Harp & Altar

Shane Book is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. His awards include a New York Times Fellowship in Poetry, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and a National Magazine Award. He teaches at Stanford and is producing and directing the documentary film Laborland.


Adam Clay is the author of The Wash (Parlor Press, 2006). He lives in Michigan.


Josh Dorman’s work has been exhibited in solo shows at galleries including 55 Mercer, The CUE Foundation, and Pierogi in New York, George Billis in Los Angeles, and Hallwalls in Buffalo. His work has also been included in group shows at the Drawing Center, the National Academy Museum, the Islip Art Museum, and Hunter College, among others, and has been exhibited internationally, in Traun, Austria, and Leipzig, Germany. He received his MFA from Queens College in 1992 and has been granted residencies at Yaddo and the Millay Colony. Images of his work are available at www.joshdorman.net.

A Canadian currently living in Brooklyn, Corey Frost's stories have appeared in Matrix, Geist, The Walrus, and other magazines. He was named the Best Spoken Word Artist in 2001 by the Montreal Mirror. He is currently writing a book about spoken word scenes around the world as part of a doctoral dissertation. A CD of his performances, Bits World: Exciting Version, is forthcoming. His books include The Worthwhile Flux (2004) and My Own Devices: Airport Version (2006), both published by Conundrum Press.


Sarah Gridley received her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. She is the author of Weather Eye Open (University of California Press/New California Poetry Series, 2005) and is currently a Visiting Lecturer in Poetry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.


Elise Harris is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Her profile of the poet Noelle Kocot appeared in the first issue of Harp & Altar.


Joanna Howard's work has appeared in Conjunctions, Chicago Review, Quarterly West, Western Humanities Review, Fourteen Hills, and elsewhere. Her chapbook In the Colorless Round, illustrated by Rikki Ducornet, was published in 2006 by Noemi Press. She received her Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Denver in 2004 and currently lives in Providence, where she teaches at Brown University and is an editor for Encyclopedia Project.


Steve Katz was one of the founders of Fiction Collective (now FC2). He has taught creative writing at Cornell University, Brooklyn College, Queens College, the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Colorado at Boulder, from which he retired in 2003. He's also tended bar, worked construction, waited tables, and mined for mercury. His books include Creamy & Delicious, Wier & Pouce, Florry of Washington Heights, Swanny's Ways, Saw, Moving Parts, and Stolen Stories. His most recent books are the novel Antonello’s Lion (Green Integer, 2005) and the collection Kisssss?, which is forthcoming in 2007 from FC2. The stories in this issue are from an ongoing project of memoirs titled Memoirrhoids.


Joanna Klink's second book, Circadian, is forthcoming from Penguin in 2007. She teaches poetry at the University of Montana.


Michael Newton is a current MFA candidate at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, though his artwork is kind of hard to explain. His gallery reviews also appeared in the first issue of Harp & Altar.


Peter O'Leary's book of criticism, Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan & the Poetry of Illness, was published in 2002 by Wesleyan. A new book of poetry, Depth Theology, appeared last year from Georgia. He lives on the West Side of Chicago, in Berwyn.


Katie Peterson was born in California. She is the Robert Aird Professor of Humanities at Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California. Her book of poems, This One Tree, won the New Issues Poetry Prize and was published in 2006 by New Issues/Western Michigan University Press.


Johannah Rodgers is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her chapbook Necessary Fictions was published by Sona Books in 2003, and her short stories and essays have appeared in Fiction, CHAIN Arts, The Brooklyn Rail, Pierogi Press, and Fence. Her book sentences, a collection of stories, essays, and artwork, was published this year by Red Dust Press.


Brandon Shimoda’s writings appear in recent or forthcoming editions of MiPOesias, Free Verse, Practice, Washington Square, Xantippe, the tiny, and elsewhere. He has projects forthcoming from both Corollary Press and Flim Forum Press. He currently teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he also curates the New Lakes reading and performance series.


Kate Schreyer is currently studying fiction in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


Michael Zeiss’s story “Notes Toward a Supreme Action Movie” appeared in the first issue of Harp & Altar.

Steve Katz

I was fifteen when my father died. He’d been sick for seven years already, was rarely home, usually bedridden in some dreary veterans hospital in the Bronx, or upstate at some rest home. That was treatment for a heart condition at the time—stay in bed! Without a father to help me into my future I felt like upcoming life had been placed on the other side of a thick high concrete wall too slippery to scale, and I couldn’t bust through it, but against it I constantly pressed the enigmas of my rising adolescence.

Mr. Jacobs, who was the father of my classmate, Vernon, and his little brother, Hubby, was office manager of an import-export company, Amtria (American/Austrian) Trading Company. Because he took pity on me, or maybe sought to take advantage of me, he gave me a job at the Broad Street office on Saturdays and on some late afternoons. It was probably illegal for them to hire a fifteen year old.

I was a gofer, a messenger, the kid to blame when things went wrong, generally an office boy. If coffee spilled, I wiped it up. I opened envelopes. I stuffed envelopes. If a file was missing, I hunted it down. I cleaned windows, tidied the desks. My favorite task was to leave on a postal trip, or to deliver a document, or to buy office supplies, just so I could get out into the population on the streets.

That winter the canyons of Wall and Broad Streets were cold, full of snow and slush, winds that cut like knives. I sloshed around in galoshes, kept the papers dry under my mackinaw, moved invisibly among invisible people breathing ghosts into the air. I walked past the steps of the stock exchange, rested at the foot of skyscrapers. Everyone inside the buildings looked competent and busy, in identical suits and ties, women prim and neutral. It was on one of the most frigid, blizzard days that I discovered coffee. Returning to the office after a delivery, I let the wind blow me into a Chock Full O’ Nuts. All praise goes to William Black, who founded this chain of black-owned businesses, and to the great Jackie Robinson, who signed on as personnel manager. I straddled and settled down on one of the stools at the counter. It was all blue and yellow in there, and it smelled of coffee and sugar. The waitress, a light brown woman with straightened hair streaked with blonde, asked me what I wanted. I hadn’t thought about it, didn’t even know why I was in there. “Regular coffee?” she asked after I didn’t respond. I heard someone else order a light coffee, so I said “Light.” “What else?” “A donut,” I said. I was proud to get that out. “Whole wheat?” “Yeah.” “Sugared?” I nodded affirmative. The storm mixed it up outside, snow blowing horizontally down the canyons. People skidded on the sidewalks, were whipped akimbo, out of control in the wind. I felt warm, snug in the Chock Full O’ Nuts. I wanted to return to the office never.

The waitress brought my donut and my first cup of coffee. I checked the other people at the counter, sipping comfortably. The cup was heavy. The cream swirled through the dark liquid. The acrid smell was a tough barrier. I tried to sip, but it was too hot. The waitress who seemed to know I was a virgin, enjoyed watching me. “Put some sugar in it, sweetheart.” She dumped in some sugar from the dispenser, then heaped my teaspoon, handed it to me, and I dropped in more.

It was cool enough now to taste. The sweetness made it familiar and welcome, the bitterness gave it an edge and mystery, the cream and the warmth made it feel like protection from the cutting slants of wind on the street. Perfect! I bit the donut. It was soft and crunchy. I haven’t tasted anything like it since. The world looked great. My first cup of coffee was beyond delicious. The clutter of storm outside flew down the street on wings of jubilation. “Good stuff, huh, sweetheart.” “Thanks,” I said. I laid down a tip and stepped out to part the wind. The snow melted off my face. I headed back to the office, ready for anything.

Near the termination of my career with Amtria Trading Company the office called and asked me to come in on a Sunday. They were moving, and needed me to help with the furniture. I had sprained an ankle shooting hoops in the schoolyard, and didn’t feel ready to do heavy work, not on a Sunday. I told them about my injury, and that I wouldn’t be in for a week. When I did return Vernon’s father greeted me with my pay envelope, which contained a pink slip. “You have outlived your usefulness with us,” he said. The shock backed me into a seat. I was fired. It was the first time I had ever been hired, and now I was fired.

I left the office. It was my last day on Broad Street. I headed for the Chock Full O’ Nuts. The waitress recognized me and brought a light coffee and a whole wheat donut, and I sat there like a workingman with the workingman’s blues. I was fifteen years old, and I had outlived my usefulness. How was it possible? I drank the coffee. This time it made me a little jittery. The donut was good. I was dizzy. Fifteen years old. Outlived my usefulness. I’d read Dylan Thomas. I’d read T. S. Eliot. I’d read Archibald Macleish. Do not go gentle, must not mean but be, this is the way the world ends. It was then the first time I ever realized I would have to be a writer. If you are fifteen, and have already outlived your usefulness, you’d better wise up and become a writer. There was nothing else I could do.