Friday, December 23, 2011


Jeanne Mackin

an essay

Nature is always mysterious and secret in her use of means; and art is always likest her when it is most inexplicable. That execution which is least comprehensible and which therefore defies imitation, other qualities being supposed alike, is the best.


FRANCIUM IS A METAL SO RARE we can only guess at its color. With a half-life of twenty-two minutes and a melting point so low this metal would be liquid at room temperature, it is an element of dream time. Scientists speculate that at any given moment less than thirty grams of it exist on the entire planet. It is measured in atoms, not cupfuls, and even the atoms are measured in thousands, not billions. They have to be trapped in laser beams in a magnetic field, briefly floating like snow flakes in the glow of a street light and then melting back into a great unknown. Francium is so rare that we don’t even have a use for it. We will live our lives without ever seeing this metal, without experiencing its catastrophically brief existence.

There was a boy once, like that. By accident, though there may be no such thing, we sat next to each other in a pub in Boston, listening to revolutionary songs of a different country. I saw him from the corner of my eye, never looking straight on, his black hair and white skin, the kind of coloring you often find in people who recite from memory lines from Yeats. We drank brown foamy beer and drew codes in the sawdust floor with the toes of our boots. He was with his friends, I with mine. Yet we knew we were together. His arm slowly, inevitably curled around my waist, under my coat, where no one could see it, but I could feel it. We didn’t look at each other. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other, yet we belonged to each other. This is not a true story, you see. It is a story of unstable elements, of unknowable colors, of rare metals and all that we cannot see of existence, all that cannot be imitated. It is a story of solitude and rarity.

The door opens. A cold wind blows into the pub, and the codes in the sawdust of the floor are wiped away by the draft. We shiver and grow aware, leave behind the dream time. His arm snakes away back into its private Eden but it leaves behind this memory of a boy and a cold night and that knowledge of rarity, of immeasurability. The memory lasts longer than the moment and that is how we know we are, and have been.

We exist in a single moment surrounded by before and after, and when the boy who is and always will be a stranger removes his arm from around the waist of the girl who is a stranger, the moment changes, before and after changes. We measure such moments by atoms of the unexpected, not cupfuls of what is known. And sometimes the atoms of the unexpected create larger memories than those cupfuls of what we know. What is the half-life of such a moment, that decades later I am still trying to measure its atoms?


JEANNE MACKIN is the author of five novels and numerous stories and essays. She is also the author of three mysteries published under the name Anna Maclean. Her novels have also been published in England and Japan. She has worked as a journalist and as a science writer at Cornell University where she received a number of national awards. She has taught writing at Ithaca College, and is presently on the MFA Creative Writing faculty at Goddard College.

Thursday, December 8, 2011



a short story

Make a plan. O.K. . . . Do many farm chores. It was 100 degree temperature with a heat index factor of 112 degrees. Mighty hot and humid, but I had many plans for this steamy, South Carolina summertime day. First I bought 40 bales of hay and grain for my horse. Then, I unloaded all of them into my barn. I was on a roll. Forget the fact that I had a back operation and an entire new hip installed after I broke mine.

I had just gotten a new rim and tire for my tractor, so I would mow the lawn. Yeah . . . it was working like a charm. Then suddenly the tractor "bites dirt." What the heck happened ?" I wondered . . . I was cockeyed. The new rim and tire was rolling away on it's own destiny. Curses! But no grass was going to grow under my feet! I got back into my truck with the wayward tire and dented new rim, and backed up my truck to head back to the tire store.

But, something jolted and slammed me abruptly forward. I had backed into a tree. I was getting a tad irritated at this point. I live alone, and had no one to vent to except for my many pets, and they thought I was just "Me being Me!" So, what to do next ? Check out the damage. The back end of my tailgate was badly dented, and I could not open the tailgate. As I was yanking it with all my might, the handle came off in my hand, and I landed hard on my butt!

So...I grabbed a sledge hammer and whack-whack-whack!!!!! It just dented my tail gate more, but it felt good at the time. I fancied that this was how Lizzy Borden felt whacking her family. This alarmed me. I'm a pacifist. What to do next ? I thought in desperation. Suddenly, it hit me. I decided to take things to the dump. Make my load in life lighter. I hurled clothes, pictures, all sorts of things I came upon I randomly, with feverish abandon, I threw it all in my truck till it was piled high, and merrily off I went to the local dump. Another thing that felt good while I was doing it. So . . . I did two more dump trips, and fleetingly thought of calling it a day. But NOOOOOOOOO not I.

Suddenly my attention hit upon my chickens in their coop. I felt sorry for them being cooped up all the time. I wanted them to be free during the day time, and safe in their kennel at night, though, their enclosure was very large and roomy for them. My first dog down here would not hurt a flea, and the baby chicks used to nestle right upon him. I knew that my next two dogs didn't have his same temperament , but I thought I could ease them into it. I mean, the chicken's enclosure was right next to the dog's kennel, they were neighbors. So, I put leashes on both my dogs, and let the rooster and two hens out of their compound.

BLAM! Both dogs lunged forward "like a speeding bullet," I fell face forward in the sand, and each dog chased the rooster and one hen into the woods. "Not a good idea," I tell myself. So I was horrified when both dogs returned with their dead prizes. I scooped up both chickens, threw them in my truck, and raced over to my neighbors who also had chickens, and they often ate them, as well as eating their eggs. I told them what had happened, and wouldn't they like to dress and eat my dead chickens ? At least I could do some gesture that would make some goodness out of my big, manic blunder. But no such luck. They would not eat them because they were bruised where my dogs bit into them."So don't eat the bruised part, give it to your dogs." I suggested.

But they wouldn't relent, and instead asked me if I was all right, because my fervent nature was concerning them. "Oh yes, I am just fine. . .but better if I could start my day all over again!!!!" So off I went with great regret, and took my chickens to the dump where my dogs would never find them. All sorts of strange things get dumped into containers -- even people. Sketchy pasts are not good to live with.

I was winding down, but not much. I have often thought that being Catholic would be a good thing -- just go to the priest after committing a sin or indiscretion, and be forgiven, and told to say a few Hail Mary's then back to the races. Not being Catholic, I went to the hospital to talk with someone . . . a safety net for myself. I know to do this. If I am "in a tizzy," chill, or do my art. That is a positive way to get centered again. When I am feeling manic, everything is a great idea, but don't act upon it!!!!!

Remember the rooster?!!!!!!!!!!! Remember that "this too shall pass?" "The best made plans can go asunder," and "I am not alone." So, when back in sorts, I drove home. I wondered what happened to my big, white hen, "Guenivere." She was unaccounted for. The dogs probably found her after I was gone. I had her the longest, and she laid a big, brown egg daily.

My dogs ran to greet me. They probably thought I had more chicken goodies. The chicken kennel door was ajar, and I saw something white high on a perch inside. Goodness gracious . . . it was my big white hen "Guenivere"!!!!!!!! A force of nature returned her to me. I didn't question it . . . I just went with it. It was a joyous note after a long, hard, emotional day. It was the "silver lining." Life could be good. I knew that I would sleep tonight.


Sasha Thurmond is a graduate of Cornell University's MFA program in Printmaking. She lives on a farm in South Carolina where she raises animals, rides her horse, makes prints and writes stories. The image accompanying this story is one of her works, which she makes using a computer program and hand drawing. She is also an avid blogger and maintains several blogs under various titles.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Editions Bibliotekos: Preparing Another Book Launch

Editions Bibliotekos: Preparing Another Book Launch: The human factor. What is that? The phrase is used by one of the many people who answered our call for fiction for a nature-themed anthol...

Monday, September 26, 2011

AIRS & VOICES, a book of poetry

Paula Bonnell

My personal lawyer is also a writer of crime thrillers. I can deal with that, most people need a day job, and he finds his material in his cases. Now here comes Paula Bonnell, a practicing lawyer who writes poetry. So where to start? I tried reading these poems as if I did not know that they were written by someone with “esquire” after their name. Then I remembered that Wallace Stevens was also a lawyer, albeit a corporate one.

Ms. Bonnell’s book of poems, “Airs & Voices” was the winner of the 2006 John Ciardi Prize for poetry. Juror Mark Jarman writes in the forward that Paula Bronnell’s voice “is fresh and original. Though the poet never labors to be significant, even the slightest poem lingers in memory.” And Maxine Kumin adds: “Bonnell’s voice is low key but full of quirky insights.”

The more I read these poems, the less I knew about Ms. Bronnell, or perhaps the more. Was I struggling too hard to find the lawyer behind each one. Is there a virtue in separating ones work from ones art—or is it a sin? And so I came to the poem “Evidence.” Now here comes a good bit of disclosure, I thought, but alas it was only about a curious woodpecker. I personally was taken by the strangeness of the imagery in this and other poems.

The book is filled with many “quirky insights” mixed with questions to ponder, such as these words from “The Faraway Nearby”:

I could live in the next life

If only I could get to it.

To quote Paula Bonnell from an interview she gave to Heather Clark: “We live in the present—or do we? How much space does ‘the present’ occupy between ‘then’ and ‘when’”? Reading Ms. Bonnell’s book may put us closer to finding out.


ISBN 978-1-886157-62-0-0, 74 pages, trade paperback, $13.95

BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City


Friday, July 29, 2011


A Collection of Poems

by John Guzlowski

WHAT MORE CAN ONE SAY about this collection of poems than has not already been said by the Polish poet and Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. “In [Guzlowski’s] poems the land of his parents and the work camps are always present, although at the same time they are only part of his poetic repertoire. [T]here are a lot of completely different poems . . . free of the burden of the past. This slim volume even astonished me with its doubleness. The first part summons precisely the camp images from the life of the author’s parents, who were treated by the Nazis like beasts of burden. Their awkward language, because they were both half-literate, was for the Nazi’s a language of mules. The second part reveals an enormous ability for grasping reality at some distance.”

In Lightning and Ashes Guzlowski takes on his father’s vision, through his own eyes, to recreate a past that he has not known, and then uses his father’s eyes to recreate a youth that he has lived. In this way he becomes both the actor and the audience in a drama of his own creation. The poems cause us to speculate how the author’s family might have live had WWII not happened, and then relates, unforgettably, what actually did happen, and its effects on the family long after the war was over.

Although the death camps in WWII may seem as an unlikely topic for poetry, and perhaps a matter that has been too much explored, Guzlowski’s sensitive, yet strong use of the language brings a new dimension to the subject. These poems remind us we should not forget that human suffering is universal. What went on in these camps in the 1940s still goes on today; brought on by the same reasons of race, religion and economic differences.

And my father will shovel

in terror and think of the words

he will not say: Sirs, we are all

brothers, and if this war ever ends,

please, never tell your children

what you’ve done to me today.

I must admit that I rarely read a book of poetry completely, more often skipping to individual poems that catch my fancy, but Lightning and Ashes was an exception. I do not hesitate to give this collection my highest recommendation.

~Pearson Oldmitz


Western Kentucky University

$12.00, 86 Pages ISBN 978-0-9743264-5-0


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Louisa May Alcott as a Detective

This is a reissue, in trade paperback, of a book originally published in 2004. Upon rereading the book I see that my original opinion has not changed, in fact I enjoyed the book even more the second time around when, knowing the plot, I could concentrate on the author's rich prose style. The new format makes the book even easier to read, and the new cover design is more appealing than the previous one. The publisher is still Penguin but the book is now out under the Obsidian imprint. Alison Lurie writing in the The New York Review of Books calls it: "A historically accurate and entertaining mystery series." The two other volumes will be reissued in the coming months.

A new sleuth has arrived on the scene, the author Louisa May Alcott. Ms. Alcott was known to have written a few thrillers herself when not writing things like "Little Women." Anna Maclean has gone back and recreated this aspect of Louisa's life with amazing fidelity; however Ms. Alcott does not just write mysteries, but also solves them.

Written with the precision and skill of her historical novels, Jean Mackin creates a minor masterpiece in her debut as Anna Maclean, mystery writer. The plot winds itself in and around pre-Civil War Boston with the beauty and complexity of a Medieval tapestry. The story is entangled with numerous characters functioning on many levels, often seeming to contradict themselves, leading us down many blind alleys. I must admit I could not put this book down. Just when I thought I had figured out who the guilty party was I discovered some new reason why they did not do it. The ending is quite a surprise. If you are looking for an entertaining historical mystery, and value good writing, I give this book my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-0-451-23324-0 $14.00 U.S. 16.50 CAN. 319 pages

Monday, May 16, 2011

COLORS: Passages through Art, Asia, and Nature

A Review

Sarah Sutro’s book, COLORS: Passages through Art, Asia, and Nature, can perhaps be described by Bill McKibben’s words from the preface: “This book is quite literally about local color—about where color came from, or came from before it was synthesized and globalized in the same manner as food and music and pretty much everything else. When that happened much of the meaning drained out of color, just as it drained out of everything else.” However, the book also is about much more.

COLORS is about the life of an artist, and how art grows inside of a person. It is about how an artist can see art in the most insignificant of things, and how, once that art has been discovered, it must be brought out, despite all obstacles set in front of its creation.

In this book we learn of the author’s, who is also a visual artist, quest for beauty and truth in Nature. Sarah Sutro is an “artist’s artist,” as well as a teacher, a wife and mother, an intrepid traveler, and a cancer survivor. In her travels to many places exotic and mundane, all described in the book, Sarah is always looking, and learning, and making art. Hers is a pure and precious cultural quest, producing work that reaches a wide audience.

