Web Exclusive #3 Is Here!

We’re pleased to announce that our third Web Exclusive is now available. To describe essayist Lauren Johnson’s style would be to cheat the reader of the quirky and delightful surprises within. Let’s just say it takes place in Stockton with imagery such as “pregnant women double-fisting pickles and brownies into their mouths” and “frozen-booger cold.” Enjoy!

WEB EXCLUSIVE #3:

WEB EXCLUSIVE #3:

“Prairie Dawn and the Symbolism of Unanimated Beauty”

by Lauren Johnson

Stockton New Jersey is the addendum set of The Little House on the Prairie, and I moved there in the Spring of 2008 into an old farmhouse surrounded by acres of preserved historic farmland. We moved here following a short stint in North Carolina with the purpose of escaping New York, which we did (though just barely) to get more acquainted with sustainability. And although our purpose was met (me working on a goat farm making chêvre and my husband installing solar electric), we also got a great taste of Southern economics, which swiftly kicked us out of Durham like Old McDonald’s stingiest pony. That winter, my husband was offered a business partnership and before you could say hushpuppy we had our belongings packed up and crammed into a 9×12 U-Haul.

While my husband got set up staring his business, I spent time in between job searches on a 12-speed mountain bike that was about two sizes too small for my 5’9’’ frame, riding around back country roads past alpaca farms, streams with secret fishing holes, old time general stores, and red wooded covered bridges.

One of my favorite longer rides took me (on a seat post raised to maximum height so I could extend my legs), to the Prallsville Mill where I could connect to the infamous tow path that runs parallel to the Delaware river. The tow path is set alongside the canal, which was used back in the day for smaller boats to carry supplies into the towns situated along the river. Biking on the tow path was like sailing down the Delaware, except dryer. Riding along, you can look down the bank at your side and see it right there next to you – a cerulean liquid glass ocean accompanied with the sound of the sand crushing beneath your tire like an ebbing shore.

This stretch of the Delaware not only offers gorgeous sights, but also many chances to see things from the other side. A host of bridges line the banks, connecting New Jersey to Pennsylvania where a stroll to the middle lets you feel the true meaning of ‘interstate.’

The Town Line

We were exhausted. Another night of unpacking had rendered our patience and backs useless, so we ditched our pile of half-packed boxes and called it quits to devote the day entirely to the drone of summer, which included relaxing, being lazy, and soaking up the heat, so I proposed starting things out with a long leisurely walk. About ten minutes in, the fun of pounding the pavement quickly turned into more of a broil than we had bargained for, and before we knew it, our t-shirts were completely sopped with sweat. Our long leisurely summer walk soon took on a new purpose: to find some ice cream. Urgently.

We had only lived in Stockton for about a week but we already had a pretty good idea of where to go to get a decent cone – soft serve more specifically (i.e. the best type of ice cream. Ever.), but it was difficult to find a place that did it right. As luck would have it, we were fast approaching our first option. Upon arrival, I became immediately skeptical of a café that went by the name of “Cravings,” (my initial reaction conjured up images of pregnant ladies double fisting pickles and brownies into their mouths late at night), but in learning they had soft serve cones I knew I had to give it a go. We approached the cheesy plywood cut outs of dancing burgers and cones that stood as if carnival mirages in the desert as we searched for our treasure. As we entered, the A.C nearly knocking us to the floor, and as we stepped up to the counter, our two cone request was met by a wincey and guilt-laden response of,“ Sorry, machine’s broken.” Our mouths suddenly felt even more like they were full of sand. Bummed out, but not discouraged, we continued on our trek, down the street to the center of town to the Stockton Bridge to try our luck on the Pensie side.

The sun had grown hotter, and the pedestrian lane on the bridge ached in the heat. As we reached the middle, we paused to look over the railing at the water below, which, despite being so shallow, still seemed like a tempting jump.

Soon after we approached the other side, there it was. Like bees on spilled soda they swarmed in droves around the little sliding glass window, like talk show hosts with microphones holding onto their cones. Dilly’s Corner: Ice Cream, Burgers, Shakes and Fries (in order of importance).

We hopped in line, ordered our cones and ventured to a cool wall under a shady tree, which we hoped might quell the melting. Licking the drips off the salty backs of our hands, we enjoyed the best ice cream we had all summer.

The Dog and the Toll Bridge

The current from the water that came over the lock on Bull Island was strong enough to pick you up and swiftly carry you downstream if you got too close to the center. This was the very reason the more daring chose to swim here – which for some reason tended to be Latinos.

We parked the Jeep in the gravel lot and carried our towels with us down hill, saying buenas tardes to the picnickers.

Once we got to the bank, we began picking our way across the stones, occasionally flipping one over to look at the jelly-coated shells stuck underneath. We waded first to our ankles, then to our knees, trying to resist the stern tug of the water which felt like pushing the same poles of a magnet together. Continuing to wade in deeper, one is suddenly faced with the decision to lay back and surrender to the current, or resist it and tear your feet up on the rocks below. I decided to let go.

Letting the invisible fins float me along, I swiftly cruised downstream several yards before I was able to put my feet down as the current carried me to a shallow point. The ride was swift and somewhat scary because of the powerful current, but fun nonetheless so I pulled myself out to do it again. After a few times doing this individually, we took turns anchoring each other just outside of the current, holding onto each other’s arms and letting the current slide over our sides.

When it was time to get out, we decided that the fastest way to dry off was to just take a walk in the sun, so we wrapped our towels around our waists and headed towards the Bull Island foot bridge.

On our way we caught up with a red-leashed Saint Bernard with a five pound stick (possibly a log) in his mouth. We asked the woman walking with him what his name was and she replied with a name appropriate to his size. We walked along with them both over the bridge. The water below was low, and clear enough to see every stone. As we were peering down, our attention was diverted by a great wet thud. The Saint Bernard, with nothing short of an afterthought, had dropped his great stick. “That’s just about where he leaves it every time,” she said, unthreading his leash off his collar. We reached the other side of the bridge where, to our surprise, she began ascending the steps to a small stone house that began right where the last iron beam of the bridge ended. “Here we are,” she said, letting the dog past her through the screen door. “You live here?” we asked. She replied, “That flood we had a few years back — I got up every hour at night to look out the kitchen window to see where the river was and at one point it was only six inches below the sill! But I stayed put!” She smiled, continuing inside, “You both have a nice day,” and stepping in, quietly closing the screened door behind her.

Icebergs: Letters from Mom

The sun was heading down just as I was getting out of work. After pulling a full day in front of the computer, I needed some fresh air, so I pulled my scarf up around my chin and ventured towards New Hope to stretch my legs and head to the bank to deposit a check I got from my mom that day inside a card that read, “For the parking ticket you got in New York – stop putting it off!”

I thought it was cold when I first got outside, but after walking for a few minutes I realized it was really cold – frozen booger cold. Frozen tongue and eyeball cold. I picked up the pace to keep my blood moving and got to the New Hope Bridge – the concrete paneling sounded like porcelain crunching under pressure. But as I walked along, I realized that the creaking and cracking sound was not coming from the surface I was walking on, but far down beneath it. Looking down at the water, I saw the most spectacular visual accompaniment to this sound: hundreds of oblong disks had formed on the waters surface and were cruising steadily down the river. They were about the size of the tops of kitchen tables, whose colors were arranged like the spectrum of a bubble with edges laced with snow and their centers opalescent and tinted with blue, black, and green. The casual sound of these temporary disks were beyond any sound to compare, except perhaps the gravelly hiss of a milkshake going up a straw, the thick intentional movements of a short bicycle, or the sounds and shapes of warmer months that can’t come soon enough.


Lauren Johnson lives in Hunterdon County NJ with her husband, two cats, 10 chickens, and a dashing Rhode Island rooster named Ben. She received her BA in Language and Literature from Bard College, and currently works in publishing for a regional health magazine. Her latest fascination is playing the mandolin and harmonica at the same time, composing well-written complaint letters to faulty establishments (like Girl Scouts of America), and imagining that she is watching a movie about herself, being herself, but reading from a script (of which she wrote).

WHAT’S YOUR EXIT? Featured in “Inside Jersey” Magazine

Check it out here!

Web Exclusive #2 Now Available!

We are pleased to present our second Web Exclusive here at the official What’s Your Exit? online companion: two poems by Ray Brown, a proud and formidable New Jersey writer whose work captivates readers by regaling them with poignant–but never unnecessarily gilded–stories via a comforting, familiar voice ripe with wisdom. For more of his work, visit his blog.

Web Exclusive #2:

Web Exclusive #2: Poetry by Ray Brown
 
 
 
More Bars than Anyplace Else

“No one has more bars than us”
broadcast the billboard
on Route 18 in New Brunswick, NJ,
which initially I thought
had to be a promotion
of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce.
 
Old haunts of Hoboken.
A bar on every corner
the natives knew the name of each
hard working Germans, Irish, Italians, Yugoslavs
spent the hours after the shift whistle blew
tipping beers, watching the end of the Yankee’s game
on fuzzy black-and-white screens
ogling the waitresses
and worse.
 
Then as night fell in the streets
they had sense enough to go home
to build strength for the next day’s work–
or found young sons
sent to the taverns by mothers
whose dinners were cooling on the table.
 
First the jobs went.
Then the Longshoreman followed.
Then the barstools stood eerily empty,
only an occasional traveling Fuller brush salesman
trying to swallow his pride
along with his Scotch.
 
Selling brushes was an important job — but was not work,
real work was something a man did with his hands.
Then they decided the bars should go the way
of the working man.
Slink into oblivion.
 
So the lawyers were unleashed
bartenders designated diagnosticians
Replace the customers’ mothers
and shoo the patrons away
when they had had too much.
 
Young sons could no longer be sent to the bar
to make the dinner call.
They were in school — building character
through organized sports, singing in the choir
playing the tuba in the marching band
not home tinkering in the wooden cubicled basements
of the Hoboken tenements.
 
So the bars closed.
The yuppies moved in.
They renamed the bars taverns
and put fancy prices and names on the drinks
martinis named after insects
and fruit
weak sugarcoated alcohol
carrying not too oblique, sexually suggestive names
like:
– bangers
– in between the sheets
– naked ladies
– and the names of bras and panties.
 
The docks replaced with office towers
–          and condominiums.
 
No one knew if the money was real
the computers exchanged it, no one saw it.
Inside the packed bars
they held cell phone to their ears,
or kept little earpieces on all evening
as they finessed each other
and tried to seduce a trip to childless loafs.
No families to support
just habits.
 
Each looked–
as they entered a new establishment
for how many bars the cell phone bore,
not realizing that in Hoboken
they need not look far–
since there has always been
a bar on every corner–
more bars than anyplace else.
 
 
 
 
 
Mums

Frenchtown, NJ

I remember the yellow and gold mums
that adorned the mothers’ sweaters
in those autumn days of the early 60s
when football games were played in the sunlight
on a Saturday afternoon.
 
Times were more casual,
although the games just as intense.
Then they were known as
the Delaware Valley Regional High School Terriers.
 
40 years later, Terriers are not
an aggressive enough mascot –
so now they call themselves “the dogs.”
 
Then, mums told all there was to say
about a mother’s pride
a sense of loyalty to the hometown
how beauty was displayed in simplicity,
and wearing flowers at a football game
was still touching.
 
They were all there, in the bleachers,
the day when Rick Jones had his concussion.
He got kicked in the head
tackling the fullback
for South Hunterdon Regional High School
on Thanksgiving Day.
 
