Muse

When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

Muse

“It’s time to write,” she says, standing in the corner,
smoking the cigarette I can no longer have.
“No, I need to get ready for class, and make some copies–”
“It’s time to write,” she says again. She walks over,
drapes her arm around my shoulders, and sighs.
Her touch is from the grave, but I like it. I always have.

“You’ll hang around for a bit?” I ask, foolishly,
knowing she’ll do whatever she damn well pleases.
She purses her lips and brushes my cheek with a kiss.
“Maybe just for a while. Until you’re warmed up.”
I hear her breathing next to me, feel her radiant cold.
I click over to a blank screen and begin to bleed.

Reggie and Len (a dialogue)

I was scribbling in my journal the other day while with my kids at karate practice, and this is what came out. As I continued writing, I began picturing Bert and Ernie and one of their many conversations at bedtime. You know (or maybe you don’t), the ones where Bert is desperately trying to go or stay asleep, but Ernie has something terribly pressing he must share. By the end of the conversation, Bert is awake and generally pissed off. Here’s one of my favorite examples.

What follows is a riff on Bert and Ernie’s Odd Couple‘s chemistry, though with decidedly fouler language. Reggie begins the dialogue:

My eye hurts.

Man, fuck your eye.

Well, it does.

You want me to punch you in the mouth so you can bitch about that, too?

No.

Alright then. Go to sleep.

I can’t.

[sighing] What?

My eye.

Ah, Jesus.

It really hurts, man. I think I need to go to the doctor.

You don’t need no fuckin’ doctor, man. Go wash it out or get some fuckin’ ice.

When we were little, my brother and I were playing with some neighborhood kids, and this girl–

Did I ask for a bedtime story?

Just listen. So this girl hurls a massive rock at my brother. I mean, out of nowhere. We hadn’t even been arguing with this girl or her friends. And she had damn good aim, too, hit my brother right in his left eye. She ran off after that, and we went home.

What the fuck was the point of that story?

My brother is basically blind in that eye now, like 30 years later. Started out with a detached retina and got worse.

All because some bitch hit him with a rock?

That’s my theory.

Reggie, did someone hit you with a fuckin’ rock today?

No.

Then why–

I worry about my eyes.

Please shut the fuck up and let me sleep.

[a beat]

It might be pink eye.

Are you fucking serious?!

Look, that stuff’s nasty. It’s basically caused by shit in your eye. Like real shit. Fecal matter.

What the Jesus, Reggie? You trying to keep me awake and make me sick?

I’m just worried.

Look, I get it, but you can’t do anything about it, right?

I could go get some ointment.

Then get your ass on a bus and go to the fuckin’ Rite Aid on Lincoln.

I don’t know. I’m kind of tired.

What?!

Yeah. Good night, Len.

The fuck? After all that running your mouth and hyping me up, you’re just gonna–

Shhh. Come on. It’s been a long day.

[Len, wide awake, stares at the ceiling]

I Would Trade My Warm Life

Inspired by the mysterious and wonderful Greek lyric poet Sappho, whom Plato called the Tenth Muse.

I Would Trade My Warm Life

I would trade my warm life
for your cold, wine-dark nights,
your finger tracing my scarred cheek,
your dangerous breath on my chest.

Let the gods wage war on each other
and exact their petty revenge.
I’m done calling out to them
as I wish I was done calling out for you.

Two Twirly Maids

Though the origins of the folksong “Two Twirly Maids” may predate Victorian London, it’s linked in popular culture to the story of, respectively, 14-and 13-year-old Minnie and Margaret Chattoway, who in 1845 were found guilty of murdering Leonard Brewer. The sisters confessed to cutting his throat and attempting to dismember the body, though they ultimately failed at the task and left a gruesome scene for police to discover.

The Chattoway sisters were sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to transportation. In March of 1845, the sister boarded a ship heading to a penal colony in Australia. Once the ship disembarked, the girls managed to escape and were never seen again.

Two twirly maids
cutting off his head,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw today.

Two twirly maids
sawing off his arms,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw today.

Two twirly maids
chopping off his legs,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw today.

Two twirly maids
burying the rest,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw,
O, that’s what I saw today.

Dispatches from Addiction and Recovery #4

Today’s entry comes from Tabitha S., a Seattle-based freelance writer and poet who struggles with sobriety. Of this poem, she says, “The hardest part for me is always dealing with the damage I’ve caused in relationships. When I relapse, it’s generally over that.”

Sorrow Hangs On

Sorrow hangs on me like an old coat,
finds me in different forms–

a Museum of Tears, Bird Graveyard.

I get drunk and go under the needle
for another fuck you tattoo, chop off
my hair and throw it in the trash.

Love doesn’t come with a warranty,
just an expiration date.

An End and a Beginning

I am here, newly born, forged from the fires of adversity and the long shadows of self-loathing. Long have I crawled the shores of despair, riven by thirst only to find the bitter gall or rejection and alienation. I continue searching, praying to distant gods, and…

…okay, enough of that shite. All I’ve done is make this blog my “official” home (as a Poet and a Writer, replete with capital letters because I’m special). It’s now writingforghosts.com because I like the name and don’t plan on changing it even when I become rich and famous and hole up in a dismal castle somewhere.

Some of you will note that this site has far fewer posts than before. I made a number of them private because I may still pilfer from them, but I want to start fresh. New voices, new freewriting sessions, new everything.

Don’t take anything too seriously on this site, not even the poems, characters, and stories. Especially take with a truckload of salt anything I say about myself or others. As the late, great Kurt Vonnegut wisely says, “All persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.”

Stuff to follow. I hope you dig it, but if you don’t, that’s fine. The world is wide, the blogs are plentiful, and magic abounds. And I’d like to think a little of that magic lives here.

-RC

 

The (Tough) Art of Creating a Short Story

For some reason, I expect writing good short stories to be relatively easy. I don’t know why, at 41, I still think that since I’ve struggled with the short story form since I began cranking them out in my early teens. As I’ve said before, the entire process of poetry–the imagining, workshopping, revision–has been simple compared to writing short stories. Ideas pop into my head all the time, and those ideas usually find their way into my poems. Sometimes, though, characters and their voices show up, and I know to do them justice, I need to write prose.

Aside from my tendency to abandon stories after ten or so pages, I also acknowledge that my strength isn’t in description. I’m also not particularly good at pacing, either. I excel at dialogue, and I’ve heard as much from editors back when I was submitting stories for publication. I received personal rejection slips telling me that dialogue was spot on, but the rest of my writing was flabby. I took that as an encouraging sign, and I still do, despite the number of years that have passed between those rejection slips and now.

For help, I decided to buy the Gotham City Writer’s Workshop book on writing fiction. I like it so far, and while the first section seems geared more toward beginning writers, I still find it helpful. The exercises in the book have been useful thus far, too.

I’ve also returned to using Scrivener writing software, but not for a novel writing (though I’m also tempted to use Scrivener in conjunction with the beautiful word processing program Novlr), but for short stories. Scrivener helps me plan a story, much like I used it to plan my last novel. I realized over the weekend that I can’t continue treating short stories like poems. I need more time with stories, and some stories (like the one I’m currently working on) require research. Scrivener has a wonderful built-in feature to store research, and it allows you to visually plan scenes for a novel, story, or screenplay. Novlr is gorgeous and gets my fingers itchy to fill a blank page.

I can knock out at least one quality poem a day during my writing time, but the first draft of a story takes me at least a week if I tackle it every day. I have the time, and though it can be grueling, I’m willing to show up at the page and take the project on, even if I feel discouraged. Discouragment is just a feeling attached to a useless thought; it has nothing to do with my dedication to the craft or my ability as a writer. I think setting writing goals for myself is a good idea, too. One of many things that quitting drinking has taught me is that I’m a hell of a lot stronger and focused than I sometimes give myself credit for.

I’m also going to re-read Stephen King’s masterful On WritingIf you’re a writer and haven’t read it, I highly recommend you check it out. It transformed the way I wrote, and I’m sure I’ll glean more wisdom and encouragement this read-through.

For the curious, the story I’m working on came from a prompt in the Gotham City book. To paraphrase, it was something like: “Sam knew either it was a lucky sign or a sign of disaster when….” After some freewriting, that prompt led to a strange and touching story about a man who works with chimps, teaching them to sign, and in particular his relationship with a troubled chimp named Roscoe. I like where the story’s going…I just have to remind myself (several times a day) not to abandon it because the words aren’t lining up like obedient little children. They rarely do, anyway, and just because the writing is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Whew, this was a longer post than I intended. Thanks for taking time to read.

