Bryan R. Monte – The Tipping Point

Bryan R. Monte
The Tipping Point

Last summer was sometimes warmer in Amsterdam
than in Madrid, Palermo, Athens, or Istanbul,
the jet stream shifting north, melting
Scandinavian glaciers, high-pressure
parked over Holland and Britain,
beach days in The Hague and Blackpool,
air conditioners chugging away for months.

This summer a heat dome covered the Western US
and Southwestern Canada, 40°C+ weather for weeks,
forest fires and pyronadoes leaping, whirling
over the usually rainy, cool forests,
840 dead, the tundra farther north melting,
awakening forty-century-old viruses and germs,
buildings torn apart by soggy, sinking ground,
and a cold dome over the Rhineland and Benelux
dumped three months rain in one night,
cars, lorries, fachwerk timber houses, and roads
swept away by muddy torrents, then smashed
and ripped apart against bridges, 400 dead
and more buried beneath the slurry.

And in my neighbourhood this past year,
twelve trees felled: two white-barked birches
and two lollypop topiary trees across the road,
two, four-story Napoleonic-era oaks
behind the new, white luxury flats,
a century old sycamore, whose trunk had bent
a rusted ornamental black iron fence,
a holly tree’s white wood, sharp green leaves,
and red berries chopped up in a kerbside tip,
the park’s towering Italian cypress
reduced to woodchips in two days,
and three locust trees around an old brick warehouse
cut down, the building demolished,
replaced with nine, new brick townhouses
with easy-maintenance gravelled and paved front gardens.

The rich act like Wall-E’s obese orbiting
spacecruiseship passengers waiting seven centuries
for robots to clean up the contaminated earth below
so they can finally disembark, millionaire and billionaire
tourists rocketing to the black edge of space,
to the tipping point, weightless for just a few minutes
before falling back to earth, dreaming of visiting
space stations and living on lunar and Martian colonies,
while admiring the Rockies rugged spines below,
not noticing these mountains’ smoky grey clouds
or those in the Arctic tundra and Amazon jungle,
forgetting there is now no other place for everyone to go,
space deadly, and the moon and Mars, still uninhabitable.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ32 Autumn 2021 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ32 Autumn 2021 Book Reviews

Irene Hoge Smith, The Good Poetic Mother: A Daughter’s Memoir, International Psychoanalytic Books (IPBooks), ISBN 978-1-949093-87-2, 232 pages.
bart plantenga, LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness, Spuyten Duyvil Press, ISBN 978-1-952419-54-6, 137 pages

It is my privilege, as AQ’s publisher and editor, to read excerpts from works that will sometimes appear later in published books. It is akin to having a backstage pass to literature, which I thoroughly enjoy. Both writers above have appeared regularly in AQ during its first decade: Irene Hoge Smith in AQ9, AQ12, and AQ29; bart plantenga in AQ23, AQ25, and AQ28 as well as being an active member of AQ’s Writers’ Group. It is exciting to see what was once a single, stand-alone piece, take its place in a larger collection. It is even more exciting if this collection seems to extend the writers’ expression and/or our understanding of arts and letters or history in general. In my opinion, both Smith’s and plantenga’s collections do this. Furthermore, it is exciting to see how these two writers use different genres, prose memoir for the former and list poetry for the latter, to travel through similar territories in their development as writers.
      Smith’s book, The Good Poetic Mother: A Daughter’s Memoir, is an account of her life and that of her mother’s, Frances Dean Smith, aka the poet francEyE, who abandoned her family to move to California to become a writer. Here for a time, Frances Dean Smith became Beat poet Charles Bukowski’s partner and muse. As I read Smith’s book, I immediately became aware that the passages, which originally appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, only tell a portion of this mother-daughter story. Smith’s memoir depicts the neglect she felt both as a result of her mother’s California move and her father’s work in Washington DC, whilst Smith and her sisters lived in Michigan with relatives and family friends. The absence of both her parents resulted in Smith having to raise herself and her sisters, trying to keep their abuse and abandonment a secret from those at school and church, though not always successfully. Decades later, after raising her own family and getting a university education, she tries to make sense of her parents’ neglect and abandonment: what it means to her own family and to her professional and later literary development.
      The Good Poetic Mother begins with a chapter entitled ‘Pandora’s Box’, which refers to the ‘battered, cardboard box’ containing her mother’s papers she receives from her sister Sara in 2009.

(T)his box had been in our father’s possession from the time our mother left at the end of 1962 until his death in 2000. It didn’t seem that the box had ever been opened,

      The box image is repeated on the book’s cover, perhaps in reference to the Pandorian myth of satisfying one’s curiosity without knowing the possible disastrous consequences. Ultimately, after hesitating ‘several weeks’, Smith chooses to open the box and read what her mother left behind before she abandoned her family and went off to California to become a poet. And it does have a negative effect on Smith who, in response to her husband’s ‘How’d it go?’ says:

It’s like the box is radioactive—each thing I read is confusing and crazy, and I swear whatever she had, it’s contagious.

In the box, Smith finds her mother’s poems, letters, short stories—and a one-inch-thick document labelled ‘novel’, which turns out to be a journal her mother kept during the last five months of her marriage to Smith’s father. It answers many of Smith’s questions, raises even more, and leads Smith to understand that the book she needs to write will be about her mother.
      In the following chapters, Smith reminisces about how she received her first name, as mentioned in a popular song of the day, her first memory of her family’s home, ‘grandmother’s brick row house in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Washington, D.C.’, and her sister Patti’s defenestration where she just missed being impaled on ‘a spiked iron fence’, landing instead on the sidewalk with ‘a broken arm and leg’. The following chapter ‘Riverside (California 1951 to 1954)’ describes the family Quonset hut home on a former military base (both her parents were army veterans) and the beginning of her family’s bicoastal life. Smith and her mother stayed in California for one year before returning to her grandmother’s house (the one with the spike fence), while Smith’s father remained in California keeping her older sister Patti. Smith writes that her father was changeable: ‘wanting her mother one moment and rejecting her the next.’
      Without a doubt, the frequent moves and Smith’s parents’ unstable relationship and eventual split adversely affected Smith’s and her sisters’ physical and mental well-being. In later chapters, Smith describes the abuse and she and her sisters faced: not having enough to eat, living with several of her parents’ friends in uncomfortable basement bedrooms, raising her younger sisters, growing out of her own clothes and trying to wear her mother’s clothes as replacements. Or, whenever her father was there, how he ‘banished his own self-doubt by projecting all inadequacy onto others…’ Smith’s adjustment and acceptance of an adult role, whilst still a child, is so complete that she broke up with her junior high school boyfriend rather than tell him she was moving away again. Later on, she drops out of college after her freshman year at the University of Texas.
      In her 20s, Smith begins to turn her life around. In the chapter ‘Transcript of Record (Washington DC 1968)’, she has a job, an apartment, a stable relationship, and is resuming her college studies. She also corresponds with her mother seeking some sort of connection and an answer to why her mother abandoned Smith and her sisters. These attempts met with little success. Her mother does not reply to the letter where Smith mentioned her progress above. Months later, her mother does respond to a second missive, but makes no mention of Smith’s life. In the months of silence, she’d been in San Francisco with her oldest daughter, that daughter’s two young children, and her own daughter, Marina Bukowski. That situation has not worked out and now she implores Smith to come to California for a visit or perhaps to live with her mother and half-sister “in a rented trailer near the beach.” Smith supposes her mother is hoping for assistance with childcare.
      In 1981, Smith finally visited her mother in Santa Monica after she had finished graduate school. By then, Smith had learned to keep the anger she had for her mother to herself and talk more about neutral subjects such as gardening or her mother’s writing. Smith brought her thesis along for her mother to read, but she just puts it aside in her cluttered, bohemian home. In 1987, Smith invited her mother to visit her in Washington DC, where she wanted to share her research on trauma over lunch. Smith opposed conventional medicine’s attempt to return the psychiatric patients to the ‘baseline’ because she believed:

…there are some experiences that change you forever, after which there may be healing, but no going back to being the person you once had been.

At which her mother ‘smirked’ and remarked:

Changed forever, you think? Yes, well, that’s a popular idea, I suppose.

      Before her mother leaves for the West Coast, however, Smith finally levels with her mother about how difficult her life had been in Ann Arbor—her parents’ constant fighting—and afterwards when her mother abandoned her children. ‘I have to tell you, it was just—it wasn’t okay.’
      Smith notes that:

She hadn’t been expecting that, and quickly, she was angry. ‘Oh, it wasn’t, wasn’t it? Not okay?’ She took her cup and saucer to the sink, lips pressed tightly together, and walked out of the kitchen.

But in the train, her mother wrote Smith a thank-you note:

Words cannot express my thanks to you for this wonderful vacation. It was extremely generous of you to take such good care of me. And thank you for telling me off. It was painful, but it was necessary.

This indicated that after decades of effort on Smith’s part, they were finally making progress. I won’t reveal if or how they finally reconciled. That’s what you’ll have to find out by reading the remainder of Smith’s memoir.
      Structurally, bart plantenga’s LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness is a very different type of collection. However, through these lists, plantenga covers six decades of his own life and sketches the histories of his Dutch parents, from their WWII experiences, US emigration, and their mostly unsettled, constantly-on-the-move-for-a-job family life.
      LIST FULL includes everything from the sublime ‘List of Near-Death Experiences’ to the ridiculous ‘A List That Makes Me Doubt Who I Ever Was’. Before he goes into his own lists, however, plantenga mentions other, more famous lists such as Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Silver Left at Montecello’, Mark Twain’s ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses’, or Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘fictional taxonomy of nonexistent beasts’ along with other, more common, Top-40-type lists in his preface.
      plantenga’s different types of lists include chronologies, such as ‘List of Lonesome New Year’s Eve’ and ‘List of No Hot Water, Kew Gardens Heights, NY [1979-80]; timelines, ‘List of Places Lived 1954-’ and biographies ‘List of Near Death Experiences’; statistics, ‘Score: Track Meets in 9th Grade, 2-mile’; inventories, ‘Contents of Foppe’s (father’s) Secret Cigarbox’ and ‘List of Candies 2017’ that his mother filled her walker basket up with during a trip to a discount store; to-do lists, ‘List of the Hopeful Writer’ including NYC bookstores where plantenga had books on consignment and magazines/journals to which he planned to send out work; brainstorming, shopping, and checklists for items to take on a journey; lists of misspellings of his last name (a wound I have also acutely felt my entire life with a much simpler name); and even other people’s sometimes abandoned lists. Through these various lists, plantenga narrates the story of his life.
      There is so much in these lists, that I found them to be a veritable inspirational gold mine for poets and writers. Some of my favourite sections include his father’s ‘List of Clothing To Take To Berlin, 1943’ as dwangarbeider (forced labourer) in a German armament factories during WWII. It includes practical clothing, ‘2 shirts (underwear), 1 long 1 workpants, 4 short pants, 3 borststrokken, (singlet or undervest), 2 flannel shirts, 7 pairs of socks’, stationery supplies and documents ‘1 ink pot, ‘1 writing folder’, ‘paper’, ‘school results’, and hygienic supplies such as ‘1 mirror’, ‘toothbrush’ and ‘6 handerkerchiefs’. Another feature of the book of lists is its photographs of the original lists that sometimes appear on facing pages such as his father’s ‘KLEDINGLYST’. (This list is contrasted by a list called ‘List of Clothes of England’ with items numbered from 1 to 27). Another list that is very creative and reflects the dreams, aspirations, and whimsy of their owners, is plantenga’s ‘Boatspotting List’, which I will posit provided the creative inspiration for his ‘Boatspotting’ memoir about his ’90s Amsterdam squat days along the IJ that appeared in AQ25. This list opens with: ‘Anima, Borneo, Thomasa, Anita, Lara, Sirius, Hirundo, Geert Jan, Diadema, Condor, Meerval, Saturnus, Thetis, Janny, Fury, Speculant, Forel, Isala, Marie Jose, (and) Rope of Sand’. Meanwhile, his father’s ‘KLEDINGLYST’ certainly provided the raw material for plantenga’s AQ28 memoir, ‘The Man Who Came Home’.
      However, it is the ‘List of Places Lived [1954-]’, with its 42 addresses where plantenga’s life experience mirrors Smith’s many residences (both having lived in 9 or so homes before going away to college). plantenga’s abortive first year at the University of Wisconsin, briefly mentioned in the list above, mirrors Smith’s first year of college at the University of Texas described in her chapter ‘Failure to Launch’. This is not uncommon for writers, many of whom don’t stay at their first or sometimes not even their second colleges beyond a semester or a year—present company included—as they search for a place where they can be nurtured and inspired. (plantenga went on to study his second year at the University of Michigan at Flint, before spending his last two and half years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor [the 11th and 12th entries in his residence list] where he won a Hopwood Poetry Award in 1977).
      Later reckonings with parents and a more sympathetic awareness of their human imperfections also occur in both books. Whether it’s through a list of their frailties such as plantenga’s ‘List of Drugs Taken by my Mother’ or his ‘1960s Man’s Adventures Magazine Story Titles’ list of his father’s soft porn stash or from Smith’s later correspondence with her mother.
      Irene Hoge Smith’s The Good Poetic Mother and bart plantenga’s LIST FULL are radically different approaches to the memoir. However, both dramatically reveal the inner development of the writers over six decades, challenged by economic adversity and their parents’ unsupportive and sometimes adversarial stances to their creative aspirations to find a place for themselves in the world as artists. I assure you, you will be inspired by these books’ narratives to examine your own family’s documentary history. These books may also provide strategies on how to understand chaotic, confrontational, and estranged parental relationships and perhaps ways to mend them or to provide closure later in life, no matter what medium or genre you choose. AQ

