Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
Issue 23, July-September 2012
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 23.3
Bars and Their People In
Bars and Their People
by Jim Ruland
followed by Q&A
love myth At Gary's U-Pull It
by Peter Schwartz
followed by Q&A
At Gary's U-Pull It
by Micah Towery
followed by Q&A
Nothing’s guaranteed at Gary’s
U-Pull It: only the rust, sun,
and rubber refuse time. No metal
can last. When the snow melts
the junk sinks faster into mud.
Here miracles are brand new
tires still attached to smithereened
windshields, hoods unlatched
and twisted beyond the manufacturer’s
dimensions. Here all succumbs
to a forlorn man with a wrench
and socket set. He stands waist-deep
in the ever frozen river
of wrecked metal and roots
for a coolant reservoir to rig
his car with. At Gary’s U-Pull It,
no one laughs at “Shit happens”
on the bumper of a car
with a caved roof, and the “A+
Honors Student” is probably a prick
who gets his shit kicked
at school. Here all hungers—
here desires: here I pit an unclaimed
tire iron against a windshield
when nobody looks anymore or asks
in passing who this air-bag exploded for.
Micah Towery’s writing appears in magazines like The Writer’s Chronicle and Cimarron Review. These days he teaches at Trinity Western University, but in past lives he worked as a Coca-Cola delivery driver, baker, and church organist. He tweets @micahtowery and helps edit thethepoetry.com.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: Gary’s U-Pull It is an impressive junkyard outside Binghamton, NY, where I lived for several years. At the time I had a ’74 Nova, the kind of car which requires inexpensive but constant maintenance, so I was at Gary’s fairly often. This particular poem came from the realization that this human experience had accumulated in one place in the form of anonymous junk. Since it’s the debris of human action, it retains a kind of meaning even in spite of literally being ripped from one context and reapplied in another.
Men who go to bars. Men who go to bars to drink. Men who go to bars to meet women. Men who go to bars to watch sports. That’s pretty much it. That covers all the bases. There are people people and TV people and sports people and miscellaneous deviants who like sex and drugs and rock ´n´ roll. But in the end they are men.
They sit at the bar until their bellies are swollen. Sometimes they play darts. Mostly they sit and look at the women. They look at their telephones. They look at the television. They look at the pool game not in progress. These are all things to look at while not looking at the women.
Some men drink to be companionable. Some men drink to find courage. Some men drink to be more like men they would like to be. They loiter under the low wattage light of a high definition TV screen broadcasting scores they only wish they could pretend they didn’t already know.
Men who drink in bars look without searching, seek but never find.
Why is it always this way? The answers are in the past, but it’s easier to blame the women.
Women who go to bars to drink. Women who go to bars to smoke. Women who go to bars to be watched by men. Women who go to bars for a piece of ass. Women who find what they are looking for. Women who get more than they bargained for.
Like a disease.
Like an unemployable musician in between apartments.
Women who wear boots in the summer. Women who wear shorts in the winter. Women who wear whatever the fuck they want to wear and look amazing doing it.
Fat women. Skinny women.
Women who know how to work it. Women who smell nice. Women with unusual hair. Women who can say, “Here I am” without ever uttering a word. Women who are so baffling they are a mystery unto themselves.
Women who drink wine. Women who drink liqueur. Women who do shots. Women who get you shitfaced. Women who never seem to get shitfaced, no matter how much they drink. For obvious reasons, none of these women like beer.
The women are mysterious. The men mystified. Their natural state.
Women who like bars. Women who don’t. Women who like sports. Women who don't. Women who could practice shooting pool eighty hours a week and never learn how to hold a stick. Women who know all kinds of tricks with all kinds of sticks and wouldn’t you like to know.
There are plenty of women of virtue out there, but none of them are here tonight.
Women who drink too much in bars. Their complicated bra straps. Their cheap underwear. Their peculiar moles. Their irregular teeth. Their expensive makeup and painful shoes. Their frayed denim skirts. Their dirty knee socks. Their outdated cell phones. Their discomfiting laugh. Their almost-but-quite-not deal-breaking thighs. Their long line of not quite ex-boyfriends. There are never enough women who like to drink in bars in the bar.
And then there are the women who work in bars. They are pretty. They are sane. Or they were once pretty. Or they were once sane. They have problems, but they aren’t pitiful.
Like their clientele.
Like their fathers.
Like the men who purchase calendars featuring NFL cheerleaders and display them in their home.
Women who work in bars are always trying to turn men and women into couples.
It never works.
See them standing outside the sports bar. Watch them in the Irish pub’s parking lot. Observe the way they stamp out their cigarettes on the stucco wall behind the dive bar’s back door.
Study the way they speak to each other. Women talking. Men listening. She will say, “Keep your voice down.” He will say, “Don’t cry.” But it’s no use. They are drowning in a sadness that is their permanent condition.
They have nothing in common. She is short and he is tall. Or she is heavy set and he unnaturally slim. Or the other way around. Neither one has any money, though one always has more than the other. All they have is the bar and the drinks they drink there.
One of them came out here to save something. The other wants to put it out of its misery. And now they are both going down.
She was trying to tell him that her grandmother is sick and he nodded blankly. But ask him who’s the dark horse for MVP this year and he’ll talk his ding-dong off.
She is the same way with her ex-boyfriends.
Or her roommate’s.
Or her mom’s.
She is an expert at not being able to keep these men in a past in which they never belonged.
She is a proficient shit talker. An instigator of cheap drama, which he mistakes for affection.
But the sex is good. They slam into each other like trains that have been intentionally routed onto the same track. Not a mistake, but pointless entertainment with a price tag that will present itself when the carnage is over.
Now they are two people standing in the cold and sooner or later they will have to go back inside. For more drinks, more television, more cheerless cheer. The air is cold. The fog is creeping in. The beer is bladder bound. The bar beckons. They’ve resolved nothing. There is no other place to go.
Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this story appeared in the punk rock zine Razorcake.
Jim Ruland is a veteran of the Navy, the author of the short story collection Big Lonesome, and curator of the irreverent reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its ninth year. He divides his time between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I don’t drink anymore but I often go to bars to watch sporting events. This story was inspired by a visit to an Irish pub with faux/authentic décor out the ying-yang. Most football and baseball games last about three hours, which is plenty of time to pick up on various types: the regulars, the flirts, the doomed. As I was leaving, I spotted a couple arguing quietly by the dumpsters like a scene out of the Amy LaVere song “Pointless Drinking.” It brought back memories of drunken arguments and collapsing relationships, and while I felt grateful to have pulled myself out of that kind of life, that image of that couple stayed with me.
Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volume 1. Learn more...
i love you impractically, because every night's an accident
in the wrong clothes, a blackout in a church parking lot
an empty ditch dance that's not going to last
and starting again means sitting next to the world's best thief
means nurturing death right out of its flowerbed using only
your tongue (dirt-licker, they'll call you)
which is another kind of accident, a broken leg costume party
you'll wear hard inside, imitating curtains and fishbowls that
oppose each other like thumbs, too over
and drowned to call a friend, too proud to name the unnamable
on what's now a fast-moving train following an algorithm of un-
happy lust you calculated in the dark
and prayed for in your rabbit hole with your weak palms pressed
against the glass, you just didn't know you were wishing into a
bottomless well until you had to sift
through a hundred widows' magazines to find the words
to say hello again, until you learned attainment isn't claiming
disfigurement at every corner or coughing
blood up to the sky, that's a failed sewage treatment scheme
that won't work on anyone here, your worst bottled-up animal
gene in a salmon trap, a false badge and mockery
so remember now, because every night's an accident:
starting again means sitting next to the world's best thief
means nurturing death right out of its flowerbed
using only your tongue
Peter Schwartz's words have been featured in Wigleaf, Pank, Opium, and Columbia Review. He's also an artist, comedian, and dedicated kayaker. More at: www.sitrahahra.com.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: This poem is about how hard it is to court a spirit.
by Alex Poppe
followed by Q&A
I have seen the face of God. And she is intoxicatingly achingly beautiful. She is not angelic pure light either. She is corporeal, carnal, and vociferous.
I was young, but I knew things. I knew Sudeepti’s time had come: her belly was swollen with ripeness. Momma had gone to another village that is poorer than this one–they don’t even have electricity or running water. Neither do we. But we have a doctor! Unless she is on loan to another place. Then we have me.
I am not afraid. I have pale skin which is lucky. The villagers rub my arms for luck or cut small curls from my golden hair when I am not looking. They think I don’t feel it, and maybe I always don’t, but I see my golden curls hanging like talismans around their necks and then I know. They know they are safe because they wear a piece of me close to their hearts.
I help her stand and prepare the ground beneath the birthing tree. I have clean hot water and strips of cloth. The village women have gathered to sing and play music. They sway to the drum beats that kiss the air and echo Sudeepti’s cries. The welcoming cacophony crescendos as her water flows and I wonder if their voices have broken it. The women cocoon her and create a human birthing chair to cradle her weight. I am right there, in the center, above, below, and within the mother to be. I smell her feral odor, hear her heart beat in time to the drums, feel the pulsating breath of the women around me, sense the willful life inside her demanding its big entrance.
The baby must have stage fright. I picture a tiny cherub with gossamer wings floating behind a velvety soft red curtain. I have to part the curtains so the tiny cherub can soar. I reach inside Sudeepti. My hands are small and she is wet and they slide in. I know I should feel gross but I don’t. I feel powerful. I feel her inside flesh quiver. Her face pinches with the pained pressure her body cannot alleviate but I only feel rapture. I have never been this close to someone. I have never been inside someone. I have never been the first to touch a life waiting to happen. I feel the top of the baby’s head and indulge one more stolen moment, for it is only the baby and me now. Even Sudeepti fades into vesselness. Then I urge her to push.
