Prime Number Decimals 3.2
by Daniel Hudon
followed by Q&A
Had he been a little quicker, he would have met her on the steps on the way out of Père Lachaise, the famous cemetery in Paris. Compelled by a sense of nostalgia, he went with the sole intention of standing in front of the grave of Marcel Proust and thinking with affection of a time and place he had only read about. He had already lit a candle at Notre Dame for a recently deceased friend and watched it flicker for a good few minutes in the congregation of several dozen other candles until his eyes began to water, wondering if the dead had anything else to do besides oversee the lives of those who missed them; but this gesture was more significant in his mind because of all the nights he’d stayed up reading those poorly bound volumes with their fine print and pages that sometimes fell out; he had been too embarrassed to admit that it was the cause of his bleary-eyed fatigue at work that winter and instead told his coworkers that he was waging an epic battle with insomnia. No one at the office read books like that, if they read anything more than the newspaper, and he saw no reason to enlighten them. He enjoyed the secret—he had so few—and reveled in the respect he seemed to be getting over his private nocturnal struggle, occasionally letting on that it was possibly due to personal matters that were simply too complicated to go into.
Already he had paused in front of the bust of Balzac, brighter, prouder and less imposing than Rodin’s version, which he’d seen yesterday and had overheard with approval that it was more about Rodin than it was about Balzac, and into his mind swam the images of lively boarding house dinners and fathers who lay awake at night worrying over their daughters. In the afternoon sunshine, in the shadows of the trees, down the long rows of marble and stone, the phantasmagoric maze of paths and side-paths each with its
own participants in the history of France, among the potted flowers that bloomed and wilted, he felt he was in tune with some larger order in the world and was pleased to notice he had removed himself from the majority of map-carrying tourists and settled into an easy-going pace. Most came, he knew, to follow the graffiti and handwritten signs that led to the grave of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, a band he liked in his youth and had now all but forgotten.
To his surprise, at the grave of Marcel Proust, he didn’t think of the drama and anxiety of bedtime in Combray, the steeple of Saint-Hilaire, the walks along the Guermantes way or the tender humiliations of a young heart not yet touched by experience. He had appeared in front of the stone before he’d expected to, and after stepping back to verify that the gold letters written along the side, with the last name capitalized, said what he expected, he solemnly looked upon the wide black marble slab, its reflection of the blue sky and the billowed clouds with a tinge of disappointment over arriving at his destination so soon. He stepped forward again, leaned forward, though not too close, to admire the smoothness of the marble and the perfection of the reflected sky, and leaned back again, once more to read the name and the dates of birth and death. Much as he would have liked to have summoned up any of the myriad, vivid images of those hefty volumes, instead, he found himself smelling the flowers that someone had left and wondering as he looked down into the marble sky when the last time was that he had bought flowers for anyone, even himself.
Had he been a little quicker, he would have met her on her way there, perhaps on the Avenue de la Chapelle, trio of roses in hand, still cherishing the wink the shopkeeper had given her when she paid for them.
She had arrived in Paris in the morning and booked herself into a cheap hotel in Montmartre, pleased that she was able to communicate to the old woman at the tiny desk that having the shower down the hall would be fine and to understand the time that breakfast was being served. Visiting the cemetery wasn’t the first thing on her mind when she walked out of the hotel; rather, she simply wanted to be there, in Paris, without any real plan besides eating pastry and drinking the rich coffee in a café, browsing the bookstalls along the Seine and pretending she was both French and sophisticated. Already she’d seen a man ride by on a bicycle with both a baguette and a briefcase strapped onto the back and she’d heard the characteristic police siren that sounded so much less urgent than those at home. She had slept a little on the plane and though she felt a sagging tiredness hanging on her eyelids and her shoulders, it was overcome by the euphoria of being in Paris. After wandering past several Metro entrances she decided to go somewhere at random, to have her own spontaneous tour of the different Parisian arrondissements and when, with her eyes closed, her finger pointed to Père Lachaise in her guidebook she couldn’t help but wonder if the fates were also at work.
Had she lingered a little longer over the grave, and got straight in her mind whether her roses were something truly symbolic that acknowledged an unconscious desire within her or were merely a spontaneous act of affection, as much for herself as anything else, or had she been able to conjure up some lyrics more profound than, “Love me two times, baby,” or, “C’mon, baby, light my fire,” under the gaze of the security guard, then she might have met him for by this time he had paid his Proustian respects and come closer, via the Avenue de la Chapelle, to the section she was in, to find the grave of Auguste Comte and to let show a small but genuine smirk over the 19th Century
philosopher’s assertion that the chemical composition of the stars would always be beyond human understanding.
She, like he, believed in the strange workings of coincidence and fate, but while waiting for a German couple to finish posing for photos in front of the grave, watching as they tried to cajole the humorless security guard into taking a photo of both of them before another tourist intervened on his behalf, she looked at the other tourists, the graffiti on the nearby graves and the handful of other bouquets, one still completely wrapped in its paper and left on top of the headstone, and when at last she had the opportunity to place her flowers, instead of putting them down, she clasped them ever so slightly tighter, turned, and left without looking back to see who was coming down the path.
Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches natural science at Boston University. He has had recent work published in Swink, The Meadowland Review, The Antigonish Review and The Cream City Review. In 2009, his first nonfiction book, The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos, was published by Oval Books (UK) and this year he published a chapbook of prose and poetry, Evidence for Rainfall, with Pen and Anvil Press. He lives in Boston, MA, and some of his writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: Though I had only read about half of Proust’s first volume of Remembrance of Things Past when I wrote this, I loved his long sentences and wanted to write a story set in Paris comprised mostly of long sentences as a sort of homage.
by Ray Scanlon
followed by Q&A
I was about six months old when my parents moved to Foxboro, a sleepy Boston suburb known outside of southeastern Massachusetts mainly for having a professional football stadium. Dad had just taken a job at the Foxboro Company, where—quaint notion—he worked until he retired. He and Mom rented, for a few months, a cottage on Chestnut Street, a short walk from the Company and Foxboro State Hospital, the looming late-nineteenth-century brick insane asylum, now shuttered. I do not remember Mom and Dad plinking with their Daisy Targeteer at the mice running through the kitchen, nor in summer hearing the shrieks of the afflicted through the open windows, but I’ve assimilated these stories and treat them as my own.
Soon we moved to a larger and nicer apartment on Cocasset Street in Foxboro. Though we were out of earshot of the State Hospital, the insanity evidently did not end. It took on a perhaps less intense, but more personal form: the landlord’s wife, who lived upstairs, heard voices from airplanes flying overhead, and believed Mom was trying to steal her husband—more purloined stories. But it was here that my own memory would take to its fledgling wings.
Cocasset Street was my home until I was four years old, and from that place and time I remember exactly seven things. I remember finding a nearly waist-high dandelion. I remember Beverly, the landlord’s daughter, showing me an outboard motor clamped to a barrel in the back yard, filled with stagnant water in which the prop was immersed and on which floated crabapples. I remember walking down the sidewalk with my grandmother along a chest-high slab-topped stone wall, finding a marble someone had left in one of the quarry-drilled holes, and a brook that ran under the street. I remember a mountain of sturdy wooden storage boxes, discarded by the Foxboro Company, dumped in our driveway—I found a resistor in one of them. I remember sitting on the curb across the street with Paul Gegenheimer, hearing him explain how you could make some sort of lethal shooting weapon with a clothespin. I remember throwing a tantrum because I didn’t want to go to bed; I wanted to play all night—and my parents let me. I remember picking at the plastered wall, and verging on hysteria as Mom and Dad teamed up to extract a mote of plaster from my eye.
Aldous Huxley observed that “Every man’s memory is his private literature.” This list exemplifies for me the extraordinarily idiosyncratic nature of memory. Perhaps pointing out an early manifestation of self-centeredness, I don’t recollect my brother and sister at Cocasset Street, though they were born while we lived there. The objects I remember all seemed to have innate magic, marvelous properties that were mine to discover if only I bent my naive curiosity to their contemplation and study. Together, these memories feel like a mildly bizarre dream sequence, and although I have no sense of their chronology, I’m struck by how nicely some of the incidents have run, thread-like, through my life.
That dandelion was the first wildflower I could identify and name, and to this day it is my favorite. It’s the prototypical gorgeous sun-yellow composite, living signal that we’ve endured another winter and that spring is well and truly here. They and the violets deserve all the space they want in my yard, and I’m happy to give it to them, and to all their cousins—never-ending life forms to identify, name, classify, and study.
The resistor was a seed that sprouted while I was in sixth grade, when I built an audio oscillator—because I could, that’s why. I assembled Heathkits (getting a shock from one that sent me to the floor), learned to etch printed circuit boards, and built other projects: amplifiers, a regulated power supply, a small transmitter. I spent inordinate time listening for distant AM radio stations, perhaps a harbinger of the vast time-wasting potential of the Internet. I read Popular Electronics and QST magazines; the Radio Amateur’s Handbook and the GE Transistor Manual were my scripture. I was poised to make something useful of my life, but when I was in high school a vagabond mathematician changed everything. He spoke to the assembled student body about doing math (a unique, serendipitous event; there was no formal program to bring people in to talk about their work). He demonstrated that rotating a cube had certain correspondences with modular arithmetic. It was a revelation, a veritable epiphany, totally useless in the real world, and I was hooked. From that moment I was destined to be a math major. It was way too late when I realized I didn’t have the talent to be a real mathematician.
Letting me attempt an all-nighter was a classic parenting stratagem. It worked exactly as planned, as sometimes happens. Knowing I would soon tire of playing alone, Mom and Dad readily agreed to let me stay up all night and left the room, stifling snickers behind their hands. The technique had lost its charm by the time I decided to bicycle a moonlit twenty miles to make an unexpected party appearance—and this was before alcohol. By then I had a much more mature understanding of my powers, and rode successfully. And I had also pulled a true all-nighter.
Character forms early. I find it interesting to reflect how curiosity about the natural and scientific worlds and our place therein, plus a reckless laissez-faire attitude toward behavior, have guided my life for as long as I remember. Further, contemplating the balance of nurture and genetics in the development of these long threads of memory, it’s no stretch for me to see their qualities extend into generations before and after my own. That’s a matter for gratitude.
Ray Scanlon lives in Massachusetts. He's paid attention for about fifteen minutes during the last 60 years. His web site is Read Old Man Scanlon.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I had to write about this in grade school. I decided to do it again, and try to get it right this time.
by Alan King
followed by Q&A
so u got it bad, huh?
think u know hard times
w/ ur recession –
u w/o a job & time
2 smell da fresh air,
time 2 pick up a hobby
da way idle hands
pick me up & start
stabbing me w/ thumbs.
talk abt violated.
don't know how i feel
abt having my ball
fiddled w/. wat u
take me for, that iFreak?
da next hot thing
w/ an iBody so “touch-
friendly” u can pinch her
lush apps like – well, u get
da pic. dis life ain’t e-z.
a crack on da screen
or anything else
& u get discriminated
against, u get labeled
harsh things. know where
gadgets like me end up
after da hoopla, wen
da next hot item appears
like a pop-up on ur screen?
well, it ain’t da afterlife.
no bon voyage of tears,
no luv-bots beaming
& txting abt what a device
it was, or how its features
were a one of a kind.
it’ll just be pieces of wat
i once was in a pile
of other pieces of wat once
had a helluva run in its heyday.
still think u got it bad?
Alan King’s poems have appeared in Alehouse, Audience, Boxcar Poetry Review, Indiana Review, MiPoesias and RATTLE, among others. A Cave Canem fellow and VONA alum, he’s been nominated for both a Best of the Net selection and Pushcart Prize. When he’s not writing about art and domestic issues on his blog (http://alanwking.wordpress.com) or sending poems to journals, you can find Alan chasing the muse through Washington, D.C. — people watching with his boys and laughing at the crazy things strangers say to get close to one another.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: This poem came out of the NaPoWriMo agreement to write a poem a day for the month of April. I’m fascinated by the persona poem, and I was still coping with being laid off from my job as reporter with a newspaper in Baltimore. I saw how beat up my old BlackBerry was and imagined if it could talk or text me what wisdom would it drop on me. Then I realized that people have been through worse, and considered my situation a blessing.
J. P. Dancing Bear
followed by Q&A
for Gerry LaFemina
one does not look directly at: while one will stare straight into: the photographic eye: one can spot distance: recited in numbers: while one gets a sense of what is in the frame: and not: one is meticulous as a stop watch: counting out the distance of thunder from lightning: while one is capturing the mood of light: the multifaceted clouds: one is measuring the space between breaths in the sweetgrass: while one is certain of prairie ghosts living in the tall grass: one is going back over the equations: while one is saying a prayer to the setting sun: one will not refer to his friend as something he is not: while one believes his companion is missing a shot
J.P. Dancing Bear is the author nine collections of poetry, most recently, Inner Cities of Gulls and Conflicted Light (Salmon Poetry, 2010 and 2008). His poems have been published in DIAGRAM, Copper Nickel, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, Verse Daily and many other publications. He is editor for the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press. Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show, “Out of Our Minds,” on public station, KKUP. His next book, Family of Marsupial Centaurs, will be out by Iris Publications in late 2010.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: This poem is about the reflected self and acceptance. The metaphor built with numbers uses the old scale used in elementary school when learning positive and negative numbers.
Subject: Please Be Sympathetic to My Cry
Samuel Day Wharton
It comes from here. & here
is where it will go. I am
starting it up again like an engine,
& it will take me
hours of sorting through
books on dream analysis
to remember: the face of the arm-
less child was my face.
It’s harmless, really, the thrum
of the solar flare. Today
is the first anniversary of my drunk-
en elder brother’s silly plunge
into the warm waters of Playa
del Carmen. If it was a rip-
tide that took him, no one saw.
I hear him now in my vocabulary.
I hear the dumb electric stupor
of the ionosphere. It wakes
me. I am breathing.
I am begging without begging.
Turn my lemon groves
into marmalade. Take pity
on my voice. It cracks across
a broader spectrum than light,
the octaves stacking, stacking
until the face of the moon
can hear it.
It comes from
the vast wasted space
of my throat. It leads me
to a place of saintly radios &
staticky edges. It is warm here,
like a lemon grove. Like a presidio
surrounded in sunshine.
Please be simple & in love,
like yesterday. & yet
I mistook yesterday for the day
I remember as an anniversary,
the aftershock of light behind the eyes.
& the sound of it disguised
as a forest, lost beneath the sky.
Please be sympathetic to my cry
(I am starting to think of it as the drunken
hum of ions sneaking shots
of solar flare beneath the dumb
stare of the sky). Once I had
an older brother, I didn’t know
what to do with him, so I put him
here to rest. Then I tossed him in the water.
I dreamt of an armless boy
with my face. He was thrumming
like an engine, cycling
& cycling & then I remembered
that he sped away with the rip-
tide. No one saw. He spoke
with my older brother's voice.
I’m awake. I’m breathing.
After hours of sorting through
the notes I left myself,
I remember today is the anniversary
of the planet’s perihelion.
We will party in Playa del Carmen
until my vocabulary is ripped
away from me on the tide,
then head inland. I swear
I heard my drunken
elder brother’s cry riding in
on the wind between the howler
monkeys’ screams. I put him there,
atop the highest pyramid
at Chichen Itza, the Mayan
It took him
most of an afternoon to find himself
back in my memory.
He was snacking on plantains
& black beans, skittering across the sky
like ions from a solar flare.
His eyes were bluer
than the sky, & twice as wide.
There are many reasons to forget
a face – but none of them
are right. He drove a truck
across the country,
full of moving parts, full on
the thrum of engine, full to bursting
of the cry of the road. Its load
must’ve shifted under the glare
of the sun. For a second,
it was all just dumb clouds,
light. The rolling plains.
I am serious about this poem.
I am stalling on saying
anything of value.
I never had a brother; he never
died. I don’t remember
from here, a vacant space.
& where it will go is up to you.
It is thrumming like an engine.
It is flaring from the sun.
It is echoing through the lemon groves
under the dumb sky. There are
no such things as good and evil.
Please be sympathetic to my cry.
Samuel Day Wharton’s poems have appeared recently in anti-, Leveler, No Tell Motel, Pinstripe Fedora, Thirteen Myna Birds and Versal. He is the editor of the online poetry journal Sawbuck.