Daddy had disappeared. Again. He was having money problems, which was nothing new, sculptors don’t make very much money, but he’d been gone from his huge stone house in Germantown for a whole week.
“Nicole,” Mom said. “We’ve got to find your father before he tries to kill himself again. I’ve called his psychiatrist and Burke has no idea where he is.”
My mother, who, with her deep low voice, is always bossing people around, told me to go over to Dad’s and see if he was home.
My parents have what they call an “amicable divorce.” That’s what they tell people, anyway. Daddy didn’t have to tell me that Mom controlled his every move. She texted him constantly to see what he was doing and to give him orders on what to do next.
How a grown man can’t say “no” defies reason. So it was quite a surprise when he actually got up his nerve and dumped her.
A woman named Debbie was the catalyst. She wrote about him for the New York Times magazine:
“Johnny DeLeone has outdone himself in the series of elaborate gates he created for the family of Michael Klineman, of the noted fashion firm Klineman’s of New York.”
Quoting Daddy, she wrote, ““Each gate is different. My client and his kids like animals, so each of the gates has intricately wrought creatures like lizards, mallards, tortoises. I forged them here in my studio in Germantown.”
She described Daddy’s three-story stone house where the four of us used to live before the amicable divorce.
“Whatever a medieval castle used to look like, DeLeone’s stone carriage house in Germantown is a small reminder,” she wrote. “Are we in Pennsylvania or have we flown across time and space to the grandeur of the manor-born?”
Dad sent me to live with my mother. All that girly stuff – clothes, makeup, dating – Dad said I needed a mother, not a father, to help me grow up. My older sister Jessica had moved in with her boyfriend when she was seventeen. Can’t say as I blame her. Mom and Dad argued every night, their words flying out the windows like pitching horseshoes.
Though I moved into a rent-controlled highrise for artists with Mom in downtown Philadelphia, I’m out of the house as much as possible. I took out a small business loan and started “Nikki’s Boutique” on South Street. It’s filled with flashing bracelets and earrings, Indian-patterned dresses, stockings with crazy designs, and crystals, you know, the kind that heal you. My best friend Jennifer works with me and sends in all her friends.
When I got to Dad’s house, it looked no different than before. On a perch above the red front door, was the extra house key. The door creaked open. Same smell as always – the sweet smell of my father, coffee, and that jug of hand-cleaner he uses after sculpting in the backyard.
“Hey Dad!” I called.
He was usually in the backyard when I stopped by, working on a project. The yard was so big I could never find him and he’d peek out, wave to me, and call “Hello Little Darling!” The leaves were turning orange. They formed an orange carpet upon which sixteen or so of his sculptures stood as if the Blue Fairy would blow into them and make them come alive.
He rarely did personal portraits. He liked magical creatures, which is why I was surprised to find a new sculpture he forged of Debbie, the Times Reporter. She didn’t have much of a face, a big, old rectangle actually, but she did have a body, very few lines, arms, torso, and huge long legs that stood on tiptoeing feet.
I’m not a critic. I only know what I like. And I sure liked the one of Debbie. I searched everywhere in the fenced-in backyard, hearing old Cyrus, the black lab, barking in the next yard.
He was not in the yard. As I walked through the back door I realized he may have gotten sick and was lying quite ill in his bed. I began to panic. “Calm down… relax,” I told myself, which is something Dad often said to me.
He was not in the kitchen, where he kept his Cheerios box on the table and his favorite coffee mug I once gave him for Father’s Day – “World’s Best Dad” – and a butter dish he kept at room temperature for his English muffins.
“Dad!” I called. I love my dad more than all the rivers and seas and creeks that empty into the oceans. Our uncle up in New York State, where dad is from, died of a heart attack while he was on the toilet. Dad was not in the bathroom, thank goodness. I went into the bedroom, half expecting to see him still in bed, covered over with his navy down quilt. The bed was made. I lay down on the quilt, soaking up his smell, his essence, looking up at the ceiling and trying to imagine where he had gone.
I took my cell phone out of my pocketbook and dialed his number. The phone on the bedside table next to me began to ring.
“Johnny DeLeon here,” he said in his soft voice. “Please….leave….a message.”
“Hi Dad, it’s me Nikki. You know my number. Please call me back.”
Then I called mom. She was ready for me.
“We’ll hire a psychic,” she said.
“A psychic? Mom, are you nuts?”
“I’ve made up my mind. Bring some of his clothing from the hamper and meet me at the apartment.”
Pushing open the sliding doors of his closet, which he had painted with swirls of white, red and black, I lifted up the lid of the hamper and chose one of his flannel shirts, a pair of jeans, and his striped boxers for good measure.
As I left the house, I stuck my hand in the mailbox. Naturally he’d painted it himself, his favorite colors: white, red and black.
Among the ads, was a large white envelope addressed to Mr. John DeLeon. The letterhead was embroidered in gold. I slit it open with my thumb and read the entire letter. If only dad were here to see what it said. He told me how rejections and acceptances arrive by mail, rather than a congratulatory phone call.
The acceptance appears in the very first sentence, he told me, while the rejections are padded with flowery language before the beheading comes.
I stuffed it in my pocket. No way would Mom know about this.
We sat in the huge bright yellow living room of Mom’s highrise. Philadelphia, in all its autumn glory, beckoned out the window. Framed photographs of the covers of mom’s children’s books – The Little Red Hen, Murray the Cowardly Tiger, The Lost Baby Seal – hung on the wall near the stone fireplace, which was chugging away.
Mom was a charming woman, who looked like an Indian princess in her long black hair, tied back in a single braid. Dad says I look a lot like her. I could certainly see how he fell for her.
Unlike Dad, she loved company and I could hear her and the psychic chatting away when I walked through the door.
“I had the damnedest time finishing up the baby seal book,” Mom laughingly told the psychic. “Could not for the life of me think of an ending.”
“It came to her in a dream,” I popped up as I entered the room.
“Ah, the deep unconscious,” said the psychic, whose name was Yvonne Catelli.
She told us how she got her powers. One day she was down on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor. She heard a whooshing sound. “Of course I paid no attention,” she said. “You ever hear all the creaks and squeaks a house makes?”
We laughed as we listened to the slow burning of the fire on the fake logs in the fireplace.
Then, said the psychic, it happened again. And a third time.
“I dropped my sponge and stood up to look around. Would you believe that directly in front of the sink was the saint Teresa D’Avila?”
She paused and then told us she recognized her right away.
I wondered how she knew who it was, but I didn’t dare say a thing. We were brought up with no religion at all. Mom is Jewish and I don’t know what religion dad’s family practiced in upstate New York.
“Light was streaming all around her,” continued the psychic. “The saint was very young and had a high-pitched voice that sounded as if she were singing.”
Yvonne looked at us to see if we were following the story. My goodness, who wouldn’t be?
“I fell onto my knees again, right there on the linoleum floor, but Teresa d’Avila” – which, when she said it, sounded like one long name “TeresaD’Aveela” – “said, ‘Arise, my child.’”
Mom and I were silent.
“I swear it’s the truth,” said Yvonne, making the sign of the cross on her black sweater, that revealed both a bit of cleavage and one of those crosses that show Christ on the cross. Not my favorite thing. How can you wear an ornament with a man writhing in pain?