COLORS is a fine book, well written and filled with interesting stories, history, memories, observations, morals, and recipes for dyes as well as food. If you have never thought about why things are certain colors, or how this affects your life, you should read this book.

Highly Recommended

N. Adams, MA (USA)
Paperback, 129 pages, ISBN: 9781456373337

Thursday, May 5, 2011


A 1966 VILLAGE VOICE listing describes Stephen Poleskie’s The Bird Film as “allegorical slapstick.” That’s half right. While the comical chaos of the film certainly is slapstick, it’s hard to find much in the way of allegory, and this is to the film’s credit.

The Bird Film opens with an American flag, then a figure in binoculars and a funny hat (the “birdwatcher”) rises into the shot. The political viewer, aware that this film was made in a famously turbulent era, might be tempted to begin reading allegorically at this point, but would find that reading stunted, probably less than a minute later when the birdwatcher is attacked by an actor in a bear mask, who is in turn attacked by the Indian, who wears a box on his head that is painted in the “exotic” colors you might expect one of any number of cartoon Indians to wear. Instead of allegory, The Bird Film gives us something much more valuable: a short work made by young artists who are clearly enjoying experimentation with the form

The Bird Film is an 18 minute chase scene. Troublesome narrative components such as plot and character are left out, though to say that the chase simply serves to move the film forward wouldn’t be true. There is a certain order being followed here. After all, the film begins with a birdwatcher, who chases after the bird (played by Warhol superstar Deborah Lee). A bear chases the birdwatcher. An Indian chases the bear. As it turns out, the birdwatcher, the bear, and the Indian, all end up chasing the bird.

Scenes range from an imaginary environment constructed in a Manhattan loft to a creek, where the bird lady performs interpretive dance in the water, to a pretty pasture that was the farm of Elaine de Kooning (the film’s associate producer).

Deborah Lee plays the bird with the aloof grace of a dancer performing for no one but herself. She pauses from time to time to pose and reflect. As a director, Poleskie indulges himself by letting Lee poetically extend her arms, bend her legs, and arch her back, imbuing the short with a dream-like quality to break up the slapstick of the chase.

Watching The Bird Film once through, you enjoy it for its levity, strangeness, and photographic beauty. A second time through, you begin to notice things you didn’t notice the first time around. A man in a wheelbarrow reads a Daily News with the headline, “Gangs Raid 2 Subway Trains.” The next time we see him, about 20 seconds later, he is reading a New York Post with the headline, “Break In Miss.” Go ahead and watch it a third time. Your enjoyment is likely to increase with each viewing, but if you want to find out what it all means, you may want to take your business elsewhere. The Bird Film is a celebration more than it is a statement.

My favorite scene in The Bird Film occurs at about the 13 minute mark. After dodging the birdwatcher, the bear, and the Indian, the bird pauses on a rock to pose before a spring. The soundtrack at this point turns from hectic chase scene instrumentation to ethereal vocals. Deborah Lee turns to the camera, smiles, and lifts her arms in a gesture that says “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” In the same way the newspaper headlines hint at a world somewhere on the outside, Lee’s gesture, a shot that would have been edited out of a more “serious” film, speaks to the youthful chaos and joy that beats at this work’s center.

Stephen Poleskie, director and writer of The Bird Film (1966), is an Ithaca based artist, writer, and photographer. His artwork is in the collections of numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery in London. His writing has appeared in journals such as American Writing and Essays & Fictions, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poleskie wrote and directed The Bird Film. The Bird Film will be showing this Friday, May 6, at Arcades Project. The film will be looped continually throughout the night.

David Nelson Pollock is a founder of Arcades Project and a co-founding editor of Essays & Fictions.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

ACORN'S CARD: a review


ACORN'S CARD is a novella and two accompanying short stories. In the title novella an AWOL soldier returns to the downstairs after thirty-three years of hiding in his mother’s attic to find the old woman dead. But what should he do with her body? He can’t just call an undertaker—he is supposed to have died years ago. And how will he provide for himself, as his mother has left little money in the house? By chance a pre-approved credit card application arrives in the mail. John Acorn fills it out and a card is issued to him. Now he can buy whatever he wants, with no thought of how he will pay when the statement comes. He decides to buy a used hearse and drive his mother to the cemetery and bury her. But first John will take his mother on a ride, during which he finds the world considerably changed from what he remembered it to be. Meanwhile, the hearse has a plan of its own. You will be surprised by the ending of this strange and fascinating story.

