Category: daily writing

To Finish or Not to Finish….

That is the proverbial question. I have so many stories I’ve started and never finished that it’s become par for the course. If I have a good start–characters I care about, dialogue that flows well, a decent plot–it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll move onto something else. Part of the reason is my ADD (undiagnosed, but it sure feels like it) and part of it is that I write in short bursts, before work or between online teaching sessions. At least, it used to be that way. A few months before our house fire–so last April–I began writing less and less. After the fire, I stopped almost completely. Up until then, I had written primarily poetry, and had amassed a decent list of publication credits. But then the poetry stopped flowing, and I took a break.

I actually did more than take a break. I killed my first blog–writingforghosts.com–and killed my first music site, too. I wanted to disappear. I suppose the feelings were linked to the fire and being displaced. Now that we’re quarantined and my kids’ lives have been completely transformed and my wife is working from home, I’m going through another spiritual shedding of skin. But it’s okay. I don’t have to spiritually destroy anything else. I just need to accept things as they are and adapt, which is always difficult for me. I’m not exactly a go-with-the-flow-guy.

I’ll mention here in passing that I’m in recovery, and that I blog about it here. So all these internal changes happen in relation to my alcoholism. This site, as it was previously, is for creative writing. Just know that much of my work, if not all of it, is informed or at least touched by my ongoing recovery from alcoholism.

Below is part of a story I began more than ten years ago. I dug up the file this morning to see if there was any spark still left in the story, and there was. It’s small, but it’s there. I’m going to try my best to finish it. I gave it a once-over for grammar and typos, but probably missed some things. Here’s part one:

Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s absence, and it rippled through the trailer park like electricity.  He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstance.  There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.

And this time, things felt much different.  Worse.  Ed could taste it with every breath, every beat of his heart.  A fundamental shift had taken place.

 His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week.  Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor.  What good did that do?  He was a contractor, for God’s sake.  Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying.  He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel.  He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place.  Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house.  It was one thing Martha dug at him about; his apathy toward the work needed to his own house.  “I swear, it’s worse than the cobbler’s kids with no shoes,” she’d gripe.  “When are you gonna fix the bathroom?”

“I’m not a plumber, Mart,” Ed replied, using the name Martha hated the most.  “Mart,” she’d spit, “like I’m a Wal-Mart or something.”  Ed had once rejoined with, “Well, you’re as big as one,” which earned him a punch in the eye.

“You could fix it and you know it,” Martha replied, ignoring the nickname.  “You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”

If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she?  The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives in Robinson county.  Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum.  He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.

Maybe he was good for nothing except hammering two pieces of wood together.  Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.

But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened.  Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.

 

The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins, aged twenty two.

“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150.  “How many fucking rocks did you put in there?”

 “You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the car door and peering around the darkness of the lake.  “I hope no one’s out here.”

Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily.  “Too cold.  Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty.  And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught if we hurry.  Come on and give me a hand.”

The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging.  Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and after bobbing around like ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.

Martha sighed.  “Well, that’s that.”

Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind.  “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”

“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”

 “What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

 Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette.  After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly.  And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door.  She was dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”  She paused to take a drag on her cigarette.  “Nah, Georgia’s enjoying the flames of Hell right about now.”

Jilly shook her head.  “I don’t know, Martha.  Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air.  Jilly gasped and jumped back.  “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do when you’re alone.  Don’t try to drag me down, too.  I’m right as rain with what we did.”

“All right.  Can I bum one of those?”

Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack.  “I guess you need a light, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought you quit.”

The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp.  “I’m starting back now.”

 

Ed was about to nod off sitting in front the TV when someone started banging on the door.  He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock.  It was midnight, and still no Martha.  Unless she’d locked herself out again.  But no, because she would be screaming his name

 Ed polished off  the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door.  He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong de ja vue  that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.

“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue.  Under the sallow front porch light, the girl that had been Georgia Jenkins sobbed uncontrollably.  Her lip was split in several places, he left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant.  Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.

 “Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.

Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket.  “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom.  He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief.  “You want some water?  Maybe something stronger?”

Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls.  She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch.  “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice.  “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”

 “What happened?”

Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and waited nearly a full minute before saying, “You wife.  And Jilly.  They did this.”

Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—none of them good—but a murderer?

 “Fuck you!”  Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder.  “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed!  They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake!  I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”

As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated.  She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair.  “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”

“But…why?”  Ed’s ability didn’t give him insight into Martha’s reasoning, though in the back of his mind she thought he could sense her red-hot anger…and something else. Jealously?

Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh.  “Why?  Because they’re lunatics.  And because of what I did with Jilly’s husband. 

Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was become more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone.  Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia.  And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it? 

 “Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about us having a fling, and I won’t either,” Georgia sighed and took another drink.  “After a few more of these I’m gonna want you to pop this shoulder back in.  Okay?”

 “Yeah,” Ed said.  “Okay.”

Georgia stared at her bloodied palms.  “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else.  You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit.  But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”

“I guess.”

Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain.  “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up.  She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body.  “And I’m gonna want some clothes.” 

Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam.  He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry.  “You ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

Then three things happened:  Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door. 

 

 

Freewriting Session #???

Doubt this will go anywhere, but who knows?

It was a dark day when I decided to kill him. I don’t mean spiritually dark…it was fucking dark, like the sun had gone out or something. There wasn’t an eclipse or anything, it just got dark. Looking back, I’m glad it was like that, like the world was in shadows. And now that he’s gone, I can get on with what’s left of my life.

Expatriation Date

A short while ago, I talked about freewriting and how it was my truest writing voice…which I still maintain. Of course, editing is always essential. And certainly not everything that emerges on the computer screen or in a journal deserves to see the light of day. I thought I’d share this one, however, because it amused me.

For more of my feelings on freewriting, see this previous post.

On our second date, she asked what my expatriation date was. I asked if she meant expiration date, which I’d known since I was a boy. 1/15/2040 is while I’m designated to die.

“No, idiot,” she said, “I don’t care about that. I mean expatriation date. When you’re leaving this goddamn country. How do you not know about this? Were your parents entirely worthless?”

“I was adopted, and those people—I don’t like calling them mom and dad, they don’t deserve it—ended up being worthless, yes, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please enlighten me.”

Her eyes crossed and uncrossed, for no discernible reason. She hadn’t done that on our first date…at least, not that I noticed, that’s something I think I would notice despite not being the most observant person.

“I just told you what it was, moron,” she said and evicted her own teeth. Now that was a show worth the price of admission. Her teeth marched out and shouted various things about the indignity of it all, and she bore it was classic stoicism. When her teeth had left, she crossed her eyes again and they stayed that way.

“What is going on with you?” I asked. “Are you doing that on purpose?”

“I don’t do anything on purpose,” she replied and melted into a gelatinous puddle. I sighed and left enough money on the table for our meals plus a generous tip. The server grabbed my arm before I left and kissed the hollow of my throat.

“Do you want to know my expatriation date?” I asked the server. She had purple hair and entirely too many eyes.

“No,” she answered in a husky voice that sounded better in her head than in my ears.

“Good, because I don’t know what that is.”

Later, we planted daffodils and sang songs about rusted cars.

Vanishing Act

She had almost disappeared
by the time I found her—
all that was left was a hand.

“Weren’t you going to say
goodbye?” I asked, hoping
she could hear me this time.

“I thought about it,” she said
from the secret place she goes
(I think) entirely too often.

I grabbed for her hand too late,
and she was gone, dooming me
to count the days until reappears.

Survivor’s Guilt

Pain seeks its own level,
you tell me as we look out

over the ruined city, eerily
beautiful in the moonlight.

I can hear the screaming
from here, or so I imagine.

You hold my face in your hands,
and I feel your breath as you

whisper, You did not cause this.
Far below, in the rubble, a hand

moves once and then stills forever.

The Whale-Shaped Man (fiction? poetry? both? neither?!?!)

The Whale-Shaped Man

Is he in his office? asked the whale-shaped man.
Is who is his office? the woman in sparkly pants replied.
You know.
I don’t.
Him.
That doesn’t clear it up.
The whale-shaped man grimaced. I’m talking about your father.
Oh. Why do you want to see him?
To ask for your hand in marriage.
That’s stupid, the woman laughed.
What?
Why would I marry you? You’re shaped like a whale.
But I love you.
That doesn’t change anything.

So the whale-shaped man left. Inside his office, the woman’s father sighed in relief.

