Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Two Planes in Love” by Annie Liontas.
In this story,
1. I save the girl.
2. To get the girl.
In this story,
1. I lose the girl.
2. I find the girl.
I am racing to the field where they will launch so I can save her one more time. She is on a vessel and will pull a trigger and fire will shoot out, and she will cease to be what she is. She will become, instead, herself in flight. This is similar to the difference between batter and cake—with wet, clumpy batter being life and the risen, sugary cake being afterlife. Once in flight, she becomes approximate, not exact, and that much farther from me, and that much closer to death.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read a poem by John Randolph Carter.
My Lawn Is Loose
Goblins and gin tankers descend on the pit.
The nightmare scenario plays out.
This is not the end, but close.
I wriggle out of my sleeping bag and sneeze.
Only then does my dream materialize.
She stands before me in a misty shroud.
I could swear she is wearing snake gators.
The bumptious chef drawn even.
It occurs to me that lunch is served.
Sliding slowly into the saddle I begin to chew.
“This is the life,” says the rider behind me.
Four quartets sing in the midday fog.
Whichever way I trot there is music.
Eventually the trail ride becomes anticlimactic.
What’s a six-letter word for bamboozled?
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Mons Pubis” by Lee Paige.
My civic self fruited only once. In teenhood, I loitered in a negligible township ten hours from here, maybe more, where my mother toyed with audits until late in the evenings as a municipal comptroller and where my father spent daylight hours alone in our yard, red-faced, picking cellophane and betel nut out of the grass—or when the spirit moved him, hammering together more fencing to discourage “Indians” from yellowing a path through the property. I liked very much watching him quit all this, pull on a clean shirt, and split the ranks of these workers who were headed home from the nearby talc quarry and really only cutting the corner to halve the time to the bus stop. I remember him looking very red among them, his face a stubbed-toe, bald, against the flow, striking out for another night shift paddling the factory vats, manufacturing astringent, which the world kept dabbing at and demanding more of.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read three poems by Eric Higgins.
We raised this city together. Good Enough, it’s called.
On the main drag built a gilded entrance, my partner and I.
Suits and tie tacks—no one, and not us—thought we were bilkers
We wrested out a myth. We thought the time prime,
rolled carpet like dice. At city council
not just elegance was a promise we made.
People are reasonable, we reasoned;
in a billfold is a thing everyone wants to take.
They’d guessed we were fleecing ourselves
so if they took a little none would be the wiser.
Desert dons with their dumb house-of-card tricks,
they thought. And by giving we bought.
It’s possible to think right but be wrong.
A starched shirt in that heat is a myth—
vision, eloquence: witness, these come from wrestling.
Translated from the Spanish by Kimberly Traube
It was the iguana’s fault. We stopped in the desert next to one of those men who spend their whole lives squatting, holding three iguanas by the tail. The man we called El Tomate, “the Tomato,” inspected the merchandise as if he knew something about green animals.
The peddler, with a face carved by sun and drought, told us that iguana blood restored sexual energy. He didn’t tell us how to feed the animal, because he thought we would eat it right away.
El Tomate works for a travel magazine. He lives in a ghastly building that looks out on the Viaduct. From his apartment, he describes the beaches of Polynesia.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry.
Sears Modern Home
Don’t touch the river. And here you are with seaweed between your teeth. Beak marks pock your neck, silt pulls down your pockets like gold. Two little girls are sitting on the front steps of a broken-down tow-flat watching you go by, their absolute stillness and the Sears Modern Home blue sky beyond giving them a deadpan look. Well, more deadpan than the chandelier-crashing, chest-beating, picture-frames-pushed-off-the-piano-top, ghosts-wailing-behind-the-wallpaper, walk-the-plank scene you are surely moving toward. No point in trying to tell her the real story, she wouldn’t believe you, and anyway, you don’t remember it. You’ll be alive tomorrow. You’re just waiting for the conveyance that will take you there.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Bollywood Duet” by Kyle Minor and Dini Parayitam.
“Talk to your father.”
“It’s because I’m not Indian, right?”
“It’s because you’re married.”
“It’s because I’m not as good looking as your mother wants.”
“It’s because you’re married.”
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read three poems by Alex Dimitrov with art by Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
Seduction and Its Immediate Consequences
One April in autumn you were my story for hours.
The silence of those days became like a shirt.
“His screaming fits were nothing other than
attempts at seduction,” writes Freud in The Wolfman.
How many accounts for how many things and what did we own?
In the movie of their lives there were people
they saw like notes in the margins
and in the vials a bright mess they carried inside.
Michael, Michael, Michael.
If a name is said enough times in a poem
something will happen. But that isn’t your name
and it isn’t a city, so where do you live?
Winter taught me to wear a very thin nothing those evenings.
When the car sped through the tunnel, when the cemetery
filled with the living, when the drink was named
for what they couldn’t quite taste.
And you didn’t decide on the friends or the lovers,
the shoes or the card that was sent and said
come—it’s a party for all of our questions.
And why shouldn’t we have it.
Why not invite what no one can have.
Immediately, he could tell. Even in the middle of the water.
Soon it will all close without warning or lights.
And between the acts, where we live,
after a while you’re wearing too much
no matter what you take off.
But you, filling the room with smoke,
trying hard to be human—
I love you and it’s cinema just to keep looking.
Listen, I would say in my messages…
on a page or a screen, through a window.
I’d follow you home but it’s a very brief night.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Manifesto” by Daniel Levin Becker with art by Katie Baines.
We are not concerned with the original intentions of the laws. We are not concerned with the universities’ motivations. We are not concerned with memories or classification. Nothing would suggest we are concerned specifically with efficiency, citizenship, merit, or standard of living. We are concerned with the “good of all.”
We are not concerned with consumption. We are not concerned with demographics. We are not concerned with broader demographics. We are not concerned with global trends. We are not concerned with global religious demographics. We are not concerned with generalities, only chicken. We are not concerned with surveys.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read a poem by Jericho Brown.
Each wounds you badly, but no boy hurts
Like the first one did
When you slept in a bed
Too narrow for two. You thought he disappeared
In the sheet and cushion,
But look at you now, 28 in a king, you wake
With a man on your mind— Head
On your chest, both of you bent
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Yachts” by Mark Baumer.
At breakfast, before he ate his single slice of dry toast, my father would sometimes try to pray, but more often he turned to talking to his reflection in the chrome toaster. One morning I heard him ask his own reflection if I would grow into anything more than an ugly prince, a cripple, and a balled-up photograph in a stained t-shirt.
When he talked about me, my childhood, and my lack of genitalia he struggled to say the words. I was seven weeks old and my dick had left for South America. At the time, my young brain could not understand this. My dick did not say or wave goodbye. The morning after he left I found a scrap of yellow legal pad taped to my groin. It read, “I want to be a fascist dictator. I want it all.” I envisioned a figure shouting, ordering the unarmed shot dead, and it felt like my dick was responsible for every atrocity in the modern world.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read a poem by erica lewis.
you know i can’t imagine you were the magic*
tell me again who i am
i say the words the words say i love
& we are all very fluent about ourselves
life as breathing exercise
We held hands beneath the dirt
We wanted to be trees
so, i’m living in your makeup
I write to hold the music of the room.
who are you when no one is around
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “(Irrelevant) Mass Delusion in Cajas” by Mauro Javier Cardenas with art by Jenna Ransom.
(Irrelevant) Mass Delusion in Cajas
on the other hand if someone were to ask Leopoldo about his pilgrimage to Cajas, where according to everyone the Virgin Mary had been appearing to a sixteen-year-old girl from Cuenca, Leopoldo wouldn’t assume a resigned facial expression or shake his head as if about to relay and unfortunate incident that happened to some other studious teenager from San Javier, but instead he would claim, in his most matter-of-fact voice, or perhaps in a voice that conceded how ridiculously unbelievable what he was about to claim was, but also underscored how commonly accepted phenomena like gravity or photosynthesis were kind of unbelievable too, that he didn’t care if what he’d witnessed in Cajas had been real or not, didn’t care if it had been mass delusion, as some had called it later, he’d been there and had seen the sun move, hundreds of thousands of believers who had pilgrimaged from Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca, Machala for what had been announced as the last apparition of La Virgen Del Cajas had gathered in a cold altiplane in the cordillera and had seen the sun move (how many times does the Virgin Mary need to appear to remind us of what we already know? how many times do we need to induce ourselves into believing she has come to warn us again that we’re on the wrong path? in how many places around the world does she need to appear for no one to disbelieve anymore or are her recurrent appearances what perpetuate disbelief?)
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read a poem by William Brewer.
Your idea was to go to sleep with your head
resting on a portrait of your self so that
by some osmosis or unconscious process
like memorization professed by actors
keen to master their lines by dreaming with a loop-
track of their play pumped directly at their ears
you’d thereby awaken assured of who you are.
Or what you keep breathing yourself into being
which has become a matter of debate
Three years ago, two artists walked into the woods.
I wake up sometime around 5 AM in Oakland, California, in a tiny bedroom stuffed with colorful paintings and arcane cultural bric-a-brac. I am in a small compartment in a labyrinthine beehive of a dwelling that houses not only an absent artist’s lifetime of work but also his professional grade woodshop, his printing press, his library, and his computer command center—the whole thing being hollowed out of an abandoned factory space. The sheer resourcefulness of its absent owner makes me feel inadequate, even though I can’t say the stylish abstract paintings appeal to me and, to boot, I find the notion of an artist decorating his house with his own work a bit risky. I believe in hiding from my art.
I’ve been here for about twenty-seven hours, preparing with my friend David Brody for our eight-day hike into the wilderness. Dave doesn’t belong here either, strictly speaking. He swapped places with the artist for a month to give his family a taste of the West Coast. I don’t like the word hike. It’s too recreational for the epic journey I would like to think we are about to embark on. I don’t much like the word epic either, but it will have to do as shorthand for the tangled feelings of exhilaration and dread I bring to this enterprise. I cannot contemplate walking in the wilderness for eight days without imagining an entire roster of possible fatal, varyingly absurd, and unlikely scenarios that might befall me. People do die all the time on hikes, but their deaths are unremarkable; laughable, really. Death by heatstroke, death by heart attack, death by bug bite, death by allergic reaction.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Mole” by Evelyn Hampton with art by Jordan Kasey.
I recently embarrassed myself among savvy friends by showing surprise at the fact that sperm determine the sex of embryos. I had thought they only made males. You knew that, my boyfriend said, looking at me sternly. No, I didn’t, I said later when we were alone outside the restaurant.
I am not surprised when everyone around me seems to take more interest in sex than I do. It seems that sex is something that people are naturally drawn to—they like to watch images of sex moving across screens, and they like to talk about and enact those images with other people.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read a poem by Ken Chen with art by Jay Cover, selected by Peter Moysaenko and Daniel Moysaenko.
(We / I) invite (you / we) to the Eden of We. What is We?
We are against fungibility, tool for dolor, but for (the 99% / purse
scent / multiple personality disorder). Before the 19th century, those
who exhibited (multiple personality disorder / capitalism) were
thought to be possessed by a “religion of sensuous appetites.”
Spiritual possession is a property relation.
We believe in ghosts, opinions we (used / use) to possess ourselves.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Rabbit Starvation” by Alexandra Kleeman with art by Allison Katz.
On the first day comes the new shipment of cotton balls, bundled in blocks and factory-wrapped, masses of plastic-trapped white that hit the floor with half as much sound as expected. On that day, we begin again: plunging long knives through the blocks, cutting straight lines along the top and sides. Cotton balls sputter from slits we stanch with our hands while we cut them free. The next day we sort. At the cotton ball factory they strive to make them all the same, but variation creeps into the shapes, some barely larger, some barely lacking. Their near-uniformity makes the differences more startling. We search the mounds for ugly ones, the ones whose variance disgusts us.
