Father, I Found the Movies: Featured Poetry by Chad Bennett

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Your New Feeling Is the Artifact of a Bygone Era, the new collection by Chad Bennett. Bennett begins his poem with lines from an unpublished interview from the early 1960s between Warhol and the art critic David Bourdon. The interview proper begins with a Warholian question for Bourdon: “Am I really doing anything new?” Bennett is able to channel that particular magic and mystery of Warhol as he inhabits his persona in this poem.

“Andy Warhol”[Unpublished interview, 1962]
I don’t want to know whothe father of this movementis. In those Shirley Templemovies, I was so disappointedwhenever Shirley found herfather. It ruined everything.She had been having such agood time, tap dancing withthe local Kiwanis Club orthe newspaper men in the cityroom. Those newspaper men,who want everything ruined,don’t want to know whoruined it. So in the city I wasa good Shirley Temple, dancingwith men in the club, or withthis local in a room in the city.
Who was it who was withthose men? Who had the time?The city? (Was I in the city?)It disappointed those in the knowwho so want to know who isor was or had been having who isor was or had been dancing.The city was a ruined temple, ora temple of ruined time,I don’t know. Whenever I hadthe time I know I was good, orfound I had been. In time,I ruined everything. Father,I found the movies.

Copyright 2019 Sarabande Books/Chad Bennett. All rights reserved. Posted here with permission of Sarabande Books. 

I Wake to Bury You Again: Featured Poetry by Cori A. Winrock

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Little Envelope of Earth Conditions, the new collection by Cori A. Winrock. Her lines loll with the rhythm of grief: “I wake to bury / you again, stumbling // for the rotary receiver on its vine— / swinging from the wall of a house.” A synthesis of delight and delirium; memory and mourning.
 
+All By Myself I am a Huge Camellia +
Some days no one is my motherbut my mother. & my mother is no
longer a distance that cinches itself—the flush on flush of the new
fever, the baby’s first floral-heat nursed down—with a telephone
call. I could not gather, could notcollect your voice in fits
in tinder in sleep. So the flowerbeds:empty. The endless ringing: all hesitation,
no digging. I wake to buryyou again, stumbling
for the rotary receiver on its vine—swinging from the wall of a house
I left burning small: votivelight throwing off no sound.
In the yard the petals all flame& lantern. In the crib
my daughter moro-s herselfin heartbeat cycles, limbs sparked
apart with shock. The smoke of us bothrises: like a moon: like a pulse. & I am
alone in our surveillance, our time-lapsed fevering burst into a single bloom
: the resurrected echo-light of your ambulancedissolving through the walls.

“+ All By Myself I am a Huge Camellia +” from Little Envelope of Earth Conditions by Cori A. Winrock, Alice James Books, 2020. 

Not Even My People Recognize Me: Featured Poetry by Johanny Vázquez Paz

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from I Offer My Heart as a Target/Ofrezco mi corazón como una diana by Johanny Vázquez Paz, translated by Lawrence Schimel.

Paz offers a lament of identity and appearance; the recurring usage of “they”—both displaced and omnipresent—suggests the narrator’s feeling that her light skin and hair are seen as a curse. She is a “discordant note:” unwanted and unwelcome.

“Milkman’s Daughter”
They saythat I don’t look like what I ammy white skin                           lonely cloud in a shady skymy hair                           rays of a Nordic sunmy hips                           narrow lacking substance and sugar.
They saythat I pronounce words differentlymy diction is too properwithout changing my arr or dropping my essesvery Castilian and beyond mockery.
They saythat I don’t represent the folklore of the peoplethe patriotic symbols, the plátano stainnot even my people recognize me as a daughter;I’m the enigma of a badly conceived graft.
They call me milkman’s daughtergüera, gringa, polacaglass of milk, Casper the Ghostdiscordant note, alien beingthe white sheep in a coppery herd.

“Milkman’s Daughter” is excerpted from I Offer My Heart as a Target/Ofrezco mi corazón como una diana, copyright 2019 by Johanny Vázquez Paz, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author and Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com).

‘Africaville’: Featured Fiction from Jeffrey Colvin

In today edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jeffrey Colvin’s debut novel, Africaville, out today from Amistad.

The novel—named one of the Best Books to Read This Winter by Vogue—earned praise for Victor LaValle, who said: “Africaville turns history into an engaging family story, one that begins in Nova Scotia and then travels across North America. It’s a gripping and moving book. Jeffrey Colvin writes with such affection and authority. I thought of the fine work of Esi Edugyan and Edward P. Jones and E.L. Doctorow, too. He deserves to be counted in their number and this is an excellent debut.”

Dogtrot Fever
Nova Scotia, 1918 

Newborns are never afflicted with the malady. The swollen tongue, the reddish throat, the raw cough seem to afflict only babies older than six months. By the spring, in the village situated on a small knuckle-shaped peninsula just north of Halifax, all five of the stricken babies have now developed a high fever.

Having no luck with sweet milk and lemon bitter, worried mothers administer castor oil mixed with camphor, then a tea of beer’s root steeped with beech ash and clover. When desperate, they even place a few charms under the mattresses of the beds where the stricken babies lie crying.

Nothing works.

In mid-April, with three more babies now suffering from the malady, health department nurses visit the village, their faces frozen even before they have examined a single new case. Why our children? several mothers standing in the yard of one house want to know. Hadn’t Halifax already given enough babies in the fire that leveled ten square blocks of the city months before, when the munitions ship exploded in the harbor? Then again, those had been white babies. No colored babies had died in that explosion. Was it now Woods Bluff’s turn to lose infants? And if so, how many—five, ten, all twenty-two?

The following week, after two of the feverish babies die, the mothers turn to the grandmothers, though many are leery of this option. Already several grandmothers have suggested that since the home remedies haven’t worked, and since neither nurse nor doctor has useful medicines, the afflicted infants must be bad-luck babies.

It is an expression the mothers haven’t heard since they were children, though the fear of having a bad-luck baby has terrorized mothers on the bluff as far back as 1790. That was the year the first groups of cabins sprang up across the bluff, displacing the foxes, hare, and moose that ran through the thick Christmas ferns and sheep laurel. Back when no medicine could reinvigorate a baby whose body had begun to show the outline of bones, smothering was sometimes recommended. Take no action, and bad luck might infect the entire village. Best to end the child’s suffering midday, when injurious spirits would likely be bedside, feeding on the moisture of a weak baby’s last breaths.

Yet several mothers are unconvinced the deceased infants are bad-luck babies.

And even if the now-suffering babies are saddled with bad luck, who’s to say those old tales of smothering are true? Had anyone actually seen a mother place a blanket or pillow over a child’s face? And most important for these new cases: by what evidence will we make the diagnosis?

The grandmothers have ready answers. For several descendants of the Virginian who came up to Nova Scotia in 1772 as a messenger in the British army, a feverish baby had to be put to sleep if its father had recently had a limb severed above the knee or elbow. Death was also imminent if the baby’s fever came during the same month as the mother’s birthday. For the granddaughter of the Congolese woman who, in 1785, dressed as a man, sailed into Halifax Harbour on a ship out of Lisbon, Portugal, a feverish baby had to be smothered if the newborn was smaller than a man’s hand.

And for the largest group of grandmothers, those descended from the nearly two hundred Jamaicans who landed in Halifax Harbour in 1788 after being expelled by British soldiers from their island villages for fomenting rebellion, a feverish baby’s fate was sealed if the child coughed up blood during the same month a traveling man arrived on your stoop selling quill turpentine, goat leather, or gunpowder. Hadn’t such a vendor made the rounds in Woods Bluff the month before? Why continue to nurse such a child? Death already had a square toe on the baby’s throat. It was only a matter of days, a week maybe, if the baby were a girl.

The mothers nod as they listen to the explanations, but over the next weeks only one baby is smothered, although Lovee Mills denies doing it. Near the beginning of May, however, another mother on the bluff seriously considers taking the grandmothers’ advice about ending her baby’s suffering. Her afflicted child is the cousin of the first baby that developed the fever. Adding to the mother’s exasperation are the noisy groups of neighbors that have been gathering outside her home each day at sunset, a few of them knocking on the door and asking outright if the bad-luck baby had been relieved of its worldly suffering.

By now the malady has a name. It refers to the style of cabin where the woman and her extended family live. A dogtrot cabin’s construction— two rooms connected by a short breezeway in the middle—had confounded the villagers for years. Some suspected the man who built the cabin wanted a reminder of his home in Virginia. But a breezeway in a dwelling in Nova Scotia? Pure stupidity.

And now living in the cabin has caused two babies to get sick. Many blame the parents and the other members of the large extended family that lives there. Tight living made sense in 1782, they say, but this is 1918. If parents, grown children, and grandchildren are going to continue to jungle up in quarters that tight, what was the use of leaving prison? Even in the best families, sleeping foot to head too long breeds animosity. And if lies, jealousy, and ill will erupt easily in close quarters, why not a virulent fever?

“Will she do it?” someone in the crowd that has arrived at the dogtrot cabin this evening asks.

“If you mean smother the child, she had better,” another replies. “Or else one of us will.”

The cabin’s odd construction had also puzzled several of the rebellious Jamaicans who arrived in Halifax Harbour in 1788. Of course, by the time they first saw the odd dwelling, their minds had been addled by two years of confinement in the military prison on the western edge of Halifax. It took that long before Canadian military commanders believed they had sorted out which of the prisoners were combatants or abettors, and which were mere residents of the Jamaican villages torched by British soldiers.

The wait had been a horror in the cramped underground magazine and provisions spaces.

Eighty-two prisoners were moved to cells aboveground. From this group, squads of men were conscripted to repair damaged sections of the Citadel, help guard the city against French soldiers raiding its perimeter, and do road repair. One warm October day, a group of men on a road detail snuck off to walk the foot trails of Woods Bluff.

Most of the men had heard by then that the money being sent from London and Jamaica to house the prisoners had slowed to a trickle. With no firm offer yet from the government of Sierra Leone to accept them and their families, the men walked the trails looking for the cabin where military officials said a few families would soon be offered housing.

The first two families released from prison and driven by mule wagon out to the bluff never learned what happened to the family from Virginia that had lived there. But with the almanac predicting a heavy snowstorm within the week, they set about gathering dried grass and mud and fieldstones to repair the roof, chink the gaps in the logs, and mend the chimney. The men and women had their freedom. But they were facing a winter on their own in a cold, unfamiliar place. To them, this oddly built cabin seemed a present from God.

With the fever threatening another baby, villagers in 1918 have a different view of the dogtrot cabin. After hearing that the infant suffering inside the dwelling was not smothered but died on its own, they want nothing more to do with the cabin. Fearful that it is harboring bad air that might kill another baby, they chase out the families living there and set the cabin ablaze.

But what had their actions accomplished, the villagers wonder one afternoon in June, when word spreads that little Kath Ella Sebolt, who lives at 68 Dempsey Road, has developed the fever.

By now seven babies have died.

Fearing her daughter might be the eighth child to die of the fever, Kath Ella Sebolt’s mother, Shirley, goes in search of the handmade dolls she had purchased the previous winter. All ten of the dolls made by the neighborhood leatherworker were imitations of the Lucky Beatrice doll that had been fought over by a platoon of fathers in a pistol-shooting contest at the most recent Pictou County Exposition. What can it hurt, Shirley Sebolt figures, to slide her daughter’s doll under the bed where her daughter suffers?

That evening Kath Ella’s fever breaks. The next morning Shirley carries the doll to a house down the road. The next afternoon, similar dolls are slipped under other beds all across the village.

“Could be the fever just tired itself out,” George Sebolt tells a neighbor visiting with the news that his previously ailing infant has sucked down a full bottle of milk. “And maybe the nurses are bringing better medicine.”

“No,” Shirley insists. “That lucky doll under the bed did the trick.”

© Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin Amistad Books/HarperOne

We’ll Laugh About It in the Morning: Featured Poetry by Graham Barnhart

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from The War Makes Everyone Lonely, the debut collection from Graham Barnhart.

In “Somnambulant,” moments of precision—”white sheets turned down // to standard,” a “perfect perforated line”—contrast with the dizzying dullness of military exhaustion: the body ready, the body worn down. Barnhart, a veteran who served as an Army Special Forces medic, creates a tense world that burns into memory.

SOMNAMBULANT
The barracks was Army-green wooland white sheets turned down
to standard, six inches below the pillow,a perfect perforated line
across every gray bunk frameto the gray lockers lining the walls
and blocking the windows.At night, the moon passed
through seams between the lockers,flashing like a film reel
if you walked the dark roomfast enough. Now and then
on fire watch, when you were walking,and the moon was flashing,
and the sheets were disheveledby the sleepers, someone might jump
to attention, for some dreamt ofdrill sergeant screaming.
I told her all of this when she found mestanding in the bedroom doorway.
Just order me back to bed.We’ll laugh about it in the morning—she laughed then too.

From The War Makes Everyone Lonely by Graham Barnhart. © 2019 by The University of Chicago. Reproduced by permission.

‘In the Country of Women’: Featured Nonfiction from Susan Straight

In our latest edition of featured nonfiction, we present an excerpt from National Book Award finalist Susan Straight’s new novel, In the Country of Women, out now from Catapult.

The book—which is part social history, part personal narrative—earned praise from The New York Times Book Review, with Kristal Brent Zook saying: “In the end, Straight’s book is about far more than a country of women. It’s an ode to the entire multiracial, transnational tribe she claims as her own…In fact, her words are for all those who now call her mother, aunt, cousin and sister, in the neighborhood where she has lived her entire life. And for all those who survived, so these women could live.”

                         Daisy Belle: Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1915

You so fine I might just have to kill you. Some other fool is gonna take you away, and I can’t have that. Family legend: This is what Daisy’s first husband said to her, holding the gun he kept on the small table beside their bed.

Alberta, my mother-in-law, told me the story of her own mother, Daisy, only once, and it was not until after I had my first daughter. Alberta was Daisy’s third daughter, named for Daisy’s sister. We were sitting knee to knee by the massive ochre-brick fireplace in the fall, when Gaila was four months old. In the living room that was never empty, we were alone that day at lunchtime, on my break from work, while I nursed the baby. Alberta was watching the damp black curls of my daughter, glistening with heat from the flames, her head lolling back and a drop of milk near the corner of her mouth as she fought sleep. Gaila, the fourth generation of descendants from Mary Thomas Ford, killed for secrets.

“My mother never had a home when she was little. Not after her mother died.”

She paused. My mother-in-law’s hands were elegant, her nails strong and oval and painted, her eyebrows vivid with pencil, her lips always defined with liner and lipstick. We were sitting in maroon leather club chairs whose arms were rolled and graceful, with brass rivets. Alberta said softly, “They were walking down a road. Her and her mother. Mary. She was holding her mother’s hand. My grandmother saw the car coming. She threw my mother out of the way, threw her up where no one could see her, and then the car ran her over.”

The driver was a young white man with another young white male passenger; the car plowed into Mary Thomas at great speed and then the driver swerved back onto the road and left her behind. Mary had three children – Daisy, 5, Arthur, 2, and Alberta, 1. It makes sense that only Daisy was walking with her, because the others were so young, but no one can say for certain. The three children had been given the surname of their father: Ford. But no one ever mentions him again, either.

This part stays the same, no matter who tells the story: it was dusk, and suddenly a car was speeding down the narrow dirt lane, raising dust, careening toward them, and Mary knew what was coming, and why, and she threw Daisy up onto the roadbank into the trees, or in the ditch into the weeds.

That day by the fire, Alberta said sadly, “My mother was so little. And after that, she went from pillar to post. Yes, she did. Pillar to post.”

Alberta held out her arms for the baby. I had to go back to work, and Alberta would hold her for hours while a procession of women came to visit and watch soap operas and share food and stories and rock this grandchild who was so loved that her cheeks would be red with kisses and lipstick when I came to retrieve her at 5.

I didn’t understand the phrase – pillar to post. Alberta watched my daughter relax back into sleep against her elbow, eyelids sliding shut. She said, “My mother never had a home. Not ’til she got here.”

Pillar to post: when someone has gone from a wealthy home, with pillars at the front, as grand embellishment, to a poorer house, with porch held up by simple wooden posts. But in Sunflower County, Daisy went from farmhouse to sharecropper cabin, wherever relatives would take care of her for a time. Alberta went to Mary’s sister Margaret, and Arthur went to an uncle. Daisy attended school until the fifth grade, as did Arthur.

That night, I lay awake thinking of the car speeding straight toward Daisy’s mother while her small daughter lay on the roadbank. I remember the Country Squire passing over me like a large animal. I remember the smell of damp asphalt against my cheek. I shivered, wondering what Daisy’s mother felt. She lay in soft Mississippi dirt. Did she die there, with her daughter afraid to come out from where she’d been thrown for safekeeping? Did Mary hear her child crying?

Did she crawl? Did Daisy see her mother’s eyes?

Years later, at family gatherings, other relatives would offer:

They were drunk and they killed her, but they were rich white boys and no one in that county was gonna prosecute them.

     They were sent to kill her because she knew things. About the rich white men around there. They didn’t want her to tell.

     They killed her because no one wanted her to say who were the fathers of those children. Daisy and Arthur and Alberta. Mary was the prettiest of all the girls. She was beautiful.

     There were only about six cars in the whole county – it was a poor place! The police knew whose car it was. Of course they did.

Imagine Daisy’s memory, of her small body being flung by her mother’s hands to safety, and where she landed, and how it felt. What she saw and heard after that. It’s beyond comprehension: did the men stop and look at Mary Thomas? Was Daisy so scared she knew to keep hidden in the trees or the weeds? Did she breathe? Did she hear her mother’s breath? Did she hear pain or crying? How long did she wait by the roadside, and who drove the next vehicle or wagon that came upon them, and what never left her memory?

Violence like that enters the blood. Changes the DNA. We know this now, from accounts of survivors of genocide, of the Holocaust, of war and torture and imprisonment. Reading historical narratives from the elderly people formerly enslaved in the American South, in places like Sunflower County, Mississippi, reminds us of how injury, rape, and psychological pain were endured, and interred, in the bones and brain.

Some Americans have tried to make slavery a single chapter in the nation’s history, a finite number of years that ceases influence at the end of the Civil War. Tell this to the family of Mary Thomas, and the thousands of other black men and women killed in carefully-planned acts of retribution or for casual sport – from the moment the Emancipation Proclamation was read, through the terrors of Reconstruction, to the countless lynchings between 1900-1950s, to the murders during the civil rights movement, to killings that happen right now. This moment.

By 1989, when Alberta told me that story, her mother, Daisy, had travelled through seven states to make sure Alberta’s childhood was rooted deeply and firmly in a radius of three miles, and we sat in the center of that radius. But Daisy’s odyssey had been long and dangerous, and at the end of it, she had four daughters, and endless secrets.

Daisy Belle Ford Morris Carter remains the mystery woman of our family. We still talk even now about how she never told anyone the identities of the fathers of her daughters. In a time when every pair of high heels chosen for the club, every new hairstyle or cup of coffee is documented in cell phone images with time, date, and exact street location, it seems astonishing that the phrase “she took that knowledge to the grave” could be true. Over six decades, Daisy never told anyone. Maybe those men were so dangerous she knew what she was doing.

And so, so my three daughters, I want to say that these women crossed thousands of miles of hardship so that when I was fourteen and your father was fifteen, he could walk two miles from his house to the end of my street — no one had cars, no one had any money for a date, we met only in parks — where he bounced a basketball in the playground of my elementary school. I walked there to meet him. We sat on the wooden bench against the chainlink fence that separated the playground from the railroad tracks twenty feet away. His shirt: white waffle-weave long underwear with the sleeves cut off for a tank top. I remember the smell of freshly-laundered cotton and Hai Karate even now. My shirt: a halter top I’d sewn from two red bandannas, from a pattern I found in Seventeen magazine. We talked for a long time in the darkness, played a few games of H-O-R-S-E (I wondered why it was always horse and never something more entertaining, like platypus or elephant or anaconda), and returned to the splintery bench. We kissed for the first time.

His arms were the color of palm bark – brown with a glossy red underneath — and his fingers so long and elegant that when he put my palm against his, my whole hand barely came to the middle knuckles. My arms should have been pale, but this was 1975 – girls rubbed Johnson’s baby oil onto their skin and lay at the beach or beside pools to get brown. I had the baby oil – but no beach or pool. I mowed lawns and lay in the bed of my dad’s truck while he drove us to the desert.

Your father pointed to the dark-brown dot on the skin below my collarbone. “What’s that?” he said quietly.

Was I supposed to say mole? Mole sounded terrible. A blind animal nosing out of the earth. I was so near-sighted I could barely see the playground, because I’d left my glasses at home. “Beauty mark?” I said.

He laughed. “That’s if you paint it on your face.”

“Who says?”

“All my aunts.”

I remember too the smell of sulfur in the rocks along the railroad tracks, and the pepper trees nearby with their spicy pink berries.

Thousands of miles of migration – from slave ships arrived to America, from boats leaving Europe after World War II, from indigenous peoples, enslaved peoples, hardened ranchwomen, and fierce mothers. The women moved ever west, fled men, met new men, made silent narrow-eyed decisions in the darkness, got on buses and in cars and walked for miles to survive. West until there was no more west.

We were born here, to more dreamers of the golden dream, the ones you never hear about. We moved through the streets of southern California, still with no money, but we had more than those women did when they were girls. We shared one burrito four ways, we rode eight to a car in a Dodge Dart or Ford pickup, we partied in the orange groves or in a field by the towering cement Lily Cup, where our friends’ parents worked at the plant making paper cups that Americans used to hold at the water cooler.

More than a year later, your father finally picked me up in the Batmobile, a 1961 Cadillac with vintage oxidized brown like faded coffee ground, with huge fins as if sharks would chaperone us down the street. The sound was like a freight train. Sitting in the passenger seat, I saw a dark stain along the inside of the door. It was cold, and I asked your father to roll up the window, but he didn’t want me to see the spiderweb cracks around the bullet hole in the glass. Some guy had been leaning against the car window when he was shot. The stains were reminders of his blood. General Sims II, your grandfather, had bought the car from under a pepper tree where it had sat since the murder, covered in California dust. Your father drove me a mile and a half, to General and Alberta’s house, and in the driveway Alberta held out her hand and said, Come and make you a plate, and my life changed.

That is how you, our three daughters, became California girls. Via the Batmobile. You are the apex of the dream, the future of America, and nearly every day of my life I imagine the women watching you, watching all of us as we raised you, hoping they — the ancestors — won’t be forgotten.

Copyright © 2019 by Susan Straight, from In the Country of Women. Excerpted by permission of Catapult.

The Dead Do Not Return: Featured Poetry by Barbara Crooker

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Some Glad Morning, the new collection by Barbara Crooker. “No one gets excited when they see sparrows,” the narrator writes—an apt metaphor for how Crooker looks at human bodies aging and worn, in fear of being forgotten. Crooker’s lines are often steeped in melancholy, but her sense is powerfully redemptive: Those gone from us are still part of the fabric of this world, woven into our longing and our memories.

“Absence”

Sparrows for sorrow. One for everyone you’ve loved,the missing. Count them under the feeder: one two threefour five. Mostly whitethroats, singing O Canada orOld Sam Peabody, depending on where you come from. Drab at a distance, but boldly striped when you get close,bodies of tan and brown, stark white throats, a splotch of sun between eye and bill.

No one gets excited when they see sparrows, although the rusty cap of a chipping sparrow signals springwhen they come back. The dead, though, do not return. Spring brings splashes of color: orioles, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, all back from the tropics.But my interior weather is winter, where the missing gather by the fire, then vanish like smoke. The bare tree limbs, the black and white landscape punctuated by the muted palette of brown. And below the feeder. juncos in their gray and white vests, house finches drab as Wednesday mornings, goldfinches stillin their dull winter garb. And sparrows. And sorrow.Come back, we shout, into the wind that scatters them.But they’re gone.

“Absence” from Some Glad Morning by Barbara Crooker, © 2019. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University Pittsburgh Press.

Panel Mania: ‘The Drops of God’

First published in English in 2011, this new edition of manga The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi—a pseudonym for sibling creators Shin and Yuko Kibayashi—with artwork by Shu Okimoto, will be released digitally by Comixology Originals.
It’s the story of a rivalry between Kanzaki Shizuku, the only son of a renowned wine critic who has recently passed away, and Toomine Issei, a mysterious young wine critic, as both seek to reap the legacy of the deceased.
An international bestseller, The Drops of God is often credited with spurring wine sales in the regions it has been published. In this 12-page excerpt, Miyabi, a young sommelier who has botched the pouring of a rare and expensive wine, is rescued by Kanzaki’s dazzling skills as a sommelier.


The first 11 volumes of The Drops of God will be published this month. The pages of this excerpt are displayed in a vertical scroll—but remember: Japanese manga panels must be read from right to left.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

Her Moment of Escape: Featured Poetry by Shimon Adaf

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a piece from Shimon Adaf’s book-length elegy, Aviva-No. Exquisitely translated from Hebrew by Yael Segalovitz, the book is a song of grief and absence. In this section, Adaf captures the feeling of a life—a relationship—forever unfinished. How we try to grasp onto the “stretched glimmer” of the past, despite the past covered “with soot, / a little cloud.”

A stretched glimmer is the glasson the window, bliss it wasdeserted in that grove.
I took a stone—a pieceshe scorched for mesaid I should lookthrough it at the sun.
It was a eucalyptus grove,its scent awakened, waned.Its flames idle, rustling,green glint burstfrom them, drowned
in a light hard with soot,a little cloud. Thirtyyears my back was turned toher moment of escape

“A stretched glimmer is the glass” (poem) from Aviva-No by Shimon Adaf and translated from Hebrew by Yael Segalovitz, Alice James Books, 2019.

Why Write?

At an event I once hosted, I asked the assembled writers this question. Besides the “practical ordering of my reality” type of answer, there were also some surprises. One woman had been a classical singer, but failed, and needed to embark on something else having to do with language. One man said, “I write to talk about what I read”—equally unassuming. I began to think that it would be much more stimulating to know why certain writers wrote than to engage with anything they had written, especially fiction or poetry—two ultimate forms needing years of practice. It’s debatable who said “everyone has a book in them,” yet the second clause of that sentence, as uttered by Christopher Hitchens, is concretely dismissive of the first: “but in most cases, that’s where it should stay.” Who would have thought there were so many writers, that oodles would have the calling—many thanks to the internet? Now there is no barrier to that fusty adage, but it might be better to say this: everyone has some opinions in them.

So many of the famous statements of intent have to do with a sense of outrage at the world. George Orwell put it like this: “I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” Here’s William H. Gass: “I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.” But anger doesn’t always carry the muse. Flannery O’Connor: “I don’t know what I think till it is written, which is as good as the answer, the writing itself.” Certainly John McPhee doesn’t write out of a sense of outrage, but rather a hope for new discoveries and by not being bored by anything in the world. But if you poll writers not as accomplished as these—those struggling, or even struggling to wring royalty checks out of their small press publishers—many reasons fog up the glass containing them, but the underlying reason they write is a desire for attention. People want to be heard. One writes to be counted, even to be counted higher than others. Outside of gabbing, writing is the most respected and inflammatory pastime, though certainly less well compensated—it generates a conversation between ourselves and others without the need for another person to be there. And if we are writing to be counted, it is inevitable that there is a lot of discounting going on. Society is uneven, a few have too much, and too many have too little. How do we square this? Everyone knows life is unfair, but bringing a little beauty into the world is a small progressive step.

Why write today? Plasticity is at issue. The fakery of life. All the phonies out there—Holden Caufield’s famous refrain that so many people identify with. This is perhaps our first biting teenage thought as we start to see significant holes in the people who rule our lives. Phonies still exist, especially with the creation of online personae, which are sometimes completely the opposites of the people who make them. Have we lost our bullshit detectors with the drive toward ego or are we just more deluded than at any other moment in history? Is it now all right to give people a free pass on all hypocrisies as long as they sidle in step with political correctness and celebrity worship, two of contemporary letters’ most redoubtable genuflections? Why would people want to write, daring to add to the myriad pap and smear of floppy dramatics and weak sentences? Even some of the world’s better-known writers, who are celebrated by reviewers, the bulk of whom function as publicists, have aged to eschew the mark. Of those sources I quoted, only Gass lived long enough to see so much more that he amended his “hate” answer, 35 years later—though it is never quoted, probably because it wasn’t published in the Paris Review, but merely spoken on a podcast called Word Patriots: “I certainly don’t write for money, or for glory. … All sorts of writers receive that, but they have written worthless books. I and any other writer who is serious shall die not knowing whether you’ve wasted that much of your life in a fruitless pursuit or whether you’ve achieved fame and actual immortality, but you’re dead for that.” Immortality and death make attention-seekers uncomfortable because each is too immense a concept, dwarfing all the transitory tweets, gibes, gabs, and self-love that wash away with every new wave of the same. Similarly, John Berryman’s advice to W.S. Merwin, which the latter transformed into the art of a poem:
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
I think many people write because it is therapeutic and it is used to therapeutic ends, i.e. writing a letter to a dead parent with whom there are unresolved issues. Writing encompasses language, which encompasses our minds, defining everything from our psychology to our morals, answering the question What do we want? with our only means: our words. If clothes make the man, words do also, but not always truly, depending on the person interested in them. Many abusers are seducers. Many misspelled and misused sets of words can pop out courtesy of some famous celebrity, athlete, or politician, yet people will always admire him or her for their “game.” If photography, and even “selfies,” but really “selfishes,” are becoming the new parameter of being human, it still is the case that, deep down, photos of us and photos of beautiful sunsets with us in them say very little about who we are. They are a dime a trillion dozen. Only words are a direct bloodline to our soul, and this is probably the reason for the equivocations of “everyone has a book in them.” Everyone has words in them. Many sentences, too. I love you. Many of us often say it or write it in different languages. Diaries and forms of diaries are still important, especially the brief entries typed into social media. People kill and commit suicide over words, owing to their content.

Where does all this leave us? There can be no conclusion except that writing, aside from speaking, is the most human activity. It expresses like no other substance can. We need to be heard, and many people, even more now with the plethora of social anxiety disorders (most named in conjunction with the creation of the PC), can’t speak to others for fear, embarrassment, or simple isolation. When we answer why we write, we reveal more about ourselves than we know. It is the intimacy available to so many who have no-one, or who have chosen written words to have their say. We write because we hate and love. It is a sacred act connecting us to distant civilizations and all the minds in history. Maybe I should write, “Y rite?” It is a magical act, no matter the misspellings.

Excerpted from Greg Gerke’s See What I See, available today from Splice.