Category Archives: prompt responses

Bref Double and a Break

Not that I want to but I need to float off for a bit from here. Please come back! I’ll likely continue to post on Instagram, but less often. It’s time to FOCUS.

I’ll leave you with two responses to a prompt from the retreat, both using a poetic structure listed below. I paid attention to the rhyme scheme, you’ll see, but not the line lengths.

Bref Double, One

The mist rolls, sheer scalloped grace.
Curls floating past trees
echoing the canopy’s curve,
hurrying somewhere I want to go.

The hills rise sturdy and silent.
Clouds come and go and leave no trace.
Mountains like a tolerant mother meeting
a toddler’s antics, squatting low

to grin and meet him, where he is, face
to face, nose to nose, abiding
in connection, eschewing haste.
Such moments seem more than we deserve.

Sturdy love. Isn’t it a disgrace
to reject what’s here, adopt strictures,
go quiet and lose our heart, our verve?

Bref Double, Two

Tardiva points, a flurry
of misdirection, while clouds
creep and float, aligned with
the mountains. Purpose.

Or is it conspiracy? Ridges hold blue,
their stillness a contrast to sliding
mist, while gauze clouds above
wander, roll, tell secrets unheard of

by us. Crickets act as jury
to the crime of vacancy
while low-lying lichen, furry
almost, in ruffled patterns, gifts

the eye. Yellowed leaves, the color of curry
hint at how soon the season’ll leave us bereft.

Lament to a prompt

If you’re up for a lament without much by way of sentence structure, here’s my response to a prompt in class this morning (using a bunch of song/nursery rhyme fragments/Catholic echos). I may come back tomorrow and add the text but for now here’s the video. It runs 6:45 minutes. Sorry about the hair that kept bothering my lower lip.

Montreal Grey — prompt exercise

Yesterday’s prompt: write about a character who’s just received really good or really bad news looking out a window. Describe what the characters sees, feels, and thinks WITHOUT giving away the substance of the news.

Prompt-responses are raw and a recently written prompt even more so. I say that, not to ask for kid glove responses, but to help myself take a deep breath and GO. Even though this is prose and not cloth, Jude has laid out a path for me – in the way she openly shares her creative ventures long before she knows what they’re about. Thank you Jude. And to Grace too, who just lays it down. And to K.O. and the Amherst Writing Method, where everything is treated as fiction. And P.S. — typing his up I see lots of places to edit, so I’m a little torn about this.

I include a written version and a recorded one. The video is almost six minutes.


If Benjamin Moore doesn’t yet have a chip labeled ‘Montreal Grey’ they ought to. The sky is dull. The tops of buildings visible out our 20th floor window are grey. Even though it’s May, it looks as though it might snow any minute. Visits in November and visits in May – hardly distinguishable.

Pebbles on the rooves below, charcoal, ladders hooking up and over the edge, shiny aluminum. One tall building – a construction site across the way – is wrapped in blue. The tarps billow in the wind coming up the St. Lawrence – or does the wind go down the river, shooting off the Laurentians, hurrying toward the Atlantic? I don’t know.

Traffic below is small, offering chips of light – red, white – inconsequential dots of luminescence in the grey city canyons.

Our room has a balcony, a boxy utilitarian space closed in on two sides, making it seem more a place for a furnace or stacks of orange cones than an aerie for out of town guests. Sliders, presumably locked. The husband asleep. A breakfast buffet waiting – tired scrambled eggs, decent bacon (but only because, truly, it’s difficult to ruin bacon), and the serviceable pyramids of four ounce yogurt containers.

I’m not hungry. I wish I was still asleep, not ruminating on last night’s bombshell revelations. How stupid have I been, exactly? How distracted? At what point does reliance on another’s well-being morph into neglect?

I’m gonna be 100% certain about one thing for the rest of our visit – these sliders will stay shut. No hand of mine will tug the glass to the side, no foot step out onto the fake grass flooring, no ribs will lean against the cement railing (can anything solid and cement really be called ‘a railing’), no head of mine – after all, it’s the only one I’ve got, will lean out and look down, making some calculus of despair.

Pajamas and blood splatted below would hardly be visible for 20 floors up.

And the problem, of course, is not the calculus, but the impulse.

