IMG_2872.JPGI tried to stop writing, but the stories kept manifesting.

My father encouraged me to go to law school. I’d have to get to the point. I’d learn to think in outlines. I’d sit in lectures and imagine what my professors were like at home, if they had sex with their husbands or wives, or with hookers. Toothless old hookers with bunions. With six-fingered hands. I’d extrapolate and pray I didn’t get called on.

Saving April

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

school girlsApril shows me her cuts. Small razor cuts spread on her arm. She’s managed to shape some of them like stick houses—triangles atop squares. Others are words—fuck them. Several of the wounds are still fresh. I want to run the tip of my finger on them, ease the pain, but several years of training stop me—I’m not wearing gloves.

April lets out a short laugh and shakes her head; the silver skulls dangling from her ears slap her jaw. The other students call her Ms. Ugly, but I find a certain beauty in her witchy features: the long, pale face and pointy chin, the crooked nose. The dark eyeliner brings out her daring eyes under ever-frowning brows.

The door of the classroom is ajar, as I never talk to students alone in closed quarters. I’m not teaching middle school for the long haul, but no scandal is going to force me out the door before I decide to call time. April whispers, “I did it to myself, you know. All the pain inside… I have to hurt myself.” Teeny-tiny zits cover her forehead. Her hair, which has been backcombed, is recalcitrant whenever her friend Katrina attempts to fix it in my Literature class.

April pulls down her long sleeves and folds her arms, black fingernails repeatedly scratching the purple shirt—reopening wounds through fabric. “You know what I like about you?” April asks. “You always look so damn unimpressed.” She hides a smile at the corners of her black lips. “I’d love to see your face when the shit hits the fan.”

In conjunction with the U.S. Marrow, Tallow, and Alternative Proteins Council, and in honor of today’s National Zombie Appreciation Day (and Celebrity BBQ), we are happy to present the animated book trailer for The Infects, by Sean Beaudoin.

If you’re like me you know that your father told you and your brother and sister stories. They often involved characters named Jamie, and companions or equally relevant characters named after your siblings, as together you all tromped through forests and conquered giants and met and saved princesses and you all became princesses and princes and eventually kings and queens. This transpired while you were tucked under the covers of your childhood bed in the bedroom in which you grew up, situated in the northwest corner of the house in which your parents raised you. The covers covered your knees and, sometimes—during the scary parts when Jamie had to outlast ogres, dragons, or giant rats—the covers reared up to your chin, just as you’d imagine they might in a movie version of this story of your life.

Mr. Jack sat under the hanging light at the kitchen table with an ashtray at one hand, a book under the other, and a cup of coffee in between. His casual posture made him look shorter than he was. Sometimes, he braced his elbow on the back of the chair and dwarfed a novel in the palm of his hand. His dark, wooly eyebrows straightened in concentration, sometimes lifting as he took a drag of his cigarette. From my place in the living room, near a lamp with a book on my lap, I could barely whiff his Marlboro. That’s what my dad had smoked before he quit cold turkey. But Mr. Jack and my father smelled alike anyway, that humid smoky scent of the Intracostal base where they both waited to fly helicopters to offshore oil rigs.

 (The Merry-Go-Round is Beginning to Taunt Me[1])

 

1. Author As [not circus] Dog Trainer (Cris)

You can’t lie to a dog. Or you can’t lie badly. While training dogs, you need to be “telling” them, with both body-language and voice, that they are the center of the universe to you, and that what they do for you—and what you’re doing together—makes you happier, and means more to you, than anything else in the world. They can tell if you’re lying. If you’re unconsciously communicating to them that you’re disappointed or upset because you’re thinking about something else, something offstage—whether your life’s true dilemma or your most current disappointment—they take it on as stress. To dogs, it’s all about them. So the trainer has to be able to convince the dog of that, whether it’s true in the trainer’s larger life or not. Problem is, the dog can usually tell. A good trainer doesn’t have “a larger life.” It’s never “just a dog” and therefore easy to lie to.

Assistant’s Note: Hi! I’m Fabian, Mr. Dust’s personal assistant. As some of you may know, Mr. Dust performed his first public reading in San Diego last week at the vaunted TNB-SD “Stay Classy Edition” event. I’ve heard over and over that it was a total blast! Of course, I wouldn’t actually know, since I wasn’t allowed to come. Invited, yes. Allowed, no. The word through back channels is that Helmsman Listi himself really wanted me there. Nevertheless, I was forced to stay down in the bunker and coordinate. I guess you can’t always get what you want, even if you try sometime and you may find that you get what you need. Can you? At any rate, if you were at the event and “heard” rumors that I refuse to fly anything but first class, well that’s just not true.

The bottom line is that ever since the event, the Castle Dust mailroom has been DELUGED with letters. Let’s get to them, shall we? Yes, we shall!

(Also, Mr. Dust made me promise not to post these pics. Did anyway! Ha. Next time, maybe I’ll get an extra legroom seat in business class.)

Last Saturday was sunny and hot for the first time all month. This, plus pollen motes churning in the air, tree trunks soaked by Friday night’s lawn sprinklers, and the necessity for sunglasses built the perfect July day. And so, I got up, got dressed, got out the door, market list in my pocket and satchel (big enough for greens, cheese, wine and probably a whole chicken) slung over my shoulder.

A doorstep view of the Dublin mountains, the grazed sky lead and liquid, a radio mast scratching the clouds. Mam buttons your wool anorak up to the neck, kisses your face with her cherry-sticked lips, and you feel the tickle of her mustache, annoying and raspy. Before stepping across the threshold you dip two fingers in the holy water font and make the sign of the cross. This is what it’s like to be seven and about to walk to school for the first time in nine months.


The nephritis came with bloodied urine, straight to the hospital, where they put you in leather straps you called, “strainers,” so you wouldn’t make yourself sicker. At night you listened to Sister’s castaneted shoes on the polished ward floor, the swish of her starched skirts, the glint of steel from her spectacles as she made the night rounds. Always the smell, too. Dettol antiseptic and mashed potatoes and gravy. Even in the night you couldn’t move in the bed, the straps pulled tight against your chest. When you pissed the bed the first time it wasn’t a big rigmarole, but after the third and fourth time the nurse put rubber sheets under the starchy linen. Rubber and piss blended into the scent of a six-year-old’s sadness, the uncomfortable dampness as you lay shamed and silent in the dark.

No school for you, instead the stretched out days of hospital food and leather straps, of bed baths and blood tests. Every day, mam bused to town and walked to Temple Street Hospital to visit you, her little soldier. In the daytime an old man came to your bedside with the Irish Independent and read you the comics—Dennis the Menace, Count Curly Wee and Gussie Goose. Two flaps of hair were plastered to the sides of the man’s head, like a cruel Viking helmet. “Say the words after me,” he’d say, and fear pushed them out of your mouth, reluctant crumbs. This was how you learned to read. One day he stopped coming, Sister shaking her head when you asked where your friend had gotten to.

In time the nurse loosened the straps, the wetting of the bed lessened, and you began to walk the corridors, looking for your friend with the newspaper. In the old men’s ward you peeked between curtains, bruised skeletons sponged, nurses hoisting cracked limbs into clean pajamas. One old shitehawk wrinkled a finger at you and asked whether you’d like to know a secret. When you got closer he thrust his mousie at you and a trickle of piss ran down your leg. As you backed away from his bed he winked a moled lid at you, his tongue poking from the side of his mouth.

Paper chains and bright lanterns suspended from the ceilings, a string across the end of each bed for Christmas cards from home and friends. Mam and Da came with the boys to see you. She had a miniature tree in a pot, just like the one at home, except this one was covered with gold-flake and ornaments attached by bits of pipe cleaner—snowmen, silver balls, an angel in a white robe, gold-haloed, her face a smiling wooden ball. Packages in wrapping paper littered the bed, stuffed animals, baby bear, Lego bricks and a jigsaw puzzle with the Matterhorn in one corner of the sky.

When they let you out it was a Thursday, after breakfast. Mam came with your clothes in a bag and helped you dress. As you said goodbye to the nurses and Sister your eyes leaked. Mam held your hand as you walked down Temple Street towards the bus stop. On jellied legs you followed her as fast as you could trot. At home everything smelled the same, the cigarette smoke and the shepherd’s pie for dinner, an apple pie, crusted with sugar steamed on the counter.

Da was working and Ma hadn’t told him you’d be home, because she couldn’t phone him at work. At six, as the Angelus bells from Radio Eireann bonged, Mam hid you in the sitting room behind the curtains, and told you to wait until you heard your Da’s voice. When you jumped out from your hiding place his face lit up like you’d never seen before and he began to cry. “Don’t cry Da, don’t cry. It’s only me, it’s only me.” He hoisted you so high you were able to touch the brass lampshade with your tongue. That night, the bed did not smell of rubber, though the sheets once again were damp.


Performing is always tough for writers. I mean, we’re not typically stage-trained theatre experts amped up on auditory performance steroids when reading our prose. The reality is, most writers are just average Joes like me. We stumble, stutter, are monotone, and really are quite boring when we get up in front of people and open our mouths. I don’t know why this is, and have been guilty of it for years. I’ve droned on like a pontificating robot. I’ve blathered, buzzed, and really was in need of a good oiling of my vocal joints.

In Boston where I live, every Borders store is closing.  It’s sad news, especially for sex.  I’ve always found the Borders staff to be a sex-positive bunch who don’t keel over with horror when I ask for the Sex section.  What’s more, Borders actually has a Sex section.  And that’s a political stance.  Acknowledging the need for Sex or Erotica shelves is akin to announcing that sex is important – and baby, that’s a statement I respect.

Frankly, my relationship with bookstores often turns sour when I ask for the Sex and Erotica sections.  Recently, in a little indie establishment, the bookseller responded by raising her nose in disgust and telling me this was a family store.  Well, where the hell does she think family comes from, dammit?  To prove a point, I spent my final few moments hunting the shelves for hypocrisy.  I found Nabakov’s Lolita, Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith.  All of them can be classified as erotica and two of them contain incestuous sex.  I’m pretty sure incest isn’t “family store” material.  Snort.  It seems that snooty woman was housing the bookshelves of doom!

In truth, any bookseller who claims they don’t stock books about sex has got to be pretty naive.  Let’s face it, you can’t avoid the topic.  It’s where we come from.  And understanding sexuality is vital.  For instance, a teenage boy who is beginning to believe he might be gay should be able to easily get his hands on a book about sexual identity.  Likewise, he should be able to find literature about safe sex without having to ask stony-faced people who send him away with a flea in his ear.  I can’t think of a more family friendly policy than having a sex section that anyone can locate.  Not getting pregnant by mistake, not living in shame, not having unprotected sex…these are family friendly notions.

Still, it isn’t all doom and gloom.  Bookstores with sex-positive policies do exist, and thankfully many librarians are knowledgeable about sexuality.  I used to live near an excellent library where the collection of sex books was expanded every year.  That said, I once borrowed a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and was greeted with a glare when I handed it over at the desk.  (It was actually so hilarious that I got a fit of the giggles!).  But would she have glared if I was a shy teenage girl who was borrowing a book on abortion?  And what if that shy teenager wasn’t used to libraries, and had to ask a library assistant for help locating such a book?

So that’s one of the reasons I will miss Borders.  But the battle isn’t lost.  Next time you’re in a bookstore, ask for the sex section, especially if you know there isn’t one.  Do it because you’re politically proactive and want plant a seed.  Because the more we learn that sexual openness is vital, the more healthy this world will be.

I have long harbored the notion, no doubt foolishly, that incarceration wouldn’t be all that particularly bad. To the contrary. It would give me time to catch up on my reading. In this fanciful scenario I place myself in a minimum security facility. Anything other than that and the advantages quickly disappear. It was in prison that Genet discovered Proust. Edmund White relates that Genet once arrived late to the weekly prison book exchange and was resigned to the picked-over shelves. Proust had been summarily rejected by all the other prisoners. He took the book, read the opening: “For a long time I would go to bed early.” then shut it, savoring it. “Now I’m tranquil,” he said to himself. “I know I’m going to go from marvel to marvel.” That is how it seems to me prison would be: tranquil and full of good reads. Marvel to marvel. Indeed, self-proclaimed Prison Writer, Kenneth Hartman notes, “In my six by ten foot cell, the locker bolted to the concrete wall is loaded down with books. Big, fat hard-bound reference titles, philosophy, and writing mechanics books. I can’t conceive of a life absent the comfortable solidity of a book held in my hands.”

