Discovery elements dated August 6, 1997:
1. Construction #1 (currently on loan to the Dusseldorf Institute for Closed Display
Procedures and thus unavailable for inclusion here)
3. (exhibit 1)
4. Construction #22
5. (exhibit 2)
In light of the reluctance of my participation, I must declare that I do not like brown and brown is real and that makes me cry. No one should cry about things that are not real. I think I should stop, but I do not. My favorite shirt is wet now, and I think about washing it. I have stopped crying, but I think about my shirt, which has mascara on it, and I start again. I think about crying and washing my shirt, and there is something soothing about all the water. I know that I am not crying about brown or about my shirt or about things that are not real, but I do not understand what I am crying about.
(It should be noted that the original “Cave Man Constructions” were not, in all likelihood, constructed by a cave man, but instead refer to the primitive nature of their assemblage as well as the raw and essentially primary, if nevertheless complex, implications of the implicit world view contained by them.)
Discovery Elements dated July 1, 1996:
1. (exhibit 3)
3. (exhibit 4)
4. (exhibit 5)
I’ve been waiting a long time for my owl to return (exhibit 4). I heard him last night get caught in the lattice skirting the cabin’s porch. I think he was after one of the baby chickaree’s (exhibit 5) that nest in the roofing. The first time I talked to the owl he spread his huge wings and opened his beak with that pointy tongue inside as if to say Don’t fuck with me, and then he just waited. He’s a Gray Owl, and they are known to be more comfortable around people than other owls. The second time he recognized me and just waited while I approached and started talking to him. I told him about the yellow dog3 and he listened.
Wooden behavior is unnatural, but trees are not. Why do they say this about me?
Those who suspect the Cave Man Constructions of impersonating a hoax should be amply forewarned that proof comes in many guises and need not always be recognized as proof, particularly in the early stages of reticence.
A thing made of doors and walls with no purpose existed there beyond containment. Perhaps we might have called it a maze or a surgical jungle. We could have taken things out of it that were mistaken and placed things in it that were no longer of use to the various deceased.
Discovery elements dated September 17, 2003:
1. the body of a short (5’ 2”) brown male, most likely a complainer
2. said male’s still extant “hunting” pigeon
3. (exhibit 6)
On the afternoon in question, Alexander the Grunt (exhibit 6) and Officer Dooty were preparing a statement. The statements they made about the statement complicated the conclusions one might otherwise have drawn from the statement. Only the unexpected clarity of their perceptions about the copper wire remained irreproachable. With the exception of the arrangement of the coils, it would not have appeared that any sexual congress was being attended. Judge Scooter admitted later that his imaginary Taiwan (exhibit 7) had been pleasantly absent from the proceedings. He sat at his bench (exhibit 8) and ate his porridge with an unnecessary relish.
His was a brilliant patter of children’s heads. There was a famous painting (exhibit 9) of this very consideration, appropriated by the Nazis during WWII, which now exists only in a sepia photograph (exhibit 10), but the disguised children in the faded document appear to be overgrown. Under careful scrutiny of an enlargement, one gets the impression that one of the portly children is carrying a framed copy of the photo in which he too appears.
Discovery elements dated April 12, 2004:
1. exhibit (7)
2. exhibit (8)
3. exhibit (9)
4. exhibit (10)
The discovery of the missing exhibits inside the facsimile construction made by Warhol the Younger has completed our misunderstanding. They contain elegant and irreverent references to the hoax. They do not resolve the confusion concerning the creator of the original cave constructions, but allow us to dispense with questions of ownership concerning the facsimile and its internal exhibits. The recent death of Warhol the Younger places the remainder of this matter under the jurisdiction of the probate court. Officer Dooty will escort you to the egress. Judge Scooter has further determined that the potentially nonexistent cave constructions are the endangered habitat of the previously established Gray Owl and as such cannot be destroyed. You are instructed to conduct yourselves accordingly.4
1 executed with a pair of needle-nosed pliers with tiny claws on the wings
2 To Grandmother’s house we go. To change her diaper and clean her bedding and talk to her as if she remembered. It makes us feel better to treat her this way. We don’t really know what it does for her.
3 a bit of wild scrum on the peripheries
4 statement read to the court by Officer Dooty
“Moles” by Rich Ives
Jonathan lay on the bed fully clothed. A foul taste festering.
The young man was dazed. Reeking.
The problem is domestic and solid and capable of swooping into horror at the drop of a belt.
First you cook it and then you eat it.
But the stingy little bird of Jonathan’s self-acceptance may not offer royal corridors of light under its incorrigible wings for the enlightenment of the self-inflicted representations of uncertainty nesting in Jonathan’s self-perception.
Dazed and reeking.
Childhood Jonathans steam and bubble and fill the room with sweet smells while foolish scientists attempt to determine if a desire-proof wall could contain the remainder of similar desires.
The mystery of Jonathan’s tears is said to have begun with incriminating trembling gestures. Followed by sneezing, from which Jonathan does not quickly recover.
Jonathan closed. Jonathan absent. Jonathan missing from the bed fully clothed. Despite compatibility appearances, it’s not enough to keep the curious from discovering the deception. Even if the problem remains domestic.
Nature’s not good at waiting. Nature’s not expecting another Jonathan. Jonathan, on the other hand, is expecting his Jonathan. This allows further Jonathans to occur, but sooner or later Jonathan is allowed to visit Jonathan.
The sun glares off the afternoon sea, making everyone before you on the deck into a silhouette, a puppet theatre dancing out a story with its meaning hidden, even the puppets unsure of their roles, but trying desperately to have fun in them.
Ah, but smell the ocean, my innocent. Which is the real Jonathan and which the myth? If you place your hand at the confluences of your body, can you smell the ocean it brings back? Can you swim in this ocean inside the ocean?
Of course you can, and you can feel the fingers accepting the reach of your tongue as it draws them to your lips and in. The slow pulsing of your cheeks to the draw and release, as if you were talking.
And, of course, you are.
Someday Jonathan will be allowed to go home now.
Perhaps afterwards you could ask for this gift.
Several of the gangsters were wrapped snugly in light brown coats. Distinctive cuts of meat from the dream butcher. Neat and bundled and cozy-like. Suggestive.
The warm rain promised. The sky did.
Maybe the mud would make the mistake clearer.
The one with a round pudgy face said, “He likes to talk about sexual juices, but he doesn’t like to talk about sex.”
Another gangster was saying he could have had any of the women he wanted; he’s not naming names, but he could have had any of them. He could have. That’s what he’ll tell you more than once.
Another gangster banged the flat of his hand against his forehead and said, “It’s just a bag of bagels. That’s what it is. It’s a friggin’ bag of bagels.” Several gangsters were listening and nodding, but no one said a word.
After all, what people want is to have their needs satisfied, especially the ones they’re unaware of. What people want is ever so many more satisfactions than they can have.
Could this be the source of another vanished tale of sorrow?
The man in the woods made himself a knife from a stone with a very hard edge. But this did not make the man in the woods a gangster, nor did it make the man in the woods a man who lived in the woods. Nevertheless, one of the gangsters decided on northern Wisconsin for his vacation. His son rode in the back, holding a baby tree with a green ribbon tied to it. It was a gift for northern Wisconsin. It was a nice gesture and it made sense to the gangsters, and that felt wrong, so they tried to remember what it was like to act crazy. They wanted to feel that freedom. They wanted to plant something dangerous in the world they didn’t live in, but they wanted somebody to live in that world, somebody who needed a sharp knife.
So listen to this. After a gangster’s leg fell asleep, he decided he ought to cut it off. That kind of pain was outside the realm of his personal experience, though he had witnessed it second hand many times. It would not have been as foolish as those outside the range of his experience might assume, but it would have been a high price to pay for respect. Finally he decided the warm rain he had been watching had promised something else.
Meanwhile, outside the world’s great butcher shop, the man in the woods remained wrapped snugly in his own body. He was not intending to end anyone’s life or cut off any of their body parts. Some of the gangsters would say his intentions were not, therefore, relevant to destiny.
The rain promised, but perhaps the rain’s promise was not the promise we heard. Just as the sky is open to interpretation. Sometimes we hear the sounds but we can’t find the story in them.
“Imagine that,” thought the loneliest gangster as he paid for his leathery dreams, “it’s as if I were experiencing my life all over again.” But the other gangsters could not hear this voice issuing from beneath the brown paper wrapping.
“A steak may not be a good steak, but it won’t lie to you.” That’s what the gangsters thought when they asked it how much it wanted, even though by this time they had forgotten its name.
Miss Prim was not at all satisfied with Penny’s performance. It carried a rusty aftertaste. The birds were singing sweetly, the rabbits frolicked in the glen, and Miss Prim was not satisfied.
Penny’s ex-lover Harold fixed Miss Prim some hazelnut stew. Harold wanted to know if Penny missed him and he needed someone besides Penny to tell him. Harold wanted to know if a thick gel of delayed adolescence was stuck to Penny’s enigma. Harold wanted to know if it was really possible for zero to be the absence of something that had never even been there in the first place. Harold wanted to know if it were necessary for a vacant ten-foot radius to lay down on its side like that and could it roll around vertically and get up and walk away. Harold had heard a lot of things in a lot of places and Harold wanted to know if they were true. Harold wanted the sun to visit him at exactly 3:13 every afternoon. Before long Harold wanted Miss Prim to take Penny’s place. Harold wanted. Harold wanted and wanted.
Meanwhile the rabbits were getting tired of the inexpressible beauty of mere frolic and had begun devouring Miss Prim’s garden, a monument to the orderly preservation and restraint of natural elements. A fierce passion was belatedly making its presence known to Miss Prim, but alas, it was not of a positive sexual nature. The fulsome spilling wrath of a consummate restrained organizer was unleashed upon the glen. And still Miss Prim remained dissatisfied, but a disturbingly unexpected change of heart ushered itself into her performance with a surprising directness and intensity.
And so Miss Prim fixed Penny some rabbit stew and aggressively queried Penny. Miss Prim wanted to know if Harold had been a good lover. Miss Prim wanted to know if Penny had slept with any circus performers and did they perform satisfactorily. Miss Prim wanted to know if Penny’s nether lips had ever been parted in a passionate embrace. Miss Prim offered to replace Penny’s gel of belated adolescence with a couple of slippery fingers and a relentlessly exercised tongue. Miss Prim wanted to shock Penny out of her all too familiar complacency. Miss Prim wanted Penny to perform.
“Fuck this noise,” said Penny. “My body is a sacred chalice and I shall offer it freely but not to withered up old control freaks like you, and Harold can kiss my rosy little asshole.”
Who knows what heroes might have intervened if this were a legend handed down from bards or comic book collectors?
Have you seen the heroic fool who tried to marry Miss Prim?
Have you heard the tortured screams of pleasure in the glen where the birds sing so sweetly?
The inside of this house was created by the door, the door by the need to escape. The windows pulse with darkness. For this reason we measure our latitude for the accommodation of moonlight.
An island’s darkness. A child’s.
The ocean slowly leaping at the stars, the window wet with the birth of it, desire pulsing in the experienced muscles of the newly aged.
Bloodstones cobbled across the street of dreams, private police horses jittery in their interior streetlight.
What crimes have we considered?
Fell out of the darkness. Into the night.
It’s the daylight alones us.
The house we live in created to resist, to wait.
Two doors because we want to be able to make a mistake.
If we leave, we want the darkness closed, the night open. If we stay, we want the window clear, the house historical, doors locked from both sides.
Walking out on ourselves, we miss the person we used to live in, the house of our former occupation. It’s a long way to the beginning. When the mooneggs crack beneath our feet, it’s the last journey.
The way out the way in.
The question its own answer.
It’s the spring ratchet of frogs gearing up outside the window like some swampthick engine of ooze. I think about the mud. Cool. Soothing. Before the summer stink climbs in and starts rotting it and clinging like a too-needy lover. You feel guilty for denying that need, but if you don’t it will eat you up.
If I chew on my lip, I can feel the raw hunger of it, the throbbing before it starts to bleed. That’s when I’m alive.