The psychic took a sip of tea and bit on one of mom’s homemade shortbread cookies.
Yvonne said the saint told her, “I’ve kept my eye on you since you were a small child and have been impressed with your devotion. Should you choose, Yvonne, I will confer the gift of psychic powers upon you.”
“Please, my lady,” she told her.
“Use them only for the good,” the saint told her.
Yvonne Catelli had been written up in the trendy Philadelphia Magazine: “Soothsayer or Prankster?” The article, which both Mom and I had read, said her husband of twenty-some years left her after she received her powers.
“I knew he would,” she told us from the red leather couch. “That was one prediction I couldn’t miss,” she said with a laugh. “A week before he left, I knew he was packing his bags when I wasn’t home. Fine with me. The kids are gone and he’s gotten to be quite the bore.”
I felt terrible for her husband. My dad was always filled with one great story after another. He knew about all the great sculptors. Together we went to the Rodin Museum where Dad showed me the shiny black sculpture of The Thinker, which towered over our heads.
“Look at the way he’s sitting,” Dad had said. “Is that really the way a person’s hand would be placed when he’s deep in thought?”
The psychic now sat deep in thought with my dad’s clothes on her lap.
“I must do my work,” she said, crossing herself, and taking his clothes with her to the window.
The mirrored Comcast Building scaled the sky and dwarfed City Hall with the tall-hatted William Penn on top. Everyone calls him “Billy Penn” but you know what? He was a great man, who loved the Delaware Indians, and fought for their rights, so I prefer his real name, the good Quaker William Penn. Whenever I come home from work, I look out the window at William Penn and ask him to bless me with success for my new boutique.
Yvonne was a woman who seemed very sure of herself. As she looked out the window, her salt-and-pepper curls bobbing, as did her earrings, which were tiny little wooden crosses, she closed her eyes. I wondered if I should sell something like those earrings in my store.
Eyes closed, stroking Dad’s clothes, she nodded a couple of times. I don’t know how long she stood like that – five minutes, ten? – but she never moved an inch.
Mom’s stereo was on low, set to the classical music station.
Mom and I were startled to hear her speak, softly at first, like she was surfacing from a deep scuba dive.
“He’s in the woods in a park, most likely in Philadelphia,” she said, holding dad’s flannel shirt against her chin. “He has a beard, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, a goatee,” said my mom.
The psychic explained he was lying on some sort of ground cover and looking up at the sky.
“Wait a minute,” she said, still looking out the window. “He just got up and is strolling about the park – it’s Fairmount Park – looking at the grass and the trees and the same blue sky we have right out the window here.”
At least he was alive. He had these awful periods of doubt, when he would start yelling “I have no fucking talent. I’m totally useless” and would destroy some of his sculptures, throwing them about the back yard, kicking them and hurling horrid curse words at his beautiful work that was exhibited all over the world, including the Hirshhorn in D.C. and I forget the names of the ones in Paris that bought his work.
“Of course he’s alive,” said Mother. “But how the hell are we going to find him in FairmountPark? It’s the size of a small city.”
Indeed the park is notable for its sculptures, all ancient ones, the perfect place for Dad to go and feel sorry for himself.
“You might hire detectives to find him,” said Yvonne. “Be sure to give them the clothing,” she said, placing them in a pile on the couch.
Mom went over to her desk and brought out her checkbook.
“That’ll be the special rate of two hundred fifty dollars,” said Yvonne, who slipped it into her purse and we walked her to the door.
Now it was up to us to find my dad.
The next day we started off around noon. I brought along some of my healing crystals and jingled them in my pocket as we walked across the moist grass of Fairmount Park. We’d summoned a posse: Mom’s new boyfriend Chuck, a couple of my girlfriends, and two sculptor friends of Dad’s.
We brought sandwiches and thermoses of black coffee.
When the sun began to go down, we left. We thought it would be easy.
Next morning we asked the help of the police. Look, if you fly up in a space ship and look down upon the earth, you could find my father. How hard can it be?
The Southampton Police Department arrived at Tamanend Park with their marijuana-finder German Shepherd “Amigo.” It was Mom’s idea to try the park. She knew Dad got artistic ideas from nature. Even Dad told me a sculpture is simply a tree in disguise.
When I was little, Dad had taken me and Jessica to Tamanend Park. We saw some huge rocks that had the names of real Indians who used to live on this very land. Dad wouldn’t let us climb on them. He said it was disrespectful.
Jessica and me were a little old to play in the playground at the time, but Dad was in one of his playful moods. He climbed up the slide of the sliding board as we stood on the side and laughed our heads off. He also had us push him on the swing, sitting there laughing in the very same flannel-type shirt Amigo was sniffing.
If you must know, I don’t much like cops – I drive too fast and am always fearful of getting a ticket and losing my license – but I was grateful for Buzz and Joe, the two cops who were helping us. I was pretty positive we were going to find my dad here.
After sniffing dad’s flannel shirt and boxers, Amigo bounded forth, tail wagging, and disappeared into the woods. Mom and I loped behind. Mom, who is always working on a new book- the new one is about a misunderstood donkey – had her long dark hair tied in a pony tail which was wagging across her back as she sprinted in front of me. I could hear her fast breathing. She sure loved my dad.
Suddenly the dog stopped. All confidence seemed to drain out of him. He gave a mewling sound, like a whimper. These dogs are smart. He knew he’d failed his masters. One of the cops walked up to Amigo, patted his head, and held dad’s boxers again in front of his nose. The dog seemed to get his second wind.
He proceeded onward, past a stand of yellowing beech trees, one of which was cut into with love initials. I kept picturing my dad striding up to us, imagining he was just behind one of the trees, and thought I saw him many times, a bearded man in jeans, a flannel shirt, down vest, and hiking boots.
“Where are you Dad?” I said out loud. Then, gaining confidence, I called out louder: “Dad! Dad! We miss you!”
The dog was now trotting through a clearing in the woods. We could smell a fire. Sure enough, inside a pavilion, there were picnic tables and a campfire was burning, sending its fragrant smoke up in the air. People stood around the fire, maybe twenty of them, Boy Scouts they looked to be with their green uniforms, holding what looked like sticks to make S’Mores.
What a good portent, I thought, jingling my crystals.
But the park was so big. Even though it was beginning to get dark I decided to break from the group and ran around calling “Dad! Dad!”
I kept seeing him emerging from the trees. Everywhere I looked there he was. I rubbed my eyes.
And then he did appear. All rumpled like. He looked like he was a hundred years old. Exhausted, rumpled, defeated.
“Dad! It’s me, Nikki! Are you all right?”
He came toward me, stumbling and falling. His eyes were bloodshot and looked as if he hadn’t slept in the week he was gone.
“Dad you’re not useless and a failure,” I said.
He looked confused.
“You know, your work. Your beautiful work.”
A hint of a smile appeared on his face. He held out his arms and I fell into them.
He held me tight.
“Got something for you, Dad,” I said, and reached into my jeans pocket.
He blinked a couple of times and looked at the envelope.
“Fancy-shmancy,” he said, in that voice I loved to hear. He opened the big white envelope and took out the letter. He held it up to the dying light and read it out loud, then kissed me on top of my head.
