Category Archives: prompt responses

You are not your thoughts

Below is a prompt-response from last week. There was a line in a shared poem that was structured: “All of my __________s are ______________ing.”

 

All of  my thoughts are turning black, a black run through with quivering rust. An alive black, in other words, like a gleaming blob of paint or an oozing puddle of oil. Rust signaling metallic processes of age.

All of my thoughts sprout wings, but not to soar and gain drone-like perspective above tree-lined streets, car lights at night like traveling jewels. No, more like a statue of Mercury, whose sandals are cutely adorned with wings but who, being carved out of marble, is going exactly nowhere.

You could take a trip to Barcelona. You could call in a chit for Aspen. You might even consider Great Barrington, somewhere with wi-fi, somewhere hospitable to dogs. But no, bench and pillow, table, puzzle and cloud-cover — at last! — all conspire to keep you in place.

I watched a video about a table upgrade. Some guy started by pouring black paint in its center. The table was round; the paint in five gallon cans. Next, pea green, poured around the black center. Orange, white, more green, a band of black, and ending with a rim of white, he walked in circles, pouring paint. And then, I guess we were supposed to be impressed, he used a garden rake to perform a basic paper-marbling technique. He dragged the paint first one way, then at exactly right angles, the other way. The tines made furrows of color. Green flirted with white, orange intersected waves of black. Some sort of design. But that black center didn’t give way and the effect did not please in the end.

My thoughts are the black paint being run through by an amateur crafter overly pleased with himself, dragging little furrows of white and green into my darkness.

This morning, I refuse specifics. My friends do not and vary in their beliefs. One predicts a pardon, another shakes her head and gravely pronounces, “No consequences. There will be no consequences.” Some feisty part of me believes that someone is gonna nail the bastard. Orange run through with black.

Representation, espionage, a special master? Threats of riots. Lists so long and so classified, they cannot even be described in public. Quick! Someone speak to me of roses. How they vary — climbing, vining, shrubbed or miniature, fragrant or not, astonishing in their delicate feminine beauty. The tall Betty Priors that graced our lot line in the 90’s have long since perished, a struggling native magnolia in their place. This summer even the reliable hosta struggle and wilt.

Struggle and wilt, go my thoughts. Even the ones that were chlorophyll-informed. Looking to sun, subsisting on sun, not quite the opposite of black paint run through with rust, but almost.

Is it possible my thoughts are hiding from me — fey, mercurial, interruptive of ambition and sense? Maybe. But I think I’d feel more relief if that were so. Instead, a metal-tined garden rake is drug across my forehead, trying to turn darkness into a DYI design.

Morning of Surprise Hearing

“I wonder if it’s possible to will myself into spontaneous combustion.”
Aleyna Rentz, from Cincinnati Review

Charred bones hold a certain
appeal. A ravaging by fire
before crumbling into the dirt of
death.

Malva up the street bloom
in the palest of pinks. And now
hosta send up the sturdy
stalks of their flowers. July,
this July coming, is still familiar
to them in a way to me
it is not.

Hair shooting out of my scalp
transformed into poison darts
would more clearly show
the neighbors who I am
than the little waves, nods,
the purse across the chest,
holding phone and dog treats
as if the old rules of communication and reward still apply.

The house remains standing. The grass
grows in the fits and starts
indicative of shade. This morning
the dog sat on the deck planks
still wet from last night’s rain. He
was listening. Dogs are always
listening.

Would it help to shave my
head? To craft an embroidered
badge saying I’M DONE or WAKE UP?
To make visible the roiling
disappointment, so roiling,
so disappointed as to render the
words useless.

Old styles of rebellion will not
hold. Saving democracy is
not a style decision, as much as
we might like it to be.

Revelation after damning revelation
and STILL we wonder: will it matter?

We’re talking a femoral bleed.
Grasping around to find
a tourniquet, placing the life-
saving band around the body
but forgetting how to tie a knot.

“No July 4 for me this year,” say
some, while many others have
never had much to celebrate about
our so-called independence, our
so-called freedoms.

A flawed past does not
condemn us to tyranny. Please, someone,
make magnets saying that so I can put
them eye-level on the fridge, linking
hunger and hope and reason.

