Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Best of McSweeney's

These pieces are all from The Best of McSweeney's, a collection edited by Dave Eggers and Jordan Bass and published by McSweeney's in 2013.  (There is also a deluxe box set edition available here.)

I live in St. Paul, Minnesota.  A nice place where God tries to ice-murder all inhabitants every year.
--Letter from John Moe, pp. 14-15.

I used to think only poor people set fires.  Two reasons for this: (1) I'd never known anyone whose house had burned down, and (2) when I worked for the Social Security Administration, "It burned up in a fire" was a common response to my request for documents.
--Letter from Mary Miller, pp. 15-16.

Five years ago, I played an angry gay teenager in a small coming-of-age film.  
--Letter from Colleen Werthmann, pp. 20-21.  

He is nine.  The other boys and girls have been like this, together, since they were four.  But he is new. 
--From "New Boy," fiction by Roddy Doyle, pp. 39-57.

1. The population of Spokane, Washington, is 203,268.  It is the 104th biggest city in the United States.
2. Even before the recession, in 2008, 36,000 people in Spokane lived below the poverty line--a little more than 18 percent of the population.  That's about the same as it was in Washington, DC, at the time.  The poverty rate was 12.5 percent in Seattle.
--From "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington," fiction by Jess Walter, pp. 59-67.

My wife, the doctor, is not well.  In the end she could be dead.  It started suddenly, on a country weekend, a movie with friends, a pizza, and then pain.
--From "Do Not Disturb," fiction by A.M. Homes, pp. 89-111.

We drove there through a ferocious snowstorm, swaddled in old blankets and sleeping bags, because his car heater had gone out years before...  I huddled up next to him and adjusted the radio stations as they faded in and out of range...
--From "We'll Sleep in My Old Room," a comic by Chris Ware, pp. 128-131.

The trouble happened because I was bored.  At the time, I was twenty-eight days sober.  I was spending my nights playing Internet backgammon.  I should have been going to AA meetings, but I wasn't.  . . .  When I wasn't burning out my eyes on the computer, I was lying in bed, reading.  I was going through the third Raymond Chandler phase of my adulthood.  Read all his books in 1988, then 1999, and now 2007.  Some people re-read Proust or Thomas Mann and improve themselves.  Not me.
--From "Bored to Death," fiction by Jonathan Ames, pp. 361-386 (and his note on the story, pp. 359-360).

Bucks returned to Kenya in short order.  He met a barmaid who became pregnant and left with him for Uganda, where they were soon estranged.  For a while afterward he moved between that country and Kenya, once again attracting scrutiny for exporting protected snakes: his new specialties were Bitis worthingtoni and Bitis parviocula, highland adders from Kenya and Ethiopia.  On New Year's Eve 2005, Bucks was arrested and thrown into a Kenyan jail.  The official charge was something about illegal frogs in one of his terrariums, but Kenya now had a long list of grievances against him, as did Uganda and Ethiopia.  
--From "Benjamin Bucks," nonfiction by Jennie Erin Smith, pp. 457-475.

I first met the Polack when she worked at Fort Worth Gold.  This was before I learned the jewelry business myself and joined [my brother] Baron.  I was only a customer when I met her, buying a stainless-steel Cartier for an institutional client of mine.  It was almost Christmas, and the sales floor stood ten deep with buyers.  It was the fat time.
--From "How to Sell," fiction by Clancy Martin, pp. 543-558.

Mama taught me better.  She could give me a glare that brought me to my knees when she heard me talk about anyone without respect--especially Mabiordit.  It was Mabiordit who had sheltered us when we came to Juba looking for Jal e Jal and ended up stranded, with nothing in Mama's purse but twenty pounds and a battered Nokia mobile that could receive calls but not make them.  
--From "The Bastard," fiction by Nyuol Lueth Tong, pp. 589-602.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Two poems, short fiction, and a novel

When the men arrived, finally, to haul the big table away, 
I ran my hand down the battered length of it, as if along
the flank of some exhausted workhorse, overcome
by a sudden rush of absurd remorse.
--From "Esposito & Son," a poem by Anna Scotti, The New Yorker (November 28, 2016), p. 38.

Before leaving, he explained his plan to the maid and the cook.  Buenos Aires is falling apart; I'm going to the ranch, he said.  They talked for hours, sitting at the kitchen table.  The cook had been to the ranch as often as Pereda, who had always said that the country was no place for a man like him, a cultivated family man, who wanted to make sure that his children got a good education.  His mental images of the ranch had blurred and faded, leaving only a house with a hole in the middle, an enormous, threatening tree, and a barn flickering with shadows that might have been rats.  Nevertheless, that night, as he drank tea in the kitchen, he told his employees that he had hardly any money left to pay them (it was all frozen in the bank--in other words, as good as lost) and the only solution he had come up with was to take them to the country, where at least they wouldn't be short of food, or so he hoped.  
--From "The Insufferable Gaucho," a short story by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews, published in The New Yorker (October 1, 2007) and in the short story collection The Insufferable Gaucho (New Directions, 2010), pp. 9-41.