From where I lean against the cool glass of the snuggly closed door, I can see three tall yellow cranes, looming in stillness, poised for work like predatory beings so efficient at killing and consumption, they need no musculature. Every year, it’s this way. Every year, crossing over the Ile de Soeur, we start up the count of cranes. It’s always been a good way to counter the near constant annoyance of driving down University Ave. At every intersection:  polite drivers! Polite pedestrians! Rule following motorists, conditioned to deferral, and not, as one from Boston is, to aggression, politely wait for all the rule-following pedestrians to cross. It means waiting for one pass of the light after another – an eternity for four cars to make a right turn.

“Oh look!” I might say in lieu of a frothy stream of curses, “another hotel restoration. Didn’t that used to be called ‘The Delta’?”

Soon the cranes will start their swiveling industry. The cars and pedestrians will thicken – getting to work, getting to school. Soon husband will wake and we’ll choose between eggs and grapefruit wedges, yogurt and oatmeal. Bacon is pretty much a given.

Dinner had started off well enough. A Scotch egg ordered, the pub atmosphere offering a humming embrace, the bar warmly lit, French being spoken, men with top knots mixing cocktails, the anticipation of a really good meal, having been there before.

Champagne might have been mentioned and then kiboshed. Where is Tavern on the Green relative to the grid of grey below? I’m pretty sure due west, but I’m not reliable when it comes to directions.

One direction is clear: a body tipped up and over a cement railing 20 stories up means DOWN.

What do the desperate do when they rue their choice ten stories into their flailing descent? It must happen all the time.

The glass is cool against my forehead. Husband stirs. His disappointment will meet mine but not amplify it. He’s wonderful that way. Grounded. Reliable.

I won’t amplify either, I swear silently, even though I often speak for the two of us, sometimes for the entire small group that is our family. How did a refugee from a tribe of high-volume argument makers end up with so much silence at the dinner table? Such a biological disinclination to verbalize!

(Good thing I can play Scrabble against the computer now on a back lit screen! To suggest a round in our house is to see three guys run for cover).

I will not amplify. I will experiment, instead, with a quietude that is as a-characteristic as it is, well, quiet.

Besides, there’s a lot to do in the next 48 hours, bombshell or no bombshell.

Turning away, I click on the news, deeming it nearly time for breakfast anyhow. For fun, I land on a Quebec station, thinking perhaps I’d understand a phrase or two. I’ve done this before and nothing has happened in the interim that might dictate a different result. I’ll catch a number here or there – that’s about it.

Outside, a big gust of wind makes the blue building wrapper puff and fwop like a giant bird struggling to take off. It, and not the drone of French, wakes Mark up.

“What was that?” he asks.

“Tarps,” I say. One word. A single syllable, no less. Does my response telegraph despair? I’m guessing so, in which case experimenting with non-verbal responses may be trickier than I think. So I say, “Come on buster. Get in the shower. I’m hungry.”

I’m not hungry, but the familiar patter soothes and food never hurts. Canadian bacon is a thing, you know.

Florida – Every Ash Wednesday from now til Death

This empathic piece of fiction was written in class this morning, the day following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For the prompt, we were to select a postcard and I picked the one pictured above. I hope the recording isn’t too slow to load. I use video from my phone because to convert an iPhone audio requires a laborious trip through iTunes and a widget on WordPress which would cost me $13/month (?!!!). This time, I’ve written out the prompt-response as well. Virtually everything written here is made up and the fact that my imagined scene happens in a wintry clime ought to drive home that fact. That I can so easily render a scene like this speaks to the abysmal failure of our government to control guns.


Every Ash Wednesday from Now Til Death

Heather’s face made the front page. The ash mark more strike than dot, a face crunched in grief. A lost child. A lost child. Another headline. More bodies to count.

Bodies. Children. The teacher who dies saving a teenager or two. Even the sight, crisis over, of high school students filing out of the building with their hands up crushes the spirit.

This is who we are. This is it. Automatic rifles for everyone! Anyone! A soul-less party paralyzed by the Almighty NRA dollar. Let’s pray.

No really. Let’s pray. The profusion of lilies along the altar and lining the steps up to the altar sweeten the air to a sickening degree. The lovely trumpet shapes, the silky pure white, no defense against the death rot sure to come. To the petals, which will shrivel and brown in decline, to the child in the casket, who will shrivel and brown, and to the priest, and to each and everyone of us sitting there.

The priest comes out without his usual sturdy authority, climbing the lectern in a weary resistance. What shall he preach? That God has ways we know not? That He takes the good ones early? That faith will restore even them that despair.

Tilly and Glenda sit in front of me. They didn’t know Drew very well. I, not at all. The fact that I am separated by four or more degrees might make me feel an intruder were it not for the fact that the wreckage rained down by a hail of automatic bullets hit all of us, hit our entire high school body. While some, like Drew’s poor parents, pay a bigger and everlasting price, not a single parent of a child at the high school and not a single high school student emerged unscathed.

The priest clears his throat. Whimpers can be heard and choked sobs from up front.

“It is easy,” he says, “to have faith when the sun is shining. When the tidings are glad, how smooth the extension of our hands, one to the other. When our tables sag with bounty, it’s no challenge to acknowledge the bounty of Our Lord. But in times of darkness, when every message is soaked in tears or blood or both, that is when we are tested. That is when our faith must rise up and meet God’s mercy.”

I fought his every word, even as I was swept up in the intended goodness. It occurs to me that I cannot pinpoint when I stopped believing in God — or at least, in anything but a very remote Supreme Being, one that governs how molecules spin and bounce but has no message or care for any of us individually. How could believing in a God who lets senseless violence of this repetitive magnitude happen offer comfort?

We grieve for Drew. All the soccer games he will not play, the girls he will not tease or tempt, the glories of the flesh essentially unmet, the challenge of growing up, never to be confronted. Holidays for his family, ever after a nightmare. And, no doubt, there will be two excruciating anniversaries a year — the fixed one, February 14, Valentine’s Day, and the roving one, every Ash Wednesday from now ’til death.

What should Drew’s mother give up for Lent? What a hideous idea! Will she become a mother on the Grief Circuit, trying to effect political change? She might want to look at the blank page of Sandy Hook parents’ results before undertaking such a public and exhausting route.

Some parents will close their doors and lock them from the inside. Others will testify before Congress. Still others will go on as before, but hollowed out, a gutted replica of the life they were leading on Fat Tuesday. None of them will ever be the same.

The upstretched arms. The drape of satin embroidered with the old Catholic symbols. When did Drew last receive Communion, I wonder, and why on earth would it matter? Was it a source of contention in the household — one of many conflicts which will, in replay, seem so utterly inconsequential?

Is there any of us who can love our children so hard and so deeply that at this lily-sickened moment, there are no regrets?

Of course not. And anyone who suggests as much, I guarantee you will not be a parent, or at least, not a parent of teenagers.

By all counts, Drew was a good kid. Sam didn’t know him well — different circles and so on. But it was apparently only the usual and forgivable delinquencies — alcohol at parties (but never when driving), a little reefer now and then, a lot of enthusiasm for the school prank, and the usual amounts of contempt for certain teachers. He would’ve gone to college. Studied engineering or biological data collection. He would’ve fallen in love — perhaps for the second time, I don’t know. He’d have hunted for work, recycled, called Congress, made spaghetti. All the acts of a life gone dark.

“Christ be with you.”

“And also with you.”

I’m too far back to hear the words clearly. Murmurs only. Drew’s mother crosses herself, returns to her pew. Husband waiting for her. A non-believer.

Tilly turns and whispers to me, “It’s almost enough to make me consider going to Mass again.”

I mouth the words, “I know,” but I don’t know. Nothing can immunize against this loss. Nothing can fill the void it cracks open.

I’m surprised how many young people (friends of Drew’s) are receiving Communion. I would’ve thought they’d have fallen away already — the way each generation speeds up the progress of the former. In our generation, you went through the motions until college, where you went to Mass exactly once, never to return. Don’t kids these days refuse sooner? Maybe at the same time their recently Bar Mitzvahed friends stop going to temple?

We file out to crisp air and a pewter sky. People mill about, unsure how to be, unwilling yet to leave the group. But I don’t want to be standing awkwardly by when Drew’s parents emerge, so I head to my car, boot heels clunking on the cleared sidewalk in some sort of reassuring percussion — I’m alive. I’m alive. My sons are alive. Alive.