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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

=in the mail this week=


::J. Block, Bridgewater, MA::

This one unfolds from it's own envelope like a mini cyclorama. Very cool, very inventive trompe l'oeil effect

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

=Catch of the day=




To this day my mom insists that dad was not an alcoholic. But I remember coming down to breakfast and having to step carefully around him, snoring on the landing, a bottle nestled beside him like a prosthetic organ. Once I found him sitting at the kitchen table, drinking, holding up a mackerel. He was conversing with it, eye-to-eye. "You can learn a lot from a fish," he said, catching sight of me before I could slip away." He wagged an imprecise finger in my general direction. "Never forget that." I never did, though it took years of therapy to remember this incident. "He had a lot of problems," my mother says. "But drinking wasn't one of them." Why does maintaining this fiction seem to mean so much to her? 

"She's a lot farther away than you think," my father said, meaning my mother. "Don't be fooled. She exists beyond the limit of your last breath. You'll drown trying to put your ear to her lips." Is that why he had such a passion for fishing? They say that dolphins have been known to rescue drowning men. They say that's how the legends of mermaids began.

My mother kept many secrets. I've spent half my life looking for them. She hid them somewhere inside of me like Easter eggs. I'll never root them all out. The ones I don't find turn black and start to stink. That's when I finally find them.

"She's in the desert, the trackless desert, like a sphinx, where there is no water. You'll die of thirst before you ever reach her, before you can ask her anything," my father said to the fish. Was this before or after he spotted me in his peripheral vision? Was he still talking about my mother or about me? 

Some men build sailing ships inside of empty bottles.

"Like you," my father confided to the mackerel, shortly before he left for good, "I'm a fish out of water." The fish stared back glassy-eyed, it's lip torn and ragged where the hook had been yanked out.

Does a sphinx lay eggs? What kind of creature impregnates a sphinx? Or is it self-impregnating?

Over time, entire oceans have been known to dry up, leaving deserts, fossil evidence of fantastic sea creatures like x-rays left in sunbaked stone.

Sometimes, after a stroke, a person loses the ability to speak. They move their lips but no sound comes out. It may take months, even years of therapy for them to regain the words they have lost. Sometimes they never do. 

Sometimes I think that drinking must be like talking underwater.

I'll never forget the despair in my father's voice as he spoke to the fish he caught that day, a despair so deep, so desolate, and so profound that more and more of late it allows me to finally forgive him everything. 

Yes, everything and even worse than that.


=foghorn!=


=Happy 90th birthday William Gass!=



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

=Damages=




I get a letter in the mail from a lawyer informing me that I'm being sued for twenty-five million dollars. It seems that I've written a short story that has caused the firm's client a mental and physical distress so profound and irrevocable that he or she has been rendered virtually crippled, unable to work, even to feed or dress themselves unassisted. This person can no longer live a normal life and I'm to blame. The suit charges that I've been criminally negligent, unscrupulous, even  unsanitary (!) in my "so-called literary practices," that I've displayed a gross and reckless disregard for readers and that they intend to punish me to the fullest extent of the law (and further, if possible); they'll see to it that I'm made to pay for the "unconscionable" damage that I've caused. 

I don't take any of it seriously. Who would? Just another example of a society gone mad with litigation, a legal system run amok. What kind of law firm would even take on such a frivolous case? Boy are they barking up the wrong tree! Just ask my ex. Any of them. I haven't got two dimes to rub together, not a pot to piss in. My writing doesn't earn a thing. I should be suing the reading public for the psychological damage, the abuse and neglect they've inflicted on me all these years! Hey, why don't I? Of course, I should. Why didn't I think of it earlier? I get to work right away, drafting my countersuit. I pour out my heart and soul, a lifetime of yearning and frustration. I feel like a ruptured aorta; it all comes roaring out of me in one effortless screed. It seems I've hit the motherlode of inspiration.

In the meantime, the other side blinks. I reject their settlement offers out of hand, one after another: eighteen million, nine million, a "measly two million and we drop the whole matter and pretend it never happened." Fuck you! I reply in no uncertain terms. Too late now, buster. I'm not giving up, ever. You've kicked a hornet's nest. I work night and day. I'll work until I drop. I'm on a roll. No compromise, no half-measures, no settling for me! Fire up the Hubble telescope! I'm asking for the sun, the moon, the stars, both known and those in galaxies yet to be discovered.  I have no shame. I want it all. They weren't expecting this new attitude of mine, this righteous indignation. They didn't see it coming. To tell you the truth, neither did I. I didn't know I had it in me. Now it's coming out of me. It was all worth it, all the pain and suffering and neglect they've inflicted on me all these years. I'm cashing in. This is my masterpiece.   


Monday, July 28, 2014

=Sssh!=




Dad comes into my room one night with a hammer. He says, "I'm sorry to have to do this but some things happened that need fixing." He takes hold of my chin. "Hold still goddammit!" He's already frustrated and pissed-off, the way he gets when he attempts even the simplest home repair. When it's over, he says "If anyone asks, tell them you fell off your bike."

Years pass, lots of things change except the sense that something's missing. I just don't know what it is. I follow I-don't-know-what like a star and like a star it keeps receding, slipping beneath the horizon. I might be an alien watching my home disappear. I ask my Mom, "Do you remember..." "Yes," she answers. "You fell off your bike." So they got to her, too, I realize. The circle is complete.

I'm nothing special. If you look closely, a lot of us have the same dent in our heads. Sometimes it's hidden under the hair and you have to feel around for it with your fingers. We could form a Society or an Invisible Order—but based on what, exactly? On the fact that something's missing, something we can't remember, something that's been lost somewhere along the way, something that's been taken? Is that enough? The only thing we have in common is that we've all fallen off a bike at roughly the same time in our lives. At least that's what we're all saying. And no one thinks that odd? No one's the wiser? "Ssssh!"

=bird & flowers=


=lintroller text collage=



Sunday, July 27, 2014

=Bewitchery=




So instead of executing me, they blindfold me, tie my hands behind my back, and drive me miles outside of town. There they leave me to my fate. To prove they aren't entirely heartless, that they're Christians after all and better than me, they shove eight dollars into my dirty palm. "Good luck, baby!" I hear one of them yell, laughing, as they drive rattling off in the pick-up.

Naturally, it immediately begins to rain. I stumble around aimlessly in the mud for a while. The soaked blindfold slips down. The binding on my wrists loosens. Eventually I come upon a farmer who has a thing for half-bound barefoot girls with no future. He takes me in. He warms me by his fire. He fucks me silly.

Sometimes at the very height of intimacy, he puts his big calloused hands on my throat. I don't even flinch. "Go ahead and kill me if you like," I say. I mean it, too. If you don't mean it, the spell won't work. He howls like a wild beast and comes inside me, shouting obscenities like a French poet. Then he covers me with kisses as if he's hiding a crime under white roses. One day, I'm boiling peas and it hits me, "Wow, I really am in love." No one could be more surprised than I am. Meanwhile, he acts as if he planned it all along.

=book recently read: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband and He Hanged Himself by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya=



A selection of short stories selected from the oeuvre of a Russian woman now nearly eighty, this particular batch of tales deal with love, romance, obsession, emotional need, sex, and the general morass of human dysfunction resulting therefrom. Ludmilla P-etc. is compared to a whole slew of writers on the cover of this book betraying the sad fact that here in America we don't know how to market writing like hers—which is to say writing with soul, political and social conscious, a sense of history, and human universality. This sort of writing is a tradition in a land that has produced writers like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Gogol. Like those guys Ludmilla P writers with a mix of gritty realism, black humor, and what I can best describe as a sort of oracular fabulism. 

It is the folkloric quality to these tales that give them their age-old sensibility and wisdom. This is a quality that can't be faked. It must come from the very soil of a place, the collective wisdom of a people in touch with the truths of human nature in all its forms, in all its sufferings and exaltation, elemental truths that have always existed and will always exist. America, by contrast, is a young culture and seems only to be growing more immature and superficial as time goes by. Will America ever produce the equal of a Dostoyevsky, or even a Dickens? 

Ludmilla P's stories are situated somewhere between dreaming and waking, myth and everyday reality; they bear witness to the truth that you cannot have only one or the other if you want to convey what it truly feels like to be a human being. These stories take their particularity in the Soviet experience of privation, overcrowding, rationing of food, shelter, clothing, of inept bureaucracy, poverty, and endemic corruption but they attain their universality in the sense that lives everywhere partake, if not literally, then metaphorically of privation, of want, needs, desires and dreams that go unfulfilled. 

That's not to say that these stories are all gloom and doom because they are just the opposite. They are full of an often grotesque, desperate resilience that brings out the best of human nature even at it's worse, it's grandeur at the depth of squalor. For the most part, all the stories have a "happy" ending albeit a compromised and unconventional happiness as the folks that people Ludmilla P's fiction get what they want if often in forms they least expect, or even recognize. It's this quality of the everyday magic of life that gives her "fairy tales" their realistic bite and real life its enchanted fairytale quality.

=i like to lick things!=



=in the mail this week=



::Moan Lisa, Iowa City, IA::

Saturday, July 26, 2014

=A memorable breakfast=





Dad is making breakfast this morning because Mom is… well where is Mom, anyway? It's assumed that she must have gone out early. Either that or she's still upstairs, sleeping late. No one asks questions in this household, that's part of the unspoken pact. At the same time, what questions would you ask? It's hard to say anything is out of the ordinary when nothing is ordinary. 

It's pancakes Dad is making. It's a festive atmosphere in the kitchen, the kind that always seems to accompany the making of pancakes, but forced, strained. The whole room is like an elastic band about to snap. We're all pretending not to notice that Dad never makes pancakes. 

Suddenly I hear a car engine in the driveway. The opening and closing of a door, then a trunk. Mom's home. I go to the door to let her inside. She's carrying several bulky shopping bags, but its obvious to me from the way she's dressed and made-up that she's just getting home from the day before. She hands me a bag, says hellos all around. The first of the pancakes are ready. "None for me," she says brightly and disappears into the cool dark interior of the house, like a spider. 

My hand feels numb. I shift the lumpy bag in my arms to take a closer look. The hand is blue-black, swollen, and the nails are yellow. I can't seem to determine whether its my right hand or left that's afflicted. I already have a doctor's appointment scheduled for later that morning. Is it too late to cancel? I decide to cancel it one way or another, even if I still have to pay the office fee. 

At the stove Dad is weeping. Not that you'd ever notice, though. You have to look back thirty years from now to see it. 

"No, no, no!" my brother says angrily. "You've got it all ass-backwards, as usual. It's Dad that stayed out all night! Mom made the pancakes!"

But I don't think so.

Upstairs you hear something hit the floor with an awkward, heavy thump.

=The magic lesson=



(image: Moan Lisa/Meeah Williams)


It's the eve of the big holiday and the town is buzzing. Rumor has it that the president is even going to make a surprise appearance, coming down from the clouds via helicopter. Everything and everyone seems lit up by ten suns. I've decided to take advantage of the crowds and the festive atmosphere to make some fast and easy cash. I set up a table as one of those quick-talking characters who make you guess which walnut shell the pea is under. But I only use two walnut shells and I stutter and the people I'm trying to cheat win as often as they lose. Actually, they win a little more than they lose. Soon I'm down to my last dollar and I lose that, too. An old blind man with two mangy dogs has been listening to me the whole time.  

"You just haven't got a knack for the trick," he says. 

"Trick! Who knew there was a trick!" I say indignantly. "I thought it was a matter of blind luck!" 

He offers to teach me the trick if I buy him a drink at the strip club across the street. I explain that it's a moot point because I already lost my last dollar. There's a gleam in his milky unseeing eyes that looks like the look in the eyes of someone who suddenly recognizes a stranger in a crowd.

"That's it!" he says. "This is precisely how I'm able to see. That's the trick. Get it?" 

"Frankly, no," I answer. 

I figure that I've had enough for one day. To hell with these people, this old man, this holiday. I start to gather up my things to leave. On the table are the two walnut shells. "Go ahead" he says. 

I've forgotten where I left the pea. So I tap the shell on the right with my index finger for no particular reason. Then I lift it up. Sure enough: the pea. 

"That's it," he says. "Now certainly you see how it's done?"

I consider it for a moment. "No," I say again, collect the rest of my things, and go home.

But the truth is, I do think I see it, just a little.

