At the dinner table, our parent’s one request, Connie sat hunchback and tight-lipped, growling at the bread rolls, squinting at the glasses of lemonade, and rearranging the silverware into an X. No one queried her thoughts or asked for an opinion. But I could hear her—screaming—smoothness, you stupid mother fuckers, is meant for those who haven’t yet been sliced apart.
—The Seconds after Living Wounds
Siren Stitches is a 300-page, 55,000-word literary fiction short-story collection grounded in contemporary middle class American (and global) life revealed in lucid tones of melancholy, grit, poetry, and surprising wonder.
A married couple uses the internet to discover the highs and lows of marriage. Marla struggles to sell her dead teenage son’s Audi. A nine-year old Bohra Girl from India has no control of a burgeoning body predetermined to suffer by other people’s hands. A family riddled with secrets and lies loses everything, and then a little more. A thirty-something woman can’t stop the inner voices. A little boy goes to great lengths to engender a father figure. Brothers take comfort in each other’s demise. Braden comes home for Thanksgiving from college and finds an unexpected distraction from familial angst and ruination. Gender is confronted on a death bed and adoption is revealed by an old man in a booth at Perkin’s.
bereft and the same sex heart
Bloodwork is a literary short-story fiction collection, grounded in contemporary middle class American life and revealed in lucid tones of melancholy, poetry, and surprising wonder.
Harold buys a framed photograph of a lighthouse, unintentionally undermining the foundation his wife, Hannah, has come to expect. Implication explodes into battle for one man waiting for an HIV test result, as it does for five girls talking boys, nicknames, and sex at a slumber party. What’s forbidden and out of reach comes into plain sight when Lanny decides to climb the farmyard silo. A male bulimic catches his reflection in a toilet bowl and begins to question the idea of recovery. A mother and daughter, void of money, fill a grocery cart and plan their getaway. A little boy watches his father make a table for a governor. Preacher Victoria preaches until reality steals her voice.
At its heart, Bloodwork seeks to find inroads of belonging on a fitful path scattered with (dis)entanglements.
It began in the countryside where fourth generation farmers tilled the hardy soil exposed in large rectangles, outlined by poplars and jack pine. The old Swedish and Norwegian accents could still be heard in the tinkling voices of the elder women who gathered to weave rugs by hand. The sometimes terrifying solitude of the countryside and the beauty of a nature that would somehow spring up through a deeply frozen land profoundly formed Sam's perspective.
Samuel Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event management. He is a poet, flash fiction geek, and essayist enthusiast. His work has appeared in many literary journals, including Pure Slush, Pomona Valley Review, Dual Coast, The Paragon Journal, and Foliate Oak. He is also a prize-winning card maker and scrapbooker.
Sometimes I start a book not expecting very much and am not surprised at what I get, usually the case with courtesy reads. Other times I expect much and am disappointed as in those duds I acquire on the deceptive basis of a glowing review. Then there’s those rare times I expect much and receive much, much more, so much that I’m overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of what comes to me. This is the case with Bereft.
I think my astonishment began at Revival Extravaganza (one of my three favorites, the other two being Nordstom’s and Traveling Light, the volume’s symbolic trinity) and increased page by page after that, where the Coleridgean “sacred river” of creative energy ran in a powerful flow, flooding over the barren ground of IQ Test, sweeping away the paratactic bramble in Strike(r), Missing Your Birthday, Patriarchless, et al., and snapping away the anaphoric deadwood in Anyone But Jesus, Circumlocution, Gaining Perspective, et al. Your versatility of style and form is wide ranging and catches nuances of love and loss like a gymnast’s skilled performance ending with a perfect dismount. Ultimately I “immerse your gravity into my thoughts” (to paraphrase).
I don’t know if it’s just the coincidence of raw talent or whether you’ve actually mastered the techniques of modernists like Elizabeth Bishop’s use of worldly detail (“the roundabout crossroads gone dark,” “a floss pick you tossed aside and forgot”) and Robert Lowell’s and John Berryman’s confessional style. You’ve got Larkin matched on metaphor. All of it is way too good for the local spoken word circuit.
Your narrator seems to have subconsciously picked up the Pentecostal spellbindingness from exposure to it in childhood, perhaps inherited from his mother, and accounts for his fixation propensities and flights of inspiration and speaking in tongues (of his own). I felt as swept into these poems as if seduced by the spirit at a revival meeting. Revival and Nordstrom’s (to choose just two), are masterpieces of preoccupied focus. When the narrator says, “Why can’t she be under the influence of me” I would ask in the case of Nordstrom’s, why am I under the influence of her, “adrift in an intoxicating trance”? There’s something of Paradise Lost here too, where Satan (narrator) no longer “under the spell” of Heaven, prefers the “Here-and-Now Nirvana” of Hell (Nordstrom’s basement) where he is “Prince” of another “Kingdom.” In both instances being or not being “under the spell” is transformed into exalted poetry that puts the reader under a spell. To find aesthetic transcendence in religious fanaticism and men’s room nasty is high risk, but you do it with élan. Incidentally, anaphora is used to the highest degree of mastery in Nordstrom.
The final poem, Traveling Light, is the one I’ve chosen to put in my commonplace book and mark for memorization. It’s a clear and altogether appropriate ending to the collection, to which I might append as an epigram these lines from I Hurt: “I can reach the phantoms bullying the / comparisons lining your blackouts.”
Merry Christmas, maestro!
Author, Motels of Burning Madness, The Drill Press