“Dad, can we make a pact?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, taking my hand as we crunched on fallen leaves and walked toward the parking lot.
“Never again, Dad. Never again doubt yourself.”
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, with what sounded like a sob. “I saw some pretty cool patterns – rocks and trees and sunsets – that got stuck inside my head. That goddamn museum won’t know what hit them.”
The bridge club met every second Friday at the Silver Spoon. The roster had evolved over the years. It shrank in numbers, and younger women replaced their aging mothers. Still they met to splurge on lunch, trade news and recipes, and hone their card-playing skills. An occasional newcomer tried out. Once in a great while, she was accepted as “fresh blood.”
Louisa had been in the club all her adult life. For her, it was a habit. Mavis Puffenbarger had the afternoon off from her job as receptionist at Town Hall. No one in their right mind would try to conduct official business after twelve o’clock on a Friday. Margaret Howe was a Poindexter faculty wife in her forties. With interests in architecture and preservation, she was active in the Historical Society. Irene Hammer, like Louisa and Mavis, belonged to Brickfront Methodist Church. She was several years older, a link to the previous generation.
In those days the game was universally popular, and the club filled two tables for duplicate bridge, with women watching eagerly from the sidelines. They had met in private homes in rotation. Recently, they had switched to the Silver Spoon for convenience. Who had time to prepare a proper spread these days?
Despite the hectic week, or because of it, Louisa looked forward to the bridge game. In any case, where would she find a substitute? She joined the other three women at the table in back, ordered the fried fish platter, and tuned in to the ongoing discussion.
“My husband Denny can’t sit still for a minute,” Irene Hammer said. “Have you heard of restless leg syndrome? Where your leg twitches something awful while you’re trying to watch television or just lying in bed? I swear that man has restless leg in his whole body. He’s always trimming bushes or mowing the grass or putting up a bird feeder where squirrels can’t get at it. The latest project is a statue.”
“What kind of statue?” Margaret Howe asked.
“A standing figure in a robe. It’s supposed to be Jesus, but it’s kind of abstract.
“Does your husband have any training in art?” Louisa asked.
“None whatsoever,” Irene said. “He says he has a feel for it. He worked as a welder at the foundry before retirement. He bought some stone-cutting tools at an auction, then got it in his head to carve a block of granite. He bought it at the cemetery, a headstone that someone ordered and never paid for.”
“Some people have no shame,” Mavis Puffenbarger said.
“Where is the block of granite?” Margaret asked.
“In the garage with all his other projects. It’s so full we can’t park the car there anymore.”
“What is he going to do with the statue?” Margaret asked.
“Beats me,” Irene said. “He says he’ll figure it out later. Meanwhile, it keeps him out of trouble. I just hope he doesn’t get any ideas about setting up that stone Jesus in the front yard. Our house faces First Baptist, and I hate to imagine their reaction.”
“Reverend Jesse King would not take kindly to a graven image,” Louisa said.
“Oh, I know it!” Irene said.
“Maybe he would denounce it,” Mavis said. “That would be something to hear. He’s famous for calling down the wrath of Lord.”
“Controversy can be difficult to avoid,” Margaret said. “For the Historical Society, I attend meetings of the Town Council when a matter of preservation comes up. People get up in arms over the least little thing.”
The conversation continued through lunch, with more on the activities of Denny Hammer, Floyd Puffenbarger, who in trying to eliminate a creaky board managed to tear up half the living room floor, and Brent Howe, who when not teaching political science to the young women of Poindexter College, indulged a passion for geraniums. As a widow, Louisa was unable to contribute current anecdotes. She listened, nodded in sympathy, and laughed with the others at the folly of menfolk. It was good to get her mind off business.
Over dessert, they broke out the cards. Good form required that they draw blind to see who would partner with whom, as well as who would deal. Mavis partnered with Irene, who would deal the first hand.
“Bear with me,” Irene said, as she shuffled. “This tremor in my hands is giving me fits. If the cards fly all over the table, you’ll know why.”
Once the deck was shuffled and cut, she dealt in her usual way, so rapidly that the cards were a blur, landing in neat piles in front of each player.
“How do you do that?” Louisa asked.
“I don’t think about it,” Irene said. “After so many years, these things flow through the central nervous system. They bypass your brain.”
Louisa picked up her hand and arranged it by suit, as her mother had taught her. She looked up to see that she was the last to finish. All eyes were on her.
“Are you waiting for me?” she asked.
“Yes, partner,” Margaret said. “Irene opened with one diamond.”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear.” Louisa held no strong suit and few honors. “Pass.”
As the bidding proceeded, she scanned the faces of the other three women. They knew each other well and had played together innumerable times. It was necessary to keep a straight face. Still, personality played its part. Mavis, for example, was relatively timid, afraid to commit to a slam, always looking to her partner for clues. Margaret, on the other hand, tended to be bold and overconfident. If she held honors in all suits, she would bid no trump before her partner had a chance to say anything. Irene was conservative, but if she held the right cards she moved fast. She won the bid, played it expertly, and Mavis wrote the score.
The deal passed to Louisa. She was slower than Irene, and the cards did not accumulate in neat piles. At least they all stayed on the table. Again, she held nothing in particular and passed. Irene and Mavis won that hand, too, which gave them enough points to make game. Mavis dealt the next hand, which was again favorable to her team. Despite her hesitation in bidding, Irene won a daring contract for five spades, which she made.
“That gives us game and the rubber,” Mavis said. She conveyed the last spoonful of sponge cake to her mouth and savored it.
“It went by entirely too fast,” Margaret said. “Should we play another rubber? Do you have time, Louisa?”
“I told Walter Nickles I would meet him at the office later. Whose deal is it?”
“Mine,” Margaret said, as she scooped the cards toward her. “Ladies? Are you up to the challenge? Should we change partners?”
“Let’s stay put,” Irene said. “I’m too tired to move.” She did not look tired to Louisa.
“This way I don’t have to start a new score sheet,” Mavis said.
Margaret shuffled and dealt. They picked up their hands and arranged them, all at lightning speed. Once again, Louisa was the slow girl. This time, however, she held some decent cards. Margaret opened strong in bidding two spades. Louisa supported her by declaring three hearts. She won the bid in hearts, and Margaret laid her hand on the table.
Mavis led the play, and all went well for six tricks. As Louisa stacked them in a book, Mavis launched into an account of her son’s latest accomplishment.
“Marvin got a promotion with the farm equipment distributor in Front Royal. Sales are picking up, and he did very well last quarter, which you wouldn’t expect for the fall.”
“Maybe farmers had money in their pockets from the harvest,” Irene said.
“Or someone bought a tractor for Christmas,” Margaret said.
“Actually, it was a corporation,” Mavis said. “You know, an agribusiness. Marvin landed them as a customer, which was a big boost for the company. It put them in the black for the year. Plus it bodes well for the future. As a reward, they bumped him to associate manager.”
“Congratulations to your son,” Irene said.
Louisa knew without taking her eyes off the cards that Mavis was staring at her. She used these bulletins on Marvin as a way of nettling her. Marvin was obviously having more success in life than Galahad, whom Mavis considered to be a slacker.
The tactic succeeded. As Louisa strained her mind over the next trick, whether to take it from he own hand or the dummy, she accidentally played the wrong card and lost. From there, the hand was a disaster. Irene and Mavis exploited Louisa’s weakness in clubs, and she finished the hand without making contract.
