conquistadoroftheuselesscoverConquistador of the Useless

Fiction by Joshua Isard
Cinto Puntos Press, March 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1-935955-54-2
Paperback: 240pp; $16.95
Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
Even if you were only half-awake in the late ’80s and early ’90s and only occasionally watched prime-time shows on ABC, you may remember the nostalgic narrator of The Wonder Years and the young urban professionals in thirtysomething, which sparked the now-commonplace term and later earned a place in the Oxford English Dictionary. Both shows were framed in the imagination of baby boomers, the Clinton-Gore age group back in 1992 whose childhood memories of Sixties counterculture now feels muted, ironed out into designer suits and body language that secure career paths and retirement plans. You might get a whiff of those two shows in Joshua Isard’s Conquistador of the Useless, through the tone of nostalgia for one’s teenage years that, to some extent, acts as an element of restraint and caution about being pulled too fast into an upwardly mobile career in information technology. The narratives of urban alienation in Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain, MTV’s Daria, and Kurt Vonnegut are not mere artifacts in Nathan Wavelsky’s suburban world, but serve as imaginary sticky notes for a life filled with statistical reports, deadlines, and board meetings. Thus, Nathan accepts a big job promotion with trepidation and, knowing the ball is in his court, requests a few months off for something unrelated to his career: his condition for accepting the offer is that he starts working in his new job after climbing Mt. Everest.


bending light is like looking for the mojave in hollywood

a motorcycle is lost in the ears of dog-eared diaries

i'm allergic to morning news with too much make-up

remember that time when we once were walls in caves

hollywood feels like smoke touching your eyes

consistency is the gun you never use on the freeway

Birds of Paradise Lost

While reading Andrew Lam’s Birds of Paradise Lost, I kept thinking of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED speech, back in 2009. It was titled “The Danger of the Single Story”; the subject echoed the project of challenging master narratives from the previous century. That challenge germinated revisions in university reading lists, back in the late seventies, as the war in Vietnam approached its final phase. Adichie underlines the role of power cultivated in a single story, and how it insinuates, then calcifies, subterranean borderlines through stereotypes. On a Virgin flight from Lagos before her talk, Adichie heard an announcement about charity work in “India, Africa, and other countries”; however unintentional this categorization of Africa as a country was, the remark was not isolated. Adichie was clear about that, that the comment signaled pernicious perceptions about Africa, the kind that framed the continent in a stereotype: that its economic situation is prime destination of numerous charities from the First World. On the other hand, Adichie’s problem with stereotypes “is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete[;] they make one story the only story.” [ Read Full Review at NewPages.]

The Night of the Rambler

The Night of the Rambler is true to its title. It tells a story of a revolution rambling with plans on how to execute a coup d’état on a young government, perhaps too young to transform and reconfigure policies inherited from previous colonial administrations. The transition is mired with problems, which is not unusual: young governments in newly decolonized territories are still learning the ropes of being free. Like youth itself, these fledgling states are high on new-found independence or semi-independence. In this novel, that mindset disables effective government. A territory that such a state governs feels neglected and excluded from basic benefits and services. Ironically, here, the lack of organized surveillance through bureaucratic standards—which gave colonial administrations immense control—becomes a form of oppression: political marginalization, a loss of sovereignty that opens channels for organized protests. However, there is a twist in the revolution Montague Kobbé has fictionalized, which is not necessarily in the protest itself, but what it wants in the end: it prefers direct administration from its original colonizer. [Read Full Review at NewPages.]

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

A book can be judged by its cover, partially. This book is perfect example. The words Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story and the image of a typewriter below them compressed into a singular message for me: MFA in fiction. Even before opening the book, the cover tells me its target audience is creative writers, or more so, creative writers who are in a writing program, aspiring to be in one, used to be in one, are teaching in one, are about to teach in one, or believe you can’t teach creative writing, and thus look down on writing programs. But whether you stand by that idea or not, there’s a growing trend that these programs, academies, or institutes are sprouting around the globe. To name three, out of many: the City University of Hong Kong’s MFA in Creative Writing in English was launched in 2010, and considers itself “The only MFA with an Asian Focus.” In the UK, the Faber and Faber publishing house started Faber Academy in 2008, and promotes the idea that “publishers know what writers need.” And in City University of New York’s The Writers’ Institute at the Graduate Center, its director—novelist André Aciman—has brought in editors from publications and publishers such as Granta; Harper’s; Knopf; The New Yorker; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and, yes, The Paris Review to facilitate its writing workshops, in fiction and nonfiction. [Read Full-text at NewPages.]

@ Munyori

My poem Consolations is published here, with a few others. Many thanks to Emmanuel, for including it.

Mornings give in to consolations.
The news anchor is part of the pattern that ensures
I will be home around six in the evening.
If I forget something on my way out,
it’s not the car keys, but the feel of your lips.
The bird blocking the green light
does not obliterate the other lights. The rearview mirror
swallows objects and takes them out of its face;
anything is game, big or small,
mountains and valleys, God, or how
the day might turn out to be.

Salton Sea

In this collection, interstate highways are stoned with sad songs, while accelerating on The Stones. They speed towards motel rooms and roadside bars, sweaty in premonitions of tomorrows through the Mojave Desert, or swanky Palm Springs hanging out on tan lines and glamour that might turn off George McCormick’s characters. His are not L.A. types, hoping for alternatives to traffic jams, smog, or specters of road rage. But they are not rural either; they are somewhere in between, suspended in that vast space girdled by truck stops, railroads, dry landscapes, and coffee refills on Sunset Boulevard, before accelerating the 101 or I-5 towards midnight and beyond. They take anything outside the nine-to-five hustle, anything stable, to support a family, a budding romance, or dreams that might wake, glimmering, in their baby daughter’s eyes. [Read Full-text at NewPages.]


"I let nights uncurl from the silence of leaves, where critters disperse sonic semaphores to perfect the dark. The slope of necks levitates expectations in the hollow of half-lit moons. I thirst for language that jet from punctured solitudes, their history, memory, fragilities. I breathe, sneak myself in their dreams, for the taste of rehashed melancholies. I search not victims, but to liberate those entombed in phantoms unable to simulate flight, escape, transcendence. As always, obstructed lineage purifies blood from the past."  Read more.


Thanks to Eileen Tabios for inviting me to be part of her  manuscript-in-progress that explores the expanse of the self. More on Eileen's project in her website The Blind Chatelaine's Keys. A portion of that manuscript appears in the 29th issue of Otoliths  edited by Mark Young, in a special feature called:

Eileen R. Tabios, Tom Beckett, j/j hastain, John Bloomberg-Rissman, 
Aileen Ibardaloza, Thomas Fink, Sheila E. Murphy, 
Michael Caylo-BaradiJean Vengua, William Allegrezza, 
Patrick James Dunagan & Ava Koohbor.


The issue features these writers and artists: Mark Cunningham, Susan Lewis, Aditya Bahl, Jal Nicholl, Andrew Topel, Pete Spence & Andrew Topel, Julian Jason Haladyn, Ed Baker, John Ryan, Francesco Aprile, Unconventional Press, Kyle Hemmings, Philip Byron Oakes, Marco Giovenale, Sheila E. Murphy & John M. Bennett, Jim Leftwich & John M. Bennett, Thomas M. Cassidy & John M. Bennett, John M. Bennett, John W. Sexton, Louie Crew, Sy Roth, Jack Galmitz, Anthony J. Langford, Mark Melnicove, Yoko Danno, Pam Brown, Eleanor Leonne Bennett, A. J. Huffman, John Veira, Maria Zajkowski, Camille Martin, Wayne Mason, Bobbi Lurie, Darren C. Demaree, Michael Stutz, James Mc Laughlin, Howie Good, Reed Altemus, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Vernon Frazer, Jeremy Freedman, John Pursch, dan raphael, Sheila e. Black & Caleb Puckett, Ricky Garni, Jack Collum & Mark DuCharme, Kathryn Yuen, Tim Wright, Mark Reep, Gary Barwin, Taylor Reid, harry k stammer, Marcia Arrieta, Anna Ryan-Punch, Katrinka Moore, Neil Ellman, Sally Ann McIntyre, Jeff Harrison, Joe Balaz, Boyd Spahr, Tony Beyer, Jim Davis, Chris Brown, Sam Moginie, Lakey Comess, Alberto Vitacchio, Jorge Lucio de Campos translated by Diana Magallón & Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, Rebecca Rom-Frank, Craig Cotter, Javant Biarujia, Carla Bertola, Iain Britton, Anne Elvey, Bob Heman, Donna Fleischer, J. D. Nelson, sean burn, Spencer Selby, Charles Freeland & Rosaire Appel, Paul Dickey, Michael D Goscinski, Kathup Tsering, Miro Bilbrough, Chris Holdaway, Samuel Carey, Paul Pfleuger, Jr., Michael Brandonisio, Willie Smith, Mercedes Webb-Pullman, Bogdan Puslenghea, Andrew Pascoe, Scott Metz, Marty Hiatt, Eric Schmaltz, Sam Langer, & bruno neiva. 

bubble bath issues anyone?

