Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

A diamond day
the long skin
of night
with silent lips
of pear-shaped cut,
birthing the blood
of resurrection
in that most
sacred stone,
the human heart


Merry Christmas and
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Hug your loved ones tight,
and your kids (if you got 'em)
tighter.  I hope the warmth of
the season embraces you all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Under the Pine

She waited for the moment.

No footsteps in the hallway. Her parents’ voices a muffled wave on the other side of the wall. The clock glowing 11:08 on her night stand.

It was time.

She grabbed Snoopy. Cracking the door, she scuttled down the hall, her shadow a silent leap ahead of her heart. Through the sheer curtains in the living room, she could see snow sink through the wonderlight. Swirling snow, tossed by an invisible hand.

It didn’t worry her. Rudolph’s nose was bright. He wouldn’t have any trouble.

He couldn’t.

The tree’s lights reflected rainbows in her eyes. She smiled with a candy-cane mouth. Excitement fizzed from some sleepy center up to dancing lips, and she clutched Snoopy tighter to squelch the squeal inside her chest. Her feet rocked from heel, to tiptoe, and back.

“Oh, boy,” she whispered. “Oh, boy.”

A crackling noise ran from her parents’ room, and up her spine. She scurried past the manger scene, and the piano bench, which still held a plate with two cookies. And the glass of milk to wash down a red star, a blue angel.

Dear Santa, I hope you have time to eat these. You must be very tired.

She crept toward the space she’d picked out. At the back of the tree, in the corner of the room. Where a tangled bow of light cords hid.  But if she hugged her knees, she’d fit just so.
Picking her way through the stack of presents, she thought of the Grinch, slithering his way around the other Whos’ houses, leaving crumbs much too small for the other Whos’ mouses. Her bottom knocked down an ornament, or two, but she didn’t bother putting them back up. Not now.

She couldn’t.

Almost time.  It must be. The sharpness of pine tickled her nose. Looking up, she inhaled the carnival of lights with eyes thrown open wide. Up, up, up they shot. Her head fell back on Snoopy’s tummy. Her fingers reached to touch fresh sap.

Sticky. Her dad told her that bugs could get stuck in it. Forever.

A door creaked. Footsteps pattered. She held her breath, but her heart was a drum.

Pa ra pa pum pum.

“Who’s eating the cookies?”

“My turn.”

“You did it last year!”

“All right. One for each of us. Claire was generous.”

“I’ll take the angel.”

“Fine. But I’m telling Santa you’re the greedy one.”

She saw them. Eating Santa’s cookies. She saw them. Something like sap squeezed up the tube of her throat. And burned.

Her mouth opened.

“I wish we'd gotten one more thing for each of the stockings.”

“Stuff more candy in. They won’t notice.”

“I just don’t want them to be disappointed.”

She pressed her lips together. Hard. Tried to make herself even smaller. Crumb-like.

Daddy’s glasses glowed gold through the branches. Very close now. Her breath whistled as he set the stockings upright against the presents. He adjusted the candy canes to hook just so at the top. His face softened into creases.

She could see a bit of grey in the stubble of his chin.

The hot stuff in her throat sank lower. Into the tender part of her chest. Daddy. It warmed her. The Christmas lights—a kaleidoscope of red, blue, yellow, purple—all blurred into gold.

“There. Perfect.”

She had to sneeze.

She was going to sneeze.   

“This will probably be the last year for Claire and Santa.”

“I’m surprised she hasn’t asked already.”

“She wants to believe. She always has.”

Snoopy’s ear tasted like dirty cotton balls. But biting down worked. She didn’t sneeze.

Instead, she would stay still and silent. As a mouse. Until her parents finished. And when tomorrow came, her smile wouldn’t waver, or break.

It couldn’t.

Sunday, December 13, 2009







Pierced by a needle,
cranberry kissed,
big belly laughs
spacing hearts
too tart
to pop
by mouth






Bursting from its skin,
warm butter bath,
the movie man
scooping heaps
a striped
red bag






Slathered by a scent,
holiday puffed,
a little boy
smiles large,
Mom’s heart
to go




Monday, December 7, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream

We are on a picnic.  By the lake you grew up near.   I am wearing a summer dress, a few Hail Mary’s above my ankles, while you are getting burnt behind the knees.  You are feeding me the fleshy part of a peach.  The juice dribbles down my chin and melts into my neck.  A bee thinks I’m nectar, buzzing over breasts like arched petals, but it is your tongue tasting honey some minutes later.  In that soft crescent behind my ear.

The cicadas urge us on.  The woods pulse and hum.

Your hand disappears under my skirt.  My thighs part like gloves.  The rolling pressure of your thumb is the fulcrum upon which my life sees and saws.  You take your time.  Lips full above me, the sun a halo around your head.  Your eyes two magnets for an open-mouthed gaze.  My neck cranes for you, but you understand that anticipation is the soul of desire.  You want me to reach so long and sweet for it—for you—that when we touch, time is warped and confused.  And briefly breaks up.

I bend to the winds of a thumb and cupped palm.  I suck your name from the pulp on my tongue.  A skirt conceals nothing from trees and ice water.  I am open.  Undone.  Your hand is blood sunshine.  Evolution feeds on me, base pairs flipping and cartwheeling and slipping new bonds.

The thumb, the palm, is not enough. I want more.  I need . . .


I ask you for it.


Please . . .

Your lips are sweeter than the fruit.  Your tongue tastes like my neck.  Your body, moving with mine, is a leaf flowing down a river’s song.

On a Sunday afternoon.


I take you to the water.

A part of me wants to tell you that this was the place where I learned to be a man.  A part of me is close to telling it.  But I can’t tell you that.

Instead, we skip rocks on the water.  And hunt for salamanders beneath the wet earth.   We lay down our blanket, open a wicker basket, and talk about why people don’t take picnics anymore.  You say it’s because they’ve forgotten how.  I say it’s because people believe in irony more than sentiment anymore.   Either way, we’re both feeling good, if a little superior.  Which I don’t mind.  Because let’s face it—we are right now.

I try to imagine what my boyhood self would think of my being here.  With you.  I think he’d be scared.  And electrified.

I could touch you all day long.  Your knees, round and brown from the summer.  Your pretty ankles, uncrossing like a broken promise.  The richness of your thighs.   The spreading dampness on your





I am restrained because I sense you want me to be.  I am not a boy any longer.

When you finally reach for me, when you finally open to me, I want to push as hard as the cicadas.   I want to fill the forest with a storm.  I want, I want—

Instead, I breathe your name.


I answer you.


This is another excerpt from the new novel, since that's what I'm focused on right now.  I figured we could use some warmth, too, now that winter is setting in!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Note to Self . . .

 . . . this feels good. 

This may or may not be the final cover from Medallion Press, pending a request of mine regarding the font.  Overall, I'm pleased with how it turned out!  The setting, including the background clock in the Musée d'Orsay, comes from an important scene in the novel.  And the cover artist was inspired by Matisse's "Plum Blossoms" painting in a lovely fashion:  

My favorite touch, however, has gotta be those crossing spoons.  Love 'em. 

The book's up on Medallion's site now, too.  You can even rotate it!  Which I've now done 3170 times.  Ahem.

I'm also hot in Canada.  

The book's not coming out until August 1st, 2010.  Yep, eight more months (it's been a year since I signed the contract).  But this certainly helped to make it feel more real.  Most of all, I was happy to think about Daisy and Mathieu again.  In my mind, they're as much a part of that museum as any painting.

Our characters do live on. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

A bird sits in
the palm of
my hand,
collecting an energy,
its hollow bones a
precious persuasion
to turn
and not

And I was going to
pen a plea
about the collective
hunger of countries,
from Appalachia
to somewhere other
in Africa,
on this black
market day
of fast-food,

But that
faithless bird
collected itself
right into nothingness,
fooled by a
false clarity
of clouds on panes,
and my eyes
(I let them leave),
rolling to
seek the
smudge of truth
at the back
of my id

So here I am again,
with the ink
of my words
on an organ of rain,
feeling for
the perfect exposition
to rub resolutions
that can wring
from Freud
a nod of epiphany,
as he strokes
the leather
and beard

But there are
few arrivals
among the fallen,
only more pains,
more windows,
more flights
and departures
to get lost in
and hungry,
if also
and blessedly
corralled and
fucked and

And certainty is
a black and white
I’d love to try on,
and burrow in,
all winter long
in a reflectionless
that plays
our song,
over and over
and over

I’ll sing something
like a small child
afraid of an
echo's betrayal,
my tune changing
on a dime
or your quicker nickel,
wheels spinning for
the weightlessness
of air
in that doubtful country
between take-off and

Until my bones are
hollowed of
all their finite ego,

this cheap longing

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


To the Ojibwe, she was known as the Foolish Girl. For she refused the comfort and warmth of the wigwam, preferring a tent of stars instead. Even in the winter, her family could not pull her away from the sky long enough to sleep with them.  Yet her sister was surprised to find a warm hand when she pressed it to her heart as a plea. As if the girl’s bones were wood that held a hidden fire.

They called her the Foolish Girl. Because they could not see.

On this night, deep in winter’s darkness, she gazed upon a red star winking like an eye on the eastern horizon. Her lips formed words without thought. An owl answered her, but she did not hear.

She wished to marry that star. She wished for the star’s light to enter her. To pour from her hair, her skin, her mouth when she sang. She wished for the star’s love to keep her warm, far away from the cold and darkness of this place her people called Turtle Island.

She fell into the sleep of silence with ice on her tongue.  Her eyes looked up. 

When she awoke, she was in the star world. It was very different, and very beautiful. Light prevailed. The red star was there, transformed into a man with red hair. He loved her well, as it was effortless to love in this world. She was as happy as she hoped to be. Time passed on the crest of a wave. Unmarked by seasons, hunger, or cold.

An old woman lived in the star world, too. She sat upon a hole in the sky. One day, while the old lady stretched her legs, the girl approached the hole. She could hear a sound travel up from the forgotten world below.

It was the flute of her people. Carried to her on a wind spirit’s back.

In its song was the crickets’ collective memory, an owl’s ghostly call, the breath of her sister’s unborn baby against a soft, wheat breast. It was the beating of snow from the cardinal’s wings. It was a lone wolf’s baying, and a mother’s lullaby swaddling her in sleep.

It was the gravity of home.

The wave of time broke. The flute’s song was drowned under a torrent of rain falling from the sky. The Foolish Girl thought of ceremonies she would miss, harvests she could not meet, a family’s river of grief. The longing to see them manifested itself as lightning, while regret pounded its black fist against the terrible brightness. And the rain poured harder from its hole.

When the old woman returned, she saw straight into the girl’s heart. The light in her soul had turned blue.

“I sit here for good reason,” she chastised the girl.

But gravity was already stretching the hole in her heart. Pulling her down. And the old woman was fonder of the foolish girl than any other of her star children. So she turned her back on the hole in the sky, as the girl leaped from a womb.

A cord of light swung across the night sky. Another falling star.

And before morning dawned, the broken cries of an infant answered the owl’s imperfect call. The breast was offered. She drank its warm milk.

They would come to name her: "Who Lightens the Whole Place."  Because there were stars in her eyes when she looked at the people, and the home, she so loved.

This they could see.


Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!
While the kernel of this story does come from an Ojibwe  (also
known as Chippewa) legend, I took many, many liberties
to make it my own.  "Who Lightens the Whole Place"
is an authentic Anishinabe name, however.  

The painting is "Indian Camp" by Carl Henry von Ahrens.  He
befriended the Ojibwe in Ontario and was given the name,
"Cluster of Stars."

I hope that all of you who celebrate this holiday
will enjoy the day with loved ones.  And if you can't
be home, then I hope you still feel the light of
love in that warmest of houses inside our hearts.

I am grateful for you all. 

Monday, November 23, 2009


Pulled for submisison


This photo captured my attention a week ago,
and hasn't left me since. The rest of the series,
taken as part of a university project,
is here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I don’t know, I don’t know.  I never know.

This is what I know.

