ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: "My New Roommate" by Krista Ahlberg

My New Roommate

by Krista Ahlberg

I found my new roommate on Craigslist, and right away I knew there was something different about her. I could tell as soon as she walked into the apartment, sniffing the air. She was wearing sandals even though it was December, and I watched her toes curl as she placed her feet ever so carefully, one in front of the other. 

She sat on the edge of my couch and politely sipped at the water I gave her, and steam rose from the glass. I looked at her mouth and she looked back at me, and I turned away, feeling rude for staring. She answered my questions about what she was doing in the city, and where she had lived before, and what she was looking for in a living situation, and if she minded that the heat in the room didn’t work very well. 

She said nonprofit, Hawaii, somewhere private, no, and not much else, her voice measured and clear in a way I knew I never could have duplicated. I envied her silences even as I babbled to fill them. I offered her the room on the spot, knowing in my parched throat that I’d regret it if I didn’t keep this woman in my life for as long as I could. 

When she was gone, I saw that there was a small burn mark on the couch where she’d been sitting. I flipped the cushion. 

#

She moved in the next week, and brought with her slippery black tarps that she put over all the furniture I’d provided for her bedroom. I never saw her sit on the couch again, or lean against the plastic countertops in the kitchen. In fact, she didn’t use the kitchen at all. I never saw her eat, but sometimes she would come in with boxes from the sushi place around the corner and pace into her room with them. Once she was carrying a plastic bag that I swear I saw a tentacle flop out of just before she closed the door. 

She spoke to me infrequently, but when she did she was always full of questions about my job, or was I dating anybody, or had I seen any good shows lately—all the stuff I liked to talk about, so usually it was only after the conversation had ended and the giddy rush had left me that I realized she hadn’t said anything about herself. 

I continued to gather suspicions: the hall between her bedroom and the bathroom was strewn with tiny dust-like gray pebbles, and when I picked them up they were porous and crumbled in my hand. Every day I swept them up, but every day after she took a shower and locked herself in her room, there were more, and the bathroom smelled of sulfur. The scent followed her wherever she went, and we finally had to take down the smoke alarm after it wouldn’t stop blaring whenever she stood near it. 

#

One night, she asked me if I wanted to go clubbing and I had to google the names of clubs because neither of us knew any. There, I watched her gyrate under the flashing red and green lights, watched the way they captured the curve of her face and left the rest in darkness, her black hair whipping across her back, her legs kicking out strong and wild. 

I gyrated with her; I couldn’t help it. She caught me up in the tornado of skirt and hair and sandaled feet, and I felt joy twist through me like fire, the heat pushing up and radiating out through the ends of my hair. 

In the midst of a turn, she stopped, and her stillness seemed to increase the movement around her, like a whirlpool or a black hole, the last drops of water rushing down the drain, and I kept turning and stumbled into her. She grabbed me with both hands, and her fingers sizzled into my flesh and her breath tingled on my face. She said, “I’m so empty,” and I had to lean in to hear her over the music. Her lips cupped my ear and she yelled into my head and this time I heard, “I’m so hungry.” 

Then she let me go, and I stumbled back, bringing my hands to my upper arms, covering where hers had been, where my skin was scorched, shiny and red in the shapes of fingers. 

I watched her spin away from me, and I watched the crowd spin after, people coming close and reaching for the hem of her skirt, her trailing sleeves. Like supplicants, ready to sacrifice everything just to touch her for a single moment. I wanted to warn them not to, but I could only clutch my own arms. She raised her hands above her head and watched them coming, and I saw the blaze of her eyes, saw her tongue dart out to lick the sweat from her upper lip. 

She dipped one arm down to point at a boy—sharp-chinned and round-shouldered, milky and virginal and breathing fast. He slid across the dance floor like lava over broken ground, slow and inexorable, and she curled her fingers into his hair, bringing his head up, bringing his mouth to hers. 

#

I left then, but I heard them come in later, and the boy was laughing quietly and my roommate wasn’t saying anything at all. I crept down the hallway and stopped outside her door, listened to the shush of thrown T-shirts and the snick of a belt buckle dropping. Then there was an intake of breath and the longest sigh I’d ever heard, an exhalation that seemed to go on for minutes. The floor under my feet grew warm, and when I reached out and tested the door with the backs of my hands like they teach you to do during a fire, the wood was bright-hot. I dropped to my knees and crawled to my room, then pressed the backs of my hands to the tops of my arms, the red soreness aching between them. 

I fell asleep waiting to smell smoke, to hear the floorboards splintering, to see the walls turn black with soot. When I woke up in the morning, the boy was gone, but his shoes were still lined up neatly in our entryway, and my roommate was standing there staring at them. Her skin was lush, almost glowing, and her hair seemed to have grown in the night and now reached past her hips. 

She looked at me and smiled. “He must have left his shoes.” 

I looked at her smile, top teeth biting her bottom lip. She leaned forward to pick up the shoes, and as she did her hair swung around and brushed the hand hanging by my side, and it flowed cool over my burned skin. She stood up and gestured toward the hallway with the shoes. “I’ll take them to the trash chute. If he left them, he clearly doesn’t want them anymore.” 

“Clearly not,” I said, and smiled too. When she stepped out, I brought my hand to my mouth and felt the heat against my lips, the momentary coolness gone but her sulfur smell lingering close. 

#

After that there was a new boy or girl every few weeks, one who disappeared into her bedroom with her and whom I never saw again. I fingered the starfish-shaped scars on my arms, which had faded to mottled pink and felt softer than skin should be, and wondered if I should kick her out. But I had just started a new job and didn’t have time to interview people again, and she never ate my food or left hair in the shower, and honestly she was the best roommate I’d ever had. 

Besides, on nights when we were alone in the apartment, I’d linger outside her door on the way back from the bathroom, listening to the thick, still silence inside and wondering when it would bubble over. Wondering if she’d ever invite me in to see for myself what happened on the other side of that door, never sure if I was relieved or hurt that she didn’t, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to remove the possibility entirely. 

Eventually, though, it was pretty clear she never would, and I told myself the jump of my stomach had to be relief, and stopped listening at doors. I started dating a guy I met at work who was perfectly nice and talked as much about himself as I did about me, and I told myself that the heaviness in my chest was contentment. I slept over at his house most of the time, and I stopped noticing when my roommate brought people home and what happened in the apartment when she did. 

But some nights, she’d call me up and I’d meet her at the club and we’d dance, her hips twirling me around in their vortex. I’d hold my breath and wait to feel that alive thing crawling up from my insides, filling me with fire. I’d look up at her face glinting with light and shadows, and when she smiled I’d finally exhale.  


About the Author:
Krista Ahlberg grew up in Colorado, spent a few years in the Midwest, and now lives in New York City, where she works in publishing and keeps her eyes peeled for everyday magic. She has stories published or forthcoming in Rose Red Review and F(r)iction

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as "queer," while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. Submissions open May 18th and run through June 19th. Poetry, prose, visual art, reviews and interviews will all be considered.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: "Violet" by Jennifer Tubbs

Violet

by Jennifer Tubbs

The beginning of the world was purple. When the earth was empty of people and animals, there were spirits stampeding the plains, jungles, forests, groves. The spirits fought, having nothing better to do. The winner—there is always a winner—was lord of the airy domain, where seafoam intersects sky. He—it is explicitly stated—turned his enemies into volcanoes and mountains. Their wrath is felt when they spit lava down on us or shake the ground below our feet. But, those spirits who readily accepted the sovereignty of the pneumatic god found themselves a home in the night sky, winking at each other in complicity. Historically, complicity has been rewarded.

There’s more to the story, but she struggles to remember it now. The slimy packet of human nerves and veins and arteries lying next to its former placental habitat was purple like the jacaranda trees native to her homeland. Purple, right. Now she remembers. Her mother used to tell her the old Rapa Nui creation story to calm her when she was crying. The earth was once wet all over, glorious and limpid with mucus. It was purple, holding its breath for the first human to tumble down.

The first human was the pneumatic god’s son, hurled to the earth by his father as an experiment. He lay on the rocks for forty nights, cold and alone, until his mother opened a window in the sky to look after him.

As in most stories, there was a beautiful maiden. The young man needed a companion in his empty menagerie, so the spirit god plucked a star down and sent her to his son. She traipsed the earth barefoot, looking for her love. She walked for thousands of miles unscathed, since the gods made grass and silvestres grow in her path before each step. And when she touched the grass and silvestres with her bare hands and feet, each blade and petal flew away as a butterfly or bird. This is how we came to have animals. Suddenly, the grass beneath her feet sprawled out in green tendrils, reaching up in lattices of vines to become a jungle. In the night, she lay down in the cool embrace of a banana tree and searched the stars for her people, but she recognized no one, only the halos of their backs turned toward her. She was alone.

Of course, she isn’t alone for long. Beautiful, young maidens never are. She meets the young man, naturally, and they fall in love by some celestial force foreign to themselves. This is how it goes. The mother peeking out of her pale window at night to watch over her son is what we call the moon. The father, the sun. It’s somehow comforting in its predictability. The rhythm and cadence of her mother’s voice are replaced by the hard clicks and punctuated beeps of machines. She likes to tell herself the story when she’s nervous, which she is now. She imagines herself in a banana tree, searching for her family among the stars.

The pool of liquid beneath her feels like urine, the shameful cross of youth, although she realizes it is not. They said it was amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid, she was told, was her baby’s life support system, a protective sheath like the ozone layer around the earth. She was comforted by this thought, until she remembered she had read somewhere that the ozone layer would be gone in a couple of decades. The baby didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t screaming, which wasn’t a good sign. Still purple, new world purple, jacaranda purple. She had told herself she wouldn’t care. In the moment, she realized she did. 

The night before, a chill had shot down the spine of the Andes, reverberating in the dark into Marisol’s home. In ancient times, in her corner of the world, thunder not followed by lightening was considered bad luck. Inauspicious for childbirth, especially. But Marisol wasn’t the superstitious kind. 

“We were stupid,” she had told her mother. That’s what the gringos on MTV say. Their long, lean faces contort into remorse by an excessive furrowing of brows and pulling down of the lips. It had always struck Marisol as histrionic, the type of gesture that would embarrass her too much to even attempt. But, it seemed to work for the gringos, with their parents. Then again, their whole families drove BMWs and had golden retrievers, so the circumstances foreshadowed the tactic’s success for them. And the moms—the moms always wore those silver bracelets with their kids’ initials in silver, little letters and hand-painted basketballs and pompoms, reflecting their children’s hobbies. So they probably wouldn’t mind having another kid around, another metal ball for their bracelets, tinkling around all day on their fat wrists. Not like her mother. 

“Except for we weren’t that stupid,” she thought. A purple bulb landed on her knee. The jacarandas were in full bloom, tossing their violet petals in the air like rice at a wedding. Jacaranda blossoms mean spring is here, mean asados, mean rolling up the thick blanket of ice spread across the dessert, mean kids playing outside, but not too far away from the watchful eyes of their grandmothers. Spring was Marisol’s favorite season, but this time around it felt lifeless, a type of roadkill that even her crazy cousin Matías wouldn’t eat. 

They had used a condom. She had had to go all the way across town to Tía Rebeca’s—not the nun, of course, but the stoner—to avoid the drugstore owner’s tattling to her mother. That gossipy vieja was always sticking her nose in other people’s business, especially when it came to sex and babies. “Maybe because she isn’t getting any herself,” Marisol had thought. Her nails with the rhinestone crosses glued on click-clacked their way across allergy medicine, ipecac bottles, and off-brand Tums, winding up at the shining boxes of lubricated condoms boasting ribbed pleasure for her and tingling sensations to set your love on fire. Dueña Fran had raised an eyebrow. “I dare you,” the eyebrow had said to Marisol.

“I’ll take the Imodium D,” she had said, chickening out. “I got the runs.” Then she hopped on her bike and pedaled all the way to Rebeca’s, where she chose from about twenty different kinds of flavored, textured, colored, and glow-in-the-dark condoms. 

“Why the hell do I need a neon green dick in my life, Beca?”

“It’s just for fun. You’ll see. You’re such a virgin, Sol.” 

“And why do all these say 2015? Doesn’t that mean they’re bad now?”

“Whatever, do you want them or not?”

“I mean, it’s not like Los is going to buy any.”

Carlos was described by the aging tías with their hair rollers and their lacquered lips as one of those Good Boys Going Places. He had the kind of face that inspired a coddling instinct in most women, an evolutionary tic that has, surprisingly, not been weeded out yet. Maybe that was why she had chosen him. Or it could have been his eyes. They were a sturdy brown. Not caramel, not mocha, none of that bullshit. Brown. But more likely than not, it was his scar. His father had given it to him when he had caught Los taking the car for a joyride. Since then, Los never mentioned the gash on his forehead below the widow’s peak, seeming to forget the incident altogether. Now that she thought about it, Los had always been fascinated with cars, that sterile machinery that was always so off-putting to her. He worked at the shop every day. “Why do you work so much?” everyone would ask him. Ahorrando. Saving money was always the response. He was going to buy a house in the South, where people invite you in from the rain instead of robbing you in broad daylight. That’s what was said, anyway, though neither he nor Marisol knew of a world beyond the fleshy mountains to the east and the vestal salt flats in the north, where people went to die and the land gave birth to the sea.

