“Cultural Appropriation as an Attempt to Find Meaning and Escape Loneliness – A Grand Review of Noah Cicero’s Give it to the Grand Canyon” by Dale Brett

 

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To review Noah Cicero’s latest book, I went way back. Right back to the start. The Human War, The Condemned, Burning Babies… I wanted to see how far Noah had traveled. I wanted to see how far I had traveled. To re-visit those words that I eagerly consumed several years ago. When I heard there was a new Noah Cicero book coming out, I was crippled by a deep yearning to re-commence my viewing of Noah’s lifelong quest to show the beauty and pain of human existence through his words. With Noah, it always feels like hitting the play/pause button when I pick up his latest book, as if I am picking up where I left my favourite TV show, the honest voice warm and familiar. Give it to the Grand Canyon, his most recent offering published by the excellent A Philosophical Idiot, is no exception. 

Before critically engaging with Noah’s most recent text, as I said, let’s go back to the start. In The Human War, his first published book which came out in 2003, Noah writes: 

 

“Someday I will walk free again. 

I’ll walk in the desert of Arizona, smiling,

with a bottle of cold water.

I’ll laugh at these days… 

 

[I]’ll walk to the bottom of the Grand

Canyon. I’ll stand there like I’m in 

heaven. I’ll be strong and powerful

standing there with my feet in the

Colorado river.”  

 

More than a decade ago, when Noah the writer was still wallowing in suburban angst-ridden existentialism, he was already thinking about the themes central to his most recent novel. Fast-forward to the here and now and it is apparent that Noah is still obsessed by the mythical power of the Grand Canyon. He still believes it can take your pain away. He still writes about what it means to escape our reality and be at peace with what we have. Give it to the Grand Canyon is Noah’s magnum opus. His ‘full circle’ effort. A story of the protagonist’s, and one senses the author’s, journey across the globe that leads him back to where his adult life started, the Grand Canyon. A place where he first realised there was more to life than the mowed lawns and high school football games of his childhood in Ohio. 

“Culture in Ohio, was it even real? Men would mow the grass, the grass had to be mowed. The leaves fell in the fall, the men would rake the leaves and put them in piles in the backyard. Everyone had basements, some basements were made into extra living rooms, as in, rooms where people lived, watched television and played video games.” 

Noah’s works have always resonated with me. I have often felt an inherent, deep connection with his words when consumed by them. The scenes of his novels and poems have helped me learn to live in a white, middle class Western world knowing there are others that share my apprehension and anxiety. Like Noah, I also felt fundamentally lost growing up in a similar low to middle class suburb in a Western democracy where the local no-hope population was fixated on mortgages, marriage and making babies. Where the car wash and the flat screen television were considered true titans of culture. As Noah says in Give it to the Grand Canyon, he “couldn’t find a dream there” and neither could I. One displaced soul in the suburbs of the Anglofied northern hemisphere, one in the suburbs of the Anglofied southern hemisphere.  

Like Noah, I too escaped to live in Asia, an attempt to live more anonymously in a place where we could ‘opt out’ while still maintaining our self-esteem. A place where we could both test our nihilism, reduce external expectations and somewhat control our anxiety. As Noah writes: “In Korea they called me waeguk, in Arizona I became a bilagáana. At least I was something. In Ohio, I wasn’t anything but “that guy.” Replace the word ‘Ohio’ with ‘Victoria, Australia’ and that is pretty much how I felt growing up. Nothing more than “that guy.” 

Ever since finding Noah’s work at the height of the alt-lit boom whilst engaged in a creative writing minor at university, his words have always given me comfort that I am not the only one who feels entirely displaced by the consumer-culture of the West. His early works punctuated by existentialism and nihilism made me feel solidarity through our shared belief that the suburban dream of Western culture is not for everyone. His later works tinged with Buddhist and Navajo teachings made me feel hope that one can improve their seemingly incurable chronic depression by travel and learning from other cultures in an attempt to find yourself. Give it to the Grand Canyon maintains that motif of finding yourself through the lens of other cultures. Noah is here to tell you that even if you feel terribly alone at the top of this hopeless world, there are still people somewhere on earth to share this unbridled feeling with you. 

The journey of Give it to the Grand Canyon begins when a young man named Billy Cox crumbles and leaves everything in suburban Ohio behind to head out for the Grand Canyon, then California, then Portland, then Korea, then Cambodia, then back to the Grand Canyon. Anyone who is aware of Noah’s own private travels, both physical and mental, will obviously see the link between Billy Cox’s world and the author’s own in what could be considered a largely autobiographical text. After an absence of fifteen years, it is Billy Cox’s account of his second time living and working at the Grand Canyon that forms the bulk of this novel. 

Like most of Noah’s books, Give it to the Grand Canyon is a novel about cultural appropriation. Not the bad kind though. The kind where you don’t fit in very well with your own culture, and start to borrow learnings from other cultures, in an effort to find meaning in the world. Or perhaps just to feel a little less lonely. Reading Noah’s works over the years, I have always got the feeling that he is a writer that is striving to find beauty and meaning in a world where there often is none due to the banal, commodified culture we find ourselves in. Noah does this largely by exploring and interpreting other cultures in which he, and we in Western culture, can understand and make sense of other cultures. Buddhist, Taoist, Navajo and Hopi ideas are all prevalent in Give it to the Grand Canyon. These themes play on the mind of the protagonist and author consistently throughout. Though most white male writers of a ‘privileged’ background who attempt to explain the merits of other cultural beliefs fail, providing uncomfortable and insincere readings, Noah’s respectful and honest words merge differing cultures with his own heritage as a white, educated writer seamlessly. At no stage do you feel that Noah’s appropriation of these cultures into his thinking is disrespectful or negative. The reader accepts Noah’s presentation of these appropriations as necessary upgrades for a person who does not have the tools to function in modern society. Noah’s classic non-judgmental approach, which makes him such a relatable and likeable writer (and person), is fully on display here. 

Perhaps Noah’s message regarding cultural appropriation is most apt in a passage where the protagonist Billy Cox encounters a Haruki Murakami-infused artiodactyla apparition as his mind starts to blur deep into a hike to the heart of the Grand Canyon. In a nod to Herodotus, an image of a bighorn sheep manifests and makes a comparison between two happy men of disparate cultures in Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman statesman and philosopher, and Dazu Huike, the Second Patriarch of Zen. It is clear that these two figures represent the current mish-mash of Noah’s cultural legacy. 

Firstly, Marcus Tullius Cicero, bearing the same name as the author and representing the values of Noah’s Western childhood comprised of responsibility and conformity: 

“He believed in the beauty of each citizen, and how each citizen could contribute and make a strong commonwealth. He had a wife and children, he worked in society, he was a moral man. When the soldiers came to execute him, he didn’t complain, he didn’t plead for his life, he didn’t scorn the government for killing him even though he spent his whole life trying to make that government better.” 

Secondly, Dazu Huike, representing all Noah’s learnings and appropriations of culture that have contributed to his being and ‘career’ as a writer: 

“He had no wife, no children, he had no money and never had any power. He spent his life seeking and perfecting his enlightenment. And spent his later years spreading the dharma, not waging wars and getting into controversies.”

The message at the culmination of this vision for Billy Cox is that both these men, the one that represents responsibility and conformity and the one that represents revolution and virtue “knew how to live and how to die, one for society and one for enlightenment.” At this point, Billy Cox smiles. One gets the sense that Billy Cox, and by extension Noah Cicero, have come to terms that both genetic lineage and appropriation of other cultural values are equally important parts of us. That this is not a negative, but something unavoidable we must accept to live out our days in this hypercapitalist shitstorm without being drowned in chronic depression. 

Noah’s writing has also changed, and improved, since the aforementioned early works outlined at the beginning of this review. In Give it to the Grand Canyon, Noah’s previous anger and resentment regarding existence have been replaced with a calming, zen-like attitude. His musings less political now, his thoughts more passive and introspective as he matures to complete a full transition to bipolar cowboy. Noah has always been considered a minimalist writer, however, downloading mindful Buddhist, Taoist and Navajo teachings to his brain have resulted in even further refinement to his style and greater clarity of his prose, ridding the text of any unnecessary detritus. Only Noah himself would know if this distillation of content is a conscious or subconscious effort. 

Either way, throughout the novel, Noah’s words sparkle with lucidity. Each sentence and word crafted in the present – a precise passage for the reader to follow the signposts to the here and now. The magnified clarity and sparseness of Noah’s writing, and by extension Billy Cox’s actions, come across as an attempt to escape their collective past, to focus entirely on the present. Nowhere is this more apparent than a scene in which Noah describes a 4th of July party at the Grand Canyon’s infamous Victor Hall, where a native American tells a drunken story of his time during the Vietnam War where he recalls burning babies. There is an almost exact replica of this story in The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. I, put out by the dearly missed Lazy Fascist Press. If you wish to see how far Noah’s writing has come, it is a rewarding experience to read these accounts of virtually the same story side-by-side. A void of fifteen years of loneliness, learning and acceptance squeezed in between. 

Ultimately, Give it to the Grand Canyon is a story of isolation, but also a story of intimacy. A story of people from various cultural backgrounds and demographics moving to a place they believe will make their pain go away. The pain of lost love, the pain of responsibility, the pain of waking up every day knowing you cannot meet expectations. Give it to the Grand Canyon is about trying to find yourself in an increasingly unfamiliar world. As Billy Cox says when he returns to the Grand Canyon for the first time since he was a teenager: “I knew the feeling of trying to adjust yourself, of trying to get the world aligned.” 

Billy Cox must appropriate culture to become unified with other ostracised misfits regardless of where they are from. The novel highlights the importance of finding people to relate to in a world where buying things is increasingly our only shared identity. Billy Cox, and the other characters in the novel, discover this realisation while living and working ordinary lives at the Grand Canyon. 

“We all knew why we were there, we didn’t have to worry anymore… [W]e’d saved up our money, we’d counted our pennies, we’d put things on credit cards that we shouldn’t have, and we’d taken long uncomfortable plane rides, but we got there, we got to the rim of the Grand Canyon.” 

Noah even takes the concept of cultural appropriation one step further, closer to something akin to ‘cultural unification’. In that virtually almost all culture is creeping closer and closer to an inevitable singularity of shopping malls, iPhones and skyscrapers regardless of ideology and geography. This is most evident in a passage between Billy Cox and Kaja, a beautiful Polish girl that he slowly builds a relationship with at the Canyon. 

“Kaja would say, “Everyone is same.” I would reply, “But there are cultural differences,” and she would reply, “Everyone is same.” She didn’t have a grand theory on why everyone was the same, as far as she would go was, “I’ve been to several countries, everyone is same.”

It is through these characters from various parts of the world that Billy Cox begins to comprehend that we are, indeed, all the same in this globalised world. That we all feel a little lonely. That we all feel a little anxiety. That we all stare into the terminal cultural abyss together as one. That we need to realise and accept all of the historical learnings from culture and travel that have been part of our existence – the good, the bad, the blissfully indifferent. 

As Noah says, the future of our culture is already inside of us, whether appropriated or whether inherited: “Kaja was young, naturally she still had naivety and innocence, but just like the young Taiwanese women, the young Filipino women, the young Jamaican women, and the young Navajo women, the future of her culture was inside them.”

Give it to the Grand Canyon lays bare the paradox that we are all different, but all alike. We have so many things we fixate on wanting to be, but we never desire to wake up and be ourselves. Like the characters in Give it to the Grand Canyon, like Noah Cicero, like Dale Brett, we need to learn to be ourselves, from all of our global learnings, from all of our travels. We need to learn how to let things go and be fine with them. 

To collectively declare there is no reason to exist and be okay with it. 

To achieve transcendence, you don’t need a meditation app. You don’t need to visit the Grand Canyon. You just need this latest novel from Noah Cicero. These words will help you learn to be okay with yourself.  

 

you can snag a copy of this beautiful book here!

 

Dale Brett is a writer and artist from Melbourne, Australia. 
He is interested in exploring the melancholic malaise and technological ennui of the 21st century. His work has been featured on Burning House Press, Surfaces.cx, Misery Tourism, Expat Press and Nu Lit Mag. Hypertextual artifacts found @_blackzodiac.

“Mind Decay” by J.T. Edwards

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Rage was wafting in my mind as the birds chirped gayly in the evening air. I popped an antihistamine and smoked a joint as I mourned the passing of my hamster. I lit a cigarette as the neighbor’s dogs were grating on my nerves, barking like possessed banshees.

I leaned forward. Swinging my head back and forth in a head-banging like fashion. Bashing my forehead into the patio table until my ears were ringing just how I like them. The neighbors across the street were watching me with binoculars. I know they were. They are always watching.

It was dark outside then. The crickets were chirping. I could smell violence in the air. I checked The Drudge Report on my phone because I hate myself.

