Uncle Elliot learned to speak with food. He brought pies, casseroles, quiches, elaborate desserts and layered salads, even old forgotten dishes he read about in old books. The quiet man once brought a full meal that would have been the menu on the Titanic, another that King Tut would have had on a birthday, another the menu eaten by the riders of the first luxury train, yet another the last meal of the man famous for eating at the end of the 19th century who is now forgotten like so much past in present.
Someone on Facebook was selling books.
I purchased a few Alfred Jarry and Edouard Leve titles.
This was years ago.
I have subsequently forgotten who sold me these books.
I finally got around to reading ‘Autoportrait’ by Edouard Leve.
Upon flicking through the pages, I found a couple of receipts from the previous owner.
Based on the nature of the novel, it seemed apt that I would discover these receipts.
One of these receipts is from the 15 November 2012.
It is for a credit card transaction of $20.
The transaction occurred at 11:08am.
The transaction occurred at Advanced Dermatology at 130 West 86th Street in New York.
It was wedged four pages in from the back cover.
It is slightly faded.
The word ‘dermatology’ is unable to be read.
The other receipt is also for a $20 sale.
This transaction was on the 6 November 2012.
The time was 5:33pm.
The transaction occurred at Martino and Reagan Chiropractic.
The business address is 33 Greenwich Avenue, Apartment 1C.
This was again in New York.
The receipt is flat and well-preserved.
The top of the receipt has slight water damage.
The receipt was inserted on Page 117.
This is the last page of the story.
I have disposed of these receipts.
I have read 37 pages of ‘Autoportrait’ so far.
Coming up with lists is hard, man. When I was asked to come up with my top five movies that have impacted my life, I thought, “fuck yeah, I’ll come up with the best list ever.” But once I sat down to write, I couldn’t think of where to start. I watch a lot of movies. Horror, comedy, drama, the weird, obscure movies very few people talk about. And anyone that knows me well enough, knows that I’m a huge David Lynch nut. I could’ve easily made a top five list on his movies alone. But I didn’t do that. In fact, I didn’t include a single Lynch film. I thought long and hard about what movies to include on this list, and this is what I came up with. Maybe there’s a theme. Maybe they were influenced by a current mood. Or maybe they were titles drawn at random out of a hat. Who knows. Read and enjoy. And if you ever want to talk to me about movies, find me online and we’ll talk.
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Todd Solondz is a wizard when it comes to awkward/uncomfortable storytelling. He has a way of evoking sympathy for people who, on paper, can be absolutely despicable. And he tells the stories that no one likes to talk about. It can be uncomfortable at times, but goddamn, what an experience. While thinking of his catalogue of films I’ve enjoyed, Welcome to the Dollhouse came out on top. The protagonist is a young girl who only wants to be loved and appreciated for how special she is. But she’s an underdog in every sense of the word. At school, at home, and everywhere in between, she’s yearns for people to tell her that they love her and falls into a quiet acceptance after realizing that no matter what she does, nothing will ever change.
Hour of the Wolf
Beautiful film about love and mental illness. Not only is this film visually stunning, but it’s the most impactful film on metal health degradation I’ve seen. There’s a character who’s so afraid of dying in his sleep that he keeps himself awake. The more he starts to lose grip with reality, the more characters we are introduced to. I’m already spoiling too much of this movie, but there’s such a creepy, beautiful scene where Johan (the male protagonist) confronts the social parasites he had befriended on the island. And the final monologue? Shit, if I could write anything half as good as that, I’d could happily quit writing forever.
Her mother had sat with her sipping coffee while she filled out all the applications, had driven her to the tiny post office to mail them away, hugging her daughter after. They had walked together through the small streets, at times waving to shop owners and chatting with families out on walks on that Saturday. Junko applied to colleges that night months ago.
He looked at the very old cat as it came close to him and could almost see cityscapes in its skeletal maze under its dark fur, see the shadows of late winter days in the fur, something of rivers in its slow steady walk with bad paws. He pet the cat behind its ears and saw it had little fangs like an adorable bat. The cat rested her tired head on his outstretched fingers, teeth in but he did not care and she fell asleep. The late day light and her curling into his armpit made her for a time look like she had become a kitten once again. He slowly pet her neck and back, a kind of soft covered architecture like dirigibles or bridges as the tired cat slept heartily on his slightly faded green sweater. A meteor could very well strike the earth outside and Thomas would not move from here, not one single inch.
This is a collaboration between three writers, Allison Harden, Rebecca Woolston and myself. We gather here to excavate through writing. This is one of many sections to come as we tangle and untangle our histories. If you would like to read Part 1 & Part 2, please visit the links at the end of the text.
I dreamt of you the other night. That inside my dream, I was dreaming, and you came to me to say you were leaving us. That it was time to go. I repeated what you said, asked how, said no, you can’t. We can’t lose you a second time. How does one understand losing someone twice like this?
Maybe this is all so selfish, to want to keep you lingering in my words, to keep you bound to the page like this. To try to recreate some part of your breath, to construct a body sheathed in paper skin to carry around in my pocket. A resurrection of sorts. But everybody knows not to bring the dead back to life. They simply have changed. But I think about how the seasons have flipped on us, there was so much loss in the spring, so much that tucked itself beneath our nails. And the fall is full of life, emerging from the early mornings and held in the heat of our mouths. Maybe this makes sense in the meaning of your name, black and white. It depends. That constant pull of opposing energies. Maybe this is what you meant when you said you were leaving us, that you found the seam between the colors to press through. That finally, there was a space that was comfortable, that felt right, that was home.
