Poetry

The Painter Tamayo and All-Inclusives

by Richard Swanson

 

The Painter Tamayo

Here’s a probably true story
about Ruffino Tamayo, the Mexican painter
after the titans Rivera, Orozco, and Sigueiros,
world famous Tamayo, the painter of tragic tableaux,
rich vistas and youthful faces innocent as tangerines,
except that sometimes there’s mischief in that innocence.
A wealthy Mexican man approaches Tamayo
to capture the tropical landscapes of his mountainside house.
Young, his ego’s as big as the house, and the house
is half as big as the mountain.
Old Ruffino, in age that is, visits the place and agrees
to paint the hills. But first he has to absorb it, he says,
all this green, so he walks the terrain.

The wealthy man smiles, seeing this.
He owns it all now, house, mountain and a famous painter.

Then, three times, the following happens.
From the city Ruffino calls, telling the man
to hire a helicopter and pick him up.

What?
Yes, I need a helicopter, Tamayo is adamant.
I need to see the mountainside greens from the air.

Well, sure, maestro, but . . .
These whirligigs don’t come cheap, and—
Rich Guy’s not as wealthy as he lets on.
Besides, he wonders, does my painter
like helicopter rides like kids like chocolate.

Tamayo’s waving up there, waving.
Wave back. He’s your painter, rich man.

The great unveiling day!
Mister Mountainous Ego anticipates.
One whole floor of his house has been redone
for Tamayo’s verdant vision.

So off with the canvass’s cover, and here it is—
red? Red here, more red there, in all the quadrants,
hot red, sly red, off-color joke red, mocking, bordello red,
not a spit of green in any part of the landscape.

Tamayo! Maestro! the wealthy man gapes,
you loved all the greens, where are my greens?

Ah, those, Ruffino says, his finger tapping his skull,
they’re up here.

 

All-Inclusives

They love the arrangements, airport transport to here,
luggage processed right to their rooms, which were
bleached-white clean, with towels on beds
shaped into rabbits and swans, cute swans,
and all their meals provided.

Plus, right before dinner, poolside, after a hard day’s tanning,
a happy hour trolley comes ‘round ( ding-ding, ding-ding)
with pitchers of margaritas. Oh, those margaritas.

Some of the help try to speak English, funny kind of,
but, hey, give them credit for trying: You like? Treeps?
Two-LOOM? CHEECH-‘n-EAT-cha?

You couldn’t get care like this back home, they repeat
to one another: palápa lunches, nighttime shows
in the Mayan outdoor theater, the small incidentals—
chocolate nibbles next to the day’s shampoo.

Last night the hotel shuttle bussed them to town
for Texas burghers, a place with Spanish flamenco.

It was good to go there, they agree, to see the real Mexico.

 

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

Richard Swanson, a retired teacher of English from Madison, Wisconsin, spends three weeks in Valladolid and Akumal every February. He was first attracted to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan on a visit to Playa del Carmen, decades ago, when the place was a a series of four or five unpaved streets.

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

Angie47

photo by Angela M Campbell

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Poetry

Hikama and other poems

by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

 

Hikama

My first hangover in two years
and it feels like morning
It is morning

It feels like love
like the reincarnation of an old friend
like a poltergeist is handling the details
of my life

Red wine is redder in Mexico
I eat a crunchy white vegetable whose name
I cannot remember
though that vegetable is like a brother to me

When I get full-blown Alzheimer’s
I will wander the streets crying
trying to get someone to tell me the name
of that vegetable

but no one will know
what the fuck I am talking about
and they will tell me
Go home, old man

Someone will put me on a bicycle taxi
pedaled laboriously by my old friend
Delgadillo

Delgadillo will say:
What does it matter
the names of things?
You can’t remember my name anymore but
you still love me
and I love you
though I wish you hadn’t become
so damn obese

Pedaling you
is a burden
and my chain clanks from the strain

 

3 Fingers

My hostess has only three fingers
and I wonder if that’s the consequence
of her terrible auto accident

or whether she was born that way
I can’t keep myself from staring
as if a missing finger is a
big deal

I distract myself
by asking her husband, Rolando
why he decided to move to
Merida Mexico
as opposed to settling somewhere
in the balmy American South

I’m Mexican and Black, he says
I don’t want to live in Mississippi or Alabama
or anywhere primitive and racist

I don’t tell him that my father was from Mississippi
and my mother was from Alabama
I squelch my Southern accent

When I was in college I taught myself to do that
so no one would know I was from
the ass end of some southern backwoods

but when I go back home
my true voice emerges full flower
and I eat collard greens
and drink tea so sweet
it makes my teeth hurt

and when my niece is colicky
I put Coca-Cola in her baby bottle
as we’ve done for generations

I notice Rolando
has a blowup of a magazine cover
a photo of Barrack Obama
and as I study it
I notice that Rolando has a remarkable resemblance
to Barrack
and I want to comment on it

but I don’t want him to think that
white people think
all colored people look alike

especially if he’s gotten a whiff
of my accent

 

Guzman’s Monkey

Santo Domingo de Guzman—
his halo is a big, tarnished ten-peso note
and his holy book
is a loaf of stale bread

He’s fulfilled every boy’s dream—
he’s got a pet monkey by his side
but his monkey is unhappy
He’s got a bad cold and needs
a decongestant

but Guzman doesn’t have a decongestant
and he doesn’t want to go to town to get some
It’s too far
and it’s too hot
and he doesn’t have the money for it anyway

Guzman is sad his monkey is not feeling better
It’s depressing when you have a pet monkey and
he’s depressed
Hopefully he’ll feel better soon

The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
is his neighbor
in the stucco apartment court
She is also having trouble

It is a day for monkeys and virgins to have trouble
and be depressed
and it depresses Guzman
The sun is shining and everyone is depressed

Guzman grabs the wrist of Jesus’ older brother
and pulls him from the jaws
of the Puma Devil

The Puma Devil’s mouth
is full of flames

Guzman says:
See! We can do something about our fates!
Life gets better every day!
Cheer up, people!
It’s morning in the Mezo-American Empire!

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

M. Krochmalnik Grabois’ poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012, and for his poem. “Birds,” published in The Blue Hour, 2013. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for 99 cents from Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition.

Grabois was born in the Bronx, and now splits his time between Denver, an old schoolhouse in Michigan and occasionally, Merida Mexico.

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

Angie107

photo by Angela M Campbell

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Art

4 paintings by Kreso Cavlovic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kreso8

 

Kreso1

 

Kreso13

 

Kreso17

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

Kreso Cavlovic was born in Toronto, Canada, of Croatian parents and grew up in Toronto and Mississauga. He attended Sheridan College, where he won an award for editorial illustration. He worked as a freelance illustrator for TV Ontario, BASF, Southam, etc, while developing his personal style, a style that reflects his Croatian heritage. He divides his time between Canada and Merida. He is represented by the Soho Gallery in Merida.

http://www.kresofineart.com

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Graphic novel, translation

Neighborhood Rumors

by Gabriel Canul

01-Oh, poor little girl. Her story was such a terribly sad case.

You will see….

02

 The father was, well, a washed-up madman. For this he had such a lugubrious fame…

… that the ignorant minds of this neighborhood all but blamed him.

I don’t want to sound presumptuous but a man of my lineage cannot allow space for this kind of nonsense.

03

 He was a pathetic alcoholic, that you see sir, had banished his wife from his side.

As if the mother would be worth only a little or even nothing. She abandoned her little daughter with that bastard of a father.

04

Ha, ha, ha. Even though swine did end up paying a heavy price…

They say that the daughter hardened and found a way to defend herself against her father.

05

Not of course that I would contribute to this superstitious verbal diarrhea of the riffraff. As you know sir, I do not spread irresponsible hot air, even a few days before any of this happened, I saw the wretch walking by with a very terrible wound on his left arm. My head played with the idea that it could have been a bite.

06

Even though now, I reason that this kid could not possibly concur with this idea, in size nor strength.

Some type of gangrene had gotten hold of this fellow because the wound had festered and hurt him like the devil. Of course, it has to be said that he wasn’t known to be especially neat and tidy.

07(1)

Who would have said however that this nobody of a man would have such a terrible end?

08

They say that the little sweet girl, defenseless and all, could not escape the evilness of her father and remained nothing more than a pestilent stain beneath the bed.

09

It was inexplicable the manner in which they found this man’s bed.

A huge fit or rage had led the poor creature to undergo a mighty change.

10

 This must explain what happened.

11

They say that she was laughing

The smile on her face…

And her words…

I leave them behind, I have left them!

12

Surely they talked, the other remaining mortals, of her father.

And yes, all of this seems implausible, yet wait until you hear the tale that this leprous pleb has invented.

Only as a sign of my respect, well, all that it merits without taking into account its insignificance, I was able to attend the funeral parlor to see what remained of the heartless swine and this is how I was able to hear the end of the story.

13

They say that the little girl with the sweet appearance…

…hid within her the unknown capacity, like the circus freaks that can bend spoons with their eyes…

…or move crystal vases from one place to another with a certain gesture.

And with these cunning tricks she could escape the plague that was her father.

And with that which she had obtained, she conjured certain enigmatic powers.

14

 I am going to confess to you that there has been nights of insomnia when I have heard things…

Guttural noises and rhythmic moans which undoubtedly were made by the girl.

15161718

Finally, we hope that with the disappearance of that pariah and the absence of the unfortunate girl…

…this neighborhood has won something akin to peace, to say the least. And now I must leave because, how it is to wait…

… in a ruined old place like this one…

… which has been built with the most rotten and decayed materials and now…

19

I see the denigrating necessity of renovating my elegant bedroom.

It will be better to start work in good time…

Before the darkness…

invades all.

20

Now I must bid you farewell…

I hope to have the pleasure of another talk with you tomorrow.

A special thank you goes to both Axel Flores for entering the Spanish text into the images and to Jack Little for providing the translation. 

Born and raised in Mérida Yucatán, Mexico, Gabriel Canul Olivares is a natural artist. Painter, draftsman, and self-taught writer, his foray into comics was inevitable.

His love of comics began when he was very young.

His desire, was not only to read them, but to create them – which he does with “Comunidad de Dibujantes del Sureste”, a group of independent artists, where he is a drawing instructor, and one of the leaders.

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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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Essay

The literary scene in Yucatan

by Fer de la Cruz

 

In the state of Yucatán, where decentralization is only a political slogan, literary things happen mostly in its capital city: Mérida. In a way, things are rocking among the chaos of UNESCO´s “City of Peace”: 2 schools of creative writing have been founded within the past 3 years: 1) Escuela de Creación Literaria (where I teach) of the State Institute of Fine Arts, in which Spanish and Mayan-speaking adults earn a 3-year degree in Creative Writing, and workshops are offered for children and teenagers. 2) Escuela de Escritores Leopoldo Peniche Vallado belongs to the State Institute of Culture (ICY), which is currently in the process of becoming a Ministry—so much for descentralización! Both schools are inconveniently located in the same building, across from the zoo. On the other hand, two universities, one public, one private, have been graduating Literature majors for a decade. And there´s a number of private workshops throughout town.

Back to the issue of centralism, the only living Yucatecan writers who have been truly influential (big names like Agustín Monsreal and Raúl Renán) have resided in Mexico City for decades. Also, Raúl Cáceres Carenzo resides in Toluca; Jorge Pech in Oaxaca; Reyna Echeverría in New York… Among those who reside within the state borders are those who are native Yucatecans (Francisco Lope Ávila, Roger Metri, Jorge Lara, José Díaz Cervera, Lourdes Cabrera, and Mayan writer Feliciano Sánchez Chan, to name some) and those born elsewhere who must be considered a part of the community of Yucatecan writers, such as Cuban-born Raúl Ferrera Balanquet and maestro Jonathan Harrington, who calls himself Orgullosamente yucagringo.

There are two main independent groups of writers: Centro Yucateco de Escritores, A.C. (CYEAC), which was created over 2 decades ago, has been hosting an on-going workshop, a magazine (Navegaciones Zur), an has its own publisher (Ediciones Zur). Also, five years ago or so, la Red Literaria del Sureste was created as an alternative. Some politically active writers from both groups hold public offices. There are also those with academic credentials in literature, such as Manuel Iris, Ph.D. candidate; Jafet Israel Lara, Ph.D. candidate; Cristina Leirana, M.A., and your humble Fer de la Cruz, M.A. The rest have never heard of Terry Eagleton.

There are lots of writers, it seems. The problem is, local bookstores show little interest in marketing their works. To publish a book, one may submit it to the editorial council of either ICY or Ayuntamiento de Mérida. If selected, the book will be published but not necessarily promoted. One may also try her/his luck in state or nation-wide literary contests for money and/or publication. Librerías Dante sponsored 2 contests for publication. The second batch of 10 authors from all three states of the Yucatan Peninsula is being published this year. Other than that, there is no such thing as agents or talent-hunters, and big name publishers appear only on display, especially for those who lack political connections.

So, how do local writers earn their daily bread? They pray: Some pray to God; some (with political connections) prey on smaller fish. Those who don´t hold a public office may have steady jobs in private institutions. There are those with two, three, or even four part-time teaching jobs, whose paychecks (in the case of public schools) may be delayed for periods of five months year after year. Some writers may be asked to present a book, write a prologue, or preside over a public event without pay. Some others are invited to jury in a literary contest, with pay—the honest ones are seldom called for the latter.

New generations of local writers are starting to emerge. Also, new generations of critics are earning degrees in literature. There is hope that these young professionals learn to separate art and politics and that the way things are may actually be challenged without losing one´s job.

Better laugh than cry in México´s “safest city.” Following the steps of maestro Agustín Monsreal, I have become a satirist who hopes not to have disappointed the readers with my view on things, since writing is my way of making the world a better place.

 

 

DSC_0115

 

photo by Dan Griffin


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Poetry

A Simple Life and other poems

by Jonathan Harrington

 

A Simple Life

You close the screen door

of the motel room

behind you

and follow the sandy path

one last time to the beach.

 

The smell of salt

lingers in the air

and a cool breeze on your neck

takes your mind

off the long drive home.

The boardwalk is closed for the season

and the reflection

of the slumbering Ferris wheel

shimmers in the wet sand

at the water’s edge.

 

Beyond the breakers

gulls plunge into the sea.

In the distance you see something.

It must be sea-weed.

You keep walking.

 

Sandpipers race from the foam

leaving the hieroglyphics of their tiny tracks behind.

You’re thinking: What a quiet summer it has been

when you glimpse a body receding with the tide.

A gull drops.

You push your way into the sea.

It sucks at your legs.

You fall back

plunge forward

fall back.

 

Through the smear of salt

you watch the bloated corpse of a woman

rise into view on a crest,

her tangled hair covering her face.

Another gull falls as she disappears.

 

Straining against the surf, you reach the body.

Her neck is twisted;

she stares backward,arms floating outstretched

like broken wings.

You grasp her clammy waist—

already slick

with the mucus

of a water death—

and struggle toward shore.

 

You drag her to the edge of the dunes

and fall panting on the sand.

It is a nightmare

you tell yourself.

But you know better.

 

You stare wildly up the beach.

It is still, deserted;

the flawless summer nearly over.

There is still time

to give her back.

 

 

 

Applicants

 

One by one

I watch them go in

and file out again.

I overhear

their stories—

as if Mr. Brown could care

about their lives

as much as their typing speeds

and the way they wear their hair.

Their dreams are all so similar

(and so similar to mine)

that even after thirty years

it’s like I’m walking in

with each one of them

each time

and walking out again

drained

of all that’s boxed inside.

No wonder they look so empty

when they take

Mr. Brown’s hand

and lie

that it was a pleasure

meeting him.

Then heave a sigh

and disappear

behind the elevator doors

like shells

of what they were before

they made this trip up here.

And they go

down,

down,

down

to face the blinding light

of noon in Midtown:

the breathless air, the strangled sky,

the next, and next, and next guy

with whom

they interview.

So what?

It’s how the world’s

always been.

At least just one unlucky girl

will have to make this trip upstairs again.

 

 

 

Dad

 

I have almost lost you completely,

can barely remember the curve of your jaw

your nose, your gray hair beneath a cap to ward off the sun.

I remember cigarette smoke, the smell of nicotine on your fingers.

But I cannot rearrange your features to make sense.

You are a puzzle.

I have the nose, blue eyes,

even the sound of your voice.

But I cannot assemble them into a proper face.

Sometimes, coming up from the A train at Columbus Circle,

hurrying to work, work, work,

I see you hunched in an overcoat against the wind

lighting a cigarette in the doorway of a deli on 8th Avenue.

But as I get closer you grow younger,

with a haircut not of your era,

brown eyes not blue,

your features already receding

into someone else’s face.

 

 

 

Protest

 

I´m against plants that don´t bloom,

faulty fireflies

blinking on and off;

I´m against noise and rudeness,

garbage and dead batteries,

and motors that won´t start,

and wet matches, and slow computers;

I´m totally against wounds and against tears,

against hunger and thirst, insomnia, envy…

“But señor,” —they say—

“you´re against all those things.

What political party do you support?”

 Well, I am a proud one hundred-per-cent supporter,

and a life-long member, of the party of Love.

 

(written in Spanish by Jonathan Harrington

Translated into English by Fernando de la Cruz)

 

 

 

A Charmed Life

 

I remember one bitter winter

in Park Slope,

waiting with my cousin

for the A train

at Jay Street

to carry us over

the stinking Gowanus Canal.

I looked down the tracks

into the black tunnel

as if looking into hell.

I leaned out

straining to hear the bang

of metal on metal

and the scream of the train

as it bulleted into the station.

I won’t lie to you

I was drunk—

a young man drunk

on freedom and the City of Brooklyn,

with its rows of tenements,

like rotten teeth,

and piles of dirty snow.

I fell,

pitched forward

and broke my head open

on the tracks

just as the train shrieked

into the station.

My cousin,

God bless him,

pulled me back up

on the platform

and held my broken head

in his arms

and screamed at me

as the blood ran

all over his lap:

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch.”

 

I am lucky

to be writing this poem

today.

 

 

 

Subway

 

Somebody picks at the sores

of her new tattoo.

Somebody stares at the mustache

drawn over Madonna´s upper lip

on a torn poster.

Somebody listens to an Ipod

no one else can hear

her head thrusting back and forth

like a catatonic

or a strychnine victim.

Somebody mumbles her rosary.

Somebody reads the Daily News.

Headline: “Mother Tosses Baby From Roof.”