Friday, July 25, 2014

=manga madonna=


=How to write fiction=



You're never supposed to start a story by writing "I woke up" or with an alarm clock going off. This is considered awkward and amateurish writing. It's like clearing your throat and accouncing "Alright reader, I'm taking up my pen. Get ready. I'm going to write a story!" I once read this advice at the very beginning of the first chapter in a book on how to write fiction. Of course, Kafka started off his most famous story with Gregor Samsa waking up to find that he's turned into a giant bug. But Kafka is Kafka and he's an exception to the rule. More than likely, you're not an exception to the rule; you're as bound to it as I am. So instead, for the sake of this story, let's say I didn't wake up. Let's say I'm still just lying here, sound asleep, as if dead. Maybe I am dead. We'll see. What kind of a start to a story is that? Not a very promising one, I'll admit. 

Conversely, stories aren't supposed to end with any variation of "it was only a dream." That's considered a cop-out, a signal that the writer got in over his or her head and couldn't figure out how to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion, couldn't reconcile fiction to reality. Say, for instance, I start off a story dancing in a strip-club and to my shock and mortification I see my dad walking through the door. He hasn't seen me yet, his eyes are still adjusting to the murky lighting, and he's fishing around in his wallet for dollar bills. But he's going to see me any minute now.  Admittedly, this is a tough beginning to follow up on but I can't just make it a dream. I can't end the story by writing "...and then I woke up and realized it was all a dream, whew!" Not even the great Kafka did that. So in the meantime I guess I'll just stay asleep. I won't wake up until I can think of something better. Maybe I'm waiting for my Prince Charming. Now I'm writing a fairytale, which really no one believes in anymore. I'm going to have to wake myself up. I'm going to have to come up with my own happily-ever-after.  

All in all, it's probably a good idea to go with some perfectly ordinary situation, something you can resolve in a perfectly ordinary way. That seems to be the general drift of fiction nowadays. Real-life stories for real-life people. After all, real-life is challenging enough, absurd enough as it is. You can start a story with something like this:

"They were out of butter again. How was that possible? Patty stared at the empty butter dish on the refrigerator door. Where did all the butter go, anyway? Two people couldn't possibly eat so much butter, could they, especially two people watching their diets as assiduously as her and Ben? Butter didn't just evaporate, like the ice cubes did in the ice cube trays in the freezer, did it? Patty would ask her husband when he came downstairs to breakfast; he was always good for an answer when it came to answering questions like this. At least he was always game, never at a loss for a theory." 

Who is Patty? 

What's this about the butter?

Why were they always running out?

What would her husband say when he came downstairs and shuffled into the kitchen in his underwear for breakfast?

Answer these questions and you have your story.

Finally, the general consensus when it comes to writing is that you can't just wait around for inspiration, for the muse to visit, the hand to come out of the cloud. The most successful and prolific writers insist that you have to sit there every day and grind it out. You have to make something happen because it's not going to happen by itself anymore than that floor will mop itself, buster. You have to answer the above questions as best you can as if your life depended on it, as if you were being interrogated by the police under a hot light without legal representation, and most of what you come up with will be unsatisfactory, end up in crumpled wads in the wastebasket, the authorities won't buy it.


It's ironic that I was thinking these thoughts while lying in bed this morning, staring at the ceiling, shortly after I woke up from a long disjointed dream that incorporated all of the above and other stuff besides that I've already forgotten or am currently in the process of forgetting even as I write this sentence. My husband stirred beside me. Just as an experiment I asked him, "Why are we always running out of butter?"

"What the hell are you talking about," he muttered groggily.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

=the quiet its screaming=




(antonin artaud)                 



What sits there so quiet
at head of the table
its back up
its thumb up at twelve o'clock high
on its plate its meat cowers
obligingly bleeding
it want someone talking
it watching it waiting
its eyes searching faces
who will it be?

This is the family
that's happy 
that's normal
this is the family
as what meant it should be
why are they button-eyed
slumped down
their lips stitched together
why don't they speak
what secrets they keep?

Here is no stump-leg
no fistfights
no bottle-smash
no blackout in vomit
no teeth on the floor
here is no lamb's head
staring up from the platter
no cow-gut
no pig's ass
no quiver on anyone's fork
here food is normal
pre-packaged it clean-cut
it supermarket
it grade-A
saran-wrapped as meant it to be
so why aren't they eating
just chewing & chewing
why aren't they talking
pretending to swallow
it poison to be?

