Friday, May 29, 2009


Alas, I am moving. Placing my items in boxes, stacking these boxes on top of one another, finding my body pummeled, disconcerted by the different paths it must take to maneuver among the boxes. As of this moment, my books are divided and resting in eight crates, eight liquor store boxes, two grocery bags and three shelves. This makes me unnecessarily, irrationally nervous. How must the books feel? I hate not seeing them. Yes, I know where they are, but where are they in relation to one another? What if I need them - I need them - and they are buried, depressed, flattened. Could a page be bending? How am I supposed to know what is happening? How can there be any certainty without the black ink and the white page to squint and whittle my mind toward?

I read three books this week (‘The Open Curtain’ and ‘Last Days’ by Brian Evenson and Mary Gaitskill’s ‘Don’t Cry’) but do I have anything I can say about them? No! No, I do not. Because all of my print is being kept from me! All information and evidence is trapped in this purgatory and my blistering mind sizzles and pops, spewing goobers of watery life juice – all vague and sporadic, nothing I would try to impose upon other people. My brother jokes about getting me a kindle. A fucking kindle. I told him I’d ship fecal matter to him at his job if he went through with this threat. I’m not a neurologist, I don’t know how people’s minds work, but I need physical, tangible words, print and page to be okay with being alive. I need to touch and smell, I need them all in direct sight of my physical person. I need to be able to open them up, put my finger on a passage of one and open up another. One screen? Are you mad? Do you hate being a person? I love my brother, he’s awesome, but he makes me insane.

In this chaos, in this neurotic panic, I think it best to share some old work, a few short, prose ditties that are more narratively honest than most of my work, though incredibly derivative of other authors. Let us consider each ‘poem’ to be an assortment of personal effects stored in a crate, the crate being the form picked up from the other authors. Credit should be given to Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, Brian Evenson, Diane Williams, Joe Wenderoth, Gary Lutz.

Here are my items. Maneuver around them. Safety will come again in a few short days, when I can fastidiously assort, find that special place for each and every special book, petting and loving them, cooing and whispering slow apologies for my time away from them.

To feel like prayer

It is often with sincere regret that I put my finger on anything. A finger and not the whole hand, not the spread palm and its cup and divots of warmth.

We can agree then, that I am best on my knees, and that what I don’t say cannot hurt us.

Certainty has done nothing to prevent our catastrophes.

A finger says there. That is the moment.

When I say that I love you, it does not mean that I’m finished.

Michael Wermeister

Michael Wermeister showed his peepee in the first grade. He was the boy with the glasses, pale like scar-tissue over his eyes whose hands the girls and boys didn’t want to share crayons with, looking wet as they did with always some flake of brown like molting or chunks of snot, running like fever hands too hot or too cold. He was a menace in recess games of tag until the girls found out he couldn’t stand up to harsh scolding, when he would stop mid-chase once turned upon and throw his head to the ground. We had taught Michael Wermeister to feel the great shame of himself, as a teacher had taught him how a desk, filthy with pencil lines that wasn’t sat still in, could fly across a classroom.

“Come on!” he said, calling like a master of ceremonies, standing on top of the playground bench holding himself. “Run under me! I will make a rainbow of gold for you to pass through.”


There is something contagious in the word blasphemy. Saying it out loud erupts something in the throat that is then spread into the air; tight pressure along the bridge of mouth holding teeth together, confusion of lips slipping from s to phhh. Emmy having to draw heavily upon the resources of the stomach. Like regurgitation, it is an entire process. With the quick flush of air between teeth and lips, something will go wrong. It is exhausting and there is bound to be spittle. But even as I only think it, climbing the steep sidewalk home, my biggest concern on the ascent remains that which will fall upon me.

An unremarkable moment

The dog bit after we passed each other, sneaking up from behind and catching the lower back of my hip, on the decline towards definite ass. Not the round outward nor the full cheek but the impress in between. I had thought nothing. I had thought it was only a lunge, perhaps a long nail, and continued walking. Dogs jump. There is no need to remark upon a dog jumping on a person, I hardly turned.

