Wrapped in your Persian melon-colored blanket,
Rock back and forth,
On that old rusty country porch,
Whom the neighbors across the street
Once called, Rusty Oak.
Spit tobacco. Hair braids in pigtails.
Sit postured, on the porch where we,
Often bow our heads together.
My head pressed downward,
You grab my chin and raise it to the sky.
Grandmother, those words, spoken so softly,
Yet so stern.
I remember, you said:
My bronze child,
Don’t you look at your life upside down,
You got every bit of courage in you
To step upright and
Poke your chest to the weary sky.
You must have faith before you walk.
Quassan T. Castro has a MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is a journalist, columnist, entertainment and culture critic, poet and author. His work ranges from personal essays, fiction, poetry, music and book reviews, celebrity interviews and culture writing. Quassan is social media publicist for Dr. bell hooks. His works have been featured in top national magazines and top online outlets that include Essence Magazine, Essence Magazine Online, Heart and Soul Magazine Online, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black Enterprise Online, Jet Magazine Online, National Education Association and Huffington Post. His work has published in several college literary anthologies including The Sundance Writer: A Rhetoric Handbook, Get Writing: Sentences and Paragraphs, Sundance Choice Composition and Structured Reading.Read More »
sister of all black nations,
bold Mother of my ancestors
ascendant acoustic homeland,
I hear you.
Your sonorous voice sounds
like the homemade goat skin Bata drum
beating in celebration of our first found freedom.
First black independent nation,
hated by many and envied by traitors,
Haiti, mother of mine,
we want no more papa pretenders
draining lives from your worried womb.
I feel the pull of your umbilical cord,
twinge of your pain in every membrane.
like a mother feels
the first kick from a child in her stomach.
Damn the dark days
of every dictator
who disregarded our anthem!
“Let there be no traitors in our ranks!
Let us be masters of our soil.”
Instead of taking and raping
our family lived by the creed of the anthem:
“May the fields be fertile
and our souls take courage”
Grandpapa planted plantains,
potatoes and peas across
your fertile black belly,
moist with source d’eau formed by rain.
I do love you.
Though oceans away, you’re with me day by day
Your memories splash through my mind
like the motion of the turquoise ocean near L’ile de la tortue.
I inherited my skin from you–
like Toussaint, no need for tanning,
my skin is a symbol of strength and perseverance,
sometimes tender as a newborn’s–
a reminder of a dark past and a dazzling future.
I stepped away from your soil,
your golden grains, the soft give of your sand,
succulent white rice with Congo beans.
onto the hard concrete—
It’s hard to eat in America.
like many others, rootless in another land.
Dear Mother, I hear your call,
the sound of the homemade goat skin Bata drum
beating slowly, almost stopping,
like a heart on the verge of failing.
Lugensky Durosier was born in Haiti in Port-au-Prince. He recently learned that the origins of his Polish first name stemmed from remnants of Polish troops that Napoleon had garrisoned and eventually abandoned in Haiti. Lugensky was a creative writing major at Bloomfield college and received a Masters Degree in Business. He loves his rich cultural heritage!Read More »
Hilda and her children are crammed into our front room.
$8 a month holds her whole life in it.
When her husband showed up blind,
his whole family threw her out.
They had always known her greenish-grey eyes
would bring them down.
Word was he caught her with someone else
and it happened just like that!
All over Trinidad, and no doctor sees anything.
A walking stick becomes an extension on his right hand,
checking out the air close to the ground.
As I gape and wait for him to fall,
he walks ahead with his eyes wide open.
Hilda’s trying to make her way.
Her children are quiet and lap at her heel like water.
They stand close to the one-burner stove,
a contraption that looks more like a Japanese lantern,
and watch her boiling chicken feet.
Her sadness does not allow her to smile,
but I can tell she is not bitter.
She even gives me a plump chicken foot
when I sneak in to see her.
After dadee died,
the most surprising thing of all
is my parents going and renting out
her front room,
just like that!
Zorida Mohammed was born in Trinidad and immigrated to America at age 18. She won the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Grant for Poetry in 1991-92. Her poems have been published in Folio, Fulcrum # 6 and # 7, Phoebe, The Caribbean Writer, Poem, The Oyez Review, Compass Rose, The Dirty Goat, The Spoon River Review, The Atlanta Review, and The Distillery. She has also been published in The Red Wheelbarrow for the past four years. Zorida is an active member of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets and reads frequently in Bergen County, NJ, and in New York City.
When you are young, you believe in things because you have no reason not to: a fat jolly man riding reindeers across the sky. Sure. A bunny that lays eggs in a basket. Why not? And when your grandmother’s doctor’s name is Jack Kevorkian, you simply don’t question it.
When you’re young and hear conversations between grownups, you hang onto every word, hoping to hear forbidden things like curses and dirty jokes you know you aren’t supposed to understand. So when my uncle would come to visit my grandma he would always bring up her doctor. It was routinely said that he would call her for everything from a headache to a hangnail. And everyone but my grandmother would laugh, she doesn’t get the joke either, I thought. “What a nice doctor,” I’d say, always on call waiting to help my grandma. “Dr. Jack Kevorkian,” my uncle would say, as if he were a family friend, “I’ll call him right now to come get you.”
When I was young, Dr. K was on the news. I thought my grandmother was so lucky to have such a famous doctor readily available. It made me hate my own doctor, a large stern Russian woman with hard heavy hands. She made me wait forever in the dark small waiting room. I couldn’t even enjoy the Highlight magazines there because all the hidden objects were always found and circled.
