Friday, 30 September 2016

"It was early in your second marriage,
when his violence was a yeast just beginning
to feed on your sweetness."
from today's poem "Polaroid of My Mother" by Cindy Stewart-Rinier.

Polaroid of My Mother

There you are in your coral-colored pantsuit,
1972, though your spray-stiffened hair holds
something of a ’60s Sophia Loren glamour
as you knead the bread dough from which
your eyes have momentarily risen.

Your mouth is a candid startle, slightly open,
perhaps on its way to Don’t or No, deflection
your reflex. It was early in your second marriage,
when his violence was a yeast just beginning
to feed on your sweetness.

I studied the way you leveraged weight
into the heels of your palms, pushed the pale belly
of dough into itself and away in a rhythm
of roll, fold, turn, roll, fold, turn, movement
and reposition a pattern, a practice.

I’ve never forgotten what you said that day,
long after the camera came down to hang slack
by its strap at my side. I wanted to know if you
were all right in the aftermath of your latest fight
with my step-father.

You lifted the tea towel from the top of the bowl,
smiled, and punched down the doubled dough.
The madder you are, you said,
the better the bread, as the air escaped
like a thousand exhalations.

* * * * *

A slightly different version of "Polaroid of my Mother” first appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of VoiceCatcher; in the1/15 Sunday Poetry Feature of Women’s Voices for Change; and in the VoiceCatcher Tenth Anniversary Anthology, She Holds the Face of the World, published in 2015

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Today's colorful thread in Writing in a Woman's Voice is Cindy Stewart-Rinier's poem "Pre-K Pollock."

Pre-K Pollock

by Cindy Stewart-Rinier

To study Jackson Pollock     with four-year-olds         we say Action
Jackson        then  play  Action  Jackson        our  only    instruction:
Today      make your brush           into a bird    that cannot        land.
All over the room          tail feathers        begin     to dip         and lift
dribble and flick       paper recording       twenty paths   of exuberant
flight.       Small paint balls       and trailed lines        confetti   the air
then fall         and cross        and weave themselves       into flattened
nests.      All but two children      know when to stop.      One by one
they rise and drift  off to the sink    where they remove paint smocks
and wash     their spattered hands.       But Matthew        whose lines
are tangled            dense as bramble                   asks for more black.
All his favorite animals      have sharp teeth        and some mornings
he presses his face       into his mother’s legs           as if he might be
inching back inside her.     And Amelia      the girl who used to pool
white glue       so deep        the edges of her paper        oyster shelled
around it       as it dried          can’t get enough color             or resist
touching down.       She wheels her bristles         leaving scuff marks
of beating wings in   poppy  geranium red  lime streaked with black.
When it’s time to clean up          Matthew sulks himself into a corner
and Amelia         sucks in her bottom lip                    refusing to hear.
And I wonder    is it what we pursue   or what pursues us that resists
ending?       Or     are passion and darkness         simply twin engines
that drive                                       the restless bird?

* * * * *

"Pre-K Pollock" first appeared in Crab Creek Review, 2011 v. 2, then online in the 12/1/14 edition of Contemporary American Voices

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Lordsburg Jail


The sheriff of Hidalgo County
agrees to schedule Emily's G.E.C.
in the dayroom of the Lordsburg Jail.

I drive a snowy forty-five miles
in the dawn of a pre-Christmas day
to find her confined to her cell
for passing joints around the jail.

I smile, standing taller,
when I hear that I can't see her.
"Her test will be as valid
in a cell as a dayroom."

When the cell door slams
behind me, the shock
strikes me like a fist
against a midnight window.

A thin Hispanic woman
in her twenties,
Emily looks like someone
who had missed the good things
long before she was given six months
for beating up another woman.

The walls are broken green plaster.
A twenty-five-watt bulb
hangs above a top bunk.
She climbs there
with her test booklet.

Freezing after the first
of six hours,
I wrap myself
in a torn jail blanket.

She fails the science exam.
She must try again
or I cannot leave her,
dooming herself to perdition
in this grim Southwestern jail.

* * * * *

Bonnie Buckley Maldonado,, was the first poet laureate of Silver City, New Mexico. She was also an educator and continues to be a strong influence in the Southwestern literary scene. "Lordsburg Jail" is from her book It's Only Raven Laughing.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

"Three weeks ago my son took his life." From today's offering, "What to Say" by Bonnie Buckley Maldonado.

What to Say

by Bonnie Buckley Maldonado


Three weeks ago my son took his life.
I'm told it's time to get over it.
If I could stop seeing
his incredible blue eyes
and hearing his gentle voice,
it would help.

I know he will not step
into my kitchen again
to bring a gift
I would have chosen for myself.
We won't sit in the patio
so he can smoke
and I can tell him to stop.

"I didn't call you because
I didn't know what to say."
Say anything.
It might be wrong
but it tells me
you remember him,
that his life mattered.

"I couldn't stand
losing a child."
I think you could and would.
That is the way it works.

I will never get over it.
I will not read more books
on suicide.

What I would like to know
is when the pain ceases
feeling like a kitchen knife,
plunged into my heart.

* * * * *

Bonnie Buckley Maldonado,, was the first poet laureate of Silver City, New Mexico. "What to Say" is from her book It's Only Raven Laughing.

Monday, 26 September 2016

"Six years of culture is harder to make up than six years of language." From today's thoughtful offering: Cultural Milk by J.A. Pak.

Cultural Milk

by J. A. Pak

Cultural milk. When you’re six, new to a country, morphed into this thing called “foreigner”, you don’t know what culture is, just that everything you do is wrong and everything that was once so easy and comfortable only brings pain and embarrassment. At birth, culture is family (mine was one of indulgent love). Then you’re uprooted and there’s the schoolyard, of teachers who mostly don’t care, of children who have no skills at compassion — they’re trying so hard themselves, to understand, to fit in. In school — that’s when I begin to fall more and more into an anxious state of observation.

At first I think it’s language, that if I could speak the language I’d understand. Language is culture abbreviated. There are other things that make up culture, like gestures and toys. Friends, or lack of. Religion, television, housing, supermarkets, games, street signs, the way you say ‘I love you’. Six years of culture is harder to make up than six years of language.

Now I’m eight and there’s a girl at school — she’s new. At first she pursues my friendship. And then she destroys it and becomes my occasional tormentor. She finds me exasperating. And I can understand that now. I was never a child who liked to play with other children. I preferred to sit and listen, to a friend’s older brother reading a story out loud, to my mother and her friends gossiping. I liked sounds, the lenticular vowels and the jumping consonants shadow-puppeting human life. The girl thought I was a know-it-all, but I only nodded and agreed to things I didn’t understand because, even though I sounded native, my vocabulary was limited. She’d had eight years. I’d had two. Two years of not understanding, of not being understood (nodding was like sleeping, an acceptance of numbing fatigue).

This too. I was born into a culture where little girls were bossy, where hierarchy was severe: the first thing you asked a stranger was how old they were because age is hermetic; the older you are, even if by a day, the more your right to tyranny. I can’t remember now who was older. But I do remember we were both firstborns and maybe that was part of the trouble. Two bright little girls used to being boss. Always stinks of trouble. Even without cultural difficulties, we were probably destined for rivalry.

Time-traveling through your mind is a precarious expedition. Momentum ricochets you from ghost to ghost, tendrilled eyes looking you up and down. Now I’m remembering this girl’s mother, a woman whose gentle kindness always distracted me into a state of bemusement, then warmth, the kind in which all self disappears and there’s only warmth (which anxiety had displaced so it was hardly recognizable). The mother was a child of Italian immigrants. I saw the Italian grandmother once. At the girl’s birthday party, hiding in the kitchen making meatball pizzas (my first — the meatballs were tiny and soft and I thought it was odd, even wrong, meatballs on pizza). That scene, the old woman, cultural milk so painfully familiar — a misplacement like my submerging culture, slowly becoming as foreign to me as she was to her own granddaughter. A grandmother I must meet again inside myself.

* * * * *

A recipient of a Glass Woman Prize, J.A. Pak’s work has been published in a variety of publications, including Olentangy Review, Luna Luna, Thrice Fiction, Atticus Review, Quarterly West, The Smoking Poet and Art/Life. 

Cultural Milk was first published in Luna Luna Magazine and in Eight Palace of Dreams & Happiness,

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Today's haunting boat refugee story, Star Anise by Kari Nguyen, tells of danger, loss, and survival, and the mindfulness of the blessings of being alive. 

Star Anise

by Kari Nguyen

It is hot. Her black hair, like everyone else's, is fraught with steam. Sweat collects at her hairline and sits above her lip. They need hats, she thinks. Hats would help.
It is the first hot day, and the third at sea. The wind has stopped, for the moment, but the boats carry on. Lang sits quietly. She wears a yellow collared shirt rolled up at the sleeves, back streaked with perspiration. Her cotton shorts she made herself, like much of her clothing. Thanh, her sister, sits beside her. She looks asleep, reclined as she is, head back and eyes closed, but Lang knows she's just resting. Minh, however, has long since dozed off, overcome by the heat and the boat rocking. He sleeps beside her in his little basket, shaded by the brim, and cooled by her hand as she waves a palm frond back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The breeze is pleasant to him, or so it seems, his little face pulled together in a sleepy, contented expression.
Back and forth. Back and forth. 
Lang feels a hand on her shoulder, and realizes she's been sleeping too.
“For long?” she asks Thanh, who has shaken her awake.
“No. Just a moment,” Thanh says, although it has been over an hour. She had sensed Lang falling asleep, and had opened her eyes to take the frond from her hand to fan Minh.
“Thank you,” says Lang, and she turns to lift Minh from the basket. 
Lang had dreamt of her father. While asleep, she'd watched him slipping out of the family house, returning very late, swaggering in quietly to drop into a sleep on his mat, overwhelmed by Tiger Beer and the exhaustion of worry. He'd reeked of cigarettes and booze. “This business must be done when drinking,” he had told her many times. “That is the only way.” The men would meet late, in back rooms of big houses, talking of boats, of timetables, of money. You had to have money, and Lang's father had a little saved up, just enough for his two daughters. He resolved to get them out, especially now that Lang's husband was gone, gone, gone. But in the dream she'd seen him, her husband, in a back room somewhere, though she'd never been, but he was there, in her dream, clear and alive. He was looking tired, his shirt rumpled and hair longer than she'd remembered it to be, falling near his eyes, deep brown, but empty eyes. How long had they been empty now? He was in a room she'd never been to, never seen, but she could remember the color of the wallpaper, the pattern of faded red roses on eggshell white, and the table in the corner with a giant bowl of — and then she lost the dream memory, just like that.
She thinks again of her father. She pictures him in the family house, the one she'd grown up in, the one where they'd laid out her mother and her grandfather and her husband in death robes and kept quiet vigils with incense and flowers and beautiful portraits of the dead. It was home, but she was running away, as many others were, from a place where they could never grow.
Minh starts to cry. She juggles him softly in her arms, and falls to rocking him and talking softly of cool green jungles and singing dolphins. “It's for a better life,” she whispers. “Forever.” Minh falls back asleep, and so does she. She's dreaming of hats this time.

We are standing in her kitchen. I'm leaning up against a counter, watching her work. It's a small, dark kitchen, but she doesn't need much room. An outside observer would note the quickness of her movements and think she has known this place, this house, this kitchen, her whole life. Her long, black and slightly silvered hair is pulled behind her in a tie, following her feet in acquiescence, an old, trusting friend who knows the steps too. She moves from cupboard to cupboard, from fridge to freezer and back to cupboard, and now to the dishwasher where she stores clean bowls and spoons. We don't usually talk when she cooks, I just look on, studying her movement and the way her clothes, the ones she still makes for herself, fall about her: the short pants with the patterns in black and gold, and the matching shirt with no sleeves.
She's making Pho today, Vietnamese beef noodle soup. It was the first dish she ever made for me, and since then I've had many more bowlfuls, both of her making and from other places. I've come to learn that hers is the best.
I know why she cooks Pho. It's love. It's home.
She turns to me. She asks me if I want to help.

The girls run screeching out of the house. Thanh, seven years old, is first, hollering to raise the dead, as her grandmother would say, feet beating the dirt, headed for the path toward the river. Lang, though older at ten, is slower and smaller, but she's determined, and she chases behind as quickly as her legs allow.
“Slow down!” she yells.
“Come on Lang!” Thanh shouts back.
Lang is breathing hard but she tries her best to close the distance between them. They race down the path to the river, and Thanh stops when she reaches the top of the bank. Lang arrives a minute later, breathing deeply, the sun glinting off the water.
“Why are you running?” Lang shouts once she catches her breath. She holds her hand to her face to shield her eyes from the sun.
Thanh grins. “Because I know you'll follow!” And she takes off like a shot down the bank.

Lang has been saved, so far, by Minh. His cries in the night have saved them both. Tonight she sobs softly alongside of him, knowing Thanh, across the boat and down the stairs, is in a hell. It had started the night before, and she'd known right away, had woken up, eyes adjusting to see that her sister was gone. She hadn't heard anything, hadn't heard her being pulled away, across the boat, down the stairs, but she'd heard the rumors whispered about others, nearly right from the start, had seen tears on stoic faces in the light of day, and had feared. She wonders if Minh knows fear, if it is something that forms in the womb, like fingernails. She is awake later as her sister creeps back to her, crying silently, and Lang knows her cries not because she hears them, but because she can see her body slumped over beside her, the dark outline of her side heaving up and down. She places Minh in his basket, then pulls Thanh closer and holds her, stroking her damp hair and holding her hand, until nothing else matters, and the anger, for a moment, can't touch.
Later that night the sisters hear a fall to the sea, just across the boat. First it is a cry — mournful yet light, and falling away – and then they hear the heavy drop in the water. Some men call from the boat, and someone moves a light over the sea, but it is too late. A young woman had tied bags of rice to her feet with rope, so that her weight would carry down quickly. A heavy flight. Lang wonders if she'd regretted her fall, in that last moment. She thought she had heard something in the falling cry that wished it back.
The next day, the crew members confiscate rope and secure heavy objects. Thanh holds Minh to give Lang a break. She tells Lang that no matter what happens, she will never leave her.

In her kitchen, I'm cutting beef into pieces. She looks over my shoulder, and tells me to put the beef into the water, now boiling in a stockpot on the stove. I carry the cutting board to the pot, and use the knife to gently slide the pieces of meat into the bubbling water. She dips in a spoon and stirs the beef, and then she is taking the pot by the handles to the sink, where she drains out the liquid. She sets the pot back down, and handing me a pair of tongs and a plate, asks me to take the meat back out. I've done it wrong already, I think, and my face flushes as I pull out the pieces, one by one, and place them on the plate provided. “It's part of the cooking method,” she says, as she fills the pot with new water, and she tells me to return the beef to it when the water boils again. I feel better, glad I haven't failed just yet. This second start of liquid will be the base of the broth, the key to the whole dish. “Once it is boiling in the pot,” she says, “we turn it all down to a simmer.”
She takes some ginger, three finger lengths worth, and smashes it once on another board. “Into the pot,” she says, and I toss it in, the strong scent of the ginger sticking to my fingers. Now she shows me star anise. The smell is deep and pungent, like licorice. I pick one up and hold it between my fingers. I'm taken with its star shape, its small size and weight, and the way it contains all of itself so delicately. We take ten pieces and lay them on a paper towel, which she then wraps up in a bundle and secures at the top with a rubber band. I place it down into the simmering liquid, this compact little package set afloat, and I think how nice it is that all the little stars are kept together, able to release their spice and scent without the fear of dissolving away in the heat and water.
We toss in some cinnamon sticks, some salt and sugar, and the carrot, onion, and daikon radish she'd sliced up earlier, the vegetables floating. We leave it all simmering, three to four hours, and wait for the meat to cook. Every now and then we tend it, skimming the skin from the top, dumping the foam down the sink drain, watching the steam rise.

The boats stop in the water, no shore in sight. A larger boat has come to meet them, ready to collect the refugees for the longer journey. They know it is late in arriving, so its presence is a relief. The crews work to secure the smaller boats to the new vessel.
Lang and Thanh wait their turn to jump aboard, standing with the others near the rail, keeping close. Lang holds Minh tight to her chest. She has heard about this. He will be thrown.
 Thanh tells her everything will be okay. “You won't be able to jump while holding him,” she says. Then she reaches over to Minh, who is awake, eyes wide and alert, and he takes Thanh's offered finger in his hand and squeezes on. “Pretty boy,” she tells him, and he giggles.
It's their turn now, and Lang is to go first, to be on board when Minh is thrown. There's no going back. She hands the child to Thanh, and then, with the help of a crew member, she climbs over the rail, and jumps lightly to the new boat, where she's helped on deck by strong arms.
Thanh hands Minh to the man beside her, saying something to him that Lang cannot hear. Lang's heart is pounding and she's praying and suddenly she feels the boat beneath her feet, she feels it taking her out to sea, breaking away from the small boat, away from the only family she has left. It's a fleeting moment but she knows it won't work, it can't work, and her baby will be lost, fallen to the sea floor, his brown eyes empty like his father's. But she's standing on firm footing and she watches her prayers flying as Minh is tossed into the air, and it's a good throw and he's high up there and everything else is stopped and it takes just a moment but the moment is eternal and then he's landed, cushioned, in the arms of the man beside her. She can breathe again. He's back in her arms. Minh laughs, and he's still smiling when his aunt jumps aboard. Lang wipes her tears with Minh's hands.

Good broth is essential to Pho. It is that blend of spices and flavors and smells that makes the dish.
Once the meat is tender, we pluck out the bundle of star anise. It has steeped long enough.
We add fish sauce and more salt and sugar to the pot, to taste. It's nearly done.
We take rice noodles, boiled earlier, and heap them into huge bowls. To the bowls she ladles spoonfuls of broth, meat, and vegetables from the pot, and I set the bowls on the table once they are filled. We spoon hoisin and chili sauce into smaller bowls, self-serve style, and add these to the table as well, along with a plate of mung sprouts, cilantro, mint and basil from the garden, and limes we've cut in quarters.
I place cups on the table, and she pours green tea in each one. The door opens, and Minh walks in from outside, dirt stuck to his forehead but he doesn't know, so she goes to him, standing on the tip of her toes so she can reach him, using her thumb to edge the earth from his face, then pats his cheek in approval. “Mom” he says to her, leaning away from her hand, still her son but thinking he needs this less, you know, and he heads to the kitchen to wash up. A moment later he comes back with chopsticks, spoons, and napkins, and he puts them on the table.
Then he walks over to me.
He's sweaty from yard work, but I love that he does it for her, and I wrap my arm around his waist. “Is he sleeping?” Minh asks me, and I nod my head yes, looking back toward the room off the kitchen. He follows my gaze, says, “That's good.”

The three of us sit down to eat, and I tell him I helped make it this time. His mom says, “If it tastes bad, blame it on her!” Her eyes sparkle a bit when she says this, and soon her smile betrays the joke. “You did a good job,” she tells me, and I'm happy as I pile my Pho high with basil and mung. 

I breathe it in. I start with the broth. It's warm going down.

The sea was there to save them. It transported their boats, orchestrated their escape, and pushed them toward a free life.  But the sea was a living thing, and something that couldn't be counted on.
Lang still has the nightmares. She always will. Sleep for her is far more dangerous than waking. It is often the same dream, played out with slight differences as to plot or appearance, but always real. Another black night, the moon tucked out of sight by black haze, but still she can see. Thanh is walking along the ship's low railing, unable to sleep. The sea is restless, churning in ancient conversation. The boat dips sharply to the side, and Thanh loses her footing, then regains it, grabbing the rail for support, grateful not to have fallen overboard. But the thought is short-lived. The dip comes again, the other side of a roll, and sharper this time, and her hands release the rail, tossing her off, discarded, to dark water. In her dream Lang is standing on the deck of the righted boat, looking down to the sea, and her husband is down there, pulling Thanh under, and Thanh struggles for only a brief second, and then they are gone, under the waves, and Lang hears desperate cries and looks around her —
But she's home now, and the crying is all hers.

There are some stories you want to tell. There are some stories you don't. But they are all there, just below the surface. It takes just a scratch, sometimes, to reveal a gash.
I am lucky. I've never lost a sister, or a husband. I've never had to leave my family, or my home. I've never feared for my life, or a child's life. Lang made it. And now she's here, cooking Pho. She wonders, afterwards, why I wrote everything down: the ingredients, the directions, the special tips. Why I want measurements. She doesn't cook that way, she tells me. It's all in her head. The soup, the stories, even her family. I understand, but still, I want to write it down. To pass on. To remember. Because it's important. And I don't ever want to forget.
“When you lose so much you never forget what you have,” she says.
 I write it all down.

We're done eating now, and Minh pushes himself away from the table. He's going to shower. Lang and I take up the bowls and the spoons and the chopsticks and the leftover toppings and bring them back to the kitchen. I offer to do the dishes, but then I hear a little voice from around the corner. He's talking to his dad.
“Did you have a good nap, buddy?”
“Mmmhmm,” says the little, sleepy voice. I can picture him on the edge of the mattress, the one on the floor of the guest bedroom we use when we stay over, rubbing his eyes, perhaps one sock about to come off of his foot.
“Are you hungry?”
“Let's go see Mom and Grandma. They'll give you something to eat.”

* * * * *
Author's Note: The story is fiction, but much of it is inspired by actual events. The family Pho recipe has been altered slightly, to suit the story.

Star Anise was first published at fwriction, It was a prize winner in the Eighth Glass Woman Prize (September 2010) and was also selected as a Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers Honorable Mention in 2011.

Monday, 19 September 2016

With today's beautifully thoughtful essay "Happy" by J.A. Pak, Writing In A Woman's Voice is taking another five day sabbatical, as I am taking a road trip to one of my favorite places on earth, Hanging Lake in Colorado, to celebrate the equinox. I will have little or no access to the net. May happiness embrace you all!


by J.A. Pak

Back in college, I had a friend I saw once or twice a year who’d always end up asking me, “Are you happy?” It took everything I had not to scream, “What kind of crap question is that?” It was absurd & irrelevant. Vapid & facile. And really, what was the point in asking anyway, I’d wonder.
Occasionally, you enter a difficult period in your life and what you want without knowing what you want is a genuine friend. Adolescence is often one of those times.
When I was stuck inside my cloudy adolescence, a generous older woman saw my need and became my friend; our relationship was just like something out of a novel. I’ve always wondered if this wasn’t my grandfather too, his guiding hand extending even into my life because how I met her was extraordinary. One day, I was reading the local newspaper and she was inside—she was directing a children’s musical she’d written—in the photo she was surrounded by children—and I thought, I’d really like to meet this woman, be a part of her life. A few months later I was.
She had this life spirit that was like a joyful carousel and I loved carousels. What a life I’ve had, she’d say, full of ups and downs, wars (personal and national) and devastating heartbreaks—but I’d do it all over again, she’d tell me. She loved life thatmuch. She’d call me her alter ego, which seemed wrong to me because I would neverlive it all over again. And I hadn’t even had my first heartbreak. (That is, my first love affair.)
And then she died.
Many years after, I had this singular moment of understanding. It was Valentine’s Day, I was alone in London (I was living in England at the time) and I was truly happy to be alive. It was inexplicable because nothing extraordinary had happened. I’d finally visited St Paul’s Cathedral, following a circular path inside until I was somewhere up in the middle of the dome. The day was cold & windy and I was wearing my new Miu Miu skirt & matching coat which I’d bought online at a huge discount (which is another kind of happiness). For lunch, I’d stopped briefly at a chain coffee shop and eaten a packaged sandwich sold to me by a typically indifferent teenage boy and I was making my way back to the hotel when this singular, magnificent joy possessed me. In the middle of Fleet Street. And I thought, so this is what it’s like, to feel happy to be alive. For the first time in my life since childhood, I wasn’t preoccupied with the future or the past; there were no second thoughts, no anxiety about what I should have done or should be doing. I was just alive and being alive was happiness.
Sometimes, I’m possessed by a similar joy while playing the piano. I’ll be playing the Goldberg Variations, wandering into a passage I’ve played innumerable times and there’s this unexpected awakening, this moment of unsurpassed beauty, the beauty of pure life, and the knowledge that nothing else is important as this. I try to hold that but the human mind seems incapable of holding clarity. Other things become important and I think nothing else matters but money, acknowledgment, success, word count, what to make for dinner today, tomorrow, the day after, life fractured into a million forgettable trivialities.

*‘Happy’ is from Middle English, meaning lucky. More and more I understand the Chinese obsession with luck. The goddess of fortune rules all things. And perhaps the goddess is fond of numbers, the esthetic qualities of eights (888) and infinities (∞), roundness a vessel of fertility, a subset of creativity, my roundness.

Bio: A recipient of a Glass Woman Prize, J.A. Pak’s work has been published in a variety of publications, including Olentangy Review, Luna Luna, Thrice Fiction, Atticus Review, Quarterly West, The Smoking Poet and Art/Life. “Happy” is part of a WIP.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Some of us are moving into fall and some of us are moving into spring. Here is spring in Australia: A Walk in the Park by Myra King.

A Walk in the Park
by Myra King

Have you ever noticed
how a father’s arm
is always long
enough to reach
his child’s hand,
and a bumble bee
is softer and
more impossible
than any of
our imaginings

Trees in the beginning
of spring’s promise
breathe in
silent growth
And stirrings of earth’s heart
beat in time with
every living thing

Saturday, 10 September 2016

With today's lovely poem, Enigma by Sheena Singh, I am taking a week sabbatical from Writing In A Woman's Voice posts. I'll be back with our colorful many-faceted voices September 18.

by Sheena Singh

She was like
a blooming flower
on that colorful vase.
Swaying away
to all that glitters..
flashing smiles,

She was a bold
reflection of self-doubt,
provoked by silence
elusive as a dream.. 
as moon light crossed
her way..

She was an enigma,
seeking solitude
plain and raw,
as bland as the cloud
before an autumn rain.

Friday, 9 September 2016

There are many wondrous stories in the world. Today's thread, After the Gazebo by Jen Knox, is one of my personal favorites, wrapped in what I have elsewhere described as a gossamer veil of compassion.

After the Gazebo
by Jen Knox

She felt it in her toes that morning, dread that she would shove into ivory heels and dance on beneath heavy clouds. He felt a surge of adrenaline he thought must accompany every man on his wedding day.
Everything had been set in motion four months ago, when they adopted a pug that was abandoned in a nearby apartment complex. They were unsure they’d have the proper amount of time to devote to the puppy, but his bunched face and square body seemed perfect. It would be a responsibility test, a sort of trial run before they had children.
The pug had dermatitis between his folds, which cost money to correct, as did his shots and medications. It was enough to tear a small hole in their new car fund, so they had to reevaluate the year and model they’d go for. The lesser car they selected had good reviews, and the salesman even said—when he realized they weren’t the best negotiators and had told him their actual budget—that it was more durable than the newer models.
The couple’s fate was sealed when she drove the car off the lot, when he inserted the CD he’d brought along, just in case. “Ocean Breathes Salty” began the soundtrack. They drove all day, speeding along the peripheral of the city, and stopped for Jamaican jerk chicken at a restaurant they agreed they would return to regularly.

They took the pug to the dog park Saturday mornings. He enjoyed eating and watching Animal Planet, so they babied and indulged him. They learned everything they could about the breed and how best to care for him, finally putting him on a diet. They decided on his name after reading that the strange little forehead wrinkle that pugs share resembles the Chinese symbol for prince.
Together, they took Prince on lazy walks after work. They often ate out and met up with friends on weekends. She got a corporate job that replaced her occasional gigs as a yoga instructor. She hated the work but made a lot of friends, fast, and thought it an okay trade for the time being. He got a corporate job; he rather enjoyed it. She gained five pounds. He gained ten. They joined a gym a few months before the wedding. They made resolutions often. They both wanted to be somewhere else, but were unsure exactly where.

They lived near his family but far from hers, so they often spoke of moving somewhere in the middle. Her sister would often call, upset about her husband being out late. She wanted to be close enough to visit, watch bad movies and make orange cinnamon rolls.
They’d all be closer soon, the couple decided. This union was an inevitable step toward their ideal future. The details would work themselves out.
The day of the wedding, they awoke five hours and twenty minutes before they had to be at the meeting center by the gazebo. Their wedding would be outside, in a park where they first met. Both had been joggers. It would be a small ceremony.
She would wear her mother’s ivory dress, still a touch tight around the hips. He would wear his OSU pin on his slant striped gray tie. They would have a total of eighteen family members there; two would attend via Skype, and approximately twenty friends and acquaintances had RSVP’d. She would pick up her mother and sister from the hotel they insisted on staying at because the couple’s apartment was still quite small. Just fewer than forty people would surround them as they took their vows at Abaline Park at 2PM. It was the perfect wedding size, everyone agreed.
Prince had a habit of jumping up and down before treat time, after walk time, and this always made her giggle. Her giggling always made him want her.
It was wedding day morning. She laughed at his pitched pants and serious stare when she walked out of the kitchen. He didn’t laugh. Instead, with only hours remaining, he rushed her, moved his fingers along her belly beneath her shirt, lifted her sideways and took her to their bedroom where they would forget the world for almost an hour. Last time as a single man, he said. She pushed him off and over, hugged his waist with her knees.
When they remembered the world, they were frantic. They kissed goodbye. She took the car and thought about how lucky she was. She had heard horror stories about friends’ weddings but knew hers would be perfect. There wasn’t a fake or a placeholder in the bunch.
Her mother, an artist, presented her with a black and white painting of Prince when she arrived at the hotel. She laughed and loved it. Her sister worked hard to laugh with them, then explained that her husband couldn’t attend due to work. It had been last minute. The sisters embraced. 
Prince refused to wear the doggie tux. She understood his apprehension and clipped a bowtie to his collar. She hoped her fiancé would remember to pack the treats and the collapsible water dish. His father was picking him up. His mother was in a wheelchair after having reconstructive foot surgery a few weeks back. They lived close by, would arrive right before the ceremony. She was a loud, beautiful woman. Her three grown children, the husband-to-be included, had blinged out her chair while she was in surgery so that she now called it her throne.
The gazebo was perfect. His cousin, who had taken on the role of wedding planner, had done everything right. Nothing was overdone. The couple didn’t see each other until the vows. The sky was overcast but with no threat of rain.
The clouds framed them in pictures. The couple kissed. Prince jumped up and down at the dance after. His mother danced in her chair. Her mother sketched the children’s faces. Her father smoked cigars with his father as they talked about drone strikes and then football and then the quality of their cigars.
The recall notice hadn’t reached them because they’d forgotten to write the apartment number on the paperwork, and his email had filtered the e-copy to junk. This would strike the parents as ridiculous after, seeing as how all the bills had reached them just fine. The recall notice concerned hyper acceleration and asked that all owners of the make and model and year bring the car in for a free check.
The parents would become angry and file suit. It would be a large suit. They would become quite rich, and they would become angrier that they had to become rich in this way. 
His mother’s foot would heal perfectly, and she would walk with only a slight limp to the two graves that sat alongside the back of the yard by an old, abandoned house that the city was unsure what to do with. The family would gather here on the anniversary of the couple’s wedding, and they would sob and laugh and smoke cigars. They would talk about the circumstance of death and fate, what lined up in order for it to happen on their wedding day. The family would come to know that it was not the dealer’s or manufacturer’s fault alone. The car had surged when he hit the brakes; the driver of an SUV had been taking over the lane at the wrong time.
The family became rich, so incredibly rich, but it didn’t matter. The money did not reconcile the odd chain of events, that slight hit that sent their small car spinning into the median strip. It was instantaneous for him. It was drawn out for her. She had that brief window, a chance to say goodbye. She’d told her sister that she knew, somehow, that she had thought it was just cold feet, but she knew.
The family was smaller now. The sister was alone. Her mother fell ill and no longer painted. The nieces and nephews were teenagers, unreachable. Her sister became pregnant after a fling.
Prince would live with the sister and would rest his wrinkly head on her belly as she daydreamed about finding love. He would comfort her when she came home with child, when she spent hours staring at the floor, unable to sleep. He would mind the child and growl at men she would bring home.
Until his final days, Prince would continue to comfort her sister, but he would never jump up and down. Instead, he would conserve his energy and spend his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.
* * * * *

After the Gazebo was introduced in Ardor and is also included in Jen Knox's short story collection After the Gazebo.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Today weaving in Writing In A Woman's Voice: Sex With Strangers by MaryAnne Kolton.

Sex With Strangers
by MaryAnne Kolton

she had sex with strangers
because of her madness
because of their sadness
because of the pain it caused her

she had sex with strangers
who slapped her a little and hurt her a lot
who showed her a good time and with some
who had nothing worth knowing to say

she had sex with strangers
to teach them a lesson
to search for a truth
to get some attention

she had sex with strangers
when they were sweet
when they were mean and
when she felt threatened by reality

she had sex with strangers
when she needed to be held
when it was too late to say no
when she turned and saw her mother in the room

she had sex with strangers
to shut them up
to calm them down
to keep her illusions intact

she had sex with strangers
because they were something
because she was nothing
because of the empty inside

she had sex with strangers
some of them wore her clothes
some of them tore her clothes and with
some who insisted she was crazy

she had sex with strangers
calling her child
calling her woman
calling her child-like mother whore

she had sex with strangers
sometimes on clean sheets
sometimes on no sheets and
sometimes on her hands and knees, in cars with God

she had sex with strangers
with those who had visions
those who had children and once
with someone who could not stop hurting himself

she had sex with strangers
to force retribution
as an Act of Contrition, a form of confession and
to keep them from knowing her pain

she had sex
with friends and neighbors
husbands and lovers
priests and policemen and
fathers and brothers

somebodies, nobodies
rock bands and football teams
but always, all ways
she had sex with strangers

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

"Femininity that goes unaccepted remains unforgiving" writes Nalini Priyadarshni in today's thread, her poem Ananku (which is explained below the text of the poem). 


by Nalini Priyadarshni

Femininity that goes unaccepted remains unforgiving
Vengeance of Kamakhya in month of Ashaad
Brahmaputra devoid of ichor
Corroding muliebrity till it shrivels into a vestigial flicker

Decades later, when lovers celebrate your womanhood
You fail to find beauty in yourself
No matter how long you gaze at mirror
reflecting your glistening nakedness
after vigor of copulation

Half hearted attempts to love what you could not accept
does nothing to assuage the annihilation
you fostered in the pit of your womb
Sown by the discontent of your mother at your birth
Reiterated into a receptacle of guilt
that outweighs rings of smoke you blow
by rolling joints of any self esteem accrued
Despite waging endless war with hirsutism

We don’t always get to choose our battles
Certainly not those that start with
a blade wedged against our necks
But end them we must, with shakta striding atop
Femininity that goes unaccepted remains unforgiving

Ananku - Female sexual power vested in menarche and mensuration mostly considered dangerous and something to be controlled. Kamakhya – The Bleeding Goddess: Kamakhya devi is famous as the bleeding goddess. The mythical womb and vagina of Shakti are supposedly installed in the ‘Garvagriha’ or sanctum of the temple. In the month of Ashaad (June), the goddess bleeds or menstruates. At this time, the Brahmaputra river near Kamakhya turns red. The temple then remains closed for 3 days and holy water is distributed among the devotees of Kamakhya devi. There is no scientific proof that the blood actually turns the river red. Some people say that the priests pour vermilion into the waters. But symbolically, menstruation is the symbol of a woman’s creativity and power to give birth. So, the deity and temple of Kamakhya celebrates this ‘shakti’ or power within every woman.

* * * * *

Ananku was first published in Litterateur Online and is now part of Nalini's poetry collection, Doppelganger in my House

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Today's stunning thread:

Two Weeks Later He Flew off to Afghanistan Again

by Barry Basden

It's New Year's Eve. Mark's lying across the bed, not moving. "This is too hard," he says. Poor baby. I love him and try to be a good wife. Johnny and Megan love him more than their real father.

I put on my red blouse, the one that shows so much cleavage. We need the tips. The deadbeat is late again. Mark hates for other men to ogle me, but that's what he used to do—look at me with those puppydog eyes until I took him home one night, him with no better prospects than the army. It's been base after base, dragging the kids all over. Now we're stuck in Killeen and Mark's got shipment orders again. Be all you can be, they say.

When I leave, the three of them are on the couch, eating popcorn out of one big bowl, watching people mill around in Times Square. Whatever happened to Dick Clark?

It's after three when I get home. The house is quiet. I stand in the shower and let the water pour over me, washing away the glitter, the smoke and sweat. I towel off, pad across the room, pull back the sheets, and dump all my tips on Mark. He grunts awake and seems about sixteen when I straddle him. I look into his sleepy eyes and begin to move. Bills crinkle and stick to my damp calves. Coins roll against us. There's three, maybe four hundred dollars in bed with us—a fortune really, lifesaving.

I feel Mark stir and pull his head against my breasts. He puts his hands on me, grasping. It doesn't take long and I lean back to watch his face change. Now he looks even younger. 

* * * * *

First published by Matter Press in 2013 as their first triptych.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Today Nonnie Augustine's poem with its revealing title Duet Between Two Performers Who Had Been Lovers evokes a moment that is perhaps all too familiar to many of us.

Duet Between Two Performers Who Had Been Lovers
by Nonnie Augustine

She dances alone in a long purple dress with thin satin straps.
The arc of her full skirt sweeps up and back as she lifts her leg.
Her curved spine, neck and arms complete the line.
She is safe and sure on stage, under the lights.

The sole musician is fierce at his keyboard.
His chords pound deep within her torso.
The two performers are one and brimming with purpose
and the audience is in thrall to their intimacy.

She dances the Maid, pious resolute, constant.
The music, a stately pavane to begin,
builds in pace and she swirls, leaps, and takes
long soldier strides until the rhythms slow,
the melody fades and the final chord sounds
as she kneels, feels she channels Jeanne d’Arc.

Silence, then the startle of applause.
The dancer dips low, and extends her arm
to her partner who bows from his waist.
When they turn to each other, she sees
remorse darken his eyes, but she turns
away. The heavy curtains close and they part.

* * * * *

Duet Between Two Performers Who Had Been Lovers is part of Nonnie Augustine's poetry collection One Day Tells its Tale to Another.