Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tomorrow Is The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

The summer after my senior year in high school, I babysat a ten-year old boy named Blake (not the emotional one in the former post, but a bad-ass with the name of a poet) in a trailer on the outskirts of town, near the local airport. One of my dad's friends had owned the trailer for a long time and it still had all the decorations from the 1970s including a yellowing thumb-tacked poster with a butterfly that said, Tomorrow Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life. I babysat Blake every weekday night while his mother worked third shift at a nearby factory. Blake had one book in the entire house, a book about snakes and spiders titled These Things Bite and Sting! It wasn't exactly the Velveteen Bunny, but I read the book to him every night despite the horrible pictures that stayed in my mind for hours of snakes and scorpions and big spiders.

I hated being in the trailer where you could hear every rustling in the night but I needed the five dollars a night I earned to save for college. Blake never wanted to go to sleep and kept trying to touch me in what one might call an inappropriate manner. You have a nice butt, he'd say, like a ten-year old modelling agent sizing me up for some casting call in hell. He'd also try to get at his mother's cigarettes, but I could hide those and we'd stay up talking about things to make the hours pass. You're scared of all the noises, he'd say. No, I'm not, I'd tell him, lying in an obvious way after jumping for the umpteenth time. Uh huh, he'd say. Nuh uh, I'd say and so went our dialogue. After Blake fell asleep, I'd retire to the living room and look at all the old furniture, so familiar in that way of the recent past, the avocado-colored appliances and the recliners, the sinking couch. I've never smoked, but I would take out one of his mother's cigarettes and let it burn. After all, tomorrow was the first day of the rest of my life. I could quit then.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We're not living together. We're just trapped in the same cage." Tennesse Williams, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

The Day After The Night Before

40 ml scotch whisky
50 ml single cream
3 teaspoons of honey

Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with cracked glass. Strain into a martini glass.

This is a lovely hangover cure.

Benedictions and Maledictions

I usually reserve this section for poems, but I'm taking a couple of days off and asking for questions instead. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them on the comment board, and I'll start addressing them on Saturdays, in a section titled Saturday Night Special.

As Long As It's Healthy

My friend Mark once tried to cook dinner for a prospective girlfriend and called me to ask advice. This action alone gave me pause as my idea of cooking dinner consists of two things -- either heating up things other people make and passing them off as my own or buying food at restaurants and passing it off as my own, taking great care to dispose of the take-out containers beforehand. My advice to Mark was simple -- get Michelle (the girl in question had my name, a bad anorexia problem -- she'd lost half her body weight and her hair was falling out by the handful, and a heavy valium dependency, not too mention a thick Oklahoma accent) a little drunk and anything would taste all right. He didn't have enough gas in his truck to drive to anywhere but Piggly Wiggly, a local grocery store that doesn't carry anything remotely fresh. I said spaghetti was a safe bet, spaghetti was good. Also, Ragu. Ragu works.

Mark did as he was told and still the night went awry. Apparently, she got very drunk on cheap red wine and ended up throwing the spaghetti at him. He, also being drunk, was unclear on what had happened to cause the throwing of pasta, but he had seen her in her underpants and seemed content with my stellar cooking advice insofar that it had brought him some joy. He had dumped another woman for calling three times a day just to say hi, another for rolling her eyes back in her head during sex where just the whites showed, like a horror show creature. His romantic life had been a real mixed bag. When he'd get drunk as a frog, he'd shoot beer cans with his bb gun and tell everyone that he all he wanted in life was a woman who would accept him and his drinking, no questions asked, just like some people say about the gender of their babies, we don't care as long as it's healthy. It wasn't too much to ask, was it? he'd ask, before he'd take down another group of cans. Even with him drinking all day, I have to admit that his aim never suffered.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"It was the hour between the dog and the wolf." Jean Rhys

It's Not Healthy At All

vanilla ice-cream
Godiva Chocolate (any of the chocolate alcohol flavors will work)

Combine all ingredients for the best dessert ever!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Decoration Day

My friend Hank and I used to talk about what would kill a date, end it completely if one was so inclined. The least erotic image we had ever seen was on the Imagine documentary, rented one weekend night. Hank and I usually hung out with a group of people, but everyone was somewhere else that night, leaving us and us alone the horror of watching Yoko Ono take off her shirt during one tender love scene with John. Dear Lord, Hank yelled, Keep the shirt ON, Yoko! Hank couldn't see more than a few inches in front of him and with one good eye so he backed away from the teeny-tiny television screen until the scene played out, and Yoko had returned to the safety of her black turtleneck. Sometimes, Hank claimed, one good eye was too much, like the time a mutual friend of ours had tried to seduce him by showing copious amounts of a very mottled and chunky thigh during "Blue Velvet" in a much too small mini-skirt. "She was near my good eye, Michelle, and I could see everything," he said with a shudder. "I had to keep focused on Dennis Hopper."

Blue Velvet could kill a date, although it wasn't a sure bet. The surest bet we knew was Bad Lieutenant, a truly depraved work in which one sees far too much of Mr. Harvey Keitel. Leaving Las Vegas (one of my favorite movies) always tends to dampen the mood. One of my friends, in a truly ill-thought out evening, rented both Leaving Las Vegas and Kids for his new girlfriend, who in a few short hours was clinging to her side of the bed in what was to be their last rodeo. Now that Hank has been dead for a few years, I find myself wondering what he would make of certain movies that have just come out. Most of what comes out of the studios seems awful in a santized way that makes one long for the days of Bad Lieutenant. Although I'd like to tell Hank he isn't missing much, he would no doubt get as close up to the screen with his magnifier and see, whatever he could manage, for himself.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I couldn't read so I had to read the book God wrote for me." John Lee Hooker

Johh Lee Hooker's Diet Plan

"Your doctor put you on milk, cream, and alcohol." JLH

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Curbside Review

Party Lines

Sid likes me to fuck other guys,
says the costumed Nancy as she goes
from lap to lap at my brother’s Halloween
party. In two years they’ll be divorced
and she will fuck other guys, and Sid
won’t like it one damn bit. Instead,
he’ll become a vegan, lose his sex
drive to an overabundance of soy milk
and sit around the house they bought
wondering what went wrong. I’ll remind
him of the time she broke in on one of his
phone calls to me and said, “I think we
should split up.” We all sat listening to each
other breathe for a minute before she said, “Go
back to your conversation,” and hung up, but
neither of us could remember what we were
talking about before she came on the line.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pretend You're Not Here

Little Michelle wasn't me even though she had my name and even though we were both pretty little by most standards. Little Michelle had lived on our block for years, one of the children who was "touched," a gentle southern term that can mean anything from eccentric to autistic to deeply mentally ill. The neighborhood kids were kind to her, which seems odd to me now, given how cruel and vile children can be. Her parents didn't groom her well and she never appeared to have had her hair washed. Neither did her mother. Her father was an air-conditioning repairman and said next to nothing. I liked Little Michelle because in some deep way I saw that she was me, the me nobody saw past the clothes and the hair and the way I was holding it together, but not really, the way my fingernails betrayed me, about how I felt when I didn't have enough paper at school and had to "borrow," about every shortcoming that I would die to have people to see.

As time went on, Little Michelle dropped out of sight, going to a different school. Kids stopped playing in the neighborhood when we got older, and I didn't hear anything about Little Michelle until I heard that her father had shot her, her mother, and himself. My mother said it was about all that unwashed hair, pushing him over the edge. Other people had theories, none as inventive as my mother's (she was very big on clean shiny hair!), but nobody really knew why the family had come to such an end. People wondered what they could have done to stop the dad -- Pretend you're not here, they could have done that, a few dumbasses decided. The house had always seemed haunted in a way, but I never went inside, just watched as her dad worked on their air-conditioning unit, like all the other dads in the world.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Who knows why we do the things we do?" Raymond Carver

Pretend You're Not Here
vodka, vodka, and more vodka

Benedictions and Maledictions

I Eat Here All the Time

Our establishment is clean, the waiter
says to my friend Hank. You will find
no bugs.
Hank looks up from his menu,
setting his magnifying glass aside and rolls
his mostly blind eyes at me, as if to say, not
this shit again. I know, Hank tells him, I eat
here all the time.
I remember in high school when
our French teacher taunted him during class.
Can you spot land with that eye-glass, Pop-Eye?
she’d ask almost every day. The next year
her husband dove into a pool and came back
up to the surface paralyzed from the neck down.
When he saw her wheel him around campus,
he’d take out his eyeglass and watch, saying
I think I can see land, Michelle, I think I see land.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Raise the Flag

I lived in Texas for a long time, 26 years to be exact, and the first Mexican restaurant I can remember eating at was Ponchos. For the uniniated, Ponchos is a Mexican buffet where you went through the line and got as much food as you thought you could eat for a few dollars. After you finished the first round (and the word round is appropriate here), if you could manage and hadn't experienced major g.i. tract disturbance, you could raise the flag at your table and get as many courses as you wanted. The food wasn't pretty, but it was cheap and plentiful which sometimes is the point. I never thought much about Ponchos -- it wasn't a place you ever wanted to go, it was a place you ended up for lack of better options. I remember going on a school trip with some National Honor Society kids and afterward we took our show on the road to Ponchos. By this time, the childish charm of the flag had worn thin for me, and I was doing what I could to pick at my greasy taco. There were some kids in the group who had never been to a restaurant (Mineral Wells built a Chili's this year and that was a huge deal!), and one of them was Movanna Lack. Movanna was a girl who had long snake-handling hair and a complexion that would make Sissy Spacek's look rosy. She kept gasping while we went through the buffet line where workers in hairnets offered us whatever we wanted. I couldn't figure it out until I overheard her on the payphone in the corner, telling her mother that she was at the fanciest restaurant in the world, one where they had flags on the table and would bring you anything you wanted whenever you wanted it. Weep for the little things that could make them glad, I thought, quoting Robert Frost for the first and maybe only time in a Ponchos. What else was there to do? I rose the flag like everyone else and ate until I was sick, which didn't take too long.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Evil can stay in, minding its own business for eternity, if the right situation doesn't arise." Zoe Heller

Love Among the Ruins

1 part vodka

1 part champagne

1 whole passion fruit, crushed

Stir in the passion fruit and chill.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Bordersenses

Raise The Flag

While exiting Panchos, a woman in a wheelchair
is accused of stealing soapillas in a small brown
paper bag she holds between her atrophied legs.
The counter woman wants to search her. You can
look away from this scene, the stringy hair,
the catheter bag, keep eating until you’re sick,
the point of this place being that you can get
whatever you want while you’re here, but you
can’t take any of it with you. Maybe you want
to help, pull out your wallet and give the woman
what you have which is nothing. You’ll have to put
this meal on your card which doesn’t have much
room on it or you wouldn’t be here, loading up
on cheap greasy food, all you can eat, and you can
only stand so much and maybe that’s the problem.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Trailerpark Dojo

Years ago in my grandaddy's trailerpark, there was a Vietnam Vet named Charlie (also my grandaddy's name -- he'd been in World War II so he was Big Charlie) who taught kids a version of what he referred to as "kung-fu" that he had learned in "far-off Eastern lands." From what I could tell, Little Charlie's kung fu didn't have that more in common with David Carradine than Bruce Lee, but it was something to watch, how he'd turn his trailerpark yard of dirt into a dojo, a place where certain behaviors were expected. Mostly the kids in the trailerpark were badasses, but Little Charlie was a bigger badass than any of them and when one of them would get out of line, he'd yell, You bow, you little shit, this is a sacred place, like an old-time preacher (except for the little shit part). They bowed to him, the best they could and instead of the traditional Karate wear, showed up in shorts and t-shirts that said advertised cigarettes or said, Fuck You, I'm From Texas. One could tell from the onset that it was best not to mess with that rough bunch, but Little Charlie had them all bowing and kicking in that hot Texas heat and cleaning up the dojo after, a process that meant they had to take a rake and make lines in a circle, much like a traditional zen garden.

I'd seen plenty of fighting, both real and fake, and was especially fond of the Steel Cage Death Match, a form of professional wrestling when both opponents were locked in a cage to fight to "the death." My great grandmother loved wrestling and would wake me up in the middle of the night to see special shows. She couldn't walk because of her diabetes and refused a wheelchair (feeling it was degrading) and so she insisted on scooting across the floor to get where she needed to sit to see the action on our small television. I loved being up in the middle of the night without permission and watching people smack the shit out of each other. It made me want to attend the trailerpark classes, but I never did. It was enough to see the kids engaged in something hard and worthwhile for a bit, a place where everything was as it should be, if only for a few hours.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow." Tim O'Brien

Steel Cage Death Match

1 1/2 ounces scotch

1/2 oz. sweet vermouth

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Nomad's Choir

Why I Hate Sunflowers

The only story my friend Hank’s dad ever
told in my presence involved them, him
spending a youthful summer chopping them
down for almost nothing. Hate them, he said.
Case closed. Vietnam had taken away most
of his words, freakish chance his son, who died
far away from home in Philadelphia. Guess I’ll
have to stop watching the Weather Channel, Hank’s
dad said at the funeral. I remembered the sunflower
story and thought I could hate them too, in solidarity.
The sun doesn’t impress me much and anything
becomes sad and ugly if you put your mind to it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Live Snakes, Next Exit

On the outskirts of my hometown near the Brazos River (Brazos meaning the arms of God -- in this case, God's arms are full of old tires, tree limbs, and man-sized catfish), there is a sign that tells you to exit if you want to see snakes. Home for Christmas about five years ago, my mother and I visited the Brazos River Snake Farm. Under any other circumstances, I would have driven by it, but I was on a mission for Christmas presents and wanted to see what they had to offer. At the very least they might have t-shirts, and I felt certain that those would make dandy gifts to bring joy to many. If you've been reading my blog, you know my mother's great love for snakes. I, however, run in fear at the slightest sound of a rattle.

After you passed the stuffed rattler that jumped out at you as a greeting by the door (not a good moment for me -- I jumped and clutched my mother in a rare moment of absolute terror). She couldn't stop laughing and we proceeded inside where nothing else would prove reassuring either. Big cardboard boxes were upside down with signs that said, Caution! These boxes, anchored down by rocks, appeared to be moving. A big old boy named Garland with a sterling silver rattle around his neck said nifty things like, That one in the snake is a mean son of a bitch. If he gets out, I'm running. Cool, I thought, as the mean son of a bitch hit the glass over and over again. If you want to see something really scary, go outside and look at the pits. He offered us free food for the pigs outside (the babies they used to feed the pythons) and a view of large ravines full of snakes. I passed. My mother went outside (being far braver) and Garland said, You're actually in more danger in here. There's more snakes inside, you just can't see them. Still, I stayed and didn't touch anything or even breathe when I could avoid it. The room grew silent except for the constant rattling sounds until I couldn't hear anything except my mother's voice outside, telling me she wouldn't be much longer.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

“The wound, which was reopened, is bleeding.” St. Padre Pio

Gummy Worm Punch

Freeze gummy worms into ice cubes (these will float around in the punch)
Green Kool-Aid base
Vodka (a few shots depending on how much you want to drink)
Hang a few stray gummy worms outside the bowl for decoration

Benedictions and Maledictions

Hank Williams on the Night Shift in Branson

His show over, he dishes popcorn,
dispenses Cokes. He’s the 2 o’clock
legend, Elvis gets the night. This Hank
has to be at least seventy, already forty-one
years luckier than the man he impersonates.
Or maybe not -- the real Hank, drunk,
heartsick, riding in the back of a car
at night -- he didn’t have to serve food
and he sounded like no one but himself.

You Can See Out, But Nobody Can See Inside

Years ago, I tried on some leather lingerie in a store on Bourbon Street. I didn't have any money, being a grad student, but the owner assured me and my friend Shelley that we could try on anything we wanted in the entire store just for fun. We were with a man named David who had chosen the porno store just down the street to come out with his homosexuality (no surprise to anyone -- David was nearly forty and had a long distance "fiance" and each day at lunch in the grad student lounge, he'd make a production of setting her framed picture in front of him as he ate while ogling every man who entered the room) right before we saw one of our closeted long-married professors (it was SMLA, a type of English conference week, held in New Orleans -- there is a God!) come out of a boy on boy peep show -- Hello, Dr. . . . ! we said, in which might have been one of the more awkward social interactions ever.

