Two Poems from a Dream of Anna Akhmatova by Jacqueline Marcus

6-4.1Sort of a strange experience on the writing of these two poems. I was an avid reader of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, but it’s been years since I’ve read her work. The other night I had a dream about her: I was in a dark café—probably the Stray Dog, a name that always stuck with me in the biography, where Russian poets would meet and read their poems. Akhmatova stood up on the stage. I was trying desperately to make out the words of the poem, but I couldn’t hear her. The only thing I could hear was the sound, the tone of her voice that was like a very sad cello. And her eyes, I remember her eyes—those huge, mournful eyes. I could vaguely remember the dream when I woke up at 4 am And then I sat down and wrote these two poems. Both were written in less than ten minutes. I didn’t touch a word.

Abandonment

Bent on the weather of distraction,
I watched the blackbirds from the large framed window
make their way to the northern sea for the last time.
I don’t know why I was feeling the need to go with them,
or why the rain spelled the music of elsewhere,
or if the moon signaled its lost joy, like a child’s drawing
that had been left in a box of memories. All I know
is that the time had come for the end of summer.
A cold sun pressed its palm against the pane of glass
as if my heart would shatter—
so many pieces of impossible nights, a splash of leaves, perhaps,
in a field of elegant trees…

There was no point.

There was only the sound of a lifetime,
diminished. It drifts across the sea and a million stars.

It has no destination.

You come to me, dear soul, in the middle of this winter,
stubborn as a fierce storm.

What exactly do you expect from me night after night?
You follow me like an abandoned dog.

Crimes against Humanity

In the awkward moment of farewells,
small talk, coffee, the clatter of silverware at the café,
we left our signatures beneath the prose of endearments.
The train muttered the sound of towns with its gray whistle and scarves,
a cold wind embraced the warmth of the fire.
No one could have guessed by now how the country had changed.
We were strangers passing through centuries of farms,
cobblestone streets and mothers hurrying with their children,
bargaining prices for fish, cabbage and flour for bread…
The train sang through fields of wheat. Each time
it entered the tunnel of years,
it was a new dawn.
I got off, and stepped down to the platform.

I could tell you what I saw through the steamy windows:
the faces of the young, the faces of the old—

and the long, dolorous smoke of what we’ve done to one another.


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”, “Neruda”, and “How Nazism Shaped US War Policies: Thousands of SS War Criminals Recruited to the U.S. by CIA-Pentagon after WWII” appeared in the North American Review blog. Her new collection of poems, Summer Rains, has been accepted for publication at Iris Press.  


Illustration by Eric Piatkowski. Eric was raised in Arizona, and after a few years of working in theater, he switched gears and studied illustration at the Pratt Institute. Now in Des Moines, he splits his time between drawing, drawing, and more drawing. Give him a call, he just might be the perfect man for the job. Prints of artwork are available through Etsy at Eric Piatkowski Art. The illustration above is titled “Adrift” for a story in issue 299.2, Spring 2014.

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Throwback Thursday featuring Roy Bentley from issue 293.2

“Funerals in the South” first appeared in issue 293.2, March-April 2008. It was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2008.

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Funerals in the South

We didn’t sing “My Old Kentucky Home” or “Dixie,”
but we might as well have. Without fail, neighbors
poured in with Tupperware-sealed Texas sheet cakes,
Jello, to-die-for fried chicken, ham, pecan pie. Grief,
it turns out, swallows easier than you might think.
I can tell you now the adults scared us, the children,
opening their hearts to loss. The scariest of mourners
had to be Myrtle, my aunt, a holy-roller fond of saying
Satan had her by the throat—she called him Beelzebub,
as though a sort of respect or friendship had sprung up.
At the eulogy—hellfire and damnation were preached
over our dead who, byGod, had to listen—she’d raise
a bony arm to signify that the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit,”
was upon her. Sooner or later, shouting Je-sus! Je-sus!
until it echoed in the funeral home like a braking train
whose wheel-song of descent calls to mind journeys,

an end to journeying. If the casket was closed, she’d
pound a lid; if it was open, she’d take hold of a hand
or trace the rouged-and-powdered contours of a face.
Thankfully, she had limits. Mouths were sacrosanct.
No smooching the chill lips of the Departed. Which
I understood, even then: a body’s temperature after
embalming isn’t a thing to have register at any age.
If April is the cruelest month, then it’s always April
in some part of eastern Kentucky. I wanted to sing:
Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today!
But I was a kid. I sang what and when I was told.
If there’s a God, enthroned in some obscene palace,
weeping because one Cross and Savior isn’t enough,
not in the coal towns, then she was right to sign on
as cheerleader. If not, there’s the solace of food—
napkins under chins to catch the hallelujah crumbs.


