Real, Not Fake

When I was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, my first thought wasn’t what you might expect. My first thought wasn’t “Why me?”

My first thought was “Why not you?”

This is a serious thought, I think, a logical thought, and not at all unreasonable, insensitive or anything. Why don’t YOU have cancer seems to be a more logical thing to ask, more logical than why do I have cancer. At least it does to me, but maybe there’s a reason for this. Maybe it’s because this is about me, that it is me talking, and because I have cancer, inoperable cancer.

Maybe this is the cancer talking.

The cancer is in my brain.

You should have this cancer; it should be in your brain.

I was diagnosed with cancer of the brain when I was thirty eight years old. I am thirty eight years old now, today, the day I am writing this. The doctors had a couple of theories as to where this cancer came from; they told me why I may have cancer, which is good information to have, I suppose, even though it doesn’t do any good. Knowing why I have it doesn’t make me not have it, nor does it answer why you don’t have it.

They thought it might be the cigarettes. I don’t smoke any more, haven’t for years, but for years and years and years I did. I smoked a lot. They thought this may be it, the doctors did. It probably is. They also said my brain and lung cancer may have something to do with TV actress Christine Baranski. I saw her on TV once, that actress, and now I have cancer, cancer of the brain and lungs and liver. That is 100% true. Christine Baranski may have given me cancer. She may have given it to me that one time I watched either Murphy Brown or Cybil, whichever show she was on. The doctors said this, they said it out loud.

The worst part I think about my having the cancer of the face, neck, and lungs, besides the obvious you not having it part, the worst part is that this makes the chances of me walking into a room and having theme music playing all the more slim. It makes it slimmer, is what it does, slim jimmer, Stephen King’s “Slimmer.” I am 38 years old and still think about what songs should be playing when I walk into a room, when I make an entrance. I am going to die before this happens, I think. I am going to die from this cancer, this cancer that I have and you don’t, and I will never walk into a room, never be introduced with music playing. This hardly seems fair or right or anything even though I am way too old to be thinking about things like this.

What I am guessing is that the cancer I received probably had nothing to do with the cigarettes, nothing to do with the fingernails, nothing to do with the Christine Baranski, even though that option probably seems the most likely. My doctors told me that the occurrence of Christine Baranski-caused cancer is high, higher than you might think.

It is like 80%.

80% of all the cancer of the brain, eyes, and ears is caused by Christine Baranski. I didn’t know this; I had no idea, but it makes sense when you think about it and even when you don’t.

In this movie I watched, a movie about the guy who wrote Where The Wild Things Are, he’s asked, the guy is, if he has any advice for young people. The guy says back, without missing a beat, he says “Quit this life as soon as possible. Get out, get out.” I wonder if that was fake or real, him saying that so quickly. I wonder that now with throat cancer, brain cancer, cancer of the limbs and legs.

My boys play a game called fake or real. They will hum or sing something, one of them will, to the others and then say fake or real. I’m not 100% sure of the rules of this game, I don’t know how it is played, but it is something like that. The worst part about having all this goddamn cancer is that I will miss my boys and that is real not fake.

When asked by an interviewer why white women were attracted to black men, former heavyweight champion of the world Jack Johnson said “Because we eat cold eels and think distant thoughts.”

That happened.

PT Barnum once ate an entire lobster without opening his mouth.

That happened, too.

I once watched an episode of Murphy Brown or Cybil once in 1988, saw Christine Baranski, and now am going to die from a cancer that you should have and I will never see my boys or be introduced walking in someplace, never come out from the back, from the dark, come up through the aisle to the tunes of something playing, something real and not fake.

Ben Slotky is the author of the critically acclaimed collection of short stories entitled Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy which is available at He prefers that if you buy the book, that you download it, as he gets $2 every time you do so. He is also the author of the popular blog and podcast “The Hill I’m Going To Die On” neither of which exist but probably should. You can follow him on Twitter at @benslotky. He says some pretty funny things some times. One time he said “I think out of all the bear-bears out there, my favorite is Bud Grizzly.” One time he spent an entire day talking about the movie “Hobo With A Shotgun.” He said something really funny once about Marcel Proust and LL Cool J that deserved way more recognition than it got.

“Real Not Fake” is the first song off his new album entitlled An Evening of Romantic Lovemaking which is wonderful and almost finished.

Home Videos Don’t Lie

          Within an hour of meeting Thelma’s mother, the VCR is humming. Thelma gathers bedding, curls herself on the couch. I sit in between her and her mom. Thelma warned me about mom’s home video infatuation. I’ve come to realize that I’m the only one from my generation without these clunky, plastic relics. It’s okay though. Home movies are for families with deadly secrets. If you watch 48 Hours: Mystery enough, you start thinking people with home movies are the ones who end up getting murdered and show up on TV.
           Home videos backfire. There’s this kid who’s really famous right now for being a floppy-haired teenager with crystalline teeth and cuddly eyes. He sings. There’s this old video of him singing into a hairbrush. He’s like twelve, and it makes him look so lame. Elvis never had a tape like that. However, if Elvis ever had told people he sang into a hairbrush at twelve, people would’ve wept just thinking about it, thinking of the magic involved in that one moment. The idea is so much better than the image.
          On the screen, Thelma is seventeen. She’s onstage singing “Maybe This Time,” and her voice is ravishing. She doesn’t look anything like she does now – ponytail, sweatpants, makeupless – but somehow older, more like she’s been coached into womanhood. Thelma’s mom gazes at the TV. She is trying to transport herself back ten years to Thelma’s performance. Not only is she imagining turning back time, she’s picturing herself inside her daughter’s body, dreaming how it must have felt.
          “Amazing,” I say. Thelma’s mom smiles, squeezes my knee hard.
          Watching endless videos of Thelma being an extraordinary adolescent makes me self-conscious about lacking superior kid talents. Not only was I not an exceptional child, I have no regular stuff caught on tape to make up for it. But slowly it hits me. I can use the absence of recordings to my advantage.
          I think about telling Thelma how I came up with the idea for The Truman Show when I was nine years old. I could tell her I used to pretend that cameras followed me everywhere and sold my every move and word to some television company in outer space. But that’s totally true and so I know she won’t believe it.
          Then… an idea! This can be anything, I tell myself. What’s something beautifully, profoundly contrary to who you actually are, something impressive in ways you couldn’t possibly be but always wished you could?
           “I was in a rock band!” I blurt out.
           “What?” Thelma exclaims. She comes unbundled from her blankets, lunges forward.
           “Relax,” her mom says. “I’d love to see footage. Tell me more.”
           I breathe dramatically, stage-breathe. I close my eyes. Whatever I say will have to be sensational, cinematic. I need to take care, get it right, because I know whatever I say will live forever. Their eyes pan in on me like two upper bodies rigged to dollies.

Simon A. Smith writes and teaches English in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and a murderous orange tabby named Cheever. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Quick Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Whiskey Island, PANK, Bound Off, Prick of the Spindle and a few others. He likes it here.

I Built a Fifth House

I built a fifth house near the river. I placed my head under its water and drank. I was a deer again, as my brother and I had been when we were young, hooking antlers, lowering our necks. My brother the deer, that forest. We would run in those woods until the sun dissolved, until the river froze. Those were skies meant to be believed. Those were stars held up by strings. Those were different woods than these.

In these woods, standing beside this river, I am lost. I don’t know where I came from. I left a trail of yarn, what was a scarf, but when I follow it, I am only led in circles. I loop trees and rocks but do not come to any understanding. These woods are where I am going to die. Those woods, when my brother and I were deer, those were the woods of our beginnings.

I built this fifth house of scarf yarn, layering it up into walls and windows. I worked the yarn as a constructivist would. I built a chimney for the first snow and hung gutters for the rain. I planted flowers in the front to greet my brother when he returns, when he brings a scythe instead of a black dot on a scrap of paper, when he brings intention. And if he never does, the flowers will burn up like summer, my scarf yarn to flames in front of this house.

I wait for him to return with hooves, though he may hide inside of a fox or a bear or a rabbit. He may linger in a bird until it is time. This means I must keep watch on all of them from my open doorway, twirling a strung-out wall of yarn in my fingers. I am a careful eye on these trees, but I see nothing. These woods will not abandon me, even though I am lost, even though my brother is hiding in its furs, even though the moment of my death has been messaged to me here.

As deer we breathed woods, my brother and I. We ran through lifetimes. But he does not return in any kind of body. The river is generous and keeps running. And the moon goes about its rising even as the house flickers to fire. The fifth house burns down with me inside it. The animals scatter back to their own homes in the branches and the hollows. And the scarf yarn house goes quickly, burning down, and I am alone again. But these woods are not for hopelessness, they are for learning how to remember. Deer-brother, there are always still these woods.

J. A. Tyler is founding editor of Mud Luscious Press and author of Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books) as well as the forthcoming A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed (Fugue State Press) and, with John Dermot Woods, the image text novel No One Told Me I Would Disappear (Jaded Ibis Press).

