Sunday Flash. Night by Brett Lott

I wrote a Sunday flash for Green Mountains Review.

It begins:

But I did saw it, and that’s me. I’m seeing all kinds of things these days. You know, The Muffin Man, for example. Saw The Muffin Man yesterday, at the car wash.

*

NIGHT

He woke up. He thought he could hear their child’s breathing in the next room, the near-silent, smooth sound of air in and out.

He touched his wife. The room was too dark to let him see her, but he felt her movement, the shift of blanket and sheet.

“Listen,” he whispered.

“Yesterday,” she mumbled. “Why not yesterday,” and she moved back into sleep.

He listened harder, though he could hear his wife’s breath, thick and heavy next to him, there was beneath this the thin frost of his child’s breathing.

The hardwood floor was cold beneath his feet. He held out a hand in front of him, and when he touched the doorjamb, he paused, listened again, heard the life of his child.

His fingertips led him along the hall and to the next room. Then he was in the doorway of a room as dark, as hollow as his own. He cut on the light.

The room, of course, was empty. They had left the bed just as their child had made it, the spread merely thrown over bunched and wrinkled sheets, the pillow crooked at the head. The small blue desk was littered with colored pencils and scraps of construction paper, a bottle of white glue.

He turned off the light and listened. He heard nothing, then back out of the room and moved down the hall, back to his room, his hands at his sides, his fingertips helpless.

This happened each night, like a dream, but not.

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(“Night” can be located with 71 excellent flash fictions in this anthology.)

Why is Ricos nacho cheese inside lava lamps? Why do horror film take place in thunder and lightning? Why do couples trade lipstick in the rain? A catch in your voice. A coyote on a highway. A conveyor. The ocean invoked in a carpet of sardines. Sunlight on corn. A hand grenade nestled into a snow bank. Fog machines. A tumbleweed the size of your college debt. Whistling birds, that one bird they put into every movie. Foam. The smell of crushed jasmine and gasoline. The time you rode the subway and a woman handed you a squirrel. Disco balls. The smell of your eyes that day.  Black and white photos of abandoned laboratories. The sound of Mexico. An entire wall of your apartment covered in the Nixon and Elvis photo. A shoebox of weed. The moon.

What is of I speak?

MOOD.

The excellent thing about flash fiction is the sheer variety of technique. Some write very narrative flash, some go with lyrical–all of this is naturally on a spectrum. Here, we have “the unopened envelope” as plot. What’s behind the door? Mystery. But that’s the only narrative interest in advancing. The flash is more than happy to NOT advance. To ponder, freeze, flail.

TO TREAD, in darkness.

Z Nachos

Some flash writers see ambiance as the central medium, the tone and mood as the essence of the thing. Emotion transferred through craft. Flash always borrows from the poet. The poet has known brevity for eons. And setting. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows sound. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows objects. The poet knows. Word choice.

Gary Snyder goes:

The shack and a few trees

float in the blowing fog

I pull out your blouse,

warm my cold hands

on your breasts.

you laugh and shudder

peeling garlic by the

hot iron stove.

bring in the axe, the rake,

the wood

we’ll lean on the wall

against each other

stew simmering on the fire

as it grows dark

drinking wine.

right

Indeed. Here we have intimacy, though we don’t need the word, do we? But I digress…Let me clarify:

The flash writer waits in Nashville and the poet is an International air route.

The flash writer is an Iowa based firm (such as Maytag). The poet is broomcorn.

The flash writer is all, “legal name change.” The poet is a public, wooded park.

So the flash writer needs the poet.

Let’s talk craft. Or HOW DOES BRETT LOTT DO IT?

Good question.

“Night” says shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

“Night” says wobbly, disoriented, waking from a troubled sleep.

“Night” says “Is this my life?”

nacho bar mm

EUPHONY is a funny word. It sounds like a musical instrument or a Willy Wonka character or a waterway crowded with wandering water balloons, etc. Actually, it’s the glow of sound, providing a pleasing effect to the ear, the synapse, the tingle of the armpits. It is achieved not only by the selection of individual word-sounds, but also by their relationship in the repetition, proximity, and flow of sound patterns.

They are melodious. Or, if placed exactly, they move us, maybe to tremble.

See “Night.”

Read it aloud. Like poetry. Make your individual letters, the actual words, assist in your larger function. Make the dancer the dance.

ALLITERATION you know all about. …near-silent, smooth sound…

Read it aloud.

CONSONANCE

A combination of sounds; sounds in agreement with tone.

Read it aloud.

ONOMATOPOEIA

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Whisper….

On and on. A flash is elegant, is contained, is maybe an egg, a jeweled thing…with a life beating inside. “Night” is so quiet, yet there dwells its power: the sliding of a snake across a hardwood floor, the gentle whir of a falling thing, breathing, the dark.

Other methods?

Cold, frost, night…

Other methods.

Objects. Always objects…that bottle of glue. Waiting.

Other methods.

Sparse dialogue. A few words. But saying a lot.

Doesn’t it all join–the hallway, the torqued sheets, the child’s desk–to let you read right off the page? Let you consider all the glorious (and terrifying) white space?

Emptiness.

Fullness.

Terror.

Well, now you have a formula for flash. What we must admire here is Brett Lott’s economy and control. The text folds into itself. It then folds out, to resonate, like grief.

woody

Flash Fiction of the Day: The Moonlit Window

Chinese flash fiction. Minute story. Pocket-size story. Palm-size story. Smoke-Long story.

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Creation myths (Nuwa, Fuxi, Pangu). 350 BC.

PANGU:

In the beginning there was nothing in the universe except a formless chaos. However this chaos coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18,000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant with horns on his head and clad in furs. Pangu set about the task of creating the world: he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky. This task took 18,000 years; with each day the sky grew ten feet (3 meters) higher, the Earth ten feet wider, and Pangu ten feet taller. In some versions of the story, Pangu is aided in this task by the four most prominent beasts, namely the Turtle, the Qilin, the Phoenix, and the Dragon.

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After the 18,000 years had elapsed, Pangu was laid to rest. His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice the thunder; left eye the sun and right eye the moon; his head became the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood formed rivers; his muscles the fertile lands; his facial hair the stars and milky way; his fur the bushes and forests; his bones the valuable minerals; his bone marrows sacred diamonds; his sweat fell as rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became the fish and animals throughout the land. Nüwa the Goddess then used the mud of the water bed to form the shape of humans. These humans were very smart since they were individually crafted. Nüwa then became bored of individually making every human so she started putting a rope in the water bed and letting the drops of mud that fell from it become new humans. These small drops became new humans, not as smart as the first.

But let’s look at a more contemporary flash fiction, “The Moonlit Window” by Deng Kaishang.

Who is Deng Kaishang? All I know is that he is president of the Writer’s Association of Hunan Province. He might like cheese, but I doubt it. He is a good man.

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THE MOONLIT WINDOW

The moon, pale as jade, peeked from behind translucent clouds, drifted in through delicate window, and fell onto the small writing desk in the room. The tenant’s exquisite writing brush, breathing in the fragrance of fresh ink, rested on a small, finely-carved wood stand.

Five water chestnuts. No, four and a half, to be more exact: one of them having been bitten in half by the tenant. The remaining half, its stem still intact, lay upright on the small desk. Basking in the pale, pure moonlight, it looked like a miniature pyramid.

A small piece of square-shaped marble, exquisite, pure as a beam of frozen moonlight. Underneath the rock was a stack of manuscript paper, words written in graceful penmanship, its title: “Revision Suggestions for On Spring Vistas in Mountainous Villages (Three Volumes).”

Underneath the stack of manuscript paper was a family letter, which cracked visibly somewhere along the lines where it had been folded; the V-shaped rupture rippled with moonlight, shiny like a dagger. The visible portion of the letter showed words written with both resolve and feminine sensitivity:

Full moon beaming in the sky, stars sailing to the west, but woe welling up in my heart: A full moon is not good as a full family! ‘Once a couple, forever a couple,’ and we had that ‘once’ for 12 years! My conscience , a woman’s conscience, tortures my soul to this very day that we have been washed apart by the currents of life. My soul cried in pain; my soul is bleeding. Oh, let’s get married again! I beseech you. the only thing I will ask of you is to quit this editor’s job. What did you get in return for ‘making bridal dresses’ for others for half your life? Ten years of cold wind and rain, a head of frosty hair. So listen to me this time!

The letter closed with: “I beg you to stop smoking!” In a corner of the letter were two red, bean-sized marks: two drops of blood having soaked deep into the paper. Next to them was a line from the tenant after reading the letter: “Endless will flow this feeling of love!” It was taken from Bayi Juyi’s poem “Endless Sorrow;” only that the tenant had replaced “sorrow” with “love.”

A gentle breeze murmured a serenade. It drifted into the moonlit window, caressed a sheet of manuscript paper, the ink on which was still fresh, and dropped on it a strand of frosty hair. The page number read: 109.

nachos 1

Odd. So many jump cuts, so many ways the writer places your eye then darts your eye, location to location, information to information. Dizzying. Allusions. Writings about writing. What in the hell is page 109 about? Mystery. There’s some deliciously mysterious about this flash fiction. That’s what I admire. More and more, I don’t want answers. This flash seems an immersion. A prime example of mood. Of repetition. Of the agonies of communication, miscommunication. This piece almost seems to me to exist in saturation. It caught a shard of the un-catchable, the unknowable. Exquisite, in its attempt, in its form.

Flash of the Day: Three Microfficciones

microfficciones = microfictions = microstories. Get it? Same as flash fiction, Smokelongs (China), Palm-in-Hand (Japan), short-shorts, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, vignettes, nouvelles (France), pocket story, myth, fable, prose poem (or not?), quick fiction, nano-fiction, on and on. Why so many names? Because–as we are trying to prove over and over on this site–flash fiction has been and continues to be everywhere. Different parts of the world. Different times, past and present. So, different names.

Let’s discuss Argentina’s “Queen of Flash,” Ana Maria Shua. Let’s take a look at “Three Microstories” from the anthology, “Sudden Latino Fiction: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America.”

Cannibals and Explorers

The cannibals dance around the explorers. The cannibals light the fire. The cannibals have their faces painted in three colors. The cannibals prefer the heart and brain, disdaining the tender flesh of the thighs and the leftover intestines. The cannibals consume those parts of the body they believe will instill in them the virtues they admire in their victims. The cannibals partake of their ritual banquet without pleasure or mercy. The cannibals don the explorers’ clothes. The cannibals, once in London, deliver scholarly lectures on cannibals.

Respect for Genres

A man wakes up next to a woman he doesn’t recognize. In a thriller, this could be the result of alcohol, drugs, or a blow to the head. In a science fiction story, the man would eventually understand that he exists in a parallel universe. In an existentialist novel, the lack of recognition could simply be due to a feeling of alienation, of absurdity. In an experimental text, the mystery would go unsolved and the situation would be handled with the turn of a phrase. The editors become more and more demanding, and the man knows, with a sense of desperation, that if he doesn’t manage to fit himself into a genre soon, he runs the risk of remaining painfully and forever unpublished.

Theologian

In the seventh century A.D., a group of Bavarian theologians debate the sex of angels. Obviously, no one admits that women are capable of discussing theological matters; after all, back then it was doubtful they even had a soul. Nevertheless, one of them is a cleverly disguised woman. She asserts emphatically that angels must only be male. She knows, but doesn’t disclose, that among them there will be cleverly disguised women.

Segmented Structure, what does it provide? Well, for one thing, it provides white space. In flash, the work exists on and off the page. The reader has to see the area around the text as an integral aspect. Here we have white space between the actual microfictions, creating numberless possibilities. The white space might be a moment for thought, or Time itself, a movement back or forth (time often as extremely fluid in Latin American literature). The white space might be a change in place, in culture, in subject, yet that opens us up–bizarrely–to also seeing the sameness after the change. The white space divides and connects the text. The transformation runs both ways. So. White space enables us to read the work as three texts, but always simultaneously as one.

