My Writing Portfolio
Off day at the zoo. No one came to work.
The gates were not unchained. No tourists tapped
At the glass, grackled, squawked, mimicked the birds.
And we were never fed. Three times a day
They liked to throw us parts: legs furred with hooves,
Hindquarters with the tail, heads with antlers
Or horns attached. Every beak grab a gland
And tug, twist, flap with all your appetite.
Get your gutful before they pull the corpse.
End of show. But the gawkers, they loved it.
Pressed their cheeks and faces into the glass.
Strobe shots from lenses and flashbulbs.
Big-eared Buck-toothy profiles uglying my view,
Laughing in languages, throwing chocolates
At the children and monkeys running loose.
Sketch artists with pads on easels, scratching,
Brushing, crushing graphite into pulp. Bent
Foreheads and frowns. Crooked caps and wire-frames.
Grunting and waving off kids, they stop, stand
To smoke, to hiss and nod at their markings.
From Chapter Two
Trading boots for stingray shoes, he adjusts
His panama hat, checks his reflection
And honks the horn. The camels jerk and grunt
Before leaning into their straps. The car
Soon rolls steady down the black-top. A flute
Plays back-and-forth with a tuba and drum
While he pours a drink and lights a cigar.
Noon shines tall and blue on the solar plates
Mounted hood and trunk. He reclines his seat,
Grins in the mirror and props up his feet.
He blows a smoke ring at a passing jay,
Takes a cold sip, and clears his throat: “How long?
How long’s the road I am travelin’ on?”
Eyes closed, sprawled in the bucket seat. “How long
Before anyone hears my little song?”
A glint in the trees, unseen. Dressed in fleece
Brown and green, hair hanging around his face,
A man perched on a branch with field-glasses
Scratches his beard and studies the forest,
The road, the camels, the candy Jaguar.
Another happy-hour. Three lemon-drops, one Bruiser, three drafts, gin-tonic, two reds.
Reds first. Both cabs. New bottle. I pull the foil off whole, flip my corkscrew from my right pants pocket and pop the cork. Turn the bottle straight down and glug-two-three-four twice.
Bucket glass, ice, gin, tonic. Done.
One more ticket up. And one more ticket. Grab four martini glasses. Sugar three. Set up four pints: one with limes, three with lemons and a sugar cube. Double-tap the limes with my muddler. Rinse it. No lime in my lemon-drops. Smash the lemons. Rinse it. Always rinse it. Ice all four then one-two-three Cointreau with four-five blueberry vodka over the limes with a splash of Rose's. Two shots citrus vodka with a splash of sour over the rest. Shake and strain. Rinse the shakers. Always put them down clean.
One more ticket up. Three pints from the freezer and a jar of blueberries. One in each hand, I pull the handles with my forefinger, left then right. Fill the beers and close each tap with my knuckle, left then right. I pour the third beer as Carlene is garnishing and traying up. I drop a few berries in the Bruiser last. In half a minute, the green and blue drink will turn purple.
Another ticket. Berries back in the freezer.
“Thank you. Drive through,” I tell her. She dimples and lifts the tray on her finger-tips. Good girl. Nice form. A quick glance and now I'm five tickets deep.
Carlene's was the long one. These are short and I clump them together as servers gather at the rail. Reds. Open a new bottle and launch the old cork left-handed into my tip bucket.
“Nice shot,” says a guy with a martini to the right of the well.
I shake my head. “Banked it.”
Bottle of white for the new waitress. “Can I get three glasses with that?”
“Yes you may. Could you put that on the ticket next time, please?” I ask. Big smile. Something about the new girls. The mystery. Will she be a star or will we burn her out in a few shifts? Will I wake up wrapped around her one morning?
I salt one pint, smash three limes with one orange, ice, one-two-three triple sec with four-five tequila, splash of sour. Shake it. Dump it. Another ticket up.
“Thanks, Dave,” Will says, traying his drinks.
“Party on,” I reply.
“Busy tonight,” says the martini guy.
I cock one eyebrow as I lay out a string of whiskey-cokes, vodka-sodas, a rum press. “What do you mean?”
Two more tickets up. Three new ladies at the rail to my right. Early to mid-thirties. I card them. Girls like to be carded. Eye-contact. Smile. The brunette adjusts her low-cut blouse. I wasn't looking at her purple lace bra.
While pouring three ice-waters, I tell them this week I'm mixing Midori with melon vodka and muddled citrus, served up.
