Procession

Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust—flutter in the
wind blown by my lust.

—Nortina


Every Wednesday in June, I’ve been writing love poetry for my Camp NaNoWriMo novella, Love Poetry. Each poem will serve as an epigraph to the chapter it introduces.

If you read my 2015 A to Z Challenge, you already know what happens to Whitmore. However, looking back at those posts, I don’t think Jessica really had enough time to process the events before she was back with Bruce. Yoga may help relieve some tension, but let’s be serious, one session is not going to help you get over that kind of guilt that fast.

So I’ve added a new chapter in which Jessica goes to Whitmore’s funeral to try to deal with her grief over his death and her guilt for wanting to be with Bruce.

This poem was initially longer, much longer, but then I found myself trying to rhyme and stick to a meter, and it just got really cheesy reeeally fast. Then I realized the only part I felt strongly about was the repetition of ashes, dust, and lust. And wouldn’t you know, those stanzas were seventeen syllables! The perfect haiku!

So I cut everything else out, which was basically meaningless babble, and kept the lines that conveyed the most emotion with the strongest imagery.

Sometimes shorter is better.

So what do you think? Should I keep it like this, or do you want to see the longer, cornier (and still unfinished) version? Personally, I think it says all it needs to say in just three lines.

 

A Mother Still

When she returned home from the hospital, she locked her doors and lay in the bed alone. She didn’t move; she couldn’t, the pain was too great. She felt as if pieces of her had been ripped out from the inside—they had. She felt she was hemorrhaging enough blood for two persons—She was.

When she bled through her pad, she didn’t attempt to change it. She couldn’t if she wanted. She was too sore to roll over onto her stomach—empty and full at the same time—slide one leg off the edge of the bed, and then the other, crouch onto the floor and then pull herself up, take one step, and then another to the bathroom too far away.

She couldn’t imagine sitting on the toilet, wincing under the ache of the muscles in her thighs and abdomen pulled tight, looking down between her thighs into the bowl of the commode and seeing remnants of a life swirling and blending with urine and water. To see it caught up in the fibers of a maxipad clung to her skin, like a nightmare trapped in the dreamcatcher’s net. To feel drops trickle down her legs when she stood and slowly dragged forever filthy clothing back over her hips.

She curled around the pill bottle clutched in her fist. Prescription pain medicine strong enough for her to become addicted to after the physical pain had left her, but the emotional trauma still remained. She hacked up saliva and mucus from the back of her mouth and used it to push two down her throat. She lay on her back, watching the ceiling spin overhead. When she closed her eyes, she dreamt of drowning, of splashing to the surface gasping for air, and tiny little hands, stubby little fingers, dunking her head back under.

She woke choking, unable to breathe, and when she looked up, she thought she saw eyes, narrowed and burrowing. She sat up. Through the pain, she crawled to the other end of the bed, to her purse hanging over the bedpost, and retrieved a pen from the front pocket. Lying back, she wrote upside down, crooked letters on he stomach, below her navel, against her throbbing womb, in red ink.

Believe me, I loved
you—Before Winter’s smitten
death—And even still.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt asks us to write a story in the form of a series of letters. This haibun is the result of how I was inspired by the prompt—my “series of letters” coming together to form the melancholic haiku at the end of the story. 

F is for… [F]athers #AtoZChallenge

As we near the close of week one of the A to Z Challenge (and I’m still alive—yayyy!), it’s time for another brainstorming session! A prologue, two backstories, and two character sketches down, and I’ve come to discover a major theme in Prodigal Son* (*title a work in progress)…

Fathers.

Or, more specifically, the lack of fathers.

Tony and Gregory lose their father at the peak of their adolescence, at the age arguably when a young black boy needs his father the most.

The absence of good fathers, especially in the black community, has become an epidemic. No offence to single mothers, but young boys need their fathers. Training up men is something a woman just can’t do, and she shouldn’t have to. Nevertheless, many women have taken on that burden. Unfortunately, just as babies quickly pick up our not-so-glamorous habits, children learn from example, and with no father in the home, boys will learn how to be men from what that see in the media and on the streets.

As you can see below, these images are rarely positive.

The uprooting of black families is a destructive cycle that began in slavery and continues to this day, with the overcrowding of jails and prisons—more than half of that population being black men—the questionable killings of unarmed black men by police, the belittling of black men by law enforcement and government agencies, gang violence, drug infested streets (if you thought this heroin epidemic is a new thing, you never lived in Harlem in the 60’s & 70’s), rap music videos that degrade black women, the insensitive stereotypes that label black men as dangerous brutes, and black women as emasculating, oversexualized, welfare queens. I could go on, but I’ll stop right here and let this list take effect.

I use black men as a prime example of how black families are being uprooted because this novel will also have a strong Christian theme, as seen in Leslie’s character profile (and the interim title, Prodigal Son, alluding to the parable in the Gospel of Luke). In Christianity, the husband and father is said to be the priest of the home, in reference to 1 Corinthians 11:3 which says, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (Also see Joshua 24:15, which says, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”)

Back in the Garden of Eden, God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil originally came to Adam. He was supposed to relay that down to his wife (and slap that damn fruit out her hand). Likewise, in today’s Christian household, spiritual guidance would come to the man from Christ above (through the Holy Spirit) and trickle down to the rest of the family. That’s why the Bible says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21). So, when the enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10), he will attack the man, the head of the house, and subsequently everything else will fall out of whack.

Tony and Gregory are exceptions to the “deadbeat dad” syndrome. They didn’t lose their dad to gun violence. He’s not locked away in prison, and he’s not fathering another family. His death was purely natural (albeit sudden and severe), yet these are still two young black men now growing up in America without a father. Society wouldn’t look at them any differently. How will that realization resonate with them? How will they identify themselves?

It brings to mind that sense of double consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois explored in his The Souls of Black Folk, seeing oneself in a double identity—as you would view yourself, and as others would view you—and that difficult task of trying to reconcile the two.

In contrast, Detective Frank Maye, whose race hasn’t been revealed (and probably won’t be), loses his father much later in life. However, not knowing where he is or what happened to him leaves an open wound that is just as deep, and his ability to connect the similar traumas may be the key to finding Gregory.

Another theme this novel will likely explore is one that goes hand in hand with fathers: masculinity. What does it mean to be a man?

Gregory tries to answer this question as he goes off on his own, distancing himself from the (unintentional) coddling of his mother, Leslie. Unfortunately, with his father gone, good examples of men are short to come by, and things quickly start to spiral when he begins dating Tanisha, a parasitic woman who bounce from man to man, leeches off of Gregory to get what she wants, demeans him, cheats on him, and gets pregnant by another man. While her character may be veering toward the stereotypical, I can’t deny that there are women like her out there, and her behavior is what drives Gregory off the deep end. So for now she stays.

Lastly, in future posts, we’ll take a look at Tony, Gregory’s older brother. His character is still one-dimensional at this point, as I’m not sure how significant a role he’ll play in the novel. For now, all we have of him is the flashback in yesterday’s post, where teenage Tony behaves apathetically toward the busy work of preparing for his father’s funeral. Maybe that uncaring attitude extends into his adulthood? We’ll see as the novel comes together.

Now, I already know what you’re thinking. Since tomorrow is “G,” you’re hoping to get a character sketch of Gregory, but I think I’ve been doing plenty of sketching of him throughout all these posts, so I may do something different for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

—Nortina

E is for… [E]ulogy #AtoZChallenge

The day went by as a procession of footsteps, blurred clothing streaking across her vision as bodies walked back and forth, praying, offering assistance, giving condolence. From dawn to dusk, she cried a river of tears on shoulders, into coat sleeves, and damp, balled up tissues. And when her eyes dried and burned like salt, a hoarse, guttural wail she didn’t recognize escaped her throat, and underneath the sobs, her entire core shuddered.

Her friends and family surrounded her. Their hands caressed her. Their words cooed her. Her church family came to her aid. They spoke God’s tongue. “To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord,” they proclaimed. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in times of trouble,” they consoled. “Let the peace of God transcend all understanding,” they comforted. Despite the love all around her, Leslie felt completely and utterly alone.

Finally, as the evening approached and the crowd started to dwindle, she collapsed on the couch and lay motionless. She felt as if she had become the couch and the weight of herself sat on top of her, pushing her down into the springs and boards. She plucked at the bags underneath her eyes, the skin raw from lack of sleep and ceaseless crying since that dreadful morning four days ago when the cardiologist announced they couldn’t resuscitate, that Antonio, her soulmate, the man she spent twenty years of her life with, was gone.

“Get up.” A slap on her knee jerked her upright. Her mother stood over her, hair pulled back into a high bun. She pointed her cane toward the kitchen. “Pull yourself together for them boys.”

