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Sunday
Dec212014

Mother Made Me Think Escalators 

Lauren Krouse 

Brother 

John says it’s a long way out, and
has he made it out? As far as I know,
he doesn’t take meds anymore and
for that, I feel like a failure. He said,

“You don’t need them, nobody needs
them,” and I made the mistake of
replying, “They work for me.”
And the image of him in my head

will always be a chameleon burning
in the oven of our childhood home in
Tennessee, note stuck in the door
Mom wouldn’t let me read. Scent of

fresh-baked cookies candle mingling
with charred color-drained skin, him, hurrying away
down the hill, rusted-over bike he
hardly ever touched before, never again,

and I like to imagine it was red, but I can’t
remember and I don’t think it was;
it was probably blue.

Mother made me think escalators 

would suck up my body
by a tattered shoelace, that I could disappear
into a Jacuzzi jet and into death.
She made me believe candy was
poisoned, beggars were liars, and
if I didn’t wear a seatbelt, well, then somebody
would be obliged to hit me and kill me and
make cheek meet window meet sky and tree.
Always, death. Because each mole could be
cancer; cancer, the wall you can’t jump over
or maneuver around any way. End game.
I became convinced cancer was hiding
inside me, just waiting, selfish and silent.
Loving him, I learned, would leave me alone
when I got sick and he saw it, the black ink
in my eyes, invading my veins, thinning my skin.
So I took the creaking stairs, I remembered to sit up straight,
I ate little, I helped the poor, the truly poor, I was a seatbelt-wearer
and a hypochondriac. I waited for the cancer. I held back from the one
I loved for a year long just to sleep, fuck around all my college days
because I was tired of waiting, Mom. (I won’t tell
Mom) Not everybody meets their husband in middle school.
I stood tiny in the city and I got asthma and allergies from the
cigarette smoke of other English majors who rolled their own
and pretended to like the grandmotherly smell of incense.
I hadn’t enough friends to worry of the word reputation, so I
spoke the truth and lost some, and I was a bit of a whore
but found happiness I hadn’t felt since before escalators.
Happiness, in a bottle of red wine passed around a hotel room.
Mom went to counselors and she ate odd herbs (ones I would’ve took
if it wasn’t for birth control) and she cried and cried and I just wish
we’d never been so damn afraid to climb on, to know we were too alive
for death, to not crash through the windshield, to never see,
oh, the sight of the shimmering, the tiny, thousands of glass-shard stars.

 


 

Lauren Krouse works as a curriculum writer and copywriter by day and creative writer by night. Her writing in various forms has appeared in publications such as College of Charleston Magazine, Gravel Literary Magazine, Sanctuary, Miscellany, A Narrow Fellow, and The Journal.

Illustrated by Meher Khan.

Friday
Dec192014

Strange Love and Bathroom Culture: Interview with Chelsea Martin

Maria Anderson

Chelsea Martin, photographed by Caitlin Snodgrass

Chelsea Martin "studied" (her quotes, not ours) art and writing at California College of the Arts and is currently the creative director at Universal Error. She's the author of Everything Was Fine Until Whatever (2009), The Really Funny Thing About Apathy (2010), Even Though I Don't Miss You (2013).

What are you working on now?

A novel about “love,” a collection of memoir essays, a set of temporary tramp stamps for middle-aged women, and a pamphlet about how to navigate a career in hand modeling.

I know this is a pretty general question, but what are you trying to convey in your comics? A lot of your strips are about particular moments in a relationship that are strange and subtle and sometimes a little ugly. Are these all taken from real life?

I guess I’m trying to convey how life feels to me. There are these strange or confusing moments, or conversations that seem really ambiguous and open-ended the more I think about them. And they begin to seem really meaningful and heavy because I’ve spent so much time thinking about and analyzing them, and I sort of lose touch with the actual moment.

I think the form of comics really adds to this idea, because it takes so much time to conceptualize and layout and draw and scan, that the message seems to gain all this weight and significance that may or may not have been when the moment actually happened, which, to answer the last question, maybe did or maybe didn’t actually happen.

How did you get started making comics? What’s your process like? What kind of equipment do you use?

I studied both writing and illustration in college, and comics are a pretty natural combination of both. But writing is definitely the core aspect of my comics, and I see the drawings as a vehicle to pace and contextualize and set a mood to the writing.  

I use printer paper and pens and markers. I don’t plan things out very well, so a lot of times the panels for a comic are on a bunch of different pages and I have to composite everything in Photoshop.

I’m always interested in creative peoples’ obsessions. Susanne Lamb, an illustrator I interviewed in May, is into goats and not wearing socks at the moment. What are you most drawn to right now? What can you not stop yourself from thinking about?

Right now I’m really interested in office bathroom culture. Like, what people say when they see each other in the bathroom. Recently I saw a coworker in the bathroom and we had a conversation about potatoes. Not a short conversation, either. We dug pretty deep.

Also, I’ve been trying to only use stalls that are adjacent to already-occupied stalls as a personal challenge having to do with choosing the least comfortable option from a selection of non-ideal options.

If your creative process were a type of geographical area, what would it be? A meal?

For a geographical area, maybe this corner in my neighborhood where abandoned couches are mysteriously piling up.

For a meal, maybe a kind of Lebanese wrap whose main feature is not meat but a nut mixture you’re too embarrassed to ask about, followed by sweet corn ice cream from the place you went to because you wanted butter ice cream, but they didn’t have the butter ice cream this time :-(

You have a few books out, right? Can you talk about balancing creating visual art and writing?

I don’t try to balance it at all. All of my ideas start with writing, so that’s what’s more important to me. If I don’t have visual ideas, I don’t pursue that.

If I do work on a visual project, then that does cut into writing time, but I feel fine with that, and I usually feel more excited to write again.

Which contemporary writers and artists are you most into at the moment? 

Chris D’elia. Jesse Moynihan. Maria Bamford. Nathan Fielder. Emily Gould.

Wednesday
Dec172014

Meeting Sebastian

Jono Naito

"Now run," Whispered Stacey before she darted into her home. What I thought was a goodnight, maybe a third-date kiss, became a wholly unromantic sprint. I stumbled through rooms with no lights on, with her screaming at the top of her lungs about how I had to run faster and faster. Before I knew it we were panting and laughing, sitting against the locked bedroom door. She was so glad we made it that we had sex for the first time. Even with the delight of fresh fingers and lips I could not focus. Instead what I felt as we cuddled, naked and nested in sheets, was fear; I wondered what was in her head, or perhaps, what was in her house. She didn't let me leave until dawn.

I didn't return to Stacey's place for three more dates. "I get nervous about people coming over," she said on date four, and I chalked it up to shame about the mess of things. "You know I always had a love for volleyball, at least I did," she said on date five, and I guessed she missed taking a jog with a friend. "You never know how to break the ice with new people. I know the feeling. I always try to make everything push over the edge, you know? I want to see someone show their willingness to be themselves before I do." By the sixth date I figured it was just for the rush. It easily topped every awkward porch-front kiss I had experienced before, which was one and a half. When I told her that her laugh was just polite.

About a month in, Stacey invited me back over. I wore sneakers just in case, maybe to make a joke and run a little lap through the kitchen and dining room, and make a tour of it. When we got there she placed a key in the front door, looked at me, and asked, "Ready?"

"For what?"

"To run. Every time. Only way to be safe."

I trampled my way through her house, all but the doorways a curtain of pitch-black, and wished we could perhaps come before sundown next time. Again we sat and caught our breath in the bedroom, and again we had sex, and it only felt stranger. When Stacey had propped herself on a stool by the windowsill to take a cigarette, I made my move.

"So are we just staying up here tonight?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Oh," she said, switching the way she crossed her bare, long legs, "I figured you would have noticed it the second time through."

"Noticed what?"

"The monster."

Her adamant face made me wonder about how close I had parked my car, but I waited for the punch line. Nights before, at taverns and movies and walks through Chinatown, she was deadpan in her humor. I would lean close to read price tags, until my face nearly touched the window, and she would tell me the glass wasn't for sale.

"Can I ask for elaboration?" I asked.

"You may." Stacey took a long drag on her cigarette, letting the smoke drip up her face.

"Elaborate, please?"

"You can hear it, if you try," she said, staring across the street, "It's very real. It'll kill me dead, I know it. I feel those long fingers every time." She seemed to disappear a little.

I didn't adjust how I sat, or ran, and to that she smiled. "You're still here. I thought you'd think I was crazy."

It's very real. It'll kill me dead, I know it. I feel those long fingers every time.

I would be a fool to think fears are rare. My very own little sister, complete with night terrors, had tormented me for years in our childhood apartment, where we had the misfortune of sharing a room for far too long. I would stand, all lights on, in the middle of the room, looking around with a bat, until Caley would pass out from the exhaustion of shaking under her quilt.

"I can go check for it," I said, "I can show you there is no monster, that it's all up here." I touched a finger to my temple.

The room shook when she stood. "No you won't."

"What?"

"If you get shredded, it'll be on me. Don't you dare."

I stood too. "It'll be fine, trust me. I can help."

Her hand clamped my arm, and Stacey stared with full eyes at the door. Tears started to sprinkle onto her bare collarbone.