17 DEAD; SHOOTING IN NY SUSHI BAR

I tossed the phone from my porch in disgust. I heard it land softly in some tall grass. I should have just stomped it. I sat in darkness seething, praying for a sudden impact event as the moon mounted the darkness like a necrophiliac on a fresh corpse.

A nearby street lamp turned my porch into a lighted stage. I disrobed and climbed atop the patio table. The night was a foul whore. The cool air nipped at my testicles. I cursed in unending blood curdling screams to drown out the wailing dogs next door. The neighbors were surely entertained.

Nothing is ever solved.

I can hear the feeble minded primates copulating in the bushes. We can only hope that the coming war blossoms into nuclear suicide.

Until then I’ll sit here under constant surveillance. As low as a man can be; invoking murder fantasies of disemboweling the earth with a sharpened piece of mammoth bone. Watching Mother Gaia bleed out from afar as I drift into the sun, chain-smoking cheap cigarettes the whole way.

 

J.T. Edwards is a misanthropic hilljack hailing from the Southern Appalachia. He’s had poetry published in Spectral Realms. You can find him on twitter @JT2688

2 Poems by Frank Karioris

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Sometimes, life is really good

 

Sometimes, life is really good.
A warm and sunny late spring early evening.

The roof is the perfect place to have a beer. Overlooking
the neighborhood, all its peoples,
                                                     buildings, places.

The massive tree at the edge of the parking lot looks fuller
from up here, two red birds flirt
                                                     among its branches.

The church bell’s ring, across the railroad, rings a little clearer
from this height. Street noise a faint but intermittent hum.

The fire truck’s siren echoes on all sides; two of them.
converging towards an unknown point;

yet the echo still trembles through the air, song birds
sing for each other, awaiting their meeting.

 

 

♦◊♦

 

Awning

 

Tiny tears in the awning look like stars
raining down.

Shedding cloth and cloak for heaven’s
lights.

Even the rain falls through it like angelic
drops of joy

that is the way that the tears in the awning
remind me

of the tears in my self that need to be mended,
rain washes it all away.

 

Frank G. Karioris (he/they/him/them) is a writer and educator based in Pittsburgh whose writing addresses issues of friendship, masculinity, sexuality, and gender. Their work has appeared in wide ranging publications, including the Hong Kong Review of Books, Burning House Press, Truth-Out, Chantarelle’s Notebook, Maudlin House, and the Berlin Review of Books.

“Today, I Was Someone Else” by Dale Brett

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Today, I didn’t go to work. Decided I didn’t want to couldn’t bear to.

My wife went to school. Our children went to childcare.

I drove to the mall and parked in the section labelled ‘pram parking’.

I have booster seats. Shhh – don’t be concerned for me. No one will ever know. 

There is twenty dollars in my wallet. I want to buy something artistic. Something ‘fulfilling’. Something tangible that I can hold devour and consume.

I am also hungry. But I will save the twenty dollar note for material goods. I can buy food later with the small amount of zeroes and ones remaining on the debit card of our joint bank account.

My wife says: Food is acceptable. Food is permitted. Food is good. 

She also says: Art, music, books… These things are not permitted. They are not okay. They do not help me raise a young family.

I don’t know why one is approved and the other is not.

People need both equally to survive.

But I decide to silently submit to her view and opt to purchase a compact disc with the legal tender I hold, without a digital trace.

That’s right. I have learned how to avoid questions.   

She is probably right, I don’t need to buy these things. Maybe. 

I decide to eat lunch at TGIF. Not because I like the food, not because it is cost-effective – just because I want to feel like someone else. Someone who likes to eat shit and spend their disposable income at a burger franchise from America in the middle of a one-in-a-million suburban wasteland in metropolitan Australia.

I also feel the aesthetic, the vibe, accompany the contents of the book I am reading best. And, at this moment, these are important factors when choosing a venue to eat.

Yes, there is something wrong with me. Maybe.

After I finish my meal, I pay my bill and walk to the elevator. A middle-aged man entering a gym nearby stops me.

 

—How’s the food here?

Um.

—Oh, sorry – do you work here?

No, I don’t work here.

—Oh, okay then. I never eat here. How’s the food?

Why? What do you mean?

—I mean, are the meals good or just okay?

Um. It’s okay.

Just a meal?

Just a meal.

