Fox Drum Bebop by Gene Oishi (Reviewed by Jacob Budenz)

Oishi

Fox Drum Beblop

Gene Oishi

Kaya Press

285 pp.

$16.95 paperback

ISBN-13: 978-1885030177

 

 


 

Gene Oishi’s Fox Drum Bebop contains a gorgeous richness inside and out. Not only the prose, but also the overall design and storytelling structure captivate the reader. A thought on design, before getting into the breathtaking attention to detail that Gene Oishi pays his settings and characters: in a day where the value of print books faces question in the face of e-readers, publishers have begun to wise up to the importance of design. The Kaya Press design of the paperback book—its neat and tastefully designed inner jacket, exciting header typeface that does not go overboard in its artfulness, and vague ink drawings at the beginning of each chapter—merit a mention that tilts toward the still-exciting, still-evolving experience of printed literature.

However, this review could go on endlessly about design, and we are here for content. Plotwise, Fox Drum Bebop narrates the experiences of a first generation Japanese immigrant named Hiroshi and his family before, during, and long after their internment at a prison camp in Arizona during World War II. The Kono family enjoys relative wealth and a respected status in Hacienda, but the war and the time spent in prison take a lasting toll on their status, as well as Hiroshi’s life for years to come.

With a current re-emerging public attention toward racial disparities in the United States, in the context of the Ferguson trials and the #BlackLivesMatter mantra trending, a great book like this one becomes particularly salient. Far from didactic or harshly critical, Fox Drum Bebop offers an honest exposure of a time in America—not too long ago—when systematic racism and xenophobia affected an entirely different population. Furthermore, Fox Drum highlights the complexities about the experiences of racial “othering” in the United States. For example, two brothers of Hiroshi’s family named Mickey and Yukio find themselves pitted against one another: during internment, Micky, who had found success assimilating into white American culture prior to the war, is a part of an American loyalty league, causing friction with his brother Yukio, who has never assimilated to or identified with American culture. Readers can draw varied conclusions from the complex racial issues Oishi brings up in his work. The fact is that racial inequality and racial otherness play a major role as a theme in this novel, particularly in a context that we as Americans seldom face.

Though the book centers primarily around Hiroshi and the war’s effects on his life, the narrative departs largely from his perspective and paints a full, vivid picture of the inner lives of his entire family. Though this interesting turn varies at times in its effectiveness—the timeline of the narrative becomes muddled every so often—this convention helps further deepen the reader’s understanding of this particular family and each individual’s experience with being first-generation Japanese immigrants.

The most noteworthy aspect of this book, however, is the richness of the prose. Oishi peppers every character, every action, every moment of dialogue with such surprising detail that the reader cannot help but feel hypnotized at the reality of it. Part of what makes the book so effective is that, though at many points grim, the narrative contains a slew of colorful side characters and situational humor that comes mostly out of intensely focused setting and place detail. Even from the onset comes the hilarious character of Tex, whose vernacular Oishi carefully captures with moments like “tabbaky” and “Hee-row.” His juxtaposition as Hiro’s peer shows an early awareness of class disparities, as Hiro’s family is comparatively wealthy to the caricaturized Tex.

Through and through, Fox Drum Bebop proves a wonderful piece of modern literature. Topical, colorful, and complex, it will surely provide a worthwhile read.

 


River Talk, stories by C.B. Anderson (reviewed by Robert Boucheron)

AndersonRiver Talk

stories by C. B. Anderson

C & R Press

223 pp.

$16.00 paperback

ISBN-13: 978-1936196463

 

 


 

We ask a great deal of fiction, we Americans in the twenty-first century. We want our fiction to be realistic, yet we also like smart dialogue and a narrative arc, neither of which occur in real life. We love a good story, yet we demand believable characters, who tend to stray from the plot line. We want all the parts to meld in a seamless rush to an inevitable denouement, yet we relish a surprise at the end.

C.B. Anderson, I am pleased to report, delivers the complete package. How on earth does she manage it? Her book River Talk contains seventeen stories of varied length and focus, all set in rural Maine where she grew up, specifically the Androscoggin River valley. This is her first story collection, but it must be culled from many years and many more stories. The mastery of style shown here can only come from experience.