A sharp sting persisted, grew precise and found its fullness in between my hip and ass. I unbuttoned my pants for an investigation. The skin was raised. Hmm, I thought to myself. How did this happen? He had only lunged, a dog jumping, unremarkable. But then this raised skin and this sting. There is no other explanation. How did he get me here? What is this fullness where I am bent in?

Later, I showered, and the raised skin had become a bruise. Red lines on either side where his mouth would have opened, a deep eggplant purple of lips. My blood spread to meet where his teeth found me, where I am bent in and had thought nothing.


By the best standards of anything I am no longer hungry. Sunlight encircles the shade where I sit, split and shimmering to the bob and weave of branches bending. To feel the sun I would have to fall thirty feet, or descend a stairwell littered with mail for previous occupants. Day after day it keeps arriving. Five piles of unopened envelopes each on a stair.

I sleep fully clothed to make waking easier. See? I tell my mattress, shrugging off the bed sheets. We were just fooling around. I love the rest of the house more than you; I have to go tend to it. This is a lie. The walls and ceiling don’t believe me, but the floor does what I want.

Still, I cannot bring myself to gather all the dirty linen. It is fully soiled and there is much of it. It lies heavy and loose on my skin. I pour more coffee through a swollen mouth that tastes of wet paper. Gray smoke in and out of a throat, grey like winters and the exhaust chugging from a bus through streets plowed of snow. How is it not supposed to taste like this?

James Curtis, an offer awaits you. Hazel Mendeha remains uninsured. How is anyone supposed to call Alexis Martin? I cannot walk through all of these people. I would have to lie down, to rest with my cheek to the step.

Resurrection after Joe Wenderoth Letters to Wendy

I wonder if Jesus crucified tasted like that special layer of pocked grease sweating off the beef patty beneath a dense mustard blanket. If one had been there, on his knees, only daring the tip of the tongue within Jesus’ thorned slits and didn’t fuck it up with a too eager swash of a full lick. The bun aside, just chortled animal and mustard seed whirred to a complacent smoothness. Could this really waken anyone? What are we afraid of? Don’t we stick out our tongues only to reassure ourselves that the animal is dead?

Affection after Joe Wenderoth Letters to Wendy

Ejaculation requires the dimming of knowledge. Consciousness reasserts in the recognition of ejaculate outside of the body, which demands of us wiping. Not a cleansing but a removal, a putting aside of the confrontation. In this way we know that our essential action is a clearing away, and that the essential object of desire has always been the towel. The towel gets tossed to the floor, kicked further into bed sheets, shoved between the bed and the wall. Only with great effort is the towel washed, folded, placed in a pile of other such towels, all of whom wait silently in the dark for us to find ourselves, to take us away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

‘Shit’ by Gordon Lish from Mourner at the Door

When I was young, the main bathroom of our house had this wallpaper decorated with large archaic sea-faring vessels. The design was executed in billions of tiny, thin lines, and while there were many different ships and many details shown on each of these many ships, each individual line consisted of the same width, and there wasn’t any shadow or perspective drawn, so that while there was a whole lot going on on this wallpaper, everything blended into the same texture and I really had to concentrate, from only two or three feet away, to make out the particularities of any individual ship. It didn’t take much to see the wallpaper as only swaths and stringy lines of color. The back color was a light, fleshy tan, while the ships had some blue to them: a deeper steel, slate blue and what a box of crayons would call cerulean. All of the ships had huge, billowing sails and were set into the tan back drop with rippling waves. The pattern of the ships on the wallpaper was sporadic and complex enough to not appear symmetrical, designed, planned. I had to count the ships from a close distance, marking each off, to see where the pattern began and ended.

Picking up Gordon Lish over the weekend, I was surprised at how much of the language, syntax and content was similar to Gary Lutz. I had never read any Lish before, only knowing him as the ‘great editor’ the ‘ruthless professor,’ thinking of him sweetly, demurely, as only ‘Papa.’ Here is the opening of a story entitled ‘Shit’:

"I like talking about people sitting on toilets. It shows up in the bulk of my speech. Wherever at all in keeping with things, I try to work it in. You just have to look back at the stories I have had printed to see that I am telling the truth. People on toilets is certain to show up with more than passing incidence. I will even go so far as to say that where you find a story with a person on a toilet in it, forget the name that’s signed as author – no one but me could have written the thing. Indeed, it is inconceivable to me that I didn’t.
But the one I’ve got now, this one here, it promises to be the best of the type.
Or anyhow the purest.
Well, the truest, then – the one with nothing in it made up.
The other thing about it that I like is that it could not be simpler to tell – nothing in it but just a man sitting on a toilet in it and the wallpaper in it that the man is looking at.
Oh, of course – not just a man in general but me, in fact – the one who is doing all of this telling right here this instant.
In fact, I would never tell a story about anyone else. For one thing, it could never be true, could it? I mean, what do I know about anyone else – or care to? Good Christ, I have all I can do to marshal even a small enough interest in myself.
Or do I mean large enough?
I don’t know."

What’s being done here?
How is this a ‘story’?
We begin with the sort of straight-forward, abrupt confession we expect from children just potty trained but perhaps not in school yet; private, bodily – disarming in its bluntness, socially awkward, funny. The confession puts us in a position of involuntary ally toward the narrator, or, in the chance we don’t find this confession amusing, turns us away (either prudishly or with a tired exhaustion – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends tell me to stop talking about the poop already). The second sentence complicates this relationship – the advanced, sophisticated language challenging the simplicity of the sentence before, adding texture and depth to the original thought. Talking about people on toilets is not just a pleasure but a recurring action – not just something the narrator likes but something the narrator does often. The third sentence, with a complex syntax that slows our reading even within the simple, easy word choice, lets us know that this action, this pleasure, is pursued – it is intentional, the narrator is driven toward it. The direct address then invites us into the story itself – our presence is a consciously required element, we are asked to participate actively in the story. While no action has taken place in the story in terms of a plot, what’s being built here is this relationship between the narrator and the reader. We are being asked to consider not the scene or action of a man shitting but the narrator’s relationship to his subject. We progress through the story being granted increasingly personal, increasingly intimate information: “Good Christ, I have all I can do to marshal even a small enough interest in myself.” What is at stake here, what we are being asked to look at, is the narrator’s dependence on and limitation with story and language. “Or do I mean large enough? I don’t know.”

I obviously can’t reprint the entire story here, but it goes through the narrator’s habits as a writer, some childhood memories, and the story about the shitting and the wallpaper, “this story, the wallpaper” doesn’t really come into play until the third page, and we get the story of a difficult shit, and the narrator holding onto the wallpaper: “I thought: ‘Hang onto the wallpaper.’ I mean, with my mind, with that.” and the description of that wallpaper.

When I was little, in the bathroom with the wallpaper with the ships on it, there was also a wooden magazine rack that was always stuffed with newspapers. Sometimes, there’d be a New Yorker, but the New Yorkers were mostly kept in my mother’s bathroom. The magazine rack sat directly in front of the toilet. The rack was simple, old-fashioned, with vertical columns that held the newspapers in place. Sometimes there’d be a newspaper open on the floor. Whenever I sat on the toilet I would look at the newspapers to make sure no photographs of people were showing, and if there were, I’d make sure to cover them up. I would turn the newspaper around in the rack or fold it differently so that the photograph would face the other way. Sometimes, with newspapers that were on the floor, I would just put my foot on top of the photograph, covering it up. I didn’t want the people in those photographs looking at me.

"I sat there holding on.
I mean to tell you this – that I had had the thought that I was doing it for nothing less than life. Pretty dumb, right? After all, all it was was just a lot of shit. If anything, I should have been joyous, been jubilant, been pleased as punch. Hey, come on – I was going, wasn’t I?
But I was scared to death.
I thought: ‘You think you’re so smart, then make something out of this.’
Skip it, what the facts are – I don’t trade in science. I say that you just heard a story. I say your life, it saved your life."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gary Lutz