In 1954 he began to train with the Ama, Japanese women diving in the tradition of their mothers and grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers, "sea women" seeking fish and pearls in the depths of the Pacific.  
--From "Sine of the Sea" (parts I-IV), fiction by Clare Boerigter, First Class Literary Magazine, November 28-December 2016.  A link at the bottom of the page will lead to the next segment.

I had been driving for less than an hour when I began to feel ill.  The burning in my side came back, but at first I decided not to give it any importance.  I became worried only when I realized that I no longer had the strength to hold onto the steering wheel.  In the space of a few minutes my head became heavy, the headlights grew dimmer; soon I even forgot that I was driving.  I had the impression, rather, of being at the sea, in the middle of the day.  
--From The Lost Daughter, a novel by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2008).

It it what it is; heart packed in cotton balls and stored
for winter, or like clothes that no longer fit but still might.  
--From "Ouroboros," a poem by Sonya Vatomsky, first published in Menacing Hedge (Spring 2015) and reprinted in her chapbook My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press, 2015).  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"Dirt" by Etgar Keret and other fiction

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.  He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator.  He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice.  He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me.  He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere.  Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.  
--From The Days of Abandonment, a novel by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2005).  First published, as I giorni dell'abbandono, by Edizioni e/o in 2002.

Darrell had a face like a crumpled pack of cigarettes.  It was hard to believe he was only fourteen.  Every morning we had to stand in the hallway watching the kids walk into our classes because it was supposed to show them we were welcoming.  Darrell walked too fast and leaned too far forward when he walked, as if he was about to give someone a piece of his mind.  
--From "Fire," a short story by Krys Belc, Reservoir, Issue II (August 2016).

My father never even asks for a name.  He pulls up, I walk to the car, afraid the whole time it isn't really him, isn't really his car, and I open the door and I close it and I sit down and cross my legs and uncross them and cross my arms instead and say Hello and that's all he says back, Hello.  
--From "My Father Never," a short story by Krys Belc, Reservoir, Issue II (August 2016).

Benny Brokerage had been waiting for them in the doorway for almost half an hour, and when they arrived he tried to act as if it didn't make him mad.  "It's all her fault," the older man said, sniggering, and held out his hand for a firm, no-nonsense shake.  "Don't believe Butchie," the peroxide urged him.  She looked at least fifteen years younger than her man.  "We got here earlier, except we couldn't find any parking.  And Benny Brokerage gave her his foxy smile, like he really gave a shit why she and Butchie were late.  
--From "Eight Percent of Nothing," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, published in The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 43-47.  The story was featured in episode 285 of This American Life (Know Your Enemy, March 25, 2005).

Listen, a true story.  About three months ago a woman about thirty-two years old met her death in a suicide bomb attack near a bus stop.  She wasn't the only one who met her death, lots of others did too.  But this story is about her. 
--From "Surprise Egg," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, published in The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 55-58.

So let's say I'm dead now, or I open a self-service laundromat, the first one in Israel.  
--From "Dirt," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, published in The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 59-60.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Fall 2016 issue of the Apple Valley Review

The Fall 2016 issue of the Apple Valley Review features short fiction by Arndt Britschgi, Robert Radin, and Karl Harshbarger; prose poetry by James Cihlar and Julie Brooks Barbour; poetry by JJ Penna, Donna Pucciani, Ellen Saunders, Pat Hanahoe-Dosch, Gail Hanlon, Lisa Zimmerman, Chris Anderson, and Adam Ortiz; and a cover photograph from Finland by Kotivalo.

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante) and two poems

My friendship with Lila began the day we decided to go up the dark stairs that led, step after step, flight after flight, to the door of Don Achille's apartment.  I remember the violet light of the courtyard, the smells of a warm spring evening.  The mothers were making dinner, it was time to go home, but we delayed, challenging each other, without ever saying a word, testing our courage.  For some time, in school and outside of it, that was what we had been doing.  Lila would thrust her hand and then her whole arm into the black mouth of a manhole, and I, in turn, immediately did the same, my heart pounding, hoping that the cockroaches wouldn't run over my skin, that the rats wouldn't bite me.
--From My Brilliant Friend, a novel by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2012).  This is the first in a series of four books referred to as the Neapolitan Novels or the Neapolitan Quartet.  Book One is My Brilliant Friend, Book Two is The Story of a New Name, Book Three is Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and Book Four is The Story of the Lost Child.  I was mesmerized by these, but please note that they contain numerous descriptions of interpersonal violence.  (The scenes are not gratuitous or unnecessarily graphic, but they can be quite brutal.  Violence itself is one of the many topics of the books.)      

