Category Archives: essayist

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Chasing the Past

by Tyrese Coleman


In elementary school, I won a medal as my first and only writing prize. I had created a picture book called Shirley’s Blocks about a girl named Shirley who wished for a set of blocks for her birthday. Or, maybe it was Christmas—plot is not within reach of my memory right now. Although I don’t think it is as important as what I do remember, such as the bright lights of my classroom, the comforting isolation of concentration while coloring in a green turtle or tracing my careful and deliberate penciled lettering with a black pen, the shadow of my body hovered over the white paper as I positioned the turtle next to Shirley, a little black girl with long hair, holding a red block. This is my earliest writing memory.
I named her Shirley after my aunt, my father’s sister. My mom and dad were never married and had me at a young age, my mom 17 and my dad 20. I must’ve seen my Aunt Shirley the weekend before I wrote the story. My parents shipped me back and forth on the weekends, and I lived mostly with my great-aunt on my mother’s side the rest of the week. My Aunt Bee Bee woke me for school in the mornings, helped me get dressed, fed me breakfast or gave me money to eat it at school, made sure I was outside waiting for the bus, especially on cold mornings when the warmth from the kerosene heater reached the far edges of the house and into my bedroom, the comfort of the bed I shared with her more enticing than those bright classroom lights waiting for me beyond the hour bus ride.
I was to receive my award at a large, fancy ceremony at what used to be called The Mosque in Richmond, Virginia, but is now called Altria Theater. I wore an uncomfortable velvet dress and white tights. I’m not sure how the ceremony was explained to my mother, but she was not in a rush to get me there. We arrived late, very late, and as we ascended the stairs to where the usher told us to go, we met my teacher. My memory flickers here, like an old-time movie with scratches and ticks and skips. In the way of my understanding what happened is the lingering confusion of a seven-year-old who only knows that she was supposed to walk up to a stage, have a medal threaded with a satin sash placed around her neck, and be told that her book was the best in front a crowd.
 
But in between those scratches and ticks and skips of memory, I recognize, now thirty years mature, the glance of irritation from my teacher sliced toward my mother’s direction. This look in my now adult mind reads as some expectation of disappointment, and I think my teacher probably wished I’d come from a different home, a different family, one with a better sense of haste, with parents who weren’t children themselves. I’d missed my award. Missed the whole damn thing.
My teacher had my book. I had not seen the final product. It was perfectly bound and laminated with my drawings of Shirley and her blocks. I don’t know if I cried or not. I think I must have because I still carry with me the disappointment and anger from this moment, conflated by the raw eagerness of childhood emotions still worming through my psyche.
My journey across planet write is circuitous, where I am always chasing this memory and the feelings from it, hoping that when it comes back around again, I can smother it, erase it, make it flick and fade away with the joy I get from writing and sharing my work with others now. And then other times, when that rotation comes back around and I am forced into that sadness I associate with some of childhood and with using that childhood to express myself, I deliberately wallow inside the dark lines of the flickered memories, wanting to root and curl up in those feelings that make the stories I tell real. I return to the comforting isolation of concentration, the hovering shadows my body makes as I crouch over my laptop or journal, choosing each word deliberately, hoping to tell the story of little black girls who look like me, who remind me of my Aunt Shirley, who are as special to me as those women who woke me in the mornings for school and who made me miss my medal, because, without them, my first writing memory would not have so much power. And I want my writing to have power.

Here is a story by Tyrese Coleman:

Prom Night

Outside fogging car windows, empty parking lot lights glowed like part of a fairy world Keisha wasn’t allowed in. X, still wearing his tux, passed the blunt toward the front seat to his boy dressed in a white tee; he hadn’t gone to prom. The radio played 90s hip-hop—money, cash, hos, moneycashhos—they rapped along. The fairies outside her window were blond and pristine with stars for eyes and gold-coin titties. Could heavy-breasted black girls be fairies? Nah—her magic was lost at ten when her mother’s boyfriend fingered her, taken when men at her grandmother’s house parties grabbed her, made her sit on their hard laps and bounced, bounced, bounced her soft baby-girl body against dirty construction clothes rotten from sour Wild Irish Rose. Gave the magic away at fourteen to an older boy who said he loved her. What else was she supposed to do with it? So, did it matter if she let these boys have some of it too? Did it matter if they laid her flat, pressed her face against the blue leatherette seat, did a Chinese fire drill around the car to switch places when the first was done, high-fiving on the way around like teammates through an obstacle course, while Keisha suffocated silently until every drop of any magic she’d ever had was gone?
She sucked the fat brown tube when the blunt came her way. Her fingertips tingled unpleasantly. She shivered in the boiling car. X said her hands were cold. He kissed her. It was messy despite his soup coolers, wet, his breath tasting of stale cigars and McDonald’s chicken nuggets. Keisha and X were alphas: smart, popular, college bound. His friend, she couldn’t remember his name, was the Nobody, the Dope Boy, the Sidekick. Nobody was the poor kid the hot guy friended in elementary school, or his cousin he shared sloppy seconds with.
Nobody faced the steering wheel while Keisha and X kissed. She sensed Nobody’s hard-on, lingering in the air with the weed smoke. What did he think? That this is how it happens in pornos, his anticipation a tight spring before release? She knew nothing about him, and his power scared her. X pulled away. Nobody faced Keisha. She stared at her shoes.
Nobody got out of the car—was it too late to say no? X massaged up her thigh. She looked over the front seat through the windshield to a haze of black, golden darkness, like Christmas, wishing she could fade into the land of the little white fairies, fly into the iris of a glowing dot of light between dark trees with notched, shadowy holes. Be magical, like what she’d dreamed this night would be.
The headlights of a security service car turned a corner, tiger eyes burning brightly. Nobody jumped into the front seat, turned the engine over, and drove off. The boys wanted to park somewhere else, roll a new blunt, drink more beer, listen to more music, and run a train on her.
But—the engine’s vibration. The car’s motion. The taste of open air, fresh air—warm, spring air struggling to breathe while summer sits on its face—the taste, the caress over her bare shoulders and open toes. A spell broke. She made them stop the car. Eyelids half-shut, she walked home in her slinky dress, her pumps glittering an unearthed enchantment across the blacktop.
Originally published by Stoneslide Corrective, May-June 2016

__________________________________________


Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, and 
attorney. She is also the fiction editor for District Lit, and an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. A 2016 Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a nonfiction scholar at Virginia Quarterly Review’s 2016 Writer’s Conference, her prose has appeared in several publications, including PANK, Day One, Buzzfeed, Brevity, The Rumpus, Hobart, listed in Wigleaf’s Top 50 (very) short fictions, and forthcoming at The Kenyon Review. She can be reached at tyresecoleman.com.



JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Late in the Game

by Nina Rota


Today we have a special treat. Here is the YouTube video Nina Rota created for Words in Place‘s “Journey to Planet Write!”








Excerpt from THE SHADOW TEMPLE
by
Nina Rota
            something outside intrudes. rolling sound and flashing light arrive together soaking a pair of thin curtains. streetlight and electric hum. a second layer of thick curtain reduces the constant sound of tires cornering to a crackly hush, like walking on gravel in the countryside. streaking headlights, now muted, crawl slowly across the room.
            inside, one cone of light from a swivel wall sconce. i barely see his dark eyes. sitting on the bed, i take his slender hips and pull him to me, between my open legs. i bury my head in his middle and wrap myself tightly around him, taking full possession. he surrenders.
            my hand trails across his buttock and down the back of his thigh. my shoulders lift and my middle expands. reaching for a breath that was easy moments ago.
            i undo his low hanging pants and rub my face across his belly, his soft skin. i move down and reach for him, then take him into my mouth. building fire with each stroke, i am completely sated till the next level of desire. he stays hard, pliable.
            i stand up and move behind him, i reach around him. my hand still holds him. i push my face into his long hair and lean in. push into him. my entire body lights up. my arms are weightless, lifted. every cell rises, lighter than itself, and separates, till i am totally transparent. thoughtless. unaware except for his body. ecstatic.
            slowly, my heartbeat grows louder. feelings rush back in, pleasure, longing. i untangle myself and move him to the bed, on his stomach. take off my pants and crawl over his back. slide a pillow under his belly, and enter him. my cheek in the curve of his neck, i spread my legs and go deeper. sink into him. i slide my arms under his shoulders, glue myself to his body, and thrust.
            my core muscles pull in and up, arching my back, pulling my head down. my forehead digs into his spine as breath sharpens and turns in on itself. shoulders roll forward and constrict my chest further. thighs grab, every nerve online, till i reach the edge and, finally, lift off. flying on uncontrollable pulses passing through me nonstop. release and escape.
            Note on Personals Wall in The Shadow Temple
fag identified dyke looking for someone to play out a scene between an older man and a much younger man,
please find me if interested, Nina

