Ohio University

Quarter After Eight Table of Contents image

Table of Contents

Quarter After Eight Table of Contents

Featured Work

Short Prose | Fiction | Nonfiction | Poetry | Experiments

Short Prose

"Moon Bone"
 - Maggie Sivit

"Warning"
 - Alexandra Comeaux

"Everything Goes Under, Eventually"
 - Eric Andrew Newman

"Clinic"
 - Kerry Muir

"Jellyfish"
 - Tom Howard

"Bicycle"
 - Becky Hagenston

"I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise"
​ - Diane Seuss

Fiction

"Solipsism"
 - Matthew Purdy

"Text Message: University Crime Alert"  - Lana Spendl

"Hula"
​ - Jacqueline Doyle

Nonfiction

"On Erasure"
- Mary Ruefle

"Camping Tayo"
 - Jen Palmares Meadows

"A Lover's Discourse: Fragments of Barthes in the Arctic Circle"
​ - Traci Brimhall

Poetry

"No Telling"
 - Sarah Lindsay

"Grotto as Boat in Memory of" 
 - Karen Holman

"EF-Scale, Explained"
 - Patrick Wilcox

"Inspecting the Big Window"
​ - Linwood Rumney

Experiments

Erasure
 - Kelly Nelson

"Monsters"
​ - Dianna Calareso


Moon Bone
Maggie Sivit
Winner of the 2016 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 23

In the bathroom there are instructions for peeing in a cup; (“Cleanse the meatus,” it says; “Give urine sample to front desk personnel”). I have a friend who doesn’t eat meat—not because he thinks it’s wrong to kill animals but because he can’t stand things with bones in them; something about the thought of teeth on bone. (We ate together once at a long table, everyone eating pork and chicken, and he kept his eyes carefully averted from people’s plates; knives scraping flesh off of bones.)
 
In Room 7, there’s a tile floor and a curtain on a rod, behind which a doctor is saying: “—hyponatremia—,” “—low sodium—,” and “—swelling in the brain—.” When he walks out, she lifts her head and says, “I feel like they don’t know what they’re doing.” My dad says, “No, they do...” She becomes almost hysterical, saying, “A boy died here last week.” I don’t know what she’s talking about but then she lies back on the bed, covered in a coat; she’s wearing fleece leggings and (for some reason) hiking boots. The part of her leg that shows looks so thin I could close around it with two fingers and have them touch, tip to tip.
 
(—her daughter sniffs and asks, “Wait, what does that mean?” My dad repeats everything, slowly: “Hyponatremia… low sodium… Nutrition...”)
 
In the waiting area, they count quarters by the vending machine while I walk around. (What will happen? A place in Denver... something called “refeeding”.) I see: Stretchers and wheelchairs crowded in a corner. More floor tiles in beige and colors that aren’t beige but somehow close to it (“beige-like”, if that makes sense). Windows overlooking a parking lot. The moon behind clouds. (The word “lunacy” comes from “lunar” → “luna”, referring to intermittent insanity thought to be caused by phases of the moon.)
 
It’s almost Halloween. On the wall, there’s a moth—a Chinese moon moth—which I initially think is a watercolor painting but after reading the description realize is a digital scan of a moth, made by a professor who “lured them nightly into his office,” and for whom “what began as a casual fascination turned into an obsession.” (He scanned the moths immediately after killing them, so that their colors wouldn’t fade.)
 
(She told my dad once it’s like a game you play with yourself; you think, I’ll just go a little longer; and then, A little longer; and then, A little longer...)
 
It’s strange to think that the body is just a thing. In the parking lot, I pull my coat around my face against the chill. There are jack-o-lanterns and skeletons strung up as decorations. I remember once when I was young, watching the History Channel, seeing archaeologists brushing dirt off of human remains. It was the first time I realized that I had a skeleton, just like that one, inside of me. The thought made me shiver then and still does. 

Return to top


Warning
Alexandra Comeaux
Winner of the 2015 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 22

I was expecting death to happen better, faster, from behind— like when someone else’s husband pats your ass at the cocktail party, or when you crack a new wine glass on the floor and your father beats you half-deaf, saying I told you not to, I told you not, I told you--

—If you tilt a black eye toward everything being ripped out of you so fast, it’s almost as if your mother is back at the barbecue, crying into Easter grass and asking for her purse. She wants to know what day it is. She wants another drink. She wants her kindergartner to drive her home—                 

But forget this. There is nothing at the center. Look how well I am fixed now: less than one-third of my day spent considering how to rid myself of the other two. I cartwheel to work, braid small children’s hair on the lawn. I’m looking street performers in the eyes again, shaking sweaty hands at the pharmaceutical luncheon, wishing good fortune on your baby, the future engineer, saying congratulations and my god, no, I can’t believe how fast you lost the weight--

Return to top


Clinic
Kerry Muir
Finalist, 2015 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 22

Waiting room. Gray Oakland night. A clinic, Oakland Women’s clinic. My cousin takes me and when the nurse asks him if he’s the father, his voice goes up two octaves. No, no! Not me, he says loudly, I’m just her cousin, he says. It’s the truth, but he’s so flustered the receptionist shakes her head, as if to say, God, these men. I’m ushered into a separate waiting area towards the back, where neither boyfriends nor husbands nor cousins are allowed, and there I can hear girls scream every few minutes through a makeshift plaster wall. A woman with a clipboard and a white coat asks me if I would like anesthetic. It’s a little extra. No I don’t need any fucking anesthetic; I’m sixteen; I don’t plan on feeling any of this with or without a shot. When they insert the thing between my legs I panic, start to cry. There’s definitely pain, no question I was wrong. I can’t remember the doctor or the nurse; just their coats (white) and the way they spoke, like they were changing a light bulb. The doctor may have had a brown beard. What I do remember: fury that I betrayed myself with a scream; somehow (in my teen-aged head) it made me feel the doctor won. Afterwards, legs shaking, I walked into the you-are-finished room where a lady with aftercare instructions and a degree in talking shit to young girls asks me if there’s anything I want to discuss. Now? I ask, and roll my eyes. I can smell her type a mile away and I hate her right away. She leaves the instructions by my side; but I just left them there. That’s why I freaked out the next day when I saw black stuff in my underwear. I hadn’t bothered to read a thing. I didn’t care about tomorrow or any of the days to come. It was all about getting over to Jack-In-The-Box. My cousin picked me up after everything and took me there, first thing he did right all day. Downtown Oakland where Telegraph intersects Shattuck, across from the Hooper’s Candies Store. I had a Jumbo Jack, large chocolate shake and large fries, and he gorged his head with tacos, onion rings, orange soda mixed with Sprite. There’s a special sauce they put on the burgers there, it’s like ketchup and sugar in a base of mayonnaise. That, and sweet pickles, onions, synthetic cheese. There was nothing to say, except thanks, cause he paid. God, you know, food never tasted so good.

Return to top


Everything Goes Under, Eventually
Eric Andrew Newman
Finalist, 2015 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 22

Houses are like people. They have bones, tissue, organs and arteries. This made my dad a kind of doctor. If there can be such a thing as a tree doctor, then there can be such a thing as a house doctor. He could breathe life into old houses. Instead of using scalpels, clamps and retractors, he used hammers, drills and wrenches. My dad was a contractor, a jack-of-all-trades. If there was something wrong with a house, he could fix it. It used to be that you could get work in this town putting things together. Nowadays, you can only get work pulling things apart.

After my dad lost his business, it punched a hole in his chest like a wrecking ball punches a hole in the side of a house. He never recovered. In the end, he killed himself in our garage, suffocating from carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of the people in this town are suffocating from something. The same tools he used to fix houses, I now use to tear them down. If my dad was a kind of doctor, then I’m more like an undertaker. Everything goes under, eventually. First, my dad’s business went under. Then, his body went under. Finally, our mortgage went under. My mom worked as a waitress at the local diner, but it wasn’t enough. We were evicted from our house over a year ago.

I was sure to pack up all my dad’s tools in his old army duffel bag when we left. Those and my clothes were the only things I took. When I use his tools to prepare a house to go under, I extract all of the house’s insides. The water heater is the pumping heart of a house, sending hot water rushing through the pipes, arteries of a house, to keep the body warm. The fuse-box is the brain, sending electric impulses through the wires, synapses of a house, to light up all of the different rooms. Once a house becomes dormant, like with a body, the first thing that happens is the water and electricity gets shut off. Then, I use a hammer to break the tissue of plaster, and use wrenches and pliers to rip out the copper pipes and strip the copper wires.

My mom went to live with her new boyfriend in his dilapidated house down the street and I ended up here on squatter’s row, a neighborhood of abandoned houses that became a refuge of sorts for the disenfranchised. In any other town, our quiet little cul-de-sac would look quaint. Here, it looks like something out of a horror movie. Ironically, these houses are some of the only ones in this part of town that still have all their viscera intact, even if the windows are broken and the paint is peeling. Scrapping is the number one profession around here and we’ve all been taught to respect our own. All of the old houses that we’ve been kicked out of, however, are thoroughly gutted.

Return to top


Grotto as Boat in Memory of Karen Holman
Featured in Volume 22

garland of the suns
    my days

studded with barnacles
        as if I deserved such loyalty

I sensed each electrical
    field of attention
        tune to seize
what floated by

    a ping when one died
    a space when one dissolved
               
but their shells cemented here
    still scrape the streaming sea

that describes my passage
    most of it behind me

Return to top


Inspecting the Big Window
Linwood Rumney
Featured in Volume 22

          Q: What is the first thing you do in the morning?
          A: Sex is best in the morning, if possible. Then I stretch, and inspect the big window.
                              --interview with Bill Berkson

Of course there is the obligatory tree with its cruel cursive hand, and any number of birds I might need. At least one is cursing. One sings me a song of love and grief in a language I almost understand. A third threatens to stick me like a pig. Yet another I cannot see, and I experience our mutual indifference as a minor victory. Some days, there are two kinds of perfume. The perfume of the sex I just had that I wish to linger in, to swim in, to build a small self-sustaining community out of. And the perfume of the sex the world continues to have without me. Some days, my soul thinks it has won, so it loosens the binds, opens the blinds, and lights itself a cigarette. Other days, there is only one kind of perfume, and it offends me, as does all of creation.

Return to top


Camping Tayo
Jen Palmares Meadows
Featured in Volume 22

And on Memorial Day and Labor Day, we Filipinos did as Americans did--we went camping. Mom packed the full sized rice cooker. Lola brought her mahjong set and Dad packed his machete. In our van were three kids, four kids, five kids, more. We waved our hands out the windows, hung our heads out the windows, and called out the windows, "We going caaamping!" And we girls, we kissed our kasimanwas, our manongs and manangs, our titos and titas, our lolas and lolos. And to their faces, we girls made a practice of 'not-too-much.' What we learned to like of our bodies, we enjoyed some, but not too much--enough we learned the sexy eyes, the hip roll, the hair flip, but not too much the aunties noticed, and not too much the uncles got mad. And we girls, we hid in our tents, tweezing our eyebrows (not too much) and lining our lips with brown pencils (too much). Behind the bathrooms we smoked found cigarettes (not too much), and stole beers (not too much). Because Dad spoke Visayan, and Mom spoke Tagalog, to us they spoke English, and in that way, we learned only the bad words: bastos, tanga, putang ina mo, anak ng puta. And because we were American too, we said: fuck, shit, bitch (too much), but mostly our words were: me, me, me. And the kids, making ruckus and making mess, caught tadpoles in Styrofoam cups and poked frogs' asses with twigs. They wiped dirt onto their faces and tracked dirt into their tents. And though we weren't supposed to gather wood from the campgrounds, we burned plenty (too much). We hauled up the stumps lining the parking lot, and dragged half-rotted logs onto the fire. And while the kids ran circles around the fire pit, we girls sprayed our hair and rubbed country apple lotion on our legs (too much), and when the mosquitoes came for us, we slapped our oily legs, hoping someone might see them shining through the smoke. And the boys, smelling like CK1 and Cool Water, practiced their chill, with their heads rolled into their necks, and their necks rolled into their shoulders. And the boys, with their hands in their pockets, they practiced their chill, leaning on trees, all their weight, all their want, resting on their Filas, as if to say I don't care, at the same time, trying to tip the world towards them. And their words were basketball, and girls, and basketball (too much). And the boys, squatted on the ground with their elbows on their knees, they practiced their chill, and went sooot, sooot, between their teeth, and we girls turned our heads in unison, like, "Me?" And the uncles, blasting Sharon Cuneta and Elvis love songs from a boombox, stood in the shade, their lips pointing with cigarettes that shook when they spoke. And the uncles, with their hands in their pockets, they practiced being boys, and their words were, remember when, and back home, and basketball. And when the uncles came out of the shade, for another beer, or to take a piss, they remembered they were uncles and said, "Hala, who smoked those cigarettes?" and, "Hala, who took those beers?" and we girls rubbed our mouths, like, "Not me." And the lolas, smelling like Salonpas and Tiger Balm, played mahjong all day and all night (too much), the tiles going click-click-click-click, click-click-click-click. At dusk, they hung a bug zapper near the card table and then the game went click-click-click-click-zap, click-click-click-click-zap. And their words were: back home, who died?, and who would die next? And on their turn, they picked a tile, like, "Me?" And when it got too hot, we girls climbed into Auntie Didi's minivan. She and her kaibigan sat inside all afternoon, the engine running and the air conditioning blowing. She said camping was like back home--too hot, bugs everywhere, all dirt, and no comfort (too much). She came out once a day to gather the aunties around a picnic table, where she laid jewelry on black velvet. Their brown hands caressed gold plated necklaces and strands of rice pearls. Auntie Didi used words like biyootipul and maganda, and the aunties all rubbed their cuffs, like "Me?" Most bought something, but mom smiled and shook her head like, "Too much." And the aunties, cooking all day, stopped the boys swinging from trees and skewering themselves on sticks. And the aunties, cooking all day, crushed mosquitoes under paper towels, and at night washed their feet with bucket water. And the aunties, cooking all day, lined us all up and stuck quarters to our foreheads, saying: first to get the coin in their mouth without using their hands wins everyone's quarters. And we girls looked like fools, but we wanted those quarters--wanted 'em for buying things our mothers wouldn't buy us, like tampons, Hello Kitty lip gloss, and Binaca (too much). And when the aunties asked who won, we girls all said, "Me!" And the aunties told us girls to sit up straight, suck in your stomachs, don't stick out your chests, and don't pop your booties. And the aunties told the uncles to start the barbeque, and the lolas, just one more game. And their words were, do this, and do that, and back home, and right now. And when the uncles called from the barbeque, and the aunties yelled, Kain na tayo! we rushed to load our paper plates with rice, spareribs, chicken adobo, hot dog spaghetti in Jufran sauce, watermelon split with a cleaver, and oysters shucked with a pocket knife. And we families sat around the picnic table and the fire pit, kicking heels, knocking elbows (too much), all pushing up on each other, trying to eat our peace. And though we wiped the sweat from necks, and swatted the bugs from our legs, and though camping was all dirt, and no comfort, there were kasimanwas and food (enough), and our words were, we, we, we, and in this way, it was just like back home.

Return to top


Hula
Jacqueline Doyle
Featured in Volume 22

He says his name is Philip and he tells you he's from New Jersey, gazing at you intently over a Mai Tai that he slurps through a straw. Mai Tais aren't even Hawaiian, he tells you, they're American, and he asks if you want one, but you've already had three Piña Coladas and you say no thanks, not now. You're feeling a little sick, maybe from the sun on the excursion boat this afternoon, or maybe from the Piña Coladas. He's pasty-faced, no tan at all. Probably just got here today. His lips are wet, a little disgusting really, and you wonder what it would be like to kiss him and whether he has hair on his chest. You don't like too much hair. He's wearing a tight orange polo shirt and smells like cologne, he's buff, probably works out. You feel sort of sick thinking about this stuff and wonder whether you're going back to Philip's hotel with him and hope not but things are a little blurry and maybe you will even though you know it's a bad idea. Let me guess, what are you, 25? I like 25-year-old blondes, he says. Especially if they're all blonde, he adds with a leer, and already you're grossed out, thinking it's loud in the bar, maybe that's not what he said. Philip's got his hand on your shoulder while he's talking to you and he's leaning too close. His hand slides down and brushes your breast. Whoops, he says, sorry, but he doesn't look sorry and you know you should leave now but you don't. You here alone, he asks, and you're not, but you're not sure where your girlfriend is and you know she was hoping to get laid tonight. Live a little, she said, it's vacation. So you're letting guys buy you drinks and what is this, a dentist's convention, you can't remember, and you ask Philip, are you here for a dentist's convention or something. Or something, he laughs, and he doesn't explain and you forget to ask him what he means. There's another Piña Colada in front of you and you take a gulp, so sweet and cold it makes your teeth hurt. You look around the dark Tiki lounge with plastic plumeria leis and wooden fish on the walls, and really this could be Ohio or anywhere, except everyone's wearing brand new Hawaiian shirts. I have to go to the little girls' room, you say, surprised because that's something your grandmother always said, and he says, why don't we go to my place and you can use mine. I like to hear girls tinkle, you think he says, but you must have misheard him. Why would he like that? As you slide off the bar stool you stagger, which comes as a surprise too, and the room starts to tilt and he has his hand under your bent elbow to hold you up. Whoops, he says. Steady now. Whoops, you say with an embarrassed laugh. And maybe you'll let him help you get wherever you're going. For a moment you can't remember where that is. What's your name again, he asks, but he's joking with the bartender and handing over some bills and doesn't wait for an answer. I like it doggie style, he says when he turns back to you, so close you can feel his cold saliva and hot breath on your ear, and you don't say anything, because that's just gross. Let's hula, baby, he says, pushing you toward the door, one hand still under your elbow, the other gripping your waist, and you're wondering what Hawaiian dancers wear under their grass skirts and whether he wears boxers or briefs and you hope you're not going to find out, but you're afraid you will. And now you answer his question. My name's Lucy, you say. Lucy. But people are talking loud and howling with laughter and you're not sure he even hears.

Return to top


A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments of Barthes in the Arctic Circle
Traci Brimhall
Featured in Volume 21

“Am I in love?—yes, since I am waiting.” –Roland Barthes

Time doesn’t move here on the 79th parallel. I mean this literally. The sun barely changes angles in the sky and never sets. Here in the never-night, the wet tundra holds impressions of footprints in the damp earth for over a year. Remains of blubber ovens from seventeenth-century whaling trips still dot the shore. Trappers still live in these mountains, hunting through the winter. The sun is so still, there’s no proof that time keeps dragging forward. Perhaps I cannot say I wait here. I sail up and down the coast of the archipelago. Everything is glacier, mountain, sea, glacier, mountain, sea, glaciermountainsea. The only variation in the landscape are occasional seals, walruses, or belugas, and these things earn our long silences because we don’t want to disturb something so alive. I am gloriously alone with dozens of people taking photographs of the sky, watching the light crusade nowhere.

“As Narrative (Novel, Passion), love is a story which is accomplished, in the sacred sense of the word: it is a program which must be completed.”

The trouble with this place is that I already know how much I will miss it when I’m gone. But that’s part of its pleasure—I long for longing, and absence means I’m guaranteed to someday want what’s easily before me now. Desire leads to fulfillment, which only leads you back to desire, but the mistake is the foolish desire for the fulfillment. There’s so much pleasure in wanting and being satisfied with the sensation of a great and unappeasable longing. I want the hunger, not the satiety.

I think the light here must know something about longing, or at least the people who live with the light here must know something about waiting. The sky changes annually rather than daily. In February, it deepens into blue-black. In August, the sun sets for hours. By October, a strip of darkness sits on the horizon, a perpetual reminder of the coming winter. Here, the cycle of longing isn’t marked by circadian rhythms but by slow, solar progression.

“This endured absence is nothing more or less than forgetfulness. I am, intermittently, unfaithful. This is the condition of my survival.”

One of the people on board the ship is an amateur phrenologist who gives a group of us a reading of our skulls, feeling his way over the bumps and ridges that once were said to determine personality. He tells me I’m a better wife than I think I am, but he doesn’t know about my addiction to longing. I want people I see on the street. I want people I don’t love. I want people who don’t want me back. I want because I enjoy it, not because I mistake it for a desire, but because another person reignites the part of me that is pleased to lack. That’s what want means: to be in a state of lack. That’s why the disembodied hand wrote on Nebuchadnezzar’s wall: You have been weighed and measured and found wanting. Yes. I have.

"Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”

Of course I’ll probably never again redirect my hike because of polar bear tracks, or be startled by the boldness of reindeer, or have my scalp attacked by nesting terns. I may never see or hear a snow bunting again, and I’m already enjoying the sweet stab of future longing for them. Perhaps I’ll see another whaling graveyard in my lifetime, and perhaps I’ll visit an abandoned mine or ghost town in another remote country, but the “only once” feeling from some of these experiences is possibly why they please me more. So much glacier and moraine and mountain and sea but only once will I enjoy a solstice with a bonfire on the beach and twenty-four hours of daylight. And that’s why I love it here in the ever-day. I want all the things I cannot have—my love or even a beautiful stranger, to sing while driving down a country road, fireflies lighting a field, the moon and its reliable waning.

Return to top


Erasure
Kelly Nelson
Featured in Volume 21

Cuerpo de mujer                                   ---by Pablo Neruda

Cuerpo de mujer, blancas colinas, muslos blancos,
te pareces al mundo en tu actitud de entrega.
Mi cuerpo de labriego salvaje te socava
y hace saltar el hijo del fondo de la tierra.

Fui solo como un túnel. De mí huían los pájaros
y en mí la noche entraba su invasión poderosa.
Para sobrevivirme te forjé como un arma,
como una flecha en mi arco, como una piedra en mi honda.

Pero cae la hora de la venganza, y te amo.
Cuerpo de piel, de musgo, de leche ávida y firme.
Ah los vasos del pecho! Ah los ojos de ausencia!
Ah las rosas del pubis! Ah tu voz lenta y triste!

Cuerpo de mujer mía, persistiré en tu gracia.
Mi sed, mi ansia, sin límite, mi camino indeciso!
Oscuros cauces donde la sed eterna sigue,
y la fatiga sigue, y el dolor infinito.                               

Cue

Cue poems, lilacs
salmon, deer
rodeos, lava
altar fear.

Cue hulas
lace, raisin
jam    
cue chance, drama

revenge.
Cue rope, gem
a love chosen
a love, tart.

Cue Persia
slim mica, nine
or’s. Cue need
fatigue, door.

Return to top


I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise
Diane Seuss
Winner of the 2014 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 21

with the milkweeds emancipating their seeds which were once packed in their pods like the wings and bones of a damp bird held too tightly in a green hand. And the jade moths stuck to the screen door as if glued there. And the gold fields and stone silos and the fugitive cows known for escaping their borders. I have lived in a painting called Paradise and even the bad parts are beautiful. There are fields of needles arranged into flowers, their sharp ends meeting at the center, and from a distance the fields full of needle flowers look blue from their silver reflecting the sky, or white as lilies if the day is overcast, and there in the distance is a meadow filled with the fluttering skirts of opium poppies. On the hillside is Moon Cemetery, where the tombstones are hobnailed or prismed like cut glass bowls. Some are shaped so precisely like the trunks of trees that birds build their nests in the crooks of their limbs, and some of the graves are shaped like child-sized tables with stone tablecloths and tea cups, yes I have lived in a painting called Paradise. The hollyhocks loom like grandfathers with red pocket watches, and off in the distance the water is ink and the ships are white paper with scribblings and musical notations on their sides. There are rabbits: brown ones and mink-colored ones and rabbits that are mystics humped like haystacks, and at Moon Cemetery it’s an everyday event to see the dead rise from their graves as glittering as they were in life, to once more pick up the plow or the axe or the spoon or the bowl for it is a cemetery named after a moon and moons never stay put. There are bees in the air flying off to build honeycombs with pollen heavy on their back legs, and in the air birds of every ilk, the gray kind that feed from the ground, and the ones that scream to announce themselves, and ravens who feed on rabbits until their black feathers are edged in gold, and in the air also are little gods and devils trying out their wings, some flying, some failing and making a little cream-colored blip in the sea, yes all of my life I have lived in a painting called Paradise  with its frame of black varnish and gold leaf, and I am told some girls slide their fingers over the frame and feel the air outside of it, and some even climb over the edge and plummet into whatever is beyond it. Some say it is hell, and some say just another, bolder paradise, and some say a dark wilderness and some say an unswept museum floor and some say a long lost love waits there wearing bloody riding clothes, returned from war, and some say freedom, which is a word that tastes strange, like a green plum.

Return to top


"Text Message: University Crime Alert"
Lana Spendl
Featured in Volume 21

The University Police Department is investigating an incident that occurred at approximately 1:30 a.m., in which a water balloon was thrown at a passerby from a moving vehicle near Lindenwood and Darby. The  car was a shiny black Mazda 3, and the balloon was filled with cold urine. The victim, one Jessica Thompson, was heading home after a successful night at a dance club. Three boys had bought her drinks, and she had let loose on the dance floor with her girlfriends after a tough week of midterm exams. She reports that she said goodbye to her friend Tina at Tina’s dorm shortly after 1:00, and that she headed toward her apartment alone, dizzy with music and possibility and life. She checked her phone for a text message from this one boy she had liked at the club. But he hadn’t texted—although, of course, it was still too early—but she kind of hoped his group of guys would drunkenly head over to the pizza truck after leaving the club and that he would invite her along. Not that she needed immediate contact—she wasn’t one of those—but she would have liked a little comment, a little joke, a little invitation, just something to keep the connection going, something to show her that he felt the same way. But she wanted things between them to move organically, of course. One had to keep things organic. So the boy had not called or texted or anything, and she felt disappointed and insulted and a little pissed, and she turned to cross the street, and that’s when the black Mazda whooshed by like the car of death and a woman in a woolen cap leaned out the passenger window and threw the balloon at Jessica’s head. It burst against her nose, and a wave of urine washed over her face and shoulders. Her mouth had been open. The liquid even went up her nose. Thoughts of the dance club and the boy vanished, and she screamed in pain and looked around for someone to help her, someone to run after the horrible car and dismember its passengers. But to her horror, the street lay empty and dark. When the squad car pulled up—after a call in which a female had muttered obscenities incoherently and managed to give out the name of the intersection—Jessica was found lying in a fetal position on a nearby patch of grass. Her face and neck were smeared with dirt. She had been chewing on the earth, apparently, in order to get the taste of urine out of her mouth. She could not speak. She could not gesture in a comprehensible way. The policemen thought, at first, that someone else had called them to check on her. They attempted to speak to her and pull her up by the arms, but she swung at them wildly and scratched the side of one’s face. So then they carried her, kicking and screaming, into the back of the squad car. Three hours later, at the station, it was discovered that Jessica had been the victim. The Mazda 3 was last seen heading north on Lindenwood. We surmise that there were two or more people in the car.

In an effort to keep yourself safe, please consider the following tips:

1.) Carry money, and ID, and an easily throwable weapon with you at all times.

2.) When returning home from a club, do not walk your friend home first and then walk alone. Screw your friend.

3.) When returning home from a club, pin a note to your jacket that says: “Victim.”   

Return to top


EF-Scale, Explained
Patrick Wilcox
Featured in Volume 21

Before the dogs barked back
at the train-like call, before
dead-clover sky
between street lamps,
before a tree’s rooty bottom
jutted from the top of St. Marks
like some envious answer
                                        to the steeple,

and roofs licked shingle-clean,
toilet seats necklaced birdfeeders,
clawfoot bathtubs lay beached
in backyards, before the funeral home
pirouetted up and out, sending my body,
two days dead, into the windshield of a girl
                                       I loved in high school,

where were we before this?
When they trace the twister’s trail
they will only see you
                                       and I

and this new exposure
all poised mid-collision. They will study
each home, how each home
                                       sulks, torn open

like a doll’s house, leaning
on the east, like me, half-naked
and vulnerable and they will, by day’s end,
report back how every moment to follow
                                       threatens to carry us away.

Return to top


Monsters
Dianna Calareso
Featured in Volume 20

  • Babies are born with a sucking reflex so they can drink and swallow milk.
  • "Listen to them--the children of the night. What music they make!" -Dracula
  • The Very Scary Almanac instructs: "To kill a vampire, you must drive a stake through its heart, cut off its head, and stuff its mouth full of garlic."
  • An abbreviated anatomy of garlic: roots, abscission scars, true stem of old plant, true stem of future plant.
  • Abscission comes from the Latin ab (away) + scindere (to cut).
  • Cutting the umbilical cord severs the physical connection between mother and child.
  • “And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off.” –Mark 9:45

    It is dark and he asks if I have the keys so I can go ahead of him and unlock the apartment. For no reason I say, “What if there’s a monster in there?” He says, “There’s no monster in there.” Later I tell him the fact that I’m 30 and don’t yet feel the desire for a baby makes me feel like I have a heart of stone. I tell him it frightens me to think that I may never want children, that the world would see me as a monster. I tell him that when my friends talk about their babies I feel lost and unknown, Mary Shelley’s dreadful fiend lumbering in the woods. He does not understand. The next night I discover one of his childhood books on our shelf: The Very Scary Almanac. The cover illustration is a tombstone with a zombie crawling out and a snake coming through the eye socket of a skull. The words on the stone promise the young reader FRIGHTENING FACTS on subjects including vampires, werewolves, zombies, Lizzie Borden, Friday the 13th, and horror movies AD NAUSEUM. The next morning I look away as a mother nurses her new baby, and I’m convinced I can feel something sucking the life out of me.
     
  •  An unborn baby (in utero) takes its nutrition from its mother's bloodstream.
  • Most pregnant women experience morning sickness. They’re pregnant ad nauseam, or literally, to the point of nausea.
  • The definitions of “pregnant” include weighty or significant; full of meaning.
  • Victor Frankenstein’s creation is called creature, monster, fiend, wretch, vile insect, daemon, being, and it.
  • The Miracle of Life aired on PBS in December of 1983, 5 days after a lunar eclipse, 9 months after I was born.

Return to top


Jellyfish
Tom Howard
Winner of the 2013 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 20

We awoke and dressed in the dark, then grabbed our pillows and climbed silent as ghosts into the back seat of the car. Still half-asleep but jockeying for position, drawing silent battle lines against the dawn.  A light rain was falling.  Walt: Is it going to rain the whole time?  I don’t know.  But what’s the point of--  I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell you.  It won’t rain the whole time.  But you just said--  Me, interrupting: When is Dad coming?  Walt kicked me then and we left the driveway as I tried not to cry.  I was asleep by the time we made it to the interstate, a one-eyed bear held together with masking tape standing guard between Walt and me.  When I woke up we were at the beach, heavy salt air and sound of gulls crying overhead, and the rain was gone.  Our mother set up the umbrella and Walt and I went down to the water, and Walt shrieked: Jellyfish heads, jellyfish heads.  They were scattered everywhere along the sand like sea glass.  We scooped them up and threw them, back into the sea and at each other, war-cries ringing in the ocean air, and she sat on the blanket and watched us while sunlight bounced off her sunglasses.  We built a castle with a moat and I found a scrap of driftwood to use as a drawbridge.  Walt beamed, then disappeared while I shored up the walls, and when he returned he was carrying four sticks.  He placed the sticks at the four corners of the castle, and then impaled a jellyfish head on each—a warning to the others, he said.   Our mother walked past us, invisible.  When we finally looked up and saw her she was twenty yards out to sea.   Walt took another jellyfish and sliced it in two with a penknife he’d swiped from the junk drawer.  A sacrifice, he said.   I looked up and down the beach.  Where are all the tentacles?  He shrugged. Out there, he said, meaning the sea, but his head was down, everything forgotten except the sacrifice.  I stood and scanned the ocean.  At first there was nothing.  Then I saw her, farther out, her white swimsuit flashing like a diamond in a magician’s hand: there, and then gone again. Years later she said she had no memory of turning back, seeing me on the shore next to a castle fortified with jellyfish heads.  I raised my hand and waved. Walt: The moat has to be deeper, this is a fucking bullshit moat.  She disappeared again, and when she reappeared she was farther out, gaining on the horizon.  There were clouds coming in from the north, and August was ending.

Return to top


Solipsism
Matthew Purdy
Featured in Volume 20

Bored one afternoon, I dialed my own number. I picked up.
      “Yeah?” I said.
      I looked at the phone. It was my number. And that did sound like me.
      “Hey,” I said. “It’s me.”
      “What do you mean?” I said. “Who is this?”
      “It’s me." I had been lying on the couch, but I sat up now. “I mean, it’s you.”
      “Who is this?” I demanded more harshly this time.
      “It’s really me, man,” I said. “Like, I was bored or whatever, and I called my own number. When I’ve done that before I usually just get a busy signal, right? Because I’m on the phone, right? But this time it didn’t.”
      Neither I nor me said anything for a while. Then I said, “Huh. Wow. That’s pretty freaky.”
      “Yeah. Where are you now?”
      “Home. Where’re you?”
      I looked around the living room. Clothes, CDs, books, magazines, movies, noise from the stereo, television, and neighbors. No other people, though.
      “I’m at home too.”
      “That’s cool,” I said. I was beginning to sound bored, and I couldn’t blame me. “What’re you up to today?”
      “Nothing, you?”
      “Nothing.”
      Why had I hoped I would be more interesting than myself?
      I was ready to make some excuse and hang up, but I felt weird about it. Anyway, I would have been able to see through it. I’d know I really didn’t have anything else to do.
      “Hey,” I said, “are you single?”
      I laughed. “What do you think?”
      “Just asking. What about that girl Becky. Do you think she likes you?”
      “I don’t know,” I said. “She’s pretty hot.”
      “Yeah. I think she might like me.”
      I cleared my throat, and I could picture me shrugging and rubbing the palm of my hand against my cheek.
      “Maybe,” I said. “I don’t know.”
      “Did you call her yet?”
      “Nah. You?”
      “Nah." Becky was a friend of a friend; I met her at a bar two weeks ago. We hit it off. We both hated the Yankees and secretly kind of liked that one Black Eyed Peas song. She wrote her number on my forearm, and I wrote it on a Post-it note as soon as I got home. Still hadn’t called, though. I was hoping I could tell me why.
      I felt around for the remote and then muted the TV. “Hey, um, why do you think we’re this way?. I usually didn’t ask people questions like that, but this usually didn’t happen either. Plus, I’d been wondering.
      “What do you mean?. I could hear the TV lower on my end, too.
      “Like, I don’t know. This.”
      “With Becky?”
      “With everything.”
      I grunted out a long, contemplative sigh. “I don’t know, man. I guess it’s just how we are.”
      I picked up a pizza box from the floor and smooshed it into a V. Then I set it back on the floor. “I get tired of it sometimes, you know?”
      “Of what?”
      “Just..." With a burst of purpose, I got up from the couch and stalked into the middle of the room. Below the TV I wasn’t watching were DVDs I’d bought but never played. Some books friends had lent me lay by the couch, where I’d dropped them before deciding to take a nap. Almost a year’s worth of magazines lay unopened on my kitchen table, which I’d never eaten a meal on.
      “Everything,” I said.
      “So go do something,” I said.
      “Like what?”
      “What’s on TV? Hey, are the channels the same over there? And what time is it there? It’s 4:06 here.”
      I sat down on the floor as though deflating. “What is there to even do?” I said.
      “I don’t know,” I said. “Call your own number, I guess.”
      “I already did that." Then I said, “Hey, do you want to meet up somewhere?”
      I paused. “Do you think that’d work?”
      “I don’t know. I guess we could try. I’d like to try.”
      “Okay. How about the Starbucks by the grocery store?”
      “Sure. Fifteen minutes sound good?”
      “Sure, sounds good.”
      Both I and me were silent. Neither wanted to be the first to hang up, since we knew nothing like this would ever happen to us again. Finally, I said, “Well, I guess I’ll see you.”
      “Yeah,” I said. “Hey, this was cool.”
      “Yeah,” I said. “It was.”
      I hung up.
      Eight minutes later I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot. It occurred to me that I should’ve asked what I would be wearing. But wouldn’t I be wearing the same thing as me? I slumped into a low, cushy armchair by the window. I began to realize just how little about me I knew. What kind of car would I be driving? Would I be as fat as I am? What if I had bad breath, or told an inappropriate joke? Or what if I were just boring? The more I thought about these suspicions, the realer they became for me. No wonder Becky hadn’t called.
      I got up and went outside. I pulled one of the metal chairs to the edge of the patio so I could watch the stream of cars on the highway. Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen, but there was only one car of mine in the parking lot. “Should have known,” I said. I knew I couldn’t rely on me. I stood up and made to bring the chair back to its table, but stopped. A woman sat there smoking. I didn’t know she was there. I hadn’t smelled the smoke.
      “Hi,” she said. “Are you waiting for someone?”
      I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “I am.”

Return to top


No Telling
Sarah Lindsay
Featured in Volume 20

I might well be
a host for water piglets.
All they need is a pool
dilute with nutrients.
Why not me?
If they float across my cornea,
I won’t see their bodies,
though they tickle my aqueous humor
with their plump parade-balloon
pucker-faced oddity.
How much must their
microscopic claws scratch
before I feel an itch?
How many blimps
might soar through my arteries
before I go limp?
How many can cram my veins
​without letting me know
I’m not alone?

Return to top


Bicycle
Becky Hagenston
Winner of the 2011 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest
Featured in Volume 18

Mindy and her father drove to the next town to see a green bicycle advertised in the Penny Saver for ten dollars. A round woman with yellow hair opened the door of a blue trailer and blinked at them while Mindy’s father told her why they were there. "Seth!" the woman yelled into the trailer, and a boy a few years older than Mindy—maybe twelve, or a small thirteen—appeared behind the woman and scowled. His hair was the color of wet sand and he was barefoot even though it was October.

"Come on," he said, and Mindy and her father followed him across the damp, sallow grass to a wooden shed. The boy pulled the heavy door open with a grunt, his skinny arms bunching with crab-apple muscles.

Sunlight fell between the slats of the shed and Mindy could see a shovel hanging upside down on the wall, a sewing machine covered in gray plastic, two dusty tires stacked on a faded picnic bench. The bike was leaning against a saw horse, the kickstand digging into the packed dirt of the floor. It was a forest green girl’s bike with a banana seat of torn white plastic and a red horn mounted between the handlebars.

"Take it for a ride," said Mindy’s father. The boy glared at her with his arms crossed as she took the bike by the handlebars and rolled it out into the late morning sun. The yellow-haired woman stood in front of the trailer watching as Mindy wobbled over the damp grass and steered onto the gravel driveway, which led toward brownish-red hills and the paved road she and her father had just driven fifteen miles on.

Her father walked over to the woman and they stood there not looking at each other. Mindy heard him say, "Nice for this time of year," and the woman said something in return. The boy seemed to have vanished. Mindy biked around the gravel in a circle and then rode to the back of the shed, where the boy stood with his skinny legs far apart as if he’d been waiting for her. She got off the bicycle and walked it over to him and said, trying to be nice, "What kind of bike do you have?"

His hands were on the back of her neck before she could even feel surprised, and then his mouth was on hers—salty and hard with small teeth, like ocean and rock. Then it was over and he walked away and left her standing there, still holding the bike by the handlebars. It took her a moment to come back to herself and test the horn, which didn’t work anymore but which, she was certain, could be replaced.

Return to top


On Erasure
Mary Ruefle
Featured in Volume 16

"Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text."
-- Fernando Pessoa

I
I was on a plane and, as often happens, the woman next to me asked me what I did. And it often happens in such circumstances, as we are no longer actually on earth but suspended in the ether above, that a lie takes place. But as I was in no mood for a lie to take place I said, "I do Biblical erasures." And she said, "Bible erasers! You must sell a great many of them!" I didn't know if she meant pink rubber erasers with Biblical quotes stamped on them were a commodity appealing to millions, or, since I claimed to support myself in this manner, I would certainly have to sell millions of them. But as I was still in the truth-telling mode I said, "Actually, I haven't sold a single one." And as the air of the airplane was suddenly warm and oppressive, I struggled to remove my overcoat, and when she reached out to help me I was overcome by this unexpected and tender gesture of assistance and to my great embarrassment, and for reasons having nothing to do with our conversation, I began to cry. And she said, "Don't worry, dear, God works in mysterious ways." We never spoke again, but a month afterwards I dedicated my new book of poems to her, a perfect stranger whose name I don't even know, because she had become by then, in my mind, the perfect stranger.

II
An erasure is the creation of a new text by disappearing the old text that surrounds it. I don't consider the pages to be poems, but I do think of them as poetry, especially in sequence and taken as a whole; when I finish an erasure book I feel I have written a book of poetry without a single poem in it, and that appeals to me.

The books have been called "found poems" but I don't consider them as such. A found poem is a text found in the world, taken out of its worldly context, and labeled a poem. I certainly didn't "find" any of these pages, I made them in my head, just as I do my other work. In the erasures I can only choose words out of all the words on a given page, while writing regularly I can choose from all the words in existence. In that sense, the erasures are like a "form" --I am restricted by certain rules. I have resisted formal poetry my whole life, but at last found a form I can't resist. It is like writing my eyes instead of my hands.

I use white-out, buff-out, blue-out, paper, ink, pencil, gouache, carbon, and marker; sometimes I press postage stamps onto the page and pull them off--that literally takes the text right off the page! Once, while working on an all-white erasure, I had the sense I was somehow blinding the words--blindfolding the ones I whited-out, and those that were left had to become, I don't know, extra-sensory or something. Then I thought, no, I am bandaging the words, and the ones left were those that seeped out.

I've made forty-five erasure books, and given many to friends as gifts; one has been published, and several sold into private collections. One or two of the books work when read aloud in public, but most of them don't. I can't imagine ever stopping making them, and I hope to be working on one when I die.

You know how when you go into the wilderness you are expected to bring out your trash, leaving nothing behind? I spent the first half of my life leaving words in the world, and will spend the last half taking them out! After all, when they asked Neil Armstrong how he felt about his footsteps being left on the moon, he said he'd like to go back up and erase them.

III
I call them erasures, but elsewhere they have been referred to as elision books, hyper-editing, cross-outs, and, my least favorite of all these unfavorites, "creative defacement." They are texts made by getting rid of, in a thousand and one ways, surrounding, pre-existing text. Governments call it censorship.

I do not know their origin, but any reasonably intelligent person can imagine a worker in a censorship office, censoring letters mailed from the front line, who, to relieve the tedium of his job, merely thought to himself--"if I wanted to, I could make this letter say some strange things in such a way that it would actually be more interesting than what is being said now."

Or, a government official deleting highly sensitive material in a document, in preparation for releasing the document to another party, or to the public.

And the difference between these two imaginary scenarios is that one end is aesthetic and the other end is political, and these two ends are still the only ends of this act, though postmodernism has obviously conflated both ends in the erasure work of a great many visual artists, such as Jenny Holtzer, to take only one example, an exhibition of whose I recently saw in a museum, and which was comprised of a great many blown-up and censored documents of The United States Government. And though Miss Holtzer has produced work in the past that I am inordinately fond of, it had been a long time since I had seen such a thoroughly boring exhibition.

The artist I want to talk about is Tom Phillips, because the aesthetic ends of erasure, everyone agrees, begin with Tom Phillips and the artifact that was slowly and surprisingly to become his life's work--an artifact I am loathe to talk about because it must be seen to be believed (by being experienced) but I will do the best I can to speak briefly about this work of art, one I came to myself in the 1980s when reading an issue of Artforum in which prominent artists were asked to name what they considered, privately and personally, the great work of art of the twentieth century, and the writer William Gass named Humument, by Tom Phillips.

In the mid nineteen-sixties, Tom Phillips was inspired by William Burrough's cut-ups, texts the American writer made by cutting up newspaper text and rearranging it. Phillips used British newspapers to the same end, but was soon determined to take the whole thing further. He set a rule for himself: that he would buy the first book he came across that cost three pence. He found, for three pence, an old used copy of a Victorian novel he had never heard of, called A Human Document, by William Hurrell Mallock, printed in 1872, a novel Phillips discovered had been so popular in its day that the edition he purchased was its 7,000th printing.

And so began the collaboration of Mr. Phillips and Mr. Mallock, the original author. Beginning to erase text using ordinary pen and ink, Phillips soon switched to gouache and water-color, and began to paint each page of the 367 page novel, at the same time leaving selected exposed text, so that the treated novel became an illuminated manuscript, often compared to the work of William Blake, and now, I believe, owned by the Tate Gallery in London.

The book was first published in book form (such a funny thing to say) in 1980, and it is a novel-within-a-novel, so to speak, a narrative made out of another narrative, though many of the pages stand alone as poetic or philosophical text. There is a character, Bill Toge, whose name Phillips could only use on those pages where either the word "together" or "altogether" were used, the requisite "toge" being found in either of those words. To quote Phillips speaking of this "feast" of a book: "It is the solution for this artist of the problem of wishing to write poetry while not in the real sense of the word being a poet he gets there by standing on someone else's shoulders."

This quote remains in the present tense because Phillips has never stopped working on the novel, though finishing his first treatment of it long ago; he continues to treat the novel, page after page, never repeating his previous treatments. (Not to mention a complete opera score he made out of the novel.) To this end, of course, he needed more copies of the book, and by 1997 had fifteen copies. He has done 20 variations alone of page 85. The second copy of A Human Document that he bought had been bought in 1902 by a woman who underlined whole passages and added marginalia, an act he loved and wholly welcomed because he realized that over time, when we underline a passage in a book or add marginalia, we ourselves are "treating" the book we are reading. He soon realized that he was engaged in a great act of deconstruction, to use the byword of those days, and beyond all this, and much more which I am not even bothering to mention, he realized that he was engaged in a paradoxical enactment of Mallarme's famous dictum that "everything in the world exists in order to end up in a book." Even books exist to end up as books.

He also discovered that the original Victorian novel--A Human Document--is mentioned in a novel by Dorothy Richardson. Which is where my life comes in. Perhaps, or maybe, for one can never tell where a thing begins.

Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a novelist who was an intimate friend of H. G. Wells and other avante garde thinkers of the day, all of whom encouraged her to write; she wrote a series of autobiographical novels and became a pioneer of the "stream of consciousness" technique, and Virginia Woolf credited her with inventing "the psychological sentence of the feminine gender." But she was almost completely ignored and forgotten until the feminist heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, when she was championed and rose from obscurity to become the feminist avante garde darling that she, well, always was.

In the early 1980s, at Bennington College, I had a remarkable student named Lisa Conrad, who is now a visual artist living in San Francisco. At some point--I no longer remember when--she sent me the photograph of an installation she had erected on the outskirts of San Francisco. I liked it so much, and was so moved by the text, that I put it in a little plastic frame and hung it on my wall, and though I have moved many, many times since then, it remains to this day on my wall.

I did not realize until writing this essay that the text is an erasure. Years before I myself began doing erasures, I stared at one every day! You see, discovering Tom Phillips did not lead me to erasures. Nor did Lisa's billboard (or did it?), nor did the Vermont College graduating lecture by my remarkable student Natasha D'Schommer, a photographer, who showed us on a screen erased pages that I remember as predominately in a single color, such as a bright scarlet, with only a single word, or at most two, left visible--"Home" say, and/or "Nest." Natasha's work took my breath away--I remember silently weeping in the back of the room--but she was much more of a minimalist than I could, at that time, bear to be--No, I think I only sensed then that this thing, this using pages of one book to make another book--had more possibilities than I had ever dreamt of, and that even though I was not a visual artist like Tom Phillips, I was a poet, someone who was predominately a poet, and could approach the pages of an old book and find there the possibility of poetic text that traveled outside the margins of conventional poetry, and that this was a place I very much wanted to inhabit, for the single reason it felt like home.

I am not, and never will be, the great artist Tom Phillips is. But I can--and this is possibly the boldest statement I have ever made--find in five minutes poetic text it takes Tom Phillips six months to find.

But my text-finding limit is five minutes. Tom Phillips' is one year.

You see, I don't actually read the books. I don't read the text, unless the book is very, very, very interesting to me, and that has only happened twice in ten years and thirty-nine books. The only way I can describe it is like this: the words rise above the page, by say an eighth of an inch, and hover there in space, singly and unconnected, and they form a kind of field, and from this field I pick my words as if they were flowers.

And so, one day in 1998, I bought, for three dollars, a small soft leather 19th century book, and using an ordinary black pen, began crossing out words.

It's crude, to be sure. I don't care. My first fifteen books are very crude indeed. I learned as I went along, and I am learning still. I took off on my own private path, and I have never looked back. At some point I discovered I had a secret bond with white-out. Perhaps I have lived through too may blizzards. At some point I discovered you can't use graphite unless you use a fixative. I discovered gouache, because Joshua Beckman mentioned he was using it. At some point I began to cut out pictures from other books, and paste them onto the pages of my books, to do collage of text and image. At some point I heard other writers were doing the same thing. I heard Jen Bervin had done Shakespeare's Sonnets--NETS--and someone else Paradise Lost--RADIOS--but I liked my obscure little books; I had no interest in famous works. At some point I discovered someone was doing John Ashbery--at some point I discovered it had become a hip parlor game--no interest, no interest.

At some point--interest--I become involved in an erasure correspondence with my editor, Joshua Beckman. We are doing the entire Flaubert/George Sand correspondence by mail. He's Flaubert, I'm Sand. Four page letters are reduced to two lines:

Light along the river and I walked pretending I was a tide, in thin exaggeration alone. I love being particular. One existence. What a task! A little note from your north wind, adieu.

Without knowing that Phillips redid his own pages--with no knowledge of that at all--I found a second book I had previously erased and jumped at the chance to do it all over again, to see if I would erase a single page in the same way--no, I didn't, I couldn't. It was, as Phillips said, a feast.

But it doesn't interest everyone. Most people, I have found, are either horrified or bored by it. Visual artists will turn the pages of an erasure book and not read the text; they will only look for visuals--nothing else interests them. I find it amusing. Poets you think would be interested--say my friend Tomaz Salamun, go figure, he tells me to my face he doesn't like it. I love that! I love loving something so much that you simply don't care what other people think.

And most of all, I am chagrined by those who think it is fun and easy and run out and buy a book and then run to me and show me what they've done, seeking my approval--this has happened at Vermont College--or by those who endlessly find little books and send them to me in the hopes I will erase them (unless they are Larry Sutin, god bless and endorse him).

You see, I am not encouraging you to do this because it is to me exactly like art--it is a private journey; we can be inspired and we can be influenced, but the predominant note of any journey must be found in the quiet unfolding of our own time on earth.

That said, I will say this: eight times out of ten, an erasure of a poem, made by the author of that poem, will be better than the original poem. It is sometimes called revision, but of course you cannot actually read the original poem, you can only look at the words.

I will now add, as an addendum to these remarks, the information--quite logical--that erasure is not exclusive to written text. Bill Morrison's film Decasia is a film erasure, made entirely by editing decayed film stock--old film from a variety of sources that has decayed throughout time to the point of being "burnt out" or erased--and as such is a complete and unique erasure experience, one you may order through Netflix. But be forewarned--the film will either change your life, or you will not be able to endure it to its end--a litmus test of how you react to erasure. The same might be said of William Balinski's The Disintegration Loops, music created when Balinski attempted to transfer old tape loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to digital hard disk. But the tapes were old and they were disintegrating. "The music was dying," says Balinski in his liner notes, but he kept recording, documenting the death of the loops. So sometimes we just stumble upon an act of erasure and recognize its beauty and seek to preserve it--seek to preserve that which has not been preserved; we make compositions out of decompositions.

And who can forget the famous "Erased deKooning" by Robert Rauschenberg--when the savvy young artist (again, working in the heyday of deconstruction) was given a drawing by Wilhem deKooning and took an eraser and erased most of it, and promptly sold it for boodles as a Rauschenberg-cum-deKooning?

And who can forget? And who can forget? I CAN, you may be thinking, because I never knew any of this before, or I CAN, because none of this is of interest to me, or changes my life--so I, I can forget.

And that, my friend, is the art of erasure, as it is enacted in your own life, and all lives: life is much, much more than is necessary, and much, much more than any of us can bear, so we erase it or it erases us, we ourselves are an erasure of everything we have forgotten or don't know or haven't experienced, and on our deathbed, even that limited and erased "whole" becomes further diminished, if you are lucky you will remember the one word water, all others having been erased; if you are lucky you will remember one place or one person, but no one will ever, ever read on their deathbed, the whole text, intact and in order.

First your life is erased, then you are erased. Don't tell me that erasure is beside the point, an artsy fragment of the healthy whole. If it is an appropriation, it is an appropriation of every life that has preceded your own, just as those in the future will appropriate yours; they will appropriate your very needs, your desires, your gestures, your questions, and your words.

Or so I believe. And I am glad. What is the alternative? A blank page.

I am all the book remembers of itself.

I will now offer an erasure of this essay.

IV
I call them erasures
and so began
because lips never stopped working
for one can never tell
an intimate rose
from the remarkable habit
of crude time

Return to top