All Accounts and Mixture: "A Small Happiness" by Katie McClendon

A Small Happiness

 by Katie McClendon

It happens fast, and over a period of months. When Ratchet and Lana finally break up, Ratchet doesn’t want to be alone so she spends the day in her mother’s garden in Issaquah, wearing sunglasses and sitting on a lounger while her mother gardens and lets her talk or not talk—depending on what she needs. She’s twenty-three and wants to be an adult about it, but it feels good to be cared for by her mother, who makes sweet iced tea and brings her little bowls of strawberries with the stems cleanly sliced and removed. Ratchet curls up on an outdoor lounger and cries. Lana told her their love was epic. It was their first, their hardest love. Ratchet doesn’t understand why Lana wants to date other people—to make some mistakes, to be frivolous, she’d said—because wasn’t the whole point to find the person who wasn’t a mistake? When she is taken over by the thought of Lana with someone else, she leans over and pukes on the stone pathway. Her mother helps her inside and fills a glass with cool water for her to drink. She wets a washcloth and places it on Ratchet’s neck, brushing the short black curls of her hair out of the way. It reminds Ratchet of being sick as a child, and she tells her mother she isn’t sure she’s going to get better. Her mother says, “Rachel, darling, I know it doesn’t feel like this yet, but it will get easier.” The first cut is the deepest, Ratchet thinks. The stupid song plays over in her mind.

That night, her father brings home a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream and steaks to grill in the backyard. They eat together under the shade of Evergreens at the glass patio table. Her parents only ever loved one another, but they tell Ratchet about friends and family members who’d suffered broken hearts. They tell her about the hearts they’d broken before they met, making a night of it, releasing heartbreak into the air. As she cuts into the meat of her steak, slicing to feel the tear then pushing the meat aside, Ratchet thinks, I wish Lana was here. She wants to call her, but her mother suggests she give it time.

 

In Emma’s basement apartment, they listen to old records—Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Blondie—and drink whiskey sitting cross legged on the living room floor. The two of them have been spending a lot of time together since Ratchet and Lana broke up. They both work at a call center, cold calling to ask people about chimney cleanings or vacuums, depending on the shift. Emma helps the shifts pass, speaking in an exaggerated sexy voice about the dangers of a dirty fireplace to the strangers who answer, or drawing pictures on scraps of paper as the automatic dialer works through another set of numbers. Emma is not quite beautiful, with long dark hair and lanky limbs. There’s a strange charm to her face because of her openness. She doesn’t smile easy, but there’s an intensity to her gaze.  

Lana’s friends had been Ratchet’s friends, and since the break up she’s been having a hard time getting them to meet up. She reasons that it could just be the end of fall shift in Seattle, when things get cold and people stay indoors, agreeing to hangouts and then backing out last minute. Her mother has been leaving messages for Ratchet, but she approaches everything as if it is a bird with a broken wing, and Ratchet is tired of feeling broken in that way. With Emma, she is able to pretend for small moments that she is not shattered by Lana, that she is normal and whole and doing just fine. There is something about the way Emma allows her to try on different feelings—rage, detachment, grief, hope—that eases things. Lately, every feeling and thought is about a girl. Ratchet tries to remember caring about anything else. Tonight, Emma has been thoughtful about the lighting; the room is dim lit and soft, and she has unwrapped a tarot deck from a silk scarf and placed it in Ratchet’s hands.

Emma has dressed for the occasion, her long, dark hair wrapped in a half-hearted turban that keeps unraveling. She’s placed heavy gold bangles on her wrists, and they jangle whenever she lifts her glass to drink. Around her neck, she wears a giant piece of costume jewelry that seems all pendant, a deep green that Emma says helps her tap into her intuitive side. She’s wearing a cotton dress with thin straps and has wrapped a golden scarf around her shoulders for effect. Her mouth is bright red, and she seems to be leaving a trail through the house, the half-print of her mouth on glass rims and cigarette butts and half-eaten pizza slices. Everywhere Ratchet turns, there is a reminder—like evidence of a murder—of Emma’s mouth. Ratchet has shown up in the same baseball tee she’s been wearing for days, the same dark jeans. It took all she had to leave the house. She’s stopped washing her hair, and it’s sticking out from under her beanie because she’s given up on the idea of brushing it. Her mother calls daily to remind her to do the little things: wash her face, take out the trash, eat something.  It’s a relief to have someone to tell her what to do.

Shuffle, without bending the cards, and ask a question, Emma says. When you feel ready, hand the deck back to me. And then, after a pause, she says, You don’t have to ask the question out loud.

Ratchet tries to shuffle the deck as if they are playing cards, but they’re clumsy in her hands so she sets them down on the carpet and moves them around. They are slick, and she tries to think about love or about Lana, but the texture of the cards, the unmanageability of them under her hands is concerning. She isn’t sure of her question. When she looks up, Emma is sipping from a short glass and bobbing her head to the music with her eyes closed. Ratchet wonders what Lana is doing right now, where she is in the world in relation to them, how far away. She imagines Lana in her apartment curled up in bed, too grief stricken to move. Deep down, she knows that Lana is probably out dancing. Ratchet puts the cards back together, cuts the deck, and hands it back to Emma. She has the feeling that it doesn’t matter what question she asks, that the whole thing is just an excuse to stop being in charge of finding her own answers.

Emma lays out the cards. They have frightening images on them, lightning strikes a withered, solitary tree and three snakes coil around a sharp edged sword. Ratchet is nervous, but Emma says the cards represent change, and it’s no reason to worry. You already know things have changed, she says.

Ratchet wonders about this. At night, right before she falls asleep, she can forget things are different. During the day she has been thinking about other things, forgetting for a moment the absence of Lana. Her mother says this is progress, but it feels like moving backwards, like stepping back in time but only getting to be in the moments between the moments when she was with Lana—the moments when she could take things for granted, and she could do normal things like peel and eat an orange without thinking of Lana in a heavy, missing way.  

When Ratchet talks about missing Lana, Emma listens as if they are simply talking about two girls Ratchet knows, women Emma has never met. Ratchet is grateful for this, but she feels Emma’s desire to unclench her fists from the idea of Lana and shift the tight hold to her own heart every time Emma attempts to cheer her up, or steer her in the direction of moving on.

Ratchet leans back and closes her eyes. She feels the dizzy spin of too much whiskey, and when she opens her eyes Emma says, Change is scary, but we need the heartbreak to know the good.

Ratchet isn’t sure if Emma believes this. It’s a stupid thing to say. Before Lana left, Ratchet was deliriously aware of the good. Every cell of her body knew the high of being in love, of being loved. Ratchet is annoyed with the way Emma reduces matters of the heart to a platitude, and speaks as if she knows best when here she is, moving her hair away from her neck. Here she is, letting her hand graze Ratchet’s arm. Here she is, mouth bright and buzzed, and easy enough to kiss.  It reminds Ratchet of the time, a few days before, when the two of them went into a party store because Emma had said, We need to get supplies for your pity party.  Ratchet refused to stop sulking while they drove around looking for found items Emma could use to make sculptures, and Emma said, God damn it, I can’t take this one more minute, and drove with the radio blasting Cat Power to a place off 99. At the store, Emma picked absurd things from the shelves and shoved them at Ratchet: a yellow clapper shaped like hands that snapped like applause. Here, she said. Now, when you need to feel applauded for being the most broken hearted person in the world, you can just use this. Emma stood in the aisle, snapping the clapper slow and mean, her mouth pinched in anger. It was impossible not to think of Lana, and how—when Ratchet was upset—Lana would draw a bath and overfill it with bubbles, put on some moody music and pour them glasses of champagne. Ratchet sat down right there in the aisle, under the bright fluorescent lights, and cried, wanting and not wanting the bath and feeling terrible for wanting anything at all, and for having nothing to give. Emma stopped, and set the clappers on a shelf. She sat down on the floor with Ratchet, putting her arm around Ratchet’s shoulder, and said, That was mean. She leaned her head against Ratchet’s shoulder, and Ratchet had felt so hurt, but also comforted. It was strange to think, but Emma’s anger had sparked a kind of wanting in Ratchet, an ugly and selfish desire.

Some days, it is easy for Ratchet to pretend she is being fair to Emma, and asking only as much as she deserves. Ratchet quiets the part of herself that knows she just needs Emma to prove she’s worth loving—that Lana didn’t leave because Ratchet is wrong somehow. She ignores the part of her that needs to feel it is Lana who is broken, who is wrong about love. But in the basement, she feels the space around her opening up, wide and empty, and she is so alone in it, so she says, Be close to me. Ratchet stretches out her arm and waits.

Emma takes off her bangles and lifts the pendant over her neck. She unties the turban, letting her hair fall down her back, and sets it on the carpet. When Emma lies down next to her, Ratchet can feel her breathing shift. Emma is taller, and when she rests her head against Ratchet’s shoulder, she has to bend her knees. The record ends, replaced by the repetitive thrum and silence of the needle catching. Emma smells like cigarettes and whiskey and lipstick, and Ratchet says, Why do you hang out with such a miserable wreck?

I like a challenge, Emma says, and Ratchet feels there is more to it, but doesn’t know how to ask again.

The room tilts and Ratchet imagines that she is the stone being pushed up the hill in that Greek myth—she can’t remember the name of it—that will keep rolling downhill, only to be pushed up again the next day. Emma is the kind of girl who will keep pushing me uphill, she thinks. Her chest fills with gratitude. She knows it isn’t fair of her, but she needs to keep Emma close. For the first time since her and Lana broke up, she feels a small happiness. She shifts so they can see eye to eye, and realizes for the first time that Emma has one blue and one green eye. Her eyes are like a spell cast, and Ratchet pushes away thoughts of Lana, and of what will happen, and whether or not the feelings are real as she leans forward into a deliberate kiss.

At first, Emma is surprised. She pulls back and looks at Ratchet, her face scrunched as if she’s trying to see the smallest thing but can’t quite. Are you sure? she asks, and Ratchet nods. Emma’s face softens, but she hesitates. She looks pained, and Ratchet takes her hand and kisses the ends of her fingers. Between them, a charge begins, and Ratchet becomes lost in it.

Emma reaches for the hem of Ratchet’s shirt, lifting it slowly. Ratchet shakes her head and pulls the hem down and Emma nods. Ratchet begins to cry at the feel of Emma’s warm palm over her shirt. It sits on her chest, placed firmly over her heart as if holding it beneath the bone, keeping it still. I’m not ready, she whispers and Emma doesn’t speak. Ratchet looks into her face and sees such tenderness, and a little hurt, and can’t help but kiss her again.

To ease her guilt, Ratchet splits herself into two near duplicate copies in her mind—The Ratchet of Lana & Ratchet is separate from the Ratchet of Emma & Ratchet. They decide to keep things quiet. Not a secret, Ratchet says, but let’s just keep this between us.

 

One night, Lana begs her to come over, so Ratchet goes to her apartment. Lana answers the door in her pajamas, and whispers, I miss you. She looks as if she hasn’t gotten out of bed all day. Ratchet cries ugly tears and they have sex in the entry way, on the thin carpet. The intensity of Ratchet’s need is violent. After, they take a bath together and Lana admits that she’s been seeing someone in particular, and a few other people in general. I’m trying to figure out what I want, she says as she dissolves bath bubbles with her finger. Ratchet smacks the water like a child and enjoys the sting of it against her palm, smacking until it becomes ridiculous and her hands sink, aching, below the surface. Lana stretches back against the tub, across from Ratchet, her blonde curls sticking to the sides of her face, her lips red from kissing, her collarbone still a thing that can take Ratchet’s breath away. She watches Ratchet with the calm of a person watching a television show and Ratchet thinks she is going to be sick. Ratchet says, Is any of it serious? Do any of them know about me?

Lana laughs, a force of air from her throat, and says bitterly, They don’t know much about me. I prefer it that way. And then, as she lowers herself into the water, I can’t stand the thought of being in love again.

Ratchet climbs out of the tub and puts her clothes on without drying, leaving Lana scrambling to get dressed, calling out Wait, please, let’s talk.

Ratchet goes straight to Emma’s house. She stands in the living room and cries but they don’t talk about why. Emma helps her undress and climb into bed, kisses her hot forehead and lets her sleep. When Ratchet wakes up, Emma is at the kitchen table, the tarot cards spread before her. She looks over, and says, Do you want some tea?

Ratchet shakes her head. I’m sorry, she says. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

It’s okay, Emma says. She walks over to the bed and stretches out next to Ratchet, moving close to her, but Ratchet feels the tears coming again and says, Please. I can’t.

She gets up and puts on her shoes, and without kissing Emma, says goodbye.  

 

Several days later, Lana shows up at Ratchet’s apartment just before the bars close and asks if she can come in. She is tipsy, and had been out on a date. At the bar, she’d started flirting with other women as a sort of game, to see what would happen, and her date had stormed out, furious. She climbs into Ratchet’s bed without taking off her heels, still fully dressed, and says she’s tired and could she just lay down a while?

Ratchet goes to bed a little while later, after pulling off Lana’s shoes and hanging up her coat. In the early morning, Lana wakes and pulls Ratchet close and it’s so natural—like nothing has changed— it doesn’t even occur to Ratchet, until later, they should not have slept together.

 

Ratchet switches to night shifts to avoid being home if Lana shows up again. Emma leaves messages asking if everything is okay. She works in the afternoon, and when their shifts overlap she looks at Ratchet over the short cubicle wall but keeps to her calls. She’s stopped drawing pictures and passing them to Ratchet, who feels guilty for the way she’s treating Emma. One evening, they find themselves alone in the break room.

Hey, Emma says, without looking up from her copy of The Stranger. The fluorescent lights cast everything in a sickening bright.

Ratchet sits down across from Emma and reaches out a hand. Emma, she says.

Emma looks up, but her face is tense with anger. She looks as though she is trying not to cry.

Emma, Ratchet says again, and this time it sounds more like a demand. She hadn’t meant to make it sound angry, and feels terrible when Emma’s eyes grow wet. Hey, she says, speaking more quietly, Do you want to get a drink later? She isn’t sure if she asked because she misses her friend or out of guilt.

Emma looks down at the paper and doesn’t speak. After a moment, she says, Why have you been avoiding me?

I’ve just been dealing with some things, Ratchet says. I’m sorry.

Emma softens her expression and nods, What time are you off?

 

When they kiss, back in Ratchet’s apartment, Ratchet pours forth all of her desire to be loved and worth loving, as if sex is a bout in the larger battle to be worth it. She empties herself of every loving feeling, pushing out love until she feels cleanly hollow of it. In this way, she can give and also clear herself out of anything to give. Ratchet bites and bruises and suckles and kisses. Emma wrestles and smacks and pulls and chokes, until they pull each other finally into a sweetheart hold, spooning as their breathing slows.

After, as they lay together, Ratchet gives away Lana’s secrets like little treasures. She hated her father for being so detached. She never wants to be like her mother, an accessory for her father. She wanted to be fucked from behind while blindfolded. If she was naked, she cried when I kissed her kneecaps. She told me she loved me right before she came, but only  if we’d been fighting. She’s worried she will die and it won’t matter.

Ratchet talks because she thinks it will help, like lancing a wound and letting it weep. After, she is lighter, like what she knew of Lana is a pile of rocks she placed in another person’s pockets. Emma uncurls herself from Ratchet and moves away, not turning around. I don’t want to know these things, she says.

I’m sorry, Ratchet says but she doesn’t reach to pull Emma closer. Instead, she closes her eyes and focuses on the air between them, allowing the space to remain. It shivers between them, a chasm. It is not so hard, the distance, she thinks.   

In the morning, Ratchet wakes to the sound of a knock at her door. It’s early, but she can’t see the clock. Emma shifts, but doesn’t wake. As soon as Ratchet opens the door, Lana walks in as if she no longer needs to be invited. Lana looks disheveled, and her outfit seems more appropriate for a night out than an early morning walk. Ratchet catches her by the arm as she brushes past. Now isn’t a good time, she says.

I was in the neighborhood, Lana says, looking around the living room. Let’s get brunch. She moves toward Ratchet to pull her into a kiss, but Ratchet steps back.

It’s not a good time, Ratchet says. From the bedroom, she hears Emma stirring.

Lana shifts her head, listening. Ratch, she says, squinting her eyes and smirking, do you have an overnight guest? Her tone is playful, almost sarcastic, but Ratchet hears it waver. Under the smirk, she can see a pained expression forming.

Yes, Ratchet says, I do.

Lana whispers, Does she know about me? poking Ratchet in the chest in a way that feels half joke, half accusation. Is it serious?

The shifting from the room grows quiet, and Lana stands frozen, her finger still touching Ratchet’s chest.

I don’t know, Ratchet says. I’m trying to figure out what I want. From behind them, the bedroom door opens. Emma stands in the doorway, looking as though she isn’t sure if she should move forward or go back inside the room.

Hiiiiii, Lana says, stepping away from Ratchet, I’m Lana.

Oh, Emma says. She blinks fast, and puts a hand to her hair to smooth it. She looks defeated. Should I go? Ratchet hadn’t admitted to sleeping with Lana, couldn’t tell Emma she was working her way free of that old love, struggling to climb out from beneath the weight of it.

Ratchet looks at Lana, then at Emma, and the two distinct Ratchets she’s been holding in her mind dissolve.

I’ll go, Emma says, turning to get her things.

Lana looks so pleased with herself, so confident. Ratchet regrets hesitating for even a second. Emma, Ratchet says, stay.

Lana’s face crumples, the confidence replaced with confusion. But, she says, I need to talk to you.

Lana, Ratchet says, You can’t just come here whenever you feel like it.

But Ratch, she says, I need you.

