Poem: “Married to My Years”

For my birthday, I wrote myself a sonnet.

“Married to My Years”
Outside the bar, the street is strewn with blooms
Of lamplight. Litter flutters from the hands
Of trash receptacles. Alleys like tombs
Surprise the picture and suggest a man’s
Absorption of my name. But there’s no man
Except the taxi driver, whom I call
After the birthday party so I can
Think of the vows my name still holds and all
The promises still written on my face.
It’s time. Here is my church. All I can do
Is step, breath quaking, toward the life that waits.
The city dresses me in neon blue.
I am the something old and something new.
My time the thing that’s borrowed. Yes. I do.

Who Are the Creatures in Your Neighborhood?: The Screaks [Fiction]

[This and other forthcoming “Creatures in Your Neighborhood” entries are bits of writing practice, done when the old work schedule got too hectic to make working on longer stories — you know, stories with a capital “S” — a practical idea. -SJ]

It’s probably best to avoid commenting on the Screaks’ singing ability, especially for those who have trouble finding something polite to say about that which clearly doesn’t exist.

The Screaks know they can’t sing. That’s why they practice only at nighttime. Would you want to try to explain the sound of a Screak straining for that high C to a business associate you’re on the phone with, or to your child’s science teacher?

No, of course not.

The Screaks will wait until they’re certain everyone’s tucked in tight and pretty much asleep. They’re quite polite like that. In fact, they work so hard at practicing quietly that, most times, the only sound people will hear is a faint, far-drifting sound scratching at the edge of their dreams. From a distance, it could even be mistaken for a squeaky hinge easing open in the basement, or someone tiptoeing onto the one creaky spot on the hallway floor.

Don’t bother trying to catch a Screak mid-aria, though. Screaks will scutter and hide the moment they hear someone step out of bed. You would, too, if you sang like a Screak.

There is subtle talk among those in the know, however, of one particular Screak in town. Instead of the voice of a creature trying to harmonize while gargling a rusty nail, this rare Screak has the voice of a Juilliard-trained angel. He lives in the abandoned house at the far end of the field–you know, the one that people say is haunted. It isn’t haunted. It’s merely occupied by one solitary Screak who might sing better than the others but who, at his core, wants what every Screak wants:

Love. Acceptance. The thrill of seeing his efforts spark joy in the fragile, glowing part that waits behind a person’s eyes.

Currently his nights are spent in the attic, practicing classic Puccini for the benefit of a hat stand from 1952.

Who Are the Creatures in Your Neighborhood?: Sad Spot [Fiction]

[This and the rest of the forthcoming “Creatures in Your Neighborhood” entries are bits of writing practice, done when the old work schedule got too hectic to make working on longer stories — you know, stories with a capital “S” — a practical idea. -SJ]

I first saw a Sad Spot in the second grade. I can’t tell you the exact date, but it was winter, and it was morning, and I had had to set my book down and take off my glasses, because I couldn’t see anything at the moment anyway.

It wasn’t fair, what they had done to the wizarding hero’s pet raven. Suddenly she was gone, as quickly as if someone had ripped a page, except they might as well have ripped every page in the story, right on the lines where I would have read the raven’s name.

I had been trying to rub the bitter sting out of my eyes when I heard a tiny, papery, whispery sound. Imagine a moth clearing its throat. I looked over, and on my bed, next to my book, was an old man the size of my pinky, wearing a brown robe small enough that, if one of my dolls had been wearing it, would’ve covered less than one of the swimsuit outfits for my figures that I’d seen in the toy aisle.

The old man held a shadow in his left hand. I do not know how. The shadow was in the shape of a bird, and he pinched it by the tip of its wing and smoothed it flat onto a blank page in a book of his own. He closed the book, which had the word HEART on its cracked red cover, tucked it beneath his arm, and smiled at me before turning away.

He walked away across the right lens of my glasses. I did not see him after I put my glasses back on, but I saw the Sad Spot’s footprints. I still see them today, if I let myself. It turns out that, unlike other marks, a Sad Spot’s footprints are not so easy to wipe away.