 


The man turns and leaves through the sliding doors of the gymnasium. He will never know the truth during his workout.

It was not just a meal, it was a one-time experience necessary to avert personal crisis.

But how do you tell someone you went to lunch at a simulacrum of a diner from the other side of the world out of nostalgia, because of its shitty aesthetics, because you wanted to pretend you were someone else?

To tell someone you want to feel something alien, have an out-of-body experience, be sent back in time to an era when you had no responsibility – people don’t want to hear these words.

They want to hear that the food is okay.

They want to hear that life is more than just a meal.

They want to hear your recommendations on how to rid themselves of their hard-earned.  

I get back in the car. I drive to the doctor to get a medical certificate. Tell some lies. Spread some obligatory evils to remain employed. I forget to even take the CD out of the packaging and put it on the stereo in the car. The cellophane wrap still intact. Most likely neglected for weeks. Another trivial object destined for the scrap heap of my compulsion.

I guess my wife is right. I don’t need to buy these things. But maybe I do, those times when I try to be someone else.

 

Dale Brett is a writer and artist from Melbourne, Australia. 
He is interested in exploring the melancholic malaise and technological ennui of the 21st century. His work has been featured on Burning House Press, Surfaces.cx, Misery Tourism, Expat Press and Nu Lit Mag. Hypertextual artifacts found @_blackzodiac.

“Not going home” by Graham Irvin

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A man walked into the internet cafe. Inside the mall. Brown carpet. The walls were wood paneling. The man paid the cashier for an hour. He sat in front of a thick computer. He watched a video somewhere online. His niece blew out candles on a cake. She pushed yellow and brown handfuls into her mouth. It could have been his granddaughter. There were people talking in the video. He didn’t recognize the voices. He wore an unwashed felt hat. It smelled like a body. He had on tall leather boots that curled at the toes. He watched videos for songs he used to know. He felt soulless. Nothing made sense anymore. Sound was wrong. It felt like having a conversation. He opened a chat window and sent a message to a name. He asked the name what it was wearing. He told the name what to do. He told the name what he would do. His legs ached like a balloon. His time ran out. The man walked to the food court. He watched a boy sitting at a table. The boy moved like a glitch. He had a yellow crust around his mouth and nose. He made a sound like an engine starting. He smelled more like a body than anyone else. He smiled the way a baby laughed. The man wanted to take away the thing that made him happy. He wanted to wade in the boy’s body smell until he was sick. The man stood in line for food. There was sand in the tiles on the floor. A woman stood in front of him. She had a mushroom tattooed on her ankle. Her feet glowed like jewelry. Everyone stepped forward. The space around the woman smelled animal. Everyone needed a shower. Something had to wash off. He sat down with his plate. His insides hurt like a clock. Like his skin could bleed with a touch. He took the phone out of his pocket. There was a picture of the girl from the video when he opened it. He didn’t know the numbers to call anymore. Conversation was a sickness. A spoon scraped out the words in his head. The shapes in front of him looked all wrong. He wasn’t hungry anymore. Something sharp was wrapped in plastic on the table. He felt everyone dare him to use it. He was an exhibit in a zoo. The lights in the parking lot turned off. Someone with a mop said lift your feet. The man stared at the nothing of their face. He felt like the last human left. He walked outside. He moved toward home.