In Russia, the newspaper said, there was a storm over a swamp and it came down and lifted up the baby frogs and held them a while until the storm moved and then it let them fall, baby frogs falling from the sky on some unsuspecting little village with too much imagination. Think what the peasants could have thought it meant. Of course they weren’t really peasants because it wasn’t all that long ago, the newspaper said, but when frogs are falling on you from the sky, you probably don’t stop to think about how modern conveniences have changed your life.
What I’m doing here at the window is inviting the raucous chorus of it to pick at me like the customers at work, only this annoyance gets under my skin and breeds something exciting, nervous but exciting. I’m welcoming the universe back into my life again each night while the customers are digging back under my skin to get it out again and take it home with them. Where they’ll use it to line their garbage cans. It’ll breed there too I suppose, but I don’t want to hear about it. I just want to think of it without people involved. I want to be an animal again and let it get me wound up. Let it make me want to find another.
Yesterday at work, an overweight young woman with a kid wrapped in a dirty red blanket set the kid on the counter while she counted out her change to pay for the doughnut she was eating. She was wearing a huge floppy black T-shirt and someone behind her laughed. She turned around and glared at them and I could see written on the back of her in dirty white lettering YOU CALL ME BITCH, LIKE IT’S A BAD THING. For a moment there was an awkward silence, and I was afraid there would be an “altercation.” I was trying to remember what they said about it in training. Then I could hear her baby, purring like a cat.
If I stand on one leg I can imagine myself hunting like a heron, holding the world of my body so still I look like a reed, waiting for the frog to come closer. I can think about the slick skin sliding down, my throat opening around it and closing back again, squeezing it down, down until that moment of satisfaction settles into my stomach. I can almost sleep like that. I can almost dream.
I have some air left in my cheeks where I put it to save it from the breeze. You might think it always comes back, but it’s not the same. Even in my cheeks it changes, and I like it that way, better than new air though sometimes I have to let go and start again. I don’t need to make a sound the way the herons do. I just hold on to it and let it tell me what I should feel.
When my supervisor came over to see what the commotion was, I didn’t say a word. I just swallowed air and tried to think about the way we all have to entertain some surprising possibilities, and I decided to offer the woman my hankie. I don’t know what I was thinking. What was she supposed to do with it? Well that’s what she must have been wondering too because she just looked at me, then decided to take the hankie and wipe the baby’s nose like that’s why I gave it to her. My supervisor seemed confused but walked away when the woman smiled and gave me back the dirty hankie. I counted the change and hit the register button like it was a pure delight. In a way it was. But not the way anyone watching would have thought.
My cat used to get nervous when I lifted one leg and held still like that. She didn’t know what to do, and I wouldn’t stop and pet her. Now she doesn’t come anywhere near me until I speak to her, like she believes if I hold still in that position and don’t talk, it’s not me.
It was a moment just like that when I noticed that there was a stick on the floor, and I didn’t pick it up. I thought about what it was doing there. I thought about what it was for, and it wasn’t for anything except for itself. I thought about the stickness of the stick. I thought about myself, and it made me grateful for the stick. Until my supervisor picked it up and looked at me like why didn’t I notice it and take it out of the way, and I knew I did notice it, more than he could know, but I wondered why I didn’t take it out of the way. Maybe we were in the way. Maybe it was a stick that belonged there and we were in the way.
Someone brought homemade beer to the going away party. It tasted raw. It tasted like it wasn’t ready to have anyone drinking it yet, and that made it taste better. I was supposed to know who was going away, but I didn’t. I was supposed to enjoy the beer, and I did. I was supposed to enjoy the beer because someone was going away, and I did that too, but I didn’t know who was going away. I wondered if it was me. I wondered if I should stop thinking about it, and I didn’t know. I thought maybe I should.
My cat stares at things that don’t move like she’s trying to figure out why, and I can understand why it confuses her. It’s not a stupid thing like you expect it to move when you know it won’t but a deep thing like what is the reason for its existence if its purpose doesn’t involve doing anything. What exactly is it that it’s not doing?
Sometimes I catch my cat doing things embarrassing for a cat, but my cat doesn’t seem to know it’s embarrassing for a cat to be doing those things. Like when it sneaks up on the cottage cheese I put in its bowl. Or when it falls over backwards or doesn’t land on its feet. Then my cat looks at me like I’m in the wrong place and next time it won’t be there where it’s not supposed to be.
And the one time there was a mouse, my cat looked at it like it was a walrus in the bathtub. And then it looked at me like that. Because I was in the bathtub at the time. And then I started swimming in the bathtub, slowly, as if it mattered, my feet kicking out on each side as far as the bathtub would let me, my useless little hands folded back against my chest with the water streaming out around my mouth because by this time I was moving a little, and my blubbery mouth was pushed out ahead of me like it could drink the ocean but just didn’t want to. I tried to figure out why I just didn’t want to, but I couldn’t figure it out. My cat watched me do that and I expected to feel embarrassed, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. It felt like something you could do for a long time.
I was studying the gradations of a pebble’s reluctance. I really was. It’s a difficult subject. Then I remembered the taste left in my mouth by your mouth. How surprisingly dry it was. I couldn’t forget that.
I thought about where pebbles came from and I decided they must have broken off of larger rocks and just sort of rolled around real slowly, getting bumped and jostled a lot so you couldn’t notice it much at any one time and it rubbed all the sharper parts off. (The way some of my friends might lose some of their annoying edges if they had more time for me.)
Which means parent rocks are really almost everywhere. So I listened hard and thought I could hear them grunting with the effort to hold still, to live longer, not break off their parts and create children too quickly, a kind of restrained music of gradual failures, like ours, which keeps them reproducing.
It was, I realized, an unendurable beauty. I mean I had to quit listening or something terrible was going to happen. A weeping motorcycle of captivating pain was how I grew to think about it because it seemed like birth ought to hurt in a moving sort of way and that really should take you somewhere.
Then I remembered your mouth again.
Then I saw the hooded figures with crude weapons on their crude shoulders acting crudely. And I didn’t feel like running away from them.
Then I had an epiphany and I understood God is the greatest thief of all.
I learned all that from one pebble, but I don’t think I quite believed it. I don’t think I believed it at all.
I remained unmistakably reluctant. I was still living for the first time while pebble after pebble parted from larger participations and offered a possibility of redemption that I still thought looked an awful lot like rebirth.