Mavis gleefully recorded the score, while the other two women tried to gloss over it.
“We all make mistakes,” Irene said.
“It could happen to anyone,” Margaret said. “As dummy, I couldn’t touch the cards, so I sent brainwaves to you across the table.”
“Thank you for trying,” Louisa said. “We haven’t played the full rubber, but I should go. The newspaper editor is waiting.”
Book Review by Scott Holstad — Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was another crazy book (in a good way) by Philip K. Dick. It’s more lucid and centered than many of his other (later) books. This was written in 1965, but is set in 2004. In this book, the Cold War still exists, seemingly, between Wes-bloc (us) and Peep-East (the Soviets). There is a weapons race between the two sides, and each employs “weapons fashion designers” to design their new weapons. The thing is, a peace treaty had been agreed upon years ago between the sides and these weapons don’t and won’t work. They’re not designed to. After the designs are made, they go into production and fake weapons are then filmed doing significant damage to the other side so that society, the “pursaps” (pure saps), will continue to think they’re being protected by their respective governments in an evil world.
The protagonist for this book is Lars Powderdry (another great Dick name), the western weapons fashion designer. His eastern counterpart is an attractive young “cog” named Lilo Topchev, and does Lars have a thing for her. Even though he has a mistress in Paris. Yep. Dick and his cluttered relationships are at work again. Heh.
Both weapons fashion designers use hard core secretive drugs to induce a trance state during which time they sketch their weapon ideas. Upon waking, they see what they’ve sketched and the sketches are off to the lab. This situation works out well for everyone — until alien satellites appear in the sky and apparently start to take entire cities (starting with New Orleans) captive for slave labor in the Sirius system. It’s at this point the weapon fashion designers are brought together (in Iceland, I believe) to pool their resources in the hopes of making a real weapon to defeat the aliens.
One interesting sub-plot occurs when Lars picks up a pulp comic at a magazine stand and recognizes some of his weapons in the comic. Lilo does too, when he shows it to her. The tricky thing is, these are weapons they just concocted this week, while the comic has been on the stands for one or two months. So, are they stealing their ideas from a schizophrenic comic book writer?
Another major part of the plot occurs when some soldiers in DC happen upon a doddering old man talking about a major battle he helped win 60 some years ago — in 2005. He’s from the future. Time travel. Yep. (You also get androids in this novel too. Sci fi all the way, baby!) Klug, the old man, is taken to the authorities where they come to believe his story and set up Lilo and Lars to work with him to try and get a design for the real weapon that defeated the aliens all those years ago. Lilo is ineffective, but Lars “connects” with Klug while in his trance and finds the answers to his questions. The answer lies in a toy. I won’t give it away though.
Yet another sub-plot involves Surley G. Febbs, one of the funniest characters I’ve seen out of Dick. A severe narcissist with a plot to rule the world, he plays a role at the end, after you think the book has been tied up nicely. The thing that makes this work is, this actually ties the ending up nicely. It’s a fresh perspective for me, because one of my major complaints about Dick is that his endings always seem so rushed, so not-quite-finished. This ending works for me.
There’s sex, there’s a suicide, there’s hilarious terms Dick makes up for nearly everything, and underneath it all is the running satire of the real life arms race that people were frightened to death of during the time of the book’s writing. This isn’t Dick’s best book. In fact, some people don’t like it all that much. But I really enjoyed it and finished it in less than a day. It was that gripping. Recommended for all!
EVERYTHING by John Harper
everything is everything i’m so excited—
everything is instantly a sunrise
pouring in—it’s when everyone’s on tip-toes,
at least in their heads, in thinking to love up everything—
everything in even the tiniest roots reaching
is humanity embracing itself—
running to the telephone and there’s everything in you
listening for who—dancing
is the expression of everything snowflakes;
there’s everything in the intangible language
of how the furniture is arranged in the living room;
everybody loves everybody,
even their own cried-closed hearts;
everything is the instant the first question was ever asked;
everything rhymes with butterfly-insides;
everything is wearing pajamas all day
in the pennsylvania mountains;
everything is waking up;
everything is the how
of the fall of your hair
as you open the door home—
DAYDREAMING by John Harper
sad is raining in the sunrise
like it did this morning—the color
of the sky’s engine was gray—
sad’s dreaming in my windows waiting—
it’s been raining all day in the sunrise
where it was supposed to be—
sad isn’t lost; lost is worse—
the lost look about my pretty face;
my face’s lost this evening;
i’m in a window dreaming;
the sunrise is in twelve hours;
the engine’s running—
sad is saying goodbye from a car window—
my eyes have that look of missing someone—
A Woodscape Connecting Two Towns by Lark Beltran
The rain-lashed whiz of traffic through the pines
kills the illusion of back roads.
I kick aside a can
lying with other mementos of a foraging grown too easy,
and skirt the duck pond remembered from childhood,
laced now with plastic bags and no birds.
Once this forest possessed latent magic
ready to bloom at the ring of an impassioned thought.
The drowsy vanilla-smell of old-growth bark
was as worthy a backdrop for hidden kingdoms
as for the scolding jays.
Skinks and salamanders,
wriggling under mossy fallen logs,
were treasures for the taking and returning.
Their capture crowned a day –
called for root-beer popsicle celebrations
and dusk-recountings to the squeamish-fingered.
An essence of freedom
went out with the trees removed for the freeway.
I stand amid remnants
tamed and razed,
in the letup of downpour,
with the sunset a dim red stain
on the apathy of mind and sky,
that progress should be an unbalanced equation.
POOL SPACKER by Kenneth Pobo
swims for barely fifteen minutes,
drips to the changing room,
and steals flip-flops
or beach balls, knowing
some kid will be mightily upset—
he remembers when his mom
told him couldn’t ride his bike
for a week, he had sassed her,
and he got mightily upset too.
He tosses the flip-flops
in the back of his truck,
drives to Montrose Lake—
by the shore, old tires, condoms,
cigarette butts, and a map
to Tryst Falls Baptist Church.
After he lights the flip-flops,
they smolder–he’s got time,
what’s there to do in Micah
but watch the night
cover cornfields in darkness
so it can pull the red
petals off of Mrs. Gutaway’s
Mirandy rose, burning
rubber a comfort,
like a story he was told
when he was five
about a lightning bug
on a string that broke free.
DINDI, ONCE AGAIN INVITED TO CHURCH by Kenneth Pobo
In the antique store
I look for books about
how to quilt though I lack
patience, can barely sew
a button on. A stranger
and I get to talking.
Her wedding ring,
a goldfish swimming
down her finger. I had
a goldfish when I was eight.
Dead in a month. She reaches in
her coat pocket, pulls out a tract
I toss after her car pulls away.
Someday I might go to church,
the same way I may make a quilt.
I buy two musty books
I leaf through before I fall
asleep at night, dream
of Magdalene, the grief
that sewed her heart together,
that broke the stitches.
So What by Brad Garber
The government has been snooping
through my phone records
photographs, sock drawer
high school transcripts
refrigerator, medicine cabinet
bedroom, bathroom, car trunk
and, presumably, it is having
fun over glasses of whiskey
cigar smoke circling in dark
wood-paneled rooms with thick
carpets of wool and artwork
and I hope the laughs are more
than the ones I spit against
the mirror of disappointment
each morning as I pick hairs
out of the caverns of my ears
before terrorizing the office.
