Dolls Behaving Badly, a novel by Cinthia Ritchie

dollsbadly

“Your words are sloppy,” he said.

It was mid-December and we were walking along the frozen inlet, twilight blurring everything lavender and silver and beyond, the snow-shadowed mountains.

He was a poet from Colorado and I was a single mother from Alaska. We met online and he flew up for a visit after convincing himself he was in love. I knew he wasn’t and besides, I was too exhausted for love. I wanted sex but only if it was quick because I had to write at night, after my son fell asleep, I had to walk the dog and submit my work and finish the budget for next week’s newspaper, and each morning I swam or ran before fixing my son’s breakfast and driving to work.

The poet was older than me, and he had published a slim volume of poems years ago, and he was friends with a famous, alcoholic poet. He treated me with a condescending air, an aloof superiority, as if he were better than me, more talented, more established.

He was also wealthy. I lived in a small, book-cluttered apartment with my son, two cats and hyper dog.

For four days, the poet analyzed and critiqued my work, and then he read his own poems out loud, waiting to be admired, treasured. He wanted me to paint him silver, polish his words until they glowed, but that wasn’t my job.

By the time he left, I was exhausted.

“Maybe someday, but not yet,” he said as I dropped him at the airport.

He didn’t mean us, he meant my writing. He saw me as a beginner, a struggling single-mother who lived in a messy apartment with a too-smart son and a hyper dog.

I was all of those things, but I was more.

All that winter, after work and fixing dinner and walking the dog, after my son went to bed and the house became silent, I wrote with a fury that startled me. I bled words, one after another, and by the time the ground thawed and birch trees gleamed green and good, I had a writing grant, poems in five magazines, plus an essay that would lead to an award that would lead to an agent that would lead to a two-book deal with a New York publisher.

“Your words are sloppy,” that poet had said, his tone dismissive, almost bored, and for months afterwards I had felt ashamed, as if I were lacking. As if I were less.

What he couldn’t see, what took me years to see is that while my life was sloppy and poor and gritty, it was that very sloppiness, that roughness that prompted me to write outside of the boundaries, to defy conventions, to take risk and forge ahead because really, what did I have to lose?

When my first novel released a few years ago, I thought of sending that poet a copy (Look! See what I did!). But I never got around to it and besides, it didn’t seem to matter.

 excerpt from Dolls Behaving Badly (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group)

Thursday, Sept. 15

This is my diary, my pathetic little conversation with myself. No doubt I will burn it halfway through. I’ve never been one to finish anything. Mother used to say this was because I was born during a full moon, but like everything she says, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

It isn’t even the beginning of the year. Or even the month. It’s not even my birthday. I’m starting, typical of me, impulsively, in the middle of September. I’m starting with the facts.I’m thirty-eight years old. I’ve slept with nineteen and a half men.

I live in Alaska, not the wild parts but smack in the middle of Anchorage, with the Walmart and Home Depot squatting over streets littered with moose poop.

I’m divorced. Last month my ex-husband paid child support in ptarmigan carcasses, those tiny bones snapping like fingers when I tried to eat them.
I have one son, age eight and already in fourth grade. He is gifted, his teachers gush, remarking how unusual it is for such a child to come out of such unique (meaning underprivileged, meaning single parent, meaning they don’t think I’m very smart) circumstances.

Yesterday, I was so worried about money I stayed home from work and tried to drown myself in the bathtub. I sank my head under the water and held my breath, but my face popped up in less than a minute. I tried a second time, but by then my heart wasn’t really in it so I got out, brushed the dog hair off the sofa and plopped down to watch Oprah.

What happened next was a miracle, like Gramma used to say. No angels sang, of course, and there was none of that ornery church music. Instead, a very tall woman (who might have been an angel if heaven had high ceilings) waved her arms. There were sweat stains under her sweater, and this impressed me so much that I leaned forward; I knew something important was about to happen.

Most of what she said was New Age mumbo-jumbo, but when she mentioned the diary, I pulled myself up and rewrapped the towel around my waist. I knew she was speaking to me, almost as if this was her purpose in life, to make sure these words got directed my way.

“Your thoughts are gold,” the giant woman said. “Hold them up to the light and they shine.”

I was crying by then, sobbing into the dog’s neck. It was like a salvation, like those traveling preachers who used to come to town. Mother would never let us go but I snuck out with Julie, who was a Baptist. Those preachers believed, and while we were there in that tent, we did too.
This is what I’m hoping for, that my words will deliver me something. Not the truth, exactly. But solace.

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Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch, poetry by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

COVER IN FINAL Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch

My debut poetry collection had just been published (The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor, Salmon Poetry), and after all the jubilation settled down surrounding the book’s release, I was dragging like a sleepy two-year-old to have to work on the centerpiece poem for a second book that in my heart I knew I had to write. I would’ve had to put myself psychically out in the Atlantic Ocean for weeks in an upturned boat to tell this true story in poetry about real people who’d once lived near people I knew.

I couldn’t tackle that piece then.

What I could do, and did do, was pull out a bunch of loose-leaf notes stuffed in random cubbyholes in my study desk. I wondered what, if anything, I’d find in all the scribbles and snatches of paper. To my bemused surprise, I saw that I had periodically jotted down actual quotes “HE” said for one reason or another, at one time or another, that were pretty funny or insightful or goofy.

More surprisingly, some of these quotes stood up well over all that time and I thought, hmm, you know what?, I don’t even have to write a whole poem, I could just slap these on the page and write poems around ‘em. And that’s how Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) got itself firmly ensconced in the world, word, world.

Selected Poems from Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch (dancing girl press):

Super Dan Comics Question Box Series # 30
(Skin Triptych, 20-Years-Wedded)

Super Dan: So, gal-pal, what is Victoria’s secret?

Me: You don’t know, Dan—really?
(Super Dan’s see-through eyes, swirly
as nautiluses.)

Me: All right. She has humongous perky breasts and a slim tight
treasure chest, and you want it.

Super Dan: So how is that a secret? With that high-lift
bra of hers. Huh. Better not tell Victoria a secret
if she thinks that’s something she’s keeping
to herself.

*

Me: Did you know researchers say sex,
if you’re lucky, lasts about 6 minutes, and foreplay
is designated to be 30 minutes, mandatory. They said so
on Good Morning America. 30 minutes
of kissing and caressing and nibbling on stuff.
That’s so women and men can be aroused
on the same stage in the same scene.

Super Dan: I’m washing my hot spots.
Start the foreplay without me.

*

Super Dan: Let me tell you about that 30-minute
shower you’re always taking.
One thing you need to know,
other than everyone in the world asks for their back
to be scrubbed, but you naturally ask I wash your front,
is that soap is there
to make water wetter.
It disallows the surface tension.
You’re rubbing yourself essentially
with ashes and beef fat.
Have a happy shower!

Super Dan Comics Question Box Series # 75

(Wedding Anniversary. With incident
of poorly handled physical proximity)

On our who-knows-what-number wedding anniversary
I wonder about marriage
when I write on the card
“Happy Weeding Anniversary,” notice it
and just let it stand.

Super Dan (hollering): Close the cold-makin’
machine!

I won’t close it. The refrigerator. Anniversary
dinner. Opening it over fifteen times
in less than fifteen minutes
to finish a food task for a superhero, not
my idea of party.

Which, trust this, is not the highlight
of the day’s unfolding:
contrary to comic book panel statistics,
even superheroes utilize, on occasion, a basic toilet.
He sat, like any Western mere male mortal, elbows
resting upon knees, tilting slightly forward.
There I stood at the Jacuzzi tub, all naked,
talking. My pendulous charming breasts, as I bent
at the waist, remarked on their own.
And then he rose.

Super Dan: You are my best friend
in the world. A-one. See, look, you are
such my best friend I can stand up
and not even get hard.

I know.
Then. After he’s concluded
his transaction with the bathroom…

Me: Let me see some of that skin.
Show me your fine superself. Don’t keep that
to just you. Let me see your backside.
Bend over a bit.

Super Dan: I just had a sit-down.
I evacuated my system.
Let a custodian’s bowels settle back
in place first.
I want to.
Give me a few minutes.

Me: Can you see me?

Super Dan: I can.

Me: You are a lost horizon. This moment is deported.
Put it on my tab. Is my tab
still good with you?

Super Dan: Your tab is good for infinity.

Look Where She Points, poetry by Emily Vieweg

Look Where She Points is forthcoming from Plan B Press
Well, what he said was to the guy I was waiting in line with. “Are you together?” 
 

No, we weren’t. I mean, we were in the bookstore together, but he meant as a couple. No. We had just met. We were together in the bookstore because we were lost in conversation at a writing conference, but we weren’t “together” together. That moment made me think, though, about who I was together with: my fiance, who was back home. 16 hours away by car, four hours by plane.

I  had been with him for two years; our daughter was just a few months old when I went back to the city where I grew up to attend a writing conference. I stayed with my sister to save money, and then overindulged on books, tea, coffee and alcohol. In three days, I think I consumed more alcohol than I did in my 20s. 

When the cashier asked his question, I thought, at first, wow, we must look good together! That idea promptly dissolved when he said, “Nope, we’re just acquaintances.”

Smack. Dammit. So much for the anonymous tryst with someone I would never see again.

 

The One I Never Slept With

The bad-good boy smelling of some sweet

cologne – a hint of vanilla and a tang
that hung in the air when you passed
by. I close my eyes and I’m back
in the musty new bookstore
where the clerk asked if you should
pay for my journals.
It could have been the way
we had matching conference totes or
tattoos on our arms or
that we spoke
of Robert Bly and
Sharon Olds and
how
I-am-going-to-spend-way-too-much-money-on-this-trip.

It’s not your writing I fell for.

What if my husband knows
I still think of
your sweet smell
your firm arms
that when I
am floating
above
myself
with him
that I
just
lust
for
you

Emily Vieweg is a poet and playwright originally from St. Louis, Missouri.  Her work has been published in Foliate Oak, The Voices Project, Northern Eclecta, Red Weather Literary Magazine, WritingRaw.com and is forthcoming in Soundings Review.  She lives in Fargo, North Dakota where she is a mother of two, pet parent, data processor and adjunct English instructor. Emily earned her MFA in Creative Writing in 2015 from Lindenwood University.

A Matter of Contrast: Two Trips to Vietnam by Richard Kirshen

A special “S/he said to me” for a forthcoming book

MOC-HSTM

I once lived an interruption of my real life long ago, in a land far away. I grew up in a somewhat idyllic situation in Miami, Florida where I knew not from the word dysfunctional. My formative years were spent in a semi-privileged situation. I lived and went to school in Miami, but spent the off-season in my family’s summer home on the beach, south of Boston. I loved it. There was little stress, a very liberal parental upbringing, and a home consisting of mom and dad, three younger sisters and myself.

After graduating high school I attempted college. I was in and out for a year and a half, before the dreaded letter came. It was from the Selective Service System informing me that because of the fact that I was carrying less than what they considered a full load in college, I had become eligible for the draft. I immediately decided that allowing myself to be drafted into the Army during a full scale “conflict” (as the Vietnam War was referred to in those days) would not be the wisest decision of my life.

I enlisted in the Navy the next day, presuming that the worst that could occur was that I would be on a ship twenty miles off the coast lobbing fire support to a place where I could neither see nor understand the consequences of such actions. It didn’t quite work out that way.

