Writing: To Task or Multi-Task?


Writing: Task or Multi-Task?

“To task or multi-task? That is the question.”

In the lonely world of creative writing, be it in poetry or in prose, is it better to continue with one text until the task of writing it is thoroughly finished? Or should we flit from text to text, developing several at once and thus multi-tasking in the best sense of the word? This is a key question in the revision process and relates directly to the concepts of write, re-write, revision, revisionism, and the creative process, all of which have been mentioned both in this blog and in the comments to this blog. However, there is no single answer to this seemingly either / or question as many factors must be considered.

  1. Deadlines:

Anyone who has worked with strict deadlines knows that they matter more than anything else. “I want this work on my desk by 4:00 pm today,” says the manager rubbing the magic bottle in which the genie is kept. “Yes, ma’am,” says the genie bowing before vanishing back into his bottle. Only one thing matters, the task in hand, and there can be no multi-tasking.

  1. Novellas and Novels:

With longer texts, while there might be room for manoeuver, provided no deadline is in sight, it is better by far to focus on the task in hand — the extended narrative — and to dedicate all tasking and multi-tasking to that prime task. The majority of writers who have written on the art of writing, including Stephen King, Graham Green, and E. M. Forster, emphasize the necessity of sticking at it, maintaining focus, and getting on with the task. Graham Green’s recommended approach is to write four to five pages a day, re-reading them and revising them the next day, before writing another four pages. That way the events, the action, the characters, are kept well in mind. In addition, Joan Clark and Norman Levine, in their workshops, advise writers to get to know their characters intimately, to think about them, and to write and rewrite until they come living from the page. Anyone who has taken a longish break and then returned to the writing of a novel knows just how difficult it is to get back into the mind of those characters. With an extended narrative, a dialog abandoned is a dialog lost. And one must learn to listen to one’s characters and to never forget what they have said, mustn’t one?.

  1. Poems, Prose Poems, and Flash Fiction:

This is where multi-tasking can truly take place. The brevity of these pieces, and I classify epic and extended poetry with narrative rather than with poetry, allows the writer time to pick the pieces up and put them down again, to play around, to abandon the text and to return to it later. Being shorter pieces by definition, one can re-read them with ease, correct them at leisure, and research around them with impunity. In an extended narrative, or when writing to a deadline, focus is necessary. With shorter pieces, easily recalled, procrastination is a pleasure, not a crime. With poetry, focus is sharper but for shorter periods.

  1. From Poem to Poetry Book:

As the poems accumulate and the writing, or rather the putting together, of the collection becomes more important, so the need to concentrate and single-task, rather than to procrastinate and multi-task becomes paramount.

These are my initial thoughts on Task or Multi-Task. What happens when we apply them in real life to real questions?

  1. On Revision (Chuck):

Will this exercise (revision of older texts) provide you more gratification than starting new ones that may or may not be so important to you?

The question of revision is key. While I would like to avoid revisionism (Al: There is value in showing poetry as a snapshot in time (if only to avoid endless revisionism), the question of how to revise a text is of maximum importance. The text to be revised may be old or it may be recent, but the act of revision — how and why and what to revise — is one that must concern us as writers if we are to eschew automatic writing in a search for le mot et la phrase justes. If I can learn from the revision of older texts what I need to look for in order to revise newer texts, then my search for a way in which to recognize and achieve better form of writing can be justified, for the techniques discovered can surely be applied to future texts as well as to past ones.

  1. The young Roger who was once you is no more (Kevin):

This is a beautiful thought: thank you, Kevin. Much of that earlier writing must stand as it is (and was) as a monument to what and who I was back then. However, some thoughts and phrasings may well be weak and need revision. The recognition of weakness and the realization of how to strengthen and how to renew is surely a part of our ongoing growing writing process. That is what I would argue, anyway. I would argue further that revision is NOT multi-tasking, but is single-tasking in the sense that I, as reviser, am teaching myself how to revise: an ongoing process in the act of creativity.

  1. Conclusion:

In my current situation, I have five creative works (Echoes …, Waiting, Bistro, Stars … , People … ) lying fallow and waiting for their final touches. As I look back on what I have previously written and how I have written it, I am, in my opinion, multi-tasking. That is to say, I am working with many texts rather than concentrating on a single text. However, at the same time, I am working hard on a single task: that of teaching myself, once again, how to revise and how to rewrite. Hopefully I will put a little, objective distance between my current self and my recent texts. Then, when I return to them, I will be able to take them, one at a time, and revise them properly. That is my hope and my intention.

