Keith Lee Morris in court; Delia Falconer on TV; Jonathan Lethem on stage; Fiction by Leslie Jamison & Martha Cooley; Focus: Peru; If You See Something, Say Something with David Levi Strauss, Ben Ehrenreich, & Sam Stephenson; Poetry by Eugene Ostashevsky & Robyn Schiff; & much more.
I'd been sitting there in the courtroom all day, looking at the back of people's heads, mostly Andy Munson's. In that situation you couldn't help but sit and wonder what went on inside there, in Andy's head. I'd known him as long as I could remember. There were a lot of people in town I'd known as long as I could remember, and some of them I knew better than Andy but I suppose I knew Andy better than most. But there was always something about Andy you couldn't know. Maybe it was hard to figure out Andy because Andy didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out himself.Continue reading
I've been researching and collecting Smith's life ever since my wife, Laurie, gave me a camera for Christmas ten years ago. When the owner of the camera shop in Raleigh, North Carolina, asked me what I'd be taking pictures of, I told him Pittsburgh. The city has captivated me since we first visited Laurie's family there a dozen years ago, and I'd just started researching its history and landscape. Have you ever seen Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh's photographs he asked. The previous night he'd caught an American Masters documentary on Smith and it mentioned a big project he did on the city in the 1950s. I left the shop and walked around the corner to the public library to look for more information.
Smith went to Pittsburgh in 1955 for a three-week freelance assignment to make one hundred photos for a book commemorating the city's bicentennial. He'd quit his job at LIFE magazine, where his photo essays had made him legendary, because of escalating editorial struggles: He wanted to change the world with his photographs and LIFE wanted reliable staffers who met deadlines. Smith's burgeoning ambitions outstripped the Pittsburgh assignment pretty quickly, and over the next four years he made 21,000 photographs of the city. At one point he had 2,000 5x7 work prints pinned to walls and bulletin boards all over his studio. His Pittsburgh opus may have existed in that form. But it was utterly unpublishable, and when 88 of the images were published in Popular Photograph's 1959 Photography Annual, he called the results a "debacle" and a "failure."Continue reading
In my mid-twenties—quite a while ago!—I had a boyfriend from Haiti. His skin was caramel colored, and he had a beautiful baritone voice.
Serge could lie about anything, and people believed him. He’d lie about the other women he was sleeping with; he’d lie about his two schizophrenic brothers—a couple of unmedicated messes, though Serge claimed they were merely eccentric. He’d lie about his politics, how much money he made, the weather forecast: you name it. And everybody would be taken in!
I didn’t mind the whoppers about the brothers, or even the other women; it wasn’t as if I were planning on marrying him. The thing that bothered me was Serge’s story of his happy boyhood. From what I’d heard on the news, Haiti wasn’t a place a kid could enjoy—all that terrible poverty and violence… I kept telling him he had to be soft-pedaling, and he kept claiming I wouldn’t know happiness if I tripped over it.Continue reading
is a mighty wrestler
His angel is a book
He dreams he climbs
lines of print
He shall be a father
O DJ Spinoza
Your wife squints
as if threading a needle
Behind your house
your children torture a cat
Nations shall cast off your yoke
after murderous convulsions
Your street shall fill
with confusion of faces
Your synagogues shall convert
to movie theaters and swimming pools
You shall be replaced
with the silicon chip
since you are both so small
and so black
That night we found an old wooden lifeguard station and dangled our feet over the edge. Our shadows streaked across the sand-speckled concrete of the drainage creek below, long and wavering from the distant glow of a ferris wheel on the pier. The breeze was heavy with salt, humid on our tongues. We watched two figures sitting on the deck of the next station. They cut sharp black profiles against distant flickering lights and when the man stood up, we could see quite clearly what was going to happen: the woman kneeled in front of him, unbuckled his pants and leaned in. We watched her bend over the edge once she was done, nodding her head as she spit into the sand.
“I went through a phase where I wouldn’t swallow,” I said softly. I had something I was building towards.
“Did it have to do with feminism?” he asked. “Or with moods?”
“It was more like a mood. Definitely nothing like feminism,” I said. “I had issues with swallowing anything.”Continue reading
In 1980, there were many reasons to be optimistic about the future of Peru, most significantly, the restoration of democracy after twelve years of military dictatorship. The same man who’d been deposed in 1968 was returned to the presidency, and the elections had gone off with relatively few disruptions. Some ballots were burned in a town called Chuschi, in the province of Ayacucho, but this was anecdotal really, and nothing worth paying attention to. It was the year my family left for the United States, and very few people had any idea what was coming. We certainly didn’t.
We left and made our lives in the southern United States, and Peru existed, in those days before CNN and the internet and cheap international phone calls, as a rumor, more or less. We exchanged letters and audio cassettes with family back home. News was always hard to come by, and if a daily paper or a weekly magazine from Lima arrived, these were devoured. By the mid 1980s, the news had taken on a grim tone. Chuschi turned out to be not so insignificant after all—that act of armed civil disobedience had been the opening salvo in a war that would last over a decade. Ayacucho and a handful of other provinces were declared emergency zones. It was all still faraway, but one had the sense that trouble was coming. The city of Lima, naturally, ignored the war as long as it could.Continue reading
To Burn the City
by Julio Durán
On shelves and in drawers, in trunks and boxes, my grandmother hid the artifacts of her old house: decorative ceramics and saints, tea sets she never used, frames and photos, old books of stories (many from the Muscovite Progress publishing house), linens, clothes, and tins that had arrived in Iquitos along the Amazon from Brazil and Colombia, sweets, snacks, tools, newspapers. I wondered about the tea cups, felt their rough texture in my hands, was captivated by the flowers and landscapes, and asked myself who had ever used them, where, and when my grandmother had acquired them; I recreated the house my aunts had so often described to me and imagined them using these tea cups. When I saw the framed pictures, I wondered where in the house they’d hung, I imagined them new, adorning my aunt’s bedrooms, or the den. I imagined the city lights glancing off the sepia-tone photos, the air and breezes of those afternoons, and I did much the same with the jungle decorations that recalled the roanmulas, chullachakis, and tunches with which my aunts frightened me. My grandmother had dedicated herself to sewing in the old days and the antique, shut-in aroma of those fabrics, the designs, and the colors of that era intrigued me, the way the materials had been transformed by my grandmother’s handiwork and by time. When I saw these old garments, I found it hard to believe that my aunts had ever worn clothes my size. It would all morph and disappear one day, and what I had before me, this storage room, was the portal to a universe in which I could navigate freely without moving in space. And so when I discovered the empty jars of Brazilian unguents, the empty bottles of Bully vinegar, Leite de Rosas, and Agua Florida, and noticed that the odors had remained, I felt that objects remained in the world through sheer persistence, and their refusal to disappear colored my wandering. Everything became a beautiful chaos, source of all imagination.Continue reading
Many Peruvian authors, critics, and readers are of the opinion that there is no common literary project uniting young Peruvian writers. According to this theory, the writers who began publishing in the 1990s were by nature so individualistic that they never formed any kind of group, movement, or tendency, nor could they be said to comprise a generation, in the traditional literary sense of that term. This position surprises me, because among young authors of the decade, there was indeed a common theme, much clearer and sharper in the Peruvian case, than in any other moment or country that I’m aware of: cocaine.Continue reading
Forget its telegenic cast: the real star of CSI is Luminol. If neo-noir torchlight defined the look of nineties television in shows like The X-Files, the fluorescent glow of Luminol is its twenty-first-century successor. Sprayed in the dark onto a carpet or a car trunk or a bathtub, Luminol turns invisible traces of old blood into light. It makes death itself visible, as if registering the body’s secret neon, by bringing its traces to sudden, glowing life. It’s no coincidence that CSI is set in neon-lit Las Vegas, and that each episode opens with a sequence of aerial shots of the city’s sunsets and shining casinos in hyperreal, glowing color. In CSI even the city seems to have been sprayed with Luminol, to offer itself up, radiant and transparent, to our gaze.
I’m obsessed by CSI. I watch it for the light. I watch it for the exaggerated sheen on the roofs of new tract houses on the desert’s edge as the camera pans across them; for underlit laboratories as sleek as display kitchens; for the gold of a desert sunset igniting a suburban lounge room. I love its saturated colors, the waxy polish of black cars, the squeaky patina of its hallways. I love the light’s excessive, even gleam, the implacable glassiness of its cobalt blues and pinky purples; the sense that objects are always on the verge of flaring into further brightness. I love the way the handsome cast of CSI move through this exquisite brilliance, their faces overcast with color, as if in the grip of some limpid thought made visible: the way the sky, as the camera glides above the city’s casinos and dusky lots, appears to flash and stutter.Continue reading