Second Coming

    My stomach muscles unclenched today as I climbed out of the shower. I can really feel my blood now. I feel as if my balls have dropped further.

    I’m 26 years’ old—I think. Today I became a man. Muscles relax and my feet plant firmly. Remember to breathe, Coene.

    Armed with such passive masculinity I could write a mountain. No cutesy shit. Just a big fucking mountain. I don’t need any tools, I’ll write with my blood. I can really feel my blood today.

    My girlfriend is a madwoman because she stays with me and I am an asshole. My dog is licking my hand; it’s disgusting and endearing. Outside some children are screaming at a sprinkler. They’re screaming at it but they are joyous. This is nonsense but they haven’t figured that out yet. I consider ordering a pizza. I probably will because I never consider pizza and then consider other things after it.



    The following is an essay I submitted to Barrelhouse Magazine, a literary mag that attempts to combine pop culture know-how with artfully crafted prose and poetry. They rejected my piece, which means I can post it on the Bloggery now.


    I’m at the Barrelhouse website, thinking the robot at the top looks pretty cool. I click on Submissions, because really, that’s the only part I care about. I check out the guidelines, which politely explain that Barrelhouse is only accepting non-fiction manuscripts at the moment–at my moment, of all moments.

    “Non-fiction?!” I cry to Luna, who is a dog that belongs to me. “Aw, tits!”

    In quite a tumult, I grab a handful of journals and start leafing through the pages, hoping to dig up some odd scrawling from months ago and build it into some factual prose that will blow your chin right into your eyeballs; yes, like a literary uppercut.

    I don’t find much. There’s a thing about spiders, in which I mention unsuitable afghans, and about twenty little ditties on sex. Everything else is non-non-fiction, or in lay terms: regular kind.

    I think about writing a meditation on the 80’s cartoon, SilverHawks, because Barrelhouse seems like the kind of place that would appreciate a reference to SilverHawks. Then I decide I won’t write about SilverHawks, and instead make a note to subtly include it somewhere in the essay.

    “Oh no!” I cry again to the property panting beneath my desk. “Luna, I’m full of shit!”

    Luna looks as if she has known this all along. That is why I purchased her–for her honesty.

    Uh-oh, did that count as fiction? I swear, her body language really did imply she already knew about my fecal-facts–er, poopie-prose–ahem, turd-text. Her eyes even rolled back a bit, though that could have been the heat exhaustion. We don’t have air-conditioning, Luna and I.

    This is proving to be awfully difficult, this world of writing what’s real. I’m a writer; one of those literary fiction guys. I write what’s real, but I do it fictionally. A lot of it is pulled from what’s real, then embellished by long nights of insomnia and amphetamines. There’s research involved too. Lots and lots of reading boring, boring books, just to make sure my information is accurate. Hey now; those were non-fiction books!

    Wait a minute, I’m all confused. Is fiction still fiction if acquired from pieces of non-fiction and what’s real? For that matter, is non-fiction really non-fiction, if there’s narrative flair? At what point does persuasion become fiction? If I lie to you, knowingly, but present it in a factual manner, is the non of the non-fiction compromised?

    I’m sure these questions have been answered by some literature guru who wrote some non-fiction book I’m never going to read. I don’t like reading what people think about writing; I like to read writing. Or just plain writing.

    There’s a message in here, somewhere. A theme. It has something to do with blurring the lines between art and life, and what strange containments we apply to each. It might have something to do with dogs too, but probably not.

    I should’ve just written about the damn SilverHawks.

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 7:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Everything is Medium: Black Boss

    Since the beginning of 2011, digital photographer Chris Schatz has been hard at work on his ambitious new project, “One Photograph a Day”. From the first day of the year to the last, Chris is going to take one photograph for each of those days and post it on his blog.
    I am excited to announce I will be collaborating with Mr. Schatz on his effort. For one in every five of his daily photographs, I will write a short story inspired by the image. The stories, and the pictures, will be posted on both of our blogs.
    For more of Chris Schatz’ photography, including photos from the project I have not written about, check out his blog.
    I hope you enjoy The Bloggery of Michael J. Coene’s collaborative effort with Christopher Schatz, “Everything is Medium: Literary Interpretations, One Photograph a Day!”


    Her sexuality was as naked as her naivete. She was his Lolita, yet he had turned thirty just seven days ago.
    She was self-conscious, but never shy. Her eyes were large and aquamarine. Her pupils were tiny holes, lost in the center.
    She was smart. She loved to read, or at least enjoyed reading enough to comprehend the literature of it. She was proud of her intelligence, but hesitant to show it. She answered questions as if the answer was hard to put together, even though she had it ready and assembled.
    Happiness for her seemed a far away thing. Far, but still within reach–a resource requiring careful management. If ever she touched happiness, she reveled in its warmth for only a moment, then snatched her hand away, fearing overexposure.
    Her skin was pale olive, young and shining, more butter than earth. She was prettier than she believed. She was prettier than she was willing to believe.
    Her hair was straight and black, and shimmered in the artificial lighting of his dull grey classroom. Her voice was sultry, soft and sleepy, yet somehow clearly audible from across the room. A pair of full lips, writhing with life and vigor, lay coiled in waiting beneath her anatomically balanced nose. She was emblematic of the American idea of “exotic” women, yet she carried herself as if she’d never heard moronic questions regarding her nationality. Her natural citizenship was made obvious by how lazily she donned denim jeans and band t-shirts–such things were not new or exciting on her.
    Frustrating to him–for he was far from statuesque–was her homely behavior. Her body language suggested a plainness that simply was not there. She seemed afraid of men’s gazes, yet in her fear, also seemed to yearn for their approval; perhaps due to her slightly overweight figure, which was enhanced, not encumbered, by the extra pounds. Sadly, America has trained her women to be ashamed of fine curves and good health.
    She was beautiful and truly, though the descriptive may have been cliche, “beautiful” was the only applicable word.
    She was his student, and her name was Sophia. He was newly thirty, at the peak of his arrogance; a product of both fading youth and blossoming wisdom. He had just begun to use words like “heart rate” and “DOW jones”, but still ate whatever he wanted and never looked at his 401(k) plan. He taught Science Fiction at a community college, and Sophia was one of his students.
    Her attraction to him was transparent, and he believed she was both aware and ashamed of this. She stole glances at him even when he wasn’t speaking, and blushed deeply while speaking to him directly. When speaking to the other students, she still blushed, but for them it was the pink of carnations–for him, the roiling red of molten lava.
    He imagined life for Sophia was a struggle, an incessant, exhausting hardship. She seemed detached from her peers even though she desperately sought their approval, and the resulting awkwardness seemed to frustrate her into submission.
    Often he wondered why she behaved so meekly, despite those aquamarine eyes and that buttery olive skin. Perhaps her first boyfriend had cheated on her, or her father had touched her inappropriately. Maybe she’d never had a boyfriend; maybe she’d gotten this far without a male unit present to re-charge her self-confidence, to show her how beautiful she really was. Maybe her only sexual interaction thus far was with some mechanical device–which would have explained how she managed both an ashamed posture and a transparent sexuality.
    However, the Science Fiction teacher believed–or rather, he wanted to believe–Sophia’s ignorance of herself was because she was just too damned smart.
    One day, the Science Fiction teacher decided he could not take it any longer. She had written a marvelous paper on Asimov’s The Gods, Themselves, in which she compared the Rationals to women, and the Emotionals to men. This was remarkable because Asimov clearly intended exactly the opposite effect, but Sophia managed to put together a convincing paper that stated otherwise. As he dismissed the class, most of which had not read enough of the Asimov novel to participate in the day’s discussion, he asked for Sophia to stay.
    “Sure,” she said. Failed attempts at breeziness plagued her shoulders as she waited for the other students to leave. She hoisted her backpack, resting it more comfortably below her tail-bone, and hooked her thumbs into the straps, so that her elbows stuck out a bit.
    The Science Fiction teacher became aroused.
    “Sophia,” he said, once the other students had left. “May I ask how old you are?”
    “Nineteen,” she said.
    “Nineteen? My goodness…”
    She giggled at his use of the word “goodness”, which seemed like such an old-man thing to say. Sophia did not think her Science Fiction teacher was an old-man; not yet.
    “I’m thirsty,” she said suddenly. “Do you mind if I have a drink while we talk?”
    “Not at all,” he replied. He watched her slide the backpack from her shoulders and set it on the floor. Nervously, she unzipped the smaller front pocket, and produced from it a small cylindrical can–black with gold Japanese lettering printed on the side. She struggled a bit with the tab. The carbonation hissed at her when it finally cracked open, and she squealed in response. Roiling red lava began to spread from her chest to her cheeks.
    He would have offered to open it, but knew from her essays that she valued female independence above all else. So he patiently waited, and let Sophia conquer the can on her own.
    “What is that?” he asked, indicating the drink with his pen.
    She giggled again.
    “It’s Black Boss!” she declared, presenting it to him. “It’s a silly Japanese coffee drink. Isn’t it cool?”
    “Cool?” he said. “Well, I… ”
    The Science Fiction teacher looked at this can, this novelty beverage most likely from a nearby dollar store, and saw how happy it was making her. He imagined her standing before a mirror, holding up several cans of different-colored drinks before deciding on this one. Sophia was enchanted by the sheer oddness of possessing such a thing. Her previously introspective shell had been dismantled, and the metamorphosis revealed a mere child within, star-struck by the very thought of being unique.
    All romantic perceptions of Sophia shattered like stained glass in his mind. He dismissed her. She shrugged and left, not the least bit curious as to why he had asked her to stay in the first place, proudly wielding her can as the classroom door clicked shut behind her. Clearly, she hoped passing students in the hallway would have more questions regarding the origins of Black Boss.
    The Science Fiction teacher sighed, remembering how excited he had been to show his best friend Sean a signed, first edition copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. The book was currently somewhere in a box, lost to the musty seas of the basement. He realized he hadn’t spoken to Sean in years.

