Fiction

The True Death of Agamemnon

by M F McAuliffe

 

Agamemnon left. Retired. Took his war-pension and went down the coast, remarried and set up as a fisherman. He wasn’t any great shakes at that; the boat was all stove in on the left-hand side, right where the frame swept up to form the bow. The thing was up on trestles in the shed next to a broken down Harley.

When they heard who he was all the local blokes offered to help with the repairs. He’d never been one to turn down a volunteer so there was a standing arrangement for them to come around whenever the weather was inclement.

It was frequently inclement.

The woman he’d married was the one he’d brought back from the war. Apparently she’d said the boat’d be the death of him. He used to tell ’em that, back in the shed, put on a face and show ’em how his eye had lit up and he’d roared that she was as big an idiot as she’d ever been, the only thing the boat had ever killed was fish, and not too many of them, either; and now even the fish were safe because he never went out in it.

Apparently she never spoke to him after that.

She never seemed to move or speak at all. Just sat at the kitchen table with that old mobile she never used, long red nails around a glass of beer, half-smoked cigarette in

her right hand. Not till the day of the funeral did anyone see her without a fag in her hand and a column of smoke at her shoulder.

Well, whenever it rained the friends’d arrive, sort of slouch past the picture-window; the wife’d just sit there, elbows on the laminex, grey and white random cross-stripe it was, jerk her head and nod for ’em to go along to the shed. Of course all they ever did was help Agamemnon with the keg and knock ’emselves silly on the bracing or the scaffolds while they guzzled and glugged and cackled at stories from his glory days as a general. The repairs never progressed at all.

And that’s what happened, of course.

One Saturday afternoon Agamemnon himself staggered against the boat one time too many. There were only two trestles holding the whole thing up, and the thing was fifteen feet long, solid oak, except for the hole. The momentum carried him to the front edge of the hole. He threw his arm out to save himself and the impact jostled the whole thing off balance. The front trestle tipped and fell; the whole front end fell. Splintered oak at the edge of the hole, long and sharp as a spear. Oak ribs adding to the weight.

The spear punctured a lung. He was dead in ten minutes.

It was still raining. Like all the others it was one of those grey coast days when it rained from dawn to dusk, dawn just a low black sky turning grey and dusk just a low grey sky turning black.

The back of the boat was still on its trestle. That was how they got it off him, eased in under until they could raise the front long enough to prise him loose. They laid him out and then told the wife.

She still didn’t move. The smoke from the cigarette just ascended, steadily.

She must’ve moved sometime. She buried him.

The friends all turned up at the funeral, sober for the first sunny day in years.

The wife quit smoking, sold the place, gave the Harley to one of the friends, and moved away.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

M. F. McAuliffe is the co-author of the poetry collection Fighting Monsters (1998) and the limited-edition artist’s book Golems Waiting Redux (2011).

Her short fiction has appeared in Overland, siglo, Australian Short Stories, The Adelaide Review, The Clarion Awards, and Eye-Rhyme. Her poetry has appeared in Famous Reporter, Poezija (Zagreb), and Prairie Schooner, among other venues; her long poem “Orpheus” was staged by the experimental La Mama Courthouse Theatre in Carlton, Victoria, in May, 2000.

In 2002 she co-founded the multilingual magazine Gobshite Quarterly with R. V. Branham, and she continues there as contributing editor.

 

1467358_10151695440636548_174055202_nphoto by Steve Shewchuck

 

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Poetry

panic switch and other poems

by Cher Bibler

 

panic switch

 

I am quite intense, my dear,

it’s easy to be afraid. let me

walk you through the parameters, let

me introduce you to the fear. here is a

safe room where you can take

refuge; it’s quite legal,

I have provided it for you.

look, there is an escape door out

the back. you will enter the

street from there so make sure

it’s what you want.

you won’t be invited back,

I don’t take rejection well. you will have

to step out into the world with

a smile on your face because that

is what the world expects and we

like to provide what the

world wants, don’t we? we don’t

like to stand out, that is why my space is

far removed, protected.

here is the switch you can turn

if it gets to be too much, if you

want to slow it down. it will

alert me, it will send

sedatives pulsing through my veins.

it will give you time to think, you

can reconsider. no other

relationship offers a panic

switch; it is unique with me.

one of the perks, one of the

reasons you can feel safe.

I will take your heart, your

soul, and check them behind the

desk. don’t worry I’ll keep them

safe. I will take your hesitation,

your doubt, and pack them away. only you

can decide if you want them back.

only you can decide how far

to go.

 

 

 

 

my line of work

 

I drag it around like the

mother of a marriageable daughter

shoving her in the faces of

eligible men

dressing her up like a gift wrapped package

I pull my poems around in a

cage like circus animals on display

in sad small towns where men sit

in the square with beer drunk by noon

I whore my words out on

street corners hair teased faces thick with

paint tarted up to look

like they’re a big deal

the lure the only thing that matters

the deed unimportant

I dip each word in chocolate to

disguise the bitterness

drown each stanza in gin to

make it slide down faster

and I am quite successful in my

line of work

 

 

 

working out a solo

 

last night at practice listening

to him work out a solo playing

the rhythm part over and over as

he tried it one way and then

another as it got better and better

only to fall apart and start over

and over I drifted away and

thought of other things the

rain in the afternoon and standing in the

car garage talking shelter with

the guys who always wave

at me when I go past they stood in

the doorway and watched the rain

I did too

the streets were flooded and I

waded through, the water warm

from the hot pavement

over and over sometimes my mind

wanders so far I screw up my

simple 4 chords but all of a

sudden the solo came together and I

was there again and when he finished I had

to say Oh I like that

 

 

 

 

painted truth

 

I have painted truth between these words

I was unable to keep totally silent and yet

I can’t be totally honest either

I hide behind lies and fiction

but I have cleverly planted truth

I am hoping you’ll see it and know that

you’ll be able to understand because

I have no other way to reach you

I have planted truth between the rows

like covert marijuana they will

reap a grim harvest if consumed

their smoke will rise in a slow line

to the sky

 

 

 

 

 

a bowl of memories

 

I have a bowl of memories on

the coffee table. They glow

in many hues. Some are too dark to

look at for very long. Some

bite when you touch them.

Some of them will stain your fingers.

Others are happier, of course,

many of them are happy but

they are overshadowed by

the darker ones. When people look

into the bowl those are all

they see.

 

 

 

 

this is how the story ends

 

this is how the story ends

the silence at the back of the room

the respectful pause

the breath before the sudden freedom

the pull before the last binding breaks

the last look around at the

world you thought you couldn’t live without

memories that dissolve like dust

a happiness that fills you

unexpectedly when you realize this

the dropping away

the shedding of your fears

the realization of how little you actually need

the rise of your heart

 

 *****************************************************************************

Cher Bibler is the author of one book of poetry, California, California. She has worked as editor of Amanda Blue, a poetry magazine, and co-editor of a literary magazine, the Wastelands Review. She was a fiction reader for the Mid American Review and worked as poetry editor for the Heartlands Review. She was a book reviewer for Literary Zoo.

She was a founding member of the alternative band Tinfoil, as bass/rhythm guitarist, singer and songwriter. Over their career, they released 12 albums. One of their songs, People Don’t Know, will be featured in a film, Certainty, directed by Keith Mosher, due for a fall 2011 release.

Her short story, Not Waving But Drowning, was a winner in the annual NOBS competition, and her current novel, Billie, was a finalist in this year’s (2011) Faulkner competition.  Her poem, Merida, Easter, will be included in an upcoming Evergreen Review.

She now resides in Mérida, is in the process of forming a new band, and serves as editor of this publication.

 DSC_0141

 

photo by Dan Griffin

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Fiction

Underground

 by Antanas Sileika

There was, I knew, blood beneath the verdure and tombs in the deep glades of oak and fir. The fields and forests and rivers had seen war and terror, elation and desperation; death and resurrection; Lithuanian kings and Teutonic knights, partisans and Jews; Nazi Gestapo and Stalinist NKVD. It is a haunted land where greatcoat buttons from six generations of fallen soldiers can be discovered lying amidst the woodland ferns.

 

Landscape and Memory

Simon Schama

 

An ill-defined borderline wavers somewhere around the middle of Europe – its precise location has not been stable over the decades. At present, on the far side of this boundary, the eastern side, lies a zone where beer and hotels are cheaper than they are in the west, and so planeloads of young men travel there to drink, far from the eyes of wives and girlfriends. Indiscretions, transgressions, and sometimes even crimes committed on the far side of this line don’t really count.

Once, the line was a metaphor called the Iron Curtain, and before that it followed a jagged course along the borders of countries freed from the Hapsburg and Czarist empires.

Like the mythical town of Brigadoon, these countries appeared for only a short time between the wars before they disappeared from memory for fifty years in 1940.

What followed was such a confusing war on that side of Europe! The war was much easier to understand in the West, where the forces of more or less good, triumphed in May of 1945. On the eastern side, on the other hand, the messy side, the war sputtered on in pockets for another decade, fought by partisans who came out of their secret bunkers by night.

When that fighting finally ended, sullen resistance went more deeply underground, to be nurtured in memory, as well as buried in hidden archives below the earth or left to molder in the files of the secret police, called the Cheka, where no one was ever likely to look. Aboveground lay a series of police states.

This place was somewhat quaint, yet so much more brutal than the West – it was a place where generations were mown down as soon as they were tall enough to meet the scythe. And yet many lives went on in their own way, even during the worst of the fighting.

On a cold, snowy April evening in 1946, in the Lithuanian provincial capital of Marijampole, an engagement party was taking place on the second story of a wooden house with four flats, a house not far from the exquisite train station, where railway cars of goods and captives rumbled by eastward with great frequency.

When Lukas walked into the kitchen to get another bottle of vodka late that night, he found Elena with her back to him, leaning over the counter, her curly brown hair loose. He could see the tension in her shoulders, squared and stiff, as if braced for a blow. After a moment, she turned and looked at him.

Elena’s brown eyes were very large, a little moist from the cigarette smoke in the flat. She wore a dark gray wool suit, her work clothes, with a natural linen blouse beneath the jacket and an amber pendant on a silver chain.

Behind her on the white, ceramic counter lay two massive loaves of black bread, one of them almost finished, a large dish of herring and onions, the remains of a cooked goose, a ham and a string of sausages. Elena had worked hard to get her hands on so much food, rare in these postwar years, and the scent of it had helped to bring the seven distinguished guests.

The accordionist in the next room was playing a jaunty dance version of J’ai Deux Amours, a tune that Elena remembered from before the war. Her mother and father had danced to the recording in their house, the French doors open to the garden. It had been an anniversary or a namesday, she couldn’t remember which.

It didn’t matter. Her mother and father were dead, the house destroyed.

Looking into her eyes, Lukas realized he should comfort Elena, but he was not feeling altogether calm at their engagement party either. He was sweating profusely. He was slim and fair and wore a threadbare two-piece suit with a jacket that was a little too long for him, as well as a sweater vest mended at the collar and a red tie and puff. On reflection, he realized these adornments were a little exaggerated, almost provocative, but there was no way to remove them once the guests had seen them.

Lukas was unaccustomed to being inside a flat with so many people, unaccustomed to the niceties of conversation, of saying one thing and meaning another. He found it hard to keep his feelings buried, and the struggle was showing, but he needed above all to support Elena.

Lukas glanced at the engagement ring on her hand. It was a very thin gold band with a tiny red stone, not much better than a high school girl’s first ring, but the best he could do. There wasn’t much jewelry around, and those who had it didn’t show it.

Elena flinched as he put his hands around her neck and looked into her eyes.

“We don’t have to go through with this if you can’t do it,” he said. “Nobody would blame you.”

“Not even you?”

“Especially not me.”

“It’s been a very short engagement, after all,” said Elena.

She was joking. A good sign. “A whirlwind romance,” he agreed. He left his hands where they were, around her neck. He wanted to kiss her, but felt awkward, didn’t know if that was permitted now.

