Monday, June 21, 2021

The #Midwessay: Erika Veurink, The Midwest Rings

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors



                                     

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The #Midwessay: Jill Stukenberg, The Summer I Turned Forty

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Saturday, June 19, 2021

The #Midwessay: Jordan Megna, Atwater

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Friday, June 18, 2021

The #Midwessay: Holly Anne Burns, My Midwessay

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Thursday, June 17, 2021

The #Midwessay: Alison Townsend, Where the Glacier Stopped: Essaying the Upper Midwest

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The #Midwessay: Melissa Faliveno, The Strangest of the Strange

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The #Midwessay: L. L. Wohlwend, Soup Town

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Monday, June 14, 2021

The #Midwessay: Jesse Lee Kercheval, Midwesternlyness

It's possible all the writing I've done over the years has been in some way a response, a pushing back against the isolation and loneliness I felt at sixteen, driving an endless loop between home and school and work, speeding through the rolling country 'burbs of southeastern Wisconsin. There, a farm. There, a subdivision. There, a snowy field. Lots of trees. Another farm. Another subdivision. Endless fields. Growing up in this landscape my edges were smoothed; I was shaped. For me, this landscape was so cold, isolating, lonely. Constantly, I seek warmth, body, connection; I seek community, conversation. 

To some degree, all of us here are shaped by the landscape, by the way the highways bend, by the way one watershed tilts towards the lake, another to the river, and by all the cold and snow this winter. And yet, each of us inhabits a landscape uniquely our own, built of our own experience. We are Wisconsin-born, -bred, -rooted, but we live alone in our own version of wherever we are. And Essay Daily, this #Midwessay project, what are these but elaborate feelers, searching, finding, sharing, celebrating a coming-together? I'm not sure I care all that much about what a Wisconsin essay is or isn't. I just want to hear your voice, your thoughts, your stories. The Wisconsin essay is whatever you say. 

Craig Reinbold

We'd love for you to join the conversation. Reach out @craigreinbold // craigreinbold[at]gmail.com     


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Nicole Walker, Apple Tree with Scabies

  

This is an essay in a series of b-sides to The Texas Review All-Essay Issue. (More info at the end of this post.)


Apple Tree with Scabies 

Nicole Walker

*

My husband, Erik, teases me that I don’t like change. He stands at my open closet doors, pulls out a skirt. “You keep everything. I bought this for you for your birthday when we were dating. Like twenty years ago.”
     “It still fits! And, it’s from Anthropologie. That store is expensive. It would be a waste to throw it away.”
     “You never wear it.” I take the skirt from him, pull off the pants I’m wearing, leave them on the floor so I can slide the skirt. It has a zipper. I zip it all the way up. Almost. 
     While we’re upstairs, he points out the stained carpet, the closet doors coming off their tracks. 
     “These knobs are from the seventies,” he says.
     “You’re from the seventies,” I tell him. 
     “We should move.” 
     “I know. We totally should move.” 
 
I say that as I look out my living window at the Honey Crisp apple tree Erik gave me for Mother’s Day two years ago. The branches are still red which suggests life, right? Dead trees have gray bark. I squint at the tree—is that a green fleck of a shoot?
     I head to the backyard to investigate. The tree is wrapped in green netting to keep the deer from chewing the tender shoots. Green twist-ties hold the netting to the branches. This plastic is the green I saw from the window.
     “Come on, little tree. You can do it.” I slide my hands through the netting to massage the stems, hoping to feel nodules pucker through the bark. I sit down on the hard dirt and talk to the leaves instead. “Do you want to be a tree? I could let you live this time.” Last year, I saw the leaves growing wantonly from the ground. I chopped them down to try to get the graft to grow. At least I can rely on the constancy of rootstock. 

It seems particularly unfair that the tree has died during what has become the tree uprising of Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet elevation. Unlike the climate most people associate with Arizona, Flagstaff barely reaches ninety degrees in summer. Temperatures register below freezing in the winter. But last spring, temperatures did not fluctuate as widely as usual. By fall, apples were rolling down the streets. A nonprofit for Flagstaff food security organized volunteers to collect apples before they rotted into park lawns and golf courses. To distract Erik from the idea of moving houses, I pointed out the apples that would go to waste if we didn’t take advantage of the neighborhood trees to make apple cider. Max, our nine year old and Zoe, our thirteen year old, helped us crush the apples. We tasted the juice. It was pretty good. Six weeks later, the cider? Well, the yeast, like the Honey Crisp in the backyard, did not produce as we’d hoped. 

Erik comes outside to look at the tree with me. From the ground, I look up at him. 
     “Did you see the UN Report about the species humans are currently killing?” 
     “I did. A million.” He puts his hand on the top of my head. I might have thought it was condescending if there were anything else he could have done to make me feel better. 
     “Max has to write a paper on the Emperor Penguin colony that disappeared,” I feel sorry for Max and Zoe. Why do they have to watch this great extinction? Erik keeps looking at the tree. 
     “I wonder what happened?”
     “To the penguins?”
     “No. To the tree,” he says.
     “I don’t know. Maybe we didn’t dig deep enough or we watered it too little. Or too much.” 
     “Come on. Sit on the patio with me. Have a beer.” He reaches his hand toward me. I give him mine to pull me up. 
     “I guess we won’t be having any cider any time soon. We better get good at making it. I’m not going into the apocalypse without any alcohol.”
     “I know. I’m working on it. Maybe we should get a kit to get started. Maybe there were too many variables in the juice.”
 
About my own tree, I’m still feeling sad but at least for now, I’ve convinced Erik to stop talking about moving to a new house. He won’t watch Our Planet, a show about the effects of global warming and habitat loss on animals, on Netflix with me and Max. It makes him too sad. 
     I said to Max, out of earshot of Erik, “Sometimes, it’s good to be sad.” 
     “Sometimes,” Max says back. He doesn’t like it when I cry even when we’re just watching TV.
 
The good news is, it will be Mother’s Day soon. I’ve asked Erik for another apple tree. Maybe not a Honey Crisp but instead something that can stand the fluctuations of weather and water. Possibly a different varietal can learn to like change. I guess it had better. 



*


Nicole Walker is the author of Processed Meats: Essays on Food, Flesh and Navigating Disaster (2021), Sustainability: A Love Story (2018), and the collaborative collection The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet (2019). She has previously published the books Where the Tiny Things Are (2017), Egg (2017), Micrograms (2016), Quench Your Thirst with Salt (2013), and This Noisy Egg (2010). She edited for Bloomsbury the essay collections Science of Story (2019) with Sean Prentiss and Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction (2013) with Margot Singer. She is the co-president of NonfictioNOW and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award and a noted author in Best American Essays. Her work has been most recently published in the New York Times, Longreads, and Ploughshares, among other places. She teaches at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.


*

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/


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Julie Marie Wade, The Jokers

 

This is an essay in a series of b-sides to The Texas Review All-Essay Issue. (More info at the end of this post.)


The Jokers

Julie Marie Wade

*



We have always had two—since that brisk October morning in 2004 when my partner said, “It’s time,” and it was. So why had I been stalling? 

I loved animals, domestic and otherwise. I was the girl who walked all the neighborhood dogs, then begged to bring the class rabbit home on weekends. (Nightrider—a rabbit of his time.) I was also the girl who cried for a cat every day of her first nine years until at last my parents relented and let me name the black-and-white stray, put out a box with a blanket for him, and a bowl of kibble, and a few homemade toys. (Mittens—his name made him seem more cuddly than he was.)

“I just don’t want to get attached,” I said, driving us across town to the Pittsburgh Animal Rescue.

“Well, that’s quite a switch,” Angie replied, “since if Velcro were a person, Velcro would be you.” 

*

We came home with them that day, littermates born in June and rescued in August. We joked they were Geminis like Angie. A whole family of Geminis plus me, lone Virgo who fretted about the future and organized things. We named one kitten after an island (Tybee), the other after a poet (Oliver). They were four pounds and five pounds, respectively—Ollie always larger. He was our big personality guy, with a little white fluff under his chin like a bow tie. Tybee his shadow, the loyal brother who followed him all of his life. 

*

Years before, in Mrs. Du Pen’s biology class, there was a unit on relationships. Three kinds we had to memorize: mutualistic, commensalistic, and parasitic. I loved the teacher—perhaps some would say I was too attached—so I always raised my hand. I wanted to please her by saying the right thing, by always knowing the right answer. 

Mrs. Du Pen stood near the chalkboard, in her dark tights and Doc Martens, describing different kinds of relationships for the students to identify. I kept raising my hand but never fast enough. When she finally called on me, her question was, “What kind of relationship does a human have with a pet—a dog or cat, for instance?” 

“Commensalistic!” I declared. 

Mrs. Du Pen looked surprised. Her hands slipped into her jumper pockets. “Are you sure?” Which should have been a nudge to reconsider, but I kept trying to rationalize.

“Yes! Because the pet is given a home and saved from a shelter, and it doesn’t hurt the human to bring an animal into her home—I mean, I guess unless she’s allergic.”

Why did I say it, and with such conviction, too? I knew Mrs. Du Pen was going through a divorce. I knew Mrs. Du Pen’s nose sometimes turned pink like a rabbit’s—or a woman who’d been crying in her lab before class. I knew also that Mrs. Du Pen’s favorite creature was a bright red parrot named Zeek, who was as foul-tempered and profane as only a bright red parrot named Zeek could be.

“I suppose in some cases, the relationship between a human and a pet might be merely commensalistic, but I think in most cases, it’s mutualistic, right?” She brushed her hands together, and the chalk-dust scattered like virga. “Everyone benefits when love is reciprocated.”

Under my breath, I muttered, “Sure—until love ends.”

That’s when she cupped her hand around her ear. The wedding ring was gone, I noticed. Her finger looked thin and bare. “I couldn’t hear what you said, dear.”

I shook my head that it was nothing, that she should move on, but for the rest of class, I could feel a prickly heat rising under my turtleneck sweater. 

Everybody knew Mrs. Du Pen’s husband was a doctor who had left her for his nurse. Everybody knew Mrs. Du Pen’s parrot once bit her so hard on the cheek she had to get stitches. Maybe everybody knew I loved her, too, and not the way I was supposed to—not like a dream mom or a cool aunt. 

How I brooded then. Who was Mrs. Du Pen to teach us about reciprocated love?

*

Angie and I had lived together nearly two and a half years when we brought our first pair home. “The jokers,” we sometimes called them. As time went on, it was hard to remember the days before Tybee and Ollie thundered down the stairs to greet us, before they stole our hairbands and pounced mercilessly on the chenille plant and mother-in-law’s tongues. Before our laps were always occupied with warm, purring bodies.

I’d think back to our first apartment on Garden Street in Bellingham, Washington. Were there really no cats sprawled before those capacious radiators, no cats crouched on the window ledge watching sea gulls congregate on the roof next door? No cats even on the cross-country move, peeking out from the way back of our Ford Taurus wagon? (Stella, we called her. She looked like a Stella.) Even our first apartment in Squirrel Hill—the landlord said “No cats,” but our neighbors had one, a fluffy tabby who lounged all day in the solarium, paws skyward, slow-blinking into the sun. We didn’t smuggle any cats in, but we didn’t renew that lease either. 

Cats were the reason we moved to our first house in Lawrenceville. That lease had fewer restrictions. We worked long days and took classes at night. The need for two, you see, to keep each other company, to keep the mischief fresh. Our Keystone cats always waiting for us. Our Keystone cats, who became our Buckeye cats and then our Bluegrass cats. Ollie figured out how to stand on his hind legs and open the bedroom door. Tybee waited till we stepped out of the shower, then rushed in to drink the water pooling near the drain. 

When does the moment come when you can’t imagine your life without someone? Are love and attachment synonyms, or part of a larger sequence? Do we progress from love to attachment, or attachment to love? And is it ever really progress when we know that loss is given? Not just foreshadowed—given

*

When Angie and I moved to South Florida in 2012, our cats were eight years old. In veterinary terms, they were “seniors,” so we joked they had retired. Our Sunshine cats basked every day on the screened porch, and later, on the highrise balcony. They had shiny black coats that absorbed the sun. How they relished it. How we relished them. Our attachment was undeniable by then.

I don’t want to tell you the story of their deaths, devastating and inevitable as death always is. I don’t want to tell you about the first time we left our home with only Ollie in tow—“Tybee, you stay here; that’s a good kitty”—and how it ached to return without him. Tybee, running to the door, ears perked, eyes scanning the empty crate. We wondered if he understood this absence wasn’t our choice. We wondered if he blamed us.

*

But since I don’t want to tell you that story, I’ll tell you instead how I saw the little black kitten alone in a cage at Pet Supermarket on Valentine’s Day. The Humane Society had rescued this kitten near the casino in Dania Beach. They placed her with a family, but in just a few weeks, the humans returned her. Reason given: “Not enough time.” Note in file: “Kitten is spazzy.” Aren’t kittens spazzy by nature? Isn’t “being spazzy” kind of a kitten’s job?

I saw Tina (as we named her, short for Valentina and that auspicious day) before she ever saw me. It had been four months, and Tybee was lonely. He slept in the same spot where he last saw his brother, curled into the afghan, his face in his paws.

Such risk, we knew. Would a staid, twelve-year-old cat ever accept a spazzy kitten—even a Gemini, which Tina was? And would any of us ever love her as we had loved Ollie? Did the heart just keep making room infinitely, or would the day come when it simply ran out of space?

Concerns like these were precisely why Angie and I had titled our joint thesis defense Virgo Laments—and Gemini Says Get Over It. “Get the kitten,” Angie said when I called her. “It’s clearly a sign, and I don’t even believe in signs.”

Tina yowled outside our bedroom door until we let her in. Cats sleep here, she conveyed, with Ollie bravado, and forever after, they did. We bought her kitten chow and a separate litter box, but she wanted nothing to do with separate. Until his death, she ate Tybee’s senior food, used his easy-access senior box, followed him into piles of warm laundry the way a loyal sister would. 

Tybee licked her head. Tybee cleaned her ears. For four years, he let her know the feeling was mutual. 

*

“Sixteen years is a good, long life for a cat,” everyone says. They aren’t wrong, and yet. (And yet.) There is no such thing as long enough. We know this, we forget this, and then, some terrible morning in some tiny room, we are forced to remember.

I don’t want to tell you how, at the end, Tybee weighed the same as the day we brought him home from the Pittsburgh Animal Rescue. (Just four pounds.) I don’t want to tell you how the vet said tenderly, removing the stethoscope from his chest, “Your beloved has passed,” or how Angie and I held his warm body and sobbed till our masks soaked through with tears. I don’t want to tell you how I sat in the car weeks later, waiting for the young woman in Garfield scrubs to pass a second box of ashes through my window.

It was our worst déjà vu. Tina waiting at the door. Tina perched on the sill. Tina carrying the catnip mustache that had belonged to him. 

“Do we do it again?” I asked Angie. “A whole new generation of cats?”

Tina pacing. Tina mewling. Tina hugging our heels, as though we might disappear, too. 

Angie was somber but honest as ever: “Whatever we choose, we know it’s a win-lose.” 

*

I thought of All Dogs Go to Heaven, one of the first movies my parents took me to see at the historic Admiral Theater. We sat in the back row eating cold popcorn my mother had buttered and salted at home. At first, the laughter, the music, the bright, cartoon world of Anne-Marie and her animal friends. Then, the turn: how I keened when Charlie didn’t survive—my first cinematic betrayal. 

The credits rolled, the theater cleared, but I kept rocking in my chair. “Julie, he went to Heaven,” my father pleaded. “Can’t you find some comfort in that?” 

“No, I can’t!” I was ten years old, too big to be making a scene. 

My mother snapped her fingers in a way that meant pull yourself together. “Titles are clues. It’s not called All Dogs Live Forever.” 

*

“His name is Wind,” Angie said, turning the computer screen to face me. “Good Karma Rescue in Fort Lauderdale just posted his picture.” 

A black kitten with huge ears. A big dollop of white (triple the size of Ollie’s) like paint splatter across his chest. Keen, yellow eyes. 

I won’t deny that I had stopped at Pet Supermarket on my way home from the human supermarket just the week before, hoping for a different kind of déjà vu. The young woman in the toucan mask unloading bags of birdseed said, “Oh, all the kittens from Broward Humane Society found homes this month. That’s one good thing about the pandemic—a lot of people have decided they have time and space in their lives for a pet.” 

I nodded, not sure whether to feel disappointed or relieved. No cats waiting, no cats in obvious need. Then, I drove home, opened the door, and there was Tina—her longing and dismay as palpable as mine.

*

We decided to call him Beaufort, like the Beaufort Scale. He’s only three months old, so he won’t remember being Wind. He gusts through the house, tripping on the stairs like a clumsy puppy, sliding down the banister like an impish child. Beau steals all the Post-Its from my desk and prances around, trailing an ellipsis of colorful, crinkled balls behind him.

Our first Libra, Beau was born at the height of Hurricane Season in Miami. Only he and his littermate, Rain, survived. There’s a couple in Sunrise who have given Rain a good home. We swap pictures sometimes of our twin kittens, both sleeping with their left paws extended or sprawled on their backs, white belly-stripes exposed.

“Beaufort is a force of nature,” we say. “Beaufort is a tempest in a teacup,” we say. “Beaufort is the sweetest squall.” 

He’s nothing like Tybee really, or Ollie, for that matter. He’s most like Tina, who tumbles with him from the bed to the floor, then races him out to the screened porch we call the catio—for obvious reasons. When they snuggle up together, like Tina and Tybee did, like Tybee and Ollie did, I always work the math: How many years do we have? At least a decade for Tina, likely more. Beau’s not even six months yet—he could live to be 20 for all we know. 

*

“Look at these jokers,” we say. They’re young and healthy now, a couple of silky sprites. We can trick ourselves into thinking this will last, reimagine the title of the film, or simply put it out of our minds—that faintly ticking clock, that slowly prickling word—lifespan

“Sometimes I think I should try to practice non-attachment,” I tell Angie. “Like in a spiritual way. Become a Buddhist maybe.” 

“Good luck with that,” she smiles, and there’s a timbre in her voice that means, I love you, but you’re Velcro, remember. Teflon you’ll never be.

*

It was October 9, 2004. The date stuck with me because on the same day in 1988, I convinced my parents to open that first tuna can. “I’ll buy his real cat food with my allowance,” I pledged. “But he’s hungry now. Please—let’s feed him.”

When Angie said, “It’s time,” I knew she was right, but my nose turned pink like a rabbit’s—or a young woman who hadn’t made her peace with the way that nothing lasts.

“Why are you tearing up?” she asked. “Shouldn’t this be a happy day?”

“It is. It’s just—I know it’s so far in the future, and we have to live for the now, but if we bring cats into our lives, they’re going to get old and sick, and we’re going to have to live through their deaths. I haven’t had to live through anyone’s death yet.” Not even Mittens, who still patrolled my parents’ yard in his elder years, eviscerating rodents, dragging dead birds to their doorstep with pride.

“True.” Angie looked at me with her cornflower eyes. “But of course we’re going to get old and sick, too, and eventually we’re going to die, probably, hopefully, not any time soon, but—do you think we should call this whole thing off? 

“I mean—that’s a terrible thought,” I stammered.

“We’re young. We could part ways now and do our best to get over each other. Otherwise, by the time these kittens we haven’t even adopted yet become geriatric cats, we’re going to be in too deep, aren’t we?” She laced up her boots with her beautiful hands. 

“Marilyn Hacker,” I sighed, from the sonnet we both loved: “One of us will die sooner, one of us is going to outlive the other, but we’re alive now.” I reached for my coat and felt around for my gloves in the pocket.

Angie shrugged. “What can I say? Mortality bites.”

*

Tonight, on the high cabinet in our living room, visible through the sliding glass door, I can see the twin boxes, their brass nameplates—TYBEE, OLIVER—side by side. Angie sips her wine, and I sip my ginger ale. It’s our human happy hour after a long day on Zoom. Tina and Beau frolic at our feet. Every hour is happy for the cats who don’t know there’s a bell that tolls, a farm that’s bought, a bucket that’s kicked, a Reaper who grims.

Unlike death, love is not inevitable. But not unlike death, our awareness of love changes how we live. 

*

It’s been so long now it’s hard for me to remember a past without Angie. Wasn’t she always there? Didn’t she sit beside me in third grade, rivaling mine for the best book report on Black Beauty or Island of the Blue Dolphins? Didn’t we dangle upside down from the monkey bars together, our soft bellies exposed? And didn’t she come home with me after school to play jacks on the driveway, gin rummy on the sprawling back lawn? 

I swear I can see the early spring wind tossing her hair, the two jokers she leaves out of the deck, pinned with a rock so they won’t blow away. 

“Is that your cat?” Child-Angie asks, pointing to the sleek black feline with four white feet peeking at us through the fence-slats.

“No.” I shake my head. “Not really.” I realize I love Angie even then, watching her pale hands with the bright green veins shuffle cards like an accordion. “Not yet.”


*


Julie Marie Wade is the author of 13 collections of poetry, prose, and hybrid forms, most recently Skirted: Poems (The Word Works, 2021) and the book-length lyric essay, Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing (The Ohio State University Press, 2020). Her collaborative volumes include The Unryhmables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019), co-authored with Denise Duhamel, and the forthcoming Telephone: Essays in Two Voices (Cleveland State University Press, 2021), co-authored with Brenda Miller. A winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, Julie teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University. She is married to Angie Griffin and lives in Dania Beach.


*

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/


Friday, June 11, 2021

Addie Tsai, A Frank Abortion: a Fractured Narrative in Fifty Parts


This is an essay in a series of b-sides to The Texas Review All-Essay Issue. (More info at the end of this post.)

*

A Frank Abortion: A Fractured Narrative in Fifty Parts.

Addie Tsai

*

1. Some extracts.

Creativity will be defined principally by the word originality, and its negative expression will be narcissistic irresponsibility. —James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis

But, by the habitual slothfulness of rust intellects, or the depravity of the heart, lulled into hardness on the lascivious couch of pleasure, those heavenly beams are obscured, and man either appears as an hideous monster, a devouring beast, or a spiritless reptile, without dignity or humanity. —Mary Wollstonecraft, The Origin & Progress of the French Revolution

I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open…Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room. —Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


2. An introduction.

I was 18 when I first read Mary Shelley’s novel.

