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Posts Tagged ‘flash fiction’

100_0742It has something to do with the persistent damp. Seepage; the ground fluid, churning. Things constantly coming to the surface that are better left buried.

In the spring, when the snows subside, dissolve away. Sometimes a careless farmer will plough up the wrong field. Or children will make a grisly discovery in the woods.

We have been condemned, collectively, for those dark times. You would think we all owned Kalashnikovs and a cluster of hand grenades.

They will not forgive the desecration of the churches. Those pictures. Awful, awful. Though some of us insist they were faked…

Listen, we can’t keep apologizing for the past. What’s done is done. It could happen in any modern, civilized state.

They want to call it genocide but we reject that.

It was war and terrible things occurred.

We won’t be treated as pariahs.

We have sinned but are answerable only to God.


100_0743

 

 

Copyright, 2013  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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Kafka Fuck

 

Once back at my place she plays it coy scuttling under the couch until I menace her with a can of Raid using it to steer her toward the bedroom antennae twitching in excitement crawling up the edge of my bedspread chittering as I run my fingers along her polished carapace stroking her thorax her withered ornamental wings fluttering mandibles dug into my pillow in insectile ecstasy while I prepare to mount her probing for anything resembling a vagina wondering if she uses protection and if not if the pupa will look anything like me.

 

* * * * *

Greenhouse Effect

 

I’m not going back to you. I’m gone. I’m outta here. You won’t find me. It’ll be like we never met. Just another face in the crowd. On a forgotten street. In a strange country.  One of the disappeared. Yeah. Lost in time and space. I wasn’t born in the first place.  Back to the womb. Stillborn. No. Aborted. A puddle of pink flesh. Gristle and blood.  Dumped in an incinerator. Reduced to ash. Floating in the troposphere. Burned by the sun. Ultraviolet radiation. A cancer on your body.

 

* * * * *

These are two of my favorite short prose pieces, excerpted from my recently released volume Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).

For ordering information, please go here.

Photo credit:  Sherron Burns

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Man Disassembling

He pushes through the door of his apartment, then shuts it against the world.  Bypassing the kitchen, he goes into the living room where he lowers himself into a chair, sighing as he slips into its warm, pillowy embrace. Slowly, his sluggish movements betraying his exhaustion, he bends down, pops the snaps on his ankles and removes his aching feet. Lies back in the chair, closes his eyes, willing himself into a state of enforced lethargy. His left shoulder twitches spasmodically, a reaction to the day’s rigorous exertions. He reaches up, unlatches the shoulder from its socket, lets the arm drop to the floor. He then divests himself of his legs, checking the hinged knees for signs of wear and tear before settling back in the chair. But then he feels a thrill of pain in his lower back so he reaches behind him, depresses two switches and squirms out of his pelvic cavity. His head is throbbing, so with one practiced tug that goes too. But the respite is short-lived because then the phone rings—so he has to use his remaining arm to stick his head back on and reach for the receiver. Charlotte, it’s always Charlotte, asking to see him, pleading with him, threatening him, wailing at him until finally he gets sick of listening to her and hangs up. In the time it takes her to re-dial, he peels off his ears and plucks out his tongue.

© Copyright, 1990 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

* This story originally appeared in my 1990 short story collection Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination

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I’ve already leaked some of this over at my RedRoom page but (rubbing his hands together eagerly) here’s the cover of the companion volume to the New & Selected Poems.

Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011) includes the creme de la creme of my short prose pieces (some folks call them prose poems).  These are brief (usually under 500 words) narrative works, often quite surreal, twisted, satirical and, frankly, vicious. These bits are perfect for performing at readings and frequently provoke gasps and, seconds later, gales of laughter.  Some of my favorites are in Stromata: “Cranes”, “A.I.”…material that hasn’t been in print and available to readers for many, many moons.  And some new pieces that, I think, show a progression in terms of themes and my approach to the subject matter.

I’ve said it before but here it is again: I love these two thin volumes.  While books like The Last Hunt and Of the Night reflect my skills as a storyteller, the collected poems and prose poems prove that I can “dangle” artistically with the best of them.

Dangle? Sorry, that’s a term that might only be familiar to hockey fans. If a player can really fly on the ice, skate fast and stickhandle you right out of your jock, we say, “man, look at that guy dangle”.  It’s like a whistle of appreciation.

I hemmed and hawed about it but there will be an e-book and Kindle version of Stromata (unlike the poems). Frankly, the books are so beautiful, who would want to settle for electronic copies? Why not get the real thing and have two lovely tomes that you can treasure forever?

Chris Kent did both covers and, I’m telling you, his book designs just keep getting better and better. He seems to understand intuitively what I’m looking for, the “less is more” mentality I apply to every aspect of my life.  Chris is a delight to work with—no huge ego, just a desire to execute  covers that are artful and eye-grabbing and irresistible.

Both the Selected Poems and Stromata retail at $12.00 (U.S.A. & Canada) and they each clock in at around 116 pages. Slim…but there’s a lot of power packed into those little gems.

New & Selected Poems is available now, today, this very instant…the release date for Stromata is September 20th.

More info to come…

(Click on covers to see larger versions)

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Ahab stalks it still, through the swollen underbrush, its trail wide and easy to follow, marked by pulverized tree trunks, a long, deep, snaking rut in the soft loam of the forest floor.

He will follow it to the very gates of Perdition, if necessary, his hate a goad, relentless and all-consuming.

Hobbling along in the wake of the great whale, knowing it is somewhere ahead, moving easily across the earth, surging forward with powerful thrusts, swimming through seas of bright green.

* * * * *

Yes, I know some of you might recognize this snippet from a recent Facebook post but I couldn’t help reprinting it here, for those who missed it.  It’s probably my favorite prose piece of the past few weeks.  Sherron sent me some photos of Adrian Villar Rojas’ elegant sculpture and I immediately scribbled out a response.  It gave me goosebumps once I finished it.

This one just feels…right.

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The scariest people are the ones inside you.

Extrinsic evil is a myth, the product of media hype.

Invented crime figures conceal the identities of the real perpetrators:

law-abiding citizens

tax payers

members of the Chamber of Commerce

Upstanding in the community, invulnerable by common consent.

© Copyright, 2012  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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Every couple of months, Wendy at our local library organizes an “open mike” for any writers interested in sharing their work in a, gulp, public forum.

I’ve kind of lost my zest for performing my stuff live but I started going, hoping it would encourage my two sons, both talented writers, and their friends to contribute.  I love it when a visibly nervous teen author stands in front of us and, voice quaking, reads a poem or short story.  Takes me back to the days when I—

Well, never mind.

I always try to have new material for the “open mike” and this time premiered three pieces that even my wife hadn’t heard before.  Here are the four offerings I read last night, including “Accident”, which appeared on this blog a couple of years ago but, what the heck, thought I’d reprint it anyway (it read beautifully):

 

Accident


This is a car crash.  It’s happening right now.  A collision in progress.  Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats.  And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max.  You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it.  Something else.  A heaviness.  In the region of your chest.  A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be.  A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born.  From the backseat.  Ten A.U.’s behind you.  Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations.  Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying.  On the threshold of an instant.  The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.

 

Reaper


November is bleeding,

leached of color, vitality,

the land losing its life’s blood

in dark, spreading gouts.

Anemic, cancerous, brittle,

tiny bones crackling underfoot:

this is the graveyard of summer.

Brightening it with festive lights,

disguising it with tinsel, false cheer

but unable to defeat the oppression,

looming like a storm front.

Hibernation is a state between life and death,

a sleep from which some animals never wake–

another hard winter descends from the mountains,

the sun creeping back to make way.

 

Bird

“When that love was done with, I was left like a bird on a branch.  I was no longer any use for anything.” Paul Eluard & Andre Breton, The Immaculate Conception (Translation by Jon Graham)

 

I am that bird/a useless, futile thing/purposeless and unblinking/stiffly clutched on my shivering perch

Denied foresight, stratagems/creature of instinct, heedless/as scattered petals or blown seed/no decisions, save alarm and flight

like the lilies of the field

like the trees and stones,

or a worm, turning in thick, black dirt

Free from striving and strife/charged only with existence/descended from dinosaurs/ small-brained and tuned to the stars

Waking you with piercing melodies/disdainful of the tardy dawn/spying with small, beady eyes/as you depart for work in a funk

Nestled against the weather/high up where the cats can’t reach/alert, yet lightly dozing/untroubled by what you call “dreams”

 

First Words

“My health was endangered.  Terror assailed me.”

Arthur Rimbaud, on the writing of Illuminations


Franz Kafka insisted we should only read books that “bite and sting us”.  Volumes, one presumes, capable of savaging unwary readers, leaving them spotted with blood.  Kafka, a gentle man, left strict instructions in his will that his writings be burned.  His executor, Max Brod, ignored his friend’s wishes and preserved his distinctive novels and stories; as a result, each year I risk serious injury plucking them from my shelves.

Words created us and words sustain us:

“The technical language of religion is

symbolism, with storytelling one of its

most important varieties.”

(so sayeth Huston Smith)

Ideas become words become action.  The correct conjunction of vowels and consonants will, according to some mythologies, lead to an unbinding.

A return to nullity.  From whence we came.

Be mindful and compassionate.  Practice right thought, right speech.  Do not call the worst into being.  Offer prayers to a Creator beyond faith.  Use the ancient words of praise.  The ones handed down through the ages.  Hallowed be thy name, o, God, thy will be done

 

*****************************************************************************

 

When I finished reading, Sherron was beaming.

Snuck in under the eight-minute time limit too.

Thanks to all the participants and audience members.  See you at my book launch on Wednesday!

 

(Photo by Zach Den Adel)

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Never thought I’d say this but…

So Dark the Night is done.

Editing, polishing and buffing now complete.  After some proof-reading for typos and mis-spellings, it’s off to the printer in the form of a PDF and, hopefully, by early March we’ll have a physical book to offer you.  Really pleased with the changes I’ve made; I’ve tightened the novel considerably, lopped about 5 pages from its length.  Speeds up the pacing..the idea is to make the book impossible to put down.  And I think I’ve come pretty close to achieving that goal.

Can’t wait to see Ado Ceric’s gorgeous cover art on a trade paperback.  Hoping to keep the price around $17-18 max.  And, of course, we’ll still be offering the newly revamped So Dark the Night as a free e-book for those of you who have evolved and now do most of your reading from some kind of screen.  Judging by the number of downloads I’ve had over the past couple of weeks, I’d say a lot of folks received Kindles or other e-readers as Christmas gifts.  After all, what else do you give a discerning bibliophile (if you’ve got over $200 to spare)?

There will be more posts re: the release of So Dark the Night (the book) so stay tuned.

* * * * * *

In the meantime, idle hands and all that:  once I completed edits on the novel, I had some free time and indulged in some “automatic” writing.  This is what I came up with, my first fiction and verse of 2010:


Toxic Waste

A witch’s heart won’t burn, so what do you do with it?  It can’t be buried, its evil influence would still be felt, blighting crops, causing stillbirths.  To cast it into a well would poison the water for miles around.

No, best to keep the vile thing locked away.  In a lead-lined canister, sealed with wax, submerged in holy water.

And who better to steward the damned things than me?  Serving as an invaluable repository for witch-hunters desperate to dispose of something infernal, indestructible.  Making a pretty penny off it too, if I may say so.  Not many willing to do the work, to be honest.

It’s the shrieking and carrying on that’s the worst.  There are nights I have to stopper my ears. They never rest and they never stop yearning to be free.  From a hundred shelves, a thousand faceless jars.  Some of them claiming innocence, and they’re the most dangerous and insidious of all.

© Cliff Burns, 2010


Boxes

They have departed to the pleasure domes
abandoned their husks to decay

Meatless, eternal, every wish fulfilled.
Etheric couplings, satisfaction guaranteed;
high adventure, simulated to the last pixel
experience without significance,
vouchsafed by an overcautious A.I.

You can never die and so
you can never live
and virtual love is no love
at all

They can emulate everything except a soul
(but it’s only a matter of time)


© Cliff Burns, 2010

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imagesWell, this is cause to celebrate.

This happens to be blog post #100 and, if that isn’t enough, later on this week this site will receive its 50,000th visit.

Wow.  That’s an overwhelming number of people coming to a blog devoted to a Canuck writer who has eschewed the big time, stubbornly maintained his singular vision with an orneriness not often seen in writing circles.

God bless you, folks.  You’re all the proof that I need to reassure myself that the indie path is the one for me and I shall continue to produce work that fits no niches or stereotypes or genres, confident that smart, discerning readers will find me…and help spread the word.

To mark this auspicious occasion I’ve recorded three of my favorite short-short stories, adding music and sound effects to enhance the experience.  Once again, Sherron lent a helping hand, pulling the whole mess together.  The final result surprised and delighted me to the extent that I think it’s safe to say there will be more such efforts in the near future.

Ah, heck, enough of my jabbering.  Have a listen to these pieces and, as always, I encourage you to leave a comment, letting me know what you think…

Cliff Burns Reading Short Stories (V.2)

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Accident

This is a car crash.  It’s happening right now.  A collision in progress.  Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats.

And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max.  You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it.

Something else.  A heaviness.  In the region of your chest.  A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be.  A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born.  From the backseat.  Ten A.U.’s behind you.

Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations.  Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying.

On the threshold of an instant.  The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.

car

(A tune-up of sorts, the equivalent of a pianist cracking his knuckles.  No pre-planning, just put fingers to keyboard and see where it takes me. Some of my best stuff comes through this process.  It requires a leap of faith…and a willingness to fail.  I like “Accident” and welcome your thoughts on this modest example of “automatic” writing.  If you’d like too see more of my short-short prose, go to the “Rarities” page and check out some of the work I’ve posted there…)

* Also, be sure to have a look at my latest post on RedRoom where I talk about nearly taking my stupid head off New Year’s Day.  And the important object lesson I drew from the experience.

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