Black Boss

Everything is Medium: Plug Horse

    Since the beginning of 2011, digital photographer Chris Schatz has been hard at work on his ambitious new project, “One Photograph a Day”. From the first day of the year to the last, Chris is going to take one photograph for each of those days and post it on his blog.
    I am excited to announce I will be collaborating with Mr. Schatz on his effort. For one in every five of his daily photographs, I will write a short story inspired by the image. The stories, and the pictures, will be posted on both of our blogs.
    For more of Chris Schatz’ photography, including photos from the project I have not written about, check out his blog.
    I hope you enjoy The Bloggery of Michael J. Coene’s collaborative effort with Christopher Schatz, “Everything is Medium: Literary Interpretations, One Photograph a Day!”


    Baljeet padded about the kitchen, her feet sticking every so often to the area nearest the sink. She was terribly bored, and frustrated that no solution had yet presented itself. One could only pad about for so long.
    She carried a cowgirl in her left hand, made of felt and stuffed with a small handful of cotton. The thing was tiny enough to fit her palm, and it was light. Baljeet had lost the doll on more than one occasion.
    When her family had first moved to Maryland from Punjab, Baljeet’s mother–Anoopbir–made for her and her older brother a cowboy and a cowgirl; respective genders considered upon distribution. Gurpal was dead now–sometimes Baljeet missed her older brother too much.
    Baljeet opened the back door, which connected the kitchen to the outside world. Tiny cowgirl tucked into her chunni, she stepped down the cast-iron stairs, into the small backyard. Her father insisted she still wear traditional garb around the house, even though they were technically “Americans” now. He had shaved his beard, which seemed worse than wearing jeans, but Baljeet knew better than to argue.
    It turned out there wasn’t much to look at in the outside world, really. Just a tree and a bench, and some trash cans modestly tucked away, beneath the stairs. An inflatable ball, the kind that made a hollow plink when bounced on the sidewalk, rested by the base of the tree. It was turquoise and swirling with white, like vapors from an aquamarine factory.
    It was a nice day. The sun was crystalline, high and bright in the center of blue. Defiant, the Maryland breeze writhed and slithered by, staving off humidity, for the time being. Baljeet decided to kick the ball against the bricks for a while, like she used to do with Gurpal. They had invented a game in which one would kick the ball into the wall, to ricochet it into the other, who wasn’t allowed to move or dodge the attack. If the other moved, it meant three laps around the house; if the other got hit, it meant five.
    Gurpal usually won these games, but Baljeet never minded. She just enjoyed playing. Besides, those few times she did win were all the more sweet, being so rare.
    She stopped. The ball bounced off somewhere, near the garage belonging to her neighbors, who made weird art projects Baljeet’s parents often complained about.
    Gurpal, whenever Baljeet won, always called her the strangest name. She had forgotten all about it until just now, as the ball landed against a garden statue of an ant, made from coffee cans and dressed as a 1940’s Baltimore waitress.
    Her brother would point at her, insisting he didn’t care that she had won, and chant, “Plug Horse! Plug Horse! Plug Horse!”
    “Poopie Nose! Poopie Nose! Poopie Nose!” was naturally her response, to which he would laugh as if a ‘kick me’ sign was taped to her back.
    Baljeet, suddenly gripped by an irrational yearning for rotti, tromped up the iron stairs, back into the kitchen. She tucked away all thoughts of Gurpal and the Plug Horse and the teal ball, just like the trash cans hidden beneath her feet. She would continue to think about Gurpal and the ball for years to come–her brother far longer than the toy.
    As for the moniker, Plug Horse, she would not remember it until forty-three years later, upon which the mystery would eat away at her, dominating her thoughts and distracting her from her successful career in marketing communications. This desire to know why would become so pervasive, Baljeet would visit her parents for a week, away from her family. She would have, by then, married a very understanding husband, who also worked in marketing communications and who understood the importance of ‘me time’.
    Without explaining to her father–Anoopbir would have recently passed away–Baljeet would attack the boxes of Gurpal’s things, which were not many and stored in the attic of that same old house in Maryland. She would rummage through like a rabid scavenger in search of just one decayed morsel until, finally, she came upon it.
    The Plug Horse.
    Sitting atop a protruding electrical outlet, perched there as if by interior design, Baljeet would notice a little blue horse, made of felt and stuffed with a small handful of cotton. She would approach it, stunned and crouching to the floor. She would shove some boxes aside. Dust would be ubiquitous. She would sneeze, and cobwebs would be attracted to that.
    So many questions would drift into her mind as a result of that odd moment in the attic. She would never even be sure whether the doll was the Plug Horse to which Gurpal had referred. That same night, regardless, Baljeet would begin the early outlines of a children’s book, about a horse who lived and travelled from house to house through electricity, and she would refuse to call it Plug Horse.

Plug Horse

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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