I was 25 when it first seemed that I would, with my lover, create a Frankenstein of my own.

Mary Shelley’s mother died when she was 4 days old, of a blood disease to the womb. Her father was a political figure, whose politics would lead her to her most complicated romance—Percy Shelley.

Percy had many lovers. Mary was already his lover when his wife drowned herself with child. There’s a story of a cousin of Mary’s who was another former lover of Percy, who checked herself into a hotel room, and swallowed a bottle of pills. It’s known that Percy talked Mary into a ménage a trois with Mary’s half-sister, that she too at some time became pregnant. 

Mary lost four children. It was out of her hands.

I’ve lost one. My own hand.


3.

I was sick the day my Romantics professor talked about Frankenstein in class. I had to sit, uncomfortably so, in his small office in a stiff wooden chair as he gave me the lecture notes I missed. I probably hadn’t read the novel all the way through when he delivered the notes to me. 

My professor told me one thing about Frankenstein I’ve never forgotten, that sealed our courtship—that is to say, my courtship with Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein and Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy and monster and creature and narcissism and male hysteria and epistolary novel and Justine and Elizabeth and all the women die and Frankenstein takes on childbirth and and and—

He told me that Shelley refers to Frankenstein’s creation as the Creature until the world turns against him. It is only after the world rejects him that he is referred to as The Monster.

Courtship sealed.


4. 

I met D at a launch for Gulf Coast. I’d seen his work before, at an exhibit at the local contemporary arts museumI was 25, fresh out of graduate school, and I’d never before read anything that addressed my experience of hybridity so profoundly.

To be frank, D's work impressed me the least.

The launch was three years after I encountered his work for the first time. He asked if I’d like to work with him on a project on Don Quixote. We exchanged information.

He called three times. I didn’t answer the phone, I didn’t respond to his messages.

I met him again, at an art talk he gave when I happened to teach at his alma mater. He was working on a project exploring the Bush Administration through Moby-Dick.

Again, he called three times. It was only when he insisted he wasn’t a serial rapist that I called him back.


5. 

Why I first refused to see Frankenstein.

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room… —Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


6. 

Why I first refused to see Frankenstein.

D's size—in prowess and energy and frame and height—towered over me. And his fame, most significant of all, was like a pond filled with caramel. I wanted his fame and his stature and his size and his maleness and his entitlement and his self-assuredness. At the same time that I desired all of these things that caused me to ask a mutual acquaintance and editor of the magazine to make our introduction, I was equally terrified and disgusted by the ego display I saw in him. I saw my father—a lion whose body’s voice, whose voice’s body, made clear he was on the scene regardless of action. If D looked my way too closely, would his penetrating dark eyes cause me to instantly crumple beneath my own, shadowy form?

To me it was inevitable, so when it came time to announce myself on the scene, I exited.


7.

I am compelled to erase everything I’ve just written. 

And replace it with words that place you in a trance, and me. I could stack images and incantations around this narrative, I could re-write the entire piece in third person so that it would be some other fragile 25-year-old wounded child this happened to, a child born of and through narcissism, born of a father who performed and who silenced her with his hand and his body, a mother who did the same, a mother who stayed altered with marijuana and men and television and food and alcohol and spending and in a constant state of seduction, a child who lived a life of twin-hood that involved identical dresses hung in the father’s closet and singing songs like marionettes because the girls were directed to from somewhere high above them, songs whistled out of their twin mouths by a larger voice that loomed always around them. This child who lived in a life-size see-through aquarium with her twin, these twins that blinked their doll-eyes and smiled when prompted, but not too much, loved her some Frankensteins. Loved her some Frankensteins because that was all she’d known to love, as erudite and naïve a phrase as that can be, and because she’d assumed, been groomed to assume, that the only way she’d exist was through building her own shackles and building her own love to the Frankenstein she could handle the easiest. And this child, she just wasn’t sure this Frankenstein, this reaching middle aged conceptual painter from Louisiana who insisted his sister and mother never curse in his presence, who liked his ladies elegant and intellectual but knowing their place, who shared a bank account with his mother, a mother who never learned to drive because his terrorizing father scared the desire out of her, who drank in whiskey and cigars while he crooned to other ladies on the telephone while he painted in his studio while she this wounded child with the twine of narcissistic artists bound tightly around her who gave her painter lover everything he needed. She wrote statements on paintings he was making when he didn’t understand why he was making them, she posed in for portraits that needed a second figure, she brought her camera along when he didn’t have one to shoot with, she gave him every poem and story she’d ever written to do with what he liked, she let herself pose in a photo for a painting of the beautiful woman as monster called killer’s kiss flipping off the imagined painter wearing a geisha hairstyle with two chopsticks sticking out her blue stilettos naked form one hip cocked to the side next to a pregnant African figure a goddess of fertility while she was pregnant, a child who became pregnant because he’d convinced her as long as she was on her moon it was safe, who wanted to name their future kids Lucien or Jackson after his favorite painters, who told her you will be my wife I know this just hours before he found a reason to kick her out of his studio and ooze coldness through the phone line until he needed her again to take a bubble bath in a tub he set up on the second floor of his studio because he’s always wanted his woman to take a bath in his studio, who played the harmonica while she sang the only Bob Dylan song she could ever learn to love, this child who decided on Frankenstein for his project with her because she convinced him he should when he said he wanted to do a show on love, who had to tell him eight times about Frankenstein before he agreed. This child never stopped to wonder why she had such a strong intuition for this man this painter lover this older artist with this young ingénue to work on Frankenstein, who found out two days after this painter lover showed her the image of her he’d been working on, the image he said he’d give her time to be comfortable with— but he hadn’t planned on his woman his muse his partner his assistant his courtesan his future wife his collaborator his Pearl to stand in front of his image of her speechless because all she saw when she looked at a canvas larger than she’d ever seen was her sister, the face and soul she’d been running from always. She saw her twin’s face. Her painter lover was expecting adoration and a muse’s enthusiasm and light and so he kicked her out of his studio and out of his living space and out of his bathtub and out of his project and out of his cavernous womb


8. 

