Friday, August 21, 2009

Borrowed, Blue

Because of the increased length and non-blog-friendliness of the stuff I've been writing lately, I have found less and less utility in having a blog at all. Sadly, then, I think it's time to retire Baa Baa Blogging - at least for the moment - and I thought I'd let people know rather than allowing my older posts to sit here abandoned at the top of the page.


Y'all are still welcome to follow me on Twitter (of course) and I also have a rather more bloggish blog on wordpress, which you might enjoy if you like skinny teenagers, lowercase headers and paragraph-sized excerpts from longer stories. It's called The Other Scrapbook and it's got writing, photography, music and probably some fashion, etc. It's just a baby at the moment, it can't even walk yet.

Best of luck to all the lovely people who read this blog, and take care.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'm off on holidays today until next Saturday -- hopefully with no internet access as I could use, but will not willingly take, a break.


Since my last post, of course, the world lost the greatly talented and profoundly disturbed Michael Jackson. While his death - after years of drug addiction and mental illness - may not have been a tragedy, his fifty-year-long life certainly was. His abuse as a child himself can not and does not excuse his involvement with children as an adult (to whatever extent that involvement occurred), but it does go some way to explaining his shockingly evident self-hatred. The plastic surgeries, the eating disorders and the medical dependence seem more and more like desperate attempts to alter and ultimately eradicate himself. Like in that spooky, kooky "Thriller" video from long before I was born, the monster was inside him after all.

And meanwhile, innocent women and men are shot dead on the streets of Iran. Nothing is ever very simple for very long.

The following poem, however, is about as simple as they come. Enjoy, and take care.

*

We are leaving for a little while;

there is time for this, even

time for leaving and returning now.

We will wander like tourists

along the Left Bank and eat ice-cream

outside Notre Dam. I do not fear

this leaving, because I will take

you with me. I will keep you

like a secret in my mouth.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Nameless (Part Two)

Summer has finally arrived. It may be raining, it may be cold, there may be no ice-cream vans in sight, but my exams are finished and I finally get to indulge all those hobbies that seemed so interesting when I was trying to study (this week: teaching myself bass guitar!). For now, here's the next bit of this story. Enjoy.


*

They spent the rest of the day in their yard playing obscure card games, yelling at each other and letting stray cats eat scraps on the porch. Ethan especially liked the strays. I watched him watching them and when no one was there he’d reach out and pat them hard between the ears, even if they didn’t like it. Sometimes the boys fought out there too. It was Cameron who mainly ended up fighting; he was real thin, all delicate and narrow, with dark hair and a pretty kind of face. The other boys bullied him when they got bored of playing cards. If he got really beat up and his nose was bleeding, Ethan would tell them to stop. Sometimes he even bought Cameron sweet things in town, ice-cream or nectarines. One night I saw them lying out on the porch and Ethan was petting him like a stray, smoothing tangles through his hair.

They knew all the girls’ names, and whenever they walked down the street they’d say hey, how are you, and sometimes curl a strand of hair around their fingers. Everybody loved them, even the serious girls who didn’t usually have boyfriends. I saw Caroline Dalton in the pick-up truck with Matthew one night, and they had the radio on and she was laughing and laughing, with this little cardigan buttoned up around her throat, and everyone knew she wanted to be a doctor and she never ever went out with boys.

As it happened, the week I first met them was also the week carnival came into town. I watched the Big Dipper being put up from my bedroom window, a couple of blocks away from Three Roses, in the car lot behind the bowling alley. The Dipper was the scary ride that I guess everyone was excited about, but I liked the dumb kids’ stuff more: the Funhouse and the Bumper Cars and the games where you got to win toys. Usually I’d go to the carnival with my parents, but I was too old that year. I just sat inside my room watching the Big Dipper go around and around and sometimes hearing faint screams.

On Wednesday afternoon I lay out in the garden reading the encyclopedia. It was almost too hot to read, and I had to keep rearranging the book on my stomach because it was so heavy. Sometime around two o’clock, Ethan came outside and lay on his porch steps with sunglasses on. I looked up and he was looking over at me. I went back reading for a while, but whenever I looked up, he looked back at me. I started feeling the strangest sensation, as if I was a kid and I could tell that something was going to happen, or was already happening, and no one would believe me. After a while he took his sunglasses off and laughed.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey.”

“You been to the carnival already?”

“No.”

“Oh, really?”

I was going to tell him I had no one to go with and then suddenly I didn’t want to. “No.”

“We’re gonna go tonight, I think.” He stared into the sky. “You wanna come with?”

“Um – well – are you – would you mind?”

“I’m asking.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

He shrugged and put his sunglasses back on. “We’re leaving at eight.”

I put the book under my arm awkwardly and went inside. My mother was sitting right at the kitchen table, reading out of a recipe book. I crossed my feet and then uncrossed them and then did a little cough.

“You okay, sweetie?”

“Um, I’m going to the carnival with the boys across the street tonight.”

She looked up over her glasses. “Oh?”

“Well, yeah. See, they invited me and I thought it would be rude to say no.”

“Do you want to go?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Okay.” She looked back down at her book. “Well, if you want to go and they asked you, there’s no problem. Is Ethan going to drive you?”

It felt inexplicably strange to hear my mother saying “Ethan” very casually like that. It was like listening to her explain about where babies come from. I wondered for a second had she ever looked at Ethan and thought he was extremely good looking like all the other girls did.

“I don’t know,” I said. I waited for a second and then ran upstairs and into my room.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Nameless

After a prolonged absence from the world of blogging, interspersed with a few lonely little poems, I am delighted to be back (despite one final exam looming on the Wednesday morning horizon). This is the first part of a completed short story that I'm planning to post in sections, but God knows how many times I've said that and not done it, so let's see how it goes.


Enjoy, and happy summer.

---

I watched them: the scavengers, the nameless boys. They arrived in Three Roses one day in June, hanging out the back of their mother’s pick-up truck. No father around. They were all bare arms and dirty faces, dragging suitcases into the clapboard house right across the street that we thought was going to be bulldozed, kicking beer bottles away from the door. Their mother stood on the porch gently crunching the glass with her shoes, as if she was curious about what glass was made of. Then she cried. My mother stood at the kitchen sink, hands beaded with glistening suds, and, watching, mopped her brow with the dry part of her arm and said, “you be nice to those kids, now,” because we were a liberal neighbourhood.

There were four of them: the oldest, Jacob, was nineteen; the youngest, Cameron, just five years younger than him. Matthew and Ethan were sixteen and seventeen respectively. We found out from one of my father’s friends that their mother’s last name was Miller. For the first week they lived there, I never spoke to them, but one night at home I heard them shouting, rattling doors and crashing dishes and calling: Ma! Ma, come on! My father shook his head sympathetically and I held my fists in my lap until the noise stopped. I wondered if someone would come out of the house, but nobody did. When I went to bed, I pretended to be one of them. I laid in the dark stroking my arms and imagining them bare and sticky with sweat.

I was fourteen that summer – notionally the same age as Cameron – but I was an only child, used to those deserted months when I never saw any of my friends. I stayed inside a lot reading books of the encyclopedia, because I wanted to be a scientist. I was also intensely private from my parents, and would become hysterical if anyone touched the door handle while I was in the bathroom. Sometimes at night I locked my bedroom door and closed my curtains and examined myself in the mirror like a tumour. Once I even made a list, in order or preference, of all the different cosmetic procedures I would have when I was older, starting with the removal of this scar I had down the inside of my left leg from a time I fell off a bike when I was nine, and ending with my teeth, which were crooked.

On Sunday, the boys came to church in ironed shirts. Afterwards, when I was done talking to some of the girls from school about where the boys came from and how come they were here, my father gave me money to get myself some soda. I saw them in the car lot, sitting in the dust. I called over hello, partly because my mother told me to be nice, and partly because I was pretty confident around boys, since all my cousins were boys and I was the oldest. They squinted back at me from between cars.

“Where you going?”

“Get soda,” I said.

“You mind if we come with?”

“No.”

They got up slowly and came over, all skinny with their sleeves rolled up. I watched them and pretended not to watch them and felt the sun throbbing hot on my scalp. They were as different as new candles or strips of coloured ribbon: shiny and smelling of soap, like something I had loved and then forgotten.

“So, you live right across from us, huh?”

I told them yes.

I would have told them anything.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Excavation

I am not sad because I miss you.

 

But I have found a starling that the cats caught

and lifted his mangled body to feel

needling bones and slick feathers.

I have seen daylight spread over empty tulip fields.

I have made snow angels in a housing estate.

I have seen the fountains of Paris and on them

floated small wooden boats with red paper sails.

I have dreamed of bus windows.

I have watched interviews with no sound and felt

that sudden quiet loss, and turned from you

like a boulder from a tomb,

like the virgin lake reeds turn from something

they loved once and love no more.

 

These are my sadnesses.

I lift and cradle them like broken birds.

I have always been beyond your saving.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sometimes It Rains, Sometimes Not

The first piece of fiction I've posted here in what feels like, oh, a couple of months at least. I've written the second part but it's too long to post in one piece. It leans pretty heavily on a few sources (spot them if you can) but given the imminence of exams, my brain's probably not up to much. Here goes.


Cindy first insisted that he was the son of a Baptist minister and had spent his childhood travelling from state to state. Although we had no evidence to support this claim, there must have been something about it – maybe just the image of him pressed between fat bespectacled women in so many sweaty Southern churches – that rang true for us. No sooner were the words spoken than they became his unofficial history.

Caleb Fields was, as far as we could gather, sixteen years old when his family moved to Four Roses, making him two or three years older than us. His father was some kind of pastor, though whether a travelling Baptist one, we never could discern; his mother was vague and crinkled. Our first recorded viewing of the Fields family was late that March, when the pink cherry blossoms were breaking into early flower and their Chevrolet first parked itself in the driveway of the empty Mann house. He emerged from the car in tapered black jeans; dark-eyed and hollow-cheeked, almost girlishly slender.

We had never known love like it.

 

He appeared in school the following Monday. Because he was not in our classes, we had to glean what information we could from older siblings and babysitters: yes, he was quiet, they said, and he smiled to himself at moments that didn’t seem to be funny. Eventually, they started waving us off when we approached with questions. At the end of the week, we pooled our data among the floral wallpaper and oppressive heat of Rita Phelps’ living room.

“I just really want to know,” Cindy said, and we agreed that wanting to know was the most normal thing we could want, that it was an end unto itself, that the knowing was the thing we yearned for most, and that when we knew everything we would settle back into our respective lives with scarcely a thought for the Fields family. Yes, we said: it was the enigma we really loved.

The first week of April saw a heatwave sweep Four Roses. It slept in our classrooms, smudging our neat handwriting with sweat, trickling down our spines. It was the weather of dried grass, of tank tops and sticks of gum, of ice-cream cones that melted all the way to your fingers. Our mothers paused over their sinks to sigh, and wipe their foreheads with sudsy fingers and say it was inexplicable, but we knew how to explain it. It was the arrival of the Fields that was melting tar and wilting roses; it was Caleb littering the sidewalks with cherry blossom petals and waking us up at night with damp unknowing heat.

On Tuesday, Therese and Susan reported seeing him alone near the bleachers during lunch. We took to spending our lunchtimes from then on huddled on the dry grass, keeping a lookout. Within a week, we had watched him smoking on the baseball stands, saw the tips of his cigarettes flare briefly at his mouth; observed from a safe distance the small mirror he kept inside his locker, how he paused sometimes to smooth down his fringe; watched his hands flutter occasionally to the silver crucifix he wore around his neck. Every significant sighting was recorded. On Friday at lunchtime, our third vigil on the grass, we designated a small green notebook of Cindy’s for the purpose of recordkeeping.

