Archive for the ‘From our Contributors’ Category

microreview/interview: A. Molotkov’s The Catalog of Broken Things

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

amolotkov1

In my reading of The Catalog of Broken Things (Airlie Press, 2016) by poet and 13.1 contributor A. Molotkov, I found a thematic thread made up of moments within longer lyric sequences where the given speaker of a poem gestures toward a spirit of assessing the nature of “broken things.”

We dive right into the catalog, so to speak, with the poems in the first sequence, “The Catalog of Broken Things,” which approach family narratives with a surrealistic sensibility. The opening poem begins:

I let my dead mother in.
She’s lonely out there on her own.
Her ears are seashells
empty of sea.

Reading these lines, I get a sense of a poetry that feels out the world through images. This aesthetic creates a reading experience where the reader is carried into the meaning-making process through sensation as much as language. The following section is another example of this sensibility at work:

11

My aunt, a shadow without a landing.
In her chest, small
streams fight for the chance to be
called river.
I list her in my catalog under tumors.
She deserves more attention.
We all do, we keep
telling the moon,
but it’s dead. It doesn’t listen.

I listen.

The concept of a catalog implies a sense of order and control; what is being wrestled with here is the lack of both. By proceeding to pit themselves against the image of the moon, who is seen as “dead” and unable to listen, the speaker, and, in a way, the poem, are in the role of providing “more attention.” This is a gesture not of repair but of acknowledgement. Life cannot be controlled and ordered beyond our personal understanding, our “listening.”

This acknowledging/cataloging voice appears again in the later sequence, “The Melting Hourglass.” In this sequence, the reader is presented with the story of Zungvilda and Goombeldt as narrated by a disembodied speaker. This speaker alternates from sounding like a family member, complete with shared memories, to sounding like the voice of the hourglass of the sequence’s title. This variation in voice and narration add to the reading experience; one gets a sensation of the lyrical line as live wire. The following section of the sequence presents the kind of torque available through this imaginative conceit:

Zungvilda shares her thoughts
I have no choice but to listen
after all she lives inside my head

she asks why men are so difficult
don’t generalize I say
but she can’t hear me in there

I’m afraid it’s a monologue
I’m afraid it always is

she wonders why every day seems to start
with wild yanking and smoke
like an old lawn mower
she muses about the interchangeable
questions and answers

she suspects that the new crater
that just formed on the moon
might be her early grave
she remembers the time

when she was a girl
lost in the forest

I remember it too
even though I was
too young to remember

The narrative turns developed in the speaker’s mediation here provide a fruitful disorientation in that the reader has to follow the lyric sense of the line as it develops. In the first two stanzas, the speaker is shown to be privy to Zungvilda’s thoughts while also being at a remove; this tension of intimacy and distance is paralleled in the last two stanzas where one of Zungvilda’s memories begins to take shape, but is quickly turned away from by the speaker.

These two moments are variations of the “broken things” theme of the book. When the speaker states “I’m afraid it’s a monologue / I’m afraid it always is,” a moment rich in metanarrative and self-awareness occurs; the “monologue” here is not only a metaphor for time and existence, but also poetry. In the same way that poetry is able to provide “attention” in the poem discussed above, poetry here is seen as able to acknowledge its limits and “broken” nature. Seen this way, the title of this collection becomes its own mission, writing as a way to catalog the broken things around us.

*

interview

amolotkov2J: Were there any challenges in writing these poems, and  if so how did you work through them?

A. M. : The challenges of balance. Once I commit to a longer work, the next question becomes: is it going to be five pages, or fifty? Working with recurring themes and motifs, it’s tempting to keep going. How to choose the length that keeps the tension, helps me avoid repeating myself, and allows for a substantial investigation? Once I settle on an approximate length and write my selections, their order becomes both an opportunity and a challenge. Ultimately, any poem could have emerged in many different ways, but happens to be the way it is, not optimal in any objective sense, but a compromise between intention and the infinity of possibilities. If we consider the many points of view and tastes the readers will bring, it’s easy to see that each word shivers with fear and anticipation for the unlikely connection it may fail to make.

My tendency in poetry is to push the text outside my own comfort zone. Often, I end up distanced from the capability to evaluate my own poems. I am in three writers’ groups in order to compensate for my myopia and my personal obsessions. Almost thirty people had their eyes on some or all of the poems in The Catalog and provided a wide variety of suggestions. I’m indebted to them for breathing their reality into my work.

*

The Catalog of Broken Things is available for pre-order from Airlie Press.

Special thanks to A. Molotkov for participating! Check out his poem “Obituary” in issue 13.1.

Find out more about his work at his website.

The Classics Revisited: Hamby and Kolbe

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

urnSince before Keats got excited about a Grecian urn, poets have been reworking, reimagining, and revolutionizing the classics. One of our issue 13.1 contributors went all the way to Greece to follow in the steps of Odysseus, and found in the modern streets full of shops the tempting decadence, and ultimately empty promise, of material possessions. Though it is not named in the poem, we feel the influence of The Odyssey in the journey of the writer and the objects for sale from all around the world.

Another contributor found the classics much closer to home—inspired by classic rock as she takes a jog—and ponders in her poem how art and context affect one another in a constant feedback loop. Thoughts of Tom Petty songs combine with “hard lines Doric/ at the mouth” to remind us that, like the classics, we are always aging, and, if we are lucky, always changing.

Barbara Hamby on “A Farewell to Shopping”: In Summer 2013 I received a grant from Florida State to follow The Odyssey from Troy to Ithaka. I reread Robert Fagles’s translation just before leaving, and I was using Tim Severin’s book The Ulysses Voyage to plan my trip. Severin built a Bronze Age ship and tried to replicate Odysseus’s voyage. One of Odysseus’s first stops after leaving Troy was pillaging a coastal town. I was in Heraklion, Crete, on my way to the spot where Severin thinks Polyphemus’s cave might have been if the story was based on fact, though it was probably highly fictionalized. In Heraklion I was walking down a street filled with the international shops you see everywhere, and the whole street seemed so tawdry. I thought, “I’m finished with shopping.” I suddenly thought of Odysseus’s pillaging as a shopping stop. The poem started percolating during lunch and I had a draft by the time we arrived in Sougia, where I did find Polyphemus’s cave. And I still go shopping from time to time.

Laura Kolbe: “Classic Rock” started when I took a run on Maine’s first warm day last year. House after house, men and women were putting to rights their porches, lawns, and driveways, while stereos and boom-boxes piped classic rock over their efforts. When I ran past “Purple Haze,” I had to stop and laugh—it seemed so incredible that a sound once deemed revolutionary, even socially dangerous, was now helping retirees maintain their equanimity while dredging gutters. Things often achieve “classic” status for their forceful, violent beauty, but once canonized, they are as rapidly, even comically, domesticated. The poem says this—and more, and better, I hope.

Make the Most of Your Toast

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Five Senses Icons

Reality often doesn’t feel half as tangible as it should, particularly when—for whatever reason—the writing of poems has become an aspect of that reality. In a world of flashing, palm-sized screens and of experiences summed up in what were once bird calls, it’s easy to lose track of the importance and pleasure of utilizing (and exploring) all of our senses. Some of our contributors for issue 13.1 attribute the genesis of their poems to physical sensations: the “walkability” of New York; a trip of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky; and a filling breakfast, complete with crisp, vocal strips of bacon.

It’s old wisdom, but good: if you’re looking for poetry—or for Papa Walt—try under your boot-soles first. 

Mark Belair: One of the beauties of New York City, for a poet, is its walkability. A stray moment here, another there—and a poem starts to coalesce. The writing of “Shadows” followed that form. The notable shadows of darkened windows, of leaves, of skyscrapers—all encountered separately, on separate summer days—came together when I sought the inviting shade of a garden willow tree. And when, calmed, I returned to the blistering sidewalk, it was the shade I myself cast that I suddenly—and only then—noticed as another contribution to the day’s inescapable variety and confusion. And this quiet poem came together.

Mary Kaiser: This poem began, like many poems in my current collection, with an overnight visit to the Shaker village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Waking up at dawn in one of the old dwelling houses, I imagined a Shaker elder on a summer morning having an experience that could be a dream, a vision, or just the play of light coming through the big, east-facing windows. I love the way Clay Mettens’s complex, layered musical setting of my poem suggests these liminal possibilities while transforming the speaker’s sharp-angled, off-kilter lyricism into a heart-rending aria.

Cate Lycurgus: “Fertility Treatments, Toast” began as most my poems do—through I line I couldn’t shake. In this case, the line was a joke of sorts—a partner of mine used to say that something would “sizzle his bacon” when he really loved it, and vegetarian me always joked it was proof I really loved him, to fry him bacon. The initial line of this offer continued to surface through morning runs and work and sleepless hours until I realized it might be the start of a poem if I followed where the sound led.

I love the seamless slippage from one word or sound to another, and the connotations it creates. As the vowels and rhymes and homophones continued to morph, I realized the line between together and separate, between new life and new death, one cell taking hold or not, is fine; and comes down to more than desire. The conditional implies refusal, and yet the poem makes a sort of fractured hope, a playful one at that, of union. Of creating something as basic as the morning’s first nourishment—bacon, eggs, toast—and plus, what’s sexier than breakfast?

 

Art Song Video Premiere!

Friday, May 20th, 2016
David Clay Mettens and Mary Kaiser

David Clay Mettens and Mary Kaiser

Don Bogen: With its score for alto flute, bass clarinet, viola, cello, piano, percussion, and soprano, David Clay Mettens’s setting of Mary Kaiser’s “He Dreams a Mother” in our Summer 2016 issue (just released) is one of the most intricate and haunting pieces in our series of art songs. It’s also the first for which we have a video of the premiere. “Hypnotic” is a word the composer uses several times in the score, and it certainly fits what happened on stage this past April. To watch, click here.

Be sure to check out the subtle performance by All of the Above, with soprano Jilian McGreen and all those varied instruments bringing out the calm yet deeply strange vision in Mary’s poem. The ending is particularly striking. Thanks and congratulations go to the composer, the poet, and the ensemble.

The poem and full score are in the issue.  You can find the other four settings we’ve commissioned to date in the art-song category of the blog.

Enjoy!

Obstacles & Aversions

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Rochelle Hurt: There is something to be said for writing against or away from received traditions and natural proclivities. Often, the result is a kind of verve and vigor we may not otherwise access. Several contributors to CR 12.2 describe their process as that of writing against the grain, whether by challenging predecessors, staking out marginal territory, or disavowing process altogether. In thinking about this, I also noticed that many 12.2 contributors formed their pieces out of difficult or negative experiences—not by turning away from them in search of comfort, but by turning toward them. This is an interesting and indirect counter to the idea of writing against. Perhaps sometimes the same kind of verve attained through writing from aversion can also be attained through writing from adversity. In other words, try the darker path.

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David Mohan: “Semblance” explores how a lover treats with time, and the psychological temporality of a relationship. My key trigger would have to be John Donne’s “The Sunne Rising,” one of the great poems about love and the passage of time, but it should be pointed out that I was inspired to write against that poem, and explore something similar to a counterpoint to Donne’s playful conceit. I love the idea in Donne’s poem that it might be possible, within the exalted temporality of being in love, to control time, but I was more interested in how someone in love has a more pronounced sense of how transient any form of human contact is. If the lovers in Donne’s poem are at the center of the universe—according to the poet, at least—the lovers in “Semblance” are rendered close to anonymous when viewed in the context of moment-by-moment flux and change.

Charles Rafferty on “Leisure,” “Antique,” and “Because He Had Been Crying”: I used to have an aversion to prose poems. I thought of them as mules—sterile hybrids. Now, I see the prose poem as a euglena—that cutthroat survivor with a foot in two kingdoms.

Allison Campbell on “Necessity”: I think I can safely say this is the first poem I’ve written via food poisoning. Maybe this is an argument for how much intelligence is in the gut, rather than the brain. I don’t know. But after a turkey sandwich from a questionable, smoothie-making-health-food-like joint, I was up all night and in incredible pain. To pass the dark hours and try to ease the discomfort, I listened to a meditation podcast. The woman’s almost unnervingly calm voice kept calling for space, to create space. And I noticed that when I could breathe around the areas of my body that felt distressed the space that breathing created opened room for some relaxation and relief. I started thinking about how the heart needed similar space, similar opening. Now, I say I started thinking about the heart—but in truth, I didn’t think, I just started writing the poem. In place of the meditation, I used the lines of the poem I was writing to pass the night. I repeated them and added to them and wrote my first draft of the poem the next day. Life’s gifts come in strange packages, right?

Dana Koster on “Endeavour”: There is ineloquence in grief, in that heart-ripped-out feeling that happens when you lose someone. You feel gutted. But you can’t write that your heart feels ripped out or that you feel gutted because those descriptions are cliché. So at a time when it’s difficult to come up with the name of a food that sounds appetizing, you’re left searching for new words to describe the oldest form of sadness. “Endeavour” came out of such a time. In the weeks after my friend Rick T. Jones died suddenly in 2014, I came across a photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour before it was retired: its stark silhouette set against the huge and vibrant ombré of Earth’s atmosphere. It struck me how profoundly alone it was and it reminded me of Rick—both his wanderlust and the lonely manner of his death. In its way, the poem is an elegy for them both.

Colin Fleming on “Old Pyke”: I see a lot of accounts of how people came to write something where their grandfather had a talisman that was passed down with an accompanying tale through generations, or they labored for years with this idea they fictionalized from a newspaper story. I don’t really work that way. Sometimes stories come to me while I’m asleep, other times they just come to me, sometimes I write them in my head in full on my ten mile walks and I type them out later, and other times I just sit at the computer and say, “okay, time to go, let’s do a story, who do you want in it, what do you want to happen.” And I make it up. For me, it’s just about being myself. I suck at a lot of things—a huge, huge, embarrassing amount of things—but writing is not hard for me. By being myself I don’t mean looking around my life at things that have happened to me, but just doing what I do and knowing that doing that is going to carry the day, find the end point I want. I’m a storyteller. I think we fetishize process nowadays, because many writers like to talk more about writing than actually doing the writing. They sometimes live in fear of trying to make the white page black. So with “Old Pyke,” I’d never been to any of those places, I didn’t base the characters on anyone, and I did it in a couple hours. I had other things to write. You’re not supposed to say that anymore, right? But that’s also how it always was for the people whose work I esteem, across a range of mediums. When the imagination is in place, plus the understanding of what I’ll call human truths, and you can just be yourself, it’s about keeping the line moving and doing the next one. Because if that’s really who you are, they kind of write themselves anyway.

Best American . . . Almond

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

mysteryCongrats to Steve Almond, whose “Now Do You Surrender?” (CR 11.2) has been accepted for inclusion in the 20th edition of Best American Mystery Stories.

As series editor, Otto Penzler picked 50 exceptional mystery stories originally published in North America during the 2015 calendar year. From that short list, guest editor Elizabeth George selected the 20 she judged most outstanding for publication in this prestigious anthology.

A excerpt from Steve’s terrific piece:

 

“How the hell do you know the name of my daughter?”

Scarface set a hand on Loomis’ shoulder. It was a tender gesture that suggested profound brutality. “Settle down,” he said. “There’s no reason for this to turn in the wrong direction.”

Tony Bennett patted his coat in the way of an ex-smoker. “Quicker we clear this thing up, quicker we’re out of your hair.”

Loomis couldn’t figure out how frightened he should be. He had to pee rather ardently. “What thing?”

“A beautiful day like this,” Scarface said. He gestured toward the sky as if the director of a community theater production had just stage-whispered at him to gesture toward the sky. “Who wants to be standing around in a parking lot? Not me.”

“To review,” Tony Bennett said. “You throw this party, what, two weeks ago? All these kids bringing your daughter gifts and whatnot. So then, just as a common—”

“How do you know what’s going on in my house?” Loomis said. “Have you been spying on us?”

Scarface exhaled through his nose, as if he’d been expecting Loomis to behave this way and it bored him. “Nobody’s spying on anybody. You’re missing the point, Mr. Loomis. Just listen.”

“As a courtesy,” Tony Bennett continued, “your wife went out and bought some nice Thank You cards. And you, Mr. Loomis, told her there was no need to waste good money on such an extravagance. Then you threw the cards straight into the garbagio.”

“I didn’t throw them in the garbage,” Loomis said. “I dropped them into a wastepaper basket. I was making a point.”

Scarface ran a thumb down his nose. “What exact point would that be, Mr. Loomis?”

“That it was overkill. We’d already thrown these kids a whole party with lunch and two art activities and gift bags and I was just sick and tired of feeding into this never-ending arms race of bourgeoisie pieties.”

Tony Bennett yawned. “I don’t understand what you just said, Mr. Loomis. But I didn’t like the tone.” He stretched in such a way as to make visible the outline of something gun buttish against his sports coat.

Loomis felt the flutter in his gut go spastic. The air took on a sour radiance. Scarface’s hand was on his shoulder again, again very gently. “Calm down, Mr. Loomis.”

“I feel like you’re threatening me.”

“Nobody’s threatening anybody.”

“We’re having a conversation.”

“Who are you? What do you want from me?”

“You don’t ask the questions,” Tony Bennett said quietly. “That’s not how this relationship works.” He slipped his hand inside his jacket and let it stay there. “How it works is you go get in your car there and drive home and kiss your wife and send those thank you notes.”

Exposing Our Roots: Coben, Wineman, Revell, Bagdanov

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Seamus Heaney’s famous poem “Digging” provides a well-loved metaphor for the writing process: pen as spade, the past as soil. “Between my finger and my thumb,” he writes, “The squat pen rests./I’ll dig with it.” In discussing their work from our upcoming winter issue (due late November), several contributors similarly explain their process as a kind of excavation—or, by contrast, a palimpsest built upon the past. Whether finding inspiration in family, biography, the literary canon, or the human body itself, these writers all reveal the constant presence of history on the page.

Joshua Coben: “Antechamber” is one of several poems about fatherhood that I’ve worked on in recent years. It reflects some of my most troubling questions about myself as a son and as a father of sons. I am trying to come to grips with the legacy of silence and misunderstanding that can be passed from taciturn father to quiet son across generations. Each son tries and, in many ways, fails to penetrate the mystery of his father. He seeks not only love, but also the means to understand himself. His father’s example, with all the unanswered questions it engenders, inevitably informs the kind of father he will grow into. This poem tries to convey the ancient dance of filial longing and paternal love, where the latter is often concealed behind barriers we do not mean to erect. The three-beat lines give it the lilt of a waltz, as father and son circle each other, changing places with each turn of the generational wheel.

Steven Wineman: When I heard about Alice Goffman’s book On the Run, I was drawn to the subject (a study of fugitive life in a poor African American neighborhood) and curious whether she was related to the great sociologist Erving Goffman. I did some poking around on the internet and found that, sure enough, Alice is Erving’s daughter. I also learned that Erving Goffman died when Alice was a baby, which seemed especially poignant given that he had remarried only the year before, at the age of fifty-nine. I came upon something else I had not known about Goffman: his first wife suffered from bipolar disorder and committed suicide in 1964. Suddenly I had a very personal link to Erving’s biography; I also was married to a woman who struggled with bipolar disorder and who took her life. I began to think about how to weave all these strands—a young woman taking up the work of the father she lost as an infant; two women crushed by mental illness; two husbands overwhelmed by suffering and loss—into a single essay. “Erving and Alice and Sky and Elisabeth” is the result.

Donald Revell on “Fresh Dante”: The poem for me arose from a crowd of living palimpsests—the city of Toulouse, vivid now as it was vivid centuries ago as the capital of the Troubadors; the Garonne, a river running through the city and through the Cantos of Ezra Pound; a sense of Dante in the midst of all, still and still embodied as he was in Eternity where his shadow dumbfounded the shades, including the shades of the Troubadors themselves; and eventually my own flesh, inscribing and effacing my days. We die into our books and then out of them again. The imperfections of our words match the imperfection of our loves, in the flesh and out of it. For me, Toulouse is at the center of it all.

Kristin George Bagdanov on “Resurrection Body”: I worry about extinction. I wonder how much of my life is actually an interaction with residue (shadow, echo, fossil, language) rather than the thing itself. I wonder if a poem, like the world, is always tending toward extinction, if the poem itself is a fossil in the making. In “Resurrection Body,” I reimagine the concepts of metempsychosis and bodily resurrection by considering the fact that our material bodies are not wholly our own—they are both person and thing, self and other, human and other-than-human. The human body, for example, has ten times more bacterial cells than human ones—so what implications does this have for calling one’s body “human” or saying “I”? This poem also elegizes the current and future loss of this world; the last line could be read as hopeful, or perhaps a realization forged too late in this epoch: that the damage we’ve inflicted upon other bodies is damage we’ve inflicted upon our own, and that this residue will persist beyond any individual’s death.

James McMichael Reading and Our Next Cover!

Friday, September 18th, 2015

For those nearby: frequent CR contributor (see our current issue) and National Book Award finalist James McMichael will be at UC for two events this afternoon. At 3:00 in the Elliston Room, there will be a Q&A, followed by a short break and then a poetry reading at 4:00.

And now we unveil the cover for the upcoming winter issue (12.2), featuring the work of visual artist Alicia LaChance, as well as poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by Carl Phillips, Rebecca Hazelton, Allison Campbell, Dave Mondy, Colin Fleming, Wendy Rawlings, and Nicholas Montemarano.

cover12dot2

 

Art Song Recording: “The body remembers . . .”

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

bodymemory

Composer and poet Kevin Simmonds has provided us with a recording of his setting of C. Dylan Bassett’s poem “The body remembers . . .”. The score is featured in our current issue. As poetry editor Don Bogen writes in his introduction to the piece: “Music, like poetry, doesn’t belong to just the eyes. Both arts find life also in the ears and in the breath—the body remembers, indeed.”

Ongoing Subscription Offer

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

poetryAs a followup to Monday’s post, whereby we offered readers sample passages from our forthcoming fiction, we’re now presenting a poetry gallimaufry, as it were. AND we’ll make good on our subscription bonus till the end of this week. In short, if you subscribe today, tomorrow, or Friday, we’ll send you a gratis copy of our graphic play MOTH with your first issue of the journal.

FORTHCOMING IN CINCINNATI REVIEW 12.2

From “Not the Waves As They Make Their Way Forward” by Carl Phillips (Visiting UC in the spring!)

Like Virgil, Marcus Aurelius died believing that his triumphs,

when pitched against his failures, had come to very little.

I don’t know. Given the messiness of most lives (humble,

legendary, all the rest in between)—their interiors,

I mean—it’s hard to say he was wrong. Black night.

 

From “Necessity” by Allison Campbell

You can’t put a cold heart in the microwave for sixty seconds. It will not heat evenly. Some portions of the heart will still be cold, others much too hot. No, you cannot reheat the heart. The heart needs space.

 

From “Fresh Dante” by Donald Revell

Berries are nice, Lady.

Grishkin is nice, Lullay.

The soul of Toulouse rots through.

Creation is one way. Creation

Is the other way too.

 

From “April Incantation” by Maggie Dietz

Crack new bourns and boundaries

into parceled plots. Wreck even

 

the season that reared you: lick

the lilacs into sobbing heaps.

 

From “Reach for Your Inside Rain” by Emily Vizzo

How easy to be on my knees. My face on the bed.

Take whatever you want, I tell God. My buddy God

ignores me. Patience is his best trick

 

From “St. Louis Symphonic” by Philip Schaefer

A chorus of fingers

connected to a chorus of brain activities

which leads to a final chorus of breaths

on the other end of the street. A body

becoming a mural, a glowing coral reef.

 

From Translation series: part of a twelve-poem series “Lu Neza / Sobre el Camino” (“On the Road”) by Irma Pineda, trans. Wendy Call

The sea went deaf and tossed us

into the desert’s arms

The sea went deaf and hurled us

on a path to other places

 

From “Make No Bones About It” by Cindy Beebe

Make no bones that float. Or sink, either. Make hay, rather. Make barley, alfalfa, the cows will love you. The cows will bow to you in one smooth, synchronous plié. A little cow ballet.

 

From “Traveling Circus” by George David Clark

The stilts telescope. The big top folds and folds.

My shirt is the lion inside out, his canines for the cufflinks.

When I’ve vacuum-sealed the acrobats inside their leotards,

I use the high wire to tether the tent stakes.

 

From “Ant in Amber” by Ashley Keyser

Tiger-iris, me the pupil

learning history

is density. Bride, bare

 

your throat. You palaces

burning at the bottom of the sea,

fathom me.