Trey and I were walking to the liquor store to buy potatoes, three for a dollar, and a guy at the body shop yelled ‘Looking sexy, girl’ out of his greasy car window and Trey told him to fuck off and smiled real big at me. The sky looked real good and I told Trey I had been thinking about the sky a lot lately. Not in a scientific way or anything, just how grateful I am for it and how universal it is. How it’s always free and always different. Trey said that sounded like some hippie shit and smiled real big at me. On the corner, outside the liquor store, there was a man selling heroin and I cringed when he hollered his advertisement. He said he had sawbucks. Very Chicago. The phrasing never failed to make me think of a David Mamet play I’d read. We saw an old man walking slow and dizzy and Trey said he was doing ‘the crack rock shuffle.’ Trey knew about a lot of things I didn’t know about. We walked back from the liquor store with Marlboro Reds and three potatoes and energy drinks and some of those candy coated peanuts that are for some reason called Boston Baked Beans. I had a small crush on Trey but blamed it mostly on my caretaking spirit, maybe it’s because I’m a Cancer rising, I don’t know if I believe in that stuff anymore or anything. I just liked helping him.

 

That morning Trey had sent me a selfie where he had wet hair and looked real bad, out of the blue, with no text or context. I asked if he was okay. Ben and I had broken up two days before in a McDonald’s during breakfast and it felt like all I did was cry and take baths for those two days. Trey asked if I could call him an Uber to my place, this was way before Uber was deemed to be fascist or whatever they are considered now, this was more than a year ago, in late July. I called him an Uber and sent him a screenshot and told him to get outside. He did and I watched the car get closer on the app and I wondered why he looked so emaciated and I knew he’d been up for days taking big risks. I buzzed him in and saw him looking all scrawny and tired but still good. I took him to my room and we lay down and I think we both cried. He listened to me talk about Ben and Trey always did a good job of not doing that thing where you talk about yourself too much. Like when you tell someone you’re heartbroken and they talk about their own heartbreak, he never did that too much. He said he had no money, that he wanted to fly a sign in Wicker Park and that he didn’t think he had an apartment anymore and that he’d smashed up his guitar and that he was freaked. I said let’s go get some potatoes and I’ll fry ‘em up for us. I said ‘nice and starchy for our tum tums’ and he smiled and said he couldn’t eat probably but he needed to. I had put all my pills in a Nike drawstring bag and hidden them under some clothes in a laundry basket but not because I didn’t trust him just because I didn’t want him to be tempted. It was the second to last day in July and my lease ended on August first and no one had ever lay down in that bed with me except for Ben and I was okay that it was Trey doing it because I cared about him and his spirit, felt protective of him. 

 

SNOWFLAKE POEM

 

Stay around on a boat

           O viscous boat of nacho cheese

 Even      the mist is soggy

                                 Refrito pillow thumbprint

Horny rain, refrain

She watched but didn’t kill it

(the roach)

A lanyard in the aisle, invitation to the wedding

              Persistent helicopter boyfriend

Tall drink boyfriend

 

Turkey club boyfriend

 

Tall drink boyfriend

              Persistent helicopter boyfriend

A lanyard in the aisle, invitation to the wedding

(the roach)

She watched but didn’t kill it

Horny rain, refrain

                                 Refrito pillow thumbprint

 Even      the mist is soggy

           O viscous boat of nacho cheese

Stay around on a boat

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Anne Helen Petersen. Her new book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, is available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is the official October pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

A former senior culture writer for BuzzFeed, Petersen now writes her newsletter, Culture Study, as a full-time venture on Substack. She received her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where she focused on the history of celebrity gossip. Her previous books, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud and Scandals of Classic Hollywood, were featured in NPR, Elle, and the Atlantic. She lives in Missoula, Montana.

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Photograph by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Tell us about Christopher Theofanidis’ musical composition Conference of the Birds and Aṭṭār’s long allegorical poem The Conference of the Birds, both of which are the inspiration for your new chapbook, Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings.

 The Conference of the Birds, the 12th Century Sufi allegorical poem, was written by Persian master poet Aṭṭār, and tells the story of the seeker’s journey towards God, and, therefore, towards the evolution of self through understanding and connection. In Aṭṭār’s Conference, all the birds of the world convene and determine that they need a ruler and that they will make a pilgrimage to the distant land of the mythic and divine bird, Simorgh. The journey to this faraway land leads the birds through seven valleys of understanding, the first of which requires the birds to cast off all the preconceived ideas and dogma in their thinking, and the final of which requires annihilation of the self in order to attain complete communion with the divine. Beginning with the discord and lack of purpose of the birds and culminating in the discovery that they are all individually and together Simorgh, The Conference of the Birds is a timeless model of transforming confusion and lack of unity into the realization of harmony.

