Nuée Ardente by Dolan Morgan, recommended by Aforementioned Productions

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Issue No. 118

EDITOR’S NOTE


I first read Dolan Morgan’s work in late 2010. He’d submitted a story for the first print issue of the journal I run, apt, and it was a crowning jewel on our inaugural annual. The story was funny and touching, surreal and sad—qualities I would come to recognize as trademarks of his work. Not long after the issue hit the shelves, I was asked in an interview: among my contemporaries, whose work did I like to read? I named Morgan, and described his writing as charming satire aimed right for my heart.

A couple years later, when I first read the manuscript for his collection, That’s When the Knives Come Down, I was again struck by Morgan’s charm, but I realized my assessment of him as a satirist was rather limiting. Satire requires a target, and while his targets range from capitalism to sex (which is to say, targets worthy indeed), Morgan renders them with a disarming affection. His approach, specifically the evidence of his fondness for his subject matter, allows him to surpass the role of satirist, and to more fully occupy the role of benevolent absurdist.

That combination of benevolence and absurdism brings me to “Nueé Ardente,” a story about a man waylaid while traveling by train to see his errant sister. As the delay persists, he becomes more interested in the unfamiliar landscape and his fellow passengers than continuing his journey. In the resultant purgatory, the protagonist comes to recognize that he will age even as his fantasies remain young, to accept that the only way to hold himself responsible for his actions is to leave himself no other choice, and to realize that he both resents and resembles his sister. But despite every drawback, we retain hope. Morgan has depicted disorder and disarray humanely, as characters we need not fear encountering.

That’s When the Knives Come Down just came out. I’m so proud to have had a hand in its publication, not just because it’s funny and touching and surreal and sad—though it is all of those things—but because it goes beyond buzz words. As grand and irrational and crazed as the stories are, Morgan’s collection, and “Nueé Ardente” in particular, reveal the ways people retain their humanity, in all its selfish and haunting glory.


Carissa Halston
Co-founding Editor, Aforementioned Productions

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Nuée Ardente

by Dolan Morgan

Recommended by Aforementioned Productions

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On the train ride north, I see an explosion in the distance. Black smoke rises into the afternoon sky, and I watch it out the window as the train speeds through tiny, blue-collar towns. The tower of smoke is like a building, a distant skyscraper that curves without care. The mountains beneath it seem almost uninhabited, covered in a thick rug of frosted pines. What’s happening over there, I wonder. A forest fire? An industrial accident? A dormant volcano that has suddenly awoken? The landscape is unfazed. Still, I imagine all the mountains bursting open like bottles of cheap champagne—pop, pop, pop—covering the northern New York countryside with molten rock, washing over small towns with magma and steam, trailing smoke across the Eastern seaboard. The whole area will come to a stop once the 60 mph pyroclastic wave rolls down the hillsides and into town, I think. Like Pompeii, everyone will be halted in their tracks—and no matter what they were doing, be it humiliating or heroic or mundane, it will all be frozen here in the upstate territories like an enormous carbon photograph stretching the length of the Catskills. Soon it might become a sort of solemn tourist attraction like that of the World Trade Center or Pearl Harbor. People will come to witness tragedy firsthand, to see everything as it was “that terrible day.” After a while, the shock and sadness of it all will most likely wear off, as if tragedy were just a perfume or cologne or bug spray you applied at the right moment, and people will come unabashed to look at all the privacies left behind and unguarded. No one will pay attention to its enormity, of course, or at least only pay it lip service, but everyone will string along their families to be voyeurs of the dead, standing their children in front of copulating corpses and taking photographs to be hung on the wall at home. At any given time, I realize, I probably would rather not have a volcanic plume rush over me and immortalize whatever it was I was doing at the moment. There are very few points in my life that I would choose to showcase as a tourist attraction, simply because most of the time I look like an idiot. Right now, for example: I’m slumped against the train window, my cheek stretched against the glass like putty. I probably resemble a puffer fish as it’s prepared by a chef to be eaten: confused and asphyxiated.

Yet I’m breathing and fairly cognizant. In an hour, the train will pull into Binghamton, where my sister will meet me at the station. She’ll be driving some beater that needs a screw driver shoved in the ignition to get it started, rust about to eat through the axles, and one window made of plastic garbage bags duct-taped gingerly to the frame. We’ll zip along dirt roads for an hour until we reach her trailer on the top of a hill where we will eat hot dogs with her children, surrounded by jars of everything from pickled cabbage to pickled nuts. It’s been years since I’ve seen her, but I know what to expect. And the years passed aren’t because of a falling out or any kind of drama at all; simply, we’ve been busy—or I have—or just as much, we’ve never been close enough to warrant the expensive commute between NYC and the Canadian border. She’s much older than me, a decade at least, and I sometimes have trouble seeing myself in her. She has said to our mother that we are oil and water, nothing alike and not worth comparing. It might be all we agree on, in fact. Really, everything else is so foreign to me, just as I imagine my life must be to her. The city, the noise, the fast pace—it’s nothing like what she has sought and found. And how she came to living out here in the backwoods of America, in the middle of nowhere? I can’t understand it. What does she find out here all alone? Maybe the cold: the area is known for its harsh winters—sometimes more than eight to ten feet of snowfall—which, unbelievably, leaves people even more removed than they already are from each other. I suppose, though, if you come for the isolation, then the winter snowdrifts aren’t all bad. Luckily for me, it’s November and that isn’t winter in my book. The train speeds onward, now curving around a lake and giving me a better view of the smoke. It appears that there might be another cloud rising, but I can’t tell if it’s just another part of the first. I haven’t heard any other explosions, but we are a great deal farther off by now as well.

The sound of the train rushing along the steel tracks is suddenly audible as a woman whom I had seen earlier boarding the train drags her bags through my car and into the next. I recognize her as someone I may have known or been associated with, if only slightly, maybe an old college classmate or subway rider. I know her, I think. Still, she is familiar, just as much, as the type of girl that exists as a ghost in my head, the woman who seems like some perfect ideal—but whose parts are strewn across the bodies of millions of women, some limbs and smiles here, some eyes or clothes over here, and attitudes and laughs over there. The platform woman’s snarly, sharp-toothed smile is a smile taken straight from the ghost’s blueprint. Her eyes and legs seem familiar too, as if they were somewhere inside me once, like a type of blood? No, that isn’t right, I think, but more as if I had already held them, looked into them. Dumbly, I am reminded of the women I’ve slept with, the women I’ve loved, rarely the same, as the train slows, pulling into another station along the way.

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[Gifset: Laverne Cox speaks at the GLAAD media awards, she says,

"Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and every one of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor, and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and each other."]

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"Oh each poet’s a beautiful human girl who must die."

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Excavation, Consciousness, and Creation: An Interview with Natalie Eilbert

Tobia Carrol interviewed me for Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and I’m quite fortunate. I talk about my current chapbook, Swan Feast, and And I Shall Again Be Virtuous., my chapbook with Big Lucks Books. How I knew it was going to be a good interview is, second question in, he asks me about wifery. Here’s a little bit from that:

"I have never wanted to be someone’s wife. There is an inherent violence in being property, and I don’t think our society is beyond misprison here. When you google image search wife, the most popular images are scantily-clad gym bodies on beaches, mutilated and maimed bodies of conscious and unconscious women, memes that blame women for not wanting sex, and pregnant women. I also found this image of a dismembered head and torso of a woman hung up on a wall as a stag trophy, linking to an article with the header, ‘Best Divorce Revenge Ever?’ I don’t need to elucidate this.”

Read on for other culture takedowns!

writing process blog tour!

what are you working on?

I’m doing some sci-fi dystopian future poetics in which all the men have been killed off by a mysterious plague and only women remain. The speaker—surprise! it’s me—misses the men and everything that comes with the oppression men are so good at dishing out, and so tries to create men anew from discarded parts of their body. Think Eden or Frankenstein in reverse. It’s part-narrative, part-meditation on where the men in my own life have done wrong. They have done wrong.

In the near-future I might start pickling.

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how does your work differ from other writers of your genre?

It differs because I contain a different body from every other writer. Every other writer also contains their own bodies. If there are differences between us, it has to do with genetic makeup, neurological chemistry, and orgasm abilities, and since this is an obvious and clear truth—that we all exist and think and fuck in our own separate human spheres— it means that my writing is different because of the guts and blood and cunt inside me which have always been inside me and have had the misfortune/pleasure of experiencing me with me the whole time.

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why do you write what you do?

A man in NYC potentially has Ebola and we are afraid of this, because it’s finally forcing us to understand misery and death and chaos on a physically threatening level rather than an abstract one. Israel is trying their hardest to ethnically cleanse Palestinians and it is working; Israels are killing the living fuck out of Palestinians. We are destroying the planet. Holes are appearing. The Black Plague is experiencing a temporary resurgence in California. Women get raped so much and men still know they can use exactly this threat to have power just about whenever they want. Police are killing black men in the daylight all the time. I work miserable hours in an office and think about all the terrors that I don’t face and which I experience with a priori desperation. There is a certain privilege, a certain insane helpless privilege, in being able to say that I can write what I write when I write. I’ve always felt a deep miserable despair about the world and writing allows me to fill that despair with misery, that misery with despair. I move the dark feelings all around and they become something else. I have a few extraordinary moments of clarity. Still, it means absolutely nothing. And I write it anyway. Being alive sometimes feels like the opposite of sleep paralysis, where I am suddenly in the body I’ve always been in and I don’t know why. I can leave a bit of this flesh carriage behind to write. I can do this until something else happens. I’m limited. I like that I’m limited and that my efforts are certainly meaningless. I don’t think it’s escapism to write what I write, because I write about trauma often and I think this is a good thing to write about; but I think the trauma itself can be its own removal. I’m also interested in this, so I keep going.

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how does your writing process work?

