Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The First Time I Left Home (continued)

I arrived in Sao Paulo to overcast skies and chilly weather. Winter. Back home, in the Berkshires, it was summery August.  Over night, the calendar had skipped six months ahead. I was completely turned around, and exhausted. I’d never flown before, and you could say that, basically, I spent the flight in a state of high anxiety.

Before take-off, my mother had waited with me in the airport lounge at JFK making upbeat conversation, talking about her many travels. She was a college professor—art history, drawing—and part of the job involved taking her students abroad. She was abroad a lot, which was fine with me. We had arrived at a difficult stage in our mother-daughter relationship. I drove her crazy and she made me miserable. Between us, it was one fight after another, and much of it because of my friends. As friends went, she was convinced I couldn’t have chosen worse. When my dearest friend Julie and I got caught smoking—well, to my mother, it was the beginning of the end. Julie and I were behaving the same as most teens, and back then stealing your parents’ cigarettes was routine. Although, not from my parents, who were devotees of Jack LaLanne, also known as the godfather of modern fitness. My parents didn’t eat sugar, white flour, and they didn’t smoke Marlboro Reds. Julie’s mother did smoke. She bought her Marlboro's by the carton—stacks of them. A few cigs would hardly be missed, Julie and I figured. We were careful to dispose of our stolen goods by flushing the butts down the toilet. Somehow, the damn things ended up back in the bowl, like fish returning to spawn. My mother was livid. I was forbidden to see Julie again, or anyone else within a twenty mile radius for that matter. There were two things my mother expected of her kids: we were to have as little to do with the neighbors as possible and make it to college. Going to Brasil as an exchange student worked wonders on my disapproval ratings. Brasil was about as far from the neighbors as you could get, and significantly increased my chances of being accepted to a college. For my mother, my leaving was her victory. She reveled in seeing her daughter off on her first flight, one that would take me over thousands of miles of land and ocean

If that flight was half-booked, I’d have been surprised. I had an entire row of seats to myself. I kept looking around the cabin in the hopes there were other Americans my age on board. I would have thought there’d be a group of us traveling to Sao Paulo, a contingent of American youth eager for exchange and adventure. As it was, there was no one to talk to but the flight attendants. I spent a long night in which we flew through foul weather. Lightning strikes ricocheted among the clouds; torrential rains beat at the windows (let us in, let us in!); turbulence bounced the plane up, down, east and west. Thirteen hours passed before the wheels of the plane found the tarmac, and the flight powered to a violent halt. It was then I learned one of many travel customs: people of all nations clap and cheer during landings. How could they not? Their prayers have been answered: they survived the flight. They were alive.

Praise the gods.

But, I imagine that readers who pass this way have forgotten how this story began.

I was sitting in class listening to a fellow student talk about her year abroad.  Paris, to be precise. She'd spent a year in Paris as an exchange student. A lovely year in every way, as she described the experience.  She lived with a French family, and it had been great.  She went to school, and it had been great.  She learned French, and her French was great. By the time she finished her presentation, it was decided:  I too would go to Paris.  

Except I never got to Paris.  There was a glut of exchange students applying to France.  My sponsors told me not to worry.  They would find a host country for me.  And they did:  Brasil.

Back then, before the Internet, you didn't hear much about Brasil where I grew up.  Honestly, I had no idea where I was going.  But, I was going, and that is how I would come to understand the true meaning of "no turning back."

Kathryn A. Kopple works in Spanish and English. She has published original poetry and prose in numerous publications, including The Threepenny Review, The Bellevue Review and The Shell Game (anthology, U of Nebraska Press). She is the author of Little Velásquez (Mirth Press), a novel set in 15th century Spain.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A New Beginning

Jackie Lopez Lopez

My dreams act like new.
My sandals are speaking.
My dresses are twirling.
And, my pain is full of glory.
I found the love in the house of all horizons
and was acquitted of too much loving.
So, I danced to dance a lot.
I thought the earthquakes in California were divine.
I thought the tsunamis in Spain were slow.
I cried in my sleep when I was 12.
I read a Spanish book when I was 6.
I stole a glance at Joey Fordham from my classroom window in the 5th grade.
I was enslaved in the house of the rising sun.
I was freed in the song of a sugar plantation.
I committed anthropology when I was 25.
I committed adultery when I was 34.
New beginnings are hard to come by,
but it’s nothing that a little crucifixion and resurrection can’t fix.
My journal promised me land.
I live by the light of the naked moon.
I smile with the sand beneath my feet.
I plant a seed in the apple of my dreams.
I know how to dive into an ocean of ingratitude and come out grateful!
I know how to raise a saint from the pit of the Devil’s workshop.
I know how to begin anew.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Marital Tragedy

By Ernest Hemingway. 