In my other life the B-17 my father is piloting 
Is shot down over Normandy
And my mother raises her sons alone . . . 
--From "Two Lives," a poem by Carl Dennis, The New Yorker (April 18, 2016), pp. 66-67.

at length: the moon opens

a blank after the all-night
          crying.  Early morning, inexplicable

hush.  The toy endlessly chiming in the attic . . . 
--From an excerpt from Substantial (a love letter), poetry by Gina Franco, West Branch Wired (Winter 2016).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Suddenly, A Knock on the Door

These are from Suddenly, A Knock on the Door: Stories by Etgar Keret, translated into English by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston, and Nathan Englander and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2012.  The collection was originally published in Hebrew as Pit'om Defikah Ba-Delet by Zmora-Bitan in 2010.

Two people were standing at the door.  A second lieutenant wearing a knitted yarmulke, and behind him, a thin officer with sparse, light-colored hair and captain's bars on her shoulders.  Orit waited a minute, and when she saw that they still weren't saying anything, she asked if she could help them.  "Druckman," the captain tossed the word, part command, part reprimand, at the soldier.  "It's about your husband," the religious soldier mumbled at Orit.  "Can we come in?"  Orit smiled and said that this must be some kind of mistake because she wasn't married.
--From "Simyon" by Etgar Keret, pp. 25-30, translated by Sondra Silverston.

I know a guy who fantasizes all the time.  I mean, this guy even walks down the street with his eyes shut.  One day, I'm sitting in the passenger seat of his car and I look over to the left and see him with both his hands on the wheel and his eyes shut.  No kidding, he was driving like that on a main street. 
--From "Shut" by Etgar Keret,  pp. 31-33, translated by Sondra Silverston.

Then one Thursday a fat, sweaty guy walked into the cafe and smiled at him.  Miron was caught off guard.  The last person to give him a smile was Maayan, just before she left him, five months earlier, and her smile had been unmistakably sarcastic, whereas this one was soft, almost apologetic.  The fat guy gestured something, apparently a signal that he'd like to sit down, and Miron nodded almost without thinking. 
--From "Healthy Start" by Etgar Keret, pp. 34-39, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.  "Healthy Start" is available online in Tin House

The man who knew what I was about to say sat next to me on the plane, a stupid smile plastered across his face.  That's what was so nerve-racking about him, the fact that he wasn't smart or even sensitive, and yet he knew the lines and managed to say them--all the lines I meant to say--three seconds before me.  "D'you sell Guerlain Mystique?" he asked the flight attendant a minute before I could, and she gave him an orthodontic smile and said there was just one last bottle left.
--From "Mystique"by Etgar Keret, pp. 58-59, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.

The first story Maya wrote was about a world in which people split themselves in two instead of reproducing.  
--From "Creative Writing" by Etgar Keret, pp. 60-65, translated by Sondra Silverston.

When the new great depression began, NW was hardest hit.  Its merchandise was meant for the affluent class, but after the Chicago riots, even the wealthy stopped ordering, some of them because of the unstable economic situation, but most of them because they just couldn't face their neighbors.
--From "September All Year Long" by Etgar Keret, pp. 142-145, translated by Sondra Silverston.

There are conversations that can change a person's life. 
--From "Joseph" by Etgar Keret, pp. 146-148, translated by Sondra Silverston.

There's a theory that says there are billions of other universes, parallel to the one we live in, and that each of them is slightly different.  There are the ones where you were never born, and the ones where you wouldn't want to be born.  
--"Parallel Universes" by Etgar Keret, pp. 153-154, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Short fiction by Haruki Murakami

A mother and her son, Americans, were staying in the unit next door to my wife and me.  They seemed to have settled in long before we arrived.  The mother was around sixty, the son close to our age, twenty-eight or twenty-nine.  They resembled each other more than any mother and son I'd ever seen--both with identical long, narrow faces, broad foreheads, tightly set lips.  The mother was tall, her posture erect, her movements always alert and brisk.  The son seemed tall, too, but you really couldn't say for sure, as he was confined to a wheelchair.  Invariably, his mother was behind him, pushing the chair.  
--From "Hunting Knife," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 84-99.  First published in The New Yorker (November 17, 2003).