Tony and Gregory were sitting at the kitchen table. She had assigned them both tasks in preparing for their father’s funeral. Tony was in charge of keeping record of all the gifts—who brought flowers, who brought food, who signed the guestbook. Eventually, she would have to write all those people “thank you” cards. An arduous mountain climb she couldn’t imagine tackling for another month. Gregory was given the job of writing Antonio’s eulogy. He  slouched in his chair, tapping the eraser of his pencil against the blank sheet of paper in front of him.

“They need you to be strong,” her mother urged. “They lost a father. Some would say that’s more significant.”

Leslie let out an exasperated sigh, but she knew her mother was right. She pulled herself to her feet, feeling heavy, as if emerging wet from a pool, side-stepped her mother, who took her place on the couch, and joined her sons in the kitchen.

“I can’t do this,” Gregory said, wiping his eyes. “Can’t you give it to Tony?”

Tony looked up from his doodling in the guestbook. “You crying, boy?”

“Tony,” Leslie warned sharply. She stood behind Gregory, rubbed and kissed the crown of his head. “Yes you can, sweetheart. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”

“That’s the thing. I can’t think of anything.”

Leslie lowered her head into her son’s, kissing him again, over and over. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to hold back the next wave of tears. “Oh, precious boy, yes you can.”

“Man, can I go?” Tony huffed.

Leslie winced at his tone. She shook her head, reminding herself that he was a teenager, that his nonchalant attitude could be a form of grief. “Did you write down everything people brought?”

“Yes,” he said quickly with a loud exhale. Leslie didn’t believe him, but she let him go anyway, not wanting to deal with his stubbornness in her current state of mind.

She returned her attention the Gregory. She leaned over his shoulder, took his hand in hers and held the pencil upright. “Remember when you and your dad used to fix things around the house?”

He shrugged.

“Come on, honey. I can’t do this alone.” Gregory was never one without words. Always asking questions, eager to learn. He hung on his father’s every word, repeating everything he said, and living by it. Unlike Tony, Leslie and her husband rarely had to discipline Gregory, or repeat themselves several times before he would finally do what they asked. This was new territory for her. With her world already shaken, she tried to disguise her frustration. “What’s one lesson you remember him teaching you? One that you will always hold on to?”

“I don’t know, Mom!”

The ground under her feet began to vibrate as Tony returned to the kitchen, dribbling his basketball between his legs.

“What did I tell you about bouncing that ball?”

“Ok, Mom!” He stuffed the ball under his arm and left out of the back door.

“Can I go with Tony?”

“No, you need to finish.”

“I told you, I can’t!” He pushed his chair back from the table, knocking Leslie off her balance and into the cabinets behind her. He stormed past his grandmother who had come to the doorway of the kitchen, hunched over her cane. Leslie started to follow him, but the older woman raised her hand to stop her.

“You told me to be strong for them!” Leslie cried, but her voice cracked. All of her strength had left her, she had no crutch to lean against, and the greatest testing of her faith, Antonio’s funeral, was still yet to come.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. prologues, character sketches (2), outlines, and in the case of this post, backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

Ashes to Ashes

I’m as shallow as these waters. Jewel squeezes my hand. He loves me. I’m supposed to love him. Daddy did — his dying wish that we don’t wait to marry.

The wind suddenly changes directions when Reverend Jacob holds the urn over the ocean.

My dad settles in my hair, and I shake and pull and rake, and fall hard on the rocks, and all Jewel can do is pull me into him, promise he’ll take me away from here. He needs to be my savior — that’s why I can’t marry him. I want to hurt. I want to cry alone.

word count: 100

—Nortina


© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Friday Fictioneers challenges you to write a story in 100 words or less using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own.

#BlaPoWriMo: Fallen Hero (poem)

Addict
found half-submerged
in a manhole—
scorched wrists
from needle shots
through veins.

Reports broadcast
homelessness, depression.
Divorced family
across state lines—
wife preferred a
man who could hide
his nightmares; soldier
in bed alone.

Dog tags project
still images of
half-naked children
dancing a dirt song
on fire.

—Nortina


Written for today’s #BlaPoWriMo prompt: write a poem for the lost soldier.

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Lost Soldier

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

—Yusef Komunyakaa, from Dien Cai Dau (1988)

 

Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem, “Facing It” is full of strong, ghostly imagery that transports you to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on an emotional wave of grief, self-doubt, forgotten identity to the point that you too lose yourself in the mirrored stone with over 58,000 names etched into the granite.

The effects of war are difficult to cope with—for those directly and indirectly involved. Many soldiers don’t return home—either killed in action or missing, lost in the trenches, the jungle, the desert. Those who do return are never the same. They’ve seen things, experienced things, felt things we could never understand. The uncertainty in the speaker’s words, the choppiness in the lines illustrations this. His face disappears into the wall, and he expects to see his name alongside the missing and departed. Touching a comrade’s name invokes a horrific memory crashing back into his mind in a white explosion. While he is mentally and emotionally lost in the war, another veteran has the physical scars, a missing arm.

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We don’t always show our veterans the respect they deserve. They put their lives on the line for our freedoms to return home in many cases to criticism, systematic racism and hatred, homelessness. Even today our veterans can’t even get proper medical care without a fight. What good is a Medal of Valor if the recipient is dying from his sustain injuries (mental and physical) on the side of the road? Those 58,022 names aren’t the only ones lost.

Today’s Black Poetry Writing Month prompt is to write a poem for the lost soldier, the one facing his soul in the black mirrored granite and finding nothing, lost in his own purgatory after having died in battle. Connect with his pain and sorrow. Dig deep into the carvings on his skin and try to reconcile him with life.

—Nortina

The Year They Lost Santa (Part 2 of 3)

White wig and beard lay next to bottle and bread. Nick rubbed a slice against his face, the stubble on his chin scratching it like sandpaper, bread crumbs falling onto the straps of his suspenders and the collar of his red thermal shirt, settling onto the countertop.

She always caressed his face to calm him when he was hot with anger. He remembered her slender hand, her smooth skin, the coolness of her wedding band against his cheek, how her fingers melted onto his lips as he kissed them.

He tore off the crust. Rolled the bread between his palms, dropped the ball into the shot glass overflowing with whiskey. He patted the nine millimeter tucked in his waistband, watched the clock as the bread swelled. His shift started in fifteen minutes, enough time for one, maybe two more. He plopped the ball into his mouth, refilled the glass, and took another slice of bread from the bag.

* * *

The child, dressed like an elf, round as a snowman, couldn’t sit straight. His head bobbed as he tried to look up.

“And what is it that you want for Christmas, little boy?” Nick feigned jolly, belched between words.

The child made spit bubbles and wiggled further down between Nick’s knees.

“His father was deployed to Afghanistan.” The mother stepped in, pulled her son up by his collar. “We’d feel much safer if he were home.”

Behind her, Nick saw a man running from the food court. He shook his arm as the object inside his jacket sleeve slid into his hand.

—Nortina

Part One

Day 5 of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

The Year They Lost Santa (Part 1 of 3)

The bread felt soft in Nick’s hands, as if the dough had been filled with air— an edible cumulus cloud. He imagined a bakery at the back of the grocery store, where they sliced and packaged loaves of bread fresh from the oven and stacked them on the shelves.

In the checkout line, the cashier winked at him. “Shouldn’t you be in your toy shop?” he said with a smirk. “Only three more weeks.”

Nick grunted, walked through the sliding doors without taking his change. The paper sign taped to one of the doors flapped in the wind as they moved. He turned to read it: “Protect yourselves and your loved ones.” Below was an image of a pistol circled in green. He’d seen a similar sign on the front doors of Mercy Street Mall, where he worked. Stores across the country had been changing their policies against weapons on store grounds since the latest mass shooting. The number rising to more than one a day; the death toll even higher.

“Too little, too late,” he muddled.

—Nortina

Day 4 of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

One Last Time

The cemetery spread along the area known as Devils Abode.

The cab stopped in front of the sign, DEAD ZONE AHEAD. Jessie glanced at the meter as it began to glitch. She handed the man two 20s. “You don’t have to wait.” She gathered the bouquet of flowers and slid out onto the curb.

The driver made a sharp U-turn, the tires screeching, and sped back down the mountain.

There’s nothing evil about a place where the dead go to rest, she thought as she hiked toward the cast-iron gate. She looked down at the black screen of her cellphone. So electronics tend to fail here. She pulled her jacket over her shoulders. And the wind has a frozen lick to it.

Her husband’s grave was the first to the left of the entrance. She lay on the freshly shoveled dirt, placed the flowers above her head, waited for his arms to reach up and hold her one last time.

word count: 150

—Nortina


Mondays Finish the Story: a flash fiction challenge where we provide you with a new photo each week, and the first sentence of a story. Your challenge is to finish the story using 100-150 words, not including the sentence provided.

Click the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own.

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