9 03 2008

That year my mother collected awkward things as we crisscrossed Europe, kids in the back, father lodged at the wheel next to her and her romantic notions. From Amsterdam she lugged a wrought-iron candlebra, stuffed into the trunk in case my father, unnerved by German or Italian drivers, braked without warning. In Normandy it was cheese so appalling that we forced her to tie it to the side mirror to flap safely outside. In Siena it was a yellow pottery ewer for wine or flowers, a treasure she swaddled, cushioned from mishap by the soft stuff of a family adventure.

Creative Nonfiction Exercise

5 03 2008

“On Storms”

Driving across the flat bones of Saskatchewan, you knew you could make the Manitoba border before dark. The road was straight, the air clear, your energy in that soft limbo of cross-country travel. Easy with one another, ready to throw yourselves into the forge of marriage, yes–you thought you might even drive through the night, through several nights.

When the gaping sky suddenly shape-shifted, swiveled, exposing its insides, though, you, you lost your bearings. Yellow-green salting a purple rash, deepening, infecting the plains. And no sound at all except for the tires, the engine. Just freaked-out sky hunkering over the flat flat land.

He glinted. “A good summer storm! About freakin’ time!” You withdrew into a New Englander’s silent shelter. But the sky responded, shattering around you into slicing rain, lightning, thunder–a cacophony of sensation, chasing you onward onward, he, soon-to-be-husband leaning into the windshield, strange, a stranger.

Here are the rules:

1. Use a second-person narrator

2. Use 150 words.
3. Use the following words: bones, glint, forge, salt
4. Title it “On Storms”
5. Make it creative nonfiction
6. Go…

Public Bus (100 words)

3 03 2008

Growing up, I envied country kids, faces to the window, exploring the mysteries of school-bus culture. The year we lived in England, my brother and I took the bus to the city center; from there I walked through Cambridge’s ancient streets to my girls’ school. Claiming the front seat atop the double-decker, my brother banned me from the action. Or so he thought, for before me unfolded the real show starring conductors playing marvelous ticket machines strapped to their uniformed chests, spewing the language in hard-edged accents, hopping off and back onto the open landing as nimble as circus acrobats.

Stethoscopes (100 words Exercise)

29 02 2008

I’m okay about stethoscopes. Really. Our childhood doctor arrived with his breadbox of a black leather bag, fishing out concoctions at our bedsides: cherries gone strange or bubblegum fizz. Always, around his neck his stethoscope necklace. He was a kind but serious man. Tall. Old.

Thirty years later, when I’d rush one young daughter or the other to Doc Pete for a broken wrist or earache, he, wily magician, would nod a pursed “HmmMMMmmmm….” as he touched stethoscope to elbow, to nose, to pinkie toe. No matter how bad the pain, the sick one would giggle, fear effaced, healing begun.

Workshop # 3, Exercise

28 02 2008

2/27 Again, our tutors came up with a great exercise, this one meant to push us towards some of the considerations of writing creative nonfiction.

Prompt: The glass voted on word as topic chosen from a list of five. They chose GLASS. List:
1. Memories associated with glass
2. Facts about glass
3. Feelings you have about glass
4. Questions having to do with glass.

In five minutes, write a piece (whatever form whatever genre) entitled “A History of Glass”
using one from each column.
My result–

“A History of Glass”

How many layers of history are contained within a glass bottle? Why didn’t they break when they were first heaved into what then was the edge of the forest but now is deep scraggle? We found them in early spring before the new leaves sheltered their traces and the loamy needles sank them deeper into their blanket. When my father and I hunted around between the shallow roots of pine trees, we were like farmers searching for truffles, I suppose, though our treasure was sighted not sniffed: bottles over a century old, clouded and thick, the color of watery sky. Some had slender, sloping shoulders and elegant necks as though modeled after a lovely woman and containing water, elixirs, potions, snake oil remedies but mostly, probably, whiskey, as the house up the field was a tavern from the Revolutionary War until mid 19th century and a trading post before that for trappers from way up the Penobscot, which we could see sparkling through the leafless branches as we worked, hunters, my father for traces of history and me for the scent of stories.

ENAM 170 Workshop Exercise

28 02 2008

2/24 New York School of Poets Exercise (inspired by former 170-er and now faculty and poet, Stacie Cassarino) This exercise was dreamed up by our course tutors.


1. Write a question.

2. Write down the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the following:
Day of the week
Time of day
Body part
Means of transportation
Article of clothing
Song lyrics
Street name
Children’s toy
Historical event
Rock group
Thing you find in a hardware store
Musical instrument

3. Another question.

In five minutes, write a poem opening with the first question, closing with the second question and including as many of the responses to the words as possible. Think about how to get from the first question to the second.
My result:

Camus to Sisyphus

Why does the owl sit in our tree
on Tuesday at 3:00
of all things, in the day

Why does Klimt
throw teal grapefruits against the window
in Prague
while he rides the train to visit
his mother?

Why does the street sign
hit your shoes with sadness as you push
your burden up Elm Street?
Hey, don’t walk on the grass,
it’s cheating.
Rather, play the viola with burning tires.

Why does Canada’s arm
slap down across the border
as though it holds some kind of rosy oval

Does it know something we don’t?