She went to breakfast with a friend desperately hoping that she was having cramps. It was her favorite breakfast, one she had every Friday, of breakfast tacos, potatoes, and organic coffee, at her favorite café, decorated in the colors of the Bay.


9.

She couldn’t eat it. Because she was overtaken with nausea.


10.

She walked into her local pharmacy, and bought two home pregnancy tests.


11.

They went positive so fast she didn’t have time to think about it.


12.

She wasn’t ready to admit defeat, or knowledge. Four years before, she’d been convinced she was pregnant with an ex-lover. If it had been accurate, the pregnancy would have been conceived on their anniversary, a rare case of intimacy at a strained place in their relationship. It felt so real to her, so inside her body, that she wrote about it:


13. Bellsong

The firefly rang against the glass.

She held her belly away from the world, but still, it vanished.
But still, it slithered out. The body, that dead lotus sinking in a jar.

Lights chasing their own concentric circles.

Her eyes churned at Mother’s kiss. The pirate-patch eye
she safety-pin pricked. Embarrassed print—hot-pink lips—
burn of wax in the light.

The bell brightens as it boomerangs.

She only hears in father speak. 吃饭了! How does your dinner bell sound?
Eat rice, she’ll answer, when words divorce each other. Come eat,
they’ll modernize,
together.

In the wet grass, the jar beating. The firefly decoding.


14. 

The color flashed on the little screen so quick, like a match burned into the skin.


15.

The girl didn’t have the kind of mother she could call for this.
The girl didn’t have the kind of father she could call for this.

The girl called the painter lover’s mother.


16.

How are you feeling, Boo?

     Oh, I just have nausea, you know, a little—

That’s not what I mean. Emotionally, how are you doing emotionally?

     Oh. oh. I’m afraid of D. He’s not talking to me right now. I’m scared.

The next person calling your phone will be D. Don’t be scared. I’ll talk to him.


17. 

Well, Pearl, this is not good news. 

I will send you checks in the mail. We will no longer have a relationship. If you keep this child.

I want to have a child with you and all that, but when we’re ready.

Don’t think that you’ll automatically be a Mary Poppins.

How did this happen? (We called it into the Universe.) Why couldn’t we call a million dollars into the universe?

I’ve been through this more than once, more than twice, more than THREE times!

I don’t want people who know me to see me. I will drop you off and pick you up.


18.

This 28-year-old girl didn’t have a mother. But she had a therapist. And her therapist was out of town when the girl discovered she was pregnant by home pregnancy test and after she went to the doctor with her painter lover and the woman took her urine sample around the corner and sped right back around and said oh yes you are pregnant your hormone levels are so strong I barely had to leave it in at all and the Jewish gynecologist the girl had been seeing since she worked out of a quaint bungalow and used folding screens and heat lamps and who said to her while the girl sobbed into her hands unavoidably I guess this isn’t someone you were planning to walk down the aisle with. And the gynecologist told her that her due date was in February, that she would need to take prenatal vitamins, that she would need a new doctor. And then she looked at the girl out of the side of her eyes and told her, there is adoption. And, there are, other options. 

The girl never saw that gynecologist again.


19.

Her therapist was out of town when she learned she was pregnant.
Your mother abandoned you. I’m your mother, and she abandoned you.


20.

Mary Shelley’s mother died of a blood disease to the womb shortly after Mary was born.


21.

The Creature was abandoned by his mother, Victor Frankenstein, at first sight of his birth.


22.

There is no consistent pattern to my mother’s abandonment. Except that she abandons.


23.

My D—although he was never mine, only that I was his—abandoned me twice. He abandoned me when I couldn’t adore the image he made of me, and he abandoned me when he learned I was pregnant.


24.

Less than two weeks after my abortion and the end of our relationship, which occurred on the same day, D called to announce that the painting he’d made of me would be exhibited in a show at one of the most significant independent collections in the country, the most prominent museum in the city. 


25.

D owed me money. He returned only the portions that had no association with my abortion. As for the abortion, he never paid a dime. The rest of the money he noted as being for: ART.


26.

When I want to remember a time in which I felt truly loved, a time in which another soul held my fragile girl child soul the day before I terminated my pregnancy, I think of my therapist. Her eyes quivering before they expressed compassion. I went to Group Therapy, but I was scared to fall apart. I decided I just wanted to be around them, for support, even if I stayed silent. But, my therapist-mama, she knew. As the conversation went down a certain stream, I couldn’t help my stream from mixing into the other stream, and I fidgeted in my painter-lover’s oversized shirt he made me wear to conceal myself, especially when he learned that both his sister and his mother suspected we were pregnant before we knew because of how my belly looked in the light in my A-line dress at Sunday brunch. I stared out the two large windows on my left, I watched the birds, afraid they would hit the window again because the panes of glass were so clear as to appear like air, and I stared at the highlights in my therapist’s hair, and I looked at the clock to see how much longer I would need to barricade myself from crumbling, and then I saw her, I saw my therapist-mama, I saw her eyes holding it in for me. I don’t remember whose explosion happened first. Only that they did. That she cried for me, and then we cried together, and then everyone else did. A sign of tenderness I’d never witnessed before.


27.

That’s what a mother who can truly see you must look like.


28.

After my therapist offered to take me to the clinic for my abortion, I blackmailed D into coming with me. I told him there were others who could take me, if he couldn’t. First, he tried to get his mother to take me. Then, they both took me. D and I didn’t speak. I passed information to his mother who then passed it to her son.


