Sounding our barbaric YAWP over the roofs of Baltimore since 2000

Zelda's Inferno exercise: Grieving is made of stories

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about an untold family story. I deviated from the instructions...

Grieving is made of stories, and my task here is to listen, to be the conduit for the healing energy of narrative to flow to ground. They tell me stories of this woman I never met, they explain the photos. And all I do, all I can do, is smile and nod and um-hum at the appropriate times, and sometimes ask a question to move the story forward, to help the teller shape her or his thoughts. I am not the story teller here but the story extractor, gently tugging on the tale to help keep it moving, trusting that this helps, that as the heartmind tells the story of the other it sorts out the story of the self.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: monostitches

Zelda's Inferno exercise: writing monostitches -- one line poems. (See the thread at I stared each with a random word, either from the random word generator at, or grabbed from the latest Urbanite.

pain sits in the bone like a sleeping vicious dog

city streets shine in the rain

myth lingers in the brain like childhood memory

"rise up!" the sun tells itself each morning

requirements for finishing include starting

god went on a coffee break and never came back

standing solidly and silently waiting

hundreds of potent possibilities packed in each moment

computers to serve me like Prospero's Arial

closure of the mind like a business gone bankrupt

scrape the shit off your shoe and walk on

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "not in the traditional sense"

Zelda's Inferno exercise: free write based on one of the following phrases, selected at random (more or less) from the Urbanite:

invites you to discover
increased from one decade to the next
they get only a fraction of that amount
not in the traditional sense
reduce their perception of pain

not in the traditional sense
not in the sense of tradition
no sense in traditional
traditional nonsense! nonsensical traditions!
all I want is simple hardware store fare
a sledgehammer and a can of Liquid Wrench (don't ask why) but
I am assaulted with giant inflatable Xmas decorations
in the aisles of Home Depot the first week of November

not in the traditional sense
do I celebrate your holidays
not in your traditions, anyway

when I talk about my visits to Japan, people ask if I felt out of place
if I'm in an honest mood, I tell them, no more so than I do here
in a land of giant inflatable holiday decorations

November has always made me melancholy, I've attributed it to the shortening days, the change of clocks
but perhaps all this time it's been the culture
the pathology of consumerism that comes around every year around this time
like hayfever in the spring, a seasonal affliction
cultural rather than biochemical but no less real for that
causing congestion, inflammation, and hypervigilance of the immune system

do you celebrate Xmas?
not in the traditional sense...
perhaps I celebrate its passing more than anything
the ending of this seasonal irritation

Zelda's Inferno exercise: near-death experience

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about a near-death experience

I suppose the closest I've come to death is about 18 inches. That's my guess at the distance I avoided the head-on collision at highway speed.

Driving to work one morning, I-70 west, suddenly crashing spinning through the bushy median another car, coming right toward me. Swung to the right, lucky there was no car there, brain too full of not dying to realize I how close to dying I was at the moment, strangely calm.

Having dodged disaster by a foot and a half, I pulled over, now worried about the other driver -- what had happened to him? How had he gone from commuter to deadly projectile? Passed out at the wheel? Heart attack, stroke? No, I saw, as I ran back toward his car, he was stepping out, fully conscious. "Are you ok?" I yelled.

"Yeah, fine."

"What happened?"

"Oh, I just lost control," he said, got back in his car, and drove off...leaving my Toyota stuck in the mud, where a few minutes later a state cop came by and harassed me, until a guy with a pickup truck stopped and pulled me out. Which is, I suppose, a different story, not one about the nearness and casualness of death.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: Sensei

Zelda's Inferno exercise: Pick a specific person and write about them without revealing who it is.

I thought of him the other week, as I
played the role that he once played for me
leading a young student through the movements
of a classic form of karate's art

its more than twenty years gone by since when
I met my first sensei, who taught me this
old dance of forceful punches, kicks, and leaps
I wonder where he might be found these days
indeed if he still walks the earth at all --
no young man was he when he first taught me
these ways of strong and forceful violent grace
and more than that, the spirit and the mind
and heart it takes to walk the world a man

I called him sensei when I was a boy
and now this boy I teach calls me the same
in years to come will he remember me?
a link in a great chain of legacy
that reaches back through centuries of days

Zelda's Inferno exerice: a pet story

Zeldas at PDF, sitting in the middle of a field writing. Today's exercise: write a pet story

if I try to tell you stories about my dogs
what comes is always some misadventure
some loss and grief, or some dog crime or medical emergency
because that's the easily tell-able part

i can tell you the story of Chewbacca swallowing my earring, or Piccolo's last days, or the time Kato bit me
but that's not the truth of my time with them

that's something quieter and less effable
sitting on the couch with a dog head in your lap
walking the fields together in the sun and snow
it's mutual trust, living with wolf-cousin whose jaws could crush my bones
it's knowing there's someone who will welcome me home

Zeldas's Inferno exercise: the last poem about books

This week's Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem about books.

someday, maybe soon, someone will write
the last poem about books

(maybe this is it?)

