I Think You Think I'm Still Funny

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On that Friday Carl Timm had done nothing, just surfed the web at work hunting down torque specifications for luxury sedans he would never, ever have true interest in or means for purchasing-specifications that would embed themselves in his memory, as if to be kept handy for manly conversation among man-friends in some faraway world. At five to five he’d driven home in his used-looking Saturn wagon, muddy maroon, and butted it up against the thawing grass in his backyard. His house was wedged in on a forgotten corner in northeast Minneapolis, across the street from a foundry; the siding had been hammered by thick specks of black dust for years.

Days and Nights with MS: The Witness Complains

The full text of this essay is not currently available online.

My husband isn’t crazy. He teaches, he writes, with some renown. At a forthcoming writing conference, a panel will meet to discuss his life and work. Moreover, as a personality generally, he’s easygoing, charming. He has multiple sclerosis; he needs a wheelchair, and for the past three or four years he has needed someone to lift him from his bed onto the chair. But he has maintained till recently a clear-minded, unresentful, wry, even amused posture in a situation that would demoralize most people: I’m still alive. Seth and Sharon are alive. In the end we all have to die anyway. Our friends, his mother, my parents marvel. He handles it so well.

Poetry Feature: Benjamin S. Grossberg

Featuring the poems:

  • The Space Traveler’s Husband
  • The Space Traveler and Wandering (featured as Poem of the Week, Sept. 21, 2010)
  • The Space Traveler, Great Filter
  • The Space Traveler and Crop Circles
  • The Space Traveler’s Husband
  • The Space Traveler and Runaway Stars

 

The Space Traveler and Wandering

Roadless vehicle: means that every

instance is a juncture, that every

path branches always-and in three

dimensions. This is the burden

of untethering wholly: all planets, all

places have equal claim, anywhere

become everywhere. Once I put

roots down on a world in the most

literal sense: slid with my index finger

row after row of seeds into nearly

granulated soil: on all fours, palms

and knees roughening, darkening.

I crawled the field’s length beneath

that planet’s triple suns, saw at equal

spacing the nearly translucent cones

burst from the ground. And soon

how they uncoiled into spears.

There was no reason for the gladness

this occasioned in my heart, no cause

to adore the line after line of them,

that my hand seemed to raise them

higher and higher from the dirt, each

a marionette made to pull itself

up to full height. I think of them now,

looking out a window of this ship:

panning the scattering of stars,

themselves like seeds indexed into

the black loam of space. There was

a field that was my home, a world

I understood in the long silences

of its dawns. Now there’s this:

stars thick and old as fire. In all

their history, none have cracked

open, no golden thread of roots

unwinding beneath them.

Poetry Feature: John W. Evans

Features the poems:

  • Eclogue
  • Round and Round
  • Elegy with Boardwalk
  • There Are No Words
  • When the Detectives Arrived Sunday Morning

 

Scale

Nineteen Months

 

That spring I pursued the other side of anxiety.

I measured exact distances wherever I went:

days since your death, weeks until your birthday,

how many steps it took to cross the interstate park

where every three weeks the billboard changed

until Oscar season. How I missed being in love.

How I wanted to explain: I miss being in love.

The night your brother stopped talking to his wife

I knew it meant I’d have to choose sides.

I sat dumb and silent, smiling weakly at everything.

At the climbing gym he got faster up the hard-candy steps,

his fingertips smooth and dull. Your nephew

and I registered online an animatronic vulture

whose virtual home contained separate rooms

for each family member. The week he finally

blew out his back your brother slept on the sofa.

He said he didn’t want to wake the kids.

Each time he hobbled to the medicine cabinet

the television drowned out his sighs and moans.

I sat in my room listening carefully to music

I knew would make me weep.

Sleeping pills erased the dark room.

Through the window his truck engine turned over four times

before it began its morning loop around the city.

A Conversation with Natasha Trethewey

The full text of this interview is not currently available online.

This interview was conducted in March 2010 at the University of Missouri, where the poet participated in writing residencies with the graduate students of the creative writing program.

Crash

The differences between generations-the Lost Generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y and Z (where do we go next?)-is a popular subject full of questionable simplifications. Sweeping statements about age groups in different eras are at best elusive, due to both sudden changes in history and the diversity at any given time among locales, classes, ethnicities and personalities. Lately one of the often discussed issues concerning the Millennial Generation is whether they suffer from hyper-parenting, with their perennially in-touch parents not giving them enough freedom to develop independence. They need to actually be allowed to make a few mistakes, the argument goes, in order to be inoculated against what to avoid.

Listening to my students, however, I don’t worry that they won’t have enough difficulties to face or enough mistakes in their lives. I worry more about their getting jobs when they finish school. And frankly, I admire the poise they are able to muster against the struggles of young adulthood, whether it comes from talking to their parents on cell phones (and quite often actually liking them) or from a more typical youthful insouciance toward parents and futures. It doesn’t require a cynic to realize that even if they are wonderfully fortunate, they will all sooner or later be tinctured by the accidents of circumstance.

Gail Sheehy in Predictable Crises of Adulthood uses the lobster as metaphor to describe adult life stages: each new phase requires shedding an old protective shell, going through a period of vulnerability before developing a new covering to replace the old. She begins with the Trying Twenties, when a person can be buffeted back and forth between the “safe” and the exploratory, between shoulds and wants, and between the ties of family and independence.

This issue is full of characters in some phase or another of life’s buffetings. Becky Haynes’s protagonist in “The Year of Perfect Happiness” is a twenty-something actively trying to dodge life’s vexations. Indeed he hopes to avoid any feelings of unhappiness for a full year. At first he has some success, then he travels back home to live with his parents, where perfect happiness somehow becomes a little more difficult to nail down.

One of the jobs of both philosophy and literature is to exercise and question one’s beliefs through imagination and empathy. As Lear, Hamlet, Humbert Humbert and the talented Mr. Ripley all vividly demonstrate, that doesn’t come only from the good examples. Whether he is cynical, irresponsible, destructive or an amalgam of bad characteristics, the anti-hero can do a wonderful job of scattering the pieces on the table, allowing us to better understand the puzzle and find our own order. In Wade Ostrowski’s story “I Think You Think I’m Still Funny,” his protagonist Carl turns out to be fortunate when an irresponsible old moocher friend Leif comes back to shake up his overly careful life.

Nathan Hogan’s first published story, “The Church at Yavi,” demonstrates the sad truth that wisdom doesn’t necessarily accompany age. A long-divorced couple journey to the site in Argentina where their daughter may or may not have died in motorcycle accident. It is a story of how avoidance and the failure to adjust to life’s traumas can keep one forever lost in the past. In Devin Murphy’s “The Linkage of Bone,” a utility company lineman has a high-voltage shock that nearly kills him. The after-effects of near death on him and his girlfriend are frightening, as the fragile order of their lives shatters and she falls into a state of manic destructiveness.

M. C. Armstrong’s essay “Between the Sailor and the Sail: the Faith of Ken Kesey” describes the effect of their son’s death in a bus accident on the lives of Ken and Faye Kesey, who turned the most terrible kind of crash in a parent’s life into a campaign of action, however imperfect its outcome. In her essay “The Witness Complains,” Sharon Solwitz allows herself to do something that even the wise person sometimes must do-she vents, telling it like it is, or at least how it can sometimes be-as her family deals with the late stages of her husband’s MS.

Jonathon Johnson’s poems find moments of insight and solace between the collisions of life, through music and attention to detail. Benjamin Grossman’s poems are from the viewpoint of a spacewalker who is wandering farther and farther away from what he has experienced and what he can remember. In “Space Traveler, Great Filter,” his spaceman has the urge always to move on, realizing, “You will do what all species do,/what life does: fling yourself/against it again and again/until it breaks you, or you find/a way through.” In John Evans’s requiem, which is elegiac and ironic, we hear the voice of a husband after the loss of his wife, showing how such a loss through time lessens but never goes away.

Poetry Feature: Jonathan Johnson

Featuring the poems:

  • Interiority
  • Longing Is Not Desire
  • I’ve Turned from the Distant
  • In the Year of Gorillas
  • Balloon
  • To Whoever May Care for Me Dying (featured as Poem of the Week, Oct. 19, 2010)

 

To Whoever May Care for Me Dying

Do what you must.

Swab the raw places

as delicately as you can,

but go on and swab them.

If I wince, I would be clean.

Such work befits those

who can see so little left

between skull and skin

and not think them.

You needn’t imagine

if I say I lived once

on the sea, in the wind

and sun. You’re not yet born,

I hope, so what’s this world?

If there’s nothing for the pain

there’s nothing. Thank you

anyway for the morphine

dripped from the eyedropper

onto my tongue like communion,

for the pink, wet sponge

small on its plastic stick

and dabbed on my lips,

if that’s where we’re at.

Thank you for the clean cotton,

for the comb and buttons

for as long as that was possible.

Step outside when you can

to look at light on things.

From this far I don’t know

what else may be required

but if there’s a rose

somewhere in the room

won’t you bring it to me?

Press its deep, open folds

right up to my nose.

And whatever song you might sing,

please, sing to me.

Pulling Pranks: James Stern's Reminiscences of an Edwardian Childhood

The full text of this feature is not currently available online.

James Stern never achieved literary celebrity. His books were few, his letters many and his memoir unfinished, yet what he wrote was the stuff of life-the beauty and tragedy of humanity. His memoir, “the problem book,” was not fashioned into a comprehensive work; what we show you from the Stern collection of the British Library are recollections that capture the adventure of childhood set against the backdrop of a mythical time and rarefied place.

Arcadian Rhythms: The New Pastoralism in Contemporary Poetry

Features reviews of:

  • Maurice Manning, Bucolics, Mariner Books, 2008, 120 pp., $14 (paperback reprint)
  • David Baker, Midwest Eclogue: Poems, W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, 112 pp., $14.95 (paper)
  • Christopher Bakken, Goat Funeral: Poems, Sheep Meadow, 2007, 75 pp., $12.95 (paper)
  • Morri Creech, Field Knowledge, Waywiser Press, 2006, 79 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Between the Sailor and the Sail: The Faith of Ken Kesey

The full text of this essay is not currently available online.

In his own community, Ken Kesey wasn’t a stranger. One can see his influence everywhere in Eugene and Pleasant Hill, whether it’s yogurt from the family creamery in a local store, a statue of the writer reading to children on Willamette Street, or a farmer in a tie-dyed shirt ploughing his fields. In the Willamette Valley that winter, there was vast sympathy for the man who had disappeared from the rest of the country. The family received hundreds of letters, and reading through local newspapers, one finds commiseration and indignation from the most unlikely of sources.