I remember finding an old tortoise shell in our backyard.  Near the woods at the bottom of the hill.   I slipped my hand into its domed cave, where a small head once brooded itself.  My fingers peeked out to form a Hydra tail.  It was strange, if also perfect.  For the rest of the afternoon, I wore the shell as a bracelet.  I was some kind of mythological creature, or maybe the tortoise from Aesop’s fable (though, in truth, I was always the hare).  I don’t remember the details, just the feeling.  I felt the peculiar, singular joy of a child living without constructed stages.  I was uncontained.

I could tell that my mother was disturbed by the thing.  And I see why now.  This hollowed token of death, swallowing up her daughter’s arm.  My mother had a tender heart, you see.  But children are fascinated by death, and endings.  An ending is the limit of imagination.  The farthest crawl.  To make an ending a beginning?  This is the beginning of a child testing infinity, of being God.

My father made me remove the shell when it was time for practice.   I’m sure I made some kind of scene.  And I don’t remember what happened to the shell afterward.  Perhaps it was buried, like the box you uncovered.  But years later, when we were living in Paris, he bought me a tortoiseshell bracelet.  I pretended to like it.  Because he’d remembered.  And some part of him felt guilty for what was taken from me.

Because of you, I remember this.

And this image in my mind has been played.  Over and over again.  Of sliding my grown hand through that narrow window, and watching my fingers, my palm, my wrist just . . .


Sunday, November 8, 2009


That fist against
the diaphragm
pressing for release
is not a parasitic monster
to be jack-in-the-boxed in,
but the shape of her,
a shadow of him,
knuckling to leap
at halfway

And a true fanatic
of true-blue love
will disown
all tongue-tied parables,
cheek her
and choose instead
to show and spread
a mouth full
of matchsticks
tucked between

You find destruction
You find it

So does he,
so might she,
with all the
crusted consideration
and fleshless discretion
for dots
to be
lied to,

But as carbon breath
freed into its hell cell
of dioxide eyes darkened,
yet unblackened by shame,
love’s skin is as
pure as a
dew of daydreams
kissing its
sulfur blade


The artwork is Klimt's "Danaë."
The poem's inspiration was my
re-reading of Henry & June.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Walking into Stillness

“You know what I loved most about my time there?”


“The absence,” she said. “The total absence of all the usual crap.”

“They didn’t have the internet?”



“Uh huh.”

“It wasn’t boring?”

“It was a relief. My mind was quiet, free. There was nothing pressing. No advertisements for perfect beaches in the Caribbean. No guilt or desire that stretched my reach. No sense that life was elsewhere. It was here. I was here.” She placed her palm over her diaphragm. “I’ve never experienced a greater solitude. Or been less lonely.”

“But what did you do?”

“I cried at first.”


“Yeah. Like a baby.”

“Why was that?”

“I’m not sure.”


“And then I walked. I walked for miles. I walked until I could feel my unhappiness . . . detach. Until I felt all those snarled chains float free.”

Her friend dropped his gaze to her tennis shoes. Some of the seams gaped. A big toenail peeked through.

He cleared his throat.

“So why did you come back to us? To all the craziness?” His voice wavered. “To . . . me?”

She touched his shoulder, but he pulled away. Reaching for a drink on the coffee table.

“You were never a chain,” she said, eyes seeking his. “Never. You were just one of the roots to lead me back home.”

He coughed himself into a blush. Definitely needing a couple sips from that drink.

“If we were in a TV movie, they’d cut to commercial break now,” he finally said.

“True. Women would be crying. Men would be all stoic and strong-eyed.”

“Thank God I’m a man.”

“I embarrassed you,” she said.

“No! I mean . . . no.” He scratched his nose and leaned back into the cushion. “You were just getting all Dalai Lama on my ass there for a minute. That's all.”

She laughed and put a finger over her lips.

“Okay. We never had this conversation.”

“Or if we did, we were stoned.”

“Completely gored out of our heads.”

“High on shrooms.”

“High on love and truth. Truth in love.”

They were silent for a moment. Him sloshing ice cubes in that drink. Palms protecting a chill.

“Why is it so hard to say these things?” he asked quietly.

“It wasn’t," she said. "I wanted to say them.”

He set down the drink and hooked a foot on the opposite knee. Fingers peeling at the tread of his boot.

“Then why is it so hard for me to accept them?” he said.

“I don’t know.”

She smiled at him. He saw it light her eyes.

“But I’m telling you, anyway.”


This piece is dedicated to all my friends,
and particularly to The Walking Man
and Cat, whose words and paintings
this week were the light
and inspiration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Barefoot in Bach

I want to write about music tonight.

No, that’s not right. I want to play music tonight.

But since my skills are fairly feeble at the piano, and my kids are soaking up some gamma rays from the television, I will try to write about music instead.

And completely fail to do it justice.

There must be a reason for this divide. For the distance between words and notes, and the emotional effects they conjure in us.

Writers have to design emotion like a slow and meticulous spider spinning its web. It’s an intellectual process, at its very foundation. Readers absorb words in a similar way. Poetry—particularly free verse—is the closest we writers can get to being the conduits, and not the architects. While music . . . well, music is IV emotion shooting straight to the heart.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

If books and film are story-driven and wide, music is moment-contingent and deep. Complete immersion. Suspension. What I choose to listen to often shapes my mood like liquid being poured into an elastic and evolving reservoir. A song’s meaning is also layered by its past listenings, until we are moving through a grand canyon of visceral memory. In one sense, the emotion a song conjures deepens with every play (until we’ve worn it out, that is), and nostalgia is often the space/time harmony accompanying the melody itself.

So anyway. Where was I going with this again?

I’ve been listening to Bach lately. Specifically, his Goldberg Variations. More specifically, Glenn Gould’s impassioned, if eccentric, recordings of the Goldberg Variations.

And what does it conjure? Well, to explain it is to dilute its essence. It’s draining the immediacy of that liquid immersion. But I’ll try, anyway.

There is a bright, glassy clarity to Bach’s sound. Even his more melancholy variations have such a strength of structure stabilizing them that I know I’ll never be opened up too wide, or dragged too low. If I close my eyes while listening to the Goldberg Variations, I’m barefoot in the summer grass, feeling the cool specificity of each blade underfoot, as I walk, tiptoe, or dash across the lawn (not a field or wilderness—that’s too overgrown and hopelessly wandering for Bach).

