Pushcart Prize Nominee: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Danish Modern

Isabelle wondered how long it would take for the police to arrive.

Five minutes?

Fifteen?

It depended on the store’s security system, she supposed. A silent alarm would be nice because then the racket wouldn’t disturb her (although she’d become quite adept at tuning out noise: conversation, TV, crying).

What she wanted was right there in the window, a mere six feet away. She could scramble through the wreckage and have a few quiet moments before the cops shuffled her off in handcuffs. She would get caught, of that she was certain, but at least there would be no eyewitness to testify against her. This town shut down on weeknights, making it easy to stand here, undisturbed, at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, with a cinder block cradled in her arms and a diaper bag spilling its contents on the ground a few feet away. She’d abandoned the bag—an oversized Vera Bradley with kitschy flowers and quilted material—after discovering the cinderblocks next to the warehouse. All that stuffing puckered between thick stitches reminded her of cellulite. When her mother-in-law gave it to her, it overflowed with poop-related paraphernalia including a bottle of something called Jr. Lil’ Stinker Spray Poo-Pourri.

“You spritz it on the diaper before it goes in the trash so it doesn’t smell as much!” her mother-in-law had said.

“Wow,” Isabelle had replied. “Who knew crap required so much crap?” and her mother-in-law had cocked her head and blinked the way she does when Isabelle mentions politics.

Isabelle had meant to transfer her wallet and keys to a real purse before going to book club earlier that night, but Jim had been late and she couldn’t remember where a “real” purse was. Or real pants. Or real shirts. Seven months out and she still wore maternity jeans. The other women at book club had bemoaned their pillaged bodies as they scooped guacamole and gulped margaritas to the chant of “Pump and dump!” Isabelle wanted to discuss the book—it was her pick tonight—but it became clear no one had read it. Except Margot, of course, and she immediately pulled Isabelle in close, so close that Isabelle could smell the garlic and see a piece of tortilla chip stuck in her lip gloss. “I just didn’t get it, Issy,” she slurred, “I mean it’s so dark!” It wasn’t dark, Isabelle wanted to say, it was Philip Roth. It was literature for Christ’s sake. Just because a romantically slighted woman didn’t toss off her life to travel the globe (funded by what?) in search of cannolis, Capoeira and cunnilingus didn’t mean the novel was dark.

Cameras. Isabelle hadn’t thought of that. She was safe from the police-issued ones mounted to poles, the ones with the blinking blue lights. This neighborhood had too many white people now with warehouses metamorphosing into loft apartments and gluten-free bakeries and day spas. Blue lights would be bad for business. But maybe the store had its own camera looking at her, recording everything. Maybe she was busted before she even began.

She pressed her nose and forehead against the cold of the window and squinted inside. Her eyelashes swished the glass. The warehouse had been disemboweled, its skeleton exposed and painted a glossy white. HVAC pipes, vents, concrete pillars, the floor, everything. All white. How many coats of paint did it take to cover up 150 years? That was a feat. Keeping a white room clean, now that was really a feat. Not so much as a scuffmark on the floor.

The first and only time Isabelle had lived alone, her apartment had been immaculate. Wood floors gleaming from Murphy’s Oil, dust-free ledges, Windexed windows. A slim Parsons table for a desk; impractical, really, with no drawers for pens or papers, so she stashed bills and stationery and stamps in a bag in the coat closet. The only other furniture included a bed, two knock-off Eames chairs, a steel and glass coffee table, and a walnut dresser that a woman in a flea market said was an original Paul McCobb.

Isabelle had no idea who Paul McCobb was, but the woman extolled his importance to the modernist movement and the dresser was an apparent steal at $300. The man-before-Jim had complained of a lack of comfortable places to sit and she had explained her search for the perfect sofa and wouldn’t it be fun if they went together to scour thrift stores for an affordable piece of Danish modern, something clean-lined and simple and with no fabric duster sweeping the floor? The man-before-Jim demurred. He had called her apartment “spartan” and apparently meant that as a critique.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So said William Morris, according to a quote cross-stitched onto a hideous and uncomfortable throw pillow in her mother’s living room, the irony obvious to Isabelle even at the age of 10. Nothing was as useless as a throw pillow and her mother had scores lining a down-filled sofa so deep that you couldn’t sit up straight no matter how hard you tried. The cushions sank under your weight and pulled your butt backwards and your legs upward so that you looked like a mollusk trying to escape its shell. Perplexed houseguests attempted not to spill afternoon tea while being swallowed by furniture, having found no place to set their cup. Her mother’s tchotchkes assaulted every flat surface. A menagerie of ceramic animals marched across the sideboard, end tables teemed with chinoiserie jars and crystal candlestick holders (devoid of candles) and replica yellowware vases. Plastic maidenhair ferns filled brass buckets atop full-to-bursting cupboards. Every little box, jar, vase, and drawer held something more, something smaller—coins, matchsticks, marbles, pebbles, beach shells. The house was a Russian doll opening, opening, opening, until you felt like a tiny speck of plasma trapped inside all those layers. Maybe her father hadn’t up and disappeared after all, maybe he’d simply opened the wrong closet.

Isabelle extricated herself after college and lived gloriously alone and clutter-free until Jim came back to her apartment one night for a Limoncello. A few months later he took her to a trendy Chinese restaurant near the theater district in D.C. on a surprise weekend getaway. She ordered dumplings in a shiso broth because the dish sounded simple and exotic. A glistening fist-sized lump arrived, leaden and white and drowning in a tasteless brown broth. Not at all what she had envisioned. She debated returning it for something else, but that would draw attention to herself or admit to Jim that she had flubbed the order. She extracted piece after piece of the doughy mass with her chopsticks, felt it expand in her stomach like insulation foam, while Jim shoveled Kung Pao chicken in his mouth with a fork and exclaimed over and over again, “Isn’t this fantastic?”

Later—after the musical, after the cordials, after the chocolate torte at the lobby bar—she rallied and made the most of the Westin’s signature “Heavenly Bed” (more furniture suffering an overdose of pillows and down. Like fucking in meringue.).

Several weeks later, with another white lump expanding inside her, she would remember that meal and go hurtling for the tiny toilet in Jim’s tiny rowhouse. When she finally emerged, there was Jim smiling like the Cheshire cat, hand reaching for her belly. “Isn’t this fantastic?”

Jim didn’t see the point in buying a couch, not when he had a perfectly good hand-me-down from his mother. Isabelle tried hiding the blue and gray gingham with a store-bought white slipcover, but the proportions were all wrong, too tight on the bloated armrests and too loose on the cushions. A custom-fit cover cost too much, halfway to a new sofa, so why bother? Besides, Jim said, no use buying something just for it to become one giant burp cloth.

Piles of laundry now buried the Parsons table and the McCobb (a fake, she later learned) sold for a loss on Ebay in favor of an armoire for Jim’s sweaters and socks. Isabelle aspired to knit organic rompers for the Dumpling, handmade and soft to the touch, in muted colors like Wheat or Oatmeal, but instead she had baskets of second-hand clothes, garish made-in-China neon onesies emblazoned with cartoon animals captioned by “Mamma’s Little Monkey” or “Daddy’s Grrrrl”.

Was the Rainforest Jump-a-Roo beautiful?

Was the Tickle Me Elmo useful?

Each morning she vowed to vanquish the clutter, but let’s face it, babies come with infrastructure and the Dumpling was winning.

In the evening, after the Dumpling finally passed out, and before Jim got home from work, Isabelle poured a glass of wine and flipped through home magazines. Her architectural porn, Jim called it. She liked to imagine that she lived the kind of life that inspired the articles. “Tiles from Marrakech inform the color palette of the foyer, with the subtle blue and orange tones mimicked in the paint trim. The foyer affords a startling reveal to the mammoth living room beyond, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and original Hans Wegner Wishbone Chairs discovered at a vintage boutique in Montauk.”

 Isabelle didn’t have a foyer. There was no “reveal” in a rowhome, there was only the front door opening smack into the living room and, if swung too heartily, smack into the gingham couch.

She clipped images of rooms she loved and glued them into a Moleskine sketchbook. Bright, airy spaces with whitewashed walls and exposed beams and ceramic bowls filled with clementines. An Eva Zeisel tea service on a teak dining table or a Chemex coffee carafe next to Heath Ceramics mugs suggested the homeowners who lived just off camera, but the rooms she clipped were always devoid of people. People were messy.

She always kept an eye out for her sofa. She’d seen many that she liked—B&B Italia, Blue Dot, vintage Arne Jacobsen Series 3300—but nothing quite like The One. She’d spotted it, years before, in a coffee table book on Scandinavian design and had she known she’d have such difficulty finding it again, she would have shelled out the outrageous cover price for the hardback. She had all but given up and then she saw it. IT. On a Tuesday night. Glowing bright white in a window as she drove home from book club half in the bag because pico di gallo did nothing to stave off the effects of tequila.

Unlike the boxy gingham at home, this sofa was long and lean, a marathon runner. A clean, rectilinear box perfectly sliced in half, clad in nubby cotton fabric and held aloft by elegant, tapered teak legs. Four tufted cushions lined the backrest. She guessed it wouldn’t even fit in the rowhouse and with a price tag of $9,500, it never would.

All she wanted was to crawl inside the store, lie down on that firm, clean couch, and pretend it was hers. Just for five minutes. Maybe take a nap.

The cinderblock dug into her palms. She could lob the thing from her chest as though shooting a basket, but she knew she wasn’t strong enough. The most upper body exercise she’d had lately was pumping the air out of a pinot noir bottle with the Vacu Vin Wine Saver. Besides, the trajectory needed to be less arc and more direct force in order to break the window. Underhand would be best, like the way she bowled as a kid. Two hands down between her legs, knees bent, a few practice swings of the arm, aim and fire.

Crickets chirped inside her diaper bag, stopped, then chirped again: Jim wondering where she was. The cinderblock weighed more than the Dumpling. About thirty pounds she wagered. Ninety-seventh percentile, this one.  She laughed. On second thought, maybe a witness would be beneficial to her defense. “There she was, teetered against the window, laughing and talking to herself, a concrete slab in her hands. Clearly insane.”

What would the police think when they arrived to find her prostrate in the display window of a furniture store? What would she say? “I’m sorry officer. Modernism made me do it.”

Oh shit, what if the glass crumbled into tiny bits like a windshield and got all over the sofa? She would have to clean up the mess first and that defeated the whole enterprise. If she wanted to ferret Cheerio-sized objects out of furniture she could do that at home and save herself the B&E charge. Or worse, what if it wasn’t safety glass and it shattered? She’d need to hoist herself over the stalagmites careful not to gut herself. Goddamn logistics. Everything logistics.

Isabelle pulled back from the window. Her nose and forehead had left a greasy smear on the pristine glass. Now she’d ruined it. Her perfect view marred by sebum. The crickets were having a picnic in her bag, chirp, chirp, chirping away. She needed to get rid of that smear. That goddamn smear. The more she looked at it, though, the more it looked like a bullseye. She stepped back a few paces and got in position. She held onto both sides of the cinderblock and swung her arms through her knees. Just for laughs, she thought, just pretend. Just to see what it would feel like. She would come to her senses, put the cinderblock down, get in her car, apologize to her husband, tiptoe into the dark nursery and put a hand on the Dumpling’s chest to feel it rise and fall. But at that split second when the cinderblock had upward momentum, at the precise moment when she should have stopped, she let it fly.

About the author: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson is the former editor-in-chief of Urbanite magazine in Baltimore, where she works as a journalist, editor, and teacher. Her essays and articles have appeared in Slate, The New York Times Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Baltimore, Architect, and Metropolis, among others. Her writing has earned awards from the Society of Professional Journalists as well as the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. She teaches nonfiction writing at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

This piece originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2013 Doubt issue.

10th Anniversary: Meet the neighbors: The Ivy Bookshop

This essay was originally published on August 8, 2013. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

Rebecca Oppenheimer

Rebecca Oppenheimer

Little compares to a well-tended bookshop. Whether traveling alone or with friends, it seems that in every city I explore, I explore my way into a bookshop. Today Rebecca Oppenheimer offers you a peek into The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore. Rebecca maintains The Ivy Bookshop’s blog, keeping visitors up to date about news in and beyond the literary world of the shop. Here’s what she had to say about the place:

Founded in 2001 as a more intimate alternative to the big chain stores, The Ivy Bookshop has grown from a beloved neighborhood fixture to a major presence across the Baltimore metropolis and beyond.

Our mission as Baltimore’s literary independent bookstore is to serve as a bridge between writers and readers – on a large scale by hosting and participating in author events and other literary happenings, and on a smaller scale every day by offering our customers the best literature of all types and genres.

The Ivy Bookshop’s storefront located at 6080 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD.

 

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 14: Music.  https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/14-summer-2013/

10th Anniversary: Poetry and music songs of Salcman

This essay was originally published on February 13, 2013. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Music starts with sound and silence. As such, music and literature likely arose as a single entity. Even as the two drew apart, they maintained a continuum, causing Alphonse de Lamartine to state, “Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.” And continued to influence one another in both form and content, causing Ezra Pound to pronounce, “Poets who will not study music are defective.” Be that as it may, literary figures as disparate as William ShakespeareTS Eliot and Ralph Ellison have made music an essential part of their works.

Join us in exploring this ageless theme and its contemporary variations through poetry, prose and the visual arts in preparation for our Summer 2013 Music issue.

Lorraine Whittlesey

Lorraine Whittlesey at the piano (Photo: John Dean)

A few words to set the stage, so to speak. Music has always been an integral part of my life. Family legend has it that I sang my first sentences to the popular tunes of the day. The combination of words and melodic line continues to be a powerful force in my life.

 NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 14: Music.  https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/14-summer-2013/

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Daniel Hudon

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Possibly Showing Tonight at the Quantum Theater:
*colon is part of original title

You want to go to the theater tonight because it’s a random Tuesday in May and you’ve heard that the Quantum Theater will be presenting one of all possible plays. What are the chances of seeing Molière, you wonder, it’s been so long, or Chekhov? Maybe some little-known Scandinavian drama or an ancient Greek tragedy? In some universe tonight, they’re presenting Beckett—could it be yours?

You pick up the phone and for a moment you think about calling all possible women with a phone number, women whose numbers you don’t even have but are out there at the other end of the phone line, oblivious to your momentary dialing dilemma. Women who you’ve seen at the grocery store or while out jogging. The sexy Russian woman you met at tango class who always wears the spiked heels, even to the practica, the woman in the strapless black dress you saw at the concert last week but who you didn’t have the nerve to strike up a conversation with at intermission, Grace, who you met at the bookstore, the cinephile you sat next to at the Godard film last weekend who, with much more subtext than context, gave a breathless interpretation of the penultimate scene involving a man and a woman, women you used to know who percolated into your mind, the girls from your school days now all grown up, some happily, some miserably, many who wouldn’t know what to make of a phone call from you for a random theater invitation.

You dial. It’s busy. You dial another. This time there’s no answer, not even a voicemail pickup. You try again. Finally, she picks up. It takes you a moment to connect her voice to the number you dialed to the image of her face to your idea of where she could possibly be in her apartment on her cordless. Is it really Erica, who hosted the crazy birthday party last month? You’re impressed by the warmth of her voice; she sounds poised, something you find terribly attractive—a calm self-confidence that, try as you might, you can’t achieve for yourself. You tell her about the play. She seems interested but wants more details. You fear she takes your information reticence as game playing, or worse, a sign that you lack the very quality of intelligence that she finds attractive. Perhaps she’s not the spontaneous type. Maybe she needs a more reliable indicator of the possible outcomes—she could be the fastidious sort who needs to know exactly how things are going to proceed, what the parameters are, the trajectory of start middle finish for the evening. You imagine endless honest talks that suffocate the relationship in a vast cloud of verbosity.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance, you say, as much to yourself as to her.

This seems to resonate with her and she agrees to come with you. Because the Quantum Theater is small—in the past some have described it as microscopic—you recommend getting there early to improve your chances of getting one of the few seats.

That sounds logical, she says.

The time might be a problem, you explain, because, being uncertain, there’s a small but nonzero chance the play has already started. In fact, you can’t rule out the possibility that the actors have taken their bows, the curtain has come down, and the audience has long since drifted back out into the downtown streets, their minds infused with existential angst and emotional bravura.

I see, she says.

Fine with me, she says.

Oh, she says.

But that’s unlikely, you say.

Okay, she says.

She doesn’t sound reassured.

She laughs.

You suggest picking her up at seven, parking randomly in the theater district and hoping for the best.

She likes the sound of that sort of optimism and gives you her address. You hang up the phone and pace about the room. Such luck, you think. Your mind fills with possibilities: theater, dessert, coffee, her place . . . ; or, theater, drinks, your place . . . ; theater, tea, detailed deconstruction of third act, intellectual sparring, kiss-on-the-cheek, home; or, theater, hot chocolate, awkward silences, car, unexpected and unbelievably good sex; or theater, subscription to entire series, vacation together in Costa Rica, spontaneous wedding in Vegas, two angelic kids, inspiration for best-selling novel, philanthropy, death with a smile on your face, public holiday for grieving; or, alas, theater, headache, just friends, home early.

You shower and get dressed. You whip up a stir fry with chicken, carrots, shitake mushrooms, and asparagus over a tasty bed of rice. God, you’re good. You put on loud music to pump yourself up. You imagine the sort of comfortable, thoughtful conversation that you’ve been missing recently. She has a voice you could get used to. You shovel down the last two bites, put the dish in the sink, and do a few twirls around the living room in case she wants to go dancing later. Good idea, you think: theater, drinks, dancing, closer dancing, even closer dancing, she sleeps over even though it’s a week night, and hot, steamy sex in the morning.

You go to the bathroom. You clip your nostril hairs and adjust the collar of your shirt. You dash out the door.

All possible routes to her place converge into the route with the fewest turns, despite the unpredictable traffic. You park and ring her door. As far as you can tell, she lives in any of the apartments inside because you see no light go off and hear no particular door close. You wonder if you’ll be privy to this information later.

She looks lovely, even prettier than you remember. As planned, you park randomly, walk to the theater, and line up at the ticket window. Ticket pricing is random. You ask for two tickets and the woman behind the glass asks for an astonishing amount of money. You ask if they are good seats. She tells you that all seats are treated the same. You open your wallet and see that all possible amounts of cash collapse into a random amount. Fortunately, it is enough. You count out the exact amount and hand it to her. She hands you the tickets. You give one to Suzanne and join the queue of people waiting for the house to open.

Have you been to the theater lately? you ask her.

No, she says.

Yes, she says.

I don’t remember, she says.

Oh, really, you say. You must be busy.

Oh, I see, you say. What did you see?

Oh, well, it must not have been very dramatic then.

You’re tickled with the timing. In a moment, one of the doors opens and people begin filing into the theater in an orderly fashion. The queue moves a few feet and—just as you begin to trudge forward—that door closes and the door next to it opens. As if nothing has happened, people continue filing in. From what you can tell by standing on your toes, they take the seats directly beyond the doors.

You are about to say something about the seating to Maggie, who, in the steady progression of the queue, has slipped in behind you, when you see the first door swing open again. Both doors are now open and the queue presses forward. You aim for the door on the left but, as you approach, the door on the right seems more tempting. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice Rachel moving independently of you, targeting the right-hand door. You feel you should take her hand but it’s both too soon and too late—theatergoers crowd up from behind and suddenly you’re pushed through. Buoyed along, disoriented, it’s like you surged through both doors at once and met your alter ego on the other side. You feel vast, like you contain multitudes, too much to be confined to a mere theater seat. You could take up a whole row, an entire section.

Instead, down near the front, you spy a pair of seats that are perfect.

Where is Julia? She was right behind you. There, you see her, two sections over, on the far side of the theater where she has already thrown her coat over a couple of seats. You wave to her, point to your prime location, and when she comes over you take her hand so that she doesn’t disappear again. You take your seats.

Well, that was chaotic, you say.

Yes, she says, squeezing your hand.

And strange, she says.

I didn’t notice, she says.

Around you the theater fills up, though slowly, as if no one really knows the time the play will start and they tentatively take their seats as if to try their luck for half an hour and see if it starts and if not, maybe they will find some little French café for a bite to eat and come back in an hour or so.

