Book Review: Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon

[Reviewed by Matt Baxter]

Beyond the bright lights and champagne toasts of the Kentucky Derby and other big time horse racing events are smaller, dingier, less attended, and seemingly more dangerous races known as claiming races. These are the races that populate Jaimy Gordon’s novel Lord of Misrule.

Claiming races are those where the horses are up for sale until shortly before the race. Title to the horse transfers just before the start of the race, but the previous owner is entitled to any purse that results from the horse’s performance. Within each race the horses are priced similarly, in theory preventing a higher class equine from easily beating the field. Its owner would, presumably, not want it to be sold for less than its value.

Into this world Gordon inserts a host of characters, heroic and unsavory. They are hard lived or hard working, and sometimes both. Lowlifes, miscreants, and outright criminals make trouble in and around Indian Mound Downs in West Virginia, a horse track where owners seem to go when they have nowhere else to race.

Tommy and Maggie arrive at Indian Mound hoping for a quick and easy score. The track denizens—the groom, blacksmith, an old gypsy lady, and others—get caught up in the act as Tommy tries to beat the system and Maggie bides her time until she can get on with her life on her own terms. Little does she realize how attached she will become to the horses.

Matt Baxter is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to Silicon Valley community newspapers. Baxter may be reached at mattbaxter@columnist.com. Read more at mattbaxx.blogspot.com.

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Japan Relief Effort: How to Donate

Synchronized Chaos Magazine encourages you to donate to relief efforts happening now in Japan. As we all know by now, Japan was hit by an enormous earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The death toll is still rising. For those who have survived, they struggle to have their basic needs met.

Please visit the following Websites to see how you can help:

You may also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to Japan relief through the Red Cross, which will appear on your next cell phone bill.

Synchronized Chaos – March 2011: Adaptation and Concentration

The March issue of Synchronized Chaos, Adaptation and Concentration, is fully-loaded with poetry and commentary. Many thanks to our book and poetry reviewers this month: Bruce and Kathy Roberts, Tammra Smith, Christopher Williams, and J’Rie B. Elliott. Bruce Roberts also give us his critique on Beach Blanket Babylon, a musical/comedy based in San Francisco, CA. Poetry contributors are Andrew Rahal, Simon J. Charlton, Michael Swain, and Faracy Grouse.

Check out the fascinating article by Robbie Fraser on Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo. Dr. Ifowodo is a professor, accomplished poet, and former Nigerian political prisoner. Also, please read the heart-wrenching story, “Sweat and Tears,” by Monty J. Heying.

Meditate on emotionally-charged artwork by Ytaelena Lopez, Brenton Bostwick and Patrick Marquis, and see Donna McGinnis’ musing and soothing landscape paintings.

Last, but not least…folks in the San Francisco Bay Area: Thank you for continuously supporting communities that are often underexposed in the arts! On Friday, March 11, 2011, Cukui Clothing Company in Japantown, San Jose, will host a solo art exhibit by Steve Caballero. Caballero is an emerging artist (and a local legend to many in the skateboarding world).

CUKUI
March 11, 2011 – 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm
229 Jackson Street, San Jose, CA 95112

facebook.com/cukui

Happy early Saint Patrick’s Day, and remember, Daylight Saving Time officially begins this Sunday, March 13, 2011!

– SynchChaos Staff

Sculptures and Paintings by Brenton Bostwick

BIO

Brenton Bostwick was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area where he currently lives and works. He has studied sculpture and painting at New York University and the San Francisco Art Institute. From a young age he was drawn to the human form, studying portraiture as well as human and animal anatomy as sources of inspiration for his paintings.

Bostwick was also greatly influenced by his travels abroad. He was intrigued and deeply moved by the masterworks of the old world painters and sculptors. It was on one of these trips that he visited the Sedlec Ossuary which created a lasting, and iconic visual experience for him. The Ossuary in Sedlec, also known as the Church of All Saints, is a 13th century chapel just outside of Prague. The chapel is heavily decorated with human bones. He was in awe that the skeletons of over 30,000 people, their deaths brought on by the bubonic plague, could be transformed in to something so beautiful. The contrast between the absolute beauty and mastery of the work there, with the dark nature of the medium struck a chord.

To see more artwork by Brenton Bostwick, visit his website at http://brentonbostwickart.com/index.html

To contact the artist, send an email to brenton.bostwick@gmail.com

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Paintings by Ytaelena Lopez

Ytaelena Lopez is a poet and artist who currently lives in San Francisco, CA, although she is originally from Venezuela. Lopez prefers to work in mixed media. Her work has been exhibited in Miami (85@85: 3rd annual International Juried Exhibition 2008- 2009 at MiArte Gallery), Los Angeles (Seyhoun Gallery), New York (Lana Santorelli Gallery), and Chile (Galería Locarno in Talca, 2008). She has also exhibited her work in several venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

You can see more of the artist’s work at http://ytaelena.com.

