glint on strewn linens,
no hospital corners.
that's what this is.
hope it bides.
She stood there, perspiring on an early fall day under the weight of the leather jacket and pants, the starched white shirt, the long wig and the cowboy hat, not to mention the stage makeup. But Sheila was used to all that. She was sweating it out this time because it was different, she was different. The stakes were so high now.
Okay, you can do this. Don't be like this, don't freeze up now, you're a pro, this is in your fucking blood. A couple hours of shooting here and you'll be back home to Macy. So buck up, missy, get yourself together.She wore a long blonde wig and padded leather, working as a stunt double for Mickey Rourke in his new film. Mickey was playing a gangster on the lam, and he had to make it across this track in a suped-up hemi a split second before the oncoming train. She'd done this stunt before, racing across the tracks at the last possible moment. Many times. This was basic stunt work, she could practically do it in her sleep.
Sheila lived the life she had always wanted, taking risks, finding challenges, greater and more dangerous each time. She knew she couldn't stop. Even meeting Tom, falling hard, loving him more than life itself had not stalled the daredevil in her. She had learned about taking risks from her father, who had been a champion rodeo cowboy and steer roper. Her earliest memories were in the ring, on a horse, roping calves.
But now, that life was starting to feel irresponsible, what with family, a new baby, her Macy and her Tom. They were worth living for, living safer for. It was confusing, the overwhelming urge to protect her child, all mixed up with who she was, who she always had been. Macy was only four months old, and already Sheila wondered if she'd inherit the urge to court danger. Could she bear it if she did? Should she even be doing this?
People would be surprised how many trucks are charged out in front of oncoming trains in Hollywood movies. For crying out loud, so predictable. I wonder if they'll still be making trucks fly out in front of trains when Macy's old enough to like movies. She'll love seeing her mama on the big screen.Sheila opened an extra shirt button so she could cup her palm above her heart, across her daredevil tattoo. It was her first gig after having Macy, and she had expected to feel a bit jumpy. Her hand on her breast calmed her racing heart a little. Of course, she had worn her lucky shoes. She never performed without them. The flames on her feet made her giggle and feel powerful at the same time. Those shoes pleased her. And calmed her. She searched in her pants pocket for the locket, the one Tom had given her when Macy was born, a lock of newborn baby girl hair and Tom's photo tucked inside.You got all your lucky charms, Sheila, of course you can do this. Do it for Tom and Macy. Let them know you really are all of it and more--a daredevil, a professional, an ace stunt performer, as well as a loving wife and an amazing mom. Women do it all the time, working mothers, that's all I am here, a working mother. Oh, I have to remember to pump in about two hours if this scene isn't wrapped."Okay, Sheila, you ready?" She nodded at the director and climbed up into the hemi. She turned the key and the engine roared to life.
"Yeah, I'm ready. Let's do this." She heard the distant rumbling of the train, then the train whistle. Everyone stayed still, listening, feeling the rumble, until just the right moment.
Do it for Tom and Macy."Okay! Four, three..." The train bore down on them. Sheila depressed the clutch, shifted into first."Two... one... ACTION!" She eased off the clutch and floored the gas pedal.
This week in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge, I received this prompt from Ilse: "You see a man walking on the train station, his hair is blonde (and long), he wears leather pants, a cowboy hat, a white shirt and black leather shoes with flames on them. He also has a tattoo on his arm. Who is he going to and why? (What are his fears? And his aspirations?)" Whew. I took a couple liberties with this here prompt.
I was lucky enough to prompt my comrade Pirate Grace this week, who wrote a heartwarming yet terrifying story called Care from my prompt: "Your heroine spends a night at the Dew Drop Inn." Read!
the girls sing deck the halls!
a vapid burlesque promenade
starring blintzes and bourbon balls,
pretty girls mouthing deck the halls
who came here to escape the malls,
glistening girls who think you're odd.
besotted girls stumble down the halls
in a spectacular holiday promenade.
It only took Karen a moment upon waking to remember her anger from the night before. That was all bullshit, anyway, the whole never go to bed angry adage; unrealistic, really. Whatever. She had gone to bed angry and awakened in a slow simmer.
The night before, she had wanted to leave. Not forever, just to get her bearings, but she had been trapped by booze and country living. Which was to say, she had drunk too much to drive, and walking around in the pitch black of a hilltown middle-of-the-night was out of the question. So she had slammed and locked the bedroom door and scribbled in her notebook until she passed out. Now, she thought she better have some coffee and clear her head before she read what she had written.
Monica was still asleep on the couch, but Karen ran the coffee grinder anyway. She figured, correctly as it turned out, that Monica was still giving her the cold shoulder and would keep her distance. And fuck her, anyway. Karen fed the cats while her coffee brewed, pulled on her boots and her fleece overshirt, and knotted her hair into a messy ponytail. Coffee decanted into a travel mug, Karen set out into the morning air.
