Photo by Elijah Henderson

The backyard stretches out before him on the other side of a window that is fogging up from the hot air he breathes into lifeless words, and the professor feels the weight of the past on his shoulders. He feels it most in the grooves his knapsack has cut into his flesh of his shoulders over the many years between the days when he roamed the yard telling his stories out loud and this moment right here, where he can’t imagine uttering a sound without committing it to paper first. But he can feel it too just above his waistline, in the small of his back, where the sweat pools along his spine on the walks he takes to avoid the subway, to avoid being trapped underground with people who might touch him. With a word, or a smile, or an elbow in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He can feel the weight, but it’s different now; it’s slipping away, like it did in the fourth grade, when two of his classmates took a pair of scissors to the frayed bottom of his hand-me-down backpack and watched as it split open on the walk to the bus. The pencil case went first, the history book toppling down on top of it and shattering the flimsy plastic thing into a half dozen pieces. And that’s how it feels now, how it felt last night when he and those boys drank together as men with the first (and second) wisps of age in their beards, laughing about the whole thing. All those years of stuffing one hurt after another into his bag, of imagining malice where there was only mischief, all of those years have spilled out behind him now, and he’s too relieved to look back and admire the mess.

Instead, he looks forward, out the window, into the yard where they once played, where, yes, they once teased him for pretending he was a robot that was more than met the eye (but only because they were afraid he might uncover their own secret shames, too). He looks out there, his back still sore from the things he’s carried, but his soul lighter than it’s been since the days when the yard stretched out before him and he was not afraid to fill it his voice.

Perhaps one day, the professor thinks, he will fill it again.

In the words of Maria Popova, donating = loving. If you enjoy what you read here at Clarkwoods, please become a patron.

One Week Off

Every year during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I am called upon to layout and produce the literary magazine for the college where I teach. Last year, perhaps because my Draft a Day project was then brand new, I was able to continue churning out stories even in the midst of a difficult week. This year, for the sake of my mental health, I’m not able to do that. I hope you’ll pardon me taking a week off.

Thanks, as always, for your support.


Photo by Ismael Nieto

Photo by Ismael Nieto

Sometimes, when he squints just right, he can still see the lipstick on his forehead. It was right there, right where the skin is flaking now. He remembers how she stood on her tip toes to lay the kiss on him, how he felt the tickle of that one gray hair sprouting from her chin when he bent down to receive her lips, a bristle no one had ever told her to pluck. And he remembers how he closed his eyes, how she was so close to him that he couldn’t help it. For what was more terrifying to the young than intimacy with the old? What was scarier than age rubbing off on you, that most unavoidable of afflictions?

She smelled of lilacs, and she wore their color too. A whole other level of coordination, he thought, as she hugged him. He wondered if that was a chapter in the book of style that had been lost, excised in new editions along with the bits about breeches and brooches and badges of all sorts. He smiled at the thought, then he smiled at her.

And then she was gone, down the line to be received by the dapper young gents who had attended him and his bride. She steadied herself on the arms of each person she held in her embrace, being passed off from one to the next until she reached the walker that had been positioned for her at the other end of the bridge. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her walk herself toward the reception hall, wondering if he’d get a chance to dance with her, if she’d be willing to risk it, or if walking the line had been enough for her.

It was years of wondering after that, wondering if each trip back home would be the last, then if each phone call from his mother would be the call to deliver to the news. And now it was done, had been done, was done longer ago now than he cared to admit. Now, there was no more wondering.

No more wondering except the wondering if he was crazy when he saw the purple lipstick on his forehead, the mark she’d left that would never quite fade.

In the words of Maria Popova, donating = loving. If you enjoy what you read here at Clarkwoods, please become a patron.


Sky sister and the green girl
bleed, baby. And blush.
A hard kiss is how they heal.

These women make warm
the cold universe.
The breeze across
their broken bellies
does not faze them.

Empty, their baskets,
their cartons of eggs
(even when full).
ready to be filled.
Ready, but not eager.
Not waiting.

“Nothing,” says the green girl, “is wrong
with nothing.”

In the words of Maria Popova, donating = loving. If you enjoy what you read here at Clarkwoods, please become a patron.

The Evidence of You

Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk

The librarian sets the book down upon two wedges of gray foam, shows me where the weighted strings are if I need to keep a page open, and then takes his leave of me.

I open the tome with a kind of reverence I reserve only for books, the only thing on this earth that I worship more than my wife. And as I leaf through its first pages, searching the index for the evidence of you, I worry that some spirit in this place will find my lack of faith disturbing. I am, after all, sitting beneath the roof of the one true church. Or do they even profess to be that anymore? Perhaps their one true god would be upset by their hubris.

A voice in my head tells me that hubris is a Greek thing, something the Romans didn’t bother to plunder, and urges me to get on with it.

I find you on the fourteenth page. Or, well, that’s where I find the signpost that will lead to you. Your surname is there, and the surname of the woman who will be your wife, and then there is the page number. The place where answers will come.

What I find there is a mix of a dead language and a living one, though neither of them slip gently across my dumb tongue.

I resist the urge to run my finger under each line as I read, not only because Mrs. Gardner would roll over in her grave if she could see me now, forgetting everything she taught me in my more elementary days, but because I don’t want to leave my mark upon these pages. I know what just a little of me might do, a drop of me enough to stain what I hope will stay pure for the next person who needs these pages to guide them home.

For years, all I’ve known of the two of you are your tragic ends — one beaten for a bottle of hooch, the other beaten by memories too cruel — but now, now in a single word I find hope: baptizatam.

Husband born where the mermaids sang us through the darkest hours, wife born on the hilltop where the iron wolf howled, your blood is the stuff of legends I haven’t imagined yet. And I imagine a lot. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I do.

I capture the words and I close the book, headed for the door and the road ahead, the map to what come next laid out by you folks who came before.

In the words of Maria Popova, donating = loving. If you enjoy what you read here at Clarkwoods, please become a patron.