There is so much in life that is unexpected. So much that we plan for, that we try to be prepared for, but some days it is never enough. The events are always in motion, ready to hit when we do not expect. The scars are always returning, reminding, reshaping the way the skin was cut open and the blood ran and the frayed edges of flesh gathered together to seal the wound. A scar is a place of memory, of intrusion, of the unexpected resting in our bodies. A reminder of who we were and who we want to be. How do we seek the scars of the disappeared? How do we carry the names of the dead in our mouths without speaking with the weighted loss of you? How does the fabric of our skin fit everything that is inside?
When you moved, if I thought of you I saw the scar near your bicep. When I close my eyes to not see, for a moment, a world without you, the scar rises. A small mound of your pale flesh, healed over. I don’t even know how you got it.
Suddenly, I realize, I cannot imagine having a child in the year of your death.
I didn’t mean to offend my mom when I told her I couldn’t stay in the the downstairs guest room. Particularly this time of year, Thanksgiving, Christmas. There is too much turmoil. Too much loss. Too many associations with a time that still seems like a faded memory of someone else’s life. I find myself wanting to skip over this time of year, but every year it becomes easier. Every year, you are a little more distant. Every year there are new joys. Bing Crosby and peppermint bark. Laughter over the homemade ornaments from grade school. The snowman with the painted on red smile that is way too wide in proportion to the rest of his face. Every year there is someone else to imagine. Some glimmer to grasp onto amid the cavern of you.
She unwrapped the gift as if it were a child. The wild desire of it all. Inside, there were two silk bookmarks. One for the day she she was born and one for the day that she would die. They were wrapped inside layers of letters that her sisters had written to each other when they were teenagers. Whispers in the dark. The beauty of becoming and unraveling. When memory sat like stones to be touched and tasted and lit under water. This gravity. This brush of skin against the bark of their histories. The rings widening till even the memories touched each other.
A morning prayer against the still.
Her dreams of dreaming again.
Like my mother who says she never dreams. These women locked inside the treasure of a memory that will not open toward other stories. There was the one night in Cambodia, the bones in the ground were talking, the clocks in the hotel could not be baited to work, and my mother dreamed. This is the only memory her and I share of her dreaming. She had no words to tell me her dreams. Her language was burned to the quick. These are the dreams I would die for. Again and again until I am nothing but breath and desire. To begin again.
“In my end is my beginning,” these are the words from T.S. Eliot that inspire me. These words I remember first reading freshman year of college, under candlelight. I found them again on the streets of Oxford on a bookstore shelf. I shared them with a friend over wine and ocean waves. Our voices echoing in the dark. These are the words that consoled me through ending something that wasn’t supposed to end. That I vowed would last forever.
Somewhere along the way, we close our eyes to what is impossible for us to see. We shut out the darkness because we can’t imagine the light that will come next. We look the other direction when the sun is already rising to greet us. We forget.
I blinked my eyes open to a beginning that had already begun. Had been beginning.
We stand around the table in a circle and share one thing we are thankful for. I think of how I have begun and ended. And began. Again. And again.
We both dreamt of you last night and I thought that must mean you were in the room with us. That you came and rested with our bodies, whispered into our ears to create an image of you, threading secrets and desires of who you were. These dreams, the only way to create new memories. We watched home movies, sitting in the room with the family, your voice so loud, so clear. The familiar movements of you, the expressions of your face. To be on this side, reaching toward a screen for a lost reality. On the drive home, we shared the silence, replaying you in our minds. I said, it was nice to be in a world again where you existed.
Collapse the panorama of our home into a story. If only we could build something that wouldn’t tear and field grief, but swell away from loss. From the paper dolls that make up our myth and our twinning, we begin. Hidden in the walls of the home built from star thistle, butterfly wings, and the belly of the sky, we find the house burning toward water, till the air is so saturated with ash and skin and dust that water droplets form.
Until fire and water collide.
There is a bench near the water. I remember sitting there in the wake of you. It was August but the air felt like December. The first chill. I sat mesmerized by the eternity of the waves. How they would be always be there, have always been there, and would continue to be there. No matter what happened with me or you, they would remain the same. It seemed a thought too vast to comprehend, and I don’t know if it comforted or frightened me.
I returned to this bench the other day on a run and took a photograph of its shadows. Thought of the shadow of you and a time that has dissolved like whitewash sinking into sand.
It’s easy to think of you. And the holidays push you forward, press against the longing. I told your mother some days still catch me off guard. That somehow I forgot you were gone and suddenly I see your picture and remember everything. Remember the ashes, the days in your house, the holidays and foosball table games in the wide living room. It’s scary to think the time is moving so far away from your leaving; that it has almost been a year. Scary to think how quickly time passes and that this is our life now, without you. But that’s what they say about the dead: we are left with lives still moving, escaping us.
She leaves behind only the fracture of a memory now. The sisters all fading towards the dirt, towards fire. Will they wash your bones in the heat, scrub the scent that 90 years builds between skinnames, will the fissure left in the rock where you whispered the secrets of grandpa’s haunting still remain?
Your legs are crossed as you sit in the shadow, that is a rumor, that is a last kiss.
is an offering.
is your trace.