Mike Wilson – Gaia’s on Acid, and She Can’t Come Down

Mike Wilson
Gaia’s on Acid, and She Can’t Come Down

Clouds swirl, black ink poured in water,
some of the clouds have volition and are
bent on mischief
                               Thunder bolts bunch in
the sky like light sticks at a concert, yellow,
red, neon blue
                           We run to beat the rain, crash
into each other, scramble to pick up our spilled
papers, bolt the door behind us, enjoy fine
dining, make love, drink ourselves into a
purple haze, tell ourselves it’s only forty
days, and we have an ark.

She whispers, Not this time

Paige Elizabeth Wajda – uninhabitable

Paige Elizabeth Wajda
uninhabitable

(of a place) unsuitable for living in.

by 2100    my neighbourhood
will be too hot         to live in.
120° F will no longer be     a summer fling
but a daily    matrimony.

like winterfolk we’ll have to    cover up
even for the briefest jaunt    to the mailbox
(lest we come back    burnt
covered in cancer, lips split     like the asphalt)

january will no longer bring   the relief
of the past; the snowbirds will fly      further north
tortoises will cease their     brumation
(if there are any     left)

130° F will bring more    blackouts
and more cracks   in the blacktop
melted bodies     on the sidewalks
piles of goop    covered in clothes        (better them

than us) left alone  when they were young
the vegetables stayed green    for weeks
in the end    all they dreamt about
were chips     of ice

at least the golfers     will finally go home
and the traffic will dwindle    as the gas runs out
we already dig down      from June ’til September
soon we draw the curtains                                     for good

Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad – The Portal

Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad
The Portal

The artist writes: ‘This piece was inspired by an article I read at the beginning of last year’s lockdown, about Venice’s long-polluted canals slowly running clear, turning blue again, teeming with fish in waters so still one could see all the way down to the bottom. With human activity curtailed heavily, the lockdown was certainly a period of healing for nature the world over. In my artwork I have visualized an open portal drawing out the dust and distress of the world. Perhaps when the pandemic that presently ravages us ends, a new era will dawn, one in which humanity will be more in sync with nature. I hope for a better future for us all.
      I have used paper bits, cloth, threads, acrylics, gouache, distress inks and pens for this mixed-media artwork. It has been made on canvas grain paper and is 12”x 9”.’

Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad, The Portal, mixed media, 2021

Meryl Stratford – Poem at the End of the 21st Century

Meryl Stratford
Poem at the End of the 21st Century

           with apologies to William Carlos Williams

The is just to say—
I’m sorry that I smoked

in the no smoking room,
left ice cubes melting

on the cupboard, plastic
straws and paper napkins
all over the floor. I was

in a hurry to get

where I was
going.

Meryl Stratford – Transmission from Pluto

Meryl Stratford
Transmission from Pluto

For so long it was so far away
we didn’t notice it,
a speck of light
lost among the many constellations.

Then I was speeding toward it,
away from you,
past planets where clouds rain diamonds
and volcanoes spew ice.

One year ago,
as you measure time on earth,
I arrived here in this
dimly-lit neighbourhood.

It’s like a small Texas town,
a ghost town,
at the edge of a desert.
Five moons hang in the sky.

This is a silent world of cliffs,
of canyons deep,
mysterious, dark regions
and a luminous heart.

Rink Foto – Red Sky over San Francisco

Rink Foto
Red Sky over San Francisco

Rink Foto has been covering San Francisco for approximately 50 years. He took this photo of a darkened, red-orange sky above the Castro Theatre in the city’s Castro District at 11 a.m. on 9 September 2020. The darkened sky and obscured sun, just visible in the photo’s upper-right corner, were the result of wildfires in Northern California and Oregon, which are seen as indicators of climate change. (Notice also the cars driving with their headlamps on for extra visibility and the theatre marquee that reads: ‘Stay Healthy and Safe. We’ll Be Back Soon’).

Rink Foto, Red Sky over San Francisco, photo, 2020

Debasish Mishra – A World Without Water

Debasish Mishra
A World Without Water

‘There’s no water to drink and how dare you take a bath twice in a month?’ the stern officer asked. His bulging red eyes would have stabbed me, without the thick lens whose slender legs squatted on his ears like those of a toad. His uniformed brethren rummaged my house and dirtied their hands to see if I had hoarded water anywhere.
      ‘Trust me, sir. I didn’t consume a drop for weeks and used the liquid savings for a bath, to take out the skin that had grown over my skin.’ I had become another man with a mirror in between.
     ‘If you doubt my words, do a full-body scan to see if there’s any water inside my kidney. I piss air. My sweat is dry too. Dry like the sands of the Arabian desert.’
     He looked at my face, the way one stares at a jailbird. Unblinking, my confidence stood on the pedestal of truth and thirst. Thankfully, his men returned with empty hands.
     But he was unwilling to believe the evidence or the lack of it. ‘You ought to know there’s no water on earth. Your fuckin’ forefathers swigged everything. The government has deployed engineers to melt the ice in Mars.’
     ‘I know, sir. In fact, I have forgotten how water tastes. I did bathe but with half a mug and not a trickle reached my back…’
      Unconvinced by my explanation, he asked me to sign an affidavit to ensure that I wouldn’t bath for the rest of the year. I felt like crying but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had no water in my body to produce the tears. AQ