CUTBANK INTERVIEWS: William Finnegan

Craft and Career: a Q&A with William Finnegan

By Jason Bacaj

I talked with William Finnegan during the heart of the Atlantic hurricane season. The surf was pumping around New York City, he told me, and it took a couple tries before we connected over the phone. Finnegan, a staff writer at The New Yorker, was scheduled to appear in Missoula, at the University of Montana, to receive a Distinguished Alumni award and give a craft lecture. The award stems in part from his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.  He earned a creative writing MFA in 1978 at UM. CutBank was founded and is still operated by UM’s Creative Writing Program, so I used the opportunity to talk with Finnegan about his time in the program and his career as an author and magazine writer.


JASON BACAJ: Why did you decide to do your MFA at the University of Montana?

WILLIAM FINNEGAN: I finished undergrad in California and didn’t have any graduate school plans. I’d never taken a creative writing course in college, I don’t think. But my close friend Bryan DiSalvatore lived in panhandle Idaho driving trucks after college, and he’d gotten interested in the MFA program at UM and enrolled. I visited him and his college friends who’d all collected in Missoula; a couple of them went to law school there. I spent time in Missoula and it looked fun, it looked worth doing. It wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise, I must admit. I worked on the railroad at that time in California, as a brakeman.
 

JB: Did you keep working for the railroad during your MFA?

WF: I had a lot of jobs. I worked at the cemetery, Missoula City Cemetery. I worked for the city parks department. I had a job in the winters up at a ski area that’s probably not open anymore called Marshall up in Marshall Canyon. It was a really neat little place, I worked there as a lift operator. I had all kinds of funny jobs, but I had to be on call to the railroad back in California. So, sometimes I could be there for the fall term, sometimes I skipped out on the spring term. I was really patching it together, so it took me three years instead of two.
 

JB: What was your biggest takeaway from grad school?

WF: I was churning out fiction, short stories; churned out three unpublished novels. But I wasn’t sending it out, trying to get published. I was shy, really terrified of rejection. The workshops were just a revelation. I had to deal with readers. People who’d say, ‘I don’t understand this paragraph, this scene.’

It pushed me in the direction of thinking about writing as communication as opposed to pure self-expression.

I had a terrible attitude, I was really arrogant. I’d say, ‘That’s because you’re stupid,’ and that kinda thing. So, I came off like I had a really bad attitude, but the truth was that I heard that all the time. I wrote fairly avant-garde fiction and it was incomprehensible for a lot of people. Workshops made me start worrying about readers for the first time. I had just been showing my writing to just an inner circle of people who were sympathetic to what I was doing, or forced to be interested because they were friends. Then, suddenly, in these workshops I was presenting to classmates who were nice, generally, but who also were critical.

While I seemed never to take any of this criticism constructively, it affected me at least subconsciously and I started thinking more and more about readers in the third of those novels, which was about people working on the railroad. I tried more to write with the thought, ‘What would it be like to read this?’ and tried to make it fun to read. That one I did try to get published. Almost succeeded.

It pushed me in the direction of thinking about writing as communication as opposed to pure self-expression. It was more a fundamental shift in perspective, and was very much due to the MFA program.
 

JB: What led you to switch from fiction to nonfiction?

WF: Actually I think the first substantial piece of nonfiction I reported was in, I want to say in the student paper at the University of Montana or some paper in Missoula.

I started to push in that direction when I was overseas after the MFA. I started doing some travel writing, and other forms of nonfiction. Then I got more interested in politics and started doing political essays. The experience of living in Cape Town and teaching high school in the township there outside Cape Town—during the bad old days of apartheid—turned me toward political journalism. It was such an intense political year. I was finishing up that third novel, that railroad novel, but I was just losing interest in the kind of fiction I was doing.

I just really wanted to write about politics and power. I had all these day jobs, like teaching school for years, while writing on the side. It was after that high school gig I decided that’s it— I’m now going to write for a living. I started freelancing, really trying to sell stuff, from, say, 1980-1981. So, of course I went totally broke.

I’d saved some money teaching, but just was broke. I got back to the U.S. and moved in with my parents in California, slowly making my way. It was that experience of teaching that set me on the track of being a professional writer. I started selling more stuff, started selling to The New Yorker, then finally finished that book in ’86. And by that time I’d moved to New York and was kind of all in.
 

JB: I quit a newspaper job in 2014 to freelance and immediately went broke as well.

WF: It’s a good way to learn humility.
 

JB: Anyway, with your first book, Crossing the Line, how was the initial process of finding an agent and publisher?

WF: I’d actually found an agent for the railroad novel, which I did finish while living in Cape Town. I sent some chapters to New York and some agents were interested. I signed up with one of them. They were trying to sell that railroad novel, and I was freelancing along in the early 80s, and got the idea to write a book. I had written a magazine piece about teaching in South Africa and was dissatisfied with the 6,000 words I had to write the story. I felt like I didn’t do anybody justice at all in that short a space, so I wanted to write a book.

At first there was no interest, and the agent said she couldn’t sell it. She was getting offers from my magazine work about this and that—book ideas that weren’t mine. I didn’t take any of those, and then did a proposal and I sent it to her and she said nobody cares about South Africa.

It went to 20 publishers, I want to say, who turned it down. Number 21 offered me a tiny advance and a kind of begrudged contract. Nobody was very excited about the book except me. During the couple years it took to write it, South Africa kind of blew up and was all over the news. Suddenly the publisher was keen. I was being asked to speak here and there, because I’d written a bit about it and I’d lived there, so there was more interest by the time I finally turned the book in.

It was very standard, just chapters of a book to an agent, get an agent, proposal, circulate the proposal, get a contract, somehow live for several years on $10,000 and then turn it in.
 

JB: Simple as that.

WF: Yeah, pretty straightforward. I was living in San Francisco when I wrote that book and was out of my parents’ house. I managed to freelance enough to get my own place.
 

JB: Think you’ll ever take a stab at fiction again or are you too far gone?

WF: It’s a funny thing, that railroad novel was considered by a publisher, the same publisher who ended up publishing my first book. The editor said, ‘You know, if you could just open this up a little bit, dial back some of the railroad jargon,’—because it was about people working on the railroad and they have their own language, so I was describing the work and that world in that language—he said, ‘You know, it’s just a little impenetrable for your ordinary reader.’ I said I wouldn’t change a word, the arrogance of youth, and the work language was the whole point, the poetry that emerged from work. They didn’t publish it.

But recently I was encouraged to have another look at it, that it was perhaps still publishable with a little tinkering. I dug out that manuscript, been in a drawer for decades, tried to read it and I couldn’t understand it. From page 1, I could not understand anything; which way was the train going? What is this? I had written it but I couldn’t understand it. So, I was a little discouraged.

I did write a sort of novella some years ago. But I thought it was so bad that I decided not to show it to people. That move, from fiction to non—especially once you’ve learned how to write nonfiction and use the power that fact gives to prose—to just relinquish that and attempt this magic trick, to invent a world and characters and cause readers to suspend disbelief and enter into that world, that magic trick seems daunting and I fear I can’t perform it where I once believed I could.
 

JB: On that note, with the jargon, Barbarian Days brought rather detailed surfing terms and knowledge to laypeople. How’d you settle on the ways to define words and phrases unique to surfing?

WF: It was one of the main challenges of writing the book. I had my wife and a couple particular people who didn’t have any interest in surfing, but especially her, read chapters and flag any surfing terms they didn’t understand. Then I’d go back and try and make it transparent, make it understandable. It was quite frustrating. My wife would say, ‘Channel? What’s this here? I don’t understand what you’re talking about.’ I’d say, ‘You know, channel. That’s not even a surfing term, what are you talking about? It’s like deep water where ships go? Where no waves break?’ Then, ‘Nope, I don’t understand it.’ And, ‘Alright, channel, deep water where…’ and I’d stick in these things to explain each term of art whenever it didn’t seem too lame or slow things down too much.

Channel’s a bad example, but there are plenty of words unique to surfing or are used in a particular way in surfing. I noticed that some of the translations, like the French translation includes a glossary because there’s the language difference, but then all getting these English surf terms into French. So they provide a glossary of surfing terminology. That was a threat with this book, but I thought no, I’m not going to do that.

Each time I think a term really needs to be explained I tried to quickly explain it and bury it in the narrative so it’s moving and doesn’t bore surfers, and not insult their intelligence at every turn. Then I would assume that once I had defined a term I didn’t need to do it again. I’d give the readers that benefit of the doubt: you’ve heard it, you’ve got it. By a surfing scene in the middle of the book, there are no explanations and it’s just as I would tell it to somebody who speaks the dialect.

Actually, plenty of people who didn’t know surfing and read the book said that they liked being introduced to this tribal language, being able to understand it and picture things and understand a surfing scene—what’s at stake, where we are at any given moment or what’s going on. It was hard to do. For other surfers, it’s easy. But everybody else you have to keep oriented and up on what’s going on. It’s a challenge.

I had done a piece, a profile of a surfer for The New Yorker back in the ‘90s. I’d been through this process, had editors saying, ‘What does this mean what does this mean,’ and having to explain everything. I adapted that piece into one of the chapters of Barbarian Days. That was a bear of a job. It was the hardest chapter to write, strangely enough, even though it was the one chapter I’d already written. Adapting it from the magazine was really hard.

It was a magazine profile and that was not what I wanted the chapter to be, at all. The profile subject figured large in that chapter, but it shouldn’t have any magazine-profile feeling to it. I still don’t think I got all that material, that feeling, out of it. I worked at it for a couple years but I still look at it sometimes and wince.

But anyway, I’d gone through this with editors saying, ‘Define this, define this,’ and that whole profile seemed really corny as I re-read it. I was happy to do a version of that story and of those scenes that satisfied me more. But the chapter is pretty deep in the book. It’s the San Francisco chapter, and I had the advantage that readers who got this far know a bunch of surf terms by now, so I didn’t have to do any of the really lame explanations.
 

JB: I can see unexpected issues popping up in the process of translating a magazine article into the larger context of a book.

WF: Some of my books have appeared in a different form in The New Yorker. There used to be a sort of cottage publishing industry in magazines and with The New Yorker, when it published very long pieces, multi-part pieces. When I first started working there in the ‘80s they were still doing that, maybe into the ‘90s. Some of the books seemed to come out virtually exactly the same.
 

JB: That’s kind of how the Mozambique book came about, right?

WF: Yeah, more than half of that came out in a different version in the magazine, you’re right. Or maybe half of it, roughly. But there was this sort of cottage industry in publishing running up through about that time in The New Yorker, longer New Yorker pieces that would come out later as books.

I didn’t do that. I had to read those Mozambique pieces and then the book A Complicated War—this is true for a couple of my other books, too—the magazine pieces just didn’t translate. Having a date on the cover, as you do in a magazine, puts it in a certain tense, a sort of continuous present tense. Ok, September 27, that’s where we are as we speak. And then the book you’re writing for the long haul, for posterity one hopes, so a lot of stuff goes into the past tense. And it’s like every sentence has to be re-tuned, I found, to publish it as a book. I found a lot of work where maybe some other writers didn’t think it needed it. But nothing quite as tricky as that damn San Francisco chapter.
 

JB: Was there much of a difference between writing the reporting-based books versus Barbarian Days?

WF: If you’re a journalist it’s nerve-wracking to do a memoir and have to keep reminding yourself the subject is me. Me, me, me, me. Yes, you’re describing friends and friendships and all kinds of relationships with other people. But the main thread is yourself. So, for example, that chapter had to be completely redone. The main subject was not some other guy I knew. I wasn’t a reporter in the situation, I was the protagonist. It’s really a fundamental shift, which as I said, I didn’t feel like I was successfully making even after two years of scratching at it.

The kind of journalism I do is not at all like news. You have to come up with a structure; it’s narrative nonfiction. Even profiles should have a storyline
william-finnegan 2.jpg

JB: That’s one thing I was curious about. How do you go about parsing through all the wealth information of a lived experience, what all to include or cut, before you sit down and start writing?

WF: That’s a problem for longform nonfiction generally, like the kind of writing I typically do, going out reporting for weeks or months. I have many, many notebooks full and a 100,000-word piece is not wanted. So, you gotta pick and choose.

In the case of this memoir, I settled as surfing as the leitmotif, as the sensible subject and through-line, whether people were interested in surfing or not. So, I had to make it interesting and not just tell surf stories the way you would with other surfers. I scrabbled a lot trying to decide how to do it, where to start, what to include, as you say.

I started on the memoir maybe 10 years ago. I’d been working on it for a while, the book took forever to write. I’d been thinking about it and making false starts, when I got in the mail, unexpectedly, a big box full of letters that I’d written as a kid. I grew up in California, but when I was 13 my dad got a job in Hawaii and we moved there. I’d been surfing for a few years by then so it was very exciting, and I’d written a huge number of letters back to my best friend in L.A. And he’d saved them. He’d run across them in his mother’s garage and just thought I might be interested, sent them to me and suddenly there they were.

I didn’t remember writing them, and there were hundreds of pages of handwritten letters. Like every night in 1956-1957—I was 13, 14—I’d sit down and write many pages to my friend. Every wave, every girl, everything in school. And the writing the was absolutely terrible. Every wave was bitchin’, every girl was bitchin’, everything was bitchin’. But it was really evocative for me. The detail was just so dense. Mainly about where I went to school in Honolulu, and I thought, ‘Wow this is where this book starts right here.’ I quote from those letters in the first paragraph and many paragraphs thereafter. I was just really lucky. I mean, he’s not the sort of person who would keep your letters and yet his mother had and he had the good grace to put them into a box and send them to me.

It was just an instinct: the book begins here. I’ve heard plenty of people say, ‘Oh, I know why your book begins there. It’s because you worked all your life as a foreign correspondent and this was like a foreign-correspondent-in-training at age 13.’

