Dec 9, 2010

Lest We Forget

If you're a fan of mystery, hardboiled detective stories, and noir fiction -- or if you just really enjoy browsing the aisles of your local bookstore in search of celebrity memoirs, like so many of us do -- you might have noticed the publication of Otto Penzler and James Ellroy's anthology, The Best American Noir of the Century. The collection features some of the best mysteries ever published, including the story, "Controlled Burn," by Scott Wolven, which was originally featured in Harpur Palate 2.2 (Winter 2002).

Short and sweet, gang, congratulations to Scott Wolven. Time to celebrate with a cigarette, a car chase, and a belt of scotch!

Dec 8, 2010

looming in the gated lot

Jeffery Berg's reading at Harpur Palate's launch party last April stands as one of the highlights of my two-plus years in Binghamton. We were all transfixed by this astonishing, scary poem–one, I think, that grows deeper each time you hear it.

"I had been thinking about how to tell this story for a while. The refrain 'on this night, in 1974' started going through my head, so I began to shape a poem. Lots of things came out of it that I don't think I was necessarily conscious of at the time: the layering, the secrets and family myths." -JB

"1974" originally appeared in issue 9.1.

Jeffery Berg

On this night in 1974,
my Dad smokes cigarettes with his cousin Curt
outside the White Castle
in Chicago–sidewalk still wet
from yesterday's rain. Dad
will graduate high school
this May and will marry Mom
next year, but for now,
guessing it's a cop, he sees
a black Oldsmobile looming
in the gated lot. The driver
is John Wayne Gacy, a man Dad will remember
on the evening news in 1978,
my two older sisters reenacting
Little House on the Prairie, running around
the four room Lake Forest apartment
in bonnets and Snoopy nightgowns.
TV cameras will record men
in coats, thick-knotted ties,
exhuming the bodies of boys
from a crawlspace.

On this night in 1974, the man in the black
Oldsmobile offers Curt and Dad
a joint. Curt, standing in the rain-sheen,
hands in his pockets–corduroy pants,
a red-checked shirt, refuses.

It is a simple "No thanks."
Curt and Dad walk away from the black
Olds and back into the White Castle.

Or maybe that's not how it goes tonight.
Maybe Dad takes the joint
from Gacy's fingers–smokes it,
stares at a bug skimming the surface
of a rain puddle.

I know that Dad never gets in the back of the car–
isn't driven to a ranch house in Des Plaines
with its underground, unbreathable smell.

I know Curt only for his name
printed in blue ink on the white flesh
inside of the green Apple logo
on his Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP
that will eventually find its way
to my record player in 1987
in a ranch house in South Carolina
on the eve of a Little League Championship Game,
I'll listen, sitting on my legs, staring at cream carpet.

I'll find out that Curt will kill himself
in 1977. Hanging himself in my great aunt's basement.

I will mop the basement with bleach as a 15 year old
in 1995 and find his stack of "National Geographic"–
flipped-through rainforests, ads for Colt 45 and lime green Fords.
My great aunt–hair tied-up in bobby pins,
strapped sandals, denim skirt, white blouse,
standing against the washing machine,
staring at the stairwell, still remembering,
will ask in a low whisper,
"Have I ever told you about Curt?"

It's on the day of the Little League Championship Game,
in a brown station wagon that I'll ask my Dad
about Curt. Why did he circle Dad's name,
Dave, in blue ink in the printed lyrics
of "When I'm 64"?
and he'll tell me Curt was his cousin,
his best friend who died in a car wreck.

In 1997, the year of my first kiss
with a pockmarked boy from gym class,
hands behind our backs in the locker room,
deodorant caked in his armpit hair,
I'll be in the den, watching a cable TV show
on serial killers–John Wayne Gacy:
childhood swing set accident, blood clot in the brain,
Kentucky Fried Chicken, clown,
boys (mostly 15 year olds) in his ranch,
bludgeoning them killing them,
covering their bodies in lime, bodies to rot
in the crawlspace. 18 minute execution
in 1994. Dad will come into the room,
stand in the doorway, sweaty from mowing the lawn,
and will tell me about Gacy in the black Olds,
the offered joint
on this rain-sheen night in 1974.

I'll stay up late one night in 1988
with a Ouija board in the dining room
lit with Mom's Thanksgiving candles,
wax dribbling on tablecloth, my sisters in their
punk rock hairdos and purple eyeshadow,
their Lee Press-On-Nails pressing on the pointer
that will tell me I will die
when I'm 63 years old.

There's a strange luck,
standing at the plate in '87,
scared to swing or swinging, flinching,
missing the ball, knowing
Dad will be there in his tea-tinted sunglasses
even as the sun goes down, seated in bleachers,
spitting Redman Chew in the dirt,
forever easygoing, missing a friend.

On this night, though, in 1974,
they are together, alive at White Castle,
sitting across each other in a booth,
salting their fries, listening to Stevie Wonder's
"Superstition" on a mahogany radio in the hot kitchen
where the mustached prep-cook waits
for fries in oil. Curt, the boy
in the photograph in my aunt's
top dresser drawer, with his
smile, his sideburns, tortoise-rimmed glasses,
the red-checked shirt.
Dad scribbles a love poem
for Mom with Curt's blue
ink pen on a paper napkin.

Tonight, by the Illinois river,
Gacy lounges in his black Olds–
seats musty from rain,
radio dial burning orange.
He smokes a joint,
waiting for the boys.

Nov 22, 2010


This week, Harpur Palate gives thanks for the work of Michael Jenkins and Travis Mossotti.

"You're a Pearl," Michael's dark, sonically rich dramatic monologue, can be found in issue 10.1. He sounds almost in character here.

Michael Jenkins

A pearl? No.
A pearl's classy,
the oyster's passion,
a smooth moon
made from pain.

Me, I'm abalone,
plain rough mutton-eared
mother of pearl,
gaudy off-key cheap,
my mother's daughter.

From the kitchen
her oily voice
was that sheen
slickening the puddles
after the rain.

Shane, her lover
loser wanna-be surfer
half her age,
used my abalone
treasures for ashtrays.

I turned thirteen,
hint of shimmer.
His eyes changed
like the sea,
blue to green.

But in moonlight
they went black.
I held tight
to the rock
of his back.

I've never told
anyone that–
my inlaid secret
I've kept hidden
between the frets,

yet here's more
girl victim gore
if you're thinking
I've got shine–
I liked it.


Next we offer up Travis Mossotti's "Sidewalk Superman" as an audio preview of issue 10.2, forthcoming in late January. Based on James Tate's "Success Comes to Cow Creek," this is one of two poems by Travis to be featured.

Also be sure to check out "Decampment," a short film based on Travis' work.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Oct 27, 2010

Harpur Palate would like to congratulate its nominees for the Pushcart Prize:

Amy Ash, Why We Will Not Have Children
Jen Bergmark, You First
Susan Briante, excerpt from Ghost Numbers
Jaime Brunton, My Life as Roland Barthes: Classe/Class
Darryl Crawford, Par Terre
Nick Lantz, How to Properly Fold and Insert a Letter into an Envelope

Superb work all around!

Oct 14, 2010


"Autumn" is an ode to those rare convergences of the world's charms, as well as an anodyne against the low grey that's already descended here in Binghamton and will persist until late March. Stare at this page's background for 6 months to get an idea.

Tina Schumann says:
"Originally entitled 'Autumn Epiphany' (which ended up sounding overly explanatory), that is, of course, precisely what this momentary enlightenment was: a realization of being 'in the moment.' I often find inspiration while driving; there is something stimulating on a visceral level about motion and passing images, music and isolation. I have learned to keep a notebook handy and to pull-over to write."

Tina Schumann

You know how the world comes at you like that?
You're driving down some tree-lined street
with Vivaldi or Corelli
lilting their way from the radio.
The sun casting prisms on the leaves,
the leaves easy in their fall.
All questions have quieted.
You are convinced that even the asphalt is happy
to be what it is: solid, stoic, the backbone of a day.
Up ahead the next three lights are green,
you are passing the schoolyard at St. Paul's
and all the kids in their blue and green uniforms
are bright angels, bearers of light.
There goes Stone Way Cleaners where they are
steaming and pressing
steaming and pressing just for you. The world is stuck
on go, proceed, avanti. No one could imagine
how enlightened you've become
in the cabin of your car, on the rim of tears
with your velocity, your clarity at the wheel,
your rapid rolling toward some small truth, on and on like that.

Oct 4, 2010

religious beneath the winter tree

Harpur Palate was lucky to (barely) snag Weston Cutter's "Who Shall Be Captain?" for issue 10.1. It's a whale of a poem–unsettling, charged with restless energy–that navigates its own recent, distant, and unconscious past.

What do you say, Weston?

"The title of '
Who Shall Be Captain?' is from this Disney-ish, fakely-old (as in: printed on vinegar-ed paper, made to seem like parchment) poster that hung above a urinal at a bar called Abbey's, which I frequented for a time. The poster was a map of Florida, and there were three illustrations up both sides of the thing, and beneath each there were these great captions, and Who Shall Be Captain was one of them. I had, I think, some fleeting cool idea to make a poem for each, but this is the only one that ever worked."

Unfortunately, Blogger isn't letting me reproduce the original poem's regular indentations. Pick up a copy of 10.1 to see it in all its staggered glory!

Weston Cutter

When we were younger we caught
snakes, held them
by their tails while they writhed and flailed,
kept them in buckets till our sisters
got incensed+dumped them,
gave us our first lessons in false liberation

but then we quit catching live wildness
like that. Caught instead
colds and itches for girls or smoke, caught
each other cheating on each other with
each other's girl(s), so when
I was talking with J three nights back and saw

the mouse on the orange couch I thought
just for a second
I should get a cage but instead bought traps,
two old wood ones and one black plastic
square thing that has
a circular pit to put the peanut butter in it

and three days I watched, waited, heard
the fucker rustling
in the papers I'll never bother making real
places for, and when I woke this morning
the trap snapped
not two minutes after I'd woken from a dream

I'd been having about that time we spent
a whole summer day
throwing rocks at our street's streetsign,
never throwing hard or big enough rocks
to dent the thing, and of course
the trap didn't kill the mouse, just caught his

(I just assume it was a him) back legs
and by the time I got out
from under the sheets, the mouse had squirmed
almost half a foot, had–with the trap locked
onto his ass and back legs–
moved to bury himself under some papers–

an empty candy box, a newspaper I read
only one story in. Had
buried himself like to save me the trouble.
They didn't always get to the snakes: once,
we figured we'd beat our sisters
to the punch, caught a snake, toyed with it,

dropped it into a bucket and for awhile dropped
lit matches on it till
we got bored and tipped it over, grabbed
one of our dad's axes, chopped the thing into
pieces no bigger than the half-
size candybars we got on Halloween. When

I saw the mouse the first time I thought
rabies and cute simultaneously,
and I know I knew, as I undid the trap
outside, a block away, underneath a dying tree,
the frost glittering in the sunlight,
that he was already basically dead–couldn't

(or didn't) move once I set him facing east–
that maybe the good thing
would've been a quick stomp from a big boot.
Maybe not. I left him there, facing sunrise,
convinced myself
I only killed him because I had to, him or me,

my health vs. his. Told myself there was
some honor or decency
in leaving him out like that, religious beneath
the winter tree, all in sunlight. and when
I came back in
I made breakfast and set the trap again.

Sep 28, 2010


Harpur Palate will have a table at the Pages and Places Festival in lovely Scranton, PA this Saturday, 10/2. Stop by to say hello, peruse the new issue, and snag one of our stunning business cards.

Directions and info available at

See you there.

Sep 27, 2010


Hello all.

Welcome to Harpur Palate's new blog. Our tenth anniversary issue, now available for a measly ten bucks, features poetry from Michael Burkard, Nick Lantz, Susan Briante, Norman Dubie, Weston Cutter, and Simon Perchik. Fiction by Jessamyn Hope, E.G. Silverman, and Jen Bergmark, winner of the John Gardner Memorial Prize in Fiction. Cover art and interview by Bill Plympton, legendary cartoonist.

We are currently reading submissions for issue 10.2, as well as entries for the Milt Kessler Poetry Contest ($500, postmarked by 11/15/10).

In the coming weeks, this page will feature some of our recent content, audio files, announcements, schemes, fears, and more. So much more.