Favorite colors and bedtime stories. The sound of her voice and a hug goodbye. Every scraped knee that taught us to walk, each awkward first kiss, and devastating first loss molded us into who we are. We draw on the simplest form of these memories each and every day. We conjure the lyrics of a song or the name of a friend without batting an eye. Yet it’s a skill we have the luxury of taking for granted.
Today, we honor the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. According to the Fischer Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, “every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. At current rates, experts believe the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will quadruple to as many as 16 million by the year 2050.”
This is a staggering figure. This is millions of mothers who will never remember the first time she held her child. This is millions of husbands that cannot recall a wife of 20 year’s name. And it cannot be prevented. It cannot be slowed. It cannot be cured.
You may wonder what purpose this has on a writing blog. Intentionally or inadvertently, memory serves as one of the most powerful components of any form of art. We pull from past experiences to create a reality in fiction that is perhaps too painful to avoid or too wonderful to forget. In this way, the elements of life trapped within our minds become a sacred resource for our creative identities.
Help make Alzheimer’s just a bad memory. Stay informed. Donate for the cure. Or simply be there for a loved one on a day when all his words are scrambled. Learn more here.
Rambling- a poem to my great grandfather
My fingers have forgotten
How to hold this pen still,
To pluck at ivory keys, to
Touch you without trembling.
Once, my love, ink never bled,
Notes never choked on jolts, for
Once, these hands never shook,
Nor were stars so blurry.
Now years have limped along to find
Words sprawled across this page,
Empty, no, rambling
Oh, rambling, as I am told
Old men ought to learn
They’ve nothing left to teach.
Yet you, my dear, never scorn,
Though your eyes often wander,
Slip away to a universe
Folded in the evening news,
Drowning in your coffee.
But by and by, holding hands,
Shudders hardly matter.
As in those eyes, I see the stars
Clear as once they were, and
My god, how you shine.
Though damn this aging wit of mine,
My mind has forgotten,
My darling, what’s your name?
She sleeps amid a glassy sea
Half-sunk by flanking tides
Were it blood now blossoms rust
Marching up her sides
Had once a man held her reins,
Her belly swoll'n with fire?
A serpent tongue lashing forth
Scortching sand and briar?
Oh, the glory she once sought
Tearing through this brazen beach
Though shot nor spear could spare her
A sephalcure so pleached
Years and winds burned past her
Young hands now splash her jaw
If worth be earned in fight alone
The mightest may fall
For victor is her dying breath
As land reclaims her bones
The sea is her commander
The glory is her own
In the depths of winter, summer fades to near mythology while the cold months drag on. With a frost-nipped nose pressed to the rim of a coffee mug, we reminisce on days when the sun warmed our skin with lazy kisses or when the sand dug into the soles of our feet. This longing drew my pen to the page.
Inspiration for this piece lies exactly where the title suggests: an abandoned tank on Flamenco Beach. For those of you who’ve yet to experience the pleasure, Flamenco Beach is a gorgeous strip of virgin-white sand on a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Beautiful and clean, it’s a hidden gem in the heart of the Caribbean. However, if you walk the length of the beach, you’ll find this unusual treasure:
On an otherwise pristine landscape, a hulking tank left to rust in the sand is a bit shocking. As it turns out, American solider once used this lovely little island for training exercises before World War II. During this time, an array of equipment (including tanks) ended up on Cuelbra’s shores. However, after local protesting in the early 1970s, soldiers evacuated the base, leaving their tanks to rot where they stood. Though much of the other gear was cleaned up, the massive chunks of metal simply could not be moved.
Creative locals have taken the time to paint the sides of these tank with lively graffiti, giving an oddly cheerful air to the ruined bones of war. Certainly, nowhere else in the world will you find a perfectly jarring juxtaposition of ruin and beauty. From this gorgeous chaos of ruin and life, my words took flight.
So as you curl under blankets, keep a pen firmly in hand. Think back to wondrous places (or those you've yet to tread) and pluck from them the inspiration you need to keep the ink flowing. Let your travels be your guide!
On the first day...
Juniper’s in blossom.
Tears of dew unbutton branches, trace gnarled fingers on the glass.
Perfume rides in on bittered breeze,
But no one dares to close the window.
We shrink at strangers’ eyes we find, caught in the reflection.
On the saddest day…
Bittersweets are blooming.
Seems their scents ensconce us all, drip bruises on our ribs.
Every breath swells sore.
Exhales leave us hollow.
I hear another’s sigh, then quickly turn away.
In this silence I have learned how much emptiness can fill.
On the lost day...
Orchids soon are wilting.
We snip each other’s wings, too angry to ask names.
Long ago we lost our reasons.
Yet as I hold a hand of feathers, the same chipped nails
Belong to eyes of blue and green and grey.
We have forgotten in our lust,
Fear prefers no color.
On the best day...
Poppies lose their petals.
To my surprise, a mother nursed her babe.
Sorrow never told us children bide here too.
A dark man with lonely skin broke his lips in smile.
He called the child beautiful and never asked
If she held a daughter or a son.
On the last day...
Something is succulent today.
Though when I open my eyes, I find
I see no flowers in the dark.
I wonder for how long I have been blind.
Soft fingers grasp my wrist, press my palm against the glass.
A woman whispers a lovely word in my ear.
Strange I never knew the color of her hand.
So fortunate to learn this piece awarded me third place as one of the 2016 INTERNATIONAL POETRY AND STORYTELLING CONTEST WINNERS!
The World Affairs Council of Harrisburg does a smashing job of connecting local students to the world. From climate change resources to internship programs, they offer excellent resources at absolutely no cost. Check out their site for information on cash prizes for high school students writing within the theme of peacekeeping!
I was raised by broken glass
Momma smashed against the wall.
She told me bottles taste like fire,
Slapped a promise on my cheek
With love her open palm.
When I shrieked sobriety
Her tears gently wrapped my bones.
But Daddy liked to dance with fire,
Spluttered nasty ash until the night
He never came back home.
Daddy left us picture frames,
Left Momma screaming at my eyes,
So they would not turn green as his,
As bruises that she kissed, and
Left burning just like fire.
Streets tugged at my feet one day.
Truth and I scraped knees.
But streetlights turned her skin so red,
Frightened me with yellowed words,
I hid in memories.
Flashbacks glinting on a glass,
Shards biting smiling lips.
Seemed Momma never told me
Fire warms a beaten heart,
Tastes of love with each sip.
Fire guided me to gnarled trees,
Broke bottles on their trunk.
When they asked, “Why smell of flames?”
I laughed, “Oh, to forget
I am a drunk.”
Momma found me in the gutter
The day I turned nineteen.
I spluttered out her promises,
And as she left, I heard her weep,
“My god, your eyes are green.”
Absolutely overjoyed to hear this piece earned international publication in Teen Ink's print magazine! Editor's Choice Award and viewed by over half a million subscribed readers!
Interested in your own publication? Check out their site for inspiration! Free readership and an excellent source for novice writers looking to break into the field.
The stars burned. Alpheratz, the crowning star of Andromeda, bowed in the lower sky. Vega waned, Fomalhaut waxed. Achernar smoldered over the horizon. Professor James Craig flicked his eyes over each one, counting off the constellations andnebulous gases as a sleepless child counts sheep. He strained his eyes to see the galaxy hidden in the princess’s knee. Lights glinting off the Arianespace’s ELA-3 launch complex behind him blinded the view.
He rolled back his neck, easing the tense knot between his shoulder blades. Spending twelve years stooped over a heap of files or Mid Infrared Instrument had done nothing good for his posture.
He turned to find Dr. Matt Krader standing before the European Spaceport’s sleek silver doors. The dark circles under his eyes mirrored Craig’s own.
“Aye,” his eyes wandered skyward. “Lovely night in’t, doctor?”
A grunt. “French Guiana, mate. Certainly in’t New Castle weather.”
“Monroe wants all Leads in the Control Room.”
Altair set in the northwest. Deneb chased behind. “Be up in a bit, then.”
The closing of the sliding doors hissed in the night. With a small sigh, he dug his hands into wrinkled pockets. A last glance vainly scoured for the elusive Andromeda Galaxy, the most distant object visible to the naked eye. Nearly three million light-years away, and still comprehensible to this miniscule conglomerate of carbon standing on a speck of dust hurtling through the Milky Way. Humbling.
Airconditioning hit him like a bullet. Engineers frantically ran about, papers fluttering on clipboards. Scientists paced, muttering equations or statistics. Walls were white, floors immaculate. The precision felt blank and lifeless, counterbalancing the frantic humanness. He immediately missed the stars.
His footsteps echoed over streams of checklists flooding into walkie-talkies: lightweight optics, deployable sunshield, folding segmented mirrors, cryogenic actuators, mirror control micro-shutters. Prayers to reason. If there were prayers to God, they remained silent.
The shift from hallway to Control Room seemed immensely disjointed, as if the small turn of his wrist had unlocked a parallel universe. A long table ran the length of the room, dotted with coffee cups and confidential folders. The figures whose hands twitched on the handles or smoothed the corners sat in composed nervousness. Muted televesized screens mounted every section of wall, depicting an array of angles surrounding their masterpiece. Craig quietly watched the uniformed figures crawl around in last minute procedures. One lone screen in the corner shown the pixelated signs of red-faced protesters, steady streams of newscasters preaching the same dubious scripture. All was silent, yet the tension screamed in terror.
Name cards divided the skittish congregation into specialized instrumentations. Near Infrared Camera, Near Infrared Spectrograph, Mid Infrared Instrument, and Fine Guidance Sensors/Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph. Dr. Krader tapped a pen in the FGS/NIRISS chair. Monroe sat at the head, her hands folded in a direct manner.
“Kind of you to join us, Professor.” Something in her tone reminded him of black coffee. Smooth and bitter. He wanted to spit it out.
His sweating palms greeted the armrests of his chair as he slid into place. “Pleasure, doctor.”
“Surprising that we had to…” her eyes flicked to Krader, “lure you here ten minutes before lift off. Most would be eager to witness our crowning moment.”
If it lifts off. “Aye, doctor. And some are eager to look at the destination.”
“Quite.” A detached smile. “Still, unusual behavior considering recent… rumors. But I am not one for believing gossip.”
An overhead speaker blared. “T-minus nine minutes to lift off.”
Craig felt a tap on his shoulder. “Care for a light?” Solomon Haines of Johnson Space Center sat at his left, shaking a carton in his hand. The Marlboros rattled an invitation.
“Nah, thanks.” He held up a thin hand of refusal. “Don’t smoke.”
Haines gave a dry laugh around the cigarette as he slipped the pack back into his breast pocket. “Neither do I.”
Watching the lighter ignite, Craig’s throat tightened. The tip of the cigarette withered away in ashes, the sultry fingers of flame so easily tearing at the fibers. In a flicker of heat, twelve years of work could burn away. A small miscalculation, a single untested factor. Hours of sweat, days of planning, months of labor. Over a dozen countries around the world. Thousands of workers devoting their careers. $8.7 billion. Gone.
Fear lingered in the air, the unspoken honored guest of the room. Every man and woman before him gnawed on the same anxiety. Every mind raced on the same treadmill of possible blunders. Every heart constricted with the same dread at the mere possibility of being the cause of failure.
After all, someone in the room was a traitor.
Craig found it unsurprising, really. The James Webb Space Telescope was designed as a search for the beginning, the key to unlocking mysteries of the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang, to determining galactic evolution, to understanding the formation of stars in the first stages of budding planetary systems. Perhaps, a tantalizing perhaps, the measurements of chemical properties in these systems would find a correlation with earth’s. Perhaps, they would find the potential for extraterrestrial life.
But science could no longer be performed for the simple sake of discovery. Politics were always at play, NASA subcommittees always parched for grants. Two years into office, President Sanders had been supportive of the sciences, though certainly not out of the kindness of his heart. JWST represented a last ditch effort to prove the United States remained a leader in space. An expensive and controversial effort, sucking millions in funding from planetary science and solar physics missions. All senior management had been replaced for a fresh outlook, and still constant glitches and money shortages left the original launch date seven years too optimistic.
Certainly, there were many who could be Dark Matter.
Oh yes, everyone in the room had received the emails. Untraceable, unnerving, and completely undeniable. The diabolic plot of some inside source converted to anti-JWST activist. The messages started out small, growing elaborate and chilling. Prepare for flames. All signed under that d***ed pen name...
“Ladies,” Monroe rose cutting off Craig’s thought, “gentlemen. Certainly, this road has been a difficult one to tread. Yet as SWG Chair, I believe I can speak for us all when I say the product was well worth the effort. This is a tremendous opportunity, not only for NASA and the ESA, but for the entire scientific community. Despite predictable uncertainties, every possible precautionary measure has been checked.” No relieved sighs greeted this formality. “And double checked. No unforeseen failures will be at the fault of…” a twitch in the plaster smile, “human circumstances.”
Johnson nudged Craig’s shoulder. “You know what they say about the center of every universe.” He flicked the tip of his cigarette in Monroe’s direction. “A black hole is at its heart.”
The speaker reverberated. “T-minus six minutes.”
He frowned, his mind back to stars. “Not sure I catch your meaning, then.”
A low chuckle. “Oh, but I’m sure you’re the only one in the room who does.”
“Mr. Johnson.” Another cup of that black brew. “I’d ask you to put out your cigarette, but as I’m sure you are already intimately acquainted with Control Room policies, I’m confident you were about to do so yourself.”
“Certainly, Dr. Monroe.” Grinding the stub into the folder before him, “I’m always one for taking policy into his own hands.”
“T-minus four minutes.”
Orion races Taurus. No, D*mn it. Taurus rises in November here...
“You know what’s interesting?” Johnson flicked the crushed butt into his congealing coffee. “Matt Krader.”
Gemini? “In’t the worst name I ever heard.”
“No. The letters.”
Aries. Craig allowed a small smile. Certainly Aries. He turned to address Johnson with real attention. “Letters, mate?”
“Do you know what Matt Krader spells?”
The smile slipped from his face and crashed into the renewed sweat of his palms. “Not sure I like what you’re hinting at, then…”
Johnson slowly opened the folder before him, ashes sliding as the edge rose. Inside was complete emptiness save for one lonely note stuck to the back:
“T-minus two minutes.”
Monroe face cracked in smile. Krader’s pen tapped the table at a deafening whisper. The screens swelled on the walls, the flame of engines breathing life. Millions of lightyears away, the Andromeda Galaxy spun desperately on its axis. The princess writhed in her chains.
“No.” The pulse in Craig’s temple echoed in bloody throbs. “You’ve nerve to accuse a man based on coincidence.”
“The universe does not allow coincidences.”
“T-minus one minute.”
Monroe’s fingers clutched at the edge of the table. “This is it.” Her knuckles went white.“This is it!”
Aries rose. The god of war atop his throne of infinite sky.
The screens went black. A small electronic noise, like the decrescendo of locus wings twined in a radiation zap, and all was dark.
“What’s going on?”
“Everyone, remain calm.” Even in darkness, Monroe’s presence seemed immense. “The backup generator will turn on in-”
Another small buzz and the room burst into life. Much remained unchanged in their microcosm. A mug lay on its side, coffee oozing from the mouth. The nervous faces looked less composed, openly strained. Screens stayed black. The loudspeaker spoke no more.
Fear cackled. Unsettled murmurs grew into unanswerable questions. Pupils dilated, darting around warily. Doctors shrunk from the colleagues at their side. Scientists demanded things Craig could not comprehend. Someone slammed a fist on the table. Haines sat back with another cigarette, taming fire before his lips. Krader snapped the pen, ink bloodying his hands. Monroe tightened her reins, but they were connected only to madness.
A third and final buzz. A neon green cursor flashed at the center of the screens.
“What the hell?”
The cursor flashed. A beacon of hope and a fire of hell.
The throbbing in Craig’s head grew louder. Are you our Perseus or our monster?
It seemed an eternity before text began to appear. Pixel by pixel, the horror of the words displayed before the followers’ eyes grew into full, heinous fruition. Monstrosity blossomed. The honored guest bowed in the limelight.
Watch her burn. ~Dark Matter
“What does that mean?”
“I want a full visual on the telescope! Someone get a hold of the Tech Room!”
“What the hell’s going on in there?”
“Who did this?”
The final question resonated in the air. Silence took hold for the briefest of moments. Then Aries opened the gates of war.
“I never liked the looks of you. You never had your heart in this project!”
“You were never there when the emails were sent!”
“Me? I was in the testing facility! You on the other hand…”
“I? You dare accuse me?”
“I never trusted working with these damn Europeans! I always said this should be an American project!”
“Americans are the bloody idiots that prompt these attacks, you twat!”
“Enough!” Monroe stood. The hatred in her face blackened her eyes. She aged a hundred years and towered a thousand feet. “Enough. Now, keep in mind we have no idea what exactly is occurring. As of this moment, there is no direct evidence to assume anything has damaged the Ariane 5 rocket. If the launch vessel is intact, then it can be logically concluded the telescope may be unharmed…” A massive confusion rose into a single voice of chaos. She slammed down a palm. “I will have silence!” None dared breathe. “Guards have already been dispatched and will arrive momentarily. Everyone will be questioned. Suspects will be taken into custody. Any attack,” murmurs at the word, “or attempt of attack against our agency is an attack on the American government. This is an act of treason. It will not be dealt with lightly.”
Haines blew out a cloud of smoke. “How can any of us be suspects if we were all in the room?”
“Well,” Monroe’s voice turned hard, “we weren’t all in the room ten minutes before lift off, were we?”
Every head turned to stare dead in the face of the professor who tallied stars.
Craig shook his head slowly, his neck strained upward to find the night sky. All that greeted him was a plastered ceiling. He smiled a joyless smile, wondering if he would ever lay eyes on the virgin princess of the night again.
When he looked back to earth, his eyes swept the room to find the universe’s blackened center. He looked into the cold eyes of the most powerful woman. He looked into the smirking eyes of the man who took policy into his own hands. He looked into the fearful eyes of the man who carried a madman’s name. And he knew.
He knew which one would dare to set Andromeda on fire.
The James Webb Space Telescope is a very real construction, set to be completed for lift off in October of 2018. Features of the instrument (including the price tag!) are accurate. If this story sparked your interest, learn a little more about JWST here. Don't miss the featured live WebCam! You can witness the spacecraft being built in real time.
Extroardinarly blessed to hear this piece won an Editor's Choice Award and a Scholastic Silver Key! Don't forget to check out the sites to submit your own work.