Read

POETRY

"A Liar's Crescendo" (first published online The Piccioletta Barca Issue 16, Jan 2020)

You believe

she is fragile and transparent.

You fear if you took her in your arms she’d crack. Perhaps you’d spillher glittering shards across the ground and they’d be crushed under the stepsof nearby souls. This taking would be too much trouble, so instead you watch as she limps forward, dragging her broken pieces behind her. Their spines bind her to the earth with the hungry mouths of her past.

You do

nothing while choosing to admire

her refusal to surrender. Each

determined step betrays her desire to remember how to rise. Her momentum is a painful melody,

tragic in its denial or is it ignorance

of her plight grown too heavy to carry. This is how she could make you want to imagine another more. But you are deaf to her offerings. Instead, you imagine a different kind of taking. Her colors will feed your collection, well schemed.

You crave

her warmth, a painful light you cannot resist touching. When she sings her sorrow you listen, knowing her truth hides while she shares her fragments with the world. You stay awhile to feed belief in new possibilities. You tell her we are just building our crescendo. Music, like healing, takes time. Room to blossom, so it can breathe its own rhythm.

You lie. The truth is cleaner. Nastier.

You say

each gentle instrument will be consumed until it births a perfect embrace, revealing a melody that carries forward. So while your past doesn’t pull like hers, you tell of shining acceptance. This telling brings the last notes needed to climax. You offer this last falsehood, then let the orchestra fade. The violin cries before exiting stage left. This union’s heartbreak drips an unfair melody across your eyes until they meet hers, and you decide to soar onward.

Without her.

She is blessed—alone with the symphony, rather than with you.


CREATIVE NONFICTION

*topic: aftermath of a Traumatic Brain Injury

"My Shadow’s Shadow" (first published Nightingale & Sparrow, Woodland Issue 8, Nov 2020)


Before

Before the fall, I did not appreciate the power of memories. They were of the forest’s shadow, easily eclipsed by the echo of my forward footsteps upon the broken parts of my now.


***

After

Once I’d become my shadow’s shadow, I saw memories through new stalker’s eyes. I became the observer, concealed behind a forest of lost snapshots of me.


***

Before

My memories were too aggressive. Painfully thrusting themselves to the forefront or tugging me backward to a past best left behind. Even the innocent were more of a distraction than something I cherished. I was focused forward.


***

After

Post the fall, I wished only to travel back in time; to turn around and scoop up those lost comrades. To hold them under my cloak, both the innocent and the pained, lovingly cocooned together. Without exception.


***

Before

I saw memories as slithering, living things. Like earthworms wriggling out of the ground to chase the rain’s song, memories had a sly way of slipping in and out of my consciousness, of gleefully appearing without warning to disrupt my present. The cruel ones were experts at waiting to pounce, cunningly curled up in the darkness until the time was right to show themselves—to remind me of all the burdens and hurt they cradled.


It wasn’t their fault. Like me, memories were at the mercy of time. Time changed us both, without consideration and with few concessions. Memories found a way to embrace time’s wreckage. As the moss that finds new life upon the fallen oak’s shattered trunk, my memories had morphed into something new. They demanded I support their vision even though they’d managed to recklessly color themselves with experiences and emotions that were never part of their beginnings, or mine.


Memories were such a negative presence in my life that I took them for granted. Until I fell.


***

After

Until a patch of ice on a blustery, snowy day. Until a misstep that birthed a head injury. In that instant, a large company of my memories and I parted ways. They flung themselves free, to scatter like mirror twins along with the swirling snowflakes that danced upward into the sky, riding the wind as I lay on my back, watching until my eyes blurred and the last stragglers melted on my lashes.


Suddenly, I became a mess of “Couldn’t” s. I couldn’t wash my face without vertigo shoving me over. I couldn’t write without leaving out expected prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions. I had trouble finding simple words or replaced the desired word with something that sounded or looked the same but wasn’t. I couldn’t smile and say, “Yes, that was a great day,” when my family told a story—a story from a past where I’d lived and loved, but now couldn’t remember.


A large piece of me was left behind on that ice, sliding sideways until coming to rest roadside. No matter how much I’ve tried to retrace my steps, I never found what the snowflakes so merrily coveted. My memories enjoyed their new freedom and chose not to return.


No more past stories to be tainted by time, no thoughts snaking in the basement, no happy memories swinging defiantly in the gallows. Just clean, crisp, nothingness. A decade long hole in my life. The head injury decided which memories were worthwhile and which were too heavy to carry on, and it didn’t care to sort through the good and the bad—it dumped them all. It had its own forward focus.


The encampment that once sheltered my memories now burnt to the ground, I began to feel invisible. Most of my memories were truly lost, although some would occasionally pass by to whisper in the ears of my loved ones, allowing them to share their version of my lost stories. Hearing it second hand didn’t feel the same; the stories didn’t engulf me the way the memories did when they still wriggled around within me. They were not mine. They were not real.


I hungrily looked at photographs from those lost years, hoping to tempt back that nagging tickle. To feel memories’ insistence for acknowledgement—so they could validate that I had a past worthy of remembering. When this failed, I would flee to walk circles around the block. Determined to go anywhere the quiet photographs were not, but with nowhere to go.


***

After the Shadow’s Gift


Post the fall, the initial deficits and memory loss forced me to sell my business—I had to leave behind the healthcare company I’d founded. Nor could I return to my previous career as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I had to find a new voice.


In my career, I had worked with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) patients. So I knew that if I wanted to heal, I should exercise my brain through math, word puzzles, reading. This led me to reconnect with my first love, writing. It took five years, but eventually, I found acceptance. I found ways to embrace my reborn self and the lessons of my head injury. Diving back into writing was only the first gift.


I discovered that I could leave unkind slithering thoughts in the shadows; it was in my power to forget them. I could use the absence of their biases to move forward free of the burden of past hurts. As new memories were born, I could allow them to wriggle through my consciousness and poke without competition at my future present—I could birth my own forest of recollections to echo new life choices.


I learned to slow down and appreciate life’s gifts more. This was a new me—one with a past full of holes. Perhaps, a trail of holes was just fine and dandy. It was the wholeness I could make of today that mattered.


These choices, this acceptance of my reborn self—it ensured that my new memories and I could cast our own shadow, instead of only belong to those we’d left behind.


FLASH FICTION

"Floccinaucinihilipilification"

(first published in Blank Spaces Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 4, June 2020)


My English teacher says there are many words that mean the same thing. She writes examples in her perfect chalk letters, then smiles her knowledge at us.


I like to find my own words. To curl up in the red armchair in the corner of the attic by the window and read. The chair that glows the shade of let blood when the sunset crawls up her arms. If I lay my arm on hers, I glow too.


Tonight, the late summer wind is whispering warnings of the impending fall to the tree outside. She has birthed more children than she can cradle, her arms overflowing with leaves that shake at the wind’s whispers. I have no sympathy; adults should know if they can handle a child.


My mother didn’t, so now we both rattle in the wind.


*

I was unplanned. Mom’s whole life was unplanned, gramma says. Mom’s “lack of self-worth already shaped me beyond recognition at the age of twelve.” Or so gramma told the court when she tried to take me away, but failed.


Not a fan of defeat, gramma sneaks books to me. So I can experience “another perspective.”


I love them all, but my favorite is the dictionary. Its cover is thick and blue, with gold letters that fade a little more each time I touch it. I started at the beginning, searching for new words. I like to spin them over my tongue until they begin to sound and taste like mine. Whatever novel I’m reading, the dictionary rides shotgun — so I can taste the author’s words better.


When I reached the F’s, I discovered a word that belonged to mom and me. The dictionary proclaimed it “the longest non-technical word in the English language.” It is a word that presumes everything and imagines nothing all at once.


Mom has told me over and over that we are both a waste of breath. She screams of hopelessness, of our pointless existence. Over frozen meals burnt in the microwave, over cereal bowl dinners. Over dreams she cannot forgive. Over me.


This is our word: Floc·ci·nau·ci·ni·hil·i·pil·i·fi·ca·tion. It is a mess of letters, just like us. Impossible to articulate until the third or fourth encounter.


“The action, or habit, of estimating something as worthless. Origin 18th century, from Latin flocci, nauci, nihili, pili (each meaning ‘of little value’)”


I can’t stop looking at it, can’t stop letting its dozen syllables tap-dance across my lips. I’m riveted by those four words fastened into one as if to hammer home their shared meaning.


Who does that? Floccinaucinihilipilification. A chain of worthlessness.



I want to hold this special word close, my mother’s word and my word, so I can control it. So I can decide if I’ll embrace it like her or put it aside. I whisper it aloud each night.


As a reminder that gramma’s right and I still have a choice.


*

It’s Saturday. Time to go to work.


“Come on, Grit.” I poke my toe gently into my cat’s belly. “Let’s go.”


Mom isn’t Grit’s biggest fan, so Grit tends to tag along with me. Who says dogs are better? Grit is the best gift grandma gave me other than books. A steady hum by my side, reminding me that someone would notice if I was gone.


When we reach the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, the weekend crowd is already buzzing. I place my guitar case on the ground, leaving it open for tips. The case also makes a great bed for a lazy cat.


“This is called A Thousand Pieces,” I say to no one. I lean closer to my guitar, so we can breathe the words together.


You say we’re born strong,

then we all have to choose.

Yet I became weak,

I was lost – I did sway.

See how my center does

waver and splinter.

Watch as ache’s tide pulls,

little bits fall away.


Hear how her words twisted

until they controlled me.

I withered and churned

until my mind strangely spun.

Her judgement tore pieces

and pieces inside me.

Born to one lost,

a worthless heart was begun.


I can’t halt the quiver –

spray yet more splinters of me.

Lost trust bears a price,

forces your soul to atone.

She mislaid my worth,

now I’m shattered in pieces –

Thousand pieces of me

that cannot find their way home.


“That’s such a sad, sweet song. Who taught you to play and sing so beautifully?” The woman stands frozen, half in, half out of the coffee shop.


“Myself.”


She lets go of the door, then steps forward to drop a five in my case. Grit carefully paws the bill under her tummy with the others. So much better than a dog.


“Saving up for college someday?” The woman’s head is tilted. She’s smiling, but she’s also staring at my baggy shirt, at the holes in my sneakers.


“Something like that.”


Still staring.


“Thanks for listening, and for the tip. Have a great day!” I pretend to tune my guitar.


I can still feel her gaze. Trying to taste my words. Trying to figure out if I’m something she should worry about…


or if I’m nothing.


*

When the crowd fades, I splurge on a wrap, wolfing it down after pulling out a few pieces of chicken for Grit. The rest of my earnings will go under the cushions of the bleeding armchair. Until I’m old enough.


“I might write some new songs,” I tell Grit. She purrs her agreement.


I’ve been thinking all day about what my English teacher said — there are many words that mean the same thing.


Gramma says having a choice means believing in the possibility of something different.


Maybe there are things that look the same on the outside but can be different on the inside. Things that sound, taste, and feel different once you dig a little deeper.


Maybe, I’m a different word.


LINKS to a few of my pieces on LITERARY JOURNAL WEBSITES BELOW (additional links can be found on this site's various genre pages)

  1. "To Breathe Absent the Presence of Others" - Barren Magazine, Issue 20, 2022

  2. "Back to the Start" - Second Chance Lit, Issue 3, 2021

  3. "Killing Time, Briefly Interrupted" - Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Vol 4, 2021

  4. "If the Snow Never Melted" - Longridge Review Prize for Creative Nonfiction, 2020