Monday, July 26, 2010

Non-Sequitur Exquisite Corpse Pot Luck (July 18)

On July 18th, underneath Anita's apple tree, eight of us got together for a potluck, sights in the garden and some exquisite corpse. We went three rounds. The first round had us write, one after the other, with the ability to see what had been written before. The second round had us write a line on the same piece of paper without being able to see the line that came before. The third round, had us each write on a scratch piece of paper, pile the papers together, and then read them randomly. The results follow:

Round 1:

shady seven, city sounds softly
chatting, asking suggestions for

words, but when silence says
everything. Everything, and what's seen
without words; the mini-bee turning in its flower,

part of the cycle. Or the dream.
While the Beats smile knowingly,
having done it all half a century ago,

when turtles went underground
under two inch thick cement slabs,

under lead pipes and earth packed hard
beneath years of traffic and chaos.

An ancient tool shop operator
gave dinosaurs several pieces
of shrapnel steak. Dinosaurs
ate pipes and lumber.

Cracking underneath the stone weight
each dinosaur's breath shimmering
in the plant's growth.

Round 2:

Summer hums around, circling the
salon. Tomatoes progress, onions double,
pumpkins travel down the path.

Just enough cloud cover, and just enough sky,
under the apple tree, next to plush clover--
myriad forms of cover....

Down South. South of the border.
Musical language, languid music.
It's not like here, ya know.

And to string a sentence
together you need pumpkin butter,
blackberries, half ripe, and Anitatea.

It was like ink bleeding through a piece
of paper. Or blood through butcher paper.
A sickening smell, like rotten meat wafted from

Over the rainbow there were
pieces of light.

The stillness of the wind
speaks to the leaves.

Round 3:

1) We were born after the war.
Then we were in the war.
Now our children and grandchildren
are gone to the war.

2) All of the rocks strewn along the path
and the constant chatter of the
passing cars, cans thrown.

3) The music was tangible. I felt almost as heavy as a mist,
but not quite. More like a tingle at the tips of your
toes when they fell asleep.

4) In exquisite corpse land
we never decided to leave
Point Pleasant beach.
Instead we launched
a hand-made book.

5) Died in the check out line
with a crab, he did.
Seafood is dependable.
Trees give us amnesia
good for the onion fields.
It's shell gave way
to red lobster.

6) Shadow and light spackled paper--
the pen courses over the pattern
another level of black and white.

7) Laughing, sharing notes & souls plot
a course in the garden, under the apple
tree, next door the door opens.

(in no particular order, since Frank's suggestion that naming who wrote what would kill the whole idea of the exquisite corpse, as it's the product that matters, and not who wrote what).

Anita Lonergan
Michael Lonergan
Frank Bessinger
Kat Willow
Tom Gerlick
Sandra Maresh
Max Rommerdahl
Tameca L Coleman

Originally posted on the Exquisite (!) Corpse Pomes (!) Blog at I hope to have more such shindigs in the not so far future.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Story Collecting

During the last portion of my undergraduate degree in writing, I decided to take an interpersonal communications class. Among all the things I learned, familial story telling intrigued me the most. I learned that families could become close-knit by telling each other their stories. A close-knit family is something I have craved since I was a kid. Both sides of my family are spread across the country, literally, and none of us keep in regular, open contact, let alone tell stories about our lives to each other. We know little about each other over our impressions of who we are. The impressions are something, certainly, but without experience of another, there is no or little rapport.

I want a rapport with my family members. Because of this want and this knowledge that stories can build family closeness, I decided to take another class about writing biographies. I had an urge to become a story collector, to compile the stories into a volume for my family members to share. I wanted to contact my aunties and uncles, what grandparents were left, and have conversations with their great-great grandchildren. This became overwhelming to me, not only because of the long lists that began accumulating in my mind of persons with whom I wanted to contact, but because those I contacted were hesitant, closed, almost unwilling to share the stories that I asked for. I related that we could just remember the good things, the happy times, fun quirks and tall tales if there were any, but the hesitancy remained. I was even told to just "make stuff up."

I almost gave up then. Of course, I needed to complete my assignments for the class, else fail, so I inserted some fiction.

During that time, I consulted my mother a lot. Out of all the people I interviewed, she was the most open to share. In fact, she gushed. I couldn't keep up, and I had to call back many times with questions to fill in the gaps.

I know that my Mom wants to write a book sometime about her life, and I think she should do so. I am not sure if she has put word to pages, yet. I do know that she is eager every time I call to ask her about her memories. Because of my mother's eagerness, I decided to start a series of interviews and poems related to her stories. It's a way for both of us to satisfy something. I can deepen the relationship between my mother and I through story telling, and we together can begin putting her life to pages.

