Lumerpa

lumerpa (loo-MER-pa), noun

A mythological radiant bird from Asia that shines so brightly it absorbs its own shadow.

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The hammer slipped to the ground from his sweaty palm. Rivers of dirt mingled into mud and flowed down his heart line into his line of fate. He wiped the nonsense from his hands onto his jeans and picked up his tool belt. He walked across the yard, peeling off his sticky plaid shirt. He flung it onto a rock and listened to it sizzle against the dry heat.

From across the yard a woman appeared with lemonade and grapes arranged perfectly on her carryout tray. Her wide brimmed hat shadowed her face and Gabriel looked at her as if the breeze had just swept across the aired soil. The sight of her was enough to pulse the phantom wind through his core. It was enough to keep him working on her father’s tedious project one more day.

“Thirsty?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am” he said, guzzling the lemonade before setting the glass back on her tray. Her gloved hands slipped from the handle. She tipped off balance and tumbling the glass and pile of grapes to the ground. The blue and white plate teetered on the cobblestone.

“Sorry,” Gabriel hunched over to pick up his mess. The grapes were cold in his rough hands and he piled them back on the plate. The soft white powder smudged off the grapes and were replaced by his sweaty, muddy fingerprints.

The sun felt hot against his neck as he watched her wince at her desecrated tray. She had imagined herself walking out to Gabriel, offering lemonade and untouched grapes. He would set his tools down and take the tray from her, gently placing it on the rock between them. They would sit and chat, laugh a little, perhaps even flirt. She imagined her white dress, the fourth one she had tried on after deciding the blue one was too plain, the purple one was too obvious and the yellow one was not approved by her father. Her white dress matched her white hat and she would glide into the yard like a lumerpa, dazzling Gabriel away from his strenuous day. He would forget all things that made him frown and be engulfed by her beauty.

She had never actually spoken to him, simply watched from the window, dreaming, wondering, hoping. She imagined their children and the horse he would buy for her. She imagined his smile though she had never seen it. She understood and forgave him for not enjoying the work her father paid him for. She imagined the thoughts that put together this man, whose body was worn by the sun, but tightened by hard labor. She dreamed until finally one day her father suggested she take a drink out to the poor boy. He had been working tirelessly and never even took a break. She never thought to wonder why.

As Gabriel set the dirt smeared glass back on her tray, she gagged. Just a little. She couldn’t help it, but he saw it happen. The man standing before her was filthy. A lamen worker. Clumsy like a child. Her radiant white dress suddenly felt dull, dirty in the hot sun like already it had collected that day’s pollen. Gabriel’s shoulders were no longer bronzed, but up close were tired and unclean. His scent repulsed her and she watched him smile with blue eyes that she would later think of as dopy.

Her tiny lips pierced and she coughed.

“I’d best be getting back now.”

He smiled at her for the first time, something like a laugh caught in his throat. She turned and hurried back to the house, where she tipped the plate of grapes straight into the garbage, ran to her room and cried for the rest of the day.

Usurper

usurper (you-SIR-per), noun

A person who seizes a position of power through illegal means, force, or deception.

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Ursula was the smartest women to ever live in Huckleberry, California. The town had two grocery stores, one doctor and one hardware store that sold everything from plumbing pipes to wine glasses. Ursula worked for herself as a painter, giving lessons in her spare time, but mostly painting scenic frames of flowers with bees, bears lumbering through mountains, or her favorite subject, waterfalls. She sold her paintings at local shops, the one coffee house who never seemed tired of the same pastels. And in this way, Ursula survived quite happily.

Mr. Jorgan, who owned the coffee shop in town, had a particular liking to Ursula’s paintings, although it was well-known that is was her grace and perfectly arranged hair he truly enjoyed. Once a month she would change her art collection at his shop, infusing the small booths with new scenes of the same bears. Dragonflies on the different side of the river.

Yet every month Mr. Jorgan handed her a hefty check for the art he had sold, apologizing for having to take out his small commission, then gawking at her latest work with phrases such as, “Oh lord, I know just where to put that one” and “My dear what talent! I don’t know how you do it, but this one is sure to be the first to sell!”

Every week, he would hang the latest paintings, some stayed longer than others before he kindly rearranged them, putting the most beautiful pieces near the front door, and quietly taking the rest home.

