We are excited to announce the winners of the 2019 Fiction Prize and the 2019 Poetry Prize, judged by R. O. Kwon and Nuar Alsadir respectively. Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prizes possible!Read more…
Posts Tagged: indiana review
Anna Cabe (Fiction Editor): I was sucked into the essay as soon as I saw the form. A portrait of Daniel Nester’s father, Cousin Mike, and his fraught relationship with his family told through lists, text messages and emails, and a timeline of Cousin Mike’s get-rich-quick schemes, the narrative unfolds hilariously—and heartbreakingly. I’m awed by the richness of its detail, its smart structure, and its confidence. I’ve rarely seen an essay that takes such risks and succeeds so wildly.
These pieces appeared in Indiana Review 31.1, Summer 2009
Daniel Nester is the author of Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects. His other books include How to Be Inappropriate, and God Save My Queen I and II, The Incredible Sestina Anthology, which he edited. His writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Electric Literature, New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic online, and anthologized in The Best American Poetry, The Best Creative Nonfiction, Third Rail: The Poetry of Rock and Roll, and Now Write! Nonfiction. He teaches writing at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.
If you decide to disclose your rape, you must give careful consideration to your words, then, what manner or tone will give you the most control. Such anxiety is necessary. You worry that your audience will shift interest, as always, to the rapist, the do-er, the one who acted, the one they are told to take an interest in from the very moment they learned how to appreciate stories. The active is always more interesting than the passive. That is what they tell you when you start to write: always avoid the passive, be it voice or man.
♦ ♦ ♦
Without knowing it, you had begun researching rape from a very young age. As a child, you devoured old stories without fully digesting them. Your favorite was the one about Persephone, depicted anywhere between nine and hundreds of years old, but always youthful, always skipping in a white dress amongst cardamoms and daffodils and daisies. When she was spied by shadowed Hades and stolen from her mother and all those familiar things, when she was forced to grow up with a stranger, you clutched your heart and thought, how romantic. He loved her without knowing her, and he was willing to do something heinous to prove it. It is not the first time you will encounter these stories, and it will be a very long time before you realize that the “Rape” of Persephone was not only a body-rape, but a shift in the culture played out across a womanly form. At the moment of Persephone’s judgment for having done nothing wrong, she is forced to live half the year with her rapist and half the year free of him. No wonder the world dies when she descends below ground; at least some unconscious thing acknowledges injustice. Remember the Sabine Women who were stolen in the middle of a festival, whose arms are depicted raised towards the heavens, frozen in a moment when heathen celebration ended and when the whole of Western history began its march towards conception and conceiving? Philomela, who was raped by her sister’s husband and was so beloved by him he cut off her tongue so that she might never speak of it, and only regained her voice when the Gods took pity on her and turned her into a bird, so that no man would ever understand her again? Medusa, raped by Zeus, and then made a monster, which in itself can be read as a kindness, to have that inner turmoil reflected on the outside? Too often, without using the word, we tell how rape shaped the Western world, and we Do. Not. Blink.
When a late-summer tornado leveled a nearby street four days after Sam’s eighth birthday, his father took him to see what was left. It was while standing in a crowd of gawking neighbors that Sam saw, with unprecedented wonder, that the surface structures for half the block were completely and utterly gone; their basements—the bones of their foundations—were exposed to the air.
It had never occurred to Sam that so much was underneath.
After that, he began to imagine, with some regularity, descending feet-first into the ground. As if in a kind of elevator, except he was the elevator, and able to see the things below, even when Mother Nature’s finger didn’t peel away the earth like a scab. He adored what could not be seen, what was definitely there in a way that could not easily be proven.
When he looked at gas stations, he saw volatile reservoirs of petrochemicals, motionless but dangerous. Trees were tangles of roots; stop signs were cement cylinders. During an early-season soccer game, Sam stopped just short of kicking the ball down the field because he could see nothing but aluminum cans, packed deep in the earth like razor blades in apples, flattened and buried after years of picnics and storms. When a group of protesters occupied a local park, Sam saw the sewage tank beneath their Porta-Potty, festering and blue.
When he and his father went camping in the mountains, Sam saw his stream of urine soaking into the pine needles as a constantly elongating shape, filtering unevenly through the layers of loam and dirt and stones in a funny, stretched-out line. This sent him into a fit of giggles. Only when it went on for four minutes, and then trickled off into a staggering moan, did his father realize that something was wrong. Sam said the word “her” seven times quickly, softer with each invocation, and then fell to the ground, twitching.
Full of guilt, the parents who had previously banned all video games on the grounds of brain-mush bought Sam Dig Dug.
Sam considered it the best present that he had ever received in his life. He slid the nub of the joystick one way, and then the other. He moved his man through bright layers of dirt like they were nothing. He made new paths and destroyed the monsters. His mother watched this from the doorframe, her lip curling in a way that she would remember twenty years later. She watched Sam sitting there, triangles of hair damp with sweat and plastered against his skin like a cartoon character’s, eyes focused on the screen, a drop of saliva in the crease of his mouth. She found herself reciting the title over and over in her head. Dig Dug. Dig Dug. Clipped present tense, protracted past. A thing that only ever got bigger.
Aubade in Which the Bats Tried to Warn Me
You used to recite the parts of my body like psalms.
I should have known when you started to kiss
with your eyes closed that your mouth would ruin us.
And I should have known when you slipped belladonna
in my buttonholes, when you started to bring me empty boxes,
when I found her dog asleep under our house.
She told me about someone she’d been sleeping with, and the someone
was you. At first, I didn’t tell you I knew. I came home,
and you were slicing rhubarb
and strawberries. You put sugared hands on my neck
and kissed my forehead.No, it happened like this.
When you fucked me, I could feel
how much you hated me. And you came. And I came twice. You stayed
on top of me and softened inside me as you kissed
my shoulders. I stayed awake to watch
you sleep and thought about the stories your parents told about you.
The wildfire you started. How you broke your mother’s birdhouses.
How your father paid you to kill bats,
a dollar a body. Last summer you let me watch.
As you waited with a racket, timber wolves announced
the moon, bats crept out of the attic.
The soft pulp of their bodies struck the house. Your father swatted
your back, handed you five bucks, and I went to pick up
the bats. One still shuddered
against the cinderblock. I should have left, but I didn’t. I crushed
its head with a rock and tossed it into the woods and went inside
and washed my hands and lied to you.