Category Archives: writing

Bref Double and a Break

Not that I want to but I need to float off for a bit from here. Please come back! I’ll likely continue to post on Instagram, but less often. It’s time to FOCUS.

I’ll leave you with two responses to a prompt from the retreat, both using a poetic structure listed below. I paid attention to the rhyme scheme, you’ll see, but not the line lengths.

Bref Double, One

The mist rolls, sheer scalloped grace.
Curls floating past trees
echoing the canopy’s curve,
hurrying somewhere I want to go.

The hills rise sturdy and silent.
Clouds come and go and leave no trace.
Mountains like a tolerant mother meeting
a toddler’s antics, squatting low

to grin and meet him, where he is, face
to face, nose to nose, abiding
in connection, eschewing haste.
Such moments seem more than we deserve.

Sturdy love. Isn’t it a disgrace
to reject what’s here, adopt strictures,
go quiet and lose our heart, our verve?

Bref Double, Two

Tardiva points, a flurry
of misdirection, while clouds
creep and float, aligned with
the mountains. Purpose.

Or is it conspiracy? Ridges hold blue,
their stillness a contrast to sliding
mist, while gauze clouds above
wander, roll, tell secrets unheard of

by us. Crickets act as jury
to the crime of vacancy
while low-lying lichen, furry
almost, in ruffled patterns, gifts

the eye. Yellowed leaves, the color of curry
hint at how soon the season’ll leave us bereft.

Western Mass is good for the soul. So is writing.

img_5811I expressed interest late and was told the workshop was full. Facilitator, Maureen Jones, would put me on a waiting list just in case. I discussed Dog care with husband and confirmed that he wouldn’t be in Russia or China that week. Then I forgot about it.

Imagine my happy surprise to learn that a space had opened up! My writing teacher and her sister were going. We would make the trip west on Route 2 together. There was an ease and a flow to it all.

(Except for Finn, maybe, who according to K spent an awful lot of time at the side door, waiting for me).

img_5849Every morning I wake with unnameable dread. “What’s so awful, again?” I wonder. It’s how I felt after each of my parent’s deaths. It was how I felt when my sister was hospitalized in 2009. It’s how I feel most mornings now.

‘Oh, yeah, Trump. The whole awful mess.’ Which is why is was so good to get away. Not that I didn’t look at news, I did, but with rolling ancient hills stretching out in the distance in unbelievable beauty and the quiet, it was hard not to feel restored. Also, having been born not far from there and lived in the Berkshires or the Connecticut River Valley for 15 years, this is the landscape that most feels like home to me.We stopped at a funky place near Charlemont for ice cream. I passed on the sugar — it being Day 8 of my new regime.

It was hot. Really hot. There was no AC and the fan/outlet/screen situation was far from ideal. It was a big presence, the heat. It made all of us go more slowly. Some of us took regular cold showers, including me. Not tepid or body temp showers, but bursting cold showers. There was an outdoor faucet equipped with what they called a “fog nozzle” (sounds like a sex act) which delivered a delicious mist of cool water. I stood naked under it, but some enjoyed its spray fully clothed. Just to cool off. One woman had to quit early. We all understood.


img_5817We were thirteen, counting facilitator — all women (remind you of anything? Just kidding). Half the group was trained as teachers themselves but came to write as participants. Maureen Jones, pictured in closest Adirondack chair below, was lovely. She knew how to open up to the imagination AND keep time. She was thoughtful in her responses to EVERYONE and shared her own work. She helped all of us cope with the oppressive air by here and there adapting the schedule. If she judged anyone, it didn’t show.


There she is again, on the right.

The couple who ran the place produced one delicious meal after another, often featuring produce from the garden. Because I was neither procuring nor preparing food and because I was vigilantly excluding sugar (and gluten) from my diet, I DID NOT THINK ABOUT FOOD EXCEPT WHEN I WAS EATING IT. I cannot tell you how unusual and liberating this was.