The Bubble Bath Issue of MiPOesias (Feb 2013) 

Nin Andrews, Jennifer Koe, Joshua Gray, Ron Androla, Sam Gogolak, D.S. Martin, Pris Campbell, Rena Rossner, Meg Tuite, Linda Benninghoff, Laurie Kolp, Holly Simonsen, Erica Braverman, Gabrielle Freeman, Michael Caylo-Baradi & Yasbel Acuña-Borrero

I'm happy to be part of this issue. Thanks Didi for including my piece: 

Edited by Didi Menendez

Andre Aciman @ Granta

I like the idea that he can only write in the subjective I. The reading is energetic. I'm not lost. I love it. And I love his interviews. I get lost in the momentum.

Moments in the West

Add caption
Thanks to Mark Young for 
including my images: 

Moments in the West.


Otoliths 28

Alexander Jorgensen, Paul Dickey, Felino A. Soriano, Alexandra Yurkovsky, Jim Meirose, Simon Perchik, nick-e melville, Tim Suermondt, Mark Melnicove, Adam Aitken, bruno neiva, Philip Byron Oakes, Dane Karnick, Howie Good, Walter Ruhlmann, John Crouse, M. Pfaff, John M. Bennett, William Garvin, Michael Farrell, Willie Smith, Jack Galmitz, Craig Scott, Raymond Farr, Carlyle Baker, Patrick James Dunagan, Sheila E. Murphy, Reed Altemus, Micah Cavaleri, Tom Beckett, Tony Brinkley, Bobbi Lurie, Tom Pescatore, Cecelia Chapman, Tony Beyer, Lakey Comess, George McKim, Steven D. Stark, Orchid Tierney, David Dick, Colin Herd, Michael Caylo-Baradi, Lee Slonimsky, Chris D'Errico, Susan Gangel & Terry Turrentine, Catherine Vidler, John Pursch, Stephen Nelson, Leigh Herrick, Jeff Harrison, Volodymyr Bilyk, Charles Freeland & Rosaire Appel, Márton Koppány, Alyson Miller, sean burn, Donna Fleischer, Bogdan Puslenghea, Paul Pfleuger, Jr., Joel Chace, Bob Heman, Scott Metz, Ed Baker, J. D. Nelson, Nicolette Wong, Michael Brandonisio, Lance Newman, Sam Moginie, Kit Kennedy, Samit Roy, Sam Langer, Aditya Bahl, Cherie Hunter Day, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, & Michael Gottlieb.

Freighted Refuge (excerpt)

For full text, visit : Latin American Review of Books.

Clouds dominate the upper half in one of Sin Nombre‘s (2009) theatrical release posters, as though a tropical storm is tracking the freight train below, carrying passengers on its rooftop through lush-green countryside. This poster’s centre of gravity is a face, of a young woman looking straight at us, framed in delicate fortitude; and immediately behind her is a young man whose line of sight appears engaged on thoughts that vegetate on the tropical landscape the train is passing through.

A native of Honduras, Sayra is the young woman in the poster, played by rising Mexican-actor Paulina Gaitán, and the young man is Casper of Chiapas, Mexico, portrayed by non-professional actor Edgar Flores from Honduras. Two years before this film was released, Gaitán had worked with Kevin Kline in Trade (2007) as a Mexican girl auctioned online for paedophiles. There are vague traces of that girl’s fragility in Gaitán’s Sayra, whose solemn sweetness and strength provide illusions of respite against the script’s controlled accretion of violence embodied in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational gang with a chapter in the city of Tapachula in Chiapas, which Casper is a member of.

