Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Maybe We Will Talk About the Shotgun"

By Cecele Kraus

My daddy and I are going out in the car to spend some time together. My mother says we should. It is early evening and starting to get dark. We head out to downtown Tuscaloosa, near Bryce State Mental Hospital. Daddy is a chaplain there. This is our time. Maybe we will talk. Football. Maybe Boy Scouts. Well, maybe about that shotgun he gave me. Grandpapa’s shotgun. I can’t wait to go hunting. Daddy doesn’t hunt but I can go hunting on Papa’s land. Maybe Daddy will come to my next football contest. Sometimes he does. But I don’t know. Sometimes he is off on trips with his choir. But now we are going to get something to eat. Together. Without my sisters. Without my mother.

I glance at him sideways. He is a little quiet. I don’t know what to say. I am wondering when we are going to Papa’s so that I can use that shotgun.

Papa Allen taught me how to shoot. Daddy doesn’t have time to go out in the woods. But Papa does and sometimes my cousins. And sometimes I just go by myself.
Sometimes I shoot a coon and leave it in Micaville with my cousins. Daddy did play football in high school and Papa traveled seventeen miles to town to watch the games and cheer. Daddy has told me about this. Papa would run up and down the sidelines cheering them on. I wish Daddy would run up and down the
sidelines at my games.

It gets quiet in the car. Daddy puts the radio on. Nat King Cole is singing. Daddy tells me what a good voice Nat King Cole has. He loves his voice. Daddy sings too but I don’t sing.

We are here now. We stop at the diner. Daddy says, “Philip, go in and get yourself a hamburger and a Pepsi.” I ask, “Aren’t you coming too?” Daddy is quiet. “No, just get what you want.” Confused, I go in and sit at the counter. I eat my hamburger. Out the diner window, I see a tall, dark-haired woman get into our car. It is getting darker. She only stays a few minutes. She leans over to kiss my daddy and then leaves. I feel sick. My stomach is hurting. I get back in the car. Daddy changes the radio station. A gospel quartet is on. I don’t say anything. Daddy is quiet.

Writer Cecele Kraus works as a psychotherapist in Chatham, New York. She is working on a collection of poems and short fiction.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


By Noah Kirsch

The landscape was brown and dry, void of any redeeming features except a shack near a tree in the distance. The leaves ruffled like chicken feathers underneath the midday Tuscan sun. A dirt road sliced through the countryside, dividing the picture in two.

Underneath a tree in the distance sat a decrepit man. His teeth had rotted away. His face was wrinkled like a raisin in the sun. The man had been hardened by eighty years of torment; by eighty years of weather so dry that the slightest wind brought real cotton to the mouth. He looked at the shack. The roof sagged like the middle years of his life. The boards had weathered away, leaving stark holes open to the elements. He blinked. Out of the corner of his eye a younger figure of himself walked out of the dark cabin. The young man’s eyes were wooden. He looked straight at the old man.

“Morto. Cadavere per un uomo.” He spat. “Mi fa venire il vomito.” (Dead. Corpse for a man. You disgust me). The old man made for a captive audience. He stared right into the young man’s uncompromising eyes. The old man tried to drop his head. He tried to look away. He tried to tell himself that this was all a dream. Not that he was imagining himself sixty years younger. Rather, the old man was trying to tell himself that he had not wasted his life on the desolate Tuscan field. He was unconvinced. The lightest breeze came across the man’s forehead and for a second he felt relief. He blinked and the young man before his eyes had vanished. The slightest tear trickled down his cheek.

Noah Kirsch lives in Spencertown, New York.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Hunca Munca in My Cupboard"

By Ellen Zunon

Little mouse feet scurry between the cans of scouring powder and silver polish while the Big Ones snore unaware above. It’s a hardscrabble life for a little soul, squeezing oneself in and out through cracks where the wind whistles through and swats your behind and tweaks at your tail and whiskers, and while the wind chimes flail furiously in the winter garden. Once inside the house, it is dark as a whale’s womb, but at least it is warm.

If your night vision is good enough, you can find a feast on the sideboard, perhaps the remains of a piece of marble birthday cake or the crumbs of an almond biscotti on the saucer of the hot chocolate mug left behind by one of the younger Big Ones. But be ready to dash into hiding behind the oatmeal canister if the snoring stops and the Biggest One staggers down the stairs toward the Room of Running Water. Alas, too late, unthinking, you go for a morsel on a wooden plate, and make it to Mouse Heaven.

Besides the Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter wrote many other stories for children about charming little creatures whose human clothing could not hide their mischievous animal natures. One of my favorites, read many times over when my children were young enough to want bedtime stories, was "The Tale of Two Bad Mice," who invaded a dollhouse at night and carried off such loot as a chair, a cradle, a bookcase and a bird cage. The culprits were named Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca.

I always got great amusement from this story with its anthropomorphic protagonists, and I especially liked the pictures of the pair sitting down at the dining room table and trying to carve a plaster ham with tiny tin knives, or trying to drag a bolster pillow down the dollhouse stairs and through their mousehole. I also like their descriptive names: Tom Thumb, a very fitting name for a mouse; but Hunca Munca? A musical rhyming name, perhaps after a pet mouse that Beatrix and her brother kept as children.

