The Imagined Congestion of Hell
At the dinner party, long past the unrhythmic discussions of family, films, books, world events, politics, investments, infidelities, sexual fantasies, a guidance counsellor at a local high school who had earlier revealed a twenty-year-ago nervous breakdown and a proclivity for blindfolded sexual experimentation, asks everyone left if they were to die in a room alone, bare except for a single painting from the history of painting, cave drawings to the most modern, including postmodern splashes of concept, he describes like an almost-drunk art historian, “What would you like that painting to be?” Then as he begins to sip another drink, now fully drunk, and the answers from those remaining leap forth, a romp through the history of art, until an elegant woman who had spoken little all night points to a kitchen wall with an oversized clock and says with the confidence of a person who has vanquished both boredom and trepidation in a single breath: “Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, the panel dealing with the imagined congestion of Hell,” and a man who has the most colourful tattoo anyone at the party has ever seen, a tattoo that two of the people at the dinner party had earlier called a work of art, asks the woman why that painting of all paintings. “Because I wanted to see what awaits me,” she says with measured words bereft of irony and he falls painfully in love.
“The Imagined Congestion of Hell” was first published in The Toucan. Used with permission of the author.
Fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published fifteen books, including Our Hero in the Cradle of Confederation (Novel, Pottersfield Press), Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), An Affection for Precipices (Poetry, Serengeti Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books), and Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions). A new short story collection, Madhouses in Heaven, Castles in Hell, is forthcoming from Ekstasis Editions.
pictured: Hell, third panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, 1480-1505.
A Kind Angel Calls Here
old house window
like something warm
the ocean’s edge
the second storey
a sliver of light
of gold, flaxen
visits the house
like a kind angel
by Joan MacIntosh
Joan MacIntosh lives in St. John's, Newfoundland and writes poetry, fiction and essays, paints and journals. Her poetry has been previously published in TickleAce, Leafpress, Newfoundland Herald, and other publications. She finds that simple visual images find themselves in poetry and paintings and often discovers haiku through journal writing.
This poem was originally published by Words, Bumps and Noises.
The Hunting Museum
A museum each day is my goal. I’ve been to Paris enough times to skip the big sites. Today’s destination is the Musee de la Chasse et Nature. There are few visitors on this quiet Sunday, and one guard stalks a young family, chastising the children when they pet the stuffed porcupine. The guard with the thick eyeglasses follows me, switching on videos while gesturing effusively with a smattering of English, “Boom! POW! Ouch!” I nod, as if I understand.
There’s no air conditioning, and I feel seriously hot and retire to the toilette to mop my face. Re-entering the exhibit I feel heat again, and ascending the staircase it intensifies. Strangely, I feel like I’m picking up some sort of energy from the animals. It’s as if I’m hearing a party in the next room, but when I enter the Trophy Room it is empty and mounted heads of gazelles, stags, and boar gaze down on me. A black bear with menacing teeth and claws regards me through glass eyes. This probably gives everybody the willies.
I must have fainted. The nice guard pats my hand and yammers away in French. I tell him I’m fine, and realize I’m speaking French. I slip away, mortified, to an exhibit I saw earlier-- fantasy creatures made of taxidermy and feathers. One is a boar with a duck grafted onto its back and pheasant wings for ears…that sort of thing. Another installation is a small walk-in closet. The ceiling features owl heads fashioned from colorful feathers, and yellow glass eyes stare down at me. I close the curtain and the lighting becomes dramatic. The ceiling begins to revolve. Cool. The ceiling spins, and the feathers blur. Really, this is a tad claustrophobic. I yank the curtain but behind it is another wall. The ceiling slows, and I’m thinking, ready to go. Right now. There is a door now; carved oak with bronze hardware. The hinges creak. Back home someone would have filed a lawsuit by now. The door finally gives.
The closet must open into another exhibit. Impressive. This one is a banquet with massive platters of meat, goblets, trenchers, and fruit spilling from epergnes. The pheasants still have feet and heads. It looks so real. I’m hot again, and the smell is so realistically gamey it is getting to me. I search for an exit. No way would this pass code at home. I’m getting a bit irritated. That noise again. I follow the sounds of music and laughter. In the corridor the candles in the chandeliers are dripping wax onto the stone floor. So realistic.
My friendly guard stands at the head of the stairs. He has all of his teeth, and looks younger. The burgundy guard blazer is gone and he wears leggings and a floppy velvet hat. He speaks French and I understand when he beckons. When I reach my hand out, my sleeve is damask. I take his hand and follow him down the corridor.
by Liza Nash Taylor
Liza Nash Taylor recently explored Paris's Musee de Chasse et Nature, and just had to write a story about it.
She has a BA in Fine Arts from Mary Baldwin College. Her short story "Scrapbook" is in the current edition of Microchondria II, the literary magazine of the Harvard Bookstore. Her essay, "Bad Dog," recently appeared in Bluestem Magazine. She was recently accepted to an MFA program and will begin studies in January, 2016. Taylor is from Virginia.
The Poppy of Georgia O'Keeffe
In the carmine extravagance
the skirts of a Spanish dancer swirl
flamenco rhythms, castanets
drumming her heels on a wooden floor
staccato barks, deep intricate guitars
the energy pulsing from the dark
surrounds and enters
The poppy is wide open
her petals curve
like the skirts of a mountain
filled with the morning sun
and reaching the pinnacle shout
like the flower
in strict discipline, in eloquent satori
in the wild grace of black and red.
by Janine Pommy Vega, from The Green Piano, David R. Godine Publishing, 2005
by Janine Pommy Vega
Clora, come view my soul, and tell
Whether I have contrived it well.
Now all its several lodgings lie
Composed into one gallery;
And the great arras-hangings, made
Of various faces, by are laid;
That, for all furniture, you’ll find
Only your picture in my mind.
Here thou are painted in the dress
Of an inhuman murderess;
Examining upon our hearts
Thy fertile shop of cruel arts:
Engines more keen than ever yet
Adorned a tyrant’s cabinet;
Of which the most tormenting are
Black eyes, red lips, and curlèd hair.
But, on the other side, th’art drawn
Like to Aurora in the dawn;
When in the East she slumbering lies,
And stretches out her milky thighs;
While all the morning choir does sing,
And manna falls, and roses spring;
And, at thy feet, the wooing doves
Sit pérfecting their harmless loves.
Like an enchantress here thou show’st,
Vexing thy restless lover’s ghost;
And, by a light obscure, dost rave
Over his entrails, in the cave;
Divining thence, with horrid care,
How long thou shalt continue fair;
And (when informed) them throw’st away,
To be the greedy vulture’s prey.
But, against that, thou sit’st afloat
Like Venus in her pearly boat.
The halcyons, calming all that’s nigh,
Betwixt the air and water fly;
Or, if some rolling wave appears,
A mass of ambergris it bears.
Nor blows more wind than what may well
Convoy the perfume to the smell.
These pictures and a thousand more
Of thee my gallery do store
In all the forms thou canst invent
Either to please me, or torment:
For thou alone to people me,
Art grown a numerous colony;
And a collection choicer far
Than or Whitehall’s or Mantua’s were.
But, of these pictures and the rest,
That at the entrance likes me best:
Where the same posture, and the look
Remains, with which I first was took:
A tender shepherdess, whose hair
Hangs loosely playing in the air,
Transplanting flowers from the green hill,
To crown her head, and bosom fill.
Andrew Marvell, 17th century
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