The Lizard’s Wish

I’ve been following with keen interest the developments around the fast radio bursts from a part of the universe three billion light years away (and I’ve also given myself a headache imagining three billion light years). This poem came from all that pondering. Also, I’ve wanted to use Temecula, California in a poem for some time because I love the word “Temecula.” It sounds like a king of giant spiders. I understand the Native American origin, but I can so clearly see a kick-ass spider….

The Lizard’s Wish

A self-medicating lizard basks on
a sidewalk in Temecula, California.

He dreams he can still see the stars,
and relives infamous moments in time—

especially the one when aliens came
and the dinosaurs ate every single one.

He’s seen a lot, this lizard, and the
thousands of years have taken a toll.

His therapist, a chameleon who doesn’t
believe in reincarnation, worries about him.

His mother makes him fly-pies and cries
at night into tiny green throw pillows.

The lizard gazes up at the sky, wishing
the aliens would give it another go.

 

We Spin On (word vomit)

Since I ended my job as a middle-school English teacher (I would love to say never again, but I know better), writing has been sporadic. Actually, that’s not true–I show up at the page every day, but the quality has been sporadic. On the last day of my job, I had cleaned out my room but couldn’t leave until the principal gave me the all-clear, so I had plenty of time to write. What came out was garbage. Granted, it was a lot of garbag (nearly three thousand words), but there was nothing salvageable. 

Perhaps, as my wife says, my brain needed a break. It’s only been a week since school got out, and my writing is still mainly junk. What follows is an example. It isn’t so much poetry as it is word vomit. I’m sharing it to encourage other writers to get out on the page whatever needs to come out, even if you look at it and say, “By Jove, that’s a mess.” A mess is better than nothing.

That being said, there’s still hope (I know I make it all sound dire, like I’ll never write anything I’m happy with. EVER AGAIN). As an editor told me once:

I dig the weirdness in [your] poems, but weirdness would be a bit of an understatement. It’s as if you’re using this idea of weirdness/strangeness to explore irreparable longing – perhaps irreparable longing is the glue that holds today’s world together.   – Justin Karcher, Ghost City Review

These words mean the world to me because that’s what I try to do in my poetry. It burbles up from my subconcious, fueled by the Great Cosmic Signal, and I do my best to convey the feelings inside me. My work is often dark and sad, and I do feel a sense of irreparble longing; it’s part and parcel of the human condition. Two things alleviate some of that longing: writing poetry and writing music. 

So…here’s some word vomit.

We Spin On

The vampire flowers made her sad,
and I ate another plate of fear salad.
This isn’t helping anything, said the erstwhile
Martian as he clung to the last thread of life.
The boulders of Colorado made a rodeo.
Eggs beat in rhythm to the veins of ocean.
More likely, the face of autumn.
The fan blew on the mighty moon, and
the tail of escaping steam was moody.
We spin on, the stars murmured. We spin on.

Dear, yet Cursed, Rachel

 

I’m still around, though not writing as much due to the demands of my new job. I’m teaching English to 8th graders, most of whom regard me with cool disregard or outright contempt…but there are some who get me. I sense a few sparks flickering to life, and that’s encouraging. I still come home tired–and some days plain exhausted–but I haven’t been so drained of energy that I’ve started siphoning from my spirit.  Taking spiritual energy and repackaging it to give away to young people who can’t help but be vampiric, especially those who have little or no support at home, took a disastrous toll on me when I last taught in public school. Not again, say I.

I’m determined to find a way to write more. Twenty minutes a day is reasonable, and I can build from there.  In that spirit, below is the first poem I’ve written in weeks. Weirdness, it seems, is still with me.

Dear, yet Cursed, Rachel

“I hope you don’t mind a little bit of blood,” said Dear Rachel,
unleashing a torrent of red upon my finest carpets—recently cleaned!—
and heaving a crimson sigh that colored the rest of my days,

numbered as they were, I know, counted and sifted by a cowardly
man using the sky as cover and the clouds as disgusting, disguising agents,
oh, how I knew, and yet—AND YET!—Dear Rachel commits to a visit
and has the bitterest gall to bleed and bleed and bleed freely for at least an hour,

during which time I prayed (I’m ashamed to say!) and called upon friends
near and far to remove her, to chain her, to lock her away and swallow the key,
kill and bury themselves in an old-growth forest so nothing but nurse logs
would know the fate of the vile metal and Dear Rachel would be Cursed Rachel
and then forever forgotten, erased as surely as my lineage which dates back to