Incidentally allowed my previous question to stream into this. But it usually requires a linguistic spark, some dumb flash of remembrance. I synthesize my colors about. I want to distort my narrative but, after being on the other side of abstract lyric writing, I can’t anymore. So I go bear, I insert the parts around the meat and fluids. The milk forms a skin. I find a femur. I find an elbow. I find the one time my neck had these soft triangular mouse hairs running up its length. I remember what my body can take. I get my period blood on a chair. I allow the viscera to calcify into half-truths and lies. I lie a lot about absolutes. I hope they are true.

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Dolan Morgan is lovely and asked me to do this, and I’m glad I could do this. Up next, Molly Rose Quinn slaughters a pig and hooks it from one end of a river to the other to form a bridge.

The Binging And Purging of Melissa Broder

emilybooks:

by Monica McClure

A Facebook event set in the future marks my departure from NYC to LA. I pray to Saint Katherine (Durbin) and tweet at Brett Easton Ellis (not really; I’m scared): “I’m ready, I’m ready,” I think. Los Angeles is where Melissa Broder now resides, and I think it’s having an…

Monica is so whip-smart it kills me:

"The speaker seems to long for a rebirth (by choice this time), or a divine explanation for what keeps her on earth. Then she demurs (this happens a lot) and wonders if she would even hear the divine if it called her name, if she even wants to hear it."

Badlands

Tomorrow I launch my very first chapbook Conversation with the Stone Wife, a sampling of a book I’ve worked very hard on for years and years to make pristine and strong. It’s cooked. So much of this and Swan Feast is about fostering identities with voluptuous stone in lieu of people for comfort. I had problems for a long time with my body. I have problems with my body. Each book I write I want to feel like an excavation of body. I don’t know how helpful any of it is. They’ve announced a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza, probably to clean away all the dead children so they can start all over again. 

I wrote a long, 4,000+ word essay about exercise and body dysmorphia, and I sent it somewhere. I’ve never sent a personal essay anywhere. This has nothing to do with the personal so much as the interpretation of the personal. I’m not sure what a personal narrative is supposed to do, beyond merge pathos with pathos. People want to make sure they contain Ebola to Africa, where disease doesn’t matter, where people and their deaths don’t matter.

Conversation with the Stone Wife is in no way a personal account of my dysmorphia. It’s too caked in artifice. It is in no way creating an intersection between the Venus of Willendorf and timelessness, and in fact, refutes the claim that art is timeless. Art is fleshy and will die. There is no reason to believe anything humans create will last. There is no reason to hope this to be true. Conversation with the Stone Wife is more about the failure of eras and the failure of bodies to pronounce these eras. Our bodies are a liquid promise and we fuck them and fuck them and smear our shit and piss and die with our jaws open to bready nothing. I am so fucking sick of the news inuring me to the images of so many brown bodies splayed out with hanging jaws. 

People roll their eyes when they hear me say my body is disgusting and I am disgusting for having a body. I fawn over bodies that are waifish and tiny because they are almost gone, and my curiosity to be in that state of disappearance becomes entirely religious. My relationship with the Venus figurines is quite simple: We are each locked into the torture that bodily size is bodily purpose. She just happens to be lucky enough to be stone. O gargoyle, why wasn’t I too made of stone? sighs Quasimodo. The NYTimes, in writing of the cease-fire, shows two images of mourning Israelis and then, as almost a factual afterthought, offers these numbers which show that 1,410 Palestinians have been killed—to Israel’s 64.

It did occur to me today that if I didn’t write poetry I would have killed myself a long time ago. I’m not sure it’s helpful to anyone, including myself, that I didn’t. But I need poems. I need them like I need the world to disappear for a long time. My chapbook launch is tomorrow and while I will never be happy nor ever choose to be happy because ugh god, I feel okay. I feel loved. It’s a bad feeling to have when focused on war and ethnic cleansing. I’m sorry the world is the world. I can only think of what these elements mean together, and it’s an offensive, helpless kind of math.

GazaGazaGaza

Being alive feels like subscribing to all of the atrocities and I don’t want to have to subscribe to all of the atrocities and I guess that is why happiness is a completely false construction for our quotidian safety but there is no safety and certainly no happiness. I never want to forget how horribly locked in we are to this big atrocious everything. I never want to even consider how horrible it must be like to be happy about living.

My 10-year high school reunion is in November and a class photo was posted on the FB page. I was the Goth Girl in the class. To my right is Gaelen, my unsmiling BFF. Boys threw rocks and bottles at my face from their cars while belching FREEEAK from the windows. Now I write poems about killing men. I made a goth bridal headdress last night for my chapbook performance tomorrow. I am probably not going to my HS reunion. You should come to my chapbook launch for CONVERSATION WITH THE STONE WIFE at MellowPages.

My 10-year high school reunion is in November and a class photo was posted on the FB page. I was the Goth Girl in the class. To my right is Gaelen, my unsmiling BFF. Boys threw rocks and bottles at my face from their cars while belching FREEEAK from the windows. Now I write poems about killing men. I made a goth bridal headdress last night for my chapbook performance tomorrow. I am probably not going to my HS reunion. You should come to my chapbook launch for CONVERSATION WITH THE STONE WIFE at MellowPages.