Category: Issue 19

entry for split wits

                                                                                          for DaMaris Hill

the past is always here – there is a house gripping a rock at the bottom of the well – stairwell collapsed, mold blooming in the eaves – wasn’t that the place the child waited, with less & less air – walking in the weakening light, sticky webs that float between the trees fold over your hands – as is above, so is below – a bridge to spit from, the shelter of an overhang marked with cans of gold & red paint – you scrawl her name floating in a cross-hatched cloud, you find a hunting knife in a plastic bag – walking the length of concrete & dirt between places, the fields always split in two by the road – split wits have long named the slaughterer & the slaughtered

 

*

Gabriel Jesiolowski works in a research-based practice using drawings, photographs, installations, poems, essays, and printed matter. Their first book, As Burning Leaves, selected by Carl Phillips, won the Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press and is due out in 2017. Their most recent work can be found in Tupelo Quarterly, DIAGRAM, The Sonora Review and So to Speak: A Feminist Review. They were a Fall 2016 writing fellow at the MacDowell Colony.

Gun and Bone

We balance gun and bone,

talking free—, talking —dumb

 

the steel fights, the bone

lies quiet—

 

until the machine of cause rips us open

 

We are surprised.

 

We knew it all along:

 

Nothing else is bone but bone.

 

*

Shelly Reed

(don’t hold me to it)

a sister lives in the desert

she aloes sunburnt kids

and has a car seat in her car

 

and one in her yard

next to the steps between

two cats who miss her

 

we take a steep walk in the morning

against my mountain lion fears

the sign says worry

 

she says don’t so I don’t

and on the ride home

I eat the open animal crackers

 

mostly the back halves of hippos

that the babysit kids didn’t want

she reads me street signs

 

a brother uncovers his wrists

first one then you feed him

a tangerine slice

 

then you read a book about space

some brothers sleep in the yard

one sleeps in an olive sedan

 

my boyhood tried to resolve

to Nancy Sinatra

I gave myself to baseball

 

I’m turned around

I was Nancy Sinatra

and baseball gave to me

 

I think I hear the heat coming on

a car without a sister

is quiet with no toys or lights

 

I am a line and drive her car slow

I lean into the law

and come out a brother

 

I asked to be a sister’s regular

and can’t make enough room

for my luck

 

a sister is a teacher

but didn’t want to be a nun

a sister got thin in the desert

 

she asked me to be a fisher

and reach into a toilet for the duck

I took a sister out for a cocktail

 

in a sister’s email she said

early Gwen Stefani is our Madonna

Madonna is our Marilyn Monroe

 

Marilyn Monroe is a Kennedy

a brother and I hit on the ‘90s

a sister and I live in the upper room

 

I think that was a whistle

but from the bridge it’s trainless

only track and lights and homes

 

I want a brother’s number I can phone

I want a brother who wakes up

 

from a shake

and the sound of his name

 

two cats claim me in the bathroom

in the afternoon I fix a mom’s shower

with epoxy and rods

 

I want to split a soda

but drink half and no one’s home

 

a sister you could share a lizard with

a brother who won’t leave in the night

 

pick a number and that’s the country

pick another for the country beneath

 

*

 

Davy Knittle’s poems and reviews have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Fence, Jacket2, and The Iowa Review. horse less press published his chapbook, “empathy for cars / force of july,” in 2016. He lives in Philadelphia and curates the City Planning Poetics series at the Kelly Writers House.

A More Active, Disruptive Protest

Since the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016 – a day that I hope will truly live on in infamy – protestors across the land have taken to the streets. From New York to Chicago to Portland, Oregon, down through Arizona and across the flatlands and south to Florida, men, women, children with parents, across race, religion, age, sexuality, citizenship have refused to accept as president a man whose campaign was fueled by racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, and lies. As it stands, sad to say, we have no immediate choice in this matter in the sense of undoing the election’s outcome. I say we because two days after the election I was on the streets of downtown Louisville with protestors yelling “Not My President” along with a cornucopia of other chants in which I joined as they rose, fell, changed, roared again.

Our deepest anger and our collective wish to undo the process that allowed Trump’s entrance into the White House will have to happen in stages. We hate the Electoral College, as well we should, as it belongs in the 18th century along with slavery, which was the reason it existed to begin with. We hate the incompetence with which the Democratic Party elites derailed the campaign of a contender who could have beaten Trump to push into the candidacy an otherwise brilliant, accomplished, life-long public servant who nonetheless sated their fears of keeping establishment status quos in place that would enable their rise up the ranks in a Clinton administration. We hate that we have to sit back (metaphorically speaking) and watch overt racists and domestic abusers like alt-right fake media mogul Stephen Bannon get picked as the president-elect’s closest advisors. We hate that so much fear has to course through us even as we fight the bigotry that Trump’s election has given permission to come out openly, proudly.

