[excerpts from issue one]

"Forget the Swan" by Michael Troncale

I'm jogging to the bus stop when the knot forms in my stomach and I ignore it, because I'm late, and the bottle did warn to take the pills with food or milk, though I didn't because I'm late, and I'm carrying a light blue Makita tool bag which came with my 14.4 volt screw gun but it's not in the bag because I leave it at the shop at the theater in the tool closet, carrying instead my collection of small hand tools that have a tendency to walk off if not closely monitored including but not limited to speed square, trisquare, combo square, dykes, matte knife, nippers, channel locks, 30' LeverLock tape measure, 18" level, torpedo level, goggles, ear plugs, along with non-tool items like my lunch, a ham and swiss cheese sandwich which I made last night though I'm worrying about it slightly because I think I forgot mayonnaise, and a copy of Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm that I will attempt to read on the bus, and I'm rushing though no bus is in sight and it's a school zone anyway so the traffic is crawling along since a police car is sitting in the elementary school parking lot with a speed gun pointed towards the street.

As a white bus barrels into view from over the hill down the street I whisper "Damn it," as I remember that today we'll be striking the set so the vast majority of tools I'm carrying in my bag are useless. The dykes, the matte knife maybe, but that's probably it.

I squint hard to see the neon green number on the front of the bus and am slightly relieved when I make out the number "3." I run along the side of the street to the bus stop, waving my right hand in the air to get the driver's attention, the blue bag of tools on my left shoulder weighing even heavier now that I've realized I'm carrying it for no reason. Despite the thirty mph speed limit of the school zone the bus appears to be moving much faster, a wave of panic building within me at the thought of being late again and I'm trying to make eye contact with the bus driver as he approaches to make sure he sees me. Directly ahead of the bus I see a red and gray Ford pick-up truck that freaks me out for a second because I used to drive a truck like that years ago until it was stolen, actually almost right after I moved to Austin. The hood of the truck is a spackling of red paint and large patches of silver and orange rust, a deterioration that was starting when I still owned it. My eyes comb the truck for any other distinguishing marks that it could be mine. I try to look at the driver but he's a blur, all I can make out for sure are sunglasses. It's slowly approaching the stop which I'm now standing at, my arm still raised for what I can't remember. The driver is more distinct now and around the sunglasses I can make out pink splotchy skin. As the truck gets closer I realize it's an extended cab so there's no way it could be mine so I relax and look back toward the bus and it's slowing down. I stand still, relieved that I'm at least going to catch the bus, despite the fact that sweat is pouring off me like I've already worked a full day. Inside my stomach the knot is twisting ever so slightly.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Kongossa" by Sarah Beck

Red. Not like a tomato. Red. Like an Irish lady's hair. Damp and sometimes muddy. Two months ago the rainy season came and made the dirt on the road stay home. Now it's too heavy to fly away and cover the white stucco houses and leaves and passing ankles.

Our road is long and narrow and better suited for achabas than vehicles. It branches off the main road in Kár, Nyòm's government district, passes by the dirty public hospital, our compound and a dozen others, the American mansion, a few farms, and descends to the Bui River and the forest. It's the long way to town.

Some people say the men who use this road are hiding something. Why else would they waste the petrol? I saw my geography teacher escorting a woman dressed in rhinestones and red pagne on his achaba. The woman held his waist tightly, but she's not his wife.

The government hospital up this road has its share of secrets too. People get tested for AIDS and wives confess to having boyfriends and children with serious diarrhea admit they stole the oranges from the neighbor's compound. But if a rich person goes there, you can guarantee he's hiding something. Why else would he go to that dirty hospital instead of the Baptist or Catholic centers?

This evening Ma is cooking egusi pudding. You can smell the ginger and garlic from the road. Father Roland is coming to visit us.

I ask my grandmother how I can help. As usual, she tells me to peel the Irish potatoes. She's ashamed I'm seventeen and still can't peel one properly. I sit on the terrace and attempt to finish one round. I'm not trying very hard. There's a white woman running down the hill. Her bouncing black hairs next to the rows of corn could be a scurrying animal. I've never seen her before.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Shades" by Buzz Poole

Power is such a potent aphrodisiac
My mother said, busted entourages
Have no love, and she closed the book

Virginia's fingers ran over the poorly Xeroxed print as many times as her eyes, fading the ink of the San Quentin letterhead. The letter listed the items that were acceptable for inmates to receive, either on visiting days or via mail. It was committed to memory what she could and could not give to Donnie, but she clutched that paper like it was the only key out of a room closing in on itself.

The letter was the only contact from her son since she watched him disappear behind a heavy wooden door nine months ago. And the letter was not even from him, but since receiving it she held and caressed the paper as if it were Donnie. She had called his name as two bailiffs ushered him past the empty jury box. Not even eye contact. At least once, the letter verified this, he had thought of her, giving over her name and address as the person to contact if any issues arose between him and the outside.

Now, the letter folded many times over, permanently pressed in her sweaty palm gripping the steering wheel, Virginia rumbles into the Walgreen's parking lot, the shocks cracking like glaciers as she drives the right tire over the sidewalk's curb.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Dusk in the Chapel" by Aidan Byrne

It was only after she noticed the smell in the rectory that Danielle noticed the silence. Just like outside, it smelled of a wood-burning fire somewhere close, and all sounds echoed. It was early spring. The last bits of mountainous snow banks stayed stubbornly in little hard clumps of ice. The earth was mud and all about was gray fog. The thaw was almost complete.

She was greeted at the door by Mrs. Clancy, a widow from the neighborhood. Mrs. Clancy led Danielle to the small office. The long hall was plain; they passed a chapel and a sitting room. The altar in the chapel was flanked by smoldering candles on both sides, and bright light poured through a tall stained glass portrait of the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus in her arms. "Upstairs are Father Keane's and the newly arrived Father Vicente's rooms," Mrs. Clancy said. Danielle had not met Father Vicente.

"This is where you'll be, dear," said Mrs. Clancy. "You'll have to answer the phone if somebody calls, and if the doorbell rings, you'll have to walk back down the hall and open the door for whoever is here."

Danielle nodded but did not speak. She forced a snarling smile to the bent woman, curling her lips back to show more gums than teeth. She had not yet learned to smile comfortably since her braces were removed. She looked all around the office while Mrs. Clancy pulled the chair from the desk, and wiped the surface of the old table clean with her forearm. The walls were plain white. A cross hung above the window which looked through yellowed lace onto the small town square. A bronze tear streaked down Jesus's cheek. Behind the desk where she would sit was a framed picture of Father Keane younger than Danielle had ever known. He was standing in a receiving line for the Pope who shook the man's hand to the left of Father Keane. A clock like the one from her classroom at school started and stopped with each tick at her side. The wall met the ceiling in bubbles and blisters from a leak above.

"Now, I'm going home for the day, so you just sit tight. Father Keane and Father Vicente are both out and will probably not be back until after you go home. Father Keane is doing hospice and I haven't seen Father Vicente all day," Mrs. Clancy said. She held the old rolling chair back for Danielle to sit in. "There you are now," said Mrs. Clancy. "Don't worry about the door when you leave. Father Keane and Father Vicente both have keys."

"Do a lot of people call?" Danielle asked.

Mrs. Clancy stood in the doorway pulling a clear plastic scarf over her head and tying it under her chin. She smiled to Danielle, exposing gray teeth. "Don't you worry, dear. You'll be fine." She turned to leave and froze halfway. "Oh, I almost forgot, you need to keep the phone lines open, so no talking to your friends. The church doesn't have callwaiting. It's rude."

Danielle nodded disappointedly. The woman turned and walked back down the hall to the door. Danielle counted the steps of her square brown heels on the tiles. A slow twenty-eight. The heavy door opened and slammed, echoing down the hall. She was alone in silence.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Car Thief" by James P Dawson

Shelly told me she would buy me a few beers if I got her car back for her. Her ex-boyfriend Donnie kept taking it and the night before he had gone to the bar where she worked and grabbed the keys from her purse when Shelly was changing a keg. Me and Shelly weren't together anymore but were still kind of friends and I was pretty broke. My old man had cut me off and my band hadn't been offered a paying gig in over a month.

I grabbed Tanner, my bassist, and we drove down to Flintville, on the northeast side of town.

"My dad calls it Lintville," Tanner said as we came down Donnie's block. There were no sidewalks, another annoying thing about the South. I saw Shelly's old Ford was out on the street. Donnie didn't even try to hide it.

"Back in the day, all the mill workers lived here. Folks called them lintheads."

"Really, man? That's great." I tried to sound interested. Tanner was a pretty good bassist, but not the coolest guy in the world. He was trying to grow a goatee; a sharp pointed one like a devil or a professional wrestler who cheats. All he had was a few light wisps, so instead of projecting an air of menace he looked like that guy in high school who was the last to start shaving. That's why it's hard being the oldest guy in a band–you get taken as seriously as the youngest member does.

Tanner pulled his long dark hair into a ponytail. When he was done, he checked himself in the rearview, adjusting his belt and the leather band around his wrist.

"Let's do it," he said, and cracked his knuckles. He opened the door and spit out onto the burnt yellow grass. I leaned over and grabbed on his forearm.

"Easy, hard guy. Just hang in the car. If I need you, I'll whistle, okay?"

I took Tanner with me so he could drive my car when I got Shelly's and I didn't need him playing cowboy now. Donnie was a fat, aging hippie and it wasn't worth anyone getting hurt or going to jail over this.

Donnie's house was a small clapboard one-storey with a shallow porch across the front. The roof was shedding shingles and shredded plastic was tacked across the storm door. A busted-down couch sagged on the lawn. A threelegged ping-pong table leaned against the brick stoop. Gnats and mosquitoes buzzed over beer cans bobbing in the green water of a half-full wading pool. Donnie lounged in a kitchen chair at the end of the driveway in cut-off jeans and shades, listening to some jam band on a crappy old tape deck. An orange extension cord ran out the back of the stereo towards the porch, disappearing into a screenless window.

"Hey Donnie," I called to him as I walked up the driveway. It was gravel once but now there were more weeds then stones.

"Donnie, let's get those keys, okay bud?" I tried to sound jokey and familiar, as if it was all an elaborate prank. I've learned when confronting someone who's fucked you over, it's always better to give them an out. Cornering folks is a real bad idea.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Sweat" by Casey Gordon

Wondering how it would feel were my shoulder blades to hit the gravel below, I lean my torso as far back over the balcony as I can before I lose my balance and my grip tightens on the splintered wooden rail. I feel panic foaming upward from the bottom of my stomach, but the Rockies look like thunderclouds on Boulder's horizon, the clouds look like the smoke that hangs in the bars of Garden City, and my cigarette looks like it may burn my fingers soon. I won't fall, not today.

I finish my cigarette, put it out on the bottom of my shoe and hold it in my hand before deciding to throw it off the balcony to the ground where it takes a slight hop and comes to rest in a water-filled pot hole. Fat Bill sits on his deck below me and looks up briefly. I know he can see up my skirt, so I step wide with my right foot for just a moment.

"Hi Bill," I say.


"Hot one today, eh?"

"Guess so."

I rub the sweat from the inside of my thighs, smile at Bill, and hoist myself onto the rail. I can see his head between my knees through a gap in the wooden planks. He looks upward and I squeeze his head until it pops.

"Want some Kool-Aid, Bill? I have some Kool-Aid inside."

"No, thanks." Fat Bill scratches his elbow and turns his gaze to the street.

"When are you going to let loose, Bill? Get crazy. Have some damn Kool-Aid."

"I'll take a rain check," he says and stands up. "Have a good one, Kara." He walks inside and closes the door behind him.

