WORDWRIGHTS #16 • Summer 1999 Edition • $5.95 US • $8.95 Canada

POETRY by Brian Andris • Jennifer Arin • Gary Blankenburg • Dean Blehert • Glen Chesnut • Maxine Combs • Bruce Curley • Rafaella del Bourgo • E. Doyle-Gillespie • Jeremy Gregersen • Ann B. Knox • M.L. Liebler • Mariposa • Larissa Lomacky Moore • Miles David Moore • David Thornbrugh • Angela Vogel
PROSE by Vivekan Don Flint • Sharon Goldner • Jamie Holland • Rebekah Jensen • M.L. Liebler • Tim Lockette • Matthew L. Moffett • Rebecca Motil • Judith Podell • Len Schweitzer

SPECIAL FEATURE: Profile of A.D. WINANS by Andrew Lander.
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A Poem by DEAN BLEHERT


GUILTY CAGES OF THE GUILD

We ought to write our poems for the ages,
Not for the aegis, but time doesn’t pay;
Fine patrons pay the upkeep for fine cages.

We have to please the folks who pay our wages.
We say what editors want us to say.
We ought to write our poems for the ages.

Government agencies, colleges pay for pages
That no one reads. We can’t come out and play;
Our patrons pay the upkeep for our cages.

No wonder mobs of philistines outrage us:
We work for those who keep the mobs that way,
Too dumb to read a poem for the ages,

Poor brutes—for so say Freud and all our sages—
Whose brutehood fine allusions can’t allay:
Their cages aren’t as tasteful as our cages.

Chapbooks, awards, anthologies assuage us.
Our schools now drug the kids who won’t obey.
We ought to write our poems for the ages,
But there’s no pay for rattling our cages.


A Story by TIM LOCKETTE


HARRIET WESTBROOK

Harriet Westbrook is stepping over the railing of a bridge. She looks into the water. She’s ready to jump.

Don’t think of the Thames, and don’t try to reconstruct Regency London in your mind. Make it easy. Think of a bridge familiar to you, the one nearest your home, the nearest one broad and tall enough for suicide. Leave her in a period dress if you like: that requires little enough imagination. Or dress her in jeans and a sweater, a long, formless sweater of the sort women wear when they don’t like the way they look. Just remember that this is the first wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Remember that she has borne his child, and remember that he is in Italy right now with a new wife, at the height of his powers.

Her sweater is long and gray. It fails to hide the extra weight she would like to lose. Her face has an open-ended look at the bottom, the look you associate with age and weight. Once there was a chin, and a jawline, but now the face has a sacklike appearance. Something about the look of Harriet Westbrook tells you that she has aquired twenty pounds of the sort of weight one never loses. This face will not come back together again—it will only continue to lose definition. If she hopes ever to find love again, it will have to be a love based on something deeper than physical attraction. Harriet Westbrook is about to throw herself off a bridge.

• • • • •

Harriet was a big Van Halen fan when she was a kid. Her favorite album was 1984 and her favorite song, ironically, was “Jump.” You might have forgotten the words, so here’s a reminder:
Might as well jump!
Go ahead, jump!
Better go on and jump!
Go ahead, jump!
As you can see, they’re even more meaningless than you remember. But to a 14-year-old in 1985, meaninglessness had a meaning of its own. Harriet’s obsession with the song frightened her parents. They were pretty sure the song was an encouragement to commit suicide.

“You just don’t understand,” Harriet whined to her parents. “It’s not about jumping off anything or onto anything. It’s not about jumping from any one place to any other. This song is just about the act of jumping, about how good it is to jump. Wake up and smell the Eighties, for God’s sakes.”

“Jamie’s Crying” was another of Harriet’s favorites. She liked to imagine herself being seduced, like the main character in the song, by some mysterious, rootless wanderer who gives her a night of passion and then leaves her to a life of histrionic mourning. A secret night of passion with a muscular 25-year-old in a white T-shirt. Maybe two nights. She would like to have at least one rendezvous in a barn if she can find one—she’s seen this so often on TV—and she’d like one in a hotel room at Days Inn. Hotel rooms always make her think of summer trips to Florida, of walking around in less than her underwear in front of hundreds of strangers. Before she dies she intends to have sex with a man seated on a toilet sanitized for his protection.

In 1990, Tone Loc sampled a guitar riff from “Jamie’s Crying” for his hit song “Wild Thing.” Percy Bysshe Shelley was among the millions of young men who were infuriated by this blatant theivery. He dedicated himself to spreading the news of this injustice, and told almost every one he knew. Once he stood on a table at Taco Bell, and vehemently denounced the rapper as a fraud with no talent. Most of the patrons ignored him, but one man (who ordered the chimichanga plate) applauded.

