Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No Tree

No Tree

A field next to the freeway.
A treehouse with no tree,

just a pole, seven or so boards
nailed to the pole for stairs.

Who is this birdhouse for,
an only childhouse, a father

for his sonhouse, for his two
girl cousins who like to climb.

No tree now. Most likely, not
even before. Someone owns

this place, the green field,
the hut up there, the view

of cars driving by without
slowing. How does this work,

who does the house belong to.
The man who made it, who is

gone. His boy, whose weight
the ladder can’t hold anymore,

the snow and ice that live with
the house in winter like a virus,

or the field, calling the wood
back to its flat nest, the cool earth.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011



The bar of your right arm at my waist
when you brake too hard. Your condiment
choices: the pink packets that taste
like sweetened chalk dust, two percent
milk splashed in after. Your coffee
the color of black walnut wood.
The house down the street, with fifty
cacti on its blue porch. The thud
of the neighbor’s car door versus
the thud of my own. The green
lettuce, shelved, glistening in the mist
exhaled over the produce, the sheen
of the carrots. The pharmacist’s face,
unhorrified by any illness or drug,
the boy kicking his saxophone case
while he waits on the corner, the hug
he gives his mother when she drives
up, his relief. The owl lifting from the tree
in the dark yard, and the cool air that arrives
one night and stays, though it seems early.

Monday, August 29, 2011



The town beneath the town,
the flattened record of what happens
up there. As a tabletop remembers
what is placed on it, the finish vanishing
under heat, or circles appearing
where glasses lingered, the undertown
holds the underside of decisions,
to put a building here and then to rip it up,
to plant a bigger building there.
This stippling indicates plows and barns,
horsehooves, and this compressed
valley means a bulldozer, a road, cars.
The undertown feels no emotional
attachment to being trampled or dabbed at.
All movements carry consequences
on their backs. And if not that scar, then
it would be this one. The undertown
absorbs whatever we give it,
does not require any recognition or praise
in keeping track of us for us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Audio: Good Grief

Not as in Charlie Brown, more as in extinction and things going away.

"Good Grief" is a poem from last August (click here to view full text). I wrote it after reading Jonathan Franzen's great essay (in How to Be Alone) called "Scavenging," all about how some of us are obsessed with finding and collecting broken/obsolescent objects. It's interesting (and sad, and a bit scary) to apply this obsolescence to living creatures or ideas.

When I lived in Venice (California) last year (I can't believe it was just one year ago!), I frequented a gallery called Obsolete. They show/sell beautifully deteriorating old and odd objects (for example, this French bobbin rack, circa 1900), and show some truly stunning artwork (I discovered Anne Siems through Obsolete, and wrote a poem on her work).

I love old oddities like those at Obsolete, and this aesthetic keeps popping up in our culture and art (Tim Burton's recent exhibit at LACMA, steampunk sensibilities/fashion, photography of abandoned places, the beautiful vintage lightbulbs I keep seeing on design blogs). The outmoded and out-of-fashion can be made important simply because it is not used anymore. Does that make any sense to you? Some interesting psychological impulses behind this, I think....what do you think?

Listen to "Good Grief" here:
Good Grief by The Storialist

Thursday, August 25, 2011



With a pencil, marking where the head
of a person is now, so they can turn
and see how low they once stood.

With the plastic lid of a fountain soda
and a thumb to dimple one of three
small hills, indicating if the drink
is diet, cola, or other.

With a key, the jagged calligraphy
of initials scraped into a park bench.

With carpet and a toe, tracing arcs
in the fibers by keeping the body
in place and rotating the leg
around it, like a compass.

With tight clothing pressing its seams
into your skin, Frankensteining your belly
and thighs when you undress.

With the sun and your weakness,
the inkwell of melanin you offer,
and a flicked brush.

With an arm and a cat who doesn’t
want to be held.

With feet passing through the grass,
stifling it, and inventing a path.

With a doorknob and the wall it backs into.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Light Year

Light Year

When I talk about a place, I point,
gesture toward where I think it lives.
Back there, or out and to the left,
there’s no accounting for East or West
in my thumb or index finger, just
a feeling, a vague cloud of magnetic
energy that tugs at my hand.
Everything is close to everything,
relatively speaking. You can get
anywhere on our planet in under
a week. The world keeps collapsing
toward itself, like a sheet being folded
by two people, one on each end,
and folded again. We describe distance
in time: twenty minutes walking,
an hour with the traffic, a four hour
flight, a light year. We are used
to seeing our planet twirl in miniature,
docked on a desk. There is stillness
only when we drop to the ground,
pulling our legs in beneath us
like fingers clasping a palm
in order to become a fist.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



So you’re a teacher,
the old man tells me.
How does he know.