When I was older and watching the news, I saw Dr. K again. This time I paid close attention to the details, hoping he would mention my grandmother and how she was a star patient, perhaps his favorite. But then, I finally got the joke, not really a joke at all; a decade after the punch line had been delivered.
Ashley Sardoni-Davis teaches creative writing at her alma mater Bloomfield College. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2009. She is currently working on a collection of memoirs and a short film.Read More »
At last, the extremes
of his present methods
seemed to offer
the happiest avenues.
of even a single cell
might become as much
as new knowledge
where ratty camouflage
is ripped aside
revealing a real veldt
to hold him as surely
across as up and down
in its green organization.
These lines are like
a general to his troops,
troops we must be
thought of as actually
being there unless he’s
a very special general.
The odds, however long,
are not what impels us,
but the guarantee of failure,
the foolishness of arranging
bouquets, the lovemaking
of less and less as stem
is jammed onto stem.
This new notebook.
I can’t wait
to begin messing it up.
Actually, I’ve stopped twice
during this sentence,
which contains two sentences,
to watch an old woman
in a sari looking down severely
who suddenly shuts the window
and brings the whole thing
to a close.
The sentence is
the biggest fiction.
Murder may have been done.
Sure, I want to write as I breathe,
to push words out of me
the way my guts are tied.
Should I take tent stakes
and bang them into steel?
Or wring rainwater
out of the fog?
Jim Klein has published more than 100 poems in publications including The Berkeley Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Joe Soap’s Canoe, Oxford Magazine, The Plastic Tower, Onthebus, Pulpsmith, andGandhabba; he has been published many times in The Wormwood Review, including a Feature Section. He has also published articles inThe Christian Century, James Joyce Quarterly, and College English. He founded two literary magazines, Lunch, at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, NJ, in the seventies, and currently The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow. Blue Chevies, his first book, came out in September 2008, and To Eat Is Human Digest Divine in 2009.Read More »
We hold intractable notions
of ourselves as agents
with free will.
But someone is what he is
and was what he was
and will be what he will be,
once and forever.
Even with time travel,
we cannot change our past.
I am as I ever was,
sending out consistent stories
capable of deception
because every trip through the gate
seems precisely the same;
a neatly stacked quantum
of words scatters across
a blackboard sky.
The arrow of time comes
down to the fact that I can
make an omelet from eggs
but not eggs from
Michael O’Brien was born in Decatur, IL, went to local schools and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He is a retired professor of English in the Petrocelli College of Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hackensack, NJ. He is the author of a poetry collection, Absence Implies Presence. His poems and reviews have appeared in The Literary Review, Lunch, Muse-Pie Press, Poet, Lips, Context South and numerous other journals. He has read his poetry throughout New Jersey and was featured at the William Carlos Williams Center in Rutherford and at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. He currently lives in Bloomingdale, NJ with his wife Moira Shaw O’Brien.Read More »
On nights like this,
the road bends into blackness
and the white lines
paved into the tar
look like slivers of bone,
and the air whistles through
the open window,
and the trees rustle their feathers
and music lights up like stars,
The seat is warm from your jeans
and the smile on your face
feels like the first time
you’ve ever smiled,
it feels good,
so good that you keep smiling,
you hold it there,
that crooked smile
and stare off in front of you
through the windshield.
You look through the night
towards something you see,
and you recognize it,
in front of you,
like when you recognize
someone you know
and you stare,
and drive past them,
passing through them,
and them into you,
and the night passes
through both of you.
You smoke your last cigarette,
share a light with the wind,
and the wind whistles
as you drive.
Loren Kleinman is a young, American-born poet with roots in New Jersey. Her poetry explores the results of love and loss, and how both themes affect an individual’s internal and external voice. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Drew University and an M.A. in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex (UK). Her poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Nimrod, Wilderness House Literary Review, Writer’s Bloc, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review (PLR), Resurgence (UK), HerCircleEzine and Aesthetica Annual. She was the recipient of the Spire Press Poetry Prize (2003), was a 2000 and 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee, and was a 2004 Nimrod/Pablo Neruda Prize finalist for poetry. In 2003, Spire Press (NYC) published her first collection of poetry Flamenco Sketches, which explored the relationship between love and jazz. Kleinman is also a columnist for IndieReader.com (IR) where she interviews NYT bestselling indie authors. Many of those interviews in IR reappeared in USA Today and The Huffington Post. Her second collection of poetry, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, is due to release in 2014 (Winter Goose Publishing, 2014). She is also working on a New Adult literary romance novel, This Way to Forever; and a collection of interviews and essays that explore the vibrant community of indie authors called Indie Authors Naked: Essays and Interviews on the Indie Book Community (Publisher: IndieReader).