Taking the occasional sip of bitter coffee, I slowly read the article.  I'd read a few lines to myself, mull over how to put it into Japanese, then translate aloud.  A few bees popped up from somewhere to lick the jam that a previous customer had spilled on the table.  They spent a moment lapping it up, then, as if suddenly remembering something, flew into the air with a ceremonious buzz, circled the table a couple of times, and then--again as if something had jogged their memory--settled once more on the tabletop.  After I had finished reading the whole article, Izumi sat there, unmoving, elbows resting on the table.  She tented the tips of the fingers of her right hand with the tips of her fingers of her left.  
--From "Man-Eating Cats," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 112-130.  First published in The New Yorker (December 4, 2000).    

Every morning, [my roommate] was up at six on the dot, the national anthem his alarm clock.  So I guess the flag-raising wasn't a complete waste.  He dressed and went to wash up, taking an incredibly long time to finish.  Made me wonder sometimes if he wasn't taking each tooth out and brushing them individually.  Back in the room he smoothed out his towel, hung it on a hanger, and put his toothbrush and soap back on the shelf.  Then he'd switch on the radio and start exercising to the morning exercise program.  
        I was pretty much a night owl, and a heavy sleeper, so when he started up I was usually dead to the world.  When he got to the part where he began to leap up and down, I'd bolt out of bed.  Every time he jumped up--and believe me he jumped really high--my head would bounce three inches off the pillow.  Try sleeping through that.  
        "I'm really sorry," I said on the fourth day of this, "but I wonder if you could do your exercises on the roof or something.  It wakes me up."
        "I can't," he replied.  "If I do it there, the people on the third floor will complain.  This is the first floor, so there isn't anyone below us." 
        "Well, how about doing it in the courtyard?"
        "No way.  I don't have a transistor radio so I wouldn't be able to hear the music.  You can't expect me to do my exercises without music." 
        His radio was the kind you had to plug in.  I could have lent him my transistor, but it only picked up FM stations.
        "Well, at least could you turn the music down and stop jumping?  The whole room shakes.  I don't want to complain or anything, but . . ."
        "Jumping?"  He seemed surprised.  "What do you mean, j-jumping?"  
        "You know, that part where you bounce up and down."
        "What are you talking about?"
        I could feel a headache coming on.  
--From "Firefly," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 226-248.  First published in the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2012).    

Junpei left the house at eighteen when he went to college in Tokyo, and he became involved with several women, one of whom "had real meaning" for him.  He knew this with absolute certainty at the time, and he is just as certain of it now.  Before he could express his feelings in concrete form, however (by nature, it took him longer than most people to put things into concrete form), she married his best friend, and since then she has become a mother.  For the time being, therefore, she had to be eliminated from the list of possibilities that life had to offer Junpei.  He had to harden his heart and sweep her from his mind, as a result of which the number of women remaining who could have "real meaning" in his life--if he was going to accept his father's theory at face value--was reduced to two.  
--From "The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 312-332.  First published in The New Yorker (September 26, 2005).  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Short stories by Alice Munro, Lara Vapnyar, and Rebekah Bergman, and a poem by Ellen Bass

Hazel was cold in this room.  When she checked into the Royal Hotel, earlier in the afternoon, a woman with a puff of gilt hair and a smooth, tapered face had given her the once-over, told her what time they served dinner, and pointed out the upstairs lounge as the place where she was to sit--ruling out, in this way, the warm and noisy pub downstairs.  Hazel wondered if women guests were considered too respectable to sit in the pub.  Or was she not respectable enough? 
--From "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass," a short story by Alice Munro, first published in The Atlantic and reprinted in her story collection Friend of My Youth (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990/Vintage, 1991), pp. 74-105.

Vadik arrived in New York on a snowy Saturday morning in the middle of winter.  He woke up as the plane started its descent into J.F.K. and quickly raised his window shade, hoping to catch a glimpse of that famous Manhattan skyline, but all he saw was a murky white mess.  It was still thrilling.
--From "Waiting for the Miracle," a short story by Lara Vapnyar, The New Yorker (April 25, 2016), pp. 80-85.

A taxicab drove into her living room.  There was a gaping hole where her wall had been with half of a taxicab still inside it, and she felt like hosting a party.  She did not know why.  
--From "Theme Party," a short story by Rebekah Bergman, Hobart (May 31, 2016).

We play this age-old sport that's kind of like fetch, except instead of a tennis ball, it is our guilt.  Also, the goal of the game is that it won't come back to you.  
--From "Dog," a short story by Rebekah Bergman, Hobart (May 31, 2016).

