Friday, June 30, 2017

Poems by Charles Kell, Katha Pollitt, and Lynne Knight

when I opened his bed-
room door, staring, 
for a second.

He never noticed, 
or woke, if sleeping . . . 
--From "My Father Sick, resting with a Rag Covering his Face," a poem by Charles Kell, Linden Avenue, No. 61 (June 2017).

When I was a child I understood everything
about, for example, futility.  Standing for hours
on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls
I'd ask myself, how many times will I have to perform
this pointless task, and all the others?
--From "What I Understood," a poem by Katha Pollitt, from her collection The Mind-Body Problem (Random House, 2009).  (Thanks to José Angel Araguz for drawing my attention to the poem via this blog post, which includes the poem in full.)

We were near a waterfall when he asked
if I'd marry him.  I said yes
because he was kind to my daughter

and my mistakes of the past few years
had taught me that being smart isn't everything: 
I was smart, and look what I'd done . . . 
--From "The Waterfall," a poem by Lynne Knight, from her collection The Persistence of Longing (Terrapin Books, 2016), p. 25.  "The Waterfall" originally appeared in The Gathering 11.

We broke things.  Glasses, a lead crystal vase, 
the ceramic chicken painted à la portuguaise. 
--From "Survival," a poem by Lynne Knight, from her collection The Persistence of Longing (Terrapin Books, 2016), p. 26.  "Survival" originally appeared in Green Mountains Review.  It also appeared in Poetry Daily (November 10, 2016).

I used to wait at the window for lake-effect snow.
First wind, then then a thin smattering of flakes . . . 
--From "The Snow Couple," a poem by Lynne Knight, from her collection The Persistence of Longing (Terrapin Books, 2016), pp. 27-28.  "The Snow Couple" originally appeared in Marin Poetry Center Anthology.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Poems by Adam Chiles and Darren C. Demaree, and a novel-in-stories by Alice Munro


seemed lost without his ear, a silenced spigot, 
adrift without a doorway, . . . 
--From "My Father's Hearing Aid," a gorgeous poem by Adam Chiles, on a broadside with artwork by Cheryl Gross, Broadsided Press (June 1, 2017).

I took 
a lot
of time

to think 
the epic . . . 
--From "Warm #115," a poem by Darren C. Demaree, Gnarled Oak (November 10, 2016).

"What do you want?" she said softly to Anna.  Instead of answering, Anna called out for Patrick.  When he came she sat up and pulled them both down on the bed, one on each side of her.  She held on to them, and began to sob and shake.  A violently dramatic child, sometimes, a bare blade.

"You don't have to," she said.  "You don't have fights anymore." 
--From "Providence," a short story by Alice Munro, from her collection of interconnected stories about a woman and her stepmother, The Beggar Maid: Stories of Rose and Flo (Vintage, 1977).  "Providence" (pp. 137-155 in the 1991 paperback version of the book) was originally published in Redbook (August 1977).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fiction by Chris Drangle and Ha Jin, and an essay on DNA editing by Michael Specter

Soleil was on her way to meet Warren for their first date when she ran out of gas.  The engine shuddered on its last fumes, and she looked down the highway at a long stretch of nothing.  She was alone on the road, save for one pair of headlights drawing closer in the rearview.  She put her hazards on, hoping to coast as long as possible, but the vehicle behind her, a black SUV, raced up to her bumper and stayed there.  High beams filled her mirrors.  She braked and pulled halfway onto the shoulder, and still it loomed close.  Teenage girl, no gas, highway at dusk--she felt her vulnerability like a chill in the air.  But as she rolled to a stop, the SUV swerved and accelerated, finally passing her with a snarl of engine rev.  She didn't want to look but did; two men in the cabin stared back, lit red by the instrument panel.  The driver had a dark beard.
--From "Optimistic People," a short story by Chris Drangle, One Story, Issue 224 (December 31, 2016).

When my roommate moved out, I was worried that Mrs. Chen might increase the rent.  I had been paying three hundred dollars a month for half a room.  If my landlady demanded more, I would have to look for another place.  I liked this colonial house.  In front of it stood an immense weeping cherry tree that attracted birds and gave a bucolic impression, though it was already early summer and the blossoming season had passed.  The house was close to downtown Flushing, and you could hear the buzz of traffic on Main Street.  It was also near where I worked, convenient for everything.  Mrs. Chen took up the first floor; my room was upstairs, where three young women also lived.  My former roommate, an apprentice to a carpenter, had left because the three female tenants were prostitutes and often received clients in the house.  To be honest, I didn't feel comfortable about that either, but I had grown used to the women, and especially liked Huong, a twiggy Vietnamese in her early twenties whose parents had migrated to Cholon from China three decades ago, when Saigon fell and the real estate market there became affordable.  Also, I had just arrived in New York and at times found it miserable to be alone.
--From "The House Behind a Weeping Cherry," a short story by Ha Jin, from his collection A Good Fall (Vintage International, 2009), pp. 195-219.  This story originally appeared in The New Yorker (April 7, 2008) and was later included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, edited by Laura Furman (Anchor Books, 2009).