29. 

His mother cried. Told me that I let D bully me into an abortion. That her son would never recover.


30.

They took my ultrasound. It was sticky and wet and cold and exactly like all those other movies where a happily married couple goes into a doctor’s office to check on their baby.


31.

They gave me a piece of paper on a clipboard. I had to answer some questions. There’s only one I remember:

If you are having twins, would you like to know?


32.

Did I forget to tell you what it’s like to be pregnant at six weeks when you have to make this kind of decision right fucking now? Your stomach is squeezing itself into a ball that takes in no wind like an air-tight jar to store things that won’t mold and your head is light and airy and spinning and you have to make this decision that you will never be able to return to the same again and your heart is breaking from the fluttering inside that could be a life one day and your heart is breaking from the utter monster of a person you shared your body with so that this new one could insert itself into yours without asking and everything inside that new body you’re in and the one that is forming inside the one you’re in is saying relax everything is fine it’ll all work out but the world outside the one that is saying relax everything is fine it’ll all work out is telling you that if you have this child if you give birth to what’s been created here with that person in this moment with your body which once was so painfully unconscious of the monster forming between this pairing you will be giving birth to the child that was you because the man that is next to you has suddenly unearthed a rage like thunder and water rocks and the piercing snapping of aged trees. 


33. 

So, did I answer yes or no when the paper asked me if I wanted to know if I was having twins?

I answered yes.


34.

I did some research before the day of my abortion, and I learned at eight weeks, the fetus grows hands and feet.

I decided that, if I was eight weeks, I would keep it.


35.

My therapist-mama and I were convinced I was farther along than six weeks. Because I was nauseous and had gained so much weight and I was dizzy and I couldn’t eat a thing and my breasts hurt so bad and I was so tired.


36.

They never told me I was having twins.
The ultrasound confirmed I was six weeks.


37.

After the abortion, I went to D's mother’s house to recover. Because I had nowhere else to go. D dropped us off, and took my car back to his studio. He called me with his every impulse. He’d started working again, he needed his Pearl, he knew we would have to work through this, he’d done it before, but we could do it. He had some ideas for another painting, he wanted to hear me talk about them. 

Why did he love me? Because I was something he could use.


38.

I knew it was over. But, I wanted to get through the abortion first.


39.

I had told one friend, a beautiful Italian actor and theorist who’d gotten me through two breakups with other narcissistically-wounded artists, who’d nurtured me through my parent struggles before I found therapist-mama. She called long distance from Italy to check on me. I was giggling, telling her it hadn’t hit me yet, I must still be sedated. 

D called while I was on the phone, his mother answered: I don’t know Dave, she’s giggling on the phone with a girlfriend.

Put her on the phone. NOW.

You don’t think I’m suffering from this, too?
You’re not staying at Mama’s house. Get your stuff.


40.

It was hours after the doctor who spoke to me for three minutes about Frankenstein had taken some object I never saw and vacuumed out my pregnancy with his hand. Hours after I’d been led to a back room with a bed and a curtain to sleep. Hours after the first abortion I’d ever have. 

But, like the painting, I’d failed him by not adoring him, by not consoling him, by not letting him into my own experience of emptying out my own womb.


41.

He came to the door in a mad frenzy. So did I. I demanded my keys. 

I said, for the first time in my life, to all the men I’d ever chained myself to, men that started with my father: 

I will never speak to you again.


42.

There are no images I can build around this memory.

My entire body trembled with rage and fear and sadness and heartbreak and conviction until my breath exploded into a white ball in front of me. It was as though I were still pregnant, as though a child still held my white ball breath in its shallow shell, and I had to protect it.

I had to protect me. I had learned what it meant. And from who.


43.

Two days after I learned that he planned to show the painting of me in a museum, I decided to write a piece about what it meant to be a muse and a partner and a collaborator. I felt so frail. I had no other means to fight. 

But. I could write.

I wrote ten pages about our meeting and our Frankenstein and our paintings and the painting of me and narcissism and what it means to be a partner in creation and in courtship. 

I’d send it to an online resource for art in the city, a resource D had been interviewed in. I wouldn’t mention the abortion—too fresh—but everything else. If the painting had to go in the show, at least she could control her own representation of her own self in the matter, that she wasn’t some Frankenstein’s monster, that she had her own narrative to tell.


44.

I typed ten pages straight. I put my hands down.

The phone rang. D's message: he decided not to put the painting in the show.


45.

I took baths and sobbed into my belly and took self-portraits and read a book my therapist-mama gave me called The Sacrament of Abortion, that says abortion is a heartbreak abortion is a sacrifice abortion represents an impossible love forcing an unwanted pregnancy on a woman is one of the deepest wounds to the spirit that can be inflicted on a human being forcing a child to live in a body that is hostile to it must be denounced as cruel. I read about narcissism and hysteria from another book my therapist mama lent me called The Myth of Analysis, by a Jungian analyst named James Hillman. In it, a narrative about someone named Juniper. It felt right so I wrote letters and poems and flickr posts to my aborted pregnancy, my Juniper. I named her so that I could grieve her, so that I could honor her as the death of my life as a narcissistic support and so that I could honor my re-birth. With Juniper’s end, I became someone else. I ended my archetypal life as a courtesan and a creature, I ended that story my body was born with: that I would be abandoned by a mother and chained in performance to a father.

 

46.