Ernest Hemingway's first novel, "The Sun Also Rises," treats of certain of those younger Americans concerning whom Gertrude Stein has remarked: "You are all a lost generation." This is the novel for which a keen appetite was stimulated by Mr. Hemingway's exciting volume of short stories. "In Our Time." The clear objectivity and the sustained intensity of the stories , and their concentration upon action in the present moment, seemed to point to a failure to project a novel in terms of the same method, yet a resort to any other method would have let down the reader's expectations. It is a relief to find that "The Sun Also Rises" maintains the same heightened, intimate tangibility as the shorter narratives and does it in the same kind of weighted, quickening prose.

Mr. Hemingway has chosen a segment of life which might easily have become "a spectacle with unexplained horrors," and disciplined it to a design which gives full value to its Dionysian, all but uncapturable, elements. On the face of it, he has simply gathered, almost at random, a group of American and British expatriates from Paris, conducted them on a fishing expedition, and exhibited them against the background of a wild Spanish fiesta and bull-fight. The characters are concisely indicated. Much of their inherent natures are left to be betrayed by their own speech, by their apparently aimless conversation among themselves. Mr. Hemingway writes a most admirable dialogue. It has the terse vigor of Ring Lardner at his best. It suggests the double meanings of Ford Madox Ford's records of talk. Mr. Hemingway makes his characters say one thing, convey still another, and when a whole passage of talk has been given, the reader finds himself the richer by a totally unexpected mood, a mood often enough of outrageous familiarity with obscure heartbreaks.

The story is told in the first person, as if by one Jake Barnes, an American newspaper correspondent in Paris. This approach notoriously invites digression and clumsiness. The way Mr. Hemingway plays this hard-boiled Jake is comparable to Jake's own evocations of the technique of the expert matador handling his bull. In fact, the bull-fight within the story bears two relations to the narrative proper. It not only serves to bring the situation to a crisis, but it also suggests the design which Mr. Hemingway is following. He keeps goading Jake, leading him on, involving him in difficulties, averting serious tragedy for him, just as the matador conducts the bull through the elaborate pattern of danger.

The love affair of Jake and the lovely, impulsive Lady Ashley might easily have descended into bathos. It is an erotic attraction which is destined from the start to be frustrated. Mr. Hemingway has such a sure hold on his values that he makes an absorbing, beautifully and tenderly absurd, heartbreaking narrative of it. Jake was wounded in the war in a manner that won for him a grandiose speech from the Italian General. Certainly Jake is led to consider his life worse than death. When he and Brett (Lady Ashley) fall in love, and know, with that complete absence of reticences of the war generation, that nothing can be done about it, the thing might well have ended there. Mr. Hemingway shows uncanny skill in prolonging it and delivering it of all its implications.

No amount of analysis can convey the quality of "The Sun Also Rises." It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame. Mr. Hemingway knows how not only to make words be specific but how to arrange a collection of words which shall betray a great deal more than is to be found in the individual parts. It is magnificent writing, filled with that organic action which gives a compelling picture of character. This novel is unquestionably one of the events of an unusually rich year in literature.

Note: This review originally appeared in The New York Times in 1926.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Letter

Kathryn Kopple

Dear Marcel,

I woke up today terrified the electro-magnetic field had flipped. The air burned. My sheets were scorching. I’m better now but only because I’ve lathered myself in oils pressed from three-hundred-year-old cacti. Cactus oil costs a fortune. I get mine on the black market.

How I despise this season. It’s as sloppy wet underfoot as Venice when she finally sank into the ocean, despite all attempts to hoist her up with propulsion and anti-gravity devices. She sank regardless, and with her the most beautiful man I have known.

Yes, Marcel, yes. He is gone. I should be used to it by now. The only man I ever loved, leaving me behind in this melt, slosh, that by midday starts to let off steam. It’s unbearable. The ozone layer stretched thin and the sun behaving erratically. I was under the impression that the sun destroyed and remade the ozone layer every day, at least that’s what scientists said a century ago when we were still calling ourselves a country. Of course, that was before the last civil war. Or was it the one before? It’s so vaporous around here. Rancid smelling. Who can remember anything in this sauna?

But why complain while the world is sinking, burning, tearing itself apart? What good does it do? I think of him instead. My mind flees to him instead. My body is a map of all the places he touched me. I trace the travels of his fingers, his tongue. He saved me from the heat, this interminable fire. He never ran hot, always cold. It was wonderful to lie with my cheek on his icy chest, listening to his slow, beating heart.

