Guest post: Pin-Points

Map: New York City. setting of “Pin-Points” by MJ Iuppa
This is a guest post from M.J. Iuppa who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is New York. Enjoy!

Sitting in a small kitchen, in the swell of August in Astoria, you write your morning thoughts in a journal that’s handmade with pages of parchment and a cover that once was a golden sari.

Voices call over the streets and garden walls in a grammar of sound that echo emotion.

Who has received news? Is the woman’s voice crying or laughing? You slide your chair to the window to look out upon the rows of two story brick houses and the empty streets shimmering with heat. You wonder if the voices were real. You look back at your open page, at the last word written: pinpoint.

*

Later, in the afternoon, you walk along 86th street with your grown daughter to catch the train back to her apartment. The sidewalk isn’t crowded or noisy with construction, but it is warm and close—you can feel the air pushing against the small of your back. In a split second, your matched stride and conversation falls apart and you find yourself sprawled on a curb. Small bit of grit stuck to your palms. You look up, and instead of seeing your daughter’s face, you see the blue eyes of a Jamaican woman who is asking you if you’re alright. Alright, you say, rising up like a wobbly balloon. No, you’re not, she says, steadying your arm. You need to pay attention. They pushed you— the dead pushed you. Go home. Drink 3 glasses of cold water. Pay attention. You look away, nodding your head as you hold out your hand to your daughter who takes it quickly; then you turn back to thank the woman, but she’s gone.

*

There are only two steps in paying attention. 1. You must focus on a certain object. 2. You must block out other incoming information. The experts say this: We are only aware of what we pay attention to such as words, sounds, emotion, feeling, taste, places, physical touch. When we pay attention to one object, then we may not notice other objects or things that happen.

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Dark blue eyes– bluer than the sea at night, you know the depths. The cold water you drink without question—to be on the safe side. You can hardly see the stars drifting in the sky’s gauzy net of clouds. Pinpoint: a precise measure. Light shines through either side. The dead are watching . Most of the time, we aren’t. Tonight, you still feel the weight of the woman’s hand on your arm.

M.J.Iuppa lives on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario.  Between Worlds is her most recent chapbook, featuring lyric essays, flash fiction and prose poems (Foothills Publishing, 2013).  She is the Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program at St. John Fisher College.  You can follow her musings on writing and creative sustainability on Red Rooster Farm on (A)Stray: One Poet’s Conversation.

Guest post: My Plateau

Map: Colorado, setting of “My Plateau” by Beth Bates
This is a guest post from Beth Bates who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Colorado. Enjoy!

My heart cracks a little when I allow it to revisit the scene where my teenagers are babies and I am a cattleman-turned-lawyer’s wife in southwest Colorado.

We’re living in a one-story house on a one-acre lot among farms and ranches postage-stamped on an irrigated mesa 6,000 feet above sea level. In the field behind our homestead near the Black Canyon, Grand Mesa, San Juan Mountains, and the Uncompahgre Plateau, an amber sea of barley undulates in the September sun. In alternating years the crop is corn. Nearby farms yield onions, the earthy scent of which wafts our way on windy days.

Winters, on the land behind our Spring Creek Mesa house, cows take up residence to munch down stalks left behind from harvest. Heavy bovine rustling noises of milling over rutted rows; mooing, calving, and weaning wails become the soundtrack to my simple life. For four years of days and nights and nap-times, I immerse myself in the livestock sounds like songs I need to learn by heart. I am rapt in views out my kitchen window, over the sink where I bathe my baby girl, soak dishes, bottles, and sippy cups.

One October Saturday, my babes and I play in our pumpkin patch between brittle vines. Over the fence Mr. Brown, my next-door neighbor who still holds hands with his WWII bride, probes out of curiosity born of wisdom. “Where is your husband?” and “When do you two have time to be married?” Indeed. My cattleman-turned-attorney husband seems often to be missing evenings and weekends. Planning commission and fair board meetings, required and optional, eat up certain weeknights. For fun he judges FFA heifers, killing time at cattle auctions at the fairgrounds.

I don’t suspect another woman, but retreating into activities that reconnect him to his ranching youth (where meaning springs from barrel racing, livestock shows, and fair queens) creates distance. On my own becomes the norm, but my little boy and his baby sister are always near; and to the west I sense my plateau as a kindly divine presence watching over his children.

For occasional Sunday outings, we four pile into Daddy’s pickup to climb the one-lane, 4-WD drive road up to Yankee Boy Basin, where we hike along Sneffels Creek among an orange, purple, and blue carpet of Indian paintbrush, lupine, and columbine. Or we might swim in Ouray’s hot springs pools, or head down to Ridgway, where John Wayne filmed “True Grit” near Ralph Lauren’s ranch. After wearing out the kids with play we mosey over to the True Grit Saloon for chicken fingers and burgers. My tall, lumbering spouse always walks the boy or holds the baby so I can finish my meal, I’ll give him that.

How we ever mated remains a mystery. When I met him in downtown Denver, ennui from a recent breakup had numbed me to the point of blindness to our differences. Living in a LoDo highrise in the trendy neighborhood now occupied by Coors Field, he passed for my type. He was wearing a suit. He was tall. If he were a house on the market it could be said that he showed well. As it turns out, he was a real cowboy, having grown up on a small Charolais operation near Golden. He was novel.

Novel does not a happy marriage make, but two angels and a plateau help.

