Mindy Ohringer responds to Jasmin Johnson’s poem ‘watering the machine’

Some thoughts regarding

“watering the machine” by Jasmin Johnson,

Offered by Mindy Ohringer.

 

This…

an exquisite meditation on mortality,

folding and unfolding, interplay between the particular, universal, cosmic.

telescoping and magnification within the text – shifting lens of identity, black, female, queer, South,

migration, fraught, complex, and inspiration friendship, exploring what defines us, prodding us to wonder: what do we get to define on the journey, what is the journey?

It is suggested that we:

Bear witness.  Exhort morality. Discover within the full spectrum of human socialization, the scale of fragile identity formation and intimate loss. In the love of others, we find ourselves, lose ourselves, and are reborn as better selves.

Ask: What has shaped such a stunning soul, what is the underpinning of this suffering? What about it is truly known to us?

A partial answer: We know ourselves in contrast to Old Time religion, We create and dissect a multiplicity of selves within and outside of identities that are understood as independent variables by social scientists, and identity politics itself. Some independent variables such as age are less salient if the writer is young, some independent variables are more salient as the writer embraces certain intersections as intertwining method and home.

What do loss, suffering, particularly the loss and suffering that experienced as preordained by virtue of race, class, and gender, those pesky and profound independent variables, tell us? How do we awaken from slumber, from opiated, undifferentiated masses and change the world?  When do we awaken? It is art that tells us morning has come, will come, is coming…

We listen. We listen more closely. We love. We love more deeply and broadly. We honor our friends alive and dead. We summon and refract starlight.

A poem is written that fulfills this extraordinary mission. The one you heard.

 

Mindy Ohringer

My politically charged fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in “The Thieving Magpie”, “Rat’s Ass Review”, “October Hill Magazine”, “The Greenwich Village Literary Review”, “MORE.com”, “New Choices”, and “The Columbia Spectator. ” In September 2018, I was a “Writer in Residence” at Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, working on the second book of my phantasmagorical trilogy about women writers, their struggle to create, and the 2008 presidential election. In June 2018, I participated in Marge Piercy’s annual juried poetry intensive. My short story, “When The Men We Don’t Marry Come To Find Us” is forthcoming in the on-line literary journal “Terror House.” I’ve worked in entertainment public relations, government, politics, and public education advocacy. I studied Political Science at Barnard College, earned an M.A. in Politics from New York University, and completed seventy-two credits of doctoral work in Politics at N.Y.U. My blog, “Union & Utopia”, exploring how the political and personal intertwine, can be 
found at mindyohringer.com

Edward Morris’ short story ‘The Star-King’

The Star-King
by Edward Morris

Le Journal Français
Private Collection, Item 41-A
Single cahier, acquired Montmartre, ca. 1900
Carot, Jeunet et fils, Rare Books
Handwritten; (order pages by number and name)
Signatory: (illegible)
Concierge on Duty, Hotel Belleville
For effects of the Deceased:
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde
*“
TO MR. W.P.”
*
Overture: [separate, unmarked]
We are all in the gutter, dear W., but some of us are looking at the stars.

A Childe made old, who caused public excitement and gave rise to many strange conjectures, lounged across a divan, smoking innumerable cigarettes, sketching with a piece of charcoal by the window. Outside, he could hear bees, and smell roses from somewhere close. The dim hum of Paris was like the wheeze of a distant concertina. Now and then, the shadow of an indignant pigeon or crow would pass down the long white chintz curtains of this room in this rooming house, with the bleakness of a Ukiyo-e reflection.

As it was in the Ukiyo style, the reflection was never the same as the object. The portrait the trembling, crow-tracked man-boy eked out upon the newsprint, stroke by stroke, was a selfportrait, yet never truly himself. Continue reading

‘Watering the Machine,’ short story from Jasmin Johnson

‘watering the machine’

“Never out my environment, cause I am my element”-Derek Mitchell (@derekm_)

We don’t forget where we’re standing when the ground below shifts. Instinct says that something has cracked the sky and earth all at once; fleeing for a final time. I am never still when any of this happens.

When it was my dad I was crossing the threshold of my mother’s bedroom studying the face of the only parent I would have left. My whole world in front of me tucked beneath a cloud of covers. When it was my grandmother I’d woken up in the middle of the night fighting the air to breathe minutes before getting the call. Another, I heard screams piercing through all the lights in the house; punching a hole into my stomach. I was 10 years old and jumping on the bed then. I was bound to land on that which lied beneath
me.

We are promised gravity and, in some measure, a landing. But it is difficult to understand or apply a child’s imagination of landing as an inevitable return to soil while they stand closest to it. As a child I filled my hands with dirt and cupped fireflies in my palms as they climbed around my fingers like tree branches.

Two years ago I could not write this all down. I felt unequipped to hold sobbing prayers or rosary beads of disbelief that swelled my chest; clogging sentences into syllables and suffocating those into mumbled leftovers. I was not nearly as creative as I thought I should be to filter tears into a sea of glass or a punchline. I could not gather the words and place them in any order that would direct me to you, instead of a period. This burial of hope made language an economy that was no longer worth the investment and communication became a foreign god that asked for more life from me than what felt
given.

That April night two years ago, stumbling out of an Uber, numb and loose, you appeared on my phone screen at 3 AM. Your smile wide as a billboard, the scattered words below read, “Was this your friend?” “Come to Philly.” “Through the window!”

Liquor stained the back of my throat as stillness felt like a blur that I wanted to bulldoze through. In front of my apartment door I thought about your body raptured by wind and held my arms out in front of me; opening and closing my mouth a few times as I waited for a name or maybe a god to crawl out.

The truth is that tomorrows felt inevitable then. On the other hand, death, like taxes and alcohol, was only for adults. And I remember being 11 years old sitting shoulder to shoulder with you on a field trip. They’d taken our 6th grade class to see a vintage version of Pocahontas or something very cowboys vs. Indians themed in traditional white liberal nature. But we were kids then and there was enough material about savagery that filled our bellies with laughter tinged with fear. We ate the words up and pointed fake guns at one another. For my life I cannot remember what you whispered that made me burst out in laughter and earn a striking glare from our teacher during a presumably sentimental scene.

Wiping my eyes with the back of my hands, your eyebrows shot up and a wide grin spread across your face as if you were never funny until that moment. I pretended that I was crying as an alibi to our loud outburst. You turned to other classmates announcing that the movie bought tears to my eyes as you whispered down the aisle for a Kleenex. I pinned this back on you as we soon carried this playful joke on the bus all the way
back to the classroom in fits of giggles. Years later we would turn 19 and come home from school for the summer.

You’d meet me at my internship and we’d walk Broad Street before settling behind an abandoned building hidden from the busy street. You’d pull out a bottle of peach flavored Amsterdam from your backpack along with a black lighter and rolling paper before we tore into our lives like our last meal. Your eyes fixed on the gum stained sidewalk, you’d confess you should’ve just gone to Brown when the door was open; but home felt like your grandfather’s chest. And we’d curse all the words we could find
for how that story ended. After a few swigs of silence we’d resort to imagining, future, soon, someday, into our palms as we admitted how much of the world was missing from them.

After a while we’d just settle back into the casual rhythm of the block. Lil Wayne’s Drought 3 mixtape usually poured from your phone’s speakers as we watched cars peel through the alleyway. Just North Philly-bred kids wondering what hid behind this city that often felt like a curtain. Leaning your back against the gate, flickering the lighter to
watch the flame disappear and reappear, a small smile tugs at your mouth when I resurrect our joke remarking that you should not to turn to crying again. “It gets you nothing but tissues.”

I knew your silence well but could not imagine it lying flat on a freeway. I asked as many questions that could fit in my mouth, a child all over again tugging at her mother’s hem, until they sounded like your name. “Did it hurt,” “Did you feel it?” “Did you know? “Do you know” I ask as if you are here beside me with a halo of smoke billowing around your head. We’re sitting by the water at Fairmount Park again sharing sips from a bottle, feet swinging from the edge of an abandoned balcony, eyes tilted at the sun sliding down the walls of our city. Calls rushed in to explain, to cry, for company, and I locked myself in a closet, covered by a veil of clothes hanging above me. Baptizing my phone in tears, I could not face death outside as inevitable as trees that shed in the winter.

But it was spring and the Alabama air felt thin. Light entered the room without pulling back a curtain and the earth’s scent became smoke from charcoal grills and the barbecue that surely decorated them. However, I wanted to remain in the night, in the shadows of a closet and pause time like a machine. My phone worked for me but a person felt more impossible. Facing a machine was different than facing a friend who could not be resurrected by an outlet.

Grief felt like a desert and I couldn’t water a thing. My love could not hold my friends tight enough for they’d all slip through the cracks as they were born through them. I’d refresh his Instagram account and barely touch the screen like it was an open casket or a newborn. Like I could dent something. Soon I opted out of the whole circus by not looking altogether. It’s like when Lebron throws a blind pass, pretending his peripheral isn’t there when that’s really his aim. I looked away from the screen and stayed away from the funeral while hoping that chronology would bend on his behalf. The algorithm would somehow intercede on itself and none of this would be true. This wouldn’t have to be written.

Extreme accessibility provides us with both the shock of death like a permanently lost signal and the overconsumption of it in a single scroll. The graveyard can now be as active as social media where Instagram captions turn into epitaphs overnight. Proof that they were once here and just that quickly not.

But the question that springs us from embrace to isolation is always where does all that warmth go? How do those bones live once we’ve buried them? Should they even? I accept that the phone I hold in my palms today will likely outlive the firefly I held those summer nights. I know that all things pass away and crumble into nothing. I also know that there are little lives on the way, some already here, tilting their heads back and watching us closely.

I’ve pressed my back against blades of grass while pointing at the sky until it was the tip of my finger. None of us knows the measure of life. But what the hell was and is the
point of it all? There are people that need evidence to believe. I needed reason to be. I needed beauty to exist for a reason. I needed death to happen for a reason. This was the payment for my serenity and the nursery for my logic.

But there was once where Derek told me he volunteers at an anarchic bookstore. He brings it up casually and goes, “A few people do it, we just go and sign in. Make time when we can.” He shrugs, “ And yeah, there’s no pay, it’s not for that forreal and nobody makes us come in…We make us, if anybody.” Then after a while he adds matter of factly, “Plus no one knows who the hell’s ever in charge, so there’s also that.”

I’ll keep it a bean.

I thought he and everyone apart of it was nuts. I truly did. Who has time to make time anymore? I also envied them all the way to admiration. Derek was a working full time student but he insisted on being endless. I wanted to speed through everything. I thought I had to keep up with seconds and I thought even those were limited. But he seemed to hold time in his palms by not even bothering with the thing or letting
the thing bother with him. This was also the guy blasting Lil Uzi while never noticing the white women in neighboring Subarus that stared at us like we were the obscenities pouring from our cracked windows.

When really above that volume he was likely yelling something about a philosopher he was studying like a song he couldn’t get out his head or a short story he couldn’t stop reading. I should tell you, I wasn’t raised this way. I was raised to believe eternal life was a location and that there was a pre-destined path to get there. And so nobody really tells you when you’ve become a backslider. After long absences, I’d return to careful gazes and hugs that held the question of what distance had carved out of me.

Who was this strange tattooed woman with a piercing now sprouting from her nose?
Spilling out impossible ideas of gender, politics and religion. Coloring outside of pre-sketched lines. I was raised to lick my wounds before something cracked the sky. Before a choir of trumpets descended from the heavens over mobs of hanging jaws and bended knees. Or something like that. So I was raised to “save” my life from fiery flames, and go to the altar. If I was an even better Christian I would have brought all the
“worldly” lives like Derek’s to that watery grave.

But I didn’t become that Christian and I wasn’t given a life where it was easy to be any Christian. I was given a black life, a queer one where the God I’d heard in sermons was not my friend but instead was often the gun to my temple. So when Derek and I talked about God he wasn’t on the throne, he was in some alleyway off Broad Street, behind the McDonalds on Girard. It’s all gentrified and presentable now but back then it was abandoned enough where we could cover his name in a veil of smoke and no one would notice. It was ugly and honest enough where God had to leave the throne for the hot seat. And that was probably the first time in a long time that I’d been to
church in a long while. Although, the one that baptized me was just a few blocks up.

At the time that Derek and I reunited we would try to meet up during breaks and catch up on everything that was driving us crazy about school. For him it was often whiteness. For me it was the Bible.

I attended a historically black Christian university in Alabama. Over there religion was a game of Russian Roulette. They thought of it as a bullet and used it as such. Like any church kid I had been given fear as a prelude to love early. I knew terror well and maybe that’s what locked me in a closet, holding my breath like it was time itself, because I thought of survival as a savior. Death was our neighborhood and not the
highway we took to leave it.

A part of me figured that if I could stabilize a sense of linearity, I couldn’t be flung from its embrace and I could grow old. And that meant something because so many of us hadn’t.

When graduation came we all scurried into the nearest building to secure this dream and avoid whatever it was outside killing us. That outside varied for each of us. The building we ran into did as well. We would die a metaphorical death that sent us to the White House, Hollywood or Harvard. Not the physical grave. Not this early. But if I am to end having said anything about my friend it is that he didn’t die before he died. And I’ve seen this happen. If I didn’t make it home that spring night it would’ve happened to me.

I was more heaven than alleyway. I wanted to be a street paved with gold and this often meant vomiting my appetite while rent hovered over my head like a ceiling. This also meant insomnia and loads of it.

Worry spilled over the brim of my life and a smile that felt like a grimace tugged at the corner of my lips when anyone mentioned the miraculous weight loss, the black girl magic degree. I was a flower that had more data than water. From the abyss of that spring air, I stumbled out of an Uber expecting the night to stay young. And there is something about not being able to catch a friend when they fall from the night.

Suddenly you want to remove all the buildings blocking the sun. You want to reverse time or push it to the very edge of itself. There was a moment where I realized all of the closets in my world. I’d hid myself in a closed corner with more outfits than people. So I decided to make my friendships infinite in more ways than a number. Maybe this is the crack in the sky. Maybe we must believe in our special ability to bring warmth to other lives even after ours has gone cold.

