"An Unbearable Lightness"

My friend Leslie remarked via email that she was “somewhat jealous” of my impromptu adventure, to which I replied “don’t be.” There’s no envy to be found in fright, in flight, in a series of decisions made on the fly and without consideration of the future. I got into my black Mustang and drove west: the image itself evokes the idyllic car ride down an empty highway or lonely stretch of road, a cloud of dust kicked up by rear-wheel power–liberation unbundled like a black ponytail undone: hair unfurled and freed.

What the image hides is the reason why. Unless insane, nothing is done without reason though, at various points in my travels, I wondered if I had become unhinged, if the continued erasure of my life, dubbed “the year of subtraction,” had finally wiped away all traces of reality. Why was I on the road? I didn’t dare answer the question while behind the wheel, so I focused on an easier query: would I ever come back?

Therein lied true terror. I liquidated my life of its material possessions, sans clothing and a handful of books and journals and a car. I gave it all away. I remember the heat of that last week in July, in New Jersey, and how delirious I felt in our apartment, as if heat stroke ignored the full blast of the central air conditioning system. I thought about visiting my doctor. As I packed all of my books and most of my clothes–wedding suit included–and every object that might be coveted by another party, I became prone to dizzy spells.

Or merely “spells,” since the room didn’t spin nor did I feel nauseous. Rather, the “spells” made me feel lightheaded and discharged, for a moment, from reality, from time and space. I felt like falling. Every few minutes, whether I ran old junk mail and love letters through a paper shredder, or lamented over the beautiful books I meticulously collected over the years & easily dispatched to a “giveaway” pile, my eyes throbbed and dimensions around me pulsated–the walls rippled and the floor shifted. I thought I was dying. Death surrounded me. Continue reading

Why I Hoard Books & Why I Won't Read Them

So many books I haven’t read Anna Karenina; The Pale King; The Night Circus; Silver Sparrow. These are a few of the physical books in front of me, suspended in the air by blood red “floating shelves” bolted to the wall. I dare not look into my Kindle or iBooks apps to see the e-books I haven’t opened–or even downloaded.

Hoarding books appears to be another aspect of the writer’s life:buying new books even though I hadn’t read books I previously purchased or those gifted to me by loved ones.

My “to read” list grows, as does my “currently reading” tab: those books I’ve partially consumed but, out of boredom or distraction, I sat down, never to return. This list includes The Savage Detectives, Pym, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, High Fidelity, Sag Harbor, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City. Continue reading

No Award for 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; Franzen Seethes

At least Franzen didn't win.


On my way home from work, I said to myself, “I’m not going to write about this. I don’t care.” Welp–

As you probably know, the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction was “No Award,” written by N.O. Novelist. It’s been 34 years since the 18 member Pulitzer Board last failed to bestow the prize to a work of fiction and, to my surprise, it’s the ninth such incident since the Prize began in 1918, according to January Magazine. Continue reading

The Real Folk Blues

At the end of “Cowboy Bebop,” protagonist and general badass Spike engages in one final shootout with his rival. Bullets fly, the rain falls–all that you’d expect in a finale. Leading up to the last episode, “Cowboy Bebop” felt rushed as the writers tied up many, if not all, of the subplots before ending the series. It’s a common trait in anime, I think–or at least one expressed by the creators of “Cowboy Bebop,” who also rushed their subsequent, and less fulfilling, series “Samurai Champloo.” Anyway, maybe that’s the trait of all series–animated or otherwise–which is to wrap everything up before everything is wrapped up.

Such was the feeling of the AWP Conference & Book Fair, my first time visiting the affair. Continue reading


Whitney and my mother are inexorably linked within my memory. They did not know each other. Or maybe they did in the way black women know each other quite well–a sort of underground communication through wormholes connecting history to history, time to time, separate lives lived with separate outcomes, separate burdens, but the familiarity of those burdens, those choices, those lives bridge the gap between two people: a pop star and a nurse.

Or perhaps music was the bridge. My mother loved Whitney: her voice, her flawless smile, her shoulder-shrugs in lieu of dance steps. I, on the other hand, was not a fan of Whitney; in the late 80s, hip-hop clutched my older brothers’ collective attention by the throat, and I watched them squirm, wondering what kind of music could make them spin on their backs or wear unlaced Adidas or argue for hours–hours–over who should claim the “best rapper” title. Whitney was a singer, and I desired the rhymes my brothers coveted, so I dismissed her as someone my mother loved; I pegged Whitney “uncool,” a label assigned due to her proximity to my mother, the most “uncool” woman I knew–know.


Continue reading

The Latest in Cyberspace Fashion

A part of me wants to complain. Something about the land of the social misfits irritates me, but I keep my mouth shut–at times–because I consider it a personal problem, one easily fixed by my removal from the networks. I could call it “downtime” to reenergize and, soon, return to the task of tweeting comedic one-liners and over-sharing my personal life. I could do this without an examination as to why I feel the need to unplug in the first place or, better yet, the reason(s) why I’m irritated, angered, and at a loss. An existential crisis of my online persona is under way, a silly, but–I wonder?–increasingly commonplace problem.

Who I am–and the aspects of my personality which I show online–is a matter of careful curation, sifting through the shards which makes me “me” and display the beautiful pieces, the sexy ones. The goal, of course, is to be seen, to be heard, as oppose to “see” or “hear”–I look for another party to reach out and validate my nonsense with an LOL. Because to say what I really want to say–which is nothing, for I am both shy and introverted IRL–means screaming to myself into the ether(net) and, well, I can simply berate my walls if talking to myself is the end result.

That I’m a writer (self-promotion) and editor-in-chief of a literary magazine (promotion of others) makes my crisis all the more inconvenient. Day by day, the links affixed to short stories and poems and press releases for new or upcoming books whiz by my tiny window, capturing the hearts and minds of the small audience we literary types–we, the online literati–look to endear with our meager offerings, the ever-increasing ephemera we produce. Scraps of sentences and half-baked plots, cooked with the speed and quality of low-grade crack cocaine, doled out in dime-bag-sized blog posts and tweets: forgotten footnotes masquerading as literature, which we claim to create and endorse.

And some of us do, yes, but at the expense of the bright lights beamed from the eyes of “edgy writers.” Writer–by any other name–is a nerd, a social reject, the plaything for high school bullies. A part of me can’t begrudge them–us–for the cronyism, the cliques, as a mere expression of self-preservation (combine and defend!). But in what hopes? What, in fact, is the endgame here in this online literary realm where exclusion is a custom or, perhaps, merely the remainder resulting from long division (popularity over substance)?

And who am I to complain? I am a participant in this entire game. I’ve stacked more wins than losses over the past year; between publications and the launch–and relative success–of my magazine, the aforementioned question is answered: I am no one to complain.

But to be human is to complain–and to be online is to have a public forum to bellow out my grievances–so I must do my duty.

The existential crisis is twofold: I rarely reveal the real “me” while online and the ways in which I do reveal the curated pieces–mensah demary vs. Thomas DeMary–goes against my very nature, though I don’t mean to make it sound so dire. To the latter point, the Internet is the latest space where the paraphrase “no country for introverts” is applied, if easily dismissed, for anyone can say anything to anyone without fear of retribution, the IRL variant (bodily harm). I should know: I spent 2011 harassing @Tyrese.

I’m no fool–my task as curator of my own online life is, to this point, a successful one. But it comes with a price. It comes with the sacrifice of who I am, of what I believe, in order to run with the beautiful ones of online literature, albeit in the back of the pack–which beats being a groupie, a status some of my contemporaries are happy to own, but that’s for another day. My problem is, indeed, a personal one because no one else, to my knowledge, wonders aloud, “WTF are we doing here? What IS this ‘online literature?’ And to participate in it, to actually have my work read–or at least seen–by as many people as possible, what does one have to do?”

Depends. Maybe you have to routinely insult people. Or bare your breasts. Or inflate your importance with Twitter bot accounts featuring wonderful plays on your name. Or receive a facial. Or type in all caps begging, pleading, almost offering fellatio to receive a glorious retweet or re-blog from a beautiful one, a literary titan who lords over the fecal matter we espouse as literature.

It depends. For me, I simply insult people and make a mockery of my own personal life, to treat the pain of divorce with irreverence, the latest in cyberspace fashion. And I do it all in the name of gaining something called “notoriety” because, my fear is, to do it with humility and a dose of reality–to be “real”–is to be ignored. Cast out.

“We want outcasts,” so goes the tagline for my magazine. A message to myself–and I didn’t even know it.



mensah demary, whose prose has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, is co-founder & editor-in-chief of Specter Magazine.

a regular contributor for The Lit Pub, Hippocampus Magazine, ArtFaccia, and Peripheral Surveys, mensah currently writes in Camden, New Jersey. For more information, visit www.mensahdemary.com or on Twitter @mensahdemary. 

The Victor

No one, they say, moves to Camden, NJ by choice.

Camden is, comparatively speaking, no worse than north Philadelphia or west Baltimore or at least two of Washington, DC’s quadrants. None of these cities are inhabitable, so they say, but habitants remain in Camden, though pushed away from the Delaware River, shoved deep into hollowed buildings & corridors where, if trapped, a tourist miles away from the aquarium is set up by yellow eyes undulating like beacons in the dark.

Camden’s blight is a matter of numbers, money, people and desire. Indifference is evident as one crosses Martin Luther King Boulevard to Haddon Avenue, and turns left toward Market Street–shabby roads made treacherous by corrosion and neglect: floodwaters from steady rain and the equal, opposite trickle of state funds.

Camden is New Jersey’s true Philadelphia suburb. Dive into the Delaware to the end, care about Camden just enough to keep it in mind. It is a goldmine for he who jump-starts the gentrification halted by budget cuts. A trickle-down effect: those cuts led to the erosion of half of Camden’s police force; Camden’s national reputation marks it as one of the most violent US cities–a reputation often supported by statistics which belies (or explains) the city’s small, and dwindling still, population.

No one, accordingly, moves to Camden by choice except, of course, my wife and I.


Camden, the quietest city I’ve heard, reminds me of Newfield, NJ, the town where I grew up, except the trees and farmlands, the spice of Autumn air and the resplendent lawns, are replaced by mounds of cement and concrete, monoliths newly built or newly burned. Rolling hills adorned with buildings, with glass and more glass–reflections abound–and the air reeks of dead economy, a stench akin to pollution and garbage.

Its mood shifts toward the reckless, the manic. It cackles–the sound made by the trauma hospital helicopter’s blades–as it clutches itself like a teenager, eighteen and legal, warming himself as the sting in his ass lingers, the result of being booted out of child protective services.

The depressed, when poor and unable to receive proper care, turn to alcohol and cigarettes, drugs and sex, bullets and bullets clinking into the potholes: an apocalyptic cocktail administered as catharsis.

Over here, near the river, in a fortress which once house the center of Camden’s wealth, I reconcile my position as a stranger in a strange land no one moves to by choice.

My wife and I chose this building, this neighborhood–the one chunk of land in mid-resurrection. We cannot sink our money into local business because there are few to visit. Bodegas and barbershops–traps crackling with energy, their curbs bejeweled with luxury cars as pregnant women stroll in rags–seem dubious and, for what it’s worth, in no mood for our uppity money.

We can only walk but so far before the police–the ones left behind–make U-turns or take their time weighing all options before–maybe–rolling forward.

Then why are we here? Why move to a city depressed for thirty years? What could possibly be the appeal, being here, over here, near the river, in a fortress which once housed the center of Camden’s wealth?

I am in a strange land to which no one moves by choice.

mensah demary, whose prose has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, is co-founder & editor-in-chief of Specter Literary Magazine. For more information, visit www.inhelvetica.com or on Twitter @mensahdemary.

"between the typeset" by mensah demary

my writing life is different. its previous state outlined in an earlier essay, here–now–is where i note the dissimilarities.

it is 5 AM and there’s no time to putter. the urgency to write is here–now–evident inside my blood slowly circulating and the morning breath in my mouth [toothpaste can wait]. i wake up alone–

she floods me with dread–

and i’m motivated to write as if my fingers were legs, as if these letters were the smoky jet-stream of a man in flight, as if i’m hunted down by truth and this entire exercise is a race to a safe haven, because no one said the truth is benevolent or benign.

i roll out of bed thinking, swearing off drinking, while my Amira gently sleeps

[i hope].

the coffee is already prepared when i exit the bedroom. delay timer delayed brewing time by five hours–back when i dumped the coffee and water into the machine–and ten minutes before 5 AM, its circuitry awoke and began the percolation process: scalding steam flutter above the coffeemaker while hot water trickled into a flimsy coffee filter containing store-bought ground coffee [arabica, maybe]. this makes it possible for fresh coffee to await me when i exit the master coffin to find myself.

what else can a writer do but write when all the shit falls down?

in my previous writing life, i needed a half-hour to get to work–thirty minutes plus a beige pill to ward off the demons–but now, in this new life, i take five minutes:

pour the coffee + creamer + sugar into my mug [stir];
find my glasses;
don a hoodie because it’s chilly and i, at times, like to write while wearing a hood over my head;
wake up my computer and light a cigarette and set the timer [T-minus 90 minutes].

in this new life, i worry about finances. this, my home, is an apartment with two in mind; its rent, with only one party, is daunting, though surmountable. who am i to complain? i am–as they say–the “asshole” in this scenario, the “douchebag, scumbag, and jerk-off.”

[run away with me, a stray thought says in my head. run away from me–or with me–or to me–or without me.]

at the computer, there is no hesitancy. truth stalks me and i’m still under the naive belief that writing is my lord and savior, or at least an armed defender [albeit with dented armor and a broken dagger]. and why should i hesitate? this space is mine

–where they can never hear me scream–

and there’s no one to placate or tip-toe around or sort of, kind of, ask for permission to write, or to feel as if i need to sort of, kind of, ask for permission to write because

to write is to be away

and sometimes, the most understanding of lovers wants her shivers spooned beneath the still-black slowly turning blue sky and amid the silence of a city blinking its eyes, wondering if it can rise once again–wondering if it should

–and lovers, particularly the most understanding of this class, feel and hear everything–

can hear and feel the city breathing heavily, its lungs rattling as if full of phlegm or coagulated tears choked back–and even in her sleep, she is troubled and would like an arm draped across her waist.

but to write is to be away and baby, i gotta go. i gotta run. sometimes, a writer’s gotta race.

yes, there is urgency, but there is no rush. this large, echoey space is mine to inhabit alone–just as this city is mine at this hour, excluding the homeless rising from their grated mattresses, their piecemeal clothes soaked by municipal steam. god help us for leaving these men and women and children and gay runaway teens out in the cold to fend for themselves–god help us for the words they write in their heads or on pieces of a HDTV cardboard box.

anyway–i’m alone.

the root word of solitude is solace: this is the bullshit i dredge up while writing alone which, remember, is occurring right now, right this minute, moments after waking alone which, remember, meant i slept alone and snored alone and wanted to spoon so i probably spooned myself

[this is sometimes called the “fetal position”].

with this train of thought in mind, why should either of us–writer and reader–be surprised by that little solitude/solace nugget? it oozes self-help. it sounds nice like the way an ugly pink polyester dress looks nice on a shapely body.

Will said something to the effect of “you blew up your life so you can build it back up” and this sounded nice and perhaps even true but the nicety only explains, as opposed to healing the damage from, the detonation.

