Category Archives: Awards

Eden

I do not fear the dark. I only fear
the spaces in between the points of light.
There is no course, no route from there to here
We have not tried: we travel them each night.

You trace your constellations on my back,
give me their names, as if it helps to know
where you will be, as if I can’t keep track:
You score them on my skin each time you go.

So I plant kisses, let them bloom all through
the hills I love to wander dusk to dawn.
I scatter prayers like seeds, like beads of dew
still knowing when I wake, you will be gone.

My garden cannot anchor you to earth;
My arms are but a temporary berth.



Fashion forward

diva dress

Image credit: Pinup Darling

Last week I bought a new dress.

It took me a long time to make up my mind to buy it. It’s not my usual thing. It’s red and fitted – no, downright snug – and cut alarmingly low in the front. It’s sophisticated and sexy. The fabric has just enough give that it’s comfortable, not confining, and I loved it from the moment I put it on.

Still I hesitated. I stared at myself in the mirror, turning to see myself from every angle. Every curve, every panty line. When I finally peeled it off, I forced myself to take a deep breath and bring it to the counter. Three days later I’m still wavering about whether I will have the guts to wear it when I get up on stage next month to speak in front of hundreds of people.

A friend accused me gently of having body image issues. I didn’t know how to respond without sounding defensive. The thing is, I don’t have body image issues. I like the way I look. I’m not perfect but I have killer legs from biking and plenty of honest curves elsewhere. I like the way this dress looks. It shows off the best parts of me. I look like Mad Men’s Joan Holloway in this dress. I feel absolutely fabulous in it.

I don’t have body image issues; I have confidence issues. This is a dress that says, “Look at me.” Eyes will be on me, and that’s scary. Not because of how I look, but because of how I’m afraid people will see me.

Poser.

She’s trying too hard.

What was she thinking?

What were they thinking?

Next month I’m going to be up on a stage reading a thing I wrote. A thing I’m pretty proud of. And I want people to know I’m proud of it. I want the woman at the center of it to elbow her neighbors and say, “Hey, that’s my wife up there” because she knows best of anyone how hard it is for me to put myself out there. It’s not my usual thing, this dress or this attitude.

A woman I met in the park one day asked me if I was a writer. She’d seen my yellow satchel printed with a Ray Bradbury quote about writing.

“I like to write,” I hedged. It was a cop-out, I admit, and one of my favorites. I use it all the time.

This dress won’t let me cop out.

This is not a dress for fading into the background. For self-deprecation. For claiming not to be a writer. When I’m making the rounds and talking to strangers, when they ask me what I do, what I’m all about, this dress won’t let me shrug and glance down at my feet and mumble something about luck and hobbies and I-dunno-really. People are going to ask about my blog. They’re going to expect things, whatever I’m wearing. I want to deliver.

I do have a backup dress. It’s lovely. It’s sweet and feminine and it makes me feel young and pretty. It doesn’t make me feel kick-ass fabulous, though. My new dress won’t let me defer. It won’t let me be mansplained to. This dress won’t let me second-guess myself. There’s no room for it – literally and figuratively. I mean, it’s so snug, where would I hide a first guess, let alone a second one?

All right. I bought the dress; now I just need to own it.



 

 

Reweaving

Untie these knots; unbind these silken cords,
and let my heart beat freely. Let the blood
return to sleeping limbs. Remind my skin—
re-teach me how to feel. 

                                           Just let me breathe,
and I will take you in, your breath and mine
entangled—intermingled—each exhale
a testament to what we have enjoyed:
my name upon your lips, your roughened voice 
the spindle ‘round which my whole self is wound.
I am unraveled; we are both unbound.

So let us weave the threads of our desire
into a tapestry of wants and needs
and promises. Let passion guide our hands
upon the loom. 

                               We call this pattern love, 
my love; it lingers in our blood and bones.
We memorize each strand, the warp and weft,
that when we come undone, when we forget
how it is made, we loose the threads, unweave
our careless hearts, unwind our tangled skein:
Untie, unbind, unravel, weave again.


A little blank verse for the yeah write poetry slam.

Careening

When we were small you pushed my Radio Flyer down the hill. It landed in the brook, dented and wheels up. I dragged that broken thing around until it fell apart. Should have guessed then what you would do to my heart.



Сморчки

I walked alongside the pitted road into the forest. Every now and then a green ZIS-5 rumbled past, bouncing loudly across the frost heaves. I kept my head down and hoped they would ignore me, a shapeless figure trudging through the morning fog.

I should have stayed closer to home, what with the Germans pushing east and that POW camp in nearby Kozelsk. But my mother and I ran out of meat yesterday and we needed our last two hens for eggs. So today I rose early, stuck my feet in my brother’s valenki, wrapped myself in my father’s old wool coat and my own shawl, and set out to hunt for mushrooms.

When the road started to curve up through the western part of the forest, I turned east into the early morning shadows. Pale, watery sunlight filtered down between bare birch limbs. I scanned the edge of the trail, searching for the distinct honeycombed caps of smorchki poking up through the dead leaves. I found two small ones, barely worth keeping except that we had no meat. I tucked them in my basket and kept walking.

Deeper in the forest there was a clearing, I knew, where an old elm had split and fallen years ago. It was my spot, a secret spot, the first place I went every spring even before we started rationing. I pictured my mother’s face when I came home with a full basket.

The hail came on without warning, pellets of ice the size of gooseberries. I bolted for the nearest shelter: a hunchbacked fir tree, green branches still bent from the weight of the winter’s heavy snow. Underneath the ground was bare and nearly dry. As I crawled into this makeshift den I kneeled on a sleeping man’s arm.

He unfolded quickly, like a cat, unfurling his arms and legs and rolling up onto his knees. The barrel of his rifle jabbed me in the ribs. I couldn’t even gather enough air in my lungs to scream.

At first I thought he was German. He had that look to him, all blond hair and blue eyes, but he wore a threadbare wool coat with the Red Army insignia on the collar. One of ours, then.

We stared at each other for a long time. Finally I looked down at my basket and the mushrooms that had spilled out onto the soft ground. Hailstones crackled against the bare trees like gunfire. He flinched and lowered his rifle.

“You shouldn’t be out here,” he said.

I found my voice. “Neither should you.”

He raised the rifle a few inches, grimaced, and let it drop again. His knuckles were chapped. There was dirt under his fingernails. “You shouldn’t be here,” he repeated. “It’s not safe.”

“The Germans? They’re this close?”

He shook his head. “Not the Germans.” His gaze slid away from mine and fell on the smorchki. Carefully righting the basket, he gathered them up and brought them to his nose, inhaling deeply, before placing them inside. “They smell like home.”

“You’re a deserter,” I accused.

He glanced at me. “I’m not a coward,” he said. “You don’t know. Every day they bring us more. Two hundred, two hundred fifty at a time. We shoot them in the back of the head and shove them into a pit. Their hands are bound, do you understand? Their hands are bound.”

He showed me, tucking his hands behind his back. The rifle dangled from his shoulder like a broken branch.

“Enemies,” I said firmly. “Fascists and murderers.”

He shrugged. “I shot a boy today. His name was Aleksy. I didn’t ask, but he told me, right before I killed him. They gave me–” He fumbled at his belt, came up empty-handed, let his shoulders slump. “The second day, they gave me a German gun. Less recoil.”

“Where are you going?”

He gestured east, toward Smolensk, toward Moscow. East, away from the war.

East, toward a clearing with a fallen elm and smorchki that smell like home.

I edged away from him, one hand on my basket, the other on the ground. It was raining now, a gentle shower. “They’ll find you.”

“Will you turn me in?” he asked.

“No,” I lied — not because I was afraid of him, but because of the mushrooms — and ducked out from under the tree.

As I ran back toward the road, I thought I heard the rattle of hail, but the sky overhead was clear.


Smorchki [сморчки]: morels

This month yeah write fictioneers are focusing on historical fiction. I figured I’d join the fun with this little story set against the backdrop of the Katyn Massacre.