I like its pure lines. The transfer of structure and calm (if only in the moment, alas). My thoughts may wander to the clouds while listening to Bach, but my heart is centered in my chest, and again, my feet are earth-bound.

Bach is a soothing balm when thoughts have become too overheated and unwound.

Yet music can also be emotionally dangerous. There is a darker landscape of song that not only shapes our mood, but saturates it to the point of masochism and pain. How can it wield such a power over us? Power that even the most beloved book cannot hope to duplicate for immediate impact.

And more intriguingly, why on earth would we invite it?

So many parts of our lives are not pliable. They’re fixed, like the bricks in a wall. Or the words on a page. Which provides stability and continuity, but also limits our freedom. Yet there are no barriers to where our hearts and souls might wander when we close our eyes, and press play. Or if, by some stroke of enviable fortune, we can play an instrument ourselves. It’s intoxicating to travel in that canyon, if also slightly treacherous for what it seems to paint on our lids and promise in the other world. For what it fails to deliver when our eyes snap back open at the end of the song, and only white silence embraces us.

Most of the great rock and pop songs are about desire of some sort. It’s no surprise. Desire is restless, fluid. Desire is eternal. And so is music.

We are not, but want to be. We desire desire. We want to live in the canyons of songs. Forever.

So have I gotten anywhere here with all of this? I don’t know. All that water seems to have slipped through my fingers . . . my web.

Aw, screw it.

Just listen to Bach, and kick off your shoes with me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tabula Rasa

I feel it as a phantom limb,
this splayed uncertainty
that’s not quite there
but nonetheless spins my wheel,
this mad rustle of shapeshifter leaves
rooting for summer’s pruney teat,
a ghostly visitation that watches
but refuses to say
or own the squirmy fear it makes

A vampire choked
around my neck
with garlic breath
and heart of smoke

Enough; no more.
Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

I’m disgusted with it all.

I’m disgusted with me.

You wanna know how to kill a bloodsucker?

Get up off those knees, and

Drive a fucking stake through it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Arrondissement Unknown: Paris Equinox

A clock is ticking.

I see your body’s outline before the hotel window. The traffic has thinned with the hour. A breeze curls the curtains, and slides across my skin like a ghostly lover.

(The only perfect love, in life or fiction, is love denied.)

Already naked, you approach the bed. Your eyes are everywhere. The part of me that’s been waiting so long for this—for us—falls upon their sword.

I am reborn into eggshell arms.

Are my breasts too small? Thighs too plump? My hips too too?

(The only perfect love, in life or fiction, is)

Your touch cracks my fear. You stroke my thighs with a blind man’s fingers. Flesh grips viscera, claws air. Your lips descend, testing a knee’s hairpin trigger. My toes twist around your lower spine. My mouth opens, chin tipping high.

Shadows, shadows everywhere.

Seconds s     p         r            e                a                    d

(The only perfect love, in)

Your mouth searches higher, slowing. Heat flows like a kerosene sin. Your tongue slips between my—


I clutch at sheets, your hands pinning wrists. My back arches, breasts flatten. Tears squeeze from blue, blue irises. Black-hole mouths explode into

Everywhere, stars.

(The only love)

I cry your



You hear me.


I push deeper inside you.


Your hair falls around, shielding my face from the window’s cold light. Your knees spread wider, hips grinding harder.

And, softer yet.

I can still taste you. My mouth is filled with your taste. Your lips find mine.

(touch what is mine)

Tasting, too.

Your voice breathes into my ear, baptizing me not with water, but fire. An always, surrendering fire. My nails clutch at your hips, digging you deeper into me until we both touch the heart of the pain that was always there, if hiding.

I groan.

Your scream is a silent shudder.

(touch what is not mine)

I’m choking on your hair. Your long, lovely hair. The air leaks from me, and my eyes smear over with

Stars, everywhere.

(I touch what is not mine)

I push you up. Gently. Away from me. You keep me locked inside. My fingers somewhere lose your skin. I look past your shoulder, into a hotel mirror. It reflects the white of your back in a Paris dreamlight.

I do not recognize the eyes staring back at me.

I do not

(I cannot touch what is not mine.

The clock.

The clock is ticking.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Arrondissement 7: Musée d'Orsay

“I have just one question for you, Mathieu.”

His voice could squeeze the oil from the canvases.

“What can I do to get you behind a camera again?”

I laughed one of those Hollywood laughs. Just to mess with him.

“That’s simple. Turn back the clock twenty years,” I said. “Or pay me in Manets and Van Goghs.”

I ignored the wall of Renoirs, so he followed me into the next gallery.

“Jesus," he said. "You won Best Director at Cannes. Twice! You were a national treasure. Godard’s successor. You could have been--

Footsteps falling. Like water dripping into a cistern.



I turned like a man, suddenly thirsty.


Dark hair.

Summer-scented dress.

Legs like a fractured laugh.

Color flaking off her toenails.
Electron-pink snowflakes.
Dusting the heart's eyelash.

When she stopped to examine my favorite painting in the gallery, her head tilted to the side. Her hair slipped off her neck. The lady in the painting copied her. Who wouldn't?

Her eyes slid over to brush mine with wet color.

Loud longing in a hush-hush cave
Building cresting breaking
Submission surrender squeezed

A tangled eddy of gorgeous pain
Sucking to swirl me up again

“So there’s nothing I can do to convince you?” his voice broke in.

I blinked.

Her eyes danced away. Like a pretty Degas.


She moved into the next gallery.



I let her go.

I turned to my hustler friend and put a hand on his shoulder. “Frederick, do you know what my favorite part of a film is now? And I’m talking any film.”

“What’s that?”

“Those black scratches right before the first shot.”

I let him ponder that while examining the painting her eyes had touched. Some brushstrokes earlier.

“It’s the one movie I could watch over and over again. I’ve even given it a title. Want to hear it?”

He shrugged, and glanced at his watch. While I looked toward an artless doorway.

The Greatest Story Never Told.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Arrondissement 4: Notre Dame

His foot stepped over Point Zero, the origin of all measured distance in France.

He walked.

He walked past the chattering pigeons and tourists. He walked with his back straight and his head tilted down, as if the layers of the isle’s history were an archaeological field to tunnel through.

He walked through the entrance of Notre Dame, ignoring the saints and virgins, until he found the stairway leading to the southern bell tower.

He climbed.

He stepped over a rope line.

He climbed higher.

He stopped when he mounted the last set of stairs. When he saw what he came for. The lonely bass bell, sequestered from its four siblings in the north tower.

A man with a blue cape stood beside it.


I took in the disheveled American and reached for my phone. Security was third on speed dial. And I had a lunch date to keep.

“Monsieur,” I said. “You are not permitted.”

I took in his eyes. Leaden, like a soldier’s. Bearing the shadows of battles yet to be waged.

The phone stayed in my pocket.

“Are you the one?” he said. “The keeper of the bells?”

I paused.

“Yes, I am Monsieur Fontaine, the chief sacristan.”

The man put his hand on the bell. For support, it seemed. Emmanuel did not budge. His clapper alone weighed 1,000 pounds. Gone were the days of striking hammers and the romantic piffle of Quasimodo’s rope swinging. Everything ran to a computer’s atomic precision.

With my finger on the button.

“I need for you to ring this bell,” he said.

I laughed.

“Monsieur, the bourdon is rarely rung by itself, except to mark the deaths of great and distinguished men, like a pope or archbishop. I am afraid you ask the impossible.” I cleared my throat. “And now you really must—”

“I know why it’s rung,” he said, more quietly.  “As you say: to mark the deaths of great people.”

I caught his distinction and nearly reached for my phone again. This American seemed intent on lecturing me on his tour-book interpretation of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

Well. If equality were his aim, Death would sound constantly throughout the city. Even the tourist parts. And I would never get to lunch.

But instead of a speech, the man looked down at his feet.

My eyes followed suit.

He did not wear shoes. Or if he did, they were forgotten beneath a pair of yellow hospital booties speckled red. The afternoon sun bathed their trauma in a soft, opal light.

I slowly raised my eyes to his.

“Monsieur,” I murmured, taking a step forward. “I am very—”

He waved me off.

“This . . . she . . . I didn’t know where to . . . ”


“I need to feel." He inhaled sharply. “That someone. Is listening. That someone. Acknowledges it.” He tried to smile at me, but his face would not suffer it.

“You know?”

I closed my eyes.

I was not a man who looked outside my own reality. Or cared to, in truth. But sometimes, when working the towers, it felt like the cathedral breathed. Like she sighed over the wingspan of her centuries, for all that she had been forced to see. During these moments, the bells’ clanging could remind me of a bloodletting. Or an exorcism.

If one believed in such things.

I opened my eyes.


He walked down the stairs. Over the rope line.

Down again.

He walked from the cathedral, past the tourists and pigeons, snapping up their photos and breadcrumbs.

He walked because he was afraid to stop. Afraid he might never stop. The river was there. The bridge above it. They pulled on him with the oblivion of mercy.

A solitary note clanged.

Low. Solemn.


And again.

He stopped walking.

Everyone—tourists, Frenchmen, the stone martyrs—offered him a drink from their silence. All listening, instead of talking. Feeling, instead of looking. Connected, for a brief reverberation, by the atomic weight of thirteen metric tons, swinging.

His feet halted on Point Zero. The origin of all measured distance.

His back hunched.

He grieved.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Arrondissement 6: The Latin Quarter

God. The way he fanned himself with that tour book. The summer sun had spent itself, and the temperature had dropped to seventy-some degrees. Not ninety.

But then, he’d gained a few pounds over the last forty years.

“Can you pass the sugar?” he said.

“What was that?”

The jazz pianist kicked it up in the bar. The music spooled into their candlelit terrace like a memory of silver. The restaurant’s eponymous lilacs were no longer in season, but the shrubs were pleasant enough.

“The sugar. Oh, never mind,” he said, and reached across their table for the packet.

“Sorry. It’s the music. And all the conversation.”

“Yes,” he said. “I’d prefer it quiet.”

Yes. That much was obvious.

He poured the sugar into his coffee. Under the table, she pressed the fork's tines into the tip of her finger.

I’m in La Closeries des Lilas, she reminded herself. The very same café where Hemingway drained his early works like a stopcock left open. (And hadn’t Papa’s image graced their menus, looking vaguely amused by all his new dignity?) The heart of the Latin Quarter, where artists, writers, and vagabonds swapped ideas and stories, in lieu of money.

But these furnishings—the mahogany tables with brass plates bearing the expensive names of famously dead patrons—reminded her of a leather-bound book. The self-consciously old kind, with gold-leaf lettering. Written in a dead language she could no longer fathom.

“How was your duck?” she asked.

He shrugged and scanned the room.

“We’ve had better back home. This place gets by on its nostalgia factor. But the Lilas of ’68 was very different.”

“Yes, it was,” she said, because she could think of nothing else. She looked past the red roses whose edges were browning, and directly into the candle’s flame, until she could bear its burn no more.

She closed her eyes.

There was revolution on the streets, and in their hearts.

It was '68, and the students at the Sorbonne were revolting against the establishment. Revolting against the double-jointed billy club of conservatism and a stale morality. Revolting just because they were young and alive and wanted to add the swell of their voices to the ferment.

And because they chose Paris for their honeymoon, she and Jake were like driftwood catching fire over a waterfall become kerosene. They couldn't ignore the burn, and soon, they didn’t want to. With their new comrades, they shouted protests in French, and seized on signs whose messages held more power for their mystery.

Une jeunesse que l’avenir inquiete trop souvent

All these words. Like marbles spilling from new mouths. And Paris listened. Throats turned raw, and people got bloodied. But they kept pushing. They couldn’t shout loud enough.

Later, back in the hotel, they couldn’t fuck hard enough. They drained every drop from the cup, and went back for more. Always more. Always, always—

She took a sip of her wine, and set the glass down.

He chuckled softly across the candlelight.

“What?” she asked.

“I was just thinking. Of that night in ’68.”

He reached across the table and brushed the inside of her wrist with his fingers. Her blood sweetened to the touch.

“Me too,” she said, and squeezed his hand.

His lips curved up on either side. She understood that smile to be the scale of their marriage—weighing one part love, against one part regret. The balance dipped back and forth.

He patted her hand and returned to his dessert.

But rubbing her thumb over the nameplate on their table, she could finally hear words from the ghost she’d hunted.

The sun also rises.

She raised her wrist to her mouth. Tasting the grains of sugar.


The words from the 1968 protest read,
A Youth Disturbed Too Often By the Future:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arrondissement 18: Montmartre

Every night, he walked through her wall. And left by the door, before morning dawned.

“Will you stay this time?” she asked.

He touched her face in response.

“What do you do by day?” she said into his palm. “Who do you hold?”

He loosened her hair from its bindings.

“I only live for the night,” she said, as his mouth took the pulse of her neck. “When the gypsy starts his song, that is when I come a—”

He found her lips, and stopped the words. But couldn’t still the thoughts behind them.

The next afternoon, she slipped through the streets of Montmartre to track him. He must have a name, and friends. She imagined him working an ordinary job, doing ordinary things. He saved the extraordinary for her. But it wasn’t enough. She wanted the sun, and the moon. Her days felt too dark.

She couldn’t find him. Nobody knew a thing. He was a ghost without a scent, the cross-hatched alleyways a map without a destination.

That night, he eased through her wall again. After the gypsy started plucking that shimmery guitar.

“How do you do it?” she demanded. “I need to know.”

He looked at her, and smiled. With the trust of a child for his mother.

“You already know, my love,” he said, and took her once again.

Outside, a bottle shattered on the streets, as men stumbled from the adjacent bar to work out the violence in their hearts and loins. The gypsy’s guitar fell silent. A woman screamed. Coarse laughter haunted her echo, and danced with it under the moon's shadow.

The new lights of Paris never touched the dark hill of Montmartre.

He moved inside of her, but she only felt the emptiness to come. She knew then that she could no longer hold him far, or near.

The walls of her mind closed in.

The next evening, she waited outside for his arrival. The gypsy squatted next to the bar’s entrance. She edged closer to him.

“Will you play for me tonight?” she said.

He did not look at her, but he chimed a single chord.

She bent down, and slid the gold pieces from her pocket. “These can all be yours, if you stop your song on my command."

She leaned in, until she smelled the gangrene on his breath. "And if you never return to Montmartre again.”

The gypsy closed his eyes, his fingers sliding into a minor lament. But he took her gold.

Her lover came after midnight. From behind a tree, she watched him greet the gypsy as his leg melted into her stone.

She stepped from the shadows and slashed her finger across her throat.

And the music stopped in Montmartre.

Back in her room, she examined the thick wall. It bulged slightly in two places, roughly her shoulders' height. As if he were reaching to find the darkness's end. The pink flesh of one hand burned through the cold, hard masonry.

She pressed her cheek into its palm. Her lashes crossed his lifeline.

“Darling,” she said, closing her eyes.

“My darling.”


Note: the city of Paris is divided into
twenty arrondissements, or neighborhoods.
I will write a vignette for 7 of them.
Any requests?

Also, the above sculpture in Montmartre
honors the writer Marcel Áyme, and his story
about the man who could walk through walls.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paris: Ma Vie En Rose

The first group of vignettes I wrote for this blog—my Paris series—is still my favorite. Are they the best I’ve written? I really couldn’t say, as I have no objective metric when it comes to my writing (or anything else). No, I think part of the reason that they remain so powerful for me is that they were my first. And like a first kiss, the newness of the experience left me weak in the knees.

But it’s more than that. I think it’s also Paris.

The City of Lights has been on my mind again. Soon, I’ll be working on the final revisions for Plum Blossoms in Paris, my novel that’s due out next August. And I’ve been questioning why this city still maintains a hold on me. I’ve been there twice, and while I enjoyed my time immensely, that experience of Paris—with me scared of the food (eggs on PIZZA?; now THAT’S a reason to start a revolution), embarrassed by my pathetic attempts at French, and even a bit underwhelmed, at times, by the sites (Mona Lisa, I’m talking to you)—is not, for the most part, what's reflected in my writing.

No, what shows up in my Paris writing is romance. It’s not always blissful. But even the pain I portray feels Romantic, in that splayed-nerve, nineteenth century sense. It is a Paris of extremes, then, that captures my imagination. Yet this vision is likely naïve and derivative to Parisians themselves, who simply see the city as home, with all the boredom and grind that also denotes.

But Paris is a muse for me. And do we question our muses, or simply follow their inspiration? Does it matter if my interpretation just scratches that gilded surface, and feeds a hungry fantasy machine? (It does for some. When my book was being shopped around, a couple editors who rejected it talked about this “clichéd idea of Paris,” which horrified me; perhaps because truth has the saltiest sting) Or maybe the many tributes to this city—in books, in art, in film, in song—have grafted the dream into reality for many of us lucky enough to walk her cobblestone streets. I did sense it while I was there. In flashes. Like heat lightning, or the whiff of ozone after it rains. Which, because a muse’s appeal also draws from her elusiveness, was all I needed to remain infatuated.

All of this meandering does have a point. I’m going to return to Paris (in spirit, anyway) over the next couple weeks and write some more vignettes. I haven’t the dimmest idea what the city will evoke this time around. I’d like to dig deeper, but my reach is somewhat limited by the Atlantic. Anyway, we’ll see what the Seine has to murmur during this visit. In a very self-indulgent sense, Paris is my metric. To see how I’ve evolved. Or not.

As Edith Piaf also sang, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

No regrets.

Let’s go.

Monday, August 10, 2009


The escalator flaps
its grey-day tongue
the student union,
until its metronome
under the afternoon
prayer call
of a part-time piano man
reviving his god

And I know, as his
black and white downpour
rainbows my everyday,
that sometimes
to be reborn
is not
the leap of faith,
but a
falling back
into arms
that were
(like stairs)
ever always

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Nobody puts Leo in a corner.
--Dirty Dancing, the director's cut

Okay, so instead of posting another angst-ridden existential crisis piece about why I'm here and what it all means, I thought I'd post something simple on gratitude. Because it's my birthday, damn it, and I'm grateful for these 33 years.

The circumstances we're born into are uncontrollable and set our fates to a large degree. This is both unjust and true. I'm on the lucky side of that coin toss. This says nothing about me as a person. If I had been born in another place, to different parents, or without the love and support of family and friends, my life would be less than it is today.

Or if I had been born in a different time.

So to further this little exercise in gratitude, here's how Time Travel Me would have celebrated my birthday all those years ago:

Me born 1,033 years ago: Dead. I died 1032 years ago from a terrible plague that wiped out half my village. Crap. On the plus side, life would have been miserable, anyway.

Me born 533 years ago: Dead, also. I died 515 years ago, in childbirth.

Me born 133 years ago: I’m alive (woo-hoo!). On the downside, I didn’t finish a high school education, much less college, and toil all day in the house (if you know me, I’m not one for toiling, in general). And since there is no birth control, I’m on my seventh kid. Only one has died, so I count my blessings. I’ve never written a thing. There are some joys, of course, but I find my greatest solace in church. Because there’s got to be something better than this, right?

I spend this birthday taking care of the six kids, and feigning a headache with my husband at night, so that there won't be a seventh.

Me born 64 years ago, in Hiroshima: Very, very unlucky. And on a side note, I've always felt slightly disturbed about my birth day for this reason.

Me born 33 years ago in beautiful Burbank, California: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm going to eat some delicious Mexican food and, with my kids and family, enjoy my mom's birthday cake later on. Because my mom still bakes me birthday cakes.

I've probably mentioned this somewhere before, but I've always been intrigued by Nietzche's idea of eternal recurrence. Basically, it's the notion that you'd be willing to live your life, with all its pain and sorrows, over and over again in exactly the same manner. No, not just willing. You'd embrace it!

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'

--Friedrich Nietzche, The Gay Science

I feel like embracing that kind of divinity today. And all of you, too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Summer is uncertain, my heart,
offering only wet palms
beneath her pale, hunched shoulders,
and an echo of rustling hair
I tease from the pulse of cicadas—


Do they know what they ask?
Or is it the blindness of being
that makes us hunt tea leaves
from a fathomless cup of forest night
that no one wants to see bottomed


And so poetry is our plea,
our stab at a center with no circle,
the tunnel into Fibonacci blossoms
like endless Russian nesting dolls,
a perfectly flawed translation of
things called cicadas
and a place called summer
and the holy human trinity of

We will always be the question,
and its many fleeting answers,
and that is all right with me
if just because it has to be

But please,
let me seek,
and not beg

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Newton's Third Law

She touched him on his back. About three-quarters of the way up. Halfway between left and right.

In that place behind the heart.

“I’m claiming this spot as mine,” she said. “It belongs to me.”

“Oh, really?”


Her fingertip followed the edges of a mole’s imperfect circle.

“And why is that?” he said.

“Because it’s the only place on your body that I can reach, and you cannot.”

“Not true. I can’t touch all sorts of parts. My pancreas, for example, is just out of reach.”

Her nail dug in a millimeter. Or three.

“You were saying,” he said.

She resumed the soft swirls, and smiled at the gooseflesh rippling up and down his back. Thinking suddenly, and mistakenly, of Newton’s Third Law.

For every action . . .

“I’m even going to give it a name,” she said.

“Make it good.”

She brushed the spot with the back of her fingers, like a petal scraping up sunlight.

“Don’t leave me in suspense,” he said.

“Okay. Just thinking.” She cleared her throat. “So I hereby dub this country The Land of—”

She broke off.


“Pay attention, dummy. I’m trying to spell it out for you.”

Her finger slid slowly down, and then flicked to the side. Like a person deciding at the last second to cross a street.

“L,” he said.

Her finger circled the mole, which sat in the land behind his heart, and a scapula rolled in response.

“O,” he said. “But this is too easy. It’s reminding me of my least favorite superhero. You know the one? Master of the Obvi—”

Her finger curved, and curved again. Stopping just shy of infinity.

“Esss,” he said, and frowned.

“You should have more faith in me,” she said. “Even when I don’t seem to deserve it.”

“I'd agree to anything right now.”

Her finger drew vertical and lifted. Then a slash through the middle of the line. To make the last letter, but also a symbol of sacrifice.

“There,” she said. “All done.”

She brushed her hands together and placed them in her lap.

“Mm,” he said. “I see.”

She stretched out beside him on the rug so that they could look into one another’s eyes. Her feet curled to the bend of his knees. The shadows of the fireplace’s flames licked at the walls of the room and danced across their canvas skin. Painting perpetual motion.

She smiled at his pinched forehead. “I confused you.”

“I’m just not sure I get your meaning.”

She got a little closer. So he got much closer. They found the equal for every body part, and its opposite, too.

“It’s simple. Whenever you’re feeling lost, I’ll touch you right here.”

She placed her palm and fingers over the spot—about three-quarters up his back, halfway between left and right, in that place behind the heart—and pushed his full weight into hers.

“And I’ll find you once again.”


I'm sure most of you saw this photo awhile back.
But I'll link to its story in case you didn't.
Photo courtesy of Archaeological Society SAP.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here, There, and Everywhere

At some point, it must be asked.

What if I’m ordinary?

I mean, would that be so bad?

Would life become a hollow enterprise, and would my bones care after I died?

There is such a drive to be special. To have that specialness make people love us. Because that’s what all of us really want. To be loved. That’s what I want, anyway, at my most basic level. Whether it’s the love of my husband, which cups me gently between its palms, or the love of a reader who’s never met me, which isn’t really love at all, of course, but more like the warm silence around a song.

What would happen if everyone in the world loved me, either like a warm silence or like a cup? Would that kill the urge to be special? To make a mark?

I doubt it.

You just have to look at celebrities—and I’m not talking crazy celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, but good celebrities like Paul McCartney—to know that the need never really fades. Maybe Paul doesn’t think he needs to be loved. Maybe he sees his music as something like rainwater from galoshes: it just has to be poured out. But why still distribute and perform it, then? Paul McCartney’s not going to get any more special. Once you’ve written, “Blackbird,” you’re about as special as they come. But the man wants to know that he still matters. I was here, damn it, and look how much they loved me (and more than John, right?). I just packed the new Citi Field Stadium, for god’s sake, 44 years after making thousands of girls lose their voices in Shea. I was The Cute One.