The mothers gasped,
as he lay so motionless on the field.
Then applauded
as he walked off in a daze
to wander the sidelines.
 
The whole group consoled Mrs. Long
the sorority of strong women
there for their children,
not because they particularly liked football.
 
The next morning, a floral arrangement
arrived at Fran Long’s home
just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
This one had the yellow and gold school colors,
but also had the deep crimson and white
the pinks and oranges,
and the little yellow popcorn mums
to fill in between.
 
Fran was touched by this all.
 
And now – 40 years after Rick’s passing
she tends her bed of mums
on the hillside near her driveway entrance.
She has not been back to a football game since.
Today new lights from the field,
blaze and announce the Friday night games –
she lives close enough to hear the crowd roar
after each good tackle,
as they first cheered, then grew eerily silent
after Rick’s.
 
She knows some young high school girls
undoubtedly still wear the mums
since she finds her yellows and golds,
missing from the hillside garden on Saturday mornings,
plucked at the base
by high school boys
who stop quickly after school
and furtively snips a stem or two
on the afternoon before the Friday night game.
 
When she notices, she is not upset.
She smiles but a wry little smile.
Ricky, she images, would have done the same  –
stopped quickly at someone’s Mum garden
clipped a few without asking –
as he was driving past
in his 66 Chevy Impala
on the day before the ’67 Thanksgiving game.

Ray Brown’s first collection of poetry, I Have His Letters Still, will be published in June. A graduate of University of Notre Dame and Rutgers University, his work has appeared in 13th Annual Poetry Ink Chapbook; The Star-Ledger; NJ Lawyer Magazine; he’s received a NJ Poetry Society 2009 Recognition Award, and will be published in upcoming volumes of the Edison Literary Review, the Big Hammer, FreeXpresSion, and River Poets Journal. Several of his poems have been published on-line as “Poem of the Day,” by The New Verse News. Visit his poetry blog: http://raybrown.wordpress.com.

What's Your Exit? Cover Art Revealed!

Cover design by David Barringer. Cover photography by Lauren Vallese.

Copyright 2010, Word Riot Press.

WHAT'S YOUR EXIT?'s first Web Exclusive Is Now Available!

We are pleased to announce that our first web-exclusive work is now available for your reading pleasure.

Richard Goffman’s short story The Thickening is the perfect inaugural piece for our online anthology companion. Set in the Great Northwest (of New Jersey, that is), Goffman’s prose is as tranquil and sharp as the mountainous terrain that serves as the backdrop for this poignant and haunting tale. To disclose too much of “The Thickening” is to rob the reader of its simple but substantial beauties, so the Word Riot and What’s Your Exit? family invite you to step inside and experience scenic New Jersey through a comforting and inspiring new voice.

-Joe, Alicia, & Jackie

Web Exclusive #1: THE THICKENING – Fiction by Richard Goffman

The Thickening

Richard Goffman


WITH AN ALUMINUM TUBE THAT HAD ONCE , long ago, been a section of a tent pole, he stoked the coals in the terracotta chimenea, stirring up a few flames into the twilight, and some ashes, too. It was still too cool to be sitting outside on the porch. He just couldn’t sit inside anymore. Outside he could not hear the phone not ringing.

In the soft old chair that had been retired to the porch, with his sweatsocked feet propped on the low porch rail, Jeffrey gazed at the woods that abutted their property. It was these woods, these black walnuts and butternuts, quaking aspens and white poplars, scotch pines and pitch pines, that had sold him on this house almost fifteen years before. It’s federally protected land, the young realtor had assured him. Won’t ever be cut. Can’t be.

Unlike so many others, this promise had proven true. Development had encroached on the other sides. What had been a Monet hayfield across the road had long since gone for “townhouses” – eight faux barnwood façade structures, sixteen homes, sixteen families, more than twenty cars, a school bus stop, a big sign with a miniature waterwheel. Millrace Townhomes. Jeffrey could not stop himself from wondering every single time he passed this sign: Does anyone who lives there know what a millrace is? Or that there used to be a stream nearby that actually fed a mill, a couple of miles from there, on the other side of the wildlife refuge? He’d often walked with Bethie, shown her the ruins, the old stones and rusted, twisted iron that were all that remained of what must have been a thriving business for some years, forgotten for more than a hundred.

Bethie had loved her walks with her daddy, from the days when he mostly had to carry her, through the Flotsam Years, when their clumsy, long-eared mutt had followed them everywhere. Joanne had left them – left him, she’d have said, but, net net net it was the same thing – six springs ago, the year before Flotsam had died. Jeff’s secret name for Beth’s mother, since she had gone, was Jetsam. But in truth, it was she who had jettisoned them. Him.

The first week of April was a tricky time. The weather could be anything. That was one of the things he’d, stupidly, pointed out to Beth a few hours ago. Don’t you think I know that? Do you think I only know how to drive when the sun is shining? And, when he’d tried to restate, retract, she’d done her remarkable eye-roll, the one that spoke such volumes of wronged, misunderstood injustice. Oh. Oh, please. Then she’d buckled her seatbelt and driven away.

But the evidence of April’s capriciousness was everywhere. A small patch of snow remained in the shadow of the garage, and the weatherman had even speculated on some possible flakes later in the week. Just flakes, but still. Yesterday, Saturday, had been June-like, and he’d worked outside in shorts and a t-shirt. He was pretty sure he’d seen a mosquito. Today he pulled the fuzzy blanket around him in chilled awareness that he was attempting to rush porch season.

You could never tell with this time of year, but Jeffrey measured the progress of spring’s approach by what he called the thickening. In the summer, the woods behind the house were a wall of pure green, an emerald fortress, a border that was, to be sure, porous and explorable, but only by physically entering it, not just by looking. In the fall, it was a circus of colors, more dazzling than the wall of the emerald fortress. During the day, even the twilight hour, like now, you couldn’t look through that wall of hot gold and blood red to see deep into the woods. But autumn evenings, in the dark, that’s when you knew that the trees behind the house were leaving, slipping inside themselves, hunkering down for the long winter. You could tell this best in the dark because the wildlife refuge had a tiny parking lot on the far side of the woods. There was a one-story, one-room log-built park office, and a public men’s and women’s room, and a flagpole with an American flag that went up each morning and came down each evening. On the roof of the public restroom was a light fixture that came on each night to illuminate the little parking lot. In the summer you couldn’t see it from his porch; in the winter it shone through like the eye of a watchful god. In the fall, as the leaves thinned out and fell, the light was revealed. It was always there, he knew, but he only thought about it when it intruded visibly into his consciousness.

Spring was the time of the thickening. The walnuts closest to his property were almost uniformly around eighty feet tall. Only a few had trunks more than twelve inches in diameter. It seemed to Jeffrey that the trees had stopped growing taller, and had stopped growing fatter, for several years now. He didn’t know, but he theorized that trees could continue to thrive but, like goldfish in a tank, knew when to stop growing larger in order not to outgrow their environment.

Yet, they flourished. In the spring they put out new shoots, new branches, new buds, and eventually new leaves. They replaced what winter took, and they added new. Fresh bark, tiny tendrils, cones, the promise of their fruit, each after its own kind. And this made the thickening. On April Fool’s Day every year the light from the refuge office still pierced the woods, intruding right through Jeffrey’s bedroom window. By Beth’s birthday, April 30, it was nowhere in evidence from any part of their house. That was why on dark April evenings Jeffrey loved to watch it begin to disappear behind the thickening of the woods. He would observe carefully, trying to determine if the gradual change had begun, if the light was beginning to be filtered by the trees. It was a lot like trying to catch the movement of the hour hand on his watch.

It was fully dark now, and the floodlight from the refuge shone through with intrusive intensity. Jeffrey noticed birds, swallows maybe, flitting frantically, black against deep blue directly above his head. Not birds, he realized. Bats. As he made this recognition a sound accompanied it: not the clicking of the bats, but a low, distant wail. He felt its meaning in his lower intestine before he decoded it in his brain: siren.

