Throwback Thursday featuring Devi Laskar from issue 296.2

Devi Laskar’s “The All-Saints, Ga., Overeaters Support Group (meeting 18)” was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in Spring 2011.

The All-Saints, Ga., Overeaters Support Group
(meeting #18)

world of imaginationFirst we talk about watermelons—
a modern, American reference
to family picnics, seed-spitting contests,
abating a thirst for summer love
by eating weightless pink flesh.

Then our study of the Greek myths
seeps through our tongues as pomegranates
are hurled onto our invisible
table, pungent olives, golden
apples, blood oranges, Medea.

Someone comments on sorrow
as an appetite suppressant—
death provokes fasting, in some cases
a strict diet of bitter remembrance
until the taste for life returns.

Others blurt out hors d’oeuvres stories
at the theatre, cocktail parties, movies.
And at weddings, how the cake is too sweet,
the toasting champagne always falls flat
by the time the waiter reaches their glasses.

We discuss the reluctant meals we swallow
when there is no money leftover after rent:
white bread that’s three days old, noodles,
peanut butter without the jelly,
lentil soups with rice, bags of popcorn.

No one mentions why we come here,
the way we slide into our chairs, batter
stealing home, without notice, without
admitting that we want to souffle
our bodies from landfills to temples.

old woman in the shoe - junyoung kimWe laugh at the staple of fairy tales:
apples poisoned by jealousy,
gingerbread houses, cooked goose,
blackbird pies, cooling porridge, stone
soup, beanstalks that lead to giant feasts.

Then someone mumbles a fable about
the seven sins but I am too far
away to hear it, a joke that
I don’t understand because I can’t
get past gluttony and avarice.

Finally, a discourse on Vegas:
the incandescent dramas, all night
slots and sex, currency exchange
and love, how breakfast is served
at these twenty-four hour buffets.

It’s about choice, I say. The use of buffet
is to speak selection; the hierarchy
of egg dishes, for example:
how Benedict is better than poached,
the sauce enhancing the runny yolk.

No, a voice calls out from the circle:
Buffet is all-you-can-eat,
it’s tasting a lot of everything,
eating it all. Freedom and acceptance.
It’s taking the whole world into your heart.

The hour is up and I am hungry.


photoselfieDevi S. Laskar was born and raised in Chapel Hill, N.C. She holds a BA in journalism and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MFA in writing from Columbia University.

Ms. Laskar is a photographer and writer—and a former crime reporter in Florida, Georgia, Hawai’i, North Carolina, and Illinois. Her poems have been published in the Atlanta
Review
, the Squaw Valley ReviewPratichi, the Tule unnamedReviewand the North American Review, where her poems were finalists for the James Hearst Prize in 2009 and 2011.


Illustrations by Junyoung Kim. She is an illustrator, cartoonist, and printmaker based in New York. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in illustration. Her works are featured in various magazines including the Visual Opinion, GrowerTalk, and Green Profit magazine.

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How Nazism Shaped US War Policies: Thousands of SS War Criminals Recruited to the U.S. by CIA-Pentagon after WWII by Jacqueline Marcus

This essay is dedicated to Mohamedou Slahi, author of Guantánamo Diary. Slahi has been imprisoned at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba since 2002. In all these years, the United States has never charged him with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in March 2010, but the U.S. government fought that decision, and there is no sign that the United States plans to let him go. It is also an homage to investigative journalists.


Nazi photoIt’s all starting to fit together for me after reading Eric Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men Like most children of the 60s, I grew up believing in the Hollywood version of WWII—that the U.S. fought Hitler’s brutal forces of fascism from spreading across the face of the earth and brought it to an end.

Check out our public schools’ history books and you’ll discover that an important part of the victory has been intentionally omitted: Russia deserved a good deal of the credit for beating back the Nazis.  Millions of Russians died fighting Hitler’s vicious war machine.  Indeed, Victory Day, May 9th, is hugely celebrated in Russia every year. However, ask most American high school students if they know the significance of May 7th or the 9th and predictably you’ll be met with a bunch of blank faces. Moreover, the Russians were partly responsible for having liberated victims of concentration camps.  The truth is that the partnership between the U.S. and Russia finished off Hitler’s Third Reich for good.  Like most Americans, I believed that Nazism came to an end on Victory Day, 1945.

But some fifty years later, thanks to the hard work of investigative journalist, Eric Lichtblau, including journalists in the 60s and 70s that were hounded by the CIA and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, for what they discovered, we’re learning more about the appalling truth on what actually happened after WWII.

In Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door, I learned how the CIA-Pentagon eagerly recruited “ten thousand SS officers from top Third Reich policymakers, including sixteen hundred Nazi scientists and doctors with direct links to Nazi atrocities.”  The Pentagon-CIA helped to “cleanse” their war records under the top secret document known as “Project Paperclip.”  As Lichtblau explained, it was far easier to enter the US if you held SS Nazi credentials than if you were a victim of Hitler’s persecutions. The government provided thousands of the most heinous Nazi torturers and murderers “visas, houses, offices, and research assistance.” Lichtblau revealed that the horrific war crimes committed by the Nazis were of no concern to the U.S. government.  The feds wanted the information that resulted from SS Nazi operations.

Child_survivors_of_AuschwitzWhile Nazis were being secretly welcomed into our country, most victims of the Holocaust were denied entrance to the U.S. with very few exceptions. “Holocaust survivors were denied visas en masse while Nazi collaborators and SS members of Hitler’s reign of persecution, men who had proudly worn the Nazi uniform, were often able to enter the United States as war refugees who ended up living long, happy, prosperous lives.”

I think of one example from many given in Lichtblau’s first chapter: a top Nazi cabinet minister responsible for ordering the murder and imprisonment of some 600,000 of his countrymen, known as the “Butcher of the Balkans,” and how he happily entered the United States, no problems, compliments of the CIA and U.S. immigration officials, and how he became “simply another visitor traveling . . . ”

I believe this is a very important book to read not only for the sake of setting the record straight on this dark chapter in our history, but because it also raises the infamous question: Did those thousands of Nazis that were allowed to work in the Pentagon and the CIA help to shape U.S. foreign and domestic policies after WWII?

All you have to do is read the CIA’s Torture Report and then compare notes with the criminal Nazi war policies: the practice of torture, illegal invasions, presidential assassinations of individuals that the U.S. President chooses to kill, including U.S. citizens, without trial, due process or burden of proof, psychological warfare, intrusive and illegal surveillance of national and international phone calls, e-mails, text communication, computers, homes, extraordinary rendition i.e. illegal kidnappings, locking prisoners up as “enemy combatants,” which means that they are denied all judicial and legal rights, prosecutions of ethical journalists/whistle-blowers, secret CIA black cells in which the same torture techniques that were used on Holocaust victims were-are applied to detainees, and worst of all: medical experimentation on human beings, “detainees,” to see how much pain and suffering they can endure. Many were murdered from the intensified torture practices.

As Mike Lofgren explained in his recent article “The Implication of the Torture Report“:

N-E-LAWfdetail“Chillingly, ‘enhanced interrogation’ is a literal translation of the German verschärfte Vernehmung, a term introduced by a Gestapo directive of June 12, 1942, to describe permissible methods of interrogating prisoners. Post-World War II war crimes tribunals judged the techniques described in the directive—techniques strikingly similar to those employed six decades later by the CIA—to be war crimes. It should also be noted that a Japanese sergeant at Changi Prison in Singapore was sentenced to 20 years at hard labor after World War II for waterboarding prisoners.”

Over the years I’ve struggled with the conclusion that the U.S. occupations, surveillance, and torture policies have made us look like the bad guys in the eyes of the world.  And it seems that our soldiers have been struggling with that same question as well. In addition to physical wounds, the mental wounds of fighting continuous wars have led to drug addictions and suicides. Twenty-two U.S. veterans commit suicide a day, a toll that has surpassed the number of soldiers killed in combat.

But here’s the worst of it. Historians have often asked the question: How could the German people allow someone like Hitler to rise to power? Why did they eagerly applaud Hitler’s racist speeches of hate and bigotry like sheep?  Someday, historians will ask the same questions about the American people and their government concerning U.S. torture prisons at Abu Graib and Guantánamo Bay.  Will Americans care? Will they be outraged that these crimes against humanity were committed in their names? Will they strongly demand an end to the CIA-wars? Inevitably, I fear the answer to those questions.  And that, perhaps, is the most disturbing revelation of all.


Selected quotes are from Eric Lichtblau’s book The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men.

jackie's bio pic

Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of Forpoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com.  She is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at Truthout.org.  She is the author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books. She taught philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her essays, “The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society” and “Neruda” appeared at the North American Review blog.

Eric Lichtblau is a New York Times investigative reporter in Washington.  In 2006 he won a Pulitzer Prize for stories on the NSA’s secret wiretapping operations.  He is the author of Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice.


The first photo is from rarehistoricalphotos.com, and focuses on a Jew about to be shot in front of a mass grave in Vinnitsa, Urkraine. It comes from an Einsatzgruppen soldier’s personal album.

The second image originates from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Belarussian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography.

The last illustration is by Anthony Tremmaglia. He is an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly.

I Can’t Quit You Mr. Starbucks Baby by Laurie Frankel

I have never been able to write at home. I can edit at home, but I cannot create. “Writing at home” is code for doing laundry, watering plants, googling my name, grooming my eyebrows, checking email, researching anti-frizz product, eating chocolate, decoupaging planters and petting the dog. Because of my complete lack of at-home-self-discipline I have always written at a Starbucks. This practice started in 1999 when I lived in Seattle, WA, which makes sense given Seattle is the birthplace of hipster beans at hedge-fund prices.

Jeannie-Phan-Illustrations-This-Magazine-Paradise

While in Seattle, I lived in the groovy town of Fremont, home to the Fremont Troll and, in celebration of the Summer Solstice, the Bike Naked Parade (a parade in which yes, grown men and women biked naked; let’s just say not everyone should be naked . . . in public . . . with paint on their balls). Near my apartment there was a small, dingy Starbucks with make-up free, funky smelling baristas with a comfy, if-I-sit-on-this-will-I-catch-something arm chair in the front window. Eighty percent of the time, some indefinable creative energy would take over, and I’d write two pages.

In 2001, for a variety of reasons, I moved to the buttoned-up, pod city of Orange County, CA, a place where the type of car you drive influences your child’s college admission and having your breasts redone every ten years is automatically factored into your retirement plan. In Seattle, if people were petitioning, it was to save the whales or hemp forests or VW buses. In OC, it was to end school funding or deport illegal immigrants (except for the ones who picked fruit, cleaned houses, and cared for the progeny of fancy car owners—those ones could stay).

Lucky for me there was a nearby Starbucks complete with a gas fireplace surrounded by four over-sized pleather armchairs. With the flick of a switch, a gentle yellow glow appeared from within the glass enclosure which, if you sat within two inches of it, emitted heat. I loved this Starbucks. It was my creative haven. Writing can be such a lonely endeavor and there, among the many, I didn’t feel alone. I got to experience being with people without having to really be with people (Jeopardy answer: what is an introvert?) Occasionally, I had conversations that went like this:

Guy with British accent: Got your Christmas tree up?

Me: Well, I’m Jewish, so no.

Guy: Ok, but you put up a Christmas tree, don’t you?

And I befriended the dreadlocked barista who, without asking, regularly supplied me with free morning buns until he had to move back to Montana for drug rehab.

Jeannie-Phan-Illustration-QQ-ReadingFebruary 2013, my Starbucks got a makeover. “Fire”place? Gone. Pleather chairs? Gone. Morning bun? Still there but now with posted nutritional content: 350 calories, 40% of which were fat! Basically they paved paradise with faux-wood plank flooring and made a larger, more efficient coffee bar, a streamlined food heating station, and for those who wanted to pay even more for coffee, they added the—wait for it (because it takes a while)—single-cup Clover Brewing System.