The sex itself was painless enough, she would tell Papi later, like when they give you laughing gas at the dentist, but you can see what they’re doing to you from above, like a movie. Afterward, he had asked her if she was one of those women who didn’t come. She smiled a pageant smile and started to get dressed in the absence of a vocabulary to accurately convey her disappointment. She wasn’t sure if there were women who didn’t come, but she had always been particularly adept at her nightly ministrations, those frenetic moments after school or mass, muffling her cries with a pillow so as not to wake her brothers or her mother. When that failed, she would bite into her own flesh to keep from screaming.

During her deflowering, the boy, Carlos, had subjected her to the Alphabet treatment briefly before penetration. Marisol entertained the thought that if Spanish had had more letters, like Albanian or any of the Scandinavian languages with their numerous umlauts, it would have worked. As it was, the boy made it to the letter O, tracing the letters on her vulva before he threw in the towel. The penetration itself was clumsy at best. The squeaks emitted from their bodies seemed otherworldly in the moment, as if coming from an alien spaceship, like that old black-and-white show she and her brothers used to watch. 

After she had tried seven different pregnancy tests from at least three reputable pharmacies—not including Fran’s—Marisol finally accepted that she had made a mistake. She immediately decided not to tell her mother, who was on a pilgrimage at the time. Instead, she let the secret fester inside her.

“Its teeth are starting to form,” Marisol suddenly said, leaning over to face Papi. “That’s when it starts happening. Six weeks. You can’t see them for a long time, but the stuff is under the gums.”

Papi nodded knowingly, as if she could tell what this meant. Patricia and Marisol had been friends almost since birth. They were baptized and confirmed at the same church. They bought their first bras together. Marisol didn’t tell Papi’s mother that she was gay and Papi certainly wouldn’t divulge Marisol’s latest indiscretion. 

“I’m keeping it,” Marisol said. Her voice was hard. “I’m gonna name it Violet.”

Papi handed Marisol a blue popsicle, which dripped on her pants in transit and would leave a stain later. It was a small gesture, but, in doing so, she made explicit her complicity in Marisol’s plan.

“I don’t know what to do. The Internet says I need vitamins and shit. How am I supposed to get that?”

“Over there, they got all kinds of stuff like that. Vitamins, organic this and organic that, I’ve even seen organic dog food.” She grinned, savoring the ludicrousness of such a product. As she did so, she whistled through her front teeth. When she was little, her sisters used to call her Piggy Bank and tried to fit loose coins in between the gap. Papi had gotten her adult nickname, in part, from her distinctive flaite style and, in part due to her dominance in the “game.” The game in question was smuggling drugs to Gringolandia. The drugs ranged from cocaine to heroin, which Papi would never touch herself. Therein lay the moral dilemma for her, having witnessed firsthand its effects. But where there is demand, there will always be supply, she rationalized. Word had spread that Papi was the best in the business; that she was still alive suggested the rumors were accurate, at least this side of the equator. 

Marisol rolled her eyes. When Papi went on and on about Gringolandia like everything was unicorns and roses, it grated on her nerves.

“What, you don’t believe me? I’ll show you. No, for real. I’ll take you with me on my next run. You’ll shit your pants.”

That night, Marisol dreamt of organic dogfood. She woke up thinking, “Dumbasses.” But now that she had decided to keep the baby, she needed a plan. The thought of spending the rest of her life with Carlos—if he even reacted well to the news—was suffocating her like the smog that crept in between the window sills, through the doorframes, jostled the dust mites, and draped itself around her like a shroud.

When she got home from school the next day, Marisol found the house empty. It must have been one of the rare occasions on which her mother had taken the boys to their soccer game and left the place to her only daughter. Marisol cracked open her math book, staring blankly as she flipped on the TV. A gringa was belly dancing, accompanied by four live tigers, in a ballroom. Gold lettering in the background read “Sweet Sixteen.” Marisol had gotten a tattoo for her sixteenth birthday. She glanced down at her thigh. Patients is a virtue. An embarrassingly drunken mistake. A cliché. At least her future kid would get a good laugh from it. “Violet, I asked you to clean your room yesterday,” she would scold. “‘Patients’ is a virtue,” Violet would say. They wouldn’t have much money, and Marisol would probably have to work two jobs, like her mother, but they would laugh and cook dinner together every night and Marisol would never force her to eat Brussels sprouts, because even she couldn’t stomach them.

Drinking pineapple juice from the jug, she read Papi’s new messages to her: hows the little nugget today? I got a little somethin for ‘em. As she wondered what the gift could be—it was too early to tell if it was a boy or a girl, so coming up with a gender-appropriate present was difficult right now—she found herself unbuttoning her jeans, conjuring up Carlos and his mechanic’s wrench. Unannounced, Papi’s hands intruded. The brevity and precision of the image startled Marisol. They were isolated from her body, as if in an invisible picture frame. Soon, but not soon enough, they were washed downstream by her consciousness. Afterward, she fell asleep. She dreamt of dancing with the white girls and their tigers, Violet bouncing up and down on her shoulders.

The air at the park smelled like street sopaipillas and ketchup, which made Marisol want to vomit. She played with her nose ring as the waited for Papi. Pulling it in and out, in and out, was comforting. It produced a familiar, dull pain that radiated from her pores. Finally, she made out Papi’s braids from a distance, bobbing toward her station on the bench.

“You go first.”

“No, you.”

Papi pulled out a thin envelope that almost certainly did not contain baby clothes or diapers or prenatal vitamins. 

“I don’t want your money. We talked about this,” Marisol chided. When she opened the envelope, a single piece of paper the size of her hand slipped out. It was a one-way ticket to Miami. 

“If you don’t like it, you can come right back. That’s the beauty of it. I got one for myself, too. So I can help you out. In the beginning, I mean. If you want.”

The night before, Marisol’s mother was peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink as Marisol sliced tomatoes for a salad. They were going to have a nice family dinner together, something they didn’t have often enough, her mother had insisted. She skinned the potato in her hand elegantly, gouging the eyes out with force. Her mouth puckered like when she was about to say something, but second-guessed herself. 

Then: “I don’t want you hanging around that tortillera anymore.”

Marisol was silent, fixated on the tomato spilling out red juice onto the linoleum floor.

“What if the boys got the wrong idea? Or the neighbors? Then word would get around to the tías and eventually your grandmother would hear about it. What if she had a stroke? You know I don’t work two jobs so you and the boys can study for nothing. Don’t you have goals? You and Carlos. He’s a good boy. He’s going places. Don’t forget that.” Her chin jerked upward, as if denoting the direction of these places he was going. 

“What do you think your father sees when he looks down on you? It’s like you want to upset him.”

“How do we know he’s looking down on us?” Marisol ventured.

Her mother straightened her spine, standing at attention. The rings under her eyes shone like amethysts, a dull glow.

“Okay, Mamá. Okay,” she said. In her psychology class, she had read that lying was sometimes necessary in relationships. Or maybe she had invented that, but it seemed necessary in that moment. She wiped at the red stain on the floor. Her mother went back to scalping the potatoes. 

The next day was a branding iron pushed down on her skull. The students were marching on Alameda as they always did in the summer, when they had nothing better to do. She liked to hear them chant, even when it was the trite un pueblo unido jamás será vencido. She was rarely nationalistic, but, she admitted to herself, those words lit a flame in her gut. This time they were protesting against the pension system, tomorrow it would be for free college education. That’s how youth is, Marisol thought. All helter-skelter, like that song. She, however, was resolute. Once she had made up her mind, that was it. 

This time, Papi was waiting for her under their tree. Wayward bulbs floated down to rest on her jeans. Marisol liked the way she made no effort to brush them off, but collected them on her lap. They sat in silence as the protestors shouted their demands into the void. Someone smashed a streetlight. He or she was wearing a black bandana and a full gasmask. Soon the cops would come and clear out the area. They would bring with them the dogs, the tanks, the guanacos spitting chemical water. For now, though, it was just the two of them eating popsicles and the kids with their spray cans.

Marisol noticed Papi’s hand on her knee, toying with the petals of a jacaranda blossom. Instead of shrinking away, Marisol reached for the blossom, accidently separating the stamen from the petals. She instantly felt ashamed at such a violent act, even though the flower had clearly been beyond resuscitation for quite some time and, by the time it had reached her knee from its perch in the tree, had already begun to wither. 

Somewhere in the distance the tanks could be heard, pulling onto the main street. Their symphony of metallic screeches rattled around in Marisol’s ear, making it hard for her to hear what Papi was saying. The hand slid upward. It was a pendulum, starting at the hard knob of her knee, working its way up to the crease in her jeans where the pubis meets the thigh. Marisol moved her own hand to intercede Papi’s wandering one. But, as in most stories, she eventually gave up, allowing the rogue fingers to complete their circuit. 

Papi’s hands were rough, almost like Los’s, inexplicably so, since she did no manual labor that Marisol could think of. She had always been attracted to his hands, the way the cars had transformed them. Maybe it was the process itself, the daily hardening of calluses, the resilience of flesh that fascinated her. She would tell him tonight, she decided. He would be bewildered and his eyes would beg for reassurance, would ask for something to hold on to. She would stroke his hair, nuzzling him on her breast like a baby, and say, “Don’t worry. I have a plan.”

Papi’s middle finger was enlarging its territory, centimeter by centimeter. The thought crossed her mind that she could have imagined it was a man’s hand, but she did not. From the corner of her eye, Marisol spotted the tanks and trucks making their way toward the protestors. Then the guanacos finally made an appearance, the cannons lifted on their haunches, pointed at the kids and the girls in the grass. When the cascades of toxic chemicals rained down, splashing Marisol and Papi from the distance, they stood up. They fled the scene at a leisurely pace that could be likened to a stroll, not wanting to grant the cops the satisfaction. They held hands, like when they had gone to protests together years ago, when they were even younger and dumber. The leaders of the protest had all dispersed by now, leaving only their devotees. The young boy with the gasmask and bandana was being arrested. A girl with spikey, pink hair was being frisked. A couple was setting something on fire, maybe a Molotov cocktail, or maybe some trash. They were a hearty breed, the ones that remained. Whether they were brave or stupid was undiscernible from this angle, but Marisol silently conferred upon them her approval. 

The air between the two was thick with tear gas. They hadn’t brought lemons with them, so they cried. The type of tear gas used in their country was outlawed internationally due to its carcinogenic effects, but this had, apparently, only made the commanding officers fonder of it. The tears came out involuntarily at first, sucked out of their ducts as if by a vacuum. Then, they started sneaking up out of the pits of the girls’ consciousness, making their way to the surface in sobs. Marisol vomited. It was then that she and Papi realized what the hand’s explorations had meant. They implicitly felt as if some sort of agreement had been reached, a kind of contract had been signed between the two of them. While they couldn’t list all the clauses of such a contract, they felt that it bound them in a significant way. A shared cosmology was beginning to form between them, swirling and diving in and out of their musculatures, spindling into veins and arteries, and, lastly, their cuticles. It would have been stupid to have called this “love.” It was, rather, the creation of a new world.  

One of them turned to the other and said, “Let’s just go home.”

Whether or not any time has elapsed since this event is irrelevant. We will find them in the slice of night that precedes the dawn. Historically, this is the witching hour. Scientifically, it has been proven that more deaths, births, and conceptions occur at this hour than at any other time during the day. It will be pitch black when we see them next, illuminated by a nearby dome. The desert will be spread out before them, at once both alien and familiar. It will be purple, like a newborn. In this mirage unfurling before our eyes, so many millennia are collapsed into a tube, a pendant. A sliver of moon will cut through the black like a needle in a pincushion, a window. This time, the air hangs low in the sky. The girls will gulp up the night, knowing it will be their last in this land of volcanoes.

“You sure about this?” one of them will ask. 

The other girl won’t answer. Instead, she will kiss the rosary her mother gave her. She will inhale deeply and start walking toward the terminal.


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About the Author:

Jennifer Tubbs's stories hark back to her experiences growing up as a vocal vegetarian in cattle country, a budding Buddhist in the land of Baptists, and a closeted bisexual smack-dab in the middle of the giant, Texas-shaped buckle of the Bible Belt. Her outsider’s perspective has had led her to write about women who occupy the status of “Other” as a lens into unseen and overlooked worlds. She is currently working on a novel that takes place in her hometown. 

About All Accounts:

All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as "queer," while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. Submissions open May 18th and run through June 19th. Poetry, prose, visual art, reviews and interviews will all be considered.

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Gail Hanlon

SHE LOVES YOU

She hadn’t finished her dream,
so I finished it for her.
I wanted it to be lucid.
So that she could move there
as she couldn’t otherwise.
I wanted to give it to her
as a gift, so I worked
all night on it. I made
her able to fly.

