems to have troubling similarities to the here and now. Research for years. Images from the Dirty War sear into your mind.

 

2.  Learn that Hemingway wrote novels at the pace of 300 words a day, no more, no less, stopping mid-sentence if need be. You’re no Hemingway, but it seems pretty reasonable. Buy a marble composition notebook. Stare at the blank page. Treat yourself to a cheap book of Dover Art stickers. Stick a Chagall painting on a blank page. Stare. The painting makes a nice dent in the white space. A box to write around.

 

3.  Repeat this process every day for the next few years. Chagall, Modigliani, and Kandinsky speak to your project more than other painters, fueling your three main characters. You don’t know why, but whatever works, right?

 

4.  Worry the 300-word chunks aren’t quite stitching together. Someone in your writing group calls your protagonist a cipher. You’re afraid to ask if that is good or bad.

 

On May 4, 2006, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency published a list essay by Dan Wiencek called “Thirteen Writing Prompts.” Prompt #1: “Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.”

Set go.

***

[We are off, off, off, off, off Broadway.  We are actually in New Jersey.]

Overture: “Frankie and Johnnie,” by Sam Cooke  (YouTube video version.) [Audience hopefully sees  Program Note* on the flier provided by Trenton’s Tremendous Pork Roll.]

Act 1, Scene 1, Curtain opens as audience glimpses—through kitchen window—a view of shadowy shapes darting, dishes crashing, unintelligible shouts.

Off Stage Narrator Voice 1 speaks one of the six optional opening line(s), selected nightly per Director’s whim and written In the style of [and with profuse apologies to]:

1. [Ernest Hemingway, “Fifty Grand”] “Brutal, just brutal, like sittin’ ringside watchin’ yer last fifty bucks take a dive with a busted-up loser.”

2. [Carl Sandburg, “Fog”] “Anger comes on feral feet … never moving on.”

3. [Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man] “The problem with putting one and one together is that sometimes you get two and sometimes you get three … and sometimes you get one.”

4. [Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Number 43”] “Who hasn’t loved thee? Let us count the broads.”

5. [Anne Rice, Interview with The Vampire] “Lust is one of those emotions that can stir your blood or suck it. The same can be said of a vampire.”

6. [Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat] “‘It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.’ Anger looms in the shape of the I’ve-Caught-You-Now.”

Off Stage Narrator Voice 2 bellows, menacingly, following above-selected option: “Shut the fuck up!”

Shadowy shapes mute immediately, simultaneous with Scurrying Exit, Stage Left, as lights go down.

 


*Backstage Tech. usually clicks Skip Ad before You Tube sound comes up. Note to audience: If our Tech is a little slow, and a commercial plays, we thank you for suspending your disbelief. Some nights she’s working on homework right up to curtain time.

My mother announces that when she dies, she wants to be buried like the pharaohs. We talk over the phone and I imagine her sitting in what used to be my father’s green chair, surveying the frames and cabinets that crowd the walls, feet bouncing on the footstool, the black poodle perched alertly on her lap. I ask her why and she cackles back: “Because they get to take all their stuff with them!”

Sorting

By Leslie Lindsay

Essay

 

Sweat rolls down my back and pools into my bra. It’s mid-June in southern Missouri, the heat and humidity an oppressive blanket. Inside, my throat feels clogged with desiccated leaves; a lump the size of a walnut wedges into my gut.

Fact:  Tanned arms held out various Smartphones, gazes misdirected, as a generation of cousins pressed their faces together at my mother’s funeral.

I smile as shutters click, a conditioned response, but inside the tang of bile bubbles in my mouth. Who takes family photos at a funeral?

A welcoming breeze flitters past, ruffling our hair; a rainbow of blonde and brown, natural curls and chemically straightened, and as it does, I taste her in my mouth, rolling my tongue over the grit of guilt and pain and disappointment.

It’s been ten days.  Two-hundred and forty hours of wrestling with the logistics of death, of explaining things to my children, of living when she was no longer.

Totoro’s Sad

By Mara Cohen

Essay

 

I jump at the sound of my husband’s voice, am doubly startled when I turn to encounter the unblinking eyes of our daughter’s puppet peeking around the kitchen doorway. “Totoro’s sad,” Puppet says.
My heart, bruised and swollen shut, relaxes slightly at what I assume is my husband’s gesture of reconciliation after a weekend when the prospect of divorce had been broached by each of us, more than once. I cross the kitchen and step into the hallway where I find him, his eyes moist with tears.

Hybridity

By Ariel Gore

Essay

 

For Beachcombers

Who Are Tired of Performing Normal

 

Surrealism runs through the streets.

—Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

I stood in front of the bank teller this morning, trying to perform normal.

Wishing I could just go home, get back to work.

See, I’m building a dream library under the house. I’m modeling it after that book hostel in Tokyo. We’ll climb ladders to sleep in shelves. We’ll metamorphose into books. We’ll wake with bent spines.

But here now instead I’m wasting my time standing under these harsh florescent lights, tying to perform sign-here like I’m not re-living the shame of so many years of bounced checks and closed accounts and begging forgiveness for the overdraft fees that mean the difference between rent and no rent and I’m breathing hard even though I have enough money now and all these blackbirds under my skin start pushing to break themselves out, beaks pressing out from the thin peel of my sun-burned chest, and I keep shifting my position, hoping the teller won’t notice the sharp protrusions.

I just want to go home. Get back to work on my dream library. Burrow and write.

Jimmy Wallet Is Buried Alive

Here is a photograph, undated. Jimmy Wallet is seated, his face turned, the sharp lines of his chin and jaw like an alligator that doesn’t bite. He’s terrifically handsome, with a boyish nose and cheeks, a sly smile, a little patch of beard below his lip, long black dreadlocks past his shoulders. His oldest daughter, Jasmine, sits next to him. People say she should be a model. Hannah is sprawled across Jimmy’s lap, looking at the camera, laughing, Jimmy’s hand covering her stomach. Behind him are his two younger girls, Raven and Paloma, and his wife, Mechelle. Raven looks up to her mother, who is turned and kissing the baby, her lips against Paloma’s mouth and nose. It’s a perfect picture, and soon it will be all over the news.

Jimmy Wallet is in motion now. He’s walking to the store. He has a loping, lazy, long-legged walk, arms bouncing near his waist. He’s wearing baggy jeans, a red sweatshirt, and a sleeve- less leather vest. The day is serene. Jimmy breathes deep, smells the Pacific, the sage from the hillside, the jasmine from the yard. When he left Mechelle, she was cleaning up the house, packing boxes, organizing the children’s things. There’ve been tornado warnings, and Mechelle is worried they’ll have to evacuate.