We don’t forget to eat, so
why should we forget to dream big?
To believe in possibility?

The squirrels chip at the air
with their throats. I used to think
it was the cardinals.

Somewhere, someone mows a
lawn. Somewhere, someone gets
water off a truck because lead
contaminates their water. Local
jack hammers signify home
improvement. Federal jack
hammering comes in the form
of 6-3 opinions. They
are blasting away at basic assumptions,
at long-held rights, at
the beliefs and needs of the majority — at

their own jurisprudence.

Who do you talk to in the
still of the night? Some nights
it is the ghost of my mother.
Other nights it is my own
nervous system. Sometimes
my children show up as absence
and silence and that keeps me
awake longer.

Not all loss is national and
collective.

I have my snacks ready
for the next set of revelations.
A friend is coming to sit by and
watch with me.

How we connect now matters more than ever.

Last night the sky blazed
orange. Chips of light between
maple and beech trees like mosaics.
It’s hard to remember the world
when you are perpetually walking
between kitchen and living room,
bathroom and bed. COVID, anyone? Or should I say: COVID for EVERYONE!

The world as defiled. The
world as holy. I don’t need
to shave my head to show
how my heart is trembling.

 *. *. *.

This was written to a prompt in my Tuesday Amherst Writers and Artists workshop — the last until mid-August. The prompt was the Rentz quote above which appeared in a piece titled The Land of Uz. Cincinnati Review, Fall ’21.

The photo of Hutchinson was taken from a PBS website, but it is everywhere. I ran it through a filter in the Prisma app.

P.S. if you look carefully at the fairy-lights-photo, you will see Finn behind the glass door.

 

 

From Tuesday, June 21, 2022

I don’t normally title blog posts with dates, but it feels important to note the time. Five and a half weeks since the shooting in Buffalo. Four weeks since the shooting in Uvalde. The day before the fourth Jan 6 Hearing. The day of the Supreme Court handing down long-awaited decisions. The day after Beyonce dropped a song from her new album.

The paragraphs below were written in a go to a prompt and are not edited.

The prompt: “She stopped listening to weather reports.”

She stopped listening to weather reports. It was a matter of self-preservation she said. “I want to remember how to sniff for rain,” she said. “Enough with the apps!” Stepping onto the blue stone in the cool of morning with bare feet had also receded into some primitive time of “before.”

The local screech owls died when they tore down the Newton Andover woods to make way for townhomes. She found one of their bodies. The neighbor who had called out to them in the dark of spring evenings when the bats came out, was gone now too.

Speaking of sniffing, just yesterday on a dog walk with her husband, she’d said, “That smells like fox. They spray too you know.” Of course he knew.

She’d collected skunk bones from under the deck one summer, their vertebrae like candies in her palm, but neither of them had ever seen a fox.

The very next morning, her phone chimed at 6:40 a.m. — too early for Patty’s daily wordle result. It was her husband. He’d resumed hoofing it to the T two or three times a week. “You’ll never believe this,” it read. “I saw a fox on Cypress Street this morning.”

It was as if the universe was playing with them. Maybe, she thought, she ought to start picturing the FBI raiding Mar-A-Lago. After all, it was the Solstice, which is one of the corners of the year when the Old Ones believe that a crack between the worlds opened up. Possibilities unlikely on an ordinary day might fly on the longest day.

Today she sat and watched her phone, waiting for the inevitable. At ten a.m., the Supreme Court started publishing opinions, the whole country holding its breath — the bad of it all about to get so much worse.

It wasn’t like she set out to learn political minutiae, like how reconciliation bills were exempt from the filibuster or how tight margins in some primaries triggered an automatic recount, but she did. This morning she learned that the highest court released opinions by reverse seniority. Kavanaugh’s came first and when Breyer’s dropped, it meant Dobbs would hold another day, since Alito is junior to Breyer.

A Roe expert on twitter wrote “Sobbs” by mistake and then said, “Well, that fits too.”

Beyonce’s first single in years dropped last night proving there is still good in the world. Talent and beauty, gifts to us all. If only her singing, “You won’t break my soul,” applied universally, unilaterally. Could her message be like the slight scent of musk which had been received with disbelief only to be met the very next day with the actual embodiment of what was believed impossible. Jump suits for everyone!

Her therapist will only read the news (not watch) and some days only the headlines. She says it’s too much otherwise. Silvia says the same.

At the doctor’s office yesterday, the form asked if she ever felt anxious, restless, depressed, or hopeless. Suicide screening is nothing new. She checked “often” for a lot of them. When the doctor held up the form later with a raised eyebrow, she just waved it off saying simply, “I watch the news.”

The fox crossing the road, the very first sited in over thirty years, seemed a kind of miracle — a call and response between imagination and reality. These days, she couldn’t tell if her hopelessness was being tamped down by some efficient and reliable defenses, or if it was denial battering her, forcing her to adopt notions, hopeful notions, that simply weren’t supported by reality. We all know denying reality creates tension. Tension.

“How much hopelessness is appropriate?” was a question she never expected to ask herself with such regularity.

A fox crossing the road. A sweep for the good at the midterms. A musky scent confirmed. Indictments handed out all the way to the top. A summer dance tune: “You won’t break my soul.”

*  *  *

Yesterday’s hearing, as it turned out, gave cause for hope — the brave testimony and acts of ordinary poll workers — Ms. Moss and her mother, Lady Ruby Freeman. But it was also cause for fear because it demonstrated that the right has “operationalized violence,” as Nicolle Wallace said, and these ordinary poll workers, also Black women, were targeted in an extreme and gross manner that speaks to Jim Crow and the lengths trump and his cohort have been willing to go to hold onto power.

Color Me Grey — A Lament

This lament was written to the prompt of a black and white photo depicting a waterfall with rowboat suspended as if weightless at its base.

Color me grey. Remove gravity. Add rushing water, but make it still. Strip the leaves off spring trees and tell them to rustle. Pick the ants off fists of peony-buds so that the flush of pink stays tightly balled inside. Put one paddle in my row boat instead of two. Hide all partners. Put sky in the water. Remove sky from above the horizon. Dangle untruths like earrings on beauty queens. That old saying, “If you piss on my foot and tell me it’s raining, it ain’t raining,” comes to mind. Gravity might have governed once. Now we float above institutions and look down and wonder how they ever worked.

We ready ourselves to row and row hard, really put our backs into it, only to discover that there is only one oar. The old push to get out the vote is so cute anymore. The sticker on your lapel not a badge of much if your vote can so readily be thrown out. Men on the national stage are pledging to do just that and they’re not laughed at or removed with a cane.

One Texan speaks up and makes good trouble. He’s not even shouting. The armed men on stage point and holler with a Klan-like vicious unity. Get out! Get out! Get out! A Texan in a blue oxford shirt surrounded by arms raised, cameras filming the moment of infamy. Theirs, not his. Get out! Get out! Get out!

The water of time keeps falling over the ledge. So there is gravity — just not in America — where up is down and down is up and nothing rushes anywhere except violence. DNA of grieving parents required to ID some of the ten-year-old bodies. What does that tell you?

It almost sounds like armed officers escorted the shooter inside. You’re not “containing” anything if the perpetrator is locked in a room with an entire classroom of kids.

Why won’t shadows behave anymore, as in calling evil evil and not publishing a nuanced view of evil’s view of good. The Fourth Estate. Give me a break. Get in your boat and row. With one oar, you’ll go in circles, illuminate nothing, perpetuate everything.

The sidewalk rolls up in protest. A press conference of lies. Parents demonized instead of the supposed good guys with guns called out for their cowardice.

Beer bellies hemmed by holsters. Angry men raise their arms and point. Get out! Get out! Get out! as if demanding answers was the problem and not a room full of dead fourth graders and their teachers.

Enough. Enough.

I hear the children playing at the near elementary school the day after and wonder, Have they been told, and if so, how, in what words, with what omissions, and with what false assurances of safety.

How the mind splits. It happened to them. It having happened to them means it can’t happen to me. Nice try. The Boulder shoppers gunned down at one son’s regular grocery store. A man shot in front of my brother’s Glendale pharmacy, the flowers lining the sidewalk in ineffectual witness.

