Tag Archives: stories

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.

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.

Our Lady of Counting

Eight thousand eight hundred and eighty one
steps today. Yesterday, seven thousand,
three hundred and thirty four. Together,
two hundred twenty-nine thousand, nine

hundred and thirty steps since then. There were
twenty-five bus rides; nine car rides from four
dear friends. Next week will have at least sixteen
contact hours teaching. I’m already tired,

slumped in my chair, staring out the window.
Four poster presentations were loaded
to the conference website twenty-three times
in one day. There have been five rehearsals

for the church choir, one guest conductor, one
termination, and two performances.
Because of whispering, there’s no data
on the amount of speculation or

incidents of church politics. Just guess.
Three batches of dog food were cooked. The dog
still has to eat. I wore blue, thinking of
you: eight times all blue; four times blue and brown;

one time blue and orange. Three times I wore green,
two times purple. I have two scarves that now
are security-blankets. I wear one
or both each day. One medium blue knit

by Holly. One woven dark blue on blue
with purple flowers from Cathy. It has
tassels. One bluebird of happiness came
to sit on my desk. Thanks, Kate. It’s lovely.

There were two hundred and fifty-two pics
of the play posted to Facebook. There were
forty-seven and a half grueling hours
of all-cast full show rehearsals in less

than two weeks. There were six performances.
There was one cast party with too much beer
from which escape became necessary.
There was one lost book, and thirty-seven

emails with nine people about the book.
There was one book found exactly where it
belonged. There was one lost heart. It wanders
during the day; cries in shadows at night,

waiting for old trash to be thrown at it.
Four neighbors mowed their lawns today; the hot
smell of gasoline exhaust, the sharp-sweet
cut grass saying summer loudly even

when it is barely Spring. Two crows cawed, croaked,
and raised a ruckus, bobbing overhead,
then politely fell silent as I walked
beneath the tree. One smiling bicyclist

nodded hello. No dandelions were picked.
It has been thirty days since we last spoke.
It has been eighteen days since, well, you know.
Three friends entered hospice. All are so kind.

One, I learned, is the wife of a cousin
of a high school classmate. Such a small world.
There were two donations to help cover
hospital expenses. Both were too small

to really help. There was one dream in which
you talked to me again. I wish I could.
There was one new death. Yours. I heard of no
funeral, but surely there must have been.

Our Lady of Monday Morning

They’re training a new bus driver. He’s crisp
and eager. Sunrise looks like a sunset,
hot with color and storms we haven’t yet
spun out into. We look off toward the West
as if that’s what is ahead of us, but
really it’s behind us, as the whole globe
spins light and dark. We drag our days with us
into the night (mundane, muddled, maudlin).

That new girl mentioned my name; I wonder
if she likes me.
My foot hurts; especially
when I move my toes. See? Ow! Don’t do that!
Remember to do your chores and homework,
OK? Come on, honey, you can do it.

Damn it, I dropped the package of cookies.
New plan. I guess I’m having crumbs for lunch.
Sorry, ma’am, I guess I’m not awake yet.

Vane and cup, the anemometer spins
in all directions, scooping hungry chunks
out of the air, then spiraling downward.
In this way, wind pierces both air and earth,
is made electric. Correction: is made
more intensely electric than it was.
Lightning is coming, the storm. By the time
the bus arrives at depot, I’m alone.

I step out, as did the others, into
the bright slanted morning light, slanted news,
the clouds spinning toward us, stories twisting
in the wind, omnipresent cameras
scooping up our every move, mics whisper
our names all the way to work, computers
distilling and distorting the same way
our memories do – fragment by fragment

assigned greater weight even as context
is broken into sand and washed away.

Our Lady of Anything Will Help

The surface of the abandoned
parking lot is in chunks where weeds
broke through. Dead center, a robin
stands, stretches up, calling loudly,
It looks a little lost. It turns
from side to side, looks around, hops
forward, and calls again, louder.
It keeps calling, hopping, calling.
The sidewalk rattles with a loud
skateboard under some guy who’s gone
almost before you know he’s there.
A woman is sitting crosslegged
right at the edge of the sidewalk,
slumped slightly and smoking the end
of a cigarette. She looks up
before he gets there, and slowly,
warily pulls a lean puppy
towards her, out of the skateboard’s path.
The sleek pooch shifts and settles down
on her worn jeans. She strokes the dog’s
glossy fur, over and over.
A cardboard sign behind her says,
“Anything will help.” A young gal
stops, and bends, passing a packet
of what look like tickets. As hands
reach toward her, she reaches upward
to meet them, then pauses, looking
confused. “Coupons,” the answer comes
unasked. “See, the restaurant’s name
here?,” then draws a line under words
with her finger. “Take them there, and
they’ll feed you.” The older woman
thanks her, and does not say a word
about dogs not being allowed
in there, or that she can’t make out
the name in odd script on the strips.
It will help. She’ll get someone else
to read it to her. She’ll trade them,
get someone else to watch the pup,
or get someone else to go get
the food. It will work out, somehow.
After all, anything will help.


“When I come back in another life can it be
as child, not as mother?”
From “Arguments with destiny: 15” by Luisa Igloria

The space between life and death
and life again is so bright,
shivering with eloquent vowels,
songs that hover out of range
of our hearing, the braided
textures of bounding bounded

Conversations there don’t fit
into our words, minds, bodies,
or so my tiny daughter
assures me. She remembers.
She says not to worry; smiles.
What’s most important never

Her eyes streak with color like
a slow small explosion, leafed
and layered, interlaced
fibers twining together
as inverted galaxies,
first hinted at in Doptone

Around her small shape gather
half-forgotten words from stars
and planets, floating featherlike.
The cosmic conversations
she describes form a kind of
invisible aura of

dissolving memories not
permitted, treasured echoes.
In her, the words of God melt down
into an ingot of flesh
and vision. I believe her.
I can almost see the shimmer,

radiating from her birth.
I can hardly wait. But, “No!”
she says sharply. “Wait! Next time
it’s my turn to be the mommy.
You have to promise to wait
for me!” We stare. I recall

veins chained and knotted and twined
together across my chest,
as my heart stretched and grew great
to hold her, this alien
angel, this eternal ache.
I can’t argue about this. I

This was written in response to a poem by Luisa Igloria, the day after Luisa’s poem was posted, and was originally posted on the same site. You can find the original post at Via Negativa.

This is a true story in our family, and my (now adult) daughter is heartily sick of my telling this tale. I hope that this more poetic version of it will be more appealing to her.


for Morris C. and Ruth M. G. Cooper

The cubs are all grown, gone their own ways now.
They only saw their father really dance

once, but maybe they learned something, maybe
they believed when he said he never fell,
swearing we mustn’t fall, no matter why.

When we were courting, he’d tell me, “We fell,
we bears, we fell from the sky. Men don’t know.

We fell from the north before they came there.
We lost the knowledge of how to be stars
before ever they found us. We fell once,

long and dreadful, wrenching fire from our limbs.
Dark now, fur is our only remembrance

of the pattern of light and flame streaming
away in the cold wind of our passage.
Dark and dreaded, we dare not fall again,

we dare not forget more.” These words I loved
when he spoke them, as I loved all the dance

of our courtship — spinning beneath the sky,
he’d hold me in his arms and in my eyes
he saw stars, my white flesh reminding him

of the starmother they had left. He kissed
my whiteness for love remembered, not lost;

he gave me stars to wear; he tangled them,
when we were loving, in my hair. I loved
him as well later when I bore his cubs

with all the pain and marvel which attends
the birthbed of such a union. We told

our cubs tales, sang them songs, taught them dances.
Of these, the greatest gift was dance. I loved
them all even when the dance lumbered, slowed;

I loved him as well when he danced alone.
He knew his last dance when it came. His flesh

had burned itself out, his voice was all ash
and grit. No gristle, no growl, he whispered
wildness into the forest, needles, leaves.

A skeleton wearing a rug, he danced
over it, around it and passed it on,

danced alone whispering the tall trees’ names.
If I meant to cry, I’d not have wed him.
He never fell, I swear, he tried to climb

and died with his arms in the branches
of a twisted wind-bowed pine. He was gone

long before the husk tumbled like a cone
battered and frayed to the ground. He had said
years before that he wanted to take trees

with him to the sky, to the stars, when he
left to go home. He would wonder how stars

could dance without trees around them, and then
we would lay together watching the stars
and waving branches late into the night.

He was so painwearied before he danced
that last. I’ll not forget to tell the cubs

what words he left. He grunted that the stars
were vast, the stars were leaning over him.
I looked, and when I looked back he had grasped

the treetrunk. He could hardly stand. I could
hardly hear him. He said something about

his mother, then a great glistening tongue
licking and licking at his weary mind.
I looked away again, into the dark,

the formless dark between the stars, then heard
and felt the sigh before the breaking branch.