 

PUSH-PULL SUMMER

In the silence, small planes
purr along the coast

dragging banners of DARLING
over Shelter Island.

Clear decisions, Clare says, squinting
at a landscape of tiny red figures.

She bows over her laptop with a stack
of index cards full of sloppy Japanese.

Where’s the heat? Jamaal asks. He knows
the answer. In the repetition, he mutters.

His cherry-haired boyfriend sleeps with his ear
against a long cafe table, remembering a kiss.

His wet glass making the second figure 8 I have seen
today. Another infinity. The first was a blue 

rubber band twisted at Sunset Beach
where my sister pointed out a double rainbow

over the ocean. What’s it mean?! she asks
the Ethiopian driver standing next

to a long black car. What’s it mean?!
He shrugs. He could be

ferrying the dead. No,
he says. No secret.

 

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Gail Hanlon’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, New Letters, Thrush, Cincinnati Review, Verse Daily, and Best American Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. She has a recent review in Tarpaulin Sky, published a chapbook, SIFT (Finishing Line), and was a finalist for the Iowa Review Award (2013). 

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by J.R. Toriseva

Visitation Pyre

No need to bore a hole,
set up a candle and peer through

Only minnows—
No need to dig in snow banks

for words, for worms.
Somewhere else this pond

would be ocean
and I would be cloud

The ice is that way, a shard
pushed into my center

Dark pond and I this far inland,
have only ourselves, each the other;

to remind ourselves where we are in
there, other than here.

This pond, frozen, has me
And I have chosen it,

for my lover, for my necklace, for my hand.
Dream the clamped podium.

Tear the collage of victims.
This pond my tarot card,

my altar, my ammunition. This pond my singing bowl,
sequestered from me, cornered by triple rows

of barbed wire, triple lines of corn, the intestines
of a silent fight looped around

the post. This pond across the property
line, a reverie, in a double time of rage.

The one who taught me that war is a strange sort
of laughter that can come at you years later in a corn crib,

who taught me how to place the stick perpendicular
to stop the wolf jaw from snapping down; who taught me to cut boughs

on place them on my back, to circle the pond, not walk straight across the ice
to prevent the wolves from attacking from behind at night,

for the first time his white china cup is cold. He’s not slapping black flies,
or whittling at the long dining table. My limburger eating, gray wolf quick

grandfather lies supine as if floating. Is it him? I’ve only seen him in motion,
watching orioles and song sparrows, sugar cube between his teeth, sucking

coffee, full of bracted honeysuckle and yarrow. Now, on the stretched water
surface of the pond, the blurred weave of the wool

shirt the polished sarsaparilla skin pulled tight over cheek bones away
from lips, his whole body larger in death, than life. The water buoying up the brown

shoulders, the leanness of his size. Reaching out to touch him,
I smile as his last words enter my palm. He sheds his skin, his scratchy shirt.

He rises, mist moving off the pond, a dragonfly splitting
its carcass. He rises where I can watch him. Eye on wing,

rough humming in the ear, the constant smooth, smooth, smoothing
of his palms available to me now. Here in the water is the chair where he sat.

Now only smooth wood. Is that you? Wearing your wool scratchy long johns?
Where are your rag weed pulling hands, your quack grass pulling thumbs?

Where are your straight lines of two-speared corn? Your high climbing
pole beans? Oh, here it is. Right here. I see my toes. It is. It is me.

 

Exodus: Amend 

Spring was here, then plunged: 

1. I know this road by heart 
2. even on a night broken brighter than day due to moon

3. Minnows 
4. my foot on iced gravel 

5. sound ricocheting across the crystal folds of fields 
6. 3. I came to listen to the water—foam 

7. the wind the rain came in on 
8. the wind on the frozen drum of the pond 

9. The form of the pond 
10. changes. Not in my mind 

11. But in front of my eyes 
12. My ice and slush expand 

13. to include arrival of bird, 
14. To the awakening of the fish 

15. To the invoice of cat tails. 
16. My mind holds all the cards 

17. My pictures of January holding 
18. the pond in white from the fierce 

19. sleep of February to the yawns 
20. of March. April’s shredding, the 

21. surface of the pond is unraveling 
22. It is cracking into a puzzle. Bordered 

23. by mud. The howl of the 
24. center, framed by dead grass
 

Unknown Things About Rain

Fresh from the gravel parking lot ritual in town, I brought death to the pond.
Slowly, holding the funereal cake. I left the white dissolving on the bank.

There is a window in my pond, the right pane shattered,
the glass shot through my de-iced voice, my knees mud-high in chore boots.

The cows come slowly forward, lowering
their heads to draw snow slush, nudging the cake to get to

the water streaming up their broad nostrils.
These walking mud puddles

sides matted with spring, the groaning of
the lilac crocus emerging, heads up

through the snow—much too early
and then turning translucent in the freeze

with their broad noses
they nudge in Spring,

with their wide hooves,
they skirmish through the pasture.

Wide enough for me to follow
winging oats, rolling ragweed, spreading rye

for bedding. Feeding the grey squirrels, lowering the light
Layering the darkness, adding to the roundness of the land. Death, now crumbs.

 

Water Mechanics

Here I am osprey and eagle
Here I am ladywalker and pikebug
Here I am amplified, a sound wave touching the far grass
Water, heal the split in my eye.

Let me be the water
away from the steel sink,
away from the certain mail box,
far from the rows of leeks.

Outlawed from the radish
this is the subway stop;
this is how I get home
where the mica shines.

Through the chalk and the small crushed
bones of squirrels
and snail shells;
this line cuts through the clay.

Leaving the gemmed skulls
and the footprints of foxes,
left unscarred by the plagues, the famine or the flu,
this is the stop

that signals my return home
this loop of water, a handgrip that my fingers have
sleeping out the cold
reached for, but never touched.

 

Case of Water

Memory skates below the surface
transport here, there, beyond & back. Aquifer.
Years forward. Years spilled. States of matter.

Hint of remembered. Far beyond the Ramblas in Barcelona,
she laughs the frontier and I step to
the round smooth pond of her face

her eyes, fish jumping, her mouth
the water lily, her nose a minnow
hooking round the bend, to look, to see,

where she smiles, I swim. Adherence. From the bottom
of the pond I looked up and saw an upside down
cathedral in Madrid. I saw the Alhambra

inside out. This fountain was fourteen paintings
from the Prado, a light bulb waiting to be screwed
in at the 14th step of a stone staircase on 21st calle,

this pond a faucet in the Call; periphery drawn by
others and ice. The boundary visible only to despair. This pond
glides underneath me everywhere. Meniscus. This pond calls me home

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Awarded a waiter scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Mary Merritt Henry Prize in Poetry from Mills College, J.R. Toriseva has taught for Mills College, California Poets in the Schools, San Francisco WritersCorps, and Literary Arts of Portland, Oregon. 
'Strip Uno' was published in Close Calls: New Lesbian Fiction, Susan Fox Rogers, Editor, St. Martin's Press. 'Encyclopedia of Grass' was selected for Best Canadian Poetry in English. 

All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Kayla Rae Candrilli

Insulated 

// 
my father, in the business / of construction, ripped open / a million walls, 
gutted them, / pulled the pink insulation / in strips, imagine some meaty / 
intestines or baby back ribs, / something that eats / or can be eaten. 
//
fiber glass, rock / wool, cellulose cancers / of lung meat blackening. / 
this family has a deep / history of emphysema / &  I’ve wrapped my lips / 
around so many cigarettes / my lungs are barrels of pressure / treated 
sawdust, about to burst / red blackened blood all over / the new tongue 
& groove / walls daddy built. 
//
& how my lover will squirm / when I cry out between the strikes / falling 
like a house condemned might / bend me over / a sawhorse, daddy
//
These stories are unrelated / & people keep confusing them. 

 

Safeword

Learning to have sex again is vocabulary 
lists and instructional books ordered off
Amazon. Learning the ropes is reading

the way ropes feel when they braid
into skin—burning braille. Vocabulary is mix
and match. Sub-drop. Fire play. Soft limit. 

At seven years old I would stare into mirrors, 
smack myself in the face to decipher 
how hard I hit and how hard I could be hit. 

Collared. Slave. Switch. Safe-word. 
When your safe-word is basic you call 
it what it is. Not fuchsia, not crimson. Red. 

Red swims upstream when I am beaten.
It paints me in lashes—lightning on a horizon
splitting the roll of mountains, of shoulders. 

I never do what I am told unless I am told
what to do. Malleability, I think, is flexibility. 
Open your legs, she says. Turn around, she says.

Learning to have sex again is translation,
tracking the way one thing becomes another.
My skin becomes her skin, torture becomes 

love, her palms become oceans—Pacific, Atlantic. 
I split open and sail on them. Red becomes us. 
We becomes the word spoken before sleep. 

 

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Kayla Rae Candrilli received a Bachelors and Masters in Creative Writing from Penn State University and is a current MFA candidate at the University of Alabama.  Candrilli was awarded first place in Vela Magazine's non-fiction contest, and is published or forthcoming in The Chattahoochee Review, Puerto del Sol, The Boiler, Dogwood, Pacifica Literary, and others. 

All Accounts and Mixture: "Small Spaces" by Will Slattery

We are very excited to bring you our second annual All Accounts and Mixture Web Feature! Taken from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, and the poem “Rooms,” our series title appears in the line: “Cadences, real cadences, real cadences and a quiet color. Careful and curved, cake and sober, all accounts and mixture, a guess at anything is righteous, should there be a call there would be a voice.

We received many amazing submissions and will be posting new pieces by different writers every day, so be sure to check this page often. Our first feature is "Small Spaces" by Will Slattery. Enjoy!

 

Small Spaces

Fred, my landlord, needs my help installing a new alarm system.  I got robbed the week before and he feels just awful about it.  Just awful.  He’s wearing black cargo shorts.  He always does.  That’s what he likes about Tucson.  Always good for shorts.  He owns the house next door too.  His family owns half the block I live on.  Been there for ages.  His granddad founded the first bus line that would go south of the tracks.  So there’s a few bus stations named after him.

I nod, not really listening, even though I like him.  It’s a copper-bright morning, and I’m staring through the open window at a pomegranate that died last fall.  I only get a few each year, and the birds knock most of them down, or they fall and get crushed into the dry sand.  This one’s lingered on the tree since October. The birds split it open, but it never fell.  They plucked and pierced the seeds, beaks stained ruby, and left the exterior to harden itself, to make itself firm, a little jagged near the edge.

I hold the alarm sensors in place and Fred marks where he needs to cut through the dull metal frame to make room.  The sensors are plastic, cheap.  One goes off.  The tinny arrhythmic chirping is less vigorous crime deterrent and more a small-town doctor from ’97 just got a page that he will ignore until he finishes his lunch.

Are you still single?  Yeah, I say.  Guess I just haven’t met the right woman yet.

I don’t tell him about all the guys.  There was Jesus, 40 pounds lighter than me, who asked, half-tears and half-rage, flat on his back, when I was mid-thrust if he was too fat for me.  I shook my head. 

Or Alex, who left his black mid-calf socks and his scapular on.  Our Miniature Lady of Guadalupe decked out in sage green, staring dolefully down, away from me of course, eyes politely averted with her hands pressed together at her chest.  She stuck to his sweaty back as he bucked and buckled in turn.  She had darkened to jade by the time we were done. 

Or Mark, from San Francisco.  He took his socks off.

Or the one who asked if I had any food when we were done and so I warmed a slice of extra cheese extra sauce pepperoni.  He soaked up the orange oil from the blue plate with his chewy crust and ate it all but he still wouldn’t tell me his name.

Fred marks the frame, takes it down, and sets in with his hacksaw.  He cuts a two-inch flap into the frame and bends it back, scattering a thimbleful of cobalt dust on the sill.  It’s a neat, tight hole that the alarm will occupy, barely noticeable from the outside.

I’m out to most people but I still get the occasion to lie about it once every 4 days or so.  A friend from high school wants me to go on a “beer-and-senoritas” trip to Panama.  A coworker asks which customers I think are hot.  A stray cousin wants to know how my dating life is.  My grandmother pulls me aside and wants to know, and she’s not upset, she would never be upset, but she wants to know if she has a chance of great-grandchildren before she dies.  Closets on closets on closets.  That’s what nobody tells you.  It’s closets all the way down.

Around guy number 11 a friend starts to call me the King of Non-monogamy, but that’s a bit off.  A-monogamy is more like it.  Non- means refusal, a choice.  A- means an absence, an inability, an impossibility.  We knew that these were only ever intimacies abridged; 1-3 hours max, please, after supper, but early enough to still leave time for Netflixing alone before bed.  Clean up after yourself and make sure to say thank you when you’re done.

We rounded off our own corners.  We bent ourselves back and made sure our spaces were easy to fit into.

Fred slides the screen frame back into place.  Well, you know, some cute girls are moving into the place next door.  He smiles—impish, well-meaning, and vicarious.  Oh yeah, I say, how old are they?

I’ll make it more than a week someday, maybe.

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Will Slattery is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Arizona, an Editor-in-Chief for Sonora Review, a native Texan, and a reformed cheseemonger. He tweets on rare occasion: @wjaslattery.

All Accounts and Mixture 2015

AA&M Cut Bank Banner  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUBMIT HERE!

 

 

CutBank is excited to announce that All Accounts and Mixture: A Celebration of LGBTQ Writers and Artists will be back again for the second summer.

Taken from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, and the poem “Rooms,” our series title appears in the line: “Cadences, real cadences, real cadences and a quiet color. Careful and curved, cake and sober, all accounts and mixture, a guess at anything is righteous, should there be a call there would be a voice.”

We're planning on making this an annual web feature. Submissions open May 18th and run through June 19th. Poetry, prose, visual art, reviews and interviews will all be considered, so get your work ready. You can find some of last year's outstanding contributions here. We can't wait to see what you have for us.

 

Submission Guidelines:

We welcome all breeds of creative hybrid and collaboration. For this series, we seek work from writers who self-identify as “queer,” while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. We believe the term “queer” connotes flexibility--we will not police your identity.

That said, our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream, and we ask that contributors respectfully acknowledge this objective. Submitted content need not be LGBTQ-specific. Work must be previously unpublished. We will accept simultaneous submissions with timely notification. Allies are encouraged to contribute reviews of poetry and prose by queer authors from books contemporary to historic. We are also seeking provocative interviews with queer writers and artists.

Poetry:

Please submit up to 7 poems.

Prose:

Please submit up to 5,000 words of prose, fiction or creative nonfiction.

Visual Art:

Please submit up to 10 pieces of visual art. Please submit your work in JPEG format with at least a 300 dpi. Feel free to also link to your portfolio online if there are multiple pieces for consideration.

 

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry and Photographs by Samuel Ace

Click here for poems by Samuel Ace. Scroll below for author photographs.

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Cross Country April 2014

 

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Samuel Ace is the author of Normal SexHome in three days. Don’t wash., and Stealth, with Maureen Seaton. He is a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, two-time finalist for a Lambda Award in Poetry, winner of the Astraea Lesbian Writer’s Prize in poetry, the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, the Firecracker Alternative Book Award. Most recently his work can be found in Aufgabe, The Atlas Review, Versal, Rhino, Volt, Mandorla, Black Clock, The Volta, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. He has been traveling across the U.S. and Canada for the last several months.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Interview with Eileen Myles

RM: Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. We’re so excited and humbled to be including you in this series. As a Montana magazine, and in light of your time working with the UM MFA program in Missoula, we’d love your thoughts on this community as a place for writers, nascent to established, queer and otherwise. Also, many of us adore your “toilet” picture on the wall of visiting writers - could you share the backstory?

EM: I loved Missoula. I found it had a unique quality as a writing program in that people wanted to be THERE. I mean people clearly were interested in studying with this person or that person but there was also a really unique way in which a desire to be in Missoula or Montana unified the writers in the program which yielded a vivid kind of thereness and a real community that was quite intentional in its state of being. People who study in New York are often so oppressed or stimulated by the city that that’s what they are. In Missoula I really liked how everyone had formed a temporary home with the place and each other. I felt that way too. Queerness flourished too in the program cause people had a western privacy and sense of freedom and I think lgbt rights had just passed in Missoula when I was there. Also some old fashioned bigotry too flourished in the city at large and though not ever a great thing did make your/my bonds with other queers in town be necessary and real.

The toilet photo has to do with the drive to Missoula which was hellish since my partner & I came in the winter, had an accident in Indiana and were ecstatic to be almost there. I think the photo was taken in a motel in Billings where the bathroom had fantastic light like bathrooms often do. When I taught in the room with the photos I noticed the men smoking and drinking and people in funny hats in writer pose at their typewriters. To sit on a closed toilet in very good light having your picture taken by your girlfriend seemed to exemplify the writer I was at that time. Glad. Almost there and also I don’t drink at all. That seemed important. The bathroom is the site of water.

RM: In your lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival, you begin by mentioning an obsession with wolves, and the tragedy of their spoilage and ruination. Were you privy to any of this destruction during your time in Montana? Clearly, animals play an important role in your life and writing, as they do for many of us. What do animals, and dogs especially, contribute to your creative soul?

EM: We’re each other. Dogs mirror an inner life that humans are always struggling to suppress or struggling under others’ attempt to suppress it in them. I love the idea that wolves are the undomesticated dogs the ones that didn’t come in. Who maybe cruise our trash but aren’t lured into a domesticated lifestyle by it. I think the beauty of Montana and what it held made me feel a lot more for wolves than I did but their pure wildness has moved me all my life and in my writing it’s something I’m trying to let out again always and find new forms and ways to do. Our wildness is our energy and our art.

RM: CutBank applauds you for bringing poetry to OWS and your courage to a “Retreat” where you lived on the streets of New York. Are the writing and the activist life necessarily linked?

EM: A poet who meant a lot to me when I was young and is always becoming richer and more complex (like for instance read Savage Coast her novel she wrote in her 20s) is Muriel Ruykeyser and she always had time for activism and the issues of the world. She and Allen Ginsberg too were always models for me. I mean writers are just people and some care and some don’t. Right now I’m most troubled and moved by Gaza and wolves. That’s what I’m capable of seeing and commenting on when I can.

RM: In “My Gay Marriage,” a wonderful essay that appears in The Air We Breathe: Artists and Poets Reflect on Marriage Equality, you write that “When you are queer, gay, transgender, lesbian, fag, butch, you are routinely invited “in” to perform your queerness. To be it. Being gay is like joining the rodeo.” In the piece you go on to describe visual artist’s reflections on queer marriage. I’m curious how you see expectations around this “performance” differing between writing and visual arts. Also, whether series like “All Accounts and Mixture” can, or should, negotiate the danger of seeming to solicit spectacle.

EM: I think it’s a little trickier to be a writer invited to contribute to a queer or lgbt platform because you feel invited to say “it”. Yet I think we can make our offerings be as compressed or outlandish or symbolic as anyone operating in the visual field can do. It’s more conceptual work than we’re used to doing and that’s good. I think such requests always stretch us aesthetically because we have to reframe something personal each time which is our sex as it interfaces with the world.

RM: Visual and performing arts have played a major role in your work, from essay collections and reviews, to the print collaborations Tow with artist Larry R. Collins and street ensembles such as “The Collection of Silence.” Can you discuss the significance for you of fostering dialogue between artistic mediums? What might writing ideally gain from other arts and what should it contribute?

EM: Mostly it’s friendship I mean collaboration. Being in the room w someone else doing something different.

Plus I always need to point out that a poet needs to survive and invites do come from all quarters if you’re lucky and probably you’ve put yourself there already somehow out of desire or restlessness and invites often come with an honorarium. It’s funny there was a queer show at ICA Philly a few years ago and I was just talking about it w CA Conrad and he pointed out that in this show I think called Queer Voices that Conrad and I were the only lgbt poets and writers in it. And that some of the other contributions were actually homophobic or at least really uncomfortable or giddy in that context. I guess the curators thought it was interesting to ask a lot of people to contribute who weren’t queer. I kept wondering after the conversation w CA what I had contributed and I couldn’t remember it. Then I recalled that when I got solicited to give 250 words to ICA Philly on my queer voice or something I said “for free?” Since I do write in the art world a bunch I really couldn’t believe they weren’t paying writers. And most of the poets in the book were happy to be in this art museum’s catalogue so they gaily contributed. What I like about being a poet in a lot of worlds is that I become worldly. I don’t work for free unless it’s a benefit or something that really needs to exist and doesn’t have support. That merits mine. Poets in the poetry world especially if they spend their lives in the academy don’t value their own labor in this kind of quid pro quo way and I do. I think that’s a benefit to stepping outside and feeling the air.

Also a queer writer is always asked to do things for free. So a queer poet in a museum invite was doubly specious. Being mobile gives you greater capacity to critique the institutions who want your work for nothing.

RM: In writing “Welcome Aboard,” a piece for Harriet about the above-mentioned public project on silence, you express the following, a notion I love: “The idea of directorhood, or conceptual artisthood I think is to be some kind of ghost. If the machine is working you simply float.” Can you say a little more about this as it relates to public and private artistic projects? How about teaching?

EM: I think teaching can be different every day. If it can’t you should stop. I think you can bring your whole relationship to the world into the classroom. I mean one makes choices about what you reveal but I think in that reference I was advocating for a kind of lightness of exchange where passing through you learn as much as you leave.

RM: Returning to the idea of silence, I can’t help but think of the Silence = Death campaign. And yet, Buddhist meditation practices like your own and public projects like “The Collection of Silence,” suggest that silence need not always be equated with compliance or fear, especially for queer artists – in fact, silence can be empowering, positive, revolutionary. Would you speak to this?

EM: We live so much of our lives in silence. Public silence fascinates me. Standing on the train. The collection piece was amazing because we just got to look at each other in all these various activities including spectatorship for a solid hour. It felt communal and aesthetic and incandescent. In a way you’re just feeling your aliveness together. At that moment too in New York we weren’t in danger. We weren’t in church. We weren’t being conveyed. It was really unusual. I would love to see in happen again, elsewhere, lead by other people. In Occupy one day a bunch of Buddhists gathered and sat and I at with them and it was transparent in the best way. It was like sharing the practice. People really watched. It was cool.

RM: Your creative output is prolific and your writing defies genre. In a response to The New Inquiry’s “Five Questions,” I’m thrilled by your assertion that genres don’t exist and further, are, as you say, “just a way in which we are controlled, protected I suppose but I’m not a writer to be protected at all.” It would be lovely to hear more about how you arrived at this conclusion and how it continues to influence your work.

EM: I’m at MacDowell right now and I’m working on a dog memoir and I stop to write this and it feels kind of exhilarating to look out at the woods and the road and even think about a life in Montana I had that’s now so long gone. My god. I feel powerful in my vulnerability. Yesterday I was a mess. I talked too much and when I got to work the writing seemed dense and I ate too much sugar and talked too much at night and couldn’t sleep. Today is so different. Each piece of writing offers you an opportunity to funnel that difference into something articulate. But even if I just sat here writing poems they wouldn’t be still. But I think different forms (for me, at least) facilitate the now more than working on the same form. To stick to the same form you have to wait to say “this.” I think. Whereas the opportunity to answer these questions gives “the now” direct access which my memoir kind of does but truly I just have to stay in it. Let’s face it. It’s heavy to work. So I’m saying different forms offer a steadier kind of release which I want.

RM: Speaking of borders and boundaries, I greatly admire how the “I,” the “you,” and the character “Eileen” shift and sway in your work, resisting concrete association with one author, one poetic voice, one audience, or even the “you” that is the public figure, Eileen Myles, writer. At the end of Not Me, you clarify the “welter” of “you’s” that appear in the collection. Could you tell us a bit more about multiplicity and syncronicity in the voices that appear in your writing? I wonder also about the tie between this array and the “ghostwriter” you refer to in the conversation with C.A. Conrad that appeared in Bomb, where you discuss writing about the “you” that struggled with addiction: “That sense of pastness always gave me a feeling of being able to write with the self as if she were an other.”

EM: The book I’m working on now has a lot of selves who speak their “I”s differently. I think fiction kind of invents pastness so you can get to it sooner. I think there’s real surfaces of information, landscape, intimacy that surround us and one “I” couldn’t bear all that. I think pronouns are part of how we navigate time. Did you ever notice when a person starts speaking as an other – the white person is suddenly speaking in the black voice, the man is female, the woman is man, the straight guy feigns gay. I’m like what happened in that moment that they had to become another them. I think that’s really a turn of mind that as a writer and a person I try to be conscious of at many points as possible both to not trample someone else’s terrain and to be as dimensional as I can in my description of the world inside and out. Time is media.

RM: Silly questions by way of rapid tonal shift: Where do you write most often and what do you eat for breakfast?

EM: I love eggs and often have two. I got a trainer for the first time this year and she says I need more protein. I also like granola and milk a lot and had that today in my studio. Eggs though manage to leave you feeling satisfied which is incredible. It’s good to be done. I always write on planes and trains. Boats are the best. But those are my favorites, not my most often. But mostly I write at home. I consider this studio I’m sitting in to be home though. I’m addicted to home though I travel a lot so I think a certain constellation of habits is where I write most. Getting them in place and going ahead. .

RM: Any advice for queer writers just starting out? Those mid-career and/or post-MFA?

EM: To queer writers starting out I’d just say read a lot. Reading is so important. More important than writing. Mid career I’d say write something new, step outside your “genre.” Post MFA…I wonder if these were all one question. Post MFA you should go someplace. But that also could mean stay home. Live there without school, work as little as possible to make money and write your ass off and show no one for a while. It has to be kind of a thrill. To be the frothy machine bearing down with no one checking in.

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Eileen Myles was born in Boston (1949) and moved to New York in 1974 to be a poet. Snowflake/different streets (poems, 2012) is the latest of her 18 books. Inferno (a poet’s novel) came out in 2010. For The Importance of Being Iceland/travel essays in art she received a Warhol/Creative Capital grant. In 2010 the Poetry Society of America awarded Eileen the Shelley Prize. She is a Prof. Emeritus of Writing at UC San Diego. She’s a 2012 Guggenheim fellow. She lives in New York.

Rachel Mindell is an MFA candidate in poetry and MA candidate in English Literature at the University of Montana. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Horse Less Review, DESTROYER, Anti-, Cream City Review, Delirious Hem, interrupture, Pity Milk and elsewhere.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Kristen Nelson

Click here for Excerpts from In the Away Time By Kristen E. Nelson, portions of which appeared in the Feminist Wire and just received an honorable mention in the Coconut first book contest. -----------------------

Kristen Elissa Nelson is the author of Write, Dad (Unthinkable Creatures Chapbook Press, 2012). She has published creative work in The Feminist WireThe Volta, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Tarpaulin Sky Journal, Dinosaur Bees, Quarter After Eight, Spiral Orb, Glitter Tongue, The Dictionary Project, Trickhouse, In Posse Review, Cranky, and Everyday Genius, among others. She is a founder and the Executive Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, a non-profit writing center in Tucson, Arizona; a production editor for Tarpaulin Sky Press; and an editor forTrickhouse. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. She has taught writing at Pima Community College, Naropa University Summer Writing Program, University of Arizona Poetry Center, Central Schools Project, and STEP Expedition Program.

 

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Nicole Oquendo

self is not a pack of she  

self is not a pack of she

 

or he-wolf

self is fear of living not as she-wolf

or any pronoun

self is vibration

 

self is the choice to pinch self’s cheek

self is the space between body

self is the body of wolf

self is red

 

root of red and white bryony

and rose water for she who lacks redness

a red color will appear as if natural

self is space

between woman

 

gendersex wulf

 

to choose gender wolf

and sex wolf both

lightly burnt and live electric

fur is upright flexing grass

 

to identify as packless wolf—

wulf a pronoun and a name—

 

wolf tooth wolf paw

both waiting wulf baying

at miles of distance a claw pressing

deeper into mud a message when

the curse is broken the word is read

skinning imminent still wulf waits

 

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Nicole Oquendo is a writer, artist, and teacher in Central Florida. Her essays and poetry have appeared in DIAGRAM, fillingStationGulf Stream, Sundog Lit, and Menacing Hedge, among others. She is currently serving as an Assistant Editor for Sundress Publications, and the Nonfiction Editor for Best of the Net.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Essay on Cinema by Will Cordeiro

THE RICHNESS OF EMBARRASSMENT

I.

Film often seems sterile compared to theatre—everything is frozen, edited, already embalmed into celluloid. It is the past, the dead past, brought back to life by a projection: in the cinema, we literally see specters. Every time the light beams through the reel, the image fades a little. The theatre, by contrast, is sloppy, immediate, alive. The rougher its edges, the more its edges shine.

I’ve long found a perverse pleasure in going to low-budget, under-rehearsed black box plays where the actors generally exhibit more dedication than talent. I like to see the whole cast muddle through the course of hazards that is live theatre. Set malfunctions, misplaced props, light or sound flubs, and the inevitable dropped lines of dialogue often give me a more exquisite, a more visceral delight than any film—or, for that matter, any glamorous, smooth-running high budget Broadway production—ever could. I wonder whether many of us secretly go to the theatre hoping that something screws up. It’s the threat (the thrill) of failure that makes live theatre a tantalizing high-wire act no matter how flatfooted the production values may be.

I remember, for example, the first time I saw a production of Lady Windemere’s Fan as a teenager in London. The actress playing Lady Windemere fumbled with her fan, and Lord Darlington deadpanned, “You have dropped your fan, Lady Windemere,” handing it back to her. I exulted, mistakenly supposing that I had witnessed a bit of ad libbing designed to cover up a slight miscue. Of course, Wilde, our great grand daddy of queerdom, had written this little tête-a-tête into his script. My savvier companion that evening quickly dispelled my giddiness by letting me know that the whole routine of the fan had been quite deliberate: to my chagrin, the actress’s “mistake” turned out to be only an indication of my own naiveté.

As I later learned, Victorian courtship often proceeded according to a “language of the fan,” a system of symbolic gestures that allowed heterosexual paramours to communicate at a time when women’s expression of desire was greatly curtailed. Wilde, though, most likely used the language of the fan as a metaphor for the coded language of gay subculture, such as polari (gay slang) and the fin de siècle’s use of colored scarves, a predecessor of contemporary hanky code (or flagging), whereby one signaled by a fabric’s colors, patterns, and sartorial position one’s sexual preferences and fetishes.

But just as in any language, nuance can be lost in the noise. The language of the fan may be subject to miscues—was the fan dropped on purpose or by accident? Similarly, there is no definitive consensus about the hanky code today, though it continues to add new shades of meaning. Subtleties and subtexts, even to the initiated, are fertile ground for misunderstandings; the more elaborate the system, the more likely one reads too much into happenstance. But without happenstance, the vagaries of desire also fail to develop along their unpredictable lines. Poetry itself is often an implicit confession of this linguistic embarrassment of riches.

Which is to say, shit happens. Contingencies always outstrip our ability to entirely control meaning. Language is brimming with accidents—is made up of nothing but. Sign and signified, intention and embodiment, are forever just a touch askew. It is that disjunction between the ideal and the incarnation, the effort and the affect, which my love for bungled, low-budget theatre helps me register as a condition to be embraced.

However, my abject spectatorial pleasure in shoddy theatre is perhaps still more perverse because I enjoy identifying with the performers, the more inept the better. I once supposed my tendencies to value such theatre resulted from the fact that bad naturalistic actors were simply good Brechtian ones, and that I preferred a dramaturgy of the geste in which one was never jeopardized in believing illusionistic spells; or, that my enjoyment was a form of camp melodrama, in which I appreciated the earnest overacting because it foregrounded that the actors’ portrayal—including their emotions and identities—were simply put-ons. These are both close, but miss some shade of the truth.

In fact, I’m embarrassed for the actors and for myself pretending I’m enjoying their performance (whether ironically or not). I’m embarrassed, that is, by my own bad acting, my feigned response of pleasure so that I don’t embarrass the actors by my lack of enjoyment at their work. Moreover, I crave such an experience of embarrassment, which is compounded in many cases due to the small size of the audience. The actor can look me dead in the eye, front row center, as I stare back both brazen and abashed. We confront each other, one under the harsh glare of gels, the other at the edge of darkness—at the borderland of public and private—we confront each other about the mutual inadequacy of our resources, breathing the dusty air of an unkempt stage. Just as I recognize how the actor fails in a performative attempt to portray a character, the actor helps me recognize how I also fail in my own social performances.

This failure embarrasses me even as it gives me pleasure. Some part of the pleasure, I suspect, results from a sidelong acknowledgment of my own alienation of labor, specifically, the labor of performing a self. In this way, the embarrassment feels similar to the embarrassment that is cultivated by drag queens of a bygone era when they’d pick out—and pick on—the straightest boy in the audience. While the exchange paid homage to the queen’s bitchy wit, it could also produce a masochistic pleasure in its target: one had been deemed worthy of the queen’s attention. The uncertain twinge of doubt and frisson thereby evoked in the target, mixing degradation and attraction, produced the emotional richness of this cruel form of theatre. The poverty, rather than the polish, of any minor art gives that art the freedom to communicate more intimately, even as it helps create the counterpublic which such artworks address. Drag is a mask that lets the truth of the mask show through. Being embarrassed by a queen, then, allows the boy who’s been playfully berated “own” the masquerade of keeping up appearances, regardless of whether he is actually gay, straight, or otherwise. His embarrassment becomes inseparable from the pleasure he feels in his ambivalence about the role and his complicity in the larger spectacle of which he is now thoroughly involved.

II.

Such sweet humiliation, though not uncommon in live theatre where two individuals confront each other across the fourth wall, is relatively rare in the darkened recesses of the movie house, a space which seems designed to allow bodies to come in contact while eyes can sham being fixed on the screen. Rarer still is such embarrassment caused by what’s on the screen. The intimacy of film has its limits, and although we may sometimes melt into the projected image, our tacit understanding of our distance from the flickering screen brings with it a reassurance that the medium cannot puncture our self-regard. Ultimately, the screen cannot look back even when the actor on it faces out to the camera, the darkened movie house invites anonymity, and thus we usually feel safe in the cinema’s amniotic cocoon.

However, if any movie can conjure such feelings of embarrassment, even when viewed alone, it’s Pier Paolo Pasolini’s infamous Saló, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975). The film recounts a group of fascists who systematically ravage and molest a group of teens. It’s all supposedly an allegory for a descent into a Dantean/Sadean hell. Squirming in your seat, you flinch to look away but compulsively rubberneck the scenes of coprophagia and torture. There’s probably no more apt description than to say the film rapes your eyeballs.

As elegantly composed as they are brutal, the endless scenes of sadism and depravity contaminate the viewer; by continuing to watch, the audience becomes trapped by the film much like the bevy of kidnapped adolescents who’ve been sexually enslaved by the fascist court figures. You vicariously experience the torture of these victims—because the images themselves are torture. Confronting us with scatological atrocities, Pasolini declares the grand edifices of civilization have been built upon its sewers. The film forces us to pull a face (of horror and disgust) yet thereby exposes the shit-eating grin of the authorities.

Crucially, however, Pasolini ends his film by turning the tables. The screen image narrows to the viewpoint of the fascist voyeurs who peer through binoculars. We look at the violence through the round scopic hole that is at once eye and camera, consuming mouth and expelling anus. Any audience member who has lasted this long watching the film has been complicit with the fascists orchestrating the spectacle of unrelenting violence. The true horror of the film occurs when the pleasure of the viewer has become synonymous with the pleasure of the voyeurs, indicting the audience for the horrors they behold. The film collapses representation and reality, since to see is equivalent to collaborating with the violence depicted.

When the camera cuts to the voyeur’s room, the mise-en-scène displays walls lined with cubist artworks, further linking the viewers of this art film with the voyeurs of the “artful” torture: like cubist paintings, the film cuts up and rearranges bodies on at least two levels—first, the production of the film requires cutting and suturing and, second, the scenes of torture involve bodies branded, beaten, twisted, and punctured. Yet, the images have ultimately branded us, the audience, through their unforgettable violence.

The analogy between the filmic process and the tormented bodies redounds when the final scene culminates when a tongue is ripped from a boys’ mouth and his eye is scooped out. Like the iconic image of a razor slicing through an eyeball in Un Chien Andalou, this graphic scene in Saló acts to register the painfulness of watching the episode at the same time that it demonstrates the eye’s appetite for such images. The destruction of the eye could be read as an analogy for the destruction of the camera, and hence the film gesturing toward what is unrepresentable on film, the remainder that escapes any cinematic image. The lustful tyrant is discovered to be the eye itself, not only the eyes of the fascists, but also the eyes of the audience looking over their shoulders. Even as it offends us, the film incites our scopophilia; yet, if we think of the eye as a voracious mouth consuming icons, we are left to wonder what would the nauseated eye be able to vomit?

If the eye offends thee, pluck it out. Such a moral apothegm has been ironically inverted in Pasolini’s vision of hell. The camera angle shows a halo surrounding one of the voyeurs who peers through the binoculars, alluding to Genet’s saint-like criminals. In the same moment, we’ve been transformed into the fascists, who earlier in the film have inspected the boys’ assholes, since the hole in which the scene has been framed resembles a sphincter. Yet, by the same logic, the film we have been consuming is excrement, elegant yet noxious waste, and so we are also its victims. The audience, too, is symbolically made to eat the feces (the film) served up on the stainless white saucers of its elegant décor. Both viewpoints are simultaneously present, victim and voyeur; the dialectic of fascism—master and slave—is one that must be waged within the viewer’s own conscience.

Nonetheless, Maurizio Viano writes about the reception of the film among an audience of gay men in a San Francisco movie house:

As they had obviously seen Saló a few times, they were able to see ketchup and chocolate instead of blood and excrement. They knew some of its infamous lines by heart (the Presidente’s jokes) and they laughed. I felt like I was watching another rerun of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Viano confesses his own “inability to derive theoretical insight” from his experiences of the film’s reception. Some might argue that giving Saló the camp treatment means that such viewers see through the film rather than seeing it. The disillusionment of the camp response, however, points to the problematic position in which the film situates its audience. One cannot turn a blind eye to corruption, yet, Saló hints, one also cannot witness corruption without being contaminated by it.

