Monthly Archives: October 2013

This is a Terrible Thing (flash fiction)

The boy holds his mother’s hand as the two walk the leaf-swept block to the pale gray two-story at the end. Then and only then will she let go of her son’s hand. Today, however, the two come across a modest collection of their neighbors standing over a patch of sidewalk between his house and his friend Dana’s plum-colored house. The mother and her boy join the group and soon they see what they are looming over: a swastika in dark purple chalk sandwiched between two animal drawings he and Dana sketched 5 days before.
“This is a terrible thing,” says Mr. Zwiebel, a diminutive man with curly dark brown hair who resides on the other side of he and his parents in the light blue and white house he often hits with his soccer ball.
“This neighborhood has always been very safe.”
Mrs. Catrall, in her snug gray suit and heels, answers: “It’s still safe, it’s probably some loony. Has someone called the police?”
“Yes, but these kinds of cases don’t get solved, Donna,” says Mr. Zwiebel, looking unimpressed with the lady who resides across the street and who’s son is in the same 11th grade AP English class as his daughter.
Mr. Robertson, a broad-shouldered, pot-bellied father of two very young twins across the street, crouches down very low to inspect the image. He puts his finger to the ink, and traces over the length of half of the swastika.
The boy whispers into his mother’s ear.
“What is that?”
She doesn’t answer him. She has been bowdlerizing the world for so long on his behalf, but sometimes “shit happens,” as the boy’s dad likes to say (when the boy isn’t around).
“What does it mean?,” he presses.
She puts a finger to her lips.
Before he can ask something else, he sees his friend Dana walking up to the group with her own mother. Upon seeing the mysterious drawing beside her blue lion, she presses her body against her mother and begins to cry. She’s wearing what she wore to school earlier and when she lets go of her mother, the boy can see where she accidentally squirted ketchup on her green shirt.
“Dana!” the boy calls out, but somehow the words don’t belong, sound wrong.
The mother returns her finger to her lips and shakes her head at her son. Dana looks in the boy’s direction but says nothing.
The boy looks more closely at the image. Decides that it looks like two overlapping 5’s, and begins checking his memory for the significance of the number 55. He remembers his dad was born in that year, but that’s all that comes to mind.
Next the boy imagines it as a weapon, tossed and spinning by some big-muscled brute from a TV show he’d watched once, destroying the homes of a make believe village.
Whatever it is, he doesn’t understand why all of these people are looking at it in this way. If he were them, he’d  just wash it off and draw something over it. A sun or a brave warrior on horseback.
A few minutes later, the mother takes her son into the house, not letting go even as they walk through the hallway and into the kitchen. He has to pull his hand out of hers to break free.
“Mom what is happening? Why is Dana so sad?”
“Don’t you worry. The adults are dealing with it,” his mom answers, running a cold hand across his left cheek.
The mother puts on a cartoon in the kitchen and turns the volume to max.
The screen images lure the boy into his chair at the kitchen table. His mother puts a snack in front of him and the boy is transfixed as the Power Rangers courageously take on a threesome of disgusting aliens bent on taking over the planet. His small hands punch the air in a series of jabs. He laughs when one of the aliens runs into a clothesline the blue power ranger sets up for him.
The mother sits down and studies her young son. When he notices his mother observing him, he puffs up his cheeks with air and then double smacks them, making a loud pop.
She smiles at him. Once the program is over, and the Power Rangers have emerged victorious, she will tell him about the evil outside.
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Immortality poem

I am in a room

a cigarette-holed tan sofa and cat-haired black futon are arranged against joining cream-colored walls

in a backwards L-shape

the coffee table is made from wood and glass

with a convenient little underside compartment keeping pristine horse magazines and battered New Yorkers

an empty banana yellow flower pot languishes on a small wooden table in a dirty corner

it smells like cat litter

a desk painted entirely sky blue taken from a soon-to-be shutting down local junior high

lives against the window

and underneath that the guilty litter box

a faucet somewhere can be heard dripping every 10 seconds

there are negative 2 TVs

and a fake fern in the northwest (I believe) corner of the room

making sure I don’t leave anything out

even the crumbs of the gray carpet

wheat thin debris

must be


how else to live forever?

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Punk rock, Lucinda Williams, and my evolving relationship with music

When I was younger, I listened to punk rock. I wasn’t the kid with the purple mohawk but I was pretty close. I wore it, I wrote it, and I spoke it. As much as you can do those things with a genre of music.

In high school, I often cordoned myself off with it. It gave me protection, comfort, purpose. 

I still have a fondness for that kind of music and especially its energy.

As I get older, my taste has evolved, which is, I suppose, to be expected. I still marvel though. My young self would have snickered at what I listen to presently. I like to think I’ve aged gracefully though in the listening department. These days I am listening to all sorts of sounds, but I have a keen interest in country music of all stripes.

To give you an idea: My wife and I went to a music festival called Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco recently, and I was very much in my element. I loved looking at all of the weathered guitars the artists brought on stage, and the music wasn’t bad too. 

Lately, I have been digging Lucinda Williams. In the past, though she just never did it for me. I tried one or two times in my life.

For many years, I listened to the music of the lead singer of a glam punk band (and later a solo musician) named Jesse Malin, and he had it bad for Lucinda, and said so. So of course, I gave it my best shot, but when I put on a track like “Right In Time,” I’d find myself reaching for the skip button on my CD player. I wasn’t interested in the everyday poetry of a Lucinda song. I wanted drama, angst, and fireworks, and a healthy dose of skepticism. In short, she was boring to me: the way that all of her songs moved at the same middling pace, and the unwavering tone of her voice. You had to really listen to a song to discover what she was singing about. She has a very unfussy delivery and tone and aura that I don’t think I was ready for at the time.

But these days, that’s one of the reasons I love her. On a song like “Right in Time,” I’m not entirely sure what she’s singing about; it’s something to do with a past or a present lover, and it’s not necessarily about the couple’s swell rhythm, but it’s poetic, sunny with perhaps a glare, and kind of dirty (especially in the end). On “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” she’s slowing the tempo down, and this time she’s singing about the pleasure she gets from conversing with a particular gentleman.

Similarly, “I just Wanted to See You So Bad” is filled with the same straightfoward poetics. Every other line is “I just want to see you so bad” and very slowly as the song progresses, she paints in details. She doesn’t give us too much or too little, but just enough. 

And when she wants to, she can rock out (see “Real Love,” which is Lucinda channeling the Ramones).

I no longer live in music; it’s moved more to the background of my life. I hear it in cars, and coffee shops, and sometimes I like it better that way. It’s so lovely to discover a Springsteen pearl or Lauryn Hill’s “That Thing You Do” (which is such a rad song) by accident.

I do still get the same joy from hearing it live.

The other day my wife and I were at a music festival listening to the wonderful folk singer Patty Griffin in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We had fled the sea of humanity that had assembled to see her on the lawn, opting instead to recline against a tree somewhere a quarter of a mile away or so (I’m exaggerating but not by much). But it didn’t matter how close or how far to the stage we were — and that’s really the difference these days. I cling to music less than I once did. I’m happy to just close my eyes now, rest my head in a warm lap, and let it cast its spell.

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A Homecoming

There were five of them

they came from out of the sky and landed on the beach

each one here for a different person

each one speaking a different language

and dressed in navy blue diving suits

darting toward us in a clump of movement

I, along with everyone else, sprinted to meet them

screaming “English, English?”

you had exactly 45 minutes before they expired and you wanted it to count

last time

4 years ago now

it was a small boy

we talked about stars and flying ships

this time I was hoping for someone more my age

but the volunteers were hard to come by these days

“Peeeete?! Peeeeete?!”

I was moving toward this voice now like an inflated balloon with its knot having just been untied.

and I ran right into her

After the contact, I rose and found myself staring down at a woman about ten years my senior, with silver hair and blue eyes as lovely as I’d ever seen

“My name is Mary Beth, I, of course, am dying.” Her first words.

They all were — the young boy was — no one else in their right mind would make the trip.

“I’m sorry. I mean I always assume, but it never makes it any less sad,” I said.

The nearest pair to us was several yards away, making angels in the sand, and feverishly discussing a Baudelaire poem in French.

“So what made you decide to make the trip? I mean, you could have had more time out there.”

“Well, not as much as you think. And truthfully, we all left in such a hurry. I missed how beautiful it was here,” the woman said, wistfully. “Gosh I haven’t seen an ocean in two decades. I just wanted to have a last look.”

“You are lucky, to be here,” the woman added.

She was wrong, of course. The last five years had been the harshest in two decades, and it was only getting harder.

“Well, enough talk. Let’s swim,” I told her, a fair bit louder than I imagined the words coming out of my mouth.

At that, her eyes became the size of small plums, and she grinned, revealing a mouth full of maize-yellow teeth.

I couldn’t believe my luck. She was perfect.