And so we protest. We exercise our First Amendment rights of free expression, assembly, and airing grievances. Grievances of which we have so many. And, for a time, we’re shutting down roads and highways, and we’re stoking the president-elect’s tweeting addiction to use 140 characters in installments to admonish us as paid henchmen and women of unknown cabals to go out and protest, and then turn around and say we’re not. But the protests are happening, joined by walkouts by high school and college students, at this point on a daily basis. I find extreme joy in it. I want the protests to be round-the-clock events that, like the Trump rallies we’ve been put through on cable news networks for seventeen months, get on the nerves of Trump supporters and make them want to throw things at their TVs.

But I must ask, to what end? I’ll step in as often as I’m able when the protest is in my vicinity, and then I’ll go home and go to bed, albeit too charged up, too angry to sleep. Part of that anger, as it was after the Louisville protest, was because I felt like it was a great high, lots of sound and fury, signifying…what? After we were spent, our lungs and throats raw, our legs and arms tired, the roads reopened, irate drivers cursed some more, Trump voters among them calling us “whiny” and other far worse names, and the few hours’ irritation that was the First Amendment in action became last night’s news item.

A protest is more than a shouting of grievances chorused by thousands of people simultaneously. A protest is civil disobedience of the strongest most disruptive kind, and in its best manifestation literally brings to a halt the mechanisms it is protesting. A protest is an active signal to the powers that be that without our support your system will crash, no matter how many robber barons, banksters, and lobbyists you have on your side. A protest was the Birmingham Bus Boycott. In the form of non-cooperation protests shut down government offices during the British Raj in the Indian Subcontinent. America learned that it could not function as a union without the support and participation of all of its citizens at every level. The British Empire was dead in the Indian Subcontinent when its colonized subjects refused to provide it life support at the cost of their freedoms.

Lest my message here be misconstrued, let me repeat that I will be at the next protest against Trump, Trumpism, and the Trump regime and its cronies the moment it takes place near me, for starters. I’ll be their indefinite champion. But I want the protests to do more. I want civil servants and federal employees and administrative personnel in local, state, and federal positions without whom government would not, could not function to protest, to show their solidarity, to show the GOP that their obstructionism isn’t the only way government can be shut down and held hostage. People that care about human rights, equality, equity, justice, domestic and international peace can also stop the business of government and make the powers listen. The powers of labor and unions have been all but destroyed and burned down to embers in this country. What better opportunity than a mass civil disobedient revolt, nationwide, to revive it?

Even as the nationwide protests are happening, media attention has already turned their backs on them. In focus now is the circus that is the Trump transition. Yes, we need to know what’s happening and how it’s happening since millions of us are going to feel the adverse affects of a Trump cabinet and Trump appointees to the highest and most powerful offices and positions in the federal government more than those supporters who voted for Trump despite his racist, sexist, misogynist campaign platform.

Those people can afford to, even though to date Trump has done nothing but appoint and shortlist people to be in his government that exemplify Wall Street interests, are deep in the establishment, and are lobbyists for corporate and big money interests – exactly the kind of sludge of whom Trump promised his loyal base he would drain the swamp. But the sad fact of the matter is that the protests have already become expendable. They’re not worthy of interrupting national coverage of the Trump transition because they do not yet pose a direct and meaningful challenge to Trumpism and, more importantly, to the systemic failures that powered its rise. That is not a shortcoming of the protestors, but an indication that their anger and defiance are not being taken seriously, and to make matters worse are being maligned, ridiculed, and dismissed. Therefore, the impact of the protests needs to be more immediately active.

Organizing, engaging, drawing alliances are all good and necessary parts of the process, but here are some things that are happening already that give me pause. Democratic leaders are showing too much keenness to give Trump a chance, thereby setting the dangerous and misguided precedent of normalizing the hate on which Trump rode to the White House. Every time a member of the Democratic Party gives Trump an inch, they’re giving his entire playbook, philosophy, and platform a mile. Progressive favorites of mine like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to whom millions of us have been holding up our faces and our cries, have also come too close to offering Trump a handshake, which has gotten the message across to protestors and activists against Trump and Trumpism that their movement may not have the solid support it needs from the ground up. If the DNC is truly going to build from the grassroots and restructure a party platform out of the debris of its previous form, which needed to go, and parts of which still need to be undone, then they need to look to and encourage the protestors, and along with them every person in government who understands their plight that are fearful of losing their jobs – rightfully so – but are silent comrades wishing the movement well.