This cotton ball is fine. So is the next. The next after that suffers from a deformity, a small tuft of fluff strung out like a tail. I set it aside for mending. The next is alright, and the next.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read two poems by Danniel Schoonebeek, with art by Marshall Scheuttle.
The suit I wore the day I was born
from a thrift store was wove
out of very cheap mother
like men do
when the day comes to ruin their threads
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Looterbirds” by Kameron Bashi with art by Christian Newby.
Unlike me, our neighbor Joubert didn’t share my fear of visitors. He unlocked the door swiftly and shoved it open with his hard belly, leaving his keys to swing freely in the deadbolt and dropping his puppy on the floor of the entryway, as though she were a cat that knew how to right herself.
When I unlocked the door to let someone in, I became afraid—never when I was alone and answering from inside, but only when we stood there together, outside, watching the key slide in the lock, watching the door swing open as our cones of vision widened into the room. The first time I had to open the door for a woman I expected her eyes to speed past me and land on a stack of pink bones underneath the coffee table. I feared her sight would drift to the walls of my home office and linger on the paper dolls I’d clipped from dirty periodicals, cringing at the paper clothes I’d cut out to fold over their flat crotches, their bodies made into a safe and approachable miscellany while their faces retained pleasure. Or she would see a setup—twelve chest-high data towers lining my apartment walls and six flat-panel screens angled down on a swivel chair. She would picture me sitting under the screens’ glow, rolling around on the clear plastic I’d put down in connecting pieces over the living room’s carpet, levering the height of the seat to match my mood. I feared we would open the door and she’d see no furniture at all, no tables or chairs, no shelving, not a single cushion. I was afraid that when I opened the door she would see right into the bathroom toilet, where her eyes would alight on a turd I’d left slowly spinning in the yellow bowl. I was afraid that she would finally see the full unflattering of my backside, a gob of putty spackled on by a hand that no longer cared. I remember being scared to let her stare at it, fleshless and unshapely, as I tried to find the keyhole in the dark. I didn’t know then that we would be married, but I knew that when I opened that door she would see something even I had never seen, a thing I couldn’t explain, a thing I wasn’t responsible for despite its appearance in my home.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read four poems by Brandon Shimoda with art by Lydia Anne McCarthy, selected by Daniel Moysaenko.
I am a child
Standing on a bridge in the old
Looking up at the heads and
Beyond heads the hills
Are on fire———The sun is touching
With the force
My feet are no longer
Touching the bridge that
Come on night
Have I really been
The bodies of thousands
Contain me against them
I read fires on the swell
For the first time out loud
I hold my hand above the crowd
Mets Grapefruit or Pocari Sweat
Whistle over burials of hair like
Appearing as offspring from
Divine collision———Having won!
And having each
Concentration of the sun
Completing nerves the fires
To come back I have been talking
About learning to see with learning
To speak I am learning
To perfume the air
With carbonation and meat squeezed
From my eyes
Will I be alert as ion supply? Moving
With a can of fruit tucked inside?
Just taking the sun from one crown to another?
I really don’t know, but I
Will just go
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Shellhouse” by Shane Jones with art by Ruben Brulat, selected by Peter Moysaenko and Daniel Moysaenko.
Men in pig masks snort moon off a marble table then strap on metallic suits with honeycomb wire wings, oxygen canisters tight on their backs, and fly upward and pull the screen-for-sky across the sky. They work in shifts. New sections of screen attached to the old, more wires, sky-pins, gravity-nails, star-ties. The pig mask known as Larry is the leader. The others follow him around the sky, tightening the screen in fluttering places and ironing out wrinkles with canister-guns of heated oxygen. Everyone in the city watches, necks craned back, visors on their helmets mirroring the new sky that is a television screen turned to white and the men in pig masks flying around like dark confetti against it.
