Friday, September 4, 2020

Worlds alien and familiar, HOLD STILL FAST by Sean Pravica and THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Susan Rubin,

Sean Pravica's 200 stories in HOLD STILL FAST are written in 50 words or fewer.  Instants in time catch the predicament of being human in a world alien and familiar. PELEKINESIS publishes 

Getting Older Again  

As a strange joke, she bought her friend a human skull for a birthday gift. She also gave her makeup,to be nice. When her friend opened her gifts, the next step was obvious. She had little makeup left by the end of it, and the skull had a name. 

Let Go

 The balloon floated away from her. He lifted her as she cried. She reached her hand up, as though she was close enough to grab it now. He rocked her, said to enjoy watching it, a red dot disappearing. Suddenly, it was like that was its purpose all along. 

New Religion

She started a dance church in the woods. She used an unoccupied store for service every Sunday. Devotees twisted, leapt, gyrated to whatever music played. Songs that opened or closed with rain sounds were prominent. It became obvious. It became truth. God is motion. Every moment the big bang.


Planes of hot, white light cascaded down from little conical fixtures evenly spaced throughout thegallery. Illuminated abstractions, zealous color, geometric landscapes floating in space.She looked at another squiggled line, saying, “Imagine an alien anthropologist trying to decipher the human experience through something like this?” He kissed her cheek.   





\THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Susan Rubin, a rollicking epic adventure on the time-space continuum, is both funny and a surprisingly deep exploration of  human life on Earth, the sex lives of the  Gods, the viability of human life on the planet, and whether the Bloomingdale's free gift with make-up purchase is a good deal. These existential issues are visited by an unnamed former housewife whose quest  begins with her identity and ends with an iconic purpose for humankind. 

This sensual and wise epic did remind me of Candide, Voltaire's satire on the Enlightenment, a goodhearted innocent who travels the world seeking security and his true love. His guide,Pangloss,  holds the optimistic belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Though the pair endure every possible misfortune; slavery, torture, disease and dismemberment, Pangloss never loses his faith. Candide is more influenced by events. 

Susan Rubin's former Ct.housewife, an "innocent" who never challenged herself, returns to her childhood environs in Greenwich Village after her husband's untimely death. Her adventure starts at Bloomingdale's make-up counter, where she encounters an identical twin, who offers a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring a portal to Ancient Egypt and Van Gogh's Arles. 

On further jaunts on the time space continuum, she is challenged to become the epic warrior, judge, priestess, Deborah. In The Road Not Taken, Deb faces obstacles that test her fitness in a Weimar nightclub and her weakness with help from a "bad boy" lover of an immortal race. 

Unlike Candide, as the heroine deepens so do her challenges, until she becomes the priestess. As a female epic heroine, this Deborah beats even Gail Gadot's Wonder Woman. She can fight for justice but likes a good time in bed and fine red wine. Scholar, thinker and seeker of wisdom, the heroine  in THE ROAD NOT TAKEN is her own Pangloss; inhabiting the best of all possible worlds. Published by Harvard Square Editions,

Recommended for a spare night with favorite beverage


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Is the "good death" elusive or impossible? Consider ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS, Alison Lester's Chronicle of Extraordinary Dying

 The “good death” may seem elusive, or even impossible, but novelist Alison Jean Lester chronicles just that in her new memoir, Absolutely Delicious: A Chronicle of Extraordinary Dying (Bench Press, 10/22/20).  

Lester reports surprising facts:  "My mother, Valerie Lester, died on the morning of June 7, 2019, of metastatic melanoma. I’m driven to write about it because her death was, by all the standards I can imagine, a good one. Not only was the moment of her death good; the weeks of decline leading to her death were good. And not only that; the eighteen months between her first dire prognosis and her death were some of the happiest months of her life. Her final moment was, I suppose, ordinary – she drew a last breath, devoid of drama, when her body could no longer maintain itself. Her approach to dying, though? That was amazing"

Valerie, a Pan Am hostess, met Alison's father on a plane, returning from the first American expedition of Mt. Everest. She later became a biographer of Pan Am, among other topics and at age 40, a poet, after years of studying work that moved her. She was, says Alison, a woman of who took great enjoyment in nature, food and people she loved. 

ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS shows Valerie's process accepting her terminal illness and deciding to forego treatments that might have prolonged her life but ruined her death. Instead, she moved to the residential hospice where she chose to live her final weeks. She decided where she wanted to be, what she wanted to do, and with whom. And Alison relayed this to family and friends, who honored her wishes.

This singular chronicle is told from three perspectives; Alison's narrative and haiku poems, drawings by Valerie's friend Mary Ann Frye, and Valerie's own poems and ones she studied to come to terms with death..  

 In the title vignette, a nurse asks Valerie if she’d like a gin and tonic.


I can’t remember if Mum actually said yes in answer; all I remember is that she sparkled. The yes was clear to us all.… She didn’t talk, just drank a glug of cocktail and then opened her mouth for more crackers … Taking the glass from her mouth after a few minutes of this I asked, “Is that nice?”

“Absolutely delicious.”

After a few more minutes … we realized she was chewing with her eyes closed. We told her we were going to lay her back down again. She slept.

So that was her last meal. And those were her last words.

But there were still a few days to go.

 In writing Absolutely Delicious, Alison’s goal is to inspire conversation about end-of-life choices in people who haven’t yet broached the subject: “If you are dying, or are supporting someone who is dying, I hope the experiences in this book will encourage, enable, and even entertain you.”

Death, especially in this time of plague, is a fearful specter. It may also be a time to think of the possibility of a death consistent with a life lived. There's a sense of continuity, when mourners meet to dedicate a gravestone months after a funeral. The Balinese, six months after a death, burn a mythic paper animal to celebrate the spirit, as it ascends with smoke to heaven. 

This book is recommended for all mortals. 


Alison Jean Lester was born in LA and grew up in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, London and Massachusetts before attending Indiana University, where she earned a B.A. in Mandarin and French. After an M.A. in Chinese Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, she worked for the U.S. Commerce Department, before moving to Japan. She worked as an editor, journalist, and voiceover artist before moving to Singapore, where she developed a successful coaching and training business, performed improvised comedy, and continued to write. She currently lives in Worcestershire, England. She is the author of novels Yuki Means Happiness and Lillian on Life, poetry, short stories, plays, and non-fiction books on communication.

Mary Ann Frye has been a designer of exhibits for science and history museums, a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design and Head of the Graphic Design Concentration at Northeastern University and of the Printmaking/Graphic Design Program at the Massachusetts College of Art. One of her current projects is to paint a portrait daily, the total approaching 1500, “of people I admire or love.”






Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Modern Way to Die and Out of Breath, Out of Mind, Peter Wortsman's 2020 story collections

"Wortsman displays a savage descriptive edge, precise and crucial, that is as natural as it is canonically reminescent of the panEuropean urbanism of such writers as Robert Walser and Robert Musil" --Anthony Abbott in American Bookseller
"Wortsman hang(s) with the masters....Dozens of dangling avalanches for people with dreamer's block."--A. Scott  Campbell, The Boston Phoenix
"A fantastic book....Marvelous writing, wonderful craft; and the breath of imagination....(Wortsman) succeeded so well in his craft and art that it reads 'artless' and'spontaneous,' which to me is the highest of compliments.--"Herbert Selby, Jr., author of  Last Exit to Brooklyn.

We have more time to think and seek meanings in our Covid lives. Consider Peter Wortsman's words.  He creates strange universes of human life we think we know, and shows them singular in ways we might never have imagined. Peter Wortsman is the author of novels, books of short fiction, plays, and travel memoirs. He is also a literary translator from German into English. Wortsman was a Fulbright Fellow in 1973 and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010. His writing has been honored with the 1985 Beard’s Fund Short Story Award,  the 2012 Gold Grand Prize for Best Travel Story of the Year in the Solas Awards Competition, and a 2014 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY). 
His travel reflections were selected five years in a row, 2008-2012, and again in 2016, for inclusion in The Best Travel Writing. His short fictions have appeared, in their original German, with English translations, most recently in the 2020 German-English volume Stimme und Atem (Out of Breath, Out of Mind) by Berlin's PalmArt Press ( and others in A Modern Way to Die, second edition published in 2020 in English by the U.S. publisher PELEKINESIS ( wortsman-a modern way to die) 
Shocking, funny, harsh and always unexpected, I follow his journeys prepared to be shorn of complacency and then; a sweet ending. Some short samples: 
Little Alien from the Planet Uterus
These spots and swirls resembling lunar scapes (transmitted, not from Outer, but from Inner Space) reveal the molten core of the Planet Uterus, its sole inhabitant soon to erupt, kicking up a cosmic storm, refusing to hold still for identification. The Technician takes a fuzzy likeness all the same. What will it want? What will earth look like on landing, its population towering perilously overhead?  Read this years hence, little alien from the Planet Uterus, and remember--your mother, her bulging belly being prodded by a high tech cattle prong; your father, benumbed bull peering fearfully over the technician's shoulder, asking: What is it?; and you, a reluctant neuter squiggle on the creen, a black hole, a big bang in the making--is there pleasure and pain where you are? 
How to Kill Time
It is not enough to merely strangle time. There's too much of it for that, and the very element you thought to release from its misery will tackle you in return and do you in. Try if you like to crush a second, noisome mosquito, a swarm of others will sting you in its wake and make you wish you were no longer that swollen aching mass of me.
I have tried to drown it, asphyxiate it, disembowel and decapitate (all the medieval techniques), and even to deny its existence--nothing doing!
The only effective method I have found for temporarily immobilizing (if not obliterating) time is to take pleasure in its passing.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Anne Waldman's SANCTUARY, Marc Zegans' THE SNOW DEAD

