Month: February 2015

research reveals

I’m an Aquarius, not that that matters, I don’t believe in that stuff. I’m not good at believing in stuff in general. This is not, as some people believe, a depressing way to live. It’s an exhilarating one, especially in February. You get to dig past the frozen earth on the surface, past the frost-heaved rocks, deep, deep, deeper, deeper still, until finally you fall into a cave where the temperature year-round is fifty-four degrees and thirty thousand years ago someone drew a picture on the wall to let everyone know what he had killed. You can just stay there for a while, breathing air that’s not frozen and believing devoutly in the evidence of your own eyes. It’s not a trick of the light. It’s not a possibly spurious argument. It’s not the deception of a charlatan or the ranting of a madman. It’s a buffalo and the paint—my God!—the paint is still wet.

an abandoned footnote at the edge of the canyon

haibun. today.

Hey, so that issue of Haibun Today that I’ve been editing for the last few months is on newsstands now. Um, I mean, of course, it’s on the Internet free of charge, right here

I read something like 180 haibun in the process of making selections for this issue and I found some amazing work, really some of my favorite haibun ever, so thanks to all of you who made it very difficult for me to make decisions this winter.

As you might have noticed, I’ve also been writing a ton of haibun myself lately. All in all I’ve probably thought more about haibun in the last three months than I did in the previous 4.5 years, which is about how long I’ve been aware that haibun existed. I’m not completely sure I understand what it is and how it works any better than I ever did, but I have many swirling and complicated thoughts about it, which I might even write down some day. 

In the meantime, you should head over to Haibun Today and read all the great haibun, as well as all the great tanka prose (edited by Claire Everett).

And then maybe try writing some of your own, because we all have some stories that are waiting around impatiently to be turned into something rare, and valuable, and poetic. You’re welcome, and thanks.

 

by the time

We show up in Moscow three months after the first gap appears in the Berlin Wall. Is the Cold War still on, or is it over? No one’s sure, but the Russians are playing it safe. This isn’t like studying abroad in France or Spain, where they find a nice family to stash you with and you learn to speak the language over leisurely European dinners. Here we have our own separate-but-equal American wing in a fourteen-story dormitory for foreign students, most of the rest of whom are from the Eastern Bloc. The wing opposite us is full of Bulgarians who are always burning their food in the kitchen we share and won’t talk to us. None of the other students will talk to us. Only the black-market dealers and illegal-currency traders are interested in being our friends. They speak perfect English and have great clothes, so we feel right at home with them. They cheat us constantly, of course, and cast a wolfish eye over our piles of amazing American stuff, but that, too, feels familiar. We came from lives that—we now realize—were mostly about wanting, and shortly thereafter acquiring, stuff. Life here is different. Life here has the slightly tinny sound of a five-kopeck piece dropping into the fare box on the tram, and the thin, fragile texture of the paper ticket you tear off with a mittened hand to prove you paid.

by the time
another war
harvest moon


prose: here, now. haiku: Frogpond 38.1.

telephone

all the after of a rose remaining

alabaster any rose retaining

antimatter on the road he stayed on

all that matters is a road to rain on

all together as we row on rain on

on to gather any road to pray on

in the gutter a repose of raven

integers so close to heaven


“all the after”: Frogpond 38.1
all the other haiku: here, now.

Travelogue

I was told that nowhere was the place to go so I Googled it and found cheap tickets. A cruise on a tramp steamer, followed by a balloon ride, followed by a stint on a rickshaw, ending up, naturally, with a five-hundred-mile walk into the interior of nothing. That’s not nothing. I spent six months getting into shape for it because sometimes we just have to challenge ourselves and push beyond our limits if only to have something to talk about at parties. The website mentioned packing light. I emailed them and asked, Wave or particle? No one answered, because that’s how customer service works on the Internet, am I right, so I rounded up half a dozen candles, a flashlight, a box of matches, a lighter, and a flint and steel, and I put them in my rucksack and then I took them out and packed three novels and my two favorite T-shirts and don’t tell anyone but this very tiny carved rabbit I’ve had since I was little, I get anxious if I’m away from it for too long. Who am I kidding, if it gets down to needing a flint and steel I’m going to die anyway so I might as well have something to read while I’m waiting to do it.

even this cell phone
may be transformed
into a passenger pigeon

I printed out the tickets, took them down to the dock, got on the ship and first thing I met someone else who was going nowhere so we decided to go together. He had a pocket knife with a million attachments (hyperbole, hello) which he spent three days demonstrating to me, carving things and measuring them and unscrewing them and taking corks out of them. Now we’re on the rickshaw, I’m still feeling airsick from the balloon, it’s getting darker and the rickshaw driver gets very winded going up hills. I’m wondering if we should get out and walk to spell him but it’s not time to walk yet, my companion tells me. How will we know, I ask him. We’ll know, he says, when we’re exactly five hundred miles from nowhere. I ask him if he wants me to read to him from one of my novels and he shrugs. Is this not enough of a story for you, he asks. Nothing is enough of a story for me, I say, and I take out my tiny rabbit and hold it cupped carefully in my hands, facing forward, so it can see where we’re going.

narrow road
and the journey itself
is home

in a quiet corner of the detective show…

…the detective’s wife is knitting. Because no one notices her sitting in the corner knitting, she’s picked up on a number of clues that the detective himself missed. He’s running all over town interviewing people and occasionally becoming needlessly involved in gunfights. The killer, whenever he sees the detective coming, either puts on his smoothest and most innocent face or slips out the back door and heads down to the river to dispose of the evidence. The detective is pretty sure that the guy with the naturally guilty face is the killer, but naturally, the detective is wrong. The detective’s wife wonders how it is that the detective has managed to be a detective all these years without learning how to sit down and think once in a while instead of spending all day riding around recklessly in the squad car or lecturing his subordinates on how to conduct a proper investigation. She knits the clues she’s found into the sweater she’s knitting for the detective, but when she gives it to him for his birthday he glances at it pityingly–doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time than knit odd sweaters–and says he’s sorry he can’t stay for cake. He’s just gotten an important call about the movements of the innocent man with the guilty face. He says he’ll be back later but the detective’s wife looks at the sweater, finally sees how all of the clues fit together, and knows he won’t ever be back at all. 

longest night
three new flies
in the cobweb

cautionary

When the world ended I didn’t get worked up, because who was around any more to be impressed by my getting worked up? Nobody, that’s who. I’m not actually positive I’m the last person left on Earth but I am positive I haven’t seen any evidence that I’m not. As I say, though, I’m not entirely downhearted about it. For the first six months I commandeered a series of really lovely cars and road-tripped around the country, sleeping in the kinds of houses that could comfortably accommodate an entire African village or two American hedge fund managers. Took picnic lunches to museums; touched everything; removed paintings from the wall to examine them more closely; stroked the flesh of statues and set mobiles spinning; walked off with a number of the smaller works of art, which, there’s a good case to be made, are all mine now. I’ve inherited everything. Now that the roads are starting to crumble I’ve settled down in a conveniently located neighborhood of a major metropolitan area. There’s still plenty to eat–half the food we invented never really goes bad. I have time, finally, to read everything. I run in ever-widening circles, ten or twenty miles a day. They say human beings evolved to run long distances and I feel that to be true, but I also feel it to be true that we evolved to destroy ourselves. And, of course, to talk, even when there’s no one around to talk to. I assume you agree. You always do. The lack of argument is what might kill me in the end.

divine wind
my end
of the tin-can telephone

 

the night before I visit the optometrist…

…a Cyclops climbs in my bedroom window and demands that I supply him with a second eye. Well, there’s no arguing with a Cyclops who’s standing over you in a menacing attitude, so, sighing at how hard life has always been and continues to be, I pluck one out and give it to him. I’m surprised at how easy it is, really. Why haven’t I done this before? There’s something appealing about looking at the world with one eye. The depth of things is gone, you can just skate over the surface without making any attempt to judge distances or measure heights. Your field of vision is considerably reduced, meaning there are fewer upsetting things to look at. You only have to close one eye to take a nap. I could go on. The glass is half full, I think to myself triumphantly.

Meanwhile, the Cyclops, having made an attempt to insert my surplus eye into various concavities in his face, is beginning to realize there’s a reason this strategy has never before worked for a Cyclops. Muttering with frustration, he tosses the eye into the glass of water by my bed as he exits the way he came in, leaving a shattered window frame behind. I’ll have to get someone in to look at that in the morning, I think, and start to reach for the eye to reinsert it. But why would I need an eye when I’m asleep? I might as well find out what it’s like to dream without it. The Cyclops–I’m fairly sure I hear him roaring somewhere down the street to the accompaniment of a car alarm–has left us no account of his one-eyed dreams.

trading marbles
I end up
with the moon

both times

One night I have a dream about sex, the next night I have a nightmare. Wake up both times with a rare clarity of memory about the dream’s events. Think about writing it all down, but decide against it both times because (in the first case) I don’t want this to go down on my permanent record and (in the second case) I don’t really want to remember. But days later it’s all still in my head, all jumbled up together in the dark, pleasure and terror, both kinds of screaming. Well, I think, at least it keeps me from being unduly preoccupied with reality.

alpha
waves

deep

in a

snowdrift

Falsifiable

As the inventor of the time machine I must let you in on a little secret, which is that time travel isn’t really possible. It’s a placebo effect. If you think you’re traveling in time, you are. I’ve seen people convinced that they had returned to the days of their youth, met up again with their lost loves. Wishful thinking. Hallucination. Daydream. Nightmare. I don’t explain it, I just observe it. Put them in the box, take them out, watch them wander around in a daze completely baffled by their familiar surroundings because they think it’s fifty years ago, or ten years from now. Some of them aren’t right even when they come back. You’re playing with fire. We test them now before we “send” them but we don’t even know what we’re testing for so our success is limited. Why do we even bother? Well. After all that…you can’t tell them now that it doesn’t work. We tried, once, actually, but no one believed us. Oh, you don’t either? I can’t say I’m surprised. Yes, go ahead, get in. Turn the dial to the time you’d most like to visit. I’ll just be waiting out here to retrieve you in a few hours. Of course, of course, it’s completely safe, my dear. Say hello to your grandmother. Tell her I’ll be back someday, probably. You never know. I never do, anyway.

six feet deep a theory of everything

(another word)

On Valentine’s Day the wind chill is fifteen below and I refuse to set foot outside. It’s just me and the cats in the house, hissing at each other. I don’t even change out of my pajamas. There’s probably some kind of clinical term for this, I think as I put more butter on my baked potato. Then it begins: the improbable sweet song of a bird determined, while clinging to a frozen branch in a high wind, to attract a mate. For an hour, I manage to shut up and listen. 

snowmelt another word I’ve forgotten

the cake is a lie

They were eating cake that was not quite as moist as the Platonic ideal of cake when he paused with his fork-full-of-cake distractingly nowhere near his mouth and said, I don’t understand what you want. What do you want? and she put down her own fork and said, It’s very simple, really. I actually have a list in my purse for situations such as this and she pulled it out and handed it to him. Can’t you just read that to me, he said, I want to hear it in your own words. She said, No problem at all! and she took a sip of tea and cleared her throat. She glanced outside and noted that the sky was dark and growing darker and the wind was beginning to lift very light objects off the ground and toss them back to the ground a few inches away, as if in boredom or disgust. She knew it would get much darker and the atmospheric conditions much more worrisome soon, very soon, so she spoke quickly and with conviction. She would not eat any more cake today, she decided; cake was not what she wanted, not on this day, of all days. 