            Andrew and I crossed paths on our way to The Shadow Temple. This was our second try at doing the scene. Andrew missed the first one choosing to take a workshop instead. Now we had less than an hour before the closing ceremony began. We exchanged embarrassed smiles.
            Dust kicked up over the back of my sandals and bugs crawled everywhere. Andrew walked ahead moving effortlessly in his small dancers body.
            We opened the screen door and walked into the living room. It was full of mismatched chairs and a few sofas. There was a ratty shag carpet in the middle of the room. Andrew looked around then looked shyly at me, “Lets go upstairs.” 
            The upstairs room was empty except for three equally spaced beds. It was dead quiet in a way that was almost loud. I wanted to drown the quiet with music, but there wasnt any. Bright sunlight pierced the room from windows at each end. Outside, sparse New Mexico ranch land stretched out until interrupted by mountains in the distance. I couldnt stand it. I had to close the walls and bring in some night. “I need to shut the blinds.”
            “Okay,” Andrew said with a slight question mark. It felt like early evening in the shadow of the blinds. In the close darkness of my fantasy, I was protected by traffic noise and thick curtains. Here, I was exposed.
            Andrew walked over to the center bed and climbed up until he was kneeling in the middle of the bed, facing away from me. As I walked towards him, I stumbled over my sandals. I sat down on the edge of the bed and removed them.
            I turned and watched him. His breathing was even but very deep, his body still. I was jumpy and chaotic. Cells pinged off the inner walls of my body and smashed into each other nonstop. I dropped my head into my hands and looked at my naked feet. You’re the one who set this scene up. You wanted to seduce a younger man. Now do something! I lifted my shoulders and took a deep breath, then turned around. I crawled up behind him and opened my knees until my chest was just a few inches from his back. “May I touch you?”
            He lifted his chin slightly in assent. I placed a shaky hand on the middle of his back. I moved it along his spine up to the nape of his neck. “Your hair is so beautiful.” I brushed my hand up the back of his head, lifting the short blonde hairs, feeling every bone and bump. His head moved forward and away slowly, passively.
            When I reached the crown of his head, I held my hand there to calm myself. His head felt so small. Wed started to breathe together.
            I moved my other arm around his body and stroked his cheek with the back of my hand. “Your skin is soft, smooth. May I hold you?” His body moved up and back. I took that as a yes and moved forward putting both arms around his chest. My thighs opened further and hugged the flesh at his hips.
            In my fantasy I always felt raw sexual desire, I could do whatever I wanted with him. He was anonymous. Now there was a breathing body next to mine, I found myself asking permission for the smallest move.
            A loud crashing sound startled me and made him jump. He looked in the direction of the noise then turned to me and lowered his head, smiling demurely. “Maybe someone is spying on us.”
            A cascade of shame lit my face and burned down the front of my chest. Was a disapproving stranger looking on? Shame gave way to a flush of warmth that confused me. The possibility of prying eyes was turning me on. I smiled to myself. Instead of paralyzing me, my deepest fears were now feeding my desire. Finally, I was beginning to settle into my body. I could continue. “Probably a branch falling off a dead tree.”
            I laid my head on Andrew’s shoulder and breathed out through pursed lips. He turned his head towards mine, so I took the opportunity to put my hands on his hips and move him around.
            Now he was facing me, and I placed both hands on his white t-shirt. As I ran them across his chest, his body moved into me. I continued down to his belly and across the fly on his jeans. He flinched and pulled his stomach in. His breath shortened.
            He was still kneeling and his hands were resting on his legs. I separated my hands and pulled them across his thighs, brushing the top ofhis hands. His jeans were rough and patchy with tears above the knees. I wrapped my hands around his legs and squeezed the exposed skin. My whole body tightened and the fire started up again. I had to open my eyes to gather my breath.
            His body tightened too and I felt bad about being rough. I took one of his hands in mine and kissed his palm. Then I pulled him down by his forearms until his head reached my lap.
            I leaned forward and covered his body with mine, my arms draped over his lower torso. I reached down and lifted the bottom of his shirt. He shifted slightly, then pulled his hands back to his side and underneath him. His breath shortened further as I moved my fingers across the bony skin on the small of his back, and down to his buttocks. Then inside his jeans.
            I heard him make a low humming noise, but as it got louder I realized I was hearing someone blow a conch horn. The closing ceremony was beginning. Andrew sat up quickly, almost hitting my chin with the crown of his head. “We’d better go,” he said, and jumped off the bed.
            “Oh. Okay. Ill be along soon.”
            I walked to the window and opened the slats to horizontal. More sound outside – voices of campers on their way to the closing ceremony. I strapped on my sandals and walked downstairs.
            In the living room, one wall was covered with cork board and my note was pinned there. I took it down and looked at it. I put the note in my pocket and walked out of The Shadow Temple.

__________________________________________________


Nina Rota is a writer and filmmaker. Her writing can be found in Witness Magazine, Red Fez, and Diverse Voices Quarterly, among others. Her short films have appeared in Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time project and Anthology Film Archives. She is currently working on a book of essays titled Walls Crumble Before Me. You can find her at Facebook.com/ninarota and ninarota.com.


Here is the link to the YouTube video Nina Rota created for Words in Place‘s “Journey to Planet Write!”

https://youtu.be/UAOd_iqlmas

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Late to the Game

by Nina Rota


Today we have a special treat. Here is the YouTube video Nina Rota created for Words in Place‘s “Journey to Planet Write!”








Excerpt from THE SHADOW TEMPLE
by
Nina Rota
            something outside intrudes. rolling sound and flashing light arrive together soaking a pair of thin curtains. streetlight and electric hum. a second layer of thick curtain reduces the constant sound of tires cornering to a crackly hush, like walking on gravel in the countryside. streaking headlights, now muted, crawl slowly across the room.
            inside, one cone of light from a swivel wall sconce. i barely see his dark eyes. sitting on the bed, i take his slender hips and pull him to me, between my open legs. i bury my head in his middle and wrap myself tightly around him, taking full possession. he surrenders.
            my hand trails across his buttock and down the back of his thigh. my shoulders lift and my middle expands. reaching for a breath that was easy moments ago.
            i undo his low hanging pants and rub my face across his belly, his soft skin. i move down and reach for him, then take him into my mouth. building fire with each stroke, i am completely sated till the next level of desire. he stays hard, pliable.
            i stand up and move behind him, i reach around him. my hand still holds him. i push my face into his long hair and lean in. push into him. my entire body lights up. my arms are weightless, lifted. every cell rises, lighter than itself, and separates, till i am totally transparent. thoughtless. unaware except for his body. ecstatic.
            slowly, my heartbeat grows louder. feelings rush back in, pleasure, longing. i untangle myself and move him to the bed, on his stomach. take off my pants and crawl over his back. slide a pillow under his belly, and enter him. my cheek in the curve of his neck, i spread my legs and go deeper. sink into him. i slide my arms under his shoulders, glue myself to his body, and thrust.
            my core muscles pull in and up, arching my back, pulling my head down. my forehead digs into his spine as breath sharpens and turns in on itself. shoulders roll forward and constrict my chest further. thighs grab, every nerve online, till i reach the edge and, finally, lift off. flying on uncontrollable pulses passing through me nonstop. release and escape.
            Note on Personals Wall in The Shadow Temple
fag identified dyke looking for someone to play out a scene between an older man and a much younger man,
please find me if interested, Nina

            Andrew and I crossed paths on our way to The Shadow Temple. This was our second try at doing the scene. Andrew missed the first one choosing to take a workshop instead. Now we had less than an hour before the closing ceremony began. We exchanged embarrassed smiles.
            Dust kicked up over the back of my sandals and bugs crawled everywhere. Andrew walked ahead moving effortlessly in his small dancers body.
            We opened the screen door and walked into the living room. It was full of mismatched chairs and a few sofas. There was a ratty shag carpet in the middle of the room. Andrew looked around then looked shyly at me, “Lets go upstairs.” 
            The upstairs room was empty except for three equally spaced beds. It was dead quiet in a way that was almost loud. I wanted to drown the quiet with music, but there wasnt any. Bright sunlight pierced the room from windows at each end. Outside, sparse New Mexico ranch land stretched out until interrupted by mountains in the distance. I couldnt stand it. I had to close the walls and bring in some night. “I need to shut the blinds.”
            “Okay,” Andrew said with a slight question mark. It felt like early evening in the shadow of the blinds. In the close darkness of my fantasy, I was protected by traffic noise and thick curtains. Here, I was exposed.
            Andrew walked over to the center bed and climbed up until he was kneeling in the middle of the bed, facing away from me. As I walked towards him, I stumbled over my sandals. I sat down on the edge of the bed and removed them.
            I turned and watched him. His breathing was even but very deep, his body still. I was jumpy and chaotic. Cells pinged off the inner walls of my body and smashed into each other nonstop. I dropped my head into my hands and looked at my naked feet. You’re the one who set this scene up. You wanted to seduce a younger man. Now do something! I lifted my shoulders and took a deep breath, then turned around. I crawled up behind him and opened my knees until my chest was just a few inches from his back. “May I touch you?”
            He lifted his chin slightly in assent. I placed a shaky hand on the middle of his back. I moved it along his spine up to the nape of his neck. “Your hair is so beautiful.” I brushed my hand up the back of his head, lifting the short blonde hairs, feeling every bone and bump. His head moved forward and away slowly, passively.
            When I reached the crown of his head, I held my hand there to calm myself. His head felt so small. Wed started to breathe together.
            I moved my other arm around his body and stroked his cheek with the back of my hand. “Your skin is soft, smooth. May I hold you?” His body moved up and back. I took that as a yes and moved forward putting both arms around his chest. My thighs opened further and hugged the flesh at his hips.
            In my fantasy I always felt raw sexual desire, I could do whatever I wanted with him. He was anonymous. Now there was a breathing body next to mine, I found myself asking permission for the smallest move.
            A loud crashing sound startled me and made him jump. He looked in the direction of the noise then turned to me and lowered his head, smiling demurely. “Maybe someone is spying on us.”
            A cascade of shame lit my face and burned down the front of my chest. Was a disapproving stranger looking on? Shame gave way to a flush of warmth that confused me. The possibility of prying eyes was turning me on. I smiled to myself. Instead of paralyzing me, my deepest fears were now feeding my desire. Finally, I was beginning to settle into my body. I could continue. “Probably a branch falling off a dead tree.”
            I laid my head on Andrew’s shoulder and breathed out through pursed lips. He turned his head towards mine, so I took the opportunity to put my hands on his hips and move him around.
            Now he was facing me, and I placed both hands on his white t-shirt. As I ran them across his chest, his body moved into me. I continued down to his belly and across the fly on his jeans. He flinched and pulled his stomach in. His breath shortened.
            He was still kneeling and his hands were resting on his legs. I separated my hands and pulled them across his thighs, brushing the top ofhis hands. His jeans were rough and patchy with tears above the knees. I wrapped my hands around his legs and squeezed the exposed skin. My whole body tightened and the fire started up again. I had to open my eyes to gather my breath.
            His body tightened too and I felt bad about being rough. I took one of his hands in mine and kissed his palm. Then I pulled him down by his forearms until his head reached my lap.
            I leaned forward and covered his body with mine, my arms draped over his lower torso. I reached down and lifted the bottom of his shirt. He shifted slightly, then pulled his hands back to his side and underneath him. His breath shortened further as I moved my fingers across the bony skin on the small of his back, and down to his buttocks. Then inside his jeans.
            I heard him make a low humming noise, but as it got louder I realized I was hearing someone blow a conch horn. The closing ceremony was beginning. Andrew sat up quickly, almost hitting my chin with the crown of his head. “We’d better go,” he said, and jumped off the bed.
            “Oh. Okay. Ill be along soon.”
            I walked to the window and opened the slats to horizontal. More sound outside – voices of campers on their way to the closing ceremony. I strapped on my sandals and walked downstairs.
            In the living room, one wall was covered with cork board and my note was pinned there. I took it down and looked at it. I put the note in my pocket and walked out of The Shadow Temple.

__________________________________________________


Nina Rota is a writer and filmmaker. Her writing can be found in Witness Magazine, Red Fez, and Diverse Voices Quarterly, among others. Her short films have appeared in Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time project and Anthology Film Archives. She is currently working on a book of essays titled Walls Crumble Before Me. You can find her at Facebook.com/ninarota and ninarota.com.


Here is the link to the YouTube video Nina Rota created for Words in Place‘s “Journey to Planet Write!”

https://youtu.be/UAOd_iqlmas