Dad Shining – PUBLISHED!

My fictional story, “Dad Shining”, was published by the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal! ( It came out with the March 29th Edition. )

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” Through the blue hills and green mountains of West Virginia, there’s a cemetery with my name on it. ….”

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A Nerd-cation (or a Poe-cation)

A nerdcation, if not obvious, is a trip that some people might consider pedestrian, strange, boring. I took such a trip this winter, and I found the trip quite the opposite.  Perhaps, it’s because the recipe that is me includes one-part nerd.

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Anyone who knows me, understands I’m a Poe – addict. January 19th 1809 is Poe’s date of birth, making this past Monday the 206th anniversary of his birth; hence, his birthday. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virgina, planned a celebration. I decided, almost last minute, to fly cross country to the chilled Eastern U.S. to do my very own Poe Tour.

His mothers are buried there (there were two), his first true love’s house (he was 14, she was his friend’s mother) is a landmark, his first and last fiance (Elmira), the places he grew up, schooled, played, worked, proposed. I marked all of the locations and addresses, a walk in a dead writer’s footsteps that would culminate with the day long event at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, which promised to include readings, discussions, and cake.

If some of you find this boring, you’ll find what follows probably even more banal. Unless, you’re a visual person and browse the photos

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My first stop was E.A. Poe’s birth mother. Her body lies somewhere on the grounds of St. John’s Church. St. John’s is famous for Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” speech. I’m told Henry is buried there, as well as numerous other revolutionaries.

Poe’s Father, David Jr, purportedly said, the day that ruined my life was the day my son was born. He never wanted to be a father. After Edgar’s sister, Rosalie, was born, David Poe disappeared. His parents, Elizabeth Arnold and David, were actors. By the time Edgar was two, his mother perished.

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Because her profession was considered a mere step above prostitution and no respectable person would agree to be buried near an actress, she was laid in the ground without a headstone or location notation. It seems three different organizations pulled together, built and placed a marker to honor Poe’s mother.

The day I arrived, the sun shined, melting the ice from the streets. The lovely magnolia tree nearby the grave dropped melting ice, giving me my own personal rainstorm.

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I meandered around the cemetery. Remembering, honoring the dead.

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Across the street from the Church is Elmira Royster’s home – or what was once her home.

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She was Poe’s first fiance, her father disapproved of Poe, so they met secretly at the gardens (which is now the Lindon Row Inn – where I fortuitously reserved a room. My room overlooked the back garden patio where Poe is supposed to have taken Elmira’s hand and asked her to marry him, to wait for him until he returned from college).

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Poe’s letters never reached Elmira (thanks to her father); she thought she’d been abandoned and entered the marriage arranged/approved by her father.

Many years later, after she’d been widowed, her maid involved herself in an argument at the front door, refusing entry to the tall, dark, caped stranger at the front door who insisted he be allowed to see Ms. Elmira on this Sunday morning. The lady of the house admitted him, listened to his argument. Anyone who’s seen someone they once loved knows what she was feeling, understands those “no, I shouldn’t, yes, I want to,” back and forth feelings she may have been experiencing as she told him, “I have church this morning, you may return another time.” No doubt she watched him go through the window slats and hoped he’d return. His cape blew back in the wind as he walked determinedly away, formulating a plan, even then, to win back his first love.

Poe did reappear, and too soon asked for her hand in marriage. She was one of the last people to see him before he left Richmond….   She was, officially, Poe’s first and last fiance.

Poe’s first true soul love (his words) was his friend’s mother; she supported his writing whereas his adoptive father did not. Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard’s house is not far from either the church or Elmira’s house.

20150116_113611_Richtone(HDR)_resized_1Coming home with his friend on an average school day, he met the lovely Mrs. Stanard. Maybe they said just a few words, but Poe was smitten and returned again and again. They talked of poetry. It was a gentile relationship, an appropriate one, even if possibly it made his friend uncomfortable.  (She died when Poe was 15).

It’s known as the Craig House, is privately owned and boasts the original structure, although it has been restored. The house stands as the second oldest structure in Virginia.

Poe was never officially adopted, but the Allan’s are referred to as his adoptive parents.  Edgar’s middle name Allan comes from their family. His adoptive mother, Francis Allen was a great love of Poe’s.  She passed in 1929. His adoptive father doesn’t come across as a nice man. He didn’t appreciate Poe’s writings, his mannerisms, reminded him often that Edgar lived off his charity. There’s some evidence that Allan cheated on his wife, he had illegitimate children with another woman (even left them $ in his will). Poe didn’t seem to respect the man, and I believe that is part of the reason why. There are some allegations that Poe involved himself with married women and single women as well; however, when he married Virginia, and loved a woman, he seemed to be wholly involved and didn’t consider turning to another.