First of all I would like a bird, bright blue, yellow, or red, to perch on the windowsill outside my bedroom and advise me on matters of importance, preferably inscrutably, so that the bird’s meaning remains a mystery throughout my life, something to ponder when I’m old and perhaps come to understand only on my deathbed. 

Second I would like to be able to fly the way I already am able to fly in dreams, without any superfluous equipment, without any discernible anxiety, without giving any particular thought to the matter at all.

Third I would like an apology. 

Fourth I would like to get home before the snow flies, and the snow will be flying soon, so I’ll be going now and I advise you to do the same. 

While she spoke he took three bites of cake and the sugar in the frosting grated more sharply against his teeth with every bite. He thought he could feel the individual crystals of sugar as they dissolved on his tongue. The electric lights flickered as she finished speaking and everyone in the room looked up, but happily, he thought, as if hoping that a bounty would crash through the ceiling tiles and they could rush to collect it. I’m sorry, he said. But now it was completely dark and he couldn’t see her face, only her form as she put her list back in her purse and rose to the ceiling.

 

 

 

the edge of my seat

By the time I fully understood that I was too afraid to leave the house I was too afraid to get up off the sofa. Too focused on feeling my heart beat and being afraid it would stop. No doctor could find anything wrong with my heart but you have to admit it’s unnerving that the only thing keeping us alive is a single muscle, which must contract rhythmically and without pause every second for decades. Why doesn’t everyone just sit down, right now, wherever they are, and put two fingers to their wrists, just in case?

it’s the new moon and all the corpuscles

I think what saved me was knowing so many stories, because I could see how this one would end. Not with a heart attack–stories never end the way their characters expect them to. But with the ending common to all stories in which the characters refuse to move forward, away, or out. They shrink, dwindle, diminish, grow fainter, and eventually disappear, and so, inevitably, never, ever live happily ever after.

swallows skyward a controlled vocabulary

  -Prone

I’ve always got some kind of minor wound. If you hand me something, I’ll drop it. My half of the conversation, I promise you, will be the more awkward half.

 

out of context the tongues of lilies

miscellanea

I keep writing things and erasing them, writing, erasing, writing erasing. Oh I don’t want to tell the whole world about this. Oh I don’t want her to see that. I don’t want to lie and I don’t want to tell the truth. I don’t want to overshare and I don’t want to seem cold and reserved. Should I stay or should I go? I had a Monte Cristo for lunch. It sounds like there’s sleet falling outside, on the roof, on the roads, on the trees. I spent my childhood afraid of growing up, afraid of power, afraid of responsibility, afraid to live, afraid to die. Sometimes I cry helplessly when things are too beautiful. I could use some new clothes. I take pills to make me feel better and also I use the air, air itself, the air moving in and out of my lungs, slowly, deliberately, to remind me that I am here, my body works, I can count to six or eight and the sky is often, though not always, blue. More and more often lately, I remember my dreams.

recorded history the shape of unshaped sand

myths from another universe: 3

Both moons are inhabited by dead people. Not just the souls of dead people: their entire bodily forms are thought to be reconstituted on one moon or the other. Which moon you go to after death is determined in a complex way by a number of factors including your horoscope, your genealogy, your chosen profession, the number of children you have, and the length of your hair. There are Moon Tellers whose entire occupation is forecasting which moon someone will end up on. They have subtly different methods; there are several Moon Telling schools and sometimes bitter rivalries between them. You can make a fortune as a Moon Teller because everyone is desperate to know where they’ll end up when they expire, although as far as anyone knows neither moon is preferable to the other. The only difference anyone has noted between them is that one appears to be tinged red and the other blue. When someone suggests sending a rocket to the moons to find out what other difference there might be, if any, he is assassinated shortly thereafter.

white anemones
she skips the song
with her name in it