Anne Waldman's SANCTUARY (Spuyten Duyvil,  is a mind bending book of poems with wonderful collages by T Thilleman. Anne Waldman is an renowned poet and founding member of the "Outsider" experimental poetry community. She has read in the streets, as well as Casa Del Lago in Mexico City, the Dodge Lit Festival in the U.S.A., the Jaipur Lit Festival in India and teaches poetics all over the world. Waldman is an original "Open Field Investigator" of Consciousness.  Among her many books are "Fast Speaking Woman" (City Lights), the P.E.N. Award-winning, Lovis Trilogy "Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment", and her 2018 "Trickster Feminism" (Penguin). An excerpt from a poem in SANCTUARY below.  Her calligraphic design, important to the text of the complete poem, couldn't be reproduced in this blog. I think you get a sense of her dynamic words. More at

Light Coda Occludes  

well, it’s very frightening. here last weekend raids in harlem and brooklyn. i am reading exact parallels in my studies of german theology circa 1932. very very scary. my church people had an intense meeting last week deciding to be in the radar of ICEwith sanctuary status. They have no illusions-- are already aware that the nation-wide changes to driver’s licenses due Oct 2020 = voter suppression. And still hoping for reparations. Paul Tillich has an excellent stance re: the Courage to Be, In Spite Of... love, Lisa

Forty guards with clubs went on a rampage and brutalized thirty-tree jailed suffragists. This was at Occoquan Workhouse. Orders of W.H. Whittaker. Lucy Burns was beaten and then they chained her hands to cell bars above her head. She was left there a night. Dora Lewis was hurled into a dark cell, her head smashed against the iron bed, she was out cold. Dora! Alice Cosu her roommate thought she was dead and suffered a heart attack. The affidavits reported women were grabbed choked slammed pinched beaten kicked and twisted

Occludes……………………………………………o ruse, o blues, abuse, subterfuge, o rues, intrudes, 
This “not-seeing” in the midst of seeing, this not seeing that is the condition of seeing, became the visual norm that has been a national norm, one conducted by the photographic frame in the scene of torture. (Judith Butler) 
what is our constellation? field of truths?  camera &; invasion positioning &; valence &; question &; target each such time, such as, such as it is, such as it was, and be that as it is, and head and aching head and my arcing headlong as it is in suchness rush to meet lights and other resilient head, soldier, shudders back, saved this time. head of armistice reckoning head — pubic metabolism 

rocks the world its sweet and vile pain (someone dies) cerulean sky scars hinges loops stress marks thickets cracks green of meadow below shifts blue unsettled green blue no longer hope cloud as if scattered across a gambling table permitted there? behind the masks? money? Gaza. A fence? living way below the poverty line. gazillions...

The Snow Dead by Marc Zegans, published by Cervena Barva Press,

Mark Zegans considers himself a student and admirer of Anne Waldman.  He is the author of five previous collections of poems, The Underwater Typewriter, Boys in the Woods, Pillow Talk, The Book of Clouds, and La Commedia Sotterranea: Swizzle Felt's First Folio form the Typewriter Underground; two spoken word albums Night Work, and Marker and Parker, and immersive theatrical productions Mum and Shaw, and The Typewriter Underground. The Snow Dead debuted theatrically in Erotic Eclectic's "Sin-aesthetic" at the Lost Church during San Francisco's 2019 Lit Crawl.  His poetry can be found at 

The short paragraphs of The Snow Dead form an inquisitive meditation on life and death. The anonymous narrator is, like Waldman, an "open field investigator" deciphering enigmatic marks in  cold snow.  I found The Snow Dead akin to Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood,  where  different stories and voices are linked by life in a Welsh fishing town.  Zegans' marks in the snow indicate lives frozen, glacier-like, in time. The narrator details what he sees and conjectures, aware how little is left when "all is said and done."  An exerpt below.

We peer into history, as we stare
Below the root line. Looking up
Is more complex, a tracing of past
And a hurtling expansion
But in the ice all is dead, purified
Crystalline, and yet blue like life.

The offerings are left on the surface
Testamentary evidence of the killing.
The bodies in ice were never offered
Merely preserved, accidents in waiting.

On the surface, there is no recovery.
The snow dead decay more slowly
The flies do not swarm. We watch.
At distance, they appear as black marks

The work of a spare calligrapher
Who enlivens the field by its small rupture.
Gradient enters as we approach
First tone, then hue, then texture
Finally wetness. We see the slicked blood
The glistening hair by the wound.
The seeping of fluids draws raptors.

A fox lies on fresh snow.
Its neck broke, slight steam
Exiting its once clever mouth.

