The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Alicia Rebecca Myers’ My Seaborgium

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Chorus

The Argos cement truck
circles back a third time.
I’ve forgotten if the hundred eyes
were housed in one head
or many. These days I care so little
for myth, how witness works.
Now when I catch sight
of myself in windows of Last Resort
I deliberately extend my abdomen,
shine like a buffet
Buddha begging touch. I round out
like a hassock. I believe in God just so
I can revise:
hello Spry Fundus, hello
Winged Stria.
My memory of pain no more
than the memory of having once compared
a good apple to a good orange.
My own eyes, dazzling and compound.
Mornings, I outswim
women half my age. With a featherweight
heart I fold and refold
the layette, dream of kicks
from a fruitless chorus. I need them
behind me. To them I’ve upturned
my alms bowl. Hello Golden Reticulate,
hello Show. I’ve renamed
every leaf, every bereavement.

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This selection comes from Alicia Rebecca Myers’ chapbook My Seaborgium available now from Brain Mill Press. Purchase your copy here!

Alicia Rebecca Myers is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The American Literary Review, Gulf Coast, jubilat, The Carolina Quarterly, The Fairy Tale Review, and Day One. In February of 2014, she was awarded a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City. A graduate of NYU’s MFA Program, she currently teaches at Wells College. You can find her online at aliciarebeccamyers.com.

Ben McClendon is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Tennessee. He previously studied poetry at Northern Arizona University after teaching high school English for several years. His poems have appeared in Indiana Review, Yemassee, Cæsura, Chariton Review, Redivider, Rattle, and elsewhere. He is currently Assistant Poetry Editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers and a poetry editor for Four Ties Lit Review. Ben lives with his husband in Knoxville.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Allie Marini’s Before Fire: Divorce Poems

allie and george


Streuselküchen, Prasselküchen, Butterküchen

Some say, lying is done with words & silence,
but it is also done with küchen, streusel
something scattered or sprinkled:
flour, cinnamon, butter, sugar, crème, nut meats, cherries, fat—
all the makings of happy marriages or happier funerals.

Simple cakes, these—though the baker knows better.
Yeast & milk, the freud-und-leid, mixed together to form dough,
which though silky to the touch, takes heft & might to make smooth.
In the kitchen, the baker kneads by hand, flipping & punching
until every knot turns soft & velvet.
Leave it still, heart-warmed, until it doubles.

Zuckerküchen assumes nothing.
Flat cakes for oblong unions, lopsided loves & slivered luck.
Most of the time, it’s more crumb than cake;
though sometimes—a puff pastry or short crust foundation,
a dough formed from shortening, more pie than küchen
it’s up to the baker to decide: Sweet is sweet.

Years ago, a Silesian baker tied her apron strings,
pulling rolled pastries & butter-sugar tartlets,
veined & studded with pockets of cinnamon,
out of the warmth of her oven—to get to a husband’s heart,
travel a path from his tongue, & when he wrongs you,
invent Käseküchen; soft cheese will mask the salt.
Emboss it with cherries. Show him how sweet it is to sit at your table.

When he strays & comes back to you, celebrate the ripe fruit of reconciliation,
a bit sharp, sour-sweet as the reddest of strawberries in your famous Erdbeerküchen.
Lace it with an edge of whipped cream—
forget the way the crust crumbles under the tines of your dessert fork.

Later, use a flat pan for a simple confection:
Baumküchen, whose layers are the rings of a tree,
gone from acorn to oak in the oven—
mature & ripe, its filling pinwheels vanilla, nutmeg-glazed apple slices,
the pinch of occasional jealousies & the remaining scars of old fights,
strident as an unexpected spike of ginger or cinnamon—
softened by a flutter of cardamom &
a skillful piping of sweet white icing on the top.

What’s left, in the kitchen,
after the husbands have been wedded, forgiven & buried,
after the kids have moved out &
the guests have come & gone:
just crumbs, & the memory of desserts not always sweet.
Beerdigungsküchen; the baker grieves.

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This selection comes from Allie Marini Batts’ collection Before Fire: Divorce Poems, available now from ELJ Publications!  Purchase your copy here!

Allie Marini holds degrees from Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has been a finalist for Best of the Net & nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is managing editor for the NonBinary Review, Unbound Octavo, & Zoetic Press, and co-edits for Lucky Bastard Press with her man, performance poet B Deep. She has previously served on the masthead for Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal, The Weekenders Magazine, Mojave River Review & Press, & The Bookshelf Bombshells. Allie is the author of  Unmade & Other Poems (Beautysleep Press), You Might Curse Before You Bless (ELJ Publications) wingless, scorched & beautiful (Imaginary Friend Press), Before Fire (ELJ Publications), This Is How We End (Bitterzoet), Pictures From The Center Of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize), Cliffdiving (Nomadic Press), And When She Tasted of Knowledge (Nomadic Press), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide To Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Here Comes Hell {dancing girl press}, & Heart Radicals, a collaborative collection with Les Kay, Janeen Pergrin Rastall & Sandra Marchetti (ELJ Publications).  Allie rarely sleeps, and her mother has hypothesized that she is actually a robot fueled by Diet Coke & Sri Racha. She met George R.R. Martin & did not die. Proof of immortality? Not sure, but it does make a compelling argument…Find her on the web: https://www.facebook.com/AllieMariniBatts or @kiddeternity.

Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the author of two full-length collections, The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake, 2011) and The Fear of Being Found, which will be re-released from Zoetic Press later this year. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, 32 Poems, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Tusculum Review, and Crab Orchard Review. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and teaches a bit of everything in the English Department at the University of Tennessee. She serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications and The Wardrobe.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: G.L. Morrison’s “Chiaroscuro Kisses”

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Relentless Blue

I look for you in this poem with both hands
every word like the fingers of a blind sculptor
searching for your familiar face in the sightless clay.

If I were a painter, what I want to say
to you would be a shade of blue that couldn’t be bought
only blended by loving curiosity and relentless patience
blue as sun rising on the ocean after a storm

blue as dawn, obsidian about to shatter
in a wet cacophony of color.
Azure love. Sapphire uncertainty.
Hungers marbled turquoise and lapis lazuli.

If I were a sailor, this poem would be
a hundred days at sea.
Lips cracked with salt and silence.

Above me, in the wet, endless sky clouds row by
with a cargohold of storms and birds for barnacles.
Gulls shriek like lonely women.
Every star is an omen, I navigate by touch.

Below me, in the wet and endless sea
is everything I dare imagine, everything
that will ever and will never be
wide and spiny as puffer fish.

Infinitely blue and filled with stones, fish, and sunken
treasure; skeletons of clouds, birds, and stars;
sharks, mermaids, and the myriad of scuttling mysteries.
This poem is adrift in tomorrow’s current
somewhere off the coast of yesterday.

Your hand on this page is bone china,
the pottery buried with Pharaohs, Klimt’s
yellow kiss, swollen-mouthed as O’Keefe flowers.
Your hand on this page is the woman who waits
in a cottage overlooking the sea
where every hundred-day journey hopes to end.


This selection comes from G.L. Morrison’s collection Chiaroscuro Kisses, available from Headmistress Press. Purchase your copy here!

Born in Utah in 1966, G.L. Morrison was wet-nursed by Poetry whose savage, urgent milk has sustained her all these years. An oracle of knives and wings; an acolyte of reckless gods; channeled by a disabled poet in the Northwest: she is an intersectional feminist who moonlights as a sporadic blogger/writing teacher/freelancer, Oregon Chair of the Communist Party USA, and overzealous grandmother. Over the last 30 years, she has feathered her nest with the contributor copies of hundreds of magazines, a dozen anthologies, and a fistful of writing awards. She has been noted in Ms. and twice interviewed in Mother Jones. Her nonfiction writing stands at the crossroads of racial/economic justice, LGBT issues, and body-politics/fat-activism. Regie Cabico pronounced Chiaroscuro Kisses (Headmistress Press, 2013) “one of the most inspiring collections of poetry I’ve seen in the last decade.”

Mari Hailu is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University where she simultaneously received a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. As a Managing Editor of The Wardrobe, a blog series affiliated with Sundress Publications, she finds fellow poets to read and learn from. She hopes to have the opportunity to share her writing with the world very soon.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Jana Putrle Srdić’s “Anything Could Happen”

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Dilemmas of Poets and Sculptors 

Translated by Barbara Jursa

Where poets seek a way into space
behind the visible world, sculptors enter
with hands, legs, hooks in the ceiling,

they bring their van loaded with bags of plaster
distracting passers-by with questions about the metal,
seducing them with the communal spirit of their work.