Excerpt from Gina Stella D’Assunta’s spoken word show ‘How to Have a Body’

Total Facts Known

i.

Fact: Faces in agony & faces in ecstasy resemble each other for a reason.

Fact: Pain is dissociative, overwhelming, all-encompassing. A knife that stabs where every joint bends, the insides of your eyelids & the walls of your cunt.

Fact: Talking about a hard thing in therapy, I feel a stir in a tender point. While I know that’s not surprising, my sudden inability to white-knuckle through it is. C’mon girl, breathe, move around a little – but that’s just not working today. It, agonizingly, becomes too intense: A ramp up from background ache, white noise, vague radio static; to pointed, incisive, insistent, greedy. I massage my own shoulder & make sounds that I don’t expect myself to – precisely identical to the sounds I make when I’m getting fucked, hard. I finally say “You are hearing me make some very… Intimate noises.” to my therapist, who graciously laughs, touches their hand to their sternum. “I must really trust you, or something,” I giggle & tap my own sternum back – but then it’s too much again. I wince, see white stars burst behind my eyelids.

Fact: Pain is also an intimacy, an invitation, a softening, an opening. Pain is your body crossing its own threshold & still holding itself upright.

Fact: I write every spike, throb, wave, undulation in stardust. Continue reading

Doug Hawley’s short story ‘Space Force vs Space Squids’

Space Force vs. Space Squids

“Mr. President, we have our first action taken by Space Force.”

“Jenkins, I told you to call me ‘Your Excellency, Emperor For Life’.  I knew that the 200 billion dollars start up cost for Space Force was well worth it.  Have Space Force Commander Hanley come in to brief me.”

“Yes sir.”

POTUS pointed at Jenkins, frowned and said “One more thing.  You’re fired” while spraying spittle.

Continue reading

Poetry from J. Dorroh – ‘The Pool’ and others

“The Pool”

 

Old men flock in locker rooms,

their tattoos stretched by gravity beyond recognition,

a 1971 bleeding heart with an arrow through the middle,

now a flattened marshmallow with sticks protruding from its sides.

They move slowly these days, like molasses, spreading out onto benches

with all of their stuff: straps and bands, towels and tubes of Aspercreme,

trails of wet gray lint soughing off of their shriveled legs as they trudge

into musty shower stalls.

 

Their wives walk the lazy river beside the pool,

pushing against the current, praying that Lipitor and eating

more beets and kale will do the trick. “Purple means freedom,”

says the chatty lifeguard whose voice echoes over water. It’s the way

she codes her notes, how she manages her time she explains on her

blood-red iPhone.

 

There are babies being tossed into the kiddie pool, unafraid to leave

their mothers’ waters for the second time, kicking as naturally as guppies.

They need to acquire this skill now to prevent them from drowning later.

There’s always a baby found in some neighbor’s pool, usually around the

4th of July, when too many people are more concerned about the potato salad

going bad.

 

The sign reads to shower before you enter the pool, but I never do.

The lifeguards don’t pull rank; I think they may have been tossed into pools

as babies, all of that control and responsibility, the way they see dead people

bobbing in the water; that it would certainly be their fault. I choose to clean myself

with a splash in Lane One, lemon-yellow flippers attached to my feet, propelling me

half-way across the pool in eight strokes. If someone tells me that I’m cheating,

I will remind them that it really doesn’t matter since we are all living on borrowed time.

  Continue reading

Huda Al-Marashi’s ‘Husband Potential’ – excerpt from her book First Comes Marriage

Husband Potential

Huda Al-Marashi’s First Comes Marriage

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t think of Hadi Ridha as a potential husband. The day my family  first met the Ridhas, Mrs. Ridha took one look at me—six years old and my hair in braids—and my baby sister, Lina, and praised God  with a heartfelt “Mashallah, mashallah.” “We don’t need to look anymore,” she said, “We found our pretty girls.”

At the time, I didn’t know that my father and Dr. Ridha had gone to the same medical school in Baghdad. I didn’t know that they’d found each other  at an American Academy of Neurology meeting in San Diego and that Dr. Ridha had invited us to his home for dinner. I didn’t know that the Ridhas were also Iraqi and Shia, because those were descriptors I still didn’t know to apply to myself.

All I knew that day was that the Ridhas were different in the same way we were different. They spoke Arabic with “ch” sounds, replacing the “k” sounds; they ate rice with stews called marga; and they kept their five daily prayers, even though Mrs. Ridha, like Mama, did not cover her hair with the hijab. These were my signs that of the two types of boys in the world—those who were possible to marry and those who were impossible—the Ridha boys belonged to the former, the small population of boys from which I’d be allowed to choose a husband.

Continue reading