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After the long sigh of the violins wound you beyond repair your last plink disturbs the silence, and a cat in another dimension’s driveway will look up from under the warm space of a recently turned off engine. A spider as red as Mars will run down a roof’s dry canals, its web broken by a basketball a boy throws. Beyond repair, the shiny ends of thread are almost invisible against the light glaring off the boy’s eyeglasses. The you that never was hears his mother calling from the kitchen, her voice spreading in the echoless rooms.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After the long sigh of the violins wound you beyond repair over beers with God, you gain some distance, and looking down see how all is really small and ugly. God, reading your mind, says I’m thinking bugs sucked dry and left hanging in a web. You think of the mummified mouse you once found behind the boiler, a thing so ugly that even the old lady in your head wouldn’t get the broom and dustpan to pick it up.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After the long sigh of the violins wound you beyond repair you have the dream of deer and buttons. A doe, you’ll be strung up by a hunter and slit from the neck down. One brown eye will harden into a button. Too small, it doesn’t close your wounds. The nimble-fingered monkeys, who were the world’s tailors back then, buy the idea and make it work. You become rich from the royalties, and all is good until 1895 when a lazy cat invents the zipper. Over pipes in God’s favorite opium den, you complain. He tells you to write a book about how the animals invented everything. You wake up and think of the buttons on her blouse, closed shutters now.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After the long sigh of the violins wound you beyond repair you come back as your grandfather’s grandfather. You’ll live to be very old and survive three wives. Only an occasional dog will come scratching at your door. You’ll remark to anyone who’ll listen that you prefer your house to anything in the world, and you love the flowers in your garden better than your daughters. No one will really care. It won’t matter because at night, in your bed, you’ll hear the clock in the hall strike one, and see the future centuries waiting like a long army encamped on the mountaintop your pillow makes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After the long sigh of the violins wound you beyond repair memories melt faster than ice in bright sunlight. I remember January, you and our sons, the smiles frozen in the photograph. Somewhere there is snow on the ground, and silence grows to the size and weight of a house. My hands write furiously and make do with the warmth of a cup. Notions are altered, and hours that never counted open in petals. My fingers rise like the dead, and bring forgotten touches up to my lips where they are rubbed and blessed.
John Barrale was born in New York City’s Lower East Side and graduated from Richmond College with a B.A. in English Literature. Since 1978, he has lived in New Jersey. He is travel frequently, a Jazz aficionado, and an avid hiker. His poetry has been published in Paterson Literary Review, Red Wheel Barrow Poets’ Anthologies (Volumes I – V, Poetalk, NJ Journal of Poets, The Lullwater Review, California Quarterly, Tiger’s Eye Journal, The Penwood Review, The Aurorean, and The William and Mary Review. His book of poems, Shakespeare’s Moths was published by White Chicken Press.
He is a founding member of the Red Wheel Barrow Poetry Workshop. This is an ongoing poetry workshop that has met weekly in Rutherford NJ since 2005. The workshop is free of charge and open to all poets in the NJ/NY area. The group sponsors a monthly poetry reading series at The William Carlos Williams Center in Rutherford, NJ. Since 2008, our group has published an annual anthology featuring the best of the readers and open microphone participants at our monthly readings. In 2012, he joined the staff of “The Red Wheel Barrow” poetry anthology as a managing editor.Read More »
In a strange twist of what seemed like reverse vandalism, the Graffiti Mecca or 5 Pointz, NY, was painted over with white paint in the middle of the night. (This occurred in November; NN was there in September.) Curator and graffiti artist, Jonathon “Meres One” Cohen said, “Graffiti is the most relevant art form of our times.” Sadly, the building, which was both home to artists and art, is being gentrified and turned into condos.
Enjoy the art in this collection; most of the graffiti pieces you’ll see here were the last ones exhibited on the 5 Pointz walls. Within a few months of photographing, the Graffiti Mecca was gone.
(colored pencil on slate, “Flora,” by Lori Field)
On the wall in Westminster
the rabbit girl hums herself awake.
The world is not a word–
she remembers sadly
and suddenly from sleep–
a word of light,
so she stretches her wings still.
The heavy spell of pencil and cool slate
ignites her claim,
the quiet magic she has to offer
that most humans seem unable to hear or hold:
I am the light you can heal by.¹
All the wide while we are one,
you and me, god and animal.
Elsewhere, like the sudden onset of spring–
time lapse flowers quivering
from seed to full bloom in a serene second–
the almond brown eyes glance from their corners
from the middle of the beige room.
And there are no words or lips or liquid questions
just answers looking at the sky of my heart–
the brown almond eyes saying
come wander within my borders
which I’ll fling open for you.
This line is a version of the title of Marge Piercy’s poem, “I am the Light You Can Read By.”
Pamela Hughes has an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, where she studied with Allen Ginsburg. Her book of poems, Meadowland Take My Hand is forthcoming from Three Mile Harbor Press (www.3MileHarborPress). She teaches Creative Writing at Bloomfield College. Her work has appeared in various literary magazines such as: The Paterson Literary Review; Isotope: Nature and Science Writing; Mother Verse; The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow Anthology; Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism; Literary Mama; The Brooklyn Review; The Minnesota Review; Thema and elsewhere.
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In essence, we are all the ‘other’, and when we recognize this the world opens up.–Lori Field
Pamela Hughes: Your works are often magical combinations of human and animals for example; some of my faves: Little Babji, Pinky and the Brain, or Babes in the Woods that goes back from when you had a show at Bloomfield college in 2003. How did these beings come to inhabit your mind and art?
LF: By the way, in Pinky and The Brain, do you know who is The brain and who is Pinky?
PH: No, who is who?
LF: The flamingo is the Brain and the other one is Pinky. It would stand to reason that the flamingo would be Pinky. I like to put ironic twists in my titles. Little Jokes. To have fun with them. I appreciate puns, plays on words For example, one title is, “You’re No Bunny Until Somebody loves You.” Sometimes what inspires me to create a piece is a having a title in mind that I like. I did this show in Nashville called “I am Curious Yellow,” which is an old porn movie from the 70s–which I’ve never seen–but I wanted to embrace this color and create a whole show around it because of the title. Sometimes I have titles that I can’t wait to create the art for. Like The Teflon Don. And it will not be image of John Gotti. I like the tongue in cheek thing. Though every surface indication about it will say otherwise, there will be a connection, but not an obvious one.
PH: So the is subtext is the connection. It could be ironic, comic or mythic—and is often playful. Playful is always good.
