Tuesday, July 31, 2012

5 Reads / 5 Days

1. THE MEADOW by James Galvin. A gorgeous piece, an extended essay/poem on generationa growing up on a meadow perched on the Colorado-Wyoming border. Sounds dull. All the excerpts sound dull. But this small gem made me weep and laugh and smile and wish.

2. 40,000 WORDS. In my capacity as editor/classmate. I have visited Nigeria, a dreaming room, a small California coastal town, Sicily, among many other places, and met terrorists, mothers, a woman mourning her lost love, boys coming of age, among others. Wonderful. Of these 8 works, 3 began with a dream or waking up. Not so wonderful.

3. MAPS. Lots of maps. Maps of Delaware, South Dakota, Washington DC, and Boston, MA. Some for practical reasons (how the hell do we detour around Rehoboth Beach?) and others for their capacity to build place, to create setting.

4. HOW TO SAY GOODBYE by  James Valvis. Finally some hammock time to absorb these potent poems that twist and turn in unexpected, glorious ways, leaving my always with a gasp.

5. WITH MY BODY by Nikki Gemmell. Total summer read, a modernized version of The Story of 'O' and Lolita all mashed up. Written in second person POV, this one grows on you, makes you remember the heat of desire.

So... it's summer. Whatchya reading?


Thursday, July 26, 2012

TERMINAL (The Runaway--VIII)

BY THE TIME THE BUS REACHED THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE, Josh realized Nikko had problems deeper than he ever imagined. Nikko kept shivering, short, fast bursts of trembling that would rock Josh awake, then fell back into deep sleep, even though heat blasted through the bus. While Nik shivered and slept, Josh watched the red taillights of cars slide by and worried about his friend, worried the police would pull over the bus, for by now surely Gemma had cracked and the parents knew their plan.
They had ditched the car in the bowels of the Union Station parking lot, hoping to fake their parents into thinking they’d taken a train north. Instead, they’d blown fifty bucks on a cab, backtracking to Druid Hill to see Vee’s brother David. Nik’s idea, and not part of the plan. The cab parked in front of a row house whose second-floor windows were shot out. Across the parkway, the reservoir glittered blue.

“Dropping off something for Vee,” Nikko said. “Back in a jif.”

The cabbie grunted. He auto-locked the doors with a loud click and kept the engine idling. Josh kept his eyes glued on the barred door Nik had disappeared into. After a few minutes, Nik emerged, half-walking, half-skipping to the cab, carrying something small in his hand that he stuffed in his back jeans pocket. The cab fled south down the Fallsway, then followed Presidential Street as it twisted through Fells Point and Canton, past industrial-looking warehouses butting up against the murky harbor, until it pulled up a drive in a part of town Josh didn’t know existed.

They unloaded their backpacks and guitar. Somewhere, a highway hummed, the high whir persistent, like a mosquito. A couple of snow-flakes drifted from the grey sky. After Nikko, pad the cabbie, they hurried inside.

The cheapest bus left at five. Nikko said he had to use the can, so Josh piled their packs into a booth. Fluorescent light burned overhead, making the orange tables glow. A row of vending machines took up the wall space between the two bathroom entrances; lockers took up another wall. Most everyone who walked through the waiting room looked pasty and worn. A woman leaned against the glass window near the terminal door in impossibly high sequin heels, a hot pink skirt stretched tight across her thighs. She stared at him, licked her pink-stained lips, and he turned away. He pulled out his guitar, strummed a few lines of Blackbird, and even though he played quietly the music seemed too loud for this place, so he placed the guitar back in the case.

When twenty minutes had passed and Nikko still had not returned, Josh started to worry. He walked over to the men’s room, propped open the door, and whispered, “Nikko. You in there?” all while keeping an eye on their stuff in the booth. No one answered. A man came out as Josh spoke again, louder.

“There’s no one in there,” the man said.