The author biography is shorn of dates. It says that Anderson “graduated from Cornell University with a degree in mathematics and has been moving leftward ever since—from computer programming to proposal writing to journalism to fiction.” It says that she is a “winner of numerous prizes.” Her stories have been published in the best literary magazines in America, and seven in this book are “fiction contest winners,” as noted in the front.

In a television interview on WCSH-WLBZ on July 31, 2014 to mark the book’s publication, a video of which is posted online, Anderson appears to be in middle age. She notes her earlier career as an actuary in New York City. She then earned a journalism degree from Boston University, and she wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, Yankee and Down East. “My journalism is wonderfully energizing to the fiction,” she says, and as an example she cites the influx of Somali refugees in Lewiston, Maine. This is the source of the story “Two Falls,” which brims with closely observed details—of the Somalis, the native Mainers, the textile mill, and the winter weather. Placed last in the collection, with the finely drawn character of Amina Abukar, the story is a tour de force.

In the television spot, however, Anderson says: “I’m not the sort of writer who channels characters. Characters aren’t talking to me and pouring onto the page.” No? Maybe the author is unaware of her own strength. Each story features a heroine or hero, a consistent point of view, and a certain amount of interior commentary on the action. Dialog is sparing, as though Anderson did not quite trust her dramatic powers, but it sometimes blossoms into a fully-realized scene. The proof lies in the range of lifelike characters, from the young mother in “China Falls,” to the retired brothers in “Taken,” to the fiftyish couple in “Tourmaline,” to the thin girl in “Baker’s Helper” . . . and we’re only up to page 45.

The subject matter is as varied as the characters. Mathematics, or at least Euclidian logic, becomes lucid in “The Geometry of Words,” in which a college student resists the sexual advances of her teacher. Taxidermy shows up in “Taken,” where it pairs with deer hunting and allows a play on words, and again in “Everything,” where the disturbing image of pulling a whole skin from a carcass comes back to haunt the hero. “Skipjack” goes to an ocean beach and the carnival rides of Tobago Park. “In the Ice” deals with veterans of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their injuries in body and mind, and reverberations of these in family life.

We see rivers, their rocks and currents, the ice that forms on them, the fish and mosquitos that breed in them, and the people that swim in them and sun themselves on the bank. The pungent haze of paper mills appears in the first story “China Falls,” and it seems to hang over the rest. In “River Talk,” a young woman tells her fiancé how she taught a child to swim in the river.

There is plenty of cooking, eating and drinking, usually to good dramatic effect, as when the capable but clueless narrator of “Taken” prepares a special dinner for Et, the woman who lives with him. As butter burns in the skillet and scallops spoil on the counter, he sees that Et has decamped to live with his handsome slob of a brother. “Life plays out while you’re not watching. It really does.”

An autistic boy named Cory is at the center of “China Falls,” in the sense that he causes the breakup of a marriage, then causes an accident that sends him to the hospital. But the story is not about autism. It is about a family, including the boy’s sister Amanda, and the churlish ex-husband Greg. At the same time, the story is about Jeanine, the thirty-four year old mother, who meets a sympathetic male nurse named Lee, first at the bar where she works and then at the hospital. As in “River Talk,” a lot goes on in twenty pages, maybe too much.

Several times, Anderson creates a sense of dread, as though an accident is about to happen, or a bout of domestic violence. In “Tourmaline,” when the characters scrabble in an old mine, a collapse seems likely. I feared that one of the PTSD veterans of “In the Ice” would snap, or that the goaded father Reed in “Skipjack” would lash out. In “Tourmaline,” instead of confronting his abusive father, Phip simply leaves—and his mother hops in his pickup truck.

“Mavak Tov” is set in a religious commune called Chavurat Messiah that practices plural marriage, intense prayer sessions, and group meals. The heroine is Ranya, the young mother of a brain-damaged girl, Gavriella. Isaac, the group’s leader and Ranya’s husband, is exploiting Gavriella as a faith-healing saint, to the point that Ranya tries to escape with her by boat. Will they drown in the river? Judith, Isaac’s first wife, effects a reconciliation, as touching as it is unexpected.