I woke up in time to see the sunrise one morning. One evening, a lightening bug flew into my room and made a flashing circle around me before exiting. One afternoon there was rain and a double rainbow. Nothing like my day to day, in other words.

Next post: something about the writing part of the getaway.

Exercise in imitation of Colum McCann

Water Was

Water was refreshment. A bringer of fish. An instrument of light. A place to strip and ease the skin during blasting afternoon heat. Water was a knee baby’s source of joy. A place to gather and launder cloth.

Now, water was a shark bath, an endless stretch of grey, a bobbing, rocking, and storming transport. The repetitive slap of waves on the boat’s planks during the quieter days, delicate as it was compared to the pounding impact during torrential rain and wind, nevertheless tormented the kidnapped. The holds pulsed with the throbs of welts that puffed and stung where iron cut and abraded.  Joints vibrated in fiery ribbons of pain. Slap. Slap. Slap. Skin went sour with infection. Sick guts released over and over. Lips puffing to cracks. No wonder a slaver could be smelled two leagues off.

River-fresh water was something both less and more than memory.

The rocking made some of them sick. More seaworthy souls were sickened by the sliding puddles of vomit.  The defecation corner lasted all of one day and then it was the defecation hold, entire. In a short week and a half, dysentery would cause its floral notes to be squirted into the stew.

How could any man, tall, short, Portuguese, Dutch, English, with or without stripes, turn an entire ocean of water into such a vast jug of indignity?

Jemma vowed to appease his ancestors with blood.  Water might serve evil with its trans-Atlantic currents, but he would stand and rise on terra firma. He would stand and rise no matter the contour of the land drawing closer by the sick and sorry day.

Maghalah would be renamed “Maggie”.  The auctioneers couldn’t hear Yoruba in the syllables and the buyers didn’t care. By some stroke of weird fortune, an overseer haloed in red hair atop a face littered with freckles, such a strange sight to many of them, would buy both Maghalah and her mother, Saffron, but it would be hard to consider either the girl or her mother lucky by any other measure. Maghalah’s tiny frame would sweat and tremble all the way across the Atlantic to Sullivan’s Island. And after. The torment of the Captain’s violent privilege would not be remembered, but nor would it be forgotten. Trauma gone underground.

When the Passage and quarantine on the barrier isle were finally over, and after their sale and relocation, and during their ‘seasoning’, Saffron would comb her daughter’s hair in the pre-dawn hour and rattle on in a low voice about the acacia trees that ringed their village, about the clay along the Niger River, and ask in Yoruban, did her dear sweet girl remember the sound of women pounding cloth clean at the river, the thumps and the laughter?  Saffron worked memory like a defiant muscle. Saffron needed to speak her own tongue. Saffron wanted her daughter to remember, but wasn’t sure it helped. She no longer recognized what was balm to the soul and what constituted ongoing torture.

Home was not free of suffering, of course, but a natural order prevailed, more or less. Death might strike suddenly and heartlessly, imparting grief and ruin, but there was no one collection of people — not even competing and raiding tribes taking slaves – no one collection of people who had ever so thoroughly robbed another group of people of power and spirit and dignity, and then enforced that lowly status, savagely perpetuating it forward for twelve generations, based solely on skin color.

Though silence would become their primary language when in and among their captors, sometimes the native tongue of one or another of them would convey something immediate and raw. Such a conveyance might save a life – if the life wanted saving.  Or it might express a lyrical sentiment or nuanced observation that their broken English could not. And it mattered, even if only one other bondman in the field understood. Keening in their native language gave comfort in those early years.  Even if it was a voice of one or two, instead of the whole assembly, even if three or four languages rose in chorus, even if it was in the dark, fields and fields away from the Big House, where they were consigned to the dank, low spots of the woods, away. Small comfort as those echoes of home were, they would soon be transmuted, blended, and adapted to their new world, and faster than you might think possible.

This style exercise was written a few years ago and edited this morning, done in imitation of the opening section of “Dancer” by Colum McCann.

Though there’s some risk in publishing a couple of pages from my novel-in-progress, “Blood and Indigo,” I’m doing it anyway, partly because these pages have been rejected from the manuscript. Four of the novel’s characters show up — mother/daughter, the red-haired overseer, and Jemma. Only Jemma is based on a historic figure. He’s one of two figures consistently named in accounts of the Stono Rebellion (9/1739). The other is Cato.

All photos taken by me on an iPhone. In order: coffee pot from slave quarters at the Aiken Rhett House in Charleston; window opening and door and final house view from McLeod Plantation on James Island, sweetgrass basket was made by local African-American artisan and purchased at Charleston City Market.

Skip the lettuce

Every now and then I like a salad without lettuce. Here’s tonight’s version:

Diced base of green pepper / Small chunks of half a tomato / two celery stalks, chopped / 3 Tbs diced red onion / small handful of chopped endive / half a chopped avocado / one small cuke, peeled and chopped / chopped herb (cilantro or parsley).

Tasty with all kinds of dressings but my favorite is a tangy vinaigrette.

This is a single serving.

* * *

Great opportunity opened up last night: got a space at a writing retreat. I had moved on it late. It was full. Forgot about it. And then: ta da! I was first on the waiting list and a spot is mine!

Not only is it being held in my old stomping grounds just outside of Northampton in central Mass., it’ll be DAYS dedicated to writing and feedback. The timing couldn’t be better!

Brutally hot here again. Finn and I started our day in the lake!

I’ll be taking about a week-long break here.

A beautiful

A beautiful place to write. Coming inside now though to get out of the glare.

Neighbor’s yard. Even my peonies bloomed this year! After a many year hiatus.



A South Shore walk with my sister in law on Sunday brought vistas like these.

And this one, which makes me laugh. Our garage is pretty comparable.

Lament to a prompt

If you’re up for a lament without much by way of sentence structure, here’s my response to a prompt in class this morning (using a bunch of song/nursery rhyme fragments/Catholic echos). I may come back tomorrow and add the text but for now here’s the video. It runs 6:45 minutes. Sorry about the hair that kept bothering my lower lip.

Follow through

Finishing books that I abandoned after reading 100 or so pages is having a curiously strong impact on my sense of self. Who’d have thunk? It’s empowering! Since the New Year, I’ve completed a handful of books that, absent the #theunreadshelfproject (Instagram), I might never have finished.

With that in mind, I’d like to experiment with follow through here.

This is me: tomorrow I’ll post about unreliable narrators. Then: silence.

I may then write about the topic privately; I may not. But the point is — here there’s a hanging intention, a risk left unmet.

They are often tricky topics about race or my writing or both. I get nervous talking about my novel as if to do so is to jinx it or, almost as bad, to publicly shame myself for not being done yet.

Because some planned posts involve historic references and/or nuanced ideas about ownership of stories, I can’t bang them out the normal way. “The weather’s this. Patchwork is that.” I need time. And courage.

But, the posts don’t have to be perfect, either. The ideas don’t need to be fully fleshed out. And, though this is not best practice, I don’t even have to include all the necessary attributions at the time of publication. This isn’t scholarship, after all.

I’ve already had the experience of readers giving me important clarifications or details. And encouragement. Why wouldn’t I keep availing myself of that?

So deep breath.

Austin Kleon, from “Steal Like An Artist” speaks to this.

Jude Hill models this day in and day out. One way of looking at my intention here is that I want to apply a spiritcloth approach to historic fiction. In so doing, I hope to exemplify another of Kleon’s big ideas (one that is often misunderstood) which is to say that “Stealing like an Artist” means trying to think like people we admire. It doesn’t mean trying to copy what they make (although he attempts to normalize that as well, noting that all artists learn by copying and if you want to be good copy, not one, but many).

Well, this turned into a little Kleon book review which was not my intention!

Bye!

PS We got more than a foot of snow and a fourth nor’easter is on the way. Honestly, as long as K is not in Asia (which he was for the first two), I don’t care.