Tell me a story

floating leaf

Tell me a story

You say, and I begin again.
The beginning, always my favorite part
sweet on my tongue, fleeting

But I am ever hopeful
digging now for middles and ends
that are deeper and darker

And boiling with life, like the depths
of a sea where lampreys
sway like seaweed, and dance

In the current and swallow
the silvery trout who swims too deep—
you might say the trout dies

Or you might say they become one?
There is no ending, is there?
It’s all a loop, this story—

It’s as endless as the sea evaporating
graying blue skies, falling again, rain, rain
pocking the choppy waves

Feel the spray on your face, wet as
the spit in your mouth, the blood in your veins
salty as the tears brimming

Below the surface, unshed, underneath
Tell me please, what really separates above from below?
If I dive in, will you swallow me whole?

Writing at Rohs Street

September 23, 2014 / Haiku exercise

Haiku #1

River curves away
Blue sky sweeps above, cloudless
iphone memory

I am trying not to feel like I have to pin beauty down, like a butterfly to a board. But I can’t seem to stop.

Another haiku?

Haiku #2

Captured river, caught
Pinned down, like a butterfly
iphone memory

I’m thinking so much lately about what is precious, and how scraps of precious things live in my phone, collected there like when Hermione Granger charmed her beaded bottomless bag in the last Harry Potter book, so it could hold everything that was essential to battle Lord Voldemort: a tent the size of a house, books, food, clothes to take the chill off, life-saving medical supplies, anything she needed to move the story ahead—what magic, that story.

Magic like iphones are magic, in their way. My iphone: I resisted getting one for so long, after reading in horror about the Chinese workers who made them—probably still make them, who am I and Apple’s PR machine kidding? The workers housed in gray dormitories in smoggy cities where poison air stings throats and eyes, workers—flesh and blood people—harnessed like plow horses to relentless time clocks.

Down another time-ladder, I slip to another century, another magical book, Little Women—the March sisters and Marmee refusing to wear silk dresses because of the child labor that went into making them. No, the March women wore plain Poplin, unfashionable, virtuous. Except for Amy. Selfish, vain Amy — and guess what? I’ve become Amy, haven’t I?

To assuage my guilt, I use my iphone to collect tiny bits of the world, to fashion a beautiful mosaic of songs I love, of my two daughter’s text messages, of hundreds of photos snapped when the light! THE LIGHT! Stuns me, as if maybe I might someday be trapped in a windowless dormitory, a joyless world where my pictures of nature and cryptic messages from the past will be the only things that sustain me?

Maybe that’s the fear. That if I don’t somehow bottle it, it will all vanish? Is that why I’ve recorded the songs of crickets and cicadas? So in some deep cold winter moment, I can hear summer again? All those notes I make, poem fragments and angry rants and ideas and books I should read, want to read, all the flotsam and jetsam of life flowing past like the mighty Ohio did this morning, when I captured it in my iphone. Snap!

Pinning it all down, like a butterfly, pinned. A picture Lydia texted me, of her, smiling, hugging that pretty Border Collie in her college apartment, if I save it there, and look at her smile, will that keep her smiling, always?

I pour over my collection sometimes, find beauty, pain, insights and treasure: those notes I when I wake and can’t find my journal, tip-tip-typing instead of scrawling, frantically recording those recurring dreams of ice and glaciers and endless winters, mixed in with sunshiny sunflowers in a vacant lot.

It’s all in there.

Ohio River photo
Ohio River, September 23, 2014



Their maracas shake in dark trees: even indoors, windows closed, fans on:
they thrum, thrum, a constant presence, insect-induced tinnitus
I like their cascading drone, insistent announcement—we live!
Humans, greedier than any insect, haven’t killed them off, not yet,
unlike the passenger pigeons, once so plentiful
flocks of them darkened the daytime skies for hours
went from most populous bird on the planet
to extinct in a century, a blink of time.
Martha, last survivor, died alone in captivity
a hundred years ago last Monday
just  a stroll from my house,
in a cage at the
Cincinnati Zoo—
it’s still there
on display


-September 3, 2014

Ten More Literary Magazines for the Best Flash Fiction

This is very belated, but I’m thankful and honored for the mention over at! Great site, packed with literary advice and reviews. Check out this post for flash publication ideas.



The flash markets on this list include the best around. They’re not impossible to break into. Not as much as say, Willow Springs, whose editor informed us recently here on this blog that only one out of a thousand pieces gets picked for publication from the slush pile. One out of a thousand! That’s roughly the same odds as Bono being the next pope, of sneezing with your eyes open, or [ gulp ] of asteroid 1999 RQ36 smashing into Earth.

While these magazines are not so apocalyptically stingy with their acceptance, they’re still selective (and I’ve got an asteroid belt of rejections from them in my in-box to prove it).