I don’t know about that, but it felt like the right place to start. It was a world that the readers wouldn’t know about almost surely. It had a kind of roughness to it and was in strong contrast to the surf, which was my hiding place from all this crap on land. It wasn’t chronologically the beginning. In fact, I had an editor who wanted to switch the first two chapters. Because the second chapter, you know, I was born, I was raised, I started surfing, etc. I said no because I thought Honolulu was the right start.

Then telling your life story through this narrow, strange theme of surfing, was a little perverse in places. There were plenty of people who read it and said, ‘What the hell, you worked at The New Yorker for 30 years and you don’t say a single thing about it?’ The people who just know me through my work expect to read about the story behind the story about Mozambique or whatever. But that’s not what I was doing.

It’s an odd attitude you end up taking, deciding where to brush over—like, ‘Oh, I got married without explaining, but the important thing was I found a new surf spot.’ I know that’s sort of backward and perverse but it’s one way to organize a memoir.
 

JB: Yeah, I feel like a memoir has to be pretty tightly wound around a specific subject or interpretation of a portion of someone’s life.

WF: I think so, otherwise you could just go on forever.
 

JB: Sometimes it seems like there are fits and starts with writing until you can find a beginning or ending to latch onto. How does your writing process go with beginning a magazine piece versus a book?

WF: This book was a special case in that it was memoir. The reporting is just your life. All the rest of my work, virtually, is reported and there comes a point where you know as much as you’re going to know about a subject or as much as you need to write and your deadline’s bearing down on you and it’s time to organize the material into a narrative. The kind of journalism I do is not at all like news. You have to come up with a structure; it’s narrative nonfiction. Even profiles should have a storyline.

It’s not always hard and fast that you stop reporting and start writing, because you have to often keep reporting while you’re writing. For me, more than half of my work for the New Yorker over the years has been either international or far from where I live. So I have to go stay somewhere and live for a while. There’s the reporting in the field and then coming home to write.

If you’re doing it for a living, there’s always a clock ticking. When you’re working at a magazine you don’t really have the leisure to say, ‘Oh, my creative process isn’t quite complete yet.’ I mean, you gotta write it.

And yet, you also have to, as you say, find a beginning. If you’re writing long, you have to write opening scenes that pertain to the whole and suck people into the story, that makes them care about what happens, and that are solid enough as foundations to support the weight of everything that’s going to follow, whether it’s 10,000 words or 20 or 30,000. It’s an intuitive process. If you have a strong hunch go with it, and if the foundation starts to shake go back and look again because you might’ve been wrong.

I’ve had that plenty of times where I made a good run but felt I hadn’t established my authority over this material. I remember once I was trying to get a piece going—it ended up being a two-parter, a very long piece about this family in Connecticut. I made all these runs at it and I’d get thousands of words into it and before deciding it didn’t work.

Finally, a friend whom I’d been confiding in—complaining to, I should say—said, ‘Well, you told me…’ and he recited some of the basics of their neighborhood and their situation. He said that he’d never heard anything like that, so why don’t I just give the basic history to start. I tried writing a boring history lead. By the time I was a couple thousand words into it I felt like I was established as a person who can tell this story. And away I went. So, he was right. Sometimes it opens in an exciting scene, other times it’s a boring piece of potted history.
 

JB: One technique question, going back to memoir. From a journalism background, if it’s in quotes it’s verbatim and pristine but going back and re-creating it, how did you go about reconciling with the fact that a quote probably isn’t precise?

WF: Mostly by having very little dialogue. Because I just wasn’t sure. I had journals with some stuff in it. Then there’s the occasional just unforgettable ineffable ‘this is what she said to me I’ll never forget it’ kind of thing. But usually I didn’t feel confident about what was said, so I just summarized and paraphrased rather than quote.

In my reporting work, I’ve got notebooks and recordings and can prove to my fact checkers this is exactly word-for-word what was said. But with memoir it’s different. Beyond quotes, there’s the fact that nothing was on the record—this was private life. I’m used to going around and giving people my card, we’re talking we’re on the record and everybody understands that, I think, usually. Whereas with this, I’m just arrogating for myself the right to tell this story about things that happened with friends and loved ones where none of it was on the record.

It’s a big thing to do and ethically dubious and you have to check your facts with your old friends and decide what to include and what not to include and a lot more questions than simply did it happen.
 

JB: What was that fact-checking process like?

WF: I got into plenty of crazy negotiations with old friends over stuff where I thought for sure they’d say no you can’t put that in, they’d surprise me and say go ahead. And other times they’d say no absolutely not and I couldn’t understand why.

One example, I’d gone over this one scene with the other person who was there over and over all the details—she’s in California, I’m in New York. She had all these little fixes and changes and different recollections. I just kept accommodating her and put it the way she remembered it, and finally had it done, I thought. Then I get an email from her—"Oh, one last thing: you weren’t there.”

And I just… what do you mean I wasn’t there? We’ve been discussing for weeks. She says I wasn’t there, that I must’ve come at another time.

It’s a scene in the memoir where we’d been looking for years for her father and we find him. I was there. But this is a big event in her life, obviously, and she had the rights to it, so to speak. She had written a lot about it, poems and stories, and had erased me from the scene because I wasn’t crucial to the scene. I wasn’t a witness; I was the driver.

I thought the scene was would lose its impact. But I thought, ‘You know what? It’s a huge moment in her life and I was just a witness.’ It was important to me, but I was just a bystander so I just fudged it the way you do, and didn’t say ‘And this was the first time…’ Just made it ‘they’ and didn’t claim to have been there.

There’s different kinds of rights to material, right? You’re describing something important to somebody you’ve got to take seriously their own version of it and what they want published and what they don’t.
 

JB: When working on something that’s not for publication in a specific magazine like the New Yorker, do you send drafts to set readers you trust?

WF: I used to, I don’t anymore. I’ve gotten a lot lazier. I don’t even keep a journal these days. I don’t write anything that’s not already commissioned and doesn’t have an editor and a deadline and a paycheck attached to it.

Sometimes I will go over things with someone in a piece, it just depends. For instance, I just recently published a long profile of a federal prosecutor who specializes in extra-territorial terrorism cases, where she has to extradite somebody to the US for prosecution. It was full of sensitive material and national security stuff and personal security stuff. The subject of the profile had allowed me a lot of access, had really trusted me, so I allowed her an unusual amount of foreknowledge of what we were publishing. People pretty much know everything that’s going into a magazine piece, anyway, because the fact checker goes over it with them.

But I was going over stuff with her; I never showed her any of the piece. But I discussed every little detail in a way I wouldn’t normally, just because of the nature of her work and our agreement.


In 2016, William Finnegan won the Pulitzer Prize in Autobiography for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Penguin). His book Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country (Random House) was selected as a Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction of 1998 and honored by the New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year. Another award-winning book, Crossing the Line: A Year in the Land of Apartheid (Harper & Row), was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best nonfiction books of 1986. Finnegan is also the author of A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique (University of California Press, 1998) and Dateline Soweto: Travels with Black South African Reporters (Harper & Row, 1995). Having served as a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1987, he has garnered numerous journalism awards including two Overseas Press Club Awards since 2008.

Jason Bacaj is a writer from West Virginia and the current Truman Capote Fellow at the University of Montana, where he is pursuing an MFA in nonfiction. He worked as a reporter for The Seattle Times, Anniston Star, and Bozeman Daily Chronicle and is a nonfiction editor of CutBank. His writing has appeared in publications such as Outside and Powder, and won several journalism awards including for Public Service Journalism in 2013 and Non-Deadline Reporting in 2012.


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: "The Birth of Venus, c. 1486" by Hadley Griggs

The Birth of Venus, c. 1486

by Hadley Griggs

The autumn after I broke up with my boyfriend, I cut my hair. Ropes of curls dropping to the floor, strings of protein I would never see again. Cut hair and it falls softly, surrendering without feeling like you’ve cut off a body part, but burn it and it still smells like burning flesh. When my mom was a teenager working at McDonald’s, her hair was always sticky with french-fry grease. A coworker with a lighter got too close—singe hair and it smells like singed woman. Even here, ocean-side, a candle held to the tips of Aphrodite’s hair lights up like a fuse, wraps through her fingers and around her back and leaves her crowned in flesh-smelling flames. Are you sure? the stylist asked me, her acrylic nails curving over the grips of her scissors. It’s so pretty long. Later, my old boyfriend would send me photos, always the same: his open palm, a solitary bobby pin. Found this in the carpet. Or, This one up against the floorboard. I hadn’t touched a bobby pin in months, and my hair now tickled the bone at the top of my spine—and here, does Aphrodite crave this feeling, the hairs wisping down below her collarbone, down between her thighs? On autumn Saturday nights, the check-out girl at my grocery store has a dark, messy braid that hangs over her shoulder. It casts shadows on her neck, makes her jaw look like a crisp country road. I hand her my crumpled bills and think maybe I miss the feeling of a braid draped over my own shoulder, so that I could say I too, I too, I too. And on your own quiet nights, Aphrodite, reclining nude on the beach, do you look out at the water, remember the drops of blood and the sea foam, the way the red marbled in the bubbles like the afterbirth, or like needlework on Northern drapes, or like red hair tangled—permanently, painfully—among the rocks and shells and fish spines?


About the Author:
Hadley Griggs just graduated in English and likes to write stories about sad people. This is her first publication out of college. She's also a level 14 rogue in Dungeons & Dragons.

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Prose from Kat Williams

Mirror || Man

 by Kat Williams

 

Masculinity is fragile, or so I’ve heard.

--

My boyfriend and I speak of our attractions to athletes. Men. Which shortstop has the best ass? Which college cornerback’s facial hair is most appealing? I’m into kickers. He likes outfielders. He wonders out of aspiration, out of desire to become. He thinks my perspective is different.

Do you think my perspective is different?

My sister and I used to shoot hoopsin our mom’s driveway. My sister cooperated because I forced her to. I played as Marcus Fizer, Iowa State’s 6’8’’ 265 lb star small forward. I loved that a man six feet eight inches tall could have the word “small” in his position’s name. I loved the dark-haired clefts of his muscled armpits and his smooth-shaven head. I wore his kids’ replica jersey one size too big, number 5 in cardinal and gold announced on my stomach instead of my chest. My sister fed me the ball as I drove to the basket and turned a 180, heaving the shot backwards over my head. Sometimes I imagined so hard that I could feel the cold metal of the rim against my fingertips. My sister hated basketball, but she got pretty good at chest passes.

When Fizer got picked in the first round of the 2000 NBA draft, I cried in front of my dad’s 18 -inch television, TNT coming in fuzzy and inaudible. My dad asked if I was crying and I said no. At school, I said I wanted to be in the WNBA when I grew up, but I was lying. I wanted to play for the Chicago Bulls.

He goes to the gym now. My boyfriend, I mean. He didn’t work out before he started dating me. He now knows what traps are, can distinguish between front and rear delts. I do barbell work--deadlifts, cleans, bench presses with endless varied grips--in order cling to a superior sort of masculinity. But the proof is in the body: he lays claim to a chiseled V of oblique, his pectorals have swelled convex. My pecs have grown, too, but they remain obscured by breast tissue. I am soft and curved still, no abdominal muscles in sight.

Which NBA player’s dick is the biggest, do you think? I hate to admit I’m a size queen. What do you call a man concerned with up-and-out-sizing other men’s dicks? A man, I suppose.

I played sports when I was a child because athletic proficiency gave me access to boys and their bodies. I liked to watch the tendons stretch behind their knees as we sucked down Capri Suns on the soccer field sidelines. Ethan’s were the most prominent, though Matt M’s came in close second. Tyler had egg-like muscles that protruded from the outer edges of his legs just above the knee. At my mom’s house after the games, I would rotate my hips in the mirror, searching for those tendons. I never found them. I found flesh--so much fat, so much skin.

There were boys whose bodies looked as soft as mine, or even softer. Some of them were good at flag football. I didn’t talk to them, didn’t stare. Their bodies were of no use to me.

The placement of a body before a mirror is a plea for self-recognition, and neither the self in front of the mirror nor the self reflected in it are stable. The difference is that the self in the mirror is allowed to be a body, nothing more. Would I be satisfied with leaner thighs and apenis, hulkish traps and ham-hocked, vascular forearms? Me, no. But mirror-me? Perhaps.

My favorite NBA player, once Fizer disappeared into the benches, was Allen Iverson. Every time he committed an inexcusable act, my idolatry of him expanded unchecked. After I read in Sports Illustrated that he went to prison at 17 for (allegedly) breaking a chair over a woman’s body in a bowling alley, I asked for his special edition MVP jersey for Christmas.

My dad worked as a bouncer when he retired from his trucking career and he taught me about the intricacies of bar fights. Never get into a fight over a woman, he told me. The stakes are too high. But sports and politics are fair game. He showed me how to put a bigger man in a choke hold, how to leverage against someone much stronger. I don’t know why I’m showing you this, he laughed. You’ll never have to use it.

I don’t deny that my obsession with athletic men’s bodies is informed by a particular fetishization of the athletic black body. It wasn’t just professional basketball. I wanted to be Tyson, Holyfield, and Mayweather. I wanted a camera to watch me throw an uppercut against another black man’s jaw.  Even of the boys on the soccer field with me, the ones I admired most were black.

I didn’t want to be a black man or a black boy. I wanted to be an overworked, televised black body. I wanted a crowd to roar at the exposure of my muscles, my skill, my masculinity.

Kevin Love possesses the NBA’s one white body that has ever transfixed me, though in a wholly different way. I stare at before and after shots of his 30-pound weight loss from the ESPN Body Issue. I run my eyes like fingertips over the places where his skin hugs bone and muscle tightly, the hum of anIT band like a violin string, the hollows beginning to form beneath his cheeks. The shoot’s lighting is meant to highlight every shadow of striation. I look at these photos and I see my reflection as it was in the days before I checked myself into treatment: hungry and wanting, but so satisfied with the degree of want I had achieved.

My senior year of high school, I told my dad I applied to five Ivy League schools and he asked if I had heard about work available on fishing boats in Alaska. I think you’d be good at that, he said. Six years later, I told him I had a boyfriend, my first he ever knew of. He made the requisite joke about grabbing his shotgun, but then relented. I guess if this boy needs lesson learning, you’ll wring his neck yourself.

