Micro Essay

Unburied – Micro Essay

by Jamie Paradise

While cleaning my mother’s yard, preparing for the sale, we discovered a dog carcass. It had been pounded into the road by cars for weeks, then washed up to lie in the thick untended grass. It was so old, so dry and stiff, and flat, that for a while, my five brothers and I wondered if it was even a dog.

Mike, the painter, always looking for a subject, took a photo. His previous work consisted of twisted bodies, rotten fruit, and windowsill flies. Soon, this petrified canine would appear on a canvas, purchase price $500. Like other art openings, the family would attend in support. We’d bring an appetizer from the grocery store, drink the free wine, roam the gallery, and whisper, “Who would put a painting of a dead dog in their house? But I do like the flower painting.”

Eventually, leaves were raked, sidewalks swept, and the tall grass cut. We rewarded ourselves with barbecued pork from the stone pit and drank plenty of beer.

After eating, the night got dark, fireflies flashed, and the fire more mesmerizing.

Somewhere in our inspired, inebriated brains, was a remembrance of unburied bodies and the problems that befall an improper farewell. Elpenor, soldier of the Trojan War and companion to Odysseus, who fell off a roof, broke his neck, was unmourned, and tottered restlessly in the underworld. Polynices, lying unburied in a dusty field, nibbled on by dogs, eventually bringing Antigone and Creon to dramatic ruin.

The meat was off the grill but the fire remained. With enough beer in us, it seemed fitting and proper that this neglected dog receive a respectful funeral.

Using a plastic bag and pinching what was once a leg of the dog, we threw the corpse on the fire. The fire crackled along the fur like leaves, but even a sun dried dog is difficult to burn. We gathered sticks and logs and expanded our funeral pyre. Because of the strong wind, we all sampled the downwind pungency only once, then huddled in a semi-circle, upwind.

Most of the time we stared at the flames. It was peaceful, noble, and fitting. With time, and fuel, the dog rose in smoke to the night stars, its spirit contented we believed. From the silent contemplation of our drinking, someone crushed his beer can and said of the stiff stray, “Yeah, she was a good dog.”

Jamie Paradise teaches writing at the Forsyth School and is currently working on a collection of short essays that share the experience and lessons of growing up the youngest of fourteen siblings.

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Crown of Roses – Micro Essay

by Adriana Gonzalez

I met you when I fantasized about walking into the sea. I remember it was a time when I outgrew my funeral dress, a time when I collected rosaries out of anxiety and impulsion. I met you when I was falling into various cracks and disillusionment—attempting to sift through fog and glassy transpierces. And no one knew about my fascination with seaweed. No one knew that I slept all day after learning about rocks and wavelengths in my last semester of college. I didn’t tell anyone that sleeping was the only thing keeping me from tangling in the folding water. You have to understand why you creep in so soundlessly, how you made me aware of the crisscrossing cells that make up my skin, how you taught me about sage baths and how imperative it is that we love our mothers.

We were bred from a fire town, a dry splintered city tucked away in southern California and you taught me about watering dirt to reduce the heat that would soak in our soles.  You told me so often, you have to hold things in your hands and really feel their edges, cup their form and burn it in you because what we hold in this life is all we have.

When I found myself in front of you again, you asked me, how did we get here?

I don’t have an answer for you. I can’t tell you how my sister getting married brought me back, how I sat in my green dress and thought about your t -shirts and your picture frames and your porch.

Will you promise me things? Can we carve out ledges in the Montana terrain and swell with the soil? I’ll make us an herb garden. I’ll only use vinegar to rinse out the sinks so the cats won’t be poisoned.

Let me tell you how I imagine your dusty hands melting on me, how I want your palms on my thighs, an engraved permanent burn where my children will ask, whose hands are those? I will turn to you in your boots, and you will smile down at the floorboards, your palms full of iceberg roses you’ve just pruned.

I’ll keep rosaries and follow the beads if it leads us to our own ocean or lake or a dirty dust where we tangle in our golden limbs. We will shake ourselves into various foundations where we chart up maps and have a home with our daughter who we named Barcelona, and we will put her to sleep with diamond skies and a wooden house—maybe some brick pasted to the walkway so her toes won’t splinter. And if they do, you will pick her up, hold her to your chest while I take her tiny feet in my hands and pull out what does not belong.

