Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ten Stories in Ten Minutes

An exercise from "Writing Down the Bones," by Natalie Goldberg

1. Mango People

The Mango People* pulled faces at her, the women pulling up their skirts--show yours, show yours--but she wouldn’t. All around her were half-naked brown women and their hair was black and curly--show us yours, show us! They implored, always dancing and moving their eyes this wya, that way.

No. She wouldn’t. Even though all the friends of the future were over there, waving their saris and showing everything. Only she was alone like that and only she was wearing all of her clothes and still ashamed.

*in Hindi, “ahm loag,” meaning “common people” literally translates to “mango people.”

2. The Moon & Venus Go Walking

The Moon and Venus go walking on a sky beach. The water rushes in after their footsteps, like children trying to catch them, as they walk on like two women who are still young but not uncertain about things the way women so often are.

Their bodies are large and beautiful. They each give off light and so it seems they are one body rippling down the beach. If you asked them they would let you join them, but they talk in murmurs that sound like the waves, or by thinking which sounds like the wind. You can hear them here, all of the time.

3. Two Lights Walking

Two lights walked down the beach, both right at the water’s edge which meant their straight line kept on moving. They were drunk with it, and the moth as large as a hummingbird with a great furry body and black wings was drunk with them, and everyone could read an e.e. cummings poem with eyes closed and feel that much more alive.

4. Grammatical Deconstructionist

She deconstructed sentences with a pick-ax. She wore a helmet most of the time, (a pinkish-orange). Whe did yoga on 34th street to keep in shape for it. It was a job for life.

5. Palm Trees

All the palm trees were fakes. No one ever looks, said the manager. Who has time to water? Put up a sign that says “no climbing, snakes,” and they pay for a cocunut shipped from Columbo. The secret, he said, leaning in, is to always put one of those little umbrellas in the drink.

6. Get Me Out of Here

Get me out of here! shrieked the woman in labor.

You? cried the child--What about me?

7. Universal

It was a tadpole and it could be anything. All it had to do was think of its name and the changes would begin. If it thought tree, then roots and leaves, acorns or cones. If it thought hula hoop then it was all color and roundness and spinning and children playing. If it thought oyster there wasn’t long to go. It could think railway station, rutabega, picture book, oil lamp, fireball, grain of sand, crucifix, lovers’ kiss. Any of these things-- they all began at the same place of the universe.

8. Change

If only there was a fire, she thought. That would spice things up a bit.

Her nails were longer than necessary and she always changed the paint. Now she thinned it with kerosene and made a trail through the apartment.

I don’t hate anyone, she told the cops in her mind, I’m just tired of things always staying the same.

Kerosene and sulfur made a delicious smell.

9. Rhinoceros

She could not be waiting any more than if she had a sing to carry: “Mr So-&-So”; from “Here to there.” Did she want spare change? A ride to Denver? A supportive husband? World Peace?

“Rhinoceros,” she wrote in squeaking black marker on her neatly trimmed square of cardboard. That should do the trick.

10. Alone

She was afraid of being alone but that’s what she always wanted, and then one Christmas, he gave it to her. It was wrapped up in a medium-sized box--her very own alone suit so she could be with people and still be totally alone.

-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux, 9 Jan 2012

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Now I’m picturing the sauna and coming over across the hill--no snow, I think, but the lake goes back and forth between open water in fall and frozen black and smooth in winter.

I see snowflakes begin to fall--I love that deep, pervasive, natural, holy and wholesome quiet--of no one being on the lake--that’s an amazing feeling and hard to fully understand here where there is no true wilderness in my mind--hmm--interesting meaning without the comma.

The feeling of walking through the cold--I do miss that kind of cold--not cold indoors but a right and natural cold outside. The layers tucked in correctly and generally feeling I am in the right landscape--by dressing like that, with big boots and the long johns and wintergreen pants, the base layers and thick sweater, the good hat and mittens and scarf-- I feel at peace with the landscape.