LF: I have a lot of fun. This is my play. It is also my spirituality. The anthropomorphism is like Native American myth making. I am very influenced by mythologies from all over the world and different time periods. A lot of them have animal imagery or gods and goddesses. I first started getting interested in the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Then I started to read about Native American myths. I was drawn to totem animals—animals as symbols. I was very drawn to animals and they rapidly became a way to interpret human emotions. They became symbolically emotive personifications of human traits–a rabbit can representative of fearfulness, tigers of fierceness or protectiveness. Pigs are an interpretation of indulgence or hedonism. However, animals have different range of emotions that they can express, not just one. The combination of humans and animals are archetypes–they become like my own little set of gods and goddess.
PH: A sort of mythological cast of characters.
LR: That’s a good way of putting it. I wanted to say one more thing about my use of animal imagery very often I use animals that don’t make a sound make sounds like rabbits, giraffes, deer. I either use an animal that makes a big sound–like a tiger–or animal that makes no sound. I like the hyper-awareness of listening. Rabbits have this giant hyper awareness with their ears. Of course all animals can hear better then we can. I love to use animals that make no sound or cry out. They have this presence–a power that comes from listening and not speaking.
PH: I’ve noticed that the subjects of your art pieces are very diverse kinds of people. How or why does multiculturalism play into your vision as an artist?
LF: When I first started making these pieces 15 years ago I only seemed to include Asian faces. I think it was a past life. I have always had an affinity for 1920’s China, especially the Shanghai Girls posters from that era. So I started off using those faces in my work. Then, I expanded and started to include faces from other cultures, Africa, South America, and faces from the past, 1920’s flapper portraits or 1920’s. French pornographic cabinet cards in particular. I did this because I started feeling it was too much of one kind of face. I wanted the work to feel more universal–to reflect the human condition. I began looking for anything outside of mainstream WASP sensibilities in an effort to exaggerate the ‘other’ characteristics in the figures.
PH: Speaking of the other, after seeing your show, Becoming Animal, at Westminster Hall at Bloomfield College back in 2003, I started to have my creative writing students choose one of your art pieces and write a stream of consciousness poem about it. At first the students had a general response to your work–that it was weird, or disturbing. I interpreted this that they were afraid of what they didn’t know about the other–both outside and within themselves. After they wrote their poems—made a connection and got an understanding of the other figure–and I like to think about themselves–there was almost with a kind collective of sigh of relief. Can you touch on this frightening other?
LF: I think the initial reaction of your students is a universal one when confronted with the strange, the different or the outcast. People recognize something of themselves in a depiction of the other and they become either subconsciously or consciously repelled. This is because on some level they know what it is like to be ridiculed, singled out as different, shunned or treated with prejudice and they don’t want to deal with that. The success of Reality TV in my opinion is successful because of this. The people we are watching are laughable, ridiculous, and strange–we, the viewers can feel safe; so we are okay. My work elicits the same responses at first. Those creatures are odd, people think: I don’t want to recognize myself in them. I want to separate myself from their predicament.
Upon closer inspection or intimacy with their subject—the writing of the poem about it–a realization and a self-recognition probably took place. A curious emotional bond might have occurred, and what was alien at first becomes familiar, and accepted. The same way a person can be prejudiced against a group of people, but when they get to know someone individually from that group, their attitude towards them changes. A person who treats gay people differently, less than or as the other, might change their approach if they find out a treasured member of their family turns out to be gay.
LF: He worked at Mail Boxes Etc! I had been going there literally for years I send my artwork through there. I do my Xeroxing there. He was not unfriendly but was very business-like. He didn’t know what I did. And then one day when I was making copies he said to me, “Mrs. Field I just wanted you to know I didn’t know who you were before, but I saw all your work. I take this class at Bloomfield College and saw all your work!” He was pretty much gushing and prior to that he was removed and business like as you can be. We had this nice conversation. I already knew what you were doing with your students.
PH: A connection through art. Your work must have really resonated with him.
LF: Which pieces were you showing the students–the older work?
PH: Both the older, and more recently, the newer work from your portfolios As I said, a lot of times students think new things are strange at first–especially if they are not into the arts or literature. They tend to think one dimensionally, but after they explore a work of art—let’s say a poem—or in this case one of your pieces–they start to build some layers of meaning, to open up.
LF: That’s the other thing about of my work. I like the idea of pulling someone in with something beautiful and then clobbering them over the head. To try to force that opening. The beauty in the work needs to be seductive. Especially for the people that haven’t been exposed to art that much. On one level, they are drawn in, but will still say things like: “that is really weird! I don’t know I can deal with that!” That is my intention. I want them to be shocked by it. But not shock for just for shock value alone, I want them to think the art is beautiful and be touched by it. Sometimes the things that are the most beautiful are the things that are most strange You don’t get to say what is beautiful by these hallmark card ideas or by top model beauty standards. Sometimes beauty is something very very different. To me it is like opening your eyes to what beauty really is. My mother is very conservative. The other day I posted one of my images that had a little bit less strangeness to it. I did it for a show in Berlin where the focus was about Hollywood movie stars. I put Merle Oberon’s face in it surrounded by all these flowers. And my mother called me up all excited. “Oh my god,” she said “this one is so beautiful! It is so different then the other ones where you have where all this strange things growing out of their heads. I said “yes, mom that is nice, but did you notice that she had thread sewn all over her face–that she has tattoos made of thread? She was like “I didn’t notice that because it was so beautiful!”
PH: Art should shake us from complacency. Now more than ever, it seems like many people just want to absorb information from TV and computer, smart phones– just sit around doing this for long periods of time, which is really doing nothing.