Gary Lutz
I don’t even know where to begin with Gary. The first compulsion is to extract his verbs. To pluck his choices and wranglings from the bed of their sentences, establish them in separate depositories, point at them as they stand stiff, naked. Such as “morseled in an oversized down jacket,” “slot into seats opposite each other,” “crutching himself up,” “to poach on the life inside him,” “slant himself inside me” (from ‘Waking Hours’). But then there is always the other, opposite, obvious itching, to put them together, to connect the dots, to somehow convey to a person why the words work as a story. My working theory about his stories, is that each story works as a series and succession of small pains, inflictions like the attack of insects or a grandmother’s smacks to the back of one’s head, and that the swarm recedes, or the grandmother stops, only after one has resided themselves to the stinging – that there is no lesson being taught by the pain, just a familiarity with it that hadn’t yet been arrived at before the story. A level of specificity and insight we recognize as true. The reader of a Gary Lutz story goes ‘ow, what was that?’ and then they read to keep investigating – that really hurt in this strange way, ow, where is this hurt coming from? And the resolution isn’t finding out where the pain comes from, or the transformation or acceptance of the pain, it’s the exhaustion of only being able to say ‘fuck, god, that really fucking hurts.’

‘Rims’ by Gary Lutz from Stories in the Worst Way

I went to Wegman’s one afternoon. Committing myself to the grocery store always takes a great deal out of me: the drive always jammed up with school buses, maneuvering the hypoglycemic, tiltering steel cart through the perpendicularly rigid aisles, the intimate and shocking confrontations with innumerable grossly human and perverse appetites, selection upon selection upon selection. I feel beaten, as if my mouth’s been pooped in. Pooped in by someone old with incontinence issues, who doesn’t know any better, but who has recently eaten split pea soup with rancid chunks of ham. I feel as though I am physically detained and helpless, watching kittens drown, while at the same time, I experience a strong desire to recline in a black leather chair and watch and smoke leisurely while some large man in my charge cuts people open with many different knives in some dark unwindowed cellar. This afternoon was no exception. And of course there is no washing the Wegman’s away. The Wegman’s lingers. It’s an infection beneath the skin you have to just stick out for a couple of hours until some other, more physically immediate pain overtakes it. And of course on the drive home, with the thousands of plastic bags they’ve individually wrapped around every item sitting in my back seat, defeated again, soiled and still alarmed, struggling with the assault of the Wegman’s, I worry, again, that I really am going to end up unpleasantly, diligently insane. Insane enough to need assistance for these kinds of outings. Insane enough so that people who know me will prevent me from interacting with the people I don’t know.

At home, I grumbled hazily over an essay I’d been working on; mostly just squinting hard at the loose, farting emptiness of the doubled spacing, dropping forgetful clumps of ash onto it, digging for what I optimistically suspected were food crumbs stuck in my teeth.

Then I opened up Gary, and I read:

“It never took my very long to get the boys to where I could feel the air go out of them. I got to them first. The girls got what was left. I was doing everybody a favor – slowing the boys down for the girls, making the boys easier for the girls to take. I got between the boys and the girls and clouded up their hearts.”

* * *

“You can look at a thing until it gets looked away with once and for all. You can take the thing and just look at it until it gets all looked out. Then you can go on to the next thing and start over. You can keep doing this with whatever gets lined up in front of you to have to see.
This is one way you can go through the whole world.”

‘Mine’ by Gary Lutz from Stories in the Worst Way

I’m tempted by a certain ideology of oral sex and what’s behind you in the mirror in the story ‘Mine’ relating to the conception of space and body as force or movement rather than as substance or receptacle/depository - but there’s a certain way in which I think I might only be using the story as a forum for my own ideas, that this would be me pointing to the story claiming it proves or shows this when really it’s my imposition – but I think there’s a possibility in which Gary is subverting the connotations of invisibility with the mirror – that it can be a lack of acknowledgment for the self but that this lack of self-presence isn’t necessarily a shame-induced cowering sort of regression but an act of power on the part of the person in charge of seeing – that it’s the act of seeing and speaking and the decisions and choices therein where the power is and not the object. This might be useful:

“My father never came home sick in the afternoon to find me on my knees in the living room with my mouth full of somebody’s grave, helpless perpendicularity. I never got to see my father eye to eye like that, the only way I wanted to.
My father: what stood out about him was that his life got put past him.
It was my mother who taught me the one worthwhile thing: when they ask you if you like what you see in the mirror, pretend that what they mean is what’s behind you – the shower curtain, the tile, the wallpaper, whatever’s there.”

It’s beyond superfluous to say that the way Gary thinks and writes about sex is not at all what anyone else has thought or read about sex but that’s not to say that his ideas don’t intersect and coincide and bounce around among and between or beside other ideas and conceptions of ways of being and coming and sucking and force and position and desire. I think Diane Williams would back me up on this. The cocks here are “grave” and “helpless” but I don’t want to take up time discussing submission and power because I think we’re already familiar with the idea that giving head isn’t inherently a submissive posture, contrary to what all of the school children that walk past my house yelling “suck my dick, ^&%$#” might think. There’s a fair amount of control over the situation, in the mouth, as it were, etc etc. I wasn’t even going to talk about the oral and here I am. Anyway, moving beyond the traditional notions and their having already been put aside, the “grave” and “helpless” are immediately connected to the father (oh yea, ps, not going to be addressing or distracted by the condition of incest here – characteristic of but not defining the desire and dynamic, if you ask me) – though the narrator was never able to see the father like that, eye to eye, I think that “his life got put past him” is a pretty clear indication of the father’s helplessness, and whereas the father’s life is out of reach, beyond (behind), the worthwhile approach is to be able to see and explain what is there, in place of the self – the act is misleading, deceitful. While one reading of it could be ‘oh, look at the sadness there, in order to speak pleasantly on one’s self-image this person must ignore the self, must lie and therefore this person has a negative self-image/low self-esteem, etc’ I think another, more interesting (at least for me) reading is to notice the ability and power on behalf of the narrator: “when they ask if you like what you see” – “they” are never the ones you want to confide in and only assholes, well-intentioned condescending cock fuck high school counselors, pedestrian psychiatrists, high school short skirted fake tan leg spreaders and gay men strung out on too much fucking X in public bathrooms on television ask such stupid fucking questions. You never want to tell these people the truth. And the ability to ascertain and assess what’s behind you puts you over the father. So what I’m saying here is this: the cocksucker wins. The cocksucker’s pulling the wool over some eyes. If anyone wants to come out with some “but he’s just using that to hide his real pain,” I’ll be more than ready to throw down. I’m not saying it is all on the one hand or all on the other. I’m saying that if you think it’s all on the one hand, you’re probably just holding your dick and you think yourself special and neatly wrapped. But I wasn’t going to talk about cock sucking.

Let’s now just spend some time enjoying these sentences together (from ‘It Collects In Me’):

“Here is a story in the worst way. I have no business being anywhere in it. It comes between me and the life I have coming.”

“Can I skip over what was popular then without leaving anything to the imagination? Because the imagination has to be left out of this. I would hate for something to have to get created here. That is the last thing I want.
Do me a big favor and take my word that this man I am talking about was a man who paid ridiculous attention to what his wife said and did, . . .”

“What else went on between the man and the woman should go without saying, but it won’t. It can’t. It keeps showing up in my mouth.
It collects in me.”

“Do you know what the son of a bitch said?”

“This took place where you’re supposed to go if you have an accident, if you get something on you. In fact, it did more than take place. It took up a large area of where we were. It seized it right from around us. We got pushed through each other.”

“This is another way of saying that once, not too long ago, I wrote things down – everything.
A couple of days later, I read with great interest what I had written.
I was a great many cries from myself.”

I feel a great relief in being able to think: “I sat myself down upon.” I don’t’ know if this is a direct quote from one of Gary’s stories or just an appropriation of his syntax. The invitation to play with language in and of itself is a great comfort. More specifically, particularily, circumstantiably, in the women’s public restroom of Wegman’s.


Introduction/Mission Statement
“It’s not what happens to people on the page; it’s about what happens to a reader in his heart and mind.”
Gordon Lish

My concerns here are primarily selfish. I’ll be the first to admit: most of my daily engagement and preoccupation exists entirely within a two foot radius of my head. I am suspicious and fearful of the noises that come from outside my apartment. I have only a strange, hazy impression of events that have happened in the world. I don’t know who most people are. I remain hesitant and disinclined toward investigating these items further than what is socially compulsory when assaulted by such information. I do a lot of nodding.

I have no interest in pinning anything down. I’m not the pet-owner scolding or rewarding particular techniques or aesthetics, and definitely not the consumer’s shitty, meddling older unmarried aunt suggesting advice on which books to buy. Christ, I’ll hardly address entire stories. All I’m asking is on a word to word basis: what does this sentence do? How is this story told and what does this do to us? Nothing I say here should be taken definitively. I take very little responsibility for most things I have and will say and by no means should I ever be considered correct. What I hope to offer are descriptions and definitions in the sense of expansion; rather than claiming standards or proscriptive rules for stories to follow, I hope to complicate and question how we experience and understand written language, what these words do to us and how that affects our interaction, understanding and engagement with the world. I also just really get off on this, watching words play. Look at them! See how they’re doing that? All that friction from rubbing up against each other, the tease and tension in the restraint of a page break – gets me all hot and bothery.

There are particular ways of looking at stories that interest me, though I am also intrigued by the way stories happen to us in our daily existence; how they come upon us, striking into our afternoons, when they bubble up in our intestine, farting out of us in the course of a day. How we take them with us, using them to guard ourselves from the assault and titillations of existence, how they ease existence into us or bring its small simplicities smack to our skulls. I’ve got two main issues going on right now twisting the cushiony folds of my underwear brain all up in the cracks of my synapses:
1. The dynamics at play within the relationship of the reader to the narrator of a story – how this relationship is created by the story, how this relationship affects our reading (experience and understanding) of a story, and how we take this dynamic, these particular experiences of seeing and knowing, into our daily encounters with the world. This investigation will of course take into consideration the distinctions of third versus first person, a narrator’s tone, attention, approach toward its subject, etc, but is mostly looking at how the epistemology of seeing and knowing in a story affects the ways in which we see and know our own experience, how these dynamics play out in terms of how and what we know of the world.
2. The contention or basic rule of fiction that in order for a story to be successful, to be considered a ‘story,’ the main character must undergo change, that something must happen through which the end of a story exists as a distinctly different circumstance from the beginning of a story – that this happens within the content of a story. Gardner takes this up in ‘The Art of Fiction,’ and there are many proponents of this prerequisite working, thinking, writing today. But there are also stories and writers whose concern is not toward revelation within story, but where the site of revelation exists outside of the story, between the reader and the story, the reader and the author, inside the reader’s head. I hope to articulate these distinctions and hack some clumps of thought away from the monstrous impasse where these schools collide against each other. I am not in favor of championing either one or the other, but the question eats away at me. Is it maliciously manipulative for a story itself not to manifest change along with the reader? Is an intellectual experience of a story inherently unsatisfying – if a reader is only led to an understanding rather than through an experience, do we disengage from one another? Do we inherently need a narrative force to guide us toward meaning?

A note on style
I am perfectly aware that most of my prose flagrantly appropriates and mishandles the syntax, style, tone, word play of the writers I here engage with. I also fully acknowledge that they do this much more successfully than I do. The stylizations here are impulsive whimperings; my trembling giddy star struck heart pitter pattering all over the place. I consider this mimicry as an act of love and longing, the flirtation of my speech bumping its stubborn head up against the author’s prose shoulder, sniffing, shoving my nose in it, rolling over for a rub on the belly. Oh, and I tend to be vulgar, sometimes. You may, as a reader responding to my constant obscenity, need to just calm down. It’s okay – you’re not supposed to take my expressions literally. I will not actually impose my person on any non-consensual animate or inanimate being, or force anyone to watch this sort of thing, in real life.

I would like to thank and acknowledge here the guidance and support of the magnificent Christopher Kennedy, without whose assignments and responses to my responses none of this would have come about, nor would I feel compelled to reveal any of this to anyone else.