In Honor of Halloween: Will O’The Wisp, A Poem by Miriam Sagan

Will O’The Wisp
 
 
1 am, get up
to piss, and see out the window
towards El Rito
not St. Elmo’s fire
that may cling
to a mast
but ball lightning, or swamp gas,
or restless spirits
of the dead
I usually keep
framed and locked
in a drawer or cabinet.
 
As if bodiless hunters
wandered the air
above the marsh
with flashlights or
lanterns blinking
on and off, on and…
 
if I move closer
it will back away
if I step away
it comes closer
this cold burning
light like
neon in a tube, phosphorescence on the sea,
or desire
in the heart’s dark cavity.
 

Dancing through the Chihuly Exhibit at The Denver Botanical Gardens by Gail Rieke

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These exquisite photographs were taken by Gail Rieke. To see more, check out her blog. ridetheflyingcarpet.blogspot.com

Call It Slush: SFLR call for submissions

We’re reading!
Staff Lydia Gonzales, Baro Shalizi, Veronica Clark, Kate McCahill, Sudasi Clement, and Meg Tuite are busy looking for publishable poetry, fiction, and memoir.
Submit to:
SANTA FE LITERARY REVIEW
Miriam Sagan
6401 Richards Avenue
Santa Fe, NM 87508

Deadline: December 1, 2014

Send black & white art via jp file to: SFLRARTSUBMISSIONS@GMAIL.COM

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Tip: we’re looking for the unexpected–comics, graphic novels, mixed genre, screenplays, and bilingual work.

Bibi Deitz on Being a New Yorker

This is the first part of a longer essay on being a native New Yorker who lives in New York. More to come over the coming weeks.

I had lunch with someone the other day who grew up in New York. So did I. Well, I had hot water with lemon and she had a sandwich that had so many onions that she wound up feeling sick, and she was on her phone when she walked in the door, but unapologetic about it because that’s how we are, we New Yorkers, we born-and-breds: We live here, and the street is our living room, taxis and subways our parlors, and restaurants and cafes—forget it, we might as well take out a toenail clipper and go to work. Though we never would. There are boundaries. We have dignity.

There’s a special flavor to a fellow lifer. I can spot my kin from across a crowded subway platform sometimes. We have a way of taking up space that is upfront, frank. We say, I belong here. There are no I’m-sorries about our demeanor. If we need to take a phone call, we take a phone call. If we want to speak or laugh loudly or gesticulate or sit on the same side of the table or take a selfie, we do.

Some see this as entitled. I’ve seen the looks—are you kidding? That’s the other thing. We never miss a thing. You might think we didn’t notice your eye-roll or your sideways comment or even your catcall, but fret not: We heard. We’re just ignoring you. Anyway, it’s not. Entitled, that is. It’s confident. It’s asking for what we need in the world without feeling bad about it. It’s taking up the space we require to breathe in this city. That’s why we don’t feel claustrophobic. We stretch out.

I often hear people talk about what one of my friends calls the “psychic claustrophobia” of the city. It’s so grim, they say. Just so dirty. Move, then. I did, for seven years. I lived in Santa Fe. The sun shone most every day and there was nothing to block it: I could see a hundred and eighty degrees of sky wherever I was. Those seven years were healing, transformative, restorative. It was like a seven-year-long yoga class. And now I’m back, hammer and tongs, and silly things like weather or the state of cleanliness of any given block are not going to stop me from enjoying myself.

*

There are two ways to view city life: Pro and anti. By city life I mean New York city life—of course I am aware there are other cities, but New York is the city. I’ve never called it by any other name. Including New York City. It’s just New York, or the city. In any case, the anti-city types will give you a whole grocery list of complaints, but the pros: Well, we’re pros. We can take it. Take today, for example. My friend and I left lunch—at a cafe in the East Village, my childhood neighborhood, that popped up in the past seven years, but what hasn’t, really?—and walked up University Place in search of cigarettes. Not for me, but that’s the other thing: New Yorkers smoke like Europeans. We go outside, but we enjoy being outside. Or we enjoy complaining about it. There’s a certain savor in the act of smoking. And you better believe we won’t apologize for it. Once they were procured, I had two drags of Camel Light, thank you very much; and yes, it was delicious.

So there we were, on the street, and a spritely Asian man pushing a wire shopping cart full of laundry began serenading us. He said, Tell me, why am I so short? He answered, Because my parents were both short! He cracked himself up. He told us, Your mothers were both beautiful! Then he resumed his song.

If you’re not from the city, this might be an alarming or noteworthy experience. You might not know how to react. You might worry he’d next pull a gun from his pile of laundry, or try to have a quick grope as you passed. We wished him good day and moved on. Which brings us to five minutes later.

We were outside the newsstand; she was smoking, and I was fiddling with my phone. There was some schmutz on it—a feather, or an eyelash, or something—so I blew it off. And as though he were an actor offstage just waiting for his line, a fortyish man waltzed by and said, “You just blew on your phone! Is that a new app?” He waited for his applause, paid in the form of acknowledgement, and continued on his way. That’s the thing with New Yorkers: We interact with one another. Or, rather, others interact with us—God knows if the crooner or the actor were born in New York or not, though I suspect not—and we take it in.

This is the other thing: We don’t really take it in. I mean, all of the experiences I’ve had in New York have amalgamated into one rather delightfully juicy apple, if you’ll pardon the awful metaphor. Actually, I won’t pardon it: That’s one thing I can’t roll with. All of the cutesy New Yorkisms: The big apple, the city that never sleeps. Those are phrases we made up to titillate tourists. It might work on them, but it doesn’t do much for any of us. We can see behind the curtain, and believe me: There’s a dead rat in there. As there is in many of our walls, and on every subway track ever.

Anyway, the apple. Every time a stranger has had an opinion about my appearance, asked where I got my shoes, or asked for directions to the nearest L train has been collected in a lovely, hazy memory bank. It’s a foggy mental scrapbook, and on the cover is a raked-up photograph of, like, Tompkins Square Park. In other words, I take these experiences in the way I might a breath of fresh air. Or stale subway air. Or piss-tinged stench on a hot day on Fourteenth Street. I take them, and I experience them, but I also forget about them right away. I interact—or not—and I’m present—or not, as the case may be—but I also move on right away. It’s rare that I’ll remember an interaction with a stranger.

There are exceptions. I can still picture a man shuffle-punching down St. Mark’s Place in the Eighties. I was a kid, probably with my mother, and we crossed the street to avoid him. That was her strategy back then: If you see something strange, cross the street. Now they say, If you see something, say something. Not to the person, I hope everyone understands. Those poor out-of-towners trying to say something to the pervert on the corner. When I say shuffle-punching, I mean exactly that: He was so drunk or coked-up or insane that he more crabwalked than sauntered, and he was kicking the shit out of someone who did not exist. In this man’s mind, though, he was absolutely fighting a pretty awful guy. Or gal, I suppose. He was winning, too.

I am not Grandma Moses–or am I?

I wanted to add a bit of comment to the poem below, obviously inspired by Moses.
“You’re not Grandma Moses,” an artist friend said recently, meaning I wasn’t going to turn into a visual artist in my sixth decade. This was in relation to my text installation off-the-page work. I had to agree–I was going to continue to need collaborators or a very well thought out design to continue to make these pieces.
Or maybe not. Maybe I can actually teach myself enough to function as an outsider artist.
“I’m not Grandma Moses,” I told an assembled group at Salem Art Works this summer, giving a process talk. But then a young man reminded me that we were indeed in Moses’s neighborhood of upstate New York. And I remembered how I’d loved her work as a child. How she is a great American woman painter. A folk artist, or outsider, or maybe not. And she started with needlework and textile.
So the poem was an exploration of how she was “self taught.” And that is something I can indeed aspire to.

Self Taught: a poem by Miriam Sagan

Self-Taught

I slept in red sheets
that still showed
a dried drop of blood

I was everywhere at once
although not on purpose—
an underground city, or
a farm on the Vermont border

both afraid and happy
knowing the stain
wasn’t mine

every artist is autodidactic
and an old woman painted
the happiness of dark bright figures
against snow and maples

in the painting of the wedding
there is more than one bride
or the same bride in several poses

and the bridegroom appears
also throughout the narrative
proposing, vowing,
dancing in a top hat

there is a lack of perspective
or maybe the painter
just didn’t see it that way

the way I also
might find myself repeated
awake, asleep, or both
at the same time in the starry dark.

a-country-wedding

A Field Guide to the True American Diner by John Leavitt

Reprinted from The Awl.

I found this probably the most charming essay on diners I’ve ever read, and hope you enjoy it as well. MS

A Field Guide to the True American Diner
John Leavitt

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dinersHello, I am an American from New Jersey and I care about diners.

The True American Diner is a casual sit-down restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner—all three meals—all day, often for all twenty-four hours of it. Time has no meaning in the presence of eggs, steak and hash browns. Portions are large but not obscene; sides are available with nearly everything. The food is sturdy and simple, a few strong flavors and techniques. Nothing in a True American Diner couldn’t be made by a moderately skilled cook in their own kitchen: corned beef hash, club sandwiches, and a variety of scrambles.

Menus are oversized and presented as a single, huge laminated page with unavailable items taped over, or in a leather-bound binder. Everything in the “diet” section of the menu contains cottage cheese or is steamed. There are daily specials, and they come with soup or salad. Chicken Parmesan and mozzarella sticks must be available. Ketchup is served in bottles, not packets. The coffee is available and drunk at every meal; cups may even be set out on the table before patrons arrive. Refills are free and assumed to be always wanted, unless you indicate you want no more by turning the coffee cup over. Dessert is pie, and if displayed in a glass case at the end of the counter, it must rotate. We did not free ourselves from England’s cruel yoke to have static pie.

A server takes your order, but you pay at the cashier, which will have a small bowl of pillowy mints that taste like toothpaste. (The area near the cashier should have framed, signed headshots of the various celebrities and notables who have eaten at the diner. Ideally, these people are long-dead regional celebrities you’ve never heard of with one famous name, like Keanu Reeves, prominently displayed in the mix.) The server at a True American Diner may be a man or a woman, young or old. They can be curt, motherly, sassy, or taciturn but they always take your order on a small notepad and deliver food with speedy efficiency and stunning acts of plate balancing. The ability to effortlessly juggle nine different heavy platters of breakfast food at 10 pm is the hallmark of the True American Diner server. There should be a sign that asks you to “Please Wait To Be Seated” or “Please Seat Yourself,” and it should always be turned to “Please Seat Yourself.”

True American Diners run small, with a capacity that tops out at around sixty-five people plus counter space; thirties-style railcar diners rarely seat more than twenty people, but have long counters running the length of the restaurant. They are single rooms, with no areas for anything but food service. There is also no outdoor seating in a True American Diner. Where are you, a bistro in France, about to order a country pate’ avec moules frites?

But not all diners are exactly alike. There are vintage sleek bullet diners, modern silver-and-neon highway beacons, converted farmhouses, dusty desert truck stops, low-slung ranch-styles attached to motels, and mansard roof shoeboxes full of fake grapevines that resemble suburbian banks. Somewhere, there is neon. There are always leather or leather-ish clad booths in a True American Diner; without them, it’s just a breakfast joint.

In the east, True American Diners are located either in the downtown area or just off a major road leading into it. In the west, diners are more likely on highways in between towns, merging with that other American institution, the truck stop. If a town has more than one, there will be unresolvable argument over which is “the good one.” People are very loyal toward “their” diner because a True American Diner will be family-run or at least locally operated. The ideal True American Diner owners are Greek, or at least willing to pretend.

Chain imitations of True American Diners try too hard. They impose a false, forced sense of familiarity and nostalgia. These are the places with tableside jukeboxes that never work and vintage cars and Happy Days-esque kitsch bought by the yard and glued onto the walls. Attempt no luncheons there. (A notable exception to this is the Waffle House, a southern chain that’s managed to retain True American charm and values. So integral are Waffle Houses to the communities they serve that FEMA uses the informal Waffle House Index to gauge the severity of a natural disaster by what’s available on the Waffle House menu.)

True American Diners exist in a bubble of no-nonsense egalitarianism; they exist outside socioeconomic distinctions, because there is something for everyone. There are always at least two retired people at the counter; they will never speak to each other or anyone else. Someone is on the run from the law; someone is the law. There are always at least two teenagers in a True American Diner and they are simultaneously talking about nothing and having The Most Important Conversation Of Their Lives. You wouldn’t go there for a special occasion, but you can always go there after one: proms, weddings, or funerals.

Without diners, where would outlaws stop to discuss bank robberies over coffee? Where would strippers go when they get off work? Where would covert agents talk about business with waffles or lovers arrange clandestine meetings? Without diners, are you even sure you’re in America?

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