Adriana is currently studying Creative Nonfiction at Columbia College Chicago, where she teaches first year writing, a Follet Fellow, and an assistant editor for Hotel Amerika. Her work appears in the August issue of Hippocampus.

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Stalking Horse – Micro Essay

by Ann Clark

There’s a glob of perethrin ointment two inches thick cupped in the fingers of my hand, and it is the most ridiculous day-glow pink and smells like liquorice and pine-trees. The mare is edging away no matter how slowly I ease up on her. The ointment won’t help her heal faster, but it will keep bugs away from the wound. Flies especially have to be kept out because that thing about maggots only eating dead flesh is a myth. You definitely don’t want to see them in a live animal—you just don’t.

This mare is the ugliest horse on our place. She’s physically ugly, with an old-fashioned boxy quarter-horse build and a ridiculous ox-head, and she’s bad-tempered with the other horses, taking sly nips out of them when she gets a chance and bullying mares and geldings lower in the social order. She’s barn-sour and herd-bound, too, so she gets stubborn if she’s ridden out on the trails, adopting a machine-gun trot that leaves even experienced riders sore for days.

We brought the horses into the barn for vaccinations, and a five inch flap of skin was hanging open on the mare’s throat, blood clots dried down her chest. “Any further up or over, and you’d be calling the mink man,” the vet said. She was talking about the guy who farms mink for fur coats and takes slaughtered animals for feed.

The vet’s best guess was the mare had caught herself on a thorn apple tree and panicked, pulled up hard, and ripped half her throat out; we don’t use barbed wire because it can cause just these kinds of injuries. But, God, as I’m looking at the raw flap that couldn’t be stitched up, it’s as if the horse’s head is going to fall right off even now, two days later, and I think of the horse in the movie guy’s bed in The Godfather. It looks that bad.

 But this isn’t a horse that would make me or my husband scream until the echoes chased around the farm buildings if we woke up at dawn and found her head in the bed. I mean, first, fat chance on sneaking into our house without getting your ass shot off. After that, this is the horse we could probably most spare. She’s the horse whose head we might leave in someone else’s bed, and I know I’m not the only one who is just a little bit admiring of that tactic in the movie.

I’m inching closer to the horse, who’s quivering and flinching at the flies landing on her. I do wonder if she could really have done that kind of damage to herself on a thorn bush because the tear seems very neat and straight, but then, we’re on the end of a dead-end road and nobody much knows about our place, and besides that, if I were the kind of person who wanted to hurt something beautiful, she really wouldn’t make the cut.

Ann Clark teaches English at SUNY Jefferson and is a student in the Ph.D. English (creative writing emphasis) program at Binghamton University. Her work has been published in Blueline, Ragazine, and Poetry Quarterly.

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Birth and Death in a Microcosm – Micro Essay

by Colleen Wells

Our screened-in porch is a cavernous space with a large wooden table and chairs. Lights are strung haphazardly around the perimeter. Candle holding fixtures and wind-chimes hang randomly on hooks left by the previous home-owner. In one corner sits a pile of wood for fires we rarely make. In another, a grill we only sometimes use. The bead-board ceiling is a burnt red. My hand painted birdhouses boast more whimsical colors like lime-green, teal, and lavender. Embellished with lost buttons, lids from bottles of Heineken, and beach glass, they sit on the ledge below the screen.

A small tree abuts the middle of the longest wall. Pressing against the screen, it holds an abandoned bird’s nest wedged in its branches. That Mama Cardinal who inhabited it recently, had taken such good care at feeding her three hungry chicks, then teaching them how to fly. My husband and I cheered her on, and yet one of the babies didn’t make it.

Birth and death occurring in a microcosm.

I take a sip of my now stale and cooling coffee, noting stuff piled and strewn on the slatted table in front of me. Mounds of books about writing, magazines, journals, notes from the kids’ schools and file folders filled with submission guidelines and looming deadlines surround my spot. My family is occupied, so I’m feeling both grateful and guilty about this alone time. While I sit, insects chatter.