To lighten the mood as David was feeling shaken by his recent confession, we cruised into a store that had a bunch of whips and corsets in the window. Basically a shy person, I nearly died at the thought of even holding a whip in my hand, but alas Shelley and I were hurried upstairs to try on some outfits. The owner said, Just change in front of the window. You can see out, but nobody can see inside. Both of us were stupid enough to believe this might be the case. (Grad school does horrible things for your good sense.) I quickly took off my shorts and t-shirt and looked out onto the street, full of people getting drunk and going to see the tourist voodoo shops. After a minute, I stepped away from the window and moved into an attached back room filled with dildos and butt plugs, things I had never seen before. Eventually, Shelley and I descended the stairs, like brides in a twisted movie, and modelled our outfits. The owner approved, as did David, and we half-heartedly whipped a few inantimate objects in the shop before returning to change into our own clothes, the only thing in the store we could afford. The day continued, as days do, and we continued our search for something that would transform us (we settled on Hurricanes), and walked the streets until the light died, and we needed something more than a drink to kill our hunger.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got." Janis Joplin

(a happy little dessert with alcohol)

Serve the following ingredients in a crepe!

a drizzle of Frangelico
vanilla ice-cream
black pepper

Bendictions and Maledictions

First published in Bordersenses

Drill Team

The skinny ones like me went first,
those who didn’t worry about being
over their designated weight, the doctor’s
office scale recording every variation,
the only good thing was being less than
before. In the background, the other ones
locked themselves into bathroom stalls,
vomiting what they had left inside them,
stripping down to their bra and panties for
the final tally, the number that would decide
whether they would be allowed to dance
that week during half-time. I watched them,
teenagers that looked like women, hips,
thighs, and stretch marks. They dated boys,
went to parties, had abortions. Still a child,
I had sex with men twice my age, acted
the part long before I knew the lines, never
bled once a month like women always do
eventually, not that anyone could see anyway.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


When I was a little girl, people talked about the end times as if they were just around the corner, shit like, the faucets will run with blood, the good people will be taken up as if by magic, and your sorry ass will be stuck here with all the other sinners if you don't dedicate your heart to God. This didn't really scare anybody I knew -- Heaven sounded a little dorky, truth be told, all that streets of gold stuff and all you needed to know about hell was that it was a small place and everyone you ever slept with would be there, pissed off at you, just like real life. Lake of fire a threat? Try watching a Celine Dion concert. You want pain, there's pain, watching that woman who is not attractive that people keep saying is attractive (I call this the Barbra Streisand syndrome) beat on her skinny little chest for two hours while belting out love songs to that creepy-ass husband is lake of fire enough for me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I'm angling for purgatory, and I'm angling hard." Chuck Klosterman

Rapture Punch

2 cups of brandy
1 bottle of champagne
1 cup of grand marnier
2 cups of gingerale

Benedictions and Maledictions

To His Coy Mistress in Detroit

Some guy in line at CVS starts
babbling about the end times, rapture,
yelling, Do you want the news?
Do you see how everything is going
to hell?
The checker says, Fool, look
around you. The end times already
come and gone in Detroit, and we still
I hand her the vodka that I’ve
been clutching as if it might save me,
if from myself if nothing else. End
, the checker says, I heard that
one before. Men always saying some
shit to get you into bed
, and I shake
my head and say, don’t I know it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Perpetual Adoration

I became a Catholic when I was 32, right before my 33rd birthday. This process meant attending RCIA classes (adult catechism) for a year, every Wednesday night for two hours. I loved meeting with Deacon John and his assistant Rosemary in the rectory basement. It felt as if I'd gone back in time to little girlhood when I was fed snacks (Rosemary baked and made exotic things like glass candy -- those snacks were my dinner) and answered questions and was rewarded for good behavior. Two men who were getting married to Catholic women were in the class -- Mark and John (we only needed Luke and Matthew) and they were engaged in the exhausting process of helping their would-be wives get their first marriages annulled and managing their blended families. The real-life concerns took up most of their mental energy so they relied on me to answer questions that Deacon John posed and after a time, asked if I'd been raised in a seminary. Not hardly! It wasn't my fault that I'd read one too many Thomas Merton books!

One other woman named Tebeth was also in the class, and she had a lovely innocent way of looking at the world. She and I were the only ones not in the class because of marriage. One night Deacon John gave us a tour of the church and showed us the place of Perpetual Adoration. The Christ wafer sat in His special outfit and when the priest put Him out, someone was required to sit with Him at all times. Tebeth asked why and Mark said, He doesn't like to be alone. He wants someone to talk to Him. Tebeth looked confused and said, When I'm alone, I talk to myself. She wanted to know why Jesus couldn't do the same and seemed upset when we moved onto talk of where we'd be changing clothes after our baptism. It was in the room where the priests turned wine into the blood of Christ. Anything, it seemed, was possible.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

Blood of Christ (also known as a Cape Codder)

Cranberry juice and vodka -- enjoy with little wafers!

Benedictions and Maledictions

I’d Rather Be Shot

Don’t apologize if you are not sorry.
And don’t worry if you can’t feel
anything. Someone will be with you
shortly. Make yourself comfortable
because you might be here for a spell.
Don’t worry about the panic that grips
you when you lose your phone or your
heart. I will be, I am trying to be, any
day I shall be . . . What am I trying to say?
That, perhaps, there is power in the word,
if you can find the right one. Tell Mama
what you want, tell Mama what you need
sang Janis Joplin and look what she got for
her trouble. Or think of Gary Gilmore. When
given a choice between a hanging or a bullet,
he said, I’d rather be shot. And he was.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Burning Bushes

As a child, I loved fire and was first in my girl scout troop for building fires. I did things you weren't supposed to do to get them going like using paper and little twigs to make things go up faster -- I was told that my methods were dangerous and unsound. What's new? My sister Beth (pictured here with a bad look on her pretty little face) hated the candle in the picture because some wax had dripped on her. I stayed mesmerized by the flame for all the rest of the pictures, knowing what it could do. I almost burned down my college dorm in this fashion -- I was making a Halloween decoration (burning the edges off some butcher paper to make it look eerie) and the entire sheet caught on fire. I didn't panic which is very unlike me. Instead I watched for a minute and threw a blanket on the paper and managed to snuff it out. The paper looked good and black, but wasn't really fit to decorate our door. When my friends returned to go out later that night, they asked about the smell. Were you trying to cook? they asked. Clearly, they didn't know me at all.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

Burning Bushes (snack to accompany any Spell you like)

Take thin sliced lunch meat (the stuff you can see through) and smear with cream cheese. Roll these little guys up like a blanket and cut into slices.

Benedictions and Maledictions


Every night the dark comes earlier.
Fumbling with my purse from the car
to the door, I hear the warnings -- wedge
your keys between your fingers, carry
lemon juice to squirt in his eyes, pick
up a handful of gravel to throw in his face.
Above all, run. Don’t get caught alone.
You know better. That’s how the world
becomes a gauntlet. Welcome to the Las
Vegas Hilton! Unless, of course, the men
label you a dog, unworthy to be assaulted,
telling each other “wave off,” meaning,
This bitch isn’t worthy to be touched, thrown
to the ground, stripped. For years, I lived
in an apartment where I had been raped. It
had a loft, and I was loathe to part with a loft.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Endless Summer

So much of my youth was about sun damage that it's no wonder I live in Detroit now. Tanning was such a great thing in the 70s -- nobody thought about cancer or looking like leather or sun spots. My girfriends and I would slather ourselves in Crisco (yes, Crisco -- the stuff you cooked with that would also become verboten with all the diets that are now in vogue) and spend hours cooking ourselves. Crisco was hard core -- some people got results with Johnson's Baby Oil as well. The most protection I could stand was the lowest level of SPF (2, I think) of Coppertone. The smell of Coppertone may be my favorite smell in the whole world, and a whiff of it will bring back a homesick feeling so sharp that I can't believe it. Not that I have much use for it these days, but it's still nice to have around.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Paradise is exactly like where you are except much much better." Laurie Anderson

The Sunbather

1 shot of vodka
1 shot of lemonade
1 cherry
garnish with a sugar rim and serve as a shot

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Confluence

Wherever We Go

We are everyone in our dreams, even
the dead or so say the books, the ones we turn
to when we struggle with the images
we can’t shake, 1001 Dream Meanings
and its variations. The smart ones forget
the meanings and play the numbers assigned
to each type of symbol, endless combinations
with their promise of money and possibility,
enough to cling to as the days pile
on top of each other like snow, making
everything more difficult and more beautiful.
Once a childhood friend said to me
of our small Texas hometown, Wherever
we go, we always know there’s somewhere
worse, and I thought of it as his parents
flew his body across the country to be buried
in the exact place he’d struggled so hard
to escape, a place where the snow comes
down so seldom as to be a miracle, covering
everything with a blinding white for only
a little while, just like when my friend was born
during a freak snowstorm in March. What
are the odds of that? he’d ask, but it wasn’t
a question. He died with his dreams, those small
moments where everything appears to glitter,
if only for a second before it all disappears.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Color All Days Blue, Save One For Black

When I was in the fifth grade, I became obsessed with Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Whenever my mother took me to the mall, I'd stare at the book with intense longing and fear. The cover was a photograph of a beautiful blonde girl trapped in an attic. I feared that it had things in it that were scary and forbidden, and I wanted it more than anything else. The blurb on the back read in blood red -- Such Wonderful Children. Such a beautiful mother. Such a lovely house. Such endless terror! Eventually I broke my mother down, and she bought me the book despite her reservations that it might be too adult. Little did she know that I'd already read her Anthony Quinn autobiography, The Original Sin, which had more sex in it than any autobiography ought. Quinn's work was frank, but he cared more about love (yawn!) and coming to the epiphany that it was a sin not to live and love fully (all that new-age 70s crap must have seemed fresh at the time) than explaining to the reader how he could justify (not to mention schedule!) having sex with three different women in the same day. And the sex was all from the male point of view, and he always seemed sure of himself. Even being out of control, he still called the shots.

Not so with Flowers. The narrator, Cathy, experienced every dark thing about coming of age in an attic with her brother and twin baby siblings while being tortured by her grandmother. No Hello God, It's Me Margaret moment here. Everything -- getting her period, learning about sex, her brother trying to seduce her -- gave her tremendous pain. No respite except putting up some construction paper flowers in the attic to indicate the seasons. No going outside, no school, no nothing. Sometimes Cathy and Chris (the brother) would hide during parties and watch their beautiful mother look for a new husband (their father died and that's what sent them to live with Grandmother Dearest). Their mother had to pretend they were dead to live with her mother. For reasons that can't be fully explained, this book became a huge bestseller, spawning several sequels. All the sequels deal with the same issue -- the past informing the present. You can't get away from what's happened to you. You carry your pain, your children carry your pain, their children, and so on. That's what a curse is, of course, something that doesn't get better. At the end of Flowers, the children run away from the attic to start a new life. Cathy hopes they can forget, tries to get her younger sister to smile, but it's a half-smile. Of course, that's enough to give Cathy hope. It has to be.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

John 1, King James Version
"And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not."

Petals on the Wind

1 part vanilla vodka
1 part Godiva liqueur (dark)
1 part Starbucks liqueur (dark)
splash of raspberry liqueur

Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Revolve

Mary Remains Unmoved

I have grown afraid of soft things, the silks
that can make a woman beautiful, instead
preferring the hard wet concrete at the foot
of the Mary in the outdoor shrine, the fumbling
with candles in the cold, the way the wind conspires
to make lighting difficult. Last year a woman was
taken from this shrine and raped, and I never cease
to think about it when I ask Mary for favors, the way
a girl begs her mother -- Please don’t leave until I
fall asleep. No matter what I say, Mary remains
unmoved, her eyes toward Heaven, her feet entangled
by a stone snake, and I know that she has seen acts
that she wishes to forget, the work of the desperate
and the brutal. Forgiveness sounds great until you have
to do it over and over. You are so lovely, a man will
say, until you are not. I continue to light in the cold,
one eye on the Mother of God, the other on everything
outside, in each set of headlights, the world of possibility
by which a person can be blinded, if only for a moment.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Revolutionary Suicide

Today is Jim Jones' birthday, the guy who convinced all those people to drink the cynanide-laced Kool-Aid (actually, it was Flavor-Aid, the low-rent friend of Kool-Aid) in Guyana so many years ago, 1978 to be exact. My ex in-laws met Jim Jones once, shook hands with him and everything. Jim wore dark sunglasses and surrounded himself with bodyguards. This was when the People's Temple was buying lots of real estate in California before the move to the utopia that is Guyana (I think utopia, I think third-world hellhole) and things really went to shit. For a brilliant potrayal of Mr. Jones, we have Powers Boothe (a fellow Texan and brilliant presence on Deadwood) in The Guyana Tragedy, a long long movie that has never been released on DVD (it's video version is two videos long). Powers B. captured the early days of the People's Temple and the later ones with great skill and the result is both a serious performance and the campiest fun ever. Also, this movie includes a brilliant cameo by James Earl Jones as Father Divine, fellow whack-job, who helps Powers bring out his inner cult leader and explore having lots of sex with his flock. "There's miracles in these hands," Powers says, imploring both women and men to get down and dirty with him. He yells at poor Levar Burton (of Reading Rainbow and Roots fame) during a long church service and threatens to put him in "the box." (a place where the real life Jones put people as a punishment) When things heat up near the end, a seriously drug-addicted Powers sweats and sweats in a fantastic white shirt that you might see a South American dictator wear on Casual Friday and says to his long-suffering wife, "I have a touch of the jungle fever." He asks her forgiveness for all his bad behavior, and she tells him it's fine. Because haven't we all heard that excuse before?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"To me death is not a fearful thing. It's living that's cursed." Reverend Jim Jones

Revolutionary Suicide

1 part vodka (Grey Goose or Absolut will work best)
1 part grape Kool-Aid

Serve over massive amounts of crushed ice, preferably from a pail to scare all your friends and make bad jokes all night about your "potion." For best results with the "miracles in these hands" line, wait until guests have consumed a few dixie cups full of Revolutionary Suicides.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Joel Steinberg Leaves Prison and Hedda Nussbaum Goes Into Hiding

After everyone else has forgotten, he leaves
prison in a big white limo arranged by his
lawyer. She knows he hasn’t forgotten her,
their nights together awake for hours, doing
coke, the whispered intimacies that made
the beatings bearable. What’s a punch compared
to love? -- both prisons, no prom limos waiting
outside to whisk you away. And their child,
well, she tries not to think of her, the autopsy
calling her body a map of pain, and her own body,
so lovely once, wanted by no one now except him,
just the way he said it was and always would be.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

China Beach

Like almost everyone I know, I babysat when I was younger. I didn't have much experience with kids except my younger sister and kids around the neighborhood, most notably a mildly autistic child named Michelle. We called her Little Michelle to distinguish her from me and also to indicate she was a bit "touched" as we used to say when we didn't have any clinical terms to indicate someone's problem. At any rate, nobody every told me what a natural I was with kids, how good, but babysitting wasn't the art it seems to be now and to have a pulse and be able to dial the phone were enough qualification parents needed to hire you.

Weirdly enough, I enjoyed the work because the kids were very odd and usually revealed lots of things about their lives without any prompting. My favorite kids to babysit were Brad and Blake. As their names indicate, there was a whole world of difference between the two -- Brad wanted to grow up and be a marine and Blake spent most of our time together threatening to kill himself (he was five) because his life was "not right, sad, sad." The first few times this was alarming, until it became par for the course and I'd tell Blake that he would not be going down on my watch, no sir and to watch television like any other babysitter might. Brad, a few years older, didn't want to watch television -- he wanted to play television, most notably China Beach, a show in the style of MASH about the Vietnam War. In Brad's version, I would dance on his parents' dining room table and he would give me money and drink "wine." He assured me we could pull this off with Monopoly money and Welch's Grape Juice. Wouldn't he rather hear a story, I asked. No, he said, I want some excitement! I want China Beach! Finally, he settled down when I told him that I'd tell him a real story, not Goodnight Moon or some lame shit like that. He loved when I cursed (as he did the entire time I was there -- his parents didn't seem to mind the cursing), and I told him a scary story, one with blood and guts and high adventure. After I finished, he agreed that the story had been pretty good, but maybe someday I could dance on the table also. Blake chimed in that he might not kill himself tonight, but he was planning on it, and I couldn't control his thoughts. Finally, the theme of the night.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." James Brown


1 shot Watermelon Pucker
1 shot vodka
1 shot gingerale

Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Sulpher Spring Literary Review

No Half-Measures

Your death was a time-release capsule.
For the first hour, I felt nothing
except the pain of being forced
to swallow something whole. No
half-measures here, no breaking
the pill into pieces, hiding it in ice-
cream. I walk around, seeing
everything and nothing at the same
time, unable to explain where I’ve been
Last things speak for themselves.

Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living In New York

I didn't go to my high school prom, but I like to dress up so here's my attempt at recreating what might have been the happiest part of the night, the preparation. Anticipation has so much charm that the thing itself so often lacks. I suppose that I really blew it in my youth, having come of age in the 80s in Texas and instead of living it up fashion-wise, I was in my militant feminist phase (still am in my mind if not outfits) -- no make-up, no hair style (save for a disastrous Oglive home perm -- think poodle, think poodle in the rain, think humiliation and pain, pain, pain), and no bra (not that this was an issue when you weighed all of ninety pounds and had no chest to speak of). I worshipped at the shrine of books written in the 70s about women on the edge, bursting out of patriarchal constraint into meaningful lives or trapped women that I could understood. And who could blame me? The 80s offered me a steady stream of excess to observe -- gold nugget jewelry, tennis bracelets, hideous shoulderpads, warnings on magazines about becoming an old maid. (Remember People's Cover -- Are These The New Old Maids?) The show thirtysomething was another trauma, but I was addicted to it merely for the fact that the characters had gone to college and were living in Philadelphia. It wasn't, say, Hee-Haw, which was certainly closer to my life.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Posing, always posing, but for who?" Jean Nathan

Snack of the Day (to go with a Spell from an earlier post)

Black Magic

Crackers topped with low-fat cream cheese and black caviar. Serve on pretty little tray to your favorite little friends.

Benedictions and Maledictions


I’ve never been much to look at, she
said, so I’ve had to develop my mind.
Men aren’t crazy about that, they don’t
promise to leave their wives because you’re
so fucking smart. Because you’re asking,
I’ll say that I’m the apartment door you
pass each day on your way to somewhere
else and maybe sometimes I put up a wreath
that reminds you of the season and you think
that’s nice, you admire the effort in such
obviously depleted circumstances and you rush
past onto your love or your work or to get
something to eat. Are we finished here?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Oops, I Think I Killed Her

Woody Allen says "The heart wants what the heart wants." I believe every single thing Woody says and even gave money to a Woody Allen Defense Fund (okay a tip jar on a grad student's desk) when he was first involved with his pseudo-adopted daughter. This did not make me like Woody less. Life is complicated, and I never did like Mia Farrow, truth be told. I'm more of a Louise Lasser girl myself, although I think Diane Keaton was fantastic for Mr. Allen. Tony Soprano modifies Woody's statement: "The heart wants what the dick wants." All righty! To quote Sex and the City: "Relationships are like couture. If they don't fit perfectly, they are a disaster." I've spent my life wearing things that don't fit, hoping I would be thinner or fatter, would be taller or shorter, be something else. I had a friend who poured Clorox over his hands after contracting poison ivy and burned away the itching. I wonder if he burned new lines in his hands, changed his future. Maybe the pain was worth it. Given my nature, I'd say it was.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"You fit into me/ like a hook into an eye/ a fish hook/ an open eye." Margaret Atwood

Sex in the Coldest Place You Can Imagine (the anti-Sex on the Beach)

1 part champagne
1 part pineapple juice
1 part cranberry juice

Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Convergence

Hello, My Name Is

You leave the bar with a man you don’t
know. Never? Keep reading -- you’re
safe. Alone in Central Park, August,
a month of endings and this is yours.
Your killer claims that a cat scratched
him, then that you raped him, finally
that the whole incident was rough sex
gone too far, namely your dead body
under his. Who can dispute this? Not
you. You’re dead. Meanwhile, out
on bail, your killer goes to a party, chokes
a Barbie doll until her head pops off, says
Hello, my name is -- oops, I think I killed
. Laughs. Some of the other guests
laugh, others look down at their drinks.
One girl titters, says, You’re horrible, Robert,
slaps him on the arm. He turns, flashes
a smile, says not really that horrible, darling.

Detroit Basketball

My beloved Pistons lost last night in the third game of the play-offs with Cleveland. Not a big deal, though, they always have problems with the third game. They're so beautiful and brilliant as a team that one cannot help but adore them. And they're still up, 2 to 1.

I have always loved the underdog, since the day I was born. The first poem I remember reading was in the first grade and was illustrated with basketball players. The chorus stanza read something to the effect of -- If first you don't succeed, try, try again. I clung to those words because I wasn't a natural at anything. I wasn't an athlete -- in grade school, my gym teacher put me on the same position as the boy who had both legs in massive braces because of a crippling disease. When we picked sides for teams, I didn't get chosen until the very end, when it was down to me and a very large girl (she looked 30 by age 14) named Toni who smoked and ended up pregnant by her uncle in the eighth grade. I didn't do well at math (just like that one Barbie doll -- Math is hard!) I wasn't anybody's favorite. I was me and that wasn't fun. Boys weren't madly in love with me. I was too smart to be pretty. And not smart enough to play dumb. These days, people are fond of saying, It is what it is. So it would seem. Nonetheless, losing, well, it sucks, but it matters. I am good at losing and find the value in it. Always will. Although the Detroit Pistons don't lose often, when they do, I yell a lot and make a pouty face. And wait for the next game.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Let nothing disturb you. Let there be peace. God is all." St. Theresa of the Little Flower

Watch the Sopranos Tonight! That's my spell! Drink whatever your beady little heart desires!

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Nerve Cowboy

Late Afternoon in the Dementia Clinic

This could be anywhere for most of the people here –
the house where they grew up, their honeymoon, the first
day of work. Except it’s not. The workers count down
the sticky school day minutes before they escape
into slightly less predictable monotonies. As for me,
my husband has chosen this time to move his stuff out
of our house so I’m killing time by visiting a friend
before I can return to my gutted rooms and try and forget
what was once there. My friend plays Keno with two of the high-
functioning patients. I don’t know the object of this game so she
tells me that you roll the die and the person who gets the closest
to six wins the round. "Try it," she says. I shake my head.
"Come on. He’s lost almost every time, but he’s still playing."
I take the die and roll, but don’t come close. When it is time
for the next person to try, he takes the die and blows
on it for luck, then waits for someone to tell him how things turned out.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Misson For My Sins

Once I went into a food coma. It was at a place in Ponder, Texas called Babe's. Waitresses served food family style and chicken fried steaks the size of plates. I went here a couple of weeks after my beloved Daddy died. It was a strange day -- I mowed a little strip of my friend Angela's yard (in high heels and a denim skirt, much to the laughter of her neighbors who said -- That's how a poet mows the lawn!). We (meaning the dearest and nearest friends I have who kept me sane and going during such bleak hours) went to dinner. The food pushed us to insanity and overeating. I usually starve when I'm sad, but not that day. However, the most interesting part of Babe's was a man who showed up in an orange jumpsuit with huge hair, Conway Twitty hair, obviously meeting his lover, another man with mousse issues. I made up an instant history for Conway about how he lived in this small town and kept his love life a secret from his aging mother and that Babe's was the only place loud enough not to draw attention to his date because no one would go to such a place for intimacy. The operative word about Babe's was family style. Okay, so my instant history stole a lot of Tennessee Williams, but I swear Conway's eyes met mine, like we understood about each other, how fucked up lives could become and how hidden and how good it was to have big hair (I've never really grown out of that, being a child of Texas and the 1980s). I loved his orange outfit, his hair, his aura. I've been there since that time and he's always there. A regular. I love that. I don't go often -- I'm too afraid of food. But it's BYOB and with enough alcohol and the right dietary regime (no food for many days), I'm raring to dig into the offerings. I'll always remember the first night, though, eating until I thought I would be sick and then swinging on some old playground, shouting out lines from Apocolyspe Now, before throwing myself into the abyss or off the swing, but that's so much less dramatic, now isn't it? I needed a mission for my sins, I thought, but then again, who doesn't?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"When God hands you a talent, He also gives you a whip." Truman Capote

I discovered a great new vodka mix called Jenn's. It's flavored vodka, which spares you the trouble of mixing. It's a simple spell, but an effective one. My favorite flavor is the green apple, like drinking a big old Jolly Rancher.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in The Oak

Shabby in the Light

This is what I know:
my secrets are not yours.
Even if I give them to you,
their value lies in hoarding,
magazine clippings I think
I’ll use to help decorate
a house I might own someday.
They look shabby in the light,
useless and thin as they flutter
from my hands to yours,
even when we’re being careful.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Potion To Make Me Love You

When I attended graduate school a million years ago, the best poet in the program was a woman named Vicki who was on her second husband and on a Pantene strike, meaning she was someone who rarely if ever washed her hair, and all her drafts seemed to come from God and never ever needed revision. One could hate her for that, but she had her problems, like we all do. Once she missed a workshop meeting and said as way of excuse, I got busy shoveling dog shit and left it at that. She didn't like her ramshackle house with her child, her dogs, her husbands. Said one of her big fantasies was that she lived in a penthouse in NYC and that she owned nothing and the only thing she ever used was the ice machine. I also liked this fantasy. It implied an independence that seemed so unobtainable to nearly everyone we knew.

When I was a little girl, nothing seemed as romantic to me as working at night in a huge skyscraper in a big city. You'd have so much to do that you just couldn't get it all done during the day. You'd light up the night sky with your small office or cubicle and those passing by would have to take notice.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

The Potion to Make You Love Me

1 shot of x-rated Vodka
1 glass of Sophia champagne (named after Francis Ford's daughter, a lovely light mid-range champagne, making up for her performance in Godfather III)

Benedictions and Maledictions


Tell me yours and spare no detail.
I am dining on men tonight. Do
you need a secretary to take down
your every brilliant word before you
even say it? A nurse to bathe those
parts that you could reach if it weren’t
for the iv? Love doesn’t matter here.
I’m not one of those women who is going
to make you say it. I’m whatever you
need, baby, until one night I beat you half
to death with a baseball bat I have hidden
under my bed in case of an intruder. No
one knows what can happen in the dark.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Here Kitty Kitty

A few years ago I was in a liquor store near The Misery (the old apartment complex I once lived in -- see previous post for full, horrible explanation) called Stardust Lounge. In Michigan, we have party stores, something that thrilled me beyond all belief when I moved here from Texas where counties could be dry (no alcohol -- have you ever seen someone weep openly in a convenience store?) to semi-dry (only beer and wine) and blue laws that govern when alcohol can be sold. The Stardust had the air of brokeness that I'm drawn to, along with a nod to bygone glamor (the name of the place, the tiny worn out stars that shot from the banner) and had weekly specials. That week, wine sold in bottles the shape of cats were on sale. The cats were black and white, and I suspect the wine was pretty rank, given the low cost.
Even not being a wine fan, I can say with fair certainty that the finest vineyards do not resort to such witty packaging in hopes of sales.

The store was mostly empty that night save for a man and his beaten-down looking wife who accompanied him. He saw the wine cats and said for all to hear, That's the kind of pussy I like. One that gets you drunk and doesn't talk back. He debated with his wife about what color "pussy" to buy to compliment the massive load of Pabst Blue Ribbon he had carefully selected for the evening's pleasures. She wanted the white, but he wouldn't shut up until she had agreed on the black one. I clutched my bottle of vodka like it would save me, but from what, who knew? Unless I suddenly hit him over the head with it, I'd be forced to listen to Mr. PBR Pants rant about how great the wine cats were and how he wished he could take all of them home. I'd never run out of pussy, he said, and there'd be a new one every day. The clerk rolled his eyes and said, It's all the same thing no matter how they package it. Outside, the sign glowed, haloed by the street lights, looking sadder and more beautiful than ever and somehow I knew it might be a long time before I'd be back.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"My soul can only feed upon truth. I have always said to God: Grant that I may see things just as they are and that I may not be misled by falsehood." St. Teresa Bendicta of the Cross

Here Kitty Kitty

1 shot of light rum
1/2 glass of club soda
1/2 glass of crushed ice
1 lime
1 lemon

Combine all the ingredients and squeeze in the entire lemon and lime. Garnish with the sugar rim.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in The Circle:


The sky, gun-metal, reminds me you're not here.
Last night I dreamt that I'd watched you die
and could do nothing except be there, more than
reality, less than what I wanted.When I heard
the news, my Buddhist neighbors chanted your
name for an hour, their ritual for the dead. With
so much quiet, I can still hear your name through
my walls, thinking of all the times you'd said you
would have hated it entirely except for Hank
Williams, me thinking I'm so lonesome, I could cry.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What Lasts

When I was fifteen, I wrote my first novel, an attempt aborted around page one hundred (hand-written) about a Jewish psychiatrist who hated his life, had terrible sex with his wife, and was eating ham out of the fridge late at night because of his despondency. I didn't understand that ham wasn't a likely food for him to be eating or what it would be like to work as a psychiatrist or be married. He lived in New York City (which seemed to be the promised land), somewhere I also knew nothing about except from books. Mostly books by Philip Roth, who I had decided that I would eventually date. (This was before I read Portnoy's Defense -- at that point, I decided we would just be friends).

I still have a soft spot for Phil -- his work keeps getting better and better, something that can't be said of most writers who have been around as long as he has. Much of my writing became autobiographical instead of imitative, but the influence of all that early reading remains. As for my first attempted book of poems, that I wrote the next year, titled Irrational Fears and detailed a complete acting out of 13 different scenarios of sadness and misery. In retrospect I should have titled it, Shit That Will Most Certainly Happen To You. It was a harbinger of things to come, like so much of what we put on the page is.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"What you begin with is what lasts." Charles Wright

Raymond Carver Picnic
KFC chicken bucket
1 bottle of champagne (cheap is just fine, but Moet is ideal for compliment to chicken)

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Chrysalis

Vietnam on the Edge of West Texas

On the decommissioned army base on the outskirts
of town, a home for juvenile delinquents named
Edgemeade sat near blocks of cement with names
of Vietnamese villages on them. Not much happened
there since helicopter pilots trained to drop bombs
during the war, flying low to read the exotic-sounding
names that now served as make-out spots for local
teenagers looking for a place where they weren’t likely
to be disturbed. Sometimes the Edgemeade kids
would set fire to old barracks, sparks that went up
fast on the edge of West Texas. Even though there
wasn’t much to burn, it looked spectacular,
particularly if you were close. The concrete blocks
never suffered any damage; the villages stood intact
waiting for more couples to discover them –
Than Ke, Quang Ngai, Tri Binh – words
that didn’t sound like anything you’d ever understand
until you were there, places that you only went
to at night, lit by distant fires that left traces
of things that had long since been abandoned.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Everything's Negotiable

When I was in high school, we used to drink Everclear and purple Kool-Aid. We called these charming beverages Puple Jesus, and they were a great alternative to wine coolers, that wonderful elixir of the 1980s. Drinking these assured one a swift journey to the promised land of oblivion. Sometimes we'd go out to Fort Walters, the decommisioned army base that served as a haunted playground for us. Part of Fort Walters contained an abandoned VA hospital, the top floor being a mental ward that was reputed to be pure evil. Breaking into this place wasn't that difficult -- it was surrounded by wildflowers and a chainlink fence. Nothing ever happened that I remember except that we scared ourselves half to death with our own shadows. I guess that's how it always works.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Everything's negotiable." Margaret to Claire in Six Feet Under

Purple Jesus Shot

Grape Jello made with half water/half vodka

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Madison Review:


All that August I had them,
insects burrowing deep into my legs.
I itched until I bled, nails digging
into tanned skin while my best friend
and I watched Nadia Comaneci score
perfect tens. We wanted to be
her, tumbling through the air without
a mistake. In the evenings, we’d practice
cartwheels outside her dad’s trailer, careful
not to stray too far because we’d been warned
that a woman had been gang raped four trailers over.
After second shift, her dad would pull up, yelling
at us to get inside, Johnny Cash blaring from his truck,
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on.
When he saw my sores, he painted them
with fingernail polish, telling me that the chiggers
would suffocate and die. I remember his touch,
killing what was living, leaving only scars
that would stand out in the sun when the light was right.

