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dunnboatseriesa.jpg
Michael Dunn, Boat Series

Salt & Vinegar

 

by Lori A. May


 
The newspaper fish and chip stand is not much more than a beaten, cracked crate of aged wood, yet to me it is the centre of my most salty memories.
 
Situated on the most desirable point of the Halifax harbour front, the eight by eight crate has stood strong against eastern winds for as long as I can recall, serving passers-by and determined tourists, greasing laughter and fingers and lips to kiss.
 
Last year, on a roadtrip across the Maritimes, I introduced my fiancé - now husband - to the sweet flesh of cod. It was his first time in Halifax, or Nova Scotia for that matter. We visited Titanic graves and historic shipwrecks and listened to "Old Black Rum" live at the pub. In the evening, in the morning, we returned with addiction for cod wrapped in yesterday's news.
 
They say the sea is something you're born with, but I believe it can be acquired. My memories of toddling along as my father shared stories of the Old Scotia have lasting meaning here.
 
Last year, I was not the only inlander to shed a tear upon our departure. My husband - although a sea virgin - became a part of the salt and malt vinegar land. Crossing the bay by way of the Digby ferry, neither of us could speak, the salt stinging our eyes.

 

 

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Lori A. May is a poet, novelist, and freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications such as The Writer, Tipton Poetry Journal, and anthologies such as Van Gogh's Ear. She is the author of stains: early poems and two novels, Moving Target and The Profiler. May is Founding Editor of The Ambassador Poetry Project and Editor-in-Chief of PoetsQuarterly.com. A native of Canada, Lori A. May now lives and writes on the shores of Michigan. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Watching Me

 

 by Cameron Conaway

 

 

Yesterday I discovered a bowl of plums in the icebox that had sat there forgotten for a month, and I tossed the plums one by one into the icy grass near the woods where I’ve seen deer. A dozen dusky purple plums, past their prime: an offering. And this afternoon when I go out to look, the frozen grass is bare, and I am filled with a joy I can’t get to the bottom of.

 

            ~Abigail Thomas, A Day in the Life. Catching Days Blog.

 

           

            Something is watching me right now as a write. Something has always watched me. Yes, I can’t remember not being watched. When I’m barbell-lunging at Gold’s Gym here in Charlottesville, when I was given a vibrating pen for my 13th birthday and discovered the thrill of masturbation, when I’m grading student essays to background sounds of Mozart and the trickle-drops of the coffee pot on a Saturday evening. When I stepped onto the yellow school bus, a little boy with a big backpack. The school bus, yes. That is my earliest memory of being watched by something or someone intangible.

            Each day I stepped onto the bus in 9th grade I’d push play on my Walkman to Track 2 on rapper Ja Rule’s “336” CD. A two-minute song that opens:

 

Are you a figment of my imagination?

Or am I one of yours?

 

And the refrain:

 

Are ya watching me?

They be watching, niggas they be watching, keep watching

Keep watching me

Now don’t look down

Are ya watching me?

They be watching, bitches they be watching, keep watching

Keep watching me

Now don’t look down

Who’s watching me?

 

 

“Niggas” did not mean African Americans called a derogatory name. It meant people to me – all people. All eyes of the people on the bus who watched me until I sat.

 

“Bitches” did not mean some bad-acting women nor a female dog. It meant morally weak people – cowards who would rather watch and judge than do and be.

 

The “keep watching” meant not for others to watch my future glory, but as a response to a challenge: “keep watching me, go on, watch all you want I don’t care.” It felt like I was confronting these burdensome spirits that hung from me like wet blankets. Confronting them directly, though with faux confidence.

 

The reason?

 

Because these aren’t some always good-natured angels. They watch and wait for me to screw up so they can send their Zeus-bolts or some negative aura into my life.

 

Example:

 

If I eat junk food all day a family member may be diagnosed with cancer within the month.

 

If I watch porn rather than mind-masturbate, my frail, sick grandmother will be forced to endure a miserable, sleepless night.

 

If I lazily spend hours watching a reality TV show my sister may get in a serious car accident.

 

If I don’t push myself at the gym the chance a rapist gets hold of my mother-in-law or fiancée becomes better.

 

It’s all a game of chance. And whatever watches me deals the cards based solely on my actions or inactions.

 

Conversely:

 

Because I eat healthy (especially when I’d rather not), because I mind-masturbate, because I challenge myself mentally with good books and physically through exercise, the spirit who may or may not be my dead grandfather, a long gone ancestor, or even remotely human or decipherable has granted me positive energy:

 

My fiancée.

 

This essay you’re reading (thank them not me if you like it).

 

A relatively happy, unharmed family.

 

A stable career where I can bring about beneficial change in the world.

 

Good, reflective karma for generally all areas of my life: fighting, acting, writing, love, health.

 

Whatever watches me, I’m both scared to death of it and grateful it’s there. I’d have accomplished little without it.

 

This fear of some unknowable, possibly fabricated thing leads me to a book like any other on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, a book used to control people by fear, a book that has slowly lost its talent for the rear naked choke in recent years: The Bible.

 

For whatever reason, films like Bill Maher’s “Religulous” or a rise in consciousness that everything in The Bible had already been written about from, among others…

 

Lao Tzu (about 500 years before Christ)

Socrates (about 400 years before Christ)

Plato (about 300 years before Christ)

 

…and regardless of whether Christianity’s stories are plagiarized products of earlier religions, or the root cause of the death of millions of innocent people – Fox News will still publish articles like “Bill Maher’s Absurd Take on Religion” by Father Jonathan Morris and the stories of Christianity will continue to have a positive impact on millions of people. Really, it’s the most tremendously successful and harmful book of all-time and should be viewed as such. It’s written extremely well, but so is Dinty W. Moore’s “Between Panic and Desire,” though I doubt we’ll see people kowtowing to Warholian replicas of Dinty Moore beef stew cans anytime soon.

 

This preamble leads to MMA, in particular to a February 2010 New York Times article by R.M. Schneiderman titled: “Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries.” In short, the article highlights the rising marriage of mixed martial arts and Jesus Christ’s teachings in order to “tap” into the male 18-34-year-old bracket – which many pastors say is increasingly absent from churches “because churches have become more amenable to women and children.” So, pastors must evolve (insert LOL here) with the times, the times that state: UFC 100 was the top pay-per-view selling event of 2009. Rather than relying on fear from fabricated stories to increase church attendance-revenue-power, pastors are relying on the realist of fears – the fear of the fight.

 

I walk a thin of contradiction:

 

On one hand, there is nothing more primal than fighting, and it has developed in me respect, determination, and a healthy and moral body and mind – things a book no matter how good could have done. Perhaps this reality balances Jonah-living-in-a-whale stories. Perhaps it could all combine to create stronger bodies and minds, better brothers, husbands, fathers. This would be wonderful.

 

Or:

 

Perhaps this fusion will perpetuate the values espoused by so many Christians and which continue to drag America and the world into its scum:

 

Actually, you know where I stand, so I will pull a quote from said article:

 

“’The man should be the overall leader of the house,’ said Ryan Dobson, 39, a pastor and fan of mixed martial arts.” Ryan’s next quote is “’We’ve raised a generation of little boys.’”

 

Oh yes, Ryan, but little boys are ripe for raping by church leaders right? I bet they will grow up to be some type of faggot poets who blow the whistle with their words rather than kneeling at the pew to blow you. So, you are right, we mind as well teach them to fight so they can better beat their wives into place.

 

There’s even an MMA clothing line called “Jesus Didn’t Tap.” If he had would it have mattered? And what’s wrong with tapping? It signals you’ve been beat by a superior fighter. Should you never tap you’d never be able to train let alone compete because your body would be a rubble of broken bones and torn ligaments. The story of Jesus’ crucifixion (crucifiction?) is powerful and brings me to tears for its act of assertive passivity. Besides, his hands were nailed to a cross.

 

Jesus is awesome. Greedy people preaching him for green paper and power are not.

 

Not writing to the best of my abilities, not adding (by this practice) to the body of human experience makes me believe that whatever is watching me will send little black Brita-water-filterish type specks pumping through my blood. I see the front of me: A see-through body, WARRIOR tattoo, stars on chest representing Earth, Wind, Water, Fire Spirit, standing naked in the anatomical position, red blood circulating and every now and then a black speck of impurity or evil or weakness appears in the stream due to something I ate or said or thought or did not do. The way to clear it is to cleanse as I did yesterday – breathing deeply and sweating countless drops into the ever-darkening sauna room wood at Gold’s Gym.

 

Minutes after I walked in, a man who looked to be thirty-five walked in. He wore a white t-shirt with the UFC logo across the front. Rob Zombie blasted from his headphones. No problem. Cool dude getting pumped and primed for a good workout. Then he began boxing the wooden walls with his bare hands. Arrogant, awkward, uncoordinated movements. Just a few weeks of MMA lessons under his belt, I thought to myself. He continued the bare-knuckle pounding and I saw his fists flail back with the red of blood. I saw my father pounding on the front door after I jumped from his moving truck, ran home and locked him out. How my father yelled, “open up.” Open what up? The door leading to your past so you may see the present and the future books I will write and the future divorce you will have? Open up a conversation instead of a monologue? Open up about emotions? About girls I like? Open up my squinted-from-crying eyes to see the monster you are? Open what up? So much more needs opened up besides this door. What is this guy punching? Why put fists into walls? What is missing inside himself, what are the fists moving for – to be surrounded by sexy women, to drive a BMW, to have all eyes watching you? I asked myself these questions as he continued pounding and moving in the same green way I’ve watched hundreds of others do in equally strange places. I know fighting filled holes in my life, it always taught me many new things about myself – so I don’t want to fault the guy because I’ve been there. But I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was. Did he have daddy issues too? Was he lacking confidence and when he moved this way and punched wooden walls he gained what was lacking? Did he believe he deserved the pain? Maybe he cheated on his wife, maybe he slapped his mom, maybe he lived a life of drugs and felt guilty. And rather than trying to live the rest of his life morally, he decided to inflict pain onto himself the way his father may have when he was little. Or maybe it was because pain made him feel alive in a world he views numbly. He kept pounding. I kept pulsating deeper into my hamstring stretch. He pounded harder, faster, louder. I stretched harder, deeper, pain. He pounded. He pounded. My blood is 50% my father’s blood. He pounded. He pounded. I pulled. He pounded. I pulled. He left. I relaxed. Grabbed my keys and came home to write this piece for Caged, for you.

 

Whatever watches me controls my level of purity and the amount of cleansing I need to do to remove impurities for others and myself. I am open to all but believe writing well right. Believe it to be the single noblest act one can engage in. Human complexities-idiosyncrasies-life slowed down, captured, shared with the world, however minute.

 

There is no greater impotence in all the world like knowing you are right and that the wave of the world is wrong, yet the wave crashes you.

 

~ Norman Mailer, Armies in the Night

 

I write because I feel it is right. And because it’s my only defense while trapped in the beautifully-destructive wave-tube of the world. (Google: Clark Little Wave.)

 

 

Premise Fourteen: “… we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes – and our bodies – to be poisoned.

 

~ Derrick Jensen, Endgame

 

I write because I hate and fear.

 

 

Premise Nineteen: The culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.

 

~ Derrick Jensen, Endgame

 

I write to control.

 

I write because when those plum-purple age spots come and I go I want others to forever eat and shit out the body of work I’ve left behind.

 

I write because before I die I want to believe the words on my gravestone:

 

(Line break just so to show people the transformative poetic power of words in the world and the spaces between them both)

 

 

A plum gone rotten

writing offered you all he could

 

 

 

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Cameron Conaway's book of poems, Until You Make the Shore, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. He was the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona's MFA Creative Writing Program. He currently teaches "The Process of Writing" and "Crafting the Essay" for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

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