For years Ursula asked about the kind patrons that swooned over her brushed skylines and pointy detailed trees. Mr. Jorgan would smile and laugh as he described fat tourists and rich businessmen. His personal favorite was the boy whose blond hair hung over his eye, squished beneath his black and yellow baseball cap. The boy counted the bills that appeared small in his oversized velcro wallet. Mr. Jorgan sighed as each dollar passed hands, then coins flooded from his pockets. So touched was Mr. Jorgan by the boy’s genuine love of this particular painting – the one with the lightning striking a tree, while birds fly off in fear – that he already knew he’d cover the remaining cost, no matter what it may be.

“How incredible,” Mr. Jorgan said, watching Ursula’s hand press down her heaving chest, her lips curl in impressive sympathy, tears glistening from her smiling eyes, “that such a young boy, not more than 8 years old I’d say, could have the educated eye to see the beauty in that piece. Your art truly is incredible.”

Ursula hugged him and he felt her chest press into his sternum. He felt the edge of her belly against his belt buckle and he held his hand there afterwards as he watched her ride away on her bicycle, her hand holding her sunhat, lest it blow away in the wind.

Mr. Jorgan went home after counting the drawer and closing up his coffeeshop. He poured himself a glass of bourbon, clinking the ice around the edge of the glass before each sip. He sat in his one room apartment in his warn out chair where he read, ate dinner, put his shoes on in the morning, and most importantly, drank his bourbon while admiring the complete collection of Ursula Van Schilling. He swirled his ice, savoring the soft clink that echoed off the walls. Only two spots remained without paintings. He wondered if he would have to attach her next collection to the ceiling, or perhaps he should just stand them along the floor. He looked at his side table and the 6″x 9″ canvas leaning against the lamp near his elbow. It truly was his favorite painting. It always made him wonder how those perfectly sketched blackbirds could sense that lightning was about to disrupt their entire world.

As Mine are Chosen

As mine are chosen
In smart sin
Make each die climbing ladders
Towards heaven cling;
Those hired to feed her
Under flags lest I hear her sin.

So fading are vague tritons
Docked to common sights
Wider and creaking
And creaking under woolen nights;
Sagging was I
Hurt and shooting.

That was my interpretation of the following German poem. I don’t speak German:

Heinrich Heine: Aus Meinen grossen Schemerzen

Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen
Mach’ ich die leinen Lieder;
Die heben ihr klingend Gefieder
Und flattern nach ihrem Herzen.

Sie fanden den Weg zur Trauten,
Dock kommen sie wieder und klagen,
Und klagen und wollen night sagen
Was sie im Herzen schauten.

Which really translates to:

From grief too great to banish
Come songs, my lyric minions;
They lift their airy pinions
And toward her bosom vanish.

I let them rise and depart there –
But soon they flew homeward complaining
Complaining, but never explaining
What they had seen in her heart there.

Gallivant

gallivant (GAL-ih-vant), verb

To wander widely; to constantly travel to many different places, without an itinerary or plan; to freely go wherever and whenever the mood strikes you, and doing so frequently.

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“Gavin gallivants gallantly!…Oh no, no, no,” mutters the old crocodile as he pushes his glasses up his long spiny nose.

“Harold hops heroically! Bah!!!” The crocodile’s voice cracks as his short fingertips massage his temples. A deep sigh flutters his papers from the desk to the floor.

“Ahem,” coughs a wee voice from below. The crocodile takes a sideways glance to the floorboards and laughs a hysterical laugh, “Ah, Regis the rat rampages the room!”

“No sir,” squeaks the voice. “I’m just the mouse who lives next door to you.”

“A mouse is a mouthful that muddles my morning!” The crocodile screams as tears well in his eyeballs. He shakes his head, flipping teardrops to the floor. Five giant water spots bleed the ink written on research papers, marbling them into incoherence. At the sight of his work disappearing, more tears flow.

“Apologies, sir. I meant nothing by it,” the mouse instinctively tucks his tail end back into the hole in the wall. “But it seems you are struggling with something?”

“Struggling with something!? The mouse mocks me!?” The crocodile swings around. More giant tears well and rest precariously on his eyelids. From below where the mouse stands, the crocodile’s eyes magnify into two gigantic orbs of fiery yellow. Before the crocodile blinks them away, the mouse retreats to the safety of the wall.

The crocodile looks at the state of his office. Some office. It is littered with papers that make no sense. Hours upon hours of research into a condition that does not exist. Hundreds of interviews with doctors who laugh at him and a few who want to make him into a lab rat. A lab rat.