I keep both hands inside her to guide the head. I use my head to massage her stomach. Her sweat becomes my sweat and we labor together. Begrudgingly the baby disentangles itself from its warm wet home. I think Sudeepti must have gone to sleep because her body slackens with its effort. I gently pull as the pushes subside and guide the brave baby into its new world. It cries as I wipe mucous and blood and fluid from its eyes, nostrils and nose. Sudeepti’s dark eyes flash open with one mighty last push and they turn the color of water. Greedily she grabs my soiled hand, and I can feel her life force pressing through my palm, igniting electric shots into my arm. My whole being vibrates and I no longer feel the dry earth beneath my toes. Her face glows with extraordinary light, brighter than the moon, her raven hair wildly snakes around her head, her mouth erupting into a final roar that is unworldly.
Then she is quiet. There is an absolute stillness that even the birthing tree obeys, and then I feel her spirit tickling past my ear, weaving through the leaves to the sky where she explodes into a million glowing stars.
Alex Poppe is a teacher, blogger, and creative instigator. She is currently working in Kurdistan, Iraq, after a stint in the West Bank. Her fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail and the anthologies The Lark and Other Short Stories and Resonance and Other Short Stories. Her nonfiction blog is www.liftingweightsiniraq.wordpress.com.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: The inspiration for this piece came from my curiosity about the developing world.
by Dinah Lenney
followed by Q&A
Object Parade: Acorn
Where could it have come from? Fred picked it up in the driveway the other day and brought it inside. A deep brown—as if roasted—with a tweedy little hat. But how did it get there? Not a California Oak in sight, just our overgrown ficus in the front yard, her white trunk jutting away from the house, and her roots bringing up the path and threatening the foundation, so we're told. "She'll have to come down one of these days," says Francisco every autumn. Francisco—gardener turned landscape designer—who's been taking care of my trees for nearly twenty years this coming fall. And how do I know that, how do I recall? I first met him when I was pregnant with Eliza—I remember my own belly, that's what; that it was an effort to rise when the bell rang; that somehow I hoisted myself up and opened the door to a boy with oiled black hair, black eyes, smooth brown skin, and a mole to rival my own—twice the size of mine, in fact, but its twin in terms of placement, above the mouth to the right of his nose as I faced him. It seems to me it was drizzling that day, overcast I’m certain, just a couple of months before my daughter, my first baby, was born. It seems to me I was wearing black (I was always wearing black) and my hair was long, twisted on top of my head, mussed in the back undoubtedly, since he had to have roused me from the couch, where I resided for a good ten months (don't let anyone tell you it's nine) from the bed with me, to the couch with me, and back to the bed. I’d never been so sick as I was that first time, lived on quesadillas and peanut butter by the wooden spoon, which tasted metallic even so, like everything else, but less offensive than things crunchy, or savory, or colorful (as in fruits and vegetables, for instance). Anyway, Francisco and I walked around the side of the house that morning. I grabbed for the rails of the bottommost deck for balance when we came around the ledge over the garden, and he took my elbow. "When are you expecting?" he asked awkwardly (his English not entirely fluent), and then he made me understand that his own wife was due any minute. November then—it must have been November since his boy is a Scorpio as am I. Francisco and I with twin preoccupations that day; therefore, how could we not have bonded? Our babies and my backyard, dense and overgrown with succulents, oleander, lantana, and, to my delight, six trees: two Eucalyptus, a couple of dancers in the Santa Ana winds (fast-growing, they need to be topped every other year, otherwise they get spindly); a Eugenia—such a sloppy specimen year round, she bombards us, according to the season, with yellow dust, or fuzzy white stuff, or big fat berries that come into the house on the bottoms of our shoes; the Chinese Elm—also messy—but imagine the kaleidoscopic shadow play of her tear-shaped leaves on the bedroom curtains first thing in the morning; the Liquid Amber, which looks like a maple and turns from green to yellow to red but on Southern California time, so that just as she loses the last of her leaves, she's budding all over again; and the Giant Palm, smack in the center of the yard (lest I forget where I live, on which coast, she’s there to remind me), home to an dynasty of squirrels, who make a racket in the fronds, bouncing up and down the length of them, jumping from tree to tree to the rails of our decks, from where they torture the dogs, and leave peanuts in our potted plants, half eaten, still in the shell—and where do they get them, that's what I want to know?
And what about this acorn: a gift from a squirrel? Remarkably unscathed if that's the case. I'd ask Francisco, except I won't see him any time soon. We email now, he and I, when something comes up. Francisco, I wrote, a few months back. Where are you? The cactus is top heavy, and the front lawn looks like crap.
Sounds dire, he countered. I'll send the paramedics. Ha-ha, but when he arrived, he looked up in all directions, shaking his head, very somber: "Each of them needs to be trimmed and shaped," he said. About the aforementioned ficus up front: "It's out of control, no wonder the lawn is suffering—an abundance of shade, it takes a toll, of course." And then, from the kitchen deck, with his hand to his brow, he squinted into the horizon: "Where is your view?" he scolded. "Why haven’t you called? We'll have to bring in a team, best to do it all at once, a better deal for you…"
A team. Francisco has four kids now; the eldest— my fellow Scorpio—a freshman at a college nearby. And I have two: Eliza, also at school but 3,000 miles away, where the leaves are changing on a schedule I can understand; and Jake, who towers over me. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Corny, I know, but how did this happen, and when?
Francisco, meanwhile, looks almost as he did twenty years ago—lithe and brown—his hair flecked with gray at the temples, but otherwise little sign in his face or bearing of the twenty years since the day we first met. Who knows what he sees when he looks at me? Who knows what he remembers?
Object Parade: Stick Kite
Say, little girl—I dream about you. You then, you now. You, as you are, coming into my room to ask can you go through my closet, rummage in my drawers and jewelry boxes; might you borrow that sweater, can you have this ring, and the copy of Anna Karenina over there on the shelf, you want that, too—and, by the way, you ask on your way out with the sweater and the ring (not the book, you can’t have the book), is that me or you in the photo there? I look up from whatever I’m doing: Which photo do you mean? That one, you say. It’s ten by fourteen, framed on the wall, sepia-toned: an exquisite child in a wide-brimmed hat, her perfect face lit from underneath: Is it you or is it me, you ask again. Why, it’s you, darling! Of course it is. You thought so, you say. You were confused—having to do with the snapshot upstairs—the old three by five in the bookshelves; and yes, you’re right—that is I, no question—I’m the gap-toothed kid in the cowboy hat: though how do I know? It’s not as if I remember wearing it.
But this likeness? This little girl? I animate this moment—and her: you, that is—you in your life, taking on the camera, looking straight into the lens. You don’t remember? How you dressed as a witch, though you’d planned to be a cat (abandoned whiskers at the last minute for a sheet; the sheet then abandoned for conical head-gear); maybe now, now that I’ve told you, you recall something of the night; the shrieks and whoops, the jack-o-lantern whose nose you designed with a sharpie for me to carve; maybe you remember peering into a strange living-room from somebody’s stoop, while I waited on the sidewalk. I bet you do. But I remember the flash of the bulb—and the street we were on—the laughter out of nowhere, the rustle of wind in the trees, and kids running, swirling this way and that as if blown with the leaves. The last night of October it was (Which year? Were you seven? Were you eight?), and the air in Los Angeles suddenly nippy; I can hear you refusing to put on a sweater; face flushed, warm fingers wrapped around mine: I’m not cold, you said, so how to insist? And afterwards: how you sat on the floor with an old pillowcase full of candy, and how we bartered, you and I; how you couldn’t be bribed or dissuaded from keeping the Kit Kats and the plain M&M’s—but you would remember which varieties you liked best, whereas I remember you. I know the feel of your hands on my neck—sticky—the smell of sweet tarts on your breath. I’m the one who can tell you how it was, how you were. Just ask. Ask about the first time you laughed; how you looked when you didn’t want to cry; how long it took you to fall asleep; it’s I who remember the sound of you singing to yourself when you didn’t know I was listening, and I (not you I’m guessing) can summon your tiny person running far out on the flats at low tide on Thumpertown Beach with a wand in your hand, a stick kite, the streamers, all colors, rippling out behind you. Do you remember that day? That toy? Maybe you do. But that moment—that moment in your life?—I claim that one, too; as if it belonged to me.
Dinah Lenney is the author of Bigger than Life, published in the American Lives Series at the University of Nebraska Press, and co-authored Acting for Young Actors. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, AGNI, Creative Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere, and she received special mention in the 2010 Pushcart Anthology for an essay in the Water~Stone Review. Dinah serves as core faculty for the Bennington Writing Seminars, the Rainier Writing Workshop, and the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
A: Alice Mattison, who’s one of my heroes, once told me that writing comes from the ceiling. “Figure out the spot under which it falls, and be there,” she said. I guess that translates to keeping your ass in the chair, right? I’m not as good about it as I should be—because I’m lazy, and cowardly, and easily distracted. But the other best advice? I forget who said it: David Huddle? Edna O’Brien? Write first thing in the morning. Which, sure enough, turns out to be the time when I’m least likely to lose focus or faith. It doesn’t always happen. I don’t always get there and stay there—but when I do, I’m glad.