Early on an unusually blustery day in June, Kevin Esvelt climbed aboard a ferry at Woods Hole, bound for Nantucket Island.  Esvelt, an assistant professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was on his way to present to local health officials a plan for ridding the island of one of its most persistent problems: Lyme disease.  He had been up for much of the night working on his slides, and the fatigue showed.  
--From "Rewriting the Code of Life," an essay about DNA editing by Michael Specter, The New Yorker (January 2, 2017), pp. 34-43.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

An essay by Dianne Belfrey and a story collection by Yelizaveta P. Renfro

He pulled off the tarp to reveal a beautiful wooden sailboat.  I said he must be a sailor, and he replied that, no, he'd never been on a boat before he'd made this one, adding that he'd found a book at a stoop sale which had instructions for how to build a model boat, and thought that it would be fun to try to build a full-sized boat using it as a guide.  I didn't especially care about boats, or about sailing, but I did like stories such as this one.  When I asked him whether it worked, he laughed and looked down and said that he supposed it did, as he'd sailed it on the Hudson.  I blame everything on the boat.  If it hadn't been there, none of the rest would have happened.  I wouldn't have left my husband and run away with the man--I'll call him William--who had built it.  
--From "Adrift," a piece of personal history by Dianne Belfrey, The New Yorker (November 7, 2016), pp. 20-26.  (The story appeared online with the title "Fire and Water: A Brooklyn Love Story.")

(If his life were a video game, he would be a frantic middle-aged gnome, driving a bus with reckless speed, picking up and dropping off passengers, avoiding parked cars, slamming the brakes, punching the gas, rushing home to stop the evil blonde vixen from killing his trees, knocking her on the head with an oversized rubber mallet, hustling back to the bus to stay on schedule, then scrambling home to get the baby out of the crib, to feed the sad brunette who sits in front of a computer with gibberish thought bubbles over her head. . . .)
--From A Catalogue of Everything in the World: Nebraska Stories, a collection by Yelizaveta P. Renfro (Black Lawrence Press, 2010), winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award.  This segment is from the short story "Tree Roots" (pp. 36-49), which first appeared in Blue Mesa Review (Fall 2009).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Spring 2017 issue of the Apple Valley Review

The Spring 2017 issue of the Apple Valley Review features short fiction by Siamak Vossoughi and Tom Gresham; an essay by Stephanie Paterson; poetry by Amorak Huey, Karen Schubert, Danielle Hanson, Kim Jacobs-Beck, José Angel Araguz, Mark Luebbers, Katherine Gekker, Joseph Chaney, and Sandra Kohler; and a cover photograph from India by Jorge Royan.  

The Apple Valley Review is a semiannual online literary journal.  The current issue, previous issues, subscription information, and complete submission guidelines are available at

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We Live in Water by Jess Walter

Jess Walter's 2013 short story collection, We Live in Water, was published by Harper Perennial.  I'm going to single out two stories from this collection:

I suppose I've hated Portland since I took a pop there.  It was a shame, too, because it was the perfect Portland scam.  A guy in my building was a volunteer recruiter for Greenpeace, and one day when he left his car unlocked I stole his pamphlets and sign-up logs.  I couldn't use that shit in Seattle so I drove to Union Station in Portland, picked out two lost kids who looked like they could be college students, and put them out downtown.   
--From "Helpless Little Things," pp. 69-81 (first published in Playboy, Vol. 56, No. 2, February 2009).

Wade's lawyers said they could get him transferred back to Seattle for community service, but he didn't want some old client seeing him cleaning pigeon shit in Pioneer Square.  His kids wanted nothing to do with him.  And until the divorce was finalized, he didn't even know which house to go to.
        No, he said, he'd just do his community service in Spokane.  
--From "The Wolf and the Wild," pp. 133-146 (first published in McSweeney's, Issue 41).

These two stories stood out to me, but the collection is really strong as a whole.  My other favorites were "Don't Eat Cat" (pp. 85-105), "Wheelbarrow Kings" (pp. 147-161), and the third of a set of three linked stories, "The Brakes" (127-131).  The last piece here, which appeared in The Best of McSweeney's and inspired me to read more of Jess Walter's work, was "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington" (163-177).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Three poems by Lynne Knight, a novel by Samanta Schweblin, and a short story collection by Ha Jin

We broke things.  Glasses, a lead crystal vase, 
the ceramic chicken painted à la portuguaise.  

It was the longest, hardest winter in a decade.
Snow against the windows, sealing us inside.
--From "Survival," a poem by Lynne Knight, published in Poetry Daily on November 10, 2016, from her collection The Persistence of Longing (Terrapin Books, 2016).  

I loved hearing the guy on the local station
in the small town where I lived for twenty years: 
Here in the foothills of the Adirondacks.
I was trying to become a poet, and I thought
everything I heard could become a poem
if I could figure out how to make use of it, 
the way frontierswomen made use of berries . . . 
--From "The Twenty-Year Workshop," a poem by Lynne Knight, Rattle, Number 50 (Winter 2015).  

I was thinking No.  No, oh no.  Not one more thing.
I was thinking my mother, who sat rigid
in the passenger seat crying, How terrible!
as if we had hit a child not your front bumper, 
would drive me mad, and then there would be 
two of us mad, mother and daughter . . . 
--From "To the Young Man Who Cried Out 'What Were You Thinking?' When I Backed Into His Car," a poem by Lynne Knight, Rattle, Number 32 (Winter 2009).  

It's dark and I can't see.  The sheets are rough, they bunch up under my body.  I can't move, but I'm talking.
          It's the worms.  You have to be patient and wait.  And while we wait, we have to find the exact moment when the worms come into being.
--From Fever Dream, a brief novel by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Riverhead Books, 2017).

The moment Hong Chen entered the narrow lane leading to Lilian's house, a bloody rooster landed before her, jumping about and scattering its feathers.  Four little boys ran over with knives and a hatchet in their hands.  "Kill, kill him!" one boy cried, but none of them dared approach the rooster, whose throat was cut half through.
--From "Taking a Husband," a short story by Ha Jin, from his often brutal collection Under the Red Flag (Zoland Books/Steerforth Press, 1999), pp. 132-153.