Robert Boucheron


Exquisite Duet: Kristine Ong Muslim and Thaddeous Rutkowski

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


Dear Protégé

by Kristine Ong Muslim

Crouch in a kennel and you’ll fit in my life. See how quickly you can grow when bound and constricted. So, are you still thinking of ways to mend what you categorize as “this world’s utter disarray,” or have you finally understood the guttural sound that was once let loose as white noise mingling with the low-frequency band, where television channels stream their clichéd signals for their faraway flock? During your nightly forays in perfumed foyers, where socialites lounge as they twiddle with their pricey wares, are you enjoying the flavor of torture—foie gras rolling across your tongue, foie gras from fowls force-fed to death—while tinkling your sleek wine glass with those held by the self-appointed patrons of the arts, the same well-dressed middle-aged people whose unnaturally smooth foreheads and contoured cheeks regularly appear on the society pages? How are you? Did you find at last what you were looking for, what you believe was missing?

 

Cramped Quarters

by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Crouch in a kennel and you’ll fit in my life. Not that I want you be my dog, or that I want to be yours. And not to say that crouching is better than any other activity, such as tail wagging or tongue panting. But you might have to get down on all fours to fit into the kennel of my existence—to fit without hitting your head. Once you’ve entered, however, you’ll find the accommodations comfy. There’s plenty of food and water, and there’s a roof over our heads. No rain will reach us here. The problem is, while we can see out, we can’t get out. This situation, really, is not satisfactory. It’s nice having you here and all. It’s nice to have someone to chase tail and howl at the moon with. But this feeling of being on the inside, looking out, is not all right. I think we are going to have to break free. The next time the door opens, we will bolt. We will fly, tongues out and tails spinning, across the open ground; we will run too fast to be caught. And if someone blocks our way, we will fight our way out.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of three books, most recently We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012) and Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012). Her poems and short stories were published in the likes of Confrontation Magazine, New Welsh Review, Sou’wester, Southword, and The State. She lives in a small farming town in the Philippines. Website: http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com/

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the novels Haywire, Tetched, and Roughhouse. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

 

 

 


Fiction: What the Living Claim by Heather Luby

The boys came running with news of a dead body catching flies in the empty lot bordering our street. We dared each other, double dared, threw burlas, until, at last, we all went down together, not holding hands, but shoulders grazing in a line of would-be bravery.” Among the trash and rocky, tall grass was the man just like they said, but face down and picked by a crow. There were not so many flies as I expected. Later the boys told tales to bring the girls close. One boy claimed his father owned a shirt just like the one the dead man was wearing. Another boy boasted the dead man wore stolen shoes from his tío Sam’s closet. A third supposed the dead man could be the unknown father of his sister’s baby. I did not have anything to claim. I shared nothing with the dead man except my skin.

When the sun slumbered I ran home to find my overused father scrubbing his fingernails at the kitchen sink, my heavy hipped mother tracing the beads of her rosary while cooking. Older brother and sister counting dollars and time. I wondered if my cuates wanted the dead man to wait too. If they dreamed of pockets and stories yet unfolded. I swallowed my words. I knew how to keep my freedom.

At school the teacher ordered faces forward, nose prints on the window glass washed. She claimed there was nothing to see. At recess our eyes followed the points of fingers. The crows had grown fat in number, their bodies a breathing gravesite of black. One girl insisted a lover would claim the dead man’s body. Another that the dead man had it coming.

In the shadow making hours the children became centinelas for the dead man, guarded from bedroom windows and breezeless backyards. Early morning, men in jackets arrived quiet and zippered his body away. Chotas. There were no lights twirling red and blue. No sirens crying. No candles or altars to claim a quiet corner in his name. With no one to speak it, he had no name.


 

Heather Luby is really nothing more than a girl from the Ozark Mountains that grew up with dreams of writing stories. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, LITnIMAGE, Bartleby Snopes, and a few other places along the way. She has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and is the Managing Editor of The Citron Review. Read more at http://heatherluby.com/.


Fiction: Fission by Mary-Jane Holmes

When the towers fell, a man came running at me shouting oysters, oysters in Spanish before crash – tackling me to the curb. I sank under the weight of him, felt the seep of briny fear from his shirt seams and the swell and collapse of his lungs draw like a riptide against my chest, as we lay there flat and still, our bodies rigid as shell.

Now, idling in one-lane traffic on the ocean road, cinder curls spewing from an upturned four wheeler and Grandmother’s gravelly ashes pulsing lightly on the passenger seat, those words surface and I wonder what he meant. The coverage is poor this far down the isthmus and as the pixelated hourglass spins through its axis, I look outside at everything I’ve forgotten: the strips of furrowed shingle, the sea aster and club rush raking the tideline, the boxed shadow of the power station blunt against the skyline.

We swam there every summer holiday while she was well and we were small, in the thermal plume of spent water flushed from the reactor’s condensers. Even on the coldest days the bay stayed warm and fisherman seeded oyster spats on racks looped back and forth across the discharge basin. We orbited them like electrons, watching the shell-stacks fizz in the current. But no-one else came; perhaps the skim of orange foam that frothed off the waves and clung to our legs like cuckoo spit was warning enough though we didn’t care; we licked it and imagined the taste of salted clementines.

The definition flashes up on the screen: a denotation of surprise or anger which I pass on to the camper behind revving impatience now the four-wheeler is flipped and righted. Shucks. Darn. Shoot I mouth in the rear view mirror. Although it’s Good Grief I understand.

The line of traffic crocodile-files to the shore. The road is new; its hard shoulder staked with caution: Slippery surfaces. Wave break. Algal bloom. We worry there won’t be space to park. The beach fills; day trippers haul windbreakers and coolers across the ouch of pebbles, apply block and wide-brimmed hats, memorize their children’s faces just in case. I remember hers, the way her chin buoyed against the slap of surf.

I sieve the contents of the box into the cold decommissioned shallows; watch it lift and lighten to spindrift, citrus in the sunset before the current catches and carries it towards the pencilled horizon, straight and empty like the old road, devoid of signs of what might be. I feel the pull of it, the undertow of back-then when we knew nothing of disaster, of meltdowns, or her hope that this sullied water might leak heavy and quell the secret growths swelling like pearls inside her. Why would we have thought of such things? We believed in that world: our oyster. Good grief, Good grief.


Mary-Jane Holmes is chief editor of Fish Publishing Ireland. Her work recently won the 2014 Dromineer Flash Fiction Prize and short-listed for the 2014 Bridport Prize (UK) She is an article contributor at Flash Fiction Chronicles and has work published and/or being published in Firewords Quarterly, The Journal Of Compressed Creative Arts, Tishman Review, The Incubator.


Fiction: Undoing by Kim Magowan

Reasons to do it:

To get you out of my system. Because the reality of you can never match the fantasy– no matter how great you are, how skillful, how tender your touch, how inventive your sweet talk. So possessing you will take away your power. That’s why I need to see your body: naked, real, unglorious. So I won’t want it. Cure by poison.

Or, carpe diem, et cetera. Life is short, right? In two years I turn forty. Soon my life will be too unwieldy to fling (like an anarchist in a cartoon, throwing a dynamite stick) into the fire.

Grist for the mill. I need to think of you as a research project: this is a collection of information, like leaves from a nature walk, like specimens from the moon. I will observe you closely: the hair on your shins, the texture of your armpits, the color of your tongue, the way your eyes look when you come (opaque?). The feeling of your hands on my body (heavy? gentle?).

We are still strange to each other. I don’t know every sock in your drawer, every bristle of your Sonicare. Likewise, you haven’t known me since I was twenty-six: every bad haircut, every time I’ve yelled at a child or forgotten the name of a world leader or pretended to have read that book. With you, I can be new.

You remind me of the first boy I wanted, in high school. Right before summer break, I slow-danced with him on the grass. His lips, so dry, grazed my neck. Something about you— the blank squares of your glasses, the way you transfix me (because I can’t have you)— makes me think of him, my first crush.

Because you don’t think I will. So there is something underhanded about your flirting. You’re careful; the craftsman of the double meaning, the sly line. You expect me to reject you. I should call your bluff.

***

            In a borrowed car, we drove to the waterfront to watch people fishing. We drove to get away from your apartment, which could only lead to trouble. You had your left hand on the steering wheel. I had your right hand, a new and temporary possession. I was captivated by your hand, completely preoccupied with it: I turned it over, inserted my fingers between yours, traced the fleshy part of your palm, near the thumb, examined the nicks of your wrist.

“You have such small wrists.”

You turned and smiled at me. Your glasses glinted. You squeezed my hand.

When you had picked me up at the train station, I sat close to you on the seat. This hand I was examining so carefully would brush my leg now and then, as if by accident. Our eyes met and flicked away, like light touches. But we hadn’t touched yet, except for that greeting hug in the station. Too long a hug, you said later that morning: “That’s when I knew.”

But what did you know? And why are you so much better at reading me than I am at reading you, or myself? After all, I am a translator, a professional reader. Why are you a code I can’t interpret? Like an Arabic book I once found in the library, composed of beautiful and inscrutable letters.

***

            I never undressed you. You never undressed me. As if clothes were a metaphor for the other things that came between us: my husband, your wife, all the obvious obstructions. When you unhooked my bra (you were strangely clumsy, I arched my back to help you, we both laughed as you struggled with the curved wire teeth), my sweater stayed on. I remember thinking that given the circumstances, the clothes seemed almost comically excessive: lying on top of me, you were still wearing your shoes, your glasses.

Time, like clothes, was something you used to keep us in check: only this much, and no more. The first time you kissed me, you broke away to say, “It’s 10:40 now. At 11:00, we’re getting up and going out to breakfast.” Though it took us longer than that, because when I came out of your bathroom, bra rehooked, sweater smoothed, my face wet from splashing water on it, we stood with our foreheads pressing together, we kissed, and you temporarily turned off your meter.

I never undressed you, and lying on slatted lawn chairs sunbathing was a subtle form of torture. This was as naked as we could be together: me in a bikini, you in old, mauve bathing trunks with water-stained shorts. From hooded eyelids I studied your body, committed it to memory: sunburnt legs, bony knees, the moles on your back. Sometimes you used my distraction to advantage. Playing chicken fight in the swimming pool, both of us with a wet child on our shoulders, we tried to knock each other into the water. I grabbed your hips for leverage, and became suddenly conscious of the bunchy fabric in my hands, your cool skin. You hooked my leg, and I lost my balance and fell.

***

            When I’ve most wanted to hurt you back: sitting rigidly in the car outside the train station, listening to you say, “I hope what happened today doesn’t mean that you’ll start fooling around. It gets easier after the first time.”

Or, and this is stranger, when you told me I should help Ian clean the grill. Why did that make my face feel actually hot with anger, so even the pool water couldn’t cool it? Perhaps because it seemed indicative of your moral superiority: you are better than me, more thoughtful, less selfish.

But most of all, it is your silence: the way you check out, for days or weeks, the way you become not just cold but entirely vacant, an empty chair. I wish I could turn from you with such ease.

***

            “Why?” you asked me.

Sometimes you represent yourself as someone who has travelled down this yellow brick road to Infidelity and has warnings to offer about the potholes. But you also imply that your own fooling around, while nothing you’re proud of (you emphasize proud) has been understandable.

“Abstemious” is a word you apply to Diane. “She keeps her appetites in check.”

I’ve witnessed that myself: before anything sparked between us, when I was thinking of you two as potential friends, we had you over for dinner. When I called to invite you I asked her, as I always do, if there were any food issues, and she paused— perhaps it was my use of the word “issues”— before saying “No.” But she barely ate her scallops, she picked at dessert. She saw me notice and said, “It’s lovely, Emily. It’s just so rich.” You saw me raise my eyebrows. We caught each other’s eyes, and that exchanged glance might have been the first brick on our road. A conspiratorial flash: see what I put up with?

So for all your regrets, your Ghost-of-Christmas-Future implications that betrayal is not worth the trouble, I know you believe there is something understandable about cheating on a woman who picks at scallops.

It’s my being drawn to you that is, in your estimation, deviant. “Ian is such a good guy.”

Good Guy. The number of times I have heard that. I have fantasized getting Ian a tee shirt that says “Good Guy,” like those “Number One Dad” shirts at Target.

Well, I love Ian, and I have for twelve years. I won’t dispute the title.

But I would like to show you, just once, his collection of snow globes. They line the third bookshelf of our home office, eight of them. The first one, the start of this collection, was given to him by his high school girlfriend Julie. I don’t know what it commemorates; Ian is evasive when I ask. The scene inside is a glass greenhouse, and through the plastic panes (not real glass of course) you can see a tiny, scratchy tree. Red blossoms bloom there, small as sequins: a begonia, perhaps, or a camellia. On the green plastic base, written by one of those liquid silver pens (I had one myself in middle school, for using on black paper), is, “To Eye, from Jay.” Their nicknames for each other.

This ex-girlfriend is still around. We see her four or five times a year: Julie Howe, Julie Crockett, now Julie Azzopardi. Two months ago we went to her wedding— the second of her weddings that I’ve been to. It seemed strange to make a second wedding such a production. Her dress wasn’t white, but such a pale blue that from any distance it looked white. That seemed strange too.