One way out of this dilemma is the response Viano describes. Such a reaction is succinctly captured by a joke Kurt Vonnegut once made, which goes something like this: a boy’s ogling a Playboy and says, “Hehe, mister, get a load of this naked lady.” And Vonnegut says, “Boy, that’s not a naked lady—that’s a picture.” By keeping clear the distinction between reality and representation, in other words, we can resist the tyranny that the image might subject us to, thereby reasserting our own individual power to read and consume images despite the coercion of how images have been framed for us.

Matthew Tinckom writes, in a similar vein about John Water’s trash aesthetic, that:

Cult viewing emerges as a form of labor, or more specifically work-as-play, by spectators both to rethink the history of cinema that gives rise to a moment of cult reception and to reorder the value codings of the industries of cinema.

Such cult spectators use their awareness of history in order to re-invest the film product with values contrary to the ones in which it has been packaged by the agents of production and interpreted by consumerist society, enabling them not only to rewrite the film itself but also the historical narratives of which it forms a part.

Likewise, an analysis of Saló’s reception in the San Francisco movie house might begin with the problem of identification that the film poses. If the heteronormative spectator is ultimately self-condemned by the film’s scopophilic logic, the queer spectator may likewise be frustrated in identifying with the fascists. Fascist are bad, tout court. Yet, the same might have been said about sodomitic practices. By this analogy, the fascists’ outré predilections can be read as a figure for BDSM, scat, and other “unacceptable” or deviant sexual practices. Perhaps, the real tyrant is desire itself. Spectators may gain power over their desires, however, by willfully suspending their belief in the image, which is, after all, not self-evident. It is only an illusion. The film is re-appropriated as a feast for the eyes, as Viano’s description emphasizes in its mention of ketchup and chocolate. One might well imagine a queer reception in which the audience—like one at an unruly midnight showing of Rocky—dances in the aisles along with the triumphant fascists in the movie’s very last moment. If we can bring ourselves to participate in the “bad” pleasure of the fascists on screen, perhaps it’s because we’ve ironically started to free ourselves from the false pieties and iron-clad authority that constitutes our culture’s moral dichotomies.

III.

At almost the same time as Saló was released, Rainer Werner Fassbinder attempted something similar with his absurdist black comedy Satan’s Brew (1976). Fassbinder’s film raises the question of its own reception from the very first image, an epigraph from Artaud which praises heathens for their inhumanity—a quality that Artaud claims links them to the godhead. The heathen who obeys a different moral code activates reserves of energy by opposing social conventions, and that vital energy just is what we mean when we proclaim a divinity.

The film is based in part on the tetralogy of novels by Montherlant, The Girls, which Philip Larkin once called “both maddening and exhilarating, preposterous and acute, a celebration of the egotistical sublime and a mockery of it, a satire on women that is also an exposure of men, with a hero, who, even as we reject him as make-believe, settles ever deeper into our consciousness.” The same may be said for Fassbinder’s film, which a reviewer for the New York Times once deemed a “sicko sitcom.” It exposes the anarchic, choplogic discourse of capitalist so-called “normality” that underlies the familial sitcom narrative, as Satan’s Brew tells the story of a downtrodden poet and patriarch, Walter Kranz, who concocts various schemes to scrounge up a modicum of both money and self-respect, which become conflicting goals.

At first glance, of course, money might seem almost synonymous with self-respect for someone, like Walter, who has a decidedly petite bourgeois mindset. Nonetheless, the film explodes the terms of capital—it acknowledges that money debases one’s self-respect due to its reduction of all humanistic relations to their exchange value. The first extended scene, for example, shows Walter’s humiliation in trying to get an advance from his publisher. After this failure, Walter sexual attacks an older lady. Initially, this bewildering act appears as Walter’s way to lash out against the bureaucratized machine that holds him captive. When looking through the lady’s drawer, a dildo and a gun lie side by side. The equivalence of sex and assault is established: one might even conclude that the culture industry has “prostituted” Walter’s mind much as he assaults this hapless woman’s body.

Walter spits upon her and gags her on the pistol. Bizarrely, she then writhes in ecstasy as she writes him a check. We realize that Walter has committed neither rape nor a revolutionary act. He has been debased into being a gigolo. His sadistic pleasure likely results only from the money he earns, just as the rich matron’s erotic investment comes from the money she gives away. He next uses the gun to shoot her, disturbing our interpretation of the events once again. To “shoot” the gun not only replaces the sexual climax that the dildo may have accomplished, it also implies the camera’s representational violence in shooting the scene. The pinchbeck quality of the film’s set and costumes along with the sweaty glare of the lighting design seem at once theatrical and mundane—they help to foreground the reality of the actors spitting on each other and awkwardly exposing themselves, and hence the shooting of the film—in which we see the deluded woman die—feels uncomfortably like the director shooting at the audience, if only just his wad. There is, to be sure, something grossly masturbatory about the scene; yet, the very tawdriness of the film positions the audience as the matron who financially supported the shoot.

Later in the film, Walter’s profession as a poet leads him down another peculiar mercenary path, as he inculcates a cult of hero-worship by “becoming” the poet Stefan George, complete with a circle of admiring boys. Likewise, everything about Walter’s reenactment of George’s mythology is cheap and chintzy, including Walter’s failed attempt to consummate his affair with a gay stud he encounters in a lavatory. Ironically, Walter also gains an idolizer, Miss Hackenbush, he did not seek, a near-sighted desk jockey who is literally all eyes. Walter allows his mentally disabled brother to spit eggs in her face. Yet Miss Hackenbush appears to enjoy the degradation. Spitting the eggs is metonymically related to spitting up, or vomiting on her, the ne plus ultra of bad taste. At the same time, the fact that the brother ejects eggs (rather than sperm) creates a queer “facial,” as well, given the context of the brother’s desire to sleep with the many whores that Walter welcomes into their house.

Walter’s lone fan plays bootlicker to the poet in the delusion that Walter embodies the Übermensch, exults in any humiliation she receives at his hands as evidence of his inborn superiority. Through this relationship Fassbinder is, in part, poking fun at himself as the pretentiously poetic cult filmmaker, especially seeing how Kurt Raab, the actor playing Walter Kranz, bears an oblique likeness to the somewhat chubby and disheveled director. In the process, Fassbinder is also pointedly lampooning the short-sighted cult audience who’d lick his boots.

Throughout the film, Walter’s brother plays with his collection of dead flies; Walter quips, “He tries to fuck his flies, but without success so far, I think.” The brother attempts to mate the flies (or mate with them, perhaps). However, the brother’s ill-fated social engineering only kills them off, and thus, the brother, too, is a failed fascist, an inchling dictator standing over his barely twitching multitudes—a literal lord of the flies.

Amid such absurd narrative cul-de-sacs, Walter’s beleaguered wife and demented brother repeatedly screech at Walter, a response that, given the impossibility of their situation, somehow seems both affected and affectless, a meaningless cry that signifies that meaning itself verges on cacophony just as Walter’s most poignant poems end up being Dada doggerel.

Overarching all these putdowns and spaz outs, Andrew Grossman observes, the slur of “fascist” becomes a “catch-all epithet.” Throughout the film, the rejection of capitalistic values leads to fascism, on the one hand, or terroristic revolution, on the other—a distinction that quickly collapses. Yet, if everything is fascist, then fascism loses its definition and import. The poet Walter Krantz, despairing over the emptiness of such words, decides to prostitute himself in yet another form by selling out to write sensationalist drivel. His heroism is revealed as imposture, and his timid, somewhat lower-class family appears to mark Walter, too, as sub-average. Miss Hackenbush can no longer view Walter as a transcendental poet—he’s just one more schlub from a dull suburban background. She spits on him when he’s down, and Walter savors the moment. He concludes, with poetic justice, that his humiliation now is greater than hers could have ever been, gaining a perverse superiority over her once again.

The radical alienation of Walter Kranz nevertheless manages to upend its own dead ends. The resolution of the story overturns the on-going, faux-noir motif of Walter’s status as a suspect in the murder of the old rich matron. The rich matron, it turns out, is alive and well after all—the pistol had shot blanks and fake blood. The cinematic ruse is revealed. The gun was a cheap gimmick. Likewise, the film suggests, society is held up by theatrical props: even the dead fail to perform their assigned roles. One is both abuser and abused, and the interchangeability of such roles seems to place society in a holding pattern. In the last scene, everyone gleefully kicks the demented brother, who himself runs away to pluck another dead fly.

The film’s parallel between death as play-acting and death as a field of flies gone belly up seems to undermine any insuperably fixed moral categories. The film mercilessly reduces its characters to the increasingly trivial scripts they repeat: the brother curates his collection of flies in a cup that runneth over, Walter play-acts as Stefan George, Miss Hackenbush dutifully rehearses her role as a footstool, the whores perform on cue, and the various corporate suits deliver their (bottom) lines. Furthermore, in the context of the ubiquitously uttered slur of “fascist,” the brother’s cup of flies seems conspicuously likened to the mass graves created by the Nazis. Fassbinder’s film thereby implies that even the holocaust depends on its continual restaging if it is to have any meaning. The restaging, in fact, is what affords the holocaust meaning as an exceptional event, for otherwise its unprecedented violence would be absorbed into the more numbingly routine violence of daily, historical life.

When re-staged as a kind of script, even the holocaust requires a degree of artifice. The form that artifice takes, in turn, is shaped by the ineluctable forces of capitalism, which the film shows are themselves often a brutal form of objectification. The characters each behave as little animatronic SS officers in an extermination camp museum. In trying to combat dehumanization, they’ve turned themselves into robots. In this way, Fassbinder’s film suggests that the mechanisms by which we remember the holocaust—and maintain it as exceptional—may extend nascent structures of domination and submission. Ultimately, the film asks, how can German culture memorialize the death of millions so that they are not forgotten without also reiterating latent, systemic violence through the traumatic iteration of such memory?

IV.

Fassbinder and Pasolini aren’t denying the holocaust—they are deconstructing it. By doing so, they don’t allow us, the audience, to take any readymade stance. Invoking the holocaust, after all, is often used as a bromide for portraying a situation in stark and decisive moral polarities. These directors do just the opposite. In order to reexamine the underlying dynamics of violence, they force us out of our all-too-easy assumptions. Displacing those assumptions can itself be a violent process, and neither Pasolini nor Fassbinder shy away.

Watching these two films, we are implicated in the violence even if we would identify with the victims since there are no innocents, certainly not ourselves. But we also can’t—at least not without humiliation—identify with the perpetrators. Indeed, the binary between victim and aggressor gets blurred by both movies. There is no stance from which it is comfortable to view these films. That, I take it, is their point.

Our comfort zones act as the covert scaffolding upon which the rest of our judgments and intellectual pronouncements are built. To dislodge our most cherished certainties, whatever they may be, requires that we reconfigure the affects through which we comport ourselves and question our basic visceral reactions. What gives us pleasure? What do we fear? What makes us disgusted? The eyes dilate, the pulse races, or the throat retches before we’ve had time to cognize a situation. And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way: what one person enjoys might cause another to get sick. Corporeal responses do not necessarily carry moral weight.

There is no human condition—only different social conditioning. This is a bullet I bite, instead of my tongue.

There is nothing that can be deemed natural, no part of one that is essential, no indisputable values, no core of ennobling decency. There is only a radical contingency from which we collectively create, not freely but both with and against the available signs and tools.

Queerness, besides being many other things, is the swerve away from accepted meanings and desires, meanings and desires which frequently have been imposed by subtle daily coercion—the myriad and often unnoticed premises that guide both individual and institutional decisions, in which the very corpus of so-called human nature has been twisted to fit on a tortuous wheel like the Vitruvian man, so that a single ideal comes to represent untold diversity. These two films, by contrast, queer us by rending what we might have presumed to be our “natural” understandings and appetites askew.

Frankly, they are embarrassing—they are embarrassing to watch and they are embarrassing to talk about here. I hesitate, however, to claim that the embarrassment I feel watching these films is connected to my negligence toward any social responsibilities, any fateful duty I have to fulfil a worthwhile role in some community. The films are not cathartic—their spectacle does not help me emit my anti-social feelings.

Rather, they induce me to relish my anti-social feelings, to exult in my embarrassments; they stir up disgusting passions while cultivating my palate for further queasiness. The films help me acquire a taste for nausea—the taste of what the body would otherwise reject. The humiliation brought on by these films is neither a purgative to induce me to excrete ugly emotions nor a platform from which I might envision an improved state by recognizing my potential errors and poisons. No. Watching these films, I feel forced to swallow the vile acid of my own words.

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Will Cordeiro received his MFA and Ph.D. from Cornell University. His recent work appears or is forthcoming in A Clean, Well-Lighted Placeburnt districtCortland ReviewDrunken BoatFiction Southeast, PhoebePotomac Reviewand elsewhere. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he teaches in the Honors Program at Northern Arizona University. 

 

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Prose by Mike Zimmerman

 DECEMBER IN THE CAGE He almost didn’t see the car. The headlights glared through the snow on 28th glowing eyes under a cover of white. Mike stopped himself from stepping off the sidewalk just in time as faint smile crossed his lips, an expectant grin; the driver honked.

