from LET IT BE OUR RUIN
I was taking back some books to the university library when I saw a poster taped to a wall announcing a lecture that night on Martin Fierro given by some professor from the University of Rio Cuarto. There was definitely a lineage from that epic poem to Nicasia’s lyrics that also ran through Andean ballads and the songs of Yupanqui and Cafrune. Not only in the shortness of breath, their honesty and lack of sentimentality, or the way their voices plunged at the end of the line, or how they measured their silences, but also in the content of their poetry, the midnight rustlers and knife duels, the dry mountain passes and merciless landowners.
The professor from Rio Cuarto was a good talker even if I didn’t understand his ideas most of the time. He stood up there at the lectern with his unbuttoned collared shirt, his hairy hands flailing around, saying that the poem was a map of the Pampas, and that it could be charted and surveyed. He said something about how the eight-syllable payada form mirrored the gaucho’s rhythm, it was hurried and efficient, each stanza spoken by someone who was gathering up his poncho and about to ride off, tossing the last mate leaves onto the embers.
The few of us who were there at the lecture joined him afterwards at a bar across the street from campus, the same bar that Fuller used to busk in front of with the homeless kids who were trying to go to Austin. Some older guy who looked like a professor bought him a martini and we sat at a big table where he kept talking in between sips. Slamming his fist on the table, he talked about how Argentina was a kindred spirit of Texas, with their blood ethics of the land, the fatalistic perception of the cowboy, while a bunch of academics politely indulged him. After he finished his drink, a young woman in a long dress, who said she was a grad student, bought him another one. I was about to leave after the first beer, but then he started talking about music, how both places were united by a lyrical understanding of space, of distance, an improvisatory and relentless mode of composition.
After most people left our table, he said he had a confession to make. He wasn’t a student a literature, but a fanatic of music. Yeah, he was invited there to be some token for his country, giving another lecture about his national epic, but really what he’d been researching the last few years was protest music during the dictatorship.
The grad student stood up and went over to the bar and joined another group of people, the Argentine keeping his eyes on her while he talked over his plate of chicken alfredo. Soon, it was just the two of us sitting there, him, waiting for the grad student to come back, and me, asking him everything he knew about Argentine music.
“Are you a student at the university?”
“I was. A few years back.”
He nodded his head slowly, looking at me like he didn’t understand why I knew so much about his country’s music.
“What do you think about Nicasia? He was the only musician who disappeared, wasn’t he?”
He put his fork down and pushed his plate away, giving another glance over to the grad student at the bar. He looked back at me, then down at his empty glass. He said something in Spanish to himself that I didn’t understand.
“You have so much more to learn. You think disappearing in some way changes the music? It’s more important, more full of power, if the artist is a victim? I wish you luck, sir.”
“I never said it made his music better.”
“But why ask about it then? You didn’t ask about the music, about his life before? You ask because you know nothing.”
He looked from table to table, and again towards the bar, lifting his finger and pointing it out the window behind me.
“Everyone here. They know nothing. And I don’t have your answers. Want to know where is Nicasia? If he disappeared? No one knows. He was gone. What do you want to know?”
He leaned closer across the table, spitting into my beer.
“I have a better question. How does someone disappear two times? That’s a better one, but I know nothing.”
Even though we were alone, I felt embarrassed, like the people at the bar could still hear him chastising me over the laughter and music. I got up and went into the bathroom and locked myself in a stall, looking at the tile floor and the piss stains in the grout. The floor was shaking from the music. I still hadn’t paid for my beers yet. I thought about how I could pay and leave without passing by his table. If I couldn’t make a reckoning with myself about what I was doing there, what was there to say to him? He was right. I might’ve been researching for nearly a year about the history of his country, read a few novels, collections of poetry and short stories, scrolled and zoomed in and out of maps, and listened to every type of music I could find, but I still didn’t know anything about Nicasia. I hadn’t heard the third album yet. I didn’t know what he experienced during those years just after he returned from Spain. If I wanted to stop obsessing about the country, I had to find the third album, the one Fuller had talked about. All the research I was doing was just a distraction from trying to find it. If I heard it, then maybe I could give up.
I walked out of the bathroom and paid the bartender. The professor wasn’t sitting at the table anymore. He was surrounded by the grad student and her friends, waving his arms around again while spit sprayed everywhere. On the way out I was going to stop and tell him thank you, tell him how much his words helped me, but when he saw me, he grabbed me by the shoulder and said he was just talking about me.
“I’m telling them how much you know about Argentina. It’s very impressive.”
The grad student with the long dress asked me if I had family from there. Someone else asked me if I was in the Spanish department. “No, he’s not,” the grad student said. “I would’ve seen him around.”
I heard more muttering from them, some laughter.
I took the professor’s hand off my shoulder and told him I felt like the character Juan Dahlmann in that Borges story, “The South,” the sickly librarian who takes a train far away from Buenos Aires to the provinces and gets taunted by a ranch hand in a bar next to a train station and agrees to a knife duel with him, deciding he’d rather die defending his pride than as an invalid in a hospital bed. He looked at me with a tense smile and raised his glass while the other people in the group laughed some more.
Particularly Dangerous Situation
by Patti White
Available January 2020
When I say that it is best to be two-dimensional during a storm, I mean that pieces of paper travel well in the wind. A tornado can carry a photograph 200 miles and set it down without a crumple or tear or even a hint of dampness. So if you cannot hunker down in a safe place you must become as paper. Think of flatness. Extend your arms and press your body to the ground. Then if the tornado takes you, it will bear you up in tendrils of cloud, in long white fingers of condensation. The storm will let you drift and waft and settle like a leaf on a field of cotton. Or on a patch of concrete. In either case, it is better to be light and flat, to be paper, to carry an image of something long past and fading.
When I say that a tornado can carry paper a great distance, I mean that cattle will be transported to another pasture and skinned alive or dead by whirling gravel. That rocking chairs will appear on alien porches and pickets from a wrought-iron fence will arrow into a bed of bearded iris. A crystal teardrop from a chandelier, a boxed set of state quarters, an empty suitcase, a teacup and saucer, these will be caught in a divergent current until dispersed by the collapsing supercell. When I say a tornado can carry paper I mean the updraft will lift trucks high above the ground and crash them down on your head. Trees will be plucked up out of the earth and replanted elsewhere. And no one will know where anything came from. Except for the cancelled checks and receipts and you will see those on television, along with the child's shoe and the skeleton of a cat.
When I speak of these things perhaps you will think of the Biblical rain of frogs. Or the rain of blood that soaked Richard the Lionheart. I tell you these signs and wonders are in fact so commonplace they appear in meteorology textbooks. Frogs get sucked up as a waterspout passes over the pond. Rain becomes infused with Saharan dust or the soot from coal fires or the spores of microalgae. Trentepholia in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone. Iron oxide from dried swamps. The small detritus of the world borne aloft and mixed with the humid air of the Deep South. This is what you will see: A red rain staining your clothes. The frogs sliding off your skin and hopping away.
No one ever forecasts displacements or discolorations. But what I want to tell you is that whatever falls from the sky was once a part of the earth. That some things will fall more slowly or in places more unexpected than others. And that it is well to be two-dimensional in a storm. Think of flatness. Be the paper.
"Heat is Heat"
Mouth Trap by Rebbecca Brown
The truck turned past fields and paddies while heat held him in its grip gasping with nothing but a gun and desire to drown the water that presses, swamps him.
What do you think the woods would want without the sun to slash them green? he said while the truck bumped over a road choking hope.
He said I would like to break this heat, bottle it up, sell it to the frostbitten, save it. No way else to explain but cold is cold and heat is heat.
The migration of birds across rivers and valleys from icy nights swamped with water wavering vision moved toward someone who thinks he can capture heat bottled and stuffed.
The dead are practical. He takes his gun slings it over a shoulder and shoots blustered feathers into falling. He says There should not be sadness. The dead are practical all piled up.
Think about it he says. In the dirty water the thrashing fish tease worms. What would we do without the heat of the dead to sustain us?
Excerpt from the title story, “The Paper Life They Lead”
The Paper Life They Lead: Stories by Patrick Crerand
Morning on the Pepperidge Farm box is not all chocolate and cheese. The three of them—the farmer, his wife, and the boy—dot the whiteness like breadcrumbs on an apron. It is always cold and it is always morning. When the farmer walks, his feet leave no tracks in the white powder. He is on his way to cut and winnow the tufts of winter wheat that strafe the land below the hill. His hands are small and weak. The wind blows in cold streams and stops him. He scans the horizon and stomps his feet warm. The ache in his knee keeps his leg crooked at a painful angle. It throbs and with each step the ache seeps up his leg and into his groin, then to his heart. He daydreams in the pink reflections the white field leaves on the undersides of his eyes. He can see the day ahead of him: The boy and he will scythe the wheat flat, remove the stalks and then throw the heads in the air, letting the wind take the husks, catching the heads in a basket. They will eat a few to check for blight. The jagged berries will cut up the roof of his mouth if it is a healthy crop. The blood will salt the blandness of the wheat. He can already taste the blood. He limps off again.
~ from the essay " Sacred Spirit Medicine: “Sacred Spirit Medicine”
Pleasing Tree by Brooke Larson
How did we get here?
God was my youthful drug of choice. I’ve heard descriptions of the euphoria and hard fall of heroin that uncannily resemble the experience of my girlhood prayers. Curiously, I never had that experience when I tried heroin. I never felt anything out of the ordinary when I took ecstasy. My non-experiences of these drugs baffled others and greatly frustrated me. Drugs would always seem modest in comparison to my mutterings in pajamas at my long ago bedside.
~ from the short story "Turkeys"
I AND YOU by J. David Stevens
On Thursday, Raymond’s father picked up the athletic permission forms from the high school. Then he took Raymond to buy cleats. He made a production of handling every shoe in The Sports Authority—bending them at the toe, knocking his fist against the molded rubber bottoms—before selecting a discounted pair one size too small with soccer balls on the heels. Raymond didn’t complain. Over the weekend, he knew, his mother would return the shoes and select a pair the proper size, depositing them in his closet without comment.
~ from the short story "I Am the Voice Calling in the Desert"
“What on earth are you playing?” my mother asked one afternoon when she stepped out into the yard to hang up the wash. I was barefoot, streaked with dirt, and I’d torn my shirt.
“John the Baptist,” I said.
I must have been quite an affront to my mother in that moment. It broke her heart that I could never manage to keep bobby socks from slipping down and getting sweaty and crumpled in my shoes, and here I was, looking for all the world like a mental patient.
“John the Baptist wasn’t a girl,” she said, reasonably. “If you set your dolls up on the patio you could play school.”
I shrieked and ran around behind the garage where I could kick up dust and preach my sermons in peace.