We Drink A Lot and Live Very Little by KG Newman
This is some moment, isn’t it?
Someone’s birth or last breath,
this moment, right now is an idyllically lonesome moment.
Girl from the gym, are you aware
of how often you’ll smile
if you’d just excuse this poor forum for my advance
and accept my dinner invitation?
All my friends are wistful and high.
They’re playing catch now in their raggedy high school jerseys
still trying to compensate
for plays they didn’t make.
Except my friend Johnny who doesn’t play
and instead studies classic cinema
and large bottles of vodka— Johnny,
I need you to know
you are my favorite critic
in this entertainment section that is life.
Not any life but this life, which we are quite familiar with
despite our frequent attempts to escape it.
Yes, another blistering summer’s on the doorstep
and in this, the most lonesome moment,
cacti are overwatered and rotting
like the somber Indian gulping from his flask
outside his mobile home on the reservation.
Why should he listen to the sun god that says
His rays are aplenty, there’s no reason to be so alone at so young?
It’s a hell of a moment, some moment
among many moments we go through the motions in.
I’ll never accept the reality
of the neon lights turned on every night,
and the inebriation that comes so easily
and our only regret being the moment in the morning
when the body lets it go.
We drink a lot and live very little.
That’s what must be done.
We Hang Out All The Time by KG Newman
My teammates have vanished. I used to have many.
One took his life and I didn’t see it coming. Another
became a famous musician. Another one, who for a long while
I suspected to be gay, married the first woman
who agreed to be his girlfriend.
We used to know each other better than brothers,
we were Eskimo brothers: drunk and high, dipping Grizz,
fist-pounding, ass-slapping in the least lascivious manner
possible. Egos simultaneously inflated in victory, bond
consolidated in defeat. Rank scent of practice pennies
never washed. Water bottles passed along after sprints,
save a squirt for the guy at the end of the line. Cursing,
making momma jokes, calling one another vile names
as displays of affection. Now we never call, barely talk,
most I haven’t seen since that last playoff loss.
But recollections of our glory together, fellas,
have not faded from my mind. My throat still burns
from handles you made me pull. My back
still feels the sting from locker room five-stars.
Other details—exact plays, signs, formations—
I seem to have misplaced. The present is
the electricity bill which has been increasing
in recent sleepless months, while the past avalanches
down an isolated mountain on the fringe of our hometown.
Longest Night: Recital for Organ and Violin
St. Pierre, Auvillar by Marilyn Kallet
Grey stone and freezing benches
after a day of
a blast of sound
my young daughter on vibes
but now I’m solo
in this church surging
Led Zeppelin gone Bach
Uh oh the
music grows agitated
organ frenzied &
villagers come in
& we need to
give them time
to be unfriendly
in a friendly
kind of way.
A day trashed
my only words
a letter to David
penned at the salon
angrily pulled my hair
& then I
(My right as
Now the Franco-German society
lets go of Jews and guilt
for a mo,
Jesus is looking
on the violin.
I could pick up
an old person
Tous les enfants
in the arms of
by A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Maybe if we could
With Jules Schwartz
before he got his
this is church,
for God’s sake
Boring can be
But what if
I pass out
and fall off
the church bench
onto the stone floor?
Will Pink Floyd
You can tell
would be great
if he was playing
Old guy staring at me––
is that foreplay?
Should I take up
with the Lesser Cheeseman?
Stairway to Heaven.
Agnes wants to
sleep with Violin Man
because of his “perfect
Is that Jesus
in a rowboat?
Shine On You
in Sixties jeans
Your own concert
you couldn’t put on
a decent pair of pants?
Now it’s the
Sound of Silence
Jesus up there
a giant baby
like a larva
tug on him
his hands thrown
Nu, What did you
Before we rush the exit
Garonne Love by Marilyn Kallet
I’ve come back to
to be calm
Your surface trembles
how I love you
I like for you
to be absent, sure,
once in awhile
would be sweet, too.
show you a thing
or two, sir,
Perfect by Marilyn Kallet
I like for you to be silent, it is as if you are gone.
Don’t corrupt air with your lips.
Don’t punch perfect silence with a grunt.
Don’t demean lovely pronouns.
What snowman bitches to wrens?
What iceberg crashes its own gleam?
No! As if you are dead.
Why shatter the blank?
Don’t send a word. Don’t. Tightness
is a gift in an ass.
Don’t even fart. Save it for the official
ceremony for assholes.
Book Review by Scott Holstad — Ficklestein
This Book Needs A Title by Theodore Ficklestein
(AuthorHouse, 2013, ISBN 978-1481746663, $28.99)
by Scott Holstad
What is there to say about Theodore Ficklestein’s new book, This Book Needs A Title? It’s witty. It’s humorous. It’s not traditional. It’s also a bit trite and therein lies the problem. See, this book is overly self referential in that many of the poems are about those poems themselves, and after awhile the gimmick wears thin. You could probably open the book to any page and find just such a poem. Witness:
Someone told me I will have a very short career as a poet.
I will never publish a poem.
Better yet a book of poetry.
He made it clear that I would never finish one of my poems.
I am glad to say I proved him wrong.
“A Profound Poem”
This poem is quite profound.
You can’t see how profound this is.
Do you not see it?
That’s how profound it is.
But also witty:
“Poem On Page 92”
I’m sorry for the confusion but the poem intended for this page is on page 92.
This poem can be found on page 56 in the book. Clever, no?
Some of the author’s poems can have truths and half-truths buried in them that do border on profound, however.
There is only one rule for us to follow on this earth.
Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Is it that hard to follow?
We seem to have a hard time with it.
Good thing there aren’t two rules or we would really be sunk.
You won’t find traditional poetic devices such as imagery and metaphor in this book. But that’s okay. Bukowski’s one of my favorites and he was never much into poetic devices. You will find a lot of humor. But again, some of it’s so insipid that it’s hard to take the book or the author seriously as a writer – from “Peom 731”: Oh goddamn it!/My dyslexia is starting to kcik in./Really I had it udenr control for a while but it kepes gttening worse and wosre…. You get the picture. Funny for a few poems, but this book is big at 226 pages and there’s only so much of that you can take. Still, Ficklestein doesn’t care if his humor isn’t fully appreciated, as he makes clear in “Be Serious”:
I will be serious here and write of the tough endeavors of the human experience.
There will be a metaphor here.
One you may or not get.
My poetry will be professional from now on.
Like Whitman or Dickinson.
And I will be a “real” poet.
Writing multiple stanzas with multiple meanings for the minority of readers.
I’d rather write wise cracks.
Jokes are the only thing that makes poetry fun.
Poetry without humor is like talking to an old person in a retirement home.
Sure I can learn a lot but I wouldn’t have any fun doing it.
No offence to any old person out there.
At least he’s honest. He maintains his integrity throughout the book, which is more than can be said for many poets. And it’s a very “even” book. Not too many highs, not too many lows. It’s lighthearted and Ficklestein doesn’t take himself too seriously, so if you’re looking for a light book of poetry and you’re turned off by the masters, perhaps this is the one for you. At $29, it’s a bit pricey, but it is big, so maybe it’s worth it. I’m going to close with one of the poems found toward the back of the book. Maybe this is the most insightful poem Ficklestein provides us:
One day this poem, this book will be outdated.
