Thursday, September 27, 2012

THE COOKIE (The Runaway--XVI)


JOSH DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE NIKKO UNDER THE HIGHWAY, but he was hungry. He took off his coat and wrapped it around Nikko, who seemed to be asleep, and crawled out from the cardboard box. The spring Nikko had promised weeks ago had not arrived. The coldest April in history, the newspaper proclaimed. The weather forecast called for snow, but the sky remained cloudless.
The fire pits tamped down, boxes and blankets neatly folded, it was too early to settle in for the night. The sun slid behind the overpass, a dripping fiery yolk, and the stream that threaded through the make-shift camp turned into a golden mirror so bright Josh had to turn away. Nikko’s forehead looked smooth for the first time in days. Josh knew he shot up, probably when he left in the morning to go to St. Joe’s for the free breakfast. He didn’t want to know what Nikko traded for his smack, he knew they didn’t have any money left. He swallowed the anger, no, the hurt, at Nikko selling the guitar for two nights worth of high. As Josh stood over his friend, he wanted to kick him, scream at him to stop being so goddamn selfish.
Josh scrambled up the embankment. This morning a man at St. Joe’s mentioned a restaurant on Newbury Street put out boxes of uneaten food in the alley. Late afternoon, leftovers from the lunch rush. Josh thought he knew the place, the restaurant beside the posh cafĂ© that served herb-infused lattes. He had seen the sign propped on the sidewalk, “Try our caramel and sage latte,” and his mouth had watered.

By the time he reached the alley, shadows stretched long, the dumpsters and cars filled-in silhouettes. Something scurried against the stone wall of a building. Josh flinched. A rat. He relaxed; he was no longer afraid of rodents, he had eaten them.

He found the back door to the restaurant. Cartons and bags lay strewn in the alley, already picked over. Josh found a half-sandwich of turkey or chicken, a bruised pear, broken cookies of some sort. He shoved a piece in his mouth; it tasted of some exotic yet familiar spice. Cardamom, he realized, and he almost cried remembering the bread his mother made every New Year’s day. Pulla, plump with raisins. Swedish food for good luck in the year. He tried to remember why he was so angry with his parents, something to do with the church and the way they whispered all the time around him. He remembered they had forbidden him to hang with Nikko and Gemma, but now that seemed like such a small sacrifice for a full belly.


***

The 16th installment of THE RUNAWAY. You can find last week's story HERE. Thank you for reading--much appreciated. Peace...




 

Monday, September 24, 2012

HAPPY TOES

Yoga for the feet--who would've thunk it? Yesterday I spent two hours in a workshop led by Jenn Heinstadt of Mindful Freedom Yoga focusing on... feet. Did you know there is a muscle that goes from your second toe all the way to your tongue? Kind of like Route 66 of the body. 

Work-wise, I am in grant-writing hell. One reason I am quiet in the blogosphere. Call me crazy, but I decided to rework an NIH research proposal on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression. I kind of think they're linked--if you take your antidepressant meds, I have a hunch you might improve adherence to COPD meds and have better outcomes. But maybe it's the other way around--breathing better makes your depression better? I dunno, but I have a statistical work-around, thanks to my brilliant post-doc and students.

Did you hear--I got promoted? To Senior Fiction Editor at JMWW? For some reason uber-Editor Jen Michalski trusts me enough to play Goddess with submissions, and with the careful eyes and discerning tastes of the rest of the fiction editors, perhaps I will get more comfy with this role. But I am learning--SO MUCH! Like Submittable never sleeps... never... and, like tribbles, the inbox seems to reproduce over night.

Got a story coming out at Smokelong Quarterly next month. Booya!

Finished up a second draft of THE RUNAWAY, another chapter in THE MINISTER'S WIFE, my project-under-construction. But at 12,000 words, it is almost a novella. I usually have no difficulty in murdering my lovelies, but this time...

