Apr 102011
 

A little Hydrogen atom wanted to become attached to a Chlorine atom, but he didn’t have the courage to talk to her. On the other side, Chlorine really liked Hydrogen, but she couldn’t talk to him either. Finally Chlorine decided that she would dress up as another Hydrogen atom because of how comfortable Hydrogen is hanging out with itself. That night Hydrogen came up with the scheme of dressing up like Chlorine, because he knew that she loved to chill with other Chlorine atoms. The two both figured that the next day they’d see the other and become happily diatomic.

During the day neither of them could find the other. Hydrogen and Chlorine were both very sad.

But, after school, Hydrogen forgot he was pretending to be Chlorine, and he saw another Hydrogen atom that he really wanted to hang out with. So he ran over to the lone atom — who turned out to be Chlorine in disguise! He asked if they could bond, and Chlorine, forgetting that she wasn’t actually Hydrogen, decided she wouldn’t mind hanging out with this Chlorine molecule.

That night while the two shared some electrons, they laughed about their Ironic Bond[1].

Jonah Glover

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Editor’s Note: For the chemistry-impaired “an ionic bond is a type of chemical bond formed through an electrostatic attraction between two oppositely charged ions.” See the Wikipedia article here. Actually, H and Cl share electrons to form a covalent bond, which is ironic.
Apr 102011
 

My mother’s forebears, McCalls and McInnises, settled in the cradle of Long Point Bay on the north shore of Lake Erie in the 1790s and early 1800s. I grew up about 20 miles away, still in Norfolk County, at the edge of the Great Norfolk Sand Plain about a 200 metres from a long low hill, the remnants of the Great Galt Moraine, a glacial deposit left at the end of the last Ice Age. (There is something about growing up around geological features called “Great” that tends to inspire delusions of grandeur.) I was raised on tales of the old days from my mother and grandmother, stories that infected me with the family collecting mania and a fanciful feel for the countryside which to me is steeped in drama, blood, superstition and comedy. Over the years I’ve been gathering a library of texts about Long Point and Norfolk County[1].

Here is a brief version, something to give you a taste of the mystery and beauty of the place. The order is roughly chronological, but for emphasis and poetry I have slipped elements in where they don’t belong. The texts by various McCalls and McInnises are family documents.

—Douglas Glover

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Just off Grubb Reef the wheelsman turns the ship fourteen degrees more to the southeast to clear the Southeast Shoal Light which stands on the reef formed by Point Pelee as it slopes down into the lake. Once safely round this point, the ship sails out into the open lake, and heads northeast (the course is ENE 1/8 E) straight across the middle of the lake for Long Point, 133 miles away. Lake Erie, Harlan Hatcher.

*

Viewed from a distance the Point appears as an attenuated tree-clad fringe on the horizon. The great outer portion is almost uninhabited, for as yet no road penetrates its wild seclusion. George Laidler, “Long Point, Lake Erie: Some Physical and Historical Aspects.”

*

On de Gallinée’s map of 1670 this spit is grossly indicated and named “Peninsula of Lake Erie” (Coyne, 1902). On a map dated 1763 (Charlevoix, 1766) it is indicated as “Long Pt.” Later it was known as “North Foreland” (Smyth, 1799). The peninsula is now generally known as Long Point. L. L. Snyder, “A Faunal Investigation of Long Point and Vicinity, Norfolk County, Ontario”, Contribution No. 4, Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology, Transactions of the Royal Canadian Institute, 1932.

*

The interpreter Etienne Brulé is believed to be the first White to have contacted the Neutral. This probably occured in 1615-16 when he accompanied a party of Huron journeying to seek military aid from the Andastes in Pennsylvania against the Onondaga. The Hood Site: A Historic Neutral Town of 1640 A.D. National Museum of Man Mercury Series Paper No. 121.

*

From Haldimand county westward the shore of Lake Erie takes them form of three big scallops with as many big sand spits at the apexes. The centre of the scallops are marked by high bluffs which are constantly shifting inland. Conversely the spits are gradually extending farther out into the lake using the sand made available by the erosion of the shore.

It is not surprising to find the longest of these spits built off the shore in Norfolk county opposite the great Norfolk sand plain; Long Point, as it is called, is built from the west at the eastern apex of the biggest scallop. A smaller spit built from the east is growing out to meet it, threatening to confine a section of the lake that even now is called Inner Bay. The conformation of Long Point is clearly apparent from a map. It is fabricated loosely from a succession of sand bars which run at an angle to the long axis of the spit. Marsh or open water appears between the bars. The Physiography of Southern Ontario, L. J. Chapman and D. F. Putnam.

*

The presence of pre-ceramic sites in Ontario has been established. On typological grounds, as well as characteristics of sites, there appear to be at least two branches or, possibly, time levels involved. In the Lake Erie periphery are small sites, usually located on high clay knolls and at elevations of 775 feet or higher. On such sites the emphasis is upon scrapers, with very few projectile points. A Preliminary Report on an Archaeological Survey of Southwestern Ontario for 1950, Thomas E. Lee.

*

The first aborigines to occupy southwestern Ontario were probably Mound-Building Indians who had reached their peak chiefly in Ohio and had trickled from there into the peninsula about the time of Christ. They were a people of high culture. Though no mounds attributed to them have so far been found in Norfolk County, nevertheless many of their artifacts have been found there. These people disappeared just as mysteriously as they had originated. “The Indian History of St. Williams” (unpublished), C. M. McCall, 1960.

*

When they reached Lake Erie, they saw it tossing like an angry ocean. They had no mind to tempt the dangerous and unknown navigation, and encamped for the winter in the forest near the peninsula called the Long Point. Here they gathered a good store of chestnuts, hickory-nuts, plums, and grapes, and built themselves a log cabin, with a recess at the end for an altar. They passed the winter unmolested, shooting game in abundance, and saying mass three times a week. Early in spring, they planted a large cross, attached to it the arms of France, and took formal possession of the country in the name of Louis XIV. This done, they resumed their voyage, and, after many troubles, landed one evening in a state of exhaustion on or near Point Pelee, towards the western extremity of Lake Erie. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, Francis Parkman.

*

Continue reading »

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I have used Norfolk County folklore and history in several pieces of fiction and nonfiction.

    “A Flame, a Burst of Light” is short story about prisoners of war returning from a disastrous prison camp in Ohio in 1812. It was originally published in The New Quarterly and is coming out in my new book of stories Savage Love (Goose Lane Editions, 2013) this fall.

    “Swain Corliss, Hero of Malcolm’s Mills (now Oakland, Ontario, November 6, 1814″ is about the 1814 battle. You can find it in my book A Guide to Animal Behaviour.

    “Turned into a Horse by Witches” is about Dr. Troyer, the famous Long Point witch doctor, and is also in A Guide to Animal Behaviour.

    My essay “Possum” about my great-grandfather John Brock and St Williams was published in The New Quarterly.

    And, of course, some of the scenes in my novel The Life and Times of Captain N. take place on the Lake Erie shoreline. The character Hendrick Nellis is based on the real Hendrick Nelles. The character Mary Hunsacker is based on Mary Sitts who is buried in the pioneer cemetery in Boston (Norfolk County).

Apr 092011
 

David Rivard is an immensely talented, award-winning poet and another old friend from my early days at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The first time I visited the fabulous Hope Cemetery in Barre, VT, I went along with David Rivard and Francois Camoin, Francois taking book jacket photos amid the extravagant folk art granite headstones (granite cars, soccer balls, lovers). It’s a huge pleasure to use Numéro Cinq to reach back in time and capture those moments. Here are four gorgeous poems from David’s new poetry book Otherwise  Elsewhere, just published a couple of months ago by Graywolf Press. Including Otherwise Elswhere, David is the author of five books of poetry. The others are Sugartown, Bewitched Playground, Wise Poison, winner of the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Torque.  His poems and essays appear in the American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, Poetry London, and other magazines.  In 2006, he was awarded the O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library, in recognition of both his writing and teaching.  Among his other awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ranieri Foundation, and the NEA.  He teaches in the University of New Hampshire MFA program.

See also Ron Slate’s review of Otherwise Elsewhere at At the Seawall and Ryan Sanford Smith’s review  at White Walls/Black Ink. Here is a David Rivard interview at Agni and a short David Rivard essay on writing that originally appeared American Poetry  Review.

dg

Four Poems from Otherwise Elsewhere

By David Rivard



Note to Myself

Having survived self-
esteem (both low & high), like
surfacing

out of a to-do
list for civil war
in the heart—

Having
been a back-stabber (when said
back was my own), or

lucky Darwinian
holder of
the Ace of Spades,

in my mind—
Getting to see myself
as a green midge

or
as a pine tree looming like
a fetching samurai

at the edge
of a meadow—I get a little
tired–& strangely

everywhere I go
seems one
step closer to wherever I

thought
I was when I left for
wherever I thought

I wanted to be.
Given the round
ranginess of earth, always

thinking of myself—tho
that’s it for me now. Enough. No
more, thank you. No, really.

 

Working Black

The part of Stockholm I saw at 22, I saw as an employee & thief
more or less—an American sweating in clogs & kitchen whites—
booster of those clogs from a Gamla Stan stall, a shoplifter
of Icelandic sweaters, book thief—Gravity’s Rainbow, Justine
I worked day-shifts as scullery boy for Claes & Eva at the restaurant
Hos Oss, pot scrubber, peeler of turnips & potatoes, blade sharpener—
“working black” the Swedes said, meaning for most foreigners
off-the-books &untaxed, the welfare state scammed, meaning
for others that you had vanished, you were a Vera or a Paulo
or Damishi who had fled from your home in some southern dictatorship
fearful that you might be “disappeared,” so perhaps you no longer
existed anymore, or didn’t deserve to. “If people believe,”
Berndt had said, “it’s only because they wish for themselves to see,”
tho the chef was speaking of having had the dead appear to him
as bewildering presences, travelers trapped on the blank screen
of his broken television, souls stored in a paranormal peepshow.
Meanwhile I mopped tiles or whisked a bowl of whipped cream
as the middle-management of Gulf Oil drifted over
from a nearby office tower for pea soup & thick pancakes & jam
every Thursday lunch—there was a sad gentility & boredom
sunk deep in the witch-hazel faces of these sober businessmen,
far from the tripping & mobilizations of dumbstruck America
1975. Faces unlike my own bearded & baffled face.
What is the taste of raw potato in a steamy northern kitchen?—
the iron earthiness of your mother & father outgrown, left behind.

 

It

“Anodyne lingerie” was Amy Dryansky’s
way of describing it. “The sufferers of giganticism
are out in the fog with their mallets,” wrote
David Blair. Meaning what Snyder meant perhaps
by “spring-water in the green creek is clear,”
a crib from Han Shan. Meaning otherwise
“trouble no more,” as sung by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
or “now it’s your turn, mister!”—as any babysitter might say—
even if it is unquestionably true that no one should ever
promise anything so vague & huge—a youngish
woman with a macaroon talking to a toddler,
her voice the galvanic bath it all floats in. It. All of it.
“Solitude, my mother, tell me my life again,”
wrote the uncle of Czeslaw Milosz last time he saw it.
A blissful state of mind, or an anxiety attack. It
has a need to be called by its rightful name
or explained because it can’t see itself clearly,
plus is terribly changeful. In any case, “Grazie” is
still the best way to say goodbye to it. And it wasn’t fooled
when my brother referred to it as a “piece of cake.”
Perhaps the best advice ever given about it can be found
in these lines by a sadly late & formerly high-wattage
earthling: “When you come to something,” he said,
“stop to let it pass, so you can see what else is there.”
“It’s murder,” my doctor likes to say, & it is,
but it still wants you to love it back. My mother
dealt with it by telling the four of us, me, my
brother & two sisters, “go ahead, do whatever
you want.” By which she meant we should do
exactly what she thought best. As if that should
have put it to rest. Thankfully, it did not. Grazie.

 

What We Call Childhood

What we call childhood isn’t
what a child would call it—
so she doesn’t
speak of how she was the most sensitive girl in the convent school kindergarten
or that the god who was a panhandler
wore a fly’s face
and that whenever he dawdled beneath the striped
awning of the shop selling cut-rate shoes & her class
had to walk by him as it happened
on the way to the public library
she would cling to her teacher then & cry
steered off by the old nun’s fingers, she doesn’t mention
why her bedspread changed to blue
each July, the sky lighter blue, the screen door green,
her stepfather’s beach house having been rehabbed under the influence of sea light,
sea light & contractor kickbacks,
she doesn’t say she was
a girl by the first week of 6th grade summer vacation well-known
as a primitive freelancer whenever she rode her old 3-speed English racer
handless downhill to the anchorage;
none of it gets talked about, certainly
not the angora sweater
and the Chinatown bracelets
or those evenings
3 winters later when she danced in front of her bedroom mirror
with headphones on & always inside of the sight lines
because she was wearing blue mascara
and somehow that
had given her the idea to break into the empty summer cottages
with her rustbelt boyfriend; she doesn’t even
say she liked how her legs got long
in a kick-pleat skirt but hated her dark hair
for curling if it threatened rain—
and likewise
her whole childhood, it’s all kept in play,
so no one will ever feel free to tell her what it was worth,
not even on that autumn moor
where against all odds a narrow sandy road
gleams at midnight.

—David Rivard

Apr 082011
 

Editor’s Note (Jan 17, 2012): Lynne Tillman’s story collection Someday This Will Be Funny, from which this story was excerpted at NC last spring, was named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly.

Here’s a sly, witty, fiercely intelligent, sexy, hilarious, knowing, playful and wise short story, “The Substitute,” from Lynne Tillman’s brand new collection Someday This Will Be Funny (May 1 pub. date). Lynne is an old acquaintance, “friend” would be a bit presumptuous; though we have known each other and corresponded sympathetically now and then since 1992 when I reviewed her sly, witty, fiercely intelligent, hilarious, knowing, playful and wise novel Cast in Doubt for the Washington Post Book World. Of that book, I wrote in part: “…Lynne Tillman writes with such élan, such spirited delight and comic intelligence that it is difficult to take anything but pleasure….” Believe me, this woman has some moves.

Lynne is the Writer-in-Residency at the University at Albany. She has published five novels, three story collections and a book of essays. Mirabile dictu, her current publisher, Red Lemonade, is simultaneously bringing  four Lynne Tillman novels back into print: Haunted Houses (1986), Motion Sickness (1991), Cast in Doubt (1992) and No Lease on Life (1998). This is amazing, a coup, and a sign that somehow publishing lives, nurtured by innovators and risk takers. Richard Eoin Nash, the man behind Red Lemonade, describes the imprint as “a pilot for a massively ambitious program, to create a new platform (part webapp, part business process) for independent publishing, combining the best of editorial judgment and publicity moxie with community input into acquisition and promotion, and combining the tradition publisher/retailer process with digital publishing and limited editions. That’s called Cursor and that’s the platform powering Red Lemonade.”

Read Lynne’s story, buy the books (stock up before the next recession), check out Cursor and Red Lemonade. Read about Lynne on Slate; read an interview in BOMB, another interview in The Millions. More recently, an excellent interview and collection of links .

dg

The Substitute

By Lynne Tillman

 

She watched his heart have a small fit under his black T-shirt. Its unsteady rhythm was a bridge between them. Lost in the possibilities he offered her, she studied his thin face, aquiline nose, tobacco-yellow fingers. In the moment, which swallowed her whole, she admired his need to smoke. She wouldn’t always, but not being able to stop meant something, now. Certain damage was sexy, a few sinuous scars. He’d be willing, eager maybe, to exist with her in the margins.

She’d set the terms. Ride, nurse on danger, take acceptable or necessary risks. Maybe there’d be one night at a luscious border, where they’d thrum on thrill, ecstatically unsure, or one long day into one long night, when they’d say everything and nothing and basely have their way with each other. She wasn’t primitive but had an idea of it—to live for and in her senses. She’d tell him this. Then they’d vanish, disappear without regret. She was astonished at how adolescence malingered in every cell of her mature body.

Helen met Rex on the train. She taught interior design to art students in a small college in a nearby city. He taught painting. She liked it that he sometimes smelled like a painter, which was old-fashioned, though he wasn’t; he told her he erased traces of the hand (she liked hands), used acrylics, didn’t leave his mark and yet left it, too. Still, tobacco, chemicals, alcohol, a certain raw body odor, all the storied ingredients, reminded her of lofts and studios and herself in them twenty years before, late at night, time dissolving.

Between Rex and her, one look established furtive interest, and with a fleeting, insubstantial communication they betrayed that and themselves. They were intrigued dogs sniffing each other’s tempting genitals and asses. Being an animal contented her lately, and she sometimes compared her behavior with wild and domestic ones. Reason, she told an indignant friend with relish, was too great a price to pay daily.

Her imagination was her best feature. It embellished her visible parts, and altogether they concocted longing in Rex. She could see it; she could have him. She couldn’t have her analyst. She held Dr Kaye in her mind, where she frolicked furiously in delayed gratification. But Rex, this man beside her—she could see the hairs on his arms quiver—engaged her fantastic self, an action figure.

Rex’s hands fooled with his cigarette pack. Her analyst didn’t smoke, at least not with her, and she didn’t imagine he smoked at home, with his wife, whose office was next door, she discovered, unwittingly, not ever having considered that the woman in the adjoining office was more than a colleague. Cottage industry, she remarked in her session. Dr Kaye seemed amused. Maybe because she hadn’t been curious about the relationship or because it took her so long to catch on. That meant more than what she said, she supposed.

