Issue 134

Lyric

photo by Lisa Carl of her sculpture, Flotsum/Jetsam I

Grant M. Armstrong, Lisa Carl, Wendy Taylor Carlisle,
Rachel Chen, Madlynn Haber, R. Mac Jones, Richard Jones,
Natasha King, Judy Kronenfeld, Gabriel Muoio, Hoa Thanh Ngo, Ben Sloan, Larry D. Thomas, and featuring Howie Good

The Note

 

I’ve been thinking about the human brain with mine. This is part of the problem with thinking about the human brain. Mine is limited, as is yours. No offense.

I wish I had time to be a baseball fan. There is something about baseball that makes me think about the wonders of the brain, even though the mental activity of playing baseball does not lead to beautiful music, quantum theory, a great novel, or the ability to design every detail of a skyscraper. A brain executing the catching of a pop fly into center field happens so often that nobody is upset if they miss it because they were in line to buy an overpriced beer. But if a neuroscientist were to write a detailed account of the brain and brain-executed body activity involved in catching that pop fly, I believe it would be a 400-page book.

The fielder hears a crack and sees the blur of the upward arc of this small sphere 300 feet away. Once it slows and reaches peak height, the fielder looks up and, and continues a gross-motor process of moving his body to the general area the ball is going to fall, based on the data being processed in a split second of watching the ball streak up. Then his brain starts fine-tuning, based on a tiny optical projection on the retinas of the rapidly-moving blip, against the sky. It gets converted in real-time and high resolution into a 3D model. In a couple of seconds, the fielder must continuously adjust his position on the field, time the extension of his arms and hands in the space in front and just above him, open his hands and get them in exactly the place—with little room for error—where the ball is going to conclude its arc of travel. There’s a decent chance he’ll have to be running while he does all this. It would be a dadgum miracle, if not for the fact that it’s a ho-hum example of the kind of extraordinary feat that every brain on the planet does regularly. The human ones and the nonhuman ones.

Then I think, as we all are doing nowadays, about how spectacularly wrong the brain can go. Routine but disastrous errors of judgment and calculation. Acts of horrific violence and moral insanity. Deranged political ideas. And, of course, a literal catalog of mental disorders.
 

For more than 20 years, I’ve been teaching a weekend seminar on mental illness to groups of adults pursuing graduate degrees in a field that brings these folks in contact with people who may be depressed, or tortured by anxiety, or who may have emerging psychosis. Once, a student in the seminar, himself a professor, told the class and me that he kept wondering why people’s minds can go so terribly wrong in so many ways.

Many years ago, before digital photography, I had a pretty good 35mm film camera that got stolen in a home burglary we endured. We collected insurance money. I went to a little camera shop run by a man who had sold cameras for 40 years. I was about to buy an expensive and particularly complicated camera. Just before I did, he said, “I don’t know. The way I look at it, the more complicated a thing is, the more ways there are for it to break down.” I stopped and looked at him. Then fiddled distractedly with the camera, put it down, and bought a simpler camera.

 

This is issue 134 of Right Hand Pointing. This year, by the way, with no fanfare, we observe our 15th anniversary. It’s not a bad time to feature some work by Howie Good, who has been one of our most regular and loyal contributors and supporters. And, special thanks, as always, to the editorial team: F. J. Bergmann, F. John Sharp, José Angel Araguz, and the fantastic Laura M Kaminski. Thanks to all contributors and those who submit.

Dale

 

*One of the very few times money flowed from State Farm to us instead of the reverse, which has been happening monthly for 40 years. Homeowner’s, auto insurance on 2 to 4 vehicles at a time, and 2 or 3 life insurance policies—I don’t even want to think about much money I sent those guys in 40 years. Don’t want to think about it with my brain.

 

Howie Good

Lyric

What a windy day,

straining the plum tree,

loosening its petals,

a cop knocking out

some guy’s teeth.

I want to share it

with you anyway.

 

Howie Good

Farmer's Breakfast

Every morning

I start a poem,

sometimes two.

 

There’s a beauty

in inventing things

that serve no purpose.

 

Howie Good

Work #67

History is the memory of what never happened. Certainly, stop in and bring an energy bar and a yarmulke if you got one and want to accumulate a variety of religious experiences. The Pilgrim fathers may be off somewhere searching for street cred. It’s the women, anyway, who do the real work, continuously passing back and forth through a door in the forest. The beavers beat a warning when the water is rising or when the men return from time to time with their darkness and their grievances. There are gods, but with faces shaped a lot like our own.

 

Howie Good

At Night All Cats Are Black

What if every object that casts a shadow is itself a shadow of another object? Nearby could be another me, unshaven, stoop-shouldered, that I can’t see but that sees me. It’s impossible not to imagine under these conditions some imminent catastrophe—the very last of the bees huddling for safety in a crevice in a stone gargoyle while junkies drink the kerosene from lamps or suck the paint from paint tubes. Look around. The so-called “pink moon” isn’t actually pink. My relationship to it is basically being grateful for it being there.

 

Howie Good

The End

The doctors say anger can give you a heart attack or stroke, and anxiety can give you cancer. I’m often angry, and when I’m not angry, I’m often anxious. Rivers of darkness are expanding and spilling, and a mass shooter has tweeted, “If you see me, weep.” Dazed mothers wander through a bombed-out city with their dead children draped over their arms. This could be just one more sign that the end is about to begin. While we wait, some demand proof, some wear hazmat suits, some only sigh. I’ve painted my beard blue and stuck gold stars on it.

Ben Sloan

 

In My Office at Work

Someone is on the phone way down at the end of an echoey hallway, too far away to puzzle out the words—insistent rapid-fire tonal highs and lows is all I can hear—but the in-between periods of silence standing in for the other speaker soon begin to stretch longer and longer—and the still-muffled comments have leveled off, are quieter, suggesting calm and the possibility someone is really trying to listen to someone else.

Ben Sloan

 

Beer

Studying closely my palms for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I am shocked at what I see: a pile of discarded mismatched 1930s-era shoes. At the very top, made of soft copper-colored leather, is a pair of ice skates, perched there like two birds. One takes off, coasting down first one side and then the other side of an otherwise-empty late-afternoon winter sky—while the second, in a nearby tree, uses an idiosyncratic logic to determine the length of silences, some short and some long, between intermittent silvery-clear bursts of laughter.

Gabriel Muoio

 

Spring Day

"Two hands. One hand and one hand that looks like a book," Evelyn explained to Gregory as candidly as she could. Because he was her little brother and was only five whereas she was six, she had to take pains to make sure he understood things like what their mother’s paintings meant. They lined the greenhouse glass walls, her mother’s painting studio. They were stacked, some of them a foot, two feet wide against each other, against the glass. Outside was a blue and green day, she had explained to him too, because it was spring, and not winter anymore like it was when it was cold, when it was white and grey. Time traveled so slowly in the greenhouse, watching their mother paint. In the afternoon she would make her special tea and sit in the stillness and quiet, away from the outside and looking out, and the things she saw she turned into scenes, scenes of things she remembered. "Watch this," Evelyn said, and opened the latch and threw wide the glass door to the outside, and in she went, into the world her mother was painting. Into the painting with her brother Evelyn went, where she liked most of all to be on days like this, becoming her mother’s little brush strokes—her shades of blue, her shades of green. 

Grant M. Armstrong

 

Simplicity

My cat keeps batting

at the window I

look outside and see

a bird nest two

cardinals: male and female

and their cup-shaped nest

I marvel for more

than a few moments

and realize today at

least I do not

want to die

Wendy Taylor Carlisle

Wendy Taylor Carlisle

 

Love at Seventy

Love at Seventy

Definitely, take it.

The last dance is yours.

Although your bow tie

is at odds with your

football player shoulders,

you are a beauty. No

avatar of cinema,

still, you move into the room

like a magnet

into tray of iron filings.

I am a hedgehog,

ill-tempered, quick to bite.

Perhaps I don’t even dance.

But, take it. Definitely.

Take the last waltz.

Hoa Thanh Ngo

 

Helicopter Bedtime Story

During the fall of Saigon, my family was airlifted out by helicopter.  As it gained altitude, my three-year-old brother fell out of the open door but our grandmother caught his arm and pulled him back in.  It is now my son’s favorite bedtime story.

 

*

 

I ask my son Tycho what story he wants to hear and he says "helicopter."

 

I begin "Okay, one time—"

 

"Long time ago?" asks Tycho.

 

"Yes, a long time ago.  A long time ago your Nois and Ba went on a helicopter."

 

"And Tycho too?"

 

One of Tycho’s favorite things to do is to insert himself into the story.  Rather than trying to explain all the reasons that it’s impossible, I just go with it.

 

"Okay, Tycho can go too.  We were all waiting for the helicopter and then we heard it before we saw it.  What sound does a helicopter make?"

 

Tycho puffs up his cheeks and goes "whup-whup-whup-whup!"

 

"Yes, that’s how we knew it was coming.  When the helicopter landed, your Me Noi got on and she was holding Auntie Trung, who was just a little baby."

 

"Auntie Trung was a little baby?"  Tycho can't believe it.  He asks this every time the story is told, making sure that a grown woman could once have been so tiny.

 

"Yes, just a little baby."

 

"Long time ago?"

 

"Yes, a long time ago but now she's big.  After them, your great-grandmother and your Uncle Viet got on.  Your Uncle Viet was a little boy, just like you."

 

I pause for any questions but Tycho has never had a problem believing Viet was little.

 

"Anyway, your Uncle Viet was a little boy like you and he was very curious.  Always looking around.  When the helicopter took off, Viet wasn't watching where he was stepping and almost fell out of the helicopter."

 

"Why?"

 

"Well, he wasn't looking and stepped out into the air."

 

"Almost fell?"

 

"Yes, he almost fell.  But you know what?  Your great grandmother reached out and grabbed his arm."

 

I take Tycho's hand and wrap him in a hug.  "Then she pulled him in and said—"

 

"Be careful little boy!"  Tycho exclaims.

 

This is what Tycho likes to add and it offers a satisfactory way to end the story.

 

"Yes.  Be careful, little boy.  And after that Viet was always careful... and is still careful to this day."

 

*

 

That’s the basic story but on some nights, Tycho takes as many relatives that he can name.  “What about my cousins? What about Aunt Kitkat?”

 

In some retellings, the helicopter is stuffed full of extended family from all time periods.  One time I tell him “It’s a helicopter, not a clown car!”

 

When I smile, Tycho laughs and laughs. After he catches his breath, he asks "What's a clown car?"

 

On those nights in his version of the story, the helicopter floats into the sky bulging with our entire family, saving everyone that Tycho can think of.

Rachel Chen

 

Anxious Attachment

Children are drawn to rope

or repetition.

 

Girls play double-dutch

with mismatched eyes,

feet tripping, time

speeding up.

 

We learn to tie knots

from tire swings,

pendula weeping

at dusk.

Rachel Chen

 

Impure

iron

when oxidized

rusts.

even breathing,

a slow corruption.

Judy Kronenfeld

 

Bodily Pain

sways over his beer

in a bar. Familiar, presumptuous,

he tells the same story over and over

with slurred conviction. It’s fresh to him:

scandalous, astonishing,

augural. He’s a proselytizer 

for a church of one. Back and forth

he rocks like a lonely

bell, tolling, tolling, on an island

in the middle of the ocean.

Natasha King

 

Fastest-Growing Cities

I look for old tracks in a city
which has not yet outgrown its newest borders,
although it soon will.
I look for
silver streaks from snails, and the
deep gouges left by saber-toothed tigers.
Instead I find the slow rutting of bulldozers,
the negative space of their offspring.
The black cat in its condemned foundry
blinks slow eyes at the city's young. We are
few of us endemic, all of us hungry. We are
all of us complicit in its unmaking.

 

Larry D. Thomas

 

Dictionary

A complete repository

of The Word, it lies on its stand

like a massive, open Bible.

 

With nothing but black

and white, it brandishes

the splendor of every color,

 

and, in perfect stillness,

probes nuance with the scalpel

of clarity, but a thing of ink

 

bled into the skin of onions, un-

abridged, enough almost

to get us through the night.

Madlynn Haber

Madlynn Haber

 
 

Now

Now

There was a time when

I wouldn’t have missed you

if you died.

I might have felt bad for you,

but not for me.

Now, we have lived too long.

We have lived past that nonchalance.

I think I will be stricken when you go.

Fearful when I think of becoming

an orphan in my old age.

There was a time when

I wouldn’t have missed you

if you died.

I might have felt bad for you,

but not for me.

Now, we have lived too long.

We have lived past that nonchalance.

I think I will be stricken when you go.

Fearful when I think of becoming

an orphan in my old age.

Richard Jones

 

Climbing

My daughter is a naturally gifted painter.

When we couldn’t find a palette knife,

she painted with a silver garden trowel.

As she painted, she told me her truest gift

is her ability to climb, that she knows trees

and how to get up their trunks, how to use

her arms and legs to pull and push from 

one branch to the next. “To get to the top?”

I asked. “No,” she said. “Just climbing—

climbing for its own sake & nothing else.”

R. Mac Jones

R. Mac Jones

 

Ending

A feral apocalypse,
once in binding, covered,
now out of books, finding
the world and itself, its end,
driven by instinct.

 

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