24 January 2022

Big Mind by Lard Alec

            Executive Combat Meditatitionist Storm Fletchens commands us to relax while he twirls a fiery sword through the otherwise pitch-black conference room. Flames whisper and hiss as the sword spells out, in quickly fading calligraphic script, BIG MIND. “Relax,” (whoosh, hoosh) he says. Here and there, a novice yips as specks of jellied fuel splatter from the scalpel-sharp blade.
            “Relax, relax,” he goes on, sometimes in front of me, sometimes behind. “Relax as if your life depended on it” (hoosh, whoosh). After eight minutes of pyro-fencing, Fletchens extinguishes his sword in what I assume is the giant plastic water bottle from the bubbler, which he sliced in half at the start of his presentation when the lights were still on. A moment later, someone’s smart phone buzzes and glints in the dark.
            “Whose. Phone. Is. That?” asks Fletchens.
            No one says a word. Fletchens stalks the aisles between our be-lotused bodies, sniffing out the culprit.
            “Whose. Phone. Just (violent wet swooshing) BUZZZZZZZZZED.”
            I think I know who it is: Joyce Sarrow, a junior communications officer with Tongle Inc.’s PR team. I am a communications officer for the same department and share a “cube space” with her, which means that we both occupy a single “cubicalized mini-office” (in a row of such offices) that once housed just one, only one, if you can believe it, lavishly spoiled Tongle Inc. employee. She and her newlywed husband, Flynn, text each other memes of adoration every two to four minutes. The rest of us are unhappy, and it makes us all sick.
            Bill O’Hanrahan, a fellow PR flunky and bitter scold rustles and ahems, trying to get Fletchens’ attention. Were I not mortally terrified of Fletchens’ now lightless sword parting my head from my body, I would tell Bill that no one can see his hammy hinting and pointing in this Stygian gloom.
            “I can sense that someone is trying to SIGNAL me,” says Fletchens, warming to Bill’s oafish intimations. “Tell me, MESSENGER, who dares interrupt Big Mind!?”
            At which point Bill, adopting what I’m sure he thinks is a totally anonymizing voice, huff-growls, in the manner of a séance ghost, “It…was…Joyyyyyce.”
            Fletchens stills, it seems, then speaks from what I sense is a new elevation.
            “Joyce, come forward. The others can’t see you, but I can. Sense you that is. Very good. I feel you rising. Now, Janice has her legs spilled out in from of her despite my warnings [a rustling is heard as Janice’s legs re-lotus]. Good. Three more steps to your left. There. I believe you’re directly in front of me and 10 feet below me. LIGHTS!” he screams. The lights slap on. Everyone blinks and rubs their eyes for a minute, then stares at the switches across the room (no one there) in wonder, then at Joyce, and then at Fletchens, who’s standing atop a stack of conference chairs on top of a conference table. His dress shirt entirely unbuttoned, sword hanging from his macrame belt. He’s all wet, as though he fell asleep in the rain.
            “Joyce. Tell me. Whomst are you texting?”
            Joyce quivers and then says, “Flynn.”
            “Does Joyce love Flynn?” Fletchens asks.
            “Yes,” she snivels.
            “Does Joyce love Flynn more than Tongle Inc.?”
            “Well, I mean. I do like it here—”
            “Does Joyce,” in a silent acrobatic swoop, Fletchens dismounts and lands in a crouch beside Joyce, and just as silently rises to full height. His business card says he’s 5’11, “Does Joyce love Flynn more than Big Mind?”
            “Why no, I mean yes, I mean—”
            “Do you love improvement, Joyce?” Fletchens asks, buttoning his sopping shirt.
            “I do,” she says, and her phone buzzes again. Andre from fiscal gasps behind me in fear.
            “Do you love making your mind and work life bigger?”
            “Yes!”
            “Text good Flynn. Tell him he is loved. How big is HIS mind, I wonder? But tell him you must be alone with your career.” Joyce slashes away at the screen. “That’s right: Tell him, you’re with BIG MIND now.” Joyce, I believe, tells Flynn that she’s with BIG MIND, at the moment and maybe forever.
            Fletchens pulls out his sword.
            “Stock options, health insurance, conference lunches, discount parking, employee fridges and coffee makers, all these….jewels,” says Fletchens in a low hypnotic voice. “These riches. Take the sword.” He hands the sword to Joyce, who drops her smart phone in the process, and then drops the heavy sword as soon as she’s received it.
    “Oof, that is heavy,” she says.
            “How big can your Mind be if you need a 'smart' phone? From this day forward, you will use only landlines, bulky desktop computers, pens, paper, and swords to do the great bidding of TONGLE INC. Is that clear!?”
            It is clear. Michael, a cubical neighbor of mine and Joyce's, needlessly amplifies Fletchens’ edict: “Clear as a great pyramid made of ice. Clear as a glass bridge spanning the TWIN INFINITIES of the ancient poles—”
            “Good,” says Fletchens. “Let’s break for lunch.”
 