She came to my wedding of course. I remember her gift: an apple-red ceramic bowl. Sometimes I serve pasta in it. Back then, eleven years ago, Ian still occasionally called her Jay, though I never heard her call him Eye.

What does collecting snow globes say about a man? That’s the question I want to ask you. Or that his collection began because his ex-girlfriend, from when he was sixteen, gave him this particular one of some greenhouse, and wrote on the bottom in silver ink? What does it say about Ian that he does not select his own fetish objects? I’ve collected things too—sand-dollars when I was a kid, egg cups more recently—but those items meant something to me. I chose them myself.

A day or two after Julie’s wedding, I looked through the open door in the office, and saw Ian holding a snow globe in the palm of his hand. Of course, I knew which one it was.

More than once, I have wanted to smash those snow globes, or perhaps just that one. Partly to understand the nature of the liquid inside. Not water, I don’t think: something more viscous, more gelatinous. And I would like, perhaps, to pry those “glass” walls off the conservatory; I’d like to determine what tree is protected inside it.

Yes, I would like to show you the snow globes. They seem at least as relevant, as motivating, as refusing scallops. They seem to shed light on one’s character. What kind of person is attracted to sealed domes? The half-circle, not even whole, not a globe after all, that sits in your palm? Who would display them in a perfect row?

“But Emily,” you might respond, “Their whole function is to be shaken.” To unsettle them, to stir and disturb those sparks of snow.

***

            “Patience is a virtue,” you said to me, and I am reminded of the Latin root of patience, pati, a verb that appears only in passive voice, that means to suffer, to endure. Passion has the same root: think of the Passion of Christ on his cross. Yet what can be more opposed to passion than patience? The gnawing of one, the tamping down of the other.

You claim that what has kept us out of bed is logistics, and the word buried in there, logic, speaks to a gap between you and me. You are rational when I am hopeless. You evoke scenarios in the future, somedays, someafternoons, when we’re in the same place, and time doesn’t have to be meticulously tracked. But to me those moments are irretrievably lost in the past, or belong in some parallel universe, both of us teenagers, unattached, unmoored, where there is space to be with you.

***

            You and I never had sex, though we sat on a low wall across the street from a hotel for half an hour and discussed why we shouldn’t go in. You described four possible doors that hotel would lead to, which I picture as sets in a game show, tatty velvet curtains suspended from brass rods. Through Door A, we would sleep together and finally get over each other, the frenzy dissolved, the residual secret smile exchanged twenty years later. Door B was the literal anti-climax, an awkward roll in the hay that would divide us between disappointment and relief. At Door C, the worst one, we would get caught and wreck each other’s lives. And Door D was the hardest to imagine: we would somehow walk off with each other, intact. That conversation ended rancorously. I got up, unsteady, and said, “Well, let’s leave, then, but let’s also stop pretending this is ever going to happen.”

But in that alternate reality, I will carve a space for us.

We are in Rome. Why Rome? Because it is not the place where either of us live, places associated with the fundamental accessories of our lives (Ian, Diane, my children). Perhaps, in the kind of eternal return of dreams and stories, because Rome is where I lost my virginity, and I will undo that night (cheap wine, tears, brown stains of crushed mosquitoes on the walls) by replacing it with you. So, we are in Rome. You stand in front of me. Your arms are at your sides, or perhaps you lightly press my shoulders, and you look at me. But I do not meet your eyes. I am concentrating on undoing, one by one, the mock mother-of-pearl buttons of your shirt, to touch your invisible and secret skin.


 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department at Mills College. She has fiction published or forthcoming in “Arroyo Literary Review,” “Breakwater Review,” “The Gettysburg Review,” “Indiana Review,” “River City,” “Valparaiso Fiction Review,” and “Word Riot.”