And so when a mouse (or mice) moved into the cupboard under my kitchen sink, I could not help thinking of Hunca Munca and her diminutive better half. They reminded me indeed of a pet white mouse my own brother had had when we were children, but who escaped from its cage one time and got loose in the basement, much to my mother’s consternation.
This new Hunca Munca must have gotten into our house through a chink in the foundation, pushed aside a square of insulation and leaped onto the basement floor. Perhaps she was shown the chink in the foundation by the chipmunk who lives under the front porch.

This Hunca Munca took up residence in the kitchen cupboard, but she ignored the canisters marked Coffee and Rice, which in Potter’s story turned out to have nothing inside but red and blue beads. Instead, she went on foraging forays in the basement storage room, chewing through an imported tapestry and leaving mouse droppings on the pristine white shelves where my daughter’s paintings are stored.

I could not bear the thought that she might try to make a meal out of a masterpiece.

In the story, the owner of the dollhouse declared that she would buy a doll dressed like a policeman. In real life, my sister asked me whether I would like to borrow a cat. She has four. But my husband and I decided somewhat reluctantly to use a conventional mousetrap.

Our first attempt was not successful.

“Did you set the traps?”

I asked my husband as he climbed into bed the first night.

“Uh huh.”

“What did you use for bait?” I asked.


“What did you use for bait?”

“Nothing. I just set the traps.”

Not surprising at all, we caught nothing that first night. After all, Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb are not stupid. It was a cat that was killed by curiosity, not a mouse. I knew we had to lure the invaders not with bare wood and wire, but with a tasty morsel.

Don’t let anyone tell you that mice like cheese. That didn’t work either. They weren’t interested.

On the third try, not wanting to strike out, I suggested peanut butter (no jelly, please!) on a piece of bread crust. We set two traps.

Bingo! The sight of a dead creature on my basement floor was distasteful, but I consoled myself with the thought that the animal had died a quick death. And I further justified the trap by telling myself that the bacteria that cause Lyme disease lurk in the digestive tracts of mice and squirrels.

So we were better off rid of this rodent after all.

And what of the trap set under the kitchen sink? Yes, there too, behind the wastebasket we found a sprung trap and a diminutive victim. There too, we emptied the trap and swept up the last of the mouse droppings (we hoped).

In Potter’s story, the two Bad Mice were “not so very naughty after all,” because they paid for everything they broke. They found a bent coin (the proverbial crooked sixpence, I presume) under the carpet in the dollhouse, and on Christmas Eve they stuffed it into one of the dolls’ stockings.

I found no such recompense in any of our stockings on Christmas this year.

But shortly after the New Year I began to see again tiny black specks of mouse droppings on the clean white basement shelves.

Stick around and maybe I will tell you the Tale of the Third Bad Mouse and how he met his demise.

Writer Ellen Zunon has taught English as a Second Language in the U.S., France and Cote d'Ivoire. She now hangs her hat in Guilderland, New York.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"The Vain Woman and the Bird"

By Robert G. Willner

Have I forgotten?
A shameful thing to do to a vain woman.
Perhaps I will create or recreate you.
Pretty, dark hair, curling round.
Bright lips, dark eyes
Absorbing, exuding intelligence.
Throw your head back and
Laugh with gusto.
So sure are you.
Yet, you look at me as a mirror.
You seek confirmation.

Look at the toucan
Vivid, majestic,
Bright red, yellow and blue.
How could you dream
She is no match for you.
You stare and she takes flight
Beautiful, beautiful!
You would like to imitate
A vain woman cannot fly.

Robert G. Willner lives in Chatham, New York. He has been an attorney and president of a drama company called StageWorks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"The Youngest Protester is Three Months Old"

By Paul Duggan
reprinted from The Washington Post

You might call Sheila Stumph a habitual offender. Her crime: civil disobedience.

Like countless other protesters drawn to the nation's capital over the years, Stumph isn't the type to keep quiet about the world's ills, as she sees them. It's her nature to speak up, to demonstrate, to loudly beg to differ until the police haul her away.

How many arrests?

"Oh, maybe nine or 10," she said on Thursday, January 18th. She was bundled against the cold outside the Supreme Court. It was the 30th anniversary of the resumption of capital punishment in the United States, and a dozen activists, including Stumph, 29, of North Carolina, showed up to protest the death penalty. Nine of the demonstrators planned to be arrested (though not Stumph, who had her 3-month-old daughter with her).

"My first arrest? November of 1997, with the School of the Americas Watch at Fort Benning, which was for Latin American human rights," she said. After that, the arrests mostly blur together. "At different executions in North Carolina. And at the White House. And at the Pentagon several times, over the war in Iraq, disarmament."

Cradling her baby, Stumph smiled and said: "This is Sasha. She was arrested in utero twice."

She watched from the sidewalk as nine protesters -- including her husband,
Scott Langley, 30 -- waited in line with tourists on the marble plaza in front of the court building, then stepped out and unfurled a 30-foot banner: "STOP EXECUTIONS!" Police moved in casually, allowing the demonstrators a few minutes to chant and make speeches before they were asked to disperse.

They, of course, refused. It's against the law to "make a harangue" on Supreme Court property. The officers calmly handcuffed the passive protesters.

