Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tanka 5:25

Your love was intense
The strain on my heart immense
Forever broken
Love's fragile pieces collect
Dust in my soul's dark places.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Haiku 5:28

Look but do not touch
Transgressions arouse delight
but leave a deep scar.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Haiku 3:11 pm

Your thoughtless gesture
Brought me immediate pain
Treasure me no more

She looked at the haiku, then crumbled up the paper and threw it to the ground with its half dozen predecessors. Why couldn't she write? She needed him to know how badly he'd hurt her, not just as a woman, but as a writer as well. Where did he get off telling her she couldn't write? Just because he had that one piece of flash fiction published in the local community college literary review, that didn't make him Charles Bukowski. Christ, he wasn't even Charles, . . . She stopped to think of another writer named Charles, and couldn't, which made her feel even more miserable than before. And those stupid friends of his in his writers' group, who the fuck were they to comment on anything she wrote? A bunch of wanna bees who thought they were hot shit because they all had blogs. Anybody can have a blog, that doesn't prove how good a writer you are. Hell, it was like gauging your popularity by how many friends you have on face book. She kicked at one of the abortive attempts with the tip of her sneaker. Stupid poetry, she sulked. She kept staring at the floor as the phone began to ring. She went to answer it but stopped when she saw the Caller ID number; it was him. She hesitated, reached for the phone, then chickened out. Let it go into voice mail, she thought to herself.

She waited, then picked up the phone to listen. She tapped her fingers impatiently on the receiver. She heard his flat, nasal tone on the recording.

"Look, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but if you're going to be a good writer, you need to take criticism better. Your writing won't amount to anything if you don't toughen up. Trust me, I've been published, you know. I know what I'm talking about."

She threw the phone across the room, then stalked to her computer. She opened up her blog and wrote as quickly as possible. She hit Publish Post, then sat back, a satisfied look upon her face.

Toughen your own skin
Community college mags
Do Not Count for Shit!

One, Maybe Two At Most

She was lying in bed, grateful to put her feet up, which was ironic, considering she made her living by putting her feet up. She listened to him taking a piss in the bathroom; as clients went, he was fairly normal. Straight sex, some head. Nothing like the guy she'd scheduled last week, the one who wanted to pretend he was a pirate so he could plunder her for buried treasure. She stretched her arms above her head and pointed her toes; she was getting too old for this life. One, maybe two years more at the most, and then she'd retire. Put her feet up for good.

He wandered back into her room and sat on the edge of the bed, taking her right foot into his hands. He began to gently massage it; she closed her eyes and smiled. What a considerate gesture, she thought. She let out a contented sigh and sunk deeper into the pillow. He finished with the one, then began on the other. She felt her body begin to relax, and had to fight to keep her senses about her. Don't let your guard down, a little voice said. She felt his hands drift up her legs, the stubble of his beard brushing against her inner thighs. He began to kiss her, letting his tongue dart across her flesh. She started to respond with her usual scripted words; "Oh yea, oh baby" but he stopped and sat up. She opened her eyes; her immediate reaction was one of apprehension.

"Don't" he said, a dark look clouding his face. "Don't pretend. I hate when women pretend. I'd rather you just lay there and let me enjoy myself."

She tried to get a read on him, began to question her initial assessment of him. She felt her survival instincts kick in.

"Sure baby, whatever you say. Enjoy yourself, but I wasn't pretending. You're really good. The best."

The look on his face got darker, and she felt her adrenaline begin to kick in.

"Don't fucking lie to me. I hate when people lie to me."

She tried to smile, tried to gain control of the situation again. Tell him what he wants to hear, the little voice said. She let out a deep breath.

"Ok,I'll stop pretending. You do what you gotta do to get your money's worth."

She saw him begin to relax, saw the black mood begin to dissipate. He bent over again, pushing her legs up, letting her feet drape over his shoulders.

"I fucking hate liars" she heard him mumble as he resumed his ministrations. She lay back and tried to find a happy place. One more year, maybe two, then she could retire. He moved up her body, plunging inside her. She could feel his mouth next to her ear.

"You hate this, don't you?"

"Fuck you, pal. You're not paying me to enjoy it."

"Yea, you hate this, and all the guys like me who buy you. You hate the fact that you can't tell me what a loser I am, that you have to pretend that I'm the best thing that's ever crawled into your bed. You hate the sense of powerlessness it arouses in you, don't you?"

Oh Christ, she thought, this one wanted to screw with her mind as well as her body. She tried to clench her pelvic muscles tighter in an attempt to make him cum faster. He started his interrogation again, mistaking her silence for acquiescence.

"So why do you do it, sweetie? Why do you let any schmuck with a c-note do whatever he wants to you? Were you molested as a child? Did your daddy make you take a shower with him? Or maybe it was your choir teacher making you stay after school to clean his pipes? Was that it? Go on, tell me, sweetie, tell me all the dirty details."

Sweet Jesus, this guy was a freak. She decided to play along, tell him what ever he wanted to hear.

"Yea, baby, you're right. It was my math teacher; I was fourteen, he was forty-five. He used to make me meet him during lunch, used to lock the door to the classroom. He'd make me touch him while he sucked my tits, letting his fingers probe me until they were sticky. Sometimes he'd spank me with the pointer, making me calculate Pi to fifteen decimal places. He called me his sweet piece of Pi. Get it darling, like pie? It's a play on words."

She could hear his breathing becoming shallow, his thrusts quickening as he grew closer to climaxing. Suddenly he pulled out and began to thrust between her breasts, depositing a pearl necklace along her throat. He let his hands wrap around her neck, rubbing the sticky substance into her skin and onto her lips. He bent down and kissed her, hard. Most guys would rather die than taste their own spunk, but not him. He lived for that taste. He rolled over onto his back, letting his head swim. He was just about to slip into a deep sleep when he felt her elbow in his ribs. He opened his eyes, slowly turning his head towards her. She was sitting up, smoking a cigarette.

"Come on, pal, time's up. Get dressed and get out."

He smiled and closed his eyes again.

"Not yet, baby. I've got a wallet full of hundreds. I plan on spending all of them."

She took another drag on her cigarette, then got out of bed, walking over to the dresser. She opened the drawer and pulled out the .22, making sure it was loaded. She looked over her shoulder and paused; he was watching her. He stared intently at her, then laid his head back onto the pillow.

"Put the gun away, darling. You'll never get away with it, and I'm not worth spending the rest of your life locked up. Come back to bed and rest; we've a long night ahead."

She sighed, placed the gun down, closed the drawer, and walked back to the bed, laying on her side facing away from him. He rolled next to her, his arm over her like a snare. She closed her eyes and tried to think of a happy place. One, two years more at most. Then she could retire.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Good bye My Love

She lovingly gazed at him. Where had the time gone? It seemed only yesterday he was born, a hand full even as a newborn. Running around like a crazy man when he was a toddler, wielding his light saber, fighting for the Republic. He swore the Force would always be strong within him, yet almost from the moment he emerged from the womb he was intrigued by the Dark Side. Slowly it grew, a tiny kernel metamorphosing into an enormous psychic tumor. They endured years of pain and struggle, until finally he just gave up, the energy to fight was no longer in him. The end was quick; at least he didn't suffer.

"I love you baby. You'll always be my best boy."

She bent to give him one final kiss, then placed her hand on the lid, gently closing the coffin. She let her hand caress the surface one last time, then nodded her head abruptly, signally to take her son to his grave.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Memory of Me

The sky was gray and overcast as Mary made her way in the car, her six year old daughter, Martha, singing softly to herself in the back seat. Their trip had been delayed and Mary was afraid they wouldn’t have enough time to spend with her husband, Larry and their son Jesse. The car was packed with a basket of food, a blanket, a bucket with cleaning supplies inside, and a large jug of water. The scent of marigolds enveloped the car.

“Are we almost there Mommy?”


“How will we remember the spot? How will we find Daddy and Jesse? We haven’t been here in a while. We haven’t been here since . . .”

“I know where to go, I haven’t forgotten.”

Mary cut her daughter off. She knew painfully well where she had to go to meet her husband and son.

They drove on in silence, Martha acutely aware of the tension rising within her mother. Mary turned into a gated entrance, and then slowly wove her way down a narrow roadway. She made two left turns, then pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road and turned off the engine. She looked out the window, her eyes searching for a familiar landmark.

“Is this it Mommy?"

“Yes, sweetie, we’re here."

“Where are they? I don’t see them?"

“We have to get out and look for them. Help me get the things out of the trunk.”

Mary unbuckled Martha from her car seat, went to the back of the car and opened the trunk. She handed her daughter the blanket and the bucket, and grabbed the basket of food, the water and the two pots of marigolds, one yellow, one bright orange. She had to put the basket in the crook of her elbow and hold both pots of flowers tight against her chest, the jug of water clenched in her fist.

“This way.”

She pointed with her head down a narrow row.

“I think they’re down here."

The two of them trudged slowly down the lane, Martha slightly ahead of her mother. They walked for about ten minutes when the young girl cried out.

“Here they are Mommy, I found them.”

Mary, winded from her load, her arms aching, struggled to reach the spot without dropping everything. She plopped down next to her daughter, placing the items awkwardly on the ground.

“Hi guys”, she gasped, as she let her weight fall on her arms and knees.

The white head stone read, ‘In loving memory, Lazarus Micah O’Shea, Father and Jesse Aaron O’Shea, Beloved Son. The dates of birth were thirty five years apart; the date of death was the same. Mary put her hand on the stone. The cold marble burned her touch. The two of them sat there for a minute.

“Help me lay out the blanket” Mary finally said.

Martha picked up the blanket and laid it out next to the grave.

“Why are we here?”

She quietly asked her mother. Mary had to think a minute for the proper answer.

“To visit. It’s Dia de los Muertos."

“What’s that?”

“Dia de los Muertos. The Day of the Dead. It’s a day when people can remember the people who they loved who have died."

“Why did we bring all this stuff?"

“The bucket and water are to clean the head stone, and the food is for us to have a picnic. The flowers are to make everything look pretty."

“How can we have a picnic in a graveyard? Won’t people get mad?"

“No, people used to do it all the time in the old days. Down in Mexico whole families visit the cemeteries and spend time with their dead relatives, eating, telling stories, singing songs."

Mary began to pour some of the water into the bucket as Martha looked at her.

"That’s in Mexico, this is New Jersey. We’re not even Mexican. Maybe we aren’t allowed to do this."

Mary laughed.

“Why wouldn’t we be allowed? Everyone is allowed to remember the people they love."

“I don’t know," Martha said.

She sat down on the blanket and pulled the basket of food towards her, rummaging inside for something to eat.

Mary swished the brush inside the bucket to mix the soap. She gently placed her hand on the top of the grave stone and began to rhythmically move the brush across it. She looked at the dates on the face; had it really only been four months since that horrible day? She had gone to work early and Larry had walked Martha to school, Jesse strapped to his chest in one of those infant slings. On the way home from dropping his daughter off father and son had waited for the light to change before crossing the street; they never saw the car fail to stop, jump the curb and pin the two of them against the building behind them. The force of the impact was so violent that Jesse’s body had been pushed into his father’s abdominal cavity, searching to return to a womb that had never existed. Mary was just about to go into a meeting when the phone call announced the destruction of her world. She had wanted to crawl into the grave with her husband and son; only the fact that she still had to mother her daughter had kept her from giving up completely. This was the first time she had visited the grave. A foreign holiday had given her the courage to visit. She had wanted to believe in the old tales from school, All Soul’s Day, I am the Resurrection and the Life, he that believes in me will have everlasting life. What kind of God kills a three month old child, she had wondered? The type of God who lets his own son be crucified.

Mary rinsed the soap away from the rock and began to dry it with a towel. Martha was still digging in the basket, pulling out food and drink when a small box caught her eye. She opened it and gasped at its’ contents.

“What are these?"

Two white sugar skulls lay inside, each decorated with brightly colored cake frosting. One had the name ‘Lazarus’ written across the forehead, the other ‘Jesse’.

“They’re candy skulls. You leave them as a gift for the dead."

Martha stared intently at her mother.

“Mommy”, she said slowly and solemnly, “Daddy and Jesse are dead. You don’t leave presents to dead people. They can’t do anything with them. They’re dead."

Martha wanted to reach out and slap her daughter, wanted to scream “I know they’re dead, I haven’t been able to forget that”, but she couldn’t, she couldn’t refute her daughter’s logic. She had hoped that coming here today would give her some sense of closure, that she’d have some sort of epiphany, had hoped that following the rituals of another culture would make some sense to a totally senseless act. This was El Dia De los Muertos, the one day during the year when the souls of the departed are able to communicate with the living. Where were her loved ones? Why didn’t they try to contact her? Why didn’t they offer comfort? Her six year old daughter knew why; because they were dead. The dead have no need for presents, or food or the living. They’re dead.

Martha emptied the bucket of water onto the ground, repacked the food inside the basket and folded the blanket. The wind began to blow stronger as she arranged the marigolds in front of the head stone. The two candy skulls were left on top, the way stones are left on the top of a Jewish grave. She and her daughter walked back to the car, dumped their belongings in the trunk, entered the vehicle and drove away as the rain began. The two skulls began to melt in the pouring rain, the icing leaving colored streaks down the front of the gravestone.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I was three years old when my mother died. My father, an Irish poet of some renown, was forty five and forced to raise a little girl he knew nothing about. My mother had been one of his graduate students at University. I have a vague memory of her; tall, thin, long red hair. Pictures don’t seem to reinforce that memory, only confuse it.

My father spent the next two years gleefully playing the part of grieving widower/single parent. There was a succession of students in and out of his bed during those years. None of them stayed long, each growing disillusioned that the man was nothing like the artist. Only one is seared into my subconscious and even today, so many years later, she is the strongest memory of my childhood.
She was different from the others because, unlike them, she was a woman, fully formed in opinion, personality and talent. She was an American writer on sabbatical for the year at the University. My father was enthralled by her; he would speak in glowing terms to me about her. She was the same age as him, with long red hair like my mother’s, the only difference being that the woman’s was full and curly. My father began to spend more and more time away from home in the evening, leaving me in the care of a relative. After about eight weeks he announced that the three of us would be going on a picnic; this would be the chance for us to all become better friends, he said.

Saturday arrived and we set out for a quiet spot near a lake. I immediately saw what my father found so attractive about this woman; she was beautiful, kind and infinitely patient with me, helping me set out the lunch, running and playing with me in the park. Finally my father had me settle down for a nap under a large oak tree. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Moments later I was woken by a small cry. I was lying on my side, and still half asleep; I partially opened my eyes to see its source. We were in a small secluded spot away from any on lookers. I saw the woman on her back, her blouse opened, her breasts exposed, my father’s hand roughly grabbing her left one while his mouth devoured the right. Her skirt was hiked up, her legs bare, her knees wedged under my father’s shoulders. He was naked from the shoulders down, his pants wrapped around his ankles, his body crushing hers, her hands clawing at his back. I remained silent, not wanting to announce my awareness. I could hear my father speaking softly, whispering words like, Shhh, stop, it’s ok. At one point she turned her face towards me; her eyes were closed, her face wet with tears, her lips slightly parted, a low moan escaping her mouth. Suddenly her eyes opened and our eyes locked. I quickly closed mine again, trying to block out the sight, but I could still hear my father’s voice, alternately soothing and kind, than harsh and impatient. Moments later it grew painfully silent. I drifted off to sleep again. My father woke me up, saying it was time to go. The sky had darkened; a storm was on its way. I tried to see the woman’s face but she had it covered by her long thick hair. We gathered our belongings, got in the car, and drove home. My father left our house with the woman, returning the next morning, a smug smile of satisfaction on his lips.

“Dearest,” he said later that day, “I think I’ve found you a new mother."

The woman disappeared from our lives as suddenly as she had appeared. Her time abroad was cut short by an emergency back home, and she left several days later for safer shores. My father was alternately furious and heartbroken, crying to anyone who would listen about losing the love of his life twice in one lifetime. He kept this performance up for quite some time. I never spoke to anyone about what I had seen that day.

The memory of that day began to recede as I grew up, but sometimes it would flash like a bolt of lightning in my consciousness. What had I really seen, I would ask myself? As a child I had been confused and frightened by the scene, by my father’s strength and the woman’s helplessness. As I grew older and became more aware of life I became ill at my father’s brutality. Had they been making love, taking advantage of the solitude to indulge in some harmless role playing? Or was my father a rapist, forcing himself on a woman who was unable to defend herself? How could I reconcile his actions in the park with his attitude the next day, confident, happy, guilt free?

That was almost twenty years ago. Dementia has claimed my father, completely wiping out the man he was, memory fully absent from his mind. I saw the woman once, in New York, several years ago. She was at a book reading, and at the reception after wards I went up and introduced myself. She remembered me, asked about my life, than asked about my father. When I told her about him a cold triumphant look flashed in her eyes. I drew closer to her and whispered.

“Do you remember that day, in the park, when he . . .”

She grabbed my arm with her hand, cutting me off before I could finish. Our eyes locked once more.

“Some memories aren’t worth keeping."