Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Here's a snippet from my YA novel, THE KEY RACE.  I'm entering it in a contest.  Wish me luck.

    Race day dawned bright and cool.  Perfect weather for sliding a four-wheeler through tight turns and tripling jumps Mark thought as he unloaded his quad from the trailer.  When it was safely on the ground,  he pulled on his racing gear and went to register. 
    The official at the table handed him a packet of papers.  “Since you’re only sixteen, a parent will have to sign, giving you permission to race,” she said.
    Usually Mr. Dan came with him and acted as his guardian, but today his dad had insisted on coming.  Mark walked back over to the truck.  When he opened the door he saw that the floorboard was already littered with beer cans. 
     “Dad, you know you can get me disqualified if they catch you drinking,” Mark said.
     “Don’t worry son.  No one will know.  See, I brought a soda can, and I’m going to empty my beer into that.  Everyone will think I’m drinking Pepsi.”  He smiled crookedly and said, “I came here to watch my son win, so go get ‘em.”  Then he lifted the can to his mouth and drained it.  “Hey, pour me another beer into this can.  I guess I should have brought my glasses. I keep missing the hole.”
     “You keep missing because you’re too drunk to see,” Mark mumbled, but he poured the beer for his dad and dropped the can into the floorboard.  “I’ll see you after my race,” he said louder.  “I parked you here so you can see the track.  You won’t even have to get out.”
     Mark walked over to the pit area and pulled on his helmet and goggles.  Then he sat on his quad, waiting for his first race.  He turned when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
     Derek was standing just behind him.  “Hey, Drunk’s Son.  Remember our bet.  You win, you get the key back,” said Derek.  “You lose, you do whatever I ask.”
     Mark cringed at Derek’s nickname for him. His last name was Anderson, but Derek had been calling him Drunk’s Son since the day he lost his first motocross race to Mark in the seventh grade. The name stung because of the truth behind it, but he had learned to ignore the taunts.
     “I haven’t forgotten,” he said tightly.  “You’ll be handing me a key at the end of this race.”

     The announcer called for the riders to move to the pre-staging area.  Derek walked over to his quad.  “Prepare to become my slave,” he called over to Mark, gunning his engine before he drove over to his starting gate.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Last night,
children played on
hot sidewalks under the white glow of
lamp- lined streets and
the skyline was brighter than
the moon while
the hum of traffic pointed everything to
buildings full of fluorescent light.

lambs linger along
creek banks under the waxing
moon and
the sky is darker than the bottom
of the pond while
the hum of front-porch talk
pauses to consider a lawn
full of flickering fireflies.

Hay, in brown swaths
outlines the meadows
as we
mow and ted and rake and bale.
Swallows dip and dive
snatching lunch as it
rises from a dusty field.

The ram is on duty.
He follows each ewe
stretching his lips into a tight smile
to taste her ripeness

Mornings are dew dazzled
and in the woods, we crunch
through carpets of leaves.
You say, “Firewood heats you three times.
Once in the cutting,
once in the unloading
and once in the stove.”
Branches scrape and creak
against the sky while one weathered tree
stands limbless and quiet.
You make the first cut and the wailing saw
spits chips.
Then I hear the soft crack
of splinters parting
and the tree comes crashing

Steam rises.
Animals exhale-
a quiet breathing.
Sheep bleat,
cows moan, and
hay shuffles
as kine and swine
and recline
summer’s leftover

A ewe pants and pushes
pants and
straightens legs
arches neck
push  push
one small foot
slips out
then slides back
two feet and
the tip of a white nose
play hide and
a long body,
back legs
at last a
lamb drops to the hay
and mama turns to lick it to

She cannot have her lamb.
it is stuck
somewhere between
cervix and vulva,
a tunnel too narrow
for a lamb with one leg
curled back.
I reach in
and my cold hand is suddenly warm.
I hook the front leg with one finger
behind the knee
and pull,
and like a tender sprout uncurling to the sun
the leg straightens
and the lamb is free
to slide onto the hay.