Then I remembered the taste of your mouth in my mouth. That’s what I understood. And I understood how this thing was more than one thing and I went there and tried to stay. Because of the thirst. Because of all the careful thirst.
“Shouldn’t You Be More Specific”
It was accurate, but not specific. I had to give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I had to give it acceptance.
It was not available for further comment until after the hydraulics demonstration and by then it was turning a beautiful shade of turquoise blue.
I was up to something, but I didn’t know what it was. I was most certainly still breathing though. I couldn’t hear the other guy who was me very well or I might have shouted. I might have given him another elbow.
I made an heroic effort to be more specific.
By then it was sunset and no one was taking advantage of the porch swing, so I organized a position of royal entitlement and rocked and swung and rocked and swung. It was very pleasant and a little purple and nearly acceptable.
But I still didn’t know what my survivor was going to say, so I enclosed the peanuts, which had become the vehicle, carefully in a spittle-proof jar. I wanted someone to think I was competent. I wanted him to know what I would not allow.
I was most certainly not still up to something, but I still didn’t know what it was.
So I readjusted the chair and attempted once more to achieve superiority in its company, but it only rocked and rocked. I expected it to fall over. It did not fall over.
Naturally the porch swing observed without comment.
But I wanted a comment. I wanted a comment and then another comment.
I was up to something, and it didn’t know what I was.
My survivor was still rocking.
I tried to be even more specific, but what he was doing was rocking.
Something came up to me. I was still breathing. It wanted to know what I was, so I became more accurate, but then it wanted me to be more specific. It wanted me to literally be there. But I couldn’t because I was, literally, here, offering peanuts. Specifically. But it had become quite inaccurate. “I can, finally, accept that,” was what I imagined I was saying to myself, walking down the road, trying to remember what I had agreed to.
It’s the kind of story you don’t really want to hear, but you can’t stop listening. Something unusual might have happened. Not an accident at all, but a rare serious painful moment. It’s a narrative with real consequences. You can’t even think about it without repercussions. You don’t want to hear it.
Inside the story the blind wife feels the name above the doorbell and rings it. The blind wife believes her husband has been sleeping here. And she enters the house and has coffee with this stranger whose name she has become familiar with, just as she has become familiar with her own new name, this blind wife who is becoming this stranger’s friend while she is trying to find out about her husband’s other wife. His mistress. His girlfriend. His sister. His jilted admirer. His long lost daughter. She doesn’t know what this stranger is, but she’s going to find out.
It’s the kind of story in which none of the obvious possibilities are true. It’s the kind of story that doesn’t really answer your questions and turns away when you begin to feel close to it.
Something about the story tells you this blind wife is not really alone. Have you ever seen a gaggle of blind wives? It’s an oddly bright and happy gathering. It’s an unattached and beautiful celebration. You could get intoxicated with all the agreements going on, all the helpful advice. It’s not the first time you’ve imagined generosity, is it?
You understand, don’t you, that the earth does not smell the same to lovers as it does to the betrayed? And to describe their moment of truth is to suffer a death. A little one, an old one, but a death all the same.
I know you don’t want to hear this because inside the deeper part of the story, where their hearts are, the blind wives are going to visit a stray dog, rescued from the other woman’s garden. It could drag out some feelings you might not want to feel and they are going to want to give themselves away to it, those blind women, and you still don’t want to hear this, do you.
You would never have considered doing what the blind wife is going to do because inside the story the husband is sleeping, just sleeping, but not where sleeping is expected of him. He’s a little death, an old one, but a death all the same. It’s something you can marry in darkness. Like the sky with its wings on fire. The sky she couldn’t see.
Inside the husband’s dream, he is investigating what he wanted from the blind wife, how he wanted her to become the only place he could find his dream. It’s another kind of death now because it was already there, with the blind wife, and he couldn’t find it.
And the blind wife is melting away from that death and from the darkest husband. Burning in the absence of his discovery.
Burning to be what she wanted.
Burning to be what he couldn’t see.
Midnight and the peopled pier lights the cold shiver of the Sound we trust to deliver up delicacies, jigs probing in stiff hope through midnight waters where curiosity schools to illuminate our deceptions.
Suddenly impaled, the creatures write fear black, the spent ink of Nature’s needful poets, caught in this other world, their camouflage gone wrong misinterpreting bright intentions, all their slippery sensitivity published in a thick sloppy bucket.
But over white wine in the Italian restaurant, ink-besotted intellectuals dissect the deep rewarding circles of their arguments delivered as bite-sized morsels for exotic rubbery offeratory mastications of resilient substance, connoisseurs classifying substantial textures, the densities of salivary reasoning measured against elemental octopus, sophisticated clam and the latest, most fashionably digestible, deeply moneyed, culinary philosophers, flashing opinions like tooth jam.
At the next table, I sit waiting for someone I cannot name, someone whose talents might be at least social, if not sexual, not those of a lonely posturing scribe, someone who might sit at the same unmetaphorical table, not knowing the companion they have chosen, casting a questioning line, the hook sharp and obvious, deeply surprised when it comes back squirming with simple, delicious, unexpected delights to pass across the forbidding table’s vast, sometimes readable, welcoming ocean.
“You Didn’t Need to Yell at Me as Much as I Thought You Did”
You were afraid of the child’s cigarette glowing in the dark. Something you experienced like a door with a hole in its roof, the sky whispering. You opened your mouth and your voice rose like smoke. It took hold of the story slowly, like a road for people without shoes passed gently from one green sun to another.
But sometimes when the roof’s shadow climbs in the window . . .
and this other story swaggers in the door drunk and uninvited . . .
Then more stories waiting in their own shopping bags, stories infested with exuberant generosities. Life like a dare. As if each story might lose an argument with a glass of words. It doesn’t really matter what’s in there, does it? Just something.
When you hear the angels sing, remove your childhood.
It’s not exactly a torture.
There was a kind of brothel light behind your eye-bright, a ballet in our settlements. There was a devil for every possibility and you collected them on your wrist, which made me want to kiss it. It left me with feelings for well-organized cabinets. We were told something to do with our poetry books
and it wasn’t to read them.
It had a life of its own.
It grew old enough to talk to strangers.
An Interview With Rich Ives
After writing both poetry and fiction for a while, I found many of my approaches and interests overlapping and condensing. I was also influenced by German poet Gunter Eich, Russell Edson, and the French Surrealist poets. The shorter pieces in RRR are from a collection with one for each day of the year (an old form known as a “book of days” more recently corrupted into daily “inspirational” calendar books) called Tunneling to the Moon. I needed a name for them that described what they do as well as suggested the hybrid nature of the work. I’ve had the same piece rejected by a fiction magazine for being a poem and by a poetry magazine for being fiction. I’ve had pieces from the book published (when I don’t designate the genre) as fiction, poetry, and even essay.
When and where do you do your writing?
I keep a “notebook” on my laptop and frequently add words, phrases, parts of pieces, curious phrasings, provocations, etc. whenever I can. My favorite time to work is as soon as I wake until lunchtime. I start with a small piece that provokes my imagination and let it run. If it doesn’t go anywhere, I place another piece next to it, and so on until that suggests the forward motion. Sometimes most of the work is in finding the best sequence and phrasing for the combinations. I move things around and experiment a lot. I watch for the implications of plot and character suggested by the combinations and let that influence the sequence. A great deal of the meaning is often in between the lines, created by what is suggested as a probability for the particular phrases to have emerged from. It’s the reverse of “plotted” writing. I concentrate on style and voice and look for plot and theme in what the language suggests and hints at rather than says directly. I first started doing this after studying the notebooks and posthumous “poems” (assembled by David Wagoner in Straw for the Fire) of Theodore Roethke.
What other influences have contributed to the style of these “moles?”
“@ Comet Coffee”
“Splash and Reflect”
“Speleology” by Jessica Tyner
Ocean water began chewing and spitting
out what became the Venado caves thirty
million years ago, almost as long
as I’ve loved you. Guatusos aborigines were first
to slice their slim perfect limbs
through the dark, sliding callused fingers
against the jaw fossils of humpback whales
trapped in a scream along the caverns.
Caves don’t swallow people, that’s a lie
slipped through swollen brown lips
and I’m supposed to be grateful
to be one of the first people to crawl
on hands and knees
through bat guano while the little beasts
beat their wings, furious and terrified
above me. This is what I’ve done
for you. Felt the brush
of tarantula legs
on my thigh, the sickening crush
of a bloated cockroach under my palm,
completely unseeing and reaching
for whatever might reach back.
There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
Everything circles back to where it began,
and for one long minute I have to stand
between the splayed legs
of what should have stayed buried at sea
so my eyes don’t burst into blindness
from the sheer brightness of it all.
“Holy Week at Playa Negra” by Jessica Tyner
In patchwork Spanish I bought us
two bus tickets to Puerto Viejo.
For five hours a woman’s dreadlocks
sketched elaborate maps
into sweat that buttered my forearm
every time she slipped her baby
upside down to change a diaper
with the grace and instinct
of a dancer. The black sand
burned through my feet while you told me
how to catch a wave. You have to wait
for the perfect one, swelling
like leaking breasts, diving
into the underbelly and slicing
through to the calm.
I’ve never been good
at waiting or ducking, what a heartbreak
to miss the crash. The ocean floor
devoured my face, ate into a cheek,
and filled my throat
with burning salt water.
On the way back to the hotel,
you held my hand and I wished
that it was his, oversized and hungry.
A sinewy man carved a coconut
with a machete
as carefully as a skilled lover
undresses their young darling.
Sand is made from defeated
rocks, bones of fish
and I wanted nothing more
than to drink down my shame
with that bowed-back man’s
sun warm milk.
“Wishful Dreaming” by D.A. Spruzen
I set my palm on the green door,
feel the beat through my arm
and heart, my toes want to tap,
at least a couple of them do.
I ring the pop-eyed buzzer,
such a nice young man,
face it, an appetizing hunk,
opens up and says howdy
ma’am, let me hold the door,
take my arm down the steps,
can you manage ma’am?
Too bad you’re alone,
hope you’ll be okay in there,
it’s a rowdy young crowd,
so I’ll find you a table tucked
away in a nice quiet corner
farthest from the band.
I look at him closer,
that’s a nasty goatee,
and a wanton tattoo,
and dreamy mad, I say,
Are you shittin’ me?
“Password Pickle” by D.A. Spruzen
Password does not match . . .
I jotted it down somewhere.
Let’s try another favorite,
damn, not that one either.
Let me check my address book,
here, it’s under XYZ
in my own code, but what
do those squiggles mean?
God forbid you need a password
to get into heaven
or paradise, whatever you call it.
Maybe those who know
know the password instinctively
like some sort of imprint,
not something too unique,
something they’d remember
but heathens wouldn’t guess,
And a lapsed Christian
Who doesn’t know,
how would she guess
if its not in her address book
in her own special code?
Its hopeless, oh,
Oh. Could that be it,
without the space?
“THE PERFECT POLITICAL POEM” by Tim Suermondt
Doesn’t want anything to do with politics.
Even if you tortured it, it wouldn’t give in.
It would dream of dinner plates,
A pizzeria under the stars, a small river
Running through the middle of the city,
And everything else that’s indispensable, period.
“SHOW-OFFS” by Tim Suermondt
“Here we are…” my wife narrates
as she rakes the digital camera
across a swath of the New Territories.
There’s a few old village houses,
dilapidated yet still charming—
bee-gloamings and flame trees
burnt orange, and a skiff bobbing
in the water of the silver-lit bay.
I strut back from the small pier, right
into the camera which my wife jerks
upward, catching a flock of birds
doing their own form of showboating,
dabbing the clear-cut thin blue sky
brown the entire flight to the China Sea.
“In Amber” by Amanda Rachelle Warren
Because of you cut pears smell boozy with decay.
Brown sugar glues itself to itself in the bowl.
The past flows like pine and maple.
And this is why I repeat the rituals to call down light.
They are a stopper.
They do very little.
I need a bypass for the cabochon lodged in some ventricle.
In the long run I’ll need a new pump—this one is always breaking.
