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Circus Payday: an ethnography

by Julia Lynn Offen

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the triptych below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Julia Lynn Offen is a writer, anthropologist, and editor living in beautiful coastal California after years spent trotting across North America and Europe. She earned her M.F.A. in English from the University of California at Irvine, an M.A. in Sociology from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of California at San Diego. Her creative prose has been published in Green Mountains Review, Ethnography, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rum Punch Press, and Anthropology and Humanism. Now, she is the fiction and creative nonfiction editor for the journal Anthropology and Humanism. She spent two years with her dog living and working with traveling circuses across Europe, which may perhaps explain some things.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Circus Payday: an ethnography”?

Readers can see my experience of surprise at the core of this piece (“Circus Payday” is nonfiction, after all). I knew timing was important when conducting a research visit to speak with circus workers – you especially don’t want to get in the way of work, and there is a lot of it. I followed the rules as I knew them from the European circuses I visited: you show up close to the beginning of a break (too late into it and there may be a bit too much drinking to be comfortable). But, oops, American circuses are not European circuses. Staff is different, the sociability of the local townies is different, and let’s just say that leisure activities seem to differ. In this piece, I try to expand upon the story of this brief incident by drawing some broad strokes of circus basics (my left panel), and offering some bits of personal experience from my time with circuses (my right panel). That is how ethnographic writing works: research and experience backing up stories of the meaningful moments where so much more becomes clear (to both the author and the reader).

CNF: Smelling Money

by Daniel Galef

 

Canadian $100 bills smell like maple syrup. The scent, impregnated into notes made of waterproof plastic, can be detected by anyone with enough money to sniff at, yet the Bank of Canada vehemently denies putting any scent into the bills during the manufacturing process.

*

In the reign of Antoninus (according to Cassius Dio in the Historiae), a knight was condemned for the crime of using a coin bearing the Emperor’s visage to purchase lewd services; there existed a sophisticated system of exchange and a special second money system known as spintriae to use in cases where it would be below the dignity of Roman money to spend it.

*

Yet only a few centuries before, Emperor Vespasian had imposed a tax on the urine scavenged from public toilets by leather-tanners. According to Suetonius in the De Vita Caesarum, when the prince Titus raised objections about the unsavory origins of the tax money, Vespasian dismissed his son’s concerns with the phrase pecunia non olet—“Money does not smell.”

*

Blood money or no, money does smell like blood. As any surgeon knows, blood smells sharp and metallic due to the iron content of hemoglobin. Gold, like all the noble metals, is unreactive and odorless, but base coinage smells like an open wound.

*

The most infamous blood money in history was not re-spent without scruple. The thirty pieces of silver paid to the apostle Judas for the betrayal of his Lord was put to use (by Judas himself, according to the Book of Acts; by the temple elders, according to the Gospel of Matthew) in purchasing Potter’s Field. It was considered too filthy a lucre even to give to the poor as alms.

*

Figuratively dirty money can be traced forensically and so ill-gotten gains are purified through “money laundering.”

*

Unrelated to financial money laundering, last year Dutch police discovered €350,000 in stolen bills hidden, aptly, in a washing machine. Conversely, counterfeiters have been known to run newly-printed fakes through a clothes dryer to give the appearance of age and wear.

*

Money is literally dirty, as well. Decades of studies by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have found that 90% of U.S. dollar bills are tainted with detectable quantities of cocaine, which binds to the green dye used in printing the bills.

*

I’m not sure whether to agree with Antoninus, who believed his coins were totems that carried their history with them, or with Vespasian, who saw his wealth as abstract and divorced from its origins. Guglielmo Marconi may have said that it only takes six handshakes to connect any two people in the world; the number of monetary transactions can’t be much greater.

 

Daniel Galef can be found in Webster’s Dictionary, where since last spring he has been living cozily as the official citation for the word “interfaculty.” His recent stories have appeared in the American Bystander, Juked, Rivet, Barnhouse, and Flash Fiction Magazine, and he also writes poems and plays.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Smelling Money”?

This piece of flash nonfiction owes a lot more to Jorge Luis Borges than I realized until looking back on the circumstances under which I wrote it. A passing reference to Ellus Lampridius in “The Lottery in Babylon” started me down a rabbit-hole of reading Roman historians (when I was supposed to be writing a final paper on medical ethics), and the subject may have been suggested by a passage in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” The final I was writing was on John Harris’s 1975 paper “The Survival Lottery,” and I’d been re-reading “The Lottery in Babylon” looking for an epigraph. Instead, I spent a few days in Dio Chrysostom, Cassius Dio, and Suetonius, who have done me a lot more good than medical ethics ever has—just ask my patients.

Pyre Derivative, 2 of 12

by Maureen Alsop

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]  

 

Author’s Note

These drawings evolved from a meditative process in response to my most recent body of poems, Pyre. I began to write (in faded blue, lined notebook) the words and lines from poems in the collection. On several of the pages I re-wrote one or two lines repeatedly, or overlapped poems as writing. On several occasions I wrote from ‘stream of conscious’. As I wrote the words, I would return the pages over time and ‘doodle’ or cross-out or write more words over the first words I’d written. There was no formalised structure to the process other than the consistency of materials (pen, notebook, poems). Later I photographed the poems and created close-ups of the images with the intention of creating a limited edition chapbook of the visual images to accompany the poetry collection at some juncture in the future.

 

Maureen Alsop, Ph.D. is the author of Later, Knives & Trees; Mirror Inside Coffin; Mantic; Apparition Wren. She is the winner of several poetry prizes including the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award through the Hawaii Council for the Humanities, Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry and The Bitter Oleander’s Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. She teaches online with the Poetry Barn.

 

Bathsheba

by Meg Eden

 

When I was in high school, my mother offered to sew curtains for my windows.

Don’t you worry that some man will see you change?

We lived so far from the road, I didn’t worry—I could’ve danced naked on the front lawn.

I think of Bathsheba, bathing in the dimming evening light. She’d just finished her menses—maybe she was tired of being deemed unclean, of unclean meaning hidden away, wanted some fresh air. In my bathroom, the smell of my own blood lingers sticky-sweet like fruit rotting in heat.

Maybe she bathed, craving romance. Maybe she missed her husband. Maybe she despised him. Maybe sleeping with the king was the fulfilment of a long-kept secret dream. Maybe it was her greatest nightmare realized.

Did her mother also tell her to stay away from open windows? Did she, like me, perceive the thrill—the fear—of being seen so fully?

Or because this was war-time, did she not worry about men being around (let alone alive) to look?

Or did she not think much about men, one way or the other?

 

Meg Eden’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), and the forthcoming poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020). She runs the Magfest MAGES Library blog, which posts accessible academic articles about video games. Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “ Bathsheba”?

I’ve always been fascinated by the biblical character Bathsheba. We never hear her side of the story. When I was younger, I blamed her for her bath. I thought, what was she doing bathing on a roof? Exhibitionist much? But as I’ve become older, I’ve realized how easily I’ve fallen into victim blaming thought patterns, as if this somehow protects myself from being harmed (a topic I could write a whole series of poems on!). As I started to interrogate my own thinking, I began to see Bathsheba’s story in a much more complex and relatable way. I saw myself in her. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t hear more about Bathsheba is because this isn’t a story about modesty. It’s a story about David’s sin, and how striving after his sin upended countless lives and modeled sinful patterns for generations to come. It’s not here to chastise Bathsheba for her bath; it’s here to condemn David.

Pyre Derivative (1 of 12)

by Maureen Alsop

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]  

 

Author’s Note

These drawings evolved from a meditative process in response to my most recent body of poems, Pyre. I began to write (in faded blue, lined notebook) the words and lines from poems in the collection. On several of the pages I re-wrote one or two lines repeatedly, or overlapped poems as writing. On several occasions I wrote from ‘stream of conscious’. As I wrote the words, I would return the pages over time and ‘doodle’ or cross-out or write more words over the first words I’d written. There was no formalised structure to the process other than the consistency of materials (pen, notebook, poems). Later I photographed the poems and created close-ups of the images with the intention of creating a limited edition chapbook of the visual images to accompany the poetry collection at some juncture in the future.

