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Fall

Well travelled
roads or
less travelled
paths
it’s the inside
once hidden
that’s revealed
under
fragile camouflage
the ragged leaves
on branches
no longer fluttering
laid bare
along its arms

 

 

While out for a walk today I came across my own version of Frost’s “two roads diverg[ing] in a yellow wood.”

Warm yellow leaves carpet a trail that splits in two directions like a "Y." Bare branched trees surround the trail.

While both of these roads eventually circle around to meet the other, it’s true that the view would differ significantly depending on which I took: one bordering the river and the other wandering along the foot of a scruffy bluff. The constant with both at this time of year is the way fall has stripped the leaves and left bare an accumulation of things usually hidden, like this bird’s nest.

The thin bare branches of a tree cup a bird's nest

Along the way I also encountered a copse of trees with strips of peeled birch bark draped over branches well above my reach.

A large strip of birch bark draped over the bare branch of a nearby tree - one of several such strips

I’ve been reflecting lately on how the vagaries of life often do a similar job of stripping us of our emotional camouflage and revealing things we may not want to look at ourselves, let alone reveal to others. This poem is an effort to encapsulate some of that

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Excision: A Micro-Fiction Piece Read by Xe Sands

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A Story’s Voice

In what is clearly an embarrassment of riches, I’ve now had the honor of having three different pieces recorded by audiobook narrator Xe Sands. It’s a fascinating experience to hear your words filtered through someone else’s voice, especially when that someone makes a living doing just that and knows what she’s doing. She did a really cool split performance for “Not” that matched the style of the poem perfectly:

 

There weren’t really any surprises for me in listening to someone else’s take on “Not.” Other than a rather undignified amount of “That’s so cool!” squeeing at hearing one of my poems performed, the emotional content was as familiar in the listening as it was in the writing. “Dictum” was a very different story:

 

I almost never consciously choose the voice of anything I write. Male or female; young or old; first, second, or third person and past or present tense are all factors that seem to occur because a piece of fiction demands it, not as an intentional framework I enforce on my words. “Dictum” was a bit different. As obviously intentional as it is in structure, the content is some of the most organic I’ve written although it didn’t start out that way. The entry in my Scrivener poetry file for that one has attempt after attempt to say what I wanted — in third person, second person, and a very removed first person. It was only when I told myself to stop massaging any part of it and just write the emotional content with the direct first person perspective the words demanded that the poem seemed to flow.

As much as I have to say about the structure and creation method of the poem, I don’t have any particular desire to walk through the content except to say this one caught me by complete surprise in hearing it read aloud by someone else. As intimate as our own words would seem, I thought “Dictum” was a pretty soft volley out into the void and it didn’t cross back into my own personal emotional DMZ until I heard it in someone else’s voice, at which point there was a bit of a detonation. In her written intro to it, Xe Sands speaks far more eloquently about its content than I ever will:

“Been thinking quite a bit lately about damage – how past damage in our lives continues to effect us long after the inner bruises have faded into funny little stories we tell our friends when comparing notes on our dysfunctional lives. But those stories have roots, and sometimes, they continue to bear poison fruit. We think we’re clear of it. We think it’s in the past, that we’ve named and claimed it, disempowered it, trivialized it so we can fold it away. But sometimes…well, sometimes we realize we’re still baking with poison apples.”

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Poetry on the Brain

A brain scan provides evidence of something I’ve suspected for a while now: catch me at any given moment and I’ll have a poem stuck in my head that I can’t get out (or at least, that I can’t extract without mangling it).

 

Stuck_Poem

 

 

 

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Dictum

I tried to make it sound prettier
I called it payments made
but the currency of flesh
of bruise and blood and sometimes bone
that never sounds
(and there were always sounds)
anything but ugly
where home took it’s shape
in the insulation of silence
so perfect from the outside
what did we even earn in exchange?
accruing a balance of
too much vodka with
failed marriages
the need to run
and never calling anywhere home
with a hard anger turned inward
until the edges cut and
he always told us
you get what you pay for
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Going Public with “The Border”

Six Minute Story is a website that provides you with a random image, story framework, or first/single sentence prompt and demands “Tell me a story, and make it quick!” With a six minute timer counting down, you’re under the gun to flesh out a story and once your time is up, no editing is allowed.* At that point you can choose to post your story or trash it. The site’s tagline is “A cure for writer’s block” and for me it certainly is.

