Water Through the Glasses

When I was eleven, my mother took me to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Standing in front of Freedom from Want, I listened

as the docent explained how Rockwell created the illusion of water

in the glasses. All that white and glass and water- the painting really

is a remarkable achievement; even I, a child, could see

that. But what most interested me about the work

was the guy in the lower right corner who looks like

*

the creepy uncle. Even now he unnerves me. Staring directly at us, wanting to know

if we’re in on the joke, asking, “You know that ain’t no water, right?

That’s paint. Here have a sip.” But he’s saying it with his eyes

because Grandma taught him better than to use the word ain’t

and she sure as hell doesn’t know he drinks anything stronger than

tea. He must need a drink, sitting at that pure, pristine table, amongst all those nice,

clean, well-behaved people. What are they talking about?

Sports? Stocks? School? Grandma’s dinner? That turkey,

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it does look delicious, but I bet it’s dry. Good thing those nice folks have something

to drink. My family is a lot like theirs, although we also imbibe in vodka and wine,

and when we  give thanks it is in the haze of the candlelit dusk where we sit at a table laid

with Waterford and Lenox, inebriated by our own lies, so many that, we can no longer discern the glasses from the water.

Roadkill

The chipmunk is flat.

It would peel off the pavement with little resistance

if not for the blood and entrails that hold it to the surface

like of a piece of glue soaked construction paper

stuck to a child’s school desk.

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If one removes it with one’s hands, parts will come up

with ease. Some will need to be scraped-bits of ear, kidney,

fur to later be found in nail beds. The rest will remain

on the street until someone comes and shovels the remnants

of the small, once delicate body and throws it

away with the rest of the carnage

collected during the week.

*

What fate! Crushed by a behemoth-

a dramatic end for an inconsequential creature.

Now, only a flat, damp, skin sheet.

No trace of beauty.

No trace of itself other than the color

and the tell-tale black and white stripes.

*

Leave it be.

Perhaps the crows will find the corpse.

They will pick at its flesh

and fill their bellies, offering it purpose,

and so, dignity.

Kelly Link’s The Specialist’s Hat

On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Kelly Link’s, The Specialist’s Hat, a work that earned Link the World Fantasy Award in 1999. It is a literary mash-up of horror, fantasy and fairy-tale. Disturbing, strange and brilliant, The Specialist’s Hat is almost as fun to discuss as it is to read-and it calls to be read over and over and…

Checked Out

I checked out

six years ago. Long before my mother

had checked out too.

For me (I cannot speak for her) it was like standing in line at the register,

the one with a slow cashier.

There was a moment

-a moment , the importance of which I did not understand.

What’s a moment

after all? I made the choice and chose

the wrong line.

The slow line.

The line where the person behind me spurned

the notion of personal space

and had a cold

and was coughing

and didn’t know,

nor care

to cover her mouth

nor turn her head.

And she wanted me to move

ahead, out of her way.

So she pressed and pressed against the barrier I thought I built

around myself but dropped the day I was born

to my mother who checked out  long before anyone, other than me,

ever knew.

So I stood in her-

not my mother’s but the woman’s standing behind me

-spit.

Small liquid droplets

shot forth from her red,

raw throat.

Those droplets

pushing me forward into a direction

I thought I had no choice but to go.

What I should have done was leave:

the cart in the aisle,

the million silly things I thought I needed to do.

I should have left it all

and walked away.

But I did as I should.

I did as mother would

and checked out

six years ago.

 

 

 

 

Shirley Jackson’s The Summer People

On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk, I discuss one of Shirley Jackson’s lesser-known works, The Summer People. This story is classic Jackson, complete with angry villagers, outsiders and a house that just may be a couple’s undoing.

Of course, it’s impossible discuss Shirley Jackson’s work without talking about the author herself. Her relationship with her mother, her troubled marriage, her insecurities and addictions, her internal conflict over her dual roles as both homemaker and dark fiction writer-she channeled these struggles into the characters and themes that drive her narratives.

