There Was A Man Who

Once upon a time there was an old man sitting in a ballet school hallway, palm outstretched with sweets, preying on little ballerinas like me. Once and once more, again, and. There was a neighbor leaning casually naked upon his window on my way to school, up on there, and a stripper lingering in a swimming pool, calling my sixth-grade body sexy, I should come close, closer, so he could show me. Come here. Once there was an uncle pretending to kiss me, bending me backward like that photo of a soldier except his hand covered my mouth, a joke, just joking ...

How to Repair

My wife orders takeout with her iPhone, but it rejects her card. She snaps at me as I try to help. I collapse into silence, a protective shield. When we’re wounded, our tendency is to get small. Snippy. Mean spirited. In these moments I wonder how the world’s conflicts will ever be resolved when we two who have committed to loving one another would rather find fault than mend relatively minor transgressions. She asks for a hug, so I hold her. I make two cups of tea. Drape a blanket over shoulders. Small gestures, perhaps. But my heart feels giant.

Accepting Editorial Suggestions as a Path to Success

Not long ago, a poet who participated in my writing workshops asked for my advice about responding to editorial suggestions. A literary journal had accepted her first poem to be published in a biannual issue, but she questioned whether the editor understood the intention behind some of her craft decisions. Was there room for dialogue, including disagreement? Or did they expect her to defer to their expertise? I had no easy answer.

Stories of Quarantine and Upheaval: A Reading List on the Power of Personal Narrative

Here are six stories from diverse voices and literary publications that point to the profound power of personal narrative: a global record from multiple nuanced perspectives. [T]hese authors tackle social issues from structural racism and the stigma of disability to repressive political regimes. Each one chronicles the heartache of disconnection and demonstrates the importance of collective remembrance.

Breathe & Push: A Writer’s Work Begins Again and Again

Morning pages. Morning stillness. Starting anew on a Monday. Stars are still visible while birds sing up the day as you sit in your pajamas to write. If all you ever penned were these pages, would they be enough? Doubtful. Your hunger is a whisper, gnawing from within. No need to feed the beast an entire feast at once. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Start with a few words, a few pages. No pressure to produce.

Church Street Beat

One day I slipped into white bobby socks, shorts, and a beaded sweater buttoned at the top, stepped from that San Francisco Edwardian — still affordable before the dot-com boom — and clickety-clacked down Market Street. Heel-tapped around the queer street scene and skipped past Café San Marcos, site of an almost-kiss with a pink-lipsticked girl. Scuffed up to the Life Garden and stood, briefly, next to a man I knew, not knowing as I brushed past the NAMES Project that in a few months’ time “Richard,” too, would be stitched across a quilt.

Mother Says

I’ll make you a little something to eat, just finish what’s on your plate and then brush your teeth, no, don’t lick your fingers, that’s obscene, use your napkin, please, would you stop picking your nose, and if you keep biting that lip it might peel right off, goddammit, get your feet off that chair, unless you want to pay for it, now why don’t you go get dressed, just holler when you’re ready, well, there’s no need to yell, I’m right here, why must you always torture me with that horrid sound...

Destination Unknown

Two decades ago I met a futurist. Maggie wore a peasant blouse over her ruffled skirt, but she didn’t pull out a tarot deck as I’d imagined. Instead, she spread out a map. She drew an index finger up the coastline of Western Australia and marked our location, just east of Geraldton. "Everyone claims the Outback as the epitome of this country, but most people cloister in cities along the coast,” she said, pointing to Perth.

Autumn Inferno

In the middle of the night, sirens startle me awake. My ears prick to the wind. Oak branches whip the sky like Medusa’s head of snakes—a raspy hiss. Plastic pool chairs scuttle across asphalt. Beside me in bed, my wife’s breath halts, sensing, before the cadence shifts back into slumber. I write in red ink while she sleeps. It’s fire season in California. October, my birthday month. Fall was always my favorite. But that was before.

Case Management

Every Monday morning we gather on the sagging sofas, some of us crosslegged, holding cushions to our chests, and report on the week’s cases. There is the woman I accompanied to the courtroom to testify after she was held hostage by a fiancé in a cabin for three days. It took effort to ignore the swastika tattoos on her forearms. . .

The Nature of Beginnings

During the summer of 1999, despite an impending world economic crisis and the speculative doom of Y2K, I quit my job to hit the open road. Whatever contents of my Humboldt County cottage weren’t sold at a yard sale were transferred to storage. I even gave away the cat. I packed the hatchback of my blue ‘82 Datsun B210 with what I believed to be a few road trip essentials . . .
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