There was a stint of dreams that worked like aloe to stay the pain burning my
sequentially as musical notes,
while I slip my tongue along the far edge of worn memory:
reshaping it into some sweetness lick by lick.
And like the owl says: “the world may never know.”
Because the temptation to burst the seeming permanence of
days into nothing is so great that it sets our teeth to worry.
You take up an unfair share of space.
Specimen in glass gathering no dust.
There in the amber pane. Distorted, magnified—
the once remembered,
once brim with blood.
“Oncet Ghost, Oncet Rain” by Amanda Rachelle Warren
I fantasize at being the dark hand that silences doubt:
finding some grain of absolute among the trembling.
Part of me says I am outside this secret.
Part of me says all secrets are the same secret.
We repel and are repelled by. We attract and are attracted by.
The same with smaller things: want cheese, fear trap.
The same with larger things.
I desire the smell of rain, like love it should permeate me.
I want that my blood should smell like rainwater. I want my hair
to crack electric beneath the brush, like dry days in winter,
and smell close to lightning.
I want to walk past old men sitting, and have them ponder
the strange turn in weather their noses sense.
I want to put aches in their toes. I want them to love me as I am passing,
and fear me later as they lie in bed.
This is not a secret.
Would I rather be feared or loved? I said loved.
He said loved. And how we feared each other some days,
and saw it was the same: fear and desire in this way.
You do not necessarily desire what you fear, but you always fear what you desire.
This could never be a secret.
We desire the like, we desire the unlike.
It is never irrational, it is so rational it dizzies.
This is no secret either.
It is no secret how we keep, how we maintain, how we crave.
“Swimsuit” by Stephanie Springsteen
“Hon, you look naked in that swimsuit.”
My husband’s voice curls into my ear. His nose is in my hair, his hands on my waist. Our baby is sandwiched between us, tiny swim trunks riding so high on his pear-shaped body that he looks like a mini-Florida retiree. My husband’s tone is one part possessive and one part flirtatious. His voice competes with the echoes of splashes and squeals bouncing off the tiled surfaces of the indoor water park. The air is thick with chlorine and humidity. I smile, thinking I know what he means, but I’m not exactly sure all the same.
We are at a waterpark hotel in the suburbs, an hour’s drive from our Chicago home, for a weekend family getaway. Our five-year old daughter run-walks (running is prohibited) a circuit within the kiddie section, sliding from one small waterslide to the next. Her brown skin gleams over her equine spine, she is lean and long. There was never a moment of chubbiness in her babyhood. She is unlike her baby brother, whose thick white thighs grip my hip like a vice.
When my daughter was growing inside me, unborn, my husband was not jealous of me. He would not have cared if I looked naked in my swimsuit. It was the time between our two babies that was difficult.
That was a time too, when I probably would not have gone on a suburban weekend waterpark trip. I would have thought it was not cultured or quaint, or perfect, enough. The idea of a suburban hotel retreat would have been too pedestrian, too consumptionist to me. I would have spent a lot of time and effort and stress to create a “perfect” getaway. And surely that perfect getaway would have resulted in my crying in the middle of the trip because something had not turned out the way I planned.
After my husband’s swimsuit comment I hoist the baby into his arms so I can I go to the bathroom. The muscles in my legs strain to balance against the slick floors. Those muscles will ache tonight as we all pile into the king-sized bed of the hotel room, prop our backs against the pillows, and flip through the cable TV channels, breathing the tang of the air-conditioning.
I make my way past the wet swirling slides, over a faux bridge with a rope railing spanning the “lazy river,” to the women’s locker room. There I peek in the mirror.
My swimsuit is white and I am afraid what my husband meant is that you can see the color of my flesh and bulges of my post-partum belly. But the swimsuit is lined and my fears are not realized – though wet it still appears white, not transparent. Its dress-like shape floats away from my belly and does not cling. I found it featured in a magazine article about swimsuits designed to hide the flaws of a “mom” figure.
The water park is filled with teenage and twenty-something girls in micro-bikinis with round breasts and taught bellies. In the presence of these girls the idea that my mom swimsuit is erotic to anyone, strikes me as amusing. That it is erotic to my husband is reassuring.
While the swimsuit is not clinging and not transparent, I see the outline of my nipples. This probably inspired my husband’s “naked” comment. It does not bother me, though it once may have made me self-conscious. I am still nursing the baby and my breasts feel about erotic to me as my arms. In the bevy of half-naked younger girls I feel inconspicuous enough.
I move to a claustrophobic stall to use the toilet, peeling down the sticky wet suit so that I can go, then with monumental effort pull the suit back up, my skin cold and rubbery as I tug the swimsuit, squeezing myself back into it’s “shape-enhancing” lining. As I leave the locker room the young girls are checking their looks, meeting their own eyes in the mirrors. They want to impress. They don’t know what they are in for.
When I met my husband in college he would lope around campus like a bouncing question mark, his posture a curve, skinny inside his baggy clothes. He was not a big guy – no taller than I. He was always quick to ingratiate himself with others, which I then thought of as kindness and gentleness. I never saw him lose his temper. He seemed so non-threatening, a guy who would not, could not hurt me. I understand now why the idea of harmlessness appealed to me. My dad had spent years drilling the mantra “boys only want one thing” into my head, my mom was afraid for me to walk anywhere outside alone, day or night, lest I get abducted, and college campuses were rife with seminars on date rape and domestic violence. Though I had experienced none of these things, their threats breathed down my neck.
But there was more to my future husband than his seeming harmlessness. I remember the first time I met him.
A girlfriend of mine introduced us. She and I were sophomores, he a freshman. “You two have a lot in common,” said the friend, “he goes to the same parties you do – in the city. And he has the same poster in his dorm room that you have in yours.”
She introduced us in the lobby of the school cafeteria. I took in his baggy jeans, his backwards baseball cap, and slouchy stance. I was wearing slacks and a blouse, just back from my part-time job as a bank teller, having had to work part-time to pay my way through college. This guy thinks he’s so cool was my first thought. In defense of this perceived snobbery, I put on my most “I-don’t-care-look.” I tried to act grown-up and professional. I stuck out my hand to shake his. He shook my hand and said “nice to meet you.”
Then, to my surprise, he wiped his hand hard along the thigh of his jeans. “Sorry,” he said, “my hands get kinda sweaty.”
I immediately felt relieved. He did not think he was cooler than I. He was embarrassed. I felt more comfortable. I had not even noticed his hands were sweaty, but I admired that he admitted this vulnerability – put it out there to avoid any awkwardness. It would be couple more years before we would date, but I had a new friend.
He found his passion for art classes in college. He painted cartoon-like characters oozing color and humor and vulnerability. But his folks had pressured him relentlessly to become a doctor, and changing his studies from Pre- Med/Biology to Art won him no end of grief from them. Yet he stuck to his guns, and went on to graduate with a degree in Fine Arts.
So I began to see him as a person willing to be himself: his goofy, creative, vulnerable self, no matter what others thought. And that is what eventually turned friendship into attraction, for me.
He and I started dating my senior year, and after five years were married in a white-steepled country chapel with artful black and white photos to prove it.
But he and I continued to look mismatched. Commuting on the train together to our separate jobs with different dress codes, I would be in a blouse and slacks, he in a t-shirt and jeans. I looked like the grownup, he the kid. Often it seemed people did not think we were a couple. Sometimes they would walk right between us. At a fast food restaurant I would have to answer “I’m with him,” even though he had just ordered for both of us.
At home, if the furnace was broken, I would be the one to call for repairs. I would be the one to find the best deal, show the workers what to do, argue when the work was not done right. He would be afraid to offend, to make demands for himself, for us.
Before our daughter was born, we were at a party with a girlfriend of mine. My husband sat off to the side as my girlfriend and I chatted. Two guys approached us, drinks in hand, and began to chat. They were bores. It was clear they thought I was single. I threw a “rescue me” look to my husband. I did not expect him to make threats, or start a fight. I thought he would come stand beside me, put his arm around my waist, give the non-verbal “back-off” cues. He did nothing but smirk, amused at my predicament.
Around this time I read a novel in which the husband and wife are mugged. The attacker points a gun on the wife and tells the husband to turn around and run. He does. The attack is halted by another bystander, the wife is fine. But the image of the wimpy husband, running away, stays and replays in the wife’s head. He is running away, getting small, getting smaller, over and over again. She eventually has an affair, they divorce.
Shortly before the party incident I had gotten pregnant, accidentally. There was a miscarriage, then, a difference of reactions. I was bereft. He was relieved. At first he promised we would “try again – right away,” but then took to avoid discussing the topic at all costs. We went to counseling for less than year, he reluctantly agreed to a second pregnancy. I became pregnant with our daughter. Even the counselor was surprised when I announced my pregnancy.
At his work, he befriended a woman. I knew about other female friends of his, had met them all. I had male friends to. But he didn’t talk about this woman right away. Then he told me he was going out to dinner with a guy friend, and before he left for dinner, admitted he really had plans with this woman friend. I had never heard her name before. “Don’t worry, she’s married,” he had said, and “she’s just a friend.”
It was made clear that I wasn’t invited along to dinner. “That would be weird,” he said, “I wouldn’t be able to talk to her.” I knew it was wrong, I felt helpless, hurt. What do you say when you are big and pregnant and your husband wants to have dinner with a woman you don’t know and you are not invited? I could have said no, but I sensed he would have gone behind my back, at another time. I felt trapped, and I focused on the new baby about to enter our lives. I tried to chalk it up to new Dad jitters.
Our daughter was born, and I didn’t hear any more about the woman.
But things during that year had changed. My husband had stopped looking at me. He had stopped ogling me in his trademark adolescent way. He would walk out of a room I was in and turn out the light, forgetting I was there.
It continued this way. We were caught up in being parents. We talked only about our daughter – how cute, how smart she was. When our daughter turned two he applied for a new job without telling me. A dream job. Once he got the offer we planned to move to California. I felt I couldn’t say no – it was a great opportunity, his dream. But he became more and more distant, I more and more anxious. I had no friends in California, no family. I was realizing that I could hardly have a conversation with my husband here at home, who would I talk to in California? I foresaw nothing but loneliness, isolation in a new state as a stay-at-home mom. Friends were envious that I would be moving to a warmer climate, but I cried regularly.
The upcoming move brought things to a head. There was a night my husband and I were lying in bed together. I had to know. I had to push for the information I didn’t want. He was facing the wall and I was laying down next to him, looking at the back of his head. I asked about her.
I was surprised to hear of the woman’s divorce and her new boyfriend. Instinct put a question in my head. It was the most painful and embarrassing I have ever had to ask:
“Are you jealous of her new boyfriend?”
He whispered to the wall: “I think so.”
The stupid thing that night is that I thought they were about to have an affair, that it was something that could still be prevented.
The stupider thing was that I thought only a different kind of man had affairs. The men who like sports, who are big and muscled, who openly flirt with women. Not the kind of husband I had picked.
Over the next few weeks I would find out that the affair had been happening – on and off – since I was pregnant. Looking back, it made perfect sense. But in that moment, with my husband facing the wall, admitting being jealous of someone else’s boyfriend – it was like someone shining a flashlight in my eyes. It hurt. I couldn’t see.
I breastfeed my baby several times during the day under an apron specially designed for breastfeeding. I sit in my wet suit in a plastic chair on a scratchy waterpark-issue towel. I watch children line up in a shallow pool at the bottom of a wet jungle gym, waiting for a giant pineapple to tip over and dump a load of water which will crash down on them in a white explosion of squeals. The air is close and humid under the thin cotton apron, where my baby’s damp skin and suit press against mine. The apron is printed with a cute pattern of starburst shapes which my baby has taken to noticing from under his canopy and which he finds more fascinating than my breast. He stops every few seconds from drinking his milk to stare at the pattern and try to grab it with his chubby hand. He is soft and round and red in the cheeks.
After a while I ask my husband to hold the baby, so I can attempt one of the adult water slides. Moving step by step in line up a wet staircase to the top of the slide, the outside landscape slowly reveals itself through the tall windows. A solid rain falls into a pond with ducks, circled by prairie grass. It is calm and scenic. But the higher I move the more I see. The pond is tucked into the elbow of a highway on-ramp, where cars glide past construction equipment, piles of dirt and a dump truck.