And my name will be forgotten.
All the references I used will need a note next to them to better explain themselves.
That’s really gonna hurt all of my jokes.
To think I was funny.
No matter how much I put into this.
Or how much I think I am ahead of the curve.
Time will eventually make my work a thing of the past.
To think I don’t even have a joke for that either.
You can find this book on Amazon and elsewhere.
A nurse was putting away supplies on the other side of the room when I woke up the morning after the surgery. She was blurry. I blinked a few times before realizing a cloudy partition stood between us. She walked over to my bed.
“Kak vy sebya chustvuyute,” she asked. How do you feel? She was a petite young woman, her plain dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. I thought about the nurses I’d had in the States the two other times I had given birth. They were friendly and talkative. After Zoya’s birth, I wanted a few bored nurses to leave me alone. I had been the only mom on the floor and they hung around the room all day, smiling and fussing over us.“Harasho,” I answered in Russian. I feel fine. “Where’s my baby?” “Your husband will explain everything to you when he gets here. For now, you should sleep,” the nurse said, already walking away from me.
Eight months earlier, our family vacationed at our hata, a summer home we’d purchased with our friends Jim and Liz. By then, we had been living in Ukraine over two years. A Ukrainian summer home is not what I had imagined. I remember the first time a friend in Kiev told me about her place in the village.
“What are you doing this weekend, Oksana?” I’d asked at an evening get-together.
“I will be in the village with my mother at our summer home.”
“Oh wow. That sounds great to get away from the city and relax.”
“No, you do not understand. We do not go there to relax. We go to the village to dig potatoes and to work in the garden. We must get enough vegetables for our family to eat for now, to have for later, and to sell in the marketplace.”
The house and land in the village cost four hundred American dollars. We had split the cost of the hata with our friends, thus securing a rustic get-away for a couple hundred bucks and the price of an air mattress. The house had two rooms—one large and one small— and an enclosed porch. It sat in a valley, hidden by a steep hill on one side and thick, green woods around the rest of the property. There was no heat, running water or cell phone service. The bathroom was a detached shack out back—a deep hole dug out, wood slabs, and a white plastic toilet seat. With no roof on the outhouse, you could look up at the stars. Our little family was tucked away from everything that week. Our vacation plan was to stay as long as the meat didn’t spoil. No one could reach us at the hata. I joked with Sergei that if it were the end of the world, we wouldn’t have known for a couple of days. We needed that kind of get-away; the four of us, a blazing sun, and hours spread out.
The village, two hours from Kiev, cozied up to the Dnieper River, one of Europe’s largest waterways, flowing from Russia through Belarus and down into the Black Sea. It was a filthy river, with talk of residual pollution from the infamous 1986 Chernobyl power plant explosion, sixty miles north of Kiev. Elaina and Zoya weren’t allowed to swim in the river, but a relatively clean pond hidden in the village would suffice.
Our first morning at the hata, the girls rolled out of bed and started playing outside in their pajamas. The weather was perfect for idleness; we sunned ourselves at the pond all afternoon and enjoyed a picnic of vegetables, bread, and thick slices of sausage and cheese. The girls reminded me of long legged spiders, crawling over the sand as fast as they could, scattering around as if the rock they’d been hiding under had been flipped. By the time the sun peaked, Elaina and Zoya were bronze from head to toe, their hair sun-kissed white.
Later that day, after supper, we walked up to the only store in the village. It mostly stocked assorted brands of vodka and beer, as well as sausage, bread and ice cream. We purchased four sticks of vanilla covered in chocolate and started towards home, kicking stones and letting the ice cream drip down our chins. A goat meandered ahead of us on the dirt road. Chickens squawked and pecked at one another off to the side. The sun dipped to the horizon. Sergei picked up Zoya and put her on his shoulders. I watched my daughter, three years old, and was struck by her serenity. Zoya is the Ukrainian version of the Greek name Zoe, meaning new life. I had been a panicked, shaky new mother with Elaina. Eighteen months later, Zoya’s arrival settled me down. She ate and slept when she wanted, and she was happiest near me. Because of her calm and trust, Zoya eased me.
Elaina walked by my side, pouting, wanting a turn on Papa’s shoulders. Her name means light, but a better definition for her is lightning. She came out of the womb keen and quick, and aced each new skill in her young life. I took her small hand in mine, this little girl who could light up a room. My daughters were opposites. The yin and yang that balanced my life. I sucked in a breath while one of the goats ahead of me bleated. The girls were so beautiful; I couldn’t help but marvel at them and the evolution of our family.
Sergei and I met in Ukraine in 1996. Six years after the Cold War ended, government officials opened Russia, Ukraine and other Slavic countries to religious and philanthropic organizations to help them rebuild. I was twenty years old and had taken a year off from college to work in the schools and universities in Kiev. Sergei interpreted for our group. At first, I’d found his country harsh and cold, but by the end of that year, I had fallen in love with him and Ukraine. He followed me back to the United States after I returned home. Having lived in Ukraine for over two years as a family, we were starting to feel settled. I had finished intensive language acquisition. Elaina loved her preschool and Sergei was part of a new church plant in the neighborhood where he grew up. Zoya started to respond to us in Russian and I felt less and less exhausted at the end of long, Ukrainian days. I secretly thought of myself as both an architect and a builder. We had put down the scaffolding needed to function well as a mostly-American family in Ukraine. My life was going as planned. Our family lived and worked in Ukraine and we were thriving.
Before our vacation to the hata, Sergei and I had kicked around the idea of having another child. The timing seemed right. If I sat still and quiet, I could feel a gentle tug to continue to build our family. I wanted another baby. I wanted more of this. As we walked home from the village store, I squeezed Elaina’s hand one, two, three times and pointed out a cow grazing down below the dirt road in a meadow. She forgot about herpouting. “Wow, look at that cow! Papa, do you see the cow? Look Zo Zo, cow!” Yes, I wanted another child, and the hata was the perfect setting to pursue that goal.
That night, after spending the day at the pond and buying ice cream, and after the girls were tucked away inside, fast asleep, I climbed on top of my husband as he sat in a folding chair next to the crackling bonfire. It was probably close to midnight. A cool August breeze swept the hair on my forearms up. The glass of Chardonnay I’d sipped at dinner helped me change gears from mother to wife. “No one is around,” I whispered in Sergei’s ear. The nearest neighbor was up a steep hill. The road was quiet. Crickets called to one another in the woods surrounding our property. I peeled off my gray sweatshirt and leaned into Sergei’s neck. He smelled like earth and oak and chocolate. I sensed a faint smile on his lips. I would have been embarrassed if someone knew I was making love to my husband, who was also the pastor of our church, in a folding chair under a black night. I mean, we were missionaries. But the darkness enveloped us. Sergei reached into his pocket for a condom. “No. We don’t need it.” “You sure? You want to try for another baby?” he hesitated. “Yes, let’s,” I said, covering his mouth with mine. The sky housed a thousand stars.