When I was a child, I would crawl into the caves near our house to get away from the heat. It was damp and mossy under the rocks. The air chill. A dark, cold space. That was my love. He was my dark, cold retreat from this inferno we call earth.

Marcel, I can’t go on like this. I am exhausted. I need to close my eyes, sleep. But, I am in anguish. I think of the ocean carrying him far from me. I imagine the moment the water took him, the wonderful coldness of his being sucked from his body as the sweltering waves pulled him under. Did he die of drowning or boiling? I must sound as if I am raving asking such a senseless question. It’s just that I am so feverishly warm without him.

Have I made you sad? Don’t cry, Marcel. Don’t cry. It’s difficult, so hard. You loved him too. I know. And he loved you.


Another Letter originally appeared in Oblong

Monday, June 19, 2017


Jackie Lopez Lopez

Sit at my table, and tell me your glory.
I have prepared a banquet of many stars for you.
I wear my garments of poetry.
Please don’t go.
Sit at my table, and show me those eyes.
I found a feather when I was homeless, and I called you.
I keep you in my thoughts throughout my journey here on Earth.
Last sunshine, I took a weekend to the moon.
I know you are sincerely a Baptist and you like to heal people.
Do you often capitulate to hearsay?
I heard you were a shaman, so,
I stole your books.
I felt redeemed at your parties.
I never stole anything in my life, although, books follow me.
Sit at my table, and I promise not to lie to you:
You are my kin.
Let me serve you some kindness with some truth.
Let me give you a plate of ordeals.
Let me struggle out of this dress.
Let me kiss your breath.
My feet have walked 153, 000 lives, and I am tired.
I will behave the lady, the priestess, the Goddess, the nymph, the mother, your sister, and your child.
But I am the crone.
The desert is my skin.
The knife is my heart.
The rivers are my hair.
And the oceans are my home.
I am your kin that asks you to sit at my table.
I have prepared a banquet of many stars for you.

Let me see those eyes.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why I Wrote Other-Wise

Robbi Nester
  In a lifetime of writing, I managed to avoid the experiences that had most shaped me—until recently. These experiences involved trauma I suffered as a child and young adult as the daughter of mentally ill parents in an extended family marked by neurological difference and dysfunction. For me, as for many children who survive challenging early lives, books and writing offered refuge, both literally in the form of the library across the street, to which I escaped on a regular basis, and figuratively, by offering me an inkling of a world beyond the one I was born into where I might find a place. Yet even though these elements have to some degree shielded me from the full force of these difficult experiences, by themselves, they proved an insufficient as wielding an umbrella against a tsunami. It was not until I had gained sufficient understanding of my past and sufficient experience as a writer that I was ready to tackle this subject matter in my second full collection of poetry, Other-Wise, recently released by Kelsay Books.

A writer’s first book often tends to be drawn from the well of childhood experience, but thereafter, many maintain, autobiographical material dwindles as other concerns move into focus. Yet that has not been the case with me. In my first full collection of poems, A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), only a few of the poems arose out of my early experience, leaving the majority of significant and emotional material from that time untouched.
  There was a reason for this, even if it wasn’t one I consciously contemplated at the time. My early life challenged me in ways I didn’t feel ready to scrutinize too closely at that point. I was the victim of abuse at home and in my community. Even at school, which should have been my sanctuary, I was instead publicly shamed for my math disability and problems with handwriting and spatial reasoning. Teachers paid so much attention to my shortcomings they didn’t seem to notice my significant strengths. It was an unforgiving world, though I was an outgoing and friendly child, who spoke to everyone I met, even the bullies who tormented me.
  My parents were no help because they were occupied with their own struggles. My father suffered from untreated Tourette Syndrome, OCD, and bipolar disorder. He could be funny and charming, generous and amusing, but his moods changed in an instant, and he was often violent, particularly since I refused to cringe before him in fear, as my mother did.
  For her part, my mother suffered from crippling anxiety, and perhaps a bit of agoraphobia. In later years, she developed dementia, and became a full-blown hoarder. I could not count on her to protect me from my father’s rages or my teachers’ unfairness. She could not even protect herself.
  I knew that I could not access my emotional core as a writer until I dealt with these experiences, which still exerted all too much power over my adult life, so armed with years of therapy and experience as a writer, I tackled the most painful episodes of my earlier life in poetry.
  When I first decided to write about these experiences, I imagined that I could exorcise their effect on my life entirely, as an oyster transforms irritants to luminous pearls by secreting layers of nacre over grains of sand and grit. However, I found that human beings, while adaptable, cannot shed life’s insults so thoroughly. In fact, in the process of writing the poems, I found that in order to write about my past, I had to relive those experiences I had shoved into the darkest part of my mental closet. This experience triggered undiagnosed P.T.S.D., which lay behind a lifetime of anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks. But I did not stop working on these poems, feeling that I had to keep walking through the darkness if I were ever to emerge on the other side.
   Yet Other-Wise does not dwell fully on this darkness. these poems do not by any means occupy the majority of the book. Just as my life has been only partially occupied by this painful material, I felt that the book should embody the variety of my world. These poems take up less than ¼ of the collection. The first section, “Them,” is composed of poems about the natural world; “Us” is made up of poems about human relationships and other human phenomena. “Me” holds the autobiographical poems in question; while the final section, “The Others,” contains poems about legendary and imaginary creatures.
  It is not just the subject matter of the poems that varies. Stylistically, the poems in the first and fourth sections tend to be heavily imagistic. The diction at times can be a touch technical, formal, or odd. On the other hand, many of the poems in the second and third section rely less on images. Syntactically, they can be plainer than the poems in the other sections. In the menagerie of my work, they are an entirely different species.
  It is important to me to share these dark parts of my life, which are after all part of who I am. I am driven to do this not just for myself, but also for others who have survived such experiences. Though writing these poems was very difficult, since I had to confront things I had buried so many years ago, I am now largely free of the freight I once carried because I have written these poems. I hope that some of my readers will be encouraged by reading them to face their dark pasts for themselves, though they should be warned that this will force them to relive experiences they have long tried to forget.
  There may be consequences, as there were for me.  The process was fraught with dangers, panic attacks and other responses to opening these sealed doors and windows, uncovering the mirrors of my haunted past. Yet averting one’s eyes also has consequences that could conceivably last the rest of a lifetime. Is it better to face the monster under the bed, or spend the rest of the night fearing it, imagining its fearsome dimensions? Those who brave the journey into their own pasts may, as I did, require a guide in this process, who can help them face what emerges from the darkness.

More about Robbi
Robbi Nester is the author of three books of poems, a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and two collections of poetry, A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014) and Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017). She has also edited two anthologies, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an ekphrastic e-anthology, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees--celebrating the photographs of Beth Moon. Her poetry, reviews, essays, articles, and blog posts have appeared widely.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Allegory of Man and His Sahara


fter several literary seasons given over, mostly, to the frisky antics of kids, precociously knowing and singularly charming, but not to be counted on for those gifts that arrive by no other way than the experience and contemplation of a truly adult mind, now is obviously a perfect time for a writer with such a mind to engage our attention. That is precisely the event to be celebrated in the appearance of "The Sheltering Sky," Paul Bowles' first novel.

It has been a good while since first novels in America have come from men in their middle or late thirties (Paul Bowles is 38). Even in past decades the first novel has usually been written during the writers' first years out of college. Moreover, because success and public attention operate as a sort of pressure cooker or freezer, there has been a discouraging tendency for the talent to bake or congeal at a premature level of inner development.

In America the career almost invariably becomes an obsession. The "get-ahead" principle, carried to such extreme, inspires our writers to enormous efforts. A new book must come out every year. Otherwise they get panicky, and the first thing you know they belong to Alcoholics Anonymous or have embraced religion or plunged headlong into some political activity with nothing but an inchoate emotionalism to bring to it or to be derived from it. I think that this stems from a misconception of what it means to be a writer or any kind of creative artist. They feel it is something to adopt in the place of actual living, without understanding that art is a by-product of existence.

Paul Bowles has deliberately rejected that kind of rabid professionalism. Better known as a composer than a writer, he has not allowed his passion for either form of expression to interfere with his growth into completeness of personality. Now this book has come at the meridian of the man and artist. And, to me very thrillingly, it brings the reader into sudden, startling communion with a talent of true maturity and sophistication of a sort that I had begun to fear was to be found nowadays only among the insurgent novelists of France, such as Jean Genet and Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

With the hesitant exception of one or two war books by returned soldiers, "The Sheltering Sky" alone of the books that I have recently read by American authors appears to bear the spiritual imprint of recent history in the western world. Here the imprint is not visible upon the surface of the novel. It exists far more significantly in a certain philosophical aura that envelopes it.

There is a curiously double level to this novel. The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement.

The story itself is a chronicle of startling adventure against a background of the Sahara and the Arab-populated regions of the African Continent, a portion of the world seldom dealt with by first-rate writers who actually know it. Paul Bowles does know it, and much better, for instance, than it was known by AndrÈ Gide. He probably knows it even better than Albert Camus. For Paul Bowles has been going to Africa, off and on, since about 1930. It thrills him, but for some reason it does not upset his nervous equilibrium. He does not remain in the coastal cities. At frequent intervals he takes journeys into the most mysterious recesses of the desert and mountain country of North Africa, involving not only hardship but peril.