LF: Art can shift us from our narrow parameters. Again, we are learning about the other, the intimate stranger. In speaking to the your earlier question about the other, I really want to address the idea that people in society are being marginalized for their differences. It’s absolutely diabolical how groups are being targeted for their otherness, whether they be minorities, or an ethnicity, or gay. Just people who are different in some from what is way not “sanctioned” by our society. It seems like we’ve gone into this retroactive phase, a reactionary phase, where people are being treated worse again. We’ve made some strides, but now we’ve taken so many steps back. It is alarming I really want the want the figures that I am putting out there to address this otherness. They are exaggerated for this reason. I want people to identify with these figures–to be weirded out and then to recognize themselves. Because we are all the other.
PH: That’s where I get a sense of the so called quantum consciousness about your work–not only does it embrace diverse people but also animals and the connection between all things. Can you speak to that?
I have an absolute reverential feeling for animals. They are here for significant and profound reasons. I did one really large piece called “Love and Fear, Love or Fear” that was done specifically because I had been working on a solo in New York and I was working so hard that weekend when one of my beloved animals become ill and I figured, I’ll take her to the Vet on Monday. I was too fearful that I wouldn’t to get things done on time. It was a holiday weekend so it ended up being four days instead of two. When I dropped her off, I thought: we dodged the bullet, but she died overnight. I considered her to be my equal companion, and I chose fear over love. I still could cry when I talk about it now. You can choose love or fear, but you are always better off choosing love. That’s what that question invokes in me. Yeah, they are right up there with us, animals. Sometimes I think they are superior in a lot of ways.
PH: I have to agree. Animals don’t kill for the pleasure of killing. Sometimes cats will play with small creatures, but generally animals only kill what they need to eat. Animals don’t create the destruction to the planet we humans are creating. But getting back to the creation of your art, Jung said “the creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but the play of instinct acting from inner necessity the creative mind plays with it loves.” Your art has a Jungian feel to it–do you ever dream of your art pieces?
LF: I do not, but when I’m in the shower, everything comes to me. I’m going to invent a writing pad to take it into the shower [Laughs]. Because I have the most amazing ideas there. I’ve learned that I need a paper to write it on. I’m dripping on as I write it. [Laughs] It is kind of like when people have a dream journal beside their beds and they need to jump up to write down their dreams before they are lost. There is some kind of primal thing about water that does this for me. It’s probably because of the spirituality of water. I have an affinity for it. I was raised in Florida . The Gulf of Mexico is precious to me. I don’t dream about my work but, I have day dreams about my work in the water.
PH: So what other things inspire you? Who are your artistic influences?
LF: Oh that’s easy. My top three are Hans Holbein, Kiki Smith and Henry Darger. Darger is probably on top of the list. He was an outsider artist who didn’t even know he was an outsider artist. He was a marginalized person living as a janitor his whole life in Chicago and when he passed away his landlord went into his apartment and found an amazing treasure trove of the work he had been doing his whole life. He also wrote a book this about this big [holds hands about a foot apart] about an entire mythic world It was called something like The Vivian Girls Vs. the Glandeco-Angelinians. He was quite crazy, but not in an aggressive way. He had never had any training, but he was compelled to make these impressive pieces kind of like scrolls. He would take children’s coloring books and use the figures to create the world that he wrote in the book He is my major influence and speaks to me on deep level.. See that piece over there with the sheep? [Points to a studio wall behind me] It’s a piece of a little girl figure who is wearing a dress and has this tiny penis peaking out. Darger did this a lot with these girls in baby doll dresses. They would often have ram horns and tiny penises.
LF: Yes, he did this very hermaphroditic thing. The pieces are very strange. They seem to tap into the collective unconscious. Switching to Holbein, he did portraits that were so beautifully detailed that almost hyper real. I love history and that he did portraits of historical figures and captured them so intensely you felt you were in the room with them just blows my mind. I could stare at his work all day. I left off a host of other influences. And then Kiki Smith is a contemporary artist, who does print making, sculpture, does a lot of mythological pieces related to the body and feminism. She is just incredible and extremely prolific.
PH: Any suggestions for teens or young adults that want to become artists?
LF: Grow a thick skin! Do what you love and the rest will follow. Never give up. It is very hard to be an artist of any ilk: writer, visual artist, actor. There is tremendous competition. People envy the connection that artist’s have with their inner life. The working world cuts you off so much from that, that it’s appealing to see that artists still have that. That could manifest in a lot ways. Sometimes people outside of the art world will put artist’s down. I think they want them to feel-less-than, because they are not able to get in touch with that. They are not even speaking the same language anymore. I would tell a young person to be persistent. Also know when to let your art evolve. Find people that in your corner that understand what you are trying to do. If it is really your calling and you stick with it, you will find the way. Another thing, don’t copy other people. That’s important. A friend of mine, who is an artist, was devastated when she took another artist under her wing and that person started doing work that looked exactly like hers. And she is also showing her work. That is a problem. So it is the worst thing you can do, not only for the other person you are copying, but for you. You can lift a little inspiration here and there, but find your own voice or vision.
PH: I love that art can help a person find their own voice or vision. We touched on this indirectly, but can you speak to arts as catalyst for positive change in the world?
LF: Oh yes! A lot of my work inspired from stories I hear about in the news and the desire to elicit change. I see a lot of navel gazing in the art world these days and less work about political situations or about affecting social change. Every once in a while you will see it and there needs to be more of that actually
PH: Is there a single message or theme that you would like your viewers of your artwork to get?
