Cigale Literary Magazine
Cigale Literary Magazine, online literary magazine, was founded in 2011. This was its website.
Content is from the site's 2014 - 2015 archived pages offering a glimpse of what this site offered both authors and readers.
In 2017 on the Cigale Literary Magazine the following post was made: The magazine will soon be gone, but it has been archived at web.archive.org.
Enjoy the nostaglic trip back to the Winter 2014 Issue.
“…the whole history of literary fiction as an evolutionary process may be said to be a gradual probing of deeper and deeper layers of life. … The artist, like the scientist, in the process of evolution of art and science, is always casting around, understanding a little more than his predecessor, penetrating further with a keener and more brilliant eye.
Cigale Literary Magazine was founded in September 2011 as an online literary magazine to publish the works of new and existing authors.
Cigale is a quarterly online literary journal featuring powerful new voices in the genres of short fiction, flash fiction fiction, and literary criticism/reviews. We look for writing that portrays the intricacies of character set against the landscape of a wider world, prose that looks out rather than in. We are dedicated to the continuity of art as a tradition, to literature that aesthetically explores universal themes: through innovation, through allusion, through metaphor. Works that are mindful of the writer’s role in a greater human conversation will find their home at Cigale.
Scott Bryson (Editor)
Scott Bryson is a graduate of Indiana University with a double major in history and religious studies. He is a haiku poet and is currently working on a book of urban haiku. He is also currently a Master's student at the University of Illinois - Springfield.
Winter 2014 Issue
January 15, 2015
Wailing Men Clasp Hands (Ink on Paper) © 2014 Allen Forrest
Cigale's Winter issue features works from the following authors.
Robert Sobel - The Old Familiar Roar
Erika Bradbury - Split Ends
Susan Dale - Spring's Compulsions
Leonard Owens III - On Your Mark, Get Set or One, Two, Three
Iaian Smallwood - Jumping Before the Bulls
Art Edwards - The Pot Calling the Kettle Narcissistic
The Old Familiar Roar
There’s a suited man standing in front of Mickey’s. This hasn’t happened before. But there’s a man in a suit now, standing there, contemplative, looking up at something—the sign, presumably. I watch the man from the lot.
I feel as though I am only noticing the sign for the very first time myself. There it is. Mickey’s. I seemed to only half-notice the thing before this moment. And now I notice it in the full, notably because I’m watching a man watch it. This has solidified the sign somehow.
Mickey’s Bar and Grill.
The suit doesn’t seem to fit the man quite right—bedraggled in a way, drooping over him, melting over his shoulders. The suit seems sand-scattered from this brief distance, spittle of white here and there, an old suit on an old man. He is like Travis from that odd film I saw at one point, an amnesiac man in a suit in the desert, alone. And here he has come, to Mickey’s, on a whim perhaps, on a confused route, ruminating a pint of the finest draft.
The beard is what stirs me. Rabbinical, messianic. A bearded man at the entrance of a pub, looking up. At a standstill. I watch and I can see him clearly, staring upwards at the sign.
And I wonder why he’s here. What is he wondering? What is he looking at? Is he looking at the sign at all? Or are his eyes only hovering there, looking blankly, and he is in fact only seeing the makeup of his mind? What happens when our eyes are set on something and we do not see it at all? Instead we see the dreamy substance, the brain-mush, sometimes a thing, an image, impossible to recall. And then, of course, what we are looking at finally comes in focus again, suddenly, and we come awake, things come to life—a sign is there.
There is amber in the beard; I feel that I can sense this color from here. He doesn’t wear a hat like Travis from that odd film I saw at one point, but I wish he was. A red hat would look good above that amber-hued beard. It hangs quite low, unkempt, twirling bright beneath the bar-neon.
He reminds me of a professor I had. He was only there my freshman year. Professor Fazzione. A well-bearded Italian. He sounded heavily accented at times, deeply paesano, yet he also spoke with some kind of clarity, an academia bent, the words sounding of world renown. He would stroke his beard at all times. He wouldn’t only stroke it mid-thought, as many believe bearded men do; he stroked the beard consistently, absentmindedly, at all times, and it became a fact of the man, an idiosyncrasy accepted. Like a good friend’s twitch, it becomes a part of your day, without hindrance.
You look forward to Italian cinema, at least if you have a heart. He would stroke the beard looking behind him at the screen, pause the film, thrusting out his entire body—a quiet width to him, stalwart, always suited—begging the screen to pause. He would press the pause button every time as if he didn’t trust it. He trusted his own soul and body more than the remote to put a stop to a scene, to freeze us at the perfect placement. A millisecond off and he would try again, the great body-thrust pause.
He felt forced into teaching us Neorealism. “How do you not know of this?” he would say, stroking his beard with a remote in the other hand. “You,” he’d say to someone, “Speak. Say one thing.” And we’d all laugh. “They tell me teach you Neorealism. You are to know this, they say to me. It is a freshman class. Teach them Neorealism and this is all. DeSica. Ladri di Biciclette. Of course. What else? You should be teaching this to yourselves. I should have you watch these films and that is all. Hand in a final paper. But, I must teach Neorealism. OK. You. What is Neorealism?”
I tried hard to be great in his class. He felt like a great man. I didn’t like my timidity, but it was everywhere, hounding my body, making my cheeks red in class in tormented anticipation, getting called on, what a primitive and simple thing to worry over. “You.” A heart-wrenching word that fateful year. All of us could have been “you.” Some took it in stride, providing detailed answers. How did they do it? Professor Fazzione stroking the beard and patting a student on the shoulder. I tried hard for that pat. I wanted to be great in that class. He was a great man.
It was only a matter of time before the “you” was addressed to me. He asked me what a jump-cut was, something I believed to know. But my answer was a string of words, just these words, not quite my own, words levitating above me somewhere just out of my control. But it was my mouth they were coming out of. “A jump-cut is…well, I mean. Like in The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah.”
“A film historian!” he would shout out when anyone brought up a title on their own. And then he’d respond with a title himself, saying: “Godard. Breathless.”
I remember one class when we received graded midterm papers. Fazzione didn’t like having many grades. A midterm and a final. This was it. And attendance. He wanted your ass in the seat. He wanted the full forty “yous.” I made sure I saw the almost incomprehensible red letter on a shaggy haired student’s returned paper to my right, a well-spoken kid. When he was a “you” for the day he always had an answer, even when he didn’t have one. Words. They flowed out of him like a current. Great words; dichotomy, meta-filmic, reactionary, understated, catharsis. How was he able to use these words on the spot, called on? And correctly. Where does this vocabulary come from with nearly no concentrated thought?
He received a C – on the midterm. I received an A –.
He sensed me, Fazzione, back there. He sensed my face getting hot. Making the back of my hand cool on the metal parts of the desk, bringing them to my face in a moment’s swipe, a quick coolness, a momentary peace. I saw his glances, stroking his beard. I was the “you” in the back who received the highest grade on the midterm. I felt the days going by slowly, the impending force of his verbal onslaught. The smirk almost concealed in the beard, directed at me out the corner of his eye.
I was so nervous I decided to go to his office instead, to break the tension, imbue a dialogue, get words out there in the open, in a twosome. It would have been the next two classes, irrefutably, and I just didn’t have the stomach for it, the imminence of the doom finally forcing me to do something.
His office was perched up in an already perched up building. Old concrete steps led the way in what felt like a loop, an unforgiving journey circling me onward. I took steps, some short, some long, and would find my back actually to the building in which I journeyed towards. At times I could see where I began, amazingly below, deeply distanced. Students milled about at the trough of this mountain, and their youthful words and bodily sounds became indistinct at some point. I paused on this hill, this mound, this whatever, and felt I could still hear them, the backpacked and the anguished, the Docker’d and sun-dressed, silenced by my perched distance. They were still speaking, of course, still laughing and joshing youthfully, still making sounds of vomit near, their Nikes and sandals still landing in clacks and pounds. But I couldn’t hear them anymore.
I remember a gust of wind coming along and feeling, for a second, I was going to be pummeled down the hill by the force. I had nothing to hold on to, another fifty steps to go roughly, the old brick building awaiting a willing child, the dire youth, the apprentice. “Make this trip at your own risk,” the journey seemed to imply, “Only come if you are serious; if you cannot make it to the top then you are unworthy of our advice, our teachings.”
During the final stretch I took the steps cautiously. The more I neared the more the building seemed to be empty. Maybe it was only the sky that day, grayish-silver, a nothing sky. I approached to the sound of gusting wind, as if whistling to my arrival, my hand nearing the door handle. I let myself in the main entrance and walked down a tight dark hallway and thought of how wonderful a steadicam shot would look at that very moment, tracking with me, in noirish twilight.
I was nervous at the prospect of knocking, let alone finding the words to speak, when I arrived at his door.
Dr. Fazzione, Film Studies.
I heard the clacking of keys from inside, fingers punching away. I’ve wondered if he sensed me out there, if he sensed me all the way at the bottom of that hill. I believe he felt and heard each step I took. He is a man who senses these things.
I knocked on his door powerfully; I decided that if this must happen it must happen with vigor. I knocked a powerful three count, and the keys kept on clacking inside.
Yeeeesssssss, he said as he continued typing, and I opened the door with as much willed confidence as in my knocks and entered the space.
There were the books. And there was the man. The somewhat dirtied suit. The hair upon hair. Hair reached around this guy, curled, tumbled, fell, swooped. The man didn’t have hair; hair was the man.
And then he stopped at once and turned in the same instant, the keys chatter stopping amazingly fast, and the man was looking me in the eyes. Ahhhhhh, you, he said.
“Dr. Fazzione, Hi.” He offered me a chair and I took a seat; I needed to sit desperately.
“I see you have made it up the hill.”
“Yes. Yes, I have. What a trek.”
“How can I be of assistance?”
I remember the way he swiveled in the chair, a left to right bounce, his back falling and rising in a constant rhythm.
“I don’t know how to speak in class,” I said to him bluntly, awkwardly. “I don’t know how to form words. I feel stupid next to all of these students.”
And he clapped his hands, once, a loud clap, and then he presumably went back to stroking his beard. “Who knows how to speak?” he said. “Nobody knows how to speak. Some know how to pretend to speak. This is all.”
“How do you pretend to speak?” I asked him.
“You pretend,” he said. I thought about this and it seemed to be the greatest answer imaginable. I felt relieved from it.
“Your paper. I was very impressed. You write somewhat flowery. But, you know, it was fun flowery. Fun flowery I can like sometimes.”
“I don’t feel smart, professor. I hear these students speak…they’re just—”
He threw up his hands in a wave of sorts and let them fall back down tiredly. “My child.”
I thought he was going to say more but he seemed to eagerly wait for me to speak. I decided to lean on the side of full non-disclosure.
“I sit in the library sometimes, professor…a lot of the times. A lot of the time, I mean. A lot of the time? Anyway, I make the decision that I will pull an all nighter to learn. I will read an entire book, I tell myself. I buy a coffee and pick out a book. Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool. I read that last night. I inhale these books and feel like I’ve gotten nothing out of them. What do I have to say about them? I can’t articulate it. But I read every single word.”
“I never did see Pulp Fiction,” he said to me that day in his office.
“You’re kidding… I could lend it to you.”
“No, no. See… once I watch that film there will just be a new film that I haven’t seen that
I should have already. Do you see? There will be a new film that will hover over me. Let it be Pulp Fiction. I say that I haven’t seen Pulp Fiction and then that is the end of the discussion. We talk about something different. You understand? That is the cycle. Ladri di Biclicleta. The cycle of life. It’s all a bicycle wheel. Everything.”
“How do you explain the other students, professor? Honestly. The kid to my right. With the hair. He speaks so well.”
“He will be a CEO. Do you want to be a CEO?”
I didn’t have an answer to this. I imagined myself three-pieced, spruced and silhouetted against a skyscraper window, looking out. Chief Executive. The thought wasn’t all so bad and it hurt to think that Dr. Fazzione had already given up on me becoming a CEO.
He must have noticed me thinking deeply here because he stopped swiveling and coughed. He leaned forward in thought a moment, stroking the beard. He leaned back and surprisingly put his hands behind his head for a couple seconds before retaining normal position and swivel. He was building paragraphs in his mind, finding words, readying himself to speak.
“The Old Familiar Roar,” is what he said. It felt like a title. I enjoyed the words. They fit well next to one another. Though, of course, I didn’t know what he meant by them. “The Old Familiar Roar,” he said again.
He wanted to hear a reaction of sorts from me. “What does this mean,” I said.
“It is the title to my war novel. And its adaptation.”
“You wrote a war novel? And there’s a film?”
“It’s from a Hemingway short story. Rather famous. ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’ But the phrase is just this phrase, embedded in one of those Hemingway sentences. So small. The same size as all the other words, naturally. The old familiar roar. No, this is the title to the war novel I wish I could write. But I can’t.”
“What do you mean?”
He leaned close. “I don’t know enough to write it.” He leaned back and took a deep breath, smirking, as if he were outside breathing in a beautiful day’s air, somewhere in Sicily maybe, some garden somewhere across the water on the great boot. “If I ever re-read that line,” he said, “I may just drop dead on the spot. Morto. At once. To see those words in its original sentence. I’ve said these words out loud to myself every day for the last thirty years. The Old Familiar Roar. It is my war novel. It is the war novel I will never be able to write.”
I fell into a swoon here, weighing what had been said. I began to think about what book I would read that night. What information I could pack into the brain. I saw myself up in a high window, a suit tight around my muscles.
“You have seventy more years to live,” Fazzione said at that moment, and it was as if he heard my thoughts. To this day that is the most shocking thing anybody has ever said to me.
And the suited man is missing. He isn’t there any longer. But where has he gone? How did my eyes not see it? My eyes are still fixated on the front of Mickey’s, but it is without a suited man now. The man simply disappeared before me. What was I watching this whole time? My eyes haven’t moved, but I never saw him leave. Or did he enter?
Rob Sobel is a graduate of James Madison University with a degree in English. He is currently working on his MFA, in fiction, at Fairleigh Dickinson University. His short story "Palsied" was published in the Lunch Ticket literary magazine.
It was the beginning of the sun. I watched the light fill her room, inch by inch. It creeped up the legs of her chair, then the body, and passed onto the white wall of her bedroom. I wanted to touch it. There’s something about the warmth it creates on my strands, it makes me glow on the outside like a chain of gold. But I’d never been able to will my human to do something that drastic. I was latched by my roots to her scalp and the light was a good five feet from my location. Maybe if it was five inches away, I’d be able to coax her…
So I watched it climb the wall until the entire room felt some extent of the sun shine. This was usually when her alarm would buzz and she’d wake up. Not every sun was like this, but I’d say a good five suns in a row started off this early. The longer she spent awake during the moon, the later she’d rise during the sun. That was a pretty reliable occurrence.
The alarm sounded and her hand scratched at some of my follicles. She turned it off and began to rise. As her head lifted from the pillow, my body dragged along: a prisoner to every movement of her cranium. I could tell she wasn’t too pleased to be rising, not just because I could read her thoughts as they streamed, but because she grumbled and moaned a bit. Some emotions were easily decoded from verbal cues, although growing from her scalp did give me direct access to her mind and how she was feeling. My human did not like the early sun.
I had a lot of length back then. My strands flowed to the middle of my human’s back and were the color of the rich brown soil that held grass in place. I always thought it strange that my human would invite company over for me, but she’d do this on a regular basis. I’d see the likes of sprays, lotions, and other sticky substances that reeked like soggy lilac bushes. I never enjoyed their stay. Thankfully they weren’t usually over too long; the synthetic rain my human stood under every night chased them away.
Along with having the putrid company visiting occasionally, my human would submit my body to different restraints. Shiny, sparkly, extravagant little things were often used to hold sections of my strands securely. They’d sit all gaudy-like on top of me. The bigger ones, like bows and flowers, were quite the embarrassment. I felt extremely awkward when we’d pass other humans who did not restrain their tresses. My kind never openly conversed with each other, but we could sense the other’s feelings from about 5 feet away. Mostly I’d register a sense of pity from them on the days where I held the more extravagant restraints.
On almost no occasion did I feel the need to converse with my kind. Sometimes my human would get very emotional if she hadn’t spoken with a friend or her boyfriend for a while, and I couldn’t quite understand that feature. My kind is very different. We are mostly introverted creatures of observation, and would rather live in silence, watching our surroundings and listening to our human’s think.
There was one instance, however, that made me wish I could reach out to another. It was as if this particular thought needed to be released so badly that I felt it would hatch out through my follicles. I needed to know if I was different from the others. Something unfamiliar was starting to claim a part of me.
I had thought I was going to live out my passive life submitting to the demands of my human, with not much more than strange company or restraints as the extent of my excitement. There were a few times I was able to will my human awake because her dreams were not very pleasant, and another where I managed to inconspicuously release a small restraint that I wasn’t too fond of. And these moments and others alike were exciting to me. But I had never truly known what excitement was…
Until I fell in love.
Erika Bradbury is currently a senior, graduating in May from Illinois State University with a degree in University Studies. Some of her work is published in ISU's journal called Euphemism, and can be seen in volume 9 issue 2 under "Poetry."
Life budding and expanding. Arrays of stars tossed by the fistful of night … to the moon‘s obsession. The earth rotating to conception and birth. To the ocean’ currents heaving to roll in, roll over, roll out. This is April’s promise. Again, until tomorrow, it will be kept. Earth’s renewal: a vow that moved Rita and David in the winds ferocity.
‘Throw yourself into spring’s impulsiveness! Miles of sand are stretched out before you. Waves crash the shore: upsurges of foam: volumes of crescendos.
In the trees, myriad nests are woven through; in and out, and around. From swollen buds, emerge fleshy flowers from which bees dip and nestle. Rhubarb stalks push up from a strained earth cracking open … to carpets of flowers. Flowers, so many, so lush, they are falling over themselves. Willows of pale green fronds, ferns unfurling: all are springing forth under buckets of rain nourishing a fecund earth.’
Caught up, they were to be whisked away by an April compulsion that grasped them in its feroicities.
Achingly-helpless to desires swelling within, spring pushed off her winter lover: old now and melting. Spurned and furious, he stormed off in one last, gusty, fare-thee-well. Bolts of lightening being the swords he thrust into the sky. Bellowing from shore to water, he swirled and surged the currents into surly surf that stormed the shore, even as he wept tears of rage. Fervently, futilely, did he wish that, but once more, he could be like the young lovers he watched romping on shore.
He sent forth battalions of tempestuous winds to taunt the lovers: naked, as they ran across the shoreline. He spun their bodies together in this raw-new night: a spring crescendo of wild winds and white sands. He churned the waters to wash over them with curls of foam. The lovers, a pink and gold goddess arching under a dark force. She felt that it was the black night itself that mounted her.
Clinging; one into the other, they undulated, unable to break apart. Yet fused, unmindful of the pouring rain beating down on them, uncaring of the waves washing over them. It seemed to Rita and David that they were being returned to earth’s earliest womb: a cavern of darkness and waters.
Susan Dale's poems and fiction are on Hurricane Press, Ken *Again, Penman Review, Inner Art Journal, Feathered Flounder, Garbanzo, and Linden Avenue. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan.
On Your Mark, Get Set or One, Two, Three
Leonard Owens III
It's midnight on July fourth. The only reason I'm parking my car at the all-night CVS across town is because my girlfriend keeps complaining about her back, a bruise and scrape caused by a drunken slip on the pool deck at a party earlier.
She laughed it off then. She cursed me out when I left our apartment.
She wants Advil. Name brand. Not generic. I am buying the generic. She will not bitch.
I won't let her see the bottle. I'll cup two pills in one hand, glass of water in the other, give her both, she'll slurp 'em down, go to sleep none the wiser, and that'll be that.
Unless she looks close at the pills. Then I'm fucked.
There's a lumpy white woman talking into her flip phone, face worn as a crusty towel.
“Where are you?... Me? The same place I was fifteen minutes ago. Standing out front of CVS... Come on, I got cold food... Because you said you'd be right back when you dropped me off. You're the one that asked for the damn Rocky Road, anyway, and you know it's twice as expensive here... God. Just hurry up.”
Some kind of piece of shit on the other end of the line.
Her mini-cart overflows with food, powdered donuts and chocolate peanuts and Ding Dongs, and of course the ice cream. No loaf of whole grain bread or a granola bar. Her legs look out of juice, stiff. I wonder how many times she's switched her weight from the right leg to the left and back again. Or why she doesn't just lean against the wall.
For a place with pharmacy on the sign, CVS sure does like to keep all the medicine tucked in the back.
I see a face. Girl whose name I don't know and probably didn't know back in the day either. She has the look on her face that I have on mine: How do I know this person? Every ghost I see around town is from high school. At least that's what I tell myself.
If she's a high school ghost, she looks the same, I think, only sluttier. Then again, it's the fourth, so I shouldn't hold excessive titty-display against her. The six pack of Smirnoff Ice in her hand, well, I can't overlook that level of piss-poor taste. Bad call, whatever your name is from wherever my mind remembers you.
There it is, just like I told her. Advil: $7.49. CVS Ibuprofen: $4.49. That's three fucking dollars, almost a gallon of gas. I keep telling her. I keep trying. It's all I can do.
A tall, skinny mixed girl bounces by the counter. Maybe ten years old, surely no more than twelve. She's wearing light-up shoes, the kind I begged my parents for but never got. Short pink shorts. Hair in two tails, like her favorite Brady girl is Cindy. She's chunking out words to the cashier through a smile, but I don't catch exactly what it is. Either “on your mark, get set, go!” or “one, two, three, go!” Let's say it's “one, two, three, go!” I don't like the other one so much. But it could've been that one. Who knows.
Anyway, she keeps panting. “Come on, just say it! Just say it.”
The cashier, a slim black guy with a sharp-ass goatee, is steady shaking his head.
I point at her with a finger-gun. “One, two, three, go!”
Her eyes glow before she darts down the aisle, hundred miles an hour, heels blinking red with each step.
“Hey, big man. That's all for you?”
“Yep, that's it.” He scans the Ibuprofen.
“She yours?” I thumb toward the girl.
“Nah, ain't mine.” He laughs.
“Her mom around here somewhere?” I swipe my card. Push in my pin.
“Don't know.” He hands me the pills.
“How long she been here?” And then my receipt.
“Least an hour. Was here when I started my shift. Been bugging me all night.”
“Yeah, yeah it is.” I don't think he knows what I mean.
When I walk out, I see the girl. On the shoe-scuffed tile floor, limbs sprawled out, panting and huffing and smiling, not a care in the world, or a parent.
“Hey, need a ride?”
“No. He'll be here soon.”
“What'd he say? How long?”
“How many times you call?”
“How long you been waiting here?”
“Almost an hour.”
“Did he tell you twenty minutes all four times?”
“Fuck him. Let's go.”
I gesture that I'll push the cart to my car, and she lets me.
I debate asking her what kind of person goes grocery shopping in the middle of the night. On July fourth. At CVS. But I don't. I just drive until she says this is it.
“These aren't Advil! They're not the right fucking color, Martin.”
“Yeah, be glad it's not melted ice cream.”
“What the shit is that supposed to mean? Fucking ice cream.”
I stare at the bathroom mirror, counting the toothpaste spit marks.
She shakes the bottle in my face. “I don't want these. I want Advil. I'm not worth three fucking dollars. I swear, you just don't love me, do you?”
I point at her with my finger-gun. “On your mark, get set...”
Leonard Owens III is an undergraduate student at The University of North Florida, where he majors in English with a double-minor in Creative Writing and Literature. When class isn’t in session, he works as a writing tutor, which allows him to hone his passion for teaching and pay his bills on time. Though he hasn't been writing long, he's been fortunate enough to have several pieces of poetry and short fiction published online and in print. More of his writing can be found at lfoiii.blogspot.com.
Jumping Before the Bulls
Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. That’s the sound of the train. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Carrying us across the country.
“Where we headed?” Mack says aloud.
“Memphus I think,” Bo says.
“Didn’t we just come from there?”
“Quiet. I’m tryin’ to sleep,” Packie says. His voice is just barely heard over the sound of the train. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk.
“We headed to Kansas City,” Ray answers with a grin. “I got me a girl in KC.” His yellow teeth shine in the moonlight.
We’ve opened the doors in order to cool off. Our musk still lingers in the car. We had to leave the doors shut all day, but at night we can keep them open. It’s harder to spot us at night.
I sit with my head resting against the steel, looking at the moving ground below. I like watching the earth move. What’s funny is that I’m moving and it’s standing still, but it looks the other way around. That’s how the world works. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk.
“Hey, hey,” Mack asks Ray. “Wasn’t we jus’ in Kansas City?”
“Naw. That was Jefferson. Don’t be thick.”
I came on in St. Louis, just before Jefferson City. It was night. I was running for my life. Down the gravel paths between the trains, trying to find an open car. When you stop in a city, you have to get out of the cars, or hide so they don’t get you. The bulls. The meanest sons of bitches on this earth. God created them for one reason: find the drifters and beat the hell out of them. About four of them rushed into the car we were all hiding in. My buddy Taco (who I was riding with since Little Rock) and I ran out, one came charging after us. We split up. I haven’t seen Taco since.
I ran and ran. My lungs burned from the air I was gulping down. I thought I was dead for sure. Until I spotted another open door, and Mack’s head popping out.
“When we gonna be in Chicago?” Mack asks no one.
“You on the wrong train if you goin’ to Chicago,” Bo says.
“Will you shut up?” Packie lifts his head. “I’ll throw you out this train.”
Mack laughs. “You hear him? Listen to him.”
“Packie mad. Packie mad,” Bo teases.
Mack joins in.
“Hey quite. Or they’ll hear us,” Ray says. That’s impossible over the train. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk.
The two quiet down anyway.
Then Mack says to Bo as soft as he can. “When we gonna be in Chicago?”
Bo laughs and shakes his head. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk.
Jefferson City. St. Louis. Louisville. Nashville. Memphis. Little Rock. Atlanta. Montgomery. Baton Rouge. New Orleans. Shreveport. Dallas. Houston. Austin. I’ve been all across the bottom half of the country, and there is nothing to find. I can’t think Chicago has what Mack is looking for. Or any of us. We’re just deadwood. Drifting on a steel river from town to town.
I think about Melissa. This girl I used to know. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk.
“Hey. Psst. Fish. Fish.” Mack calls out to me. They named me Fish. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m the new one. A rite of passage.
“What’s that, Mack?”
“Where’s you headed?”
“I don’t know. West, I guess.”
“Where’s you comin’ from.”
I didn’t understand him. “I jumped on in St. Louis.”
“Nah. Where’s you comin’ from? I’s from Georgia. Bo from Missuhsippi. Who the hell know where Ray from. KC I suppose. And that white devil Packie from up North. Wisconsin or somethin’,” he says in a bad accent.
“Austin originally. But I left a long time ago. I’ve been all over the South.”
“You ain’t find no place to stay put yet?”
“Well, I had work in New Orleans for a while. And then I didn’t. So I’ve been going around looking for work.”
“The Depressin’ came. We went,” Mack smiles.
“Wouldja shut it?” Packie hollars. Upsetting everyone in the car.
Mack puts his fingers to his lips and winks.
The Depression came. And we went.
But where? What are any of us doing except running around, jumping before the bulls come, trying to find that next train, hoping it takes us to a place we can call home. But what is home to the homeless? We’re drifters. Roaming around on this stuck earth. Everyone else is planted where they stand, and we move all around them. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk. Ker-dunk.
Iaian Smallwood lives in Los Angeles, doing what one might imagine people in Los Angeles do: work in television, have big dreams. She works in production for FX network. When she's not working she splits her time between reading and writing, and gallivanting around town. She is currently toiling away at my first novel. An excerpt was published in the Belmont Literary Journal.
The Pot Calling the Kettle Narcissistic: The Lives and Works of John Updike and David Foster Wallace
Art Edwards -Consider the Lobster, a collection of David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction writing, contains his review of John Updike’s Toward the End of Time, “Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think.” In it, Wallace charges that Updike, among other faults, writes about the same protagonist over and over again—all “clearly stand-ins for Updike himself”—and that the protagonist is “always incorrigibly narcissistic, philandering, self-contemptuous, self-pitying … and deeply alone, alone the way only an emotional solipsist can be alone.”i Having just finished Wallace’sInfinite Jest, these claims struck me as more than a little hypocritical, so much so I wrote a review of Wallace’s review, calling him out for this incongruity and defending what I think is exemplary in Updike’s work.
I then continued my education in Wallace by working my way through D.T. Max’s biography of the authorEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story, and I also reread Updike’s memoir Self-Consciousness. The result of these excursions has me even more struck by the symmetrical relationship these two writers share. In particular, their lives and works seem like bookend reactions to the last half of 20th Century America, Updike wide-eyed and smitten with the possibilities of mass capitalism and culture, Wallace trapped by the knowledge of what such a system had done to his generation of writers, and to himself.
Anyone who takes a stroll through Self-Consciousness--especially its first long chapter “A Soft Spring Night in Shillington”—can’t help but be taken by Updike’s easy love for his hometown Shillington, Pennsylvania. America was on the cusp of one of its trademark corporate expansions, and with lines like “I was a devotee to packaging,”ii Updike may well have been the target market for forties-era companies looking for a foothold. There is almost no Updike novel where the protagonist doesn’t at some point marvel at the little things such a life brings: the sleekness of a car’s fender, the satisfying crunch of corn chips, the elastic band of underwear. To read Updike going off about the pleasure he got as a child from things like the local variety store is to read someone besotted. “There were cases of such bygone candy as coconut strips striped like bacon and belts of licorice with punch-out animals and imitation watermelon slices and chewy gumdrop sombreros.” iii As an adolescent, Updike loved to go to the movies, to fundraisers to help the war effort, even to the doctor. His feelings about public school seem to sum up his view of his childhood in general: “I could not understand how anybody could rebel against a system so clearly benign.”iv
It was a world view that encouraged a sort of entitlement, which the author reveals in comments like: “Since childhood I have been a late sleeper, preferring to let others get the world in order before I descend to it.”v We’re left with the sense of someone who thinks the world will continue to spin in a way that will take care of him. Such comments also reveal a man who relies on the women in his life to deal with his domestic situation, to “wear the pants in the family,” as his own mother had. If Updike believed in a god giving order to things like his beloved hometown, as much of Self-Consciousness contests, that god may have been wearing a dress.
Updike was so under the spell of his country, he had a notorious blind spot for a time when its motivations may have been less than savory. I'm referring to his famous marginal support of U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam. In the Self-Consciousness essay “On Not Being a Dove,” Updike explores how he came to “such an awkward pass”vi that led to him being out of step with his colleagues, the crowd at Martha's Vineyard, his then-wife. Seen through the context of Updike’s “benign” view of the place he called home, it’s not hard to imagine all this testiness over the war getting under his skin. “That, perhaps, was what angered me most about Vietnam; it made it impossible to ignore politics, to cultivate serenely my garden of private life and printed artifact.”vii Pulled out of his bucolic dream of his homeland, Updike had to wrestle with the disruption to his paradise. He even wonders, when remembering a man who'd suggested Updike's photos showed evidence of a too-contented life, “Had I suffered enough?viii Was his blind trust in the intentions of his country a sign that he really didn't understand the plight of the South Vietnamese?
I had been lucky and, as the lucky will do, had become hardened. I had been the apple of my parents' eyes. Our Shillington arrangements, precarious though they felt, had skirted disaster. I had avoided fighting in a war or incurring a fatal disease. I had not broken a bone until I was forty and could view it as a humorous exercise in machismo. I was spared appendicitis until I was fifty and could make an epiphanic short story out of it. I held the whip hand in the romantic relationships of my life and brought all heartbreak upon myself. No plane had crashed with me in it ... ix
America was, for Updike, a safe haven, and to defend her, even in her atrocious moments—especially!—was his only way of paying back in kind.
After reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max, the first published biography of David Foster Wallace, it’s not hard to imagine Wallace’s frustration with Updike's brand loyalty.Max pulls from a Wallace letter the pique Wallace felt while reading Updike’s prose, that it, in Wallace’s memorable trope, “paws … at the reader’s ear like a sophomore at some poor girl’s bra.” Updike’s comfort with his country, his work, within his own skin, bugged the younger author deeply. Having committed suicide at 46, they were comforts Wallace would never know.
He wasn’t always so torn. In fourth grade, Wallace wrote in an autobiographical sketch, “Likes underwater swimming football, TV reading.”x It was television, that staple of Wallace’s generation of Americans, that would lead to a lifelong addiction and a great deal of conflicted feelings for the writer. His childhood involved spending hours watching shows likeStar Trek, Guiding Light andThe Price is Right.xi But by the time Wallace went to college at Amherst in Massachusetts, the mixed feelings television brought with it for him had set in. In his dorm’s communal TV room, Max writes Wallace “enjoyed Hawaii Five-Oreruns and … Hill Street Blues,” even though “In general he did not like being watched watching, and if others were there he’d pass by.”xii Later, in his twenties, amidst a deep depression after becoming a creative writing instructor at Amherst, Wallace admitted to watching six to eight hours of television a day xiii. TV was no doubt a slightly less damaging form of indulgence than the alcohol and drugs Wallace consumed at the time, but, he seemed to suspect, no less depleting of his soul.
