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The Brand

(The following poem was written in response to the prompt below, a quotation by Pablo Neruda.)

As if you were on fire from within,
The moon lives in the lining of your skin.”

~ Pablo Neruda

This ache you hold inside,
Subsumed beneath the weight
Of good, of right, of just…
Suppressed under
The nobility of fidelity,
Of honor, of trust…
This ache is white hot,
Is unrelenting fire,
Is agony of heart,
Bright, searing,
Impossible to ignore.
This ache, passion’s brand,
Is tattooed in your flesh
And in your soul…
Moonlight in the sun,
Inevitable, invisible,
Invincible.

~ KDB

Copyright 2015

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How I Write

There’s nothing different about how I write…unless there is, like when the keyboard or the pen is not enough to record the words and figures and tropes that tumble from my mind, fueled by the whispers of my spirit. Then I must write with sound to record the images and visions that haunt me.

There’s nothing mystical about how I write…unless there is, like when a character speaks through me, takes over my mind and soul, and pounds out the words through my fingertips onto the pristine screen. They search for their completion through my words.

There’s nothing magical about how I write…unless there is, like when events sweep me into their flood, and I am carried along in their relentless flow, washed by their clarity and depth. And what happens is as much a surprise to me as it is to all who read.

There’s nothing special about how I write…unless there is, like when the wounds and sorrows of my heart wage war against the joys and pleasures waiting in the wings to take hold and carry me away to the stars. And all that I can do is let them speak of me.

~ KDB

Copyright 2014

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The Words

She’s sitting on the edge of her bed, laptop poised precariously on her knee, trying to write a poem.  She doesn’t have the focus to attempt a specific form, or such poetic idiosyncrasies as rhyme or rhythm.  But her tongue itches to say the words that seem just out of reach.  Experimentally, she opens her mouth and…nothing.  A deadly silence greets her effort to bring forth the word.  Determined to breach the wall, she writes:

I have no words.
They have dried up.
The somethings inside me
are Nothing
that can find a way out
through my throat
or through my fingers.

She reads what she has written, and shakes her head.  Affectation can be fatal to good poetry, she thinks, wrestling with whether or not to keep the capital ‘N’ in ‘Nothing’.  The word troubles her.  It seems to be calling attention not just to itself, but also to the emptiness inside her.  She tries to soothe the roiling emotions that it has stirred up by starting over:

I have no words.
My fullness is empty
feeling, knowing, being…
I am replete with nothings,
living sounds and sights
with no place to go,
plumbing backed up

She looks up and out the window to the greenness of evening.  The deer in sight through her window twitches its tail as it browses the grass and weeds, and she wonders idly where the Bambi are, the two little ones that usually follow their mother across her cooling front yard. The words defy her, stubbornly refusing to be born.  The labor is exhausting, a roller-coaster of dismay and disappointment.  She has nothing to say.  And no one wants to read nothing.  There’s enough nothing out there, she thinks.  I want my words to say something.

I have no words.
All that’s left are tears,
and they are drying too.
The well that births
the words and tears
is poisoned, dank,
and losing ground.

She is bound up in the pain of an unrelieved silence, the words inside her an awful bellyache of feelings that constipate her mind and heart, and she knows that soon, if she can find no relief, she will vomit foul words and ugly words and painful words upon the page.  She grits her teeth and curses.

“Fuck!”

She has no words.

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MAGDA

The old lady wore hats like armor.  Magda, she told me later, Magda was her name.  She kept rocks by the bedside, and cotton balls in the refrigerator.  I didn’t mind her little eccentricities, though.  Whenever she came to the park, we’d sit together on the bench by the pond and watch the dogs play with the pigeons.  I’ll never forget her first words to me, that windy autumn day.

