Friday, October 31, 2008


There was something to the dark that made her want to run faster.


Her mind recycled old favorites, like a metronome searching for its rhythm. Ignoring the sharp stitch under her ribs, Kelly ramped up her speed.


Sweat lifted into the sharp, dry air. Her boyfriend thought she was nuts for running in fifty-degree weather, clad only in t-shirt and shorts. But it exhilarated her to have the black cold rush her skin, even while her lungs burned.


Steps. Other steps. Behind her.

She hugged the right side of the path, so the runner could pass. But he sustained the same, even pace for a quarter of a mile:


It had to be a man, his slower, more deliberate steps mocking her shorter stride.

She glanced over her shoulder. Saw nothing but shadows. The ponytail lashed her neck as she turned back around. She licked her lips. Her eyes jigsawed. A mind skidded over facts like oily puddles:

She passed the last 9-1-1 panic button a half mile ago.
There was not much of a moon tonight.
Everyone else was at Halloween parties.
Her boyfriend didn’t know she was out.
Her boyfriend didn’t know she was out.
Her boyfriend didn’t know—

The stitch in her side chewed deeper, and phlegm plugged her throat. Her elbows dropped a little. Kelly weaved and lost the path. The softness of the turf bent her right ankle at a crude angle.

She chomped down on her tongue.


Her lungs whistled like a teapot over her limp. Sweat poured and stung her eyes. The jagged needles in her ankle threaded the muscle in her calf. Her knee spasmed.

The wall, the wall. I’ve hit the wall.

Kelly whimpered, tasting blood.


The steps behind were lazier now. Almost gloating.

As she turned to snatch another look, she stumbled.

But as her hands scuffed the ground, the real pain descended. It glommed onto her like she was a soft cicada, being squeezed from a crusty exoskeleton. She gasped, her torso twisting, arms flung wide. Her throat tipped back, mouth rounding, while her eyes milked the stars.

Run. Run.

The word was a cold hook, reeling her to feet. She hadn’t thought it. It had just come. But she knew--she knew--it was the only cure.

Sobbing as the torment instantly subsided, Kelly struggled to find her stride.


The thing approved. Her ankle numbed.

Tears flying with the sweat, Kelly trudged past another distance marker. This is how it would be. No stopping now. She tried not to remember how much longer there was until she ran out of path. Until there was only woods, and unbroken night.

There was something in the dark that needed her to run.

And so she would.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Salem Community Church

Salem cemetery

Religious figurine--reading, "Blessed are the
pure in heart, for they shall know
God"--leaning against a gra--

Salem outhouse

Oh, well.

How did they test for purity/witchery
at the real Salem again?

If I remember right, it had something to
do with sinkers and floaters . . .

(Oh, God, I'm going to burn
for this, aren't I?)

Monday, October 27, 2008


A root clings blind to earth,
cutting its tooth on decay

Air may be sweet on memory,
but wind pushes change

Fire torches everything,
but a phoenix rises anyway

Between solitude and loneliness
lies a choice as slippery as water

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Page Turner

“Which one?” he asks.

“The nocturne,” Lily says. “I’m still fumbling it. And the concert is on Saturday.”

He tries not to smell her hair as the bench's legs squeak under his added pressure.

“Sounded fine to me, earlier.”

She knocks her shoulder into his and smiles. “You should stick to the trombone, Brian.”

Yet his hands hover over smoke and ivory, not chilled brass. A buzz builds beneath his fingertips. A silent swinging of electrons. A warmth, waiting.

His wrists drop into his lap as Lily smooths the sheet music. Releasing a breath, she relaxes her shoulders. And strikes the first timbre.

He closes his eyes as a piano surrenders its secrets.

She works the instrument like she plays upon my being—

fingers on keys a scalpel dissecting night terrors
foot on soft pedal the teethmarks on a pillow
ripples in a bench the moonlight earthquake of a soul

Brian's eyes open twenty measures in. He’s been counting. And composing.

Leaning in, he waits to turn her page.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Finding Spring in Fall

In passing through the arch,
they did not become new.

Bodies did not shed old scars.
Minds did not know better color.
Love did not bewitch the fact of gravity.

But their passage still marked a beginning.
Because they believed it would.

Because they knew better,
on a day such as this,
than to fear any winter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Painting by Numbers

Eight octupus arms draped
with cranberry pearls

Four wheels on two bikes
shredding saffron foil

One nucleus slathered
from proton-gray ashes

A half-clothed lady unveiling
flamenco rhythms

All lulled to sleep by a
wind's whispered carols

Friday, October 17, 2008


“Field of blood,” he said.

She wrinkled her nose. “Too ghoulish, even for the season.”

“Field of Kool-Aid?”

“Mm. Cherry Kool-Aid.”

“What were you thinking of?” he said.

“Nothing, really. I’m not very quick on my feet.”

“Come on. Try.”

She shrugged his arm off her shoulder. “Nope.”

A confetti of grasshoppers exploded from the wet earth as he sat down.

“Pen me a poem, Liz.”

“Oh, God. Are you drunk?”

He leaned back on his elbows.

“Intoxicate me with your words.”

She corked her laughter with her knuckles, while he waggled a blade of grass between his teeth.

“Or maybe something the kids might like?” he said.

“Well, crap. There goes my initial inspiration.”

He spat out the grass, and smiled.

“Something just for me, then.”

She frowned.

“Can I do a haiku, since they’re short and all?”

“Absolutely. Haiku porn is a dying art form. Outside Japan, that is.”

She started to pace, counting syllables on her fingers as she eyed a gaggle of geese arrow past the treetops. His foot bounced on his knee while he watched her strain.

Finally, she stopped, took a deep breath, and said,

"A field of fire
Inflaming my allergies
Can we go home now?"

He squinted, though the sun sulked inside its grey vault. Sitting up, he gingerly cleared his throat.

“Very nice, but is it kosher to end a haiku on a question?”

She sneezed.

“I don’t really care. All I know—”

She shrieked as her legs were ripped from the ground.

“What are you doing?!”

“You were right. You’re not very quick on your feet.”

Her laughter died in his lips. He was distracted from the dampness on his back by the slightest suggestion in her hips.

“What was wrong with that poem?” she said.

Her breath warmed his ear, and flooded his body. Like the sweetest fever.

“I just wanted to go home.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Beneath the Boughs

The leaves have forgotten their beginnings
and the plunge they took to mark the days,
while the crickets cannot find dawn’s light
in their catacombs of pulsing decay

But Puck’s small daughter whittles these losses
on her wanderer’s throne ‘neath the boughs,
where a lake of fire singes her legs
and Black Knight cheats Dragon’s fury of jaws

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Between the Leaves

Coming, going
falling, soaring

Sometimes you just want to bend
to the curve of the seasons,
and watch the color drain
from summer’s long fingers

Monday, October 6, 2008

Infinite Quest

I've only read a smattering of David Foster Wallace's short stories and essays, but he is one of my husband's favorite authors. So when he killed himself a few weeks ago, we took notice.

In the days after his death, I was moved to read this piece, adapted from a 2006 commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College. In it, Foster Wallace ruminated on the curse of self-centeredness, of seeing everything through the lens of me, me, me. Here is a section of the speech:

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about "teaching you how to think" is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: "Learning how to think" really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

There is a beautiful section of the speech in which Foster Wallace transforms a soul-draining shopping experience at the grocery store into a rare opportunity for human empathy and understanding. He does this simply by stepping outside of himself, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. Just as we would want people to do for us.

You should read the whole thing if you have the time. I don't think you'll regret it.

I've been thinking a lot about this speech in the last few weeks. Returning to it often. Trying to put it into practice. One small example : my family was at Donato's the other evening, and I was impatient because the cashier was taking too long to wait on me. Me, me, me. But I switched off that petty, inner outrage, and saw myself for what I was : one person in a crowded roomful of fellow people, all of whom were either working hard, or wanting pizza, too. It was so easy. All it took was awareness, and the tiniest adjustment in attitude. And I felt the better for it.

Of course, it isn't always so easy. It wasn't for Foster Wallace. He could not, at some point, escape the huge, cold clutch of his own mind. But I have no doubt that he tried. That he believed in these words. And that he wanted those kids at Kenyon to try, too.

I'll leave you with a few more of his words from that day:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

[Photo courtesy of Keith Bedford/Getty Images]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

All Apologies

“Miranda, I’m sorry,” she said.

The rub of onion and spiced meat recalled their childhood vacations to the beach. Skipping down the boardwalk with an ocean shelled in her ears. Snapping Miranda’s swimsuit straps against her pink shoulders. Running for her life.

Karen tried to swallow.

“So sorry,” she repeated.

“Yeah, you keep saying that,” her sister said, eyes fixed to the counter. The grill cook was flirting with the cashier.


Miranda didn’t smile. Karen continued breaking off the burnt tips of french fries with her greasy fingers.

“You lied to me,” Miranda said. “Over and over again.”

“I know,” Karen said, pushing her plate away and taking her sister’s hand across the table. “I feel sick about it.”

Miranda looked at her. Usually, her eyes were as warm as evergreens.

“No, you don’t.”

But today, they were as wet, and sharp, as emeralds.

“I really—”

“I mean, yes. You feel bad,” Miranda said, sliding her hand away. “But it’s not really the point. It doesn’t excuse anything.”

Karen nodded once. “No.”

Miranda wiped her hands on a napkin and tossed it aside.

“And now you want me to tell you that everything is going to be all right.”

“You always have,” Karen murmured, staring at the mosaic of tiles on the table. They blurred into a red and black tantrum. The room began to spin away, even as she clawed for the edges.


She looked up. Miranda smiled.

“Everything is going to be all right.”

Karen closed her eyes. Breathed deeply.

Her sister rose, dropped some cash on the table, and tugged on a yellow sweater. Placing a hand on Karen’s shoulder, Miranda looked down at her.

“You’ve just got to find a way to get there.”

Karen watched her sister walk into autumn's arms, and disappear. Turning back to the empty table, she acknowledged the open, thrown back mouths of the cook and cashier, whose arm he was touching. They looked to be laughing. But all Karen could hear was a low, rhythmic roar in her ears.

Like waves being dragged from their summer shore.

“I’m sorry,” she mouthed, for no one.