Emma stands in the bedroom doorway. Ratchet can sense the anxiety in the shift of her movements. She thinks about yellow hand clappers and tarot cards, and herself as a heavy stone at the bottom of a steep hill. She thinks about Lana’s kneecaps and wildness, her ability to show up in any space exactly as herself, and how there is an invisible line of energy, like a thread of light, always connecting the two of them in a room. If she’d had a pair of scissors, she would have sliced cleanly through thread, would have cut out all of Emma’s sweet behavior, would have trimmed around the edges of herself, even, to be disconnected from this moment of having to make a choice.

I need to be alone right now, Ratchet says, keeping her eyes on the floor.

Do you want me to go? she hears Emma ask, in a timid voice, from the doorway of the bedroom.

Yes, Ratchet says. As soon as she says it, she understands that although it is a lie, it is the only thing she can say, and she imagines it leading the three of them back to a small happiness, and it is enough.

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Katie McClendon received her M.F.A in fiction from Purdue University. She is currently working on her first novel, and adjuncting at Indiana University – Kokomo and Loyola University in Chicago. She is a writer, a performative introvert, and a West Coast kid. Although she identifies as a fiction writer, her poems have appeared in Ante Review, Mare Nostrum and Portland Review. Her fiction has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly. One day, she’d like to work on a seven season television show a la Buffy or Six Feet Under. If anyone is looking for someone. To do this. 

 

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.

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

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

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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.

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

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Angel Erro, Translated by Lawrence Schimel

BEAUTY Beauty usually makes me sad (it cruelly imposes on me its victory, which is brief and generous in deceits, and it brings me the memory of other happier times). At the public pools, beauty wets backs and bronzes them with sun, shining with happiness. Beauty cuts the grass, distractedly, with its hands. Unaware and quiet, beauty lies there. It knows nothing of desire, of needing to die. Opportunistic illness, beauty will follow its path through increasingly-younger bodies toward eternity, without me.

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Poet bio: Ángel Erro (Burlada, Navarra, 1978) has published two poetry collections, ETA HARKADIAN NI in 2002 and GORPUTZEKO HUMOREAK in 2005, which won the Basque Language Critic's Prize and was a finalist for the National Poetry Prize. He currently lives in Madrid, Spain.

Translator bio: Lawrence Schimel (New York, 1971) writes in English and Spanish and has published over 100 books as author or anthologist, including poetry collections DESAYUNO EN LA CAMA (Egales) and DELETED NAMES (A Midsummer Night's Press). He has won the Lambda Literary Award twice. He lives in Madrid, Spain where he works as a Spanish->English translator.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Gerard Sarnat

  Foghorn Of Easter (thanks to JH)

Slew of neon pylons sail through sewers in a glass-bottomed dingy -- If I were a houseboat idling my time till drawn shoreward by hijinks on the long cool blue highway...If I were a pilgrim biting my tongue red light district torment...If I were a saint transfixed by chambermaids stalking marks...Since I’m a podiatrist orates at toes to avoid pinochle and hearts (retirement prospects are arrhythmogenic) -- I'll sweep Mary’s boy off his feet at the mall's tulip wallpaper sale.

 

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Gerard Sarnat is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, 2010’s "HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man" and 2012’s "Disputes." His work has appeared or is forthcoming in eighty or so journals and anthologies.  Harvard and Stanford educated, Gerry’s a physician who’s set up and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, a CEO of health care organizations, and Stanford professor. For "The Huffington Post" review and more; visitGerardSarnat.com. “Foghorn Of Easter” may appear in his third collection, “17s,” in which every poem, stanza or line has 17 syllables. 

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Rae Gouirand

Ten Thousand

I am a girl I cannot get to on my own. Inspired by the fact

you look: there is something to read. Life is why we breathe:

what is miraculous about the beloved is she was born and lived to survive,

I believe. I know I worked hard— the size of your hand

wretched and solid my back its need. I have been calling

since I learned to speak: to the space I could

wildflowers exploded on the road. With you this bottomlessness

not for falling. When I say the word I mean even if you don’t.

It is no currency. Let you find what you need

tested in my voice and a chinrest my shoulder

while I tear the salad for dinner I am speaking.

I don’t want the words to do anything but uncover me.

 

Anemone

 

Stichomancy

 

 

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Rae Gouirand’s first collection of poetry, Open Winter, was selected by Elaine Equi for the 2011 Bellday Prize, won a 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award for Poetry and the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, the Audre Lorde Award for Poetry, and the California Book Award for Poetry. Her new work has appeared most recently in American Poetry ReviewVOLTThe BrooklynerThe RumpusThe California Journal of PoeticsNew SouthHobartZYZZYVABarrow Street[PANK] online, and in a Distinguished Poet feature for The Inflectionist Review. Current guest editor for OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, she is currently at work on an opera and a collection of linked essays.