Rex’s hands weren’t well-shaped, beautiful. If she concentrated on them . . . But she wondered: would they stir me, anyway. She shut her eyes. She liked talking with her eyes shut, though she couldn’t see her analyst’s face. Dr Kaye wore a long tie today. It hung down over his fly and obscured the trouser pouch for his penis.

When she first saw him, she was relieved to find him avuncular, not handsome like her father. Men grew on trees, there were so many of them, they dropped to the ground and rotted, most of them. Dr. Kaye hesitated before speaking. She imagined his face darkening when she said things like that. Whatever, she said and smiled again at the ceiling. I like men. I’m just pulling your leg. She could see the bottoms of his trousers.

When she approached him on the train, Rex had a near-smirk on his lips, just because she was near. She liked his lips, they were lopsided. If he didn’t speak, she could imagine his tongue. He might push for something to happen, actually, and that was exciting. Her heart sped up as Rex glanced sideways at her, from under his . . . liquid hazel eyes. She squirmed, happily. Hovering at the edge tantalized her. The heart did race and skip; it fibrillated, her mother had died of that. What do you feel about your mother now? Dr. Kaye asked. But aren’t you my mother now?

They flirted, she and Rex, the new, new man with a dog’s name. Did it matter what he looked like naked? They hadn’t lied to each other. Unless by omission. But then their moments were lived by omission. Looking at him staring out the window, as if he were thinking of things other than her, she started a sentence, then let the next word slide back into her mouth like a sucking candy. Rex held his breath. She blushed. This was really too precious to consummate.

Dr. Kaye seemed involved in the idea. He had shaved closely that morning, and his aftershave came to her in tart waves. She inhaled him. She—Ms. Vaughn, to him—weighed whether she would tell him anything about Rex, a little, or everything. With Rex, she wasn’t under any agreement. She measured her words for herself and for him, and she told him just enough. He was the libertine lover, Dr Kaye the demanding one. With him, she drew out her tales, like Scheherazade.

First, Dr. Kaye, she offered, her eyes on the ceiling, it was the way he looked at me, he was gobbling me up, taking me inside him. I liked that. Why did I like that? Because I hate myself, you know that. Then she laughed. Later, she went on, I pretended I didn’t see him staring at me. Then I stopped pretending. In her next session, she continued: He wanted to take my hand, because his finger fluttered over my wrist, and his unwillingness, no, inability, I don’t know about will, I had a boyfriend named Will, he was impotent, did I tell you? His reluctance made me . . . wet. She sat up once and stared at Dr. Kaye, daring him. But he was well-trained, an obedient dog, and he listened neatly.

Rex was sloppy with heat. Their unstable hearts could be a gift to Dr. Kaye. Or a substitute, for a substitute. She trembled, bringing their story—hers—to Dr. Kaye in installments, four times a week. It was better than a good dream, whose heady vapors were similar to her ambiguous, unlived relationships. Not falling was better, she explained to Dr. Kaye; having what they wanted was ordinary and would destroy them or be nothing, not falling, not losing, not dying was better. Why do you think that? he asked. This nothing that was almost everything gave her hope. Illusion was truth in a different guise, true in another dimension. Dr. Kaye wanted to know what she felt about Rex. I don’t know—we’re borderline characters, she said. Liminal, like you and me.

And, she went on, her hands folded on her stomach, he and I went into the toilet . . . of the train . . . and fooled around. She laughed. I was in a train crash once . . . But the toilet smelled . . . Like your aftershave, she thought, but didn’t say. Say everything, say everything impossible.

Looking at Rex reading a book, his skin flushed, overheated in tiny red florets, Helen wondered when the romance would become misshapen. Her need could flaunt itself. She wanted that, really, and trusted to her strangeness and his eccentricity for its acceptance. Or, lust could be checked like excess baggage at the door. They’d have a cerebral affair.

But their near-accidental meetings sweetened her days and nights. They were sweeter even than chocolate melting in her mouth. Dark chocolate helped her sleep. She had a strange metabolism. How could she sleep—Rex was the latest hero who had come to save her, to fight for her. If he didn’t play on her playground, with her rules, he was less safe than Dr. Kaye. But Rex was as smart, almost, as she was; he knew how to entice her. She might go further than she planned.

