August is an adjective, as well as a noun.
The sun turns and slants south, a rising late summer light heavy with dust, a sultry white sky rimmed with smoke. Ferocious maws of flame chew through dry tinder mountains near Redding, California: fire gnawing forest, suburban lawns, homes and bones. Ash rises in mushroom clouds.
Birch leaves turn gold and drop, skittering and rattling across the road; the first leaves to green in the spring, the first to let go. The trees clatter. The blackberries are early this year. In the evenings, a doe leads her twin spotted fawns to the berm across the road to feed on the ripe berries.
In the full height and completion of summer, we arrive at the cross-quarter, here between the promise of the summer solstice and the inevitable falling away at the equinox. It’s in my bones, this season, the time of ripeness and venom. My mother broke a tooth chewing ice the night I was born.
When I walk out on the hill with the dog, hat brim low over my eyes against the morning sun, the ground is cracked and sparse with weeds. The grass withered and died. Wasps skim over the sereness. I watch my feet. Yellow jackets hover at the hose nozzle. They are early this year, angry.
I set up the trap on the top deck where they menace and hunt. It’s a simple jar filled with water and a drop of soap. The jar is intersected by a funnel fixed with bit of chicken for bait. The wasps are drawn in by the scent, but cannot find their way out again. They drown, their own nature betraying them, like most clever traps.
“…the only things you must have to become a writer are the stamina to continue and a wily, cagey heart in the face of extremity, failure, and success.”
Clocks don’t tick any more. Once upon a time, clocks were wound. The ticking of clock springs divided time. Darkness had cadence.
Bombs must not tick anymore. In James Bond movies, green and red wires attach to a wind-up clock. Tick-tick-tick: the immobile hour hand and the long minute hand lurching forward by anticipated seconds. It’s nearly midnight before 007 snips the red wire with his platinum nail clippers. These days, bombs detonate digitally, at a distance, with a cell phone. I suppose that’s progress.
It brings to mind that dark time of night, the very middle of the night, when the clock strikes three. It’s when we awake, or lie awake, soaked in apprehension verging on terror tossing and tangled in sweaty sheets. The prowling beast is at the door. In daylight we are distracted with shiny things; in the hour of the wolf, we startle awake to stare into night’s shadow.
Every journey begins in the dark. As you settle back into your chair while the house lights dim, but before the curtain rises, you begin. Lie awake in the night to listen for the alarm to catch your early flight out. Float in the dark waters of your mother’s womb, the light of the world inconceivable. We can hear our own heartbeat, there in the dark, alone with the dream and the terror.
The first lesson in a blackberry battle: You will bleed.
Do not scoff, believing you are nimble and strong, accept that it will be so. The only question in this contest is how much.
It’s been a kind and fruitful spring, enough sun, gentle rain, birds beginning to sing before sunrise (in what seems the middle of the night), a fortnight until solstice and the long day. If you are patient, and sit quietly, you can hear the green thrum in the garden.
Blackberries sent out their runner cane, from some secret mother root of all blackberries, and overtook my father’s yard. Tangled knots of brambles, tough wooden thorns that pierce new leather gloves, thick canes climbing the low limbs of the surrounding trees: this is the dragon. We are late. The new cane blooms into berries and the bees work the flower. A slow unwinding of the serpentine knot to salvage the roses.
Begin by circling the edges, testing.
When caught by the hair or the shirt sleeve, bitten by the dragon, resist the panic to tug away. This only tightens the grip of the beast. Lean in to the talons, against your instincts, and duck away. You were impatient.
You will bleed.
Stack the cane and hammer it with the flat of a rock rake. Roll it into a bale. Hammer again. Break the cane.
You will do this again, next year.
I signed my first writing contract a few days ago. A creative nonfiction piece, “Shiny Things I Found in the Gutter,” was accepted by The Tishman Review. It will appear in the summer issue at the end of July. This was another milestone on my stumbling journey trying to find the words. Writing and fishing have much in common. Sometimes one is at the right shady pool below a riffle when the trout rise. Or, more often, not.
I was fortunate to work with TTR’s new creative nonfiction editor, Hannah Howard, whose memoir “Feast” was published in March, 2018. Hannah lives and works in New York City, so her emails arrived before I was out of bed. (Read an interview with Hannah here.) TTR publishes a quarterly issue of art, fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction with each issue available in a variety of formats. Go give the latest issue a read.
Read the rest at The Tishman Review.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons
The fall issue of Watershed Review dropped today and it’s packed with fresh fiction, poetry, art, and creative nonfiction. I’m delighted to have a short lyric prose piece titled “Sorting Skins” included in the nonfiction section of this issue. And it IS short. Sarah Pape, managing editor of the review, was a pleasure to work with, from acceptance through proof stage.
As of today, I’m 233 pages into my novel, and approximately 3/4 finished. I’m slogging through word-by-word to finish the draft by the first of the year. One. Word. At a Time. After playing with short pieces, like the Watershed work, this project is tapping into a sustained-other-world to hold and spin out the narrative, no varnish. One of these days, I’ll post an excerpt. In the meantime, here’s a short synopsis:
Nocturne: Three Dog Night
When a sheep rancher and her dog are brutally massacred, suspicion falls on the neighbor’s rescue dogs. To protect her dogs from being blamed and destroyed, seventeen year-old Sammi flees with them across the state toward the high mountains. As Sammi desperately tries to elude the state police and forensic biologist pursuing her, she crosses paths with the otherworldly beast spreading carnage, and his master. Sammi must fight for her own life, as well as the lives of her dogs, against dark immortal forces.
Watershed Review accepted a short piece I wrote for their fall issue and I’m delighted. It’s under 200 words, a lyric essay that bends toward being a poem, but not quite? What do we call these short hybrid works?
Most of my creative nonfiction pieces average 2500 words, or a fraction of this one. This one fit on a single page. In many ways, the very short work is harder to capture and contain than the rambling prose built into sentences that then block into paragraphs. In longer works, there’s an expansive luxury of holding forth and spinning exposition into broad tapestries. The short works are cunning little samplers with unfinished raw edges. The play is the thing, yes?