Reading THE HUMAN STAIN by Philip Roth. My first full-throttle Roth experience. He is effing brilliant at characterization and, yeah, maybe he is self-absorbed, but who cares if the reading is this good?

What are you writing and reading these days? And please, pardon me if I stick out my tongue--I'm merely stretching my toes. Namaste...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

THE FENS (The Runaway--XV)


EVERY TIME THE REEDS TWITCHED, Josh half-started, half-rose from the cold concrete bench, but it was only wind gusting over the fens. He waited for Nikko to come out. He didn’t understand exactly what Nikko and the other man were doing in the tall grass, but he knew enough that it made him feel sick in his stomach. He wanted to go home, but Nikko said they did not have enough money to get home. In one week he would raise enough money to get the bus back. One more week. It was his fault, for selling the guitar.

They had left the Holiday Inn at two in the morning, stuffing the blanket into a garbage bag, taking the soap, the thin face cloths and towels, the plastic cups. Nikko took him to an underpass and they built a nest—that was the only way Josh could describe it in his head—with the blanket and wood planks and a cardboard box scavenged from an alley.

Josh stared at the single yellow crocus pushing through mulch. Spring was coming. That was what Nikko said before the man came and they went into the fens. Spring.

The reeds whistled in the wind. A snowflake fell on the Josh’s cheek. He shivered, and waited.
 
 
***
 
The 15th installment of THE RUNAWAY, a very long chapter in THE MINISTER'S WIFE, my novel under construction. To read more, go HERE. And, as always--thank you for reading my words! Peace...
 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

RED AS POPSICLES (The Runaway--XIV)


Nik lay face down on the mattress. Water blasted from the bathroom sink. When Josh saw his friend, relief turned to anger.

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

Nikko didn’t stir. Josh shook him. Nik moaned.

“Jesus, Nik, wake up! We missed singing tonight.”

“Tired.” Nik rolled on his side, back to Josh.

Josh stood up. The red light on the phone blinked.

“Someone stole the guitar,” Josh said. “And the desk wants us to pay up. They’re gonna evict us.”

“No money.”

“No money?” Josh asked. “We should have a thousand dollars left.”

“Gone.” Nik’s hand flopped over the side of the bed.

Ice burned in Josh’s gut. He grabbed Nik by the shoulder and rolled him over. And that was when he saw the red lines streaking down his inner arm, streaks red as the popsicles they ate last summer, red as the color of blood.
 
***
Here, the 14th installment of THE RUNAWAY, a story in THE MINISTER'S WIFE, a novel under construction. Will this baby ever end? Still a ways to go... but it is going to get gritty and real, real fast.
To read the previous installment, go HERE. As always, thank you dear readers for taking time to linger here. Peace...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Memoriam



Perfect day dawned in brilliant blue,
shocking canvas of contrast: planes
fly black against far-flung heaven.
Even unbelieving prayer
muttered with quiet resigned breaths
could not foretell or forestall stains

gouging ground, splintering sky, staining
steel, scuttled lives, exhaling blue,
imploding in hydraulic breaths
screaming through city, hill, and plain.
Common words, sweet sacred prayers
lip-synched by believers heaven

sent from hell to transform heaven
marked by the golden crescent, stain
of a singular god and prayer,
cloaked in cheap polyester blue,
costume of the West, boarding planes
inhaling, exhaling, one breath

holy comingling with all breaths,
lifting as one to make heaven
on earth, to be done, in the plane.
It is foretold, on pages stained
sepia, older than time, blue
ink and red seeping on prayer.

Father, mother, children all - pray
the ancient songs with soft breaths,
for God cannot hear in this blue
twilight; sing who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name, thy love stained
by unseen portents, for the plane

is a steel-bound casket, the plane
pulses with souls insistent, prey
trembling, mortal flesh and smoke-stained,
metal-wrapped in a dragon’s breath.
For the meek, the blessed, to heaven
will float ashen to brilliant blue.

Blue sky trailed by white plane flumes
marking a heaven all pray exists;
God’s breath stained by metal and fire.


***
I post this humble sestina every September 11, for what other event has so marked America and her future? We have men and women fighting for her freedom around the world because of this day. I think of those individuals--real and created--who have lost their lives or something else of importance to terrorism and the fight against it.

Remember.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

So THIS Is Why I Write


Writing is exercise--cheaper than a gym, and a great excuse for Butt in Chair.

And if I live longer, this gives me more time to find an agent.

Peace...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

AH ONE, AH TWO... (The Runaway--XIII)

Josh walked the streets for hours. He started in Chinatown, the last place he saw Nik. At dusk, the morning reversed: the whores took over the street-corners, gaudy like peacocks, while the workers rushed towards the subway, to home. Josh rode the Red line across the river to Cambridge and walked Harvard Square and the side streets where they used to play. Students and tourists crowded the store fronts, licking ice cream and gathering around other street performers, but Nikko was not among them.

Night fell. He and Nik should be setting up on a corner, figuring out their first set. Nik would smoke a final cigarette, sipping a small coffee from Au bon Pain in between draws. Nik would drain the cup, place it carefully on the sidewalk, and say ‘Ah one, ah two, ah three’, and the corner would explode with the Beatles, Clapton, Radiohead, sometimes one of their own songs. Quarters would clink in the guitar case opened up like a casket, and sometimes a dollar or two would flutter in. Last week, a Thursday night, a slow night, a man in a grey suit threw in a five. That made their day.

But without the guitar, without Nikko, Josh couldn’t perform. He tried, standing on the corner of Prospect and Cambridge, but no words came out; his mouth opened and closed like a beached fish.

Josh boarded the last train to Boston. A cool drizzle fell. His flannel shirt clung damp to his skin. He ducked under the eaves of a building and shivered. At midnight, few people walked the streets, but he looked at every pedestrian’s face, hoping to find Nikko. When the rain stopped he turned towards Boylston, back to the hotel, and it was then he realized he had sheltered under the eaves of a Unitarian Universalist church. He thought about his mom and dad and Absalom, he thought about Gemma and Vee and band practice. He thought about doing homework at the warm kitchen table, his mom humming while she fixed dinner, and as Josh ran the four blocks to the Holiday Inn, he felt his heart would drop out of him with the noise and clatter of a broken muffler.


***

Installment 13 in THE RUNAWAY, one chapter in THE MINISTER'S WIFE, my novel under construction. To read more, go HERE and wade your ways backward. As always, thank you for reading my work. Peace...



Monday, September 03, 2012

WORK--Random Thoughts

There are the haves and the have nots. The have nots have none, absolutely; the haves have way too much. Think: Our underemployment woes could be abated if we merely gave half the work of the haves to the have nots.

Labor Day is a celebration of the social and economic contributions of workers. Taxes on the remaining 364 days make this day irrelevent.

On the subway home last week, the man in the seat beside me noted he finally had work after 16 months. He does prayer circles for people who are unemployed. "It isn't the money so much," he said, "as the lack of purpose. The aimlessness of it all." I gave him the names of about a half-dozen folks to add to his circle that night.

My own work takes me well past the 40 hour mark most weeks; vacations feel brutal because there is always so much work to do before you leave. Upon return, the inbox is stacked higher than before. This is why I rarely take more than three days off in a row. Indeed, there is a lot of chest-thumping among the office about how many days workers 'lose' because they do not have time to take them.

My boss and her boss and her boss all say--be grateful you have a job. True. I am grateful--just wish I didn't also have two other folks' jobs to do  as well.

Every morning on the way to my office I pass folks in heavy coats pushing carts loaded up with bags, bottles, blankets. They look hungry, and not just for food.

Here is to hope our country finds a better economic balance. Happy Labor Day. Peace...