My Own Van Gogh

I thought about taking up Art once. Before I met Margery. Before I went into investment banking. Something I picked up in the military during the war. Not a real war. More of a military intervention. The Mongolian Intervention we called it. The gas fields of Northern Mongolian. We were liberating the gas lines there. We did liberate them. Very successfully. Exxon stock went up 15 points. Wall Street gave us a parade.

A bit of art can be a great solace to the human spirit. Especially alone, in a drafty barracks, in a strange land at thirty below, somewhere north and west of the Yangtze. Nothing that unusual, actually. It was quite big back then. Painting-by-Number. That’s where the pattern of what you are to paint, the picture, is already printed on the canvas in very faint blue lines, with dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds, of little blue numbers inside of them. And you begin to paint. Filling in each little numbered space with the correspondingly numbered pigment. It’s quite systematic. For an art.

I did a very handsome Spaniel I recall, and then a Golden Retriever, 12 by 14, but my favorite was the Old Masterpieces Series, “Recreate the Experience of the Old Masters in Your Own Home,” it said on the box. I did a rather nice BLUE BOY, that’s Gainsborough; a very good MONA LISA, and a passable Van Gogh, because with Van Gogh, for some reasons, I kept slipping outside the lines. There were sunflowers. A big vase of sunflowers. I used up two entire tubes of Cadmium Yellow #17 on that one. Oh, those sunflowers nearly did me in. Sometimes I was tempted to cheat, and smear over some of the numbers, but I restrained myself. I stuck with the rules. To the finish.

You need a great deal of patience to pursue Painting-by-Number. And a very steady hand. Not mine tonight. A young man’s hand. I recommend it, because at the end of the road, when you’ve painted in that last number 17, you have a very fine piece of art, your own Van Gogh, done in your own hand. You’ve sort of re-experienced his suffering. But without having to cut off your ear, of course. No amount of money can buy that. That sense of accomplishment is priceless. It stays with you a lifetime. My very own Van Gogh.

 

by Charles Leipart

 

Charles Leipart was a finalist for the 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; What Wolfman Knew is published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Jabberwock Review. His work has appeared in the Bayou Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Panolpy Literary Zine, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Scene and Heard Journal, QU Literary Magazine, and Projector Magazine of the University of Greenwich, London UK. Charles is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation. He lives and writes in New York City.

Toxic Gaming

The father with oil stains on his button-down shirt is enraged he cannot find a golf course in Tijuana. A perverse butt of a chewed cigar hangs on his lower lip flaking tarred edges onto his chin. Spitting slurs he moves among the crowd, his daughter twisting underneath him. He insists people are lying to him. He demands knowledge. The crowd parts to make room, turning three-quarters to observe the spectacle.

One man steps out from the crowd to direct the father. He takes contained steps, edging the Big Man and little daughter to a lone paradise.

It is safer with only daughter, father, tantrums. No audience. Ghosts of trees and annihilated bushes and flowers haunt a cloudless sky. White bright light.  Mule-like a caddy follows on the heels of the father (as does his 5 year old), rolling over green dominated hills.

Mastery of this game consists in striking precisely in order to sink wrinkled white balls into an abyss,

dark narrow curved

elusive.

On again off again: padding, spitting, squinting. Relentless pursuit meets relentless failure.

Squint, shift voluminous hips, pad torn yellowed turf, aim.

Sweatily he goes, quarters ripping holes in his shorts, to the pinball machine, which he strikes with his hip and bangs more successfully. The daughter steps on a milkcrate and wraps her arms around the width of the machine. The father goads, then yells at her for losing.

At five this ends. A Siren sounds. He responds as if he had been waiting his life for this signal. The casinos are open! He wanders, the weight of his belly speeding him down paved roads towards machines and tables where he’ll work to forget people, the world and people in the world. He never gets far enough away into the fog to make them disappear.

 

by Patricia Coleman

 

Patricia Coleman is a writer/director whose pieces have appeared or will be appearing in presses including Bennington Review, Maintenant 11, Poetica, PAJ, Bomb and The New Review of Literature. She has staged 25+ productions at venues including The Kitchen, Chashama, and JACK. Her adaptation of Euripdes’ Medea was performed by glass-blowers and puppeteers at Brooklyn Glass in 2014.

The Patriarch Strokes a White Cat (Or How to Defeat Fascism)

You draw colored circles on my back in front of a fire that might have burned for centuries. Important Things always existed, always pierced us, always blew our minds. We went hiding under the pecan tree, one for each of us, on opposite corners of my yard, where all the leaves fall, the squirrel cracks up, and the hawk watches like he cannot believe us. Never mind the oak. The oak was too big, too old, too true. (“Two” does not make sense anymore.)

It was nice to see you breathe it.

The soundless old woman dressed in blue and white left me here alone and naked. Many years passed, stretched before the fire, with my head north, with my head south, all track of time lost. I did not expect you anymore. And yet you showed up eating a hamburger sitting at the table, surprised, but only a little, to see me naked in front of the fire with this crown of white and blue feathers.

Maybe if I give you my headdress, you will change your ideas. You get up and come to stretch before the fire with me. I turn around and I show you my white breasts, rather than make love, your hands get closer to my heart to draw more circles.

Never mind, I tell you about the Patriarch, a Child of the Magnetic Desert who believes he’s a witch cause he’s wearing a black mask painted like a tiger that someone lent him; that I went there to know why I was not important to a father that loved me so I could work in peace; that my job was to walk the path around the pond, picking flowers and making wishes, while he looked at me from the balcony grinding his teeth and stroking white cats.

His stories will never be as good as mine, his desire never so intense, his pleasure will never satisfy him! He thinks he is the ringmaster of worlds, the savior of his kind, the rider of beasts. Because of him, I returned to the wall of pain, climbed it, answered my own questions. I have no parents. I made the incredible effort. I am beginning and end; I said my name. I took off the garment they gave me, dropped it onto the checkered floor.

Now I walk so the stars connect with the earth on my back, I throw a healing blanket, Black and White are no more. I watch the blood of dragons penetrating each other, birthing the rose that I carry, so young men wake up excited and old men can die in peace.

Be my lover.

By the way, it is the time of the rose. I eat the density that was the bread of those days, I exhale the scent of roses.

 

by Viviane Vives

Viviane Vives is a filmmaker, actor, photographer, and writer. Viviane is a Fulbright scholar for Artistic Studies (Tisch School of the Arts, NYU) and her translation work, poems, and short stories have been published internationally. Viviane’s recent publications are poetry in the Southeast Missouri University Press, a short story, “Todo es de Color,” in Litro Magazine of London, and a ten page story in The Write Launch: ” In the oblique and dreamlike style of Marguerite Duras, Viviane Vives weaves memories of her ancestors and place—Nice, Barcelona, Perth, New South Wales, Texas—in “Dialogues With Your Notebook,” a stunning literary achievement.” One of Viviane’s pictures and a poem, “Step-Nation” will be published in July on Vagabonds: an Anthology of the Mad Ones and four of her flash fiction pieces were published in Five:2:One magazine this year. She was also a finalist of the Philadelphia Stories’ Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry.

Train at Night in the Desert

Georgia O’Keefe, 1916

 

Georgia, it’s been one hundred years

since you stood in the dark Texas dawn

and marveled at the multicolored haze

clouding toward you down the track.

You thought the rest of your life

would unspool from Canyon, Texas.

You wrote Alfred Stieglitz that you saw

the train, thought of him, and blazed.

You had never even been to New Mexico.

I think of you, so young out on the stark

gray sand, the oncoming train glittering

alive and black, its light fixed upon you

like a sun, like an eye

seeing what no one else can see.

 

Amie Sharp

Amie Sharp’s poems have appeared in Atticus Review, Badlands, the Bellevue Literary Review, New Plains Review, and Tar River Poetry, among others. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and her manuscript Flare was a semifinalist for the Crab Orchard First Book Award. She lives in Colorado.

Babelogue

Mary had the perfect imperfection, a small space in between her two front teeth, like Madonna or Lauren Hutton.  It was just what I needed, a flaw, to help me focus every fear I had of feeling happy.  Happy felt like another solar system – a curious and desired destination, I suppose, and yet unwelcome.  Nothing good could come of wanting something that could be taken away because it always was.  My nervous system still clawed its way through every day since two men had broken into my apartment four years prior and attacked me.  Most days, I thought I was really a ghost observing the life I was meant to have if only they had climbed through a different window that night.

With Mary, I smiled easily, told funny stories, and serenaded her with Billie Holiday songs lying naked in bed. My voice copied sultry well enough. I was not at ease, but hid it well. Her optimism was deep enough to hold us both.

So there sat that small space.  I suppose I could see the beautiful smile that held it.  Or, I could see a young girl, one of eleven children whose father died when she was a teenager and left her mother impoverished and unprepared. Dentistry was out of the question.  I could see the beauty of that space and all that held it in a long life of challenge or I could just see the space. If I focused hard enough on it, I might be safe keeping company with the flaw and believed it could help me flee if I needed to.

Early on, Mary was fifteen minutes late for a date with me and I gave her a stern lecture on punctuality.  Another time, she had two beers at dinner, not one but two.  Since I didn’t drink and my step father drank too much, I decided she must be an alcoholic and I almost broke up with her on the spot.

She teased!  She forgot people’s names!  She didn’t always get me!

I loved and needed that imperfection. I needed every single thing about Mary that I could put in my pocket to help me escape from the joy/loss possibility that is a real relationship.   We moved in together, bought a house, made financial decisions about each of our graduate programs and then had kids.  As the years went on, and I allowed each happiness in, I took every carefully collected imperfection and held them in my hand like a snow globe, shaking it about wildly, the flaws overtaking the scene for but a moment and then settling down harmless.

When Mary was in her forties, she decided to close up the space by wearing invisible braces for a year.  She said she was tired of wearing her childhood poverty on her face.  By then, I didn’t worry what I would do without it. It had served us both rather well in a life we built together in spite of the odds.