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All You Got In This World

On my way north

I stop in to a town called Wilits, CA for a burger and a shake

okay 2 shakes

the girl at the cash register

looks at me like I’m wrong in the head

when I ask her ’bout the town’s story

so I change the subject

“I’m on my way to Fort Bragg to visit my cousin

he’s got a rickety boat,” I tell her

“We’re gonna take it out

on one o’ the lakes over there

Lake Cleone, it’s called

little sonofabitch

go fishin for bass and trout…

it really is a hunk o’ junk.”

I think I’m bein nice

I ain’t cussin at her or nothin’

well not much anyway

Just then

I see across the street an old timer

pushing a wheelchair with his wife in it

rigged up behind the lady’s chair is an attached dolly like thing containing 7 or 8 plastic bags of clothes and other worldly possessions

the man has one hand on the chair

with the other hand, he’s carrying

a big fuckin’ cross

I’m talkin’ two 3 by 7 slabs of wood

fastened to each other

and finished a dark brown, real perfect, you know?

For 20 minutes I watch these 2 walkin around under the ugly sun

The man takes one break in that time

the two of them sitting in the shade

not sayin nothin’ to each other

“Who are those folks?” I say to the lady

“How should I know?” she says, like I’m bothering her

“Lemme get 2 bottles of coke,” I say, and then charge across the street, my arms high in the air.

Two minutes later, I’m marching over there where they’re sittin in the shade

I hand the man a bottle, but I notice that the woman is sleeping now

“You folks thirsty?” I ask him.

“Thank you kindly son,” the man says

“Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?”

“Well, now I aint got time for a sermon, old timer. ”

“Do you go to church?”

“Not in a while. when I was a boy my mom would take me on Sunday.”

“But now?”

“Now I go fishing”

“you oughta go back son, He’s waiting for you”

“I been in the penitentiary two times now. I’m not sure he wants to see me”

“he wants to see everyone.”

Just then my cousin calls on my phone

he’s tellin me to speed my ass up

or else he’s leaving without me

“Well I gotta go folks.”

“Think about what I said,” says the man.

And suddenly, I can’t help myself.

“I’m gonna come clean with you. I don’t even believe in Him anymore.  I’s just being a nice guy. I figured you were thirsty and all.”

“God is with you, wherever you’re going boy,” he says. And then we’re starin’ at each other for a few seconds, neither of us sayin nothing.

Then I just “okay” him, smile and walk off, to cross the street.

I been around people like this my whole life.

Everybody thinkin their way is the way.

I’m a people person though

I talk to a lot o’ people

Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, even Buddhists

Anyone willing ta talk

I give them an ear

Some wanna show you the light

And then you gotta smile and nod a lot

and steer them clear of their belief

but it can be hard

especially when that’s all you got in this world.

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The Morning Racket: a short story

Ahmed was being paid to blow leaves from the stretch of sidewalk in front of The Nugget, a large supermarket in town. In the fall, the shop’s manager hired him to do his job four times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. What the manager didn’t know was that Ahmed, who worked in the early morning two hours before the Nugget manager arrived to open, was aiming his leafblower at the boutique art gallery and the upscale second hand clothing store across the street. Nor did he know that these shops had collectively hired Ahmed to vacate the leaves he had blown in front of their shops on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. He had a similar racket running all over town.

In Mogadishu, the thirty-six-year-old man with a neat line of a mustache and thinning black hair, had owned a rather successful cafe, but his money only went so far, and upon immigrating to America with his family of three, he found that the modest sum he had left wasn’t enough to start up a shop in his new home of Davis, California.

But Ahmed discovered that there was work to be found, one just had to know where to look. His wife’s cousin had mentioned something about going downtown to shops to see if anyone was hiring behind the counter or in the kitchen. Ahmed tried for a few days, and one day while eating a slice of pizza he met a man who worked as a leafblower worker. Ahmed thought the idea absurd. He couldn’t believe that Californians paid people to clear out the leaves in front of their businesses. Why didn’t they simply pick up a rake and clear the debris themselves. Wouldn’t that be more cost effective?

Ahmed fast learned that Americans had other people to do everything for them. When he ran his coffee shop in Somalia, he had to wear a variety of hats. He was the electrician, the plumber, and the carpenter, among other things. When the toilet water stopped flushing in the bathroom, he spent the better part of two days tending to it. During that time, his cousin Egal ran the shop.

Not only did they hire many different people, but Americans didn’t like to concern themselves with the details of these assignments. They told you what needed fixing, and you gave them an estimate and then you did the work. You didn’t get into the particulars of the issues, like say, someone flushing a tampon down the toilet. They didn’t want to know.

So when the supermarket store manager saw that the leaves were gone from her doorway come Monday when he got into work (courtesy of Ahmed), that was good enough for him. He didn’t care where the detritus went to, didn’t know that it was all piled up in front of the art gallery. The gallery owner, a middle-aged lady in her sixties who liked to wear a different hat everyday didn’t know any better. She didn’t get in until noon because noone was buying art before then during the week. And anyway she knew that by the next day the leaves would be cleared as promised. This gallery owner also didn’t know that the man who took care of her leaves was merely blowing them back across the street in front of the market. She only knew that the leaves would be gone for a day and then the next day they would return. Again, the leafblower’s doing.

This sort of thing went on for 2 years until one Monday the owner of the boutique art gallery came in early to take some measurements of her space, as she was thinking about a possible remodel of the interior.

The woman had decided to walk that morning because the weather was divine and she only lived 9 blocks from her shop. One block away , she saw Ahmed across the street blowing the leaves away from the sidewalk of the Nugget. His back was to her, and he had thick ear phones strapped to his head as the leafblower buzzed.

She called his name — “Ahmed!” — but it was no use. He didn’t hear, and that’s when she saw. She confronted him a short while later, and Ahmed stood listening as the shop owner grew increasingly red in the face. He could not understand everything she was saying, but he knew he had been caught.

Indeed, it was the beginning of the end for Ahmed’s leafblowing business, but luckily for him, he had raised enough money to get his cafe running only two blocks away from the gallery.

He called his shop, “The Morning Racket.”

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Talking about recycling with my dad: a fiction

At my elementary school

we have 6 different trash cans

to toss away food into

one for hard plastics, another for soft plastics, a compost bin, and 3 more for stuff I can’t remember

my dad says “it’s a sign of the times”

green is in

recycling is in

reduce reuse recycle

when my science teacher can’t understand questions kids ask her

she always says back

“reduce reuse recycle”

and I have to admit, it’s pretty flipping funny

“Earth finally went and got itself a PR flack,”

says my dad

“well good for the earth

when I was a kid,

recycling was an optional activity

you were like oh I could spend 5 minutes sorting out these bottles and plastics

or I could just save the energy and brain power

it would require

and go set off a stink bomb or toss screwdrivers at the grass in front of your house

now everybody’s under the impression that recycling is more important than developing your hand eye coordination, I guess.”

At lunchtime they force this poor lady to sort out garbage tossed into the wrong bins

and I’m not even sure she knows what she’s doing

like the other day

she told me

that the paper napkins should be tossed into the compost bin?

Thats just sounds wrong to me

but whatever

she has a shirt that says “Green Patrol”

so she’s clearly an authority

she’s a nice lady though

probably not gonna shake her hand anytime soon though

so in conclusion

recycling: it’s annoying

but if you like being a human

and dislike dying of toxic gasses

and strange hues in your water


it’s probably worth the effort.

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Poems I wish I had written but sadly did not…Part 3

For the 3rd edition of this blog feature, I selected 5 poems for your reading pleasure. Some of them are funny, some are sweet, some are sad, some are clever, some are about oral hygiene, and all of them are “poems I wish I had written but sadly did not…”
1. The first is a poem I only discovered today on the blog Ole! Wailsome Emu. It’s written by a British writer, and it might well be the very best poem ever written about flossing. I loved every inch of it!
Oral Hygiene
Before you floss your teeth at night,
I taste your day in a close caress;
the second hand smoke of others, the bite
of the vowels from your early meeting, the cress
from your lunchtime sandwich, and the stale
breath of the dark, gaping tube tunnel.
You yawned through an inbox full of junk mail
at five, catching flickers of light from the screen.
I watch your reflection in the mirror
as you root out the debris, pick your woes
from the space so we can share a kiss cleaner
than after-storm rain,
                                away from the sunlit
hours that imprint on your mouth.
                                                  For a frank
exploration, you come to me deliciously blank.
2. This one’s from the blog, the great power. The poet is also a musician who often posts lyrical poems as well as the songs in which the poems appear. Wander over there when you can; you’ll be happy you did. 
our bestconversations are in our sleep
i was having a dream he said
you and i were walking in a city where we had never been
it’s still there somewhere
i’m going back to find it
then he pulled my whole body closer
as much of my skin as his could touch
and slipped away
3. “Palms” was one of the first poems I ever “liked” on wordpress, written a few months back, over at Jenni Kay Writes. It is a startling, lovely poem, isn’t it?
A clap in the night
And I have caught
A brown apple moth
In my bare hands
My palms can be a prison –
Anyone’s can.
–4. The fourth one, by You, With Your Words (a very fine writer as far as I can tell), made me laugh and sometimes that’s enough to get you a much sought-after shout out from this blog :).–#Sigh

