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Expect the Unexpected

A fellow author passed away on the 12th. I’m just finding out about his passing today. He was one of the authors who supported me as a fledgling author. He took me under his wing and taught me about the craft, interviewed me about my works-in-progress. We confided in one another about relationships, friendships, and the craft of writing.

He wrote one of the most touching tributes to his dog that a human can write. He loved his daughters and wife immensely. He was funny, caring, sweet, thoughtful, and an awesome writer. Though he had published a few pieces, he had so many more planned, and his passing was so unexpected.

His health had taken a toll in the past few years, yet he kept his positivity, sense of humor, and charm. His author tagline was, Expect the unexpected, and for many of us, his passing was unexpected. After complications from open heart surgery and chemo, he succumbed to septic shock.

I’m still reeling from this loss as he was someone who encouraged me to write when everyone in my life told me to give up.

The writing community lost a fantastic author Friday and an even better man. Rest in peace, “Jim”.

If you are interested in helping a grieving family and have the means, there has been a Gofundme page set up in his memory: https://bit.ly/3j7STpf

When we Were Young: a Poem

anemoia: looking through old photos and feeling a pang of nostalgia for a time you’ve never actually experienced. (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig.)

Shuffling through old photographs,
a wave of emotion undulates inside,
churning up a long-dredged emotion.

This anemoia conjures up memories
(memories of a time that never was).

You showed me photographs of you
when you were young –
your eyes glimmering bright
(twin stars gazing at me through the Polaroid),
that mischievous grin.

Are you sure our paths didn’t cross
when we were young?

I showed you the photos taken at school dances,
shiny hair, forced smiles (braces exposed),
dresses with corsets (constricting my breathing
like being smothered or controlled)
.

I told you how I wished I had known you then,
butterflies in my hair,
a few wriggling around my stomach.

Maybe we could have climbed that tree together,
and when I fell out of the branches,
you could have grabbed my hand.

I look through the photographs you hand me,
a past I never witnessed except through your stories
and think, “We would have been inseparable.
Why didn’t we meet sooner?”

Girl Making Bubbles Selective Focus Photography

When we were young,
we rode our bikes like maybe we could escape
this town.

When we were young,
we believed in magic tricks and caught fireflies
(and wishes on stars light-years away).

When we were young,
we were brilliant with naiveté.
You could have kissed me in that treehouse,
our mouths tasting like honey lemonade
and jangled-up nerves.

Instead, I grew up, wondering if I’d ever be loved.
I grew up, thinking myself in terms of ugly and stupid,
despicable, a monster.

When we were young,
we were impressionable.
You could have saved me
(and I could have saved you).

Fears & Submitting a Poem

For years, I have been subscribed to and watching videos of spoken word poems from a poetry publisher based out of Minnesota. Their poets never fail to make goosebumps prickle up and down my arms. Not only is it because of the language they employ and the metaphors they utilize, but the way these poets perform their poetry is nothing short of an art form. I interviewed a spoken word poet on my blog for Global Poetry Month (Poetry Spotlight on: Carlene Gist), but now, here is my opportunity to be a spoken word poet. I have read my poetry before, but spoken word poets have a different way of wielding their words. They emote their poetry. My personal favorite line from a poem I wrote is the very line I use as a headline for my social media and my blog:

Pierce a vein and watch calligraphy spill on the page.

These poets do not just spew lines like that haphazardly; no, they actually prick a vein on stage with razor-sharp words and raw emotion floods out. This is what I aspire to do with my poems: craft something raw, something that shears through emotions, and oozes the heart of what I’m feeling.

So, I am combing through my poems, trying to find the perfect one to put to video for this submission.

A couple of years ago, after my muse whispered in my ear that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, and so, I braved my fears, quieted the demons, and submitted a chapbook to Button Poetry. It wasn’t accepted, but I was proud of myself for putting myself on the chopping block like that.

I think it’s possible to get too comfortable in your comfort zone.

What do I mean by that?