Ohio, 2014

Roy Bentley has received fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Books include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama, 1986), Any One Man (Bottom Dog, 1992), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine, 2006), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House 2013). He has taught creative writing and composition at universities and colleges throughout the Midwest and in Florida. These days, he teaches English and composition courses for Georgian Court University and lives in Barnegat, New Jersey. 

Poetry and Other Cities by Tobias Wray

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Notes on “The Archeology of Music” from issue 300.2, Spring 2015

My father had a certain expression on his face whenever he played. His eyebrows arched high on certain notes and his forehead would round and dip in anticipation of a run. The correct embouchure for a clarinetist tightens the lips and flattens the chin into the comic appearance of a chimpanzee communicating a dramatic feeling. Yet, he seemed the most himself then—much more accessible somehow than the stormy man who complained about the state of the kitchen or the rudeness of store clerks. Here was a man who existed only once his case opened and the first note filled the room.

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Here is a city you used to live in, one you are only returning to now after many absent years. The towering buildings seem familiar, as does the scent rustling over the streets, but it is another city you know, a city that has already ended. I haven’t spoken to my father for years now. There are no adequate explanations for such things, except that he left and his leaving has stayed. I remember tiptoeing past his practice sessions in the living room, afraid my distraction would draw his haunting notes to a halt, the authority his clarinet imbued on space. The sound of rustling sheet music and the angular towers of stacked CDs carve at the edges of my childhood. Music for me is a world of artifacts, physical yet emptied. What is left to us but to wander the city and to leave it strange?

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I imagine that I remember the music as it was, distinctly. Of course, it is more than its pitch, its demarcations of sound—the idea of a sound shaped by memories since. Poetry is often like that, too, something more than lost, more than artifact. In 2011, I went to a lecture on the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, which was buried for over 2,400 years, famous for its set of unique bells and other instruments. The unburying of the site is what captured me, the careful way we are always rediscovering our own histories. The insinuation of archeology, that nothing made should be lost, appealed—that a sound might wait so long to be heard, how it seems so inevitable once it is. It touched on a desire I hardly knew I had, to hear my father play again. It is as much what we bring back to the site as it is what we pull.

 Everything we know has been recovered. This is what we fill the cavity with, our recovery. 


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Tobias Wray is a poetry editor for the cream city review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, Blackbird, Bellingham Review, The Fourth River and elsewhere. He’s been a finalist for the Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowship. He holds an MFA in poetry and translation from the University of Arkansas and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Illustrations by: Allen Forrest. Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest works in many media: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College (receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production). He lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.

Throwback Thursday featuring Andrea Potos from issue 289.2

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Andrea Potos’s poem, “Each Self” won the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2004. Her poem is featured in issue 289.2, Spring 2004.

Notes from the author: As my daughter is now on the verge of leaving for college far away from home, I reflect again on what she inspired in me when I wrote this poem years ago:  all the invisible, infinitesimal, yet totally inescapable changes that propel us forward, willingly or not,  into new lives.

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Each Self

My six-year-old daughter stares into the purpling
copper sky and names it dusk, a just-learned word
she is happy to declare, comparing it to evening
and afternoon. We talk of how the Earth turns away
from the sun each night,
a motion so encompassing,
our bodies cannot know it.
I don’t tell her how the child
part of me still disbelieves it – that this globe
actually spins while we breathe, while my daughter
changes invisibly before my eyes,

her infant body submerged inside her
with her toddler waddle and her four-year-old skip,
each swallowed within the other
like the nesting dolls she keeps
on her new desk, each self
perfectly preserved, forsaken
for the one that must come after.


Andrea Potos is the author of six poetry collections, including An Ink Like Early Twilight  (Salmon Poetry, 2015), We Lit the Lamps Ourselves (Salmon Poetry, 2012), and Yaya’s Cloth  (Iris Press, 2007).  She has twice been the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association, and her works appear widely in print and online.  She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her daughter (on the verge of leaving), her husband, and her cockapoo Penny.


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Why I Do This by Eric Barnes

In one of the best rejection letters I’ve ever gotten, an agent told me recently, I honestly don’t have a clue who’d be a viable publisher for this.

A line like that is a condemnation of sorts. In 2015, this agent goes on to declare, there is no market for the kind of literary fiction I am trying to write.

That she said this about a manuscript I spent nearly three years writing means I should feel some heavy mix of defeat and depression. Hopelessness and hatred.

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I don’t feel that.

I should. I really should.

But I don’t.

I’ve been doing this for a very long time now—this being the seemingly endless act of sending queries to agents and short stories to editors and manuscripts to book publishers and in return receiving, far more often than not, rejections that vary from the generic to the cruel to the inane to the insightful.

In the fray of all of this rejection, I can say that I’ve had some successes. Two novels published. Nearly thirty short stories in journals and magazines. Agents of note who signed me on and agents unknown who nonetheless committed everything they could to my writing.

None of it, though, has been what I want. I’ve never been reviewed in The New York Times. Never published a story in The New Yorker. Never made more than a token amount of money.

I know writers who’d kill for the successes—such as they are—that I’ve had. I should, in that sense, accept and be happy with what I have done.

But this is a cruel business, where moments of achievement are either very rare or very fleeting or are shared only with yourself, alone in the dark or well-lit room where you work.

My first short story was published more than twenty years ago. My first novel was published more than fifteen years after I committed to writing seriously. Two novels I’ve written have gone unpublished, rejected by publishing houses of every possible size.

The time has gone by more quickly than I can honestly calculate.

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Why do I do this?

Two different agents that signed me up then left me in limbo for years before giving up on my writing after a mere handful of rejections. I never read more than the first fifty pages, one agent admitted after sending me a letter that said he was, immediately, dropping me from his list.

And he—like the other agent who kept my manuscript for nearly three years and finally wrote to say he’d sent it to just six editors during that time, who said this while also dropping me from his list—was a big name agent. An agent whose writers you know very well. An agent who, if you are a writer and he offered to represent you, you’d say without the slightest hesitation, Yes, of course, do whatever you want, take as much time as you need. Yes. Please, yes. I’ll be having a celebratory drink in the bar, yes and yes, this is it, the one. Yes.

Yes.

Why do I do this?

The number of rejections of short stories I’ve written totals far more than one thousand.

One thousand No’s. Some stories rejected fifty or sixty times before they were published. Other stories still out there. Other stories given up on, filed away in a folder where they will stay from now on. An inbox—and prior to that a physical mailbox—filled with form letter dismissals.

The number of rejections I’ve received from agents totals in the hundreds—plus the one I just received while typing this post.

Why do I do this?

The answer is longer than I can possibly explain. The answer, in truth, is something I’ve never fully articulated to myself.

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There’s ego. That’s part of it. If a writer tells you otherwise, you ought to be skeptical.

I keep writing because The Millions called my second novel remarkable.

I keep writing because a short story of mine was later picked up in one of the Best American series.

I keep writing because after more than a decade of being rejected by the North American Review, they suddenly said yes to one of my short stories.

Because Steve Almond published a short story of mine, telling me—nearly one hundred years ago, as we talked via landline between South Carolina and my first kitchen in Memphis—I told my students this is how you fucking want to fucking write.

Because a friend of one of my wife’s best friends had one of his friends in San Francisco hand him a copy of my first novel and say, Dude, you need to read this book.

(That he said dude only made my joy that much greater.)

Ego. Exposure. The knowledge that there are—finally, actually, maybe, always—people out there who’ve read the words I’ve spent so much time and energy stringing together.

Maybe that’s why the “email” from the agent telling me, in effect, there is no publisher for my new novel didn’t depress me more. She had some kind words for what I’d written – just a few, but they were kind and they accurately captured the intent of what I had written. The agent called me talented, said my work is inventive, compared the manuscript to Kafka as she described it as a dystopian, surreal fable of sorts.

All of that made me happy. All of it, I think, is true.

Or maybe, sadly, I’m just that desperate for praise. Token praise, probably, meant simply to soften the blow of rejection.

But also I think I liked that agent’s email because it was honest. The business of publishing, she has in effect said, does not have a place for me.

Maybe it should.

But it doesn’t.

That much, at this point, is painfully clear.

Ours is not an industry that is big on fiction as social commentary, she wrote, except when cloaked in the [guise] of a commercial novel.

There’s a formula behind this, a multi-layered puzzle maybe, or a maze of rooms and hallways and doorways to navigate.

Whatever the analogy, I’ve yet to solve it.

So I keep chasing agents for my work and publishers for my novels and editors for my stories. Another big name agent has asked to see my new novel. An agent who’s interested seems to be up and coming in the industry. There’s a Canadian agent who might be a gateway to a better, less commercial, more artistically accepting publishing landscape (but who, it turns out, would reject me while I was still writing this post).

Why do I do this?

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It’s a thought that haunts me every day. Every time I sit down to write. Every time I receive another rejection of any sort.

But then I tell myself there are other Canadian agents.

I tell myself there are good books published all the time.

I tell myself the story, the novel, the paragraph I’ve just finished is certainly the best I have ever written in my life.

I tell myself there are people who have enjoyed the things I have published and who will want to read more of what I write.

If only I can find a way to get the words in front of them.


