I’m thinking this morning of our dear editor friend who is set up in bed, quarantined from her spouse, and texted I’m like Emily Dickinson / but with internet / and without the white dress! When I check on her, I ask if she’s yet forsaken love of a lover for the ecstasy of pure thought, if she’s yet baked a black cake, which cake froths with molasses, which cake gratifying in the teeth as garden soil in the hand, which cake warm in winter and wicked in summer, which cake the result of scaling the world a sugarcane factory, which cake sourced from slave labor, which cake produced by the uncompensated labor of reproduction, which cake in this joke relies on us going along with the forgery of Dickinson-the-Recluse, and not Dickinson-the-Resister. Well. We need our jokes, right now.
Dear friend, the flour for that cake likely would’ve come from the city in which I now reside. Dear friend, our dear editor friend and I say can I be petty and say it is good to be aware of one’s pettiness. Like spiteful, like bitter, like nervous, like sour feelings, I admire the work that petty feelings do to keep us whole. But petty sounds always to me the neighbor of pretty. As a rose garden. Do you remember that game? It went like this: first you tug up your sleeve. Children do not roll up their sleeves. Tug. Then your friend clamps down your wrist with their non-dominant hand. With their dominant hand, fingers spread equidistant, scratches four rows into the tenderer flesh of your forearm. Five if they’re agile enough to include the thumbnail, ragged, the row most likely to burst. First you dig the garden, says your friend. It is very likely lunchtime in the cafeteria, your friend’s breath smelling of nacho cheese and snack cakes and other things you aren’t allowed to eat, but sometimes for which you trade a rice cake and find yourself shocked by another kid’s willingness to make what’s clearly a bad deal. Your arm now has four pinkening raised lines. Then you plant the seeds, says your friend, making the pincers gesture and methodically spacing pinches along each hot welt. Then you water your garden, says this friend whose face up close begins to remind you of your cat’s. Your friend’s hand like a claw pounces repeatedly on your arm. A slightly more perverse and committed friend will add spit. Here comes the sun! shouts your friend, slapping your forearm, and now the roses grow! The friend twists each rosebush for good measure, and then turns away from you, their cold blank back saying nothing more. Look down at your arm, and indeed it’s a garden. A few other children look on in disbelief, jealousy, put-offedness, whatever. You’ve grown much larger in your body and your forearm glows, here I am with mean and pretty feelings, with petty and ecstatic feelings, etc, dear friend. If only we could meet up and do so.
Dear friend, I want to say to you the word radio. Radio waves, radio promise, radio synchronicity, the way the radio saved our lives over and over again whoever we were; you remember. You stumble over it on cold mornings, the ghost of the person you thought you’d become. Your cold hand holding the cigarette funny, your big coat over your big sweater, your worn-soft thermal with the neckline slashed, your army surplus pants ripped at the knee, more thermal beneath, black Docs laced black, grandfather’s scarf wrapped twice around your neck. Or was it a scarf your mom made for your dad when they were first dating, too long, camel or dove gray wool, tucked in the cedar chest with the Mamas and the Papas record—the one with “Dream a Little Dream”—and the beat-up rucksack in which you carry your books. Your thermos full of cheap vodka Jeff buys for you when you’ve got the late shift at Village Video. Sound familiar? Am I close?
I, too, can remember how I took a cold front to the face and tipped my chin up, anyway. I can remember how we breathed in the twentieth century, cracking through the ice as quickly as it formed. I’ve been holding your place this entire time. Dear friend, I want to pat your cheek and say good egg, then pat your cheek harder and say even louder, again, good egg. I want to hustle you out in the night air and say there! No, there! There, there.
Everything’s a comet when you’re spinning hard. I name a star for you, but never say so. I put the certificate in a fireproof box of important papers. I wonder about the relationship of the box to my own longevity. When I dub the star, I don’t use the name your parents gave you, but the one you whispered into that first littoral ear, back of the bar, tucked out of the bartender’s line of sight, seventeen. The one you gave the protagonist’s dead brother in the first novel about which an agent wrote you back. In the novel, you bury a tinderbox, a witch’s comb, a broken chalk circle, and I do find them all.
Dear friend, I cannot reconcile my continuum of aging with that unchanged original longing I only rarely brush up against. Well. It is not my job to reconcile that. I say. It is just my job to live with the aching self I am and its spool through two-headed time. Hydra-headed time, I say to my students, and they say yes. Or did. We cannot tell if the present moment has changed the past, yet, so we still use its tensile strength to organize ourselves. Oh, friend. In one timeline, here I am, always knit to you by such an even, steady stitch that in every other timeline you know I’m missing.
With my enduring affection and admiration,
I have always loved the B-side of records or cassettes, being let in on the secret/unreleased or more unexpected strangeness that awaited from artists. The B-side, in its essence, offers a singular delight in a promise that you, the audience, will not (or may not) be able to recreate the experience the B-side offers anywhere else. It says welcome, stay here a while, and put it on repeat.
In the spirit of the B-side, The Texas Review asked contributors of the All-Essay Issue (Vol. 40, #3/#4, 2020) to contribute essays to a B-side compilation. We want to offer, here, a moment of singular delight as accompanied unexpected strangeness or echo location or dancing and braided conversation in conjunction to the contributors’ essays featured in the All-Essay Issue.
Please enjoy the following B-sides by: Mary-Kim Arnold; Piper J. Daniels and Nicole McCarthy; Lily Hoang; Vincent James; Michael Martone; Ander Monson; Katrina Otuonye; Danielle Pafunda; Monica Prince; Addie Tsai; Julie Marie Wade; and Nicole Walker.
Thank you (and genuflection) to all of the contributors featured in our pages: Danielle Pafunda; Sejal Shah; Addie Tsai; Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint; Temim Fruchter; Raquel Gutiérrez, Muriel Leung; Monica Prince; Ander Monson; Janice Lee; Piper J. Daniels; Camellia-Berry Grass; Wendy C. Ortiz; SJ Sindu; Dinty W. Moore; Michael Martone; Lily Hoang; Nicole Walker; Mary-Kim Arnold; Katrina Otuonye; Vincent James; Julie Marie Wade; Caroline Crew; Diana Khoi Nguyen.
Thank you to Ander Monson for giving us the space of Essay Daily, and as ever thank you to Nick Lantz, Editor of The Texas Review.
Welcome, stay here a while, and put it on repeat.
Katie Jean Shinkle, Guest Editor, The Texas Review
If you would like to order a copy of the All-Essay Issue: http://www.thetexasreview.org/issues/