Friday, December 2, 2016

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.

You can bang your head against as many walls as you want - ain't gonna hurt the walls. Not if they're well made. Your head might hurt. Heads are made well, too, but it's like comparing cannonballs and cantaloupe. So, yeah. Stop it already. And quit looking for the most confusing trail through the forest. Stop sniffing for invisible gas leaks. Relax while you sleep. Hell, if your teeth were made of diamonds, you could bite through a lead pipe the way you clench that jaw.

Stop trying to play shit off like no one saw. 

You think they're that naive? You think there aren't more coherent lies to believe? I think you should focus more on the birds swinging electrical trees. You want a new car because your old one had bald tires?

What the hell are you going to do when you retire?

You hurt so much; you feel angry for no reason. Why are you so guilty if you did nothing wrong? You silly bastard. I'd like to cut you some slack, but I put my knife away. We can try again another day. Until then, you just keep putting one foot behind the other. Fake a pratfall. They'll love it. People crave that shit. And maybe it will shake things up a bit. Make them feel human.

You're a sad sight, wringing your hands like that. Pretending it's the cold because you don't want them to know. Hiding in drugstore shadows because you don't want anyone to see. Why don't you step out into the light? Let it be what it is. No one gives a shit. Period. And until you accept that, you're going to have weird dreams and heartburn.

Or go see your doctor. She has a magic notepad that fixes everything.

#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...


  1. Off to a great start, as always, Mader. That last line's a killer, but I really dig this: "And quit looking for the most confusing trail through the forest." Yes. So much yes.

    1. "...I'd like to cut you some slack, but I put my knife away..." Incredible. A beautifully written angst driven diatribe. A high bar to set for this week.

    2. I Like the bit about pratfalls make us human...

    3. You were born too late, my friend. You'd have loved hanging with Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and co. You have the heart of a beat poet.

    4. Thanks y'all. And I was majorly obsessed with the beats. I have a tattoo to prove it. ;)

    5. I think Ginsberg would have loved hanging with you! and I learned a new word today in the world of hip hop: Freestyling. I think you excel at it.

  2. Julian stepped up to the railing, resting his hands on top as he scanned the view beyond. If he looked straight out, the city sprawled for what seemed like forever, a warren of rooftops interspersed with green patches of garden and sectioned off with ribbons of dirt or cobblestone streets. Higher up, cotton-wool clouds dotted a bright blue sky. And down below, people scurried here and there, tying and untying mooring lines, dragging crates and trunks up gangplanks, arguing, bargaining, hurrying back from shore leave.

    He wondered. He wondered how different everything would look once they’d left the ground, how high they would rise before he could no longer discern the scurrying figures, whether the city would look less dirty from on high. He wondered whether he would be one of those unfortunates who couldn’t stomach aether travel, though he highly doubted it; it he could withstand the churning of the seas, surely he could handle whatever oddness the aether threw his way. Mostly he wondered how long it would be before he gained his own command.

    A heavy hand landed on his shoulder, and he turned to see the grinning face of the first mate.

    “Are you ready to get to work, lad?” he asked.

    Julian straightened, mimicking the military bearing he’d seen so many soldiers and airmen wear. “Aye, sir. I’m ready for anything.”

    The first mate chuckled. “We’ll see, lad. We’ll see.”

    1. Oh, I love this one. The rhythm and imagery. And you stuck the landing.

    2. There's also something so solid in your writing. Like good masonry. My Paupa would have loved it, and I do too.

    3. Very high praise from you (especially with regards to rhythm. :D ). Thank you.

    4. Oooh. Intriguing. And what Dan said.

    5. So vivid. I can smell the air, slightly fresher than in the bowels of the city, a teaser to the pure, cleaner air as we'll rise. Feel the wood railing under my fingertips, the anticipation, the small trepidation reasoned away. See the bright sky I'll be surrounded by soon. A lovely work.

    6. I agree with Dan. Before I even read his comment, I was thinking this is the writing of someone dedicated to the craft of writing.

    7. I still have a lot to learn, and a lot of progress to make, David, but 2minutes has been a big help there. Being surrounded by so many great writers, all with very different styles...well, it's a lovely playground and classroom all rolled into one. :)

    8. Yep, the craftsmanship is awesome. And you left me wanting more!

  3. I began as someone else and now I'm here at this place.

    Christ, you'd think with time I might learn a few things. Most of those we've loved are gone. I walk beneath the great curving highways, marveling at this nowhere world, this umbral city, where forgotten people languish on palettes and gaunt and puckish coyotes prowl. What are we to each other? Why does caring entail such paucity? Do my memories of strolling with you, hands clasped palmward, through streets of antique brickwork and abundant baskets of green, mean anything now?

    I want to return to all the sacred places. You know the ones. You know I know you know them.

    "When you loved me, did you love me for me or for you?"

    My first thought is "Both," but I end up choosing silence.

    Although I have a question too. Did you stop and get out, that time you hit something out in the hills? In a chinook, in the Santa Ana winds, wherever? Did you stand helpless as you watched it, this possum, this raccoon, this nameless broken thing, watched it spin slowly clockwise on the asphalt, pinwheeled and bewildered by its own inexplicable ruin? Did you dare kill it?

    For that is love. Killing is sometimes love.

    Also love is the long road coming to a point someplace far. Pale lavender smudges of sagebrush on either side, mesas and buttes, distant mountain ranges, a sky that feels like the time you fell as a child into a bright cerulean pool and lost all sense of up or down. Panicked, resplendent, surrendered.

    Trace the flow of clouds over an afternoon. How did we not know all our changes would come via such quiet events? That our careful attention would matter this much? They say Van Gogh saw the secret patterns of clouds and starfields only when he was suffering, that psychosis is one of just a few ways to see it all. What an atrocious, outrageous price.

    One I can't afford yet might still pay.

    Wet sand between your toes, the exhaled tide. Starfish clutching rocks. The hectoring cries of seabirds. Sweat beading on your glistening, unsolved haunches.

    Grieve with me now, girl. Won't any one of us escape.

    There's a moment that feels eternal. It begins with something in the ground trying to squirm free. First, my shelves topple in great cascades of media, and my TV screen breaks. Fine, I clung to those things too long. But it continues. Windows shatter, plaster and drywall rain in squalls, and I leave my building and stand in the street and watch great flocks of birds gather, herons and pelicans and ravens, and the trees are swaying, palms and conifers, and all the neighborhood dogs are chorusing their terror and dismay. Power lines snap and whip like vipers. Glass crashes like tuneless bells. I hear sirens. I hear the sound of many things fracturing, coming loose, pissing on us. Reprisals. Redress. I'm forced to confront my neighbors, their half-undressed wide-eyed monstrous neediness. I choose kindness. I ask each person if they're okay, take their trembling hands in mine. I don't listen to their replies; there is nothing I can do for them in this world. I love them and I hate them. This feeling alone becomes the eternal one. I hate whatever made us love.

    I hate whatever makes us love.

    1. That echo at the end... Damn, man. The assonance and internal workings. Like a goddamn swiss watch. This is beautiful and sad and true. My three favourite (you're welcome) things. And this makes me hella jealous: "I want to return to all the sacred places. You know the ones. You know I know you know them."

    2. Everything Dan said.

      I'm a big fan of this, too: "They say...that psychosis is one of just a few ways to see it all. What an atrocious, outrageous price. One I can't afford yet might still pay."

    3. Wow. Yes, the echo. And this: "They say Van Gogh saw the secret patterns of clouds and starfields only when he was suffering, that psychosis is one of just a few ways to see it all. What an atrocious, outrageous price.

      "One I can't afford yet might still pay."

    4. Twice read and I'm still blown away. I'm rarely at a loss for words. But this...I will remember this for a very long time. Thank you so much for writing, sharing such brilliance.

    5. What make us love is what makes us eternal. It's just that nobody ever mentions eternity is not without pain. Gorgeously done, tho I will not say "executed". It ain't never that simple...

    6. Thanks, all, for the kind comments. Yeah, it's so hard to grasp those underlying emotions we rarely if ever articulate. I think that's what I'm doing with pieces like this...

      Ha, Dan, I knew you'd love all the internal rhymes and the sense that language is a visceral thing, that speaking it aloud should be like wrestling snakes or something. :)

    7. I do, you got me. Wrestling snakes. lol. Perfect

    8. Truly beautiful in both craft and story... as your work always is.

  4. More than his gold-plated golf clubs, more than his collection of celebrities on speed-dial, more than any of his trophies, the man loved his salt. He’d cultivated that salt with a patience he bestowed on no human in his life. He traveled the earth looking for the best location, the ideal climate, the primo seaside sunbaked leeward cove, where the big-league crystals collected. But it still was not good enough, so he spent a good chunk of his fortune on a magician’s spell to enchant the salt and make it more powerful. That was the ticket. The salt colonized and crystallized and concentrated and sparkled. The ocean and magic combined to imbue it with the flavor of all seven seas, and the revenge of white whales, and the tears of mourning mermaids, and the last cries of drowning mariners, and the shaking fist of Atlantis. He brought no one there except his favorite son, on secret missions, telling his wife they were going to the circus, or hunting tigers. The first time they reached the cliffs, the boy looked confused, and the man indulged in a wolf’s smile.
    “Someday,” he said, clapping a small hand to the boy’s shoulder, “this will all be yours. It will be your legacy. It will be the salt to rub in your enemies’ wounds.”
    The boy didn’t understand at first, and the man was angry, and the boy grew quiet. But he kept bringing the boy to the cliffs during his missions to check the salt, to make sure the enchantment still held, to make sure there would be enough. Hoping some sense would soak into the boy one day. Like his father had done to him.
    “Is it time yet, Father?” the boy asked.
    The man lifted his chin and felt the sea breezes on his freshly exfoliated face. He licked a finger and raised it in the air. “Oh,” he said, relishing what was to come. “It’s time.”
    And he took off his expensive shoes and rolled up his expensive trousers and picked down the rocks, wincing at the pain in his soft, small, pedicured feet. The boy followed his lead, carrying the golden bucket, and soldiered on under its weight as the man filled it to the brim.
    The salt was beautiful, and it was his, and he felt a touch of pride as if it were another child.
    When they returned to the city, he climbed to the highest tower and opened the windows where the people gathered below him. From their shouts he knew most of them hated him, were envious of all he possessed and the victories he’d counted, but he waved and smiled, told a few jokes. Drawing them closer.
    Then with one mighty hurl, he emptied the bucket into the air, but the wind blew it back at him. He saw the onslaught coming and tried to duck. He was too late. The last thing he saw before he was blinded was his son, ever standing behind him, smiling.

    1. GodDAMN, Boris. I love the concept, the execution, and the chickens coming home to roost. What a neat story. Yes, I sound like the Beav, but it is what it is. ;)

    2. This, in of itself, is captivating: "The ocean and magic combined to imbue it with the flavor of all seven seas, and the revenge of white whales, and the tears of mourning mermaids, and the last cries of drowning mariners, and the shaking fist of Atlantis."

      But what Dan said, too, especially about the chickens coming home to roost. I had a feeling that son had finally come to understand, but I didn't see it working out like that. Well played.

    3. Shudder. Let us pray Richard Corey goes home and puts a bullet through his head...

    4. Maybe there already is, but there needs to be a place people can post fables for our times. This would be my first choice to read! (And lol, the small hands and feet made me laugh.)

    5. Thanks! I was inspired by a headline in the NY Times about the orange one's rubbing salt in the wounds.

    6. So well done... and may it be prophetic...


  5. Over the boom of Dean Martin’s version of “Ave Maria” playing on the juke box, Don the bartender yelled, “Hey, Chet, don’t you think you should be seeing to your reindeer instead of coming into some bar?” Chester Bonaparte swayed and limped into The Palais on Broadway that December 24th afternoon.

    The whole joint erupted in laughter, even Chet, his chubby cheeks red as his gin blossom nose that provided the pivot point for a face lit by his jolly, if runny, blue eyes. To complete his Santa Claus image, a white scruffy beard anchored his jolly face.

    Four hours later, Don tossed Chet for getting humbuggingly belligerent. As always, with his ho-ho chuckle, Chet had dissed three wise guys from the uptown Brockley Gang.

    “It’s for your own good, Chester, so you can go home in one piece and make merry, go to Mass, maybe sleep it off and see what Santy brings,” Don said in his calm and assertive former-bouncer voice.

    When Chester stumbled off the Central Avenue bus and then down the stairs to the dark doorway of his basement apartment on Sherman Street, he fell against a jingling package left by his sister Katie. She was an Eastern Airlines stewardess on the Albany to Philadelphia run.

    Later, the bells of St. Patrick's over on Central Avenue pealing the call to midnight Mass awakened Chester. He barely lifted his head from the pillow of his sofa sleeper and gave his jolly little laugh. 

    “How festive,” he whispered to himself in response to how the now-empty mini-bottles of Canadian Club, Johnny Walker Red and Smirnoff vodka Katie had left him appeared in his piss-drunk haze. He’d hung them from a bush he’d stolen from Washington Park and they sparkled so magically in the flames coming from his kitchen.

    1. Joe, you nail the tone and voice EVERY time. Your stuff is so authentic and real. It leaves me in awe. And makes me want to force everyone to read your stuff. I was gonna say shit, but it is definitely not shit, not even in the colloquial sense.

    2. The image of the mini bottles on the stolen bush is priceless. Dan's right about the authenticity of your writing. Very real and very much puts you in the scene.

    3. Geeshka!Beautiful! Right there, all the time from the first word!

    4. I'm with the others on the mini-bottles. What a detail. But yeah, I love every well-chosen word.

    5. Good lord, from start to finish this was good... and painful... a well-told story, my friend.

  6. She stands on the stage, eyes skittering and then locked dead ahead while the adults mumble and clap. While the younger kids squirm. The air smells like winter and cheap breakfasts.

    You sit in your small plastic chair and wonder. When we single kids out, even for good things, shouldn't we ask if they want to be singled out? And you wonder why you can't remember all the poems and essays your teachers made you read out loud.

    Probably suppressed and obliterated those memories.

    Mostly, you want to wrap your arms around her and never let go. Never let her be scared or feel that ant up the spine tingle. But that would be cruel. You know that, too. Like keeping a nightingale in a cheap cage. Not fair. To anyone.

    And you find yourself smiling despite it all, because it is magic. It is undeniable. It is human. And the walls pulse and your pulse races. You think - hell, I went and got old. And she's so small.

    And it ain't so bad. Nope, not at all.

    1. Aww--put me right there. In pre school mine was the solo: Five Golden rings!" The air smells like winter and cheap breakfasts. Never mind that... this is the stuff of memory...

    2. Nightingale in a cheap cage. Word.

    3. It IS magic, and for a few, it continues past youth. Luckily, that is what most will feel and remember. But you did capture the emotional upheaval we feel while watching and worrying. So the cycle continues with parents being the ones most likely in cages of their own construction, watching their little ones soar.

    4. ah, sweet.... Dads who appreciate their kids are awesome... and your stories like this make me smile...

  7. I'm an understanding guy. I really am. I get how it would be hard for you to see that. What with the clamps, and this car battery - the candles, don't worry, this ain't some twisted sexual shit, I just can't risk the light.

    There are roaches crawling on the walls, and I can't take it. I'm halfway down the road to straight up insanity. If I had a loaded gun, you'd be able to go about your day. But I don't, and I don't feel suicidal. So, we'll do it my way.

    I know the drool and shaking is really an appeal, but I don't care anymore. Fuck it. And fuck you. How many years did I put up with your bullshit. With you telling me I ain't nothing. And I swallowed it. I believed it. Now, you're gonna get yours. And you better believe that.

    At least your misery will end quickly.

    1. I think my favorite thing about this piece is how it's a 180 from the one you posted five minutes before. You can write anything, and it's always a good read.

    2. I know the toll it can take getting inside such a head, so kudos. Perfectly executed (no pun intended).

    3. a well-executed execution! and it's true. You CAN write anything, and you write it well!

  8. They woke shortly before dawn. The candles lay innocently gutted on the table, no hint of what power had controlled them mere hours before. The ancient text too, looking like any other leather journal, nothing to cause alarm, but neither Moran nor Talmara trusted in that feeling. Anything powerful enough to do what had been done last night, could certainly trick them into feeling at ease.

    Still prone, he searched her face for any clues she may not have recovered fully. Her eyes sparkled in the dim light as he continued his perusal.

    "I'm fine, no need to worry, I promise. Aside from a raging headache, and an unappealing taste in my mouth, I seem to be unscathed."

    "So you say, and probably correctly, but you'll let me check you. I can't even recall the last time I've been scared spitless, but between you and that, well...that blasted book, you managed it well last night. So do please, shut it!"

    Holding a finger up as she gasped, he slipped from the bed.

    Where had that come from, she wondered. He came back quickly, popping a spring of mint into her still opened mouth.

    "What the bloody Hades are you about?" she sputtered. "Do you have an urge to spend an hour as a stubby tailed, hairy nosed, three legged wombat, or a pock marked platypus?

    "Hush! We both know you're not up to casting even the tiniest of spells. The mint will help with that taste, and this..." he produced a small vial from his pocket, "should help with your headache. I'd rather not cast any magic here until we talk, and agree on a course of action. We know it feeds on blood. Not a stretch that magic might also strengthen it. We swore to no using power in the Library. Mayhap that was part of the reason why the Elders have forbidden it."

    Moran placed an extra pillow behind her head, watching in concern when she winced. Dabbing a mixture of lavender and feverfew oil on his fingers, he leaned closer, using his most gentle touch to massage it onto her forehead.

    "I appreciate your concern and help, truly, but please, never stick anything in my mouth without asking first. Wait...that didn't..., she trailed off, then promptly turned scarlet.

    "Glad your color's back," he grinned. Then laughed as her mouth dropped open once again.

    "You do such a good trout imitation, sweetheart. Now finish the mint. Good for digestion too," he winked. Be right back, you need some water," and he scooted to the kitchen once again.

    His plan seemed to be working. Distract, deflect and diffuse the tension from hours before. Time enough to be serious. Right about now he'd say, do anything to see her smile again. For several harrowing moments last night, he'd thought he'd been about to lose her. Never having even had her. He meant to correct that at the first opportunity.

