street smarts

if i had known
my wings would fail to catch the wind--
if i had known
my fear of heights would knock me down
like trash, street roaring to begin
my dark schooling: don't try again!
if i had known.


ursa major

Ursula sat back and sipped her coffee. It was cool and dark, and she let herself melt into the folding chair, her breath evening, until a man stood up and cleared his throat.

"Er, yeah. I'm Jake. Ah, I'm here, ten months clean and sober." People clapped and the man jerked his head up, glanced around the room, and quickly looked back to the floor. "Well, yeah. My story is simple, ah, I was just running. Running from my history, my family, ah, I was running and hiding, that's all it was. And drinking and using helps me to hide."

Ursula lifted her coffee cup to her mouth, took the last sip, looked in her styrofoam cup searching for more, took one more sip, sucking in the drops of coffee left, looked again and sighing deeply, placed the cup on the floor next to her chair. She straightened back up, tucked her hair behind her ears, and folding her arms across her chest, she looked at the man who was still speaking. He was tall but slightly slumped, wearing black jeans, long, grey ponytail bright against his black t-shirt, wizened wisps of hair escaping the tight cinch in a mess around the temples of his wire glasses.

"... And I don't know why I said that. But I had this moment, you know? Like somehow I knew, it got through, after all these years, like, ah, I knew I had to stop pretending. To stop hiding. And, you know, the biggest part of that was getting sober, stopping hiding behind booze and pills."

Ursula slammed to her feet, knocking her chair aside with a clatter. She swayed for a moment, then pulled her pocketbook tightly across her body and walked with resolution past all of the questioning eyes and the hey-are-you-okay-ladys and the arms reaching for her. Past all of that and out the door she strode, hesitating long enough to re-orient herself to the bright sunlight and her location there on Oliver Way.

She headed right and walked toward Penn Avenue and her office.

* * * * *

Tripping over the threshold as she stumbled out of Primanti Brothers tavern, Ursula turned and glared back inside with hostility. "Don't let the door hit ya on the way out, there, lady," griped a patron in a black and gold Steelers bomber jacket.

"Dammit, oh whatever." Ursula looked around at nearly abandoned Market Square, squinting against the darkness. One person was sitting, or perhaps sleeping, on a bench, and about a dozen pigeons milled around, picking french fries off the brick sidewalk. "Don't pigeons sleep? Pigeons, why are you still awake?" She stomped toward the pigeons but her clogs made such a racket in the still night that even the boldest of all city birds flew off. "Aw, pigeons..."

She focused again. "Ah, I wanna see the fountain, I wanna." Ursula headed out of Market Square toward the Point, the city park with the huge fountain where two rivers met to create a third at the Golden Triangle. Dodging traffic crossing Stanwix Street, she considered stopping at the Hilton to use the bathroom but changed her mind. "Ah, no time, no time, I just wanna see the water." Ursula had forgotten what a long walk it was from the hotel all the way to the tip of the point, where the fountain was. She kicked off her clogs and skipped, holding one in each hand, then sang loudly as she passed under the tunnel ("I'm looking over a four leaf clover that lies on the kitchen floor..."), then skipped some more.

Finally reaching the fountain, Ursula slowed down, gazing out over the Ohio River. It was a clear, starry night; she left her shoes at the fountain's side and crept to the very edge of the pavement. The roar of the fountain behind her mesmerized. The stars ahead, the lights at the stadium across the Allegheny from where she stood, the ripples on the water all spoke to her. Come out, come out, Ursula, no need to hide, no more. No more. She searched the sky for her bear, her guide, was that who was speaking to her? You've been sleeping, little bear, deep in hibernation. Now it is time to come out and be yourself. But the city lights obscured the celestial figures.

She heard him coming before he spoke. She turned around and gathered her shoes, noting his badge. "It's okay, officer, I'm going home now."

"What are you doing all the way down here tonight, miss? Are you okay? You looking for something?"

"Yes, I was, I was looking, thank you for asking," Ursula met the police officer's eyes and gave him a light smile. "I found it. I found myself again. It was me." She dropped her clogs to the pavement and slipped her feet inside. She grabbed his arm for balance as she stood up tall.

"I am tired of hiding."
My prompt in this week's Indie Ink writing challenge was from rrrett/femmefauxpas, who asked me to write about "she was tired of hiding."

If you're interested, you can read earlier chapters of this story here: (1) maybe for orange juice, (2) gridlock, and (3) cherry, smithfield & oliver



empty of words,
a chasm where once it was green.
empty of words
like enmity no one has heard
before, bitterness no one's seen,
tumbling downward from darkest dreams,
empty of words.