A crippled beggar clears his throat.

Somebody is praying.

Somebody studies a book on macroeconomics.

A woman is polishing her wedding ring with a tissue.

Somebody stares blankly at absolutely nothing.

A boy reads the sports section

over a hunchback’s shoulder.

Somebody sneezes.

A coach (whistle around his neck)

plots football strategies on a piece of graph paper.

A man and woman argue.

A little boy scratches his elbow.

Somebody is writing this poem.

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photo by Dan Griffin

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Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda that he restored himself in rural Yucatán, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry from Spanish and Mayan. He is a weekly featured reader at Café Poesia and Café Pendulo in Mérida. He is on the permanent faculty of US Poets in Mexico and a reader for the University of Arkansas Press’ Miller Williams Poetry Prize. He has read poetry throughout the world and has been invited to the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba, Semana Negra in Gijon, Spain and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review, Main Street Rag, Green River Review, Kentucky Poetry Review, English Journal, Epitaph, Slant, Black Bear Review and many other publications. He has published two chapbooks: Handcuffed to the Jukebox and Aqui. His translations from the Spanish and Mayan have appeared in World Literature Today, Visions International, The Dirty Goat, International Review of Poetry. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories: New Visions: Fiction by Florida Writers, authored a collection of essays, Tropical Son: Essays on the Nature of Florida, and has published five novels, The Death of Cousin Rose, The Second Sorrowful Mystery, A Great Day for Dying, Saint Valentine’s Diamond, and Death on the Southwest Chief.

 


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Fiction

Fish Bones

by Laureen Vonnegut

 

The tattoo parlor was lit by a single bulb.  I stared at the half-drawn blinds, reluctant to watch the shiny needle pierce my skin.  A neon light blinked outside the window, sending shards of blue flashing into the room.

Earlier in the evening, when I first met Dr. Zero in Daisy’s Tavern, he handed me his business card.

I had read his name out loud, “Dr. Oh.”

He closed his heavy, blue-veined eyelids and said quietly, “Zero.  Not Oh.  Don’t fucking say Oh.”

It was the nativity scene tattooed onto his bald head that first drew me to him.  The colors were remarkably clear, but in my inebriated state I mistook a bright yellow star above the manger for the Star of David.  I raised my glass to him, shouted “Shalom!” and bought him the first of many whiskeys.

Several hours later, after we had drunk ourselves sober, we decided it was time to go to his tattoo parlor.  For as long as I could remember, even as a young girl, I had wanted a tattoo.  Black fish bones: a simple, elongated, twisting skeleton of a fish.  I used to know what it symbolized, but not anymore, and certainly not then in the early hours of the morning.

 

Dr. Zero’s grip on my arm was as tight as a tourniquet.  I leaned back against the rigid spine of the chair in which I sat while he concentrated on the needle pumping in and out of my reddened wrist.  The outline of black ribs wound across my wrist bone and on top of my purple veins like a spiraling zipper.  Pain cleared my whiskey induced bravery. “Do you think…Shouldn’t we use anesthetic?”

Slowly he tipped his bald head back, scrolling through the wise men and the camels until I could see his black eyes.  Then he looked down to his work without speaking.  I could smell the alcohol emanating from both of our bodies.  My sight blurred.

“Dr. Zero…do you have anything to drink?”

He straightened up and glanced around the room.  I followed his gaze around the cluttered surfaces, over the stacks of dust-covered tattoo magazines and hand-sketched designs.  His eyes swept the walls, hung with pictures of his masterpieces and awards from tattoo aficionados.

“Good idea.”

He heaved himself out of his chair.   His thick arms swung away from his leather clad torso as he stomped toward the kitchen.  It occured to me that maybe I should be afraid of Dr. Zero, but I couldn’t rouse any feelings of apprehension or concern.

I noticed an animal lying under a table.  It was a cat.  With long and matted fur and ears which were black and torn.  I thought it might be dead, but then its eyes opened and shined.  I spoke directly to it.

“You know cat, tattoos aren’t always a bad thing.  They can be art…a permanent flesh painting.”

I looked at my inflamed wrist.  The tattoo was taking shape; a flared tail fin, spindly ribs, a rounded head with a vacant eye.  To see it imprinted in my skin, finally, exhumed a strong sense of deja vu.  The refrigerator slammed, I heard a vehement curse, the floor reverberated and Dr. Zero returned to the room.

I continued talking to the cat since Dr. Zero had become increas­ingly uncom­municative as the night progressed.

“Our skin, our flesh is so bare, so vulnerable.  In a way, a tattoo becomes a…a timeless charm.”

Dr. Zero didn’t seem to notice my conversation with the cat, so I crouched next to it and shoved my wrist near its liquid eyes.     “Look, fish bones, something you’d like.  A symbol of everlasting…something.”  I lowered my voice and whispered near its ear.  “This is for my mother.”

The cat’s ears were in bad shape and when I examined them closely, I saw they were tattooed with tiny birds, mice and lizards.

Dr. Zero handed me a tin can full to the brim.  I took a deep gulp and tasted vodka mixed with something unpleasantly thick and salty.  I choked and resisted the urge to spit it onto the floor.

“Not to be ungrateful Dr. Zero, but was there some­thing in the can before you added the vodka?”

“Read the fucking label.”

I read the label out loud.  “String cut green beans.”

“And?”  He held up his can for me to read.

“Sweet white corn.”  I looked at him, not sure I understood.  “You mean…you mixed vegetables with…vodka?”

“No.  I dumped the fucking vegetables.  But I figure I need vitamins, so I use the juice for drinks.”

“Oh, right.  Makes an interesting cocktail Dr. Zero, thanks.”

Dr. Zero sat on a low stool and picked up the needle.  A mechanical hum began.  The muscle in Dr. Zero’s arm tightened and flexed.  I moved my head to try and see the tattoo that wrapped around his upper arm.  There was a lot of red and cherubs and men with swords.

“Very medieval.  What’s the scene on your arm?”

“Don’t you college kids ever read the Bible?”

“No, well not now, not in the classes I’m taking.”

“It’s when the goddamn Romans murder all the first born sons to find Jesus.  A bloody massacre.”

Not something to look at when a needle is pumping into your arm.  I turned to the table next to me and studied an ashtray full of greasy candy corns.  Above it hung a torn reproduction of the infamous four dogs playing poker.  The needle punctures shot slivers of pain up my arm.  I took a healthy gulp of Dr. Zero’s concoction and looked down.  Entranced, I watched a drop of blood bubble up between my trans­lu­cent hairs, wobbling there until Dr. O blotted it with a stained rag made of denim.

Dr. Zero moved his stool to the opposite side of my wrist and I scrutinized his other arm.  I recognized this scene.  Jesus rising from the dead.

“Easter.  What is this?  Are you religious?”

“I read the Bible.”

“Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian?  What are you?”

“None.  That’s bullshit.  I just read the Bible.”

“An independent scholar.  And do you believe it, Dr. Zero?”

“You don’t?”  He eyed me suspiciously.

“I believe it’s biblical history, but…well, you know there’ve been many translations and it was written a long time ago.”

“History is history.”

“A lot of religions have–”

Dr. Zero lowered his eyelids until all I could see was a slit of white.  He clutched my wrist even tighter in his vise-like grip and my voice rose an octave.  I changed the direction of our conversa­tion.

“What other scenes do you have tattooed?”

“Moses, on my upper back, parting of the red sea–on my ass.  On my chest, the creation of man.  My bellybutton is the apple and my dick the serpent.”

“You’re kidding.”

He began to unbutton his vest.

“No, no, I believe you.  Really.”

He dropped the idea of disrobing and picked up the needle again.  I took another guzzle and spilled the sticky drink down my chin and neck.

“I’m doing this for my mother.”

“Yeah?  My first one was for my mother.  See.”

He pointed to his arm.  I looked, but all I could see was a long-haired Jesus wearing flowing robes in front of an open tomb, surrounded by angels.  He tapped his arm impatiently and then I noticed in the center of the scene, next to Jesus’ halo, a heart with an arrow and the word, MOM, written in it.

“Nice.  I don’t mean like that exactly though, what I mean is that my mother has one also.”

“Mine too, a heart with my name.  On her bicep.”  He flexed his tattoos and stared out the window.  “Mom and me, we’re close.  We take a trip every year–she’s been going to Daisy’s before I was born.”

I was jealous of Dr. Zero and his mother.  My mother kept me at a distance all my life, as if she were afraid of me.  I have never felt close to her.

Lifting the can to my lips, I took a drink noticing at the bottom, two kidney shaped greenbeans floating toward my mouth.  I jerked the can down and my lower lip caught on the edge.  I touched my finger to my lip and then looked at my finger.  It was smudged with blood and even though it didn’t hurt, my eyes welled up with tears.

Dr. Zero finished the tail fin and stood up.  I had no idea what time it was in the real world, but I knew the sun was bound to rise soon and I was due to be at my family’s for Thanksgiving Day.

I walked home in the dreary early morning fog.  It swirled around me, dreamlike and I felt peaceful, except for the throb­bing of my wrist.  Collapsing on the couch, I slept before heading to the holiday meal.  I wore a long-sleeved dress with a extra long sleeves.  The fabric rubbed against my wrist and the tattoo felt heavy, like an iron ch­ain.

