On being a good member of a literary community

Kelcey Parker, who teaches the fiction workshop I’m taking this fall, talked to us about being a good being good literary citzens during our last class.  Chief among her recommendations was to avoid being that person who just sits back, writes, submits and keeps it at that.  In other words, me!

Yes, I irregularly publish my own zine, Retirement Plan, but I don’t often attend events that other people put on, I don’t engage with other writers online, I don’t write about writing.  I could be doing so much more, in short.

So I can take some steps in that direction by being more active here.  Using this space to help hype the zine, to review and hype work by poets I know, to interact with the online poetry community.  To share my thoughts on writing, publishing, creating.  To stop just sitting in the dark with my blog on private and throwing my work out on Submittable.

Which, that’s been successful from a raw-numbers publishing point of view. These are all of my pubs/acceptances in the past year.

“I-55 by Pontiac, Illinois” in The Cobalt Review, 2019

Inula Helenium” in Up North Lit, 2019

”The Rover” in Stone Boat, 2019

“Gaps” and “Paradise by Postmodern Light” in Levee Magazine, 2019

“White Tail” and ”Right at the Sun” in West Trade Review, 2019

”County High Point” in Panoplyzine, 2019

”Milk Flowers,” in Obra/Artefact, Summer 2019

“Talequah” in mutiny! magazine, June 2019

“Tom Joad of Osceola” in Seven Circlepress, Summer 2019

“Orbiter” in Coast/noCoast, Fall 2019

The Message” in Levee Magazine, Spring 2020

“Exercises in Cross-Disciplinary Biological Care,” in Little Patuxent Review, Winter 2020

“The Seed” in After Happy Hour Review, 2020

But I don’t feel the least bit fucking connected to any literary community. On the contrary, it feels as lonely as cold as ever. I’ve been putting work into the world but not interacting with the world in any meaningful way.  I realize it’s silly to expect any sort of feeling of community from just publishing and nothing else.  But the periodic dopamine bumps from the publications make it feel better.

So, this place is a good place to start.  Start attending South Bend poetry events again and blogging about them.  Read poems my friends publish and write about those, too.  Reach out and touch some shit.

Specimen Case

Publishing poetry is so odd now. Basically, you have to spray n’ pray submit because Submittable has insured that every journal gets buried in an avalanche of submissions. Long gone are the days where the poet looks at journals they admire and arranges the perfect submission.

As a consequence, sometimes I get accepted to journals to which I probably wouldn’t have submitted had I done any research. This is one of them; The Meadow is a student publication of Truckee Meadows Community College. I wouldn’t have submitted to a community college creative writing journal and I didn’t realize what it was until after it was accepted and that point figured I’d leave it. Now, having received the issue, I’ve looked at the author bios in the back. Creative writing professors, writers for National Geographic and Playboy, a Pushcart winner, a whole bunch of MFAs, people with six, seven books out.

Ce’st la vie said the old folks.

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Eight days shy of four years

Since I updated this thing.  Four years!  This is practically a livejournal trapped in amber at this point.  Four years is college, a marriage, a fight with cancer.  I’m resurrecting it because I’ve actually been doing a lot of publishing and figured I needed a poetey presence online.  Seems to be the thing.

Should I do a four year catch-up? Is this a diary?  Really I just feel like I need an online presence as a Real Poet. I’ll stick with the poetey things for now and hint at the rest catch as catch can.  The meetings. The relapses. The attempts.  The hospitals. The broken romances.  So Byronic.

So, poetically, I’ve published a few poems over the past four years, about half of those coming this year alone.  I’ve started publishing my own zine, Retirement Plan, which originally published exclusively Michiana poets and writers and artists but has since moved on in scope, largely as I’ve run out of contributors in South Bend.  I’ll do posts on those later.

Perhaps most excitingly, I’ve got a book coming out, which was on my “do soon before you die and you can’t” suicide list.  My book, The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island will be published by Urban Farmhouse Press in Spring 2020.  I should be writing about this in a much more excited tone but we’ve been working on it for 7 months at this point and the novelty has worn off.

Flash Fiction er…Monday: Sleeping in Plastic

On Thursday we went to the Farmer’s market and I asked you if you wanted any vegetables and you didn’t say anything at all so I got artichoke hearts like I always get artichoke hearts because I know you love them. And on Thursday night I still went down into the basement to pretend to do laundry and did a secret shot of vodka even though you wouldn’t say anything now, if you saw me, if you could see me, if I hooked any of it up.  And later still I masturbated to something forgettable on my iPhone and ran my fingers lightly around what curves you have left and I was sure you didn’t care but it felt intimate and we’re still married after all.

No one knew this would happen, of course. That goes without saying. It doesn’t make it any less true though.  No one really knew that anyone who went over there wouldn’t know it, that our memories and the sum of our knowledge can be encoded and decoded and rewritten into chips of any kind. But consciousness? No one believed it was just an accident of physiology.  That when we started uploading ourselves into computers we became little more than the very book of ourselves.  Machine readable, fully searchable, forever sleeping.  You said you’d just be gone a minute, that you’d come right back but someone had to test the system or you’d lose your grant money.  So you went and so too you stayed.

After they put a stop to it all, they told us they’d wake you as soon as they possibly could.  Someday, when we’re able to grow our own biological computers, when we can recreate whatever it is that wakes up in the first place.  Until then I carry you around in a special, airtight padded case.  And once every six months I transfer you to  a new drive. Every day as I walk I tell you I love you, I love you I love you. I’ve never explored the secret places of you, though I could plug you in at any time know anything. I don’t, because that would be wrong. Because you’re still my husband. You’re just sleeping in plastic.

Generational

It seemed fine, to place it there. You were on the weekly trip to the greenhouse with Mom and Dad and Stella holding your hand the whole way as you skipped 10 meters at a time through the light gravity of the inner ring. It was warmer there, drawing heat from the power core. Perfect for plants and the misting sprays hung so long in the light gravity you didn’t need to pretend like you’d ever seen a cloud.

The odd way things impose when you’re too damn small to use the world correctly. Not just the adults and the air you could see but the banks of ferns and the ever-novel soil that held them. You’d taste it, quickly. And every time knew you missed it somehow, despite never having had it, never having walked on Earth.

And really, that was it.  The knowing of it all. What Stella told you. That we’d never leave the ship. That we were born to fly the ship and we would die, too. We’d teach our children the ways and workings. Let them fly into the orbit of some other sun. Your parents were so angry when you asked them about death and children and Stella promised to never ever tell you a secret again you little twerp.

So it seemed fine, you found a tree frog in the greenhouse that clung to the underside of hemp tree leaf. There were very few but you found one. Low, where you could see just fine. Uncle Mack said you could be a Southerner, not a Yankee yet. As if such had meaning still.

And it clung to glass when you placed it there. And to your hand when they told you to put it back, clung green and still. You managed it into your hands. It seemed fine that you squeezed tighter and tried one great leap to get out but your hands closed too quickly. And fine too when you returned it limp to the leaves.

Stella was right and she had a way of saying something that was self-evidently true and somehow make it seem profound. But you had nothing to say to Mom and Dad and Uncle Mack when they asked you again and again about the frog and why you squeezed it until it went limp and laid it back on the leaf. Staring then, just staring and not saying anything, at the same knot of grain on the tabletop Mom’s heirloom, real wood. Staring and hoping you could bore into the rings of the knot and make a whole big enough to climb in, just you and a frog that still breathes and clings, and finally make an escape.

They didn’t ask me, of course – how could they? But everyone finds themselves in odd atmospheres now and then, something that felt fine. There’s no damn reason for it, no greater take.

Not when you’re six.

Six is such a goddamned mystery.

Jenny

Checking back in on the Colony. It’s looking like everything I’ve written since and including the Colony, with the exception of the Hemingway re-write all take place in the same universe.  Currently it’s at almost exactly 10,000 words.  I’ve mapped out a number of flash fiction and short-story length pieces to fill it out.  In short, cataclysmic war on Earth leaves a lone remnant of a Mars colony, a generational spaceship on its way to Gilese 667 Cc and scattered survivors on Earth as the last of humanity.  I’m not as concerned with the overall story arc as with describing the period in a series of vignettes.  Think: a mostly-flash fiction I, Robot.  I’ve no idea how will this will work.  Anyway, best read The Colony before this one.  Cheers.

