Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Tessa Too-Kong: Stonewalled


I’m stymied! Stonewalled! … to delay or obstruct, says the Oxford English Dictionary (just to make sure), but no suggestions of origin, which is why I wondered if the word derived from the game of Mah Jong… We used to play Mah Jong at home on our parents’ poker table, my sister, my mother and myself, always having to induce my cousin or some hapless friend into being the fourth. It was the ideal game for long, lazy Saturday afternoons, or rainy days, or sultry weekday nights. In a land where television did not yet hold sway, card games were a common form of entertainment and socializing. 
            My mother had her Monday afternoon Rummoli game with the Portuguese ladies in the Ladies Pavilion of the Georgetown Cricket Club, her Tuesday evening Poker “Small—referring to the size of the table stakes—School” where she played with my father, and her Wednesday morning Bridge with the British Embassy ladies, where once my little sister crawled under the table and announced that she hadn’t shaved her legs. My father disappeared on several evenings to the Chinese Chung Wah Club on Camp Street to play Fan Tan or Pai Qo, and my grandparents played Canasta with Grandpa’s longstanding crony every Friday night like clockwork. My grandmother used to raise her eyebrows at us – meaning “Disappear!” – if we got too close. As children, we played Bishka, Whist and Go In The Pack.
            Mah Jong is said to date back to 500 BC and is believed to have been played by Confucius. It’s a game of strategy, about building stone walls, and is as much about defence, blocking other players from making their hands, as about making complicated hands. Dice are thrown to move and select the tiles, small rectangular ivory blocks embossed with delicate Chinese brushwork representing balls, bamboos and characters. There are four players and four rounds, each player representing one of the Four Winds. Each round belongs to a Wind, and each player takes a turn at being the East Wind, or banker, winning or paying double. The tiles are built into a two-tier stone wall eighteen tiles long and locked tightly into a square to “keep the barbarians out.” The dice are rolled to determine which Wind’s wall is to be broken, and where, and the game progresses with tiles being drawn from the wall until it disintegrates. Each player builds up their “armies” with banners for the North, South, East and West Winds as high tiles, along with the rampant White, Red and Green Dragons, and bonus money for high “Flower” tiles. Shuffling and building the stone walls with the tiles was the most tedious part of the play, but a seasoned player could whisk the tiles into place in a few seconds.
            We four players are now scattered to the Four Winds. My cousin lives in Edmonton, my sister near Cadiz, my mother in Georgetown and I, in Santiago, Chile. I am the South Wind.
I taught my son and daughter to play Mah Jong, but we are but three. Stonewalled again.
Tessa Too-Kong

Sunday, May 26, 2013

First Word: Danette Beavers: Top


A spinning top is the perfect metaphor for my life right now. I don’t advance much:  I can run a bit further than I could two months ago, and I have two more poems to my credit; but mostly, I spin. I make beds, wash dishes, sweep the floor, cook meals, sweep meals, cook beds, make the floor … and somehow, wash more dishes. And I do all of this so that my children can advance. I do it until about 10:00 p.m., when I begin to wobble. Then, I fall over into my blessed bed. When morning comes, my children pull my string, and I do it again. All over again.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First Word: Tracy Grant: Top

Top With Troubling Bottom

I like the top of my body better than the bottom.  Such a dilemma
being “two-in-one”.
    When I was a teen, Twiggy was the model-of-the-moment.  Her figure was
one size from her shoulders down.  In my innocence, I thought that was my goal.
Sadly, I never was able to prune myself down to her image unless I imagined the
possibility of cutting myself in half.
        When the short summers of upstate New York arrived, I went shopping
for the season’s two-piece bathing suit.  Since my top was one size and my
bottom another, loose flapping material hung from my shoulders while my
bottom was tightly encased in matching material.
    Once, I purchased a two-piece bathing suit with a perfectly fitted top, but
the bottom didn’t fit at all.  I promised myself that I could get into the bottom if
I exercised enough.  But that bathing suit still languishes in the bottom of the
drawer, taunting me to try again.  I wear the top with cut-off blue jeans as I work
in the garden, far from any blonde, sandy beach.
    I was well past childbearing when department stores began to sell two-
piece suits with separate sizes – one for tops and another for bottoms.  Practical
me, I started to worry about how the merchandise was sorted out at the end of
the season.  Silly me.  I took the plunge and found two designs I admired, held
them up, and fearful of the dressing room mirrors, purchased them.
    They are in the same drawer as the taunting fantasy suit, but they are
on top.  I grab them often, put them on, sneak out in the pitch-dark night and
immerse myself in the hot tub, water up to my neck, alone in the under the
walnut tree’s umbrella branches.  On full moon nights, I wear a one-piece.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Fireworks


Bright, shining comets of crimson, azure and gold soar into the sky, swirling, whistling, crackling. Heads tilt, eyes fixed heavenward at the fiery display and spirits soar until the last booming burst. Then, silence. Darkness. Now what? The euphoria dwindles gradually, like a candle. It must. How tiresome to be in fireworks mode for long.
            A sharp, clear night sky of stars also fills me with awe. At dusk I step outside to consider the expanse above me – infinite, enveloping my world, planet earth, a tiny dot in a universe of galaxies beyond galaxies. The cosmos puts me, my individual self, into perspective. I feel fragile, vulnerable, yet strangely comforted. Is heaven there somewhere? God? My thinking is restricted by my human need for a defining space and time. I ponder but know it’s beyond my comprehension, which is what makes it so wonderful. Overpowering. Does the night sky attract little notice because it is always there? 
            As is the daytime sky. But some do take notice, contemplating the clouds, their changing shapes, colors and movements. At dusk, I’ll call my husband away from his desk to the window to view salmon-hued clouds, arranged like a series of sand dunes. To work my writer’s imagination, I attempt to find words to describe the shapes of clouds, but they resist being labeled, too ethereal to be tied down to a word. Yet, their mere presence challenges. Scarves, fish bones, shreds of chiffon, piles of sheep wool, dinosaur fossils, drifting spirits, a scattering of pebbles.
            Because the sky and space are there, with an unquenchable thirst, we send forth balloons, rockets, satellites, robots, fireworks, plumes of toxins, and, just maybe, prayers.

Friday, May 17, 2013

First Word: Danette Beavers: Thunder

Thunder:  (Thoughts on Language)

Thunder sounds like what it is. I love that in a word.
            Storm sounds like its meaning too. The “S” is full of breath, like the first gale that brings the “T” to split the air. “OR” bangs like a drum and “M” tapers and gentles and signals the end. STORM.
            I love words. I love noticing what they do for us in practical terms, what they do for us aesthetically, and what they used to do for our forebears (the historian in me leaks out).
            Consider the word “that”.  It could be argued (that) it is one of the most boring words in the English language. And I might agree if you’re talking about it as it’s used above—to introduce a clause. In fact, when it’s used in that way, it’s often not used at all; it’s eliminated. But what about “that” as a demonstrative adjective? Imagine a mother who finds her toddler with a sharp object, a bottle of bleach or, say, a condom wrapper. Now there’s a mama who’s gonna say “Give me that!”
            This morning I was thinking about how beautifully Spanish scans. It is intrinsically melodious. And you might say that all the Latin languages are, and I guess that’s true to a degree, except the Portuguese make that “ow” sound, and it puts me in mind of cats. Now, I don’t have anything against cats—I’ve known some pretty cool ones, but cats should speak cat. Humans shouldn’t.
            French is a favorite with me. I had the bad fortune of studying it in high school instead of Spanish (another incident of unknowing bliss bearing itself out in negative consequence) but the French—they put their sounds just back far enough in the mouth to make them sound reserved, like they’re not quite willing to let go—and so that lends a little mystery and may be where the snooty comes from. (I wonder what came first, the snooty or the sound of it?)
            They do it just right, though. The Germans, the Israelis or Arabs, or anyone who speaks as if he’s expectorating is off my pretty list.
            And English? Well, I think “thunder” is pretty, don’t you?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Rosebud