Lukas heard the kitchen door open, and he pressed into Elena, his middle tight against hers as if they were making love. He kissed her, the pressure of her lips obliterating all other thoughts for a moment.

“I wondered where you two were,” a voice said. “There’ll be plenty of time for kisses later. Get back in here.”

Gedrius was the District Chairman, the first to have arrived that evening and therefore the drunkest of them all. He’d taken off his jacket and loosened his tie, and his shirttails now hung out at the back. He had stained his shirt and talked much too much, but he was affable, almost lovable in his own way, or anyway, better than the rest. Gedrius and the others came from a different world, one of documents and rubber stamps, boardrooms and meetings, dust and sheaves of paper pinned together. Not like Lukas’s world at all.

To fortify Lukas’s stomach against the drink, Elena had served him half a glass of cooking oil before the evening began. It had made him gag at the time, but now he was holding up better against the vodka than he had expected. Maybe too well. He couldn’t feel the alcohol at all.

Elena shook out her curls and brushed her fingers through her hair, and then linked hands with Lukas.

“Give us a moment, and we’ll be right out.”

“All right, but don’t delay too much. Everyone’s dying to spend a little time with you.”

As Gedrius stepped back, Lukas could see briefly into the other room where the two beds had been pushed aside to make a small dance floor beyond the dining table. The others were dancing in the dimly lit room: Elena’s roommate with the Director of the Komsomol, and her sister, Stase, with the city chairman. Two candles lit the dining table because the electricity went off at ten each night. Vinskis kept wanting to talk to Gedrius about some internal passports stolen from the office where he worked, and he took the man by the arm as soon as he stepped out of the kitchen.

“You’re a bundle of nerves too,” said Elena. “Call it off. We can cool down for a while and try this again later.”

“I wish I could call it off, but I can’t. It’s too late. Did you see the look he gave me when he walked into the kitchen?”

“I didn’t see anything. What are you talking about?”

“Vinskis suspects me. He must have said something to Gedrius.”

“Do you want to get out of here?”

“Vinskis and Gedrius are by the door.”

“Say you’re going to the toilet.”

“They might not let me pass. Do you want to wait in here?”

“No, I promised I’d help you. I’m going with you.” Her willingness made him feel warm toward her, but the emotion was brief. He had other things on his mind now.

“Do you have your handbag?” asked Lukas.

“Under the table.”

Elena reached beneath the table and took her bag. Inside the other room, the accordionist started up another tune.

“Be careful of my sister.”

Lukas nodded and reached into his pockets. He held the Walther PP in his right hand because it was heavier and had eight rounds. The lighter PPK with seven rounds was in his left. Elena had one in her handbag as well.

When Elena opened the kitchen door for him, Lukas strode out with his arms extended and turned first to face Vinskis and Gedrius because they were standing and their own pistols would be easy to get to, whereas the men sitting at the table would need to rise first. Lukas fired at Vinskis, two shots to the neck, and the man’s head rolled onto his chest as he collapsed. Gedrius, for all his drunkenness, had his own pistol halfway out of his pocket when Lukas fired at him and the man went down.

The accordionist stopped playing and stared at them, but Elena’s roommate was more cool-headed and leaned forward to blow out one of the candles. The other two men were rising from their chairs.

Lukas fired with his left hand, but his shots went wild. Elena killed them for him. Her roommate opened her mouth to say something, but Lukas did not want to hear it. He fired once at her forehead and she went down too.

“Let’s go,” said Elena.

“Wait.”

Lukas went toward Elena’s sister, Stase, who had fallen from her chair and pulled herself to a wall where she looked at them with terrified eyes. Lukas crouched down to look her in the face.

“I have to do this for your own good,” he said.

Lukas had to act quickly before Elena intervened.

Stase’s lower lip was trembling and her eyes were wild with fear. Lukas stepped back and took aim at Stase. If he was too close, he might leave powder burns. If he stood too far away, he might miss in either direction.

Stase shut her eyes as Lukas fired and then she yelped with pain and the blood came down her arm. Lukas turned quickly to face Elena before she could shoot him, which she might do if she misunderstood.

“Stase has to be wounded or the Chekists will say she was part of this all along,” said Lukas.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“I couldn’t. It was too dangerous.”

Elena’s face was flushed. The room was filled with blood, splatters up on the wall, pools on the floor among the wreckage of bodies and overturned chairs.

Elena dropped her hand with the pistol in it and crouched down beside Stase.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you. When the Chekists come, you can honestly say you didn’t know anything. They’ll let you go.”

“You’ve turned into a monster. I don’t even know who you are.”

There was no time. As Elena stood up, the accordionist, wounded in the throat by a ricochet, struggled up from his chair and charged out the door with the accordion still on his shoulders. The instrument squawked like a frightened animal all the way down the staircase. The Komsomol Director began to stir from where he had fallen beneath the table, tried to rise, and Lukas fired another shot into him.

The neighbours would soon overcome their terror and go to the militia. Lukas and Elena put on their coats, closed the door behind them, and walked down a flight of steps and out onto the street. It was snowing. There was a sled for them a few blocks away, near the train station.

The streets were empty and profoundly silent. If a militiaman passed by, he would be sure to ask them for their documents just for something to do. Elena tried to pick up her pace, but Lukas held her back slightly so they would not seem to be rushing.

“We did it!” whispered Lukas “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“It was so easy to kill those two hateful men, but so strange. What must you think of me now?” asked Elena.

“I love you even more.”

“I feel lightheaded, good in a way, yet it was unbearable. I’ll never be the same,” she said.

“No, you won’t. I wasn’t like this either.  But we have to strike back, even if it means hardening our hearts.”

Elena would need to do that. Her heart was beating wildly at the moment. So hard, that she was afraid it would burst in her chest. She was holding Lukas’s arm and gripped it more tightly.

Lukas enjoyed the pressure of her hand on his arm. They so rarely had the opportunity to touch one another. He had killed many others before this, but never at such close quarters, never after talking and eating together. It was all horrible, yet the killing had brought Elena to him again.