"The Sheltering Sky" is the chronicle of such a journey. Were it not for the fact that the chief male character, Port Moresby, succumbs to an epidemic fever during the course of the story, it would not be hard to identify him with Mr. Bowles himself. Like Mr. Bowles, he is a member of the New York intelligentsia who became weary of being such a member and set out to escape it in remote places. Escape it he certainly does. He escapes practically all the appurtenances of civilized modern life. Balanced between fascination and dread, he goes deeper and deeper into this dreamlike "awayness."

From then on the story is focused upon the continuing and continually more astonishing adventures of his wife, Kit, who wanders on like a body in which the rational mechanism is gradually upset and destroyed. The liberation is too intense, too extreme, for a nature conditioned by and for a state of civilized confinement. Her primitive nature, divested one by one of its artificial reserves and diffidences, eventually overwhelms her, and the end of this novel is as wildly beautiful and terrifying as the whole panorama that its protagonists have crossed.

In this external aspect the novel is, therefore, an account of startling adventure. In its interior aspect, "The Sheltering Sky" is an allegory of the spiritual adventure of the fully conscious person into modern experience. This is not an enticing way to describe it. It is a way that might suggest the very opposite kind of a novel from the one that Paul Bowles has written. Actually this superior motive does not intrude in explicit form upon the story, certainly not in any form that will need to distract you from the great pleasure of being told a first-rate story of adventure by a really first-rate writer.

I suspect that a good many people will read this book and be enthralled by it without once suspecting that it contains a mirror of what is most terrifying and cryptic within the Sahara of moral nihilism, into which the race of man now seems to be wandering blindly.

Mr. Williams is the author of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and other plays.

This article originally appeared in New York Times Books (1949).

Monday, June 12, 2017


 Jackie Lopez Lopez

From deep within the caverns of your soul,
I see your eyes pollute my airwaves.
So, I lounge in bed lying close to the window listening
to the freeway sounds and the ocean floor.
I cast a spell as ancient love has taught me.
I say, “I love you.” And you flinch.
I do not know what other witchcraft to practice except the obvious.
I wish for your magic sticks.
I lay claim to the Universe Supreme for you are my Twin Flame.
I have never met a soul such as mine.
I have never known a more magical man.
So, please come at night and steal my breath.
I get a heart attack every time I go up to your face.
I never know if I should hide under a veil for safety before I say,
“You are lovely.”
I shan’t deny the drama between us.
For twenty five years, I have used your name as my medicine.
I shan’t flounder again.
I will repeat it until the day I die.
I cast a spell upon a populist outside of myself, knowing full well
that we are one and that it is impossible to do so.
I cast a spell on myself, “Woman! May you have the strength of a thousand
Buddhas to kiss him on the lips.” 
I am allowed my era of weakness.
I am allowed my era of strength.
I am allowed my era of solitude and beguiling sentiments like those above.
I shan’t destroy my underwear.
I shall rise…
I shall arrive like the thieving masses in an uproar.
I shall castigate the onlookers.
I shall betwixt and bewitch Heaven on Earthers.
I know no kindness like the back hand of a hierophant.
I have capitulated to the lady with her purse.
I wear dresses too.
I know I shall frighten you away with my beguiling sentiments.
But I know you are my muse.
You give me power.
You give me yourself.
You give me creativity.
You give me mystery.
You give me love.
I shall hide away with it when the time comes.
It will be enough for me ‘til the day I die.
Hopefully, you shall have mercy on me and let me dance.
Little angels are fluttering about us.
The Gods and Goddesses are strutting around us.
God himself lifts me from my bed.
I tell you no lie,

I rise.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The First Time I Left Home (continued)

About three or four months before I left for Brasil, I began dating a guy I met through Himerus. She hung out with him because he was a stoner. Himerus smoked a lot of weed and so did he.  Weed aside, he must have found the attention flattering. She certainly made quite the impression: fiery, everything about her, lit up with color, from her scarlet hair to her scarlet toenails, not to mention a collection of halter tops that celebrated the startling largesse of her breasts. That was Himerus, a goddess in the best and worst ways: beauty, passion, temper-temper.

Himerus liked to steal things.  Young girls, in particular--although not me, particularly. Thirteen wasn't too young. She stole Julie, my best friend. 

Julie and I, close as two girls could be, until Himerus came along. When or how exactly I don't remember.  She showed up in an orange V.W. Bug with plates that read, Bennie and the Jets, told Julie to get it, and the two of them took off.  I got left behind. Whenever they went to the movies or a concert, I got left behind. If they went to the drug store, I got left behind. Himerus never invited me to her house.  She was exclusive company.  I should get lost.

