"The Heart is a Slow Learner and Other Stories" by prose finalist Mary Larkin

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“The Night of the Leonid Showers” from The Heart is a Slow Learner and Other Stories

I have gone back in time and am on the porch, writing the Great American Novel, waiting for my father to die.  It has already happened, but I have undone it and am enjoying the moments with the words and the slick writing pen with its fluid stream and the paper, not to mention the drill-beaked hummingbird that hovers, hums and sucks at the red plastic flowers that are little fructose ducts to the kool-aid-red sugar water within. The tiny bird reverberates, then flits away spilling one droplet, and the past is gone, time shifts back to the present, and my father is dead.

I do not go inside to get the phone when it rings; I know my husband will answer its toll, just as I know he will open the screen door and take two tentative steps onto the porch and say, “Your father has died.”

There is nothing much for me to do with this choice piece of news my husband has just handed over to me like the Sunday Times.  The big blue jay sits in a low branch, parallel with me in my canvas butterfly chair which has wings of its own, and we eye one another.  I do not trust him at all.  He will smash other birds’ eggs and sup on the unhatched chicks. Like Cronos, I think to myself.  But some will survive.

The news is no good.  You wonder if it ever was, but when these things happen, you’re sure it has been better than this.  This is the worst.

Mary Larkin won the Southern Indiana Review Mary C. Mohr Editors’ Award in Fiction for her story “All That Was His,” 2012. She received Honorable Mention in Broad River Review’s 2013 Ron Rash Awards judged by Jill McCorkle. Larkin’s fiction has been anthologized and appeared in many journals, including Shenandoah, TheChattahoochee Review, The Nebraska Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Inkwell, and others. She is a Pushcart Nominee, a Writing Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a 2015 Writing Fellow of The Hambidge Center, and the recipient of Hollins University’s Andrew James Purdy Award as well as their AWP Intro Journals Award nominee. Larkin received her MA in Creative Writing from Hollins, and her PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She has work forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Spring, 2016.

"Swarm" by prose finalist Harmony Button

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“This Word Is Earth” from Swarm

I have a story that I’ve told myself so many times I no longer know if it is true or not. It has to do with the fireplace in my parents’ house, and a face I dreamt I saw there. The face was made of spirals – eyes and mouth  and if I got too close to the cold hearth, the face would loom up from the void and suck me into darkness.

For the next year, I avoided the living room at all costs after dark, skittering past the fireplace and bolting out the other side of the room like a startled calf. My parents were used to such odd behavior. There had also been a period of time in which I became convinced that a skeleton who lived in the upstairs toilet would crawl up the pipes and grab me if I didn’t leap off the bathroom tile and onto the safe-zone of the hallway carpet before the toilet finished flushing. There was also a texture-sensitive zombie who did nothing but stand by my bedroom door at night because he couldn’t cross from carpet on to wood. 

I had a rich imagination. 

But then, years later, I read something about the Mound Builders of Ireland, and how they worshiped an earth goddess. Her image appears in tombs built under dolloped mounds of earth that dot the landscape. She was the goddess of the hearth, worshiped at the center of the home: the fireplace. 

And then, there was her picture. Her eyes and mouth were spirals. 

I felt a sting of recognition, as if I had discovered her, myself. 

I was convinced that I had dreamed the image of the Mound Builder’s goddess before she had even been discovered by scientists of my generation. Perhaps I was psychic. Perhaps I was born of Druid blood and felt, at heart, as if I’d always known her. Perhaps I called back the distant memory of a dream and made it fit the image I had seen in National Geographic. 

My mother took one look at the picture and told me it looked nothing like the face I used to draw.She told me that the face I used to be afraid of was from a picture book  Uncle Wiggly’s Bedtime Stories  and I hadn’t dreamed it at all.

Harmony Button’s work has been included in Best American Notable Essays of 2015, she has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web awards, and she was awarded the Larry Levis Prize (Academy of American Poets). Her work as appeared in journals such as Colorado Review, Chicago Quarterly, Southwestern American Lit, Cobalt, Rock & Sling, Bayou and Drafthorse. Find out more at www.harmonybutton.com.

Carey McHugh's "American Gramophone" in Cleaver Magazine

American-Gramophone

In Cleaver Magazine‘s winter issue, among poetry and prose, flash fiction and art, is a book review by Clare Paniccia of Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone. Paniccia opens with a suggestion:

In approaching Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone, one might first consider this question: What is the song of America, or American culture? It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions—the United States has strongly defined itself through its velocity, whether in industry, technology, or commercial growth, and its music has become largely representative of these themes, with contemporary pop artists representing the almost-electric shine of the digital age, rock bands highlighting the working-class, and country groups crooning over the “loss” of an easy-going, slow-paced lifestyle.

She’s hesitant to suggest that we impose on these poems our notions of what it means to be “American”—notions which, although true of a certain brand of Americana, do not do justice to the now-muddied origins of this concept or of this land. Nor is this true of McHugh’s fervent vision: hers is an America stripped of its associations and left with its most unruly, primitive form. Paniccia continues:

…what if America’s song isn’t something you can quickly flip to on a radio? What if America’s song is something that deviates completely from the mainstream—something pared to its most visceral form: an instrumental, organic, and natural tone? Think of the vibrating note of a fiddle, the deep strum of a guitar, and bare, haunting vocals. The sounds of folk and Americana that seem to eek out of valleys, creeks, and forgotten forests—quietly shivering their way into the undercurrent of the American everyday. These are the notes that wind from McHugh’s own gramophone, characterizing this dark collection with a taste of folklore and caution that asks the reader to step out of his or her American associations and return to the frontier’s beginning—the land at its most original, and its most severe.

Paniccia is right to characterize McHugh’s world as one of transience and volatility: for to speak of nature and its song is never to speak in constants, but rather in ruddy uncertainty. Divided in several sections, American Gramophone may be seen perhaps as a meditation on a forgotten history—one free from the notions of industry and development—with Section Two specifically serving as an epitaph to a society now living among ruins.

Poems like “Aviaries and Asylums” and “The Plenty” document this history, detailing how the individual has turned from the organic in an attempt to construct tools and resources to overcome earthly constraints; yet, McHugh’s song always carries in the background, accompanying inevitable failures—“I will try four strings tuned in fifths to the sound of falling.”

To read the review in its entirety and for more of Cleaver, head over to their website for their winter issue.

"In Josaphat’s Valley" and "Stick-Light" by prose finalist Joshua Bernstein

NOTE: Joshua Bernstein submitted two manuscripts to this year’s prose reading period. Stick-Light, one of two submissions, is a complement to In Josaphat’s Valley, both of which were selected as finalists.

On the Occasion of Israel’s Independence from “In Josaphat’s Valley”

Recently, the rabbi of my congregation, which is in Duluth, Minnesota, asked me to give a short talk at a Friday evening service commemorating Israel’s Independence Day. He knew that I had had some background with Israel, having served in its army, and I had just moved to Duluth to take up an academic position. I told him I was quite hesitant. He asked why, and I explained that I had a lot of uncertainties about Israel. “Who doesn’t?” he replied.

In the end, the talked turned out fine, and despite a few troubles with the microphone, the audience responded positively. “I was really moved,” said one congregant. “I often hear about Israel, but I’ve never really heard that take.” It was hard to tell what she might have meant by that, but it called to mind the line in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where O’Brien’s narrator reflects:

When I tell this story, someone will come up to me afterward and say she liked it. It’s always a woman. Usually it’s an older woman of kindly temperament and humane politics. She’ll explain that as a rule she hates war stories; she can’t understand why people want to wallow in all the blood and gore. But this one she liked.

I met Tim O’Brien once. It was a couple years back at a writers’ conference in Sewanee, Tennessee. He was smoking compulsively, and he was polite enough to me. We spoke a little bit about Israel. He said he had known some colonel or another from there. Did I know the man, Ron something? We were both drinking, and that was about the extent of our talk. I did tell him that I appreciated his writings, and he seemed moderately touched by that.

What I didn’t say to him, though perhaps should have, is that I don’t normally like war stories, but I really liked his. I would have loved to have seen his reaction.

 

“Stick-Light” from the eponymous collection

That December was a cold one, with a seemingly endless rain. We had just completed our training and were awaiting development to the line, so for one month we guarded a base in Neve Yaakov, a pine-studded settlement in Jerusalem’s east half, which also housed Central Command. Ostensibly a general worked there, though we never saw the man. We simply blew on our hands, perched inside the steel lookouts, shivering away in the gloom. I imagine the conditions in solitary aren’t much worse. About the only solace I had was books, which I read in secret beneath the dull glow of my cellphone. One was Nine Stories by Salinger, which I didn’t much like, the other a tattered volume of poems by e.e. cummings, including my favorite, “the bigness of cannon”:

I have seen all the silence

full of vivid noiseless boys

 

at Roupy

i have seen

between barrages,

 

the night utter ripe unspeaking girls.

 

War in the trenches was evidently different from this; we had lost one man to suicide already, and several more would be dead soon in Lebanon, but the war as we knew it was itinerant, more or less random, and completely without logic or cause. Men simply guarded, went on arrests, staged patrols or raids, and, as we were soon to discover, got shot in the head late at night, or while walking back from a bathroom, or carrying a carton of food. In Jenin, one man, a guy I disliked, took a mortar in the cheek while losing at Halo 2. No one shut the thing off for weeks. They just left it on pause, as if believing that he was frozen within the stalled screen.

 

J. A. Bernstein’s stories and essays have appeared in dozens of journals, including Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, and Tin House. A former Fulbright Scholar and finalist for the James Jones First Novel Award, he lives in northern Minnesota, where he is an assistant professor of English at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Paint & Sip with African Voices on 12/18

On Friday, December 18th from 6:30-9:00 PM, join African Voices Magazine for a night of books, wine, and painting. Their Paint & Sip Gathering is the perfect pre-holiday opportunity to mingle, paint, and indulge in some book talk with other creatives. African Voices says of the event: “Artist D. Cross will guide you in a journey of self-expression and empowerment.  Let your muse lead you — paint your vision board for 2016 or whatever you desire. No experience in art is needed, bring your sense of adventure! There is a Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight in all of us.”

Registration is $20 before December 15th and $25 thereafter, which includes the cost of art materials and refreshments. The African Voices Upper West Side office is easily accessible by the 1, 2, or 3 trains at the 96th St stop.

"Mick Jagger’s Green-Eyed Daughter and Other Stories" by prose finalist Elizabeth Denton

Lice

Sheila tugged one rubber glove tighter to break the air bubble at her fingertip.  As she parted Malika’s thin red hair, she looked up and saw Wendall drive away in his truck.  What on earth?  God, all the things she’d said. She shouldn’t have been so heavy handed.  She jerked her leg, a sort of repressed stomping.  She remembered the way he’d responded to her touch and the way he’d touched her back, especially her breasts, which he’d lingered over and praised.  She was forty years old with a plain face and a decent figure and though she’d never been married, she knew what to do and say when it came to sex.  One-night stands were not her thing.  She believed that it took two or three times for a man to feel the connection and so she’d been frustrated by her inability to seduce him again. Sheila had had her eye on Wendall ever since she’d learned about his divorce. The tackle-style seduction had been a strategy.  Inside the truck, they’d taken turns—half dressed—and then inside her house, when she’d tried for more, it hadn’t worked.  She kept touching his shoulder or his knee, punctuating when she spoke, to test the voltage.  Low. And now, Wendall hadn’t spoken more than a few words to her for two weeks.