This story of you that I cannot finish. To keep you present, hanging from the threads of our lives, twisting around our bones. Replicate the sinews. To think how raw this is, how present the wound grows. This year, so full of extremes. The accordion of life spanning all these months. In the time since you left, a new life has emerged.
And there is the saying people like to offer, that it will get better in time, that everything happens for a reason. To say this will heal with time is to suggest your memory will fade, that you will blur and escape the wrinkles of our minds. That your photographs, too, will burn and your voice turn to smoke. To say your death had a purpose is difficult to understand. That, somewhere in another timeline, there was a secret, alternative fate worse than this.
How can we ever feel like you were supposed to die?
I find myself repeating similar sayings to console a friend. It will get easier. You’d be surprised how you might feel in a year. Words I rejected when they were spoken to me. Words I couldn’t hear because my ears my brain my head were ringing of only you. Impossible then to imagine I would ever go a day without thinking of you. That I had space left to be filled with anything other than you. The echo of my voice mouthing these words. The tongue of a flame lit from your ashes.
But no, everything does not happen for a reason. Everything happens because it does. We choose to find beauty and meaning in the sacred moments we are given because they are all we have. We continue because continuing is our only option. We try to make sense of what will never make sense. We dream. We bury. We bleed. We carry. We carry on.
Those beautiful cracks in the veneer that create caverns toward bone. Fold your story in muscle, slide the century into the folds of noon, and let the river return home.
We began remembering the day we were born, each other. We have the same dream of flying that is full of baked brown leather shoes, laces bound to each other’s, our bodies the binding. We lift the way leaves dream on the belly of the wind, just out of reach of our body religion. This dream is a whisper.
Loss utters its own sentences to replace, to refine, to fracture memory.
I remember you most in December, your beauty a howl, a thread left lingering, you body a trick of light.
But most important, I remember.
We used to have a box packed tight, resting high on the shelf in the garage. Full of a shared Christmas, but I didn’t like the colors. We carried it for years, only because it was tied to you. I can remember exactly where I placed it, what it looked like all those times we walked past it. But I cannot recall what happened to the box, except that it is no longer here.
Sometimes, I marvel at my ability to force a forgetfulness, to turn time over and throw all the leftovers away. As if I were cleaning out the fridge of my memory. It bothers me when stuff doesn’t have a place to go. But I am realizing so much of life is extraneous, doesn’t have a place, and we are all just playing Tetris and hoping the pieces fit together as long as they can.
I never had a desire to use what was in that box. But, like everything you left behind, I think about how it was another piece of you that we could have filled in your absence. I was pleased the day I packed it, everything fit together perfectly. Like the box was made to contain those remnants. If only our memories could be so clear. So neatly packed. So ordered, resting in a room lined with shelves. But they are jumbled, transforming, resurrecting through erasures in moments we realize we need them.
To say to you, I’m sorry.
This alchemy that stores and respires. The box grows gills, feathered pink fingers, what you hear you think is a voice before drifting off towards awake.
I piece together drifts of paper. Continue to piece them toward solace even though the box has been given to some third cousin or slipped behind an old mattress in the garage. Maybe it wills its resting place in the ashes that call your name. Not quite ready. Some smell like the earth in Tule Lake, branded by government stamps and cool recollections of a war that wasn’t yours. There was no line for you to stand beside. There was no side, just the coarse grain of the paper battered by old typewriters. And a single signature that you tried to rescue from your history. The one that said you would stay forever allegiant, the one that bound your name in distance.
It was dance I didn’t know that you hid behind laugh lines and dementia. I want to suture your story, but the only truth I have is my own. Would I slip you further into the shadow, if I told your myth without you.
It was folded only once in half, so not to be concealed, but beckoned. That article of the burning girl, that you kept in that box. She was not family, maybe a friend, her body fueled a flame that took her life. I feel the heat now, of what you must have felt when you held that old newspaper clipping. I see the jagged edge where the cut became a tear. Did you do it as you read her name aloud, the body violent in the fire of this loss.
My father wrapped his quiet eyes around a corner in the hallway.
It was more of an order, and an offering. Return to the dream.
There is a photograph of my father and I, wading in light, just on the border of shadow. My head against his chest, small child attached to the gills of my father. This is my last memory of safety. But there is no real memory, just a shimmer in the corner of the story.
This blood-letting towards life,
it’s a topography ever changing,
writing our ruins against the page.
He opened the window and the morning breeze came in cool like every other morning. He saw dew on the grass glistening as the early morning clouds lit wine and orange as the orb neared topping the eastern hills. He saw the spider in the windowsill had moved on leaving a geometry of silk abandoned in a corner. Part of him wanted to leave it like a little gallery, part wanted to wash it clean away. His morning coffee was steaming little storms in his hand.
It was so hard to believe that this was the last day on earth.
Blair Witch Project
I remember hating television and the movies my parents watched. All my dad watched was Gene Hackman and Spielberg style movies, and sitcoms. All my mom watched was soap operas and made for tv romantic movies. My parents have no taste. I hated how it was all fake, how people didn’t talk or act like that in real life. I remember saying to my dad constantly, “People don’t talk like that.” Then I saw Blair Witch and listening to their dialogue, fuck, it blew my mind. That scene where Heather is screaming at Mike about losing the map. That scene on the river with the two fishing guys telling each other they’re full of shit. It was all so human to me, my friends were obsessed with scary parts, but I was obsessing over the realistic dialogue and how they showed real emotions. The characters in Blair Witch acted how people would act if they were scared, humans scream and cry, their hair gets messy, they complain and throw fits. I ended up seeing it three times in the theater; I have watched it several times a year since.
