Issue #14, 2019

Price: $12.00

StringTown issue 14

Table of Contents

Glen Armstrong, For Centuries (sample)
Shawn Brophy, Mousetown (sample)
Laurie Blauner, Accommodations in a Lost City (sample)
John Sibley Williams, Road to the Sky
John Sibley Williams, Letter from a Small Town
John Sibley Williams, When things stop standing in for other things
John Sibley Williams, If
John Sibley Williams, To Sing
Sarah Koenig, Weed
Sarah Koenig, We Decide to Google Our Star Signs
Sarah Koenig, Disneyland
Sarah Koenig, Outside September Leaches Away Our Light
Michael Spence, The Phantom Mechanic
Dennis Vannatta, The Language of Gypsies
Thomas Walton, Overwhelmed
Thomas Walton, Shedding Light
Thomas Walton, Percept
Thomas Walton, Thanks for Raking the Leaves, Honey
Scott T. Starbuck, Fishing at Age Fifty
Dan Clark, Field Trip
Bethany Reid, When to Say Goodbye
Bethany Reid, Her Drowned Memories
Nikkole Hughes, Camas
Teresa Vanairsdale, Thinking That a Girl Could Actually Bloom

Keith Harmon, How to Become a Banjo Player, an essay
Mary Ellen Talley, Colony Collapse
Matthew Campbell Roberts, Fence Lines
dan raphael, Where the Streets Are Unpaved
Joannie Stangeland, Given
Joannie Stangeland, Sketch in Red with Rust
Lisa Roullard Postcard, Silver Beach Resort, Duck Lake
Darren Dillman, Slaying Goliath
Anthony Warnke, Self-sacrifice
Anthony Warnke, Fits
Sarah Aronson, Drawn
Sarah Aronson, Afield: a Guide
Sarah Aronson, And Other Bodiless Powers
Matt Briggs Lalla, Chuckachucka
Judith Skillman, The Dream of Children
Judith Skillman, Dream of the impossible problem
Judith Skillman, On a Bright June Day the Birds Carry Cherries
David Thornbrugh, Raising the Rump Shield
Karin Temple, Encoded
Karin Temple, Embedded
Chris Cleary, Hoka Hey
Gary Lark, Keith
Gary Lark, Shipwreck
Steve Cleveland, Begin the Day
Steve Cleveland, As You Follow

Excerpts

Glen Armstrong

For Centuries

I imagine they never spoke, only gesturing when absolutely necessary at rare or dangerous animals.

If I can find the perforated edge, if I can tear the next leg of our journey off like a postage stamp . . .

I imagine stern profiles.

Pieces of a bottle smashed in anger near the ocean’s tide.

I imagine our faces softening at night when the audience has left, taking their folding chairs with them.

If I can tear you from your beautiful but futile work, we might walk through the pines in the manner that lovers have walked through the pines for centuries.

Conclusion takes an extended leave.

It’s not the final product but some difficult to pinpoint aspect of the effort that strikes me as “futile.”

The edges used to be sharp. The sea glass used to be a nuisance, not a prize.

Shawn Brophy

Mousetown

The mice have developed a culture—
identical to our own!
Or an idealized version of it—the 1950s?
Mother mice wear little aprons.
Father mice wear little homburgs
And drive off in their wind-up Chryslers
To wherever it is that fathers or father mice go all day.

Is it really so bad? To have a little world
With a friendly mouse cop at every crosswalk?
Holding up his white-gloved, four-fingered hand
To stop the cartoon traffic, shepherding the little mice on their way to school—
Where, of course, they study the rudiments of the same subjects real kids do?
After all, father mice are always home by six. They’re never drunk.
They’re never really mad. Mother mice, zonked out on Stoli or Xanax
Never fail to wake from their afternoon naps, never leave the little mice
Stranded in the rain after practice,
Scurrying home through a neighborhood of cats.

These mice always get the cheese.
They snag entire cooked turkeys with fishing poles.
They hand bewildered cats red sticks of sizzling dynamite.
They never run in frantic pantomime
As they swirl down the toilet bowl.

They read the paper. They wear store-bought underwear.
They don’t look through dumpsters for food. They don’t
Give the chicken leg they find there to an ulcerous little sister.
They don’t hide on the fire escape in the snow
Until everyone else in their apartment has fallen asleep.

Think of it this way:
There is a real moon, and there is a cartoon moon.
The cartoon moon can be shattered by a thrown shoe.
The real moon hides its pock-marked face
Or rolls along the curb reflected in gasoline rainbows
Until it drops down the sewer grate like a coin.

There is a real world—but there is another world—
And sometimes I wonder, which is which?
Which are the mice, and which are the children?
And which one am I? And where is our moon?

Laurie Blauner

Accommodations in a Lost City

Accommodations in a Lost City

Every summer raccoons climb our plum tree and shake and shake it until something falls. Every winter intermittent rain arrives in Seattle making everything slick and malleable. The world is spinning and can’t help itself. Even further away galaxies, made of space and time and matter, were formed and are still forming because of forces applied to objects. Persistence can be beating your head against a wall and it can be outlasting everything else that has quit. I do both. I have had unrequited interests, including Paul McCartney and Benedict Cumberbatch, the practice of ballet for several years, which I began in my fifties, and writing, which sometimes feels like a stone dropped into my hand. I have a friend who insists on a relationship with a woman who keeps trying to forget him. Perhaps he will become the one suitor who will pass all the tests in a fairytale to win the princess.

Dali depicted the persistence of memory in a painting, melting clocks in an empty landscape with a distant figure of a man. This is how we are plagued with time and space and Dali implies that there is more desolation to come like the persistence of relentless aging. My old stray cat, my cat that died, and other animals continue in their usual activities, running, catching, playing until they can’t do so anymore. An apple jettisons itself from a tree, birds veer, migrating toward what they believe they know, fish swim longingly for something they can barely remember. The world turns and turns every day, sacrificing a bit more of itself. We lose something too, time, respect, money, as we try to accomplish something more.

We borrow and insist we live as flesh and blood lives. My sister rocked back and forth on her knees as a child before she went to sleep, hitting her head against the headboard, while I stubbornly lure language to take some of my shape, half woman, half words, a kind of mermaid. I’m better among sentences, but must live on land, so I roll my eyes toward the sky, having relinquished my first husband so I could find and marry my second one. I’ve always hoped, in defiance of the facts that my mother would learn to love me.

Because of supply and demand, my once lost city, Seattle, punctuated by water, is currently enlivened but it has its moods. Aloof, inaccurate, and formerly a repertoire of gestures, it now is reinvigorated, fulfilling, accurate, and still moist. The city persists in its changed form, but it has sacrificed camaraderie and a relaxed notion of itself for self-interest and expansion. There are growing pains. A mermaid finally abandons her fish legs and can walk on land but is no longer special, charming, or fanciful. She misses her water.

The architecture of the body holds its own little city: children of various ages stand in front of a rose garden; all those afternoons of absences and confidences; an assortment of superstitions.

My grief is a shadow not a mirror.

My habits hover, meet in secret, and then make demands, boxes of minerals and rocks, fractal maps, bird feathers, dangerous books, narrative art.

These houses unravel limbs, release another wandering heart.

Assaulted with Gravity

An obsession is conspicuous in its accumulation of objects but persistence isn’t as overtly noticeable. It hides in ideas, thoughts, preferences. It hides in mountains disappointed by sky or water sternly pursuing water. Persistence lingers. It sometimes gets sidetracked going from the highway to a road or street to street. But it’s traveling somewhere, has a destination, even a theoretical one, like avoiding an illness or insisting on a cure. My ninety year old mother wants to persevere until one hundred. As a teenager my sister thought about killing herself and I, the older sister, convinced her that she would have a forthcoming, chosen life. A friend of mine’s sister did kill herself, leaving a space that could contain anything.

Fragile Occurrences

Twenty seven years ago my mother and sister came to Seattle for my second wedding when I was thirty six years old. Beneath the rim of blue sky and torso-shaped clouds, our ferry chugged to Bainbridge Island for a visit and then back to the city skyline. This was the day before the ceremony. On the way back to Seattle, my mother said she was having a heart attack. I called a ferry worker over, who began dialing 911. My mother said she was feeling better and not to call emergency services to helicopter her off the ferry. My sister and I tucked her into her hotel bed and soothed her, taking turns. She moaned that it was okay if she died soon since she had done everything she wanted to already. My mother will be turning ninety soon and I’m the one who feels I’m running out of time.

Left unsatisfied, needs persist. I’m a footnote in an enlarging city. Many people go to Hawaii in the winter months, attuning themselves to the warm weather, tropical foliage, coffee, breathing underwater, sugarcane, the ragged linearity of cliffs. I had gone to Kauai with my first husband on our honeymoon, and we golfed there, but the marriage only lasted three years. We drove, circling the island several times, sky repeating itself wherever we looked. We saw a pig roasting underground, impossible flowers circling people’s necks, a reenactment of native dances that explained their history, the balance of nature through movements of hands, feet, and hips. We watched the ebb and flow of the beach through our hotel sliding glass doors as the pool seemed to fit itself closer to our lanai. Palm trees displayed coconuts, undulated, studied us as we studied them. Sometimes we walked backwards on narrow paths through the lush forests or along the bluffs in order to see a view, a flower, a plant, a bird. That husband and I both remarried. He died a number of years ago of a heart attack at the natural food grocery store where he worked.

Rabbit Parable

Persistence is a rabbit that lives in a suburb. She wants to have a party tomorrow for the other animals who live nearby, two possums, several raccoons, frogs, rats, and a clever coyote. She has invited the dogs and cats that live in the houses, but they’re not sure whether they can attend. Insects and spiders have their own parties. And birds, especially small ones like hummingbirds, say they will see which way the wind is blowing. The rabbit enjoys her incessant requesting and hasn’t thought what to do about the party at all.

“Is it your birthday?” a green snake inquires near a shopping mall. “Because this sun is so bright a cake would melt outside, and the cars are blinding.”

The rabbit doesn’t want to tell the snake that she just likes to ask.

“Hey, I heard there’s a chicken wandering around a Big Chick parking lot. Let’s go see.”

The rabbit and snake infest the drive-ins and parking lots of all the fast food restaurants looking for the illusive chicken.

“I love routines and useless gestures.” The rabbit twirls on her hind legs because the cement is fragrant with meaty juices and odors.

The women that walk by smell of oranges, lemons, make-up, perfume, lavender, and oatmeal for their skin. The men smell of steaks and swimming pools and the scents of the women. The children chase the rabbit or throw hula-hoops or raise their cell phones to take a photograph of the wild.

“I don’t think I belong here,” the rabbit confides to the snake.

“All the more reason for a party,” is the reply before his body stiffens into a strange posture and he hurries after a querulous squirrel.

“We can’t help who we are,” the little rabbit murmurs at the window of the pet store to some fish circling and circling, their fluid conversations inside a bowl.

“Yes we can.” A fish curves around its own emptiness. “We are all failed creatures, but we can keep trying.” The fish moves its mouth so bubbles rise to the surface and pop. “My search is endless,” it says, swimming around the same corners again and again.

The rabbit hops to a large supermarket where a small dog runs out with something red and dripping in its mouth. “There used to be hunters and huts and wild animals roaming this land years ago,” the dog barks after gnawing the meat and swallowing it. The dog’s owner hurries out and chides the dog about its future. “Who do you want to be?” she yells.

At the Chinese restaurant the rabbit is invited inside. There is a benevolent red and gold glow to all the furniture.

“No package food here,” the owner states.

“Good place for party,” as if he is reading the rabbit’s mind.

The man nudges some chopsticks toward the rabbit and brings a sampling of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy food and sets it on a round table. The rabbit briefly tastes everything and smiles. She relaxes, leaning back in her chair, as if the very thing she has been looking for all this time had been found. Oh, she had tried to have this party for so long. All the animals, dogs, snake, rats, cats, squirrels, frogs, possums, raccoons, coyote, and even the wandering chicken, show up at the same moment as if they had already received invitations. They fill the restaurant suddenly, eat all the remaining food, and then they leave. The rabbit is left nothing but the bill, which the man says she must work the rest of her life at the restaurant to pay.

Marital Predictions

My second husband has flourished. In the twenty seven years we’ve been together he has become more nervous, attentive, grateful. Sometimes I know what he’ll say before he says it. He can’t predict what I will say, which is fine. He once tried to leave me at his parents’ house, when I didn’t know them yet, so he could take a trip with his twin brother. We hardly take trips together. The desire for sex endures. While he doesn’t like yard work, I do. He cooks preemptively, drives more, and lives in a house more cluttered than the one I want to live in. We will shrink into one another. We don’t have children, so silence will follow us, although our lips are constantly moving. We fit together in most ways. When we have a fight, which is seldom, I stop talking to him until he can surpass his stubbornness to glimpse my way of thinking. I have made him cry, which broke my heart. We both suffered when our elderly cat died. My husband is patient and I am not. He has long toenails so he won’t get ingrown ones. He likes old things, including me. I am five years older than he is. With all things machinery, he needs to be right. We play good cop/bad cop in many different situations and I’m always the bad cop. We both work part-time, often together, and use our own faces for what’s to come.

We found Seattle separately and met through friends. He arrived at my rented house with its disjointed rooms for our first few dates. I wasn’t very interested, having recently divorced and what was broken felt continuously in danger of breaking again. I was a ghost exercising her possibilities. I was a mermaid trying to make a living. He had never been married, had a mustache and thick black shoes. I had my suspicions but eventually abandoned them. Our mouths staggered and he grew tenacious about marriage. I declined and declined. He removed whatever was stuck in my hair, brushed it. I said yes. My throat stopped its drinking. The city ached from small earthquakes, weak houses, tender boats, and water gathered everywhere. He decided NO a week before the ceremony. My breath betrayed me. We both did better, married. We were lucky, collapsed into one another. For twenty seven years we’ve spoken what we knew, found a phosphorescent gentleness, squandered our bodies, and sought proof for our revisions, living in the same city where we started. It could have happened differently. And I’m still asking, Are you coming with me?