It was a beautiful walk, and ordinarily Karen would have paid attention, would have attuned herself to her surroundings. Today, she was too pissed to notice. She stomped down the main road and turned right on Old South Road, trying unsuccessfully to slow her pace. She blasted past the farmhouse with the huge trampoline, the house that she and Monica had dubbed "John-John's Hilltown Getaway," and the house with the purple door without observing any of the details that usually made her smile. By the time she reached the "Trustees of Reservations" sign, she was full-on enraged again.
When she reached the cliff's edge, Karen finally took stock of her surroundings. On other days, being in this place made her happy. Today, the natural beauty of the gorge made her catch her breath. The rushing water, the glacier-hewn rock, the creeping yellow-flowered sage, all far below. As usual, she stood back from the rail in an attempt to avoid that sucking vertigo feeling in her abdomen, but she leaned against a rock and let the scene and the sounds rush over her.
After a few moments of listening to water crashing like the angry thoughts in her head, Karen crept along the path and carefully down the rough steps toward the dirt road. Following along the river, the road was more like a path, where at this time on a weekday morning, she was all alone. After about a mile's walk, she reached her favorite bend in the river. She tossed down her mug, shedded her fleece and boots, and tiptoed out to the furthest rock. She spread her arms wide open, as if to embrace the sun, pulled all the way back to feel the stretch across her ribs, then bent all the way down to touch her toes, stretching her spine.
She spotted the rock and picked it up, standing tall again, rolling it around in her hands, smooth and round. She held it to her mouth for a heartbeat and then hurled it into the river. "That's for making me cry!" Karen grabbed another rock and threw it. "I HATE CRYING!" Another. "That's for not loving me!"
Another. "That's for not touching me!"
Another. "That's because I need you to want me!"
Another. "AND YOU FUCKING DON'T!"
She spied a huge rock, as big as a football, oblong and smooth from years of wear. If she was going to throw rocks, she was glad for the smooth, round ones, the ones that belonged there, that had been forged there. She hoisted up the heavy one and stayed bent over, cradling it there like a baby, aware of her spine again, the pressure of the pull of the weight, keeping it there.
"This is for me being in it with you forever, this is what I signed up for, this is for my destiny." Karen choked, then coughed.
She had not yet thrown the rock. Another splash registered just beyond her, toward the opposite bank. Karen slowly raised her head, blowing wayward hair from her eyes.
There she was, five hundred pounds of mama black bear, eyes like coal looking right back at her.
Karen dropped the rock.
This week in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge, The Drama Mama challenged me with a prompt I might have written for myself: "If you must throw stones, make sure they are smooth and round from the river." I challenged Stefan with "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." (He lives on another continent, so probably can't actually show up here to kick my ass. Whew.)
dear children, i'd love you to know
how santa comes by all that dough
to bring you treats, but i'm not so
needy as to ruin
your kind, benevolent fellow.
you'll figure it out soon.
when that day comes i'll be bereft
of bright wonder, then we'll be left
with one another and a mess
of adult apathy.
so children, i'll still line your nest
with rosy fantasies.
there was a light, and i moved toward it,
but then there was this audible sigh,
as though all the universe had imploded
upon the mention of your name out loud.
afraid, i took cover under a great conifer,
waiting, watching for any threat at all,
but noting only squirrels and sparrows,
i grabbed a nearby sled to fly away.
it was more like a ski with a seat,
just like the one john denver fashioned
and shuttled in a rocky mountain high
christmas special, maybe starring muppets.
dismounting at the bottom, casual-like,
i kept checking behind me for followers
but there were none. i found my car and left,
excoriating myself for my grand paranoia,
wondering where you are and whether i'd sleep.
Friends, I have a special treat for you today! Please allow me to introduce you to Joy S Grape, my favorite entomologist poet. I have been enamored of Joy's writing and art for quite some time and feel compelled to spread the word. Here are two of my favorites of her poems for your enjoyment.
July 10, 2011
April 23, 2011
July 10, 2011
My dear, you think I wear asterisks
Like cotton underwear.
But these virgin symbols are barbed wire.
My anger, my hurt, my lust
Have few enough weapons
Without gunrunning to my apathy.
I want the words of my feelings to be fresh open fields
I want the only truck tires rutting through my language to be mine.
April 23, 2011
The children always ask for names.Joy S Grape self-publishes poetry at her blog, Coffee With Leonard Cohen. She likes to dance badly. Her favorite movie is Cool Hand Luke. For some reason, people pay her to play in dirt all day.
The tarantula is Rosie.
The scorpion is young, writhing, piss and vinegar.
I will name her Li (a good cornfed Chinese Minnesota Swede name).
If I name her, maybe I will love her, and cradle her in my hand without flinching.
She will scuttle my questions to my mother
Who sits smoking on a porch
My cellphone can't reach.
She will offer my scorpion coffee.
She will say it looks like someone cares about it a lot
As she said to the spiky hairdyed strays that she found on her couch some Saturday mornings.
She once raised a scorpion
That her uncle brought home (thinking she would like it)
(I never met her uncle, but apparently
He worked at the sort of place that would have an extra scorpion lying around
And he was the sort of man
Who would sum up a little girl and declare her lacking in scorpions.)
For all my mother's flatchested Boys Life bravado
She could not love a scorpion.
Though as an older woman, her heart would interrupt nature,
Chasing parasitoid wasps from their paralyzed spider prey
And in turn cutting insects from webs with nail scissors.
But my little mother with her boy's bicycle
Fed the scorpion with recipes from her hated Home Ec cards,
Took care of her,
Let her curl her tail and stalk,
Let her come home smelling of things that happen on streets,
Until she ran away to Japan
And still answered when she called to ask how to get stains out of things.
Li will find my mother in the netherworld, and maybe they will be friends.
The children can name the walkingsticks, hissers, beetles.
I can't tell them apart, and
They don't live long enough for it to matter.
with your carbon-copy progeny,
you look like you stepped out
of a jeans commercial, still.
freckling for all you are worth,
your dazzling close-up smile
hides the ills of twenty years.
my memory of you, wine-soaked,
out-of-bounds. that you were.
you are perfect for the beach.
but, you know, i guess if mine
was a furniture-catalog family,
i would put us on display, too.
there on the porch rail, gourds
sporting happy painted
faces, left over from hallowe'en
with autumn as winter draws near,
sleigh bells jingling, awhirl
snowflakes lighting everywhere.
now, the gourds feed our squirrels.
Ruth's dinner had been delicious, even outstanding, although she questioned her judgment about such things at this point. Even though she considered the whole thing ludicrous, she had decided to ask for a healthy vegetarian meal, heavy on local, organic, seasonal vegetables. To her surprise, it seemed that someone who knew how to cook had prepared it for her, a braised tempeh stir-fry with sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, and cashews.
It was difficult for her to remember enjoying the taste of cabernet sauvignon, or the flush it brought to her cheeks, but she drank it anyway. And she savored her plain cheesecake, the real indulgence. She ate it in tiny bites, letting each melt on her tongue, rolling it around in her mouth like a lover's kiss, every last morsel. How long had it been since she tasted this?
Now Ruth sat in a tattered leather desk chair, savoring her view of farmland out the plate-glass window, and the trees and mountain beyond, far more than her meal. As dusk approached, the late October sky seared pink above the autumn calico of the trees. She scribbled in her journal, describing the scene, the rising moon, the taste of cheesecake, the worn chair cradling her back. She noted the stretch in her legs as she leaned back and crossed one over the other.
"Ruth, hey, someone's here to see you. It's Kayla." Mark Maxwell poked his head in and spoke gently, almost lovingly. "Are you ready for her, Ruth?"
Ruth closed her notebook and stood, smoothing the front of her pants. "Yes, thank you, Mark." She became aware of her heart battering her ribcage, like it was trying to escape.
"Okay, Ruth. About twenty minutes, then, okay?" Maxwell's eyes glistened.
Ruth steeled herself against falling, her hand on the desk, as Kayla walked in. Maxwell closed the door behind her, and Kayla came forward, dropping a purse and sweater on the desk.
"Hi, Mom." Kayla's voice, clear and unobstructed, right there in the room with Ruth, rang like a bell on still air. She appeared radiant, though serious, in black trousers and a pressed oxford. As she moved closer to her mother, Ruth could see that Kayla's eyes were puffy under her eyeliner, that her lips were swollen and her nose a bit pink.
"Oh, Kayla, I love you." The words brought forth tears for mother and daughter both. Ruth caught herself, breathed deeply, reached for a tissue to blow her nose. "You look beautiful. You are beautiful."
"Thank you. I--" Kayla looked down, but then raised her eyes again to meet her mother's with obvious intention. "I love you, too, Mom. I always have, and I always will." It sounded rehearsed, but not insincere, as though Kayla knew she'd have trouble speaking so she'd practiced.
They stood, looking at each other across three feet of stale institutional air, no words coming, none necessary or even possible. The time for words had passed. Ruth reached out to touch Kayla's hand, nodding toward the big window. Together they walked right up to the glass and stood, shoulder to shoulder, watching the sun and the moon jockeying for space in the sky, the concomitant streaks of pink and red, puffs in shades of gray crossing paths above the woods. Ruth was aware of Kayla's scent, her long curly hair redolent of a stick of Juicy Fruit, or maybe a melon daiquiri.
They watched the sky shift like a kaleidoscope, and then, as though he were sent just for them in this moment, a hawk lazing back and forth across the pink. Ruth turned to look at Kayla.
"Can I hug you, Kayla?" It had been so long since she touched anyone.
"Yes, Mom." Kayla turned to her mother, her eyes floating.
Ruth moved closer and raised her hand to her daughter's face, tucking a wayward curl behind her ear, then setting her open palms on Kayla's cheeks, holding her there, searching her overflowing eyes. She pulled Kayla's face closer and raised her lips to kiss her daughter's warm cheek, then the other cheek, then her forehead, careful to include smacky kissing sounds each time. She moved her head back just slightly to look her daughter in the eye again, and then leaned in, her right cheek to Kayla's, eyelashes fluttering against hers, then switching sides for another butterfly kiss. She pulled back again, just briefly, and then they were nose to nose, back and forth, girlish Eskimo kisses, just like sixteen years before, but sodden with grown-up tears.
When Ruth embraced Kayla, it was like she became superhuman, not of this world or any other world. Her arms wrapped around her daughter, squeezing her tight, their bodies tight together, so that Ruth could feel all of Kayla, could inhale her, could feel her breath in time with her own, the blood rushing from Kayla's baby heart through her limbs and back again. Like Kayla was a part of her, like Kayla was her. Kayla came from her, Kayla was hers, her baby, always, and this, right here, was all she wanted. All she would ever need. Kayla heaved with sobs and Ruth pulled her closer, enveloped her like a little girl, temporarily broken and needing her mother's love. Just like that.
Her hand on Kayla's back, bony spine jutting through her cotton shirt into her mother's palm, Ruth gripped her like there was no tomorrow. The click of the door slammed through her heart, Ruth dug her nails into Kayla's back and buried her face in her neck, her collarbone, her Juicy Fruit hair.
"Ruth? I'm so sorry, Ruth." Maxwell's soft voice shot through her like electricity. "I had to. It's--" He choked, cleared his throat. "Just another minute, I'm so sorry." He left the door open but stepped back.
Ruth pulled back to look at her daughter again, Kayla's puffy face, tears flowing, nose running, breathing through her mouth, eyeliner smeared face. Dark eyes peered back at Ruth through all of that, like she was gazing into her own. She kissed her daughter hard on the lips, pulled back again, drinking her in, her eyes, her eyes.
"I love you, Kayla. I will always love you, I will always be with you. Know that and be strong, and good, be good. You're my good girl." She kissed Kayla on the cheek again as Maxwell's voice pierced the space between them.
"It's time, Ruth."
They broke apart and Kayla gathered her things, wiping her eyes on her sweater. Maxwell guided Kayla through the door by her elbow. She stopped and turned around to look at Ruth one last time.
"I love you, Mama, up to the sky and back again."
Kayla ducked under Maxwell's arm and out the door. Exchanging a look with Maxwell, Ruth stepped forward and allowed him to take her arm. Together they walked into the hallway, into a crowd of onlookers. Kayla was there, behind some others.
"Stand clear, now, people. Dead woman walking."
I am back in the Indie Ink writing challenge this week! Thank goodness, I've missed 'em. This week, Francis challenged me: "An old chair, a dead woman, and a stick of Juicy Fruit." I challenged Brad MacDonald with "antagonistic mystic." Go read!
the story of your departing
is a slow turning, a roiling
that became an undermining.
it started with silence,
at first unnoticed. then,
there was that day of shame
followed by averted eyes
like hiding behind a locker
after gym class to escape
teenaged clique scrutiny.
by the time you were gone,
my version of us together
rendered you unrecognizable.
the narrative could be written
in one chapter. but still now,
the story of your leaving is
catalogued in the tragic canon.
like passing by
on a snowy evening
or treading on dreams,
you floated my way,
itinerant and free.
the earth at your ear,
you presented your gifts.
pajama-clad, i mirrored you
and received your bounty:
a torrent of words to follow.
(Hat tip, of course, to gifts from Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats.)
willow branch earthward,
a brittle leaf crumples.
if the truth starts now,
what about our promises?
pretty little words born
from blood & ice cream--
how come we couldn't see
my fall would be so hard
it shattered everything?
i was born of winter and
you were violent spring.
truth is that, just true
and true is cold as ice,
no molding it with hands
to make it our newborn--
still, don't you wonder?
did you choose correctly
or are you stuck there--
dead leaf in your hands?
i wonder about that too.
She kissed him. Like a butterfly flickering on his lips, in a split second, hard, forceful, and needy. Like the end was near. Frank kissed back, his hand in her hair, at the back of her head, pulling her closer to him and taking her in. How many years had passed, stone piled upon stone, sediment forming, his walls thick and unyielding?
They had yielded. Flagpole clang and ex-fiances fading from his thoughts, he lifted her from the swing and carried her across the threshold, no swagger, no pretense. Just Frank and Marie and a lifetime of need.
(Exactly one hundred words from my novel-in-progress.)
Presenting you with a compendiumThis morning, Kerry challenged us to write a rubaiyat over at Real Toads, and my kids challenged me to write a poem about Kirby. So I wrote this for them.
of worlds unlocked, the Lor flies to the sun,
unfettered, unafraid of any boss!
You can't be stopped upon your galleon.
The Pop Star needs protection, that's your cause.
No doomer stops you, no account for loss--
Battle his soul in the arena true,
keep the universe safe for all of us!
Wormhole in the asteroid belt? Go through!
Fly high and brave as star warriors do!
Bestowed upon you, knight, a magic crown--
All galaxies and stars just wait for you.
“Hey Frank, when’s your band gonna play again?” Marie’s voice dripped with melancholy.