Every Which Way but Loose and Every Which Way You Can
These two movies did something that American movies and American literature have a hard time with. They have normal everyday Americans working on cars, getting into fights, listening to country music, and grandma shooting a shotgun, but it isn’t miserable. The characters laugh, they have hobbies and goals. People like this are often depicted as stupid or miserable in 21st Centuries narratives. But that isn’t life for normal people, I work at a grocery store with poor white people, Hispanics, African-Americans and ex-Mormons. We aren’t miserable, yes a lot of wealth and power are blocked from us. But we laugh, we take care of each other, we get into little fights, and grandma has a shotgun. I really like the names too, Philo Bedo, Lynn Halsey-Taylor, Orville, Echo, etc, what great names. And there’s an orangutan named Clyde that punches Harley douches, lol, awesome.
Boyz n the Hood
I couldn’t find the movie online to rewatch, going by memory. I remember being around 13 or so and watching Boyz n the Hood, there was a scene in it where Cuba the character Tre is in bed with a girl. There are like helicopters flying above and he freaks out and starts punching the air, it all seemed so authentic, so real. I just stared at the screen, seeing what it means to be powerless. I felt powerless when I was little, I don’t wanna talk about that, but I did, I felt powerless. And that is what it means to be powerless, you can’t do anything, except hide in your room and punch the air. It is like, even now, I feel mostly powerless in public, I can’t buy anything, people look down on me because of my job, I can’t wait to go home and hide and punch the air.
I really like how it starts, Selene dressed all black, perched on a building, in the rain. Oh god it is so beautiful to me. I think on the inside, I imagine myself as Selene, dressed all in black, beautiful, sleek, with scintillating blue eyes. Selene doesn’t know the answers to the universe, she doesn’t know anything but how to kick ass. But she has an epiphany that kicking ass isn’t everything, and that the power constructs around her are making life worse and are in general based on false or outmoded ideas about reality. Then there are the lower class werewolves condemned to live in the sewers, but Lucian is an asshole too. The plot of Go to Work ha some similarities with this, Selene doesn’t voice an ideology like Victor or Lucian, Selene just acts, she is movement, she is a force, a new reality on the offense. And of course that head splitting at the end, she holds up the sword and blood drips from it, omg, I love that so much.
This movie is about a Thai mom prostitute who dies slowly of cancer, a Japanese dad criminal boss, an overweight sad boy who everyone picks on, a group of gun toting transgenders and an autistic ninja girl. This plot could only happen in Southeast Asia. It calms me to watch Zen, how she is so full of passion to kick everyone’s ass.
Noah Cicero lives in Las Vegas, NV. He has several books published; The Bathroom Reader and Bipolar Cowboy are his newest.
From War & War by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes:
I no longer care if I die, said Korin, then, after a long silence, pointed to the nearby flooded quarry: Are those swans?
It was an inexpressibly beautiful, unbelievably tranquil scene he found himself in as he sensed in every cell of his body, sensed it, he explained the next day, rather than saw it, because his eyes were closed, his two arms spread and relaxed, his legs slightly open, comfortable, the lush lawn beneath him softer than any down, light breezes playing about him like delicate hands, and the gentle waves of sunlight as intimate and close as breathing … together with the luxuriant vegetation that enfolded him, the animals drowning in the distant shade, the azure canvas of sky above him, the earth an aromatic mass below, and this thing and that, he said, infinite, endlessly flowing in an as-yet-incomplete harmony yet permanent, immobile, echoing his own permanence and immobility, lying there, stretching, fixed as if by nails in his horizontal, immersed, practically submerged position, as if peace were this dish of dizzying sweetness and he the table, as if such peace and such sweetness really existed, as if there were such a place and such a tranquility, as if such a thing existed, said Korin, as if it were possible.
If there were just one sentence at the end, as far as I’m concerned, dear lady, it could only be that nothing, absolutely nothing made sense, Korin remarked next morning after his usual period of silence, then stared out of the window at the firewalls, the roofs, and the dark threatening clouds in the sky, eventually adding a single sentence: But there are a lot of sentences yet and it has begun to snow.
I made the mistake of watching Dogtooth right before bed. From the opening scene—blindfold around eyes, stilted car ride conversation, slow opening gate—we know we’re in for something twisted. The tone is stark and brutal, but it’s the stasis of the tone that’s most unsettling. Once the gate closes it’s clear the children are not getting out. The parents obsessively shield them from nearly all outside influences, even reinventing everyday language—phone means ‘salt’, sticker means ‘clothes’, sea means ‘chair’—creating a comical yet creepy distortion of realities. The children begin to entertain themselves in creative ways, but once they get a small taste of the outside world, things get seriously fucked.
Although Hoop Dreams is a documentary that follows the paths of two high school bball stars, it does not require the knowledge, or even interest, in the greatest sport of all time. Complexities regarding race, social class, economics, and politics are brought to the forefront, while exposing the darkness of AAU culture, which essentially begins ranking players at dangerously young ages. The power of Hoop Dreams lies in its ability to confront issues that shoot way beyond the simple (or obsessive) love of a game. The subjects—William Gates and Arthur Agee—are pretty damn lovable, too. I saw this in the theater back in ’94 as a young hoop dreamer and it’s still one of my favorites.