To task or to multi-task … writing or re-writing … each has its place in the creative process. To conclude: I thank all of you who contributed to this conversation (mentioned or not!), and I wish you joy in your (re-)creativity.



Who has nailed summer to its autumn cross? Sunbeams dazzle in the wind, footsteps follow, or is it a shadow’s shadow flickering its year’s end dance on a twisting path? Beneath our feet the painted leaves lie still. Bottled sunshine abandoned now in rusted flakes, who will replace them in the tree’s discarded puzzle? Footsteps crackle along the trail and, as they draw closer, our cold breath hangs a question mark on the air before us. Yesterday, the salmon danced on their tails. Lettuces went to seed and built tall pyramids up to the sky in a world all yellow with the sun and blue with the sea. Primrose and bleu céleste, this stretch of Fundy, where the islands are large black beads, threaded together by tiny strings of ducks and geese. Today, going home, a bull moose thrust his head through the windshield of a speeding car. For an instant the trees caught their breath, the air stood still and a red fox tore from the trees like a runaway leaf, so quick, so silent, a shadow across the road melting into dark woods to lie silent in the forest. I can still see the occupants of the shattered car standing by the roadside, their cell phones in their hands, punching urgent numbers. Shock had rounded their snow white lips into an O for Operator.

Very surprised (and pleased and proud) to hear this prose poem from my book Fundy Lines read on Shift, CBC, this afternoon. Here it is in a more permanent form — the written word. Thank you Shift CBC and best wishes to all.

Selecting a Selected


Last Year in Paradise, my first book of poetry, was published by Fiddlehead Poetry Books (Fredericton, NB) in 1977. I am once more re-reading Last Year in Paradise  in search of some early poems to include in the Selected Poems that I am putting together.

As I leaf through the pages, the words of T. S. Eliot come to my mind: “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure /  because one has only learned to get the better of words /  for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it.”

So: how do I select from poems that no longer say what I want them to say or that are expressed in a way that I am no longer disposed to use? I keep struggling with these ideas. Are my selections signposts along the way of my poetic development? Do they say ‘this is what I was, where I came from’? Or should I re-write, revise, and bring thoughts and poems up to date to fit in with my current way of thinking and expressing?

The first poem in the book illustrates this quandary in metaphoric fashion.


The carpenter swings
His bell-faced claw hammer
The closet’s gyproc sides
Shiver into dust

Each splintered layer
The closet’s secret skeleton

Spill out flood in
Shake grinning skulls
Like jacks of this box-room

Released from sloughed skins
We stand knee-deep
In a debris of recollections

As I re-read this poem, the scene comes back to me in vivid detail. An old closet cluttered the small room downstairs in our first house, an old army home. We needed more floor space, not another small room. As we tore the closet down, different layers of wall-paper showed up and we found ourselves knee-deep in memories of other times, other places, other renovations.

As I re-read, I also remember working with my first editor, Fred Cogswell. I recall the typed manuscripts going in to his office and the pencilled suggestions and corrections coming back out. What I no longer remember is how much of this poem was actually mine and how much was his. Re-reading it, I find I have no desire to re-write it, to resurrect those memories that the poem preserves. But I do feel an urgent need to trim the poem, to weed it as if it were a flower-bed. I notice repetitions, a doubling of statements, an excess of adjectives … I would like to suggest more with less words. The poem needs minor readjustments. As I rethink, I come up with the following.


The carpenter swings
his hammer
The closet’s gyproc sides
shiver into dust

Each splintered layer
reveals the closet’s
secret skeleton

Memories spill out
shake grinning skulls
jacks in this box-room

Released from sloughed skins
we stand knee-deep
in a debris of recollections

I find this sharper, less cluttered, and perhaps a good poem with which to begin my Selected Poems. I need a title for the Selection and will share some thoughts on that later. A Debris of Recollections springs to mind as a first possibility, but there are many other possibilities. In the meantime, I will begin a new journey on this blog and along the way I will read, re-read, commentate, and occasionally re-write the poems that I select.

I invite you to accompany me on this journey. I look forward to any conversations we may start and any comments you may care to make along the way.

Obsidian’s Edge 24


12 AM

Night’s incoming waves,
flickering candles,
yellow flames,
altar-white table cloth
with its cross of flowers;

an ebb tide dangling its flotsam
at the end of a long white string.

Mala madre,
the spider plant,
an evil mother
her unwanted children.


I clasp your hand in a confessional of dust:
your fingers knit themselves with mine.

Each wrinkle
on your hand
as fine as
a silk spun web.




I tapped
with ardent spoon
on the graceless grapefruit’s
golden skull.

When we awake
I will boil us
each an egg.

Squeezed orange:
as warm as
this fierce embrace,
as sweet as

silent bird:
midnight branch.






Not So Fast Fiction

…at the beginning of the end, when more things have gone than are with us and the summer’s sun withers the grass and wrinkles our faces baking us bright red – como un cangrejo te has puesto, hijo mío, en el sol de Somo, como un cangrejo – and — pulpo en un garaje — you grasp at the new words, the new colours, the new delights, your tongue trapped clumsily in your mouth like a red rag doll and the midnight bull charging the spectators who gather and olé, au lait … as the drunken bullfighter climbs the bull and kills the post.

The red cape flutters in our memories as we go to the slaughterhouse now where the open body hangs loose like a flag and the red meat of him held out for all to see and some to share … and this is his body and this is his blood, sacrificed in a circle of golden sand for our drunken amusement … for whatever I did, I never visited those bull fights when I was sober … at five thirty, they began, and at 3 o’clock we would gather in the city centre and slowly wend our way from bar to bar, up the Calle de Burgos, past the street where you lived and upwards, ever upwards, towards the bull ring at the top of the hill, from bar to bar, I say, and the bota, the wine-skin filled and re-filled with that dark red fluid that will set us all baying for the bull’s blood, or the matador’s blood, it doesn’t matter whose blood, as long as someone bleeds and the bull is butchered, torn from this life by a man on horseback, armed with a lance, and he thrusts the heavy blade between the shoulders of the bull, the blood first dripping red, then gushing, a small stream over the rock of the

