With a beer in one tentacle and a book in another, Paper Darts is taking back the lit scene, one lame pen and quill metaphor at a time.

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Wednesday
Dec312014

Eastman

Michael Sarnowski

[Photography] is an enduring record of many things seen only once in a lifetime and enables the fortunate possessor to go back by the light of his own fireside to scenes which would otherwise fade from memory and be lost.

—George Eastman on the Brownie Camera, 1900

 

As I look at a black-and-white photograph
taken from the backseat of a late ‘50s Chevy,
the driver turned and speaking to the passenger
riding shotgun, one hand on the wheel, a tear
in the fabric of the roof, I think of Eastman.
He made a single frame, the exposure of light
to film, beauty bathed in bleach, resonate.
His imagination grew like early cameras, opened
like an accordion gasping air, pulled into the shape
of a pyramid turned on its side. He made a living
of pausing time, of making instants infinite. He took
memory from darkrooms to billboards and the walls
of our homes. Yet, he too knew his limitations.
To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?
Today I walked through his house, a movement
like a stop bath over a print, to absorb the images
that surrounded him. An elephant head
mounted on the wall. Tusks that reach out
like calcified arms. Floral patterns shaped
from wrought iron, black vines crawling
up walls and over archways. Ashtrays
crafted from animal hooves. Tabletop flowerpots
crafted from animal hooves. An endless archive
of prints and films. Open gardens cut with brick walkways,
an explosion of red shades. Transmission fluid. Dried blood.
The throats of orchids in bloom. 

 


 

Michael Sarnowski earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University, where he was a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. His poetry has appeared in Potomac ReviewMemoir JournalSpry Literary Journal, and Foundling Review, among others. He has been a Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Kingston University London, a writing resident at the Vermont Studio Center, and currently lives in Rochester, New York.

Illustrated by Meghan Murphy.


Wednesday
Dec312014

Feeding Time

Tara Skurtu

OPERATING SYSTEM 

Let me be a line, a word
in the middle of a line
in your poem, conjunction
before I, the suffix
of an action, a single letter
looping the next
to its comma, anything
but a period, any
thing, a number-
four suture, needle
driver, negative
space, wallpaper
of bricks at your head-
board, this fricative
breath—your teeth,
my bottom lip.

 

FEEDING TIME

Every few days, we banged the hollow
legs of the old dining room chairs
down on the concrete until,
like a spray of beads, the smoky brown
cockroaches poured onto the patio
and we scooped them up, carried
them to the aquarium in the garage,
shook them from our tickled hands,
and watched them sprinkle down
to the mouths of our hungry toads.

 


 

Tara Skurtu teaches at Boston University, where she received a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry WalesPoetry Review, Plume, MemoriousDMQ ReviewThe Dalhousie Review, and the minnesota review. Her poems have been translated into Romanian and Hungarian.

Illustrated by Meghan Murphy.


Tuesday
Dec302014

Newfound Grace

Kirby Johnson

Raj stood in the entryway of his cubicle, staring out of the office window, watching one of his coworkers try to back his car into a too-tight parking spot. The mid-sized SUV lurched forward and backward until its broad ass fell center within the two white lines and two much larger SUVs next to it. The rain had started with a sort of clatter—a large rumble, really—that had brought everyone out of his or her cubicle for a moment. They all watched as their coworker squeezed from behind his car door and ran to the building’s lobby.

Even after the excitement of watching people run from the parking lot into the building had passed, Raj stood there watching the cars in the lot below get their first wash of the summer. He could hear everyone saying things about the rain. There were the Thank God’s, the Well, now traffic is going to be horribles, and other low, distant grunts. Raj continued to stand at his window and watch the rain as he imagined his wife sitting in their shared apartment with his mother, bored and watching TV, then went to sit at his desk.

It rained the rest of the night and through the next morning. When Raj got to work the next day, he drank his coffee, a sweet milky mixture made from dark roast beans and chicory, as he watched the rain fall on the cars again. His coworkers came in one by one, wet from the showers. No one owned raincoats in a place like this. They didn’t have monsoons or pleasant summer downpours. All they had was wet hair and soggy shoes. He watched them dry during the hours of morning as they moved from the copier to the break room then back to the copier. He had always thought his coworkers looked like the dull cows that were allowed to tramp around back home. They were so dumb and slow, and he took a gentle pleasure in imagining that one day a man would come and herd them all to Kerala or one of those other places where they took the poor, unknowing creatures for slaughter.

Back home, he had still lived with his mother and wife but their apartment had been smaller. The space wasn’t a concern to him, though, as they had a patio with French doors that allowed in a breeze. His apartment in the states didn’t have a patio or even windows that could open. It had a large AC unit that hummed all day and vents in the walls to pump in cold air. On the weekends when he would wake from his midday nap for tea, it wasn’t like home. Even though his wife, Darti, a gentle woman with delicate hands and long hair, would serve him the same tea and vadas she would in India, it wasn’t the same. There was no breeze to wake him with the smell of the crispy treats coming from the kitchen and no sounds of vendors singing their wares outside before the afternoon storm. His home in America was a series of white rooms in an apartment building that was sealed as tight as a plastic box.

His home in America was a series of white rooms in an apartment building that was sealed as tight as a plastic box.

The rain continued over several more days. The newsmen reported no end in sight. Yet when Raj pulled up to work during a particularly heavy downpour, he noticed that the office building had somehow been transformed. It no longer looked like a wet cement block but had become a beacon. From the car, the gray walls took on an iridescence and the florescent lights of his office glowed warm through the windows. The light was no longer the typical greenish-blue hue, but instead was warm like the sun. He was early to work, but there were people already inside, dark silhouettes moving with papers and thick books in their hands. He left his vehicle with reluctance and noticed a dull ache in his step as he walked, shielding his head from the downpour with a newspaper, to the bright, glowing building.

Within hours, Raj’s whole body began to ache--first the large joints in his arms and legs, and then the flesh that wrapped around the small bones of his fingers and ankles. He went home that evening to soak in a bath, but it didn’t help. Darti worried over his newly aching joints. She rubbed them with oil before bed, but as the rain kept pouring, Raj’s joint’s kept aching. And although he thought he should be used to the downpours, Raj felt his body saying No, not this rain. Not this place.

That night, Raj dreamed of his first monsoons with Darti. She would come home to their flat from the market just has the rains began, her hair and sari wet. He was not working yet after college; his parents supported him during his first year of marriage. He had always been a modernist and insisted on living outside of his parents’ home with his new wife. His father obliged despite Raj’s mother’s protests. Americans didn’t live with their parents after college, and Raj believed that there was no reason why he and his wife should either. Raj had always wanted to be as American as possible. He studied computer engineering exactly for this reason. His dream was to get a job in America and after his father’s passing, he did just that.

In the mornings during the new rain, Raj could hardly move to get out of bed and into the office. At work, everyone went about his or her day more gracefully than ever before. The newfound grace was subtle at first. The receptionist stopped using her headset and began to answer the phone with her hands. I’ve never felt better! she said. It’s amazing. I’m not even using those sticky things on my back anymore. Smell that? It ain’t menthol; it’s roses! Raj looked at her with the large, painful eyes of a cow traveling to the end of his life in misery. He knew this rain wasn’t the same as home. It was something new, something indigenous to this place filled with office parks and fast-food chains. It was like how the milk was sweeter at home but was toxic to tourists. The rain was like milk to these people: a sweet syrup of nourishment but painful for one whose stomach wasn’t accustomed to it.

Raj looked at her with the large, painful eyes of a cow traveling to the end of his life in misery.

The office was a shelter from the storms, but it was more of a circus to Raj. One morning, Raj turned from his desk to see Laura, the girl who had the cubical across the hall, lift her leg above the copier to rest it on the wall as the machine collated and stapled. Once he realized what she was doing, he turned quickly away but not in time for him to avoid her eye contact completely. Raj couldn’t help but blush when Laura turned from the wall and smiled. How could people act like that? What are these Americans thinking? Raj later asked Darti and his mother over dinner. It had been raining for what felt like weeks and he could barely stand upright. Even taking the recycling out to the curb at home was a chore. His wrists had turned inward and his ankles had swollen to grapefruits. By the following week, the rain had slowed but the weather forecast predicted two more weeks of showers.