My brother left the room about halfway through the movie to let me watch the second half alone. He’d seen it before. Not to give it away (everyone’s seen this, right?) but the moment with the one-way mirror, the phone—I’ve never sobbed so intensely during a scene in a movie. It really got me, and it was nice to have that moment alone. I don’t know what else to say other than if you somehow missed this masterpiece, I suggest you watch it now, with or without others.
THE BROTHERS SOLOMON
Since really dumb comedies occupy at least half the movies I’ve seen in my life, this list should contain one. I was on tour somewhere in the midwest and the rest of the band flew to the next show on the west coast. My brother was selling merch for us at the time and he and I stayed behind for the drive. We had the entire bus to ourselves when we stopped for the night, one of maybe two or three vehicles occupying the dirt parking lot of a hotel off a highway in Idaho. It seemed like the right time to eat a weed cookie. I rarely ingest weed in any way, and when it was slow to take effect, I decided to eat another. The movie was pretty funny at first but about halfway through I had the most insane laugh attack of my life. As my brother joined in, we paced up and down the bus convulsing. We made it to the end of the movie, but when we went to the hotel to get ready for bed, our room keys didn’t work. We became even more hysterical than before and stood in the empty hallway trying to decide who was more capable of handling the task of interacting with another human being behind the front desk. I’ve seen the movie (sober) since and of course this initial experience is tough to top but it’s still very bizarre and hilarious.
DEAD RIVER ROUGH CUT
I’ll leave you with a Maine classic. It’s a documentary about two best buds that reject the outside world for tarpapers shacks in the middle of the woods. They hunt, fish, trap, log. They also philosophize and tell wacky stories in an accent so thick even a Mainer like myself would benefit from captions. Walter Lane and Bob Wagg form an unusual pair that are equally entertaining and enlightening, making a retreat to the woods seem like a sweet idea. This is the most requested movie at the Maine State Prison.
Nat Baldwin is a writer and musician living in Maine. His fiction has appeared in PANK, Sleepingfish, Timber, Deluge, and Alice Blue. He has released several solo albums, and plays bass in Dirty Projectors. He is currently pursuing a BA in English at the University of Southern Maine.
The texts and automated calls came at 3 A.M. Something odd and quite alarming was happening. Ethan was jarred awake from a serene dream about waterfalls and a mountain top cabin. The dream was so ornate and so real that it lingered for a bit as he read the words, a bit of water seeming to crest into froth in the corners of his room then away.
When I was around six years old, this and Three Amigos were my favorite movies. I think this combination was integral to the formation of my personality – goth-lite, with some idiotic 14-year-old boy humor thrown in. I used to get nightmares from just about any movie as a kid but for some reason this one didn’t bother me.
Keanu Reeves is smoking hot in this. He looks so good as a hessian. I want to buy him. Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper are perfect in this too. I love that Dystopia features clips from the movie in their album Human = Garbage. It’s difficult to sample movie clips in music and not have it sound stupid but Dystopia managed to pull it off.
I sort of used River’s Edge as an emotional talisman when I was writing Black Cloud – I wanted to make something that was running-full-speed-toward-a-brick-wall level numb. Out of the Blue functions in the same way, I think. (It also stars Dennis Hopper.) I think these movies encapsulate why I don’t understand the youth of today. There’s no unadulterated rage in their hearts.
No Direction Home
When I was ~24, I was in an inadvisable relationship. Our favorite thing to do was sit around and take synthetic opiates and drink wine and watch every single rock doc we could find on Netflix. It sort of mirrored my freshman and sophomore years in high school, where I liked sitting around and smoking weed and reading every rock biography they carried at Barnes & Noble. This is my favorite rock doc of that time, or, at the very least, is the one I watched most often. The funny thing is I can’t really remember anything about the movie, other than the fact that I found it really soothing.
I don’t even know if I really like this movie so much as I enjoy its aesthetic. I’m not really into acts of violence or psychological trauma, but other than that I want to live in a world that looks like this.
I just watched this movie for the first time a couple nights ago so I guess I’m technically cheating by including it. But I really loved it! Grace Kelly saves the day, and Katy Jurado is the one who put her up to it – the two women are the true heroes. You could take the movie apart and say that it is problematic – how predictable it is that the blond is the chaste Quaker while Jurado plays the part of the slutty Mexican woman – and I agree, but I like that it is clear that the women end up being the heroes not for some political reason, like “Hey you know what we need to do? Create some strong female leads,” which makes it feel genuinely subversive. Attempts at social equality are never subversive when done as a marketing scheme.
Juliet Escoria is the author of Black Cloud (CCM/Emily Books, 2014) and Witch Hunt (Lazy Fascist, 2016).
This is a collaboration between three writers who are excavating through writing. This is one of many sections to come as we tangle and untangle our histories.
I keep cleaning the rooms, sifting through you, a way to keep you alive. I like to think you are floating in our air. I wiped the dust from your frame yesterday and looked at your face. I realized I hadn’t seen you in a long time. That I kept you blurry in my memory. Maybe not wanting or not able to build the structure of your face. How do we put a body back together again?
