Category Archives: Stories

Seeing Ilya Read

“You are wonderful poets,” he begins,
gently generous. His eyes insist this

is not impersonal. He reminds me
of poets who were kind to me when I

was the young one — Creeley, Berry, Snodgrass.
When he reads, his voice changes tone and pitch,

rhythm and personality, assumes
(I imagine) the rich voice lent to him

by his father, and all the fathers who
spoke before. Urgently, he flings himself

into the words as if they are weapons
fired too late to stop the tears left by those

others; as if they are scrolls set on fire;
as if his mouth is full of tears before

he speaks; as if we should already know
he means every word, but he understands

we may not believe, we may not ourselves
understand. So he helps us follow words

by drawing dance steps through the air, dotted
lines that appear like gestures of language

sculpted with his fervor for this, for what
must be said, for what he has said before,

and again, so many times now, waiting
still to be heard by someone who has not

met these words before. Now and then he takes
a step with tenderness, wrapped in woolen

memories as if a child’s blanket curves
and spins around him; he waltzes to words.

Dancing the AIDS/H.I.V. P.T.S.D. Blueshift Boogie

* blueshift *

My new lover sits on the bed’s edge
with his back to me, asks if I’ve been
reading the papers. No. Oh. He says
he’s been sleeping around. A lot. I
get angry. I didn’t know. He says I should
read the papers. Why?! He won’t answer.

* blueshift *

I go to the library. I read the papers.
What is this thing called PCP? How
do you pronounce Kaposi’s sarcoma? Do I
have bruises on me? Are they the wrong
kind of bruises? Every smudge of color
on my skin (purple, blue), scares me.

* blueshift *

“First you put your two knees close up tight.
Then you sway ’em to the left, and then you sway ’em to the right.
Step around the floor kinda nice and light…”
I break up with him. I’m never going to have sex again.
I’ll never have sex. I’ll never have sex. Never.
I click my heels. Dorothy, take me home to Kansas?

* blueshift *

They don’t have AIDS tests in Kansas yet.
God damn. What was I thinking? Do they even
have doctors? I mean doctors who know
what AIDS looks like? I can’t ask. I don’t know
anyone I can ask. Even if I did, I can’t get
the words out. Words logjam In my mouth.

* blueshift *

God bless Roger McFarlane! There’s a hotline now,
Lord love us, there’s a hotline. I call. It’s busy.
I try again. There’s a knock on the door. I hang up.
It’s later now. I keep trying. When I get through
I’m shaking. I tell him I’m scared. I tell him I
am. So. Scared. Then I start crying. Then I stop.

* blueshift *

If I have it, I should be sicker than I am.
That’s what they say. I’m not convinced.
If I get tested, it’ll go in my record. They say
they won’t tell anyone. I don’t believe them.
I leave the clinic without getting tested. I will
never have sex. Never. Who would want me?

* blueshift *

Okay, okay! He’s just so goddamn cute. We’ll both
get tested. There’s a free clinic in the city.
We drive over on the weekend. We give blood,
fake IDs, fake names, a friend’s address.
The results are negative. I don’t believe it.
I go back and get tested again. And again.

* blueshift *

Mars Memories

PIA17944: Curiosity's Color View of Martian Dune After Crossing It


I spent most of last night on Mars. All of it, actually. And the night before that. And the night before that. And the year before that …….

Colonizing Mars, actually, although that sounds grander and empowering than the experience. Let me tell you, Mars feels a lot like Kansas or Nebraska during the Dust Bowl. Well, except for spacesuits and cold.

There’s this grinding isolation, which I’m okay with, surprisingly, but it flattens everything. A numbness that comes with having a really predictable daily experience. I guess kids can adjust to all kinds of things as long as it seems normal to them. It was normal for me to study, do my chores, watch threads of wind scour the flat plains, lift the dust, and drop it back down.

It was okay. There was a kind of simple beauty and comfort in reading, teleconvos with my online school friends, chores like prepping food and checking the condensation levels for the bioplots in the greenhouse. I always wondered how they got called a greenhouse since there was NOTHING green anywhere in there. Then watching the horizons alone and daydreaming for hours on end. It wasn’t okay when Mom and Dad died.

I think it kind of took me a while to really grasp that I had to do something, and that no one else could or would. After all, there was my brother to think of. It wasn’t like he could take care of himself, after all. I might be able to imagine that I could survive on my own for a long time and pretend nothing much had changed, but he needed regular medical care. That wasn’t something I could do.

Mom and Dad had always taken care of everything he needed, and I hadn’t really paid attention. I feel a little weird about that now, wishing I knew what to do, but at the time, I didn’t even notice I wasn’t noticing. It wasn’t intentional. I was just oblivious.

So. I guess we’re going to the City. Ugh, the City. It probably had a name, a proper grown-up name (or named after a grown up, more likely), but if it did, that was something else I was oblivious to. It wasn’t like Mars had a lot of cities after all, and so it didn’t really need a proper name. For me, it was just The City.

I know how to load up the buggy for a trip, the landmarks to steer by to get to the nearest transit point for the subway. I packed enough supplies, food, and clothes for a few days, leaving the buggy itself outside the cave entrance to the tunnels. After all, it wasn’t like there were a lot of neighbors or travelers in the area. Down through the cave to the tunnel. Set up the alert to ping the train to stop the next time one came by. Wait. Feed the boy. Wait some more.

I can’t imagine a place more different from our family farm than the City. It kind of makes my skin crawl to be around so many people. No horizon. No sky. Walls and walls and walls, and even the streets aren’t empty or open. It always feels so peculiar and wrong to put on City-clothes. Performing normative behaviors. That’s what Mom always called it when she’d insist I change to City-clothes. See why I said UGH?

But I can do it. So I did. I got me changed. Got my brother changed. I know how to talk to him, but … I don’t know how to talk to him alone, without Mom or Dad. But we talked. A little. Sort of. I don’t know what I said. I don’t know what he understood. I think he just kept expecting Mom and Dad to come do the same things they always did. I don’t know if he was comfortable or not. I might have waited a little longer than I should have to take him in to the city. I just wasn’t thinking, I guess.

I knew the route Mom and Dad always took to the Medical Center. We did it enough times, and I always came along. Got bro in his sling/sleigh and skimmed along the edges of the crowded streets until we were there. Slipped quietly in the side door, and took him right up to the usual desk. I did not expect them to ask me when our appointment was. What appointment? They weren’t expecting us. Well, him.

All of a sudden it really hit me that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know whether to go or stay, ask for help, or what. I didn’t know what we would do or where we would go if we DIDN’T stay in the Med Center, like usual. I didn’t know how to ask for an appointment. The lady at the desk was checking something in the records and frowning. I didn’t know if there was something else that was supposed to happen before we got there. And here I’d thought I knew so much.

I thought maybe if I ran away, they’d at least take care of him. I mean, they know him. He’s there so much. They know what to do, and they would, right? They’d do it, they’d take care of him, right?

I think the lady at the desk realized I was starting to tense up. I started to spin around to run, trying to remember if I ever noticed stairs or a lift or a slide to a different level. I know the door we’d come in had been behind us, but I couldn’t even see it now, with all the people. I gulped, and spun back round, looking around for a gap, a direction to run, anything that looked like a place to go.

“Hey!” she said softly, “Wait.”

I paused, perfectly still like when I’d watch the dust back home, but watching her, as if something was about to happen. I waited. Waiting is something I know how to do.

“Your folks aren’t here with you today.”

I waited. I watched her.

“Something happened?”

Maybe my eyes shifted a little. I don’t know. Her cheeks went down a bit. I kept watching. It felt like my mouth was frozen shut.

“Something happened. I’m sorry.”

She reached out and lightly touched the back of my hand. Her hand floated for a second as if she was deciding what to do next.

“Don’t go, please. You’ll need to stay here for a bit, so we can figure out how to help you and your brother.”

I looked up at her eyes. They looked a little sad. I cleared my throat, and asked, “What’s going to happen?”

She looked down. Pulled her one hand back to her other hand, and squeezed them together quickly, and then let go. She looked back at me, right in the eyes, looked away again, smiled as if she didn’t mean it, and said, very gently, “Well, we can’t know that until it happens, can we?”

Capturing this here because, even though I was just writing down a dream I had that morning, it turned into something people are perceiving as an intentional short story. Thus, capturing it as a kind of creative writing exercise.

Originally posted on Facebook, March 27, 2019:

Image used: File:PIA17944-MarsCuriosityRover-AfterCrossingDingoGapSanddune-20140209.jpg originally from NASA

Tomorrow Sonnet

“Tomorrow,” he said, “Is that your favorite word?
Tomorrow, tomorrow,” he rattles off
(as if he’s part steam engine on a blurred
and broken track). “It’s like she really scoffed
at you when she broke things off. She was hard.”
“Yeah, she was hard, but she really liked me.”
“She LIKED you. That’s why she cleaned up your yard!”
“She said she’d clean it tomorrow, but see,
why’d she say that if she was breaking up?
She always said tomorrow.” “Tomorrow.
It’s like it was her favorite word. Jeez.” “Yup.”
“You ever ask her? Hey, is that how things go?
Tomorrow, tomorrow. Is that your word?”
“Nah. Cripes. Just had to deal with what I heard.”

Shots fired.

“Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.” G. Washington

Forget the firing range. It’s the woods for us.
Dusty roads shrunk down from arteries to
capillaries; fallen trees adorned with empties
that pop, crumple, and fall when we shoot right through
them, back in the days when tin cans were dense
and solid, heavy enough to take some abuse.
We’ve decorated what used to be a fence
with old cans, my shoulder sporting a huge bruise.
I came here to learn what you can get away with;
how close to cradle the rifle, how much it bucks;
that the holes from a thirty-ought-six just fit
my small fingers; that there are consequences, luck,
and alternatives. You don’t have to sit and wait
for the explosion. Pull the trigger. The boom abates.


“When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always show Pity to the Suffering Offender.” G. Washington

Not a little pregnant, but a lot, I mean really
huge, like someone glued a shelf to my belly

and then crammed in as much as it could hold
until I rocked unsteadily, big and bold.

There’s a reason why we protect pregnant women,
and it isn’t just because a new life is beginning,

with all that cuteness about to arrive, no, and not
just because they might lose the baby if hurt or shocked.

Factor those in, sure, but part of it has to be
that most moms can’t do it themselves. At least, not me,

I was pretty sure, as I clutched the fanny pack
that no longer fit around my hips and back

and slung it over one shoulder, on the same side
as the rib I’d cracked four months ago (with the pride

of being tough and macho, carrying paving stones),
the same side as the eye with the stye, and frail bones,

the sprained wrist. Not that the other side was better
with both feet swollen, too large for my cute leather

flats, so crammed into sneakers, and the wrist mirrored
with a sprained ankle I dragged behind me, awkward and tired,

lurching along, belly-first — hop-drag, hop-drag, hop-drag.
I was startled when a breeze went by, lifting my bag,

and trying to slide it past my crooked elbow.
It didn’t work, thank the Lord. I didn’t know

what we would do without that last twenty I’d hid
when my husband lost his job, just in case needed,

and the need was now. Then, when the breeze turned out
to be a wiry guy on a bike that slid past me, the lout

dismounting, and turning back, well, I don’t know
what happened. I guess I lost it, that cocky crow

strutting towards me, confident and easy in his stride,
my brain locked on, “You think I’m a target? You think I’D

MAKE A GOOD TARGET? Just because I’m pregnant and sick
and injured and tired?” The strangest words came past my lips:

“You want to fight for it?” He laughed, and said, “Sure,
I’ll fight you for it.” So, I kept hop-drag walking, fear

and anger blazing together, thinking, “a) this is
the stupidest thing I have ever done in this

life,” and “b) The only part of my body that works
is the one arm, so I get one strike. One, you jerk,

to take you down.” I held one image in my mind,
the heel of my hand smashing his face in and blind,

calculating the angle, force; feeling how I’d
push off my leg, throw weight behind the arm, and guide

it all right through his head. I stared at his eyes,
hoping this was quick. I stared, and stared at his eyes.

Then he stopped looking at mine. He glanced around,
noticed people gathering to watch the bout,

and evidently decided to revise his plan,
slowed down, turned around, went back to bike, and ran

(or the bike equivalent), peddling down the street,
turning once, to see if the crazy big-bellied bitch

was still after him. I was okay with that,
the shrinking ripples of his purple satin jacket.


“Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.” G. Washington

There is a spider in the laundry, and another
in the bathroom. I try to not look in the basement.

I catch them with a paper and a cup, then outside
they go. Did you know there is a myth in which spiders

weave the threads that hang stars in the sky?, the sheer fabric
that is the transparent warp and weft of the heavens,

the tapestry of all Creation. Some believe they
labor forever, making the magic of our lives.

Some believe the existence of spiders undermines
belief in science, for only God could imagine

creatures as strange as spiders. so entirely unlike
us. This is why I want to save them, these mythical

makers of all things. He chuckled. I know, he says, that’s
why I like to kill them — to destroy the Universe.


“When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.” G. Washington

During Mass, we were supposed to sit quietly,
tidy, with scabbed knees tight together, and feet flat.
We sang, “Hail, Holy Queen” & “Immaculate Mary”
often, because nuns liked them, and “Magnificat.”
One day, I stood instead outside, shuffling my feet,
doors closed (I’d be in trouble if I went on through).
I wore the uniform (stiff plaid skirt with box pleats,
white Peter Pan collar, and black Mary Janes, too),
but I’d forgotten my lace mantilla, and women
had to have their hair covered. Sister Mary came
looking, frowning when she found me, unforgiven.
“You forgot again? Don’t you have something else? Shame!”
She took my schoolbag, rummaged. Found tissues, not lace.
Bent a straight pin to hold the ugly thing in place.

Command and control.

“If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.” G. Washington.

There was an owl. Well, an owl’s carcass.
He kept it in a coffee tin in the shed.
It was against the law, except it wasn’t,
because he wanted the bones. And no one
would ever find out. Unless you told them.
And you won’t tell them. Ever. Would you?
You can’t remember, but you can’t forget,
and what you do remember isn’t true.
There aren’t any bruises. There’s no blood.
No burning feathers, no stench, nothing.
No one cooked dinner, except you, of course,
and that was charcoal. Remember? Blame the pans.
Blame the electric stove. Blame the shotglass,
the sleeping pills, the things that go bump
in the night. Blame the wooden door that cracked
when it was hit. Blame the brick wall that didn’t.
No, no more drinks. No more pills. Not allowed.
Lay still. Don’t move. Move now. I never said
not to move. How could you say that? Put your hand
before your face and turn aside. You die when
I say you can. You forgot to say ‘may I.’
Stop screaming. You forgot to say please.

How it begins.

“Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” G. Washington.

There was a great plaza, speckled with a small crowd. There was a long aisle, flanked by seated strangers. There was a man in a suit. There was a woman wearing white rags. Were there flowers? There must have been. There was a Bible, or two, or a church perhaps. There were witnesses, or there were none. There was a fist held high. There were fires, large and small. A candle. A crying out. There were promises made, promises made, promises made, and a heart as clear as a bell heard the hollow echo.

He wiped away tears.
This was just what he’d wished for.
She braced herself, stiff.