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Eric Barnes is the author of the novels Shimmer, an IndieNext Pick from Unbridled Books, and Something Pretty, Something Beautiful from Outpost19, which The Millions called a “remarkable book … where cars are freedom, stories are everything, and home is thick with ghosts. ”

Additionally, Eric has published nearly thirty short stories in publications such as North American Review, Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, Best American Mystery Stories, and more.

Eric is publisher of newspapers in Memphis and Nashville that cover business, politics and most things in between. Additionally, he hosts and co-produces a local news talk show on public television. In the past, Eric was a reporter and editor in Connecticut and New York. Years ago he drove a forklift in Tacoma, Washington, and then Kenai, Alaska, worked construction on Puget Sound, and, many years ago, graduated from the MFA writing program at Columbia University. Eric’s story “One Day, One Week, An Hour” appears in issue 298.2, Spring 2013.

More at www.ericbarnes.net and on Twitter at @ericbarnes2.


ldNX3rfo (2)Illustrations by: Rob Dobi is an editorial illustrator from CT.

“For the past decade I have been designing merchandise for the biggest bands in the world, photographing the decaying ruins of the northeast, working on his t-shirt brand Fullbleed, co-running the apparel design community at Mintees and poking fun at hipster stereotypes.  Lately my focus has been on editorial illustration, providing media outlets with meaningful work similar to the style I have been honing in the music industry for the past ten years. I have a BFA in illustration from RISD and currently reside in Connecticut with my wife Christina and dog Buddy.”

Concerning “Man in Flower” by Brian Patrick Heston from issue 300.2

Man in Flower” was an Honorable Mention in the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize contest.

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With “Man in Flower,” I was attempting something of an urban pastoral. Yet rather than celebration, I was interested in something more detached, where wild nature could take precedence in a place, the city, which we usually attribute to civilization. However, since detachment is so foreign to how we humans experience the world, I decided the scene needed some form of human presence, but not a living presence, because a living human would ultimately take over the landscape both physically and metaphorically. The man in the poem is dead because death has a way of lifting our veil of illusion. When we bury bodies, we do not see the equalizing force of decay. Yet, what happens to the man in the poem is exactly what goes on once we are buried in the earth. I wanted to present the man, objectively, as dissolving organic matter that feeds other organic matter. Ultimately, I am attempting to explore a vision of a connected nature, where nothing is wasted and everything, including human bodies, are transformative matter.

The last layer of metaphor I hoped to get across in the poem was the very fragility of civilization itself. Though it may be the greatest invention of the human species, it is never far from collapsing under the immense weight of all the demands we put on it. Countless civilizations before us have disappeared, and before their disappearances, the inhabitants of those civilizations felt just as secure, just as indestructible as many of us do today. Therefore, the poem borders on the apocalyptic, but I hope it resists apocalypse because nature once again reclaims the cityscape.

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The man might be dead, but everything else continues to live, which is very much something we seemed to have forgotten in our mad rush to set wider and wider boundaries between our civilization and the rest of the nature we share the planet with. So, I guess, in the end, I wanted to write a poem of recognition rather than a warning. Warnings seem too human-centric and only end with a fear that moves us to protect ourselves. Recognition, though, offers us so much more than fear. It offers us understanding, and in this particular case, the understanding that polluting and destroying the nature that sustains us is not only foolhardy, but also ungrateful. We have had the privilege to exist on a tiny blue oasis in the middle of frigid airlessness. It has given us oranges, sex, and Paris. It has allowed us sunny stoop and porch days filled with birdsong and the scent of baking pizza, and if there’s one thing our probes sent into the abyss of space have communicated back, it’s that nothing of what we have here can be found out there.

We are, as far as we know, stranded on an island, but unlike Crusoe, we do not long for England because there is no England. There is only the island for as far as the mind can fathom. And here we remain blissfully ignorant of how truly rare we really are.   


Man in Flower

The man lies in the tall grass by the old railroad yard.
No one walks this way anymore, it’s moon-filled
and sun-stilled. Trains haven’t run here since before
the bicentennial. Weedy trees rise up around the man
like a jungle, or barley waiting for the farmer’s scythe.

A white flower has burrowed its way through his temple,
blossoming from his bottom eye. He is man with flower
now/man-flower. Above him, in the ratty leaves
of an ash, starlings have made a noisy nest. Each day,
they speckle him. Seeds also gather, stubby sprouts

already rising from his thin jacket, his faded jeans,
the loose skin of his face. His body will be safe
for a while. But once covered in grass, in the heaviness
of daisies, everything the man is will shrink, flatten out,
until what remains is a field where no one ever goes.


Brian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His poems have won awards from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, and the Lanier Library Association. His first book, “If You Find Yourself,” won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award and is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. He is also the author of the chapbook, “Latchkey Kids,” which is available from Finishing Line Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such publications as Many Mountains Moving, Rosebud, West Branch, Harpur Palate, 5AM, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, South Carolina Review, River Styx, and is upcoming in Borderlands, Tampa Review, and Canary. Presently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Georgia State University.


Illustrations by  Clay Rodery, an illustrator who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Clay’s illustrations have been featured in the North American Review issues 298.4, 299.1, 299.3 and the most recently is in issue 299.4, Fall 2014 and most recently 300.2, Spring 2015.

“Throwback Thursday” featuring Annie Dillard by Amanda Husak

Weasel of Memories 

In light of our Bicentennial Creative Writing and Literature Conference June 11-13, 2015, I’d like to introduce a piece from one of our very own contributors, Annie Dillard. Annie is best known for her narrative prose in fiction and nonfiction

Her pieceFive Sketchesexplores the notions of religion, behavior, and the perception of self. This piece is featured in the North American Review Vol. 260, No. 2, Summer, 1975. Dillard also published “At Home with Gastropods,” Vol. 263, No. 1, Spring, 1978. (Below is the original piece “Five Sketches” which was published in 1975.)

Dillard’s honest narrative and memoir won her the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and An American Child (1984).

ottawadetDillard’s personal essay “Living Like Weasels” found its way into my nonfiction class this semester. This was the first time I had read any of her work. I was captivated by the way Dillard developed scene and held the reader’s attention with her simple language over her encounter with nothing other than a weasel. Her description of the way weasels slaughter their prey by “either splitting the jugular vein at the throat or crunching the brain at the base of the skull,” came alive. The weasel does not seem to release its grip.

I first encountered a real weasel when I was eleven. A family friend had given us four adult yellow and black ducks to accompany the other animals on my family’s farm.  We had only had them for a week when a midnight visitor squeezed its way into one of the holes of the old building the ducks were temporarily housed in. When my father awoke the next morning to check them, he found not a single survivor. My father warned me not to look. I snuck open the door anyway to find the chewed and bloody necks of four ducks.

However, Dillard’s essay is not just about weasels. It’s also about not letting go. About finding something to sink our teeth into. To gnaw on just for a bit. It’s about your deceased grandmother’s cubic zirconia ring or that coveted Boston Celtics jersey you can not seem to let go. It’s about attachment. It’s realizing your current life is partially married to the things of the past. As Dillard writes, life is about either living in necessity or in choice. We can’t help but become like the weasel—holding on to what we think will sustain us but only leaves us searching for more. Therefore, our whole lives become shaped upon what changes us and what we change ourselves. Are we more like the weasel or what the weasel latches onto? Do we cling to things, like I do to my grandmother’s ring? Are we okay with giving that jersey away to someone who claims to be an even bigger fan?

insideWhat parts of our past are we going to divorce and let go of? What parts are we going to marry and remarry again and again? If it were up to me, I’d divorce my thumb from that cubic zirconia ring. I’d get rid of the physical proof that seems to weigh me down. Instead I’d travel back in time and remarry that memory of my grandma showing me her jewelry collection. That is where the true beauty lies. So marry your memories. Remarry them again and again.

Annie Dillard’s writing appeared in the North American Review in 1975, the year she won the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. In both “Five Sketches” and “Living Like Weasels,” she reveals much larger truths than what the reader finds explicitly on the page. I hope you, as future readers of Dillard’s insightful work, can appreciate the same.

Below is the original piece “Five Sketches” which was published in 1975, Vol. 260, number 2. 

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Amanda Husak is a volunteer for the North American Review and is earning her undergraduate in English Education at the University of Northern Iowa. Amanda’s work has been published in the 2014 issue of Timber Creek Collections.


Illustrations are 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.


Coincedently, it is also Annie Dilliard‘s birthday today and we here at the North American Review would like to wish Annie a very, merry, Happy Birthday. Thank you again for your contribution and becoming apart of our editioral family.

On Aging by Maceo J. Whitaker

basketball-dreams1-1024x731For the second straight night, I had a basketball dream. I was playing in the Final Four. In my dream, I scored a basket for the second straight game. Just one basket in each. A statistician might note my crisp 2.0 PPG average—not exactly Hall of Fame numbers.

Scoring in the Final Four is a delightful dream (especially when compared with my recurring zombie-gator apocalypse dream) but a decidedly modest one.

Some people achieve impressive feats in their dreams. My wife, for example, flies whenever she wants in her dreams. Why must my ceiling be one field goal per game?

Why couldn’t I hit a game-winning buzzer beater to spoil Kentucky’s undefeated season?

Why couldn’t I dunk over Jahlil Okafor?

In my younger days, I’d have been the tournament MVP; now, I’m happy to earn a spot in the box score.

I guess time humbles us even in our dreams.

On Sunday, I ran my first half-marathon. It was the “Fallen Comrades Run at the United States Military Academy. West Point. Featuring views of the Hudson River, the Hudson Highlands, and the historic campus, the scenery was beautiful. Each mile marker commemorated a fallen soldier.

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I finished, but my leg bothered me throughout the race. By the tenth mile, my balky knee failed me. Unable even to jog, I limped the final three miles. My early-morning euphoria had worn off completely.

When younger, I never had knee pain.

Aging sucks.

My poem in this issue of the North American Review features a woman named Althea. I don’t believe in breaking down my poems for others, but I’ll say that some people* found the poem sad. And perhaps it is.

The titular character’s best days are behind her, but she has lived a long life. This poem merely attempts to capture one late moment of it.

Our words all too often fall short of evoking true poignancy.

On Sunday, feeling sorry for myself, I hobbled to the twelfth mile marker. As I approached, I saw a woman cheering runners on, encouraging them before they embarked on their final mile. She stood next to the mile marker, which honored a young man who sacrificed his life for our country.

I realized she was the fallen soldier’s mother. Our eyes locked, we thanked each other, and my heart grew heavy. Needless to say, I felt foolish for bemoaning my knee’s misfortune.

Aging sucks, true, but aging is also a gift.

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Althea lived a long life, a life with an inevitable end. Yet, we must be content with the miracle that we experience moments at all, even when they involve frivolities such as running, writing poems, or making wide-open layups in dreams.

If you read “Althea,” feel free to listen to Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five play “Gut Bucket Blues”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgxQQk1vadw

* It’s proper etiquette to force all of your friends and acquaintances to stop whatever they’re doing to read your published work immediately, right?

Recommended Poems by Maceo J. Whitaker

I love sharing poetry. In February, I wrote a guest post for Tahoma Literary Review with links to some of my favorite poems. Here are four more poems I’ve enjoyed recently:

“Dinosaurs in the Hood,” by Danez Smith

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/249154

Powerful, energetic, humorous—this will be one of your favorite poems.

“Dear 2Pac,” by Jonathan Moody

http://www.thecommononline.org/dear-2pac

A poem about Tupac’s lasting effect on how we live and imagine.

“In Two Seconds,” by Mark Doty

http://aprweb.org/poems/in-two-seconds

A moving tribute to Tamir Rice by the Whitman devotee.

“Fix,” by Alice Fulton

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/04/poetry-alice-fulton-fix/39669/

This poem was first published in The Atlantic in 2000. I love lines like “count cricket beats to tell the temp, count / my breaths from here to Zen.” Fulton’s new book, Barely Composed, is a wonderful read that I recommend highly.


Maceo North American Review (1)

Maceo J. Whitaker’s poems appear this spring in The Pinch, PANK, The Florida Review, The Paterson Literary Review, and Juked (online). Maceo’s poem “Althea” is featured in issue 300.2, Spring 2015

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Flashback Friday featuring Devi Laskar from issue 294.2

Necessity breeds invention!

4-17

I was in an online poetry boot camp and had a few hours to come up with that Tuesday poem. Everything I had written that day stunk like raw fish baking on a dry dock. I overheard my children discussing their favorite movies at the time. My oldest said “Little Mermaid” and my middle said “Sleeping Beauty” and my youngest said “Snow White.” When I asked my youngest why, she said the wicked stepmother had the best laugh. And a poem was born.

“Cackle like a Wicked Stepmother” first appeared in issue 294.2, March-April 2009. Here is a flaskback of the poem as well as link to purchase your very own issue.

How to Cackle like a Wicked Stepmother

First you’ll need the accessories,
dazzling with mischief and ill-
intent: poisoned apples, floor-length
mirrors that talk back in iambic
rhyme; sinuous black evening
gowns, eye-shadow the color
of a bruise, lips too crimson to
be kissed, a castle with a working
dungeon; stone stairs always in need
of mopping, henchmen, preferably
hunchbacked, a charcoal forest whose
trees disappear into the abyss
of moonless nights, a thunderstorm
thick with jagged rain; oh, and a man
with a charmed life standing before
you, confessing his abiding
love for your sister, or best friend
since the second grade. The rest
is easy, look into the glass, bite
through to the core, delicious,
forbidden down to the guttural,
and feel the crows’ wings fluttering
in your belly finally rise.


photoselfie

DEVI 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, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Illinois. Her poems have been published in the Atlanta Review, the Squaw Valley ReviewPratichi, the Tule Review, and the North American Review, where her poems were finalists for the James Hearst Prize in 2009 and 2011. 


CLAIRE STIGLIANI (b. 1983) is a drawer and painter known for her works inspired by paintings, photographs, magazines, posters, YouTube clips, literature, performance and plays. These works explore the act of watching and being watched and blur fiction with reality. Her recent shows include The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, (WI), The Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, (WI), RussellProjects, Richmond (VA), and the Jenkins Johnson Gallery (NY). She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and Photography in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.

IS RISK-TAKING ADVISABLE IN WRITNG POETRY? ALWAYS. by Robert Nazarene from issue 300.2

I am especially pleased to appear again in America’s oldest literary review. With respect to my poem, “A Day in the Life”, I want to express my view that poetry which does not take risks is of insignificant value. Having served as an editor and publisher for a decade, I came to believe a distinctive voice is the most prized attribute of any poet. Witness the likes of cummings, Berryman, Plath, Wier and Eliot–just to mention a few. No cookie cutter poems here.

gingerbread-boy-dress-up-cookie-cutter-tin-set-cg1-p6060

I feel that all too often poets tend to hold their work at some distance from themselves. And mindless abstraction in poetry is poetry’s greatest enemy. (You know who you are.) As human beings, it is my firm belief we are connected not so much by our strengths, but rather, by our woundedness. (Here my spell-checker tells me I may be guilty of yet another neologism.) I believe as well that there are only two purposes of poetry: to disturb and to console. And, on rare occasions, to achieve both. I am always impressed by the quality of work found in North American Review.

A Day in the Life

Last whenever I suffered a major stroke
it’s caused me to gain 15/1000ths
of a second on my 440-relay time
the druggist at Sam’s Club asked
if I had any questions? yes would it hurt
to give half to my dog for her high
blood pressure she loves anything
with speed in it in the checkout line
my ATM card was approved
for the amount of purchase that’s
a first and the receipt checker
at the door made me turn my jacket
pockets inside out something about
cans of chick peas disappearing
from the store and after 26 years
of continuous sobritety I got kicked
out of AA. they said they were
more after “fresh” meat and that
last whenever I got locked up
in the nuthouse faster than
you can say Jackie Robinson
and also people with bipolar
disorder aren’t worth a fast fucking
glance in the rearview mirror.


ROBERT NAZARENE founded MARGIE / THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF POETRY and INTUIT HOUSE POETRY SERIES where he was the recipient of a publishers’ National Book Critics Award in poetry.  His first book of poems is CHURCH (2006).  A second volume of poetry, Puzzle Factory, is new in 2015.  His work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Crazyhorse The Iowa Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, North American Review, The Oxford American, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Salmagundi. Stand and elsewhere.  He was educated at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

Thursday Throwback blog featuring Ted Kooser’s “The Corpse of an Old Woman” by Michael Jackson

Ted Kooser’s poem “The Corpse of an Old Woman” can be found in Vol. 251, No. 6 (Nov., 1966), p.14, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25116500.

THE CORPSE OF AN OLD WOMAN

It has been lying on a braided rug
with a teacup in its hand since yesterday
at supper-time, and the neighbor-ladies shrug
and say “She lets the lights burn night and day.”

Its cat sits in the window, watching birds,
and the phone rings now and then, mistakenly;
the mailman bangs the box-lid to be heard;
Someone may stop this afternoon for tea.

– Ted Kooser


Screenshot (1)

Some years ago, on a typically freezing Iowa February morning, I went out to start my car, in order that it could warm up a tad in the 20 below weather. Doing so at 6:00 a.m. in the morning was nothing unusual for me at that time as I started my cubical-based life by 6:30 am every morning. Returning to the car a few minutes later, not having paid heed to the icy conditions overnight, I slipped in my dress shoes and fell straight back. The only thing that saved me from a concussion was the back pack I had slung over my right shoulder which provided enough of a cushion between me and the unforgiving cement that I was able to avoid smashing my head. However, by that time in life, I had developed back problems and everything immediately went into what felt like a full body spasm, driven by the wreck that is my back. As I lay there, a morbid thought did more than just cross my mind: I was going to lay there in the pre-dawn darkness and freeze to death before anyone found me (I doubt I was wearing a jacket).

brain-pain

This was more than just a random thought as I knew not one of my neighbors beyond saying hello occasionally if we happened to cross paths entering and exiting our apartments, and anyone I have a personal relationship with lives at least a hundred miles away. After laying on the ground for a minute trying to regain my senses, I realized the car was still running and I needed to get it turned off before I went back into the house. Unfortunately my ability to stand up was compromised by the back spasms, and I had to crawl from the sidewalk to the car and drag myself into the driver’s seat far enough to reach the ignition, shut it off, and pull out the keys. Somehow I managed to crawl, drag, walk myself into my apartment where I collapsed on the couch and lay in pain for the next four hours waiting for my back to shut the hell up.