Rosebud lips are a winsome pout, a lowered eye, long lashes and a ‘becoming’ flush – always becoming, as if a woman were at her finest when sinking with bewilderment and confusion, all that dainty pulchritude covering up a mind that stopped, spaniel-like, at “Drrrr…. confused, me.  Vewwy hard, ‘dis 'ting.”   
            The dapper dude in his spats and lavender gloves couldn’t give a toss – all he wants is the engaging outward show. The inside is inside, lost to view.
            Fast-forward to bee-stung: brash and acid-like, vampish with black kohl smeared round her eyes for that fashionable hung-over look, and cornstarch for her green-faced, “late-night, wasn’t it?” pallor.  She might not have it all, but she’s gonna play it like she does – snapping gum and garters and that bold black eye doesn’t quiver for nobody.
           Francis Scott Fitzgerald adored women like these.  He immortalized them in carmine and lights as the brave new wave, but in a fit of enthusiasm he married one, and then his lavender gloves came out.  A man is what he was made and he was made too early for one like her.  The snap and spunk were treated to gaslights turned low, and an asylum when she didn’t bow, until the blush and confusion rose and held her, trapped in a cage of rosebuds.

Monday, May 13, 2013

First Word: Tessa Too-Kong: Rosebud


My granddaughter (Mi Mi, she calls herself) has a rosebud mouth. It was the first thing I noticed when I held her in my arms for the first time, four months after her birth. She yawned and closed her lips into a rosy bow of satisfaction and I was lost… 
            Rosebud was part of our elocution lessons – we had to pucker our lips and say the words, “petite pomme, petite pomme, petite pomme” in ladylike fashion, and then widen our mouths to say “petit poire” to demonstrate the vulgarity of displaying one’s tonsils (I had yet to come across Spanish). Being groomed in the social graces was all about performance: deportment  – gliding with a stack of books on your head, holding your shoulders down and tucking in your pelvis, stepping with the balls of your feet and not on your heels; speech – petite pommes only, mellow tones, listen, steer the conversational track, incorporate stragglers … Only then, apparently when you knew all the rules could you break them. 
            All the public school boys I know pretend a social boorishness born of privilege. My first English boyfriend – a Winchester man who had shunned Oxford and Cambridge for hotbed LSE (much to establishment horror) flung down a triangular milk carton on the refectory table across from me, straddled his chair with dusty bikers’ boots and proceeded to gulp down what was obviously his breakfast in one fell swoop. It was the equivalent of the strutting peacock displaying his wares and I recoiled in distaste at the petit poire performance. Later, he told me I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen (that was a long time ago!) and I began to have an inkling of the workings of the male psyche. No rosebuds there.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Rosebud


Nip it in the bud.  Yes.  But what should be crushed before it begins? A love affair? The temptation to shoulder your backpack and simply take off? The urge to go on a binge to soothe a broken heart? The desire to steal another woman’s husband, or that package of imported Colombian coffee at the Jumbo, or that lovely mauve sweater hanging on the bargain rack, or a peak at the code the old man in front of you uncertainly punches into the cash machine, or passing that $10,000 peso bill with the torn corner on to your empleada?  Small sins—and not so small.  Temptations that are usually, but not always, nipped in the bud. 
            I wonder, though, if our human condition isn’t somehow enhanced when we realize what we are capable of.  Confronted with our sins, our shortcomings, our shadows, don’t we learn humility? Don’t we learn that we are both Seraphim and Lucifer? Is sinning, then, really the road to redemption?
            I should definitely NOT be an ethicist. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

First Word: Charmaine Pauls: Rosebud


The rosebud in our garden is a fat pinky finger–leaves condensed, color concentrated. It unfolds, like a baby would unroll his fist. I don’t have green fingers and never pay much attention to that hidden alcove out front, but this flower catches my attention because of its color. It’s unusual for a rose and it’s my favorite. The deep violet turns, petal by uncurling petal, into a blushing lilac. It grows alone, far away from the yellow roses that stand under the spotlight by the door.
            As I follow its blooming progress, I wonder why the owner decided to plant it exactly there. Was it too rare to mix with the ordinary whites, too exquisite to push from the soil of the middle-class ferns? Or would the ordinary Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow have rejected it with a jealous envy, hurting its rosebud feelings?
            The purple rose stands alone in her glory, attracting admiring glances from titled sunflower heads and gossipy whispers from the coral tree’s green-eyed leaves. When her time is done, she drops her petals, browning around the edges like burnt paper, and once more becomes an ordinary rose bush, strangely hidden in an alcove of a garden that is not my own.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First Word: Danette Beavers: Rosebud

Sewing Seeds

The Rosebud was a little red shack of a bar on the outskirts of town, and Estelle was the owner and bartender. Her honky-tonk was just like the rest:  tear in the beer, an occasional fight, sawdust on the floor, dim light, pool table and juke box, so-n-so cheating on so-n-another.  Estelle had regulars, of course, and she got on with most of them fairly well, but she was sweet on Bobby, and every Wednesday through Sunday, at about 5 o’clock, she caught herself glancing out the window, looking for the dust billow in the parking lot that would announce his Ford pick-up. Estelle didn’t think Bobby had a problem, just a really nasty wife-- and kids who didn’t pay him any attention.  

One evening, like so many others, they were the only two in the Rosebud. 
            “Estelle,” he said, “I bet you I can kick the ceiling of this place.”
            “The ceiling’s low, but it ain’t that low. And let’s face it, Bobby; your legs ain’t that long neither.”
            “Are you calling me short, Estelle?”
            “Naw. I’m just saying I don’t think you can do it.”
            “Free beer says I can.”
            “You’re on,” she said.
Bobby slid off his stool, squatted low, and then, like someone had lit firecrackers in his boots, his legs flew out in front of him. The tip of his right boot made a white mark in the nicotine stained ceiling.

            “Ha!” Bobby said. “And you thought I couldn’t.”
            “Aw, Bob,” said Estelle. “I never doubted you a minute.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Fireworks


Surveyed from a distance, life is a series of fireworks, beginning with the pop or wow that brings each of us into the world. Tiny explosions persist during childhood – from colic to scarred knees, sneezes to bruises – but the real wallop comes with puberty as a gazillion hormones set off an unholy riot in homes and heaven. Whoosh! and there’s a splatter of blemishes, a rainbow of odors, a sky full of racing hearts, and we’re airborne or living on the street. ‘Makeup!’ we yell as the rash spreads to our loins but before the groans have settled into a known pattern we’re stricken with love and then everything blows up and we rocket about like bowling pins in the wake of a volcanic eruption

            In pursuit of the stars, for each one fizzles out – always too soon – we descend to earth in a balloon, if we’re lucky.  More often we’re brought down by a bolt of lightning bearing news of a pregnancy then oooh! Tails on fire, we tear about in a flutter of ignorance as life hurls us into the stratosphere where sleep is as rare as cruise control. Now comes a series of yelps, and cries of, not again! and time becomes a blur of fading noises then we turn forty and wonder when and how it happened.
            If we discover a measure of control or balance – which we all think we need but can seldom grasp – it’s more likely to come when it’s too late to be useful. Occasionally we spot the fireworks, watch them burst and sizzle in other people’s lives. But they never end, they never stop going off when we least expect, under lily pads, beside the boiler, above the sink. They carry the universe along, and us with them: tiny whirling bodies left over from the original Big Bang glowing red, green, red, green, leaving us wondering if we’re coming or going.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Leather

Hang it high.  And dry.

My Uncle Sandy spent his life on the water.  His leather skin was tough, baked deep by the water sun, dug deep by a lifetime's worth of voyages.  Out there, and back again, were written on his face.  For me, back here, where he started, writing even these few words about him turns my mind to wondering how, and why he did all of the things he did-
            I stop.  And hold. I don't want to disturb the fresh, fragile skin of my own equanimity, the perilous balance that I've bought and held through days now - my skin is new, and finely stretched.  It hold no elasticity as yet, knows no capacity for absorption and recoil, runs thin as a sheen of water on a glass, a skin of plastic wrap across a cup of tea - put it in the microwave if you must, and threaten it, but do not heat -
It may explode.  Like a baby it needs nursing, tender words - All births hurt.

            Sandy spent a lifetime on the ocean learning to wear himself.  Give me a week or two, a month, to grow calluses, dig grooves that will stretch and bend -

A sailor went to sea - sea - sea
And there he carried me.
In a sack made of leather strung with feathers and shells

All hanging down his back in a rattle and a clatter
Tangled up with the sound of the little silver bells
That he wore in his hair
Down his stiff and tarry neck
And the cats that came twining all around his horny feet
Did call and protest at every rattling step -
How they purred when he buttered, how they wailed when he'd call
What a clinging clanging jingling jangling howling caterwaul!