You Will Not Cross Over Into Elysium

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The sky was overcast, threatening a downpour. We were sprawled out on blankets enjoying a picnic, some of us having traveled overseas to celebrate the installation of a former classmate as senior lecturer at a university in Sheffield. Most of us had used the excuse to go to London, and some of us, like Trace and myself, to the Lake District. The lecture had been the day before and we were told, by a queer little woman who gathered trash off the lawns, to beware of the spirits who hounded people who didn’t belong. Oh, we had a laugh over that, oh my how we had a laugh! Especially here, now, under the darkening skies, champagne flowing, little crackers dotting tiny plates, each cracker topped with brie and preserves or pâté. We were drunk on the wine and with our foreignness and here was a woman reminding us the spirits of hell were against us too.

Our friend, our pride, the man who conquered Vanderbilt as an undergraduate and graduate and then went on to Yale was our entrée into this sacred, rarified world. And he always seemed to us the fresh, humble, brilliant man he had been to us in our undergraduate days when many of us, awkward, but bright, stumbled through our classes in a hungover daze. Henry never drank with us but instead worked a spell all his own, bringing diverse people together, creating parties, setting many of us up together. He was part magician and we felt he belonged to us though now it seems Sheffield had claimed him. There was a sadness to this somehow though we had most of us been apart from each other for years now, scattered to the winds, except Trace and I who married and settled in Cleveland. We were both artists, though Trace was the more successful, if income is the measure. The city was cheap enough to live in, and vibrant enough. New York would have been preferable, but we knew who we were.

“That woman was the gatekeeper to the Elysian fields,” said Trace. “It’s clear none of us are destined.”

“Hey, speak for yourself,” said Mark who ran a successful brokerage firm. Of all of us, he had seen the most wealth. And he was happily married with a wife, not from our set, but a lovely person, and children.

“I’m just saying,” said Trace, “be warned. Some of us are destined, some of us are not.” There was an edge to Trace I had never heard before, something approaching jealousy and despair and it surprised me, embarrassed me.

“I think what my darling is saying,” I said, “Is that none of us is above riding coattails. Let’s drink to a long life and success for all of us and as many of these trips as we can afford and our Senior Lecturer can tolerate.”

“Here! Here!” said our American friends raising flutes to the river drifting past, to the forest beyond, to the spirits waiting to scare us away from whatever blessing we found in this foreign land.

On the way home, I chided Trace. “Did you really have to do that? Do you think that’s any fun for me when you get that way?”

We were taking a walk through the woods before leaving for the train station. I broke away from him to walk ahead on the path. I was grateful I had worn low heals for the ceremony.

The stream bubbled next to us. It was beautiful here. I know it is next to impossible to get any kind of extended visa but I wished at that moment to disappear into the helplessly lush green, to become an inhabitant among those lichen covered trees, mossy stones.

There was a soft padding among the trees, the rain beginning to fall. I waited to walk with Trace. We huddled together. He reeked of wine. Another sojourner on the path directed us to the café. We laughed that it would likely be as expensive as the remote vegetarian bed and breakfast we had discovered in the Lake District. It was the same the world over: The more precious the commodity, the higher the price one pays for it.

We found a place in the cramped restaurant. Everyone was trying to get out of the rain for a while. I ordered some tea and scones and to my dismay, Trace a pint.

I was enjoying the warmth of the teacup when I heard a woman trying to comfort a baby. The poor thing was inconsolable. I went over to the woman and began a conversation. I asked her if I could hold her baby. She was at wit’s end and was amenable to the offer of my ministrations. I held the child on my shoulder and patted its back. When it was cradled in my arms, fear began to grip me.

Trace’s words at that moment struck me: “Some of us are destined, and some of us are not.”

It came to me swiftly then, remembering the secret of my miscarriage not long before our trip to come here, the Elysian fields and the possibility they are unattainable. A woman sitting in a corner of the café caught my eye. It appeared to be the woman who told us: “Beware the spirits who hound those of you here that don’t belong.” I couldn’t be sure but she was smoking a pipe and she had a gleam in her eye. I gave the baby back to his mother and clung to Trace’s arm. We would have each other, then, but Trace would never know. I would never tell him. I kissed his mouth and he smiled his boozy smile. “My girl,” he said.

 

Written for Nancy Stohlman’s 2015 Flash-Nano

Murderer in the Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

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Jukkasjärvi: ICEHOTEL by azedkae, flickr

Jukkasjärvi: ICEHOTEL by azedkae, flickr

There is a murderer staying in the ice hotel. He sleeps on his ice bed which is covered in reindeer fur. He drinks Absolut vodka from a frozen shot glass. He cries to the walls made of the clear, pure, bubble-free ice harvested from the nearby Torne River. The snow cementing the ice block muffles his grief. It absorbs what he cannot bring himself to say: he killed his girlfriend when he caught her with another man.

The ice in his room shifts, sighs, drips. It is April 6, the end of the season. A dripping snow column beside his bed pulses with multi-colored LED lights, He is calmed by this, this lifelike column a beating heart, a gentle mother watching over him as he lies upon his bed. He finally falls asleep in a room that is twenty-four degrees Fahrenheit.

The next morning, the murderer goes on a tour to meet the indigenous people, the Sami or “reindeer people.” A group of men taking the tour are hung over and worried about getting to Heathrow. They make fun of the guide who fries reindeer meet before the fire in his ancestral tent. The guide tells them about his culture and the men ask him where he gets his clothes and the guide says his mother sews them. “Oh,” says one of them. “I would have said Saks.”

There is a woman with them too but she watches the fire intently. After they have eaten, they ride in sledges behind reindeer. The men are thrilled with the bull who is so fast, pulling each of them, they are tossed into the snow. The woman quietly rides in her sledge behind a cow. The murderer takes over her sledge when she is finished and doesn’t mind the pace.

He wonders if he could escape to this place, ingratiate himself among the people, learn the language, tend the herds. He wants to live among the reindeer with their large brown, wet eyes. Could he escape into the wilds of Lapland, where in winter the temperatures hover around zero and snow would not be shared with another for miles? He could change his name, adopt their belief in an animated world, exact his own punishment or wait for it to come.

As it stands, the ice hotel is melting. Soon it will no longer be structurally sound. He buys equipment in Jukkasjärvi and a pack of dogs using the remaining money in his account. The trees stand around him like thickly frosted decorations on a thickly frosted cake. He sets out on his sled, making his mark upon the snow, a mark that will be gone when the snow falls again that night, a wet spring snow but a blanketing one. Even the hotel will melt into the Torne River and be resurrected the next winter with no traces of anyone having slept there before.

* Some of the details regarding the hotel and tour are loosely based on Barbara Sjholm’s beautifully written travelogue, The Palace of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland.

First published in Blue Fifth Review: Blue Five Notebook Series under the title “Melting”

 

Mouse Woman

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mouse woman From the bronze Bill Reid sculpture, "Spirit of Haida Gwaii" at YVR. Read more here: geo.international.gc.ca/can-am/washington/services/haida-...

mouse woman
From the bronze Bill Reid sculpture, “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” at YVR.