Contact ytaelena@gmail.com for more information.

Click ‘read more’ to see the artist’s statement.

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Poetry by Faracy Grouse

Steady Ground for Sea Legs

I want to write a very grown up love poem
for this seemingly
very grown up sort of love,

the kind which is polished of most of its sharp edges,
is warm but never burns the tongue

the kind of love which sleeps in late on Saturday mornings snuggled under 1000 thread count sheets,

This love doesn’t lend itself well to sweeping semantics
It’s too quiet and sophisticated for that,

Gone from it are the teenage dramatics
Empty threats, idle dreams and false needs,

I want to write you a love poem,
from a very grown up woman
who has completely grown into her own skin,
but here I am still fidgeting and pulling at my sleeves

So here is this,
from someone at that strange fevered edge of youth,
sea legs accustomed to violent waves
hobbling about on smooth seas
not yet believing that the likelihood of drowning
has been forever decreased.

Faracy Grouse may be reached for comment at alumine3@gmail.com.
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Beach Blanket Babylon – San Francisco, CA

[Article by Bruce Roberts]

When Tony Bennett croons about leaving his heart in San Francisco, tourists the world over call up fond memories of the Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars, Fishermans’ Wharf, Alcatraz-the world class sights and sites of “The City.”

Still, for me, frosting on the cake of a visit to San Francisco means tickets to Beach Blanket Babylon. Performed in the funky Club Fugazi, in mellow Italian North Beach, BBB is a raucus, rowdy, sometimes raunchy, foot-stomping, hand-clapping, LOL musical satire, that has entertained audiences in over 8000 performances since 1974. It is the longest live run in theater history, and what other show has its own street name:  Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard?

BBB has something for everyone.   Loosely structured around Snow White, searching the world for her Prince, the show’s performers pull in every  name in the news, every classic song, all with their own unique San Francisco interpretation.

Some of their bits have been in for years, and younger audiences may wonder at the allusions.   How many years since Man O Manischevitz has been a well-known ad, for example?

Yet every year, many of the skits are also new.  The World Series Champion SF Giants made their first appearance this year.  And the one-upmanship war between an ersatz Lady Gaga and her fake Katie Perry counterpart drew its first laughs in 2011, then hyped the audience to hysteria when the cast version of Justin Bieber-shy, naïve, inexperienced-came out, and was immediately rubbed up against by the two femme fatales, promising to be the best he’s ever had.

Bruce Roberts may be reached at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net.

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‘Searching for Tina Turner’ by Jacqueline E. Luckett: Review by Tammra Smith

I struggled through the first part of the story, not because of lack of interest. It was because I though Lena was too whiny. Lena came across with the classic victim syndrome. She’s an intelligent Black woman who gave up her dreams to help fulfill the dreams of her husband Randall. Lena took on her role as wife and mother with a drive to perfection in her decorating, stylish outfits and culinary skills. She did it all to support her husband and family. But that was the deal she made with Randall. She would put her dreams of becoming a professional photographer on the back burner to help him achieve his dream of becoming more established and trusted at his company. But when it came time for Randall to support Lena and her dreams, he renegotiated for more time, again and again.

Life has been very, very good to Lena, Randall and their children, son Kendrick and daughter Camille. They live in an upscale neighborhood, drive expensive cars, wear designer clothes, and enjoy the finer things in life. But Lena spirals downward as she realizes that she has lost herself. She gave herself away to the family and now she wants herself back. Randall tells her to take some time and figure out what she wants even though she has been telling him in very clear language. He just doesn’t hear it because that’s not what he wants.

Lena’s fixates on the life of Tina Turner to give her strength when she realizes that her husband of twenty-three years has lost his respect for her and when her son’s therapist tells her that her son Kendrick questions her value. As the story transitions Lena finds a way to step into her power, accepts the turn her life takes and moves on. Along the way she reconnects with an old love, one who helps her remember the strong intelligent woman that he knew. Throughout the story Lena gets support from her sister Bobbie, mom Lulu and long time friend Cheryl.

In the end Lena reclaims herself. I’m glad I selected this book and followed Lena on her journey. It is a good story, one well worth sitting down to read.

-Tammra Smith

Have questions or comments for the reviewer?  Reach her by email at tsmithhrh@att.net.

An Interview with Writer-Professor, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo

[Article by Robbie Fraser]

When I first met Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo it was in a small class room on the campus of Texas State University where he works as an English professor.  I was his student, and at the time I could not have been less enthused about it.  My pessimism was rooted in the prospect of a semester spent grappling with the course topic – writing poetry.  I had been late to register that semester, and having few options with most classes already full, I decided with heavy reservation to enroll in Ifowodo’s class.  At this point, I hadn’t read much poetry, and certainly had never taken up the task of writing any poetry myself.  As he started his first class, he asked who among us was “passionate about poetry.”  I was one of the few who kept their hands down.  Yet, as the semester continued, Ifowodo’s own passion began to chisel away at my initial disinterest.

My interest was piqued further over the course of the semester as I heard brief mentions from classmates and other professor’s about. Ifowodo’s background.  I learned he was an established poet.  A civil rights activist.  A political prisoner.  His class had my attention, and I soon found myself eagerly reading every assignment, eagerly writing my own poems, and when the semester eventually ended, my study and writing of poetry did not.

Thus, when I first learned that Ifowodo had ventured into the realm of fiction via the publication of his short story, “The Treasonable Parrot,” I was intrigued.  Before the story’s recent publication in the 72nd edition of the acclaimed literary magazine Agni, Ifowodo’s creative work had been focused entirely in poetry.  He is the author of three award winning collections: The Oil Lamp, Madiba, and Homeland and Other Poems, all winners of prizes administered by the national association of writers in his native Nigeria.  He was now entering a different realm; a realm he points out during our subsequent interview, that every poet, with few exceptions, aspires to find success in at some point.  I wanted to see how he might fare.

Robbie Fraser is an associate editor with Synchronized Chaos Magazine and may be reached at robbiedfraser@gmail.com.

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Poetry by Michael Swain

Recital to the frost

Upon the alters of progress a recital to the frost unrestrained by the gallops of decapitated harmony. Shackled for procreation under bluebirds dumps and sun flower swamps with eyes like dying weeds.  A thousand squirming arms on the faces of dogs that didn’t oblige by the beams of a fading star. Liquid vertebrates shine’s longevity questioned by the flies glaring at the final breathes of the last King’s empire. Burnt skin evisceration tread soft prophecy trampled erased underscore last chance deep gasp rasp wrath beneath the keys. Trudge forth torch crust on the walls growing deaf to all the floating angels calls pedagogue’s preaching ritual’s to stand in line.

Mangled

In the shadows of the library all the dead ask for ice cream. Smoke creeps off lips thats crack and crumble until they shine forever across a landscape blind to the countless admirers. Flickering gasps wretch forth a winded butcher past cobblestone arch’s, dripping relentlessly. Surprised by the sloth experience the dim light turns to face you vacantly it begins to laugh. Lilly pads that swallow family’s scream to the silence until the clutter leaves you utterly alone. Dancing we waste away our shame and sicken the decedents of ragged trophy wives dreams of ultimate creation. I can’t, why can’t we, We Can’t, why can’t I, saved, from what is run then stay go back fall down. Flecks of blood and salt roll like tumble weeds through the rivers that slither down children’s hands to murder the just righteous. The shadows like piranha’s gather and the books were all alive after all.

Slow children at play

Rotting teeth with no futures buried within tenements encircling moon craters that erode like so many sparks of a fire. Brilliant streams of piss and vomit rain down with a twinkle in the eyes of every laughing child that ever fell in front of a passing car. Bleeding pets and wet diapers fill the corridor with such sweet aromas you would wish a hammer hit your knees rather then another breath came creeping in. All the compassion in the world couldn’t soak up all the bits of broken glass left in your eyes from a simple moment of kindness, Wretched is that who crawls to aid! festering is one who longs! gruesome is that whimper of tender nostalgia!

But the dust settles and the lines all fade, the shadows you cling to reject a sense flips on its back and limbs a raised.

Michael Swain

mswain1984@gmail.com

‘Sweat and Tears’ by Monty J. Heying

Sweat and Tears

(for R.H. 1946-2011)

January, 1956

I was a boy then, fussing with my tie on a Sunday morning, when Mama Gross grabbed my arm and towed me into the bathroom where no one could overhear. Through gritted teeth, as she fixed my tie, the elderly matron of the Little Boys said, “You’re German-headed, just like my dead husband, and every chance I get I’m gonna take you down a notch, just like I did to him!”

I had no inkling what she meant until a few days later when Robby Horton got it for wetting the bed. Robby was asthmatic, pale and thin, a quiet boy with straight brown hair, big brown eyes and bucked teeth. I had turned ten in July and been at the Home nine months. Robby would be ten the coming May and had only been there a week on that Saturday morning when Mama Gross stood near the dormitory entrance, pointing a pale wrinkled finger at him and spouting commands as he cringed near a row of lockers.

“Get over here! NOW!” spat the gray-haired, thin-lipped matron.

Robby backed away, pleading, “PLEASE, Mama Gross!  I promise; I didn’t mean to!”

She moved toward the big grey study table where she kept the board—a thirty-six-inch pine plank, sanded smooth and notched and taped at one end for a handle.

Robby’s eyes, when she turned toward him with the board, sent a jolt through me. I had seen such a look of terror once, when a neighbor’s rabbit was cornered by a German shepherd. Robby shrank back, crouching and wailing, “No! Mama Gross! I won’t do it again!  Please, Mama Gross!”

I wouldn’t until decades later realize how sight of the board in the matron’s hand had triggered in Robby the memory of his mother’s beatings. He well knew the gruesome potential of a raging woman with a weapon in her hand.

All thirteen of us gathered to watch, some of us moving behind the table to shield us from what was about to happen.

“You’re gonna learn what it means to defy Muh-E-e!” She wagged her head as “me” came out in a warbling growl. “I’m tellin’ you; the longer you take; the worse it’s gonna be. Now GET OVER here!”

She advanced a step, gesturing with one hand while the other, cocked against a hip, held the tool she lusted to use. With each step she took, Robby backed away, but she kept on and on, like a hypnotizing serpent, until she could grab his wrist and yank him clear of the lockers and furniture.

“Now bend over and grab those ankles! Do it!”

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You can contact the author at mheying@gmail.com. More short stories and poetry may be found at:http://www.redroom.com/member/MontyHeying/.

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Finally, with tears streaming down his face, the seventy-pound pre-pubescent boy slowly took up the submissive pose. At the first stroke Robby jerked erect, screaming and scrambling beyond her reach. He turned to face her, pleading, tugging at his jeans as though they were on fire.

“Get back here and grab those ankles!” she said, boring into him with a murderous glare.

As though compelled by some irresistible force, Robby slowly resumed the position, and the ritual continued. Again she swung, and again he lurched up and away, crying, crouching and rubbing his buttocks, his moves accompanied by her stream of threats and commands to return and grab his ankles. Eventually Robby obeyed, and the sequence was repeated. Again and again, with trembling hands he would reach down, and from that inverted view between his legs he would watch her draw back the board and time his move so that just before impact, he could spring erect, arching his back, and absorb the blow with his baggy jeans.

Robby’s instinctive self-preserving gyrations were like throwing fuel on a fire. As the stocky matron’s rage spiraled upward, her face contorted into a red sweat-dripping mask. She caught his wrist, yet even still Robby resisted, ducking, dodging, pivoting in an arc around her, slipping free, begging and massaging his buttocks.

For our entranced gallery behind the table, time was frozen. The smell of urine was in the air. Unable to think, move or speak, we could only listen and stare.

“I’ll show YOU…!” she said as her arm snaked out, collaring him. She crammed his head down and pinned it between her knees. Then, gripping his jeans at the waist, she hoisted his butt and worked him over, lifting the board high and bringing it down full strength. Like some out-of-control hate machine, the arm attached to the sweat-darkened blue flowered dress went up and down, up and down… . Robby’s arms flailed among the sweat and tear-stained floor tiles, his upside-down, formerly pale face now dark red. In savage orgasmic fury, Mama Gross’s bared teeth clamped pulsing over her lower lip in rhythm to the movements of her arm. After several strokes she staggered, relaxed her quivering knees, and allowed the whimpering mass that was once little Robby to slump to the floor.

Her chest heaved and her eyes rolled as she wagged her head to emphasize her words. “If you EVER!” (pant, pant) “Don’t you EVER!” (pant) We jumped as she tossed the board onto the table in front of us. “You boys,” (pant) “get on with your business!”

After some months, I moved up to the Big Boys dormitory, where Robby later joined me. Years went by, then one day I came home from school, and someone said he’d left. The empty hangers in his locker confirmed it. His mother had remarried and returned for him and his sisters. In the months that followed, I almost forgot about him. In an orphanage, you learn not to become attached because of the way kids come and go without warning. Robby was gone, and that was that.

A lifetime later, the memory of Robby’s beating bubbled up as I was writing in my journal. I tried to track him down but had no luck. I wanted, badly, to find him, but the storms of life had me on the run. I had a family to support. The seasons and decades flew by as my daughters grew into young women.

When at last I heard Robby’s voice on the phone, he was sixy-four and living in a subsidized apartment for seniors in Barre, Vermont, nearly three thousand miles away. I flew out for a visit. He was thin, but his hawk-like eyes were clear and fierce, and he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. His tiny apartment was decorated war veteran style with camouflage bedding, military memorabilia and a prominent American flag. Across one wall, hung a large POW-MIA banner that read: “You Are Not Fogotten.”

Robby lit some incense, opened a window and smoked a joint as he spoke of his life in the military and then as a wanderer, living off the land along the Apalachian Trail. He talked about months in a mental hospital, sentenced there after comandeering a Vermont radio station he’d hallucinated was a North Vietnamese radar site. Robby held that he was a decorated war veteran and offered convincing descriptions of night-time missions in an early stealth helicopter called a “Loach.”

“I burned my medals,” he said. “Me and some other Viet Nam vets threw all our medals into a fire at an anti-war demonstration in D.C.”

Robby spoke in a scattered way about fathering six children and ranted about the “madness” of his ex wife; yet there was pride in his voice when he talked of his sons and the beauty and intelligence of his daughters.

I shared with Robby the story I’d written about his beating. “You really nailed it. That’s exactly how it was,” he said, “Old lady Gross was some kinda witch.”

His eyebrows lifted. “I had her in my crosshairs.” He cocked his head, sighting along an outstretched arm, and squeezed a make-believe trigger, making a “Pshu-u-uw!” sound and rocking backward to dramatize the recoil of his imaginary rifle.

Robby remembered the horrific beatings I had received on the lame pretext of stealing a pen that I’d been given by my fifth grade teacher. “How could I forget?” he said. “You got two beatings in one day for something you didn’t do. I was so mad. If Lovelace hadn’t stopped when he did… . I had my eye on a stapler on Mama Gross’s desk. I was about to throw it at the back of his head.”

During the thirty months that the Home was run by the sadistic Superintendent Lovelace, Robby and I had seen countless beatings every bit as extreme as ours.

“But you know,” Robby said. “When I was with my mother it was actually worse.” He then proceeded to tell about her daily beatings, gruesome stories that were hard to hear. “I was the only male child, and I reminded her of my father.” When he was through I knew that my life had been a walk in the park compared with Robby’s.

After I returned from Barre, we kept in touch. We reminisced on the phone over stories about the Home that I’d written and mailed him. We acknowledged, eventually, that although there had been many good times, it was the beatings that bound us together so tightly. Then he stopped answering his phone.

To some people, Robby was a pot-smoking vagrant who lived in a camouflaged tent in a bushy glen in the heart of a cemetery and was on a first-name basis with every street-bound war veteran in town—and a few police officers. Some think of Robby as a bum who neglected and maybe even abused his children.

I don’t know how much is true of what Robby and others have said about him. Their truth matters less to me than to them. What I am convinced of is that Robby Horton never had a chance at a normal life because of his tortured childhood. Personal responsibility is a noble goal, but any psychologist worth the paper in his diploma will tell you there are limits to what the human mind can endure.

Robby’s parents were never held accountable for his mistreatment, and institutional child abuse is seldom prosecuted. In 1958, Lovelace was forced to resign from the Fort Worth children’s home and promptly took over Boysville, a private facility near San Antonio, where he worked until he retired in 1972. Mamma Gross was forced to retire in 1960, after the coach caught her “beating the hell out of a little boy.”

Last week Robby died of pneumonia. All six of his children were able to see him before it was too late, thanks to his pastor, Reverend David, who had also contacted me. Robby spoke from the peace and comfort of a hospice bed arranged by his eldest son. His voice on the phone was barely audible: “Y’still writin’, …’bout the Home?”

“Hell yes I am.”

“Good …boy!”

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Bio:

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he grew up, Monty earned a business degree and began a career in corporate finance. He migrated to Northern California in his mid-thirties, where he married and raised two daughters . The San Francisco Bay Area is where he now resides, “But Texas will always be home,” Monty says.

His earliest years were shaped by war, poverty and family alcoholism, sharpening his focus on humanity. In the Texas orphanage where he was raised, children were tortured, loved or tolerated, depending on who was in charge. He left a successful business career to seek an understanding of how children with apparently healthy parents can end up in orphanages and foster homes, and to write stories about what he finds.

He is currently working on two books. One is a history of the children’s home where he grew up, INVISIBLE ORPHANAGE. Monty is also working on an autobiographical novel, THE LAST ORPHANAGE, about a boy growing up without parents in Texas during the 1950s and early ‘60s.