Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Above the Mountaintops" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Repentance" by Natasha Trethewey, and three other poems

Above the mountaintops
all is still.
Among the treetops you can feel 
barely a breath--
--From "Above the Mountaintops," a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated from the German by Rita Dove, The New Yorker (November 13, 2017), p. 63.

To make it right     Vermeer painted     then painted over
this scene     a woman alone at a table     the cloth pushed back
rough folds at the edge     as if     someone     had risen
--From "Repentance," a poem by Natasha Trethewey, The New Yorker (November 20, 2017), pp. 66-67.

Near a recently thawed pond, within a long
channel of construction, a man holding a sign.
One side says slow, the other stop.  
Joy and sorrow always run like parallel lines.
--From "Signs for the Living," a poem by Didi Jackson, The New Yorker (October 2, 2017), p. 42.

Tonight I found out that I am divorced.
My second try at marriage, and it's through. 
Relief is what I feel most, mixed with pain, of course, 
remorse, and just plain grief, which makes me think of you, 
you who knew such sorrow in your life
and all the ways that love can come undone, 
who was the first to call yourself my wife . . .  
--From "News of My Divorce Reminds Me of Your Death," a poem by Taylor Mali, Rattle (December 7, 2017).

The media loves pitting women against women: how do you feed your baby, why don't you fit in that dress, disposable diapers last 8 billion years even in the guts of sharks, gold digger, cougar, jailbait, cat fight.  On Coney Island, Miki Sudo downed 38 hot dogs in 10 minutes for the national crown. 
--From "Mother's Day," a poem by Karen Skolfield, Waxwing, Issue XIII (Fall 2017).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Life of Adventure and Delight and other fiction

I've been waiting a while to read A Life of Adventure and Delight, a collection of short stories by Akhil Sharma (W. W. Norton, 2017), and it was worth it.  Even the stories I'd read before knocked me out all over again.  (Some, if not all of them, have been revised since the original publications.)  David Sedaris wrote a couple of lines about the book that were included on the dust jacket of the hardcover: "There's a great duality to these stories: simple but complex, funny enough to laugh out loud at but emotionally devastating, foreign yet familiar.  What an exciting and original writer this is, and what a knock-out collection."  This really does sum it up. 

A little after ten in the morning Mrs. Shaw walked across Gopal Maurya's lawn to his house.  It was Saturday, and Gopal was asleep on the couch.  The house was dark.  When he first heard the doorbell, the ringing became part of a dream.  Only he had been in the house during the four months since his wife had followed his daughter out of his life, and the sound of the bell joined somehow with his dream to make him feel ridiculous.  Mrs. Shaw rang the bell again.  Gopal woke confused and anxious, the state he was in most mornings.  He was wearing only underwear and socks, but his blanket was cold from sweat.
--From "Cosmopolitan," a short story by Akhil Sharma, A Life of Adventure and Delight, pp. 13-45.  "Cosmopolitan" was first published in The Atlantic (January 1997).

One August afternoon, when Ajay was ten years old, his elder brother, Birju, dove into a pool and struck his head on the cement bottom.  For three minutes, he lay there unconscious.  Two boys continued to swim, kicking and splashing, until finally Birju was spotted below them.  
--From "Surrounded by Sleep," a short story by Akhil Sharma, A Life of Adventure and Delight, pp. 47-67.  An earlier version of "Surrounded by Sleep" was first published in The New Yorker (December 10, 2001).  (It shares a lot of details with Family Life, but even though I'd read that first, the story still had impact.) 

The side of the police van slid open, rattling, and he was shoved inside.  There were seven or eight men already sitting on the floor in the dark, their wrists handcuffed behind them.  Nobody said anything.  The van started with a jerk, then picked up speed.  His legs were stretched out in front of him, and he tried to use his cuffed hands to balance himself, but the plastic cuffs tightened, and he and the other men went rolling across the floor like loose bottles.  
--From "A Life of Adventure and Delight," a short story by Akhil Sharma, A Life of Adventure and Delight, pp. 127-145.  "A Life of Adventure and Delight" was first published in The New Yorker (May 16, 2016). 

We lived frugally.  If somebody was coming to the house, my mother moved the plastic gallon jugs of milk to the front of the refrigerator and filled the other shelves with vegetables from the crisper.  
--From "The Well," a short story by Akhil Sharma, A Life of Adventure and Delight, pp. 185-199.  "The Well" was first published in The Paris Review (Fall 2016). 

