All posts by danieltlamb

Far from Okay

By Benjamin Stevenson

Rubbing it raw, I gulped the load
and slithered away from him.
I thought the boys in the videos
made it look so much easier.
Crawling up the ladder of pelvic
bones I wish I had broken, I stumbled
disappointingly into a familiar feeling.

Sometimes bad men ask me,
Did you have fun down
on all fours like the bitch you
are? You actually looked like
you wanted to die this time.

Stripped of the flesh,
I plugged the wounds
and soaked the husk
I call a body in warm water,
because I know
it is best for blood
and in that moment
he could have emptied
a boiling pot onto my back, and
scrubbed me like a kitchen table
far from clean and certainly
far from okay.

I still wouldn’t have felt a thing.

Notes for My Underpaid Therapist

By Benjamin Stevenson

Heather,
I have been thinking a lot about death
about sensations
how my chest would feel
while falling through dusty
air in a desert city___
slipping off
the balcony. But the image no longer
seems poetic, when I imagine what
bones might sound like crashing
against stale concrete. Stiff
as a board, & white as a candle.
I have been thinking about the
darkness that would certainly
follow me to this lonely place.
how metaphorical doors would wax &
wane far too quickly to respond
timely, nor fashionably
& how goddamn depressing this reads
on the unbroken screen of a MacBook I can
not afford, but that all my pretty white friends have.

Heather,
I have been thinking a lot about
my childhood, and all the things
I cannot and do not want to remember-
selective memory loss
Do you ever wonder if some children
need a slice of darkness to develop
into the tragic adults which our excuse
for a god determines them to become?
I do & this glimmering idea,
makes life almost fathomable,
or at least this is what I tell
myself at the end of every blurry night.

Heather,
Do you still think we’re making progress?

Good Girl, Pretty Girl

By Nicholas Tecosky

I.

The dog wakes from a dream. She was running through a dark wood, chasing. Shadows ran alongside her, and she knew that she was safe, that these were the shadows of brethren in the midst of a furious primal hunt.

Dust motes float in the beams of sunlight pouring through the window of the cluttered apartment. She listens through the sounds of the city outside, and she hears the sound of the man breathing in the next room. He is alone in bed, the woman having left for work early. He will be awhile waking up, and so she stretches her joints, aching and stiff from sleep.

The dog winds her way through the furniture and into the kitchen. The woman has filled her bowls. She sniffs at the kibble. It smells only vaguely of game, something that she would chase down in the forest. She takes a bite, and the illusion is shattered.

She goes to the door of the bedroom and peeks in. The man is snoring operatically in the tousled sheets. His legs curved just so and and his arm draped over his face. She sighs and flops down in the doorway. She waits for him to wake. She drifts.

She does not get up when he wakes. She is familiar with his morning routine. He pulls himself from the great cast-iron bed. When he walks, he takes slow, heavy steps that cause the wooden floor to shake beneath him. He steps over her and into the bathroom, and the sound of his urination hitting the porcelain bowl and the salty smell of it fill her senses. He, this beast, he is hers, and she loves him and fears his shifts in mood but when he exits the bathroom, he pauses to run his bare foot over her back before continuing on to the kitchen, where he furthers his ritual by pouring the dark, pungent beans into the grinder and boiling water and opening the refrigerator to inspect its contents.

The coffee done, he sits down on the couch and places the steaming mug beside him. He will not drink more than a sip before he lies back and closes his eyes once again.

The man does not move for a great length of time. She cannot tell how long. She does not know minutes or hours. She tracks the sunlight as it shifts across the room and after it has moved from the rug to the coffee table, he sits up and looks to her. They make eye contact.

It is time to go outside.

II.

The dog wakes to the sound of sirens in the distance, and for a moment, she mistakes them for the call of her wild sisters. Before she can stop herself, she raises her head and returns the forlorn howl. It was not something that she was taught and she does not know why she howls, only that she must howl, and a memory that is not hers passes through her mind. She realizes in a moment that these are not the sounds of the Others. She knows that they are only mechanical. This does not stop her from howling. She howls until they are out of earshot, and she stops and listens. Only the sounds of the city, muffled through the thick walls.

