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Writing, about writing

In Process on March 18, 2009 at 7:19 pm

From ‘Good Writing, a Gazetteer & Guide’:

Pg. 14: “Write what you know” – Anonymous (though often attributed to Ernest Hemingway).
Pg. 82: “First drafts are shit” – Ernest Hemingway.
Pg. 7: “It’s not wise to violate the rules until you’ve learned to observe them” – Lillian Hellman? (No, T.S. Eliot, a British poet born in St. Louis, Missouri.)
Pg. 69: “If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say
don’t listen to writers” – Lillian Hellman.

An awful lot of telling. We need a scene.

A hazy Alabama July and Markus Ruud stood in the empty workshop room. A wasp flitted in a corner, thudding the beige wall. On the chalkboard, Freytag’s Triangle drawn in a shaky scrawl. Markus Ruud once taught writing in this room — taught writing — and had to painfully smile. A room. A dusty square tucked into the corner of an under-funded English department. Dimpled ceiling tiles and cracks like river maps. Scuffed floors and mismatched chairs. Students come and go, and the room remains.

Okay, fair enough — who is Markus? Maybe me. Or maybe I find myself feeling Markus-y, alone. Often. Questioning. (I mean I’m the guy with a gazetteer & guide to writing.) Like some small thing left on the shoulder of a serving platter. What I do then is prepare nachos – prepare for the sudden appearance of nachos. And maybe Markus is EveryMarkus (maybe), and the English department I attended was hardly under-funded, and this is Freytag’s Triangle:

But listen: teaching writing often makes you feel like sand on sand, or, no, cumin, a Cumin Man — I mean constructed of cumin (if you can imagine) — and on a cumin bar: shifting tides, grain on grain, eddies and slippage and silty clouds of dinge.

Let’s try it this way — a canto, by my friend Alex N’Goran, a poet (and plumber) who quit the writing program in dramatic fashion:

Not twenty feet out this window, a man smoothes
cement with a trowel, circles upon circles, skillfully. And beyond him
two men smile and nod, one holds a brick like he was born
to cradle bricks, certain he’s created something
       and will build again tomorrow.
Yes, there exists a red wheelbarrow
       but its got a dark child behind it, guiding it
       to the mortar pit.

Not bad, eh? Or very bad. I can’t tell. Poetry makes me feel like a stunned sea bass. Dizzy. Head pounding. My arms and legs coated in goat cheese. Like shortness of breath. Like altitude sickness, an incline. A triangle.

Triangles have functions, as trowels.

As tortilla templates.

Templates for cumin.

Observe the declarations:

— E. Smith, a man with a taste for Smirnoff vodka, literary theory, European football, older women, and snorting Oxycontin, proudly declared, “I believe writing is mankind yelling, ‘Lookie here!'”

— Leander Skoff, a man with a taste for Kool cigarettes, Kool cigarettes (Leander Skoff made smoke with cigarettes. Like a lover), and nocturnal birds of prey, sadly declared, “Art is an old, deaf, blank, musty, wadded up piece of paper.”

— Dougie, a man with a taste for world travel, Beatnik dissertations and peach cobbler, vaguely declared, “A hip cat’s text is shaped by all the dogs.”

Leander and E. wrote fiction (still do?). Dougie is a poet. I prefer poets as friends. Poets read more, and they always hold theories. I once asked a poet (her name was Cindy) for some tips on growing potatoes and she told me to always plant them alongside onions, so as to avoid the need for watering.

Her theory: the onions will make the potatoes’ eyes water.

See why I like poets? But theories aren’t simply decrees, passed down by poets, or by Vendler, Graff, Eagleton, Giroux, Menand, Smith, Smith, Barthes, Fish, and Booth (and Smith).

I revised the following sentence three times. There is no solid footing, nor any denouement.

Meet Dougie.

The bar is dark and low and maybe not wet but it feels wet. People returning from the bathroom pause to the poet’s staccato yelps, a group of drunken frat boys and a thousand year old janitor leaning into the words. I look at the young man, a fellow writing student, in his thin mustard T-shirt and baggy gray cargo pants. Under a light bulb, he’s standing and tapping his leg and twitching his head, like some type of seizure.

He says, “Cats find the mice they expect …”

There’s something broken about him, his head shaved and dented and somehow blocky. He hops in place; foot tapping like it wants to escape the leg.

He says, “Cats seek the feline of the mind … “

I sip my beer and look at the entire audience, seven people. A young girl in a brown sweater nods her head, and two guys huddle close, apparently holding a separate conversation.

He says, “If cats could talk / They wouldn’t.”

And you must know E.

Morning. E. Smith is skulking home across the quad. From a mistake with his Russian Literature professor (a Mrs. Raatkov). Those birds are out that greet the morning with nervous tweeting. E. is shivering since he’s misplaced his jacket.

He feels slushy inside.

A jogger rushes by then squeaks to a halt. “Hey there.”

A pretty girl, glowing with health. She is toned and sweaty. High cheekbones, manicured nails, matching aerobic outfit. Sorority girl, E. is thinking.

“Hey,” she repeats.

“Didn’t you run Three Ridges?”

“Three Ridges?”

“The half-marathon. I talked to you there, right?”

While balancing on her left leg, she grabs her right foot and stretches it behind her back.

“No,” E. says.

Embarrassed, he shuffles away, bumping against a garbage can and nearly sending it tumbling, but the girl cuts him off and leans into his face. She recoils. He’s thinking she got a whiff of curdled vodka.

“Is your nose bleeding?” She squints.

He mumbles, “I don’t think …”

She points her finger below his nose. She shrieks, “It is bleeding!”

An old woman walking three dachshunds stops and looks at him.

He wipes his finger below his nose. Blood. He looks up and the girl is gone. Everyone is gone, except the nervous, tweeting birds.

He’s across the quad when there she is: running up and down the library steps. E. thinks, Maybe I should go over there. She doesn’t know me. Maybe I’ll show her running steps. I played a year of soccer in high school. No — it’s foolish. I’m cold. I’m miles from home.

God, I wish I had my jacket.

Tonal and atmospheric drivel? A cooking down, a reduction, a sad proclivity to conjecture? Perhaps, but people do enter writing programs in anticipation of sleeping around. Sure, it happens. To friends, enemies, to me — but do I need to write about it (really?)? No. I’ll write about something else.

The denouement may be: God, I wish I had my jacket.


I attended a writing program, at university A. My girlfriend was hours away, at university B. A was a fine time, though I was almost killed twice (knifed in the elbow; pinned beneath a whirlpool while canoeing). Come on over to B, my girlfriend encouraged. I was 25 years old. What was A or B to me?

At B my girlfriend was very happy. I mean at first. I had no friends so spent every weekend with her, reading, drinking, talking, fucking.

But then I got friends.

Over 6000 pounds of friends.

I once had 35 people crammed into my graduate dorm, room 518, which I (lamely) re-titled Club 518. We had a black light and Pioneer speakers and Krab (with a K) and cheese nachos and a plastic liter of Jim Beam whiskey. It was like a low budget music video, only it was really happening.

That night I met a poet, Cindy.

My girlfriend’s name was Jennifer.

Jennifer and Cindy, I swear.

Two weeks later, I was in bed with Jennifer and a loud knock sounded at the door. It was three a.m. I leapt up, startled from sleep. I checked the peephole. It was Cindy. Cindy was supposed to be at a party, but apparently the-party-was-over.

I looked to Jennifer, asleep.

I looked to the peephole. Cindy. Magnified. Her hair done up like a ball of shredded cheddar.

I thought: if I’m very quiet she’ll go away.

The phone rang.

A phone ringing in a dorm room might as well be ringing inside a mailbox. Or a salsa boat. Which is noisier? Let’s say mailbox.

Cindy knocked more loudly — rap, rap, rap.

The phone rang — briiing, briiing, briiing.

Jennifer turned in the bed, groaning.

I snatched the phone.


“It’s Al. I’m in the lobby. Cindy’s coming!”

It was my poetic friend, Alex N’Goran.

“No shit,” I hissed. “She’s at my door. Get her out of here.”


“I don’t know. Come on, do something.”

As quietly as possible, I hung up the phone. The knocking ceased. Then a loud kick — boom! — and Cindy screamed, “I-know-you’re-in-there! I can hear you!”

Jennifer coughed and shifted, the bedsprings creaking, and —

There’s no need to finish. I’m only establishing my need to narrate, to link and swerve, to see life as story, some order, an arch of duplicity. I’m a writer, I’m a chef. I’m a regular E. Smith. No, really. I am a writer and a chef, one of them Mexican.

Don’t tell me what’s the problem Eliot was a banker.

Don’t tell me the universe supplies no meaning.

Don’t tell me Hemingway and his shotgun.

Tell me you understand. Tell me you struggle. Tell me you’ll dice a tomato. Tell me the smell of sautéed garlic is sexual (okay, nearly). Tell me you want to witness the last time I saw Alex N’Goran.

Five of us, crammed in a rented Chevrolet Cavalier, heading to Tunica, Mississippi, to the casinos. We’re talkative and eager to gamble. One of us, Alex N’Goran, dropped out of our writing program a month ago, got a job working the counter at a hardware store, and is now living above a Chinese restaurant.

“More time for writing,” he explained. “My writing.”

He left the program on a Friday afternoon in April, during his own reading, mid-story. He stammered, shuffled papers, seemed to misplace a page, then strolled right out of the room. Hell of an exit.

The truth is we are jealous of his drama.

The casino is bright, loud, smoky. A cultivated disequilibrium.

We split up, into groups, into games — blackjack, craps, video poker. We drink free Heineken, then later bottles of water, and even later Styrofoam cups of oily coffee. We don’t sleep.

Five-thirty a.m.. The four of us meet and search for Alex N’Goran. He’s buried in mustard colored roulette chips. He’s flushed with alcohol, with winning. Proudly, we join the table. Predictably, he loses everything.

Predictably, the sun rises. I stumble into the casino’s bathroom. I open a stall.

Alex N’Goran sits on the toilet, his left shirtsleeve rolled up, his left arm inserted into the tank. On the floor is a vinyl case the size of a Dickens hardback, a screwdriver, a pair of vice grips, and a pack of Marlboros.

I hear a murmuring. “The flush valve, warped. I can fix it.”

I look at his exposed arm. His veins as wiry eels.

“You have to … now?” I ask.

“That’s right. It’s necessary.” He smiles. “And I’m happy.”

Alex N’Goran flushes the toilet, listens to its gurgling, nods, then deftly collects his paraphernalia and slides it into his jacket. He ducks past me, pauses at the sink to wet his hands.

“It’s what hands are for,” he says, flipping water drops across the mirror. “You’ve forgotten.”

He walks out the door.

My heart fleshy with forgetting, I stare into the mirror. Alex N’Goran’s droplets cover the mirror. They are on my face, and they are not.

I see it this way: Alex N’Goran lost his way, but that’s a poet for you, their nature — they lose things. Keys, sunglasses, lunches, self-esteem, the fourteenth line of a sonnet. Their minds.

It was snowing. It was Dougie. It was too much Merlot and several Ritalin (snorted) and a bad workshop that afternoon. He tore his kitchen cabinets from the wall and sawed his plastic table in half with a butcher knife and hurled all of this and every piece of glassware off the balcony and into the street. Then he tossed his vintage Macintosh computer, followed by a pound of frozen hamburger and a porcelain cat. He found his revolver and attempted to fire it into the night. We’d already removed the bullets, wrapped them in duct tape, and tossed them into the toilet. He ranted and raved — “Where’s my ammunition!” We tackled him, held him down for fifteen minutes, until he passed out. The next afternoon he phoned, his voice thick as cough syrup.

