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Front Cover by Harry Gamboa
Nancy, 2011
©2011, Harry Gamboa Jr.

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Volume 53, Issue 2

"TELL ALL THE TRUTH but tell it slant”—a line Helen Vendler glosses by commenting that “Dickinson defends ‘slant’ telling just as Jesus defended parable: some truths must be told allegorically. But Jesus’ motive is esoteric, while Dickinson’s is charitable.” Predrag Matvejević notes that, etymologically, a parable (from the Greek ballein, [to throw] and para-, [beside]) casts its nets into the waters of discourse.

Italo Calvino stepped into that same river, neither to separate wheat from chaff, nor mix water with wine. For the Italian fabulist, it was the past—specifically the Gorgon-headed midlife of twentieth-century Europe—that needed to be kept in the bag. Calvino summed up his method as de imitatione Persei: “To cut off Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror. I am immediately tempted to see this myth as an allegory on the poet’s relationship to the world, a lesson in the method to follow when writing.”

In this issue of the Massachusetts Review, we yield to that temptation, and wield Perseus’s “bloodstained booty” as an invincible weapon. Whether at the origin, as in Steven Reese’s “First Translation,” or in the end, down in Sarah Gerkensmeyer’s dark “Cellar,” we dip into history’s well and draw sustenance from its depths, enough to outlast the present, the one inescapable siege. Revisiting the past should also mean setting it right; such is the case here of certain clear and distinct truths: Karen Tei Yamashita’s stunning “Borges & I,” Steve Davenport’s sly and savage “Black Guy, Bald Guy,” and Tabish Khair’s symphonie macabre, “The Thing about Thugs.” Still, the lessons of history matter only insofar as you bring them home, so we also cultivate that garden for you: don’t forget to knock on Caroline Randall Williams’s “Kitchen Door,” reverberate with Anne Shaw’s “Harmonic,” and negotiate with Charles Haverty’s “Tribes.” Et alia.

“Perseus’s strength lies in his insistent refusal to look directly, but never in a refusal of the reality in which he is fated to live; he carries that reality with him and accepts it as his particular burden.” Over the years, slant telling has been called many things; it is not noted often enough, perhaps, as a form of knowledge, as objective. And yet, to borrow the phrase that encapsulates Benjamin Hollander’s stories in these pages, such are indeed “the facts on the ground.”

Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millenium (New York: Vintage, 1993), pp. 3-5.
Dickinson, Emily and Helen Vendler. Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 413.
Matvejević, Predrag. Mediterranean: A Cultural Landscape, Translated from Croatian by Michael Henry Heim (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 59-60.



The First Translation

By Steven Reese


The Cellar

By Sarah Gerkensmeyer



By Lawrence Raab


The Sirens

By Lawrence Raab


Borges & I

By Karen Tei Yamashita


Black Guy Bald Guy

By Steve Davenport


The Thing about Thugs

By Tabish Khair


Facts on the Ground

By Benjamin Hollander



By Hannah Fries



By Anne Shaw



By Charles Haverty


For I Am the Sea

By Andrew Wachtel


Over the Earth

By Brian Komei Dempster


Europa 2

By Barbara Pumhoesel


Europa 2

By Vittoria Poletto Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi



By Adrienne Su


The Golden Peacock Has Flown

By Anna Margolin Margolin


The Golden Peacock Has Flown

By Maia Evrona



By Susan Volchok


You Should Pity Us Instead

By Amy Gustine


In a Landscape: LXIX

By John Gallaher


Kitchen Door

By Caroline Randall Williams


In the Beautiful Static of Winter

By Alessandra Lynch


The Catch-and-Release Man

By Jennifer Wisner Kelly


Munson House

By Christopher Todd Matthews


Victor Serge's Russian Heritage, Part Two: Vera Podorovskaya and the Feminist Intelligentsia

By Richard Greeman


A Delicate Cowboy

By Dave Neilson


On the Dream Within a Dream

By Andrei Krasnyashykh


Istiraha Cafe

By Ezer Vierba

Table of Contents

Introduction, by Jim Hicks

The first Translation, a poem by Steven Reese

The Cellar, a story by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

Restoration, a story by Lawrence Raab

The Sirens, a poem by Lawrence Raab

Borges & I, a story by Karen Tei Yamashita

Black Guy, Bald Guy, a story
by Steve Davenport

The Thing about Thugs, a novel excerpt
by Tabish Khair

Facts on the Ground, a novel excerpt
by Benjamin Hollander

Mary, a poem by Hannah Fries

Harmonic, a poem by Anne Shaw

Scars, a story by Charles Haverty

For I Am the Sea, a poem
by Anzhelina Polonskaya, translated
from Russian by Andrew Wachtel

Over the Earth, a poem by Brian Komei Dempster

Europa 2, a story by Barbara Pumhösel, translated
from Italian by Victoria Offredi Poletto
and Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi

Grief, a poem by Adrienne Su

Leaving, a story by Susan Volchok

The Golden Peacock Has Flown, a poem
by Anna Margolin, translated
from Yiddish by Maia Evrona

You Should Pity Us Instead, a story by Amy Gustine

In a Landscape: LXIX, a poem by John Gallaher

Kitchen Door, a poem by Caroline Randall Williams

In the Beautiful Static of Winter, a poem
by Alessandra Lynch

The Catch-and-Release Man,
a story by Jennifer Wisner Kelly

Munson House, a poem by Christopher Todd Matthews

Victor Serge's Russian Heritage, Part Two:
Vera Podorovskaya abd the Feminist Intelligentsia,
an essay by Richard Greeman

A Delicate Cowboy, a poem by Dave Neilson

On the Dream Within a Dream, an essay
by Andrei Krasnyashykh, trasnlated

from the Russian by Tanya Paperny

Istiraha Café, a story by Ezer Vierba


STEVE DAVENPORT is the author of Uncontainable Noise, which won the 2006 Transcontinental Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks, Murder on Gasoline Lake (listed as Notable in Best American Essays 2007) and Nine Poems and Three Fictions. His second book of poetry, Overpass, will be published this year by Arsenic Lobster/Misty Publications.

BRIAN KOMEI DEMPSTER’s poems have been published in New England Review, North American Review, and Ploughshares, and the anthologies Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (Norton, 2008) and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (Illinois UP, 2004). Topaz, his debut book of poetry, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2013.

MAIA EVRONA is the recipient of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and her own poetry is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner. She is also currently writing a memoir on growing up with a chronic illness and another one of her Anna Margolin translations appeared in the Winter 2011-12 issue of Ploughshares.

HANNAH FRIES lives in western Massachusetts, where she is associate editor and poetry editor of Orion magazine. She is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers and is the recipient of a Colorado Art Ranch residency. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Calyx, The Cortland Review, and other journals. She also serves on the board of The Frost Place — a Robert Frost Museum and poetry center in Franconia, NH — and on the organizing committee of the Berkshire Festival for Women Writers.

Since 1972, HARRY GAMBOA JR. has been actively creating works in various media/forms that document and interpret the contemporary urban Chicano experience. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. His work is presented in, Asco: Elite of the Obscure, Williams College Museum of Art (2012). He is director of  Virtual Vérité, an ensemble performance troupe ( He is co-director of the Photo/Media Program at California Institute of the Arts.  

JOHN GALLAHER is the author of, most recently, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (BOA, 2011), co-written with G. C. Waldrep. Gallaher’s next book will be the book-length essay-poem In a Landscape, coming out in 2015 from BOA. He is co-editor of The Laurel Review and GreenTower Press, as well as maintaining a blog and a SoundCloud page of music and audio poetry.

SARAH GERKENSMEYER was recently named a finalist for the 2011 Italo Calvino Prize for Fabulist Fiction, judged by Aimee Bender. She received her MFA in fiction from Cornell University and currently teaches creative writing at SUNY Fredonia, where she is the co-director of the Mary Louise White Visiting Writers Series. She attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference twice, the most recent time receiving a waiter scholarship. She has also spent time at the Ragdale artists’ colony. Sarah’s stories have appeared in several journals, including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Redivider, North Dakota Quarterly, Sonora Review, The Cream City Review, and The Nebraska Review.

RICHARD GREEMAN has translated five of Victor Serge’s novels into English, most recently, Unforgiving Years (NYRB, 2008). He is the author of Beware of Vegetarian Sharks: Radical Rants and Internationalist Essays (Illustrated), and is secretary of the Victor Serge Foundation in Montpellier, France.

AMY GUSTINE’s fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including North American Review, The Natural Bridge, and Black Warrior Review. She received special mention in Pushcart Prize XXXII, Best of the Small Presses and is currently at work on a novel. You Should Pity Us Instead is part of a story collection about parents in extremity.

CHARLES HAVERTY’s stories have appeared in AGNI, The Gettysburg Review, Ecotone, Colorado Review, Salamander, and elsewhere. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

BENJAMIN HOLLANDER’s books include Vigilance (Beyond Baroque Books, 2005), Rituals of Truce and the Other Israeli (Parrhesia Press, 2004), The Book of Who Are Was (Sun & Moon Press, 1997), How to Read, too (Leech Books, 1992), and, as editor,Translating Tradition: Paul Celan in France (ACTS, 1988). "Facts on the Ground" is excerpted from In the House Un-American, forthcoming from Clockroot Books in Spring 2013.

JENNIFER WISNER KELLY’s work has recently appeared in The Greensboro Review and Poets and Writers magazine. She is also a frequent book reviewer for The Colorado Review. She received her MFA from Warren Wilson College and lives in Carlisle, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children.

TABISH KHAIR, born and educated in a small town in Bihar, India, is a novelist, poet, and critic whose works have won the All India Poetry Prize and been shortlisted for various international awards, including the Man Asian Literary Prize (Hong Kong) and the Encore Prize (UK). He is currently associate professor in a small town of Denmark.

ANDREI KRASNYASHYKH is a writer of short stories, essays, criticism, and flash fiction. Born in 1970 in Poltava, Ukraine, Krasnyashykh is the co-editor of the literary journal Soyuz Pisatelei. In 2008, his book of short stories, The Park of Culture and Relaxation, was shortlisted for the Andrei Bely Prize, the oldest independent literary prize in Russia. He lives in Kharkov, Ukraine.

ALESSANDRA LYNCH is the author of two collections of poetry, Sails the Wind Left Behind ( Alice James Books) and It was a Terrible Cloud at Twilight (Pleiades Press). Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, jubilat, Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and other journals. Alessandra lives near an Indianapolisian canal and teaches at Butler University.

ANNA MARGOLIN was born in 1887 in modern-day Belarus and died in 1952 in New York City. A number of the poems included in her 1929 book Lider are classics of Yiddish-language poetry and the original Yiddish version of “The Golden Peacock Has Flown” has been set to music.

CHRISTOPHER TODD MATTHEWS lives in Lexington, Virginia, where he teaches at Washington and Lee University. His work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, FIELD, The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere.

DAVE NEILSON was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is a PhD student in English at the University of Cincinnati. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Literary, Cutbank, Ploughshares, Tar River Poetry, and other magazines.

TANYA PAPERNY is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and translator. She has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and teaches at The College of New Rochelle. She is the managing editor of Circumference, a journal of international poetry in translation. Tanya writes about literature, New York City neighborhoods, Russia, and LGBTQ issues. For more information, visit her blog at

ANZHELINA PLONSKAYA was born in Malakhovka, a small town near Moscow.  In 2004 an English version of her book, entitled A Voice, appeared in the acclaimed Writings from an Unbound Europe series at Northwestern University Press. This book was shortlisted for the 2005 Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation and for the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) prize for literature in translation. Polonskaya has published translations in many of the leading world poetry journals, including World Literature Today, Poetry Review, The American Poetry Review, and International Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner, in addition to six books. In 2012 a bilingual edition of her newer poems will be published by Zephyr Press under the title Paul Klee’s Boat.

BARBARA PUMHÖSEL was born in Austria and lives in Italy. For children, she has written La principessa Sabbiadoro (Giunti, 2007) and, together with Anna Sarfatti, the La Calamitica III E series (Edt, 2007-09). In 2009, she published an essay entitled "The Border Crosses Them: Notes on Transcultural Austrian Poetry." She has won several literary prizes and published two collections of poetry: prugni (Cosmo Iannone, 2008) and gedankenflussabwärts. Erlaufgedichte (Edition Thurnhof, 2009).

LAWRENCE RAAB is the author of seven collections of poems, including What We Don’t Know About Each Other (winner of the National Poetry Series, and a finalist for the National Book Award), The Probable World, and Visible Signs: New and Selected Poems, all published by Penguin. His latest collection is The History of Forgetting (Penguin 2009). He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.

STEVEN REESE’s second book of poems, American Dervish, is forthcoming from Sal­mon Press, and he is the translator of Synergos: Selected Poems of Roberto Manzano. He teaches at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

ANNE SHAW is the author of Undertow, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Prize, and Shatter and Thrust, forthcoming from Persea Books. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harvard Review, Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, Drunken Boat, and New American Writing. Her extended experimental poetry project can be found  at She is currently a student of the visual arts at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

ADRIENNE SU is the author of three books of poems, most recently Having None of It (Manic D Press, 2009). Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, an NEA fellowship, and a residency at The Frost Place in Franconia, NH. She is poet-in-residence at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Recent poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, and New England Review.

EZER VIERBA was born and raised in Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek, Israel. He served as an officer in the Israeli army during the guerrilla war in Lebanon, and later became a conscientious objector. The dissertation he is writing, about punishment and power in Panamanian history, combines fictional and historical writing. "Istiraha Café" is his first publication.

SUSAN VOLCHOK is a New York writer who has published widely in journals and anthologies ranging from The Kenyon Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Confrontation to Best American Erotica, in mainstream magazines and newspapers including the New York Times, and online, most recently in n+1, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and The Other Room. Her own website is

CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS is a graduate of Harvard University and is currently a ninth grade English teacher with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. As of August 2012, she will be working towards an MFA in creative writing at the University of Mississippi.

KAREN TEI YAMASHITA is the author of four books, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Brazil-Mari, Tropic of Orange, Circle K Cycles, and I Hotel, all published by Coffee House Press. Most recently I Hotel was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award and awarded a California Book Award. She is currently a US Artists Ford Foundation Fellow and Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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