Attempts at fiction

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the wake of eight grad school rejections, I feel like a toppled water-skier, floating dizzily in the foamy trail of the boat with a bad case of vertigo. An understatement, I think, to say those rejections rocked me. But post-dog-paddling to shore (and wearing out metaphors, as is my trademark), I’m feeling more free than I did with the concept of graduate teaching and days on days of assigned poetry hanging over my head. I figure grad school may not be the right direction at the age of not-even 21. I’m too rebellious and anti-institution. (That was a joke. Laugh please.)

Positivity is the way to go, then. A friend told me it’s only for optimists and children, to which I added “Chris Traeger.” Bless him. If I could have a spirit animal . . . let’s be real, he’d be useless . . . but I would certainly want Chris Traeger. Like having a dog that talks.

In any case, this has been stewing on my desktop for a couple of months and I’m not sure if I love it or hate it. I might want to burn it, but it’s an achievement, so I also want to frame it. The only reasonable way to go is publish it on the internet for everyone to see! Narcissism. Fiction hasn’t really been my strongest point. Short stories have typically fallen woefully flat. This one, however, feels like a beginning. So here’s Yellow and the Oak, a tribute to not going to graduate school and trying to write fiction instead. Click the link to see a full pdf. Click the comment feature if you have useful things to say, including “You’re the worst” and “You should never write anything ever again” or “You should stop using self-deprecation to be funny because that’s old hat.” Particularly the last one.

Okay, bye.





Porcelain and Bicycles

October 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Brain matter rebounded inside my skull as my lips struck the heavy black tarmac and slid, skin tearing and boiling on the summer pavement. Bicycle tumbling in a clatter and Heidi’s feet pounding with a shock in every step.

Feral vocalizations reverberated through the neighborhood as I exploded to my feet and ran with the blood and the teeth and the bones crumbling from my face; I screamed in the knowledge of the things my brain wouldn’t let me feel. Heidi ran after me. Half a mile I ran, hell-bent for home and reaching for Mother, but knowing she wasn’t there.

My world listed into a green sky; reality was a poorly-laid tilt shift. I saw Heidi dumbstruck, dialing my father and I remembered mother in the hospital, so I shrank in the green grass sky and let it fade.

Morphine. I thought I was better. Told my father we could go home; everything was all right now. Baby blue into my dark and I wavered in his sad that I couldn’t feel. Leaning against the tree trunk legs, hanging on when the world started listing numbly and maybe home wasn’t ready for me yet.

The beans ejected themselves onto my feet and pooled on the white sheets, shifting into small human kidneys taunting my numbness. A process of untangling, tubes and beeping and a red light holding pressure on my finger; bed pans clattered on the cold tile. Cold. My feet were cold.

The world listed and I didn’t move. Bandages ripped from small hands that latched on to the bed as the world spun and flipped, whirling in the fuzzy blue and red geometrics on the wall, taunting, leering at the numbness forcing fingers away from buttons that’d make it fade. Yelling between the wires holding back words.

Faces in the window again. Faces speaking platitudes let me pray for you and can I get you anything as if the wires clenching my teeth tightly closed weren’t sign enough. No Trespassing, I wanted posted. Platitudes wouldn’t bring me back my face.

Tree trunk sleeping while daughter falls.

It’s not my own face anymore.

Tree Trunk Falling

October 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

I thought my father was a tree. The way he stood between the church pews, still and unmoved, when everyone else swayed. I pretended my father was a tree. I’d count the rings in his palms to find his age and when he wore green, I knew I was right. My father was a tree and I was a squirrel, skittering around his feet, across his shoulders, dangling from his burly arms.

I drew my family at school one time and my teacher wanted to know why my mother held the branch of a grinning tree. She thought I didn’t have a father. I thought she didn’t have sense. Surely it was obvious that my father was the tree.

When the ancient pine crashed down on our house, that one wet summer in ’99, I wondered if that was how all trees died: consumed by their environment. My father told me about the circle of life, but I didn’t understand, so we watched Lion King until I got it. I learned about baobab trees and started to wonder what kind of tree my father was.

In 2005, when the second set of neighbors lost kids to a drunk driver, I realized my father was an oak tree. His Spanish moss beard. His steady roots digging deep into the ground he chose for them, unrelenting when she begged him to move neighborhoods. I never worried, even after another driver crashed into our garage and died there, a piece of his windshield sticking out of his forehead. My father said “survival of the fittest” and I was glad he was fit, because when trees fell and the world crashed into our house, he stood against its movement and spread his arms like the old oaks to keep us safe. But even oak trees fall sometimes. I’d thought my father was a tree; I knew it when he fell.

Clay foot

September 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

My grey mother with the red clay feet, her weekends in the garden building and razing down the pathways and small wild places to make a turning winding labyrinthine that swallowed stray cats and small children.  I drew a map to find my way home from my own days in her backyard grass, with the hard spiked sweet gum balls falling from the trees overhead and sticking in my tumble down brown curls. I came in some days on my own bare feet clay red and sticky, slapping on linoleum to a different rhythm than hers, shoe-clad still and disapproving of nature on her floor. Nature in her house, where I brought it in to make my own: small summer snow people, stuck together with chunky glue and sweet gum balls, smiling googly eyes; they hung on the tree at Christmas or vanished in my closet midway through the fall when I made and she didn’t see. My mother doesn’t meet the things I made; all that nature art was just a glue-stuck shot-in-the-dark for a small “good job” and in the lack of that, that’s when I saw my mother, my mother and her feet of clay inside. When cobbled nature art became poetry and I glued words together instead, with a slow methodical tap of a keyboard between brother’s war games and mother’s working and dial-up when friends called. When I found something that made me feel alive, real, like breathing had meaning if only to communicate what breath is like on the page, as if to put words to the feelings we all have, feelings we run into in the grocery store, or in the park, walking and we recognize their faces because they’ve been here before but we’ve never had the courage to stop them, pause them, shake their hand and ask their name and know them by the way they make us think. When I made and built and poured out my young soul like pancake batter on a Saturday morning but she never plugged in the griddle so I sat and curdled in mid-afternoon. The small things she couldn’t see for the mess they made, never the “good job” affirmation I wanted in words on paper not in microwaved dinner or dry rye bread. Mother’s red clay feet – I thought I saw them, saw them in the yelling and the fighting and the way she’d puff herself up fragile and airy but strong in the breath of her like a bird ruffling growing and she was never bigger than him but sometimes her words were sharper and faster, chainsaw rumbling and they cut him straight through. Him, my father tree trunk walking teddy bear loving but stumbling because he forgot or saw something more important- I work late nights because I love you – he was never there but we all forgot the reason and absence of him was an absence of love. But there were no oysters or late nights at the bars laughing and growing and living a way we never got to, he was always late nights at the office, working long past closing to keep his company alive, keep his family eating and laughing and his sacrifice was losing her love. But he kept her, he kept us warm and fed and safe and loved in the moments he was there, the brief blips of time when life was more than work and he could show us how he held us in his soul, how he wrapped those pictures of us ’round his mind under the flickering tired lights of work. Father’s feet of clay were dusted in metallic shavings, metal in the skin of his hands by the time I looked at them closely. Tired old hands too young curling tightly round the things he wanted for his family. And they, they with their feet of clay, raising me and raising him and owning that we’d be whatever we decided but never telling us we could be anything, because parents don’t lie to their kids. Parents feet of clay, moving slowly across the lives of the children that love gave them, giving of everything that was, until love was a slice of dry rye bread and late night absence said I love you better than we all could tongue by tongue.

Tree Trunk Walking

September 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

November 29th, 2006 

Door hit tile, cracking white. The old bronze hinges left reaching pathetic up from the wood. White-washed wood splinters stuck out from the door jamb and frozen, sitting tear-faced on the cold grey tile with diary scribbles drying on the page, I could only stare at my giant bearded father like a tree trunk walking, one step over the wreckage that he’d created, one more until he stood towering above me.

Hands larger than my head – workman’s hands, callused and split from end to end – wrapped around my shoulders and lifted me to my feet in the ease of a light breath and the giant bearded face reared angry and savage before me.  I could taste disappointment like a square of dark chocolate but I wasn’t sure why it was there because surely I’d done nothing worse than be young.

The world tumbled and hot breath hit my face. What had I done to get disappointment bestowed in such violent shakings?

He shakes me in a loud voice; I squirm to fight back, but I feel like the worm we battled the last time we went fishing and I can’t get away. This is absurd. I just told her the truth. The door slam was too much, I bet, maybe the tears another line I’d crossed but that seems infinitely unfair. He shakes me again and I know he’s saying something but I don’t want to listen because that makes it too hard to keep crying. I want to cry. Weird, really, why he’d kick down my door just because I locked it. I only told the truth, even if I yelled it, and she didn’t have to be a bitch about it, siccing her husband on me like some sort of dog on a burglar scene in a home-safety commercial. Not that he’s not intimidating. If I had an overactive bladder, or maybe less self control, I’d be painting a wet spot on my favorite jeans, but thankfully I am old enough that my body leaks emotion exclusively from my face. He says some more stuff about respect and elders, but I’m bored at this point, I’ve heard this all before, and I start counting the furrows in his forehead. 1, 2, 18, geez.

His eyebrows were thunderclouds over blue sky eyes and I couldn’t quite figure out how God could make a man with such conflicting features, like a cubist painting in the amount of sense it made.

He shakes me again. Are you even listening? Fear of God, fear of father, same thing. I nod quick enough to be convincing and he mellows out to stern-bearded tree trunk.

Watch him step back out over the broken door and I sink down to the floor, picking up the diary again with greater vehemence this time. Punished for telling the truth. That’s what this feels like. Like being a martyr. Sucks being a teenager, but I guess it’s  a different kind of lousy being grown up, which is probably why they yell so much.

I yelled my truth from my highest point and felt powerful a shattered second in my refusal to behave but always and again I am stifled in the shaking and I hope I’ll never be them. 

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