An hour later, I sank into my sleeping bag on the air mattress Sergei bought for our reprieve in the village, but I couldn’t sleep. “I think we just made a baby,” I whispered to Sergei. Envious of how fast he fell asleep, I lay there into the night, tucked in my royal blue sleeping bag two hours from our apartment in Kiev, an ocean away from where I slept as a child in Michigan. I’m ready for this, right?
Sergei showed up at the hospital around eight o’clock that morning, about an hour and a half after I had woken up from the surgery. Unshaven, wearing the same clothes from the previous day, he bent and kissed me like I had seen him kiss his mother countless times. Just a slight brush of the lips. Taking a closer look at his face, I noticed his eyes were puffy. What is going on? Had he been crying? “How are you feeling?” he asked, standing over me, concerned. “I’m sore. I still can’t feel my legs from the epidural.” I peered down at the sheets covering my motionless legs. “Sergei, where’s our baby?” “She’s on another floor in an incubator,” he said. “She was in a bad shape when they took her from you.” Though a native Russian speaker, my husband’s English is excellent. If he makes a mistake, he is either tired or nervous. “She was all shriveled up, and she wasn’t breathing when she came out. The doctor resuscitated her. She has some kind of blood infection too.” I tried to focus on his words, but the black circles underneath Sergei’s eyes kept distracting me. He and his mom both get dark circles under their eyes when they are tired. It happens often. I am used to seeing my husband with raccoon eyes. He’s busy. His time is spent caring for people. I had never seen the skin under his eyes so black. I glanced away. A light rain splattered drop after indifferent drop on the window by my bed. I was quite taken with the tiny, perfect bodies of water. They’d freefall and then break open and slide down the pane.
I tried to comprehend what Sergei had just said: not breathing when born, blood infection, all shriveled up. He can’t be talking about our baby. The day we conceived this child the sun beat down on us. The night when we came together was beautiful and clear. How could her first day out of my womb be this dark and wet? There were people outside of the hospital getting out of the shower, having coffee, leaving their apartments for work. “The doctor said she wouldn’t have made it ’til morning. At this point they’re still not sure if she will make it today.”
Sergei looked past me. “I have something else to tell you.”
My body tensed.
“They suspect the baby may have Down syndrome.”
The Portuguese Curse by Hobie Anthony
Portugal and its language, Portuguese, has been coming up a lot lately. The filmmaker Monte Hellman announced that he will spend the next few years in Portugal making a film. Since I first saw, Two Lane Blacktop (1971), Hellman has been one of my favorite directors. Two Lane starred the musician James Taylor. It’s a road-trip movie about freedom and individualism. It’s one of the most subversive movies I know. It ends in a blur of car-racing action and melted film: The audio track goes near-silent, Taylor’s long hair flails in the wind, stops in freeze-frame, the film dissolves then the theater lights go up. Hellman and I are friends on Facebook, which I’m sure means a lot to him.
Coincidences. We usually modify them with mere to indicate that they have little meaning or importance. Words and concepts and images repeat at times. Carl Jung called these repetitions synchronicity or having to do with the collective unconsciousness. Finding patterns in life is like finding a gentle melody which recurs each time the chorus comes around, or a riff repeating in verses. The pragmatists say that the world is not music and that these patterns are delusions. I’m not sure if they know what they are talking about.
Portugal is to Spain as Austria is to Germany, a vestigial growth which is usually ignored or included as an afterthought. We know they’re there and we accept their individuality, but they are always in the shadow of a larger state. I live in Oregon, so I have empathy for the Portuguese people. We are that part between California and Washington. I once thought of the whole Pacific Northwest as a rain-soaked outgrowth of Seattle. Like the quiet kid in class, establishing a low profile allows a degree of autonomy that the popular kids lack. We can make our own rules, we can be quirky and enjoy ourselves. We have an outsider’s perspective, an objective view.
The quiet kid writes the alternate history. While the yearbook shows the glory of the football team, the quiet kid witnessed their bullying. The record will show who the prom king was, but a sensitive soul saw through macho bravado to see a scared homosexual adolescent.
Seven months ago, in July, I moved into a shared-living house. One of my house-mates is from Brazil. Every morning, over coffee, we intertwine English and Portuguese. I introduced her to grapefruit, which she hates, and she feeds me Brazilian cooking, which is delicious. I struggle to quell my knowledge of Spanish and French, since my ignorance sees more similarities between Romance languages than differences. Obrigado, Bom Dia, Gustoso, Boa Noite – these are the Portuguese phrases I am comfortable using.
When Autumn was a few days past its Equinox, I was bandaging from the break-up of a long-distance affair. To take my mind off of my loneliness, I volunteered for my favorite non-profit and met a woman of Portuguese heritage. We discussed how her name was misspelled by her mother, who had yet to learn English when the hospital made her birth certificate. I think she also told me about a Portland-area food cart which sells Portuguese street food.
I dated a woman a month later whose father was Portuguese. She called her pubic bush the ″Portuguese curse.″ It was thick and black and reminded me of Frieda Kahlo. In the end, the curse was my oversized, tragic attraction for her, which she did not reciprocate. Soon came the dump. She had recently ended a real, long-term relationship. Our tryst was a subordinate clause to prior relationships, a bounce-back rebound, an aperitif between courses, greater partnerings. We never gained relationship status on Facebook. It was as though it never happened.
Around the time I was ditched, I discovered, via Facebook, that my first love, my high school girlfriend, speaks Portuguese. She won’t speak to me in any language, which is another story altogether, but if she lived here, she could offer my house-mate a more-satisfying communication. I was happy to see her pursuing intellectual things; she is very smart.
I’ve long admired Portugal. In that country, they do not kill the bull at the end of a bullfight. I did a report on Portugal for fifth grade Geography class. The humanity of their bullfights was the central theme of my report. I made a poster display and the teacher said that my presentation was, ″highly unusual.″ I didn’t see what the big deal was.
Bull sacrifice is an ancient practice which some say provides the mythic backing for the Christ story. Bull sacrifice is seen as analogous to the crucifixion that ended Jesus’ story. The bull cults took a backseat to Christianity once Constatine got it in business. In the hearts of the Portuguese people, who have a majority of Catholics in their population, the bullish representation of Christ lives on after every bout. The bull fights and struggles, but he lives to fight again. Perhaps there’s an inner mythos in which the Portuguese people see their spiritual guide as living, vital. Maybe Portuguese spirituality lives, and is resilient, and is not about death.
So, what does this all mean? Why does it matter that Portugal has arisen as a theme in this time of my life? Should I move to Lisbon? Should I move to Brazil and enjoy climate change on the equator? Is my fate to be tangled and tortured in the tentacles of a Portuguese Man ‘O War?
When life takes on a narrative thread, it’s luck. It’s being in tune with one’s surroundings and finding the transcendent. Life is a fun thing, it matters. It may not mean a whole lot, there may be no Joycean revelation to tie it all into a neat bow, but it is fun and it matters. We explore black and wooly Portugese nethers; we discover metaphors and explore countries. We make new friends and burn bridges to the past. In order to make it more fun, it’s vital to pay attention and soak up stories as you go. Life is a struggle. It takes drag-strip courage, then it ends.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was an exhausting book to read, in part, because the author was so exhaustive in his research and, thus, the book is a thorough overview of British, and to a lesser extent, American post-punk rock. It’s also a strangely intellectual book, and at times, it felt like I was reading a modern history textbook.
