“Coiled” and sunning for a random best of anything…

Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s our pleasure to share a piece by Writers Forum member Katie Watters.

 

Coiled
By Katie Watters

a snake lies coiled in the noonday sun
visible, yet unbothered by time
warming skin before the strike
sleeping with one eye openvisible, yet unbothered by time
I reach to tell the story
sleeping with one eye open
letting what slips, slip

I reach to tell the story
an inner stretch for sure
letting what slips, slip
words tumble across the pagean inner stretch for sure
one not unknown to me
words tumble across the page
with a vow to release them

one not unknown to me
I writhe and rail in time
and I vow to release them
zig-zagging to the tune

I writhe and rail in time
like a drum beats rhythm
zig-zagging to the tune
with spring air exhaling and

like a drum beats rhythm
a snake lies coiled in the noonday sun
with spring air exhaling to
warm her skin before the strike

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.
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“Alanah” forces a random best of anything…

Ed’s the one on the left.

Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s a pleasure to feature Newsletter Editor Ed Sulpice, and a slice of his novel in progress.

The Nurse and the Pastor

by Ed Sulpice

Alanah scared herself as she laughed in her mind. Laughter and suicide were not good mental companions. One was sure to overcome the other and she wanted no competition regarding her intended demise. It was the thought of starting her goodbye letter with the words, “to be or not to be” that had made her laugh. The answer, of course, was “not to be”.

“Nobody quotes Shakespeare when they’re writing a suicide note, do they?” she thought to herself.  She would have to look that up on the computer when she got home. Not that anybody would care about her dying thoughts,  she just wanted her last words on earth to validate her course of action and at the same time, to be, at least, minimally creative.  Would any of this really matter? No!  Joe would be the one who found the note, after he pushed her body aside searching for the remote control. Yes, the one detail which was set in stone. Wherever she decided to lie down for the last time, she would make sure the television remote would be under her body. He would hate that.   Anyway, Joe would just throw the note away or use it to light one of his cigars. But then again, he’d probably keep it as evidence that he had not committed a murder. Alanah laughed again. Damn. She forced her mind to concentrate on the scene in front of her.

She had come to the shore hoping to receive some sort of guidance or encouragement. But the ocean was silent this morning. The grey of the clouds pushed itself down onto the surface of the water, blotting out not only the greens and the blues that Alanah loved, but also the horizon, which spoke hope to her. It was just grey. Everything was grey.  The locals called it June Gloom. She just called it another day.

The breeze, thick with salt and moisture, seemed to be more suffocating than invigorating. The waves even seemed hesitant to come ashore, the tiny swells of salt water reluctantly wetting Alanah’s aching feet.  A twelve-hour shift would do that to anybody’s feet. The fact that number five had died right at the end of her shift did not help. Another baby wave dripped onto the sand, not quite reaching Alanah’s feet. Looking to her right, she noticed a small, orange periwinkle sea shell rolling along the edge of the water.

Immediately identifying it as an Ovatella, a Mouse Ear, she wondered how this inhabitant of northern California had managed to travel so far south. “Probably the storm,” she said out loud.

She picked it up, appreciating the rounded lines and twirling peak of the shell. Alanah placed it gently into her collection bag. This time it wasn’t humor that made her chuckle, but the irony. Here she was collecting shells in an effort to entice people to live, while at the same time plotting her own demise. Just another day.

As was her custom, she reminded herself to be sure to pass up the next shell she had an impulse to collect. Alanah loved sea shells. It was how she came to be known as “Shelly”, a name she now hated.  Her father had bestowed the name on her as a playful way of encouraging her fondness of the ocean. As always, along with the encouragement came the warning. The same warning he gave to all of his students.

She could still hear the passion in his voice as he taught his Oceanography students on these very sands. “When it comes to the ocean,” he would say, “there are basically two groups of people. Hunters and Explorers.  Hunters come to the beach only to satisfy themselves. They surf. They sail. They sunbathe.  They hunt for sea shells.” He would only mention seashells if Alanah was sitting in on one of his classes. And he would always smile at her as he spoke. “Now, these activities are not bad,” he would continue, “I do many of these things. But hunters don’t care about surfing or sailing or the ocean. They are hunting first for identity or pleasure or diversion. And it’s those intentions that separate hunters and explorers.  You see, explorers are always thinking first about the ocean. An explorer’s main concern is with health of the ocean and the beach. People with this loving attitude, explore the ocean in an effort to strengthen it.”

