A Life on Sea

A glimpse of a river is enough for my mind to dream up an ocean.


We reach ocean,

Our train skimming along tracks

High above so much of it,

And at the edge of land,

A sheer cliff, and a set of houses

Skirting the drop.

She almost bought one, she says,

Almost wistfully, as the rolling grey

Heaves at the rock, the spray

Salting the windows of those few

Lonely outposts. I tell her,

No one should buy them

But the old sea-lovers

Who wouldn’t mind, really,

If a hurricane punched through the glass

And filled them to drowning.

Ash War

Only in dreams has anything I’ve ever drawn been good enough for this.


I click on an artwork

I posted to a website

Years ago, just to see

What it is.

It has become

Inexplicably popular,

An incredible amount

Of views, and

A controversy in the comments,

Raged while I was away.

The praise and criticisms both

Months too late to be

Biting, or relevant.

Friendship is Sleight-of-Hand

The longer you’ve liked a person, the more you trick them into still liking you.


I’m only in town for a night or two,

Sit in the yard of a friend’s house

And ask her, while the rest of our

People play basketball and other games,

If I can see her again tomorrow.

She says no, she’ll be busy, which is

All I expect, but today I say,

She’ll see all the rest of them all week.

When I get back to my parents’ place,

I have a minutes-long video chat

In progress, everyone in costume playing a

Long game, enticing me to come play too

With the threat that without a healer,

One of our friends will be out of commission.

I don’t want him to lose, so I’m forced

Off the couch, with a smile.

A Thousand Nights



I’ll admit, I picked it up because it was pretty.

A Thousand Nights was not the read I was expecting. I’m not quite sure it was the read I needed at the time, either. But it was a worthwhile read, the kind that grows on you, and well worth a review.

If you’re expecting the typical Scheherazade story, you’ll be disappointed.

A nameless narrator, with nameless family, tends sheep and spins thread in a desert vibrant in its anonymity – until she gives her life to Lo-Melkhiin in place of her beloved sister’s.

Married and taken to his qasr, but not isolated, she finds many allies, and many secrets, both about his unending killing spree of wives and her own power to withstand him. Her union with Lo-Melkhiin pits female against male, gods against demons, and love against pure viciousness in a battle that will change their world forever.

I do mean power. E.K. Johnston is unapologetic in her use of magic, changing the clever wit of Scheherazade’s unended stories into a magical talent brought about by the prayers of the narrator’s people, a “copper fire” that spreads between herself and her despised husband whenever they touch. Elements remain: her ability to tell stories, mostly of her sister and her life with her, intrigues Lo-Melkhiin long before she learns to control her magic, and even then her active power takes the form of making words become true when she speaks them. But a long series of tales, this book is not.

If anything, the story reads more closely to Beauty and the Beast.

It creeps up on you, like a slow shift of sand. The writing is impeccable, but calm and methodic, the telling of a fairy tale the way we used to tell them, where the characters are not panicked, or emotional, or very developed regardless of what happens to them. At first. It’s daydreaming in the desert, until you find you’ve traveled farther than you thought, and you’re baking in it fully like in the heat of the sun.

By the end, it had my heart racing like any YA novel’s battle for life.

But even so, I wouldn’t call this a usual YA. It’s a slightly less dense Robin McKinley book, where the protagonist has a suitably mature, and strong, voice for the age she is in the time period she is from, rather than a Marissa Meyer-type retelling that punches you in the gut with feisty female go-getters.

And I must say, I am not entirely sure I enjoy it as a “Thousand Nights” tale.

While One Thousand and One Nights has plenty of sexist elements to it, which Johnston very thoroughly and overtly twists into a study of the difference between, and ultimate matching of, female and male power, I enjoy the idea of storytelling wit alone bringing the narrator’s salvation. Perhaps it’s the writer in me.

The magic in this version comes to the narrator through no action of her own but her single brave sacrifice, and though she learns cleverly to control it, there isn’t the same sense of true intelligence and strength in words the way the Scheherazade tale always promises.

Despite its title, I suggest reading this book as its own story. The way we might watch a movie “loosely based” on truth. Leave expectations at the door, and let the desert dazzle you.

You Can Always Steal Food

It’s the little battles that win social justice, even in dreams.


They’ve got us sitting

In a different place, now.

Always, they’ve discriminated

Between the career tracks here,

But now,

We aren’t allowed even to eat

With the better-placed.

I turn

My friend’s bitter face

Into a smile, by loading my plate,

And telling her,

We still eat the same food –

We can always steal all of it,

And hide it under our beds.

Seeking a Job on a Lazy Sunday

My dream self needs to start supporting her lifestyle.


We wake to the sound of my girlfriend’s phone,

And a voice on the other end our groggy minds

Can’t process. It’s someone calling for me.

I turn on my phone to ninety text messages –

All photos of an interview/party I was meant to attend

Today, at nine. And we’ve slept through to two.

She’s even called my emergency contact, my

Manic recruiter, and as I flip through the photos I

See why. He does look drugged, the other candidate.

All the time. Falling into the pool, and leaning all

Over the other guests, who are famous, because the job

Is to be an assistant to an actor. I feel so guilty

For letting the opportunity pass, but also wary of how,

In the photos, our actor’s hands are always found around

A new girl’s waist. Still, I agree to see him on my own,

Call the recruiter back and set up a time.

See if he takes me over the druggie boy,

Even if I don’t swoon at his smile.


The best torture always is.


It isn’t the cell,

Or the dimness,

Or the silence that breaks him.

None of these could on their own,

Hero that he is.

But when she steps beyond his bars,

Light flows and bursts like from a sun,

And for just the instant that his captor speaks,

He feels his soul alive again,

Color return to his fingers.

He stares at them as she leaves,

His fingertips slowly bleeding warmth

Back into the void of his prison.