You ask Samantha, What time do you think it is? You explain: some people try to imagine what breed of dog or animal other people look like; your game is guessing the time. It’s amazing how often you can come within five minutes of the correct time when you have no real cues; it’s just some random time of the day.

But as soon as you say it you fear two things: either she thinks you’re bored or, worse, boring.

I have no idea, she says.

7:42 and a half, she says.

Why? Do you think we missed it? she asks.

I never wear a watch, she says.

Why don’t you just ask that basset hound over there? she says.

Oh, I see, she says, trying not to laugh.

She bursts out laughing at something you hope is truly funny and not truly pathetic.

You look at her, wait for her to say something.

Do you know any more sophisticated games? she says.

My game is to imagine what sort of face a man makes when he comes—but not necessarily inside me, she says, adding the last bit after a dramatic pause.

What happens when you win? she says, or lose?

And which breed of dog do you think I resemble? she says, taking care not to blow smoke in your face, though she’s not smoking.

Is this your idea of foreplay? she says with a wink.

Shouldn’t we be betting on what the play’s going to be? she says.

Considering that space is already occupied, time is the only unknown at the moment, she says, relatively speaking.

I should caution you, she says. I’m a sore loser.

Oh, look, she says, it’s starting.

Much to your surprise, the curtain rises.

A country road. A tree. Evening.

Elsinore castle. The platform of the watch.

A street in Venice.

Galileo’s sparsely furnished study.

A room painted yellow.

A streetcar.

In front of the palace of Oedipus at Thebes.

Daytime. The stage of a theater.

I can’t see. Let’s have a little light please . . .

        Yes sir, yes, at once.

        Come along! Come along! Second act of Mixing It Up.

Is this a rehearsal? she whispers.

This looks like one of those detestable postmodern plays, she whispers.

What’s going on? she whispers.

Six Characters in Search of an Author! she whispers; I should have bet you.

Much dialogue. Characters come and go. Gesticulations, laughter, weeping, some shouting.

The curtain falls.

She smiles at you.

She squeezes your arm.

She puts on her coat so slowly that you help her.

She stands up without looking at you.

Good choice, she says.

Did you like it? you ask.

Are you kidding? she says; I loved it!

It was interesting, she says.

Parts of it, she says.

It’s one of my favorite plays, she says.

How could you not? she says.

Only one exit door is open but the audience exits in an orderly fashion. Outside, the crowd disperses all directions into the streets, and in no time the street is full of cars unable to get anywhere. You’re glad that parking randomly gave you some distance from the theater.

Where should we go? you ask.

She smiles alluringly.

You know, she says, I don’t really go to bars, so you can just pick one.

I’ve got the play at home, she says; why don’t you come over and we can reread parts of it?

Things appear promising. You park randomly in front of her building and go inside with her. Natalie puts on some music and brings out two glasses of wine and a tray of cheese and crackers. You look at her books and CDs. You find a collection of Pirandello’s plays on the shelf. You admire the view out her front window.

You flip through the book and quote from the play: We have no reality beyond the illusion, you must not count overmuch on your reality as you feel it today, since, like that of yesterday, it may prove an illusion for you tomorrow. 

Subtle, she says, aren’t we?

And just what is our present illusion? she says.

Oh, she purrs, I love illusions.

She sits on the couch and you sit down near her. With every new slice of cheese, you reposition yourself slightly closer to her on the couch. Laughter ensues. And silence. Boldly, you kiss her. She seems happy to be kissed. You kiss her again and let your hands caress her neck and shoulders, her arms, all over. She moans. It’s nice. You nibble on her neck, her jaw. Your heart beats harder, her breath deepens. Then, you stop and pull back. She looks at you quizzically. You hesitate, then lean forward and whisper that you prefer to stop at foreplay because then you can enjoy the superposition of all possible future positions.

She pulls back and looks at you.

Super-what? she says.

Is that some kind of joke? she says.

You can’t be serious, she laughs.

What’s the matter? Don’t you know how to satisfy a woman? she says.

Sorry, she says, it’s not the superposition that matters but the probability of the various end states and, at the moment, yours isn’t looking so good.