LF: My work is always about vulnerability in some way. It’s about so many other things, but a reoccurring thread, to distill it down to one word, would be vulnerability. It is the human condition. We are all out there and you can make a fuss or put on whatever protective mask you want to wear, but if you scratch the surface that fact is it always there. So people wear their power suits like armor. I’m going doing a series of jewelry pieces that will become part of an art installation called “The Attack of the Killer Business Men.” It will have anthropomorphic figures and be about power versus vulnerability. Who is really powerful? In our society, we have our mythic characters. We have our Wall Street bankers. That is our contemporary mythology. It’s real And at the same time it’s not real. When you take away all the trappings–the facades–we are all equivalent.
PH: I guess you could say that the mythology of your art—like the power of all art—can be a kind of counter balance, a sort of equalizer. It does seem to have an effect on people.
LF: The symbolism of my figures works on the subconscious level. I was doing this show at college gallery in New Jersey. It was Fairleigh Dickinson. The name of the show was Other World. The gallery was a walk through space. People weren’t necessarily seeking art when they would pass through. A few weeks later, I got an email from a woman who worked at the school. She was someone who never looked at or liked art. But as she walked through the gallery to get to work, she fell in love with this piece, a little animal anthropomorphic drawing with a piece of animal in rabbit in with wings. I actually have the collage here if you want to photograph it. She was so taken by it that she tracked me down and bought the piece. She said never in a million years would I think that something like that would speak to me, but it was screaming out to me as I walked past. That is the effect that I would love my art to have on people, to touched by—even if they are not “art” people–and don’t even understand why.
PH: And that was Flora?
PH: I’ve written about Flora. I’ll have to send you that poem.
LF: Here, let me bring it over so you can see it. [Goes to get the framed collage] One of the original ones was called Flora and Fauna.
PH: I saw another of the originals at Westminister Gallery. Flora was on slate. I took a photo of it on the wall and then wrote a poem about it.
LF: Was it the big one or the smaller? Because I did both.
PH: It was the little one.
LF: That’s the one the woman bought!
PH: That’s pretty amazing. It’s a synchronicity–Jungian. That you’re telling me about a woman who became so connected to Flora that she had to buy it–and that it was the same piece that also captivated me and has become a part of my own art.
PH: I noticed that in this Flora, the deer has… [pauses]
LF: . — A female body
PH: And also pubic hair.
LF: The symbolic bush. [Both laughing]
PH: I have a poem called Vote Bush. The title appears to be asking people to vote for George Bush, but it’s really asking people to vote for femininity, to honor the female body, to bring life into the world instead of destruction, war. It’s kind of funny. A poet named Joan Larkin said that when she read it she couldn’t stop laughing. Also, I guess we should vote that back in instead of all the shaving.
LF: I think the young women are starting to revolt. My daughter actually did an art project at Pratt–I guess you could say—in protest of that. I always think, what if we have an economic collapse? What if you can’t get money from the ATM machine? Are you really going to spend your last few dollars so you can go out to buy a kit so you can get a Brazilian? [Both laughing.]
PH: Your funny! I would love to see your daughter’s art work on that theme for a woman’s issue I’m thinking about doing for the next issue of Narrative Northeast. But since we are on topics womanly, your art also seems art seems grounded in some kind of feminine mythos. How does that or female empowerment play into your creations?
LF: It’s very interesting. A few years ago I had an open studio here. There was only one guy in the room. He was looking around while the women in the room were talking. He looked at one of my pieces and looked back at me, and then he said, “You don’t have any male figures in your work.” At first that came as a surprise to me, then I realized that it was true. If they are in my work, they are effeminate, boys or non-specific in gender. It wasn’t something that was intentional. But ever since he brought that up, I’ve embraced it. I don’t think of myself as a feminist but of course I am. I have two daughters. I’m conscious of the things feminists are conscious of. I am female after all, and these things affect me as well. It’s not part of my conscious thought process when I am creating my art, but if it does speak to people on that level than I am very happy. The figures are a kind of female shaman figures. They are very powerful in their own way, but they can also acknowledge their own vulnerability. This is part of their strength. The same goes for all women.
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“You stole the dog.”
She corrects him: “I didn’t steal her. I took her. She’s Boyer’s dog. If Boyer had a child, we’d take the child, wouldn’t we?”
“If Boyer had a child, whoever he had the child with would have kept the child.”
“But she’s a dog. It’s not like Yiyi gave birth to her.”
“She lived with the dog. Helped Boyer care for it. You can’t just take a dog from its home because you feel like it. I know what you’re trying to do.”
They look away from each other now: Sarah, for not thinking he’d see through and name her mistake; Rex, perhaps, for realizing he shouldn’t have said it.
“Well,” she musters, “she’s here now. And Yiyi hardly protested, so. That’s where we are.”
“We’re not dog people,” he says, pushing his words out so softly his lips make something like a whistle.
“How do you know that? We’ve never had a dog,” Sarah says.
“That’s how I know.”
Rex returns to the table. He plucks away the loose pages of newspaper that slipped from his fingers and tented over his bowl of muesli when Carmela came unexpectedly barreling into the kitchen, her tags and studded collar jangling like a distant wind chime. He lifts a spoonful to his lips and smirks, “You’re a mess.”