    1. The world building here is astounding. And I was going to say scene setting, but that doesn't do it justice. And this juxtaposition: innocently gutted - perfect.

    2. I don't know exactly what to say, except I'm grinning...Want more...

    3. It has an amazingly arcane and illicit feel about it. Love it!

    4. Yep, the candles grabbed me in and you didn't let go till the end, even then... the tension building is beautifully done!

  9. Someone once advised me to write about anything and everything. Write as the old woman who lives down the block, the five year old who plays in the park, the alien bent on Earth's destruction, the leaf that falls from the tree. Good advice as it's opened me up to so many more possibilities. Such as this one from a slightly different POV than I usually take...

    The Sheepdog and His Charge

    Garyn sank down upon his haunches on the rarely traveled path, exhaustion claiming him. The little lamb had given him quite a merry chase. His pursuit had lasted through so many towns, villages, streams and fields. There'd be much to tell his packmates once they were safely home. Small though the lamb may be, a babe barely weaned from his mother but Talen had been full of pluck, plenty of energy until just moments ago. But as all peaceable, tiny creatures, he'd succumbed to drowsiness the moment he'd paused. As if, no longer in motion, the slumber had finally been able to catch up to him, overtake him.

    Garyn could appreciate that. He'd followed Talen for hours longer than would normally be advised. Rules of Canis Lupus Guardians existed to oversee the ones tasked to protect and defend. One was never at his best if he didn't properly care for himself, but Talen was much younger than the ones he normally chased and so the urgency was riding him. Garyn had always felt particularly close to the little guy. He'd witnessed his birth not that long ago and had always been fond of the mother. Tamlynde was a lovely ewe, sweet of disposition and always careful to follow the rules, even if she did have a bit of mischief about her. She never let that side of herself out, except when appropriate.

    Another reason Garyn had worked longer and harder than normal. He'd seen the look of terror on Tamlynde's face once it was found that Talen was lost. Garyn had been first to volunteer to find him. Catch up to him he did, finding the wee one covered in dirt, a bit hungry but otherwise unscathed. As sleep was about to overtake him, just as his eyes were the smallest of slivers, he felt Talen snuggle close to him, tucking in tightly. Both gave a heartfelt, contented sigh.

    With his very last thought, he planned, assessed. An hour or two and then they'd rise, begin the arduous trip home. Half a day at most, Garyn judged. But the look of happiness he envisioned seeing on sweet Tamlynde's face would be worth every tired muscle, every ache, each pain. He'd see her son home safe. That was what he did, what he was born to do. He was a sheepdog and he would protect and defend until his last breath.

    -Tamara McLanahan

    1. Again, the word choice helps lay the groundwork so well. It's really well done. Accomplishes so much just by careful tone language.

    2. I read this aloud to Angelo and Maggie, and they were impressed, as was I! You caught the canine temperament well!

  10. Sorry for posting a couple and then running... I'll be back this weekend to comment, but I'm running low on electricity in a snowstorm (the downside of being off grid).

    On this, they anniversary of the day we laid you to rest, a sundog appeared in the sky. It was so like you, filled with color and light, beauty created from ice crystals and the sun, as you were formed by the interaction of pain and joy.

    Your pale skin never took a tan, even on the day we first met, at the beach. You clung to the shadows of the overlarge umbrella, but your smile outshines the sun, and I gloried in your brihtness. We spoke of music and fiction and paintings. Whether Annie Lennox would have been a star without a classical education. Whether Oscar Wilde would have written as well if he'd had a wife instead of a boyfriend. Whether Jackson Pollack ought to have painted barns or abstracts. We agreed on almost nothing that day other than we ought to be friends.

    And so we were. A thousand gallons of ridiculously expensive and oddly colored gins later, and some years, you told me you were dying. I cried alone that day because I wanted it out of my system by the time I saw you next, so I could be strong for you. Chivalry would not be dead, I vowed. You vowed to leave a pretty corpse and laughed.

    It was the early days of the plague. Neither doctors nor hospitals knew what to do with you, and so they did almost nothing. They put up barriers around you, wore their masks, and left you in a world alone, a world without faces.

    When the end was near, no one wanted to see you. You called it death by invisibility, and I didn't know what you meant until I came to visit and you weren't in your bed and I asked the nurse.

    "He's around here somewhere," she said, and I found you in your wheelchair, in a storage room, ashamed of the shit and piss they'd left you sitting in. The nurses did not take well my screaming at them, and they suggested I leave. I suggested a number of actions they might take, most of which were anatomically impossible, and when we got you back to bed and cleaned up, I read to you. The Little Prince. The Velveteen Rabbit. You stopped me when I wanted to read The Hobbit. You said there wasn't enough time. And I pretended, and you pretended, that you meant that day.

    When it was time to leave, I held your hand, so cold, like ice, and you told me it would all be all right. I sat down again, and you tried to comfort me as I sobbed in the orange plastic chair. When I could breathe again, I kissed you on the forehead. It took every bit of strength I had to let go of your hand, to walk out of that door.

    It snowed on the day your frigid ashes sat by your photo and a candle.

    Today, there was a sundog in the sky, and I knew, at last, you'd come to say goodbye. I stood outside waving until the sun and the sundog danced beyond the horizon and my tears turned to ice, and then I went inside and lit a fire.

    1. Jesus. This is heartbreaking. And you captured so many people's stories with this, brother. Tragic. And you show us the humanity and love.

    2. Leland, I feel emotionally wrung out. You've described so eloquently love and loss. Such pathos, how can one not read this and weep?

    3. Thank you for the kind words... I wish I could claim it was all fiction, but it's the story of far too many... World AIDS Day inspired me to write this and the next.

  11. We danced in those days with not only our bodies but with our souls. The colored light, the fog, the sound system were only props in the ballet of booze and testosterone and sweat. The dance floor scarcely felt our shoes, and the lasers on the domed roof mimicked the stars we never stepped out to see.

    The name of the place was The Saint, and I always wondered why it was singular, or if it was to emphasize that there was only one saint among the many demons who danced there. It's gone, now, and so are many of the dancing demons. What lovely funerals we had in those days, the days when no respectable mortician would touch our bodies ravaged by what, no one was sure, though many called it God's wrath.

    They were wrong.

    God took them not because we were evil, but because we were too good for the world in which we'd accidentally landed. He wanted us for Himself. Heaven had become too drab, too bland, what with all the televangelists. He wanted music and theater, dinner parties and dances.

    And now, those of us still left, we dance with words on paper, and when we are lucky, our souls join in the music, and the need for booze and smoke is gone. One day, one day, we'll shed our shirts again, and dance bare chested, unashamed in heaven, wondering who really was a saint.

    1. God, this is beautiful. That's all I got. That and a lump in my throat and a lot of gratitude that I know you.

    2. I wish my brother was alive so he could read this. But I'll call him with my heart and somewhere, unashamed in heaven, he will see it. So if you see a sign from somebody named MarK? Just let me know...:)

    3. Your ability to pack so much emotion into just a handful of paragraphs never ceases to amaze me. Thank you, once again.

    4. I'm honored. Thank you. And Teresa, that's exactly the right thing... I'll keep my eyes open.

  12. And now, for something completely different...

    Winter World

    And the clocks all tick as the days unfold,
    With the winter winds that brings icy cold.
    Darkest piercing talons as they enfold.
    Quite relentless within their frigid hold.

    Pale icicles cling to the rooftops edge,
    Where the birds perch huddled upon each ledge.
    With fat snowflakes forming an icy wedge.
    While the snow lies softly upon the hedge.

    The lake sits frozen and mirrors the sky.
    Pink cheeked skaters wave to the passers by.
    Watch them whirling, leaping to catch the eye,
    Those with worried glances to clouds up high.

    So the winter world consumes each day,
    Sounds of laughter drift as the children play.
    On a pale white landscape of carpet lay,
    Somber snowflakes falling from clouds of gray.

    Our long evenings pass in a white wrapped haze.
    With the snow piles forming a criss cross maze,
    We'll stay cuddled awaiting Spring's greener days,
    When each morn will bring a bright sunshine's blaze.

    - Tamara McLanahan

    1. Man, this took me back in time. In an awesome way. And I was inside the verse the entire time.

    2. I love the promise of hope in this, especially as you wrote it in the middle of (for me) a gray, dreary day! Thank you!

  13. From my writing "day job"

    When We Have Faces Again

    Should I read between this and that line,
    if ever I thought it’d be a good time,
    I’d see a piece of you here and there, all right.
    But I write in the dark, behind a closed door at night.
    So if some of you made your way into the room,
    and got stretched across my word-weaving loom,
    I’d apologize, but say thanks for the light.

    But, reach out I never did.
    Rather, I stayed here and hid
    behind recollections fogged in,
    almost, but not quite, forgotten.
    Where you became a thought without a face,
    and I, in the dark, one with barely a trace,
    a memory of a someone locked out, not in.

    Maybe we'll meet some distant day
    and perhaps then I'll hear you say,
    "I think I remember you.
    You're the one who
    wrote songs that might be about me."
    And I'd say, “Perhaps, yes.
    But my memory it lapses.
    So these words might've happened without me."

    They may be woven of the chaff
    of long ago when I’d laugh
    at how I let life put me through paces.
    I lost sight of you, and a part of me too.
    Perhaps, blurred without traces, but
    through God’s holy graces, amen,
    we’ll finally recognize
    one another not just by words, by the eyes...
    but only when we have faces again.

    When we have faces again.

    1. "They may be woven of the chaff" - Wow "I’d apologize, but say thanks for the light." - Stunning. Strong and true.

    2. I love the cadence of this piece, how the words dance on the tongue. Somber though it is, mostly, still hope persists, and sometimes, that's just enough.

    3. I love just reading this, knowing I am in the hands of a master poet...

  14. I don't even know you. Sure, you've got a nice smile, and I like your style. I like the way the light refracts through those thick frames. There's something that clings to you, some smell, not good or bad, just something. Sometimes it reminds me of an optimistic regret. Sometimes I think, just let it be a fucking smell you idiot.

    I want to know you, but I don't know why. Much in the same way that I don't understand how I always know where to look when the bird shadows fall. Some mystery there. Magic, maybe. Maybe I should stop trying to figure everything out. It's getting confusing.

    But maybe confusion is all I've got, pecking at me like a ticking clock. And maybe you'll take that ride with me. Maybe you'll smile and I'll finally see. Or continue to live in periphery.

    Maybe none of it is real. God, I hope not.

  15. (Leland has taken over a part of my brain.)

    I remember, though I was very young. I watched friends drip off you like fair weather birds of a feather. I remember how you were always laughing, hugging, kissing. And people loved you for it. And then you got sick, and no one would even shake your hand.

    I didn't understand it, but I knew it was fucked up. I tried to stay the course and probably didn't do enough.

    I do remember thinking, this congregation, these people who praise a man who hung with lepers and whores. They won't shake the hand of a man we all adored? Kids may be slow on the uptake, but I wasn't when it came to you. You never got angry. But I was angry enough for both of us.

    And then you died. And no one wanted to talk about it. And my brain became a constant refrain, screaming: hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite! And all those "holy bastards" were suddenly full of holes. All the psalms turned to lies in my eyes. Why?

    Because you didn't practice what you preached.

    1. is there a word to describe injuries of the heart?

    2. Leland or you, Dan, may take over half of my brain any time you'd like. If you both took half, at the same time? Pulitzer shoe-in. So please, possess away!

  16. A pinch of this, a dash of that, sugar, a cup of flour and a half pound of butter...

    With the last batch of apple and peach pies already in the ovens To fill her catering orders, Ivana read over the ingredients list for the shortbread. She read it three times through before she began measuring. With the vanilla she added another extract, enjoying the combined scents of almond and vanilla. The almond flavor would bring out a richness that could not be denied. The whole family would wind up demolishing the entire batch. A gross of cookies in one evening.

    The mixer whirred as she watched the ingredients combing, the color shifting from bleached flour white and vanilla brown into a creamy color that was terribly appealing with or without frosting.

    Frosting which was chilling in the fridge. There were three colors, white, green and red, as befit the holidays. She would pipe dots of color on a few, and leave the rest bare.