This is going to be--no, I don't want to be categorical--this could be the start of a virtuous circle.  My psychologist has told me that I need to say positive things to myself, only I don't want to be too positive, as that might just make things worse.  But I can say this: My life is a mess and I'm going to try to sort it out, starting with the small things.  Then, later, I'll be able to deal with bigger, more complicated things; buying blinds is a lifeline that's been thrown to me from dry land as I flail and flounder in the waves, I muse, and I park the car outside IKEA.
--From "Nice and Mild," a short story by Gunnhild Øyehaug, from her collection Knots, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), pp. 3-12.  I first read Øyehaug's story "Two by Two," Knots pp. 142-164, in The Best of McSweeney's, a collection edited by Dave Eggers and Jordan Bass (McSweeney's, 2013).  It was previously included in Issue 35 of the magazine in a section dedicated to Norwegian fiction. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A poem by Stephen Dunn and short fiction by Rebecca Lee and Etgar Keret

You shouldn't be surprised that the place 
you always sought, and now have been given, 
carries with it a certain disappointment. . . . 
--From "The Inheritance," a poem by Stephen Dunn, The New Yorker (September 4, 2017), p. 28.

It was the terrine that got to me.  I felt queasy enough that I had to sit in the living room and narrate to my husband what was the brutal list of tasks that would result in a terrine: devein, declaw, decimate the sea and other animals, eventually emulsifying them into a paste which could then be riven with whole vegetables.
--From "Bobcat," a short story by Rebecca Lee, in Bobcat & Other Stories (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013), pp. 1-30.  "Bobcat" was originally published as a chapbook with Madras Press, 2010.

This old house, belonging to my friends Lesley and Andy, had been built in 1904 in a neighborhood that pretended it was on solid ground--old, Victorian homes with pillars and porticoes--but if you stepped through the screen door into the garden out back, you could feel the sand under your feet, and despite Lesley's beautiful mazes of trees, you could tell the ocean had been here not long ago, and would be again.
--From "Settlers," a short story by Rebecca Lee, in Bobcat & Other Stories (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013), pp. 195-209. 

Dad wouldn't buy me a Bart Simpson doll.  Mum actually said yes, but Dad said I was spoiled.  "Why should we, eh?" he said to Mum.  "Why should we buy him one?  All it takes is one little squeak from him and you jump to attention."  Dad said I had no respect for money, that if I didn't learn it when I was young when would I?  Kids who get Bart Simpson dolls too easily grow up to be louts who steal from kiosks, because they're used to getting whatever they want the easy way.  So instead of a Bart Simpson doll he bought me an ugly china pig with a flat hole in its back, and now I'll grow up to be OK, now I won't be a lout.
--From "Breaking the Pig," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu, in The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories (Riverhead Books, 2015), pp. 27-30.  "Breaking the Pig" was first published in Hebrew in Missing Kissinger (Zmora Bitan, 1994). 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Short fiction by Christopher James, illustrated work by Kelcey Parker Ervick, and a poem by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

Through the phone I heard him whispering something to someone, then climbing down from something, then pulling on some pants, then plodding along, opening a door, stepping out, and closing the door behind him.  I heard him lighting a cigarette, heard him taking the time to enjoy the first puff before he put the phone back to his ear.
          "I'm here," he said.
--From "Canada," a short story by Christopher James, Wigleaf (August 25, 2016). 

My mom killed herself, I told him.  He said that he was sorry, for me, personally, but at the same time he thought my mom had done a good thing.  The world was overpopulated. Somebody had to take a lead on this, or we'd all be in deep shiatsu.  He was sorry for me personally, he said again, but definitely, on an abstract level, what my mom had done was making a difference in a grander scheme of, you know, what needed doing.
--From "Almost," a short story by Christopher James, Wigleaf (March 10, 2013). 

This is the fish my husband bought in the final year of our marriage. 
--From "The Fish," a comic (or an illustrated short story in the vein of a graphic novel) by Kelcey Parker Ervick, Nashville Review (July 28, 2017).