Why Mr. Starbucks, why? Because you’re sick and tired of people paying $2 to sit around all day in your store filching the WiFi and messing up the restrooms?

Mr. Starbucks: Yes.

Me: Oh.

Hello, Newport Beach Public Library! One year later, it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I am in the library scribbling (I write longhand and yes, I have plumbing). I am surrounded by students, the homeless, movie watchers, book readers, and those catching up on sleep (often one and the same). This library with its recent 17,000 sq.ft. expansion is pretty swank with it’s mod decor, concrete bunny sculptures, and did I mention, café? Yes, café! So eff you Starbucks. Except for my five-day-a-week morning coffee and spinach feta wrap run, who needs you?

Mr. Starbucks: You do.

Me: Right, sorry.


Laurie Frankel’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in North American ReviewShenandoahThe Literary ReviewAlaska Quarterly Review, and The Pedestal Magazine. Read her latest book There’s a Pattern Here & It Ain’t Glen Plaid, about which Kirkus Reviews says: “. . . laugh-out-loud funny . . . great practical suggestions . . . A quirky, earnest guide to regaining self-esteem for the modern woman.”  Contact her at LauriesLoveLogic.com


Illustrations done by Jeannie Phan, a full-time freelance illustrator who specializes in conceptual editorial work. Originally hailing from the prairies of Canada, she is now based in a studio in Toronto’s West End.

Flashback Friday featuring Gaye McKenney from issue 294.2

Gaye McKenney’s poem “Demolition” from the 2009 Spring issue of the North American Review received an Honorable Mention in the James Hearst Poetry Prize.

SuburbiaA note from the Author: The inspiration for the poem “Demolition” came from news reports of a fallen Marine, 2nd Lt. James Cathey,  who was killed in the Iraq War. His pregnant wife, Katherine, refused to leave his side—sleeping beside his casket guarded by fellow Marines.  It was (and still is) one of the most heart-wrenching images I’ve ever encountered. Here is an excerpt from the actual story:

The night before the burial of her husband’s body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. Continue reading

Write What You Know by Neil Mathison

how-cropped

My essay “Ice” (NAR Winter 2012) testifies to the old writers’ seminar saw “Write what you know.” The essay is about Puget Sound and the ice-age glaciers that formed Puget Sound, and since Puget Sound is where I grew up and where I still live, it’s a place I know better than any other. The essay is also about my Grandmother Catherine and her religious faith and her belief that Biblical miracles had natural explanations, or at the very least were attempts by those who witnessed them to explain what they saw. I knew my grandmother well, or at least as well as you can over a gulf of two generations, and I still admire her enlightened Methodism and her strong faith and how well it served her from her horse-and-carriage girlhood to her moon-shot maturity.  But the essay is also about what we don’t know and how we are driven to find answers to things, whether by religion or philosophy or our stories or our sciences, especially the greatest mystery of all: why things are the way they are. Natural science, especially geology, and what it tells us about our world and our place in it, is one of my go-to writing topics, although I’m neither a priest nor a philosopher nor a geologist and there’s much about the geology of Puget Sound and the physics of ice that I didn’t know until I began to write “Ice.” I owe much to John McPhee’s Annals of a Former World and much to Mountain Press’s Roadside Geology series and much to the University of Washington’s Burke Museum and much to Wikipedia. I remind myself that John McPhee was no geologist either and nobody has written more eloquently about geological science than he. What lesson should we writers take from this? Perhaps the old literary saw should be modified: “Write what you know as a way to write about what you want to know more.”