bull’s shoulder, and down the bull’s front legs, to slither on the sand, and the bull still ready to charge the horse, and the bull’s head steadily dropping as the muscles in the back and neck are gashed and torn and there’s no purgatory any more so this must be hell, this gaping wound between the bull’s shoulders and the blood flowing freely and vanishing into the sand, the golden sand, once pristine, stained now with blood, and soon to be further stained with feces and urine, and the picador, his job done, walks his blind-folded, armored horse out of the ring, and the bull, un-armored, un-enamored of this process that turns his torment into a spectacle staged for our drunken delight, as we pass the bota round, and the blood red wine travels from hand to hand, and we squirt the bull’s blood squarely between our lips and it dashes against tongue and teeth and we swallow the body’s sacrifice hook, line, and sinker, as the banderillero runs in, harpoons in hand, waving his banderillas and plunging their arrowed barbs into the gaping wound that flowers on the bull’s back, and the bull stands there, twitching, wriggling, saliva and drool slipping down, sliding stickily into the sand, as the matador doffs his hat, takes his vorpal sword in hand and treads the light fantastique in his laced-up dancing pumps, his Waltzing Matilda feet so swift, so sure, eluding the lumbering rush of the charging bull, the load of bull, that tumbles down the railway track towards him as he stands there, the matador, poised like a ballerina, as stiff and as steady as a lamp-post around which the bull circles, a drunken man, staggering a bit, but still bemused by the red flag tied to a stick which waves before his eyes and goads him onwards, ever onwards, in his plunge towards a brilliant death, as he pauses, feet together, and the matador makes his move, one, step, two steps, tickle you under … and the bull lurching forward to impale himself on three or four feet of curved, stainless steel, and the matador immaculate in his reception of the bull – and what is happening? What will happen next? Sometimes, the sword pierces the spinal cord and death is instantaneous. Sometimes, the sword pierces the heart, and death is more or less swift, but definitely certain. And sometimes the sword pinches against the bone and flies from the matador’s hand, and the matador must bend, and pick it up, and try, try again, the red rag below the bull’s nose, the bull drawn forward, to impale himself, yet again, on the sharp end of the sword, and this time, the sword goes in, but the wound is in the lungs and the peones, the pawns, the workers, the drones, the little men help, turn the bull round and round in ever tighter circles so the sword will open and even larger wound, sever the main arteries perhaps, and the bull, blood spurting through nose and mouth, lurches now, then falls to his knees, and lies there, bleeding, and the matador chooses the descabello, that little sharp sword with the razor blade at the end and he tries to sever the spinal cord, there at the back of the neck, and sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn’t, and if he can’t then it’s the little men again in their colourful sea-parrot suits all gleaming with sequins and stars and they carry a sharp little instrument, with a pointed end, la puntilla, that short, double-edged, stabbing knife which is plunged into the occipito-atlantal space to sever the medulla oblongata in the evernazione method of mercy killing, and the puntilla is plunged again and again into the bull’s neck at this atlanto-occipital joint, until it severs the medulla oblongata, and when it is severed, in this glorious neck stab, then finally the bull drops dead, and the show must go on and the horses come in, black funeral horses with colourful feathers on their heads and they loop a rope around the bull’s horns and away he goes, trailing blood, and urine, and excrement, all across the sand and other little men appear to sweep the sands clean, though if seven maids with seven mops, swept it for half a year, do you think, my neighbor, the local carpenter, asks, they’d ever sweep it clear, and I doubt it, says the little man on my other side who wears a large walrus moustache stained red now and purple with the wine that he has splashed about, and shaking the wine skin he finds it as not as full as it was, so he sheds a bitter tear, and since the death was slow, the crowd and my neighbours all whistle and boo the matador and his merry men, but when the death is swift and quick then the crowd is aroused and they wave white hankies at the presidential box and the president awards the matador an ear, a salty, smelly, sticky ear which the peones cut off the bull before he is towed away, and then the matador throws the ear in the direction of his current sweet heart, the fairest lady in the crowd although she be as black as charcoal or as brown as the beauties baking daily on the summer sand where the sea horses dance and there are no bulls, and no bull shit, and no seven maids with their seven mops, just the scouring sea, and sometimes the president gives away two ears, or two ears and the tail, dos orejas y el rabo, though this I have seldom seen, and what does the bull care that he dies bravely and well, for now he is dead he hasn’t a care in the world, and the butchers in the butcher’s shop are carving him away, carving him to the skeletal nothingness of skin and bone that awaits us all, the nothingness of this more or less glorious death, with our tails cut off and our ears hacked away to be pickled or smoked or other wise kept in the fridge as the butcher’s trophy … and who now will walk stone cold sober into that magic circle of sun and shade and stand there, unbowed, before the might of the untamed beast, the untamed bestiality that drives us wild as it wanders through our nightmare cities and our wildest dreams … and now the crowd call música, música and the band strikes up and martial music plays as the bullfighter and his troupe march gaily round the ring, their trophies held high for all to see then thrown to the ravening crowd who bay like dogs as they taste fresh, bloodied meat …


My Top Ten Books


My Top Ten Books

For Tanya Cliff

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it, to choose your ten favorite books? But really: it isn’t.

Clare’s great aunt made the best sponge cakes and rock cakes I have ever tasted. Her formula? Not weights and measures but a simple scale: the egg on one side, the flour on the other — and balance them.

How do I weigh a book?

I think in terms of authors rather than their individual books. For example, on one side of the scale place Les Fleurs du Mal of Baudelaire and on the other, his Petits Poèmes en Prose. Literary and cultural history would opt for Les Fleurs du Mal, and quite rightly so. My own personal preference, and I love them both, is for Petits Poèmes en Prose. De gustibus non est disputando / there is no arguing over taste. My choice is for Baudelaire, the author, rather than for one of his works, selected above the other.

If I apply this theory to other authors, what happens to, for example, William Shakespeare? Must I choose MacBeth over Henry the Fifth,  King Lear over Julius Caesar or A Midsummer Night’s Dream over The Merchant of Venice? And what if I refuse to do so? I would much rather choose Shakespeare over any of his plays, the Complete Works, including the sonnets, over any single play. And why shouldn’t I?

