Two Flashes: Mysterious Microfiction

Bleeding Pen--Objects

Copyright Leigh Ward-Smith, from 2014.

You’ve heard of Grammar Ghoul Press and their flash fiction depot, yes? If you haven’t, then get thee to the punnery straightaway.

They hold a number of weekly writing-prompt challenges: a mutant 750-word one, a 66-worded chimera, and, next week (around May 13th), Continue reading

Poetry Review: Robert Okaji’s If Your Matter Could Reform

10592324_10153113120915120_689180005_nIt’s April, National Poetry Month, and I want to think of poet Robert Okaji’s new chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform, as a song cycle. It does, after all, make music of the words with which we gird our lives: “In the marrowbone of night,” he writes, “your song parts the fog.” [“Trains”]

It’s not any casual poetry, crammed with namby-pamby rhymes and beats, easily forgettable and born-discardable. Like the best, it’s steeped in Stygian waters, chipped at by the fine, diamond-point of time, and polished to an exacting degree. You might begin to wonder ‘where’s my place’ wrestling with these words. And, oh, the words! Let’s not overlook those.

The chapbook’s title stems from the subjunctive mood: “if” this hypothetical or contrary reality could happen, then something equally magical follows. This conscious naming choice places the chapbook on prosodic terra firma. The subjunctive is the very expression of doubts, wishes, desires, regrets, and requests. What a perfect spot in the universe from which to peel back the curtain and show a reader a bit of the poet’s wheelhouse!

This book, available now on download through Dink Press, is not packed to the gills with snobby, high-falutin’ poetic argot, but it needn’t be. To paraphrase another poet, its fresh directness gets at where the deep-down things live, though it is neither emotionally or intellectually doused nor tamped fashionably.

From twinkling stem to stern, this chapbook moves: in and through itself, outside itself, through you, and through time.

“To sweeten the dish, add salt. To bear the pain,

render the insoluble. . . .

My mother brought to this country a token of her death to come.”

Readers of Bob’s blog, O at the Edges, will feel a favorite-blue-jeans kind of familiarity to the poem “Ashes,” which is probably, along with the more traditional, one might say, love poem “Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon,” at the highest-water point in the chapbook for personal (brushing up against confessional) poetry. Although I’ve never met Bob in real life, I get a sense of his actual flesh-and-blood voice, timbre, pitch, pattern, in these two poems in particular. I would also add “Earth’s Damp Mound,” which I was fortunate to read in Bob’s blog in the past year. But these two pieces plumb the emotional depths as they must, in matters of regret and remembrance, both personal and the hinted-at historical, as in “Ashes,” and shoot to a zenith when the narrator himself implores his beloved to “Talk music to me. Talk conspiracies/and food and dogs and rain. Do this/under the wild night sky.” [“Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon”]

Perhaps the quintessential question in this 16-poem volume prods you out of any complacency as a reader and, if you are a writer, drives your courage back to the sticking place: that empty page. “Are words ever enough?” [“If We Burn”]

There’s a Shakespearean sonnet here, too, where “Nothing is everything, but before.” [“Nocturne with a Line from Porchia”] There is ample praise of gravity and of lives well lived and written, even if “the words find[ing]themselves/alone, without measure,/without force, and no body to compare.” [“Earth’s Damp Mound”]

It seems to me that Bob’s friend and mentor, Prentiss Moore, eulogized so eloquently here [“Earth’s Damp Mound”] and elsewhere, would applaud the herculean effort of the chapbook—it goes a long way toward elevating the diminished thing (one’s life sifting by and any accrued regrets) and reforming both lost matter and memories. What more could an author ask of him or herself? What more could a reader want beyond a hushed “come over here and let me share my hard-won secrets with you” from a wise friend or confidant? If Your Matter Could Reform might be the key fob to the private kingdom in that regard.

photo(26)


Texas poet and one-time bookstore owner Robert Okaji frequently shares his original poetry and thoughts on other bibliophilic interests at his blog: O at the Edges. His first chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform, is now available for digital download from Dink Press, via their Etsy shop, for a mere $1. Think of it as caffeine direct to the intellect, and at well under the price of a traditional cup of coffee.  Print versions are slated to be available April 19, 2015.

