Posts Tagged 'writing'


 Pick the teacup up,
Count the leaves that are falling.
This cup is empty.


“We must read your face like a leaf or a fingerprint,” she said, or I thought she said. I touched my face. Unique.

With the tips of her fingers, she touched my cheekbones, my eyebrows, the line of my chin. She brushed the hair off of my forehead. She hummed a tuneless hum. She took out a charcoal pencil and made a line. Here, and here, and here. On my face, and then on her book.

“There,” she said, and put the pencil down, and the book. She picked up her tea, leaned back in her chair, and held the cup in her hand.

“Hold the teacup in your hand,” she pointed with her chin at my teacup. “Feel the steam rising from the cup. Take a sip. Swallow three times.” She stopped then and sipped her own tea. There was silence.

The tea was warm, not hot. Pleasant. Light smell, like rice, soft mouth, not bitter.

I drank the tea, swallowing as directed. I put the teacup down. Silence again. I listened carefully to the room, looking for the sound of a clock ticking, anything to mark the time. Finally, I looked at her again. Her eyes were open, her face was closed. I coughed, slightly, and she smiled.

“Would you tell me please, which way shall I go from here?” I asked her. I wanted to see the notebook. In my head I was reaching for it, but I held my hands still.

Picking up her notebook, she opened it again, and held it out to me. In my hands it felt warm, as if it had been sitting in the sun, as if we weren’t in this chilly room with its antiseptic walls and its blank white lightboards looking at me, empty alien eyes.

“Patient’s choice,” she said. Her voice was flat, neutral. “What you want to do is what we will do.”

Behind my eyes, I saw stars, tight sparkling little stars like I’d knocked my head against something. The stars became a single star. A star became a tear. A tear became a multitude of tears, whirling just out of reach. No decisions will be provided here. My choice, damn you. I left, as usual.

The place was not always a café. It had been how many things? A multitude, yes, definitely a multitude. A café, a pet store, a gift shop, a health clinic, a second hand book store, a dry cleaner. So many smells in the multiplicity of strip mall history, most of them to be covered in new paint. I imagined the smells would sneak out periodically as the temperature rises and falls. We imagined this café would last for decades, until we were old and our first customers’ grandchildren would be coming for pastries and strong black coffee and green tea steeped in rice water.

“This is a day to celebrate can openers.” I said and offered it to Mark, who was opening a can of paint. Trying to open a can of paint. Easier with a can opener than with a butter knife. Not practical, he never was practical. A café can last longer than a mystery, than a childhood, than a surprising or unexpected dream and then it was now. Where I am now is in that place, looking back at me the stranger, the younger me.

In the first house, after the first big scary loss, I went in a slow, light  way down through the stillness of the house. Touching, with the tips of my fingers, the places that were not burned. Some of them still warm.

Name your tragedies. What will you call them? Loss, infidelity, collapse? Separate names would not have served – were, indeed, not necessary. There is only one tragedy, and that is time.

She, that younger me, so serious, that face. Make your choice, girl, it’s up to you.

Generally considered the ugliest fish of the sea, the monkfish is almost all head. Like me, the ugliest fish in this sea, almost all head, thinking and thinking and thinking til the eyes and the turning head are all that might be seen. I make a mark on my forehead – my eyebrows, my cheeks, the line of my chin. I want them all gone, all the lines of my tragedy, all the permanent confessions. I want to get as many of them as I can before they get me.

The teapot is at last empty. I’ve made up my mind.

Poet rag

In this ancient burial ground
I am a heap of compost, not

Sure of sorrow, not sure of earth
worms roiling through sad entrails.

Today will die tomorrow, as surely
as restless nights in cheap hotels

Cannot but end with eyelids burning,
brandy scented, coy as any drifter

Lost in a bus station, lost on that cold lake,
a dark spot on a lung. Is there no crime

Committed when words decompose
Where no radish is ever terrified

When reality’s dark dream digs wet
dirt on a shovel, into some poet’s grave?


(patchwork of writing prompts gleaned from half-dozen writing anthologies – make of it what you will)


Maru bought a carnivorous plant at her local nursery and named it Seymour (ha ha ha ha, she said to her 12-year-old son and her neighbor, Phyllis, who grew tomatoes). The carnivorous plant never did learn its own name, which was something Kenyon, her son, could never understand. He stood in front of Seymour three times a week and misted him and gave him ground earthworms from a resealable vacuum pack. But maybe Seymour does know his name, thought Kenyon, maybe it just doesn’t show he knows it because Seymour does not have eyes. He went to the Party Barn and bought plastic stick-on googly eyes and affixed these to Seymour’s widest leaf. The carnivorous plant’s google eyes bobbled along with an amiable little bounce, but it was never clear that the bobble eyes actually looked, actually saw. Kenyon was worried that Seymour was looking in some utterly other direction, so he removed the googly eyes. Now the widest leaf swayed gently on its sturdy stalk, gently and rhythmically, contemplative. The ground earthworms disappeared overnight, regardless of which side of Seymour Kenyon placed them. Maybe he has eyes all round, thought Kenyon.

One day, Kenyon made a trail of ground earthworm that started at the buried roots of the flytrap pot and trailed along randomly through the greenhouse and out the greenhouse door. When he awoke the next morning, the flytrap was gone. In its place was a trail of root bits and mud dragging along the shelf and down to the ground, out and through the greenhouse and into the open field. The field was full of corn and sunflowers. The business end of Seymour settled into the cornfield and waited, biding its time til the corn was ripe and the children of the village came looking for it, for the legend of it, that no one ever believed in anyway.


You still linger. Oh, you fool.

But that’s it. Beds. How glad I am. Even though we fit together, quietness and emptiness, like stacked spoons. But you still linger. You fool. You say and you mean it that I was coddled too much from life already. Coddled. Like an egg, I was coddled. That gentle coddling makes a woman soft, is that a problem?

Alright, I got coddled too much from life already, Faithy said and brought the iron down on the ironing board and the steam billowed off of the damp sheets. 

It’s a problem, it’s a crime. Let women get soft and then what? Then what? I’ll tell you what – everything falls apart, that’s what. Glory didn’t believe in women being soft, that’s what she said, that’s what she told us and told her kids too.

She and Faithy looked out the corner of their eyes at each other, both of them with their hot metal and the steam turning their faces pink and shiny. Pssshh, bang – the irons come down hard and hot on the damp sheets and the steam rises again.

Beds. How glad I am, how glad I am for flat ironed sheets and open windows of spring.

You still linger. You fool. It’s laundry day and on laundry day Faithy often goes to town in the cart with the washer woman and her children. There, the children go to the market for apples and sweets, deliver the laundry to the two or three houses that can afford clean pressed sheets, pressed and wrapped in brown paper and delivered on laundry day. On a good day, when you open the paper, the sheets are still warm and smell of steam and potential.

Faithy shakes the sheets out and spreads them over the bed and pulls tight at the edges, tucking in with the flat of her hands. Sometimes in the sleepy afternoon she feels a pair of arms around her waist as she bends to smooth the sheets, pulling her down onto the fresh made bed. Some days she lingers over the making of the bed, the fool, waiting to be coddled, waiting to be stretched tight like a warm sheet on a sunny morning.

You still linger, she says to herself. She touches her lips, a remembrance, and wraps her arms around her waist, holding, coddling, waiting.


(Writing practice: This is a found story. How to: Grab some books off a shelf and quickly choose two phrases from each. Set a timer and write freely, either using the phrases directly, or allowing them to influence the direction of the writing.

This piece has phrases from Gertrude Stein, Grace Paley, Arundati Roy, and a smidge of Victorian poetry, don’t remember the details. This is a 15 minute writing practice, lightly edited.)



In a normal circumcision, there is a little bit of drama, of course. The significance is there, hanging heavy in the air like incense. Like incense, this is a sin or a virtue unspoken. A little drama in a piece of skin, establishing forever, viscerally, the concept of guilt, resentment, forgiveness, redemption.  The connection of regions and religions speak a shared vocabulary of hierarchy, a shaking of walls. All of life is suffering. Suffering, then death.  Then feast days, the feast days of corn and mutton and fry bread and birds flying high overhead, looking down on the land of the people, fields ripe and heavy, the heavy hanging bells of Castilian guilt, the wine, the blood, the suffering of our lady, the suffering of our lord, the dragging of the cross, the piercing of the breast, the blood, the snake, the butterfly, the dragon, the quickness of water, air, light, and wind all blowing together and apart. Dust devil is a saint in some religions, you know, delivering change, confusion, delight. If someone says church to you, what do you say back? Rebirth, renewal? Rejection, redemption?  Confession, repression? The four directions, the trinity, the one-ness, the nothingness, the void? The gods reaching out are feeling us, lost little shapes in a black velvet bag – they cannot see us, just feel, the feeling of each of us is unique as every marble, every stone, every leaf, every feather.  What can be seen without looking? What can be felt, heard, smelled, known with fingertips, with breath, with thirst, with longing? Knees are for kneeling, for praying, for seducing, for begging, for holding arms up, reaching toward an offered embrace.

Southern fried girl

I am a southern fried girl. I am a southern fried girl. I am tearing off my wings and dipping them in hot sauce. I am a southern fried girl.

I read a story once about a man who had a need to get away from where he was living. Arkansas, I think, but it coulda been Oklahoma. Anyway, there was a bank and a whole lot of people who lost the farm – that expression always makes me think of my daddy – bought the farm, actually, but that’s close, lost the farm. So he and his family put together all their money and drove out to California, where they could eat oranges picked fresh off the tree.

Not me. I am southern by choice, I am. Allergic to oranges; they give me hives. Peanuts too, come to think of it, and they do grow peanuts around there, but anyway I ain’t moving to California if all they got going for them is a buncha oranges and people with shiny orange skin and six pack abs.

But what I had been thinking about was someplace with less sun. Sun makes me sick sometimes, seems like it don’t ever go away. One damn sunny day after another. First I thought I’d go to China and live on a boat on the Yangtse river. A junk. I pictured myself leaning back on a pile of soft cushions, leaning my hand out one side of the boat, eating Peking duck from a bucket, and some good looking man rubbing my feet with warm oil. Turns out China’s not hiring American, though, not buying American either, and keeping all their money in their own towns, which don’t seem like a bad idea, though it never seemed to happen in the south, which I had decided to leave, as I mentioned before.

I pictured these mountains in my head, and they were foggy and cool, and there were lakes, and fish, and not a whole lotta sound. I don’t like a whole lotta sound. Makes my head feel funny. I like to sit back quiet and cool and let the water brush past my fingers, brush past my fingers. China was out of the question though, I could tell after I looked into it some, so I got to thinking about Oregon, or Alaska, or Washington, and those looked closer to what I had in mind. I took the bus – the Labrador Lines, Greyhound was too expensive for me – to Portland and stopped there for about two days before I ran out of money. Then I went west, into the rain forest, and it was quiet there, and foggy, and there were lakes, and rivers, and any number of hairy, mildewed river trolls who were friendly enough to a good natured deep fried southern girl, and I got a job and a place to stay. Drove an old blue truck around, delivering eggs and local herbs. Then one day Hal, who grew the herbs, says to me, we’re done with that truck, go put it away for now. And he gives me the key to Nirvana, his electric car that goes up and down the Oregon coast, runs on moss and powdered crab shells, and I drive smooth and quiet as a cat, and that’s what I like, that’s what I like much better than hot dry sun and smoke and trucks with their screaming truck stop brakes. A little quiet, that’s what a southern fried girl can live on for awhile.

(Prompt: three pictures, chosen randomly. 15 minutes. To be added to Zola stories, in Mayhem Texas.)

Care package

I would like to dream about a building with a long hall and many doors. Every door opens easily. There are no locks in this building, but there are windows of many shapes and sizes. Some of the windows have glass, some are open to the air, some have curtains that blow in the breeze. The curtains are yellow, or purple, or a tangled vine and flower pattern. The breeze that blows through the open windows is warm but not hot, and there is a cat lying on a bed in a sunbeam in many of the rooms. In some of the rooms there is a rocking chair and a small table set with tea and cookies, or maybe gin, ice and a shaker. In some of the rooms there is a piano and around the piano a group of beautiful thin people stand, posing in clothes with long silky lines, and they sing together and turn their beautiful chins and noses in profile so that wherever you look there is an angle and a song and someone is leaning to look at someone else. In some of the rooms, there are bowling alleys and crashing sounds and lots of high fives, and a mingling smell of beer and shoes, not too strong, just strong enough to smell like a regular event among friends. In some of the rooms, there is nothing at all, just an empty room painted in a strong color, like a deep rain forest green or a pomegranate red. On the other side of these are rooms full of plants and the odor of dirt and bird sounds, birds just out of sight but shaking the leaves and calling, calling racous and ribald.

I would like to dream about a building where the ceilings are high and then low again, where the cold winds are kept out by the hearth and the short doorways and the thatched roofs and the calling of goats in the pasture nearby. I would like to dream about a building stacked high as a fortress with books and many nooks and hidey holes where reading might pretend to be private (as if it could be) and where I might take a nap or meet a stranger or write a letter to someone I haven’t seen in 14 years or more.

I would like to dream about a building made of nothing but elevators, and another made entirely of marbles, and another made of string, that wobbles and breathes with every wind from every continent, and there would of course be hammocks in this building, and drinks served in coconut shells, and there would be a resilience in that string building, stronger than stone, stronger than steel, stronger than the shattering earth itself.

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