Sharing Breath

By Stephen Mead

From the apex of my attic bedroom ceiling, hanging from rainbow yarn, is an inflatable globe.

This sphere has contained the breath of one of my oldest friends for over two decades now. Sometimes, by the light of the moon and street lamps, I can feel it glowing way beyond my insomnia. It’s as if the multi-colored continents themselves also were breathing, spinning ever top-like in the minute respiration of their surrounding oceans. These are mint green in shade now, their blue more faded than jeans. At the axis on the globe’s base, a series of clocks tell of time zones world-wide. With each breath of the globe, they seem to tick and tick.

How many are awake right now, aware of this planet’s inhalations and exhalations? How like a body it is, the fire in its belly bringing oxygen up and out for us all. How many travelers we are over its surface, our backpacks, our belongings, carried the way insects carry bits of leaves, stems and nourishment. How many of us are immigrants, really, and which earthly possessions will we be allowed to carry over what checkpoints? Which will we have to let go of?

Package string, tape and brown paper.

Museums, garage sales and antique road shows…

Hovering over this life, the mad attic dweller, self-cloistered to a fault, I wonder what will become of us, our species, and our generations to come.

In a photo album tucked beside my bed is an image I took of my friend adding air to the globe when it was beginning to go soft again. I picture that image, her intent somewhat humorous expression, her hands on either side of that plastic earth, and like a prayer I hope the energy of our intentions are more than ephemera as the revolution of ages spin.

A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer, maker of short collage-films and poetry/music mp3s. Much can be learned of his multi-media work by placing his name in any search engine. His latest project-in-progress, a collaborative effort with composer Kevin MacLeod, is entitled “Whispers of Arias“, a two volume download of narrative poems sung to music. His latest Amazon release, ““Weightless”, a poetry-art hybrid, is a meditation on mortality and perseverance. “Sharing Breath” is an excerpt from a larger work “A Thousand Beautiful Things (A Life in Two Hallways & Four Small Rooms)”, currently in search of a publisher.

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Geoffrey Miller

Geoffrey Miller’s most recent fiction publications are ‘Mr. Kim’ Bare Back Lit, May 2013, ‘Masks’ Metazen, Nov. 2012. Two new pieces of flash fiction will be out soon in Ilanot and Labletter. His visual art can be found in the recent editions of Sliver of Stone, Superstition Review, Corvus, Cha, and is on permanent display in the Prick of the Spindle online gallery.

When I Leave San Francisco

By Elizabeth C. Creely

When I leave the city of San Francisco, the sounds and the noise do not come with me. Sometimes this feels like a minor miracle. On a BART train, bound for West Oakland the other day, I looked back at the city backlit by fog and considered the rectangular buildings and the silly triangle of TransAmerica building and thought of all the tumult in it. It’s hard to believe I live in anything that has so many people talking and so many dogs barking and MUNI trains rumbling and babies crying all at the same time.

My neighborhood in the Mission is a noisy place: By day, it’s a teeming habitat of police sirens, car tires squealing, people talking on cell phones all day and all night.

A woman walked by my apartment the other day, talking into her cell phone. A whole string of dialogue had unspooled before I heard a word, but the pitch of her voice preceded her. I finally heard her say, “I’m still struggling.” The word “still” hung behind her, fixed in the aether as a high singing note of stress and uncertainty as she walked on down the street, still talking.

At night, the monologues and dialogues of my 3 am dream will sometimes get overtaken by my neighbor’s love of electronic dance music. From across the street, the music pulses and I come to consciousness, snatched out of sleep, my dreaming mind taken from me. A great stationary force settles down in the street between her apartment and mine as I lay pinned to my bed by the driving beat of the bass, almost felt more than heard.

The difference between sound and noise is movement, I sometimes think. A siren wailing down 22nd street in the middle of the night moves one place to another in great haste. The sound of the siren, a sound that filled me with tense dread when I was a kid–That wailing sound! Unearthly!–goes away.

Noise entraps, takes prisoners: My mother, who has an almost autistic sensitivity to loud discordant noise, was once almost driven to tears by a VW Bug that pulled alongside us at a red light on Jamboree Road in Newport Beach.  A group of teenagers were inside the car. They were blasting Led Zepplin at top volume from their car stereo.

My mother’s whole face changed; she winced and her lips pulled away from her teeth. She quickly rolled up the window. She was in some sort of pain, and so was I: The noise was sudden, and its impact was profound. It was like being assaulted. The blankness on the faces of the beautiful blond teenagers in the next car frightened me too. They appeared to feel nothing, letting the music speak (or shriek) for them. The noise created defensive space, the way that an angry dog does. But what were they defending? Or were they on the hunt?

My mother’s reaction frightened me; it confirmed what I thought was happening was happening. We had both been speaking and listening, at the same time, to the same assemblage of sounds:  screeching seagulls, confirming the approach to the sea and our own voices conspiratorial and hushed speaking about our errands, what we were out in the world to do that day, and why. And then the music of the birds and our voices were blanked out with a terrifying force: Noise stormed in and overtook the diversity of the aural environment. Robert Plant’s screams filled the air, and I couldn’t hear anything else, couldn’t remember the sound of the birds or the words of the conversation I’d been having with my mother moments before.

(Seven year later I was on a school bus when I heard that the drummer for Led Zepplin had died.

“John Bonham died,” called out a boy in the back of the bus.

“Good,” I snapped.  “I hate Led Zepplin.”)

Sound often involves other sound: It exists because of and with other sounds. Acorn woodpeckers, known for their high level of social and communal interaction, call to other acorn woodpeckers throughout their busy day. They sound like this: Waka waka waka. Bang, bang, bang. This is how they sound greeting each other and storing their nuts. When they need to alert each other to important happenings–a squirrel advancing on their store of nuts–the call goes out. Waka! Waka! Waka! The calls and the tapping of woodpeckers in a richly diverse aural landscape can be heard for miles. But bring in one thing–a chainsaw, an iPod, anything mechanized that disturbs and redistributes the sound molecules in the medium of air–and suddenly everything changes. Nothing can compete with mechanized noise.  Not the woodpeckers, certainly. They cannot hear each other, cannot communicate.

Noise is a monoculture. It colonizes, overtakes, dominates, and invades. Sound is communicative and thus, if not reciprocal, then at least mutual. Noise is resolutely neither of those things.

In the city, I have often seen several red tail hawks circling in the sky. These are probably adults teaching their young to fly. They are calling to each other, I know, and if I were anywhere but 22nd Street I would hear them.  I usually don’t.

On the train that day I left the city, I thought about how the week had been. My neighborhood had mostly been quieter than usual. Most sounds had been transient, and had passed easily through my consciousness. But this will change. Sound and noise: aural phenomena that create a sort of intangible commons where people and their preferences bump and jostle against each other. Our own sound-scapes–the noises and sounds we make and prefer to hear–are being challenged as the city continues to take more people in.

I watched the sweep of the South Bay open up and then vanish in the distance while the sound of BART–metal wheels that scream and gnash against the rails–silenced everyone on the train.  It didn’t bother me. I’d knew I’d leave the train and the noise would stop. And when I returned to the city of San Francisco, the sound and the noise would greet me, enveloping me in its large body, and usher me home.

Elizabeth C. Creely is a staff contributor for Paper Tape. She received an MFA from San Francisco State University in 2005 and has been published in The New Hibernia Review, the Dogwood Journal, and The Mississippi Review. Her essays have also appeared in three anthologies: Manifest West: Eccentricities of Geography, New California Writing 2013, and Extended Family: Essays on Being Irish American from the New Hibernia Review. She blogs at Dinnshenchas and lives in San Francisco with her husband.

INTERVIEW/EXCERPT: Carlo Matos

Carlo Matos is an Azorean-American writer currently living in Chicago, IL, where he teaches English at the City Colleges of Chicago by day and trains cage fighters by night. After hours he can be found entertaining clients at the Chicago Poetry Bordello.  He is also the poetry editor for City Brink.

Carlo has published five books: A School for Fishermen (BrickHouse Books), Counting Sheep Till Doomsday (BlazeVox), Ibsen’s Foreign Contagion (Academica Press), Big Bad Asterisk* (BlazeVox), and Writers of the Portuguese Diaspora (forthcoming).  His poems, stories and essays have appeared in over a dozen magazines including The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Word Riot, HTML Giant, and DIAGRAM. He blogs at Fighting and Writing.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor, Kristy Harding, Carlo talks about his novella The Secret Correspondence of Loon and Fiasco (Mayapple Press, due December 2014), artificial intelligence, California, and paradox.

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Butterfly

By Epiphany Ferrell

Ginnifer is wearing her butterfly costume for the fourth day in a row. My sister thinks it’s cute. That she wants to wear it so much, not the costume necessarily. It was cute, but now the wings are bent and bedraggled, and the glitter has rubbed off, leaving them looking like something that came through the hedge.

My sister calls her daughter Ginny, and she gets angry if someone pronounces it “Jenny.” A jenny, she says, is a female donkey. Ginny is her daughter’s name. I think Ginny sounds like a euphemism for an alcoholic, so I call her Ginnifer.

These days, she refers to herself as “Madama Butterfly.” She has not seen nor heard the opera, but somewhere she heard the name of it, and she has adopted it as her own. The butterfly costume was for another little girl’s party, for which she asked all the little girls she invited to come dressed as their favorite flying thing. I had suggested Ginnifer go as a pterodactyl. My suggestion was not adopted. My sister explained to me that little girls like to be pretty, not ironic. I declined to explain to her that I was only joking (wasn’t) and declined to remind her I’d once been a little girl, too (tomboy).

I also declined to explain that fundamental misunderstandings like this are why I’m staying at a Drury with a kitchenette rather than on my sister’s couch. You can’t choose your family, but you can control your thread count.

Our mother is slowly dying. A machine breathes for her. She has a nurse who visits daily, and a Hospice worker who comes about three times a week. When I visit my mother, which I do twice daily, I see a woman I no longer recognize. She doesn’t talk much any more. In the first 15 minutes of my first visit, she asked me when I was going to marry. I’d sighed with exasperation, told her I wasn’t even dating, and sank into my earphones as soon as she fell asleep.

I wish now I’d told her a fabulous story about a wonderful man I’d met, and how much we had in common, and about his good steady job and his Buick and dedication to private education. I didn’t though, and so now the last thing we will have said to each other is “why not” and “because,” and that is very unsatisfying. I want her to wake all the way up once more, even if it is to accuse or belittle. I see her eyes roll under fish skin lids, and I wish I’d told her something better to dream.

I was thinking about all this, all the things I might have said but I just couldn’t humble myself to humor her, sitting on my sister’s porch railing like I know she hates. I felt movement behind me, and felt a small, sticky hand on my back. Ginnifer was on tiptoe, holding her butterfly wings to my back. I moved my arms cooperatively, helping her loop the loops over my arms, onto my shoulders. The wings sag crookedly, and I looked a fool. Ginnifer climbed up next to me on the railing, and I turned my head enough to look at her. She sat straight up, great posture, not mimicking my hunched shoulder pose. In the shadow we cast, we were both winged.

Epiphany Ferrell is part of the writing communications team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and has prior non-fiction writing experience both at newspapers and magazines. Her stories appear online at Fictonaut, Prairie Wolf Press Review, DarkFire, and the Chick Lit Review; and in print at Seven Hills Review, Helix Literary Magazine, Radio Free Boskydell, and the chapbook anthology Word Swell.  A country girl, she shares her home with her son, and with horses, dogs and cats. 

The LaCroix Diaries

By Maya Lionne

On Tanya’s nineteenth birthday, on a chill autumn Thursday, Tanya, Nicolas, Bridget, and Alexa came back from the night’s work selling the house’s homemade erotic calendars and magazines to find the renovated Hotel d’Souza where they lived abnormally quiet.

Alexa agreed to search the bottom floor, the light from her cell phone illuminating dark rooms in the basement. Bridget set about searching the offices and rooms on the ground and second floors, her dancer’s body gliding past rails and desks like a wraith in the early morning dark. Nicolas racked the slide on his handgun, replacing it in his brown leather jacket before accompanying Tanya in a search of the third and fourth floors.

No one could be found, and the house showed no signs of disaster – all the rooms were in order, nothing was knocked down, and there was no sign of a fight. When she finally got to the fourth-floor room she shared with her girlfriend Galina, Tanya all but kicked the door down, shouting Galina’s name in a panic.

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Alysha L. Scott

Alysha L. Scott is a twenty-three year old painter and writer from Wisconsin. Although she mainly focuses on portrait painting, many of her works reflect various human/spiritual and political ideologies with a twist of surrealism. Currently, she is working on a series that portrays the evolution of religion and spirituality with references to ancient art forms, literature and practices. She can be found on Allpoetry.com.