The snow, dusting New York City’s sidewalks, had begun to fall just as school let out—for a long winter break—and had hastened since he’d left the gym a few minutes ago. On another night, he might have stopped to admire the muffling, chilly blanket, and the way it hushed the city, covering the skyscrapers, the cars, the parks, even the graveyards. But he couldn’t stop tonight.

“Aren’t you cold?” It took him a moment to realize the guy was talking to him, looking him over.

Mike noticed his eyes were the color of dark olives, his skin too tan for the winter. Hair was cropped short on the sides, longer on the top. Broad shouldered, he had a shy, lopsided grin. No, not shy, but coy. And that was the last thing on his mind.

“I’m fine,” Mike said, realizing that the question was in reference to his wearing exercise shorts in the snow. Just shorts and a royal blue peat coat, with bourbon-colored buttons; he felt guilty for owning something so expensive. Jon, his boyfriend, had given it to him for Christmas and insisted that Mike throw away his old button-up. This new coat felt too tight around him.

After working out, Mike had taken his keys and wallet, but left his best suit and dress shoes in an empty locker. Maybe the guy who moped the floor would inherit them.

“Do you always were shorts in the winter? Or just showing off your legs?” Dark eyes persisted, leaning closer. Mike stared at the way the snow had been packed into the ground, tucking his hands into his pockets.

The light turned green, a gentler pastel in the obscuring weather, and Mike began to cross the avenue, trying to fit his shoes into the empty spaces left by people walking ahead. He focused on walking without slipping, his thin sneakers not suited to snow. Dark eyes walked next to him.

“Coming from the gym,” Mike said.

“I know. I mean I saw you there,” dark eyes said, still grinning, making Mike feel even more naked in the cold. “You a teacher?” he asked, seeing the name of a school on his bag.

“Yes.”

At the end of the school day, Mike had watered the bamboo on his desk and stacked essays into neat-enough piles for each period. He had thought about writing a note to his students, but didn’t. Most of them slept through class anyway. A plan for the rest of the school year sat on top of the essays, and he decided to leave the single picture of his family on his desk in its frame.

He smiled, thinking of Emily Dickinson arranging her poetry in delicate stringed fascicles. Then he quickly frowned, worried that dark eyes would get the wrong idea.

“I’m sorry, I have something important tonight.” Mike said, then walked faster despite having little traction.

When he reached the other side of the street, Mike noted how the hair on his legs stood straight up from the cold and then, as Dark eyes disappeared around the corner, he felt the stiffness in his neck release.

Walking past the bakery and barber shop, then to the animal shelter, Mike’s focus was on the trees, not the forest. On the details of things. He would need to check the shelter’s hours.

Shivering, he read the sign on the door; open until eight, which was just enough time to pick up his cat, December, and drop her off here. He’d adopted her a month earlier, after the shelter found her locked in an abandoned cat carrier by 25th and 8th.

Just a half block more to the apartment. Mike was the first one to walk this sidewalk in a few minutes, and he noticed how his thin sneakers left fresh prints, a trail. Stopping at 22, he opened the front door. One flight up. He felt a strange pang of nerves once he reached the apartment, not the relief one would expect to feel at being home. For the first time in the day, he allowed himself to think.

Frozen in the doorway, he stood, brushed back the single hair that had fallen out of place. An anonymous neighbor hustled by and he pictured himself—his shorts on in the snow, his face creased, but carefully shaven.

He walked into the apartment, sat on the floor and unlaced his shoes, prying them off with a wet jerk. Tossing them aside instead of opening the closet and putting them away, he slipped his phone into his shorts, threw the coat on the floor.

December was no where to be found. As he scanned the studio for her, Mike permitted himself to realize how little was there. Thoughts about tonight crept in, like cold through the windows.

A bed, a couch, a desk, a computer. Thick blue curtains, with a slant of light coming in from the street. On the three levels of a bookshelf next to the bed were a few empty picture frames and unsigned yearbooks, some James Baldwin softcovers and moleskins, a stack of short stories, a dime bag of weed, a bottle of Jimmy Beam; on the bottom shelf, blank legal pads and a loaded .38 revolver, which he’d gotten a week ago.

His feet were beginning to feel again. He stood and flickered the light switch on and off. December was deaf. She’d learned to look for the flickering lights and, on cue, she crawled out from under the blue couch, a white puff with green eyes.

She sauntered over to him, brushing her cheeks against his cold legs. Jerky movements scared her, so Mike stood up slowly and cradled her. She purred and looked up, the soft sides of her mouth forming a grin. December brushed her cheek up against his. Like a child, he thought.

“Come on, darling,” he said, setting her down and walking over to her food bowl in the kitchen. Chicken Florentine, the label read. He emptied the can into her bowl.

Damp, he sat down carefully on the bed spread—he hated wet sheets—pulled out his phone and dialed his boyfriend, Jon. He expected to get a voicemail, and heard Jon’s strong voice ask him to leave a message. When he spoke, his own voice sounded disembodied, as though it were drifting in from outside.

“Hey, it’s me. I’m sure you’re still at work, but I hope this week has been going well. Hear it’s cold in Boston, and it’s snowing here. I got your blue dress shirt dry cleaned—it’s in my closet. And you left a manila folder here two weeks ago. It looks like it has a few of your lawyerly documents in it. Alright. But yeah. That stuff is here. Hope they’re not working you too hard, baby. Ok, bye.”

He worried that Jon would forget this stuff—that he might need it. These were a few of the details he hadn’t considered until today. Dropping it off was not an option.

Jon’s apartment was twenty minutes away, in the financial district, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and the seaport. God’s view, Jon called it. At night, looking out the window, New York looked like a tangled ball of Christmas lights.

He’d declined Jon’s offer to move in six months ago. The building had a grocery store and a gym inside of it, as well as a drawing room with a grand piano. But Jon thought the sofa was too expensive for them to have a cat.

“Fuck cats, they’re always up to something,” Jon had said. They’d been huddled close in the corner of a dark French Bistro, the kind with candles and a copper-top bar.

“That’s what makes them great. I haven’t lived without one since I was five,” Mike said. The waiter came and they ordered a bottle of wine.

“I don’t fit in that apartment. It’s too—much.”

“We don’t have to split the rent down the middle.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

The waiter came and poured Jon a sip of wine, to test. Mike always felt a strange pang of embarrassment while Jon swished the drink around like mouthwash. Jon accepted the wine and thanked the waiter.

“Well, what do you mean?” Jon reached across the table to take Mike’s hand off the wine glass and into his. “Listen, keep the cat. It’s just a sofa.”

Mike swallowed and studied the menu. “I’m not sure how to explain it.”

“Explain what? I said you could keep the cat. What is it?” Jon asked.

“I don’t know, but it isn’t just the cat,” Mike said.

Finished with her food, December leapt onto the edge of the bed and sat there, her white fur sticking to the blue blanket as she gently kneaded it with her paws.

Mike dialed his mother.

“Hi mom. It’s me, Mike. Snowing here in the city. Cat and I are good. Just staying warm. Sorry I wasn’t able to make it home for Christmas. Hope things are good. Ok. Bye.”

He hung up the phone and sat. December stared at him.

Stretching out his arm to the bottom shelf, he picked up the revolver. He was shocked by how the gun felt: cold, ice cold, and heavy—though the cylinder rolled out easily enough, and he flicked it around. He brought the barrel to his temple and shut his eyes.

A Google search had revealed the optimal place for shooting oneself, in the temple. A week ago, when he typed in the search terms, he half expected the computer to respond with gentle concern. Maybe you should get help, it would suggest. But it responded with cold, modern facts.

Putting the gun down between his legs, Mike picked up the phone.

“Hi mom. Me again. Calling to let you know, you’re gonna get a package in the mail from me soon,” he, said, thinking of the pictures that had been in the now empty frames. “So—keep an eye out for that package. It’ll come in the regular mail. I sent it two days ago. Just watch for it. And—I love you. Bye.” He hung up.

He became aware of emerging thoughts, the forest brushing against him. After his father died two years ago, his mother and he sat alone in the funeral home, pews empty except for the two of them. She told Mike how sorry she was, how she wished they all had gotten along better, and how he was the only thing she had left. It didn’t make a bit of difference. What he remembered most was that the funeral home was an obscene yellow—the color of a dying sunflower—and as his mother reached out to hug him, all he could do was wonder was why someone would paint a funeral home yellow. He almost laughed.

Sometimes, he dreamed about yellow walls closing in on him.

December walked across the bed, eyeing the revolver. Her tail stuck straight up in the air, a long white exclamation mark. He reached out and scratched her cheek. She purred, the comforting sound of a humming engine.

Mike looked at his phone. It was time to pack December and take her to the shelter.

He got up from the bed, its sudden shuffling startling December, who pinched her shoulders together in something like a wince. He put the revolver back on the bottom shelf and walked, like a child trying not to creek the floorboards, over to the closet by the front door.

Pulling December’s cat carrier from the top shelf, above the coats, he set it down by the front door. She leapt under the bed once she saw it.

It was beige plastic with a metal door that pinched shut. Although it read ‘Cat Home’ across the sides, the swinging metal door clearly made it a cage. It frightened December to see the cage. The shelter said she never meowed on that street corner, not once, as she sat trapped on the side of the road, splashed by cars driving in the street. She sat alone, shivering in silence.

December shuffled but didn’t come out. While she was still hiding, he set a trap—opening the cage door and slipping a can of tuna inside. Guilt knotted his stomach as he flickered the lights on and off, sitting down with the carrier in front of him. Soon December crept toward the carrier, sniffing at the air. She crept forward slowly, each step growing more cautious as she approached the carrier.

Moving slowly, she rubbed her cheeks against it, craning her neck forward to peek at what was inside. She edged her way into the cage.

On his knees, he reached his arm around to close the metal door with December inside. But she managed to slip out, holding the can of tuna by the lid and heading under the bed again, looking triumphant.

“Dammit,” he said. It was impossible not to feel his doubts now, throbbing in the back of his mind. He got up and walked over to the bed, lifting the dark blue bed skirt and straining to see in the light. He caught the gleam of metal and snatched the can away from the cat.

This time, he placed the can deeper inside and left a trail of cat treats, like breadcrumbs, from the bed to the carrier. He flickered the light switch on and off, but December stayed under the bed.

Again, he flickered.

Nothing. No glossy white head, no emerald eyes.

Just a still, bare room.

Mike walked, covering his mouth with his hands, from the light switch by the front door to the bed again. He tossed a few treats under the bed. With an air of suspicion and indigence, December emerged, following the trail to the cage. He moved back to stand near.

As soon as she was inside, he picked up the cat carrier and tilted it upright, so that December would fall forward against the back and he could close the metal door. This was nearly successful until she tried climbing her way out.

Giving the metal door a forceful push and the cat carrier a forceful shake, he managed to close the door and spill tuna everywhere inside. What would the shelter think?

He set the carrier down and looked inside. December gave a betrayed, squeaky little meow—glaring at him. He felt nauseating guilt burning his throat.

December meowed again and he started pacing. For a moment, he considered not bringing her back the shelter. Then, he imagined her white coat sticky with his blood. It was too horrible to think about.

She had to go back, he decided. What time was it? A glimpse of his hair and face in the phone as he checked the time was startling—there was a piece of tuna on his cheek and his hair was a tangled ball of blonde yarn.

Hurrying, he slipped into his shoes, his jacket—no time to change clothes—and picked up the handle of the cat carrier.

December meowed in protest.

Setting the carrier back down, he knelt and put his face up against the metal door. It felt cool, like the gun.

“I’m sorry—“ he whispered to the cat.

This is ridiculous, he thought. December has a brain the size of his fist. This was an animal who purred at him on the toilet and thought a balled up Duane Read receipt tossed around was a fun game. But he didn’t want to let her go.

Still watching the cat, he took a deep breath and understood—maybe this was the forest coming into view.

“Here’s what I’ll do,” he whispered while she stared intensely. “I’ll open the cage, and if you won’t come out, we’ll go to the shelter. But if you do—we’ll stay.” His trembling fingers squeezed the latch to the carrier door between his thumb and pointer finger. In his periphery, Mike saw the gun gleaming on the bed. He opened the cage, waiting.

--------------------------

Mike Zimmerman is a writer of short stories and poetry, as well as an English teacher in the South Bronx. His most recent work, "The Nestling," appeared in Wilde Magazine. When he isn't writing or teaching, Mike is enjoying New York City with his partner and their cat.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Gala Mukomolova

from Centrifuge Eric lives above a small clinic on Ocean Parkway. Eric says meet me by the yellow deli and we walk together. Eric: 5’5, skin the color of milky coffee and green glass eyes. I’m too tall, pale, padded strapless bra, baby pink tank top. I float his room, touch his things (a gun... is that really a gun?) trace them gently like a girl.