If you get too comfortable, that means you aren’t doing anything that scares you, and I think it’s important to do things that scare you. Those can be the things that make you feel alive. Sometimes, being too comfortable can feel like slowly being smothered by a pillow.

So, sometimes, I like doing things to shake it up a little.

Therefore, I am challenging myself to record a poetry video and submit it to this contest…because change is scary, but not changing at all is even scarier.

Music

Dust to Dust- The Civil Wars
Such Great Heights-an Iron and Wine cover of Postal Service
A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard-Jeremy Messersmith
Sometime Around Midnight-The Airborne Toxic Event
Your Ex-Lover is Dead-Stars
Circles-an Of Monsters and Men cover of Post Malone
Youth-Daughter

This might not seem writing-related, but these are some songs I love (and some that inspire me when I’m writing poetry or fiction). Music is so important to me. When no one understood me and when I was the most alone, I always had my music.

I thought it’d be fun to share with y’all some of the music I have been listening to lately.

Submerged: a Poem

Submerged
(but hope sparkles).
Seawater fills lungs
(but still, we glimmer).
Finding our breath,

we might fail
& our throats cake
with salt–

but still,
we shine.

Choices are our own.
We’re not destined
to sink,

though our gazes travel
to the schools of fish
with fluttering fins & sputtering gills.

Person Holding Firework

We do not relinquish control.
This life is ours.
(We grasp sparklers like rope
to save us.)

We’ll hold those glittering sticks
above water
(illumination like stars).
We can guide the way
like constellations in the north
so the others don’t end up Titanics
or other colossal ship wrecks.

We are not alone,
despite what the devils in us hiss.
There’s a Navy boat submerged,
holding its breath
like a birthday wish,
teeming with sailors.

One day,
that boat will be an empty husk.
(A skeleton with no soul
to animate it,
but today,

hope shimmers
like a firework.)

But still,
we glimmer.

But still,
we sparkle.

Woman Holding Sparkler

New Beginnings: Part III

Part III of New Beginnings, you can find New Beginnings Part I here and Part II here.


I tapped my soft box of cigarettes against my hand, more for something to do with my hands than to pack the tobacco. As I shuffled to a wall behind us, I wondered what I was doing with my life. Leaning against it, my stomach twinged. I flicked my lighter and inhaled deeply. The comfort of tobacco and cloves flooded my nostrils.

The clove was more pungent than I remembered, but maybe my senses were more heightened than usual because the gold cellophane wrapped around the box seemed to shimmer in the dull light.

I tried not to think of what I was leaving behind but to the future. The great unknown I was throwing myself into. The smell of my cigarette reminded me of the first day I had smoked.

I had cut history class and walked to a cemetery near campus. The air was crisp, cutting through my jacket then, just as it did now. I had found a sprawling tree to sit under and watched a burial a few feet away.

Vee had seen me that day. I hadn’t known her yet. We barely spoke, but we shared that cigarette like it was the last one on Earth. She had snatched my phone from my back pocket and typed her contact information. That night, when I had called her, her smoky voice sounded as though she had expected my call.

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out the past five years of memories with Vee. We began dating when I was seventeen. Still a teenager and moldable. I was a lump of clay and she was the sculpting chisels and hammers.

Almost unbidden, I remembered the hell that was high school. Slouching in a chair in the guidance counselor’s office. Mrs. Reed’s heels clacking against the linoleum as she paced back and forth. The way her watery gray eyes traveled from my mother to me. Thinking of all the time I spent with Vee instead of working on my homework. All the times we snuck out and smoked in the cemetery. Mrs. Reed telling my mom that I had been cutting class. That I was reckless.

“Maybe it’s just a phase,” Mrs. Reed had said, hope glittering in her eyes. Mrs. Reed who smelled like Christmas cookies had begged my mom not to let me ruin my life.

That was before the state psychiatrist and psychologist. Before the diagnoses. Before the hospital stays in psych wards.

“Maybe it’s just a phase,” Mrs. Reed had said…

My relationship with Vee had endured five tumultuous years, but numbers were just numbers. 1,825 days didn’t matter unless you gave them meaning. As I smoked, I didn’t notice the guy from the bench approach me. After a minute or two lost in memories, I saw him.

I wondered how he saw me. Dyed auburn hair with black roots. Heavy eyeliner. I felt like a child actor, pretending to be an adult. He made me doubt me, and he had barely spoken two words to me.

My hands began to shake when my phone vibrated. I stubbed my cigarette against the wall and began to curse.

“Expecting a phone call?” he asked with a smirk as I stared at my cell phone, horrified. What would I tell her? What could I tell her? She probably had just finished her shift at Blackburn’s. Maybe she was already back at our apartment. I began to shake violently.

I took a drag of my cigarette and buried my phone deep in my bag. His eyes flashed. “You forget to tell someone where you’re going?” he asked, his voice a touch concerned.

“Doesn’t matter,” I muttered, “what about you? You tell your whole family and all your friends where you’re headed?”

“Hah.” He rolled his eyes. “Like Veronica cares.”

“Girlfriend?” I arched an eyebrow, watching his face.

“My mom,” he mumbled, “my friends won’t even notice. Too high to even notice if I’m in the same room or not.” He waved the idea away. “Doesn’t matter. They won’t ever think to look where I’m going.”

“Where are you going?” I asked quietly.

“Montreal.” He grinned, his dimples deepening.

I didn’t speak but thought I had just found a partner-in-crime for the trip.

New Beginnings: Part II

Part II of New Beginnings, a short story beginning here.


I was going to have a fresh start in Montreal. Going to the bus depot was just the beginning, yet fear spidered through me icicle-slow, trickling through my extremities. I didn’t know what I was going to tell my employer. How do you explain the sudden impulse to move away from everything you know and everyone you love? How do you explain a late-night tarot reading at a dimly lit bar being enough to convince you to buy a bus ticket? My manager was bound to call and demand why I wasn’t on time for my shift.

If my lover–I guess my ex-lover–called, I would just ignore the phone. Ignore it like an old, broken television set. No use burdening myself with it. I had tried to fix it. I had tried fixing it for years, but all I got was static.

I can’t even recall what I said to her in the letter. I might have made vague mentionings about discovering myself. I might have made insincere promises to return, but I begged her not to hold a lantern to every stranger’s face to compare them to my own.

My hands no longer resembled mine, and my bus ticket was growing limp from the sweat that slicked its surface.

Did a runaway ever look beautiful?

I pictured Vee, my lovely Vee, if she was planning to run, she’d wear her black sneakers, the ones with the hidden lyrics – black on black, but there if you looked closely enough. She’d wear a short, white mink coat, the one she saved for special occasions, a ratty band shirt, and a pair of cigarette jeans.

She’d look cool.

Chic.

I looked like a kid going to Grandma’s house. Over the river and through the woods.

I was so lost in a labyrinth of thoughts that I did not notice him sit down next to me. He was a boy my age. Maybe a couple of years older. My skin tingled in a way I could not identify when he brushed up against me. It was like electricity or dope. He drummed a rhythm against his thigh. When his quicksilver eyes flicked in my direction, I could not breathe.

“I pictured Vee, my lovely Vee, if she was planning to run, she’d wear her black sneakers, the ones with the hidden lyrics…”

He had struck me and rendered me stupid.

Who was he, and did he feel this gravitational pull?

It wasn’t love, and Christ, it wasn’t lust, but those golden spokes, Saturn’s rings, webbed his ocean aquamarine eyes and hypnotized me. Neither of us said a word to one another. Suddenly, a sturdy military jacket with worn elbows seemed cliché.

A mere suggestion of cool.

I tucked my twisting hands into a pair of fingerless gloves and brushed my tongue ring against the roof of my mouth, clicking it with my teeth.

He stared at me, his eyes cool metal. “Could you not?” he asked, a brusque edge to the words and his voice huskier than I imagined. Who did he think he was? This, the same boy who was tapping out a drum solo on his thigh. I nodded, not trusting myself with language.

This was the beginning of something new. I had a future waiting for me: something I never envisioned before.

New Beginnings: Part I

It was time. I bit the bullet until all I could taste was metal, but maybe that was the rust in my mouth from my teeth serrating my tongue. I have a duffle bag packed. Who knew my whole life could fit in a bag? The clothes were nothing, but packing away my crystals and tarot cards, that was when my eyes began to grow wet and puffy. I snatched my favorite photograph off the clothesline it hung from. The room began to tilt as though I had just gotten off a carousel.

I was doing it.

I couldn’t look back.

I had slipped a note inside of her favorite book so she’d see it before she settled in for the night. It was like pressing dried flowers between the pages. I put another note on the leftover Pad Thai she’d reheat when she got home from her shift at the hospital. I kept fidgeting with the ring she had bought me last year for my birthday. My legs were restless as I sat at the bus stop.

All these people coming and going, and I still felt alone.

“The terminal grew quiet, and I could have sworn I heard her whisper my name.”

My lips were dry but tasted of fear. I did not know how to cry, but my heart drummed like it was sore. I didn’t know anyone in Montreal, but that was the point.

The terminal grew quiet, and I could have sworn I heard her whisper my name. It was like a pair of butterfly wings fluttering together. Her lips buzzed with the familiar sound, and I turned my head at the sound. A ladybug sat on my shoulder, its antennae twitching like it was sending telegraphs, using wires and needles. I never felt at home in my own skin, but today, my body was a map, the veins riddled with roads.

“All these people coming and going, and I still felt alone.”

Stay tuned! On Saturday, July 10th, I will post Part II

Forgetting: a Short Story

Jonathan O’Neill took a deep drag off his joint, the thin paper crinkling and crackling as he inhaled the piney smoke. He had smoked every day for the last twenty-two years and decided if this was what it took for him to forget, so be it. He sighed. His children had all moved out of the house years ago. Now, they were starting families of their own. He knew that soon, their children would be crawling around the worn Berber carpet. Angie was in the other room, watching television. The faint voice of the late-night comedian reached him through the thin walls.

Free stock photo of bong, cannabis, friends
“…the thin paper crinkling and crackling as he inhaled the piney smoke.”

Closing his eyes, he brushed aside a thought, a wisp of a memory: the smell of magnolias and patchouli. After he opened his eyes, he picked up the slim volume of poetry, inhaling again. The mint pine filled his lungs and he coughed. Angie would snicker at him, had she known he was reading poetry. The black words on the ivory page scattered.

He was forgetting.

Good, he thought, took you long enough, you old codger.

With great deliberation, he set his mind to his wife: her pillowy breasts, her comfortable stomach, her love of chocolate chip cookies and black-and-white classic movies. They’d been together since they were teenagers. High school sweethearts. Angie claimed him after a homecoming game sophomore year. Told him she’d marry him some day.

They were only eighteen when they married. Young and full of hopes. A flash of honey blonde hair shimmered in his memory, and he exhaled her name. A name he hadn’t spoken aloud in over twenty years. “Danielle.”

He remembered her curves, the way his hands could wrap around her waist and pull her in. He shook his head as though to shake the thought from his mind. Her silver-gray eyes. The way Angie had sobbed when she found out: her shoulders shaking, her plump lips trembling, tears glittering in her gray eyes.

He wished he could have told her the fierceness with which he loved her could devour a man’s sanity. The possessiveness with which he clung to her could dissolve any solid man’s reason. That, though he had signed that marriage certificate all those years ago in a courthouse, Angie by his side, his heart was signed to her, a contract only his soul could fulfill. Their love might have been forbidden, but Danielle, sweet Danielle, she had been his once upon a time.


Stop, Jonathan scolded himself, let it go. She has forgiven you. But still the memory of Danielle struck him. He had never cheated on Angie before, but with Danielle, it didn’t feel like cheating. In fact, the nights he laid his head on the pillow beside Angie and inhaled her lavender sachet and fresh linen, those were the nights he felt he was cheating.

He remembered how they talked about taking her yellow Volkswagen Beetle cross-country, driving all the way to the East Coast, then driving west to Colorado. He thought about the way they talked about going to music festivals where she could sell her art and inhale music like it was a drug. He savored the memories. The memories that never were. He thought what if he had met her first.

He steeled his eyes into an empty stare. His glazed, honey-brown eyes softened as he took in his surroundings. The leather wingback chair in his office. The antique typewriter. First-edition books. His diplomas on the wall. Life was good. Comfortable. He heard Angie chuckle at one of the comedian’s jokes on television. Jonathan inhaled another drag, willing himself to forget.

Turned on Floor Lamp Near Sofa
“The leather wingback chair in his office. The antique typewriter. First-edition books.”

How many years since she died? he wondered. Shuddering, the icy chill pierced through his heart like a frozen dagger and dragged down his spine. No, he told himself sternly. It was best to forget. Danielle was just a girl.

Her mother had compared Danielle to a hummingbird at the funeral: small, magical, always fluttering around. And Jonathan had understood. He remembered the last time he had seen her alive. They walked the perimeter of a pond. She was moving her hands as she spoke quietly about putting her dog to sleep. He remembered the other times too. The softness of her lips. The tentative way she explored the scar on his spine. The glimmering wonder in her gray eyes as he broke open a walnut and fed it to her.

How she had taught him to sip the viscous, amber liquid from a honeysuckle. The poems she had written him. How she swore she was going to write him a play so he could return to the stage some day. The post cards she had written him from California, Montana, Colorado.

You would love it here, she had scrawled on the cards, I miss you. I think of you every day. Jonathan had saved them each and stowed them away in the back of the slim volume of poetry that was hidden in plain sight most days on his book shelf.

Shut up, shut up, shut up, he reminded himself, scolding.

That was the thing about both the marijuana and the early onset of his disease. They might help him forget his current miseries, but the past taunted him. Slightly out of reach, yet still familiar. A dream sparse on details but little snatches coming back to him as the evening progressed.

He remembered the language she had invented and her laugh. The silver sparkle in her gray eyes. Her skin the color of milk. The way she’d talk about the wild animals she saw in her backyard-the coyotes, the foxes, a fawn once.

His bones felt brittle. He felt so old. His teeth sometimes felt too large in his mouth. The disease stripped him of words. Sometimes, he’d be talking to Angie and mid-sentence, he’d falter.

But these memories of Danielle.

They persisted, whether he appreciated it or not.

It was as though he was experiencing the nostalgia of anemoia, shuffling through old photographs in his mind (the ones he never took, lest Angie discover them when cleaning one day) and experiencing the wave of sentimental remorse for a time he pretended did not belong to him.

He took a deeper inhale of his joint. Smoke unfurled deeply into his lungs. His thoughts slipped away, and he leaned back in his leather wingback, a dazed smile on his face.

He was forgetting.

And it was bliss.

But then, an image shattered his serenity. The haunting image, though never something he saw with his own two eyes, froze him whenever his memory called it back. Danielle going home one night to her lover after traveling. He had discovered the poetry book she had penned Jonathan and ripped every page out, feeding it to the fireplace. That night, as the fire crackled, the man wrapped his hands around Danielle’s throat and suffocated the light out of her gazes.

Jonathan took a deep breath.

When he had arrived at the wake, he… no, he repeated to himself, I will not go down that path. Stop. He remembered nonetheless. Despite the mortuary cosmetologist’s best attempts, Jonathan could see fingerprints on her slim, pale throat.

Or at least at the time, he believed he had.

It had been so many years.

He was better to forget their past. The smell of magnolias and patchouli. The way her lips parted slightly when she hungered for a kiss. Her soft skin. Her honey-blonde hair.

Woman Standing Beside Brown Grass

He’d spend a lifetime, trying in desperation to forget.

He’d spend a lifetime remembering.