Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina
Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina
I HAVE REGURGITATED NOT ONE TRANSFORMATION
I have been feeling
very much like a worm, lately.
Small and writhing,
need to be beneath
dirt, a larger filth.
To roll in silt, to avoid
the pull of light, some
Very much a deeper
soft round and
pink, laid out in loam.
For Now I Think of Teeth
I have always wondered
about wearing the dead.
Hair lockets, mourning rings.
But have you hung the teeth?
Have they rattled around your neck?
Pulling myself apart, I should like
to give my teeth to my mother,
each split in half,
to be seeded and sown.
If someone should dance in my skin,
let it un-fit them.
Emily is a graduate student and bookseller in Northern California.
find her on twitter and instagram: @johnbrownsbabe
A steakhouse parking lot, first date, first dom
will ask to tickle. You’ll cooperate —
a subtle nod, half-closed eyelids. His palms
first touch your trembling ribs. Breathe against, wait,
until fingertips pry paroxysms,
open thighs, one hand around a throat, can’t
cum until you will comply — conditions:
you are a pleasure, denied, he may grant,
unexclusively, to you — and then some
friends. You could learn to like it or you can
hold it in behind a cervix fingers strum
numb. We are fucking happy. Understand?
A protocol practiced, parking lots before,
brings college girls to his living room floor.
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net & Rhysling nominated poet from Pensacola and a sonnet stalker. Her sonnets have stalked magazines like Five: 2: One, Yes, Glass, Luna Luna, Occulum, Drunk Monkeys, and other places. She is the author of eleven books of poetry including Pink Plastic House (Maverick Duck Press), Puritan U (Rhythm & Bones Press) and Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir (The Hedgehog Poetry Press) and the forthcoming Flutter: Southern Gothic Fever Dream (TwistiT Press, 2020) and Dewy Decimals (Arkay Artists, 2020).
Follow her on Twitter: @lolaandjolie
and her website (kristingarth.com)
An early scene in this book tests the reader. Jordan and Robert are sitting on a bench discussing what a Cobb salad is when someone walks by yelling about “horrible marketing.” Jordan asks Robert if he can imagine “getting upset over horrible marketing.” Robert says he feels like “Jesus on the cross.” It’s a very funny exchange, indicative of the way real sentiment in this generation can only be expressed boiled down through a joke. If you do not know who is walking by, if you can’t picture the dude on his cellphone yelling about horrible marketing, you’re going to have a hard time understanding what is going on in this book. Things are so divided right now, as the cliché goes, that there are people who don’t understand—who couldn’t even comprehend—that the horrible marketing guy is the disaster looming over the end of this book and these characters. There are people who would be unable to understand that this book isn’t about a descent into chaos, or about how crazy and nihilistic young people are nowadays, this book is about the time right before you descend into chaos, right before you become a nihilist and start to care about something like marketing. All of which is to say: this is a book about right before you enter the real world.
College Novel is also a book about bullshitting. Built episodically, almost like a sitcom, it moves along primarily through dialog, with most scenes revolving around little more than a collection of characters doing drugs or drinking, packed with inside jokes and irony. The characters, often in various states of laying around on the floor, talk about wanting to die at Six Flags, whether they need more beer, joining ISIS, and the Scrubs actor Zach Braff. If the dialog had not been so funny and masterfully translated to text, this book probably wouldn’t have worked at all. I don’t know how you create such random dialog so specifically. I can only think that Blake must have recordings of him and his friends talking, because despite knowing and understanding this language of nonsense these characters use, I couldn’t even begin to recall it or know where to start when writing it. It is the most impressive aspect of this book, and also its moral mirror.
Beyond the dialog and these scenes the plot is spare, sort of leading up to Jordan graduating college and centering primarily on which character he should date. But, like a sitcom, a larger picture comes out of such nothingness. What comes out of this book is an excellent depiction of what almost being an adult is like for a lot of young people right now. And that’s because a lot of young people right now are also just bullshitting.
But, again, this book isn’t about nihilism. There’s still a meaning within so much bullshit. People are concerned about all the bullshitting young people do nowadays, especially young white people, and there are certainly places where the bullshitting is an edgy vacuum of meaning that always seems to let in shit like the meninist or incel or white supremacist ideologies. But there isn’t a vacuum in the middle of this book, because these characters are still searching for something. Like the dialog, there is something sincere hidden behind the randomness.
In a scene toward the end of College Novel, Jordan and Abby take acid while housesitting a cousin’s mansion. Despite it not being a bad trip, the two don’t like it. They don’t like it because of how disconnected from reality it makes them feel. “People that take acid frequently probably hate reality. It’s just like, so unlike reality,” Jordan explains. Later he says, “I think that’s why acid makes people freak out. They like, forget that they took drugs, and mistake whatever is happening for reality.” What is important is that they are not trying to escape, as this behavior is often accused of.
