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.

Gladiola Overdrive, 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, Editor-in-Chief

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, Editor-in-Chief

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.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Thoughts on the Dangers of Pretending to be a Poet (Part 1)

The dangers are legion, but I will focus on the primary ones: self-delusion, self-loathing, and mockery.

Self-Delusion: I am not actually a poet. I simply think I am. But no one else does. Granted, this is far less dangerous (for everyone) than deluding myself into thinking I am an airline pilot when I don’t even have a driver’s license. However, a poet’s wardrobe is really expensive and typically ugly. I used to think tasteful clothes were expensive. Then I learned buying garish clothing that is three sizes too small is super expensive. And ascots . . . you should see the prices for gaudy ascots (as if there is any other kind). Unconscionable!

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

Darwin’s Prophet

   Is this a fist I see which approaches my face
   with steroid-assisted velocity?
   Or is this a fist of the mind, an immaculate conception,
   gestating in a beer-soaked brain?

   If real, that news report now rings true:
   we are indeed evolving into crabs
   because the fist is truly crustacean-like
   huge as a Caribbean conch shell
   with blue enameled calluses;
   spikey ridges serving as knuckles.

   Having now considered the fist close-up
   perhaps it was wrong of me to so freely
   and so loudly share my concerns about
   your too obvious and too intimate 
   relations with your mother.
   After all, you are simply ensuring 
   your odd traits will be inherited.

   So, good for you, Darwin's Prophet!

   Managing to crawl all by yourself
   through the septic foam fringing the shoreline
   and learning to adapt in a new environment.
   Your flat head and crooked legs
   proclaim that you are the pathfinder
   in evolution's wilderness.

   And well done, too, Darwin's Pharmacist!

   Opting for an unnatural selection of supplements
   to enhance bulk and brawn over brains.
   Your scrunched brow crusted with barnacles
   and those black pebbles passing as eyes
   affirm that in the future only mutants
   will be fit to survive.


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

A Brilliant and Funny Priestdaddy

In her memoir, Priestdaddy, Patricia (Tricia) Lockwood’s father is a walking “exception to the rules.” He is, in fact, a priestdaddy. He was a Lutheran minister when he married Tricia’s mother, who is Catholic. Subsequently he converted to Catholicism, and the Vatican allowed him to become a priest. So he is not just a father, who wears nothing but worn out boxers around the house, he is also a Father, who wears nothing but worn out boxers around the house. “All fathers believe they are God, and I took it for granted that my father especially believed it.” Her view of motherhood is more earthly. “A mother, as I understood it, was someone who was always trying to give you sixty dollars.” Her father believes in clear rules and boundaries – for other people. Her mother has never seen a boundary – not even on a map.

When 19 year old Tricia meets Jason online, they become fast friends. So fast that Jason soon shows up to take her away. As is typical, her father disappears “upstairs to fondle his guns and drink cream liqueurs.” Her mother is convinced Tricia will be found murdered on the roadside. But Tricia is unconcerned, because it turns out Jason is tall. And she has always trusted tall men.

Surprisingly, the relationship does not end with murder (maybe there is something to this tall man thing). They eventually are married by her father; however, health issues and a lack of money mean Tricia and Jason must move back in with her parents after leaving 12 years earlier. That is where this raucous and hilarious story starts.

And while there is much humor, there is trauma too. When she was in her teens, Tricia was raped by a family friend. Years later, she wrote an incredible poem, Rape Joke, about this horrific event. The poem went viral and contributed mightily to establishing her as a successful and respected (not always the same) writer. However, that is in the future. The rape, and everything that happens immediately thereafter, is soul crushing.

When she is examined by a pro-life doctor (the only kind her parents would allow), he tells her in a voice without charity or sympathy: “well, now you’ve learned that you can’t trust everyone, can you?” So that’s less than helpful. Plus, is it necessary to be raped to learn that lesson? Couldn’t we just learn it when (inevitably) a friend borrows $5.00 and never pays it back?

Her personal trauma aligns with the global trauma of the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal. As with Tricia, the abusive treatment continues well after the children are raped by priests. Her father is moved from church to church to “heal” the community after a priest accused of sexual misconduct is transferred to a different parish. Her father is either unaware or refuses to see that he is being used to help the church cover-up of the scandal. When Tricia meets the bishop, who will later go to prison for shielding pedophile priests, she sees “[t]he compassion in [his] face, that flowed toward the sinner and never the sinned-against, that forgave before justice had even been meted out.” This is a recurring theme. Where is the empathy for the victims? Why is it reserved only for the powerful and/or corrupt? Why is the reporter revealing the rot discredited as if “publication of the facts is the real crime?” Would we sue a building inspector for telling the residents that the foundation is crumbling and the building about to collapse? Actually, yeah, we probably would.

As with any good memoir (and this is an excellent one), the narration of specific life events (no matter how interesting) is secondary to the search for meaning. “Part of what you have to figure out in life is, who would I be if I hadn’t been frightened? What hurt me, and what would I be if it hadn’t?” Would Tricia be so intellectually curious and honest? Perhaps. Would she be as irreverent and funny? Maybe. Would she be such an insightful and powerful writer? Would she know exactly where to punch us so that all the air runs out of our lungs screaming “what just happened?” We suspect the answer is . . . . Well, fortunately, our suspicions don’t matter here.

This book is a delight. Where Tricia could have been bitter and cynical, she is loving and kind. But most of all she is honest. It is quite a feat. Despite being raped. Despite trying to commit suicide. Despite being unable to get pregnant. Despite having a narcissistic, remote, and strange father, this strong, sarcastic, independent, thoughtful, and deeply-funny person is able to simply and wonderfully conclude “I understand that what I have is enough.” We wish the same for ourselves and for you.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor