Mentoring

Julian Schwinger (1918-1994)


Think carefully before taking me on
, young man. Push me and I’ll jam this pen into your eyeball so far that you’ll be reading my last novel in your nightmares. Fuck with me, and I’ll fuck with your future hard enough that you’ll still feel my dick in your ass 30 years from now when you’re sitting in your cubicle, cold-calling old ladies to try and sell them storm windows.
The stink from your story isn’t the sweet bouquet of a rose, it’s the stench washed from a urinal puck by a diabetic drunkard. Quit wasting my time with “art” and give me some grit!

* * * * *

This poem is part of a series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

Leafing

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.
ama loved the fall.  She said it made the air feel better, less stifling, less draining.  The summer meant freedom for us, but more work for her.  She would be sweating by the time she got home from work, and no amount of pool time or lemonade would make her cooler.  She was heating from the inside out, she said.  And then at the end of September, she began to breathe slower, and sweat less.  Something about the fall brought her back to life just when the plants began to die.  I used to think she went out at night and drank from the rose bushes, using the stems as straws.  Then she would be cheerful in the morning, making ginger pancakes for us while the roses littered the ground with their limp petals.

Everything fell to the ground in October.  Petals, leaves, even branches knocked down by the first wind we’d seen since April.  It was our job, my brother’s and mine, to pick up the debris of the season.  He was always a little bit off, my little brother.  He took it seriously, this chore.  He picked up the leaves individually, sorted them according to size, shape, color.  Branches he piled near the driveway, “for a bonfire”.  Daddy didn’t allow bonfires, he knew that.  But every year he asked, then cried when he didn’t get his way until Mama made him a s’more in the microwave.  They don’t taste the same, in case you’re wondering.  They taste stale.

His half of the lawn was laid out like a chessboard, all right angles and straight rows, red, orange, yellow, brown. Descending in order of death.  His glasses would slide down his nose as he bent over each pile, making sure all the leaves were going the same way.  Mama had to help him – he took too long by himself.  But I know she liked my side best.  The rake was twice as tall as I was, but I used it anyway, the top sticking out behind me like a witch’s broom.  I carefully raked over each section, pulling my leaves into a pile like discarded trash from a street fair.  Then I went back through on hands and knees, carefully stretching my fingers under chrysanthemum plants and paving stones to get every tiny fragment of leaf, and then crawling to my pile to add them deftly to the top.  I pushed down to compact each armful into the whole, pressing them against each other only to watch the pile spring back up when I removed my hands.  It took all afternoon, and my pink overalls had moist patches of dirt on the knees and grass stains on the calves.  Whenever Mama scolded me I would explain that this was her fault for making me do chores.  She never did have an answer for that.

I wanted to jump in the pile like people did in books and movies, but Daddy said no.  He said then we’d just have to do all the work over again.  It was all just trash, anyway, and who wanted to jump into a pile of trash?  He made my brother add his perfect leaf stacks to my chaotic mass of tree detritus, and predictably said “no” to the bonfire.  What if the ashes went into a neighbor’s house?  What if we couldn’t control the flame?  What if the leaves caught a spark and the whole house went up?  It was irresponsible, he said.  Mama nodded in the background over the potatoes she was peeling.  Daddy said he was too tired from work, he’d finish clearing the leaves tomorrow.  My brother ate his s’more.  I drank my maple milk.  We went to bed.

In the middle of the night I thought I heard the front door open.  There was a yellow square of light that shone dimly on my pile of leaves, revealing the black lump to be a jumble of playful colors that might grace a toddler’s nursery.  A black shadow raced across the light, and my mother landed softly in the middle of the cushioned clump.  She rolled back and forth and tossed the leaves into the air like confetti, spreading my perfect pile back to the four corners of the lawn.  The moon watched her as she kicked the last of the leaves towards the house, and picked a rose on her way back inside.

Impression № 024: Bath

Another by Richard Vergez.  Those nets are worrisome!

The Misery of Wisdom Christmas

00:15:06

No, no, happy to, sure. Sit yourself down.

Sure, I knew them well-

Here, you’re not recording this are you? It’s not going to be on the radio is it, no? Going to make a star of me, hah?

[laughs]

Not that I’d mind, but you know, some people round here, talking out of turn. . .

But aye, I knew them. Mother was a Darby from up by Slane way and the father, Patty, worked down with Hollis’ before they moved to Cavan and the brothers took it over. Building supplies, that sort of thing. Then there was the eldest Seanín who has the farm up the reservoir and they had one girl, Sandra, who had a bit of a run in with the Conroy lad.

He was the youngest, was Wisdom. Sure, what was his proper name, now? Jim or John or something like that. Can’t remember. Gone. It’ll come back to me.

But that was a bit of playground cruelty; calling him Wisdom. Not much upstairs, if you know what I mean, couple of nails shy of a coffin, but bless him, sure, as they say, his heart was in the right place. And sure the name-excuse me-the name-Christ-

[coughs]

The name stuck, as those things tend to do.

Ah Jaysus, what was his real name altogether?

[laughs]

.    .    .

He laughed like he was getting sick. Sounded like something catching in a drain, a mound of hair or something soft like that.

When he put one hand on my knee I saw they were tiny, like child’s hands, and the nails painted yellow.

And the gaudy clothes. The pink shirt showed his chest and grey hairs, and the trousers with their red and white stripes and he had a sort of necklace on tight, like a dog’s collar.

He looked like a

I don’t know what he looked like.

I want to use the right words to tell you what happened and why. I want to make you understand.

I’d watched him moving through the bog. Back and forth and round in circles, like he’d lost something. I guessed it was the silver egg I’d found along the path. I held it and waited for him to see me waving.

“Is this yours?” I said and he nodded, took the egg from me in his mouth.

It cracked inside and he swallowed sighing.

He called me a lifesaver, watching, grinning the egg yolk out the corners of his mouth.

For something to say I said to him, “What’re you looking for in the bog?”

He said “Ingredients.”

It started raining.

.    .    .

Harmless, aye harmless.

That’s the word I’d use.

Not a thought in his head, not a bad bone in his body.

But they were fierce cruel to him, the young fellahs down at the building site.

[coughs]

Making of a cod of him, you know, telling him to fetch tartan paint, bubbles for spirit levels, getting him to follow rainbows out into the bog.

That sort of thing.

Aye, cruel.

.    .    .

He took me to the old barn to sit out the worst rain.

He said I’d catch my death and what would he do then?

The barn stank and rain came through holes. He patted a bale and said I looked intelligent. Raindrops stood on his bald head, dripped from ginger curls over his ears.

I said my name’s Kevin but everyone calls me ‘Wisdom’ on account of the joke.

And he said they’re all wrong. He said I was a smart young man who knew bargains when he sees them.

His suitcase had MR OLM written on the lid. He took out a catalogue and handed it to me. SLIDING ROOMS it said.

I got black ink on my fingers from the yellow pages. I couldn’t read the squashed writing but I didn’t want to— strangeness. Fuzzy pictures of models had their heads cut off and holding things—metal and meat and cables and bubbles and tubes, dripping candle wax over fingers and bellies, over the tops of their legs.

Don’t know what to think about that.

He said pick one you want for all your help.

Wanted his hand off my knee.

Wanted him to stop smiling lipless.

I pointed.

It was at my door next morning.

Uk uk, it said.

Uk uk.

.    .    .

I saw him after mass once.

Tom, he says, Tom, should it be speaking all night? Is there something I should be saying back?

I knew there was something strange with Wisdom.

Stranger than usual.

.    .    .

I’ll explain the best I can but I’m not sure if these are proper words— I just don’t know why it was chosen for me or why anyone would want it.

Thick as my wrist and long as my shin, brown and pink with a bulb on the end, like a soft wood onion. Rows of bubbles and blisters popped when pushed.

If you looked you saw it grow with your breathing and if you touched it your fingers got greasy, like liquid soap.

And it spoke out of the hole in the top.

Uk uk all day.

Uk uk all night.

I’d wake and find it in bed. In the bath with me. It’d get in my hands, all hot and smooth.

Wouldn’t stop screaming. Wouldn’t eat anything— tried smoothing butter into its holes, dip it in milk, tried to stroke it calm but skin came off and it screamed louder.

Couldn’t get away.

.    .    .

And we all lost track of Wisdom Christmas.

Saw neither hide nor hair of him; not at mass, at the building site, or at the roundabout where he’d watch the buses come in and out.

Dropped off the face of the earth, you know?

And there was talk: sure, there’s always talk, you know how it is-

But someone said they’d seen him sitting on the edge of the reservoir, watching the water.

Or walking down the dual carriageway divide.

Or in the bog at midnight, moving back and forth, as if he was looking for something he’d lost.

.    .    .

Too big to flush down the toilet, screamed in the u-bend or in the fire. And the squish when I tried to stamp it— Felt like I was killing something living. Felt wrong.

I left it on the road so a car could come and take care of it. But there was a tapping at my bedroom window the next morning. It was there. Saying  Uk uk.

I tried leaving it further and further away, burying it deeper and deeper. I threw it in the reservoir.

It came back.

Always came back.

.    .    .

Aye and I came across him myself as well, two weeks before. . . you know. . .

Sitting on the side of the road, up by the church. Cold night too, and him only in his pyjamas.

One slipper.

So I goes over to him to see if he was alright-and he looks at me and he takes me arm and he says: The world’s too big. The world’s too big and cold and strange and I don’t understand. Help me Tom, I just don’t understand.

I took him home-he kept stopping me-getting me to listen. Do you hear that, Tom? Do you hear that?

Following me, always following-

Mother of Jaysus, he put the heart of Christ across me.

.    .    .

It was supposed to be a gift. Something people wanted.

Was there something I was supposed to know? Something everyone else knew? What was I supposed to do with it?

Sicking wax on my hands and belly.

Flies come eating it.

I couldn’t find that man again.

.    .    .

Before anyone could stop it, it spread from the flats to the bookmakers, and you could see the flames and the smoke from all over the village.

Drew a crowd.

But when they put out the fire and got into his flat there was no trace of him.

But sure we were looking for Wisdom in the wrong place.

.    .    .

That’s why I’ve to do what I’m doing.

Don’t be sad.

I’ll be better off.

Love you Mammy.

But it won’t leave me be.

KEVIN

.    .    .

He was in the reservoir.

Four of us pulled him out.

And we saw the. . . the thing.

Rats had been at it. But there was something tied to his naked chest, held tightly to him.

But that strip of flesh wasn’t his.

We cut it loose.

It made a noise like. . .

Uk.

Uk uk.

[silence]

The world’s too big, he’d said to me that night.

Too big. . . and too cold. . .

And he didn’t understand. . .

No, this world can spare no kindness for the likes of Wisdom Christmas. . .

[silence]

Aye, get us another pint there if you’re buying.

Good man yourself. Good-good man-

[coughs]

00:27:57

Impression № 023: Lala

Another sassy sixties lady from Laura Manfre.

POTUS #1, #3, #26, & #16: Carved in Stone

Mount Rushmore: Ready for Its Close-up

Final hair and makeup touch-ups before Mount Rushmore’s completion in 1941.

Completed actually is a bit of a stretch. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s original plan called for the figures to be carved head to waist but insufficient funding cut the presidents off at the throat.

Even in truncated form, the project’s price tag approached $1 million, which Austin Powers would appreciate as an enormous sum in an era when trillion wasn’t even a word. South Dakota schoolchildren chipped in $1,700, or the equivalent of  170,000 Lincoln pennies, 34,000 Jefferson nickels or 6,800 Washington quarters. Sucks to be Roosevelt, who not only doesn’t merit a coin but is forced to spend eternity staring at Lincoln’s mole (which measures 16” square, in case you were wondering, and isn’t visible from the main visitor area). Not that Teddy’s complaining. At least he snagged a spot, unlike Susan B. Anthony whose addition was banned by an act of Congress. If the Susan B. Anthony dollar was meant as some sort of belated compensation, it fell woefully short of the mark.

Mount Rushmore: As You’ve Never Seen It

All that debris makes it look like the memorial is constantly shedding boulders, but actually Mount Rushmore’s granite is quite stable, eroding at a rate of 1 inch every 10,000 years. Compare that with Niagara Falls, which loses a foot a year. Every fall, park service employees rappel down the face of the sculpture looking for cracks and fissures, which they caulk with silicone. (The average granite counter top in your kitchen does not require a similar annual sealing, despite what the quartz lobby would have you believe. Just a little inside joke for home remodelers.)

No, what you have at the base of the carving is essentially a giant garbage dump. About 450,000 tons of rock were blasted off the mountain during the 14 years the carvings were under construction. Not surprisingly, this junk pile is cropped out of pretty much every photo the public has ever seen of Mt. Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore: Keep Off!

Gutzon Borglum’s son, who completed the memorial when his father died unexpectedly in 1941, was named Lincoln. Coincidence? Did he have a secretary named Kennedy?

It’s doubtful that either Borglum senior or junior would recognize the “improvements” the park service made to Mt. Rushmore in the 1990s. A walkway positioned at the entrace to the memorial is bordered by pillars displaying flags from all 50 states and U.S. territories, whose sole purpose seems to be to obscure the carvings from view. Perhaps most disappointing for fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest: Visitors, and that would have included Cary Grant, aren’t allowed anywhere near the presidents. Access to the top is prohibited, to say nothing of scampering up Washington’s nose (which, at 21 feet, is a foot wider than the others’).

Mount Rushmore: A Sucker Born Every Minute

Mount Rushmore was initially conceived as a tourist trap. State historian Doane Robinson thought people would flock to South Dakota’s Black Hills if the mountains were peppered with images of personalities like Lewis and Clark and Buffalo Bill Cody. Borglum stepped in with the more dignified notion of carving the presidents. Washington was chosen to represent the birth of our country, Jefferson the expansion, Lincoln the preservation and Roosevelt the development.

It’s all so very high-minded, one might lose sight of the fact that Robinson ultimately had the last laugh. Two million people trek to the memorial annually, in a state with a population of roughly 800,000, to look at a rock. Keep in mind that many of these same folks, particularly those traveling along I-90 from the east, also stop off for a glimpse of the Corn Palace, a building stuccoed in corn.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 22

This past week, Dr. H’s team was on a research trip to the Hurleys homestead of County Cork, Ireland, but while we were in transit, you enjoyed the fruits of our most recent competition, our Irish Balderdash, town name extravaganza. Below, you’ll find the full list of entries. To vote for your favourite, click here!

Vote here! You have until Thursday night!

Besides the Irish goodness, you’ll also find our regular week’s contributions!

Fictional

Visual

Poetical

Breaking Ice

Breaking up weeks-old ice on the driveway,
I could be writing a poem.
I take a hoe, not designed for how I’ll use it,
and work against the freeze,
deeper than it appears, hard as rock,
the cold cuffing my wrists and ankles.

The next day, though, when it’s warm,
the sun dries off the melt,
the broken pieces glistening in piles,
like a hot rewarding meal,
clarity, solid and granular ground
on which to stand
or stare at through the window,
wondering how it was ever
any other way than this.

Stacy’s Stalkers

.

tacy had a thing for stalkers. She could remember each and every one of them and even if her memory failed her, she had a notebook where she kept track of these sorts of things. In the back of the notebook, she listed her top five all-time favorite stalkers:

  1. Albert. Albert was Stacy’s imaginary friend up until she was six years old. At that point, he claimed to move away. Two weeks after his supposed departure, he reappeared in the trees outside Stacy’s window. He never said anything, and he hid if Stacy tried to talk to him, but he was always there watching her. When Stacy moved away to college, Albert didn’t bother to follow. That was the last time she ever saw him.
  2. Adam. Adam went to Stacy’s elementary school. They were never in any of the same classes. She was never actually sure if he was even in her grade. She didn’t notice him until the fifth grade. He would follow her from handball court to handball court at recess, but never tried to say anything to her. In the sixth grade, he asked her if she needed help carrying her books. She didn’t. From then on, everyday he would find her outside her classroom at the end of the day and ask her again. One time she said yes, to see if he would leave her alone afterwards. He called her “Rachel” and sang to her “Blue Moon” with a convincing falsetto. Sure enough, the next day he was gone.
  3. Oren. In her sophomore year of high school, Stacy was accepted into a prestigious summer art school program. She mostly kept to herself and liked best to use the painting rooms in the middle of the night when no one else would be there. Four in the morning was generally her limit, and she would stagger back to her dorm room with a weak flashlight that gave things more of an ethereal glow rather than a spotlight. One day, she heard rustling in the bushes outside the painting rooms as she walked by. The flashlight revealed a boy from two of her classes. “What are you doing?” she had asked. Oren shook his head and ran. The same thing happened five more times in the next month. Then everyone went home for the new school year. He hadn’t even bothered to ask for her number.
  4. Kristen. Kristen began as a coworker. Their shifts overlapped so their conversations were never very long, but they got along well. Kristen was also an artist and they had similar music tastes. Stacy happened to run out her lease at the same time as Kristen was looking for a new roommate. Kristen put forth an offer, and Stacy said she would think about it. She invited Kristen out for drinks so that she could judge if their personalities matched enough to make compatible roommates. Although they had a good time, Stacy ended up electing to live in some less expensive apartments on the other side of town. Kristen did not take this news well. She began following Stacy after work. This culminated in a confrontation in the work parking lot during which the manager had to come and lead Kristen back inside after Kristen tried to kiss Stacy, who was more shocked than unwilling. A week later, Kristen quit and Stacy never saw her again.
  5. Damon. Damon…

Damon’s story wasn’t written yet. But he did something no other stalker had done: He wrote her haikus on small typewriter notes and hid them through her day at the university for her to find. Once she found one tucked into the door of her car. Once in her backpack. Once in her pocket. That one was her favorite. Damon had green eyes and black hair. He could climb trees quick as a cat and could gracefully move through bushes without a sound. His animal scent mixed with his aftershave was intoxicating. Stacy felt her knees weaken whenever the fragrance neared. She knew his name only because he worked in the library and wore a nametag around his neck. Whenever she tried to catch his eye amongst the rows and rows of books, he pretended not to notice her.

She hadn’t realized that she had rearranged her days to give him more opportunities to find her, until the day he went missing and she was forced to wonder why she was taking the routes she did and loitering when she had plenty to do. It alarmed her to have no notes, to not have his comforting presence near, to have no idea where he could possibly be.

It was three weeks before she finally could stand it no longer. She could not sleep. She spent all day rereading her haikus. Her days lost their focus. Enough was enough.

For the first time in her life, Stacy decided to take an active role in her romances. She went to the local copy shop and made copies of some of his poems. From them she cut out words and taped them together to compose him a letter: “You are gone. Find me please. I miss you.”

She went to the library and asked if he was working that day. He had quit. Three weeks ago. They didn’t know where he had gone.

Feeling her heart harden and then crack under the pressure, Stacy gasped and ran outside. She melted near a planter and let her head bow into her lap, her elbows shutting out any daylight.

A flutter of paper awoke her from her spell, and she looked up. Six inches in front of her in the grass, a paper crane sat and eyed her. Her eyes darted around but she could see no one. She lifted the crane and caressed it in her palm. It smelled like him. She opened it. That typewriter print for which she had been longing winked at her.

“I love you too.”

Stacy laughed so hard she felt her eyes well up and begin leaking. She brought the paper up to her nose (which, unfortunately, would never again be a crane), and inhaled as deeply as she could. Then she took out her stalker notebook and began writing Damon’s story. She drew hearts in the columns.

Never before had she more looked forward to walking home alone.

Vote for your favorite Irish Balderdash!

Now is the time! Vote for your favorite Irish Balderdash story! You have one week!