“Where’d my life go?” he said.

“In the street.”

“Oh.” A moment of silence. “Will you help me find it?”

Poets lose things, I tell you.

Then spend their lives writing the search.

Take my one-time academic advisor, poet, and Victorian literature professor (though his poetry was decidedly not of the era), Harvy Amsterdam, who wrote:

The desk a fracture.
Art, the frightful brute, hides
And coughs,
And tears nails, and grimaces
A warning.

This is the first stanza of a 4,000-line poem: “Before the Day After.” Dr. Amsterdam requested I read it, and I did (mostly), though I understood little.

“What did you think?” Dr. Amsterdam asked one afternoon over his glass desk, in his glass cubicle of an office.

I hesitated, trying for something intelligent. “I thought …”

“Very good!” he yelped, and seemed genuinely pleased.

He then told me that, in the world of poetry, length was important, very important, and that all poets should strive for something truly Homeric — order, progression, a leaning to distilled beauty, like a quality cup of coffee, and so on. He … well, I can’t fully discuss Harvy Amsterdam. It’s too sad. It makes my heart a black bean, shriveled.

The man is no longer with us.

Was he ever?

Though Harvy Amsterdam had a potbelly and a weak chin and fingers like chipotle peppers and was tall — like duck-your-head-when-descending-the-stairs tall — I’d like you to realize him through his poetry. Do you realize Harvy Amsterdam? Have I broadened and deepened his quintessence, and yours as well?

Or have I failed.


Something is required; something pulled away and properly prepared — Harvy Amsterdam’s essence as an olive (preferably Manzanilla, pitted, and stuffed with jalapeno). I don’t have anything, only a scattering … but as Lillian Hellman declared at a cold and blustery book signing in Lincoln Park, Chicago, “God forgives those who invent what they need.”

Something is required.

A scene.

A professor named Harvy Amsterdam bought a revolver. Its beauty scared him, so he buried it in his freezer. Beneath a month’s supply of fish sticks. That night he took 214 Extra Strength Tylenol.

His note said: “I’m sick of low attendance.”

Markus had Dr. Amsterdam’s class once, Victorian Poetry. Tedious. Bland. Note taking and regurgitation. He made a B plus.

In recognition of his tenured service, the faculty and students held a formal observance in the William Wordsworth auditorium. Before the event Markus and some friends went to Jenny’s Tavern and drank five pitchers of Killian’s Red. Several were tipsy, others drunk.

The chancellor read a section from Dr. Amsterdam’s textbook. The Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs read a Matthew Arnold poem. Dr. Amsterdam’s graduate assistant said the professor was old-fashioned in a good, gentle way. She told a story about the time she spent an entire weekend typing in by hand over two hundred pages of research, since Dr. Amsterdam refused to use a scanner.

A wave of giggles broke across the room.

Warming to the audience, the graduate student smiled and said, “He wouldn’t use e-mail. He said he thought it might just fly into the air, and disappear.”

The room exploded in guffaws. A skinny lady in front of Markus cackled.

Then the graduate student leaned into the microphone and yelled, “One day” — several people chuckled — “he wore his glasses and contacts at the same time.”

That one killed. A man started coughing in fits. The room rocked with laughter, like everyone was huffing gasoline. Finally, the chancellor led the graduate student from the podium. An organ played a requiem.

They all returned to Jenny’s, and someone had the idea of each person telling a favorite Dr. Amsterdam story. Markus couldn’t recall a one.

Markus again. Markus scrutinizes; Markus scribbles. Markus applies his preconceived ideas to everything — Markus ‘writes’ the text of his reality.

Case in point:

Markus sees Professor A win a Guggenheim and leave the university. Professor L has his latest book nominated for the National Book Award and leaves the university. Instructor C publishes a book of Bukowski criticism and gets married to a man who conducts focus groups in Washington D.C. and leaves the university. This is what Markus sees (again).

Markus and me … what is the meaning?

“What does it matter?” Menand (Louis) would shriek across the pages of Harper’s magazine. “Literature is the last place people are likely to be getting their values.”

And Vendler (Helen) would stand below those harsh Hyatt Regency conference room lights (1980, MLA, her presidential address) and state, “There is a love for the literature of puzzle.”

But would she really?

Yes, she would — and did — and as I write about Harvy Amsterdam I find my abdomen throbbing, a dull ache; someone shoving a cutting board into my gut. My teeth feel oniony. Have you ever eaten onions and later noted a disagreeable film across your incisors?

That’s oniony.

Layer of skin. Inducer of tears. Useful metaphor.

But it isn’t just Harvy Amsterdam.

E. Smith lay in his Professor’s arms, in Smolensk. It wasn’t a mistake after all.

Cindy … What of Cindy and her vertical hair?

Dougie runs a diner in Guam … I think.

Leander Skoff doesn’t answer my phone calls. He loathes me, I know. It’s about the damn magpie. He can’t get past it, so how can I? He sends hate mail. I phone to explain, and he never answers. Only hate mail.

It smothers me.

Jennifer’s the same way. Won’t talk to me. We used to carry Styrofoam coolers down to the Black Warrior River and sip beers and toss around the bocce balls and talk about what the trees would say to one another, and now Jennifer ignores me.

She used to carry a tattered biography of Colette in her jeans pocket (she really, really did, and I’m afraid I teased her about it).

She used to go bra-less.

And now she’s over there. In the tall glass building with the 8/10 scale courtrooms for practice and the perfectly manicured lawns. She drives a cilantro green Ford Explorer. She’s gone. And it all happened one day. Not at the dorm room — another day.

Jennifer is sitting in her Honda Civic, twenty yards from the student parking lot. Mist streaks the windshield. A ruby SUV cruises by. A bicycle comes off a hill. They meet with a thump.

Jennifer hears an odd yell, like a bird-moan. A pale boy is walking in circles. He’s holding a cell phone two feet from his face and screaming into it, “Somebody call an ambulance!”

For one minute Jennifer thinks about exiting, or rather not exiting. One critical minute. Truly, what does she stand for?

It matters.

She approaches the SUV. It is abandoned, doors open, a pop song drifting from the radio. A large hole in the rear window. On the ground dazzling shards of glass. A yellow bicycle. A severed handlebar. Red, wet circles.

Through the visual haze she hears a girl crying in the periphery.

Then an immediate sound: a gurgling, a choking. There’s a tall, regal, dread-locked black man leaning over a white car. Jennifer recognizes him, a Neo-Aristotelian lecturer from the English department. He is bleeding on the car. Smears and spatters and bubbles. His hands cover his face, holding it together.

Jennifer steps closer. The man’s right cheek peels away. Jennifer can see his jawbone, a row of teeth. His left eye dangles from a bluish stalk. She folds her jacket and presses it firmly to his face. She leads him to a curb.

Sitting, he hums and sways to some inner rhythm. Sweat beads on his forehead. Blood speckles the asphalt. For some reason a kid walks up from the gathering crowd and offers him a cigarette. Jennifer waves him away. She presses the jacket tight. A siren wails, closing in.

A fire engine. A police cruiser. Jennifer makes a witness statement.

“Was the bicyclist wearing a helmet?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Was the driver speeding?”

“I’m not sure.”

The officer clenches his jaw and snaps his tiny pencil in half. He points a finger in Jennifer’s face. He bellows, “Does anyone on this campus really know what the humanities ought to be; what they are, how they exist, their composition, why you — all of you! — should be doing any of this?”

“I, I’m not sure,” Jennifer mumbles.

There’s no reason to remain, so Jennifer returns to her Civic for her books. Everything seems brighter, louder. The car is painfully yellow. Jennifer flinches and squints. The lot is filled with squeals, honks, blurring hues of metal.

Halfway to her classroom, Jennifer feels a chill across her hand. Her fingers are dark and wet. She turns into a building, an old gymnasium, a bathroom. Twice she misses the door handle, then grabs it. Hands washed, she notices a scarlet constellation on her jeans. A half-dollar size spot on her shirt. Jennifer scrubs, but the fabric is stained. Deeply.

How would you react? How did Jennifer react with Cindy standing at the door? How did Cindy react to Jennifer in the bed? How should I know? How should I know about anyone’s internal




Or, as Booth (Wayne C.) put it: “To dispose of one ‘how’ question is only to raise another.”

Honestly, I know Cindy’s reaction. I’ll quote a section from her letter. This is where I quote sections from their letters.

“… and after that afternoon I re-read every single book from Raatkov’s class and now I hate the Russians, especially Turgenev, who makes me physically ill and I don’t want to effortlessly be there anymore and when I read ‘Three Novellas About Love’ — and I read it six times — it made me tired of writing and reading and sleeping around and my own flailing life and especially you, and you know sometimes things are felt too well, like the wind ruffling tundra, like a waterfall in the winter, water over ice over water, like love. Tell me one thing before I leave this college and college town forever. Amphibians, how do they know when to drink, or not to drink, the air?”

My latest from Leander Skoff. (They all read basically the same.)

“You I hate. I hope you rupture a spleen. I hope retinas detach. I hope hemorrhage, arterial. You I despise. Please die …”

And the only letter I received from E. Smith. Oddly, he focused on alcohol, not Mrs. Raatkov. For example:

“All the artists drink here, thank gods. You remember the Poet Laureate of the United States drinking lemonade from a crystal cup? I do, after his reading. There was no alcohol served, remember? We brought flasks. The poet didn’t drink, politely declining all offers. It’s over. Now the American poets have fellowship travel and understanding families and tell stories about their adolescent nephews. It’s depressing. But at least the poet was always polite. After his reading, he fielded audience questions. Remember? A kid from the college newspaper stood and asked the Poet Laureate of the United States if he ever wrote poems that didn’t rhyme, and the poet just looked at him, gazed politely. It made me thirsty.”

Finally, from a note my grandmother sent. The stationary had a bluebird on its cover and a $25 dollar check folded inside.

“Go buy a steak. Pray to something. Go outside and hug the weather. Jobs are plentiful at restaurants. People have to eat. Most of our friends are dead now. I beg you not to waste. You say you receive this stipend. You spend your life drinking coffee and the beer. Do the working people know? You divorced yourself from the world. You giggle into your sleeves, like a child. You’ve found an old pine chest full of time, and this stipend. For years, the pine chest opens, and you fill it with cups and cans, the coffee and the beer. You are a small, small boy.”

Not included here: what my family thinks.

Included here: once, things were fine with Leander Skoff. We were simpatico, but then the magpie:

Markus and his friends are standing in a tiny kitchen. The electricity has been cut; the room is lit with four candles. All around are empty Pop Tart boxes, crushed beer cans, balls of paper. On the table lies a dead magpie. He’s been there for over 24 hours. Near his head are an open can of generic dog food, an empty birdcage, and a full bowl of water.

His owner, Leander Skoff, stands at the head of the table. His shadow fills the wall. He has an unlit Kool cigarette in his mouth.

“Ain’t got money for the vet,” he says.

“Don’t worry about it,” Markus answers.

“Ain’t got it. I’m short, man.”

Markus’ friends look at one another. Markus steps forward.

“He’s dead, Leander.”

The magpie is lying with his head wrapped in toilet paper. An entire roll. His legs stick out sideways, stiff. Congealed blood stains the paper, but the magpie was dead when Leander found him in the street last night.

Leaning toward Leander, Markus says softly, “Take it easy, okay? We’ll bury him. He shouldn’t be left here, in your kitchen.”

Leander glares. “Move him and die.”