All in all, the drive to be exceptional is probably a good one if kept in proper perspective. We get things done. We aspire toward new heights. We create art. Impress others. We want people to love us, and maybe they’ll be special in a way that sings to us and we’ll give them our love in return.

When it becomes dangerous is when the need to be loved, to be validated, to make that eternal mark just doesn’t happen. Maybe we’re not that special. Or maybe we are, but not how we want to be. Not enough. Never enough. That’s when the need to be special just clobbers the heck out of a different kind of love.

The love for oneself.

My husband (another Paul) and I talked about this last night. I was down because I’m reading this truly great book by Jonathan Safran Foer, called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, while also working on my own novel. I said that I could never write anything comparable to this book. Not even close. It's like apples and oranges. A Mozart opera, and "Rock Me, Amadeus."

He very sensibly told me that I didn’t have to. Write that book. That my writing is a lake, and Jonathan’s writing is a lake, and lakes don’t drain one another or cross. My goal is to focus on my lake (okay, he said all of this much better than I am). I liked that. I felt very much like I was cupped, gently, between his palms.

Now to hang onto that feeling, without doing anything at all. And then to focus on that lake. That rainwater in my galoshes. Because I want to let it pour.

Without sucking the soul dry.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Like Water for Wine

Feeling for the last place on his body untouched by scars, he slashed its skin with her blade. Massaging his wrist, so that blood might flow as swift as memory.

A glass waited.

Two years. For two years, he sacrificed precious drops so that she might drink the living wine, and know his heart. Into every bottle he corked sang his song of the hour. Poured for her hunger, from a longing to be tasted. They could not talk. Or touch. Her father would not permit the union.

But love scoffs at smallness and laughs at divisions. And so she nightly drank his contraband emotions, dropping some token from her window to demonstrate her understanding. To let him touch her intoxication.

A red ribbon from her hair after gulping a smoky pinot noir. Days later, a copy of Don Quixote to clot despair's dry-dry river. Later yet, a pocketknife to cleave his pain in two.

He pressed the blood from its puckered wound. More sluggish now. The glass shattered and reassembled within his lucid dreaming. He reached for her final gift.

A dress. It smelled of skin and sex. Sorrow, too. He buried his face in its folds. No water left in his rind to squeeze any tears.

The night before, upon consuming the most potent blend of his ardor and need, she flung off the dress and erupted into flames. He watched her hair ignite, the ashes dancing downward to finally caress his face. To kiss his lashes.

To weep at division.

He drank from his glass. Allowed the liquid to take its final shape. Ready.

His eyes widened as the heat arced and scattered within him. Mapping the bitter, but also the sweet. The room wobbled, then flipped like an hourglass. Shady molecules sharpened back into atoms.

With his last drop of strength, he grabbed her red ribbon and circled the tourniquet around his forearm.

Pulling with the ageless wisdom of teeth, bones and terrible sinew.


Although I didn't take part in Jason's In Vino Veritas short fiction contest this time around, I have been reading some of the wonderful entries. And sure enough, was inspired to come up with something of my own. If you weren't aware of his contest yet, you have until July 15th at 11 p.m. EST to enter a piece no longer than 250 words (er, don't count mine), based on his theme and photo. Best of luck to everyone involved! And big applause to Jason and his co-host, Jaye Wells, for another great contest.

I also wanted to say that I have been taking a break from blogging lately to focus on my family and novel. So I'm sorry for not getting around and responding like I should (because of my delinquency, too, you shouldn't feel obliged to comment here...I'll feel too guilty!). But I truly hope you're all enjoying the wonderful season!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Living Fossil

He tried not to remember. Which was harder than forgetting.

But music was the devil on his shoulder, fanning old flames until they licked his ear with the urgency of heated breath. Anna’s music. Her cello.

He heard the ghost of the instrument now, cloaked in the low vibration of the museum office refrigerator. A bow agitating its string with indefinite equations. The beginning note of a Bach Sarabande, dragged to infinity.

He tugged on his eyelids and wiped his face. The wearying madness of it all. Too many years of sustained strangulation, without time’s loosening indifference. If she were dead, it might be easier, his brain sometimes rattled. Before he squeezed the thought out.

Grabbing the bones from the protective plastic bags, he started to inventory them for the museum’s new Homo erectus exhibit.



Left metacarpal.



Clavicle . . .

Her neck.

Latex fingers traced the bone’s curving ridges. Palms sweated inside the gloves. His eyelids closed and fluttered.

But opened again.

Anna wasn’t there. She never was, except in the sleight-of-hand that dreams tricked up. Her music might linger like perfume, but his understanding of her face had muted into a finger-smudged memory of soft skin, without the hard lines defining it. His mind would not permit him the small pleasure of looking into her eyes. Of seeing her lips stretch into a smile. Of rediscovering the many soft hairs on the nape of her neck.

Only this music of the mind, continuously looping the loss. Like a shape-shifting tombstone. With pretty flowers pouring from its mouth.

Death masquerading as life.

So as the refrigerator’s motor kicked off and bones hoped for some kind of resurrection by his hands, Galen tried. He tried very hard not to remember. What living felt like.

Until the cell phone vibrated in his pocket with the prelude to their song.

His heart lunged. The vibrations dug deep and spread high. For this moment, he would not check the caller ID. On this day only—the anniversary of his injury, and their meeting—he would let himself believe that it was her.

Somewhere, on the other side.


Monday, June 15, 2009


I hear
the jingle-jangle of
guitar chords strumming
a clean and simple tune,
Your cracked voice plowing
the dark lands of
knuckled earth,
Where wonder is the
crop, and bewilderment
the field

How strange it is
to be anything at all

If I could
swallow that truth
from your lantern lips
while belching its
cosmic uncertainty,
It might
(or might notly)
lift into a beanstalk
for the Jack-of-all-doubts
who flip-flops
within a mouth
of mirrors
I guess I’ll call

My soul


The song is from Jeff Magnum,
when he was with Neutral Milk Hotel.
It's titled "In the Aeroplane Over The Sea."
The lyric in the poem's middle is taken from it.