Crows

   I like how you describe that poem
   more than the poem itself.
   You see things I don't,
   and the things you see have deep meanings -
   deeper perhaps than the poet intended.

   You see birds symbolizing change.
   The young leave the old
   and neither knows the impact of the parting.
   Shockingly this lack of comprehension is of no consequence
   because there is love in the leaving.

   Even after reading the poem several times,
   I see crows.



   I am not sure you are right,
   but I know you are not wrong.

   You amaze me.



   I would like to see that poem as you see it.
   But whenever I see you and me in a mirror,
   I am reminded:
   you have poor eyesight and a temperament that is too tender.
   They are your most egregious shortcomings,
   and I have benefitted from both.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

   First published in The Oddville Press 

Martin Amis and the Art of Self Abuse

How do you create a story about a truly despicable person and make him sympathetic? Martin Amis in Money has a simple answer. You don’t. Because that’s a fool’s errand, and Mr. Amis is no fool. However, it also means the reader is not going to like John Self, the narrator and protagonist (we guess), or pretty much anyone else in the book. Self is an alcoholic, who finds pleasure in the simple things: sex, drugs, and money. And he is abusive with all of them. He is abusive with women. In fact, there is nothing and no one he does not abuse – including himself (our favorite kind of abuse). Despite this, he frequently and somewhat engagingly speaks directly to the reader asking for sympathy. “I want sympathy, even though I find it so very hard to behave sympathetically.”

Money ostensibly is about John Self, but it is really about money and all the reprehensible things people do to get money and (even more so) once they have money. So the title is no misdirection. The story, which was written (and is set) in the early 1980s, successfully captures that decade’s Zeitgeist. “The streets are full of movement but hardly anybody goes where they go through thought or choice, free of money motive.”

Self (think self-absorbed or self-indulgent or self-destructive or self-pitying or self-ish or your-self) has made a lot of money directing fast food commercials in London. But now he has an opportunity to direct his first movie and make piles more. As a result he spends much of his time shuttling between London and New York – drunk and failing miserably to manage his personal and professional lives. Though he craves money, he doesn’t actually understand money – other than how to spend it.

Everything about Self is tacky and sticky. He is an old stool in the back corner of a truck stop strip club. And because he is drunk or hungover nearly all the time, he has no clue what is happening around him. He continually gets into ludicrous situations that are quite funny at times. Self (occasionally) is also comically self-aware. “It puts you at a big disadvantage with the ladies, being drunk all the time.” But the humor particularly sizzle when Mr. Amis skewers movie stars and the movie-making business. At other times, however, the humor is dated – as it frequently comes at the expense of a self-destructive alcoholic when he is blindingly drunk.

One unexpected pleasure is Martin Amis appears as a character (because it is impossible for a novel to be post-modern unless the author is a character). Martin Amis (the character) tries to assist Self with the movie’s script, but this conceit allows Martin Amis (the writer) to make witty observations about writing, such as an “author is not free of sadistic impulses.” Based upon Mr. Amis’ abuse of Self (self-abuse?), truer words are not found in this novel.

The story is at its satirical best when Mr. Amis is mocking the pretensions of actors and other movie people. However, the novel lags about two-thirds of the way through and then limps to its conclusion. And just as with life outside books, it gets tiresome watching an unlikeable, self-destructive person continuously self-destruct.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Bishop’s Hole Published in Edge of Humanity Magazine

We would like to sincerely thank Edge of Humanity Magazine for publishing our poem, Bishop’s Hole. A link to the poem is here. https://edgeofhumanity.com/2021/06/27/bishops-hole/

Or if you like, you can read it below.

Bishop’s Hole

   Oh, the games we played in Bishop’s Hole,
   but the foul winds have begun to blow
   so once again it's time to go.

   Even though it's hard,
   I must leave this behind.
   That's what the rector said,
   and he does have a good head.
   Granted, this happens all the time.
   It's why we installed a pipeline,
   which can send me anywhere
   because Bishop's Holes are everywhere.

   But still it's hard
   and I'm leaving quite a mess,
   but reputations must be protected,
   so there's nothing here to confess.
   When I think about the good we inflict
   this only gives my conscience a tiny prick.
 
   We lie in the shadow of the Cross,
   so there isn't anything we can't lick.

            *          *          *

   O.K.  That’s enough with the juvenile jabs.
   I've had my fun, and it's cruel to taunt.
   Let's get serious for a moment.

   We told you that we would fix things,
   and you had faith.
   Then you learned that we continued 
   to rape your children and cover it up.
   You even found our pedophile pipeline.
   That was awkward for us.

   So we promised to stop for real.
   And you believed us, but we lied.  Again.
   No rational person should have believed us.
   But you did.

   You continued to give us your children,
   and we continued to prey.
   You trusted us - the black vultures you should have feared.
   And we never did a single thing to earn your trust.

   After all that, shouldn't you be the ones condemned?

            *          *          *
   Have you noticed how we love gold veneer?
   It's everywhere, and it's immaculate
   as long as you don't stand too near.

   We've made the luster last all these years,
   because we polish the gold with your children's tears.
   Those tears run like torrents between the pews.
   It's like Noah's Flood.

   And there's nothing else we will do.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

The Honor Men

   Good God - 
   I almost forgot the Honor Men!
   Those pillars of conformity
   with their orange blazers
   and Jeffersonian rectitude,
   afflicting us with their boozy breath
   and stale pretensions in the rotunda.

   And look how rotund they've grown to be!

   They're oranges teetering on toothpicks;
   oranges soaking in whiskey
   squirting bourbon when squeezed;
   oranges that should have been left
   to rot on the trees.

   Humor the Honor Men!
   For they upheld the Hypocritic Oath
   as long as their withered arms could.

   Humor them
   because their members have shriveled
   and their influence has petered out -
   leaving them petulant and confused
   because their time has come and gone.

   But what will happen to the country clubs?
   Who will boldly sail the shallow waters of our bays?
   Who will smoke cigars and waylay waitresses?
   Who will presume to know what everyone wants?

   Just as I think these thoughts,
   a vast image of the Tower of Babel
   troubles my sight.
   And hundreds of disparate parties
   espousing thousands of opposing beliefs
   swell on the lawn like some tumorous growth;
   each wearing orange
   and each vowing to uphold the Hypocritic Oath.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

   First published in Scarlet Leaf Review  

The Testaments – Why, Margaret, Why?

Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments begs many questions.

Such as how did it become the joint winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize? Did the committee hate Bernardine Evaristo so much that they simply couldn’t stand making her book (Girl, Woman, Other) the sole winner?

Did the committee actually read The Testaments, or were they simply relying on Margaret Atwood’s reputation?

How mad were Colson Whitehead (The Nickel Boys), Susan Choi (Trust Exercise), and Ian McEwan (Machines Like Me) when the prize was announced?

Were James Patterson, E.L. James, and my Uncle Bill on the committee that year?

Did Margaret Atwood really write The Testaments? Or was it written by a Russian hacker who stole her identity but forgot to also take her brilliance?

Did this book need to be written? Isn’t any sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (regardless of whether it is written by the real Margaret Atwood or not) bound to disappoint?

Why are the characters one dimensional and without nuance? Why is the plot predictable? Why are all the twists straight lines?

Did she write the book because the creators of The Handmaid’s Tale TV show needed more material – so they paid her a ton of money to do it?

Just because you own a cash cow, do you have to milk it?

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans.

Sergeant Salvation Published in Edge of Humanity Magazine

We would like to sincerely thank Edge of Humanity Magazine for publishing our poem Sergeant Salvation. A link to the poem is here. https://edgeofhumanity.com/2021/06/01/sergeant-salvation

Or if you like, you can read the poem below.

Sergeant Salvation

   Clearly, I suppose,
   the poor have difficulties
   but they push a dumpster
   full of desperation and disease - 
   wasting their meager strength and time
   because they'll never get anywhere
   pushing a dumpster they're inside.

   If there are solutions
   they are difficult and distasteful -
   made more so
   because they're expensive;  
   costing more than I've got.

   So condemn me not, Sergeant Salvation,
   when I put no pennies in your pot
   even as you vigorously beat that bell.

   The poor will get no money from me,
   but they do have my empathy:
   the amount of which is massive
   even if the display is somewhat passive.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor of Student Loans.

For the Record

   Scientists on Earth
   believe oxygen on Mars
   is behaving strangely.

   But how would they know?
   They have never visited
   that remote red rock.

   And who made them judges
   of what is normal and what is strange?
   When they know nothing of normal
   and they, themselves, are so strange.

   Have they considered instead
   that maybe oxygen behaves
   normally on Mars and behaves
   strangely on Earth?

   Or maybe oxygen
   can behave no other way
   because Mars is nasty
   and treats oxygen like
   a noxious gas.

   The HR department believes
   I'm behaving strangely.

   But how would they know?
   They have never endured
   the daily indignities
   I am subjected to.

   Have they considered instead
   that maybe I'm behaving normally - 
   given the circumstances?

   Maybe they wouldn't judge
   if you had been nasty to them;
   treated them like a noxious gas;
   left them to live life
   like cockroaches in the dark
   wondering what will happen
   when the light turns on.

   So for the record,
   if there ever is one,
   this is not my fault.

   If you had only returned 
   my calls, texts, emails,
   or come to the door
   when I pounded on it,
   your basement window
   wouldn't be broken.

   I wouldn't be bleeding 
   in your airless closet.

   Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

   First published in Boston Literary Magazine

An Unorthodox Survivor’s Story

In Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, Deborah Feldman describes the first 24 years of her life living in a strict Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism outside New York City. She is raised by her paternal grandparents because her mother left the community when Deborah was a toddler, and her father has severe mental disabilities (a primary reason for her mother leaving) and is barely able to care for himself. Her childhood was dismal. “In this family, we do not hug and kiss. We do not compliment each other. Instead, we watch each other closely, ever ready to point out someone’s spiritual or physical failing. This, says (her aunt), is compassion – compassion for someone’s spiritual welfare.”

The family is suffocating, as is the Satmar community, where English is an impure language that poisons the soul. School brings no solace, because education leads to promiscuity or worse – abandonment of the community and flight from the religious leaders that control it. So educational opportunities are spare, but that’s o.k. because quality is more important than quantity. Spoiler alert – that’s a problem too. “We learn in school that God sent Hitler to punish the Jews for enlightening themselves.” They also learn that assimilation was the reason for the Holocaust. “We (Jews) try to blend in, and God punishes us for betraying him.” So the school (no less) says education is bad and assimilation is worse. It makes being homeschooled by an arthritic nun with gout look attractive.

Throughout her young life, Deborah finds refuge in prohibited books and forbidden pop music. And early on she determines that she will never feel at home in the Satmar community – where the crippling restraints on daily life and free thought bruise everyone, but they hit women and girls particularly hard. Deborah is told “[e]very time a man catches a glimpse of any part of your body that the Torah says should be covered, he is sinning. But worse, you have caused him to sin. It is you who will bear the responsibility of his sin on Judgment Day.” That’s a pretty sweet deal for men, but a rather shabby one for women – because no matter how covered up a woman is, men are sinning.

Deborah’s so-called childhood suddenly ends when she’s 17, and her marriage to a 22 year old man (she has briefly met once) is arranged. Just like her parents, Deborah and her husband are completely unprepared for marriage. Neither has a rudimentary understanding of sex. So not surprisingly, they are unable to consummate the marriage on their wedding night – or the next night – or the next night for many, many months. Their families get involved. To the shock of no one, that doesn’t help. After much counseling, the frustrated couple finally manage to have unfulfilling sex (our favorite kind), which eventually leads to Deborah getting pregnant and giving birth to a boy. But by now the marriage has unraveled and Deborah wants a divorce – provided she gets custody of her son.

The story is fascinating, but the ending is abrupt. There is little information about the divorce or how she succeeds in retaining custody – even though we are told it would be impossible for her to do so. Much like the Satmar community, the story suffers from tunnel vision. Everything is told from Deborah’s perspective. This is not bad, but it is confining. It would have been interesting to hear from other key players in the story – especially since many of them are depicted so harshly.

Overall, though, Deborah tells her story extremely well. She is intelligent and sympathetic. Even though the odds are stacked tremendously against her, she refuses to accept that she’s powerless. With her charm and persuasiveness, she believes she can convince anyone, even God, to go along with her. We don’t know about God, but she certainly won us over.

Ultimately, this is the story of a survivor whose quest for independence is entirely relatable. Deborah will not be relegated to the kitchen in a world controlled by men, including God – assuming God is a man. And God help us if that’s the case.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor of Student Loans

Anne

   You are all the poems
   I cannot write.
   You are all the words
   I dare not speak -
   not because they would deceive
   but because they would disappoint.

   So these words
   (knowing my perverse reliance on flippancy and sarcasm
   as shield and sword to repel every honest sentiment)
   prefer to be stillborn.

   It is ironic really
   because with everything else
   my words run rampant.
   There is no end to all the thoughtless things I say.

   But with you -
   words disdain my tongue
   and silence shields me from repelling you.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans  

   First Published in Ariel Chart 

Klara and the Sun – Lifted AF

Kazuo Ishiguro is a talented creator of worlds that seem gentle and quaint: manor homes in a countryside of lush greenery, fancy boarding schools surrounded by gardens, or gentile houses overlooking bucolic meadows. The reader gets acclimated to the pleasant surroundings. Starts to enjoy the scenery. Notices how the birds chirp with fine English accents. Then it dawns on the reader that the main character has devoted his life to serving an obnoxious Nazi sympathizer (The Remains of the Day). Or the primary characters are clones whose organs will soon be harvested – a fate they passively accept (Never Let Me Go). Or parents subject their children to genetic editing, even though the process may be deadly, so the children can get into elite colleges – unless, of course, they die first (Klara and the Sun). The horror creeps up quietly. Then, suddenly, the monster is in the reader’s lap, licking the reader’s ear, demanding that its messy diaper be changed. And the reader wonders, how did I get here? Even though the clues were there all along.

Klara and the Sun takes place in an alternate reality of the United States, but the reader will find much that is familiar, except (importantly) for the extremely-advanced artificial intelligence. Klara is an artificial friend (think highly-sophisticated robot), and she narrates the story. Artificial friends (AFs) are sold in stores and frequently are purchased to keep teenagers (in well-off families) company. Each AF has a unique set of skills, and Klara’s is her ability to observe and learn. She can empathize.

Klara is selected by Josie, who is 14 years old. However, Josie’s mother has different plans. Klara will be groomed to become much more than an AF – a future that is hinted at when they are still in the store and Josie’s mother directs Klara to mimic Josie’s awkward way of walking. Josie has been “lifted” – a clever euphemism (rhymes with gifted) that sounds so much better than “subjected to genetic editing without having any say about it.” But the process has left her weak and sickly, all of which is manifested by her overly-cautious way of walking.

Not all children are lifted. Some parents can’t afford it. Other parents find it too risky. Though the story takes place in an alternate reality, the reader can take great comfort knowing that disingenuous platitudes still exist – as does the desperate need to pretend that social inequities don’t exist. Parents in this alternative United States still tell themselves and each other that not all children need to be lifted – that “there are all kinds of ways to lead a successful life.” No doubt this is as true as it has ever been, but we can’t help thinking all these parents spouting platitudes had their children lifted.

But why are we talking about children? The book is not called Klara and Josie – a hip new indie duo. It is Klara and the Sun for a reason – just, maybe, not a very good one – though the reader could argue (based upon the ending) that Klara’s relationship with the Sun is the key relationship in the story. First, the Sun is essential to everyone – duh. But it is especially important to Klara, because she runs on solar power. In a book where no humans express any religious belief, Klara determines that the Sun is a god. She prays to her Sun god to heal Josie. Like any human religious zealot, she commits acts of vandalism to appease her god. And depending on the reader’s point of view, Klara is either rewarded for her faith or deceived by it. But the true dilemma has little to do with religion, so ultimately Klara’s relationship with the Sun is a bit distracting.

As with all his books, Mr. Ishiguro excels at human interactions, and he asks crucial questions in Klara and the Sun. Such as, why are we talking about humans at all, when the story is narrated by a super-cool empathy machine? Are humans all that special when machines can be groomed to replicate them so perfectly? As Josie’s father puts it, “[s]cience has now proved beyond doubt there’s nothing so unique about my daughter, nothing there our modern tools can’t excavate, copy, transfer.” That’s depressing. Fortunately, Klara has a rebuttal. “Mr. Capaldi (an engineer/scientist) believed there was nothing special inside Josie that couldn’t be continued. He told the Mother he’d searched and found nothing like that. But I believe now he was searching in the wrong place. There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her.”

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans