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Asheville Percussion Festival 2018, photo by Jesse Kitt

Alli Marshall is a poet, fiction writer, and performer. She’s interested in moving writing beyond the page, seeking the golden in the mundane, finding the intersection of art and social justice, and reconnecting with mythology — both ancient and modern.

Learn more about Alli here.

WITCHWOOD, part 1

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“Spooky house” by Wayne Woodruff. See his photos here.

This neighborhood had a name before it was colonized by Trader Joe’s and an endless stream of SUV traffic. Just because no one who lives here now can remember what it was called doesn’t mean you get to rename it.

You build your house on a graveyard and act surprised when the ghosts move into your hot tub, your gourmet kitchen, your wood-fired pizza oven. There’s a reason why houses from a hundred years ago had such small closets: no space for the dearly departed.

The ancestors are not impressed with your two-car garage, your home yoga studio, your posh amnesia. If you don’t call a place by its true name, you’ll dream of its former inhabitants. You’ll wake to them rattling like mice in your walls.

Mood

Mood

I started making these collages to say something that I couldn’t write down. Beauty is marred, the perception of women is a false narrative, we live in a world that neither honors nor protects what it loves. In the many and loud and frequent calls to change the government by voting Republicans out, I can’t help but think about how heavily North Carolina is gerrymandered and that the Equal Rights Amendment still has not been ratified. So yes, I’ll vote. And no, I don’t believe all votes count equally. I wish I believed that, but I don’t.

Below are my digital collages (in order) of “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer, “Portrait of an Unknown Woman” by Ivan Kramskoi, “Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci” by Leonardo da Vinci, and “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence. The choice to use famous works by white male artists was intentional.

 

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DUMPSTER FIRE

Pete was not a good friend, in that he was neither very good nor very much of a friend. He was the kind of kid who came over to your house and drank your cough syrup. He was the kind of kid whose parents never knew where he was and weren’t too worried about it.

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Photo from firedepartment.org

We met at All County Band, where I was third-chair flute and he was not in band at all, but was riding a contraband skateboard through the hallway. I was bored with John Phillips Sousa and the (marginally cooler alternative) Beverly Hills Cop theme song. I was over the competition of All County Band and the nervous knowing that I was only third-chair flute by some fluke. Not because I was good. I wasn’t good because I didn’t practice.

I was in a phase of not applying myself, which meant I did enough to skate by, and skating by meant being in the top percentile of my class but just barely. I was number ten of the top-ten. “Dumbest of the smart kids,” I liked to say. I made a habit of not studying. I memorized and took notes and never dared find out what I was capable of if I actually tried.

I was already leaning way from the straight and the narrow. Pete, some punk version of the Artful Dodger, looked like an option I had not previously considered.

Pete actively applied himself at not trying. He’d rerouted any scholarly energy into skipping school, stealing beer, and narrowly averting the police. Pete, I knew, the moment our eyes locked at All County Band, was my spirit animal. That is, if spirit animals came in pairs and one was good and one was evil. Pete was the evil one. But also the more fun one. The one with better band t-shirts. The one with a better record collection. A record collection he’d probably shop-lifted — he was that sort of spirit animal.

Most of our friendship (with air quotes) was Pete showing up at inopportune times. Family dinners. Getting a friend to drive him to my house then getting the car stuck in my driveway so my dad had to tow them out. Inviting me over to play records, then stealing my Sid Vicious album.

But with Pete I got to be The Girl With The Sid Vicious Album, which I preferred to The Girl Who Makes Third-Chair Flute In All County Band. With Pete, I could wear black nail polish and torn jeans. I could apply myself at not applying myself.

Plus, I was a year older and two inches taller and my parents still cared where I was. Not that I always told the truth about where I was, but they would have noticed if I didn’t make it home by dark. I had that over Pete. So when he called to see if I wanted to hang out behind the high school in Geneva I said yes.

And when Pete said “Let’s break into the pool,” I was like, “Uhm,” but luckily we couldn’t. Neither of us was motivated enough to apply ourselves at breaking and entering. So we just milled around, unwilling to admit that Hanging Out Behind The High School In Geneva was lame.

But then Pete had the brilliant idea to throw lit matches into the dumpster, one after the other. I laughed at first, but maybe ten matches in it seemed like Maybe Not The Best Idea. I said so. “God,” Pete sulked. “What do you think’s gonna happen?”

A tentative flame licked the metal lip of the dumpster. We were both impressed. It was soon joined by a more boisterous flame, and then a family of angry and determined flames. “Oh shit,” Pete said. He picked up his skateboard and took off running.

When you have a friend like Pete, a friend who is not such a great friend, a friend who drinks your cough syrup and annoys your dad, you are not altogether surprised when he sets a dumpster on fire and leaves you alone at the scene of the crime.

I called 911 from the payphone and waited a safe distance from the dumpster for the firetruck. “Did you set this?” the police asked. They came, too.

I said no. I said I was there for All County Band practice. I said I’d made third-chair flute but maybe next year I’d get first chair. “Fingers crossed,” I said and kept my fingers shoved into my pockets so the police couldn’t see my black nail polish.

The cop looked around for the real culprit. Clearly it wasn’t me. Even with my torn jeans. I still had too much of the stench of a smart kid. A flute-playing top-percentile kid. “Do your parents know where you are?” He finally asked.

I said yes. Earnestly. Wide-eyed. It was pretty much mostly not a lie.

I thought of Pete who was in the wind, Pete who still had matches. Pete whose parents maybe hadn’t remembered to worry about him that day. That week. I thought of all the dumpsters out there and how much Pete could destroy if he applied himself.

MARIAN APPARITION

Maybe it’s because he’s new to town but already on the rise, already with a convertible and plans for a salon of his own. That kind of fast fame is intoxicating.

Maybe it’s because he’s pretty. Soft-faced. Feminine. Maybe it’s for that reason that his mother gave him a girl’s name and not just any girl’s name but that of a virgin saint. He is no virgin saint but his name implies trustworthiness.

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SANCERRE AND WICKER CHAIRS

You order Perrier in Paris because you can. Because everything else is wrong, but you can manage that one thing. An impossibly old man grips your wrist like he’s drowning. He tells you he once had an American lover. The day takes on carnival proportions.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 5.18.49 PMYou went to Paris to drink Sancerre (even though the French are bored with wine) while sitting in a wicker café chair on the sidewalk. You went to Paris to fall in love, to be seen in that particular light. What was supposed to be a moment suspended, a Mendelssohn overture, is instead an impossibly old man clawing at your arm and leaving marks.

When the rain breaks for five seconds you make a run for it. Coward. Paris is laughing at you. You can’t get close to the Eiffel Tower for the slow snake of tourists. You walk for miles to the Picasso museum only to learn that it’s closed for the next five years. You order a carafe of Sancerre but all the wicker chairs are taken.

You sleep in the fourteenth arrondissement, which sounds romantic, but you dream of work and bills and the singular anxiety of lost luggage. You’re tired in Père Lachaise Cemetery and think of laying down on the polished marble of Edith Piaf’s grave, curling against the crucified Christ.

You order food that comes wrapped in paper so you can eat while walking rather than dine alone.

The locks on the bridge over the Seine — so many that it’s someone’s job to periodically cut them off — are an unsolvable riddle. How is a padlock a romantic gesture and not a scare tactic?

But you are no one’s key, no one’s promise, no one’s lost love.

NOTES ON PROCESS, part 1

A.

My experience as an artist so far has been that I am led down various life paths, often related to the BIG LIFE ISSUES (marriage, career, friendships, family, health scares for myself or those close to me, minor and major tragedies, national and world events) and make art in response to those experiences. The art isn’t really planned beyond “I think I’m OK at writing, so I’ll study that, and since I’ve studied it a bit, I guess that’s my main media” or “I’m sick of words and need to try to express myself through some other art form so maybe I’ll play the ukulele because it only has four strings so how hard can it be?”

In short: Art Reflects Life.

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Members of Pussy Riot perform at Red Square, January 2012. Photo by Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

But now, in my mid-40s, I find myself wondering if the more meaningful creative path might be Life Reflects Art. Wherein the artist would choose an art form and follow that Continue reading

WISH YOU WERE HERE

After deleting 139 photos of my ex, my photo gallery looks like I’ve only ever vacationed by myself. I suppose that’s sort of true: Me leaning casually against Hadrian’s Wall; me at Edith Piaf’s grave; me, in an optical illusion, touching the top of the Temple of Kukulkan as if it’s miniature and I’m a giant.

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I can barely remember feeling hot that day, in Chichen Itza, or motion sick from the bus ride. I recall those details like an itinerary, like a packing list, like a fact that could also be a lie. Like a movie I once saw while sick with the flu that I later, inadvertently, adopted as a series of scenes from my own life. Memory is like that: Fallible, slippery. Continue reading