In the opening text, we get something common to Latin American literature: indigenous representations (the cannibals) and outsiders (explorers), New World versus ancient. Reason/logic/orderly belief versus another more imaginative view of existence. But then the turn, a two-part structure actually one definition of a flash, by some:

Russel Banks:

It’s its own self, and it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way.

In Shua’s work, the turn relies on the word, scholarly. The cannibals have become the explorers. They ate the system but it didn’t destroy the system–it actually changed them into the system, the way certain foods can change the body entire. Or were the cannibals always already explorers? Certainly explorers cannibalize. Is the transposing of expected roles the point? Or, and here is where I think Shua is directing us–is the entire flash a comment on scholarly work: cannibalizing the subject, pinning the butterfly below its Latin name, bringing it back to “London,” putting it in yet another box, a paper, a dry lecture, a set audience…into genre. The answers aren’t important, but a good flash–again with assistance from aspects off the page–should open us up to many possibilities. Already, this one does.

The second text seems obvious (and it is pleasurable to nod the head while reading), yet Shua takes it a bit further. Genre is a true realm of the cannibal (though much more rarely the explorer). Anyone in academia or publishing knows how to play the game. Something as mysterious as art, fate (a man wakes up next to…) can’t be understood, unless minimized, recognized, placed in a genre. A label. But again, the turn. The piece really became charged for me with the word painfully. Ah, the need to be published. The need to please someone (or many someones) in a very orderly way (forms anyone?), in academia, in the writing “world.” The abyss: forever unpublished. The turn exposes the “he” as a fraud, possibly another giver of “scholarly” papers, another cannibal transformed, shuffled back to please everyone in London…I also get a charge from another word in the sub-title, respect. Respect for Genres. Not only a great band name, but an idea that can make a person laugh, or shiver.

But there are ways out! Ways to retain the imaginative in our art and lives. Clever disguises.

The final text really seems to speak to the previous segments. It also speaks to method of defending and retaining an identity. Game the system. To subvert. In fact, to enjoy the process. The last text seems to speak for the artist. For methods of authenticity. For self.

Lastly, as a craft note, I encourage the use of the segmented form when struggling with a text. Sometimes I’ll write a flash fiction and spend hours moving it about, editing, shaping, and then I’ll just start chopping. Letting white space arrange and contain and actually allow the piece to settle into juxtaposition. This usually lets the writer remove a lot (a good thing) and add a little something more apt to the larger whole. The segmented form is one more technique to get us where we need to go as flash writer: fewer words, more meaning.

Flash of the Day: Cuban Dream # 7

Today’s Flash of the Day comes from Sudden Stories: the Mammoth Book of Miniscule Fiction, edited by Dinty W. Moore.

The author is Virgil Suarez, a Cuban born, extremely prolific writer. I point out “Cuban” as a nod to the rich roots of Latin American flash fiction (Junot Díaz, Cisneros, Bolaño, Márquez, Isabel Allende, Borges, Andrea Saenz, Daniel Alarcón, Alicita Rodriguez, etc, etc. BTW, If you are going to rail that Cuba is not Latin American, I would answer it is culturally.) I say prolific as a fact. If you have paged through a literary magazine, you’ve most likely read something by Mr. Suarez.

These Flash of the Day examinations are for anyone, but I’d like to particularity focus on the flash fiction writer. To comment on technique. To create compression is difficult: you must have sharpened tools. Let’s take a look at this flash fiction and then discuss, shall we?

Cuban Dream # 7

I’m on the beach running after a red parasol, each time I get near, a gust blows it down–it goes over German & Italian tourists, tumbling, kicking up sand into their drinks. They shout: “Ragazzo! Achtung!” A red umbrella in the distance, a knotted-tendril medusa of all my dreams–I run after it & step atop dead urchin carcasses. Unseen needles spear my soles, prick deep like lost loves. Puas, as my father called these urchins, these pains, warning me to steer clear. I leave blood tracks in the sand, beaded gems of my passing.

A woman wants to know if I can help her reenact Ava Gardner’s scene in The Night of the Iguana, the one with the two heavily-tanned boys who sandwich the star in the sultry Acapulco night. Pepe shakes his maracas. The other, the nameless one, dances behind Ava, arms linked tight about her waist. So shocking for 50s America. I say she’s got the wrong country. I say she’s got the wrong idea.

The umbrella becomes a speck, a small dot my father’s ghost plucks out of the air & puts in his mouth. I’ve gone deaf. I don’t even hear the waves, then sound becomes possible again. Waves hiss. Sand churns. I hear the roar of the surf. I hear someone behind me, calling for another mojito, this island’s minty, fresh elixir! In the distance my father’s ghost has become a raft in a rough-&-tumble sea: women & children fall overboard, splash in the water. Drown. Nobody notices. I turn to look behind me only to see a beach covered in blue umbrellas & under their shades thousands of naked German women, their waxen skin turning beet red. They are hungry seals. One hobbles over to me & begins to gnaw at my shins. Her bite feels like a clamping down of metal into flesh, the smashing of a finger under a hammerblow. It does no good to shout for help or try to wake up. This is the lost dream of a lost soul in a distant but not forgotten island.

Title: Like in poetry, titles are very important to flash fiction. This one implies a series (7 of…). The speaker doesn’t have one troubling dream, but many. For how long? or: How many per evening? A suggestion of recurring nightmares, or recurring repressed emotion (in a story set in contemporary times–a Freudian take is allowed). This is an interesting flash technique (and it is that, yet another way to get more across with fewer words), the layering involved in a series. It implies a rumination on the subject. It means a continuum. There is no actual need for a Cuban Dream # 6 or a Cuban Dream # 8, but they might exist, off the page, from Cuban dream # 1 to Cuban Dream # 294, etc. They might be infinite, the visitations of the father’s ghost (don’t ghosts walk forever?), these tourists (tourism seems eternal to me), this island (Contemporary Cuba. Changing, yet fixed in time…)

Object: Red umbrella. One thing I admire about flash is the way writers find so many creative ways to “thread” together a narrative, ways that deviate from Freytag or some more traditional plot structure. The image of the tumbling umbrella get the narrative rolling, a conflict, and a question: will he catch the umbrella? Once the umbrella is sent on its way, Suarez can leave it (though it’s still in the readers mind, a sort of “hold”) and then return at his wish. The umbrella (especially if referred to as a “parasol”) also seems to harken back to flash as a modernist form, a homage to the modernist eye of observation, the beach or park or picnic scene (think of all the paintings), flash fiction (like the prose poem) often concerning itself with what critic and writer, Margueritte Murphy calls, “looking” and “looking itself is an activity, a dynamic art.” The Parasol can also act in many other ways than plot thread. It’s antiquated nature might be commenting on Cuban/U.S. trade restrictions (you should see the cars of Cuba). It might provide levity (think Charlie Chaplain). It is red (symbol alert!). It does a lot of things. Again, in flash, you are looking for techniques of compression. An object needs to echo. The parasol does.

Allusion: Another common flash technique: Allusion can add additional layering to the actual words. What an odd one here: The Night of the Iguana, a truly loaded film based on a truly loaded play: desire, loneliness, longing. Besides the ridiculousness of the tourist (and this piece does have a lot to say about tourism and the tourist mind), I think the allusion hints to the troubled relationship between speaker and father and then finally, Cuba–pre-revolution versus post-revolution. If only the speaker could view the country like a tourist. A tourist has no national memory–they just drop in and start sunning and drinking. The speaker knew a before, his father’s time, another island all together.

Dream: I like how Suarez couches all of this under a “dream.” As a writer, it allows for a lot of technique that would appear forced in other situations. Note how sensory based, how full of movement this flash, and then the way the juxtapositions morph so quickly into each other. As a teacher, I sometimes see student writers using dreams as a crutch. (Anything is possible now, yippeee! And then he awoke…) Here, Suarez uses the dream as a device, a style almost, a way of writing to allow memory, hypersensitivity, rapid transformations of place and situation. In a dream, this fluttering (nausea?) is default. In a dream the nonsensical makes sense.

You Know, Just Hanging Out

Why do you wear your hair in horns? Why did you sell to the slicks? Had to make a living, dear boy. Well, you broke the code, never break the code. Ha, ha. Go and fetch me a gin, that’s my code, you mayonnaise snuffler. Why don’t you go set your head on fire? Why don’t you go make love to a muzzle loader? We can’t all spend our days shooting ostriches and bicycling through trout streams while riding water buffalo over the roofs of Mexican ski cabins, now can we? Look, bloated is no way to look big. You wrote a perfect book and it drives me crazy. Where in the hell is my cat?

HA HA HA HA HA HA. Somebody bring me a drink the size of Jupiter. Somebody light this cigarette. Somebody take off my glasses, clean them, hand them back to me. Holy claptrap. Why am I in this photo? You know one time I went to see Walden Pond (not so long a drive from my residence in Harlem) and at the bottom was a beer can. Take note. Take note.


Your books are absolute rubbish. Run along, sonny. Run along to the mall or the disco or wherever it is you get your information. When I see a V of swans I follow the V with my eyes and think about your collected works. When I see a crane walking along the rooftop (nesting in chimney–yes, they actually do that [Why not get outside yourself?]) and a little boy shoots it with a BB gun I think of your collected works. When a lager is flat, a woman stumbles into the street, a group of tourists are chasing down a goat with a stick…wait a bloody minute! Terminator Two is on the telly! I’m out.

OPEN your fucking eyes.

Don’t want to.

Dear, open your eyes. We’re not going to have a staged photo and you closing your fucking eyes.

Don’t want to. Why should I abdicate my free will?

Open your eyes. How does my pipe look, the angle?

Can’t see it.

Open your eyes! Look at my pipe!

No. We’re all going to die, very, very soon.

Open your eyes!

Don’t want to. I am abandoned on this earth in the midst of my infinite possibilities, and, I for one, would like to shoot this little gun with my eyes closed. This is my destiny. I don’t ask for help. Later I’ll have a sandwich, with onions.

Open your eyes. Open your eyes, dear.

I am free.

We’re exhausted. We just came in from chopping trees on the farm, you know, for firewood. Brett here owns several farms. We got blisters and like leaves in our hair. I almost hit my knee with the axe, the left knee, this one here. Brett caught a fish and built a fire and cooked the fish’s tail and told me it would be crunchy like a potato chip. It was nothing like a potato chip. Winter will be hell. Brett noticed a squirrel with an extra bushy tail and says it is sign, a sign of a hard, hard winter. We did some coke and shot the squirrel. We ate its brains. Winter is going to be hell.


You took out the herd of elephants?

I did. It was ridiculous.

But you left in the haunted house, right?

Of course. The house is there…boarded up, OK. Not really like a haunted house, more abandoned. I took out the vampire.

Dude!

Sorry. I put the house in yesterday and took out the vampire and the elephant herd. You don’t want an elephant herd in there, trust me. What else? Is anyone going to live in the house? Jesus, give me something. When is this thing due? You’re angry about the vampire now, aren’t you? God, my eyes are hurting. At least go get me some water.

Bear

The bear puts both arms around the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its chokecherries lips to kiss good-by,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.

–Robert Frost.

