Old Women in Trees

old women in trees mean trouble
their wits nimble as cats
won’t come down though you
call sweetly or threaten mega-voce

old women love trees’
whispery embraces
the gentle shade at even
the womb of the morning

if old women ran things
behold a wilderness of trees
auto-carcasses rotting in
the gentle swamp of mater natura

old women don’t want to go
anywhere fast
they are there already
thank you

 

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Grace Andreacchi is a novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Berlin Elegies. Her work appears in Horizon Review, The Literateur, Cabinet des Fées and many other fine places. Grace is also managing editor at Andromache Books and writes the literary blog AMAZING GRACE. She lives in London.

Untoward Stories: Flowering Judas / Katherine Anne Porter

You say you want a revolution . . .

John Lennon

Callie Russell Porter was born 1890 in Indian Creek, Texas, the great-great-great granddaughter of Daniel Boone. She adopted the name of her grandmother, Katherine Anne, for her writing. When she died at age 90 in September, 1980, she left behind a life filled with four marriages, a spectacular collection of world travel adventures, interesting and unusual friends and a legacy of prize-winning literature. Her only novel, Ship of Fools, the long-awaited, best selling novel of 1962, was sold to Hollywood for half a million dollars, big money at the time, but she’ll be best remembered as one of the most celebrated short story writers of the Twentieth Century.

Her ‘Collected Stories’ won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Some of her best short stories were produced as half hour radio dramas for NBC’s University Theatre. By any standard, KAP lived a long, interesting life. She was married at 16 to an older man (Mr. Koontz) who saw to her conversion to Catholicism but abused her to the point where she had to run away. She ended up in Chicago where she began a career as a singer-entertainer. Later in life, she was married twice to men who were sixteen and twenty years younger than she, respectively.

Suffering in a TB hospital, she decided to become a writer and never wavered from that determination. With little education beyond grammar school but a decided knack for the craft, she set about establishing a career in writing, beginning as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, later moving to New York to undertake a career that involved among other assignments, ghost writing children’s stories. In New York, she took a job that eventually involved transfer to Mexico City, where she continued her writing. Living in Mexico City, she became involved in leftist politics and befriended a number of well-known people including the great Mexican mural artist, Diego Riviera.

Her most famous story, the oft-anthologized Flowering Judas, is said to have come out of her experiences in Mexico City, so it seems logical that another of her well-regarded stories, one of domestic tension, Rope, came out of her having been married four times. What begins as an innocent trip to the store by the husband (a four mile walk, one way), turns into a violent confrontation between husband and wife. The lead-up is a classical study of marital discord, where irritation with some little issue between spouses builds into a serious problem.

Had he brought the coffee? She had been waiting all day long for coffee.

Because he doesn’t drink coffee, he forgot her coffee. To make matters worse, he bought back a coil of rope, twenty four yards, which they had no real use for, and he set the rope on top of the eggs and broke all the shells. `(N)o eggs for breakfast. . . too damn bad. . .’ Then he was ‘bringing up something she had said a year ago simply to justify himself for forgetting the coffee and breaking the eggs and buying a wretched piece of rope they couldn’t afford.’ Ah, domestic bliss. “She wrenched away, crying for him to take his rope and go to hell. . .” / “(T)ake it back. Why should he? He wanted it. What was it anyhow? A piece of rope. Imagine anybody’s caring more about a piece of rope than a man’s feelings.”

 ***

With Flowering Judas, KAP creates a more subtle and complex set of conflicts, most of them internal to Laura. If there are abstracts about to be believed in, like the rigorous demands of true acceptance of her Roman Catholic faith, or the idea that revolution is the answer to the social, economic and political ills she can observe all around her, Laura still seeks out something more abstract still, an elusive idea about belief itself, a look inside the human condition that forbids all of us from believing the very things we want to believe most, like the possibility of redemption of the soul or the body politic.

 

If the Judas tree is a symbol of the betrayer of Christ, then the sacrament in which Laura participated, —the eating of the buds of the Flowering Judas, —is a sacrament not of remembrance but of betrayal. . .She is, like Judas, the betrayer, and her betrayal, like his, consisted in an inability to believe.” (Symbol and Theme in Flowering Judas / Ray B. West, Jr.)

 

In Mexico City, Laura hangs out with agitators and revolutionists. She “smuggles letters from headquarters to men hiding from firing squads in back street homes in mildewed houses.” These are men who “sit in tumbled bed and talk bitterly as if all Mexico were at their heels when Laura knows positively that they might appear at the band concert in the Alameda on Sunday morning.” She cynically plays off the Roumanian agitator against the Polish agitator when both seek her attentions. Her relations with men in general mirror her inability to commit to anything.

The men in the story, from Braggioni, the great revolutionary leader, who `loves himself with such tenderness and amplitude . . that his followers.. .warm themselves in the reflected glow’, to the foreign agitators, to the young suitor at whom Laura thoughtlessly tosses a flower, all seek to court and seduce Laura, but Laura lives inside a shell she’s created for herself.

Nobody touches her.”

Her knees cling together under sound blue serge, and her round white collar is not purposely nun-like. She wears the uniform of an idea, and has renounced vanities. She was born Roman Catholic, and in spite of her fear of being seen by someone who might make a scandal of it, she slips now and again into some crumbling little church, kneels on the chilly stone, and says a Hail Mary on the gold rosary she bought in Tehuantepec. It is no good, and she ends up by examining the alter with its tinsel flowers and ragged brocades. . .”

A scandal to be seen slipping into a little church?

Sounds odd until you consider that Laura’s friends are as cynical as her, being hardboiled atheistic revolutionists who scoff at religion and consider the religious weak. (Didn’t Friedrich Engels tell Karl Marx that religion is ‘the opiate of the people’?) As with her hidden religion, Laura hides her full breasts and her long, lovely legs under baggy clothes. Taunted by Braggioni, who says, “You think you are so cold, gringita! Wait and see. You will surprise yourself some day! May I be there to advise you!” Braggioni is ‘a leader of men, a skilled revolutionist and his skin has been punctured in honorable warfare.’ Braggioni enjoys the good life and has contempt for the foul men who want to talk to him as their leader; who ‘blow the foul breath from their empty stomachs in his face,’

Laura’s terrible nightmare at the end is captured in the heavily symbolic language style approaching gothic, as a way of emphasizing the enormity of her betrayal (of both Eugenio and herself). ‘Then eat these flowers, poor prisoner,” the late Eugenio tells her in the nightmare, ‘in a voice of pity; take and eat’, and from the Judas tree he stripped the warm bleeding flowers and held them to her lips.’ His hand was ‘fleshless’. His eye sockets were ‘without light’, and Laura ‘ate the flowers greedily for they satisfied both hunger and thirst’.

‘Murderer!’ said Eugenio,’ and Cannibal! This is my body and my blood.

Laura cries out her favorite word, a word she repeats throughout the story. No. No. No. No. No. She wakes ‘at the sound of her own voice, trembling, afraid to sleep again,’

crying out that word.

Lena

The shantytowns began along the outskirts of her organs, like neighborhoods of a newly minted megalopolis, the rural poor moved into her looking for work.

Lena thought, I’m flattered, but I don’t have much in the way of industry.
Lena thought, I’m not in manufacturing; I’m not a tourist economy.

After the shanties crept up her esophagus and into her mouth she felt guilty brushing her teeth.
After the shanties moved into her mouth she didn’t know what to do.

Then a man showed up from the shantytown. He asked her for some change.
She asked him what neighborhood he was from.
He said, “The space between the lungs.”
She asked him what it was like there.
He said, “It’s nothing special.”
She said, “Tell me about it, I want to know about between the lungs.”
He said, “The kids play football down near the sternum. We make great stews. We eat all together. After dinner we play music on homemade instruments.”
“What do you do for work,” she said?
“There is no work. There’s no tourism. There’s no manufacturing. There’s no tech industry.”
“Why did you move here then,” she said?

 

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Leif Haven lives in Northern California because of the trees. His work has appeared & will appear, etc. He is responsible for the publishing venture Persistent Editions, which makes chapbooks. Other things. Other things. Other things

Intestines

I found the book How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? (40ft Press. Dublin. 1971) at the bottom of a huge bin, under cookery books, romances, children’s books, books on home interior, books on chemistry, math, How to Speak English, it was onionyellow and dogeared, the spine was broken, the front cover was missing. I took a punt; I like books with long titles. I took it home and read it.

I think that Larry Caomhánach was a nom de plume, it has been a futile search for information, I know that he was not Irish, nor was he an American, I have a tenuous belief that he was Norwegian; this tenuous belief has the foundation on Larry Caomhánach’s superfluous use of Faen ta deg. The phrase peppers the book.

I know it is a bad book compared to other books, I know that Larry Caomhánach is a terrible writer, the math gives it away, after all, he published only one book and the publishers were small, lackadaisical, and went out of business shortly after publishing the book, but still I cannot put down Larry Caomhánach’s one and only book, when I get to the end I start again, this is not down to some Joycean trick, but simply through the joy I experience. Being a writer, myself, small, lackadaisical, and penurious, I used the first page of How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? for a short story, the story was never published, and so like the failed magician irate at the world I now want to reveal my secret.

 

How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? (40ft Press. Dublin. 1971).

