CRLC Challenge; Escape

Rumi said,  “You have been released from ten successive prisons/ Each larger and containing the last.”  (Coleman Barks translation)

I thought of that quote when I saw the prompt for the Carrot Ranch challenge this week. I used it in one of my poems in Chicken Shift, where escape is a recurring theme.

It’s a great quote; at it’s worst, escaping the pan for the fire; at it’s best, a comforting delusion of linear progression.

But here we are.

            “Here’s the pisser, here’s the catch

            Any one could peck the latch.”

And then where are we?

Here. Alone together.


Charli’s post and prompt led me back to Robert, my fictional Civil War vet.

Did he imagine as a seventeen year old farm boy that going off to fight the Rebels would be an escape from the Vermont farm, or simply an escape from the perceived limits of childhood? I had some vague idea of showing Robert back on the farm trying to escape his memories of the war through hard work but the flash went differently and upon completion had no mention of “escape” other than stalled development. So I cheat, and use the prompt in the title.


No Escape

She wiped her eyes with her apron when he came through the gate. Standing awkwardly with her, his eyes rolled quickly over the headstones, finally settling on his own feet. “You’re mourning the young’uns?”

“No. That’s past.”

A thrush called. He looked at her tear stained face, waited.

“I’m mourning Robert.”

“Robert? He’s home Anna. We haven’t lost our oldest boy.”

“He’s not the boy he was.”

“He’s a man now.”

“He’s a broken hurt child. You must see that it’s Thomas, all of seven, looks out for him. I’m mourning the man that our Robert will never become.”


With no argument left, he embraced his wife and mourned with her, allowing his own tears to fall for Robert’s pain, witnessed only by her and the granite markers of their other lost children.

Walking together back to the farmhouse they met Robert carrying a bundled rag.

“What is it Robert?”

“Mice. From the kitchen.”

“Oh, just kill them!” Anna instantly regretted her command, but Robert smiled forgiveness.

“A mother and pink babies. Surely you could allow them to live in the stonewall.”

“Anna, maybe our boy isn’t the man we’d expected. He’s different. But he’s a good man.”

Saddle Up Saloon; Serious Fun

For fun, come by the Saddle Up Saloon, just over the line at Carrot Ranch. Open 24/7 and serving something fresh every Monday.
This week Kid takes humor seriously.
Next week meet author Pete Fanning.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

“Pal? Pal, where ya at?”

“Pal’s not here, Kid. Just me.”

“What? Why’re you here at the Saddle Up, D. Avery? Where’s Pal?”

“Pal asked me to fill in this week. Said it might do you some good to touch base with your writer.”

“Hmmph. Ya know well as me I kin write m’sef.”

“I do know as well as you Kid. But Pal thought maybe I should check in on you.”

“Hmmph. But I s’pose ya knew I was gonna say that.”

“Kid, I know a lot of people identify me as your writer, but the fact is I don’t often know what you’re going to say or do. So why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you.”

“I ain’t quite sure either. Guess it’s this writin’ thing.”

“I saw that you wrote a short story for Marsha Ingrao’s Story Chat! Congratulations, Kid.”

“Yeah. Thanks. It’s jist that…

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#SixSentenceStory; Service

This introduction will serve as my Six Sentences this week, as I am storied out. Trust me, it would be a disservice for me to force myself to write and then force that gibberish on you, dear reader. So after these six sentences you can read on or not— the quota having been met, you are under no obligation to read more, but there are extra servings. Actually I am serving leftovers, a remake of a November 2019 post where I followed our own Sixer  Lisa Tomey to LivingPoetry because I was intrigued by the prompt to show gratitude to another poet. I immediately thought of Robert Service, whose poetry I’ve known and related to since a youngster fortunate to have crossed his path if not in time, then in place, and so first I present one of his poems (not The Cremation of Sam McGee) and then one of mine in humble imitation. As always, thank you to hostess extraordinaire Denise for the weekly serving of prompt.

The Amateur Poet, by Robert Service

You see that sheaf of slender books

Upon the topmost shelf,

At which no browser ever looks,

Because they’re by . . . myself;

They’re neatly bound in navy blue,

But no one ever heeds;

Their print is clear and candid too,

Yet no one ever reads.