I measure masculinity’s toxicity by the inches of my imagined dick. A tape measure monitors the circumference of my reality-bound chest and biceps. A woman in a white jacket with a pencil through her hair once measured the length of my cervical canal in centimeters to make sure the IUD would fit. Good news, she said. Yours is plenty long. I wish I had been more satisfied to hear this.

He told me he always wanted two daughters, that my sister and I were the outcome he’d hoped for. My mom said he was lying, that during her first pregnancy he had hoped for a son.

I am afraid of how easily I can imagine adapting to life as a man. I am good at interrupting people, especially women. I love to forget my privilege and feel self-righteously wounded when I am criticized. I once sat with my knees widely splayed at a funeral, back hunched with elbows planted on thighs. My sister pressed her knee against mine and whispered, You’re taking up way too much space.

But wouldn’t this apply to life as a cisgender heterosexual man, not the trans man I could be? Oh. Did you think we were dealing in realities, actual bodily earth-bound possibilities? I’m sorry to have misled you.

Wait, I take that back. A man would not be sorry.

At the beginning of high school, I was into skater boys. They had that don’t-give-a-fuck swagger I couldn’t pull off, but they also had bodies marked by lanky sinew, narrow shoulders and streamlined calves. Their bodies never showed in the weight room, where a series of social studies teachers criticized my hang cleans and told me to keep eating, eating, eating. Our school’s state champion shotputter would graduate soon and the coaches wanted me to catch up. But she was 6’2’’,  her ass wider than my shoulders. She could bench press two of me. She was black, if you were wondering. We all knew I would never be her.

That weight room, like most weight rooms, was lined with mirrors. The mirrors covered three walls, the fourth wall a floor-to-ceiling window. Through the window I watched the skater boys pop easy ollies and fall off of the building’s entry rails, their oversized t-shirts billowing away from their chests, the points of their knees slicing open their faded black jeans, the air. I lifted a barbell over my head a prescribed number of times and dropped it to the padded floor. Face the mirror, a coach would call to me, and bring your shoulders to your ears.

I always expect a dropped barbell to clang louder than it does.

The simplest way for an assigned-at-birth female to acquire what will be perceived as a man’s body is to become smaller. That is how you lose your hips, bring your waist-to-bust ratio closer to one. The other option is to gain muscle. A lot of it. But genetics govern the results of the second option far more than the first. And even then, mirrors make promises they can’t keep.

The mind is not the same as the body, is it? But without the mind, a body in the mirror can’t be perceived. So the mirror self does not exist--the reflection as existence is an impossibility. Mind, body, mirror: they get in the way of each other’s understanding.

\

--

In Laramie, Wyoming, I enter myself in an amateur boxing match held at the Cowboy Saloon. Men in socks and underwear wait to be weighed near the bar’s back wall. There are enough of them for eight or nine bouts. I assume that if another woman does show up, our fight will be first, a warmup for the crowd. When I sign my name on the injury waiver, though, the fight’s organizer claps with excitement. There’s one other girl who wants to fight tonight, he says. You’ll go last. Give everyone something sexy to look forward to.

The bar fills to capacity even though they’re not allowing alcohol. I watch inexperienced bantamweights zip around each other, avoiding, neither of them throwing a punch. I watch one man clad in nothing but swim trunks take a single tepid blow to the jaw and fall over, out cold. When my bout begins, my opponent doesn’t tap the glove I offer and charges me instead, hooking her elbow around my head and throwing me to the ground like we’re in an octagon instead of a smaller-than-regulation square. The ref gives her a warning. In the third round, I work her into the corner and punch her headgear-padded temples until she’s no longer defending herself, slack against the ropes but still standing, and the ref calls a technical knockout. The crowd goes wild. I had them on my side the whole time.

On my way out, men I’ve never seen before and never will again stop me to say things like Way to take that cunt out and You gave the bitch the beating she deserved. I shake their hands or dap their fists and say, Thank you.

Is it too much to want, to want to watch a very straight white woman in red lipstick and a tight black dress choke on my very real black cock?

I am always wanting too much, and wanting the wrong thing entirely.


About the Author:
Kat Williams is a trashsexual dog mom and writer of essays and short stories. They lived two years in Wyoming for the sake of art and lived to tell the tale.

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Two New Poems from R. Flowers Rivera

Homeplace

Past tense: clear dusks I remember a feeling, an image, grit in the eye.
A place embedded like a splinter I can’t quite reach. Grove Hill, a voice
buried within that refuses to answer back. All my life, in any place,
for no reason, my grandfather’s 280 acres call out my name. Free and clear.
Sister Gary, Gay, Gaynette. But all those stale breaths have gone somewhere
else. Cool dirt, open graves. I have outlived them all. My recollections
remain imperfect as I tell and re-tell the tales. As they are—or were
—not necessarily as I would’ve chosen them. A people without luster,
napworn yet proud. Unlearned, but not ignorant. The Grove Hill of memory
has plum-flowered chinaberry trees festooning the fence-line, just off
Highway 43. It’s still blooming, it still holds last year’s ornaments. Birds
scatter the golden berries everywhere. I know I’m nearing home. Drought.
We endured difficult times, growing from that hard, red clay. I’m still here.
Just to be clear, being hot and humid ain’t suffering. All grief is not death.
 

Gulf of Mexico, 1969

                 after Hurricane Camille

Don’t
tell me
about rapidly forming
perfect storms, 
about a kiss
that can transport you
through the blandness
of living. I am that
with him. But
I opened the egret
feathers he brought
as a gift. And I knew
they required
the wholesale destruction
of the nest.
I see now
how my date’s
idea of beauty,
of perfection
will require
nothing less than
my death. Only then
he won’t be satisfied
because I won’t be
here to comfort him
in his grief.


About the Author:
R. Flowers Rivera is a Mississippi native who now lives in McKinney, Texas. Her second collection of poetry, Heathen, was released in February 2015. It was selected as the winner of the 2015 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award as well as the 2016 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award. Rivera's debut collection of poetry, Troubling Accents), received a nomination from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters and was selected by the Texas Association of Authors as its 2014 Poetry Book of the Year. It was published by Xavier Review Press in July 2013. Dr. Rivera has an Ph.D. from Binghamton University, an M.A. from Hollins University, an M.S. from Georgia State University, and a B.S. from The University of Georgia. She is a guest lecturer in creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas.

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


BURN PILE: Author Interviews Wonderland Edition

When the words come hard and you need a minute of procrastinatory inspiration, interviews with authors you love (or don’t know you love, yet) are a route of re-entry to your own work. Reading or watching or listening about writing feels like something constructive while you’re behaving less like a creator, and more like a nonproductive lump, staring slack-eyed at the computer. And for avid readers, interviews offer a look into an author’s head, a “Behind the Music” for wordmongers. The humans creating your favorite books are (you hope!) as fascinating as the books themselves, and the interviews, like literary works, are timeless.

The Paris Review is my top-of-the-heap inspiration source, for their series of author interviews dating back to the ‘50s. (The price of a subscription allows access to the periodical’s entire online archive. Seriously. Everything.)

There's a video series, too, on authors’ “My First Time.” Sheila Heti speaks here about her first story collection, The Middle Stories.  Subscribe for free to the video series.

Here’s the playlist so far:
My First Time Video Series.

Through a stroke of required-reading luck, I’ve been enjoying the work of Cate Kennedy this week. Along with her stories, the Net is graced with Cate’s interviews, both text-based and on video. Indulge yourself:

Unbraiding the Short Story with Cate Kennedy,” at World Literature Today: “If I had to sum up in one word what ‘the human condition’ is, I’d say that word is ‘ouch.’ … Human fallibility seems to be a preoccupation I return to over and over again. What people do when they’re behind the eight ball or floundering with a hit that’s come out of left field. Not so much what they think or say: what they actually do.”

the world beneath cate kennedy.jpg

In a Griffith Review piece, Cate reveals: “…one of the powerful things about writing from ordinary life is the elements you select from it are immediately recognisable to people. So you can hide things in plain sight, in a way, or subvert expectation.” (Here’s the story referenced in the interview, “A Glimpse of Paradise.”)

Last in this Cate Kennedy-obsessed list (there are many more online), an in-depth live video interview: “At this Sydney Writer’ Festival session, award-winning writer Cate Kennedy speaks to publisher Hilary McPhee about her highly regarded debut novel, The World Beneath.” Go watch it here.

Google any author, and you’ll find a wide-ranging selection of windows into nuns or other inhabitants of their head. And as long as I’m in this video rabbit hole, join me. Here’s the entrance to burrow into another favorite brain: search for George Saunders interview on Youtube…

Look! It's George Saunders and Stephen Colbert, “George Saunders has a Nun in His Head.

Dig into the craft-mind of Missoula author, Melissa Stephenson, in Michael Noll’s interview series “Read to Write Stories.” Michael’s blog (with a book coming soon) “features weekly writing exercises based on a story, novel excerpt, or essay that has been published or made available online.” The list of authors Noll interviews is a mile-long scroll of goodness. Have a look here.

Prefer to simply listen? Start with Sarah Vap and Rachel Zucker, at Zucker’s Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People).

Not to be left out, CutBank interview excitement is on the horizon, too!
We’ve got our own interview feature coming early next week, as Jason Bacaj brings us a conversation with William Finnegan. Finnegan is a UM alumnus, New Yorker staff writer, and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for his memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. And of course, you can find videos to get you warmed up for Jason’s interview. If you're in Missoula, Finnegan will be giving at craft lecture October 13. See the Facebook event listing for details.

Okay, one more from Cate Kennedy, at WritingtheWild.net: On the act of writing the early drafts, getting the first rush on paper vs ‘crafting’ later on: “Getting into a ‘generative’ state of mind, though, is harder – it’s a brainwave state, pretty much, rather than a learned expertise – like daydreaming. The less analysis and second-guessing involved in this state, the better.”

To wrap this Burn Pile up tight, enjoy A Giant Dog falling into another kind of rabbit hole… Here’s “Roller Coaster,” from their fourth album, Toy. Something of a visual interview with a twist: AGD’s Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen adventure through a day in Disneyland, while, ahem, in a mindspace reminiscent of (Go Ask) Alice … in Wonderland? Read the article here, or click play on the wide-eyed video trip.

Thanks for the reminder, Karma.

Thanks for the reminder, Karma.

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: "Five Things Big Girls Can’t Do" by Tai Farnsworth

Tai Farnsworth.JPG

Five Things Big Girls Can’t Do

By Tai Farnsworth

1:  Imagine you’re at a BJ’s Brewery. If you’re unfamiliar with this particularly fabulous chain of mediocrity, you can substitute any place that blasts early 2000 rock (think Linkin Park or Uncle Kracker) while serving middling food and cheap drinks – ie: Chili’s, Applebee’s, anything with an apostrophe.
            While your dining companions chat away about pizza, the Beatles, and the disconcerting shade of maroon that occupies fifty percent of the restaurant’s color palette, you realize you need to go to the bathroom. The best part of the bathroom experience at this brand of restaurants is your increased ability to hear all the nostalgic rock. At this point you’re hoping for something from the Spiderman soundtrack. The original Spiderman, none of this Andrew Garfield nonsense they peddle to the youths these days. You push open the door; three rowdy girls in Technicolor leggings and barely anything else brush past you. Nickleback fills the marbled room as you head toward the back, toward the handicap stall, toward the toilet with the most room.
            You can tell the stall is empty. But when you get closer, you realize – something has happened here. It’s impossible to say what, but the potential situations run the gamut from a rambunctious toddler let loose to some kind of satanic cult ritual. Regardless, it’s not great. And you certainly can’t pee in here. With a quick weighing of the pros and cons, you decide to just use another stall. You could hold it, but who knows how long your friends will be hypnotized by the low-lights and scuffed pleather of the dining room. It’s a risk you can’t take. Your hand has been forced.
            Of course, headlining the con list is the lack of space in the standard stall. What the hell is standard about putting your size twenty body in a size fourteen space? Sure, you physically fit inside, but at a cost. The door swings in, so you’re forced to squish around it to become properly situated. You turn carefully, doing your best not to disrupt the toilet paper or the seat covers and as you do so the inevitable happens – your leg lightly brushes the porcelain of a toilet seat that has held countless butts. And not just butts. Given the typical clientele of such establishments, there has certainly been excessive imbibing and the associated puking. Frankly, any matter of bodily fluid could have made its way into and around this space. And now it’s all on your legs.
            The rest of your bathroom experience is haunted by what you’re sure are pukey poop germs making their way down your legs and into your shoes. With a herculean effort you relax your body enough to allow the actual peeing, but as you do so your elbows bump the ice cold and obviously confrontational sides of the stall. Since the toilet paper dispenser is kissing your thigh, you have to lean hard left to access the full roll causing another body/stall run in. You start to feel like the space is getting smaller and smaller around you, crushing your big girl body. It’s all so emotional. You curse the toddler performing satanic rituals in the big beautiful stall for the moms, the handicapped, and the ladies of above average size.
            While washing your hands you glance in the mirror and the face that stares back at you isn’t your own. You’re changed. You’re scarred. This could have been avoided if the public restroom architect gods didn’t allow Victoria’s Secret models to designate the stall dimensions for you everyday folks. Without the assistance of real-life Photoshop, standard bathroom stalls are a bit of a reach for you. But that’s fine – it’s just something big girls can’t do.


