Sometimes I invent emotions. I make them out of neon and punctuation. Semi-colons, for instance, are seminal to an understanding of linen.
Commas are drops of hesitation. Colons are bold.
Somewhere at the end of a sentence, I rub the night. Sparks fly. I follow a pain to the end of time. I live in a palace of thought. Everything is composed of butter, chlorophyll, and the ancient molecules of midnight.
I have a Cubist tongue and a Dada nose. My haircut used to be a garage. Next time you see a ghost at the supermarket it might be me. Then again, it might also be Thomas Paine, or Pablo Picasso.
I define pain by its weight. Paintings hanging crookedly on walls.
I watch The Kinks on YouTube, and redeploy them as a proposition.
Each day I run past the house of the symphony conductor I see him holding a glass brain with a fugue in it.
Music does this to people. Makes them wonderful and cogent, like the smell of dirt in front of the radio station just after the pansies have been watered.
Do you see the way the earth grips a tree? It is actually a tree gripping the earth.
I do not yet have a name for this emotion. The emotion itself is incomplete. But what emotion is ever whole and self-contained? Ask that woman over there, laughing and eating popcorn. She will tell you that the caliber of all emotions depends on the diameter of Tucson. But that’s only because she is from Tuba City, and is watching a movie about blank-eyed underwear-clad zombies.
I hate the fourth of July.
I prefer Halloween.
Which is why I’ve never been to Texas.
But I ask you: what are your specific needs? Say anything you want. I can always use a little ambiguity. I love ambiguity.
Emotions are difficult to pin down because each word has different properties. In the Museum of Invisible Injuries, for instance, the word ‘cook’ actually means ‘combination.’ And if you say the word ‘bone,’ an Iranian woman appears from the shadows with a huge gem on her finger, a ring that symbolizes the disembodiment of gherkins.
An emotion is thick and puzzling like a forest. It takes a long time to fully feel it. What is the point of becoming president if all you feel is power? Even lawn mowers feel power. Power is not where it’s at. Where it’s at is infinity. The exhilaration of light amid the pornography of black.
“Inventing Emotions” is reprinted from Larynx Galaxy (Black Widow Press, 2012).
John Olson is that author of eight books of poetry, the most recent of which is Larynx Galaxy, which Black Widow Press published in 2012. He published Backscatter: New and Selected Poems in 2008. He is also the author of three novels, including Souls of Wind (Quale Press), The Nothing That Is (Ravenna Press), and The Seeing Machine (Quale Press). He is the recipient of The Stranger’s genius award for literature in 2004 and three Fund for Poetry awards. In 2008 Souls of Wind was shortlisted for a Believer Book of the Year Award, and in 2012 he was one of eight finalists for the Artist Trust 2012 Innovator Award. He is currently at work on another novel tentatively titled My Other Car Is A Bed In Paris. His blog, Tillalala Chronicles, may be accessed at www.tillalala.blogspot.com.
The Sign with Nothing On It
This blank sign in front of the motel was my favorite object in the neighborhood as a child. It is shaped like it outlines words, but it has been a solid gray-green for as long as I can remember. “Look, it’s the sign with nothing on it!” I yelled to my parents when we passed it in the car. After much thought about why a blank sign existed, I decided it must be art.
My uncle said, “Paintings of the crucifixion can be beautiful. That’s the difference between a real crucifixion and a painting. That’s why people make paintings.”
The night my mom drove her car into the front yard, my uncle came all the way to our house. I was standing alone in the kitchen with the lights off, and he picked me up. My uncle who used to put his fake teeth in his belly button and make it talk to me.
I imagined crucifixions were the popsicle truck colors of the neighbors’ weathered plastic Jesus, and smelled like adults’ coats after some event where it was necessary to sit down and be quiet.
“The Sign with Nothing On It” is reprinted from Io.
Sarah Galvin is the author of The Stranger’s “Midnight Haiku” series, which are neither haiku nor at midnight. She has a blog called The Pedestretarian, where she reviews food found on the street. The thing she loves most about reviewing discarded food is receiving text messages that say things like “I hear the bus stop on 3rd and Union is covered with ham.” Sarah is poetry MFA student at University of Washington, and her poems can be found in io, Proximity, Pageboy, Dark Sky, and Ooligan press’s Alive at the Center anthology.
Composite # 6
When confronted with the issue, many people will admit that at numerous times they have felt as though they were waiting for their lives to begin.
Strange how things change, rearrange, as if another person inhabited the body, my body, anybody, any body. Not that far fetched – go fetch an identity, some entity to fill the subtle void. Avoidance is the trick, total avoidance, in addition to the fact that when you look back nothing seems to be there. My history, a catalogue of events, a residue of experience, the thick residue of experience. This series of events, a spider’s web, and the ripple is felt across the strands. Strands like sands of time, thyme and rosemary, everything stewing together, the salt of the earth and all that. The fingers dipped in the water as we bow down, so many bent knees, genuflection, circumspection. The words pop out, the word the world, only a letter difference there, fluttering will get you nowhere. Know where? “Over there,” they used to sing or at least they did in the movies and all of us marched along.
Jay McAleer is a poet and fiction writer from Seattle. He was recently selected as a 2013 Jack Straw writer and is honored to be part of that program. Composite # 6 is an excerpt from a series of interlinked poems entitled Composites.
She wanted a diacritical mark on her forehead. Something to set her apart. Not in a lightning bolt something-dreadful-happened-to-me-as-a-child and now I’m cursed (or blessed?) sort of way. An umlaut, perhaps, or an aigu or grave. Some mark to keep her from getting lost in the thicket of talk, to show where emphasis resides. Something stochastic, ekphrastic, lingua-fantastic – some barking mark a listener could discern, distinguish, know – that varies with a conversation’s weather. A signpost to visibly map her moods, to show the world she’s listening to whatever random, perchance profound, perchance unlikely, words are being said. Something to say “right!” – attention paid; the right note struck, and resounding.
Jeanne Yeasting is a poet and visual artist. She lives in Bellingham, and teaches creative writing at Western Washington University.
History of MacGyver
MacGyver, aged 17, escapes a locked car using a toothpick and a can of aerosol. MacGyver, aged 8, plunges twelve stories into a dump truck. He emerges unscathed, carrying a nearly translucent umbrella. MacGyver, aged fourteen months, establishes contact with a friendly behind enemy lines using a pacifier, an English muffin, and a Glock. MacGyver, in utero, counts his possessions: ten soft fingernails, a fine, potentially braidable hair covering everything, any number of already vestigial parts: the muscles of the ear, gills, the tail bone, the tiny appendix.
“History of MacGyver” is reprinted from Poetry Northwest.
Jason Whitmarsh earned his B.A. in mathematics from the University of Chicago and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Washington. His poems have appeared in many literary journals, including Yale Review, Harvard Review, Ploughshares,and Fence. His book, Tomorrow’s Living Room, won the 2009 May Swenson Poetry Award. He lives in Seattle with his wife and children.
Someday I’ll be like the prehistoric painter with a crooked finger
who left handprints on a rock face; remembered for making
a handicap into symbolism, threatened by oblivion every time
someone exhales. This is why I’d rather leave you breathless
than engage in conversation. This is how a spirit rattles chains.
Old gods challenged the imagination, visiting Earth like swans,
or else arriving like crepuscular rays, knowing dusk and dawn
to be the truest times of day. Lucretius believed all things
mattered, that even the least significant ideas were made up
of atoms. Great Caesar’s Ghost was just a film he sloughed off
like dry skin. All your recollections belong to someone else.
We know cicadas molt before they get their wings, leaving
flightless memories clinging to the trees. Lobsters must
feel the urge to come out of their shells. Maybe this is like
our need to be re-born. Maybe this is why we say we’re new
every seven years. But what is it with our interest in scars?
What about the impulse to apologize for what we can’t erase?
Captain Cook spied the sun through a state-of-the-art glass
and never discovered the secrets of Venus. But then, his sailors
returned from Polynesia with tattoos. Is it love, or the lack,
that makes us mark each other? Aeneas bore his father’s weight
in front of every conquering Greek. A microscope confirms
the wolf in every Border collie’s DNA. There’s a Trojan Horse
for you. There’s a little chimp in every Borderline personality.
Sometimes we channel our ancestors in the dining room
and wind up like F. Scott Fitzgerald in the garden eating dirt.
An Aborigine touching up ancient art will tell you spirits move
his hand. Like once I spoke to a man who said he was my dad
on a Ouija board. Once I read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians
under the influence of psilocybin. Some ghosts are better left
unread. Other ghosts are shadows of the most horrific things,
like the girl who survived My Lai pretending to be a corpse.
We can imagine so many angry ghosts. Maybe that’s why
Epicurus wanted us to believe death was the end of our days.
Maybe that’s why Yeats used his wife like a rotary phone
when he spoke with the dead. He imagined himself in death
as a mechanical bird. His readers would be voices speaking
his disembodied words. At dawn I can’t tell the difference
between horizon and the sea. Lucretius understood the ocean
rose to fill clouds with rain. It always rains in Gothic novels.
English ghosts pass through the wainscoting. All the ghosts
are haunting future ghosts. Farm hands who listened to voices
telling them they’d be better off if they bought the farm
are buried in the cemetery with the rest. If you drive at night
you might catch a glimpse. There’s a difference between
windrows and the woods. There’s a vine wrapping the wrought
iron fence. If you appreciate someone’s work, Lucretius said,
it really is a part of them that’s gone to your head.
“Ghosts” previously appeared in Cutbank 77.
John Wesley Horton (aka Johnny Horton) spends many summers teaching creative writing in Rome, Italy for the University of Washington. A New Englander by birth, he grew up in the Midwest and now lives and works in Seattle. He’s recently published poems in CutBank, Poetry Northwest, Borderlands, Notre Dame Review, Alive at the Center, and City of the Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry (U. of Iowa).
from Holy Land
I’m on a cloud floating by and I’ve gone mad but madness flows away in a tall shining work of Art and I’m standing in front of a fountain and the world’s ringing down through me and there are no fields of migrants mixing hair and bone into concrete. Trucks lined up and ready. Cups of cold coffee, a Rolex and a crucifix. A girl on a payphone begging.
This excerpt from Holy Land originally appeared in DMQ Review.
Rauan Klassnik‘s work has appeared in Typo 13, Coconut, Avatar Review, The Mississippi Review, The Kennessaw Review, The North American Review, No Tell Motel, Sentence, Caesura, Sleepingfish, MiPoesias and others. His first book, The Holy Land, was published by Black Ocean Press. His second book, The Moon’s Jaw, will appear in December, also from Black Ocean Press. He lives in Kirkland.