"Please."

I walked to the door, dragging her behind me, hands still glued to my flesh. I pulled on my clothes haphazardly as I took the door-handle.

"Are you insane?" she asked, "Just listen to me."

I didn't, and I walked out of her room. The door shut behind me and a lock went click. Muffled sobbing now underpinned the silent moaning of the two-story home. There was another bedroom and a bathroom, doors all ajar. Step by step, I felt the eeriness of it all. The heavy thick blanket of darkness, and windows placed in such ways that no lamps outside gave much illumination. I figured, light switches, those were the answer. When I reached the living room, as I could feel by big, velvet shapes, I ran fingers about the walls until I found a switch.

I flicked it, and nothing happened.

I did again and again, up and down, and wondered if this is what my sister saw under her covers so many times. It was suffocating, and a gentle coolness had begun to stroke my neck. I spun, and spun again, and backed through an archway into a dining table. I began to flail my arms in semi-martial movements, here and there, just in case something was there. My toes dug into the floorboards with each step, and I found myself willingly rushing about, trying every switch. No, no and no. None of them worked.

I spun, and spun again, and backed through an archway into a dining table. I began to flail my arms in semi-martial movements, here and there, just in case something was there.

I considered the front door, but my shoes were still upstairs. As I jogged, then ran, towards the steps, the goose bumps on the entirety of my skin began to wrap tight, until the pressure of unknown shapes and forms scraped deep in the rippled tissues of my core. A hand, long-fingered, grabbed me and held me back, and another turned me around. I was trapped, and I scrounged around my pocket for my lighter. Arms crushing in the grip, face wet with an unseen, moaning breathing, and the deafening rumble of organic moving parts pressed against me, I sparked the flame.

In the little light I saw an inverted nose, surrounded by bushel hairs and two, wide-set eyes. Before I could scream, the creature let go and gasped a human gasp. I couldn't help but pause my terror, and heard the monster, very real and only imaginable in nightmares, speak to me in a light male voice, like that of an English teacher.

"I am so sorry."

The long fingers waved apologetically as I stood there, heartbeat threatening to burst my fingertips and the flame between us. I couldn't deduce the breadth of him, but he was already crouched to compromise with the ceiling. He placed his ribcage fingers together in a small bow. "Please forgive me, I thought you were Stacey. She normally doesn't have anyone over."

I brushed myself off to seem casual, but I could tell I was shaking my bones into a fine powder. "I would guess she brings no one over because of you."

The creature, his neck beneath matted fur bending between articulations of limbs, gave a shrug.

"Are you keeping the lights off?" I asked, nodding at the ceiling.

"Oh yes, my apologies again. That's me too. Don't want her turning on the lights, you know?"

My turn to shrug, feeling some comfort; his eyes weren't feral, but drowsy and half-closed. "You don't seem as dangerous as she says. She is so terrified up there, you know?"

"I know, right?" he said, "I'm just her husband."

My organs leapt together, and landed on all the wrong shelves. The monster then began to make a noise; a rhythmic gulping sound that I then realized was held-back laughter.

"I'm just kidding. Don't worry, I'm just here to eat her, not you." He held out his hand. "Sebastian. Nice to meet a friend of Stacey's."

Don't worry.
I'm just here to eat her, not you.

"Marcus," I said, going with my full name for once. His violin bow fingers were slimy, like they had been dipped in Brie, but I gave them a good shake. "I am going to head upstairs then. Hopefully you won't be breaking down the door."

Sebastian shook his head, layered thorns swishing. "No, that's against protocol. I'll just eat her if she comes out." I found myself laughing. He didn't agree. "Don't let her see you laughing. It would be unfair, get her off guard. I'll really eat her." The last few words were serious, serious as Stacey.

That night, Stacey just told me again and again how brave I was, that it gave her hope. I asked her about the monster and she told me well until after I had fallen asleep about all her close calls and battles, once even feeling her arm, wrist-deep, down the beast’s throat before beating it away with a small toaster. I could imagine her dread, facing Sebastian's apparent hunger, and decided to help her.

"Did you see it?" she asked, bringing me out of half-sleep, her words rumbling across my chest.

"I think so," I said, and I felt her smile.

It only took two days for Stacey to bring me back again, this time during the day. I wandered about her house, seeing the deep brown dining table and the green sofa as a new, fearless world. Every cabinet, I opened; every closet, I peeked inside. When she wondered what I was looking for, I said I was trying to guess where he, the monster, lived. She laughed like it was a good joke, and changed topic to her closest friend, who had pressured her to move to the coast ever since she finished college.

Every cabinet, I opened; every closet, I peeked inside. When she wondered what I was looking for, I said I was trying to guess where he, the monster, lived. She laughed like it was a good joke.