2: Imagine it’s your birthday. Recently, the famous amusement park near you opened a couple rides based on your most favorite wizard-centric book series. What better way to spend your special day than by jumping into the pages of the novels that raised you? If you like, you can substitute any roller coaster adventure land for this part, no wizards or reading required.
            Your friends and you arrive early; the whole day awaits. Before the crowds swell, you rush to the most popular roller coaster, the main attraction. You can see there’s barely a line, a mere trickle of people head toward the maw of the castle. Only paces separate you from child-like joy. But suddenly you hear something: Ma’am, ma’am.
            A cherubic looking man is walking toward you wearing a dimply expression and pitying eyes. His nametag says “I’m Pablo. Let’s make your day!” Ma’am. Hello ma’am. Have you tried our test chairs today, ma’am? He gestures to replicas of the ride’s chairs sitting in a little cubby to the side of the line. He smiles, he gestures, and you know what this is. He can call them “test chairs” all he wants. Hell, he can call them heavenly ride samples, for how much it matters to you. Okay Pablo, okay, it’s the big people purgatory. Pablo, keep your pity eyes.
            You get in the seats and you pull the bar toward you. Pull tighter, Ma’am, Pablo says. You pull tighter. Just a little more, Pablo says. You pull tighter and tighter and you feel the rush of relief as you hear the latch take. You pass! You’re out of purgatory! You’re fat but not “too” fat! Pablo smiles wide and his dimples tell you this is his favorite part of the day. All he wants is for fat people to be happy.
            It’s not until later that day, as you slurp your way through your second non-alcoholic caramel-root beer nonsense, that you notice the purple and blue constellations on your arms, the bruises from the bar slamming against your skin over and over, something you missed in your exhilaration. Your friends sip their drinks and chatter. They are ebullient, oblivious to the tiny injustices you must constantly face, the ways in which the world judges you. Is it so absurd to ride a ride without being abused? But that’s fine – it’s just something big girls can’t do.


3: Imagine you’re in an airport. In your hasty last-minute packing job you somehow left your book on top of the cat bed. You can see it there now, cradling that dumb cat butt. Not much good to you, crammed into the stiff terminal seats, thigh-to-thigh with the kindly older lady embroidering “eff off” onto a dish towel, waiting on your delayed flight to Chicago. With hours to kill you decide a coffee and a tour of the limited, best-seller heavy airport bookstore is in order. Triple caramel macchiato in hand, you scour the racks for anything that isn’t John Grisham or James Patterson. These shelves are old white dude heaven, huh, you whisper conspiratorially to the young Latina behind the counter. She pops a gummy bear into her mouth and shrugs.
            Desperate to free yourself from this awkward encounter you’ve created, you grab at random for a few items, pay, and exit the store quickly. This is how you come to be in possession of the most recent “Super Famous Lady Magazine” (and also one bag of Fritos, a giant Evian bottle, and three Milky Ways). Panic does not wise decisions make.
            After you squish yourself back into the terminal seat and check on the embroidering lady’s progress, you peruse the magazine. On the front is the super famous lady dressed head-to-toe in flowers. “Spring into Spring!” is situated around her knees in a font upsettingly similar to comic sans. You feel very confident there wasn’t a magazine on that shelf you’d like less, but know there’s no way you’re braving that too-bright store again. You lean in to the disaster, sip your coffee, and find a decent amount of enjoyment in an article detailing the different organizational methods to employ in your bedroom depending on your zodiac sign.  You’ve read your way through articles on baby and me yoga, the nuances of every kind of cooking oil, and professional tips for perfect eyeliner in one swipe, when you reach the reader letters.
            One of the letters is directed at the in-house fashion expert and can be summarized as such – “I don’t have a completely flat stomach. Can I still wear a crop top?” The in-house fashion expert’s answer is succinct and leaves no room for interpretation – “Nope.” Suddenly, in your mind’s eye, your most recent purchase from the popular teenager-geared clothing store looms. A tribal print crop top with thick, crisscrossing straps. Though you hadn’t worn a crop top since high school, there was something so wonderful about the feeling of a breeze on your bare stomach. You loved the way your stretch marks peeked over the top of your jeans, showing your body’s strength, the way it’s grown and evolved to take care of you. Sure, you’d been a little self-conscious at first, but the truth was, except one lone (and probably miserable) bitch who lived down the hall from you, no one seemed to mind. The more you’d thought about it, the more you’d understood, there’s no reason to mind you wearing a crop top. It’s a crop top for fuck’s sake. It’s not like you’re clubbing baby seals.
            And yet, here it is, no sugar-coating, no padding of any sort, stripped to its mean core – “no.” Maybe it wasn’t just the bitch down the hall. Maybe it really was everyone. Maybe they all looked at you with scorn and thought no crop tops for anyone but the super fit. No breeze on your stomach, no power in your body, no way to love your stretch marks. No. But, I guess, that’s fine – it’s just something big girls can’t do.


4: Imagine you’re online dating. It’s fun and surprising and you like answering the quiz questions and watching your compatibility ratings change. It’s been a long time since you dated anyone (save your ex), but you’re ready to jump right in to that very salty and tumultuous sea.
            Not one to mince words, you choose “curvy” on the body type descriptors and follow that up with some straight-forward prose on how you’re a “big bi girl who’s looking for someone as exciting as a book” or whatever cheesy self-promoting catch phrase you’d like to insert here. You upload five different pictures to fit into many different moods. While the main profile pic is from last year when you toured the street art of San Francisco, it’s still a decently accurate full body representation. There’s also the goofy paper mustache picture, the fancy gown and hair for your friend’s wedding picture (with others cropped out to avoid confusion), the shocked face of you petting a goat while on vacation in Cambria picture, and the cake picture (you know which one). All in all, you feel like you’re online profile is fairly spot-on. Sure, the pictures are from the upper echelon of what your collection offers, but come on, of course they are.
            A couple months later, at lunch, a friend asks you for an update on the online dating shenanigans. You give her all the details; you spare no juicy tidbit. First you tell her about the heavily tatted Laundromat tycoon who was very boring and very into the underground punk scene, two things that seem mutually exclusive but apparently are not. Though the tacos you ate for dinner were fabulous. 
            Then there’s the South African transplant working on an undergraduate degree in veterinary sciences. He took you to a Himalayan restaurant and rubbed your leg under the eggplant strewn table while wooing you with an absurd amount of data on cats. Aside from some frottering by the door of your building, that wasn’t worth much. You’ve stopped returning his texts. After that you moved on to a photographer who took you to the observatory and kissed you under the stars. You saw her a few times, ate spaghetti, and drank far too much bourbon. On three or four occasions you hazarded an hour drive up the coast for a not super smart redhead who made up for his dopiness with his enthusiasm and his desire to slow dance to folk music in his living room. 
            Some other highlights include the comedian who took you to a book store and then home to her apartment where you spent the evening laying in her lap and watching slam poetry, the actor who asked you to his play and then bought you a veggie burger at a shitty chain diner, the baby-faced math major who looked like a B-list celebrity and skinny dipped with you in your pool, the insanely self-absorbed guitar craftsman who answered the phone when things were getting heavy, and the sound engineer who wanted to take you hunting.
            Your friend listens intently, nodding and oohing and aahing in all the right places. Lunch flies by, you order drinks (margaritas are totally reasonable afternoon beverages), and you laugh at this bizarre and wondrous place that is the internet dating world. And then your friend leans in conspiratorially and whispers but do they know you’re fat before the date? And you remember.
            Big girls can’t get dates. Big girls can’t slow dance to folk music or kiss under the stars. They can’t lay their head in their date’s lap or skinny dip. And they certainly can’t fuck or love or be desired. Certainly not. So what the hell ever – it’s just something big girls can’t do.


5: Imagine you’re not on a diet. You’re not restricting calories or cutting carbs or ditching fat. You’re not counting points or following fads. You’re living your life and enjoying the foods you want to enjoy. Sometimes you want roasted veggies in a barley bowl with hummus. Sometimes you want pizza and ice cream with caramel sauce. But it doesn’t much matter to you.
            Until it does. Until a client at your work offers to buy you a gift card for her doctor who she promises can freeze that fat right off. Until a literal stranger passes you in the street and asks if you’ve heard of the Southern Massachusetts Diet or the Madagascar Diet or the McConaughey Movie Diet. Have you heard of the new trick, the new way to make you a better/more worthwhile person? Everyone thinks this isn’t something you experience in your very core, that the fat isn’t actually some part of who you are. You ignore them, you smile, you wave, you walk on, but it doesn’t go away.
            Imagine it picks at the fabric of your being. Imagine it makes you feel small even though you’re big. How it makes you feel less than. In some isolated part of the back of your brain you wonder if they’re right, if you would be better, your thoughts more interesting, your smile wider, if you weren’t so big. So you work out a little, cut back on the pizza, and shed some pounds. You look great! Have you lost weight? You smile, you wave, you’ve done it. Your jokes will pack a harder punch and everyone will love your ideas at the staff meetings. You’re worthwhile now.
            But then, imagine you notice some cellulite. Or maybe a tiny roll on your back. Or you get sick and have to miss a few gym days. You gain a little weight and people stop complimenting you. Their talk turns to whispers when you enter the room. You feel small, again, but not in the way you’d hoped. More diet advice. Articles from your family show up in your inbox. You’re flooded with tips and tricks, all of it designed to tear you down and not build you up. All of it designed to punish you for being a big girl. And that’s just it, isn’t it? You can’t be big. You can’t exist. You can’t hold worth. You can’t be strong, or valued, or smart while also being big. Of fucking course not – it’s just something big girls can’t do.


About the Author:
Tai Farnsworth is a queer writer making a living as a high school administrator and teacher in Los Angeles. She graduated with her MFA from Antioch University in 2015. You can find more of her work in The Quotable, as well as in the literary journal Lunch Ticket. When she’s not reading, stuck in traffic, or snuggling her cat, she’s shopping around her young adult novel about a girl discovering her bisexuality.

You can find Tai on Facebook and as taionthefly on Twitter or Instagram

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: New works from John Emil Vincent

The playfulness of skeletons, the sadness of bones

The Canary Islands were named after dogs. There is talk that maybe the dogs were actually seals, monk seals do look like melting dogs, but the population did regardless have a thing for actual dogs as well. The original inhabitants, Pliny the Elder reports, worshipped them, even mummified them, and called themselves The Dog-Headed Ones.

The bird came later and was named for its habitat; though somehow now it seems named for them—the Fuerteventura Island is after all delicately bird shaped—and everything there must one suspects be brightly colored in molten volcano yellows.

Once a year the rich bring their dogs together to the archipelago’s lone stadium and award them new souls. Rich people as you may know typically struggle to relate to friends, family, and acquaintances. For these hours of barking bliss, however, their beloved canines are bequeathed the souls of last year’s dead relatives, dead neighbors, and even dead maids and dead doormen, and smothered, simply smothered, with kisses. With adoration. Then they bring new, living doormen, neighbors, and children; they butcher them for the dogs. Next year is another year, they chant. Sometimes slipping on this or that ruptured spleen or half-devoured lung. But having a real time of it.


Next year is another year.

 

Realist theme park

My friend Noah says it should have a roller coaster. I’m not sure. He says it should start really steep and keep on really steep and grind up and you can hear the chains pulling and slapping in that slack-because-they-need-such-serious-chain-to-pull way.

It goes on and on a bit more. And I think at this point we have to move beyond the genre, maybe, space-mountain-like, try some external threats which are overcome simply by staying in your seat: that’s realistic: or maybe: vistas that open up unexpectedly and then go dark suddenly. And then open up to become other vistas. And this is what we in reality call: geography. Or: patience. That’s cool.

But he’s twenty-two so what does he know and hell it’s honest to god just about now I wonder about the inner resources of our young people, and he says, no no I know! it needs to go on flat for a long time. A long flat bit followed by another one with a sudden stop. And the seat guards fly up unexpectedly before it quite stops. And everyone is shocked not by what went on but that nothing did and now it’s over. That’s pretty good I think. But I’m not quite ready to go all Beckett on realism, so I think it’s important we handcuff a murderer to his victim and send them off into the neighboring sodium-light-lit desert. We can watch them escaping as we get off the ride.


It just feels right.


About the Author:
John Emil Vincent lives in Montreal. His first book of poems, Excitement Tax, will be published by DC Books later this Fall.

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Divine Prose from Bronwyn Mauldin

 

NOTES FOR A PORNO SET IN THE VATICAN

 

ACT 1

            A sunny spring day in Rome, and a beautiful Italian young woman, ELENA, is out walking her beloved little pug, BRUNO. Elena wears a silky pale blue blouse and linen pants sheer enough to give us hints of her long legs. She stops at a gelateria and orders a scoop of cherry. She licks gelato from a small spoon in delicate circles. The young gelato vendor follows the movement of her tongue with his head, as if imagining he were the ice cream.
            At the edge of the scene, a ghostly figure in white flickers, then disappears. Elena and the venditore don’t see it, intent as they both are on her cherry gelato. Bruno spots the figure though. With a sharp bark, he takes off in pursuit. He escapes his leash, leaving the long black, leather lead empty in Elena’s hands.
            “My Bruno!” Elena calls out. She drops her gelato and runs after the dog. As the camera follows Elena, we catch sight of the venditore down on his hands and knees, licking up the remnants of her ice cream in ecstasy.
            Bruno turns a corner and runs along a high stone wall lined with a multitude of people from all over the world. Elena follows half a block behind, calling out in English and Italian, “Bruno! Come back here now, you naughty dog. Cane cattivo!” We see the blurry white figure again – still we cannot quite make out what it is – as it enters a building. Bruno follows. Elena does too, in the door and up the stairs. Ticket takers and security guards part like the Red Sea as she passes. Bruno scampers between a pair of guards in uniform and under a red-and-white striped gate. As Elena approaches at a run, the younger of the two guards simply raises the gate to let her through. The distinguished-looking older guard drops his chin into his hand, elbow on the desk in front of him, and sighs, “Che bella.”
            Elena anxiously wraps the leash around her left hand as she follows Bruno into an art gallery. She is brought to an abrupt halt by a large group of overheated pink tourists in shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes. A dumpy woman in a navy suit is explaining the golden panels of Giotto di Bondone’s Stefaneschi Triptych to the tourists in Italian-accented English. Elena pushes her way into the group, scanning the floor for Bruno and asking, “Have you seen my dog? Hai visto il mio cane?”
            At the same time, both we and a very handsome, tanned tourist catch a flash of Bruno running through the gallery. “There he is!” he says. Elena and the tourist chase after Bruno. As they step into the next gallery, they simultaneously catch sight of Filippo Lippi’s Coronation of the Virgin and come to a standstill. “It’s so beautiful!” Elena exclaims.
            “Not as beautiful as you,” the tourist says shyly. They throw their arms around each other and engage in an act of traditional, missionary-style sex on the padded bench in the center of the room, conveniently placed for viewing Lippi’s Virgin.
            Just as Elena is climaxing, Bruno barks at a fleeting glimpse of the mysterious figure in white that is exiting the room. “Caro Bruno!” Elena exclaims as she leaps up from the bench and runs after Bruno, leash still wrapped around her left hand, but leaving her shoes behind.

