Friday, June 26, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

I took a break this morning, went down to the beach, stood on a tall rock, tried not to fall. Did yoga. The sun bounced off the cliff face, throwing rays into the late afternoon, while my girls pretended to be mermaids, singing and chirping and complaining about sister things. I listened to the birdcall and the sound of the waves licking the rocks. I tried to visualize the sturgeon and striped bass that forage under the water and mud for shrimp and crab. It smelled of healthy brine, of life.

I tried to stop time and examine my place in it. I looked at my life on a timeline, plotted the steps and missteps, thought about all the paths which will diverge in all the yellow woods of all our futures. I thought about what is at the core. What matters. Love. Empathy. Justice. Understanding. I did not fall, but I allowed for that option. I was happy not to fall; the rocks did not look inviting. They were green and slick, but sharp enough that they would have changed me.

I watched sandpipers skip off the tops of the breakers: heard the gulls cry their lost-love sea-songs, screeched laments and horrors. I focused on my breathing and pulled the warm air deep into my lungs; felt my heart beat, sending blood through my veins. When I felt like I was focused on nothing as much as one can be focused on nothing, I asked myself what had happened this week. What mattered. I thought about y’all. My wife. Kids. My friends. My family back east. I thought about the stories my students are writing. It seemed right. Maybe it is right. I thanked the beach, and I will return to it.


  1. I like this contemplative turn. Ha ha, you know what I'mma say about the italics: get rid. You might be able to justify happy at a stretch.

    But this—"I watched sandpipers skip off the tops of the breakers: heard the gulls cry their lost-love sea-songs, screeched laments and horrors"—is baroque and lyrical, and "yellow woods of our futures" is both evocative and intriguing.

    This piece is so densely packed.

    1. Sorry, lazy typing: "...all the yellow woods of all our futures," which is so much better than my original mistaken quote.

    2. it feels really peaceful and meditative, and real, like you're standing there thinking. It's funny how stepping back from thinking, going somewhere beautiful and serence, especially by the sea, puts everything in a new perspective and frees it all - like birds. And Yep, the important things are the big but simple things. I like the italics, which pick out the words 'life, time, matters, happy'. There are some cool images: the sun throwing rays, the girls, the sturgeon and bass foraging, balancing on the rocks, and the sandpipers. And the bliss of thinking about nothing...

    3. This seems therapeutic to me, whether you're reliving it or reading it in a semi-passive way. It's so very much in the moment that it becomes meditative, as Vickie's already said. You could certainly record this with a soft voice and use it for an ASMR tape (that's how old I am) or video.

    4. Such a visual piece Dan. I could see and your girls so clearly. It was so thoughtful I even loved the contemplation of falling though it was unlikely to be as pleasant as just standing there musing about life and what makes it better.

  2. Shadow

    Colourless, listless, it drifts
    Like rain clouds repentant,
    Tired of watering.
    This haunted shadow
    Glides inside our walls,
    Closeting itself within,
    Too shy to be seen.

    1. I love how this is as spectral and delicate as the thing it describes. It's like a mood.

    2. I thought ethereal or wraithlike. It's certainly creepy enough to make me shudder. It's so powerful. Fabulous.

    3. A perfect shadowy description "rain clouds repentant, tired of watering."

  3. Seldom

    An almost never in forever,
    Words plucked, white silk feathers

    Floating freely, never at rest.
    Secrets kept close to your chest.

    One visit in a year of same days,
    Crossed in a calendar of “always”.

    We wait and listen for daylight,
    The turn-off to sleep of still night.

    An epiphany will always spin,
    Tossing ribbons of colourful sin.

    Toes dug down deep in purple sand,
    We wait for empathy to offer its hand.

    1. You're mastering traditional rhyme and metre as well as the more free verse. I love that we're seeing your poetic evolution. :)

    2. This is a superb lyrical poem that just flows off your tongue. It deserves to be read out-loud - it's stronger and much more enjoyable that way. Brilliant.

  4. It rained today.

    Yesterday was a day of firsts; my first time above the ground, my first lungfuls of unfiltered air, my first solo-operative work experiences.

    And my first death too. My own; in case you’re wondering.

    It’s a mark of honour, my manager tells me. He’s never had to go through the respawning process, though. It’s below his paygrade; managerial staff of all grades are all sequestered below, never to venture out into the light. And it’s not as though it’s permanent, after all. The process of recovery’s well automated and the drones that carry it out are quite swift. It’s quite rare there being more than an hour between your life being extinguished and your remains being brought back in a jar. Although the time that your fragments stay in the jar can vary, depending on how irreparably damaged you were. The gene splicers can do wonders but even miracles take time, he told me, never giving me his full attention. He’d a bank of monitors he was watching – the troops, out on patrol. He wishes he could be out there himself, but regrettably…

    You know how it goes. He’s a martyr, shackled to his station, his desk his only companion. It must be a wrench, being compelled to keep yourself safe.

    The respawning was painful. Nobody tells you that. I’d thought that my dying was the most extreme period of suffering I’d ever experience but at least it was short. Three and a half minutes, although that was more than long enough while I was experiencing it. It’s astonishing how much time telescopes out for you when you’re fully aware of every second. If you multiplied it, so it seemed like hours, you’d be much closer to the mark.

    But the respawning, that was just gruesome.

    Imagine, if you can, being burned alive, feeling every cell dissolve to ash. Then do it again, but in reverse, with the fire a different flavour and colour. And then imagine it all in a state of heightened consciousness because you need to be aware or it won’t work as it should. Yes, we’ve seen all the failures that didn’t cohere correctly, the malformations that lived for a while. But you have to wonder if they’re the lucky ones. None of them are kept - they’re all destroyed as soon as the splicers know they’re not viable.

    But today, I lived, I fought and I came back. I was wounded, of course I was, but despite all that I survived. I’m going to need prosthetics – a hand, two legs and an eye – but that’s chicken feed compared to spawning. Or at least that’s what the medics told me.

    I wonder if it’ll rain tomorrow.

    I hate it when it's wet. It makes my hips ache.

    1. I love the strange mood of your stories, a kind of Kafkaesque dystopia. This one hits the spot that way too.

    2. Wow, this was delightfully creepy Mark. I really loved the ending but also the practicality and matter of fact nature of this piece overall.

    3. This is great. This would make a really good sci-fi novel. Really cool idea and reads well. It's mysterious and attention-grabbing.

  5. Glaring into a sunburst windshield, she follows the fiercest of sunsets into town and holes up in the Indigo Motel heedless of the glances and scowls she spurns from strangers. She is a boy who looks like a girl or or a girl who looks like a boy, and though others seem to, she hardly gives a fuck.

    This is only her fourth night of separation from the thing that happened.

    Charleigh. Charleigh is her name. When she clicks the grubby remote to figure out the TV, she sees on the grainy screen that the last four occupants had watched the same porn—creepy daughter incest shit—and she wishes she’d grabbed a sleeping bag. In the end, she lays the unrolled towels from the bathroom over the bed cover and sleeps that way, wondering if the towels themselves are clean.

    But she knows nothing is ever clean, and that’s a thing we must learn early, before our innocence goes.


    Outside, in the brightness of morning, a man sings badly but lustily by the roadside, a troubadour of dust. Charleigh has barely climbed from her dreams, but she knows enough to know the man sings to no other.

    “What a terrible thing it is to be.
    Where are the birds, the bees,
    The butterflies, the bats?
    I hope you know, because I sure don’t see
    Where all them critters are at.”

    Here’s what it’s like to love someone: every grain of dust on an otherwise mundane trail stays with you, becomes part of a constellation which then becomes a zodiac; each individual birdcall, the slats on a boardwalk, the rising melody of a mutual song, a precious scene from a film, are sonatas in a greater work. The way someone stirs their coffee. Shadows on a wall the shade of a Tuscan sundown. The arch of a brow, the mad inhalation, the bestowal, the grateful burden. All of it.


    The thing that happened was a killing. It began with Charleigh saying, “Each time I have to ask for help diminishes me” and ended with a sacrifice. Which reckless god or goddess, or what spirit of caprice, demands such?

    Simplicity is always a lie. No thing is simple. She keeps a journal she began the first time shadows transited the flickering sun of her life. She opens it at random:

    “The wine stem held aloft, a burgundy shadow on your chest like a bloodstain, or the cowl of arousal, your blessed stung lips barely parted, yet I imagine the honey of your breath.”

    Riches. Charleigh has always dreamed of riches, of fulfilment on every level, each bold strata, of hunger and thirst and want and yen and itch.

    Murder is that rarity: bleak and empty yet bright as diamonds, scorched of all warmth yet compelling as a frozen bleep unlit across the black immensities.

    The accelerant? A quarrel.

    “As God is my witness…”

    “Funny, that. Your god is a being of pure eternal love… yet if you don't stop displeasing him he is going to fuck up your entire existence."

    From that to violence and an ending. Her eyes in this dry place are dry now, but tears still tumble somewhere, like reels on a slot machine, waiting to ring up three of anything.


    Out in a rainy field and the earth is shimmering. All so drenched even the crows have sheltered. A brightness in the pewter canopy, training its muted glory on a single human figure crawling amid the stalks. Crawling though its jellied skull is mostly shambles.

    1. There's a hell of a lot in this. I'm getting that someone hurt her and she murdered him, but I'm not sure. There's a feeling of anger, desperation, loss, loneliness. The characters seem lost. Great scene with her covering the bed cos nothing is clean - emphasised by the gross-out porn. In the second part, I'm thinking she killed someone she loves - the burden of it. She recognises something in the lone man. The same lost? As always, some rich images and unusual dialogue.

  6. I'm going to use a term which may either make you scratch your head or grin. You've a writing style which seems fractal to me, inasmuch as the deeper you look the more details you find. You've the ability to write in a way that demands immediate rereading so that the reader can luxuriate in the imagery and the literary easter eggs you tuck between the lines. It's art, that's for sure, but it's also approachable and enjoyable in a way which is more compelling than many other people I read. You use a multimedia approach here too, blurring the line between literature and lyricism in a way that I admire. It's outstanding and I don't blame you for feeling it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.

    1. Thank you, my friend. That's kind of you. I like the "multimedia" idea. One thing I disagree with, though: as much as I'd love my work to be read by as many people as possible (as we all do), I don't think it deserves it, other than in the sense that everyone who participates here equally deserves the widest readership.

    2.'re being humble David and that's cool but Mark's right.In fact, he hit the proverbial nail on the head. Unlike most of your pieces though this reminded me of something. Well, really the much darker version of something -- a film I once saw a long time a go. Not in any exact way. Just in terms of mood and intrigue. Like much of your writing I'd never seen anything quite like it before or since. Well done, my friend.

    3. Mood is my favourite thing in movies, TV, music, and fiction writing, so thank you! I think only recently, in the last few years, all my influences have coalesced into a recognizable style that's now largely mine. It took decades of mimicry, lol. I'm now curious which film. :)

  7. There were times when people missed the point merely to serve as a panacea for their own inability to cope. Then, there were times they missed the point because that's who they were. That's the way they wanted it. Millie's current wailing about his daughter's impatience during the unexpected shopping spree her aunt had sprung on her, made Charlie think hard about the two different possibilities. He'd warned his sister that if she didn't get Sarah back home from their lunch outing exactly by three o'clock that there would be hell to pay, but she didn't seem to hear him--in the way that Millie often didn't hear other people. All Millie knew was that his little girl had ruined the day she had planned.
    As her one and only big brother, since they were kids, Millie had simultaneously been both the very bright sunshine of his life and the bane of Charlie's existence. He wished...
    What did he wish really? Did he wish that things were different? So different that he'd been an only child or did he just wish that there was a pill, or a jolt to the system that might bring Millie around to a sane or even a semi-considerate way of thinking.
    He reminded himself that it didn't matter. He'd tried to contemplate the possibilities before and it hadn't gotten him anywhere beyond the fantasy of an easy relationship with his sister. They were both old enough now to know better or at least he was. There was no changing things.
    Sarah always looked like her mother when she was upset. Tightlipped. Arms crossed over her little chest. Big brown eyes wide and flashing between him and her aunt with lightning speed.
    "I don't know what you've been teaching this little girl Charlie. Her behavior is ungrateful at best and bratty at worse."
    Millie spoke in a fake stage whisper. With a periodic and theatrical sigh of exasperation between sentences.
    "Dad, Mommy will call at 4pm. She always calls at tea time."
    "Sarah, why don't you get set up in the dining room. We still have ten minutes. I want to talk to your aunt for a minute."
    "Okay. Please hurry Daddy."
    Charlie waited until he could hear Sarah pulling at the cups and saucers he laid out in the kitchen before he spoke.

  8. "Millie--"
    "I don't know why you don't let me take her full time or at least during the week Charlie. She and Tobias can play together."
    "Tobias is seven years her senior, he has friends his own age. Besides, I don't let Sarah live with you because she's my daughter. She belongs with me."
    "She belongs with her mother but that ship has sailed. Or should I say that troop has changed position? But you don't even have the benefit of knowing that one way or the other, do you Charlie?"
    "It doesn't matter."
    "This all matters. That child hasn't been right since her brother died."
    His sister had a way of wading into minefields like they were still lakes, seemingly unaware that wet or dry, she might still get herself blown to pieces.
    "I think you should go now Millie."
    "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I don't know how you feel about her. That I don't know what it's like to love someone. But I've been in love and look...look where it got me. A single parent, just like you. But I had to learn the hard way Charlie... so... so you don't have to."
    Millie moved in closer raising a hand to his heart. Inches away like she might touch him there. Charlie moved back a step. Then two. His eyes never leaving her face.
    "I think you should go now Millie. I have to help Sarah. I don't want to make her late for speaking with her mama. I want to speak to my wife too."
    The look Millie gave him wasn't disappointment. It was more calculating than that. It was the look of someone who knew she'd have another opportunity to get her point across. And maybe that was the real problem. Millie saw no one else's point but her own. That was his own fault he supposed. He didn't encourage her stubbornness but he'd never been able to cut his only sister out of his life either. More and more lately though, he wanted to.

    1. You've pulled off that slice of life thing again, completely immersing the reader as if we've walked in on them. Such authentic dialogue and living, breathing characters in such economical strokes.

    2. This is interesting. There's a real contrast between brother and sister, and how they think and speak. Millie comes across as domineering and forceful, headbutting her way in and then wondering when someone doesn't warm to it. Charlie deals with it as best he can, being polite but firm when he would like to be able to walk away, but she's family. Millie takes some cheap shots at him too. It's realistic. I think everyone's met both types.


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