It fist on the knife 
it tightens it tightens
the room growing smaller
with nobody speaking
why aren't they speaking
even louder than then

say something goddammit
the quiet its screaming
it singles it out
each throat with its lump
this isn't the family
it raises its arm
its knuckles it whitens
the dishes are ringing
this isn't the family
the salt tower shaking
the shadows are fleeing
leaving bodies behind

this isn't the family
it leaps from the table
knocking over the chair
this isn't the family
this monster they're making
conspiracies whispering
inside of the walls
it flees from the table
where the meat still lies bleeding
its knife in its hand
it ranting it raving
the mirrors it breaking
it madness their horror & fear it is making
this monster
this madman
this isn't the way
it supposed it would be
this myth they're all making
this father
not he


(for Artaud)

=gosh, I wonder what Richard will think?=



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

=book recently read: Baroness Elsa=







 ::Baroness Elsa Two-Way Inspirational Mirror & Dada Prayer Flag::

"Some called my tussle craziness—the easiest way out for common ignorants when they see brilliantly beyond their limit pluck in self-defense not to feel mediocre."
—The Baroness

=something must break it=





Something must break it
must rupture
must snap it

Something that cripples
must strike it
must kneel it

Something must whip it
into submission

On all-fours it gets up
it spits blood
it looks up
it deep breathes
it falls down
it crawls forward some more

Something must name it
must threaten
must chain it
must strip it
must box it
must shame it inside

Thirsting it bends down
licks moon from a puddle
hungry it leaves
their meat in the trap
feral it looks up
it froth on the muzzle
it shake tail
it streak black
into shadow
no more

Something must scream in the night
under porch steps
in alleys
in basements
in raggedy fields
in brief brutal fighting
in sex from behind

Something must protest 
must stand up
its legs gone beneath it
its teeth busted grinning
in the headlamps last gleaming
in the one eye remaining
before knockout
the quick count
the long blinding miles
it sees into & through it
in the darkness to come
it drags itself off


=lifesavers=




a short story in Issue Nine of The Petrichor review. Online here:


http://www.petrichorreview.com/issue-9/meeah-williams/

Thursday, July 17, 2014

=Film School=




(image: Moan Lisa/Meeah Williams)


I'm sleeping with a man who's gone on an extended vacation by the sea and he's brought me along. There's only one problem. He's brought his wife, too! He's stashed me away in a cheap motel where the lock on the room doesn't work. Well, what did I expect? I've failed to establish boundaries. The sea is too loud, the bedclothes are perpetually damp and salty, the TV won't focus, and when I call my mom to complain she isn't home. It's like living in a French film, oppressively symbolic. I check the script and sigh: this is where I decide to take a long sad walk along the shabby beach. Somewhere along the way I pick up a large stick and within a few steps I feel like there is an old man walking beside me. He's invisible but somehow his arm is my arm, his hand my hand holding the stick. He doesn't say a word, looks straight ahead, as if I weren't even there. I feel like he is guiding me along the jagged, treacherous path that I must go, which is back to the soggy and sordid room, the fritzy TV, the unsatisfactory affair. To the naked eye, nothing has changed, nothing has even happened. The film ends and real people leave the theater shaking their heads and saying "how depressing," "pointless," "typical." I sit on the bed, pick up the phone, and dial my mom's number. On her end a phone rings and rings and rings and goes to voice-mail. Thank god! I hang up without leaving a message. It would spoil it to try to explain. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

=Man with a Gun!=



How long will it take security to get here? I'm at the elevator bank in a hotel lobby standing on a man with a gun. He's moving around under me as if he's jerking around in a bad dream and I'm trying to keep my balance, leaning against an elevator door for support. I can't tell where the gun is because the man is wrapped head-to-toe in his overcoat, maybe as the result of an earlier tussle. I was trying to be discrete at first, just as the hotel manager requested so as not to alarm the other guests, but this is getting ridiculous. He assured me he'd go and alert security and return with help right away but that was god only knows how long ago. In the meantime, another guest knelt down to get a closer look and got shot in the eye for his trouble. What if the elevator door I'm leaning against starts to open? To hell with their precious protocol, their smooth running operational system, their four-and-a-half star rating. Everyone in the lobby is now dashing around in a total panic, eyes bugged out, arms pinwheeling like in the cartoons. They're bumping into each other, not knowing where to go, what to do, and still no hotel security. They're all echoing back at me what I'm shouting as if I were alone in a canyon. "Man with a gun! Man with a gun!"