Dr. Kaye’s couch was a deep red, nearly purple, she noted more than once. Lying on it, Helen told him she liked Rex more than him. She hoped for an unguarded response. Why is that? he asked, somberly. Because he delivers, like the pizza man—remember the one who got murdered, some boys did it. They were bored, they didn’t know what to do with themselves, so they ordered a pizza and killed the guy who brought it. The poor guy. Everyone wants to be excited. Don’t you? She heard Dr Kaye’s weight shift in his chair. So, she went on, Rex told me I’m beautiful, amazing, and I don’t believe him, and it reminded me of when Charles—that lawyer I was doing some work for—said, out of nowhere, I was, and then that his wife and baby were going away, and would I spend the week with him, and it would be over when his wife came back—we were walking in Central Park—and I said no, and I never saw him again.

One night, Rex and she took the train home together. When they arrived at Grand Central, they decided to have a drink, for the first time. The station, its ceiling a starry night sky, had been restored to its former grandeur, and Helen felt that way, too. In a commuter bar, they did MTV humpy dancing, wet-kissed, put their hands on each other, and got thrown out. Lust was messy, gaudy. Neverneverland, never was better, if she could convince Rex. How hot is cool? they repeated to each other, after their bar imbroglio.

Helen liked waiting, wanting, and being wanted more. It’s all so typical, she told Dr. Kaye, and he wanted her to go on. She felt him hanging on her words. Tell me more, he said. The bar was dark, of course, crowded, Rex’s eyes were smoky, and everything in him was concentrated in them, they were like headlights, he’d been in a car accident once and showed me his scar, at his neck, and then I kissed him there, and I told him about my brother’s suicide, and about you, and he was jealous, he doesn’t want me to talk about him, us, he thinks it’ll destroy the magic, probably . . . stupid . . . it is magic . . . and he wanted me then, and there . . . But she thought: Never with Rex, never give myself, just give this to you, my doctor. She announced, suddenly: I won’t squander anything anymore.

The urge to give herself was weirdly compelling, written into her like the ridiculous, implausible vows in a marriage contract. Dr. Kaye might feel differently about marriage, or other things, but he wouldn’t tell her. He contained himself astutely and grew fuller, fatter. He looked larger every week. The mystery was that he was always available for their time-bound encounters, in which thwarted love was still love. It was what you did with your limits that mattered. She imagined she interested him.

Listening to her stories, Dr. Kaye encouraged her, and she felt alive. She could do with her body what she wanted, everyone knew that; the body was just a fleshy vehicle of consequences. Her mind was virtual—free, even, to make false separations. She could lie to herself, to him; she believed in what she said, whatever it was. So did he. To Dr. Kaye, there was truth in fantasy. Her half-lies and contradictions were really inconsequential to anyone but herself. He might admit that.

But the next day, on the train, Rex pressed her silently. His thin face was as sharp as a steak knife. He wouldn’t give her what she wanted: he didn’t look at her with greedy passion. There was a little death around the corner, waiting for her. She had to give him something, feed his fire or lose it and him.

So she would visit his studio, see his work, she might succumb, Helen informed her analyst. She described how she’d enter his place and be overwhelmed by sensations that had nothing to do with the present. In another time, with another man, with other men, this had happened before, so her senses would awaken to colors, smells, and sounds that were familiar. Soon she would be naked with him on a rough wool blanket thrown hastily over a cot. Her skin would be irritated by the wool, and she would discover his body and find it wonderful or not. He would devour her. He would say, I’ve never felt this way before. Or, you make me feel insane. She wouldn’t like his work and would feel herself moving away from him. Already seen, it was in a way obscene, and ordinary. She calmly explained what shouldn’t be seen, and why, and, as she did, found an old cave to enter.

Dr. Kaye didn’t seem to appreciate her reluctance. Or if he did, in his subtle way he appeared to want her to have the experience, anyway. She knew she would go, then, to Rex’s studio, and announced on the train that she’d be there Saturday night—date night, Rex said. He looked at her again, that way. But she knew it would hasten the end, like a death sentence for promise. Recently, Helen had awaited Timothy McVeigh’s execution with terror, but it had come and gone. No one mentioned him anymore. Others were being killed—just a few injections, put them to sleep, stop their breathing, and it’s done, they’re gone. Things die so easily, she said. Then she listened to Dr. Kaye breathe.