The fluttery feeling in his stomach grew. He returned to the booth, hugging his guitar under his arm. He was about to pull out his phone and call his parents when the glass door opened and Nikko came in from outside. His shoulders slumped, as if very tired, but he smiled.

“Where the hell have you been?” Josh asked.

“Outside. Air,” Nikko said. “I waved when I came outta the john.”

“No you didn't," Josh said, and wondered why his friend’s words slurred.

“You must not have sheen me.”

Nikko slid into the booth across from him. His brown eyes looked black, huge glowing coals that filled his pale face, and he smiled this weird smile, like he couldn’t help himself. They sat there at the chipped Formica table, not talking. Their bus number was called over the PA.

“Go.” Nikko waved his hand. “Go piss.” He closed his eyes, leaned against the back of the booth, still smiling.

Half-way to Boston, Josh could not sleep. His stomach churned, from hunger, from nerves, from the growing certainty his best friend was sick. He placed his hand on Nik’s forehead, but the skin felt cool, damp. Nikko stirred, moaning, no longer smiling.


The 8th installment of THE RUNAWAY. Funny, but I suspect my story starts here. If you wish to read all the earlier throat-clearing, scroll down to the blog post below and follow the bread crumbs. As always, I appreciate you reading my words. Peace...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Teen Spirit (The RUNAWAY--VII)

LEAVING WAS EASIER THAN JOSH THOUGHT IT WOULD BE. Sunday morning, when he woke, for the first time all week his stomach did not hurt. After the service, voices melded into a thin hum. People drank coffee in partisan clumps, looking at watches, waiting. Josh told his parents he was walking over to the Pizza Palace to wait for a friend to pick him up for play rehearsal.
“What time do I need to pick you up?” his mom asked. She kept her eyes on his father, snuffing out the candles at the altar.
“I’ll get a ride back,” he said. “I’ll be late.”
“How late?”
“Maybe ten. It’s dress rehearsal.”
She nodded and deposited her cup on the table. No one noticed him leave with Nikko and Gemma. The three walked out together. Carrie sat on the bench, smoking.
“You really should stop smoking,” Nikko said. “It could kill you, you know.”
Carrie glared at him. “And you should stop talking to grown-ups like the punk you are.”
“Right.” Nikko laughed. She stubbed out her cigarette against the poured concrete floor and huffed into the building. They were half-way down the sidewalk when Nikko stopped and held up his right hand.
“Wait,” he said. “Eine moment.”
He turned and jogged back to the building.
“Bet he’s got to pee. Again.” Gemma pulled out her cell phone. “Vee,” she said and turned her back.
The sun reflected off the sidewalk, making Josh sweat. His stomach gurgled, then cramped, and he was sure he was going to shit his pants, so he headed back to the church, to go to the bathroom, when Nik came running out of the door.
“Booya!” His held his right hand in the air, green spilling out.
Gemma looked up from the phone. “Where did you get money?”
Nik grabbed Josh by the elbow. “Come on, let’s go!”
“Did you hit mom up for money?”
Gemma ran behind them. The car doors slammed behind them. The engine roared. Sounds Like Teen Spirit screamed from the speakers. Nik pulled out of the parking lot in a cloud of dust. Tears streamed down his cheeks, his head bobbing from laughter.
“Hell no, I didn’t ask Mama J for coinage,” he said. “I went to go piss and there it was, just waiting for some punk. As Carrie herself would say.”
“What was waiting?” Josh asked.
“The freaking collection basket! Just sitting there, on the shelf by the door to the bathroom. Seventy-six bucks. I left three quarters.”
“But that’s stealing!” Josh said.
“Stealing, Schmeeling. We are O-fish-ill-ee on the streets, as of now. Survival of the fittest, you know. Darwin’s theory put into practice.”
Nikko pressed on the gas. The car sped towards Baltimore, towards Penn station. A mile from the exit that would take them back home, Gemma leaned forward from the backseat and tapped her brother on the shoulder.
“Get off here,” she said.
“No way, we don’t have time.”
“I mean it, Nik.”
“You’re wussing out on us?”
“I don’t want to survive if it means stealing,” she said. “That’s just wrong.”
“If we stop I’m gonna have to duct tape you to a chair,” Nikko said.
“I won’t tell anyone you’ve left,” she said. “Promise.”
Nik wrenched the steering wheel a hard left and the car glided off the exit. At the intersection, Gemma opened the door. Her long brown legs slid over the vinyl seat. She leaned in the open window, held out her hand. Nikko tapped his fingers against hers. Her hand floated before Josh’s face, and he grabbed it, kissed the inside of her palm, smelling of chocolate from the cookie she had eaten at coffee hour, and he heard her laugh, but the laugh sounded sad.
“Good luck you guys,” she said. "Be safe."
She shouldered her bag and walked away. The car behind them honked. Nikko pulled out of the intersection. Josh turned around and Gemma waved. She got smaller and smaller. Panic filled Josh’s gut. They were doing it. They were really running away.

The saga continues. To catch up, read the last installment HERE and work backwards. Thank you for reading, and peace...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On the Corner

Fifteen seconds.

Waiting for the light to flip.

Cars fly twenty over, a hospital zone. A lanky young man, pants hanging low hips like a magic trick, bops to his silent music, fingers clacking, knees bending.

"X-rated, x-rated," another man, this one silver templed, peddles boosted nips of high-octane booze.

Across the street, a woman wavers. Already you can fry sunny-side ups on asphalt. She crumples, implodes inward slow-mo.

Cars stop. The white walking man says walk.

I cross. A half-dozen attend the fallen woman. The pusher makes a sale, and the bopping dude vaults through the cross-walk, a gazelle on speed.

Fifteen seconds on my way to work.


Friday, July 13, 2012


TWO NIGHTS LATER, THE SKELETON OF THE PLAN emerged in a text message Josh received at three in the morning from Nik. Gemma was in, Nik said. But he did not want to involve Valencia. The next morning, on the bus, he and Nik huddled in the back row of the bus. The diesel smell made Josh feel woozy.

“Vee doesn’t go to our church,” Nik said. “Though she would be a lot of fun.”

“She would.”

“Boston is great,” Nik said. “Great music scene, you got Cambridge, coffee shops, corners to busk.”

“Too cold,” Josh said.

“Hell, it’s spring up there, just like here—daffodils, trees, bunnies, all that crap. Don’t tell me you want to go to Tampa,” Nik said.

“It’s warm there,” Josh said.

“You just want to see your grandparents lived.”


“Jesus, Josh—Florida, the land of hurricanes and alligators and Cubans and old people,” Nik said. “There’s no… culture.”

Josh couldn’t help but laugh. He thought for a moment of South Dakota, of going to see his uncle. There was plenty of land out there, plenty of space to be with his friend. And that was the reason why they were going, wasn’t it: to be able to be friends? But he didn’t mention South Dakota, didn’t mention the pressure building behind his heart.

By the bus pulled into the school drop off zone, Nik won. The next day, Josh withdrew all eight hundred dollars from his checking account, sold his Nintendo and PSP handhelds for another two hundred at Gamestop, and copied information from two of his mother’s credit cards onto a small note card he tucked in his wallet. Gemma had nine hundred dollars and Nikko almost three thousand dollars. Josh had no idea where he got that kind of money, and didn’t ask.

The rest of the week, nervous excitement fluttered in his gut, and in school he couldn’t concentrate. At home, his mom hovered over him, asking him to eat, asking him if he’d done his homework, nagging him to empty Absalom’s litter box, which he kept forgetting.

          They decided to leave Sunday afternoon. There was a special church meeting, to discuss the petition, which would occupy the parents. At the same time, the school play had rehearsal. Josh felt badly ditching the school play, and on Friday, at school, Gemma expressed the same remorse.

“Finally, I get a key part and bam!” she said. She joked about it, but when he looked at her face he could tell she was serious.

“And of course, the prom,” she said. “Nik doesn’t care, but Vee and I found these strapless black numbers and well, we were bringing shovels to pick up all the jaws dropped on the floor.”

They both laughed quietly over their lunch trays.

A warm front moved in on Saturday, making the temperatures soar into the nineties. Josh’s mom complained of a headache and slept much of the afternoon; his father mowed the tiny patch of a lawn and then worked on his sermon in the closed study. The silence felt the way Josh imagined air felt before a tornado struck: yellow and thick and still. Josh pulled clothes from his backpack, replacing the shirts, adding additional underwear and socks, then dumped the pack and started again. He had no idea what to bring: did he need toothpaste, should he bring his razor? For stubble had appeared on his chin and cheeks, as if his hormones understood he was about to leave childhood behind him forever.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Down the Road a Spell

A quick trip to North Carolina to visit family. Mostly, we sat around, so damn hot and humid. The South gets that way come summer, but this past week was more hellacious than usual and broke a few records. Still, we managed just fine.

--Ate some Smithfield pulled-pork barbeque, slaw, and hushpuppies, washed down with Cheerwine.

--The Raleigh Farmers' Market remains one of the best, with blueberries, 'lopes. sweet corn, peaches, every kind of bean, and watermelons all in.

--My sister and I caught up in her screened-in porch while my kiddos and hers splashed in a saline-water pool.

--Spent time at Lakeview Gardens perusing the late-blooming daylilies. A character named Clayton Pettigrew planted himself in my head four years ago when we first visited. I just *finished* his story last week. I think. I hope.
--My mother, daughter, and I spent an hour re-creating our family lines as far back as we could go. Remembered our ancestors and their lives: the chicken-thief, the Scottish lass with 8 children, the folks from Prince Edward Island, hard-times, the tuberculosis that killed my grandfather's brother and, indirectly, my great-grandfather, my Nana's love of her piano.

--Listened to my son play my Nana's old piano, now in my sister's house.

--We laughed a lot.

Back in the saddle tomorrow. On tap the next few days: cooler weather, lots of writing homework, a party on Saturday (y'all come on down!), and that thing called work. Hope you survived the summer swelter. Peace...

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Music Ends (The Runaway--V)

THAT NIGHT, AT DINNER, JOSH’S PARENTS confirmed the friendship between the two families was over. His mom’s eyes looked puffy, as if she had cried all afternoon. His father spoke in short, clipped sentences. After dinner, he disappeared into his study and shut the door. Josh’s mom went into the garage to paint. Ravel filtered through the door. After Josh finished his homework at the kitchen table, he sat there for a long time, and when neither parent emerged from behind their closed doors, he went upstairs and changed into pajamas. He lay on his bed and looked at the ceiling and worried his father would lose his job, worried they would have to move, this would be the last April he ever spent in his small room staring at the swirls of plaster on his ceiling. He tried not to think too much about what might have been. At midnight, Josh rested his guitar in its case, moved the case into the closet, and closed the door.

This week's installment of THE RUNAWAY; you can read last week's scene HERE. Peace...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Seven Things in Seven Days

In the last seven days, in order of importance...

1) My son turned 13 (tied with #2)

2) My daughter turned 10 (tied with #1).

3) My short story The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper placed in the Press53 Open Writing Awards--Flash Fiction.

4) My Writing Program axed its poetry concentration AND did not award me a scholarship. I am not down on my writing program these days.

5) My town lost water and over 5 million folks in the Baltimore/DC region lost power when a line of thunderstorms surged through late Friday night.

6) My short story The Way It Is in the current issue of Scissors and Spackle (thank you editor Joani Reese).

7) I submitted one short story and three poems to a contest.

And you? Peace...