On the subway last week, the man sitting opposite was ranting about his groin. “See this?” he asked me, pointing at himself. “Think I don’t have anything? Well, you’re wrong. This is mine.” As he continued to spout I got out my book (Anais Nin’s Fire, since you ask) and walked to the other end of the train, before I heard him move on to the next poor soul. He was right, of course. He does own his groin. But how sad that he had to announce it.

Like it or not, there’s often a sexual vibe on the subway. Of course, sex on the train is a classic fantasy, which, during rush hour, can give rise to as many furtive looks as you’d find in a busy bar. I suppose being sealed into a compressed space and traveling superfast is a recipe for lust, particularly when you find yourself face-to-crotch with a stranger. (Depends on the stranger! Depends on the crotch!). And perhaps being in the underbelly of the city releases all those urges we attempt to suppress. In London the subway is called the Underground, a word that also connotes spycraft – rather fitting, considering the amount of watching going on.

As it happens, I’m all about sex on the subway, but there’s a context. I use my commutes to catch up on my reading, which is often about sex and sexuality. The written word offers us a wonderful way of revitalizing and nurturing our sexual imagination, broadening our erotic focus and challenging our assumptions.  As an activity that can be solo, reading is also a great reminder that our sex lives lie within ourselves – we can still experience rich sexual worlds when we’re alone, and beautifully at that.  So, seeing as I love book recommendations, here are some quotes from great sex books/stories I’ve been reading on the train:

From “Dumbrowski’s Advice” by Steve Almond, in This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey:

“At the hospital, you told Dumbrowski: I met a girl, which might have been the truth from time to time, though really you dreamed of the waitress, your waitress, sweet greasy onion rings on her fingers as you lay in a pool of your own heat.”

Riki Wilchins in Genderqueer, ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins:

“…I am speaking, of course, of intersexed infants. Such children, who are not clearly male or female, occur in about one in every 2000 births. Because anything that is not male or female is not a true sex, we pronounce them ‘abnormal,’ fit them legally into male or female, and fit them physically into boy or girl by cutting them up at a rate of about five a day. Thus are ‘natural’ males and females maintained…”

From “Lina” in Little Birds by Anais Nin:

“She bought herself a black lace nightgown like mine. She came to my apartment to spend a few nights with me. She said she had bought the nightgown for a lover, but I saw the price tag still fastened on it. She was ravishing to look at because she was plump and her breasts showed where her white blouse opened. I saw her wild mouth parted, her curly hair in a wild aureole around her head. Every gesture was one of disorder and violence, as if a lioness had come into the room.”

It turns out that 2011 may be a good time for us bookish types to bask in the limelight. Sex expert Petra Boynton predicts this will be a year of sexual introspection: “…I think we’ll see the idea of self reflection and sexual diary keeping become more of a mainstream phenomena.” Self-help, philosophy, guided explorations…these may well be the kind of texts we’ll see reflected in print and online. In fact, Susie Bright recently brought out a 2011 sex journal, entitled Love & Lust, which provides prompts and guides for exploring your sexual self – my copy’s on its way and I’m excited to get started. So we don’t have to shag in public to be sexual while we commute…though maybe a few of us will get to do both! But as sex-positive readers with a mischievous streak, we can always tell our friends, “I had sex on the train today…” before pausing for effect, and adding, “vicariously, of course.”

The photo on the main page is by By Étienne ANDRÉ

Meg Pokrass is a fiction writer (her story collection DAMN SURE RIGHT from Press 53 comes out in Feb.’11), and is an editor at BLIP (formerly The Mississippi Review), but I first noticed her through her animation that was showing up on TNB and elsewhere. She has a point-of-view that is hilarious, unique, and odd in the best way. Meg Pokrass’ fiction reveals her more intense side. Her stories can’t help but move you—they are often sad, always touching, usually funny, and somehow huge in how much of a world she evokes in two or three pages. Of course I was also drawn to Meg’s writing because much of her work is set in California. It turns out we’re from the same small Southern California town. Not only that, but our mothers are from the same small Pennsylvania town. We’ve never met in person but clearly we have much to talk about.

This past week, I got a Kindle. I have not been so changed by a reading experience since Stephen King’s Needful Things, which was the book that made me realize I wanted to tell stories. It’s the sort of genius-level device that demonstrates the fact that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Truly wonderful.