It goes something like, there once was an alcoholic, because
it always starts with drinking, and his wife, because every husband

must come with one . . . 
--From "Jokes Don't Translate Well from Russian," a poem by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Sixth Finch (Summer 2017). 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Fall 2017 issue of the Apple Valley Review

The Fall 2017 issue of the Apple Valley Review features short fiction by Dara Passano and Murali Kamma; essays by Lauren Fath; prose poetry by Andrea Jackson; poetry by Grant Clauser, P. Ivan Young, Milla van der Have, Sandra Kolankiewicz, Ken Autrey, Athena Kildegaard, Matthew Murrey, Floyd Cheung, Gail Peck, Stan Sanvel Rubin, and Richard Jones; and a cover photograph from U.S. Route 6 by Nicholas A. Tonelli.   

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Short fiction by Garth Greenwell, Hye-young Pyun, and Alan Bennett and a poem by Julie Bruck

He laughed again when I warned him not to post it on Facebook.  I'll hunt you down, I said, one of the phrases I had used often in my seven years as a teacher, four of them here in Bulgaria, a career whose end we were celebrating that night.  He held up his hands, smiling broadly.  Don't worry, he said, I won't, I just want to remember this forever.
--From "An Evening Out," a short story by Garth Greenwell, The New Yorker (August 21, 2017), pp. 62-69.

Oghi opened his eyes to a faint glimpse of white clothing.  He heard his name: "Oghi.  Oghi."  The voice was soft, kind.  Eight days had passed since his emergency surgery, eight days during which he had slipped in and out of consciousness. 
--From "Caring for Plants," a short story by Hye-young Pyun, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell, The New Yorker (July 10 & 17, 2017), pp. 64-71.

His paintings were small, suggestions 
of houses, pinpricks of green for trees.
--From "A Marriage," a poem by Julie Bruck, The New Yorker (November 7, 2011), p. 78.

'I gather you're my wife,' said the man in the waiting room.  'I don't think I've had the pleasure.  Might one know your name?'
--From "The Greening of Mrs Donaldson," the first of two stories in a little book called Smut by English dramatist Alan Bennett.  The book, originally published in Great Britain by Faber and Faber Ltd and Profile Books Ltd, was published in the United States by Picador (2012).  The story "The Greening of Mrs Donaldson" was originally published in the London Review of Books (2010).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A poem by Ryan Fox and fiction by Akhil Sharma, Miroslav Penkov, and Anthony Doerr

You were all over everything. 
I just wanted to read "The Four Quartets."
But there was your handwriting, . . .  
--From "And Both Hands Wash the Face," a poem by Ryan Fox, The New Yorker (May 8, 2017), p. 38.

"Break her arms, break her legs," Lakshman's grandmother would say about her daughter-in-law, "then see how she crawls to her bottle."  What she said made sense.  Lakshman's father refused to beat his wife, though.  "This is America," he said.  "I will go to jail and you will be sitting in India eating warm pakoras." 
--From "You Are Happy?," a short story by Akhil Sharma, The New Yorker (April 17, 2017), pp. 58-63.

Five summers slipped by.  I went to school in the village and in the afternoons I helped Father with the fields.  Father drove an MTZ-50, a tractor made in Minsk.  He'd put me on his lap and make me hold the steering wheel and the steering wheel would shake and twitch in my hands, as the tractor plowed diagonally, leaving terribly distorted lines behind.
        "My arms hurt," I'd say.  "This wheel is too hard."
        "Nose," Father would say, "quit whining.  You're not holding a wheel.  You're holding Life by the throat.  So get your shit together and learn how to choke the bastard, because the bastard already knows how to choke you." 
--From "East of the West," a short story by Miroslav Penkov, The PEN/O'Henry Prize Stories 2012, pp. 157-181.  ("East of the West" was first published in Orion Magazine in May/June 2011).

Tom is born in 1914 in Detroit, a quarter mile from International Salt.  His father is offstage, unaccounted for.  His mother operates a six-room, underinsulated boardinghouse populated with locked doors, behind which drowse the grim possessions of itinerant salt workers: coats the color of mice, tattered mucking boots, aquatints of undressed women, their breasts faded orange.  Every six months a miner is fired or drafted or dies and is replaced by another, so that very early in his life Tom comes to see how the world continually drains itself of young men, leaving behind only objects--empty tobacco pouches, bladeless jackknives, salt-caked trousers--mute, incapable of memory.  
--From "The Deep," a short story by Anthony Doerr, The PEN/O'Henry Prize Stories 2012, pp. 352-370.  ("The Deep" was first published in Zoetrope, Volume 14, Number 3, in Fall 2010).