Thursday, September 25, 2014

Published Fiction: Blessings
This piece appeared in the Rappahannock Review in Spring 2014. One of my recent favorites, it is fairly conventional as it explores isolation, misunderstanding, and animal sacrifice through the eyes of a grade school child. There is also a short interview on their website discussing the piece.

Jamie’s new neighbors had seemed nice enough— bright, cheery, they had a lamb. People did not have lambs in Florida, I know because I asked my mom.
“Shane,” she said, “lambs don’t live in Florida. They live in the country: the Midwest, in Ireland.” Despite the fact that Ireland and the Midwest were two different locations, I knew she was right—when you’re eight, moms are always right—but I insisted to the contrary. I made a case that we’d seen lambs at the zoo, at the Alligator Farm, and now I‘d seen one from Jamie’s backyard, his side-yard while kicking a soccer ball, and even from his bedroom window. It was tied to a pine tree with an orange rope. It had bleated at me or Jamie or its masters or just because, but either way, it bleated. Mom didn’t believe me.
Jamie’s neighbors spoke in awkward tones. They sounded Russian or German, but according to Jamie, they were from some place where races ended with “ese.” I didn’t know what races were beyond cars driving in circles in Daytona. I was too afraid to ask him. I didn’t want one of his looks, the kind that stared through me and pondered why he allowed me to hang out with him. Eventually he would stop allowing me to, but that wouldn’t happen for some time.
We watched the lamb and the lamb drew us in. We tried to feed it a carrot and Jamie’s neighbors (I never learned their names) let us pet it. The fur felt greasy and was filled with grit.
“Mister, why do you have a lamb?” I’d asked his neighbor.
“Because I couldn’t find a goat,” he said. He smiled as he spoke, his voice proud.
            “Why’d ya need a goat?”
“To sacrifice, my boy, to bless the house with prosperity.”
We nodded. We hadn’t understood, so we told Jamie’s Dad. He shouted bloody hell in his British demeanor and then confronted the man while we stared on. Soon after he called the police, the news, the newspaper. Apparently sacrifice meant to kill, to slit the lamb’s throat and drain out the blood, to cut the lamb’s head off with an axe and roast the body over a spit. Apparently civilized people living in a gated community didn’t do such a thing—Jamie’s Dad called it barbaric. Apparently it was cruel to watch a living creature bleed to death. Jamie and I hadn’t known, but we were learning.
I watched the police remove the lamb on the news, tugging on the orange rope as if the creature were a dog. The scene was followed by an interview with Jamie’s Dad on the perils of being a defenseless animal and living next to savages. The stories proved my story to my mother. Later, in the privacy of my room, I’d taken a stuffed lamb, one with fur that was no longer white, fur almost as dirty as the real thing, and while staring into its button eyes, I cut its throat with a kitchen knife. Small bits of cotton fluttered to the floor. I felt cheated.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: David James Poissant's The Heaven of Animals

David James Poissant’s collection of stories, The Heaven of Animals, stands out as a pleasant surprise in a summer of constant reading. As corny as it may sound, the collection is one of the best short story collections I have read in a long time. Poinssant takes a no holds barred approach where no topic is too mundane, strange, or off limits. His prose is crisp, clean, and easy to follow. The writing flows through the brain, but this is not to say it is poor or homogenized, but rather that he has a talent for using a literary scalpel. Every word counts, every word has a purpose.

The stories themselves focus on discomfort, on the mundane, on the realities of existence that many experience, but few detail. It is here we find the random alligator caged on a dead man’s porch, one engorged and weakened by human love, and in said experience we know that taking that animal away and releasing it into the wild is the only logical solution as found in “Lizard Man.” Later, Possiant confronts death head on in “How to Watch Your Husband Die,” and this tale avoids the morbidity of cancer in lieu of focusing on the spouse. Thus, we experience death from the other side, and in doing so the reader can see the selfish truths often ignored by popular media. Even as such emotions waste away, one cannot help but side with and understand her reactions to not just cancer, but the fact that her husband’s smoking brought the disease on in the first place. These emotions are real, and while often viewed as cowardice, they are far too common to be ignored.

As noted above, the collection proves that awkwardness is abound. What happens when a derelict man in his late twenties finds himself in a promiscuous and precarious situation with a teenage girl that resembles his ex-wife in every way sans her missing arm? How does one carry on an affair with your cousin, while married, while spending time with each other’s families, while sneaking around Middle America? Can a relationship perceiver after you run over your girlfriend’s dog, the dog you hate and hates you? What happens when teenage boys are forced to grow up by a prank that goes wrong? Can they still be friends despite the destructive secret that is now bound to separate them? Such questions are common in the world Possiant paints, the world in which we live. The world which you owe it to yourself to read about.

Favorite lines:

  • “Work was work. What Brig found fulfilling was a Whopper, a six-pack, and HBO, the well-acted shows that were almost-but-not-quite pornography. You couldn’t watch porn and still feel good about yourself, but HBO walked the tightrope, and, afterward, you felt sophisticated”
  • “We talk in our sleep, and so do the deaf. Nights I snuck into my father’s room, his hands worked over his chest, signing. It was the language of dreams, incomprehensible, but it was gorgeous. His hands rose and fell like birds with his breathing.”
  • “The stairwell smelled like paint and character education. Each wall was plastered with artwork, the deformed dogs and amputated cats childhood rendered in finger paints.”