Swelter. The dial reads 89 degrees. March? Spring? Madness. Classroom is overheated, the kids are overheated, and the teacher is overheated. Books from a distance arrive in purple paper—sepulchral, magisterial, and important. Reading Homecoming, Marilynne Robinson’s quite spectacular book. God, some of the passages are so beautiful, so rich in language, so perfect, as to make one’s head spin. Reading such a book raises such questions about my own writing, about how seriously I’m taking the endeavor of revising a novel, of whether I’d be better off consigning it to the gutter. Last night I slept poorly, the second night in a row, and was up four times at least. Sometime around 5:30AM a skunk was close to the bedroom window and sprayed the garden as the stink came on pungent and overpowering. The dog barked not at all, raised not an ear, simply slept on. All the time we sleep there are movements and motions in the world. Across the continents planes fly, plunge into mountainsides, land, and still we sleep on. There was a “wind event” yesterday and the breeze picked up to quite a forcible level, sending trashcans flying, spraying blossoms everywhere. Brittle leaves rose to hundreds of feet high and spiraled to earth again. This is a good reminder of the world being in constant motion, always turning and always unpredictable. In San Diego someone tried to abduct a child from a school. Here in Santa Barbara the sun shone hard and a cruise ship berthed in the harbor. Tea in a cup, green pottery, the sweat on my wrists where they rest on the kitchen table as I type. Easter approaches, a week off work, or a week off school, for there are plants to be put in the earth, houses to be cleaned, stories and reviews to be written, and ideas to be hatched. All in motion, all in some haphazard way worthwhile.
The heat is oppressive. 80s, turning toward 90s by the end of the week. Winter is a phantasm that visits only in restless dreams. An old Irish Times is on my desk—faded pages containing some kernel of an idea for a set of stories—the print smudged by sweaty hands. Shoe polish and an El Corazon box are there, too. Detritus: broken sippy cup, iPhone plug, hand-made bookmark, rubber duck night light, and a sand dollar. Random. Hats, too. Always hats: trilby, straw boater, baseball, Irish tweed. A red-tailed feather from someplace nearby waves gently from the slight breeze coming in the cracked window. Trucks rumble along, flowers and palm trees their cargoes, bound for Los Angeles, or points farther away. So many deaths on the page. I’m not sure it’s a sustainable project. How to find the shine of possibility in the tarnished plots of paupers’ graves. Take a number. “Language is a form, not a structure.” Inside the silver heart six ducks perspire, feathers stuck together, far from fresh water, destined for suffocation.
The laundry sits unfolded on the sofa and the little one asks me to go see a plant in her garden, a tiny patch of ground created for her 2nd birthday. Milkweed. She loves plants of all hue and variety. Our house smells of sweet peas, picked from her grandma’s garden. The writing is not flowing lately, most of what gets written finds rejection in various places. My novel is in tatters, edited to death, forced to conform to a framework I cannot recognize. No matter how much I try, I cannot free the story from the weeds of narrative chaos. Unknown birds call from the upper leaves of the oak tree—flickers and finches, crows and red tail hawks. There are too few birds in the novel, and perhaps that’s its failure. The writing group began and ended in a puddle of… well, a puddle I can’t quite make out. Invitation to read in San Francisco on St. Patrick’s Day got turned down due to work commitments, administering the CAHSEE (CA High School Exit Exam), so instead I’ll be in a small room with thirty to forty students making sure they’re on task and focused on the thing. I’m unable to read much right now, finding little but dissatisfaction in the novels I’ve attempted to read. Maybe it’s Mercury, or the moon, or the drought. Yes, the drought has dried my well of creative energies. Renewal, rebirth, reaffirmation. Last week I sat in the Vedanta temple and listened to the musical chanting, the non-Catholicness of it all seeming more comforting to me than my own faith, which I sampled yesterday at the Santa Barbara Mission. Crisis of confidence, of faith, of belief, of having to hack my way through the vines, only to encounter even thicker ones ahead. Holdfast. The sphere moves at a dizzying rate. Goats are raised for the annual fair in Killorglin. My temper is short over the inconsequential. Sitting in front of a gray wall, the steady tick of an unseen clock, this is meditation. My mother did not remember my father’s birthday the other day. He’ll be dead fifteen years this April—she is allowed, she is fading from the world. Flowers bloom in the center of my spleen, hidden blossoms with wavy, orange-tipped stamens. Perhaps they bloom because I neglect their care. Perhaps they are the flowers of my writing life. Perhaps they are my fears. In any case, I envy the marbled godwit its freeform plunge into air, the sunsetted tint on its body as the water crashes down on warm sand.
(Originally published @ Blue Fifth Review)
Carpenter’s child—the child of John and Mary Kenny—Convulsions
Mary tried to drown herself in the Poddle, but was rescued by a passing cyclist
Dairyman’s child—the child of John and Jane Larkin—Measles
John’s tears soured the milk for all of Sheriff Street for a month
Labourer’s child—the child of John and Ellen O’Brien—Scarlatina
Ellen drank rat poison and died in the gutter
Servant’s child—the Illegitimate child of Margaret Maguire—Diarrhoea
Margaret’s employers gave her a shilling extra in her paycheck
Labourer’s child—the child of Edward and Elizabeth McDonald—Gastritis
Edward blamed his wife’s poor constitution for the child’s death
Labourer’ s child—the child of Peter and Sarah Clarke—Premature Birth
Peter and Sarah lost twelve previous children
Bookseller’s child—the child of Joseph and Teresa Finegan—Diptheria
Teresa followed the child a week later and Joseph destroyed his bible
April sees the publication of W.W. Norton’s anthology of short fiction, Flash Fiction International. My story, “Skull of a Sheep,” which originally appeared in The New Orleans Review, Issue 37-2, is featured under the listing for Irish writers. You can pre-order a copy of the Norton anthology, HERE.
Batteries on desk: 3
Hats in office: 4
Days to Santa Fe: 2
Eyeglasses on desk: 3
Hawk feathers on desk: 1
Books to read: 3
Parent phone calls made: 1
Chapters of novel on desk to edit: 1
Pints of McConnell’s ice-cream bought: 1
Deer seen this evening: 1
Skunks in middle of road coming home: 1
Non-stop lecture time tonight by instructor: 100