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deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.

TNB Landis coverThat day after school, she stops at the hardware store to explain about her door.

“You need a shim,” says the man, and shows her a thin, splintery wedge of wood. “Take it,” he says, pushing back her quarter. She can only get the tip in under her door. That night she goes to bed with the light on and stares at the doorknob. At around 1:00 A.M., the knob turns.

The door does not move.

The knob turns twice more. Then it stops.

indexUp and down Broadway, in and out of journalism, taken by daguerreotypes, transported by opera, gathering gathering gathering experience—but for what? By the early 1850s, Whitman began to feel what he later described as a “great pressure, pressure from within.” With his thirty-fifth birthday fast approaching, he grew pained by the notion that at the same age Shakespeare was “adjudged already to deserve a place among the great masters,” having by then written such plays as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III.

justin_martin_photoSo you’ve written the first book ever about Pfaff’s saloon. Why didn’t somebody write this book earlier?

It’s a daunting challenge, research-wise. My subjects were a group of wild, decadent, and very talented artists, properly considered America’s first Bohemians. During the 1850s, they hung out at Pfaff’s saloon in New York City. They lived loose, unconventional lives, which makes them rich subjects. But they lived those lives 150 years ago. It required a ton of research, but it was also truly rewarding to bring this mostly forgotten but vitally important artists circle back to life. I often felt like a time-traveling cat herder.

MoorsAccount_CoverThe Story of La Florida

It was the year 934 of the Hegira, the thirtieth year of my life, the fifth year of my bondage—and I was at the edge of the known world. I was marching behind Señor Dorantes in a lush territory he, and Castilians like him, called La Florida. I cannot be certain what my people call it. When I left Azemmur, news of this land did not often attract the notice of our town criers; they spoke instead of the famine, the recent earthquake, or the rebellions in the south of Barbary. But I imagine that, in keeping with our naming conventions, my people would simply call it the Land of the Indians. The Indians, too, must have had a name for it, although neither Señor Dorantes nor anyone in the expedition knew what it was.

Laila.Lalami.2014authorphoto

How do you pronounce your name?

Laila is pronounced like the Eric Clapton song. And Lalami rhymes with Rarity.

 

I bet you get asked that a lot.

Oh, only about five times a day.

 

So you have a new book coming out?

Yes, it’s called The Moor’s Account and it will be published by Pantheon in September 2014.

clambake

By Christopher Mulrooney

Poem

all the little clams you dig there
dancing on the edge of the pit fall in then
pudding and pie the candlestick from the Met
while you turn up the great big underground switch
am I right over copy that because the whole muse thing
interests you as a rather lowdown carpet-seller’s commentary
on his wares from a legendary source in proverbial hills
you flog the stuff like any
there is all your art

deerI imagined myself coasting calmly into the ten-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. Instead, on day two, I was teary, overwhelmed and my mind roared. Secluded at a rural retreat center in Massachusetts, I was in heavy withdrawal from Manhattan’s chaos, din and light. Uncomfortable, I craved a fix. So I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door and sat on the floor checking my contraband: a Bic pen and paper.

KENDRA DE COLO horizontal

A lot of poems in your poetry collection Thieves in the Afterlife reference female desire and the body. Have you always written about sexuality?

The first writers I fell in love with were Pablo Neruda, Anais Nin, and Henry Miller. I remember reading Delta of Venus when I was 14 and wanting to write just like her. I was compelled, not necessarily by the content, but by the tough sensuality and unapologetic voice. She was my hero—probably the first model I had for bisexuality and writing outside of standard hetero/gendered love forms.

Starry-eyed and ravenous, we wait for it
to serenade us like a bullet singing to a wound.
Is this what you meant by romance? Me, scouring the remains
of my life over a pool of ketchup, thick as the spunk of creation
while the city blooms smoke, waiting to be swallowed?

IMG_1857My dad left on a Wednesday afternoon in July. He had made some trial runs; leaving the house late at night and heading off God knows where only to return days later, his clothes wrinkled and stinking of cigarettes and beer, the shadow of a beard growing on his face. But I would never have expected him to leave the day the fish fell from the sky.

The coyotes worked in teams, taking what they needed while the subdivisions slept and the moon and stars rattled around in the sky. It took two or three of them to carry a piece of lumber; they would clamp it in their jaws, stop every so often to rest and readjust. Other items were more trouble: slippery things like jars of nails, or heavier things, like the outboard motor they abandoned on the sidewalk after their backs nearly buckled under its weight. Still, the coyotes were mostly quick and effective thieves. They fanned out through the valley, careful not to hit the same neighborhoods over and over. The humans never knew what was happening. By the time the water rose and they were drowning in their homes, it was too late to do anything but stare as the coyotes floated past on their ark, saving no one.

PhotoMarinSardy4In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ suicide, a plethora of articles and blogs have been published on the topic of mental illness and depression. As a writer whose work often directly or indirectly addresses mental illness, do you think this sort of mass response is helpful?

In some ways, yes, absolutely, the mass response is very helpful. The cultural silence around mental illness, without a doubt, made my experience as a child of someone with schizophrenia far worse than it needed to be. I had no one to talk to about it and no vocabulary for it even, and so that silence stunted my ability to even do my own thinking about it. In a culture without open conversation around mental illness, I was cut off from social support that could have helped enormously. So I’m pretty much glad across the board whenever anyone is openly discussing it. But with this I’ve also been glad that most of it seems to be aimed at educating people and fighting stigma.

chokecherriesAt Easter, in the early years when my mother was still sane, she cut lengths of pussy willow branches and brought them inside. Not yet budded, they came laden with soft silver pods like rabbits’ feet. She took colored powders and dusted the fur pods. Pale yellow, pink, lavender, blue.

My mother told my father, They’re trying to kill us. She said, They’re coming after us.  She said, They are a band of assassins hired by the CIA to kill the families of Green Berets. He said to her, that doesn’t make any god damn sense.

Reality is slippery. If someone tells you something often enough for long enough, regardless of whether it’s true, you begin to believe it. Or at least you might begin to doubt your own perceptions, think, maybe she knows something I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s something here that I don’t understand.

photo (3)As we are walking through the park, Mitchell asks me about my nail polish. What is your nail polish? he says and examines my fingers and holds them up to the light.

Mitchell is no fool, knows his color palette. The reason he asks is because the color is translucent and always changing, so it looks different when the sun hits it directly versus when it glints off building windows versus the busses versus when it blinks out in the shade of tree leaves as we pass from the cobblestone street into the park.