Jackson wrote in a style that, on the surface, is rather simple; her prose is clear and concise, yet at times disarmingly poetic. Until recently she was underrated as a writer in part because much of her work was classified as horror, a less esteemed genre than literary fiction. Jackson’s brilliance, however, is most evident in her ability to shed light on the darkness and frailty that lie within us all. Her protagonists are as disturbed as her angry villagers. Her settings are far less haunted than the people who inhabit them. Her characters behave in alarming and, at times, wicked ways, and yet you can’t help but hope they will be okay in the end…and usually they are not. In fact, in Jackson’s world, nothing is okay. It is a hostile place that is inhabited by lonely people who stand on the precipice of madness or death. She holds a mirror to her readers, reflecting our fears about ourselves and the communities in which we live. Despite this, her work is immensely entertaining to read. Jackson has fun placing her characters in peril, and you can be sure it gave her great pleasure to shake up her readers and make us uncomfortable. I would argue that if you don’t feel unsettled after reading Jackson, you haven’t enjoyed the full experience.

Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock

 

On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock. The story begins on Valentine’s Day, 1900. Students of Appleyard College for Young Ladies are going on an outing to Hanging Rock, an ancient volcanic rock formation and popular picnic site. During the trip, three of the girls and a teacher disappear. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a mystery, but is also a work rich in themes, addressing colonialism, repression and the spiritual and natural forces that cannot be controlled by man. This work is eerie and disturbing, and it’s backstory is as strange as the novel itself.

In this video, I explore how Lindsay’s interest in Spiritualism-she is said to have been a mystic herself-informed her writing of Picnic at Hanging Rock and how Lindsay’s training as a painter is evident in her use throughout the text of light and shadow which not only function symbolically but also create the hazy, dreamlike sense of place, one of the most powerful aspects of the novel.  I also talk about the decision to omit the book’s final chapter and Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaptation of the novel.

I hope you enjoy this video. If you do, please like and subscribe to Strange & Scary Story Talk. Also, please leave comments. Let me know what you think about the novel, the film, the ambiguous endings of both….

Thank you for watching!

Clarice Lispector’s The Fifth Story

On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Clarice Lispector’s The Fifth Story. Although Lispector, one of Brazil’s most famous twentieth century literary figures, wrote mainly short fiction and novels, her work is deeply poetic, her manipulation of language and form a testament to her ingenuity and brilliance. Lispector’s work is dark and disconcerting. Most of her stories are about women engaged in mundane daily tasks; however, her writing is not about plot but the internal worlds of her characters – worlds that, when exposed by Lispector, reveal disturbing truths. The Fifth Story is no different. Ostensibly, it is about a woman killing cockroaches in her apartment, but it is so much more. Within the frame of seven paragraphs, Lispector retells the same story five times, ending  in two sentences and the understanding that the story could continue. As for Lispector herself, she is as fascinating as her writing. Her brilliance, her glamour, her enigmatic personality created a mystique which endures today.

Please like and subscribe if you enjoy the video!

One final note: Towards the end of the video I say that Gottfried Leibniz  was a mathematician and philosopher of the eighteen hundreds. I meant to say sixteen hundreds (sixteen and seventeen hundreds to be precise). It was out of my mouth before I realized and there was no going back! The perils of recording! Wondering what Leibniz has to do with Lispector’s story? You’ll have to read it to find out!

April 24, 2020-Distance

 

brown and orange bird on green tree branch

Photo by Lukas Hartmann on Pexels.com

There is a fine distance between myself and the robin.

There are seven yards.

There is the height of the branch.

There is the wall, and the window of my kitchen, the plate glass, the plaster, the brick.

There is my chair

And myself, perched upon it.

Me, still as the robin, enjoying this perfect, soft space

Where I can watch, unheard, unseen

Content with companionship from afar;

Content to observe, to know

Something other than myself, without myself being known;

Content to make this something part of me,

To live within my mind, my fantasies,

Allowing me to increase the distance

With a steady, slow retreat

Into a world away from this noise and hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

April 4, 2020-For my Husband on his Birthday

Just for today, let’s pretend all is well;

that once was, still is;

that a breeze blown from the right direction

can lift mountains

and carry shadows away into the night of another day.

 

Because, my love,

some things still are.

Some things still quiver under aging flesh.

Desire, though obscured by the burdens of time, still pulses.

Hope still begs to be seen

and light still shines

when your hand takes mine.