“Poor Regis,” thinks the crocodile. “Of course I know he is not a rat, but how can I call him by his name without saying so?” Regis and the crocodile have been neighbors for nearly four years. Most of their interactions resemble that of this morning.

“Yet he keeps trying to contact me,” wonders the crocodile. “I should do something nice for him.” For the rest of the day the crocodile works in silence. It is his preferred state since anything he says must follow in the ever-frustrating alliteration. If only he were an alligator he could explain his condition with ease.

Instead the other neighbors in the complex refer to him as the contemptible crocodile on the first floor. Mr. Mouse has never done so.

“That is it!” realizes the crocodile. “I will call Regis, Mr. Mouse! I cannot offend him that way!” The crocodile has always felt a pang of remorse when calling Regis a rat, even though it slides across the tongue with such satisfaction it nearly makes him weak in the knees. But he knows how frustrating it must be just as he hates anyone who calls him an alligator, even if makes it easier to explain his alliteration. He had decided early on that he would rather have no speech impediment and remain a crocodile.

The next day the crocodile tidies his office and sets out a block of cheese and some wine. He peaks his big yellow-orange eyes into the mouse’s front door and says in his finest, friendliest voice, “Mr. Mouse, Mr. Mouse! Might we make amends?”

No answer.

Two, three, four hours pass by and there is not a peep from the hole in the wall. The crocodile slumps to the ground, his giant tail curls around his toes. His elbows lean against his bent knees and his hands press big teardrops back into his skull.

“Mr. Crocodile?” a tiny voice echoes from up inside the wall.

“Mr. Mouse?” the crocodile chokes through his swelling throat. “Please pardon my performance from the past. I….” the crocodile is so close to completing his thought but cannot find the words to accompany the letter ‘I.’ Tears pour down his leathery cheeks, flooding the floor around him.

“Mr. Crocodile,” continues the mouse. “I cannot come down from inside the wall because I am afraid you’ll drown me. But I have been listening to you struggle for all these years and I have been trying to tell you, I think I have a solution to your problem.”

At this the crocodile perks up. He shoulders lurch forward and his tale swings back behind him where it should be. It slaps the wall so hard, the whole room shakes. Like an acrobat the crocodile flips onto his stomach and peers through the hole.

“What is this wondrous work of which you whisper?” The crocodile thinks of his own leaps of progress in deciding to call Regis, Mr. Mouse. He decides he will wait for Regis to speak before telling him of his own great resolution. But just as he thinks this, his nostrils smell a strange sort of danger. His eyes peer into the hole where his friend must be, and then he sees a tiny gray speck lying on the ground, its silky pelt soaked by the lake of tears that covers the floor.

“Mr. Mouse?” says the crocodile, afraid that all his research has just come to an end. “Mr. Mouse?” More tears blur his vision. The tiny speck moves, shakes a violent quiver and rolls over. Regis looks at the crocodile and smiles weakly. A tiny drip of blood falls into the pool of tears, marbling like ink in water.

“Mr. Mouse,” says the crocodile, “May I moreover mention you as Mr. Mouse! So have I solved the stickiness of saying such things as…” his throat swells shut. Remembering all the years of pain he must have caused using such a vile word as rat. Even if his throat unlocked and allowed him to utter a non-alliterate sentence, he could not say the word now. The crocodile watches the mouse’s tiny lungs heave up and down, their pace quickening to an alarming rate. The mouse opens his tiny mouth and paws the crocodile to come closer.

“Please,” his voice is raspy. “Forever more, call me Regis and let them know who I was.” And with that, the little mousey lungs collapse. The crocodile blinks, his head spins around the room. What cruelty! How can this be? The dying words of the only soul who has ever shown him kindness are literally and utterly impossible.

 

Caducous

caducous (kuh-DOO-Kuss), adjective

Transitory; short-lived; perishable.

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I don’t have to look outside to know if it has snowed or not. The sweet echo of avalanche bombs rumbling through the mountains tells me how the last storm has settled. What must the animals of the Sierra Mountains think of this caducous ruckus? Chattering squirrels coo their young back into hibernation, burrowing bears roll over in anxiety. I’m not even sure the birds that linger through the snow ever sleep for they are always ready at every sign of springtime, peaking through the trees, chirping away for all to hear.

