David Bersell’s “Dear Chris Crutcher”

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We are honored to host an essay from Issue 4 alumni David Bersell’s new collection The Way I’ve Seen Her Ever Since out now on The Lettered Street Press.

Read “Dear Chris Crutcher” below.

Dear Chris Crutcher

My name is David Bersell and I am in the seventh grade. You are my favorite author. I’ve read all of your books. Running Loose is my favorite. When the runner found out his girlfriend died in a car accident I felt terrible. But I also felt good. Like I was him. I read Stotan first. I picked it up at the library because of the swimmer on the cover. My brother started swimming in high school and got eighth place in the breast stroke at State’s. I play backup point guard on my school’s basketball team. Some of your book covers don’t make sense. There’s a hurdler on the front of Chinese Handcuffs but the main character does triathlons not hurdles. Also I was wondering if you’ve heard of Walter Dean Myers and Carl Deuker. They also write really good sports books. My school’s having an Author Fair and I picked your books for my project. I need to write a summary and draw a scene for each one. I think I’m also going to pick my favorite characters and write your biography. Usually I don’t try at school. English and Gym are the only classes I like. I read in an interview that you used to hate school too. You said you picked your college because you went to look at all the catalogs in the library and it was the only one that was red. The rest were black or blue. When I was in fifth grade I forgot I had a book report due so at the start of class I scribbled down a report for an imaginary novel. I remembered a cover I had seen about a math nerd so I made the story about how he has no friends but then he wins a math competition and gets to go to Washington, DC and the kids at school think he’s cool. My teacher gave me a B. I think I’m going to try writing a book soon. In class during notes and every night before I fall asleep I imagine stories.

Your fan,

David

David,

Thanks for taking time to write your responses to my stories. Sounds like you (and your brother) are quite an athlete. It also sounds like you have already figured out some of the things I figured out to get through school with minimum effort. That works, but I should let you in on a secret. Someday there will be something you really want to go after and you’ll find yourself putting your entire intellect into it. Trust me. You’ll love it.

I know what you mean about some of the covers. I complained about that hurdler on Chinese Handcuffs, too. So much that they changed the cover.

I have read a lot of Walter Dean Myers. He and I know and respect each other a lot. Don’t know Carl Deuker as well, but I hear great things about his work.

So, good luck with your writing and your athletics. Sounds like you have a lot going for you and you know how to enjoy it.

Sincerely,

Chris Crutcher

Dear Chris,

I was barely friends with Steve—spring track, he charged the hurdles with anger, then lay in the grass, listening to Hendrix—and I only knew Carl because I had a crush on his ex-girlfriend.

We were seventeen.

That means I loved them.

The next weekend, Carl and Steve’s friends gathered at the crash site to drink in their honor. I wrote a poem, and when that wasn’t enough, I wrote a short story, imagined the violence.

The road curves to the left, but the car speeds ahead, no swerve, no breaks. It only takes a second. The metal and plastic and rubber blasts from the ground. I know this is supposed to be sad, but isn’t it also magical, the car transforming into a spaceship, Carl and Steve alive and weightless for one more second, angling up from the earth, shooting higher, through the branches and swallowed moonlight?

And I know the spaceship doesn’t stay up. I clipped the photographs from the newspaper. I know about the graceless fall, the snap of foreheads against windshield, the after.

But what if Carl and Steve were driving even faster, what if the tires kissed the rounded incline of the road’s edge just right, what if the exhaust malfunctioned at the perfect moment so the pipe sucked blue fire into the night?

What if the Carl and Steve kept flying?

Picture the car rumbling through our atmosphere, above our houses and hideaways and parents pouring coffee and sighing, all our dogs and Saturday mornings, Carl and Steve curling around a cloud of purple gas with the bass turned up, Carl and Steve nodding at the rind of the universe, how cute, how fragile, Carl and Steve closing their eyes and waiting for whatever mystery comes next, all those minutes, all those galaxies and unlived lives, all that open space, hanging like a sail, waiting to be filled.

Chris, you were right.

When I was seventeen and couldn’t sleep, I read passages of Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis, aloud in my bedroom. “The water turned colder, raging, and the sand became wet, and Blair would sit by herself on the deck overlooking the sea and spot boats in the afternoon fog.”

And when Ashley had a nightmare, or I was too sad to speak, we read The City of Women, by Sherod Santos, a lyric collage about ex-lovers and divorced parents, one more time. “Who we are is composed of what, perhaps only what, we can never reclaim form the rubble.”

I owe so many: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, We the Animals, Chloe Caldwell, Major Jackson. “The Fourth State of Matter.”

My friends.

I teach at summer camps and in high school classrooms because I know how writing can be a superpower for the adolescent and hungry.

Is that why you write Young Adult?

After I read at a teen writers workshop, a student asked why I always wrote sad stories.

I said, “I don’t try to be sad, just realistic.”

Then she said, “Isn’t it sad how love’s dead?”

She meant it.

“There’s love, just not how you think,” I said. “It’s there, it’s just hard. Like writing. It’s hard, beautiful work, but it’s worth it.”

“But there’s no romance.”

“No, there’s romance, too. Believe me. You just have to wait.”

She told me about watching her little sister grow up. “The loss of innocence, it’s already starting,”

I wanted to cradle her and stop telling stories, but I knew protection was a child’s myth, so I needed to write the truth. I needed to describe the pain, because there is always pain, and the glory, too, crafting pieces into a quilt, a window and a mirror, my love.

Chris, I’m sorry this is so belated: thank you for writing back.

