Two Armadillos’ Strife

Two Armadillos’ Strife

I have a love-hate relationship with poetry, including my own. Too much of it is contrived, precious, melodramatic, and affected. This one, though, makes me laugh, and maybe cements my claim to being the only person who’s written a poetic ode to roadkill in sonnet form.

Two Armadillos’ Strife

Against the truck, two armadillos fought
(They lost not only lives, but tail and ear)
‘Twixt sun and rain and tire tread they rot;
And yet, Death is no sneering victor here!
See? In the putrid stinking street they lie
Crushed, congealed, their armored innards cool,
Providing shelter for the pregnant fly
Who leaves her maggots where dogs dare not drool.
The gleaming pearls wriggle – what a treat!
Joyful little maggots writhe and nibble
On fetid juice and desiccated meat
A revolting sight – no one would quibble –
But thus, within this roadkill springs new life;
Small recompense for armadillos’ strife.

Copyright 2003-2020 Holly Jahangiri

Bullfrog and Bullfeathers

Bullfrog and Bullfeathers

“Rrrrriiiiiibit. Uuuuuribit!”

Unless one of her students had learned to throw their voice across the room, that was not the usual postprandial burp from one of the boys. “Uuuuuribit!” Elise Southern slowly walked over to her filing cabinet and slid open the top drawer. There, blinking back at her, was an extremely fat bullfrog. A lovely specimen of low-pitched, full-throated, ribbutry. “Well. Hello, there,” said the teacher. She reached into the drawer and helped the frog out. “Who am I to thank for this lovely…gift?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Her students giggled, shaking their heads. “Not me!” they protested. “Nuh uh.”

“Shall we have a small detention party this afternoon? Is that it? You all like this class so much you’d rather stay inside than enjoy what’s left of this sunny afternoon?”

Their glee was dampened by the sobering specter of Mrs. Southern’s sentence. An hour of silence and additional homework. That’s what detention was, and they’d all had their fill at some point earlier in the year.

Joseph sighed. “It was me, Mrs. Southern. I did it.” It wasn’t like he had any plans after school. He could read his book, be left alone, in detention. While the other children laughed in turns, like a chorus of squirrels, poor Joseph stood, eyes downcast. He tried to make himself small. “I loosed the frog on the lectern, Ma’am, and he flung himself right into that file drawer. When you slammed it shut on him, he couldn’t help his querulous croaking, Mrs. Southern. He wants to go back out on that playground, I just know he does–”

“What a prosaic confession! You should ace the vocabulary quiz, Friday.” Elise sighed and looked around the room. “Enough, Joseph. You may sit down.” The boy’s contrition seemed genuine enough, but Elise knew them all better than they realized. She cradled the large bullfrog in her hand, then gently set it on top of Joseph’s desk. He pressed himself against his chair, staring at the amphibian in horror. “You may take it back to the playground now, but hurry back.”

The wide-eyed boy tried, but could not force his hand within five inches of the creature. The girls giggled. Simon guffawed. “He’s skeered of a frog!” cried Freddy, pointing and choking on laughter.

Jenny raised her hand. “Yes, Jenny?”

“May I be excused?” She wiggled a little, in her seat, for the appearance of urgency.

“Of course.” The teacher reached for a hall pass. Jenny took it, and as she passed Joseph’s desk, she adeptly scooped up the frog and slipped quickly from the room. It was a swift and subtle move; the girl had not even paused and the frog had not so much as flinched. During recess they’d named it Mr. Bojangles. She took it back to its hidey-hole behind the gym. The other children, thinking for a moment that Mrs. Southern had not seen this surreptitious exchange, started hopping up from their seats and yelping, pretending that the frog had leaped off Joseph’s desk and was now making its rounds from child to another.

“Oh!” Gary leaped up and squatted atop his seat, his eyes following a line straight to Carrie’s desk.

“Eeek!” cried Carrie.

“It’s on top of your head, now, Joseph!” shouted Ben, pointing and laughing as Joseph, who thought he was the only one who knew better, swatted half-heartedly at his own head.

“No, it’s on yours, Amy!” squealed Carrie, sparing Joseph further humiliation.

“I think I squooshed it,” said Hubert, in his most morose voice, as he made a dramatic production out of examining the sole of his boot.

Elise Southern stood at the blackboard, her back to the roomful of obstreperous children, and stiffened her spine. Lips pressed together tightly, Elise struggled to rearrange her expression. Having grown up with unruly twin brothers whose tall tales were as hilarious as their lies were pellucid, she was more than a match for this lot, but they mustn’t see her crack a smile, let alone laugh.

Sagacity won the moment; Elise managed to shove the rising giggles deep down where the butterflies had lived since her first week of teaching, three years ago. “Mendacious,” Elise said, letting the chalk scritch painfully across the smooth, green surface of the board as she enunciated each syllable. “Men-day-shus. Who can tell me what it means?”

The room fell silent.

“Joseph? Can you tell me what that means? Mendacious.”

“Simon,” muttered Joseph. “It means Simon.” Joseph’s innate probity made him the target of his classmates’ taunts, more often than not. Elise felt a tiny twinge of guilt, using it like this to ferret out the truth.

Simon shrank in his chair, as if that would rid him of two dozen eyeballs that were now glued to his face.

Mrs. Southern opened her cabinet, and brought out a large, cardboard box and laid it on Simon’s desk. “The Bellweather May Day bullfrog races aren’t until next week, Simon. I suggest you find a better training ground for Mr. Bojangles. IF you can catch him, again, after class.”

Walking slowly back to the chalkboard, Elise Southern wrote the word, “Parsimony.” “Who can use the word, ‘parsimony’ in a sentence?”

Jenny, returning to her desk, did not miss a beat. “Our teacher is not parsimonious with her mercy.” All the children nodded in hopeful agreement, sudden paragons of virtue and innocence.

At that, Mrs. Southern could no longer suppress a chuckle. “Very good. Class dismissed.”

 


This story brought to you by my imagination and the words: Querulous, Sagacity, Prosaic, Probity, Precocious, Pellucid, Parsimony, Paragon, Obstreperous, Mendacious, proposed by the lovely KathleenMK at Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #616. She made up for my omitting “torpid” in my last tale, by using “sagacity” twice in a row.

Dessert for Breakfast

Dessert for Breakfast

The normally timorous Tilly put her hands on her hips and gave a truculent argument for dessert before dinner. “Daddy said coal miners get to eat dessert first! When I grow up, I wanna be a coal miner!” A very serious look passed between Mama and Daddy. Their surreptitious plot to make the horror of those old shafts sound like a grand adventure, with spurious rewards, were gradually bearing fruit.

Tilly’s mother forced her lips into a wan smile for Tilly. “Well, now, that makes good sense. Coal miners work hard all day, down in those mines. They’ve earned the right to eat dessert first, if they want to.” She didn’t explain to Tilly that those old, spent mines would soon be their only respite from the heat, or that they often collapsed, due to the ubiquitous fissures in the rock, as the ground underfoot shuddered and heaved, trying to rid itself of a two-legged pestilence.

A deep fissure had appeared in their back yard, only yesterday. The Culbersons’ house had vanished into a bottomless sinkhole, just a week, maybe two, before, taking the couple with it.

The parched and torrid earth seemed to be opening mouth-like chasms, gasping for oxygen and fresh water. There was little left, between the sparse, increasingly toxic air and the scorching sun.

“I found a grotto, yesterday,” Daddy said. “Water’s not too acidic.” That look, again.

“What’s ‘acidic’?” asked Tilly, eating the hated turnips first, before the sweet carrot patty, under Mama’s stern and watchful eye. Vegetables were hard to come by, even using ingenious, living room gardening techniques passed down by Tilly’s sagacious, prescient grandfather. The roots, showing signs of rot that had to be carefully pared away, were the last of them.

“Sour, like fermented apple juice,” said Daddy. A few teaspoons of vinegar probably didn’t have enough Vitamin C to ward off scurvy, but it was the best they could do, now.

“Eww,” said Tilly. “Can I see the grotto?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Daddy, appraising his spunky little girl. “It’s a long way. I had to climb down the old elevator shaft and walk through those dark tunnels to get to it. You’d have to be a good climber – very strong and very brave.” Encouraging a solipsistic interest in that dangerous, ancient colliery was now a survival skill, Tilly’s father thought, resigned.

“Are there bats? Like in a cave?” asked Tilly.

“Would that be scary, do you think?” asked Mama, concern written plainly across her brow.

“No, I wanna see bats!” cried Tilly. “Mouses with wings!” Tilly flapped her arms. Mama and Daddy often called her “Little Mouse.”

“Good! Because there might be bats. We’ll have to look very hard to find them, though,” said Daddy. Mama nodded, thinking how unlikely it was that they’d find any signs of life in the abandoned shafts. There wasn’t much time left to buy. In a few hours, a few days, maybe, the choice would be clear: burn, suffocate, or starve. The grotto, with its “not-too-acidic” water, might offer a fourth choice, a gentler choice.

“Can we go tomorrow?” asked Tilly. Her excitement was giving way to happy somnolence. Daddy picked her up and her head dropped to his shoulder.

“Let’s go now,” said Mama, clearing the dinner dishes and grabbing the backpacks that had been placed by the front door, earlier. Now, before the early morning sun began to penetrate the thinning atmosphere. “We can have dessert for breakfast, Little Mouse,” she whispered, her eyes glistening.


This story inspired by Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #615 and the words: Ubiquitous, Truculent, Torrid, Torpid, Timorous, Surreptitious, Spurious, Somnolent, Solipsistic, Sagacity

Red Paint

Red Paint

I sat on the floor, cross-legged, “Lotus style,” attempting for the 5,678th time to transcend something or other by way of meditation. This was supposed to be therapeutic; instead, it made me itch. Invisible hives. I fidgeted, waiting for the tranquil chime that would signal the end of this torment and let me get back to work. My Captain thought this would be “therapeutic.”