Jenny

You are in the midst of the sixes now, you know. Sixty six and sixty six. This is vital. You understand the importance right down to your bones.  Sixty six and sixty six and coming steady to the end of the world and the Armageddon is of your making.

You sure are keeping count Jenny and you sure are here.

You remember others, of course you do. There were eight and they counted to eighty-eight.  And there was comfort there so you knew there was meaning too and so you would line the rocks in 88 and straight and then over again and that helped. When you saw our faces and our faces were a thousand quick cut photographs spiked into your head like ice and you could feel all of the touching, everything, then 88 made like center.

We went away one by one and stopped being eight and that felt wrong but we kept at the 88 until it was just you and so just you did them every day.   You took the 88 steps to the sun and left a stone each step.   And the giant mushroom forests spread far and you found things to eat when the year came and the year said you were the last one and he didn’t wake up then. But you realized the numbers had to match and it hurt when they didn’t so the first year you did one. And two and two and three and three. And now your footfalls are already there to greet your toes in the stepping. Sixty six years and sixty six steps this year.

You sure are keeping count Jenny and you sure are here.

You sleep and you see the bringing you make with the steps. The world you’ll bring. You see your bones snap at the score marks, our grass and slab both queer in that strange endlight. There is a strange living vibration and a billion birds in panic, steadily rising wind. Already anguished, choked sobs there in the cold and the dark. The ground is drawn by a sediment of shining dark carapaces. The kind of black skittering things that scatter from the light when you flip the switch. They’re up your arms and down your shirt, tiny and busy articulate legs all in sequence.

There, the sharp angled bedrock of a cityscape, black as construction paper and more, the dull distant fire. Can you rise and be a living equation, the fit and cut of every numerator planted according to your own steely gaze? You see gathering pairs of lights on the horizon and the sharp detail of a rabbit with a shattered back drags its limp legs along a ditch.

You sure are keeping count Jenny and you sure are here. Sixty six years now and twenty two to go. There is a dusting of ash the threat of rain and what can you make of the world?

A Good Café on the Shoreline of Ontario Lacus

This is neither flash fiction nor a short story.  It’s a cover.  It occurred to me that people who play music and share it online often record and share covers of songs.  That’s normal.  But people never do covers of fiction.  I’m sure there must a be a perfectly good reason for that but as of right now I can’t think of it.  So here’s a cover of “A good cafe on the Place St.-Michel,” the first chapter of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.”

This is really just an exercise, a sentence-by-sentence rewrite.  So instead of Paris in the 1920s this story takes the reader to Titan in the 2320s. Hope you find it mildly diverting.

A Good Café on the Shoreline of Ontario Lacus

 

Of course, there was always the weather. You didn’t know anyone who’d been there long enough to really see a year’s worth of seasons change but every 15 days when the sun rose the temperature would rise just enough to rain methane. It was always cold on Titan and you always wondered what it would be like to stick your hand outside for just a moment but you knew that would be the end of your arm and instead you watched hydrocarbons lap in slow motion against the lakeshore. The mist was constant in the still Titan haze and the stripped down fuselage of the wrecked cargo unit shimmered in the soft yellow light from Saturn and the Café E Ring was always crowded and hot with sweat and drink and the condensation formed on everything. It was as bad a bar as any bar could be when it was the only bar around and that is very bad indeed. I stayed away because of the smell of sweat cooked in suit rubber and the scrubbers working constantly to clear to the air made it so you had to scream all the time. The cargo crews that frequented the E Ring stayed drunk the entire time they were moonside, mostly on shots of pure alcohol and water. Sometimes, if they drank their entire wage they drank darkmatter, which was based on hydraulic fluid and tasted the most like peppermint. Lacus Port had better than three thousand permanent residents then but still most people who moved past the belt still did it just to get away.