I looked like a woman.  
--From "Failure," a poem by Ellen Bass, The New Yorker (June 6 & 13, 2016), pp. 84-85.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fiction by Yoko Ogawa

Still, it wasn't immediately clear why a cousin, who was so much younger and had been out of touch for so long, should be calling to ask for something, nor could I imagine what I could possibly do to help him.  Instead of answering, I waited for him to continue.  "You see, I'm coming to college in Tokyo in April."
        "You can't be that old already!" I blurted out, honestly astonished.  He'd been a boy of four the last time I'd seen him.  
        "And I'm looking for a place to live, but I'm not having much luck.  Which is why I thought of you."
        "Yes, I remembered hearing that you lived in a good dormitory when you were in school."  My years in the dormitory came back as we spoke, but the memories seemed as distant as those of playing with this young cousin.
--From "Dormitory," a novella by Yoko Ogawa, published in The Diving Pool: Three Novellas, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador, 2008), pp. 109-164.  "The Diving Pool," "Pregnancy Diary," and ""Dormitory" were first published in Japan (1990, 1991).

It was March of 1992 when the Akebono Housekeeping Agency first sent me to work for the Professor.  At the time, I was the youngest woman registered with the agency, which served a small city on the Inland Sea, although I already had more than ten years of experience.  I managed to get along with all sorts of employers, and even when I cleaned for the most difficult clients, the ones no other housekeeper would touch, I never complained.  I prided myself on being a true professional. 
        In the Professor's case, it only took a glance at his client card to know that he might be trouble.  A blue star was stamped on the back of the card each time a housekeeper had to be replaced, and there were already nine stars on the Professor's card, a record during my years with the agency.
--From The Housekeeper and the Professor, a novel by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador, 2009).  The Housekeeper and the Professor was originally published in Japan under the title Hakase no Aishita Sūshiki (Shinchōsha Publishing Co., Ltd., 2003).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Doll Collection, an anthology of poems edited by Diane Lockward

These are some of my favorite poems from The Doll Collection, an anthology edited by Diane Lockward and published by Terrapin Books in 2016.

(Full disclosure: one of my poems, "In the Chair Museum," which was originally published in Eunoia Review, also appeared in this collection.)

I spotted it wedged on a dusty shelf
behind a rose-pattern, porcelain trinket-tray. . . .
--From "Marriage Doll" by Luanne Castle, p. 20.  Reprinted from her first collection of poetry, Doll God (Aldrich Press).

her plastic body is only visible if you remove 
her mother's stomach the size and color of a vanilla wafer . . .
--From "The Pregnant Doll" by Nicole Cooley, p. 27.

I had my own baby carriage
for my baby dolls to ride in
a fine, four-wheel thing . . . 
--From "Carriage" by Akua Lezli Hope, p. 61.

The stove doesn't work.  The food is painted
on the refrigerator door. . . . 
--From "The Only House in the Neighborhood" by Sarah Rose Nordgren, p. 82.  Reprinted from her debut collection of poetry, Best Bones (University of Pittsburgh Press).

Two weeks after my mother's death, the doll was 
waiting under the tree, the blonde-haired Amy I'd 
dreamed over in the Sears Christmas catalogue . . .
--From "Madame Alexander's Amy" by Alison Townsend, pp. 110-111.  Reprinted from The Blue Dress: Poems and Prose Poems (White Pine Press).  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fiction by John L'Heureux and poetry by Denver Butson, Holly Iglesias, and Joyce Carol Oates

Beverly and I were second graders at New Carew Street School and we both hated recess.  She hated recess and she cried the whole time and nobody knew why, so everybody made fun of her.  I hated recess because it wasn't really school and we weren't learning anything.  It was a waste of time.  I knew Beverly only by name and by what I could tell from spying on her.  Her last name was LaPlante, which was strange and therefore wrong, and she was known for being a crybaby. . . .
--From "Three Short Moments in a Long Life," a short story by John L'Heureux, The New Yorker (May 9, 2016), pp. 56-61.

as far as I know
there is no such place
as The Avalanche Café . . . 
--From "Avalanche Café," a poem by Denver Butson, The Adroit Journal, Issue 7 (Summer 2013).

a V formation 
of flying geese
slowly unzips 
the sky's dress . . . 
--From "The Sky Erotic," a poem by Denver Butson, The Adroit Journal, Issue 7 (Summer 2013).

Heading west from Black Mountain to Asheville, strip mall
strip mall strip mall,  and at the light in Swannanoa what
remains of the junk store where we shopped for wine glasses
for a party for your new friends the year we lived apart . . . 
--From "Ye Olde Whatever Shoppe," a poem by Holly Iglesias, Palaver (Spring 2016), p. 18.

Bolts of cotton and worsted wool stand upright until a woman
of indeterminate age rocks on free from the weight of the 
others and lugs it to the table . . . 
--From "Cutting Table," a poem by Holly Iglesias, Palaver (Spring 2016), p. 20.

