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Pearl Diver

 

I was the best.

My sisters swore
I grew gills and fins in every dive.
Octopus and squid never fled
in inky fright from me;
sharks that claimed my brother
swam sightlessly near me.
I held my breath longer,
I dove deeper
than any in my village.

I never told my secret.

Grandmother says
a water demon entered me
but she is old
and she sees demons everywhere.
She says that is why
I came up coughing blood
when last I dove
and now must walk the land
with sea-pain in my bones.

Never to dive for pearls again—
I weep for Urashima
enduring sea-change born of love
only to end a scattering
of surf-bleached bones upon the sand
beside an empty open box,
an untied ribbon of saffron silk
fluttering in the salty breeze.

The oysters sang to me.

 

First published in Under Every Moon by GL Francis, 2013 (publisher: Charlie Dawg Press).
Available at http://www.amazon.com/Under-Every-Moon-G-Francis/dp/0615870694

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Yard Patrols

Without fruit, branches
of family trees become
stories seldom told.

After so many years, the doves in the blue spruce are not the original pair. Offspring of offspring, perhaps, or opportunistic squatters with soft gray feathers and faintly blushed hints of dusty rose on bright cloudless days, faintly brushed hints of dusty lavender on overcast days. An ideal nursery structure, the spruce’s stiff, sharp needles discourage marauding crows and red-tailed hawks. Squirrels shun the sticky sap bleeding from splits in the bark, sap that baptizes the tree in strong terpene scent.

At first, the doves startle at my yard patrol, a check before letting the dogs out. But soon they learn the routine and their departure from the ground becomes less panicked. They observe from nearby trees or the roof’s edge until the dogs are inside again. They resume their hunt for fallen seeds or nesting grasses.

High-pitched cheeps alert me when the eggs hatch. Patrols take longer. I look for baby doves in their first forays away from their birth-branch. The parents supervise from a safe distance as I scoop up one or two fledglings from the bare dirt and return them to the spruce. The youngsters awkwardly scramble-hop branch to branch back to the nest.

I haven’t imprinted them the way the parent doves do, yet they are subtly imprinted by touch alien to their kind. As they speckle with new feathers, they never take wing in frightened flight as quickly as other birds.

Three steps away,
they watch till I wave arms like
a deranged windmill.

From the althea, something drops to the ground with an alarmed whistle and zips into the cover of planters and loosestrife. I’m not sure what I’ve seen.

Coffee cup in hand, I settle on the back step. Most of the brew is gone before a tiny tricolor head peeps from between planters. We regard each other until the ground squirrel is satisfied I’m not a predator. Harmless. An encounter cost it part of its tail, held half-mast high as the rodent darts across the sidewalk and through the chain-link fence.

Brown open pods from last year spike out amid this year’s blossoms. Hairy seeds still cling inside many of them, food for birds and the little stripeys. Blooms drop, and new green pods swell. The community of ground squirrels forage in the shrubs and along the fences where morning glories, weeds, and native grasses drop seeds. The half-tailed stripey favors the althea, but as summer spins toward fall, it no longer performs the alarmed aerial launch from the branches. At my greetings, it pauses to eye me, then finishes picking seeds from old pods and newly opened ones. Cheeks bulging, it moseys along a branch to the trunk, to the ground, then leisurely scampers away.

Who was she? An aunt?
What crime in her lonely chats
with wild animals?

Either I missed its presence on my patrol or it wandered into the yard just as I went to open the back door. A melee ensues between my dogs trying to catch the invader and the groundhog suddenly outnumbered by snarling, barking canines.

They chase it around the brushpile, but it slews toward the side fence on the third circuit. The dogs think it’s behind the pile again. In its rolling gallop, the long claws patter softly on the hardened clay soil. The groundhog freezes—I’m too close to the pushed-up fence section where it came in. It rears, stares.

I point to the gap. “Hurry up! Go! Go!”

The dogs are still nosing the back of the brushpile. The groundhog looks in the direction I point, then back at me. Seconds suspend forever. It’s puzzled, uncertain how to interpret words, gesture. Then it drops to four, wriggles under the fence, and vanishes into the woods.

The dogs arrive by my side. The brindle girl wags her tail, approving my diligence in keeping the home turf safe. The younger girl gives me—bipedal usurper of the chase—a Cape buffalo glower. The blond boy found a chunk of branch and lost interest in the quarry.

Happiness: better
a stick in mouth than critters
too dodgy to catch.

The brief flush of yellow segued to golden brown overnight. Dry, papery rain is the sound of the ash rapidly dropping leaves weeks before the oak and maple change colors. The leaves form an isolated drift on the yard’s south side.

It’s after midnight. The bigger dogs do their business quickly, then go back in the house to sleep. The smaller girl always dawdles. Now she stands rigid, head tilted and looking down in her I found something strange posture. I thumb on the flashlight and wade through crackling leaves to investigate.

Neither baby nor adult, the juvenile opossum lies in classic “playing ’possum” curl, lips drawn back from tiny teeth, saliva oozing from mouth. A tangy musk surrounds the young marsupial, the wild and foul glandular odor of fresh death.

I leash-lasso the dog. My light skims over the prone creature, and blood gleams on its flank. The juvenile truly is dead.

As I take the dog inside, I debate whether to toss the body in a trash bag for disposal or give it a night flight into the woods for owls or the occasional passing vulture. This is, after all, a repeating drama in every woodland theater away from the presence of humans.

Grief for life cut short
shadows cold reality—
cycles of life, death.

I return with a lantern, a piece of old blanket and a trash bag.

The critter is gone.

My flashlight reveals nothing in the yard. The ash-leaf rain hinders listening for the rustling rhythm, movement. Then, a faint tink of chain link against metal post.

The animal tries to climb the fence. Useless back legs tangle in Virginia creeper. It momentarily struggles to free itself but concedes defeat to the shackling vine.

I talk to it, pitching my voice low and mellow, an audio caress. Delicate dark ears edged with white twitch as I compare the juvenile’s gray awn to a beautiful Malamute husky I once knew. Mindful of its teeth, I gently stroke its shoulders with a slender stick. It opens its mouth with a brief huusssss, but the hiss is the calling-for-mother sound rather than a warning.

Oral tradition:
grew herbs, spoke to animals—
hanged for witchcraft.

I ease knotty vines from its legs. Without obstruction, purple bruising shows on skin between clumps of blood and saliva-wet hair. There’s an odd offset to its spine just above the hips.

Talking. Stroking. Slowly moving my hand closer.

Talking. Stroking. The stick no longer needed. The opossum sniffs my fingers.

Be brave, little one.

Draping the bit of blanket over the juvenile, I carefully lift it from the fence. My voice stumbles—I feel looseness in the broken back—and I fold the fabric into a faux pouch around it. A sigh, a snuggling shift, then a small pale face with liquescent black eyes, tired but trusting, peers out at me.

The wire dog cage in the back of the truck still has blankets and room enough to settle it in its improvised pouch. With a pipette, I give it pain relief—a liquid that permeates mouth membranes, a leftover from the cat’s surgery—then a few drops of water. A tarp over the cage will protect it from predicted rain and provide a cozy den. If it lives through the night, I’ll take it to the veterinary office where I work in the morning, before the pain relief wears off. There, its passing will be eased.

Be at peace, little one.

Unsung compassion
plays out in minute acts when
little lives matter.

How long since it last rained? The soil is no indicator. The backyard is a solid clay-bank, and it cracks into thousands of mosaic tiles when there’s no water for more than a day. Tender trees and plants don’t survive long in it, but the hardiest seem to thrive. The main benefit: fallen leaves don’t require a rake; a broom sufficiently sweeps the yard.

The dogs’ noses spot and squeegee the sliding glass door while they wait for completion of the yard patrols. During the day, they add commentary if I take too long for their liking, but at night, there’s rarely more than nose squeaks.

I kick the brushpile. No rabbits tonight. No opossums, no raccoons use the fence for a thoroughfare. My flashlight catches a pinpoint of white in the leaves. Then another a few feet from the first, this one pale blue. They could be reflections from water droplets, perhaps condensation glittering in miniscule pools, but there’s been no moisture for weeks. Wouldn’t there be sparkles scattered all over the lawn?

Or possibly old shards of broken glass exposed when surrounding clay cracked. But would it twinkle so clearly, so brightly, a star amid yard debris?

Spinneret silk strength
equals steel, enough to hang
a spider wrangler.

Over the driveway earlier today, a leaf hovered at eye level, trembled but did not tumble to the concrete. No trees shade this part of the backyard. The leaf transfixed me with its minor magic, a momentary mystery.

I blew a quick breath, well-aimed. The leaf spun, swung, and the sun glinted on its tether: a long, lone strand of spider silk anchored to the power line running from pole to house.