It was a problem Nula Myska was unable to drift to sleep in the normal way. I say this because in her village, no one went to sleep without the others sleeping too. If someone was hungry, they all went hungry. If someone was laid off from their work, they all stayed home in protest. Imagine during times of war in the bombed out city when all wanted to die in solidarity with the innocent who had fallen. It took someone outside the city to convince them otherwise, someone as it turns out, who was able to use them for cheap labor and conscriptions into armies not their own. They were gullible, yes, and yet compassionate almost to the detriment of sense.

Ms. Myska was a spinster who lived in a tiny hovel at the edge of the city square. “Myska” seems the perfect name for her for it was a word meaning mouse. In fact, no one could remember if she had always been Ms. Myska or if the town had invented the name, her features and mannerisms were in alignment with said creature for she scurried a bit, scurried around the market. She nibbled, nibbled on what the cheese maker or baker featured among his wares, her little spinsterish whiskers quivering. When she was offered cider or wine, she held the cup in her tiny paws while she seemed to lap the sweet liquid. She was too old for anyone to have remembered her family. That was before the war, when bombs decimated stately old homes and government buildings. Ms. Myska’s family must have died then, her mother and father and brothers and sisters, though she never spoke of them. In point of fact she never spoke of much at all. In most villages she would seem as inconsequential as a crumb or a tiny pebble, the kind that gets caught in the ridges of your shoe and which you pry out with a rusty old knife.

But when her sleepless nights began, no one could see the moon or stars. A veil fell over the world. It was unknown at first the cause of the night’s deep impenetrable ink. Lanterns were commandeered for the purpose of checking on residents. It was thought perhaps this was a kind of plague though the only deprivation was a lack of natural light. The town leaders found almost everyone asleep except for Ms. Myska, who was, in fact, at the moment of their discovery, foraging in the forest for mushrooms and nuts. What are you doing? they said. Why aren’t you asleep? How can you even see? But she went on picking through the undergrowth, putting things in the pockets of her apron as if their questions were none of her concern. It became apparent as the leaders drew aside to discuss her, that there was something deeply disturbing to the disorder of a villager acting apart from her village and that this was having ramifications on the larger universe. Ms. Myska had indeed gone off the rails a bit. Perhaps she should not have been named for her animal likeness or once the likeness was realized, her name should have been changed to an animal that went to bed every night, a dove maybe, that coos from the eaves.

Also: Why had they let her stay in a little hovel, the kind a rodent might build for itself from scraps and bits of fabric and paper? It wasn’t healthy. They would move her immediately to one of the wealthier residencies where she would be fed sufficiently and given a warmer bed as well as have the chance to enjoy some semblance of fellow feeling, of humanity. Perhaps, sitting by a proper kitchen hearth, she would begin to speak of her life and the dark oppression of black nights would lift and Ms. Myska would receive her proper due.

Yet it was not that easy. Even after receiving a fresh frock, a bath, a full meal, Ms. Myska found it impossible to close her eyes. In fact, the intensity of her wakefulness increased so that it almost seemed as if Ms. Myska were reacting to the intensity of their sudden and inexplicable attentions. Maybe there had been something about the privacy of her wakefulness and the secrecy of her unnatural habits that had soothed her or felt somehow to be leading her to the natural disintegration of her mind, the steps necessary before her release into the void, the chaos of death. The village was too young to understand the steps leading into that final release. She was unconcerned about the skies. They were always looking for rational explanations. And why would this be her concern. In a month, a year, two years, she would take herself out beyond them and fall asleep on the earth.

And yet, she noticed their frantic concern. She resolved quietly to pretend and then perhaps they may leave her alone.

They had decided to host what they called soothing ceremonies. And so they made offerings to the sky to bring about once again the cycles of the moon and rotation of the stars and so they sent up to heaven in hot air balloons their prayers for one another and for the world so that a predictable peace would rule them. Many of the balloons caught on fire from the candle that gave the parachuted balloons loft and the glittery fabric that was supposed to inspire the stars to shine came falling down like ash and yet no light penetrated the thick black down that wrapped round them when the sun sank below the horizon.

Ms. Myska was treated like a queen. Preserving her modesty, they bathed her in milk while she wore her white gown, they bathed her under the wisteria trellis. They added hyssop and lavender to their ministrations as well as the sound of gentle percussion instruments simulating rain. They laid warm towels over her eyes and wrapped her head in a cotton wrap infused with rose oil. They gently massaged her hands and feet.

Ms. Myska, buried under fabric, soaking in warm milk, wanted to bring her little paw hands to her mouth to nibble on a nonexistent crumb she often kept in her pockets but now no longer had. They believed she wanted fatty lamb and huge boiled potatoes, pies and pastries, sweets they crafted on slabs of marble with precious sugar and chocolate. She wanted to bring her hand to her mouth out of habit. She at least wanted to stroke her whiskers but they had plucked them so there was nothing remaining. Her descent into the animal realm and then beyond that to the subanimal realm of dirt and water and remains and then yet further still to the underworld, her destiny, had been met with protest, resistance. You will feel more human, they said, let us help you. She felt just the opposite.

Every night, Ms. Myska feigned sleep, although, in actuality, that is where the problems really began because what happened is that the skies unleashed a torrent, which as it turn out was worse than complete blackness for the water could not be kept back but seeped into their homes under door frames until at last it had risen to the level of their windows and their furniture and cows started floating away. Houses and buildings were becoming unmoored. What had happened? They wondered one night, sitting on a roof top, the falsely sleeping Ms. Myska sleeping on the pallet they had brought with them.

Because of the extreme compassion of the village, they began to realize they may have brought this onto themselves some of this natural disaster. Why hadn’t they just accepted Ms. Myska for who she is? Why had they sought in her so quickly an instant scapegoat? And so they let Ms. Myska go. They gave her a boat to be free and do as she wished and as soon as she returned to her hovel, the water had receded though her little spot had never been effected. It was dry as a bone, just as an old lady’s hovel should be. At last the young ones will let her do which they all will some day must and inside she did not feel them crowded around her anymore but blessedly at a distance, their benign tolerance sufficient.

 

 

 

 

The Body

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Early 1900s snapshot of coffin and casket, Bat Country Books, LLC flickr

Early 1900s snapshot of coffin and casket, Bat Country Books, LLC flickr

 

The body is in a bag. The body is on a cart. The body rolls out of the bedroom. The body rolls out of the living room. The body rolls by the family pictures. The body rolls through the kitchen. The body bumps over the threshold to the garage. The body rolls past the family cars. The body rolls past the hedge trimmed just last week. The body rolls by the neighborhood children. The body stops so a child might tie a red balloon to the cart. The body bumps down the sidewalk. A girl showers it with flowers. The body sits next to a homeless man for a while. The man unzips the bag and relieves the body of its wedding band. The body leaves the man behind and zooms through the traffic. The body runs a red light. Cars careen around the body. There is screeching, smashing, crunching, grinding, someone screaming, metal and glass flying.