By extension, should I choose Shakespeare over Lope de Vega? Corneille over Molière? Racine over Calderón de la Barca? Mira de Amescua over Jean Anouilh? Bernard Shaw over Samuel Becket or Beaumarchais or Ionesco? And look at how Euro-centric (English, French, and Spanish) I am, especially when I am not familiar with the great playwrights of other Western nations: the Russians, the Norwegians, the Germans … and yet they are all Europeans. Are there no other literary nations in the world? Of course there are, but I am not that familiar with their literature and culture, and there is only so much a reader can read in its original form.

So, blessed and privileged as I admit I am, I can read books in English, French, and Spanish … lucky for me. However, I admit to difficulties with books written in Portuguese, Italian, German, Catalan, and Galician. As for Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, Arabic … I can only offer my apologies, but for me, these are closed books and I can only reach them in the translations, however good, however bad, that are placed before me. This is true too of the Pre-Columbian Mexican codices, the Zouche-Nuttall, the Vindobonensis et. al. These are also books and they outline the peoples and cultures of Mexico as they were before the arrival and conquest orchestrated by Cortés. And let us not forget Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the man who, in later life, wrote the true history of  Cortés’s conquest. And speaking of conquests, how about Julius Caesar’s Bellum gallicum, his personal account, in the third person, of his conquest of Gaul? As a school boy, long ago, I struggled through it in Latin, but I enjoyed it later, in translation.

Translation: traductor / traidor, according to Cervantes, who was undoubtedly following someone else, means translation / betrayal … or does it? Translation: the reverse side of a tapestry (also Cervantes) from which we may through a glass, darkly, glimpse only shape and shadow while stumbling over all those knotted threads … so here’s another question:  why would we choose a translation, with all its flaws, over a work we can read and enjoy and hopefully understand in the original?

So far, I have mentioned mainly playwrights; Cervantes was a playwright and wrote a goodly number of plays (Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses). I should also mention novelists. Charles Dickens, for example; or Honoré de Balzac or Gustave Flaubert or Marcel Proust or Pío Baroja or Benito Pérez Galdós or Gabriel García Márquez or Carlos Fuentes or William Faulkner or Kurt Vonnegut or William Golding or Chuck Bowie or John Sutherland or Kevin Stephens … not to mention Charlotte Bronte … Emily Bronte … Jane Austen … Virginia Woolf … Should I then choose just ten novelists and forget the world’s playwrights? And how can I choose just one book from a single novelist’s vast production, think Trollope, think Balzac?

What about poetry? My ten favorite poems? My ten favorite books of poetry? My ten favorite poets? Perhaps the latter is more achievable. If that is so, I must then choose between Quevedo … Góngora … Antonio Machado … Juan Ramón Jiménez … José Hierro … Wilfred Owen … Dylan Thomas … Gerard Manley Hopkins … Baudelaire … Verlaine … Rimbaud … Prévert … R. S. Thomas … Federico García Lorca … Miguel Hernández … T. S. Eliot … Seamus Heaney … Pedro Salinas … José María Valverde … and how do I choose between the writers I know and love … Patrick Lane … Richard Lemm … Fred Cogswell … Norman Levine … Donna Morrissey … Susan Musgrave … Joan Clark … Erin Mouré … and the ones I work with on a regular basis … Jane Tims … Kathy Mac … Shari Andrews … Michael Pacey … allison Calvern … Ian LeTourneau … Judy Wearing … Rachelle Smith … Cheryl Archer … Judith Mackay … Julie Gordon … ten poets … ten books … ten poems … ten fingers … ten toes … ten commandments … only ten?

Hold on a second: I have forgotten St. John of the Cross / San Juan de la Cruz, one of the western world’s great mystics. I must also mention St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the catholic church, and Fray Luis de León, and now I am about to enter a great cloud of unknowing in which mystics, some named, some unnamed, have blessed us with their life thoughts and works.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold … and I have also forgotten W. B. Yeats and James Joyce and I have failed to remember the Poema de Mío Cid and the anonymous epic poems and ballads of the European middle ages, some of which are so deliciously delightful. Alas, I will be forced to abandon so many of my teachers and my friends … ten books, ten speeches, ten lectures, ten words … my life in literature reduced to ten teaspoons of instant coffee, instant tea, instant knowledge.

“My friends, we will not go again
nor ape an ancient rage;
nor let the folly of our youth
become the shame of age.”

Oh yes, that’s G. K. Chesterton. I had forgotten him. When asked what book he would take with him to read in exile on a desert island, he replied: “Green’s Practical Manual of Ship Building and Ship Sailing.” Now that’s a book that should be in everybody’s top ten, especially with the seas rising and disaster lurking round every corner of the suspicious, weather-warmed mind.

However, as I look back on my reading life, believe it or not, some books do stand out. When I entered graduate school and realized the enormous amount of reading that was being thrust upon me, I took a speed reading course. Over the ten weeks of that course my reading speed rose sharply from about 200 words a minute to 800 words a minute. Without that one book, I would have been unable to read so many of the others. Where is it now? It is not on my shelves: ah yes, I gave it to my daughter when she went to law school.

The second special book is the Spanish text book that, in regularly updated versions, I relied on for teaching basic Spanish grammar throughout my academic career in Canada. Without that textbook and the employment it ensured me, I would not have been able to put my family’s bread on the table. I guess you might call it influential. Perhaps the third special book is my own doctoral thesis: that allowed me to gain academic employment and is so very, very special to me, but for all the wrong reasons.

Ladies and Gentlemen and Fellow Bloggers, here I am, marooned in Island View, with not an island in sight, and no reason, as yet, to build a librarian’s arc. I will now replace my selected books and authors back on the shelves from which, one by one, I have taken them down, dusted them off, and glanced through the pages. I admit my inadequacy. I cannot for the life of me choose ten books, let alone ten authors. I lay down my pen. I remove my fingers from the keyboard. I abandon my task. Soon I will leave the room with one of my favorite books in my hand. Will it be Jane Tims’s Within Easy Reach or Chuck Bowie’s Steal it all or John Sutherland’s master work, The Two-Shot Compendium. I think I’ll go with Two-Shot and re-read the first story, Two-Shots Lands in Trouble, as I sip my mid-morning coffee. Meanwhile, I will leave you with this thought from Guillaume Apollinaire.

Je voudrais dans ma maison
une femme ayant sa raison,
un chat passant parmi les livres,
et des amis en toute saison,
sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.


Mythras: Flash Fiction


Bistro 16

In the pearly morning light, before the sun had burned off the mists from woods and fields, Jim contemplated the breakfast potential of the mushrooms pushing their stubby skulls through the damp grass. Jim refrained from gathering any until he came across a mushroom as large as a stepping-stone. He lifted it up with great care and placed it in the canvas bag he carried. Then, casting his glance from side to side in search of the best of the crop, he continued to wander along the faint path that led downhill to the field below.

Dai Jones, the farmer, was plowing a neighboring field into earthen waves that disappeared in the morning mist. His sheepdogs, Floss and Jess, ran free between the furrows of fresh-turned earth.

“Watch out for that bull,” Dai called to Jim, as he turned the tractor by the dry stonewall. “He’s loose in that lower field. He’s in a bad mood this morning.”

The roar of the tractor accelerating out of the turn swallowed Dai Jones’s last words.
Jim bent to collect another mushroom. Downhill he walked, following the path as it led him through the mushroom patch and toward the lower field. He stopped at the gate and gazed towards the trees where the mist gathered its folds. Night still dwelt in that woodland temple and the field seemed empty. Jim opened the gate and walked through, closing it behind him.

Jim wasn’t afraid of Dai’s bull. He had met bulls before and had never had any problems with them. He had holidayed in Spain one year and at the village bullfight he had vaulted over the protective barrier with two of his drinking friends and found himself face to face with a fighting bull. It wasn’t really a fighting bull. It was a young bull, a novillo with padded horns, all the village could afford, but he well remembered how the animal sensed his presence, raised his horned head, pawed at the ground, and charged.

Jim recalled the elation of flying, of side stepping, of turning aside from the novillo‘s uncontrolled rush. The villagers, aficionados all, began by laughing at that teenager thrust into a sacrificial, prehistoric culture. But Jim stood his ground, unafraid, and allowed the novillo to come towards him, again and again, before dancing merrily away.

The novillo became furious. It charged with less and less control, and, as it tired, Jim’s two friends combined with the villagers who jumped the barrier to catch the novillo by its tail and drag it snuffling and snorting from the ring.

Later, after the bullfight, Jim met another bull. Its horns and head were fixed to a wooden frame crammed with fireworks and carried on the backs of six large men. When the village clock struck midnight, this carnival bull charged into the square where the villagers were dancing. The bull’s wicked glass eyes flashed, the fireworks exploded, and sprays of bright sparks spurted from the bull’s wooden back. The six men whooped and bellowed, and everybody, except Jim, pretended to be afraid and ran.

As he knelt to gather another large mushroom, Jim remembered the holes burned in his sweater by those bright sparks. He knelt there and the early light cast a luminous spell around him. It was as if he knelt at prayer, just like a bullfighter, en capilla, kneels and prays in the bullring chapel before his entrance into the ring. But Jim wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t affected by any mystery or myth, what he called ‘the bullshit of the bull’.

Within the mist, his bulk enlarged, his horns sharpened and curved, Dai’s black bull also knelt, snuffling gently, sensing Jim’s presence. Then the bull heaved his bulk slowly upwards until he reached a standing position. He couldn’t see Jim through the mist, but he sensed him, heard him breathe, and knew exactly where the young man was. The bull scraped his horns in the mud and pawed the ground.

Lost in his memories, Jim picked his last mushroom.

He looked up with astonishment when the black bull charged.

Jim’s world ended in a whimper as the bull’s sharp horn drove into the young man’s chest cavity, lifted him from the ground, severed the aorta, and pierced his heart.



Miracle: Flash Fiction.


F1030024 2.JPG

Bistro 15

A tiny man in a dark brown robe bustled into the library.

“Brother Marcos: come quick. There’s a miracle. We’re witnessing a miracle.”

Brother Marcos raised his eyebrows and Robin looked horrified. Will didn’t know what to think.

“A miracle?” Brother Marcos asked. “What kind of miracle?”

“There are angels and visions. Oh, I can’t explain. It’s happening now. You must come and see. Oh, you must come and see.”

The tiny man scampered out of the library door and Robin and Will followed him.

“Ship of fools,” said Robin to nobody in particular. “We’re all sailing in a ship of fools.”

“Wait and see,” said Brother Marcos. “We must not pass judgment. Wait and see.”

The man in the brown robe led them to the main altar at the heart of the monastery where the lignum crucis stood on display.

A group of tourists clustered around a man on his knees in front of the true cross. A ray of sunlight pierced the stained glass window and picked out the kneeling figure whose arms spread out like an angel’s wings as he knelt there motionless.

It was LJ. His eyes were open and his chest hardly moved. Fragments of colored light from the stained glass window flowed over and around him and at times they gave the impression of flowing through him too. They gifted him with what, in the shifting light of the sun’s ray, seemed to be a halo round his head. Golden specks of dust sparkled in the sun’s bright rays and danced like little angels in the air.

Brother Marcos drew in a deep breath, knelt, and made the sign of the cross.

“Little angels, ascending and descending,” he mused out loud. “How many, I wonder, could dance on the head of a pin?”

“It would depend on the size of the pin,” said Robin. He pushed past the staring crowd. Some were on their knees, their rosary beads clacking through their fingers. Others stood and looked on in wonder at the light descending. Others crossed themselves and looked towards the altar where the lignum crucis was displayed, the time-blackened nail hole exposed in all its glory.

“Come along, now, LJ,” said Robin, touching him on the arm. “That’s enough of that. Get up off your knees now. We’re going.”

There was a low mumble of disapproval from the absorbed spectators.

“Don’t touch him,” said one.

“It’s a miracle,” said another.

Noli me tangere.” The voice, a deep voice, not at all the voice of LJ, rose seemingly from the kneeling man’s mouth.

The crowd sighed. Some drew closer, in seeming awe. Others drew back in fear.

“I didn’t know LJ spoke Latin,” Will said.

“He doesn’t,” Robin shook his head. “But he could have learned those words at any time while he was in school. Even I know them. It’s a neat trick with the voice, though.”

“It’s no trick,” Brother Marcos crossed himself. “We have witnessed other miracles in this very place, though none quite like this.”

“This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” The voice spoke again. And immediately the crowd responded and with the exception of Robin and William those still standing dropped to their knees and joined in the prayers. More rosaries appeared.

“Let the night’s stone be rolled away. Let sunshine pierce the shadows. LJ, my son, pick up thy cross and follow me.”

Two things happened almost at once. First, the sunray that illuminated the scene flickered and vanished and then LJ toppled over and lay on his side.


F1030024 2.JPG

Obsidian’s Edge 23


11:00 PM
Calling it a day


This auriferous sky,
sewn with sharp sequins.

Is there a warp, I wonder,
a lurch towards meaning,
a leaning towards
sun or moon?

When they planted
our first footsteps
did those little prints
take root and grow
or did they wander,
across this planet?

A rampant foot stands firm
on the highest rampart:
instant gratification,
timeless possession,
each passing cloud.


A rocket streaks upwards.
this release from the sender’s
earthbound misery
or is it merely
a message of anguish?

Who knocks
now at heaven’s gate?

The low moon glows:
lesser incandescence,
departed sun.


A satellite glides
its razor edge,
slicing distant pin
pricks of light.

The moon rides
her orange unicycle
across a thin black
line of hill.

Here on the azotea,
midnight slowly
covers the sparkling town
with a dark gray cape.


If their grief is our grief,
and all grief is one,
do we all then bleed in vain?


Nochebuenas, tulipanes,
flowers of every crimson hue
pour blood from each
thorn-pierced wound.


This zapotec measuring cloth,
this mixtec weaving wool,
this trique with her knife:

who will sever the artery
that binds us to the loom
at Obsidian’s Edge?

Lily: Flash Fiction


Bistro 14

One morning, in the Jeu de Paume, LJ found his own true love. The sun rose in Giverny and cast rose colored petals across the lily pond. And there she was, his Lily Marlene, floating in that watery space, her face framed among the lilies.

He remembered what she used to wear as she waited for him, standing beneath the lamplight where he could see her. He recalled their tender whispers and felt once again that wave of love sweeping over him. His tongue touched base on his lips and he swallowed his saliva: so sweet, her resurrection. She lazed there among the blossoms, each flower gigantic beneath the Japanese footbridge. LJ gazed on her, that Lily who toiled not, nor did she spin, and sighed as she rested there, cushioned among the lily pads, a work of wonder in a watery labyrinth of fragmented light.

He remembered the night they sent him away. “All troops confined to barracks,” the notice said. He thought of her standing out there, waiting for him. He remembered too that first encounter with the enemy when fortune rattled its poker dice leaving them to fall haphazardly, never to be recalled, yet not falling by chance, and the cast dice turning into flowers, red flowers, that stained his knife crimson. He gazed at her as she lay there, a conjurer’s trick her floral eyes pulled from a dark sleeve and floating in a pantheon of mysterious magic, a thicket of flowering water.

Each day he came to the Jeu de Paume to pay tribute and to see her reclining on her lily-pad. Very soon he saw her everywhere, coy in shop windows, languid in pavement puddles where raindrops rippled her eyes, couched among the floating clouds as evening stole color from the day. She became once more his Lily of the Lamplight and, as dusk’s shadows stalked street and square, he kept watch at street corners, from dusk to dawn, hoping to see her again, highlighted in the early morning by the rising sun.

LJ dreamed that one day they would walk together, hand in hand, at noon, perhaps, when the cathedral wears its strawberry suit, or in late afternoon when a blueberry blush descends with prayers and bells to sound the magic of Vespers. But it wasn’t to be. One evening, in a fit of despair, he threw myself into those clinging waters and sought her side. Dark bells rang out their bull-frog chorus as he plunged through shadowy waters in search of the light of her countenance there, where dusk is a violent bruise, scoured purple and red across the horizon. Yes, he followed in her footsteps, his Lady of the Lake, and became one with those waters.

LJ still doesn’t know who drew him forth; but when he emerged, he sensed that all had changed and that nothing had changed more than the viewer, this once-young man, now old and arthritic, typing away, one finger at a time, battering his key-board to recreate the wanderlust of those day-dreams wrought sous le Pont Mirabeau, along the banks where the Seine flows, or up by the bouqinistes and the Marché aux Fleurs, and past the Marché aux Esclaves where he searched for her, but he didn’t find her and raindrop words bounce off the page as photos of Monet’s Lilies bewitch with the staring madness of her drifting hair that floats through the cathedral’s eye, through the great rose window of Notre Dame reflected in the waters where his Lily still waits and holds a place in the rippling river for his un-drowned heart.