Jeffrey jumped. He craned his neck. The siren pulsed, louder/softer, higher/lower. He couldn’t tell if it was getting closer, or even which direction it was coming from. He stood as still as he could, leaning as far over the porchrail as his center of gravity permitted, but he still couldn’t place it. He knew its signature though. It was the township volunteer ambulance corps.

Beth was a fine driver, he knew. He hadn’t let her take her test until she’d met all of his safety standards, but she had met them, early and easily.

Maybe it was the combination of the darkness, and the disdainful look on his daughter’s face as she pulled away from him down the driveway just an hour before.

Maybe it was the conversation he’d overheard in the diner last week. A bunch of kids he didn’t know were talking about the upcoming senior prom. They were talking limousines and tuxedos and late night trips to the city. One of the girls mentioned the fact that the prom was only a few weeks away, and there hadn’t been an accident yet.

“What do you mean?” a boy asked. “What accident?”

And then the girl related the “fact” that every year, almost always in the weeks before prom, a tragic car accident occurred, with students from their school being critically injured, some even dying.

Jeffrey had forced himself to focus on his lunch and stop eavesdropping.

The siren still wailed in the hills. The ambulance was speeding somewhere, eating up the twisting curves through the greening mountains— was it on the way to a wreck? Or did it already have a patient aboard, racing against the progress of the injuries to get to the emergency room?

He realized he wasn’t breathing. He breathed.

Through the sliding doors, across the kitchen, he slid sideways in his socks toward the pantry and the telephone table. Yes. The damned light was blinking. Once, long pause. Once, long pause. Bethie had called while he’d been outside, and now the siren…

He touched the answering machine’s button and stood, straight but leaning just a little, like a skinny birch tree ready to come down with a single axeblow. The words that came out confused him. Which hospital did he have to run to? And whom would he call to come and take him there, since Beth had the car, which—

But, no. It was a robocall from a company selling mortgage refinancing. Not even a person. Jeffrey found the delete button.

He felt as if he had been rescued, but the feeling lasted less than the time it took him to normalize his breathing again. It wasn’t a rescue, it was a warning. Act now, it had said. That frantic trip to the ER could still be yours if you don’t act now.

In the drawer of the phone table was their phone list. He called Jennifer’s house first. Jennifer was Beth’s best friend, he was pretty sure. She seemed both smart and slutty to him, but he never said that to his daughter. That would be the fastest road to an outraged door slam and a lengthy breakdown in their communication. He knew better.

The phone at Jennifer’s house was answered by the voices of Jennifer and her kid brother on the family’s answering machine. The next call was to Stefan-the-non-boyfriend’s house. It was similarly answered. In neither case did he leave a message. He thought maybe he should, but he wasn’t sure what to say, and he wasn’t sure whether he was more worried about what he might find out, or Beth’s reaction to his calling her friends’ parents.

If he couldn’t locate her through friends, he realized, he was ready to call Denton Memorial Hospital. Or the state police.

Beth had been taken to Denton’s emergency room once before, when she was less than a year old. Joanne had held her as Jeffrey had sped there. A baby with a broken arm. A mother who hadn’t heard her fall.

Stephanie! Hadn’t she said something about Stephanie, before they’d argued about the car? “Hi, it’s Jeff Salazar,” he could say, “Beth’s dad? I just have a message for Beth, and she’s out, and I thought Stephanie might know…” Yeah, something like that. He felt sure he could do it without sounding too freaked out.

He reached for the receiver but it rang before he touched it. This confused him for a second, and he almost dropped it before he got it to his face.

“Daddy, is it okay if Jen comes over to spend the night tonight? Her mom said it’s okay. Please?”

The joy the sound of her voice incited washed over him and through him. Jeffrey drained all emotion from his own voice before responding to her question in the affirmative. Then he sat down, heavily, weary, at the kitchen table.