In a scene right before Jordan and Abby take acid, they take mushrooms, and something completely different happens. The two relax and feel happy. “It feels nice not to have anything that I feel like I need to figure out right now,” Jordan explains. “I feel happy,” Abby says, adding, “I think I just realize that so many things that, uh, we’re taught to care about, are just like, bullshit.” This moment highlights what Jordan is really searching for throughout College Novel, and what a lot of young people are searching for: a way to be happy within the world, despite where the world is going and trying to take you. And if the recognition that things we’re “taught to care about, are just like, bullshit,” sounds like a trivial and childish realization, well, just look around. Our world is overrun with people who care about things like marketing. Our colleges are purposefully overrun with people who care about marketing. The big question for these characters isn’t whether they’ve got their priorities straight, because they already hate money and are just looking for ways to be happy and good people, but whether those priorities can be sustained after college when one enters the real world, which is a very honest and important question for a lot of people. And while this book doesn’t answer that (it’d be a very different book if it did), it does insist on something meaningful beneath all our bullshit, and helpful to see.
Alex Weidman lives in West Virginia and is 24 years old.
There was a certain look about Frank, a look like make me or prove it or you call that game? And standing near the reinforced window, the sun softening the ragged contours of his face, it was hard to know if he was really insane—a puzzle made of a fresh snow bank. Virgin white cut with shades of gray. Psych admissions were often a matter of three hots and a cot, the mental health deputies would say. How right they were, their minds were already made. Yet still I wanted to inspire change.
And so I said, How are you feeling, Frank?
He said, Okay.
And you’re adjusting to the hospital’s routine?
What about your delusions?
Yesterday you mentioned the mob.
They’re going to slit my throat, I would say.
Care to elaborate?
What’s the point?
I can help.
And maybe he was right— what little help I could provide was likely too late. For patients like him, the best bet was to minimize the pain. Which to me meant therapy and space. Then again what would the insurance company say? Treat him and street him, never mind the coping skills he won’t retain. Or snow him with meds then call it a day. But there was more to social work than getting paid.
What about the Abilify, Frank?
It makes it so I can’t shit.
I can ask the doctor to add a stool softener to your regiment.
The stools fine. It’s my guts what’re bad.
I pursed my lips.
And the voices, they won’t quit.
What’re they saying?
They’re screaming for a cigarette.
Well I guess it could be worse. They could be whispering obscene… Never mind. But tell me where you’ll go when you leave here, where you’ll live.
And you’ll be safe?
I said, Okay.
Because who were we to force upon him four walls, poly-blend sheets? Where he chose to live was his choice to make. And to drop him at a shelter would put more than one life in harm’s way. A history of violence is a hard thing to escape. Bombs exploded atop the brainstem. But that was a conversation for another session.
Do you have any questions for me? I said.
He scratched his chin.
If not, that’s okay.
What would happen if I tried to escape?
The police would bring you back.
I meant jump into rush-hour traffic.
And you lived?
Probably a months long commitment with the state.
He said, Oh.
He lowered his eyes, ran his finger down the window frame.
After escorting Frank back to the unit, I told Dr. Dobson of his constipation, suicidal ideation, and severely depressed affect. She told me to contact his family to let them know that the patient would be leaving before the end of the same day. I was to give them the phone number to the crisis line, for when Frank experienced his next break. When, not if; also just in case.
Frank stared into the middle space. From behind the nurse’s station, I asked him his pharmacy of preference, outlined the documents required for his MHMR admit assessment, and requested he sign a release for me to talk to his family about the diagnosis. To involve his loved ones would improve his chances of success and educate them on how to best support Frank through the recovery process. But when I slid the ROI across the desk, he crumpled the document, kicked a hole in the wall, then paced the unit, beating on his chest.
I’m a human being! he said.
What he meant was anyone’s guess, but when the tech attempted to calm him, he spat at her, called her a bitch. Then the charge nurse called Code Blue over the PA system, and onto the unit descended all available hospital staff—admins, cooks, and facilities men. They circled about him, with their hands held in front of their chests. The nurse stepped forward, whispered thinly veiled threats, and then down she went. Blood spurted from her mouth, covered Franks clenched fist.
I felt bad for her, but what did she expect? This wasn’t the Ritz. And what reason can be heard over the voices yelling homicidal threats—figments? God doesn’t love every one of His children best. There are winners and losers, usually the opposite of first guess. At least Frank knew to smile when they stuck him with max dosage emergency meds. Which is when I thought we might end up friends.
The nurse held a bloody napkin to her lip. Dr. Dobson sucked on the cap of her pen. I said, I think we should hold him, give the meds more time to take effect. Forty-eight hours isn’t enough to learn what’s happened to him, not to its full extent. And if I can convince Frank to attend a few groups, he may reveal more of what’s going on in his head—a win-win. Really he’s quite intelligent. Or he seems to understand the system. Which to me suggests a need not met. One more day, I pleaded. We owe that much to him.
Frank sat in front of the television, passing gas. The stench hung about him as a Linus Van Pelt-like mist. Sill I sat, feigned interest in the TV evangelist, preaching Original Sin. We were born to defy Him. But salvation could be had for the price of twenty-two inch rims, touch-screen navigation, and, to a lesser extent, limo tint. God wanted for his servants the finest Cadillac. And did we really want to betray His wish?
Frank said, Amen.