Saturday night Helen rang the bell on Rex’s Williamsburg studio. All around her, singles and couples wandered on a mission to have fun. Soon they’d go home, and the streets would be empty. Rex greeted her with a drink—a Mojito—which he knew she loved. His studio was bare, except for his work and books, even austere, and it was clean. The sweet, thick rum numbed her, and she prepared for the worst and the best. There was no in-between.

His paintings were, in a way, pictures of pictures. Unexpectedly, she responded to them, because they appreciated the distance between things. Then, without much talk, they had sex. She wasn’t sure why, but resisting was harder. Rex adored her, her body, he was nimble and smelled like wet sand. He came, finally, but she didn’t want to or couldn’t. She held something back. Rex was bothered, and her head felt as if it had split apart. But it didn’t matter in some way she couldn’t explain to Dr. Kaye. She heard him move in his chair. She worried that he wasn’t interested. Maybe her stories exhausted him. Rex called her every day. She wondered if she should find another man, one she couldn’t have.

—Lynne Tillman

Apr 072011
 


Herewith the inaugural instance of a new Numéro Cinq series, the NC Interviews. Our first interviewee is my old friend Mark Anthony Jarman and our first interviewer is contributor Mary Stein. Mark and I knew each other at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the beginning of the 1980s. A long friendship with legs—last September, late one night (maybe early morning), Mark and I sat in his backyard with my publisher Susanne Alexander, drinking beer under the stars in Fredericton, New Brunswick, like old times. He edits fiction for a venerable Canadian magazine called The Fiddlehead which, in the 1970s, published some of my first short stories (and another story is coming out in the summer, 2011, issue). Mark has written a book of poetry, Killing the Swan, a hockey novel, Salvage King Ya!, four story collections, Dancing Nightly in the Tavern, New Orleans is Sinking, 19 Knives, and My White Planet, and nonfiction book about Ireland called Ireland’s Eye. He teaches at the University of New Brunswick and lives in a very large house fronting the Saint John River. His story “The December Astronauts (or Moonbase Horse Code)” appears in Numéro Cinq’s Best of Vol. 1.

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Mixes and Collisions: A Numéro Cinq Interview with Mark Anthony Jarman

By Mary Stein

 

MCS: Why don’t you start by telling me a little about your relationship to writing poetry versus writing prose. It seems it’s been decades since you’ve published a collection of poetry. Have you continued to write poetry since Killing the Swan, or does your prose writing satisfy your poetic impulses?

MAJ: After I published Killing the Swan, I had the feeling it had gone into a vacuum, and decided to put the same images and ideas into prose if I could manage.  There are things in poetry you can do that you can’t in an essay or story, but I feel it’s a very good influence on the latter in terms of editing, compression, attention to language, imagery, odd juxtapositions, implication, developing an eye and ear, etc.  I also feel there is too much weak poetry around and I don’t want to add to it; perhaps the government could pay us to not write poetry rather than fund more.  Great poetry is great, I was influenced by Eliot, Richard Hugo, Denis Johnson, Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, and had good teachers, PK Page, Phyllis Webb, but a lot of poetry strikes me as pointless.  Maybe I’ve been to too many bad readings.

MCS: In Burning Down the House, Charles Baxter writes, “Fiction writers get resentful, watching poets calling it quits at 9:30 a.m.” Do you ever lapse into moments of “poet envy” or does the fiction writer’s tireless pursuit of the right-hand margin suit you?

 

MAJ: I do torment the poets I know, teasing them that they can whip off a poem before breakfast whereas a story rarely happens quickly.

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Apr 062011
 

It’s a pleasure to introduce Cynthia Newberry Martin’s lovely contribution to the Numéro Cinq “Childhood” essay series. Cynthia is an author, a current Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA student and publisher of the terrific writing blog Catching Days, one of Powell’s Books “Lit Blogs We Love,” where among other delightful things she has a terrific series of posts called “How We Spend Our Days” in which well known writers give readers the lowdown on a typical working day. Her fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in Contrary Magazine, Storyglossia and Six Sentences, among other places. She has been an NC supporter from the very beginning and has contributed also to our “What it’s like living here” series.

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Childhood

by Cynthia Newberry Martin

“She sees that she has before her an important task: to understand that all the things that happened in her life happened to her…That there is some line running through her body like a wick.”

–Mary Gordon, The Rest of Life



It’s 1962

You’re four. You’re living in Atlanta, Georgia. On February 20th, you stand by your parent’s bed, just taller than the mattress. You stare at your mother. She turns you toward the TV. Look, she says. You’ll want to remember this. That’s John Glenn in a space ship, going around the earth.