♦◊♦

Mom worked at the hospice behind main street. Everyone was dying. She was on second shift feeding the world pain medicine. It was almost dinner. I walked into her office and got on the computer. I opened a chat window. No one good was on. I tried anyway. TexasMac68 sent a message. I replied. I told him I just got home from school. I told him I’m wearing a white shirt and boxers. He told me ‘touch yourself’. He asked me are you wearing the cowboy boots? It felt like a joke. Like he wasn’t real. I thought he was making fun of me. I told him I’m wearing brown ones. I told him they smell like bodies in a locker room. I told him I’m taking everything off except the boots. He sent photos of a man standing in front of a red barn. He sent a link to a western website. He told me these are the ones I’m wearing now. It was starting to get good. He signed off without saying goodbye. I walked into my bedroom. I pulled a bag out of my desk. I packed a bowl and put it in my pocket. The neighbor mowed his grass. He wore clear glasses so rocks couldn’t blind him. He looked asleep. I couldn’t smoke with him outside. I wanted the mower blades to fire rocks into his memories. I drove to the park by the YMCA. Kids stood in the creek that cut through the park. The water was the color of pennies and eye glitter. Crawfish hid in the corners of the creek. Their claws made the kids scream. There was a group party at a picnic table. A woman cut a slice of cake. There were kids and other women around her. She gave the cake to a little girl. I walked into the bathroom. It smelled like shit and chlorine. Like a locker room. I put the lighter up to the bowl. I held in the smoke until it came out invisible. I walked back out fast. I did not look at the party. I wanted them to forget me. My car was surrounded by activity buses. I couldn’t unlock the door. The key didn’t fit and then it did. I felt like a thief. My brain was a warzone. I couldn’t go home. Music made it worse. Like scalpels cutting through my jaw. Like chewing a battery. It started to get dark. I drove to the thrift store downtown. The ceiling was too high. The lights made my eyes boil. Everything smelled like a hospital. Everyone died in their clothing. Every movie played blue over a cadaver’s face. The shoes were ancient and covered in dust. I thought about a locker room again. Opening the metal door and finding shoes without a body. There was a pair of black cowboy boots. With metal toe caps and twirls etched in. Roses embroidered up the ankles. I pushed my foot inside. My mood felt destroyed. It felt like punishment. I laughed hot tears down my face. I wanted to wear them and nothing else. I wanted to look so boring. Like I was in on the joke. The cashier didn’t look at me. He wouldn’t make me real. He put the boots in a bag. I drove back home. I through the bag on my bed. I took everything off. Mom was still at work. I stared at myself in her closet mirror. I felt tall and thin. I felt pretty. I got back on the computer. TexasMac68 wasn’t there. I sent him a message anyway. I told him I’m wearing the boots. I told him for real this time. They look so good. I can send a picture. He didn’t respond.

♦◊♦

The road was orange and black. The road was grey and blonde. Two orbs smaller than the night. Everything felt like a dream. Like she was just waking up. The woman’s head was heavier than the sun. She kept watching her hands on the steering wheel. Nothing else made sense. She had to get home. She was getting home. She was almost home. The car drove itself. Floating in a sea of confidence. The sidewalk split her front tire. Her neck pulled left then right. Something big came across the windshield. The car moved over it. It broke fast under the car. Everything stopped hard. Forked by a street light. There was a smell like ozone. Her ears kept ringing. Like muffled crying. Nothing worked. The engine didn’t turn over. Smoke like a blanket. There was red on the windshield. Someone stood outside across the street. Their body small from her window. They stared at something on the ground. A piece of the man. The woman crawled out of her car. There was more. Behind. His legs wrapped like a wire. One boot missing. She couldn’t see his face. It was somewhere in the grass. His hat still nearby. The person across the street held a phone. They described the car. The man. The woman said no. Her insides turned hot. She couldn’t move quick enough. There was something wrong in her legs. She couldn’t look at them. She wanted to go back to sleep. To be home again. She thought I can still make it. If I can just get away from the road. Hide until it’s over. Her palm was on a piece of the man. It felt like sponge cake. It was still warm. It felt like a kitten purring. She pulled the bag from her pocket. Tried to make it as small as possible. It tasted like pollen and sweat. Plastic stuck to the sides of her mouth. Tears moved down her face. The bag dropped into her stomach. The ground turned red and blue. She was pulled off the ground. Someone in black put handcuffs on the woman. She watched people take photos of the man across the road. People in white picked up his pieces. They put him into a bag. Then more people. Vans and cameras and microphones. Someone was standing by the woman’s window. Screaming. Her mouth moved without sound. Crying. The people with the cameras asked questions. She talked about the woman in the handcuffs. She said I hope she dies slow for what she did. He didn’t deserve this. He was good to our children. It’s all gone. She deserves to rot. Forever. No sunlight. She’s less than. Human. Everything I love. Gone. The cameras and microphones pulled away. The vans left. The car that the woman sat in pulled away. The person driving said that’s it for you. They’re going to tear you apart. The woman didn’t feel like crying. She started to cry. Deep down there was warmth. They’re going to tear you apart.

 

Graham Irvin lives in North Carolina. His prose has appeared in Apathy Press, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Philosophical Idiot. His poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in Punk Lit Press, Philosophical Idiot, Maudlin House, and Soft Cartel.  Follow him on twitter @grahamjirvin.