In the uncertainty of dissolving flesh we crave
substance, which is why sculptors are always
appreciated. They rummage through
immortality
giving solidity to spiritual places
like libraries where they lay their big
warm hands on the largest spines of monographs
thick with illustrations.

With religious patience they carry
their shining metal tools
into ever smaller spaces.

Poets still have much to say on the matter.
They love the sculptor’s tactile achievement,
glad to elude problems
of such concrete nature.

From afar they watch the group at work.

Sculptors don’t think about poets.
Every so often they look at canaries,
afraid their sculptor’s breath might press them
to the wall. Proud of being
so close to such exotic feathers.

This selection comes from Jana Putrle Srdić’s book Anything Could Happen, translated by Barbara Jursa and available from A Midsummer Night’s Press. Purchase your copy here!

Jana Putrle Srdić (1975, Ljubljana) is a poet, art film reviewer, and translator of poetry who lives in Ljubljana, where she works as a visual art producer. She has published three collections of poems to date, and also translates poetry from English, Russian, and Serbian, including collections by Robert Hass, Sapphire, Ana Ristović, and other authors.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Jana Putrle Srdić’s “Anything Could Happen”

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The Other Side of Skin

Translated by Barbara Jursa

Wishing for a poem is like a humidity
in the air, 80% and rising.

At night I walk through this city in the shape
of a wet puddle, lights blur in its waving

and dry islands of life are named:
a pump, Nobel Burek, Hot-Horse,
Day and Night. “Good morning,” grins
an aged motorcyclist in leather
with his helmet and motorbike
and a rock-n-roll youth,
enters the shop.

Everything moving repels off
my body, a longhaired cat swiftly
puffs beside me, this hour is torn out,

time collapses
into itself in spirals, we are waiting in queues,

everyone with their tattered auras,
with marbles of lust scattered across the ground.

The city gives us an infusion of glittering
rhythms and saves us from a sweaty
apartment, flowers in pots that are quietly dying away,

the city is a recourse of cellophane
and we wait patiently—rabid dogs.

This selection comes from Jana Putrle Srdić’s book Anything Could Happen, translated by Barbara Jursa and available from A Midsummer Night’s Press. Purchase your copy here!

Jana Putrle Srdić (1975, Ljubljana) is a poet, art film reviewer, and translator of poetry who lives in Ljubljana, where she works as a visual art producer. She has published three collections of poems to date, and also translates poetry from English, Russian, and Serbian, including collections by Robert Hass, Sapphire, Ana Ristović, and other authors.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Jana Putrle Srdić’s “Anything Could Happen”

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Vanishings

Translated by Barbara Jursa

Half a year after your death
I called home,
no one answered the phone and
suddenly I was surprised by your voice
on the answering machine.

As if the cactuses from the window shelf
had circled my bed in the morning.

As you spoke from that cube
of pink jelly

your voice
was both familiar and strange,
unusually determined like the voice
of a thirty-year-old who is never
at home and needs an answering machine

because he just came back from playing handball,
and is hurrying to go target shooting.
Just like all shooters on their way
to the range, he knows that he must stare
through the window of the bus
at the same spot, continuously,
the moon in the afternoon sky,

so in front of the target
his heart begins to beat with the black circles
until he joins them with his pulse on a dot
and pulls the trigger.

The familiar voice
of a thirty-year-old who is now on
a honeymoon to Venice with the Glen Miller casette
in the car. A women’s hat with a wide brim.
His light summer trousers (Gatsby style)
slip over his knees when he jumps up
two stairs at a time.
Stinky canals, damp walls,
pigeons, he says to her, everywhere pigeons,
at the same time as his cigarette, he leisurely
lights the smiles on negatives.

I pass by this tall slender man
in a light summer shirt who does not recognize me,
I do not exist.

I am thinking — when we erase the tape
and your voice in my head
becomes a blur I will be
a bit more porous,
my vanishing
will begin.

This selection comes from Jana Putrle Srdić’s book Anything Could Happen, translated by Barbara Jursa and available from A Midsummer Night’s Press. Purchase your copy here!

Jana Putrle Srdić (1975, Ljubljana) is a poet, art film reviewer, and translator of poetry who lives in Ljubljana, where she works as a visual art producer. She has published three collections of poems to date, and also translates poetry from English, Russian, and Serbian, including collections by Robert Hass, Sapphire, Ana Ristović, and other authors.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Jana Putrle Srdić’s “Anything Could Happen”

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Air Cage

Translated by Barbara Jursa

All children on wheels have gotten helmets,
and trenches have been dug around the tracks
so we can’t cross them, which destroyed our
collective memory of walking on rails.

There’s a program, scribbled with yellow
chalk on a blackboard: activities in nature.
Young sparrows don’t kill themselves
when they fall out of a nest, sometimes
they just get eaten. Short but sweet.

This country isn’t right for us, we’re shaking our heads,
it rains too many days per year. All the bad
poems I read are like always having sex with the same
person, thoughts unwillingly wandering elsewhere
and yearning for something to nail them

to this moment.

The words are cut grass, calming, if you lay down,
even ants will politely avoid you.

And what are the chances that a swaying jogger
stops right above your head, eclipsing the sun
with her smoothly shaved legs?

No, this isn’t the right geographical latitude,
we’re shaking our heads, we need to stand on our
heads, stroll on the streets of Kampala, Nagpur,
Kuala Lumpur, where parrots fall from nests.

We need to shift from activities to nature.
Change our desires. The world is ripening into
a golden ball, all times are apocalyptic
and every moment now our cages will shatter.

This selection comes from Jana Putrle Srdić’s book Anything Could Happen, translated by Barbara Jursa and available from A Midsummer Night’s Press. Purchase your copy here!

Jana Putrle Srdić (1975, Ljubljana) is a poet, art film reviewer, and translator of poetry who lives in Ljubljana, where she works as a visual art producer. She has published three collections of poems to date, and also translates poetry from English, Russian, and Serbian, including collections by Robert Hass, Sapphire, Ana Ristović, and other authors.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Jana Putrle Srdić’s “Anything Could Happen”

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The Dark Green Poem

Translated by Barbara Jursa

This is a poem about us two,
I have avoided it for a long time.

We push what deprives us of light out
          of our focus, heaping wobbly chairs,
unused tables, empty frames
into our guestroom. Some spaces we never
use, at least not with
                                       each other.

This is a poem about us two, green,
smooth and strange it lies
on the kitchen
                           linoleum.
In our long breakfast silence it sheds
its skin
             into words until only a dry
empty husk remains.

Although I am not numb, this night I dreamed
          of a woman with one leg,
she was perfect, I have to reach the bottom
of entanglement,
                         I dreamed that we share one leg,
is that perfect? It would be hard to
reach
          the town square with it, amongst
the pedestrians and cars, you know,
the square is the heart of every city,
a small perfection.
                                         We can still crawl.

This is a poem about us two.
I always thought it would be
                              a love poem.
At the bottom of the city, at the bottom
of the apartment,
                                        our one leg

This selection comes from Jana Putrle Srdić’s book Anything Could Happen, translated by Barbara Jursa and available from A Midsummer Night’s Press. Purchase your copy here!

Jana Putrle Srdić (1975, Ljubljana) is a poet, art film reviewer, and translator of poetry who lives in Ljubljana, where she works as a visual art producer. She has published three collections of poems to date, and also translates poetry from English, Russian, and Serbian, including collections by Robert Hass, Sapphire, Ana Ristović, and other authors.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Marian Palaia’s “The Given World”

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Two Days, Then a Bus to Cambodia