The memories of her father teaching opened a wound inside Alanah’s heart from which an awareness escaped and made its way to her brain.

Here, at thirty-six-years old, standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, receiving reluctant greetings from wave and wind, Alanah “Shelly” Albright was forced to agree with the thought now dancing through her mind. She had been many times hunted, but never explored.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

“Maudie” buried the random best of anything…

Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s a pleasure to share a piece from Writers Forum Program Chair Sharon Owen.

Maudie’s Chickens

Maudie was five years old when Papa put her in charge of the chickens. The first thing he taught her was how to feed them.

“Don’t use but half a can of grain. And scatter it around so they all get a chance at it.”  He dipped into the grain can, cupped a handful, and tossed it lightly out into the chicken yard. “Here chickee, chickee,” he clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Here chickee, chickee.”  He scattered another handful. “That’s the way it’s done girl, now you try it.”

Maudie hugged the can against her chest with one arm while she tried to scoop out the grain the way he had shown her. Most of it fell to the ground at her feet, but Papa just said, “That’s it, girl. From now on, these chickens are depending on you.”

Next he taught her to change the straw in the nests where the hens laid their eggs. She quickly learned to arrange each nest with just enough straw to cushion the rough boards.

Her favorite chore was checking on the baby chicks. She peeked at them every day, opening the roof of the brood box just enough to reach in and touch the downy yellow babies. Sometimes she took one out and cradled it for a moment, marveling at the soft, weightless life she held in her hands.

Papa’s chicken house was divided into two sections. One side for the layers and the other for the fryers. When Maudie’s chicks were grown, Papa put some in each section. She fed and watered all the chickens, and she gathered the eggs from the layers’ side every day. Maudie wanted her chickens to be happy, because Papa said when they were happy they laid eggs with double yolks.

Every time Mama broke an egg with a double yolk Papa said, “Give it to  Maudie. She takes good care of her chickens.”

One Sunday after church Mama said, “I could use a fryer, Roy.”

Papa said,  “Come along, Maudie, let’s tend to it.” They walked together down the path to the chicken house. “Go on inside and bring me one of the fryers, girl.”

Maudie went inside. “Here chickee, chickee,” she crooned. One of her brood came toward her, jerking its neck, turning to fix a curious yellow eye on her. Was it time for grain, or had she come as she often did with special table scraps?  Maudie picked up the young hen and took her outside to where Papa was waiting.

“Stand back,” he said.

Maudie stepped backward and watched while Papa took the hen’s clawed yellow feet into one of his giant brown hands. He flopped the chicken down so that her head lay across a block of wood, and with one swift, sure stroke he brought a hatchet down across the bird’s neck. The head dropped to the ground, and Papa let go of the feet. The bird’s wings flapped, and it ran headless across the yard, showering the vegetable garden with dark red drops of blood, careening wildly until it finally crashed against the trunk of a plum tree, where it lay still at last.

“Go fetch that fryer, girl, grab it by the feet and take it to Mama. Hold it away from you, head down, so you don’t get blood on your clothes.”

Maudie’s eyes streamed with tears and she felt a choking lump in her throat, but she obeyed Papa. She had never disobeyed him. She had never even considered it. Mama had a large vat of boiling hot water in one of the deep cement sinks in the laundry porch. She took the bird from Maudie, held it by the feet and dipped it into the water. “We’ll just scald this fryer for a minute, Maudie, then the feathers will come right out.”  She pulled the bird up, dripping and steaming, it’s severed neck exposed. “See this?”  She grabbed a handful of its feathers. “See how easy it is?  The feathers practically fall right out of a scalded bird.”  She reached out and took Maudie’s arm. “Come here, Honey, take a handful.”  Maudie gripped some of the wet feathers and pulled. They came out easily, leaving a ragged circle of exposed white flesh.