Sometimes I feel as if I am doing something wrong, that she should begin her book, and I should leave her stories untouched until she is ready to write them. The trouble with someone else writing your stories, is that there will always be another filter through which the story is being told.

One example is the first poem of the collection I am writing for my Mom from her stories, called "Mermaid," which documents some images from her time in Okinawa during the Vietnam war. My mother commented to me that her time in Okinawa was one of the happiest times in her life. It wasn't enough for me to document the images she related as just that. I applied my own irony, my own filter, and then published the work.

The poem was published last year in the online poetry magazine called Pirene's Fountain, and follows:


When Mom wasn’t making cakes
or practicing her off island dialect
of Japanese to the scowling market ladies,
when she wasn’t taking classes on ikebana,
when my sister and I were not at school
on the Kadena air force base,
she drove us across Okinawa.
We’d hang out of the windows,
hair plastered to our necks, enthralled
by green on green, terraces and vineyards and jungles
green, women with baskets on their heads
traveling down the road in their bare feet.
We passed cart-driven men, their ox carrying
bundles of sugarcane. We left them in dust,
giggled as we passed, waved and smiled,
pointed until Mom made us stop.

These were the best times for me:
When the car arrived at the reef,
after we’d seen the oranges, yellows,
and the reds of the sun setting over the water,
after fried chicken and Nehi soda,
after the first sighting of stars,
we hunted cowries with our flashlights,
the drying starfish and conk shells there.
We found shells nicked by seagull beaks,
with something inside of them, still living.
We found sea glass, coins, trinkets, sand
dollars and oyster shells.

One night there was a woman
balanced on a rock over the water.
She was just sitting there, running
a comb through her impossible length
of hair. At first I thought
her a mermaid, but her feet
folded to her side like arms
hugging in close. Her tattered
skirt and ill-fitted blouse
waved in the cooling night.
Her hair, greyed-black, whipped
at the rock, just as the air force jets
sped across the sky on their courses
to and from Vietnam.

She became a silhouette against the sunset,
etched behind my eyes, forever.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why I Write

They called me the gentle giant.

I waited the whole season, warmed the bench, and wore navy and gold sports socks pulled all the way up to my knees like a dork so I could match my teammates' socks and those polyester gold shorts and tops we had to wear. I cheered the girls and shouted at the referee for his idiocy and I looked intermittently at Coach, to see if she would let me onto the court.

I played well enough during scrimmages. The ball plunged into the basket, or rolled around the rim to score. I passed over up-stretched arms, blocked and dribbled. I ran fast. But in the game, when the ball finally came to me, I held it to my chest with both damp palms gripping the sphere. I gawked about bewildered at the crowd, at the coach, at my teammates open for a pass, and I froze. If someone bumped me trying to get to the ball, I would say, "Oh, excuse me...Oh, sorry, excuse me."

I wasn't great at sports, despite what an athletic build and some height might say. I was prone to social awkwardness too. The inevitable wrong thing would pop out of my mouth and apparently I gave looks that seemed painfully slighting. I didn't know what to talk about with my peers at practice between plays. I couldn't give compliments, let alone take them well and most of my jokes were duds or puns that evoked blank blinks and quick intakes of air. At the pizza parties, not knowing what to say, I listened to all the girls jabber about this or that and I choked down slices, and gulped down Dr. Pepper to dislodge the cheese from my throat.

My mother wouldn't ever let me play sports again after that year, anyway. She attended one game and decided that was all she needed to see. My friend Camille with the braces tripped and knocked faces with another girl, whose lip caught onto Camille's metal braced teeth. Blood puddled on the court and both girls were helped to their respective benches. The blood and braces put the fear of broken limbs and torn skin into Mom's imagination.

While the principal read the team's successes the next morning over the intercom, I listened to the feats and scores of my teammates, and I wrote in my journal about being nerved out over it all and about how Mom wouldn't let me play anymore and how I was sad about it. I knew that not playing the next year would mean deeper separation from the peers I had played with that year and I wrote about that too.

Writing wasn't a new thing. I had been writing since I knew how. I wrote letters for play-pretend in grade school. I even tried to write a little novel about a family of beavers who never seemed to need to come up for air. When I realized writing could bring recognition, the habit was reinforced. In the third grade, Emily Trunket read some silly poem she had written in front of the class. I thought her work piddle. I had been writing copy-changed limericks and nursery rhymes for many months already. I in turn wrote a poem that my teacher so loved, I not only got to read it for the class, but I got to take it to the principal's office with a little waterfall pasted to it (by the teacher). It looked like a page straight from an inspirational calendar.

My eighth grade English teacher had a workshop surrounding one of the poems I had written outside of school and had shared with her. Although I had been writing all that time before, I had never had such an active audience. A group of thirty or more of my peers were held captive in a class over my work, and they were discussing it! This was like a dream come true. I've craved its repetition ever since.