Solving the leaf’s mystery made it no less enchanting.

I ignore a single impatient ufff at the door and move toward the second spot my flashlight found. If it’s a shard of glass, it’s in the worn racetrack where the dogs dash in a speedy survey before settling down to business or play. I don’t want anyone cutting or puncturing a paw.

I hunker down for a closer look, and twin specks now shine back. Amid the irregular pattern from hundreds of shallow fissures, a shadow defines a familiar outline, a brown wolf spider against dry, brown clay. The splinters of celestial blue topaz are the spider’s retinas reflecting my light. Solving the shining mystery makes it no less enchanting.

A twig serves for ushering the spider from the dogs’ path. It moves unhurriedly into the brushpile’s shelter. Now that I know what to seek, I turn my attention to the white sparkle first glimpsed.

The eyeshine of the other spider is gone, but where it had been, a funnel web stretches back between a fountain grass clump and a garden trough. With a piece of grass, I lightly touch an outermost edge of the web. The spider rushes from deep within the web’s tunnel. She searches but finds no prey trapped, only a trick played on her. As she retreats, I catch a flash of white like distant starlight fallen by my feet.

Time’s wheel rolls onward.
Former offenses become
oddities only.

I used to think two kinds of rabbit entered the yard: the quick and the dead. Over time, a third kind emerged, older rabbits, but whether they are the stupid, the complacent, or the overconfident, I’m not certain. The working of a lagomorph mind is difficult to fathom.

Although I feel sorry for the few the dogs catch and dispatch, I don’t begrudge the dogs for doing what’s hardwired in the bloodlines of their breeds. The brindle shepherd takes her territorial duties seriously. The smaller female blends the protectiveness of a herding breed with the prey drive of a hunting line. The blond mixed boy doesn’t always know why he joins the chase but is happy to run with the girls.

It’s impossible to tell very young rabbits that freezing in place doesn’t make them invisible to the power of canine noses. Most flee when I draw too close to where they huddle. Half-grown rabbits are easier to spot and quicker to run for the woods. A few older ones simply watch my patrols.

There she is again.
Reckon the rowdy hoodlums
are next? chaw chaw chaw

This one sprawls in the grass, but it’s not injured. Its jaws work rhythmically on a patch of clover. It looks up as my shadow falls across it, and the jaws stop, then continue. Yeah, I see you—whaddya want?

“Go away.”

The ears flick. The rabbit stretches, then moves a couple of feet further into the clover. Its eyes are calm and perhaps a little defiant as it resumes the interrupted meal.

“Go away now!” I stomp and wave my arms.

Rather than bolting for the fence and the woods beyond, it takes strolling hops onto the driveway. It raises onto its haunches. Good enough, biped? I’m certain if it had a middle finger, it would flip me the bird.

After about five minutes of rabbit herding, I finally pursue it out of the yard. It will be back. The clover is lush and too luscious to resist once the all clear is given.
I pause on the back stoop before releasing the dogs.

The verdict: guilty.
Judgment on evidence of
a long-eared trickster.

The doves. The groundhog. The stripey. The possum. The spiders. The rabbit.
I don’t take such moments for granted, but I don’t know why they occur, what purpose they serve.

Solving mystery
isn’t required—sufficient
to savor wonder.

 

###

 

“Yard Patrols” first appeared in Issue 2, 2016 of Eastern Iowa Review, a publication of Port Yonder Press, owner/editor Chila Woychik. http://www.portyonderpress.com/issue-2—2016.html

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Scarecrow

ScarecrowHaiku_GLF

Eyeless face tilts to
night skies; swift meteors leap
above, cloud to cloud.

Detasseling—hot,
sweaty work till a shadow
chills with outstretched arms.

Garden effigy
smiles on peas, but in cornfields
the guard is somber.

Sun glints on feathers
blue-black as the crow watches
crucified clothing.

A tatter, a wreck
sprawls amid winter stubble
with no bones to pick.

 

 

First published in Under Every Moon by GL Francis, 2013 (publisher: Charlie Dawg Press).
Illustration by GL Francis.
Available at http://www.amazon.com/Under-Every-Moon-G-Francis/dp/0615870694

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Starlight and Other Ruminations

Today is the release of the Summer 2018 issue of The Tishman Review, an issue that includes my essay “Starlight Through Five Apertures.”

The issue can be read online for free at http://www.thetishmanreview.com/ and there are links to Amazon for purchase of a Kindle or printed copy.

The folks at TTR were awesome to work with through the editing phase after accepting my essay for publication. Their suggested changes ironed out a few wording wrinkles, amounting to little more than polishing tweaks. Knowledgeable. Professional. Respectful. Truly a delight to work with them.

Last night, on the eve before this issue’s release, I stepped outside for a little stargazing. The sky wasn’t overcast, but there was just enough haze to obscure all but the brightest stars directly overhead. Trees in full summer leaf obliterated the rest.

Although I’m primarily a speculative fiction writer, my forays into other genres usually reflect that leaning in some way. It wasn’t until I wrote “Starlight Through Five Apertures” that I realized how heavily I drew on research for my science fiction stories and how much it influenced the occasional nonfiction and poetic works I also write. Always sort of floating around somewhere in my hindbrain, but never really at the forefront of thoughts.

As I searched the sky, other works I’ve written came to mind. One title after another. Once published, so many of them vanished. With some, the publisher didn’t archive older editions or otherwise discontinued the availability of the issue/book. With some, the publication closed permanently.

Reprints are notoriously hard to sell. It doesn’t matter whether a work first appeared on a blog or whether a publisher only made a limited print run to a select niche/group. The First Rights on unpublished work is what most publishers want, what they require.

No starlight twinkled inspiration at me, but a decision was made. In the weeks and months ahead, published works that have fulfilled their exclusive contractual period will appear on this blog. Those that have vanished into reprint-status limbo will be here. There will also be a few pieces never officially published elsewhere but that don’t fit anywhere else either.

Welcome to another road along the often-twisted ramblings of the clayfoot journeys.

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Frittering Away Bits of Time

As I consider the direction I’d like these sporadic journeys to go, I find myself occasionally clicking on these quiz-things again.
Today, I wound up a True Cowboy.
Geeky procrastination at its fun finest. 😀

Journeys of the Clayfoot

A new confession: sometimes I indulge in blatant procrastination. Not major blocks of time, you understand. I don’t have major blocks of free time, but there are little 5-10 minute swatches when I could do something productive but just don’t want to.

I’m not sure whether to be amused or disturbed by one of the ways I fritter away bits of time: those crazy little on-line quizzes.

My choices in each quiz are honest, partly because I don’t like slanting results toward what I hope for, but mostly because I don’t always know what results are available or how they calculate results from my answers.

So…

My hippie name would be Breeze, but my birth name should’ve been Phoenix. My Native American name would be Likes to Play.

Depending on which quiz I take, I’d be a German Shepherd or a Basset Hound if I were canine. If I were equine…

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Sometimes the Blues

A little-known fact: I like blues music.

Before I was married, my musical taste ran more to international, classical, and (some) folk music. Bubble-gum rock–Ick. Just ICK! My attitude was if it all sounds like this, forget it!

Which is why I was never really acquainted with much of rock & roll’s vast repertoire. Not until later in life.

Once hooked, my husband introduced me to blues. It wasn’t long before I knew the names of greats and legends like Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Bessie Smith, Son House, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, and more. So many more.

But in the winter of 1992, one among them passed away. In the days following his death, radio stations across the state played many of the songs he’d written. DJ’s filled in time between songs performed by a myriad of artists about the influence his creativity had on musicians across the world and across genres.

A phenomenon I hadn’t heard before, it demanded a response. I wrote a poem–just a simple one, but heartfelt–memorializing both the person and the event.

Today, no mention was made of him when one of his songs came over the radio station tuned in my car.

Was any mention needed?

Maybe for others. Maybe for those just discovering the depths behind the music. Maybe for those too young to know anything about what inspires tunes they hear. Maybe for those who don’t realize music gives birth to music even as it nourishes the soul of the listeners.

I didn’t need to hear the name spoken by the DJ.

As the song played, I heard the name in memory.

 

MO Mourns a Bluesman

In Memory of Willie Dixon (1915 – 1992)

 

Radios played the requiem

from K.C. to St. Lou

for one who opened other doors

for rock and roll, for jazz and blues.

 

A blues harp mourned on Missouri’s banks,

rolled northward to the breaks,

joined the Mississippi’s moan

and the delta’s sighing ache.

 

A blues harp wailed on the riverbank

the day that Willie died

while somewhere in the Heartland

a little red rooster cried.