When audiobook narrator Xe Sands declared that during the month of September she was going to pull from the Six Minute Story pool of Creative Commons licensed pieces for each week’s Going Public Project recording, I was reminded that although I’d found writing while timed to be an excellent way to prompt myself to write outside of the site, I hadn’t utilized it in a while. I’m usually a slow and deliberate writer and pushing myself outside that comfort zone is a really good thing: the quick scramble to put something down is invigorating and every now and then the ticking timer seems to short-circuit my conscious writer and drags my subconscious writer to the front of the class, as it did with this random prompt:

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From the Flickr photostream of h.koppdelaney and CC licensed as noted on that page

The end result was a piece of flash fiction named “The Border” and I think it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever that Xe picked my (re)entry piece at Six Minute Story to record for this week’s Going Public post.

 

I live near a border between two countries that’s very clearly demarcated on the physical landscape but in addition to the lines that can be found drawn on a map, there are often less tangible boundaries that we transit. When you push yourself to move outside your comfort zone and venture into the new and scary – whether it’s having a go at public speaking, starting a new job, letting down your emotional barriers at the beginning of a new relationship, or any of a thousand steps forward you might try to take – you can find yourself in a new country. If you’re lucky you find a home there: sort of an emotional upward mobility, as it were. Or maybe you go back to where you were before and can set out in a new direction the next time.

There’s also an emotional crossing that exists that’s a less welcome journey: not the day trips back and forth between happy and sad or success and struggle but the open-ended ticket that takes you into a depression that you think will never end. It’s a walk into a landscape that’s so overwhelming it’s all you can see and the memory of a place where you’ll be happy again and there are people who love you and things you look forward to doing has faded from sight, even though it might be just around the next curve in the trail you’re mindlessly trudging along.

I had a relative who committed suicide when I was a teenager and for a long time I was confident I could at least point to that metaphorical country on a map and reel off statistics about its topography and population. I would have told you that I was pretty sure I’d even visited it a time or two or at least been to its border, maybe had my picture taken next to the “Welcome to Depression” sign, maybe even taken a few steps across. As it turned out, I was wrong. (In fact, I’m pretty sure that was Greenland I’d been pointing at.)

I have taken a trip there now (no, I don’t mean to Greenland) and if you don’t already know, it has a population of one. You. No family who would be permanently marked by your absence. No dog who displays irrational joy at seeing you emerge safely from that small room with all the falling water you seem to like to stand under EVERY DAY OMG ARE YOU CRAZY!? No bookseller who has the next in that series where you seriously considered pretending to be a blogger just to try to get an advance copy to see what happens next. Nothing else existed in that country except me, sitting on a bed, looking at the loaded revolver I’d gotten out because it was the largest caliber I had and vaguely wondering whether I shouldn’t do this outside so there’d be less of a mess for someone to clean up.

Here’s the thing, though. It may be out of sight but there is a country other than that one and you deserve to live there. If you’ve gotten lost and can’t find it, I suspect there’s someone in your life who can if you just talk to them. If there isn’t someone on hand, there are experts at navigation who can help you find your way back. In the U.S. you can find some of them at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Please, if that’s someplace you are or might find yourself, never let your journey end in depression.

 

*When you’ve written a few stories and gathered a certain “Reputation” count, you get the ability to edit your posted stories
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Currents

You have fallen
beneath an unquiet sea –
lost to those on land
who find you now
only in the ruin
of your storm’s aftermath

We comb the tides’ edge
gathering broken
pieces
but can’t put
our pieces
together

I wait with your book
and your dog
at the edge of your sea
but the answer is salt
and the sound of waves
when I call your name