You’re five. It’s your first day of kindergarten at Spring Street Elementary School. You wait with the other kids under the awning. The principal rings the bell. You line up. At recess, you ask a girl her name. Dee, she says. You will be best friends until seventh grade when you switch to a private school because your parents say desegregation and busing are going to change things. You play troll dolls at Dee’s house after school. Her grandparents are there, but not her mother who is divorced and works. Henry’s mother comes to the classroom to give puppet shows in French. You love the sound and the magic of the words. Sixteen years later you will major in French and Linguistics. It’s Sunday, June 3rd, and everyone is quiet. Even outside you have to be quiet. Across the street are cars. Miss May’s sister died in the plane crash. In Paris.  Hundreds of people from Atlanta are dead. Your parents will never let you fly on a chartered flight. You will see the cross when you fly into Orly Airport five years later and again ten years after that.

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Apr 042011
 

Here is a gorgeously bittersweet new poem by Sydney Lea whose ninth collection of poems, Young of the Year, has just been published by Four Way Books. Syd is an old friend from my early Vermont College of Fine Arts days (see my introduction to his fine essay “Weathers and Places” published earlier on NC). I also interviewed him when I had my radio show, The Book Show out of WAMC, the Albany, NY, public radio station. Somewhere in the Black Hole of a crawl space accessed through my sons’ bedroom there is a box of tapes I saved from that show. I always mean to dig out the interview and replay it—lovely talk of dogs, birds, hunting and nature. Syd tells me he wrote this poem after watching the movie Away from Her which is based on an Alice Munro short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” The movie stars Julie Christie and the Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent whom I have always admired, especially his great and underrated movie The Rowdyman. Pinsent plays the bereaved husband of a woman who suffers from dementia, forgets him and, in a mysteriously touching reversal, finds new love in the home where she is kept. In my mind, Sydney Lea and Alice Munro have a great deal in common; they are both achieved artists in whose hands even the most difficult things are elaborated with force, delicacy and apparent ease. Syd’s poem captures beautifully the wistful mystery of lost memory and love, the strange turn (just sailing away, it seems) of the long-loved one into the open sea.

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Forever

By Sydney Lea

 

She wonders if it’s cliché to think of the husband
with whom she’s lived for decades,
most of which she’d call, all things considered,
a pleasure — if it’s cliché to imagine her partner
a ship at the lip of a clouded horizon.

In fact he’s sailed the whole way over.
And then she wonders why she should wonder this,
why it would make any difference, trite or fresh?
And what does she know about ships?
Early on, as they sat one morning together,

he felt in his pocket for his car keys,
held them up against the kitchen’s skylight,
whispering “Bullet. Bullet.”
It passed, they embraced, both a little uneasy,
but he left for work as always.

For what seems to her now quite a while they kept it away,
that morning, unmentioned, conspired into absence.
After all, there seemed nothing
that either could do about it then, and nothing
of course to be done today.

What does she know about ships, about sailors?
No, nothing either,
though once as a girl she was carried out on a bay
in a rich friend’s yacht. The cold white spray
flew gunwale to gunwale. And there’s more she remembers:

they all could have slept in the boat’s tidy cabin
in comfort, if that had been part of the outing’s plan.
And the tiller wheel was made of such dark lovely wood,
and everything else on board
showed some sort of glass or some bright brass fitting

and the life-rings that hung on the taffrail
were stenciled Claire C., the name of the boat.
It all made her feel she could never want anything more
when it came to beauty. That gleam. That air.
He had beauty as well.

back when he was the young man she chose
to live and sleep with ever after.
They made children together. They said they were blessed.
The beauty, which changed of course with the decades, was nonetheless
beauty. She still supposes it so,

though it swamps her soul
to watch him sink out of reach, unheeding.
Why can’t she call him up? Why can’t she call him to her?
Her mind shifts back to her girlfriend’s father,
who kept inspecting a tiny crack in the sleek sloop’s hull,

no matter his pretty wife’s counsel
that he relax, that he live for this day
of wheeling seabirds, foam and speed,
sharp-edged, slam-bang clouds,
heady squeaks and snaps from mast and mainsail.

The husband worried, the husband
insisted it might be only a matter of time
before that inconspicuous fissure turned into much more.
He was looking for something to do about it there
and then — as of course he couldn’t.

He said he hated to think of his treasure,
his own Claire C., beyond recall, to imagine the day
when off it might be
— he used the cliché —
to Davy Jones’s locker with her. Forever.

—Sydney Lea