Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bucket List (In the Category of Say What You Mean)

“White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.” – A Sunday In the Park with George

Note the lovely purple border around the painting and the beautiful orange of the dress to the left.
I fell in love with the paintings of Georges Seurat as an undergrad in college, especially his most famous work, “A Sunday on the Isle of Le Grande Jatte.” His art came at me from two directions, probably because I was a double major at the time, in fine art and theater art. I first studied Georges in Art History – the technique of his – a palate of pure colors never mixed, a fine pointed brush, dots of each pure color placed closely together. The eye of the beholder mixes the colors, as Georges intended. There is no purple in the painting, only red dots next to blue dots. There is no orange either – only red paired with yellow, and the shaded grass is not a darker green than the sunlight grass. It just has brown dots carefully placed where the canopy of the park trees would, in the real world, cast a shadow.
Close Up of the Purple Border - Red and Blue Dots
The true composition of that orange dress.
A few months later, in acting class, my drama professor popped in a video of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical: A Sunday in the Park with George. The tone of one clear trumpet sounded as the lights came up on the curtain, which was Seurat’s masterpiece. I watched with delight as my favorite painting came to life – a tableau vivant with the incomparable Bernadette Peters as “Dot,” George’s willing if inexperienced model, and Mandy Patinkin as George. Here was the essence of Seurat – not the painstaking technique, but the free-flowing imagination that his vision inspired in his beholders. When I learned that the painting lived in the United States, at the Art Institute of Chicago, to see the dots with my own eyes became a bucket list item.

Years passed…

My desire to see the painting never dwindled. If anything, it grew stronger. I believe it is a function of aging, the sense of urgency that creeps up as time slips away and the bucket list grows rather than diminishes. I graduated college (twice), found jobs to pay my way through the world, made a life for myself that has (I am blessed to say) lasted longer than Georges Seurat’s skimpy thirty-one years.

In April of this year, my boss asked me if I would be willing to work the November trade show in Chicago. I jumped at the chance and made my plans. My husband wanted to see the painting too – I had only made him sit through the musical about a dozen times, so it had meaning for him as well. We would fly a day earlier than I needed to be there, take a vacation day, and go straight to the museum as soon as the plane landed. No pussy-footing around…I would see the painting first, not save it for the end of the trip. (I’ve put off doing bucket list items before and been thwarted…a mistake I try never to repeat.)

We had not reckoned on the Chicago Cubs making it to the World Series. No one reckoned on that. As they came back from behind against the Cleveland Indians, it began to dawn on me: I would be in Chicago on the weekend, potentially, after the Cubs won the series for the first time in 108 years. And then it happened. The Cubs won in Game 7, in extra innings, after a rain delay. Chicago quickly laid plans for a massive celebratory parade. Five million additional people made their way to the Windy City to party.

And our plane touched down right into the thick of it. It was all we could do to get to our hotel. The streets on both sides of the hotel entrance were closed as they were part of the parade route. The end-of-parade rally was held in Grant Park, which is literally across the street from our Best Western. We had no hope of getting to the museum before it closed. Normally I fully support breaking 108 year droughts, but damn it! The painting!

But today…today…gentle reader, I still weep tears of joy at the memory of it six hours later. Today we arrived at the Art Institute shortly after it opened. We ascended the grand staircase and made our way to the Impressionists section. There it hung; I could see each painstakingly applied red dot next to each as carefully placed blue dot on a beautiful purple flower in a hat that my eyes mixed to see black but was not. I walked up to it, uncaring of any photo opps I ruined for others. This was my painting, my moment with it. Tears flowed freely down my cheeks, and I felt no shame for them. It was more beautiful than I had imagined. Indeed, no photo does the painting justice. Georges had, in the words of the musical, met the challenge.

“…Bring order to the whole Through design, composition, tension, balance, light, and harmony.”

Bucket list: Check!
Tears glisten in the corners of my eyes. Tears of joy.
Next item, that trip to Hawaii I’ve always wanted to take. Maybe there will be a trade show…

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Magnolia Inn and Saloon (Inspired by Concrete Blonde’s “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man”)

(Another short story originally published on In Sixteen Bars, this story was one of the most fun to write. See what you think. Would you dare to spend the night?)