Merry Christmas, or Something (flash fiction re-post)

I originally posted this in November 2012, and something reminded me about this piece of flash fiction. Heavens, it’s dark. For the record, I feel pretty good this morning. The speaker’s tone doesn’t reflect my current state…though I imagine I was pretty down when I first wrote this.

Merry Christmas, Or Something

There’s nothing left for me here, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving.

I’ve grown accustomed to the ache, the longing to be elsewhere, and that’s usually enough most days. The nights are what worry me, when he starts playing that old guitar, the one his father stole for him a thousand Christmases ago, that he doesn’t touch unless he’s been drinking, transforming it from a piece of junk into a troubadour’s dream.

He coaxes such painfully beautiful music from the instrument, it nearly makes up for his caterwaul of a voice, his hesitant delivery, the way he stumbles over words he should know
because I know them and just about everyone who isn’t deaf knows them, too.

“You don’t understand music,” he always tells me, but what he means is, “You know a shitload more about it than I do,” so I keep my mouth shut and listen to him, settling against my longing to leave like it’s another lover, a more patient one than him, this would-be musician singing in a destroyed living room.

The winter night looms outside the windows, waiting to creep in when the lights are off and we’re in bed, clothes scattered through the place, his hands wandering across my body, re-staking his claim to make sure my dream to get the fuck out of this town doesn’t come true, the dream where I grab what I can, cram it in Mama’s pink and brown suitcase and shove his old car in gear, willing it to work at least across the state line.

The Opposite of Rainbow (with Commentary)

This is just plain silly.

The Opposite of Rainbow (with Commentary)

She peered from the window
into the shadow-laced street
and wondered aloud… “What the hell is this? This isn’t the opposite of rainbow. Is that even possible, or is that just some shit you came up with when you were high?”

Lights popped on like new thoughts,
but the shadows merely shifted,
digging deeper into themselves,
and she took a breath…and said, “This is the worst fucking poem in the history of poetry, and I mean that goes back to whatever the hell passed for rough drafts with the Egyptians, like maybe they chiseled some shit and said, ‘Wait, that’s the symbol for a bird. That doesn’t work here. What the hell’s the symbol for water? Dammit! I wish we had a real alphabet.’”

The opposite of rainbow had come,
invisibly snaking its wake through the night,
its knowledge of color only a memory,
and the girl at the window remembered, “That she has better fucking things to do than listen to this! Get me out of this dumbass poem and let me go about my life without rainbows or whatever their fucking opposite is!”

She was free of rainbows,
their opposites, the lights,
the shadows, the memory,
and she knew

“How is this still going?! The end! Go write something else, you miserable hack! Leave me alone!”

it was, finally, over.

Heh. I plan to write a song called The Opposite of Rainbow which will, undoubtedly, be melancholy.  So it goes.

Cutter (flash fiction)

“I need to feel something,” Lauren said. She wanted me he to cut her. I didn’t want to, but the pain in her eyes convinced me. I knew the relief would be more powerful if I did it. I sighed and reached for the knife I’d sterilized earlier.

“Where?” I asked quietly. We were naked in bed. The outline of her breasts showed through the thin sheets, but I didn’t get hard. There was nothing sexual about this, for either of us.

“On my upper arm,” Lauren said, turning her head away from me. She didn’t like watching me cut; she liked the surprise of the pain, the sting that opened the floodgate. Carefully, I pulled back the sheet. I kissed a spot right above her left bicep before I pressed the knife into her flesh.

I heard her draw a sharp breath, followed by a moan of pleasure. The blood, bright red, trickled down her arm. I grabbed a tissue and blotted it away and asked, “More?”

“One. Right below.”

I made another precise cut . Again, Lauren drew a breath and moaned. She began crying. “Thank you,” she said, turning over after I cleaned off her arm, rubbing it first with alcohol, two dabs of Neosporin and finally applying two small Band-Aids. This was the way things had been since I took over most of the cutting. If she insisted on continuing it, she would do it safely. I tried not to be angry with her when I discovered untreated, uncovered cuts. She liked to cut her the back of her neck, and the wounds would turn angry if I didn’t catch them.

The sun had fallen by the time she curled into me. Her eyes, clear from pain, looked sleepy. “Thank you,” she said again.

“You’re welcome,” I told her and kissed her. She leaned into the kiss, but I knew sex was out of the question. That was OK. I’d already caused enough destruction.