Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Weight of Fog

This week's Magpie Tale is really, really late. There are no excuses. Just...lateness.

The Weight of Fog

It is as heavy as fog on my eyes
In a world grown thick, recessional,
Every step into a new frame.
There are princesses here
Bushes in yellow and green,
Delicate and thin branches,
And the creatures that are always
With you in the parkland,
The ones you hear, classify squirrels,
And forget.

That is why I wear the half-mask.
It drinks sour memory, tongue gentle
In a tear duct, no sharper than a lash.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Poetry Noodling

Last week I checked out a book on villanelles just before our library's writer's group--it was a tiny book and the poems looked like they would be fun to read (and to read aloud while the dogs snooze--I am just as snooze-inducing as daytime tv, provided the word "treat" isn't liberally sprinkled throughout the stanzas). Repetition makes for a nice verbal lilt and taking in a large selection allows the formality to become the structure of a city of thought rather than a restrictive artifice.

Tonight's noodling won't be a villanelle: I have a couple of potential lines and a possible direction but nothing more than a mood yet. Perhaps I will eventually allow myself to play with the idea of sock-eating as stress reduction. Our Eskie mix hurt either a paw or shoulder last week and his tenderness (and random yelps, followed by our concerned hovering) has pushed the retriever into a frenzy of sock chewing. This amounted to one evening's toll of five socks, one of which I found flung into the tv paraphernalia, one button, and a pair of decorative fluffy balls.

Instead of socks and formal architecture, here is a passing thought regarding the reading I've been doing lately.

Post-college Reading

My teachers' spines are broken and they lie
Soft and bent upon the desk.

"Scrape the roots of your eyes from the base
of your soul," they extol.

A new world comes when new sight
illuminates the junk;
An apocalyptic closet window,
Sun excavating dust.
The insight of the cleaner at the counter
Who scrubs to see the bowl.

"Break us further, wider open; scrape us
velvet in your hands."

But...I close them, press them tightly
into metal racks and go.
Sunshine blue surrounds me, warm resin
haze, pines in rows--
Should I be broken, be relinquished?
Let the old world stand.

Is this poem done? I'm not sure. There is no structure to it and I'm not sure that it covers the resistance that I encounter as I'm trying to assimilate information, to create the understanding that I feel that I should have begun to acquire years ago.

It shocks me how little investment I made in understanding literature/culture/the basis of good writing when I was in school. Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? Aside from being an awesome, amazing, perfect fantasy novel to encounter one random afternoon while you are in school, perhaps home with a cold, it contains a character that I am embarrassed to admit I have been. I have been The Humbug, who swims in the Ocean of Knowledge and emerges completely dry.

Then again, once upon a time, I had no idea that there would be lit crit that would interest me or that my understanding of literature (received lists of books to be read, quoted, essayed, and forgotten) would change. At some point, you have to invest in making a life, in developing a point of view, in figuring out what the freaking novel draft glaring at you from the edge of the desk is trying to say. Wednesday, a villanelle about the joys of socks to get you through the tough spots?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tell Me a Story

Mercer Arboretum, tucked beside Cypress Creek and woven beneath Aldine Westfield, has become the place where I turn over the mental 'leaf-mold' that feeds many of my stories and poems.

Just as often, though, I find places that make me wish that I could be a patron and commission the stories that pop up as I'm walking down the paths. Today, it was the sound the of the fountains as they burbled rather than splashed a broken trunk that looked like a castle emerging from the side of a tree.

What is the story of this wooden castle? The tree cradles it, moss-green trunk swelling around behind the towers and holding the entire thing as if it might be a dryad's plaything. Does anything live in this ruin? Is it a ruin? Are there armies of insects that patrol it or courts of mayfly larva being trained for their summer dances? Has it seen battles? The kind that weaken from within or the sundering instant of a lightning strike? I don't have a clue, although I feel strongly that it has a story.

And then, there is the sound of the fountains. How did the photographer capture the Ploomph! of the water so that everyone who sees the image feels the water gather up in the pipe, climb the rickety thickness of the water and then fall over to thump itself back into the chill mass of the water? Does it chuckle to itself, playing at being younger or warmer than it is? Is it daydreaming in a clear blue funk beneath the grey sky and the grey columns? How do you capture that heaviness? The sense of practicality--the ploonk of water filling a tank rather than the splash of a summer fountain?

There are stories that I want to tell, but these--these are the stories that I want to hear.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Should I Ever Get a Trilogy

This past holiday season has inspired more contemplation that writing and I find myself at the beginning of a new year reading and studying short stories, trying to understand their rhythms. For me, a good short story is like an excellent ice-skating performance: kindled anticipation from the first note of the music or sight of the costumes, flashes of amazement at the improbable moves, and endings that carve themselves abruptly into that frozen internal sea.

Yet, I find that short stories are also functioning like matches, casting brief flares into the dark heart of the novel that I'm drafting. Or, at this point, thinking about making notes on prior to drafting. Yeah. It's been that kind of writing season. Ideas are circling, revealing a few scenes, and then flying off. Meanwhile, here I sit, listening to podcasts and scrolling through Facebook and fearing setting pen to paper.

And listening to the Tolkien Professor podcasts and trying to not talk to the Pumpkin King about my disappointment with the latest Hobbit film. When we saw the movie, I was as twitchy as a toddler by the end, sighing and shifting in my seat each time an orc feigned death only to rise again for several additional minutes of battle. Yeah, I know. Named orcs have 50K hit points and get extra ones from each unnamed orc who falls to a war pig or half-dead but brave villager. These ultimate battles have been promised since the first film and everyone is looking forward to them. But they didn't resonate for me the way Galadriel's moment of kick-assery did, nor the way the songs over the end credits hinted at movies that could have been made. So today, while enjoying a sunny drive taking the long way home (it's been grey, cold, and drizzly for several days), I started to think that part of the challenge of the Hobbit films was having to recapitulate (even if you reimagine parts of it) the story.

If I had the chance to make a trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit (at least if that opportunity came, oh, today), I would prefer to pick pieces of the book. These pieces:

1. Dark Webs in the Bright Leaves: This opening movie would be the story of the sylvan elves and their battle with the spiders. Focusing on the conflict between being stewards and the possibility of eternal learning and care versus the necessity of determining what requires fighting and when sacrifice is justified, this initial installment could have plenty of music (Elves--not just bleach and eyebrows) and conflict. Flashbacks to previous dragon battles? A demonstration of the way that we ignore danger because it's just far enough away to be someone else's problem? Do gated communities work as safeguards? The end would hint at the growing darkness and maybe include a rumor of dwarves. This could establish the deep history of the world (what else are the elves but the visible manifestation of the deep natural history) but also set up the idea of changes and at the same time the rot of long-dead empires or ideas contaminating the present/future.

2. A Brief Kingdom: This movie would take place in The Lonely Mountain in between the death of the dragon and the (spoiler alert?) death of Thorin and would focus entirely on Thorin. Flashbacks might give some backstory, but the interaction of the dwarves could establish a good deal of their character and Thorin would get an entire movie to enact his accession, fall, and redemption, with the benefit of introducing Bilbo, who will be the focus of the last movie.

3. The Road and the Tale: This final movie would take place entirely on Bilbo's return to the shire, as he explains to various companions (Gandalf? Various elves? A passing ranger?) what has happened and we begin to see how the story that we've experienced from various viewpoints becomes the story of a particular hobbit whose family will become so important to the upcoming LOTR trilogy. I love the idea of watching a story becoming myth as Bilbo continues to refine what he will remember from the adventures.

Breaking the story free from the book and plunging deeper into certain pieces struck me as a way to wind through the story without just repeating it. To give one a chance to both honor the source material and demonstrate that stories change every time they are retold.

It is manifestly a good thing that I will never get the opportunity to recreate a trilogy.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


I feel like screaming, genuflecting,
like Not Causing A Scene.
Going where I carry odd tales
Of the blank dragon spaces
Where I come from.

I climb as high as an idol
In this tiny space and yell.

The altar beneath me creaks
with the crap I worship.
Shirts and underwear and toothpaste
And books--all unsteady
Under my feet.

I read my way to a liturgy,
Faked my way to this altar.

I feel like screaming.

Thank you to Magpie Tales for providing the above image/inspiration for today's poem.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Last night I dreamed myself into a library--The Library, since institutions in dreams tend to be singular. I was looking for The Alchemist, a book that I dislike, although I had high hopes for when I first read it. Instead of encountering the actual text of the book, I found a poster hanging down the length of a wall like an unrolled scroll with what seemed to be the entire text of the book (up to page 96, for whatever random reason). It began with a line abot the libraries of the author's childhood.

To read this long poster, you laid on your back on a large pillow provided for this on the floor of The Library. Large plate-glass windows and bright but diffused ceiling lights allowed you to float in the bright space, cocooned by the pillow and your own body and climb through the tower of text before you.

Having just come through a holiday season that encompassed more anger than calm and more silence than praise, I was looking for something that was embodied in The Library. For the bulk of the last few months I've felt as if a hand was laid across my lips in terms of my writing. Stories would begin and then fizzle. Words and themes would surface and then vanish before I could find a pen or find time to sit at the keyboard. And so I found myself balancing on a pillow, legs crossed and folded and resting against the wall, while I read an unrolled scroll that overwrote the text of a book striving to embody the sacred with a reference to the actual sacred--the libraries of my childhood. Even more than bookstores that stock the most recent along with shelves of games and fresh coffee, libraries are places where I can try out different types of books and where, once upon a time, I had to earn my way through the stacks, from picture books to biography to the jokes at the end of the sidewalk.

Not to mention the concept of borrowing and returning. Impermanence of ownership. It isn't the book that matters, it is the impression left behind.