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.

He Knows Things Now

Photo by Charlie Foster

He sits in the cheap seats, though his student ID ensures that none of the theater’s ratty old cushions will cost him a dime. It’s the third time he’s seen the show and he wants some privacy if the tears come. That’s why there are no housemates trailing after him this time, no psych majors dragged out of their pajamas and into a pair of real pants for an evening of culture. He doesn’t want their half-baked sophomoric psychoanalysis, nor the squeeze of their gentle fingers around his pudgy hand. He doesn’t want the question, the “are you okay?” because he’s not okay, and he doesn’t want to have to say he is just to get them to shut up. He doesn’t even have the patience to nod them off this time around.

He wants to be alone when the wolf comes for granny, when Cindy gets stuck in the pitch on the steps of the palace, when the baker sings to the child in the woods. He wants to be alone when their voices fill the hall and tell him that he’s not, so he lays his winter coat across the seat to his left, puts his program on the seat to the right, and stares down his nose, waiting for the show to begin.

Before this night, the song that hit him the hardest was the one about the giants in the sky. He was sitting down below, looking up at the proscenium arch, watching them and imagining, imagining himself a place among them (if only he’d been willing to try, if only he’d settled on a good enough song to sing instead of searching all day for a great one, the one). But then their voices boomed and his chest quaked, and when his housemates asked again, “Are you okay?” he could only squeak. He squeaked, and he knew where his place was.

But now, now he is above them, looking down. Now he is the giant in the sky, looming overhead. Untouchable. He will not be touched. He will not cry. He alone will not cry.

But he is not alone, they tell him again. No one is alone. He looks at the sparse crowd spread around him, at other jackets occupying other seats, everyone at arm’s length from each other, and he realizes that singers are right. He is not alone, and never will be.

And that makes him weep.

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