My House is Filled with Flowers. The Walls are Bare.

These things are true and sad. A painter used to live here. Lives here still but it is complicated. Tonight I am alone but for the flowers the painter left for me to discover in the kitchen, the living room, my office, the bathroom. The years we were together the painter thought I did not like flowers. I am unsure why the painter ever came to this conclusion. In this month after our breakup we have learned so much about each other. We are like new people. Tonight the painter is in Philadelphia. Tomorrow the painter will be in New Jersey. There will be a show. Tonight I am at my desk where I will write for the first time in many months while listening to James Blake. I will drink seltzer water and check my phone. I will smoke cigarettes in the rain. Unable to sleep, I will try to read. I will sit uncomfortably while my fingers remember what it feels like to touch these keys. I will trim my nails because it is difficult to type when they are too long. When I do not write, my nails grow long. My nails are a reminder of difficult times. My fingers worry over their own disuse. My hands do not know what to do. My wrists feel tight. My forearms rest heavy. My elbows are bony knobs on this desk. My shoulders hunch. My neck hurts. My throat hurts. My eyes hurt. I read these words and yet I continue to write. I go on writing because what else is there to do but remember this poem about a painter, his flowers, and what used to be his walls.

Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart, which was nominated for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. Her website is

Blackmail Fantasy

On Thursday, I take a train to a town with a gas station and one stoplight. Wear a black coat and dream all night about wolves skirting the parking lots. My hope is a single bright balloon caught in January trees, a fakery, a delightful amnesia. Needless to say, you’ll do what I want because of the lingerie and possibly because I can fit an entire apple in my mouth without gagging. Still, I cry a lot, on buses, on airplanes. It takes so little energy it’s almost like Stockholm syndrome. All the houses are full of daughters, all the daughters full of milk and tissue paper, of 7th grade slumber parties. I fall in love with them too easily, with your wife in her tiny box. I am so dangerous, even the wallpaper hates me. The gas station attendant eyes my pockets suspiciously. Everything I say sounds like candy hearts, all sugar and pink pastels. This is the worst part of the game where I want and want and want. I play this part so sweetly you practically forget my teeth. Something keeps moving around my ankles like a cat, or possibly a small fox.

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book and chapbook projects, including brief history of girl as match, in the bird museum and the fever almanac. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio, an indie press and design studio.

On the Picturesque

On Wednesday, I start writing things down.
They are something like a poem, something
like a house fire. We have enough food

for a week and the pets all make it out.
The trees are sumptuous and dramatic
and rarely on fire. My hands are bone

white and only sometimes on fire.
Every dream has a dollhouse and every
dollhouse, a dream of moss, creeping

across the floor like carpet. Still, my ghosts
wear heavy shoes and rattle the bed at night.
All of them have other lovers. I can smell

the violets on their hands and the sweet
ache of their molars. I circle each one
with a red pen, then start again.

Map the distance, the weight
between desire and necessity.
Dear, it’s not so good.

Sometimes I can trick myself into something
like writing by moving words across the page
like peculiar, but overly extravagant, insects.

Sometimes, more the idea of words, like horses
or bricks in the houses we do not own.
Mostly I just burn.

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book and chapbook projects, including brief history of girl as match, in the bird museum and the fever almanac. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio, an indie press and design studio.

A House Which is a Kind of Falling

The proliferation of s’s in your words make me jittery,
which is to say, there are worse things than this weather.
Me, I’ve been hiding objects in my mattress
instead of burning them. Tiny glass kittens, dirty dishes.
Writing love letters and stuffing it to the seams.
Darling, I’m so dry these days I could turn to sand,
but I have a plan, which is a sort of cartography
of the interior, four chambered and subject
to faulty wires. A finger tapping at the breastbone
while I sleep. A kind of etymology, bluegill
instead of pulse, shimmer instead of breath.
It’s watery recess.
                            I do this thing where I say
I love you, but it’s more like a latch,
a finger movement, something I’ve tricked
into happening. Or a hotel pool
I’ve been crashing for years. I slather myself in lotion
watch a movie where a woman with tiny birds
on her dress stops talking, walks across the room.
This is always happening, then happening again.
Like an eclipse, or dark spot in my vision.
She stops eating and shines so bright
it’s intoxicating, which is to say, it’s terrifying.

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book and chapbook projects, including brief history of girl as match, in the bird museum and the fever almanac. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio, an indie press and design studio.