Thursday, March 24, 2016


With unaccountable relief I plunge my hands into the dirt
to rip out spring’s first weeds,
not because I like to kill young things
but because I feel my hands belong there.

Back bent, fingernails and cuticles lined with black, I feel
a straight line connecting me to my hillbilly ancestors.
American peasants, Appalachians. 
The people at the bottom, closest to the ground.

It’s like the time my husband broke a plate at Barnes & Noble,
ill-balanced on the lip of a trash receptacle while transferring our café fare to our table.
I heard the shatter, like a shotgun firing at a race,
and I was off: 

Crouched low on the ground, picking up pieces – 
the big shards but also the microscopic flecks – 
when a more urbane person would have summoned an employee
then sat back down to continue looking at their magazine.

My stuffed pretzel had been on the plate that smashed; it bounced on the ground
but I picked it up and put it on a napkin, intending to still eat it.
“You guys did a good job cleaning this mess up!” said the young guy with the mop.
“Don’t you want another pretzel?” said the café woman twice, incredulous.

But I want to eat it like a good girl who doesn’t ask for much,
like an Appalachian who is grateful and doesn’t waste,
like a person who doesn’t garden as a hobby but 
whose hands feel at home in the dirt. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cut Off Your Nose

Saint Ebba heard they were coming.

She’d both feared and looked forward to it.

Everyone had been looking at maps – this place was right on the path, right in the way.

She’d lain awake at night, flat on her back, looking up in the cold. Vikings were monsters in stories parents told at bedtime. They didn’t come into the lives of just anybody. She had almost felt honored. Her life might mean something after all.

What would they do when they got here? They would take the girls. She wasn't supposed to let that happen. She was in charge of everyone. Mother Superior.

There were no men or weapons to protect them, so she had to be clever. She had to twist her mind. It came to her in blackness one night. It almost excited her. It was terrible; she shivered then went to sleep.

In the morning she passed around knives. They would do it if she told them to, especially if she went first. Their pretty faces would be as ravaged and ugly as she was deep in her heart that had wished for this all along.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016


They were all at the fireworks show when we raided the community garden.

It was my idea. I walked by it all the time. I had seen the old ladies tending their tiny plots, weeding in the heat, watering every day, monitoring the slow growth, and I had thought: I’d like to rip it all up.

We heard the booms and saw distant sparks.

First we picked things to eat, as if it were our garden. Tomatoes we sank our teeth into like apples, our mouths spilling seedy pulp. Strawberries like free candy.

Then we picked things to throw – watermelons, pumpkins. Bright fleshy carnage splatted on nearby tree trunks.

Last we picked things just to pick them. Sometimes we let them fall next to where their roots had been, as if to flaunt the unnecessity.

In the morning the old ladies would see what had happened. They would shake their heads and cry. They would think: Who could do such a thing?

The human heart is not a garden. It will not be tended.

The booms got quiet and the colored light stopped, and from far away everyone applauded.

Monday, March 7, 2016

All the rest of his springs

A man stepped outside the building, on the fourth floor of which he worked as legal counsel for a trade association. He was going across the street to Whole Foods to fix a box of lunch from the salad bar to bring back to his office.

Mid-March snow melted in the sun. As he waited for the signal to cross, he felt it -- the first shiver of spring. It was in the 30s today, but the air was spiked with something fresh and vibrant, a bud of something ready to burst.

A girl in her teens or 20s stood next to him. He watched the shadow of her, her hair blowing in the wind. The shadow of her hair was shaped like a flame.

He thought of something from a long time ago: a music festival he had gone to back in high school. She'd had long hair that waved in the hot wind, and skin that tanned the color of caramel, and raggedy denim cut-off shorts. In the sun, he could smell the clean sweat that patched the underarms of her shirt. He could see the soft upward swell of the undersides of her braless breasts through the thin fabric of the much-loved T-shirt. He'd watched her shadow on the grass as she immersed herself in the music. He'd watched her shadow flare and gutter and die out as the sun went down.

Back in his office were binders of case summaries and legislative briefs. His reflection showed craggy pores and sunken crescent moons under his eyes. All the rest of his springs would feel nostalgic instead of new, would require his effort to remember. For all the rest of his springs, he would have the feeling he was watching the shadow of something, not the real thing.

But a shadow is an indication of a thing. A shadow means a thing is still there.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Wonders of the road

"Hear rocks sing!" proclaims a billboard on Interstate 81 in Virginia near the exit for Luray Caverns, which has a "stalactite organ" inside.
Amy sees the ad as she drives on by. The idea of a stalactite organ strikes her. It's quirky, poetic. Didn't her family go there when she was little? Or was that the Endless Caverns, not too much farther north, with the Hollywood-esque white letters on the side of a mountain?
It's something other than McDonald's and Sheetz billboards, so she notices it. "Stalactites," she thinks. "They cling to the ceiling."

The sun is going down, and she makes herself find beauty in the orange-sorbet light on the greenness: the mountains that slowly decrescendo as you head northeast, the rolling grass and clover. Queen Anne's lace, honeysuckle. She thinks that would make a good bouquet for a wedding, if you wanted to have a country-style wedding: clover with its purple flowers, Queen Anne's lace doily-heads mixed in, honeysuckle twined around. Someone should do that in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, in that bouquet section they have, she thinks. Boring thoughts, on and on.

Suddenly she puts into a sentence something that she has suspected all along: There is no meaning in anything, so all I have to do is keep myself entertained. The minute she thinks this, it's true for her.

She passes a pick-up truck tugging a horse trailer in the right lane. A chestnut-brown horse butt and swishing tail are visible from behind as Amy's car passes. Somewhere inside, chocolate-brown eyes are probably peering through a slit in the trailer. On the trailer are the words: "Queen of the Rodeo." How quirky, how entertaining, Amy thinks.
On a hill: three crosses, a gold one flanked by two white ones. Cows munching grass indifferently nearby. An Arby's billboard.
If there's no meaning, and no one's watching, and it's all random chaos, why should you behave, Amy thought?

At twilight, a big-rig truck pulls up in the right lane, the driver peering down into Amy's car. She sees a lecherous face, tongue wagging. The trucker honks his horn.
Amy looks up at him, at his greasy mullet, his sun-beaten face, his baseball cap. He thinks he'll get a rise out of me, she thinks. He thinks I'll flip him off and speed on ahead.

Oh no. No I won't.

Amy thinks she is going to play this little game, too.
As if it matters.
She gives him a crazy, lascivious grin. She lifts her pelvis up and above the seat and makes sure he can see her, as she drives parallel to his truck. She ostentatiously unbuttons the top button of her jeans, unzips them. Shimmies them down to her knees. With his giant side mirror and his excellent vantage point, he can see her cunt.

How about that? Didn't expect that, did you? No one is watching. Zero consequences. Robust mammals, glee at reproductive organs, no meaning. A zoo with no visitors.

She touches herself. He hoots and honks his horn in appreciation, nearly swerves off the road -- thank God for those treads that make your tires whine when you veer off-course.

Amy looks up at him every few white dashes in the road. He's some stupid scuzzy trucker. Not that all truckers are stupid and scuzzy, but this one is. He'll probably CB his buddies about this, maybe give them her license plate number and tell them to keep an eye out for her.

He's laughing, thinks it's the best, funniest, wildest thing he's seen in a while.

Dully, her body responds to the familiar movements of her fingers until, driving without once hitting those warning treads, in full view of the trucker, she comes.

Taboo, dangerous. I am not like other girls. He's watching.

He honks twice in jubilation, and she lets him pass. She slows way down, taking the exit for the Exxon that's just across an overpass as he drives on down the Interstate.

She has pulled up her jeans. She sits in the parking lot, now dark, mosquitoes under streetlights, cicadas.

She goes inside the convenience store part of the gas station. Where's the bathroom? The attendant gives her a key, hooked to a large wooden slab to keep it from getting stolen. Amy goes inside, one bathroom for men and women both to share, so it's filthy, even for a gas station.
She wants to look at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She wants to look into her eyes, to look into the eyes of someone who would do what she had just done. To look for a sign of... of what? Of remorse? Of shame? Of a soul?

But there is no mirror.


They draw a frowny face on your hand with a marker when they kick you out of the Black Cat club for barfing on the floor. It’s to let the bouncer know you’re not allowed back inside.

An online search of AA groups in my area lets me know that there is a men-only one called Chock Full of Nuts.

I drink each time the pregnancy test comes back negative. It’s my consolation prize to myself. I’m doing IVF, and two rounds have failed so far. I’m 37 years old and might not be able to conceive with my own eggs.

Last time the test was negative, I went to the mall in the middle of the day, into the new Dave & Buster’s arcade. They serve food there, and have a bar. There were no other customers inside.

I sat at the bar and ordered an alcoholic snow cone.

I'm in this special program: six IVF tries, and we either get a baby or our money back.

I drank the boozy snow cone and plotted a trip around the world for my husband and me to take if none of the IVFs work and we get our twenty grand back – the ultimate consolation prize:

-First we’d fly to Iceland, rent a car, and drive around the perimeter, checking out the barren volcanic landscape. ("See? Barren can be beautiful.")

-Next we’d go to Morocco, maybe Marrakesh, to take in the flavor of that part of the world, a part I haven’t seen much of.

-Then down to Zanzibar, to go to the beach and visit sub-Saharan Africa in one swoop, and to eat at that restaurant that’s a treehouse.

-Next would come Japan, where I swear I must have lived in a former life. (While there, I would leave three Jizo statues – one for each miscarriage – in one of the little parks where stone babies stand wearing knitted caps, among colorful pinwheels, a peaceful sight in their togetherness.) 

-Finally, we’d fly to San Francisco and rent a car, drive up through redwoods, hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon rainforest, take in Portland, maybe see those Twin Peaks waterfalls, finish up in Seattle then fly home.

The point would be to blow the money we got back. Blow it all to smithereens. Be one of those childless couples smiling child-free in travel photos – “There’s more to life than kids!” 

We won’t do it, of course. I’m dumb with money, and a trip like that could cost triple that amount or more for all I know. Also, we keep saying that if the IVFs don’t work, we will adopt. We’d need to save the money for the child we might adopt. 

But the map soothes me as I order another snow cone – no food – and the bartender tries to hide his concern. The map is the only thing that soothes me today.