The good news, at least partially, is that had I failed to show up for work, remained laying there in that parking lot, someone would have noticed my absence and eventually found me before the day was over. Whether or not I would have frozen to death by the time my neighbors started their day is doubtful, but still a powerful enough memory that I’m still holding onto it years later. What isn’t good news is that were I to fall in my apartment now, coffee mug in hand like Kooser’s corpse, I shudder to think how long I would lay there before I was found. I still don’t know any of my neighbors save one, and I only speak to him on a highly sporadic basis, and I no longer have a job to show up for at a strict, regulated, cubical-based time.

Because of this possible scenario, and the morbid thoughts it conjures up, I am immediately drawn to the use of the word “it” in Kooser’s poem. The corpse is not a person, a man, or a woman, but rather an “it,” a non-entity that serves only for gossip for the nosey, but not compassionate, neighbors. There “it” lies, burning those lights like “it’s” made of money. I wonder then if I am an “it,” a thing in a place, rooted to nothing. Will my neighbors complain about my lights burning? Doubtful. Would they notice a smell if I dropped dead and lay unclaimed for weeks? Maybe. What’s more absurd is that for a time period of about eight or nine months, I lived without a phone of any kind; no landline, or cell phone. 911 for me during that time would have consisted of pounding on the wall of my neighbor’s apartment, hoping to hell they called security to come scoop me off the floor, assuming of course I hadn’t had a heart attack and was incapable of dragging myself to the thin and poorly constructed wall.

4043384111_998bb069f9_zSuch thoughts also lead me into ruminations on death itself, outside of thoughts of my own demise. Having buried a few too many family members already, including my father, it’s odd to observe the grieving process we all have as individuals. Or the dying process for that matter. My father, for example, spent his last few weeks acting childish and immature. Though this is not particularly surprising if you knew him, it was still odd to watch his behavior through what was then my thirty-two years of experience with him. I vowed then, and still do, that should I know my time is coming, whenever it does, that I will maintain dignity until the end. But perhaps I am lying to myself, perhaps I will act even more ridiculous, decrying all the wrongs that have been done to me in the past, cursing God as my father did, defiant until the end. But who’s to say, who can tell the future?

The corpse of the old woman, it appears based on the teacup in her hand, died suddenly. Perhaps then this idea of sudden death is the one to hope for, should it be that one has the option. Or not, as she, or “it,” clearly lacks dignity after her death, left to rot on her living room floor, apparently missed by no one.

The problem with death, apart from death itself, is that it is such a difficult topic to discuss. Not as a concept necessarily, but as a more concrete and personal thing. Some people outright refuse to discuss the topic, perhaps out of fear that it will come true, perhaps out of immense sadness and a lost love one, you can never tell. They simply won’t discuss it. Others see the topic as morbid, judging those who would discuss it (I’m sure if you’ve read this far you’ve formed an opinion on my opinion of the subject).

cross-finald

And yet death remains a fact of all of our lives, the one absolute inevitability that we all must face at some point or another. On occasion I like to fool myself and act as if I’ve come to terms with it, not as a concept, but as a reality. For example, with recent news of a purposely crashed commercial airplane, I tell myself that had I been on that flight, I would have had my brief moment of panic at the realization of what was occurring, before taking a deep breath and accepting the circumstances at hand. My last thoughts would be that this was okay, that I have already made my peace with death and the universe, that my dignity would remain intact, and that my acceptance would be absolute.

But here I am, writing about my fears of dying alone in my apartment, not to be found for weeks until I’ve rotted into a nuisance smell, something for the neighbors to complain about. Clearly I am not yet at peace with the reality, though I’ll still pretend to be with the concept. I’ll also assume that Kooser had similar thoughts, at least in some manner, before writing this poem, which is what led him to the concept of using “it” instead of “she” to describe the corpse. Maybe the fear is death, maybe not. Maybe, more likely, the fear is that once we die we no longer exist to the outside world, the one we try so hard, for so long, to get to understand us.


Michael Jackson is a graduate student of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also an intern here at NAR. Other work can be found at hobopancakes.com.

The first and third image are from wikimedia commons.
The second and final illustration are by NAR’s very own contributor Anthony Tremmaglia.


Illustrations by: Anthony Tremmaglia, an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly. Anthony is featured in issues 299.1, Winter 2014 & 299.4, Fall 2014 and his most recent work (featured above) in upcoming 300.2, Spring 2015. Find more of Anthony’s work at http://www.tremmaglia.ca/