Love in Ten Lines

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

April is celebrated as NPM by the Academy of American Poets, among other groups. Use #npm15 to connect w/like-minded folks.

Well, cruelly or not, here it is April already. Happy National Poetry Month (more details on this in a later post)!

As for a poetics of the personal, I was asked almost a fortnight ago by fellow writer and friend Sarah Potter to wax poetic on the subject of love, following certain parameters and with strictures that I still managed to both tangle and mangle, for the “Love in Ten Lines Challenge.” You’ll have to forgive me on several fronts. I’m steadily pedaling back up to speed on blogging—both writing and reading/commenting—after a bout with spring sinusitis that decided to invite my eye in for the party. I’ll spare you further allergological details (in any case, they happened after I’d written these two poems anyway).

Briefly, here are the rules of the 10-line love challenge:

  • 10 lines only, on love.
  • “Love” must appear in each line.
  • Each line must be exactly 4 words.
  • Include a quote about love (it can be your own quote).
  • Use any language you choose.

As grateful as I was to be invited, no obligations attached, by Sarah to take part in this challenge, I’m a little rowdy with the rules, I guess. I’m supposed to formally invite other bloggers to take part, but I feel as if I’d be imposing on y’all if I call out specific people, even though I do have several of you in mind. But everyone is so busy. That said, if you’d like to take part in this challenging premise, I informally welcome you. Then we can probably just call it a free-verse free-for-all.

Finally, who doesn’t like a good word brawl with one’s language every now and again? (Even if you get a bit of a black eye, as I feel I have here . . .)

A Museum of Moments

Love, my heart’s Braille,

written for unseen loves,

suitors untailored for love,

in love with veils,

of ragged things unloved.

gagged love, silken bonds

fixed fast. Everyone loves.

We covet coursing love-

blood. Strange museum, love:

where we all sight-see.

Beloved Dust

My little loves, fay

folk, loved beyond mortal

measure. Love carves us

out of softwood. Love

chips love away, shapes

each love in fashion.

Shavings, sharp edges; love

leaves behind even love

itself sometimes. Love sears

into each beloved grain.


Oh, a final finally. The quotes!

“Love is not love/
which alters when it alteration finds.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)

and, for more on fissile or weathered love, we have the Peter Gabriel lyric:

“. . . In lovetown,
I can’t settle down.
And do those teeth still match the wound?
Take a good look around
In lovetown.” (from “Lovetown,” available on the 2-CD release “Hit” [disc two of which is called “Miss”])

Friday Fictioneers: Good Woolf

PHOTO PROMPT © Lauren Moscato

Photograph © Lauren Moscato

Good Woolf

GENRE: Fan Fiction, Science Fiction

Word Count: 161

Meg Jansen rented the flat primarily because it met her basic requirements: not so much location, location, location as cheap, cheap, cheap. Besides, it made for a tidy little writing room of her very own.

One night as she burned the mid-write oil on a fourth draft, moonlight shot a shaft of light in through the window, moving her to the weird door that connected her room to the column of air above the street.

She opened the padlocks, cultivating a fervent hope of glimpsing the dragon’s orb surveying her. Yet she didn’t expect to step out into an expansive space of machinery—pulsing wires, cable trails, a console, and a man in a brown trenchcoat bent over it as if in study.

Where's that sonic screwdriver, now?

Now where’s that sonic screwdriver?

Stranger still: When he turned and introduced himself only as “the Doctor,” all she could think of was Virginia Woolf and weeping angels. Either way, it was going to be an interesting night.

****

This science fiction flash fiction piece, created expressly for Rochelle’s weekly Friday Fictioneers, was edited down from 204 words to the more manageable 156. Of course, I had to butcher one or two darlings in the process and should have done more trimming to get it to fit the 100-word parameter better. I seldom get the chance to write any fan fiction. That said, I loved writing and editing this. And by the way, thank you for reading. Do check out the other fictioneers for some fine weekend reading.

Voyager, Voyeur

Qu’eethi pressed a naso-orbital bone to the substandard instrument. The outer-planetary object would be making its descent soon, and Qu’eethi was watching. Dorsal salivary ridges, as phantasmagoricized as Qu’eethi, underwent piloerection as the nimbus came into view. Had Qu’eethi been on ancient Earth, the object’s make-up would’ve been clear: discarded spacesuit, minus occupant.

Qu’eethi hoped they didn’t have another sticky collide-o-scope event on their hands’ hands.


The kaleidoscope pun (and attendant image of an alien peering through a telescope of some kind) arrived almost instantly when I read the Chimera 66 #11 challenge word. It then became a matter of how to spackle a decent microflash around the word. I’m not sure I succeeded—if only I had about five more words!—but it’s a fantastic exercise to work those sprint-fiction muscles . . . AND, besides, I love supporting in my own minute way what Suzanne and the ghouls have gotten tumbling with their endeavor.

In researching medical and astronomy terminology, some that I’d forgotten once upon a time (oh, for a 20-year-old’s memory capabilities!), I stumbled across this fascinating fact. Did you know that a “retired” spacesuit was rigged with a radio device and set adrift from the International Space Station in February 2006? I didn’t remember that. Specifically, it was an Orlan spacesuit. And Wikipedia said so, so you know it’s gotta be true. :)

Hope you enjoyed pondering the squidgy sci-fi microfiction this week, including Qu’eethi’s possible motives had the “Earth being” made a live touchdown. Do peruse the other Sixty-Sixers this week for a decadent treat, comrades (hey, I’m channeling the Russian spacesuit)!

“Clamp his two hands in strong chains” (speculative flash fiction)

I took this photo from Andree at Scribe's Cave, for a prompt she had in early March (that I missed). Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the photo, which I felt nefarious (especially in the "surgeon's" smug smirk), that I was compelled to write about it.

I used this photo from Andreé at Scribe’s Cave, who used it for a prompt she had in early March (that I initially missed). More info at end of story.

They caught me unawares, the young one and the two old enough to have hairy faces.

My body, their pelt, their possession. They sneered. I supposed they’d never heard tell of the Tamboti tree.

I could tell the wide blue-eyed one was scared, but he readied the trembling handkerchief anyway. Coerced, no doubt.

“We’ll make a lesson of yew, boy,” was the last sentence my ordinary limited senses lapped.

They were lucky the straps and the medication rivoted me temporarily in place as the haughty side man prepared the bone-saw and hot iron cross for my leg.

Photograph of the leopard from the African Wildlife Foundation. Please consider supporting their conservation efforts, if you can.

Photograph of a leopard, from the African Wildlife Foundation. Please consider supporting their conservation efforts.

The man under a dark drape held the box aloft, and I saw it flash through my eyelids even as I was transforming, screen of skin sliding in on itself.

I felt the color rising as my hide erupted in a riot of bristly hairs.

Soon my only instinct would be shunted toward a decision: do I play with these muslin bags of flesh before I shred them asunder?


First, more on the original photograph. Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the depiction, which I felt nefarious, that I felt compelled to write (or right, as the case may be) about it. After looking at the man on the table, my indignation sprang from what I interpreted as the “surgeon’s” smug look; admittedly, it’s difficult to see for certain, and I don’t have the “patient’s” backstory, although I seriously doubt informed consent was something practiced in those days, plus given the horrors of slavery, I’m doubtful the black man was either asked or told what they thought might happen during the operation. All that said, I could be incorrect, so please feel free to give me the backstory if you can provide data sources.

Now, as far as the discussion of the writing proper . . .

Please do check out One Starving Activist, where Andreé Robinson-Neal hosts Scribe’s Cave, especially if you’re a fan of speculative fiction (i.e., sci-fi, fantasy, or horror).

If you’re curious as to the partial inspiration/origin of this shape-shifter fantasy story, other than the awful legacy of slavery, particularly in American history, you have to look back to Greco-Roman myth and the character of Proteus.

“Aristaeus [the demi-god who invented beekeeping] wept, when he saw all his bees killed and honeycombs abandoned incomplete. His sea-blue mother [the Naiad Kyrene (Cyrene)] could scarcely console his pain, and attached these final words to her speech: ‘Stop your tears, my boy. Proteus will lighten your loss, and tell you how to regain what is gone. But so he does not baffle you by altering appearance, clamp his two hands in strong chains.’
The youth approaches the seer and binds the limp arms of the sleeping old man of the ocean. Proteus uses his art to shift and feign his looks, but soon resumes shape, mastered by chains.” — from Ovid, Fasti I, translated by Boyle (Fasti is the “Book of Days,” or, specifically, a partial poem in six books that detail the first six months of the Roman calendar)

In a different translation of Ovid from Latin (by James G. Frazer), Proteus is likened to a wizard rather than a seer.

How to be a Woman in 2015: International Women’s Day

Although I am essentially armchair-bound with a nasty little nasal bug, I could not let today, International Women’s Day, pass without some comment.

I happen to agree with author Caitlin Moran, who wrote, in her book How to be a Woman:

Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society . . .”

Nor would I be allowed to operate this blog, choose to stay at home (at least for the first few years) to help raise my children, attend college for a higher education, or, indeed, to leave my hearth to pursue anything other than shoppin’, baby-birthin’, and other domesticatin’ duties.

tanzania1014_reportcover_CHILDBRIDES

As of 2015, girls worldwide, for instance, in Tanzania, Africa, are still forced into marriage. Human Rights Watch has a report on child marriage/human rights. Photo © 2014 Marcus Bleasdale for HRW.

Said another way, International Women’s Day (IWD) is an outright necessity. Yes, it’s Women’s History Month throughout March, but I wonder how many of us in the West (especially in the United States or Canada) can envision what being a girl or woman comprises in, say, China. Or Tanzania. Or India. Or Ecuador. Or a hundred other places or circumstances around the world that can be named with some fluidity. For some reason, Steubenville, Ohio; the dorms at Vanderbilt University; and NFL wives come to mind in the American context.

In short, as long as there are Jyoti Singhs in the world—far, far too many of them throughout history—whose light should be fiercely guarded and then raged against when it is monstrously snuffed out—there will be feminism.

Nota bene to any miscreants: women are not going away. We’re not going quietly or gently into the night. We’re not shutting up and taking it. We’re not sitting down or going to the back of the bus. We’re not staying barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. We’re not staying away or leaning backward. And we’re certainly not being brushed off, pushed over, or “bitch”ed into silence, even by one another.

But we are rocking the boat, shaking the tree, and talking the talk. So get used to it.

But don’t listen to only me on this matter. Moran is a good start if you’re looking for something modern and womanistic.

If you want something a little more in real-time, there have been some fantastic meditations on feminism, the need for IWD, the documentary called “India’s Daughter,” about the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, and much more just today, 8 March 2015. For those who’d like to do a search, this subject is also earmarked with the following hashtags: #womensday #IWD2015 #MakeItHappen #internationalwomensday

And I will highlight just a handful of springboards to immerse you in the current wading pool surrounding women’s rights worldwide: Suzy at Someday, Somewhere writes about Jyoti in “Let Her Light Shine On”; Corinne at Write Tribe offers a list of compelling quotes in “Use Your Voice”; the photographers of National Geographic offer a stirring pictorial account of women worldwide in “Portraits of Strength”; and, for some historical reading, activist and birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger’s writings and speeches can be found at NYU or here online if you’re not in New York.

In approximately the time it’s taken you to read this post so far, at least one woman or girl has been sexually assaulted in the United States. Figures vary planetwide, but the World Health Organization reports the following:

based on existing data from over 80 countries, [researchers] found that globally 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. . . . International studies reveal that approximately 20% of women (and 5–10% of men) report* being victims of sexual violence as children.

This Grendel of physical and mental violence has to stop. Come what may, we all have to unfetter our voices against misogyny, rape culture, and the oppression of a significant segment of the world population. Let sunlight and speech be our disinfectants, as well as our giant-slayers.

 

*Emphasis mine, as reported rates of sexual violence, rape, and incest are notoriously underreported.

Bivalve’s Love Song: Chimera 66 #5

(In Honor of, and with Simultaneous Apologies to, Valentine’s Day)

 

Oyster photo-bivalve-Flickr user swamibu

Oysters are the very definition of protean, beginning life as plankton and then becoming hard-shelled organisms able to change sex at least once per lifetime (photo by Flickr user Swamibu.)

 

From a temperate boudoir she comes,

fused with metamorphic rock.

You slaver to rasp slaty cleavage

with ravening tongue—

exploring textures.

It might be gneiss

to possess such a hybrid.

Highest bride,

whom I pried

from vinegar rest-bed,

for her “delicate, toothy texture”

and briny liqueur.

But sink this deeply into keratinized mind:

Being so caught up,

she has you shut in her

fickle flesh, adducted.


Inspired by Grammar Ghoul’s Chimera 66 #5 writing prompt. The prompt was oyster, and it probably helps to read the links I’ve provided above and here, unless you have a really good memory from high school biology on bivalves and other sea life (or, obviously, if you’re a marine biologist). Hope you enjoyed this innuendo-, entendre-, and pun-filled (semi-) writing departure; you might still have time to get yours done. The deadline is today (Friday), and there are great writers there already! Where are you?

MORE SOURCES & INSPIRATIONS:

On the Eastern oyster

W.B. Yeats, “Leda and the Swan”

And, finally, you might as well take a little trip back with gender-bending father Tiresias (who has “crossed the poles”); excuse the boring graphics–but the audio seems good except for clipping off the very end of the instrumental, which leads inexplicably into “Supper’s Ready” despite them being on different albums

 

Flowering: A Poem

'Thai maroon' guavas, a red apple guava cultivar, rich in carotenoids and polyphenols. In public domain, by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

These are “Thai maroon” guavas, a type of red apple guava cultivar. Image in the public domain, by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Flowering

 by Leigh Ward-Smith

You want me for

your hot guava girl.

Succulently sweet,

            not too loud.

Squeezable, tease-able,

not too proud.

Juice, jelly, jam:

able to be quashed

under the press of your flesh.

Pulp: pink or cream,

and willing.

Prone to ardor, rot, parasites.

You’re convinced my fruits will mummify

without your potable vigor, sure

my feathered veins will wither.

Still, I propagate in any soil

I desire.

 


This poem—which probably would have been titled “The Botany of Desire” if Michael Pollan hadn’t used it already, darn him!—was inspired by last week’s Grammar Ghoul (Chimera) 66-word challenge #4, whose deadline I missed a few days back. My advance apologies for the formatting in this; I’m not an html expert.

The prompt word was guava, as you might have guessed. For more on this fascinating fruit, you can try the University of Hawai’i Knowledge Master database on pests, crops, and much more, as I did. And also be sure to visit Grammar Ghoul Press, which has a garden-ful of weekly prompts, boys and ghouls.

.

 

 

 

 

Haiku High Jinks: On Word-Building and LEGOs

CandLego--Daily Imagination Haiku_2

Imagination power! Kid 2 thinks of the Bard (WS LEGO not seen above) as “Shakesbeard” and “Shakesbeer.” Which do you think he would like better?

 

Poet Ludens*

e.e.’s axiom:

which-y words flaying, zinging

out like darts in flesh

*Inspired by “what if a much of a which of a wind.” Text here at poem 75.

 

The Play-bow

The play-bow. RIP, big guy.

Ode to An Absent Friend

The red slide of your

back. An arc, bowing willow,

bark tethered to moon.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Imaginations

Three-headed robot.

’Sooth, “Shakesbeard” shall slay them all!

Words flare, sabrepoints.

 

Wall Light Haiku_2.1

The Art-Light Game

Light leapfrogs our wall.

Chiaroscuro hop-scotches,

Pollock play-splotches.

 

 

Written for the weekly (25 January 2015) Haiku Horizons, keyword “play.”