 

Some Notes on My Novel, Underground

 

I was working through the line edits of my novel while I was staying with my wife and a family friend near Mérida.  I can hardly think of a better place to work. The weather was warm, the surroundings charming, the perfect setting for a break after hours of poring over the text.

Underground is a love story set in a “secret” war, one that took place in the late forties, but which remains largely unknown on this side of the Atlantic. It has to do with a man who must make an ancient choice, one between his duty and the women he loves. When the novel came out in March, it was reviewed across the country, and I am spending this fall doing book tours across Canada.

I hope you enjoy the snippet of a first chapter I have included here – it was partially Made in Mexico!

 

*****************************************************************************

 

Antanas Sileika is the author of four books of fiction. He has published widely in newspapers and magazine as well, and does book reviews on radio and television. He is the director of the Humber School for Writers.

 

www.antanassileika.com


 

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Poetry

Unitedstatesians and other poems

by Fer de la Cruz

 

Unitedstatesians

 

They speak every language in the world in their cities

and they read all the literatures in their libraries.

Their visits to the moon don´t impress me much.

 

Their moonshine is out of this world,

sweet as the white corn they invented.

They harvest the best apples from their fields.

They have good wine and cheese, bourbon, and microbeer.

 

They have lawyers and doctors washing dishes

—those who don´t speak the language.

At home, dishwashers are illiterate.

 

They´re puritan as Muslims—many are Muslims, Buddhists, Catholic,

or even devout pagans—except for those who´re not.

 

They´re racist as everyone else,

but they´ll admit it. And many fight for equality,

collect signatures, change laws, and such…

 

True, they always have a war: some fight in it while others are against it.

Very unlike us, they trust their institutions.

I don´t picture them as subjects to a foreign monarch,

like Australians, Belizeans, or Canadians.

They value their own dynasties

but not more than backyard barbecue.

 

They have frybread, pita bread, tortillas, and samosas, falafels, empanadas…

They have all of us too—my uncles, aunts, and cousins who are American

and celebrate Thanksgiving, and hyphenate their names, which is also my name.

So I can´t say I don´t love them.

 

Now they´re aiming for Mars

which belongs to the universe and all.

Next, they´ll claim it as their own

like I´m claiming this piece of American Literature

as my own.

 

 

Trace of Mona Lisa

 

A smiley face next to the line I like.

This one came out with quite a smirk.

I read the line as I recall

the dwelling for my cat when I was, nine?

who redefines me

each time I feel his whiskers on my lap

as in a dream

or as your eyes tonight

or as this amber flame

containing the rejoicing of shooting stars.

 

O do I love this line!

which makes me wonder what my face looks like

this moment as I chant.

 

Heavenly Epic of Cats and Dogs

 

It´s raining cats and dogs.

The barking falls as thunder. The

cats´ eyes resemble lightning. And the

fights…

the cats flashing their paws as they

keep balance midair;

the dogs displaying their teeth

while spinning in the sky,

Chihuahuas and Great Danes

equally terrified.

 

Each battle is won by cats;

aerodynamic instinct makes them experts

on hitting solid ground.

 

But those poor dogs, o dear!

I hope there really is

a heaven for them all.

 

 

Absolute

 

Nothing is really happening.

That car did not go by

Nor did we hear the bell of the ice-cream vendor.

We don´t see façades in flowery colors.

Nobody is roasting beef

while listening to cumbia on the radio,

urgeing grackles to grack between the branches

that are not being shaken

by non-existing wind.

Even these tiny ants

are not making the ground move in the shade

that isn´t here. A-ah.

 

The only real thing is all around us,

among us, inside us,

before and after us,

if you´re a voice of faith.

 

The problem

is

to find it.

 

 *****************************************************************************

Fernando de la Cruz Herrera (Yucatán, México, 1971) holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010), “Aliteletras. De la a a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011, in print), “Sabotaje a la che y otros poemas de martitologio” (2012, Instituto de Cultura de Yucatán, announced) and in the chapbook “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008). He has received two national, one regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico. His main passions are poetry (which he often finds in theatre, music, film…), language teaching made fun, and the constant discovery of the flavors, shapes, and depths of human life / delacrux@hotmail.com.

Fer recently won 1st prize in the Premio Regional de Poesia Jose Diaz Bolio, 2011, sponsored by Patronato Pro Historia Peninsular, $10,000 pesos, his second time. The first was in 2003.

And 2nd place in the Premio Estatal de Literatura Infantil Elvia Rodriguez Cirerol, 2011, sponsored by Instituto de Cultura de Yucatan, $5,000 pesos.

 kristi54

photo by Kristi Harms

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Fiction

Blue TV Show

by Geoff Schutt

The TV was a little old black-and-white, but it still worked fine. She wanted a color — not a color TV, but a single color for the black-and-white. She went to the hardware store looking for those colored party lights. The hardware store had them on clearance. People were switching to the newer light bulbs, the ones that save energy and last forever. Well, she thought, I don’t need forever. She tried to remember how many light bulbs it would take. Her preference was green, but there were only two green lights left, not enough — not even close. There were plenty of blue light bulbs. Blue would be okay. Blue would work. Yes, it would be fine. The more she thought about it, turning the black-and-white TV to blue was even better than green. She needed green light for the distance, for later. Green light was the ending. Green light was like the end of Gatsby’s pier.  Green light was all F. Scott Fitzgerald and filled with glamor and tragedy. This was the middle. This could be blue. There is still some glamor in blue, she thought.  Or tragedy.  Maybe one or the other, but probably not both, this being the middle.  She wasn’t sure and she didn’t really care.  Either one would be fine.

 

Eleanor removed all of the regular light bulbs, and replaced them. She put the regular light bulbs in the trash. She folded up the plastic garbage bag and began to crush the old lights, stepping on them. The shards were breaking through. One of the shards went right through her shoe. She cut herself, but it didn’t really hurt.  She didn’t even care if she was bleeding.

She cleaned up the mess. Her father wouldn’t be home for hours. She didn’t want forever, but she did want now.