“This is it,” they say. “I’m certain that this time, it really is spring!” The chatter of one jay to the next leaps from tree to tree through canyon after canyon, until I imagine one jay reports back that no, this is not spring. This is just one more sunny day of winter where the avalanche crew is bombing away to ready the mountain for hordes of skiers.

“I wish they would find a quieter way to do that,” agree all the birds as they chirp me awake.

The songbirds show themselves more tentatively. Either they cannot endure the cold, cannot risk poking their beaks out to see if springtime truly has come, or they are simply smarter than the loudmouthed bluejays that regretfully moved into the tree next door. When I hear a melody cut through the morning air singing about cheeseburgers and the like, I won’t have to get out of bed to know what season has arrived. Bluejay, like boys crying wolf, have no idea when it’s time to come out or not. But songbirds, sure as a sign of daffodils poking through the snow, determined that it is their time, risk a late May snowstorm to insist we stay on schedule.

While the songbirds bide their time and jays rasp their throats in preemptive excitement that summer may be near, the rest of the animals wait, covered by the wet and rugid winter. What effect does avalanche bombs have on the rest of the forest? Are hibernating animals as accustomed to them as we are? Do they sigh and roll over, a tiny smile inching across their lazy faces, thinking “ten more minutes then I’ll get up and warm up my boots. Big breakfast. Today will be epic”?

Or does every single boom reverberating through the mountains tense their muscles after all these years of living here. Do they wonder what that horribly unnatural sound is and why it doesn’t seem to be getting closer. Perhaps the bears are in such heavy sleeps that the roof above their cave shakes a little dust from the rafters and lulls them into a deeper place. Perhaps avalanche bombings to bears have become as natural of an occurrence as sifting through garbage at the end of a summer’s day. Perhaps they mark it on their calendars just as they know that my neighborhood’s garbage day is Wednesday. No use heading to Blackwood if it’s not Wednesday. Big paws cover tiny black eyeballs and say,”Go back to sleep honey, it’s not time to wake up yet. That’s just the people down the mountain trying to control the snow even when they can’t.”

Acrimonious

acrimonious (ah-kri-MOAN-ee-us), adjective

Angry; bitter; disputed.

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I cannot count the number of wedding cakes I have been the first to cut. Each time I wait for the fondant to break, to reveal what scrumptious layer of cake we’re all about to enjoy. I do not dare count the number of times I have been disappointed. The tradition of a wedding cake is as important as the dress, and just as acrimonious to each father-of-the-bride’s wallet.

Classic chocolate with chocolate ganache. The cake is too dry. It must be dense enough to hold three layers of ganache and a moist, fluffy batter would be crushed under three tiers of  tasteless fondant. Fondant. What a horrible way to weigh down the happiest day of your life. I have collected the plates left on tables as full, drunken, happy guests fly to the dance floor. While I gather champagne glasses, assuming that even if it is still one third full, its owner probably can’t remember which is hers, I scrape a pile of fondant onto my tray, neatly stacking plates to the side of the misused pile of forks. When the tray is so full of pearly white fondant, soiled by the dry chocolate peeled from its underside, I return it to the kitchen where late night trash bins fill with uneaten wedding cake. Cake that costs nearly as much as renting the stemware.

Red velvet and white on white are the most popular. I don’t know why. Is chocolate harder to conceal? Not with quarter inch thick fondant at the ready. Most people chose one dark and one light layer of cake. The worst we ever had was pistachio. I scrape away edible pearls that are hardly edible, thick glittery rose petals pushed out of white frosting tubes. No, no glitter. That would be tacky. But real flowers pushed into the seams of your towering dessert is lovely. Until they are piled neatly on my tray like a landfill. I have seen it all. The groom statue with a tiny football helmet on his head adds an amusing touch to an otherwise serious day. A plastic bride drags her drunken groom across the tiny top tier of cake, which makes everyone laugh, except for the groom.

With perfect timing, the newlyweds lovingly push cake into each other’s mouths then quickly step onto the dance floor for their first, cake-messied dance. With the attention on them, we sneak the cake upstairs, where a table full of tiny white plates and perfectly polished three tined forks are waiting. The ornate dessert slams onto the table and away I work. Carefully pealing the top tier off to return to its box for the bride and groom, then I start in on the bottom layer. The first piece is always messy. That’s when we judge the value of this cake and whether or not there should be more than one messy cut on my part. Usually one piece is enough to tell. Around in a circle, I cut piece by piece until what is left is the innards of the most expensive wedding cake this bride could have gotten. If only the bridal party could see their masterpiece after I’m through with it.