What did their parent tell their elementary-school-aged children when I can’t even tell the story to myself?

The Gilded Age with Hangers

Can I eat this? Will I survive eating this?

Rihanna in her pregnant glory, aglitter. Hillary Rodham Clinton in a toned-down red satin gown with famous women embroidered along the hem. Say their names: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt. Blake Lively makes a satiny ascent, waterfalls of silk trailing behind her.

And the men! My favorite was the one who looked like a pirate — tall black boots, a string holding up his pants. I can’t think of his name. The young man with lavender hair and ruffled collar was yummy too — setting off discussions about male manicures.

At the very moment Glenn Close exploded onto the red carpet in day-glo pink, someone in the hallowed halls of justice leaked a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

Can I eat dissonance? Will I survive this? Will our daughters?

Repeat after me: a Christo-fascist state. Learn to say it. We now have a court that isn’t even political, it’s fucking religious.

Instead of calling right-wing stunts “performative nonsense,” how about calling them acts of terrorism? Wiping out two districts of Black voters in Florida, letting billions of dollars of food rot at the border just to make his opponent look bad, creating criminal penalties for doctors performing abortions.

I want to go back to an era when watching guests at the Met Gala is an exercise in petty judgment. Who looks fabulous, who looks ridiculous, where do we find the best cleavage and the ritziest jewels?

There wasn’t time for anyone to design a gown out of wire hangers. There wasn’t time for women to attach bloody ribbons to their lace.

If justice exists in the sky, can we coach her to come lower, to re-establish domains in Appalachia, in Houston, Miami, and the Ozarks? The fact that they surrounded the pillared halls of justice with fencing this morning tells you something.

But maybe we should skip the pink hats this time and work the phones instead. Waltham, the next town over, is sponsoring a protest tonight and I feel tired just thinking about it. I’ve been to two there already — one in support of releasing the Mueller Report and I can’t remember the other.

She can’t remember all the protests she went to under trump’s reign.

Can our hunger for justice outweigh every roadblock? Can it blow like Hurricane Andrew, taking out entire neighborhoods of anti-women strategies and policies, moods and feelings? I hope maintaining majorities in the House and Senate isn’t too much to ask for.

I turned twenty in Dublin. At the time, contraception was illegal there, abortion was outlawed, of course, and homophobia institutionalized. How Catholic, I thought. How medieval. Never in a million years did I think the day would come when Ireland was more progressive than America.

And what about the now-fully-ensconced Justices’ lies before Congress — and yes, that’s Justices’ with an “s apostrophe” because three of them lied to get their seats. Oh yes, Roe is established precedent. Oh yes, we follow precedent.

Riz Ahmed — that’s the actor’s name. One booted foot on the step above, crotch to the camera — pure, natural swagger. Unlike that other pirate, bloated and lacking his eyeliner. I can’t even absorb the story about the latter, but it infiltrates everywhere. The formerly gorgeous Johnny Depp looking like a bad batch of muffins in a suit. That dumb pony tail.

We all get old, but did we have to witness a time when our daughters have fewer rights than we did? I was in high school in 1973, on the verge of so much bed-hopping — maniacal about birth control as I was careless about everything else. I was spared the need for a procedure, but almost everyone I knew in college — or let’s say 2/3’s of everyone I knew — had a pregnancy terminated. Safely. Not without trauma, mind, but none of what was difficult arose from infection or fear of dying.

The Gilded Age was the Met Gala’s theme this year. The idea of robber barons is particularly hard to take at this moment in history. Five white American men possess more wealth than the bottom 60%. Or is it 80%? I don’t know — ask Robert Reich. Whatever it is, it’s obscene.

But we want our celebrities. Sparkling stilettos and borrowed diamonds on bodies lovely and distant, unattainable and yet, due to the nature of film, also somehow ours. Belonging to us.

Is God punishing us? If so, for what crime? What sin?

*. *. *.

PS I cannot figure out how to turn off comments for a single post so let’s just act as though I have? The topic has already taken enough out of me for now.