In the first of the short stories an immigrant plumber bribes a policeman into not giving him a traffic ticket with a loaf of bread; while in the other a plastic garbage bag flies around the sky looking for a new beginning.

Poleskie’s plots are brilliantly conceived and original. He is a skillful writer with a brilliant sense of the language, at times probing, yet glorious and magical, much in the manner of Bruno Schulz. If you prefer your reading a bit out of the ordinary, and you still understand what a metaphor is, Acorn’s Card is an excellent choice.

Highly Recommended

Acorn’s Card

Onager Editions, 2011, ISBN 978 -1- 60047 – 558 – 0

Paperback, 125 pages, $12.00 USD

Monday, April 4, 2011

HAYWIRE: a review

Having grown up in northeastern Pennsylvania, in a time before "bullying" had become a hot topic for TV talk show hosts, I can relate to the plight of the narrator of Thaddeus Rutkowski's latest novel HAYWIRE. Back then to be different: shorter, smarter, reads books, makes art, and doesn't play sports, was a good reason to be beaten up, or have your head split with a rock. Rutkowski's hero has all of the above, plus he is biracial The boy grows up, despite a repressive father, and gets on with his life in this witty and sometimes sad novel.

Written in a deadpan manner, the reader is pulled along at a fast pace. Alison Lurie has called Rutkowski, "one of the most original writers in America today. Author Ned Vizzini says: "HAYWIRE aims high and succeeds brilliantly. Fine writing and hilarity were to be expected -- what surprises is the underlying message of hope in a unforgiving world."

At times giddy and slightly surrealistic, HAYWIRE is highly moralistic, providing us with a look at the recent past, while posing questions about the future. This can clearly be seen in the books last paragraph: On my way up the mountain, I find that the slope is not only steep, it's vertical. There's a steel ladder I can hold on to, but even when I'm holding on, I'm afraid of falling. I look for a place to rest, a flat area where I can get off the ladder. But I don't see any ledges wide enough to stand on. Moving sideways would lead to empty air. So I keep climbing.

Highly Recommended
~Sidney Grayling

HAYWIRE Thaddeus Rutkowski Starcherone Books, Buffalo, NY, ISBN 978-0-9842133-1-3 298 pages, USD $18.00

Sunday, February 27, 2011



Wherever chiaroscuro enters, colour must lose some of its brilliancy. There is no shade in a rainbow, nor in an opal, nor in a piece of mother-of-pearl

– John Ruskin

LIGHT CAN BE SLOWED DOWN, can be made to reconsider its own path, its own desire for velocity. When light passes through glass, moving from thin air to that other more substantial material, it slows and makes a slight detour we call refraction. Refraction is matter’s way of saying: “Let’s rethink this.” Shine light through a diamond and it slows its speed by almost half because of the density of the crystal. If you lived inside a diamond, you would be twenty-five when your peers were fifty; you would live twice as long, and twice as slowly.

That Thanksgiving Day it was warm, and humid, so after dinner we went outside, full of a strange energy. In the western sky over the new-growth forest, we saw a triple rainbow. A double happens once in a while, but there were three in the sky that day after the storm, one inside the other, and we looked at them, knowing we would never see such a thing again, no matter how long we lived. The rarity of it locked us into silence; we grappled with the event the way medievalists must have contended with comets or halos around the moon, with wonder and fear as well. Wonder and fear refract our direction, bend it into new paths. The wonder takes hold of us and says “I have caught you. The fear says “I am going to change you whether you wish it or not. From now on, up will be down, and inside will be outside.” But wonder cannot last. Colors fade, especially in a rainbow.

After matter emerged from chaos, the first miracle was the creation of light, and with light came time. With time, came shadows. When the triple rainbow began to fade, we came to ourselves, the way sleepers awake, slowly and with confusion. We went back indoors carrying new desires with us and I wished I had seen the triple rainbow when I was a child, not a grown up. I think somehow things would have been different. I cleared the table of our dirtied dishes and glasses and the vase of yellow garden mums.


Author’s biography

JEANNE MACKIN is the author of several novels and has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in journals and periodicals including American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and is an award-winning journalist. She teaches creative writing in the MFA Program at Goddard College in Vermont.

“Prism” is an excerpt from a text to accompany photographs by artist Steve Poleskie. The text and photo exhibit, titled “Light and Shadow” will be exhibited at Bright Hill Literary Center in Treadwell, New York, in June 2011.