Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hermit Crab's Lament

I have a lot going on at the moment, and also it’s death hot, so in lieu of a proper post this week, here is an old poem from my first chapbook, “The Goatfish Alphabet”. Enjoy, and stay safe in the heat!

Hermit Crab’s Lament

You who call us
house proud and vapid
have misunderstood.
Do you think we merely
fumble our way by instinct
into any hollow object?
You can't comprehend
the arithmetic of our choices; the ecstasy
of toil in a hard, rank womb.

I will admit to a touch of pride.
I’ve always been keen on headroom,
though we can ill afford
to be choosy in these times.
I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

It’s of no consequence
these days, I suppose. They’re all a poor fit now.
The wind oozes through, no matter the rental.
The shore is a wasteland of broken cups.
It’s about the seeking, they tell me.
Well cold comfort. My whole
damn species are fools, always skittering
toward some fresh perfection, always
outgrowing what loves us.

Only God has the courage
to go without a crust, to linger
as tender as a polyp in these barrens.
When he taps our walls for the final eviction,
We will be unable to hang on, unable
to refuse. He will stagger with us
towards our first, most perfect home.  

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review-ish: Confessions of a Domestic Failure

I started reading a new novel this weekend called “Confessions of a Domestic Failure” by Bunmi Laditan. It’s amusing and fast-paced, however, I find myself contending with a small but growing distraction in the narrative.  I’m usually pretty good at suspending disbelief and throwing myself headlong into works of fiction, even if I have to mentally gloss over a few plot holes or inconsistencies here and there. But this particular bugaboo is starting to annoy me to the point of frustration. The heroine of the novel, Ashley Keller, once had some sort of high-flying corporate job before she found herself laid off, then soon after pregnant. She’s now a struggling (to put it lightly) stay-at-home mom who is “comically” scattered and disorganized. Laundry hilariously piles up, potato sprouts rage out of control in the pantry, and she seems to have some sort of chronic personal hygiene issue. It’s all very Bridget Jones, but I’m about thirty percent into the book, and I can’t help but be a bit flummoxed by this woman’s total lack of executive function. I’m going to say something now that will probably make moms everywhere want to descend on me with pitchforks, but…seriously. This character has one—one, eight-month-old daughter. She seems to have abundant financial resources and no job or obligations outside the home. Yet she is absurdly overwhelmed and has zero ability to hold things together in even the most rudimentary way.

Now, if she was a ditzy scatterbrain prior to having a baby, this is would be a little more believable. But it’s hard to fathom that a former corporate executive wouldn’t at least have some inkling of how to transfer time management skills to the home front. I’ve never had a baby, so what do I know? Maybe some permanent hormonal shift suddenly makes you lose years of learned skills or decimates your ability to prioritize, but I find it a little bit hard to swallow that the minute this woman is removed from the office suite and plopped into a living room with a child, she reverts to inane levels of incompetency. I ( I mean me, come on,) find myself mentally yelling at her to get her sh*t together. I know she has a child, but for Cripes Sake. Does a baby really it make that hard to pop a load of clothes in the dryer or wash a dish occasionally? Even eight-month-olds sleep now and then, don’t they?

For you moms out there who want my head, in my defense, I grew up in large-ish family and took care of lots of little siblings, so I know it’s not easy. I understand that even one baby is a major and exhausting endeavor. But if I met this character in real life, I would wonder if her incompetency was perhaps a passive-aggressive ploy to cope with her resentment of being taken out of the workforce. I’d like to add that I became neither a great mother or a high-flying corporate careerist, so I’m not one to judge…except as a reader of an otherwise entertaining book that is blemished by this one deux ex machina of unrealistic ineptitude.

However, the book is brilliant at skewering the cult and culture of perfectionism around motherhood. The author really shines when taking on the over-the-top, corporate-driven push to prey on the anxieties and insecurities of middle and upper-middle class mothers who are brainwashed into believing that parenting is an extreme sport, and any minor lapse in judgement will cause their child to end up on the stripper pole with heroin needle jutting from their arm. Now that I’ve aired my frustration with the book’s narrative, I think I can probably finish it and appreciate its gifts rather than being distracted by its flaws.

Otherwise, I don’t have much else to say except that I am secretly loving the ultra-cool and rainy June we’ve been having here in the Pacific Northwest. I figure that true to tradition, things will turn on a dime after July 4th and we’ll have to contend with the same hot, sticky climate that the rest of the of the country does, but for now, I don’t mind the gray skies and cool drizzle one bit.

-Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Four Ways to Prepare A Fish

Here’s another in my series of short-short story experiments. I hope you enjoy it!
Four Ways to Prepare A Fish

Lemon and Garlic

The waiter delivers me on a fancy plate, covered with what I think they call a cloche—that shiny dome you see in old movies where people have servants. Chef Reginald Erlach steamed me himself, with a little lemon and a mild garlic sauce. The place is nice, and the man picked a good table, one isolated enough so that the other patrons aren’t going to notice when his girlfriend starts to cry. It’s a classic—another woman. A fellow lawyer. Tall, slim, Ivy-league educated, although he isn’t going to mention that. He’s going to play the “grown apart” card. I know, because I see it. I always see it ahead of time, just before I reincarnate. The vision comes either as I’m dying, yanked from the water with a brief but horrible burn in my lungs, or it comes as I am born, in a glorious salty rush of new life. Either way, I always see my future, indelibly bound up with the next doomed couple. I’m the break-up meal. I can’t comprehend what karma has led my soul to this fate, but I have long come to accept it. 

The crying starts, then the yelling. She’s making a scene to embarrass him, but also because she’s hurt. She considers throwing her water in his face, but decides he’s not worth that level of drama. Also, a part of her is secretly relieved. She met another man a few weeks ago, a scruffy, curly-haired potter with glasses and a sprawling laugh. She felt fully at ease with him, natural, herself. She sees herself laughing with him, throwing off the mask of pretention she’s so carefully maintained for this man.

Cedar Grilled

The woman is an avid outdoorsy type, bare-faced, what they call nowadays “crunchy”. They’re camping. The man hates camping, but he loves her. At least he thinks he does; he’s never been in love before but he figures this is what it feels like: Amiable attraction. There’s been something heavy and unspoken between them for a while now. The tension has been growing on this trip. She’s been uncharacteristically irritable and stand-offish. He’s been spending a lot of time on his own at the lake, drinking cheap canned beer. She grills me on a cedar wood plank with a dash of dill and black pepper, and divides me up carefully between two biodegradable paper plates. He finishes me in two big bites, and she yells at him for being an unconscious consumer, thoughtless, deadened to the natural world, an automaton obsessed with filling his spiritual void with useless material goods. He suspects this is about the car. Last week, he bought an acid-yellow Porsche Turbo S new off the lot and drove up to her llama farm, honking proudly. He was puzzled by her disgusted look and refusal to jump in and go on a joyride with him. He drove home and spent the evening alone, polishing the car in his driveway. 

She vanishes into the tent and thrashes around for a little while. When she emerges, she has a full pack on her back and the LED lantern in her hand. She throws him the keys to her truck. She’s going to hike back to town and call her friend Ellie to pick her up. He can finish the trip without her. She hopes he will take advantage of this time alone to think about his life choices and reconsider his values. She doesn’t kiss him or hug him before clambering down the hill into the deepening dusk. He eats the rest of me from her plate and settles into the tent to listen to the game in peace. 

Baked and Breaded

She breads me and bakes me in a shallow casserole dish with a mushroom cream sauce. Her mother’s recipe. Over the years, she’s become an expert at timing meals to coincide with his arrival home at 6:20 on the dot. This is one of the last meals she’ll have to time. She sets me on the table just as he enters, and carefully moves the envelope of papers away from where it might get soiled with food. She lets him get halfway through the meal before handing him the papers. She wants him to know there’s no shame in this, no failure. The kids are on their own now, and they’ve had nothing between them for a long time. They did what they were supposed to do—married young, bought a house, built a good life for their children. She can’t face one more meal eaten in glum silence, one more weekend of politely ignoring each other. She doesn’t want anything but her fair share, enough to get a condo, a car, and a little to live on as she reinvents herself at the age of sixty-seven. His face is pale and immobile, but he doesn’t argue. They finish me efficiently, and she clears the plates. As she sets the dishes in the sink, he comes up behind her and touches her, for the first time in years, gently on the back. 

Three weeks later, she is in a nice first-floor townhouse with a garden patch and a picture window. He’s fixing the house up to sell, and considering a hiatus to travel. He’s never been to Europe. 

Broiled with a Honey Glaze

He broils me with a honey glaze, because his man loves a good coating of sweetness on everything, as evidenced by the soft paunch of his once-slim belly. A little sugar to soften the blow, he figures. He packs it in an insulated carry bag along with a bottle of mead, and meets his boyfriend in the park at “their” spot. He’s struck in the chest with sharp blow of pain, knowing that this is the last time they’ll meet here, but it’s short lived. He sets a strict timeline on all of his relationships: Exactly eleven months from start to finish. It’s eleven months to the day since they became official. Time to nip this thing in the bud, before needless complications set in, and talks turn to moving in together and “deepening their commitment”. He warned him, he warns all of his lovers, but they never believe him. They think they’ll be the one to change his mind. This one is no exception. He never even eats me. He throws me on the grass in a rage and stomps on me, takes the mead, and stalks off to get day-drunk by the river. I hate it when my flesh is wasted, but that’s the way it goes. 

As for myself, I will never have a lover to break up with, a spouse to leave. It is for me to spawn and respawn, to rise up on the water, to be plucked from the cold depths over and over, to live with these visions, these memories. The sweetest moments are the ones in which I am considered, and thrown back. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Buddy and the Black Death, Minecraft Vortex, Fitness Nut (Not)

I promised a Buddy update last week, so here goes: We recently experienced what I refer to as the Era of the Black Death. About two weeks ago, Buddy burst through the screen door on the deck at around 9:00 p.m., triumphantly bearing a giant black rat in his jaws. He marched over and flung it onto his “cat bed”—a big sheet of packing paper that he commandeered from an Amazon box and now calls home. He started crowing triumphantly and prancing around, exuberant with hunting glory. Meanwhile Mr. Typist and I were staring in horror at the stiff, dead rodent and already beginning a silent debate over who was going to remove it from the apartment. I, driven more by blind panic than quick thinking, grabbed a paper towel and thrust it into Mr. Typist’s hands before he could object. He whisked the rat away, to Buddy’s immediate outrage and disappointment. To distract him, I snatched one of his stuffed toys, rubbed some catnip on it, and threw it down in place of the rat—you know, the old “dead-rat-stuffed-animal-switcharoo” trick, but he wasn’t fooled in the least. He grew frenzied with panic over his missing trophy, sniffing and scratching at the paper and emitting sounds that were the verbal equivalent of “What the bloody hell???” It took a half hour to calm him down. To add insult to injury, it’s common knowledge that you’re supposed to compliment cats when they bring home dinner, so we also had to pet him and say nice things.

We naively figured this was a one-off incident, but nope. It was repeated no less than four times within the span of a week, with only slight variations on the aforementioned scenario. I have no idea where all of these rodents are coming from. At any rate, I think Buddy finally figured out that when he brings in prey, we steal it, because the rat delivery service has stopped, at least for the moment. Thank God. Otherwise, Buddy is just being Buddy...taking 22-hours naps on our good Pendleton blanket, scamming extra meals, and vocally complaining about the deficiencies in our efforts to entertain him on demand. Humans are so lame.

*Sigh*. Okay, I have a confession to make. I didn’t really want to bring this up, but it has loomed large in my reality the last week or so. I have somehow gotten sucked into a Minecraft vortex. Before when I have attempted Minecraft, I would just wander around at a loss for a few minutes, knock out some blocks, shrug, and exit the game. It was all very puzzling, and I couldn’t figure out what to do. But for some reason, I started the game up again this week, and it suddenly clicked. With some expert tips from Mr. Typist, I was off to the races! I have created the beginnings of an empire, my friends. I have a beautiful cobblestone house with adorned with artwork, two skylights and an underground spa, a lakefront view, a cow pen, a garden, free-range sheep, and soon, my own enchanting shrine. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. (I mean, I can stop anytime I want, I’m not an addict or anything, but you know what I mean.) I was telling Mr. Typist the other day that I find it incredibly Zen and relaxing. Unlike in real life, a small bit of effort in Minecraft allows me to create any world I want. That, my friends, is very dangerous. But it’s not going to stop me.

However, one must keep one’s mouse-clicking fingers in good shape, and lately, I’ve been pudging up again. I have finally figured out my exercise pattern—go hard, consistently, until my knee starts hurting. Then get discouraged, give up, gain five to seven pounds, sulk about it for a while and contemplate giving up entirely and allowing myself to explode into the Michelin man, then getting back on my grind until I no longer deem myself pudgy. Right now I’m in the “go-hard, consistently” stage. I don’t really have any plans to change this pattern to a healthier one, so in a month or so, I’ll be slumped on the sofa with an icepack on my knee, halfway into a bag of Ruffles. Hashtag healthyhabitsforlife!

--Kristen McHenry