That hill, short as it is with all the new growth. The bare brown of the landscape. the sauna puffing smoke steadily up--the awareness of skin because I will soon be naked and sweating in a glorious, womb-like warmth and then running down the ramp and jumping into the lake. I like all that texture: the weight and fit of the well-worn and broken-in clothes, not dressing for fashion but feeling very good and healthy as a form of beauty, simplicity. I like the texture of the landscape and all its roughness and spikiness that really can be soft like spruce needles or when covered with snow. Then the feel of cedar on bare feet, the feel of air on skin like hot breath. I like the way the steam circles the sauna interior like a slap that is longed for. I like the relative darkness of the sauna, the glow of the fire when stoking it with wood rough in the pile, how cold the air at the bottom is, how hot at the top. The sting of the hot, dry boards on the wall.

After the plunge the amazing sense of oneness with the cold that is suddenly not colder than, only Cold. Lungs tasting sweet air and mixing hot and cold air, snowflakes falling, aching cold in ankles and feet making me step in place and eventually run back up the ramp. The absence of shame, the sensation of real cleanness, and then the delicious, forgiving absolution of returning to the warmth, the thirst for water, wringing out of saturated socks and bare feet on wood again. I would be married in a sauna by steam and cold water if I could.

-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux, 28 December 2011

This was written in my Morning Pages--three pages of stream of consciousness written first thing in the morning everyday. It is rare that I share this writing because it's a form of meditation (and most often a lot of griping). I've edited very little because I like the MP feel it has. It's written about the sauna on Dominion Island at Wilderness Canoe Base, where I lived from 2008-2011 before moving to India.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Musical Theatre Drama

I want to write about musical theatre camp the one summer I went, but it was such a height of drama, actor ego, teen angst and hormones that I still feel completely ashamed and horrified thinking about it. Nothing terrible happened. I didn’t get my period by surprise or trip while saying ‘hi’ to some cute boy--what really makes me squirm is remembering one conversation.

This was the summer before 11th grade; I wasn’t a little kid and it wasn’t a campy camp. I’m well-versed in summer camps; I’ve attended journaling & juggling camp, science camp, Swedish camp--you name it--even two days of painful vacation bible school. This was a camp with some prestige, one I wasn’t at all embarrassed to tell my small-town, non-camp-going friends about. After all, I was about to transfer to a residential arts high school in September for theatre.

I love theatre, I love acting, I love the magic of creating new worlds, but around actors I have become insecure, and it all started that summer. There was, and is, an edge to everything. Every conversation could and would turn to your list of credits, and that was when the real drama began.

There were maybe eight of us, all including ourselves in the Cool Crowd, all playing our parts. I especially remember Zach, who was zitty and obnoxiously gay; the guy with purple Converse high tops and a matching beret on his long, curly blonde hair who was clearly and unabashedly and, yes, theatrically in love with me; and Christian, who was tall and thin with prominent cheekbones and an on-and-off pretty face who I ended up going to high school with but who I never could like after this conversation.

We were lounging in a practice room one afternoon between dance and music rehearsals. I suppose we were sprawled on couches and eating junk food. As it had to with a room full of a critical mass of high school actors, the conversation turned into a competition.

The thing about these nasty little battles for the top of the heap is that they are always veiled. This one started with an off-handed remark, probably a complaint, about a show someone did, as in, “God, the costumes were awful when I was Tommy in Brigadoon!”

That was all it took. “Oh, I know what you mean! When I was Dorothy we had the worst props master and Toto was a ceramic dog and broke halfway through the show!”

The ante upped, the lights were on. The leading role was a bored and exquisitely nonchalant artiste who couldn’t care less if anyone knew how many Oscars were in her closet (there were five, by the way), or who else his agent had repped back before they were a hotshot in Hollywood (Brad Pitt, since you asked).

I watched this game, this dance, with mild curiosity. I had gotten a whiff of it before, but only briefly. I was a small town talent--I got a lot of leads in the plays and there was some cattiness but everyone pretty much accepted their roles, both in the plays and in school life, and expected it.

The pitch rose--Christian, lounging in an armchair with her legs dangling glamorously over the side, tossed her wavy dark hair over a pale shoulder and murmured something about Shakespeare. Maybe her joining the fray was what did it--maybe it was the sense that I would be left behind if I didn’t jump on this ride. I flipped my own hair (much longer and straighter and blonder) over my tan shoulder and said, “Well, my brag story is that I was Maria in West Side Story.”

The room went cold. Only my admirer in his purple beret managed to make eye contact with me, and only for a moment. Christian fixed me with a look of utter disdain. Only now, a dozen years later, do I wonder if it was because I broke the rules. I acknowledged the competition when the game was to win by pretending you weren’t trying at all.

I never felt truly comfortable with actors after that. I was always suspicious, always waiting for the game to start again with a hooded, venomous drawl-- “I remember when I was…”

I left the glitzy proscenium theatre, finding other, purer forms of performance for myself. I still love the stage, the smell of the woodshop and the costume room, the cakey feel of the make-up. I love the magic--I just don’t like the drama.

-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux

28 November 2011

The Sock Goblin

The Sock Goblin was hungry again. Things had been rough since the tall boy had left in the early fall. When he was around the Sock Goblin didn’t even have to dig in the dryer, he could just pluck a few stinky tube socks off the floor and go right home to his nest on the hot water pipe. And now it was cold outside--this was the favorite season of sock goblins everywhere and why there were so few of his kind down in the warmer climates. He had heard they ate shoes, but he couldn’t imagine it himself.

Now there was only the middle-sized girl and the small boy. The girl kept her socks rolled in pairs in her top drawer, rarely leaving anything on the floor, or clean laundry on her bed. It was a high climb to reach the top drawer and hard to push open from the top of the dresser. Then there was the problem of missing socks being noticed right away. If he had to steal them out of a drawer he preferred one that was a heaping mound of single socks--one so full the drawer hardly ever closed completely. Then he could just stick a bony hand inside, rummage around with his eyes closed as if fishing on a riverbank, and pull out a surprise. He was good at guessing the quality, size and material with just a touch and it was a satisfying game he played with himself.

No, just thinking of the neatly ordered drawer of paired socks lined up by pattern and color made him shudder. He would no sooner take a matching pair than he would eat a piece of cheese or step out the front door.

The small boy was careless enough with his socks, but his feet were still small, and his mother was always hurrying after him and picking up his dropped articles. The Sock Goblin sighed. It was going to be a skimpy winter, he knew it.

It was midday and he was hungry. His raid last night had been cut short when the mother suddenly appeared in the laundry room and started folding things. He had had to dart out before she realized she had dropped one of the girl’s socks, and then hid, breathless, while she searched all over for it. It was a slap in the face when she pulled one of the big smelly tube socks out from under the dryer. How had he missed it? She put it in the washing machine with the rest of the load and left the matchless lace-fringed sock on top of the dryer as a reminder to look harder tomorrow.

The Sock Goblin was so hungry he actually thought of climbing up and taking it--then he shuddered. What was he coming to? No self-respecting sock goblin would even consider such a thing! He, like all his kin, knew immediately if the lone sock in question was mate to one he had already eaten. These orphan socks were left where they lay.

The Sock Goblin peered out of the laundry room. There wasn’t any point in even checking the lint trap after watching the mother clean it out last night. He would have to go into the big house. He darted across the floor to the kitchen because it offered the best view of the living room. With another quick scan he dashed behind the couch. He could hear the mother upstairs and the sound of water, but he couldn’t let himself get lazy.

He crawled under the couch and clawed with his long fingers between the cushions. Nothing but coins and some Chapstick--he threw it out in disgust. For a moment he thought his luck had changed, but the woolly thing stuck behind the end table was a mitten. The Sock Goblin studied it. His stomach growled but he just couldn’t do it and he wedged it back where it had been with a sigh.

He covered the whole room, even flattening himself and scrambling under the rug, but all he got for his troubles was a piece of old candy and a mouthful of dust bunnies. he spat them to and they scowled at him, rolling off and muttering and cheeping to each other. He grumbled back--what choices were left to a poor sock goblin in hard times like these?

He was in the play room when the doorbell rang. He froze and listened--he could get out through the floor vent if he had to, but it was a tight squeeze and there were likely to be more territorial dust bunnies at its entrance.

