THE MISSIONARY BY JOSEPH SALING 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 67
Roger woke up when Billy Wise from the house next door came out to go to school. “Good morning, Mr Grumbee,” Billy said. “You camping out?”
Roger looked up into the boy’s face but didn’t say anything. So, Billy stepped around him and went on his way.
“Good morning, Boss,” Pete said. “Sleep well?”
“What?” Roger asked as he sat up. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know. I sold my watch. You sure missed a great sunrise. “
MATCHES BY COLE PRAGIDES 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 67
CURE-ALL BY REBECCA BECK 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 67
I spend more time reading fiction than is good for my writing. I started when I was 10, riding my green Schwinn to the branch library in Gary, Indiana, US, and loading a basket with Nancy Drew, and the Donna Parker series. A couple of years later, Poe and Dickens’s Copperfield enthralled me. In my mid-teens with babysitting money I bought Asimov, Heinlein, and Vonnegut at the used-book store. Today I think of the additional hours I’d have for writing if I let up a bit on Oates, Erdrich, Murakami, and more recently, Taddeo. I think one reason I can’t let up is because for me the worlds of writers are pure. As a reader I can normalize their lush sensory content and outrageous realities. This stretches my acceptance of the absurd elements in my world and hopefully bolsters my capacity for compassion. I keep spinning yarns, unthreading words and images that often don’t seem to offer the impact I want, asking my writer friends for feedback, then rewriting. It’s a compulsion as driven as my reading. It’s also just plain fun. I have published in Earth’s Daughters, The Girlfriends Issue, Buffalo, NY, 1994; Poems That Thump in the Dark, New Spirit Press Chapbook Series, Kew Gardens, NY, 1994; and Wind Magazine, Lexington, KY, 2002, #86. I moved recently to Asheville, North Carolina, and discovered a profound writing community. The Great Smokies Writing Program offers support for both emerging and experienced writers. One of the instructors, Marjorie Klein, submitted a story I wrote in her class to The Great Smokies Review. That spurred me on.
At first I struggled to read, but as soon as I learned, my eyes were plastered to paperbacks from the ages of eight to 14. Then I tried to write a novel in seventh grade. I wanted to create astoundingly complex characters, impeccable symbolism, and a plot no other tween could ever dream up. I failed miserably. Pushing away reading and writing, I explored a wide variety of other interests. For years I played music, painted, played sports, built machines, and studied sciences. Innate competitiveness coupled with my upbringing made me default to approaching everything analytically. I broke down the mechanics of a baseball swing. I memorized time signatures. I created cause and effect where there was none. I wanted the underbelly of each leaf I flipped over to hold an answer. Towards the end of high school, an itch for self-expression began to form. I wanted my pores to ooze my own pheromones and not the ideas, aspirations, and influences of others. Slowly, now I am learning to trust myself. To feel without thinking. To let puzzle pieces float around in front of my eyes without clawing at them compulsively. To stop treading water and just float on my back. Soon I hope to throw my words across pages and walls with reckless abandon. I am now studying Environmental Engineering and Creative Writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
I was nine years old and sitting on the front porch swing at my grandparents’ house with my cousin. She asked what I was going to do when I grew up, and I told her I was going to write books about Jesus. “Really?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. “My mother will read them,” she said. “And then she’ll cry.” That was all it took. I was going to be a writer. Could there be anything better than to write something that someone else will read and then cry? But I’ve never written a book about Jesus. I write what I think I saw and what I think it means, and I don’t have to be right about any of it. When you read what I’ve written you’ll come to it with what you’ve seen, what you think you’ve seen, and what you think it means. And together we will have created art. My writing has been published in journals like The Raintown Review and the Bacopa Literary Review, and I have a book of poems called A Matter of Mind published by FootHills Publishing.
It was after I quit sailing that I realised that once you have been to sea you are not the same any more. You look at everything differently—love, life, society, and the world. You become a reluctant outlander. One evening when I was sitting on a pier in Rotterdam I saw the ships anchored in the distance and I recalled how during my sailing days I used to look at the shore from the portholes. The shore to me was an outside world then. I grew up in a small town in the east part of India, close to the city of Kolkata. The town was pretty dead and depressing, just like thousands of other small towns in that country. So as a kid I found solace in my father’s library. I read books mostly about the sea, nature, and adventure. Moby Dick, Sinbad the Sailor, and short stories of Ruskin Bond were my favourites. They influenced me to join the merchant navy and become a sailor. I discovered poetry during the sailing days. I got hugely inspired by the works of Pablo Neruda and Bukowski. Sufi poetry is another favourite, especially the poems of Rumi. Themes like solitude, nature, and romanticism were close to me. I sailed for a few years and then I studied masters in shipping at Newcastle University, England. After my graduation which was about two years back, I moved to Rotterdam, the port city of the Netherlands, where I work now as a business analyst for a chemical transporting firm.
I try to write something every day and I have set aside a time of day reserved for writing only, as I feel that consistency in developing writing routines is very important. With regularity comes a seriousness about the writing rather than a haphazard way of practicing one’s craft. In this poem I tap into a time of my youth that I had some conflict in my family and a time of my life when I was growing up and finding my way as well as stretching my limits and exploring the world of my adolescence. I was something of a rebel and yet also not wanting to stray too far from my comfortable familiar home. The time that the poem addresses was an exciting time for me and yet one of great uncertainty.
I’m 89 years old and so my literary career has had a bit of a late start, but I’m intently focused on honing my craft for as many years as I have left. I wrote Last Efforts in a workshop led by the poet Art Elsner. We were handed a packet of poems to read. There were some poems with which I related, others not. For instance, there was one where a guy was talking about being high-spirited and young—and I don’t know why Dorian Gray came to mind, but he did. I thought, “So what about if you’re tired and wrinkled?” But the Wendell Berry poem had a forward look to it, and that’s what inspired my poem. As Berry says, our last efforts should include something that lives beyond us. My chapbook Poetica de Poetica published by Prolific Press has poems about the craft of poetry itself: prose vs poetry, mentors, revision, metaphor, allegory, avoiding duds, and so on. My philosophy on writing is in the opening poem: you need to integrate your art with your mind and gut in order to create powerful works. My poetry has been published in Evening Street, Poet’s Haven, Suddenly Senior, The Raven’s Perch, Trajectory, WestWard Quarterly, and other magazines. I’ve also written an unpublished memoir-in-poetry, Depression Baby. I teach ethics and political history at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Denver, and I just wrote an ethics textbook entirely in poetry.
As a 76-year-old woman of color I view the world from the perspective of the “otherness” of all marginalized entities including non-human animals and intelligent machines or “robots”. It is no accident that the ongoing preoccupation of my writing concerns the consequences of the technological revolution, in particular the future of artificial intelligence (AI ) and the extent to which the robots or humanoids have the potential to become indistinguishable from their human creators. I describe F9N3-1 (also in my story Match.com® in Issue 66 of the 34thParallell Magazine) as a non-binary service worker, and they experience many of the same problems common to humans. It is reasonable to ask whether F9N3-1 is sentient in the same manner as a human being, but to date I have only envisioned them as a complex replicant capable of empathy. Their coders might be curious to know whether more advanced models might be programmed to fall in love and to love as humans do, and I have recently begun to ask myself what that state of being entails. In other words, what traits characterize an entity capable of engaging fully in a committed relationship and reciprocal romantic feelings? RACTER, a bot who produces “human-like computer poems” addresses these questions in one of “his” [sic] works, writing, “Does steak love lettuce? Does an electron love a proton or does it love a neutron? Does a man love a woman, or does Bill love Diane?” RACTER goes on to say that human love involves “endless pain” and “perpetual pleasure” and that “that is not the love of steak and lettuce, of electron and proton and neutron”. It is interesting and important to point out that RACTER may not be aware of the meaning of what “he” has written. But the field of AI is relatively new and who is to say what it is destined to achieve? Successors to the F9N3-1 model may one day gain the constitutional right to marry, an imaginable event that would make an interesting topic for a work of fiction.