You can take my sight, but my mind will still see what it must, and my fingers will become eyes. You can take my hearing, I will imagine what I must, and my eyes will become ears. You can take my tongue, but my body will shout what I must, and my hands will speak volumes. The only thing you cannot take is my words, for without them my prison would be complete and I would be rendered mute, deaf and blind, and that is a fate from which I could never hope to emerge.
This is what I would tell my sons: “You came from an ancient people, a heritage of poets and tailors, or thieves and blasphemers, of callous men and slaughtered children. I would give you these books, written by God, some have said, although I am doubtful but driven by Erato, without doubt.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “I didn’t go to war — there were so many options and I chose one where my feet would touch only Texas mud, where the only bullets were quickly fired on the rifle range. I wasn’t one of the 56,000. I didn’t come home in a body bag. But I do stop at the Wall each time I visit D.C. and say farewell to those who did.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You have never known the hunger for a scrap of bread pulled from a dumpster, you have never spent a night on a steam grate hiding under yesterday’s newspapers from the rapidly falling snow. You never stood nervously at the waiting room of a dingy clinic waiting for a young, uncaring doctor to announce that antibiotics would likely clear up the infection but you should avoid any form of sex for a couple of weeks.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You come from a heritage of poets.”
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008
He said the assignment is an easy one for this class, write a piece, poem or story, your choice, but focused on a single metaphor. Oh, and to make it interesting, that metaphor should be the last pet you owned or currently own, and if you’ve never been blessed with a pet, use an ocelot or a lynx.
How hard could it be, I thought, I have a cat, she will be my metaphor, and so I sat, picked up pen and paper and absolutely nothing came.
The cat watched me, heard me mutter under, I thought, my breath, then gently mewed: “Cats cannot be metaphors, you should know that, for we are unique in nature, unless of course you wish to write about God, for we know that we were created in his image.
Step right up, don’t hang back, come and watch the fool perform for you. You know me, bedecked in motley emotions worn like so many colorful rags, a suit of too many shades and hues, all displayed for your entertainment. See if you can find ten shades of anger as I prance around in front of you. Count the five flavors of tears that start and stop like a passing storm. Laugh at me as I pirouette, a dervish who loved blindly long after the love of my patron had died. See me in my fool’s cap, the bells of rage and guilt dangling from its points. If that isn’t enough to bring out a laugh, watch as I rip out my heart and lay it at your feet, still beating to the rhythm of the song to which she grew deaf so long ago. Rain your scorn on me as I stumble across the stage, for though they ring hollow, it is them that I most crave, a redemption that no monarch could hope to offer. Step right up, don’t hang back, come and watch the fool perform for you and do not pause to think that you could as easily be here, on this stage, and I out there marveling at you, wondering what you did to ever deserve such a fate.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
After all that has happened, after all of the changes tumbling one upon another, after breathing again new air, after ceding fear to hope when I sit down to write it all I have at the end is a small glass of snow in the middle of July.
Mark your doorpost with the blood of the lamb for this may be the night when God’s emissary arrives for the killing of the first born. Will he be a night bird half raven, half vulture or an aged man concealing his weapon in shabby robes.
Mark your doorpost and check it often for if your neighbor wipes the blood away, you will be visited and no amount of pleading will deter him from his task. There are no interim plagues remaining to buy you time, if he chooses to come tonight.
Put your ear against the window and listen for him. Will he come on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle in his pocket, to pay your fare to the ferryman?
But if you do not believe, perhaps he will forget to come.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
You came, Harlan, to Rochester somewhere in an endless winter, “Ellison in Tundraland” you said. We all chuckled approvingly.
You said a short prayer climbing into the rusting Opel, sliding on the edge of oblivion, and the approaching snowplow.
You stood, hoarse, smelling of Borkum Riff and English Leather, a tweed jacket over a polo shirt and thinning jeans and told us of the insanity of television, a medium pandering to idiots. We nodded, hoping you would finish before the Star Trek rerun.
We sat in Pat and Sandy’s as you consumed two orders of fries, and a dwindling bowl of ketchup. Later we sat in the Rat, staring at the empty bottles of Boone’s Farm until you took pity and ordered two pitchers. You were our patron saint.
Solzynitsyn was exiled to a cabin in Vermont, staring as the leaves greened and fell under winter. You served your banishment in the land of lost souls, miles from any reality.
First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)
Last night the actors trod the boards carrying us on their backs. This wasn’t Pittsburgh but we believed it so. We’ve never been to the Hill but we walked its blighted streets. In the mirror we are white, but not last evening. He is five years dead but last night August Wilson escorted us to a place we had never imagined, and we were all too glad to visit.
It should be easy, my friend said, to imagine yourself a character in a novel you particularly like, like I’ve found myself in any number of Tom Clancy novels, since I can easily become a CIA agent, it fits me.
I know I’d shoot myself in the foot or worse, and I’d keep no secrets if you even threatened to torture me, and the odds of me finding my own Doctor Watson are slim, harder still since I abhor even the thought of opium, and I gave up my pipe years ago when the girls found it odd or disgusting, not the cool I sought.
So I’m left with being a young Japanese woman negotiating life in modern Tokyo, or the countryside, but I’m nit sure Banana Yoshimoto would buy me as her protagonist, so I suppose I could do a quick deep dive into ballet and try and pass for Shimamura, but I know I’d opt for Yoko and that wouldn’t suit Kawabata at all
Come to think of it, I have a hard enough time being myself, and even as my own author, I find that I would never accept myself as my protagonist, so that role is still available if you would care to audition.