The Arrogance Will Be Costly

old swing

 

“Is this it? Is this…all that’s left?”  Jakob asked. The villagers stood among the remnants, stricken with fear, dumbfounded.

They gathered in the center of what was left the playground. The jungle gym—once only a few crossties with heavy, knotted ropes for climbing—was mostly gone; only the support beams protruded from the grass, the edges jagged and sharp, like broken toothpicks.

“And that—what is that over there?” said Josiah, his voice trembling.

“Is that…my god, is that a shoe?” someone deeper in the crowd exclaimed.

A blonde-haired woman broke from the throng to grab the shoe. “No, no, no! Not Kamyra! Not my baby…!” she screeched, clutching the shoe to her chest.  A man tore himself from the group and went to the woman, wrapping his arms around her and stroking her hair.  For a moment, there was only the sound of the wind cutting through the trees and the wails of the woman with the shoe.

Abruptly, a question cut through her grief.  “Where’s the sandbox?” The loud whisper came from Kaitlin.  She stood with her jaw set and her shoulders square, a pillar in the midst of chaos, but the shudder in her voice reverberated throughout the crowd, and the villagers pulled closer together.  “The sandbox?” she asked again, extending her hands beseechingly.

Heads turned left and right, but no one responded.

Another villager pointed to the clearing near the tree line.  “Is that…the swing?

Jakob pulled away from the others to an object that was half-rammed into the ground.  It was the old swing.  He pulled it up with a yank.  All that was left was a bit of chain attached to the fractured wooden seat.  Teeth marks had made an ugly, ragged curve in the wood, and it was splattered with fresh blood and bits of flesh.

Kaitlin whipped around to the village elder.

“Do you see now?  Do you believe now?” she shrieked, her fear turned to fury.

The elder remained motionless, unable to move or speak.

“Perhaps you will give the offering next season, Elder?” Jakob spat, his eyes ablaze in rage.  “And maybe you will not be so wise?  So callous?” He waved the broken, bloodied swingseat wildly. “Shall we appease them, next season, Elder?” he repeated, his voice rising.  “Or will you  imagine still that they do not exist?”

The elder threw himself on the ground and at the feet of his wayward flock, he screamed for forgiveness.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

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Being Fluent

As a linguist, I love languages.

I’m enthralled by the broad nature of language, and how, through its words, an entire people can be reflected.  I’m a big believer that language is the first introduction to into the nature of a nation, a culture, a people—and not only by their words, but by how those words are expressed:  through pitch and tone, through speed and tenor, through inflection, nuance, and accent.  In Haitian Creole, the lively nature of even the most mundane discourse is a reflection of the vibrancy of the people who speak it.  In French, the very even rhythm of the language hints at the balanced essence of a people who equally celebrate and lament both the joys and sorrows of life.  By contrast, the German language is a structured, tightly woven tongue that mirrors a highly ordered, logical people in thought and deed.  In Japanese, inherent to every syllable to be uttered is a note of respect that defines the culture itself:  respect for self, respect for others.  Even in the dead vernacular of Latin, the language exalts the virtue of man and all things masculine, which is very much evident in the historical accounts of the relationships of men to women.

Yes, languages speak to us about who we are as people, why we believe what we do, why we live as we do.

I find it wholly enchanting.

Even English, with all its variations and dialects, tells the story of the people who speak it.  In Britain, English is very refined and clipped, with a strong, almost condescending accent that suggests privilege and high culture (I mean that in the best possible way!).  Australian English is to me as feisty and rugged as its speakers.  And of course, there’s American English—my own native tongue—with its many accents and reincarnations that are a reflection of the varied and diverse of make-up of our citizens (this would be my own personal shout-out to my great country:  USA!).

Yes, language is the great bridge that broadens my worldview and acquaints me to people everywhere.

I tend to find that pretty cool.

It is also the great bridge that I use to bring people to my world.  Of the languages I know–I speak English fluently, dabble frequently in the Romance languages, flirt sporadically with the German tongue, and dream wistfully of the Cyrillic vernacular–I am also very proficient in one language that is not always so obvious:  the language of writing.

Okay, I’ll admit it:  I’ve written about this topic before but as a linguaphile, it’s a topic that I’m drawn to again and again.  The idea that writing itself is a kind of language appeals to me, for various reasons, and because I’m still a couple of hundred words shy of meeting my word count for this post, I’m going to share them with you (oh, no attempt at meeting the word count in that bit of dribble there, no sir…hehehe…)

One reason I’m always fascinated by this is that not everyone is fluent in writing.  Oh, sure, anyone can pick up a pen or pencil and scribble words and phrases, but not everyone can write to communicate a clear, concise message or tell a story.  If we understand that this is the function of language, than writing itself—in its own unique function as a language as opposed to being a vehicle for language—is no different if it serves the same purpose.  It doesn’t matter if what we’re writing is real or imagined, fact or fiction, speech or story—in order to convey the message, a person needs to be a fluent, coherent writer.  If you want to share your tale, even when writing, you have to “speak” the language, and you have to “speak” it well.

And yet, interestingly enough, the great thing about writing is that it’s never wrong.  The nature of writing is such that though its form may sometimes be incorrect (a clear indication that the writer is not yet “fluent”), its expression is always true.  There is never a false aspect to speech or accentuation or tone because when I think of writing as a language, I understand that this particular “language” is an extension of the human experience itself that is so broad—if not infinite—there really is no flaw.  I can create characters, scenes, or settings with any breadth of tone or speech I want, and although there may be mistakes in grammar or syntax or punctuation, my story elements are always as real as I imagine them to be, written in a voice that serves to characterize the writing itself.

And like with any other language I’ve ever spoken or studied, the more I work at it, the better I become.  My syntax improves and my vocabulary grows.  I gain more and more control of nuance and meaning.  My words develop a signature rhythm, a particular style, a certain je ne sais quoi.  I manipulate more and more different registers, from humor to prose to verse to essay.  The more I write, the more fluent I become.

Because when you love languages as I do, spoken or written, it’s all about being fluent.

EMJ

True Face

Give it to me!” she hissed.

He trembled.  “B-but, it’s for…for the…”

Tooth Fairy?”  Her eyes flashed in fury.  “Who the hell do you think I am?”

His eyes widened in shock.  “You?

She bared her teeth, grotesque, jagged, misshapen.  She snatched the tooth from his shaking fingers.

“No one ever said I was pretty.”

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.

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The Big Collision

Hey, I admit it:  I’m a dreamer.

I dream of my children going to college.  I imagine paying down my debts.  I envision renewing my wedding vows.

I dream of vacations on the French Riviera, where dark, swarthy Mediterranean men serve me exotic drinks with a sexy accent (heck of a leap, I know).

Sometimes, I dream of what might have been.  Frequently, I dream of what will be, and of course, there are those moments when I dream of what never was (there’s a little story to that, but I’ll save it for another day…)

And they’re glorious, my dreams!  There’s laughter in those reveries, lots of joy and much elation.  Life is very often good, even easy, and so it’s not hard to wonder why I dream.

But.

Recently, I made a completely innocuous observation that it’s a terrible thing when your dreams crash into reality. At the time, I just thought that sentence waxed poetic in my head and I actually posted it on Facebook, if for no other reason than I just like the way it rolled off my tongue.  Very wise, very profound.  (It’s because I’m so deep, you know?)

But actually, when I sat down at my computer later to do some work—after already having dedicated about an extra twenty-five hours above the forty hours that I’m actually paid for— that sentiment came back to me with a sudden kind of relevance.  I was at my computer, creating yet another lesson, planning to grade yet another assignment,  looking for yet another intriguing piece of video to bring the lesson to life (because God forbid students should be bored because your class is not entertaining enough) when I thought to myself, my god, I would so rather be writing right now.  After all, that’s my dream, is it not?  To be a writer?

I’ve got a novel going that I’m working on with a friend of mine that has been in my possession for months now and that I haven’t been able to look at (fortunately my writing partner has infinite wells of patience and doesn’t say anything—such a good guy!).  The little blog here that I write feels neglected.  It’s been months since I churned out a good short story.  And the one poem I wrote last month seemed to take forever to write, which for me, is a bit unusual.  When the writing bug hits, I can turn out a good poem in a few hours.  This one took weeks…but I digress…

All this nags at me, fills me with a sense of loss or despair.  Hopelessness.   There’s a kind of high I get when I write something, an immeasurable sense of accomplishment that picks me up and carries me away to heights beyond the heavens themselves, so when I’m unable to write—not because of lack of desire, but due to lack of opportunity—I get frustrated.  Antsy.  I feel unfulfilled.  I hear a little voice in my head that whispers that it’s time to write.  It tells me that I need to get a few words on paper, be it prose or verse or blog.  It suggests that I should dabble even if I can’t write

But time is my great enemy.  There’s never enough of it.  When I’m working, textbooks strewn about, tests stacked high on my dining room table, it steals from me precious hours and minutes that I could be using to scribble a verse or spin a tale of woe.  When I’m done, the ticking clock reminds me that my children need me and my husband misses me and so to them I go…and when finally, at long last, I think I’ve found a moment for myself, sleep (time’s evil partner if ever there was one) makes my eyes heavy in my head, my fingers slow on the keyboard, and my mind less sharp, less alert. Whatever even faint idea I may have had to write something slips from my thoughts, never to return….

