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Ronlyn Domingue RONLYN DOMINGUE (pronounced ron-lin doh-mang, equal emphasis on all syllables) is the author of The Mapmaker's War and The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Books 1 and 2 of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy. The third book is forthcoming in 2017. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent UK, Border Crossing, and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and Salon.com. She holds a MFA degree in creative writing from Louisiana State University. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still.

Connect online at ronlyndomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

Recent Work By Ronlyn Domingue

Mr. Jack sat under the hanging light at the kitchen table with an ashtray at one hand, a book under the other, and a cup of coffee in between. His casual posture made him look shorter than he was. Sometimes, he braced his elbow on the back of the chair and dwarfed a novel in the palm of his hand. His dark, wooly eyebrows straightened in concentration, sometimes lifting as he took a drag of his cigarette. From my place in the living room, near a lamp with a book on my lap, I could barely whiff his Marlboro. That’s what my dad had smoked before he quit cold turkey. But Mr. Jack and my father smelled alike anyway, that humid smoky scent of the Intracostal base where they both waited to fly helicopters to offshore oil rigs.

The last time I drove past the apartments on North 5th, their efficient practicality had been scrubbed up a bit. A nice little fence marked the front entrance. The sidewalk that led into the U-shaped courtyard had healthy plants on both sides. The casement windows had been replaced. Someone had finally taken pride in the boxy old place, built in 1948 to provide post-war housing.

The world is green, grass in full fall five o’clock shadow, and I stand in the middle of it. My hands cradle two pecans. There are more barely hidden in the verdant whiskers. Nearby, I may have a pile of them or a bowl full. Now, I have only the two—perfect brown ellipses flecked with black. The nuts warm quickly in my touch, the dust of their abandoned husks bitter and drying as alum. I hold the pecans. We are poetry, a song of praise. This is my first conscious memory.

I am two years old.

And I am sacred.

river praying for strangers

Read one of River Jordan’s four novels, and her first memoir is no surprise. Spend a few minutes in her company, and it seems inevitable. She’s a person of depth and gentleness, a warm spirit who knows the power of words—spoken, written, or uttered in silence.

Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit was a resolution before it was a book. At the end of 2008, she knew her two sons—her only children—would be deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In that quiet way ideas come upon all of us at times, River received her resolution for 2009. She was to pray for a stranger every day. This would be her way to focus on matters other than fear and worry.

Encouraged by her husband to keep notes, River chronicled her encounters with strangers. She shares the stories of some of them, most who received her offer with gratitude. During that year, she learned about the connections we all share as human beings and what a gift it can be to one’s self to reach out.

I’m writing my second novel by hand. In pencil, in large sketch notebooks with no lines. Or, for another part, in purple ink on letterpress-worthy paper, torn, folded, and stacked into signatures with my own little hands. When the book decided—yes, you read that correctly—that’s how it wished to be done, I balked. Seriously? With the glorious technology now available? I’m grateful it didn’t require me to use the pen and ink set I have stored in my credenza.

Yet before it made that assertion, I was writing notes by hand. In pencil, standard graphite as well as colored, for variety and emphasis. The official notebook launched October 23, 2006. It includes snippets and quotes from round after round of research, idea after idea that popped into my head, and copious ramblings, fits, furies, and epiphanies. To date, it exceeds 1,000 pages.

final_merm_cover

Carolyn Turgeon and I met in a rural, rainy corner of East Texas in January 2007. We were surrounded by tiara-wearing, book-sharing Pulpwood Queens. A surreal lovefest of words if I ever saw one. That’s how I got a copy of her debut novel, Rain Village. Whimsical and heartbreaking, the book convinced me that she’d be a writer I’d follow.

My 90-something-year-old neighbor is almost blind. She might still see the shapes of trees and the color of them in full leaf. She might even see the blanket of the spent ones, assuming she let them pile up. She doesn’t.

Her yard man comes nearly every weekend with his trailer loaded with equipment. In December, the neighborhood trees hung on to half of their leaves—the drop is late in the South—but the ones that had fallen on her lawn met with a 200 mph windstorm. A relentless, two-hour onslaught.

The bank’s assistant manager approached me with a friendly smile and an immaculate suit. Charles looked his part—competent, precise, rational. He also looked younger than I am, much younger, but appearances are tricky. He asked why I’d come in. I explained I needed to shift some money around to keep it liquid. I was a writer who dipped into savings and was contemplating a move to another state.