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Mrs. Stanard’s headstone is closer to downtown. The cemetery is larger with long, winding, dirt roads, which supposedly are labeled A, B, C. Navigating it curiously, I found, by luck the intersection.

I must admit that in some strange way, I didn’t care to see Mr. Allan’s grave; however, his family plots were close to his the Stanards. I walked the ten feet from Mrs. Jane Stith Craig Stanard grave to the Allan’s. It further made me dislike this ghost of a man whom I could never know. Crazy, I know.

Allan married and had more children after Francis’ death. His marker is large, looming over Francis’ marker, his second wife’s marker is larger than his first wife’s. I’m not certain why that annoyed me so much, but it did.  How could his first wife merit a headstone half the size of his second wife’s?  Seems somehow – assholish.

20150115_124956_resizedSadly, I couldn’t find Elmira’s plot.

The weather was getting the best of me. I’m a thin blooded creature, the eastern sun moved fast toward the west, the sky grew gray, and the sketchy neighborhood where the cemetery lies isn’t a place a woman should challenge her fears.

I searched for at a more modern venue for refreshment. Not knowing the area, unable to locate a Starbucks via my gps, I parked in the city center and opted for a 7/11 coffee.

A block to the north, much to my surprise, laid Capital Park. With another hour on my city meter, I walked up, coffee in hand, to see if I could locate the Edgar Allan Poe Statue. Although I was lead to believe the statue was difficult to find, hidden in some far off corner, I found it quite easily.

20150115_135858_resizedIt’s small, not indicative of his metaphorical presence in the city or in literature. However, designed in the 50’s, perhaps it’s the best that there was at the time.

I’m searching for Poe. I’m searching for connection. To pick up the remains of the past, make certain it’s real.  Fortunately, the Edgar Allen Poe Society has done much more than I.

The house Poe grew up in is long gone to a history we can only read about: wars, fire, reconstruction. The Poe Society has marked the building. The building is currently condemned.

20150116_103146_resized_1With that  color blue, I can see why 😉

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A few weeks after Poe’s mother passed, the show went on without her. A new stage play drew in the city’s patrons which filled the seats. It grew quite warm inside. The actors took note, the patrons noticed. They turned to one another, “it’s quite warm in here tonight.”  The play was exquisite. The lighting extreme, as if a real fire burned in the background. When a single actor yelled “Fire!” The audience laughed, applauded.  When more actors screamed, “Fire!”  The theater goers turned to one another, nodded, “quite realistic.”

Until some astute actors and patrons made for the door, then others realized that, indeed, this was not part of the play. By then, the theater was already engulfed. Both, actors and wealthy patrons, died together. They are sealed in the same crypt under the new church built over them. Monument Churchl. Poe’s adoptive family, the Allans, worshiped there.

How might it have been for the young Poe to have his mother’s friends, his adoptive parents’ friends under his feet as he sang hymns?

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Next Stop – Poe Museum.   They programmed a 206th Birthday Celebratioon – a day long event of readings, museum tours, music, walking tours (Poe – related spots), CAKE! and a champagne toast at midnight.

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The small building on main street is easy to pass without notice, but it is the oldest residence in Virginia, built in the 1700’s. The residence became the Poe Museum in 1922 (I believe).

The museum is made up of four small buildings and an enchanted garden. The pergola in the back of the garden which houses Poe’s bust was built from the bricks from the Southern Literary Messenger where Poe once worked.

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Friday, the museum was completely empty except for the curator, the director, and those who were setting up for the celebration. I had the museum to myself, completely alone with Poe.

It featured many of his personal items, a bed, vest, cane, etc, among other artifacts. It boasted portraits of the period as well as modern work.  I’ll let you check out this pics on the museum website (although their pictures are not current) as I don’t think I was supposed to take pictures. 😉

Music. Tours. Art. Poe Lovers. It was a lovely day, a soul enriching day, (even if it was too chilly for my California tolerance).

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There’s little in this post that you won’t find elsewhere – as far as information about Poe and his family. The pictures are mine. (please give credit if you copy them).

Why does someone leave the warm sunshine of a winter in southern California to go to the too cold city of Richmond, Virginia in January?  And why?

It’s history. It’s literature. It’s a passion of mine to know more, see, touch, be in the presence of. I am filled up, revitalized. I learned more, enjoyed discovering my penchant for boutique hotels led me to the grounds of the garden where Poe once stood declaring his love for his first sweet heart. I stood where he once stood, walked a path he may have walked (yes, with thousands, possibly millions of others. but that’s okay with me).

Sometimes, one must get out of their own head, get out of their comfort zone, do something new, something questionable, something that will add to their life experience.

I’ve swam with sharks, now I’ve walked with the dead in a city rich with literary history, with American history.

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If you’ve read this far – THANKS!

The Friendly Isle

At night,
silence feels thick in your ears.
The clean air slips easily
into your lungs.
You become sharply aware
of the ocean
and sky
moving with you.
Sleep comes deeply.

This is a found poem. The original inspirational source has been lost. This has been previously published in DAYBREAK: A magazine of Poetry and Conversation.  The editor, Virginia, passed away, and the magazine is now defunct. She was a beautiful soul, and she is missed.

All the Beautiful People

~Fiction ~

When my sister turned 18, she took the 2500 dollars for college and remade her face to look like Elvis Presley. It wasn’t because she wasn’t beautiful. She was. It was the fad. After Elvis died, men and women mourned their hero and, as a tribute, remade their faces. Years later, she remembered it and thought it was beautiful. Then, she took her new face and left home.

She made her way across the country, looking for cities, people, parties, places, and experiences that were anything but home. She ended up in Haight-Ashbury. In the 70’s, a hippie, new age, fashionable place to be. But not anymore. Not a place frozen in a time none of us were old enough to remember; it’d become a collection of lost souls, hippie wannabes, homeless, teenage runaways–all younger than her. She made her way south, looking for something more, or something less, or something different still.

Our home washed away in the floods that overtook our trailer park. My parents bought a newer trailer home and parked it in the exact same spot because they believed lightening  never struck twice. It did. When another flood hit the same spot just a month or so later, it cleared out the neighbors and insisted we buy a new floor, door, location.

My mother’s dog limped; it couldn’t crawl the stairs to get outside and so had lots of accidents, which infuriated my father to no end. That little grayish-white mongrel was too young to be put to sleep, too old to go up two steps, and too loved to be left outside. It became the cause of much contention in our little home.

My high school boyfriend thought the world an amazing place and wanted to explore it. He left before he graduated and after we made love, seventeen and one half years old, and he never came back for me. He became a missionary and moved to Guatemala or some other such place where no one, not even his parents, was sure what happened to him.
I had another month or so to go and a promise of 1800 dollars if I agreed to Antelope Beauty College, smaller than our high school, classrooms smaller than our trailer. Don’t be fooled, there is no beauty here.

That small trailer was getting smaller. Literally, the walls were moving in, the floors shriveling, the area around us getting larger. I thought it might be the consistent rain shrinking the faux wood. Or maybe it was the arguing, vibrating the walls out and then in, in, and in. Maybe it was the smell from the little dog causing the world to warp. I tried to tell them, to show them, but they didn’t believe me.

I graduated; my parents didn’t want me to do anything foolish like remake my face or get piercings and tattoos, so they said they’d go with me to Antelope College and pay the tuition.

I left home and they kept their money and their long festering grudge against my sister and her face, their arguments about that dog, and their little trailer whose walls were slowly moving in.

I met a guy the last week of school; he was visiting or passing through or something of the sort. I dreamed of something beautiful, someplace bigger, someone else’s life, but not someone else’s face. He drove a 68 Dodge Ram and promised to take me away to California. He said we could follow the old route 66 the whole way. On the way to California, he got weird, wanted us to get married in Vegas, wanted us to get jobs at the Pup-n-Taco or some such nonsense. I told him if I wanted to live my parents’ life, I would’ve stayed at home.

I told him I was pregnant and he hugged me so hard he almost drove into the ocean. It took me a few tries to explain that I was more than two weeks pregnant. It took him a few moments to capture in his brain the pictures I was sending, but finally he did. He slowed to a pause on Pacific Coast Highway, north of Zuma beach, and pushed the door open, told me this was my stop. He didn’t even give me my bag.

I’m walking south on PCH. The sky is blue, the ocean is blue, and I’m telling myself this story.

There’s a woman, long added braids and skin the color of the midnight sky. She’s wearing a lime green dress, shoes to match. She’s reading a book by Betty White and holding a little rat-lap-dog. She’s beautiful.

I walk into Starbucks, across from Zuma, and call my sister collect. Somehow, I know, she knew it’d be me, but she doesn’t say so. I tell her where I am and she says she has to get her kids from school, that I should have a seat or, better yet, go look at the blue ocean water but not to step into it.

I have twenty dollars with which I buy a cup of tea and the young boy, almost man, almost manager, hands me eighteen dollars and five cents. (I wish abortions cost less than eighteen dollars.) He smiles as if he knows my secrets or some other secrets and tells me to have a nice day. The pimples on his face could make constellations that brighten a darkened sky. And the silver from his braces could be the milky-way. He’s beautiful and doesn’t know it.

I sit and wait, watching the people. I’m afraid of the ocean. I’m afraid of the water, I’m afraid of the people who go into the water, no matter how beautiful they might be.

Two old men smile at me. They play a game of chess. As their arms move, their skin shakes loose, then shimmies as if grasping, trying desperately to hold on to its own. They both have translucent hair; I wonder if they’re brothers. I wonder if my sister and I will ever be that old. If our skin will ever be that loose. If we will ever be friends. The men are so beautiful it makes me want to cry.

My sister is older now. A streak of gray starts at her forehead and works its way down the side of her face. Her Elvis face has wrinkles, lines around the eyes that even if he’d lived would never have.

My sister’s husband is a nice man, the kind of nice that is hard to believe really exists. He forgave her the past he knew and never asked about the past he didn’t. He gave her a big house, two children, and a big car to drive around the city. He’s tall, her age, no grays in his hair, but strays in his beard when he lets it grow. He’s quite beautiful and although my sister, after 8 years of marriage, doesn’t see it anymore, I do.

A vacant look has taken up residence in her pallid Elvis eyes. Her children are three and five, and even when she hugs them her eyes do not.

I never asked my sister if she was sorry she remade her face. It seems I’ve always known her as this, the streak of gray, the woman’s wrinkles on an Elvis face, and her saccharine little children holding her so tight they are squeezing the life out of her.

It’s my birthday. It’s my perpetual birthday, and I’m walking south on PCH. I’m blue and I’m telling myself this story.

There are two young girls with short shorts and string bikini tops bounding like puppies to the boy with pimples. They have long, thick brown hair. They smile wide and almost unbelievably happy grins. The two old men are watching them now; their eyes carry a look that makes churns my stomach, turns my tea bitter. The girls are beautiful, and I wonder what happens to them when they walk out, the door slamming behind them, the men’s eyes following them. I wonder if they will always be happy.

I stay with my sister; she says very little. She doesn’t talk about her life now, or even her life here. She doesn’t ask me any questions. I want to ask her for the money. I want her to ask me why. But it doesn’t happen.

My sister lives in the Valley; it’s a strange and hot place that smolders at mid day and sinks down into the darkness of night. It’s surrounded by mountains and with each earthquake a little more of it disappears. She does things: gets up in the mornings, and goes to bed at night, makes lunches to go, dinners for home, and talks on the phone. She does other things she doesn’t care about: play-dates, meetings, and appointments for this one or that one. She doesn’t go out much and she cries herself to sleep sometimes. I can hear her from the couch, from her daughter’s bedroom when I sleep in there, from the dimly lit hall when I stand in the muted light of the wall sconces outside of the bedroom. I wonder why no one else notices.

She says she wants to paint the walls; she thinks they are dingy and it’s making them look small. She doesn’t want to hear my thoughts about shrinking wood or expanding middles.
I’m walking south on PCH on my birthday. The world is a blue place; it’s a beautiful place and I wonder if it’s the same in Guatemala and if he ever thinks of me. I think of the boy with the 68 Dodge Ram on Route 66 and I wonder if he drove into the ocean. I wonder if he ever knew he wasn’t on the 66, but on the 1, or the 101, or both. I hope he drove into the ocean.

I can see the ocean from where I stand, far away from the sand. I watch the people. A fat woman in a bikini that is almost hidden by her own overlapping flesh; She knows she’s beautiful.

There are boys, lots of boys with long boards and they wait near the shore until the ocean waves at them just right. They are smart boys; boys who don’t go to school, but know how to read the water, the world, the women, the beauty surrounding them. It hurts.

To be a part and to be apart.

My sister’s husband has a nice way with me. He offers me money and rides to anywhere I want to go for the day, or for a time. I usually choose here. I want to tell him too; I want him to ask. I want to hold him and hug him and let him make everything else go away. He’s so beautiful, it hurts to hold him.

My sister has taken up the habit of looking at me in strange ways with her ghostly Elvis eyes. I think she’s guessed my secret, the secret that won’t stay hidden much longer. I want to tell her about all the boys, but all I tell her about is the beach and all the beautiful people. She laughs.

She has the walls painted, but is certain the painters didn’t do a good job. The walls still look dismal, and I am beginning to see what she sees there. I try to tell her it happens in all houses, in all places, that it happened to the trailer, the school, the town, the truck, but she won’t hear of it.

Guatemala must be a wide and lingering place. I think about going there sometime. Maybe they don’t have things that close in. Maybe it is surrounded by a beach, like this one; the beach doesn’t close in. It expands. It keeps going. On and on.

The people on the beach are beautiful and the sand isn’t as smooth as it looks to be. A man with a beach ball belly goes from cooler to cooler, making the begger, looking for beer; he’s a cop and even if others haven’t figured him out, I have. . The round, smooth, and tan belly is what the sand should be, and it’s quite beautiful to look at when he stands very still.

My sister asks me what happened to my college money and I tell her; I don’t tell her the cause was her lovely Elvis face, but I do reach out to touch it. At first she lets me, then she pulls away realizing it is not her I’m touching but that face. She’s so beautiful it hurts to see her cry, hear her cry, to cry for her, for me.

She doesn’t like the beach, so I don’t know why she lives here in California. She won’t take her children to the beach, so I don’t know why she drives them down here to pick me up or drop me off and listen to them say please, mom, please. She tells them there are things out there. It seems like she’s talking about secrets, but the only secret is a precious and beautiful life that is just out of our reach. Maybe it’s out there, somewhere, in the ocean, that precious and beautiful life just out of our reach.

I’m walking south on PCH, just North of Zuma. Starbucks is across the street. I see the girl in lime and the men in escaping skin and the sand is warm and lovely and the people are all so beautiful.

It’s my birthday. Always my birthday. The ocean is blue. The sky is blue. I am blue. I’m telling myself this story.

I’m waiting for my sister, waving to my sister, wading to my sister. Her ghostly Elvis eyes can’t see me down here away from all the beautiful people.

 

*Originally published in The Avatar Review. Also published in Natural Bridge Literary Journal

Word Problems

Word Problems

I hate when men write
soft poetry about their ex’s.
It’s easier to read the hate
then to let your mind wonder
“what went wrong?”

It’s easier to hear, I don’t love
you anymore,
then to hear I love you, but…
and the thousand but’s
that say you just didn’t add up.

I mean she,
back to the poet with the soft poetry
and the lost wife.
He writes it, not to her,
but for himself,
to remind himself,
of what he let go,
the additions he didn’t add in
when he was subtracting
all she didn’t have.

All the while he’s telling himself
he was right
to let her go
when he did
because things would have gotten worse
had they not parted before the math was done.
At least this way he can ruminate,
add, subtract, look back fondly and say

we parted as friends,
meaning,
I departed quietly to search for something more,

she just got hurt.

 

 

 

Originally Published in The Northridge Review                                                       copyright

H – is for “How long did that take you?”

     I sat down to grade student essays the day after I submitted a story titled “H”.  With the essays, I asked the students to write a paragraph describing their writing process.  While some students wrote that they started on it soon after being given the prompt, most admitted to procrastinating until the last moments.  A few even said, “I took a very long time, I wrote for almost three hours.”
     It encouraged me to consider how long it’d taken me to write “H”.  I’m often asked how long it took me to write this story or that poem.  I rarely have a good answer because, as writers, we don’t set a timer on our writing.  We write when we can, as long as we can, as often as we can.
      For “H”, I estimated.  I began writing it back in May. Worked on it through the summer.  There were a few weeks I didn’t work on it – vacation. The last few weeks, having heard of the Boston Review Contest, I pushed.  Maybe four months, a sparse guess of five hours a week, (some weeks would have been nil, some nine), brings the estimate to about 80 hours.
     At first 80 hours seemed like a lot.  Then, in thinking about it, I wonder if I underestimated.  But let’s go with 80 hours.  “H” is a nine page story.  It didn’t take me 80 hours to write 9 pages, it took me those hours to rewrite, to edit, to perfect, to second guess myself, to correct.
      And – even in the very last moments before submitting – I’d found an error that’d survived all the rereading and redrafting.  Another fix, another read, another edit. Then, I clicked the submit button hesitantly, rechecking that I’d attached the newest version.
     I wonder, now, was 80 hours enough?  I’m sure that at some point during it’s lifetime, I’ll revisit “H” and work with it some more, (probably sooner rather than later, then again later too).

     80 hours. 9 pages, 1 story – submitted to the Boston Review Contest. Wish me luck.