Even though it’s humid, I can no longer smell the acrid, musky scent of dog urine. We put our incontinent blind and deaf Rat Terrier down last Monday. He had always been without sight, but when he lost his hearing he began circling. He’d circle fast, too, to the point I wondered if he was slowly going insane. The vet could not find a biological cause for his behavior. Rusty had always been a regal beast, holding his head high. But the circling was causing him to lose weight. Not having the ability to hear his unseen world proved too much, and yet he’d seem to go round and round with purpose, sometimes until he stumbled. As he declined and continued to circle, I wondered if it was his way of committing suicide.

A small table I am restoring sits at the opposite end of my workspace. It is only half-way painted. Like everything else, it begs for attention. I hear the sound of claws on glass, then the swooshing as Louie, our young, Rottweiler-Shepherd mix pushes the sliding doors open. He scampers over, nudging his nose into the crook of my arm.

At almost two he is still full of puppy. Because he is a large dog, it is unlikely he will live as long as Rusty did. Louie’s exuberance reminds me that life is fleeting, but full. As I pet him the swell of birds chirping to one another from the Oak and Sycamore trees fills the air.

Colleen Wells writes from Bloomington, IN, where she lives with her husband and three children, three dogs and three cats. Her favorite number is 333. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University, volunteers at a homeless shelter and state hospital, and loves to craft.

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Flowers and Music – Micro Essay

by John E. Simonds

A woman who cared about flowers and music died in pain near 90 in a place that boasts gentle endings as part of its pitch. Ambulance calls and morphine pumps made close family want to forget. From a distance we rallied a ceremonial time of good-bye. Our plans troubled those by her side at the end, a sibling too shaken by symptoms he saw and a father, 92, still stunned. From Hawai’i we sent flowers. From California people made plans. From New York we organized photos. In Connecticut we phoned the obit to papers in towns where she’d lived. Bereaved local family grumbled: Not a good time for all this…No problem,the Hawai’i side answered. We average a funeral a month. We chose the mortuary, phoned time and place to the widower’s list of her friends. The undertaker knew the drill, maybe too well. You’re planning to have a reception here? As in food and drinks? He shook his head. It’s against the law to serve food at a funeral…We told him we’d shipped flowers but would add some pink blooms from her yard. They aren’t laurels, are they? he asked. That’s the state flower, he said,against the law to pick…An organ’s available if we hire someone to play. We suggested light songs, but the regular player only did standards and wasn’t sure she could be there. The retired minister the old couple liked was a peripheral friend but would serve. I have a good voice, he added. I can lead the hymns without an organ …One box of flowers arrived from Hawai’i. Another was sent to an hour’s drive away. A third was an off-radar missile in twilight, anthuriums missing somewhere… Neighbors had questions on how the old man was doing. Fine, thanks. (if you’d only stop asking.)… Obits appeared. Friends saw them and drove… Morning of the service, the organist said she’d be there but church music only. Worried sibling agreed to escort father outside if the old man found it too much … Here in this urn was a shrewd, careful woman who led garden and music clubs, raised three sons, kept a good home, dabbled in school boards and party campaigns, sang, danced and smiled her way through shows, concerts, hospital drives and rummage sales in a small Hudson town of the ’40s and ’50s… Three grandchildren shared in readings. Minister thundered “A Mighty Fortress.”  Organist played softer hits from the hymnal. In a group of 80, the old man sat with eyes calmly open, not a tear or missed breath… Cousins distant for decades joined in food and drinks later at his place. This was a wonderful day,  he said, in his blazer, blue shirt, tie and gray slacks. Laurels still bloomed in his yard. Altar flowers all came from Hawai’i. Only we islanders noticed. Next day a  truck left the box of anthuriums—an encore bouquet for a player of roles, her curtain down and the audience gone.