Shellhouse isn’t watching. He’s fifty yards inside a tunnel. Mob of Mary’s, all members present, are outside the tunnel, waiting.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read four poems by Michael Earl Craig with art by Nina Katchadourian, selected by Daniel Moysaenko.
The Evening News
I wake up to the sound of a bird,
a bird that has smacked into
the large plate glass window on
the back porch. Before I can get up
I hear another smack. Then another.
I go into the front room
and sit down on a plain wooden chair,
the smacks increasing in frequency.
It’s like the opening moments of a terrible hailstorm.
They are bluebirds, mostly.
And a few robins.
Oh… a Clark’s Nuthatch!
Then a bewildered magpie crashes into the east window
and is flailing about on the deck,
and almost immediately it is raining birds
of all sizes and species.
They are drumming down on the house.
The noise is deafening.
I am sitting in my chair.
It is 7:10 in the morning, the teakettle beginning to rumble.
I turn a little in my chair to look out a different window.
A bombardment of owls comes in,
just beating the shit out of the roof.
Then a couple sandhill cranes.
Then probably a steady half hour’s worth
of bald eagles, each one hitting the house
with the thud of a baseball bat,
one after another, sometimes two at a time,
the bodies of eagles piled chest high out
every window, the windows bashed-in
or cracked and streaked with blood.
“The house,” they will say later, “resembled a kind of primitive burial mound.”
“The mound,” they will add, “fluttered like a feather boa in the autumn breeze.”
“If there were any inhabitants,” they will conclude, “we are unaware of them.”
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read The Loneliness of Certain American States by Catherine Lacey, selected by Jozeph Herceg.
I was one of those blue-skinned babies who look like they won’t survive ‘til dinnertime, but somehow do, and then become toddlers with the tics and nerves of a used-up veteran. Leonard said it that way. He said I looked up at him and he looked down at me and he knew and I knew and we both knew that we’d always dislike each other. I can’t disagree. My mother was such a good friend, though; so he felt he had no choice. He couldn’t possibly say no—not to a woman whose belly had watermeloned overnight.
Yes, she said, who else?
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read three poems by Tommy Pico with art by Bridget Collins, selected by Jozeph Herceg.
Like my grandfather, I keep eagles.
Who believes in spiritual horseshit?
There is a common misconception
about Indian people, namely everything,
but especially sadness. One summer
the pepper tree rotted, black and twisted
licorice crawling up the ground
of my grandmother’s garden–– a reminder
my grandfather was not my grandfather
by blood. Bikini Kill had an album called
Reject All American, which was not as good
as the CD Version of the First Two Records
or Pussy Whipped, but yielded “R.I.P.”
People die. Sometimes a song reminds
us about pink peppers. I feel inexorably
American, in Paris, Brooklyn, Berlin,
the reservation, despite vodka and liberal arts.
There is a common misconception about
Indians, namely everything, but especially
when pink pepper trees grow cagelike
in the valley, eagle screeching skyward,
and he in a graveyard
and I’m not there.
Álvaro Enrigue’s “Scenes from Family Life” is a collection of linked stories, “micro-novels,” and vignettes that builds to a vertiginous climax. The novella is excerpted from Enrigue’s Hypothermia, translated by Brendan Riley and available now from Dalkey Archive Press.
In the ever-dreadful and overvalued popular imagination, a commercially successful writer is something that one comes to be, not something that one once was. For a surprising number of months, I was the rather relieved, but secret, author of a bestseller. Perhaps that’s hard to believe, but I swear it’s true.
My stunningly casual and entirely wasted trip through the bestseller list happened even before the beginning of my laborious and, frankly, long-suffering career as a writer. I was about twenty-five or twenty-six, living a disheveled sort of life that got rolling each day around noon—at the earliest. I had a certain reputation as a hard-line literary critic, but little else. It was a disaster in the making, thanks to these and a few other factors. For one, I’d recently lost a good job at a private university press: they’d discovered that I was using office hours to translate self-help books—for which I was miserably paid. For another, my wife, Cathy, made the unilateral decision that the time had arrived for making babies, so she stopped teaching classes at an English-language academy, the better to cook one up. And then, the last straw, I’d run up an enormous debt on the three different credit cards which were burning a hole right through my wallet.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read five poems by Sommer Browning with art by the author, selected by Daniel Moysaenko.
It was cold. Virginia winter. Throwing lit firecrackers down the hallway. Apostrophes of scorch. The Irishman below us. How I would dress for Third Street Diner. How I told you he spanked me before work. The heat didn’t work. Where did you go when I went to work? You must have gone to work, too. We worked so much. All the money we worked. What a time to fake bourgeoisie. I might have had my apron cinched around me. I might have had ones blooming from my hips. Might have drank there until the bartender told you I needed to leave. Might have left there. Might have.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read three stories by James Yeh with art by Dominic Fortunato, selected by Peter Moysaenko and Daniel Moysaenko.
I’m giving my parents the tour. My tiny bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen. My mother is walking around the living room, examining the cheap furniture, peering out the grime-covered window that overlooks a poorly lit alley between my building and the building across from it. Her face looks worried.
Jem, she says. Your apartment make your mother want to cry.
Aw, it’s not that bad, I say.
My father sits down on the couch and begins flipping through the old magazines crowded on the coffee table. He goes from cover to cover without really looking at anything, then tosses it back in the pile.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read a poem by Ben Mirov with art by Bruce Mackay, selected by Daniel Moysaenko.
The View from My Cube Looks Out on Endless Static
They have begun collecting the most serious writers of
They put them in cube after cube to bolster their
I’m like that too. I use my mouth to talk about the cube.
I bleed money. I bleed a stream of money. My crystal lies.
My static and my lies.
They have begun collecting the most serious writers of
They have begun to use their mouths to make some
I do that too, I’ll tell you right now, I spend most of my
time in the cube.
I don’t care, I bleed money. A steady stream of money
from my mouth.
The idea of money makes me high, you know what
And if it turned out some other way than you expected, I
suggest you make some money.
I suggest you make a sound and make some money.
I suggest you find a way to push your money through your
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read an excerpt from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s forthcoming work, My Struggle: Book Two: A Man in Love.
A few weeks after the novel was finished life began as a house-husband, and the plan was it would last until next spring while Linda did the last year of her training at the Dramatiska Institutet. The novel writing had taken its toll on our relationship, I slept in the office for six weeks, barely seeing Linda and our five-month-old daughter, and when at last it was over she was relieved and happy, and I owed it to her to be there, not just in the same room, physically, but also with all my attention and participation. I couldn’t do it. For several months I felt a sorrow at not being where I had been, in the cold, clear environment, and my yearning to return was stronger than my pleasure at the life we lived. The fact that the novel was doing well didn’t matter. After every good review I put a cross in the book and waited for the next, after every conversation with the agent at the publisher’s, when a foreign company had shown some interest or made an offer, I put a cross in the book and waited for the next, and I wasn’t very interested when it was eventually nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, for if there was one thing I had learned over the last six months it was that what all writing was about was writing. Therein lay all its value. Yet I wanted to have more of what came in its wake because public attention is a drug, the need it satisfies is artificial, but once you have had a taste of it you want more. So there I was, pushing the stroller on my endless walks on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm waiting for the telephone to ring and a journalist to ask me about something, an event organizer to invite me somewhere, a magazine to ask for an article, a publisher to make an offer, until at last I took the consequences of the disagreeable taste it left in my mouth, and began to say no to everything, at the same time as the interest ebbed away and I was back to the everyday grind. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get into it, there was always something else that was more important. Vanja sat there in the stroller looking around while I trudged through the town, first here, then there, or sat in the sandbox digging with a spade in the play area in Humlegården where the tall, lean Stockholm mothers who surrounded us were constantly on their phones, looking as if they were part of some absurd fashion show, or she was in her high chair in the kitchen at home swallowing the food I fed her. All of this bored me out of my mind.