Harp & Altar

Donald Breckenridge is the fiction editor of The Brooklyn Rail and editor of The Brooklyn Rail Fiction Anthology (Hanging Loose Press, 2006). He is also the author of more than a dozen plays, as well as the novella Rockaway Wherein (Red Dust, 1998) and the novel 6/2/95 (Spuyten Duyvil, 2002). His second novel Arabesques for Sauquoit is forthcoming from Autonomedia and his third novel YOU ARE HERE is forthcoming from Starcherone.


Michael Carlson’s first book of poems, Cement Guitar, was awarded the Juniper Prize and published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2003. The manuscript he’s editing now is called Beware of Ideas. He teaches fifth grade in Brooklyn.


Oisín Curran’s Mopus was published in 2008 by Counterpath Press. He grew up in Maine and lives with his wife in Montreal.


Rising, Farrah Field’s first book of poems, won the 2007 Levis Prize and will be published in early 2009 by Four Way Books. Her poems have appeared in many publications and are forthcoming in Pebble Lake Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Fulcrum, and Typo. She is currently working on a novel and lives in Brooklyn.


Andrew Grace is a 2006-8 Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford. Sections of his manuscript Sancta are forthcoming in Washington Square, LIT, Gulf Stream, Mid-American Review, and H_NGM_N, among others. His second book, Shadeland, recently won the Ohio State University/The Journal prize for poetry.


Emily Gropp has received writing fellowships from the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets and the Syria-Lebanon Room at the University of Pittsburgh, where she recently completed an MFA in poetry. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bloom, The Fourth River, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Whiskey & Fox, and others. She lives in Pittsburgh, city of bridges.


Heinrich Heine (1791–1856) was a journalist, an essayist, and one of the most significant German Romantic poets. As a young man Heine converted from Judaism to Protestantism. In 1831, he emigrated from Germany to France. Heine is remembered chiefly for selections of his lyric poetry, many of which were set to music in the form of Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Strauss.


Stephen Hilger’s photographs from the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles appear in this issue of Harp & Altar. He lives in New York and New Orleans, where he is a visiting assistant professor of art at Tulane University. Additional work can be seen at www.stephenhilger.com.


Dan Hoy lives in Brooklyn and is co-editor of Soft Targets. His chapbook Outtakes was published in 2007 by Lame House Press.


Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey was the winner of the 2007 Starcherone Fiction Prize. His writings have appeared in Pleiades and The Journal of Literary Imagination. A computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence, Mason is currently working on another novel about the mythology and culture of AIs.


Sara Michas-Martin is a former Stegner Fellow now Jones lecturer at Stanford. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Court Green, DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, Pool, and elsewhere.


Michael Newton’s gallery reviews have appeared in previous issues of Harp & Altar.


Benjamin Paloff is a poetry editor at Boston Review. His poems have recently appeared in Gulf Coast, Jacket, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. He teaches Slavic and comparative literature at the University of Michigan.


Derek White runs Calamari Press, edits Sleepingfish, and blogs at 5cense.com.


Jared White was born in Boston and currently lives in Brooklyn. He attended Columbia University for an MFA, where he was awarded a prize from the Academy of American Poets. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Harp & Altar, Cannibal, The Modern Review, Barrow Street, Sawbuck, and Word For/Word, and more work is forthcoming with Fulcrum and Horse Less Review. He maintains an occasional blog at jaredswhite.blogspot.com.


Joshua Marie Wilkinson was born and raised in Seattle. He is the author of three books. Next year will see the release of The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth (Tupelo), 12x12: Conversations in Poetry & Poetics (Iowa), and Made a Machine by Describing the Landscape (a film about Califone on tour). He lives in Chicago.


Recipient of the Beard’s Fund Short Story Award, Peter Wortsman is the author of A Modern Way to Die: Small Stories and Microtales and the play The Tattooed Man Tells All. His translations from the German include Travel Pictures by Heinrich Heine (Archipelago), Posthumous Papers of a Living Author by Robert Musil (Archipelago), Telegrams of the Soul: Selected Prose by Peter Altenberg (Archipelago), and The Man Who Sold His Shadow by Adelbert von Chamisso (Fromm International).