This is the season when the husbands lie
in their hemp-woven hammocks for the last time
reading The Nation in waning autumn light . . . 
--From "This Is the Season," a poem by Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker (April 4, 2016), p. 65.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Short fiction by Luke Mogelson and Raj Ramaswamy

I was staring at a brown sky.  Just moments earlier, a researcher from the United Nations Ornithological Department had told me that fecal particulate from the city's open sewage system made up an alarming proportion of the atmosphere in Kabul.  The researcher was the sort of person who would say, "If you really want something to write about . . ." or "You're looking for a story?  What if I were to tell you . . . ," as if, before meeting him, you had lived in darkness, scribbling claptrap of zero consequence to anybody.  He'd invited me to lunch because he had some urgent information regarding birds.  Something to do with the great migrations above the Hindu Kush, the desertification of Iranian wetlands, mass extinction.  "Have you ever seen a Siberian crane?" he asked me.  "No, you haven't.  No one in Afghanistan has seen a Siberian crane in the past twenty years."
        I pretended to take notes.  My notepad, back then, was mostly pretend notes.  Many of the pages featured detailed sketches of me killing myself by various means.  One especially tedious interviewwith a mullah, another fucking mullah holding forth from behind a vertical index fingerhad yielded a kind of comic strip of me leaping from a skyscraper, shooting myself in midair, and landing in front of a bus. . . . 
--From "Total Solar," a short story by Luke Mogelson, The New Yorker (February 29, 2016), pp. 58-63.

"Thank you, come again," this cop is saying in an impressive fake accent.  He's saying it to me, even though I'm the one standing here behind the register.  Even though I'm the quote-unquote Indian guy.  He's saying it to me because I won't say it to him, never have, never will.  I force a grin at him, and he pushes on out into the night, free coffee in hand.  It's this routine he has.  A joke.
--From "Night Shift," a short story by Raj Ramaswamy, Exposition Review (Flash 405, November 2015).

Short fiction from a collection of scary fairy tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There once lived a woman who hated her neighbora single mother with a small child.  As the child grew and learned to crawl, the woman would sometimes leave a pot of boiling water in the corridor, or a container full of bleach, or she'd just spread out a whole box of needles right there in the hall.  The poor mother didn't suspect anythingher little girl hadn't learned to walk yet, and she didn't let her out in the corridor during the winter when the floor was cold.  But the time was fast approaching when her daughter would be able to leave the room on her own.  The mother would say to her neighbor, "Raya, sweetie, you dropped your needles again," at which point Raya would blame her poor memory.  "I'm always forgetting things," she'd say.  
        They'd once been friends. . . .   
(From "Revenge," pp. 7-11.)

There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life.  That is, her parents were told that the girl was dead, but they couldn't have the body (they had all been riding the bus together; the girl was standing up front at the time of the explosion, and her parents were sitting behind her).  The girl was just fifteen, and she was thrown back by the blast. . . .
(From "The Fountain House," pp. 97-107, also published in English in a slightly different form in the August 21, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.)

She's a tall, grown-up, married woman now, but she was once an orphan living with her grandmother, who had taken her in when the girl's mother disappeared. . . .   
(From "The Shadow Life," pp. 108-114.)

There is clearly someone in the house.  Walk into the bedroom: something falls in the living room.  Look for the cat: it's sitting on the little table in the front hall, its ears pricked up; it clearly heard something, too.  Walk into the living room: a scrap of paper has fallen, all by itself, from the piano, with someone's phone number on it, you can't tell whose.  It just flew off the piano soundlessly and lies on the carpet, white and alone. . . . 
        Someone isn't being careful, thinks the woman who lives here.  Someone isn't even trying to hide anymore.  
        A person can be afraid of rodents, insects, little ants in the bath, even a lonely cockroach that's stumbled into your apartment in a drugged state, fleeing the disinfection campaign at the neighbors'—which is to say, he's just standing naked and defenseless, in plain view.  But a person can be afraid of anything when she's alone with her cat and everyone has departed, all her old family, leaving this little human roach completely by herself, unprotected. . . .   
(From "There's Someone in the House," pp. 124-138.)

--From There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, a collection of short fiction by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, selected and translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers (Penguin Books, 2009).

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Spring 2016 issue of the Apple Valley Review

The Spring 2016 issue of the Apple Valley Review features an essay by Colin Pope; short fiction by Martha Clarkson, Sarah Wolf, Denise Tolan, and Knud Sørensen; a prose poem by Michael Chin; poetry by Gayane M. Haroutyunyan, Carmen Firan, Laura Lee Washburn, Kevin McLellan, Domenic Scopa, Virginia Barrett, Gail Peck, and K. J. Knoespel; and cover artwork by Thomas Cole.