The quickness of his words, so small and exact out of the side of his crunching mouth, steals Sarah’s breath like a slap. She grabs her keys, lets them drag along the blue marble countertop he fusses over with baking soda every Sunday, and begins a stompy exit. She considers a detour to the table to pour his cereal—better yet, his coffee: he likes it black; it’ll stain—over his smart morning cardigan, but pauses when she catches her warped reflection in the steel of the refrigerator. Her navy blouse is dusted with stray sprigs of Carmela’s gray and auburn coat, damning evidence of her struggle to lift that old-boned girl in and out of the car. Sarah thinks of those newspaper sidebars about the world’s dumbest criminals—burglar writes his own name at the crime scene; robber trips, stabs himself with the knives he was stealing—and hurries from the kitchen to laugh where he can’t hear. A furry puddle rises from the floor, shakes itself out, and follows quickly behind her.
The idea came to her during Boyer’s memorial service. Sarah had spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, saucing the homemade tortellini she’d spent all last night filling and rolling and buttoning with her thumbs, icing a layer cake larger than the one at her own wedding thirty-six years earlier, and artfully arranging platters of gooey imported cheeses. Every so often, one of Boyer’s friends, each dressed in something Boyer had designed—the men’s collars and the women’s necklines bore his trademark illusion of being perforated at the seams, of being not quite attached to anything-would shuffle into the kitchen and ask if she needed help and wouldn’t she like to join them. But Sarah promised she could hear and see everyone just fine. Twice, Rex did the same.
“You’re missing all this,” he said. She wanted to snap back something robust and melodramatic like, “I’m missing our son,” but that wasn’t who she was, and it certainly wasn’t Boyer. This feast she’d been preparing, the hundreds of dollars worth of rabbit rillettes, and bacon jams, and almond paste sculptured into fruits, was all a final bitchy joke from Boyer she promised to deliver, a sarcastic indulgence from beyond the grave.
Three days before he passed, and one before he could no longer speak or even crack an eyelid, Sarah sat beside him, massaging his fingers, the skin so thin and blue—“ice blue,” according to
Boyer, “very next season, you’ll see”—his knuckles looked bulbous, vulgar. Rex was there too, but he paced the halls, making himself endlessly needed and tasked, seeking out nurses, visiting the snack machines even though he never ate anything in a wrapper, and bringing back schmaltzy greeting cards from the gift shop to mock with Boyer since they both detested sentiment. What they shared most, apart from their potato chins, was an insistence on not sharing at all—Rex holed away in a campus lab scraping petri dishes and making slides, Boyer sketching alone for days and draping fabrics over limbless busts—until they could share their discoveries en masse, with authority, without the need to explain themselves.
“Let them eat cake,” Boyer said, his scabbed lips parting across his teeth, now mossy and brown because brushing pained him, seemed pointless.
The doctors had warned of morphine and non-sequiturs. Sarah pushed a hand to Boyer’s forehead, at once slick and terribly dry. “Honey?”
“At the service. Make a big, big cake.” Boyer moved his mouth as though chewing the food he went on to describe. “Food scares them. They’ll die.” Boyer smiled, but there was meanness in his crackling voice.
Rex returned just as Boyer was dozing off again. “It smells in here.” Rex heaved, put a hand to his mouth and stepped back into the hall.
Sarah looked down and saw the sheets beneath Boyer’s back were soaked in a color she couldn’t quite describe, hoped he’d wake up and name it for her.
When it was Yiyi’s turn to speak, Sarah poured herself a glass of Malbec and moved to the living room. Yiyi slipped out of her heels, lifting herself up on her toes every time she began a sentence. She recounted how she’d met Boyer, answering an online ad for “a seamstress with small hands and a small voice—mute preferable,” which made even Sarah chuckle. Yiyi spoke of Boyer’s impeccable vision and taste, and how she’d do her best to carry out his legacy. Spare us, Sarah thought, taking a big angry gulp of wine, you just fucking cut and paste. The others applauded Yiyi, who was sobbing now, as though she’d won an award or courageously risen during an AA meeting. Rex politely tapped his palms together too but Sarah felt her face go slack. Yiyi rejoined the group of men Sarah couldn’t tell apart, accepting their shoulder rubs and forehead kisses with gratitude. One of the men handed Yiyi his barely disturbed slice of cake and she pushed it around with her fork, mindlessly breaking apart the layers Sarah had so carefully stacked, before tossing the plate onto the coffee table without even a taste. Carmela, who’d fallen asleep on the bathroom tiles after moping about the house, pattered into the living room and dropped down beside Yiyi’s feet. Her long tongue circled Yiyi’s bare ankle; Yiyi rubbed furiously at it with the opposite heel. Sarah watched as Carmela waited for Yiyi’s touch, neck craned patiently until she lowered her head to the ground and closed her eyes. She considered simply telling Yiyi to leave the dog that night, but the thought of a confused Yiyi in early morning, draped in the same ruby kimono Boyer had made and gifted them both, silently watching Carmela be marched away filled Sarah with delight, though she couldn’t quite say why.
Joe Vallese’s writing has appeared has appeared in Southeast Review, North American Review, VIA: Voices in Italian-Americana, Backstage, among other journals. He is editor of What’s Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey (Word Riot, 2010), a recent Pushcart Prize nominee, and was named a Notable in the 2012 Best American Essays.Read More »
Wynwood Walls, of Miami has been called “a Museum of the Streets.”
This work was born out of a need to engage people on the street with an idea of fundamental human importance: Peace. On 11 September 2001, the fragility of peace became immediate and real not only to the citizens of the United States but to people all over the world. Destroying peace, whether deliberately or accidentally, requires the initial actions of just one person. This does not mean that peace cannot be protected and maintained. The preservation of peace requires the awareness and constant effort of every person in daily life. This is an ongoing project. – Yuichiro Nishizawa
Yuichiro Nishizawa was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. His interest and investigation deals with the influence of technology on our experience of the world around us. Nishizawa employs a wide range of media and methods to create opportunities for viewers to turn their gaze inward as they navigate throughout the unfamiliar. His work has been exhibited both in the U.S. and internationally. Since 2004, his innate interest in function and form, conjoined with his investigation, has led him to pursue custom furniture design and fabrication. nishizawa holds a BFA in Film/Animation/Video from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate and an MFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He lives in New York and teaches at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. You can see more of his work at http://www.liminalspace.org.
