Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Ugh. I never quit anything. Well, not many things. (I did quit that job as the architect's secretary.) But I finally quit the nanowrimo insanity marathon last week. My sister came into town, I finished up two classes at The Writer's Center, and I threw a Peter Pan birthday party and had thirteen four-year-olds show up. I cooked a seven dish Thanksgiving dinner, a 20 pound turkey, a homemade cheesecake and a pumpkin pie. I also got really, really sick. There. Boo-hoo. I still feel like a quitter.

Back to business. School is out in a week, and I am going to cuddle up (burrow in, tackle) Two Rivers. I have one month of freedom to get all of the new edits done.

Tomorrow night I'm doing my first public event in D.C. I am nervous and excited. The faculty is taking me out to dinner first, which I am simply thrilled about after all of the cooking I've been doing...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Light at the End

33,300 words.

I am tumbling through this new book like some wild animal, ripping off pieces o fthis and that with my teeth, gnawing on them a while and then scurrying off into some other dark place.

Good-ish news, a benevolent agent is combing through Two Rivers with me, offering so much valuable criticism. I am hoping that after revisioning the book again, he'll be captivated enough to take it on. Right now, it's not ready. I knew this, but I needed help. I am so, so grateful for this. I feel like the novel will have a new life soon...

Anyway, back to my beautiful diversion:

After she was gone, a certain peace descended on our house. It was like those soft moments in movies, a montage, a sort of collage of happy snippets set against an upbeat soundtrack.

When I remember those first few days, I still remember music instead of words. My father and mother smiling, holding hands. We got a real Christmas tree for the first time that year. Here is my father throwing the white limbed metal one in the trashcan. Here is my mother pricking her finger on a needle as we sat together in the kitchen stringing cranberries and popcorn onto an invisible thread. Here I am, standing knee deep in fresh snow in a new pair of boots that I saw and wanted and my mother bought and gave to me later wrapped in a green tissue paper. These moments are strung together in my memory on a thread that sang Bob Denver carols. The Carpenters. Each red berry against the whiteness of popcorn, the whiteness of snow.

But at the movies we know that the montage is never at the end of the movie. It always comes right before everything falls apart.

The string, pulled too tight. All of the berries spilled onto the floor.

On Christmas Eve, Tara walked into a diner on _________ Street, ordered a slice of pumpkin pie, a cup of coffee. Before she had even finished the coffee, she went to the restroom, sat down on the toilet, and swallowed three red capsules: a Christmas gift from her boyfriend. She returned to the counter where her coffee had grown cold and the waitress had taken away her plate. She sipped the coffee, felt the capsule hard in her throat. And then, she her fingers disappeared. Then her wrists, her elbows, her arms. She threw off her coat, expecting that he arms had dissolved; she couldn’t feel them anymore. Her waist, her hips, her legs. She tried to get the waitress’s attention, tried to let someone know that she was the invisible woman, that soon, the only thing left would be the clothes that hung on her transparent bones. Neck. Face. Eyes.

We got the call that Tara had overdosed on PCP on Christmas Day. She’d been admitted into Bellevue after she wandered out into the middle of the street. She’d been struck by a car but not hurt. She was convinced it was because she had no body anymore. That she’d left her body on that red vinyl stool at the diner.

My father didn’t say much to the doctor on the other end of the line; he only nodded, his head like a toy, bobbing on his shoulders. I felt sorry for him, in his Christmas tree sweater my mother had given to him. I can still remember that feeling; it was like chewing on tinsel.

“Tell them she’s emancipated,” my mother said. She was holding a pair of Santa and Mrs. Claus candleholders. It looked like she was strangling them. “She’s not our responsibility anymore.”

My mother took the tree down the day after Christmas, dragged it out to the trash all by herself. She vacuumed up the needles, muttering that we’d never get a real tree again. But even after the tree was gone, after every needle had been removed, the scent of pine lingered.

My parents did not go to get Tara from the hospital. She was released and fined for possession of an illegal substance.

A month later, I saw her picture on a cover of a magazine, and I didn’t recognize her face.

Friday, November 11, 2005

More (25,000 words and still alive...)

After the student left the hotel, there were others. Not many, but a few. I remember them now by colors rather than names; because when I close my eyes now, it’s colors that appear, not words:

First, white. His hands were fat and freckled, the wedding ring cutting into his finger like a fishing line. His skin was like the inside of a shell, but freckled. He was only a mussel. A gritty, slimy mussel. He told me he loved my face, but I knew he was lying. He couldn’t look at me when he said that, and the whole time, I thought, Look at you, you ugly oyster. What have you got on me? But I let him slip his tongue in my mouth. Other things.

Then, blue. Blue was kind. Thin, just a boy, a heartsick boy my own age who carried Rose around on his shoulders, piggy-back. His mother and father both died before he was grown all the way up. He had no family. He stuttered, and I could feel his want in every one of his words, even the small ones. You. Today. Kiss.

Last, black. Under the boardwalk, he ripped the skin between my legs with his teeth. The saltwater came in after and burned the places that he had torn. I let him, and didn’t even cry. I wondered if this is what it felt like to have a child. He had a long scar from where someone tried to gut him like a fish. I never asked why someone would want to do that to him; it was obvious.

I don’t remember the ones in between. They blur together now like a gasoline rainbow on pavement.

The merbabies in a sea of leaves. Autumn, and everything is falling. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Screaming baby

Esmee is screaming, screaming, screaming because she has decided that she wants to brush her teeth all day every day. TEEEEEETH! TEEEEEETH! Good lord, I never thought oral hygiene would be the source of a tantrum.

I have almost 20,000 words of the new book which is nothing short of a miracle what with all the racket here.


Here's another passage from my madness:

This is Tara.

She is a box. She is a dirty, wet box I found in my parents’ basement. The picture on the outside is supposed to show us what’s inside, but the picture is destroyed by water. It’s too damaged to tell what’s supposed to be inside. But inside. Inside there are beautiful things. Trinkets. Scraps of paper with beautiful words. Shimmering things, loose glitter.

She is the girl who smeared her ear wax on the white headboard behind her bed.

She is a coy animal, playing like a child and then biting. Rabid.

She is the girl who pressed her finger so deep into my belly button, I felt like she was touching the inside of me. The girl who wouldn’t stop until I was crying.

She is the shimmering scales of a dead fish washed ashore.

She is a word. A series of words, each one with more syllables than the last. She is a villanelle. A sestina. A haiku. She is a raunchy limerick. She is the tumbling line that falls off the page. I have made her this, done this to her, because keeping her inside the margins of a piece of paper, inside the pages of a book is the only way I know how to keep her safe.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Manic Monday

15,460 words and counting.

This is the strangest thing I have ever written. I am having a blast. killing myself. 60 pages in seven days. I think it took a year to write the first 60 pages of Two Rivers.

Anyway, here's a snippet:

Rose doesn’t know the details of her mother’s death. She’s a smart girl though; I’m sure she has an idea.

When she was very small, I used to tell her a story about the night she was born. Some of what I told her was true. Some was not. She did come early. A whole month before she was supposed to arrive. She wasn’t due until March, but on Valentine’s day, Tara woke up and knew that she would arrive that day. Tara told me the story once, not long before she died, told me that she’d been shooting up all night, and when her water broke she thought she’d simply pissed herself. I told Rose that Tara spent the day walking in the Village, waiting until the pain was too much to bear before she took a taxi to the hospital. I told her that she bought flowers, candy for herself. That she was wearing a red scarf that day that blew out behind her in the cold February air. The only color in the grey, sunless, bitter day. I told her that finally, when she knew it was time, she hailed a taxi and not but an hour later Rose arrived in the world. That the first thing Tara asked for after she was born was a cup of hot chocolate. That she was her mother’s only Valentine. I spared her the unnecssary details: the fact that she stole the flowers from a Farmer’s Market and was chased down by the vendor who spat in her face and called her a dirty whore. I left out the benevolent taxi driver found her crying on a curb and took her to the hospital, where she was taken to the psych ward before they realized that she was in labor. That she was too doped up to notcie that the baby was crowning between her legs. She did ask for hot chocolate. And she told me that when she saw Rose’s face, her lapis colored eyes peering up at her, it was the first time anyone had ever loved her.

Rose. I didn’t know what I was doing, still don’t. But I’m doing my best.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Word Count

4900 words and counting. Here's a sample:

I knew that Tara was more beautiful than I from the time we were old enough to share a tub. It was in the bathtub that I studied her, the intricacies of her face and body. The nature of her gestures. All of her exquisite mannerisms. Even at four years old, there was something eerily captivating about Tara’s face. Her eyes, heavy-lidded, and too large for her face made most people turn away. Great beauty has the power to do that. To embarrass. To frighten. Two years younger, I watched my sister with both fascination and desire. I wanted to be near her. I wanted to be her.

I also learned from early on that Tara hated the world. Perhaps for someone of such terrifying beauty, the world could only be ugly place in comparison. In the bathtub, she pulled my mother’s hair from the drain and draped it across the smooth expanse of her chest. She dug the mold out of the grout with her fingernails and held it under my nose to smell. Even at four years old, Tara knew that under every perfect stone there were worms. Maggots. Roaches. Germs.

I, on the other hand, have always been a poet. Not beautiful like Tara. Not captivating to anyone’s eye. But I know how to find grace in the hideous. It’s a skill only the plain and ugly tend to hone. I made beauty because it was not given to me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Here's a secret: I registered with Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and am writing a novel this month. 2400 words and counting. It's a modern-day Sleeping Beauty story. The "Queen" is a heroin addict model whose infant daughter is raised by her younger sister in 1980's Atlantic City after she overdoes on a New York subway. I'm structuring the novel like a villanelle. (I'm teaching traditional poetic forms to my students right now and my brain is full of it.)

Here's the first paragraph:

There must be word for the moment in which fall acquiesces to winter. It can’t possibly be as subtle a surrender as it appears. I like to think that it’s a kind of quickdeath, a gunshot to the head. No long suffering illness. It is not a cancer but a precise stab. Of course, you argue that autumn (fall, fall) tumbles headlong and sure into the certainty of winter, but even the suicide, who knows exactly what’s coming, has a moment in which his life ceases and his death begins. It’s that moment I’d like a name for. That single second in which autumn dies, it’s soul rising into the cloudless sky. I might call it Tara. She’d like that.

This is fun. It's so liberating to worry only about quantity and not quality for a change.