She turned the station from something to nothing. To those tiny white dots, the white noise white dots, except now they were blue. She had a blue TV, and all she could think of was to watch the tiny dots — these magnificent tiny blue dots.

*

Eleanor showered herself in the blue light. She bathed in it. She turned up the volume on her blue TV. Tiny blue dots can make a lot of noise. You don’t think about the noise the dots make, really, but they do. She danced a while, in front of the TV, to the noisy dots, like they were a band playing her favorite song, right now. And when she was tired, from all of the excitement — and this was exciting to her — though ask her why and she wouldn’t be able to tell you — she sat down, legs crossed. She was breathing hard and deep.

She saw there was a world in those tiny blue dots. She saw everything — her world at least. She saw her father. She saw herself. It wasn’t so much fun seeing herself.

*

I think I forgot to rinse some of the old colors from my hair, she thinks. There’s too much lather. There’s not enough blue on me. Look at my arms. The blue is reflecting off how white I am, how pale I am. I have alabaster blue skin, isn’t that funny? (No, it’s not.)

*

If I can see the world, I can see anything, can’t I? It doesn’t have to be my own life. It can be a stranger’s life. I can make my own TV show. I’ll call it Blue TV Show, to go with my blue TV.

But at first it was her world.

I can see my mother. I’m not sure I want to see her. She looks so lost — see that? I like her looking lost, she thought. This is something to write a postcard about: Wish you were here, but I guess you are, aren’t you?

You’re not here anymore, can’t you see that? (screaming at the blue TV)

*

Eleanor knew what she was missing. Refreshments. Snacks. Popcorn. Chips. Or maybe just a drink. She made herself a vodka drink. There wasn’t any orange juice left, just grapefruit. Her lips puckered when she sipped her vodka drink. It was a strong drink, but she could handle her liquor. She always could.  From the age of whatever, when she was even younger than she was now, when nobody was looking because they were fucking drinking so much and it was easy to drink right along with them – even though she had to pretend she was not alone.  They drank theirs, and she drank hers.  And nobody was the wiser now, were they?  Nope.

*

I am watching you, she says to the tiny dots on the blue TV. What game shall we play next? I’m sick of my world. My world makes me want to vomit.

Okay. Okay.

She drank, and she drank some more. The blue light was making her dizzy. Her blue alabaster skin was goose bumped. She was cold.

She put her face very close to the screen, but was careful not to touch it. There was purity in this blue TV. You cannot buy purity. It happens or it’s part of you, but you cannot go to the store and buy purity when it’s gone.

I can see you, so won’t you come out and play? What are you afraid of — me? I’m harmless.

(I am lonely though, she thinks.)

(Eleanor hopes her father screams when he gets home. She has no more screaming left inside her own body, and she needs his screaming to make her feel whole again. She remembers her foot, cut from the broken glass from the light bulbs.  She still doesn’t feel any pain, and the dried blood, well, it’s blue, so it must not be real blood.  Real blood is not blue.  She must be faking it.  She made it all up.  It didn’t happen.)

*

Okay. So here’s how it goes. Are you with me? I put you and you over to the left. That would be stage right —right? And I put you in the middle. And you — I don’t have a place for you yet. What’s your name? What kind of experience do you have? Do you have a resume? I’m sorry, but you can go backstage for now. Off camera. Get yourself a soda pop. You just go to the side, where I can’t see you.

You, there in the middle — you leave as well.

I just want the other two of you. Have a conversation. Just start talking already, will you?

*

There is a man. There is a woman.

The man says, I can see the moon from here. Look — it’s so close we can touch it! The woman says, I don’t like the moon. I prefer the stars. The man says, Well, we all want to be stars don’t we? But the moon — now look at that. It’s really something tonight.

The woman says, It’s blue. It’s too bright, she says. I can’t see my stars, she says.

You’re a damned fool, the man says. You want to see something else when something grand and glorious is right in front of you. You want to see something that isn’t there.

Well don’t we all? the woman says.

*

Yes! Yes! Eleanor is saying.

Eleanor is saying, in a whisper — I want to see what isn’t there.

The vodka drink has made her all emotional. I want to see what I can’t see. What’s hiding, I mean.  Because it must be hiding.

She moves back from the TV, her head spinning.

Won’t you just tell me a story? she is thinking. You can lie if you want to. It doesn’t have to be true. Just tell me a story.  You can even scream the story if you want to – yes, you in the spotlight. I’m talking your direction. Don’t move from the spotlight.  I mean you, yes.

I want to listen to what I can’t hear, and I want to see what is invisible.  I want to see what’s really in the blue.  I really wish you were here.

(an excerpt from the novel, The Girl Behind The Glass)

 

*****************************************************************************

 

About Geoff Schutt:

 

“Blue TV Show” is an excerpt from Geoff Schutt’s first novel, The Girl Behind The Glass.  Schutt’s short fiction has been published widely since the 1990s, including Gordon Lish’s The Quarterly (Vintage Books/Random House), The Best of Writers at Work, The Wastelands Review, The Heartlands Today, Modern Short Stories and The Laurel Review, among others.

In addition to his fiction, Schutt has also received artist grants for his performance art – in particular, for his interactive storytelling, which involves the audience in the finished piece.

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, he has lived in recent years in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Asheville, North Carolina, and currently writes full time in the Washington D.C. area.

Geoff Schutt is represented by James McGinniss at McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City.

His blog, which chronicles the process of writing of The Girl Behind The Glass, is located at http://geoffschutt.blogspot.com

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Poetry

Lydia Tomkiw: Glowing Bright as Nirvana

“My pristine self is melting, my old whore halo / Glowing bright as Nirvana.”

• Lydia Tomkiw, “Blush #102”  

 

A conversation between Sharon Mesmer and bart plantenga about Lydia Tomkiw.

