When we wrote the Call for Submissions for the Fragments issue, requesting “in the wild” creations more than overly crafted pieces, we had no idea what we’d receive. Would our request scare writers and artists away, or would it resonate? Would the concept of fragments feel familiar to them, or would there be uncertainty when trying to decide if their specific works fit the theme? Hence we were delighted when the submissions poured in from the moment the theme was announced: text, photos, artwork. And by the end of the submission period, this issue had inspired the highest number of submissions yet.
Some of the text submissions weren’t necessarily fragmentary in form and/or didn’t quite read like true fragments, but we considered them if there was some aspect of the fragmentary within or if the subject of a piece touched upon the theme (we both were a bit surprised that even the polished poetic forms with a dash of the fragmentary as content seemed to work). There were also a number of “maybe” submissions that made the process challenging – writings that we wanted to say “yes” to but couldn’t quite because some important characteristic of a fragment’s nature was missing.
We selected a wide variety of pieces, but within this variety there are some common threads. The pieces have an affinity for time – moments, memories. And an affinity for space – mountains, fantasies. They reveal that fragments are a way to approach relationships, much more intimate than a torrent of words. They reveal that there can be a wide variety of fragmentary principles: building, breaking, capturing, leaping free. They explore minute realities. And, especially, they reveal that fragments flirt with form.
We began working together on this issue without a literal definition of the fragment (we had many in-depth conversations about fragments behind-the-scenes), and we come away from working on this issue with a deeper respect for the openness and mystery of fragments. We realize that they refuse to be trapped within a pat definition, and that is an important aspect of their power and charm.
For bios of Catherine and Olivia, see the call for submissions.
FOR SALE: Two pages from a French prayer-book, ca. 1420
Draw me in, blue-veiled beauty. Your tears
singe my skin: this heart can feel again
in spite of the dust that confounds me.
I’ve been sick to death’s brink, senses dulled
by the promise of wellness. It takes years,
so turn the page / set the clock / halt the spell
of ink-blot poison in my veins. His skin
a tracery of rust-tracks and thorn, his ears
deaf shells a-ring with mourning. His eyes.
Did you not die already?
the shroud, the tomb. The wounds
unburdened of blood. Wings
in the webbing
of your hair. Your mother
made round, low sounds
like a [quill-scraped] bird
a [salt-stained] fish. Shrubs
in the distance. Barrow-mounds
of sand, the Dead Sea.
Your drying wish.
Thanks to Boyd Mackus for the images.
Adrienne Odasso (blog, publications) wrote these pieces to accompany a pair of pages from a 14th-century French prayer book; the folios survive from different points in the book, and the Latin narratives are therefore badly disjointed. As a scholar of medieval history and bookmaking, she felt that these folios and their enigmatic inscriptions deserved a voice.
It is not the wind that wakes you,
but the silky murmur of years
seductively trying to tell you
what has happened, or will.
Do not listen. The wind tells lies.
Touch my hair, my eyes,
the stones and bark of trees.
Do not leave this earth quietly
Far off, above the muffled air of the ward,
I hear trains sound.
If there were no word for sorrow, I would call it love.
N. A’Yara Stein was a multiple nominee for the past few years for the Pushcart Prize as well as a finalist in the 2011 National Poetry Series for her manuscript, Saudade. She holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas and is a grant recipient of the Michigan Art Council and the Arkansas Arts Council, among other honors. The former editor of the arts quarterly Gypsy Blood Review, she’s recently published in Verse Wisconsin, The Mayo Review, Ping Pong: The Journal of the Henry Miller Library and The Delinquent (UK), among others. She lives near Chicago with her sons and teaches at Purdue University North Central. Her newest chapbook, The Clarity of Troubled Love, will be available fall of 2012 from Finishing Line Press.
by Lee Peterson
For War: Where I Wait For You
Jets crowd the sky.
The colors change. Machines.
Nhan (All missing.)
Hold my heart. Even without hands I can write this, paint this.
Or be turned back from the gate
and into a brown-winged bird
For Peace: The Gate
What color is your hair?
Whose hand do you hold?
These hands we have.
Birds in the yellow sky.
And our faces change with a wish.
These wings—ours to use.
So much blue—above our heads.
We fly kites. Form circles. Sing.
Ask about the sun and where
it comes from:
From light—and the sound
of a bell ringing so long
no one remembers its name.
Author’s note: These poems were written on commission for the Speak Peace traveling exhibit of Vietnamese children’s paintings on peace and war.
Lee Peterson’s first book of poems, Rooms and Fields: Dramatic Monologues from the War in Bosnia was selected by Jean Valentine for the 2003 Tom and Stan Wick poetry prize. She lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband Steve and their daughter Esmée. She is a full time instructor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State Altoona.
A wasteland Sunday morning and the air shudders from a chugging machine, a machine meant to blow leaves and detritus but is somehow better at producing noise. It’s pushed by an old man slightly hunched and limping. He moves without pattern, blowing leaves and trash in one direction and then another, seemingly random. The wind is blowing anyway.
And there is a smell on the wind, an odor. Something like rotting flesh but sweeter and more smoky. I imagine syrup-covered corpses burning but no, it must be somebody’s idea of food. Five men silently huddle around a barbeque that seeps yellowish smoke out its vents; one stubs a toe in the earth and spits. Why don’t they say something?
And then there’s a screaming, a high-pitched yelling that can only come from children in play. Turning, sure enough, five kids scamper from a single child. He’s got a stick in his hand and on the end of the stick is an used condom. Yelling at them would do no good, not with the leaf blower. I can only hope.
With bitter coffee going cold and a stolen newspaper, I find a bench without as many stains and spots of unknown wetness. A man sleeps on the one beside mine and rouses himself at the fluttering of my paper. He looks at me seriously but I cannot give him my eyes. It doesn’t matter anyway, he’s up. Coming to me now and munching his jaw as if he had a cud. Got some change for me? No, I say. Can I kiss that off for you?
I looked at the diminishing cigarette in my hand and yes, I was about to ground it out on the sidewalk, but something seems wrong about it all. His lips are chapped and caked with days of drool but he’s just another lost one. He takes the butt and nods at me politely, walking away. The seat of his pants are brown and sagging. It’s too cold now to wash off at the river’s edge.
Cold coffee now and the paper wrinkled beyond folds from the damned wind. From a long way off I can tell it’s a woman, a young woman. Her head is bowed and two men follow her, circle her, saying low things. When the trio passes her eyes show something between fear and anger to the ground before her.
And that’s when I get up. Enough of the park, I think to myself. The pastoral has its limits. Time to get back to the city.
Joshua Cochran’s first novel, Echo Detained, was published by Fractious Press, New York, in 2007. He teaches English to bored college students in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. He writes, “Fragments are vital to the writer because they take form beyond our control and allow us to release something into the universe without the burden of intent.”
Alençon lace (I see you through a veil)
Broadcloth (the prairie sprawls and undulates),
Burlap (kittens in a sack you rescue them)
Calico (aprons and flour sack frocks cut up for your quilt)
Cambric (handkerchief of the Lord, I embroider an H)
Canvas (an artist’s model shivers in the corner, the artist is you the model is me)
Chino (you called them your lawyer pants, wore them when you were permanently pressed for funds)
Corduroy (kings’ cloth, Thomas Hart Benton’s furrowed fields, fretted like your old Gibson)
Cotton (your skin my skin same boll)
Crepe (my 1920s de chine dress cut on the bias, flowers over my hip bones, petals and branches over my ribs),
Denim (your thigh sliding through the wicket of mine in the doorway where we first kissed),
Felt (wetting wool, rubbing wool, a congress of wet sheep in an Irish pub we visit),
Flannel (your shirt still warm from your skin, I steal it for a quick trip to the kitchen)
Fleece (I have been shorn of you)
Gabardine (your three-piece suit with its vest, its watch chain and fob, the suit I couldn’t bury you in)
Gauze (breathing through it, seeing through it after you’re gone)
Gingham (cheery kitchen curtains with cross-stitched roosters, I am scrambling the first eggs I’ll make for you)
Kapok (we are cocooned together, a private tent in the cherry trees)