What I’m trying to say is, there is always a piece missing. Your ashes have been mixed and separated and moved and there are bits of dust that have gotten away and I think about this movement of the dead often. The trails you have left. The ashes of others in the air, maybe even you, it was only the day before. Tiny bits resting on the printed fabric book bag they put your box in. They were everywhere and I thought we had to leave. Get on the plane, get away from this place, the grayness was suffocating and the barren slow passing of time would kill us all. This madness of grief. I was searching for you, along the stretches of road, but I knew you weren’t there. You were in the front seat, wrapped in your box with a name tag and everything. I thought of the people working at the crematorium, wondered who would ever want a job like that. The arrangement of the lost, the attempt at organizing a life after a cataclysmic puncture. Do they always smell like burnt flesh? Does the person who placed the body in the oven see its loved ones? What might that feel like, to look in the eyes and know you were the last person to see the body of their lost one? What kinds of secrets do they witness? How many spirits follow them around?
It is amazing to me, how structures hold together when everything else refuses. How our bodies continue to pump blood and breathe air when we are no longer capable of doing anything but lying on the floor.
To dream of you. To dream of a before. Of a time when this was never going to be part of our story.
There is also the girl, the woman. Looking to wane into ghost. Is she all of us. Is she the soft periphery that haunts us. Moves like a sheet hanging in the air between us. The her that is returning to baby. To child. I will hold her in the pit of a peach, to hear her speak a name. The hollow i’ve dug in search of your answers, are faulty at the rib. The blue myth wrapping her away from the family around her, pulling her wide, pulling her quiet face from the collar of a black and white photograph. A return to sepia, to skin.
She is my child, my memory making up stories. She is a return to the thread that began this story. She is a small boy left burning in the fire. She is a man standing at the edge of the earth, bound in water.
Here is where I dream of you. Now that the autumn has come and you have been gone for three years. Why your last words to me, haunt me. And by last, I mean the last words I can remember. You spoke to me for a year after these words fell like sand into my hands. Your moment of clarity and only I was there. The un-daughter, the niece, the sister, the never-mother. You said, you were ready. Then you touched the air, touched something that seemed to slide down over your body. Until the the static of the radio and your blood still thick in the vein, was all I could hear.
I could no longer,
This stillness of the morning allows me to think of you and all our moments. The slow etching into each other’s lives. I’m confused sometimes in the hazy moments after sleep, thinking I am in the apartment we all shared, that I will hear you in the other room, that you will emerge and see me and say good morning in between your soft singing. We hear songs on the radio that we think you would’ve liked, so we play them over and over. Turn the volume up without saying anything to each other. We are thinking of you and I like to imagine your face and the sound of your voice if you could have ever known this song and played it as you got ready for work.
I have a recording of you saying happy birthday to me. Thank you, forever. I should tell you that most days I am too afraid to listen to it. Too afraid to recognize your voice, maybe it’s better to let the memory age at the edges just a little. To hear your breath. But sometimes, late at night, when I am driving on the freeway, alone in my car I play your message and turn the volume up as loud as I can and your voice fills me so that for those moments I cannot even hear myself.
I don’t care about my birthday anymore. It is too close to your death.
I wonder if you ever listened to my old voicemails. If you ever had late-night moments like I do when you miss the sound of me. If you held onto my words and the moments that surrounded them. I admit that even as recent as a week ago, I played your old messages. Lights off, just before bed. I snuggled up next to your voice. Wishing I could feel the warmth of your body now, these years later. Your arm around me. The last time I saw you, your arm was around her. I slipped past the both of you. I don’t think you saw me.
In the recordings, you sound so youthful and full of boyish joy. Unashamed giddiness. Recklessly in love. “Hi babe. Hello beautiful. I can’t wait to see you. I love you.” Fragments of love captured in these short sound bites. These tears.
Find the ghost inside this echo, she says. The shrapnel from your war. I assume your body, lean in close to find you in an eye, in a knuckle, in the wedge of a wrinkle. The suture is a place for entering blood memories.
Wet alfalfa, the rooster’s timing so off that we wake before it calls day, the plastic amber light we filtered through your broaches. You are the last of our storytellers, you are the
last to know that I look like my father, carry his rage, his tongue hinged like fault lines in the earth.
Waiting to give way.
From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown:
“Goodnight noises, everywhere.”
#VERYSCARY: For the month of October, we are featuring your favorite scary passages, lines from poems, horror lyrics, creepy writings, etc. Send your favorite to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King:
“It’s watchin’ us” Ralphie whispered.
“Listen, I’m not gonna-”
“No, Danny. Really. Can’t you feel it?”
Danny stopped. And in the way of children, he did feel something and knew they were no longer alone. A great hush had fallen over the woods; but it was a malefic hush. Shadows, urged by the wind, twisted languorously around them.
#VERYSCARY: For the month of October, we are featuring your favorite scary passages, lines from poems, horror lyrics, creepy writings, etc. Send your favorite to email@example.com.
From “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:
I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.
I don’t like to look out of the windows even– there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.
I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?
But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope–you don’t get me out in the road there !
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!
I don’t want to go outside. I won’t, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.
Why there’s John at the door!
It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!
How he does call and pound!
Now he’s crying for an axe.
It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!
“John dear!” said I in the gentlest voice, “the key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!”
That silenced him for a few moments.
Then he said–very quietly indeed, “Open the door, my darling!”
“I can’t,” said I. “The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!”
And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped short by the door.
“What is the matter?” he cried. “For God’s sake, what are you doing!”
I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.
“I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!