Monday, May 08, 2006

All We Know of Heaven

For nearly three months, I wore a nightime corrective teeth training device, also known as The Fang. The Fang was a huge problem as it was cumbersome and ugly and I had a horrible fear of swallowing it. I wore it in hopes of helping with TMJ, a problem with my jaw being off that has gotten worse over the years. I went to a new dentist (my last one had the last name of Hurt -- I couldn't think this was a good sign, although he had been okay as dentists go, if a little uninspired) who claimed to be good for "nervous" patients. I didn't like the new guy at first sight; he had the air of a small-time pimp or hustler (think Eric Roberts in Star 80 with an even worse haircut) and believed in the hard sell. But I was desperate and at the end of an unbelievably long first appointment (over two hours!), I had The Fang. I was told in the voice one might use with a small, mentally-challenged child that wearing it would be fun and get rid of my headaches and that some people loved their devices so much that they wore them during the day. This gave me considerable pause. The day? The Fang? Granted, I mostly write (it was out of the question for teaching, although it might have given my students a good laugh), but The Fang made speech damn near impossible and as for how it looked -- well, let's say it was as subtle as cleft-palate. I despaired. Was The Fang the only road to the promised land? Sometimes The Fang fell out at night (note earlier fear of swallowing), and I'd have to dig through the sheets to retrieve it. When I finally got up the nerve to lose the thing for good and stopped with the pimp/dentist who after he showed me a video clip on how to brush my teeth more effectively in an effort to sell me a turbo-charged electric toothbrush, I went to a new dentist, a great one, who told me that The Fang had been discontinued because it was dangerous (note earlier fear of swallowing was, umm, valid -- I knew it! Innocents had choked!). I don't have any idea where The Fang is --I've gone through a move and things get lost in moves, but I'd love to see it again. I need something to wear during the day to keep me inside writing and in a constant state of fear and humiliation. And, of course, Halloween will be here in no time.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Stars were something, since I'd found out which was which." Mary Robison

Hangover Menu for Monday (in honor of my student who did his presentation last week and said, Forgive my lack of enthusiasm. I can't decide if I'm really hungover or still drunk.)

Vitamin Water (Revive because it's purple and tastes all right as far as water goes)
Saltine Crackers
Gummy Worms (better than bears because you don't feel as guilty about biting off their tiny little heads)

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Quercus Review

All We Know of Heaven

When you were here, it seemed enough.
Now are the days when every day is a death,
a reminder of all that is lost to us forever,
the black lights of grief, the punches that
did not telegraph themselves. Love breaks
your heart and is still not content. This is
all we know of heaven, that what we have
is never enough, that it has to be enough.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Under Two Dollars

Dear Readers, (how Jane Austen)

I'm so excited by the Detroit Pistons' win that I'm doing an extra post. They beat the Cavaliers by a million points, okay just under thirty, but still. I'm so proud. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Pistons! In this picture, I'm with my only stuffed animal, Baby Grouchie. I also LOVE Baby Grouchie. I bought him at a used toy store and he was in the sale bin, marked "Under Two Dollars." I saw him and wanted him so much that I didn't hesitate, a rare trait for a Taurus. He wears a teeny-tiny pilled t-shirt that says, Love a Grouch. I sleep with him every night, and I tell him how special he is all the time. Also, The Sopranos was excellent tonight. Only three more episodes! I would cry, but I have Baby Grouchie. That's something.

This Is Probably Not What You Had In Mind

One of my friends likes to ask people if they had sex on their honeymoon and more often than not, the answer is no. Too tired, too stressed, pissed off about the wedding. A lot of people admit to ordering pizza. I'm never surprised by the answers -- anything that involves something as horrible as a receiving line (where people hug you over and over again and tell you how happy they are for you) does not seem like a recipe for erotica.

I've been to surprisingly few weddings -- my friends by and large haven't been compelled to the domestic way of life. One of them was in a bar where my friend Angela decorated the place for the bride Angela, covering walls full of taxidermied animal heads with lace curtains. If I were writing fiction, I'd say that you could see the heads through the lace, especially as the sun started to set. But in the interest of full-disclosure, Angela is a consumate perfectionist and nothing showed, not so much as a stray hair or tooth. Still, it was a comfort to know something real and dead was behind the pretty bolts of lace and tulle, something that was once living, preserved for all eternity.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"There's something about saying you were married once. It's like saying you were dead once." Margaret Atwood

The Bad Seed

1 shot of pomegrante juice
1 shot of vodka

Served chilled in a martini glass.

Benedictions and Maledicitons

First published in Emrys Journal

This Is Probably Not What You Had In Mind When I Told You I Loved You

You enter with your heart behind your back.
Pick a hand, you say. I choose the right
one, which is to say the one that is actually
clutching something. Unwrapped, it bleeds
all over me, and I would like to be buried
where your heart once was before you handed
it to me. Your empty hands now dangle
by your sides. If you wash them, maybe we can eat.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Sorrowful Mysteries

Friday, the day of the sorrowful mysteries, the ones I understand the ones I will not know until they happen to me. When I was a little girl, I thought I would grow up and marry my daddy, the wish of all southern little girls (some probably succeed in marrying kinfolk -- this is another matter altogether). I look a lot like my dad did, particularly the eyes, but I missed getting a lot of his kindness and easygoing nature (not to mention some critical direction skills and ability to fix anything), something that would have served me well. Nobody ever mistook me for his wife until he died and then the funeral home director did, having confused me with a widow who had lost her husband in a plane crash, the same way and week my father died. During the preparations for the cremation (I'd been in this very seat at the very same funeral home with my dad and sister two years earlier doing this for my mother), I answered all the questions and despite repeated correcting, he kept referring to my dad as my husband and finally I went with it because I was so strung-out and tired. I suppose the dark comedy of everything keeps one sane when factors conspire against it.

About a month before he died, my dad and sister visited me in Detroit for nearly two weeks. I was living in apartment complex that I referred to as The Misery (a place for people whose life had turned very bad -- people getting divorces, those having breakdowns, a de facto retirement home, a holding place for the sick and dying) and I was looking to move. All the trees at The Misery had been cut back because of blight and my neighbor had a new crisis every day, a sad woman who had managed to poke herself in the eye with a broom and bloody it the day my dad and sister left. We went to the Henry Ford Museum to get out of this hellhole one day and saw all the great Detroit parts of history (the Rosa Parks bus for instance) and an exhibit on disco called A Decade of Saturday Nights. I preferred all the stuff that referred to the past, the short film on Studio 54, the relics from an era gone-by. But my dad liked the future, the beautiful planes that had allowed other planes to be built, the odes to the future. He wasn't much of a reader, my dad, but he has one inscribed book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from one of the times he met up with Richard Bach at a small airport and it's signed, Happy Flying, Don, Always and has lots of cute little doodles by the inscription and autograph. I thought of this at the funeral home and couldn't think of a more perfect epitaph for anyone.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Have pity on those who love each other and are separated." Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes

Summer Is Here

1/2 crushed pear
1 shot of vodka
1 small glass of Sprite

Mix together and serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions


You don’t have to die for me to burn
myself alive. We’ve only just begun,
sang Karen Carpenter, years before
and after she starved herself, maybe
for love, certainly not for the things
she had, a bed full of stuffed animals,
Mickey and Minnie at the dead center,
hosts to that clean Disney paradise.
Did she hear voices like Joan of Arc?
Make no mistake, she carried death
in her songs. As for myself? I am no saint
and do not have a voice worth mentioning.
I have burned myself alive once or twice,
resurrected for another round. For love?
Who knows? But, oh, what a fire.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

All Tomorrow's Parties

Deep obliteration has a loveliness that nobody can take away from you, I thought, as I washed the vomit from my hair after a long afternoon of drinking vodka martinis with two friends and the Count (mentioned in an earlier post, the one who dresses like a cross between a snappy Nazi and High Plains Drifter). The Count was hammering me about why I write, what I get out of it, and posed the question over and over again, like an FBI investigator. I told him that I write to feel like myself and it's the only time I'm alive in a full way, part joy, part crucifixion, all my emotions and narrative control. Then I slurped down the last of my second vodka martini on an empty stomach (the olive was counting for lunch) and admitted that when I prayed, I felt my sins were so egregious that Christ would have to recrucify himself to make it right. Drinking also gives me the ability to access my emotions, at least until I excused myself to the restroom where I noticed the dying afternoon light streaming through the gin bottles lined up on a windowsill and thought, how beautiful, right before vomiting all over the floor, unable to locate the toilet as those bastards are always moving when you have had two drinks served in glasses the size of small soup bowls.

As I recovered the next day, I felt heavy of heart because all of what I had said was true. The truth is not the liberator it is purported to be. Being a writer means seeing a lot of what you don't want to see. There was no pride in staying the course (I had done that as a gymnast and it had garnered me a second place state ribbon on a zippy floor routine performed to the tune of "Dallas" -- big whoop as we said in those days) or what might come of it. Meant feeling bad when I wasn't doing it, okay when I was, all that time spent looking back at burning cities, like Lot's wife, and risking it all for one last glimpse of what you've left behind.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I do not know myself and the fact that I think I am following you does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe that my desire to please you does please you." Thomas Merton

All Tomorrow's Parties

1 splash of 7 up
1 splash of grenadine
1 part vodka
1 part cranberry juice

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Gargoyle:

Anyone Could Do It

The phone rang, and she picked up her iron,
pressed it close to her face, the mistake
searing into her skin. Burns don’t heal
fast, the doctor told her. It didn’t. Worse,
having to explain all the time. Anyone
could do it and she had. Sometimes people
urged remedies to prevent scarring, for making
the skin smooth again, as if she’d picked
up a phone and asked them for their advice.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

When You Are The Picture and The Picture Is You

For my first writing job, I took pictures of accidents. I worked for the Mineral Wells Index as a reporter and that was my beat, along with anything, that in those oh so politically correct days was considered "minority news." I was nineteen years old and there was never a shortage of accidents -- on the streets, the Brazos River, small planes falling out of the sky. I hated reporting because it involved talking to people in the worst circumstances, obviously, and it isn't a type of writing that involves any perspective -- things are still changing so much that there is no past to put them into a beautiful or horrible frame. I did love the office, though, the old-fashioned dark room, the yellowing clippings, the crappy break room with one vending machine. Seemed, well, grown-up, and I felt tired after the long weeks, the kind of strung out I associated with real life. Most of the time I had little to no idea what I was doing. Sometimes it was also a modeling job -- I served as the woman for the picture for the battered women's shelter, both a charcoal version and a photograph. The artist told me that he could took what he saw and make it look a lot worse, something I already knew how to do.

P.S. Black spot on arm is a spider bite! Shot glass has Sopranos logo on it!

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Nothing is a long time ago." Amy Hempel

Wedding Cake Martini

1/2 part pineapple juice
1/2 part vanilla vodka
splash of grenadine
splash of cranberry juice

This tastes just like a wedding cake except that you a) don't have to go to a wedding and b) it's even better than cake!

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Red Owl Literary Review

Last Conversations

We’d heard our old professor had hanged
himself the day after Christmas, and I told
my friend that I couldn’t imagine a violent
end by choice. He said, You never know
how much pain someone is in until it ends,
and I tried to ignore what I knew of my friend’s
life -- the windowless basement apartment,
the long cold days in Philadelphia, a city
where he’d been mugged, where he kept
a cigar box full of every charm that meant
something, his vision reduced to almost
nothing. He’d said we should ditch our
towns and try New York, and then he hung
up forever. He would have turned thirty-three
that year, the year he died, the age I am now.
We talked about everything, but I can’t
imagine what I would tell him about what it’s
like to be so alone, something he knew all about,
if the topic were to come up, which it won’t.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

All Suffering To End Soon

Tomorrow is my birthday so I answered my door this Monday morning when I heard a knock at an ungodly hour, certain that I was getting flowers or a present, bizarrely optimistic for someone like me, but I believe in goodness and well, presents. Instead two elderly (meaning pushing eighty with absolutely no stick) men stood in front of me, Watchtowers in hand. Nobody had (in my friend Hank's terminology) pulled a preach on me in some time, and I was amused when the first magazine had the title "All Suffering To End Soon" emblazoned on it. I told the men that suffering was my business as a writer and that if it was ending, well, that was sad news indeed. The one man was amused (good cop), while the bad cop asked me why I didn't write anything more positive. What could I say? He asked me if I enjoyed the war or the violence in Detroit. Oh yes, I could have responded, I love both, anything involving a good killing and pain and all that destruction. But he seemed to sense from my outfit that I was a loose cannon (I was dressed in a low-cut black dress and black heels and black sweater -- hey, I need one item to seem matronly to my students!) and backed off, asking if I wanted to be young forever. On the eve of my birthday, this question made me think. I hadn't much enjoyed being young -- it kind of sucked, all that powerless empty time and tremendous anxiety (I had my first stomach ulcer at the age of five) and I wouldn't change things, truth be told. I said, I'll have some face work and everything will be fine -- who needs eternal youth when you have options? My sister Beth (featured in the photo with the lovely Peaches, candle dresser beyond compare -- this photograph was taken at Knight Light, a candle store in downtown Detroit on Mack and Gratiot) is visiting me and came downstairs to rescue the poor men and whisk me off to school.

My other major experience with the Witnesses involved my mother's friends Donna and Richard. They spent almost everyone Thanksgiving with our family for many years and had been excommunicated from the church. Each year Richard would get drunk and tear up about how he'd been banished from all his friends in the church because he was gay. My daddy would tell him it was fine, that he'd be okay and dinner would continue. What can I say? It was a comfort to be together, no threat of excommunication no matter what was confessed. In recent years, I have spent Thanksgivings with my dear friend Shawn and with others, and no matter what happens, there are always things for which to be thankful even if all suffering doesn't come to an end.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"You can't come out of every human transaction smelling like a rose." David Gates

Spirit Tree (also the name of trees laced with multi-colored bottles in the south that are intended to trap evil spirits inside and keep them from your house)

3/4 oz. of dry vermouth
3/4 oz. of sweet vermouth
3/4 oz. of gin

Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Any Kind of Death

I’m ashamed of my teeth now --
they ache late into the night, have
trouble chewing big pieces of food.
Someday I might have to be identified
by these mangled friends like my
father was after his body was burned
beyond recognition. The coroner said,
teeth can survive any kind of death; it’s
life that ruins them. A man broke my
jaw many years ago and nothing was
ever the same. He’s probably choking
down his food just fine these days. Maybe
pieces get caught in his throat, send him
to slug down water, sputtering, I’m fine, I’ll
be okay in a minute
, to anyone who will listen.

Monday, May 01, 2006

You Can't See It In This Picture

When I was seven, I got my Cotton Mather book taken away. It was a library book, one of many I checked out every week. I had been reading "The Wonders of the Invisible World," a sermon about devils and demons and all that is seen, but mostly that which is unseen. For weeks, I had been fascinated by the witchcraft books (all two of them at the Mineral Wells Boyce Ditto Library) and astrology (I am a Taurus, my sister a Virgo, my father was a Capricorn and my mother a Libra -- I had checked out the children's books about these signs and still remember what they looked like -- thin, grey, with orange lettering on the front). I'd take these book to the local airport where I'd sit for hours in the terminal waiting on my dad as he gave flight lessons and pretended to teach a class of four very special brilliant girls that loved and adored me, which wasn't the greatest preparation for real-life teaching, I've got to say. The girls never acted out, and they were always eager for knowledge, like the latest recipe on how to make Halloween cookies (a big project for us even in the summer) or what events started the Salem Witch Trials. Once in a while, I'd throw in an imaginary boy named Timmy who just could not keep up with the assignments and he'd have to go back to ordinary school because his quizzes were subpar and the girls didn't care all that much for him.

Eventually I got braver and braver with my book selections until I started having nightmares about the reading. My mother told me after some brief investigative work of my book selections (I had hidden two under my bed) that there was to be no more checking out of "scary" books. I welcomed this prohibition at first -- the dreams were terrible, and the old remedies (like imagining I was in a field of tulips) weren't working anymore. All I could see was an ax murderer coming through the tulips. But like all prohibitions, things loosened after a couple of weeks, and I was back to my old ways. Bad dreams weren't enough to stop obsession, it seemed. Of course, they never are.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Children have no fear of their dolls coming to life, they may even desire it." Freud, "The Uncanny"

Wonders of the Invisible World

1 shot of vanilla vodka
1 shot of pink lemonade
Mix these two shots together and sip. The ingredients should be chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Illya's Honey:

You Can’t See It In This Picture

There’s a tiara on my head, but you can’t
see it since it’s been cut off. Not that it
matters. Linda Lovelace says if you watch
Deep Throat closely, you can see her
bruises. The pleasure is all mine, I say,
even when it isn’t. I can’t remember a
plot, but that’s beside the point. My
tiara is cheap, a child’s toy, and it breaks
without warning. I am not a child, but
I could be. Come closer. Or don’t.