To pass the time, she tries to think the saddest thing that she can think. But the only thing that she can think of is being alone, and she is alone right now, she does not know when or if they will return, and it is dreadfully quiet. She tries to think of something else. She cannot. She sighs heavily.

III.

The woman returns before the man. She drops her bag in the chair and she greets the dog in a high tone, and the dog gets up and shakes off and wags her tail to return the greeting. The woman walks back to the door and retrieves the leash hanging on the hook and the dog runs to her and sits on the kitchen floor and she is so excited that she cannot help but shake. The woman hooks the leash to her collar and opens the door. The dog tries to wait, because the woman will be cross if she bounds out the door before being told to do so. But she wants to go through the door so badly. She can smell the outside. She can smell the rain from before and how it intensifies the scents of the world. She waits. The woman gives her the signal, and she rushes toward the world, feeling the pull of the woman on the other end of her tether but not caring for a moment.

She squats to relieve herself, shivering with pleasure at the feeling. She sniffs the air around her. They walk. There are so many smells. They are a history of the world.

All too soon they are reentering the apartment and she does not want to return but takes consolation in knowing that the rest of her pack will be with her inside the small space, that they will eat and sit and stare at the television and if she lies next to the man, he will scratch her behind her ears and when he stops he will lay his foot upon her side and leave it there and they will both find comfort in the contact.

IV.

The man and woman take turns being the alpha, depending on who has energy after the long day. She knows her place in the chain, she is Omega, sometimes she wishes otherwise and tries half-heartedly to assert dominance, but they are not fooled and they lay hands on her and press her to the ground until she stills herself. It does not matter. It is a passing fancy. They are not an ideal pack, but they are hers and she theirs, they are all together, for now, in the cavern that they call home, and the smell of the dishes in the sink and the dust that surrounds them in the air and the socks on the floor, those that she has hidden beneath the furniture, and their bodies, their simian bodies, it is all there as it has always been. As it will ever be.

She smells where they have been. The Woman smells of coffee and stale sweat and the Man smells of cigarette smoke but beneath these masks she can smell what they feel. The subtle air of sadness, the sharp tang of anxiety or desperation. She comes to them and tastes them, and they smile and accept her tongue for a moment before calming her with hands on her skull, her neck, her back. She knows she only has so much time to taste, that they will rebuke her sharply if she persists, but she tastes for as long as they will let her.

She feels a kinship with them when they are sad. When they cannot get up off of the couch. They are alone but together. She fears the morning. The morning is when they leave her. She never knows for sure if they will return.

V.

When they are all together, they make voices that they know are supposed to be hers. They speak for her. She knows the tone of it and listens intently, her ears perking up. She understands very little of the language, but it does not matter. They are communing with her. That is all that matters.

VI.

When the man lies on the couch in the afternoon, she knows that something is wrong, but can only gauge the severity of the situation when she creeps close and sits beside him, face to face. He does not usually respond well to her face in such close proximity to his. If he snaps at her to go, he is merely tired. If he places his hand gently atop her head and looks into her eyes and whispers to her, something is very wrong. She does not know what it is, except that she feels it too, deeply, without understanding. They are alone, together.

VII.

The dog does not entirely understand pack politics. She knows her place in the order, of course, but cannot understand the subtle back-and-forth between the two people. She senses when things are tense, and also the lack of tension when things are easy. The feelings wash like a great tide over her, swelling and receding. She cannot imagine the future. She has never tried. Life is one endless expanse, interrupted by periods of dark and sleep and an occasional meal and a walk through the vast park.

The dog does not know if she is happy and doesn’t ponder it. There is an emotion in her, deep down, that she does not quite comprehend, that came from before her great great great grandmother was born. Sometimes it swells in her chest so much that she can feel it in her throat, and she tenses, barely controlling herself, half-expecting it to burst forth into the small apartment, tear through the walls, escape into the hazy afternoon sunlight outside. She shakes her entire body as if trying to dry herself. She barks into the empty apartment and listens to the echo. Something stirs just outside, in the hallway.

The dog waits.

Something will happen. It always has before.

This story first appeared in Nicholas’ website, Love & Consequences.

Cover Image: “Nightcrawler” by Basheer Tome via Flickr.

You Are Alive.

At gutwrench., we’re hungry. We are excited. We are hopeful.

It’s time for us to get our hands dirty working on gutwrench. Issue 5.

On a personal note, 2017 was a year of complete tragedy and darkness. Losing my mother to suicide was unspeakably hard. Today, I need this community more than ever before, and it is a privilege to call you friends.

And with these seasons of soul’s winter come the brighter blossoms of spring.

It’s late February in Atlanta and the energy of the city couldn’t be more vibrant. Something is stirring.

I’ve said this before: “Our work is important. Our voices are important. Art is important.”

If you’re reading this,

YOU ARE ALIVE.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up your pen, your camera, your paintbrush, your guitar—pick the damn thing up and make a joyful noise.

We only have so much time to birth our ideas, our passions. Time is our most valuable commodity.

Time spent making, living, breathing and consuming art is time well spent. Time spent with people you love is even more artful and precious.

Speaking of time, you have until May 15th to submit your best work. As of today (February 25th, 2018), you’ve got 79 days until the deadline.

That’s 79 opportunities to open your heart, open your mind and express something that matters.

 

Daniel Lamb
gutwrench. Cofounder

The Lisa Turtle Rule

By Jon Carr

I grew up a homeschooled, black Republican from Los Angeles who went through a brief Gene Kelly phase. I have the unique honor of having been beaten up by just about every race, religion and sexual orientation. I was the UN of ass-kicked.

I was a black nerd.

The 1990s were a simpler time. We all just assumed that Mel Gibson liked Jewish people, Danny Glover had just recently gotten too old for this shit and Gary Busey was a respected actor. Every kid had a role model. Most of my friends idolized Tupac or Ice Cube, but for me it was Gene Kelly. Regardless of whether or not today would be a good day, there was little chance I would have to use my AK. For the black nerd, there was little representation in life or on TV. We had Lisa Turtle from “Saved By The Bell,” Carlton Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and the bane of my existence, Steve Urkel. All my white friends would jokingly call me Steve Urkel. This would have seemed racist, except that all my black friends called me Steve Urkel.

During the late 80s and early 90s, there were quite a few African Americans in television and movies. We were able to do anything: be a doctor, be a gangbanger.  We could do anything except violate the “Lisa Turtle rule.”

The rule was simple: We never get the girl or guy. We can get a girl or guy, but never the girl or guy.

But you know what? I got the girl once. Her name was Jill, and she was the prettiest girl in school. Actually, I was homeschooled, so she was the prettiest girl in the homeschool group. Every homeschool boy wanted her. One day after a pretty hardcore game of four-square, I walked off the court looking pretty hot. That is when Jill caught my eye and motioned for me to come over.

It turns out she had a secret to tell me, and it could only be whispered in my ear.

I leaned in close as she said, “There is a girl at school that likes you.”

With all the cockiness of a 16-year-old boy, I looked her straight in the face and whispered back, “OK, who is it?”

She slowly said to me, “She is very near you right now.”

I looked back and cocked one eyebrow before saying, “Yeah, but who is it?”

This went on for a while. Finally I figured it out.

She liked me, and I was crazy about her. What followed was the most wild, intense, passionate, powerful, and emotionally fulfilling two weeks of my life. I was determined to be the best boyfriend I could be. I bought her only the finest jewelry from Kmart and took her to the biggest movies.

Things like Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld.”

That did not go so well. Yet, despite this, she still seemed really into me. So I was surprised when she pulled me aside at school and told me we had to talk. It was a simple conversation, and honestly I have forgotten most of it. In fact, the only thing I remember is a single statement.

She said, “My mother says that it’s not a good idea for us to date.”

“Why?” was the thought running through my head.

What was different about me as compared to her boyfriends before or after. Did I have a reputation as a bad boy? See the aforementioned Gene Kelly phase. Did I come from a bad family, or were we too poor? My parents made the same money as her parents. We were all friends.

My mind raced because I knew the answer, but I desperately wanted it to be something different. I wanted her to break up with me because I was too fat or too ugly, because I was too poor or too stupid. I wanted her to break up with me for any reason other then that, because I could change those things. I could grow out of those things, but that’s not why she broke up with me. I had made a mistake.

I broke the Lisa Turtle rule.

The Lisa Turtle rule is based on Lisa Turtle from Saved by The Bell. The show lasted five seasons, totaling 126 episodes — not including The College Years and the New Class spinoffs. Throughout the series, they tried every relationship combination you could imagine: Zack and Kelly; Zach and Jesse; Jesse and Slater; Kelly and Slater.

Every combo except Lisa and anyone.

Every party and dance they went to, Lisa somehow magically produced a mute black kid that we had never seen before and would never see again. She was the queen of the B-storyline. Zach, Kelly, Slater, and Jesse handled the A-storyline, while Screech and Lisa generally dealt with the B-storyline.

It’s true that Screech was always trying to get with Lisa, but as we all know, Screech is crazy. It’s the Lisa Turtle rule. You can do whatever you want, but ultimately, the story is not about you, and above all, you don’t get the girl or guy.

It’s Lando Calrissian in “Star Wars,” Calvin in “Freaks and Geeks,” the secretary from “3rd Rock from the Sun,”Astrid from “Fringe,” Charles Gunn from “Angel,” Jazz the Robot from “Transformers,” and it is why Winston from “New Girl” will never get Zooey Deschanel.

I know what you are thinking. There was one episode in “Saved by The Bell” where Zach and Lisa liked each other. That is true, but before that episode ended, they came to the same conclusion my girlfriend Jill’s mom did: “It’s probably not a good idea for them to date.”

A friend once told me that he sometimes fantasized about coming back years after a girl dumped him. He would return rich, handsome and successful and make her regret ever breaking up with him.

As I stood there in that empty classroom watching Jill leave, I realized there would be no fantasizing for me. There was no amount of money, fame or success that would alter the reason she broke up with me. It was the one thing I could never change. I broke the cardinal rule.

I was supposed to be the Danny Glover of this story—a funny straight man that helped my Mel Gibson shine. But for a moment I tried to be Mel Gibson. I tried to  be a part of the main story. I guess my audience just wasn’t ready for that.

 

Hear our voices

We will not hold space for racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, xenophobia, hate or denial of climate change.

Powerlessness is born of isolation. As human beings, we need to be able to talk to each other. Relationships are born in conversation.

That’s why we started a workshop. It’s a place for people in the community to come together and talk about their writing.

On the occasional evening, you can find us around a table having a cup of coffee and planting our little seeds of hope, to make the writing better, to get the best story down on paper and to connect with one another and foster a sense of community, becoming the Resistance—by talking to each other, loving each other, sharing life one coffee at a time.

Now more than ever, it’s important that we make art UNAVOIDABLE because the regime is doing everything it can to make its rhetoric unavoidable.

We will not allow our soul to be stomped out by the squelching of free speech and the dissemination of propaganda. We must not allow “alternative facts” to replace reality, to be shifted into a real-life dystopian science fiction.

So we invite you to send us your work for the next issue by May 15 because it’s important – to fight authoritarian and fascist ideology with our soul-affirming words – poems, essays, stories – and not just to incite reaction, but to drive at what’s human and fundamentally good within all of us.

Our work is important. Our voices are important. Art is important.

Find your inspiration. Express your passion.

 

Photo by Cody Williams

…Meanwhile, in the city too busy to hate…

We do things. Many things. We dream, we breathe, we work, we love, we age, we thrive. We focus. We get distracted. We go away. We come back to center.

Sometimes, we keep ourselves on a short leash, tethered to the calendar and the iPhone, keeping our ringers on, trackers going, turning every breathing moment into a quantifiable metric.

Eventually, the pendulum has to swing back—in this case, from compulsive activity and involvement toward a retreat. Retreat, whether it be actually going someplace far away to escape the aggregate of stress in the immediacy of the day-to-day, or a retreat as in a mood or internal decision to become less involved with external distractions, can offer us the space we need to create.

The challenge, then, we offer you is this:

Stop. Just stop it.

doing-nothing-on-purpose-680x320
via The Mindfulness Exchange

 

Take some time. Turn off your phone. Sit in a dark room. Don’t do anything. Interrupt the flow of thoughts and activities.

 

Come back to the pen and reboot your process.

 

We want to hear about what happens for you, but really, we want your words.

 

The prompt is “Interruption.”

 

Send your fiction, audio, video, art, poetry, nonfiction, indescribable, literary, and otherwise gritty little things to us here by March 31, 2016.