Come into the bathroom (it’s dark) sit on my lap, (I sit) tell me what you want. Eric’s friends come over, high school boys, brown and long-limbed. They’re easy, fill the room. One cocks his head: This your girl? Nah, Eric answers, rolling blunts, not looking up.

 

***

 

First week of high school, the Towers fall. We’re in the auditorium waiting. Simon sits in my lap and pricks my finger. He puts the bloody mess in his mouth. I don’t know him. I could sleep for 100 years, I’m faint, that’s how come he’s my boyfriend.

A date we go on: Natural History Museum: he finger fucks me right below the towering elephants. I take myself home, eyes closed against the subway glass.

 

***

 

At lunch, a friend pulls me aside. Simon says you’re dumb as shit but at least you’re pretty.

I pass him a note and tell him it’s over. Simon garbage cans my friend, fractures her arm. Simon dates a girl I know. One night, at a metal show, I run into them.

She minds the heat and I lend her my shirt, a tank top. She never gives it back. She tells me she likes to wear it when he fucks her.

 

-------------------------------

Gala Mukomolova received her MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program.  She is a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in a variety of places including Indiana Review, Drunken Boat, and PANK. She has resided at the Vermont Studio Center, the Pink Door Retreat, and Six Points Fellowship: ASYLUM International Jewish Artist Retreat. Nowadays, she impersonates an astrologer for The Hairpin. She's a lesbian. It's cool.

 

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Eve Kenneally

Return Margaret came back home as Faye with tufts of copper hair and a cherried thrift shop dress.

She gives me back my shirt. While I work, she retraces her DC steps with only Guatemalan change rattling her purse.

I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night or came home without the smell of coffee grounds and bleach twisted into my hair.

I press my thumb into her arm, cream blending newer bronze. Faye tells me it was summer everywhere she went.

 

Tuesday Night

It’s 10 PM when a deaf girl orders a double espresso. We hesitate, our hands waving – hers with motions she knows I can’t understand, mine full of apologies.

I smile, scrambling for paper and a marker to write the price and worrying, What the hell is five dollar card minimum in sign language?  I stupidly call her drink out, words slowing into my palm.

Later, when we’re scrubbing grounds off the espresso machine, Salem asks me, “Do you ever look in the mirror when you’re on the phone and remember you’re a real person?”

I can’t answer; my mind is stuck on two women I just saw kissing on the patio. Tongues rattling with foreign consonants, fingers tracing unfamiliar ink – strangers touching in a way that says I love you, don’t leave me. I can’t

understand your last name.

 

Babel

Tonight Salem blends overripe bananas and vodka

telling me stories about Babel. All I remember from church is banging my nice red shoes against the back of the pew. My sister and I had to sit still

while everyone else received their wafers. Salem thinks we all have multiple soulmates, and when we meet one there’s a sparking connection and you feel like you’ve lived

all your lives together, but Salem speaks Amharic. She travels. Her dad matters in Ethiopia. Her name means peace and slips from Solemn to Salem to Shalom.

-----------------------------------------

Eve Kenneally is a Bostonian (ish) and first-year MFA student excited to be out West. Interests include writing, walking, and whiskey.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by K.T. Billey

The Long-Fingered Draw  

How satisfying, the decisive snip through something thick.

Did you imagine it as construction paper children? Dried reeds by the river?

I want those instruments to be my home.

I want to hear the storm crack and suppose tectonic

swell when the table gives out under me and you

hold eye contact. Take three trains.

Come over and tell me I don’t need brass knuckles to kill this spider.

Tell me again.

 

KITCHEN SCRAP

 

There have been inventions

since last month. Colors,

 

salt craving, meat

wrapped in paper. Pine

 

trees do receive their tenants

and he can’t stop

 

sleeping, in this heat, my syphon

hand. I can’t decide.

 

Do I become small again,

a little boy blue?

 

Gild toy horses

with elephant paint

 

and trespass

again, against him?

 

LIP MONGER

Across the face of my spectator

love is a bleached strand and amateur

cast, a misplaced wrist meant to keep me

still on this dock, fish hook in neck. Sure,

I’ll pat down the accident. But if I can’t

detach, tangle harder. Spray perfume

on the sand, plant new lilies. Burst

open the bulb and render the fat.

 

----------------------------------------

K.T. Billey was born and raised in ruralAlberta, Canada, and moved to New York to study poetry at Columbia University, where she is now a Teaching Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Phantom Limb, The New Orleans Review, Ghost Proposal, Prick of the Spindle, the sensation feelings journal, and H.O.W. Journal. Her translations have appeared in Palabras Errantes and she is proud to be a Girls Write Now mentor.

 

 

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Jon Riccio

Gainful After heroin, my year as a bellhop, arms reliable as hotel chlorine.

It makes me regal, the uniform that smothers my tracks – rivets dotting a wearable Sucret.

Funny how I meander from one strap to another. Puller, porter, the narrower the elevator, the more its buttons consume, Braille’s pyramid built one cable at a time.

I mention this to the night manager, some indentured shuttle dialer surveying our empire of the defused, a magnet for red-eyes and rebounders alike.

The lobby’s humidity, ambrosia with a blown gasket.

A month in I tell my caseworker Pam – always the monosyllables I’m assigned, a heroin omen: this salvage, wasted tarnish – “There are those who tip you with crisp money, money so crisp you hear the Lincoln Memorial crinkling at your jacket’s first frost,

and those who tip you in singles the color of dredged mint, stray dimes swimming the maid’s mop water."

“And withdrawal?” she asks.

I tell her it’s a lunch cancelled by fax, a sprinkler’s typography trickling the water cooler’s drought, stationery handwriting so faint you mistake it for a specter’s scratch.

After heroin: the suitcase of sock holes. Convention-goers and carts. The 4 a.m. checkout king. May his fawning numb you the opposite of corrosion.

 

Dear Identity Thief,

The house is a hemorrhage and three hampers –

dirty, clean, in case

I mistake the cardigan for an EMT.

These walls sound like applause. We were in the same place,

guest towels on the right, the ratio of thumbs to thread count measured in molding. The deliveryman knows my initials at least.

You’ll need a backhoe for the quirks – hindsight the valium of this spoon-burner’s pouch. Euphoria under the hum.

Family might call, may stumble over obligation like a can of quick-drying paint. Keep the estrangement up-to-date.

People will drop the H into our name, the carnival grab of it spackled between the O and the N –

landlords, Tucsonans with better rates.

Crumble till you’re me.

Our backstory effaced,

identity the oleander’s lathe.

 

Logo to Market - Manistee, Michigan

Something about their water tower terrifies you. More than lupus and psychosis combined. The fluorine maraca of it.

The world’s tallest man died here.

Robert Wadlow – highway pinstripes, back brace of munitions, scoliosis in the conning towers of his shoulders.

Behemoth, scrapped in a town of Elks lodges and Poles.

Oleson’s Grocery hoists the argon bull, its horns dowsing thirst,

Main Street foaming just fine.

-----------------------------

Jon Riccio studied viola performance at Oberlin College and the Cleveland Institute of Music. An MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, he is a recipient of the UA Foundation Poetry Award. Current and forthcoming work appears in Bird’s Thumb, Plenitude, Blast Furnace, Your Impossible Voice, Four Chambers, Small Po[r]tions, Paper Nautilus, and Petrichor Review. He is a coordinator of the Tucson-based WIP Reading Series.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Review of "Sight Map" by Brian Teare

sightmap  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sight Map

by Brian Teare

University of California Press

Reviewed by Jeremy Reed

Sometimes, collections of poetry have a central theme, concern, or conceit. Other times, poetry’s speakers don’t employ such a singular perspective but, rather, walk forward into the world exposed, vulnerable, and open to influence, encountering whatever also encounters them. I see Brian Teare’s recent poetry as more present in this second route, intentionally leaving itself and its readers importantly at risk, open to involvement in a larger, multivalent world.

Teare’s poetic voice is what many poets attempt but not all achieve: singular while attentive to its poetic origins, innovative while influenced, experimental while tied to specific traditions. These connections with other poets and thinkers are wide-ranging and evocative, encompassing writers as diverse as Hopkins, Emerson, and the Black Mountain poets (especially Robert Duncan), but it is perhaps in his second book, Sight Map, that the scope of Teare’s poetic vision first gives his readership a glimpse into the power of his poetic abilities and the scope of his reach.

Throughout Sight Map, the tensions between faith or belief, the body, disease, and desire pull with them and are pulled by plant life, animals, and landscape. As Teare writes in the poem “Lent Prayer,” “As prayer is / route to precarious, the river trembles on its treadle.” This precariousness, perhaps reminiscent of Judith Butler’s recent work on ethics, inhabits Teare’s poems, keeping our attention clear and focused, while allowing language the space to reach toward loose resonance and sometimes dissonance with other’s ideas. Teare approaches the concept of embodiment repeatedly, connecting poetry to a language of prayer. For him, that language is constituted of questions left unanswered, leaving his speakers and readers to continue asking “how a birch shirks its skins” when neither the birch nor any of us asked to be embodied to begin with. He returns to such ideas often, never with a totalizing answer and always leaving open a space for response. As he does in the poem “Theory of Trees (White Birch)”, Teare juxtaposes the multiple aspects of each of his themes, describing embodiment as “awful / beautiful : never- / lasting” – all at once.

Central to this concern of embodiment is one of Teare’s many through-lines: a narrative of a partner’s death that leads to a questioning of the body, its beauty and its reliability. This embodied openness to instability and risk exists in his poems as tied to language, specifically language’s quality of being always only a scaffold for the meaning it never quite fully reaches while simultaneously maintaining an “impossibility of emptiness.” Teare writes in one of the prose poems in the “Pilgrim” section of the text, “As being is to begin.” Being and beginning and their overlap are central to the question of language and the body in Sight Map. These poems remind us through their example that while emptiness is impossible in the scaffold of language, we never cease searching for more good questions to ask in continuously different ways. We are always seeking a better language through these questions, an asking central to our being, our beginning to live.

But what makes a good question to ask? Near the end of his book, Teare critiques the difficulty we often have in seeking these open-ended questions that allow vulnerability, but in doing so he turns our attentions toward possibilities of how to live, how to ask in an embodied, precarious world:

 

& it isn’t ever,

 

is it, the how

to live it

so it doesn’t

 

kill you,

the where

to touch it,

 

the when

will genius

sing your name

 

so it sounds

like a place

you can live?

 

You can hear Sight Map’s particular gift here: creating maps built on sight ever-changing, never ceasing to saunter through whatever the landscape may be: grief, beauty, language, poetry, belief. Teare’s speakers are there, always moving, repeating, re-approaching – reminding us we have the language to remain importantly vulnerable to ourselves and each other, too.

 

_____________________________

 

Jeremy Reed lives in Missoula, Montana. He holds an MA in Literature from the University of Montana and has published creative work in The Cresset and Camas: The Nature of the West.

 

A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Brian Teare is the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts and the American Antiquarian Society. He’s the author of four full-length books, The Room Where I Was Born, Sight Map, the Lambda-Award-winning Pleasure, and Companion Grasses, one of Slate’s best poetry books of 2013 and a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He’s also published seven chapbooks: Pilgrim, Transcendental Grammar Crown, ↑, Paradise Was Typeset, Helplessness, [ black sun crown ], and SORE EROS. After over a decade of teaching and writing in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s now an Assistant Professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Bart Rawlinson

CAREGIVER SONNETS -- for Robert Gladstein

 

I

From the bedroom he calls for help, his voice a complex map I try to decipher -- does his tone imply I should move quickly? Is he lonesome for my company? We're both lost in the divided

highways of his body. He growls his teeth at me but I don't take offense. His anger stems from weakness, an embarrassment some men feel when others see their illness. I'm nurse and witness,

needed or dismissed, saddened when I'm called because I know he wants his independence again. I can bring him almost anything but that. Sometimes it seems as if our hearts give out and become

extraneous as the oxygen tanks, these hospice numbers, the multiple bottles of futile pills.

 

II

Your body was ground into shards of bone and powder and now you lie in that redwood grove at Marty’s. I’ve lived in a muted ravine so long I’ve lost sight of the top or the sun. I’m trying to find my way out.

The tulips your sister planted, the red ones, came up last April. In the afternoon breezes they nod their morphined heads. Alongside them are huge blue irises -- the two showy flowers together would’ve

made you shudder. No matter. You felt she didn't understand you; you were probably right. Though I wonder whether any of us are fully understood. It’s nearly November and the onset of the wet season,

your favorite time of year. We used to go outside when the first storm came and watch the heavens veer in rain.

 

----------------------------------------------

Bart Rawlinson received the 2013 William Matthews Poetry Prize. He has also received the Eugene Ruggles Poetry Award, the Joseph Henry Jackson Prize, and the Robert Browning Prize for Dramatic Monologue, among other awards. His work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Asheville Poetry Review, Santa Clara Review, Poetry Flash, New Millenneum Writings, and other journals. He is Associate Professor, English at Mendocino College. He and his partner live in Forestville, California.