"It's an inconvenience mostly," said the Rev. Frank Dew, 55, a Presbyterian from North Carolina. "Last time I was arrested, I just paid the fine. This time we're going to fight it, I think, because it's going to involve free speech on the steps of the Supreme Court, where free speech should be encouraged."

Another of those in handcuffs, Brian Buckley, 34, of Charlottesville, said, "It's sometimes necessary for people of faith to sacrifice their freedom for a more just and compassionate society."

On the sidewalk with Stumph stood Lorig Charkoudian, 33, of Takoma Park. How many arrests? "Four times," she said. "No, I think five times. Different things. The death penalty. Nuclear weapons twice. The war." Like Stumph, Charkoudian chose to remain free yesterday because she came with a child, 8-month-old Rafayel.

"When I was pregnant with him, I had a T-shirt out to here that said, 'We're not making children to fight wars,' " she recalled. "I got arrested at a recruiting station."

She and Stumph snapped photos as the protesters were led away, one by one. Jack Payden-Travers, 59, of Lynchburg, Va., refused to walk, so officers dragged him backward, his heels scraping along the marble. He grinned and bellowed, "This one's for Sasha!"

Stumph lowered her camera, smiling. "Thanks, Jack!"

Sheila Stumph is a native of Chatham, New York. She and her husband, Scott Langley, met at an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. in December, 2003, when protestors poured their own blood on pillars and doors at the entrance to the Pentagon. For several years, the couple operated a Catholic Worker House in Raleigh, North Carolina, which provided support, meals and housing to the families of death-row inmates.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"The Conductor," Conclusion

By Jennifer Wilson

He, like most, had for some time entertained the possibility that having a
family might bring him some satisfaction. The people around him had
families, and they all appeared to live happily enough. And so he had
pursued this course carrying the knowledge of it that he had gained on
television commercials and by watching other people proceed in kind. She had
always wanted children and when he showed signs of feeling similarly she was
thrilled, envisioning her life stretching out to old age with family photos
lining bookshelves and a fireplace to sit by late at night.

When they made love it was always pleasant, but afterward his mind would
fold in on itself, leaving his body vacant and unresponsive. He would
apologize with an exaggerated innocence she often thought charming when she
questioned him. She attributed, out loud as she calmed herself to sleep,
this distance of his to the advancement of his intellect, or the ineptitude
of his emotional awareness. He gratefully accepted any theory as he turned
over again to sleep.

She worked as the curator of a respected museum and mingled with many people
of fortune and fame. They attended more glamorous functions than he was
accustomed to, and she assisted him in choosing appropriate dress.The
glitter of it all entertained him and kept his moods at bay. She encouraged
him to relax and would bring champagne to bed and play music in the
afternoons. They seemed the perfect couple. She distracted him from his
doubts and diverted his attention.

Sometimes, alone in his office or just as he was drifting off to sleep, he would get the strangest feeling that there was something that he urgently had to do. It was the disquieting sense that there was something that he had to find.

He tried to think back, to remember what it was that could be
haunting him. But all that came was a single memory: the feeling of the
current charging through his limbs and smashing his two front baby teeth
into his tongue. He could almost smell the white sizzling dots that
surrounded his head and dazzled his senses. He considered possibly finding a
proper prescription.

His wife loved him. She encouraged him to remember his dreams with the hope
that he might become more emotionally present. She sensed that he was a
deeply passionate man and she continuously attempted to draw him out. She
held off having children, waiting for him to become more at ease with
himself, to become more comfortable. While his capacity for the rational had
potential to awe her, she wondered if it was not also a barrier to her. One
day on the phone with a friend, she likened his sequestered aloofness to the
bed of another woman. As soon as the words left her mouth, she saw clearly
the faithlessness of her position.

As the years passed, she accepted his preference for logic and they became
gradually more estranged. It was unnerving to her, the way in which he
coveted his core, the way he spoke of love with words that sounded scripted
and turned his back each time they finished making love. A month before
their seventh anniversary, she purchased a convertible Mustang and drove it
across the country to open up her own gallery in the fertile soil of

It wasn't the silence in the house that bothered him so much. It was the
echo of a voice that called to him continuously. He heard her in the walls.
He saw her in his sleep. Even when he went out walking she was there. She
was everywhere and yet she was out of his reach.

He slept, draped over his keyboard with the monitor glowing and dreamt that
he was happy. The hours of his waking were fewer and fewer and he succumbed
to the desire for absolute solitude. Dust settled on his window ledge, and
take-out food containers cluttered the floor at his feet. One evening he
awoke and the dream stayed with him. After shutting off the power strip, he
put on his coat and walked outside.

He headed west up along the canal. The cars on the street nearby were
rushing and stopping and rushing and stopping. And then, there it was, just
up ahead, a doorway made of metal, a gate grand enough for heaven. He walked
across the street barely noticing a driver who was forced to hit the brakes
to let him pass.

He walked right up to the chain link and smelled its wet steel in the air.
He could hear the loud hum of his siren's call with rapture growing in his
heart. Take me, he thought. He climbed over the fence, and approached the
snarl of metal and wire in front of him. It shed no light, but he could feel
each hair on his neck rising in answer, he could feel her whispering touch
on his skin at last.

His spread his arms to embrace the steel. His lips stretched out and the
electricity sprang forth to meet them before they reached the pole. It blew
his head back and entwined his body in an instant. His legs rattled and his
jaw sprung apart. His eyes melted open in a fury of white ecstasy. The
charge grabbed onto his own in a stranglehold and sucked the life from his
veins in one thundering boom. His heart burst with love and the wave
descended, devouring his flesh and withering his frame until there was
nothing left of it but the charred remains scattered about on the blackened

And so Andrew kissed his one true love goodnight.

Jennifer Wilson has worked for the BBC, Seal Press, and several independent record labels. She has also made a living as a landscaper, a legal assistant, a janitor, a waitress, and a traveling festival vendor. She is the author of one novel, Witch, an account of the life story of the first woman executed for witchcraft in Salem in 1692. More of her work is available on her website: www.jennifermwilson.com

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"The Conductor," Part One

By Jennifer Wilson

Andrew fell in love with electricity. His first kiss was white and sweet and it numbed his whole body and fired his imagination. He was aware even then, that his lover would have devoured him entirely if his mother hadn't screamed and yanked his lips off of the wall socket.

Shaking and thanking Jesus that her baby was still alive, she placed his small body on the sofa and covered him up to his chin with a crocheted blanket. Her perfume mingled with the memory of that kiss, with the scratchy feel of the couch and the singed taste that filled his mouth. These flavors birthed an aroma that would elude exact replication and haunt him always with the flickering desire to inhale it once again.

For his parents, the experience quickly blended into the weave of their family's fabric. "The time Andrew stuck his tongue in the socket" was recounted to audiences at parties and gatherings until they had washed it clean of their fear. It was the same thing they had done after his sister fell out of the oak tree.

"Remember the time Lilly tried to climb up to the moon?'" they would say, chuckling.

But to him, in his secret moments alone, it remained the turning point of his young life. To him, that kiss was the foundation upon which all of his future experiences would build. He felt assured of this, day after day, just as he felt the rhythm of his beating heart on his fingertips.

His yearning pressed him to learn everything that he could. As a lover memorizes the habits of his beloved, he memorized the theories of electronics, studied wiring, and memorized the patterns of electric current.

He looked at the toaster and the television set with new eyes, tracing their lines into sockets and imagining the surging energy that filled them upon request. He felt pricks of jealousy at the intimacy with which they could mingle.

The curiosity of his desire led him to the local library. The more he read the more questions he asked and this soon brought him to the attention of his teachers. He received top grades in school and his parents were predictably proud. His grandmother even put a bumper sticker on her 1978 Chrystler, so that everyone would know about her honor student grandson.

They all remembered the incident with the wall socket as one point of peril in the raising of a regular healthy young boy. None of them suspected the significance one event had had in the life of their only son. Positive and negative current formed for him the structure of a religion. He listened for her testament everywhere. As his own blood rang in his ears, electricity hummed overhead and glowed in front of him on screens and bulbs,through switches and lines. He wanted to stretch the copper of currency into wire and pay her homage. He thought about his body, filled with water, andof how that water could conduct her very touch.

She was constantly around him, and that knowledge urged his life forward with a momentous might. As he grew up, enduring the confusion of adolescence, he carefully cloakedhis lust from the scrutiny of his peers. He began to see with more democratic eyes; transforming the features of his love into the likenesses of other's. He poured her out into smaller vessels, into forms more acceptable to love. With age he began to rely upon the accolades of his academic achievements to propel him, rather than the passionate fantasies of his mind. And as she receded into the context of his childhood, he lost the exactitude of remembrance, and time turned his heart to more relevant subjects in the constant service of his survival.

He competed for scholarships in math and science, while keeping up with the fads and fashions of his years. And as those years passed, he was required to think much more about the details of his life, than of its meaning. He remained fascinated with the currents of positives and negatives, but felt himself to be far evolved from the boy who would tongue the socket just to feel the kiss of energy that lay beneath. His original vice was carefully dressed in worldly achievements, expectations and possibilities.

He was admitted to a highly acclaimed university where he continued with his studies. Computers were the future, and as he mastered their language he experienced the pleasure of an unexpected homecoming. He focused on his work, excluding intimate relationships with individuals in exchange for challenging new hours of research and he achieved much material success.

As his adult career blossomed he was kept increasingly busy with projects and their management, spending less and less time in his own lab. He worked tirelessly and was well respected but as success determined his position, hefound himself alone and at a standstill. He had become a teacher among students and that left him little time for personal inquiry or research. He began to lose the sense of excitement that had fueled his former work.

The achievements that he had been heralded for became more and more a part of his past, a thing only to be remembered and nodded to from his pedantic perch.He was perplexed by this dilemma but kept up appearances, and soothed his frustrations with a thinning balm of wealth and praise. He mimicked the habits of those who surrounded him, those who professed to be happy with their lives. And as he drifted through years in this manner, he averted his eyes from the dark walls of the narrowing channel before him and kept his back to the gnawing doubts that clustered around his mind.

One morning, he woke up feeling unusually agitated. He wasn't in the habit of remembering his dreams, and so retained only a sense of what hadtranspired during the night. He was disturbed by a recollection that in the dream he had been deliriously happy, so now awake he felt the disaster of having made a terrible mistake. The more alert he became, the more depressed he felt. He showered and let the water wrap his skin like a warm blanket, yet even there he could not shake the despair that became almost overwhelming. Walking to work that day, he decided to take a longer route,through the park.