Walkouts are great. Young people walking out of their high school and college classrooms reinforce my hope that they’re doing more than giving themselves stiff necks from being tuned into their phones. Their shows of solidarity join the ranks of headlines and ticker tapes for one news cycle. Until the next one, yet again for one iteration. Because life in the halls of power goes on.  Nothing comes to a damaging halt except half a school day in a town or city hundreds of miles away from Washington. A few dedicated students and supportive teachers make a splash and example that ought to multiply a thousand-fold but doesn’t. If government employees followed that example and truly shut down the country, protest would acquire its true meaning in spades. Nationwide protests need to be just that: bring the nation into its center so it has no choice but to be trapped inside it, held hostage, until its so-called leaders, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, come running, pleading, begging the people to have their grievances addressed.

On May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard murdered four unarmed students at Kent State University who were peacefully protesting the bombing of Cambodia by the Nixon administration. The Sixties had reached a calamitous end with the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. By 1968 Barry Goldwater’s extreme right wing conservatism, and Alabama Governor George Wallace’s KKK-backed segregationist platform had seemingly been bombarded out of mainstream U.S. politics.

Enter the Southern Strategy, a tacit, targeted, and calculated policy cultivated by the dejected Republican Party to reach out to the equally dejected white population of the south by reigniting their racism against African Americans, by giving their bigotry a voice in the guise of a “culture war” to take back their country. President-elect Donald J. Trump today stands on that very platform.

The protests today against Trumpism are a protest against a cultural shift (backward) as well as a political moment in the United States that goes back too far to be dismantled in one presidential term. Worst-case scenario, two. For in the span of four to eight years the backward march America entered on Nov. 9, 2016 will fulfill the terrifying and dangerous message already being brandished by the incoming Trump administration and its personnel: that the United States is a fundamentalist Christian white supremacist nation and severe consequences await those that stand outside that box. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the democratic experiment that is the U.S. republic stand threatened by the demagoguery and perilous ineptitude of Trump. It will take stronger, more disrupting protests to fight this neofascist regime. It will take the very mechanism to be sabotaged, to render the Trump presidency helpless and non-functioning.

The pushback to my argument here will be that I want to see the country fail. No. I want to see Donald Trump and Trumpism fail, and fail horrendously. I want him and his “brand” of presidency to fail so badly that a state of emergency is declared and the nation faces a possible coup d’etat. Given Trump’s ignorance and blatant disregard of the Constitution a coup isn’t a far cry. And then I want the protestors to surround Congress, sit-in, sit down, brave the seasons and the elements, and demand the start of a democracy led by the demos, the people.

An exercise of thought is as potent as the actions it leads to. But sometimes thoughts are merely thoughts. We have countless ones, they come and go, and not all of them, thankfully in many cases, are brought to fruition. But I am convinced that we need to expect more from our protests, right now. We can prepare for mid-term elections in 2018, and hope against hope that Congress is flipped. Okay, fine, it’s good to have a definite goal. It’s important to organize, engage, and build. But we need also keep in mind that the handwringing, placatory, playing nice approach the Democratic leadership is already resurrecting and polishing will slam into our faces another bitter defeat, both in 2018, and in 2020 with the reelection of Donald Trump. By then it won’t matter if we’re ready to protest four more years. The engines haven’t been sabotaged, and the gears haven’t been forced to lock up. At that point we will only be screaming near and around each other, and then return home exhausted, angry, and unable to sleep. We must make it count while we’re awake.

*

Nadeem Zaman was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and raised there and in Chicago. His fiction has appeared in Roanoke Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Open Road Review, The Milo Review, WinningWriters.com, 94 Creations, Eastlit Journal, China Grove, The East Bay Review, The Copperfield Review, I-70 Review, and his non-fiction has appeared in the Dhaka Tribune and Salon.com.

 

 

A Basket of Something Warm Under a Napkin

I can’t tell you why it’s a thing

but it is.

 

If you are a chemist or legislator

you can’t say this.

 

The Fiat was parked on a tree-lined street

and it moved me.

 

This is my new suit,

vintage chic.

