I play the songs she listens to over and over. They help me get into her mind because those songs are playing in her mind too, and the voice they take is her voice inside her thoughts.
The voice she hears in the songs in her mind is resigned to loss. So much, she hears that voice that’s sad, that’s yearning to be soothed, and it makes me think that, within her private experience, she feels this yearning, and needs someone to reach her.
Anyone you’re talking to, anyone you’re standing next to, or walking up the stairs with, on their way with you in the meek herd through the iron passageways under Penn Station, across the iron gangplanks hanging over the underground tracks— anyone with their devices in their ears like networked robots, all of them, also, have their sad songs.
For the month of March, The Williams Readings will feature Laura Eve Engel, plus our stellar open mic. Come celebrate spring with us!
The Williams Readings present: Laura Eve Engel Wednesday, March 4, 2020, 7 p.m. Williams Center for the Arts • One Williams Plaza, Rutherford NJ Plus the words of William Carlos Williams & open readings from the floor
About our feature: Laura Eve Engel is the author of Things That Go (Octopus Books). The recipient of fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation and the Yiddish Book Center, her work can be found in The Awl, Best American Poetry, Boston Review, The Nation, PEN America, Tin House and elsewhere. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives in Brooklyn, where she works as a copywriter.
Please note: We must now pay $100 per month rent for the use the Williams Center for our readings. This is in addition to the $100 per month rent the Red Wheelbarrow workshop must pay for the use of their space in the Williams Center.
We need your help to survive and continue to hold our monthly readings. We will be asking for donations. A $5 per person donation is suggested. If we all contribute, we can pay the rent!
If only I could have joined them, the clean-shaven father in madras shorts who strained to manage both umbrella and cooler in the sand. He reached for the freckle-faced woman beside him. Their boy tugged at the towels slung over her left shoulder.
They chose a remote spot near the dunes but I saw them from the dock. The boy helped his father secure the beach umbrella with a hammer. Soon, he ran, laughing, toward the waves. The father produced a ball, joined his son at the water’s edge and threw it to him.
Boats bobbed in the distance like bathtub toys; a lazy airplane banner touted Goodrich tires. The mother put on a straw hat and started to read the newspaper. This was the family I might have had.
My own father let my mother and me drag him to the seashore once, but wore a sports coat and dress shoes. He wouldn’t go anywhere near the ocean. My mother’s wet bathing suit dripped on his oxfords. They argued, then we endured a long car ride home, in silence.
Now, the mother removed three sandwiches from the cooler and waved. Father and son, bodies bronze, stood in the sun and waved back. Only one thing was missing, it would have made them too perfect— a dog.
I sell reference books. I’m a jockey in a cubicle galloping across state lines and time zones. My wobbly wagon is overloaded with multi-volume, hard cover carcasses, vetted by academics. We offer it online free with the print and without that digital ghost riding shotgun, I’d have been extinct some time ago. The Librarians I sell to have sentries; Patience with fangs, Fortitude with no budget.
I call them all, and their names sometimes suit them; from Somerval Linthicum at the Savannah Arts Academy I can smell gardenias. Tanya Faucet runs at the mouth. Toylanda is a spoiled librarian. But I will not cross Sister Loretta Marie Schollhamer (assassins also have multiple names). In the fall I like to call Jennifer Two-Axe from Ichabod Crane High School.
I have a rambunctious librarian whose hobby is as a jammer for the Bay City Roller Girls in the local Roller Derby League; she elbows her way through the pack – on her back is stamped her pseudonym, ‘Sigourney Cleaver’.
Their breed, their kind is fierce and territorial. The librarians’ heart beat as a pair of lions. The American Library Association were the first to push back against the Patriot Act and “…opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…”
Integrity like that you won’t get at Google. In fact, they’ll sell it, they have a government contract.
The Black Caucus of the American Library Association threatened to boycott our Notorious Lives set if we did not expunge O.J. Simpson from its cover. Editorial replaced him with Barry Goldwater, and Barry Goldwater High School in Arizona refused to buy it, a worthy exchange. Our reference title on banned literature was itself banned from a school district in northern Virginia of all places. That is a ribbon we don with pride.
Once, a librarian whose building was demolished by Hurricane Katrina admonished me. I told her our donation of a large set “was nothing, just books.” And through tears she politely, firmly, as a librarian might, sir-named my ass; “When you scoop up books with a flat shovel, and dump it in a muddy wheelbarrow, it’s more than ‘just books’, Mister.”
I walked out the 33rd street side of my building, across the street for lunch, and felt, “We’re all soldiers.”
I see more and more homeless people in Penn Station camped in the passageways, behind the departure board near track one where there’s a wall they go behind. Maybe the cops are letting them stay. The cops are an army.
One homeless man, whose stomach is bare even in winter because he wears a skimpy cropped shirt, lets us pass around him in coats and gloves. Are we an army, too?
I know the Amtrak cops in Penn Station because I hit my head on a fire extinguisher, and we chatted while they waited to see if I had a concussion.
I met DJ waiting for the Boston Amtrak. He was just out of Rahway jail serving twenty years. “I am not that kind of person,” he said, “but I will kill you if you fuck me.” I said, “DJ, if you always react like that, you’re going to be ruled by anger.” “You’re right,” said DJ. He asked could I help him get a train ticket to Camden, to get back with his ex-wife. I don’t know if she knew he was coming.
Later, I considered whether I’d done a good thing giving DJ twenty bucks.
Jennifer Poteet My Mother Wanted a Daughter So Much
She took off her silver earrings first, and pierced the silicone cup of her diaphragm with an earring post, and stood, naked in the bedroom. She skipped the spermicide, too, while she waited for my father. He didn’t want more children. There were two already from his first marriage. What if my father had stopped to look at that little lanced disk, dormant most of the time in a pink silk pouch on the bottom shelf of the linen closet?
RED WHEELBARROW POETS ROCKING GAINVILLE CAFÉ ON JAN. 31
The Magic Circle series returns to GainVille Café Friday, January 31, 2020, for an exciting double feature of Red Wheelbarrow Poets. FRANK RUBINO will be the featured poet, and ARTHUR RUSSELL, who has featured before at GainVille, will return, as featured musician!
Frank, one of the managing editors of The Red Wheelbarrow and a member of the RWP writing workshop, has been published in such magazines as DMQ Review and Caliban.
Arthur has performed with his guitar several times at GainVille and at the Red Wheelbarrow anthology launch at the Meadowlands Museum.
Also featuring the rest of the RED WHEELBARROW POETS in the long-running BRING YOUR A GAME open mic.
A $9 cover (hardship? See me and I will get you in!) includes coffee/tea and dessert.
I BECOME A CHARACTER IN A CHEKHOV STORY (for Fiona Conway)
In the first story I ever read by Anton Chekhov, A young boy moves away from his grandfather in Moscow To some unfathomable part of Russia six time zones away. The boy misses his grandfather, so he decides To write him a letter. Once he does, He addresses the envelope “Grandfather.” But before he puts it in the mailbox, he thinks again, Maybe that isn’t enough for the postman, And adds “in the city” underneath.
The woman who is going to marry my nephew Sent me a note thanking me for an engagement present. She must have been interrupted between name And address. The address is correct, and her note Was promptly delivered to me. But she addressed the top line Only to “Uncle Mark.”
I’m old now, officially, and I hate it When people move away, when the Dirt Club Is replaced by a place that sells cleaners. But I’m also the kid, age 5, being driven away From the house where I lived with my grandfather, Which had a breakfast nook and a delivery hatch A small child could easily wiggle through, An attic full of wasps and a sharp Knights of Columbus sword, And an empty lot behind the house which in the Murmansk winters Of midstate New York could sustain a snow fort for weeks.
My grandfather ran a furniture store. The doors in the house were solid wood, he knew about wood. He hung a Tiffany lamp in the breakfast nook, Which was narrow enough you had to like the people you crowded in with. It was only after I moved away I learned to be claustrophobic.
The level of conversation all the workday long is tech, tech, tech— it just opens a void in me. The sad distance I first saw drawn in the comic book panels of Jack “King” Kirby has been my sorrow throughout my career.
Across his galactic splash page in Kamandi 36, and throughout his work in Fantastic Four, he spread mural-like, between one planet and another, the apartness I now recognize in the black windows whose candy-colored computer code I write.
On my dark Samsung monitor, my typing looks like Christmas lights from Mars.
If I could see across space and time like Jack did, I would see Kolomatsky’s young clean face on Second Avenue, outside the bodega where we talked. We talked on the church wall about our girlfriends one spring afternoon, and the way one can hook one’s arms around their thighs, while one’s face is in their muff. We loved those girls for letting us hook our arms around their thighs, like wheelbarrows we were dumping.
(Wonder if I was drinking my usual Tropicana orange juice.)
Whenever I break from work, and feel as empty as code, I wish I could kneel down in front of my woman and hook my arms around her thighs, and when she lets me, and when I do, I have the feeling I’m crossing space and time, like Jack did.