Spotlight & Excerpt: Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons + Giveaway

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FOLK SONGS FOR TRAUMA SURGEONS by Keith Rosson

RELEASE DATE: FEB 23, 2021

GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Magical Realism / Literary

BOOK PAGE @Meerkat Press

With Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, award-winning author Keith Rosson delves into notions of family, grief, identity, indebtedness, loss, and hope, with the surefooted merging of literary fiction and magical realism he’s explored in previous novels. In “Dunsmuir,” a newly sober husband buys a hearse to help his wife spread her sister’s ashes, while “The Lesser Horsemen” illustrates what happens when God instructs the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to go on a team-building cruise as a way of boosting their frayed morale. In “Brad Benske and the Hand of Light,” an estranged husband seeks his wife’s whereabouts through a fortuneteller after she absconds with a cult, and in “High Tide,” a grieving man ruminates on his brother’s life as a monster terrorizes their coastal town. With grace, imagination, and a brazen gallows humor, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons merges the fantastic and the everyday, and includes a number of Rosson’s unpublished stories, as well as award-winning favorites.

BUY LINKS: Meerkat Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Excerpt from “Brad Benske and the Hand of Light” by Keith Rosson

Splay-legged in my recliner, I’ve just returned from putting another note under Marcus’s door (In the next life your penis shall be multipronged, insectile, hot and bristling with pustules, gloriously prone to infection) when someone knocks on my door and I choke back a cry, startled. It’s midafternoon and my social life, never strident to begin with, has atrophied in recent months. Who could possibly be knocking? Reluctantly, I rise from my recliner and pull on my robe and, realizing at that moment that it might actually be Marcus, a Marcus angry about the insectile penis-note, and all the other notes, I open the door with a mad flourish, trying to be as intimidating as possible.

The day seems obscenely sunny, garishly so. I wince and blink. The man in the doorway is a stranger, and he takes a step back when he sees me. He’s wearing some kind of uniform—a blue shirt with a nametag and a pair of blue shorts. A little clipboard.

“Brad? Brad Benske?”

“Yes,” I say. It comes out tremulously; for a moment even I feel unsure. Is this who I am? And then, more confidently, “Yes.”

The man marks something off on his clipboard and flicks his thumb against one of his nostrils and says, “Brad, hey, what’s up. I’m with the water bureau.”

“The what?”

He says, “Water bureau. Your water?”

“Oh.”

“You’re late with your payment.”

“Am I?”

“Really late,” he says, and consults his clipboard. “Couple months late. As in, if you can’t pay it by the end of day today, we have to shut it off.”

“The water?”

He seems to see me for the first time then—the robe, the dishevelment, the haphazard leaning mess of the inside of the house that he can spy through the open doorway. I have a zit on my cheek that has over recent days gotten woefully infected and is now nearly the size of a ping-pong ball. Fifty-one years old and getting zits, if you can believe it. I need to drink more water, I think, and then have a moment of shock as I realize the water guy is right here in front of me. It’s like some kind of weak serendipity, some petulant magic.

“Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I say.

The nametag above his pocket says Cameron, and he looks like a Cameron. A beefy young man with big calves and a certain dumb purity, someone who did keg stands in college and can differentiate between different types of vape oil. A man who wears a hemp bracelet and sleeps on a futon, I decide, a man who sniff-tests his socks. Cameron peers into the dank chamber of my little house and his nose wrinkles. I step out onto the porch and shut the door behind me.

“Oh man, my grandma got shingles,” Cameron says, pointing a blunt finger at my face. “She was only sixty-two. It messed her up.”

“This is just a zit.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

The world beyond my yard writhes with life; a little boy wheels by on his bike, leaves on the trees tremble and sway, and I can hear the bass-heavy thump of music strobing through the window of a passing car. The air is rich with the smell of cut grass. And everything trills a memory. Emma has been gone for nine months now. Nine months! I spend a moment hoping Marcus’s penis becomes riddled with pustules in this life, and draft an internal note saying such.

Cameron clears his throat.

“My checkbook’s inside,” I say. “How much is it?”

He gives me a number. It seems a reasonable enough amount if I haven’t paid in months—Emma handled the bills, and it’s yet another instance where I have lagged, where I am lost without her—but he sounds unhappy about it.

“It’s okay,” I say. “You’re just doing your job.”

“I mean, I’m in a band,” Cameron says. “I do community theater. You know? There’s more to me than just this.” He sweeps a hand along his outfit, his clipboard.

“Of course there is,” I say. I walk inside and eventually find my checkbook beside an old sandwich on the floor that’s furred in ants. I write the check and step outside and kind of shake the ants off and hand it to Cameron, and his blue eyes as he watches this are rife with something like pity. “I hope you feel better soon,” he says quietly, and it’s clear he’s not talking about my goiter.

 

  • •  •

 

Melinda says, “So you’re still leaving him notes.” She lights a menthol and blows the smoke up to the ceiling.

“No,” I say.

She laughs outright and flips me off. “Oh my God, you’re such a liar. Such a bad liar, too.”

“I left one today,” I confess. May maggots tumble from thy dong, it read, and then it had a little doodle of that, a little picture.

Melinda winces. “Honey, why his penis, though? Why talk about his penis?” She adjusts her headband.

“I don’t always.”

“Well, when you tell me about it, the notes are always penis-related.”

“I’m trying to keep it funny. Light. Less worrisome than actual threats.”

“Maggots from his dong, though? That sounds like an actual threat to me.”

“It’s medical,” I say.

It had seemed a simple message, one suffused with appropriate dread and then buoyed a little by the silly drawing. I wonder for a moment if I have in fact turned some corner, gone some further distance than I intended. One I won’t be able to come back from. Maybe I have crossed some line.

“You know it’s illegal, right?” says Melinda. “It’s gotta be harassment or something. Menacing. You better hope you don’t get caught.”

“I won’t get caught. Marcus is too enmeshed in his bullshit.”

“If he installs one of those cameras above his door. You’re done.”

“Look,” I say, “can you just give me a reading? Please?”

Melinda, when she’s working, goes by Madame Ouellette. She has a palm reading and tarot practice out on the jagged stretch of 82nd Avenue, in a weird mobile home kind of thing that rests in an otherwise empty parking lot. She’s decked the place out in tapestries and unicorn sculptures and salt candles and incense; the atmosphere goes a fair way toward canceling out the brazen drug deals out front, the endless traffic, the shirtless guy screaming about aliens in his teeth at the Wendy’s across the street. Melinda and I slept together once in college, badly, and have ever since been continually thankful of the friendship that has sprung from it. Our shared history buoys us. Emma, at best, had tolerated Melinda during our marriage. Felt threatened by her. Which always surprised me, as she seemed otherwise so sure of everything. “Why can’t you just scratch your balls and yell about football with some guy from work? Drink beer and talk about cars?” she’d say, a rare instance where I saw the underpinnings of her insecurity. Melinda gives me readings for free now, and I ask her where Emma is, where they’ve sent her. If she’s happy, if she’s safe where she is. This, and bothering Marcus are as close to penance and relief as I get. Madam Ouellette offers me her visions and I imagine that they’re true. Half the time it seems like Melinda’s just trying to come up with the most outlandish shit she can, and I’m grateful for it. It almost assuredly beats the true narrative.

She makes me a cup of tea as we chat some more. I drink the tea and tell Melinda the story about our wedding day and how Emma had spilled a cup of coffee down the front of her dress, the same dress her mother had worn to her wedding, and had had to wear a last minute back-up dress that showed way more cleavage then she intended. It is a well-worn story; Melinda has heard it a million times. Hell, she was at our wedding, watched the entire event take place. But it’s part of the process of the reading, Melinda says. And when I’m done with the tea, she has me upend the cup on a plastic slip mat and we talk for a moment about my hopes with this, what it is I want to get from this. I say something, some bland proclamation. I want to feel close to her, I think. I want to believe that what you’re saying is really her life. We’ve done this perhaps a dozen times since Emma left me to join the Hand of Light. This is one of the only things I do anymore.

Melinda really gets into character, adjusting her jeweled headband, her hands taking on these exaggerated movements as she tries to withdraw the “intentionality” from the leaves. Tea has started to bead out from beneath the rim of the cup. Eventually she lifts it and frowns at the chiaroscuro of dark leaves on the plastic mat.

She talks, fully Madam Ouellette now. Her voice is clipped, more precise, colder.

She tells me that Emma is in a carwash in Biloxi, Mississippi.

“She’s working in a carwash? In Mississippi?”

“No, no. She’s in a carwash. In a car. Someone’s yelling about atonement. Maybe it’s the radio. There’s a baby in the backseat, but it’s not hers. The sudsy cleaning things slap against the window. It’s a kind of transformation for her.”

“You’re so full of shit,” I say, grinning. I can’t help myself. I’m almost happy.

“She got a haircut. She’s wearing sunglasses in the carwash. It’s dark.”

“Oh, yeah? Did they shave her head? Is she wearing a potato sack, Melinda? Are there snacks?” Part of me relishes these fantasies she makes up. I simultaneously wish they were true and only feel safe when I’m mocking them. I’ve had a private investigator on the payroll since she’s been gone, but he’s come up with nothing. He talks to me like I’m an aggrieved husband, speaks respectfully, and part of me hates the guy for it.