Hey, she says, don’t pull that macroscopic quantum shit on me!

Well, she says, why don’t you call me again some other random Tuesday and we’ll take it from there.

Nice try, Schrödinger, she says; your illusion just collapsed into my reality.

You know she could say anything. She smiles, keeps you in suspense. So, she says finally, shall we have a game of Scrabble?

At last, you think, someone who gets you.

About the author: Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches astronomy, physics, math, and writing at various colleges in Boston. He has new work appearing or coming up in Canary, Toad, Dark Matter, and The Chattahoochee Review. He is the 2011 winner of the Tiferet Nonfiction Prize. Some of his writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon. He lives in Boston. This work originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2014 Science issue.

10th Anniversary: The lightning bug versus the lightning: thoughts on word choice

This essay was originally published on November 20, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Author Matt Tompkins. Photo credit: Kori Tompkins.

Author Matt Tompkins. Photo credit: Kori Tompkins.

Please meet author Matt Tompkins, whose story “The World on Fire” appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer 2015 unthemed issue. The ebook version of Souvenirs and Other Stories (Conium Press) goes on sale today. He works in a library and lives in upstate New York with his wife (who kindly reads his first drafts), his daughter (who prefers picture books) and his cat (who is illiterate). And now, Matt Tompkins:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain, in a letter to George Bainton, 1888

I think the sentiment is as applicable to our daily communications as it is to literature: word choice matters; precision and specificity of meaning are important (if frequently overlooked). In a text-heavy culture, words are often all we have to connect with one another. But it also begs the question: how do we select the right word, rather than the almost-right? I don’t claim to succeed every time, but there are some things I keep in mind, while writing and revising, to increase my odds. Here’s a sampling:

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 17: Food.  https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/17-winter-2015/

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Kat Hellen

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Nine Circles

The boy heard
ringing in his ears

that left a hole
in her thigh
the size
of a button.

It bled in her hand
into the patterned sofa he hid under
and he ran

feet loco-moting
like the Road Runner from Coyote.
River Street retreated

into bars and liquor stores.
He turned the block
nine times or more
before

Miss Geneva called him in
her tiny kitchen
gave him lemonade, said:
“Don’t be afraid, Jabo.
Your momma and your daddy
just don’t see things quite the same.”

About the author: Kathleen Hellen is the author of the collection Umberto’s Night, winner of the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, North American Review, Poetry Daily, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. Recipient of the Thomas Merton poetry prize, the H.O.W. Journal poetry prize, the Washington Square Review Poetry Prize, and twice nominated for the Pushcart, she teaches in Baltimore. This poem appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2012 Social Justice issue.

10th Anniversary: Voices of his past: an interview with Michael Ratcliffe

This essay was originally published on June 19, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Mike Ratcliffe is the kind of man one loves to spend the afternoon with, whether biking or hiking the rolling hills of Central Maryland or – as in my case – meeting over coffee, grown cold, as we discussed everything from poetry to how people identify with place. His bottle brush hair, brown, is shot with gray as is his goatee. Smile lines frame both his piercing blue eyes and his wide mouth. It’s easy to feel comfortable in his company, and sink into the depths of weighty conversation.

Michael Ratcliffe

Michael Ratcliffe, 2015.

Born in 1962, Mike grew up keenly interested in people. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in geography before heading to Oxford to earn a master’s degree at St. Antony’s College. His day job as an Assistant Division Chief at the Census Bureau may seem at odds with his poetic leanings. But the intersection of people, landscape, and meaning – the backbone of geography – aligns perfectly with Mike’s love of words.

LPR Poetry Editor Laura Shovan introduced me to Mike via email several months ago, saying our shared interests in genealogy and history were two sure-fire conversation starters. Mike sent me a draft of his chapbook, along with links to his previously published works, and I devoured it all. An email correspondence began. We met in person one sunny Sunday in late April at a noisy, crowded coffee shop in Fulton, Maryland to talk about his forthcoming chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Shards of Blue, which is based on his genealogical and historical research and focuses on two ancestors: John and Mary Ratcliff.

 NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 18:  https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/18-summer-2015/