    Her cookies were always the life of the now grown-up gathering.There were no children anymore. Everyone thought they were too smart to bring any more children into this world. She missed the sounds of them running and laughing through the big old house. Grandma had been quite upset when she heard of this group decision. No more babies to hold, no more kids to watch over and bake cookies for.

    Instead Ivana was baking cookies for a bunch of wine swilling wanna-be intellectual snobs. She was happy Grandma had not lived long enough to see what her children and grandchildren had become. It was doubtful she would see them in Heaven, either.

    Ah, well, Ivana thought. One last gift for you, Grandma. I'm marrying a man who will help me fill this house with the sounds of children, but only after the sounds of the family had been removed.

    1. I love the turn this took and the ending. Also, I now really, really want cookies. Dammit. :P

    2. Agreed. Super visual and intricate. And I also want cookies. :) And to hear my kids yelling.

    3. What a beautiful story for the Holidays. Thank you.

    4. so sweet... and perfect for the holidays. I can almost taste the cookies!

  17. I remember the smell of the pole barn, and I reckon I always will. Hell, I'd swallow it if they could put it in a pill. So I'd always be able to go back there. Smell the gas and sawdust.

    I remember piles of scrap wood turning into magic before my eyes. And I also remember the brutal goodbyes. The anger, the rage, the mind-fuck of it all. Jekyll & Hide didn't have nothing on you. But my love was true.

    Through it all, Mom crying, people I didn't know dying. Lying. Burning piles of trash and riding dirt bikes through the woods with no helmet, no sleeves, no common sense. Shooting bottles with a .22 until there were shell cases all around like cherry blossoms.

    Enigma. That's the word I come back to. And I never hated you, even when you deserved it. Because I understood. Maybe it was distance, maybe fear. But you were a man I revered. Because you were a character. And you made me memorize poems I didn't understand. And no one would have suspected that from a working man. And I've always loved good characters.

    So, I visit sometimes. I try to think of the good times. Sitting on the back of an old Harley, waving at every bike we passed. Trying not to look down because the ground moved so fast.

    I know one thing without a doubt. You deserved a better ending. Not one full of frozen dinners and vermin. You deserved more than a bullshit sermon. And if I ever get my gumption up to really write about it, I'll change the ending.

    Fuck history. I'll write it the way it was supposed to be.

    1. You took me back to a similar place in my life... and I can smell it all again... you, sir, are the kind of writer of history the way it was supposed to be that I would read every day.

  18. On one hand, Jacob did resent how his boss, Mister Gibson, always tried to turn his sister out. Gibson was always super friendly and cordial, like, but Jake knew what he was doing. On the other, he wasn’t that worried. In fact, he found it endlessly amusing, how Luanne always rebuffed the seasoned gangster. Gibson would come at her all smooth, calling her ‘baby girl’, praising her various physical attributes, and talking about all the nice things he’d get for her, while she just looked him over and curtly clowned on his appearance, personal hygiene, and so on: “ugh, nigga, you smell like barbecue sauce.” “You hella ashy, nigga, step off.” “If you’re so paid, how come your teeth are so janky? Y’all can’t afford braces? Don’t buy me a car, get yo’ teeth fixed, bruh. Ain’t nobody eating my pussy out with an oral situation like that going on.”

    And on one hand, Jacob was glad Mister Gibson had enough sense to not come at her like that, in front of her man. Timmy was a hot-headed white boy who didn’t give a fuck who Gibson thought he was. But on the other, he sort of wished a muthafucka would. He certainly wouldn’t stand in the way, if his boy Timmy had a mind to bash Gibson’s brains out. To Jacob, he was just his boss, a lazy motherfucker coasting on his rep from back in the day, but still not a man to be trifled with. In a way, he envied Tim’s blithely ignorant fearlessness: that cracker was like a goddamned wolverine or a pit bull or something. Fearless, loyal, remorseless, aggressive.

    1. This is a sharp portrait in so many ways. And the dialogue snaps. "Ain’t nobody eating my pussy out with an oral situation like that going on." Too funny.

  19. Chimako awoke before the rest of us. Do all six-year-olds have a sixth sense to detect snow? Or maybe it was the dog, and he told her in the language that only young girls and dogs share.

    It was still dark outside, too early for them to be outside. A glance through the frosty window showed the sparkles of the moon on the snow that had fallen for once without wind.

    Cold, too. I put another lump of coal in the ugly stove.

    "How long till Christmas, Mama?" she whispered, so as to not wake the others.

    I took her in my arms and whispered back, "Not long now. Tomorrow."

    Her eyes, too, sparkled. I put the kettle of water on the stove.

    "May we go outside?"

    "Soon. Let us make tea first."

    The dog curled up by the door, making certain she would not leave without him.
    When had my daughter grown up? So polite. Not like her older brothers. Quiet. Respectful. Full of joy.

    "Will it be cold all day?"

    "I think so. But perhaps the sun will come out."

    The kettle rumbled as the water began to boil. I prepared the pot for tea, the fragrant leaves scenting the room even before they were touched by hot water.

    She was putting her shoes on now. So graceful. Not a wasted movement. Her hands danced as she tied the laces. We sat together on her bed as the tea steeped.

    "Will we ever go home, Mama?"

    "Someday, Chimako. Someday."

    I rose to pour two cups of tea. The Caucasians spoiled their tea with sugar. They never tasted the flowers and leaves of summer, never felt its simplicity touch their lips.

    We sipped our tea quietly, remembering in silence the warmth of summer.
    The sky grew lighter. Sunrise and the end of overnight curfew grew near. The cups were empty now and her eyes looked to me for permission. I nodded and put my own shoes on. We donned our coats and scarves. The whoosh of coarse fabrics was the only sound above that of the smoky flames in the stove. I held the door open for the dog and her. The icy blast of Colorado air hit us, and we both hurried through the not-yet-cleared snow to the latrine. The dog waited outside. Once inside, we took our toothbrushes and tooth powder from our coat pockets and brushed our teeth. I washed her face gently and brushed her hair back with my fingers.

    "You are beautiful, daughter."

    Her smile lit my soul. "So are you, Mama."

    We hugged as all mothers and daughters do, and we put our coats on again.
    When we got outside, the sun was rising through colors of cherry blossoms.

    She ran faster than I, and then dropped to the ground, on her back. I thought she tripped but as I drew closer, I saw her arms move up and down on the snow, and then she stood and pointed.

    "Snow angel!"

    I brushed the snow from her back. "Two snow angels I think."

    And I wondered at the irony of an angel behind four strands of barbed wire that kept us from going home. Irony? No. injustice.

    And the dog kissed my daughter and whispered to her in the blizzard, in words only dogs and young girls know.

    1. The formal tone, in both the dialogue and the narrative work so well here. Strong piece, amigo.

  20. "The first touch awakens," she said.

    "What's that?" Hugo turned to her, seeing her by the window with her hand on her neck.

    Margot smiled, closing her eyes, dismissing him.

    "You're a man. You wouldn't understand." Her hand paused. Her voice sounded slurred and he wondered if she'd already started on the wine without him.

    "Try me."

    "Okay," she said, drawing in the longest slow breath.

    She stood almost motionless for a while, her feet still but with her torso turning minutely as she basked in the wedge of light.

    “The first touch awakens… preparing you for more. Barely making contact. Suggesting what may come.”

    Hugo sat, finding a chair.

    “And then you stroke. Gently. As though you were trying not to touch. The minimum of contact works better.” She drew her hand upward, her eyes still closed. “I find that slower movements heighten the experience.”

    “So, it’s a passive technique?”

    Margot raised her eyelids minutely.

    “No,” she said. “There’s no technique. And it’s certainly not passive.”

    Her eyes fell closed again and she resumed once more, losing herself in the meditation.

    “It’s more of an art-form than anything. A symphony for one. The musician, the audience and the instrument all seamlessly merged. You touch and you draw and you sense and you interpret. And then once again. And repeat.”
    Her fingers drifted lower and for a moment Hugo held his breath, his eyes locked onto the slow movements of her hand.
    “A good lover can be amazing,” Margot continued. “If he’s focused and intuitive. But he can never come close to the touch of your own hand. It’s in the way that you morph; guiding yourself, listening to your body; changing the drag and the texture of your touch. It all interconnects. Amplifies itself. It’s a new exploration every time. You can be standing in the sun, you can be lying in the shade. You can be feeling hot or you can feel cold. You can be sleepy or tense. Be relaxed or have a buzz. It’s different every time, if you pay proper attention.”

    Hugo shook his head. He’d prided himself on his physicality, his energy, his stamina. But now he realised he had nothing.

    “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice almost breaking. “I’m willing to learn. Please teach me.”

  21. I hope not to offend, but as it's based on a true story...I think I'll call it "Diversity" :)

    And so they gathered round the table. Lyle lit the candles in Missy’s pine-stinking centerpiece, studded with glitter berries and bows. Daddy said the prayer like always and the family bowed their heads, except for Daisy’s youngest, who was straight out of college and claimed not to believe in anything anymore except student loans and oligarchy.
    When the last Amen sounded the dishes got passed around, white meat, dark meat, dressing and salads potatoes, and peas and finally, lasagna, a dish that always got offered but rarely touched.
    The forks and knives clinked and clattered, the wine got poured and the gravy splattered. It wasn’t until seconds that Tracey Lee got brave enough to go for the lasagna, seeing her great-Aunt Susie’s woebegone expression. She dutifully scooped out a corner of the dried-up layers and chewed, acutely aware that all eyes were upon her. It might have been helped with more sauce or some spice; a hint of garlic, maybe. And surely the Velveeta that found its way into so many other things could have a place here. But alas…
    “Mmm—“ she managed, after another swallow of wine. “Well, I believe you’ve outdone yourself this year Susie. Best ever.”
    Great Aunt Susie squinted at her across the table, dark eyes glinting. “Don’t you lie to me, Tracey Lee.”
    Mama piped up from the far end. “Ran into Carolyn Mason the other day at Kroger’s. Said she heard from B.J. that Quentin’s got a brain tumor. Imagine that.”
    The candles flickered treacherously as Daisy’s youngest drummed his fingers relentlessly and made a little sound in his throat that sounded like “medicare,” but no one could be sure.
    “Well,” intoned Uncle Wayne. “Quentin Phipps never was a one to take care of hisself, was he? Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, I say.”
    “Darryl, you hush now.” Mama said. “Ain’t nobody but Jesus can judge that. Besides, Carolyn said that B.J. said he can’t hardly do nothing but crawl from his chair to the porch anymore. It’s a sad thing, going that way. I believe I’ll pack up some of this food and carry it over for them.”
    “Take the lasagna, will you?” Said Uncle Wayne. Otherwise, Susie’s gonna tote it back with us, and I don’t reckon my digestion can handle it.”
    “YOU!” Aunt Susie struggled to her feet and pointed at him, fury in her eyes. “Are a terrible, terrible man! Every year I make that just to honor my mother from her very own recipe, and every year you carry on like it’s poisoned! I just can’t believe I married into you bunch of ignorant, ungrateful…”
    “Simmer down, Susie.” Mama intervened. “We are so blessed to have you with us. I know how proud you are of your Mama. I just don’t quite understand her style is all. I mean, it’s fine.”
    Susie sank unsteadily into her chair and dabbed her eyes. “It ain’t.” she said sadly. “It’s awful. She never could cook. And I just don’t understand it. For a full blooded eye-talian like was. How can you mess up something like that? Her being from the old country, I mean?”
    At that, Daddy burst into a belly laugh that rattled the dishes, hooting and thumping that table until Missy jumped up and removed her centerpiece to a position of safety on the sideboard. Tracey Lee, and Wayne and Mama and Daisy and her youngest all turned to stare as he laughed till he cried, then finally managed to catch his breath.
    He reached a hand across the table and took Susie’s hand in his, not caring that his shirt cuff grazed the butter, and shoving the cranberry boat to the side.
    “Eye-talian?” he said, his laughter threatening to erupt once more. Is that what they told you?”
    Susie stared at him, bewildered. “Of course. You’d have to be blind not to see it. It’s where I got my dark hair. And the cheekbones. They told me at Sunday school. ”
    “Honey, your Mama was a gol-durned Cherokee!”

    1. Who can be offended by such good writing? ;)

    2. Skeletons, all families have a few, but whether the door remains closed or abruptly kicked open there's acceptance and love. You captured that beautifully.
      A side note, my mother's brother's wife, Aunt Cardena, was Blackfoot and one of the best cooks I've ever known. Definitely the best buttermilk biscuits and chicken n' dumplings.

  22. The first thing you gotta do is stop counting. The second thing you need to do is shut your brain the fuck up. Just kill it. Huff some cleaning solvents and be done with it. What good has your brain ever done you? Fucking none. Shit has caused nothing but trouble.

    All the time, the nattering. Shy thoughts scattering, blotted out by nagging worries and repetition. Stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about it.

    Stop thinking about it.

    Life's too short to waste yours doing human things like caring. You have the key to apathy, bump it up a notch and hold on. The keys get bigger until your toting grand pianos. But what's the alternative? Drink some more whiskey and nothing will matter. Turn your brain to pancake batter.

    Batter up, where's your cup? Mine's filled with gatorade and everclear. You can see clear through it, and it will burn holes in your stomach. Get you drunk while it's touching your tongue. Careful with the cigarettes. I hear self-immolation is a bummer trip. One you'd probably rather skip.

    Ignore the stomach flip. All you need is a few flaming sips.

  23. I'm never going back to Jackson, not that I've ever been there. I'm staying away though, bird on my shoulder told me to. Whisper in the bowels says stay away. Better listen. Better that way.

    I'm not here for the ambiance. Shut the fuck up, you ponce. I came for the free buffet. I want to watch the Mylar balloons sway.

    Life is a giant con made for sycophantic fuckwads. Or it's not. Maybe life is a ripe apple moments before you pluck it from a sagging branch. Maybe it's a herd of cattle on a lonely ranch. I have no idea. I just know there's something about Jackson...

    What, you expect answers? You came to the wrong place, son.

  24. It was in the soft moments afterwards that I felt like I understood. I probably didn't. I'm probably giving myself too much credit. But it happened so fast, then blood, then testing my teeth with a dry tongue. Loose, but still there.

    And there was a moment of insanity, but it spiraled out into something beautiful. Freeze frame freedom. I've never seen it since. Sure, it hurt. All the good things do. Eventually, if not immediately.

    The drums played on and we finished the song. I was the pied piper, inviting everyone to come along. My hands shook on a slender neck and I tried to smile, but everything was just a speck. And I was the speckiest.

    And then the night swallowed the memory and a soft hand led me away. But there is still that ball of crystalline meaning. Or mush.

    Whatever it was, I could never get enough.

  25. Across the drylands that are supposed to be wet, the kites and hawks cast accusing glances. You buy your ticket, you take your chances. I'm not saying it's fair or right or anything like that. I feel for the wetlands. I just don't know what to do about it. Pull the bike over and watch the herons stalk the grass for lizards.

    Shit's not right.

    What we need is a mass extinction. Remove the humans, improve the ecosystem. I'd gladly step aside if it would allow the vultures more room to glide. But it's not up to me. I'm just one small stone in what will soon be a giant sea.

    Cop out? Maybe. Haven't we been copping out all along? Sure seems like it to me. Sure feels like it. Hey, brother, you got a second? I want to wrap it in plastic and shove it down a landfill's throat. Think of it as a thank you note.

  26. You live here but don't speak the language. And I'm not talking about the shit that flows out of your mouth. I'm talking about the deadened thump of your swollen heart.

    Leaves drift by and you stare into a tiny screen. I sit and hear the wind and wonder what it means. And that doesn't make me noble, it makes me simple minded. No one's getting a reprieve. There are no prizes.

    I'd like to take that phone and pry it from your hand, though. You understand? So we could talk. Man to man. Woman to woman. Human to human. Without the involvement of Mark Zuckerberg. I don't know the guy, but he looks like the kid who licked other kids' treats so they wouldn't eat them.

    Fuck me, and fuck him.

  27. God, I wish I knew where she was. Not because of her dope sweaters. Not even to try and know her better. I know her plenty. I just want to say thanks. Being brave is hard when you're a kid. I know. I wasn't.

    But she was. Brave enough to risk real human interaction and it's consequences. And I'm not delusional. She's probably a nurse or a meth addict. She certainly doesn't remember me.

    And that's exactly the way it should be.

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  29. As the struggle grew more pitched, Luanne couldn’t help, at times, but retreat into fantasy. Fleeing the violence, the terror, the pain, the physical and psychological exhaustion, and just getting to be a regular person. She used to find excuses not to, when Timothy suggested it, but in hindsight, those excuses seemed flimsy. She could easily imagine it: wearing snug jeans and a T shirt promoting an arms manufacturer like Glock or Smith and Wesson to her job at a gun shop in a smallish Midwestern college town; someplace like Urbana, Illinois, Bloomington, Indiana, or Iowa City; maybe Madison, Wisconsin or Columbus, Ohio, at the largest. She wasn’t stoked about enduring Midwestern weather, but reckoned those folks were at least less likely to be overtly racist than those in the South. She would work alongside the proprietor, a grizzled, kindly but old-fashioned older white man, who hired her because she knows her guns, and because he knew having a cute, non-threatening young black woman behind the counter would put potential female and/or non-white customers at ease. She would easily justify her employment, with all the handguns she would sell to other women: “oh, naw, girl, think about it. Yeah, a big scary-ass piece like that might scare somebody off, but if you have to fire it? It’d knock you on your ass. As a rule, you want the biggest gun you can comfortably handle. I’m not a big gal, I carry a Glock 19, that’s all I need. Some folks think the 9 millimeter isn’t big enough, but if you shell out for some hollow points, it’ll still put a decent sized hole in somebody.”
    She would live in a cute little brick house in a quiet lower-middle class neighborhood, with her blue-collar white boyfriend, the construction worker. They would pay their rent, taxes, and bills, she would drive a cute little four-door Chevy, he a Ford pickup mostly for his tools and building materials, and not concern themselves with politics beyond voting Green and Democrat, and maybe throwing a few bucks to politicians and organizations they liked. They would work hard, shop at Jewel-Osco, maybe she would have a baby or two, and maybe one day they could retire.
    But that was all just a fantasy. The reality, from which it yielded an occasional escape, was that they were impoverished squatters, eking out a living, in perpetual fear of an increasingly totalitarian government.


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