My short story “The Bellwether” is now available to read over at Plasma Frequency. They offer a print version for sale, or you can download a free PDF or Kindle version. Here’s an excerpt:
All night she dreamed of the wether’s bell. The sound threaded in and out of her sleep, sometimes as far away as the barn, sometimes as close as her bedroom window. She dreamed of the flock creeping … creeping … up through the shifting mist, pulling it behind them up the dark drive, smothering the house.
When she woke every window was uniformly padded in white, the barn invisible. She lay in bed, white sheets and striped pajamas, trying to shake off the chill that possessed her, hand and bone. Why hadn’t Oakley choked and coughed as she pulled him down to the barn? That belt had been wrapped tight around his throat.
A series of tankas, inspired by photographs taken on a hiking trip near Oneonta Gorge.
Slender branches inked
on frostbanks, this winding stream
a path of spirits
reflecting only wind-stirred
visions of our upright selves.
An icy mist builds
crystal rime on twig and stone;
inside, the heart roars
its endless need to freefall
through this fragile mortal frame.
On moss-covered stone,
frozen water droplets bloom
the way chaos blooms
when you look away: random,
irrepressible and wild.
across the looming rock face;
unseen, something cracks
and hikers damp down voices,
walk the path lullaby soft.
It’s true, I don’t know my own mind.
That shifting, sandy beach of thought, littered with unexpected debris after every storm. Truths washed up like rank seaweed and glowing agates, stranded jellyfish quivering in the early morning fog, one perfect crescent of serrated shell, half-buried. A net for catching.
(“Catching what, though?” you may well ask. “And what will be thrown back? There’s a sharp edge to every hook and line.”)
More impossible still, to know someone else’s mind: a face turned into the wind, limbs clinging like limpets, or unclasped and bending away into the fog. An oyster shell, rough and cutting, shifts underfoot and tips balance. Perspective drifts. There are glimpses of phosphorescence, shimmering and fey, churned up by the waves.
No wonder communication is so absurd! It’s all we can hope for, after each mad flounder from one foreign beach to another: to reach out in blindness and fold our fingers around a strange hand reaching also, to pull with all the goodwill we can muster.
All we can hope for is to collapse, laughing (please, let there be laughing!) in a salty-wet tangle of sand and grace.
Night time. The jasmine exhales a sigh of relief; the cares of another day have slipped into shadow. A string of patio lights twinkles away in conversation with the city of Wilsonville to the south. The patio lights sing of their own brightness and the city blinks like an old woman, amused. I listen idly, pondering the nature of truth and lies.
There’s a shuffling and scraping in the heart of the rosebush.
I’m expecting a rat, for difficult thoughts often bring out the very worst of expectations, don’t they? But no, it’s a tiny possum, no more than a shaggy silhouette, two red eyes glittering. I know her straight away.
“Baby Possum!” I say, “What are you doing out here, all alone?
“Dithering hither and yon, enjoying the breeze,” she says. “It’s not grubs you’ve got in that pretty blue bowl, is it?”
“Well, no. Sorry. Ice cream, actually.”
“Ah.” Her nose wrinkles, and she looks, oddly, a bit wise.
Quite wise in fact, and I’ll take any guidance I can get. “Hey, listen. I’ve been worrying over something. Maybe you can help.”
I think for a moment, drawing little circles in the melting ice cream with my spoon. “How do you know if a person is being truthful, or lying for kindness’ sake?”
“Why does that matter?”
I don’t want to say, as the source of my wondering is a bit shallow, and no one wants to look bad, even in the eyes of a possum. But still, it’s led to deeper thoughts. “It’s just that sometimes truth is hurtful, and lies keep us whole. But it’s good to be truthful. And lying is wrong.”
She snorts a tiny wheeze of a snort and scratches her ear. ”Okay. So?”
“I find it a bit confusing, is all.”
“Look here. Truth: I am a rat.”
I laugh. “But no! You are a baby possum. I see you quite clearly in the glow of the twinkle lights.”
“You trust your own eyes to see truth then? You trust the lights to reveal it?”
I look at the string of lights boasting to the city. I admire the halo around them (a side effect of laser eye surgery). I look at Possum, who has a skinny rat tail and a pointy nose.
She laughs, not unkindly, and turns her back on me, slipping away into the thorny maze of the bush.
“But where are you going?” I call after her.
“Now that,” the small voice comes back, muffled and overlaid with the scent of roses, “that is a much better question.”
We make a merry trail—the music of the paddles, the colored glowsticks, the lamps glittering at their own reflections. Bats swoop low under a moon-milk sky. I know it’s insects they’re after, but still they seem to be chasing our lights.
Thirty-five boats on the river tonight.
For some, there’s a crescent edge of fear. They see the fingers of fallen trees reaching up through the current and take note of their own heartbeats. But most are simply happy to be here. How beautiful, on such an evening, to have three kayaks to patrol our edges, guide us through the rough spots.
Conversations carry across the water, voices surfacing singly and in groups. There’s electricity, not just an effect of the lights, but a pure human energy—people connecting, sharing, watching out for each other. In the dark, separated from the solid earth that grounds us, we are reduced to something essential, something pure.
My lantern skims the river ahead of the bow, a jar of fireflies to shine the way. The sweeper comes up from behind and sends a low call echoing downstream. I can’t quite make out his words, but the meaning is clear:
Keep joy, my friends. No one will be lost tonight.
Congratulations to Ed Martin and George Wells, fellow Scribbers who have work in this issue, and also to the creators of Shadow Road. The site looks great, and I’m looking forward to reading the other stories and poems.
The way the poppies
bursts from pavement cracks
and highway medians,
floods luminous and wild
over mugs of black coffee.
and hearts together.
Tidy souls, we
to find such illicit love
on a monday morning
Charles maneuvers Ava’s arms into the ruffled apron that waits on its hook. He pushes up the corners of her mouth with his thumbs. “There’s a good girl,” he says, and turns her toward the kitchen.
The clatter of women’s work relaxes him. Drowsing over his keyboard, he dreams of pot roast and mounds of buttery sweet potatoes arranged just so on his plate.
A crash jolts him awake. Ava stands frozen in the center of gleaming marble tile, surrounded by shards of white ceramic. When he reaches for her, a warble rises from the depths of her throat like birdsong stretched thin and plucked with a fingernail.
“Knock that off,” he growls.
Her lips curve up on their own. With an airy pop she implodes, the rubbery crumples of her smile raining down on his shoes.
“The Bathhouse at Carson Hot Springs” is now available in the Fall 2011 edition of Poetry Quarterly. You’ll find it on pages 67-70. The poem appears to end on the first page, but keep reading–there are three more pages after that!
You can read it online now, and there will be a print version available soon (just in case you are related to me and feel obligated to pay for my work).
Happy holidays to you all!