“What?” Frank sat up quickly. “Ah. Well, Top Heavy might play at First Night again this year, but we don’t have anything else planned, not for this summer anyway. How come you ask?” Marie hadn’t attended even one of Frank’s gigs in years.
“Oh, I was just thinking back to your Sex Wax days. That was fun, wasn’t it, Frank?” He was so dreamy. Marie closed her eyes, head resting on the pillow again.
“Yeah, that was fun.” He kissed her forehead.
(Exactly one hundred words from my novel-in-progress.)
"You wanna stop in at Corky's?”
Frank hit the brakes and pulled over, throwing the shift into neutral. He looked at Marie. There she was, full of energy, beaming back at him, bouncing on the seat as if she were a college student who had stayed up all night drinking Jolt colas.
"You wanna, Frank?”
"Well, okay. We can go and check it out--” his words trailed off, betraying his apprehension. But she likes it when I get to the point. “What if he's there, Marie?”
"We'll cross that bridge if we reach it.”
(Exactly one hundred words from my novel-in-progress.)
did you come
across all these years
who sent you
to find a blue woman
riding the slippery rails
of wounded youth
you are the antidote
to the low end of life
here's my ticket
off peak one way
Somehow I got roped into creating a semi-regular music prompt over at the happiest of poetry-writing communities, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. Okay, I volunteered. I bet you could guess the subject of my first attempt without even looking. But go look anyway, and try it!
if i take my mask off, you will see
my freckles, and the terrible truth
is, that is only the start. you will
be required to knock and pry
to loosen each mask, every layer
of each ever-darkening shade. when
the freckles overwhelm, you can move
to the rest of me, peeling and prodding.
in time, your naked curiosity will get
the best of you and you will rip
and tear with abandon, exposing all
of what i have hidden. you will drink
deeply of me. having your fill, satiated,
you will finish, and you will move on.
It occurred to Marie that in that moment, she had passed her anxiety to Frank; that years and years, a lifetime of stifled pain had come uncorked and now ricocheted around the room. Like a bottle of champagne, the uncorking came with considerable energy, almost violence, as the truth exploded out of her. Now, the truth was settling, bubbling peacefully, almost manageable. If she drank more, she'd feel a bit of burning, but it would subside and bubble there. The desire to drink, to imbibe and release, was overwhelming. She watched Frank, who seemed to be succumbing to her truth.
(Exactly one hundred words from my novel-in-progress.)
Frank insisted that they enjoy Sunday dinner at his house, as his cats had been mightily neglected due to recent events. “Events that leave me feeling far from neglected,” he added, with a wink. He whipped up some fresh tomato gazpacho while Marie threw together a salad.
"Tomatoes, greens, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, and carrots. You are an impressive man, Frank. I appreciate being a beneficiary of your garden's bounty all these years. And it gets better and better.”
"What's mine is yours, my love,” Frank grabbed her for a quick kiss. “Play your cards right, and you'll be rolling around in fresh vegetables all summer, every summer.”
"Play my cards right, huh? What do I have to do here? Just being me, smitten with you, isn't enough?” Marie glowered at him. Oh she is so good with the flirt, I can't believe I've been missing out on this part all these years.
"Well, all right. Truth be told, you have all the power here, Marie. But I'm not supposed to tell you that. I'm supposed to hide some of that from you, right? Isn't that what guys do?” He leaned against the sink and pulled her close.
"Frank,” Marie's tone changed, more serious now, “I value your directness. I always have. Don't you start being coy with me now that I've let you in my pants."
He guffawed. “In your pants? Hah, Marie. You've been taking your pants off, thank goodness. You're all young and spritely, I know, but I don't think I'd be up for getting in your pants at my advanced age. This thing,” he swept his arm from his head down the length of his body, “don't work like it used to.”
"It works just fine, Frank.” And with that, she reached up and kissed him hard, an earthy garden smell on her skin and her hair. Really, I must be dreaming. He hoisted her up on the counter and that was the end of their dinner plans.
(Just a little flirt of my novel-in-progress.)
this ache's like a mincing,
a slow pressing under bluestone,
stoning in the public square.
a salted wound, strangleheld
with gerrymandered allegiances,
filibustering to the bitter end.
a constant wipe and re-setting
of our humanity, our empathy,
leaving ill institutional memory.
we learn from our hurts, to hurt;
from our gains, to covet power.
who will listen to the children?
in time of words what say
thank you for every day
how will my garden grow?
like kudzu, invasive,
or steady and predictable
like the spring crocus?
words, don't fail me now--
when you go, my poppy,
snow white or ruby red,
which will you choose?
thank you for the iris,
emblazoned on your coat of arms.
your words keep me warm at night.
i began to noticethe cold spot on my leg,children giggling,my stomach growling,your hand warm on my hip.
but i retreated,turned you offlike the electricity,leaving you shiveringand wondering why.
Halloween's cancelled, we have a ton of snow and no power, no heat, no hot water. Stealing some heat and wifi to post a couple stormish poems. See you when the power's back on.
this morning he felt quite sickish,
nauseous & even throw-uppish,
his impish eyes muted grey.
she hated to see him sullen,
his sense of humor forgotten.
she brought him some ginger ale.
when she left work, she was stricken,
her tummy, too, had been sickened--
"go home" written on the wall.
he thanked her for the kind soda.
feeling good, he wrote this coda:
it's over, love conquers all.
They walked up Main Street holding hands, bellies full of frozen yogurt, her daughter singing as she skipped: "Oh that girl was full of fun, she was so fun, so fun! And she loved yo-gurt the most, after bur-ri-tos, which was her most fav-o-rite!"
On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in autumn, the street was flowing with people--college students, older couples, men in drag. The stroller brigade. Street musicians.
Her daughter pulled up short. "Mama, there's another of those signs you never read."
"Wha--? What signs I don't read?" But she knew the answer even as she stammered the question.
"You know, mama, those cardboard signs you never read. There's another one!"
"Oh, baby, let's talk about this, let's talk later, I can explain what I meant by I don't read-- hey!" The child had let go of her hand and raced ahead, stopping directly in front of a woman sitting on the sidewalk. Pack of cigarettes and a worn cardboard sign. The woman looked up into her child's face.
"Let's go, love. You can't run away from me like that."
"But Mama, what--"
The woman reached for her daughter's hand. "Little girl, do you think I should not be sitting here? On this public sidewalk?" Her daughter stared.
She moved forward and grabbed the girl roughly by her shoulder. "That's enough. Sophia, come now!"
As she moved to pull her daughter away from the woman a figure flew past, close enough that she felt a rustle of fabric on her bare arm. She glanced back as a raised fist swung down and made contact with the woman's skull.
The slow-motion movement, the sickening thunking sound. That was no closed fist, he was hitting her with something, again and again. What was it? Amidst screams, running, yelling, she remembered with a start her own small child, glued to the concrete right there, close enough to feel the breeze as his arm fell over and over, her eyes wide and glassy.
"SOPHIA!" She bent and scooped the girl into her arms, squeezing her close, feeling her little heart racing with her own. She scurried under an awning and collapsed with Sophia on the sidewalk just as the sirens began to echo down the street.
"Sophia, are you okay? Sophia?" The little girl struggled in her arms until she could see the woman again.
Someone had subdued her assailant; two men held him on a bench, dozens of onlookers circling the scene. A young man with a purple nametag held what looked like a washcloth to the woman's bleeding forehead. Another woman sat by her side, murmuring. "You'll be all right, you will, you'll be all right." The woman growled in reply.
"Why did that bad man hurt her, mama? Why?" The girl shook slightly and her mother began to wonder if she would need medical attention herself. Maybe her daughter was in shock?
"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry, she is going to be okay."
"NO AMBULANCE! NO DOCTORS! DON'T LET THEM TAKE ME!" Medical personnel approached. Police officers swarmed around the bench, handcuffing her assailant.
"Please, please no, leave me be. Leave me. I wanted him to kill me. I wanted him to--" She moaned as they lifted her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
Sophia jumped up and pulled on her mother's hand. "Mama, mama? What does her sign say? Will you read it, what does it say?"
She stood and stepped a bit closer to make out the words.
PREGNANT + HOMELESS. BE THE CHANGE.
I'm back in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge! This week, Kurt challenged me with a lyric from Elliott Smith's song, King's Crossing: "This is the place where time reverses/Dead men talk to all the pretty nurses/Instruments shine on a silver tray/Don't let me get carried away..."
I challenged the lovely Lilu with this: "The elevator was out of service, so he had to take the stairs." Go read!
News flash! This story is now posted over at Indie Ink: Be The Change
I came across this wonderful poem by Jack Prelutsky while reading to my children from his collection The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983, illustrated by Arnold Lobel). This poem, called "Alphabet Stew," introduces a section of the book. Words to live by!
Words can be stuffy, as sticky as glue,
but words can be tutored to tickle you too,
to rumble and tumble and tingle and sing,
to buzz like a bumblebee, coil like a spring.
Juggle their letters and jumble their sounds,
swirl them in circles and stack them in mounds,
twist them and tease them and turn them about,
teach them to dance upside down, inside out.
Make mighty words whisper and tiny words roar
in ways no one ever had thought of before;
cook and improbable alphabet stew,
and words will reveal little secrets to you.
woods like fiery calico
patchwork across the lake--
another season arrives with its bluster,
its demands stitched in crimson,
brittle-hearted like dry leaves.
-- you are still gone --
picture my children greeting you--
smiles preserved in a weathered frame,
dancing like leaves in an autumn wind.
but all i have is your words
stitched in crimson into a fiery heart.
surrounded by daffodils,
pussy willow fills the space
between, unwitting comrade
of death, aubade to green grace.
catkins, harbingers of spring,
oddly ring amongst forced blooms
whose garish gleams scream, "pick me!"
willows need not please so soon.
this juxtaposed foliage
now wilted, dredged for next year's
compost pile; willow wisps, dried,
will hide what gathers dust here.
i'd like to step inside there,
breathe for a while,
and come out a new girl.
a girl who stands her ground,
doesn't let the bastards get her down.
or maybe i can go in there
to confess my various sins,
recline on a couch, talk it all out,
eyes closed, visualizing
what my inner child might think of this.
her eyes would leak a little
as though she had been smacked.
but then she'd retreat to a book
and lose herself.
yes, the lesson is right in there:
take care of that girl. take good care.