Until, Julie's parents divorced, and she began spending weekends at her father's house.  Himerus took her absence personally, as if Julie had abandoned her, and only wished to cause her pain.  I knew she was angry with Julie because she started having me over to her house--where I discovered a pool, a stereo, a steady supply of diet soda, and parents that never seemed to be home.  

Not that my parents were home either.  They were often gone but Himerus and I lived on different cultural planets.  Where I lived, everyone sang opera, played classical music, painted in oils, and recited poetry before bedtime. My parents called our planet: Kulture.  On Himerus's planet, people were free to live the middle--class American way.  A wonderful place, sort of like 4th of July every day, right down to the potato salad and deviled eggs. And, there was Himerus, the red-headed goddess. She detested rules, listened to rock n' roll, always sunbathed topless, drove around in her little orange car, and engaged in casual sex.  By the time she made me her friend, Himerus was at the height of her powers.

Two years later, I would board a plane bound for Sao Paolo, Brasil.  Himerus told me she would miss me.  I believed her, and the feeling was somewhat mutual.  We were never great friends. She was never someone with whom I could feel at ease.  She yelled, a lot. She cried, too.  Getting high seemed to be the only thing that calmed her down.  When I told her about my plans to spend a year in Brasil as an exchange student, I did so with trepidation.  Who knew what would set her off? She surprised me. Himerus said she couldn't be happier for me. 

As for my boyfriend, it was hard to leave. He came with me to the airport.  I remember him crying as we said good-bye at the gate. Himerus was there too.  She was smiling, waving.  She promised to write.  He promised to wait for me.  I was the love of his life.  

A month or so after my departure, my boyfriend wrote me.  It was the first I had heard from him.  I had written numerous letters. Letters brimming over with homesickness.  Home was so far away! I felt utterly alone, no matter how much my host family did to cheer me up.  It wasn't the food, the climate, the people:  it was the language.  When one is young and has never left their speck called home, being unable to communicate is debilitating.  I was in a debilitated state when my boyfriend finally wrote.  He began by explaining that he did love me.  He really meant it when he said he would wait for me.  What he hadn't mentioned was that he was also in love with Himerus.  He had to break it to me: He and Himerus were married.  The letter ended with him saying that I should let him go.  Forever.

If you look up the word "homesick" in the Portuguese dictionary, you may find "saudade." They call it the untranslatable word.  It was also one of the first words I learned in Brasil. Perhaps, it came up because I seemed sad, quiet--lost in some painful reverie.  It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, either. There was a certain beauty to what happened to me. Saudade.

A long time has passed since I left home for Brasil.  Recently, I came across a lyric:  Você, que poderia ser tanta coisa, preferiu ser saudade.  It doesn't translate easily, this phrase, and yet it expresses with perfect clarity what I felt back then:  You, who could be so much, preferred to be homesickness.  

By now, readers who pass this way may wonder how this story began.

I was sitting in class listening to a fellow student talk about her year abroad.  Paris, to be precise. She'd spent a year in Paris as an exchange student.  A lovely year in every way, as she described the experience.  She lived with a French family, and it had been great. She went to school, and it had been great.  She learned French, and her French was great. By the time she finished her presentation, it was decided:  I too would go to Paris.  

Except I never got to Paris.  There was a glut of exchange students applying to France.  My sponsors told me not to worry.  They would find a host country for me.  And they did:  Brasil.

Back then, before the Internet, you didn't hear much about Brasil where I grew up.  Honestly, I had no idea where I was going.  But, I was going, and it was then that I learned the true meaning of "no turning back."

Kathryn A. Kopple works in Spanish and English. She has published original poetry and prose in numerous publications, including The Threepenny Review, The Bellevue Review and The Shell Game (anthology, U of Nebraska Press). She is the author of Little Velásquez and The Leaving Year (Mirth Press, 2017).





Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Interview with Carla Sarett

TLY:  Today, TLY welcomes author Carla Sarret.  We begin by asking:

Certain writers—Hemingway, for example—are famous for writing standing up.  Truman Capote famously described himself as a “horizontal” writer?  What position do you write in?

CARLA:  I literally write standing up, since I use a standing desk.  I think standing up makes me more alert, too, more prickly.  But for casual writing, like blogs, or this interview, I can sit.  Seriously, I can.

TLY:  Do you have a favorite city or region you return to in your writing?

