@

Man in clown makeup on LA bus

It was two weeks before Halloween, and I was on a Metro bus headed toward Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. Ahead I saw the ninety-year-old Vista Theater, which is just down the hill from the strip mall where Jerry’s video store used to be, and this was the season when I particularly missed the store. Its owner, Jerry Neeley, claimed an inventory of 20,000 titles of every genre, but horror was his specialty, so that I would observe Halloween by renting movies that only he would insist on stocking: The Astounding She-Monster, The Hideous Sun Demon, The Thing That Couldn’t Die. In his twenties Jerry had contributed articles to Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, my preadolescent bible, and to rent a movie from him was to invite anecdotes like this one about The Astounding She-Monster: “You’ll notice that the lead actress never turns her back to the camera. That’s because she split the back of her costume open on the first day of shooting and they didn’t have time to repair it.” Jerry’s knack for trivia was a magnet for regular customers, and it was shared by his wife, Mary, an animal lover who taped snapshots of customers’ pets to the side of a filing cabinet behind the counter. She and Jerry could both be peevish, and the store was frankly homely, with its cinderblock walls and ramshackle racks, while its musty smell must have been off-putting to some; but there was no shortage of corporate alternatives that smelled vaguely of plastic and were staffed by cheerful teenagers who consulted computers when asked about offbeat titles and said, as expected, “Sorry, we don’t carry that.” Jerry’s store wasn’t computerized. Everything there was done by hand: the bookkeeping, the checkout slips, the signs that distinguished the Fellini section from the Fassbinder section, the Gable section from the Garbo section, and so on.

the broadcast of a tea kettle
the ignition of a ghost fog

mercury snapping through linden
& the orchard’s doe is polka-dotted

on a road as open as a new notebook;
you, snow-stormed in the dawn of exits

husband & harpooner

with an iceberg caving in the thorax

On top of the world...............Sometimes when we walk down the quiet hallway, and stop at apartment #210, the door opens into a narrow dark foyer, the bathroom to our immediate left.  But sometimes, the door opens and reveals nothing but blue sky. In the former of the two possibilities, if we turn right, we walk down another hallway. Keith Richards plastered on the purple wall. We enter the living room with its low red sectional couch, covered in purple and black sheets and red pillows. Looking east, towards Lake Michigan—a bank of horizontal windows, the blinds usually drawn.

He sits down and pulls out his black lock box of narcotics.

He arranges his pills on the glass-topped coffee table. On a good day, Roku is working, and he picks something from Youtube to watch, or asks what do you want? I always say Law and Order. In this iteration, he’s okay—the pain seems to be manageable, he might eat something, or he might not, he might throw up, or he might not, and so things are in a kind of equipoise; meaning, theoretically, days like this could go on forever. And this is why I go to the kitchen and pour a glass of wine, and eat a candy bar.

10459009_10152214303511127_1046608401945286575_oIn a crumbling-stucco corner house off Frazier Street, lived a boy who believed he was nothing at all.  Nightly, his drunk father’s eyes glowed red, and he spit fiery words, but not until fists hailed down on his mother did the boy run for the space between the stove and cabinets. There he crouched crying, “Coward! Coward!”

He listened hard through screams and breaking for his mother’s breathing. Sometimes she went silent, and he wanted to be more than a boy hiding between the stove and cabinet. There he fingered the black abyss of a crack in the linoleum praying, “Fall in. Fall in. Fall in. Fall in,” and one night his father did.

IMG_2891What do you mean by the Age of Consequences?

We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history.” The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent and annoying buzzing sound, requiring immediate attention. I call this moment the Age of Consequences—a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to bite, raising difficult and anguished questions.

AoC Cover ImageFood binds us together. It is who we are. What we eat, where our food comes from, how it’s produced, who grows it, and when it arrives on our table tell us pretty much everything we need to know about ourselves. Our culture is the sum of its edible parts. How we treat the animals that we eat, for example, tells us—or ought to, anyway—a great deal about the state of our nation. Overgrazed range is a food issue. Population is a food issue. Food ties urban to rural, eater to grower, people to land, past to future, one nation to another, our children to ourselves. There is no such thing as a “post-agricultural” society, as author Wendell Berry has noted. We’re all eaters. We’re all in this together.

Deji Olukotun by Beowulf SheehanDeji: I’m not sure what the point of another interview is. What can you tell me that Google can’t?

Bryce: Slow down, there, Deji. You’re way too pushy.

Deji: It’s a Nigerian quality. We like to get things done.

Bryce: You’re half-Nigerian. Anyway, not all Nigerians are like that. Some of them do yoga.

Deji: They were probably disinherited from their families. So, about my question–answer it.

