Chameleon

Maybe tomorrow I will be made of magic. I will strike sparks from the sky with my fingertips. I will snatch sheep from the hillside where they graze. Tomorrow I will catch your gaze: a glint of light and then gone.

But today I am a fat lizard, all sinew and scales, contemplating a stone in the sun. I spread my limbs and scrape away lichen until it looks like me, that stone.

I watch, barely twitching an eye, waiting for a cricket to bound within reach of my tongue. I watch, I wait, and I think of dragons.


Idyll

On this perfect day
I watch you throw rock after rock
into a mountain stream,

Your words a constant flow, a stream
of consciousness; all day
I lean against this rock

and listen while the trees rock
the sky to sleep. Clouds stream
across the edges of the day.

What would I not give for another day, another rock, another murmuring stream?


Words, and where to put them

It looks like I haven’t been writing much, but I have. Just not here. Three months ago I finished the first draft of my novel, based on the Jade Dragon posts some of you may have read on my blog. (If you haven’t, I’d be tickled if you took a peek. The book, though, is a bazillion times better. Or it will be, if I do say so myself.)

I’ve had my mind in that space for so long that I barely know how to use words for anything else. Poems? Can’t finish one. Essays? I’ve dabbled. But now that I’ve pulled my head out of the sand – Loess is a desert world – I’ve been thinking of entering a competition or two, just to shake up my brain a bit. The trouble is finding a good one.

Have you ever entered a competition where you send in your submission only to receive, weeks or months later, a form letter saying you didn’t win? Or you have to pay for feedback on top of the entry fee? Or you receive feedback that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story you wrote? It’s happened to me, more than once. It’s frustrating and demoralizing and makes me not want to write at all.

While I’m looking for something for me, here’s a little something for you. A place to put your words.

Yeah write is running its own super challenge this summer for creative nonfiction (with fiction to follow in the fall), and we’re bringing yeah write’s signature care and attention to each and every entry. There’s a $25 entry fee ($20 if you register by the end of the day today, June 30!) and that doesn’t just get you into the competition – it gets you 100% personalized, detailed feedback on what did and did not work in your submission, whether or not you move on to the next round. Judging is blind – this means the judges* don’t know who wrote which piece – and you don’t need a blog to participate.

Oh! And there are cash prizes for first, second and third place finishers. Right now, the first-place winner is guaranteed $100, and with every new participant, the prizes get bigger.

To sum up: you’ve got until midnight US Eastern time on June 30 to take advantage of our early-bird pricing of only $20. After that it’s still a pretty darn affordable $25 until July 6. The first round will start on the 8th and I hope to see you there.

*Full disclosure: I’m not a judge. I’m one of the people making sure the judges don’t know who you are.🙂


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Other

On Monday I walked down the street holding my wife’s hand. We were on our way out to lunch. I held her hand and it felt like a radical act of defiance. Like I was making a statement or a declaration or some grand political gesture. Like I was making of us a target. Really, all I wanted to do was hold my wife’s hand.

Earlier that morning I made the conscious decision not to turn the television off right away when my children caught a bit of the morning news from Orlando.

“What happened, Mama?” asked my 7-year-old.

I took a deep breath. “A man took a gun into a nightclub – that’s a place where grown-ups go to dance and have fun – and killed a lot of people.”

“Why?”

Because he could. Because he wanted to. I did not know how to explain homophobia to my children. Racism. The FBI watch list and inadequate gun control laws. Toxic masculinity. My children still believe that people are good, and I don’t want that to change.

“I don’t know,” I had said instead. A cop-out. I had to define “nightclub” for them, but not “gun” or “killed.”

So we were walking to lunch, my wife and I, hand in hand. A few houses away we saw the young man who, moments earlier, had knocked on our door. He was handing out some sort of religious pamphlets. He seemed very nervous; his accent was very thick. My wife had thanked him politely as she turned him away. Now as we approached, our fingers entwined, I wondered: is he staring? Is he judging? To be honest, I’m not certain he even looked at us, but that isn’t the point.

We live in a liberal neighborhood in a liberal town. We are legally married in all fifty states. Both our names are on our children’s birth certificates. We file taxes jointly, both state and federal. I have grown comfortable. I forget, after all these milestones, that I am still other, until I am reminded.

For the first time in years, I was made conscious of being other.

The young man and a female companion – sister, maybe? – continued to go from house to house. We started to catch up to them. Casually, I tugged my wife across the street so we wouldn’t have to squeeze by the pair on the sidewalk, and as we rounded the corner, I dropped her hand. The sidewalk is too narrow, I told myself. (It wasn’t.) We are in people’s way. (We weren’t.)

We went on to lunch, and the server didn’t ask if we wanted to split the bill. I noticed that, made note of it. We stopped in a shop and I bought rainbow-striped socks because they brought me joy and yes, because it is pride month and it suddenly felt important to acknowledge that. We split up: I went on to get a massage and my wife went back to the house to finish up some homework. What a radical afternoon. The massage therapist asked if I wanted to book another appointment, perhaps “for you and your hubby together.” She must have seen my wedding ring. Other.

I wish I had not crossed the street. I wish I had not let go. I do not want my children to learn that the answer to otherness is fear and the answer to fear is violence, but that is what we are teaching them, we Americans, and I am complicit. I crossed the street. I dropped my wife’s hand because I was afraid. I have been made conscious of the fact that there is still reason to fear.

Next time, I keep thinking, next time I won’t let go.


Cricket cage

At night when all is dark and the silence scratches at my skin, that’s when I hear it: the incessant, insistent chirping of my own thoughts. They creep, creep, creep along creases and folds, testing the texture of my memories, seeking places to settle and feed. They gnaw, mandibles clacking, clawed feet tangling in the fine lines between truth and fiction, three-fold eyes watching the shadows for any shift in the light.

I wonder, in the mornings, what will leap from my mouth when I unlock my jaw, when I draw breath to speak? What songs will my crickets sing?