Character Consciousness

Writing Life

This is an example of one of the ways I think up characters:

Me: (recording poems for my audiobook)

Icharus: I want to be a character now.

Me: But you already are.

Icharus: In a book.

Me: …what?

Icharus: I want to be in a book. I didn’t die when I fell. And I love Orpheus.

Me: You do? Ok just hang on a–

Icharus: And I want my book to be like every James Baldwin novel but with more sex.

Me: I don’t know if I can be that brutal.

Icharus: And it’s going to be a trilogy.

Me: Really?

Icharus: Yep.

Me: Well you’ll have to get in line behind Regina, all the Echos, Helen, and everybody else.

Icharus: Did I mention I love Orpheus? And maybe one of the gods too. Apollo could be very metaphorical.

Me: Take a number and get in line!

Icharus: I really, really want a book-trilogy.

Me: You’ll get one just shut up and let me work!

Icharus: I don’t trust you.

Me: It’ll happen! You’re in the queue. I promise!

Icharus: You’re going to have to do a lot of research. Geography is really important.

Me: I know!

Icharus: …maybe Achilles…

Me: Don’t push it.

*

And on and on it went and that is how I made the decision to eventually write a gay romance. A character popped into my head that wouldn’t shut up. But really this character has been in my head since 2012 and didn’t find his voice until day before yesterday. Before that he was a shadowy idea floating around in my brain meat.

It happened during a writing exercise I did back in grad school (see how long ago). The exercise was to look at a book cover and write the synopsis on the back. No influence from the real synopsis or any other information from the book. Just write something based off the cover. You should try it, it’s super fun.

When I read my little blurb the girl sitting at the table directly across from me lit up with a smile and after class she told me I had to write that character, that his voice was so clear to her.

At the time I wasn’t writing fiction but I thought she was super nice to say so, so I put the suggestion away and now almost 7, count em, 7 years later here’s that voice again.

But this time I am writing fiction and I don’t want to tell him to go away. So I guess I’m adding another project to my publication schedule.

*

How do your characters come to you?

Or, if you’re a poet, how do poems happen?

Direction

Fiction, Lupercalia

Take the splintered memory of your father beating you from between your mother’s clenched teeth. If you can still hear his voice, go west. You will come to a ditch cradling a dead cat. If his neck is twisted, proceed north. If his belly is split open like a rotten orange under a motorcycle wheel, go south; you will find the driver’s bloody bootprints scuffing the Black-Eyed-Susans. If you mix the pollen with loose-leaf tobacco and roll a cigarette, your doppelgänger in another universe will be gifted a front row seat to the next public execution. But that is not the direction you want to go. If you ignore me and walk towards the old Civil War battlefield marked with the city’s slapdash attempts at historical preservation, your old lovers, wherever they are, will turn pail as if a nurse has taken too much life force away from the abrasive latticework of a failed experimental procedure. You taste blood in your mouth. They will fall to the floor and you will not be there to kiss the languor from their eyelashes. If you don’t see a dead cat, continue west as if nothing is wrong. You will eventually come to a fork in the road. Or a river. And you must either cut off all your hair or throw your clothes into the Salvation Army donation bin that washed up on the riverbank with the rest of the hurricane detritus and proceed with your own body acting as a trembling neophyte’s compass pointing towards the sharpest point away. If fear clamps down on you so hard your ribs creak and snap against your heart, you can choose a different direction. You can run, screaming, back home or you can try to walk on water.

Quitting Smoking for the Millionth Time

Everyday Life

Day 12 no nicotine.

So last week I realized smoking wasn’t helping me release stress/all the annoying things that make me want to break windows but it was actually making me feel better about holding on to the stress and obsessing more. So now I don’t feel so bad about quitting smoking (the memories are better than the real thing and I want to go back to better days when smoking meant all the fun things but it never really did, it lied and made all the lies taste nice which is a really scummy thing to do). But now I need to figure out how to stop obsessing about the annoying things and turn my thinking power towards more positive places.

Going to Work

Everyday Life

Mr. J (opens the door to go to work): Hey there’s a new cat outside!

(We live in an apartment complex with lots of stray cats.)

Me: Yeah.

Mr. J: Yeah!

Me: Yeah (Not the happy, enthusiastic “yeah” but the uncomfortable, defeated “yeah” of a person who all cats know will do anything for them and will ultimately suffer the displeasure of her inside feline overlords because the outside cat made big eyes at her yesterday and she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to go without paying homage to the outside cat by giving him/her the inside feline overlords’ treats. And once they find out I’m giving an outside cat treats there will be HELL TO PAY!)

Me (again): Yeah.

I Love You (2)

Lupercalia, Poetry

If I cross my middle finger

over my forefinger

I am wishing for luck.

If I cross my forefinger

over my middle finger

I don’t want them to hear us.

If I tap 2 fingers twice

against the door hinge

on the way to the kitchen, don’t

eat anything they give you.

If I touch my broken

right pinkie to my thumb

I am wishing to die.

If I put my hand

on your knee underneath

the table, I am trying

to choke hysteria.

If I tap 2 fingers twice

on my coffee cup,

the spider lilies are blooming again.

If you see me

punching the paisley wallpaper

over and over again,

I don’t want to talk about it.

If I brush my fingers

across my lips as I casually

adjust my glasses

I am begging you to be quiet.

If I hold my hand this way

the rain came in last night

and flooded my room.

If I hold my hand that way

they are still searching for

your body, the place

where they insist

you drowned.

If you run your fingers

across my knuckles and my

breath catches in my throat,

I love you.

Aubade for What is Gone

Lupercalia, Poetry

She walks the morning alone.

I want to tell her

serenity

is not some myth-

ical beast she must catch

and kill. Blood

and hearts are not torn and slurped up

on a dare, for bargains

rewards, or love. Fate

doesn’t play well with others

but she does play

with hearts that need breaking.

I want to tell her

Fate will be her best friend

when there is no one

to drink with

but her own weeping

shadow. And when

she walks the morning alone

the concrete crumbles

and the sun

breaks

every

nightmare.

How to Build an Altar

Fiction, Lupercalia

To build an altar you need the familiar territory of a dry riverbed and the shadow of a nuclear power plant. You need the roar of a siren on the air, the highway in the distance, the skull of a kingfisher and the footprints of someone you don’t love anymore. You need a stone from a hand that killed in a war far from home, knucklebones that know the fractals of a willow branch and all the sounds of breaking. You need the smells of honeysuckle, salt, and gunpowder, a piece of iron if you’re superstitious. You need the oil slick iridescence of a cockroach wing and a lock of your mother’s hair. You need the cornerstone of a place that makes you feel safe, even if that place isn’t really a place but a scrap of paper or the empty air. You need a poem written by someone you haven’t met yet.