Friday, November 16, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Doors of Perception

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

Usually it seems we say this to a friend when a breakup happens, “don’t be sad, when one door closes, another one opens”.  I’m not that nice. I say “put his stuff out on the street with a “free” sign, and go to a spa”.

But this post isn’t about breakups, it’s about writing!

Let me digress. Years ago, I found myself at Rancho LaPuerta in Tecate, Mexico. It was, and still is, a famous “fat farm”. Passports weren’t required yet, and there was a lovely mix of guests—those who were serious, and those who were seriously on vacation. Everyone knew where the best margaritas were in town. After a pathetically healthy dinner, some of us would sneak out to Las Candelerias and drink (Oscar was the nicest waiter ever). We had the best by day, and the best by night.

I feel that same way as a writer. Mostly I am a poet. Occasionally I sneak out at night and write short fiction.

I currently have the one-time honor of stepping in to help proofread for a literary journal. They sent me eighty pages to proofread, not edit. I’m loving the task because I get to see what other writers, whose work has already been accepted, are writing, and I’m relieved to discover that my writing may not be very far off the mark.

So far I have proofed six stories. They are longer than what I write, but there are a few similarities. They have very little dialog. None of it is “he said”, “she said”. I appreciate this, because as a narrative poet, I tend to write narrative short fiction, and I hate “he said” “she said” dialog. Put it in quotes or italics, make it obvious who’s speaking first, and the rest of the conversation will follow (in my opinion).

This journal is consistent in their use of the Oxford comma. So far, most of the writers have used it anyway. I have added very few commas to their work. I use it in mine as well. (Note: Oxford commas do not appear to be universal. My
college-aged son has a number of professors who read blind. They know my son’s papers within two weeks because he is the only one who uses Garamond, and the only one who uses Oxford commas.). Everyone is different.

I usually don’t set out to write short fiction. If a poem isn’t working as free verse, I first see if it should be written in prose. I can tell very quickly by the language and length if it is not a prose poem, and then I change it to short fiction. To me it is very clear that a prose poem is not the same as a short fiction piece. This is an argument that is often “discussed”.

If you haven’t tried writing short fiction, or micro-fiction as it is sometimes called, you might try it. Sneak away sometime, order a margarita and write 750 or 1,000 words. The language doesn’t have to be as poetic, and it might give you the chance to tell that story you couldn’t figure out how to tell in a poetic way. I have only written about eight pieces of short fiction, and I am thankful they have all been published. Compared to hundreds of poems and hundreds of rejections…I may have to order another margarita!

Prose Poem:

Morning Meditation with Stone and Weather

She straightened up against the uneven and ancient stones of the wall in the narrow alley between her pensione and the harbor. The stones, bubbled with texture like yeast in bread, scratched her back in a satisfying way. To be pushed into them and kissed, this one time, would not feel as delicious as the solitary and unguarded flexing of the warp and weft of her shoulders and back. She listened to the clanking of a family meal being prepared across the way. In a language she couldn’t understand, but in smells redolent of her childhood, and her family—her chaotic little family back home in Nowhere, Arizona, that rarely sat down together over any meal, unless it was in front of a ballgame. Over it all, the perfume of the sea, darkened and angry by weather that was calling this home. Clouds overhead the color of dampened hearthstones before being warmed by morning fires. She watched them move slowly across the tiny alley sky, wondered whether they had any rain to leave behind, soft as tomorrow night’s dreams.

Previously published in Suisun Valley Review

Short Fiction:

Grandpa Salerno Wakes to the Predawn Chill of Sevilla

In another time, another life, before even the roosters were up, he was usually at the café in the butcher’s district, a glass of coffee in one hand, churro in the other and a song on his lips. But today, as the sky begins to pinken, he takes a swig of grappa and goes to the river, to say good morning and pay his respects to his departed wife. She left such a short time ago the sheets and pillow still hold her shadow, the cupboard holds her scent on the clothes he can’t bear to give away. He misses her deeply. He will miss her every day.

People greet him as he walks, a chorus of “hello”, “good morning”, “ciao” and “buongiorno”. Most don’t even know his name. They call him Grandpa Salerno because a long time ago he came from Salerno. He isn’t sure they would call him Antoni even if he asked, but he doesn’t mind.

Guadalquivir River Seville
He makes it to the park by the river with his coffee, black, and his egg sandwich, well done, watches the sky and city come to life. He watches Matteo, his friend and fellow émigré, who waves to him from across the river with his coffee, cream and sugar, and egg sandwich, runny. They both came to this country full of promises and dreams. They both ended up happy for a long time, family and years crinkling their eyes with laughter and now, sadness also.

Antoni loves the chill, even as thoughts of his beloved in the lightenng sky warm his shoulders the way she rubbed them warm after a hard day at work. He loves the smells, he loves the people. He loves this adopted city, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Today is planting day. Under Antoni’s watchful eyes, three of his four sons, the fourth far away in Trenton, New Jersey, were coming to plant his garden. For the raised bed already built there were lettuces and peas, carrots and herbs. Rolls of copper tape would line the wood to keep out snails.  The rest of the small garden would be protected from animals by posts, wire and a gate, to be built by the sons. There they would plant corn and broccoli. Trellises for cucumbers would line one side, tomato cages the opposite. Plants, fertilizer, shovels and bags of cork for lining a path were all delivered yesterday. They all knew to bring their own gloves.

Also delivered were four bushes—roses created in 1952. Antoni and his wife Rose married in 1952. He ordered four to represent each son. This will be a garden of the heart as well as the body, and after he works his sons to back-breaking exhaustion they will feast on wine and tapas, congratulating each other and deciding who will come each Saturday to visit their father and weed.

It was a long day followed by a late lunch, the sons returning home to their wives, their gardens. Antoni, in an old chair dragged from the kitchen, toasted the last bit of color from the sky with one last glass of wine, whispered to his Rose in a mix of Italian, Spanish and English. And then, walking a little stooped from age and the surprise of being alone, he retired, an early night by anyone’s standards, to dream the plants growing and to get ready for the sunrise tomorrow.

Previously published in Revolution John

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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