Thursday, September 1, 2016


…In Taos, at the workshop, we were told to go deep with our writing.  I usually do that, but while there I went to places I’d forgotten about.  It was very emotional digging up things I’d somehow buried.  But it felt safe, and I was with people who protected me and so I wrote and wrote about things that happened when I was a boy.
This is one of the pieces that came out of it:

                                                            Summer of Smoke

            It was a summer of smoke, the summer my brothers stole cigarettes and made me light up with them until I puked, the summer forest fires shrieked and crackled in the distance, swallowing an entire valley, the summer our garage burnt down to cinders and four charred posts, the summer I turned nine and learned that, for some people, monsters are very real.

            It was the summer Sis claimed Dad had been raping her for years.

            Mom didn’t believe her, of course she didn’t.

            Mealtime became a kind of silent purgatory, all of us silent mimes.  Only the plates spoke.  When we could, we buried our eyes under made up manhole covers.

            Mom and Dad never stopped smoking, leafy ash curling off the ends of their Marlboros like gnarled fingers beckoning you their way, smoke genies floating in the whorls of Mom’s hair curled high like an out of control fern, some slaking out of her hairy nostrils, riding the ridges of her cat-eyed glasses, making her squint and scowl.  Dad, seated beside her at the front of the table, with an open mouth full of smoke, a gray trapdoor, his flattop haircut a hundred tiny needles.

            One day Sis and I escaped our parents and brothers and hid in the hills beyond the trailer lot where we lived.

            We watched the forest fire move in orange-red sheets down the mountainside fast as the wind, merciless, almost liquid in flight.  The air was as thick as smudged cotton, tasted like tarry briquettes, and burned going down.

            We sat beneath an evergreen whose branches danced with the breeze, the limbs rustling, trying to relay some urgent message we already knew.

            “I hope it gets us,” Sis said.

            “No you don’t.  Besides, it’s too far away.”

            “Everything is,” Sis said, her last words that day.

            When we stood up, I took her palm in mine and held I as we made our way back to hell.

            Now, all these years later, as I escort her down the aisle, I give her hand a little squeeze.  Everyone’s eyes are on the bride next to me.

            He’s not here.

            She’s not here.

            Everything is safe.  Everything is good.  It’s almost perfect.


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