Tom Dooley—The Kingston Trio

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a writing prompt.

 

A murder ballad missing Nick Cave’s

baritone,

missing any sort of feral

moan,

any bloodlust or anguished

koan alluding to a dripping

subterrane,

missing the red right hand,

the stain

of Satan, the mark of

Cain,

is reason to hang your head

and cry.

 

 

 

 

An Alpha Move with Beta Moments

An Amana dishwasher whose color is best described as “wan tan” and whose age is indeterminate but certainly older than any of my high school students.

A gas stove (the nomenclature here has always daunted me—range? oven?) in black whose age more closely approximates the middle schoolers whose twitchy jitters make me shudder.

A bench of slatted wood sitting under the kitchen window where the driveway meets the side door of my house, a bench pressed enough by weather to regress to the color of “not.”

I inherited these items when I became a homeowner eleven years ago.

The stove sputtered to a stop earlier this month; apparently the aging igniter no longer ignites (must. avoid. easy. metaphor. here.), and an ignition remix will cost more than the stove is worth. A replacement arrives next week.

The dishwasher still works—sort of. Sometimes it leaks a bit, as all systems do, though more noticeably than grammar. Sometimes the drain fails to provide proof of concept. “Clean” has itself become a shifting continuum; meanwhile, I fear the neighbors hear the dishwasher operate—this is not a subtle beast. A replacement arrives next week.

The bench remains, but with a personally chosen and applied fresh coat of paint—”Rookwood Dark Red.”

Repainting a bench may merit scant mention for most, but for craft-addled me, this is an alpha move. An alpha move with beta moments to be sure, most notably the sheen of terror at the Bazooka Joe color on initial application. Trust the reasoning —let the paint dry, bubblegum becomes burgundy. A bench renewed, ready to weather further seasons.

Sometimes what worked in the past needs replacing. Sometimes what worked in past needs refreshing. Sometimes we need to be patient with the process.

The new school year begins soon.

 

It’s Only Make Believe—Conway Twitty

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a writing prompt.

 

“My one and only prayer

is that some day you’ll care.”

 

But what if the absence of God

is also God?

 

Two roads converged on a word,

and I—I mustered only a sigh,

And wished I could still tell the difference.

 

 

It’s All in the Game — Tommy Edwards

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a writing prompt.

A sweet bouquet.

As he sidles up,

he whispers

your sobriquet

—part of the opening salvo

feigning intimacy,

love not as salvation

but acquisition—

not your real name.

 

A sweet bouquet,

but no plans to stay—

The game is still the game.

 

 

Little Star—The Elegants

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a writing prompt.

The arbiter elegantiarum

of the royal court

of social media

says “full send,”

without fear

or favor,

to any photo

where your eyes twinkle

without filter.

 

 

 

 

Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare) by Domenico Modugno

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a personal writing prompt.

 

Unfairly debonair

Andrea Pirlo chips

a free kick

into the waiting

Fiat 500 Spiaggina,

whisking us to sun-dappled

Tuscany in the lost episode

of season two of Master of None.

 

Alternately:

Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi star

in a remake

of Pasolini’s Il vangelo secondo Matteo,

which ends with a pull-back

dolly

shot of the resurrected Christ fading

into blue.

Volare.

 

The Fiat 500 Spiaggina by Garage Italia.The Fiat 500 Spiaggina by Garage Italia.

 

Poor Little Fool by Ricky Nelson

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a writing prompt for myself.

Woo fails

and the chorus

coos in assent

as our Ricky tries

but loses the number

loses the plot

loses his heart

to those carefree devil eyes

 

 

 

 

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada—a review

The last two years have taught us what we could not forget: that animals taste a lot like people.

And that’s how you hook a reader on the second page.

51JxsTc-YkL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_

A twisty love story about identity and what makes us human, an explosive techno-thriller about playing God with genetic code, a dystopian survival story—This Mortal Coil is all of these things, and not once did I feel like shuffling off from its four hundred plus pages. (Kudos to Suvada for acknowledging the Monty Python connection in the title with a seemingly tossed off line late in the novel.)

Much like Elliot in Mr. Robot, Catarina Agatta is a young hacker with extraordinary talents and major father issues. The evil corporation here is Cartaxus, and when we meet Catarina, she is struggling to survive in the wilderness: survive her hunger, survive her isolation, survive the Wrath caused by the Hydra Virus that has led most survivors to flee to the supposed safety of the Cartaxus bunkers. But these bunkers are not for Catarina—her brilliant geneticist father, Dr. Lachlan Agatta, ordered her to stay in the wild when he and his assistant (and Catarina’s romantic interest) Dax were forcibly taken by Cartaxus operatives.

Two years later, and Catarina’s fragile existence in the resistance is threatened by the arrival at her cabin of Cartaxus soldier Cole. However, Cole, like nearly every character in Suvada’s engaging novel, is more complicated than he seems at first glance. He and Catarina join forces in a race to build a vaccine before the virus mutates further. This race for a cure leads Catarina to learn more about her own identity and the role her father has played in shaping this world.

Breathless in the best ways, This Mortal Coil pauses to provide nuanced discussion of the ethics of altering our fundamental genetic identities—and does so without every seeming preachy or pedantic. My students and I eagerly await book two, This Cruel Design, which is to be released this fall.

 

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin—a review

“Why do you stay here? He seems really mean.”

“I don’t know where else to go . . .”

In the America of Lean on Pete, you’re either rooted or rootless, bound or footloose, but hounded always by the past. You live in the shadows, even when you live in the exposed skeleton of the desert. Hidden from view—children invisible to their parents, women invisible to the men who use them, drunk and disappointed dreamers invisible to the wider world. Or worse: those no longer dreaming, just damned.

This is the world of Charley Thompson, fifteen years old and living in a Portland shack with a sometimes father and a constant hunger. Running the streets (literally) to pursue his dream of playing football for his new high school when the school year starts, Charley is driven into the sadness of Del Montgomery, a hobbled horse trainer and trader. Working for Del provides Charley with some money, a further education into the corrupt soul of the American Dream, and a quiet friendship with a horse named Lean on Pete.

Circumstances drive Charley deeper into Del’s world, until Pete is too worn down for Del to lean on any longer. Choosing rootless over rooted in cruelty, Lean on Pete becomes travels with Charley (and Pete), a great escape across the northern passage of the American West. Though he feels damned at times, Charley still dreams, dreams of reuniting in Wyoming with the only family member he knows, his aunt.

With a parsimony befitting both the physical and emotional geography, Vlautin gives us a coming of age survival story in an America many of us willingly shutter, a novel illuminating the harrowing strain involved in chipping away at American rust.

I admit it took the positive buzz around the film version to bring this quietly devastating novel to the top of my to-be-read pile, but the subtle redemption of Lean on Pete should be read immediately.

download

Venn Diagram

On the worst of days,

the Venn diagram

of what we love

and what we fear

appears as only one circle.

 

On the best of days,

the Venn diagram

of who we are

and who we should be

appears as only one circle.

 

On most of days,

the Venn Diagram

of our living moments

overlap,

spring and neap,

gibbous and crescent.