ACT 2

            Elena continues her journey through the Vatican galleries, searching for Bruno. She is periodically stopped in her tracks by a magnificent piece of art. Staring in awe at Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno, Elena is approached by a guard with a ragged mustache and unkempt hair.  “Oh, signore, you look just like Giovanni Battista,” she chirps, pointing to the painting. He removes his uniform to expose a hair shirt that looks not unlike the Baptist’s wooly garb. Elena lowers her trousers and bends down with her hands on her knees for the guard to enter her from behind.
            In the Immaculate Conception room, a beam of light streams from the upper corner of the fresco. It illuminates a bible and continues down to the upturned hand of a nineteenth century pope surrounded by his cardinals. As Elena approaches the painting, the light spreads until it illuminates her, leaving the crowds around her in shadow. Elena glows brighter, and she begins to touch herself, eventually bringing herself to a husky, full-throated climax. 
            Chasing Bruno through an octagonal courtyard she pauses to admire the statue of Laocoön and His Sons. The men and serpents turn to gaze back at her. Antiphantes comes fully to life. Elena approaches him, kisses his nipples, works her way down his body and performs fellatio as the snake entwines itself around both of their bodies.
            During each sex act, just as Elena is climaxing, Bruno barks and at the same time we catch another glimpse of the figure in white passing at the edge of the scene. Each time we see the figure it becomes a little bit clearer. Eventually, we begin to recognize it as a high-level church official in formal robes.
            Each time, when Bruno barks, Elena leaps up and chases after him, but leaves another piece of clothing behind. First her blouse, then her pants, and so on.  
            By the time they enter the Galleria Delle Carte Geografiche, Elena is only wearing a pair of delicate lace panties. She follows Bruno down the center of the room. The figure in white passes a window, briefly hovering outside. Bruno leaps toward it, but instead of going through the window, the little pug splashes into the Tyrrhenian Sea in one of the frescoed maps.
            Without hesitation, Elena dives in after the pug, hardly making a splash as her lithe body breaks the water. She swims like a mermaid, arms tight along her side, undulating in rhythm with the kicks of her long, strong legs. No matter how quickly she cuts through the water, though, she can’t quite catch up with Bruno. Shimmering schools of red, blue, and bright yellow fish turn and cartwheel in her wake. Soon, a naked bearded man is swimming beside her. He has wide shoulders, and his upper arms and thighs are thick with muscle. His abs ripple as he matches Elena kick for kick through the sea. They come up for air together.
            “I am Neptune, god of the sea, and you will be mine!” Elena wraps both legs around him as he enters her, and they float together as one in the salty blue brine.
            A muffled yip, and from our view underwater we see the mysterious figure in white robes walking along the shore. Bruno bounds out of the sea, emerging from the Laguna Veneta to land at the far end of the map hall. He shakes himself, splashing water over a gaggle of sweaty tourists, who twist with pleasure in the cooling spray. Elena emerges from the water still in pursuit of her pug, completely naked except for the leash still wrapped around her left hand. She chases Bruno into the crowds that grow ever thicker as they approach the Sistine Chapel.
            Once in the chapel, Bruno disappears into a forest of gawking tourists who stand in stupefaction, oblivious to anything but the ceiling overhead. Elena pushes and squirms her way through the crowd, calling for “Bruno, mio caro Bruno.” A voice comes over the intercom, “Shhh. Silence. Shhh.” The din of awestruck tourists dissipates.
            A balding fat man with a turquoise fanny pack tucked between belly and groin grabs Elena’s arm, points up, and says something in a Slavic language she does not understand. Elena follows his arm to gaze up at the image of a naked Noah drunk before his sons. The Slavic gentleman glances over, about to say something more, then realizes he has grabbed the wrong arm. His equally rotund wife is scowling beside him, arms crossed over an ample bosom wrapped tight in a purple tank top. The man lets go of Elena’s arm as if it were on fire and laughs nervously, saying something in his language that sounds apologetic. The wife takes him by the ear and drags him out of the Sistine Chapel.
            Meanwhile, Elena is transfixed, staring at the naked men above her until Japheth comes to life, penis first. He stretches his arms down from the ceiling toward her as she reaches upward toward him, but they cannot reach each other. Elena unwinds the leash, keeping one end looped around her wrist, and throws the clasp end toward him. He catches it and pulls her up into the painting. Japheth and Elena find a narrow corner in the painting where they have sex standing up against the shed. As the sound of their lovemaking grows, so does the sound of hundreds of tourists coming face-to-face with the sublime, both rising together to their natural crescendo.
            “Silence!” a voice commands over the intercom. “This is a holy place!”
            Bruno yips, and we see the mysterious figure in white exit the chapel through a side door.  The pug scurries after the figure, followed by Elena who is now returned entirely to the state in which Eve met Adam.

ACT 3

            The story of Elena and her dog reaches its climax in St. Peter’s Basilica. Bruno trots into the church and comes to a halt, barking. Up ahead the figure in white robes comes into focus as it walks up the nave. Reaching the altar, below Bernini’s great four-poster baldacchino, the figure turns to face us, and we can finally see it is (as we likely expected) the Holy Father.
            Bruno goes silent, lifting one paw in reverence. Elena, standing naked behind her dog on a red-purple circle of porphyry stone, crosses herself and falls to her knees. The Holy Father lifts his arms in benediction, and with that movement, his robes fall away from him. We see now that the Holy Father is not a man but a woman, rubenesque, with long, wavy red-blonde hair, looking not unlike Venus in Botticelli’s painting of her birth. Unlike Venus, however, she does not cover herself, as she is not ashamed to be seen and admired.
            “Rise, Elena,” she says, gesturing with her arms.
            Elena slowly approaches. Sunlight from the open doorway behind her sparkles on her skin. A faint shadow of the obelisk in the square behind her appears, then fades away. “Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned,” says Elena.  
            “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” says the Holy Mother, with a beatific smile full of love and acceptance. “We are called to keep fervent in our love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
            The Holy Mother opens her arms and Elena falls into them. Their embrace turns to caresses and kisses, and soon they are rolling on the floor in ecstatic lovemaking. As Elena climaxes, Bruno comes running. He dances circles around Elena and her lover, yipping with joy. The three of them share a joyous moment, laughing, petting the dog.
            Elena and the Holy Mother turn together again and make mad, passionate love one more time under the statue of St. Peter, who looks down upon them with a smile and finally completes the blessing his two upraised fingers have promised for centuries.

FINE


About the Author:
Bronwyn Mauldin is the author of the novel Love Songs of the Revolution, and the short story collection The Streetwise Cycle. She is a past winner of The Coffin Factory (now Tweed’s) magazine’s very short story contest. Her work has appeared at Akashic Books, Literature for Life, Necessary Fiction, and other places. She is also creator of The Democracy Series zine collection. In September 2016, she was Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde National Park. More at bronwynmauldin.com .
You can also find Bronwyn on Twitter and Instagram as @guerrillareads, and on her FB author page at https://www.facebook.com/bronwynmauldin .

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: The Poetry of Chekwube O. Danladi

JI HAUSHI

I was hammered
the first night of
Ramadan   guilty
as if Allah believed
it me   even if not   so many
other outlets for discord:
coitus purple urkle acupuncture
such practicality in things
I could have showered and had
war sung out of me
My other name Husseina pressed
like a razor to my temple
and I thought to lean into it
knowing for my people
the many uses of the
cow: milk butter meat  rug
Against the tiles where I arrived
I shouted slaughter are you
looking to marry?
Why else come home?
Mene ne mutum?
If not someone to praise-name
the thing my gut miscarried
months earlier?
I’ll want that ache again
a hunger to walk the evening with

I was at my mother’s
ear while she killed
anything   the cock’s
neck in her hand
at 86’s Eid   the flesh sacrifice
mutual so many pleasures
guaranteed so nothing beautiful
ends   her largesse brought prone
me an oracle awaiting questions
elsewhere   afflicted to hurt nothing
but myself   She too  withstood love’s
accretion by holding fingers
to flame yet did make-up her
face that dusk   wearing her body
like sin only soothed by eating
nono munshanu nama
Most of her is since covered
her kneeling pious
a soul belated in exchange
for ascent and clean firmament
What is a man? One coming
soon to hold night against her
It was too early
that low blown wind a worm
up her skirt but alone in the kitchen
she broke the fast anyway

 

TUMBAO

         (for A.P.)

Our sun this morning          inflicted and teems
sore, moving against           time or a pustule
we may cure herba   ceously. We ride its
filtered light unclean           ly our physiques a
-nointed like pealing           down a pike way. Your
embers are MANHOOD      obliged, encumbered
to bad behavior,       the labored way I’ve come
to know your body, the season of guilt.

I teach your eye the trick of humming, con
-tact a commitment of pleasure, yours. If
I let this hand a        -gainst my back, you’ll claim
to know me empir    -ically, black goes
beyond the optic:      a roar of fluid,
an appellation           for vertebrae, slap
-core of my disso      -nance. The other hand
at my black estrus,   scented and tasted.
I am a mean thing.  We are not within
love but this want is             what you love, our morph
-ology one of slacken things: cum, scattered
waist beads, warm air re     -couped. Light sieves past the

gossamer curtains   I toss my titties
like a pair of con       -gas, generous timber
of slap-tone, your cock        a would-be proving
ground for my girlhood,      if I were a girl
at all. What binds us,           our genealogies
a distinction of         the sheathe versus the

weapon within. The realm of our conjunc
-tion, a dead Black wo         -man buried in
Cienfuegos barbs me,          bending the pitch for
all unending gifts.    She is sliding side

to side coming to      suture this pleasure
of ancestry, re           -mind the origin
of your mouth, name me    nothing vacuous
so I may go some     -where, part that ordered
rare speculation       wracked through with affect.

 

EVENING HOLLER

            (for Stokely)

With the ease with which you widen the berth
my words like sequester
risk being too understood
                                    we watch the alley cats
                                    from the kitchen window
                                    over our end-of-day coffees
afraid not just of stellar recall
but cognizance         its why
I’m sitting still though I’m not
yet tired         yet the frame
                                    captures the kindest rendition
                                    of that secret game we play with strangers
                                    lobbing off their heads and seeing
                                    if they still know where to go
We trace something serene
as the ambulance whirs down Kingsessing
                                    imagining also taking what isn’t ours     
                                    a boy smiles up from the trolley
                                    his mouth a vortex of potato chips
we come to no such satisfaction
our bellies as empty as they’d been that morning
except on your bedside table
there’d been a plate of cashews
                                    and I’d wanted to put them
                                    in your mouth for you
                                    as you slept   after I’d licked
                                    off the salt
you let me rest all day as if I didn’t
pick the hard terrain
my eyes running bloodless when I stationed
                                    we make our space for another
                                    because in another world that boy is our son
                                    and I love him enough        I stand in
                                    the doorway to call his name across the alley
as the streetlights shudder on
You are the woman he’ll call daddy
when the city isn’t close
            He’ll sleep in our bed until he’s eight
                                    As if he can’t slip away
                                    in your hand he’ll drop a peach
                                    in mine the pit                      safety becoming a word
                                    he’ll know the meaning of
After his eyes close we open ours
We make a racket of our longing
We refuse the day to end

 

ERE IBEJI

(for my sister)

Neither breathed nor held,
those forgotten gods now
proffer poverty,

since no legacy
but ours to tend,
for you to die and cast me

your keeper – to wash you,
to dress you –
be it a casual hunger

or an anthem of erotics
sing it loud and disturb my
sleep, all of time fading – then

rubbing, then darkening –
what you call confession
we’ve consorted: born two,

the damage brilliant; is it a myth
the Igbo buried their abominations
in pots? Long time provender
for the wicked.

Unlikely how generous the
gesture. All ghosts suffer
equally so clutch me through

each parable,
the assemblage of
your trespass:

in the forest,
yes, tender, asking earth
some confidence, idling,
your calm regrets even
that country.

 

HAGIOGRAPHY

                        -Rose and Taylor’s,
                        Champaign, Illinois

Came the some-days boyhood was due

                        my efforts needing tending

I went round the way to 1st Street

                        for pussy-talk and bets on the bracket.

Audacities razor in my palm’s clutch, waiting

                        so I sit with my shit all opened up too

the room like Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy

                        though all these angels be Black, and calling out the god-head

my pulse speaks up all the ways I’ll want

                        them to hurt me and wade through it.

Someone orders chicken wings

my savior assuring my fit around the swill, my affirmation to know a place.

That harangued confession before I die

                        possessed by sweet oil wrought in his hard-skinned reaping.

I bit my thickest lip through the good feeling

rollicked my neck against the slick of Luster’s Pink Sheen Spray

and in the mist I saw my name become mnemonic.

                        I held the vessel as I entered, kissed across his face the sign of the cross.

 

OLD ADDRESSES

Sloppily shorn nappy hairs
A half full bed

Stirring above
the seizure of the
washing machine
A junkie for neglect rending

the half empty bed
Finger paint art
pretending to gesture
Chasing your face in a dream
where I'm sitting on it

You as a girl when you
used to be
dancing with a black boy prom date

Three parallel scars
fighting to be reinvested
A maelstrom of Derrida
almost resonating

Donna Summers’ sexy squeal
something like I want to do
A luminous half-light

The Devil's array of scores
Him two God zero

There are days we run
naked through wishing
we knew each other as teenagers

The shit-smell of new diagnoses inherited
polarities pealed into lamplight
Cockroaches giving birth beneath
my pillow

banal weight gain
enthused weight loss
a frosted donut
A chest binder, black

N-body physics
embodied in the swirling of prairie grass

Dirty rain in the cistern
Apartment number five
The darkness of my eyes


About the Author:
Chekwube O. Danladi's poetry chapbook, Take Me Back, was recently published as part of the New-Generation African Poets Series: Nne, edited by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes. They are currently working on a novel about queers living in Abuja, Nigeria. They live in Urbana, Illinois.
Follow Chekwube on Twitter at: @codanladi.

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: "Punk Prayer" by Barbara Haas

Punk Prayer

            My wife and I sat in a restaurant on the Arbat, a pedestrian promenade that had existed since the 15th Century, and while waiting for our entrees we wrote postcards to friends in the States.  Numerous flat panel TVs hung from the dining room walls, all of them tuned to a Russian CNN-style news station. A crawl at the bottom of each screen unspooled a continuous ribbon of Cyrillic—swift, delirious, like a roller coaster I’d love to ride. Soft Slavic syllables had swaddled me all week, the “sh”, “ch” and “zh” of a well-cushioned language. From St. Petersburg to Moscow, I had grown used to the way “H” was “N” and “p” was really “r” and “Я” sounded like “ya.” Certain words now stood out, especially those involving coffee (кофе), restaurants (Рестораны), bars (бары) and the bank (Банк)—but nothing on these TV’s was familiar. Then “Pussy Riot” zipped past.  I blinked at the Arabic letters. Knowing the words did not make them make sense.
            My wife was jotting a few comments on the back of a postcard that depicted the Red October Chocolate Factory on an island in the Moscow River. When the phrase flashed by again, I pointed to the TV. “Check it out.”
            She giggled.
            Ever since our vodka picnic in the park the other day we had both been giggling a lot. There we sat in the grass, sipping a fine Beluga from water glasses we’d taken out of the hotel room. In Moscow, drinking in public was well tolerated.
            We had had no major incidents while traveling. Lesbianka weren’t persecuted in Russia, but Kathy and I knew to play it safe. If asked by hotel personnel, we would claim to be sisters. If pressed more specifically, we would say that in our country it was customary for sisters to sleep in the same bed. Kathy and I had rehearsed this. We knew the strategy for successful lesbianka. Which, of course, was pretty deflating in itself.
            Like kissing your sister.
            So we had had no major incidents.  When we first arrived in Moscow, a man tried to attach himself to Kathy. We came up out of the Metro and paused for a minute to consult a street map, all of which made him think we were two ladies from Kazakhstan who needed his help.
            This was our honeymoon. We would not be needing his help.
            Kathy and I shook him off and left the Sukharevskaya Station, not sure at that point exactly where our hotel was. Rush-hour Moscow hustled brusquely past. Traffic shrieked. A broad boulevard stretched just south of the station, suitable for a military-parade. Fleets of office workers on foot charged down the sidewalk, surge after surge, a steady mechanized flow headed toward slab-like high rises. Under Stalin, the days of the week were renamed so that Monday through Friday followed Monday through Friday with no Saturday and no Sunday in between. The weekend disappeared altogether—and production went on unabated. Forced labor became a cultural norm here. Employment was neither innocent nor simple. Probably more people had died while working in Russia than anywhere on earth.
           Cobblestone lanes fanned out just north of the Metro. Dragging our wheeled luggage behind us, Kathy and I bumped along single-file, like geese. Moscow had been built on low marshy land. It was humid. We were sweating.  We looked less like ladies from Kazakhstan than hapless refugees.  The neighborhood was a shabby collection of cracked and crumbling stucco buildings and numerous sushi restaurants. The side streets were as narrow as alleys, and when I glanced to the right or left down a couple of them, I saw faded onion-dome churches in the distance, their weathered hues bleached out in the muted afternoon light. All at once Kathy stopped before a grimy brick building and declared that she had found our hotel.
            I looked at the doorbell we would have to buzz to gain entry to the lobby and then the two flights of steep steps we’d have to schlep our stuff up to get to “our” hotel—and I had my doubts. But Kathy was adamant.
            So up we schlepped.
            The stairwell reeked of cigarette smoke. Littering the landing was a handful of spent lottery tickets. We pushed through a smudged glass door, and Kathy rushed over to a woman behind the desk to let her know that we had a reservation. The woman took one look at us and said, no, we did not have a reservation. Her smile possessed a meaning I was not equipped to translate. As it turned out this was a rent-by-the-hour hot pillow hotel. It had a strip club one flight up. The woman was kind enough, however, to unfold a map of the neighborhood and show us where our hotel actually was.
            Only funny mishaps for me and Kathy in Russia, in other words—no major incidents. We could sit in a techno-trendy restaurant on the Arbat, happily writing these postcards, and know that Survivalist Cyrillic was coming through for us.
            Our waitress spoke a little English. When she brought the wine, I asked her about Pussy Riot. The expression on her face turned solemn, and she took a moment, as if choosing her response with care. It was a feminist band, she told us.
            “Poonk rh-rrrock,” she trilled deeply, like a growl. She set the wine carafe down on the table and air-guitared an angry stab-like chord. Members of the feminist band had shocked the public, she said. She glanced at both of us and shrugged, then poured the wine into our goblets. The feminist band had stormed the altar in Christ Our Savior Church, she said. They beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
           “A poonk prrrrrrayer,” the waitress said. She seemed less offended by these antics than perplexed, but her cornflower blue eyes nonetheless darted from my face to Kathy’s, gauging the effect this information had on the Americans. The members of the band—three young women—were in jail, she told us, awaiting trial.
           “Political prisoners in Russia,” Kathy breathed when the waitress had gone.
            I nodded. Some of Kathy’s relatives on her mother’s side—Ma’s people—still lived in Warsaw. They had known Communist oppression well into the 1980’s. My in-law’s now.  “Pretty grim,” I said.
           Westerners like us visiting Russia for the first time brought a certain biased awareness. It was difficult not to see things through the prism of preconception. Although the trappings of a free society were everywhere—the haute couture on the Arbat, the Coca-Cola in the bodegas, the high-spirited young people with their smartphones and iPads, the opulence—these things could not transform an appalling social history.  Appropriately, the word “pogrom” was Russian. Also “gulag.”
           That morning we had ridden the Metro just to look at all the propaganda art devoted to Soviet triumphalism—the mosaics and exotic marble panels in the Mayakovsky Station, the elaborate stained glass displays and chandeliers in the Novoslobodskaya Station. When transferring from the 5 line to the 7, we had walked past the bronze bust of Karl Marx on its stone plinth. Later, a vendor in Red Square had held up a t-shirt that showed a cartoonish, stylized Lenin flipping the bird. “Foo King Revo-loo-zhan,” she had said. Sporting 3-inch heels but with a traditional headscarf knotted under her chin, this vendor was a total babushka babe: a middle-age woman with a warm smile, sapphire eyes and deep creases bracketing her mouth. She nudged me. She knew I would laugh. It was a sunny afternoon, about 25 Celsius, and the sky was a vivid silk blue above the Kremlin’s red brick walls.  She knew tourists got a kick out of edgy post-Soviet Era souvenirs.
           People like me who had been children during the Cold War felt a little thrill when someone lifted the Iron Curtain a bit to reveal a cryptic Stalin or a hilarious Lenin. It was like a cultural joke. Every afternoon on summer days, not far from where this vendor sold her t-shirts, the impersonators set up shop outside the hulking Russian Historical Society building and made themselves available for photos: a Trotsky lookalike, Brezhnev, Uncle Joe. These affable pretenders smiled a lot more than the real hardliners probably ever did, which both underscored the irony and also obliterated the illusion, an effect that allowed everyone to interrogate past horrors from a public place in the clear light of day.
           Sitting here on the Arbat, I looked down at the postcard before me—a winter scene of St. Basil’s, its colorful onion domes lightly dusted with pristine snow. I thought of the punk feminists being held in the Moscow jail. Our Occupy Movement in the U.S. came to mind, as did civil disobedience. Thoreau. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. New Hampshire’s motto: Live Free, or Die. I thought, uncomfortably, of Joan of Arc. Then Patrick Henry. Because I was born into a tradition of rugged individualists, when I thought of stirring cries like “Give me liberty or give me death!,” I visualized something swift and honorable—a fast patriotic death, devoid of atrocity: firing squad, guillotine, the gallows. I didn’t see nails being driven into a person’s shoulders. I didn’t see a man digging his own grave and then being buried alive in it.
            The restaurant had filled with young Muscovites, all of them fashionably coiffed, some wearing True Religion jeans or Vera Wang or Michael Kors. They were fun. They were forward-looking. They were spontaneous and optimistic.
           Yet their land had known the ceaseless, ongoing martyrdom of ordinary citizens everyday. People had been killed like martyrs here without ever even having a cause, or knowing with what desperation they needed one.
           I looked across the table at Kathy “We are a pussy riot.”
           She scoffed and kept writing a postcard.
           “Seriously. We’re married. Two women. I mean, come on. No one would look at us and think ‘pussy riot’, but….”
           “Good,” she interjected.
           “But here we are.”
           Kathy laid her pen down and took a sip of wine. “We can’t even reach across this table right now and hold hands.” She shook her head. “No. We are not a pussy riot.”
           I gazed upon my adorable bride.
            Our ‘punk prayer’ back home had been fraught with its own aggravating and irritating features. In our own country. Although two women could get legally married in Iowa, not everybody embraced this state law. When we made plans for our post-wedding dinner, a traditional, family-run Italian restaurant came to mind, one whose dishes we really liked. Then we started thinking...
           “Italian,” Kathy had said. “As in Catholic Italian?”
           “Family-run,” I had intoned, “and with family-values?”
            We were profiling like mad, but it was hard not to.
            Would the restaurant figure out that lesbianka had reserved a table for 12 in order to celebrate their marriage and somehow disapprove? Burn our entrees? Be inattentive?  What if Ben, Kathy’s 14-year old son, began clinking a spoon against his water glass, the traditional “request” for a newly married couple to kiss? Would we feel free to do that--? Would something untoward happen on our special day just because we were lesbianka?
           Seated across from me right now, Kathy had set her wine glass down and begun writing another postcard. Bent to the task, she tipped her head to one side, and the flickering light of the many TV screens in this restaurant played in her hair. She was right: we were not a pussy riot.
           Ours had been rather paltry concerns when you stacked them up against purges, deportation and execution. I picked up my own glass and drank.
           In St. Petersburg a few days ago, we had visited the ornate onion-dome Church on the Spilled Blood, a glorious cathedral built to enshrine the very spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. Why this blood and not that? came the small and pragmatic but non-monarchist voice within me. It wasn’t the first time in Russia I had had a reflexively egalitarian thought. The more we walked around Peter the Great’s picturesque city the more insistent such thoughts became. The area had been swampy and low-lying—a coastal marshland—but slaves and war prisoners had been forced to move boulders and rubble into place for the city’s foundation and also to construct the canals. It was grueling work under extreme hardship. Ten thousand workers perished each month. My heart skipped a beat.
           Every step you took in Russia was on spilled blood.
           People had been ground down and used up here--liquidated. The land was a catacombs.
           The young men and women sipping frosty cocktails in this restaurant were dressed for the evening with a carefree eye for fashion and style, as if they themselves were ornate onion-dome churches. They had a happy brightness about them. Their joy was heartening but also heartbreaking. Each and every one of them probably had a relative two generations back who had been starved by the State or whose village had been machine-gunned from the sky by low-flying government aircraft. It would take more than high-spirited 21st Century prosperity to cleanse that away. One generation, no matter how buoyant, was not enough.  Russia traced its sovereignty back more than 1000 years. The place had known countless massacres across many regimes—killing as relentless and unremitting as clockwork—the tally staggeringly industrial in scope. No matter how remote the historical past, no matter how distant it was or to what extent it might seem to lack a present day pulse, these sophisticated young people nonetheless bore a legacy. A cool shirt didn’t change that.
            Our waitress slid a bowl of borsch before me and sliced some bread on a plate. I watched, a little mesmerized, this offering of bread timeless and customary—a ritual all its own in a wheat-rich land like this.  Her grandmother in a head scarf and her great grandmother had tilted the knife like that, had held the loaf just so, their aprons dusty with flour and their hands powdered white, while a toddler with rolled up shirt sleeves banged a measuring cup against the floorboards at their feet.
           Someone like me might feel tired or hungry in Russia, but the fact was simply this: I would never be tired like people in Russia had been tired. I would never be hungry.
           In a couple weeks our friends back home would receive our postcards. By then the rest of the world would be mixed up in the plight of the feminist punk band. Madonna would weigh in, Paul McCartney, Sting. After the young women were found guilty of hooliganism and sacrilege, they were sentenced to two years in a prison colony.  Even Fox News carried the story.  I was sitting in Ma’s kitchen in rural northern Michigan when the report came on. She and Kathy were over at the stove, fussing with the kielbasa and pierogis amid a clatter of pots and pans and the occasional exclamation in Polish.  They didn’t hear the verdict announced on TV. Ma’s refrigerator was a collage of photos—the grandkids and great-grandkids; the Detroit Tigers and John Paul II, the first Polish pope. A devout woman in her 90’s, she kept the schedule for Mass at St. Casimir’s Church on her refrigerator, too.
           The whole time we were in Russia, Ma had confessed to us that morning, she prayed for us. “Each and everyday!” she said. We were sitting under an apple tree on her farm. Kathy and I had bought a honey cake for her in the Arbat right before we left Moscow, and we were dunking thick pieces of it in coffee. Ma said she worried that we would get rounded up and be locked away.  She said she burned a candle every night.
           Northern Michigan has some of the darkest skies in the U.S. I imagined the small flame glowing in her pitch-black dining room, its soft flicker bathing the icon of the Dark Virgin in golden light. Ma’s household altar. To Christ her Savior.
           She hated Putin.
           She loved the Church.
           She had a punk prayer, too.