I open my own heavy door and walk inside the onebedroom apartment. It's not my apartment. Were it my apartment, maybe I'd feel inclined to take a cold bath or lie naked on the kitchen floor. It's Ann's apartment. She told me I could stay as long as I needed, but she really meant as long as she could stand. Ann is off peddling beer to fortysomething, beer-bellied golfers who call her "Annie" and check out her perky ass while she walks away. She'll be home in an hour when the sky turns dark and the boozers get in their cars to drive home. Until then, I stew in my sex from the night before thinking of the way he bit my ear and how I slapped him and left his cheek red. I gave him the wrong number and laughed at the way he sounded when he came, but not too loud because I wasn't done yet. He smelled like summer sausage and Wild Turkey.

I take my socks off and rub the cotton out of my toes. The socks go in the hamper, always always in the hamper, 'cause if not, I get the annoyed look from Ann, which is worse than any tongue lashing I've ever received. I don't hold it against her, though, because what those men with their sweaty white gloves and faggot white shoes don't know is that she'll be cranky and puking soon. She asked me to be the godmother last Tuesday, and I laughed so hard I farted, which made her laugh along, which made me happy. I kissed the top of her forehead where her blonde hair met her pale skin and went to bed knowing she'd cry as soon as she thought I was sleeping.

I take my bra off, then my skirt, sit in my underwear and turn on the television. I want to sleep because my body is tired, but my eyes are awake and my brain is somewhere in between. My ass is sweating where it touches the couch, my right palm is sweating where it touches my left hip, my feet are sweating where they touch each other and I suddenly wish I could levitate.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"No Such Thing as a Good Whale" by Jack Fergen

The last of the water runs over the lip of the stern and into the bay, flat now with the engine cut. The seaweed and jellyfish and fish scales–those that managed to escape– are washed away, back into the ocean, falling in with the currents that lead to the mouth of the inlet and from there to open water. Jack drops the line into the empty bucket and stows it behind the bridge ladder.

The deck lies wide open, gleaming white in the cloudy morning light, empty without its piles of netting. Jack sits on the fish hold cover. He removes the white cotton gloves, grimy with the guts of fish and dirty line, his salt-puffed skin showing pale through tears ripped by the small pink salmon fangs. Often, after throwing the dying fish into the iced-water of the hold, sharp white teeth and a piece of jaw remain, twisted into the green twine diamonds of the net now floating invisible in the dark bay-water, an unheeded warning to its species. These hapless fish–"dogs" to a fisherman–may stop to nibble at the flesh, but always keep swimming, one behind the other along an invisible barrier dropping them stiff and dead into the hold. And there, with half a jaw, they will die floating like gray wood in freezing water with chunks of ice to keep their dead flesh pink.

Jack's orange rain gear jacket, easy to see in the water (especially at the bottom) hangs beside the stack, drying in the salty air, stinking of fish and sweat. A bucket of gloves in murky water sits beneath it. The newer pairs, still white, float on top while the others lay worn through at the bottom. The black suspenders of the orange pants hang at Jack's sides where he sits, dangling beside the brown duck boots covered in the last set's refuse.

The Alaskan summer air seeps coolly into the sleeves of his shirt, into the hollows of the armpits, giving a breath to the tight muscles of his arms. His hand crawls into a wet denim pocket, wary of the soft nails at their ends, digging lightly for cigarettes that are bent into miraculous shapes, the proof of his work. The stretching fingers, their knuckles raw and sore, manage a lighter from the furthest corner of the other pocket. He sits resigned, the smoke from a hanging Camel 99 exhaled thickly from briny lips, the whiskers of a patchy beard soaking through. Now is the moment when nature takes its course. Now is when Jack takes it all in, the mountains and burly trees that have eaten away the shore and leave no place to walk, the northern sky and water that surrounds him. For a moment, the gargantuan head of a Kodiak bear emerges from the wall of mossy trunks and ferns, searching for an open spot from where it can wade along the rocky bottom and feed. The bear and the fisherman are the same, both attuned to the movement of the water, not drawing but hoping the fish are drawn by instinct to their grasp, whether that be a nylon net or three-inch claws. Each player knows the other's role. All have that moment to do so and then it is a competition of craft.

Above, Jack's captain fills the crow's nest, held in by a basket-like railing, scanning the water for those packs of dogs who float like tinsel, silver scales reflecting the sun and the cloudless sky, giving their camouflage away. Nothing makes a sound–not the men, not the corks keeping the suspended net afloat, or the leads keeping it down, not even the blades of the propeller. Though it may be raining, or blowing so hard the boat rolls with the waves, in the coming night or an hour, this giant of a man, the sixthgeneration president of his floating estate slides down his gaze into the water, running just above his rainbow-finned prey, his well-honed craft leading them into those hundred yards of arching net where their instinct will send them in circles until he says, "Close."

At the end of the net, following the white and yellow corks along their route, Matt sits in the skiff, smoking his cigarette, waiting for the captain's call to bellow out in a static burst on the jerry-rigged CB. Jack follows a wave from the shy-lulling Wild Eyeland across the rippling plot to his friend, his mate, his partner in this business. Their thoughts are in rhythm, when Matt pulls off the stern, when they meet aboard to smoke after a set, when they crawl into the dovetailing bunks at the bow and fill the point with the heat of soggy feet. They think alike, like their captain, like the fish and the weather. If not, they sail south riding high above the waves, along the coast with infinite schools of pinks in open water off port-side. Then they will pass into the bay, past the measuring eyes of other seins tied up at the docks.

That will be a quiet night at Old Jonah's, sipping brown Alaskan Ale with their own measuring eyes on the glass. "Next time," they say to the grizzled woman behind the bar who knows all too well the bitter meaning in those descending lines of yellow foam. And yet, never a round on her. That would be a disruption. Maybe next time.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Funeral Limousine" by Rubén Rangel

"No perdiste a nadie,
el que murió simplemente se nos adelantó,
porque para allá vamos todos."
-Facundo Cabral

When my grandfather died, we drove to the camposanto in a stretch limo, following the hearse to the Terrace Heights Cemetery. I remember we used to take trips when we were kids out to the town dump in the hills past the Terrace Heights Cemetery. Now mi abuelo was taking his last carride on this earth.

It was an almost surreal experience, I suppose purposely surreal so that we were able to cope with the harshness of such a difficult moment. If we had gone along behind in our own cars, our Fords and Hondas and Caddies, it might have seemed too ordinary, too forgettable a way to honor the patriarch of the Rangel family in Yakama.

Aside from the intense emotions swirling like the dead leaves in the autumn breeze, what made it surreal was this: six Chicano pallbearers got into the limousine, with a white guy as our chauffeur. It's not an everyday scene.

Back to Excerpts : Top

"STURM UND DRANG" by Anna Steegmann

Adolescence struck like a tornado. My parents, teachers, and most adults became my enemies. They were hypocrites and liars. My school, the Municipal Modern Language Secondary School for the Education of Women, was a prison. The teachers were harsh and punitive prison wardens. Most had taught during the Nazi era and although officially de-nazified, their fascist teaching methods persisted. Herr Rhode, my History teacher, had lived on a large estate near Königsberg "until the Russians confiscated it." He still advocated the doctrine of the Bund Deutscher Mädchen, Hitler's youth organization for girls. "A German girl is a pure girl. She does not smoke or paint her face." He aborted my first foray into make-up when I applied blue eye shadow. "Make-up is for whores. Go to the bathroom and wash your face."

I was thrilled when after years of pounding the classics into us, Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Hebbel, Herder, Fontane and legions of other dead writers, we finally got to read books written in our century. Herr Rhode, a staunch anticommunist, hated Brecht and called him:

"A traitor who moved to East Germany. Voluntarily! Imagine that."

He despised having to put Mother Courage, a play set during the Thirty Years War, on his lesson plan. But the Education Department of our social-democratic state had made it a mandatory part of the curriculum. Since Herr Rhode hated Brecht, I liked him right away.

"Girls, what is your interpretation of the funeral scene?" he asked.

