Friday, May 18, 2018

2 Minutes. Go!

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.

It’s not a body; it’s just a vessel. So, fuck it, I hung it from a railroad trestle. That’s one of those decisions you can’t take back, but that was the whole point of it. Black like rain, and it was raining. So many things flit around my brain, and I’m always second-guessing. It’s distressing. I wanted to do one thing. No take-backs. Done. One thing that would be permanent and forever and for always. One.Thing is, the rope broke. And I got wet. 

And then I decided to get my fishing gear out of the back of the truck. It was warm. I had no plans for dinner.

Fishing in a warm rain is a poor man’s luxury.

I wasn’t too much interested in the fishing part. I was more interested in the ‘standing in the stream thinking’ part. But then I felt a tug on my line that almost pulled the rod out my damn hands. And then muscle memory and adrenaline took over. And then I worked that fish for a good ten minutes.

And then the line snapped.

I knew it was coming, too. I knew the fish still had some fight in it, but I was overconfident. And then I was laughing my ass off. A grown man, all alone in the middle of nowhere, laughing because he failed to off himself and a fish on the same day in the exact same way.

I guess we both had some fight left in us.

Now, this isn’t meant to be taken literally. It’s a metaphor. The railroad trestle is your Mom’s homemade cookies. The rope? That was the first time you ever unhooked a bra on the first try. The suicide? That was life, man. It didn’t work. And if you haven’t thought about killing yourself at least once, then you got problems. Or not enough imagination. I don’t trust anyone who’s never thought: well, I could just end it.

The fish? The fish was a metaphor for fruit salad. And the fishing line? God. And the water? The water can be life or death. That’s what I like about water. It can soothe you on a hot day. You can float on it and fritter the hours away. Or you can hit it hard enough that it becomes cement.

And then you return to clay.

#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...#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. Fishing as metaphor, with the trademark MaderRap. How can it get any better than that?

    1. "And then you return to clay." Dammit, man, you're killing me.

    2. You've always walked that line between silly and serious well. Fruit salad,though? That one nearly made me choke. Great work :)

    3. Yes, the balance between (very dark) humour and grim seriousness is perfect. Given all the ropes and lines that snap, you walk this highwire effortlessly, my friend.

    4. 90 miles an hour and that last right turn hits just right. Good stuff, and just as dark as molasses.

  2. Thirty minutes until boarding and Trevor Kilkenny had his eyes on the guy across the waiting area. His hair was cropped close. His polo shirt was snug on his chest. A duffel in MARPAT camo sat on the floor next to his wheelchair.

    Jenny looked up from her magazine and saw Trevor’s gaze locked on. She followed his line of sight. “What is it, hon? Something the matter?” Trevor glanced to his wife and jutted his chin toward the guy.

    “Over there. I’m pretty sure he’s one of us.”

    Jenny closed her magazine and leaned into Trevor’s shoulder, looking across the waiting room. “He’s got the look,” she said.

    “I feel like I should go over there. You know, talk to him. But, Jesus. He’s… I mean, how would I even start?”

    Jenny dropped the magazine into her carry-on and turned back to Trevor. Her eyes searched his face. She placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle shove. “Just go over there, Trev. You’ll know what to say.”

    He looked at her with a mix of gratitude and reluctance.
    The young man stiffened and straightened as Trevor walked up. Trevor spoke on his assumption. “Afternoon, Marine. Mind if I cop a squat?”

    “Sure enough, sir,” he gestured to an open seat. “Pardon if I don’t get up.”

    “Trevor Kilkenny,” Trevor said. “Captain.” He extended his hand.

    “Sergeant Mike Lewis, sir.” The two Marines shook on it.

    “I was sitting over there with my wife,” Trevor pointed across the room toward Jenny, who gave a shy little wave. Mike raised a slow hand in return.

    “You looked like you were traveling alone. I figured I’d come over and say howdy. Where you headed?”

    “Home, sir. Indiana,” Mike said. “Walter Reed for the past 10 months and I’m finally getting some leave. They’re fitting me up some legs. For now, I’m doing the Charles Xavier thing,” waggling the wheels of his chair.

    “So, who were you with? What’s your story?” Trevor gestured toward the place where Mike’s legs had been.

    “Lima Company. 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. We were in Nawzad, north of Lashkar Gah in Helmand. Mud-brick houses and alleyways. The locals had bugged out and weren’t nobody in there but Taliban.”

    Mike paused. “It was rough. They had it all mined up. When the Brits and the Ghurkas were there before us, they called it 'Apocalypse Now-zad.'”

    Jenny walked over with their carry-ons. “You boys mind if I join you?” The two Marines looked up and Trevor said, “By all means, hon. This is Sergeant Mike Lewis. Sergeant, my wife, Jenny.”

    “Ma’am,” Mike said.

    “Pleased to know you, Mike.” She sat next to Trevor.

    “So, 'Apocalypse Now.' And then what?” Trevor said.

    Mike described the day: Lima 3/8 moving through the town, house by house, alley by alley. Close air support from Apache gunships and F-18 Hornets.

    Mike’s day ended when an RPG hit a wall at their position, taking Mike’s legs and the life of his platoon leader. As Trevor listened, something began to ring familiar.

    Back in '03, his squadron had been in Iraq. By the end of that year, he realized that he didn't remember a whole lot. Sure, he could recall the big-picture stuff. The broad strokes. But the detail, the day-to-day, dates, people – all of that memory had been lost in the fog and the frenetic tempo.

    When Trevor went to Afghanistan with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, the Red Devils, he told himself he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He'd kept a journal.

    He reached past Jenny for his carry-on and pulled out the leather-bound notebook: dates, mission numbers, who he flew with, who was lead and who was wing, weather, coordinates, ground units the squadron flew in support of. All of it.

    “Sergeant Lewis... Nawzad… What day was it? What was the date?”

    Trevor figured if a guy lost his legs, he’d be pretty damn sure about the date.

    “It was April, cap'n. 3 April 2009,” Mike said.

    Trevor opened his journal and flipped the pages to 2009:

    “3 April: Nawzad. Four-flight: me, Buzz, Hooter, and Sasquatch. Close air support covering Lima 3/8.”

    He turned the journal around and showed it to Mike. “Maybe you better just call me Trevor,” he said.

