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NER Digital | Sofi Stambo

Categories: Confluences, NER Digital

 

Florence | Sofi Stambo

The correct answer is, abandon everything in New York—the futon, the desk, the chair, and the dishes—and move here. I’d already abandoned Bulgaria, decades ago, along with the family, the books, and the bicycle. Biciclette in Italian. Also famiglia and libri. I am good at either decision-making or abandoning.

I will stay here in Florence and become the lady with the highlights working at the corner café, making cappuccini and selling cornetti to the same neighbors her entire life. They lean on the counter, sip the foam of the cappuccino, nibble the crumbs of the cornetto, and talk. Their voices go up and they laugh and I don’t catch any of the meaning, just the pleasure people get when they know each other for life and share good feelings—sentimenti. I want to be that woman, to know that language and these people, to invite them in to my apartment upstairs and to never have to leave.

It almost looks like a theater set, it is so well lit and glamorous. The actors are dressed well and are very polite. No one has anywhere else to go so they stay where they are, talk as much as they can, and laugh a lot. What the joke is is hard to tell when you don’t speak the language.

Florence has the same careless aura that my childhood city of Varna had. A small tourist town, where people rent out rooms and have a small sandwich or crepe shop in their basement and money is not a problem. There are no problems, especially in the summer, when you only worry about burning on the beach or rainy days, or the ice cream melting before you eat it. It’s the carelessness of our grandparents, with their gold teeth and bracelets, their foreign hats and Italian slippers. We stay out late with them on long summer nights. They sit in front of the apartment building, talking to neighbors for what seems like days. People bring cherries or apricots or lilies, because they had too many in their orchard and they don’t want them to spoil. But they won’t go bad, nothing will. We somehow know that and run lighthearted around the building in the dark. It isn’t scary because of the laughing, motley crowd of our people right over there, under the porch light. The nights smell like garlic and dill and roasted peppers.

Arriving in Florence was like opening the lid of the jar where we keep happy younger summer versions of ourselves. I listened and looked and sniffed and licked and couldn’t get enough.

The streets are washed with soap and strewn with flower pots for the tourists. The buildings are freshly painted in warm yellow, orange, and cream. The gardens are watered, the lilies smell sweet, and swallows throw themselves in the air with the abandon of people dancing.

What I left in Bulgaria was peeling gray paint and broken sidewalks, homeless dogs and poor retired people begging you to buy a bunch of dill in front of the church. I bought everything from everyone just to see a smile on someone’s face. All I got was a heartbreaking “Thank you son” from toothless mouths. My grandma used to call us each “son,” regardless that we were all granddaughters. But she had gold teeth and silver bracelets, beautiful scarves and brooches and so many different smiles. We took walks and talked to neighbors. That’s all we ever did.

In Florence people live that way too. In the corner café I wait for the long conversation to finish so I can order a cappuccino. I would never wait in New York—I’d highjack the conversation, and rightfully so. You don’t get to have long conversations when people are late for work. Coffee is medicine and Starbucks is the ER. Speed in New York is a matter of life and death. In Florence speed does not exist, like a vegetable that simply doesn’t grow in that climate. You take life in small foamy sips and warm crispy bites. It’s all about good moods and the pleasure one gets from a good conversation. No need to hurry. All will be there a little later too. It has been there for two thousand years.

I wanted to buy a book by a poet of my childhood, Gianni Rodari, for my daughter to read. I waited in the bookstore where three girlfriends, class of 1950, with auburn hair, bracelets, and strong perfumes, talked to the young salesgirl about the new novellas she just got in. Sentimenti, emozioni, passioni, nodded everyone and each bought the new novella. They smiled and said their grazie and buona notte.

When my turn came I asked where the English books were. The young girl apologetically told me that they didn’t have novellas in English. What else would a woman look for but a novella with passioni?