He cocked his wide head and perked up a leathery, pointed ear. There was a voice he didn’t recognize. The mother was talking and then another voice. The Sock Goblin crept out and peeked from behind a potted fern. What he saw made him go almost limp with delight--he had heard stories about such things when he was just a young goblin and his grandfather was still alive, but he had never hoped to experience such a thing himself.

Standing in the entryway was a boy with long arms and legs that gave him away as a guaranteed sock-dropper. but his skin was olive-tan and his clothes and shoes looked different from those of the house family’s. The Sock Goblin listened, still hardly daring to hope, but then he heard them, those words every sock goblin dreams about: Foreign Exchange Student. The Sock Goblin nearly swooned when he heard the next word: Italy. He rubbed his bony hands together and grinned with wicked delight. The wind had certainly turned--he would have a fine winter, feasting on the exotic flavors of fine Italian merino, [silk and cashmere].

-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux

29 November 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sex & Fireworks: a poem

Sex &


the slow build, the

patience of


Darkening sky &

only silhouettes, bodies

lit in flashes,


oohs &


The Grand Finale

comes in under 15 minutes--

no one

is disappointed--

lawn chairs & blankets,

bugspray &

the perfect spot,

all the preparations

only added to

the simple satisfaction--

the show delivered,

building from

slow to fast,

small to big,

finishing off

with a string of brilliant

sound & color

too fast to follow, each

explosion interlacing

with the next &

lasting longer than


Then-- silence.

Dusky dark blue sky

luminous from within,

trail of floating smoke

carried elegantly away

by the wind, then,


tasteful applause

for expectations met,

for a flamboyant expression

of the American Dream.


cars start up

chairs are folded,

lights turn on,

the magic is over;

everyone goes home to their beds,

sleeps well

all through the night,

arms around

the ones they love.


4th of July.

-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux, 4 July 2011

Gyspy Earth: a poem

She cried at the sink

when we left-- but we

were relieved.

A week of

working through our demons,

family standoffs &


On to the next town

with our yellow gypsy caravan!

Set up our tents &

put on the show,

bright colors &

sleight of hand

dazzling everyone, even

ourselves-- then,

pull up the stakes

& go again.


the wheels will appear

to stop.

Our travels

will appear to be over,

the horizon

within our reach.

But still the world turns,

spinning in her gypsy skirt,

orbiting the ancestral fire

attended by her sisters,

dancing with the gods.

She rests in

her own rhythm,





they don’t stop her because

living is moving,

only death

lies still,

& only for a moment, then

the worms rise up,

pall bearers to

a worthy grave.

The earth reclaims her own,

buries & renews


gathers up her people




-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux, 4 July 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Repeats: a poem


is what repeats--

same door

same keys

dropping into the same

blue dish,

same fingers finding

light switches

in the dark.

Same sounds out the window, same

portion of horizon--

I repeat.

Me & my husband

& son.

We repeat.

Suitcases &

t-shirts (two)

shorts & pants

notebooks &

bedtime lullabies.

These are the constants now--

different kitchens


night lights


new dishes & spoons

& rules for living--

clean up here,

relax there.

Bring your own groceries;

eat grandma’s hot dish.

What’s the lesson?

If I remain steady now,

sane & on course

with every little inlet,

every reef of coral

forcing a tack

& constant vigilance;

If I am learning

to captain by feel,

keep my eyes on the stars

who are constant travelers, too

can’t I go anywhere?

Do anything?



In all our travels

I return to my inner course,

my own Golden Compass,

having faith in it

because it speaks to me,

truer every time

I listen well.

--Take a depth charge!--

The voices call out

from their posts in the darkness.

Wind propels us,

the breath of God.

Angels, then--

is that who climbs the rigging,

helps mend the sails?

Bails water out beside me

down below?

As good as.

The rope comes up,

silent & slick

on its oiled pulley--

the reading confirms it,

what the map

the compass

the stars

have all been telling me:

I am not alone.

The ship sails on

with me at the helm

when the watch is mine,

but also when I sleep--

Who steers it then?

Who do I trust

never seeing their faces?


Waves, yes,

but even more--


Sail on,

sail on--

home repeats,

tomorrow waits.

-Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux; 23/6/11

I'm thinking a lot about what "home" means during this nomadic couple of months before we move to India. Read more on our family blog.