Behavior Changed.

The brain space of psyching oneself up is an interesting one. When enacting a new behavior, it’s a push that feels almost physical. You’ll say to yourself This morning I will X. But X requires a different type of pants, a new shoe. You are unprepared. So the new behavior settles in for the evening, to prepare for the next day’s push, a fly against the glass, bip bip bip, aimed at the light. This morning it is a fear of waking the husband. Husband is really a terrible morning person, a version of himself unrecognizable to the marriage proper. This morning I will not X, because cranky hubs, ergo I cannot flip the closet light. The fly is more insistent; we have entered the realm of brain buzz. X is important, bzzzzz. Time to do X. Get off your ass and X. You have had the pleasure of working with vascular surgeons and now know too much about wounds, and how wounds get to be forever wounds through the accumulation of American flesh. Get UP. But instead there is a fugue state, an opposite effect, a nap, probably some ice cream. This is the catalyst. The husband is up. Go and get the pants, the shoes. Place them in a location of impossible avoidance. A shrine to the sneaker. A charged ipod speaker.  A foam mat so long rolled a spider has made a home in the void. The next morning is when X occurs – finally, emerging to a bright day on the top level parking deck, breathing sky. And so it begins, the muscle memory filling in for conscious thought, moving through poses, wondering if the traffic below can see X. Yes. The release from the action is not proportional to the cortisol cascade it took to get you out there. You’re just doing X again, it’s normal. You’ll go again the next morning. It’s stupid, the come down, the adjustment, the lack of notable change in one’s daily routine. Maybe some soreness, a nervy reminder that you are actually changing. A briefly unslakable thirst as water moves differently through your body, finding purpose.

Memory Food

You may find yourself standing in the kitchen, sorting through your poor man’s mise-en-place, the spinach having passed the halfway point towards dissolution. A plum tomato jogs the memory of a man you dated: the one who taught you to give the cut red flesh a shake of salt before dropping them into the salad proper. You complete this act still, a decade later, and it’s automatic – your left hand gravitates to the salt cellar as you set aside the knife with your right. Only in a reflective mood, perhaps crafting a salad for a new beau, does your brain sort this memory to the slide behind your eyes: an impish tickle, a smile trigger.
There are memorable meals, a select group of good people whom gather to share cheeses and stories, and there are the more intimate memories – the teaching memories. Learning likes and dislikes, hoping culinary cleverness will translate into something post-kitchen.
The fellow who brought home radishes from the market, explained that their sharpness can be taken down with a quick pickling. The white bowl we placed in the fridge, full of sugar water and small pink circles, floating. The vegan boyfriend, with whom you crafted hearty, chunky pasta sauces; dessert was branches of raw rhubarb dipped in an open box of Domino sugar. Oats in everything, always. Or the apartment you gathered at after high school, the air rich with pork, a rice maker always full and at the center of attention at the table. And all those beautiful sneakers, a rainbow of suede, tucked under the boy beds just off the kitchen, adding their note to the mix.
Who was it who taught me to slice an avocado? To free a mango appropriately of its skin? I dated enough in my 20s that some of these memories are muted, and beautiful for it.  It is me and some platonic, benevolent shadow wielding the expert knife. I’m sure in the moment I was freeing the mango from its clinging seed I was ecstatic, pleased with myself, and creating the type of mess we never allow ourselves as adults.  Discovery, mistakes.
I lure my husband to the kitchen when I can – I am the teacher now, a hilarious bit to those who came up with me, foodie girlfriends for whom I was a gremlin of bad luck, too full of giggles to remember when to check on the rising bread. But I did learn some things: my own version of the honeyed, herbed popcorn that my roommate and I would sneak into Seattle theaters; lemon on everything, especially if you think you need salt. Acid first.
Together we have learned that we love mustard peppercorn crusted salmon with roasted lemony asparagus; he favors rice as a convenient sop. The husband disliked ginger; I learned to sneak it in. For our first anniversary, a bowl of gingery lemongrass coconut broth with mussels; we drank it down after the mussels dwindled. His duty is salad: the spinning, the slicing. Our kitchen is small, built for intimacy. Our memory dish: sliced, sautéed kohlrabi in butter, salt, pepper, finished with shredded Parmesan. Served as a warm, melty, lovely mess.
D. Burhop

I Heart Your Fate, Wave Books, Anthony McCann

Anthony McCann

New Anothy McCann

Humor in poetry, like a good comic, should come at you from many angles. At a reading, a purposeful pause after an unsettling line should elicit a perplexed guffaw; on the page, a strange but eerily true juxtaposition should startle you from your silent reading with a snort. That Anthony McCann titled his new collection I Heart Your Fate indicates a wry sense of humor from the start;  McCann delivers on this impression, offering observations such as “Can organized body hair still be alive?” and “We’ve all stared, forlorn, at a disemboweled couch.”

But this is not a book of one-liners. A melancholy tone mellows these poems, so for every disemboweled couch (itself sort of melancholy in its hangdog humor) there are moments of canny reflection: “This world: so crowded with me-ghosts of me”; or, stark images with the power to gut (lines from Post Futurism(2)):

the city’s wild, northern rooms

filled with piercing light

like sterilized Containers

of Brooding Arctic Milk.

Good Silver Doves

in whirling squads

plunged into the roar

while out beyond

Dawn’s swayback

hills                        pale windows

paved the void.

McCann is also talented at reclamation. He takes over-poemed words such as ‘moon’ and ‘heart’ and ‘bird,’ bled of their meaning through overuse, and sings them back to the reader through bizarre position and repetition (lines from the title poem series):

The night is air travel – my heart seen from space

Dead car in the snow, stuffed with old brooms

Each now is a dot, a sentence – in place

I stack up my feelings like table-free rags

Tossing chairs from the roof – the snow in my hair

Or asleep in the tree in my little boy suit

Man-sized birds pass over the barn

So I crossed out the moon, the trees and the barn

That last line can be read as self-referential – as if McCann is purposefully moving through a laundry list of words and symbols struck meaningless, only to engulf them in a coating of the absurd. It’s not all absurdity, however. Birds,  which wing through the poems of many poets, make frequent appearances in McCann’s collection as well, and sometimes hit a mark that I cannot describe as anything but beauty (lines from Omoa (Time of the Grackle)):

Any sound

that falls now

from your mouth

becomes land or

food for birds.

This, despite the implication of Grackles as pests: they perch in the Omoa poem like spectres. In the poem Of The Mockingbird, McCann returns to wry observation, using the birds to slide in a dash of commentary:

They uncork their

wingèd heraldry

to pop

across the wires:

the whole regal and bionic

jingle of the world.

The world’s jingle: as if there is one universal commercial that we all populate  with our cacophony. That the sound of this idea would be both regal and bionic feels correct. That it might be played back to us through the mimicry of a mockingbird provides a weird mirror for all of our human pomp and noise.

This is Anthony

Levin interview

Dani’s interview with Adam Levin is now up on TriQuarterly Online.


TQO: I wanted to ask you about capturing thought process. The Instructions is written in first person, and it felt true to being in someone’s head. Did you have any strategies or ways of thinking about that?

AL: Gurion’s voice changed and developed as I wrote, and the novel is written as if it’s a document, so it’s a story that is aware of itself. It’s written as if it’s scripture, so that gave me permission to be more analytical. I tend to think [judging authenticity] is like third-level analysis. When you read shit that works, not to get all mystical, but take George Saunders’s story “Jon”—these are voices that don’t exist. He’s creating something that doesn’t exist, but they’re internally consistent, and you’re laughing. Images are created that pop. So you’re not like “This is inauthentic,” you’re like “This is fucking great!” Or that Wells Tower story “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” It’s this Viking, and he’s narrating his Viking adventures, and that shit doesn’t exist, but it’s great. So if you work sentence to sentence, and you trust that what you’re writing is exciting, that authenticity question goes out the window, because what is authentic?

TQO: Well, it goes to believabilityYou’re right, you can break it down to the sentence level.

AL: Or even the paragraph level. Have you read any Stanley Elkin? That guy doesn’t write the way people actually talk. He’s brilliant—super-stylized, long-winded. But there’s something authentic there—it really sounds like a Borscht Belt comedian. At the same time a Borscht Belt comedian is a performer, and his narrator doesn’t sound like a comedian, but maybe fifty times greater.

TQO: Borscht Belt comedian? Is that a real thing?

AL: Yeah, you know, like a performer in the Catskills making corny jokes. Or like Barry Hannah in “Testimony of Pilot.” No one really talks that way; no one is quite that articulate.

News archive

Dani attended SLS 2011 in Montreal.

Dani was a finalist in the 2011 Summer Literary Seminars fiction competition, and has been offered a partial fellowship to attend one of their international conferences.

Dani’s review of the new story collection from Rachel Glaser can be found online at TriQuarterly.

Dani’s review of new poetry from Rosemurgy, Dobyns and Lantz can be found online at TriQuarterly.

Dani was awarded 2nd place in the 2010 Northwestern Magazine short fiction contest for her short story, Peppercorn (story and announcement here).

Interview with Stuart Dybek about judging the 2010 contest here.