No one but a teacher
would dare do such
an old-fashioned thing

as reading in public.
Karl is here to visit
his brother, who is

dying. It’s the right
time to swap stories.
I want him to know

all the crazy parts
of my life. Karl keeps
his longing where

he can reach it when
he needs to, like a
handkerchief in the

inner breast pocket
of a jacket. Is it age
that prods what we

want forward, offering
it as easily as small
talk. Is there any need

to mention the clouds
or cloudlessness when
we can speak about death

and love with strangers.
I write my wife a poem
every year for her birthday,

but one year I tore up
what I wrote to start
again. Feelings are

the hardest part, Karl
again, balancing two
cherry danishes and

an apple on a napkin
that he will carry
upstairs to his wife.

Monday, August 22, 2011

From Scratch

From Scratch

Trust the road to hold the car,
the signs to gesture honestly
and without malice. Trust
that a mile on your odometer
means a mile behind you,
a one-mile-sized patch of town
your tires touched and left.
Trust that in the town the dogs
are given food, that their names
are said to them with sweetness,
that fathers in this town hold
their sons’ hands when they
are young. Trust that the spiders
stay in their webs high up
in the trees, that the freezer aisle
in the grocery store stays cold
and that the twist ties on the bread
continue to squeeze the plastic
shut around the slices for days
after the sell by date, that there
is no guilt in the woman who
pauses before the cake mix
to find the one that requires
the fewest ingredients, eggs
and oil and water, which she has.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Audio: Virgin Ears

Happy Friday, friends!

Today I have some audio for you (my poem, "Virgin Ears"). Many of the comments I received on that poem were in reference to reading it aloud (thanks for that, everyone!), so I thought I'd give it a try.

It was a fun one to read out loud--you were right! I am trying stop my rather bad habit of apologizing when it is unnecessary (sorry about that), and this poem is sort of about this. When we apologize to someone, we are assuming responsibility for something, which isn't always fair. I want to do this more mindfully and when there is good reason.

Virgin Ears by The Storialist

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic Devices

How did we all meet.
Looking back rearranges
the room, the figures
in it, who spoke first,
and then, the retelling
swoops in, brushes
the crumbs and cat hair
from the coffee table,
leaving a clear surface
with edges. Fiction
means fact, doesn’t it,
a student asked me,
I remember it because
they sound the same.
Mnemonics fray
and buckle, My Very
Eager Mother Ordered
How Many Pizzas,
Again, whoopsies,
there go the planets,
spinning, spilling,
like a broken strand
of beads. Tell yourself
a story to figure out
what goes where, and
tell a story about
how meticulously
the sky was designed.
You’ll be sleeping
before the end, calling
back details to prove
how clearly you see
what was: the spider
shuddering in its harness
when the dumpster lid
clunked shut, the scent
of trees, either cedar
or pine, the intention
you rethread yourself
with, mending, darning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011



Here, kitty, here, sweetie,
I’m calling you in from the dark,

my ankle shouldering
the screen door as it tries to close.

Honey, my dear dearie,
speaking of and to you sifts my voice

like powdered sugar,
the sound falls easily through the air.

I can crouch near the car
where you are, make kissing noises

with my mouth to coax
you out. When you are prepared,

sweetheart, come over here.
Yes, there are plenty of sudden movements

sponsored by gravity,
but none of them will come from me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011



The butterflies here look like
the leaves, pairs of yellow-green
wings twitching not from the breeze,
but from volition. This implies
that what lives in a place has survived
because it resembles the land,
the foliage, the light that falls on
this part of the planet’s angled face.
Water flings itself over the rocks
at Old Man’s Cave, and the natural
human response is to join in.
Fifteen-year-old boys peer over
the rocky ledge, then turn to face
their mom back on the ground.
Smile, boys, she yells, and they grin
toward her, bringing fists
to their shoulders to puff up
the biceps beneath the skin. They pose,
then fall, purposefully,
yelping WOOO!, which translates
as A little fear is fun. The pool looks
too shallow to hold them,
but they plunge in and resurface,
grimacing to show how cold the water is.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Video: A Poem I Wish I'd Written

At last week's Paging Columbus (a local literary event series I run here in Ohio), I asked four poets to read their own work and poems they wish they had written. I couldn't help but share one,'s me reading Bob Hicok's "Bars Poetica."

It's refreshing to hear writers get passionate and swoony about other writers (it's important for us to promote other writers, too!), and I think it removes some pressure from a featured reader. When I read someone else's work, I feel far less self-conscious, especially initially--I can focus on bringing a poem I love to life, without getting hung up on the construction of the poem. This might not be true for everyone, but for many, I think.

I wrote a post for Voice Alpha last winter about poets performing other people's poems (Kristin LaTour also writes about it here). It helps to make poetry readings more appealing, I think--writers are sharing not only what they love, but another facet of who they are.

I think it would be great to host a reading by non-writers--people who love books, reading their favorite sections from them. Is this something you would attend? What poems do you love that you'd want to read for others?

(For more videos from Paging Columbus, visit my playlist here).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Excellent Choice

Excellent Choice

Very good, Miss, I am sure
you will like it, the server says
when I ask him to bring me
one of the specials chalked
in pink block letters on the board
at the entrance. When were you
last reassured that you will love
what you’ve chosen, did your mind
recline and stretch its legs, as if
on a lawn chair. Purveyors
of hospitality package comfort
as pleasure, pleasure as joy.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight,
the attendant suggests, so I do,
I give my bones to the cushions
under me, here, hang on to me
for a while, I trust you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Lady of the Third Arm

Our Lady of the Third Arm

Our Lady of the Third Arm,
of the extra appendage, she
uses the surplus limb solely

for holy activities, needlework,
piano, kneading of dough
that becomes wholesome bread.

Without that middle hand,
she’d be a hell of a lot less
holy, ordinary as a book

falling open to the part
where the heroine has just
grown up, where she is

meeting the lover who
will hurt her thirty pages
later. When she was young,

Their Girl of the Third Arm,
they cooed Saint into her crib,
encouraged her to draw

centerhandedly, painted her nails
with rosy pink, fifteen shells
shining at the ends of her hands,

fifteen fingers spread to be
exclaimed over, knuckles like
eyes halfway up each digit.

Our special little lady,
where would she be without
that third arm, God forbid.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Opposite of Road Rage

The Opposite of Road Rage

The traffic lights dangle from their wires
like children on the monkey bars. Two boys,
fourteen or fifteen, skateboard past me
furtively, pass a cigarette between them
like a joint. It is a joint. They don’t want
to be caught, but they do want to be noticed.
They misbehave conspicuously. I toy
with what I could say to them, whether
I would play parent or teacher or lunch lady
or babysitter or cool aunt, or woman smiling
and waving in her car as they yell and wave
from the window of their school bus. This world
is friendly when we program it to be. The ATM
thanks me. The gas pump shouts hello. Leaving
any store, I look down at the receipt I have
been handed, and so do you, just to check
that things happen the way we think they do.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Audio: Interview at Spoonful

Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Anthea Krook, Editor of the delightful Spoonful Magazine (she's also a talented artist/designer/singer/creative mind). I've known Anthea since 2008 thanks to the wonderful world of the internets, but never spoken to her "in-person" (read: via Skype) before--it was so natural and enjoyable. I'm so thankful to her for her support and vision, and to everyone I've connected with through this blog.

Hope you like the interview (this is a great new podcast, so stay tuned for future installments from Anthea). In it, we talk about my family, my work (teaching and some of my various editing projects, including video game strategy guides!), the sprained ankle that led to my marriage, publishing and strategies for sharing creative work (shout out to Nic Sebastian and her nanopress model), and, inevitably, ice cream. Happy weekend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Virgin Ears

Virgin Ears

Pardon my French, my language,
the expletives that have selected
this moment to show themselves,
so enthusiastic and unladylike.
Pardon me, forget what I said,
let me unzip the air between us
and let my words get sucked out
into the galaxy’s gaping maw.
Pardon the partition. I’ve placed
it between us for your protection,
you can pretend to be there when
you aren’t, absorptive as silence.
Pardon my trespasses, and also
the jaywalking incidents in which
I was so clearly at fault, scaring
the pants off the driver of that car.
Pardon me for my failure to RSVP,
for not répondez-ing in a timely
manner more befitting of someone
at the mercy of the great athlete, time.
Pardon me a thousand times over
what you think I would require
as far as forgiveness goes, round
up, be generous, Southern accent.
Pardon me for deciding what
you want and do not want to hear,
for assuming that you have never
encountered bad manners before.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mail Pouch

Mail Pouch

After the painted words wash away
from the side of a barn,
the wood still says Chew MAIL POUCH
Tobacco where the letters
had held on for fifty years, talking
to the road, to cars driving
and not stopping. The barn remembers
the message that had shielded
it, as a wall recalls in ghostly outline
the framed pictures
that lived there so long. The wall and wood
used to look like the patches
beneath the paintings and paint, the places
where the material stayed
young for the longest. We open memories
like umbrellas, keeping them
until we can’t, when the shielded parts
of us step out and speak.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Paper Route

Paper Route

Two girls, one on either side of the street,
bulging canvas bags clinging to their backs
and slim shoulders. They might be sisters,
both with wavy brown hair, or only friends.
Acquaintances from school, one in fifth grade,
one in eighth. They could be strangers.
They know this route well, I can tell by how
they barely turn their heads to see the houses,
how they walk through the yards with purpose
and boredom, both. How old do we have to be
before we can complete a task absentmindedly.
Are we born with this ability, or do we teach
it to ourselves when life is long, when we are
young, when we eat what we dislike and plod
down hallways, going where we are instructed.
The girls reach into their bags, pull out a paper
rolled inside its thin plastic bag. They snap
their wrists, and each newspaper lands with
a crisp thud, the sound a strong fist makes
in movies punching someone weak and mean,
knuckles rapping cheekbones like front doors.
The Storialist. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.