Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Rio Rumba," a musical tribute to Troy, New York

MyStoryLives salutes flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski, whose virtuoso playing has landed her a spot as a a finalist in the Albany Times Union's "Best of 2007" competition. Have a listen to her original piece, called "Rio Rumba," at this address:

Says Maria: "When asked to write a song about what inspires me about living in the
Capital Region, I didn't hesitate. TROY'S RIVERFRONT and our beautiful

The Times Union invites you to cast your vote for your favorite artist. We respectfully suggest you vote flamenco, "Rio Rumba" and Maria Zemantauski!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Excellent Book

By John Grey

You tell me you're reading E. M. Forster.
You say it proudly like you once bragged
how you spent the month of August
curled up on the beach with T. S. Eliot.
Terrific suntan. Tenacious sand-flies.
It must be the initials that do it for you.
From now on, I should be J. A. Grey.
Jocular artiste. Journeyman actor.
And then you start explaining the plot to me
as if the plot by authors without Christian names
matters one whit in the scheme of things.
You're talking to a man who once ploughed through
"The Sleep Of Reason" by C. P. Snow.
Complex plotline. Constant perplexity.
But on and on you go,
like the book is last night's episode of CSI.
Rickie marries Agnes whose fiance
was killed playing football.
Bad move apparently.
She gives new meaning to the word "shrew".
And the Rickie's accidentally killed
trying to rescue his half-brother Stephen...
you remember Stephen.
You lose me somewhere between
Stephen's drinking and Agnes's shrieking.
For the rest of the story,
I'm playing, in my
a game of my own invention.
What does the E. M. in E. M. Forster stand for?
Endless Misogyny? Educated Monotony?
Egghead Misanthropy? Episodic Morbidity?
Anyway, at the exact moment you're
exposing me to the ending machinations.
the telephone rings.
It's Rita. She wants my opinion
on "Charlotte's Web" by E. B. White
as suitable reading material for her child.
"Excellent book," I tell her.

John Grey, a Rhode Island-based poet, is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"The Pink Ladies"

By Camincha

There they were on a grey, cold June day at the corner of 6 th Street and Bryant in San Francisco. They stood festive, poised, as if smiling at her, as if to say, hey have a good day! And remember, they waved, things are never as bad as they seem.

She looked 'round. Why had she never seen them before? Why had she never noticed this vibrant pink heather growing at this otherwise drab corner in San Francisco.

Next door was the Crummy Coffee Shop with those half- dead outdoor geraniums sitting in dried boxes outside. Inside they were serving the worst coffee in the world. Down the street was that grey cement building often mistaken for the jail sitting round-the-corner at 7 th and Bryant.

The Pink Ladies were oblivious. They didn't notice the heavy traffic barreling off the 280 freeway ramp. They didn't seem to mind the cars or the soupy fog or the light drizzle. Ah the Pink Ladies. Each group a merry-go-round under the trees. Just standing there, ready to please.

She counted six of them. After she passed them she thought, maybe I just imagined this.

But no, on her way home that evening, there they were again. So flirtatious. They winked. They waved. They greeted her. And other passersby. She stopped. She watched while the Pink Ladies smiled at a homeless man pushing his Safeway cart. She watched while they tried to trip a business suit going briskly on his way.

When the man said, "What ya'think ya'doing?"

The Pink Ladies -- the color of lipstick or nail polish -- were all in a titter. They brushed off his remark in that flirty way they have. And they called after him: "Slow down good looking. Don't wear yourself out."

And later, they reminded her once again, "Remember, things are never as bad they seem."

Camincha is a penname for a California-based writer who contributes frequently to this column and other on-line outlets.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Renata, Dancing"

By Gina Ricci
The sky overhead is a garden of glittering lights. Senora and I are riding side by side, the old grey wagon bumping us over the dark road. At some point she starts humming. Something so sweet and familiar. That alegria I love so much. I know exactly what she wants: me to join in, as I usually do. I remain silent. The truth is, I am lost in thought, and worry. She is taking me to see my cousin, Antonie, once again.

I sit there in stony silence, eyes closed, trying to ignore her.

But Senora always trails that heavenly fragrance. Those roses.
The odor of the yellow and red flowers melts me. I try to turn away, cover my nose, but it only gets stronger. Finally she pushes her soft body against my own. “Relajate, m’ja,” she says, patting my knee. “No preoccupes.” Not to worry.

She smiles that grin of hers (minus a tooth on the side). “Todo eres bueno cuando tu escriba finalmente la historia totalmente.” All will be well when you finally write the whole story.

I turn to her, my eyes a fury. The whole story? But why should I? Why should I? They will see only what Antonie wants them to see: me, the nun, becoming a flamenco dancer. Something I am not.

She ignores me. She hums and nods and smiles and the fragrance of the roses comes stronger and stronger, and finally it is a powerful drug and it overwhelms me. I see the words taking shape on the old paper...

"Renata, Dancing"

At this moment, Sister Renata isn’t dreaming although it occurs to her that she might be, because instead of attending to the steaming and starching of altar cloths in the convent laundry, instead of standing at the kitchen sink washing spinach or shaving carrots for Father Crucifer’s soup she is instead standing before the familiar oak chest of drawers undressing, catching an eyeful of herself in the small wooden mirror propped on top. Dream or not, her childlike fingers move in the normal manner, even if they aren’t attending to prayer, even if they aren’t locked around the black onyx rosary beads, even if they aren’t fingering the carved silver surface of the crucifix. Instead, her damp fingers are trembling slightly as they unfasten the three black buttons at the side of her wool skirt and the row of buttons at each of her wrists.

For the long line of buttons at the back of her shirt, she reaches awkwardly behind, elbows askew, thinking that if she were at the convent, as well she should be, husky Sister Theresa would be standing behind, whispering warm air into her neck, laughing, assisting her, all the while persisting with one of her ribald jokes about the older, crippled priest, Father Ruby. But Sister Renata isn’t there, she is here unfastening the long string of rosary beads from the hook at her waist, and then collecting them into a rattling handful that spills over her fist, onto the oak dresser next to the mirror.

he is trying not to look at herself now, and trying too, not to let the vision of Sister Theresa linger in her mind. She lets the skirt and shirt drop limp to the floor, and momentarily she stares at the heap of black wool lying in disarray at her feet, noting with some horror that the habit looks like the discarded garb of a storybook witch. The thought shudders her, but not for long. She steps out of the habit and bending low she unties the knotted laces of her blocky black oxfords and she pulls them off one at a time and there she is, she the youthful nun in her soft white underclothes and short black veil, standing in the flow of desert sun streaming through the window, staring at one pale coin of herself reflected in the small round mirror.

Slowly she peels off her heavy black stockings and the white cotton underclothes and finally, she unpins the short black veil and lifts off the starched white headpiece that binds her forehead. The skin beneath the white headpiece is moist. She rubs the creased line above her eyebrows and shakes her hair loose, gathering it through her fingers. The thick waves fall away from her forehead reflecting almost blue in the light. The hair grazes her naked back and clings in bold shiny curves to her shoulders. She is fully disrobed now, completely herself, absent of all habit, and she is sliding open the oak drawer, meeting with some resistance, and the perfume of dry sage rises up, and she is taking from the drawer the satin bag that Antonie sent, and she is unzipping the bag, removing the red dress, shaking out the beloved ruffles, each ruffle edged in black lace and ribbon.

Soon the dress pools on the cool tile floor by her ankles. A pert smile flirts across her lips. She steps through the crinoline that lines the ruffles, the crinoline that scratches at her naked calves and pricks at the tender skin indenting her waist. Snaking the zipper in place up along her hip, she runs her open palm smooth along the satin that clings tightly to the hipbone before it breaks open into unruly ruffle. She reaches beneath the dresser for the red lace up shoes. The underside of the heels are surfaced in well-worn cleats.

When the shoes are tied in place, she attends quickly to her face in the mirror, adding two ovals of rouge to her cheeks, and two dark horizons to each eyelid. Finally, with some purpose, and with evidence of some practice, she smears the tube of red lipstick from the top drawer full across her lips accentuating the natural deep pout. Just below the corner of her mouth is a mole, too large to ignore.

The handle of the door rattles behind her. Glancing into the mirror, Renata sees reflected the doorknob, its silver surface engraved in the same style as the crucifix of her rosary. The handle moves frantically against its lock.

“Ready?” The voice hovers low at the crack of the door.

Renata inhales, her flat bosom rising. The top ruffles of the snug dress resist, move only slightly.

“Soon,” she calls back. “Yes…” she glances at herself in the mirror. Yes, she thinks, Renata is ready for the dance, only…only she is never quite ready for the dance partner and with this thought of Antonie waiting outside the door, one muscular arm leaning into the frame of the door, the palm of the hand flat against the narrow band of wood, Renata’s eyes close and she smiles slightly and suddenly one of her own hands drops to her right hip. The other arm rises into the air, and she throws her flood of hair back.

Her head twisted to the right, her neck high, her eyes the cocked slits of a cat, her bottom lip curled, she turns from the mirror and bends her knees. Soon comes the clatter of her heels on the worn pine floor. Slowly she turns, dropping her arms to her side, then gathers up ruffles in either hand. Elbows bent, arms taut, her hands begin pumping in rhythm with her feet, her circles gather, her heels rattle faster and faster, she dips left with one shoulder, she twists right with the other, her head drops back, her torso arcs to a perfect C, and soon she is spinning, swaying, feet drumming, now one hand raised, the wrist twisted, the fingers splayed, as if she were grasping a wide fan, her fingers branched out toward the sky. Her body moves effortlessly through the routine, her arms and legs assuming their positions automatically, much the way her mouth moves mindlessly through her prayers the rest of the week.

“RENATA!” The voice cuts sharply through the door. A fist pounding now joins the metallic sound of the door handle. “NOW!”

She stops, her eyes open slowly, giving her a sudden glimpse of her slightly parted red lips in the tiny mirror. She is breathing hard. Instantly, she begins giggling, covering her mouth with both hands. And then, striking the pose again, head up, chest thrust out, she walks majestically toward the door, unlocks it and opens it slowly.

“Your games…” Antonie says, head shaking side to side beneath the wide-brimmed hat, dark eyes dropping, then bouncing back up, as if eyesight were a rubber ball, rebounding from the floor. “Your games…I am…honestly, I am tired of them.”

Renata smiles, lifts her chin, passes beneath Antonie’s raised arm planted on the doorframe. Antonie wears the wide-brimmed felt hat, the black velvet jacket, the tight-fitting black pants that accentuate his narrow hips, pants threaded on the outside edge in a line of clear red and emerald beads and a purple and turquoise braid.

“My games,” Renata says, quietly, setting one hand on her swaying hip as she stares out beneath the velvet arm that forms an arch, not unlike the small arch to one side of the main chapel, “my games are exactly what I am here for. No?” She gazes over her bare shoulder. “Tell me, Antonie, without the games, what precisely would there be?” She pivots and gives him the look, and he moves swiftly from the door after her, as if riveted to the sharp metallic rattle of her shoes on the cool adobe tiles of the hall.

Gina Ricci is writing a novel on-line. The first excerpt from her novel, SaveTheNun.Org, appeared in this space on June 8, 2007. Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


By John Grey

You may not get your coffee after all.
You have a cup but the water's been
sixty years boiling.
That's what comes of wearing a red dress
with red hair and sitting beside some guy
with face half hidden by a gray hat
who hasn't spoken a word in all that time.
And what about the fool at the far
end of the counter.
He doesn't even have a cup.
And the white-capped mug behind the counter.
Bending down to reach for something,
nothing most likely.
No deliveries that day
or any day since.
The diner has no door.
And it's always night.
And everyone's anonymous.
So better the coffee never does arrive.
Who wants to drink alone?

Poet John Grey lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His latest book is “What Else Is There” from Main Street Rag. He has been published in Agni, Hubbub, South Carolina Review and The Journal Of The American Medical Association.

Friday, June 08, 2007, a novel by blog!

By Gina Ricci

Suppose I told you that the old prison still stands. And what happened in the novel turned out to be real.

And suppose I told the whole story right here, right on the blog. You know, in a kind of whodunnit crime-thriller sort of thing.

And what if I gave away the surprise up front: that I am the nun named Sister Renata, the one convicted of slashing her cousin Antonie's throat back in 1883.

Yes, I am a writer living in 2007. But I am also living back then. How could this be?

Don't ask me how. Or why. Don't ask me why Senora Ramos, the hefty old Mexican housekeeper, came forward in time to rope me into writing this damn book. I am not sure exactly. But I have an idea. I think it has something to do with the fact that I had cancer five years ago. I’m fine now. But there was a long time when I thought that somehow writing this nun story had brought on my illness.

I don’t think that anymore. In fact, I think just the opposite is true. As my writer friend Peg has suggested, time and again, writing this nun story is actually a way to keep me healthy.

My healer thinks so too. Just write it, she says. Just write the true story.

Oddly enough, when Senora comes to visit the nun --I mean me, in prison – that’s exactly what she says too. Escribala, m’ja. Write it my daughter. Write the true story, Senora says, and the nun will go free. And you will be healthy. Free of cancer. Free of worry. Free to tell others how faith, and our stories, heal.

Oh sure, I might just be some sort of on-line crackpot.

But right now that's not the issue.

Right now you're just going to have to read the story to find out.

So here, now, is the newspaper article from the San Francisco Examiner that started the whole thing.

October 13, 1883
By John P. Tolder

VALLEJO, CALIF. –A man murdered and a nun – his own cousin – charged with the bloody crime! A convent stunned and a prominent California family shattered! This only partially tells the tale of one of the most dreadful crimes of modern times. This quiet law-abiding town has been rocked by a month-long investigation into a grizzly killing, the kind of sensational crime that is not likely to disappear quickly from the headlines or the imaginations of the stunned local populace.

"This is not your everyday murder,” observed District Attorney G.W. Wordsworck. “The grim and sordid details would satisfy even the most blood-thirsty criminal minds.” Wordsworck promised to seek the death penalty. “If the nun is convicted, I promise you, she will hang.”

A mighty retinue of state and local law enforcement authorities have descended on this pleasant locale, known for its groves of huge live oak trees, to investigate the death of one Antonie Quiero de Lopez, a prominent (and the ladies agree, a handsome) landowner, discovered lying face up in a pool of blood in the bedroom of his magnificent hacienda-style home.

His jugular vein had been severed with a straight razor. Arrested and held without bail in the murder is a young novitiate of the Sisters of Saint Dominic.

On August 13, 1883, exactly two months ago, Sister Maria Rosa Renata (a first cousin of Senor Quiero de Lopez) was arrested and escorted from the convent, her head unveiled and hanging in shame. The devoted nuns who remained in the convent were said to be in a frightful state, mortified by the idea that one of their own was capable of such brutality. The accused remains behind bars in Vallejo in the county jail while authorities prepare their murder case.

Central to the case, according to authorities, is the discovery of a set of highly incriminating (and blood-stained) hand-written pages found in the victim’s rolltop desk. Sheriff’s authorities say the documents –called the blue letters because they are all on pale blue stationary –provide a titillating account that lays out, scene by scene, the shocking details of the Sister Renata’s lurid relationship with her cousin. The documents also describe the way the murder occurred.

“These documents not only place Sister Renata at the crime scene but show us in perfect detail how and why she killed her cousin,” D.A. Wordsworck said. “It is fair to say that these documents guided us right to the culprit’s door. They laid our case right at her feet. From the writing we see that Sister Renata is not only a murderess but a lying seductress too. She managed to live a double life, and she kept her fellow nuns in the dark about her behavior. That double life has ended now.”

Wordsworck called the blue letters “a godsend to find. But it is frightful for this evidence to come to light, since the letters reveal a cold-blooded, cold-hearted, premeditated crime.” Considering the circumstances and the public outcry, Wordswork said the death penalty is in order. “It is the only suitable punishment for this ‘truly wicked’ crime.”

In addition to the blue letters, officials found Sister Renata’s blood-stained habit tied in a bundle and hidden beneath a rock on a hillside behind the convent. Authorities say this is the clothing the nun wore at the time of the killing. Wordsworck noted that the young nun’s left hand was bandaged when she was taken from the convent.

“There was no doubt a struggle,” he said. Wordsworck noted that the razor blade used to slice Don Antonie Quiero de Lopez’ throat was found at the murder site too. A tearful housekeeper, one Senora Elizabeth Ramos de Curacuora, conceded that the razor belonged to the victim. The nun regularly made trips from the convent to the hacienda, where she used the blade to shave her cousin, who had been ill for several months.

Also discovered in a closet near the body was a highly theatrical black and red satin dress, one that might be worn on stage by a Spanish dancer. It too was smeared with blood. Authorities say they believe Sister Renata wore the dress at some point during the murderous encounter with her cousin. “We will have more to say on this peculiar matter as details unfold in the courtroom,” Wordsworck noted.

Sister Renata denies the wanton killing. “As God is my witness, I am not guilty. I had nothing to do with it,” she said. “I have done nothing wrong.” The tearful nun, bareheaded, her hair chopped like a ragged brush, was led from the Dominican convent in handcuffs. She carried her black veil in her hands.

Meanwhile, Sister Renata’s closest friend at the convent, Sister Theresa O’Toole, claims she has never know a kinder person. “You only have to meet Renata to know that she is one of God’s gentlest and holiest servants,” O’Toole said outside the courtroom today. “Renata is too timid even to slaughter a chicken when she is ordered to do so for our convent dinner. Surely she is not guilty of this horrible crime.”

A trial date is set for November 9th. Wordsworck predicted a “speedy” resolution to the trial.

Writer Gina Ricci lives in upstate New York. Excerpts from her novel,, will appear here from time to time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

When Lightning Strikes

By Lori Cullen

I can hear still hear sirens in the distance. I hear the quick-footed horns as well as the deep-voiced fire engines’ wails. Soon after, I see what I think is a news helicopter cutting circles into a deceptively blue sky. I watch until it disappears behind the tree tops. I wonder if someone has been hurt. Who? Where? How?

There was no warning, no tell tale rumbling that would signal a blast so strong I could feel it roar through my feet as I sat typing an email. My hands stopped mid-word when I heard the lightning crack. Then the power went out.

I heard the explosion directly overhead. I didn’t know what it was. If I hadn’t been in Schenectady, New York, I would have known for sure that it was a bomb. Nevertheless, I expected the very next moment to bring with it the shattering of my world, of glass, of shrapnel and of screams. As I made my way outside, I was sure the workers who earlier that day had been repaving a neighbor’s driveway would be splattered in pieces about the street. I was certain there would be blood.

Instead, there were only neighbors who had gathered together in an adjacent yard. Nobody had been immediately certain what the blast had been, but they had since figured it out. It was thunder.

One of four paving workers returned from where I don’t know and climbed into his truck. I crossed the road to asked him where he had gone when he heard the loud bang.

"Oh, I heard the thunder alright,” the man said. “We moved to get out of the rain.”

But there had been no rain. So I asked him again, where he had gone and if he had seen the lightning.

"We were in our trucks,” said another one, lighting a cigarette. “We didn’t run, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Did you see the lightning?” I asked.

“Yeah. I saw the lightning. When I heard the thunder, I looked up right overhead and saw it. I was looking for the shotgun.”

I hadn’t been looking for a shotgun. I had been looking for a mushroom cloud or a fireball in the sky. I had been listening to too close sirens and the stillness of my house and watching shocked appliances come slowly out of hiding.

My children were all in school. When I heard the blast, instinctively I raced to do something, but what? Go to the basement? Rush to my children’s schools, to the phone, to the TV?

In the end, I rushed outside where I discovered that the sound had only been thunder.

Gathered with the neighbors, we blanketed our fears in laughter, each of us perhaps remembering 911, the Northeast blackout in 2003 or perhaps the most recently reported terror threat posed at J.F.K. Airport.

We talked uneasily until the next clap of thunder came. Katie, an elderly neighbor closed her shutters. “We better go inside.”

Another neighbor went inside to comfort her frightened dog, she said.

I also went inside — to finish my email, but the thunder remained heavy on my mind.
Here, in Schenectady, NY, with the sky now a hazy gray and leaves swirling on the giant maples like tiny ballerinas, the sound of thunder almost brought me to my knees. But it was just thunder.

Somewhere else, there is a woman who today will hear the same, heart wrenching sound. The sound will cause her mind to flash black and her heart to bleed as she thinks about her children.

Only when she opens her door to go outside, the sky may still be blue and the sun may be brightly shining, but the sound will not be thunder and in an instant, her whole life may have changed.

Writer Lori Cullen, who directs the Writing Center for the Capital Region, has a regular column, called "Family Matters," on the Albany, New York Times Union blog page. This piece ran in "Family Matters" on June 5, 2007. Cullen reports that two women were injured by the monstrous bolt of lightning that struck her neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Baby Brief

By Jennifer Wilson

I look at her and I think, 'you could conquer the world', and then I have to tell myself, 'it is not about conquering'. But she could. If anyone could, she could. And she holds her hand up, palm flat against my image and says, 'no', and I am rejected and proud, knocked down and grateful all at once. He hugs me and laughs and I am his. My heart opens up to his gaze and simply spills over. 'You could break so many hearts' I think, and then I tell myself that it is not about breaking hearts. But he could. If anyone could, he could. And he grins at me and I let my own heart break open into pieces.

Writer Jennifer Wilson is mother of two 26-month old twins. She lives in Pennsylvania. Her first novel is called "Witch."