    1. Oh wow. There's power in this, my friend. Power in the story and in the telling. The three last paragraphs gave me chills. Well told!

    2. Thanks, Leland. Appreciate the comment and glad you liked.

    3. I'm glad you're here, too. And I agree with Leland. And, moreover, this is told with such a steady hand. The tone and mood are spot on. I grew up in a military family and this rings absolutely true to me.

    4. You brought them to life in the best way. I love Mike's strength and humor, and I love the details that make this so much more. Thank you for sharing this.

    5. Thanks, you all. Appreciate you taking a look and glad to drop by.

    6. Didn't see that last section coming at all. Well done, put me right back into the mindset. Leaving the ending where you did keeps it living on.
      Good piece, thanks for putting it out there.

  3. Part 1:

    The boy wore faded overalls.

    The dog didn’t even wear a collar.

    The sun danced between the rounded leaves of the cottonwood and fell on the boy's straw hair. The dog rolled in fresh deer droppings every now and again. The boy laughed.

    The fishing rod, carried over the boy's shoulder, gave me an idea of their plans for the day. I, the intruder, moved not a muscle, breathed half breaths, stayed still.

    The boy talked to the dog, and damned if the dog wasn’t listening. The head tilt, the adoring eyes, the tongue hanging out impossibly long.

    I followed.

    Not close, just far enough not to be seen, just close enough not to lose them. Even if I did lose them, I knew the pond they were going to, though it had been years since I’d been there.

    It wasn’t really a pond. More a wide spot in the creek. Shallower there. Trees drinking through roots that tunneled under the water. A flat rock sometimes hosted a bull snake. I wondered if that old snake was still alive.

    I sat on a rotting log, waited for them to get to the rock. Here, there were too many branches that would break under my heavy step.

    How long had it been since I’d been to this place? Thirty? Forty years? Too long. I wished I’d brought a fishing pole myself.

    The creek chuckled over the rocks it had polished through the millennia, edges rounded by icy water flowing from the mountains. Time and water can polish most anything, Grandpa used to say.


    He was the one who showed me this place. Swore me to secrecy. Told me tales about the big ol' catfish that let himself to be caught once a year. Grandpa made me swear that if I caught him, I’d put him back.

    I caught him once. Reeled him in, held him in my hands, stared into his cold eyes, his whiskers tickling my arm. And then I set him free.

    1. Part 2:

      The boy ought to be there by now. I rose, my knees making old man sounds, and I followed the path.

      There they were. On that flat rock. The boy held the pole in one hand, and rubbed the dog's belly with the other.

      "Think he'll come, Rex?"

      Rex. A good name for a dog. From the Latin for king.

      Rex was sleeping, or didn’t understand the question, because he didn’t answer.

      "I wonder if he’ll remember."

      I whispered to myself, "He'll remember."

      The red and white float bobbed on the water. The boy put both hands on the rod. Just right, he set the hook, and the rod bowed from the strain.

      He reeled him in, a little at a time. The sun glinted off the water in a thousand stars. And the boy jumped down off the rock, into the water, reached down, and held a catfish twice as large as the one I’d caught.

      The boy looked at the fish's face. "Damn, you’re ugly." I watched as he removed the hook carefully, and gently placed the creature back in the water. "I’ll be back next year, if you’re still here!"

      The sun slid behind a cloud, and there was a chill breeze that came up out of nowhere, making even the cottonwood shiver.

      I shivered, too.

      "I know you’re there. You might as well come out," he said looking right at my hiding place.

      And I pushed the branches of coyote willow aside, and jumped up on the rock. Not to be outdone, he jumped back up on the rock, too. Rex opened one eye, sniffed the air, and closed his eye again.

      "I knew you’d come."

      I didn’t know what to say.

      "You and me, we're the only ones that know this place."

      I nodded.

      "You wanna try?"

      "I don’t think he’ll bite twice in one day," I answered. "How’d you know I was there?"

      He shrugged, not the way a boy confused by the world would shrug, but the way an old man might.

      The leaves trembled again, but there was no breeze.

      The sun came out from behind the clouds, but instead of the thousand diamonds on the water, there was one bright flash, and the boy vanished.

      I might have thought it was the wind if there were wind, but I heard him whisper in my ear, "A grandfather never forgets his grandson."

      Rex was gone, too, but the fishing pole remained, and a tin can full of squiggly worms.
      I sat down on the rock, took off my shoes, and put the bait on the hook.

      For Grandpa, and for Rex, both dead these many years.

    2. Ah man, you're trying to break my heart. Magical RealLeland gets me every time, but you throw fishing and Grandpas on top of that? This is beautiful. This line grabbed me: "Trees drinking through roots that tunneled under the water."

    3. I echo those sentiments...echo...echo...echo. So beautifully told.

    4. The line that really did me in was when the cottonwood shivered and so did he. Loved it, hon.

    5. Aw, yeah. What everyone else said. I love how it takes its time to get there, immersing us in the process.

    6. Magical fishing holes...and just plain magic. Beautiful, Leland.

  4. There are sounds that echo through the decades, sounds that haunt you. An explosion is one such sound.

    There are stinks that once smelled never leave your memory. Burning human flesh is one such smell.

    I never told her about all that. It was too gruesome to hear, too horrific to tell. But she knew. She knew from the nightmare battles I fought in my sleep by her side. She held me those nights, held me with arms that ought to have been holding a baby, not a grown man. I should have been protecting her.

    She wanted me to go to a shrink. Talk it through, she said. They can help.

    I couldn’t. I thought about it. One time I made it all the way to the building where the doc was, and I sat in the car. For an hour or two, I tried to imagine what I could talk about. Tried to imagine how I could explain the sounds, the stench, to a doc in a pristine office, to a,doc who thought sweat smelled bad.

    I was still sitting in the parking lot when the sun went down. Tired of thinking, I did what I only did alone. I cried. I bawled like a baby as the pictures of body parts flashed through my mind. Arms with tattoos, arms of men I knew. Baby heads, severed from baby bodies. Eyes of mothers, open wide even in death.

    Yeah, talking won’t fix that.

    When I got home, she looked hard at me. Didn’t ask how it went, didn’t ask why it took so long. She knew.

    And when I came home the next day from work, she was gone, and I couldn’t blame her. That night, there were no nightmares. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t.

    I had to watch the street, through the lacy curtains she'd made because we couldn’t afford to buy any. Because I couldn’t hold a job to save my life.

    When the sun came up, I held a Beretta in my hand. Not to kill myself, but to keep the sea of body parts and blood at bay. I knew they were coming. The street was red, like it always was before they came.

    I’ll only shoot if they get close, too close. If one gets close enough to get into my head. I can smell them coming... I can hear the bombs.

    1. Wow. Kind of speechless. This is so powerful and sad and real. I don't know what to say. It's brilliant, but it's so awful and sad that this is reality for so many. This got me: "who thought sweat smelled bad..."

    2. Snapshot of a traumatized dude. Well-rendered.

    3. Thank you both... I've known more than a few veterans who've experienced such things, and worse.

    4. I keep trying to find the words, but they aren't right. So, I'm going to echo these guys. Loved it, hon.

    5. What haunts me the most is the next paragraph that you didn't have to write - the one that the last two telegraph like a slow-motion nightmare. Quite a look into the mind, and truly told. Haunting.

  5. On a murky day in May, a day in the desert, the skies promised either rain or snow or their future absence. It was the time of year that reminded him that spring and fall are both verbs as well as nouns.

    This day, he walked alone. Against their protests, he left the dogs inside. This was his day, at least his morning.

    Morning, which rhymed with mourning, which was also both a noun and a verb. And mourn he did.

    Ten years is a long time, but not long enough to forget. The mental images he had, they faded like Polaroid prints with time. But if you looked close, you could still see the images that once were framed in bright color.

    He walked. Alone. The leaves were coming out, as they were coming out that day a decade ago.

    The promise of living together, in the middle of nowhere. Of building a life. Together. Together. A word he didn’t use any more. A word once sacred to the two of them.
    A mourning dove called, its plainsong echoing on the creek banks. The creek made its own sound, water on stones, ever smoothing sharp edges.

    Not for the first time, he considered the metaphor of time as water. But some stones kept their edges, even in the running water.

    He remembered the note that came in the mail, the day after he’d had a horrific nightmare about dying, not his own death, but the death of his beloved. It was old-fashioned. Crane Company stationery. A black border on the envelope warned the recipient that there was hard news inside.

    He left the envelope on the table all day, reaching for the strength to open it. As the sun set golden in the western sky, he tore it open.

    “Richard died. I thought you should know.”

    He was still holding the note when the moon rose some hours later. He looked at it again, to re-read it, but the ink was blurred, and the paper wet, which was confirmation in its own way.

    And now, on this day, a decade later, he cried freely, alone, for memories forgotten, for memories unmade, for memories still held close.

    The silence was broken only by one hand clapping in the middle of nowhere, and the sound of a mourning dove.

    1. This piece is so smartly written. The noun/verb observation is genius. And I LOVE when you write "nice" but this darkness is so good, too.

    2. You do tragedy so well. Amazing.

    3. Again, the restraint is what makes this so emotionally effective. Great job, Leland.

    4. The things you do with water and rocks....the water in the creek, the water blurring the ink. Quiet devastation.

  6. Liturgy
    a form or formulary according to which public religious worship is conducted.

    Authorities are reporting another school shooting…
    Thoughts and prayers.
    Someone should do something.
    Makeshift memorial.
    Teddy bears.
    We need more guns.
    We need fewer guns.
    Ten commandments.
    Didn’t really happen. False flag.
    Only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
    Tougher background checks.
    Interviews with families of victims.
    Interviews with friends of perpetrator.
    Seemed like a nice guy.
    A little troubled. Probably could have used some counseling.

    Authorities are reporting another school shooting…
    Thoughts and prayers.
    Someone should do something.

    1. I actually don't have anything to say about this. Still trying to accept it in my brain and heart. And I can't.

    2. I can't either. It boggles my mind that it's happened so many times that the responses are so ritualized. It's like there's a script they hand everyone after these tragedies.

    3. I don't have anything to say, either. My heart hurts too much.

    4. I hate that I'm numb. I don't want to be numb. But it all hurts too much.

    5. The cycle bothers me, too. This is perfect. The material is anything but. Great job.

    6. a liturgy. I'm stunned at the blasphemy you hold a mirror up and reflect. And I'll admit the fullness of my denial. I have two children that go to school still, and if I had a gram of sense, I'd chain them both in my basement to keep them off the killing grounds.

  7. I really get a sense of place, the outdoors, with this one. Nicely done, Leland.

    1. Maybe obvious, but this comment was supposed to go with your piece farther up.

  8. He was hard when he should have been soft. And it wasn't even intentional. Not always. What I mean is that it isn't just a metaphor. Hugging him was like hugging a tree trunk - and not in a Haight-Ashbury kind of way - he was hard and rough.

    He was a big man and he had a loud voice and that wasn't his fault. He was sometimes quick to anger and, sometimes, he could feel his father's face in his own when he was angry; and it chilled him. And everyone agreed THAT wasn't OK.

    He didn't want to be angry. Ever. He tried with all his might. And, for the most part, he succeeded. But not always. Still, he never broke anything, never hit anyone - when he was angry, you could tell that it hurt him. That doesn't make it acceptable. Forgivable.

    It makes it understandable.

    He was just as confused as the rest of us. And he was raised always ready to duck or run. That gets deep inside you and comes out in weird ways. He faulted himself for it.

    I don't know who to fault.

    I just don't.

    1. I really feel this, bro. Thank you.

    2. Me, too. "It makes it understandable." That got me.

    3. How we respond to those internal scripts, the stories we tell ourselves. How hard it can be to break out of those narratives. (Did you hear Terry Gross’s recent conversation with author Michael Pollan about the therapeutic use of psychedelics to rewrite the stories our egos are telling us?)

    4. No, but I will check it out! Thanks.

    5. As storytellers, we know the power of narrative and how, as Joe implies, those narratives can become prisons. This captures it well.

    6. "He could feel his father's face in his own when he was angry". Terrific line. You've dug up some of those ugly truths that I like to keep hidden. A disquieting piece.

  9. Tell me something beautiful. You can whisper it in my ear, and it will tickle like butterfly wings. Let me smell the mix of sweat and perfume that the day left on you. It's my favorite smell.

    Just hold me. I'll hold you. Our bodies will warm each other and our hearts will speak through syncopation - my heart will stop racing. Try to keep pace with yours.

    Let's try to think of something funny. Let's remember how it felt when we first saw them. Hell, when we first saw each other. I thought, damn, that lady has got something going on. And I want to know more about it. And that's a damn fine choice in sneakers.

    I don't know what you thought.

    Let's go to the beach and listen to the waves and imagine the vastness of it all. Love is the only ocean we haven't polluted.

    Let's keep it pure.

    Sure, we make mistakes. You make mistakes. I feel like every second is the continuation of one long mistake. But it's alright. I swear. Sit down beside me. Lay your head on my shoulder. I'll try not to flinch and, if I do, please know that it's got nothing to do with you.

    Let's just leave. Fly. Like birds. Like angels. Like thoughts that travel through time, tied to the pages of books we love. Let's gather everyone important and find someplace where we can just be quiet and let the leaves talk for us.

    Let's just sit here for a second, quiet. I'll borrow some of your calm. You're so generous with it. And I'll try to pretend I'm giving you something. Maybe I am. You're not dumb, and you're definitely no sucker.

    Tell me about the pretty, soft things in life. Just let me rest my head on your lap. I want to know what you cared about when you were eight. I want to know what you were afraid of. I want to know it all.

    Because, someday, it will be too late.

    We all fall.

    1. I am moved by this piece, on this day especially. And this paragraph describes what I think heaven will be like: "Let's just leave. Fly. Like birds. Like angels. Like thoughts that travel through time, tied to the pages of books we love. Let's gather everyone important and find someplace where we can just be quiet and let the leaves talk for us."

    2. I don't often put the people who write into what they write, but there is so much love coming from this that I felt like I could see a peek into your relationship. Beautiful. Sad, of course, but beautiful.

    3. I love this whole piece, but this especially: "Love is the only ocean we haven't polluted."

    4. 'tied to the pages of books we love' is the line that sticks with me. And the final sentence. Tender piece, and real.

  10. I had planned to write something dazzling, something inspired, something entertaining, or at least something that I liked. Then I got to work and found out that someone terrorized Santa Fe High School. Since then I’ve been in a daze. I don’t know anyone who goes to that school. I know some of our police officers were harmed, but I don’t know if I know them. They may work for the same city I work for, but I’ve only been here a little while. I’m isolated. I know very few people and don’t pay attention to gossip at all, so even if I knew their names I doubt that it would have any meaning outside of the fact that people who thought they would have a normal Friday are now dead or hurt. Now their worlds are forever changed.

    I am not a victim of this tragedy. I don’t know any of the victims. I have no stake in this aside from the fact that it’s a damn shame. But at the same time I do. Because this is my little corner of the world. This is my touchstone. This is my safe place. Someone violated that. Using children. For God knows what reason. Another child did this. To his peers. With help from what we can tell. The level of planning involved in this act terrifies me, because that means that someone planned this. This was purposeful. This was thought out.

    Galveston is not the most open, friendly town I’ve ever been in. But it’s pretty far up on that list. People smile at each other on the street. You can go out and walk around at night. You can form friendly relationships with people. I can count on one hand the times I’ve felt threatened or worried about people in this town. If you listen to people who grew up here talk you will see a tight-knit community. It’s more segregated than I’d like, but I’ve also seen people overcome those racial barriers. This is a nice place to live. It’s safe. It’s quiet.

    That changed today. Someone came in and ripped that apart. I’m not crushed or devastated, but I am stunned. Kids. These are kids. How do you decide to end a life that has barely begun? How did we get to the point where kids are destroying lives and taking lives? How did we get to the point where kids can’t just go to school and get an education? Why? How did we get here? How do we get somewhere better?

    What can I do to help? How did I contribute to the problem? How does my community recover from this? Will we be the next place separated by a gun debate? What side will I end up on when I feel like both sides are right and wrong? Will the survivors of this attack be harassed and vilified like so many of the children who have survived these heinous acts have been?

    There are tons of questions, believe me. I have more circling around in my head every minute. There don’t seem to be answers. One thing I know is that extremes will get us nowhere. Hatred will get us nowhere. Pointing fingers will get us nowhere. I can’t change anyone’s behavior but my own, but I can do my best to care about the people affected by this. I can try to empathize. I can support positive change if and when I see it happening. That’s all I can do. Right now that doesn’t feel like enough, but I guess it’s going to have to be.

    1. You're doing what we all ought to be doing. Introspection and trying to make things better. There are no easy answers to how we can make change, but change will come through a thousand small acts of kindness.

    2. Yup. Agreed. These questions have been running through my head all day. And I have no answers. Just leads to more questions. And grief.

    3. I appreciate you putting your thoughts out there. I'm not sure I know what mine are, other than I'm tired of the utter lack of responsibility that keeps rearing its head, and the ever-lower standard of what it takes to push someone over the edge, and how much further off the edge they keep going. I'm lost.

  11. It had been a good week for the restaurant but not for me. I wanted to plead a headache and tired feet and go home, but my maître d’ enjoyed our weekly ritual and I didn’t want to disappoint him. “Tell me,” he said, after we’d nearly emptied our first glasses of wine. “Would you ever go back to Russia?”

    “What’s the point? There’s nothing to go back to.”

    “I would go back,” he said. “I want to experience where my parents came from.” Ever since seeing some silly Hallmark card of a movie, Dmitri has been enamored of the idea of discovering one’s roots, of reconnecting with the soil from which one had sprouted. But he was born in Brighton Beach, to Russian immigrants, and has never known another country. I’ve had enough of roots and soil. That poor, pathetic village where I’d spent my childhood might have given birth to me, but after it betrayed me, I felt no compunction to return. That soil and I owe each other nothing.

    “Bloom where you’re planted.” I refilled our glasses and waved a hand around my state-of-the-art kitchen. “Here, I bloom. Not in some field of mud and chicken shit which is now probably a shopping mall.”

    “Yes.” He gave me a small and telling smile. “It’s wonderful here, the best restaurant in the neighborhood.”

    “But you think I’m missing something.”

    I took his silence as a yes and gulped half my wine—not the best pinot noir we’ve ever served but hardly the worst—then clicked the glass back to the counter more gently than I wanted to. Hell, if I were alone, I’d have flung it against the wall. “Ask your parents what they’re missing. Ask them why they left.”

    His jaw tightened. “Perhaps it is time to close. I’ll call you a cab.”

    I let out a long sigh as if it could expel the bitterness from my body. He was right to be angry with me. He didn’t deserve the business end of my metaphorical knife. How was he to know that Sergei had left me for his twenty-five-year-old girlfriend in Moscow?
    My personal life was nobody’s business, especially those in my employ. “I’m sorry. It must be the wine.”

    Dmitri nodded and crossed to the register. “No need to apologize. Maybe it was not a good year for the grapes.”

    I stopped him before he could pick up the phone. “Dmitri. If you would ever like to take your vacation there, I would be happy to give you the extra time. And a little bonus.”

    His eyebrows rose. “Really. Extra time and a bonus to go back to ‘nothing’?”

    “Who knows?” I shrugged. “For you it might be different. Maybe they have not yet built a shopping mall.”

    He accepted my peace offering, and as I got into the cab, I watched him disappear into the night. Hoping that if he did decide to make the trip, he would find fulfillment. Unlike what Russia had given me—the scars I never revealed, a jail sentence I could never unremember. No. They would never have me back. Even if I desired to return. I would continue to grow where I had planted myself. True, I could no longer bear fruit like a twenty-five-year-old, but I would dig my roots harder into my adopted soil and bloom with a goddamn passion.

    1. I love this... and I love the narrator, both for her practicality and for her willingness to accept that her fate is not necessarily the same as others'. Your characters are always so authentic, so real. And so often, I wish I could sit for a glass of wine with them.

    2. I agree. I'm not quite sure how you do this. Every week - great characterization and a complete and realized scene. Once again, I want to be in your head for a little while. And I adore this: He didn’t deserve the business end of my metaphorical knife.

    3. As always, it's the sheer amount of details you pack in so unobtrusively. Like your decision to say "a jail sentence I could never unremember" instead of using the more prosaic "forget."

    4. the dialog and the phrasing, they make me hear the russian accent without any heavy-handedness in the writing. Fantastic.

    5. You pack so much into such a short piece. I also hear the accents, and I feel their frustration and longing.

  12. Skin-frame

    Stickman walking,
    Take a bow,
    Laugh to your audience,
    Wink and strut
    Like a peacock wafts
    His feathers high,
    Pride quickening his fall.

    1. I've never really looked at the metre of your poetry before this one... I like how the 1st, 3rd, and 5th match in both stress and syllables, but the remaining lines are completely free form... mixing structure with non-structure... like sweet and sour... opposites that make each other stronger.

    2. and I left off "I really like it!" I'm glad you're back here sharing your lovely words.

    3. Wow. You do a lot with a little here. Evisceration in seven lines. I can see it, too. The maths Leland is talking about is maths so I block it out, but he's probably right. ;)

    4. Tiny little piece with a large take-down. Readable and rhythmic. 'Wink and strut'....indeed.

    5. Thanks, Leland. I never look at stress. It's something I've never got my head around!! Might have to educate me! I count syllables if I'm writing haiku, or want to deliberately have lines of equal length, but that would be at the editing stage. Thanks for seeing that.

    6. Cheers, I have to tell myself I'm not too tired!! Friday is press day. I got home at 830pm. Then you cook, eat and suddenly the evening is gone. Then I have to remind myself hey, you're not too tired really!

    7. Thanks Dan and Gry. Funny how some things don't want to be any bigger. I couldn't get it to go any longer. It had nothing more to say.

  13. Learning time

    I am here where the lesson begins, waiting
    For a subtle cue, a clue to be said.
    Here upon the morrow there will be time
    For us to understand each and every
    Event; what didn't and what did happen;
    To pretend to know the cruelty of
    Forgetting. Seconds are but seconds,
    And they pass; fleeting flaccid papers
    Blown into the air, twisted into the ether
    Until caught by birds and turned into song,
    To be revisited upon the human ear.

    1. Wow. This is beautiful, V. I wish I was better able to say why I like poetry. I feel like I don't do your verse justice.

    2. This actually takes off near the end, like those papers. The tiny pause for a new line before "blown" is like a cue, as is the penultimate line, mirroring the rhythm of the words. (I know, it's hard to articulate this stuff, but I tried!)

    3. the bit about how the birds capture the pages and turn them into nests, so they can continue to sing for our ears. Lovely!

    4. Thanks JD :) That makes me v happy. Cheers, David. Glad you can see the twist! Thanks Gry. I love birds. They work their way in a lot!

    5. Again, what caught my attention was the imagery. It's a gift to write poetry, like songs, well. You make stories out of glimpses. Thanks for sharing your art with us.

  14. Bunny

    An ear flops aside in tragicomic pose.
    Eyes wide saucers, he tries to stare me
    Dumb. Scuffles scrunch the undergrowth
    Leaving nothing but a cloud-like flounce,
    A little bobbing cotton bud.

    1. This one made me smile. And think about fishing. Surprising little animals is one of my favorite things. I know that tragicomic pose very well.

    2. cute piece, just dancing in there like its subject.

    3. Lol about the fishing! My cat would do that pose too if I walked in on her washing or something. Bright eyes wide. With rabbits, I often don't see them til they're gone and you only catch the white tail, which tells you something was there. We saw some in Berlin, but I didn't have my specs so I failed! Cheers, Gry. I wanted to write something that was the opposite of heavy :)

    4. It reminded me of my bunny. We had him for a whole two months, and he was a hellion but he was cute.

    5. I had 2 bunnies as a kid. So cute :)

  15. Inside my skin

    There's one and two, and a door,
    And a crazy kind of karma
    That lies in wait open-mouthed,
    Teeth snapping at the wandering
    Skin, and like a child I stroke it,
    Urging the beast to tear to shreds
    My curious fingers, seeking out like vines
    Twisting. His eyes peeled, so keen
    To make my acquaintance. But I stop
    At the ghost of a kiss, not wanting to be
    Forward or tempt him to rip the tissue
    And sinews from the white of my bones.

    1. Wow. This is visceral and strong. I love the way it builds.

    2. Such a powerful ending again! "Stop" at the end of a line, so accentuating the line pause, then a headlong rush of momentum, especially after "forward," directly into the scary stuff.