Stopping to sit on a bench and finish his coffee, he watched joggers pass byand birds gather together to forage for pastry crumbs at his feet. All ofthe details of these scenes blurred against his mood. A woman sat down next to him and began to sketch in a large black notebook. Her hair glinted in the sunlight as it fell around her face and the vision drew him from his reverie, just enough. He stole several glances at her and began to feel more himself. He spoke to her, wanting more of the feeling of solace. As they exchanged words, their bodies angled unconsciously toward each other. She agreed to have dinner with him, and one year later they were married.


Jennifer Wilson as worked for the BBC, Seal Press, and several independent record labels. She has also made a living as a landscaper, a legal assistant, a janitor, a waitress, and a traveling festival vendor. She is the author of one novel, "Witch," an account of the life story of the first woman executed for witchcraft in Salem in 1692. More of her work is available on her website: www.jennifermwilson.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"The Porcelain Book"

By Alan Rowland

The book was my portfolio.

In truth - it was not porcelain, but a dull, anodized aluminum metal. It had always sat in the same spot of a small New York apartment; ever within reach of the farthest part of the home, where one might cook or sleep or brush one's teeth.

It contained vinyl pages where drawings could be placed for protection and viewing. The drawings of two years had filled the book to its last page. They had been drawn in a mad, continuous flourish of hands over a period of months; it was a wild year at the kitchen table, as though I somehow knew that time was running out, and might soon be spent. In a lifetime of drawing, the metal book contained all that had ever mattered to me in a drawing.

The portraits were slashes of wickedly broad strokes; the draftsmanship, the carefully rendered subjects thrilled me with their speed. I had finally found a creative 'voice', a voice who spoke with humor, faith and beauty. I had never heard this voice before, and it spoke quickly, loudly; a 'New York City Voice', and my hands would often grow weary with the speed and chase to make my art.

Another, crueler voice whispered oddly at first... to my left foot.

The conversation quickly raced up my body to the left leg, arm and hand - my drawing hand. What was happening to me? The drawings ended in seizures and trembling - I was working on the second portrait in a series, 'Famous Drag Queens of NYC'. The portrait stopped two-thirds complete - a Lady with her make up not quite so artfully applied.

My doctors said: 'you will never draw again', and the voice of art stopped.

The metal portfolio stood in its slippered case, always within reach, within mind. The metal grew fragile to my imagined touch, like a porcelain vase - I could not bear to touch it, fearing that the book and its treasures might shatter to pastel shards on the floor.

The book seemed to grow larger and more fragile; the drawings became fainter to recall, and still I could not open the book. There it stood, holding its spot and growing ever larger, collecting dust like a novel read and long forgotten.

The 'novel' was my autobiography.

My hands became weaker with illness and trembling. Weeks turned into months, and months - years, and I wearied of the fear, and would, finally, face and open the book. I admit I raced through the book, like a slow art director on a quick deadline, to the very last page.

The ghosts of old work had flown by as leaves in a night's wind. I thought long - the book in my lap. The next morning at 6 a.m., a Wednesday in September I believe, I found two clean, vinyl sleeves. I placed the 'Lady' without her makeup in a two-page spread, to accommodate her luscious wigs and extensions... right after her sad sister, ' Mr Ruby', and then, I closed the book for the last time.

Artist and writer Alan Rowland worked for many years in New York City as an illustrator and art director until a seriously debilitating illness robbed him of the use of both hands. Five years ago he moved to the countryside in southern New Jersey, where he began to write poetry about health, illness, art and loss. Rowland's illustrations here, are "Mr. Ruby," top, and the half-finished "Lady."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?"

By Mel Waldman

Looking back, I whisper to my dark past, speaking to the buried voices and faces lost in a sea of trauma. I speak softly because even momentary flashbacks will evoke unbearable pain.

I sit quietly on the Coney Island pier in Brooklyn. The snow is beginning to fall. A few flakes caress my face, vanishing into nothingness. But I feel the wetness, allowing the flakes to soothe me, before they disappear.

It is still dark, about an hour before dawn. I am alone on the pier. I do not hear any footsteps nearby or in the distance. There may be other humans on the boardwalk or beach, but I do not sense their presence. Sitting tall in a yoga position with my legs crossed, I listen to the sound of the sea. Slowly, I take three deep breaths. I let the ocean into my nostrils, inhaling its power.

And I am one with the sea. It is an old friend and an enemy too, evoking both beautiful and anguished memories, as gentle as my wife’s kiss on my forehead, or as fierce as a giant wave flooding my mind with the crushing blows of a never-ending downpour of toxic memory-shards.

In the latter case, I must rush away from this phantasmagoric storm, more brutal than the mighty white whale, or go mad, or die. And of course, there are many ways to die.

But now, the sea is just an old friend, I believe. It beckons me to find the center of my being. Breathing rhythmically, I enter a deep trance.

I am in an old gray house in Kennebunkport. The house is strangely familiar. But I have never been there before. Or have I? I search for my son Bobby. No one is home. Bobby is not here. I climb the stairs. Upstairs is my salvation. Why? I do not know. Yet I rush slowly up the staircase. A holy room is there above me, beyond. It waits. I am compelled to go.

Eventually, when I enter the room, I am alone with the darkness, unaware of any light. But I can see, although the eerie room is foggy. I am inside an ancient sailing ship, an infinite ghost ship whirling around in time and space. I believe I am alone. And when my eyes dart across this antediluvian beast, they discover nothing but an abandoned ship.

Then, as the ship whirls around again and again, I am seized with a bout of vertigo. Clinging to an old rusty pole, I struggle to maintain my balance. And at that tenuous moment, I smell ungodly scents. When I turn toward the foul odors, I see a tall, skeletal ghost rushing toward me with a gun pointed at my head.

I hear a distant voice scream: “Why?” It is mine. But I am far away, as the frenzied ghost beats me with its primitive gun, until the blood gushes from my skull and I fall into the abyss.

Death is near. Like the sea nymphs who lured sailors to their death on rocky coasts, Death calls me. The sirens, part bird and part woman, sing seductively and beckon me.

In the distance, I hear the long ululations, the howling sounds of a man being beaten to death. And my disembodied soul prays to G-d: “Dear G-d, let me die. Oh merciful G-d, release me from this unbearable suffering. Release me!"

Listening to my silent screams, I am catapulted from my trance. It is dawn and a gold sun is rising. And although the snow is still falling, it is a light and lazy snowfall, with snowflakes drifting slowly to earth. Perhaps, the flakes are instinctively aware that when they reach their destination, they will die.

Dr. Mel Waldman, of Brooklyn, New York, is a psychologist, poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter. His stories have appeared in numerous literary reviews and commercial magazines. His mystery novel, Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?, can be purchased at www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/, http://www.bn.com/, or http://www.amazon.com/.

"Praising Performance"

By Karen Jahn

As her head grazes the slanted ceiling, my granddaughter, Bitsy, decides that bouncing on the bed isn't crucial to her act. So she switches to horizontal movement: guitar strung across her body, loose hairs sweeping across her face, she belts out a song composed on the spot about a gypsy Cinderella. Her "chords" come steadily, her rocking hips move rhythmically, but in place of the angelic four-year old face, an authentic performer puts her feelings across.

Bitsy's performance takes me back to St. Louis, a ten-year old squirming in a neighbor’s living room, being called to the spinet piano to perform my newest piece for the gathered company. My mother’s bragging had led to this, so I was very nervous. But, once seated and playing, I lost myself in a simplified Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”. With each repetition I left the boring get-together for my own dreamy world. As the music ended, I was brought back into this awkward scene by soft applause. After I rejoined the other kids on the floor, a dorky boy whispered to me, “You aren’t so hot. You lost the beat and missed some notes. I could do better!"

It took a year before I was able to throw myself into performance with pleasure.

Unlike my mother, I am musical, so I wouldn’t set Bitsy up for such a fall. My role as Bitsy's grandmother provides distance so I can support her passion as well as show her how to play. But when I ask her if she would like to learn how to play guitar, she responds, “I already know how!” What would happen to that passionate performance if I contradict her? I’m hoping that she will gradually begin to hear guitarists play and want to study.

It’s not the first time I’ve recognized that even in my grandmotherly wisdom, I can’t protect Bitsy from disappointment. But in the meantime, her performance brought it all back to me—total commitment, confidence, and pleasure—the childlike bliss that we hope to discover in moments throughout life.

We have tokens of the childlike even now. One of my husband’s favorite photos of me was taken when I was performing in a chorus a decade ago. A full-time English professor, living half-time in two abodes two hours apart, with two adult children, and a steady habit of tennis, I am transfixed, caught in the moment of singing. My expression is both focused and relaxed, all features harmonious as I join my voice with the rest of the chorus. Unlike Bitsy’s performance, study brought me there: reading music, learning phrasing, dynamics, blending, and following the conductor. Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” a beautiful piece I first learned as a college freshman, came alive that evening, and the photo celebrates that intensity, so akin to Bitsy’s with her guitar.

Writer Karen Jahn of Spencertown, New York, was for many years a Professor of English. She now teaches writing workshops and is writing a memoir.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Books, Wonderful Books"

By David Seth Michaels

I've had stacks of books since I was a kid. In the beginning I used Funk and Wagnall's small, dark blue encyclopedias to build skyscrapers on the living room floor. Later in my life, the stacks became furniture. A nice, even pile of textbooks served as a small night table. A low, wide structure of art books made a nice ottoman.

And now, now the books are malleable, disorderly hillocks at my side of the bed. They're there to stub a toe against in the small hours of darkness, or to rummage through when new reading material is needed. Or maybe to heat long winter nights liked stacked firewood. I rummage because I'm not really sure what's there.

Tonight, across the top of my hill, I have novels by Juan Rulfo, Jose Donoso, Cabrera Infante, Alejo Carpentier, Jose Lezama Lima, D.H. Lawrence. These aren't books that were part of the justifiably-worshiped canon that I (and maybe you) read in college. They represent nonetheless some wonderful writing.

I'm immersed in Jose Lezama Lima's Paradiso. I'm at the beginning of what promises to be an eleven-course feast. The soup hasn't even arrived and I find this paragraph in the hors d'oeuvres, on page five:

"The Colonel's books: the Encyclopedia Britannica, the works of Felipe Trigo, spy novels of World War I in which female spies had to engage in prostitution and the boldest male spies had to acquire wisdom and an ice-coated beard on geological expeditions to Siberia or the Kamchatka. Such books filled up spaces, and were never given a second thought by those literal-minded, portly people who read a book overnight as soon as they buy it. Their books are always displayed in the same inconvenient and irregular order in which they are acquired, unlike the books of more cultured people, also put on bookshelves, where they must wait two or three years to be read -- an immediate and almost unconscious effect, not unlike the new trousers of elegant English gentlemen, worn for the first few days by their butlers, until they acquire a stylish simplicity.

I know books aren't people. They're objects, they don't breathe. Are mine, stacked as they are in piles with no discernible relationship, and no clear theme, part of someone's story about me? Is somebody reviewing the books in my piles and drawing conclusions about me from what books I have and what they think these books might mean?

Like people, books don't have a detectable soul. And they indulge in mysterious communications with each other. So if the Colonel's books tell us something about the Colonel, what do my books, piled up next to my bed -- some of them still wrapped in cellophane-- tell about me?

Do the stacks mean that I'm hoarding novels in case there's a literature famine? Are they a sign that I find television and more recently, radio, and especially NPR, impossibly annoying? Are they just a cheapskate's evening escapism and a benign substitute for intoxicants?

Most important to me, books, especially these books, gossip to each other. What are these books saying to each other during those long transitory afternoons of bedroom stillness and gurgling radiators, when the sun is faint and low in the sky, and you can hear the clock ticking down the hall? And what fables and anecdotes are they telling my dog and cats, curled up next to them or on them, about me?

What stories do they tell each other? I imagine that they each speak in distinctive voices and accents, like the chapters in Cabrera Infante's Three Trapped Tigers, in which he imitates five Cuban writers' styles, and that their opinions, whatever they are, are delivered with style and craft, as if they were some wonderful writing. Only more evanescent because they are not written down before silence again fills the room.

David Seth Michaels is a writer and lawyer who lives and works in Columbia County, New York. His first novel, The Dream Antilles, is available through Amazon.com and through his blogsite, http://www.dreamantilles.blogspot.com, where this piece of writing first appeared. MyStoryLives would like to thank David Michaels for the original inspiration that led to this blogsite!

Sunday, January 07, 2007


By Kika Dorsey

As if making a career of pain they fall
constantly, my small children, as if traveling
from air to ground and then weeping were
a rehearsal for the performance of life—up, down—
like the rhythm that created them, a drumbeat
of flesh, like stone against earth, woodpecker
against tree, dream against daylight, weeping
against laughter.

My daughter has purple
bruises and bumps on her forehead while our
lilacs open to mirror her marks, my son too is
covered in marks of play, little supernovas on
his galaxy of flesh. I know their bodies by heart,
but each fall brings a new sentence in their skin’s
language, sometimes taking me by surprise, as
if saying I am vulnerable, separate, I am bludgeoned
by the world.

But in this life we must live, does it not pay to fall,
to feel the hardness of ground, to know we are alive
in a city of concrete or a country of soil and grass.
My children fall with their hands splayed out in
front of them, embracing the air, they fall
gently on grass, hard and fast against park benches,
they fall gracefully, joylessly, they fall
with courage in their throats, with daring in their limbs,
they fall to hear the full volume of their inner fugue,
to hear their voices like the teeth of wolves bite
through the air, they fall
to assure themselves of their mother’s lap, their falling
the absence of maternal protection, a door
into the world where the palm that scoops clay
makes fire, an unstable element, and in time hardens
the pot with which we cook, that hand that will
lightly fling aside mountains and bury the dead, that
hand on the body which through falling
will rule its world.

Writer Kika Dorsey, who holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington in Seattle, lives in Boulder, Colorado. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and books, including Anyone is Possible; Coffeehouse Poetry: An Anthology; Between the Lines; The Denver Quarterly and The California Quarterly. She has taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Man Minus Motorcyle"

By Al Stumph

My last motorcycle left home during the summer of 2003. It was carried up the driveway on the back of a Dodge pickup on its way to a new life in New Jersey. That was not at all the departure I had planned for it. In fact, I had not planned for its departure at all. I fully expected that I would check out long before it did. Rather, perhaps we would check out together in a blaze of glory. Or just a blaze.

It was only a couple of years before that I had joked during a talk to the Pittsfield Rotary Club that the last thing I would give up in this life would be the keys to my motorcycle. Now the bike and the keys were both gone.

Welcome Home, a store of antiques, collectables and lots of funky stuff, had been my wife Kathy’s dream for many years. When that store became a reality, I left my employment to help her make it a success.

For the next two years the bike rarely left the garage. I am certain the motorcycle never knew what happened. After all it was only a machine. But somehow I felt that by neglecting it, I was in effect abandoning a friend, not doing with him what we enjoyed and shared most.

But my life and interests had changed and the bike fit in less and less. Besides I was getting older and could not trust my hands to grip the handlebars adequately. A numbness caused by vibrations would often come over them.

I advertised the motorcycle in the Want Ad Digest and shortly a young woman, Gabby, purchased it. She and her boyfriend, a very experienced biker, came up from New Jersey to look it over. The following weekend they placed it on the back of a borrowed pickup for transport to a new life. It was Gabby’s first bike. It fit her well and she was very proud to own it. I knew she would enjoy it.

I experienced a nagging sadness as I watched the bike go up the driveway. I recognized it was not the motorcycle I grieved for. It would be loved. I grieved for things that would never be again.

Gone forever is my youth and the feel of a young woman’s body against mine with her arms wrapped around what was my then slender waist.

Gone is the feeling of power and freedom that accompanies straddling several hundred horses leaning into curves and feeling the air rush past.

Gone is the sense of taking on the odds and proving that I really can be invincible.

But that’s not bad at all. I did have those experiences and they will always be a part of who I am. They are part of what makes up this old guy who will still enjoy driving around in his dented and aging pickup truck.

Gabby, I hope you are having fun and making good memories with your bike. That’s what I did.

Writer Al Stumph is a retired social worker and trainer whose specialty was adoption and foster care issues. During the 1960's, he was a Mariel priest working in Hong Kong. Today, he lives in Chatham, New York, with his wife, Kathy, mowing lawns, building furniture and helping out at "Welcome Home."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Dance on Paper"

By Marti Zuckrowv

"I'll write about women and their bodies," I announced
to my husband. I'm a woman, I have a body, and this
body of mine has messed with my mind for most of my
life. Or, is it my mind that has messed with my body?

"You are not your thoughts," an anxiety therapist
lectures my anxiety support group. "You are the person
who observes your thoughts."

And I think, so how did all this obsession with being
thin invade the person who observes my thoughts?
Society certainly reinforces this obsession for
so many, many women (although statistics show that the incidence of
anorexia nervosa among men is growing.)

This person who observes my thoughts was a dancer.
Let's get real. Standing in front of a mirror six
days a week for hours at time fueled the "never too thin"

And from the dance world I leaped right into the fitness
industry. Oy vey, was I in trouble then. And not only me.

I looked around and saw through the eyes of the person who
observes my thoughts a parade of women, all sizes,
shapes, ages, all suffering because of their particular
bodies -- too fat, too tall, small boobs, flabby belly,
you name it. And the women like myself, working in the
fitness industry -- whoof!

Granted there are some sane fitness professionals,
but in my 25-plus years in the industry, I saw many
colleagues struggle with eating disorders and
the unrealistic body image goals they chased after,
often at the expense of their physical and mental health.
I saw how the emotional pain of hating your body can
play out.

Like a parasite, the self-hatred enters you and flows
through your blood to the darkest deepest pockets
of your being; it lodges in your internal
organs. From there an octopus-like creature claws at
your flesh. You itch and burn from the inside out with
the shame of your flesh, your body. Then you pick up
a magazine and stare at the perfect-size-six on the glossy
page, perky hair, perky boobs, milk-and-honey
complexion and of course she is surrounded by gorgeous
trim men.

Or you catch one of those car ads, the sexy car with the sexy
bimbo behind the wheel, triceps and biceps pumped up
just enough. Or maybe it's the fashion page, the
streamlined little-nothing dresses barely covering the
20-year-old model. There is no way out here if you
buy into this and so many of us otherwise rational,
bright, women do.

"Dance on Paper" was the last dance performance I did,
as a dancer and choreographer. I was coming out as a
writer, and hoping to get away from the fixation on
the thin body. Ha. In my early 50's at that time, no
matter how far I got from the tyranny of the dance
world, I was most certainly possessed with the hatred
of my female body, a perception I had unknowingly
accepted as the


The person that I am could not get away from
the thoughts that I was observing, the self-destructive
notion that thin is beautiful, fat is shame.

These thoughts shot me like poison arrows. They left
large gaping holes in my arms and legs and belly. I sought relief in
the company of my demons. They hosted a party and lured
me with desire. Starve, exercise, purge that body of
yours, you can do this. We will hold your hand and
when your fingers become twigs we will snap your neck
and blind your eyes to that ugly image in the mirror.

I baby-sit my grand niece three days a week. She is
six months old. What I find so amazing is the
instinctive need to eat. There are no eating disorders
here. When she is hungry she cries for food. When she
has had enough she is done. There are no binges here.
How does it begin, this debilitating behavior, this
obsession with our bodies the way we think they should
look. We are not our bodies in the same way that we
are not our thoughts. Then what are we? How come we
get trapped in the body and the mind and do not really
live as who we are whatever that is.

Am I making any sense? What sense can I make of the jail so many
women inhabit? Self-inflicted? To self annihilate, just turn on the
tube, go to the movies, ask your mother. You can never
be too thin or too rich. Who started this conspiracy
and who had the genius to hypnotize half the American
population with such a mantra? I can't address the
rich part, I'll never know and luckily I avoided that
devil thanks to my leftist upbringing. But the other
half, I swallowed whole. Thanks to an amazing
behavioral medicine clinic with an exceptional eating
disorder program, I hope to soon be free of the
tyranny of anorexia. I'm working hard on my recovery
and let me tell you, it's rough. But I'm not giving
up. I choose life.

Oh yes. And words.
I choose words, to get me through.

Writer Marty Zuckrowv, of Oakland, California, is a lifelong dancer and performance artist who teaches movement classes to people with disabilities.