#VERYSCARY: For the month of October, we are featuring your favorite scary passages, lines from poems, horror lyrics, creepy writings, etc. Send your favorite to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft:
Dark, frail, and somewhat unkempt in aspect, he turned languidly at my knock and asked me my business without rising. Then I told him who I was, he displayed some interest; for my uncle had excited his curiosity in probing his strange dreams, yet had never explained the reason for the study. I did not enlarge his knowledge in this regard, but sought with some subtlety to draw him out. In a short time I became convinced of his absolute sincerity, for he spoke of the dreams in a manner none could mistake. They and their subconscious residuum had influenced his art profoundly, and he shewed me a morbid statue whose contours almost made me shake with the potency of its black suggestion. He could not recall having seen the original of this thing except in his own dream bas-relief, but the outlines had formed themselves insensibly under his hands. It was, no doubt, the giant shape he had raved of in delirium. That he really knew nothing of the hidden cult, save from what my uncle’s relentless catechism had let fall, he soon made clear; and again I strove to think of some way in which he could possibly have received the weird impressions.
He talked of his dreams in a strangely poetic fashion; making me see with terrible vividness the damp Cyclopean city of slimy green stone – whose geometry, he oddly said, was all wrong – and hear with frightened expectancy the ceaseless, half-mental calling from underground: “Cthulhu fhtagn“, “Cthulhu fhtagn.”
These words had formed part of that dread ritual which told of dead Cthulhu’s dream-vigil in his stone vault at R’lyeh, and I felt deeply moved despite my rational beliefs. Wilcox, I was sure, had heard of the cult in some casual way, and had soon forgotten it amidst the mass of his equally weird reading and imagining. Later, by virtue of its sheer impressiveness, it had found subconscious expression in dreams, in the bas-relief, and in the terrible statue I now beheld; so that his imposture upon my uncle had been a very innocent one. The youth was of a type, at once slightly affected and slightly ill-mannered, which I could never like, but I was willing enough now to admit both his genius and his honesty. I took leave of him amicably, and wish him all the success his talent promises.
This is a collaboration between three writers who are excavating through writing. This is one of many sections to come as we tangle and untangle our histories.
It’s been seven months since the fire. The ashes return to my mouth, dust gathers around the frame.Trails of flame followed us across states and always this desire to not let you go. To keep you breathing, somehow, through a photograph, a memory that rises in moments of forgetting.The incense burns in front of your face, your bones. Your passing: a canyon in our bodies. A rearrangement of everything we knew.
But not without dew, as the bones rearrange. The wet of our winter that guards against the flame. The dew as small as a memory, light as a ghost. In the lacuna of the photograph we gather our losses for the burning. The fire that cleanses, that lifts the leaves of our story high into the belly of the sky. This us, this you. Still tethered to the constellation of a name.
Loosen the tongue from your teeth.
Wrap a vein around the earth till our bodies touch again.
When we met, you wore a pink belt. You stood up from your desk chair and turned toward me. I shook your hand and felt an electric wave pulse through my veins. Your pale blue eyes. My heart beating the beat that knew already, even in that brief moment, that nothing would ever be the same. My lips parted to say hello, and I couldn’t breathe. My lungs tightened in my chest. The color of my blood brightened underneath my skin. My eyes on fire. My palm ablaze.
To speak your name, the letters wrapped around our tongues, pressing against the backs of our teeth. This rage presses against the inside of our skins and I wonder if this is what it was like for you. Anger lava moving slow, rubbing the crust of the back of the skin. Counting the days passing, the mounting pressure. Then a break in the surface. A surge. A volcano. But I thought once it was a geyser. The heat of your scars. I wanted the water to touch you, your burnt skin as you tried to open the body, let loose the wounds.
The map of this love from heart to fingertip. Vena amoris. You told me that story after we lost the war. The one that slipped blood into the ground of our lives. The rift in the ground where the earth cracked open but would not offer water. This cataclysm. The mud pulling away from us. Until even silence had sounds and a petal to place on your tongue. Can we lift the light to eat the shadows. Can the baby be born from a root placed in the ground during the drought. The drought that is a voice, that is a baptism, that is a return. Vena amoris, the stream that still has the abandon to dream.
I can’t bury the bodies in the ground. All the people we created in light of the lack of us. Our twinning to create a story that singes. Light a match against the twist in the bed sheet. A pink flower on the nightstand. Burrowing back toward wood. To begin again. To be born of ash.
the coming storm.
I had imagined this so many times, but in the moment, my hands moved on their own, my body detached from my heart. I felt you but didn’t feel you. I felt the cool air, the mist of the waves. I saw you were there, but didn’t see you in the dark.
It occurred to me in that moment that maybe we were always in the dark, and maybe you were always there but really not there. And maybe your touch was so deep that I never really felt it because its indentation had already changed the shape of my skin, the muscles beneath it.
Maybe all we ever are is an evolution of ourselves, our skin always stretching to hold all of us in. The expansions and retractions. How do we ever know who we are? Some days we are everything to each other. Some days I don’t recognize my own breath. The startling noise of lungs filling themselves. After the fire, it occurred to me there is no way to stop this. The flames burnt everything we knew, but your house still stands. It was there to scavenge through, to smell the smell of your burning, those last moments of your flesh.
The center cannot hold. The neighbors at first hated to see the structure, the right side sloping toward the earth, reaching to the ash, to the return, as if the wood of that house came exactly from that spot of land. Rooted from long ago. The neighbors hated the reminder that the body becomes earth after death. That even if they believed in Heaven or Hell, there is no way to fight body being left behind to become ashes or rot slowly in a box in the ground. Then the months passed, and they began to like your half burned house. Big things don’t happen in small towns. The father wanted the house torn down, uprooted. Erased. Show the ripe pink flesh so the wound can heal. The town wouldn’t let him, wanted to say to any visitor, “That’s the house of the Lost Boy. Got burnt up inside, right there where the beam don’t sit straight. See? Nobody knew till too late. He didn’t make it out. Imagine that.” The glamor of other people’s tragedies. All of this said between tobacco spits, the tar landing on the earth of his overgrown garden. They don’t see where it lands, cannot turn away from the image as they worked the thought out of their minds that they were glad the house was set back away from the street, don’t have to see it if you don’t want to. Don’t have to get too close case his spirit comes. Might be he believed in God. Might be he didn’t, but don’t know where he went. His brother told me he got the hell away from that place though.
Still, they do not understand how his center was not holding, and our lungs keep going, but we are not breathing, and that some days our skin is ripping from the stretching of keeping all of his memories and breaths and movements in.
The inability to let the dead rest. Listening to the lullaby of your bone bits rattling in their box.
The ghosts will always surface. She was a ghost I met in memory. Standing there excavating all the old ways. The body spectacle. The lens can be so complex. And I thought I started in a place of childhood, she tells me. But the words come out like the color blue. Bruised but buoyant. Filtered through the light cast through currents. Her words hold space like a votive, on the body of an old birch tree.
That tree has since been caught in the flood, the one that rushed down Independence and Windward, the flood that masqueraded like a daughter with a knotted heart, the one that lifted all the maps in the town library. As if it meant to wash away the grime of the city, toward the beginning of old roads. The movement of fire is like water, both cleansing toward bone. Speaking the marrow, speaking the country roads. Remembering before there was the memory of us.
So blind is the child that doesn’t see her ghost. Wet skin in the frost.
This they we speak of. The disappeared. The Lost Ones. The almost dreams. The shadows against our walls, bumping against the dimension of life. Seek the open window. Follow the letters of the alphabet, the young child saying, “B for brother.” Hug the full belly, this naming of everything we see.
Has your named changed since you left? What does Neverland call you?
We run along what is left of the river and search for memories there. I found one, between the dry riverbed and the skeleton of a fish. You, swimming along the shore, seeing if you could beat us back home. The exhaustion reached us, from smoke filled lungs you called, “don’t do it, save yourselves!” We laughed at the feigned but real desperation, at the sweetness of your voice. I wonder now if you meant more. I wonder now if you still can smell the heat soaked dirt of the river, the dampness of nothing. That place we all grew up along. We are children of this river, of this five mile strip on the south side of the American. The span of elementary to graduate school, beginning at the place, when you were just a name, where your brother first kissed me. We were fourteen under the tree that’s been torn down for years. The place where initials have been carved into logs we cannot find and how everything is familiar, but the years transform the landscape of our memories and the trails disappear so we run the opposite way.
We enter here to feel like maybe we aren’t really in the city, but if we could just find a raft we could float to the ocean. Dip the feet in, lose a shoe in the water, hold a tree branch that reaches over and scare yourself, just a little, with the power of the current. But today, I cannot find the spot where you entered the river and swam toward home. It sank, perhaps months ago, and I walk into the exposed riverbed and consider sifting your ashes so I can pour part of you into the cracks.
I always felt you near the water. That cloudy afternoon in August 2011 when I didn’t know my name. The name I would soon change. The name I had already crossed out on papers and reimagined in a new cursive. My hand still getting used to the looks of it, even though I had signed it for years, before, as the past me. The identity that was already dissolving into you like the mist of the ocean waves and my salty tears.
I didn’t want to go home yet, so I drove down Newport avenue to the beach wall. The place I would escape to on my 30-minute breaks during my shift at the ice cream shop. I would immerse myself fully into the saltwater, rinse off the sweat and sticky waffle cone bits. Return, my hair soaking. My skin the smell of the sea.
I scanned the horizon looking for you and found you, there, sitting right next to me in a song.
This is our archeology. Our reverie. Three times you have left in the night, disappeared in the sheets, in the stratification of our sentences. Our histories left like artifacts wrapped in the roots of trees where we buried your photograph. I imagine it has been bound by the arms of these roots, that they curl into our smiles, to rewrite chronology. Bleed backwards. We dream in hieroglyphs, they speak to us in sediment and silt.
These three, monolithic, always a brother, a boy wet with sun, a child only growing now in memory.
Building breath, out of a story of loss.
From Jane Eyre:
Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room; at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the
swift darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort. Steps came running along the outer passage; the key turned, Bessie and Abbot entered.
– selected by Meriwether Clarke.
The parking lot seems endless. It is as if a mountain had been tattooed awkwardly with lines and stains and images of cars in rows. I am 17. This, to the best of my knowledge, is college. High school has thudded , middle school has imploded, elementary has long sutured away. It is an unusually warm day and the sky is exhaust. My 1968 mustang has a cracked engine block, leaking radiator, painted over turn signals, an almost lightning shaped tear in the back seat, a boat horn in the trunk, a bent fender, a gas gauge that does not work making shaking the car the way to guess by slosh how far to go and last of all the passenger window is held up by two bricks and a sprinkler head. It has made it to this first day of class and perhaps that is a good sign.