One of his friends, Mike, looks worriedly at Markus. Markus shrugs. Mike joins the other friend in taking a warm beer from the refrigerator and then leaving. Markus gets two beers and hands Leander one. He just holds it, so Markus takes it back and opens it. Leander sips the beer, staring at the magpie.

Markus watches Leander finish his cigarette, and tells him he needs to rest. He’s been up all night, in the kitchen. Markus leads him to the living room couch.

“He used to talk to me,” Leander whispers.

“It’s all right. Wasn’t your fault.”

“He’d listen too.” Leander groans and turns to his side. Markus picks a faded sleeping bag from the floor and throws it over Leander’s body.

“He’d talk and he’d listen.”

“Take it easy, Leander.”

Leander pulls the cover over his face.

“Can’t pay,” he says through the cloth. Then he passes out.

Markus sighs and look around the room. A dusty computer monitor in the corner. A sprawling pile of student papers. A flickering candle melted to the hardwood floor.

He hears his friends on the porch murmuring. He gets them and they take the magpie. They bury it behind an abandoned Dairy Queen, beneath a water meter. Before filling in the hole, they add the dog food, birdcage and water dish.

Then they return to Leander’s house. On the living room floor, they sit in a close circle, silently playing hearts.

Asleep, Leander fidgets beneath the sleeping bag, legs kinetic.

“Man, he’s going to kill us,” Mike says.

“Shut up,” Markus says.

“Kill us,” he repeats. He glances at Leander.

They finish the beer. Leander finally kicks the bag off his body, and lets out a long, eerie howl. Everyone freezes. And then he wakes.

Big Words #1: “Never finish a story with ‘And then he wakes'” – Unknown.

Big Words #2: “The written word provides excellent social cement” – Eagleton.

Big Words #3: “What are the reader’s responsibilities to the author?” – Barthes.

What about my responsibilities? Leander had to eventually awake, right? But it isn’t just close friends. Or lovers. Or professors. Or just hyper-intelligent birds of prey. It’s everyone … canines included.

I want to tell you what I witnessed yesterday.

Why I feel sad today.

I want to show you.

The Black Warrior River. An elderly couple, a man and woman in matching crimson windbreakers, playing fetch with their Dalmatian. The woman tosses a stick into the water; and the man, unaware the woman has already thrown, lobs a paperback, a collection of short fiction. The dog is left perplexed. He swims to the stick, to the book, to the stick, all the while the current pulling him downstream and his owners yelling bloody murder. The dog, midstream and tiring fast in his desperate orbit, disappears around a curve. The owners run along behind, frantic dots of crimson, further and further down the cluttered riverbank. They vanish into the distance. All is quiet.

Where are they, are they all?

Hellooo …

Did they all write something? Or read something? Or swim their lives in circles, into the vortex of memory, into metaphor? I don’t know, but they shouldn’t have. They really shouldn’t have …

A clutching inside like a sangria hangover.

A hollow aftertaste.

Cold, and rather lonely, I write what we all write: the end.

Sean Lovelace is standing in a river right now. He has a spinning rod and a beer. Other times he teaches at Ball State University. His flash fiction chapbook arrives summer 2009, by Rose Metal Press, and his works have appeared in Crazyhorse, Diagram, Black Warrior Review, Willow Springs, and so on. He blogs at

  1. Okay, so it’s a bit ridiculous of me to be the first to comment, but what the hell. This piece of writing has so much to say about … writing, quite apart from being about five different threads tightly knitted into one, and each one of them equally thought-provoking. I was going to go through quoting favourite bits, but that would have been ridiculous. So I’ll shut up now and stop gushing before I really embarrass myself.

    [Mind you, it was still a complete bugger to format into an article on WordPress, with this design’s CSS. Just sayin’] :)

  2. I’ve read this a few times now and each time I catch a twist of idea or a new favourite turn of phrase or a sadness. But throughout – an excitement, a love of writing (can we say that without sounding tacky?) Juicy steak. Almost makes me want to go back to school.

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