 

Maureen Alsop, Ph.D. is the author of Later, Knives & Trees; Mirror Inside Coffin; Mantic; Apparition Wren. She is the winner of several poetry prizes including the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award through the Hawaii Council for the Humanities, Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry and The Bitter Oleander’s Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. She teaches online with the Poetry Barn.

 

CNF: The Flower Pot

by Caroline Firme

 

Three months ago, in the spring, I was close to suicide. Texas was awash with the medley of rich blue, coral, and yellow that brings seasonal joy in the form of wildflowers. It is punishable by brief imprisonment to pick these flowers. In the weeks that were almost my last, I picked ten Texas daisies and put them on my desk in a vase made by my late aunt.

Her vase lingers on my desk still. The silhouette of its right side is an s, asymmetrical. The bottom segment is longer, elongated all the way through, like a winding road with two shallow turns, right then left, if followed up from the terracotta clay base. It shines with the irregularity of a half-eroded river stone: more matte at its bulbous bottom and glossy at its short, tapered top. I cannot decide if the glazed surface is black or dark grey.

The daisies have stems of ochre and olive green, with centers yellow like an old obituary clipped from newspaper, petals crispy and tussled with decay, off-white with an arrestingly grey undertone, an unnerving quality in their color comparable only to the skin of a loved one’s vacated corpse. From where I sit I cannot smell the decay I fear hangs around them like a poltergeist. As long as I don’t move, they are immortal.

When I was in the hospital my mother cleaned my room for me, and I cried on the phone about this kindness. She left the flowers, and I wonder if they were as fossilized then as they are now, whether she would have kept them, if she did so despite their antiquity. Why? Certainly the other spoils of my months long depression were discarded: the tea with mold lily pads and a rich micro ecosystem, the unspeakable tools of self destruction, the tear stained tissues littering the floor, never reaching the trashcan in the powerlessness that rendered me bedridden. I wonder, too, whether my room would have been left as it was if I never made it to the hospital: if my coffee stained carpet would become consecrated ground, the disarray a monument to my illness, and those daisies morbidly beautiful always, outliving me.

I must not touch the flower pot, lest stems snap or petals fall. The only evidence of degradation is a sandlike debris like autumn leaves below the impossibly resilient, if dead, flowers. I must not move the flower pot, my portrait of Dorian Gray. The flower pot is a ghost of a self who gave in, and I dare not break the spell.

 

Caroline Firme is a 19 year old student of rhetoric and writing at UT Austin. Writing is not only her passion but her way of navigating life: She has filled well over a dozen journals in the last six years. She gave her first poetry reading when she was nine and placed in a poetry competition held by Live Poets Society when she was in high school. Her second publication was a poem in Entropy Magazine about a boy, written when she was 15 and thought she couldn’t possibly be a lesbian. She has since escaped compulsory heterosexuality, and spends her time taking notes on movies, going down Wikipedia holes, obsessively listening to Animal Collective, and dabbling in tuner culture.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Poster”?

“Flower Pot” is weird because I wrote it 3 years ago as a college essay, but I realized it was too morose and metaphorical. It was about the way in which a traumatic act (committed by the boy I wrote my first published work about) tanked my mental health and GPA by plunging me into one of the worst depressive episodes of my life. It was originally an examination of the way depression bodily disables you and renders you unable to maintain basic hygiene and cleanliness. It was supposed to indict my own neglect for my mental health, but I couldn’t make the connections. I knew what I wanted to say, but the piece didn’t say it properly. I liked the prose, but a lot of it was a rambling mess, and I didn’t want to seem unstable by mentioning suicide, so I hid it away out of shame.

I didn’t rediscover it until I made a little book of poems for my best friend fairly recently. I started editing it into something I ended up being really proud of. I like the editing more than I like the writing, most of the time. The hardest part is banging out a garbage rough draft, but the rest is my favorite thing in the world. I like fixing things. Now, “The Flower Pot” feels hopeful. That chapter of my life is over, and I still have reminders, but I’ve recovered from my PTSD and I don’t feel as fragile anymore. I no longer feel like I could fall back into that abyss. The piece is sort of its own flower pot.