Last week she’d blamed it on the weather.  He couldn’t have pushed Carolyn on the swing in the rain.  This week she blamed it on the lice, the closing of the school.  The parents had called secret meetings to complain to one another about the way she was handling the crisis.  She called Wendall to ask him what they’d been saying behind her back and all she’d gotten from him was that the meetings had been secret from him too.  It was the most stressful thing she’d ever gone through. Several parents wanted their tuition money back—a ploy to force her to reopen the school.  So, okay.  She’d bought a buzzer.  Any parent who agreed to have his child’s head shaved was in.  All other students would be checked for lice at the door.  The parents agreed and Sheila reopened the school. Now, here she was—the Gestapo.  She wished she’d thought to take the muscle relaxers she always downed two days before her period.   It was a terrible time for her; she could have used Wendall’s support.

“Just this one time,” he’d warned.  Her last boyfriend had said something similarly unpromising (“I’m a loner”) and then stuck around for years, but watching Wendall drive off just now, when he had every reason to come speak to her, she knew she’d lost him.

Elizabeth Denton is the author of the short story collection, Kneeling on Rice (University of Missouri Press). Stories from her second collection, Mick Jagger’s Green Eyed Daughter and Other Stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Blackbird and The Yale Review, where her story “Mick Jagger’s Green-Eyed Daughter” won The Yale Review Prize. She has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and has won several grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. She earned her MFA from Columbia University and taught briefly at Yale University and City College. She teaches fiction writing at the University of Virginia and lives in Batesville, Virginia with her husband, writer Mark Edmundson.

The Burqa Issue in Of Note Magazine

Of Note Magazine offers an intersectional approach to art and activism, covering issues such as race, class, education, the prison industrial complex and sexism. Their focus—through mediums such as photographs, sculpture, video, and prose—is on using art as a template for both expression and change. From its “Impact” section on their website, Of Note says:

Through its curated issues, OF NOTE has featured over 70 Artists from 40 countries who use the arts to address social justice/human rights issues. OF NOTE’s long-form journalism authored by its roster of over 30 emerging and established internationally-based Writers has focused on how artists are:

1. addressing mass incarceration in the United States
2. responding to current immigration debates and challenging preconceived notions about immigrants
3. championing the education of girls in developing nations
4. raising awareness about indigenous communities around the world
5. bringing attention to the plight of girls caught in Colombia’s drug and gang wars and illuminating the heroic stories ofEthiopian girls who fight back against child marriage
6. documenting the plight of abandoned children with albinism in Zimbabwe
7. shedding light on the dangerous journey of migrants between the Guatemalan/Mexican border
8. combatting the culture of silence surrounding domestic violence in Indian communities
9. fighting illiteracy among the ‘Born Frees” in South Africa
10. confronting sexism in the portrayals of women and girls in the media

Of Note‘s current issue, “The Burqa“, tackles a subject most timely: the systematic oppression of minority groups in the United States and elsewhere based on religious belief, appearance, and cultural signifiers. Islamophobia runs rampant, showing itself in ways new and old, from electoral politics to the No-Fly List to targeted hate crimes. In a powerful editor’s note by Of Note founder Grace Aneiza Ali, the burqa is explored as a means of denoting identity for both wearer and oppressor.

While many employ the burqa as fodder for debate, the Artists Of Note we’ve selected for The Burqa Issue use their creative voice and art practice to examine the complicated experiences of the women who actually wear the burqa—by choice or by force. These multi-disciplinary global artists employ the burqa, actual and symbolic, in their photography, documentary film, poetry, graffiti, street art, murals, sculpture and painting, to trouble our perceptions.

While their art questions, provokes, defends, indicts, or unapologetically takes a stance for or against the burqa, it is art that is first and foremost deeply personal, before it is political. Each of these women know intimately, and at times painfully, how the world encounters women donned in burqas because they have worn them or borne witness to stories of the women they love—their mothers, sisters, aunts, matriarchs and friends—who have.

Last spring, in their “Imprisoned” issue, Of Note featured artists whose work focuses on mass incarceration and the racist and classist tendencies of the United States that set people of color up for the “school-to-prison pipeline.” It is unsurprising, then, that Randall Horton found himself the topic of discussion once again, as he has broken that mold of his own accord. A piece by Sally Ann Hard titled “Randall Horton: From Prison, to Poet, to Professor” is one of the highlights of this issue. Horton’s poem A Reoccurring Nightmare In Maximum Security” opens the essay, in which Sally Ann Hard shares her own experiences loving a man behind bars. Hard’s subsequent activism focuses on ensuring that, after release, prisoners can transition back into society with the least possible stigma.

Previous issues of Of Note can be found online.

Heroes Are Gang Leaders Performance at Berl’s

On Saturday, December 12th, from 7:00-8:00 pm, Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop in DUMBO will host a night of “literary hip-jazz-blues.” The event will feature a performance by the experimental jazz band Heroes Are Gang Leaders, whose members include poets Thomas Sayers Ellis, Ailish Hopper, James Brandon Lewis, Luke Stewart, Margaret Morris, and Randall Horton, whose Hook: A Memoir we published last month. It will surely be a night that celebrates lyricism in a myriad of forms.

More Heroes Are Gang Leaders:

http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/tag/heroes-are-gang-leaders/

More of Randall Horton:

HookA Memoir is available for purchase from Small Press Distribution online.

Randall Horton on The Stan Simpson Show

Following Randall Horton’s last segment on Fox on November 30th, he appeared again on The Stan Simpson show this week.

The interview with Simpson touches on many themes throughout his new memoir, Hook: poverty, drugs, class, growing up black in America. “What happens is that you become sucked in—but then you become addicted,” Horton says. But Horton has always dealt in the seemingly insurmountable and so too has come out on the other side. Watch the interview to learn more about Horton’s journey.

Hook is currently available for purchase through CreateSpace online.

"Mad Magi" by prose finalist Cecilia Fernandez

Mad Magi

On the evening before the early morning fire, Maximo looked up at the black Florida sky littered with diamonds and shivered in the January cold. The wind hurtled off the churning waves in Miami’s Biscayne Bay and ripped through his corduroy coat.  The links of his 18-carat gold chain felt icy against the coarse black hair on his chest. He remembered the winters back home on the island; they were never quite as cold as this one in exile.  Not so cold that he had to turn on the electric blanket and plug in the floor heater before diving into the sleep that left him feeling more dead than alive.          

He reached inside his shirt and touched the carved gold medallion of San Lazaro, patron saint of the sick, the lost, the woebegone, and offered a quick prayer. Standing in the evening wind,he wrestled with the details of a plan growing like a reckless monster in his head. Each time he thought about it, he felt more certain he would go through with it: call Ana from a phone booth, tell her he was ready to leave his family, pick her up at her apartment and begin the drive north to a new life. There had to be something beyond what he wasdoing: selling toys seven days a week. He needed lightness of being,and he had to take the first step to find out where it was.

Cecilia M. Fernandez is the author of Leaving Little Havana: A Memoir of Miami’s Cuban Ghetto, selected as a finalist in three categories at the 2015 International Latino Book Awards, one of the top ten nonfiction books by a Latino author (2015) and a finalist in the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Book Contest (2011). She is an independent journalist and college instructor with a passion for literature. Her work has appeared in Latina Magazine, Accent Miami, Upstairs at the Duroc: the Paris Workshop Journal, Vista Magazine, and Le Siecle de George Sand. A former reporter for The Stockton Record, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Miami television stations WPBT, WSVN, WSCV, and WLTV, Cecilia is an Emmy nominee from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; she received Dartmouth University’s Champion Tuck Award (Honorable Mention for Television), the Scripps-Howard Award: News Writer of the Month and a Fellowship for Independent Summer Study from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cecilia earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University and an MA in English Literature from the University of Miami. Her undergraduate degree in journalism is from the University of California-Berkeley.