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Find-the-GoodRecently, I was asked to write a short essay describing one piece of wisdom to live by. I thought about it but did not have a brief, easy answer. I have made enough mistakes in my life to fill a whole bookshelf of dos and don’ts. My friend John works as an investigator in the public defender’s office but is a poet. That is probably why he managed to distill all his fatherly hopes and dreams into two rules for his only child: “Be nice to the dog and don’t do meth.” His son turned out kind, clear-eyed, and he graduated from a good college.

Lende, HeatherHow does one get to be an obituary writer in a small Alaskan town?

If the local newspaper editor hires a new reporter who rubs some folks the wrong way, and one of them is old and dying and says she won’t let him write her obituary, but suggests the nice woman—me—who writes the Duly Noted column (as in Bev Jones traveled to Hawaii to spend a week with daughter Ashley…And yes, the names are in bold face) could do it, and she does, that’s as good a way as any. That’s how I began writing obituaries, and I still do them.

it was not so much the warm wine
honey or maybe berry
or a gloved hand tucked into
pocket, jacket, or something or other
fire eaters, towers flaming orangey
it was a brick breaching
cracked and crackling, burgeon loaf of bread and head of people
if the bridge were to tumble
someone would find, much later, my black leather glove
or a plucked eye from bat or rat
it could even be from pigeon or raven
water swallows a fogged frog

croaking into the neck of a wine bottle

Fink Photograph

Why do you write poetry?

One reason I write poetry is that it is the truest artistic medium in which everything that compels my attention in the world can be included.  When you are writing a poem you are simultaneously a cinematographer, a drummer, a music conductor, a storyteller, a preacher, a lover, and an engineer (the list could go on).  These voices exist simultaneously in the mind as you are weighing and evaluating the relative merits of each word in a poem.  A poem welcomes an intensity of attention more so than any other art form I know.  What’s amazing about a poem is that all of these components are contrived from words.  Poems can be utterly unforgiving in the writing process because the materials are blameless.  In most other art forms, there is blame to go around—paint dries and hardens to a color you didn’t expect, a camera malfunctions and erases the film, the custodian accidentally turns off the heat to the kiln—but in poetry, any and every word is immediately and unfailingly available.  The pliability of language is both terrifying and thrilling.

The heat that simmered off the blacktop of the roads
and circled through my car (its windows down,

the air conditioner long broken) soaked my clothes
in sweat, my shirt so thin a strip four inches wide

revealed my spine as armpits dripped and swaths
released across my chest from neck to belly, pec to pec.

At work, I sat alone inside the walk-in freezer
as I waited for my shirt to dry, my body steaming

in a room so cold my skin felt like it tightened. Boxes full
of every cut of meat (from porterhouse to tenderloin)

surrounded me where I had spaced and stacked them
as a frigid throne. The freezer door was like a bank vault’s,

thicker than my chest. A knob some engineer designed
protruded from the inside of the door so that,

when pressed, the latch released (I often wondered
just how many men and women locked themselves

by accident into a freezer’s crypt before a knob
had been invented that would let them out).

TNB’s founding editor Brad Listi has been chosen by LA Weekly as one of its 54 Most Fascinating People of 2015.  Read the feature here.

Marian Lindberg

So you found out you’re really Brazilian?

Not exactly. Brazil is where the book’s central character disappeared, and where I went to understand why.

 

Every family has its dirty laundry. Why was it necessary to write about yours?

Some of the most personal passages were the last to be added. The writing brought me there, and they were integral to the story. In some ways, they were the story, explaining (to myself and others) why I was so driven to investigate the disappearance of the man who raised my father. While there are some unflattering aspects of family members on display, I don’t believe any of it is gratuitous. Patti Smith and Philip Schultz were two of my guides: their beautiful memoirs are revealing and discreet at the same time. Ultimately, I hope that my message will help others to communicate better within their families. In the short term, truth can seem like the more difficult choice, but my story shows that secrets can have far worse consequences for generations.  

End of the Rainy Season_FINALI had never thought our last name strange until a few elementary school classmates came to my birthday party and chased me from the yew hedge to the back-door steps shouting “limburger cheese, limburger cheese.” That’s what I was named after, they claimed, a really smelly cheese.

“Am not,” I retorted, before seeking protection inside the house. In truth, I didn’t know where our name came from. Other than Mommy and Daddy, I had never met another Lindberg.

I stood inside the door leading from the garage to the kitchen, listening for the sound of Daddy’s car pulling in from the train station. I often did that as a girl, waiting for the life Daddy brought into our quiet house—at 6’3” a lot of life. He set his briefcase down and hugged me, and I told him what the mean girls had said. After dinner, in the safety of our wood-paneled den, he assured me that we weren’t named after an odiferous dairy product. Quite to the contrary, the name “Lindberg” came directly from a hero.

eyes

In the backyard, a hammock stretched between two trees like a fishing net. It was just before our speech communications department’s welcome potluck with fruit-in-wiggly-Jell-O and foil-covered casseroles and jalapeño-cheddar burgers. Amy, the director, was sick. So, Christopher, the assistant director, had hosted it. Out by the hammock, he asked one of the new graduate students if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his fiancé. She walked away.

When it happened, I was looking through the porch’s screen. My girlfriend Lauren and I were ready to eat. The evening tinted darker despite flames licking out of the fire pit.

***

I found porn on my computer, Lauren texted.

I had checked the time on my phone as I made copies of rubrics for class. I wondered what the porn was and how I hadn’t deleted it. I didn’t use my laptop for the Internet, only Lauren’s which was always on. I always covered my tracks by clearing history, emptying cookies, and refreshing the cache. I never downloaded anything and never paid for anything. The laptop had pop-up software and virus detectors. It almost would have been easier to deny the porn if I could pass it off as randomly appearing. Without more information, I needed to be vague.

Do you know anything about this? Lauren texted.

What?! I texted back and then turned off my phone and shoved it in my pocket.

***

One of my students was advocating for emergency poles on campus. Her plan for installing poles in the line of sight all around campus made sense. Then she began to list off other colleges to support her argument. While our university was a public research school, the ones she used were historically women-only private institutions.

I’d had another female student attempt to turn in a persuasive topic calling all women to not walk alone at night. In office hours, I had asked her if our town was unsafe. And were only women at risk? I didn’t ask if all crime—want of money, want of flesh, want of power—was mostly done by men. The girl changed her topic to suggest every college student not walk alone.

During the emergency pole speech, I didn’t interrupt. I let her finish. The class applauded as they always did. I wrote on the notes section of her rubric: So, are men the real problem?

faceThis is kind of weird, isn’t it?

What? The whole interview with yourself thing? Nah, it’s butter.

 

I think it’s kind of weird. But I’ll give it a shot. Tell me, why the misspelling in the title of your book?

Misspelling? There’s a misspelling?

 

Yeah, Witchita Stories. Shouldn’t it be Wichita Stories?

Oh, yeah, I see what you’re saying. But no, it should just be plain old Witchita Stories.

WSCOVERSummer

My sister is sixteen and she’s already at that stage in life where she’s bringing over guys that look like Fonzie or Vanilla Ice. Some have tattoos, some have scars, some smoke cigarettes and listen to music that sounds like it’s been ground up and shit out through a ripped subwoofer. You take a little walk one day, maybe down to the neighborhood park, and when you come back home, you find these dudes there with their t-shirts rolled up to show off their stupid tats, smoking cigarettes and kissing your sister on the front porch. Some have greasy hair, pulled back in a ponytail. Others have buzzed heads and goatees, and wear leather jackets and work boots. It is summer now, both parents at work, and my sixteen-year-old sister is too busy with her greaser on the porch to give a shit about what my brother and I are up to.

Netflix-BloodlineNetflix’s new original series Bloodline begins with one of those familiar tropes of fiction, film, and television alike: the return of the prodigal son. In Bloodline, the prodigal son is Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the oldest of four, who returns to his family’s hotel for a 45th anniversary celebration. Back home, his two brothers and sister await, seeming to dread his arrival and the chaos they expect to come along with him. His younger brother, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), believes he will only hurt their elderly parents, while his sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) just wants to placate. His brother John (Kyle Chandler), is the only sibling excited to see Danny come home. Behind the siblings looms their father Robert (Sam Shepard) and mother Sally (Sissy Spacek), who are big fish in the little pond of their small Florida Keys town. Something happened, long ago, that haunts them all and centers around Danny, who has become the family scapegoat. It takes several episodes to get a hint of what this central event is: the death of a sister, Sarah, which happened during a boat trip with Danny thirty years before.

ThievesCoverIn 1953, when he was 28 years old and already an established author, Gore Vidal wrote a pulp crime novel — Thieves Fall Out — under the name “Cameron Kay”. The novel was lost, never reprinted, and Vidal went on to become one of America’s greatest and most controversial authors, winning a National Book Award in 1993. Now, more than 60 years later, the book has been published under the author’s real name for the first time by Hard Case Crime.

Thieves Fall Out follows Pete Wells, a down-on-his-luck American, in a Cairo that is on the cusp of revolution. Wells is hired to smuggle an ancient relic out of the city, where he soon finds himself the target of killers and femme fatales. The following excerpt is from the opening of the novel, where the reader meets Mr. Wells for the first time.

Thirlwell, Adam (c) Peter Marlow (for L&C)So what you’re saying is: it’s never you?

Exactly.

 

As soon as you say I in a novel, it’s always someone else?

What I mean is: perhaps to the outside world this might seem strange, where I am interviewed by my double –

 

Well exactly –

But what I want to say is: how different is this to what happens every day when someone writes a novel? Or even: when someone reads a novel? Always you have this blurring of identities. Or not so much blurring as separation.

L&C 4_cvr.inddEverything was happening hyperfast. Hiro was pointing the gun at the woman behind the cash register and demanding on the one hand that she should not move, because if anyone touched a phone then he would not hesitate to shoot, and on the other hand she should move, but very slowly, in order to open the cash register and deliver all its money. I suppose these things just happen because you’ve seen them happen, I mean in the usual miniseries.