The water slides protrude outside of the building from the top and curl back inside at the ground level, like plastic macaroni dripping rain onto the concrete below. Inside the building, I hurl myself down the dark plastic tube, where I get twirled and twisted and dropped.
One night in the weeks after discovering the affair I was driving home from a far suburb. Snow blanketed street signs on the unlit road so I could not tell where I was going. Visions of my husband and the other woman tumbled over and over in my brain. It was just my daughter and me, and she began whimpering in her car seat behind me.
She wanted out. But I could not stop the car. It was too dark, the streets were too isolated. Another vision of my husband and the woman. I could not stop them. My skin began to crawl. My daughter began to scream. We were at least an hour from home. I made a wrong turn, then another. I could not catch my breath. I approached a railroad track. A train was crossing. I had a flash – just a flash – of a vision of me driving the two of us into it.
At the bottom of the waterslide I slosh around in the catch pool, where it is now bright and noisy and exuberant. I see my husband standing on the side, waiting, watching, smiling. The baby is balanced on his hip, our daughter holding his hand. “There’s mom!” he says to her. He is looking at, not past, me. When I climb out of the pool he will remind me again that I “look naked.” His stance is wide, his feet anchored, and his shoulders are now broad. We make our way to a lukewarm hot tub, lit turquoise from below.
We worked to recover our marriage. We went to counseling once a week. We read books about affairs. He took deliberate steps recommended to rebuild trust – let me read his emails, follow him to work, call him at any moment.
Anything I needed. For as long as I needed. We looked at the patterns of our behavior and deliberately changed them. Both of us. There was no magic moment when I said “I am so in love with you that I forgive you.” There was no scene where he ran after me in slow motion with a fistful of wildflowers. His affair was like a fulcrum in our lives, a prism where the light comes in and comes out split, divided into its separate parts. Over the course of several months, he became more like a grownup. And I became less of one.
The next day as we leave the hotel the sky is a steel drizzle. I stand outside with the kids waiting for my husband to pull up the car. A balding man in a sleeveless shirt is smoking nearby. He is shivering, hugging himself against the chill. My husband pulls the up the car. As I am about to get in the man suddenly becomes animated. He makes conversation with me about the model of our car, a battered station wagon. I wonder about the guy’s enthusiasm.
Once I am in the car my husband says “that guy’s a creep, I saw him lurking around the hot tub.”
I imagine the guy standing around the hot tub watching the young girls with round breasts in bikinis and I think so why does that bother my husband? Then, thinking with alarm about my daughter: “creep,” as in he’s looking at the little girls?
“Hmmph.” I say, as we drive away.
Later that night at home with the kids asleep my husband and I sneak into our bedroom to do what we had not been able to do with the kids in the hotel room: make love. With his arms around me and his skin warm he says again “you looked naked in that swimsuit” with a smile.
“What do you mean naked? – it wasn’t like you could see through the fabric,” I say.
“But I could see the outline of your boobs and nipples,” he explains, “they were just hanging – no support – it was just like you were walking around….here” and motions around the bedroom. And I am surprised to hear that he thinks I look sexy just walking around the house.
“That guy was looking at you in the hot tub.”
Oh, the ‘creep!’
I nestle into the normalcy of his jealousy, his irritation, his desire to hold me and make love to me, and find me sexy in a mom swimsuit.
Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. An interview and18 hybrid works appear in the Spring 2011 issue of Bitter Oleander. In 2011 he has been nominated twice for Best of the Net and once for the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2012 winner of the Thin Air Creative Nonfiction Award.
Minyoung Song loves nature, earth, and life. Her life goal is to radiate positive energy to the universe, and she believes taking photos is one of the ways to do it. At the same time, photography helps her find hidden aspects of herself. Minyoung’s camera goes everywhere she goes. She currently lives in Michigan.
Stephanie Springsteen lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and daughter. Her work has appeared in Cup of Comfort for Couples, Loyola University’s Cadence, and she studies memoir at StoryStudio Chicago. This piece originally appeared in Cup of Comfort for Couples under the title “The Prism.” It has been reprinted with the author’s permission.
D.A. Spruzen grew up near London, England, earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and teaches writing in Northern Virginia when not seeking her own muse. In another life she was Manager of Publications for a defense contractor. Her short stories and poems have appeared in many publications, including Ray’s Road Review, Southern Women’s Review, Old Mountain Press, and Lunarosity. Last year she earned third place in the Tom Howard Poetry Contest for her epic poem, Sphinx Dust. A novel, Not One of Us, the first in a trilogy, is available on Kindle. Another novel, The Blitz Business, set in WWII England, is looking for a more traditional home. She and her husband live in Northern Virginia with a Jack Russell terrier, who doesn’t know he’s old and doesn’t know he’s small.
Tim Suermondt is the author of TRYING TO HELP THE ELEPHANT MAN DANCE (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and JUST BEAUTIFUL from NYQ Books, 2010. He has published work in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Southern Humanities Review, Bellevue Literary Review and Prairie Schooner, and he has poems forthcoming in Tygerburning Literary Journal and Stand Magazine (U.K.). He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
Jessica Tyner is originally from Oregon, is a member of the Cherokee Nation, and has been a writer and editor for 10 years. Currently, she is a copywriter for Word Jones, a travel writer with Mucha Costa Rica, a writer for TripFab, a copy editor at the London-based Flaneur Arts Journal, and a contributing editor at New York’s Thalo Magazine. She has recently published short fiction in Out of Print Magazine in India, and poetry in Slow Trains Literary Journal, Straylight Magazine, and Solo Press. She lives in San José, Costa Rica.
Amanda Rachelle Warren’s poems have appeared most recently in Beloit Poetry Journal, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Pacific Review, Cimarron Review and Hayden’s Ferry, as well as other journals. She was the 2011 recipient of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative’s Chapbook Competition. Her chapbook Ritual no.3: For the Exorcism of Ghosts, was published by Stepping Stone Press in early 2011. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University’s Doctoral program in English, a former poetry editor for Third Coast, and currently works as a Lecturer at the University of South Carolina Aiken. She lives in Aiken, SC with her husband, and fellow poet, Roy Seeger.