April 21, 2011

NaPoWriMo Day 18: Expedited

Thought I’d try a prose poem this time. I know it’s not a story, because a story has a beginning, middle and end.


We were four now in number, and the plains played unwilling host. Hot, dry, ground agape, brittle grass and weeds. We were herded by dust devils. Rain to the south kept pace with us, never moving closer, not sending even a smell of water our way. Vera stumbled, almost fell one step in ten, but trudged on. Ross moved steadily, spine straight, eyes level forward, staring at his own thoughts. Only Maria sweated, the rest already wrung out, only her throat was not too parched for a cicada drone of mumbled curses. I was dizzy, my head and eyeballs hurt from heat and weariness and constant scanning. It was my expedition, my vision of artifice triumphing over nature. I watched for snakes, water, signs. I watched for a hint of change in weather or landscape. I watched for the sun to budge, grant us at least a shadow.


February 13, 2010


Filed under: General,Litlets,Prose,Writing — crcb @ 9:12 pm

When we understand that our sorrow is meaningless, it begins. There’s no virtue in victimhood (or else it would be triumph), no honesty in pain.

But then, nothing has meaning except as we give it meaning. Truth doesn’t live in nature, and honesty is an artifact.

He was very rational and extremely gullible, always a threatening combination. Convince a rationalist of the right premise, and he’ll follow you to the most absurd conclusion with absolute sincerity.

A man who works in Morpheus’s bank and embezzles the remnants of unrecalled dreams.

Phlogiman: noun; a stochastic compositional maneuver. The classical version is scrupulously performed (as one would enact the rituals in consulting an oracle) and slavishly followed; the romantic variety is recklessly executed and blithely trifled with.

December 6, 2009

Two Litlets: The Risk You Run, The Castle of Fear

Filed under: Litlets,Prose,Writing — crcb @ 10:30 pm
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The Risk You Run

The clown was on fire. Not sure if it was a joke, and afraid of becoming the butt, we let him burn.

The Castle of Fear

The Castle of Fear is heavily fortified (what did you expect?) every floor and stair carpeted where soldiers tread softly to avoid startling when they move at all but with everyone typically hiding the castle seems deserted until danger threatens (say a cheek muscle twitches, nostrils flare on a neighbor monarch’s face) then all is fleet and ready and watch, sentries sprint back and forth along the rampart lest they miss scanning a bush or hollow where hostiles might hide and the king trembles in his bedroom while his wives and daughters and sons guard the passages then he looks at his arms and armor dustdull and rusted because to clean them is to contemplate danger oh someday he will lift the sword and sally forth alone and naked but tonight it’s too late the risk is past and everyone and he returns to bed and brittle sleep.

October 24, 2009

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Filed under: Litlets,Prose — crcb @ 9:18 am
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The ship arrived from a city called Sin, and it was going back. I’d never experienced surge or spray or new scenery, so I signed up.

They put me in charge of flogging the rowers. Difficult at first, but I soon smothered my squeamishness and developed my arm muscles. After a while, I started taking pride in my technique.

October 20, 2009

“Living on Lunesta” Journal, 10-19-2009: Milk

Filed under: General,Litlets,Oneirica,Prose — crcb @ 7:22 pm
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(Some nights when I need to take Lunesta, I swallow the pill, pluck a random word from a handy book, grab my pen, and start writing as the drug takes effect.)

Milk does not make an impression. You probably don’t remember the best glass of milk you ever had, though you may remember the worst, especially if it got stuck between your teeth. People might brag about Mom’s cooking, but nobody says “My mother gave the best milk!” Nobody you’d want to know, anyway.

Humanity has been defined as “the animal that makes boxes.” Equally characteristic is our relationship with milk. All mammals drink milk when young. I don’t know of any species besides humans (and those domesticated by us, like cats) that drink it as adults, or that regularly drink the milk of other species. We turn milk into various solid and semi-solid forms, with or without flavoring: butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream. We consume it cold or hot. We use it in coffee and in cocktails. Human: the animal that refuses to be weaned.

But there’s something innocent in this, something Edenic, even if the factory farms that result are evil. In the Bible, Canaan is described as a land flowing with milk and honey. My father, who was a preacher, concluded that these were the healthiest foods you could eat. My doctor, who is a doctor, disagrees.

Milk and honey are the foods of nature’s abundance. No creature is killed to gather them, and they are renewed. Milk is the fruit beneath the fur.

I’ve gone from whole milk to 2%, and I’m learning to tolerate skim. I get egg-beaters at IHOP, too, which are indistinguishable from synthetic eggs. On weekends or special occasions I treat myself to half-and-half in my coffee or some pizza.

It might be interesting to wean myself by way of experiment, to give up dairy altogether including substitutes. If I do I should keep a dairy diary. (Bet nobody’s come up with that one before!)

My thoughts are getting confused with dreams now. I wonder if this is a way to do differently, in class or watching numbers. any way as I tried to [two illegible words] the politics wasn’t really greed it was’t [illegible] a [illegible]

[drawing of a half-shadowed face]
The silent partner is angry & has much to say
time to listen to
the men? who stole the fairy nector
royal jelly to those with names

[drawing of a humanoid head, furry, with pointy ears]
he was not as smooth nor as stylish as he thought, but he gave freely of his mate’s milk

Did we say to quit looking or was that you? the last ollie-ollie-sfree. Put a quarter in milk wont get bigger yo [illegible] a operators ver[illegible] t[illegible]one.

August 23, 2009

After SETI

Filed under: Litlets,Poetry,Prose,Writing — crcb @ 8:32 pm
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After SETI

We communicated with the extra-terrestrials in writing at first. When we failed to understand them, they wrote bigger.

A million years ago, they were pets to another species. Hence their habit of curling up at our ambassadors’ feet in the middle of negotiations.

The winds have died out altogether on their world, and they pollinate wildflowers by hand. It’s their favorite form of sex. Such unnatural acts disgust us, we explained. Now that the bees and butterflies are gone, we’ve bred thumb-sized dogs that live on nectar.

Many churches disbanded when we discovered the aliens were Christians. Jesus had betrayed us with another planet!

July 10, 2009

Writing Exercise: 7 sketches

Filed under: Fiction,Litlets,Prose,Writing — crcb @ 9:49 pm
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Seven brief fictions, if they have enough narrative to be called that.

Stray Dog
I hadn’t trimmed my beard or hair for six months. A woman walked up to me on the street and barked in my face — r-r-rarf! arf! — then rejoined her laughing friends.

I had kissed her once in a rose garden.

His father, who had buried both parents and a sister without a tear, cried for hours when his favorite cartoonist died.

Lap Dance
The stripper smells of cotton candy and sweat. She whispers something in your ear. You catch the word “death.”

He went barefoot only in bed and the shower; she danced naked on the balcony. Their friends knew the marriage was doomed, and hung back from the impending carnage.

Finding themselves isolated, they clung to one another. He forced himself to wear sandals without socks. She learned to love the drag of fabric during sex.

Bent Twigs
Despite teaching geology, he still expects limestone to taste like limes.

She had learned to sleep through the gunshots, choppers and sirens of her new neighborhood, but would often lie awake until morning waiting for the next yip from the neighbor’s spaniel.

Losing It
Once, she could name the seven races of ETs, the ten pre-human civilizations, and the nineteen ranks of demons. Her faith wandered off when she forgot to feed it. Now that she was alone again, it came nosing at the door.

October 31, 2008

Training for Halloween

Filed under: Litlets,Prose,Writing — crcb @ 5:54 am
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A sense of isolation, preferably cultivated from preschool. (Threadbare, ill-fitting clothes help. So does that awareness of being different in kind that only a narrow religion can provide. If all your schoolmates are going to burn in hell, and you alone aren’t, how can you be on the same footing? How can you let yourself like them, knowing their fate?) Paranoia, that feeling of always being watched, always being judged, is a must. (Threadbare, ill-fitting clothes help. So does a narrow religion, one that teaches — what are those words? — “There’s an all-seing eye that watches you, everything you say, everything you do.” OK, I lied when I said, “what are those words?” I’ve never been able to forget them. Forgive me, Lord.) And now you don’t believe. Now, judged by your childhood self, your prim adolescence, your father’s ghost, you are a monster.

(Angsty, ain’t it? I haven’t had my coffee yet.)

November 9, 2007

Writers I like more than I should

Mood: charmed, I’m sure

Recently, I wrote about writers I don’t like. Criticism is cheap fun, but risks nothing. This time, I thought I’d put my taste on the line by listing writers I consider underrated, or whom I like more than they deserve.

  • John Dos Passos. He’s out of style now, but his U.S.A. trilogy is the Great American Novel. The later Dos Passos, like the later Wordsworth (and for many of the same reasons), is best left to oblivion. The younger Dos Passos lives on in Eternity.
  • H. P. Lovecraft. He gave novice writers wonderful advice. He followed none of it. You don’t read him for his characters (colorless and passive), or his plots (he only had one), or his eldritch, dank, squamous, adjective-laden style. You read him for his cosmic imagination. He was a bad writer, but a great one. (Borges agreed with me on this.)
  • William Morris. A revolutionary whose motto was “forward to the 13th century!” The archaic prose of his fantasy novels moves, if it can be said to move, with glacial slowness. There’s little I like better than getting lost in one of his pre-raphaelite worlds. I can also recommend his translations of Scandinavian literature, and such of his poetry as is not “improving.”
  • Kenneth Patchen. He wrote too much, too quickly, and his experiments often seem purposeless. But he was his own storm, and I stick around for the occasional blinding crash of lightning. His poem “In order to” is marvelous.
  • Edgar Allen Poe. No one denies his primacy as a short story writer, but I’d like to see his poetic reputation revived. His most famous pieces are not always his best. I used to have “Dream-Land” memorized, and it’s a fairly long poem. I liked it that much.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was preachy, self-righteous and condescending. His personal life was a tangle of troubled relationships. As a thinker, he was vague and self-contradictory. His poetry is diffuse. Yet, there’s something about him that appeals to me. Maybe I see more of myself in him than I’d like to admit–and if I could become as good a poet, I’d be happy to be in the second tier of literature. Also, his poetic reputation has suffered because modern poetry has cast Abstraction into the outer darkness. But with political poetry so much in vogue, isn’t Shelley due for a comeback?
  • A.E. van Vogt. Nominally, van Vogt wrote science fiction, but his understanding of science was neither deep nor broad. He wrote insanely dream-like stories — cheap diner Kafka with a side of Breton (and Breton’s lack of humor).

November 1, 2007

Writers I should like but don’t

Mood: esthetically fleeting

Writers I should like, or have been told I should like, but don’t. Some I think are overrated. Others are quite good, even magnificent, but I’d rather have my tonsils pulled out slowly with pliers than read them.

  • e. e. cummings. strip awa yhis (man)nerIsms and
    he’s no grot-
    esque and beautyful orc-
    hid, but a banal lielac. his images of(ten
    do not co(her)e.
    (I’m being unfair to him, and he’s probably a very good lyric poet, but too precious for me.)
  • Joan Didion. She wears her nakedness on her sleeve.
  • Robert Frost. I know he’s one of the great poets of the 20th century. Once I read a Frost poem, it’s in my brain forever. But his Yankee-farmer-philosopher persona draws a nutmeg-grater across my nerves. I have no problem with literary personae. In fact, I’d argue that every narrator is a work of fiction. I just don’t like his.
  • Horace. I wrote about him in an earlier post, and won’t go into detail here.
  • Henry James. I used to be an English major. I can give you a dozen reasons James is a world-class writer. But lordie, don’t ask me to read him. He bores me silly.
  • C. S. Lewis. I know he’s a hero to conservative Christians and fans of the fantasy genre, but a bitter hatred of life oozes from every paragraph.
  • Ezra Pound. He was a brilliant translator, a gifted mentor and editor, but his own works are either Edwardian knock-offs or madly-gummed treatises. Also, I have trouble getting past his anti-Semitism.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke. Everything is carefully wrought and fatally earnest. RMR had no sense of humor.
  • Voltaire. He had a sense of humor. (Rape is funny, isn’t it?)
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