Exquisite Duet: Randall Brown and Rusty Barnes

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


 

The Seven-Year Itch

by Randall Brown

Was it me or her that had something twitching in the head? This is what happens when parents smoke the powder from their 17-year-old son’s confiscated marijuana grinder. Twenty-one years ago, they’d come home from their Caribbean honeymoon infested with burrowing mites, and they both became certain they could see them ticking under the other’s skin. They both see such ticking now—the ventral tegmental area, the hypothalamus, the nucleus accumbens—lighting up as on brain scans. It’s gotten more powerful, she says. Rapid breaths. Accelerated heart rate. He reaches for another drag. You sure? she asks him. They’d had sex going down a water slide. My lights are brighter, he says. She studies the illuminated mid-brain. Lite-Brite, she answers, making things with light. What a sight, he follows, making things with Lite-Brite.  This turns into a chant, then a dance, each one swinging the other onto and around the leather couch, the ottoman, a love seat. Their brains ignite. Who had the twitching head?  Both their heads flicker, nictate. That’s a crazy word, he says, nictate. Sarah Palin—The Nictator. A parade. Nudge, nudge. Silly walks. To another seven years! Yes, she Yes! It’s a date!

 

Song With No Lyrics for Legion

by Rusty Barnes

Was it me or her that had something twitching in the head?
A long time ago the rats had eaten the inside of my skull

and exited out my ear and all the bad things I’d ever said
about someone/anyone were out in the zeitgeist for people

to glom onto in their own sweet relationships and relative
des faux pas and I wanted to be sad enough to crawl into

a drainage ditch and wait for a roaring rain but I wasn’t so
I ended up in a donut shop that everyone would recognize

if I said it so I won’t but it was orange decor and made me
want to vomit but the chubby girl in the back said everyone

attack; I had nothing but my two fists and Legion to help
me so I reached behind the counter and slapped the decaf

pot with the leaded pot and broke both of them. I wasn’t
surprised I was asked to leave but Legion led me toward

other folks who claimed to be in the same circles of hell
but Legion led me toward the dark horizon and Legion

led me to claim that they’d possessed me and what can
you do with news like that except report it so I got a phone

and did a selfie report I talked into the mic but what recorded
were not my words but Legion’s in the argle-bargle of demon

speak and what could I say. Friends I am possessed by Legion
and thus do the voices speak and flow through me and soon

I will live in your drain and drink rain and eat your garbage while
all around the saints whirl and desolate the world without knowing

while Legion laughs and says thing in the temper of bears
and trees and one lonely oak with an inveigled noose.

 


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 Randall Brown is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print. He earned his MFA at Vermont College.

Rusty Barnes lives and works in Revere MA with his family. His latest book is the novel Reckoning, and he is currently working on a collection of poems and a short crime novel.

 

 

 


Five Poems by Simon Perchik

*

You kneel the way this sky never learned
those chancy turns the dirt throws back
as breezes, still warm, scented

with what’s left from when the Earth
had two centers, one blue, the other
footsteps, half random, half gathered in

for stones no longer moving
—you begin each descent
unsure, around and around, entangled

as if roots would nudge the dead closer
again into your arm over arm waving goodbye
with one more than the other

—it’s how you dig, folded over
and your shadow deeper and deeper
already reeks from far off and wings.

*

You strap this watch in place
as if it inherited the wobble
that grew into sunlight

then darkness, then wear, then
you set the time years ahead
the way dirt still unravels

and between each finger
a slow, climbing turn remembers
the middle before it became

the sun —it’s hopeless! the watch
trying to keep up
taking you by the hand

though you dig alongside
clearing the ground for later
for the footsteps already wagons

and you wait, humming
to the small circle passing by
tired and in your mouth.

*

Ear to ear though the tree
darkens the way this saw
no longer drifts alongside

in the open, clings
to wooden boats and the dead
you can touch with your tongue

once it’s morning and the blade
has nothing to do, already
half rainbow, half riverbank

low over your mouth
opened so you can read
between the lines, send back

a note smelling from wood
older than anything on Earth
stretching out till the dirt

overturns and you drown
swallowing leaves, branches
days —you cut with hours

that know each other
that bind and by themselves
filling with clear water.

*

For a time, carefully reduced
as if these shoes were watertight
and each pricetag pointing out

—you don’t know where to dig
though dirt must mean something
motionless under the exact place

that could be anyone
the way nothing in this shop window
is left standing, needs more dirt

more and more and the hillside
that always falls backwards
refuses to get up, no longer tries

and all these passers-by two by two
in your arms already opened
for so many dead from just one grave.

*

You bang the rim the way skies
loosen and this jar at last
starts to open, becomes a second sky

though under the lid her shoulders
wait for air, for the knock
with no horizon curling up on itself

as sunlight, half far off, half
circling down from her arms
end over end, reaching around

making room by holding your hand
—it’s a harmless maneuver
counter clockwise so you never forget

exactly where the dirt was shattered
hid its fragrance and stars
one at a time taking forever.


 

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan ReviewThe Nation, Osiris, Poetry, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013). For more information, free e-books and his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.


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Exquisite Duet: Kate Braverman and Kim Chinquee

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


Even Streetlights Suffocate the Night

by Kate Braverman

Even streetlights suffocate the night.

It’s an autumn of insomnia and rogue forests
rising from golden rod and thorny heather.
A gash of maples, a welt in wild grasses.
And locusts with teethy leaves
like lips ripped by kisses

The wind is ashy from mistakes.
Flirtations, the dangerous caresses
and unmaskings with not camouflage enough
for all the carcasses and orphans.
Then the shabby poplar guitars and coffins
tangled in dried reeds like wire.

Defoliated limbs sway nude and obscene
scraped thin as deserters, informers, snitches.
They will rat you out.
November is a spasm of thunder—
a tiny birth the size of a violet’s mouth.
It’s the cusp of disaster. Frost makes it worse.

Love is an aberration.
It’s infectious like St. Vitus dance
and rashes that turn your limbs to stumps.
Afternoon is tea in porcelain.
Aunt Ruth died for my inheritance.
Cancer. Insanity. A bad divorce or two.

I call the plates festive—
holiday trays, aperitifs and bourbon
with Daddy in the vast aubergine corridors
of fall with our bridges and mirrors
our biographies and notorious ports
brazen with neon, cinnamon and cloves.

Meanwhile old women eat alone and die
with their cherished china cups
hand-painted roses in pink rows
on the edge where their lip goes.
Drowned women from ferries float
blue as monk’s hood and larkspur.

This is the residue, what leapt
from barges and slid from riverbanks.
The Ganges, Genesee, Thames.
They were cutting mangoes by moonlight,
waiting for the lilac to bud. Then suddenly
the sliced wrist, blood like a spigot.

 

She Was

by Kim Chinquee 

Even the streetlights suffocate the night, Ellen says to her dog’s dead body as she drives down the road. It is ten below, the streets so caked with snow that the movement of the tires make creaking noises as they move over them. Ellen turns the radio up. Something horn and flute. Even the snowplows suffocate the night, she says, looking at the plow ahead of her, with its big wide rump, knowing the enormous mouth on the front of it. Her dog was twelve years old. Her dog was a Chihuahua. Her dog weighed seven pounds. Ellen turns right, to a street that really isn’t plowed well. The road is narrow, with cars parked along one side of it. Even my headlights suffocate the night, Ellen says to her Chihuahua. Ellen’s Chihuahua’s name was Elle. Ellen has been with Elle for seven years. Ellen takes a left, to a busier street, passing a 711, then a Target, where she used to buy a lot of dog treats. Where she bought a leash and then a dog bed.  Shirts and sweaters, jackets that Elle always tried to squirm her way out of. Ellen looks at the bag on the passenger’s side. The bag is black. She put the body in it. Ellen found the body on the dog bed. She’d told Elle the night before, “Get out of my bed.” She told Elle she needed sleep.  “Get out,” she had said, like her father used to. Like her mother and her sister and her husband who never really was a husband and then became an ex. When Ellen scolded Elle, Elle would duck her head, like Ellen used to until she didn’t anymore. Elle would not get down until Ellen picked her up and moved her. Ellen got her from a rescue. Elle’s last owner died. Now Ellen drives in circles. At a red, she finally stops. She picked up Elle’s body when she found it. She smelled it, hugged it, kissed. She held her dog. She cradled it, and rocked.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kate Braverman is a poet and experimental writer of a singular and ruthless breed. She is author of four books of poetry, the novels: Lithium for Medea, Palm Latitudes, Wonders of the West, and The Incantation of Frida K. Her Graywolf Prize for Creative Non-Fiction award winning memoir, Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir was published in Feb. 2006. She taught creative writing for 20 years at UCLA and privately for 9 years. Some of the awards she has received are: Best American Short Story Prize, O. Henry Award, Raymond Carver Award, Pushcart Prize, Mississippi Review Prize and a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellowship for lifetime recognition of achievement.

Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections: PRETTY, PISTOL, and OH BABY.  Her website is www.kimchinquee.com


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