During the last eight months, Neil’s essay “Memory and Helix: What Comes to Us from the Past,” appeared in the anthology Man in the Moon: Essays on Father and Fatherhood, another, “My Redwoods,” appeared in California Prose Directory 2014: New Writing from the Golden State, and his short story, “The Cannery,” won the 2013 Fiction Attic Press Short Story Contest and appeared in the collection Modern Shorts: 18 Short Stories from the Fiction Attic Press. In addition, during this time, three more essays have been published: “Rafting off the Grid,” about a raft trip down the Grand Canyon, in Rappahannock Review, “Catastrophic Columbia,” about the dramatic geology of Washington State’s Columbia Plateau in Poplorish, and “Beaches,” about Washington State’s three ocean coasts in Eunoia Review. Neil’s short story “Waterslide” appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of the Valparaiso Review.


The illustration above is done by Anthony Tremmaglia. He is an illustrator, artist, and educator based in Ottawa. Inspired by the complexities of the everyday human experience, Tremmaglia combines texture, drawing, and photographs in multi-layered works that underscore the paradox of our conflicting desires to both assimilate and break free. Tremmaglia was born in 1976 and graduated from the Advanced Illustration program at Toronto’s Sheridan College.

Life Stories by Donald Anderson

Writing starts from the world—doesn’t it?—something you see or hear, or hear about. Newspapers. TV. Restaurants. Coffee Shops. Family Reunions. Bus Stops . . . a “trigger,” was how Richard Hugo put it, and it arrives from anywhere, anytime, like meteors, fish bites, hail, or dawn. Sometimes it can be as simple as a word. Take sabotage, coming to us from sabot, the French word for wooden shoe. The first instances of “sabotage” were likely peasant revolts against oppressive landowners, peasants tossing sabots into machines with the intent to destroy the machines: a word turning into event, or story.

dog sleds -clay roderyEarly in my Air Force career, I found myself stationed at a radar site atop the Brooks Range in central Alaska. The base camp sat beside the Indian River that connected to the Koyukuk, a primary northern tributary to the mighty Yukon. There was an Indian fishing village, where the Koyukuk met the Yukon. During the winter, when the Indian River froze, the fishermen would manipulate their snow machines up that frozen track to our radar site to play cards and drink liquor. We obeyed the federal law forbidding the sale of bottles of alcohol to the Indians. There was no such law against pouring all the drinks they could pay for. The Indians would drink up, then head back to their village, swerving and whooping in the refrigerated dark.

There was an older Indian who came not by Ski-Doo, but by way of dogs and sled. He’d drink, then go outside to sleep with his animals. It could be fifty below and he’d trudge out. You’d hear the dogs yipping in the morning—at four or five—as he’d toss them frozen fish. Once when he’d mushed up for a night, I asked, “Why don’t you drive a snowmobile?” He gave me a look. “If your snowmobile dies,” he asked, “what are you going to do—eat the carburetor?” Continue reading

Black Lines by David Hellerstein

There are a few constants in the many years since I have been trying to write seriously. One, of course, is the struggle to find a time to write, which has varied over my years in college, medical school, residency training, and practice as a physician. Despite massive changes in technology—moving from spiral-bound notebooks to an electric typewriter to a primitive IBM PC with two floppy disk drives to various cranky Compacs, Gateways, and Dells, and finally to my current sleek MacBook Air—I’ve always been able to find some time to put my thoughts into words. Perhaps a few minutes here and there, perhaps hours fitting into my hospital day, the time and mental space have somehow emerged regardless of current circumstances. And somehow, over the years, this has resulted in an accumulation of essays (many have appeared over the years in the North American Review), stories, articles, books, and these days, blogs and postings too.

Something equally constant in my life has been water. Since high school, I have been a serious swimmer. My pools have changed from one year to the next, in some strange way parallel to the changes in my writing media.

swimming_blue_orange copy_800I began, naked, thrown into a chilly pool with other five-year-old boys at a strict summer camp. I must have emerged with a love of water. I swam in Ys and JCCs.  I swam in lakes in Maine and northern Ontario.  I swam in dozens of pools. There was the narrow two-lane public pool in North Beach, San Francisco, where I could look out on old Italian men playing bocce. There was a beautiful pool on a plateau below the just-captured Golan Heights, at the kibbutz where I spent a summer picking apples and chasing Israeli girls. Then, most spectacular of all, there was a gleaming turquoise fifty-meter outdoor pool on the Stanford University campus with a grassy bank along one side, where I’d sit after doing my mile, either reading Gray’s Anatomy or short stories by my graduate fiction writing workshop classmate Tobias Wolff.  A few years later, there was a grim Midtown Manhattan pool with sulfuric-yellow water and fearsome denizens of the shattered locker rooms. And then, the fiercely competitive pool at the 92nd Street Y, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with slow, medium, and fast lanes, where you needed to choose your spot carefully and keep up the pace at risk of getting kicked in the eye. Continue reading

Flashback Friday featuring Philip Dacey from issue 294.2

Philip Dacey‘s “Leaves of Lucre” was published in the North America Review‘s 2009 spring issue.

Author’s note: “Leaves of Lucre” appears in a completed but as as-yet-unpublished book manuscript of poems entitled The Ice-Cream Vigils: Poems on the Life and Work of Walt Whitman. If the book is ever published, it will complete what I call my Victorian trilogy, as I’ve already published whole books of poems about Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Eakins. In addition, I have published enough poems about Florence Nightingale to imagine a book of mine someday titled Four Victorians: Poems on, etc., containing those Nightingale poems and a selection of poems from the three volumes on Hopkins, Eakins, and Whitman (the latter at this point still just a hope). My history with Whitman goes back a long way (the book m.s. includes an introductory essay entitled “My Life With Walt Whitman”), to my college days when my encountering of him worked as a counterpoint to my education—good but one-sided—which consisted of eight years by Incarnate Word nuns (grade school) and eight by Jesuits (high school and college). I’ve been grateful to him ever since.

case Continue reading

On Writing and Distractions by Corie Sutton Adjm

2-11Sometimes when I write it feels as if twenty minutes have gone by when in actuality it is 2pm and I’m still in a robe.

When I first started writing this unnerved me.  After all, I could spend all those hours writing, alone, and in the end have nothing, or very little, to show for my time.

“But the writer in the midst of a story needs to find a way to keep her head there. She can’t just pop out of the cave, have some fun, go dancing, and then pop back in. The work demands our full attention, our deepest concentration.” – Dani Shapiro

I had to learn patience. I had to learn to sit still.

2-11. 1

And life was messing with me. Continue reading

The Moves We Pulled by JP Vallieres

Notes from the author: Here is an extension to my NAR published piece, “Village of Adams” in issue 296.4, Fall 2011. A high school dance company experience.

I joined South Jefferson’s dance company in 11th grade. It was an easy decision. A girl asked me to be her partner, and I said yes. I knew what being a boy on the dance company meant. I got to lift her up which meant I got to touch her in places I was not allowed to touch: her butt, hips, waist, and the small of her back. Sometimes the upper inner thigh. It was really an easy decision.

rob dobi art moon

But what happened the year I joined? Boys(!) were required to perform some of the moves on stage in front of loved ones and in front of the other football players who thought it was a bad idea to join the dancing team.

We learned how to spin and do some leaps. Like two kinds of spinning turns and one or two leaps in the air. I think one of them was called terja tay, or something, where you do a leap and spin at the same time. So the boys went from standing, while girls moved about them, into boys doing that sort of girl stuff too. Moving behind them and trying to keep up. There may have been some prancing. I can’t imagine what it looked like. Continue reading

Read the World by Steven Faulkner

zombies

My students are bored with this world. They ask to write of zombies, vampires, and elves.  Perhaps they are bored with my world because they haven’t climbed trees and played in dirt, roamed the wild  meadows, experimented with machinery, pounded a new house together with their own hands. They watch television, they gabble on their ‘smart’ phones, they click through the galaxies of the internet; they experience the world remotely, and too often their nonfiction seems remote. I know this can sound like tired complaining, but it’s a fact. Facts have consequences. Continue reading