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He is reading his own obituary. Sunlight arcs through the bus window, lighting his name in the heading, the birth and death dates italicized beneath. The paper jostles in his hands as she eyes the second date from the seat beside him. The first letter of the month is J; the date is the 17th. January, she thinks, her stomach knotting. It’s already autumn; out the window, oak leaves are turning vibrant hues of gold. In the seat beside her, the man’s slacks are too loose on his legs; his elbows protrude from his shirtsleeves. He won’t last until June or July.
He leans back in his seat, rattles the paper, the way he always used to do on Sundays at the kitchen table, legs crossed, drinking coffee, watching birds at the feeders outside. “Well,” he says, meeting her eyes. “We don’t have long.”
“No.” She looks down at her hands. Her fingers are wrapped around the clasp of a purse she hasn’t used in years. “We don’t.”
The bus bumps along, vibrating the floor beneath their feet, their seats. Words swim on the newsprint: prolonged illness, donations, flowers, services, hospice. Following her gaze, he frowns, then folds the paper up. The bus is almost full; there are people in every seat: old and young, brown and beige, hair of every color and style. She’s glad to have found a seat beside him, though come to think of it she doesn’t remember boarding the bus. In the front row, a bald man in a suit and tie pulls the bell cord that stretches along the windows, then helps a white-haired woman in a long wool skirt into the aisle.
Brakes screech as the bus begins to slow. The man and woman gather their packages: two leather suitcases with old-fashioned handles, a stately black umbrella, a hatbox, a smallish portable kennel inside of which there is no dog. As the bus comes to a halt, they bump down the aisle from hand-rail to hand-rail. The driver pushes open the door; the man helps the woman down the steps.
Out the window, a long, straight street stretches toward its vanishing point. Gray buildings tower into stormclouds, close by, tilting dangerously toward the street, farther away. Thunder rattles the bus windows. She fears for the couple as they set off, arm in arm, into this storm. Where are we, she wonders, looking for landmark, a street sign.
The bus groans back into motion; the door squeaks as the driver slides it shut. She reaches for the hand of the man who sits beside her. Out the window, the old woman’s skirt whips in the wind; the man checks the kennel as if there is something inside. He opens the umbrella, whispers something in her ear. As the bus pulls away, rain slides down the glass, and the window becomes a mirror, a kaleidoscope, refracting the colors inside the bus. Instead of the elderly couple, now, she sees the pale of her own face, the black of her hair, the navy plaid of the fabric seats, the bright red hair of the man whose hand she holds.
They sit like this for many stops, watching the melting colors on the window, feeling the jostle of motion in the seats and floor. When the man finally speaks, she blinks, having forgotten they were on the bus at all. She looks around, with some surprise, to realize they’re the only passengers left. All around them, seats are empty, row after row. She realizes what the man has just said. I’m next. He’s reaching up to pull the cord.
“Wait,” she says, her heart thumping.
The rain on the window has turned to frost.
The cord goes taut; she hears the automatic chime. At the front of the bus, the driver glances at them in the rearview. In the mirror, she can see the hollows beneath his cheeks, the haunted look in his eyes. Beside her, the man places the folded newspaper in his pocket, wincing, his hand going to his chest. When he looks down at his battered suitcase, she leans over to get it for him before he tries.
“Thanks,” he says, as she hands it to him, meeting her eyes, his voice small. “I don’t want to go.”
She nods, her voice catching in her throat. “I know.”
He slides past her into the aisle, reaching for the hand-rail, pulling on his suit jacket, already out of breath. As the bus slows, she rises to give him a hug. She can feel the bones of his arms and back beneath his suit jacket, smell the faint, familiar spice of his cologne. Over his shoulder, out the window, the sky is white. This part of the city is clean, its brownstones well-kept, its paths shoveled of snow. Where are we, she wonders again. What route are we on? When he pulls away, she closes her eyes, blinking back all the memories threatening to swim up. There is only this bus, she tells herself, the slope of his shoulders, the sad scent of his cologne. She falls back into her seat, her stomach spinning with regret as she watches him make his way down the aisle.
The bus has stopped in front of a park she’s never seen before, a stately expanse of trees and snow. Gray branches glitter with icicles. Birdbaths crackle with ice. The man stumbles off the bus onto the sidewalk, gripping his suitcase, looking over his shoulder to wave at her in the window. As the bus shudders into motion, she waves back, her stomach doing pirouettes. There he is, she thinks, as his figure grows smaller and smaller. There he is, there he is, there he is, until he’s gone.
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Mary McMyne is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Her work has recently appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Pedestal Magazine, and a number of other publications, including the anthology, The Way North. Her project reimagining the Odysseus myth from the perspective of a Vietnam soldier’s wife won the Faulkner Prize for a Novel-in-Progress. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from New York University, as well as degrees in English and creative writing from Louisiana State University. A native of south Louisiana, she now lives with her husband and daughter in beautiful Upper Peninsula Michigan, where she teaches English, creative writing, and education courses at Lake Superior State University and co-edits Border Crossing, a journal of literature and art. She contributes nonfiction to The Nervous Breakdown.