ISSUES | spring 1988

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11.2 (Spring 1988)

Featuring the work of Martha Bennett Stiles, Stephanie Bobo, Richard Chess, Lawrence Coates, Bettina Drew, William Faulkner, James Frazee, James Harms, Robert Hedin, Michael Heffernan, Mark Jarman, Greg Johnson, Rodney Jones, Okamato Kanoko, Thomas McCall, Sandra McPherson, Kat Meads, Connie Poten, Gordon Preston, Wyatt Prunty, James Reiss, Donald Revell, Maxine Scates, Cathy Song, Nancy Walker, Michael Waters, Roger Weingarten, Michael White, David Wojahn, and an interview with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris.

CONTENT FROM THIS ISSUE

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

Treading Grapes

Leaving their room in the Casa Graciosa, Rebeca Fuerte and her son can smell the coffee from under the door of one neighbor’s apartment, beans from another. Rebeca holds Fernando’s hand a little tighter steering him past those doors and onto the narrow stairway that has its own smells of mildewed walls, of cat urine drying in warped corners. Flat against her body under her free arm, Rebeca carries the tray on which she daily sells cigarettes and wax matches. She is wrapped in a blue rebozo that has been carefully smoothed with her hands after laundering. Though only cotton, the rebozo will be too warm before midday, but it carries her stock.

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

What Do I Say to Them

We enter a cramped lobby, Lucy Banks, a nurse, ahead of me. The lobby’s floor is a jigsaw of small, black and white ceramic tiles, some broken, others missing altogether. In a row of mailboxes on one wall the name “Ramirez” is crudely scratched into the metal of the box labeled 3B.

“It’s cold in here,” I say. The snow that drops from our shoes isn’t melting.

“They don’t heat lobbies in this part of town, John,” Lucy says.

“They save it for upstairs. It’s 3B, let’s go.”

I’m glad Lucy’s with me. She’s in her forties, twice my age, and I trust her experience. She may be forthright in what she says, but I know she’ll never embarrass me in front of a mother.

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

A Dry Season

“No, you’re not a failure,” Eleanor says. “That’s nonsense.”

She sounds exasperated, downright angry, but then she laughs. A loud, ribald laugh that Nora, after fifteen years, knows not to take personally. The laugh is Eleanor’s typical response to human problems: it clears the air, puts the situation in perspective. For that, Eleanor says, is what Nora has gotten herself trapped inside. A “situation.”

Nora says, caustically, “You mean I’ve even failed at that? Being a failure?”

Eleanor makes a gesture with her hands, fingers outspread, held clutched above her ears. Pulling out her hair.

Go ahead, Nora thinks.

“It’s just that you’re so intense, so damned serious,” Eleanor says. She laughs again, though less convincingly. “You’ve always been that way, you know. Ever since college.”

“Have I?” Nora says.

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Interviews

Mar 01 1988

An Interview with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris

We’re collaborators, but also indivdual writers. Michael and I plunge into each other’s work with very little ceremony. We plot together, we dream up our characters together, we do everything together, except write the actual drafts, although even the writing is subject to one another’s deepest desires. We go over every manuscript word by word. Then we argue over whatever we feel should be changed and we try to come to some sort of agreement on everything that goes out.

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Nonfiction

Mar 01 1988

from A Mind State

In Dora’s living room her clan gathered every Sunday of every season, aunts and uncles smelling of talcum and bleach, assorted cousins bypassing both scents to sniff out power and align ourselves accordingly. Our loyalties toward any adult then were fragile and easily swayed. The fall afternoon Linda invaded their story swapping session with a tale of her own, I listened from the doorway. She described in detail the bullet’s trajectory: how it had whizzed past her ear, coming dangerously close to contact. Between two dirt clods we had uncovered this, she said, raising the shotgun casing.

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

Spirit of the House

On the high ground of the Yamanote district of Tokyo, there is a crossroads which is an intersection for trolley cars. Branching off straight and narrow from this crossroads, a slope road leads towards a valley and downtown Tokyo. Midway along this road, facing the shrine of the God of War, there is a small restaurant whose specialty is mudfish soup. Across the top of the doorway, which is framed by delicate latticework, wiped and polished, there hangs an old shop curtain. On it is printed, in white and in the style of calligraphy used for public documents of the Edo period, the ideogram for ‘life’.

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Features

Mar 01 1988

Love

In 1921 Beth came across the flagged terrace, her geranium colored dress taut with fury. She was running, then she saw the man in the wicker chair and she slowed to a walk and approached him, repressing the fury although it still lurked in her walk, though not in her voice.

“Hello,” she said, “Dear.”

The man in the chair was methodically sucking tea into himself. A gardener was trimming a box hedge below the pool, a crisp maid fluttered in the purlieus of the sunset at the back of the scene, the invariable feminine complement to whatever picture the man in the chair filled, servants with dreams engendered rosily by Scullery out of Moving Pictures watching him from behind window curtains, daughters of preferred stock and six percent.

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

Winging It

This was the best part, this opening into the plains. The red Toyota pickup swerved easily down the eastern slope of the pass and Caroline turned up the music. Keith Jarrett’s piano crescendoes echoed the land rising westward, sleek as a hawk’s wing, to the tips of the dark Rockies. Her heart picked up speed; she felt swept clean. She liked to expand her territory inch by inch, a slow, sensual gaining of the world. The geology job helped. Now, Scobey, Montana, a tumbleweed town pinned to the map near the Canadian border. She’d spend a few days in the musty courthouse, probably not much different from the half dozen others she had poked through, poring over old mineral claims, sad diaries of ambition and loss, and then the hikes over the land, looking for ore clues in the rockey outcrops.

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Nonfiction

Mar 01 1988

Drifting Into a Career

Nelson Algren, author of The Neon Wilderness, A Walk on the Wild Side and the National Book Award-winning Man with the Golden Arm, made himself a voice for the urban dispossessed. Algren graduated from the University of Illinois in 1931, the most stagnant year since the crash. That year, he escaped the mounting financial troubles of his parents — a Chicago mechanic and his domineering wife — to pursue respectability as a journalist. The following selection from A Life on the Wild Side, a forthcoming biography of Algren, describes how his search for work led to poverty, desperation, and finally jail, experiences which enriched his last-resort but inevitable career as a writer and determined forever his resolute stance against the status quo.

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

Recognizable at a Distance

When it became clear that I didn’t know how to do anything to make a living, in other words when it became clear that the promise of my sensibility was not a lucrative promise, Daddy kindly sent me off to Tulane to get my M.S.W., it being agreed on all hands but my own really that soical work was an appropriate field for a young woman who had insisted for many years that she was interested only in the nature of experience and what it meant to be human. I was twenty-two. My father had stopped repeating his observation that I was a “hellcat,” but nobody had ever paid me for a poem. I was, after all, grown up, they said, and so for the fifth time I left my home in Hunter County, Mississippi, a home that I had treated as a sort of halfway house for some years by then, and went out into the world.

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Fiction

Mar 01 1988

Time Paid For is Easy to Forget

They were sitting around a trash fire when the American came with Mara and took the guitar from Jaime. The fire was of old broken crates and pallets, the leavings of every port city. It had not been built for warmth; the Philippine nights were always warm and humid. It had been built for the sake of community; it gave light, and gave them a center around which to form a circle, and cost only the refuse scraps of wood from the Naval complex at the port. The American sat in the center of the group with the girl at his side and tried to tune the guitar.