That was why Harriet Westbrook fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley. She loved the determination in his eyes when he railed against Vanilla Ice, Bon Jovi, and Milli Vanilli. A man is always sexy when he has a cause greater than himself.

• • • • •

There are those who say that suicide is the result of poor storytelling. People kill themselves, they say, because their stories seem to have come to an end—their lives have reached the point at which a tragic play would come to a bloody close. Veterans, for instance, have a reputation for self-destruction. After being discharged, they lose their storylines. They have no idea what to do next.

Most scholars of literature now accept the once-controversial theory that suicide, as a literary device, was developed by lazy writers seeking “easy out”—essentially, a form of literary cheating. Once ridiculed as heresy, the theory has gained credence since the discovery of Konstantin Treplyev’s suicide note. In the note, the hero of The Seagull makes it plain that he originally intended to run away to Moscow and share a bachelor pad with Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. He decided to commit suicide only under pressure from Anton Chekov, who in turn was under pressure from his creditors.

“Anton says you can’t end a play like this,” the note stated. “A bottle of ether exploding—people will hate it! I do this, then, to insure a longer career for my fellow characters. I love you all, and may God forgive me.”

Since the discovery of that note, questions have arisen concerning the death of Hedvig in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. A select team of deconstructionists has discovered bullet wounds in Hedvig’s skull which are consistent with an execution-style slaying. Newly-released autopsy reports show traces of chloroform around Hedvig’s mouth, and a number of fibers found on her body match those in one of Mrs. Ibsen’s favorite sweaters.

A group of young writers, calling themselves The Fifth Column, has begun to call attention to these discrepancies by holding protests at productions of Ibsen and Chekov plays. Fifth Columnists buy theater seats at strategic locations and jump up at different moments during a play, holding signs which read “Coverup” and “Save Hedvig.” Members of the group typically conceal the signs inside large overcoats, and a number of Universities and community theaters have begun routine full-body searches of theater-goers.

• • • • •

It’s not that hard to push an innocent young woman off a bridge. You only think that it is, because you’re one of those ivory-tower types who read literary magazines. You’ve heard the accusation a thousand times, and a thousand times you’ve denied it, but you must admit that it’s true. The first time you heard how American soldiers skewered Apache babies on Christmas Day, you said to yourself, “I don’t see how anyone could do that.” You said that: admit it.

You may as well learn now, and get it over with. You gag her, and then you put a bag over her head: that’s how you rape an Indian girl. That way you can’t hear her scream, and you can’t see the anguish in her eyes. Then take the bag, put her baby brother in it, and bash it against a rock: that’s the Christian way to kill a baby. Make sure you give it a good, hard swing, like your little league coach taught you: you don’t want any sound or movement in there when you’re through. And whatever you do, don’t open the bag afterward. The urge to do so can be surprisingly tempting.

You may want to train ahead of time, using cats and other small animals. The US Cavalry attempted this once during the Indian Wars, but discontinued the practice due to cost overruns. The cost of burlap was too high to justify the one-time use of thousands of sacks. In our age of disposability, however, students may find practice to be both affordable and quite rewarding.

You will also need to prepare yourself in advance with routine verbal vaccination. Several times per day, come right out and admit that what you’re doing is wrong, and then immediately say the word “but.”

If you’re not quite sure how to do it, look at some old news reports from the Gulf War. The six-week conflict generated thousand of hours of just this sort of speech. The man on the street says: “Of course this is the toughest thing a Presdient has to do but of course no one hates war more than a warrior but of course war is hell but.” Practice until you sound just like a President. You’ll find that this is much more fun than you expected.

Of course, you may not have time to practice. Circumstances may require you to push an innocent woman off a bridge with only a few minutes’ notice. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Just follow these steps:

1) Approach the woman while she is standing near the edge of the bridge. Do not greet her, and try not to look directly at her.

2) When you are within arms’ length of the woman, turn your back to her.

3) Softly and rapidly, say this sentence to yourself 100 times: “I have nothing against homosexuals, but I am repulsed by their lifestyle.”

4) Turn, very quickly, and shove the woman off the bridge. DO NOT PAUSE FOR ANY REASON. Push very hard, as she may not want to give up her lifestyle, and will very likely struggle if given a chance.

5) Turn and walk away, even if you aren’t sure she is drowning. The temptation to watch can be very strong, but watching an innocent woman drown can cause debilitating psychological problems. Studies have shown that those who watch these drownings often develop an unreasonable sense of connection between the act of shoving and the death which often follows. Because of this, readers are advised to use this method only in an emergency.