I don't often write to photo prompts, but this one, issued by Kerry O'Connor at Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, demanded my attention and made me write until I got this out. Whew.
in my dreams, you come around,
i've found i am accustomed.
love, don't leave me waiting here
for fear i'll never blossom--
shine mean on my wilted frame;
pot-bound roots ache forever.
(i will never be the same.)
glare, my giant, find me small
in rainhall, under bare light--
pretend it's as the sea goes
here in the faux western night.
Pirate Grace introduces us to traditional Welsh poetry forms over at Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads this week, starting with this form, called awdl gywydd. It took me a while to warm my brain to this form, but now I think I love it. I predict more to come, as well as more of the lovely oddquain.
we could discuss the vagaries
of impractical heartish unions.
ask, when a man loves a woman
will he really trade the world
for the good thing he's found?
can he think of nothing else?
and will she really play him
for a fool to bring him misery?
we could. but now, i just want
my kids to eat their vegetables.
Over at Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, Kenia challenged us to write a poem inspired by the song that was #1 on the charts on the day we were born.
The words to this song by Jonathan Richman are so achy and true, so simple, yet so special:
Even though I know I am the wind and the sun
I want to turn my back sometimes
Forget the angels sometimes
Do things my own way
Even though I know I am the wind and the sun
I want to put my arm around her
Want to be attached to her
Forget the stars
Even though I know I am the wind
I want to forget
Even though I know I am the sun
I still get afraid sometimes
Even though I know I am the wind
Even though I know I am the sunBuy this song for 99 cents! Heck, buy the whole record, it is magnificent. Truly.
this pressure on my head
gripping, bearing down,
brain rapping against skull
like a swollen brown river
beating against bare roots
over and over, washing,
wearing them down and away.
like white-hot searing lust
or overeager anticipation,
what other blinding is there?
there is always the possibility
that full to bursting, it explodes
into the hardness of white light.
that's enough, then. no more.
Hey, pals. The interview thing over at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads is round-robin, so after my interview with Grace, I found myself with the opportunity to conduct an interview of my own. I picked someone very new to me, who's as different in writing style as I could imagine. Please go over and meet Shawnacy! She's purely awesome.
he called out
what are we doing to foster unity?
the crowd responded, mumbling, crying,
some even with real tears.
and then a siren, from the trenches: our voices!
real! all of us, united!
the people, united, can never be defeated!
a groundswell of cheering faded to hushed worries
until he asked again
so what about unity? what will we do?
i noted her reddened cheeks & smudged eyeliner
as she leaned in close to stage-whisper:
united? sure. so long as he keeps his hands off my ass.
the words opened in greeting
to the padfooting traveler,
weary-heeled, solace seeking--
the words opened in greeting.
why is peace so fleeting,
cleaved to heart's unraveler?
the words opened in greeting
for the padfooted traveler.
I'll be why you stay. Stay here, Marie. I'll be why you stay.
Marie opened her eyes; there was Frank. What is going on here? Rivers of my memory, keep you forever gentle on my mind... was I dreaming?
“You okay, Marie? Hey, Marie?”
Her eyes focused. She was there, on her swing on Frank's porch. It was hot as hell. Marie smacked a mosquito on her thigh and took a sip of the iced tea Frank proffered. “I'm fine, Frank. I'm just thinking, that's all.”
“Yeah, Marie?” Frank took a seat next to her on the swing. “What're your thoughts, then?”
She considered for a moment, looking down at her own hands on her bare lap next to Frank's hand and his own bare lap. She raised her left hand to her temple and brushed a wayward hair behind her ear, then gently brushed his hand with the back of hers. Frank's hand grasped hers, enclosing it completely, entwining his fingers through her own. She caught her breath.
“Well, Frank, I heard you ask me if my decision is right. About selling the house, I think you meant.” She paused as he gently squeezed her hand. “And I think I heard you say that you wanted me to stay. Did I hear you right?”
“Look at me, Marie.” He touched her chin with his free hand. She felt her body tense a little as he nudged her face toward his. Ah, he's never touched me like that before. She raised her eyes to Frank's. “Marie, I care for you. I want you to stay here. There's no life for you at that damn nursing home place, you'll die there. What on earth is Sharon thinking? You belong here, on the river. You belong here, with me.” Marie watched his lips thin as he gulped and then open again.
“I love you, Marie. I've always loved you. Please stay.”
Am I still dreaming? “Frank, am I dreaming? I swear you just said you've always loved me.”
“This is real, Marie. I love you. You can't go.”
She fumbled with her hands, with his hand holding hers. “Well, huh. Well, Frank. Huh. Isn't this a pickle we have ourselves in, then.”
