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After Abel Cvrs Final“I have a special job for you today, Miriam,” Amma says. She woke me even earlier than usual today. Everything is black, the walls of our hut, the ceiling, and the sky outside that I can see through the doorway.

It’s hard to get out of bed so early. Usually, Baba is gone by the time Amma rubs my back until I open my eyes. Not today. Baba is standing right behind Amma when she wakes me, which is how I know this is important.

Baba holds up the basket that Amma has been working on for weeks. First, she sent me to the river to gather long reeds for her. She cut those up and wove them together so that I couldn’t see through them at all when I held the basket up to the light. After that, she carried it down to the river to line it with thick mud. That sat in our hut drying for days, but it didn’t bother me.

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Who are you?

I don’t know. I’ve been reading Martin Buber trying to figure it out. I’ve also been trying to spend more time with real people instead of hiding out with imaginary creatures. I have a list of what I am—but who I am seems far away at the moment.

I think who is better experienced than understood—who exists in its relationship to others—it is the space between the players. Take the film Cat Dancers example, here is a girl, a boy, a cat—who they are seems to exist in the area of that triangle.  I like to watch such areas take shape.

At the moment I’m trying really hard to be more of a player than a voyeur—to experience more—to be more who than what, but this is difficult.

https://youtu.be/n34S-tilbW0

Reborn for exposure, my body’s been redesigned for uncensored
feeling: a sneeze or hiccup comes as a sheet of ice or a bed on fire.

Eyes inverted, the optic nerves reach like roots beyond me. I under-
stand the unseen scars of invisible knives—those rodents’ teeth,

those crows’ bills; natural insertions. The red of it is raw; the surface
glistens like sap gnawed out from trees—wounds that outshine even

the sun— these wet lights are my earthbound constellations. What is
left of me, my son walks next to on his way to school. He tells me he’s

learned, Where rain and babies come from; he says, It’s all the same,
really. Inside. Outside. He doesn’t notice any difference. He says,

Race ya, and we run into a storm of babies—falling. Life absorbs
quickly as water into earth and all is an unstaged show of growth.

We will die, Mom, he says, But like star-matter we’ll regenerate. Why
do you think that is? I ask him. So we can find the joy in it, he tells me.

Our story will happen again.

Alexis-Andre

At 11:11 on a Tuesday night in January, I called my own number and was slightly annoyed to find myself at home. I know it’s important to have these little discussions with yourself but, these days, I often find myself in a bad mood. (And vice-versa, of course.) The time before a book is published is a mild but constant irritation, like thinking you’ve left the stove on when you’re miles away from home. So, I struggled to be civil.[1]

- How are you? I asked.

- I’ve been better, I answered.

- Something on your mind?

- I can’t stop thinking about Harry Mathews and Italo Calvino.

9781552453056_Alexis_FifteenDogs_cover_RGB_800x1249A Wager

One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern. Apollo had allowed his beard to grow until it reached his clavicle. Hermes, more fastidious, was clean-shaven, but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.

They had been drinking, but it wasn’t the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. The Wheat Sheaf felt like a temple, and the gods were gratified. In the men’s washroom, Apollo allowed parts of himself to be touched by an older man in a business suit. This pleasure, more intense than any the man had known or would ever know again, cost him eight years of his life.

While at the tavern, the gods began a desultory conversation about the nature of humanity. For amusement, they spoke ancient Greek, and Apollo argued that, as creatures go, humans were neither better nor worse than any other, neither better nor worse than fleas or elephants, say. Humans, said Apollo, have no special merit, though they think themselves superior. Hermes took the opposing view, arguing that, for one thing, the human way of creating and using symbols, is more interesting than, say, the complex dancing done by bees.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh photo credit BeBe JacobsTesting, testing.

I think it’s on.

 

I love Vietnamese food. Just wanted to let you know.

I do too.

 

Nguyen, SYMPATHIZER jacket artI am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you—that is a hazard, I must confess. But in the month when this confession begins, my way of seeing the world still seemed more of a virtue than a danger, which is how some dangers first appear.

Cover_LifeisShortArtisShorterIntroduction

Short Stuff

Bobs, tempers, college rejection letters, kinds of love, postcards, nicknames, baby carrots, myopia, life flashing before eyes, gummy bears, the loser’s straw, Capri pants, charge on this phone battery, a moment on the lips (forever on the hips), caprice, velvet chokers, six months to live, penne, some dog tails, how long I’ve known you though it feels like a lifetime, even a complicated dive, tree stumps, a shot of tequila, breaking a bone, a temp job, bobby socks, when you’re having fun, a sucker punch, going straight to video, outgrown shoes, a travel toothbrush, just missing the basket, quickies, some penises, lard-based desserts, catnaps, staccato tonguing, a sugar rush, timeouts, Tom Cruise, a stint, brusque people, stubble, the “I’m sorry” in proportion to the offense, fig season, grammatical contractions, bunny hills, ice cream headaches, dachshunds, –ribs, –stops, –hands, –changed, … but sweet.

