Blood Diamonds

   When it comes to comprehending numbers,
   don't listen to the poets -
   if they understood basic math,
   they wouldn't be poets.
   Listen to the accountants, instead.

   A poet will sing how 
   13 is an unlucky number
   (no feat of the imagination there).
   She may even pull out her license
   and irrationally rhyme 
   how some numbers are unethical.

   As if ethics applies to math and money.

   An accountant will cogently observe
   that no matter what 13 may be
   it is not a big number.
   17 is bigger - though still not big.
   27, 32, 50, and 59 are big
   but no bigger than a modest PR problem.

   13 does not make a synagogue a concentration camp.

   Especially when 13 is actually 12
   because the killer was 1.

   The accountant will clarify 
   that 12 is much smaller than
   billions.

   The poet will protest:
   billions is the sound of 
   outdoor concerts becoming killing fields
   and classrooms becoming slaughterhouses.
   Poets call those children and concertgoers
   blood diamonds.

   An accountant now concerned about the bottom line
   will counter that "blood diamonds" is
   a misleading and malicious metaphor
   manufactured by malcontent poets
   to cynically incite the sympathies of simpletons.

   There hasn't been a market for blood diamonds in years.

   So children and concertgoers are not blood diamonds.
   They aren't even innocent bystanders - 
   because they were terrified,
   when the shooting started,
   and tried to run away.

   If you must name them,
   the accountant will conclude that 
   the children and concertgoers were
   coal ash or feathers
   or other unavoidable byproducts
   of businesses worth billions.

   What, the accountant would like to know,
   is a poem worth?

   Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor

   First published in The Broadkill Review

Frodo and the Hedge Fund of Loneliness

When I was 156 months old, I was ignorant and delighted to be so. When I turned 157 months old, my family moved to a tiny and disturbing land where the money-minded natives used lacrosse sticks for everything. Working, eating, knitting, fornicating (ouch). Everything.

This strange place was called Connecticut, which means “hedge fund of loneliness” in Algonquian. Much like the winters there, I became sullen and dark. My sole refuge was the local library where I hid from everyone. It was easy to do. The place didn’t sell anything, so no one went there.

That’s where I found The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and my life was saved. The story is full of great and awful beings, but I became fast friends with Frodo. He too was a diminutive creature who saw ignorance as a blessing. Then he was sent to a cursed land on a doomed mission. Frodo got me through that first summer. He made all the difference in the world. While I was still frequently angry and sometimes lonely, I now had allies. Thousands of them. All waiting for me to read their stories.

Tengo Leche, Social Anxiety Scholar

Home Leaving

   I stole a frozen chicken
   and tried some Voodoo.
   I prayed to Shiva
   but I'm not Hindu.
   Magic 8 ball said gotta go.
   The lucky charm I rubbed 
   was actually just a dildo.
   I brought to Jesus
   all my desperate pleas,
   but though he loves the poor
   he loves us on our knees.

   So when's your home not your home?

   When it's owned by the bank
   you dumb fuck,
   and the bank wants you out.

   I diligently worked my way
   down every dead end street
   taking every detour I could take - 
   like rubbing a dildo for hours
   until my hands ached.

   Now the neighbors line the street.
   Police pound at my door.
   Mr. Diligent Dumbfuck went and got a gun
   because dildos won't do anymore.

   Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor

Mrs. Muzzle

   By Monday morning,
   a furious Mrs. Muzzle
   pounced on Uncle's lap,
   took her petite paw
   and gave his smirking lips
   several wicked smacks.

   But he continued to talk
   as if he was used to that 
   repeating a tedious tale
   about a dubious time
   when Smear the Queer
   was a Hunger Game
   the neighborhood kids 
   would play.

   And everyone was proud and happy
   though no one was proud and gay.

   Problem people stayed silent 
   otherwise they were gagged,
   and proper people spoke English
   with a Midwest accent -
   the same one Jesus had.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

Twins

   Unlike some gentlemen,
   I was never tempted by twins.
   They never captivated me -
   until that pink-driven spring
   when I encountered your proud peaks
   in a downy form-fitting sweater.
   Then I couldn't get twins off my mind.

   I will also confess surprise
   that you pounced upon my timid feeler.
   I expected you three to ignore me.
 
   Even more - 
   I expected you to run
   after that first fumbling night
   of errant probes and prods,
   but you stayed.

   Eventually, winter came,
   but you did not come with it.
   That left me cold and relieved.

   There was a time
   during that fevered summer 
   when I was concerned 
   I should love you less.
   But that would have been impossible.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

Jesus Saves – It’s Just a Question of When

Darcey Steinke’s Jesus Saves is a coarse and disturbing novel. It is a hair shirt. But you put it on and wear it, because even though the novel makes you uncomfortable you want to find out what happens.

The story opens with a car crash and a dead deer. Later, the deer’s head becomes the centerpiece of a shrine. To what? No idea. Maybe chaos or maybe random acts of violence. And that’s before you realize a teenage girl (like so many before her) has gone missing.

There will be blood. Literal and metaphorical. Blood spilled through cruelty, violence, negligence, and nature. “[Y]ou have to respect the earth, and if you don’t the earth gets hungry and wants blood. That’s what plane crashes are all about, blood payment.” And it’s not just the earth. Society is a vampire. Fortunately, there are plenty of vulnerable and desperate people to feed upon.

The story follows the parallel lives of two teenage girls in southwest Virginia – presumably Lynchburg or Roanoke (Ms. Steinke went to high school in Roanoke). Ginger is a minister’s daughter. Sandy is everyone’s daughter, and she has been kidnapped so she can be sold to a sex trafficking ring. The stories intersect briefly near the end.

Ginger is hardly religious in a traditional sense. “In the Bible [Ginger wryly observes], God was famous . . . for being more pleased by living animals and their slaughter than by a basket of inanimate vegetables.” Ginger’s mother recently died of cancer, and her father can barely function. It doesn’t help that the church’s major donors want him to become a televangelist. In describing a minister at a modern church, he tells Ginger the “head minister wore red suspenders and a blue striped shirt, like a Wall Street banker. They’re using corporate philosophies to make everybody feel like they’re moving up the church ladder, getting a raise or a promotion. But spiritual change is more subtle than that; you can’t just check items off a list.” Unfortunately for him, no one in his church is interested in spiritual change. They want to be entertained.

Our first introduction to Sandy is through a sermon by Ginger’s father. “Her mother says she has a dreamy side, that she collects stuffed animals, reads fantasy novels where horses fly and fairy princesses wear gowns made from flowers.” To Ginger’s father, Sandy is Christ-like, and the community must accept its complicity in her abduction. Everyone must “come to terms with the evil that resides within us.” Needless to say, the customers in his church are not entertained.

Sandy uses her childhood stuffed animals and the flying horses and unicorns in her fantasy novels to cope with the trauma of her kidnapping. As she becomes increasingly unhinged, these characters come to life. They are as real as her kidnapper. As real as Jesus. Sandy’s ordeal is brutal. Or said another way, it is realistic. The violence is not gratuitous or titillating. It is devastating.

So why is the book called Jesus Saves? We don’t know. Jesus is frequently discussed, but he never manifests. However, because we live in southwest Virginia, we would never suggest the title is ironic. That would get us shot. We accept, without question, that Jesus saves. We just wonder when he intends to start.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor

Hallmark Cards

   Hallmark has nice sentiments,
   but they meander the gentle slopes
   of meadows laced with buttercups
   pollinated by crisp dollar bills.
   And we are too smart for the platitudes
   of enterprises that print treacle for profit.

   At least that's what William and Mary say.
   Though they annually ask us for money,
   so they would say that anyway.

   There is also no denying the obvious:
   we have been lucky - so far. 

   Though we have stumbled on rocky trails,
   slipped on slick foothills
   and blundered over blue ridges,
   we've never had to scale the Himalayas.

   So while there have been obstacles,
   we have overcome them hand in hand.

   But perhaps that is simply 
   the Hallmark card in me speaking -
   the one that blithely assumes
   our journey has been one and the same.

   Maybe your path has been different.  

   Maybe you climb Himalayan peaks everyday.

   Maybe I am being foolish and insecure.

   But that exhausted look on your face
   suggests you ran uphill for miles today
   while I walked meters on smooth linoleum.

   Then there are these scattered scraps of paper -
   fuzzy phrases that spawn insipid poems
   parading my mostly muddled thoughts on everything.
   You can find them everywhere.

   And then there's you.
   Furtively writing in a diary
   I can never find.
   And I have looked everywhere.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

   First published in Blue Lake Review

   

Thoughts on the Dangers of Pretending to be a Poet (Part 3)

The dangers are legion, but this post pertains to mockery.

The harshest, obviously, is from your parents. “You are wasting your time and embarrassing the family,” my father says. Then he adds. “No one reads them anyway.”

“How can my poems embarrass the great Carp name if no one reads them?”

“Your unread poems aren’t the embarrassment. You are.”

My mother is gentler. “Muckypants, can you really be a poet if no one reads your poems?”

“You read my poems, Mom.”

“Oh, yes, that’s . . . right. Of course, I do. They’re very . . . quite long, aren’t they?”

Well, I think they’re only as long as they need to be.”

“Oh, bless your heart.”

As anyone from Roanoke will tell you – if someone says “bless your heart,” you just said something stupid.

Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Thoughts on the Dangers of Pretending to be a Poet (Part 2)

The dangers are legion, but I will focus on the primary ones. This post deals with self-loathing.

There is one constant when you pretend to be a poet – rejection. 117% of my poems have been rejected by poetry journals I have never heard of. I don’t think I even sent a poem to some of them. Have poetry journals joined the military-industrial complex? Do they use blanket rejections as pre-emptive strikes?

It takes a massive ego to suffer these slings and arrows. I forget who coined that phrase. It was probably McDonald’s. Fortunately, a massive ego is the only thing about me that’s big. Wait, that came out wrong. Good thing I haven’t posted this yet.

Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Your Attention is Holy – “No One is Talking About This”

About a quarter into Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This , a character declares “[y]our attention is holy.” This is true, but it doesn’t seem like it in the portal – Ms. Lockwood’s term for the internet. That’s because everyday your “attention must turn, like the shine on a school of fish, all at once, toward a new person to hate. Sometimes the subject was a war criminal, but other times it was someone who made a heinous substitution in guacamole.” This is among the most apt and poetic descriptions of the internet. And the first half of this thoughtful and engaging story examines the internet’s weird vagaries and addictive adrenaline. And at times you will think you are reading poetry.

The main character, who is never named, is a woman who became famous in the portal (a “communal stream-of-consciousness”) for a single five-word post. After it went Corona-viral, people from all over the world invite her to lecture about the “new communication.” Frequently, her comments are inane, but so is the portal – so it works. She travels everywhere, shares bizarre opinions about everything, and because the world is connected, her name (whatever it is – perhaps it doesn’t matter) is now recognized everywhere. Still, oddly, she feels disconnected. “This did not feel like real life, exactly, but nowadays what did?” It brings her to that universal question asked by anyone who has been on social media for more than one hour straight. Have I been wasting my time? Probably, but let’s see what Twitter has to say about that.

Reality (in the form of a text from her mother – because reality these days always arrives as a text from your mother) soon intrudes on virtual reality. Her mother writes “[s]omething has gone wrong . . . How soon can you get here?” Suddenly, our nameless expert on everything is jolted out of the portal. “She fell heavily out of the broad warm us, out of the story that had seemed, up till the very last minute, to require her perpetual co-writing.”

Indeed, something has gone dreadfully wrong. Her pregnant sister learns that her baby has a rare disease and will probably die in the womb – which also puts her sister’s life in danger. Against all odds, the baby and mother survive the birth, but everyday thereafter the baby’s survival is at risk. So what’s more real than the portal/internet? A baby with a congenital disease. And no one in the real or virtual world (is there a difference?) is talking about it.

The baby now has the nameless aunt’s whole (and holy) attention. “Through the membrane of a white hospital wall she could feel the thump of the life that went on without her, the hugeness of the arguments about whether you could say the word retard on a podcast. She laid her hand against the white wall and the heart beat, strong and striding, even healthy. But she was no longer in that body.” Eventually, the issue of whether the baby will survive is resolved. Then, gradually, the connected world calls our nameless friend back. But how connected is she to it now?

The internet says Patricia Lockwood is a poet, and the internet gets that one right. Her metaphors throughout are incisive and wondrous. Her style is a choppy stream-of-consciousness that would give James Joyce a happy little boner. The style suits an examination of social media’s impact on society. This is a poetic novella filled with humor and sadness. It is a smudge-free mirror reflecting what passes for real life these days.

Thank you for reading. Your attention is holy.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans