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2013 Fiction Prize Finalist: “Wildflowers” by Lisa Beebe

“Wildflowers”

2013 Fiction Prize Finalist

I am tired of data, tired of spreadsheets, tired of life, but I have to be at work in forty-five minutes. Half awake, I put on my glasses, and notice something strange on my arm. Little spots. No, not spots. Strange dark hairs. No, not hairs either. My eyes focus. Plants are growing out of my skin.

“This can’t be good,” I say to myself. I don’t freak out, though. I’ve always been hairy. The little sprouts feel like a new kind of hair, another sign of getting older that I hadn’t known to expect.

I go into the bathroom, poke around in the drawer under the sink, and find the tweezers. I choose a stem at random, one near my left wrist, and pluck it out.

Mary-Mother-of-Jesus-in-a-Bathtub, that hurt.

Read more…

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Microreview: Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying

Often a debut collection will satisfy a reader’s hunger pains only to be wiped away after the initial reading like stubborn crumbs. Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying defiantly demands a place at the table. This collection offers sweet and savory poems that invite the reader into a domestic sphere where all is not as it seems. Poems like “Babies under the House,” “Esperanza Tells Her Friends the Story of La Llorona,” and “My Mother Woke a Rooster,” signal the intensity of full-bodied language that is delivered throughout this tantalizing debut.

Guerrero’s complex narratives rely on powerful bodily tropes such as bone, skin, and tongue. In the introductory poem, “Preparing the Tongue,” she writes, “In my hands, it’s cold and knowing as bone.” Language assumes the form of a tongue “Shrouded in plastic,” which the speaker carefully unwinds. She craves “to enchant it: / let it taste the oil in my skin, lick / the lash of my eye.” Instead of employing domestic language generally associated with meal preparation, the speaker forcefully admits that she will “lacerate the frozen muscle, tear / the brick-thick cud conductor in half to fit / a ceramic red pot.” It will be painful, if not bloody, and by the end the “frozen muscle” will be transformed into sustenance for the body. These poems are crafted out of urgency for consumption.

Throughout the collection, Guerrero asks what it means to have a tongue with no voice, to suffer quietly, to rewrite history. A series of poems titled “One Man’s Name: Colonization of the Poetic,” explores the caustic relationship between heritage and language. In the final installment of the series, Guerrero writes:

Write the body well, I say.
Pink man, write well, write body.
Little pink man: write books,
write history, white history: Cortéz
and I have the same hands: grandmother.
Bodies ripped with babies and men: molcajete:
pounded, blood-red dust, pigment
for painting. Art. Framed in gold.

In her visceral debut, Guerrero hacks away unnecessary language “like an axe murderer.” By relying on careful lineation and striking imagery, she weaves a complex tapestry that displays a body ravaged by history. She sews images together with language like a skein of blood red embroidery thread. A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying reveals what it means to conquer with, and be conquered by, imagistic language.

Guerrero’s poems are not silent. Like a raging rooster clawing its way across a tin roof, these poems demand the reader pay attention. In “Put Attention,” the speaker remembers her grandmother’s inability to translate Spanish into English, thereby butchering her own demand for the speaker to “Ponga atención.” “Put attention, put attention. Put it where?” the speaker asks. “Shall I put attention in my glass and drink it soft like Montepulciano / d’Abruzzo? Like Shiner Bock? Horchata?” With each poem Guerrero petitions, “Put [your] attention somewhere large.” A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying repeatedly dismembers large issues like family, race, and history in an effort to make them more digestible. Through careful construction, these poems become palatable bites that leave the reader feeling satisfied instead of overfed.

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Microreview: Sad Little Breathing Machine by Matthea Harvey

There are some writers whose work tends to itch the insides of your ears long after you have put the book down and gone on to do your usual things. Although there are many writers whose works stay with me, Matthea Harvey’s Sad Little Breathing Machine is a poetry collection I feel very lucky to have grown acquainted with. Portions of Matthea Harvey’s writing find me when I am making figurines out of bubbles in the dish soap or humming to the white noise of the A/C in my Elantra. I find the music in this collection meticulous and sentient. ‘[This] little Narrative is so adorable’ quips one of the characters in Harvey’s “Once Upon A Time: A Genre Fable.” I also find this to be true. I cannot think of many works I think of as both adorable and melancholic. The fact Breathing Machine pulls of both makes reading it a pleasure to come back to, and the kind of book one continues to develop a different relationship over time, as one matures, like The Little Prince and its heart-breaking love between a boy and his rose.