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, March 20, 2016

Short fiction by Yoko Ogawa, an essay by D. T. Max, and more

A waiter led us into a private room at the back of the restaurant, where the man was already seated at a table too large for three, sipping a garish red cocktail.  For some reason I had assumed he would be accompanied by a secretary or bodyguard, but he was alone.
        A chandelier hung from the ceiling and flowers had been arranged around the room.  The silverware gleamed, the tablecloth was blindingly white. 
        They barely greeted each other, exchanging little more than vague, meaningless grunts.  She sat down without introducing me, and I realized the moment for such formalities had already passed.  
--From "Fruit Juice," a short story by Yoko Ogawa, published in her collection of interconnected stories, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Picador, 1998).

Darek Fidyka, who is forty-one years old, . . . was born and raised in Pradzew, a small farming town in central Poland, not far from Lodz.  At 3 A.M. on July 27, 2010, Fidyka and his girlfriend, Justyna, woke to the sound of someone smashing Fidyka's Volkswagen outside their house, a few miles from Pradzew.  They got out of bed, rushed out the door, and found her ex-husband, Jaroslaw, battering the car with a cinder block.
--From "One Small Step: A paraplegic undergoes pioneering surgery," an essay by D. T. Max, The New Yorker (January 25, 2016), pp. 48-57.

beside myself in Texas the doctors asking my beloved
to give his pain a number one to ten his answer is always
two I tell them eight the holly bush in the yard is putting out new leaves... 
--From "Chameleon," a poem by Ellen Bryant Voigt, The New Yorker (May 7, 2012), p. 34.

Weird Pig told the mule to send him email.  Send the real kind, he said.  All right?
        The mule was at a loss.  He had heard of email and mail, but mules were prohibited by law from sending or receiving either one.  He wasn't sure exactly what they were.
        Weird Pig didn't know what email was either, but he had overheard Farmer Dan talking about it with one of the chickens.  He thought he should let on to someone that he knew what it was.  It might improve his status on the farm.
--From "Real Mail," a short story by Robert Long Foreman, The Collapsar (January 15, 2016).

Boy 2 rescued you on the playground.  There was a kid who always showed up dressed like a cowboy, who one day climbed the ladder just behind you, put his lasso around your neck, and pushed you down the slide.  Boy 2 ran over to see if you were hurt--you weren't, just shocked by the sudden viciousness of it--and to shout at the other boy, "Leave her alone!"  He stood over you while you loosened the rope and helped you pull the noose off over your head.  
--From "An Inventory," a short story by Joan Wickersham, One Story, Volume 12, Number 8 (October 27, 2014).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fiction by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Yasunari Kawabata, and Louise Erdrich

This is what happened.  An unmarried woman in her thirties implored her mother to leave their studio apartment for one night so she could bring home a lover.  
        This so-called lover bounced between two households, his mother's and his wife's, and he had an overripe daughter of fourteen to consider as well.  About his work at the laboratory he constantly fretted but would brag to anyone who listened about the imminent promotion that never materialized.  The insatiable appetite he displayed at office parties, where he stuffed himself, was the result of an undiagnosed diabetes that enslaved him to thirst and hunger and lacquered him with pasty skin, thick glasses, and dandruff.  A fat, balding man-child of forty-two with a dead-end job and ruined health--this was the treasure our unmarried thirtysomething brought to her apartment for a night of love. . . . 
--From There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories, a collection by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, selected and translated from the Russian by Anna Summers (Penguin Books, 2013).

Even when he reached Kamakura and the Engakuji Temple, Kikuji did not know whether or not he would go to the tea ceremony.  He was already late.
        He received an announcement whenever Kurimoto Chikako offered tea at the inner cottage of the Engakuji.  He had not once gone since his father's death, however.  He thought of the announcements as no more than formal gestures in memory of his father.  
        This time there had been a postscript: she wanted him to meet a young lady to whom she was giving tea lessons.
        As he read it, Kikuji thought of Chikako's birthmark.  
        Had he been eight, perhaps, or nine?  He had been taken by his father to visit Chikako, and they had found her in the breakfast room. . . . 
--From Thousand Cranes, a short novel by Yasunari Kawabata, originally published in Japanese as Sembazuru, translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker, with drawings by Fumi Komatsu (Wideview/Perigee, G. P. Putnam's Sons/The Putnam Publishing Group, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1959).

He was the second, or perhaps the third, Nero owned by my grandparents.  With a grocery store that included a butcher shop and a slaughterhouse, they could feed as many dogs as they liked.  Nero, a mixture of fierce breeds in a line known locally as guard dogs, was valued for his strength, his formidable jaws, and his resonant bark.  At night, he was turned loose to guard the cash register in the front of the shop, where he paced the waxed linoleum, a ghostly white.  Other unbanked valuables were kept in a safe in my grandfather's bedroom.  He slept behind a locked door with my grandmother on one side of him and a loaded gun on the other.  This was not a place where a child got up at night to ask for a glass of water. . . .   
--From "Nero," a short story by Louise Erdrich, The New Yorker (May 7, 2012), pp. 60-67.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Turning" by W. S. Merwin

Going too fast for myself I missed 
more than I think I can remember

almost everything it seems sometimes
and yet there are chances that come back . . .  

--From "Turning," a poem by W. S. Merwin, The New Yorker (May 16, 2011), p. 49.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Four poems and two short stories

The daughter wakes to a world
encased in ice--
the pine trees stiff with it.
--From "Still," a poem by Meghan O'Rourke, from her collection Once (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), pp. 85-87.

It is a green landscape, houses stalwart
as circus ponies, American houses, wet
kids moving through them in Spandex bathing suits; 
inside, sandwiches with crusts cut off, 
windows flung open and striped awnings rolled out; 
family portraits on the walls and generic
medicines in the cabinet: the middle classes.
--From "Twenty-first Century Fireworks," a poem by Meghan O'Rourke, first published in The Kenyon Review and reprinted in her collection Once (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), pp. 17-18.

Who will remember us
when the light breaks
over the western valley 

and the trash stirs, 
the flood having come
with its red waters

and washed our graves away?
I was a person, 

once, I believe. . . .
--From "Churchyard," a poem by Meghan O'Rourke, first published in Tin House (Issue number 49, Fall 2011) and reprinted in her collection Once (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), pp. 45-46.

There was once a young wife, the apple of her husband's eye.  She was beautiful and charming and intelligent, and had been to college as well, a rare achievement for women in those days.
--From "The Maid Servant's Story," a short story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from her collection Arranged Marriage (Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1995), pp. 109-168.

Did you folks have a quarrel, asked the policeman, looking up from his notepad with a frown, and the husband looked directly back into his eyes and said, No, of course we didn't.  
--From "The Disappearance," a short story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from her collection Arranged Marriage (Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1995), pp. 169-181.

I am staying at a house with a screened-in back porch.  
--From "This Is Classy Because I Say So," a poem by Meg Johnson, published in Bear Review (Volume 2, Issue 1), p. 10.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Books of short stories by Roberto Bolaño and Dan Chaon, and a tragicomic illustrated memoir by Allie Brosh

B is in love with X.  Unhappily, of course.  There was a time in his life when B would have done anything for X, as people generally say and think when they are in love.  X breaks up with him.  She breaks up with him over the phone.  
--From "Phone Calls," one of a series of connected stories by Roberto Bolaño, from his short story collection Last Evenings on Earth, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions, 2006).  "Phone Calls" first appeared in Grand Street

O'Sullivan and his older brother, Smokey, have been driving in silence for a long while when the deer steps out of the darkness and into the middle of the road.
     For a second, it seems as if the world is paralyzed.  They can see the deer with its hoof lifted, taking a delicate step into their path, dreamy as a sleepwalker.  They can see the enormous skeletal bouquet of antlers as it turns to face them.  
--From "Slowly We Open Our Eyes," a short story by Dan Chaon, from his story collection Stay Awake (Ballantine/Random House, 2012), pp. 172-187.

This girl I've been seeing falls out of a tree one June evening.  She's . . . a little drunk and a little belligerent. . . . and we've been arguing obliquely all evening.
     For example, I just found out that she has an ex-husband who lives in Japan, who technically isn't an ex-husband since they haven't officially divorced.
     For example, I didn't know that she thought I was a bad kisser: "Your kisses are unpleasantly moist," she says.  "Has anyone ever told you that?"
     "Actually, no," I say.  "I've always gotten compliments on my kisses." 
     "Well," she says.  "Women very rarely tell the truth." 
     I smile at her.  "You're lying," I say . . .   
--From "Shepherdess," a short story by Dan Chaon, first published in Virginia Quarterly Review (Fall 2006) and reprinted in his story collection Stay Awake (Ballantine/Random House, 2012), pp. 188-209.

When I was ten years old, I wrote a letter to my future self and buried it in the backyard.  Seventeen years later, I remembered that I was supposed to remember to dig it up two years earlier.  
. . .  The letter begins thusly: 

        Dear 25 year old . . .
        Do you still like dogs?  What is your favorite dog?  Do you have
        a job tranning dogs?  Is Murphy still alive?  What is youre favorite
        food??  Are mom and dad still alive?

. . .  Below [a crayon drawing of] German shepherds, I wrote the three most disturbing words in the entire letter--three words that revealed more about my tenuous grasp on reality than anything else I have uncovered about my childhood.  There, at the bottom of the letter, I had taken my crayon stub and used it to craft the following sentence: 

                                      Please write back.

--From Hyperbole and a Half, written and illustrated by Allie Brosh (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2013).