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This self- interview is answered by voices from the anthology Life is Short—Art is Shorter by David Shields and Elizabeth Cooperman.

 

How would you describe the brief selections in this book?

“ …ticks engorged like grapes” (Amy Hempel, “Weekend”)

 

What were you thinking about when you put this collection together?

“I was thinking about my body’s small, precise, limited, hungry movement forward…” (Wayne Koestenbaum, “My 1980s”)

 

You have said that Brevity personified came to you in a dream many years ago?

“His hands moved in spasms of mathematical complexity at invisible speed.” (Leonard Michaels, “In the Fifties”)

Abbi2I.

The moon is falling out of the sky and into the lake. He’s going to AA meetings in the late afternoon, and swigging whiskey in the car after, until he can forget his name, until his breath is soured. Until he can forget how you point up at him and say wherever we are we will always have the moon, because he doesn’t want the responsibility of holding us together. His soft heart hangs too heavy; the bottle light in his hands. It is all our fault.

I mistook my father for a sewer rat once, his tail
dragging behind, plump and serpentine.

I followed the S’s onto our yellowed half-acre,
stopped at the sound of hens; the flocks in the

tallest branches, alive with a foliage of wings.

This is where she and I pushed our pants to our ankles
and peed, heard God’s voice roar—What the hell?

Or maybe that was my father—we didn’t turn around to see,
scrabbling through the thistle, as we were, on our knees.

Arnold-Daniel1-400x300-2Wait, your new book, Snowblind, is a short story collection. Why’d you write one of those? Don’t you know people don’t read short stories?

Don’t panic. I can promise you Action! Adventure! Derring-do! The stories in Snowblind are mountaineering adventure tales in the vein of Jack London or Robert Louis Stevenson, but with modern characters and climbs. For reasons beyond me, stories with satisfying narrative arcs have become taboo in certain literary circles. I think stories should be gripping, and I’ve yet to meet the reader who genuinely feels otherwise.

Snowblind_FINALDEAD TIL PROVEN OTHERWISE

Two am. Ann chokes off the alarm on her watch. Her bones ache, even the sockets of her eyes. She probes her flesh, groping for her moxie. How much does she have left? Yeah, and how much will she need? Half breaths of wind rattle the fabric of her bivy sack. Ha! One vertical mile of snowy Alaskan beast below the foot-wide sleeping ledge she’s chopped in the ice, and the beast is snoring. Ann unzips the hood of her bivy sack. Stars! Bright goddamn stars. And cold. Cold as a wage slave’s soul. Perfect. Day three, and her weather window has held. She’ll meet the sun on top of the mountain.

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M told me he’d be taking a chance on me since I hadn’t worked in sales before. He said he figured I knew plenty about massage tables, however, which was true. I’d been doing massage in northern California’s Wine Country for years. By the time I met M, I’d done hundreds of massages—frequently using tables manufactured by his company. I already knew that therapists who did outcalls preferred his tables because they weighed less than most, requiring less effort to carry and transport.

“These tables will be easy to sell,” I said.

M was built like a middle-aged gymnast—compact, fit in his polo shirt and slacks, gray streaking his dark hair. He led me through the showroom past massage tables and chairs. They were set up and ready for customers to fold and adjust them, test the cushions for softness, the legs for sturdiness. Shelves stocked an arrangement of oils and lotions, a stack of flannel sheets in pastels. Innocuous new age music—something with a rain stick—reminded me of the spas at which I’d worked.

We were seated in M’s office when he asked if I wanted to hear his demo tape. I didn’t understand the question. Or rather, I didn’t understand the question in the context of a job interview.

“It’s three songs, all about massage,” he said. Now I noticed the portable stereo. He was sliding the cassette into the slot. “You ready?”

I shrug-nodded: Okay?

The acoustic guitar was pleasant enough, as was M’s voice. The lyrics, however, were cringe-worthy. It’s tough to pull off a line like everybody wants to be touched.

“Wow.”

M seemed satisfied with my reaction. He asked if he could train me over the weekend–when the business was normally closed. “It’ll be easier if it’s just you and me here.”

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When you write erotic poems which hand do you use? 

The dominant hand, of course!

 

Currently, what is your favorite word?

Ankle.

 

Who do you listen to when you write?

Glenn Gould’s Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Dexter Gordon’s Round Midnight. Anything Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Chet Baker, Billie Holliday, Booker Little. Or the dear sound of my husband’s breathing.