The old ewe,
is thin under
her wool.
Twenty-five lambs in
twelve years
pulling rich milk from
her swollen teats
have stolen her roundness.
Now, three more
steam on the
frozen ground
where she has dropped them.
The ewe knickers, and nibbles until
they rise, on wobbly legs.
Three lambs search for milk
but the ewe rejects one
pushing it away
each time it approaches
until it gives up
and drops to the ground
Then she turns and takes her twins
to the barn.

These lambs, pushed away by overwhelmed ewes,
or abandoned by ignorant ones,
are always hungry.
They want
to nuzzle skin
while they drink.
They want noses tucked into warm wool
while they tug and pull.
They want ewe bleats, snorts, and stomach rumbles
as they suck.
Instead they get
a green bottle
full of fake milk
to suck from a bright red
rubber nipple.

There are six lambs in the barn
six lambs without mamas
six lambs that jump up expectantly
each time I enter.
And I am tired of mixing milk.
And I am tired of sticky hands and
the sour smell of my coat
where the lambs have sucked it.
And I am tired of pulling boots on and off.
But mostly I am tired of feeling sad about
lambs that lost their mamas
Tell me again why I love to live on a farm.

When I find the lamb out in the field
it is almost gone.
I stick one finger in its mouth.
Ice cold is not a good sign.
I cannot leave it here,
so I wrap it in a feedsack.
This little girl lamb,
with spotted ears,
doesn’t open her eyes,
doesn’t bleat,
doesn’t kick,
is as lifeless as a loaf of bread
as I carry her to the house
where I fill a sink with warm water
and baptize her until
she struggles and her mouth
is warm.
Too weak to suck a bottle, she will have to be tube fed.
I have three choices.
 I will tube her wrong and she will die. 
I won’t tube her and she will die.
I will tube her correctly and she will live.
I feed the tube down her throat,
maybe it’s in her lungs
maybe it’s in her stomach.
Every trick I know for doing it right works,
Then I pour warm milk into the syringe
and pray.
She doesn’t die.
Life comes in slowly.
A moan,
a lifting of her head,
a shake of her ears.
Two hours later
I tube her again.
Then go to bed.
Morning will tell.
As the first light
brightens the sky
I hear her bleat
and go downstairs.
She is standing on shaky legs
and pissing all over my floor.
And I laugh.

The sun licks the last
drops of frost
from the front windshield
as I bend
to retrieve a loose bolt
from the floorboard and
find myself caught
by the strong arm
of the gearshift.
I twist around
legs flung wide
like a bawdy girl,
and we
laugh ourselves breathless
as you
me from
the truck’s
steely embrace

After a winter of snow
and cold,
after digging endless pathways,
after thousands of bottles of milk
after ashes inside and cats inside and mud inside,
there is some green
and the peepers are singing songs
about spring.

The lambs
leap and kick
they buck and duck,
Who is strongest?
Who is fastest?
Who can leap the highest?
One lamb stands alone
hunched against the small breeze.
Abandoned at birth, it is always hungry
for milk and attention.

The lambs play
while their wooly mamas
crop grass
      three quick steps
a snatch,
a muffled bleat,
and a lamb
leaves the flock
while its mama
wanders away
in search of

The sun is shining
on fields full of lambs
and the lamb check this year will be good
if the lambs survive
the coyotes
the bears
the dogs
and the worms .
The sun is shining on fields full of lambs
and the lamb check this year will be good
the lambs survive
all of that
and die anyway.
Anyone who raises sheep knows
a lamb is born looking
for a way to die.

We sit on the tailgate
in the sun.
There is nothing to do today.
No lambs to feed.
No hay to scatter.
No buckets to fill and carry.
There is nothing to do today.
So we sit in the sun
and watch the lambs leap and the sheep eat
and the grass grow
which reminds us
there will be something to do

Chops and roasts
rosy red in the case
don’t tell.
They don’t tell about
the night we spent lying in shit
as we pulled the lamb.
They don’t tell about the lamb that lived
one day and then died in my arms.
They don’t tell that lambs love to dance under a warm spring sun.
or about four lambs curled together against the cold.
Meat wrapped in cellophane
lies about the getting.
Leads to forgetting
that one life is always
the gift of
another life
followed by death,
followed by life.
On the farm
on our table
we remember and are humbled
by the truth.