Michelle Bowdler

Michelle Bowdler has been published in the New York Times and has two upcoming essays in a book entitled: We Rise to Resist: Voices from a New Era in Women’s Political Action (McFarland 2018). Her essay entitled Eventually, You Tell Your Kids (Left Hooks Literary Journal) was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Rumpus recently published her poem A Word With You as part of their series Enough! on sexual assault and rape culture. Michelle is a 2017 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award for Non-Fiction, will be a Fellow at Ragdale this winter and is a Boston GrubStreet Incubator alum. (https://michelle-bowdler.com/)

Lowell Jaeger, Featured Author

Sugar-White Beaches

Such a never-ending winter, these months

of snow and ice and gloom.  We’ve lost

long hours again today, pushing back

last night’s leaden blanket of wet white,

mounding piles shoulder-high, towering

till they avalanche as if to mock our labors.

The wind whips our cheekbones red

and wet and raw, my wife and I,

our shovels lufting slush, lungs puffing

huffs and grunts . . . when, within a waking dream,

she says, That sugar-white beach

in Isla Mujeres, remember? I nod,

a touch of warmth, a blush, floods over me,

a smile.  Side-by-side we replay these memories,

wordlessly, relishing not just the mind’s rescue

but something bone-deep having bubbled up

like steaming waters from the earth’s core.

And I remember, as a kid, that same sensation,

a resurrection out of the depths of near hopelessness,

our schoolyard in late March beginning to thaw.

One brown patch of lawn opened where snows had receded,

and we gathered there all recess, huddled in awe.

 

The Bubbles

Jet-lagged, we snugged the covers over our ears

to muffle las campanas de la catedral, tolling.

Stepped into the midday sun, blinded by how far

the day had progressed without us.  Hungry

enough to settle for a vendor’s cart menu,

plastic tables and worn umbrellas, across from the plaza

where someone had switched on

fountains of spray hissing skyward and falling,

sizzling on the hot streets like rain.

Not a fountain, really, but jets

or nozzles embedded in the cobbles and brickwork,

firing at random for the simple screams

of barefoot niňos dashing to soak

their camisetas y pantelones for the joy of what

dazzle might rise on a Sunday afternoon.

And did I mention the children blowing bubbles?

Not blowing them, really, but throwing them

from homemade coat-hanger wands dipped

in pails of sudsy dish soap.  Huge soap balloons

taking shape as the children twirled and laughed.

Families cheering the bubbles as each rose toward the sun,

undulating liquid rainbows.  Kaleidoscopic rainbows!

As my wife and I held hands across the table,

glad to be in love amidst the bustle,

this world’s wondrous and baffling extravagance,

thousands of miles from home.

Three Cathedrals

Our strategy for this day: don’t waste it

roaming the cobbles in the aimless manner

we’d diddled away the hours yesterday —

my customary druthers when accustoming myself

to a foreign locale.  I like to simply set out walking,

let each new intersection dictate which way to go.

But this day at breakfast, a sunlit street-side café,

you opened the guidebook and made plans.  We’d locate

the burial site of the young peasant, a revolutionary.  The one

who gave his life — or so the story alleges —

not for his flag, but for the welfare of his wife and children.

You passed the map across the table, without speaking,

and pointed to our destination, tapping gently with one finger

on the exact coordinates of your chosen goal.

All morning we searched street names, asking directions,

straining to comprehend a few words of a language

not our own, charging this way and that,

until past noon we stopped for a glass of wine,

conceding we were lost.  Something between us,

lost.  I couldn’t guess what it was.  Except that our son

and daughters were grown and gone.  And when we rose

to go again, we had nowhere particular in mind, meandering

across the plaza, stepping recklessly through traffic,

lured by cathedral doors thrown wide.

In the darkness inside, I studied the carved-wood altar.

Someone might have mistaken my mumbling as a prayer.

You lit a votive and set it reverently beside dozens

of strangers’ wishes flaming.  Three cathedrals

we explored that afternoon — their spires rising on the skyline,

easy to find.  This day I now recall in its vaulted ceilings.

And a sadness in you, hushed at depths I’d scarcely divined.

You, slipping pesos into the slotted donation box.  You,

igniting brightness.  I’d give my life for you

and the children, I thought.  You, your face aglow

amidst a thousand flickering shadows.

I’d never loved you more.

We’d Planned

to pull the blinds,

uncork champagne,

jitterbug naked

— your mother and I —

inside the empty nest.

You slammed the hatch

on your Subaru, its bursting load

of fantasies and mysteries boxed,

pillowcases stuffed

with plush bears.

Smiled, waved, honked,

and sped away.  Our last,

at last

college-bound.

We stood at the window

— your mother and I —

and breathed silence.

She simmered a Mexican stew

later that afternoon, which

side-by-side across from your place

at the table, we sipped

spoon by spoon.

Lowell Jaeger

Lowell Jaeger (Montana Poet Laureate 2017-2019) is founding editor of Many Voices Press, author of seven collections of poems, recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council, and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.