All the best,

David

bersell book

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Lexi Jackson’s “Earthquake Lungs”

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The following is an excerpt from Lexi Jackson’s story “Earthquake Lungs” forthcoming in Issue 3.

“I can only imagine what was going on in his head. A loud roar like a train moving past, on and on and on and on until his head hurt? Or utter silence, as if he’d been ejected into space with no helmet? A string of if-only’s he was trying to walk through but each word catching him like thorns on wild rosebushes, tearing his clothes, scratching his ankles, piercing the very fabric of his being? Didn’t I love him enough?”

Jackson’s piece focuses on the fallout for friends and family after a suicide. With its straight forwardness and stark prose, the story captures beautifully the suffocating questions and confusion that surround loved ones left behind. Find the complete work in Issue 3.

Lexi Jackson Earthquake Lungs

Fading Flame

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A piece of Cynthia Reed’s short story, “Crosswords,” reads,

“It wears him out. He’s resolved to ignore the smell of her hair when she wakes him to rub her back in the night. Acquiescence makes life sadder, but quieter, he’s decided. Frances is not capable of managing her own medication but, in his perpetual state of near-exhaustion, he insists to their children that he’s only trying to allow their mother to be independent, to maintain her dignity. In reality, he’s grasping at respite without the ignominy of speaking its name.”

Reed’s story provides a window into the daily life of an aging man dealing with his wife’s dementia from a perspective poignant in its simplicity and sincerity. Find the full piece of fiction in Issue 2.

Photo Credit: Brian Aydemir
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitby/5175594682/)

Cynthia Reed Sobotka

Ashen Land

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One of the two poems of Peycho Kanev’s that we will be publishing titled “Darkness” reads,

“Relentless sun, crystal clear blue skies,
silence and foreshadowing.
Thousands of miles of wasted land,
thousands of sheep dying from hunger.

And the shepherd stands there,
without moving a muscle, like a scarecrow,
nodding his head and swaying slightly
in the gentle wind.”

In Peycho’s short yet vivid poem, he presents us a sharp juxtaposition of opposites. Contrasting a placid landscape with the barrenness it represents, Kanev alludes to the human race’s unwillingness to assume responsibility for or take action against the impending destruction of our world.

Check out this poem and a second one of Peycho’s titled “The Analyst” in our forthcoming issue!

Photo Credit: Nathan Timmel
(http://nathantimmel.com/2013/the-disintegration-of-good/)

Kanev

The Fiery Pits of Profit

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An excerpt from Daniel Pujol’s poem “The Pope’s in China and You’re in Hell” reads,

“When I think about the Devil. And how he’s apparently still restrained by God.

I think about this guy.

He’s not doing anything illegal, but he’s tweaked it just enough.

Just enough to not get in trouble.

That reconciles the whole Abrahamic game board for me. The Devil is like a moral technocrat. An offshore bank account for the soul. Some kind of divine tax shelter.

Make them take what you should give. And just bend the world like a dry noodle.

He really is in the details. Not throned in Hell. He’s emailing in the bathroom, right now, articulating the cusp of not-illegal pleasures, gains, and acquisitions.”

In this poem, Daniel approaches morality with mathematics, imagining the Devil as a business savvy sleazeball rather than some sort of intangible Evil force and, in the process, secularizes sin in a way that emphasizes the role of personal agency as it relates to righteousness and resisting the temptation exploit Lucifer’s moral loopholes. Find the full poem in Issue 2.

Photo Credit: Ingrid D.
(http://road-tripping-europe.com/blog/2014/06/weekly-photo-challenge-extra-extra/)

Pujol Pic

A Bundle of Truth

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A section from Sydney Pacione’s poem “Gospel Truth” reads,

“We believe in one God the Father the Almighty
maker of the pizza bagel served every 3rd Friday at lunch
of all that is seen and unseen like the confiscated Rosie the Riveter button.
We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ the only son of God
eternally looking down on you from the carved wooden cross in the entry way
God from God
Light from Light
broken nose from broken nose
begotten not made like the stolen Polly Pocket in Adeena’s bag.
Through him all things were made.”

In her poem, Sydney rewrites part of the Gospel and Nicene Creed, aspects of Catholic mass, and by doing so, places the reader right in the middle of the Catholic school experience. By shedding light onto the way children were treated we catch a glimpse of what was valued by this particular education system and how skewed and oppressive these methods of teaching were. Catch the entire piece in Issue 2!

Photo Credit: Donny Tidmore
(https://www.flickr.com/photos/mynamesdonny/10863224953/)

Pacione Gospel Truth

Extinguishing the Flame

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An excerpt from K.M. Zahrt’s “Damn You, Steve Jobs” reads,

“I think of Mom. I’m too young to be a drain, but too old to dream—not after Dad’s death, not after divorce. I know too much about where it all ends. Dad: heart attack. Mom: dementia. Not six months ago, Steve Jobs even, the great Steve Jobs: cancer.

I don’t want it to take that long. I want it now. What’s the difference anyway? What could possibly happen between now—between divorce and dementia—and death?

We board the plane, Sport Coat and I and nearly one hundred others. Wouldn’t this be good? How many times would Cheryl have to explain it to Mom? ‘No, Mom,’ she would say. ‘Sandy died in a plane crash over Lake Michigan.’ Why not? It’s as good as any.”

Zahrt’s ability to neatly wrap up a cabin’s worth of emotional baggage in a story compact as a carry-on makes this story about dealing with mental deterioration, romantic detachment and death in the digital age simultaneously humorous and heavy in the most human way possible. Find the full story in our upcoming second issue.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/5306523435/in/photostream/)

Zahrt