Tuesday, December 20


You push out of bed like a backstroke,
surfacing into the morning light,
leaving me behind. There must be
a word for that shift, instinctive
in that moment right before you pull away:

I press closer, rub my face into
your shoulder-skin, asleep to the realities
of all our deleterious nights,
breath serene as if I might never wake,
arms tight around you. You break

my hold, push a pillow into my arms
as if it could replace you. I remember
the days I could swim back down into sleep
after you left, listening to the bell
sounding dour in all those grey mornings.

We cannot go back into the wide space
between night and white dawn. We can travel
only in the direction of endings, and never again
savor the taste of beginning. I am weightless
in my dream-sea under heavy blankets

and even when you are here,
I can see you are already gone.

Wednesday, December 14



The koi swims upstream, against any current, any opposition. It is the sign of perseverance, much like a salmon. One that has never known the fear of a shaggy-pawed predator. It is also "koi," "beloved," just as we say to each other in the foggy mornings, embroidering on our eyebrows and drawing in our lips before we face the dawn.

We paint each carp in moonglow and scarlet petals, copper and gold and inky black. They shine in the sunlight like articulated jewels.

At sunset, we set them in the pond and release the fireflies. Moonfish and sunfish and autumn-leaf-fish circle turn and turn about, gape-grinning at our hands, slender hands entwined and resting upon the curve of the red-lacquered bridge. We drop cakes and rice wine into their friendly mouths.

"Ochiba, my heart," she says to me, "in the cold night let us swim together for warmth."

"Hanako, my pulse," I reply, "apocalypses could not keep us from touching."

We return to the workshop, hand in hand, where we will dine upon green peas and watermelon. We will drink scalding tea, the color of our pond, that tastes of endless summer. Tonight we await the rising of the moon, full and lovely, an enormous silver carp swimming in the black waters of the sky.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Carrie challenged me with "big fish in a small pond" and I challenged Sir with "Cor Serpentis."

The exchange of short poems between lovers is a well-documented obsession of mine. Go back and count the syllables. Yes, those are haiku. Yes, I tried to write them in Japanese first, though I'm more certain of Hanako's line than Ochiba's. Yes, I am a little crazy.


Friday, December 9


What can I tell him about this place?
I have seen bright finches eating peaches
left hanging on a ragged tree. Persimmons
and thyme-scented lemons throw themselves
into my waiting hand.

I could live on rice and jasmine tea, the
scent of pepper floating out of the trees,
the shadows of autumns past still lingering
in concrete under my path.

But here there are no camellias,
shy flowers peeking from behind glossy leaves,
no cemetery incense or old tatami,
no sutras or silken banners tucked away
in ageless forest, no temple open to retreat.

Tonight the moon is a paper lantern
about to burst into flame, hanging low
in a blushing sky, tipping all the red leaves
in gleaming gold, the present as elusive
as the past,

and I can never capture silver-scaled truth
with the nets I weave of troublesome words.

Thursday, December 8


Once, I rose dripping
from a bath, and in drying,
my hand descended
from the nape of my neck
into the deepest cut,

right along the shoulder-line.

I touched all those pieces
that grind on each other
carefully, the wet tongue velvet
of the insides of our skin

lapped up against oily layers
and ragged edges, pushed into 
dark places, prodded at wads of 
linen and kerosene-soaked tinder,

my interior landscape primed
for a resurgence,
poised to burn.

Wednesday, December 7

Eightfold Path

There are too many people in this world. People everywhere, cars spewing out a thick coat of invisible poison, factories and furnaces, killing the skin of the world we inhabit. They're everywhere, hemming us in on all sides with squalling infants and trash and terrible little clouds of germs. Particles. Maybe spores. You never can tell.

It's mostly the noise, the clashing and creaking, the wails and grunting that play marimba on my spine. I creep around in my apartment because, upstairs, the man who plays bass in some terrible cover band never takes off his shoes. I hear him thumping around every hour of the day. It doesn't bother me as much now that I don't sleep.

I hear voices through the walls, whispers and murmurs of people who might be alive or dead or somewhere in between. I never see my neighbors if I can help it. Everything I need can be delivered, except the gun. I had to buy that from a wizened little man in a bad part of town. His eyes were shark-cold and black, blacker than the hole in the muzzle of my new handgun. He never asked why I wanted such a thing, of course. I imagine someone in that line of work would rather not know his customers too well.

There are footsteps outside my door again, people running up and down the stairs. I think they tread as heavily as they can on purpose, hooting like monkeys who have finally discovered acoustics. There are people everywhere.

Before, I practiced avoiding notice. I tried as hard as I could to become invisible. I think it's worked; cabs don't stop for me, but then again, in this city it would be more of a surprise if I managed to catch one. At night I meditate instead of sleeping, holding a full clip in my loosely cupped hands, waiting to look into the void of empty mind. Without desire, I can achieve anything. The trick in that, though, is that I long to accomplish something great. I have not reconciled these emotions, and I will not reach nirvana in this way. Of course, I can't believe I will reach nirvana with all this noise around me.

Sometimes, in the holy hush of three in the morning, I walk down to the river and watch the lights in the water. Sometimes, yes, even then, there are people in my way. The people in my way at such an hour are never, ever missed.

I wish everyone would disappear, everyone in this city, leave me alone and let me meditate under the wide window, open to the sky. I would never become a bodhisattva and that is okay. Let them all vanish into smoke and dust and ash like the girls in the incinerator.

I could go out into the world and sit under a tree until another homeless man stands too close to me, offering drugs and requesting things I don't have to give. I could walk to the park, if another thoughtless young woman with a stroller too wide for the sidewalk wouldn't simply shove me aside with its nearly-armored sides. I am running out of places to put the loud, the rude, the hapless, and the damned.

I will stay in here with the candles and the bits of unburned bone until I hear silence out there, or until another knock on my door signals the loss of my invisibility. Or I will go out and remove another piece of trash from my city, one bullet at a time, one more splinter of annoyance pulled from under the nailbed of my soul.

The incinerator is the only quiet thing in this building. Sometimes I go into the dark and lie in front of its iron mouth, whispering sutras into its heat. Sometimes I see the faces in the fire and I am so grateful they are silenced forever. Sometimes when I blow out the candles on my windowsill, I make a wish, but then I remember that desire is the enemy. Is a wish the same as desire?

I cannot escape the prayer for silence, the great and sacred responsibility that has been laid upon me. I wished to be of use, I wished to remove obstacles from my destiny. I wished to live in an empty place, for an empty mind, for the peace of perfect enlightenment. If I could just quiet the voices, I could get there, but people are everywhere. So, one person at a time, I strive. When all is silent I will reach again for the truth, set out upon the eightfold path that promises detachment from these earthly desires.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Tobie challenged me with "Make a wish and blow out the candles." and I challenged Wintervixen86 with "Pierrot and Columbine".

Saturday, December 3

Things We Never Said Out Loud

Dig my way down, I dig, one hand over the other. Like a baseball bat. Let's not talk about the baseball bat, though, let's leave that for last. Oh, love, let me lull you to sleep with my songs. Sit here with your head upon my knee and see the stories I spin for you, always for you and your silent stone heart. Shovels are uncomplicated things, thrust them in and let them do their work, one hand over the other and a growing pile of dust, of dirt, of mud and clay. I could almost sing to you while I work, almost, if you were listening, send you a message that meant more than this.

I never bought that plastic tarp. We laughed about it, oh yes, how we laughed. It's funny until it happens to you, and then you regret all the quicklime and chainsaw jokes. Or so I'd suppose.

Who knows? Not me, I am so quiet and kind. I make toys for the children in my spare time, trains on tracks and racks of gently smiling dolls. Never mind the noises from the basement. Hammer and nails, lashes and tongs, bits of chain and leather thongs. Tools of the trade, you might say.

I don't know why you left or where you went. It was always for you, the weight of the sledgehammer handle socketed firmly into my fist, the scissors and the baseball bat, the broken glasses, the plates. I've waited beside you, oh, waited, wondering why you closed your eyes that night and never came back. Now I can hear your dresses decay in the dark and drop dust-bunnies onto the closet floor.

I have missed you less, before; but this is a joke. I never miss. One last kiss, and into the dark you go. I'll lay you next to your beloved cat, cover you gently with your favorite quilt. Throw in the pieces of the baseball bat, and tuck you in--and that is that.

