Tag Archives: literary

Gary Young

3 Poems

The porch light throws shadows on the far side of the canyon. The pickets and posts of the railing cast the bars of an enormous cage, and I can see a giant—dark, featureless—pace between the redwoods and the granite cliffs. At last, he stops, soothed by the stream flowing over boulders and stones that snag the black water and give it voice.

*

We walked past the jail where a woman shouted to someone waving from the window of his cell. At the corner of 4th Street and Broadway, a sign on a shuttered bar said, Goodbye—and thanks to our loyal customers. Delivery trucks had snapped the lower limbs off the sycamores that lined the street, but the leaves high above rustled in a breeze coming in from the bay. Gene and I stepped into his lobby. An orchid sat on a brushed steel shelf. The elevator opened, closed, and when it opened again, we were at Gene’s door. Elizabeth’s hat and scarf were still hanging in the hall. That’s where she died, where Gene had asked, are you leaving me, and she’d said, yes.

*

In the facility, those who could, spoke, and those who could not, listened. A woman stood to the side. Her face was placid, but it was clear that she wanted to join in. At last there was a pause, and she asked no one in particular, am I dead?

###

Gary Young has been awarded grants from the NEA and the NEH. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and his book of poems, The Dream of a Moral Life, won the James D. Phelan Award. He is the author of several other collections of poetry including Hands; Days; Braver Deeds, winner the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize; No Other Life, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award; Pleasure; and Even So: New and Selected Poems. His most recent book is Adversary. In 2009 He received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. He teaches creative writing and directs the Cowell Press at UC Santa Cruz.

Tom Whalen

Hero

Every hero the writer must approach only approximately. The eyes, for example, must resemble Roman candles, like the eyes of the actors in Wilhelm Meister arriving at night in freight wagons before the castle of a count, as noted in Jean Paul’s School for Aesthetics. Her hair may be red, a vibrant color appropriate on the heads of heroes, no matter her country of origin or how deep down lost she may be. Red signifies all I find vital, all that burns, loves, and dies. I will choose my heroes as carefully as the next writer, though perhaps, unlike them, I will choose my colors better. Trees line the avenues of my thoughts as I compose myself again for the day, which perhaps in no sense need be considered heroic. My description must be natural, despite ignoble nature, which winds its way into the voice speaking to me from a castle window. Is it raining? Am I in the courtyard or in a small boat? Do I sing songs? Is the hero herself a singer? Does the moon shine on the water? Later, deeper into the night, court musicians will serenade the queen, while I continue concocting lyrics to my hero’s heroism. Is my act, too, then, one of heroism? That I even ask proves it’s not. But then the question arises, Who is the hero trying to fool? To which I respond, aligning greatness with the small, Only herself. True value comes only from the original, which the hero in every way is, no matter how closely her behavior adheres to the pattern. Relating the parts of the pattern to the whole is where she performs her magic. How is it, you may ask, that she colonized the eye of this spectator? Had I another four hours I might answer that question, but in forty minutes I must be back at my unheroic work behind the desk of a desk, where I retrieve and send notes the point of which I do not understand. The hero, on the other hand, at every turn of the wheel widens my perspective. With a look, she can turn monsters into innocent youths asleep on hillside meadows beneath austere, imposing mountains, like the brow of a deity angered by her charges who sleep on unaware. Like me, the hero herself must work through the lunch hour, especially on days of great stress, e.g., the day the rent is due or a lover or child has forgotten to call. But what fool would do that? Certainly I wouldn’t, given the opportunity to importune my hero, which isn’t likely, nor would I dishonor her with a request greater than bringing me a glass of water, which indeed would be welcome after an hour adrift on the sea of eternity shouting Fenster and Salvation into the wind like some idiot schoolboy. But then is not my hero also imprisoned in a castle of her own making? Yes, with the exception that her castle rests on the top of a tree (Yggdrasil) and mine on Herweghstrasse in Stuttgart, Germany, at 11:31 a.m., May 6, 2016, the day before my mother’s birthday, dead these past forty-one years. The hero, too, lost her mother, but at an even younger age than I. The first time I saw her she was bent over, her arms plunged up to her elbows in two sacks of barley. A strange green light suffused the granary. But this isn’t why I credit her heroism. The hero exerts no moral fee from those she saves. The raven she changed back from a prince can only shake its dark head in confusion, then wander off into the woods until that time it’s again of use to the narrative. A psychic otherness surrounds the hero, for whom cognition is ontology. By the way, these opinions and resolutions I express here are occasions of joy. Even if she were to call me a malicious old monkey? But what am I saying? I’m neither your typical primate nor old, nor can I imagine—except during my weaker moments—she giving a fig for me. The hero doesn’t want to arouse pleasure, but to conjure things. Surely I haven’t conjured her, but has she conjured me? Best not think too much about that. The hero’s aesthetics—which I have had the pleasure of observing, like a diner another diner dining alone in a distant, poorly lit corner of a Parisian restaurant on rue de Rivoli—match her ethics to a T. I cannot doubt them anymore than I can wish them or her away. While I devised my lyrics, was she dreaming me into or out of the world? In other words, am I asleep or dead? Hurry. I’m almost out of time. The same I will not nor can say about the hero. Have I ever loved or been loved? Was there a time before which I cannot remember, and if not, then why do I bother to speak of it? What questions I ask! A ninny could do better. So could the hero, should she be so inclined. Soon all that will be left of me is a primitive phantasm to which no reality adheres. The night is as clear as a pebble, the stars constellations of her dreams. If she were a statue snowily glowing in the dark of night, I wouldn’t find her anymore heroic, considering what she is, which defeats my powers of description and make-believe. Not that that is a prerequisite to hero worship or that my essay has anything to do with Carlyle or Byron. No, the hero I’ve essayed herein lives modestly in a condition considered by some as domestic bliss, by others as domestic horror. My own opinion of the matter is hardly relevant. I live alone in a small back room where nightly not a single idea or possibility parades past exclaiming, “How will I live without her?”

~~

Tom Whalen’s books include Dolls (prose poems), Winter Coat (poems), and The President in Her Towers and The Straw That Broke (novels). His translations of short prose by Robert Walser, Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, was recently published by New York Review Books.

(In real time, the Walser book comes out on September 13.)

Shivani Mehta

the invisible girl can be anything she wants when she doesn’t want to be invisible

A snow leopard, a tree, an owl. Her favorite is any winged creature. Bats,
dragonflies.

The invisible girl senses her mother’s grief at the invisible girl’s impermanence. She
sees it in the unrelenting length of her mother’s hair, her skirt’s worn hem. But the
invisible girl cannot help herself. She longs to be tangible, to know where she ends
and the rest of the world begins. She envies the concrete bodies of other girls, their
silhouettes, the way light must travel around instead of through them.

The invisible girl wasn’t always invisible. When she was born the invisible girl was
merely translucent, as if she were the daughter of a ghost or thin fog. Her favorite
places in the house – doorways, open windows. The invisible girl feels a kinship with
the wind. Sometimes she pretends that the wind is a girl named Effie. Now Effie, the
invisible girl likes to say, I’ll hold this end of the curtain, you twirl it around like a
scarf.

the invisible girl and the curiosity of strangers

The invisible girl arrives home from school to find her bedroom turned into a
museum, her mother selling tickets at the door. Nine dollars. Inside, a crowd of
people leafs through brochures, congregates near the foot of the invisible girl’s bed.
They tug at the sheets, stroke the lace frills on her pillow. Even the alarm clock on
the invisible girl’s nightstand is passed around and inspected, the knob on its back
turned. Across the room people rifle through the invisible girl’s chest of drawers. A
woman in a fur coat scans the titles of books on a shelf: The Self According to Rene
Descartes; The Man Who Tried To Weigh his Soul; Horticulture: a beginner’s guide (7 th
edition).
In the invisible girl’s bathroom, a man lifts the lid on the toilet to peer
inside. His wife fondles a bar of soap in the shower. Intriguing, she says, raising her
camera. Suddenly, the invisible girl is aware of a tingling sensation. She understands
that this is the closest she’ll ever come to being seen. She wonders if her insides look
like the pages of her notebooks, which are pinned open above her desk like
butterflies in a display case.

the education

Everything I know about mourning, I learned from my father. A professional mourner like his father before him, he knew thirty-three different ways of appearing desolate. Most people only know four. We lived above the mortuary. The corpses never bothered me, they were easy to get along with and didn’t mind the dark. We went to funerals every day, my father was the best mourner. Sometimes he even told jokes, a man walks into a morgue and starts shooting, when he leaves everyone’s still dead. One of the great benefits of our work – we never had to worry about food. It was always catered, there was usually baked brie, paté on toast points, two different kinds of champagne. My father said his favorite part of a funeral was the women. They always smiled at him as they walked by in their black silk dresses, made
him think of sailboats on a summer night gliding on the water.

~~

Shivani Mehta was born in Mumbai and raised in Singapore. Her first book,
Useful Information for the Soon-to- be Beheaded, is out from Press 53 and
her work has appeared in numerous journals. A recovering attorney,
Shivani lives near Los Angeles with her 5 year old twins, two cats, a
husband, and several fish.