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I look for you on the storm-smoothed shore,
               glittering where the moon tows itself
across the bay. Cool air fills my lungs with mint

as I walk past sea oats, past sea grapes
               in tidal pools. Waves spread
like playing cards—a flush the land can’t beat—

and the sea keeps upping the ante: first,
               quartz and crysolite, then breakwaters
and wooden weirs, then the land itself,

an erosion so ceaseless I too want to give
               my body, wholly, to something else.
Camped by a fire, you call to me.

JMC Author PhotoIntriguing title, True Stories at the Smoky View. Is the Smoky View real? Have you stayed there?

Both the name and the location of the motel are fictional.

One summer, years ago, while traveling with my son, I stayed at a similar motel, but that was in Virginia, not Tennessee. On the other side of I-81, to the west, loomed very high mountains. By dinnertime the sun had already disappeared. The light was eerie. The sun had set, but not really. After dinner we went swimming, and there was a frog in the pool. My son, too, remembers it as a magical evening. He’s a herpetologist now. Maybe that frog cast a spell on him.

 

Hmmm. Could Jonathan be a stand-in for your son?

Jonathan’s a fictional character. To some extent, I suppose, he’s based on a boy I sat across from at dinner one night. I remember thinking: this kid has been adopted into the wrong family. But Jonathan’s an orphan, with a very different family history.

True Stories at the Smoky View coverVrai wished she had the nerve to leave Skip’s ashes and the box of things from his apartment on his mother’s doorstep. Why not loop Cassi’s leash around the dogwood, ring the doorbell, and run? She didn’t regret the phone call to his mother to offer condolences. Skip would surely have done the same for her. But this visit would be downright awkward.

She and Skip had both grown up here in Knoxville. Decades later they’d become close friends while working in the same library in Baltimore. Just up the street from that library, four days ago, Skip had been hit by a car. According to the article in the Baltimore Sun, the driver, an optician, claimed Skip had stepped off the curb with his hands over his eyes. The article had his name right, Jasper Pascal Howard, Jr., but said he was fifty years old. Skip was only forty-nine, two years older than Vrai.

Bittersweet Way, Skip had ruefully called this quiet, tree-lined street where his mother still lived, and for Vrai, too, his old neighborhood was steeped in sadness. Her best friend, Laramie, had lived next door to Skip.

Rollins_0921

 

So you’re doing the whole meta-fiction thing now?

No, just here to talk about my book with my favorite critic.

 

But you did try meta-fiction, didn’t you?

Yeah, there was a failed story that didn’t make the final cut in which a semi-fictional version of myself confronted all the book’s characters at the Cafe Kopi in Champaign, Illinois.

Deaver Book Cover_photo credit Ashley Inguanta“Vasco and the Virgin”

Vasco Whirly had been an English professor out at the college, but he didn’t get tenure. So he got on the safety crew out at the Murdock Mine, and it wasn’t so bad—his self-esteem was shot, and he didn’t fit in, but he did make a lot of new friends. Actually he didn’t. But he kept a lot of the old friends, Lowell Wagner in Psychology, Ann Rook in English, Gloria Steinem the local librarian, some others. All this took place in the dying prairie college town of Tuscola. This is more than you wanted to know.

Vasco never saw his friends much, and they never saw him, so it was hard to figure how they were friends. And his daughters, Michelle and Melanie Junior, were always off somewhere, and this left Vasco hanging around his old homestead doing things like staring down in the cistern or climbing around in the rafters of the garage. Sometimes he’d go all around the house opening drawers, and sometimes he’d take a shovel and dig in the narrow passage between his garage and the Rittenauers’ garage next door. The house was old, built in 1882— he’d poked around for hours in the dim of the musty basement, finally even using a metal detector he’d rented. In fact, he did the whole yard with the metal detector, working day after day, half the community driving by on Niles Avenue and seeing him do it. He metal-detected Melanie Senior’s tulip bed out by the garage, under the grape arbor, along both edges of the drive, in the parkway, under the bushes that surrounded the front porch. He came to the conclusion he was looking for something, the way he was always rummaging around.

jane's pic of liz

 

Why Chaos Theories? What is the significance of the title?

Many tenets from chaos theory appear in these poems. After reading a little bit about it, I became obsessed with the way in which chaos is actually a type of order. This contradiction continues to fascinate me and seems an apt metaphor for human emotions and relationships, and maybe even a metaphor for the writing process – or at least my process: through my poems I attempt to force order onto the disorder of the world. Plus I love all of the scientific language: strange attractors, bifurcations, butterfly effect, turbulence, dynamic systems, sensitivity to initial conditions, and on and on… There is so much gorgeous language to mine.