    3. love that line 'tempt him to rip the tissue and sinews from the white of my bones'. Delicate shudders!

    4. I guess this is how I feel after a long noisy day at work when I'm going to press - and finishing late! I was meant to go to a poetry evening, but didn't finish early and was brain knackered. I'm not sure what this one is about - too many things - I guess a monster of a karma, an annihilator of the waiting guest, and how curiosity still kills the cat! Cheers, David. I learned some stuff on my poetry course about where to end lines and take them over, and I started experimenting with where I finish. I was trying to make the words tumble, sort of. Like a free-fall. Thanks Gry. You can tell I grew up on horror films, I guess!

    5. I can tell you learned plenty on the poetry course; it really shows. And I love your evolution. (Also, I'm a huge horror fan, so I get it on that level too.)

  16. I.

    There’s no such thing as fate. At least that’s what I told myself the third time we crossed paths. It was strange though. I couldn’t imagine how I kept sharing a cab with the same guy that many times in only a month. I guess we were just living on the same circadian frequency. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed him no matter how many times we shared a cab if it hadn’t been for the first time.

    When they picked me up you could almost feel the chilly vapors coming out as I opened the car door.

    “Good Morning” I said, speaking to the driver first, but then nodding a greeting to the couple in the back seat. I didn’t get a good look because both of them were staring out their respective windows and I only spared them a glance at all because I’ve always had an unnatural phobia of people sitting behind me.

    I also wasn’t sure how much they said before I joined them but I knew something was off immediately when neither of them said anything as I got in and slid into the front seat.
    You know car sharing etiquette suggests you always say hello to the driver and the other passenger when you occupy a cab with a stranger. It’s not a requirement but it is code for I’m a human being who is sharing your air for a while and I recognize you are too.

    There was nothing but silence coming from the back seat but if icicles had rapidly formed then fallen from the roof of the car, crashed to the carpeted floor and broke in a thousand pieces I would have only been mildly surprised. The driver must have felt the artic temperature too. He gave me a slightly tepid smile and a shrug, then turned on some mild morning jazz to warm the air.

    We had just reached the new and infinitely annoying single file lane at the beginning of the Brooklyn Bridge when the man and woman started having a full-blown military offensive where words equaled artillery in the back seat. The driver had the volume up as high as he could without it being obnoxious but no amount of Kenny G was going to suppress that much testiness from reaching the front seat.

  17. II.

    It started with her saying, “If I’d known you were going to get this bent out of shape Will, I wouldn’t have told you about him.”


    I glanced up from my phone into the driver's rearview. He seemed to be looking straight ahead now so I had an almost perfect view of the man in the back seat. He was a woodsy brown with a strong jawline. I noticed his jaw immediately because it was jutted out slightly beyond his full lips and surrounded by a neatly trimmed black mustache and goatee – all of it solidifying the frown on his face. His eyes were opaque, highlighted by dark, thick brows and neat close cropped hair that all managed to accentuate his current disposition, which was in a word, furious.

    I knew how angry he was even before his eyes suddenly shifted focus and caught mine in the mirror. I couldn’t help it. My breath hitched and I gasped, right before I quickly stuck my earbuds in and shut my eyes tight then tried pretending to meditate. Actually, I sometimes did meditate in a cab in the morning particularly if I was going to have a full day and didn’t have the leisure to do it before I left for work. Often it was the best kind of meditation too. I find being driven anywhere, in almost anything, relaxing. Meditation is just the cherry you know? At least, it is usually.

    “I mean what did you expect,” the oblivious woman in the back seat continued, “you take off for parts unknown to bail out your flaky sister yet again.”

    “Cynthia? This is not the time.”

    They were the first words the man in the back seat said since I got in and while I didn’t think it was particularly loud, he definitely growled when he said them, loudly enough so I heard it over both a light piano riff coming from the car radio and the sound of a heavy rain on leaves coming from my meditation app.

    “What? You’re mad now? You’re the one that’s mad?”

    She was just getting started. That was clear and it was enough for me, I turned the volume up on my phone as high as I could and focused on my breathing. They were still at it in the back seat or at least she was I think, but I managed to tune out the actual words for at least ten minutes.

    When my session ended and I opened my eyes we were in lower Manhattan near the main courthouse off Worth Street. The car slowed at the corner. I didn’t dare look in the rear-view mirror again. The sidewalk was on the woman’s side. She opened the door and sailed out as soon as we stopped. I sensed the man sliding in her direction but then he stopped and stuck his head into the space between the driver and me.

    “I’m sorry if we disturbed your morning.” He said.

    The sincerity caught me off guard. I turned to look at him and my breath hitched again, this time because he didn’t have the mad face anymore. It was just his face you know, and it was handsome and warm and friendly and boy, this was all a little much before my first cup of coffee.

    “Not a problem.”

    That was all I said. Not a problem and he was gone. I went to work and would have probably forgotten about the whole thing if I hadn’t shared a cab with him again two weeks later and again a week after that. He was alone both times. But it was just a coincidence. Right?

    1. This is so rich and real. I felt like I was in there. And you captured those inevitable human moments so well.

    2. Yes, similar to what Dan said, every time I read one of your pieces here, Lily, I feel like there's already a backstory and even a fore-story (probably not a word, lol), as if I'm reading an excerpt from a novel. Or from a life.

    3. The exposition on the car sharing etiquette is good; I don't experience it where I'm at, so that little view into the "do's and don'ts" was valuable to me

  18. Maybe someday we can shelter out of the heat to talk about this thing that binds people together in the way ropes might, or even transplants, like giving one kidney to another. Yeah, that thing. I can’t describe it in any way by which someone else would understand it as I do (or don’t).

    Some people like that proximity that comes with being tied together, immobilized yet mobile or freely captive with another, feeling their heat, shivering with their cold, sharing the showers and sunshine as if they wear the same skin. They can construe it as “being together,” I guess. Until someday, somehow they cut those cords. I have seen many people walking around still attached to their walking shadow even after he out she has left them, one way or another.

    Other people can subsume, with proffered permission, the object of their visceral need after searching so long to find that perfect match, one fraught with the minimum amount of rejection, yet, only with diligent aftercare, most likely to keep them alive. They can live on together even after their partner in this organic life no longer can. Yet still, there is always that spectre of rejection, loss, need.

    The one thing both of these experiences share is how all involved are irreversibly changed by the experience. Maybe it’s the scars they can display or conceal, maybe even from themselves. Maybe it’s the memories of their partner’s touch, both on and within their skin, a heartbeat they feel even as they lie alone at night.

    But I’m no expert. I’ve walked this earth carrying a platter full of bite-size pieces of my marrow-rich thirteenth rib, like some faceless butler at a grand party of the interested and disinterested. Some have idly taken one piece just to wrap it in a napkin and toss it in the potted palm. Others have taken it with thanks and thought, “that’s different,” and moved on to bacon-wrapped shrimp. And for others I’ve placed one on their plates, wrapped in wordy ribbons with which they might secure it to themselves like pins for some needy charity. A couple have actually taken them to heart, but I moved on because this is a big room and a server’s duty calls.

    What do I know? Maybe this is why someday we might sit somewhere, with a batch of iced libation between us. Maybe it’ll be somehow different, that thing we talk about when we talk about love.

    1. Wow. I LOVE this, brother. That penultimate paragraph - I don't think I breathed. So well written. And this: "I have seen many people walking around still attached to their walking shadow even after he out she has left them, one way or another."

    2. What Dan said, and also that last sentence.

    3. the patter of the repeated opposites, or contradictions sticks with me, and gives a unique flavor to this one for me.

  19. I've been planning this, it seems like for ages, but it's really only been a little over year. I wanted to give the man a chance. In spite of all I know of him, perhaps he would be the one to restore the balance...

    I got my diagnosis a year and a half ago. Eventually terminal. There were things I could do, but the side effects were horrific enough to guarantee a shitty quality in my remaining life. No thanks. I'll just be the best person I can be, live life fully until I check out under my own terms.

    I started to realize what I was compelled to do somewhere in the Summer of 2017. It wouldn't be easy. I'd need some help at high levels. The question was, could I cultivate that help and was I ready to pay the price for my actions? The price was dead or imprisoned.

    Well shit, I'm dying anyway. Where's the downside?

    So I used my political connections to work my way up socially. Eventually I find the right man in the right position who really liked my plan. He wasn't the only one of his organization that approved of what would ultimately be my sacrifice. Hey. Greater good and all that shit. I was starting to feel like Spock jump starting the nuclear core of the Enterprise.

    By the time I got the go signal I'd already acquired the rifle, ammo, and explosives. Spent countless hours honing my aim at static and moving targets. The C4 was only for if someone outside the conspiracy was going to shut me down before the goal was achieved. It would take my cohorts with me, but they believed in my solution.

    So here I am. I'm in the gallery overlooking a joint address to these politicians who have so befouled the government of my country. I'm surrounded by a cadre of staffers who have sworn to protect my targets...But they're protecting me. I think it's called a coup.

    I raise my weapon and aim.

    1. This is deftly written. And the pacing is spot on. And it makes me wonder how many folks are having these thoughts right now. Which is scary and powerful.

    2. Many, many, many folks, I'd imagine. Well done.

    3. a multitude of revolutionaries, seeking to repeat 1775, and a declaration to King George. Chilling against the backdrop of the daily news.

  20. Bright. So many thoughts and moments gusted like wrappings on the shoulder of a highway in the wake of a thousand passing trucks.

    Those boxes of books, like steps. Like buildings.

    This was the time when he fell partway down an embankment and came to rest within a meter of a passing freight whose sparks on the tight steel curve burned new tattoos into his arms, and he crawled back to a semblance of a man and climbed his way up into a bright morning in some western city.

    Cascading guts, some kind of release.

    Girlfriend sported metal in her septum, navel, and clitoris; she raged about as much as she laughed, which made her more than tolerable. She left her nipples unmolested thanks to unexpected motherhood. Answer this. Is rank, dire poverty ever good? It's awkward and wrong and it hurts. We lived a good half-lifetime raising kids inside a house that seemed like kids themselves had drawn it. Some rooms were sketched in plaster and lath. We could break them open and let our yearnings out, considered that sustainable.

    Staircase built from words. Librarian meets architect.

    She was a target of my new approach, my sense that facts rode shotgun to the rest of things. Slunk fast and slick beyond the fury boiled in femininity. Distilled. Clean water from myriad shed tears.

    Which makes rage.

    We clashed impossibly within the town she called her temporary home, me having drove (I having driven) a weeklong trail, blessed and uninformed, oblivious to the sirens, the insect scratch and clamber of pursuit.

    (Language itself will abandon us.)

    Our unique wine released by spigots, dark oak barrels creaking in dusty dim cellars while bloodred gouts spooled into buckets made from human skin.

    It's emerald. Agate. Hematite. Some geode. Maybe let's meet at noon, after the shaded herds are teased, before we climb the brightest trail again, orient ourselves to up again. The woman I know, the woman I knew, would never kowtow to any of this. She lifted herself in segments above the fray, arched her aggregated vertebrae, a silent arc assemblage like a dim makeshift rainbow made of female.

    Friendship. Why so hard to get right?

    In secret, against a desert wind that pushed her words back down her throat, she said this: "Pass me a margarita, Papi. I lust for and loathe Mexicana. My bleached American guts see nothing but banalities. Cholos, cholas. Stupid boys and girls. Stupid drama. Estúpida. That scar? That's where they cut the baby out of me. Tráfico? Sí. Please yourself and crave the Caribbean sprinter, that liquid effortless longshanks, my forgotten hope, mi esperanza."

    Climb and reach the top. And gasp.

    Accept my sculpted facial hair and gray skull toques. Where is death? She leered at me a decade ago, but nowhere since have I glimpsed her foolproof perversity. No doubt she waits. Tawny grasses shimmer, silos dance, a shifting flutter of fata morganas. Broad daylight. Hawk tails, catamounts, latrans, ragged fence lines. Shadow things lope and glimmer. Ranks of afternoon sunflowers wagging dreamlike faces hour upon hour. Time to branch out. Maggie runs the place up on the hill; please, let's join her. Tiny black flies. A donkey brays. Sunrays spread between the slats.

    Look. Listen. Attend to all the tales.

    May you never misplace the romance of the world. The glorious weight of its glamour. The sheer ferocity of its ardor. May its plucked strings accompany your heart's arpeggio forever.

    1. Damn brother. I don't know anyone else who can take so much imagery, tied to narrative, and make it work seamlessly. It's an amazing thing. This one is going to stick around a while.

    2. Wow. Yes. This: "She lifted herself in segments above the fray, arched her aggregated vertebrae, a silent arc assemblage like a dim makeshift rainbow made of female."

    3. (Language itself will abandon us) - so many descriptions, yet this phrase grabs me tight. This left me dizzy, and spinning

  21. Bubbe kneads in schmaltz and eggs
    While Nani combines kalonji
    Each into their separate bowls with
    oil, water, salt, flour

    Cousins gather to help
    Before letting each dough rest

    Bubbe and Nani boil potatoes
    In our kitchen, side by side
    we help peel and mash them
    Then split the mess into two bowls.

    Half of us cook down onions for Bubbe
    While others help Nani combine
    chili, cumin, cilantro, peas
    We reconvene to fold and press
    Each mix into its dough

    Cousins all dusted in a fine snow
    As flour flies through the air

    Soon samosas fry and knishes bake
    10 pounds of potatoes
    Flour everywhere
    The scent of cumin lingers
    As the whole family gathers
    At one table

    1. OK. Now, I am very hungry. ;) This is so evocative in so many ways. Food, always evocative. And I love these kinds of moments - family, working together towards a common shared communion.

    2. I love the side-by-side comparisons, the different foods. I could smell all of them. This line is my favorite: "Cousins all dusted in a fine snow..."

    3. the refrain of cousins is what makes this work so well for me. A celebration of family and cooperation that leaves me feeling satisfied.

  22. We're home, but it doesn't feel like we're home. The house is cold and stale. The air smells like dust and old clothes. We open the windows, but it barely helps. And the piles of clothes taunt us. The dishes left dirty in the sink. These are the things that embarrass us. Which is stupid, but it is what it is.

    I unpack my one black suit and hang it up until the next time death calls. We talk about the flight and eat cereal and wish we had clean sheets to sleep in. Or had at least made the bed. We have spent the weekend in a guest house nicer than our own, and we feel that deep inside of us.

    Do you think she'll be OK?

    Sigh. I don't know. Probably not. What can you do?

    We both nod at that and feel like terrible people. The kind of people who don't keep their things clean. The kind of people who would get in an accident and have dirty underwear.

    We try to sleep, but we don't. We let our minds sort out our feelings. Death does this - it stirs self-reflection. He was old, I think. That makes it better. But it doesn't really. Because we're all getting older.

    One of these days I'll have to get the suit cleaned. It smells like old lady perfume. But that seems disrespectful in a way.

    We awake on Monday morning, shrug and hug. Head to work where people will ask us how our weekend was. And we will say "good, thanks" because the truth is so goddamn complicated.

    1. I could totally feel this. Been there.

    2. The intrusion of normalacy into grief is a special sort of pain. Described so well here.

  23. The earthquake threw the Buick across the road, dropping it so it landed on all four wheels at once. The cloud formation was taking up most of the sky now, and the birds were all quiet.

    “That’s the end of the car, I guess.” Burke turned the key again. It wouldn’t start. The engine turned over well enough but with no sign of a spark. There was also a smell of petrol, growing stronger the longer he tried to restart it.

    “Yeah. I think it’s done. Us too, if we don’t get out.” Holly unbuckled her belt calmly, then frowned when she tried to open her door. It wouldn’t move. She raised her eyebrows hopefully, biting back on the fear that was threatening to rise again.

    “Sorry, Hon.” Burke leaned forward and thumbed the ‘padlock’ button, winking back at her when it was answered by a multiple ‘thunk’. He yawned and pushed his own door open, stepping outside onto the road.

    The Ağrı Province was remote, this road only a few hours from Iran. The last vehicle they’d seen had been going the opposite way, filled with what looked like a militia group on exercise, the flat bed of the truck shoulder-to-shoulder with khaki-uniform-wearing men. She’d choked back on her dread then too, only relaxing when it disappeared into the distance. The End of Days was a given, the experts said, but she still wanted to have some choice in how she finished her life.

    Back out on the road, they soon established a rhythm, Burke trying to maintain a position ahead of her but falling back whenever he wanted to talk. Holly was smaller and lighter but leaner too and at least as fit as the man. Keeping up was relatively easy.

    “So, what now?” Burke unscrewed the top from his flask and offered it over to her. “You got any ideas?”

    Holly shook her head and then took it, tilting it back until the water filled her mouth. “Not a one. We all live a while longer, then we die. But isn’t that always the case?”

    1. interesting little scene. Definitely leaves me wondering about what happens around the tale.

    2. I like this a lot. Made the think of The Stand. That last line is a killer, too. Kind of noir. Definitely an intriguing scene.

  24. I haven't yet read everyone else's pieces, so comments on those will be arriving later - perhaps Sunday. But I'm just under the wire for 'Saturday' with posting this to begin with...

    There is something awful about watching your best friend’s wife strip for you.

    I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse that I wasn’t alone. Another buddy - the fourth roommate in our complicated housing arrangement - was in the room, watching from another chair, while Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” pulsed from the tower speakers in the corners of the room.

    Better or worse, I’m not sure. It definitely made it more awkward.

    It wasn’t the first time she’d undressed with my eyes on her. She’d performed at a club’s Amateur Night outside of the base on Friday nights. I’d even taken her home one night, but plans for any amorous adventures were sidetracked by a storm of drink-induced weeping, and revelations of some sad personal history on her part. None of that had stopped Will from dating and within a month or so, marrying her.

    I’ve never understood why she offered to strip for Marty and I in the living room that night. Or what she wanted to happen. The fact that Will wasn’t there, and didn’t know about it gives me a pretty good idea.

    Both Marty and I moved out within a few weeks after that night. I ended up in a studio apartment a block up the road, but I never visited my old roommates much.

    1. The understatement of that last line is so good. I really appreciate how understated the whole thing is. Let the reader draw their conclusions about how to feel - how the characters feel. Bonus: I saw Warrant at the Modesto Street Fair in like 1998. ;)


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