“There,” Mama said, “see how easy that was?”

Maudie’s hand was smothered in damp, clinging feathers. She tried to brush them off, but they stuck to the fingers of her other hand. Mama watched her and laughed. “You’ve gotta rinse your hands with water, Maudie, you’ll never get ’em off that way.”

That night Maudie picked at her mashed potatoes while Mama and Papa talked over their day, laughing and passing the fried chicken back and forth across the table.

Maudie didn’t eat the next day. For a week she didn’t eat or talk or go near the chicken house. Finally Papa said he guessed they couldn’t keep chickens if Maudie wouldn’t take care of them.

“I’ll just have to butcher the lot of them, Mama. I’ll tend to it tomorrow.”

After her parents went to sleep that night Maudie sneaked out of the house and went to the tool shed. The hatchet lay on Papa’s work bench, still stained with blood. Barefoot, she walked the moonlit path that led past the chicken house to the pasture gate. She held the hatchet in one hand, and dragged Papa’s shovel in the other. Stepping cautiously to avoid goat-head vines and fat summer toads, she made her way to the farthest corner of the pasture where she bent to her work. The field had been irrigated that day, leaving the ground muddy and soft, but the shovel was so big she had trouble getting leverage. Finally she gave up and fell to her knees, digging at the damp earth with her hands. If she made the hole deep enough Papa would never find the hatchet. Thistles tore at her fingers, but she kept digging deeper and deeper.

“Girl, what are you doing out here?”

Maudie jumped at the sound of Papa’s voice, twisting her body around, trying to hide the hatchet from his view, but it was too late.

“Is that my hatchet, girl?”

“Yes Papa.”  She bent her head in shame.

“What are you doing with it?”

“Burying it.”

“Why?”

“You killed my chicken.”

“But girl, didn’t you know we were going to eat the fryers?”

“No.”  She raised her chin and faced her father in the moonlight. “You said I should take good care of them. You said they were my chickens.”

Papa hunkered down next to Maudie and took her bleeding fingers into his hands. He turned them over and touched the raw, dirt-filled blisters on her palms. Then he picked up the shovel and stood above her .

“You dug a pretty good hole here, girl, but it’s not quite deep enough.”  He anchored the tip of the shovel in the shallow cup she had made and brought his boot down hard on its heel.

He lifted the spadeful of dirt and set it aside. “There, that’s about the right size for a hatchet.”  Maudie looked up at her father, but a cloud had covered the moon and in that moment he was a faceless giant towering over her in the darkness.

“Well go on, girl,” he said, “drop it in there.”

She picked up the hatchet and dropped it into the hole they had dug.

“Those chickens of yours are all layers now, girl. That means you’re gonna have to work twice as hard collecting all those eggs.”

The cloud drifted past and Maudie saw her father plain as day. “I will, Papa, I don’t mind.”

Papa knelt down beside Maudie, and together in the moonlight they packed the little grave with soft, damp clods of earth.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Newsletter Editor Wanted…

No, not wanted for crimes against grammar (as so many are “guilty” of these days), but wanted all the same. Long-time Editor Ed Sulpice has to relinquish his hold on the red pencil (figuratively). He will be devoting his energy towards, in his words, “I have been accepted into a Master of Divinity Program so I can continue in my quest to achieve smartness. “

Ergo, the search is on for his replacement. It is a simple task; create a monthly newsletter from submitted material, or steal, er, borrow from this website; create a PDF of it and ship it digitally to a local printer; and then pick up and drop off at Bulk Mail, submitting the Bulk Mail paper work via the USPS Website.

More details available.

“Wampum” buys a random best of anything…

Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s a pleasure to welcome back author, storyteller, illustrator and poet Linda Boyden.  She does it all and she does it all so very well.

Excerpt From “Giveaways, An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas”

©Linda Boyden 2010

W w   Wampum

(WOM-puhm)

From Massachusett and Narragansett, wampumpeag

To English, wampum

The gift of wampumpeag, wampum, came from the Atlantic Ocean, from common seashells washed up on its shores.  For thousands of years, the Massachusetts, the Narragansetts, the Pequots and other coastal Native nations collected them, much the same way that modern beachcombers do, but used them in different ways.