I passed by a sign on the wall that read “La felicitá é a ridere di niente.” It looked important, because it was written in red. Growing up during Communism I was conditioned to react to signs in red. Felicitá. There was a song by Al Bano and Romina Power, “Felicitá, ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra, felicitá.” They sang it at the Golden Orpheus, the international song festival that happened in Varna. We took our children’s chairs and listened outside with half the town who couldn’t get tickets. Romina Power, in her white dress, was a gorgeous long-haired singer the entire Bulgarian population adored. Al Bano was a graceful older man. They eventually divorced and disbanded, because everything good ends, no exceptions apparently. “Felicitá, ta-ra-ra-ra-ra”—what did that mean?

The bookseller smiled at me and paused, trying to organize her thoughts in English. “It mean happiness is laughing . . . happiness is laughing about nothing.”

Grazie,” I say.

Va bene,” she says and gives me the novella I will not be able to read but will carry with me to make me look a little more Italian. Like a brooch. People will start talking to me and I will stay in the circle of neighbors in front of the light and absorb large amounts of human warmth and contact with the ten words I know. If it gets embarrassing I can always run away into the dark.

♦♦♦

Sofi Stambo is the recipient of the first prize in fiction in the 2015 SLS Disquiet literary contest. She holds a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Sofia University, St. Kliment, Ohridski, Bulgaria, and was a graduate student in Literature at City College. Sofi Stambo had been published by Promethean, Epiphany, Plamuk, and the Kenyon Review Online, among others. She lives in New York City.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings. To submit an essay to our series, please read our guidelines.

 

New Fiction from Mario J. Gonzales | NER 36.1

Categories: Fiction

Malditos | Mario J. Gonzales

[view as PDF]

http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/578044Before Cabezon’s mom OD’d there, me and my cousins Tug and Tweety would go to the hill and hang with Manny, an older guy from the Projects. Long time ago, the hill was where the mojados lived in small houses built by farmers to keep their illegals near work. Now the place is torn up, the rooms tagged, walls falling down. Piss-stained mattresses and bent cooking spoons litter the place. I mean, bums and junkies have hustled their way through, no doubt. In fact, some tweakers had a lab here and it blew up in their faces. You could see the smoke for miles. One dude, Palo, burned himself good and wore a mask like that Phantom of the Opera guy for a while.

But that’s not why they say the hill is haunted or cursed. It’s really cause some farmer, Gandangi or Gandansky, shot himself here, when all the wets were getting off work. Tug and Tweety’s stepmom, who was the farmer’s maid, said she heard he had went gay for a mojado. Who knows? Maybe the Mexican laughed or fucked him up when the farmer tried to put the moves on. But for sure he died bloody on the hill.

Haunted or not, the hill was the place to kick it. It was where I’d smoke a bowl and watch the sun burn down without no one bugging. Things got crazy, though. It started with this game Manny made up: seeing who could hold a lit M-16 firecracker the longest. Tweety always won, until one day Manny offered Cabezon twenty bucks to hold the cuete until it exploded. Cabezon did and ended up shredding his middle finger.

[read more]

Mario J. Gonzales currently lives and works in Santa Fe. He was raised in Parlier, California, a farm-worker community outside of Fresno. His short fiction has appeared in Drunken Boat, Cossack Review, Rio Grande Review, and other literary publications. He has finished a collection of short stories entitled The Importance of Being Elsewhere, which he hopes to be published soon.

New Poetry from Ocean Vuong | NER 36.1

Categories: Poetry

To My Father / To My Unborn Son | Ocean Vuong

“The stars are not hereditary.”—Emily Dickinson

There was a door & then a door
surrounded by a forest.
Look, my eyes are not
your eyes.
You move through me like rain heard
from another country.
Yes, you have a country.
Someday, they will find it
while searching for lost ships . . .
Once, I fell in love
during a slow-motion car crash.
We looked so peaceful, the cigarette floating from his lips
as our heads whip-lashed back
into the dream & all
was forgiven.

[Read More]

 

Ocean Vuong is the author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016). A 2014 Ruth Lilly fellow, he has received honors from Kundiman, Poets House, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets, as well as a 2014 Pushcart Prize. His poems appear in the New Yorker, Poetry, the Nation, Boston Review, Best New Poets 2014, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. He lives in Queens, New York.

New Nonfiction from Jill Sisson Quinn | NER 36.1

Categories: Nonfiction

 

Big Night | Jill Sisson Quinn

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http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/851479The US contains more species of salamander than any other country, but in an entire lifetime you may never encounter one. Salamanders—secretive, fossorial, nocturnal—exit underground harbors only in darkness. Even those that gather in great masses to breed do so without a sound, moving monk-like through the yammering of wood frogs and spring peepers to ephemeral ponds.

In the country’s eastern half, many folks would be surprised to find they share their neighborhoods with Ambystoma maculatum, the spotted salamander, a creature that looks like it belongs in the Amazon. Two uneven rows of big, bright yellow dots extend from head to tail on its dark, glossy body, a body I have always thought looks purple, though most field guides describe it as steel gray or black. Spotteds are stout and medium-sized; at four to seven inches long, they look like they’d make a good meal for something. But they’re not easy to find. Scientists tracking them with radio telemetry, through tiny transmitters surgically implanted into the salamanders’ midsections, discovered one spotted salamander living four feet underground. To find one of these brightly colored animals beneath a rock or within a log feels like hitting the jackpot.

My interest in salamanders renewed with surprising force the same spring my husband and I began the process of adopting a child. I had recently moved away from an area of high salamander density (from New Jersey, which has sixteen species, to Wisconsin, which has only seven) and ceased teaching environmental education; instead I was teaching English and spending my workdays indoors. Nevertheless, I aimed to be present for the annual nocturnal mass breeding of the spotted. There was a chance I would see them and a chance I wouldn’t, these creatures that seemed scarce but were relatively numerous, that lived singly all year long but on a single evening gathered in multitudes. It was just this odd combination of uncertainty and possibility that I would need to embrace in my journey to becoming a parent.

[read more]

Jill Sisson Quinn’s essays have appeared in Orion, Ecotone, OnEarth, and many other magazines. She has received the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction, a John Burroughs Essay Award, and a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her work has been reprinted in Best American Science & Nature Writing 2011. Her first book, Deranged, was published by Apprentice House of Loyola University Maryland in 2010. A regular commentator for Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life series, she lives and writes in Scandinavia, Wisconsin.

New Poetry from Emilia Phillips | NER 36.1

Categories: Poetry

Supine Body in Full-Length Mirror, Hotel Room, Upper West Side | Emilia Phillips

“All is seen.”—Dante’s Virgil, Inferno, Canto XXXIV

[view as PDF]

Torasqitt_Symbol

 

 

 

 

 

 

What startles first is that it’s there.
After long hours in the car
when thought seemed
seamless with forward
motion, & the body,
a home you left that morning—
& now it’s naked & unyielding,
a narrative,
if you’ll have it
that the scars know more
about your past
than you choose to remember—

[Read More]

 

Emilia Phillips is the author of two collections of poetry, Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (forthcoming), both from the University of Akron Press, and three chapbooks. Her poetry appears in Agni, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. She’s the recipient of fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, US Poets in Mexico, and Vermont Studio Center; the 2012 Poetry Prize from the Journal; and the 2013–2014 Emerging Writer Lectureship from Gettysburg College. She serves as a staff member of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and as a prose editor of 32 Poems. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.

New Translation of Luis S. Krausz | NER 36.1

Categories: Translations

The Clocks | Luis S. Krausz

translated from the Portuguese by Ana Fletcher
[view as PDF]

from Memories in Ruins

http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/145147There was no other neighborhood in São Paulo more propitious to cultivating Austro-Hungarian obsessions than Sumaré—obsessions that, frustrated over there, had found fertile soil over here, and could develop freely. Drüben—on the other side—there had been a correct order for everything: a framework that shaped our souls and allowed us to put everything in its assigned place, according to a hierarchy sanctified over time, and which we held in the same regard as the ten Sephirot of the Kabbalistic tree. It was an order we clung to as we might the very tree of life, and that showed us the true value of all things. Thanks to this order we—unlike the nameless poor of undefined race—were not colonized, nor were we akin to those displaced Jews who turned up like beggars on the doorsteps of unknown lands. We wanted to believe this would make us Europeans: Europeans in places of exile, like Sumaré, where we dreamt of founding our colony of expats—a colony that would be a real Gartensiedlung: a neighborhood of gardens cultivated skillfully and efficiently; of impeccably organized libraries; of intact inheritances from grandparents and great grandparents; a neighborhood of stamp collectors and alchemists; of orchid lovers and men of letters; where the cool breezes and shady gardens would bring respite from all cares and relief from all pain—a world that was like a book itself, where we imagined we would not be swallowed by time and by history, by the hurricane that blows from Paradise, but where we would be safe: a vegetable patch and an orchard that neither the heat nor the despair that oppressed the city’s streets could penetrate; our city of peace, the port of our happiness. There would be permanence and durability here, and we longed for the seasons to come, each in its turn: the heat of the dry season and the rain of the rainy season and the cold of the cold season.

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Luis S. Krausz, born in São Paulo, holds a PhD from the Universidade de São Paulo where he teaches Jewish Literature. He is the recipient of several literary prizes in Brazil, including the Jabuti Prize and the Benvirá Prize. 

Ana Fletcher is an editor and translator based in Rio de Janeiro. She holds an MA in Comparative Literature from University College London. Her translations from Portuguese and Spanish have been published in Granta, Music and Literature, and Wasafiri.

 

New Fiction from Lisa Taddeo | NER 36.1

Categories: Fiction

Forty-Two | Lisa Taddeo

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http://www.berceau-des-sens.ch/restaurant/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Hendricks-photo1.jpgJoan had to look beautiful.

Tonight there was a wedding in goddamned Brooklyn, farm-to-table animals talking about steel cut oatmeal as though they invented the steel that cut it. In New York the things you hate are the things you do.

She worked out at least two hours a day. On Mondays and Tuesdays, which are the kindest days for older single women, she worked out as many as four. At six in the morning she ran to her barre class in leg warmers and black Lululemons size four. The class was a bunch of women squatting on a powder blue rug. You know the type, until you become one.

[Read more]

Lisa Taddeo is a contributor to Esquire and New York, among others. Her pieces have been anthologized in Best American Sports Writing and Best American Political Writing. She is currently at work on her debut nonfiction book for Simon & Schuster about desire and sexuality in America, and has just completed her first novel.

Announcing NER 36.1

Categories: News & Notes

The New Issue of NER Has Arrived

Welcome to the first issue of New England Review’s volume 36, the first volume of NER available in print and digital formats for all devices.

POETRY

Sixteen poems by contemporary writers both new and renowned:

Anders Carlson-Wee • Jennifer Chang • Steven Cramer • Jehanne Dubrow • Daisy Fried • Nick Lantz • William Logan • Erin Lynch • Cate Marvin • Emilia Phillips • John Poch • Kevin Prufer • Ocean Vuong • C. K. Williams

FICTION

Fiction writers—all new to the pages of NERMario J. Gonzales, Brendan McKennedy, Carolyn Page, J. T. Price, Lore Segal, and Lisa Taddeo bring us stories from the poorest to the most privileged corners of life in the city, and share tales of the power of music and the power of words, of memories planted along a dusty road, and of a world too watery for anything but the ark of Noah himself.

NONFICTION and TRANSLATION

  • Rob Hardy on the shape-changing, gender-switching imagination of Naomi Mitchison.
  • Luis S. Krausz’s novel of Austro-Hungarian obsession in Brazil, translated from the Portuguese by Ana Fletcher.
  • Rachel Hadas negotiates the space between the living and the dead.
  • Lorraine Hanlon Comanor figure skates to independence.
  • Roger Strittmater, Mark K. Anderson, and Elliott Stone document nineteenth-century American writers’ tussles with Shakespeare.
  • John Kinsella translates a little-known French poet of the sublime.
  • Jill Sisson Quinn unravels the child wish.
  • We revisit Henry Reed Stiles who divulges what we talk about when we talk about bundling.

See the full table of contents, read select pieces, and order a copy today. Or better yet, subscribe!