chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: January 2011


Into his near-sleep, the screen door creaked open and snapped closed as the house breathed. The hot wind blew into the kitchen and through the hall. It ruffled the silky white hairs that coated the dog’s rising and falling ribcage where she lay on the cool tiles of the hearth. Then it pushed on out the front door, creaking the screen door and smacking it shut at the end of every long breath.

At each clap of the wood, a tiny electrical spark made his heart jump and he imagined that he might rise from the recliner and put an end to the noise: he could shove the barrel from where it sat, in the corner of the wooden porch, until it blocked the screen door closed. But then he’d have to walk clear round the house and come back into the kitchen with the wind. So he didn’t listen to the door, or the dog’s disturbed sleep, or the wind, or the memory of his father bellowing, “You can’t stop the wind, boy, so don’t you go locking that door.”

In his dream, the roan mare lay on her side, her eyes wide and wild, her belly mountainous, her breath hot as he pressed his palm against her velvety nose. The bleachers were packed, the crowd taunting and roaring, the basketball stuttering against the wood, rubber shoes squeaking, the ball twanging off the hoop. He was sweating. His mother sat in the rocking chair, her yellow hair brushed back off her face and tied in a thick plait…

trying to write…

five more minutes of skin time, savoring heat, the violet weight of dreamlight…

then up to carve a route through day, picking up scraps of yesterday left lying around, stitching them with determination onto this morning’s plan, greeting the morning with breath, motion, the yoga of words — a slow practice…

winter words…

Winter poems, dense as afghans and woolen scarves, have none of the grace of spring, the warmth of summer. Full of longing, winter words plod among puddles and drifts. Like thick socks, they cross the page, without melody, without the ringing crispness of fall. Shuffling along, each guarding a timorous flame from the violent wind, winter words move in muffled lines. Phrases pull themselves close, wrapped and bundled, thick with the fat of sitting near the fire.

fragments…Martin ~ 1

Too many shoes, Martin grumbled as he poked among the debris on the closet floor in search of the vacuum attachment. How had all these shoes come to reside in the front closet anyway? Martin pictured them nosing out of Lynette’s bedroom closet, making sure the coast was clear, and then walking, in pairs, heel-toe, down the long hall.

He lifted a knitted scarf from the floor. It was clotted with dust. He draped it over the doorknob where, maybe, he or Lynette would notice it and take it outside for a good shaking. The shoes were piled in a heap on top of one another, hiking boots and high heels, wood-soled clogs and dog-faced bedroom slippers with floppy ears.

The first thing that Lynette did when she walked in the front door was to shuck off her shoes, right in the entry hall. One time she had stumbled over a shoe on her way to check the mail, and after that she began to give them a little kick over to the wall, out of the way, or into the closet. She padded around the house barefoot, or in her socks or stockings, quiet and content without the shoes, which would pile up and pile up until one day she’d gather them in her arms and return them to the bedroom, where they’d start their migration once again…


firs in fog

Fog turns the trees into suggestions of themselves, faint and faded. In the still-dark of winter morning, a dampening of sound and shape and distance. Opening the blinds, I hope to see the doe and her large fawn who visited yesterday, browsing through the side garden, but see only the blurred fan of the streetlights, the dark pole, the rough silhouettes of shrubs.

Another blur: the memory of a large bandage on my father’s arm. I am perhaps three or four years old. My mother is deep-frying something at the stove when the oil catches fire. My father grabs a scrap of carpeting from the floor and throws it on top of the pan, smothering the fire. Then he picks up the pan, with its carpeting cover, and carries it over to the sink. But instead of leaving it to cool, he pulls off the carpet, and the flames, gulping the air, leap up his arm and burn him badly.

I don’t remember what happened next – whether they called the fire department or drove to the hospital. But after that my father had a big wrapping on his arm, which later became a lifelong scar. And in my mother’s telling of the story, my father’s unblemished heroism had a moral, and we had a new rule: we do not deep-fry.

And we never did again, and I never have, to this day.

Photo by Glynn Wilson

fragment…the neighborhood

mouse…Down the street, in the house on the corner, there were two blond, crew-cutted boys whose names I don’t remember. Whether she was calling them to dinner or telling them what to do, their mother’s threatening screech was audible five or six houses away and full of “You’ll be sorry!”s and “This is the last time I’m going to tell you!”s.

I didn’t have much to do with the boys. They were known to spend their time playing in the forbidden regions of our neighborhood—the gas station, the cemetery, the empty swimming pool behind a vacant house up the block.

One time I did follow them to the pool, where they had caught a tiny field mouse and put it in an empty five-gallon aquarium. As I lifted the cover to pet the little creature—what did I know about wild animals?—the mouse bit my thumb and hung on. In panic and surprise, I yanked my hand, mouse and all, out of the tank and, flinging my arm, sent the mouse flying across the empty swimming pool.

Somewhat stunned, the mouse and I survived. We were both quarantined for a while. Waiting through that excruciating week, checking myself for mysterious symptoms, I was certain I was going to meet the same gruesome, frothing fate as “Old Yeller.”


my father's workshop

The rhythmic pounding of chisel against wood reverberated up through the floor from the garage where my father had his workshop. He’d retreat there most evenings after dinner for an hour or two and spend long weekends there among the finely-honed chisels and the temporary company of the neighborhood children. Each of the children had a piece of wood, a lesson in carving or sawing or nailing, a talk about safety, and the freedom to come and go. He was the pied piper of wood.

Tap tap tap tap—wooden mallet on wooden-handled metal chisel, gouging deep blonde curls of lemon or orange or grapefruit wood from a piece of a tree he had scavenged and nurtured and observed, sometimes for years, as it aged to a perfection of ripeness for carving.

Above the drumbeat of his work the radio blared symphonies or mystery stories. Fragrant curls of wood gathered around him on the work bench, on the floor, in the pockets of his shop apron, in his hair.

The tapping anchored the house—our little boat was not adrift if we could hear him tapping.

tales of Dorothy…

My mother liked to laugh and enjoyed being teased. Late in her life, when she was in her 80s and full of forgetting, I would tease her and we’d laugh together. I would suggest that perhaps it was time for her to get a job. Or maybe this would be a good time for her to have another baby so I could have that brother or sister she’d been promising me. She would giggle and blush.

But of course she’d never made such a promise. Never even mentioned the possibility. Had, in fact, dispatched the subject all together when I was a teenager and she, serious, and oblivious of her audience, said to me, “I never really liked children.”

musing on Moonlight

The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen
The Journal of Albion Moonlight is ragged and scratched, the page edges furred. Aged yellow highlighting has darkened lines and paragraphs; purple underlining leads to exclamation points in the margin. How old was I when it transported me so? Seventeen, eighteen, perhaps. It spoke to the very heart of me, spoke in a language I recognized as my own, as the stark translation of everything in my struggling soul.

I’m afraid to read it again. Afraid that I will find it obscure, meaningless, dark, indulgent. Afraid that it will signal the end of hope, the failure of youth, the disappointment of reality. Going back to Justine, which I had savored like afternoon lust, I found it treacherous, a closed room, joyless and dark — until the very end, when I turned eagerly to the beginning and started to read it again.

Albion Moonlight floats between the bookshelf, the bedside, the kitchen counter, the desk, hoping to be noticed as I ready myself for the confrontation with the girl trapped within its pages.

another time…Dorothy

My bedroom is separated from my parents’ bedroom by a bathroom, a door giving access from each side. But this is my mother’s bathroom, has always been, and notched tightly into the recessed doorway on my side is a chest of drawers, chin high, with an adjustable mirror on top. It’s a ruddy maple color, polished, with a dark metal handle that clinks against a metal plate at the front of each drawer. When my mother opens the door, our voices pass through it, but never our bodies.

“SHUT UP!” my mother screams at me, slamming the door. Blood fills my ears. I feel dizzy, no longer focused on whatever we had been talking about, now only reeling from the blow of her words. I have probably sassed her. If this chest of drawers didn’t stand between us, she would certainly slap me across the face. But instead she uses these vile words – words I’ve never heard used in our house, except in her careful instruction that we don’t use that kind of language. I hear the words banged around my friends’ homes, easy banter. But in our house, where they’re never used, the words stab at me, shocking as a knife.

And as if the words themselves would not deliver her venomous message, she has slammed the door – another violation of our code of gentle conduct. We don’t slam. We don’t yell. We don’t curse. We don’t say Shut Up.

But I have made her cross this line, break her own rules. She hates me.


Across the courtyard, Forrest is bellowing out his singing sounds. Lowing and bellowing, words indistinct, melody unfamiliar. Making his voice ready for music in case music shows up.


Taylor stepped out of the shower and reached for the towel. There was something he had forgotten, something he had reminded himself to remember. The square of the bathroom window was still dark. It was early. Maybe he’d remember before forgetting became a problem. He toweled off and slung the towel over the top of the shower door. Rubbing his hand along his jaw, he decided not to shave.

He walked naked into the bedroom, damp footprints on the wood floor, and stepped into the shorts he had dropped beside his bed the night before. Linus was curled among the tossed covers at the foot of the bed. He let out a contented moan, his ear twitching slightly to follow Taylor’s progress, his eyes still closed. At the metallic click of Taylor’s watch snapping in place, Linus hurled himself from the bed, fully awake, tail whacking the furniture as he urged Taylor toward the front door.

The newspaper was on the second step, rolled and tied with white string, all the world’s bad news tucked safely inside. The sky had begun to lighten, sunrise still a couple of hours away, the air already warm. A crescent moon was high overhead, its horns framing a bright planet. Taylor sat down on the top step as Linus made his rounds. The dog’s soft woofs announced the night’s visitors to the garden – possum, vole, raccoon, perhaps a skunk.

What was it he was supposed to remember? He ran through his usual list of failures: birthdays, anniversaries, calls to his mother, overdue library books, utility bills lost in the pile of papers on the kitchen table. At the thought of the kitchen, he picked up the newspaper, stood, and walked back into the house, leaving the front door open for Linus. The small bulb over the stove cast its weak light across the kitchen. The coffee pot was still in the sink, yesterday’s grounds still damp in the filter. He dumped the grounds in the compost bucket, washed the pot, ground fresh beans and listened as the coffeemaker burbled to life.

He glanced at the table where today’s rolled paper now lay among books, unopened mail, articles torn from newspapers and magazines, the half-edited manuscript of his book and a scattering of coffee cups. He looked out the window. Through a scrim of tree branches, the mountain stood silhouetted against the early dawn.


posing for a portrait…

Breathe, exhale. Give me a veil. Hand me a fan. Lower the lights. Shelter me under a parasol, in the shadow. Let me move, laugh, wave my arms. Let me take back that expression in favor of another. Don’t stare at me. Let me blend chameleon-like into the plush velour of the sofa, burrow into my sweater, my frayed edges smooth. Breathe, exhale. Breathe, exhale. I feel the cashmere soft on the skin of my forearms and try not to think about my face.


Glimpses of memories, faded and jerky home movies pulled from a dusty can and threaded into a clicking projector…

I had gone with Daddy to his plant. I was perhaps 7 or 8. A low-ceilinged office, brown desks, piles of paper, calendar hanging on the wall. Introductions. Then out into the warehouse, a huge space filled with metal. Enormous tubes, boxes, sheets and funnels of steel and aluminum. Broad metal tables. Dangerous equipment, silenced for the weekend. Shelves stacked high with parts. Daddy talking with another man as I wander around, being careful, out of their line of sight.

“That son of a bitch,” my father says, and I duck beneath a table and begin to cry. Not knowing the words, but knowing the feeling behind them, and the danger that echoed there. “We don’t talk like that,” my mother would say, never using the “bad” words that other families used, never shouting from room to room. Never swearing.

“Son of a bitch,” a flashbulb going off in my head. A stabbing. A ripping of the smooth, solid, unbreakable substance of my father. Now this awful splinter, torn partly away, sticking out where it would scratch me. The first awareness that there was my Daddy at home as well as another Daddy that inhabited his body, that spoke this new language, that was angry and loud, a swearing Daddy, who stepped into his clothes and lived in this other world.

I never said anything. Sat silent as we drove home. He was silent, too, as always. Not noticing my sulk. Not noticing the new awareness in my eyes. Unaware that he had changed, I had changed.


Mouse lay still, his shoulder and hip pressed awkwardly against the pavement. There was no sound. Of course. There was never any sound. But the pavement was a jumble of vibrations — thumps and thrums and pulses and rasps.

Down again.

The thumping intensified, then stopped.


“There’s a bear standing in your driveway,” Gerry would say, and although it was almost never true, Dolly and the twins would always look out the kitchen window to make sure.

trying to write…10

It was early when she sat down to open the electronic box, the sky dark. Laundry sloshing, heater struggling to warm the house, newspaper not yet delivered, she set her fingers on the keys…

The elephant was there, immediate, large, insistent. She felt him beneath her hands where they rested near the knobbed line of his spine. His skin was leathery, dry, his back traced with a web of wrinkles and wiry hairs. Feeling small and awed, she stretched her arms to embrace his massive back and leaned forward to set her cheek against his skin. She felt the slow rise and fall of his breath beneath her.

He had never been this close…


She pauses and looks back, waiting. Peers around. Desert.

Off to the side, a hill where patches of yellow flowers hug the contour of a depression between two soft ridges. A bird coasts high overhead without moving its wings, dark against the sky. The high-pitched cry of a hawk.

Her footsteps crunch, dry, gravelly. The soil is compact and hard, with just a layer of wind-blown dirt on top. She bends over and scrapes a bit into her hand. It’s light brown and grainy, gritty, sandy. A few tiny black specks: seeds.

Holding her hand near her face she sees there’s something crawling, some desert bug swept up in mid-transit. It’s impossible to tell what it is, the color of the dirt, but almost transparent. Perhaps a spider, a mite.

With a finger of her other hand, she pushes the grains around. Some seem to be perfectly round, little spheres of planetary matter. Others are flattened, with crystal edges, quartz. She takes one of the larger bits, still only half the size of a peppercorn, and crushes it between thumb and forefinger. It seems to vanish. A memory of moisture having held it together, as the soil and rocks are held together and pressed into mountains, now just a trace of grit. A tiny, flat fleck of mica catches the light.

Her hand is dry, but this dirt, trained by eons of searching for water, has begun to settle into the lines in her palm where, perhaps, the faintest moisture and heat hold some promise of spring rain, floods and flowers. Her life line an oasis.

She extends her arm, palm up, the tiny creature still moving among the grains. There is no wind, no breeze to take it away. She waits, arm out. Then, slowly, she tips her hand and the few loose bits of dirt scatter at her feet. Now only the darkened traces remain in her hand—head line, heart line, life line—and these she brushes away, first with her fingers, then slapping her palms together in a sound that startles her with its flat insignificance.

fragments…Howard ~ 5

Howard waited for the coffee to soak in. Some mornings he woke up feeling like a dry sponge, shrunken and hard, inflexible, useless. This was one of those mornings. Maybe it was last night’s drinking. Maybe it was the unappealing thought of the work that would accumulate on his desk in drifts during the week he would be out of town. Maybe it was the prospect of sleeping alone another night, another year.

He took a gulp of the black brew and waited, stared unseeing at the newspaper in front of him, listened to the clock ticking on the kitchen wall. He thought about the toy soldiers he had had as a kid. Little dark khaki figures, arms at the ready. A tiny tank. He wondered what had become of them. Imagined a line of them marching off into the fog.

Why am I thinking about toy soldiers I haven’t seen in 30 years or more, he wondered. Then he realized that the front page photo, which he was trying not to see, was of a soldier crouched next to a crumbled wall, weapon raised. If only they were toys, Howard thought. But these flesh and blood fighters were deployed and destroyed as casually as the little plastic men—always men—of his childhood. He wasn’t sure if this was an argument against toy soldiers or a reason to promote the continued, lifelong play with toys that might preclude the need to send children to war generation after generation. War was no way to control the population. He thought of his father telling him about small villages—in Italy? France? he wasn’t sure—that foundered after World War II because none of their men returned. They had to wait for the little boys to grow up.

He refolded the paper with the picture hidden, drank more coffee, waited.


Ice jewels strung along the plum’s fragile twigs catch the street lamp’s light where the melting stopped. Sky still pitch, snow glow, bushes garbed in shrinking berets of snow. Yesterday, an eagle, dark-headed, in the bare tree on the slope.

Giving in to chickadee urgings, a bit of lingering holiday spirit, I stuff cakes of suet and seed into the feeders, even knowing that the squirrels will make off with most of it. The juncos were the first to discover the suet. Ground-feeders, they are usually the dark-hooded janitors, rescuing the fallen bits of other birds’ messy meals. But, first to arrive, there were no bits, so they hurled themselves at the feeders, bounced off, tried again, not getting the part about the feet closing around the wire. Finally a rosy little finch settles daintily and pecks a small snowfall of seeds and suet for the ground crew waiting below.

Later, a pair of flickers slam gracelessly onto the feeders, setting them spinning. Above his black triangular bib, one has a throat flushed red, and they both wear magnificent underskirts of orange. Claws grasping the circling feeder, they spin and spin and peck like mad at the winter meal.

In the white-clad trees on the hillside, black squirrels streak, all silhouette.

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