This is issue 99, “Bone Fire,” which takes its title from Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s lovely poem herein.
I grew up in Benton, Arkansas, which is the county seat of Saline County. Benton is named after Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri Senator. I’ve always wished they would change the name of the town to Saline, with any respect due to the late Senator. It’s pronounced suh-LEEN by the way, not SAY-leen. Anyway, it’s Benton. It’s just a town with a forgettable name.
Of course, many of you are thinking, What? Dale, are you nuts? It’s the corporate headquarters of WalMart! And you say it’s "just a town."
WalMart’s HQ is actually in Bentonville, Arkansas, up in the northwestern corner of the state. It was also named after Thomas Hart Benton, the afore-menetioned and dead Missouri Senator. Apparently, when you strongly advocate Manifest Destiny in the mid-19th Century, you get some towns named after you.
Also, being a man of the mid-19th century gives you the luxury of dying before the full moral implications of Manifest Destiny sink in. I think if I had been around during those times, I would have been against Manifest Destiny. Not necessarily because I would have been able to appreciate the full moral implications. I’m really risk-averse. I think I would have just had a look around out East and said, “This looks nice. This will be fine. I hear the ride west is pretty bumpy and I’m concerned about the shortage of good restaurants and hotels.”
I guess from Manifest Destiny we go on to ill-conceived attitudes about other kinds of expansionism. Let’s leave out the whole “Beyond North America,” section of Wikipedia’s entry on Manifest Destiny which I am, of course, consulting.
My family and I were staying in a cheap motel somewhere outside Dallas/Ft. Worth when the first two men landed on the moon. Now, there’s some expansion for you. These two guys walked around, picked up some rocks. Took some photos. Planted a flag. Later groups rode around on a dune buggy and played a couple of holes of golf. No women were allowed. We watched the fuzzy, 1969 TV images on a fuzzy 1964 RCA TV set in the motel. (The motel was fuzzy, too, not that I think about it.) There were a few strangers walking in and out of the hotel room because Dad had left the door open for others who wanted to check out the moon walk. A guy who looked exactly like Popeye sat on one of the beds for awhile. He had a bag of peaches. He told me he was a vegetarian and ate mostly peaches.
The sequence in the '60s from Mercury through Gemini through Apollo, seemed so astounding and rapid that it was unthinkable that anything else could happen other than continuing at that pace up to the point that, about now, we’d be farting around on Mars or maybe have figured out a way to whip out to a few stars in October and then be back in time for Thanksgiving. Instead we got a really long space shuttle program which, sadly, people will probably remember more for the two terrible accidents than the achievements of those missions. Now, we're talking about going to Mars. Matt Damon and all. Maybe we're getting back on track.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. There’s a part of me that really wants to see humanity pull it off. Big spaceships with captains and doctors and engineers looking for aliens, most of whom would be recognizable as such by their weird skin tones and contoured foreheads that look vaguely like female genitalia.
But wait a minute. There’s no air in space. No water. It’s always either really hot or really cold. (It’s an overly dry heat & cold, sort of like a residential heat pump system.) There’s deadly radiation and there’s no gravity and humans use gravity all the time. An encounter with a really fast-moving pebble can ruin your day and kill you graveyard-dead. There is a serious shortage of good restaurants and hotels. There aren’t any graveyards, either.
We probably should use all that money for something else. Also, for all those people who think that the planet Earth isn’t going to last and that our only hope is to colonize Mars or a planet called Angina 4 or something, maybe we ought to focus on trying to extend the life of our current zip codes rather than getting a Home Depot on a moon of Jupiter. (By the way, if we ever DO colonize planets, I’m going to advocate they all be named after medical syndromes and symptoms, like Angina 3 and Dyspepsia II. Those will be in the Migraine Sector. I’ve already named it.)
But I have a friend who is roughly my age and loves the space program. He said to me recently: “To this day, I would give anything to walk on the moon.” Another friend of mine who had a long and remarkably distinguished career in the Air Force, told me once with mist in his eyes, “I would have loved to have been in the astronaut program.”
I get it.
My thanks to all the contributors to Issue 99 and, as always, my co-editors, Laura M Kaminski, F. John Sharp, and F. J. Bergmann.
Dale Wisely, Editor-in-Chief
The shyness of the new moon.
We can see the stars tonight.
The surface of the pond is like
a sky shining with the darkness.
The wind sings the only song it knows.
We have nothing you would want.
Let me stand here and praise it all alone.
Each day, their engines of custody. Packed off with little survival kits.
Every child’s first tragedy is the loss of a parent to work. It is never in
the Literature. How we put them on an ice-floe, but fish them out later.
Come a little colder. Victims of the Law of Diminishing Returns, the theory
of Diminishing Forgiveness. Day-boarders. Pre-vagrant. Homelessly small.
*depriving a parent of a child
John M. Bellinger
His splotchy hand
guides my bow arm,
arousing the string's core.
An ultramarine tone
announces the coda
to a waltz not conceived.
The common ancestor
who mastered its tune
but within this sound
I can almost hear
his tragic lisp.
Lesson in Tone
Blackbirds at rest
In the ropes.
Spring’s sprung when a fisherman’s truck
falls through melting ice, like every year.
It ain’t rocket surgery:
how not to need a salvager
to raise two tons from the bay’s floor.
Most folks driving out there this late
aren’t brain scientists, members of Mensa.
And since it’s cold, they drink.
Bells of the eastside cathedral chime out quarter-hours.
Lawnmowers like mosquitoes chug two-toned on aging spark-plugs
from sun-up to gloaming. None of several sirens blaring
involve an urgent issue here. It’s the twenty-first century,
but freight trains pass through. Background reassurance noises,
metro thrums, concrete lullabies. The urban aural understory.
They Aren’t Rhodes Scholars, Either
To answer your question: yes,
the first dome did fail, and the settlers
suffocated. But that was years back.
MoonTown two-point-oh has redundant
fail-safes built it. It can’t happen again,
citizens. We need leaders, we need
pioneers. Imagine looking down on Earth,
from home. We can’t stay here forever.
Soundscapes from Inside the Beltline
His hands are waterlogged ropes.
His wedding ring strains below
a swollen knuckle. He scoops
nickels from the open register,
divides them into both hands, drops them
two at a time back into the plastic tray.
At twenty, I sailed to the Bahamas.
I sat on a beach and watched
a man my father’s age eat battered conch,
the paper wrapping greasy as the face
of the girl who fried it.
I ask my father, Where do you want to go
most in the world? He shrugs, says,
Home’s as good a place as any.
My Father Counting Change at Closing
Our hands are matching origami kites.
She cranks a metal press with one hand
and her other guides paper through the roller.
Is there any detail you left out? I ask.
I’ve shown you what I can, she says.
We both know the steps artists never show:
the mirrored work of drafting and erasing,
the somber hours carving an image with a knife,
the blistered fingers combing through steel type,
the grief, the prayers that any of this matters.
My Twin Sister in the Print Shop
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
Praying to Johnny Cash
For a Gibson
for a pick
for common sense
for a common name
for a matching black dress
for a back to follow up the golden stair
for one more curtain call
a coup de foudre,
lovely whirr of business
in the cells
our noses on the window pane
gaze into a gazing ball.
different in a corset
as in the waltz,
never ask how it would be
to have a man,
with his heart on the wrong
side of his chest.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
It warmed up enough that I took my daughter to the zoo. She’s a little thing, and quick. Nobody notices when she sneaks into cages.
I have to make her hold my hand all the time, which makes it difficult to hold cotton candy and a drink, but I manage. Near the giraffe cage, my shoe came untied. I told her to stand still, bent to tie it, and when I straightened up, she was gone. I found her in the cage, but she wouldn’t come out. I opened the lock, darted in, and grabbed her as quick as I could and took off for the exit.
I was back to the car before I realized it wasn’t her; I’d grabbed a baby giraffe. I was stumped. Should I try to sneak it back in and go find her? I only hesitated for a moment, but an alarm went off. I was afraid I’d get in trouble if I took the giraffe back, so I stuck it in my trunk. Then I ran back to get my daughter. I’m not a monster.
She was waiting beside my drink, which I’d left sitting by the cage. There was a little ticket for littering taped to it. I grabbed her hand, took her back to the car, and drove home without saying a word.
The giraffe started kicking the inside of my trunk on the Rock Creek Parkway, but I kept driving. My daughter kept asking what it was, making that noise, but I turned the Frozen soundtrack up to drown her out.
Back home, there were some kids playing in the parking lot. The giraffe was really going crazy. It was going to break my trunk and get out or hurt itself or something soon, so I popped the trunk and let it out.
The kids gathered around as I led it to the graffiti-covered playground behind the building. There were some small trees, just tall enough for the baby to eat leaves from. It was still shaky on its legs after being in the trunk. I hated to leave it, but it was time for lunch. My daughter needed a nap. It’s vitally important to keep kids to a schedule. These kids, I don’t know if their parents even knew the latest theories on the correlation between cognitive development and baby yoga, you know? Without a schedule, mental anarchy would ensue, and my daughter would never have a chance in this world. But the kids sure loved that giraffe. I wondered if they’d ever been to the zoo. There were no other parents around to see them play. They were screaming, laughing, having more fun than anyone had been having at the zoo. The giraffe, also, seemed happier, healthier.
“We can push back lunch a little while,” I said.
copyright 2016 by the authors and artists
Benton, Alabama, Benton, Arkansas, Benton, California, Benton, Illinois, Benton, Indiana, Benton, Iowa, Benton, Kansas, Benton, Kentucky, Benton, Louisiana, Benton, Maine, Benton, Missouri, Benton, New Hampshire, Benton, New York, Benton, Ohio, Benton, Pennsylvania, Benton, Tennessee, Benton, Wisconsin, Benton, Wisconsin, Benton Crossing, California, Benton Harbor, Michigan, Benton Hot Springs, California (ghost town), Benton Paiute Reservation, California, Fort Benton, Montana, Lake Benton, Minnesota.