The guys on the other side of the rail are telling each other “walks into a bar” jokes. They need two scotch-rocks, a bourbon-sour, and a beer.
“'...cannonball blasted off me leg,'” one says in a pirate voice.
I pour the scotch and bourbon, bring them over. I go pour the beer.
“And I asked him why the hook? 'Hand chopped off in a sword-fight,' he replies.”
Beer pours slow when I'm busy. My left hand wants something to do.
“So I asked him why the eye-patch?” says the guy with the brand new scotch.
I look around as I fill the beer. Another ticket. The ladies look through the menu. The one with the warm brown eyes was scoping me and looks back down.
“'Arr! A sea-gull pooped in me eye.'”
The guy by the well has four drops of martini left. I look at his glass and he nods. The game is 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth.
“I say: 'You lost an eye from sea-gull poop?'”
The new girl has a long tapered back and an ass like a lollipop. I'll guess soccer in high-school and now aerobic kick-boxing. Beer's full. I bring it over.
“'Nay!' he says. 'Was me first day with the hook.'”
The Cheshire House
an excerpt from a submission for
We park around the corner. Rain comes down from hoses. I switch off the engine. With the headlights off and the wipers stopped, I can see nothing, hear nothing but drumming on the roof.
I step out with my umbrella.
My shoes are soaked in an instant. The gutter has overflown past the driver's side. I pull my collar up around my ears, tug my hat brim low and splash around to her side of the car.
She isn't there.
I look around and find her striding to the corner. Under the street-light, she turns into the wind. Her coat blows open. Blouse pasted to her form, hair whipping behind, she stares. Jaw open. Crimson lips slack.
Never seen her so still.
The day she started with the paper, she whirled into the newsroom. Scarlet dress. Green eyes gleaming. Shaking hands and laughing like vacation. Floating from desk to desk making friends.
“Sinthia Watson. I'm here to save this dinosaur from extinction.”
From her heels to the flower in her hair, she was too pretty to look at. The spark in her grin. The crackle in the air. She was too much energy to absorb.
After she corrected my spelling of her name (“S-I-N like sin”) I couldn't find words around her. I stayed behind my lens.
I meet her at the corner and pop the umbrella, which instantly inverts in the wind. She swats it from my hand. It skitters down the street.
She never takes her eyes from the house.
Plantation style. Four stories of white pillars, railings and balconies. A garden bursting with hyacinth and hibiscus framed with palms. A wrought-iron fence. A granite path winding into the jungle. It reappears at a broad front porch and a pair of grand copper doors.
There is no driveway.
The windows are dressed in white neglige lace. On the top floor a window is open. The room is lit red. The curtains whip out into the weather like Rosemary Bailey's peignoir the night she was satin on mushrooms, posed on the edge of our dormitory roof.
I shot four rolls of her that night, ejaculated in the darkroom trashcan the next day, but could never capture the velvet of the moment.
Some of My Yahoo Work
Halloween 2004: The Seahawks were hosting the Carolina Panthers.
Matt Hasselbeck. Sean Alexander. Marcus Trufant. Ken Hamlin.
Those Seahawks. The guys who would win the next four NFC West championships.
No, I don't want to talk about the end of the 2005 season.
My man Andy was having a party. And something smelled good on his block. I approached his house, thinking: I hope that aroma's coming from where I'm going.
Hickory, chilies, caramelized sugar, and roast pork hung in the air. The scent intensified as I neared his door, where a sign read: "We're in the Back".
Seductive vapor trickled from the vents in a cinder-block smokehouse. A bunch of guys were standing around a keg.
Wearing an eye-patch and tri-corner hat, Andy was describing his secret rub:
- turbinado sugar
- sea salt
- ancho chilies
- garlic and onion powder
- star anise
- a fistful of nanya
"What's nanya?" a zombie asked.
"Nanya damn business," Andy replied.
Barbecue rub is a pantry staple in my house. My rub jar sits on the shelf between my molasses and my olive oil. We use it on everything, from spareribs to Thanksgiving turkey.
You can make your own without too much work. Like all my recipes, there's a lot of room to make the flavor your very own.
- Dried Chiles
- Turbinado Sugar
- Various Seasonings
- Food Processor
- Jar, Medium-Sized with a Lid
Step One: The Jar.
Measure your jar. Divide the volume by five. Round down a bit. This will be "one part". My jar holds three cups, so one part to me is half a cup.
Step Two: The Chiles.
