Guest Post: Christine Brandel

Words on the Paper of Skin

My Body

My body is a palimpsest:

you cannot read her writing.

He will be unable to read yours.

I confess that when I first wrote this poem, I was thinking about lovers. About the way those we love leave their marks on us — on our skin, our mouths, our hearts — and the way those marks fade but do not disappear as time passes and love fades and may or may not disappear.

The more I sat with the image, though, the more I realized my body is covered in the words of so many others — friends I’ve cared for, enemies I’ve cursed, strangers who loitered long enough to leave traces. Some were written in indelible ink, others with a lighter touch, but my hide has been dried under tension, and washing with milk and oat bran will never get this parchment completely clean.

In the right light, I can read it all.

On my feet I see action words, reminders that I can wait or run, stand or fall. My knees say please and up my thighs are lines of lyrics (or are they limericks?). Across my belly sits the word empty. No matter how hard I scrub it with pumice, the curves and tails of those letters remain. My chest bears remnants of an animal’s fear and a surgeon’s signature, and the writing on my breasts, well, that I choose not to share with you.

My back is covered with what looks like court stenographers’ notes — each scribble symbolizing my exact whereabouts on the dates in question and the precise lengths of each of my sentences. Over my shoulders are my first doctor’s orders: the pain will never go away. Twenty years later, a different doctor drew a line through his diagnosis, but she did not rewrite it. The pain is still there under the skin — all she did was take away its name. The marks on my throat are my music teacher’s words. They’re too blurry now to read, but I know they are the reason I only sing when I’m alone.

Every day my face reveals more lines. There are jokes around my mouth and riddles on my forehead. Farewells trail from the corners of my eyes. Along my limbal rings are the details of my birth, and deep in one pupil, there’s a no, in the other, a yes. My scalp says fuck you. I occasionally clip my hair to let those words get some air.

My hands are a bit different. They’re my manuscript. They are the one place on my person I’ve never let someone else’s pen tip touch. They are scarred by my words alone. My wrist says try.

In the mirror, I see my story. Like Jorge Luis Borges’s Book of Sand, it is without beginning or end, impossible, and terribly infinite. Perhaps there is some beauty there, too.

__________________________________

I grew up believing that there was a distinct line separating the body and the mind. The body was the physical — the domain of science, a subject I was never very interested in. I had nothing against science; I trusted it and was frequently amazed by it. In terms of interest, though . . . no.

I was more into the mind: the mental, emotional, intellectual. The mind was my passion — I loved learning and teaching, discussing and arguing, reading and writing. I wrote about my thoughts and emotions and made up characters with their own thoughts and emotions. In this realm, there could be pleasure or pain, ecstasy or anguish. If a feeling was confusing or a thought distressing, with my pen in hand, I believed I could make it better. The consequences of this were both comfort and power. I wrote what I thought I could never say. I wrote what I thought no one would know until they’d read what I’d written.

 Brandel-Mine (Legs With Words)

As I’ve grown older, though, I realize the errors of my thinking. The body and the mind are not separate. What goes on in one goes on in the other. Every thought I’ve ever had lives in my bloodstream and my brain, my memories in my muscles and my mind.

This concept might be stupidly obvious to others, but to me, it was an epiphany. This body was not just a thing I lugged around each day; it had meaning. Or rather, meanings — different parts meant different things in different contexts, like page-long entries in a dictionary, like feelings that feel good and also bad. I thought I’d been writing my life on paper in poetry, but I’d also been doing it on my skin and in my bones.

Of course, this means sometimes that I am weary. Depression makes a mind muddled and a body heavy. I can no longer pretend that one’s all right when the other one is clearly not. However, it also means that my bibliography is longer and more varied than I’d previously thought. It appears I’m quite prolific.

Because my body is a palimpsest. It is tattooed with others’ words as well as my own, and the layers are deep and permanent. There are lines in my fingerprint, they are lines of poetry. All that writing will tell you who I am.

Guest Post: Beth Gilstrap

After Nick Hornby

Self Portrait

School Years

Bathroom Floor

Not As Long As You'd Think

English Class

Cornell Quote

Knife

Journal Entry

Remember Me

Self Portrait

Pills

It's Dark In Here

Dedication: For all writers who struggle with mental illness. But particularly, for Aubrie Cox Warner and Jill Talbot who, whether they realize it or not, continue to inspire me to be vulnerable and open. With thanks to Ben Barnes for assistance with self-portraits and so much more.

Guest Post: Anthony Varallo, Welcome the Interruption

Anthony Varallo bio photoAs far as I can remember, it started about ten years ago, right around the time we finally broke down and got Wi-Fi in the house, after years of saying we would never get Wi-Fi in the house—who needs Wi-Fi in their house?—this strange new phenomenon so subtle and so barely noticeable that, at first, it didn’t even feel like a change at all; it felt like what we had always known: the wish to be interrupted.

It occurred incrementally, the wish, starting out as little more than an occasional habit.  My first recollection of it was sitting at home one night and trying to read a book without being able to follow what I was reading.  I kept re-reading the same passage over and over again, or turning to the back cover to read the blurbs I’d already read a dozen times, or checking the author’s photo for no real reason.  I got up and fetched a glass of water.  I made myself a snack.  I read the book’s jacket copy again, trying to remind myself what I was reading.  I opened the book again and realized I had no idea what I’d been reading for several pages.

And then I did something I’d only just begun to do: I grabbed my laptop computer from my bag, placed it beside me, and started it up.  Maybe, I thought, I should check my email.  Yes, good idea.  Maybe someone had emailed me while I was reading my book, and I hadn’t even known it, and that person was now sitting somewhere, eagerly awaiting my response.  Think of how thoughtless I would be if I continued to read my book without even knowing that someone had emailed me.  What if it was something urgent?  Surely the person who had emailed me something urgent would appreciate how quickly I responded to their email.  Impressed, even, by my availability and interest in their urgent problem, even—and this part they wouldn’t know; how could they?—as I sat in my home trying to read a book I was having a hard time following.  Thanks, they would say, for responding so quickly.

So, I sat my computer beside me and checked my email, a position that allowed me to keep the book open across my lap, should I want to keep reading it.  Three new emails arrived, all junk.  I deleted them, and then returned to my book, with the sudden sense that someone was watching me, perhaps approving of what I had done.  I had paid attention to the world around me all while secluding myself from the world, too.  No more lazy, introverted, solo reading for me, like I had done for so many years; no, I would read my book and be attentive to my email at the same time, in case anyone emailed me something significant.  That’s what a thoughtful, caring person would do.  Who would try to read a book while neglecting the world around them?  A wish to be interrupted crept into my consciousness, without me quite realizing it somehow.  I’d acquired a new taste for something, even if I didn’t know what it was exactly.  Someone, somewhere, interrupt me.  Please.

Nowadays, I seek interruption whenever I can.  I keep my laptop open to email, weather, news, and baseball scores.  I open my web browser before I pour coffee into my coffeemaker, before I make myself a slice of toast with peanut butter, before I would even think of reading a book.  When was the last time I read a book first thing in the morning?  Did I used to do that?  I can barely remember now.  These days, so much of my reading is done online, that the line between “reading” and nearly all other activity has been thoroughly blurred.  Eradicated, even.  To the degree that I’m nostalgic now, writing this essay, for a time when I read without my laptop nearby, without Wi-Fi up and running, without a new email demanding my attention: a special, low rate on a hotel I stayed at once, years ago.  A coupon for savings on pharmacy products I do not need.  Another petition to sign.

I look back to that time when I could read innocently, without the need for interruption, and wonder if I’ll ever return to that kind of simplicity.  And I would wonder about it even more, and question, perhaps, what it all means, but I’d rather not think about it now, with the day just starting up, my coffee still warm.  Plus, I need to go check my email.

#ArtLitPhx: Spillers Podcast now available

Spillers logoLocal Phoenix’s premiere reading event Spillers has announced their new podcast series. The new series will have a short story read by the featured author, followed by an interview with the author. You can find out more and listen here. Their full press release is below:

Spillers, Phoenix’s premier short fiction ensemble reading event since 2015, is now also a podcast, produced and hosted by local award-winning writer and podcaster Robert Hoekman Jr.

While Spillers After Show has earned a stellar reputation as winner of Best Podcast 2016 by the Phoenix New Times, the now-live Spillers podcast brings new and exciting depth and intimacy, and will juxtapose national writers with locals, and award-winners with up-andcomers, to build an audience that extends well beyond Arizona’s borders.

Episodes each feature one short fiction story and an exclusive interview on the story of the story as told by the writer who wrote it. Every episode is 30 minutes or less so that it fits comfortably into a listener’s life, and has a Song Exploder-esque format and style.

With several interviews in the bag, Hoekman says, “These interviews are intimate and revealing. The writers so far have all been ready and willing to get personal and to talk about the circumstances and struggles that compel them to create the art they give us.”

Episodes are even recorded on-location—in places relevant either to the writer or to the story. One interview took place during a drive to a uranium mine south of the Grand Canyon. Another was held inside of a planetarium while staring up at a black hole. A third found the host and guest discussing bipolar disorder while sitting in a Circle K parking lot. These settings add dimension to the interviews that no reading event could otherwise achieve.

Venita Blackburn recording for the podcast

Venita Blackburn recording for Spillers podcast

The debut episode features ASU alum Venita Blackburn. On the show, she discusses the lifelong challenges for writers of color following her workshop on the subject, and reads her story, “Chew,” which appears in her upcoming collection Black Jesus and Other Superhero Stories (University of Nebraska Press).

Spillers has previously presented seven live events, held quarterly at the Crescent Ballroom. While autobiographical storytelling events abound, Spillers was the first and is still the only event to offer a night of Arizona’s best fiction in a setting designed to turn writers into rock stars and make literature worthy of date night. Spillers events have featured major novelists, Hudson Prize and GQ Book of the Year winners, Pushcart Prize winners, and contributors to Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Ploughshares, and McSweeney’s Quarterly, among other prestigious publications.

More live Spillers events will follow as the podcast develops its audience. For podcast subscription options and to apply to become a “spiller,” visit www.Spillers.net.

#ArtLitPhx: Author’s visit with Paul Mosier

The Train I Ride book coverOn Saturday June 24th, from 2 to 3PM, the Mesquite Public Library will host local author Paul Mosier. Paul will discuss his newest book, Train I Ride. The book will be available to purchase, and he will speak about his writing process. This is a free event and you can find out more information at the Phoenix Public Library website here.

#ArtLitPhx: Changing Hands Presents Nora McInerny Purmort

Book cover for It's Okay to LaughOn Thursday June 29th at 7PM Changing Hands Phoenix will host Nora Mclnerny Purmort to discuss her new memoir, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too). Nora is the Gracie-award winning host of the podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. Her memoir follows her husband Aaron’s battle with cancer, and Nora’s views on mortality and resilience.

Find out more about the event here. Changing hands Phoenix is located at 300 W Camelback, Phoenix, AZ 85013.

 

Contributor Update: Simone Muench

Good morning, everyone! Today, we’ve got a great start to the day with some news about one our past contributors. Simone Muench, whose work was featured in the Poetry section of our 3rd issue, has recently announced that her collection of poetry “Suture,” which she co-authored with poet Dean Rader, has been selected for publication by Black Lawrence Press. You can check out Simone’s work that we featured here, and when you’re done, do yourself the favor of adding “Suture” to your bookshelf by following the link here. Congratulations, Simone!

Buy this book!

The brilliant cover for “Suture” co-authored by past contributor Simone Muench, out now from Black Lawrence Press.