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Essays

Essays

Chip Livingston

September 18, 2018

I Remember Joe Brainard’s Cock Pics

I remember the first time I saw Joe Brainard’s cock pics. His lover Kenward kept a box and I was Kenward’s curious assistant. The cock was lovely, the photos keepers, the sentiment a reminder things don’t change much. I’ve traded such with loves and lovers and strangers. We seek revelations, and seeing Joe’s cock was such a revelation, a more intimate look into his erotic art, or at least his erotic life, a look at his life with Kenward through printed black and white pics, snapshots kept in a box on a shelf not shared with strangers—though they’re likely public now, sent and stored with Kenward’s papers at the University of California, San Diego Library, so much for cocksure anonymity in any age, at any age, dead or alive, and no secrets kept in a world penned, painted, and photographed by New York School poets who kept and keep sharing each other’s art and private lives for others to look at and into through language and visuals.

Not much is hidden of Joe—tan crisp, cock long and thick, balls heavy—in these pics, although he sports a skin-tight, tie-dyed tank top. It’s the cool kind of strange to realize these are all 1960s originals, down to the tie-dye, photographed in Kenward’s Vermont bedroom. Joe’s arms are crossed in front of and behind him. Kenward’s not the best photographer and crops off the top of Joe’s forehead, keeping his focus below the thick eyebrows, on his young god’s goods. Joe’s look is put-on bored and curious, a soft pout proud and pensive, strangely both pornographic and poetic. Kenward’s shots are amateur, without so much consideration as to clean up the background. In one picture there is laundry on the rocking chair. Another pic Joe’s sitting on the rocking chair, his underwear thrown on Kenward’s bedroom floor, next to the coiled rug, where never very much has been swept under.

Of course I looked at Joe’s cock—it was Joe Brainard’s cock!—but I kept seeing the whitest thing in the black and white photograph. I kept looking at the briefs crumbled on the floor, knowing with the strange sensation that I’d seen the same white shape before, although myself no stranger to underwear quickly tossed disrobing for a lover or to send a potential lover a hasty unconsidered composition. I carried the picture along Kenward’s storied stairwell, among Joe’s art, looking for the image I knew I’d seen before, framed among Kenward’s collection walls.

I found it: Joe’s lightly penciled pair of crumbled paper briefs. I kept comparing the pic with the white collage, confirming a photo-to-art match. I admit to admiring Kenward’s collection of Joe’s cock pics, kept undisclosed for more than fifty years, stored now I suppose with so much boxed material sent to UCSD. It’s strange to consider what you can find when you know where to look.


Chip Livingston is the author of the novel Owls Don’t Have to Mean Death; a collection of essays and short stories, Naming Ceremony; and two poetry collections, Crow-Blue, Crow-Black and Museum of False Starts. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Cincinnati Review, Court Green, The Journal, and on the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Academy websites. Chip teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Joe Brainard’s art work used by permission of the Estate of Joe Brainard and courtesy of Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

 

 

Essays

Mary Livoni

September 18, 2018

Short Fables Made with Industrial Noir

For several years, I daydreamed my way around an industrial neighborhood and a few scrap yards that were located around and in between my apartment and painting studio in Chicago.

Water Tower and Crescent

Dusk and dawn—when the light defining the buildings, the water towers, the bridges, and the vast scrap yards was most beautiful and the most mysterious, when the streets were still—those were the hours that inspired me and helped me define the look and feel of my drawings.

Inspiration from poetry and literature sustained me then, as it still does.

My most current body of work features collages, video broadsides, and photography. You’ll find it here https://www.marylivoni.com/ as well as  https://www.estheticlens.com/author/mary_livoni/

 

Sentinel

 

Gotham Sphinx

 

The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Mystery and Melancholy on the Streets of Chicago

 

 

Essays

Liz Rose

September 18, 2018

While He Was Stopped by Soldiers

The first hour of the drive to Eilat, the resort town in Israel three hours south of Jerusalem was, in a way that I remember now, like a road trip movie: my feet propped up on the dashboard, my tanned toes sticking out the window as Khalil drove. The wind blew our hair back. We had Diet Coke and potato chips. A week before, when Khalil asked me to drive to Eilat with him, I wondered if we’d hook up. Going to stay in a hotel could only mean one thing. But I didn’t ask.  I said yes, and packed one pink dress, a red skirt, one pair of brown sandals, and my teal bathing suit. I was young and confident. I had recently mastered the mass transit bus system in Jerusalem. I could get anywhere anytime and never had to ask anyone for directions. If, on the rare occasion I didn’t know, I’d use my Hebrew to ask. When strangers on the street asked me for directions, they asked me in Hebrew—a sure sign that I was looking less American and more Israeli.  I was twenty-one, living abroad in Jerusalem as a graduate student, and I sported an attitude of bravado about things I knew nothing about.