Theofanidis’ piece, released in 2018, is inspired by Aṭṭār’s Conference and traces the metaphoric journey of the birds in seven short character pieces, each lasting between 1 and 3 minutes, and each focusing on a highly defined musical personality evoked by the corresponding valley. As he says in the introduction, “Much of the string writing is inspired by the flocking movement of birds; that is, there is a ‘group logic’—a kind of unity of movement and purpose in which all the parts are highly interdependent.”

but the bird doesn’t know it. The bird is thirty birds who soared
out of dreaming to invent sky, thirty birds flying in the formation

of a bird. God tells them, Open, O moon-beak O silver-black O sliver
of luck, and the bird says, Break me until I’m whole. God says, Empty,  

and the bird spills a splendor of jewels from their thirty beaks into
the valley. Don’t think I’m a diamond, God says, Find me, and hands

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Laura Bogart. Her debut novel, Don’t You Know I Love You, is available from Dzanc Books.

Bogart is also a non-fiction writer who focuses on personal essays, pop culture, film and TV, feminism, body image and sizeism, and politics (among other topics). She is a featured contributor to The Week and DAME magazine; her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, SPIN,The AV Club, Vulture, and Indiewire (among other publications). She lives in Baltimore.

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Hello. My name is Joseph Grantham. I edit this website. I’m also an artist (see above). I asked some writers and friends to recommend some short stories to you, the readers of this website. All I asked was that they do this in 3-5 sentences. Other than that, there were no guidelines. I’ll start.

 

“Victor Blue” by Ann Beattie

 

This story is from Beattie’s first collection, Distortions, and it is written in the form of journal entries, composed by an elderly man who spends his days taking care of his ill wife (“Mrs. Edway,” as he refers to her). He cooks for her, takes care of her violets (one of them is named “Victor Blue”), reads novels to her, and whenever he and his wife have to make an important, or not so important, decision, they vote on it, each writing down their answer on a piece of paper and then holding it up for the other to see. Do they want a kitten or a puppy, do they want to hang up the embroidered Eiffel Tower picture which was a gift from Mrs. Edway’s cousin, should Mrs. Edway kill herself or continue living in pain? Beattie wrote this story when she was in her mid-twenties and you’d never know it.

 

Okay. Now, on to the main event.

 

 

“Good Old Neon” by David Foster Wallace

 

“Good Old Neon” is about a man who killed himself in 1991, told from the perspective of his post-death existence outside of time, written by a man who killed himself in 2008, published in 2004. It feels impossible to distill a ~40 page story that works on so many levels of thought and heart into 3-5 sentences, which is basically the premise of the story itself: that linear time and language are inherently limiting modes of describing the dimensionless flashes of perception that color each person’s interiority with significance, but until we die, we can only use one word after another to relate ourselves. Since his first successful lie at age 4, or arguably birth, the protagonist placed himself at the center of a “fraudulence paradox,” which meant that the more he tried to be something he wasn’t, the less he felt like the ideal image he performed, and “…the more of a fraud [he] felt like, the harder [he] tried to convey an impressive or likable image of [him]self so that other people wouldn’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person [he] really [was].” What hits me so hard about “Good Old Neon” is the vagueness about its audience: the post-death protagonist addresses himself the moment before his death in a car, but he also makes lovingly dry meta-asides to another reader (from who, at least in the confines of a reader-author relationship, David Foster Wallace didn’t view himself as so apart), and I can’t help but feel witness to some similar shade of dialogue Wallace could’ve worked out with himself before his own death. The message of the story, to me, is not to succumb to our self-imposed limits; the message is in the beauty of trying, at least for a moment, to describe what it was like to be human. 

 

– recommended by Megan Boyle, author of Liveblog

 

 

“A Man Came to Visit Us” by Brandon Hobson

 

Your question is so difficult to answer.  I read and reread and am taken up by so many stories all of the time — both ancient and modern.  But the story foremost in my mind is always the most recent one I have accepted for NOON.  And at this minute, it is the unearthly stunner by Brandon Hobson — that is jammed with mystery and passion –“A Man Came to Visit Us” (due out March 2021).  

 

– recommended by Diane Williams, founder of NOON and author of The Collected Stories of Diane Williams

 

 

“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

 

I assign this every semester to my English 102 students, out of The Norton Introduction to Literature. Despite the fact that I read this twice a year, it gets me every time. This story is a good example of why fiction is a superior art form; it says more about big broad important topics, like race and class and friendship and memory, than any piece of nonfiction ever could. This statement will probably offend a nonfiction purist if they happen to read this, whoopsie.

 

– recommended by Juliet Escoria, author of Juliet the Maniac

 

 

Simp for God

crow from the loquat tree
what’s your place
in the human centipede

 

 

Grandpa Indian Killer

“Whoops!” our white ancestors said
learn more by clicking here

 

 

Man has an ass

like lumped charcoal, bro
please don’t break heat,
don’t break steam,
for minutes, hours— Be still, bro
be smooth, the margarita in the machine
bro— Let’s piss a hole forever

 

 

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Dean Koontz. His new novel, Elsewhere, is available from Thomas & Mercer.