In his long essay “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” written not long after his Amherst teaching days, Wallace began to understand the debilitating force TV had on him and his generation of American writers. “For us ... TV’s as much a part of reality as Toyotas and gridlock. We quite literally cannot ‘imagine’ life without it.” xiv
But TV was more than just a barrier to original thought for Wallace. It was analogous to the booze he drank or the marijuana he smoked. Max writes, “America was, Wallace knew, a nation of addicts, unable to see what looked like love freely given was really need neurotically and chronically unsatisfied.” xv Wallace’s classic novel Infinite Jest divides the brunt of American culture between the novel’s two main settings: the Enfield Tennis Academy, where, Max writes, “the best players are trained to satisfy, through their tennis games and commercial endorsements, the appetite of the consumerist culture they came from” xvi; and the halfway house Ennet House, where “addicts are not being cultivated to feed America’s obsessions; they are the people who’ve OD’d on them.”xvii Wallace’s America was a machine that created two kinds of people: those who could tranquilize through entertainment, and those tranquilized. Despite his own commercial success, Wallace quickly found he wanted nothing to do being the former. Even before Infinite Jest came out, the author had already bowed out of the spotlight as much as possible. He wrote to a student at the time, “[Celebrity life is] not for me, simply because it’s low-calorie and unstimulating and also highly narcotic.”xviii
Wallace was as committed as he could be to combatting his nation’s addiction to addictions. Around the time of Infinite Jest’s publication, he championed a more moral fiction, one that didn’t rely solely on dramatizing “how dark and stupid everything is.” He continues: “In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and grow despite the times’ darkness.”xix
These differences between Updike’s and Wallace’s points of view could easily be written off as differences in emotional makeup—and they were distinct in this regard—but others could have been more circumstantial. While neither writer went into the military (Updike was 4Fed for psoriasis, to his dismay; it’s hard to imagine Wallace ever seriously entertaining the idea of the military), their respective eras’ prevailing attitudes toward war were quite different. Updike was a boy when World War II started, and echoing that time, he seemed never to doubt the goodness and rightness of his country’s participation. Wallace’s infancy took place in the sixties, and gone was the sense that America’s participation in a war was beyond reproach. While Wallace might not be the first person we think of as espousing sixties ideals, his condition seems a natural intellectual reaction to the decade, rejecting what his culture gave him on instinct, trusting little but what he could come up with on his own, as outside of his country’s insidious forces as possible.
It wasn’t until well after the sixties that Updike could, in the essays of Self-Consciousness, admit some of the fallacy of his own knee-jerk sentiments about the era. As the world has only gotten more dominated by screens that fill viewers with neurotic need, it’s hard to imagine Wallace recanting his skepticism of American mass culture as expressed in Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. One can be grateful he’s not around for its latest escalation, and that his work is still here to help combat it. -
i David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster (New York: Back Bay Books), 53.
ii John Updike, Self-Consciousness (New York: Ballantine Books), 9.
iii Updike, Self-Consciousness, 9.
iv Updike, Self-Consciousness, 14.
v Updike, Self-Consciousness, 2.
vi Updike, Self-Consciousness, 122.
vii Updike, Self-Consciousness, 134.
viii Updike, Self-Consciousness, 157
ix Updike, Self-Consciousness, 158.
x D.T. Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story (New York: Viking), 4.
xi Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 6.
xii Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 21.
xiii Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 104.
xiv Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 110.
xv Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 156.
xvi Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 161.
xvii Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 161.
xviii Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 179.
xix Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, 215.
Spring 2014 Issue
March 31, 2014
Untitled (Photograph) © 2013 Laura Story Johnson
Cigale's Spring issue features works from the following authors.
Reece Choules - Tonight the Streets Are Ours
Murli Melwani - The Village with Gandhi's Statue
Joseph Pravda - A Snare in Vellum
David Seguin - I Changed My Mind
Dr. Maitreyee Joshi - An Antithesis
Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe - Tiramisu + Math
Connor Madigan - Bushido
Christine Tierney - Flish’s Filthy Fish Bowl
Daniel Waters - The Most Interesting Pictures
Chelsey Clammer - This is Running for Your Life: A Critical Review
Donald Dewey - The Fiction of Non-Fiction
Laura Story Johnson
Summer 2014 Issue (Vol. 3, Issue 2)
Spring 2014 Issue (Vol. 3, Issue 1)
Winter 2013 Issue (Vol. 2, Issue 4)
Fall 2013 Issue (Vol. 2, Issue 3)
Summer 2013 Issue (Vol. 2, Issue 2)
Spring 2013 Issue (Vol. 2, Issue 1)
Winter 2012 Issue (Vol. 1, Issue 4)
Fall 2012 Issue (Vol. 1, Issue 3)
Summer 2012 Issue (Vol. 1, Issue 2)
Spring 2012 Issue - Debut Issue (Vol. 1, Issue 1)
Cigale Literary Magazine is currently open to submissions. We accept short stories, flash fiction, and literary criticism/reviews.
Cigale is seeking contributors for a forthcoming literary blog. If you have ideas and would like to submit posts around 500-1000 words on an occasional or regular basis, query reviews [at] cigalelitmag [dot] com .
Short Stories and Flash Fiction:
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