The body goes to a museum. It rolls past the canvases thick with paint, heavy with fevered dreams. The body visits animals at the zoo. It is shat upon by a monkey who tries to feed it peanuts where a mouth should be. The body rolls past a river where it races a barge filled with coal. At the dock, the body is saluted by a soldier. At the church, it is hurriedly blessed by a Father who sprinkles holy water on the shitty body bag. Downtown, a whore straddles the body and gets off. A dope dealer smuggles his stash under the torso.

At the hospital, nurses shake their heads knowingly as the body rolls through the halls and out the exit. At the bank, the teller willingly gives over all of the money to the body she’s so frightened. The money flies out of the surrendered bag as the body flies down the street. Men and women and children take what they can. The children buy candy. The men and women go to bars, take their spouses out, plan parties.

The body crushes a wife beater. The body rolls over a rapist. The body cuts a politician off at the knees. The body goes to a concert. He rolls through a mosh pit. He helps carry a crowd surfer. The concert goers find the dope and are grateful. The body gets arrested. The body gets put in jail. The body busts out and goes on the lamb.

The body finds a family who needs a body, a family who isn’t upset by a body but who just wants some other body to hang out with somewhere on the outskirts of town where a body can be a somebody and not the nobody which many would have him believe he is.

First appeared at The New Absurdist and later, Bizarro Central, Flash Fiction Fridays

 

 

Wild Tales: In Defiance of Sense

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east of the sun and west of the moon 2

Image from page 18 of “East of the sun and west of the moon : old tales from the North” (1922) Authors: Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen, 1812-1885 Moe, Jørgen Engebretsen, 1813-1882 Dasent, George Webbe, Sir, 1817-1896 Nielsen, Kay Rasmus, 1886-1957

 

Divorce, cancer, bipolar, single parenthood, failed dating relationships: All of these mishaps and more have become a part of my midlife experience. Fear for my life, feelings I do not fit into religiously conservative circles, the occasional pain of being “different,” concern for my child, an acknowledgment I may not find the next special someone, a realization my romanticism and sometimes my perfectionism rule out a “modern” relationship in which texts serve for conversation, people can be swiped away by a finger running across a digital screen, and porn has dictated that women look twenty five and behave as objects: I have been touched by all of these things and sometimes they have ruled over my ability, once sharpened by more frequent use, in letting go and forgetting troubles.

On a lonely night the other night, suffering still from a failed relationship – Was it me or was it him? Who knows. What a bother, what a pain. I will never do this again. etc. – I turned to Libri Vox, a recent discovery. I have not been one to turn to this way of imbibing my literature but I have recently discovered the beauty of having a portable narrator spin me a yarn while I lie on my bed. My narrator, I have discovered, is good for a walk with the dog, a car ride across town, the grocery store, a dish cleaning session in the kitchen, and more. If I release myself to the voice, I don’t feel as lonely. In fact, I sometimes find myself to be quite thrilled by it. Here is a volunteer, somewhere from around the world, doing their level best to put the literature of the world out there for listeners to enjoy. The experience feels personal and immediate and sometimes, just the thing.

Recently, I started listening to fairy tales, and the other night when I was suffering I began The Blue Book.

I have always been a person driven to extract meaning from texts or to gravitate toward texts whose purposes are didactic or could be construed as such, somehow, with the right manipulator, you know, someone like me. Yet in listening to what I sense are many of the “untamed” fairy tales – those who have not been given an obvious “lesson” – I am completely charmed. These speak back to someone like me with my heavy hand, my heavy pencil who is just dying to construct an analysis. They speak back to me and tell me to be quiet. They speak back to me and tell me to let them stand on their own. Though fairy tales, at the time of their development, may have used a number of conventions, to my modern ear, these stories seem to insist on their freedom from convention. Like a person who is not bound to convention, bound to explain themselves at every turn, worry about the impression they make, a fairy tale often seems to live in complete freedom.

I like to imagine that I, an ordinary woman, have something to share with the women who, over the centuries, created these stories together as, over time, they told these over fires and in the midst of chores, when they were resting. I like to imagine these stories, begun in the minds of women while they were about their repetitive labor, were told to others and the work of the storytellers’ imagination was supplemented by the imagination of her sisters when they retold the stories to others – their families, other women, their children. Over time, the inventing and sharing created stories smooth as pebbles or rough hewn but originating from the same rock.

I like to imagine these wild tales connect me to those who invented them in that though we now have more luxuries and in many ways, a different worldview, we are in search of the wild beyond the hard work and the worries, the will to survive. We seek rest and invention, re-invention and creativity and beauty. Of course this goes for men as well as women but there is a homespun quality, a stark quality that speaks of a woman’s voice in many of the tales. Some have been recast by male writers who have collected them and written them down. Some have a more embellished voice. Some have been stripped of racier elements, harsher elements. Some have an appended lesson. Some seem overly romantic versions of their grittier sisters. I sense in the realism and absurdism of the wilder tales a woman’s voice of what it means to be a woman in a man’s world and how one must resolve to be resilient, resourceful, wise, cunning, full of spirit.

I like to think I might understand, finally, something about fairy tales because on the eve of my forty eighth birthday I think I finally understand the value of wildness, individuality, a free spirit. It is in the story of Job confronting God in all of his sufferings and God providing no direct answer, no direct reason, only a catalogue of his wonders. God, an unpredictably free spirit and vast, full of love and mystery. It is like that, she said (Me, speaking to you, of God, of suffering, of that which we cannot predict or control, of the wildness of spirit embodied in the most unpredictable of tales, and at last, all of our own divergent tales and voices.) A person who is 48, 49, 60, 35, 18, 70 or whatever age who has encountered a wild wood in their experience, a menacing troll, an embittered stepmother, a greedy lover, a witch, an empty misleading temptation has encountered the tale of their lives. Most of us have encountered quite a few of these and more.

When I was a girl, my family went on “Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disney and from that time on, the memory of it was invoked to describe any particularly wild driving experience or traveling experience or anything unpredictable at all. To me, this is the essence of a fairy tale: A wild ride. We have television shows in the modern world which serve as the evening fires and narrators both but they are dim reflections of the tales of our ancestors who faced life in the teeth. When we can let go of our demand for logical sequences, we can more fully face life as it really is, ripping away the scrim that protects us from realities. When we let go of our demand for logical sequences, we can more fully enter a dream state, we can be taken, captured, enchanted, relieved for a moment of our defenses and need for control.

I felt lonely one night and so I turned to The Blue Book on Libri Vox and I allowed someone I didn’t know to tell me a story. I tried receiving it as a child and thought I did not accomplish this perfectly as my mind drifted back to my worries or I began to “not see the point.” I began to realize I wasn’t “doing it right.” There is a way to relate to that which is wild and unpredictable. It is allow yourself to be unpredictable too. Stop making so much sense. I wonder if there is freedom in that.

 

 

 

lost container

Black and White Portrait of a Friend by Mirko Chessari, flickr

Black and White Portrait of a Friend by Mirko Chessari, flickr

 

My inability is a lost container I cannot find in my house.

My love is a plant in a basket I abandoned in the flower bed. Though the basket rots and I do not water it anymore, the plant lives on, fading in the sun, spreading, blooming.

My uncertainty is a walking stick. I do not know for certain if I will live, or, if living, for how long. A stick is more reliable than a person. People fly away when they want to, even when you might die. And a stick can defend, even as people are shutting their windows, going to bed for the night.

My eyes are what are left after I have seen everything. I see lies coming at me now, aiming for the kill. I avert my gaze, in hopes they miss.

My hand is what grips this pen as I write. It is even better than a stick or a sword and frees the weave of my heart. At some point, every friend is an enemy, but even my life is threatened and my worth counted for nothing, a pen is loyal.

Friederikh Gorenshtein’s “Bag-in-Hand” in The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing, ed by Victor Erofeyev

Climb Every Mountain

Evan Travers, Climb Every Mountain, flickr

“Have you ever watched the sunrise? Not over luxurious tropical greenery which knows all about the sun, which lives for the sun and anticipates its appearance with academic certitude. And not over a calm, grassy forest meadow, which is itself a particle of sunlight, which believes in the sun and experiences its rising as the most intimate of feelings. We had in mind sunrise over the lifeless rocky cliffs of the north. What good, you might ask, is life to the dead? What would the cold rocks want with the sun? The rocks lie there calmly, ponderously, monotonously in the depths of night, remote under their covering of ice and snow; the rocks greet the grey light of the brief day with indifference, their breasts insensitive to the keen blasts of the wind. But still the sun rises over them. A feeble imitation of the torrid, fructifying sun or gently caressing sun we know, a sun which would strike fear and anguish into the subtropical foliage or the forest glade. And suddenly the cliffs change. The rocks become pink, moss and lichen appear, and a rather unprepossessing insect crawls out of a cleft in to join in the brief holiday. Perhaps it is not even aware of where the light has come from, or why the wind has died down, or why its indifference to the cold has been replaced by a new feeling, or rather, sensation, of warmth and calm. But if the southern sun, or even the mild temperate sun, were to rise over the northern cliffs, it would mean disaster. The cold rocks would crack, the lichen would dry out, and the unprepossessing insect would die. The cold north needs a cold sun.”

all true

Palmtree

 

I haven’t dreamt in a long time, I haven’t slept well in months. This afternoon, an inspiration came over me to slip into my purple grey room and tuck myself under the soft white comforter borrowed from my son’s room while he hikes the Blue Ridge.  It has been so long since I’ve dreamed, I’ve been in mourning for it. Grief, anxiety, the chemical pall of chemo and medications, the despair for things I have lost seems to have shrouded my mind, at least temporarily, taking my concentration and the release needed to let go of conscious thought.

I dreamt of a street I have driven down many times which runs through the heart of my Florida town. I am driving my SUV and a car driving slightly behind me to my right swerves into the lane of a motorcyclist. The man on the motorcycle is not hit and he doesn’t fall but when I look out of my rearview mirror, I see both the driver of the car and the cyclist have stopped and pulled over to the side of the road into the entry of a parking garage. The cyclist, his sunglasses flying off, is beating the driver through the open window of the car. My heart racing, I do a U-turn, speeding the wrong way on a one-way but otherwise deserted street, back to the scene of the violence, unsure of what I will do when I arrive. I awoke abruptly, my heart racing, relieved it was only a dream.

I haven’t dreamt for three years. I’m not sure what it means to be reintroduced to dreaming through terrifying visions, but dreams are as unpredictable as people and all must be accepted eventually.

This past spring after my son played baseball at a field close to the beach, I said good bye to him for the night. He was going with his father and stepmom to join the team for a post game dinner. They turned inland and I turned toward the coast down A1A. If I had to spend the night alone, I may as well be spending it on the beach at sunset, and in particular at a beach where my high school friend’s family owned a condo. We are no longer friends. After I married and moved to various cities with my ex, coming back into town only briefly for holidays, my friend told me if I didn’t see her more often when I was home, I could forget about our friendship. I chose to spend time with my family rather than more time with her. Now, ironically, I have lost both. Except my child still calls me his mother. And I have a sister, a mother, a father.

My friend and I used to spend the night on the balcony of her condo, listening to the waves crash on the sand.

As I am driving to the beach, an old VW van swerves into my lane, right in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes. The motorcycles behind me – two – slam on their brakes. Through my rearview mirror, I see, to my horror, a bike skidding along the pavement and a body flipping up through the air and landing on the shoulder of the road. I pull over to the median and put on my hazards, grabbing my jacket, running with my middle aged body, my weight jiggling from my frame, to the place where this cycling couple cry out to each other, the man in tact physically but falling apart with disbelief and panic, hovering over his wife, the woman lying face down and moaning, crying out in a way I had not heard before, blood matting her blond hair. The man turns her onto her back. I give him my white coat to protect the back of her head from the asphalt.

I never found out what happened to her. I stayed to answer questions, stayed until the ambulance took the couple away. Oddly, I took my coat back. An emergency technician put it in a bag. I would throw it away the next day. It would never come clean. I never made it to the beach, wouldn’t try again for months. My sister answered when I called her as I drove back to our town. She talked me through the ordeal of getting back to our city after I had experienced an unanticipated calamity.

A few months before this incident, my son and I went to California and I wore my white coat then. A few hours before the dream this afternoon, I posted a picture of my child and I on social media. We are smiling on the beach at Sausalito, me in my white coat I was wearing before we headed into the deep heart of Muir Woods to reach sunset on the other side.

gift

greentip karfirlily by K M flickr

green tip kafir lilly by K M via flickr

She talked him into this, everything so new between them. She wanted to go to the beach, an easy trip for a Saturday evening, a drive to the east coast, a place of her growing up years, a place familiar. He had warned her, in their planning, of rain as predicted on the weather channel, warned her of the heat. But here is what she knew: There was a difference between the middle section of the state and the beach. She knew the rhythms, when rain was likely in summer and how long it would last, what temperatures were like by water, how beautiful sunsets were and of course she hoped they might walk and she hoped, if they did so, he might hold her hand. She saw it in her mind, but she coached herself: Let him do it. In a previous broken relationship that crushed her heart, that other man could not be counted on. This was a chance to test this new one’s feeling.

She felt a little deflated, upon their arrival at the public beach pavilion, to see a young woman with hair like a mop, each strand a worn color of a flag. She felt irritated. Why did so many people insist on calling so much attention to themselves? She went to Venice Beach to see the freaks, but now not even her childhood beach was sacred. She felt guilty because she knew this new man would not share her attitude. He was a much more generous spirit than her previous one and would not indulge the ugliness she felt inside at this moment. And it might turn him turn him away. Of course she would not show her true self, at least not at this moment.

The woman wore huge pants that ballooned outward though she was skinny, had a nice figure evident from the flat tummy between the midriff. What was going to happen? A woman like that does not show up at the beach just to hang out in the sand and watch the waves. She was there to compete with all of that. A young man was with her. But he was hardly noticeable by comparison.

As she and this new man put their shoes in a pile and blanket on the sand, the woman with the hair and the pants starting working a huge hula hoop, wrapped with strips of tattered cloth, her hips undulating in a slow, seductive gyration.

What the — ?

She couldn’t take it any more.

“Some people like to be seen,” she said.

“Oh, haven’t you been to the drum circle in town?” said this new man.