BART: Lydia Tomkiw had it all and I was envious. Envy melted away to admiration, however, after her early book of poetry, Popgun Sonatas, led to her first single with partner Don Hedeker, “True Romance at the World’s Fair.” This took college radio by storm – in some ways reminding me of Tim Buckley – creating a delicate balance between precious and punk, tender and hardened. It became one of the most played indie singles during my early listening days at WFMU, before I started DJing there. She had it all, including poetic chops and a partner who played Lenny Kaye to her Patti Smith or Sonny to her Cher, or… They toured, she got fan letters, was on the avant edge of the spoken word explosion in the early 1980s and was a pioneer of the fusion of difficult poetic investigations of the heart with pop flirtations.

Lydia & Sharon, Photo by Margaret Hussey, Dec. 1979, Clark Street, Chicago

She loved the taste and perks of fame; one of my favorite lines of hers is from “Charming Twilight Haze”: “We feel like celebrities – we / Sway and the crowds scatter; / We’ll go home when the birds start singing.” That this high could go higher was never in doubt, that it could precipitate a dramatic and tragic fall from the grace known as some renown still bugs me because this good friend died and talent and poetic insight could not save her.

We couldn’t save her either – or could we have? She died in September 2007 of a broken heart or ill health due to a what’s-the-use existential shove into a hard deep corner. This is how I see it. What’s your take?

SHARON:  Firstly, you write that “talent and poetic insight could not save her.” To me – and I’m no romantic – that’s exactly what does some people in. What did her in, among other factors. It’s a savage truth, no less true today than it ever was.  Maybe it’s truer today, when there’s even less of an advantage toward survival for the intelligent and sensitive, and a surfeit of advantage for the dull and unimaginative. I think Lydia both wanted and didn’t want to be saved, though I think she wanted to be saved more than she wanted to end up adrift. She truly wanted to be saved, but I think she was reluctant to try to save herself, and that was probably what would’ve saved her: utilizing that ability herself.

BART: I agree for the most part. I remember lots of conversations about death, however. She really seemed like a Romantic poet or some Pre-Raphaelite with her elaborate preparations for her death. She is portrayed in my novel Beer Mystic and here I quote from it:She dreamt of the lavish funeral details and the exact circumstances of her death – in bed on the brink of being discovered for her musical accomplishments, her best friend [”You don’t want her,” She warned. “She don’t drink beer, hates it.”] holding her left hand, It was as if we grew up in a time when one’s poetic gravity could be measured by one’s insights into death and dying – many we admired killed themselves, it just seemed like part of the job description. In one scene she takes me to the local coffin maker in Brooklyn, just on the other side of 3rd Ave. I think and she showed me the kind of coffin she wanted. She told me the songs she wanted played at her funeral; to quote once again from Beer Mystic: “She knew the exact four songs – I can’t remember, a Roy Orbison song, something by Joy Division, a song by Sinatra, and one by Echo & the Bunnymen with the line ‘Everybody loves you when you’re dead’ – she’d hummed them all.”

But when she was on top of the world she could be the most effervescent, gloriously alive and happy…

SHARON: Lydia was an incredibly self-directed person, and I think if she had wanted to kill herself, she would’ve just done it. She would’ve made the decision and carried it out.  She would’ve made sure that she was dressed a certain way and her make-up was perfect.

BART: You might be right, but her preoccupation with death in her songs was noteworthy although it may have been a poetic device; although preoccupied with it, it was meant to emphasize how precious and short life is/was and that we need to live a gung-ho life as our best revenge: “I am nothing to put to rest / I am nothing but a fireball / Take it! Take it, and something will erupt” [”Mantic Sway,” Swoon].

SHARON: I know in my heart she did not want to end up how she ended up. She was not angling to be on anyone’s Heartbreak Top Ten. On the other hand, she made it difficult to be friends with her, and I’m not just talking about near the end. We didn’t speak for eight years, mainly because she withdrew her friendship from me after my engagement to an abusive fiance broke up and I spun out emotionally and acted out, acted up. She wrote me a long letter, detailing my bad behavior, and how I made it impossible to be friends with me … ironic in light of later events. I’m not saying I disagree with anything she pointed out in the letter; in fact I agreed with pretty much all of it. I was a selfish and self-absorbed (in my own pain) pain in the ass.  I was pissed and someone — anyone, everyone — was going to pay. So, I didn’t see or speak to her for eight years. It was during that time that her star was rising, and so I can’t speak to what she was doing during those eight years, though she did tell me some things about Algebra Suicide’s European gigs, her break-up with Donny, the break-up of the band, etc. You know more about that era than I do, so I’m gonna back up to before that, to before she and I split as friends, and connect the years that we were close (1978-1982) to the later years, from 1996 on, when we had our rapprochement (and then went our separate ways again, a couple of years before she died).

BART: I opened for her a couple of times in Paris with Black Sifichi, a great spoken word performer in France. She seemed almost desperate for adulation and luckily it was there – even at this very cool underground club in Paris. In “May I Take Your Order Please” [Incorporated, 1994], for instance, she sings: “I’d also like the adoration of millions, but if that’s not possible / It would be nice if this became a Broadway musical.”  Algebra Suicide was very professional, especially for the late 1980s with visuals, slides and such. But by tailoring her work to a spoken word performance market I almost thought she was hemming in her poetry to be, well, more entertaining, like stand-up almost. That world has a glib and slippery feel to it that is different from poetry regardless of the overlap. Stand up poetry is mostly about one-liners and the more humorous and outrageous, the “better” the poem.  And she was one of the first – but as we know, and as she felt, she never really got her just due once she moved to NY.