The Magnolia Inn and Saloon (A short story by Kim Norris)

There’s always someone here at the Magnolia Inn and Saloon. One never gets lonely for company. This has been my place for years now. You might say I’m a fixture. We all have our reasons for coming and staying. I came here for a woman, but that was years ago. Sherry was her name, and she was sweet like the wine. When she left Waco to come to Coulterville, I followed. How could I not?

Joey is a failed novelist. He came here to finish his epic. It finished him. He sits at the far end of the long wooden bar, nursing a Bloody Mary and holding his head like it aches, which I am sure it does. How could it not? Nora and Eddie rendezvoused at the Magnolia for a lover’s tryst, thinking no one would look for them here. It’s the only inn for miles, though. Where else would they go? They slow dance most nights, although the jukebox hasn’t worked in years.

The Dawson gang are the rowdiest, both upstairs, where the boarders stay, and down here in the saloon. Some nights, they take to fighting and carrying on, and then the glass starts breaking. Jasper, the youngest one, hangs from the center chandelier, a wagon wheel with hurricane lamps on each spoke. It sways and trembles like he’ll pull it down, but it holds. All these years, and it still holds every time. As he swings he yodels, and the spectacle makes the others, Jesse, Johnny, and Jake, quit fighting for a spell.

We mostly hang out in the saloon, but upstairs, Jake Dawson’s the worst hellion. He throws furniture when he’s in a mood. Sometimes, the hooker he fancies screams at him. I guess he beats her. No couth. I’ve never raised an angry hand to a lady. I’ve got too much respect for them. Even with my reputation as a ladies’ man, women trust me. They lie down for me whenever I ask. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.


It’s sunset, and we’re all hanging out, like we always do here at the Magnolia Saloon, when she arrives. A hot draft of dry air follows her through the front door like an urchin begging for a penny, clinging to her legs beneath the flowery skirt. I catch a whiff of jasmine as she walks by. She smells like Sherry, the woman, not the wine. How could I not move closer? Then a man walks in behind her, carrying a suitcase.

Now I’m not the type of gentleman who will steal another’s lady. It’s disrespectful. But to tell the truth, I haven’t smelled jasmine in a long time. Her hair is beautiful and red, and twisted into a bun so I can see her neck elegantly protruding from the scooped peasant blouse. I’ve always liked necks.

She shivers as I approach her. I have that effect on women.

“It’s cooler in here than I expected,” she says to the man. I like the sound of her voice, lilting and southern.

“This place is creepy.” He looks around the saloon. Jasper clenches one fist. “Are you sure you want to do this?” The man’s voice is not as pleasant; it’s harsh, and deep, more like a carpetbagger than a gentleman.

“Oh yes,” she replies. “It’s supposed to be creepy. Let’s go upstairs and see the room.”

“Room 20 is the nicest,” I tell her, but she ignores me. Nora and Eddie stop dancing for a moment and scowl, but Joey looks intrigued. It’s the first interest he has ever shown in any of the visitors. I wave him over and we follow the two up the stairs. Jasper watches us go, but Jesse, and Johnny act like they didn’t see anyone come in. They can be sullen like that.

Jake Dawson is standing at the top of the stairs, arms crossed, and he looks angry, like he could throw this latest couple down to the ground if he wanted to, but he lets them walk right by. I see his hooker peering down the hallway, but she doesn’t scream at them. I stand next to the lady and Joey stands next to the man as we all walk down the hall.

“Feel how cold it is?” she asks. I see gooseflesh on the nape of her neck, and I want to kiss it. Joey grins at me with this insane-looking grin like he would like to see me kiss her neck. Maybe I should have left him in the saloon. He keeps bumping into the man; the gesture is callow and pointless, like the stories Joey writes.

“Room 20, right?” the man says.

“Right. It supposed to be ready for us.” She stands patiently while the man fumbles with the brass key. I lean in to sniff her hair – clean-smelling, like a stand of pines in the morning dew just before coffee and a biscuit. The man smells like horse sweat. Joey leers at him behind his back and puts his thumbs in his ears, waggling his fingers and drawing a face like a rodeo clown.

I’ve always been partial to Room 20. It has a nice view of the mountains, and Sherry laid down with me, once, in Room 20. The room has changed since then, but not the view. The woman and I stand at the window and enjoy it for a moment, but the man goes straight to the water closet, turning taps and inspecting the cleanliness.

“I think I’ll shower,” the man says. “Knock off the trail dust.” He opens the suitcase and pulls out a fresh change of clothes.

The woman nods and then walks over to the bed. She sits down, bouncing slightly to check the spring and softness. Finally, she lies down and sighs with contentment. Joey follows the man into the bathroom, and when the shower starts, he begins to bang on the pipes. The sound of it annoys me, but it makes her smile.

“Old pipes in an old hotel,” she mumbles.

“It’s Joey,” I tell her, but she ignores me.

She closes her eyes, still smiling, so I lie down beside her. How could I not? I let her rainbow aura wash over me. She shivers, and I’m sure she feels me. She is my lady. I place my hand gently on her throat, stroking her Adam’s apple.

It’s a compulsion. I can’t help myself. I’ve always liked necks. My fingers tighten around her throat. She gasps a little, but then the hooker down the hall screams and my lady bolts upright in the bed, shaking off my hand. Her own hands clutch her throat, massaging it.

The shower turns off, and I hear the man holler, “What the hell? Where’s that fucking towel? I put it right here…” Joey comes out of the bathroom kicking the towel and grinning like an ape.

The hooker screams again. It sounds like she’s in the next room. I hear Jake push some large piece of furniture against the wall. It shakes the floors in the old inn, and the rocking chair here in Room 20 begins to rock from the vibration. My lady stands, mouth agape, screaming without a sound. Damn Jake! Now she looks upset.

The man emerges dripping wet, spots the towel, and picks it up. “Did you scream?”
My lady shakes her head, pointing at the chair. The man pales visibly and begins to dress, although he is not completely dry. Joey swipes at the man’s testicles. He has no respect. What an oaf!

The hooker screams a third time. Darkness falls, and the man dresses faster. He shuts the suitcase.

“I’ve had enough,” he tells her. She nods, still clutching her throat. He says, “Fucking ghost adventures! Thank god we didn’t bother to bring more luggage.” She opens the door to Room 20, and they exit without closing the it behind them, so I shut the door. They jump at the sound of it. She lets out a small yelp.

Joey and I follow them down the stairs. Jake and the hooker stand at the top, laughing as they look down. I shake my fist at the hussy who ruined the moment for me and my lady.

Back in the saloon, Nora and Eddie stop dancing long enough to watch the newcomers leave. Jasper sits beneath the chandelier, staring at the wall. Jesse and Johnny spin an empty bottle on the bar top. Joey goes back to his Bloody Mary. It’s just another night at the Magnolia Inn and Saloon.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Shooting Star (Inspired by Elton John’s “Island Girl”)

(Here's another short story I wrote for the ezine, In Sixteen bars. It takes place on a hot summer night and features fireflies, shooting stars, and a young man's heart's desire. I'd love to hear what you think.)

Shooting Star (Inspired by Elton John’s “Island Girl”)

I’m waiting for Dicky and Bobby to pick me up, and there’s Geena D. hanging out in front of the E-Z Mart watching four little girls jump double Dutch under the light of a streetlamp and chant:

Gypsy, gypsy
Please tell me.
What's my sweetheart going to be:
Doctor, Lawyer, banker, thief,
Sailor, soldier, Indian Chief?

She taps her red stilettos in time to the song, and I can tell she wants to jump in. I’m burning one and hoping she goes for it. It’ll make her knockers bounce. She has a nice rack. She’s tall, too, like a tree I wouldn’t mind climbing. Red leather pants cover legs that go all the way up, and her purple tank top shows cleavage. She sees me checking her out and smiles at me. I smile back, but we both know I can’t afford her.

Dicky and Bobby are late as usual. The sun has set, but it’s still hot as hell. I can feel the heat coming up off the pavement through my sneakers. One girl jumps out, another jumps in, but she snags the rope and gets tangled. They all laugh, and the girl takes the rope ends in her hands, punishment for breaking the rhythm. Arms move like beating wings as the slap slap slap of nylon on the sidewalk resumes.

A pimpmobile pulls up, the jumpers falter again, and Diggs rolls down the driver’s window.

“Get in the car!”

Geena and I turn our heads to look at him at the same time. She has a pissed off face looking at him, but she walks over to the car and gets in the front seat. For sure, Diggs has got some John waiting for her somewhere, or he would have never picked her up. I’ve seen him slap Geena before, and it makes me want to kill him. Dicky and Bobby just laugh when I say so.