The phone rang again. “Daddy, what if, I mean, is it okay if a couple of kids come over too, but they’ll leave, I promise, before… before midnight? Okay?”

“A couple of friends?”

“Just two. Please?”

“Boys?”

“But you know them,” she said, and he heard the laugh in her voice that hadn’t been there recently. “Just Victor and Elias, you know.” Jeffrey couldn’t picture Victor, and was quite sure he had never heard the name Elias in his life. It didn’t matter.

“When will you be here?”

They worked out the details. He made sure that Jennifer’s mother was in the loop, and they negotiated the boys’ departure time up to 10:30; then Jeffrey hung up. When he saw his reflection in the now opaque sliding glass door, he recognized that he was standing more erect than he had been a moment earlier. He looked less haggard.

Back outside, it was now completely dark.

The siren was gone. The air was as quiet as it was fresh and dark and all-enveloping. Whose kid, or wife, or grandparent had needed a swift trip to Denton Memorial? How much blood had their been?

His heart had returned to something near its normal rate. Things develop, he thought. Beth was a better driver than he was. Joanne, on the other hand, had driven like a maniac. Beth, he knew, would be better than either of them–  at everything. Wasn’t that the goal?

Jeffrey slipped his gardening sandals on over his dirty socks. He walked in the pitch black across the yard to the nearest trees of the refuge. The only illumination came toward him through the trees from the refuge office floodlight, and that made it even harder to see in front of him, but his feet seemed to know exactly how many steps would take him to the verge of the forest. He stretched out his hands and touched the rough cool of the walnut’s bark, the absolute immobility and depth of its root system. He put his face against its roughness. With his arms encircling the trunk’s girth, Jeffrey bit a piece of bark and held it on his tongue with his mouth closed. He pressed his whole body against the trunk of the tree.

His own backyard lights blazed on.

“Daddy? Daddy! What’s going on?” Her voice reached to him across the yard, from the exact spot on the porch he had just vacated. “We’re going downstairs to watch— what are you doing in the woods in the dark?”

Jeffrey spat out the bark. “Nothing, Bethie— Beth. Just – checking – just nothing. I’ll be in in a minute.”

Back on his porch, he saw that the glare from the far side of the woods was now barely visible, washed out by his own backyard lights, the ones Beth had switched on. He switched them off. There it was again, still quite strong through the trees. He put himself back in the armchair, closed his eyes, and listened to the rivery sound of teenagers laughing in his basement. A tiny choir of brand new tree frogs, undoubtedly down by the pond, all but invisible even in broadest daylight, chirped into the night, announcing their intentions. The fire in the chimenea had gone out, and he left the ashes unmolested. He let the darkness hold him.

A writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, Richard Goffman teaches writing, literature, journalism and public speaking in Paterson, New Jersey. He has published two textbooks as well as many freelance magazine articles and marketing pieces. He has written two novels, Heartless Cruelty and Takeover, and lives with his wife Linda Watkins-Goffman, also a writer, in Wantage, New Jersey, on a very small branch of the Papakating Creek.

Robert Pinsky on Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky has a new column up at Slate about kvetching poets:

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky

The Yiddish verb for complaining, kvetch—literally to squeeze or to crush—has an onomatopoetic quality to my ear. All of those consonant sounds, squashed into a single syllable, surrounding the explosive grunt of the short E sound, to me, like the prolonged insistence of a grievance. And who has not occasionally been a kvetch, the noun—a relentless complainer?

Possibly the most noble and eloquent poetry-kvetch in the history of the art in English is Ben Jonson (1572-1637).

Listen to Robert Pinsky read Ben Jonson’s “An Ode to Himself” at Slate
Listen to Robert Pinsky read Robert Herrick’s “Upon M. Ben Jonson, Epig.” at Slate

Boats near LBI

Photo credit: James Golder

Photo credit: James Golder