Darti cared for Raj with the patience of a nurse while his mother made herbal pastes and teas for him in the kitchen, all while bickering about going back home. Their efforts didn’t help. Adding to the swelling joints and cracking skin, Raj began to crave things he had never wanted before. He would let the lunch his wife prepared for him sit in the fridge at work while he drove to Taco Bell to order three chalupas and a Choco Taco, devouring them secretly in his car. He began to drink Mountain Dew. Somehow, he thought, if I just give into these cravings, I will be just like them and the rain will make me feel better. He ate everything that he could, anything he saw on the TV, and he drank the electric green soda while sitting swollen and hunched over at his desk. Raj believed at times that he was feeling better, but then he would move and joints and ligaments would pop or tear.

His body wasn’t returning to normal, no matter what paste his wife massaged into his joints or tea his mother made while cursing America in whispered breaths, but the office was increasingly more animated. People came to work wearing athletic gear. Some would lift weights at their desks, and after several weeks, the auditing department moved their offices from the basement to start to audit people instead of the books. Women in the office would giggle as The Auditors came into cubicles and lifted them above their heads. The Auditors left no stone unturned, no body left sitting. Raj began to fear them, and would crouch behind the water cooler or walk as fast as he could to the bathroom when they came toward his desk, his bones creaking and popping as he moved.

By the third month of rain, a trapeze was erected in the lobby. Sandwich trays were ordered during every lunch, and the staff would circle around the safety netting and yell things like, Swing higher! and, Triple flip, triple flip! Eventually, the smell of sandwiches and sweat would draw Raj, now bloated and hunchbacked, from his cubicle. He would stand in the back, a small glass of Mountain Dew in his cracked, arthritic hands, watching as the director organized everyone, making sure each person had his or her turn to do flips and other tricks. The director or receptionist would yell for Raj to join in, but he would choose to sit off to the side, watching the bodies fly through the air while he dreamed about the sweet smell of rain back home.

 


 

Kirby Johnson is the founding editor of NANO Fiction and the editor of Black Warrior Review. She just started a blog about never leaving her apartment, manichouse.net

Illustrated by Meher Khan.

Monday
Dec292014

Not Blind, Not Deaf, But...An Interview with Georgia Webber

Maria Anderson



Georgia Webber is the comic artist behind Dumb, a series chronicling her severe vocal injury and ongoing (mostly silent) recovery. She is the Comics Editor for carte blanche, Guest Services Coordinator for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and a freelance cartoonist and comics educator. Follow her blog to read the comic and keep up with her other activities: georgiasdumbproject.com

Can you talk about your creative process for Dumb? How do you go about making these? Do you draw them out and scan them? Did you learn to make comic strips from anyone in particular?

I have the most basic materials to work with—printer paper, pencil and eraser, pentel brush pen and micron 1 felt tips, red marker—so my process is complicated in the writing phase, but pretty straightforward in production. I make a short list of all the things I want to say with each comic, each anecdote that I think serves the messages of each story, and any storytelling devices that will serve the content. There are usually three to five major points being crammed into each 24-page comic, and an additional three to fivestorytelling devices or tricks to experiment with. Then I give myself headaches over how to pack it all in and make it read well. Pacing is the real work of writing for me. Rough layouts determine the flow of any comic before I move on to dialogue or clearer scenes. It’s just vague shapes and their relationships flowing from scribbled page to scribbled page until the visual flow is right. (I can definitely send you pictures of this!) (Ed. note: She did! See below.)

I learned to dissect and appreciate comics from an enthusiastic teacher I had in high school, who let me study comics with him independently after I graduated. I think we called it Media Studies or something, but we basically talked about why Bill Watterson is a genius all day for nine months, and then he forced me to make some of my own work. I’m pretty sure my process has completely changed since then…

Wherever you see red, it signifies voice.

What do people most often misunderstand in your comics, if anything?