Poor wistful books! How much they cost

To me in time and gold!

I count them now as labour lost,

For none I ever sold;

No copy could I give away,

For all my friends would shrink,

And look at me as if to say:

“What waste of printer’s ink!”

And as I gaze at them on high,

Although my eyes are sad,

I cannot help but breathe a sigh

To think what joy I had –

What ecstasy as I would seek

To make my rhyme come right,

And find at last the phrase unique

Flash fulgent in my sight.

Maybe that rapture was my gain

Far more than cheap success;

So I’ll forget my striving vain,

And blot out bitterness.

Oh records of my radiant youth,

No broken heart I’ll rue,

For all my best of love and truth

Is there, alive in you.

Thank You Robert Service by D. Avery

Robert Service, Yukon poet,

You’re read, please rest assured!

Even doubt, you dare here show it,

Yet raised me on your words;

I’ve walked the land that you once tread

You inspired me, you know;

Your poems, first I ever read,

Your shared words like sourdough.

You grounded me with your meter,

Gave wings to me with rhyme;

Gave me poetry! What sweeter?

Gave courage to write mine;

Your ballads inspired children’s play,

When young I lived up north;

Further reading, you’d more to say!

I learned a poet’s force.

You wrote of war, you wrote of love,

Wrote life, great and tragic;

You brought to Earth the stars above,

Wakened me to magic;

Sometimes still, when I take up pen

It’s you who shows the trail,

Leads on, into the wild again

Courting heaven and hell.

From you I learned of garrets bare

of mining phrase and rhyme

panning for all that sparkles there

rich treasures writ sublime;

Upon my shelves your books still stand

Precious alchemic gold

When reading you I’m young again

Imagination bold.

CRLC Challenge; A year later…

The Carrot Ranch Literary Community March 18, 2021, prompt challenge, in 99 words, no more, no less, is to “write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!” Check out Charli’s post. I previously reflected on this past year HERE. My response below, I assure you, is fiction. You have until Tuesday, March 23 to respond with your own 99 words at Carrot Ranch.

Putting By

She’d known it’d be best for him to go missing before he was missed. Leaving the keys and his packed bag, she’d slipped out of his truck. Then, masked of course, she walked a different route home, hooded against a chill spring wind. Should the truck ever be found the search would begin there, but disinterested authorities had quickly concluded that her husband had simply fled, fed up.

She wondered what she might prepare for dinner. Almost a year, but the chest freezer still contained plenty of stockpiled food, packets of meat, vegetables and casseroles concealing his frozen body.

#SixSentenceStory; Filter

It’s Six Sentence Story time again, in which we are given a prompt word and the challenge to write a story in six sentences, no more, no less. Sometimes, while the end marks may only number six, the sentences get stretched, the syntax strained, semi-colons and conjunctions pushed to their limits, as in the following. Regardless, here’s Ernest and Marge, actually working in Ernest’s two bay garage. Thank you Denise for the prompt and the link up.


“Mrs. Blanchard, what a surprise, that is, well, I thought, since that last time, that is, well, I thought you only went to Henry’s now for your auto repair needs.”

Sensing Ernest’s discomfort, Marge shut the hood of the car she’d been working on, stepped forward, and extended her oil stained hand to the infamous Hildegard Blanchard.

“Hello, I’m Marge Small; I can have a look at your car for you Mrs. Blanchard,” but the infamous Hildegard Blanchard just stared at the extended oil stained hand, then looked Marge up and down, and snorted “Small?” before turning back to Ernest.

“Henry has become simply impossible, like all the others, Mr. Biggs, but tell me,” she said, hitching her chin towards Marge, “are you really this desperate now, or is this some sort of equal opportunity employment scheme?” which caused Ernest’s eyes to grow even wider as he watched Marge over the infamous Hildegard Blanchard’s shoulder but to his surprise Marge just shrugged and said again that she’d be happy to let Mrs. Blanchard know what was wrong with her car, so Ernest assured Mrs. Blanchard that Marge Small, in addition to being his fiancée, was a top notch mechanic and diagnostician.  

The infamous Hildegard Blanchard snorted again but led Marge to the parked vehicle that blocked the open garage bay door, and after wondering aloud how someone like Marge could land a man when she clearly had never even heard of a manicure, she explained that while she couldn’t say what was wrong with her car, she was certain it wasn’t running properly but that none of the auto shops could be bothered to look at it, let alone fix it for her.

Even wide-eyed hand-wringing Ernest seemed surprised by Marge’s immediate and incisive diagnosis, when she said, “I can tell you right now, without even lifting the hood, Mrs. Blanchard, if you had a filter this car would be running smooth as silk,” so he asked Marge what kind of filter she thought the car needed, but she clarified; “I’m talking about Mrs. Blanchard, Ernest, the car’s needing a tune up is just a symptom of her problem.”

Colleen’s Double Ennead Challenge No. 2

Over at Carrot Ranch Colleen Chesebro is running a poetry challenge out of the Saddle Up Saloon every third Monday. Specifically, it’s the Double Ennead, a form Colleen developed for the Ranch. In her own words:

“The word Ennead means nine, and a double nine is ninety-nine! Carrot Ranch is famous for 99-word flash fiction. Now, the ranch has its own syllabic poetry form written in 99 syllables!

“The Double Ennead comprises five lines with a syllable count of 6/5/11/6/5, (33 SYLLABLES per stanza) 3 STANZAS EACH = 99 SYLLABLES, NO MORE, NO LESS! Punctuation and rhyme schemes are optional and up to the poet. Don’t be afraid to experiment.”

Go on over to the Saloon to check out Colleen’s challenge. Give it a try. The theme is spring, and maybe it will actually arrive between now and Colleen’s next challenge. Here is my response:


Turkeys scratch, hunger led

still sharp, winter’s edge,

where frost yet clings, in the face of coming spring

Sun days, trees pulse with sap

icy winds end that;

swirling squalls, freezing cold

reigning season, bold

winter rages, violent bursts, defiant

Tireless sun adamant,

winter, worn, relents;

gritty wet, grainy snow

muddy patches show

at last warmth sustained; emerging shoots, ground gained

Turkeys scratch, hunger led

spring’s sprung; they’ll be fed

Pi Day 2021

It is March fourteenth, 3/14 in the States and so, Pi Day. Since 2018 (seems so long ago!) I have cooked up a post for Pi Day but for many reasons this may end up to be more of a reflection on the year past than an offering of pi.

In 2020 March 14th did not fall on a school day but I kept with tradition and posted a pi poem anyway. At the time of that writing I did not yet know that Friday the 13th was the last time I would see my students in person in the classroom; decisions and changes came fast and furious that weekend and throughout the following weeks as we went to teaching remotely in a local response to a world wide pandemic. It was not how I ever imagined my last year of teaching, for I had implemented personal changes of my own, and would be retiring at the end of the school year. Those last months were the most challenging I’d experienced in over twenty-four years of teaching. They also were a blessing, as that work was mission oriented and kept me focused as I served students and colleagues the best I could. I was reminded of what matters most.

I felt discombobulated in the blogosphere at that time, at the beginning of ‘sheltering in place’ and other new normals. A few of my prompt responses did reflect current events, and Kid and Pal, my Ranch Yarn characters, expressed their concerns at that time in rare front-page appearances here at shiftnshake. But for the most part I did as Kid and Pal decided to do and just pressed on as if the real world wasn’t coming undone by the covid pandemic and other atrocities. And by the 23rd of March, 2020, Charli Mills set up a page at her Carrot Ranch where Kid and Pal could carry on at the Saddle Up Saloon, a place that continues to provide for one and all an entertaining refuge from reality.

In the last year the Saddle Up is the only saloon, pub, or bar that I’ve stepped foot in. I have retired, moved house, and returned already to teaching part time. After a long tumultuous year, this March there seems to be some hope, some light at the end of the tunnel, though many things will never be the same. Too many people’s lives are forever changed by deaths and illnesses related to the pandemics.

Yes, pandemics, plural. Because in addition to a biological virus that spread rampant around the world, we are also suffering through the ongoing pandemic of hate and ignorance.

The culture that gave us scientific and mathematical frameworks; that has us still pondering concepts like pi with delight; that has been celebrated for tolerance and democracy— also tolerated the enslavement and abuse of other human beings, their democracy a form of institutional disenfranchisement for many members of society. This country, my country, was founded on those ideals. Yes, all of those ideals, not just the pretty ones; and this is not ancient history. Still, now, today, here— not everyone gets the same size slice of apple pie, if any, as true now as in 1776, 1876 and 1976.

Pi is an irrational number, one of division that comes to no conclusion. What conclusions can we draw about the disproportionate number of people of color targeted and victimized by the police, placed in our prisons? What can we conclude about leading the world not in a systematic and strategic response to the corona virus, but in number of deaths? What can we conclude about ourselves as a nation when a madman inspires and instigates a number of his cult to attack and desecrate the very house of our cherished mythological democracy— and the madman goes free?

Still, let us take heart. Let us prove to be a rational people, with a capacity for good that deters the infections of hate and fear. Let us address and solve our divisions with an inclusive conclusion satisfactory to all.

Here is this year’s pi poem, a tanka:

how they pried

uroboric tale

divine math?

blind scales of hubris

calculating loss

See previous Pi Days here (3/14/18) here (3/14/19) and here (3/14/20)

CRLC Challenge; Deep Wishes

Charli’s in with the March 11, 2021, prompt from Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about deep wishes. Where is the deep — in the sky, the ground, or outer space? What kind of wishes reside there for whom and why? Go where the prompt leads!

I was led to poetry, specifically the décima form, something I learned about at Ronovanwrites. This adheres to the rules through the tenth line, but as that was only 60 words, I continued until I reached the Carrot Ranch requisite 99 words. The other reason I can’t mash up with Ronovan’s prompt this week is I did not use ‘fortune’ in the B line, or anywhere for that matter. But as a nod of thanks for the form and inspiration I put fortune in the title.

You have until March 16 to respond to the Carrot Ranch prompt and as you can see, it doesn’t have to be flash fiction, just 99 words, no more, no less.

Colors of Fortune

lazurite pulse from deep within

night sky, star spilt light seeping through

deep wishes are this shade of blue

in sleek watery hues they swim;

yellow sunlight stirs blue, spins

absorbed by earth, emerges green

deep wishes are what color spring;

shoots poke through snow-melt packed-leaf ground

deep wishes star this soft hewed brown

deep wishes are seeds sown unseen;

who’s the sower? we cannot know

but through the wisdom of a child

who knows deep wishes just grow wild

roots in earth, airy seeds that blow;

free to harvest with good reason

deep wishes bloom in all seasons.

Saddle Up Saloon; Howdy Ann Edall-Robson!

Look who blew in from the Canadian prairie! Ann Edall-Robson is seen on the scene at the Saddle Up Saloon! (A sure sign of spring)

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

“Pal, is that…?”

“Yep. Sure is, Kid. Ann Edall-Robson ‘as stopped by the Saddle Up.”

“Woohoo! The Rough Writer who pens the Quiet Spirits column fer Carrot Ranch? I heard she might be too busy fer us, heard she’s got a lot a irons in the fire. Uh, Pal, does that s’pression refer ta when irons fer clothes was heated up on a cook range, or is it referrin’ ta brandin’ irons on the cattle range?”

“Reckon we could ask Ann, she might know.”

“She might er she might not. Heard tell she makes stuff up.”

“Thet’s ‘cause she’s a story teller, Kid. Come on, lit’s go talk with ‘er.”

“Howdy Ann!”

“Hello there Kid. Pal. You caught me wetting my whistle here at the bar. Come sit with me.”

“Thet soun’s good, Ann. Sure liked what ya did couple weeks back in yer Quiet Spirits column. Had folks guessin’…

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CRLC Challenge in SixSentences

By now we know the March 4, 2021, Carrot Ranch prompt is to:“In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes sweet potatoes. This is a second take on that prompt that continues an earlier Six Sentence Story.

Bona Sub Terra Theory   

“That one likes to snuggle,” she said.

He cradled the hen on his lap as he lifted his jar of dandelion wine.

“Try this snack— Jerusalem artichokes, best thing to come out of God’s good earth.”

The moon was now just rising. He didn’t see her slight smile as he went on about the gastronomic miracles in his garden, sweet potatoes with flesh the color of a summer sunset, but he heard her accept his invitation to dinner even as he wondered how he might prepare them for her.

‘So much good,’ she’d said, ‘so much goodness under the surface.’