Saturday, May 18, 2013

As promised, here's the opener to The Fish and the Stone. To read the rest, trot on over to and peruse the recent blog posts on this subject.

The Fish and the Stone: A Fable for Gem Connoisseurs

It happened in 1979, and I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was on my little boat, overlooking the deep and liquid expanse of Fenton Lake, near Los Alamos, New Mexico. I had just been trolling by lantern-light, trying to attract the fish that had eluded me all day. The sounds of the night -- the crickets and singing bugs -- had started up. After at least an hour of waiting patiently, there was a tug on my line, and I pulled in a wriggling yellow perch. I raised my knife to cut its head off, to end its misery of drowning in air, and did so -- quickly. The head fell off into my little plastic bucket, but at the same time, something shiny tumbled out. I couldn't believe my eyes. I didn't know much about gemstones, but that's what it appeared to be. Rough cut, but with sparkling lights coming from its depths, like an opal! I rowed back to the shore, excited. My wife Roberta was already in the tent, having eaten a can of beans for dinner in case my bad luck continued.

"Roberta, look!" I said, pushing back the canvas flap and holding the stone out for her to see, my lantern casting yellow light on the darkness around us.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I don't know, exactly, but I think it's an opal. I found it inside a fish I caught."

Roberta took it in her small hand and turned it this way and that in the light. "I can't believe it. It was inside the fish?"

"Yes, in its mouth, or maybe its head. It fell out when I started to clean it."

"It looks valuable," she said. "Let's put it someplace safe for now."

So we did. We wrapped it in a paper towel and then put it in a collapsible plastic cup we had with the dishes, and took it home. Being the very busy people we were at that time, we promptly forgot about it. We moved into a different apartment, then after seven long years of saving our money, a humble little house.

One day, Roberta found the stone in a dusty box she had been unpacking. I decided I wanted to put it in a ring for Roberta. We went to a dealer of precious metals and gemstones. The owner of the shop seemed too busy to pay much attention to us, but eventually he looked our way. When he saw the stone, he became very interested indeed.

To be continued...
Hi to all my writing friends out there! Here are drafts of three poems I have to get ready for Sunday's Live Poets Society meeting. All volunteers welcome, as I need all reviews, critiques, edits, and any general and/or specific reactions I can get.

While you're here at the blog, check out my other recent posts -- Valentine Train short short story, a note on friend Terry Wilson's great achievement with the publishing of Confessions of a Failed Saint, and more. And sign up to follow this blog if you're interested and if you haven't already. In the meantime, happy writing - hope you enjoy this little sojourn through my head --


Fast Car

 Tracy Chapman didn’t know it

or maybe she did

In dreams the driver controls your destiny

if you’re not in the driver’s seat,

You’ve relinquished control

You are at their mercy

What do you do if they crash the car?

Will the thrill of the ride be worth it all?

Maybe she did know

Maybe she took the wheel in her own fine hands

when she said a decision must be made

I hope so.

Maybe she didn’t even know how to drive

what with all she’d been through in that young life

Still, I hope she took the wheel, gripped it, and steered

Stepped on the gas and left THAT DAY

Drove straight into the West

maybe stopping in Montana for a coke and a cowboy hat.


                                             Sheila Ortego McLaughlin



Waiting for Death

It seems so odd when nature’s law turns on you

That stubborn muscle beating incessantly

Your gratitude for it, and love

And yet you wish it would just STOP

You’re old, and tired

Life has driven you over with a Mac truck fifty times over

the black tire tracks ground into your face

The sight of a beautiful sunset can’t undo it

Besides, you’re blind and can’t see the color

And there’s no-one there to describe it to you

You’re infirm, feeble

never knowing when gravity will take you down

Now you meditate to the drum of that beating heart:

               please STOP   please STOP   please STOP   please STOP

but it goes on, like a bongo player on Meth

the thing that keeps you alive against the odds

a Casino crap shoot no-one ever wins

The gamble goes on so long

all in excruciating slow motion

All the lights in Vegas must shut down

before the bongo player will agree to stop

and the final breath you’ve waited for, prayed for,

Will fill your lungs and push out, indifferent to its leaving

unaware of the eons you will have waited,

of how long it overstayed its welcome.

                                                            Sheila Ortego McLaughlin, 5/18/13


The Catcher

Mother’s spirit was sleeping when I was born

Groggy, it woke to hold me, just for a time

But its hands were weak and it dropped me

When I fell, my father was there,

catching me in his own clumsy way

not knowing why nature’s law had turned on him

but willing to serve, and more—

He found the catching was not just once

but over and over

as Mother tried, robotically, to learn

The infant fell, the child, and growing girl

A brief taste of safety, every time

and then the startle, as all the stays dissolved

the sensation of gravity unleashed

shoving me roughly through space

to uncertain death, and pain

Then the catch as it always came

As if he wore a fat leather glove in a baseball park

A heroic leap, meticulous timing

body memory in his practiced arm

There’d be a clap at the very moment

And our entire audience – me, Mother, and him

Stunned to silence with the beauty of that singular action

Father, my soul safely in the palm of his hand


               Sheila Ortego McLaughlin, 5/18/13


Sunday, March 24, 2013

All, read my rave review of Terry Wilson's new memoir, Confessions of a Failed Saint.  Great read -- lots of fun, lots of laughter.