About the Author:
Barbara Haas is a repeat contributor of fiction and nonfiction to The Hudson Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and The North American Review. Her MFA is from UC-Irvine, and she teaches in the Creative Writing & Environment MFA program at Iowa State University.

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Three Poems by Brian Czyzyk

Her Florida Water

for Lucille Ball

If there was some vernal flash of sunset on Beverly Boulevard,
it was caught in the window as the henna-rinsed reflection
of her hair. When asked what she'd like, Lucy says My Florida Water.

Stuff to swill the nights she spent alone, with two kids
in cribs, and the stink of cigars bound to his pillow. Something to sluice
the tang of the other woman—the one who liked to rumba,

whose kiss stained his lips with burgundy. A drink
to fill the pits his teeth left on her chin, to kill
the smell of ink in the court and his ashes under her fingernails.

No, not booze. Nothing to contort her death mask
into a famous ugh. Not the turquoise sparkle of Biscayne either.
Lucy would never face Death with an eyeful of saltwater.

What she wants is her last breath to spin orange and clove
from her neck. She wants to greet Saint Peter with her signature scent.
Wants to give back the tropic blood that made her heart burst.

 

Scarlet

Randy dances almost every night.
He goes to clubs, downs
rum and Diet, wipes wet
hands on his thighs, then jerks
and grinds. His red bolt

of hair catches glances
from tattooed guys in tank tops.
Randy will take two
in the back room.

Fridays he always heads
to a new guy’s home, buzzed
and horny. The next morning
he wakes without a headache,
leaves without a note,
splits without snatching money
from the guy’s wallet.

Randy never stays. Never invites
anyone back to his place. He tried
that once, woke wrapped
in the arms of a silver
fox. But Silver booked it
from Randy’s bed, slapped him—

backhand—diamond ring
carving a gash in Randy’s left
cheek. Randy knows it’s better
to dance and forget.
It’s better to do it in the dark,
where no one can see the little scar.

 

Drive the Buck Home

Everything we eat is flesh. I know
the taste of flayed squirrel. I know your teeth.
We share bites of deer heart. We fletch arrows
with goose feathers. We fuck
on beaver skins. If we had
cash for corn, or a need to breathe

the smog of the city, I don’t
think we’d love each other.
It’s one thing to watch two bucks
rut. It’s another to see you slow
at the trigger, silent
as you plug one down.


About the Author:
Brian Czyzyk is a bisexual poet from Northern Lower Michigan who recently earned his bachelor's degree from Northern Michigan University. He is the winner of the 2017 Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets from Atlanta Review, and was a finalist for The Gateway Review's 2016 Fabulist Flash Fiction Contest. He has work published in or forthcoming from Indiana Review Online, Assaracus, Crab Orchard Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Harpur Palate, among others. He wishes you the best.
Brian is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brian.czyzyk
And Twitter: @bczyzykwrites (https://twitter.com/bczyzykwrites)

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Prose from Emma Atkinson

Let’s Talk About the Forest

            When I go out with women, I like to wear clean denim and a shirt with buttons. That’s what I feel confident in, especially once I’ve laced up my boots. I have to be prepared to talk and be witty - that’s what women are really after, the wit - and I personally can’t do that if I’m teetering around in heels or worried about my mascara smudging.
            When I go out with men, everything is reversed. Those are the evenings I find myself zipping into a tight dress and dabbing liquid blush onto my cheekbones. It’s all uncomfortable, but that’s more or less what I’m looking for with a man. The uneasiness makes me feel vulnerable, and the vulnerability gives me the same sensation as catching my breath at the edge of a rooftop.
            Tonight I’m squashing my feet into a pair of high heeled sandals. The man is someone I met online, a kind of blandly handsome guy who works at the university. He reached out to me, and I responded because he was the first person in weeks to open with a full sentence instead of just the word “Hey.” We’ve spent the last few days messaging back and forth about Indian food and Patton Oswalt. He seems okay.
            I try on a new shade of lipstick, but it makes me look like a sad clown so I scrub it off and apply an old favorite instead. While I delicately draw my eyeliner on, I run through a list of potential conversation topics. It starts off in earnest, with stuff like the new superhero movie and a writer we both like, but quickly devolves into random junk that makes me laugh. Let’s talk about purgatory. Let’s talk about which part of the brain you would rather get a tumor in, if you had to get a brain tumor. Tell me about your favorite bug you ever met.

            I stop between my car and the restaurant for a cigarette. I prefer not to let people see me smoke on the first date until I’ve ascertained how they feel about that. I once went on five dates with a woman before she found out I’m a smoker. We saw each other three or four more times after that before we just kind of meandered away from each other.
            I’m almost to the restaurant, about halfway through my cigarette and scouting around for a trashcan or an ashtray, when I hear someone call my name. I’m so surprised to see the internet guy before I expected him that I shout my own name back at him. He gives me a quizzical look.
            “David,” I correct myself. “I meant to say David.”
            “Sorry to startle you,” he says. “Do you want to finish that before we go in?”
            “Yes, please.”
            We didn’t have any kind of “I’ll be wearing a red tie and you’ll be carrying a yellow flower” conversation before we met up. I guess no one really does that anymore, yet it always surprises me when my internet people recognize me in person. I always see someone different, depending on whether I’m looking in my bathroom mirror, my hallway mirror, or a store window. I probably wouldn’t have recognized David if he hadn’t approached me first, truth be told.

            The restaurant is Persian. I have lamb and David has an elaborate looking stew. So far we’ve discussed our jobs and our pets, and lightly danced around the topic of the upcoming election. He smiles a lot in a nervous way. I look to the side a lot in what I hope is a demure way.
            I don’t go on dates because I want sex, per se. I don’t mind the sex at all when it happens. I just don’t care much if it happens or not. I think it eventually does happen with about thirty to forty percent of the people I meet online. I haven’t done any charts or anything. That’s just my guess. I’m not a prude. There is just a certain percentage of single dates with no follow up in my recent history.
            “So how’s online dating treating you?” David asks.
            I know damn well I should answer with something flirty, like “Tonight it’s treating me great.” I rest my chin on my hand and take a moment to reflect on the question instead. I set up my dating profile when I got out of the hospital about six months ago. To me every date has been a natural progression stemming from the afternoon I turned my purse and cell phone over to the intake nurse, but it’s hard to tease out exactly what the pattern is or where it’s taking me.
            “It’s definitely been interesting,” I say.
            David laughs, and I realize I must have come across as world weary or “You know how strange people can be.” That’s not what I meant, but I’m willing to play along.
            I also don’t go on dates because I want companionship, exactly. It’s true that I don’t have many friends in town, and that’s almost certainly a factor in my decision to do this. But lately my state of mind, my whatever is at the center of me, doesn’t feel any different whether I’m with someone else or not. It’s a blessing, really, compared to the days when the sound of another person’s voice would set my guts boiling every time.
            David is telling me about a weird date he went on last month. I want to tell him about my cat Lois, how she climbs onto my shoulder when I’m sitting at my desk. It seems like the most honest direction I could take our discussion in, since Lois is the most important person in my life these days. I want to tell him about the window in the hospital. It was at the end of a long hallway, and you could watch tree tops shake and shimmer in the wind. It was more soothing than any of the breathing exercises or thought experiments they taught us.
            The check comes and we both hand over our credit cards. David invites me to get a drink at a bar around the corner.
            “It’s a little dive-y, but not gross,” he says. “And they have an amazing backyard.”
            “That sounds great,” I say.
            I give him my best cute little smile. I hope I do, anyway. Tonight, for whatever reason, I’m feeling especially disconnected from my body. It feels like I’m locked in a control center in my chest, pushing buttons and pulling levers. David puts an arm around my waist when we step into the street. I let him steer me like a tugboat or a puppy.

            I light another cigarette once we’re settled on a bench in the bar’s backyard. There’s a wrought iron coffee table in front of us with our cans of beer and an ashtray. Above us the moon is fighting valiantly to push through the clouds. We’re surrounded by people louder than us, apparently having much more enthralling conversations.
            David is resting his arm on the back on the bench, leaning towards me. I have to bend my neck a bit awkwardly to avoid blowing smoke in his face. My left thumb begins tapping each of my fingertips like it does when I’m nervous.
            “Do you like it here?” David asks.
            “I do,” I assure him. “It’s cozy.”
            I’m wearing my black dress with the short skirt and the bell sleeves. It’s slightly hippy and slightly goth at the same time, which is why I bought it. I like clothes that can’t quite be pigeonholed. I realize my lipstick is probably gone by this point and my mascara is likely smudged, if it’s behaving like it always does. I feel no urge to excuse myself to the bathroom to fix it. David saw my makeup when it looked right, and that’s all I needed it for: the first impression.
            “I’m having a really nice time,” David says.
            His gaze drops down my body like a trickle, a lazy waterfall. We both look at my thighs at the same time, peeking out from the edge of my dress. My scars have been there for so long that they’re just part of my body now. I don’t notice them any more than I notice my eyelashes or the lines on my palms. I don’t think about them at all until someone else sees them.
            “What happened there?” David asks.
            Some of my scars are in neat rows. Some of them jag out in starburst patterns. Some are white and some are pink. There is no plausible cover story here. There is no way these injuries were created by a dog or a car crash or a surgeon.
            “Oh, those are really old.”
            That’s what I always say. It’s my way of offering reassurance that this sticky, scary problem is in the distant past. There’s no way to escape the fact that it happened, not with the remnants embedded in my skin. All I have control over is the way I talk about it now.
            “Okay,” David says.
            His eyes climb back up until they meet mine. I resist the urge to scan his face for clues to his reaction. My assignment right now is to change the topic. Let’s talk about piglets. Let’s talk about imaginary spy gear. Let’s talk about the most frightening creature in the ocean.
            “The weather is so nice tonight,” I say.
            I put out my cigarette in the ashtray right as he leans over to kiss me. I let him do it, but I’m watching the moon.


About the Author:
Emma Atkinson lives in Houston, TX. Her writing has been published online in Sixfold, A Lonely Riot, and The Mighty.

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


BURN PILE:  ~ Arting about art ~

Writing about writing, painting about words, seeing things others don’t hear, and more songs about buildings and food.

One of our great privileges here at CutBank is to publish the All Accounts and Mixture feature. The works are as varied as their authors. Poems. Stories. Essays. Indefinables. All of them stunning and strong.

The blend of music and memory in “Conversations with Paul,” by David Meischen, inspired a leap into a note-taking, brainstorming rabbit hole which swallowed me in tangents, twisted connections, trainwrecks of thought, and unrelated wonderings over what’s so enchanting about art that includes other art, or is about art, or is experimental in overlapping genres and mediums. What qualifies as “experimental,” anyway? “Conversations” isn’t a piece directly about music, yet Meischen weaves the Beatles throughout the narrative, and this twining of mediums led to another All Accounts contributor, Crystal Hartman and her piece, “Visual Response to Federico García Lorca,” featured on the blog back in July of 2014.

Here’s Sir Paul, covering his old band’s stuff: Paul McCartney - Abbey Road Medley (Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End) - Live In Tokyo 2013

Another side tunnel in the rabbit hole leads to written art about the visual, including a visit with poet Lisa Beech Hartz in the Mud Season Review and Rust + Moth, a dip into ancient Listlandia for Ten of the best: examples of ekphrasis, followed inexplicably (like most synaptic paths of association) by a brief foray into synesthesia, and the paintings it inspired in Melissa McCracken, and finally down to the sidewalk with one more poem about painting at the Street Lit blog: “You Paint Loud.

Today (Sept 29/17) at a Montana Book Festival panel on the inner workings of lit journals — a panel moderated masterfully by CutBank’s own Editor-in-Chief, the wisely-nodding Bryn Agnew — experimental work got a mention, and the role of online journals in providing space for that experimentation (when it works!). Sundog Lit in particular meets that need. (They announced their Best of the Net nominees today.) Also discussed was the Oxford American’s successful melding of music and literature, which, in a flash of unfocused clicking, led to Björk, as experimental as ever in the Guardian’s Track of the Week: The Gate, “perhaps the Björkiest thing that’s ever Björked.”

And in the end? More Songs About Buildings and Food.

is this art.jpg

The answer is “Yes.”

ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: A Poem by Conor Scruton

STONE TAPE THEORY

We were surprised to find
the door to my old building
unlocked, so of course
we went in — to see
what wasn't different, or was.
The lights had burned out
a long time ago,
but the halls were the same
and didn't feel empty
as they should have,
the handprints not yet gone
from the wall.
When I was younger
I fell in love
with an abandoned house
on the way out of town
— imagined a specter
into being there,
disrupting the dust
with a white cloak,
a skeletal set of knuckles,
walking the staircase each night
in the last witch-infested
instants before sunrise.
Relativity tells us
time doesn’t necessarily
follow an easy line,
but it takes world-moving
to make it slow or bend
or curve until two points touch
— almost-warp speeds,
the heavy comfort
of a planet’s gravity.
In the middle
of energy and matter
it’s not always simple
to explain what we’ve observed,
or exactly why
we return to ourselves
like radio-static dreams
— a little bolt of electricity
cached in wood,
a soft slab of limestone.


About the Author:
Conor Scruton is a poet and translator living in Milwaukee, where he teaches English and does research on ghost stories. His work has appeared in Salamander, Whiskey Island, Superstition Review, and other journals.

About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as "queer," while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. 


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Prose from David Meischen

Conversations with Paul

            Austin, Texas, 1992 and 93

I. Once There Was a Way (1970)

Summer stupefies us, a dream we can’t rise out of—bombs falling, snakes coiled, gravity growing in us until our lungs have no room left to breathe. We slog through each heat-thick day and at night we toke, buzzed and sinking, immersed in side two of Abbey Road (the bathroom window riddle, the sun king’s twisting aphorisms). The trumpet refrain will save us—eighteen bursts of brass tempered at the edges, like dark coffee sugared and creamed (I never give you my pillow; I only send you my invitation). Slow and easy, a graveled lullaby (and in the middle of the celebration, I break down). Almost too late, the trumpet unleashes a perfect G, three quick beats pulsing in the space it opens up and we are back inside ourselves again, drifting to separate rooms.