 

Tatty, the truth is, but let’s hear it

for the kittens.

 

Martina McBride’s Everlasting Tour:

tough, logistically.

 

Nothing lasts forever

in the cold November rain: tougher.

 

A basket of something warm

under a napkin.

 

I feel badly about bringing this

to the neighbors.

 

They have a baby

and only one of us has been sleeping.

 

One advances at a particular

rate of speed.

 

A train pushes through apple country—

millions of apples

 

and a few wet leaves on the roof

of your mouth.

 

*

Dan Kaplan is the author of Bill’s Formal Complaint (The National Poetry Review Press) and the bilingual chapbook SKIN (Red Hydra Press). His work appears in VOLT, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Washington Square, and elsewhere. He is managing editor and poetry co-editor of Burnside Review and Burnside Review Press.

 

Whatever It Is Julia Child

Whatever it is Julia Child said about the plate

and the shoulder and shrinking the strike zone

put us in a lot of Queen Anne’s lace

and hub caps. Summer ended with a splinter

in the calendar that dreamed equinox,

time in bisected sheets clipped to the clothesline

and other mid-century and late-century foregrounds:

a bowl of soaking beets bruising the water,

a child reaching into a chest and extracting the head

of a doll. In the field we found the dream

of the small Italian car: to be smaller

and more Italian, to drag cans around

the cul de sac. I bought a gun. I bought

a gun but it was a toy and it came with instructions.

 

*

 

Dan Kaplan is the author of Bill’s Formal Complaint (The National Poetry Review Press) and the bilingual chapbook SKIN (Red Hydra Press). His work appears in VOLT, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Washington Square, and elsewhere. He is managing editor and poetry co-editor of Burnside Review and Burnside Review Press.

Five Poems

 

You can tell this sink lost interest
though hour after hour you hum
another love song –it doesn’t care

lets you shave, take over
half soap, half from that froth
–you are born already worried

and the mirror goes along :drain
is what mirrors do.
It’s a little late for promises.

You promise you’ll bring it flowers
that the sink will figure it out
–you say you’ll stay all evening

the way one faucet is always rooted
in ice, arrives forever
and alongside carries away

the other and your face
helpless even now to flow
from your hands and bleeding.

*

You fold this tablecloth, again, again
lifting her dress though your fingers
are hidden and turning colder so no one

touches your hand already frozen
fallen off between her tireless breasts
that still dance, offer you no other way

–you have to fold! smaller and smaller
the way each stone over and over
breaking in half to forget

by sealing this leak in the Earth
in this wobbly table and in her plate
a fork half braids, a knife

between the kitchen and the bedroom
as if she saw in your face her lips
melted down for yours

–you have to fold, make the table
disappear so you don’t remember
the soothing lace, the smothered wood

–you have to trade! and this tiny spoon
that wanted to be a flower
picked for her cheeks and flowing again

folding again, over and over
till nothing’s left in the open
not the walls, not the arms, not the breathing.

*

You constantly need watering
–from pity and these leaves
thumping the ground your heart

remembers the sound for
though there’s no dry twig
to pull apart where the wind

still forks, unaware
it changed direction
to close your eyes

–you are watered by leaves
clinging to the grass
that fell from this same tree

and never dries
–all that happens
is their shadows taking root

heated the way a bird
is sure each egg
has its fire inside, will fly

with the bone in its breast
pulling the Earth apart
while you hold between your hands

a small stone already dead
brought down from a great height
and left to open.

*

Again this shrub each Spring
stirred by the same passion
its leaves never forgot

–one heart safely dead center
the other rash
brushes against your shoulder

and goes one from there
–they sense this bush
is pregnant, feed it blooms

and the root floats up
so the child inside is born
in the year-after-year fire

that returns even the dead
with flowers and thorns
drained dry for the later

–a splinter is enough
giving birth always to twins, one
a mast from an abandoned ship

the other floating downstream
nourished by the slow move
from leaf to leaf reaching down

as rain now that the shoreline
has disappeared and in its place
a fence, a gate and the outcome clear.

*

It’s not your usual watering can
emptied the way an arch
waits for the sun to come or go

–side to side into a distant sea
whose mending power
will cover the Earth again

though there’s no tide yet
only the at-hand drift
you find in bones at night

longing for harbor to harbor
and sleep –you spray
inch by inch :each dose

half darkness, half overtaking
half while the disappearing wave
begins its cure.

*

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The B Poems published by Poets Wear Prada, 2016. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at http://www.simonperchik.com.