No one paid attention. It was the last period and the room was hot and stuffy. My classmates were bored. They liked romantic novels without all that bloody fighting. Two girls in front of me were reading the teen magazine Bravo under their desk. My neighbor secretly filed her nails. Some girls had their heads down, others were yawning. I was the only one to raise my hand. Herr Rhode cut me down:

"Tersteegen, we are not interested in your comments. You don't have to think in my class."

The old geezer made my blood boil. I was furious. How dare he forbid me to think? Our history book portrayed the Germans as victims of World War II who were led to disaster by a megalomaniac leader. The German loss of life, the soldier's loss of limb, the allied bombing and the destruction of cities were described at great length. The losses of other nations and the atrocities committed in the concentration camps were relegated to a few paragraphs and fine print.

Whenever I asked adults how all of this could have happened, they shrugged their shoulders, refused an answer or insisted that they didn't know how terrible it had been. Frau Stanke felt that Hitler hadn't been all that bad. "He built the Autobahn. Everyone had work again." He had restored law and order in the country, had made people feel proud to be German again. I felt sorry for the losses of the other nations, especially the Russians. Discovering Chekhov and Dostoevsky had made me fall in love with the Russian people.

I followed the Auschwitz trials and the testimonies of the camp survivors in the news. Of the more than 6,000 former members of the SS who guarded Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945, only twenty-two faced trial. Those accused showed no trace of regret–Dr. Josef Mengele, the loathsome concentration camp physician called the "Angel of Death," lived a privileged life in South America. I looked at pictures of emaciated bodies, rooms full of shoes and handbags. Had they really mixed the ashes with fat to make soap from the remains of the Jews? How could I feel anything but shame for belonging to this nation?

We had murdered millions. What role did my father play?

I discovered rebellion and assumed a loud-mouthed, defiant stance. Testy and antagonistic on principle, I confronted my father about his participation in the war and his beliefs about Jews, Poles and all the other "inferior races."

"What did you do in the war?"

"I was a regular soldier."

"A regular soldier? How many people did you kill? Did you enjoy doing it?"

"Watch your tone, young lady. We did what we had to do."

Back to Excerpts : Top

"Falling in Love with the Unconquered Real" by Ezekiel N Finkelstein

i. t. christian receives an invitation

T. Christian Gaws tipped his cap profitably to the haute rep of Haute Couture who haute-strutted by him: she pluffed in a large coin, letting float also a banknote across which–right on the Fashion King's face–was written:

There will be a Revolution tonight. Please attend: 17 Hanover Square. Promptly @ 9. -?

The haute rep turned back smartly and curtsied, pirouetted and pouted, walked on; T. Christian danced inside: he would. He never missed a revolution. He would wear his best shirt, the ruffled cardigan with the pink pleated sleeves from Morocco, the uptown shirt store. For pants he would have to improvise from the collective's stash. Shoes he yet lacked, but it was summer; he could go barefoot if necessary. But he knew which hat he would wear: the black pointed starwheeler with the microcosmic grid: safe. He packed up his sitar and wept. It was his practice whenever he left a streetcorner beg and gig, particularly after an invitation, to weep for at least five minutes. That way he paid the proper respect to the place that had housed him, however transiently.

He was a Manishtanah Sinner, but a very peculiar one, even he had to admit. Some practices he kept, some not; some he kept strictly, some loosely, and some he freely varied. The weeping, by the way, was orthodox Manishtanah practice, though most now thought it archaic, too messy. They carried tiny vials of water with them instead, and when they left a place they sprinkled a dot or two around. Their Prebees said it was all right (Prebees were the prebuy Rabbi tix you could purchase at the computerized machines in shoe stores and nail salons all over the city: you plugged in a question and they printed out an answer that was good for a year), but T. Christian had no use for them; he thought them manque. Besides, he had no money, and everything cost.

When he finished weeping, he walked back to his building on Avenue E. He was thinking about the Revolution tonight, getting kind of excited. It was three o'clock. He thought after he dropped his things off at the collective, he might hop his p-stick over to Soho, where they had the super-cheap masturbation parlors. After that, he'd scrounge for some shoes on Canal St. He had $4.75 in coins, plus the banknote.

Back to Excerpts : Top