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“When I love one of his stories, which is most of the time, it’s because it’s a small puddle reflecting a tall stand of trees, with complete and startling accuracy.”
I met Joe through his knees.
Long and lean and cradling the chair in front of him, they bucked and bounced their way through an entire Wye Oak set. When the music waned, the knees slowed and paced themselves through the marshy rhythm. I remember watching and waiting for the knees to launch him forward and marionette him along the crust of the crowd.
That night Joe was an active listener so it should go as no surprise that as a writer he demands an active reader. His newest work, Easter Rabbit, is a collection of micro-fiction put together with publisher Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius. A compilation of three bodies of work – Easter Rabbit, Deep Falls, and God Not Otherwise – the three are distinctively their own with a common thread of purpose weaved together for a solid force of fiction. Deep Falls surveys an intimate relationship between two people and their engagement with a specific location. God Not Otherwise is a series of intents wrapped around experience with environment and longing. And with Easter Rabbit, Joe creates worlds with fifty words or less. A world taking us on a rubber band journey; expansive, malleable and quick as shit to snap us with absurd reality. As a reader it keeps me coming back and I’m able to pull something new out of the hat each time.
“The cup moons beneath her eyes were in decline. You know the tsunami? She said. Except that all of it was ping-pong balls. It was evening again already, pushed fingernails against the palm.”
Preparing to sit down and discuss the book with Joe, I read and examined and diagramed each piece with great detail. I had definitions and questions prepared to display as evidence until I realized…it’s all semantics. I was just projecting my idealism onto these weighty fragile structures. When I asked about his writing technique he referred to the “black box” – a space where our conscious meets our sub-conscious like the wall meeting the ceiling. Referencing Skinner’s “black box theory of consciousness”, which states we can never really understand the human mind, we can only see input and output. In reference to his own process Joe states, “I don’t know what’s in there and I don’t want to know what’s in there. I just sort of let it come out. I think it’s smarter than me.”
But, ultimately Joe is the chooser, the decider of what comes out of the black box and onto the page. We all have the capacity to dig deep in to our own black boxes, but how often do we dive in? It can be a scary place to realize fully and some things are best kept at arms length. Most artists relate to this working mentality, the ability to maintain a mystery with the work because it’s much more fun to surprise oneself.
Joe seems to surprise both himself and the reader with each fiction. Each character is revealed through the slightest of actions, providing context with just one word. And Joe may not even have it figured out. He builds holes for us to contextualize and re-contextualize over time with each reading. We begin to arrange our own stories from what he has provided.
There is a space and a distance time allows for us to redefine past events. We create our own mythos about ourselves and the events we’ve allowed to shape us into the story we’ve become, a story that seems to shift and fray from one minute to the next. We all love projecting ourselves into meaning with fragments of actual events, time allotted reflections, lies, eyewitness accounts, and sometimes fantasy. It’s our socially constructed body armor of place and identity.
Joe’s micro fictions are every myth and story whittled down to the barest of bones, to possibly one exaggeration, one lie, one meaningful, honest moment. They are so compactly intimate, absurd, and charismatic but also paradoxically vast and lonesome. Joe has so much faith in us, the reader, he invites us to peer into the scene and we become the ultimate voyeur into his constructed world. The relationship between text and reader becomes transactional, how much are we willing to give and how much do we want to take. The small texts draw us in and the white space requires us to go beyond the page, beyond the comfort of the words and to our own black box.
5 lines Baltimore
“A warehouse slid into the street, shuffle of yellow
brick beneath the stoplight, no cars, but in
the stone a man’s cane, a gull’s blood.
From the rich wood of the coffined attic the
bats decanted, circled the turrets, a mugger
with one eye rolled on the sky.
He walked beside the red pole, deep cut, black line.
A box of toys blew over, rain whipped the
porch rail, a boy skinny and wet fed his cat
through the window screen.
The steps were white cakes, green roses of beer
bottles and dead flowers, a woman feigning
sleep on the sidewalk.”