Much like the writers Indiana Review celebrates with the Half-K prize, Matthea Harvey does not burden Sad Little Breathing Machine with a definition for the kinds of writing we are witnessing. Is it a collection of poetry? Are portions of it micro-fiction? Breathing Machine is more about the recognition that different stories demand different types of narration—different states of embodiment. I relish the ambiguity of genre in “Baked Alaska, Theory of.” I love how a “country song” resides over the narrative’s complicated protagonist like a benevolent soothsayer to the perils of father-daughter relationships: “O the flesh is hot but the heart is cold, you’ll be alone when you are old.” Not even the enchanted princesses of this other realm are immune from the friction of a family dinner. As a reader, each time I go back to portions of Breathing Machine, I feel continuously delighted by what I uncover in these well-crafted pieces. As a writer, each time I return I gain a greater appreciation for the cogs maneuvering this machine and its craftsman’s quiet handiwork.

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Interview with 2013 Fiction Prize Winner: Summer Wood

lightning field portraitSummer Wood’s astonishing story, “Boomerang,” won our 2013 Fiction Prize, judged by Claire Messud. Messud called Wood’s story “impressive” and “profoundly moving,” and praised its facility with moving “seamlessly between the narrator’s present voice. . .and his childhood experiences.” We’re particularly proud to have published this story in Indiana Review issue 36.1—and you can now read Wood’s moving piece on our site. Here Wood discusses how this piece came to her and in what form, the difficult notion of unconditional love, and the hard work of writing toward understanding.

1. Starting broadly, what was the inspiration for this piece? Do you find it has anything in common with your other work?

The first section, the two boys playing frisbee at dusk with the dog, came out of the blue—and yet I was pretty sure that it contained everything the story would mean, or be. It was just a feeling, but it panned out. The frisbee, the title, the collarbone, the whole throw-and-return action seemed vital to Jack’s experience of the world. In that way, I guess it’s like all my work; some weird thing plunks itself down in front of me and I write my way toward understanding it. Not intellectually, but through the medium of the story.

2. What was most difficult for you in writing this story?

Without question, the most difficult and painful part was having to explore Jack’s father’s role. I knew the shirt was crucial but I had to push on to understand why. And when Jack reports that his father said that they’d love their son “no matter what”—that about killed me. We talk about unconditional love but most of the time we’re talking shit. What we mean is we’ll overlook this thing about you. Not we love you, fully, as you are—something different. Which is not bad, but when you get down to it, it’s really painful. I guess a lot of the story concerns that: what we see, what we think we see, what we allow ourselves to see, what we refuse to see. And how that affects the ways we’re able to relate to one another.

3. Your character Jack is made so real. Did you have a particular technique or ambition in first developing his character?

Jack had no trouble speaking for himself. His voice came on fully formed, and since the story is so much about how he puzzles through what’s happened to his friend and to himself, I just had to listen to him amble through the process. My concern was that, well, first-person POV characters lie a lot. It’s something I like about them. But I wanted to be sure that Jack caught himself in every lie he told. So that’s part of the recursive bit of the story: this, but—no. This. And at the end, the doubling-back—the seeing himself double back—is, maybe, the truest part of him.

Also, there’s Spot. Nothing like a dog in the mix to reveal character.

4. Did you know, starting out, how the story would look in its final form, or did this piece undergo any transformation?

I had no idea how this story would go. I knew I wanted to find out what would happen to the dog, and to Jack, and to his friend Easton, but I had no preconceptions. I do know that the story caught a surge of energy when certain things came in. Plot points, sure—but also place. The bramble. And Chet. Once Chet came in, I thought, uh oh. Here we go, now. But the story pretty much fell together in three main sittings, and then a fair amount of line-level work. That’s not always the case for me. I think the structure lent itself to that, and I’m grateful.

Summer Wood is the author of novels Raising Wrecker (Bloomsbury) and Arroyo (Chronicle Books). Her non-fiction work has appeared or is forthcoming in National Geographic Traveler, Flyway, and other venues. The recipient of a WILLA Prize and the Literary Gift of Freedom from A Room of Her Own Foundation, Wood teaches writing at the University of New Mexico’s Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. www.summerwoodwrites.com

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Ten Things We Wish Never Ended

Like sand through the hour glass, time is almost up to submit to our general submissions and fiction contest. The deadline looms. We are talking days here, people!

Still unsure about submitting to our fiction contest? Did you know Roxane Gay is our Judge?
Check out the contest guidelines here.

So, you’re not a fiction writer? Or don’t want to submit to our contest? We would still love to see your work.
Check out our general guidelines here.

But enough with the business. In closing, we offer 10 things we wish never ended or disappeared. Also, by “We” I mean me (Paul), and my former selves.

10. Dawson’s Creek:

Dear Diary, I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over, I want to know right now, what will it be? I have so many questions, like, what ever happened to Paula Cole? Where are Joey and Pacey now? Is anyone reading my alternate ending to the season 2 finale on my LiveJournal? Actually, maybe I am glad this ended. Yikes.

dawsonscreek

9. Magic Eye (Warning, Possible Eye Strain):

The year is 1993. The world is small and full of magic. My eyes are normal. My life is normal. My parents are not divorced and I am enjoying a Happy Meal that comes with a Hot Wheels toy. Ah, memories.

This is the worst. Onward!

magiceye

8. MTV Spring Break 1998:

It’s tearin’ up my heart when I’m with you, Carson Daly. Remember TRL? Limp Bizkit? Body Shots in Jamaica? I think the real question is, how was this rated PG? And, what does PG even mean? I remember that time Korn – Freak On A Leash beat N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears. Actually I think that was 1999.

mtvspringbreak1998

 

7. Sega Game Gear TV Tuner:

Before the digital days, the portable Sega Genesis TV Tuner was the only thing keeping me alive during our family road trips across the country. I remember reading Electric Gaming Monthly and obsessing over the AD for the TV Tuner. Mom, please? PLEASE. This thing destroyed batteries though. Like 6 hours of lemmings and you’re done.

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6. Legends of the Hidden Temple:

That Temple Run, right? Silver Snakes. Blue Barracudas. Purple Parrots. Do you hear that alliteration? According to a 2007 poll in the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register, ten percent of respondents said that Legends of the Hidden Temple was their “favorite ‘old school’ Nickelodeon show”(Wikipedia). I miss these game shows. I miss the Steps of Knowledge. Also the shitty prizes, like a Super Soaker 50 or Moon Shoes. What a disappointment.

LOTHT

5. KaZaA:

If you’ve made it this far, click here to win two free iPod nanos. Just by reading this your computer is now infected with malware. Remember people who would make shitty ID3 tags? Like, you’d download that mp3, open WinAmp, and it would look like: ~*(Nelly)*~ {RiDe WiTh mE}. Why? Why did you do that? What do you mean there are no seeds for this song and only 5 peers? #damn.
kazaa

4. Ecto Cooler:
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Probably Mr. Davidson. He’s the captain of the neighborhood watch. Always sitting on his porch, watching people from his house on the corner. Always watching, waiting, plotting. What an angry man. Well at least he always handed out these juice boxes on Halloween. Mom didn’t appreciate that too much. Something about how i’d run around the house like a bat out of hell. Sorry, Mom.

ectocooler

3. Goosebumps books:

I’ve always wondered what R.L. stands for. And I think, after all these years, I’ve figured it out. [R]alph [L]auren Stine. #NailedIt I don’t think I ever read a Goosebumps book, but I sure made my mom buy them for me. I was always more of a Boxcar Children kind of guy. Who stole $20 dollars from the register in the morning, and put it back in the afternoon? Why is grandpa such a dick? Isn’t this just like Scooby-Doo? Anyways, not a fan of SAY CHEESE and DIE! or psycho thrillers for kids. Sorry, maybe Stine just isn’t the writer for me. However, he makes a nice polo. I’ll give him that.

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2. Hairagami:

I never had the hair for this growing up. I’ve never bought anything from a television infomercial. Though, I do struggle to open pickle jars from time to time. And I do enjoy brownies that have chewy edges. Can you imagine the things you would buy if you had a credit card when you were like 12? Let’s say something cringe worthy like, Ode to the possibilities!

hairagami

1. LA GEAR Shoes:

A lot of people talk about retro Jordan’s being the hottest shoes on the market. Why is no one talking about LA GEAR? These shoes are the best way to light up a room. ha. I actually don’t know what I’d do if I saw an adult wearing light up shoes. Probably assume they’re going to one of those dance clubs where Snooky and Pauly D are coming for a night. Probably wearing too much Cool Water. Probably driving a red Toyota Celica with white stripes and spinners. Maybe I’m wrong though. I’m wrong a lot of the time.

lagear