Who’s a Loser Now, Dad?

You may own all the hotels on Block Island, but I have a blog. And I just got a poem published in Edge of Humanity Magazine. You can find it here – https://edgeofhumanity.com/2021/07/28/a-tiny-voice/

Or you can find it below. Though I bet you won’t read it. And that’s o.k. with me, Dad. I won’t be staying in your hotels any time soon, because they’re really expensive.

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

   

History of Wolves – Who’s Watching Who?

In Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves there are predators who are sometimes preyed upon. And there are prey who sometimes become predators. This is no surprise because as the narrator, Madeline, who at school was called “Linda, or Commie, or Freak,” explains in her report (called History of Wolves) “an alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason.” This concept certainly applies to Madeline, though her reasons for being a predator (when she is one) are not clear. The recklessness of a child trying to prey on an adult is.

Madeline is 37 years old when she tells her story, and the narrative consists of flashbacks of when she was 4, 15, and 26 – so 11 is an important number here. Why? No idea. But the internet says (the following is to be read with an authoritative British accent): when the number 11 appears frequently in your life, there is a need to find or restore balance.

When Madeline was 15 years old (the pivotal year in this story), a new history teacher, Mr. Grierson, mysteriously arrived from California. Why would a man suddenly leave a prestigious California high school to teach in northern Minnesota? Could he be a child molester – the worst kind of predator? That seems unlikely. Does he just prefer life in the bleakest part of Minnesota, where winter is 11 months every year? That sounds right.

Despite her suspicions about Mr. Grierson, Madeline regularly puts herself into situations where she’s alone with him – as if she is trying to tempt or entrap him. The question of who’s watching you, while you are watching someone else, emerges as a theme. Madeline is watching Mr. Grierson, who is watching Lily ( another young girl at the high school). Who is Lily watching? Mr. Grierson may want to pay attention to that. So someone is always watching you – whether you know it or not. That’s not comforting, but no one cares about your comfort. In fact, reading this story is like walking with a splinter in your heel. Yet, it is so well told, you must read on.

All of this is introductory, designed to make the reader uneasy – off balance, if you will. The story really takes off when a young couple with a small child move into a cabin near Madeline’s home, and she becomes the boy’s babysitter. Paul is 4; Madeline is 15; Patra (the boy’s mom) is 26; and Leo (the boy’s dad) is 37. Hey, 11 snuck in here again. Does that mean something? Probably not. Don’t worry about it.

Early on, the reader learns Paul will not live to see 5. The reader also learns Leo and Patra started dating when she was 19 and in college. Leo was her teacher. Patra insists, however, that’s not creepy because she pursued him. Believe what you will, but there’s that predator question again.

Paul is clearly ill. However, Leo is a Christian Scientist so medicine and doctors are forbidden. Patra doesn’t know what to do. She wants to believe Leo knows best. She wants to have faith. Is she being preyed upon? Why won’t anyone answer these freaking questions? Ultimately, Paul dies (as we know he will) from a treatable condition. Leo and Patra are put on trial, and Madeline is the key witness.

This a story about an adult struggling to find balance. Attempting to understand and recover from the damage of two traumatic events when she was 15 years old. The questions to be resolved are difficult. “What’s the difference between what you want to believe and what you do believe?” And “[w]hat’s the difference between what you think and what you end up doing?” But the answers to tough questions don’t come easy. They never do.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

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.




   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 

   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.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

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 

   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?

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

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 

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, Editor-in-Chief

   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.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor