The Presence of Absence: A Response to Raymond Luczak’s once upon a twin by Sara Paye

Copyright © February 10, 2021
Poetry
$15.95, 96 pages
Gallaudet University Press
ISBN 978-1-944838-76-8

 

 

 

 

The Presence of Absence: A Response to Raymond Luczak’s once upon a twin
by Sara Paye

Readers of Raymond Luczak’s once upon a twin will be exposed to a variety and a lifetime of not only “what ifs” but also “whys”, astutely answered with imagination and a personal kind of science combined. The cover image shows an angelic figure lifting up one arm as if to worship, with beams of light behind. It must be a spiritual symbol for perseverance, for there is a mountain peak in the distance as well. Our narrator creates memoir with the guise of poetry in his own perspective between the years of 1965 and 1981. 

Throughout the work, Luczak makes known the absence of his possible twin, in such a way that the reader is encouraged to believe every word surmised. He writes, “the only thing found in morass of trees & grasses / was my shadow barely alive / panting for my kiss / sleeping forlorn prince” (7), and instantly the reader is seeing a blurry reflection, curious, made to wonder who returns their gaze. A visual becomes haunting, created within the first few pages of the book, just as the author’s twin was supposedly formed and faded within the first few months of their mother’s gestation. The reader will have the opportunity to come to these profound conclusions through Luczak’s striking and meandering words. 

From the first page, Luczak makes it clear that there is a world of untapped information as it is shared or withheld by his mother: the pregnancy, the miscarriage, and the eventual birth. But Luczak will get to be the master of his own rebirth, for he dares to write. Beginning with 9 months, the narrator’s mother is outlined as a woman who changes her story repeatedly, and Luczak provides something akin to a logical quiz.

then mom changes details again

she says she had a d&c done in february 65

when she felt her fetus wasnt growing

it wasn’t even 2 centimeters long

no idea whether it was a boy or girl

i am no longer sure what to believe (Luczak 2)

As the final line reads, “I am no longer sure what to believe,” the tone is set as to how the narrator will guide the reader through the following pages as a co-detective, investigating story and truth—and if not these, comfort in discovery. 

A poem which exhibits the desire of the narrator to help, to save, to rescue his missing half is my corpse self.

the darkness of him

transparent

bright shining eyes

begging me to save him

alone in these woods (Luczak 8)

Loneliness may not sink in until many years after these childhood nightmares and yet it informs the present and future of the narrator’s life. This is lamentable and consoled by Luczak’s writing. For some readers, the idea of knowing a twin or sibling but only in a spiritual dreamscape will be painfully relatable. Knowing that we all cope with our absent loved ones differently, but with the same longing, is a solace. When reading if you were my twin, the reader may consider all the lives they may have led with their counterpart—how they must have relished in joy and commiserated in fear together. This is a pivotal aspect of Luczak’s work. 

wed play old maid gin rummy go fish

while the sun dappled shadows & light

through the mottle of pine trees above us

wed never talk about them boys

being alone with you would be

a cake slice from heaven (Luczak 30)

There is a sense that the narrator and his Deafness, his being bullied, or his need for companionship is experienced now through the writing of this work as a balm to his heart, and the reader is aware that in the way that Luczak so deeply feels, he communicates with equal depth. When missing pieces of history pester our memories, we fill in the blanks until our stories feel like ours. 

Luczak offers a direct poetic style in his phrasing that is accessible and reads with fluidity. His use of shorter lines and his dismissal of punctuation helps the reader pace and process the content as seen here in london dreaming, especially as this piece displays a dialogue and a meeting between two characters.

i was born in america

brighton boy here he says

or something like that

as i haven’t had a chance 

to turn on my hearing aid

so im never sure (Luczak 49)

The internal conflict presented by the narrator is heartbreaking, curious, and brings the reader right into the present moment of the poem, its issues, and its uncertainty. A perfect example of this is repeated in its inverse, this time with remedy and assuredness, in my first phone call.

waiting for the phone to ring back

with him not saying anything

because he knew how

i didnt need to hear his voice

to know he was my best friend (Luczak 66)

Luczak expresses the title’s concept with poems varying from a double helix kyrie in english and asl gloss to holy communion. His poems are stories of reflection, whether in form or in spirit. The work of the words is not only in their construction, but in their meanings, as each chosen word is placed to fill an empty space where someone (a twin, a best friend, a lover) may have sat. If we are to see ourselves as dynamic beings—fully known and loved besides—as Luczak describes with his poems in Once Upon a Twin, there may be a desire to know this “other twin,” this counterpart mentioned so frequently. Yet continue to inquire until you know thyself along with Luczak, and there is an opportunity for an important connection to the author and to one’s own dreams, wishes, and ultimately one’s own soul cells. 

As with a telephone call, so with the sharing of a slice of cake, and Luczak has a masterful way of describing the presence of absence with daily living experiences so that the poetry is, for the most part, resting on the wings of all that didn’t make the page. Luczak’s work helps the reader understand they are not alone, no matter how lonely. There is solidarity in knowing how the creativity of one’s life may free us from the darkest corners of mystery. 

*

Sara Paye (she/them) of Las Vegas, Nevada, is an awarded writer and Creative Writing MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada University. Paye’s published works are in Funicular Magazine and The National Women’s History Museum, among other locations. See their website at sarapaye.com.

Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever by Heather Routh

2020
Fiction
$25.99; 306 pages
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-9821-3246-0

 

 

 

Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever
by Heather Routh

Rachel Beanland’s debut novel is based on a real-life family story, passed down through generations. It explores the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect one daughter while silently suffering the loss of another. In Atlantic City in 1934, Joseph and Esther Adler’s youngest daughter, Florence, drowns while training to swim the English Channel. Eldest daughter, Fannie, is on strict hospital bedrest due to a high-risk pregnancy. Fearing that the news could cause Fannie to lose the baby, after losing one the year before, Esther decides to keep the tragedy from her for the remainder of the pregnancy—the entire summer. 

This becomes more problematic than Esther could have guessed. The news must be kept out of the paper, as well as their close-knit Jewish community, and the doctor and hospital staff are sworn to secrecy in order to minimize the risk of Fannie finding out from someone outside the family. This leaves the family without a support system to help them grieve. Soon they become deeply entwined in a web of complicated lies to cover Florence’s absence. Although this is done from a place of love, the effect isolates Fannie further. Everyone must guard what they say. It becomes easiest to avoid visits with her altogether, including the nurses on her ward, making only the necessary daily rounds but no longer staying to chat the way they once had. Her husband, Isaac, finds it a convenient excuse to visit only a few days a week and very briefly. Poor little 7-year-old daughter, Gussie, is kept away from her mother during a most confusing time.

I was most intrigued by the idea of writing a historical fiction piece where so much time had passed since the actual event, providing time to erode facts as well as open the possibility for exaggeration of elements due to repeated retelling. How does one find balance between preserving the family memory and building a compelling story? Beanland answers this by providing a thought-provoking tale filled with complicated and beautifully flawed characters. According to the author, a few characters are composites of real family members, while others never existed outside the author’s imagination. Yet they all come to life in the book, drawing the reader into tangled relationships and family drama.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, weaving in their story, their connection with Florence, and how they are coping with her death individually. We learn a lot about Florence through their eyes. It also provides a nice comparison between the characters, such as Stuart’s desire to prove his differences from his father—he is unwilling to use his family name as a leg up in life, preferring to work hard to achieve his own success. On the other hand, Isaac, who comes from humble beginnings, prefers to scheme and plot to get ahead, most often to the detriment of those closest to him. He is always looking for the next big thing that will provide the most reward with the least amount of effort. Although Esther is a devoted wife and mother, she is extremely judgmental, often unwilling to uncover the entire story before misjudging those around her. Many of her decisions seem selfish and rash. Meanwhile, her husband Joseph is much more level-headed and willing to help anyone that might need it. Sisters Fannie and Florence are separated by more than just age, but also by their life goals and dreams, each unable to see the value in the other’s choices. 

Beanland has done a remarkable job recreating 1930s Atlantic City for readers—immersing us in wonderful detail of the lifeguard stations, the boardwalk with the bizarre Couney’s incubator exhibition, and the family-owned beach hotels—as well as the growing bureaucratic struggle American Jews undertook to help their European family and friends emigrate from Nazi Germany while they could. One can almost feel the hot, muggy coastal climate and cramped living conditions adding to the tension and frustrations the family is experiencing.

Florence Adler Swims Forever is a well-written, poignant historical fiction from a gifted storyteller exploring a family’s love and sacrifice in an uncertain time. It is well worth the read.

*

Heather Routh is a Marketing and Advertising Copywriter and Social Media Strategist. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her three sons and three dogs, and is obsessed with 70s rock albums, classic muscle cars, and murder mysteries. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada University.

We May Not Have To Walk Alone: A Response to Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life by Sara Paye

Copyright © November 2020
Poetry
$12, 33 pages
PANK Books
ISBN is not yet available

 

 

 

 

We May Not Have To Walk Alone: A Response to Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life
by Sara Paye 

Readers of Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life will walk through (not over, around, or under) victimhood to pedophilia. The cover image warns, while the yellow circle in its upper left-hand invites. The setting must be winter, for bare trees enshroud a black and white photograph of a one-story house, with a porch and gravel lot in front. Our narrator creates poetry from the point of view of someone in a small, quiet town, where nothing needs saying, where silence wins. 

Throughout Still Life, Priest outlines and draws images that captivate the imagination, so the reader seeks to turn through pages as a participant, to walk though scenes with caution and curiosity. She writes, “their fingers probing like dental tools inside a timid orifice” (12), and instantly the reader is in an uncomfortable dental seat, violated, made to believe it is all so necessary. A lie becomes rote, supposedly “for good.” The reader will have the opportunity to come to these profound conclusions through Priest’s gracious prose-like poems.  

From the first page, Priest shows specific and personal scenes describing her pedophile as master of some small space: the humid bathroom, the kitchen while making breakfast, or perhaps the front lawn, scattered with toys. In my pedophile is performance ready, the pedophile carefully corrects an analog clock, and Priest provides a striking image.

he reshapes the face of the clock… the 0 in 10 sucking in its sides to impress his audience as he squeezes his hand around the 6 / reaches for a 5 / changes his mind // asks for a 4 / drinks soda water out of a cup // the 3 taking a deep breath / noticing the outline of the 1 (Priest 15)

As the final line reads, “noticing the outline of the 1,” there is a slight innuendo or associative thought that allows the reader to almost become triangulated as an involved character in the vignette, helpless to protect. 

A poem which reflects the lasting pain of sexual assault is my pedophile times all my future orgasms

if he says we have time it is the shape of the glass // how it is blown with air // how the glassblower covers its mouth and handles its bulb // how light is a word for knowledge / weight / and touch // how all are invisible // and if I believe it is time it is the bubble / the oxygenated seed (Priest 16)

Sexual trauma which takes place years ago informs the present and future. As readers lament, Priest’s writing consoles. For some readers, their left hip will remember trauma better than the conscious mind. Knowing that we are not alone in this phenomenon is a solace. When reading my pedophile dates all my future partners, we may consider how walking around unseen but longing for visibility is suddenly as perplexing as it is pivotal to Priest’s work. 

the bourgeois matter of a latte / smiling emoji / gleaming bright teeth // how it makes a horror of laughter / its simpering witnesses texting themselves clean // the excuse of himself in the bathroom / the break room / the Ramen noodle joint near the corner of Mac and Albert streets (Priest 22)

There is a sense that everyday things like latte foam or the ability to walk to a favorite restaurant are experienced now as memory-tainted privileges, and the reader is aware that freedom is not the reality for everyone. When past trauma influences memory, psychological trappings may keep us from walking forward. 

Priest offers a direct poetic style in her phrasing that is accessible and reads with fluidity. Her use of shorter and longer lines coupled with forward slashes or double-forward slashes helps the reader pace and process the content as seen here in the first poem presented in the chapbook, my pedophile is obsessed with details, as well as with others.

the hard wood floors / he says / are essential // having nothing to do with my hands or my feet / or how they are connected to my body // or how he wants the right to space everything symmetrically // rearrange a life in the most appropriate way (Priest 3)

The imagery and choice of subject are tactile, sensory, and bring the reader right into the present moment with the narrator, her acute observations, and her questions. A perfect example of this is in my pedophile feels the need to dance

wraps himself in yards of cellophane / shoots himself full of tiny white spines // from where? // unknown // but this is too much to juggle // too much to jugular / gesticulate / ejaculate / believe // so porcupines are freed and this seems to satisfy the audience / disinterested (Priest 21)

Priest expresses the title’s literal concept with phrases like “a couch fainting with love” (10). The inanimate object takes on the emotion and ability of a person. If inanimate objects embody emotion, as is often the perceived result of trauma, then perhaps those bodies who inflict trauma may too be stilled or frozen by way of always being on their victims’ minds—perhaps they become Still Life. As with the dance, so with the clock, and Priest has a masterful way of describing lewd acts juxtaposed with daily living experiences so that the poetry is, for the most part, in the allusion. Priest’s poetry eases the reader into understanding that they are not alone. There is solidarity in knowing how thoughtful and precise language may free us from memory-frozen places. 

*

Sara Paye (she/they) of Las Vegas, Nevada, is an awarded writer and Creative Writing MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada University. Paye’s published works are in Funicular MagazineThe Stay Project, and The Ice Colony. See website at sarapaye.com.

Book Review: Charles Leerhsen’s Butch Cassidy: The True Story of an American Outlaw

2020
Nonfiction
$28; 320
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781501117480

 

 

 

 

Charles Leerhsen’s Butch Cassidy: The True Story of an American Outlaw
by Scott Bradfield

This charming, unpretentious biography of Butch Cassidy’s life shows that at least several events in the charming, unpretentious 1969 film (scripted by the great William Goldman) were fairly accurate. For example, Butch was reportedly charismatic, blue-eyed and handsome, if not exactly in a Paul Newman-ish sort of way; the Sundance Kid (alias of Harry Longabaugh, who committed some early crimes in Sundance, Wyoming) was blond and surly—much like a typical sixties Robert Redford performance; and the third wheel on the relationship, Ethel Place (often mis-referred to as Etta, and played by Samantha Ross) was both beautiful and glamorous. Born and raised in Ireland, Ethel originally came to America searching for her errant aristocratic father [1365], and one typical contemporary described her as “good-looking, a good rider, and an expert with a rifle” [3129].

Even the movie’s second-most memorable scene—depicting the robbery of the No. 1 Overland Limited near Wilcox Station, Wyoming on 2 June 1899 [2647]—resounds with verisimilitude, right down to the stroppy clerk (memorably played by the great character actor, George Furth) refusing to open his car door to the “Hole-in-the-wall gang.” And so they blow open the car with him in it. (“I work for Mr E.H. Harriman and he entrusted me to—” Boom.) The Union Pacific’s owner, E. H. Harriman, even organized a “mobile posse” to ride along in a separate train—but they were far from the “super posse” devised by Goldman. Rather it was the Pinkerton Detective Agency who vigorously pursued Butch and his gang—so much so that many years later they were still attributing crimes to Butch that he never committed.

But unlike a good script, Bitch’s life lacked compression. Born Robert Leroy Parker to a Mormon family in Beaver, Utah (his parents didn’t practice polygamy, but still managed to produce thirteen children), he spent his youth performing conventional jobs around ranches, horse-stables, and cow-herds; and as he grew older, his spontaneous desire for wild travel and even wilder friends led him to occasional bursts of cattle-rustling, horse-stealing, and the robbing of banks and trains. For while Butch was a dependable worker during the periods when he was dependable, there was something about dissolute living that always called him back again—especially when it came to boozing, faro-playing, girls, partying, and stealing. Then, of course, there was just the plain dumb ease of outlawry during the cattle-boom years when Wyoming and Colorado were filled with gun-and-booze-crazed cowboys. In one of Butch’s first big jobs—the payroll wagon for the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in Castle Gate, Utah—his randomly assembled “gang” could depend on the bi-weekly delivery of $8000 by two men whose pistol-hands were occupied with moneybags. And if the delivery didn’t arrive as scheduled, the company blew a loud steam whistle to let their employees (and any robbers who might be lying around) know exactly when it did [2535]. Piece of cake.

As wild west historian Dan Buck noted, “those boys may have been wild, but they surely weren’t much of a bunch” [2542.] Butch attracted lots of loose men and women who regularly entered and departed his orbit, and those who lived to recall Butch for the public record (they tell us he was fond of Tiffany watches, dandy-ish duds, bowler hats and clean shaves) usually recalled him fondly. One former gang member called him “the wisest of all the outlaws I knew,” and even a Wyoming judge who convicted him (and later wrote a letter to the governor seeking his pardon), described him as “a brave, daring fellow well calculated to be a leader” [227]. And while it’s not entirely certain how many banks and trains Butch robbed, his haulings were often munificent—when he and Sundance opened their first bank account in Bolivia in 1900, their savings amounted to a quarter million dollars in today’s currency. Yet he was never known to take another life. As one of his partners noted: “Our greatest defense was our reputation as bad men” [189.] When Butch and his men told bank tellers and train guards to “throw ‘em up,” they got throwed.

As Leerhsen argues, Butch’s popularity may have been even more effective with men than with ladies; and there exist reports that he and many of his fellow male riders—such as long-time friend and partner, Elzy Lay—may have shared a good deal of “mutual solace” [741]. In other words, if Butch’s story was dramatically filmed today it might involve a lot less Jules et Jim and a bit more Brokeback Mountain.

Nevertheless, Butch never stayed in the same place for very long; and each brief flurry of robberies was followed by longer periods of hard, relatively humble work. Butch helped out (Shane-like) on ranches; acted as a foreman on cattle-drives; and for several years before his death, established a large horse-breeding ranch in Chubut, Bolivia with Sundance and Ethel Place, where he was remembered as a clean and prosperous community-member. (“They had a washstand with a fine pitcher and basin,” one neighbor recalled, “and she put drops of perfume in the water. They set the table with a certain etiquette—napkins, china plates.”) But even after years of clean living, Butch couldn’t leave the wild life behind. “There’s no use trying to hide out and go straight,” he once said. “There’s always an informer around to bring the law on you. After you’ve started, you have to keep moving all the time and spring a holdup in some new place. That way you keep the fellows guessing.”

Eventually, Butch and Sundance relapsed into their old ways; they were spotted with a stolen mule, and surrounded by a small town mayor and his townspeople. But that’s where the similarity ends. Instead of a glamorous freeze-frame shootout, Butch privately shot his old friend in a motel room and then himself. Death didn’t scare Butch so much as being locked up.

Leerhsen’s fun, amiable new book does a concise job of sorting what little is known about Butch from all the balderdash generated over the century by dime-novels and weird-historians. (One “buff” went so far as to speculate that Butch was a “clone” who did everything from ride with Pancho Villa to teach Lawrence of Arabia “how to derail trains” [670]). But then, who needs hyper-imaginative Butch-buffs? As Leerhsen makes clear—Butch Cassidy’s real life was filled with a lot of better, wilder stories than a bunch of silly clones.

*

Scott Bradfield is a novelist, short story writer and critic, and former Professor of American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Connecticut. Works include The History of Luminous MotionDazzle Resplendent: Adventures of a Misanthropic Dog, and The People Who Watched Her Pass By.  Stories and reviews have appeared in TriquarterlyThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Los Angeles Times Book ReviewThe Baffler, and numerous “best of” anthologies. He lives in California and London.

He has stories and essays forthcoming in The Weird Fiction ReviewThe New StatesmanThe Best From Potato Soup JournalDelmarva ReviewThe BafflerThe MothAlbedo OneThe New RepublicThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and Flash Fiction Magazine.

He has written several screenplaysfor Universal, Sony Pictures, Roger Corman’s ConcordeNew Horizons, and several independent film companies, including filmed adaptations of his short story, “The Secret Life of Houses” (for PBS) and his novel, “The History of Luminous Motion.” The short film adaptation of his story, “Greetings From Earth,” was featured at the 2007 Tribeca film festival.

In addition, he presents a weekly YouTube podcast on books entitled “Reading Great Books in the Bathtub.”

Book Review: Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God

 

2017
Fiction
$16; 368
Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-14-310943-3

 

 

 

Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God
by: Rebecca Evans

The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski, is both a tragic and coming of age memoir infused with elegant writing of religion, hardship, and courage. Grace Quanbeck, at seventeen, has just returned from a mission trip in Mexico and is pregnant. Her father, Dr. Quanbeck, a Havard-educated astronomer, reacts and moves Grace and her younger sister, Jory, just shy of fourteen, to a home away from their religious community and private Christian school set in rural Arco, Idaho in the 1970’s. Their new house, next door to Hilda Kleinfelter, who later becomes a strong support role as a surrogate parental figure.

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Book Review: Sheila Hamilton’s All the Things We Never Knew

 

2015
Memoir
$13.99; 312 pages
Seal Press
ISBN: 978-58005-584-0

 

 

 

Weaving a Narrative Case for Early Detection: Sheila Hamilton’s All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness 
by Lisa Peterson

“It is my hope that my experience might serve as a cautionary tale for other people who are concerned about a loved one’s mental health.” – Sheila Hamilton

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Book Review: Jill Talbot’s The Way We Weren’t

 

2015
Nonfiction
$15.95; 304 pages
Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593766153

 

 

 

Competing Histories of Shame: Jill Talbot on Family and Loss in The Way We Weren’t
by Michael Fischer

The mother stands at a window, staring out at the rehab center parking lot like a lonely, cooped up pet, waiting for her daughter. The daughter thinks she’s visiting her mother at “special school,” one where even the teachers don’t get to go home at night. She’s too young to know the truth. Besides, it’s Christmas.

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