Category Archives: stories

gone to the printers

I think this might be like arriving at base camp at the foot of Everest

I know its an awful lot like being 37 weeks pregnant.

maybe you dreamed of it

surely you worked for it

but as the time nears

you realize, increasingly

that you have absolutely no idea

what you’ve gotten yourself into

 

and the dark clouds form and disperse

as you reckon the size of the leap

you have made

peering at the place you think you’re going to land

readying the things you think you’ll need

asking for mentors, safety nets

realizing that when you need financial security more than ever you are sloughing it off

to pit yourself against the challenge

of doing this thing

and doing it well

aprons and layers falling

revealing the dream vulnerable to the raw air:

 

I,

Writer

terrified, quaking, tired and certain

there is no perfect draft, there is no truly ready time

the story is past due

 

and gone to the printers.

finally finished, and only just begun.

Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.  November 2014

 

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bigger than a blog post, smaller than a breadbox

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately,

because this:

Fox_sketch-1

 

is coming out in the fall and contrary to what I’d somehow fooled myself into thinking,

my work is only just begun.

More to come lovelies, I promise. all sorts of things are moving and shaking.. a website, a video, events, travel. opportunities for folks to support getting the stories in my book out into the world. For now… disjointed waitress poetry will make an attempt to return, because learning how to market a book gives me a headache, and I need to write creatively again.

 

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#poemsomedays … Storm and Vacuum

11 January

the branches are thrashing and swooping
on the trees
like tango dancers
battered by the same notes

the boys took the bus downtown in the storm
because they wanted to

and I spend the first 45 minutes of my precious
hours alone
fixing the vacuum.
so as to avoid
dragging it out into the rain and wind
to go to the friendly neighborhood vacuum and sewing shop
where a nice old grey haired nice lady will push her glasses
up on her head and narrow her eyes and tell me
there are 3 pens, a thomas the tank engine
and 2 cubic feet of dog hair
jammed in there and am
I really surprised it has stopped working

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emptied

photo(7)
today a crew of three vietnamese men arrived
they backed their trucks up along either side
of the foreclosed house next door
and over a period of hours
systematically removed every artifact
of the family

at first I thought they some of the local laborers
who make their money hauling away scrap metal
but then I saw they had opened the doors to the house
and were taking absolutely everything
and then I knew they had been sent by the bank
to purge the ghosts
so prospective buyers could envision their own plans
upon the structure
without distraction

It took them less than 4 hours
At the end of our driveway I stopped the car
to walk to the mailbox
and crossing the street upon my return
I saw one of the men leaning in the front doorway
of the foreclosed house
eating noodles out of a bowl
with chopsticks
he looked at me from under his hat
just taking a break while doing his job
and I looked back at him and wanted to smile politely
but couldn’t
because I was distracted by a vision of Jesse’s aunt,
who stayed there sometimes, and always brought our dogs
surplus foodbank meats
sitting in that doorway
soaking in the summer sun

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Seance

I have lists of the dead in my file cabinet. Mothers, sisters, fathers, sons. Children and old women, veterans and sheep ranchers, baby boomers and gen-xers. Granddaughters and neighbors, teachers and tribal leaders.

Casualties of the Cold War, all of them. Radiological warfare is the gift that keeps on giving, implicating the rest of us in a conflict that ended before our children were born. We do not get a choice. We get rhetoric instead, about National Security. About terrorists, and staying vigilant. About the bombs that brought peace.

Its just been nonstop peace since 1945. Hasn’t it.

Nine years ago I went out hunting for these names, for people who remembered the dead, who had the energy left to tell these hard, ugly stories. Now they come to me unbidden, flowing into my inbox like disquieted ghosts.

Unbidden is the wrong word. I asked for their names, because I wanted to bear witness, because I’m not convinced that their stories ended with their deaths. Irma Thomas’s daughter believes her mother is still hanging around in the ether because she died with her work undone. She’s told me that I use phrases she only heard her mother use, like “damn it all to hell,”

I don’t know if I believe in ghosts,
but I do believe in Irma.

After the clouds passed over from the nuclear tests to the west she put on her husband’s coveralls and tied a dishcloth over her face and pulled her laundry off the line to rewash it. Her neighbors thought she was crazy. She asked them “do you want your kids sleeping on these sheets?” Despite her mother’s vigilance, her daughter lost the use of her legs as a teenager. She wanted to be a dancer. She’s survived cancer more times than I can count. She is the same age as my dad.

Sometimes I light candles on my writing desk, because we need ritual to face death. Sometimes I avoid working on my book and do laundry instead. How the hell could I possibly get it right?

I can get it right by letting them speak for themselves. From the grave, sometimes. I play back the tapes to myself when the house is quiet. I listen to the silences where they stopped to compose themselves when the tears came. I listen to the places we laughed together.

Whenever I visit a town to do an interview, I go to the cemetery. My mother taught me to go to the cemetery. Her dad died in a plane crash in 1962, and she spent my whole childhood looking for stories that would knit her past together. So in Hurricane, Utah, and Emmett, Idaho, and Mesquite, Nevada, I have gone to the cemetery. In Logan, in Cedar City, in St. George. In Red Valley, in Orem. In Salt Lake. I wander the headstones and I look at the dates.

There is no monument for the casualties of the uranium industry. Most local museums in the region do not mention the downwinders. The atomic museum in Vegas pretends they do not exist. We have been led to believe that American “supremacy” in the Cold War (and on the globe, by extension) was purchased without civilian casualties. Its a big, ugly lie. But while there are no placards about the uranium widows in the museums at Los Alamos and Las Vegas, there are cemeteries. And I stand alone in those cemeteries, the air thick with stories I cannot read, and I listen to the quiet. I visit the graves of the activists who fought until they could no longer draw breath and I let them remind me I do not have the privilege of growing weary of all this.

IMG_5815

IMG_5810

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Cooper’s Hawk, or possibly Sharp-shinned, 3 times.

3 times now,
this hawk has visited our 1/3 acre piece of the world,
which has a half dozen big old trees,
and sits a little ways southwest of Seattle, on a hilltop.

The first time I was sitting out front,
editing my book manuscript in a lawn chair
I heard the screeching cry
and looked up to see a small-bodied
white-bellied
brown speckle-winged hawk
swooping across our yard to tackle a giant squirrel on the power line.

Our squirrels are bold, and large,
accustomed to taking dares from our giant Great Pyrenees Mix,
and this one did not submit to death
it screeched back, and clung to the bobbing wires
the hawk grasped on with yellow talons
and I watched,
mouth agape
as they tussled over the driveway.
The squirrel won out
and darted for the trees,
and the hawk disappeared into the neighborhood skyscape.

A week or two later, it reappeared, screeching once,
I spied it high overhead
coming in for a landing in one of our evergreens.
It lifted up after a moment,
and Ryan and I pointed it out to Callum
floating ever higher in slow fixed-wing looping glides.

This morning I was drinking coffee on the back stoop after a thunderstorm
savoring the damp autumn chill in a light brown sweater,
and white knit cap,
and it returned, screeching once or twice,
soaring over the back driveway.
A woodpecker thudded several times on a telephone pole overhead,
and I texted a friend,
“Does that mean I’m supposed to read some Ann Lamott?”
“Ha!
she replied.
“that’s a good read on it.”

I look up the hawk online after I put our son to bed,
maybe a Cooper’s Hawk,
probably a Sharp-shinned
immature, whichever species.
A common woodland hawk,
“among the bird world’s most skillful fliers,”
that primarily hunts other birds.

My first impulse on seeing a wild animal in the city is exhilaration,
followed by sadness, assumptions about habitat degradation and the like,
followed by the calming epiphany
that some creatures can cross worlds,
that the natural world suffuses everything.
Adaptation
gives us all a chance
to survive.

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15 august

They do not stop, the stories.
Just when you’ve had time to return to your ordinary life, finish the dishes, get caught up on the laundry, have a glass of wine with a friend, feel selfish,
they come cascading down on your shoulders,
rending your heart,
teaching your lungs and your pumping muscles
things they may have always known
loss is coming
death is imminent
the ones you love will perish too.
And you bend over the sink,
sobbing into the dish water,
tasting the truth of love
you cannot keep bad things from happening
even if you
curl around your core
keep the world from your heart,
or smother the ones you love under your wings,
you cannot hold pain at bay.
and your heart becomes a weaker organ
your skin loses its thickness
becomes brittle
and so you open
again
and again
and again
making yourself stronger through surviving
bearing witness doesn’t have to break you down.

it feels that way at first, sure.
and you think about your Jewish ancestors
who tore their clothes in grief,
and you lean in to the power of ritual.
learn that if you allow the grief to tear you open
it will teach you things

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