 

 

 

“MO Mourns a Bluesman”, excerpt from Under Every Moon by G.L. Francis, © 2013, http://www.amazon.com/Under-Every-Moon-G-Francis/dp/0615870694

 

 

 

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Sentient Appliances

Reminded of this when a light appeared on the car’s dashboard. I’m sure it has meaning intended to be intuitively understood. It looked like a musical instrument — a lyre. Is my car judging my choice in radio stations? Does it want a classical selection? Maybe a little Chopin or Bach?
I checked the car manual.
Oh.
Low tire.

Journeys of the Clayfoot

I confess a love/hate relationship with techy stuff.
When it works, fine. Lovely.
When it doesn’t, I want to drop-kick the techy item through the nearest window.

Maybe I’ve read and watched too much science fiction where the tech goes all wrong. One of my early introductions to the dark side of artificial intelligence was Colossus (later made into a 1970s movie). And then HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the gunfighter android from Westworld.

Et cetera.

Anyway, the glitchy side of tech is never far from my mind.

It doesn’t seem to matter how expensive the tech is when real glitches happen. For a few years, I operated a quarter of a million dollar machine that sometimes refused to shut off. Many attempts to troubleshoot and repair the glitch failed. Repair technicians knew it was a sticky relay, but even repeated replacement of the offending part didn’t…

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Questionably Helpful Tips for Cold Season

A few tips for the many folks coughing and sneezing their way toward spring.

My great-grandmother’s go-to cough & cold remedy was honey & whiskey. She concocted it in equal parts, but proportions may vary if you like. More whiskey than honey, and you won’t care that you’re miserable. More honey than whiskey, and you can watch the little sugar ants in your kitchen get drunk & pass out on your dosing spoon. (Eventually, they sleep it off and stagger away. Don’t know whether they have hangovers.)

If you eat too many black cherry cough drops, stay close to a restroom, privy, or outhouse. On the other hand, you might too afraid to cough. It’s all in the perspective.

Take a selfie if your nose is gushing like a fountain. Store it as inspiration for a garden sculpture.

Don’t use the floor if you have to spit icky phlegmy stuff. It creates a slipping hazard. Use a spittoon or a cuspidor (depending on your socio-economic spelling level). Paper cups work, too, but they lack class while you’re suffering.

Dispose of used tissues in a trashcan. Do not use them for papier-mâché (aka paper mache) projects. You’ll only be storing the germs for an encore performance.

If you decide to try a sinus flush for nasal congestion, a saline (salt) solution will feel like snorting a swimming pool. A solution made with a few grains of cayenne feels like snorting lighter fluid and sticking a match in your nose. Ditto a solution with ginger, but the afterburn lingers. . . and lingers. . . and lingers . . . .

 

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Sidetracks: the Metal Season

Journeys of the Clayfoot

drill-bits

The strangest items remind you of things now missing from your life. When you come across them, they carry you down byways of memory lane.

I forgot I’d kept a few melted & broken tips of drill bits I used to repair — chop off the bad, regrind new tips. Even after so many years, the damaged tips fascinate me. Speed and feed are terms anyone who works with machines knows, and these tips show one of the things happens when speed and/or feed is badly wrong. With the possible exception of destruct testing, this doesn’t occur without operator error, be it inattentiveness, inexperience, altered consciousness, bad math, or…

Yet there’s an eerie and violent beauty in the textures and color changes. Even today, the force and heat required to cause such metallic distortions still amaze me.

They marked the ending of a defining life season. Though I still enjoy…

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The low-maintenance lifestyle

A priceless look at ” the low-maintenance lifestyle” perspectives.
As I re-read this, I think of my own perspectives to add later. 🙂

The New Authors Fellowship

On Facebook, a colleague asked for an explanation of this Buzzfeed article: “29 Freeing Truths Of Being A Low-Maintenance Girl.” She just didn’t get it. I figured she can’t be alone, so let me explain.  The low-maintenance lifestyle is based on saving time and money by eliminating nonessentials. Of course, we all have different definitions of “essential.” But here’s how I break it down.

1. All your pajamas are a bunch of raggedy, giant, freebie T-shirts.

This is probably more true of young single people, but honestly, if no one else is going to see them, why bother with anything else? The key word here is “freebie.”

2. Your toiletries consist of no more than three drugstore products.

I can’t endorse this one, because this would limit you to soap, toothpaste, and shampoo. Folks with short hair can get away with that two-in-one shampoo conditioner combo. But those of us…

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