Thursday, June 2, 2011

Writing here feels like a howl into nothing

Only, that makes it sound cooler than it is. Like a coyote
only there's not even a moon. There's
only you, who may not be reading this because God
only knows if anyone is.

I suppose the question is, are you moon enough?
If you shine on me, will I illuminate and burst
into a sorrowful song? The kind that's so true
it can be understood across species?
If you exert your gravity, will you pull the water
into a drowning tide?

Because that's your job, reader, whether you're there or not.
I used to think that poets wrote of women when they said "moon,"
only I know better now. What we're hoping for is softer,
more apocalyptic, unreachable.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Going through old paperwork

I found the insurance guidelines: "Pregnancy will be treated
like any other disease."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Words for Shane Mosley, July 20, 1991-March 18, 2011

I first met Shane last semester when he enrolled in my freshman English class. Most students in that class know me as Dr. Griffiths, but not him. Because we share the same first name, Shane always called me simply “the other Shane.” In class, as students were meeting in groups, I’d hear him calling out “hey other Shane,” and I would turn to find him smiling away, pleased as could be that, to him, I would never be some stuffy “Dr. Griffiths.”

There was no disrespect. I’ve been thinking about him a lot these past few days, hearing his voice and seeing that bright smile—thinking about how even when he wasn’t smiling, you could see that contagious smile just underneath the surface, waiting for any excuse to break out and make everyone in the room smile with him.

Most people would have looked at the two of us and seen only our differences. Me: an Idaho white woman, too prone to be serious about abstract things like poetry and grammar. Him: a fine young man from Georgia who was more concerned with people than paper. But Shane didn’t stop at differences. What he saw was what we shared. With a smile and a name, he built a bridge that could span any cultural divide.

This is what I’ll remember most about him, because it wasn’t only me that felt that way. He was forever building bridges, befriending people of all ages, all races, and all beliefs. There was no difference so great that it couldn’t be overcome. He loved people, no matter what, and we loved him back.

I know that teachers are supposed to teach lessons to their students, but, when we are lucky—when we are very lucky—we are taught in return. Shane’s life was too brief, but in that time, he taught us all a great deal. He touched our lives, and we will miss him.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Records

It's the glossiest kind of lie:
Written on black vinyl and spun out
With needles, the warm sound
Of all the old singers insisting
You are not alone.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fun with Research

I started doing more research into novel #3 yesterday--which is putting the cart WAY ahead of the horse when I have about 100 pages left to write for novel #2, but when I need to put so much into the cart before the horse can be hitched, this is a good way to spend time. The facts are slightly different than I want them to be, but I'll change them as needed, which is the convenient thing about being a fiction writer. Facts serve story, not the reverse.

Cool facts about Moscow AKA Paradise Valley--or, for my purposes, simply "Paradise."

A visitor in 1880 described Moscow as "just a lane between two farms with a flax field on one side and a post office on the other." During the next five years the town grew to a population of 300 and a branch of the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. (Union Pacific) linked Moscow to the rest of the country. 
(Wikipedia, Moscow, Idaho, 1-19-11)

Moscow was made Latah County seat and in 1889 Moscow became the site for Idaho's land grant college, the University of Idaho. In exchange, Moscow had to agree to drop its support for the movement to join Washington in statehood. Latah County may be the only county ever formed by an act of Congress.

I *love* this history. There is so much humanity in it--so much negotiation and intrigue. I keep coming back to "you stop trying to join Washington and we'll give you a university." I want to know about time zones, now. Moscow and northern Idaho runs on a different clock than the South--we run on the clock of the Western states rather than that of the Mountain states. There's a rapids on the Salmon river which I've traveled many times named "time zone." When did it become the case, I wonder, that Moscow became an hour ahead of Boise? Curiouser and curiouser. I can't want to visit the Historical Society and Latah Co library next time I'm in Moscow to learn more.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Paradise was nothing like he expected. For one thing, it was brighter. Sunlight stretched the blue sky high and thin and lit every dark hill. Also, there was more pine, and where the pine was cleared, wheat and peas grew profusely. There were more cattle and more horses than version of heaven he had ever conjured.

“Hog Heaven” someone told him. That had been the name because the pigs loved the Camas bulbs that grew everywhere, but they soon found that the fertile soil was more generally Providential, and changed the name accordingly.

Of course, there was no rail line yet to Paradise. Perhaps that was fitting. Paradise was only to be reached by stagecoach and uneven roads. “Narrow is the path,” Peter thought as the coach jolted in yet another rut, but he knew, too, that this Paradise held no guarantees of happiness.

A sudden and savage gust of September wind hit the side of the coach like a punch to the gut, and outside the un-curtained windows, dirt devils ran along the road. A hawk screeched above, voicing his irritation as the uncertainty in the currents he road. No, this Paradise was beyond anything Peter would have imagined.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Notes on a Cowgirl

Somewhere between this

and this

and this

there was a cowgirl. Her name was Jane.

Her name was Calamity--which I like better. It serves my purposes.

We've been inventing cowboys and cowgirls since the first cowboys and cowgirls existed to re-invent. Mine will be attractive. Mine will be distant. The leather she wears will have metaphorical significance. Leather always does.

Enough with short sentences because what we need here is a level of complexity. Nuance. (The shortest sentence of all, but incomplete.) The stereotype will be all too easy to fall into, and I don't want another Sharon Stone or Drew Barrymore or Jane Fonda cowgirl. What I want is, in fact, more cowboy than cowgirl, because I want to shun all the gendered assumptions of weakness. What I need is more calamity than jane but more control than calamity.

The foil, of course, will be my railway novelist: a man who keeps cats. He is easier to nuance. My first attempt at his character:

Peter spent most of the trip from Chicago to Paradise missing his cat. She had been a standard black tabby with mustard yellow eyes and a torn right ear, the type of cat one might find anywhere on any street. Even in Chicago, his neighbors found it strange that he should have taken her in. She was a stray, flea-ridden kitten when he found her thirteen years earlier, inexplicably alone and quivering in the drainpipe of his boarding house. He knew he should leave her, as anyone would, to feed the local dogs. Instead, he picked her up on impulse and dropped her into his pocket, where, of all things, she began to purr. He hadn’t known then what he would do with her—Mrs. Vincent, the owner of the house and his housekeeper, would surely not like an animal in the house—but he cast thoughts of Mrs. Vincent momentarily aside, washed the surprisingly complacent kitten in a basin of warm water, and fed her warm milk. A week later, he was surprised to find himself so ridiculously attached to the little beast that he found a new room to rent (in a decidedly rougher part of town, at an increased rate) rather than meet Mrs. Vincent’s demand that he give her up.

Over the years, the two had spent many a quiet evening together. She would greet him when he came home from the press, and he would feed her cheap canned sardines that left his fingers slightly yellow and smelling of fish, in spite of his cat’s careful cleaning. The memory of her prickly tongue scouring the groves of his fingertips now brought the ache of her loss to him afresh. He knew now, just as he had known thirteen years ago, that it is absurd to love a cat. They are foreign creatures. One look in her eyes with their vertical pupils dilated in the lamp light reminded him that she was nothing like him. Yet that was what fascinated him most. Cats looked foreign and surprised one with their familiarity. Humans seemed familiar, and shocked one with their alien nature.

Perhaps my cowgirl has an element of cat, but only in ounces, not pounds. Much drafting still to go on the characters for this one... (Luckily, New Brighton is purring along.)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

This morning I made a rib cage by accident

I stuffed it with apples and sprinkled it with sugar and fed it to my children. This is not disturbing. The knife through the pastry, the cracking of sugar crust: this is what feeds, what creates. A rib cage for a rib cage. A breath for a breath.

The accident was remembering. While my head thought "breakfast," my hands thought "pulmonary" and brought me aware.

There are things the body knows. Sweetness, for example, which exists only where tongues can recognize it. And now, mindlessly folding and slashing pastry, my hands surprise me not at the moment of creation but after, when I pull open the oven and slide it, piping hot, to board.

As I looked, the steam lifting through vents kissed my cheek. It is no dark thing to build a ribcage for breakfast.