The fact of the matter is that although I want to write, I have to work.  Bills must be paid, the kids have to be fed, my husband needs attention…and I’d like to enjoy a little something in the way of leisure activities.  As such, finding time to write every day is hard.

I know that there are people out there who would read this and scream out:  “Don’t make excuses! Make the time!  Find the time!  If you’re a writer, write!

I wouldn’t disagree with that at all, but finding time is hard.

During the school year, I work all the time, around the clock.  It’s a miracle to me that I still find time for kids and my husband (although my husband swears he suffers neglect at my hands, but you know, digressing and all that…)

So how do I reconcile the two?  My desire to write with my need to earn money?

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to that.  I know that I have to take care of my family, and although I wish to no end that I could accomplish that task by writing, I have to be realistic.  I’m not famous, I’m not prolific, and when my dreams crash with my reality, there’s really no around even to hear the big bang, much less pick up the pieces of my frustration.

But I will give myself some credit. One of the beautiful things about wanting to do well is that I am becoming persistent.  I’m willing to try new little ventures when I write with the hope that every new story or poem or genre helps me wield a sharper, mightier pen, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I sneak in tidbits of story here, lines of stanza there, and finagle a little bit of paragraph for a blog everywhere.

As a matter of fact, when I dream, the thing that I see over and over is that I don’t give up.  That I push myself and that I try.  I find moments, sometimes one after the other, sometimes far and few between, to get my words on paper.  And all the while, there’s a mantra in my head:  I will do this thing, I will make this work, and one day, I will be great.

And when these dreams crash into this reality, what is left behind is hope.

EMJ

The Naming of Her

The night begins with darkest spell

She calls forth demons from deepest hell

She sends them out to do her will

They venture off into night’s chill

 

They set about in secret search

Upon the shadows they hunch, they lurch

But their mistress’s wish they do fulfill

And bring to her much treasured ills:

 

A pint of blood, a pound of flesh

A heart ripped from a tender chest;

Screams of innocents bottled tight

And eyes bereft of all their sight…

 

With incantation now complete

While black cat purrs at her feet

The evil bidding stirs her soul

Intent as dark and black as coal

 

She chants her words for all to hear

And one by one, they fall in fear

Her whispered words consume them all

She stands, she laughs, she lets them fall

 

With her curse her victims writhe

Her spell a scourge by which they’ll die

The night is pierced by screams and pleas

But their wretched souls are hers to seize

 

And with her bounty of skin and bone

With withered souls that moan and groan

She steals her way into the night

And cackles oft with all her might—

 

To her dark prince of down below

These bloody gifts she does bestow;

For evil’s trouble he grants a wish:

He calls her hag, trickster and

Witch.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

Writing Black

As some of you may or may not know, I’m Haitian-American.

I’m black.

I don’t make this proclamation to be facetious or sarcastic.  I make it as merely a statement of fact:  I’m black.

It is what it is.

But I do bring it up because when I write, my race is not always evident.  The person that I am is not always easily seen.

I usually prefer it that way.

But it is interesting, because strangers who are just becoming familiar with my work and getting to know me have said to me on more than one occasion after having read my writing, they didn’t realize that I was black.

As if that’s a problem.  Thank goodness I have a thick skin, otherwise I might be offended.

I’ve written about this before, but I’ll say it again:  I don’t think my race should define my writing.  My writing should define my writing.  My stories should speak for themselves, and my verses should sing their own songs.  It is always my goal to tell a good story, as prose or as poetry, and I succeed at this objective as I can.  I try to leave myself out of it as much as possible.

However, every once in a while,  a little bit of me will peek through, and a little bit of my history, my person, my culture, my thoughts or my beliefs will make their way onto the page.  I don’t think that this is unusual.  I think it would be hard to write otherwise if I didn’t leave some of myself behind, exposed for the world to see.

But it is telling when someone reads something I’ve written, and make the connection between my words and my race, and they are surprised as a result.

I bring this up because my good friend, Francis F. Keating, (who, through two posts now, I hope you are getting to know), is also African-American.

Francis is also black.

But I think to the casual reader, many people wouldn’t know it by the poems he’s shared thus far.

In the work we’ve seen to date, Francis presents verses with an old-world, very classically structured styles and rhymes. In my opinion, they read like great literature and have a sense of timelessness about them.

Plus, it’s just a great voice that he uses to spin his verses.