She knew of drum circles, what a lot of people did, what they looked like. She had stumbled across a huge drum circle when she was with her child and husband in Asheville, her husband now her ex and who would not have hung out among drum circles.

She felt a little pressure. Would she be expected to go to drum circles?

She had to confess, beneath all the layers of her identities that had come with each relationship, she didn’t know who she was any more.  She was a pleaser. The only time she seemed to feel her true chosen identity coming through was when she was a senior in college and finally free of all relationships that would bind her to a course. Her dream was to work for a nonprofit and help people with AIDS. The horizon had been ever before her in that moment, a span that lasted several months but then disappeared again under the weight of expectation.

(Perhaps this is why she sought so vehemently the horizon of the shore at the break of this new relationship, perhaps, she thinks, as she writes this. She sought it to the point of arguing her way to it even as she was concerned about making a good impression. The horizon over the ocean: an ever visible inspiration when you are standing before it. Walls are false pretenses. Water is stronger. The sky is forever.)

This new man brought with him a set of new beliefs. She felt pressure. But not too much pressure. She only felt anxious she would disappoint him as she had the men before. Maybe in a different way perhaps, but wasn’t it all the same when you could boil it down to one word? Disappointment.

They walked on. He held her hand.

What if she can’t believe what he believes? What if she can’t be as nice as he expects, as open and free? What if she can’t be open to his teaching? He seems to want to teach her things. (In fact, as she is now recalling as she writes this, all of them had.) She didn’t want to be lonely again. Her heart ached with the possibility of it but she knew, deep down, she would have to be true to herself. Was it the woman’s burden always to bend? Sometimes she had bent to the point of almost being broken: don’t write; don’t write this; you’re not political enough; you’re not intellectual enough; you’re not organized; you’re too fat; your face is round; your butt is big; you talk too much; you talk too little; I like women in dresses; I like women in heels; women should not wear pants suits; a real woman doesn’t wear her hair short; I like a woman who keeps up with her nails, sometimes the glitter art helps her express her creativity; I think your hair should be blond like it used to be when I knew you years ago; if you bought a platinum blond wig and wore a white dress you would look a lot like Marilyn Monroe; I would like to read your stories at some point (An ever receding point, she thinks as she writes this, fading off into the distance like the sun setting over the Gulf.)

No one knows you really, no. No one wants to know. They want to imagine, something. And when you show them who you are, their dream is gone and so are you.

When they return from their walk, the woman with the ragamuffin hair has taken the hair off for as it turns out it is a wig and she is sitting in the sand, in her hoop, looking slightly deflated.

She and her new man spread the blanket out. He says he has something for her he wants her to smell. He pulled something from the bag but told her to close her eyes. She did so. She hoped she would be up for it. There was fear she would not be. It was an oil he said while her eyes were closed. She knew the meaning some people attributed to oils. It smelled like a rose perfume she used to wear until she reacted to a comment that it was something for old ladies. She had thought, up until that point, it was wonderful to always don the scent of her favorite flower. She said it was rose bergamot. He said it was not. He said he didn’t know for sure but he knew that much. He said “This is intention.” Here it comes, she thought. “You breathe it in.”

She thought of something she intended. She wanted a good, long relationship with him though she never would have said that. She intended to lose weight and so she turned to him to say that but he was facing the water, eyes closed, as if in meditation. She hadn’t done the right thing. Was this what you were supposed to do when you smelled oils?

For that moment, she felt no harm in the man sitting on the blanket with her.

When he opened his eyes she spoke clumsily of her intention. She looked at the sand. She knew she was dependent. There was even a term for it, not co-dependent, but something else, a term her therapist used to describe her and her clingy woman self, though she could be other things too, she was mainly this way in relationship, dependent upon the opinion of men, particularly the man she was with.

She looked at the sand. thinking of the oil and the many things he had said already, and she thought of his look in profile as they sat there on the blanket and what she decided for that moment was this: He was good. She knew this. And that was all for now. And for now she would keep her secret belief to herself, except, dear reader, what you are reading here now. She would play along with these notions for a while because they seemed important to him and frankly, she liked him. And he seemed ready to care about her and so what he showed her was something meaningful and that in and of itself would be the gift and she would allow herself to receive it though she had no idea of what it was, only that it had been given. In and of itself, she realized, that was enough for the moment in which she found herself and it seemed to be something different from what had happened to her before and so what if she had secret unbelief? A nice man sat on a blanket with her.

Instructions for the Ascent: A Guide

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walking on water

anna Osu’s “walking on water,” flickr

Shuffle through the silent wood to worship, past loblollies and scrub oak hung with flowering vines, your sick feet, affected by the chemo, the nerve endings numb, barely registering your footfalls. The glittering lake beckons beyond the Bishop’s Walk and the Church of the Incarnation where someone sits at a piano, someone mixes water with wine, someone is blinded by the sun streaming through a window as they think about what they would like for dinner.

Step high over roots, concern yourself not with the sand slipping between your toes, breaking down your best sandals. Enjoy the sand and how it falls out of your shoe in a playful way because you cannot walk because of your numb feet and it is as if you are doing this on purpose, like when you were young and flopped your legs in front of you, flinging sand on your brother, on your sister, and you had more time then, all the time in the world.

It doesn’t matter you are late. You have nothing to contribute. There will always be voices in worship somewhere. There will always be worship. Not even the forest needs you though it will take you. There will always be bodies who, once animate, return to earth and you, no longer a child, see how it begins as you fall off out of time beginning with the feet that can no longer run, the flesh that is no longer thought of or desired by those in time, and you, having once participated in a chorus, live on an edge without recognizable features or breath, where eternity has caught up with you and you had thought yourself not ready and yet here you are, venturing on your own.

Those you thought should join you cannot follow through the divide, they cannot pass. You have tried to carry them but the overwhelming nature of their fears have led you to focus instead on the little white dog who waits for you on the edge of town, the new ferns that must be watered, the meals you will make with the ingredients you just bought at the market, the son who will be home from his father’s next week.

In the twilight worship hour, you must go alone through the loblollies and scrub oak hung with vine, the sparkling lake in the distance, until you reach the lip of it all, where the worshippers’ voices coalesce and become strongest, like a ring of sound around the world. And yet, you only see the glittering eye of the abyss in the distance and it is not in the depths of the earth but suspended and it is not dark but filled with light and fills the skies from the waters it takes from earth and one day you will be taken up from the earth and one day you will return again as rain.

Published in Ginosko Literary Journal #16

May My Father Rest

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Snow Capped B&W

David Adamson’s Snow Capped B & W (flickr)

When they come to capture Father, they do so with ropes and sticks and feed him bear containing a tranquilizing substance. We watch as he devours the flesh, its blood resting in the fur I use to kiss. He had been starving and in mourning for my mother, who had been captured, tagged, and taken away to higher regions. My brother and sister and I do not make it obvious to him we could see his defeat. We eat our grains and cream in silence in cupboard spaces and we do not crowd him or come near.

The men hoist him onto a stretcher, their pipes set in their teeth, the smoke from the bowls drifting down over our father’s limp frame, as if he were powerless, as if he were lazy and never chased deer and wild game, as if he had not laughed at our games in sunshined fields and watched for danger along the shadowed edges.

I touch his paw as his body moves past and it seems as dead and yet it has steadied me while I took my first steps. With it, he has lifted me onto his back where I would ride holding onto his fur, the nape of his neck smelling of burnt wood and leaves.

My brother and sister are calling out for my father, my brother and sister are crying. It is the new people who do not understand, I say, though I know my brother and sister, being young, do not know my meaning. I have no words of comfort for them while the presence of the men lingers heavily in the air. Drink your milk I say and they drink the heavy milk at the bottom of the bowl, the last of the milk my father stole from the farmer further down in the valley.

I am not ready to speak for my mother and father both. I am not ready to guide.

I take them out to play where they can run among the stones of the people who have died. They should not have to watch as their father’s body jars as if lifeless on the open-bed truck while men’s ash falls on his fur.

I tell them these are the stones commemorating all who have returned, though I know they will not believe this in the literal sense I wished it to be understood. And yet it comforts them, children of tombstones and loss, that in some sense, this is true, and that even men with stiff lipped bearded faces have no say in what cannot be contained, or shot, or beaten.

And when the sun is high we take a picnic on the stones and when it rests over the mountain range we lie among the memorials to people who were and wait for the chorus of animals that contains the voice of our mother penetrating the mists of the dreaming dead.

First appeared in Chrome Baby

The Man Who Loved a Grave

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Ambiance

photo: Ambiance by Jacques

Katya ran her finger over the round warm ceramic of the coffee mug. She had to admit to herself it was a comfort to have this portion of her life, her life with Nina, finished. Though just as soon, she was horrified. Her friend had died an awful death – sick from cancer, alone except for Katya with whom she split rent, estranged from wealthy parents, divorced, the mother of one selfish daughter who hardly visited. Katya believed herself to be a terrible person for thinking about her own relief.

In a silly moment, Nina had asked Katya to pour a cup of coffee on her grave at least once a week, maybe more, for as long as she was missed, then Katya was to be free of the routine. They drank bottomless coffee at a diner during mornings they worked in the shops on Park Avenue, during the days Nina was well. Nina also asked Katya to burn a letter that she had written out and placed in her jewelry box. This act of the burning seemed a bit more serious than the coffee ritual, and yet both involved performing an act over her friend’s grave. Nina made Katya swear not to look at the letter before the burial.

One day after work, Katya stopped by Nina’s grave. She pulled Nina’s letter from her purse. It was in an envelope, sealed, and written on several sheets of small square pink papers, the stationary she started to use near the end of her life to make out grocery lists and requests for Katya. It read:

Dear Katya,

You have been my sole confessor in these last few years and on you has fallen a great burden and for that, I’m very sorry. Had I allowed myself to entrust my worries and cares to anyone else, I would have. Maybe it was the illness that stirred up fear in me but in my growing physical weakness, I could not always trust others to be as tender with my heart. People are a bit like animals in this sense, especially when there is a sick person among them. But you, dear Katya, have been more than humane.

I am scared of dying, because of bitterness I have inside, bitterness I fear will keep my spirit wandering. I am scared of my sins. I am scared of the reality of the woman I’ve been, the woman I fear my daughter sees and the woman God has punished with disease. Therefore I have left this one task up to you, to burn this list of the things I have held onto in bitterness along with the sins I have committed. Please leave no corner of these papers intact, but burn them wholly over my grave and let the cinder mix with the soil and be my penance, my last confession. I’m not Orthodox, as you know, I have no priest. Please, dear Katya.

Forever yours,

Nina

It rained the morning Katya intended to burn the papers. She was so surprised by the fervor of the note and the length of the list. She sat out beside her grave longer than she had anticipated. Her coffee grew cold. She fed the grave what was left of her drink, but it was too wet to burn the papers. After work that night she sliced vegetables and brought water up to a boil in their lonely apartment. She ate dinner and watched TV and went to bed but felt in the moments before sleep a presence watching from the corner of my room. Was it Nina?

She was able to burn the list of Nina’s sins the next day and prayed that her soul would be released from the burden of the guilt she felt, from her bitterness. And yet she noticed as she burned the paper, the soil was dry as if from drought, even though it had rained through the night. She bought a watering can and from that time on, watered Nina’s grave every day. To no avail. It drank in every drop of water fed to it and produced nothing. It lay barren as the day she was buried. No grass grew. No flowers that were planted there would thrive. Had she missed some opportunity to make things right for Nina that first morning she sat beside her grave, procrastinating until it rained and it was too wet to burn her letter?

Several years later she met Nina’s daughter. The young woman came to the apartment to find out how things had been for her mother during her illness. Katya revealed the mystery of the gravesite. She was careful with her description of the letter.

“I’m sure my mother was upset I never called or came to visit,” said the young woman.

Katya remained silent.

“I will try to water her grave. Maybe it will work for me.”

The grave did not respond to the daughter’s ministrations.

Again, Katya felt the intensity of a presence in the corner of her room that evening.

She decided to write to Nina’s parents and friends and ask them to visit. Upon their arrival, they knelt beside the grave, tending to the soil, but the plot of land rejected their efforts.

Perhaps there was something perfunctory about how they went about things, Katya considered. Perhaps this was the difficulty. She did not know how to change this since likely there were so few who truly loved tending a grave. And sadly, few truly seemed to love Nina. The cause of this seemed to have nothing to do with Nina herself. It was just her fate. Any grave tending would be perfunctory. Even Katya had not been the friend Nina needed.

One night a man knocked on the door. It was New Year’s Eve. Katya was not going out and had not expected anyone. She did not feel the festive spirit.

The man, she noticed, had skin as white and translucent as parchment. His hair was a soft yellow.

“I have come to pay my respects to Nina.”

When Katya told him the plot number, he watched her with his clear blue eyes, a blue she had rarely seen.

She went back to Nina’s grave before heading to the shop a couple of days later. A profusion of lilies grew there from soil as rich as loam.

The only thing Katya could figure in the weeks following, as flowers continued to bloom there, in the space where an unregenerate woman lay, is that someone loved Nina, someone her friend had not remembered during the torturous months of her illness, or there was someone alive whose love, until then, had remained undeclared.

First appeared in Quail Bell Magazine

salt-rose

Aku no Musume

Photo: Aku no musume by Anna Theodora

Pablo Neruda: XVII (I do not love you…)

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:
where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

North Rhine affair

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Christmas 14 flickr

I want to meet you this Christmas under a new sky, not Florida’s, not like the night we watched the Christmas parade and the snow made of soap bubbles and the trombone your son never played because the one that worked was somewhere else.

I want to meet you on a snowy city street: I, dressed in white, a long white coat, and you in dark wool.

I want you to smile at me as if I’m the only woman you will ever want. I want to know you love me and are concerned about me. I want to hear you say the words. I want to hear you say my name Margaret. I want you to kiss my lashes.

You don’t know how much I have been yearning for an arm that fits neatly over my shoulder, a laugh that embraces me, care that could be lavished on a queen. So many lonely nights, terrified of my dreams, longing.

