Posts Tagged 'writing prompt'

Gertrude Stein came to tea one day in April

Did she she did it was April it was was it April
It was it was April yes it was was it tea it was that
bloomed and shed, bloomed and spread

April showers that showered and did did they
shower in April or May had May come already to hold
their hands that touched the showers the showers

that showered the April that Apriled the May that may
have shattered the tea that poured the tea that poured all day
when May broke through, a pig in a trough a pig in a poke

a broken spoke and their hands touched the showers
that showered the flowers the fingertips brushing
the bringing the bulbing the faces surprising

them as they worked the wet garden on knees on knees on their
knees and the tea was black with cream please two lumps
to lumps they spade they spaded they sped

They sped did they speed they did did they speed they did
there were faces bright faces to flirt to flower to shower
bright sun wet water did they did did they did yes they did

Brightly in sun and wet water all spring did it all. Did it all
yes they did did they yes yes they did.

A spot of gothic romance

His eyes met hers. Her eyes met his. Their eyes met. Above their heads, black clouds formed, the winds began to howl and shake. Someone must die.

“In these terrible times, sir, I find it best to speak rarely and gently,” she said, looking back down at her needlework. Her voice was light and firm.

“Yes, indeed, m’lady, I understand that a raised voice would be improvident,” he said, reaching to take the needlepoint from her hands. She resisted only briefly. Pulling the white linen back, he revealed beneath it a letter, open and sitting in her lap. One eyebrow lifting slightly, he took the letter, folded it and slipped it into his cape.

“No need to worry about this, madam,” he said. “I will look after it until it is needed.”

“Yes, of course,” she responded, remaining seated, remaining composed, remaining convinced as ever that someone must die. Now quite certain which of them that might be.

 Outside were the sounds of preparation that had become common over these past few months. Horses and men, the smell of burning hooves as the animals were shod, the excited yells of small boys chasing soldiers and knights-in-training through the muddy streets. Enemies came in all forms in those days: enemies of state, illness, criminals and people made mad by poverty and dirt. The men in the castle held council after council, each beating the drum for his own reason. War. Glory, wealth, religion, property, power.

Who holds a woman’s letter over her head, leaving behind an unspoken threat? This young man has just taken a letter from the most dangerous woman of her place and time. Pity he did not recognize her; they’d met before, in other circumstances. If he had realized from whom he took the letter, the situation in which he eventually found himself might have been avoided altogether.

Bodily fluids

It was a hot day in the city. A bead of sweat trickled down her neck, and she thought to herself I really have had enough of bodily fluids for one day. She took a tissue out of her bag and wiped at the back of her neck. The tissue, sodden, shredded immediately, and she looked at it in disgust.

The man at the falafel cart made a sudden hooting sound at her, “Hey miss Lady,” he said, “here you go, here you go.” He held a handful of napkins out to her. Her first impulse was to throw her soggy, sweaty Kleenex in his face and curse his children, but she did realize it was just her bad day speaking. She calmed herself, set her face in a civilized gracious neutral, and accepted the handful of napkins, sopping at her neck, her forehead, even down the front of her shirt (turning slightly aside as she did this).

“Thank you,” she said, stiffly, but sincerely.

“No problem, Miss,” the falafel man said. “You want a drink, I got Orange Fanta and Root Beer, nice and cold?” She admitted that an Orange Fanta would be pleasant, and he fished one out of his cooler.

“I’d give it to you for nothing, you know, only I work hard for the money,” said the vendor, with a look that suggested he’d been watching her cross the plaza every day as she left the labs.

“That’s okay, but thank you so much,” she said. She paid for the Fanta and left a tip that was too large, just to put that distance between them. The falafel man’s face fell just a little, but he smiled and waved, bravely, as she left, crossing the plaza to the bus stop. The number 17, as always, he noted.

When she arrived on the scene this morning, the day was already hotter than anyone expected this early in the year. The university, with its hardwood floors and wide open windows, seemed foreign to her, accustomed as she was to grey walls, formaldehyde, fluorescent lights and the chilly certainty of dead flesh in drawers lining the walls on three sides.

There was a pool of blood still oozing from his head when she got there, reaching into the pile of student papers on his desk. If only the campus police had responded immediately to his call – his hand was still on the phone – they might have gotten there before this final student assessment. As it was, she put on gloves, gathered the papers, lined lightly in spilled blood, and put them in plastic bags for later examination.

(Writing activity: Group member Andy brought a handful of incomplete sentences with him to group. Everyone wrote the partials down, then we wrote for 20 minutes, using as many of the incomplete sentences as we wanted to create a fresh narrative. Here are the sentences Andy contributed – But I work hard for the money, said
– A pool of blood still oozing from his head reached into the pile of student papers on his desk. If only
– The ship had reached warp speed, and soon the distance between them would eliminate their love, unless
– Pat was in seventh grade with only a hint of facial hair beginning to appear, and dreams that were
– It was a hot day in the city, a bead of sweat trickled down her neck, and)

The small round ball

The small round ball rolled through the brush, bounced at the edge of the river and splashed into the rapid current. A ratcheting sound over head resolved into a cackle, a grackle intervening, strutting and calling to the ball as it bobbled downstream. The ball, a bright orange rubber with dark blue stars, was interrupted briefly in its travels, knocking against the bloated corpse of a beaver, slain by an accident or a trap. The ball rolled against the floating body for a moment, then two, then three, and was thrown away by a branch, which scratched and poked at both ball and beaver in the high water current. On the trail near the river, a small child starts to laugh. He is lighting matches, lighting the matches he’d found in his sister’s room. He burned a small clump of cottonwood cotton into a charred lump, a black bump that he took home and hid, to avoid a scolding from his mother, his sister, or the woman who cleaned the house twice a week. The child had a great lust for matches, and for fire generally, learning the words in dozens of languages, conjugating light, fire, burn, scald, ignite, singe, and mortify, in English, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin and Swahili. His desire for fire was so intense that all other desires were subjugated to it, and this led eventually to his referral and interrogation by the school psychologist, whose desire to save small misguided children was almost as intense as the small child’s desire to deviate from the wishes of the child psychologist. The psychologist aspired to push the children, not push exactly, but to inspire them to explore the big world around them in ways that helped them grow, to enervate their burgeoning frontal lobes, to convene with other kids in contained environments, to converge in clean well-lit exploratory labs, to go on long nature rambles, to discover the use of wrenches to pull apart known objects, to learn about the pull, push and crush of the surf on wild beaches, to know enough about the dangers thereof to trans-mutate their desires, the warped, the waxing, waning, weathering desires of childhood. It was the desire and foolish dream of this psychologist to deliver the children from the downward slide, the embrace of danger that digs for bones, with their bacteria and mold, and hence he would drone on and on about the best thing the children might do, in a high, lively voice that the children would applaud as a matter of form. And then he would enter that data, the response of the children, into row upon row, stack upon stack, into the tumbled record of child psychology, where he would weld meaning, desire and reason, grab them and meld them into a single coherent narrative that would gather all the dubious facts together in a single unlikely, unread volume.

(Ten minute writing activity – group generated a list of 50 words collectively. this piece used about 40 of the 50 words in the order they were given. A fun exercise. )


I expired on the day of my death. It had been my aspiration to move others, to lift their eyes, their voices, their hearts. At times I may have failed, and I may have succeeded at others. It is not my place to make that judgment.

My death.  I was talking about my death, wasn’t I? Leading one to question my presence here, on this page, letters crawling across the screen from a dead man. There are certain things that are hard for me to perceive, from this side of the expiration. For instance, whether or not my typing can be heard. There is no physical keystroke, you see, no finger pads, no fingerprints. I have no fingerprints. I find that wondrous.

I hope and pray that the little ones on the other side of that thin membrane that separates us will continue to learn, will continue to do right because that is what is in their hearts. I know, of course, from human experience, that the will to do right begins as a set of rules and gradually becomes a part of the body and mind, bred in the bone, as natural as breathing.

It does not matter now, wherever now is, but I was not an old man when I died. It was my job to hold still, as an old man does, to listen and to offer what solace I might. The church gave me the means to learn this, and the living, and for that I am grateful.

There is a lingering part of me still hovering there in that stone building, listening to the choir, preparing the sermon. I even imagine that I can feel the polished wood, smell the incense. There is an echo in dying; I did not know that, and I listen to it repeat, reverberate, and dissipate gradually in this timeless place. I wonder if timelessness has no beginning or end. I wonder that even as the sense of time falls away from me. The children will be singing now, in the fields where the bluebells wave in the damp green grass. A song I taught them, to comfort them, to fill their lungs, to give them all the breath they might need to live well, with or without me.


Don’t take anything personally


Just because I didn’t return your phone calls, don’t take it personally. I know my call is important to you, so I will stay on the line and be served by the first available representative, and if I hang up before my important call is answered by you, dear first available, don’t take it personally.

Don’t take it personally. I’ve cancelled many appointments, returned many plates of pasta, rejected many offers of marriage, I’ve even discontinued my membership in more than one gym. Don’t take anything personally, it’s only natural that not all magazine subscriptions will be renewed in perpetuity. Like an eternal flame at a contract cemetery, there will come a time when eternity is cancelled, when the flame is snuffed, when remembrance fades in the gradual way of worn silk, disintegrating plastic, faded photos on cracked gray stone.

I know my call is important to you, and I will stay on the line until you answer; I will put you on redial for as long as it takes; I will renew my connection with you from here until the hereafter. Don’t take anything personally. It’s as natural as an invasive vine, creeping onto the headstones, the marble slabs, the infant’s crèche in the moss-bound north. It is the inevitability, the gradual erosion of stone, the reclamation of body and earth by heavy, wet green ferns.

Even here, don’t take anything personally. Even the high dry wind carries every ash away, in the four directions and more.

Flowering citrus

Flowering citrus – 1

Orange squirt, a soda, a fruit, elicits a sudden unexpected response from the back of my mouth, a wet ripe reaction to the smell of orange, the sudden demanding spray of lemon. The underside of a lemon tree provides a parasol of leaves, of warm lemon scent in lightly heated shade. Pick. This lemon is plump, skin thick and shiny under a thin dusty topcoat. I roll the lemon down the front of my jeans, roll off the light dust. Bring it back to my face. Smell. The smell of lemon is umbilical, so unlike furniture polish or dishwashing lemon that I hold it against my face – lemon peel pressed against my nose, my lips, my chin, and inhale as if it were vapor. Cut. The juices burn the many small wounds on my rough 10-year-old hands, rough from digging, and climbing, and jumping out of trees into a world of wood and dirt and citrus smells, rough from being out of range, from living wild in cultivated orange and lemon groves, near a small farmhouse, a fruit stand, an old brown dog with a limp, a piece of fruit, a pile of polished rocks. Rolling the lemon against my face, there it is, like magic. I wipe my hands on my worn cotton shirt, so that I might smell it again later, when I undress tonight. 


Flowering citrus – 2

“Lemon meringue pie?” she asks, eyebrows up, pen in hand.

“Nah. I don’t like meringue much. What else you got?” I can’t help being distracted, worrying about the car, motor running, out in the parking lot.

“Has to be lemon?” she says, good humor intact.

“Has to be lemon,” I agree, forcing my eyes to stay on her face. Car’s still there; that’s an article of faith.

“We got lemon sherbet?” she suggests.

“Rather have lemon tarts, got any of those?” I counter. I see Michael out the corner of my eye, walking casually across the gift shop and to the cash register, where the camera stares at the bill of his baseball cap.

“Usually we do, but we’re out. They’re not very good anyway,” she says, confidentially. I laugh.

“Okay. How’s about those lemon wafer cookies, you got those, right?”

“Probably. You’ll have to go to the gift shop, over by the candy section. We don’t have them in the diner. You want a coffee to go with that?” She’s relaxed, no fears, no early warning signs. My confidence is up.

“How about lemon drops, I like them. Got those?” I’m starting to stare, I can tell, and her eyes come up to mine all of a sudden like she’s just heard me speaking a foreign language.

“Sure. Yeah, we got lemon drops. In the candy section, kinda by where the lemon wafer cookies are.” I can see her strain through this. Her pen is still up, but hanging funny, like a question mark. She pockets her order book and says “I’ll get that coffee. Be right back.” The back of her uniform, walking away from me, looks uncertain, wrinkles highlighted by the fluorescent lights. Stains on the right side of her butt, where she’s been wiping her hand without thinking about it, through many uneventful shifts. Until now.

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May 2020