As a marero, Casper is wary about cultivating a private life; but he pursues one anyway, to nourish a budding romance – as Willy, not Casper – with Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia), whose fragile beauty appears out-of-place in the film’s harsh world, and is soon discarded after following Casper to a gang meeting in a cemetery. Casper immediately suffers punishment before his homies for hiding Martha from them, while their leader – Tenoch Huerta Mejia’s menacing Lil’ Mago – absconds her to a semi-private enclosure under the intimate shade of a tree. Fukunaga takes advantage of this scene for something that complements our perceptions of Lil’ Mago whose face and naked upper-body presents a delirious labyrinth of tattoos, dripping of death, religion, brotherhood, and other icons of pride. When Martha hits her head on a tombstone after resisting his advances and never moves again, the brief shock that freezes Lil’ Mago’s face appears like a seed for an apology to Casper later, who would never know her death was an accident. Instead, Lil’ Mago simply informs Casper that “the Devil took her,” after leaving Martha under the tree.

Martha’s death enrages Casper quietly, as Lil’ Mago continues to hold the plot’s momentum, when he chooses Casper and a new recruit named Smiley for a routine robbery on a freight train carrying US-bound migrants. Obligation and pride simmers in the new recruit’s sense of focus in collecting wallets and other material possessions, sentiments not replicated in Casper. Still mourning over Martha, Casper’s concentration to be in the robbery has been faltering, which Lil’ Mago has noted with friendly nonchalance, ever since the triumvirate boards the train discretely. However, the object of Casper’s concentration acquires a new focus when the gang leader puts his hand on one of the female passengers they are robbing. This harassment punctures Casper’s rage, and inspires him to rescue the girl. Soon, the energy of the script shifts into a narrative of escape after Casper raises his machete and lands its blade on the gang leader’s neck. Smiley’s flight from the interrupted robbery is burdened with confusion, fear, and the image of Lil’ Mago’s dead body with a leg now sliced in half on the tracks, after Casper pushes him down the boxcar rooftop they are on.

Now alone, Casper takes refuge on the train he once terrorized, and survives unsuccessful attempts against his life. Over time, the girl Casper saves – Sayra – develops feelings for him that forces her to separate with her father and uncle, to follow Casper who secretly leaves the train one morning. Casper and Sayra’s moments together deepen against Mara members in Mexico and the US now searching for Lil’ Mago’s assassin, a hunt that ends where Casper’s blood converges with the color of the setting sun on the Rio Grande River, while Sayra crosses its dark waters alone.

You can read the full-text here.

How to light the air

Image Source: Boston Globe:
Big Picture.

It comes, as passing moments, and walks through footsteps, their destinations, fragile calamities. We hurry, and take what is necessary, what we must, including what is cropped out of the image, the one where you simplified us in a gesture.

Titanic at 100 years

The story of this ship will always float.  And no berg of any sort will threaten to sink that.  But it merely floats, and has no recognizable destination at the moment.  I'm now curious about its future stopovers, especially how the hyper-active imagination of literature and film can reshape that narrative into their own terms.  So far, the love-affair of nostalgia and curiosity in this story has been steamy.  James Cameron exposed that into a highly marketable commodity.  But love-affairs have definite life-spans.  Usually, they're short.  Although 'short', in this regard, could be highly elastic.  Let's see.  Another two centuries?  That's short in terms of light years.  The future could further exhume the remains of that ship, and raise it using technology we can only imagine today.

[The images above are linked from The Boston Globe. ]


The flight of birds draw lines into the sky,
as they leave the edge of eaves.

Tailgating is not always intentional

@ 42nd Street & 5th Avenue (2012)
Cars disappear into someone's gestures. The longer you look into a photograph in your wallet, you see shapes, borders, and silhouettes.

Above may not be sky, but an indication of intransigence, that perhaps you're moving away from the temptation of apogees, dreams, conquests.  

In the silence of a train station, empty seats refuse to yield into metaphors, especially as hints of something exiled. Even the way we used to hold each other's hands that last time I saw you, their fingerprints were already uncoiled in what you might not want to say,

but instead became a way of looking at clouds from your window seat.

Meet Me There

Empire State Building (March 2012)
The night expands into shadows on sidewalks, in steps hurrying to catch the next train, or as they walk into a park to sit on a bench and rest. Breezes caress cheeks, gestures, or trail punctuations in a conversation. Cars converge and diverge into routes, pre-meditations, or failed plans. She keeps looking at her watch, at what its numbers tell her, their power over her expectations. There's the sky to look at. But her eyes don't look beyond the branches of trees without leaves. Her mind settles on the sound of steps, at what they are up to. She can still feel him in these nameless faces, his touch, the movement of his palms on her, where they pursue her. He takes her further in her closed eyes, into where trees hide between city-streets, between tongues that know what each cannot feel.