Lamé (drag queen who made you laugh your lustiest at “You’re Not Woman Enough to Take My Man” and the swaggering hips of the singer, the waterfall of gold over them),
Linen (the tan and black suit I wore on our first Easter, the one that fits again because I can’t eat/don’t cook without you)
Madras (a plaid we didn’t like, a city we wanted to visit)
Muslin (that impossibly thin antique blouse, leg o’mutton sleeves and lace collar on which you pinned for me a cameo)
Nylon (your thumbnail sends a millipede skittering down my stocking)
Organza (the sheer fabric, the topnotes of gardenia in a perfume you picked out),
Piqué (the screen door, slamming behind us as we head to the lake, fishnets)
Rayon (the 1940s dress I wore when we’d swing dance, you’d lift me and I’d fly)
Satin (slick sheets you’d throw off the bed)
Serge (the ocean’s undertow, all these layers stitched together)
Silk (one of the few fabrics that will shatter, as mirrors do, as I have)
Twill (classic fabric, archaic contraction, twill never be better)
Velvet (the feel of your skin, there)
Voile (close to veil, my hair over my face, my dress over a chair)
Wool (it made you itch, o I would scratch your back)
Worsted (these days the way they’re woven, warp and weft and what’s looming)
Pamela Johnson Parker is a medical editor and adjunct professor of creative writing and literature at Murray State University. A Walk Through the Memory Palace was the first selection in the qarrtsiluni chapbook series. Another chapbook, Other Four Letter Words, is available from Finishing Line Press. Pamela’s work is also featured in Best New Poets 2011, edited by D. A. Powell.
by Tamuira Reid
I stopped caring about you sometime between January and May, when the weather changed and the leaves came back. You went on that big white pill and couldn’t have aged cheese or avocado and I sat at the table in the kitchen, watching you watch me.
We tried to drive the crazy away but it had us by the throat, slept where we slept. The yelling wouldn’t stop until you’d had enough, when your eyes no longer felt right in your head and you’d rather lie down than stand there, fist in your mouth, the cat rubbing against your leg.
You once told me that depression comes in waves but that makes it sound too beautiful. There was nothing good about the bad.
Impossible, I always tell them, to pinpoint when it started, when words went from breathy whispers to knives hurled at one another across a dark space.
Sometimes we’d try to fight it before it hit. You’d take a shower. Shave your face. Vacuum the hallway rug. It never worked and the top would blow off and it would be me and you again, just like that.
Teacups shook in their skin, books fell over on themselves and I wanted to see how it would all play out. Would he get the girl in the end? Or does she leave during a quiet moment, smiling as she turns away. His hand pressing against her back like an ear.
Tamuira Reid is a writer and educator currently living in Florence, Italy. Since receiving her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003, she has been teaching in both traditional and non-traditional classrooms, from India to a state penitentiary and now full time at NYU. Her first feature-length screenplay, Luna’s Highway, is currently in pre-production and earned her a finalist position in the 2009 American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest and a 2010 semifinals finish in The Nicholls Fellowship Competition, sponsored by The Academy of Moving Pictures.
by Emma Sovich
we made the stars, just let them go one day
a few caught fire
we expected them to return, all of them
they laugh at us each night
our modern constellations
fixtures, navigational jokers
we should have chanted, come back
where it’s so remote the milky way leaps within reach
night isn’t black
wraps itself around my head
by Pia Taavila
My students now study the sculptor and statue
marking externals: proportion and scale.
We talk of the casting, of bronze, wax or stone,
of chisel and bit, of angle and stance,
the trick of believing it moved or it spoke.
We ponder intention, the artist’s technique,
all the while confronting the shock of our
selves looking in mirrors, the false masks, the pose.
Oh, to be naked, truly stripped down, exposed,
where one’s inner essence resides on the skin
in veins of fine marble, in muscle and pore.
I step off the platform, regard my life’s work
and take up the hammer to smash things
to bits, brutal and glad. The students gasp.
Pia Taavila is a professor of English at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. Her book Moon on the Meadow compiled poems written over three decades, and last year a new chapbook, Two Winters, was published by Finishing Line Press.