Post on Flickr, June 17, 2008


47. Letter to my Aborted Child, written August 2, 2008

Finally it seems as if I have a true shadow self, another entity outside me that acts as a mirror, echoing me like a dark cloud rises over a pond. It is the self of my aborted child, my soulmate, my doppelganger, my Juniper. Because you never came, because the doorstep of the chalkboard drawing in which you first appeared was taken out from beneath you, because there was no choice—You who are a shadow have never left. That shadow is unfed, goes on unfed, until that moment where I can carry you across the river of Hades into the living world, where you can finally have a body outside my own. Believe me, that other timeline haunts me still. But please, my love, don’t take that the wrong way. One day you will see, there are good hauntings we face, ghosts that remind us of the fate we deserve, the life beyond the dweller of the tormented cage. You are all that I fight for—I wear boxing gloves daily, I ready my fists to assemble an environment that will instill the perfect womb, I purge the poisons from the water I drink, this moment, so that when a day comes, I will be prepared to bathe us both in a new, untainted stream. I close my eyes, and I see this white ribbon wrapped round. But trust me, it is not what you think. The ribbon enfolds me in a daily reminder of the choice I made—my losing you would mean nothing if not for the unwritten life that ribbon represents, the invisible circling me with its inevitable truth.


48. Depart, depart, and leave me in darkness (also known as: This deadly weight yet hanging round my neck)—, written September 27, 2009

(In order to reclaim the self, there is much to be sacrificed.) Three months before my twenty-ninth birthday, I was responsible for burying a birth. For terminating a creation that didn’t ask to be born. With that birth, I buried many things. In order to reclaim the self, all that must be sacrificed. The fetus was covered with so much infection that it was barely recognizable—just a green swollen shell of puss without the wound to go with it. Or perhaps the fetus carried with it many wounds, most of which it had nothing to do with. It was unfair to inject the wounds of all my lovers and fathers into such a compromised substance. But, what pregnancy is fair? The self, reclaimed, is the product of such sacrifice. Even now, when I close my eyes, I see it lying on the ground in a cloud, shrouded by ghosts of men that still pace the earth to haunt me with their psychotic desires. In order to reclaim the self, the unborn fetus, like a lamb, becomes the ultimate sacrifice.

My father told my sister a story. It goes that my mother had an abortion without my father’s prior knowledge. (When the self is not recognized, it doesn’t matter the sacrifice.) My mother had our family doctor abort the fetus, became incensed when the doctor was less than thrilled with the complications of this situation. What does a sacrifice matter when the self does not exist? “Don’t tell him,” threatened my mother, assuming our doctor, who delivered their twin babies, would understand. No self, no sacrifice, no matter to claim. My father, as he tells the story, knows better. Can tell something is wrong with his wife. It’s an abortion after all. It’s an abortion in the 80s after all. No pill, no clotted mess to flush and be done with. In order to reclaim the self, the self has to matter to the subject, otherwise the sacrifice is in vain. Perhaps my mother wished abortions had been more advanced, that she could have washed her hands of some unknown species away, and with them, her sins, her Italian lover who always hated kids anyway. What is matter to the earth without a self to inhabit it? Of what consequence is a sacrifice to ether? The story goes that my mother, on being questioned by my father, blurts out, like a child, a child, a child, “I had an abortion, okay?! And the doctor has been cold to me ever since.”


49.

One year after the abortion, he sent me an email with an image of a painting called Frank, a rip-off of Louise Bourgeois’s Nature Study. The painting also includes a young girl’s crying eyes streaking mascara, and just above them, a dead-end sign in the snow. The amoebic sculpture, like Bourgeois’s, is golden and D's interpretation holds a shovel in one of its gooey holes, a face on the backside of it. She’s one of my favorite artists for her psychological work through gender. He must know this.

Four years after, D showed a series of paintings, including the initial painting of our ending, but also one involving a trampled bridal bouquet, the same African goddess of fertility holding a shotgun in her arm, called Puzzle for Pregnant Girls. 


50.

The last email D sent me: 

still working on the paintings

please forgive me




*


Addie Tsai (she/they) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color, and teaches courses in literature, creative writing, dance, and humanities at Houston Community College. She also teaches in Goddard College's MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Regis University's Mile High MFA in Creative Writing. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is the author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin, which made the 2021 Rainbow Book List, and received press in Autostraddle, Bustle, Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, the Montreal Review of Books, Lambda Literary Review, OutSmart Magazine, Shondaland, and others. Addie's writing has been published in Foglifter, VIDA Lit, the Texas Review, Banango Street, The Offing, Room Magazine, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. They are the Fiction Co-Editor at Anomaly, Staff Writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.


*

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/


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Monica Prince, Tell It Backwards: an Erasure

This is an essay in a series of b-sides to The Texas Review All-Essay Issue. (More info at the end of this post.)


Tell It Backwards: an Erasure

Monica Prince

*













*


Monica Prince teaches activist and performance writing at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. She is the author of How to Exterminate the Black Woman: A Choreopoem ([PANK], 2020), Instructions for Temporary Survival (Red Mountain Press, 2019), and Letters from the Other Woman (Grey Book Press, 2018). She is the managing editor of the Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly, and the co-author of the suffrage play, Pageant of Agitating Women, with Anna Andes. Her work appears in The Texas Review, trampset, Artemis, The Rumpus, MadCap Review, American Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. 

*

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/


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Danielle Pafunda, Dear Friend

This is an essay in a series of b-sides to The Texas Review All-Essay Issue. (More info at the end of this post.)


Dear Friend

Danielle Pafunda

*

Dear friend,

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,

Danielle 



*


Danielle Pafunda is the author of nine books of prose and poetry, including Spite (The Operating System), The Book of Scab (Ricochet Editions), Beshrew (Dusie Press), and The Dead Girls Speak in Unison (Bloof Books). Her work has appeared in three editions of Best American Poetry, BAX: Best American Experimental Writing, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, and a number of anthologies and journals. She teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology.


*

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/