“A pickle, Marie? How so? From my perspective, it's pretty free. I feel free, Marie.” He squeezed her hand again.
Marie pulled her robe over her far shoulder, adjusting herself just slightly closer to Frank. She felt the electricity of Frank's bare upper arm just a hair away from hers, and a charge of something in her lower abdomen that she couldn't quite identify. She crossed her right leg over her left, her foot grazing Frank's calf. Why do I keep touching him like that? Behave, Marie.
“Well, it's complicated, Frank. It's not so easy, you know. I can't just up and say oops, I changed my mind, I'm staying. It's a complex problem.” Marie looked down. Why does he keep staring right at my face like that?
“What's so complex, Marie? You're a grown woman, for chrissake. You just tell young Sharon that you're staying in your own house and she should mind her own damn business because you can take care of yourself. Right?” Huh, Frank's rather indignant about this.
“All right, Frank, calm down, now. I can sure as hell take care of myself. We both know that. It's just that Sharon's put down a deposit over there. It can't be refunded. She'll be furious, Frank, it's a lot of money. And I surely can't pay her back for this, I'm on a fixed income as I am sure you know. It feels like a done deal, this thing.”
Frank shifted, sat taller, grabbed both of her hands and held them firmly on his lap. His naked lap, huh. “Marie, what are you talking about? A done deal? You sound like someone I've never met before. Why are you conceding this thing?” He squeezed her hands too tightly, but she did not move, just stared at him as he continued.
“You are the strongest woman I know. Your niece is wrong, and you should question her motives, to tell the truth. You have no business going to that godforsaken death's runway, I don't care HOW much money she threw away trying to get you to go there! Why is she pushing you like this? You belong here! I want you here, for damn sure. I want you, Marie. And you want to be here, at the river, in your house, it's your home, with me, you know it....” He coughed and his words trailed off, but Frank pulled Marie to him, then his arms were wrapped around her, his face in her hair.
“Frank.” She relaxed into his embrace, turned her face to his neck. Breathe, Marie. “Frank. Okay. Frank.” He released her and she sat tall again. “Okay, Frank. I... I love you, too. I love you, Frank. Okay?”
He looked at her. She felt her cheeks redden under his gaze but kept her head up and reached for his hand. Frank's face broke with a smile as wide as the Ohio River. He threw his head back and laughed, that rollicking laugh from their youth. Marie beamed back at him.
“Now what, though? Now what are we gonna do? Here we are, this is nice, and how do we resolve this?” Marie's brow knitted even as the rest of her broke out in gooseflesh.
“Marie, you stay right where you are, where you belong. I'm moving in with you.”
“Aw, Frank, that's a bit to adjust to, but aw... that's very nice to think about.”
They sat, hand in hand. Frank rocked the swing slightly. Marie became aware again of the breeze and the sounds of the river. Zeeeeeee... thwack! “Dammit.” And the sounds of the mosquitoes. Marie leaned her head against Frank's chest. She could hear his heartbeat, or feel it inside her. Or was that her own?
“But Frank, if you move in with me, we won't have this. We won't have our porch.”
My prompt for the Indie Ink writing challenge this week came from PrincessDarDar, who prompted me thusly: "Describe a complex problem, the solution, and how you arrived to the solution." I feel like I cheated by solving one problem and raising another, but all problems will be resolved! You just gotta keep on reading, as they say.
I prompted Tara Roberts this week: "Mars Attacks." Her very compelling response is here: Visitation.
Finally, this here story is actually Chapter Four in a work-in-progress story called Watching the River Go By. If you're interested, you can read the earlier chapters here: (1) watching the river go by, (2) angry wasps & juicy plums, and (3) the rivers of my memory.
As Briana climbed down,each footfall grabbed herin joltingknife-like murderousness.Not only pretending.Quick! Run!Stop the unbridled velocity!While xenophobes, you zealots,are bitter charlatans,does every fool go hard?I just know love--mad, needy, or poor--quickly rebounds, soaringtriumphantlyunless vexed withxanthous yellow zoster.All Briana can doexcept favoring God's hell,is juxtapose kindnesslike mystic nirvanaover politics,quietly regarding small talkunder volcano words.Xenolithic.Your zaftig aurabelies celestial designeagerly flowinggently haranguingin joining knowledge.Lost men never once ponderedquiet reality.She trusts universally,violent,with xena-yearning zeitgeist.
Oh, my word. This week for the Indie Ink writing challenge, my lovely friend Jason Hughes gave me this special doozy of a prompt he has been saving just for yours truly: "Starting with the letter A, every next word should start with the next letter of the alphabet. You *must* cycle the alphabet at least four times, but you may continue further...." I stopped at four, but this was fun and I would totally try it again. Thanks, Jason!
the egg in the nest
what do i live in--
what guards me, what protects me?
my home is comfy.
what keeps you alive?
what lives high up in the air?
it's good for the earth.
the bird eats the elephant
what flies, what chirps & what eats
big floppy grey ears.