So you’re a believer? I said.
Well then maybe you’ll appreciate the topic of today’s life skills group—developing a positive social support system. If religion isn’t that, I don’t know what is. Care to join us?
How about a cup of coffee?
A cigarette then.
I opened the group with my story into recovery from mental illness. At sixteen I was diagnosed with major depressive and personality disorders after eating a handful of benzodiazepines, NSAIDS, and antidepressants. I bounced in and out of commitments for a decade, until I met the man who helped me see beyond the broken thoughts like dead bodies sunk in my head. Now my mission was to help others find their solution. And of the group I asked if there was anyone in their lives who might provide the same kind of perspective.
Which was when Frank shot to his feet, and said, I ain’t got no mental problem. The real problem is people like you telling me I’m sick…bad. Just because I don’t follow your rules doesn’t mean I’m broke or lost or stupid. I want to walk hand-in-hand with Our Lord and Savior. Unto Heaven. That’s it! Not like you give a shit. Oh and where’s that cigarette?
I said, What I hear you saying is that you find strength in your faith.
And that you don’t care for our treatment methods.
He curled his lip.
That’s excellent, I said. Thank you for sharing your experience. And you’re right in that religion can be a positive influence. Would anyone else like to share a helpful person, group, or association in their support system?
A sallow-looking man raised his hand.
Go ahead, I said.
Is there a particular woman?
That’s great! Our families are great supports, assuming they want what’s best. Which is not always the case. Consider yourself blessed.
The man smiled.
Frank muttered, Horseshit.
I said, Do you have something to contribute, Frank?
I see what you’re doing, calling my family garbage.
Tell me more about that.
About your voodoo mind tricks?
About what you perceive as an indictment.
Frank puffed his chest. Who’re you calling a dick?
The air in my lungs seemed to thicken, and the other patients held their breath. I thought to pray, but counted backward from ten instead. As if I could de-escalate him. God may have been the better option, but then again faith was a grift. Or we were doomed to live the same mistakes over and over again. No matter how many gold teeth glistened when the preacher grinned.
I watched the second hand on my wrist watch tick. My work phone rang the loudest ring of 4:50pm, amplifying the throb in my head. The taste of blood still lingered on my lips, the smell crusted in my nostrils, from where Frank’s forehead hit. He took me down quick, and the other patients couldn’t peel him off before he got a few good licks. But coming into the job, I knew of the risks. See: no good deed goes unpunished. Also compassion is a matter of dollars and cents. Like love and patience and respect. And so, Fuck it, I said, and went home to entertain the voices still chattering in my head.
It was 1994 and he was working
at this restaurant outside Shreveport,
Pearl Jam on the box
and a broken wrist.
It was his day off, a day of rest.
Yet he was standing in the kitchen.
Glove stretched over his fat palm.
He should have said no, I’ve got plans,
and the joints he smoked agreed.
It was the extra pain pill popped said yes.
So he dropped baskets and burnt toast
when walked in
Bright painted fucking joy, fucking hi-yuck
rictus kiddies, here’s a balloon twisted gimmick
as if the free kid for every adult meal didn’t bring
the families in in hordes (it didn’t).
There was Streamers.
In all her fearfulness cheerfulness.
In all her fuckery.
Just get a drink and don’t look up
Just get a drink and don’t look up
Just get a drink and don’t look fuck.
“How are we today?” We?
Words of terror from a Chelsea grimace
between cheeks painted rum red.
Just forget the drink and don’t piss self.
“Do we know how Kathy’s doing?”
Kathy had cancer.
Streamers came claiming Kathy.
“Kathy. Fucking fan-tastic.”
The line dead, wag dragon fired,
the fool kept focus on death’s swinging doors.
Fear held no bound as long as he
was on the safest side.
He went home early, on account of
his hand and all—right—
fucked stasis fakes
bravery in composure.
She chose to paint her face;
The sweet southern belle.
“A dissident is here,” he said.
Donald Ryan’s words have appeared, or are forthcoming in, Cleaver, Fiction Southeast, Hobart, Soft Cartel, Owl Canyon Press’s hackathon anthology, Short Edition’s international story dispensers, and elsewhere. He’s a full-time part-time librarian in the GA Pines. donaldryanswords.com and/or @dryanswords because, you know…
do you know what the tooth fairy does with all those teeth?
do you know how heavy her sack must be after a single night?
bicuspids, i think,
but i don’t really know
because the dentist never sits and
explains which teeth are which teeth instead
she just points
to the generalized moderate bleeding of
my gums with a sharp tip
and tsks jared i know you know
but do you know what the tooth fairy does with all those teeth?
i imagine she builds bridges and paves roads with
fairy tale taxpayer dollars going to the coins left under pillows
and all those workers in their pink vests
patch potholes with polly’s baby
teeth clicking and pissy because the easter bunny’s egg shells
collected last april just wouldn’t cut it
Jared Povanda is a writer who just started dabbling in poetry recently. His prose has been published in Back Patio Press, and also in Cheap Pop, Riggwelter Press, Maudlin House, and Lammergeier, among others. Follow him @JaredPovanda