The house seemed to stand out brighter in the approaching dusk than I remembered.  Moss-green house paint contrasted with the pink camellia bushes blooming near the varnished door.  Wiping my feet on the straw welcome mat, I noticed the welcome had worn off.

In the kitchen, my mother appeared small and frail after the largeness of Dr. Zero.  I hovered near the counter, wanting to be near her, to see if she would feel something differ­ent, maybe a new intimacy.  But everything was the same.

A harsh buzzer sounded and she grabbed a flowered potholder, reaching into the oven.  The bare bulb from the oven shone on her face.  Her shirt sleeve rose above her wrist showing the aged, green numbers etched onto her loose skin and I reached down, gently touching my own wrist.

 

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Laureen Vonnegut is an American writer living between Romania and Mexico.

June 2011 her novel, TWIN LIES, was released by Skorpion Press.  Her previous novel, OASIS, was launched in New York by literary press Counterpoint/ Perseus Books.

In the United States she has had over a dozen short stories published in five different states. In the UK, she has had a short story in the VIRAGO anthology:  THE NERVE – BOOK OF WRITING WOMEN and two excerpts from her novel HANDS DO LIE.  In addition to a short story in STAPLE magazine and a script, CROTCH PIT, published in EM3 magazine, she was shortlisted for the Ian St James Award.

Currently she is workshopping her theater play, THE PORCINI TEST.

From the Illustrator:
I also looked for words and phrases within ‘Fish Bones’ that provided suitable imagery and inspiration to produce a spot illustration. The sentence ‘ The outline of black ribs wound across my wrist-bone and on top of my purple veins like a spiralling zipper.’ in particular, stood out to me. I like the idea of visually interpreting this description by combining the fish bones and the ‘spiralling zipper’ to create an image.

http://jnoel3.blogspot.com/2009/03/nerve.html#comment-form

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Interview

An Interview with Laureen Vonnegut

by Julie Stewart

 

Laureen’s new book, Twin Lies, is about an identical mirror twin, who accidentally causes the death of her sister and takes over her sister’s identity at the age of seventeen.  Years later she finds she cannot continue to live as her sister and she must break out on her own, even if it means destroying the life she has built, including her own family.

What is the origin of your idea for Twin Lies? Are there twins in your family?

I have some cousins who are twins, but they had nothing to do with piquing my interest in twins. Years ago I worked for a law firm and two of the partners were identical twins. They had so many stories about swapping identities and mistaken identities that I became fascinated with the whole concept.

What was the most challenging part of writing Twin Lies?

Sitting down and actually working on the damn thing every day. I don’t like the novel writing process. It’s daunting to start a project as big as a novel. Short stories are much more my style. That’s why Twin Lies is written from multiple points of view, it allows me to sort of cheat and feel as though I’m writing short stories.  Hmm, maybe it’s an attention span thing.

Oasis, your first book was written from a single point of view, Twin Lies from multiple…

Sort of, it (Oasis) was written in the past and present, in oscillating chapters, a first person and third person narrative.

Is it harder to do good characterization with several characters than w/one strong character?

Yes. Much harder. Because your natural tendency as a writer is to think in a particular voice. When you have to switch voices within the same book and the characters are involved in the exact same story, it can be really difficult.  There are certain tricks you as a writer can use, dialogue tics etc, but they don’t substitute a totally different voice.

How important to the novel were your travels to the various locations in which the Twin Lies story is set?

I never intend to set scenes in exotic locations, but when I travel, the chapters seem to relocate themselves to those unusual locales.

So, when you’re in the gestation/creation period, how does it work for you?

I usually go away somewhere by myself. I can’t be around anyone I know – too distracting.  For example with Twin Lies I went to Zanzibar for two months and basically thought about what I wanted to write and sketched out kind of very simple outline. I hadn’t even thought about including Zanzibar in the book, but of course when I was there, it jumped right in.

As a writer based in Mérida, Mexico, tell us a little about the writing process and working environment in Merida?

What is different about a Mérida lifestyle is the heat of early summer. I’ve learned to plan my day: out early to run errands, back to write, indulge in a siesta (I’ve become a big siesta fan), more afternoon writing, and then out for drinks or dinner. The sultry nights are incredible.

Do you find Mérida in itself inspiring? In addition to Mexico and your home country, USA, you’ve lived in several other countries around the world – Romania, England, Holland, Hungary, Bulgaria – and traveled extensively. Has this international lifestyle affected the way you write and think, and if so, how?

Usually when someone is exposed to cultures outside their own, especially if they live within them, their horizons expand exponentially. One of the most disturbing things I see is foreigners who don’t embrace the country they are in. They dismiss the culture as less advanced or less sophisticated or even frightening, ignoring traditions and influences that make that culture so unique.

The way that I find Mérida inspiring is that it’s a different country. I find that if I’m in a different country, my senses are more alert, whereas if I’m living somewhere that I’ve lived that’s too familiar, my senses are deadened. So, in that sense, yes, but Mérida as a city to write about, in that way inspiring?  Not really.  Or maybe I should say…not yet.

Which writers inspire you?

Barry Unsworth, he’s British and every book he writes is so different, yet equally good. He’s able to switch subjects and keep his style.  The same with Ian McEwan, each book is a little gem, they are just fantastic writers.

Joy Williams, in my opinion, writes like a man, her prose is very sparse. There’s not a lot written about what the characters think, you have to read between the lines to understand what they’re thinking, which I like. I don’t like wordy books and she’s very good at that.

Cormac McCarthy invents words.  He also takes unknown archaic words that you don’t think are words until you look them up and sure enough they are…it all works within his writing, I think he’s a word master and almost a poet, I find a lot of poetry in his writing.

Whose books are currently on your nightstand?

I read four or five books at once. Zazen by Vanessa Veselka, Follow Me Down by Kio Stark, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules by David Sedaris, and The Man Who Ate the World by Jay Rayner.

Are you currently working on any other projects? Do you have a third novel in the works?

I am concentrating on a series of short stories and will be spending a month in New York to workshop my theater play called, The Porcini Test.

Can you tell us more about the play?

It was a reaction to a play called Hurly Burly by David Rabe.  I liked the play, it was also made in to a movie, but it was quite misogynist and I wanted to write a play with three strong female characters who have known each other for ages.  There’s a lot of cursing and trauma, but it also has a lot of humor.  In New York they are calling it a comedy…not sure I agree.  A black comedy maybe…

I don’t understand the process of producing a play so I’m going to New York to try figure it all out.  I have absolutely no idea how it works.

You made films, right?   Directed?  Wrote?  Everything?

Wrote, directed short films, several. Co-produced. Yeah, just did a lot of things. Theater is a new medium to explore.  I don’t know what’ll happen when I actually hear professional actors in New York read it, you know, I may think Ah! It’s terrible! But from the reading I had here, a relaxed around the table reading, I was really happy with it. So, we’ll see. I’ve always loved theater. It’s an amazing thing for a writer to write something and then actually see it visually like on a screen, or an actor speaking it, it’s incredible. It just blows your mind. Writing is so solitary that if you can mix it with something social – film making or theater or singing songs, it’s always a bonus. Otherwise you just sit in a damn room by yourself.

Do you see the story and the characters a different way because you’ve done it in a different medium?

I think I naturally write filmic books or filmic short stories – people tell me I write visually.  I don’t know.  I love dialog.  Writing a script is like writing a skeleton of a book.  No flesh.  This theater play, I wrote it incredibly fast. I wrote the first half in probably a week and a half and the second maybe in two weeks.

Kind of like the difference between writing poetry and then going out and singing your own songs and having the audience…

Yes, absolutely.  Except that I don’t have to perform.  I’m a mess when I do readings.  Although, I suppose that’s the thing about readings, you do get audience feedback. You feel people are supporting you. Well, I’ve never had anybody boo yet, but you never know…I’m waiting. It’ll happen.

 

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Poetry

Harbour of Dreams

by Reg Deneau

 

Within the psyche of most human beings,

Between adolescence and senility,

Exists a harbour of dreams –

One place, real or imaginary,

To which one can travel

Telepathically, instantaneously,

In times of stress or dismay –

A safe place, far from the moment

In which we find ourselves.

In adolescence,

It may be a place to which we’ve never ever been –

“Over the rainbow” as the song says;

As we age, it may be a place to which we have travelled.

In many instances – a place we’ve never ever seen,

Except in a movie or on television or the Internet.

Nevertheless, a safe harbor –

No rocks upon which to flounder,

No storms on the imminent horizon,

No threatening ‘creatures’ real or imaginary, in sight!

Harbours of dreams

Have both beautiful sunrises and sunsets,

And, in-between –

Calm seas upon which we can navigate

The shoals of life.

 

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Reg Deneau was born in Canada where he attended the University of Windsor, graduating with a degree in Political Science and Media Studies. A teacher in Ontario, Canada for 32 years, he came to the Yucatan in 2004 and resides in Progreso with his spouse, who was the inspiration for his first book of poetry, “Trust the Winds : Poems of a Spiritual Journey”. A previous non-fiction book was published in 2005 by Barnes and Noble in the US – “Not My Father’s Footsteps”. He is currently working on a second poetry anthology, and at the same time, is in the midst of a fictional story relating the trials and tribulations of “snowbirds” in the Yucatan. In his spare time, he is the author of three ongoing blogs…

To read more of Reg’s poetry, visit his blog site www.trustthewinds.wordpress.com

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