CARLA: I am a New Yorker at heart, but I write more about Philadelphia.  It’s saturated with history, with layers of history, and there’s something magically hidden in all of its narrow alleys.  I am obsessed with historical re-enactment, history re-created, and Philadelphia is all about reliving its past. After all, it hit its peak of fame and glory in 1800, and it’s been downhill from there. 

TLY:  If you wouldn’t mind a bit of free association, what characters immediately come to mind when you hear the following:  London, Paris, Rome.  And why?

CARLA:  For me, London is Dickens, and Dickens is London—so invariably, my mind turns to David Copperfield, Nickolas Nickleby, Mrs, Jellaby, Mr. MIcawber, and the others who live with me daily.

Paris, Colette’s Cheri, Gigi.  Colette herself, who somehow seems to embody my notions of the city.  And Bel-Ami, the social-climbing hero of de Maupassant’s novel of the same name. 

Rome, well, that’s the lost Americans of Henry James, and Charlotte Stant in particular, from The Golden Bowl.  Recently, I have been researching the circle of American 19th century female sculptors of “new women” who lived in Rome; and learned that character of Charlotte was modeled on the sexual intrigues of famous lesbian actress, Charlotte Cushman. 

TLY:  Have you ever wanted to travel to a country so you could write about it?  Why?

CARLA: Not a particular country, but I would like to live on a remote island, very tiny, cut off from the world in the way Sarah Orne Jewett writes of the islands off the coast of Maine.  Someplace with its own, very old, culture, that’s been allowed to survive, but isn’t impoverished or damaged.  (All suggestions welcome.)

TLY:  What inspired you to write the story “Forever Unread,” in which a writer finds her tastes and aesthetic sensibilities at odds with publishing trends?

CARLA:That piece of frivolity was written for a website, Lost in Fiction, which asked me to submit for its Lost in Romance Month. At the time   I’d  recently submitted another story, one of my favorites called “Mandolinata” and the editor of a “literary” journal had written back to say how much he admired the writing, but he felt the piece was not “dark” enough for his journal—which made me giggle. So,I decided to poke some fun at this current (to my mind, mannered) preference for so-called edgy fiction, and also to educate readers a bit about some of my literary heroines like Laurie Colwin and Nancy Lemann.

TLY:  Your work is infused with a high degree of humor.  What sorts of things make you laugh? 

CARLA:  Oh my, such a long list.  Writers? Ring Lardner, P.G. Wodehouse, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, Dawn Powell, Mark Twain, and of contemporary writers, Maria Semple and Joe Keenan. Old British “Ealing Studio” films, Preston Sturgess, Billy Wilder comedies,  Elaine May-Mike Nichols routines, Doris Day comedies, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I get a laugh out of Larry David and Eddie Murphy. Things people say crack me up, especially when they are being serious.  Most self-help books and advice anything makes me laugh. Taking life too seriously is inherently comical. But I never, ever make jokes.  Don’t ask me why, I dislike them.

TLY:  In “No Old-Fashioned Romance,” one observation struck me in which one of the characters—the mother—says, “That's the real love story.  That's the one that no one else can see.”  What sort of love escapes notice or is invisible to us?

CARLA:  Well, that particular story is about my mother, and her uncanny ability to see the unseen, to care (passionately) about people whom others overlook.  But in general, I think we have a deep emotional connection to the past, to the family we never knew and to people whom we have lost. Love doesn’t vaporize with death.  So that continuing love is often invisible, it is powerful, it guides our lives; but in our culture, it is hard to speak of.  I think that explains Americans’ new fascination with psychics, and the paranormal: we want to express that love.

TLY:  You are a great champion of women’s writing.  What does “women’s writing” mean to you?  Why is it important that we celebrate women authors?

CARLA: Well, more accurately, I am a champion of women’s art in part because historically so much of women’s presence in the visual arts was later erased, forgotten.  So, as a girl, I grew up with a distorted  historical timeline, that snipped out, say, Judith Leyster (whose works were then attributed to Franz Hals.). So, correcting that record is important. In literature, women were more fairly treated.  But again, there’s a sense of relative inequity in the critical rankings  When I compare Willa Cather to, say, Ernest Hemingway, the latter seems adolescent; yet Hemingway enjoys far broader critical recognition than Cather.  Critics have devalued so-called women’s writers like  Daphne du Maurier in favor of male hardboiled fiction—I enjoy both, incidentally.  Then, we have the same erasing of female voices:  the feminist novels of Helen Hull, the mysterious works of Barbra Comyns,  Dawn Powell’s comedies, and on it goes.  I have been reading E.H. Young, who writes so eloquently about female experience, especially in her masterpiece, “Miss Mole”—why isn’t this book better known? But there is progress: Library of America released its female noir writers, who were a revelation to me.  So, there’s a joy in finding these forgotten women, and yes, celebrating them—and for that, I also thank my mother.

