@

RUTA_WithWithoutYou_trP R O L O G U E

Glass

My mother grabbed the iron poker from the fireplace and said, “Get in the car.”

I pulled on my sneakers and followed her outside. She had that look on her face, distracted and mean, as though she’d just been dragged out of a deep sleep full of dreams. She was mad, I could tell right away, but not at me, not this time.

Her car was a lime-green hatchback with blotches and stripes of putty smeared over the dents. The Shitbox, she called it. We called it, actually. My mother hated the thing so much she didn’t mind if I swore at it. “What a piece of shit,” I’d grumble whenever it stalled on us, which we could gamble on happening at least once a day, more if it was snowing. Far and away the most unreliable car we ever had in our life together, it was a machine that ran on prayer.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 7.37.09 PM

She is engrossed in some sort of looming or woodworking that requires her to wear a bib.

He, in overalls with only one strap fastened, is hammering out a poem. Stuck, he can’t find something pleasing that rhymes with “endeavor.”

She suggests “forever.”

He whispers something under his breath, then raises it an octave and yelps.

ByrdUp on the Roof

Roland is making a picnic. He has never made a picnic for anyone. It’s not even a word he uses: picnic.

On his counter, blueberry smoothies and crinkle-cut fries from his favorite stand on the beach, plus everything from his kitchen: a can of peaches, half a bottle of white Zinfandel, and two hard-boiled eggs, which he peels and mashes into a bowl with salt and pepper. Then there’s the barbecue Addie brought with her from North Carolina: hickory-smoked shoulder meat sliced thin, packed on dry ice in her little travel cooler. Slaw, too, and sauce, the thin red tomatoey kind they grew up on. You can’t get sauce like this in California.

In the eyes of the corpses
bitten by crows.
In the smiles of generals
sending flowers
sending flowers….
on the butcher’s apron,
where the blood makes patterns
like beautiful constellations.

&c.

By Thea Goodrich

Poem

is what I would ink on my wrist
if I had the nerve for etching
(or more precisely, permanently,
no nerves in me at all).

my left wrist, probably, and askew,
the notch between bowl and stem
of and per se and as the arrowhead
at the delta of a ghost-blue thread.

MannequinGirl_2-021-198x300In July she becomes an anomaly, a glitch in a plan, a malfunction in an otherwise perfect mechanism. There is no pain, no warning signs, and no heredity issues, contrary to what the doctors imply. Her mother says Kat’s diagnosis is a slap in the face and a curse and the blackest day of their lives. “You should’ve seen us,” she says. “We were black when we came from the doctors.” Her mother’s face is white, her hair short and dark. She resembles the champion figure skater Irina Rodnina, and everyone knows she is prone to verbal extravagance.

EricMay

Tell us something about Bedrock Faith.

The story is about a guy named Stew Pot Reeves who gets out of prison after 14 years and moves back home with his widowed mom. She lives in Parkland, a middle-class African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s far South Side. Stew Pot’s staid neighbors are worried about his being back since he was quite the terror before being sent away. Neighbors soon find out that Stew Pot has had a religious conversion while in prison. With his newfound religious fervor, he appoints himself the moral judge of Parkland. He gets into it with one neighbor after another, each encounter escalating in intensity and violence, leaving many community residents irrevocably changed.

BedrockFaithSo what do you plan to do with yourself, now that you’re home?” said Mrs. Motley. She was sitting at the kitchen table opposite Stew Pot who had draped his peacoat over the back of his chair. Along with a silver tea kettle, the china cups, saucers, and sugar bowl were arranged on the table between them. His apology, which he had just finished, had been long and rambling, and they had now moved to discussing his life situation.

“I’m going to get a job,” he replied. “And I mean honest work. Mom says there’s a Help Wanted sign at the car wash over on the drag. Probably just part-time, but it could be a start. No more crime for me. This change is for real.”

beatlesarehere

1

“The Beatles liberated young people from Victor Borge, Robert Goulet, Steve and Eydie, and the demented sing-along-with-the-bouncing-dots schlock immortalized by Mitch Miller. The Beatles liberated young people from bland show tunes, ethnic hooey like ‘Volare’ and ‘Danke Schoen,’ and stultifying novelty tunes like ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh’ and ‘Mr. Custer.’

The Beatles held out hope that life might actually be worth living, that popular culture need not be gray, predictable, sappy, lethal. To this day, what I feel toward the Beatles is not so much affection or reverence. It is gratitude.”

Joe Queenan, humor writer

IMG_6143

I don’t know how to do a self-interview so instead I asked my girlfriend, the poet Jeannette Gomes to interview me as a stand-in for myself.

JEANNETTE: Hi Russ, could you describe for me how your book came about and the emotional landscape it encompasses in your heart?

RUSS: Sure. So this book started from a little tour chapbook I was making for a weeklong tour I was going to do in 2012. I made a PDF version and posted the cover art on Facebook and got a message from James Tadd Adcox, who was at the time editor of Artifice Magazine, and a friend of mine. He asked if he could see the PDF version of the chap, and I said “sure” and sent it over, not thinking much about it. He emailed me later and told me he really loved it, and that Artifice was starting a book arm of their operation and he said, if I was interested, that he wanted to publish the chapbook along with some of my other poems as a book. The cover the book has now is actually the same cover I made for the original chap. Anyway, the book went through many, many edits and many rewrites since then. I think only a handful of the original poems are still in there, actually.

We were sitting in a cafe, by the window, and you were trying to tell me something, but I was distracted, watching a road construction crew across the street. He has been in intensive care for the past week, you said. The men in their orange vests had taken cables from their truck. They attached it to something in a manhole. I want to visit him soon. I think we both should go. I stirred my coffee idly. The men began to haul an anaconda the size of a tree trunk out of the sewer. Do you think that’s a good idea, you said. Sure, I said, as the men coiled up the anaconda and put it in a second truck that had arrived. You don’t think anyone will wonder what our motives are? The men got the snake in the truck. It seemed to be dead, or possibly tranquilized.

the oscars2

Watching The Oscars has been a tradition in my family ever since my grandma was nominated for best costumes for the original TRON in 1982. We place our bets months in advance, then, when the night of the award show comes around, we get drunk, eat too much, become overly competitive, and lose a lot of money. It’s a blood sport that usually ends in tears. Last year I live-blogged the event from a studio apartment in East Harlem. This year I am back in Los Angeles at my parents’ house. The following is me live-tweeting our inevitable downward spiral.

splasharbia1

One of the biggest problems with selling people on the idea of a rock novel is the term “rock novel.”  There’s something about the two words that don’t want to go together. In 2014, “rock” suggests teenage boys—or men acting like teenage boys—watching one of their favorite bands on TV and getting excited. “These guys rock,” might be said. The word “rock” as a verb also has become shorthand for anything anyone does well. For example, “Thanks, Bob and Jackie, for inputting those contacts into the spreadsheet. You guys rock.” It seems “rock” can be used across the board for the least rocking things imaginable. As a rock novelist three times over, I can’t say this rocks.

when i want you

the thought of you
washes over me

if i open my mouth
                i will drown—
blue in the face
when i’m pulled up
                like a fish

828-3886. I recognize the number when I see it flash up on the screen. It’s one of the few phone numbers that I know by heart. We’ve been friends for twenty-two years. Hers were the last digits I learned before we all outsourced our memories to our cell phones. All the other numbers from my past have lost relevancy or don’t connect to the living: street addresses for homes we no longer own, birthdays of grandparents, channels of TV stations, pre-pregnancy shoe size, and of all those landlines long abandoned—hers was the last working phone number.

828-3886. I answer the phone. “Hey, Robin, what’s up?” When you’ve been close friends for over two decades, you can hear the bad news in the sound of their breath. “Oh no,” I said, bracing for the news. “I have cancer.” “What kind?” “Pancreatic.” “Pancreatic,” I repeat with a voice I don’t recognize. Or maybe it’s a finality I haven’t heard in my voice until now. It had started as a slight pain in her abdomen earlier in the year. The initial diagnosis was gastritis.