Long day teaching kids,
Feeding cat, groceries.
Yeah –
I sit down in my chair.
The man chair
The man of the house chair.
‘Darling…can you do something?’
Do something?
‘Can you get me some cling film?’
The cling film’s right next to you.
‘Yes dear,’ I heave myself up.
Cling film sorted, I wander back to the chair.
Back to my poem.
My great poem.
‘Can you help me with something?’
What thing?
‘Can you mix this. It’s really stodgy.’
Mixing sorted, I wander back to the chair.
‘Babby, can you pass a cushion please?’
Mmmm. No.
‘Coming dear.’
Cushion sorted, I wander back to the chair.
In which the cat sits, smugly.
The cat chair.
The cat of the house chair.

5. This one over at the intriguingly named blog Close of Play is a clever rhymer about a peeping tom, written from the perspective of a neighbor who is doing a little peeping himself.

Mr. Larcombe’s Ladder

Mr Larcombe’s ladder
Is only six feet tall
I can’t bear its stupid frame
Smug against the wall

It can’t reach the gutters
Or get the windows clean
It is the most pointless thing
I think I’ve ever seen

It looks like it was made
By children of short sight
Or by dogs with gloves on
In the dark of the night

Bits of wood and plastic
With nails at every turn
Building pallet fragments
And logs that wouldn’t burn

Oh, here comes Larcombe now
I make my curtain twitch
He skips across the grass
Like Elvis with an itch

Picking up the ladder
Back past the garage door
Glancing for his wife now
What will he use it for?

I watch him move quickly
Down to his neighbours wall
Here its fit is perfect
The best ladder of all

Mr Larcombe climbs up
His grip as though he’s glued
To see his neighbour’s wife
Sunbathing in the nude.

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Staying Cool at the Pool

He climbed the plastic rungs of the ladder

and tried to remember what it was like to scale this when the pool had just been built

20 years before

when the high dive for him was a cause of much excitement and consternation

now, as he stepped on the board, he felt sure of himself

he knew exactly what he needed to do to achieve flawless execution

and make the kids shake the fence in approval

in his thirties, he knew what he was capable of and what he wasn’t

the wisdom of age had granted him so much but also stolen something

his son, now 9, would beg him to do double flips or a front flip with a pair of twists

“Dad you can do it. I know you can. Just don’t worry.”

How could he explain to him that as you get older there’s a huge leap between being capable of something and doing it

that at a certain point your brain and muscles begin an argument that lasts decades

and is only resolved by death

As he ran his hands through his long black hair and stretched out his hamstrings , his ritual

he noticed a new face among the mothers beyond the diving pool, beneath the tarp

younger than the stay at homes that liked to steal glances at him,

she didn’t seem to have any little ones pulling on her limbs

and was wearing a black and white sun hat with a 4 inch brim, sunglasses, and a lopsided smile

when she saw him looking in her direction

if she hadn’t been sitting beside blue tank top guy (her husband, he’d assumed),

and if he was still that wiry 19-year-old hardcore drummer

and not a pizza worker supporting his kid

he would have polished off a double flip without a pause

and then they’d have snuck off to the bathroom to screw

Standing upright now, his back and legs straight, he took three long steps in preparation for his dive

suddenly he heard loud cheers coming from behind him where the other divers waited for their turn

He looked off to the side to the second matching high dive and then down at the water

at his son

who’s eyes lit when they made eye contact

“Dad, dad, I did it! I did it! I did a double flip! Now it’s your turn!”

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Frank Scozzari – Two Men and a Gun 

I had a great time reading this piece of flash fiction, enough so that I ended up reading it to the people closest to me. It’s just a brisk, wonderfully written little thing that one wordpress commenter calls a “duel of sleeplessness” between two very weary travelers. It’s rare that I read fiction that actually makes me laugh, so I had to pass along!

The Bookends Review

Two Men and a Gun

It’s hard to say exactly how I ended up in this dreadful situation, although I could easily put all the blame on the Thomas-Cook train schedule. If they had made their timetables were a little easier to read, and their columns more evenly aligned, I may have never ended up on a midnight train to Athens. Yet here I was, sandwiched in among all the dissolute of Southern Europe in a third-class train compartment, trying to figure out how I was going to get some sleep.

It was bench seating only, benches that faced one another, with such little space between them that one had to sit straddling the knees of the person opposite you. There were smells of human body odor and of middle-eastern cooking, zeera and black cumin, the mixture of which was not a pleasant thing. I couldn’t imagine someone could be…

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