Of the two people in the world who know what an utter fuckup I am, one has absconded with the Hand of Light, and the other one’s looking at me right now, waving her palm over a bunch of wet tea leaves, offering at least some minute solace.

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Spotlight & Excerpts: Speculate, by Eugen Bacon & Dominique Hecq

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SPECULATE: A COLLECTION OF MICROLIT
by Eugen Bacon & Dominique Hecq

RELEASE DATE: JAN 19, 2021
GENRE: Collection / Prose-Poetry / Speculative Fiction
Meerkat Press Book Page

From what began as a dialog between two adventurous writers curious about the shape-shifter called a prose poem comes a stunning collection that is a disruption of language—a provocation. Speculate is a hybrid of speculative poetry and flash fiction, thrumming in a pulse of jouissance and intensity that chases the impossible.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. She’s the author of Claiming T-Mo (Meerkat Press) and Writing Speculative Fiction (Macmillan). Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans.

Dominique Hecq grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium. She now lives in Melbourne. Her works include a novel, three collections of stories and ten books of poetry. Hecq’s poems and stories have been widely published in anthologies and journals. Often experimental, her work explores love, loss, exile and the possibilities of language. Kaosmos and Tracks (2020) are her latest books. Among other awards such as the Melbourne Fringe Festival Award, the Woorilla Prize for fiction, the Martha Richardson Medal for Poetry, and the New England Poetry Prize, Hecq is a recipient of the 2018 International Best Poets Prize.

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EXCERPTS:

Evridiki

Friends are not important—like plagues, they come and go, even blood is not thicker. But fate is another matter. Some fool in autumn had a drink in the dark, sought a taste of heaven in a street named Bagh Nakh. Found it in the hands of a runaway who raised a hand and plunged a dagger that clung to the idiot’s heart.

***

You were born in autumn and so, naturally, hate spring. The scent of blackwood showering pollen. The air licked with gold where the buzzing of the bees deepens. The sudden opacity of it all. You run. Run away. Away from the visible and from the invisible. With the pollen clinging to your skin, the sun striking and the darkness beneath your feet settling, you are a living phobia. A fear of no consequence. Yet as eons pass in one beat of the heart, you hear the rustle under the trees. Taste the bite of death.

She steals at dawn

to a place of memory, a beloved place she can enter her stories. The way her fingers pad on the keyboard. The rush that sweeps through her body arrives her at an intersection where mind and fingertip are one. She needs practice sleeping in a little, her lover’s breath heartfelt on her earlobe. But she runs when she can, to a play-filled memory enriched with mannequins she can chase, surreal encounters on red rock bicycles, oh, how she soars.

***

She feels adrift, like an autumn moth flapping its dusty wings until it rests on your windowpane on the far side of the world. Says there is no rhyme nor reason nor even any explanation for being. Sky pied, almost as perfect as the horse she used to ride. As for turbulence, the sky is cloudless; the writing not exactly cloudy, but cloud-gathering. Now it’s raining streams of light on red rock bicycles.

Let it play out

She wonders at the misjudgment of facts, the hybrid of the unknowing and the uncanny. Looking at the artist and his painting of the death mask, there is notable difference between a brief and a summons. In, out, who commissioned the sketch and to what detail of artwork? Out, in, beyond interrogating the plastic cast disunited from the corpse, how to discern confidence in an artist’s perception? The plan is to keep silent, let it canvas out. Or perhaps to issue a bordering statement that is a responsible thing, or to conclude it’s an illustration that is simply a hoax.

***

It is a hoax. All art is. We deceive ourselves, sometimes all the better to tell the truth, but deep down we fabulate, fabricate, counterfeit—lie about our deepest desires. As should be. I’ve just picked figs from the tree and painted them, knowing full well it’s plagiarism in the history of art. Now I’m going to stew them, French style: Flambé Figs. Peel them carefully (12 of them). Put them in a heavy-based frying pan. Add 3 tablespoons of curaçao and the same amount of brandy. Sauté them over low heat until the figs take on the color of the painting. Prick them gently. Set them alight and shake the pan until your flame dies. Serve them warm with whipped cream. Sprinkle them with hoax dream powder. Enjoy!

Overrated

She returns home each day, ten hours in the office. She steps through the door, man, he’s got the look. It’s like Here doggy!, tail going wag, waiting for a ball. Just the gleam in his eyes . . . Work’s so hard, bitches everywhere, she says. Let me love you until you feel right, he croons. He steals candles, makes her promises. Pricks her fingers, sucks her blood. It’s a balance of costs, risks and benefits.

***

Returning to Australia after four weeks in Europe is a shock. It’s not just that everything looks rougher, brighter, wilder, harsher in the morning light. No. Scary dreams overflow the days. I ride a Harley on the Monash Highway. Climb Mount Kosciuszko. Build space shuttles complete with orbiter, external tanks and solid-rocket boosters. Repair cassette tape recorders and telephones with curly handset cords. I steal candle snuffers, make wax candles and tallow tapers that are supposed to be dripless. But are not. I knock down burners, tip over charred candle wicks, snuff, snot. Prick my fingers on the candlestick’s pricket. Dream of devotionals, the obliteration of the word phobia, and coins on my eyes.

Outward declarations of inner decisions

Today’s word is jazz. You can hear her nimble feet gyrating in your head to no effed-up beat. She leaps and twirls to a place of memory, but it is full of compost and she regrets nothing. The motionless CCTV monitor captures her arms and feet as they pirouette in and out of the gaze’s focus. The world keeps turning. Frolicking grounds full of water gardens connect the nerves that travel through the body, as balloons with eyes go sway, sway to the pitapat, rat-a-tat, pitter-patter pat . . . The sound is a love offering. She only wants to conquer herself in a trail of plummeting sand and too much poetry burning into a bard’s cross-genre lyrics jousting with thought.

***

Rain burning the idea of love. The moon weathers the heart in haloes that tell of life unlived as though it knows desires given up for dead. It spooks me as I put the rubbish out, all the while focusing on promises we know we can’t keep. Look! The moon exfoliates its light skin. Turns blue, blood, black. And now you will ask yourself why the chambers of your heart are patched, not lined, as if some invisible hand had undertaken to paint the pain over before it could be ciphered, named, encrypted. And you do ask yourself as you throw artichoke leaves into the compost, and run inside to the sound of jazz.

Neither a kitchen nor a sky

Her heart is a room full of photographs and pillows wafting around rehearsing melancholy and reinstating torment. But there is still no word, just somber silence in the floating photographs and neglected pillows cartwheeling like burnt toast past the IKEA blender and microwave in a fairy tale of space that does not involve breathing.

***

His heart smells of burnt toast. If you look closely, you will see a paisley design—the sort found as all-over design for an IKEA bedspread. The main motif and the background of ferns are done with pure (that is unmixed) colors: just red (turkey) and black (jet) to conjure up the marriage of blood and vegemite, the staples of his diet, as well as his sign in the Chinese horoscope. Yes: he is a tiger. Enter the chambers of his heart at your peril. Don’t say you were not warned. He grinds his teeth.

The traveler

Her heart is a free tram zone, pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, wheelchair access, all hand-drawn. It’s a labeled platform full of ads by a twaddle of writers saying glance at this, glance at that, and oh look! Free Wi-Fi. DO NOT OBSTRUCT. It’s the yellow and black caution for passengers about a station upgrade, valid tickets, feet on seats, offensive language and taking rubbish with you. If there were words, she would follow the golden line at the platform, speak to it as the train pulled in. She would ask why she’s not experiencing metamorphosis, just optical illusions about power operating doors gliding open and then shut, the train now departing. As she moves up the escalator past the cop shop with its blue and white squares all dirty as bootlegs, no help at a glance, she finds the subway, and then a great big owl fully concrete in the landscape, directing its gaze at the flat crowns of metropolis high-rises that defy or define the city. Like an authorized officer she knows that she must adopt a role that makes sure anyone with access to her toppled heart, delicate but still beating, pays their way. She walks past a teen sat cross-legged on the pavement with a ring on her lip and holding up a sign that says homeless, hungry and three months pregnant, but she keeps walking lest her heart staggers and stops.

***

Hey, you! You could be me. Life does go upanddown upanddown upanddown. This is why I dust the streets in your city, uncrease your creeks, polish your floors and occasionally collect your dog’s droppings. I know there’ll be spilled wine, broken glass, words curling from the fire in your mouth. A shudder. A pause. A da capo. I know that all too well. I peer through your window, and the pane reflects my shape making for the open road where our shoulders retain the weight of expectancy. Don’t underestimate the virtues of polishing, especially in the Loire Valley where vineyards are doing well in the global village. There I looked after body armor adorned with intricate inlays. I preserved plumes and strengthened holders. I wiped visors, scrubbed chin pieces and gorgets. Straightened cuirasses. I polished breastplates and lance guards and backplates and codpieces and gauntlets and fan plates. And much more, my dear, as the word fan intimates. My nickname was chain mail, then chain fume. Try shackling me now.

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