I hear that now you can fire Kalashnikov rounds for a
dollar a shot out at Củ Chi, and they have widened and
deepened the tunnels to accommodate Western bodies.
Mick had the perfect build for tunneling, and he liked dark,
enclosed places. I still can’t imagine, though, after the sto-
ries I’ve heard, how he went into those things. I have tried
for years to tell myself it was lucky, in some alternative con-
figuration, that he didn’t have to come home damaged and
try somehow to fit in. I’ve known some of his compatriots,
here and back in the States, and not a one of them is right
in the head. They’re light-shy and twitchy, still startling at
certain sounds, still having the bad dreams after so much
time. The suicide rate for the tunnel rats is even higher
than it is for the guys who got to shoot at other people,
and get shot at, out in the open. Sometimes they take other
folks with them when they go. Innocent bystanders, as if
any of us is truly that.
      Meantime, I drink and shoot pool and pretend that I
am helping somehow, with the kids and with my students,
though it really did not take me long to figure out it is not
the Vietnamese who need help here.
      When I feel myself approaching critical mass, I burrow
in at the Rex with the Aussie, who works with the Vietnam
Airlines guys out at Tân Sơn Nhất, training pilots and me-
chanics about airplanes in peacetime. These guys, he’s told
me, know plenty about planes in wartime: their water buf-
falo drink from bomb craters turned lotus-choked ponds;
their kids are born missing limbs, or with their limbs put
on lopsided. By God. Every couple of months he gets a
ten-day leave and goes off to Norway—to hike, to “veg
out,” he says, unwind before he goes berko. When he leaves
this time, one of his pals finally tells me, in as kind a way
as possible, that the Aussie is in Norway because his drop-
dead Norwegian model girlfriend has just had his child
there, a boy, and he is pulling together the paperwork to get
them permanent visas and bring them back to Saigon.
      “So,” this pal tells me, “maybe you should forget about
him now.”
      “Done,” I say, though of course we both know that is
a big, fat lie. I have not had time to forget. Give me some
time.
      “He should have told you.”
      “Should have. Maybe he was going to when he got
back.”
      “Pigs fly,” he says.
      I spend twenty precious dollars on a four-minute phone
call to San Francisco, to my keeper, my tender, my friend—
the one whose heart I took such lousy care of because I still
had no business trying to operate mine, and because there
was nothing dangerous or particularly fucked up about
him. It has been over a year, so clearly he is surprised to
hear from me, and he waits for me to tell him why I am
calling. I listen to his breathing, watch the seconds go away
on the pay phone at the post office. I am standing under
a larger-than-life-size portrait of a smiling, radiant Ho
Chi Minh, in what is officially, at least in name, his city. I
say into the phone, “Do you miss me?” but I have not left
enough time for an answer at the pace we are going. I want
to be missed. MIA like my brother, but with the prospect of
being found. Flags flown and torches carried. APBs out for
my arrest. I don’t care how.
       Finally, I hear, “I don’t know what—” The line goes
bleep, then dead. I do not call back, though I should, to say
I am sorry for what I did, for who I am, for calling, for re-
minding him, for asking for something I don’t deserve: for
someone to want me. For a reason to one day, perhaps, in
this lifetime even, recross the ocean. Selfish as that reason
might be. Crazy as it might be to believe, even for a little
while, that it would do.
       I think about calling home. My real home. I think about
calling.

This selection comes from Marian Palaia’s novella The Given World, available from Simon & Schuster. Purchase your copy here!

Marian Palaia was born in Riverside, California, and grew up there and in Washington, DC. She lives in San Francisco and has also lived in Montana, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Nepal, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer. Marian has also been a truck driver, a bartender, and a logger. The Given World is her first novel.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Marian Palaia’s “The Given World”

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Take You Back Broken

“I feel like someone’s put a torch to me,” Lu sighs, from
the floor, as if there’s something appealing about that
notion. I lie down on the cool, scarred hardwood next
to her but don’t touch, my toes an inch from her ankle,
stretching into her and away at the same time. I suspect she
really would like to be on fire, that she would be pissed if
I put her out. We are a pair, not a couple, mostly because
I am still (stubbornly, she says) straight, still like boys de-
spite the improbability of surviving them, and she may be
too wild anyway, even for me. We are in Oakland, during
a string of rare ninety-degree days, because we are out on
a pass of sorts and because it is necessary for us to be here,
as opposed to the city across the bay, where in our world
people and their lives simply come apart, and we can’t seem
to do a thing to stop them.
      It’s August and too hot to touch, skin to skin, too hot to
even think about outside. Outside is where you go when
you are being punished, at least until dark; then inside is
punishment, jungly and fierce. Equatorial, like Papua New
Guinea.
      She pronounces it Pa-POO-Ah. Irian Jaya, she tells me,
is its other half. She starts meandering around peninsulas
and archipelagoes—Indonesia, Malaysia—comes creeping
up on Burma and the Irrawaddy.
      I say, “Stay out of Vietnam.” Sixteen degrees north of the
equator but still scorching, from what Mick’s letters said.
      She says, “I know.”
      When she sits up, it will be to smoke a cigarette and
work on a drawing of a forest, in deep green, brown, and
black, with a few white smudges standing in as rabbits. She
will say this forest is in the kingdom of Bengal, though it
no longer exists as a kingdom. When I tell her that, she will
show me one of her maps, of which she has many, some of
them very old. She collects dog-eared . . . things.
      “Oh yes it does, Cookie. It’s right there.” She’ll flick that
map with her index finger, a sharp, snapping sound. “See?”
It is hard to argue when it is in black and white like that.
Black and white, red and blue. She claims, when she is not
drawing or painting, to be a geographer. When she is not
drawing or painting, dope sick or high, or trying to figure
out how to get high. She’s never actually been anywhere, ex-
cept here and southern Indiana, the long black-tar highway
in between. She left when she got old enough to fight off
the inbred uncles, steal a car. I came later, from the north,
and at first she was jealous of my wholesome, perfect fam-
ily. Of how I led my personal Lewis and Clark expedition
to the edge of the continent, obliviously determined to beat
the crappy odds and discover the Pacific on my own.
      There was an intersection of sorts. A convergence. Or
maybe an eclipse. And now it is nighttime. We fall asleep
on the floor under the creaky ceiling fan. Even sheets weigh
too much. The air trying to come through the windows
smells like wild animals. Random gunfire in the distance
wakes us up. Gang wars. Little boys with Uzis. Lu growls,
but softly.
      “You want to bring the outside in, but you can’t,” I say.
      “Not even you.”
      “We could take out a wall.”
      “What about winter?”
      “What about it?” What she means by that, I know, is
that winter is not certain, if nothing is. Besides which, these
walls, not a one of them belongs to us.
      On the subject of fire, she continues to deny ever having
set one in the bar. The burned spot in the faded linoleum,
burned and melted through to the wood underneath, was
someone else’s handiwork. She doesn’t say whose, but I bet
she was there. That happened a long time ago, maybe ten
years, way before me.
      “I hate that Andy keeps telling that story,” she says. I
have not mentioned the fire, but she has reminded herself,
and I know exactly what she’s talking about. It’s a sore
point with her, being falsely accused. Andy is the swamper
at the bar, queer as Liberace but not quite as glamorous, a
long-haul regular and witness to years of bad behavior in
what he calls the Lesbyterian Church. He tracks all of us,
me included now, and although nelly and sweet and gener-
ous, he is a terrible gossip and not above making things up.
I don’t know why the fire story bugs Lu so much; maybe
because she has never lied about all the stupid things she
actually has done, as she generally doesn’t give a rat’s ass
what people say or think.
      When I first saw her, she was loudly berating a blind
girl from her usual location, leant James Dean–style against
the wall by the jukebox, cigarette perched on her lip, smoke
narrowing her possum-brown eyes. She pointed at me
and demanded to know what year it was. I thought maybe
it was some kind of a test, but I didn’t know if there was
a trick to passing it, so I just said. She did a little math,
turned back to the girl. “I’m thirty-four years old,” she
announced, poking a finger into her own chest. “Look at
me.” To a blind girl. I was behind the bar, still new and not
a little nervous, and everyone else who was in there at the
time was appalled, or acting like it. I thought it was funny.
I knew that girl. She was a pain in the ass. Got drunk every
afternoon and tripped over the dog. Poor animal had a
haunted look, bruised fur. I had to draw the line at rustling
a blind girl’s dog, but, boy, was I tempted. Lu would have
done it, I bet, if she’d thought of it and had someplace to
keep it, but she was on the street more often than she was
off. Or camping in someone else’s living room.
      She came back over and over to flirt with me, but could
never get my name right.
      “Rachel.”
      “Not even close.”
      “Bailey.”
      “Bailey is a dog’s name.”
      She demanded a nickname. I had lots of those.
      “My brother used to call me Cupcake,” I said, and she
promptly forgot that too.
      “Cookie,” she said, five minutes later. In a way, she
invented me. I could not have invented her, as I did not
have the experience or the capacity. When I got to know
her, the bit that she let me, sometimes I called her Loopy,
sometimes Sloopy. Sometimes she answered. She and Mick
would have been close to the same age, and something
about the way she leaned on that wall wanted to remind
me of him, but I didn’t let it. I could already see it would be
complicated enough without that, and probably hurt.

This selection comes from Marian Palaia’s novella The Given World, available from Simon & Schuster. Purchase your copy here!

Marian Palaia was born in Riverside, California, and grew up there and in Washington, DC. She lives in San Francisco and has also lived in Montana, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Nepal, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer. Marian has also been a truck driver, a bartender, and a logger. The Given World is her first novel.

Leslie LaChance edits Mixitini Matrix: A Journal of Creative Collaboration, has curated The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications and written poetry reviews for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, and her chapbook, How She Got That Way, was published in the quartet volume Mend & Hone by Toadlily Press in 2013. She teaches literature and writing at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and if she is not teaching, writing, or editing, she has probably just gone to make some more espresso.