The Method Behind the Madness

Today I am going to share a little bit of what inspired some of my more recent creative pieces.

St. Augustine

We turn a corner.

And I wonder
what goes on here?
Myriad tiny windows into tiny lives,
tables and chairs containing universes,
the Christmas lights, and
your freckled shoulders.

We turn a corner.

Guitar strings, coffee cans,
the glorious jangling of change,
cigarette butts, all
the grit and glamour of being human.

We turn a corner.

And my senses return to me.
I smell smoke and chocolate and liquor.
I smell sweat and aftershave and gasoline.
I smell someone else’s life and
the perfume my mother wore
to synagogue on special nights.

My voice, too, returns to me.

We are not that different,
not too far gone.
The tired waitress wilts on her feet,
she waits
for the night to be through with her.
The evening rolls on,
the cosmos continue to spin.
Eternity utters a day.

It’s not a bad life.

As the title suggests, I wrote this while in St. Augustine last December to see the Christmas lights with my boyfriend. I had recently quit smoking, and this was the first long car ride I undertook without the comfort of a cigarette or my vape. (A major victory!) That’s also why I chose to include some scents in the poem–I was literally coming to my senses when I decided to quit smoking. Another thing I found interesting about the city was the stark contrast between the well-off visitors and the buskers and panhandlers on the less-populated streets. (For a far more eloquently articulated point on this idea, check out Jamaica Kincaid’s essay, “A Small Place.”) This poem will be appearing in Touchstone and an anthology being published by Quillkeeper’s Press.

Untitled (Spring of 2021)

I want to forget
myself come home to someone
I can love

azaleas pink and white
a chuppah tallit the afikomen
in its modest paper napkin

Spanish moss and lichen
embellishments on coarse bark
a kiddush cup a Havdalah candle citrus fruit
ablaze in golden hour

my childhood sprints by
encompassed in a rabbit

It came as a shocking realization to me that moving my body makes me feel less depressed. I took a rare afternoon stroll through my neighborhood a few days ago because I felt that I would simply explode if I stayed in the house any longer. When I finished my walk, I’d completely forgotten whatever was bothering me, Archie was at the door waiting for me to feed him, and life was okay. I chose not to include any punctuation in this one because I wanted the poem to mirror the flow of time: no distinct end or beginning, no clear boundaries. I thought of the last couplet first and wrote the rest of the poem to lead up to it.

Angel Numbers

a new tattoo
bare faced
rose quartz lips
on the cusp of laughter or maybe

standing in my doorway
beauty blushed
brazen one hand
on the knob the other
dares not even to tremble

hungry enough to eat
the sun
are you?
why not have
every depraved desire
the mind conjures?

I want what I want when
I want it
been bleeding since last fall
been beating my desires
into submission
is this a mission or a sin?

nothing is as constant as
your steady demolition of every
some things never
but some do

This one gets its title from a Numerology concept (This article sums it up. Do with it what you will). My friend came over to visit me, and I felt very sad when she left because she confided in me her deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction with her life. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for advice or just a shoulder to cry on, so I simply listened. My friend is very interested in signs, astrology, etc., and she told me that she’d seen an angel number that had provided guidance in a relationship, hence the inspiration for this poem. There’s a subtle nod to Sappho’s fragments in the second stanza, and a shoutout to a poem I wrote several years ago in the first. The only punctuation I used were question marks because of the uncertainty and confusion infused in our conversation.

The Wreckage of Our Past

I’m blackout drunk in a CVS bathroom, staring at this stupid bitch in the mirror. I don’t know this chick, never seen her before, but she’s ugly as sin. She’s got her nose stuck up in the air, she’s looking all defiant, arrogant. You can see the acne scars on her chin from picking at pimples all throughout high school. Her lips are thin and so chapped they’re cracking in places, and you can just barely see that she’s a gap tooth. Her eyebrows are evidence that at some point in the recent past, she’s made an effort to look after herself, seeing as how they’re tweezed into perfect arches. And she’s got a hoop in her nose on the left side. Her features would have been delicate, maybe even pretty, had she not been so drunk that it looked as though she may have been about to either scream or vomit at any given moment. Whatever this bitch was angry about, she was going to make it everyone’s problem.

Suddenly, as the bitch in the mirror lurches forward, her hand meets mine and I realize I am, in fact, looking at my own reflection, that I am that angry, drunken bitch in a CVS bathroom, that I am wearing Carson’s hoodie and a pair of Calvin Klein boyshorts and not much else. Next thing I know, I’m on the floor.

This is an excerpt from my most recent short story, which follows the young protagonist, Kennedy, trying to get sober in a small town after a traumatic event. I had a couple of goals with this story. First, I wanted to give insight into the mind of a person who revictimizes herself. I was heavily influenced by Sarah Gerard’s True Love. Gerard’s novel was not a popular one. A quick Google search reveals tons and tons of reviews like this one.

While this is a totally valid way to react to something like Gerard’s True Love or my “The Wreckage of Our Past,” I sincerely believe that this is an erroneous interpretation of these works. With my piece, I chose to use a first-person narrator so that my readers would be privy to Kennedy’s thoughts. I wanted people to understand how trauma changes one’s self-talk. There are a couple of scenes where we get inside Kennedy’s head and really listen to her belittle and berate herself over totally innocuous situations. In this opening scene in particular, I took a risk and decided to break the “mirror scene rule.” I don’t think there are many hard and fast rules when it comes to writing, certainly not pertaining to the more detailed and nuances aspects of writing. I think there are good suggestions, good persuasions and schools of thought. But even rules such as, “Avoid cliches,” can be broken, if they’re broken well. The mirror scene is typically a cliche, it’s weak writing. Your character rolls out of bed, checks herself out in the mirror, and tells the reader what she sees, “I swept my long blonde hair out of my greyish eyes and pursed my plump, pink lips.” No thanks! It’s just awkward. Is that your interior monologue when you see your reflection? Didn’t think so. While I will concede that my story’s opening could be refined a little bit, I do think it’s a good opening. My middle school language arts teachers would be so proud of me for using a “hook.” I was taught that when writing a five-paragraph essay (God forbid I ever wanted to write anything else! That was simply not permitted in middle school!) you must always include a “hook,” to grab your reader, otherwise they would simply stop reading. “That’s it?” I remember thinking. “I get one sentence to prove that I’m worth reading? Is my potential reader’s attention span that short?” I digress… My other objective in this story was to comment on how God fits into a modern world. Kennedy is in a Twelve Step program in the story and she is a vehicle for my own struggles with faith in a seemingly absent Higher Power.

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