Leni Zumas’s story collection Farewell Navigator is forthcoming from Open City Books in June. Her fiction appears in New York Tyrant, Quarterly West, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at Hunter College and plays drums in the post-punk band S-S-S-Spectres. Her most pined-for travel destination is Iceland.


Bernard's Inquisition
Derek White

When I showed up for my job interview, my prospective employer took me straight to his private aquarium that was in the adjoining underwater map room. I wasn’t sure why he was showing me his aquarium as the newspaper posting listed the position I was applying for as “Continuity Chief for Swamp Survey Crew.” The description from the Savannah Mourning News Want Ads said it was “. . . for a half land-based half water-based surveying position. As Continuity Chief, you will be responsible for bridging the gap in land/water data.”

When I asked Bernard if I was in the right place, he told me, “our will that to get.” First he wanted to show me his 55-gallon tank that was empty except for five scallops that were evenly spaced at the bottom. There were three black holes in the back wall where fish supposedly lived. “In reality,” Bernard said, through some sort of voice-scrambling device, “live they in a nether tank ay, within a nether tank ay behind a nether wall, beyond a nether, beyond a nether, beyond a nether . . . ” and he kept skipping until I hit him and he stopped, swallowed, and said, “wall. I sashay.”

The “wall” was really a movie screen. My mind was reeling trying to figure out what he could possibly be testing me for beyond holistic comprehension. I was on my best behavior, sitting upright and acting interested, ready to field questions, and queuing up questions in my own mind to ask him. But I couldn’t open my mouth. To be more accurate, I could open my mouth, but something was blocking my “voice canal,” which at the time was legitimate anatomy. Bernard pulled a lever and five fish darted into the tank and rifled through the scallop shells, stripping them of any meat, or “flossing,” as Bernard called it.

My stomach made a noise and I was sure Bernard noticed, but it didn’t show. Once the frenzy was over, the five fish disappeared back into the three holes. I clapped to be polite, and since I couldn’t speak. Then he let three snakes into the room. They were writhing at my feet, but I remained calm and courteous. I had to keep reminding myself that I was human and to be myself, but I forgot why I was reminding myself of this.

“Purse severance furthers,” he said, pinching the skin on my forearm. “Must they may be able-bodied ay to seize a fold to penetrate, say ye skin. The place of pleasure legitimate ay where they may seize a catch is the strap between ye fingers.” I splayed my fingers and he was right—my hands were webbed. His hands, on the other hand, were not webbed and I was concerned he would judge me for it.

He pinched me again, and then said, “have it known ay that when ye, formally, that I evoke, ay ye do not hatch, in real skin, the contact ay? Our individual skins do not evoke naturally.”

I nodded yes, thankful that although there were questions involved, his body language was leading me to the answers. When I looked down at my arm where he had pinched me, a huge chunk had molted off. He didn’t notice, or if he did, he did a good job of acting like he didn’t.

“Now begins the formulaic segment of the interaction,” he said, pressing the record button of a small device. “Do solemnly swear you to tell nothing but the truth?”


JAUNE: [BEAT][I was thinking, “I do” but couldn’t say it]

BERNARD: Have ye a passport?


BERNARD: Married are to you?


BERNARD: Have ye ever, at sea, been on a boat with men, only?


BERNARD: Ever have ye been an armchair geologist?


BERNARD: If, hypothetically, you were in effect under assignment to survey a parcel of ground, and looking to the bottom of the map, in the legend, it was your brother.


BERNARD: Would ye make with the task?



Even though I didn’t even have the ability to answer the question, the last one threw me for a loop. I never expected to be asked if I would “survey” my own brother, if this in fact was what Bernard was asking, and if in fact John could fit in the legend of the 2-dimensional map. I moved my head in circles and up and down at the same time, until my head rolled off, waking myself up.