Bart & Lydia, photo by Foto Sifichi, 1990, E.P.E., Paris

SHARON:  She was different by the time she got to NY.  She was depleted and exhausted and unsure of herself, precisely (I think) because of what you just noted — that she did not get her due – but I think that situation had begun even before she came to NY.  She came to NY already unsure of herself, so I think some things had begun happening when she was still living in Chicago. I say this because the Lydia with whom I was best friends, with whom I was a college freshman, with whom I shared the stage at readings (we did our very first poetry reading together), with whom I went to punk clubs, who was my kindred spirit and older sister, lived fully alive. She was witty, charming, beautiful, funny, brilliant, daring, positive. What I learned from her was immeasurable… about getting off my ass and creating a career for myself, about getting behind my work and being proud of it without being egomaniacal, about trusting my ideas and seeing them through, about getting into all the corners and hidden places of a situation and seeing what treasures were there and using those treasures to my advantage. For any abilities I might have in those areas, I have Lydia to thank (also our teacher Paul Hoover). But here’s the thing, the thing that I see as part of what did her in: at a point, she was unwilling to do those same things for herself. Those things that she knew so well how to do, those things that she taught me to do, those things that would’ve lifted her out of the slough of despond. She needed to do those things, and she could’ve done them with little effort — it was second nature (or at least it seemed that way to me). She had a base here that she could’ve worked from, she had a new CD out, she was working on manuscripts, she had a job, friends, connections, a family that loved her, a mother that lovingly and selflessly supported her. But I think she resented that she was going to have to do it all over again on her own, because she was exhausted by the divorce, losing Lower Links, and not having the kind of audience in the States that she had in Europe. In fact, I think that might’ve been what did her in: in Europe she was the kind of artist she’d always known she could be, knew she was. Her perception of herself — talented, charming, beautiful, inspired, the creator of powerful work — was mirrored by an appreciative audience. And they were not misled. She was all those things.

BART: I think that’s the gist of it. A combination of blows – some beyond her making, others very much her own fault – led to a despondency as a result of perhaps basing her esteem on something so fickle as pop fame. That and a series of NY-style setbacks: lost jobs, endless job interviews, that stress leading to more drink and drink on breath never leads to a job not even in a bar.

SHARON: When you move to New York you kind of have to give yourself over to New York (though maybe this isn’t true anymore) and be like Jack Kerouac said: “Submissive to everything, open, listening.”   She was not about to be submissive, because she’d already established herself, and it had taken years of work. Honestly, I think she felt like I did when my engagement to the abusive fiance broke up: worn out, angry, depressed, pissed, and not about to kiss any more ass.

BART:  I don’t think its giving your self over. New York takes it regardless and you have to run with it to catch up as it tears on down the hall with your soul in fist like a damp gym towel… I mean, I really felt for her because I was going through the same things. I was sleepless, run ragged by the city that never sleeps and seldom lets you sleep… Indeed. I think there is this need to prove you can make it in NY. Even though most great artists, writers, musicians DON’T live in NY and never lived here. There is something almost Wagnerian, like defying the mermaids noisy din, to prove you can make it and come out on top. I thought that once for about 3 weeks in 1978. But you have to give it up. And being on top of her game in the Second City and accepted and pad in Europe tuned and lubed her for some placement in the NY top 40 with a bullet and rising fast. But she had to start at the bottom and that bottom was just too far down. Even our Unbearable mates mostly ignored her and were not really interested in her accomplishments. This I never quite fathomed.

SHARON:  I agree.  I never fathomed their ignoring of her, but I just chalked it up to a kind of distrust of what she did: spoken word, poetry with music … I think some Unbearables saw that as not serious writing or something. There was a lot of judgement there, of her and in general, as I later learned. That’s a whole other complicated conversation, though.  Also, there was that idea floating around the Unbearables that if you’re famous somewhere else but not in New York it doesn’t matter.

BART: Yes, totally – not everyone but still, in the NY scene she was an interloper and no matter how many times I introduced her with her credentials to this or that group or scene it did not matter… On a more societal level, why is it that people/poets investigating the heart of the matter, those who have the material of our nature in hand so often opt for suicide – I’m not saying Lydia committed suicide, not in any conventional way, however, she did stop wanting to live on some level [is that OUR failure?] – Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Tim Buckley, Sylvia Plath, Ian Curtis, Jim Morrison, et al. I know she embraced things close to the bone, her system was like a barometer of sorts, a sensitive gauge for things decadent, frivolous, joyous and painful but WHY could she not write her way out?

SHARON: First of all, you ask is “Is it our failure?” This is something I’ve been struggling with in regard to my sister, who died of cirrhosis in 2009. I’ve been going to Al-Anon to deal with this, and the impression I get from hearing what gets spoken about there is that people make their own decisions, and once that decision is made, it’s made. That said, though, I believe that Lydia did not opt for suicide. I’m telling you. I know what you’re thinking: she didn’t put a gun to her head, but she might as well have. And I don’t care what she wrote in “Little Dead Bodies,” either. She knew a good idea and a good poetic phrase, and the drama of both of those put together, combined with some sincere belief . . . you can’t beat it. It’s brilliant. But you know how I know she didn’t opt for suicide? Lydia and I were both raised Catholic, in the Old World, Eastern European sense … the grand, ornate neighborhood cathedrals, the altars at home with the statues and the candles, the rosaries, the saints, the whole deal. The unspoken, unconscious recognition of this shared past was probably what drew us together in the first place. And they teach you, almost from the minute they pour the oil on your head during Baptism, that you don’t kill yourself — it’s against your religion. It’s drummed into your head. Suicide is not an option. You may think, “Well, I could just kill myself,” and you may even want to do it, you may even fantasize about doing it, but there’s this thing — the threat of Hell — that stops you. Even if you haven’t gone to Mass in years, even if you don’t consider yourself Catholic anymore, that idea is still there.

BART: Gotcha. But on some level, dying of natural causes at age 50-something still seems vaguely suspect. I know she was terribly unhealthy, drank a lot, ate poorly and that, to me in part signal a nihilistic pattern of what’s-the-use that leads to a logical devaluation and…

SHARON: I think you can want to stop living but not want to die. I think you can want the pain to stop without wanting life to stop. As for what Catholics pick up and embrace (in spite of themselves) along the way: it’s there with the guilt and the fear and not being able to breathe because of all the incense during First Friday benediction and the memory of how nuns smell.

BART: Good point.

SHARON: So, I don’t think Lydia wanted to die. I think she wanted to live — she was one of the most life-savvy people I’ve ever known — but she didn’t want to live the life of a nobody, having once lived as a somebody.  I think drinking put her in that space and time of notoriety and fun again. But I don’t think she drank because she knew it would eventually kill her. She drank because when she was drunk she was who she’d always wanted to be, who she knew she was. And that was not a corpse.

BART: I’ve always believed that words are like heaps of words on the shovel of poetic sensibility – to mix metaphors – like we’re heading toward cement as in cement shoes. What I mean is, Lydia had a kind of modern or Victorian or Romantic poet nagging preoccupation and fascination with death – in “One Night I Fell in Love,” Tongue Wrestling, she sings: “I was holding my breath / I was so much in love, and I turned a lovely blue.” She talked about it to me like others talk about a pet rabbit almost, with deathas the ultimate profundity, as the ultimate challenge but I think that, although I admire many of the poets, singers, artists, writers who went before their time [or maybe they prescribed their time, their end, so as not to be beholden to the effects of aging – handsome corpse syndrome] I also admire those who deny or defy this whole looking in the maw of mortality too much. There’s way too much distracting beauty out there and that seemed to be another message that Lydia had for herself and for us – smell the roses or the Wild Irish Rose and be distracted from death’s inevitability with a real dose of distractive joy of living found in the grand emotions like love and in the incidental and most miniscule of life’s details.

SHARON: I also admire “those who deny or defy this whole looking in the maw of mortality.” And that’s one of the reasons why I took Buddhist refuge vows (though I still consider myself an Old World, Eastern European Catholic at heart!): Buddhists look unflinchingly into the maw of mortality, and after I had experienced the sudden death of my sister in ‘09 I wanted to learn what went on when we died and how to deal with it. Buddhism had presented itself to me at key points in my life, and so I decided that maybe I should pay attention, finally. And what I learned, through Buddhism, was pretty much what I’d been taught in Catholic school, through the example of the Catholic saints (but without the flogging and the whipping and the bleeding and the baggy and unattractive sackcloth): looking into the maw of mortality is really all about the precious nature of human birth.  And I re-learned it yet again this year, when I had to deal with my own mental and physical health issues by living in the present. It’s the only way. I think it’s one of the places where Buddhism and Catholicism agree, actually, on the idea of the preciousness of being here, …

BART:  I don’t know, I think Catholicism has too often neglected the here and now for the sanctity of the hereafter and denying the pleasures of the now to enhance your place in the hereafter.

SHARON:  … and Lydia and I talked about this, too, back in the day, and also the last time we were together. She and I took a bus from Penn Station out to Jones Beach to see the band Chicago. We sat way the hell up in the nosebleed section, and while the Doobie Brothers played (they were the opening act, and thankfully it was the non-Michael McDonald Doobies!)

BART: Yikes, talk about embarrassing moments of musical indiscretion. That beats MY doing a school report on Chicago [album 3 or 4] and their use of street noise and I once liked Dan Fogelberg! Albeit, because the gal I was after at that time was a fan…

SHARON: If we’re going to confess our musical geekitude: I liked Bread when I was 12.  We went to that concert more for the Chicago part than for the Doobies part, and for the sheer goofy stupid fun of it.  But going back to Lydia… we talked about life and death that night, and the “distractive joy of living found in the grand emotions like love and in the incidental and most miniscule of life’s details.” It was my impression that, even though things were bad for her, she didn’t want to die. There was always something to live for, and that something was found in life’s details. Her work is about identifying those details, don’t you think?

BART: She would have loved this conversation about embarrassing musical likes. I imagine the 3 of us sitting on your stoop until way past midnight talking about our musical Achilles heels, until a neighbor leans out the window and yells “Shaddap!”

—-

Sharon Mesmer’s most recent poetry collections are Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books, 2008) and The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose, 2008). Fiction collections include Ma Vie à Yonago(Hachette, 2005) and In Ordinary Time (Hanging Loose, 2005).

bart plantenga is the author of Beer Mystic & other fictions plus YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the Worldand his forthcoming YODEL IN HIFI. His radio showWreck This Mess debuted in 1986 on WFMU (NY), moved to Radio Libertaire (Paris), then Radio 100 and is currently on Radio Patapoe (Amsterdam). He lives in Amsterdam with partner Nina Ascoly and daughter Paloma.

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informative, Poetry

Wow. Heaven must be a big place.

(Lydia Tomkiw, Little Dead Bodies)

 

Lydia Tomkiw grew up in a tough neighborhood, Humboldt Park in Chicago. She was born in 1959 to Ukranian immigrant parents. She graduated from Lane Tech High School in 1977 and attended the University of Illinois/Chicago campus and Columbia College, where she received a masters in Disciplinary Arts.

She was a poet whose chapbooks included The Dreadful Swimmers and Popgun Sonatas. Her poem, Six of Ox Is, was included in the John Asheberry edited Best of American Poetry. Her work can be found in the Columbia Poetry Review, as well as a little poetry magazine from Ohio called Amanda Blue, which is how I personally first got to know her. (We advertised in diverse places like Rock Scene magazine, looking for adventurous poetry. We found some.)

In 1983, Lydia and her husband Don Hedeker formed a band, Algebra Suicide, melding Lydia’s spoken word with Don’s new wave/punk guitar. They gained a cult following in Chicago, which spread to international proportions. Algebra Suicide opened for musicians like John Cale, and Lydia was dubbed “the female Lou Reed.”

Six Algebra Suicide albums were released between 1986 and 1995, as well as a cd, Summer Virus Night, which documents live performances from their 1990 tour of Germany.

In 1991, Lydia became part owner of a club, The Lower Links, in Chicago, but had to sell out two years later, in 1993, also the year when she and Don divorced. Tongue Wrestling, released in 1994, was the last Algebra Suicide album, the band broke up in 1995. Lydia moved to the East Village/NYC, where she made the rounds of poetry readings and continued to write poetry and reportedly worked on a novel called Ugly Kids.

A solo album, Incorporated (1995) failed to make an impact, and Lydia’s drinking got out of control. As her health declined, she moved to Phoenix, Arizona to be near family, where she died in September 2007, aged 48.

info from Wikipedia and a March 2010 article in the Brooklyn Rail

gathered & processed by Cher Bibler

 

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