It is due to this stenographic care that we can report when it was that we first heard Caleb’s voice. It was 13:34pm on Thursday the 28th of March, nearly a week later, while he was on his way back from the bleachers – at that sacred point when he passed right by us where we sat – when suddenly and without fair warning Cindy Dalton called out.

“Hey! Caleb!”

He turned around, only three or four feet away. His face was inscrutable behind Aviator sunglasses, framed by the tilted sun.

“Yeah?”

His accent was by all accounts unplaceable, but to us spoke of wide deserted plains, tall summer heat and night-time car journeys. The coolness of ice clinking in water. The stations of the cross.

She shaded her eyes with a hand and smiled. “Nice glasses.”

“You like them?” He took them off and inspected them briefly, then folded them and threw them to her. She caught them delicately, as if she expected it, grinning like a bad actor who anticipates the play. He had already turned around and was walking away, chewing on a stick of gum like he always did. We recorded the incident in silence.

 

That Saturday, we convened in Mona’s room to discuss the unguessable facts of Caleb’s childhood. Cindy remained wordless, perched on the window-seat and stroking the frames of his sunglasses in her lap. Finally, when cool evening began to gather around the street and we had moved on to other topics of conversation, she spoke.

“I wonder if he’s a virgin.”

In all our discussion of Caleb’s life, we had not yet touched the subject of girls, not even expressing our own wish – however formless, however unsettling – to taste his mouth on ours. Cindy, however, seemed unaware of her trespassing on hallowed territory. The question came to her as naturally as the unfathomable Aviators: sudden but somehow unsurprising, exhilarating and unthinkable at once. In our hesitation, we began to see him as a kind of Christ, holy and laminated, innocent both of every sin and of none, immaculately conceived by a Chevrolet and born between car doors on a lawn in Four Roses, already sixteen. We could not imagine that he had ever touched a girl; we could not believe that he hadn’t.

While we kindled our indignation at Cindy’s sacrilege, Caleb himself came out of his house across the street and got in the driver’s seat of his father’s Chevy. We fell silent at the window as he backed out of the driveway and down the street, craning to watch him disappear until our breath misted the glass so that we could not tell his tail-lights from the street-lamps way out across town.

“Probably some party somewhere,” Cindy said.

“But he doesn’t know anyone here,” Mona pointed out.

Cindy shrugged, then pulled her sleeve over her hand to clean the lenses of his glasses.

 

Less and less now did Cindy come to our houses after school or help us to fill in the green notebook. One day she wore coral-coloured lipstick to school. She was becoming bony and angelic-looking, with tousled blonde hair and cupid’s-bow lips. Only her presence with us at lunchtime was assured: every day she’d stretch out in the sun-yellowed grass and watch Caleb’s narrow figure on the bleachers with the rest of us. One Tuesday, sitting with her knees tucked up under her chin and Caleb’s Aviators on, she told us she had started smoking. We squawked with questions. She stole the cigarettes from her mother, she said, and smoked them in her wardrobe, breathing the smoke out into a coat that had gotten too small. Despite our shock, she seemed somewhat disinterested in telling us about it, and abruptly trailed off into silence.

When Caleb came back from the bleachers that day, he nodded at her as he walked toward us. “Nice shades.”

“Oh, you like them?” she said.

He laughed, standing in front of us with the sun behind him again. He looked down and – in a strange and somehow uncharacteristic gesture – kicked the grass at his feet. When no word from Cindy seemed forthcoming, he continued walking back into the school. She kept on staring out at the bleachers, as smooth and cryptic as marble.

 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

rich white boys

 

you tell me that women are no longer oppressed.

 

I ask about honour killings, about mutilation

about rape victims who are jailed and beaten

about silence and slavery.

 

you say you are talking about the west, about our world

but really you are talking about yours.

 

I wonder if your body has ever been anyone else’s property

if you know what it means to be powerless

or to kneel in the dark and pick up the buttons from your blouse.

 

you say that I hate men.

 

but I cannot explain anymore

that there is only one world

or that I love more than I should.

 

instead I will go to the sea

to touch again the level waters

which are older than men and women

which will not try to tell me that my people are free.