What is left is ugly, droopy. Plastic support towers poke through the top yet each piece we send out is a perfect fraction of the beauty that has happened here today. Afterwards, we collect the half-eaten plates, the most beautiful center piece second to the bride and groom has been decimated, pushed around plates, squished between forks and drowned out by too much wine and a keg that’s still half full.

Yes, the ceremonious, acrimonious idea of a wedding cake is great, but absolutely the most wasteful part of any wedding. Everyone is eager to clean out the bar, to drink until the tab has run out, but no one wants to keep the inside of a twenty inch diameter cake that’s been cut into two hundred perfect pieces, hardly eaten by anyone.

Efface

efface (ih-FAYSS), verb

To erase, obliterate, make inconspicuous.

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Darrel picks at his fingernails with a twig. His back rests heavily against the tall oak his grandfather left misplaced amongst his orchard of almond trees. Convinced it attracts the birds and critters like a magnet heading north, his grandfather insisted it stay there. For one hour every day Darrel savors the feeling of rough bark against the back of his sweaty shirt. His legs sprawl outwards like an extension of roots. For one hour, Darrel is exactly where he wants to be.

Today is a regular day. Darrel’s thick black hair rests on his shoulders and he decides he will get a haircut soon. His straw hat that has a whole in the top from when he drunkenly stumbled through it causes a particularly warm spot on the top of his head where the sun shines through. Darrel wears no rings, no necklace with a token of his religion nor a bracelet saying where he’s been. Darrel adornes himself with one light blue shirt stained with dark rings of sweat and one pair of shorts that were at one time pants. Once the knees rip through, he wears shorts all year.

Darrel looks upwards at the foliage above him, watching the squirrels and birds skip across branches, shaking light down from the sky. A few premature leaves tilt to the ground. One lands on Darrel’s boot. How odd, he thinks, that a leaf would fall so gently on this warm spring day. That’s not supposed to happen. The leaves are barely curled out of themselves. They are so freshly green that their bond to each branch is too strong for even a squirrel to knock lose. Something is wrong.

Darrel studies his Grandfather’s favorite tree. I must cut it down.

Darrel springs up and heads for the tool shed. It’s at least a mile away and he starts into an easy trot. His boots clunk the ground, but his long 5:15 high school miler’s legs have stayed remarkably strong. He grabs an ax from the shed and returns to the oak. More leaves have fallen to the ground.

“I hope you are going to explain some mental illness or undying need for attention I have,” Darrel looks up at me, his eyes moist.

“Otherwise,” he says. “I’m just a crazy person cutting down the only bond I have left with my grandfather.” I’m startled by Darrel’s outburst. Up until this point he has been an easily predictable, understanding character. I suppose he is still holding the ax.

I try to sound omnipresent when I say, “You already know what you need to do, Darrel.”

“Horse shit,” he spits back at me.

As a writer we are told we can mold worlds out of nothing and that we are supposed to efface our own personalities so we can say what we, as individuals, cannot otherwise say. We are both guised by our characters as well as empowered by them. But how can I become a famous author when my characters question every single thing I ask them to do? Perhaps I have not asked politely enough. I did not know permission was required in imagination. It doesn’t seem right. But I must move the story forward so I put down my pen, hold my hands quietly together and say,

“Darrel, will you please swing your ax against the very tree your grandfather worked so hard to save? It will all turn out alright in the end, you’ll see.”

I can see the blood being pushed from his knuckles as his hands turn white into fists. I’m not writing this, yet I watch him swing the ax around like the hammer throw and launch it through the orchard. I didn’t even know he could throw the hammer. He was a track athlete, yes, but hammer is only at the college level in California. Did Darrel go to college? I am not prepared for this. What can I do when I’m losing control over my own character?

“Darrel, pick that up,” I sound like his mother. I meant to sound more like God, controlling and unquestionable. I retrive my loudest voice, but Darrel is already leaning back against his tree. His beloved tree that I want him to chop down. I suppose I owe him an explanation, but I have none. I was going to figure that out later because I needed to move the story forward, to cause drama.

Perhaps Darrel is right, we don’t need anymore drama. I should have just written about a memory I am certain he had, or let him listen to the birds sing as he thinks about his grandfather and what a wonderful man he was. I just wasn’t sure that was exciting enough.