            Andre and I share a vegetarian wrap with dried humus and soggy roasted veggies, since we happen to be sitting near each other and “must share everything with partners,” Fletchens says. “Especially your minds!”
Fletchens gets his own lunch. His big mind is hungry. Ours are small and must be half-starved into what he calls awakeness.
            As we eat on the floor of the conference room, Fletchens sits on a table, eating and plucking a lute, lecturing us in between bites of chicken salad.
            “Awakeness is both a competition between and a cooperation with other BIG MINDS. The principles are as follows: Relax! Think of good business energy! Get to work early! Ask for more responsibility! Take care of yourself first, second, and third, but take care of Tongle Inc. before that! Dress well! Hear the music in all things!” Then Fletchens begins to play.
            His piece is gloomy at first, cavernous—it has the feel of getting lost in a beautiful but deadly forest. I look about me and see vines and elegant snakes dangling from lush canopies.
            But the music soon courses in new, ecstatic directions. Coruscating cataracts fill my sight. Four-winged birds shift and dart toward brilliant churches of fruit trees. A school bus made of light ferries angels from mossy grotto to mossy grotto.
            Then the final movement begins. An ontological madness, a catastrophe of the senses. His fingers go wild, as if torturing the lute into some ghastly confession.
            We wail and moan. Notes of long-ago anguished midnight sickness pock my soul, sew sores and scars there. But just before I break, the tone relents. Thick flocculent silences gauze each trauma. Sparse cries imply divine counsel gluing the music together in space. God is our surgeon, I think. We are torn apart by evil but by His knife and thread are made whole again.
            I’ve wet myself. Coworkers I’ve never seen before throw back their heads with what seems like labor pains. Andre snaps his fingers as fast as he can. “My hands are castanets!” he whisper-shouts.
            Somehow Fletchens folds up his beautiful lute like an expensive shirt and tucks it carefully into his wheeled luggage. “Now it is time for Architecture!” he yowls. “We build our greatness here today.”
 
The Boss
 
            Matt Fitsimmons, Sr. Vice President for Tongle Inc., who came up through the PR department before my own un-illustrious time, shuffles into the conference room with the bored arrogance of a corrupt detective. Though a master of HUMAN LOGISTICAL SYSTEMS and corporate spin, he looks and dresses like an ulcerated sales manager from a beleaguered 70s shipping firm: brown square-framed glasses, blunt mustache, scratchy thinning hair; slate grey slacks and sneakers; short-sleeve dress shirt; four wedding rings, two on each freckled hand.
            “Matt,” says Fletchens, with the tone of an old, embattled adversary hacking up begrudging respect.
            “Storm,” says Matt, with magisterial if nasal condescension. “How are the troopers doing today?” he asks, looking at Fletchens, not us.
            “Greatness, Big-Mindedness, is war,” says Fletchens.
            “I agree,” says Matt.
            “You know why I have become so great, Matt?”
            “Why is that?”
            “Necessity. War is all. There is no relaxedness without conquest, no Big Mind without relaxedness. Did I ever tell you that my freshman year roommate at Pepperdine disappeared?”
            “Very interesting. Well, you just get these people feeling good about their workplace, Storm. Okay.”
            “Wait, before you go, I thought we might treat the novitiates to a little demonstration…”
            “You know how this ends, Storm. I’ve taken several of your wives already. Don’t gamble away anymore in hopeless duels…”
            “I’ve built skyscrapers in my mind! I have ERECTED great damns and silos there! I have tamed the wildness and made it my own! My father is quiet now…”
            “Really?”
            “There is no one, nothing—”
            “Alright then.”
            “That can defeat me.”
            “What’ll be this time. Want to have another roll in the sensory deprivation chamber?”
            “No. This time it will be a battle of persuasion. You may use your crude managerial power and gifts of rhetoric. I will use the principles of Big Mind. Whoever gains the most followers, wins.”
            “Okay, then. So we try to convince these people (pointing a thumb at us) to join us?”
            “That’s right and the winner gets…”
            “The other’s wives—”
            “Not. This. Time. This time the winner is master and the loser servant.”
            “For ALL eternity. I see.”
            “That’s right.”
            “Alright people, what’ll it be? I’m your boss but Storm here’s just a guest speaker and someone I know from back at Pepperdine. But he’s a complete madman and he’ll lead you all to ruin…”
            “Then why did you hire me to come and speak about the miracles of BIG M—”
            “HR hires the speakers. I just brought you in the first time—when I won Denise from you, remember?—out of morbid curiosity. Anyways, you always seem to generate some energy even if…”
            “Even if what?” Storm asks, reaching for his sword.
            “Even if I have to set ‘em straight a little bit afterwards. No big deal.”
            “Set them straight how?” he asks, raising his sword.
            “You want to know the truth. I’m Flynn. I’m Joyce’s husband. We just got married a few months ago. We’re very happy.”
            “Happiness is for fools. Join me, you grubs. Come with me and I’ll teach you to see in the dark. To listen across continents for the doleful songs of extinct birds.”
            “They love me, Storm. It’s no use.”
            Fletchens swings his sword and Boss Matt raises his hand to fend it off, but in doing so, his hand is partially severed from his arm. He screams as blood spurts here and there. Some of us rush to save Boss Matt from his injuries, to honor his sacrifice. Others tackle Fletchens en masse, prying the sword from his steely grip. It’s impossible to say who the winner is. But both men have fallen, for the sake of us all.

18 January 2022

Four Poems by Charles J. March III

Expunging Smudges (click to enlarge)
 
Chemical Marriage Therapist

   

Bowling for Apples

 Takes One to Know One

 Luke Skywalker

 

11 January 2022

Four Poems by Mark Young

Variant concerns

 

Homeland Security has recom-

mended increased surveillance on

household appliances, even when

bought secondhand. Looks like

rhubarb juicers are prone to out-

rageous acts of terrorism if they

suffer water damage, especially

the earlier models, those with a

viewing platform where the alum-

inium handrails have been poorly

anodized & are starting to flake.

 

 

Sous le Ciel de Paris

 

Il pleut — not in that subtle

down the window of the

page calligramatic style of

Apollinaire but rather the way

it does in the tropics. Announced

by thunder. Then the rain, solid

on the corrugated-iron roof, so

loud it drowns out the track

 

I'm listening to on YouTube. An

acoustic group, reminiscent of

the Quintette du Hot Club de

France but sans violon — sorry

Stéphane. My brief sojourn be-

neath the Paris sky washed out.

 

 

The most stylish home-office shredder on the market.

 

                                   Brown noise is generated 

                                             by the feeling that your

                              ear is full of fireworks. The

                                          mix of carbon emitted

                                     by the venue relies on

                                              face-to-face headbanging

                                 to convert it to a compote

                                  of light, noise, confetti &

                         smoke. Most people can-

                                      not get a sundial: use this

                                template to make your own.

 

 

She showered, then filled out her tax return

 

K. Jenner has been criticized

for asking that the death of

her wife not be celebrated by

the grinding of grain by hand.

"I have welded my own spits

 

out of steel," she said, "but I

cannot have oils on the surface

of the beans since I do not have

the right to dower. Nor can I

visit that Polish bookstore in

 

Berlin with its carefully curated

selection, or perform fieldwork

alongside men. Slavery denies

me a separate legal existence

& the use of a singular hashtag."

04 January 2022

Real Ass Sports Names by Lard Alec

I have a document on my desktop titled “Real NBA Names,” though, in truth, it is something else entirely. For starters, it should be called “Real Sports Names (Mostly Basketball*),” but, titular inaccuracy aside, it is more than just a museum of bygone nomenclature. Owing to its scale (43 pages as of this writing), my daft list (list of lists really—there are subcategories within, e.g., “NBA Names of the 70s”) has transformed into a kind of deep history, a record of both my obsessive improvidence, as it grows to the approximate size and shape of my life, and, I dare say, the century that gave birth to it. For me, it is like The Warren Commission, but true.  

It all started**, as you might have guessed, during the early pandemic. Back in the spring of 2020, I was watching old NBA games on YouTube***, zinged and zapped out of my jitters by player names from wayward 80s Nets games. I gave people such as Otis Birdsong a long, hallucinatory look, as though seeing things for the first time. I felt like Thomas Pynchon’s Doc Sportello, frequently wondering if I’d merely thought my thoughts or had said them aloud. Did I intone “Otis Birdsong” to myself as my wife passed the TV room and gave me a worried look? Who knows? But at some point, I started writing things like Otis Birdsong down on a yellow legal pad while the rest of my family was working or in school or wherever they were.