How to Knit a Holiday Party

by Tara Campbell

 

Size: Never big enough to skip without it being noticed

Materials:

          30-1,000 coworkers, maybe 5 of whom you’d choose to see outside of work hours
          New Boss, who’s pretty cool, actually
          Manager 1 who’s not
          Manager 2 who’s trying, you suppose, but just doesn’t get the whole #metoo thing
          HR (Human Resources)
          Office Crush

Stitches:
          C: chat
          D: drink
          Ha: laugh naturally
          HaHaHa: laugh nervously
          S: steer conversation another way to avoid embarrassment
          S/L: steer conversation another way to avoid lawsuits

Instructions:

  1. Cast on HR team and a dozen coworkers who come to the party at the appointed start time
  2. C, Ha, D, repeat for twenty minutes
  3. Cast on Manager 1 and 2
  4. Listen, HaHaHa, D, repeat for what feels like eternity
  5. Cast on Office Crush, D, don’t look directly at him
  6. Cast on New Boss, shake her hand when she comes around to greet everyone because she’s pretty cool, actually
  7. Avoid Manager 1 and Manager 2 when they try to copy New Boss—too late guys, you’re faking
  8. Find 2 of the maybe 5 coworkers you’d choose to see outside of work hours, gather in a corner, C, Ha, D
  9. Dissolve group when Manager 2 weaves in your general direction
  10. D, D, D, Decide you should woman-up and say hello to Office Crush
  11. Pretend to bump into Office Crush at bar, HaHaHa, D for one sip, spill rest of drink on his shoe, mop up with apologies, run to bathroom, cry
  12. Exit bathroom, HaHaHa when coworker asks if you’ve talked to Office Crush yet, S
  13. Check to make sure Office Crush has left the bar area, Refill
  14. D, repeat until embarrassment fades
  15. Shake your head at rumor a new admin had to S/L with Manager #2
  16. Be glad it isn’t you this year
  17. D, repeat
  18. Hear another rumor: New Boss heard about S/L with Manager #2, has scheduled meeting with him to discuss it
  19. New stitch: O (open eyes wide)
  20. New stitch: Sm (move lips into “well, what do you know” position, which feels closer to a smirk than it should)
  21. Quietly clink glasses with every female coworker, plus men who get it
  22. Ha, D, and get ready for the start of a Happy New Year

 

Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “How to Knit a Holiday Party”?

My mother was a knitter, and she taught all of us kids to knit when we were young. I wrote this piece in a workshop by Kathy Fish (the fairy godmother of flash) during the second holiday season after Mom passed away. I was visiting my sister and her family, staying in the room that used to be Mom’s, remembering one of those simple moments that don’t seem important at the time, but become important later: the two of us sitting together in her room late at night while I knitted a scarf with her needles and yarn. That’s what inspired me to think about how to use a pattern to tell a story.

My Uncle Drank Himself to Death

by Tanner Barnes

 

          and my father ate lemons every day until
the enamel on his incisors peeled.

          The two marble stones that stick out of
his gums are false, but he smiles,

          high as a kite, as his brother is buried.
He doesn’t help his siblings clean up

          the empty cans that lined the body.
Instead he pulls out the pocketknife

          he stole and cuts a lemon into fours.
He grabs a saltshaker. His mouth consumes a desert.

 

Tanner Barnes is a current MFA student at Florida State University. His work has previously appeared in the Rappahannock Review and the Oakland Arts Review. He doesn’t have a website, but he does have a twitter (@aint_no_cowboy), and he thinks you should follow him.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “My Uncle Drank Himself to Death”?

This poem came out of a few different drafts. I have a word doc on my computer titled “lemons” that is about 1500 words. The poem grew big and bulbous through two different versions. My loving girlfriend read both versions and said they were absolute trash. So, in 20 minutes I wrote this version. I guess you could say that this poem built from a lot of throat clearing. The poem is a very personal look at my family and how addiction, regardless of the substance, can rule one’s life.