TLY:  Carla, it has been a pleasure.  Thank you for taking the time. 

Carla Sarett’s fiction and essays have appeared in magazines such as Crack the Spine, Page and Spine, The Big Jewel, Loch Raven Review, Blue Lyra Review (nominated for Best American Essay,) Skirt! as well as short fiction anthologies. Carla has a Ph.D. from The University of Pennsylvania, and has enjoyed success in TV, film and market research. She blogs at http://carlasarett.blogspot.com. You can find several of her story collections on Amazon, including Strange Courtships: Nine Romantic Stories, Spooky and Kooky Tales, and, for those with an interest in forgotten artists, The Art Collection: Three Short Stories. She has recently completed a novel set in the world of Philadelphia’s re-enactors.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

I Am in California

Jackie Lopez Lopez

We shall be married in a fortnight or when the alarm goes off.
Circumstances don’t know me.
The truth of plans avoid me.
A timetable disappears in the wind.
The selfish elves don’t know I am leaving the forest to marry you.
I am in California.
Stake your claim on me, and let’s be homesteaders.
I will say “yes” to any crop you want to grow-I am ready!
I am building an evolution next to our Garden of Eden.
The river through our land sings gospel songs.
The birds sing the blues.
My organism dances to your every emotion.
And the worms till the soil.
I will stand on a cloud.
Our soul song will water the fields.
You have always nurtured me with such elegance and grace.
I am a thunder storm dancer, and I am from your tribe.
I am available for consultation.
Let’s be homesteaders.
I am in California.
There is gold in the mountains.
There are spiders in the web.
Send me a message through the telepath office.
I am in California, and I am still alive.
I love you very much!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The First Time I Left Home (continued)

Post number three and I still haven't left home.  I've been stalling, ducking the departure gate, mired in prologue. I keep meaning to leave but instead find myself returning to the place I grew up.  The river I feel still runs through me.  The lap of tilled lands circled by mountains. Ponds and marshes. My childhood haunting grounds. We moved there after my parents migrated from Manhattan to Schenectady to Ibiza, Spain to I forget to Castle Hill Road.  

I was about five when we moved to Castle Hill. Ours was a small house perched above a pond surrounded by brushwoods. That pond was legend, mostly because of the water moccasins. Semi-aquatic, six feet long, venomous. Water moccasin was my first "snake" word--well before python or anaconda. Why it is called a "moccasin" and not, "Terrifying water viper," remains a mystery.  According to word detective Evan Morris, "moccasin" was adopted by European settlers from the Algonquin Indians. Moccasin ("slipper" to the Europeans) must have seemed an apt name for a creature that slips easily and noiselessly in and out of water. The pond at Castle Hill was full of them.

The pond was also home to snapping turtles.  They trudged up the hill to lay eggs in our backyard.  In fact, the pond was home to most things with jaws that bite, claws that snatch--together with stinging insects, poison ivy, leeches, black widows.

My parents warned me away from the pond.  "You'll drown.  A water moccasin bite can kill." They warned me away until they gave up and let me do what I wanted.  Feral child, that I was. The snakes never troubled with me.  Poison ivy was the real danger, and I managed to get it in my eyes, down my throat--every inconvenient place.  I spent a lot of time swathed in Calamine lotion and looking like a sorry flamingo.   

By now, readers who pass this way have no doubt forgotten how this story began.

I was sitting in class listening to a fellow student talk about her year abroad.  Paris, to be precise.  She'd spent a year in Paris as an exchange student.  A lovely year in every way, as she described the experience.  She lived with a French family, and it had been great.  She went to school, and it had been great.  She learned French, and her French was great. By the time she finished her presentation, it was decided:  I too would go to Paris.  

Except I never got to Paris.  There was a glut of exchange students applying to France.  My sponsors told me not to worry.  They would find a host country for me.  And they did:  Brasil.

Back then, before the Internet, you didn't hear much about Brasil where I grew up.  Honestly, I had no idea where I was going.  But, I was going, and it was then that I learned the true meaning of "no turning back."

Kathryn A. Kopple works in Spanish and English. She translates for TED in their outsourcing program. She has published original poetry and prose in numerous publications, including The Threepenny Review, The Bellevue Review and The Shell Game (anthology, U of Nebraska Press). She is the author of Little Velásquez (Mirth Press), a novel set in 15th century Spain.


So Why Did I Defend Paul Bowles?

by Hisham Aidi  In the mid-1990s, I used to lead literary walking tours of “Paul Bowles’s Tangier” for friends or literary pilgrims visitin...