I once penned a flash fiction about Robert Frost standing atop a TV while wearing hot pants, though I’m not sure why. Possibly it was because I was sitting (or shall I saw sprawling like an octopus?) in a room (probably yellowed and mildewed or smelling like cheese) and heard a teacher glare to me “Robert Frost was the first poet on TV” and I had this sudden concrete image “ON the TV” and I just coagulated. My desired object is an empty TV with flowers inside the fractured shell, but have never been motivated enough to go ahead and create the damn thing. Back in Alabama I held prayer with fire ants and took a Dante class and walked into the room and the professor started speaking to us, in Italian. I walked out the room. That’s a tip: eject the class, OK? Don’t gurgle an F. An F FOLLOWS you around like a cheerleader’s debt. Did I mention I had a student faint last year? Like a gelatinous flower to the floor. It can be rough in academia, I know that. Yesterday I graded 400 papers about Facebook, bioengineering, treacle addiction, and the pseudoscience of experiments on happiness. It was interesting. I can read really quickly like a door. I used to teach Robert Frost waaaayyy back in the day when people used balloons for travel and the world was basically either a dog or a car window and people would allow me to teach literature and students would plagiarize their papers on Frost and it would be the FIRST THING I Googled, like LAZY plagiarism, and I would stomp my little foot and print it out and staple it to their assignments all sideways and crinkly with coffee stains and hand it back with a big fat ZERO and one time this young lady cried and cried and cried. Young lady who is not near as young anymore–I am sorry I made you cry. Shit does happens, though, when you plagiarize. Think about if you tried to plagiarize a whale, for example. I would staple your plagiarized whale onto a real whale, and contemplate that, the potential consequences of a beached, bloody, stapled whale just leaking all over your fabulous green sweater. When I think of Frost I think of people lying to horses and riding trees or back in Memphis when I used to swing on grapevines all over the forest. I would also smoke grapevine like a god. Grapevine is basically a very useful plant for kids. I penned again about Frost last week. I said something about liking to play tennis without a net. You know, Frost lost his father and his kids (one to suicide) and had to commit family members to mental institutions and was generally well acquainted with the night. I think this is why he wrote about nature. Nature is nature. Humans are nature, but we stand removed from its essence. We are anti-nature and nature. Nature is nature. The hawk is the hawk is the hawk. Humans…well.

The mother told about the time she’d seen a bear. A bear the size of several men, she said. There in the woods behind our house, when I was still a girl like you. The mother had stood in wonder watching while the bear ate a whole deer. It ate the deer’s cheeks, its eyes, its tongue, its pelt. It ate everything but the antlers. The mother had waited for the bear to leave so she could take the antlers home and wear them, but the bear had just gone on laying, stuffed, smothered in blood. The mother swore then—her eyes grew massive in the telling—the bear had spoken. It’d looked right at the mother and said, quite casual, My god, I was hungry. Its voice was gorgeous, deep and groaning. The mother could hardly move. I didn’t know bears could talk, she said finally, and the bear had said, Of course we can. It’s just that no one ever takes the time to hear. We are old and we are lonely and we have dreams you can’t imagine.

-Blake Butler

That’s an excerpt from Scorch Atlas, still my favorite book of Blake’s. I like Blake Butler, I do, as an author and a human being. As is my way I once shot his book (I only shoot books I admire) and I know for a fact I set it on fire and maybe even detonated an explosive nearby can’t remember and was drinking, my head like a wobbly hog. Who knows? My heart is oft a drowsy box. But one thing you might want to ponder is putting a bear into your brain bucket. It is wise.

Here’s a little piece I wrote for my book, Fog Gorgeous Stag. Like much of the book, the text is utterly senseless, but I did add a bear (carrying a cross) to sort of tidy up the logic. Without the bear, the piece had all the gravitas of decaffeinated coffee. With the bear included, the words now have a certain savage indignation, a flavor of tormented loves and guarded epiphanies alongside the obvious aesthetic statement defining the project entire. Here, let me show you:

Chilly and Feeling Weak

A glass bowl of disposable lighters. A bowl of fireworks. A little wind-up dog. An altar made of still-warm meat yet hung. Glass stains. Bears with crosses. Curtains ironing the waxes out of candles. In the words of all: “The prayer of continuing any act simply because we started the act, Amen.” A gilded sling shot. Fact: Not one person saved. Fact: I enjoy the swish of rain sweeping a roof, most any roof, and so attended gloomy days. Fact: Velvet is a tangled clod. Fact: All over the world. Fact: Relentless and horrible rain. Fact: A philosophy of quietism. Fact: Ugly contrasts. Fact: Urns and earns, a form of learning. Fact: Instability. Fact: An old-fashioned coward. Fact: A walk now and then, a falling forward. Fact: An underwater house. Fact: A neon sign above the two bowls. Fact: It read SHARE.

[technology is lonely

a properly folded flag impossible to unfold

without major damage]

One time the writer Tao Lin said, “In my room I have a bearsuit but I haven’t done anything sexual with it. I like looking at a pretty face when doing something sexual. I don’t know if I would feel aroused if I looked at a fish head or like a donkey’s mouth while doing something sexual. I do understand and believe that people are able to “get off” on those things though. I don’t doubt their arousal or pleasure.”

Wow, people talk a lot of shit about Tao Lin, but you know what they hardly ever talk about? He used to be really, really funny. Is he funny now? I don’t know. I have not read any of his current books. But back in the day, glow funny. Here you go:

(BTW: Tao Lin’s syllabus, if you are interested in the contemporary short story or want a site with some glow links to stories online.)

‘A poem written by a bear’ by Tao Lin

let me go eat some salmon

why are there coke cans in the river

what if i wore a bullet proof vest during hunting season

i’m a bear; i walk in the forest and look at the river and the river is cold

i saw campers today and they ran away and i was alone and i destroyed their tent

let me go scratch my paw on a tree

let me go eat a salmon

last night i cried onto my salmon

the salmon was sad but it still wanted to live

it wanted to swim and be sad and i ate it under moonlight

i saw a moose scream the other day

it screamed quietly under a tree

i felt embarrassed and sad and i thought, ‘oh, no; oh god, oh my god’

sometimes i climb a tree and sit there and sing very quietly

sometimes i want to go to a shopping mall and chase the humans and claw them

i’ll ride the moose into the shopping mall and ram the humans

the moose and i will ride the escalator and i will hug the moose and the moose and i will cry

i will eat the moose

i don’t care

i will scream and throw the bubblegum machine from the second floor to the first floor

i felt compassion for the salmon and now i don’t care anymore

i’ll walk into a parking lot and chase a large human and hug the human and cry

i’ll walk into a house at night and push the humans off the bed

i’ll stare at the bed and i’ll feel fake

One of my favorite bear stories gnashes a sense of place with excellent characterization. It is over at Smokelong Quarterly and is titled, “Imagines He’s a Bear.” Ryan Dilbert. Dilbert matured on an island and I actually know someone who let Ryan Dilbert give them a tattoo. That’s trust. I had an ER patient once at Denver Health Medical Center and he had, in GIANT letters, exactly this numeral tattooed on his forehead: 666. That, my friends, is questionable judgement. I had an ER patient who called me (I was working the midnight phones) and asked for directions to the ER. He was angry at a nursing assistant and wanted to come shoot her with a gun. I had an ER patient once who attempted to open the doors of a passenger jet while in flight. I had an ER patient once who…oh, never mind. I’m writing about bears! I have a tattoo of a blazing sun on my shoulder. The sun is the source of all life. Maybe. Three strong drinks later.

See how Ryan Dilbert constructs a little world here? See how HE USES A BEAR!? I’m asking you to listen to me. I’m asking you to understand the effectiveness of bears. Bears will make your prose something to be worshiped from afar, like a mountain range or a spicy, adulterous affair, for example. Your poetry, if immersed within bears, will most likely shine like a mini-skirt. Place a bear within your argument for the legalization of marijuana and we’ll all be very high, very soon. I’m offering you a chance to improve your writing. This is a writing blog, sometimes. A bear is your chance to say, Fuck decorum. A bear is subversive. A bear is like inviting an angel into your house for pizza and then beating the angel in UNO. A bear is fresh. I’m trying to give you a writing tip here, but I get the distinct feeling you are not listening. Are you on Facebook? I bet you are! I could be wrong. Maybe you’re actually listening. OK, sorry. That was presumptuous of me.

Insert a bear in your art. Please.

Here is “The Bear and the Skunk” by Ben Tanzer.

Over at bearcreekfeed, we have a magazine with the word “bear” embedded within the title of the magazine. There is also work by some strong authors.

Write a story in which your character has a problem:

“Henry, there’s a bear at the door.”

The problem should be significant:

“Henry, it’s huge.”

The problem should be pressing:

“Henry, I think it’s trying to get in.”

The story begins by establishing not only that something is wrong, but that your character has to act. ….

…. If Henry is to deal with the problem, he has to find the bear within himself:

“Henry! Do something!”

The tension in the story comes from the battle between the challenge and the character’s need to face the problem. What will Henry do?

Here is a little poem for you:

Although Hopkins admitted to smoking

marijuana before arriving at work, I cannot

conclude based on the evidence that the major

contributing cause of the grizzly bear attack

was anything other than the grizzly. It is not as

if this attack occurred when Hopkins inexplicably

wandered into the grizzly pen while

searching for the nearest White Castle. When

a grizzly bear is sighted on a trail in Glacier

National Park, the trail is closed to all hikers,

not just the hikers who may have recently

smoked marijuana. When it comes to attacking

humans, grizzlies are equal-opportunity

maulers, attacking without regard to race,

creed, ethnicity, or marijuana use. Hopkins’s

use of marijuana to kick off a day of working

around grizzly bears was ill-advised to say the

least, and mind-bogglingly stupid to say the

most. However, I have been presented with no

evidence by which I can conclude that Hopkins’s

marijuana use was the major contributing

cause of the grizzly bear attack.

A few days ago a person commented that Jim Harrison was a poor poet. That person can kiss my ass. I hope a bear eats his mother’s bras. Jim Harrison is a very good poet, and I consider his “Letters to Yesenin” to be one of my all time glow books. Today, let’s look at two poems Mr. Harrison wrote about bears. In the first poem, the speaker releases a kept bear; in the second, the speaker eats bear and then dreams of bear (a repeating motif in Harrison’s work–characters who eat bear often have bear dreams). To Harrison the bear is always holy. Although Harrison himself is a hunter, he clearly see hunting bear as absurd, or simply as the wrong thing to do. I would have to agree. Go ahead and read the poems. Go. Right now.

I met Steve Himmer at a tire store once. The tire store was converted into an artist space and Steve Himmer and I (and way too many other people) were reading that evening. You know lately people have been inviting WAY too many fucking poets to readings. Chill on that, OK? Invite four tops, not 14. Jesus. Who wants to hear that much poetry? Or have to be near that many poets? Poets! We have to stand here alongside all these poets? Steve was a nice guy, BTW, and he’s not a poet, so what am I even talking about? It makes you wonder. We ran out of beer that evening.

Over at JMWW, Steve writes:

So I was alone in the house when I walked into the kitchen to hunt down a snack and nearly tripped over a bear. He was sound asleep like a mountain, his humped reflection carrying into the distance of the oven’s glass door. His fur shivered in a breeze from the back door he’d left open and dry leaves skittered like mice on the tiles. The lower cabinets were emptied of pots and pans as if the bear had been looking for something and exhausted himself in the process.

Big Cages by Kim Chinquee

She sleeps with the tiger. She rests on his shoulder and touches his fur. He is meaty and gentle, with big teeth he only shows with a yawn. She wakes from a dream and feels the tiger’s paw on her arm, and she wonders if there is a boy, her boy, in the next room. Not really a boy now. A man with a stuffed bear, and the bear is getting up to use the bathroom. She looks at her husband—in her dream there is Discovery, that mirage, the circus, tigers in big cages, a man, a bear, a trapeze artist. She hears flushing from the bathroom. She starts to get up to check if the bear is real and is her son a boy or man now? She moves closer to her husband. She pulls herself under him, like a blanket, hearing his heart thump evenly.

One time I was trout fishing in the mountains (the odor of wet stone, tall grass stirring in the breeze, trout “sifting like silt in the green dark”) above Knoxville and I just had this odd feeling and I looked behind me and there it was, a large black bear. It was crossing the creek. It paused midstream and stared at me. My god its head was the size of a tomato farm. I looked right into its face and thought, “It’s cool, bear.” And it looked at me a moment and thought, “It’s cool, human. I suppose.” Then it faded into the forest.

fiction flashscapes and the carnival is postponed

Yeh, I haven’t blogged in a long time. Why? Because I didn’t feel like blogging. To blog when you don’t feel like blogging is Bad Faith. Am I a broken necklace of vowels? Am I a mechanical plug of radishes? No. Also I’ve spent too many weekends in hotels. Too many weekends eating vegetable burgers from BK since most other fast food outlets will not offer a veggie burger, the bastards. Backyard Burger in Mississippi had a good veggie burger, but that’s was it. BK. BK. Chili’s has one, but that’s not fast food, it’s just shitty food. The best veggie burger was in St. Jospeh, Michigan, right alongside the beach and the carousel and the hard, cold rain. I forget the name of the place. But it was good. In New Orleans I didn’t eat veggie burgers. I ate shrimp and fried green tomatoes and oysters and tuna and octopus and vodka and hot sauce.

Did I mention someone put a giant shark in my glass of vodka?

The first few days the hamburgers only grew. But eventually they became a new sort of thing. They were small statues of people and then these people were equipped with weapons. Handguns, rifles, lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows and even tiny daggers. Then the tiny people began to grow real flesh. It looked painful. They all writhed and twisted, but eventually the flesh was grown. In the days after, they continued to tremble and eventually began to weep and I ascertained that they had grown tear ducts. And probably other organs. Hearts, lungs, spleens, kidneys and any of the other necessary organs.

-Brandi Wells.

Damn, check out this new James Salter interview!

But now I’m back in fucking Indiana. Here‘s an Indiana poem for you by Jeffrey Bean. BTW, Indiana looks like this:

Anyway, I did write a prose poem about supermodels for xTx. She is having a “Supermodel Summer.” XtX is ALWAYS up to something, as you know. I met xTx at a dance once and she was very nice and said, “I’m xTx” but I still don’t believe that was xTx. Not at all. I think xTx is a mystical force and most likely only takes human form when convenient. Xtx might  also be a flower, a barn, a bathroom mirror or a hornet. The walls shook. Music. There were so many Internet writer people at this dance that I can’t believe the ceiling didn’t collapse and kill us all. That would have been a good day. A good day indeed.

I’ve give this prose poem of mine a solid 4. While it’s instructive formally, I also feel it’s forced and in need of revision. It is scarcely larger than a muskrat. It reminds me of irrelevance and hitting a large nail with a lawnmower. And while obviously many of my later poems bring us all up against self enclosure of some variety, the lines here resemble a plate of overcooked spaghetti locked inside a can of flat Dr. Pepper thrown off a cliff into the sea. Then again, you have to know when to maintain control and when to lose it, correct? Ever seen a cloud? Well, there you go.

Hey, here’s a better one. This is flash I wrote and sent to elimae. Thank you very little.

Anyway I was in a hotel, a Super 8 a few days ago. It was awful, awful. It smelled like a crypt. It smelled like a crime scene, a ragged spleen, like something moist but then coated in a layer of smashed fireflies, a goo, a yellow goo, and then a tint of bird bones, some paste, no not bird bones, fuck all that poetic blar, I mean it smelled badly, like above (minus the bird bones) but maybe add a lump of Play-Dough like when you mold Play-Dough around a light bulb as a kid and then your dad says, “Get the fucking Play-Dough off the light bulb!” and you get a wet rag and SHOCK! Bad idea the wet rag. I stuck a nail in a light socket once and it threw me across the room! I of course grabbed onto an electric fence. Teeth! I forget the other times I have known electricity. It makes me sleepy.

Is that even how you spell Play-Dough? I have no idea and I’m not going to look it up. Sometimes you have to not look it up. I’m not a shadow over here. I move, the shadow moves. I have a higher ratio of window in my life than of walls, I think. I’m still standing. So I’m not looking it up.

Hours later, maybe days, we will wake to ribbons of melted wax, the room still except for breath. In those small morning seconds, everything is realized in stone. There is patched clothing in the closet, the dented radiators, the faded curtains, the cracks in the wall. Then there is the stink of the dumpster outside, only masked by lingering sex.

-Elysia Smith

The Super 8 I’m saying. There was an empty indoor swimming pool. No water. That’s a metaphor. Expectations unrealized. The uselessness of a giant empty pool. It rained. Could the kids swim in the pool? They could not. They could leap in or fall in and die there, but no cannonballs, no look-how-long-I-can-hold-my-breath, no I’m Michael Phelps! etc–no JOY. Just an empty swimming pool, a giant sore, a toothless mouth, a stink of nothing.

“Fitness Center” is one hell of a word for a tiny glass cube with one broken stair climber, once broken bike/bird looking thing, one functional set of weights. No TV, no water, no towels, no nothing. I pushed some weights about, did some crunches. The floor stuck to me.

The bathroom had scratched painted walls. The shower wouldn’t drain, so you stood there in several inches of wretched memory water. The memories in that water, the hair and hope cells and vomit and blood and razorblades and screams and devil semen and GOD KNOWS WHAT of that fucking Super 8 hotel bathtub water. I complained and they fixed the drain while I was out eating perch. The tub was the color of knuckles.

They had this lonely basketball goal, but see below the goal was a giant puddle of water. You can’t play basketball in water. The ball will not bounce, see? No bounce, no basketball.

The room has a spider and a giant can of Coors Lite behind the bed. A crypt, I’m telling you. This was the Super 8 in Stevensville, Michigan. A SUPER crypt. A sad, bad place. I felt like a failure to have even brought myself, myself and my family, to such a wretched den of fools, a back-road to hell, hulking, hollow tree leaning so precipitously over our heads and souls. For awhile I thought we all might be murdered. Why not just throw my life into a volcano? Sleep was jagged, a crossed knife and fork, a tangle of thin sheets and barbed wire. I had mad dreams. The eyes of spiders, blue forests, I felt lost in a corridor of pure black bone marrow, some shaky cage, a carnival ride night of screeches and tumbles, sounds of trucks farting in the parking lot, children screaming, blickers of light and darkness, some great, wounded bird falling like an unhinged jet engine onto the roof…also the coffee sucked.

*

Hey, here are some flash fictions I enjoyed today:

1. Seamus Heaney by Nicolle Elizabeth.

I like stalking. Ever read the lovely Stalking Dave Eggers by Elizabeth Ellen? You really should.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth airport bookstore I hold up Dave’s book, show his picture to my six-year-old daughter.

“This is mommy’s new boyfriend,” I tell her. She glances momentarily at the picture but doesn’t say anything. She is clearly not impressed.

“Isn’t he cute?” I say. “Look at his hair. Isn’t that cute hair?”

Ah, now I’m getting sidetracked. Way leads onto way, Frost told us, the gorgeous fart. Fart is a word not often used in literature. It’s a silly word, isn’t it? A few weeks ago, I dropped into a poetry workshop and the instructor (the most glow Kathleen Rooney) gave us a big-ass poetry prompt and you had to put a word into your poem not often seen in poetry. I used the word fart.

Can I say something about Dave Eggers? Once, on my birthday, I drank a lot of sake and yelled out to Dave Eggers, WHERE IS TOPH?! He stopped his reading and said, “What is this, an insurrection? Toph is fine. He’s in the coast guard.”

I recently had a student faint while discussing Dave Eggers. Not a great situation, though it worked out fine, in the end.

I shit you not.

Can I say something about writing prompts? Yes, yes I can. It’s my fucking blog. I always thought prompts were bullshit. I think now I was wrong. All of the prompts I used for that poetry workshop worked out just fine. I actually wrote several decent poems. In fact, I went out and bought the very book containing the earlier prompt. The book is The Practice of Poetry, by Chase Twichell (have no idea who that is) and Robin Behn (Robin is a wonderful poet and was one of my MFA professors at Alabama.)

So I might try some more prompts. Or the book might just sit there like a muskrat eating an apple. If I was a muskrat I would secretly move through your backyard, leaving long meandering trails in the grass. The next morning you would see these odd trails and think, “What is that?” I’d be hiding in the nearby tall weeds and I’d giggle and think, “It’s a muskrat!” I would then go home and listen to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, over and over and over…My record player would be made of a boulder and my record needle would be a pine needle…I think.

“Trauma, Trau-ma. The sessions were like a cocktail party every night—people everywhere. We ended up staying in these weird hospital rooms … and of course John and me were not exactly the best of friends.”

—Christine McVie, on the emotional strain when making Rumours in Sausalito

Ok, back to the flash fiction by Nicolle Elizabeth. It’s creepy. No, it’s eerie. I like eerie. Whispers in the night, clammy things, the weight of dreams, etc. This flash is a great example of control of tone. With tone, in a brief work, you need to stay consistent. This is a process of accumulation. A dune of sand is really just many individual flecks of sand. One day you go, “Damn, that’s a dune.” Note how Elizabeth ‘stacks’ certain sounds, images to control tone. Very technical, and reminded me of another master of tone, Robert Bly.

Snowbanks North of the House

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.

The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.

The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.

2. The second flash fiction I admire today is by Arron Teel, capturing that odd moment (that seems like years [or is?], that odd age of transition, from kid to adult, all of the odd stirrings, the painful misunderstandings and painful understandings…the wonder of life. And what a final line! Ending lines always matter, but with less words, you really need to zap out, like a poem, like a poem…Glow dat. Here, Teel catches the blue, he contains it and compresses the blur. Like a poem.

Did I ever tell you about when I was like 14 and shot bottle rockets up into a bee hive? Yeh, it set the entire forest on fire. Smoldering hive of bees. That was a bad day. Later I would shoot out a giant, glass door with a slingshot. Not sure what I was thinking back then.

3. Monic Ductan has a memorable name and writes about Wal-Mart.

The thing about Wal-Mart is you don’t want to be there, really ever, and then you find yourself in Wal-Mart. Everyone I know hates Wal-Mart but we don’t really do anything about it. There’s a lot of things that way. It makes me feel pretty empty sometimes.

Hand reaches across breast, elbow to nipple.
Oh my god! Excuse me, m’am.
It’s just a titty, sir, whispered between painted lips.
Excellent flash, and really contains some of the chaos of family, relationships, the things that just happen, the things we can’t always communicate clearly about…It’s a strong work, and structurally inevitable, the lines cascading to the end.
I’ve pretty much enjoyed all Catherine Lacey. Personally, I’m in the “No one knows what they are doing” camp, and, like anyone, I enjoy reading literature that validates my view. Lacey really mines the terrain of confusion. Confusion. Confusion.
5. Amelia Fucking Earhart is a great title.
This is the first I’ve read of Angela Allen. It’s an odd one, wonderfully odd little tale, leaning to metaphor, twisting and snapping, moving us along–over here, over there–always grooving the imagination. The imagination is hope, isn’t it? I don’t know. I enjoy the cliffs of tension. This piece made me smile.
*
Ok, so there you go, I blogged, in my own way. I said to the world: I AM NOT A TARRED TELEPHONE POLE!! I’d like to end today with a muskrat dream and some advice to AVOID Super 8 Stevensville, MI, and, here, a little poem for you:
I title it INTIMATE ROTEL DIP
*
Velveeta is our long yellow jig
All day we hop
with a wobble impossible by night
kissing one another
like a single pepper
under the blank melting
grease knows where to find grease
bubbles reach for bubbles
we suck the bowl’s familiar curl
and vanish
deep into shrieking stomachs
delivered from the emptiness
of a dip half-eaten
of having to learn
that difficult, cold hardening pause
without a chip at all.
*
And, finally for today, I write about a box of Velveeta for Banango Street.
S