Grab a handful of chiles. I use about a six to ten, depending on size and type. I like anchos for a rich, dark flavor and Thai for heat. But use what you like. Use what you got. Only you know how hot you like it. The recipe will take some experimentation before you make a rub you love.
Remove the stems and buzz the chiles in your food processor for thirty seconds or so. Exclude the seeds if you're sensitive to heat.
Step Three: The Sugar.
White sugar doesn't have much flavor beyond simple sweetness. Brown sugar contains molasses, making the rub sticky and clumpy. I like Turbinado sugar because of the complex flavor and its dry, grainy texture. The abrasiveness of Turbinado with help further break down the chilies.
Add two parts sugar to the food processor and spin for another half minute.
Some of My Work for Bright Hub
When I was young, writing good dialogue was my weakest skill. Not until I'd been out in the world for a while could I capture the essence of a character by placing a few words in his mouth. After years of people-watching and eavesdropping, I now think dialogue is one of my strengths.
Writing a script is all about delivering a character's motivation, emotion, priorities and background using only speech. All the poetic descriptions and intelligent vocabulary you would use writing a story for the page are gone. What matters is just the stuff inside the quotation marks.
For now, don't dream about writing the next Hollywood block-buster or being this century's Shakespeare. Start small. Focus on a short scene involving a few people.
Start simple. No need to establish a lengthy back-story for each character. Define each one with about three descriptors rather than a complex biography. “Anxious teen who needs a job” or “high-school prom queen growing old with style” are good starts.
Now free-write in each character's voice. Fill up a page writing each one's story, favorite phrases, fears, loves, desires. Get to know them a little. When no one is looking, speak in their cadence and style, ask them questions out loud and get responses. From this brain-storming you should get useful bits of dialogue and a stronger feel for each character.
Your characters will dictate the time and place. Perhaps they are on the same team, go to the same school or work at the same business. Maybe they are different people in the same spot by chance: on the bus together, stuck in an elevator or strangers at the same funeral. Don't spend much time painting the picture of the setting. That's for the director and stage crew. Simply give your actors and readers an idea of where things happen.
What just happened before this scene? Where are the characters going? Do they fear something or are they excited about something? Does one character believe something while another thinks the opposite? Throw a monkey wrench in the works to give reason for the characters to move and talk.
Once you have characters, setting and conflict, you're ready to write.
A sonnet is a classic poetic form consisting of fourteen lines with a rhyme scheme. The name is derived from “sonetto”, which means “little song” in Italian.
The Italian Sonnet
Giacomo da Lentini invented the sonnet in Sicily during the 13th century. He brought it back to his home in Tuscany where it became popular with his contemporaries, chiefly Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti and Petrarch.
The classic Italian sonnet is built from two quatrains (four line stanzas) followed by two tercets (three line stanzas). The quatrains often rhyme ABBA and the tercets either CDE or CDC. The first eight lines present the proposition. The last six deliver the resolution. The ninth line is referred to as the “volta” or “turn” where the poem takes a rhythmic and logical twist towards its conclusion.
The English Sonnet
In the 16th century Thomas Wyatt translated Italian sonnets (primarily Petrarch's) into English. Shakespeare, Spenser and other English writers ran with the form and made it their own. The English sonnet typically was built from three quatrains and finished with a couplet. The volta was still line nine. Iambic pentameter was the standard meter. ABAB CDCD EFEF GG was the most common rhyme scheme.
The Sonnet in Recent Times
Modern poetry has become less reliant on form and meter, yet Robert Frost, EE Cummings, Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney and others have kept the sonnet alive. Paul Muldoon has done some interesting work with “Word Sonnets” consisting simply of fourteen one-word lines.
My own favorite form, the Ten-by-Ten, is derived from the sonnet. It consists of ten lines of ten syllables each. Essentially, it is a 100 syllable proposition with no volta or resolution.
The Sonnet and You
You may be a futuristic non-rhyming free-verse writer, but you can still learn from the sonnet's structure. Every piece of writing should present a situation and then attempt some sort of solution. Every poem has rhythm, sound and form even if the author does not explicitly dictate a structure. Every verse, sentence or chapter should be meticulously crafted.
Writing a sonnet could be a valuable exercise. I like to practice format shifts. That means I will take something I'm working on and write it in a different style to get an alternate look at it. Are you having trouble with a piece of free-verse? Write it as a sonnet and see if the rhyme forces something new from you. Does your essay feel awkward? Write it as a sonnet to develop a rhythm and a flow.
Like restoring a classic muscle-car, writing sonnets is an old-school skill every poet should have.