The E Ring was the cesspool of Enceladus Street which was the first street in Lacus Port and snaked with the landscape down to the lakeshore. The oldest housing modules were there, the ones that detached right from the ships and in the interest of efficiency the sewage hookups all faced the street and looked like oversized garden hose faucets. The recyc bots would move down the streets once a week and collect everything for reprocessing. Later modules put the hookups in the back so people didn’t have to think too much about who made their protein shakes. The bots were six-wheeled and squat and you would think of the photos you’d seen of the Mars rovers and get sad sometimes that their grandchildren just carried around shit all day. No bot stopped at the E Ring though, and its construction, grafted and welded into a discarded booster stage was seemingly as half-assed and ill-suited for the Titanian climate as its clientele was to have made the journey from the inner planets.

And the port was worse when it was warmer and the methane rain started. Because warmer was still cold enough to be instantly lethal and now the yellow haze was thicker with the constant methane drizzle. There were no great views of Saturn or the rings as you walked but only the opaque bluish orange over the dark sidewalks of repurposed paneling. And the research wing of the main unit assembly and the habitat pods and the few shops all shut their outer hatch ports against the methane drizzle so even the yellow glow of the round windows blinked out and everything was very much like sleep all the way from Mysi’s capsule to Hotel Huygens, where you had a capsule on the top floor where you worked.

I was staying in either capsule 202 or 222 and she was the next one over and we had to pay for any time on infofeed and knew how much it would cost for an hour on the stream, a small trickle of data down to my terminal that I would use to surf and harvest pictures and video and audio and some text and make something. I pinged the feed traffic from the other capsules and saw only a few units logged in. The mist made connections difficult and I thought about how the increased radiation reflection interfered with the signals from the orbital relay satellites and I wouldn’t be able to draw on enough material for a collage and the feed time would be wasted and my credits gone with it and walked on in the rain through the hydrocarbon puddles. I trudged past the towers of the main relay and the hull of the Hyperion¸ the one-way colony ship set down on the surface a century ago and the massive recyc center and cut down the narrow alley behind the tanks and finally came out on Calypso Street and worked my way toward the lake until I came to a good cafe I knew right on the shore.

There were a number of cafes in the port and this was small and good and often empty and their infofeed free for patrons. It was warm and dry inside and the interface kiosk was well maintained and never malfunctioned or took your money. I welcomed the fresh air of the cafe as I removed my helmet and the air was cool on my skin. I hung my 50 Kelvin suit on a recharge rack and placed my old scuffed helmet and gloves on the low bench below and ordered an instant coffee from the kiosk. I took the cup and jacked my glasses into the cafe’s infofeed and began to collect. I was collaging about up in Michigan and since it was cold and raining methane on Titan that is the kind of day it was in the collage. I pulled pictures of grey winters in the Upper Peninsula, archival video, the sound of the lake and what people told about Michigan, and what I had told about Michigan and began arranging it all.

I had already seen autumn’s end as a boy and a youth in Michigan and saw it again on Mars as a young man on Phobos Station. From there I watched the fields of frozen carbon dioxide cover the pole and move south into the plains. Watching that gave me a queer feeling and that was the same time I ended everything with Caroline and it was easy to see metaphors on the surface. Now I could collage about winter feelings when they happen in Michigan or Phobos better than I could when I was actually there. That was called transplanting yourself, I thought, and thought then too of the acres of jack pine along the Valles Marineris and how some of them probably came from Michigan or at least a forest very like it and started to get all philosophical on myself. But I found some old Instagrams in the National Archive of boys drinking in the pine woods in the UP and it made me thirsty so I ordered a Sailor Jerry approximate. It was very close. This tasted wonderful on Titan and loosened my connections. I kept on collaging and feeling inevitable and feeling the strong kick of cherry rum warm me all through my body and spirit.

A girl came into the cafe and took a table alone near the windowscreen. It was showing flyers in a loose formation gaining altitude over Kraken Mare. The enormous carbon fiber-ribbed wings strapped to their arms had the look of bats and one of them suddenly cut toward the camera and left behind him the words “Visit Titan” which I thought was weird because we were already there. She was very pretty and pale and her skin reddened in the heat of the cafe giving her the appearance of blushing and her hair was a shock of unkempt red curls and tendrils still holding the shape of the helmet.

I watched her ping the infofeed and she excited me and I wished I could collage her as well, keep her, put her anywhere but she placed herself so she could face the window screen and the port door and I couldn’t get a good shot of her. She was waiting for someone and I felt like collaging her with the drinking boys in the jack pines would be a disingenuous thing to do so I went back to the UP and Phobos Station.

The collage was forming itself, finding its own level and space like leaves moving on surface tension and I was having a hard time keeping it contained. I ordered another Sailor Jerry and watched her often push her curls behind her ear whenever I took a drink or changed feeds. Even though I couldn’t put her in the collage I would someday and thought you belong to me, beautiful girl in the cafe on the lakeshore, whoever you are, and if I never see you again. You’re part of my collage and you belong to me and all of Titan belongs to me and I belong to the vastness of the things people leave as they pass, the photos and films and updates and little creations.

Then I went back into the collage and flew through it all and was lost in it. I was forming it now, it was no longer spreading itself and I did not pay any more attention to the cafe or the girl or anything else nor order a third Sailor Jerry. I was tired of shock of cherry and alcohol without having to tell myself to be tired of it which was a good sign that I was really working. I moved through the collage once, the boys in the pines after graduation, the expanse of Mars moving beneath my empty room on Phobos, the grey rains of the Superior National Forest and then I came out and looked for the girl and she was gone and I hadn’t even noticed the hatch open. I hope she’s gone with a perfect lover, I thought. But I also felt sad.

I shut down the feed and set it to back up and was hungry. I took a chance on some oyster approximates and 500 ml of Sauvignon Blanc. After finishing a collage I was always so melancholy. I loved myself more but I was also empty and sad and thought of girls I should have kissed more or never kissed at all and other things of that sort. I was sure this was a very good collage and maybe my sadness was the sad focus, the grey and the cold and rain, but I would not know for sure how good it was until I experienced it again the next day.

The oysters were very good and even had a faint taste of the sea but they also tasted metallic and I didn’t know if that was intentional or not so I pretended it was and also that this was something I knew. The cold white wine washed away the metallic taste and left only the sea on my tongue and I also drank the cloudy water at the bottom of the bowl and that was very cold and intense and I stopped thinking of lost lovers and started to be happy instead and make plans.

Now that summer was come to Titan and the methane rain I was tired of Titan and of the cold and the dark. We would catch a freighter and make it back to Ceres station and then Earth and maybe Michigan. We had never seen Europa but the orbits were wrong and we would have to take a much longer gravity assist sling to catch up. So we’d go in, find somewhere warm and breathe atmosphere and feel real rain come down through the pines and watch water we could not see across. In Petoskey there were places we could camp at the shore and be together out of doors and even read real books and feel the paper in our hands and at night I could roll over in a big bed and wrap her up and pull her tight into myself. That was where we could go.

We would give up our capsules at the Hotel Huygens where I collaged and there was only the rest of the Titanian day’s rent which was a sunk cost anyway. I had published a story on riding water jets on Enceladus for Toronto and the transfer for that was due. I could write more journalism on the trip home, maybe something about the Belt and politics and all of that was very boring but it paid and we could have the money to make the trip.

Maybe back on Earth I could collage about Saturn the way I could collage about Michigan and Phobos on Titan. I did not know that it was too early for that. That I did not know the people and only knew the views of Encelaedus and her jets, the sun over the rings and flying along the great and strange mountain range on Iapetus. And all of that was great to see yourself but I did not know the people there and that’s all that really matters in a collage and I would not be able to make anything meaningful until I went back there more than 20 years later. That’s how it worked out. But we would go back to Earth, if my wife wanted to and after the oysters and the wine I checked my balance and climbed back into my suit and made my way back into the haze and mist and shortest way possible back to the Hotel Huygens through the alleys and hydrocarbon puddles and Titan was now some place where enough people lived that walking on it wouldn’t really change your life.

“Oh god, please, Bubba. Let’s leave Titan,” my wife said. She had enormous blue eyes of the sort that stuck with anyone who saw them and her smile exploded at the idea of any adventure and she thought most things were adventures, whether they really were or not. “When should we leave?”

“Whenever you want. On the next transport if you like.”

“Oh, right away please. Didn’t you know how much I wanted to leave?”

“Maybe we can head north into Michigan and stay while on the bay in Traverse City or Petoskey. It’s so perfect to be there in the summer.”

“Oh I’m sure that will be perfect,” she said. “What a perfect thing to think of, too.”