Tante Nan made ragdolls by hand. She lived on a family farm in the country, near sugar cane fields. She once had been busy outdoors, a self-sufficient wife and mother with eggs to gather, animals to slaughter, and crops to tend. My great-great aunt was elderly when she sat down with fabric and thread to create the toys.

The lyre-leaved sage emerged with vigor the following spring. A true perennial, it returned in the same place it had been planted, and then some. Several descendants appeared nearby. They announced themselves in rosette bursts of dark green leaves alive with purpled veins. Started by seeds, I thought. Happy ones. Within weeks, tall stalks—dotted with rows of pale blue-violet blossoms—grew straight up from the leafy centers. Each flower had a triangular yawn with a wide protruding lower lip and thin top one. Noticing the sage’s effortless replication and early color among the other sleepy perennials, I let them sprout forth.

Mother’s bleeding her dead children
single-celled, invertebrate
born in the water of her womb
after the Word, below the light
amniotic deaths, sand and silt shrouds
mass graves of viscous black rot

Mother’s bleeding, her dead children
finned, feathered, furred
still in the water where life began
anointed by the exhumed hemorrhage
innocent sacrifice of awakening
your sleeping terrestrial siblings

Mother’s bleeding her, dead, children
thin-skinned, thick-headed
water and oil have never mixed
excuses confuse a simple choice
eat, drink, breathe where if her wounds drain dry?
return to her—or return to her
She will welcome you, either way

Four Years after The Party: A Prelude

Lynnie shared notes and aghast looks with me during French and geometry. We had overlapping circles of friends, subsets of the nerdiest, quirkiest, and smartest kids in our high school. She lived not only outside of the school district’s boundaries but also the city limits. Because our school had a gifted program, she didn’t have to go to the less challenging institution closer to home.

She lived in the boonies, BFE, on the rural edge of a small town. Not that I’d been there. This had come up in conversation a few times.

She invited me to a party at her house. I was most certainly non-committal when I accepted her handwritten driving instructions. I had plenty of reasons why I didn’t think my attendance was a good idea. The most consciously unsettling one–a boy I liked, far more than I wished to admit, might be there. 

Super Bowl Sunday. February 7, 2010, 2:00 p.m.

If the hereafter has a switchboard, it’s jammed today.

There are prayers going out to the saints, for the New Orleans Saints. St. Jude might be getting a break this afternoon. He heard pleas for four decades, I’ll bet, for that lost cause of a football team.

My own grandfather requested divine intervention for his home team, year after year. Some weekends, I sat within earshot of him and my uncles as they shouted and prayed. Lord, the noise! Dear Blessed Mother, the fumbles and fouls! In my smart-mouthed youth, I might have asked aloud why they continued to cheer every season for such losers. I am almost certain I, too, muttered the slur, The Ain’ts. All involved, please accept my apology.

When I was eight years old, I took dancing lessons. Besides the standard tap, jazz, and ballet, the studio included a beginner gymnastics class. I refused to do tap, tolerated jazz and ballet, but enjoyed the tumbling. I had good balance and appreciated the capacity of my small body to bend and twist.

One night, I was turning cartwheels in the house—no, probably not a good idea, but kids have a different concept of danger—and I hit my head on a wooden bench. The impact stunned more than hurt me. I sat on the floor and said, “I’m fine, Daddy,” then touched my forehead. Dripping. I vaguely recall being hauled into the bathroom, my blood a left-behind trail of spots in the green carpet.

There burned a pyre of memory of beloved trees, one sick but healing, others that fell through the air.

Earth sign with water rising, I tended the fire. If I were made of Kevlar, I would have climbed inside the hearth and stoked with toes and fingertips.

* * * * *

The medieval maw consumed the swamp chestnut’s branches. Before we moved to this house, the tree had been neglected for more than a decade. Its sapwood oozed and festered in the summer. Rotted pulp filled the gap of its triangular wound, the illusion of strength, the texture of sponge. I named it Stinky then for the homebrew scent of its fermented sap. In spite of its illness, slime flux mold disease, Stinky was sturdy, resilient. Its shade was nearly as valuable as its beauty, so it was spared, pruned of dead and dying branches. Twigs gathered from its canopy in the fall fueled the fire’s start. A stray leaf, large as a cow’s ear, flared red at the edges and collapsed.

That tree lives, sleeping now, its roots in the rain contained by the clay.