You might think of this list as as continuation of an earlier post on the very best, since these magazines are more challenging to break into than those on the other two lists I’ve compiled: Top 10…

View original post 2,540 more words

an old poem, revised

The universal donor develops a taste for blood

What if
I closed my eyes right now, accelerated hard
Just waited for the impact, the pain,
the wailing sirens
“She lost control on the Norwood Lateral,” they’d say.
“Nearly bled to death.”

Or what if
I lost control, of myself,
In produce between the melons and the salad bar,
when that lady in tight capris slaps her sobbing toddler
“She BIT that woman at Kroger’s,” they’d say.
“She drew blood!”

And what if
I developed a taste for blood, began to crave more
To seek angry people, timid children, laughing babies
Napes exposed, tender, pink with longing, with pain, with joy
“Is she all right?” they’d wonder,
then cross the street to avoid me.

And what if
I ran away, left life and laundry piled up behind?
If I loitered in all-night diners
sipping bitter black coffee, eavesdropping
“What’s with the notebook,” the waitresses would whisper.
“She writes all night long. Weird.”

And what if
I drank in what I needed, instead of giving it all away?
If I grew fat and full and flush
cut my heart open and let it all spill warm, red and alive
onto blue-lined paper
into stories pulsing with life?


Indiana University Writer’s Conference, June 2014

I’m just back from an amazing week in Bloomington, Indiana, where I attended the IU Writer’s Conference—for anyone considering this conference in the future, I’d highly recommend it. Come well-rested—you’ll be too inspired to sleep much.

Teachers included the amazing Jim Elledge, who just won a Lambda award for creative non-fiction; Christine Sneed, inspiring master of voice and craft; Mike McNally, who wove insightful philosophy into his fiction-writing lectures; and Stephen Motika, poet and equal-opportunity nurturer of both reluctant and enthusiastic poets.

I wrote a series of three sonnets (or sort-of sonnets, anyway) in Motika’s class. I really enjoyed the process. I think of them like sketches. Here they are:

(June 3, 2014)

Hot met cool, see the hawk glide? Watch, I said,
buying time, fighting to keep you earthbound
spinning sad stories of morning skies red,
of lost planes, never found, of ships run aground
Pink spells disaster, I hiss, desperate
Too late—you have flown, left me here alone
in the parking lot, forlorn, disparate
Left, as you thread through clouds as gray as stones
On the blood-red hood of your car, I brace;
I cannot follow where you fly, slice, skive

Spinning out, shrinking to a speck, I trace
your spiral path, praying: Don’t. Don’t dive.

*this was supposed to be a traditional sonnet: 14 lines, iambic, etc. It fails on many counts, the biggest being that I cannot count! It’s 12 lines (oops). This is what happens at 1 a.m. But it was fun anyway.


Mustard Seed
(June 4, 2014)

It’s gone, fragment of my Episcopal childhood
tiny speck of faith lost in my jewelry box.
Faith, you tell me, sprouts from this tiny seed,
branches spreading wide, high
sheltering all the birds of the sky
I have to find it, untangle the chain, believe
That mustard seed is all I need, you say.
I want to believe, as you do,
though your world’s aflame,
Trusting that God has you, safe in his palm
What is to burn bright, what is to give light
Must endure the fire, survive the burning:

Can you? Please, I need to find my mustard seed.
I want so badly to believe.

*Notes: for this sonnet, we were to loosen the definition of sonnet; although there are some rhymes, I didn’t focus on that. There are fourteen lines, and a ‘turn’ at the end. “what is to give light must endure burning” is a quote from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, one of my favorites, and I borrowed from that towards the end.


(June 5, 2014)

I have faith in the way a wasp nest is never quiet
I don’t want to cause problems at this stage
I cannot follow where you fly, slice, skive
over goldengrove unleaving
spinning sad stories of morning skies red
sheltering all the birds of the sky—
she may entangle in that golden snare;
Faith, you tell me, sprouts from this tiny seed,
with near-instant results (including wealth beyond your wildest dreams).
Chronic irony is an arthritis of the spirit:
I’m in the parking lot, forlorn, disparate
I have to find it, untangle the chain, believe

My faith flies in angry circles round my head
Go! Spiral, soar, sweep the wide sky, like a hawk


*note: this is a collage sonnet, composed of lines from the sonnets of I wrote in class, as well as from poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Amoretti Edmund Spenser and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a new couplet by me, and three random lines—from a tweet by Joyce Carol Oates, a client email, and a junk email advertising chakra healing for only $39.95.

The Jester

A new sci-fi story of mine is now up at Story Shack. Written last spring, it sprang from the same swirling well of techno-hope and techno-fear that the recent movie “her” bubbled up in. Not that this little bit of a story is in that class, at all, but I always think it’s interesting to see the themes that emerge in fiction and film, and how they tend to come in waves. I had fun writing it–one of those that almost wrote itself.