After spending one year of sea duty on a ship home-ported out of Yokosuka, Japan, I was sent to Navy Dive School in the Philippines. I became officially certified as a US Navy Diver. I was then sent to a few specialty schools, and then to the Republic of Vietnam. For a while I served as a diver, making numerous and varied types of dives in numerous and varied bodies of water; over three hundred dives to be a bit more accurate.

The Navy, though, decided that since the attrition rate of River Boat crewmen was substantially higher than that of divers, and since I was a qualified boat coxswain, in addition to a diver, changes would have to be made. I was sent to the Mekong Delta region in the southern part of the country and was delegated to being a river patrol boat captain. The events that took place there, for the next nine months contributed to the scariest, most horror filled, most inane, and, admittedly, the most self-satisfying era in my life.

Skip forward now, about forty years to 2013. My wife and sister talked me into going back there again. This time, though, on a five-star luxury river cruise boat for a two week cruise up the Mekong River, through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. After much heated and debated conversation, I reluctantly agreed and went on this return journey.

When I returned, I was asked by many who knew of my past, “So, Richie, how did your two trips to Vietnam differ?” At first I thought it to be a joke, or at the very least a rhetorical question. After all how could one compare being a tourist to being a combatant in one of the most tragic of all wars? They were asking me to compare five-star meals and pleasant day trips, to C-rations and being shot at every day. It was at that point that I decided to write a book comparing the two trips. I alternated, for the most part, from chapter to chapter, comparing and contrasting my trips to many of the same places during two such disparate expeditions. I added photos from both eras and true, factual stories from the two tours.

My book, “A Matter of Contrast” ended up being in the neighborhood of 60,000 words with numerous photos and recollections. Writing the book over the course of a year brought back various memories that would have been long forgotten were it not for the fact that my mother and sisters had saved all the letters and correspondence I had sent during my original trip to Southeast Asia.

That small conversation with my wife and sister led to a project that culminated in what was for me the most satisfying project of my life.

The Book of Emergencies: The Poetry of Autism by Rosemarie Dombrowski

RD BofE front cover web-01

This poem wasn’t really inspired by what he said, but rather, what I didn’t say.

I met him at a reading that I organized. We went out for drinks that same night. Then he asked me out to dinner. We ate vegan burgers and fries. We went to the park. We watched the sunset from the swings. We sat in his car and talked about the movies we needed to rent, the places we needed to go – all the things you inadvertently rattle off when your pheromones are spraying invisible lust-juice into the air between your bodies.

I raced home to the sitter. I put my son to bed. I’d known all night that I was screwing myself by not telling him, by not mentioning my non-verbal, severely autistic son, who is the subject of an entire book of poems I’ve written, The Book of Emergencies (Five Oaks Press).

I never went out with him again. When I lie, I have to commit to the story, and this time, I knew I couldn’t, not if commitment meant denying my son’s existence.

I saw him in the grocery store a year later. He had 12 bananas in his basket. I wasn’t wearing a bra. We talked about New York and were mildly flirtatious. In the interim, he had become my colleague, and we often saw each other in the hall.

It’s been at least three years since we watched the sunset from the swings. We’re good acquaintances now, and he knows I have a son, but I wasn’t the one who told him.

That Time We Watched the Sunset on a Swing

You remind me of curry.
You buy more bananas than anyone
could eat in a week.
You talk about the florists of New York,
the speak-easys that sell poems and absinthe
behind curtains. I tell you that
art and debauchery should always be paired
with a heavier wine.
You tell me we should bike to the nearest cafe,
make some waves,
craft something that resembles a wild animal
out of high-end leather.

I find you in the sauce aisle on a Tuesday.
We talk about cheeses that are better
when grated. You reach out to touch me
because you want to know
the horizon of my torso.
It’s sort of like the sunset—the waiting,
the anticipating, the wanting to know
where one thing ends and the next begins.

I wonder if you remember the time
that we watched the sunset on a swing.
And the sand was working its way between my toes.
And the light was dipping behind the mountain.