Here where the rain falls

Twelve messy thoughts create one lovely idea.

The rain falls here down near where the South Fork and Catawba meet.

            The branches of the tea olive outside my window hang heavy with water, lime green offshoots reach up, seeking sunlight, but instead it’s a cloud-filled sky. Tiny yellow clusters of bloom emit the sweet scent, but my window stays closed and I fear more rain.

            I think of my great aunt Catherine, she gone nearly 15 years now, and how she’d tug my ear and say, “Michael B. You’re gonna do great things.”

            But this morning, my mind remains muddied of the dream that lingers from the night before – me going from room to room, opening doors, only to find four blank walls and empty spaces. The only sound being that of the click of the latch and slam of the door. A constant opening and closing. Click, slam. Click, slam. 

            I sip the cold water from the glass and wait for the coolness to make its way down my throat and spread across my chest. I hope it brings energy. A spark to beat back my malaise. The bed, the warm covers, they beckon.

            Gloom, gloom, gloom.

            The Rolling Stones sing of “Wild Horses” and how “faith has been broken, tears must be cried, let’s do some living, after we die.”

            I’ve done some living and never really thought of others. Things I should have said, but didn’t. Thought my silence an easy salve, not realizing the pain left behind.

            It is still Tuesday morn here and the rain still falls.

            Each day another red X on the calendar and another day closer to when breath will come no more.

            Until then, these words will be written and songs will be sung. Her smile and laugh and love as constant as the reappearing sun.

NOTE: The above work came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins offered a writing prompt taken from a recent workshop led by poet Ada Limon.

The Messy Now

Prompt created by Ada Limón

1.         Describe where you are.

2.         Add something you see.

3.         Mention a friend and something that friend says.

4.         Include a dream.

5.         Add something from the natural world.

6.         Say something you need.

7.         Repeat a word or a line three times.

8.         Add a line of a song you love.

9.         Apologize for something.

10.       Give the date or the day.

11.       Tell us something you’re scared of.

12.       Tell us something you love.

Where do we go from here, Major Tom?

A tiny love story from a night when the rain fell in Charlotte, NC, on a late June night in 2014.

At the Fillmore, musicians emerge from thick curtains and fingers pluck at strings and eyes turn upward and ears fill with rhythms and rhymes. Shafts of red and blue sneak from hidden banks, falling upon sweaty faces whispering of desires and regrets. I’d come for Ziggy Stardust and instead found her. She danced in a pool of emerald. A pert nose, dark eyes emerging from a mass of chocolate curls. We discovered “Modern Love” and she laughed and my heart leaped. I emerged, her number in my pocket and I sang of “Starman” and life was good again. 

David Bowie’s “StarMan”

NOTE: The above work came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Paul Reali challenged us to write our very own tiny love story of less than 100 words. “They try to capture in a very small space something that is very important,” he said.

I dreamed of you and your biscuits

Seeing Carl was not unusual. Hearing from Carl was quite unusual.

“I dreamed of you in spectacular color.”

            Carl clutched his backpack to his chest with both hands. He took a step forward. Maybe he was aware of the others. Maybe not.

            “I dreamed of you in this very moment.”

            She raised her eyebrow. Seeing Carl was not unusual. Hearing from Carl was quite unusual.

            “You were making me a biscuit. One of those hot buttered rounds where the strawberry jelly is so thick it leaks and stains the sides. Heavens.”

            Jasmine put a slice of cheese and a wedge of ham between the folds of biscuit and wrapped it in yellow wax paper. She stepped to her left, in front of the pail of potatoes, and Carl followed.

            “You want hash browns,” she asked.

            Carl leaned forward to whisper. “Can you not see?”

            Jasmine sighed. “I don’t have time, Carl. You want hash browns or not?”

            Carl turned and looked at those who stood waiting. The couples with their eyes glued to their cell phones, their hands in a constant scroll. The girl who pulled the string of pink bubblegum from her mouth, wrapped it around her finger in a loop of three and stared at him.

            “You are in my dreams. And, yet, you are here before me, now in this presence, serving me a feast upon which I shall savor and accept with the greatest of gratitude.”

            Jasmine walked to the register and her fingers punched the numbers. Her feet hurt. She’d been making biscuits since 5 a.m. and her baby needed more formula.

            “Three twenty five, Carl.”

            He stood before as he does nearly every morning. He wears the same long coat with the holes in the sleeve. His pants are still dirty and his shoes covered in dirt. His hair is thin on top, greasy and unwashed. He smiles and she sees his teeth stained yellow, one missing, completing the homeless ensemble.

            “I see you every night,” Carl says, reaching his hand inside his pocket, where he digs and digs and digs.

            “Hey buddy,” says the man with the cell phone. “Can you pick it up?”

            Jasmine smells him and she wonders if he joins the others under the overpass by the interstate. She sees them when she drives to pick up her daughter from her mother. Carl is here every morning and he’ll shyly slide a quarter across the counter and ask for a cup of coffee. Never before has he asked for a biscuit.

            He pulls his hand from his trousers and his palm is empty. He raises his eyes and she notices they are brown, as brown as her baby girl’s.

            Jasmine pushes the biscuit across the counter to his waiting hands. And he smiles.

            “You do see. My dream angel.”  


NOTE: The above work of fiction came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins challenged us to think of synchronicity. As writers, we are always excavating something or using our writing to explore something inside us.

The Call of the Crow

What do you see when presented with Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows”? I thought of a man’s impending death.

Photo by narubono on Unsplash

I see the crow and quickly look away.

I hear the incessant “caw, caw, caw” and I want to place my hands over my ears and hum the words to a happy song. But nothing comes to my lips.

The crow is black. The crow is foreboding.

Is the crow death?

In the river bottoms, the crows come in packs, swooping low over the harvested fields, the broken stalks of corn like the limbs of war dead, half-in, half-out of the grey, boot-sucking muck.

A murder of crows is what they call that pack of black that fills the fading light of late afternoon. 

“Fitting,” I mutter to myself, raising the collar of my worn pea coat to my neck, a shield against the harsh December wind that comes from the north.

I, too, am in my final season and I believe the crow knows.

I skirt the field and climb the hill and they fill the branches of the barren oak that rises up and over the farmhouse. The roof has started to sag from the weight of rain and all these years. I know that I’ll not repair it. 

Inside, where my wife once stood at the stove, stirring the pot of soup, and the brown-headed girl, she being 10 then, came to me with open arms and words of “daddy, daddy, daddy,” it is now quiet. On the wooden table, there is an opened bag of bread, a slice of white lies to the side left to grow stale. Mold just a few days away.

My breath catches and I feel a tightening in my chest. I retreat back to the cold wind that whips around the porch and I stumble down the three wooden steps. I stuff my hands in my pockets and hunch my shoulders.  

I don’t look up. There’s no need. I know the crow is near. 


NOTE: The above work of fiction came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins challenged us to respond to the Van Gogh painting “Wheatfield With Crows” and write what moved us. An interesting note is that the painting is believed to be the last work of the celebrated painter.

Getting creative with Pen to Paper: Jelly and whiskey in the Mississippi Delta

Stuck in your creative work? Why not try Charlotte Lit’s Pen to Paper Live!
I ended up with “Jelly and Whiskey in the Mississippi Delta.”

Tuesday morning, Dec. 8, I took part in a Pen to Paper Live! creative program offered by the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, commonly known as Charlotte Lit.

The free weekly sessions offer a mini-lesson and and present a writing prompt. Though I have been a member of Charlotte Lit and its Author’s Lab for the past year, this was the first opportunity I had to participate in one of the writing-in-community sessions, which are usually held in person but were moved online with the pandemic and social distancing restrictions. This one was attended by 14 other writers.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hour-long meet-up and would highly recommend it for those creative sorts who are currently uninspired or stuck. Preregistration is required. For this non-coffee-drinking guy who can sleepwalk through the hours before noon, Pen to Paper Live! gave me a spark and led to me writing this blog and continuing work on my novel.

This week’s session was on Cento. Kathie Collins, executive director and one of the founders of Charlotte Lit, led Tuesday’s session and came up with the writing prompt from a recent article in the New York Times. You can read the article to learn more, but basically Cento is a sort of “collage poem” crafted from lines, words, phrases from other sources and then patching together those lines to create a poem.

It’s a way of allowing you to express some subconscious needs through someone else’s work, Collins said. “Consider it another tool for your toolbox,” she said.

I am far from a poet, as the following selection will absolutely prove, but I did find it a fun, creative exercise. For my assignment, I chose to pull from the writings of author Hank Burdine and his story collection “Dust in the Road: Recollections of a Delta Boy.” The story “The ‘Britchesless’ Bachelor” is one of my favorites, especially hearing Hank read it in person with his Delta drawl and his deep baritone acquired via healthy amounts of good whiskey.

Below is my first attempt at Cento. Let’s call it:

Jelly and Whiskey in the Delta

White-coated valets and 15 blue-haired little ladies

Gather for sundry debutante parties in Beulah in the Delta

Me, a member of the Bachelor’s Club, a pool for the Delta Debs

Made haste to Dossett Plantation in my black two-door Pontiac Grand Prix 

I arrived in a hand-me-down tuxedo with cummerbund

Yet, about to pass out because my britches were too tight

My date, Blanche Shackleford, fled to the slough unencumbered

As the Budweiser had filled her holding tank, quite a site.

Meanwhile, my unhitched pants fell to my knees

And I’d forgotten to put my car in park

Blanche emerged from the slough and the trees, 

And so, Blanche gave chase, shaking and boogying

So fierce, her left bosom shimmied out of her dress

And there it remained, quivering like jelly.

“Blanche, my Gawd” the little ladies shouted

Upon which, she tucked it right back into the top of her gown

And I, on a quest to drink good whiskey

found Mr. Dixon Dossett where we told tall tales in his gunroom until dawn.

Compiled from “The Britchesless Batchelor.” A story from “Dust in the Road: Recollections of a Delta Boy” by Mississippi author Hank Burdine.