NISCover2015It took four nights of heavy drinking, cajoling, and a wet kiss from Leon’s girl Fadanaz for Thursday to say he would consider going into the water. Even then he never thought it would come to pass. But soon they were sitting in the Merc next to a row of strelitzia palms that wound along a dirt road to the beach in the dusk, their fronds spreading out like press-on fingernails. He would have been able to hear the pounding surf if Leon wasn’t thumping his Kwaito music, and they’d both grown up near the sea so he didn’t smell the seaweed any more. Thursday had resolved that this time he would be firm with Leon—he was not going in the water, there was no way he was going in.

mediumhorizontal4TNBYou have referred to Dada in your writing. Why, after almost a century, does Dada matter?
Greil Marcus makes the great point that the Dadaists were the first Punks. They rejected the idea of the “professional artist” and embraced instead being radically playful “amateurs.” An amateur is literally a person who loves something. I resonate with that idea: I love to make writing but I try to refuse – in a hopefully humorous and termitic way — the verbiage of artistic “greatness.” Because I think that language has silenced a lot of creative people ––

For Alan Dann

A woman came up to me in Bloomingdales and said she liked my glasses and I told her where to get them and she said, “what do you think I am — a millionaire?” and stomped off.
A woman came up to me in grad school and said she wished she was as smart as I was and I told her where to find the good theory books at the library and she said “what do you think I am — stupid or something?” and threw down her copy of Derrida’s On Grammatology and stomped off.

Pattison 1The characters of all your novels are driven to find justice for horrible crimes with no help, and often outright opposition, from their government. Why have you chosen this dynamic for your books?

There is almost never justice in my books except for the makeshift justice wrought by people who have been abandoned by their societies. With my characters forced to navigate by their own innate sense of right and wrong I can explore justice in broader dimensions, including its spiritual and cultural context. The actors in these dramas come from sharply different cultures, with markedly different perspectives and motivations, but they are joined by the common goal of resolving terrible injustice. I have worked in many diverse cultures around the globe and am convinced there is a sense of justice ingrained in the human DNA — it is this instinct that drives my plots and empowers my characters.

Trusting only in

my legions of cats and piles of
                    sweaters, holy tights
          and wool dresses.

Oh, to be more than a hand-
                              stringing-out words
on a clothesline,

          like a bad joke for no audience.

          No one
at the bus stop.

                    Unemployed
                         in the
          afternoon.

Susan Lindheim photoSouthwestern Arkansas, 1934

Lily peeked out the bathroom window and saw that nothing had changed: her mother Rose — wedding band hidden in her purse — was still flirting with the filling station attendant while her grandmother Miriam paced circles around the pale yellow Dodge sedan with the Chihuahua at her heels. One day Miriam’s jitteriness would give them all away, Lily was sure of it. One day they’d all get arrested because Miriam couldn’t just flat out pretend.

Edgar was already gone.

Like the Moon

By John Mortara

Poem

like the moon / i once collided with something much larger than myself / and then refused to leave / like the moon i turn everyone around me / into wolves / salivating at the night / teething on the dark / just like the moon i can churn an ocean into an angry stomach / sick of itself / was pledged to the earth / but can’t / stop talking / about the sun / like the moon / now you see me / and now you can fuck off / i used to be your distant dream / turned stupid success / so quickly i became a bored routine / claimed / and then absently abandoned when the future suddenly seemed / too expensive / admit it / the only reason you ever wanted me was war / you have everything you could ever need below your feet / and you stare up at me with all that lonely / i am like the moon / all the myth / the legend / the religion / the complete and absolute human delusion / all of it / countless wistful longing poems later / and you still / don’t get it / the future / is too / expensive / i am like the moon and it’s daytime and i’m still here so deal with it / i am like the moon and it has been so / so long / that people just stopped believing we even happened / i am like the moon / and you’re right / there are no men here anymore / i am killing each one of them / with time.

Photo+Credit-+Anna+BeekeKate Axelrod’s debut novel The Law of Loving Others is about a high school student dealing with her mother’s recent schizophrenic break. The title was taken from a quote in Anna Karenina that reads: The law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable. This story is NOT autobiographical. Kate’s mother Marian Thurm was my workshop teacher at the Yale Writers’ Conference 2014. Marian and I chatted for hours in and out of class. She told me that the first story she sent out got published by The New Yorker when she was only twenty-five years old. Marian’s daughter Kate isn’t much older than that. She’s right on track. She holds a BA in creative writing from Oberlin College, a master’s in social work from Columbia University, and splits her time and efforts to satisfy both passions. When she flew out west this summer, I whipped up a batch of raw vegan pecan truffle bars and asked Kate over to my place in Santa Monica to get raw and candid about mental illness. We discussed her day job as an advocate in the criminal justice system, what it’s like to hail from New York literati and how she came to the story.