One can’t predict what happens next, yet even
chaos breeds patterns of a sort: sly singles

at the bar, nocturnal creatures stalking shadows,
cars cruising for motion’s sake. I’m speaking out

of turn again. We all are sensitive
to first impressions, but initial conditions

shift swiftly and with little impetus.
I found him digging ditches in summer heat,

and soon we’d made declarations, smiled broadly
for photographs. It wasn’t meant to be

anngreengables

In high school I aspired to be anorexic or bulimic, but the truth is I just wasn’t motivated enough. I would join a sport for a semester—basketball, gymnastics, soccer, track—but I’d quickly lose interest and find myself exactly where I’d begun: lying on the floor with a Smiths album on repeat while thinking about boys. It was the only activity I was able to dedicate myself to. And because my weight was really not the reason boys were not interested in me—it was likely a host of skin and personality flaws—I could safely misdirect my attention without accidentally fixing myself. I didn’t want to do the soul-searching or book-reading that would make me realize the person I really wanted to be. I just wanted to be thin. And then I wanted that to be enough.

51kgifio8wL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Nobody walks in L.A. This is a well-known fact. Everything spread too distantly, too arrogantly—the city, the county, the Southland, however you want to categorize it all. The only connection the great roaring freeways, like clogged ancient rivers, carrying commerce and travelers, people making their way in the world, industrious and air-conditioned and unaware, but not walking, no, never.

Nonetheless, Father Jim Hinshaw isn’t going to let the limitations of his adopted hometown—three years and running, still genuinely flummoxed to be among what he used to think of as the chosen of Southern California—ruin his lifelong love of a good, brisk walk.

 

commission_meadows_1

 

God possessed Father Michael during mass. I was sure of it. I knew if I squinted hard enough, I could see beams of light shooting from our priest’s body, making him convulse in a sort of spiritual shiver signifying the exact moment God settled into his bones. ‘Go in peace to serve the Lord,’ God would say, raising His arms at the conclusion of mass. And then, following His somewhat self-serving farewell, He would return to Heaven in a flutter of robes, leaving a shinier and slightly steaming Father Michael.

When I explained this theory to my mother one day after church, she didn’t clarify, didn’t point me towards a bible or suggest I pay more attention in CCD. She only looked at me like she wanted to power-of-Christ-compel-me before saying, “No, that’s not right.”

3b

 

My California is the smell of eucalyptus trees in ocean air. Even salted essential oil can evoke for me whole swatches of my childhood: My father in his crazy wigs, my grandparents’ conch-shell silences on the Carmel beach, the thick grove where I got lost behind my schoolyard collecting the trees’ bell-shaped silver pods.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that eucalyptus is nonnative to California—“invasive” even though they didn’t ask to come here. They arrived in the late 1840s and early 1850s with prospectors from Australia—those Gold Rush days brought an onslaught of mostly European-American and Chinese immigrants that would triple the state’s population in the space of a few years.

Now my local newspaper prints detailed instructions on how to kill the invasive eucalyptus.

I am also invasive.

 

 

Do you imagine an ideal reader?

The ideal reader is someone who, upon reading a poem, goes immediately to find someone, another ideal reader, and she says, “Listen to this!” and reads the poem aloud as if she herself had written it. I grew up with parents who said often, “Listen to this!” And I listened. Maybe I’m someone’s ideal reader—I hope so!

What she wanted was a bearded man
to tease her, all those tight curls
between her legs scratching, tickling.
She would hold him as she would

an amphora, scenes painted onto it:
a boar with scythe tusks, a chariot
high-wheeled and eager, a naked driver
curved indelicately, his horse a puzzle

of arcs. Or she would hold him as Salome
offered up St. John, his head open-mouthed,
on a platter. No, she’d hold his head,
alive, the tongue arced and silent.

AFSulli_1

Start with the premise. A skinhead and a butcher run over a lion in December in Canada. How does this kind of thing happen?

Loose zoo laws. Or at least loose exotic animal laws.

The province of Ontario has surprisingly loose regulations around keeping wild animals. Certain cities like Toronto have passed by-laws to prevent this, but Ontario itself is full of small, family run zoos with little to no real oversight on a regular basis. You can spot a lot of them off the highway when you head north to cottage country. It’s also a lot easier for any private citizen to own an exotic animal than you might expect. And it’s a lot easier for these animals to escape than from your standard, big city zoo. Every so often these escapes make the news, but it usually disappears after a while. The past few years have seen major escapes in Florida, Ohio and Alberta. It happens more than you think. Enforcement has ramped up a bit since 1989, but it’s still common enough to pop-up in your local police blotter or Facebook feed.

Waste CoverPawned

Jamie Garrison knew he’d made a mistake when Connor Condon began to thrash around inside the plastic Kmart bag. The kid looked like a fish, his big mouth puffing out and pulling in the plastic, his lips fat and purple. Jamie saw Connor’s eyes staring back at him in the window. He could see the boy’s skin slowly changing color, the muscles in his neck straining to yank the plastic off his face.

Jamie didn’t stop though. He just ground his teeth together and pulled tighter while the ninth-graders near the front took up a chant of condom, condom, condom, condom…their voices bounced between the syllables. The bus driver wasn’t even looking, her eyes burning into the back of a stalled driver’s head, her horn blaring at the green Chevy that refused to move from the turning lane. Brock was in the seat beside Jamie and leading the chant with his hands in the air, his mouth dangling open as it always did, his leather jacket reeking of cat piss. Brock flicked his wrists like a maestro and the chant rose.