Confession

by Janiru Liyanage

in my dreams, God prys
open my heart to squeeze at
its bomb-like ticking     (​forgive us)
in a city full of money,
we lived so happily during the war:
I sat out, spilling with porch light,
wiping off my blood with a Kleenex—
watching an armada of nurses, lissome
as gold strings pulled in motion, forking
oysters and cowslip into soldiers’ mouths;
my father made God with his
ute scabbed with rust and then
worshipped its antithesis
(maybe to teach us something)
then, he watched a movie where
Jesus rises up like hot air from asphalt,
and cried, saying ​O’ how beautiful too
tomb white linen unstrapped
from its keeper — like breath
like gravity torn from limbs
 

 

Janiru is a 14 year old Sri Lankan Australian poet, who currently lives in Sydney and attends high school. He is the 2019 winner of the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards, a national poetry competition, has a forthcoming poem publication in Driftwood Press, lover of the ampersand, oxford comma, & hyphens – a prolific participant in poetry slams and having just begun his personal poetic journey, Janiru is eager to find his own voice in his work.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Confession”?

I was born in Sri Lanka and lived five years in Colombo before moving to Australia. During my early life in Colombo, the civil war was at large, and I now know, after a recent holiday back to Sri Lanka, the devastation and casualties is caused. But as a child, and for much of my life, I was sheltered so aggressively from this war, and after finding out about it, I almost felt ashamed of my guilt and neglect – the guilt of never acknowledging the loss of human life as a result of the war, (shielded by my blessings). Thus, what better way than to metabolise this new found feeling of guilt (that my mind had no psychological algorithm to process) than to write a poem? I’ve always seen poetry as a way to divert the chaos in my head and metabolise and churn it out on the page. I wrote Confession in one sitting, it being in pretty much the same form it is in now. I tucked in the worshipping and religious aspects afterwards – a sort of way to both fill out the poem and make the guilt become more sincere in confession. I have always owed a great and immense deal to God and my earthly father too.

Sunday Focus: No One Is You-Er Than You

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” — Dr. Suess Today is our photographer’s birthday. Happy birthday, Meg! To her youthful, brilliant, ever-glowing, beautiful spirit, we say: Yay you!

 

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”— Satchel Paige This photograph was taken on the last day that Chanticleer Gardens remained open for the season. Meg’s photographs exhibit, time and time again, shot after shot, the wisdom of the good Doctor Suess: “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” For giving us a year of inspiring, fantastical glimpses of your own wonderful heart and life-force, we thank you and say, once again, happy birthday!

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

New titles available from Robert McBrearty and Tori Bond.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now CLOSED. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period next opens March 15, 2020; submit here.

Upcoming

01/09 • Maureen Alsop (2 of 12)
01/13 • Daniel Galef
01/15 • Julia Lynn Offen
01/16 • Maureen Alsop (3 of 12)
01/20 • Francine Witte
01/22 • Jennifer Delisle
01/23 • Maureen Alsop (4 of 12)
01/27 • Abby Manzella
01/29 • Lynn Finger
01/30 • Maureen Alsop (5 of 12)
02/03 • James Ducat
02/05 • Kathleen Hellen
02/06 • Maureen Alsop (6 of 12)
02/10 • Nicole Hebdon
02/12 • Steve Cushman
02/13 • Maureen Alsop (7 of 12)
02/17 • Madison Frazier
02/19 • Gail Geopfert
02/20 • Maureen Alsop (8 of 12)
02/24 • Kenneth Pobo
02/26 • Miranda Campbell
02/27 • Maureen Alsop (9 of 12)
03/04 • John Meyers
03/05 • Maureen Alsop (10 of 12)
03/09 • TBD
03/11 • Maureen Alsop
03/12 • Maureen Alsop (11 of 12)
03/16 • TBD
03/05 • Maureen Alsop (12 of 12)
03/23 • TBD
03/25 • TBD