“Diggs would bury you,” Bobby says.

“He’s a fuckin’ bad ass. He’d kill you slow,” Dicky agrees.

“He don’t got to treat her like shit,” I say.

“She’s just a dumb whore.”

“Fuck you!”

I get mad when they call her names. They don’t know her like I do. Geena lives across the hall from me and Granny’s apartment. Sometimes, the smell of jerk chicken wafts out from her doorway into the hall. Sometimes it’s the sound of smooth reggae. Once I heard her crying after a John left. The next day she had bruises all over her face. She tried to cover it with makeup, but I could tell. I’d take her away from it if I won the lottery. I’d punch Diggs in his ugly fat face, take his car, and we’d drive the hell out of town, me and Geena D.

I’m picturing our get away, watching Diggs’ pimpmobile drive off. But then Dicky and Bobby pull up in Bobby’s old, beat up sedan and shout, “Hey butthead, get in!” I flick my coffin nail in the gutter and climb in the back seat. Bobby swings the car back into traffic and we roll.

“Where to?” asks Bobby.

“Dino’s,” says Dicky.

Bobby says, “Naw, I lost my fake. They’d never let me in.”

“Arnie’s then,” Dicky suggests.

“Fuck Arnie’s,” I say. “I ain’t drinking coffee all night.”

“Where then?” Dicky asks, sounding pouty. He hates to be told no.

“I wanna see stars,” I say.

So Bobby drives to the edge of town and hops on the highway, heading west. It takes thirty minutes of fast driving to shake the city lights. They glow behind us, bleaching out the sky. Ten more minutes and we are in the black. No streetlights, no moon, no nothing. The highway now cuts through fields of corn, soybean, and peanuts, only occasionally passing a farmhouse set far off the road. Some of the curtained windows flash; TVs, I guess. Bobby turns down a dirt road. Car-window-high rows of corn flank both sides. We see a house in the distance, but we ain’t going that far. Bobby cuts the headlights and engine, and we get out of the car.

It sounds nothing like the city. The din of crickets, louder than sirens, fills my ears. Lightning bugs flicker in a tree at the edge of the field, and it looks like Christmas, all blinking. I light a cig and lay on the warm hood of the car, stretched out with my back against the windshield. A sky like a velvet Elvis spreads before me. A zillion stars glimmer; the cup of the Dipper’s so full I can barely find its outline.

“What’s that white shit smeared across the sky?” Bobby asks.

“It’s the Milky Way, you dumbass.” I say. “It’s your fucking home galaxy.”

Dicky fires up a joint, and we pass it around. The darkness thickens and even more stars fill the sky. One of them shoots across in a fiery blur, and I make a wish.

Then we hear it, the sound of a motor starting up. It’s coming from the house at the end of the road.

“Shit!” Bobby says. “Get in the car!”

Dicky’s still toking, and he looks pretty stoned. He giggles a little, but he doesn’t move. I grind my cancer stick under my heel; Smoky the Bear would be proud, even if this ain’t the forest. I grab Dicky by the arm and pull him off the hood.

“Get in, dumbass,” I say, pushing him into the passenger seat. Then I climb in the back. Bobby cranks the engine and puts the car in reverse. We see headlights coming our way. Bobby keeps his beams off and backs down the dirt road in the dark, finally pulling out onto the empty highway. The car points toward the city and all the damn lights.

We end up at Arnie’s anyway because now we all got the munchies. Between us we’ve got ten bucks. It’s enough to split a short stack and a side of bacon. I chain smoke and think about my wish, the one I made on the shooting star. Dicky finishes the last bite of bacon, and it pisses Bobby off. They start shoving each other in the booth, and it’s all fun and games until the napkin dispenser hits the floor and bursts open in a flurry of white paper. Then the nightshift waitress tells us, “Get the fuck out!”

After Bobby drops me off in front of Granny’s and my building, I go upstairs and through the living room window out onto the fire escape above the street. There’s four cigs left in my pack, and I want to smoke them all. The pimpmobile pulls up in front of the building; loud hip-hop is booming out of the windows. After a minute, Geena steps out onto the curb. Diggs burns rubber as he peels away. She’s walking slow, like something hurts. The top of her head vanishes from beneath my feet as she disappears into the building. A few minutes later, from across the hall, I hear her apartment door close.

Above me, the Dipper’s outline shines. Its cup is empty -- all these fuckin’ lights. There’s no sign of the Milky Way either. Geenas’s home. She’s safe ... for now. Shooting stars are the shit -- grant your wishes every time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why Hillary’s Nomination Matters to Me (In the Category of Say What You Mean)

Yesterday, something happened that I have hoped for most of my life: a woman became a major party’s presumptive nominee for President of the United States. It shouldn’t be a big deal. All the cool countries have let a woman run them; the United States of America is long overdue for this. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is to me. As a bonus, the party happens to be the one I support more often than not. When I realized Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination, I actually cried.

I understand it’s only a presumptive nomination now. I understand we haven’t won the election (yet). This does nothing to diminish how I feel. It’s closer than a woman has ever come before. Ever. I can still recall the day my mother informed me that a woman had never been President of the United States. I was eight, and it pissed me off. When I tried to make her explain to me why, she struggled. What woman wouldn’t? Mom didn’t tell me it was because women couldn’t, and she certainly would never have suggested a woman shouldn’t run for president. After searching for the words, she finally said something along the lines of, “I guess the right woman just hasn’t come along.”

Is Hillary the right woman?

I know many who would holler at me vehemently, NO! They have reasons and a right to their opinion. Many of them have told me they don’t like her because she didn’t divorce Bill after the blue dress mess. I don’t feel qualified to judge Hillary on that. Couples make their own choices for their own reasons. Live and let live.

A few don’t like her because she voted for the Iraq war while serving as a senator for the state of New York. The majority of Congress at the time did (a disaster, yes, I know). Most of those politicians regret it now. Hindsight is 20/20. Hillary’s ties to Wall Street are also cited to me as a detriment, but I ask you, what kind of a senator from the state of New York would she be if she didn’t also communicate with Wall Street? It holds much of the wealth of this nation in its hands. Why wouldn’t she know how to speak to them? Why wouldn’t you want her to?

A few hate Hillary for being part of The Establishment in Washington D.C. I counter that, as a woman politician, she needs to be. She needs to know well how to apply the oil that greases the machine of our political system. She needs to bring to bear every lesson she ever learned as a state First Lady, the country’s First Lady, a senator, and a Secretary of State because the privileged men of The Hill will try to change the rules to stymy her.

As singer, Joe Jackson, so succinctly put it, it’s different for girls. This upcoming general election will make that plain for all to see. Wait for it.

Millennia of men objectifying women will make almost no one cringe when the main stream media criticizes Hillary's hairstyle or her pantsuit color. We’re used to it – being judged on our looks and our style choices rather than our actions. (Hell we women do it to each other! We shouldn’t. It’s awful. It holds us back, but we do it.) To tell the truth, I rather enjoyed seeing the news pundits tease President Obama for his “mom jeans.” Why not call out a man for his fashion choice? Turnabout is fair play.

Millennia of women being regarded as property will make almost no one protest if a man calls her sweetie, honey, darling, or (more likely) bitch. We’ll be told the former are terms of endearment or affection, or a “pet name” (the horror of that image alone…). Men will feel justified in the latter, especially if she stands up to them. You only need to be a girl on the playground in third grade once to know this is true. Should Hillary herself resort to name-calling, she will be vilified for it as not showing the proper respect due a presidential nominee.

She won’t resort to name-calling. Hillary has no need to. Love her or hate her, she is vastly more qualified to hold the highest office in the land than the old white man that the party of Old White Men has decided should run to rule the roost. She is smarter, more articulate, and infinitely more experienced on the world stage than her opponent. Her resume reads like a woman who has focused her entire life for one purpose: to be the first woman elected President of the United States.

I never aspired to be President of the United States. I knew by age four that the writer’s life was for me. But I weep tears of joy for all the little girls who will never have to make their mothers explain why a woman has never held the highest office in the land. It’s time to finish shattering that glass ceiling.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Re-releasing the "In Sixteen Bars" Stories (In the Category of Want What You Have)

I had the pleasure a few years back of writing a number of short stories for a friend’s e-zine, In Sixteen Bars. My friend – I’ll call him Dan – accepted stories inspired by songs, a worthy muse. I had finally gotten off my ass and started writing fiction for pleasure again, and the challenge of using music to inspire me had appeal. Dan offered to suggest my first prompt, and I accepted, curious to see which song he would pick for me. At that point, we had not known each other long. I first met Dan on Twitter, but I and my husband became friends with him IRL (that is a texting abbreviation for "in real life") when he moved to the area for work, and a mutual Tweep introduced us all at a Tweetup. Dan and I share an age gap as well – he is more than two decades younger than I. Our musical tastes had the potential to differ profoundly. But I well knew his music acumen even then; music is Dan’s passion. So the first story I penned for In Sixteen Bars was inspired Dan’s writing prompt.

His response after reading my submission was, “Holy hell, Kim.”

Dan had chosen the original release of Valerie, by the Zutons. I was familiar with Amy Winehouse’s cover; it’s a beautiful song.

Well sometimes I go out by myself
and I look across the water

And I think of all the things, what you're doing
and in my head I make a picture…
      “Valerie” by The Zutons

You can read the lyrics in full here. The song’s peaceful beginning darkens as the narrative progresses, and as I delved deeper into the imagery, the muse began to whisper lovely, gruesome words. In my head I made a picture, then I wrote it down. Dan’s words in the email, “Holy hell, Kim,” delighted me. Whatever he had expected, I had surprised him. In truth, the story surprised me, but that is the pleasure of creative writing.

In Sixteen Bars accepted seven more stories over the life of the e-zine, a very enjoyable time for me. Dan has since taken on larger, more exciting, new projects and closed his site down to protect (I presume) its contributors from copyright infringement in the absence of actual oversight. The publishing rights to the stories revert back to me, so I am going to use this space to revisit the stories, perhaps tweak a line or two, and share them again. I’ve been chastised by others for giving too much of my creative writing away on the internet, but, in truth, I have relinquished the drive to find financial success as a writer. I just need to write to stay sane. If someone out there wants to make a screenplay out of one of the stories, make me an offer. Really.

In the meantime, the story that follows is my cover of Valerie. Let me know what you think.


Short Fiction by Kim Norris

The picture in my memory never fades. I can still see her shimmy-shake, her back to me, looking over her shoulder, sly smile playing across her lips redder than her hair. Sunlight glinting off the lake’s surface backlights her form. Green water frames the strawberry tendrils that flutter in the breeze around her face. She pulls the sheer blouse over her head and then down, baring her shoulders, laughing and moving to the music. Valerie turns to face me, breasts swaying with the motion of her moves; hard, pink nipples arching upward.

"This portrait is supposed to be a still life," I tell her.

Throwing her head back, she laughs, "then why play music?"

I say, "You look beautiful." Valerie just smiles.

She quits shaking her tits and slides the blouse all the way down her arms. It drops in slow motion, the breeze catching the tissue-thin fabric and holding it aloft. Next she undoes the top button of her Daisy Dukes, then the zipper; she slides her hands down her thighs from the inside, and the shorts drop with more respect for gravity than the shirt had shown. Valerie's eyes never leave my face.

Slowly, she lowers to her knees onto the checkerboard tablecloth spread at the water's edge. I have a green bottle of red wine, white grapes, and a yellow rind of cheese preset, just so. Deep purple cushions and one white rose complete the composition. She weaves her shoulders and thighs around the setting, poised on one arm, calves crossed at the ankle. Strawberry tendrils flutter in the breeze around her thighs. Her lips curl up, just so, enigmatic, sexy. If I could ever love a woman, I would love Valerie.

Starting with her lips, I begin to paint.

After, we drink the wine and eat the grapes and cheese; the wine loosens her tight muscles, and the cheese and grapes need to be fresh for each sitting. We do this as the canvas dries. We have an understanding that she should not look at the unfinished work; her idea, and I respect it.

For seven sunlit days she stretches before me. I empty my savings to pay her tithe. The striptease she performs makes me hot, no matter which paper-thin blouse she shreds in the breeze. When I reveal the finished painting to her, she offers to fuck me for free, but I have not yet learned to love a woman.

The next time I see her face, it’s a mug shot. Valerie does not smile; her hair is longer, lank. She has been drinking, but I only know this because her “lazy” right eye leans inward, which only happens after a few glasses of wine. Her left eye looks defiantly into the camera. I learn her surname is Nesbit, and it feels like a non sequitur. The knowledge of her lover’s existence does not crush me as I fantasized it would. Her list of current misdemeanors amuses me.

On the shore of the lake she had committed more devastating crimes for my art. Still-life became stop-motion. The light never failed. “Come on over,” Valerie said at the beginning of each session. I kept my space and captured her, my paintbrush lips on her watercolor skin, a canvas bed, framed and taught. The distance between our bodies gave us time to dry between each act of incompatible passion.

I last saw Valerie in a picture  hanging on the wall at the opening of my first show. Naked, in living color – green, gold, strawberry, and the memory of our vice. Watercolor, sunlight-dappled lake, pink skin stretched across red and white checkers, green bottle of red wine, just so beside white grapes and a yellow rind of cheese. A purple pillow and white rose where a lover should lie. Strawberry tendrils flutter in the breeze around her head, which, in my painting, is still attached to bare beautiful shoulders. When I learned what he had done, how he beheaded her… I wished…oh fuck how I wished…

…that I could love a woman. It would have been Valerie, Valerie. God help me, it should have been Valerie.


**End Note: My Pandora Radio keeps kicking up versions of Amy's "Valerie" song. It knows I have been Googling; searching the lyrics. I should be creeped out, but nope.

Monday, May 9, 2016

View From a Train (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

We ambulatory creatures make paths as we travel from one place to another. It is in our nature. Deer, bison, elk, and moose first carved the forage trails in North America. Indigenous peoples widened them over years of annual hunts; settlers used wagon trains to flatten out permanent avenues to points west. In time, the rutted pathways became dirt roads, then gravel roads, and then paved asphalt, but before Americans turned their time and attention to constructing  the Interstate Highway System, we built railroads. We built them in places the animals and their hunters could not go: across wide, swift rivers, through solid rock, and up steep grades at angles carefully calculated to allow an iron horse to climb and descend. As the tracks crisscrossed the nation, they sliced through rural farmland, across wide open plains, and over rugged, rocky slopes.  It is much the same with highways today.

But it's different, the view from a train.
The 611 awaits boarding in Roanoke, Virginia.
The 611 engineer signed the box of the model
for my husband.
For my husband's birthday adventure, we took a train ride on a steam engine, the J-Class 611 built in 1950 by Norfolk & Western; a throwback to an earlier age before the ubiquity of air travel, when luxury was still affordable. He has an N-scale model of the J-Class, and when excursions on the real deal became available, we knew we had to take a ride. The Roanoke-to-Walton-to-Roanoke run takes just shy of four hours through rural southwest Virginia – Appalachia some call it, others, God's country. Tracks cut dirt roads in half and follow creeks that meander past houses, hovels, and the rusted bodies of buses, trucks and boats – evidence of past affluence now decayed. It is a different world, compared to the one I see from the highway, closer, more personal. We steamed through backyards with hanging laundry and the early starts of large gardens – just the cabbages in the ground for now. Crowds with cameras met us at each railroad crossing and on hills, in the woods, on boats fishing the river – everyone waving and smiling at the sight of the 611 and the sound of her steam whistle.
Watching the 611 from the North Fork of the Roanoke River.
I could write a poem about every picture I took, or a story, or a novel. I bet, if you let the muse move you – like a slow, low whistle, the kind only steam can blow – you could write one too.

It's different, the view from a train.
Bending a curve; there is no mistaking the front of the train.
Our view from the inside of Powhatan Arrow car WATX 539
A feed mill beside the tracks.
Not Golgotha, but nearly as grim.
Blue Ridge Mountains living up to their name.
Green like only May can bring it.
Folks dressed for Sunday and Mothers Day didn't have to leave their front yard to see the train.
Other folks had to go a little further.
Fork and ford. Which path should we take?
Diamond windows, emerald walls.
A collector of things.
All things relinquished.
The last frost date will see this field in Elliston, VA transformed. Only a few more days...
Following Crab Creek in Christiansburg, VA.
A house near the tracks.
A road to somewhere.
Backyard garden in Shawsville, VA.

Train art at the rail yard.
(I had fun with the photo filters – I will admit that freely. Not every photo, but...) 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Breathing Into Space (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

She said, “Let’s take a yoga class!”

My BFF never organizes exercise-related activities for us to do. In our 26+ years of friendship we’ve gone sugar snap pea picking and shopped for plants at greenhouses; we’ve met for countless brunches, lunches, movies, and happy hours. We took a one-night cooking class in Chinese cuisine back in the old Main Street Bazaar, a kitchen-based kitsch store that’s been out of business for many years now. (My hot and sour soup is still delicious.)

So the suggestion of a yoga class surprised me. I had dabbled in yoga poses on my Wii Fit®. It’s a pretty good toy, and I actually lost weight using it. I use the yoga poses to stretch before I begin my strength training routine: Sun Salutation, Warrior, Grounded V, and Downward Facing Dog make a good warm-up for the 120 jackknives, dozen push-ups, two dozen lunges and fifteen minutes of step aerobics while working with hand weights that follow.

I have never been able to do the stand-on-one-foot poses though. I tried playing a few of the Wii balance games to see if it would help, but I took it personally every time my poor score prompted the Wii to label me “unbalanced.” How did it know? Why did it feel qualified to judge?

Nonetheless, I agreed to sign up for the beginner class my BFF had found at my local recreation center. I already hang out there; the walking track (eight laps in the center lane is a measured mile) and cardio room are both free to town residents, and I like the scene. I felt a little nervous though. Was the yoga on the Wii even legit or had I already learned bad habits? I had seen yoga on television shows. I’ve even met a yoga instructor at a leadership retreat. She was a wisp of girl, petite, blonde, and very limber. During the retreat, she led us through morning stretches after breakfast and before the grueling work of leadership training would begin.

Rationalizing that it was a beginner class and no one would expect me to know what I was doing, I put aside my apprehension and queued up with my BFF and eighteen others on the first day of class. As we spread out our yoga mats our instructor arrived. Toné was not what I expected; he certainly didn’t resemble the first yoga instructor I had ever encountered.

No wisp, Toné is every inch of six feet tall, probably closer to six-foot-two. He is built like a linebacker, broad-shouldered and muscular. His hair is a long mane of slender braids that cascade past his shoulders. In the Mountain Pose, he is just that, a mountain of a man. But soft-spoken and graceful, it is clear that Toné is well-practiced in the ancient art of yoga. I walk two miles around the track before class, and some afternoons, I see Toné in the corner where the shuffleboards are painted, doing yoga before our yoga class. He does balance poses on his head and spine stretches with his legs crossed in front of him like a pretzel, and I silently pray he never attempts to teach me to fold myself like that. It looks painful.

But if he asks, in his deep, slow voice, I will try to breathe into that space. That is what Toné calls it when the edge of the stretch hurts and you visualize inhaling space into the muscles to relax them. He intones the mantra along with periodic reminders to let the tension go: “Don’t try to solve any problems. Don’t create any problems.” It’s good balm for the noisy chatter of my difficult-to-quiet mind.

I still cannot stand on one leg consistently, although last night I was able to hold my right leg up behind me while my left arm stuck straight up in the air for a full five seconds before breaking the pose to catch my fall. The young ladies on either side of me held their pose and composure while I toppled over, giggling. Toné just smiled his easy, warm smile.

“It’s okay to have fun,” he reminded us all. “Just breathe into your space.”
I started wearing my Yin-Yang earrings to class in hopes of better balance. So far, they have made no difference.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Walking the Track

(Poetry in the category of Be Where You Are)

We come for different reasons
Working the same goal.

We form two camps:
One stands on a machine

And watches walkers wondering,
Don’t they get bored going in circles?

The other walks the track; marks
Each lap with a glance through glass

At the blur of arms and legs 
Surrounding stationery heads, 

Wondering, don’t they get bored
Standing in one place?

I prefer to walk the track to see
The sights, which change

With every rotation: First lap
Of the first mile I pass the boys

And men playing pickup on Court D.
All net, and even I cheer the shot.

The song changes and I
Pick up my pace: What’s

Wrong with being confidant?
Second lap of the first mile.

The fit fitness trainer pushes
Chubby Child harder: lunge, lunge!

I pass the man with the cane
And the ladies who come more

For the company than the workout.
Their laughter moves faster than their legs.

Last lap of the last mile. The fitness trainer
Nods as I pass. He holds kettle bells easily

In each hand, as if they gave no
Challenge to strong arms. 

Straight shoulders, I lengthen my stride,
My ponytail a metronome for my pace.