 

Koontz is the author of fourteen number one New York Times bestsellers, including One Door Away from Heaven, From the Corner of His Eye, Midnight, Cold Fire, The Bad Place, Hideaway, Dragon Tears, Intensity, Sole Survivor, The Husband, Odd Hours, Relentless, What the Night Knows, and 77 Shadow Street. He’s been hailed by Rolling Stone as “America’s most popular suspense novelist,” and his books have been published in thirty-eight languages and have sold over five hundred million copies worldwide.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he now lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirits of their goldens Trixie and Anna.

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Below are three poems from Willis Plummer’s forthcoming chapbook Mons Pubis, published in the U.S. by Stupendous Books.


 

 

Andrew mists a block of sod
Obligatorily the artist is present
Everyone sweats windowless
The factory is windowless
I don’t sweat in open-toed shoes
My cat vomits on the towel
That stands in for a bath mat
Five AM again in Eco-mode
The AC in Eco-mode
Shifts in and out of gear
Alcohol will do that at Six AM
Alarm clock type beat
Dry soles suddenly in focus
With a pause I’m thinking
About my dry feet
Enamel recedes daily
With lack of intention
These teeth get coarser
These teeth get
Increasingly coarse

Swimming Down

By Holly Sinclair

Poem

An armored shark in lava, I move on all fours across the rug
While your daughters leap over me, shrieking.
With an unblinking eye, I feel the heat of the earth rise—
Its erupting egg, yolk-rug and the shore of the bed, as we play.

That night you wake up to tell me you were sinking.
Half-asleep, I say, water in dreams always means emotion.
I think I feel a pair of cool hands pressing on my temples,
A vial of cooking oil in my pocket. 

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Lynn Steger Strong. Her new novel, Want, is available from Henry Holt.

Strong was born and raised in South Florida. Her first novel, Hold Still, was released by Liveright/WW Norton in 2016. Her nonfiction has been published by GuernicaLos Angeles Review of Books, Elle.com, Catapult, Lit Hub, and others. She teaches both fiction and non-fiction writing at Columbia University, Fairfield University, and the Pratt Institute.

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Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Steven Dunn. His latest novel, water & power, is available from Tarpaulin Sky.

 

Dunn’s other novel, Potted Meat, is also available from Tarpaulin Sky.

He was born and raised in West Virginia, and after 10 years in the Navy, he earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.

Some of his work can be found in Columbia JournalGranta Magazine, and Best Small Fictions 2018.

He lives in Denver.

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The dreams I’ve been having have trickled into reality in the hides of false memories. At work, all the electricity went kaput and I bushwhacked the dark to find the urinal. I’m unsure where the mice are getting in from but a strong guess is the extinct fireplace. When Under The Skin was released in 2014, a mouse in the theater darted past my socks. I remember that so vividly but not simple things like I have to eat meals. The people from apartment 1 and apartment 3 and apartment 4 have all vanished. Unsober, I floated through the rooms of 4 and discovered a replica of my extinct fireplace. Their kitchen lent more counter space and their bathtub had claws and a window beside it. Now, I refuse to be dead before eating raspberries in my very own claw-footed bathtub. In January, the roses addressed to Leslie Walton died on 4’s welcome mat. A subscription service meal kit got delivered to 3 and it’s been rotting in the vestibule. Someone moved it to the stoop then someone moved it back inside then I threw it out. Sarah J. said she didn’t have the attention span for movies, so I eased her in with short ones. We watched Jonathan Glazer’s The Fall and the first segment of Todd Solondz’s Storytelling. We came very close to swapping out a tire, we went out to her car and everything, but didn’t. Storytelling is a fitting preface for the remainder of my year because I’m taking 2 workshops. I enjoy Chelsea Hodson’s course because it’s pushing me deeper into what I’m already doing. But I won’t write about the most emotionally intense moment I’ve experienced, it isn’t mine. Just as I won’t describe the plan I’ve devised to get to the life I want to live, in case I can’t. 

Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffith

In an interview published in The Sun (June 2018) you said:

I don’t believe anything is over. The Civil Rights Movement was a core moment. The lessons it taught us — about social activism and political engagement and strategy — are still very much in play. Many of the people who were active in that movement are alive today — and not particularly old, either. Ruby Bridges, the kindergarten student who helped desegregate schools in New Orleans, turned sixty-three last year. She’s not even old enough to retire!

The Civil Rights Movement became a model for the Women’s Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and much of the anti-war and anti-poverty movements. Who we are as activists today was shaped in many ways by the Civil Rights Movement. And the fundamental questions it raised have not gone away. As a culture, we are still learning how to be civil and how to acknowledge each other’s rights.

Is this still true for you?

It is! It’s all still true. (Though Ruby Nell Bridges Hall will actually be 66 in September of 2020, so I suppose now she is old enough to retire. It is past time for us younger folks to be doing the hard work, and thankfully many are rising to the occasion.) This is why so much of my poetry, which is in many ways about the moment we are living in right now, is also so deeply steeped in history. History stays with us every step of the way.