• • • • •

All that stuff about Hedvig and Ibsen was a preposterous lie. There is no Fifth Column. There is only a single young writer, typing lies into a computer. Writers, like terrorists, tend to exaggerate their own importance, and over-represent their own power. The Unabomber, for instance, pretended to represent a group called “FC.” You just can’t trust people who spend their lives mailing packages to complete strangers.

Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, incidentally, was killed by a pipe bomb shortly after the sequence of events depicted in the play which bears his name. Evidence points to Turgenev as the culprit, and the bomb was said to have been meticulously crafted over a period of months. It is not true that literary characters are killed by lazy authors—these deaths, pointless though they may be, are the result of intense labor and well-studied craftsmanship.

FC deeply regrets the falsehoods presented earlier in this story, and we apologize for any suffering they may have caused.

• • • • •

When you go to a conference on ecofeminism in modern literature, etiquette demands car-pooling. That’s why this Volkwagen Golf is so funny—this one over here, the one that’s pulling to a stop. Watch them get out, the ecofeminists: so many of them, like clowns in a circus car. They ask Harriet why she wants to jump, and she tells them.

“Don’t bother,” says one of them. “A man isn’t worth killing yourself over.”

“You just don’t understand,” says Harriet. “This is the man who wrote Queen Mab.”

The ecofeminists laugh. “Queen Mab is a trifle,” one of them says. “An obvious political tract. Dated. Take all that stuff about Tone Loc—who cares about that now?”

“It’s without a doubt his worst bit of work,” says another. “I mean, all his best work was written during his self-imposed exile in Italy.”

Harriet wails.

“And even that work isn’t exactly first rate,” says another. “Mary’s the one they’ll remember three hundred years from now.”

Harriet shakes with sobs, but she doesn’t let go of the railing. Apparently she wants to hear more. Apparently she wants to suffer more. Perhaps she enjoys it.

Finally the smallest ecofeminist speaks up—the last one out of the car, the one carrying the seltzer bottle. “Just go ahead and throw your sorry ass in,” she says. “If you don’t have any more respect for yourself than that, then go ahead and pollute the rivers with your stupidity. We’re on our way to go save the world, and we don’t have time to waste on people who don’t want to be saved. Consider the lilies, or get the hell out of our way.”

• • • • •

FC denounces the above passage. FC is entirely opposed to eco-feminist theory on suicide prevention. It is our belief that suicide counseling is not a holistic ecodiscipline. FC believes suicide counseling should be done by rank amateurs at the end of an impersonal phone line, or else by corpulent, complacent clergymen who really believe that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.”

FC once tried to mail itself a bomb. We regret that action, as some innocent people might have been killed. We were young then, and our methods were crude. FC no longer relies on the US Postal Service for prompt delivery.

FC was disappointed with itself because of serious weight gain. Never a handsome bunch, we now looked into the mirror and saw faces which were open-ended at bottom. Reaganesque wattles under our necks. Bags under our eyes. FC always believed it would self destruct before it grew old and ugly, but now we saw that it was too late. For a long time, we were depressed because we had failed to accomplish this mission objective.

Today, we believe that a Reaganesque wattle is the inevitable result of technological advancement, and not our fault in the slightest. The passage of time is obviously the byproduct of a callous society which builds machines in order to kill people to satisfy the needs of the human ego.

FC believes something should be done to stop this, so we are building another mail bomb. We couldn’t think of anything better to do.

• • • • •

The ecofeminists have left, and Harriet has a steely look in her eye, as if she’s about to go through with it.

At times like these, it’s always best to look on the bright side. Scientists tell us that the world is like a car full of circus clowns, headed nowhere. With Harriet gone, there will be more room. With Harriet gone, we will arrive at nowhere quicker.

And we know exactly what will happen when she jumps. Percy Shelley will have his best year ever, the year of freedom and creativity his genius deserves. Mary Shelley will write Frankenstein, one of the most important documents in the English language. Harriet’s son will go to live with them, which has to be better than growing up with a mom who works at the A&P. Every thing will be better without Harriet Westbrook. She has become a mote of dust in the eye of mankind.

Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that she has become one of these little dolls which seem to always clog up the machine. We see them all the time now: the gears grind to a halt, we open the back of the clock, and what do we see but yet another tiny human figure, wedged between the gears. It is fortunate that so many of these little human forms are so brittle, so easily crushed. Otherwise, we would never get any work done.

But look out! She seems to be changing her mind. Harriet is hoisting herself up, and sitting on the railing now. She’s wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, a sure sign that she intends to swing her legs over the railing and walk away.

You can’t let her walk away from this crucial moment. We have invested too much in her suicide. We have already made our plans. You must push her. Only you are close enough. Don’t think of yourself. Think of the story, think of your fellow characters, think of their future.

Hurry! She’s turning. Push her now.