Putin, You’re Such a Beefcake



Bare-chested roofer

         posed by a Siberian river with your fishing rod

                  next to cliffs majestic as crumbling pyramids.

 Make us scream, make lovers scream

          we want you, Vladimir, like ivy

          wants to smother mausoleums.

          Sweep us off our feet with your sweeping side kick,

          squat in camouflage pants for crotch shots,

          let us chew the skin off your creamy KGB boots,

          know we’ll swallow no matter what, even unto arsenic—

 we’ll do it, boyfriend. Raise the vodka and Kool-Aid

          to toast your strapping chesticles

                   illuminated in August on a gallant stallion.

          Please strip off your shirt again in September.

 We need your sexy Bolshevism on our pin-up calendar.      

With regards to the Post Office

Two hundred copies of Issue 35, Kestrel, Spring 2016, arrived at Fairmont State University to the temporary home of the Language and Literature Department on Friday, July 22. On Monday, editor-in-chief Donna Long and I met to begin processing the mailing. We ran into some obstacles, including the wrong size labels, and desperately missed our intern, Velicia, who was out of town visiting family. We finally succeeded in mailing contributor copies. We agreed that on Wednesday we would meet again to send out subscriber copies and copies to Kestrel supporters.

The subscriber labels list was even trickier to format and print, so Donna worked on that while I did the hands-on business: stuff the envelopes, write “Book Rate” in permanent marker on each envelope (we need a stamp, it’s on the office shopping list), and then slap on return address labels.

I must admit, it felt time-consuming to spend hours processing a mass mailing. It’s repetitive labor. I had to stand and stretch now and then to ease my poor posture from bending over envelopes. It made me ponder my purpose in life, and how proud I was of our recent issue, including an essay by West Virginia writer Jorn Earl Otte that introduced me to the Drake Equation, a mathematical formula that proves that life on other planets is possible. It was amazing, like reading A Brief History of Time and realizing the power of narrative.

Donna finally managed to print the stinking labels just as I finished the envelopes. As we affixed the subscriber labels, it was a welcome surprise to recognize every name, and to think of the people behind the names who read Kestrel and attend Celebrations, who care about literature and poetry and art. Processing a mass mailing of a literary journal is more than tedious labor; it’s a thread in the connection that makes a community of thinkers and readers separated by distance but close in mind. Therein, the pleasure lies.

“Because the Night”: A Tribute to the Songs & Poetry of Patti Smith

A poetry friend from New York posted an event on fb that caught my eye. It was a tribute concert for the songs and poetry of Patti Smith, to take place in Brooklyn on April 29 at Union Hall in Park Slope, with tickets costing only $10.

I shared the event with my dear friend Maggie. Maggie is a lifelong admirer of Smith and also of New York City, where she wandered the streets as an adolescent in the 90s while visiting her aunts who were working professionals with apartments. Maggie introduced me to Smith’s memoirs, Just Kids and M Train, narratives I fell in love with for their motifs and structures, and for Smith’s commitment to the art of everyday life and living.

We decided we had to attend the Tribute. We got a room at the Union Hotel, a renovated space modern, comfortable, and close to the venue, a good thing since the weather was terrible, a wicked wind, intermittent rain, and barely 50 degrees. The best part was that it’s only six hours to drive from Fairmont, WV to Brooklyn, and that street parking there is FREE. We had parking luck, snagging a spot right in front of our lodgings.

The night of the Tribute, we arrived early at Union Hall, a renovated warehouse with fireplaces, a library, two indoor bocce courts, outdoor garden seating, and a downstairs bar where the event took place. The Tribute was produced by Heather Eatman, a friend of Smith’s, as were many of the performers. It was standing room only in the downstairs bar, with a lineup of musicians and poets that made tired feet worthwhile.

Tammy Faye Starlight, a blonde stage performer who appeared in the movie Pootie Tang (2001), opened with a raucous chorus of “Gloria.” At one point, she came into the audience and singled Maggie out to dance with.  All of the performers were excellent, including my poet friend, Puma Perl, whose reading of the poem “Wave” made me forget I had a body. Queen Esther’s minimalist approach to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was both a tribute to Smith and purely original. When Benjamin Cartel sang “Because the Night,” I had to dance to the rhythm. The final song, “People Have the Power,” was enjoined by all the performers gathered onstage. There were other poems, other songs, the event lasting almost three hours.

Released afterward into the night, we ran into Puma and her friend, Joe Sztabnik, at a food truck that served coffee on the corner. It made me happy that she remembered me from a poetry reading in Soho in October, 2010. She and Joe asked what we thought of the Tribute. We both assured her we loved it, though I complained about the weather and said, “We have to get to the hotel before it rains again.”

Puma said, “I’ll tell you. People don’t come to New York for the weather.” I realized she was right.

“Love Lets Us Down” named Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards Finalist

Today, All Nations Press is pleased to announce Love Lets Us Down has been recognized as a finalist in the 18th annual Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. Here is the complete list:


Love Lets Us Down is a finalist in Adult Literary Fiction.

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd. In the next three months, a panel of more than 100 volunteer librarians and booksellers will determine the winners in 63 categories based on their experience with readers and patrons.

“The 2015 INDIEFAB finalist selection process is as inspiring as it is rigorous,” said Victoria Sutherland, publisher of Foreword Reviews. “The strength of this list of finalists is further proof that small, independent publishers are taking their rightful place as the new driving force of the entire publishing industry.”

Foreword Reviews will celebrate the winners during a program at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida in June. We will also name the Editor’s Choice Prize 2015 for Fiction, Nonfiction and Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Publisher of the Year Award during the presentation.

Death bed wishes and “As I Lay Dying”


When I first read As I Lay Dying, I fell in love with its unusual structure and semiotics, which made the novel puzzling in the best possible way. The story is told by fifteen different voices, an agonistics of expression that creates some characters as reprehensible, some as sympathetic, others as enigmas or pitiable, some as pious, some as hard-hearted, and all of them as self-serving.

The plot itself is simple enough: Addie Bundren is dying and wants to be buried in her hometown, Jefferson. Each family member has a motive for honoring or resisting the request; ultimately, the journey is made, though not without extravagant hardship and suffering.

Anse Bundren, Addie’s husband, is one of the more reprehensible characters in the novel, maybe in all of literature. Addie’s death bed wish is honored by her husband, Anse, because he wants new false teeth and a new wife, and he knows he can acquire them in Jefferson. He appears without grief at his wife’s passing. Her death seems mere currency for Anse to trade for sympathy in his WASP agrarian community, one that indulges in funeral gatherings and ritual mourning.

I wonder if Addie’s loss ever catches up to Anse. Is there a moment in the future, beyond the novel, when he will remember Addie and miss her with a pang of grief so sharp he cries out or drops to his knees? What if Anse feels compelled to visit her grave? How often will he make the journey to Jefferson?

In Love Lets Us Down, the character of Horace Benford has honored his wife’s death bed request to be buried near Indianapolis in her extended family’s plot, which is two hundred miles away from where he lives outside Chicago. Horace is eighty-two years old. Due to his own health issues, he has previously been unable to make the drive to Indianapolis to visit his wife’s grave with flowers. He finally makes the trip as he reflects on their marriage. He believes he was a good husband even though he was a serial cheater, that he couldn’t have “loved Dorothy more.” But was he a good husband, the best he could be in all possible worlds? Dorothy stayed with him until the end, just like Addie stayed with Anse.

Me and Emily Dickinson

So many writers have responded to the poems and person of Emily Dickinson that it seems extravagant, even self-indulgent, to add a word. And yet her poems have touched me as a reader, writer, and thinker, enhancing my understanding of the world in ways permanent and profound. One thing she made clear to me is the transparent dialectic that imagines life after death.

My favorite afterlife poem is #479, an eternal carriage ride around the earth with a civil coachman driving the horses (there are worst versions of what happens when we die). One joy for me is the poetic turn between the 3rd and 4th stanzas. The speaker has observed from the carriage window the stages of life: childhood and its rules of play, an adulthood like attentive grain, and old age like the setting sun.

But the relationship between the sun and the carriage is revised immediately in the first line of the 4th stanza: “Or rather—He passed Us—.” The carriage moves slower than earth’s rotation that hides and reveals the sun. Perhaps the carriage barely moves at all, an inch, a centimeter, a day. What does time matter in eternity anyway? Nature continues its cycles relentlessly, while time is set free.

A similar understanding of eternity is essential in the opening chapter of Love Lets Us Down. When newlyweds Dorissa and Don Millard die tragically on their honeymoon night, their remains take forty years to travel three-quarters of a mile to the Meridian Inn, where they had a reservation. The speed they establish, twenty-three-thousandths of an inch per minute, approximately three-and-a-quarter inches a day, is the same length as the average flaccid penis. At least that’s what a friend told me.

Other Dickinson poems that are part of the afterlife dialectic include #445, #519, and #591, and are worth taking a look at.

First trip to New Orleans

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          In March of 2002, nine writers and poets traveled to New Orleans. We rented a house just off Rampart. My husband and I took the smallest suite, while the men took the other suite downstairs, and the women had the entire upper floor. The house had a second-floor balcony just wide enough to sit down with your legs crossed. We walked everywhere we went, all the way to St. Charles Avenue and back to the Quarter, up and down Canal Street, and to Saint Louis Cemetery #1 to see the grave of Marie Laveau.

New Orleans felt magic to me. Its sensory landscape powered my walking: an umami scent from an alley, glittering beads in spring trees, the twang of a washboard street band. I felt overwhelmingly charmed and greedy, like I was taking pleasure from the city without returning the favor. I began to drop dollar bills near street corners where I was sure someone would find them.  

The mausoleum of Madame Laveau had been turned into a hands-on shrine, crude Xs canceling each other out on its walls, and its small plot covered with offerings, faded plastic flowers, beads, cups of water, a brand new cigar. Near the edge, I saw a small shard of pottery, what had once been part of a decorative clay pot. The shard had an intricate beaded design, as if some ancient Etruscan had rolled small pieces of wet clay between her fingers and then pressed them into a line.

I lusted after the pottery shard because it had been given to honor Marie Laveau. I felt compelled to take it. But I knew I had to leave something in return or my desire might get me cursed. I found a brand new tube of lipstick that I had bought for the trip and placed it on the ground with the other offerings. I picked up the shard and imagined its energy, ceremony twined with decay.

The small piece of pottery lives on my kitchen window sill where the morning sun touches it even in winter. I don’t worry that a thief will break in and steal it. Its looks do not reveal its value.