Framed by my kitchen window the Uncompahgre, a Ute word meaning “rocks that make water red,” fills a 10-and-2 field of vision, rising to over 10,000 feet at Horsefly Peak. My plateau begins each day as vivid as the eye can bear: the morning sun illuminates distinct trees and detectable-yet-inscrutable cliffs and crannies of canyons with names like Tabeguache, Escalante, and Unaweep. For two weeks every fall, bright yellow puffs of aspen groves glow against an evergreen backdrop; in winter, spring, and summer its colors come in every shade of pine and umber. In the hour before dusk I watch my plateau swell black as a vast, elevated, shadowy sea behind which the sun slips to shine on Vegas, California, Hawaii, Japan . . .

And every morning the Uncompahgre greets me, its nuances manifest again and friendly, granting me another day in this stunning spot on the planet. “Enjoy me while you are given the privilege of living within my view,” it seems to say. I drink it in while it warms and breaks my heart, unaware that years from now I’ll pine for this vista as one longs for a lost love; ignorant to the fact that ten years hence I’ll look back on toads kissed and princes married, and nearly married, and understand this: the great love of my life was not a person but a place.

Beth is an ardent mother and wife; a reader who writes, a writer who edits, creative nonfictioner; fan of walking outdoors; lover of fresh air, grass, plants, dirt, sand, waves, mountains and, in some cases, the Oxford comma. Being paid to be creative makes her feel like a lottery winner. Her favorite thing is to help other writers shape up their own work. You should try her. She blogs at Lit Salad and Tweets @bethbates.

Guest post: Nevada in a State of Solitude

Map: Nevada, setting of “Nevada in a State of Solitude” by Will Blathe

This is a guest post from Will Blathe who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. This piece originally appeared on his Cognitive Failure blog. The setting is Nevada. Enjoy!

I remember Wingfield Park. I remember green grass, which is strange for an almost-desert, but we do love our grass. The sun was out and beating down with an already dangerous strength in early May. There were a lot of people taking advantage of that sun. Many were strolling or jogging through the park. In the afternoon there were few couples; some groups of thirty-somethings with quite a lot of singletons out on break from their jobs.

I took some time after lunch to take my own stroll in the park. I walked along a concrete path near the Truckee. I saw a sign that read:

SPARE
MONEY

I thought about my empty pockets while I asked the man holding the sign if he had any luck at the park. He shook his head, saying, “No. IBM’s monitoring me.” He went on to marvel at how we have so many hair colors. Where he comes from there’s just blond. He added that there was no Italy, only the country of Rome. There were no jumbo jets either, no helicopters, or any such things. He told a few other facts about his other-planer life before I waved goodbye.

There was never a truer Nevadan. Independent, entrepreneurial, sure of himself in the face of everything. He took care of his own affairs regardless of the situation. And, he was alone.

This is a wilderness, drab compared to the northeast, but a wild enough place to be exciting and more than little scary. The man with the sign may never have gotten to see Lake Tahoe, but he only had to walk a few feet to see the river that springs forth from it where summer kayakers play in the middle of town. Really, it’s all wilderness from the cardboard metropolis of Las Vegas to the hinterlands of Ely or my own “biggest little city.” You are alone to fend for yourself, or, if you’re lucky, you may find fellow travelers to help you navigate the state’s strange ways.

The man with the sign sticks in my own brain. Only now his sign says “I’m a Nevadan!” And, it’s true. He’s a lonely reflection of the Nevada ethic. Here, every man is an island, each woman, alone, and every child has to fight off the dogs. It’s liberating to be free of the speed bumps that keep us in line elsewhere, but it can be lonely out here in the almost-desert.

I don’t mean to say that Nevadans are a surly lot, but Nevada is a vast space, dotted with people here and there. That’s a lot of lonely in a desert that stretches way past the horizon. Maybe that’s seeped into the Nevadan brain, stamping it with a mild case of misanthropy. Some call it independence, but it seems a little cold sometimes.

After my encounter with the wise man, I went to the grocery then home, passing a few businesses that closed down and many more that have sprung up around them. Maybe it’s that internal fight to keep moving forward, but whole new districts pop up overnight, transforming neighborhoods with little apparent planning. Restaurants erupt like Jack’s beanstalk which the locals devour like locusts. Not far from the center of town, a farm sprouted, and from it, tons of vegetables. There’s no small amount of pride in seeing that happen all about town. I just can’t figure this state, or this town, out. After nearly a decade, I’m still on the outside.

Nevada is a land of emigrants in a nation of immigrants, and the locals let you know it. Outsiders are kept at arm’s length by the middle vowel of the state’s name thrust in your face like a middle finger.

It’s Nevăduh,
not
Ne-vah-duh

goes the bumper sticker that rubs it in my face. It’s a land that takes pride in being proud.

I feel sorry for that man. But, I looked around and saw a lot of people with suit, tie, and briefcase who seemed just as isolated in a sea of change. Is this any surprise where sex is a commodity, money changes hands by caprice, and marriages last an hour? Everyday I marvel at the changes happening to my adopted home. Some make me sad with the erosion of history, but I can tell that people are happy, so who am I to judge? I worry about that man and others like him, because being alone in a place that sees the loner as virtuous is a deep hole that no one’s going to help you out of.

Will Blathe is a new and unpublished writer of poetry, essay, and prose fiction. He is learning his craft through working with online communities of writers. The writing process is his way of coping with ADD and its profound effects on life. He writes poetry on his blog, Cognitive Failure. Will is a a transplant from the Midwest to Nevada, a dog lover with two cats but no dog, and an avid fan of the outdoors.