a vanishing species perhaps
victim of shortened attention spans, digitization, and the pay-per-view revenue model

I cleaned my house this week
couldn't get through the clutter
until I sorted the books

here! the Beats, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Snyder, Ferlinghetti
on the same shelf, other end, their forebearer Transcendentalists, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman

arrangement of volumes on the planks reflecting some
        relationships in my mind
so the physics and math books together here
the electronics books below them, next to home improvement,
        gardening, an old Boy Scout handbook
so it becomes theory here, practice here

front and center, the books chosen to show off, to make a
        statement to visitors
some religion and spiritualty, some literary fiction, a bunch of SF up
        on the top shelf, a bunch of graphic novels

no one will see the arrangement of your e-books
no scotch-tape to repair beloved old copies
no copies autographed by the author
no 100 year old copies, the yellowing pages, the out-of-style
        typography, the creaking cracking binding telling of the
        passage of time

the wabi-sabi of books will be lost to abstraction
the grittiness of the medium transcended by pure message

there is a beauty to that, too
but mess with my books and I will tear you like a page

Zelda's Inferno exercise: moments like raindrops on a window

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about something that you intended or should have told tell someone, but never did.

Imagine a raindrop on a window. If you are in the right place, it may reflect some ray of light brilliantly at you, sparkling like a gem; but someone standing right next to you my not be in the path, and just see through the translucent drop to what's behind it.

So it is with moments in time. We share them with friends, family, lovers, teacher, students, but a moment that shines for me may be ordinary for the one with whom I shared it.

Twenty years or so ago, in the car with my father, headed back home after some errand...on North Point Road, if memory serves. Around the edges of the memory is a tinge or resentment -- had we been arguing? Perhaps. An inevitable part of the mitosis by which we separate from the parents to become ourselves.

The radio tuned to the oldies station. Chuck Berry. Perhaps it is impossible to hold on to resentment in the face of Johnny B. Goode. My father and I both start, softly, singing. And now there is a new tinge in the film of memory. No single word for it, that I know -- call it a recognition of humanity. The same color that tinges the memory of sitting in a ancient zendo in Japan, a temple founded by Dogen himself, and hearing the footsteps of the monk walking on the tatami behind me -- he too is "just like this", Kerouac's "equally a coming Buddha", Vonnegut's unwavering band of light.

Or perhaps that's all to abstract and literary-referencey for just knowing, in that moment, not just father-and-son, but two men.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: interesting people

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem about an interesting person you have met (or can imagine meeting)

I do enjoy my life. I get to meet such interesting people.

The guy wearing bunny ears and a bikini top who turned out to be a nuclear disarmament expert
The Zen teacher who works as a bouncer
The Broadway stage manager who became a nurse
The English teacher who had a side job as a Mark Twain impersonator
The punk rock drummer turned monk turned elementary school principal
The 60-something karate master who married a woman thirty years younger and became the father of twins
The M-to-F transgendered multiple-personalitied poet
The political activist who used to be a crazy homeless guy who used to be a brilliant computer programmer who used run an internet company in the Brazilian jungle
The bartender who used to be a cop on a SWAT team, and has fostered a whole bunch of kids

Walk down the street any afternoon
and you would pass any of them by
never know their stories

every person you pass --
every every every one --
a story
unlike any other story

is it strange to say that each person is as precious as a book?

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "She said Hitler wasn't such a bad guy, and that I only looked 25."

Zelda's Inferno exercise: writing off of a prompt from another participant. I drew the phrase "She said Hitler wasn't such a bad guy, and that I only looked 25." (If you know our group, you might have guessed that this came from Jeff! And I would like to emphasize that this is entirely a work of fiction.) So...

She said Hitler wasn't such a bad guy, and that I only looked 25. It was that sort of evening, that sort of crowd. If I was a fox I would have chewed my leg off to escape, but I had to settle for chewing off my brain by means of strong drink. I raised my hand and caught the bartender's eye. "Bombay Sapphire martini, please."

But it would take a few minutes before the medicine could take effect. So while I waited for the drink, I had to employ a bit of the ol' social engineering to prevent this vapid old-money bimbo from getting a tighter grip. How to repel someone who thinks that Hitler wasn't that bad? Being Jewish would top the list, but no such luck, and I didn't think I could pass. Who else was on the Nazi hit list? Gypsies, pacifists, vegetarians, gays...ah!

"Oh, thank you, darling!" I waved my hand, letting my wrist flop a bit. "You know, it's so important to moisturize. Product, product, product!" As the martini arrived, I thought, shoot, I should have ordered a Cosmo; still, I picked up the cocktail glass with a flourish, my pinky hanging out, took a sip, and declared, "Yummy!"

Her knee, which had been flirtatiously almost-brushing mine, backed away at least eight inches, and her face tightened like a lug nut being driven home by an air wrench. "Oh. Well," she stammered, "um, excuse me just a minute, be right back." She jumped off her barstool like it was on fire. I relaxed and took another sip of my martini, actually tasting it this time.

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