The Garden Avenger Versus The Scourge: A Not-So-Fictional Story

Trigger Warning: Contains descriptions of insecticide, gore, and, of course, insects.

Day 1

Not only are the butternut squash anemic-looking, but now they are writhing. The novice gardener had noticed that the vines had been in decline for a couple days. She’d wondered whether the wilting meant they needed to be watered more. She had surveyed her raised beds at a remove, not getting20150821_090237 her fingers or eyes down into the dirt.

For which she paid dearly.

On Day 1, The Scourge made their presence known. Legions besieged the squash that had once thrived.20150821_090251

The war had begun in earnest.

The Garden Avenger was born.

Day 2 (early)

As fortuity would have it, the Avenger had a bag—and then some—of diatomaceous earth, a natural solution she used for dusting her duck coop.

Bellows in a steely vise, she wanted to feel as light-hearted and buoyant as Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins.” She wasn’t. So, she went a’poofing (no, not that kind, definition 2).

After 30 minutes spent squash patch–squatting, she had made that section of the garden look like Narnia during the Long Winter.

Insectoid forms skittered and scattered far and wide. Victory had been seized from the pincers of defeat!

Day 2 (later)

The fecking foe had returned after a few hours. Presumably some had scuttled away and succumbed to the pale pixie dust.

The Garden Avenger suited up, bellows again in pink-gloved adamantine hands.

The land was again white.

Day 3

The rains came. And came. And came.

And the persevering pests returned, trying to make inroads in the melon patch.

The Garden Avenger shrieked within: “Oh, hell no! You do NOT take my watermelons!” (Again, novice gardener that she is, she had never gotten a melon to reach full maturity and loved—nay, worshipped—the sweet red ambrosia as much as Ralphie’s old man in “A Christmas Story” loved turkey. Yes, indeed, squash bugs were the Garden Avenger’s version of the Bumpus hounds!)

The Avenger promptly went into full-on “Après moi, le deluge” mode, spraying far and wide, chasing each little blighter as it tried to flee under a leaf, along the garden board, under the garden board, or into the snake’s den in the splitting railroad tie flanking the upper garden.

In the Garden Avenger’s mind, the work was either done or, as per her trusty Farmer’s Almanac, the level of infestation was so great, it was time for more drastic measures.

Day 4

This day, Mister Green-Eyed Hornet Lantern Arrow Man made an appearance, because the Garden Avenger was busy slaying the Green Blades (of Grass) gaily swaying. (Okay, they were mocking.)

Seeing his work and the quick return of the brown beasts, the Garden Avenger was sore wroth. She dusted. And dusted. And dusted.

And then, she could take no more as the wary wrigglers returned.

Pity had fled. She vowed to slaughter them all.

She chased, and she crushed. She felt revolted and merciless when one body exploded in a pus-green confetti-sludge, then the next. Then the next.

Tiny ones. Slow ones. Fast ones. Old ones. Gray ones. Brown ones. In the back. In the face. Some separated into segments, head and body asunder. Some merely . . . smeared.

She wanted them gone. Yesterday.

Mister Green-Eyed Hornet Lantern Arrow Man had suggested a blow-torch, but lacked some of the parts needed after searching the shed.

She rationalized that she had saved them from fiery deaths. After all, they are called squash bugs, she punned. They’re meant to be . . . well, squashed. Right?

That night, her brain lay awake, wriggling, worrying, troubled by her malice. She knew what would need to come next.

Day 5

It needed a burning.

. . . saga to be continued

Microfiction Monday

Monster’d

monster in mirror image

 Image credit: Talented artist ??**

Never mind what Twain said about standing between the mirror of imagination and a text. Petralina had a houseful of looking-glasses, and, far from a Babel, they hissed aspersions with one shimmering tongue, half-lolling reality on a carpet of choked illusion. Olive complexion, ha! More like a festering, Frankensteinian*, puke-green cucumber. Rotted-through.


Addenda:

*The monster, not Dr. Frankenstein. Meaning, created by Frankenstein.

**If this is your image, I’d love to give you, the artist, credit for it, rather than the online political rag where I found it and, I presume, where it was used without your permission. Or, alternatively, I can remove it. Please let me know.

As to my extracurricular reading, I’m continuing on the Twain trail these days. And I’ve re-discovered the “Science of Us” Web site—specifically this story about people who experience body dysmorphic disorder, which strikes home for this self-deprecating introvert—and it ignited a thought that then formed a microfiction story around the challenge.

This belated microfiction piece was written for the Grammar Ghoul Shapeshifting 13 #8 challenge, which is now in the voting phase. Definitely drift on over there and have a look-see and then a vote-see for those talented folks. Perhaps you can then catch the next go-’round of the GG challenges.

On the Road with the Wordsmiths

We are on holiday. Nonetheless, for your viewing and reading entertainment, here are a few phone snaps as we travel the states. I hope you all are enjoying whatever season you find yourselves in.

On that #travel note, you might also like to check out Cee’s “Which Way?” photography challenge, which asks for your best photographs of paths, signs, ways, roads, walking trails, tunnels, railways, and so on. Totally unplanned, but I managed to get several pictures that fit the challenge (some not shown here). In addition to seeking your photos, Cee has some intriguing photos of her own this week, particularly a “shadow tree-person” that could easily be used to fuel a fiction-writing prompt.

And remember: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” (Mark Twain, from Innocents Abroad)

Spending My Words: Sixteen Quotes on the Craft of Writing

Bookpiles_20020130_2770

So many stacks, so little time. (And this is a small one to select from, in the “library”!)

For no particular reason other than word-love, here are some quotes on writing, perseverance, and the writing life. Some are also beautiful examples of writing. I hope at least a few are ones you’ve never read and they encourage you to seek out more from that author, if s/he is unfamiliar to you.

  • The incurable itch of writing possesses many. (Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoëthes.)–Juvenal, Satire, VII
  • True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,/As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.–Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism, II
  • I have words to spend and sometimes spend them foolishly, of course, squandering verbs and nouns, sending metaphors askew, and using similes like fireworks whose sparks often fail to flame.–Robert Cormier, I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor
  • Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.–Jorge Luis Borges, Dr. Brodie’s Report, preface
  • Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.–Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar
  •   . . . it seems to me that subject matter doesn’t determine genre. Genres only start existing when there’s enough of them to form a sort of critical mass in a bookshop, and even that can go away.–Neil Gaiman, ” ‘Let’s talk about genre’: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation,” The New Statesman
  • If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.–Toni Morrison, attributed by New York Times
  • A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.–G.K. Chesterton, Heretics
  • If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.–William Faulkner, quoted in The Paris Review Interviews, 1959
  • You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
  • This [being put in the “naughty box” by a teacher] was just the first of the many humiliations of my youth that I’ve tried to revenge through my writing. I have never fully exorcised shames that struck me to the heart as a child except through written violence, shadowy caricature, and dark jokes.–Louise Erdrich, The Paris Review, Art of Fiction No. 208
  • [As a mother who writes] Either you end up writing about terrible things happening to children—as if you could ward them off simply by writing about them—or you tie things up in easily opened packages, or you pull your punches as a writer. All deadfalls to watch for.–Erdrich, ibid
  • Get out of your own way and become willing to learn from people who are clearly qualified to offer you sound advice.–Christina Katz, Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids
  •  . . . everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.–Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
  • . . . The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone. so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. . . . –Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. Your “forbidden” passions are likely to be the fuel for your writing. . . . Without these ill-understood drives you might be a superficially happier person, and a more involved citizen of your community, but it isn’t likely that you will create anything of substance.–Joyce Carol Oates, “To a Young Writer,” in The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art
  • Words. Words that allow us to communicate, to reach out, to touch each other if only verbally. And the other side of words where we find silence. And how silence, too, is precious. Knowing when not to use the words and holding them back, which isn’t always easy.–Robert Cormier, ibid

QUOTES from (in no particular order)

I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor, Robert Cormier, ed. by Constance Senay Cormier, Delacorte Press, 1991.

” ‘Let’s talk about genre’: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation,” The New Statesman

Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books, 1994.

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003.

The Pocket Book of Quotations, ed. by Henry Davidoff, Pocket Books Inc, 1942.

The New International Dictionary of Quotations, selected by Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, Signet, 1988.

GoodReads

The Paris Review, Interviews: Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208

Bunnies with Bombs: A Year (and Then Some) of Writing Dangerously

Bunnies with bombs_rotated

“Bunnies with bombs,” she says; I say: like a good book!

I write rough. And judging by the spate of rejections in the last 8 months, quite rough.

But this post is not about that. It’s my 100th post—pop the literary corks, y’all—and I’m reflecting on the past year and five months that I’ve been blogging on WordPress.

First and foremost, I thank you all again for being here.

Suffice it to say, I never expected to get to this destination. This writing-and-sharing-my-angst depot is a surprise, but a welcome one.

I never expected you wonderful 200-odd folks to trip the lines, occasionally fantastic, along with me, from my first few tenuous, nonfiction baby-blogging steps into full-blown fiction and what turned out to be a serial novella, called “Undelivered Valentines.”

My nebulous goal, I can safely say—to write more regularly and, moreover, to take gut-twisting chances with my fiction (and the occasional poem or nonfiction piece), including submitting it to applicable publications and contests—has been achieved, gang-busters.

Spooling through my Submittable account (one of the leaders in content-submission systems for fiction and poetry writers—hint, hint—along with others like the up-and-coming publishing platform Medium), which nevertheless doesn’t embrace all the legwork that I’ve done, I see I’ve submitted to at least 10 publications and/or contests since late November 2014, which exceeds what I’ve been able to do in the past, working within only a wedge of part-time. Several times, I’ve tried the same market; I haven’t pitched the same piece each time, but I have re-submitted. You know what they say about not succeeding the first time . . .

Speaking of submissions and rejections: if you are a writer, are you making time to resubmit your work? See Damyanti’s provocatively titled “Do You Submit Like a Man?” for inspiration.

That said, I have even had the good graces to not submit a piece but be approached to have a poem appear (titled “Bivalve’s Love Song”) in a literary magazine. This time, it was in Grammar Ghoul Press’ spring 2015 issue of The Ghouls’ Review.

Along the way, I have received numerous and invaluable feedback moments from editors, guest readers, beta readers, and many among you. I have also done a good deal of reading, although a person can never do enough of that! How does a writerly gal get so lucky?

toasting-image-blogiversary

Yep, I’ve left it all on the page and now am hollow. Time for a story re-fill!

In short, my year-and-almost-a-half blogging has been “bunnies with bombs,” a phrase suggested by my thoughtful and funny daughter (who has not, by the way, seen “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or its rabbit of Caerbannog). I suppose it’s fitting, as my Chinese astrological sign is that of the {presumed creative} rabbit. (All in good fun, my fellow STEAM-loving friends!) So, something agile and prolific linked to something painful, life-changing, and even lethal, making for quite a novel combination. Yep, that pretty much sums up what writing fiction and nonfiction (and drama and poetry, for that matter) require. Blood on the keyboard, tornadoes in the brain, tears on the cheeks, and vim, vinegar, and perseverance in the veins.

And so, a final toast: here’s to many more years, friends.

Let’s do what you fear most,/That from which you recoil/but which still makes your eyes moist.–attributed to Lou Reed

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.