Welcome to issue six of Distance Yearning!
Artists this week were asked to tackle the question of change happening before it registers as change, and they did so in a variety of exciting ways. I adore the angles taken by this week's creators; some chose to explore sneaky change in the personal realm, as in Susie Campbell's "Widening"; others in the social, like Landry Levine's "To Make America, Head North" or Michael McSweeney's "content marketing"; still others in the natural, as in dh croasdill's gobsmacking "if it makes sense that a home is familiar (For Grass Lake)" and Mike Fracentese's "Poem on the Shore of Canada in the Late Devonian" which instantly became one of my favorite of his pieces.
I adore when artists can trick me as a consumer by changing their worlds before I realize what they've done. Terry Bisson did it in his twisty 1986 road trip novel Talking Man. Jeff VanderMeer did it once apiece in his three Southern Reach novels. But the world does it all the time for real, as in June 2013 when it rained so hard and so much in my hometown of Minneapolis that reeds reclaimed a portion of lawn on the western side of Lake Nokomis and the Park Board seemingly shrugged and let them.
Thanks to all the artists who submitted work this week and especially first-timers Rosalind Grush, Elizabeth Fetterolf, Susie Campbell, and (technically) our editor-in-chief Mike Fracentese.
Wait...has this always been this way? Imagine that suddenly everything is different. Not by a lot, only by like 10 or 15%. Enough that maybe the change doesn't immediately register. Has the guy I buy mulch from always had that circus clown tattoo? 'Normal' is changeable and change can sneak past even when it's being watched. It's irresponsible to find answers while pretending you aren't leaving further questions in your wake.
Enjoy this issue and keep an eye out for things that are changing!
Susie Campbell: “Widening”
We met in August, cicada’s songs floating on the humidit
We held hands letting the sweat
Drip between our fingers
Because our skin couldn’t bare
As the leaves began to burn in reds and yellows of September
You made me breakfast in bed
You climbed in beside me
And slid your hand
Into the hand not occupied by my fork
And laid your head on my shoulder.
October - month of spirits
We stood looking in the mirror
Me, Raggedy Ann
You, Raggedy Andy
We danced that night until you threw your head back
And the red mop w had repurposed for your wig
Flew into the middle of the dance floor
“Time to go” I choked out through laughter
And grabbed your hand to pull you home.
November is for family
Mine was all chosen
Blood is not always thicker than water
But you folded into mine
Like you had always been there
We stood in the steely cold
I looked up and slipped my tongue into the air
As snowflakes a lit and melted on it
You smiled as you whispered “I love you”
I squeezed your hand “I love you too”.
The snow fell all that first night in January, as we watched the ball drop
Tucked under blankets
I read your palm as flakes floated past the glass panes of the window
“The life line is strong, you’ll live til at least two hundred”
Your teeth glinted as you smiled and leaned in.
Sometime in February I got a new cat
You didn’t like cats
You told me when we met
But buttercup and I, we changed your mind.
March became April became May
In a blur of blossoms and sunshine
We walked in the mild breeze
Hands swinging at our sides
“Spring is my favorite season”
You cocked your head and responded:
“Spring makes me anxious, I can't get a grip in the expansion”
My shoulder brushed yours
An attempt at comfort.
June, your birthday month
All of us - your loved ones
Crowded into your backyard
Hours after the sun went down Emily finally said her blurred goodnight
You fell, collapsed
I fought through yawns to clean up the warzone
Crawling into bed beside you just as the sun threw its first light over the horizon
You didn’t wake up.
As the heat of July
Pressed down on us
We slurped popsicles in bed
Your eyes traced the leaves
Outside my window
“Where are you”
“I don’t love you anymore”
The words fell out of us at the same time tangling in the dusk
I sat up
My hand instinctively
Searching for yours
But finding nothing, slunk into my lap.
Years later my eyes drove the freeways in the constellations
I should have known
But somehow I’d missed the distance
You and I.
Susie Campbell is a writer/artist based in Los Angeles and is super stoked to be included in this issue. You can follow her on Instagram @sunnysusie if you want to read more poetry!
York Chen: “You Accede to the Examination”
uncomfortable, you shift in the unsettlingly hard plastic seats
cheeks sweating, cheeks blushing,
sickly sweet isopropyl vapors
on the bridge of your nose as you guiltily
remember reading beneath blankets
(that was how you started and finished Frindle,
lifted from the fourth-grade classroom library
and tucked under your pillow).
but your dad had them, and he
was everything comfortable and beautiful
so you coax out a small
‘no wait go back, that one’s better’
and stagger out into the sunlit city,
a little brighter than before.
York Chen (he/him) is learning medicine and also how to do other good and meaningful things, because quarantine or not what we have to have is each other.
dh croasdill: “if it makes sense that a home is familiar (For Grass Lake)”, “sketch of a job that you had”, “michagain 2”
if it makes sense that a home is familiar (For Grass Lake)
The water is out now & it is fifteen feet away. All around the banks now green leaves & violet flowers are rushing in. All around the banks now the darkest mud dank with rot offers fertile stands. It is becoming a marsh of black & green & violet, rot-fertile smells tangled up & rutting in wild mint flowering underfoot. Fifteen feet in rushing green roots, & of course it is ridiculous that they do this.
It is in the bottoming out of a few summer weeks that flowers flower in the fifteen feet, & of course this is ridiculous. Just as soon the water will come back in & there will be no place for roots, & surely they know this, because of how moving through outer space works & how the sun works & how in schedules the water is out & in & how for now Grass Lake is in the sun & filled with scalding light & rooting in rot, though much more often all around the banks water is coming in & the darker muds are fifteen feet away at least & this is what is usual, & of course this what is usual. The fir trees in the field shake & grimace. If little rooting leaves could be convinced out of life like this, life like in seasons, like in schedules, in repetitions & in dark dirt, lifelike in the church of a few summer weeks stretched & in violet mint, surely they would have by now. Surely they’d spare themselves that.
sketch of a job that you had
The most important thing to remember is that you can never stop lying & no one is going to help you unless you trick them. This is especially true at work. If the food court manager asks you if you can work an espresso machine, & if you know baristas make an extra twenty-five cents an hour, & if you’d do just about anything to avoid folding another burrito for people five years younger & much more educated than you, you know damn well what to say.
At first, your shots are bitter & thin. They look more like dirty water than the beautiful, rippling terracotta that Sonja can pour. You get frustrated & jealous sometimes, but she just laughs it off. Sonja’s alright. She doesn’t rat you out for clearly not knowing how to do your job, so you do some of her busy work when you can, to make it look like you are friends. You consider her an accomplice to the lie, or at least a cool aunt who doesn’t really care one way or another. She teaches you how to steam milk, how to avoid burning it by listening to foam rumble. “If it sounds like it’s screaming, just stop. You’re doing something wrong,” she explain-demands in that way that she does. Sonja’s movements are precise, she’s been working at the cafe for years, she can work every machine in time with some secret rhythm. She says she used to be a dancer, but she doesn’t keep in practice anymore. You wonder if those skills haven’t just gone to different ends.
Lying takes a lot of upkeep, especially for you, because you’re the best at lying, which means you bring 110% to every falsehood & also don’t know when to quit. You watch youtube videos, read the backs of coffee bags like periodicals, linger at Starbucks counters just long enough to catch some jargon. After a month or two, you get pretty good at pretending to know anything at all about coffee. You don’t really consider the possibility that maybe you’ve earnestly learned anything—it’s all definitely pretend. You don’t even like coffee that much. It’s been harder for you to drink it since you quit smoking, the taste is invasive on your uncured tongue. A lot of things have been harder to drink since you quit smoking, actually. It kind of feels like a curse to actually be able to taste an IPA. One time, Sonja tried to use a gender neutral pronoun to describe you, but afterwards her face twisted up like she’d tasted something awful & tanic. Maybe she just needed a cigarette. You regret telling her anything.
Over the course of a few more months, you decide that your favorite thing about espresso is actually the tiny cups that it’s served in. The first best thing about the cups is that they are adorable, & the second best thing is how easy it is to slip them to attractive people for free when the manager isn’t looking. You give away a lot of espresso, because a lot of very attractive people like coffee, like it to be in adorable cups, like it to be free, & are willing to pay attention to you to get it. This works too well sometimes, & some of the attractive people have actively attempted to befriend you, which you find repellent. The only real friend you have among the customers is the early morning custodian from the communications building. You offer her any free drink she likes, because you have worked as a custodian & feel a kinship with her, & also because her smile does something to you. She only ever asks for a small drip coffee. You oblige, even though you’d gladly give her every tiny cup in the cafe if only she’d ask.
One morning, you arrive at the cafe to find the manager scrutinizing the various coffee machines. He doesn’t acknowledge you, but the workstation is not very big, so you & the manager awkwardly dance around each other for a bit, trying to do your separate jobs. You had been looking forward to making yourself some free coffee that you hate, & you are beginning to get impatient with the manager blocking the espresso machine, so you ask him what he is doing. He sighs, & says that the cafe has been making significantly less money on espresso this year, & he can’t figure out why. His boss is getting worried, & she is being terrible as a result. You hate his boss, so you manage to briefly empathize with the plight which you are causing. “Oh no,” you say. The manager shrugs, & says that probably something just needs to be recalibrated on the machines. It’s not unheard of that sometimes the bean grinder will simply grind too much bean. “Yes,” you say. “It’s probably that. Good luck.”
dh croasdill grew up in the great lakes, but now lives at the bottom of the Puget Sound. She has a B.A. in writing & is considering taking her ficus’s last name.
Elizabeth Fetterolf: “M—— is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.”
I’ve become obsessed with my boss’s wall
Or rather a specific painting that hangs there
Just behind her head
I can see it best when she dips down to sip her coffee
Or shifts her laptop, trying to find her good side
Every morning at 9am
I stare at the painting
As we gather for our daily team check-in
It’s just the two of us now
Neither of us had the heart to edit the Gcal event
There is not much to check in about
As there is not much work
So she often stretches it into lunchtime
I eat pasta I haven’t bothered to microwave
And I stare at the painting
The first two weeks she was cautiously optimistic
She’d fled to her grandmother’s old house in Vermont
(Now the family’s second home)
“Early, thank god, not like those rich fuckers
Flying from the Upper East to Sun Valley, spreading it”
The place had been in her family since 1905
“I’m so incredibly lucky
She [her grandmother] would have been happy I came”
And she [my boss] had come alone
I assumed the painting was of her grandmother
An old woman stretched out on a bed
Pallid, gaunt, in her nightdress
A terrible moment for a portrait
As if the artist had captured her right before the end
Week 3 my boss extended our check-in
Until late afternoon
We didn’t have much else “on our plates, so why don’t we just chat”
She talked and drank 10 cups of coffee
When she got up for refill number 7
Was when I noticed
That the woman in the painting didn’t look so pale
She looked almost hopeful
Like the moment the fever breaks
Maybe I had jumped to conclusions
When I saw it first—all this talk of death and disease
A month in
My boss’s roots were showing
Her teeth chattered as she went over the week’s numbers
“It’s cold in this house, almost May, but I swear there’s a chill
I’d call someone, but I don’t want to risk it
This house is a hermetically sealed bubble!”
And she laughed
She shifted her computer
And I saw the woman again
Her hair seemed
I told my boss I needed to clock out early that day
Yesterday, my boss logged on
Wrapped in a blanket
Her eyes bloodshot
“I was thinking you could write a quarterly report
I know it’s been slow the past few weeks
But I really think Q3 is going be crazy
She stopped then
And doubled down
I caught a glimpse
Of the old woman behind her
And saw that she was sitting up
Elizabeth Fetterolf (they/them) lives in crown heights, organizes with NYC DSA SocFem, and occasionally makes theatre!
Mike Fracentese: “Poem on the Shore of Canada in the Late Devonian”
Does the air taste different today? Or is it that we can taste the air at all?
Every day we stray further from god’s darkness, from the roiling black
we come from, that sea of blood. Our eyes aren’t used to this light,
our bodies to this heaviness. Every day we learn new ways to use ourselves:
ways that bend to breaking, ways we weren’t shaped for
if we were shaped at all. Every day we hold our breath a little longer
until we don’t have to, until this nature is second nature. Thank oxygen,
the trees learning to breathe out as we learn to breathe in.
Or not trees yet, exactly: we won’t call them trees when
we decide what to call the things that happened to us
aside from just the things that happened to us.
But they have leaves the same way we have lungs and legs: almost.
Where we’re going, we won’t need gills. Where we’re going,
we weren’t meant to be. If our ancestors are looking
up at us, they’re turning in their graves, or in the depths
that bones float down to. Our children, if we have children,
will last longer on the land. Our children’s children,
if, et cetera, won’t remember the darkness or the roiling.
Will perhaps have problems of their own, but we can’t help that.
All we can do is haul ourselves up the shore every day,
is find a nice spot to die in the beginnings of shade,
to fertilize what’s children’s children might be trees
that our children’s children might climb.
Mike is the founding editor of Distance Yearning and also runs the Flight Recorder Reading Series (now the Flight Simulator Remote Readings). He's been making more on unemployment than he was making at his last job, and he's not making a lot on unemployment.
Rosalind Grush: "florida and a robot", "missed"
florida and a robot
i missed an important meeting
well it wasn't a meeting
it was a phone call
and it wasn't important
but it was important to me
and i missed it
i was asleep
i woke up
to a missed call and voicemail
mortified does not begin to describe
my feelings in that moment
is not a part of mortified
immediately the quest began
to find out
WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED
aka was this my fault or was it possibly
olivia is a robot
who helps schedule meetings
with her boss
she chats online
like a person
to schedule these meetings
with diction and syntax
and responses to curveball
like, have a lovely day
she has a little picture next to her name
that makes her look
like a person
with an age
and a hairstyle
that she chose
so she has a life outside of
but i think she is a robot
because at the bottom of the screen
"Olivia by Paradox"
olivia tells time in EDT
and when it comes up,
i tell time in EST
like the fucking EAST
though i know that's not what it is
but because olivia is
i figured EDT were letters that have to do with her
not letters that have to do with me
they do apply to me
olivia said once
in a weird small place
the meeting was in EDT
which is not what
i, a person
if i, a person
were scheduling a meeting
with another person
in another time zone
i live in LA
this meeting was about
an LA thing
a thing 20 minutes from where i live
the person i am trying to talk to
why is he in FLORIDA
why would i know he was in FLORIDA
i assumed he was
20 minutes from where i live
olivia even said
to expect a call from
an 818 number
that is an LA number
not a florida number
which is weird
why would you stress that
and not EDT
you would do that
because you're a robot
and not a person
anyway i missed the meeting
has not confirmed
a new time yet
a new florida time yet
she says there are no
florida times currently available
i am being sabotaged
by a robot
who may or may not be
who may or may not be
none of this is even a paradox
which is also really annoying
this florida robot
is keeping me
from this unimportant phone meeting
that is important to me
even after i told her
to have a lovely day
but maybe she knew
i was testing her
and that is why
she is now testing me
i thought my therapist ghosted me
in the shift to online living
but he sent me a
in our school's online
secure messaging portal
and i missed it
and now it seems
i ghosted my therapist
so that'll be something we'll have to address
when we go back from being ghosts
to being people
Rosalind Grush used to run The Tank, a non-profit home for emerging artists in New York City. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA and trying to get a dog.
Richard LeDue: "My Anxiety After Seven Weeks in Isolation"
Still losing thoughts like snow
falling off the roof on a spring night
when frosted windows
invite fingers to write names,
as if reminding us who we are,
and conversations still drop in mid sentence,
smash like a snow globe,
where a house decorated for Christmas
survived angry hands
only to suffocate in the open.
Richard LeDue was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, but currently lives in Norway House, Manitoba with his wife and son. His poems have appeared in various publications throughout 2019, and more work is forthcoming throughout 2020, including a chapbook from Kelsey Books.
Landry Levine: “To Make America, Head North”
New York City is no place to be during a pandemic, or so I’m told. You’ve got to get a lovely store-bought country home, or so I’m told, so with that in mind I pack my bag and head north.
With a compass in my palm, I follow the needle, imagining that once I get far enough from the city I’ll sense I’m in the right spot and begin to search for appropriate lodging. With the economy in free fall I figure it can’t be too hard to find some haute homeowners with an ill-advised property or two to slough off. I packed my millions in cash, prepared to make a serious offer upfront, preferably before nightfall, so that I can watch the sunset that very evening from my new back porch, sipping a cocktail of whatever the previous owners might have left behind.
After driving for a while, the city receding from rearview to recent memory, I am ready to start over, I think. The reversal of white flight was a mistake; let’s go back out into the wilderness, a techno-Thoreau for the times, Zoom calling into the Met Gala and sending our children to little country schoolhouses where the school marm is a double PhD straight off of adjuncting at Yale.
I’m about three-fifths of the way through a detailed mental inventory of exactly how I might spin this New America to investors and possibly the creative class, when I look outside for the first time and am troubled to see much time has passed. While the sun is still about midway in its transit, I can infer that in fact several days have passed since my departure by the fuller bloom in the trees lining the highway. But that’s not all: the trees themselves look different than they should. Where I am expecting to see the apple orchards and Appalachian oak-hickory of the Hudson Valley, instead I see cedar elm and pecan trees of a far different clime. Something is very, very wrong.
Not one for alarm, I keep driving until the trees give way to plains, and the plains to desert. The sky opens up like pac man's mouth. I haven’t run out of fuel, but then again my car is built to last. I haven’t eaten, but then again last week’s feast kept me full til now. Life’s obstacles are immaterial to me, so I keep driving, intent on finding the America at the end of the road that I have always known was mine to make.
I cross borders like scribbles on scratch paper, first county, then state, then national. I don’t actually stop until I hit some traffic at a backwater canal (specifically, boat traffic; I do not yield to cars nor pedestrians). I check my rearview again to see for the first time a long line of cars behind me, all of which look expensive though none more expensive than mine. The woman at the wheel behind me holds in her hand, too, a compass, which she checks like a watch, or her email. I glance again at mine, and find it still points forward, north, where I am intending to make my new home. It seems like everyone else had the same idea, but I suppose there will be suburbs of mansions for us all.
While I wait for boat traffic to clear up, impatient to get my engines running again, I spot someone on the side of the road, walking the opposite direction from our caravan of cars. They look worse for wear, but sturdy. “Hello, fellow traveller,” I venture, rolling down my window; “Need a lift?” They turn to face me for a moment, and hold up a compass of their own, its needle pointing straight south. “You go your way and I’ll go mine,” they offer me, tone neutral but voice resolved, and continue trekking on their way.
I shrug to myself, not too bothered by the declined act of charity, and look ahead to see the boat traffic has cleared up, and I can continue on my way. I remain ignorant of the geomagnetic reversal that has scrambled the relative trajectories of this passerby and me; and ignorant too of the actions by the determined little ones who, knowing they hadn’t made the compass, ventured instead to change the very poles themselves.
Landry hasn’t sent in a bio yet, but will soon!
Michael McSweeney: “content marketing”
on Friday we got our paychecks at 3 a.m. that day I wrote 5 blog posts including one about why short-selling an underwater home is a great idea, imagining a family's shoes soaked by water seeping through the door. I watched the sales team open a bottle of brown liquor & leave it beside a stack of plastic cups in the center of the room. after hours we bummed menthols from the doorman & played Super Smash Bros at the nerd bar until it was time to shield ourselves from the winter wind coming in from the harbor & cackle our way to the subway.
on Friday we got our paychecks at 7 a.m. that day I wrote 12 blog posts including three about why you should short-sell your home even if the ground is dry & your daughter hasn't been shouted at in the street, even if the water is still at bay. I watched the sales lead carry an open bottle of brown liquor into the CEO's office at 2 p.m. & the door didn't open again, even when it was 6 p.m. & we ran out of reasons to be there. after hours we bummed menthols from the doorman & I gave him two bucks & we talked about his sons, what kind of men he thought they'd be, what he hoped they'd learn. I walked to the subway & later my head throbbed as the train trundled across the dark & icy Charles.
on Friday we got our paychecks at noon. that day I wrote 30 blog posts including seven about why you shouldn't own a home, why the housing market's for suckers, it's a renter's paradise, why you might as well slice holes in your wallets & purses & bank accounts. I watched the sales lead cough & grip his desk & stare red-eyed at the intern seated ten feet away. the CEO hadn't been in all week. there were more empty desks this week than before. the talk about Google, how it had changed, how we were fucked, came in whispers that smelled like empty bars. after hours the doorman gave me his last cigarette & we quietly watched airplanes drift above downtown Boston, burning fuel & waiting for permission to land.
on Friday we waited to get paid. that day I kept watching my sun-scorched bank account. I wrote 200 blog posts, every single one about borrowing. it didn't matter what or from who, just borrow, goddammit. do it now, I wrote. do it now. I kept typing it even after I'd submitted my work. I watched someone carry a box away from their desk & leave behind an empty bottle shaped like an AK-47. I thought about the Marathon bombing one week before, the photos of smoke & flame frozen on every computer screen, how close we all felt to one another in the stairwell, the cacophony of our voices. I thought about my neighborhood in Watertown becoming a warzone days later, homes searched at gunpoint, police detonating pipe bombs in the road, silent helicopters floating in the sky. I thought about gunfire bursting in the direction of a boat, how a city cheered anxiously when the cops hauled the young killer away.
on Friday we found an office as empty as a draft resignation. that morning we lingered outside on the stone benches & smoked the last of the cigarettes down to the filters. we let them burn our fingertips because it gave us something to do, anything, anything at all, as the July air beat us up & found our wallets empty.
Michael McSweeney is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. He recently published a poetry chapbook, Tell Them to Watch For Me: The Poems of NASA Astronaut Jennifer Hartwell, and he frequently tweets at @mpmcsweeney.
Madeline Adelle Phillips: "Sonnet XII", "New Sex"
Has my body always been a weapon?
It takes one sigh to extinguish a flame
and one second to decide to step on
a spider. If we’re all gods, who’s to blame
if the curve refuses to flatten? Time
to return to baking unleavened bread:
there’s a shortage of yeast; a rise in crime;
the state of emergency bleeds bright red.
When I was sixteen, I read myths and wished
I’d wake up one day with a gorgon’s gaze
so that I could make the staring men stiff
in a different way. I can’t discern days
from years. Tell me, how long has one stray breath
been the domino in a chain of death?
Lesser-known erogenous zones
include fingertips, sliced jalapenos,
and the dark folds on the underside of a portobello;
they are so hot and plush to the touch.
See also: white candytuft, pink pig squeak,
magenta azalea, and red rhododendron.
On my walk through the heather garden today,
I stood for ten minutes watching some fat bumblebees
have their way with them. Have I always been a voyeur?
The slack-jawed lilies leered along with me,
and we both shivered lasciviously
when the buzzing breeze bussed our erect necks.
Remember the time I made you chili?
I had just sliced my first jalapeno,
and you lamented that I had left out the seeds
because that’s where all the flavor is.
My fingertips were on fire, but you liked the heat;
we exchanged burning kisses
and avoided using our hands
because we didn’t want to hurt each other.
(People don’t do it for me anymore;
I’d rather fondle flowers and forage for mushrooms -
I am so sick of touching myself.)
Madeline is an actress, fine art model, and poet based in NYC. Quarantine is making her feel like she's living in a Chekhov play; she spends her days dancing on the threshold between hysterical laughter and tears (like, literally dancing, and usually in her kitchen.) Her biggest quarantine accomplishment to date is mastering the fine art of whipped coffee. Follow her at @reign_of_madeline and @minimodelmadeline.
Rachel Tanner: “i could leave this body”
the main difference between today & yesterday
is that yesterday i didn't want to die
crept up on me sometime in the night
somewhere in my dreams i guess
my lack of future found me hiding among
all the plants i've accidentally killed this decade
brown messy topknot clothes
stained with soup & sweat
i could shower but i won't could leave my bed
but i won't could sing at the top of my lungs
but i won't maybe it's for the best that
i spend all this time alone because
putting someone else through this just feels
cruel in a very clumsy way i can't articulate
it's my birthday all i want to do is
crawl inside a space that
doesn't already know my shape
(what a thrill it must be to not know who i am)
Rachel Tanner tweets @rickit.