Pirate Grace's form challenge this week is the rondelet. Write one and link it up to Imaginary Garden With Real Toads!



like love
the waiting gets you good
aching like anything
wishing it would come, & hard

but to want that kinda storm
is not right
so instead say oh! so glad
she brought only heavy rains.


the neighbors

"Babe? Hey, babe? C'mere, look." Marisol nodded toward the open kitchen window, in front of which she was grinding coffee beans. "What is it?" Andrew navigated an obstacle course of Legos to where she stood. "Look, it's Mike." "Oh, man, you are shitting me." They both leaned over the kitchen sink for a clear view of their neighbor, asleep in their back yard.

Today was a new day, and another chance for Marisol and Andrew to be annoyed. The subject of their ongoing irritation was Mike, their next-door neighbor, and apparently today would be no different. Curled in the fetal position, mouth slack, snoring, Mike was right outside in the grass as they drank their coffee. "I can't believe it, new day, more of the same." Andrew agreed. "Damn. That's pretty harsh, out in the grass, OUR grass."

Their son Toby tugged on Marisol's robe. "Mama? Mama, it's because..." "Hush, sweetheart." Marisol patted his hair. "Mama and Dad are discussing something for adults."

The morning's yard-sleeping episode had given Marisol and Andrew an opening for reviewing their shared history with Mike. It was such a strange story, they often joked that someone should write a story about it. No one would believe it. Mike, an upstanding citizen, a married father of two, was just that strange. He was exceedingly friendly and neighborly in the daytime, but at night, he behaved in an increasingly bizarre manner.

Mike had slept outside before, for example. A couple times, they saw him perched upright on his back kitchen stairs, sound asleep, or in the children's swings. It made them giggle and speculate what on earth could be going on in the house next door. Was he locked out? Did his wife kick him out? Sometimes they heard him singing outside in the middle of the night; it seemed he liked to swing and sing until he just konked out.

Most nights, they heard him out in the driveway talking on the phone. As the night got darker and he drank more beer, his voice typically got louder and louder. And as the driveway was about ten feet from their windows, Marisol and Andrew couldn't avoid hearing him. It was like Mike stepped outside to make private phone calls, of which they, and no doubt other neighbors too, could hear every word. Very often, the calls were very angry and heated, full of vulgar language and name-calling. It was upsetting. Marisol and Andrew worried that Mike might wake their children with his language, as their bedroom windows were on the driveway side, one floor up, but that had never happened. Thank goodness.

They figured Mike to be a strange drunk, likely harmless, and at least no threat to them, even if irritating. Most nights he left for the bar up the street when his wife got home from her waitressing job, and he came home drunk and hostile. Pretty simple. It was annoying, but also entertaining. They didn't have the nerve to confront Mike about it, but they figured if it ever got really extreme or upset their kids, they surely would.

So tonight, after the kids were in bed, they speculated once again about what on earth Mike might have been up to when he decided to sleep on their lawn. "He must have been really drunk when he got home," Marisol said. "Maybe he just fell down out there, or maybe Melanie locked him out because he came home so late." "Heh, maybe the aliens dumped him there when they were done with him," suggested Andrew. "That would explain everything." "It's just so crazy, can you imagine doing that?" "Yeah, it's fucked up."

They sipped wine and snuggled down into the couch, nestling in, brushing off Mike and his antics. Then they heard it, a low moaning, right outside the window, in the neighbors' driveway. "What is THAT?" Marisol bolted upright. "Man, you're kidding me, what is he doing out there?" Andrew peeked through the blinds. "I can't see anything." The moan came again, low and horrible sounding. And then they heard "Fuck you. FUCK YOU," loud and insistent. Marisol objected. "What on earth, that's not okay! Are the fans on upstairs?" "Yes, they're on, I doubt the kids can hear this," replied Andrew. "But still, what on earth?" Low moan.

And then from outside, much louder, much meaner this time: "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME. FUCK YOU." Before they had time to react, lights flashed across their darkened living room through the front window. An engine sound, high pitched squealing, a scuffle up the driveway. The shrieking squeal again and he was gone. "Jesus, whoever that is who picks him up for the bar oughtta get their belts checked, that's freaking loud," muttered Andrew, but Marisol saw the bright side: "At least he's out of the driveway for a while. Now get over here." She beckoned him by pulling her top over her head.

They awoke to the loud squealing sound. It was still dark outside their bedroom window. "Ugh, I guess he's home," Marisol snuggled closer to Andrew. "What time is it?" "It's nearly 3 am, let's hope he passes out again tonight." They pulled the blanket higher and drifted back to sleep.

Upstairs, two children stood at the front window watching Mike come home. Just like every other night, the light lowered down in the neighbors' yard like a white hot sun, hovering there. Two bright figures glided out, carrying Mike between them, laying him gingerly on the ground. Mike rolled over and cursed loudly. "Why does he always do that? He always seems so angry," Natalie whispered to Toby. "Watch! There she is!"

The smaller figure turned toward the window and raised its head; piercing green eyes met theirs. Its forehead glowed red and it held its palm to the sky. A shining ball lighted from its hand and floated up, growing in size and intensity until it reached their window and they could see it was like a snowflake. The snowflake burst in sparkles, releasing four glowing hummingbirds who danced and buzzed for a few moments before evaporating into the night.

"Aw, this time she made four! That's so cool." Natalie did a little dance herself and Toby laughed. "I can't wait till next time!" "Next time, maybe she'll make the butterflies again!" They both giggled and ran back to their beds.

"Dammit, he woke them up this time. I am so sick of this," muttered Marisol. "Yeah," Andrew agreed. "Maybe we really should talk to him after all."
For the Indie Ink writing challenge this week, the inimitable Supermaren, who is actually holding a tattoo contest this week as part of her writing assignment, told me to write about "the view from my window."


beach boys

stealing sun & surf
reclining umbrella drink
bartender? i winked.

your godlike fist bowled
hurricane winds, torrented
violent lashing;

cabana, loved ones
raised up & slammed asunder,
scattered on the sand.

left to take cover
i rode it out: steady now.
assess the damage.


rude awakening

the smell of dirt
exposed in a flash
lit up what ink forgot,
a shattered reverie.

exposed in a flash,
roots like glass bones:
shattered reverie
& slick whiskey finger.

roots like glass bones;
creepy night crawlers
& slick whiskey finger
point out the danger.

creepy night crawlers
uprooted & prostrate
point out the danger
of too much exposure.

uprooted & prostrate,
lit-up ink forgotten:
too much exposure
to the smell of dirt.



a friend says
"where are my friends?
i need one now."
i think: am i hers?
& then, where are mine?


R is for redonkulous

racing home to rest my head
reward my inner recluse
beating a rapid retreat
i could really use some refuge.

Poets United encouraged us to write a poem inspired by the third letter of our first name. Right on. Rah, rah! I'm tired.


how not to feel

here is what to do when you feel like this:
dress all in black, like wrapped in a shroud.
close the window against the gorgeous day.
drink at least three cups of terrible coffee.
obsess over every word & phrase in that email.
hold the totem from your child in your hand.
wear your hair up, let it down, & up again.
say things like SOMETHING GOOD IS COMING and
treat yourself to a sweet confection for lunch.
listen to your favorite music. loud. louder!
let it all out. let it all out. let it all out.


cherry, smithfield & oliver

This is part three. Please read maybe for orange juice (part one) and gridlock (part two).
It seemed like a lifetime that Ursula stood there, banana chip to mouth, hand back to bag and back to mouth again. "Oh you know, I'm here filming," the words bounced from ear to ear, "James Franco." James Franco, of course. James Franco. She searched for a witty response, any response, or any words at all, but none came. I don't know what to do here.

Melodia clacked a heel forward. Ursula heard the man in the suit yelling again, or had he ever stopped yelling? "Ladies, ladies, what the fuck are you doing here? Why don'tcha get a goddamn room or something?" As Melodia's red lips parted in snarly retort, Ursula realized that she had no plan. She had nothing.

Without thinking, Ursula dropped the bag of chips on the sidewalk, turned and bolted. Yes, she ran. Faster, girl, you gotta get outta here. She tore down Cherry Way as fast as her clogs would carry her, looping left on Smithfield Street, narrowly avoiding a collision with a group of mothers and children exiting S.W. Randall's Toyes and Giftes. She kept sprinting another block, weaving through startled pedestrians, crossed diagonally in the direction of Saks Fifth Avenue and stopped short. Ah, Melodia is probably headed to Saks. She ducked into the next-door Oliver Building instead.

What, is it weird to see a woman in a dress running down Smithfield Street? Ursula crumbled against a wall in the office building lobby, the marble cool and refreshing against her back, throbbing palms on her knees. What on earth have I done? Oh my god, I just ran, I just ran! Ran away from Melodia! What was I thinking? Breathe. She unfolded herself, breathed in through her nose, exhaled through her mouth as she had been taught by Ramesh the yogi, and looked around. People in suits were waiting for the elevator, looking at newspapers, texting on their phones.

She jumped as a voice to her left addressed her. "Miss? Hey there, you okay?" The security guard was peering at her, reached out to touch her arm. Ursula shrugged him off. "I'm fine. I just, it's hot outside. I just needed to catch my breath for a minute." He continued eyeing her as she read his name, Evans, on his gilt badge. He persisted. "What are you running from?"

She sucked in another deep breath. Exhaled.

"Myself, Mister Evans." A moment of inspiration, of self-knowing, clarity like the proverbial lightbulb over her head, struck her. She looked directly into the security guard's eyes. "I guess I'm not running from my nemesis so much as running from my demons. And I'm the one who created those." She smoothed her dress, tucked a frazzled lock of hair behind her ears, and smiled at him. "I'm fine. I appreciate it," she said, and strode out the door.

Back on the sunny sidewalk, Ursula did not hesitate. She walked with purpose around the corner and halfway down the alley known as Oliver Way to the wide open doors of Trinity Cathedral. Family Lunch Served, Weekdays at Noon, announced a placard on the sidewalk. A sign in white plastic letters on black, attached to the front window, welcomed her to AA Meeting, Chapel 2:00 - 7:00 - 9:00. Her watch read 1:53. Too late for lunch, but right on time.

"Coffee?" A gray-haired woman nodded the carafe in her direction. The greeting felt so warm, Ursula forgot she was sweating. "Yes, thank you," she replied. "Thank you."
My challenge for Indie Ink this week was from Mare, whose prompt was "finding your inspiration." This one is also responsive: the writer's way.


on the binge

driving down like rain
torrents whipping mad
wasted wistful wonder
& what to think?
melancholia like vermin
regret like a cerement
better to be pelted
than to pretend.

a conversation

These silhouettes are in Amherst, Massachusetts, in front of the Emily Dickinson homestead. It's titled "A Conversation," between Robert Frost (who taught English at Amherst College) and Emily Dickinson. Here are my kids being schooled in classic American poetry. (If my girl looks a bit sour, it's because she fell and skinned her knees not once, but twice, just prior to the photo opportunity. Ah, childhood.)


the writer's way

i write
what i see, like
how much it means to you,
resisting leaving the story


oh diablerie

apply pressure to cease the mucky flow
occlude it to stop the damnable quaking
muffle your equally girlish screams

use your best magic, the kind that burns
like diamond fierce & wrong love
astride the icest of blueblack nights

wail in a wicked odd screechy tenor
as you dive everdeep for the money shot
all talk, all talk, oh you are all talk.


blue holes

like sinkholes
to collapse
pulling me


goodbye to all that

she felt the pinkish glowing past her gleam;
instinct commanded now the time was right
to leave cellar despair & greet her dream:
      say hello to real life.

abandon dark in favor of the light?
she twitched & twisted til she thought she'd scream
but managed to escape & turn upright.

anticipating freedom, as it seemed
to take ages to reach her virgin flight,
escaping her cocoon--her former need--
      in favor of real life.

fixing her gaze upon the window there,
the crack through which delicious sunlight sighed;
she readied feeble wings to meet the air
      for a taste of real life.

as she soared through the window, free! she cried,
how free to fly, not going anywhere!
bright on your wing, urgent hedylidae!

into the sky, beyond all dark despair!
she winked & bid her inner life goodbye,
no turning back, no need to go back there.
      she flies, embracing her real life.

My Indie Ink writing challenge this week came from Stefan, who prompted me thusly: "She wakes to find herself hanging upside down in a dingy basement. What happens next?" This poetry form is called a roundel. Actually, it's two roundels.

winged devotee

how could i do this without you?
like worry, she struck unannounced.
i had the feeling we were gods
but we had fallen hard.

like worry, she struck unannounced,
hazed & incessant like a dream;
but we had fallen hard,
losing track of our usual patterns.

hazed & incessant like a dream--
if hope is the thing with feathers--
losing track of our usual patterns,
we birthed something extraordinary.

if hope is the thing with feathers
like plunging to first flight
we birthed something extraordinary:
she was our winged witness.

like plunging to first flight
i had the feeling we were gods;
she was our winged witness.
how could i do this without you?

Our form challenge this week is the pantoum. Read Pirate Grace's bossy little pantoum here: Caenis. Who else wants to write one? It was fun to write, with all the repetition, like putting a puzzle together.



toss it clockwise
with the wind
watch it fly
into the blue
and return to you.


WWHD (what would hermione do?)

if i could, i would
cast a healing spell on you:
reparo heartbreak!


gravity gratitude

ah, good thing there's gravity
or our skulls would fly off
what with the heady
brainy ebullience
emotional effervescence
exuberant & oh so bubbly love.


mountain view

harukei turnips
fresh dug carrots like candy
kids munch & scuffle
in the arms of our mountain
we gather: community.

An ode to our beloved CSA farm, posted to Poets United Thursday Think Tank: Market Days. Love!