Early on, Reynolds discusses the demise of punk and the (odd) opinion that The Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks” actually signaled the end of punk — not the height of its glory. He shows post-punk to be distinct from punk and New Wave, among others. The post-punk bands that followed punk wanted to continue the revolution that it began but failed to fulfill. There was a sense of existing to negate the corporate hit-making machinery and ideology of 70s-era prog and commercial rock, or at least until New Pop and New Wave came along and flailed against such post-punk rebellion by emulating the most listener-friendly pop forms. These early post-punk bands began exploring other forms of music, such as experimentation with art rock, electronics, dub, reggae, funk, and even disco. Some of these early post-punk bands wanted to make a wall of noise and often the bands were made up of a collective as opposed to trained musicians. Often, the traditional instruments (guitars, drums, etc.) were completely ignored for synths and tapes, as well as other assorted unknown instruments. If there were even concerts, film and theater often played large roles. Audience participation was often encouraged.
The book is divided into two halves: one is pure post-punk and the second is “new pop and new rock.” As a result, it read like two distinctly different books. The first chapter is about PIL (Public Image Limited), Johnny Rotten’s band he formed after ditching the Sex Pistols. According to Reynolds, PIL was the start of the post-punk movement. However, numerous other bands formed and began playing, such as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo, Gang of Four, Wire, Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, and tons of bands I’ve never heard of. The second half begins with The Specials, before moving on to ska and Bow Wow Wow, as well as the New Romantics, such as Adam Ant. The author goes further into groups like Gary Numan, Haircut 100, ABC, Duran Duran, and pretty much ties it all together with Madonna, of all people, at the end of the book. It’s a very exhaustive look at hundreds of bands and many scenes throughout the UK and America. And that kind of presents a bit of a problem. The chronology of the book’s chapters runs back and forth as different scenes and genres are covered, which was occasionally confusing. Everything was thrown into the mix together — the bands, band missions, various genres, record stores, record labels, clubs, new types of technology — everything. It was nearly overwhelming.
One of the major problems of the book was its tendency of the chapters to follow a pattern that got a little old fairly soon. Reynolds first discusses a specific post-punk hot spot, often geographically (such as Manchester, Liverpool, NYC, San Francisco, etc.). He then discusses the best band, or several bands, from that scene before mentioning virtually every band possible from that same scene or hot spot. Like I said, it gets a little old….
Another major problem I had with the book was its insistence that this second British invasion was the most important musical movement since the first, citing hundreds of bands, most of whom I’ve never even heard of, and I’d wager many other people never have either. Among the bands Reynolds discusses are The Pop Group, New Age Steppers, Delta 5, The Future, Teenage Jesus, This Heat, Tuxedomoon, Factrix, A Certain Ratio, and so many more. Many of these bands he discusses as so very relevant never even released an album, and those that did usually just released an EP or one debut album that sold something like 5,000 copies and they were never heard from again. I fail to understand why so many of these, frankly, unimportant bands were deemed worthy of inclusion.
The book, and many of the bands in it, pay homage to some that came before them, such as Captain Beefheart, Roxy, Bowie, Eno, etc, and that’s cool. It’s really not a bad read and I learned a lot. I just think a lot of it was unnecessary and I question the author’s intentions. Did he just want to expand the book’s pages to charge more? I also could have done with a little less (band) name dropping and more detail on some of the more significant bands. However, it was good to see personal favs like Bauhaus, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and Skinny Puppy mentioned. I’d recommend this book for any 70s music fan and many music enthusiasts, but it’s a bit of a cautious recommendation. I think you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff, and that’s a bit of a pity — but it’s ultimately worth it.
Hobie Anthony was raised on the red clay of Georgia, cut his teeth on the hard streets of Chicago, and now roots into the volcanic soil of Portland, Oregon. He can be found or is forthcoming in such journals as Fourteen Hills, Fiction Southeast, The Rumpus, [PANK], Wigleaf, Housefire, Crate, Ampersand,Birkensnake, Word Riot, Connotation Press, and many more. He earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. When he needs money, he writes. hobieanthony.com
Lark Beltran lives in Peru with her husband, where she is an ESL teacher. Her poems have appeared in many print and online journals such as Penwood Review, Strange Horizons, Ancient Paths, Miller´s Pond, Bolts of Silk, Lacuna, Lucid Rhythms, Linnet´s Wings, The Road Not Taken, Copperfield Review, The View From Here, Ascent Aspirations, Farsight, Ygdrasil, and GotPoetry anthology.
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia, website boucheronarch.com. His stories, essays and book reviews are in Atticus Review, Construction, Cossack Review, Digital Americana, Milo Review, Montreal Review, Mouse Tales Press, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Niche, Poydras Review, Virginia Business, and other magazines.
Andrea Danowski hopes to complete her MFA in fiction at the University of Oregon before the world ends. Her work has appeared in NANO Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, and Jersey Devil Press, among others.
Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Award for Creative Nonfiction, has been published in Haggard and Halloo, Creative Nonfiction and her work will soon appear in Raphael’s Village and Metazen. She lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. A mental health advocate, she runs New Directionss Support Group for people with mood disorders and their loved ones www.newdirectionssupport.org. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
A former Ray’s Road Review contributor, Brad Garber has published poetry and essays in Cream City Review, Alchemy, Fireweed, Uphook Press, Front Range Review, theNewerYork, Flowers & Vortexes, Emerge Literary Journal, Generation Press, Penduline Press, Dead Flowers, New Verse News, The Whirlwind Review, Gambling the Aisle, Dark Matter Journal, Sundog Lit, Diversion Press, Unshod Quills, Meat for Tea, Mercury, The Meadow, Shuf Poetry, Post Poetry Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Temenos, Hoot & Hare, The Ilanot Review, Third Wednesday, Sugar Mule, Embodied Effigies, and/or Poetry Journal and Great Weather For Media. He was a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee for the poem, “Where We May Be Found.”
John Harper attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Some of his poems have been published by literary journals like Diagram, Mid-American Poetry Review, Cutbank, Spinning Jenny, Mad Hatter’s Review, and Zoland Poetry.
Scott C. Holstad is the poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review.
Marilyn Kallet is the author of 16 books including The Love That Moves Me, poetry by Black Widow Press, 2013. She has also translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems (Derniers poèmes d’amour) and Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game (Le grand jeu). Kallet directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee, where she is Nancy Moore Goslee Professor of English. Each spring she leads poetry workshops for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France. She has been awarded the Tennessee Arts Commission Literary Fellowship in Poetry, and was inducted into the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame in Poetry, 2005.
Gillian Marchenko is an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. This piece is an excerpt from her book, Sun Shine Down, published with T. S. Poetry Press in the fall of 2013. Follow Gillian and her family on Facebook or at www.gillianmarchenko.com.
KG Newman is currently the sports editor at the Alamogordo Daily News in Alamogordo, New Mexico. A Denver native and graduate of Arizona State University, he’s a baseball junkie, part-time rapper, and full-time lover of women in sun dresses. He has been published in numerous literary journals, including Curbside Splendor, Lines+Stars, Blue Lake Review, and Canyon Voices.