Otis Birdsong led to Chubby Cox to Bruce Flowers and then somehow back in time to Bronze Age standouts like Pep Saul, Ray Lumpp, and Dick Groat. From there, it was all Whitey Skoogs and Easy Parhams and Belus Smawleys, with their putrid field goal percentages and occasional brilliantined profile pictures in underlit, 50-degree gymnasiums of olde. What was it like, I wondered, to pay your hard-earned Chicago meat-packing money to go see Wally Osterkorn or Bob Tough do inexcusable things to a basketball some 70 years ago?

I’ll never know, but the lists themselves, if read slowly and avidly, induce something like hypnotic transport—into history, or beyond it, who can say?  I read each aloud before emailing them to nonplussed friends. And here and there, I catch a whiff of Schlitz, Pall Malls, and peanuts, and hear the dog-track acoustics of perfunctory pregame lineup announcements, while the gathering multitudes harumph and chatter in anticipation of another 30-rebound performance from a 6’4” power forward who will be out of the league in three years because of an off-season forklift injury. To travel down litanies such as these is to stumble over the tripwires of history and induce a psycho-nautical glimpse of the past via the craggy outcroppings of appellations like Leo Mogus.

At one point early in my endeavors, I even drafted fictional player names, e.g., Julius Swann and Frank Bigtonski, as a means of reckoning with the poetry of an era. With a little research, though, reality won out. I never could have dreamed up Hank Finkel or Walt Hazzard, let alone hung a life on those names, so I stopped trying. Wah Wah Jones, Campy Russell, Foots Walker. They’re just lying around, waiting for someone to find them, disbelieve them, and then accept with a personal nod their righteous actuality.

Here are a few, in no particular order, and indeed spliced together from several sub-files—all hoopers, in this case—; perhaps you’ll find something you can use for your newborn, your pet rabbit, or your Twitter burner. If not, you can just enjoy the fact that these names once wore sneakers and dreamed of greatness, despite themselves.

Irv Bemoras
Lew Hitch
Max Zaslofsky
Dick Bunt
Kleggie Hermsen
Mo Mahoney
Bob Tough
Blackie Towery
Hoot Gibson
Johnny Lacknowski
Marv Winkler
McCoy McLemore
Bob Boozer
Stu Lantz
Tom Boerwinkle
Happy Hairston
Bingo Smith
Zelmo Beaty
Corky Calhoun
Phil Lumpkin
Larry Steele
Slick Watts
Tal Skinner
Butch Beard
Gary Brokaw
Len Kosmalski
Campy Russell
Foots Walker
Cliff Meely
Clem Haskins
Truck Robinson
Tom Kozelko
Hawthorne Wingo
___
 
*I’ve indexed ABA, NCAA, and MLB names too.
**And with some general inspiration, no doubt, from the delightful Deadspin segment called “Remembering Some Guys.”
***Actual live sports were all cancelled.

15 December 2021

Three Poems by Lauren Mallett

Ask Your Father
 
 
Her cadence of I can’t be bothered.
The beauty of I did what she ordered.
 
Dad, why does Mom—?
 
Oh, my first-born perch.
Oh, this particular triangle propped
upon what I’d call stable.
 
Oh, sad little lice on my heart.
 
What are skunk shrimp
and where do you find them?
 
I know. My heart doesn’t ask
who eats the shrimp. The eel
doesn’t. The eel waits, agape
 
as the shrimp tears apart and swallows
lice after lice from the tongue,
its two pair of pincers
 
waving how good do I have it
the whole damn meal.
 
 
 
Over and Out
 
 
Of course we preferred baby alien,
before the teeth
and the aggression, before
we knew exactly what the outer moon
had given us,
specimen that grew a surplus mouth
to wreck us with,
our vacuum-sealed quarantines wheezed
open by the lat pull of
its primary limb. Today our final dispatch:
the ejected pod plummeting
to Earth, thermometer
making its slow climb to
life, cells frenzied
in their splitting dance,
splashing into the oceanic array
of their own floating cradle.
 
 
 
Blood Stays Put
 
 
I will not leave the not room
of my body.
No eye no bead creeping to its corner
not how it doesn’t sweat.
I like to lie down.
Wait for the runoff of my not thoughts
wade through the tunnels
of my not head.
Paddle to the bank grab the not mandrake
and hoist myself over
the terra cotta
aqueduct. I hadn’t considered not before
jumping how it is
I would traverse the not land.
Blood stays put
unlike sweat.  The way one does bird
of paradise is the not
way one does pigeon. I did not hear that
I was just trying
to starfish here not lose this gleaming
please excuse me
not my reach.