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Essays

Essays

Douglas Haynes

July 1, 2016

haynes_image_1Does Vacation Make You Stupid?

On the Spanish island of Mallorca, there’s a four-mile-long beach full of Germans and a TV host who looks like a cross between the young Donny Osmond and Tony Soprano. The host is carrying a blackboard with white chalk letters asking Macht urlaub blöd? (Does vacation make you stupid?). A film crew trails him as he passes howling groups of partiers slurping sangria through three-foot-long straws from red plastic buckets. The groups are partitioned from each other with yellow police tape, and some of the revelers recline on enormous rubber ducks. It’s mid-afternoon, and no one but the TV host seems sober.

This is the Playa de Palma, known in Germany as Ballermann, a six-month-long spring break-like bacchanal in the Mediterranean sand.

Across the street from the beach, bars decorated with Bavarian flags and Spaten beer signs line the sidewalk. My German friend Mark and I enter a place called Mega Park, a beer garden the size of a football field surrounded by a turreted, faux castle. On each castle wall, a winking, red-bearded king holds a soft pretzel in one hand and an overflowing stein of beer in the other. Beneath him, the word BIERKAISER is stenciled in white. The air reeks of French fries and last night’s spilled beer.

We order glasses of sangria from an unnaturally tan, bleach-blonde German waitress. Twenty-something German guys in matching purple sport-club jerseys surround us. They’re singing hits about sun, sex, and sangria from the musical genre also called Ballermann, named after the German bastardization of the Spanish word balneario (seaside resort).

More than three-quarters of the people in Mega Park are men, even those handing out fliers for “Super Lesbian Porn Night” in the Paradies Beach Disco. I ask Mark why he thinks this is.

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Essays

Nohemi Rosales

July 1, 2016

 

 

rosales photoLas Pilas del Tiempo

The pila of the Laguna Grande sits in a dirt yard outside of a blue cement house located on a plateau in eastern Mexico. It is one of my earliest memories. It is surrounded by small rose bushes, scattered maize, and roaming kittens infested with fleas. This is one of my earliest memories: I must be three years old, small and navigating the vast world of my tio’s huerta with my primas. With our chubby child fingers, we pluck shiny leaves from various trees and tirelessly rub their sticky exteriors against the ridges of the cement washboard in the pila. Our imagination transcends us deep into the magic of the green droplets, glimmering crystal balls that gather and eventually bleed into the wash bin in an estuary.

A blue toy cup—the same shade of blue as my tio’s house—lies in the moistened dirt beneath the cement pila. I snatch it up, carefully brush off the mud crumbs, and scoop up the tea-like water we’ve made after an hour’s worth of wringing out the leaves. My primas find more discarded toy cups lying near the rose bushes and also scoop up our magic potion. We set them in a line on the edge of the pila, from left to right: my blue one with dirt wedged deeply into its creases despite my best efforts, a pink one that is chipped around the rim, and the yellow one that still has dried bird-droppings on one side, but our small marble eyes look at them with wonder and deep satisfaction. Continue Reading

Essays

From Farmlandia & Down State

May 4, 2016

Schneberger-009Farmlandia

The Midwestern farmlands of Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa are vast spaces. The land, ground flat by glaciers, allows one to gaze for miles and miles just a few feet above the ground. People and homes are separated by great distances, both physical and emotional I have been investigating these farmscapes in the winter, with their crops gone, the soil bared, and with a ceiling of sullen cloud-drift above.

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  Down State

These photographs were made in the small towns that sit between the vast farmscapes in the glacial plains of Illinois. These towns are small and often appear to be arrested in time, and yet they are the villages where the farming communities come together; semi-urban centers. Seen at night and through fog, the cloudy glow of streetlights mingles with the deep shadows, orbs of energy in the dark expanse.

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Christopher Schneberger’s photography has been exhibited nationally and internationally including The Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the Annenberg Space for Photography, both in Los Angeles; Dorsky Projects in New York; Geocarto International in Hong Kong; and Printworks Gallery in Chicago where he is represented. He is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia College Chicago and the College of DuPage.

Essays

Patrick Kindig

April 11, 2016

Photo Essay

Kindig PhotoYou love your boyfriend.

There are days you want to do nothing but rub his belly as if he were a dog.

There are days you do this.

Others, he tells you about each boy he sees wearing gray sweatpants & talks about becoming a photographer.

These days, you count the birds perching on the telephone wire across the street.

Your boyfriend buys a camera & decides to begin a photo essay, plans to photograph naked men through his front window & call it The Men in My House.

Until now, you thought you were the only man in his house.

He reopens his Grindr account: ISO male models, nothing sexual.

Men respond.

He is happy.

The first man has hearts tattooed around his nipples.

He is undressed before the camera is ready & he has an erection the entire shoot.

You know this because your boyfriend shows you the photos afterward.

You know this because you know what Grindr is.

Every two weeks you climb into your boyfriend’s bed & he shows you a hundred photos of some new man, some new torso twisting toward the camera lens.

Photo: a man stands at the sink in his underwear, blowing bubbles.

Photo: a man presses his forearm against the window, muscles flexed, back arched.

Photo: a man spreads his legs & turns his face to the wall.

Photo: a man sits in a chair, thigh wet with precum.

Photo: a man stands naked in the backyard, a leaf covering his penis, then not.

The men have been naked everywhere in his house.

You think: this is the way one thing becomes another, the way a man is replaced by the idea of a man.

You cannot sit on the couch anymore.

You cannot sit at the kitchen table anymore.

You cannot look through the front window or in the bathroom mirror or at the throw rug in the living room anymore.

Photo: a man crosses his legs & raises his hands above his head.

Photo: a man’s pink lips, a nipple, the curve of hair beneath his arm.

Photo: a man from the waist down, your boyfriend’s face reflected in the glass.

There are no photos of how it ends.

When it is over, you cannot bring yourself to pass his house.

When it is over, you cannot go to the only gay bar in town without seeing one of his models.

“It,” of course, means many things.

It has always meant

so many things.

The internet tells you, weeks later, he has begun a new project.

The men are still naked, still in his house.

He uses a long exposure & has them move, traces the white blur of their limbs as they bend & stretch against the wall.

In the photos, you see only the gesture of an arm, the outline of a scrotum.

You see only the space where the men’s bodies have been, becoming before the camera ghosts of themselves.


Patrick Kindig is a dual MFA/PhD candidate at Indiana University, where he studies American literature and writes poems. His poetry micro-chapbook, Dry Spell, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press this year, and his work has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Willow Springs, Court Green, Fugue, and elsewhere.

Essays

Bret Lott

February 17, 2016

Bret Lott author photo by Luke Rutan

Broken for Art’s Sake: On Exploding the Linear Memoir

(Author’s note: As will become embarrassingly apparent, this is the text of a talk given at the 2012 NonfictionNow conference in Melbourne, Australia, in a session titled “Rethinking Memoir: Contemporary Approaches.”)

Three or four years ago, there slowly and suddenly percolated into my classrooms a phrase that struck me for its puzzlingly honest sound.

“I’m not gonna lie,” I started hearing from my students, and then, suddenly, everywhere, always followed by a bit of cheeky opinion by the speaker, or a confession regarding wrong impressions, or something just plain embarrassing to say. Of course it’s only the next generation’s turn on the old phrase, “To be perfectly honest,” or, “To tell you the truth,” a phrase that, every time I hear it, makes me want to ask the speaker, So you would have lied to me otherwise?

So, just to clear the air here at our gala congress to talk about telling the truth, let me say this: I’m not gonna lie. I’m here because I wanted to go to Australia.

Would you have had me lie to you otherwise?

But rest assured, the pretext for my speaking to you, this notion of the broken narrative, the nonlinear memoir, is very, very close to my heart, my use of it borne out of a sincere desire—a sincere desperation—just to find out what it is I mean when I write.

But here’s what I really want to say, what I’m really not gonna lie about: Despite the précis printed in the program describing me as an author who has “exploded the conventional narrative container of memoir,” I myself haven’t been party to any “exploding” beyond simply trying to find what the one true path toward what I am writing is and can only be displayed. This may mean that, by accident or folly or dint of inability otherwise, I have indeed exploded something, but only in the same way one “explodes” the gimmickry of metaphor by finding just the right one, or the way one “explodes” the myth of true love by falling smack into it.

Still, the breakdown of the narrative form in nonfiction is a very real phenomenon. But it has always been real for all of us. That is, there is no new thing under the sun.

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Essays

Robert Alexander

January 20, 2016

RA

Clouds of Swallows

The swallows arrive sometime after mid-April and nest along the bluffs. They ignore me as I canoe past, twittering around my head as they leap and spin in search of breakfast, pausing singly or in pairs for a brief moment (resting on a ledge or on a branch) before rejoining the hunt. At times I see them sitting on their nests, small bowls of mud and grass stems held together, like papier mâché, with dried saliva, lined with downy breastfeathers. I wonder how many mouthfuls of mud it takes, and how many hours, for a swallow to build her nest. If I get too close they fly off, and I can just see, if I let my canoe touch the cliff and I sit up very straight, a small brown egg in its cradle of down.

Today there are swallows flying all around me. Something catches my eye. I see two swallows together fluttering downward through the air. There’s one atop the other, and I’m beginning to get the sense of it—one holding the other in his wings, a confused motion toward the water below. (I’ve never before seen swallows more than touch the surface in flight.) They settle to the water’s surface, and he’s still holding on, seeming to pull her up and down—and as I start to fear she’ll drown, he finishes and flies off. She is floating now on the water’s surface, resting, her wings spread out on either side; then suddenly she shakes her wings and seems to leap from the surface of the lake, flying off to rejoin the cloud of swallows crossing back and forth beneath the limestone bluffs.


 

Robert Alexander grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and received a PhD in literature from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. From 1993-2001, he was a contributing editor at New Rivers Press, also serving from 1999-2001 as New Rivers’ creative director. He has published two books of prose shorts and a book of creative nonfiction about the Civil War, and he has edited or co-edited four anthologies of prose poems and flash fiction. He is the founding editor of the Marie Alexander Series at White Pine Press.

Essays

Nickole Brown

January 20, 2016

Brown_PDF_essay_imageThe Baby Possum

What bothers me is she was beautiful—the possum, that is, young enough to still barnacle to her mother’s back—a baby, really, even though the word seems ill-fit for a hissing thing designed to grow a bite of fifty teeth made to sink into slugs and frogs and field mice.

What bothers me is she was beautiful—shining, even. Yanked from under the porch by our dog with his curious snap and shake, she was slobber-matted as one of his flung toys, but she was a glistening thing for the sun. She was on her side, and the few breaths I saw her take were pillowed, all sweetly abdomen, not unlike a kitten dreaming a nest of unspooled yarn.

We hoped she was only playing—possum, that is—only waiting out a spell until our dumbly vicious dog forgot her and lazed in the heat. So we waited with her. One hour. Then two, then five. And by the time too much time had passed, we knew that if she was playing it was only that game we are all forced to one day play.

Her open mouth had become a room crowded with buzzing jewels, each common bottle fly an impossible emerald frantic with the search to be the first into the soft and liquid cathedral of her body. It bothered me, all that beauty, that iridescent song, and so I bagged her up and threw her away.


Nickole Brown’s books include the collection of poems Fanny Says (BOA Editions, 2015), Sister, a novel-in-poems (Red Hen Press, 2007), and the anthology Air Fare: Stories, Poems, and Essays on Flight (Sarabande, 2004), which she coedited with Judith Taylor.