Khalil was twenty-one, too, and we had met at a cafe near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem months before we drove to Eilat. The cafe served mostly tourists, but Khalil and I had been in Jerusalem almost a year already, and we began talking by scoffing at those we could tell were visiting for just a week or so. We sat at white plastic tables on red round plastic chairs. The smells of zaatar and sumac wafted around us as we spoke. The first thing I noticed about him was his necklace, a gold state of Palestine. It was the first time I saw what I was taught was the map of Israel, with city names in Arabic. I looked at his necklace against his brown skin, and then clutched my own necklace, a modern gold chai, the Hebrew word for “life,” and the lucky number eighteen, too, the legs bowed at the top and then narrowed. Khalil is a Palestinian-American, the youngest and only child of seven to be born in the U.S. All the others were born in Palestine. After growing up in the United States and graduating college, he had come to Palestine to live in Ramallah with an older brother for a year. For Khalil, hanging out in Jerusalem came to be a Westernized respite from living with his family under occupation in Ramallah. For me, going to cafes and bars in Jerusalem were small breaks from my evening graduate seminars at Hebrew University. At first, we ran into each other at the cafe a few times. After several weeks, we started to hang out more. A month later, he asked me to drive to Eilat for the weekend. I didn’t bother to ask if we’d have separate hotel rooms. We’d just figure it out.

Once we had been on the road for a while, I noticed a siren behind us. I figured—in my naivete—that Khalil must have been speeding. He wasn’t. We were pulled over by a car full of Israeli soldiers. They told Khalil to step out, forcing him to place his arms over his head and pushing him against the car. Using his knee, one of the soldiers spread Khalil’s legs wide. The soldiers were handsome. One winked at me and flirted, while he looked through my US passport as the others accosted Khalil. I smiled and clutched my chai. Khalil’s passport was American, too, but that didn’t help him as they searched his body. From inside the car, I watched them lift Khalil’s shirt and look down his pants. While he was being frisked, I sat in the car wondering if we would have sex that weekend. Continue Reading

Essays

Victoria Anderson

September 18, 2018

Swarming Season

May

Spring too long delayed. Months of wet, cold days, and half-lit sky. In Chicago, my friend S., who wanted one more spring, is going about the slow business of dying. In my Michigan rental house, a buff-brown female cardinal nests on the second rung of a ladder leaning against the house. Her mate feeds her while she sits for eleven to thirteen days until the eggs hatch. If S. is alive, I will send her pictures of those unhinged beaks waiting to receive.

A correspondence with a Slovenian beekeeper sparked my interest in bees. He keeps Carnolian bees (Apis melliferea carnica). I mention this because he tends his bees unsuited. For beekeepers from mountainous region that was once Austria and is now Slovenia, the Carniolan Grey is a cultural icon. Citizens view themselves in the context of what they admire about their grey bee: its diligence, cooperativeness, gentleness, and cleanliness. My bee keeper has never been stung.

 

I just got back from a trip from Arizona where I learned about apiculture, as much as one can learn in a week. I wore the white suit, the hood (which made me feel I was looking out a screened door), and the gloves and booties. I looked like I was prepared to be part of a hazmat crew, or, minus the gloves, ready to enter an operating room to perform surgery. I signed two disclaimers before I could approach a hive.

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Essays

Robyn Allers

September 18, 2018

Naked

The Polaroids arrived in a padded envelope marked “CONFIDENTIAL.” After thirty-five years, my ex-husband had returned photos he took of me during the first year of our brief marriage. I was twenty-one years old at the time, and I was naked.

We hadn’t spoken since our divorce, my ex and I, but a mutual friend interceded. “He came across these nude pictures of you when he was moving,” she said. “They were—and these were his words—‘studies’ for a painting.”

I had no memory of posing nude for any “studies” and only faintly remember our blip of a marriage. “Tell him to toss them,” I said.

“You sure?”

I imagined the trash bag breaking and the Polaroids, flecked with coffee grounds, strewn across the sidewalk and discovered by a stranger. (You laugh, but I once found—right in the middle of my street—a trove of elicit email correspondence between my neighbor and her secret online lover, so it can happen.) Also, I was curious.  “Give him my address.”

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Essays

Marie Harris

July 24, 2018

Bruised Hearts

On the Day Before Something Happened

Nothing much happened.

August morning on the Parker River Refuge. Shorebirds working the salt pannes. Tree swallows staging for the journey south. Harrier hunting low over the marsh. The last osprey of summer. My first least tern.

Nothing more happened.
And something terrible didn’t happen
until it did.

 

Close Calls

 The first: my daughter-in-law,
her voice from the ambulance
speeding her away from the crumpled car
back to their home town.
Their son is with her, unhurt.
The last she saw of her husband
he was still trapped
and a helicopter on the way
racing to beat the storm.

The second:
We’re there for you.
Four words that can mean less than nothing.
Except they are there. Understudies. Two friends
who simply walked out into the soft Carolina night,
turned the key in the ignition and sped down from the mountains
to his hospital bedside in another city
to watch and wait the long night
until we could get there.

Holly gave me a cotton throw that looked just
like a receiving blanket, printed as it was with little flowers.

 

Sindonology

He remembered everything. He told me everything. In exquisite detail. The impact. The noise and the fire. The suffocating cloud of extinguisher foam. His wife without breath for an eternity. His pinned legs. And he told me that a man and a woman and their son tried to help them. But there was nothing to be done short of spiriting their backseat carseat boy far enough away from the wreck that he could still see but not see. Then, he said, they talked and talked at them until the EMTs arrived.

 Months later, I found the woman’s name through the newspaper that had carried a paragraph about the accident. On the way across the road to help your family, she told me over the phone, my husband and I passed by the other car, the one that hit them head-on. And we glimpsed the driver slumped over the wheel. He had a long gash on his forehead. Then I saw. And then I knew. His heart had died before. Because all there was on his shirt . . . all there was were five drops of blood.

 Like the Shroud of Turin, I thought.
A white shirt that kept a kind of image of those moments.

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Essays

Rich Furman

July 24, 2018

Has to Go

The emergency room doctor clamped down on his right wrist to steel his trembling hand. I shifted my gaze from the confluence of foot and hand to her; she flatly shook her head, a rare, bewildering emptiness. Was this a call for help? An assessment of the absurdity of the moment? An instruction to keep my often-too-careless mouth shut? I watched her face for some clue, but her eyes slammed shut; she was then somewhere else. Once he controlled his turbulent hands, he commenced picking flesh out of the wound on her foot.

“See this layer of stuff here?” he asked.

I was not close enough, so I leaned in. His breath, cigarettes and mint.

“It has to go.”

He twisted his tweezer, plucked and grunted under his breath. She twisted and gnashed her teeth. We looked at each other—I constantly on the verge of stopping the unsteady healer.

He lifted his eyes from his unstill fingers, and the yellow and green that surrounded the scab that had developed on her surgical site. He faced me.

“It’s called wound care, and you’re going to have to learn to do it.

There was no empathy in his voice. Nor was there any contempt, nor rancor, nor any sort of judgment. He could have been a bored city bureaucrat responding to a lonely call, informing an enraged citizen of the actual date of her recycling pick up. He could not have known how much wound care I had already done, would continue to do, that which had nothing to do with the infection in front of us.

Usually at night, I would wash her foot in the bathtub, rinse the tweezer with alcohol, and begin wound care. The problem? It is difficult to discern the healthy from the dead. It may seem obvious, but wounds and infections are contested places, as is the line, no, the field, between pains that must be suffered, and pains that signal destruction. How much damage did I do to her, attempting to cleanse her flesh? How much damage to us?

And as with much during those years, I struggle to recall the details. After all, my mind was dull.  I could only sleep for a couple of hours each night; her cries usually crescendoing three hours after she took her pain medicine. It was that final hour that was the worst, she would twist in agony, was rarely lucid, and pleaded with me to give her a premature dose of opiates that might kill her. How did I ignore her sobbing, and her insistence that I did not care about her suffering? After two years, perhaps there were moments when I didn’t, but I continued wound care, striving to learn what would not cause too much pain, but would liberate the living from the dead.


Rich Furman, PhD, is the author or editor of over fifteen books, including a collection of flash nonfiction/prose poems, Compañero (Main Street Rag, 2007). Other books include Detaining the Immigrant Other: Global and Transnational Issues (Oxford University Press, 2016), Social Work Practice with Men at Risk (Columbia University Press, 2010), and Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles (Oxford University Press, 2012). His poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Another Chicago Magazine, Chiron Review, Sweet, Hawai’i Review, Pearl, Coe Review, The Evergreen Review, Black Bear Review, Red Rock Review, Sierra Nevada Review, New Hampshire Review, Penn Review, and many others. He is professor of social work at University of Washington Tacoma. He is currently a student of creative nonfiction at Queens University’s MFA-Latin America program.