It was hot and the game was nowhere to be seen. It was still fashionable to shoot tigers, lions, and other dangerous animals, so Harry Black held his rifle tightly since he knew that the game was out there. Harry’s guide kept talking, but Harry was at a loss as to what Ozondjahe was trying to communicate. Ozondjahe was very tall, much taller than Harry was. When he laughed, which he did often, he showed the whitest teeth. They were so white Harry was lost for words. Ozondjahe carried a shotgun. The shotgun was Harry’s idea. At first Ozondjahe refused to carry the shotgun. Ozondjahe said all he needed was his walking stick, but Harry wouldn’t hear of it, for Harry the shotgun was better than any damn walking stick, after all, they were hunting tigers, lions, and other dangerous animals. Ozondjahe was deeply upset about having to leave his walking stick at the camp and carry a shotgun. The shotgun was heavy. Ozondjahe also had to carry three bottles of wine, a full meal consisting of roasted chicken, cheese, crusty French bread, and black olives. And the coffee pot, two mugs, and coffee makings. Ozondjahe led the way through the thick bush. The bush made a lot of noise. The bush was dry, so was the land, there was much dust in the air, and the dust turned the sky red. Harry had never seen a red sky. The dust also looked like big insects. It was too dry and so there were no real insects. Harry followed Ozondjahe through the thick noisy bush. The bush was reduced to dust under Harry’s boots.

 

The Whistling Between Your Legs (Unpublished. 1987.)

It was hot and there were many girls walking up and down the Boulevard. The girls were not naked, but the miniskirt had not disappeared. Harry Black sipped his coffee outside the café Loulou and watched the girls walk past. When a beautiful girl walked by with an ugly man, Harry sighed pensively. This happened a lot. Harry smoked a cigarette. It was 1972 and smoking was still considered chic. The year accounted for the number of beautiful girls with ugly men. Harry had visited the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palais Garnier. He had walked up and down the Avenue de Clichy. He had paid his respects at Père Lachaise. He had sat down at Honoré de Balzac and broke crusty bread and swigged wine. He had seen the Arc de Triomphe. Now, Harry wanted to trap a philosopher. They were out there, lots of them, Harry had read all about them and seen them on the television, sitting outside cafés, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and spouting their ideas. The hotel concierge told Harry which café attracted the most philosophers. It was the café Loulou. It was the best watering hole in the city. The philosophers were always to be found there, drinking coffee, smoking pipes, showing off, and tapping up the young girls. Harry was very excited when his waiter told him that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir always stopped at the café Loulou for a coffee and a smoke.

 

How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? (40ft Press. Dublin. 1971).

Ozondjahe stopped and dropped the rucksack that carried the roasted chicken, cheese, crusty French bread, black olives, coffee pot, two mugs, and coffee makings. Before he had a chance to lift up the heavy shotgun, point the heavy shotgun, a lion had him by the throat. Harry stunned fell back. He watched, numbed and paralyzed, as the lion reduced Ozondjahe into a number of nouns, too many to count. The lion finished off Ozondjahe and stalked Harry. Its eyes were enlarged and its mouth was awash with Ozondjahe’s blood and guts. The lion approached. Harry’s legs refused to carry him as his arms refused to lift him. Although, Harry’s body refused to work, his brain worked amazingly. Harry experienced a thousand deaths, all very violent. The lion metamorphosed into a thousand monsters all vile and terrible. The panting lion became a locomotion that would not stop. Harry saw his funeral: the attendance was good. Harry was able to look into the nailed shut coffin, something his family was unable to do, and he saw the thick mush sealed in a plastic bag. Harry screamed. The lion matched the scream with a roar. The sun was a golden disc that was beautiful, romantic, and at the end of the day, impassive.

 

The Whistling Between Your Legs (Unpublished. 1987.)

‘Look over there,’ said the waiter, pointing to a table at the other end of the café. Harry looked, but all he saw was a typical Parisian doing his usual thing, smoking, drinking coffee, and being coquettish. Harry shrugged his shoulders. ‘Don’t you know who that is?’ said the waiter. The waiter was an American student who thought a year or two in Paris would rub off on him. ‘No,’ said Harry. The student laughed, it was a mocking, mirthless laugh. Harry not one to be laughed at stood up and punched the young man on the nose. The young man wiped the blood away and looked, stunned and paralyzed, at Harry. ‘I know his philosophy is frustrating but there is no need for violence,’ said the young man. Another waiter appeared. « Vous at-il touché? » asked the waiter. He was a big man with a big mustache.  «Oui», said the young man, now with a bloody face. ‘I am going to teach you a lesson,’ said the big man with the big mustache to Harry. ‘The lesson will mean more to you than any logorrheic epistemology.” Before Harry could respond, the big man knocked him onto his bottom with a right hook. Those in the café reacted in a myriad of manners, some screamed, some were tongue-tied through shock, but most laughed. Harry managed to get back to his feet. The big man produced two hairy fists as a magician will produce a white rabbit and a white dove. Harry threw a left. The waiter collected it like a paltry tip and threw a right. The right sent Harry back against a table that refused to budge. ‘I think you should leave,’ said the young man who was no longer bleeding from the nose. ‘I have never backed down from a fight in my life,’ said Harry, but before he could attack the big waiter with the mustache but with even bigger fists knocked Harry Black out cold.

I am fascinated with how a writer writes. I write sitting down, smoking, drinking wine, lots of wine, my endings always suffer. I know Larry Caomhánach liked to write naked with a long piece of string traveling through his intestines.

 

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 Paul Kavanagh lives in Charlotte.