Thursday, December 1

The Albatross

"Look, kid, this is ridiculous. There are no lamps out there. It's physically impossible."

"I know what I saw, Anchormaster," the boy insisted. His ragged sailcloth leggings rustled as he shifted uncomfortably. "I know I wasn't supposed to be in the ambassador's quarters, and I'll take the lashes for that, but I am not lying. Was a man, on a cobblestone street, bold as brass, true as iron."

The anchormaster looked down at the rough-sanded planks, considering. The boy's bare, calloused feet scraped quietly as he shifted position again. "Report to the whipmistress in the morning. Five for trespassing. I will speak with her as to the rest of your sentence after I visit the ambassador. You will take the night watch on C deck and keep the whole thing quiet until I finish my investigation. Is this clear?"

The boy saluted and left hastily, perhaps afraid the anchormaster would change his mind. Punishments were not usually so lenient aboard this particular ship.

Anchormaster Lenn walked toward the foredecks, glaring at his timepiece. The ambassador was in one of her meetings for at least another hour. Plenty of time to check her quarters and make sure the boy hadn't interfered with anything important. He could even be back to his post before the Captain made her rounds. He headed into the lodging corridor, moving as quietly as he could. Too many people on this trip kept odd hours. He thought how glad he would be when this shipment was over, and of the spiced coffee he would drink when they made planetfall. It had been far too long since his last shore leave.

All his musings were cut short when he noticed the door to the ambassador's quarters hanging open. His mouth compressed in irritation and he mentally added two lashes to the boy's punishment for leaving the corridor unsecured.

Annoyed, he strode into the lodgings, less concerned now about the noise than about the potential security breach. The automatic lights shifted on, and a quick survey of the suite yielded no visible problems. He stood in the center room for a few moments, listening for any movement. When the silence remained, he headed into the receiving room, where the boy had claimed to see his latest impossibility. Two steps into the room, he froze.

There, in the port window, silhouetted against the infinitude of space, it was clear. A section of cobblestoned street, a wrought-iron streetlamp, and a man where no men should be, framed by the bulk of the planet looming over them all.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kat challenged me with "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him standing under the street light..." and I challenged GUS with "Malachite and amber, mother of pearl and stars."

Wednesday, November 23

liturgy of the hours

Where, oh precious, can I find the gate
into that novena-lit and comfort-laced,
steep-staircased tower?

No map yet aims wide enough,
no route traced in jewels,
rivers inked in green or blue,
no arrows point my way.

I am not lost, I am seeking.
I know what I want when I find it,
the twisted tumbler of that one locked chamber
singing in my cathedral heart.


I have an empty
tin can for a mind, through which
the wind rises, scours

oatmeal-colored cell-
stuff from the bony walls, screams
in suffering ears

its manifesto.
I dare not resist.  No good
can come of retreat.

Monday, November 21

Time and a Half

She pulls down the long zipper of her dress, starting at the nape of her neck, holding the pile of her long hair out of the way with her forearm as she presses the neckline flat with her left hand. In her underclothes, she lets the thick bundle of hair fall, and begins to fold her dress. It's black.

 Most of her clothes are, but this is special, an asymmetrical piece of slubbed silk, deeper than midnight. Cocktail dresses are her favorite, and this is a particularly graceful variation on the style. She leans over to release the ankle straps of her seven-inch heels, placing one hand on the bookshelf for balance's sake. Stepping out of her right shoe, and then her left, she stands in stocking feet at the foot of the bed. She leaves her dress folded, neatly, on top of the deep blue counterpane and pads out to the kitchen.

She fills a wide-bottomed glass with whiskey and lights a cigarette, smoking silently, taking little nips at the glass between drags. The clock in the hallway chimes softly, and she heads into the office. The laptop is open, humming the quiet accompaniment of dancing electricity in the empty air. She puts her cigarette out in the desktop ashtray and disconnects all the laptop's cables. Looking at the red light of the built-in webcam, she takes a long swallow of her whiskey and sets down the glass.

"I'm not turning on the speakers, and I won't repeat myself or take any questions, so you had better listen carefully," she says. "I'm not here to make friends. Don't ever try to contact me or interact with me in private life again. This is your only warning." She presses her lips together, narrows her eyes at the red light, and then steps away from the computer.

She pulls the office chair into the hallway, gazing critically at the line of sight into her bedroom, and stacks three thick books on its seat. She steps back into the office, retrieves the laptop, and sets it gently on the stack of books. Heading back into the bedroom, she stops, spins on her heel, and goes back for her drink.

When she is comfortably seated on the floor at the foot of her bed, she pulls a tiny butterfly knife out of its clip at the top of her left stocking, casually manipulating it with one hand, open, and closed. Open. Then closed. With the other hand, she picks up her cell phone, shakes it warningly at the little red light shining from the darkened hallway, and sets it back on the floor beside her right hip, returning her attention to the glass of whiskey. When her phone vibrates against the hardwood floor, she checks the mobile banking alert for the right set of numbers, and begins.

She pulls one garter taut and slashes through it, then the other. With a flashy flip of the blade, she cuts a shoulder strap, right below the collarbone. After two more quick slices, the lace cups of her deep red bra fall slowly to the sides. She slides the flat of the blade along her hipbone and works it under the seam of her matching thong, moving it up and down, in and out, in vicious parody. She raises an eyebrow and smiles, cruelly, the corners of her mouth drawing up in what could be either a smirk, or a snarl. She bares her teeth at the red light of the camera and drags the sharp little blade through each side-seam of her panties.

She stands, abruptly, and the scraps of fabric flutter to the ground, puddling splashes of scarlet next to her still-stockinged feet. She flourishes the blade back into its handle and tosses it on the bed. She moves sinuously toward the laptop in the hallway, and crouches down in front of the chair. When she is at eye-level with the little red light, she pulls her hair up off her neck and arches her back, showing off her chest, then hits the button that turns off the video feed.

She pulls off each stocking and lays them gently over the side of the clothes hamper, leaving the shredded remains of the rest of her underwear in a pile on the floor. She rummages in the top drawer of her dresser and steps into a black satin bikini, fastens the matching bra around her ribcage, and lifts each breast into a plain, but glossy, cup. She works each strap up to her shoulders and steps into the walk-in closet, pulling on a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, a grey sweater, and thick wool socks. She tucks a bigger knife behind the waistband at the small of her back. She heads out to the hallway and steps into her favorite black boots, tying her hair into a knot at the nape of her neck. She grabs her keys from the table by the front door and hurries to the car, already looking forward to her grandmother's pumpkin pie. 

 "Sorry I'm late," she practices aloud. 

"Some accounts," she will say, "don't pause for Thanksgiving dinner," with a gentle smile. She would bet half of the night's take that for the fourth year in a row, no one will ask exactly what it is she does for a living, now.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Mera challenged me with "A memory connected to Thanksgiving." and I challenged Hannah with "All caps, no gaps." 

Friday, November 18

four ignoble truths

A whetstone, cold and grey. From my knuckles to my fingertips
   I am rough and red. I have a sharkskin pad for bright green
   wasabi and a yellow porcelain bowl filled with deep pink ginger
   pickled in sweet rice vinegar. I know what is hidden, rooted
   in these cupboards, in the shadows behind the flour and sugar,
   I know my ingredients. I know what I have and what is missing.
   I am full up on the wretched ignorance of samsara, overflowing
   with desperate illusion and the blatant grieving half-life of desire.
   I don't have satori. I have no locks on my aching heart, ground
   under your heel like an inky stone. I have these days and nights.
   I don't have you. Now I sharpen, I grind. I place the chips and
   shards of my heart in the mortar bowl and bear down on the pestle,
   bear down, endless. Are you hungry? Let me feed you.

Thursday, November 17

between the bones

Lemon-peel sour
and sharper than kitchen knives,
that taste in my mouth.
I burned us to ash, swallowed
charred silence and empty years.

Carthago Delenda Est

The arrow-threat of occupation sighted firmly on my high-walled city, a looming specter of dissolution above the harbor. A pyre built of memories and shame. Pile it up, then, throw oil onto my fires and let the world burn as I do. As for you, Tyrians that were, people of my people--lash his children and all his people with your hatred, give me their suffering as a gift, a holy sacrifice to these ashes. Let there be no affection between these peoples, let there be no unbroken treaty between our tribes.

Now the couch that we shared is ablaze, the fragrant oil burning blue where his dark head once rested, the hungry flames advancing to my seat. As I rise to greet the stars at the dawning of the world, may every god bear witness. The sword is sharp. My time is short. Let the shore make war upon the shore, waves against waves, weapons against weapons; let those fools and their descendants be at war forever. Let them rue each smear of char, each drop of royal blood.  

And you, O avenger, unknown. May you rise from my bones and make them regret. Make them remember. With the strength of my hatred arisen from a wretched heart, make them pay this funeral gift.  

Like Tanit I arise to the night in flames, singing of the sea.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Major Bedhead challenged me with "I don't want the world, I just want your half. - Ana Ng, They Might Be Giants" and I challenged Floreksa with "I hate strategy games."

Queen Elissa of Carthage, more famously known as Dido, makes her most dramatic appearance in Virgil's Aeneid. I found a glorious translation of her final speech (by Mike Salter at Ars Latet Arte), which appears to not only be my favorite part of the whole book, but his as well. If you read that (you ought), you will note that I based this piece heavily upon Mr. Salter's translation, because it was so perfect.  I encourage you to visit his site and read the Latin to yourself, out loud, repeatedly.

Wednesday, November 16


A flower of silk,
well-kept, will never wither.
Well-watered, must fade.

Tuesday, November 15


It was five days from my birthday.  My heart and mind were with you, and I was having trouble sleeping.  There was nothing I could do, nothing I could offer.  I clicked on the video, knowing I would regret it, but needing to hammer this truth home, to offer up my peace of mind as a sacrifice.  It was nothing like a fair exchange for the price you paid.

We only learned about you in bits and pieces, fragments, days after your death.  It was a wildfire in my brain, obliterating all reason.  It roared behind every thought, every second:  the whole world was watching when you were shot, when you lay on the ground, face uncovered to the sky, blood pouring out from behind the hands of the helpful.  The whole world was watching, and nothing was done.  The whole world was watching, and I could not explain to anyone the fury blazing in my heart.

Here, it is not the same.  We are not under the same burdens, but we are still being silenced.  I see the raw energy of my people and I am stalled.  Every day I feel it building, the knowledge that we are paying the price of indifference, the fury and resolve.  I am afraid that we will have our own martyrs, and my heart is breaking.

I will go into the camps, and I will be there for you.  I will march in your memory as I have before, and I dream that it will have more of an effect.  I will carry a picture of you and pray that this is the beginning of a true and lasting change.  I will pray that you do not look down in contempt on a world that appears, superficially, to be the home of a free people.  I will pray that there are no martyrs like you in our midst, and that the appearance of our freedom will remain intact.

These are the nights that I whisper, "the whole world is watching," and remember the lost, and pray that I am not lying to myself.  This is not Iran, and these are not your people, but please know that you are remembered, and your voice is not silenced.  My voice is small, but I raise it for you, despite my terror.  I will not be a coward anymore.

I have stayed out of this conflict for too long, quietly supporting it from the sidelines but never contributing. Now I occupy for the people who inspired these protests.  The Iranians, who still hold my heart.  The Egyptians, whose success encourages us to persevere.  But mostly, I occupy for Neda Agha-Soltan, whose dying face still haunts my dreams and whose memory commands me to fight for the America in which I long to believe.

"Neda, don't be afraid.  Neda, stay with me."

Saturday, November 12

Hijacked Frequencies

(begin transmission)

(radio static fades into sprightly music, slightly fuzzy)

"Hello again, everyone, and welcome to this week's broadcast of Cooking with Rye! I'm Rye Ellison, and tonight we're making soup, just like last week and the week before that! Everyone have their rifles handy? Good.

We'll begin by heading out into the backyard and bagging ourselves a chicken. If you didn't have enough foresight to learn to keep poultry and livestock before the, uh, before last year, any carcass will do. The fresher, the better, though--we want to keep all those nutrients in useful forms.

You shouldn't need your rifle for this, but we never go anywhere without one, right? Good.

I've prepped everything in advance; here we have one large onion, some celery, lots of freshly chopped garlic, and herbs from the garden. I like to use rosemary in just about everything, that brightness really comes through, even if you cook it too long. There's some savory, a little sage, and of course thyme, our Old Reliable.

Once you've dressed out and plucked your chicken, or prepared, uh, your meat of whatever origin, no judgment here, haha, you can drop it in your large stock pot. Cover it up with fresh water, and let it cook until it's done. This will yield not only the meaty centerpiece of your soup, but the delicious broth that binds the whole thing together.

Take that meat and broth and set it aside. In your stock pot, now, you'll want a tiny bit of fat, oil, what have you, to cook those onions in. Saute the onions until transparent, then add your celery and garlic. Let those cook gently for just a few minutes, but don't let them brown. Few things will draw unwelcome, ah, guests like the piercing smell of burning garlic.

Now you can pour that broth back in, skimming off the fat if you prefer, but remember: fat equals energy! Tie your fresh herbs into a bouquet garni, if you have string, and drop it into your stock. Leave this going over low heat while you turn your attention to pulling the meat from all these tiny bones.

Now, when you bury your trash later, be sure to save some of your hollow bones. They make great pens and you can even make jewelry out of some of them! Bones from larger animals can be used for ammo boxes, salt cellars, just about anything.

Soup is just such a reliable, high-energy food for people in our, uh situation, you really can't go wrong--"

(footsteps clattering, a lower voice hesitantly volunteers something, mostly inaudibly)

"Oh, hey there! Hey, Peter! Listen, everyone, this is my friend Peter, he'll be joining us for dinner tonight!"

"Uh, hi, everyone--how are you all doing out there?"

"Everyone inside? Wonderful. Peter, you locked the doors, right? Great. So now we pull that stock pot off the fire, and open some bottles of water for a real treat tonight.

Okay, here's our soup! Wow, it smells just wonderful. I'd love to share some with you, but there's really no more room in the bunker, ha ha--"

(glass crashing, the obscene sound of metal doors being bent inward)

"Oh my God, okay, got your rifle handy? This is where we sign--"

(microphone screeching, the clattering of a table being overturned)

"Oh shit, Peter! Peter, are you okay? Peter! P--"

(multiple gunshots, the dull sound of bullets in flesh, a low moaning)

"NO! NO! Oh my GOD, PLEASE--"

(a revolting lip-smacking sound, then something bubbling through thick liquid...someone gumming mashed potatoes, perhaps.)

(increased feedback from the microphone mingled with full-throated screams, an ear-piercing burst of static)

(end transmission)

Thursday, November 10


I never grudge your
silence, even while it grates
against stitched-up wounds.
I'm loath to throw out these scraps,
remnants that ought to be whole.

Wednesday, November 9


Three tasks: to climb a hill of glass barefoot;
show your iron will by staying awake
to catch the Firebird at thievery;
to build our castle beneath the lake.

These are the riddles I set. To catch me,
you must also survive on stories.


I can never change--I am a mandrake,
rooted in dry and sour soils.


I want a snowdrift
in which to keep you, falling
at my feet, abject--

or just you, writing
ghost stories at the window
in winter.  The cold

can't win out over
the warmth of words, slipping through
interlaced fingers

under a blanket
of snow in muted colors,
this endless feeling.

Monday, November 7


The harbor was a green and fragrant place, a bulwark against the dusty gold of the desert. There were fish and markets, scribes and antiquities. The sheep's-wool and wide-striped coarse cloth of the desert tribes sharing stall-space with the mist-weight silks and fine light linen of the river people, the tumultuous embroideries, sinuous animals and flowers of thread that had traveled from a strange and distant empire.

The scent of the market, nearly indescribable, a riot of offal and onions, thick cakes soaked in spiced honey, studded with nuts and dried fruits. Horses and baking bread, grilled meats and carefully tended vegetables. The endless perfume of flowers mingling with cones and piles of exquisite incense, precious scented oils, attar of rose, balms and fragrances and beeswax candles, the dry scents of papyrus and reed baskets, dried black figs and purple-dyed linen.

The sounds of happy people, amused or wry, light and pleasant, in many languages. The merchants and their customers alike, fat with good living, joking in slippery Greek or dark-spiced Egyptian, with so little of the solemn speech of Roman citizens, and less of the vulgar Latin of the sharp-faced legionnaires.

It was always a mystery, to him, to walk among them and remain unrecognized, to speak to the people in his clumsy Greek without terrifying them into silence. When the sun fell sharp behind the crimson slash of the horizon, and the night rose like a curtain all around us, we drank wine like madder velvet from silver bowls, drank deep. Our lips and fingers stained with pomegranate. Those nights are gone, torn like wet papyrus into shreds against the howling desert wind.

Today my harbor is full of quinqueremes and libernians and there is no bulwark against the legions. Our armies have joined with Octavian's. The remaining men mutter lies to my husband. People fleeing in the streets squeal that I have betrayed him. Hissing like snakes, their whispers tell him that I have abandoned him as I have abandoned all my husbands, condemning him to a traitor's fate. I cannot be here when he returns; how could I face that pain, the wrath of perceived righteousness?

I built the two of us a tomb. I wanted to sleep there with him, forever, the safest place in Alexandria, filled to the roof-beams with the treasures of Egypt and the Ptolemies, the pharaohs of Upper and Lower Egypt, buttery gold and carnelian. Malachite and lapis gleaming in every corner, jasper and turquoise and the silver bowls that once held our wine. I can send another messenger to my husband, can bid him come, meet me in the home I built for our long night together, but will he listen?

I pull away from the wide window, kohl-dark tears smudged along my cheekbones. The view of my desecrated harbor is spur enough to order my maids away, to pull my last pieces of jewelry out of trunks.  I look in the mirror and see, truly, at last. The Pharaoh of Egypt must always descend into the underworld, must weigh a heavy heart on golden scales. I will go to my tomb alone, though it is the last thing I ever wanted to do. I will await my husband, and we will prevail or die. We have no choice.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with "It was the last thing I would ever want to do, but I didn't have any other choice." and I challenged Mary Terrani with "King of Pentacles".

This is tagged "well-mined myth" for a reason. I wouldn't even call it "historical fiction".  Can't hit a home run every week, I suppose.

Friday, November 4


If you missed my article on the awdl gywydd for the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, Kate Dempsey has graciously reposted it over at Writing.ie's guest blog, Poetic License.  I meant to tell you this last month, but somehow it slipped my mind. Many thanks, Kate!!

Your modestly miraculous Captain,

Thursday, November 3


On the days I find
myself thinking of you, there
might be autumn in
the air, or spring, or any
number of times in between.

Wednesday, November 2


She's killing baby cockroaches with disgusted glee in her shitty third-floor walkup, for what seems like the eight millionth time, when she hears his familiar step on the wrought-iron stairs. She smiles to herself as she washes her hands in scalding hot water from the tap and grabs her good bottle of gin from the top of the refrigerator on her way out the door.

"Hey," she yells down to the second landing, "didn't I tell you I never wanted to see you again?"

He stops dead in his tracks and looks up at her, blue eyes wide and startled in his face as his mouth drops open. "I recall something like that, I guess," he says, unsure but still game.

"Well, I suppose this gin won't drink itself. Got any cigarettes?"

He doesn't answer, but holds up two packs of her favorite. It's a peace offering, of sorts. She grins down at him and slides her bare feet into a pair of ridiculous cork-heeled sandals. She pulls the elastic out of her walnut-brown hair and runs the fingers of her right hand through the locks, primping for just a second while he's still out of sight. She smooths her oversized sweater down over her skirt and then bounds down the last flight of stairs, gin in hand.

He's still waiting on the second-floor landing, holding two cigarettes in his mouth. He watches her run down the stairs and lights both, holding the second one out as she skids to a stop just inches away.

"Hi," she says, leaving a multitude of words unsaid, reaching out to take the cigarette he's offering and smiling up into his endless blue eyes.

"Hey," he replies, and wraps his arms around her as she smokes silently, the two of them leaning on the railing. She pitches the cigarette butt over the side and turns back in, pressing her face into his chest.

"Let's go for a walk," she says, muffled by his jacket. She grabs him by the wrist and begins to pull away, lacing her fingers in his even as she starts to head down the stairs to the street. He finishes his cigarette, flicks the butt away, and lights two more. They walk close together, hands linked, arms touching and shoulders pressed together, until they leave her block. Then they let go, in case someone that knows them might see.  Although it's not so much her friends she has to worry about, but his, or worse, his girlfriend's.  They walk a few blocks in silence, passing the bottle back and forth.

"Could be trouble," he says, finally.

"Could be," she replies, and takes a long swallow of gin.


Panic has no name
in the brightness of the day.
It just lives inside.

Monday, October 31


I grew up in the desert scrub with my sisters all around, drank the cold light of the stars like water in winter, grew tall and strong. I took up the pen at twelve and tore songs out of my heart like leaves from my sisters, leaves we would twist and knot into thread and clothing and homes. Women dressed properly, then, tying their headdresses in gaudy knots, and made pulque in the shelter of rocky overhangs.

I could not.  I tore at the earth and watered fields of doomed flowers with droplets flung from bloody fingernails. I cried out to Xochipilli Chicomexochitl with every breath I took, and he took notice. He followed me down into the hardpan waste and kissed my scars and open wounds, the scraped flesh quivering under his painted lips like the great serpent, rising in flame from under the world.

"Mayahuel," he sang to me, "one night you will bear fruit and disappear into the earth, and all the world will mourn the loss of my favorite poet." His singing melted my bones like boiling chocoatl and we were fallen down onto the ground again, lost in the night all around us, snarling and tearing at each other like jaguars.

I gave birth to many daughters and suckled them, fitting delicate words into the puzzle of strict meter all the while. My flower prince went singing into the night, the songs I made for him sweet on his lips like the aguamiel in my heart. My children went out into the desert scrub to drink the cold light of the stars like water in winter, and I began to lose my language. I wrote in rhyme and in free verse, hymns and platitudes and holy beckoning. I let blood from my wrists in the hopes that it would sing in the silence, but it fell flat to the earth and sluggishly dried, still refusing to speak.

I churned within, seeking aubade or threnody, wailing couplets, unrecognized, into the dust storms blowing through our desolate home. I began to diminish.

One day, when the sun blazed down, drying the shine from my thick black hair, I lay flat on the ground. I pressed my scarred hands into the red dust and began to stroke pictures of the words I still wanted to sing. I could no longer rhyme, could no longer call up jewel-like painted miniatures from the arid scrub, the wizened twigs that were all the words left to me. I turned on my side and wept bloody tears, all the moisture my body still contained flowing into the dust, sticking to my burning skin.  I gave up.

The earth rose up around me like an embrace, its benevolent chill soothing my blackened flesh. I could not sing its praises, nor tell it my story, nor even weep. My body drifted deeper with every hour, my head and hair pressing out of the ground like my doomed gardens bearing fruit at last. I was dry of all meaning, drained of all my life's work, and I was alone.

When Mictecacihuatl rose from the mud beside my face, her flayed bones sheltered me from the heat of the sun, and I saw her jaw open to devour the light. I could not say, then, why it was so beautiful. No matter how hard I tried, I could no longer wrap my tongue around the iambic pentameter of the comfort of darkness, standing tall against the dreadful light.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Indie Adams challenged me with "No matter how hard I tried, I still couldn't get my head around iambic pentameter" and I challenged Lance with "The apothecary's daughter."

Saturday, October 29

the last ritual

lovely recoloring of the Rider-Waite deck 
illustration by Pamela Colman Smith,
found here.

Woodsmoke and bone, raw sugarcane,
spitting splinters into the rain,
on the waning of the moon
we wait, fight impatience. Resist
our baser urges. They exist
who missed, who set out too soon.

I light the fire with my cut hair,
each snaking curl a brazen flare
ringing an alarum blast.
This blazing fast consumes the bone
and leaves only the dark. The Crone
upon her throne sits at last.

The herbs well-pounded, cold and green,
taste of slow death, of sights unseen
by man or wean. How they cry!
As I've become, I laugh aloud.
I stand so tall, inside Her shroud;
hush the crowd--and prophesy.

Questions answered or denied flat,
all cards are laid out on the mat.
Hear that?  The barrier thins.
Circled magic wins over all;
the coming year awaits our call.
With nightfall, the song begins.

The rain now stopped, the air is fell
with mist and life and fear of hell.
Hollow shell of me, disperse
into the dawning of the year.
I try to breathe it deep, but hear
our end clear in chanted verse.

Second attempt at a cywydd llosgyrnog for the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. Somehow, they all end up as aubade.  

For my beloved coven, celebrating Samhain for the first time without me.  I miss you all.

Thursday, October 27


I hate the steady
drain of time, slipping over
the daylight's edge with
aplomb.  It tastes of secrets,
candyfloss that melts away.

Wednesday, October 26

Eurydice at Dawn

 "'Oh, I don't know,' he said. 'Πελλαίου βοῦς μέγας εἰν Ἀίδη.' This was something to the effect that, in the Underworld, a great ox costs only a penny, but I knew what he meant and in spite of myself I laughed. There was a tradition among the ancients that things were very cheap in Hell. " --Donna Tartt, "The Secret History"

I know all the things you've never told me. I know the late nights and the gnawing feeling in your chest, the dreams from which you wake, clawing your way out of tangled bedclothes. Gasping for air.

I know the jobs you've taken and the ones you've refused. I know the desperate twin chains of inertia and fear, the fear of hurting someone who truly cares for you. Sitting up at night, you think of me, but only when you can't distract yourself. I'm still waiting, though. I've been down here a long time, but I'm doing okay. Getting around only costs me a penny, and everyone in this place knows just what I'm going through. I'd never leave you if I had any say in the matter, you know.

Some nights I think you'll find your way home to me, follow your heart down here. Then I could make my escape. I could touch your hand and all the years we've been apart could dissolve into nothing more than the swirling rainbow film on a puddle of water in the parking lot. I could make you remember. I could make you forget.

I remember you, upright in that leather jacket. I played at vegetarian disgust and secretly longed to be folded into your arms. I didn't actually care that you were wearing a dead cow. I have this thing for writers and percussionists. The craziest guys come down here, and it's true, I have my fun. You're not here, so, it's true. Every time I close my eyes, though, it's you. Always you. I wake up from my dreams in tears, muffling myself in the pillow so I don't disturb whichever one is in my bed this time. They don't matter, only the dreams. I dream of you and your hollow days, pushing on in denial. Other times it's of the past, of the comfort of apples, the weariness of love.

I think you are refusing my calls, refusing to believe that I could still be here, burying yourself in the meaningless pursuits of the upper side. Cowardly, clinging to the sunlight you never loved. You don't even play your music anymore. You never write to me, for me, of me. I think you've given up hope. I think you've sold the dream for her scraps of passion, and worse.  Even in a Hades market, I think you're selling the dream too cheap.

For this week's IndieInk Writing Challenge, Billy Flynn challenged me with "Selling the dream cheap", and I challenged Diane with "Old Scratch and El Salto del Colacho.  Make it funny if you can--if you can't, make it terrifying."

There is an interpretation of the Orpheus myth that colors him a coward, afraid to die to be with Eurydice forever.  Instead, he defied the gods to retrieve her, because he wasn't ready to leave the upper world.  I find this rather less romantic than you might think.

Tuesday, October 25


Scrape it carefully,
this orb of autumn's dreaming,
carved face, mirrored mask.

Monday, October 24


The scent of rain and stormy air,
a Pumpkin King's candle-lit stare.
Candy corn, preserved, bottled
with hot toddy and some cut grass,
one blazing leaf stuffed in the glass.
Then age the label mottled.

Friday, October 21


sticky amber and sweet,
gouged hollow and still too full.
it's not an oxymoron. it's
the way of things

when the future is unsettled
and time stretches out, gumming
up the works like resin,
pitch perfect.

I boil over, sometimes,
and you reduce to syrup,
that dark hint of winter nights
flavoring all I do.

Thursday, October 20


Old dogs to new tricks,
like ducks to strawberry jam,
are perhaps a bit
slow to take.  Yet applying
jam to tricks is just as wrong.


It just happens, one day. You're walking down the street and the kid who mows the neighborhood lawns over summer break is walking ahead of you, his iPod jammed in the pocket of a pair of weirdly furry pants. You start to yell hi, but when he turns around he's had those weird nubby horns installed under the skin and giant gauged ear flaps. Plus, those weird goat-footed boots, just like Lady Gaga? Kids these days.

Then you walk into the bakery and the nice ladies who run the place have been replaced. The woman behind the counter tries to sell you New and Improved Bread, made from a giant puffball mushroom, but you hate mushrooms, and you just wanted some toast. She wrinkles her entire face at you when you ask for brown bread, the kind with a little salt sprinkled on top, and tells you she might as well keep Cold Iron in the shop if you want her to sell that kind of crap.

You're confused, because isn't bread usually baked in an oven? And wouldn't that be hot iron? You shake your head and go around the corner to the florist's, but the door is locked and there's a sign on the door. "Closed indefinitely by Royal Edict," which is truly odd, because your country hasn't had royalty for hundreds of years.

It's not a great day. It's like everyone you know has up and moved, overnight, and a lot of strange characters have taken over. Still, you have to eat, so you head over to the grocery store. It's next to the elementary school, which is even louder than usual. In the playground, they appear to be playing some kind of complex war game, with blue face paint, bows and arrows, even a cute little blowgun or two. You wonder why you never had friends like these, who would pretend to shoot you and then be patient while you acted out your thrilling death scene. Some of those kids are really hamming it up, too--convulsions and flailing around on the ground like landed fish--mostly the ones who were on the wrong end of the blowgun "dart". It's pretty cute.

The school bell rings, and you turn into the grocery store parking lot. The recess war looks to have been decided in the blue-painted team's favor, but the ones who are left lying on the ground are really committed to their death scenes. You remember how hard you played at that age, and smile to yourself as you head into the store. On your way in, you pass that wizened old school bus driver. Smiling and nodding, you head over to the organic produce and start picking through this week's crop of tomatoes. Your hand on the cool, dry surface of the crimson tomato reminds you of something, but it can't be that important, or you would remember, right?

You wander the aisles, putting into your basket anything that catches your eye, and with a start, you realize that the hat your old bus driver was wearing is an oddly rich shade of red. Plus, wasn't it just a trucker's cap last week? This one was pointed, and seemed a little damp. Sodden, even, is the word that comes first to mind.

You check out at self-service and stop making eye contact with the other customers, because the anxiety is kicking in again. You always feel like you're the center of hostile attention. Time to get home. Heading out, you see the bus driver standing outside his bright yellow school bus, all the tiny blue-painted savages lined up to board. The kids still lying on the playground, those must be waiting for rides home. Funny how they haven't gotten up yet, though.

You're walking past the school bus, and you tip a salute to your old bus driver, when you realize it's not your old bus driver at all, and his hat, that strangely pointed hat, is dripping slowly. You're walking on past, in a hurry to get home, because things have started to feel really weird and you'd like to get to your medication, and it's then you realize that he isn't a man at all, but a Redcap, his teeth and fingernails and hat all dripping thick blood the color of old rust.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Chaos Mandy challenged me with "Fae and Children", and I challenged Cheney with "God's away on business."  

This is not technically a ghost story, sadly--the prompt was pretty specific. I'm okay with a delightfully murderous gang of pixies and a Redcap or two, instead.  I hope you are, too. 

Tuesday, October 18


The moon rides out on
cloudy trails, its gleaming back
a lucent puzzle.

The Lazy Fisherman

In a certain place, at a certain time, lived a fisherman and his wife. They were a poor but happy couple whose home was quite near the Imperial compound. The only characteristic that marred their marital bliss was the unfortunate fact of the fisherman's laziness. The fisherman's wife did her best to keep it a secret, but the neighbors all knew, and pitied her.

"What a hateful thing, O husband," she would wail upon his return each night. "Today the noodle vendor told me of a thing that I would believe impossible! And yet, it is true." The fisherman's wife would tell her husband of a different celestial punishment visited upon the lazy each and every night, until even her deep well of invention began to run dry. It made no difference, alas, and her husband continued to be known all through their village as the lazy fisherman.

At the same time, gossip reported that a small pond in the shrine next to the Imperial compound was close to overflowing with large and fat fish, the likes of which had never been seen. It was said that this was proof that the kami favored the masters of the shrine, and that luck was sure to follow those who visited and paid their respects. One afternoon, as the fisherman remained abed, he heard a conversation from outside.