Before I knew how to make snow angels
There was the corpse on the bowed lawn
Arms thrown wide, palms up, fingers spread
Shoed toes pointed toward the sidewalk.

When the first snow came
The uncut grass poked up
Leaving small circles
Around stiffened stems
Taking season as aberration.

“The souls speak louder
In the graveyard
Under winter snow,”
She said, leaving
Footprints amongst
The headstones.

I can’t tell you anything.
I missed the opportunity.
My bones tell no tales.
The snow heaves over
My recent-filled grave.
In spring it will sink

We take the frozen rictus
As a grin, as if there was
A secret, zygomatic joke
Less than cosmic, merely
Private, as if, in the life
Cut short at the moment
Of death, wry truth is given.
It is a lie we tell ourselves.

She was a pin-up model
In World War II, known
To millions in glossies
Then forgotten, neglected
Living still into her 80s
Alone in a weathered house
Above Route 2, attic filled
With curling stills, dried ink
And bushels of love letters

The smell of dark wool tweed
Over dark wool suits
Black shoes not meant for snow
Leather gloves that will pinch
And stain when touched by salt.

I would walk though the woods
Scavenging fallen branches,
The leaf stripped deadwood,
Cut it, stack it and leave it to dry.
I could tell by feel how long it
Had rested in the snow, and why.

“Don’t be fooled,” he said
“Many of the snow dead
Have life in them yet.
Some are simply resting
Others hiding in winter
Most don’t know
Warmth a memory lost.”

Streetlights and silence in this cold
Place lit by candles, convenience store
Chocolate donuts and well-aged wine
Our only food, as we sit on the floor
Staring out at the snow-cleaned street.
It’s four AM. We are the only two people
Alive. You have no power, nor I
But there is electricity between us.



Saturday, April 4, 2020

2 Poems for Earth Day, Invocation to Nature, Year of the Fire Monkey

Nature spare the big-brained ape.
Homosapiens who once challenged nature
with desire for supremacy, mindless self-advantage 
to feed bottomless appetites. 

Primate selves, echoed large as would-be Masters.
Brought low by your tiniest of creatures?
C- virus mutates faster than human minds comprehend.

No free human life or living as once were, ever again.
Quickly! From a safe distance, we play catch-up behind mounting body counts.
Mother-father nature will you banish us from this foreign world we thought was ours?
Remake us to fit your Earth.

Banish this awful virus from human bodies for a reciprocal host.
Gift us a new place in your world order.



When nonspring hop skips past non-winter,  
Suddenly stopped short for 10 degrees,
we are unused to cold.  Denial in snowed minds.
Climate change? El Nino? Farmer’s Almanac
predicted Southern comfort.
Yet what cosmic lint enshrouds
Our clarity, Oxygen,
direction home?

NASA’s in. There’s water on Mars.
Virgin Air’s got the Elite
Colonies. Science fact or
Alternate fiction? 
Is the Earth’s core solid, hollowed out,
inhabited by humanoids shy of light?
We live with low-lying slow moving masses of gray
clouds. Glimpses of true blue—
deepen past our midnight as
rockets streak through cosmic muck.

Money, sex, comfort, technology, titiilations of infinite
minds.  Finite is the unhidden truth, the stilling pulse
of a still living planet in
the Year of the Fire Monkey.
All hail our evolved primate selves, Innovative and refined.
Original, forward thinking, we pursue Excellence.
The sky’s the limit. 

Anthracite, black gold
compressed in prehistoric swamps.
Dinosaurs sucked into bog.
Humans smother snug as bugs
in China’s public square, Surrounded by
impenetrable yellow smog, people watch a
movie screen showing a lost blue sky

In New York on a PATH screen are scenes of 
previous year’s lovely snow-dusted streets.
Watched by globally warmed passengers
waiting their infinite now.
But wait!  Maybe it is El Nino?

Wherefore the Zen Circle, the Golden Mean 
to restore outsiders to the source? 
Is reclamation yet improbably possible?
Plant trees, when we need instant rain forests?
Clean oceans?  Rescue whales mysteriously beached?
Porpoises cannot escape mesh. Hope more money's 
spent on alternative than fossil fuels? Hope
our children’s children can discover 
an uncinematic blue sky,
yearn for beauty without end?

The big-brained homo sapien, like primate kin,
fights and kills for territory, food, mates.  Yet 
no other animal knowingly fouls its habitat. 
Full of inquiry, enterprise, appreciation of “perfection,”
Wardens of Paradise Lost. 
Will we ever gaze once more with astronaut eyes at 
the truly awesome breathing world?
Our Earth or in another galaxy
filled with the lucky ones not left behind?  

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches
To men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.

This is the way the world ends?  Not with a whimper but a bang?—T.S. Elliott

“Commitment is an act, not a word.—J.P. Sartre

By S.W.