Distance Traveled by Michael Chin

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By Charles Rammelkamp

Michael Chin’s Distance Traveled is a touching series of vignettes – flash pieces, meditations – that ultimately address, in an understated way, a first-love break-up between a man and a woman, and in measuring the distance that that relationship travels, the stories also shine a light on the fantasies and obsessions that can dominate us all our lives, out of which we sometimes (often) grow – or travel beyond.

Most of the nineteen stories that make up Distance Traveled involve the narrator and his childhood buddy Vinnie, growing up in a town in upstate New York (Chin grew up in Utica), obsessively following NBA teams in the context of their turbulent junior high school lives. But the first two (“History” and “I Believed in Magic”) and the last two (“Sea Level” and “Hall of Fame”) that frame the collection are told when the narrator is well into his thirties.  While also couching larger issues in terms of basketball, they address the heartbreak and disillusionment that inevitably come with adulthood. The chunk of fifteen stories in between set us up for all the real-life joy and misery that the game of basketball involves for the fans who follow the teams and the players, who learn to refer to teams in terms of “we” and “our” and “us.”

For certain basketball fans, too, the period of Chin’s fandom as a teenager evokes real nostalgia for the game, its drama and melodrama, as it was played in the last decade of the twentieth century, with “Magic” and “Larry” and “Michael” and “Shaq” and “Kobe” and all the others we first-named as if we knew them. There are stories about Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy, Muggsy Bogues and Latrell Sprewell, all with grave moral applications to the lives of teenage boys. And George Mikan? Does that name ring a bell?

Indeed, Chin’s collection provides a fresh take on the old saw that sports is a metaphor for life.  As the narrator notes in “The New York Knicks, 1994,” in which the beloved home team (“the Knicks – the team based Downstate, but the jersey said New York, no City, so we could still claim them.”) loses the championship in the seventh game of the finals to the Houston Rockets: “And I discovered that magical thing about the game. That win or lose it went on.  No permanent victories or defeats, just the ones you let stick to you, the ones that rolled off.”

But while this collection may ultimately be about the narrator and Claudia, the girl who leaves him for another guy, it’s the narrator and his buddy Vinnie as young teens who really touch the reader’s heart.  The narrator and Vinnie are obsessed with basketball. It’s the ultimate basis of their friendship; it’s what they bond over, and not just the hero-worship. They admire the acrobatics, the strategy, the work ethic. They learn about the point spread from the narrator’s father and apply the principle to their nascent love lives. They bond over the triangle offense, brainchild of Phil Jackson. As Knick fans, they loathe Reggie Miller, the Indiana Pacers’ three-point artist (“Everybody Hates Reggie Miller”). And yet, reflecting on Miller’s childhood when he wore leg braces because his hips were out of place, and all the obstacles the future star would have to overcome, the narrator observes that it’s easier to be a victim – a role Miller did not adopt – than to be a villain. (In an act of will, the narrator resists “adding fucking before or between Reggie and Miller.”)  The villain, after all, is a celebrity, part of the sports pantheon of gods. Think Loki. Think Beelzebub.

Possibly the most amusing and endearing instance of the boys’ innocence comes in the story, “A Piece of the Man,” which focuses on Dennis Rodman. You remember Dennis, the original American diplomat to visit Kim Jong Un, years before Donald Trump. “Tattoos and neon hair. Number ninety-one because those were the first two digits people dial in case of emergency.” The boys are trading sports cards. The narrator offers Vinnie a Glen Rice rookie card and a Fleer Scottie Pippen for Vinnie’s Rodman card. “I already knew he’d say no.”  While they dicker over the cards, the narrator tells Vinnie that Rodman had dated Madonna. “You think he kissed her?” Vinnie asks innocently. The narrator tells him the truth about Dennis Rodman and Madonna. “Vinnie was at that fulcrum age, both naïve and instinctually inclined to want to put his dick in anything that moved.” It’s almost as if the narrator has had to tell Vinnie there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.

A natural storyteller, Chin’s narrative voice is wise and confidential, unafraid to acknowledge vulnerabilities and weaknesses. He sucks you in with his casual references to the dysfunctional family life that basketball seemingly saves him from.  But there’s not a trace of self-pity in Distances Traveled. Just as Reggie Miller had to fight for everything he had, the narrator confides, “I can relate. We all think we can, right? It’s easy to play the victim.” Chin, too, refuses to play the victim. Instead, he simply moves on – “that magical thing about the game.” Win or lose, life just goes on.

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You can find the book here:

https://bentwindow.com/books/distancetraveled/

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

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In the Shadow of King Saul by Jerome Charyn

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By g emil reutter

Charyn opens this collection of essays, written 1978 through 2005, with an introduction that flows like a fast moving stream. He writes about the sadness that consumes Saul, a king without a song. David is a singer of songs and admired by many much as Charyn’s father was a silent man without a song and Charyn himself a singer of words. He tells us at the end of In the Shadow of King Saul:

“If David is history’s darling, then we, all the modern fools—liars, jugglers, wizards without song—still have Saul.”

In Ellis: An Autobiography, Charyn writes of the hard knock neighborhood he grew up in, of the gangs and peacemakers of the scars left upon families that were processed through Ellis Island into America. He visits Ellis on a tour and tells us:

“She took us step by step through an immigrant’s day, and for me it was like going through the Stations of the cross, rituals of suffering every five or ten feet.”

Charyn writes of the discrimination of not only Jews but of other groups gaining entry:

“The Irish came here and discovered another ruling class: politicians, bankers and grocers. The natives clamored to send them back to Ireland, organizing into secret societies like the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner and other Know-Nothings, who were a kind of northern Klan.”

He tells us of the arrival of Italians and Jews from Eastern Europe after 1880. “..they were no more dirty than the Irish had been. Other nativists opposed this “eastern horde.”

I find this essay timely for today’s world for many of the descendants of those who entered Ellis Island and suffered great discrimination are now in the role of the natives who opposed their forefathers entry into this country and now oppose others coming to America.

Charyn writes two essays on the writer Isaac Babel who wrote in Stalinist Soviet Union and had a love for all things French. Charyn explores Babel, his public and private lives, the great conflicts and Babel’s own influence on Charyn’s writing.

In Haunch Paunch and Jowl he writes of those who were for a time forgotten. Herman Melville, Scott Joplin and Henry Roth all who were discovered later and now have influenced generations of writers and musicians. He tells us of the author of Haunch Paunch and Jowl, Samuel Ornitz and how the novel was condemned by critics:

“…published in 1923 as “An Anonymous Autobiography” has more to tell about the relationship between Jews, politics, and crime than any other work of fiction or nonfiction. The novel reads like a sociological song.”

He enlightens us to the past and our current events once again writing:

“The nativists had finally won. The National Origins Act of 1924 put an absolute quota on the number of Italians, Slavs, and Jews that could enter the United States…stopped the flow of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe.”

In the ten essays in this collection Charyn writes of literary figures, Saul Bellow, Lionel Trilling, and Anzia Yezierska. He writes of the great baseball player, Josh Gibson, recounts his visits to the movies and his fascination with Rita Hayworth and Errol Flynn and even the comics and the character Krazy Kat. He is a writer of great passion, lyric and empathy. Charyn tells of the fleeting fame that comes from pop culture and the literary world. Of the pain of immigration and its lasting effects on families, of bigotry and the battle of all to become one with America. My own father once told me you have to know where you come from. It was advice I have always carried with me. A son of the Bronx he grew up during the great depression and he would have enjoyed these essays that flow from the page with realism and from an author who knows the truth.

 

You can find the book here: https://blpress.org/books/shadow-king-saul/

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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Temple of Jupiter by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

sibyl 2
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Hello, Sybil. Old fortune teller.
Dusk in its blue taxi
weeps at your endless agony.
Poetry should be grief, not grievances.
I come to hear your prophecy—
how the world is shrinking
like your cage of immortality.
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Show me how to convert the useless.
The graceless and wasteful.
The northern half of a southern laugh.
Reveal to us how to yearn so purely
we turn into hollow light.
“Please ask for assistance.”
Let me chew on your fat dreams.
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jcwportrait_May_13+
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright is a publisher, critic, eco-activist, and artist.He is best known as a poet and the author of 15 books of verse, including most recently Blue Lyre from Dos Madres Press. He has an MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College where he studied with Allen Ginsberg and also taught. Recent poetry is included in New American Writing, 2017. For many years, Wright ran Cover Magazine, The Underground National. Currently, Wright stages events showcasing artists and writers at KGB Lit Bar and La MaMa ETC in NYC, in conjunction with his art and poetry journal, Live Mag! He regularly contributes to American Book Review. Wright is a Kathy Acker Award recipient for 2018.
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2 Poems by Louis Gallo

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Marc Chagall The Soul of Elpenor (L’ame d’Elpenor)

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Getting Wasted With Elpenor
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Pretty bored last night so I decided
to descend to the underworld
hoping to meet the great Achilles
or Agamemnon or, you know, one
of them, even that mad Ajax would do.
Instead I ran into Elpenor sulking
on a lonely, miasmal crossroad.
Seems no one had buried him yet—
remember he’s the dopey kid
who got drunk atop Circe’s roof
and fell off and broke his neck
(one or two lines in The Odyssey).
He’d talk to anybody who drank
the blood, begging, pleading for burial
so his soul could cease its wandering.
Well, I wasn’t much help
so back up on a roof (Circe’s again?),
we wound up getting cheap drunk
on Gallo wine–
and once more Elpenor slid off
to still another death, another
broken neck.  He looked so sad
as he peered at me from the ground
though I had already explained
that I lacked the power to salvage
either his body or soul.  I sang
from my vantage–Ray Charles’
rendition of “Born to Lose,”
never quite deciding who ranks
as the greater losers:
hopeless, broken blokes like Elpenor
or those of us who can’t restore them.
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Dream

I tried to tell her she did not smell
like mosquito repellant
but I could tell by her frown
and the way she flicked her hair
that she didn’t believe me.
She kept sniffing at her arms
in a kind of minor horror.
I took her hand and tried to
pull her into the house
but she resisted:  “How can I
come in when I smell like poison?”
she whimpered.
“Smell me,” she demanded,
“all over,” as she proceeded
to remove her clothing.
What a dilemma.
If I told her she smelled
like champagne or the attar
of roses, she would accuse
me of lying;
if I told her she did indeed
smell like mosquito repellant
she would go berserk–
for this was one clean woman.
In the end I offered to rub her down
with denatured alcohol
(which smells horrible)
to remove every trace of repellant.
She liked the idea
and followed me into the house,
the screen door banging behind us.
I smeared the wretched alcohol
all over her flesh and rubbed it in.
Then I carried her to the tub
and washed it off with Ivory.
Now I’m boiling water for
sassafras tea as she lies back
on the sofa, smiling, purified,
ablated, redeemed.
And I tell you, I’m smiling too.
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Louis Gallo
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth,  Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others.  Chapbooks include The Truth Change, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books:  A New Orleans Review.  He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
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The Greeting by John D. Robinson

vet
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The Greeting
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Outside the city railway
station, he greeted the
incoming and outgoing
travellers with a strange
barrage of hostile
noises and sounds of
anger, no intelligible
words and his
presence loomed
large in filthy army-
clothing, long unkempt
beard and hair, shoes
falling away from
his feet, he moved
slowly as people,
without time to spare,
moved quickly by
ignoring him, maybe
glancing back,
grinning
and even if he were
spewing intelligible
words, the reaction
would be the same, I
smoked a cigarette and
watched him and his
determination to
interact, to provoke a
response, to
communicate in vain
to a world rushing-by
and not giving a
fuck about his
anguished cries or
what they meant
they had more
important things on
their minds, like
getting to work
on time.
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John D Robinson

John D Robinson is a UK poet: his latest publications are ‘The Pursuit Of Shadows’ (Analog Submission Press 2018) ‘Hitting Home’ (Iron Lung Press 2018)

Baptism of Sorts by Cliff Saunders

sunset

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Baptism of Sorts

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All day, one question buzzed:
Why did the glass slipper
of pain take so long to correct?
It took too long but only
.
in the physical sense
of passing secrets. When
rain did come, it sounded
like Mozart and felt
.
like a war zone about
to become a baptism of sorts.
What went wrong with the facts?
‘Twas the instant roosters were
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stunned by late-season snow,
and the Ferris wheel by the sea
got harder to find. From treehouses
ants wept, employees were
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told to destroy their wallets.
Assertive but untested, I had
to protect the magic form
of a literary triceratops
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from Gilded Age cuisine.
I leaked nothing but light
and a flake of sweetgrass.
I was a man without
.
a turtle ambulance or a cloud
losing its lust. Seduced
and betrayed by dark thoughts,
I made a mist descend
.
upon the beach like a losing streak.
It was a great day for trying
to sneak into a fortress of love,
it was also the day the music
.
in a roller rink sounded just
like a nervous breakdown.
I started talking to cars!
It was a summer of negotiations
between opposing hummingbirds
and windshields. I tried to sound
like a great sea, but the power
of love broke my heart, shattering
.
expectations. The cameras died;
only one of them melted.
I got off easy when the luggage
of choirboys swamped me
.
with grief. Healed and flying
high, my pain vanished
into the sunset like a late friend’s
shadow, difficult to escape.

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Cliff Saunders has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Arizona. His poems have appeared recently in West Trade Review, Pinyon, Serving House Journal, CURA, Rumble Fish Quarterly, SurVision, and Snow Jewel. He lives in Myrtle Beach, where he serves as co-coordinator of The Litchfield Tea & Poetry Series

Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella published by New York Quarterly Books is a good end of summer read for lovers of poetry. The broad range of themes presented in everyday language gives a sense of deep understanding of relationships between nature, humans and the overall the culture we live in.
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An example of nature and how one reacts is the last poem of this soft cover volume, My Rain, which creates an ending to the lushness of the warmer months and how one can interpret something as common as rain in an individual way.
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My Rain
                                          does not whip the ground
                                          from under me.
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                                          Falls straight
                                                    As a sheet.
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                                          Ends at dawn
                                             in a mist that lingers
                                             over blades of grass.
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I like the technique of using the title in a dual function of being the title as well as the first line of the poem.  Although the poem has a lyrical sense to it, its directness and clarity expands the image of how perspective on even drops of rain can change a person. The uneven lines contribute to the visualization of the unevenness of rain drops.
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This direct and clear approach is all through the book when the narrator remembers her relationship with her father on page 27, Father, fix it, please. The poem opens with The dark befriends me here in the basement.  Lisella has given the reader a place that is usually unfriendly and often scary and makes it into the safe and wonderful memory of her father’s workshop where anything can be repaired.
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The relationship to our culture is shown on page 57 when she reveals some issues with being short in her poem Lethal.   Lisella’s last line draws the poem to a close on the subject of being short: lethal, small and ready to spring.  The poem gives images of what it means to be small but gives power to the petite of the world using the common denominator of ballet and turning that suggestion and perhaps negative of being diminutive into power.
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In another cultural reference, she speaks of war in her poem Just Boys on page 79 by showing three tombstones of boys who fought the other boys.  The opening line is so strong, The sun is about to slip below the grass, that one can feel a graveyard shiver.  She speaks of taking pictures as if they could record silence. In the space she has led the reader to, we stand in a dead and quiet war zone of the past but in the present.
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The volume is divided into four parts headed by Roman numerals.  The 100 page tome covers a wide range of themes drawn from everyday life and presented in both long and short poems.  Although the poems are direct and clear, many of them I wanted to read again and again because of the way they made me feel.
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Maria Lisella is the Poet Laureate of Queens for 2015 to 2018. Her work has appeared in Amore on Hope Street, Two Naked Feet and many literary journals including Fox Chase Review and New Verse News.  She holds an MA in specialized Journalism from NYU-Polytechnic University. She is also a travel writer and editor and has had her work recognized in South Africa, Italy and France.
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The book is available from www.nyq.org
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.
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