"So many fish I have never seen in all my days! The smallest one was as large as my forearm," said the noodle vendor, whose forearms were wide and bulging with the exercise of pulling the stock of fresh soba and udon. "I offered a coin to the shrine and on my way out, an enormous carp leaped into the air, its golden scales shining like the sun."

"I, too, visited the shrine last week," interjected the salt woman. "The fish were leaping in greeting, and the shrine maidens were dancing with joy. A more beautiful sight I have never seen."

The lazy fisherman sat bolt upright. The long walk to the lake in which he was usually forced to cast his nets would be no more. If only he could find a way to fish in the shrine pond! He was not a man who was much concerned with the gods, and not one to think about consequences.

The fisherman leapt out of bed and began to check his nets for holes. His wife, startled by this unusual flurry of activity, hurried out of the kitchen.

"Husband, you have risen! And a full two hours earlier than usual! Can it be that you have decided to honor the gods and live a more fulfilling life?"

"Cease your intemperate noise, wife, and sit with me. We must repair all these nets by sunset. I go to fish in the shrine's pond this evening, and with such a heavy catch, they must remain well-knotted."

His wife sank to her knees, her mouth agape. "Have you lost your mind, O husband? If you dare to kill the living luck of the shrine the gods will surely curse us all!"

Scoffing, the lazy fisherman continued his work without her help. He repaired his nets long into the twilight, while she wept and wailed about ill luck and disaster. When the moon rose, he bundled his belongings upon his back and set out on the short walk to the shrine, still ignoring her warnings.

At the top of the hill, where the road split between the forest and the shrine, a large rock marked the fork. As he passed the rock, he began to hear a soft weeping, and turned in surprise to see a beautiful girl sitting in its shadow. Her soft black hair swept down in long waves around her slender hands, which were pressed against her face as she wept. The fisherman shifted his weight from side to side as he thought about the large catch awaiting him at the shrine, but his conscience, usually so silent, spurred him to stop for a moment.

"What is wrong, O maiden? Can I be of some service?" He was careful to address her respectfully, as her clothes were of the highest quality. He began to wonder if she had accidentally wandered out of the Imperial compound. "Though I may be unworthy to speak to you, I do not wish to leave you unattended in the night. Pray, O maiden, lift your head and let me know how to serve you," he begged.

The girl turned away, still weeping into her hands, and her shoulders began to shake even harder. "I cannot tell you, fisherman, for I see you are on your way to a heavy catch," she whispered.

The fisherman gritted his teeth and attempted to sound insouciant. "I have more time to help than I have to fish. Please tell me what is wrong."

"Very well, O fisherman, I shall reveal to you my secret," she spoke, only a little louder than before. "I mourn for the fish you are about to slaughter, for I am the guardian of the shrine pond!" As she said these words, she dropped her lovely hands from her face, and the fisherman fell back in horror, for the front of her head was as smooth and featureless as an egg. With a shriek, he dropped his nets and ran for home.

As he dashed down the main thoroughfare of the village, his feet tangled in each other and he fell, sprawling, at the feet of the man who ran the ramen shop.

"There, friend, where do you run with such speed?" The ramen vendor reached down to help up the lazy fisherman, his wide, friendly face round and smiling. "Your wife has been weeping and worrying all night. Come into my shop and rest before you go home, or you will frighten her even more!"

"Oh, thank you," the fisherman panted, unaccustomed to such exertion. "You will never believe what I saw tonight!"

The ramen vendor placed a bowl of soup in front of the fisherman, soup so hot and fragrant with red chili oil that the comforting aroma drove away the fear in the fisherman's heart. As he sipped the soup, he began to tell his strange story, slowly relaxing under his friend's familiar gaze.

"Your wife warned you about intruding on the peace of the shrine," the ramen vendor laughed. "And you were lucky enough to meet with the guardian before you killed the fish, weren't you?"

"Well, yes, but have you ever heard of such a creature?" the fisherman asked.

"Oh, my, yes. I've heard of a spirit who can take on the face of a familiar person and one who can wipe it away. There are many spirits in these hills, you know," the ramen vendor continued. A strange feeling began to rise in the fisherman's throat. 

The man's hand rose to stroke at his chin as he began to tell a tale of the vengeful Noppera-bō, the faceless ones. The fisherman watched in dread as, with each stroke of the hand, the ramen vendor's once-familiar face disappeared before the fisherman's horrified eyes.

The fisherman fell backwards out of the ramen shop, still-hot soup spreading across the counter, a red sheen of oil staining his hands and clothes. He scrambled away crabwise as the ramen vendor approached slowly. The faceless one drifted closer, his feet no longer seeming to touch the ground, and a low moan emerged from the blank skin.  Just before it came close enough to touch, the fisherman's nerve broke completely, and he jumped up and ran home.

He collapsed onto the porch, where his wife was still sobbing about ill-luck and curses. His heart was pounding in his chest like a taiko drum and he was covered in the dust of the street and still-fragrant chili oil. His wife arose in a hurry and ran to comfort him, but upon hearing his tale, jumped away. 

"You failed to heed the guardian of the shrine?" She raised her hands to her face in shock and it melted away like cold fog on a sunny morning. A shriek issued forth from the pale and empty oval of her suddenly formless skin, and the fisherman's heart finally gave out.

This is a famous Japanese folktale, though I've cobbled together a few iterations of it.  Editing help was kindly given, when I ran into a pronoun situation, by Maren and Wendryn of IndieInk.org.  Our forum rocks. Thank you so much!

Saturday, October 15


There is a song I hear, here
where blacking fear does follow;
a shadow deep-lodged in truth,
a fruit left sleeping hollow.

"κυρία, ἐ," on each note,
quotidian insistence--
"In the midst of revelry,
the pity of existence."

I will not sing along, though
it lays me low with sorrow;
cannot feel that hope is lost,
though at what cost tomorrow?

Second attempt at an awdl gywydd for Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. The Greek should read "Kyria, e," a riff on the Kyrie eleison, recast for a Creatrix who, I'd imagine, might be a little disappointed in our current state of affairs.

Friday, October 14


It's time for candy
apples and crisp scarlet leaves,
pumpkin carving and
ghost stories by the fire,
not this surly sweltering.

Wednesday, October 12

Good Samaritan

George didn't stop to think much about it, when he saw the girl in the dress. Looked like she'd been left out in the middle of nowhere by her prom date. He didn't know much about dresses, but he could tell when things were expensive, and this girl was wrapped in a good chunk of change along with some flowy purple stuff. He pulled right over, because if he'd ever had a daughter, he would have wanted someone to do the same.

"Hey, you okay?" He stepped down from the high cab of his rig and held up his hands. "I saw you walking, and I don't think a lot of cars come through here. You need to use a phone or something?" He was careful not to advance on her. With the rep some long-haul truckers had, he didn't want to scare her into the woods. "I've got a cell. You don't have to get in the cab or anything, or talk to me if you don't want to. You just looked like you could use a hand."

She frowned up at him, heels half-sunk in the mud of the shoulder. "I don't even know where I am," she confessed. "I was with Johnny and then the car broke down, and Mom's not answering her phone."

He relaxed a little. "Well, can I do anything for you? I know they say never ride with a stranger, but if you've got a phone and no one's headed out here for you I can at least get you to the 24-hour diner in Bucker. There'll be lots of people, and you can wait for your parents there, maybe?" He was worried about coming on too strong, but he really didn't want to leave a teenager on the side of the road so late at night.

"I just live off Exit 94. It's pretty close to the diner. I don't know why no one's answering at home," she fussed, pulling a surprisingly big mobile phone out of her little purse. "Is there any way you can just take me there? It's a pretty well-maintained road and I know my dad will give you gas money."

If he doesn't shoot me first, George thought, but merely said, "I can definitely take you there, no gas money needed. Do you need to call Johnny? Should we pick him up, too? How far away is the car?"

She shook her head. "I'm never talking to him again. He can find his own way home, he's probably got the car running again already." She picked her way over to the cab of his truck and glared at the display on her retro phone. "I can't believe I missed my senior prom because of this!"

George tried not to smile as he climbed back into the truck. "Well, your parents will be glad to see you home early, I guess." He leaned over to help her into the cab, her small hands gripped tight around his large one as he pulled her in. "Hey, you're freezing," he said. "Let's get you some heat." He started the truck, its patient rumble overwhelming his hesitation at having a strange teenage girl along for the ride. He cranked up the heat and, with a muffled exclamation, eeled around to rummage in the back. "Here, I knew this was kicking around somewhere," he laughed as he handed her a huge yellow-checked down coat. She took it, smiling, and wrapped it around herself like a blanket.

"Thanks. It was getting kinda chilly out there, huh?"

"Yeah," he replied, and busied himself with adjusting the heat. He signaled his turn onto the road as if there were twenty cars waiting and pulled back out. The familiar lull of highway driving soothed his nerves, and after about fifteen miles, he absentmindedly flipped on the radio. Ole Hank was singing, and George glanced quick over at the girl to see if she might mind the twang, but she had put her phone away and was leaning against the big window. He thought she might be dozing and turned the radio down a little. It was just a few more exits. He could wake her up once they got closer to the diner.

"I'm not asleep," she muttered. "I hate sleeping on the road. I told you where I live, right? It's about a mile past the diner you mentioned." After she gave him directions, they fell silent once more.

Ev'rything's agin me and it's got me down, Ole Hank sang plaintively into the night as George crossed the Big River bridge, just one exit away from the girl's. If I jumped in the river I would prob'ly drown. He looked reflexively over the guardrails, the moonlight shimmering on the fast-moving river, and shuddered. No matter how I struggle and strive, I'll never get out of this world al-- Grimacing, George reached over quick and snapped off the radio.

"Not such a good song for a moonlight drive, huh?" He grinned and looked over at the passenger seat, only to slam on the brakes as he realized the girl was no longer there. He backed up as fast as he could without fishtailing and jumped out of the cab. He ran frantically over to the bridge, leaning over the guardrail and scanning the river for some sign of her. His coat, her flowing dress, anything. She'd have to be visible. But he'd never heard the door open, he hadn't heard anything! He ran back to search the cab of his truck, and found nothing. In a daze, he climbed back into the cab, buckled his seatbelt, and headed on into town.

George was jolted from his reverie when he realized he'd absentmindedly followed her directions straight to what he assumed was her home. For one frantic instant, he thought about peeling back out of there, but it was too late. The house was lighting up. It looked as if they'd heard the truck and were looking for the source of the commotion. With one helpless glance at the still-empty passenger seat, he stepped down from the truck and walked up to the porch.

"Can I help you, son?"

George started, unnerved by the voice from a seemingly empty porch, and there was a chuckle.

A man probably ten years older than George himself stepped out of the shadows and down to the walk. "I'm Erica's dad," he said. "That's why you're here, isn't it?"

George began to sweat. "Well, I don't know her name, I mean, yes sir, but--"

"Don't worry, son. Happens every year," the older man said. "Picked her up outside of Bucker, right?"

"Well, yes, I mean, she said the car broke down. I didn't want to leave her," George said plaintively.

"Her ma and I would sure appreciate that, son. It's all right. Then you went over the Big River bridge and she was gone?"

George opened his mouth to answer, but no words followed. He stammered for a second or two, and blurted, "This happens every year? What the hell?! Is this some kind of joke?"

Erica's father rubbed at his eyes with a slightly trembling hand and sighed. "My daughter was killed in a car crash ten years ago, son. Her boyfriend was taking her to the senior prom and someone ran them off the road. I guess he was killed on impact, but the paramedics said Erica had been trapped in the car. She tried to call us on her new mobile phone, too. Hell of a thing, to hear your baby girl breathed her last calling you for help, and you didn't hear."

"This is a joke," George growled. "I don't have time for this, I'm on a schedule." He began to stalk back to his truck, fuming.

"I wish it were a joke," the older man said. "It ain't all that funny to talk to people every year as swears they were giving your girl a ride home, only to find she's disappeared partway home." He shook his head dolefully.

"Hell of a thing," he repeated as he turned back to his porch and tottered slowly up the stairs as George fumbled with the keys to his rig. 

 "Wait a second, son," he heard a moment later, and the older man came rushing down his porch stairs again.

George saw him coming and rolled his eyes. He wasn't going to be taken in by whatever scam these hill folk were trying to pull. And he was out a pretty pricey down coat, too, however this stupid trick worked. He was willing to bet he'd never get it back, either. The old man was tapping on the truck door now. Ridiculous, he thought, but grudgingly rolled down his window.

"Churchyard's just a mile down, you don't believe me," the older man panted. "You go on over there. My Erica's in the back left corner. Got a little rosebush behind the stone. You go on, you'll see."

I am sure the hell not going to go poking around in a graveyard at this hour, George thought. Then again, it's on the way to the Interstate, and I could call in a report on these people for fucking with my schedule. Why the hell not? He backed onto the road and gunned it for the church.

Thirty seconds later, he was poking around the overgrown graveyard, emergency flashlight in hand, when he spotted them. First the rosebush, white roses, really pretty but kind of creepy under the full moon's light. Next it was his yellow-checked down coat, folded neatly on the grave.

The month of ghost stories marches on!   I hope I didn't stretch the prompt too far, as this was the first thing I thought of upon reading the challenge...

For the Indie Ink writing challenge this week, femmefauxpas challenged me with: "It had all happened exactly a year ago.  Or had it?"
I challenged Sarah Cass with "Knife skills."

Tuesday, October 11


The moon is full, white and wild,
its bony smile malice-taut,
all a-brim with ill-laid plans.
In its hands, a bubbling pot

foretells quick death. Cats and kings
alike hear it sing its song,
its ode to chill havoc wrought
with grievous thought, bleak and wrong.

This rather overblown and Octoberesque awdl gywydd was written for this week's Format Challenge.  Check my post at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads for the rules and link up!

time travel

I travel through time
only one way, facing front.
Don't leave me behind.

Thursday, October 6

you and I

Can two strangling vines
exist? Not in the same place,
though our roots tangle.
One will win. One will thrive, yet
the other cannot survive.

Wednesday, October 5

Ex Machina

"There was nothing for it. I could see them approaching, exactly as I expected! I simply had to act on my impulses or else I'd--"

I shook my head impatiently. "Computer, stop program. Run diagnostic level theta six."

The computer chimed quietly. "Level theta six diagnostic complete, Ben. No errors detected."

"Well, that can't be right! Listen to the dialogue. Run diagnostic again."

Another chime followed. "No errors detected, Ben. Program has not degenerated. Dialogue intact."

I jerked my head out of its resting place atop my arms and glared, hot-eyed, at the terminal. "This is ridiculous, computer. Find the source of the dialogue and retrace." As my desktop hummed quietly, I pulled out my hard-copied notes. I'd gone over these a million times but this time, a footnote caught my attention. Gregor Samsa, The Metamorphosis. By an auteur designated "Franz Kafka". "Never heard of 'em," I muttered. The computer heard me and thrummed expectantly.

"Source confirms dialogue's accuracy. Continue playback?"

"Oh, fine--yes, computer, continue playback. Please."

"There I go again, being overtaken by an urge. What now? Will I really? But then, won't I become nothing more than a criminal? But just what is a criminal anyway? And--"


"I don't understand the query, Ben."

"Computer, identify source of current dialogue."

"Yes, Ben. Source of current dialogue is Web user Drusil Renfield, ID 2308/507WWIA53233, designation GregorInsekt. Affiliation unknown. On lockdown until 41013.7 for assault on a senior officer. Your file is cross-referenced with the prisoner's as a result of your position as counsel for the defense. More?"

"Thank you, computer, I am well aware of my reasons for having to listen to this tripe. I still think it's gone garbage somewhere in the copying. Skip to the end and let's get this review over with."

"Last paragraph, Ben. Going to record of defendant's testimony. Voice and video available."

"Yes, computer--show the video, instead. It's not that you don't have a lovely voice..."

"Affirmative, Ben. Video replay beginning."

The screen leaned haphazardly against my wall, waiting for me to install it properly. Its serene blue glow was shortly replaced by the visage of a deeply unfortunate-looking human. Unfortunate-looking, how, I couldn't tell you. It was something in the skewed geography of his face, the planes under his skin, maybe. 

 His grey eyes bulged impossibly from his face, and his skin was patchy and coarse. His hair frizzed out at all angles, and his mouth gaped horribly, silver drool collecting in the trough of his wasted lower lip. I could see no humanity in this man's eyes. He looked like a burnout, or worse, a spaz, a person so invested in life on the Web that he'd let his real life shrivel into nothing. 

 He was talking, I guess, but it was more like a string of unrelated words. Not gibberish, exactly, more like very convincing lorem ipsum, and every few words, a flood of saliva spilled from his mouth. He'd jerk his withered arm up and swipe at his chin, the clawed hand affording him a few dry moments and a few more mouthfuls of outlandish statement. He jabbered through all of the paragraphs the computer had already read to me, and the computer was right--there was no degeneration in the file. It was all in this creep's head.

"If desperation comes knocking on your door...what wouldn't you do to keep yourself sane? If indeed, this could be called sanity. In this world of chaos, busy laneways and cobblestones, anything could be called sane," he pointed out.

It seemed this was the end, and I was leaning forward to key in a rewind, when his butcher's eyes snapped forward, as if they were focusing directly on mine. Disconcerted, I jerked back and fell awkwardly into the chair. I felt his gaze like a punch to the midsection, so real that it took my breath. That was the end of the cast, though. Wincing, I thumbed off the screen, resolving it into its normal calm glow. The computer hummed quietly on the desk behind me, and I found myself convulsively wiping my chin.

"Anything could be sanity," I said. It felt different, voicing his crazy diatribe, letting it take shape on my tongue for a reason unknown even to myself. The more I parroted it, the farther it penetrated. It felt plausible. It felt familiar. I looked down at the notes on the desk and smiled for the first time all evening. 

I'd been freed from the computer and reborn into a new host. In this world of chaos, anything was possible. Even me.

For the Indie Ink writing challenge this week, Tereasa Trevor challenged me with 
"There was nothing for it. I could see a person approaching exactly as expected. I simply had to act on my impulses or else I'd...

There I go again, being overtaken by an urge. What now? Will I really? But then, won't I become nothing more than a criminal? But just what is a criminal anyway? And if desperation comes knocking on your door...what wouldn't you do to keep yourself sane. If indeed, this could be called sanity. In this world of chaos, busy laneways and cobblestones, anything could be called sane."

I challenged  Reinaldo Martinez with "the physician of last resort".


The anxiety
expands, a balloon swelling
to consume each day.

Monday, October 3


"My hairbrush is gone again," she said, through a mouthful of bobby pins.

"Hmm?" He wasn't really paying attention to anything but the squat glass in front of him, squarish and green with numerous imperfections, cradled in his hands with a pool of slowly warming, caramel-colored whiskey nestled in its base.

"My brush. You know how I just bought another because I thought I'd lost the first? Well, this one's gone, too, and--"

She was off on another tirade, probably about the maid service or his brother or any stupid thing. I could see the careful lack of expression on his face from my hiding place in the corner. I remembered that expression. I knew it well from all the times I tried to speak to him as soon as he returned from the office. She was fighting a losing battle here. I could almost feel sorry for her. Almost.

She stabbed the last pin into her chignon and kept talking. It's really quite marvelous, I think, that he keeps picking these tiny tank-like girls, who are so adamant in their organization and their requirements for attention. Do they remind him of me? I don't think I was ever quite so needy, but they say everyone is blind to their own faults until we see them in others.

"And then Elizabeth said that she'd seen a girl who said that her cousin used to work for you and your second wife, the banker, right? Anyway, this cousin said that your second wife's belongings went missing in the exact same ways while she worked here, I think she said her name was Maria? Well, they're all named Maria, aren't they? And you switched maid services and she lost her job, yes, another sob story but I was wondering..."

Was that all in one breath? He's not even looking in her direction and she's talking like she'll be paid by words per minute.

Finally he looks up from his drink and I come out from behind the vanity. I know he sees me. He always has. His hands tighten around the glass, nearly hard enough to break it, and he tosses off the last swallow of whiskey in a rush. When he sets his glass down, hard, on the corner table, I drift over to stand next to him. I smile at him, and staring deep into his blue eyes, I begin to unbutton my dress, the high neck and ribbon collar sweeping down over my collarbone, the livid rope burn still standing out like a brand on my pale skin. It undulates like a finger of seaweed in a tidal pool with my silent laughter, moving up and down across my vocal cords.

It does still hurt, God knows why, but it's all worth it, every long night of moving stupid things around, all these years of having to stay so close to the man who threw me off the twenty-third floor with a nylon rope knotted clumsily around my neck.

It's all worth it, then, because his jaw tightens and in the next instant he interrupts her neverending flow of words and questions to bark, "I don't believe in ghosts." He's still looking at the mark around my neck and the best part is, she wasn't even talking about her missing hairbrush anymore, she's moved on to the weekend's social flurry, and now she looks as if she's wondering if the stories might be true.  If the suicide of his first wife might have driven him a little crazy.  Or if the other stories are true, and it wasn't a suicide at all.  

I steal a couple of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and touch him on the back of his neck.  He jumps slightly, and the sweat starts to bead on his temples.

"I'm going to the bar," he says, cutting her off again, and nearly running for the front door.  She just stands there with her well-bred little mouth clamped shut, and I pick up a lighter from the hall table, because after all I've been through?  At least I don't have to worry about lung cancer.   

Thursday, September 29

a letter home

You don't sweat in the desert, not as much as you'd think. You're hot and grimy and you feel that drop of moisture begin to roll down...and then it's gone. It's a creeping feeling, wrong in all the ways we learned in our youth, though at least the bugs are a good deal less.  It is never humid in these mountains, and we have not seen rain in months. We have to be careful around the tribes here, careful of the roads and paths and water rights. The right of a goat to drink before a man has caused more than one confrontation.

At night, we march. We set up camp in the bone-colored light of the desert dawn and it's then I have time to write to you, before the sun fully rises and we can do nothing but try to sleep in the oven of our tents, the sour wine and tough flatbread of our daily ration furring our mouths as we grope after dreams under a molten-silver sky.

I know you wanted me to resign after the last campaign. I hope you've forgiven me by now. I spent only six months in Persia, made such a tiny contribution to our new homeland...well, I wanted more. I want to heap glories on the name I've asked you to share. I didn't know I would be here so long. I don't regret coming, but I do regret our parting. It can't take much more than a year in this wasteland; the great Alexander rides as if Athena herself were at his side.

I wish I could have brought you instead of all the wine in the supply train, though the women of the camp would make you poor companions. They are desert women, draped in their fortunes, with hawklike grins hid behind a number of veils. The odd, muted clashing of their robes and coins reverberate in the silent morning as they go about the homely tasks of making bread, pressing the cheese from the whey for our nightly meal. The complaints of the goats, and the odd tribal tongue in which they are addressed, have become our lullabies instead of the poets in your courtyard.

I think of you constantly, and wish to have you by my side. I cannot see you here yet. Perhaps in the new Alexandria we will build upon the river, the one they call Oxus. The desert people have already named it in their own tongue as well, Ai Khanoum. I am told it means "Moon Lady", a fitting tribute to the future home of my own maiden. May Artemis guard you, my love, and Hera Teleia guide you soon to my side.

It took the army of Alexander the Great six months to conquer Persia (present-day Iran), and something like THREE YEARS to subdue what is now Afghanistan.  The pre-Islamic history of the country is fascinating, and something I think a lot of people forget about, which is a shame.
This week's Indie Ink challenge came from Kevin Wilkes, who gave me this prompt: "Write a story about a soldier in Afghanistan".
I challenged Amy LaBonte with the prompt "You only love me when you're leaving".

Wednesday, September 28


Stifle the nutmeg and bring out rich leather, weave in notes of dying hay and cold stars.

It is still too warm here to hope to catch autumn's scent, the bitter chill and crackling sounds.  It is the end of summer of all our end of days, here, so far away from dim nights lit by poison-green firefly flashes and a single kiss in the darkest corner of the porch.

Every overheated day I weave another daisy chain of dull words, despite the heaviness, the dreary humidity.  I want book-weather, knitting-weather, bright-orange and musk-weather.  Pumpkin pie and ginger cookies, ground whole green tea leaves untouched by snowy sugars. I want the mossy drip and drizzle of what passes for winter, here on the wrong side of the world.  I want the rubber scent of rain boots, the taste of forgetting, the joy of scattering crystal drops from copper curls.

I want New Orleans in October, but I will settle for graveyard dust and marigold petals, cigarette smoke and thick rum that is as old as I am, black lace stockings and a fistful of candy corn.