Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dwight Bitikofer Featured Reader at Tavern of Fine Arts on Monday, February 24

Dwight Bitikofer will be one of three featured readers at the •chance operations• reading at the Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Avenue, on Monday, February 24.

Other featured readers will be Ryan Krull and Mallory Nezam.

Musical guest: Raven Wolf, solo jazz saxophone.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Open-mic follows the featured readers.

Dwight Bitikofer has involved himself with St. Louis poetry events for the past decade or so. His poems draw from experiences and places as far flung as driving taxicabs in St. Louis to harvesting wheat in Kansas to exploring castle ruins in Sicily to perspectives of life and earth from the windows of airliners. Bitikofer emcees a couple of local poetry events. He puts together PoJazz shows with local spiritual jazz musician Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II. He has been published in Natural Bridge, Untamed Ink, Mid Rivers Review and several other journals. His poem “Interrupted Crossing” won first place in St. Louis Poetry Center’s 2013 James Nash Poetry Contest.

Bitikofer’s day job is as publisher of Webster-Kirkwood Times, South County Times and West End Word community newspapers.
Interrupted Crossing

In the light of headlights
a couple of car lengths distant
I saw the movement, the form,
the familiar low profile amble
and before a wisp of a prayer
could form, I saw it flop contorted
from below the wheels of the car ahead.

In a split second I might have flicked
my steering wheel to crush its body,
to make certain its life ended abruptly
and without more pain, but neither could I
play two tons of God quite so quickly,
nor could I bring myself to stop,
an action that could require more actions:
to examine, to find out if the animal
still lived or whether it would quickly die –
decisions, morality plays
for the sake of an opossum

Instead, I felt tears. Were they triggered
for an ancient marsupial brain
not yet adapted to dangers of trafficways?
Or for something unrelated,
some latent sorrow over missed connections,
over hopes that missed their mark?
Some old, old need ignored, run over –
some unrequited expectation receding,
left to flop, contorted -- alive or dead.

-- Dwight Bitikofer

Mallory Nezam Featured Reader at Tavern of Fine Arts on Monday, February 24

Mallory Nezam will be one of three featured readers at the •chance operations• reading at the Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Avenue, on Monday, February 24.

Other featured readers will be Dwight Bitikofer and Ryan Krull.

Musical guest: Raven Wolf, solo jazz saxophone.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Open-mic follows the featured readers.

Mallory Nezam is a public artist who provokes creative civic engagement and brings to life public spaces of her city. She is Founder & Director of STL Improv Anywhere and Co-Creator of the Poetree Project. In addition to public art, Nezam has been publishing short fiction, non-fiction and poetry for years. She published her first (and arguably her best) poem at the age of 10. Nezam's work can be found in P I E C R U S T Magazine, the Occidental Review, and Art Animal Magazine. She has won awards for her creative non-fiction and short fiction.


The light filtered in in a dirty way. The windowsill was dusty and pale walls hugged light around the room as though it were steam. This was the kind of light you could see.

Ivelina’s wrist and watering can were illuminated as she stood arrested, staring out onto the rooftop patio. For a moment, this image held still until a house fly flew into focus and Iva’s gaze moved. She looked down at the empty watering can in her hand and then back out the window.

Zachary came home that night with the sound of a door slamming. The sound triggered her animation as if he himself was nothing more than a door slam. A thump in her chest, and it went deeper. It was the first time she’d heard her heartbeat like this. It was the first time she had truly felt her heart beat. There were wisterias crawling up the gate grate, the slowly aging rust adding a decided charm to the roof. Rooftops like these were hard to find in Chelsea. They were even rarer for those making a living off of little more than hope, which for Zachary and Ivelina came in the form of naïveté and in accidents they couldn’t confront. Hanging trellises, wrap-around vines, potted plants and rows of gardenias made the roof seem simple and old. This is where Iva usually stopped for an 8 o’clock visit: water, rest, regain. The quiet communion with plants followed long days as a cocktail waitress. Most nights Iva continued on to Zachary’s studio, helping with boom mics, holding ladders, coffee runs. Thursday afternoons she was the pianist for the Vitrolics’ private parties. She is far more exceptional than anyone there ever notices, and more exceptional that she can comprehend herself.

And then she heard him in the stairwell, a mixture of sounds, a hazy recognition of the corresponding movements. But today, she couldn’t envision these familiar gestures, losing the memory as though he were slowly disappearing. There are only so many sounds you can hear within a person: a stomach gurgle, a jaw click, a deep cough, a heartbeat. But this heartbeat was different. Have you ever felt a heartbeat within yourself and realized it was not your own? Have you ever felt a stranger’s heartbeat within your own body and realized it was a part of you?

“Nie ne obichame tuk zaedno,” Ivelina’s mother would always say. “Why aren’t we loving here together?” She would say this when she was mad or when there was a disagreement between the two of them. Iva never used this with Zachary when there was a disagreement. She chose to keep silent. Iva’s low-leaning gaze focused on Zachary’s foot, his tattering blue Converses faded from the sun. He’d made his way into the kitchen, kept still at the entrance with one foot draping the border. Iva raised her eyes to scale his torso, identifying his structure.

. . . .

When his face came slowly into focus she could see in his gaze plain bewilderment. She followed his eyes to the puddle of water underneath her feet, her house shoes soaked through to an entirely different hue. She looked back up to Zachary, the watering can still in hand.

“Well,” he uttered. “Did you fall asleep or something?” He looked at her. She felt him looking at her in the way that people watch news segments of things perturbing—concernedly, but distant. Iva moved her eyes to the watering can in her right hand, rust eating the edges near where the handle touched the base. A banjo struck up across the apartment alleyway and Iva’s hairs vibrated to the hum. Zachary looked disturbed and then began to speak, but didn’t. He only opened his mouth and inhaled. Iva’s head had turned slowly to the window.

“I love strings.” The statement started emphatically and waned toward empty, toward solemn. She stood again facing Zachary with the watering can still clutched in her right hand. “Well, I would love it if you would get out of that puddle, Ivelina. What did you do to yourself?”

“I—...” Iva lowered her eyes towards her feet again, turned toward the can. She looked back up to Zachary who never wore shoes indoors and who never understood her culture of house slippers.

She carries the weight of her past life undetected. Ivelina is from a place where trains run slow and where the grace of a woman is in her silent curves. It wasn’t silence that made her leave home; it was the fear of it. On cold winter evenings, if she kept her breath low, she could uncover the sound of Nothing. There are some people who strive to find this. For others, for Ivelina, it is obscene and violating. When her grandfather closed her palm around an envelope full of money and the ticket, she heard that silence again.

Her mother was waiting for her on the edge of the pond, half obscured by cattails swaying wantonly in the breeze. She touched Ivelina’s hand; they made a paper boat out of the envelope and she asked Ivelina if she wanted to jump in. Her mother smirked slightly as Iva turned to her, questioning.

She realized she was moving toward noise.

Noise was busses screeching, accents, accidents. It was cleaning someone else’s bathroom. Forgetting. It was hospitals and watering cans. It was not knowing enough English to get a job; but you didn’t have to know English to fuck.

Zachary filled a cup with water and walked towards Ivelina. He wanted to say, “Neither of us will be all right.” She wanted to say, “I will plant flowers in your shoes. I will hang them on a telephone wire and plant flowers in your shoes.” Zachary took a sip of water and set it down on the table.

“Are you going to help me tonight?” He brushed her arm, avoided her spill. He manufactured a grin to counter his earlier honesty and she imagined potting soil, digging holes in Bulgarian terrain and dropping soil in his shoes. She could see his look of pure and utter fear. She could feel his hand tremble. Where she could have trembled, too, the baby kept still.


The difference between who we are and what we become is a chasm that can echo like canyons until we construct our own solid ground. Ivelina left with two suitcases in hand, Zachary’s shoes tied to one. She walked down the road during the 8 o’clock evening lull. There were telephone wires overhead that she didn’t even notice.

Zachary had expected that she would go home. But she went south. At a rest stop, she played piano for an empty bar. Mid-song she stopped, closed her eyes and imagined the baby taking over for her in the way that some trees can grow back from nothing. She sees their branches reaching up over the ledge of the window despite the hot, dry heat. Despite the dead wind that presses the walls of the room. This new home is a transition. It is not an instant; it is a length of time. They close their eyes and they are swaying like the trees.

-- Mallory Nezam

Ryan Krull Featured Reader at Tavern of Fine Arts on Monday, February 24

Ryan Krull will be one of three featured readers at the •chance operations• reading at the Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Avenue, on Monday, February 24.

Other featured readers will be Dwight Bitikofer and Mallory Nezam.

Musical guest: Raven Wolf, solo jazz saxophone.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Open-mic follows the featured readers.

Ryan Krull is a native St. Louisian, currently in his final semester of study for a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He works in academic advising for the aforementioned school, lives in Tower Grove and is a reader of the slush for Boulevard magazine. His fiction and journalism have appeared online and in print.

The Yogini Spinster

Yoga for these women is always followed by chitchat over lattés and today Lisa is the one doing most of the talking. She’s been on vacation the last few weeks and is dying to tell her friends this story she heard out west.

The story concerns a woman from the Bay Area who isn’t exactly fat but, especially out there in California, has always felt like she’s had to be twice as good at everything else just to make up for the fact that she’ll never be one of those girls you see jogging through Noe Valley in shorts and a sports bra barely breaking a sweat and owning everyone’s gaze.

She’s the sort of girl who carries her baby fat with her into adulthood even though she’s following diet fads and counting calories before she can even drive -- the sort of girl who goes the whole summer between high school and college without ingesting a single carb. But no matter what she does, her cheeks only soften and unlike the chubby boys her age she can’t just grow a beard to cover up her sagging chin. By her midtwenties it’s abundantly clear that the fleshy pounds aren’t going anywhere. What she’s carrying is immune to everything that’s ever worked for anybody else.

And the woman knows on some level that that's not really important -- her weight, her frame, whatever -- she’s always told herself it’s not defining, not half as defining as her full ride scholarship or getting hired right out of college or, later on, her being named the youngest junior VP in the history of her firm. But still.

Then in her early thirties she meets a guy through one of those dating sites, a guy who’s a professional in her field and who’s smart enough to see in her what she’s accomplished, how good of a friend she’s been to so many people, how she really does care about others and at her core is a good person. So this guy who’s pretty handsome and, though he’s not as successful as she is, has still done OK in his own right -- so this guy really hits it off with her and she seems to really hit it off with him and a year or so after meeting on that first date they’re engaged. Everyone in the woman’s family is breathing a sort of sigh of relief and is just absolutely thrilled. And together the two of them -- 30s, no kids, him pulling in close to six figures, her pulling in well over six figures, six figures in San Fran is still six figures -- they have a good amount of disposable income to spend on nuptial pomp and circumstance.

And this is when it gets interesting.

A month or two before the wedding he comes clean to her. He tells her that he knows it’s dumb and it’s 2012 and they’re a modern couple and everything, but he’s uncomfortable that she’s higher up in their field, and he feels like his coworkers and other colleagues at industry-type functions are going to spread the word about him and all that chatter might turn into a stigma. He tells her all this casually in the middle of their movie night at home, without even pausing the DVD. So she finds the remote and turns on the lights in the room. He tells her to wait and hear him out. Nothing’s going to change, he says, but there is a big promotion coming up at his firm in a few weeks -- and remember these are the same weeks leading up to them saying their ‘I do’s’ -- and he says if he just buckles down at work, if he puts some elbow grease into it and shows that he’s the type of person really willing to put in the hours, then he’s a shoe-in. And he’s doing it for her, he says, because he doesn’t want her to marry some guy she’s going to have to support and if they have kids down the line then the last thing they need to be worrying about is the money factor of her maternity leave.

She’s uncomfortable, obviously. But this guy’s about to be her husband, and she says, sure go for it. Get that promotion. He kisses her and grabs the remote, presses play, and thinks that’s that.

Over the next few days that whole interaction -- combined with all the other run-up-to-the-wedding craziness -- gets the woman thinking about ways in which she might not quite be bringing her share to the table. Ways in which she, well you know, might not be pulling her weight. Her mind takes off to that body-conscious, mirror-gawking place that she’s probably no stranger to by this point in her life. Six weeks out from the wedding she starts thinking like it’s not a marriage she’s supposed to be getting ready for but the Miss California Swim Suit Contest or something.

Anyway, she calls her sister who lives in Austin and her sister of course hears the stress oozing out of the phone, so she naturally suggests her poor sibling try some yoga, if it helps her get into shape, great, but what she actually needs to lose is some of that tension. The woman takes her sister’s advice and the very next day she’s at her first class, signed up for thirty sessions over the next thirty days. She’s into it full-bore.

And of all the hundreds of places in San Francisco, she happens to walk into the one studio with the one yogi who is all about the om and the breath of yoga, but not so much about the moving around. Her first class she spends mostly in Savasana and maybe moves into Child’s Pose once, and the whole time she’s being told to try to find her breath. Focus on your breath, the yogi keeps saying. Everything is just energy, it all moves through you and it is neither good nor bad, it only depends on how your body chooses to interpret it.

The yogi is like this sixty year old guy from India who doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him and, when he does actually move, moves like a teenager; the kind of instructor who when he’s just casually sitting Indian Style in the front of the class is actually in perfect Full Lotus.

She leaves that first class a little perplexed and thinking that she’s had some serious misconceptions about yoga. But she’s signed up for thirty classes and she hasn’t gotten where she is by giving up on things or quitting after just one day -- she went like three months without eating a piece of bread, for god’s sake. So she goes again, and again, and again on the next day, the next day, and the next.

The woman’s fifth class is when the old yogi first walks in with the bell. He sets it down in the back of the studio, not saying anything about it, and the class he leads that day is practically motionless. The woman’s in Child’s Pose for over an hour, her back and neck are filled with that pulling type of heat -- that’s when the yogi rings it. It sounds like one of those church steeple bells, but sharper and with more sustain. And there in the darkened silence of the yoga studio it’s the clearest sound the woman’s ever heard. In between the first and second ringing the yogi tells the class to imagine that sound as a personal bubble, completely protecting them from all those other petty noises that try to invade. Notice how, he says, well after the bell has quieted you can still hear its sound, it's still protecting your space and anything that comes inside that space can only do so with your blessing. And that’s when the woman has her realization: the man she is about to marry she doesn’t love.

When she gets home from class that night her fiancé asks her how it went and she says she’s probably not going to go back. She gave it a try and yoga’s just not for her. But, in a mere five days, her husband-to-be has managed to fall in love with the idea of a sleek and flexible, shiny, brand new wife. He tells her, no, she can’t quit. She’s not even a week in. He’s been working ten-hour days trying to get that promotion. He’s planning on working both Saturday and Sunday. ‘Don’t let me down, babe,’ he says. ‘Don’t let yourself down. Let’s not start the marriage by backing out on something.’ He talks to her like he’s her middle school softball coach or something. So just to shut him up she goes and throws her yoga clothes in the wash so they’ll be clean for tomorrow. She goes to class the next day, her sixth, and then the following. And her fiancé’s all of a sudden like super interested in her yoga now that he feels like she’d have quit if not for him. Every night he asks her about class and every night she tells him she’s not into it. ‘You’ll warm up to it,’ he says. "Ok," she says. And with each class’ meditation it becomes clearer to her that marrying this man will make her profoundly unhappy, despite how good she felt about it just a month ago, despite how much she’d still like to see it work. She can’t ignore the error she’d started making back on that first date: she was so distracted by this man’s acceptance of her, she never stopped and asked herself if she accepted him. She goes to her ninth class, her tenth. After her twentieth class, about three weeks in, she finally calls the wedding off. She comes home from class and whoever would’ve thought a ringing in your ears could be a good thing, but she uses that bell’s sound to stay calm and cool and immune while she breaks the news to him and he cries on the kitchen floor right where she’d broke the news to him -- he can’t even make it into the living room to a couch or a chair. Then he calls his mother, right there in front of her still in the kitchen, saying that everything is F'ed and calling the woman an F'ing B. And then he says -- he’s actually talking to his mother but of course the woman can hear -- he says that the whole promotion thing was a lie and actually his firm has brought in outside efficiency consultants and he’s confident they’ll recommend his termination despite all the extra work he’s been putting in. His words and his crying are all just petty noise to the woman though, unfortunate that it has to take place in her kitchen but none of it's getting past her bubble. She even helps her now ex-fiancé pack up all his stuff that’s made its way to her place in the past year.

Word spreads. The woman’s phone starts ringing that night and keeps ringing for weeks. There are emails and text messages too, of course. She replies to everything promptly and with a yogic calm. Her standard response is: that’s the cost of illumination.

The cups at Lisa’s table are fist crumpled and teeth marked around the brims. One of Lisa’s friends asks how she heard that story.

"After a class in San Fran," Lisa says. "Someone came up to me and was like ‘Do you know who you just practiced next to?’ I said ‘No’ and they said, ‘That was the yogini spinster. Aren’t you from around here?’ Her story’s fairly famous out there in yoga circles. The woman who jilted her man for the mat."

"What’d she look like? When you were next to her for the class?"

"Well before she even had her mat down I thought this woman looked melancholic. But after about thirty minutes I realized that was wrong. She looked like a woman with light around her, like no matter what happened to her in this life it wasn’t going to cause even a scratch."

-- Ryan Krull (Note: "The Yogini Spinster" first appeared in Whisky Island, Issue 61

Monday, February 17, 2014

Raven Wolf Musical Guest on Monday, February 24

Raven Wolf, solo spiritual jazz saxophone, flute, and hand drums, will be the musical guest at the Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Avenue, on Monday, February 24.

Featured readers will be Dwight Bitikofer, Ryan Krull, and Mallory Nezam.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Open-mic follows the featured readers.