“Jazz Manouche” by Patricia Bidar

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I was headed into the main restaurant to meet my girl Conchett’. But I spied an open door. When a door’s badly shut, or propped with a chair or a matchbook, I need to take a look.

Inside sat half a dozen ladies, in a horseshoe configuration. A meeting of some kind. In the door I pop, as they’re winding down their flag salute. The head lady waves me over. She’s in a cream-colored turtleneck and plaid slacks. Crinkly eyes from smiling a lot. The two at the curve of the horseshoe make room for me between them.

I’d lost my glasses, so I subordinated myself to them. I had to, since I couldn’t see! I soon had one of them reading me the list of sandwiches while her friend related the story of her recent trip to Austin, New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee.

In these situations, you follow a girl’s lead. I told them I wouldn’t mind heading off on one of those senior citizen trips. You only have to be 50 to get in on those dances and movie nights and getaways in our town.

How old do you think I look?

This wine bar has a hundred types of vino lined up. Framed photos of Django Reinhardt. Red wallpaper. Sprightly jazz manouche playing. None of the ladies is ordering up any wine, so I follow their leads and sip ice water.

Then the first sister says, we are all sorry as can be about Diane. I look around and at blurry lady shapes. What the hell is happening right now?

“I can hardly think about it,” I manage and hang my head. Then I get it. Something has happened to their friend. And her name was Diane. I am all right. I’ve got money in my pocket. A sexy Sicilian waiting for me in the restaurant. I am fine.

But I need to tell you. My first love’s name was Diane. A nice girl with a ponytail and a taste for the wilder life. I was already in my twenties when she and I met at the bank where she worked as a teller. Younger people don’t believe we used to smoke everywhere back then. Banks, markets, theatres. But it wasn’t a regular cigarette I slipped to Diane.

She rang my bell at ten that night. She’d gotten shitcanned from her job at the bank. When the bell rang, I was painting. My heart swimming in syrup, the room awash in the stink of gesso and paint and a man’s body.

Well, she and I dove for each other like Stanley and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. You know that scene where he is hollering for her in the rain and she runs out and he picks her up high against him and she runs her nails hard and deep on his wet skin. Diane and I didn’t leave my room for four days. My dealer brought us the heroin and big to-go bucket of soup.

I knew Conchett’ wouldn’t wait. She is not a girl you leave to her own devices. Still, I stayed there in the wine bar, fully committed to my BLT and water goblet and the ladies. I sat and took in stories of their sweet Diane and all she meant to them.

I also learned about the man she met who she thought would give her a golden second life, but that he’d turned out to be a rat and a creep. And one shitty thing had led to another and then she swallowed a bottle of pills.

My two new lady friends, one on either side, held me when I buckled, crying.

I know my Diane was years ago and another person entirely. It’s just that I learned this thing and I learned it with finality: The grief of women this age, it comes to me, is a thing of melancholy. Bigger than a work of art.

It underlies their stories, their outfits and manicures and anecdotes about getaways. The laugh lines, the facing-it-all-by-not-drinking. Or by drinking. A woman’s long history of loss and sacrifice particularly for their children and the men they have loved.

The crinkly eyes. The smiles. The jazz. All of it.

 

Patricia Q. Bidar is a native Californian with roots in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. She is a former fiction reader for Northwest Review, and alum of the UC Davis graduate writing program. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sou’wester, Wigleaf, The Citron Review, Jellyfish Review, Barren Literary Magazine, Soft Cartel and Okay Donkey, among other places. In addition to writing fiction, Patricia serves as a writer for progressive national and regional nonprofit organizations.

 

Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar.

“$200 Super Sandwich” by Christine Alexander

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“I’m a newlywed and an insurance secretary and I live

in San Fernando Valley.”

If I were a different girl, with a different face, in a different time

that might’ve been me

Nestled happily into obscurity, my fifteen minutes in matching sweatshirts

on Supermarket Sweep.

I am yanking hairs from my face in the Star Market parking lot

I am meeting a man who’ll give me some money

I am untethered by motherhood,

plumes of venomous smoke swirling around the front seat

But you want a woman you can take care of things.

I can pose prettily, I can arch my back willingly

I say to you “fill me,” and I mean it.

She is inside filling up the cart

She is making you a $200 Super Sandwich

But I know you’ll still be hungry.

 

Christine Alexander is a writer from Gloucester, MA. Her work has appeared in Barren Magazine, The Penmen Review, and High Shelf Press. 
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