Most often, people read the red as just a nice design touch, or a representation of noise in the background. The truth is much more meaningful: wherever you see red, it signifies voice.

Did you do comics before you hurt your voice? Some, right, but not often?

When I was doing that independent study course, I made a few comics that were a part of our curriculum. I had made some one-page comics before that, but nothing I kept up. Before Dumb I had produced maybe 30 pages of short comics, but nothing in the last five years, because after that course was done I very quickly jumped to publishing comics, trying to bring the experience I’d had in a supported setting to people around me who were interested. For me, comics was this grand and liberating creative discovery, but one that I could put on hold for myself to help other people have the same experience.

I especially love this part. (See right.)

Can you talk about your inspiration/motivations for this scene?

This scene portrays a party I threw for the bike co-op I was volunteering at, where I did a bunch of work bringing people together to have fun, despite being silent. I had a friend there whom I’d been sort of flirting with for a while, but it was going nowhere—until that night when he made that joke about liking me better silent, and then later I really felt he was coming on to me. The combination of those two events on the same night was really disturbing. It had to be a part of the comic!

What new comic artists are you excited to see develop? Who are some you continue to return to?

There are so many talented cartoonists out there right now, but I’m a substance-oriented reader, high concept and all that, so I’m waiting for most of them to deliver a story that really feels passionate, intimate, bitter sweet, and expertly executed. Some are already on that track, making things that I really like just as they are Sophie Yanow, Cathy G. Johnson, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Dawson Walker, Jack Gross—actually this list is about to get really long! Sam Alden is building an incredible catalogue of skills and interests; when he breaks into more meaty stories, more vulnerable ones, I think it’s gonna blow our minds. The anticipation is fun, to be on the journey with these artists as they explore. 

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec232014

Your Daughter's Heart

Elizabeth Word Gutting

Your daughter’s heart is broken. She curls up like one half of a pair of parentheses on the couch in the darkened living room and listlessly plucks hairs from the crown of her head. You stand in the kitchen and watch as she caresses one fiery-orange strand after another between her thumb and forefinger, examining each with her touch as though she may string a harp with her hair. She yanks the strands in one sudden movement and discards them to the floor. She inherited her red hair from her father. When she sees you watching, she doesn’t stop, but does ask you to bring her a glass of orange juice; you are relieved to have purpose, relieved she has some sort of appetite. But when you report that there’s no OJ in the fridge, she meets the news with a sharp glare that pins you to the wall like the carcass of a butterfly behind glass, your species marked with an italic phrase. Doomed Mother. 

Your daughter’s heart is broken. She’s fifteen and you are still driving her everywhere she needs to be, and so you choose a ride to the orthodontist as an opportunity to ask a few simple questions. You start globally. How’s school? You know that she hates to be asked this question, just as you hate to be asked How are you? by the depressing selection of 50-plus-year-old men who message you on dating sites. If that is all you can think to ask, you want to say, why should I spend even a moment of my time replying? Your daughter apparently shares this sentiment. She doesn’t answer you, just huffs and turns up the radio. Anything new with Caroline? She doesn’t want to talk about Caroline either. You figured this would be the case, because it’s been weeks since you’ve seen her with her new nitwit friend, but you can’t help yourself. You’ve never liked Caroline—such false reverence, with that high-pitched baby voice and her tangled mop of hair that she constantly twists over one shoulder and then flips to her back. You have one more question, but if you get another strike, you will be shut out of conversation for good. You spend the rest of the ride in deliberate silence.

You know that she hates to be asked this question, just as you hate to be asked How are you? by the depressing selection of 50-plus-year-old men who message you on dating sites.

Your daughter’s heart is broken. Finally, this is how you know. On a Saturday evening she calls you from her father’s apartment, panicked. She’s lost one hoop from a pair of gold earrings. Is the missing one at your house? That’s what she says—your house—as if she doesn’t live with you 85 percent of the time. You practice deep breathing and walk with the cordless phone into her room. You gave her this pair of gold hoops, and see the glint of one immediately, on the floor, next to her diary, which has a pattern of raised purple stars splayed across its front cover. It’s in your bedroom, you say, and wish that you had taken one more deep breath before you spoke. But she is too relieved to take anything as a jab, and tells you she loves you, and hangs up. You sit for a long time on her bed, holding the journal in your hands. The December sun sets quickly and soon you reach over to pull the dangling silver cord of her bedside lamp. You realize you’re not leaving the room until you open up the journal and read.

Your daughter’s heart is broken. You skip past the good times, telling yourself you need only the basics: his name is Geoff, they first kissed at the end of August, and once, on a Wednesday, they skipped school together and—for God’s sake, what should you do with this information?—took ecstasy. You are definitively holding your breath, stifling it like you never want to let it out of your lungs again. You keep skipping ahead to get to the bad times, to get up to the present date, but then your eyes land on a sentence that you will worry over for weeks to come. I don’t want to ask Mom about getting on birth control, because she’s so awkward about absolutely everything related to sex. UGH. You feel a stab in your heart. You want to say to her: That’s not true. At the same time, you want to tell her she’s too young for birth control, and certainly too young for sex. While you have always thought of yourself as an open-door type of parent, she has gotten the exact opposite impression. How can that be? But you can’t dwell. You must go on. Because your daughter’s heart is broken.

You are definitively holding your breath, stifling it like you never want to let it out of your lungs again.

Here is what happened: her father grounded her the weekend of a big dance—he’s always trying to assert his control in ways you find transparent and childish, but for some reason, she’s always caving to his angry impulses. If you had grounded her on a weekend that important to her, you would have had hell to pay. And even at the time, when she told you glumly upon her return to your house that her father had punished her, the reasons for the grounding were unclear to you. Now, for a moment, you panic. You flip back several pages, searching for the answer. The room suddenly feels cold. Did her father know about the Wednesday she skipped school to do psychotropic drugs? Did he know and not tell you? No. It’s something else. She talked back to him in some way. You can’t help it—this makes you smile. One snarky comment, for which she is—in your mind—famed for, and he relegated her to spending the weekend at his apartment, holed up and fuming at him. I really hate my father, she wrote. This doesn’t make you smile; actually, it makes you want to cry. Apparently Geoff could commiserate, though, because his parents are pieces of shits too. Well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Four pages later, and you learn that Geoff took the opportunity of a weekend away from your daughter to fuck her new nitwit friend Caroline in his car. According to another friend of Caroline’s, they didn’t use a condom, because Caroline is on the pill. You want to shake all of these girls, but then you chastise yourself. You should want to shake Geoff more than any of them. But it’s just so heartbreaking for you because Caroline is hardly sorry; she’s mainly confused that your daughter didn’t realize the relationship was doomed to end. You hear yourself asking aloud to your daughter’s lonely bedroom: Aren’t they all?

Now, for a moment, you panic.

Your daughter’s heart is broken. Dawn is breaking and the journal sits on your lap. Your daughter is asleep at her father’s and won’t be home for hours. You should get some sleep yourself, but instead you make a pot of coffee. You think you’ll wait up until 3:00 p.m. when she is due back home, and then you will take her in your arms and hug her and say you missed her this weekend, and you know she will squirm, but you won’t care because it will feel so good to put your chin over her shoulder. In this way, you will let her know that she is your baby, that you will always hold her heart in yours, you will always care for her. You won’t breathe a word about the ecstasy. You won’t tell her how you worry, without rest, about all that you can’t control. You will take her hands in yours and ask her what she wants to do with the rest of the day, and even if she says she wants nothing to do with you, that she just wants to be alone, you will say, Anything you want. You will mean it, more than you’ve ever meant anything.

 


 

Elizabeth Word Gutting’s fiction has appeared in Treehouse, Connotation Press, The Quotable, and Defying Gravity, an anthology published by Paycock Press. Born and raised in St. Louis, she has lived in rural Ohio, the Mission District of San Francisco, and on a tangerine farm on the island of Jeju in South Korea. Now she lives in Washington, D.C., and dreams of adopting a dog.

Illustrated by Meher Khan.