I have wanted to make you into this, this dream fulfillment and it has been unfair. A person isn’t what they’re not meant to be. How I have craved gentleness and attention. You are so handsome, yet it has been unfair – my dreams – an imposition.

You were meant for another, one who wants for nothing, at least not too many words or undue attention, one who understands a certain approach. Or maybe she will be the one to receive your attention because she is the one for you.

After I acknowledge you have only been a dream, I will walk away into the snow and leave the ghost of your body. There will be bells from another man’s sleigh and when he thinks – this woman should not be allowed to walk like this nor should she feel hunger or any kind – he will lift me up and ask me if I am ok and I will begin a journey.

a personal note

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chair beach flickr

Happy Holidays. I hope you do not mind me speaking directly. Maybe you can indulge me, please, though I usually “tell it slant,” minding this principle of Emily Dickinson.

I thank you for reading my blog this year. Last year, I published a flash fiction “Christmas in Florida” journal and hope to return to it next year. I received some great submissions. This year, however, I want to complete my tale of unease, among shopping for Christmas, planning a trip, wrapping up year end things. I have the perfect cocoa ready and waiting for  a good writing session, which usually takes place sitting on my bed though I have set up “writing stations” throughout the house. All for naught. I write where I dream.

I don’t have much to say, unslant. I have been watching American Horror Story and have been quite unsettled, but the unsettling has good effect: It causes me to re-evaluate, take stock. Maybe that is why those Victorians loved a ghost tale at Christmas. Being unsettled is a precursor to finding beauty in one’s life, finding rest, and if the story comes with a bit of a morality tale which many great tales of unease do, there is the added benefit of having the chance to see, and maybe, as a response, “do.”

Drink your eggnog, now, my good friends – writers, readers, editors, artists extraordinaire – and may visions dance in your heads.

Margaret

A Holiday Suprise – Elan Mudrow’s Santa #4270 – Enjoy

my note to the world

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mother and child polaroid 339 - 004_013

I do not mind living for you. You are my note to the world. Foolishly, I have believed, at times, I should write other notes. As it turns out you are the biggest, most important note there is.

If life contained a million lifetimes, I would: hold your hand in each one, run my finger through your hair in every day of each, kiss your forehead whether you are sick or well, take you to a million lifetimes of soccer practices, watch a million lifetimes of your games, drop you off for a million lifetimes of first dates, drive you to a million lifetimes of first days of school, take you to a million lifetimes of movies and buy you buckets and buckets of popcorn.

My role is dwindling now my young one, just in time for me to fully appreciate what I am about, the raison d’etre of my magnum opus to the world. You said you would drive your friends when you got a license, you speak openly of missing the friends who have moved away, you speak appreciatively of the friends you have now. How my tears run silently down my face when I think of what you are.

The majority of my life has passed before me. You are now your own best work. I speak into the air and if you wish to catch a falling leaf of a word of mine, you put your hand out, but you do not need leaves. What usage, leaves, but for the fire?

May God forgive me, but I am proud. May your song never end.

Bless my mother on this, the day of her late son’s birthday.

 

world’s only box dweller

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Surfing Under The Jetty

Remember that day I gave the man with a face on fire the one dollar bill when he asked for the fare to go home to see his family and he replied “I am probably the world’s only box dweller” and you said not to worry about it, not to think of him anymore even when he also said to me “you’re the reason vets like us come back from the war and shoot people.” We later went down to the beach on that holiday when we would normally have been with other people but here we were thrown together and in a hectic mass of humanity, down by the pier, as if the ocean had belched us onto the shore. People had set up make-shift encampments under the massive structure, deceiving everyone with its capacity as a bulwark against the elements though no one would be able to sleep there as shade was its only offering.

I said I will not take from the pipe even if I’m in a lot of pain and you said that is a lot of senselessness and I said there are a lot of ways people numb themselves. Whatever I said was dictated by my white girl reaction to the drum circle and the beautiful dancers not far away. You just can’t let go, can you, you said. I said so what. I was still upset by the box dweller, murderously unhappy with my dollar but the focus on what I believed I deserved was a relief. The world’s only box dweller had a point. The reason I was no longer a family with someone else was my fault which was the reason I was with you which was the reason I had come into contact with an angry vet who threatened to kill me.

You insisted on the tacos with the two tortillas, a huge dish. You insisted on the appetizer. You always made sure there was an equal division of expenditure. You wanted your pound of flesh though I’d not cheated you out of anything that I knew of but that was just it you had been sent to exact something from me, something I owed in a more universal sense and that close accounting I knew I deserved too. The restaurant on the pier was hot. I could not stop sweating. Below, the surf and bikini contestants were going home. I said do you love me you said yes of course and this kind of question and response had been as regular as the ebb and flow of the tide and so there was something unconvincing in it, of that I had felt since we first used the word love and how did I know that was the last time I would use this word with you and how did I realize there was no shelter.

 

batchata cha cha

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barbie sofa

It was appropriate she lived on the edge, the edge of town, the outer edge along the woods that will sometime be subsumed by buildings but for now she caught a glimpse of what it was like to look into trees, the dark hollows they created by their limbs. She lived in a small house three stories high and each story faced the pines and scrub oak and the hidden homeless, black bears, and garbage people in the town threw out. The woods sometimes yielded odd things she collected and saved, such as a Merengue CD covered in dirt and filth she washed and played in her CD player, the words foreign but the tune and beat so upbeat she had to move her hips a bit while she sashayed across her small living room, the tune spilling out into the inky darkness.

One morning she found a dollhouse exactly like the dollhouse of her girlhood. It was only soiled a bit, but it was the same basic white frame house, three stories, interestingly, she thought to herself, the same structure as her own house though the rooms were distributed differently. She brought it inside and cleaned it. Her suitor, a Norweigan who liked to fix things, patched the tiny broken furniture inside and the tiny shingles on the roof. He painted each room and the exterior as well. The one requirement, she told him, was that he was to leave the kitchen table legs and dining chair legs as they were: White with brownish red tips. When she was a girl, she had nightmares the table and chair legs were really matches and that if you scraped them the wrong way, the house would go up in flames. She didn’t know why she wanted them the same way. She just did.

I started telling the story by saying it was appropriate the woman of our story lived on the edge of town and maybe that is because in her beige little living room where she lies down and stares at nothing sometimes and wonders whether she will make it she is constantly reminded of another edge: The edge of death, of illness. It is an edge, she knows now, that not everyone has to face, at least not in the middle of their life. It is an empty edge, the edge of oblivion. When you stare at that edge, you stare into your own silence. She is glad for the red pillows that dot the beige sofa, ottoman, chairs. They catch her gaze. They ignite her interest. Each is different and she has selected them carefully. She is glad for the dollhouse that reminds her of her girlhood, the table and chairs in the dollhouse whose tips reminded her of matches. She enjoys the memory even though in her younger years, she was frightened, she was frightened the night of that Christmas day when she saw all she wanted – a beautiful house her parents had constructed for her in secret – whose very existence might be threatened by what’s inside. She hopes the woods will never go away. Even if she finds a bear there, if one should meet her on the doorstop as she is fumbling with the lock or if one day, in her foolhardiness, she should wander out into them with a compass and a sandwich, she hopes she will stay in the place she bought, her own death, chosen and full of danger.

cup of canopus 13

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Dreaming in Black and White

He got into her every pore, he filled her up, he penetrated her. He sought to become her conqueror, her possessor. Should she struggle, he tightened the noose, the jaws of the trap shut tighter, the barbed wire around her skin tore her flesh. She was no longer free.

How had she chosen this? Was it his fault she had chosen him as her captor? She loved him, yet he had come close several times to poisoning her or keeping her from life-saving medicine. He didn’t intend it so it seems or so he claims. Skywriting, her love her passion, was drying up while she brought him beverages to slake his thirst. It would kill her to comfort him yet she would do it perfectly, passionately, just to have him say he loved her, to see him smile at her, to watch his eyes, pleased.

Where came this need of hers that ruled her, that overrode every other desire? It was created by the hole left when she was marked for dying and there was no one. She had not known how to sustain others’ interest in her while she was ill. Even her own deserted her and said they were not responsible.

Had she kept her plane for skywriting and the corvus oil she coud have penned an alarm but as it was, she sold these things to purchase her beauty and secure his love for a few more months of her life.

fledermaus

fledermaus14

I started a new blog for women who want to speak their mind, anonymously, about anything. The blog may very well become a journal. You can keep up with the progress of the project here: fledermaus.  Consider the quotes below concerning our freedom and the freedom of others around the world. Women are especially vulnerable in exercising their right to free speech, even in writing fiction and work that is not intended to be taken literally. Fledermaus will be for all works of fiction or nonfiction, regardless of genre as long as the writing sings. Speak to us and let us hear your voice. Women from all over the globe are invited to submit their work. More details will be posted soon. Thank you for your interest. Here are the promised quotes:

“A desire for privacy does not imply shameful secrets; Moglen argues, again and again, that without anonymity in discourse, free speech is impossible, and hence also democracy. The right to speak the truth to power does not shield the speaker from the consequences of doing so; only comparable power or anonymity can do that.”
Nick Harkaway, The Blind Giant    

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
Catherine of Siena

“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.”
Euripides, The Phoenician Women    

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

[The One Un-American Act, Speech to the Author’s Guild Council in New York, on receiving the 1951 Lauterbach Award (December 3, 1952)]”
William O. Douglas

“Imagination sees the complete reality, – it is where past, present and future meet… Imagination is limited neither to the reality which is apparent – nor to one place. It lives everywhere. It is at a centre and feels the vibrations of all the circles within which east and west are virtually included. Imagination is the life of mental freedom. It realizes what everything is in its many aspects … Imagination does not uplift: we don’t want to be uplifted, we want to be more completely aware.”
Khalil Gibran

The 35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet

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The debate as to whether the Internet is good or bad for literature doesn’t seem any closer to resolution now than when it began, years ago, but the fact remains that some people in the literary world are excellent at using Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and even Instagram or Pinterest to communicate with readers and get people interested in what they’re writing. These aren’t the writers who have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers but only tweet when they have a book come out, or the ones who write a guest blog post every year to get their names back into the conversation.

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good bye my love

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#41 Black & White

Now that I have said good bye, I dream of you more and more. And is it the you you really are or the idealized you of our childhood and early romance? I think the latter, for in the saying of our good byes and in the living with our good byes, don’t our dreams come back to soothe us, tattered coats to stay the chill? In my new house already old with all I’ve brought with me from past lives, all I’ve received from you to add to what’s gone, the walls, the ceilings, the fixtures shed their grief like soft downy snow, the dust of our flesh, what has been but what is no longer, this dust it falls in outlines on the floor, marking faint impressions of our bodies.

Your eyes are what I remember, their soft brown, the memory of what they were to me in my girlhood and how they looked at me when I was a woman and what I saw there and wanted to see, and the face as well that has seen struggle and loss and hardship, and the hands, known to me since you were young, the fingers, beautiful and long, now worn from work in sun and rain and cold.

I love you and will always no matter what the reason for this impassable divide. I never thought, as a girl, as a young woman anything could divide romantic love, sever it neatly. That was when oceanic feelings still engulfed me and I and my lover were inseparable and he thought what I thought and he loved as I loved, in equal measure, with identical expression, with obedience to the same rules.

I became a child again with you. I indulged the little child once more and that innocence and belief revealed themselves this final time before I turned to walk the road alone in my flat shoes on the path that is soil, that which I will one day become.

The moment I said goodbye, I lay down, exhausted, and slept. I dreamed you were opening a front door for me. I dreamed we were going into someone’s home, maybe our own home, to eat ice cream and pie. We laughed because we were going to eat butter pecan ice cream with our pecan pie. So many pecans we said. The door was heavy, wooden, carved, the foyer a dark, carved wood. I write this and know it would have been the very thing you would have loved, that foyer, that wood, that carving. I write this because isn’t it the sweetest torture there is to be released from someone while at the same time loving them most deeply in their best self, mourning what was, before there was dust. I write this remembering how many times, in our flesh, we spoke of ice cream.

My Mother is a Wolf

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my mother is a wolf

My mother is a wolf. She is with me at the campsite. There is a sign that specifically says do not keep food accessible to wild animals. She sits at the table and has tea with me. She is sitting on her haunches.

My mother is crying. She says there are things she never taught me: how to sew from a pattern, how to manage my accounts, how to plan for a week’s worth of shopping. Her paw is on my hand. It is warm from scrambling over the sun-kissed rock, from a blood that has become different from the way my blood runs, which is almost reptilian by comparison.

I have no feeling any more, mother, I say, no regrets. I am serving the cinnamon tea. I am serving it in delicate white china.

In the sun, my mother is beautiful. In the sun, the blue of her eyes like the sky penetrate my defenses.

I did not raise you this way, to take the hardships of your life this way, she says. I never told you it would always be the same. There are things you must do now to become who you must become.

The smoke of the fire curls up into the air. I wonder if my mother will return that evening with the other wolves, to threaten me for my meager fare — a bird shot in midflight, a rabbit caught in a snare. I wonder if she will return for me.

She had come to see me during the day at other times, and not for tea, and not for any reason. I have felt the presence of the others hovering about the trees. So far, it has not resulted in anything, only a mild abrasion on the cheek when we kissed, an unintentional scraping, drawing a faint line of blood.

I am disappointing her, I feel, and yet I cannot move on. My old life is behind me, in ruins. I mourn it as for an ancient city, burning. My beginning has no map. My mother is not the woman in the yellow dress cooking dinner for my father and my brother and sister. All histories have melted away and these old regrets live on top of the mountain. And yet, except for a few tears, my mother runs in packs at night. I know she protects me, for in the morning, there is a drop of blood in the corner of her mouth or in the web of her paws that she does not explain but wipes away on a napkin.

And yet I continue to straighten the napkins and check the egg timer for steeping.

Published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, February 20, 2014

Midway upon the journey of our life

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Inferno, Canto 1 Dante in the savage wood

Inferno, Canto 1: Dante in the savage wood

 

Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

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