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   

   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.”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

The Barren Sand

   1.
   The poor are everywhere
   so they're easy to overlook.
   As when I stand on a beach
   staring at the pregnant sea,
   I forget the barren sand.

   2.

   In a perfect world
   the poor would be taken care of
   so I'm building stockades
   where they can be put.
   With so many everywhere
   it's hard keeping them under my foot.
   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

   First published in Scarlet Leaf Review

My Dark Vanessa – Not Your Father’s Lolita

It is impossible to hear or read about a middle-aged man statutorily raping a teenage girl without thinking of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic, Lolita. If you need proof – even Sting, who will readily admit to being the greatest songwriter since King David, mentioned Nabokov in Don’t Stand So Close to Me. He tried to use Lolita’s name first, but nothing rhymes with Lolita.

In My Dark Vanessa Kate Elizabeth Russell takes Lolita and shifts the perspective to that of the abused girl. However, the pedophile here is not an unintentionally-funny, delusional, and ultimately pathetic Humbert Humbert. Quite the opposite, Jacob Strane (think of Strange), the 15 years old Vanessa’s English teacher, is an experienced and masterful manipulator, and he cynically preys upon Vanessa’s loneliness and desperation to be thought of as special. Early on he tells her that she has “something these dime-a-dozen overachievers (her fellow classmates) can only dream of.” Proving he is a master of the back-handed compliment as well.

Nabokov and Lolita feature prominently in this brilliant and creepy book. The title comes from Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which Strane is pleased to inform Vanessa has a passage where my dark Vanessa is rhapsodized as an admirable butterfly to be worshiped and caressed. Strane’s “grooming” of Vanessa also includes giving her his copy of Lolita, with his hand-written notes in the margins. Yeah, Strane is a disgusting creep, but Vanessa craves this attention, so she is incapable of seeing it. Or (just as concerning) she won’t acknowledge seeing it.

The story jumps between two periods in Vanessa’s life: her high school and college years (between 2000 and 2007) and 2017 at the height of the Me Too movement when she is 32 years old. Much like Humbert Humbert, Vanessa is an unreliable narrator who ends up deceiving no one but herself (again like Humbert Humbert, but without the ridiculous name). Initially, she refuses to accept that she has even been abused, as she insists the relationship (despite the obvious imbalance of power) was consensual. And she continues to grapple with the effects of the abuse well into adulthood. “I always seem to end up going out with . . . men who claim to be turned on by strength but can only handle women who act like girls.” Having the two timelines is effective. The reader sees how the sexual abuse of children was ignored even into the early 2000s, and then how it is everything but ignored at the height of the Me Too movement – where victims are pressured into telling their stories whether they want to or not. The reader experiences how the adult Vanessa begins to come to terms with the years of abuse. It isn’t pretty or romantic, but in a way it is heroic.

Regardless of its title, Lolita’s story was not told in Lolita. In My Dark Vanessa, it is. And the change of perspective (especially in light of the Me Too movement) is devastating. Because they have earned it, Vanessa and Lolita shall have the final words here. “What could we have done? We were just girls. . . . [It’s] not that we were helpless by choice, but that the world forced us to be. Who would have believed us, who would have cared?”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

William

   I lack imagination,
   which is a problem
   when you pretend 
   to be a poet.
   But no matter
   how hard I try
   I cannot imagine
   myself doing it.

   Yet, some scientists say
   there are limitless
   parallel universes
   and perhaps
   in one of them
   one of me
   tackled the beast -
   if only to spite
   those multiples of me
   sitting in stalled trains
   on parallel tracks.

   How I would love 
   to ask that reckless me:
   how did I do it?
   What happened next?
   Did it make
   a difference?

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief 

   First Published in The Broadkill Review

The Winter’s Tale – A Mosaic Play

William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is neither history, comedy, or tragedy. So no one knew what to call it, because apparently, back then, those were the only choices. As a result, the scholars (both of them) argued (what scholars do best) and finally decided to flip a coin. The play has been called a romance ever since, which doesn’t tell us much about the play but does tell us about how scholars are shockingly lazy thinkers.

We would categorize The Winter’s Tale as one of Shakespeare’s mosaic plays (similar to The Tempest), because it has a lot going on. There is crude humor, intense psychological drama, dancing, singing, storms, shipwrecks, and a bear (not the kind you see in Provincetown – though that would be awesome). The play’s first half is tragic. The second half is largely comedic. One entire act is pastoral. In short, it is a pageant – like Block Island on a Saturday evening in August.

The Winter’s Tale is believed to be one of Shakespeare’s later plays. As such, it incorporates many themes and elements from his earlier works: the perpetual fear of being cuckolded, all-consuming jealousy, a punitive patriarchy, forbidden love, and superior women inexplicably in love with inferior men. The play opens with a charming scene of two childhood friends (Leontes, the king of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the king of Bohemia) near the end of a happy reunion. Suddenly and irrationally, Leontes fears his wife, Hermione, has been “sluiced” and “his pond fished by his neighbor (Polixenes).” This concern is delusional, but Leontes convinces himself that he has been cuckolded. The resulting crazed jealousy causes Leontes to lose everyone in his family. And we are only half way through the play. The second half is devoted to a chastened and sorrowful Leontes getting what is left of his family back.

Autolycus saves the play from tragedy. He is a charismatic scoundrel that lies and steals his way across Bohemia. “I see this is the time that the unjust man doth thrive.” And, shamelessly, he thrives. “Ha, ha, what a fool Honesty is! and Trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman!” Autolycus is not trustworthy, and he certainly is no gentleman. But he is a delight, in part, because he immediately follows the gut-wrenching first half, and he brings song and mischief – both of which are desperately needed at this point. Autolycus is humorous, but he is not a clown. He is too intelligent and self-aware for that. “Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance.” In this sense, he is a cousin of the peerless Falstaff. And the play benefits mightily from his presence.

The Winter’s Tale is frequently remembered because it contains one of Shakespeare’s few stage directions – the glorious “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Over the centuries, it has gone in and out of style. This is something we do not understand, because the play is so much more than a “romance” or a man-eating bear (so maybe it is a Provincetown bear). It is a pageant that belongs just below the top tier of Shakespeare’s plays.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Miss Disdain

   When all the months were hot July
   and I was barely in my teens,
   I met a sullen girl with a fiery eye
   that she always directed towards me.

   Such disdain drove me to distraction;
   her antipathy struck me as wise.
   She taught joy brings no satisfaction,
   and scorn is Love's truest disguise.

   Miss Disdain grew up and multiplied,
   and I delighted in each fury's spite.
   Being aware of all the flaws that I hide,
   their indifference could only be right.

   She was the alpha of all cruel passions
   whose touch made lesser men wince,
   and in various forms and fashions
   I have chased Miss Disdain ever since.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief  

The Committed – Much Ado About Nothing

The Committed is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s sequel to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Sympathizer. And while there is much to like, the book is unlikely to garner Mr. Nguyen a second Pulitzer – though we do expect it to land on several “Best Books of the Year, Dammit” lists.

The book picks up where The Sympathizer left off – at the end of the Vietnamese civil war in the 1970s. The narrator, Vo Danh (meaning nameless), and Bon (meaning good) have been released from a Vietnamese reeducation camp, where they have been tortured by Man (meaning man). Man is literally faceless, so Vo Danh does not realize he is being tortured by his blood brother, until Man finally reveals his true identity. Vo Danh never tells Bon, the third blood brother in this sexless three-way (truly, the worst kind of three-way), about Man’s true identity. Why? As we learn, the answer to that question is always “why not” or, better yet, “why the hell not.” So, Vo Danh is nameless; Man is faceless; and Bon is good – at killing people. There, we are all caught up.

Vo Danh and Bon land in France in the early 1980s. “Like most refugees we barely had any material belongings, even if our bags were packed with dreams and fantasies, trauma and pain, sorrow and loss, and, of course, ghosts. Since ghosts were weightless, we could carry an infinite number of them.” And Vo Danh does. Having no prospects, they join a gang that sells Heaven (drugs and prostitutes) to the French elite. Before long, Man shows up in Paris. Why? Why the hell not! Bon plans to kill him. And Vo Danh is caught in the middle – leaving him no choice but to snort tons of cocaine.

The Committed works well on many levels. It is a drug-fueled page turner filled with gangland violence and narrow escapes. It is a Candide-like satire that eviscerates European colonialism and any pretense that white people brought civilization and culture to anyone. At its best, it is a political/philosophical treatise on the folly of believing in anything that ends with an “ism” – such as capitalism, communism, socialism, Catholicism, and idealism. The only thing worth believing in is nothing. Just as, the only thing more powerful than words is silence. In this book, nothing is more powerful than nothing. In fact, nothing is sacred.

The Committed suffers from the same problems that afflict many sequels. All of the primary characters already appeared in The Sympathizer, which is a brilliant decimation of American culture and its “civilizing” effects. These characters were new and interesting in that book. Like my neighbors when I first moved into my neighborhood. Now they are familiar and less interesting. Like my neighbors now. They don’t have much to say that is new. Additionally, The Committed re-hashes many of the same themes, such as “nothing is more important than nothing.” But it is still an enjoyable read. It is humorous and serious and sad. It is intellectual and grotesque. It is full of contradictions. But as Mr. Nguyen says at the beginning – “Ah, contradiction! The perpetual body odor of humanity!”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

A Tiny Voice

   Yes, of course, 
   we, too, care about 
   a neglected rose struggling to survive
   among the scattered bricks
   of a crumbling house,
   but we've already done
   all we can.

   Remember
   a child has a tiny voice
   and no money -
   hardly the sturdy platform
   on which to make demands.

   Yet here she stands
   with her small voice,
   empty pockets, and
   accusing eyes,
   while we continue to tell her
   to trust the spider
   who swears
   he wouldn't hurt a fly.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

First published in The Broadkill Review

Pickleball

We recently joined the Block Island League of Players Playing Pickleball, and it’s terrific. We love pickleball so much we wrote a poem about it.

My Grandfather's Defense of Pickleball:
The Pudding of Sports

   Hey, wise ass!
   What's wrong with pickleball?
   It's the fastest growing sport
   played by the slowest moving people.
   It's beloved by thousands
   with thick wrinkles and thin bones.

   Someday you'll have heavy titanium knees.
   And sadistic doctors will screw you
   in more places than you can count.
   Then, you'll enjoy the light slap
   of lazy plastic balls.

   I suppose you young guys like it
   when big inflated balls
   rapidly smack you in the face.

   And pudding is soft and delicious.
   So suck it!

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief