Archive for ‘houses’

August 29, 2011


The hurricane left the usual damage—barren milk shelves, tree limbs ripped roughly from trunks, flooded basements. All this I had expected; I had been warned by radio and television to expect minor cataclysms. But this I had forgotten from the storms of my childhood:

The aftermath.

The sky is so tender. Alien oranges and yellows in the evening, innocent blue the next day. Strangers emerge from their homes to survey the damage together. Backyard borders disappear. Fences already bent by giant branches fall completely when we clear them in concert.

It is the hurricane that taught me my neighbors’ names.

October 4, 2010

The Ship, Part 2

Illustration by Tim Durning

Cynthia never wears shoes before the first frost.  On the walk from the cabin to the shore—surely one of the last barefoot this season—the dewed stones outside the door chill her awake. She gasps sharp air. Thick grass slides between her toes; the soil keeps its warmth better than the stones. She passes the first trees covering the cliff leading to the water, making sure to touch their trunks. The bark is smoother where her hands have often passed over it.

Moss lines the steep descent, coating Cynthia’s feet in slime. She holds on to chest-height limbs to keep her balance until the cliff eases to a gentle grade by the water. After she emerges from the trees, there is sand, stone, and sea—all gray beneath low morning clouds.

Stone to stone, Cynthia hops across the beach—no footprints—to the water, where the waves rush over her ankles. Her skirt clings to her shins. She focuses on the firmness pressing into her arches.

Where they go must have stone and trees, both old enough to be smooth.

With all the lumber he has accrued, and all the time he spends there, Harold has built a small shack by the jetty. November wind can be cruel, especially on the water. In the shed he keeps his tools, a small generator, a space heater, a chair, a blanket, and a map of the planet. The map is covered with pencil lines marking wishful destinations; the most exciting of them are circled again and again.

Harold’s hammer is nearly silent beside the din of crashing waves. The craft is nearly complete, but Cynthia has not seen it. Down the beach, when she wades into the water, she always looks away from the jetty. At first, Harold invited her every day, hoping she would join him at the gangplank. They could sit together in the shack and admire their vessel as it took shape.

I will see it when we sail, she said. Now he simply wakes before dawn and begins working; the sooner he finishes, the better—and winter’s on its way.

Only the final touches remain. He places another nail in the molding above the helm compass. A clip will go above the flat surface by the wheel to hold maps. Screws…he needs screws for the map clip. And the cleats for the lines. Wax—he needs wax for the lines.

Ten thousand little things, but still in all… He looks out over the twin hulls he has made by his hands alone. As the ship bobs up and down in the shallow sea, he feels trust in the deck. This can work; we can travel someplace fresh. Someplace brighter. Maybe someplace with fewer stones.

Harold looks up from the helm to see Cynthia turned toward him. His heart races, and he waves to her.

She does not wave back, only walks along the stones to the tree line. Harold shrugs, and turns to the shack to find some screws.

Tags: , ,
September 10, 2010

The Ship, Part 1

I realize I have yet to complete my essay, but this fiction popped into my head, so that’s what’s happening now. Enjoy.

Illustration by Tim Durning

Ribbons of August noon stripe Harold’s arms. They pull, heavy with their tool, and pause a moment between those light columns. Then in a blur, they arc the axe toward the trunk of an ancient pine tree. The wedged gash becomes a little deeper. Harold pants, readjusts his stance, and pulls back again.

“It’s still summer. We don’t need firewood.” His wife Cynthia has come quietly on the path from their cabin. Half of her glows in the full brunt of a sunbeam; the other half fades into penumbra.

Harold lands another blow, leaving the axe in the cut to wipe his brow. His frame is lean from a life lived by his hands. Cynthia, too—the both of them, pointedly separate from the comfortable world.

“This isn’t for firewood,” he says.

Cynthia simply waits.

“I’m starting a new project.”

Still she remains silent.

“I thought…I thought I’d build the boat.”

“The boat.”

He has talked of the boat before. She has little doubt his hands could craft it. And she has heard in detailed mattress fancies the vessel’s design. A catamaran—stable in shallow waters and in deep. She would be large enough for the open ocean, but not so great as to need more than two to sail.

They would close the cabin and launch from the stone jetty only yards from their door. Harold has a sextant he has labored long to understand, and an astrolabe that yet eludes him. By stars and compass alone, they would travel the oceans and find some other place untouched by comfortable things.

Oh, he has recited this endless times before drifting to sleep on her shoulder. Never before has he taken an axe to pine with intent to fashion a keel.

Cynthia crosses her arms. “Is this really what you want?”

Harold again takes up the axe. “It is.”

She walks up behind him. He pauses in his swings. In his ear, she whispers, “I love you, so we will do this. But I prefer the forest.”

He turns to her. “But I love you, and could not sail alone.”

“I know,” she says, taking hold of his arm. “But where we go is up to me.”

September 11, 2007

"Tornado Chasing”

My Pennsylvania hills keep the air too still for these fibers, twisting across the cornfield miles, down from the greater rope choking the sun. Father and son, these cords, raining over their empire of dust. The dust makes them great and gray.


We came to Tulsa to watch the sky rip but we never expected the pieces would fall. Hail tries to break the ground, hunting more dust for the empire. A pine tree drills into the road crossing ours. Freight trains are screaming—tomorrow we’ll be deaf.


We think only of the sky, the orgasmic horror of the sky. But the houses—they don’t run, and you expect them to. You want a house to run when the father turns overhead and the son twists toward it.  No legs sprout. The house disappears and we—


We catch it all on camera. Boards crack; gas lines rupture.


We cheer.

July 19, 2007

"The Last Time I Came Home”

            The television whines when I come inside, and I hear the buzz of the fluorescent bulb above the kitchen sink, but my ears don’t twitch with the presence of another person.

            She ought to be here. But then, I know to take nothing for granted with Mom. It’s been—what?—ten years of this madness? There’s a glass with a few drops of clear liquid in it left out on the counter. I sniff it by instinct.

            It’s water. This time.

            “Mom?” No answer. Students’ papers litter the kitchen table. Essays on Frankenstein and MacBeth. The papers haven’t been graded—those poor students. They’re dated from last month. Criminal that they have to suffer a woman destroying herself.

 The smell of cigarette smoke has gone deader than usual. A week-old ashtray rather than a chain-smoker in the other room. Because I don’t gag in my own house, I’m concerned. Because the atmosphere has calmed, I can approach her room, her domain of drink and smoke and self-imposed solitude. This is what you’ll never hear at the seminars for dealing with addicted family members. They speak in hopeful terms; they’ll let you imagine a future of magical change. They never explain the failure, the cycle repeating endlessly as she drowns over the years in regret and lost opportunities. Nothing prepares you. You think you can handle it as it comes, but sometimes…

I am not ready for the blood.

The couch is caked in it—who knows for how long? A thick trail leads to the bathroom. I find her bloody, broken—hardly a person at all. I kneel closer, choking back vomit to see her struggle for breath. She hasn’t eaten for days, and a small, bantam woman as it is.

I wonder if today I’ll see my mother die.

I dial 911 slowly, like a drumbeat.

Things begin

            to fall apart

like a string-doll losing tension,

                        falling to its base.

I connect; I disconnect.

And then, as I hear myself give name and address,

I wonder,

After so many years and,

So many she’s hurt,

So many chances she’s squandered,

If I woke up to an atmosphere

even calmer than today’s,

and I saw a glass on the counter

without needing to smell it,

Would it be,


So bad?

%d bloggers like this: