poetry

Nocturne

I guess it might be like that,
like the syncopated symphony
that roars in the sky
every Fourth of July.

Maybe
it’s like the onset,
when the conductor
taps the stand
and the players tune their instruments
and the theater lights dim
slowly…
And for a moment –
before the first blasts –
the crowd sits
still.
Eyes tilt upward
expectantly,
fearless
and filled with only anticipation…

Or maybe,
it’s like the drumbeats
that pulse through the heart like tremors.
Reverb
wracks the body
as cacophonous colors
explode in the heavens
and each member of the audience
jolts back
as though only now realizing
the irrepressible power
of each detonation…

Or maybe,
it’s like the encore,
when every musician
pounds an instrument at forte
and the sound never breaks
and for a moment
it all might be so very grand
that, like the sun,
it might blind those
who gaze too intently…

Or maybe… maybe
it’s more like the curtain.
Maybe,
when the drumbeat goes silent
and the colors
take their bow,
the impenetrable sulphur shroud
is all that remains.
It descends over the sky and the eyes
and sticks in the hair and the throat
until it’s hard to remember
there was ever a grand orchestra…

Maybe
it is onset
and drumbeat
and encore
and curtain…
Or maybe
it is just
as it seems,
just
dim lights
and sound waves
and color
and sulphur…

Maybe
it is all those things…
But maybe
you
are none of those things.
Maybe the metaphor
doesn’t do you credit
and maybe
you’re not as simple
as onset
or drumbeat
or encore
or curtain…
Maybe
you are more
than dim lights
and sound waves
and color
and sulphur…

Maybe
an orchestra
is just musicians
and fireworks
are just gunpowder…
But maybe,
for a person,
the word “just”
is just not enough.

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poetry

The Silkworm

Follow your instincts. They

tell you to eat. So eat.

They tell you to weave. So

weave. They tell you to eat.

Tell you to weave. Tell you

to eat to weave to eat.

Instincts don’t fail. So

when they tell you to weave

a fortress around you,

you do as they say

and believe you are safe

in this new silken cage

that protects you from man.

Perhaps, one day, you will

claw your way out. Perhaps,

on that day, you will spread

the new wings you worked hard

to grow and discover

just how heavy they are.

fiction

Into the Pines (Part 1)

Her name was Jude, thank you very much. No, not Judy, like Auntie Sherri insisted on calling her, and certainly not Judith, like her mother called her when she was angry. Just Jude, plain and simple. Yes, Jude like the boy’s name; yes, Jude like one of those obscure books in the Bible that no one but a preacher had ever read.

Well, at least it was easy to spell.

She pulled on her Yukon hat and took a moment to marvel at herself in the mirror… or what she could see of herself. The hat covered the top half of her eyes but she smiled proudly anyway. Dad had been looking for his trusty Yukon hat for awhile and Jude had found it covered in dirt and worms after their massive golden retriever, Bear, buried it in the garden. She was going to give it back. Eventually.

“Come on, Bear. It’s time to get going.” He was still fast asleep on her bed. He opened one eye and let out a massive yawn before flopping over onto his back.

“Get up, you lazy dog! We gotta get going!” When he simply huffed, she grabbed at his collar. He cried like he was in pain, but Jude rolled her eyes. She knew just as well as Bear did that he was perfectly fine and just being difficult. At last, the annoyance of having a collar dig into his neck seemed to overtake his desire to keep sleeping, so he rolled off the bed, his slobbery face grazing Jude’s leg. And with mixed fear and excitement, she grabbed the satchel she had packed the night before, drew open the window, pushed Bear’s gangly body through, and jumped out behind him.

As she stepped out, she knew it wasn’t quite cold enough for a fur hat. But today, she needed it. Because today, she was going to the Pines.

Mom’s voice echoed in her mind as she walked sheepishly towards the edge of town: The Pines are no place for a little girl. The Pines are no place for a little girl. Jude ignored the voice but held just a little tighter to Bear anyway.

“It’s okay, Bear. We’ll find it. It’s out there somewhere” she whispered, much more to herself than to Bear.

It was Mom’s cardinal rule: never, ever go to the Pines. It was every Hedgegrove resident’s cardinal rule. Of course, the Pines were just pine trees. It was just a deep, thick forest, nothing more or less. One might get lost… one might meet pirates… one might run into a bear…  But at their core, each resident felt something more than that… a strange, inexplicable, but utterly undeniable feeling that they were not welcome there, that to leave the village might upset a kind of fragile alliance with the forest.

The people of Hedgegrove did all that they could to hold the ancient empire at bay. But every now and then, roots would pop up in the street or snake through cracks in building floors and shake foundations. Sometimes, it seemed less as though they grew over time and more like that sprouted ferociously out of the ground over night as the Hedgegrovers slept, just so that the village folk knew they were still quite at the mercy of the trees.

Jude stood at the edge of Hedgegrove and looked up at the trees which seemed to stretch all the way to the clouds. Until now, she had not noticed how far her feet had carried her. She had been too preoccupied with her mission to notice. But she stood, frozen at the edge of the Pines in the one opening in the hedge, letting the grandness wash over her.

And for the first time, she began to understand why the Hedgegrovers so deeply feared the forest. The branches were woven so tightly they appeared like clasped hands which might grab her. The forest had a silence to it which was never truly silent, peppered with the chirps of unknown birds and insects… occasional ominous growls… surely, that strange cry was just an animal and not a banshee…

Bear nuzzled closer to her and Jude patted his head in reassurance.

“We need to do this, Bear,” She said with resolve. “If it’s really out there, we need it.”

There were whispers… whispers of a pond with water that could heal any illness. And if there was any chance that the pond was real, Jude was going to find it.

There were also rumors of ominous forces and faerie life… Those few brave enough to enter the Pines, they said, never returned the same. They kept silent about their ventures. Rumors had it that… strange fates befell those who dared brave the embrace of the thickets. Odd accidents, early deaths, curious behaviors… some even said they went mad.

But those were just rumors…

And before she could hear another ominous shriek, Jude grabbed tight to Bear’s collar and tore through the first rows of thickets. The pine needles and thorns pressed into her skin, but she blazed on anyway. And when at last she found herself and Bear in a clear spot, the thickets behind her seemed entirely untouched, as though they had closed behind her.

She opened up her satchel and pulled out the knife and slipped it into her belt. Bear gave her a nervous look, but she scratched his chin.

“It’ll just make it easier to get through the thickets.” This seemed to do little to ease Bear and he nuzzled even closer to her with a little cry. Jude tried to keep confidence. But it began to dawn on her that she had no idea which direction to turn or how thick the forest was or if the pond was even real. But as she thought of the Amalia… laying in bed, pale and silent… Jude picked a direction and began walking and Bear kept alert, clearly afraid but determined not to leave Jude’s side. She needed him to be brave right now.

It’s okay, Amalia… she thought. I’ll find it… If the doctors can’t make you better, I will… I promise.

poetry

Crows

They swarmed some morning in January.
It’s hard to remember which morning when
every day, the same ice-plastered sun
rises and falls behind formless gray…

Was I afraid? Perhaps
I should have been,
watching that black cloud descend
and shutter like a school of fish

A few irridescent feathers
grazed like iron against my skin.
One bird perched on my shoulder.
Its talons left tattoos…

Each morning, I listened to the crows
speak in tongues and give me prophecies.
They woke me early to whisper more
until their voices were no longer whispers…

At first, the frozen sun
still pierced their feathers.
Today, they keep their wings
outstretched.

Sometimes, I tell them
“no more.” Their voices like ghosts
chatter and mumble back at me.
No more… nevermore…

So I listen to the crows…
and I’m not afraid. Perhaps
I should be…? But how can I fear
when their sweet voices
sing like swans…

fiction

The Other Son

His cigarette smoke joined the dull morning sky. The sun shined from some imperceptible point behind the clouds as the light refracted evenly across the mist. Mornings in Palm Bay were usually like this: gray and quiet. And at the diner, they were always quiet of customers.

Chop the fruit. Chop the vegetables. Turn on the ovens. Cross his fingers and hope that the warmer would survive another day. Unlock the front door. Write a new special. This used to be Cal’s job. This used to be Cal’s job.

He went to light another cigarette until he heard the rusted bell at the door and hastened to put it away.

“Mornin’!” Andy remarked with a half-toothed smile. He was late. As usual.

“Morning.” Micah growled. “Just go get the grill prepped, okay? And be here at 10:00 tomorrow!

“Sure thing, Mikey.” Andy laughed. Micah rolled his eye and balled his hand into a fist. But he didn’t even bother to correct Andy regarding his name anymore. He just stepped outside and lit another cigarette.

It certainly wasn’t as though Micah missed his brother. Just like Andy, Cal had been late for shifts, showed up wasted on a few occasions, and back-talked and disrespected Micah’s authority. But… even Micah couldn’t deny that Cal at least had known the business. Andy just straight-up had no sense of timeliness.

That’s what happens when you hire someone out of retirement, Dad. Micah thought bitterly. It was going to be another ten hour day for him, until they could hire extra help. But a town of 1,000 had a pretty limited labor market.

They only had one car now, thanks to Cal’s little excursion. So his dad had to walk few miles (Ubers were in short supply in Palm Bay) and probably wouldn’t be there for another half hour. So be it. If Micah was going to open and close, then he thought he at least deserved to take the car. He carried the weight of this place, after all. He kept the place from closing down after Cal…

Micah desperately needed another smoke thinking about the whole thing but he heard the bell on the door and didn’t trust Andy to pay attention to it. And, as Micah had expected, Andy was still lazily prepping the grill.

“Morning,” Micah said gruffly to the old fisherman. “Just the usual, Isaac?”

“You got it! To go today, though,” he said. Micah wrote up a ticket for him.

“Andy! A number four to go!” He yelled behind him. “That’ll be $8.75.”

“Jacking your prices on me again?” Isaac said it good-naturedly, but Micah’s eyes flared.

He’s a customer. He told himself. Keep cool. Keep cool. 

“Gotta do whatcha gotta do to stay in business, Isaac,” Micah replied, forcing the change into his hand. Thank God there wasn’t much competition for them. Micah and his dad knew they probably wouldn’t have lasted if there had been. By the time Andy finally finished, Micah was quite relieved to give Isaac his food and send him on his way.

Micah checked the time periodically. 11:00. 11:30. 12:00. Usually, Dad was here by around 11:00.

He tried calling his dad several times, but nothing. Thankfully (or unthankfully, based on the limited revenue they would get for the day) few enough customers came that he and Andy managed to keep things going at a moderately reasonable speed through lunch. Micah took over the grill, and for once, Andy’s inability to move through things quickly proved an asset in keeping Micah from becoming too overwhelmed.

4:00. 4:30. 5:00. Dinnertime was starting; things were getting busier again. Where the hell was Dad?

“Micah,” Andy had left the front.

“What?” Micah responded, vigorously chopping some avocado.

“Your dad just called,” Andy sounded speechless.

It was just one too many points of irritation. Micah slammed down his knife. “Well he’d better be sitting in a fucking hospital bed if he’s not on his way!”

Andy continued, a little shaken but an inexplicable excitement still swelling in his eyes. “He said to close up for the rest of the day and to come home for a party. Your… well… Cal came back!”

***

“He said he doesn’t wanna come,” Andy took another drink out of his Corona.

Abe looked hesitant. “You… well… what did he say… exactly?” There wasn’t much of a point of asking. If Abe had been honest, he hadn’t been expecting an entirely different reaction from Micah

“He said that he can’t lose a day’s business and that he just doesn’t have time, or something.” Andy left out a few of Micah’s other more colorful descriptions as to why he didn’t want to attend the festivities.

“I think I can be the judge of whether or not we can lose a day’s business,” Abe replied sternly. He glanced over at Cal, who was talking to his Aunt and working on his third burger. “I’ll… I’ll go talk to him. Let Cal know I’ll be back soon, okay?”

***

Sweat poured down his neck as he stood over the grill. He’d already burned himself a few times trying to keep pace between the customers in the restaurant and the take-out orders. Finally, he packaged up a few that he was sure were not correct but couldn’t care less and walked back to the counter to check for new customers.

His dad was standing in front of the register.

Micah took a deep breath and dug his fingers into his palms as he approached. “What can I get for you, Sir?”

“Micah, please – “

“Sir, I’m in a rather unfortunate position. You see, all of my employees decided not to come to work today, so I’m running a diner on my own,” Micah took a tone of aloofness and didn’t meet his father’s eyes. “I’m pretty slammed so I suggest you order and I will have it ready for you as soon as possible. I’m really quite busy.”

“Can we please talk outside?” Abe asked calmly.

“I have a diner to run,” Micah snarled. “Which no one else in this family seems to realize. Now what would you like, Sir?!

Abe turned around to face the small group of locals who were still waiting. “Folks, we’re closing up early tonight. Your food is on us and if you want more, come to 6330 Alvarado Way.” He turned back to Micah. “Now, after we finish theirs, we need to talk.”

Micah had already almost caught by then, but he was now wishing he hadn’t gone as quickly. With Dad’s help, it only took them ten minutes to churn out the rest of the out-standing orders.

“I have to go,” Micah growled, lighting up a cigarette as he locked the back door.

“Micah, please come celebrate with us,” Abe allowed himself a smile. Micah maintained immense focus on the smoke pouring in and out of his lungs. Abe continued. “Cal wants to see you. I know you’re still angry at him.”

Micah stopped and looked his Dad up and down. The corner of Micah’s lip curled upward slightly and he felt a desperate urge to extinguish his cigarette against his father’s neck.

“What the fuck do you want from me, Dad?!” He finally burst out. “I’m not understanding. What about all this shit could I possibly be angry about?!”

“I just want you to be with us, and – ”

“$10,000 and a Jeep…” Micah chuckled spitefully, blowing the smoke in his father’s direction before lighting a fresh cigarette off the smoldering one between his teeth. “And you let him go. You let the dirty, thieving son-of-a-bitch go.”

“Micah, listen…”Abe replied gently.

“No!” Micah burst out. “Don’t you get it?! That’s all I’ve ever done is listen! Well I’m not gonna fucking listen anymore!” He paused only to relish in the dismay spreading across his dad’s features. “All these years… Ever since I was a kid… All I ever do is slave away for your damn business! ‘Oh yes, Dad! I’ll work tonight, Dad!’ Every day I work my fucking ass off for you! And what do I get for it?!”

Abe closed his eyes and bowed his head slightly. He looked as though he was about to respond, but Micah continued.

“But then… then that little son-of-bitch comes home, after doing God knows what and going God knows where, and you decide you’re gonna shut down business for a day and throw him a fucking party?!” Micah shook and balled his hands into a fists. “Well you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t wanna take part in this little celebration, when frankly, that bastard oughta be arrested!”

“Micah, please listen to me for a moment,” Abe spoke quietly, and Micah saw a glisten in his father’s eyes. Micah felt another wave of rage pushing him to extinguish the cigarette against his dad’s skin, but Abe kept talking. “I’m so proud of you. Do you know that?”

“Oh please spare me your fucking compliments,” Micah snarled.

“Micah, everything I’ve built, everything that this is,” he indicated the silent diner, “it’s all yours. It’s all for you. I’ve been training you because… well, because I want you to be able to have it.”

Abe sighed as his son lit up yet another cigarette. “Micah, I love you so much. Anything you ask for – anything you want, you have everything! If you want something else, just ask! And you’ve felt like you’re slaving for it?”

Micah began to walk towards the car. “I really have to go,” he snarled, but his dad still followed him.

“Micah… please. He’s your brother, and he’s finally back.” A tear slipped down Abe’s cheek. “We’re a family again. Won’t you please be part of it, too?”

 

*Inspired by Luke 15:25-32.

personal

But I Have an Excuse…

The following are my excuses for why I’ve got nothing this week:

I was busy.
It was Easter weekend and family was in town.
The quarter system is actively trying to kill me slowly.
I have a lot of stuff to get done at work.
I do more commuting than a lot of Davis students.
I was busy.
I couldn’t write because I wasn’t feeling it. It wouldn’t be honest.
My cats ate my inspiration.
I’m so tired.
I had to make time to think about maybe possibly going to the gym.
UC Davis Memes have been dank af recently and it’s important to keep up.
Someone disagreed with me online and I needed to correct them.
Look, I don’t watch as much Netflix as some people okay?
Did I mention that I was just so busy this week?!
And look, when it comes down to it, committing to things is just so haaaarrrd-uh!

***

Yes. I was busy this week.

I’m 20 years old. At one time in recent history and in a lot of places still, it’s crazy that I haven’t settled down with someone and started popping out children and being busy 24/7 dealing with that.

Instead, I have the insane privilege to attend an esteemed university, decide what I want to do in life, work in a good job with great coworkers, and be busy in the ways that move my life forward in a direction that I actually want it to go. And I’m two years into adulthood already. Frankly, I should be busy, not just sitting on my butt all the time.

The reality is that life is busy. And it’s not going to stop being busy – not if I actually want to be a helpful, productive member of society. I want to teach and if I have any hope of being a good teacher, I’m going to have to embrace a certain level of busyness by grading and going the extra mile to care for my students.

Of course I believe in setting limits because one’s entire existence cannot be working. But my point is just that to live and breathe and do anything worthwhile makes your life busy. Working and earning make you busy. Spending time with friends makes you busy. Being a person of faith and actually trying to figure out what that means for life makes you busy.

So if I want to write, if I want to stay committed to this 52 weeks of material thing, then I have to view writing as important enough to make me busy. That’s a decision, not a feeling. And so I’m deciding it.

And now, after sitting here at Temple Coffee for the last thirty minutes – procrastinating on stuff I really have to get done – I have something: an excessive, probably annoying spurt of noise that reflects on my feelings about busyness.

I thought of sharing one of the poems that I wrote for class as a writing exercise. But then I got scared, because they are so rough. Frankly, I’m pretty sure you’d rather hear me rant, which says a lot about the quality of poem I crank out in 15 minutes.

So is this an isolated event, or the first of many blunders to come, a return to my familiar habits?

The truth is, even though I missed my deadline this week, I don’t feel like this particular missed-deadline was a failure. Because I have actually written a lot this week, but to share it now would be to force this little caterpillar out of his cocoon before he’s ready. He’d be all embarrassed, because he’s still in his awkward phase. He’s not quite a butterfly yet. He’s almost there, but his wings are still growing in  and they’d be all short and stubby if I made him present himself now. And I don’t want to do that to do that to him. In two weeks, he’ll be ready to fly.

And yes, I’m trying to cut down on my perfectionism. But this time, I’m telling you, it’ll be worth it.

So, sorry for having nothing. Sorry to myself, more, because I’m pretty sure you don’t care whether I do this or not. And that’s okay. Your lives are busy, too, and paying attention to some random chick’s rough fictional ramblings might not be an important use of your time.

I’ve got no good excuse. But at least this time, I think it’s okay, and not a sign of things to come.