Work. The work was therapeutic. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

How could I sit here, clearing my mind of all thought, focusing on nothing, when out there – out there – were children being bought and sold like blow-up vinyl sex toys? Made to endure unimaginable things, things that were taboo even in the fantasies of normal men and women? Working undercover had given me urgent purpose, but a deep sickness had taken root in my mind, and in my heart.

This was not the cure.

I no longer understood the term, “tolerant.” My Captain thought my devotion to the job was “unselfish.” Far from it. The last case had unfolded like layers of filo pastry, each one revealing an oppressive layer of nuts beneath treacly sweetness. Slender waifs, dressed up like dolls, used up, discarded–at first, we had thought it was a warehouse for mannequins from the children’s department. Disjointed arms, legs akimbo. Our minds refused to process the scene.

No. Center. Listen to the burbling of the artificial waterfall at the front of the studio. Make the mind a blank.

No, not “unselfish,” Captain. Unselfish would be helping those children, not sitting here with taboo fantasies of my own. I imagined those men we’d arrested, three weeks ago. Imagined them, walking free on some technicality while their slick dick of a lawyer grinned, the way one does after winning a Chess match, crushing the King in a meaty fist. Nothing more than a game, to him. I wondered if he kept a spare set of pawns at home. I imagined those men, their blood splattered like crimson paint from a can lobbed by a cannon against whitewashed walls. I imagined the art gallery where that wall might hang, even as I might hang for painting it. That was…satisfying, if not positively uplifting.

Center. Focus. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

At last, the chime sounded, and I was free to return to the work.


This story inspired by  and the words: Tolerant, Transcend, Tranquil, Therapeutic, Taboo, Undercover, Unselfish, Uplifting, Urgent, Unfold.

To whomever romanticized the notion of the writer, hunched over a bit of parchment in an attic room, eating nothing but gruel and subsisting on cheap whiskey or laudanum, go jump in a lake. I am suffering from seasonal allergies and find that, and lack of sleep, to be not at all conducive to creative thought. Sure, we slog through. But this is not the dream. The dream (and I am living it) is a well-functioning computer, a soft blanket, a comfy armchair, and hefty doses of pseudoephedrine, washed down with filtered eau du tap, and a good snort of oxymetazoline hcl. Not having a stuffy nose would help a lot.

Prunebutt the Muse is back. “Excuses, excuses,” he sneers.

Funny, Prunebutt the Fuzzball makes a decent handkerchief.


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Stolen Valor

Stolen Valor

Kami cocked her head at the handsome, youthful face on the screen, at eyes that radiated kindness. She zoomed in on the photo until she could make out the name on the badge: Lieutenant Ari Zartman. He was wearing his dress uniform, but grinning at a little blonde girl perched on the crook of his arm. She held his face between her tiny hands, her lips puckered and poised to give him a kiss. Such a zest for life, those two. What had she ever done to be worthy of them? Kami wondered. .

“I had to write,” he said, in his message. “I hope you don’t mind. I hope we can have a meaningful relationship. Are you as sweet as you look in your profile pic?”

Kami inhaled and let the air out of her lungs slowly, through pursed lips. She looked at glass-covered shadowbox on the wall, with its triangular-folded flag. “No,” she typed back.

A sleepy little girl, unperturbed and suffused with clean, fragrant warmth from her bubble bath, stood in the doorway. “Mommy?”

“Teeth brushed, Rache?” Kami asked, her voice cracking with tension. She clicked the Report link, wishing there were a greater crime she could choose from the list than “Impersonating someone I know.” And that wouldn’t do, either, because Ari wasn’t there, anymore, to confirm or deny her claim. “Fraud or scam,” she chose, for the seventh time this month. Lord, liberate me from hate, she pleaded silently.

The child nodded. “Teef brushed. Will you tell me a story?”

Kami nodded. She would tell Rachel the story about the King who loved his Queen and his little Princess, who would one day grow up to slay dragons and run the country. Neither of them ever got tired of that one, and to Rachel’s delight, Kami never, ever, said, “The End.”


This flash fiction inspired by Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #613 and the words: Valor, Youthful, Zest, Worthy, Unperturbed, Suffused, Poise, Meaningful, Liberate, Kindness

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

I morfed while speaking ASL (or was that a/s/l?)
Across the keys my fingers moved, in ALL CAPS DID I YELL
Hermaphroditic princess of Marcel Duchamp’s white throne
Nonplussed by nonsense on the screen, the drivel of a drone.
He asked me “Do u wanna chat?” l asked him, “Can you spell?
He asked “Whut R u Waring?” and I muttered, “Go to Hell.”
I judge performance with a pen, its ink as red as blood;
If you say “Insert A in B,’ your name, it will be mud.”
He vowed to be my lackey; and I, his Mistress (“Dork!”)
Dispatched him to a chat room with a jeweled tuna fork
And there did bade him to recite, in front of all and sundry,
A sonnet from atop his head – no limp iambic blund’ring!
He couldn’t get it up to rhyme (his fountain pen, I mean!)
Next thing he did was disconnect, and ne’er again was seen.


Written in 2007, based on an online chat circa 1990 but apparently one of those “evergreen” things that’s relatable, even today. Reposted in answer to

Some things never change.