Leslie said, “my problem is finding the energy to create” and i dug her sentiment.

and Amira said, “thanks to you, i’m writing poetry for the first time in years” and i stared at my shoes.

and i say now, “it is quite evident to me why i befriend and, at times, fall for writers. they have writing lives and it is so easy to become wrapped up in that blasted miasma versus, say, tending to my own shit.”

but it’s 6 AM now and i’ve written 1,140 words in an hour because typing is a slow go with a slow brain but the point is–the point is–i’m alone and the truth reads over my shoulder and i have nowhere left to run and hide. my writing life, now, demands i sit and peck at the keyboard, waiting for this disaster to end. or write its end into existence.

mensah demary, whose prose has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, is co-founder & editor-in-chief of Specter Literary Magazine. For more information, visit www.inhelvetica.com or on Twitter @mensahdemary.

Stories For Women

if you think you read this previously on a personal blog which no longer exists, i have two words for you: prove it.

My wife says I should listen to her more often. Perhaps.

Then again, Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra grows on me. It’s still “okay” in the “it’s not wack” sense, but I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon. That said, I see the appeal–infectious beats coupled with “young-man” lyrics.

Often, I thought as I listened, “Grow up,” but that’s my problem, not Frank Ocean’s, I’m sure.

Favorite joints so far: “novacane,” “songs for women,” and “lovecrimes.”

In “songs for women,” Ocean muses about singing and writing songs to get with women. I can’t sing, but I figured–once upon a time–that literature would do. Yeah, I just assumed women would drop panties at the sight of a postmodern parable on love and loss…written in prosaic form, no less.

Which begs the question: are there literary groupies? If I go on a book tour, would I have to deal with freaky, busty librarians who want their “cover pages” autographed?

Now, I’ve heard about some of the debauchery at such events as AWP, so–I mean–is it a stretch?

Baby, I’m the new Proust…just roll with me. No?


In my early writing days, I kept my passion a secret. I’d bring my high school girlfriends home–it helped to have a workaholic father–and we’d converse, laugh and giggle, make out and take it there.

But I was no fool–when her bra dropped, that was not the time to compare the styles of Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. And let’s be real, I was a young lad with a wavy haircut and navy-hued Jordans unlaced; though fat, I had dimples and orthodontically-correct teeth, so I didn’t need to write poetry or stories for women.

Besides, what could I say?

“Yeah girl, I was in the lab–in the studio–working on these stanzas, trying to lay down these paragraphs for the novel.”

Music translates to literature, sure–but it’s not a clean connection.



And every time somebody ask me if I write stories to get at women, I say “yeah,” they say “no fair no fair, that’s cheating,” I say “shit, oh well, oh well.”


But okay, I wrote poetry for my high school sweetheart to lose my virginity. Yeah, I loved her–yeah, it all came from the heart–but she swooned and swayed and covered her lips [licked] like, “It’s like that?”

So I understood the power. By the time I dropped out of college, I used it haphazardly. It got me in trouble. “Trouble” is defined as serial cheating [emotional, for the most part] and serial getting-caught. Seriously breaking hearts–serial killer of sorts.

I thought it was cute in the “I’m an artist and I got appetites” sense, but I grew up. The cute shit just left behind a trail of embittered women and left me lonely; my nonsense precluded any opportunity for future friendships with them, so


Now every time somebody ask me if I write stories to get my women, I say “nah,” they say “okay I don’t believe it,” I say “no, I swear I never do it.”


Dudes like Frank Ocean remind me of my age. I’m still young, but not quite–time slips–and it’s a new paradigm to navigate. It shouldn’t scare me to get old, to become irrelevant, to be the elderly man holding up a gaggle of teenagers rushing to walk up the block–but it does. It frightens me more than death, but that’s regret talking. Wishing I was a little bolder during my younger youth, a little more confident, a little–dare I say–swag in my repertoire. Maybe–just maybe–I would’ve worn my hat tilted and donned my eyeglasses more often, shared my love of Miles Davis with girls, escorted them to my bedroom and before legs splayed, I could’ve opened my notebook to show them the power of literature, of expression, of creation–

I mean, we ended up creating a baby accidentally, but that’s not what I mean.

The could’ve, would’ve, should’ve–each in plural form–mount up like the years.

mensah demary, whose prose has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, is co-founder & editor-in-chief of Specter Literary Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @mensahdemary or trolling his own author site at http://www.inhelvetica.com