Monday, June 30, 2008

Wanting In

Katharine: Will we be alright?
Almásy: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
Katharine: "Yes" is a comfort. "Absolutely" is not.

--The English Patient, 1996

You see it there, right?
That frantic, unworldly hieroglyph?

Those are the
dark scars left by a
tenacious ivy,
pried loose from the
building's side,
upon its renovation.

In 1969.

Not--no, not--the
claw marks of someone,
or some thing,
desperate for walls
to crumble,
hungry to get in.



Yes . . .


[Photo of Chubb Hall, campus of Ohio University--
reputed to be one of the most haunted places in
the country. Of course.]

Friday, June 27, 2008


He couldn’t nap with her hands gone from his skin.

So he grabbed a replacement light bulb—a ladder, too—and followed the path to the gazebo. Past the shore of the lake, where a shameless bullfrog bleated for a mate, and beyond a troop of evergreens, limbs loose with amber light. Wheezing slightly, he stumbled into the bridal structure and planted the ladder’s legs onto the timbers of its floor. He sagged against the metal trunk for a moment, as his heart recollected its rhythm and age.

The crack of an overhead jet rattled the joists as he mounted the ladder's steps. The lamp moaned and swayed, while vibrations crunched the arthritis in his hips. An aftershock jounced him as the heavens ripped open, and, drunk in the knees, he seized the lamp’s chain with both hands. The need to pee was urgent upon him, while something darker licked at his loins. His intention scattered like feathers, even as he detached the bulb from its thread, and paused.

Spider webs whispered under the roar, while shadows stretched and swarmed.

He looked up. Into a splinter of light.

She came to him a little wild.

He was neither wise nor tender.

Their mouths and bodies laid open and panting, like the ruby throats of baby birds.

His hands reached out to touch her hair.

Falling backward, and then down, he glimpsed a face in the pointed gap between rafters and sky.

He smiled as the old bulb shattered like so many eggshells on the gazebo floor. His eyes closed while a man-made bird blazed past sight and sound.

Somewhere, above the clouds.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


New eyes unpack
a clever camouflage,
as with a shutter's wink,
solar-paneled legs
like hasty lovers

[I am in love. His name is Nikon D40.
And though we still have much to learn
about one another, I think our future is
as bright as a f/16 f-stop on a sunny day.

And yes, I am that lame...]

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Darkness of One

She curled herself into a knuckle on the closet floor. Biting her lip, she tried on an amateur pain, wanting it to push everything away.

Not fair.

She punched the belly she had once caressed. Harder. Three days after, and its slackness slaughtered her.

We made it to sixteen weeks. Not. Fucking. Fair.

She touched a finger to her lip, and shuddered at the blood.

Twenty-two cycles of misses. Three in-vitros. One near divorce, as the obsession rode her. Thousands of tears cried, including dozens on the day the test came back positive, hundreds on the morning they first saw the fluttering heartbeat on the ultrasound. But now she couldn’t cry. Like everything else, her ducts were empty.

I did everything right. Didn’t I do everything goddamn right?

This nursery. Painted blue and yellow, with Martin’s cock-eyed giraffes, the week before . . .

The paint fumes, maybe?

The new carpet smelled funny, too. She sank her nose into the fibers, inhaling its chemicals until she felt queasy.

Phantom nausea.

For her ghost baby.

Matthew Jeffrey . . .

Matthew was their compromise. Jeffrey was to honor her father, who had died when she was ten. They had joked about calling him MJ, since Martin had grown up in Chicago, watching the Bulls’ #23 dominate the NBA, and his small world. Martin thought it was a sign that he was due on the twenty-third of February.

“I’m just sayin’, Lila. He’s destined for great things.”

“And I’m just saying that I’ll be happy if he has ten fingers and toes. We can work on his jump shot later. Or never. Maybe he’ll be the artistic type . . . like his dad,” she had teased, as he wrapped his paint-splattered arms around the slight bulge they had taken to calling Homer.

She got on her knees and, with her teeth, tore tags off the onesies and tiny pants and sweaters hanging from the closet rack, spitting them out on the immaculate carpet.

“Honey?” Martin’s voice searched from the hallway.

She blanched at its invasion.

For she had lost him, too. The only number she understood now was alone.

With her toes, she gently slid the door closed, so that even the light could not find her. So that she could lick her dark, wet wound.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meme Time

Vesper has tagged me for this meme of various things. I enjoyed getting to learn more about her. So here goes...

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Living in Athens, Georgia, stalking Michael Stipe, and pursuing one of many dead-end career paths.

Gas was 89¢/gal.

Five things on your to-do list for today:

Buy my first real camera
Get a haircut (and one for son)
Read Chapter 3 of first Harry Potter book to daughter
Practice my neglected cello
Slip away

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Buy people’s love.
Still be unfulfilled.
Despise myself.
Give it all to charity and go live in India for a year.
Write a best-selling book about my enlightenment.
Sell the movie rights.
Make billions…

What are three of your bad habits?

Coke (liquid, not powder)

What are some snacks you enjoy?

Chocolate-covered pretzels
Men’s blood

What were the last five books you read?

Everyman, by Philip Roth
Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler
Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen (repeat)

What are five jobs you have had?

Zoo train driver
Neuroscience research assistant
Google blob
Book editor
Failed author

What are five places where you have lived?

Fallbrook, California
Athens, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
Athens, Georgia
In the clouds

Thank you, Vesper! Anyone who wants to play, dive right in...



I'm late with this, but everyone should check out the newest venture from Chris Eldin and Jason Evans (among others):

Visit Book Roast!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pink Passions

When working in a nursing home, I cared for this old lady who was addicted to lipstick.

Her mind was all pockmarked—a soap opera hunk became her wayward son—and she smelled slightly of stale urine under the Jean Naté. But that lipstick was her I-am-still-here-goddammit stamp on a fading world. Whenever there was a gap in our conversation, or a commercial on TV, she’d pull out a tube of Pink Passions and just slather that nothing mouth like one of those freaky, televangelist wives. She must have went through a tube a day. Her niece found a place that sold them bulk, I think. Had to change her pillowcase constantly, but none of us had the heart to take that color away.

She still wanted to be beautiful. She still wanted to be kissed.

Down the hall from Miss Luttrell was Mr. Lyons, a real firecracker of a man who raged at the talk show guests on TV, and us nurses, for the dead wife who left him six months ago. When she was breathing, he'd had no use for her, but now that she had stopped, he sniffed the air like a bloodhound that’d lost its master. That’s usually the way it goes, far as I can tell. But he wore his anger like a cheap toupée that slipped over his eyes to hide the guilt and shame. Too easy to see that scrubbed baby scalp below. Anyway, we all liked him, in spite of his nasty. The wound was so raw, you know.

One day I caught him checking out my ass. I knew he must be doing something because he wasn’t yelling at me. Got me thinking, it did.

When it came time for Bingo in the rec room that week, I made sure to park Mr. Lyons’ wheelchair next to Miss Luttrell’s. They weren’t much in the way of players—he yapped too much and missed the calls, and she was distracted by the wind from the fan—but that wasn’t the point, after all.

I sat in the corner as that swivel fan swung our way. Miss Luttrell started to hunt in her pocket for something. Mr. Lyons finally shut his trap.

And I waited for my chips to fall.

Monday, June 16, 2008


7:30: Wake up on my parents’ hide-a-bed with a sense of incredulity. Wedding days dawn like any other. Huh. Expected animated birds, or something.

8:00: Push cereal on a queasy stomach. Evidently, brides are in constant danger of not “keeping their strength up” and “wilting like flowers.” Is this a wedding or a triathlon?

9:00: Peek at my dress. Yep, still love it.

11:00: Hair. The make-or-break moment of the day. Eagle-eyed bridesmaids supervise.

12:00: I am now gorgeous enough to dine at the Subway next door. With veil. No, I don’t feel the slightest bit silly. Customers smile dewily at me. More forced feeding. I think they’re fattening me up for some sort of pagan sacrifice…

1:00: Wishing I could call Paul while at best friend’s house. But of course, this would lead to eternal cursitude.

2:00: In church basement. The Dressing of the Bride. Angels sing.

3:00: Picture time. At one point, the photographer presses me to pose with my hands on my hips. ‘Cause I have attitude, yo. I oblige, but my thoughts are neither pure nor virginal.

4:00: Where’s the guy with the music?! Jesus Christ. Doesn’t he know I’m crazy?

4:10: He comes. Heart resumes its regular programming.

4:20: Last minute hugs and kisses. None of this feels real.

4:30: I hear the first strings of Bach…

4:31: I see Paul at the end of the aisle. Eyes do shine. It’s real.

4:32: A torrent of words and ritual. But all I need to know is written in his face.

4:45: It’s over.

Oh, there was more. Endless pictures, reception duties, a happy send-off. But that’s not what I really remember.

4:31—that was my wedding day.

Happy 7th, Paul…

Friday, June 13, 2008

City pool

Screams smack the water,
and whistles scold divers,
but it’s the low, rhythmic
slup of waves against breast
that delivers you from
braised shoulders, chlorine eyes

And the sun of your youth
charms forgotten old pennies,
as you push through a
blue-drunk oblivion,
enthralled by anemone legs,
grinning like Jaws

[Like an idiot, I forgot my camera
when we went to our city pool. So this
photo is snatched from here.]

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Elgar: Third Movement (The Wife Who Would Remember)

[Sorry for the long break in this series. If you need to reacquaint yourself with the previous installments, Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.]

“She fed him my tongue.”

Nobody but the girl responds. And she sounds sad. Always so sad with that one. A sad clown’s leaky balloon.


The spit bubbles pop. She giggles, and searches the opera box for an audience.

Why did he bring her?

“Mrs. Donovan?”

It’s more than the poor thing should bear.

Her pale blue eyes float without anchor above a sea of ninnies below. Notes shadow her ankles like silver fish, but she walks on water (he says, he says), and will not permit them air.


The scrap of bone and hair beside her pats her hands and whispers, “Mrs. Donovan, your husband has just stepped out for a moment. You’re at the concert hall, Mrs. Donovan. The concert hall. It’s the Elgar tonight. Marvelous, isn’t she?”

She snaps back her hand, fingering the opal ring Mother lets her wear on special occasions. “I know where I am, Uncle.”

Dirty old man. Serpents for hands.

“Snakes can’t smell without tongues,” she says. “And sirens can’t sing.”

“All right, Mrs. Donovan. Let’s not worry yourself about such things.”

This thing gags her. She must escape.

Scurry, scurry hermit crab
Look for food that you can grab.
Search for shells that fit just right
Hide in them when it is night.

Dipping forward to grab the umbrella he extends to shelter her, a heart pours out yesterday’s water.

Bobbing to its waves, her mouth spills open. Milky eyes track the sea’s shifting lights. Until they are upon her. Until she glows within their timeless grace.

Don’t work yourself up over a silly girl’s machinations, Penny.

Her tongue licks the sea salt from her lips.

There is nothing to it, my love. Just let it go.

Let it go.

And so she had. And so she—

“Mrs. Donovan?” the voice insists. “Penelope?”

Surfacing, she gasps for air, scanning the dark skies. The gaudy chandelier burns softly now, like a mariner’s distant galaxy. The girl’s notes wobble, so far from the hearth of home.

There is salt on her tongue. Is.

She rises.

“I thought she cut it out.”

I did, I did?

“And fed it to him.”

I did, I did.

“Of course, Mrs. Donovan. Won’t you have a seat now? This movement is almost ended.”

The blue umbrella explodes like birds’ wings, and she lifts it above her head, ready to set sail.

“But now I don’t know,” she says, staring down at the girl—this ancient child—with the opal in her cello. “I really couldn’t say who—”

A few in the audience look up as she drifts near the rail.

To be continued...

[Cello: Jacqueline du Pré; Conductor and husband: Daniel Barenboim; video courtesy of markvogue]

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sun's Glory

She trembles for
his dream light,
those eyelash caresses,
because the night’s veil
hangs brutal and blind

And when his heat rubs
the scent from her neck,
a tear sheds the moon ache,
unfurling a glory of starpetals
to receive her sun

If just for one morning,
If just for the lark’s song

[Photo of morning glory
courtesy tanakawho]

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Leaping from
the lion’s mouth,
we framed a boat
from arms and legs,
threw back our faces
to spell the sun,
and drank to the
fall of

(there is no bottom to this mist,
there is no rainbow end)