I’ve told him on occasion that I expect to see these poems in high school English textbooks somewhere, being memorized and recited by thousands of students. He likes to laugh and disagree (he’s too humble to say otherwise) but I believe what I’m saying is true. His poems transcend race to focus only on a story, to speak only about the human condition, to espouse the many trials and tribulations to which we as individuals can all relate and understand.  What English teacher wouldn’t flock to that theme?

As writers, I think there is value at being able to write about a variety of topics in a myriad of styles that move beyond who you are in order to capture an experience common to everyone.  Following Francis’ lead, I’ve written many poems where I have tried to do just that.  I like to think I’ve hit the mark once or twice on that account, and certainly I believe Francis has it in the bag.

However, sometimes you have to write to share your unique self to the world, the common experience be damned.  Sometimes it is all about you, about sharing your story or your history and conveying those words that are an extension of you as a person.

In this case, I’m talking about writing black.

I don’t think this would be any different if I were Jewish or Hispanic or Chinese.  I believe this wouldn’t matter if I were a northerner, a southerner, from the East Coast or the West.  This would be the same if I my native tongue were English, French, Russian or Farsi, or if I were tall or short, fat or skinny, full of happiness or full of grief.  No matter what I could be, my own life experience, whatever it is, however I perceive it, would eventually appear on the page.  Of course, I have my own ideas about what I want to address when I write about topics that are afro-centric in nature, but that is the nature of the human experience:  it is unique to everyone.  Even when we share the experience, our perspectives will make it singular to who we are.

Certainly, I believe this is true when Francis writes; he has authored quite a few poems where he addresses his own experiences and perspectives as a black man, and creates a voice and a style to reflect that.  In one of his newer poems, Ghetto Smoke, he shows just how diverse and broad his range can be.  It speaks not only to the breadth of skill that he possesses with his mighty pen, but also to who he is and what he sees are problems and ills that our community faces.  Always literary, always poetic, but very raw and gritty, very streetwise and urban.

Ghetto Smoke is like that.  It flows almost like a song—a hip-hop anthem, if you will—but forever dark in both the reality it presents and the story he tells.  But it is as much as part of him as is the rest of his poetry—as it should be, since we all like to share a part of ourselves in the stories we write.

And as a black man, he sometimes likes to write black.

 GHETTO SMOKE

 

JoJo was born smokin’.

Soon as he come out his mommas womb

His daddy popped a cigarette in his mouth

And said,

“Smoke up mutha fucka

You ain’t got time for mother’s milk.

Hope you like sleepin’ on broken glass

Cuz we don’t know shit about silk.

The way of the devil is all that we have.

So buck up my nigga, hold tight to your brass.

The wheelin’ and dealin’ so thick

That the smoke makes you choke.

Our burdens a bitch on the yoke.”

So JoJo behaved like a young nigga should.

He smoked up dem smokes

And gave love to the hood.

By ten he was smokin’

Two packs of fuck you every day.

Young JoJo’s a player that way.

By twelve he was cuttin’ the yoyo for slice.

By twenty that nigga was rollin’ in ice.

The roll of the dice

The smell of the kill on the steel

Joe smoked up that shit with appeal.

Pop! Pop! In the head for a fool talkin’ shit.

Mad hate to his God for the fate that he spit

“No shame in my game”

Was the blunt that he hit with a smile

Ghetto style

JoJo smoked on that shit for a while.

In the cut

With a strut

“Gotta problem with me!

Nigga what!”

COPYRIGHT 2012 ©  FRANCIS F. KEATING.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Grief of Ghosts

 “The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.”  Sophocles (496 B.C. – 406 B.C.)

In the quiet of the graveyard

In the quarter light of moon,

Fresh earth has yet to settle

And descend upon a tomb…

She slips the bonds of earth,

In search for one she missed,

In search for her beloved

And free herself from this abyss;

And another soul does flitter

He wanders gently by,

He’s looking for his child

To whom he’ll sing a lullaby;

And brother was a soldier,

He carries still his gun,

He’s looking for the enemy

But here he finds there’s none;

And the ghostly form of girl,

Wrists still crimson from her wounds,

Who in life did dream of death

But now the darkness will impugn;

And further in the graveyard

Under trees of pine and oak,

Other souls do gather

And wear night as their dark cloak;

They whisper to each other

And the air will catch their grief,

The living hear their cries

As moans and wails in

night’s soft breeze—

They’re looking for their loved ones

They’re looking for their lives

The ones that they believed in

And those they’ve left behind;

And in the quiet of the graveyard

In the quarter light of moon,

They sing a song of sorrow

Of lives gone much too soon.

COPYRIGHT 2012 © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.