Except for one night at the lake.

Slipping out of our clothes, we shiver wading stoned. Air warm, water cool, waves glisten and darken, inner tube flickering between us suspended, wrapped in water, fading—until your thigh brushes mine, our blood beating bright (I-want, I-want, I-want). Our fluids mingled in the cool dark water.
 

II. Carry That Weight (1972)

You knocked at midnight, a season gone since your escape to the wind-rushing flatness of a panhandle farm, stubbled gray in February’s stingy light, two days since you walked out on a card game with your mother, driving until you found yourself in Tulsa, where you thought of me and reversed yourself, south down Interstate 35 to my door on the alley behind San Gabriel.

You looked like a Russian peasant, stubble-jawed, wild thatch of hair over deep-set snow-lost eyes—with brief moments of clarity when your gaze snagged mine. Panic flickered between us like the hiss of lightning, the moment quickly frosting over, as slick and unforgiving as black ice in a high plains winter.

You didn’t have a change of clothes. When morning came, I stripped you down and made for the laundromat. Your odor lingered at armpits, abdomen, fly. Ripe. Bitter.

Hard to imagine you nights at the bars, the Trailways bus station, urinals at Pease Park. That’s not what you wanted. You wanted me to let go, to freefall with you wherever you were falling. I turned you down.

I don’t remember the look of you leaving, the feel of you missing when you were gone. I went back to work. You went back to Amarillo and electroshock.
 

III. Tuesday’s on the Phone to Me (1992)

At five you watched your mother scrubbing your father’s back in a panhandle farmhouse kitchen, your eyes fixed on your father’s bare flesh. At seventeen you told me about the bath, about silent sessions with your brother that fed your hunger later. At twenty-six, you put yourself to sleep for good.

Fifteen years. I did not try to save you.

Nights I wander a maze of truck-stop restrooms where the toilets overflow, backwash rippling dusky light into the eyes of roughnecks who grab me where it hurts. They slip away as I wake.

We cannot escape ourselves. You tried to tell me. Sandpaper kisses and hairy bellies, creek-bottom memories that burned in me: I knew your hunger. It pulses in me now, a heartbeat that will not be stilled.
 

IV. Coda (1993)

December gray this afternoon—the kind of Texas winter day that lights and shadows everything with haze, that opens up sunless distances. I see the same bleak sky above the high plains farm you left behind, the grave they put you in when you refused the weight of breathing. I see you walking the Shoal Creek trail in this fading light, as if somehow you have survived yourself and eased into midlife, essentially but comfortably alone, rounding the last bend before the river, hands in the pockets of the coat that warms you, shoulders hunched against the wet embracing chill.


About the Author:
David Meischen has been honored by a Pushcart Prize for his autobiographical essay, “How to Shoot at Someone Who Outdrew You,” forthcoming in Pushcart Prize XLII. Recipient of the 2017 Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story from the Texas Institute of Letters, Meischen has recent fiction, nonfiction, or poetry in Borderlands, Bosque, The Gettysburg Review, The Ocotillo Review, San Pedro River Review, Southern Poetry Review, Talking Writing, and elsewhere. Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, he lives in Albuquerque, NM, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.
(Visit David on Facebook.)

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


ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Poetry by Benjamin Goodney

Dear Desire

Emergency-orange survival blanket don’t feel like gem sleeves
         except in case of acceptance or alchemical chain. Dear desire
                   to stay awake I am acute acceleration of the strobe strobe strobe strobe
         through gel pigmented strata. No fierce pain but paisley
aches all down the tongue-pink inside of my dress. Lantern head sway
         trace a smile wide as dopamine, perverse joy of falling back
                   (the bubble in a perfectly inverted aluminum level).

Face down, new moon bed taut as nurse’s lipstick
         finger cramps a countercyclic twist round this aortic
                   pencilbound lost articles diary. Burn and dodge, trace opioid
         receptors heavy as Jupiter. Heatstroke hours of fallenness; became
sappy for tomorrow — rag paper day preening as though chlorophyl,
         serotonin hillside overwarm like a wasp-hive in the sun. No proscription,
                   you canoe unheard-of channels in this active caldera.

Prescription silver ribbons wound like stockings: me,
         footbound under the A/C vent, my ocean veins, my vital husk.
                   Now lick my blood and fuck me like a blowtorch. Always
         then I’m sleep sealed in freon; already acetylene, I
infix a shade of byzantium. A shade of the silk road. Your shadow any shade
         but gone. Oxytocin, please. Let that first press happen to me —
            heavy, bright, embraced in dazed and aching panes of cave ice.

 

Lean Tracks

I chop daikon and carrots and leeks in the dark.
My face in the shower’s a welcome distraction.

With chirring cicadas obscuring the target
I’m walking at night and the streetlamps are missing.

He’s twelve minutes late. I’m pretending to smoke.
The wind blows in gusts, except on the porch;

I pull down my sweater and don’t push the doorbell.
A ghost sends a text from a box the next morning.

I buy up her jewels from pawnshops on Lake.
I shut off the lights just to see what will happen.

The songs on the radio run up a tally
along with the taxis and women in furs.

A ship in the clouds flies a flag made for rain.
I turn to the laundry and sort out the colors.

 

Buffalo Sauce

Everything is terrible forever
Every thing amazing & no one is happy
Any bad brainstorm now molded in plastic
Consumers like us home in like amoebae

Thieves like us
It's a thrill

& carrion birds know by logo
Which paper bags hide burger slag,
         which mangled wings
It's best to decide elections in reality
Television style, don't you think?

So put the transistor on trial
Internet majority-void
Hive mind for oneironauts
On magic beans of transitory pleasure —
For instance here is the moon underfoot,
Here is a clone of your childhood pet

Dropper of glutamate,
Please and thank you

We find uses for the meat of the overlords
More tender than government butter
But always someone is snapping us candid
On manic nights dancing in neon-
Hung paradise, glossed by transocean flight

Getaway, the zeitgeist &
Con trails signal unnatural weather
Sky writing This is the future 

 

Paranoid Style in American Social Media Content

1. I Am Coming Home Again Unless It Hails Inside Again

You’re asking a question. My mouth is a liar.
I don’t have a hand that can write like a wing.

I can’t put this bone-mask beneath my face down.
Wording the truth is a rough science, and
someone has dialed all the facts down to zero.

Memory is reënactment, absurdist
drama produced by rats, performed in the round.
These keyholes are journals in visible ink

on invisible paper shaped like a femme.
Video lenses record only swarms
of pixilized phantasms equal to no one.

Most of our fucking has not yet existed.
You read each biography folded in half,
then fold them again into featherless cranes.

We hear ten words that my larynx ensorcels.
You read upside down. I hid all the passwords.

2. It Is a Code That All the Roof Beams Howl

I’m coming inside. Her mouth is a lyre.
I don’t have an ear that can catch like a kite.

Checking the story at quarter to midnight
I worry I’m sleepwalking into tomorrow—
memories flailing, cranes in a funnel cloud.

Her knuckles are skinned from fisting the walls,
as I taste when I find a warm absence again.
This page is take two and it writes like a rat

gnawing the histories pulping the facts.
Lately those mysteries are written on milk, but
what she believes in is the end of her life.

Her exes have moved to an addressless house
of jealous mosaics the color of keyholes.
A note from her friend says she isn’t her friend.

She speaks ten words that could hide in a doorframe.
The street is still wet. It listens for footsteps.


About the Author:
Benjamin Goodney's work has appeared in The McNeese Review, Best New Poets, Hotel Amerika, Pacifica Literary Journal, Guernica, and elsewhere. He is co-founder of the literary magazine Storm Cellar. He took two degrees in philosophy from Illinois and resides along the Minneapolis–Orlando corridor.

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


THE WOODSHOP: Jody Kennedy "I'm not a desk person by nature."

Jody Kennedy's main workspace: "I don't have a desk but I do have a bedside table..."

Jody Kennedy's main workspace: "I don't have a desk but I do have a bedside table..."

The Woodshop peeks into the workspaces and habits of writers of all stripes and styles. Stephen King advises us to “put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.” Joan Didion spent the night in the same room as her work when it was almost finished. Don DeLillo kept a picture of Borges close by. When, where, and how, do you work?

This glimpse into the writer’s life comes courtesy of Jody Kennedy.


Where do you do your work?

A: I work pretty much exclusively in my bedroom, leaning against pillows in bed with the computer on my lap. When my kids are in school I sometimes end up on the couch in the living room. I've never been able to do any serious writing in coffee shops or libraries though park benches, empty churches, and out of the way beaches are another story. There's quite a bit of sorting out that happens on my daily walks, too.

02_Kennedy Woodshop.jpg

What do you keep on your desk?

A: I owned a desk once when I was a kid but never used it. I'm not a desk person by nature. There's something about the physical contact with the notebook or computer on my lap that makes for a more visceral writing experience. I expect it's something like a sculptor working with clay, no gloves, only sculpting tools and bare hands. So to answer the question, I don't have a desk but I do have a bedside table with a small lamp, pens, a flashlight and scrap paper (when ideas for a project I'm working on show up as I'm falling asleep or in the middle of the night), an icon of the Virgin Mary, and a bowl of seashells collected from Sanibel Island, Florida (also home to one of the best public libraries). On the floor next to the bed, you'll find a stack of current and to read books along with my notebook.

03_Kennedy Woodshop.jpg

What's your view like?

A: A row of tall, beautiful Cypress trees which (thankfully) block the view of the neighboring apartment building.

What do you eat/drink while you work?

A: Chocolate and coffee (when I'm drinking coffee).

Do you have any superstitions about your work?

A: I'm not sure I have any superstitions about my work though I do spend a lot of my writing time staring.

Share a recent line/sentence written in this space.

A: “… having hitherto known only hardship, suddenly sprouted the most glorious wings and peeling away out of our arms, lifted off and left us for more friendly and temperate environs.”


Jody Kennedy is a writer and photographer living in Provence, France. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Electric Literature’s Okey-Panky, Hobart, Rattle, The Georgia Review, among others. More at her website https://jodyskennedy.wordpress.com/


Tell CutBank about your workspace. Submit via email to cutbankonline@gmail.com

BURN PILE: Burnt Books

"Jorge Luis Borges noted that ‘of all man’s instruments the most wondrous is, without any doubt, the book ... it is the extension of memory and imagination’. The key word here is ‘memory’. Books form the collective memory that any conqueror, dictator or fanatic seeks to destroy."
Kenneth Baker, "Burning Books"

As if meant to counterbalance the forces of the universe, the Montana Book Festival (Sept 27-Oct 1) shares the calendar with Banned Books Week. You owe it to humanity to join us in Missoula to celebrate all things lit (and pie and whiskey, and such).

banning books buring books.jpg

There will be no burnings (and no bannings) of books or other goodness, although you might just get a little lit yourself. The full festival schedule is right here, and while you're running around Missoula, be a good citizen and visit the festival's sponsors.

The Burning of Books or St Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians, By Pedro Berruguete, 15th century

The Burning of Books or St Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians, By Pedro Berruguete, 15th century

The American Library Association takes on the hefty mission of providing "leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” (Emphasis is emphatically ours...) Part of their chores involve dealing with challenges lain on the table by folks who wish the world conformed more tightly to their own views. Here's the top 10 from last year. You might detect a theme running through these challenges... Hmm...

At BannedBooksWeek.org, you can dig into 10 Deliciously Dangerous Poetry Books, an examination of Banned Books that Shaped America (I'm thrilled that Where the Wild Things Are made this list!), and although the map is a tad outdated, Mapping Censorship is an interesting view of what and where in the efforts to shut down access to "questionable" literature. Missoula apparently had issues with Jon Jackson's Dead Folks and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. 

Signature-Reads.com gives Tom Blunt, offering up 16 Quotes from Great Authors for Banned Books Week. Among these is the closer for this week's Burnpile, from Henry Louis Gates Jr., “2 Live Crew, Decoded,” 1990:

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

The comments are wide open. If you've got thoughts, let's see 'em.

Be kind, be generous with your art and your heart, and Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum.

BURN PILE: The season is upon us —

…for submissions!

Submissions for the CutBank print edition are now open. Our print journal is accepting submissions of fiction or creative nonfiction up to 8,500 words, and poetry up to 5 poems per submission. Electronic only, please. There is no fee, and full guidelines are right here: http://www.cutbankonline.org/print-edition/

The CutBank Big Sky, Small Prose: Flash Contest is still open, but shuts down entries tomorrow, September 16. There’s a $500 first place prize, with publication in CutBank 88. Two runners-up will be awarded $50 and publication in CutBank 88.  All other submissions will be considered with submissions for the CutBank print edition. Send us 750 words or fewer. Lyric essays, prose poems, short essays, vignettes - send us your best, most dazzling short form prose. Hurry!  Entry fee is only $7.00. Submit here: https://cutbank.submittable.com/submit

David Byron Queen, in the fiction track at UM’s MFA program, has a fabulously unsettling flash piece up in the latest issue of (b)OINK: "Bonesetters." And Renée Branum (UM MFA 2017), is the Nonfiction Winner of Aquifer, the Florida Review Online’s 2017 Editor’s Award, with her essay, “Bolt.”  

The Cassini spacecraft made the ultimate sacrifice, and is now mind-and-body melded with Saturn. Its life ended in a fiery, “do no harm” way, to ensure our horrible terrestrial microbes wouldn’t rub off should Cassini bump into Titan or Enceladus, two of Saturn’s SIXTY-TWO moons. Coverage here, at WAPO.

Elsewhere in the sky, we’ve had atmospheric issues nationwide (that’s an understatement), yet some beauty may still come of it. The Northwest may be seeing its season of flames and haze end soon, and yet, words remain, some of them gorgeous in their ominous tone. Or just plain gorgeous. The Seattle Times turned to artists and writers to turn smoke into art.

In the random notes file, we’ve got wonders from all around:

Until next time, here’s Elvis Costello, and his pitch to “write every day” … sort of. 
:-)