“My dog likes spaghetti better than bones!” she had remarked, as though we had been discussing the relative merits of one dog food above another, and bones and spaghetti had come out the clear winners over Purina One or Kibbles and Bits.  I looked at her askance.  I really didn’t want to talk to a crazy old woman who wore a hat that looked like it had survived both world wars, and could stop an atom bomb.  But she had ignored my silence, and continued,

“A cow is not an egg!”  She had paused, as if waiting for a response.  Receiving none – I was nonplussed, to say the least, and beginning to itch for a quick withdrawal! – she whistled, a surprisingly sharp, piercing sound coming from between the two fingers she held between her lips.  Her dog ran over immediately.  It was an impossibly large Irish wolfhound, as long and lean as the spaghetti his mistress fed him.  He licked her gnarled, veined hands, obviously expecting the treat she pulled from the cavernous black bag she had in her lap.

“The stars are irrefutable!”

It occurred to me that perhaps she wasn’t speaking to me at all, but merely sounding off to herself.  That did not reassure me as to her mental stability, but at least I didn’t have to feel obliged to listen.  And since it was getting a mite nippy anyway, I determined to leave her to her ravings and take myself and my normal dog home.  It further occurred to me, as I stood and called my own mongrel hound to my side, that I had detected a bit of an accent, which meant she was not from around these parts.

“Leaving, are you?” she asked.

There was no way I could ignore the question, since it was so clearly directed to me.

“Yes, I’m afraid I must.  I have to finish the chapters for the editor and send them off tonight.”

Inwardly, I rolled my eyes at myself.  First off, I did not know this bedraggled shell of a human being.  Second, she had not asked for any confidences from me.  A simple yes would have sufficed to cover my side of the “conversation”.  So why did I feel impelled to add information she had no need of?

She smiled, and her face went from craggy and shattered to sunlit and beautiful.  I was stunned by the transformation, and almost missed her next words.

“A blank sheet of paper is like an invitation to a dream!”  She turned her eyes up to my face, and I noticed that they were a mystical gray, almost silver, and shone with the same brilliance as the smile that lit up her face.

“What?” I asked, needing her to repeat herself.

“A blank sheet of paper is like an invitation to a dream!”

She fed her dog another treat, and stood as well.  She stood no higher than my chin, and I am not a tall person.  But her diminutive size did nothing to diminish the raw power that I felt emanating from her as she caught the dog’s leash and turned away.  I took my own dog’s lead and started to turn away myself when she said,

“I’ll be back tomorrow!”

That was how it began, our strange friendship.  Every day she would sit on the same bench, and wait for me to come.  She would speak, always the same words, and I would listen.  I still did not understand then what she meant, or why she said them, but I was transfixed, bewitched, compelled by the sheer magnitude of her charisma.

In between the seeming inanities of her speech, she told me of her youth, and of her work with a prominent Pulitzer-prize-winning writer.  It was that writer whose words she had quoted to me that first evening, and which she had repeated many times since then, when I was stuck for what to say, or where to go next in my work.

The evening she invited me into her modest apartment, I discovered how truly eccentric she was, and yet I also saw how utterly contented she was.

“You cannot argue with the facts,” she’d say as she smoothed a hand over Rusty’s head – Rusty is her dog.  “Accept them, and move on.”

On one of my visits, she asked me as I sat down, “Does a tree grow because it wants to, or because it must?”

My confusion must have shown on my face, for she chuckled in a shell-cracked voice and added,

“It’s very simple.  To be a tree, it must do what trees do.  It must grow.  So to be a writer, you must meet that blank paper, speak to it, get past it, so you can write on it, and inscribe it with life.”

She shocked me every day with her wisdom.  Finally, one day I asked, because I could no longer bear not to know,

“Why do you say all those strange things, Magda?”

“They are more than strange, my dear.  They are true!”

I always left her home with the urge to put down all the things she said, to put into writing the essence of her.  I was not prepared for the day she did not come to sit with me in the park.

They found Magda in her living room, deeply “asleep”, her hands folded neatly in her lap, Rusty lying with his sad eyes looking into her peaceful face.  It was night time, and the stars were out in force, as though to shine her to her eternal rest.

I hurried home to write.  My heart was full, my head teeming with words.  I would fill the blank paper tonight, in honor of her memory, I vowed then.  And even as I dash inexplicable tears from my cheeks now, and scratch behind Rusty’s ears, I realize how much she has left me, and how much I owe her.

Copyright © 2009 by Teri K D Bannerman

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