"I felt that the best way into analytics was through office work, not a masters," she said, being herself in her own home, plopping into her one big chair.

"Well if you head to a city, you'll have less of an issue, I would think." I waved my arms around in an attempt to be spooky as I said it. "Leave your monster behind."

"Oh no, Mark," she said, leaning forward, "I have always had that around. Always. Since as far back as I can remember. It follows me."

I nodded and let our talking drift back into the trading of younger stories, until the lights began to flicker on their own; the sun had almost set, and a rodent-like fear had squeezed through Stacey's persona. "Let's go," she said, pulling towards the stairs. Short of the first landing, I stopped her and said I was going to make a phone call. She nodded, visibly shaking, and let go. "Be quick."

Standing alone in the center of the living room, I said, "It's me, Marcus." There was a slithering sound and a chair somewhere made sliding noises. I pulled out a small flashlight I had brought with me and turned it on. Sebastian was sitting on the big chair where Stacey had been, carapace bent up about his stomach and vestigial, rotting arms huddled close.

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Monday
Dec152014

Trouble Breathing

Zackary Medlin

The night sky forgets itself
like a thrashing Chinook
hooked deep in the gills,
gnashing its own blood
with the bone-pale shards
entrenched in its black gums.

Look at how goddamned ugly
the stars are, like scars peeking
through the gauze and seeping.
This is all we have to navigate by.
It’s enough. Stay the course.

But, Captain, I fear what’s below,
what seethes in blood. But more
than I fear, I surge and yearn
to resist definition by those
connect-the-dot gods at odds
with what they’ve created.
I too have the bite of a titan
and a taste for fresh, familiar flesh.

 


 

Zackary Medlin is a 2013 AWP Intro Journal Award Winner and holds an MA & MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He currently lives in Salt Lake City, where he is a PhD candidate at the University of Utah. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Adirondack Review, Watershed Review, and Mid-American Review.
Illustration by Dan Forke.

Friday
Dec122014

Love Poem to Tumblr (And Maybe the Idea of the Internet)

R. Claire Guest

 

Cumberland Island, Georgia

I wonder if the oaks believe in their evolution
or smile smug, hardwood assurance
If they experience existential comfort without possessing
eyes that peek through a veil of bark skins 

Without seeing the similarities between the cracks in the hooves of the horses
and the negative space wedged between one million branches
the weight of a thousand years alone
among crows and squirrels of the maritime forest

The palmettos all bravado rise
green suns up to their ancient waistlines
and I am listening to whatever a fiesta sounds like
when it parades out of these crowned stalks
against the rain
They are not as self-aware as the looming
mossy shags like mane hanging

Do the trees confess to each other
that their gnarled hands seek
a grasp of things beyond

seek an ascendency

Are their bodies splitting apart only to encompass
the width of the sky like a root bed
Will those tendrils merge unified in open space
again, once and for all 

 

Love Poem to Tumblr (and maybe the idea of the internet)

People of the internet, I love you
without knowing you, or at least your faces
I only know your bodies
of work, the ways you twist your vowels and grammar
the physicality of your colors, shapes of notions
philosophies careening through television skins
the ever-expanding lives of fictions you love 

How could I not know you
with your breathing all over these windows
making the most out of negative space using small
fingers in ways our ancestors couldn’t imagine
spread over the keyboard
on the drum machines and touch screens and Wacom tablets
paintings that only exist in a cyber mind
a platonic wet dream

Tumblr is the poetry of enthusiasm
guising itself in the form of a website
and you are the avatar fractured
over the course of small boxes
content upon content
beautiful dresses and the way women smile
when they are sad, or kittens yawning
sometimes even a gaping pit of pornographic
mannequins massaging the masochism of our greed
and hunger and even a little psychosis
Hysteric faces stretched grinning with eyes too big
limbs and forms twisted through the software
of our own grotesque, compelling 

What a time to be alive, when
the heart can move in accordance with the suspended motion of
gif sets, as easily as words or hands painting on walls
first languages now transformed
via pixel and digital dialectics

The feedback loops between what we cre-
ate and what we consume
is only the length of the time it takes to
marvel at the secret insides of humans
dancing on a screen at 3:00 a.m.
and hasn’t this been the whole point
all along
scrolling as the perfect metaphor
evolution

 


 

R. Claire Guest lives, works, and writes poetry in Birmingham, Alabama. Her poetry has appeared elsewhere in Vending Machine Press. A recent escapee from academia, she now spends a lot of time making sandwiches, sitting on her porch with her calico roommate, and frolicking through the woods. 

Illustration by Meghan Irwin.