John E. Simonds, 78, a retired Honolulu daily newspaper editor. has lived in Hawai’i for 38 years and previously was a reporter for newspapers from Washington, D.C., and other mainland cities. A Bowdoin College graduate, he has been writing verse since the 1970s, is the author of Waves from a Time-Zoned Brain (AuthorHouse 2009) and recently has had poems published in The Ledge, Bamboo Ridge Press, Hawai’i Pacific Review and New Millennium Writings.

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No Thing – Micro Essay

by Zoe Bossiere

No response: like the electrical impulses of a harvested organ, a heart that was only days ago beating now lying sallow and white on ice like oysters on the half-shell, which are alive when you eat them. Next time you swallow an oyster, know that it has a beating heart with three chambers, which circulates colorless blood through thin vessels. It has two functioning kidneys, a mouth, stomach, anus. It poops. The oyster is a lot like you. Can the oyster sense its own demise as its shell is shucked, scalped like the slain enemies of Scythia? Does the oyster feel the sting of lemon, the mignonette sauce, then the warm throat of its consumer as it slides into dark, gastric hell? The oyster doesn’t have a brain. No, an oyster responds to pain most like, as one animal ethics blogger strangely put it, “a disembodied finger.” That is, an oyster cannot feel and, without a brain, likely doesn’t experience any final thoughts or regrets as it is digested. An oyster cannot think, and therefore is not. Is no-thing. Of course the oyster knows nothing about rage or heartbreak, just as the disembodied heart freshly ripped from its cavity, now on ice, has forgotten its old electricities. Or, more like an oyster, more likely, the heart never knew and was innocently beating, present though not in-the-moment, just as an oyster is only present in body on the table, unaware of you holding a lemon wedge over its naked mantle, poised to squeeze.

Zoe Bossiere lives in Tucson, Arizona where she recently completed her BA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. She is currently working on a collection of essays chronicling her parents’ adventures in a Hungarian circus in the 1980’s.

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Ice – Micro Essay

by Bill Vernon

John and I were afraid our blades would hit bare spots and throw us so I pounded the ice with a brick and saw it was over half an inch thick. We took off confidently then, right down the middle of the street, uphill to the dead end, halfway back down, around a corner, then around the whole block. I felt like an eagle soaring above my usual life.

“Wow!” John yelled.

“Yeah! Wow!”

Sheer ice covered everything large and small, every blade of grass, the two or three clotheslines in every backyard, every twig of every tree. In the pale light, each bare lilac bush seemed to glow. Everything looked like it was made out of glass. It was like a miracle, really.

We stopped in front of our house the second time around. The sprinkling was over, but the air was colder, way below freezing. The thick gray clouds were black with night, and the ice-encased streetlamps gleamed weakly. No motors revved, no tires churned over pavement. There was silence, a hush only our panting broke.

John said, “Let’s get the other guys out here.”

“Yeah, a skating party.”

We swooped over sidewalks to every front door that had a child behind it. We rang bells, puffed our frozen breath at our friends, and a stream of kids on skates emerged behind us. I didn’t know so many people owned them. We circled the neighborhood again, and every kid we knew was out along with a few adults. There was no silence now. We skaters raced around shouting yahoos and yippees, and that seemed to empty all of the houses. Everybody wore the heavy wraps of winter, but we were no longer cooped up.

At the corner by the Carsons’ house, some mothers set up card tables and piled on food and drink: ham, meat loaf, bread, cookies, pies, cakes, steaming thermoses. Most of the men were absent, trapped at work. My father was downtown, only two miles away but unable to get home. Herbert the drunkard was there, two older retired men and Tony, who’d come home from painting the interior of a house across town before the rain started freezing. He and Herbert were sharing some wine.

My mother appeared, cutting through backyards, carrying something and laughing. I ran to help her. “This is so crazy,” she said. The ground wasn’t frozen underneath so it gave with our weight, but the grass crunched underfoot as if we were walking on crystals. My blades sank into the dirt like knives, then sliced a hole pulling out.

I gulped down two ham sandwiches with mustard and drank some hot chocolate. Then coasted off into the night, locked inside my coat, scarf, ski mask and gloves, warm and happy, moving on top of a world gone hard and smooth and entertaining like the big colored globe on our table at home, doing something I’d probably never do again.

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

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