From the white, spiraled shells of the whelks and the dark purple eyespot of the quahog (Q page) the People made wampum.  They broke, sanded, shaped and drilled the shells into beads, to be strung on twisted plant fibers or animal sinew. At first wampum was used for hair decorations or jewelry, and quickly became a popular trade item. Eventually, Native people near and far desired and depended on wampum.

By the 1600s when the first Europeans arrived, wampum was a well-established way for Native people to communicate and trade.  Messages woven into the wampum’s designs helped people speaking different languages to understand each other and conduct business. The European settlers observed this complicated system and because they had a shortage of coins from their mother countries, decided to use wampum as money.  However, they failed to understand that Native people considered wampum to be much more than currency.

The People of the Longhouse, the Haudenosaunee, (Iroquois) are six nations of the northeast woodlands: the Mohawk, the Cayuga, the Seneca, the Oneida, and the Onondaga, with the Tuscaroras joining later.  They say that wampum was first brought to them thousands of years ago by a holy man called the Peacemaker and his follower, Ayonwatha, (Hiawatha).  The Peacemaker asked the warring nations to consider peace and end the practice of cannibalism.  He proposed that they still keep their own council fires, their Council of Chiefs and Clan Mothers, but in matters that affect all the nations they should act with “one mind.”

This first of its kind message, that nations work best separately but together, was woven on a thirty-eight rowed purple and white wampum belt known as the Hiawatha Belt.  It is estimated to be at least 4,500 years old. The heart-shaped symbol in the center represents the Great Tree of Peace or the central nation, the Onondaga.  Surrounding it are four white squares to represent other member nations. The belt’s story, like hundreds of other wampum message belts, was read and still may be read by those trained to memorize the story within the beads.  The Hiawatha Belt’s opening words, “We the People…” influenced the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who penned those words into the Preamble of the United States Constitution.

(From the glossary/acknowledgements section at the back of the book)

Wampum According to the American Heritage Dictionary, one meaning of the word, book is, “something regarded as a source of knowledge or understanding.”  In this sense, wampum belts should be considered one of the world’s first kinds of books.  Besides the sacred meaning of wampum described on the W page, American Indians used wampum belts and strings primarily for diplomatic purposes, helping nations to come to collective agreements.  After Europeans settled in America, they were at a loss for currency, so for them wampum became a type of money.  Soon, factories were started to mass-produce it.   According to http://www.us-coin-values-advisor.com in its section on the history of U.S. coins, wampum in the Colonial Period could be used to pay your Commonwealth of Massachusetts taxes or attend Harvard University.

Linda Boyden has spent most of her adult life leading children to literacy.  From 1970-1997, she taught in primary grades, receiving her master’s in Gifted and Talented Education in 1992 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In 1997, Linda decided to change careers and abandoned full-time teaching for full-time writing.  Her first picture book, “The Blue Roses,” debuted in 2002.  It was the recipient of Lee and Low Books’ first New Voices Award, the 2003 Paterson Prize, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers’ Book of the Year, Children’s Literature, 2002-2003, and was included on the prestigious CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) 2003 Choices list of recommended titles. In 2007 she wrote and illustrated her second picture book, “Powwow’s Coming” which was published by the University of New Mexico Press. She has also written and illustrated “Giveaways, an ABC of Loanwords from the Americas” published also by the University of New Mexico Press in 2010. In 2011, Giveaways was the recipient of three Finalist Awards from the International Book Awards, Finalist in the 2012 New Mexico Book of the Year Award and was included in the California Reading’s Association’s 2012 California Collections list of recommended titles. In her writing for adults, she has had poems included in a number of anthologies. In 2006, she won the Adult First Place and Third Place awards at the Pleasanton Poetry Festival. Linda is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers.  She enjoys doing author visits and storytelling at schools and libraries as well as presenting workshops at writing conferences around the country. Visit www.lindaboyden.com.
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