Does Nature Love Soccer Better? My French Friend Thinks So. (creative nonfiction)

(Written October, 2022)

“How Nature loves the incomplete. She knows if she drew a conclusion it would finish her.” -Christopher Fry

I tried to watch soccer last night. I was watching it after I watched an hour and a half of baseball. I had been watching baseball for days, had been getting a little restless with it, and thought soccer might be a little less boring. I watched fifteen minutes of soccer and thought, man, this is boring as fuck. Back and forth and back and forth and absolutely nothing happens. Hypnotic in an I’d-like-to-blow -my-hypnotized-brains-out kind of way. So I turned back to baseball—a scoreless game.

And you have to think, man, that soccer really did have to be boring as fuck if it was boring as fuck after seven straight nights plus an hour and a half of baseball.

But I’m determined to like soccer for my French friend’s sake.

I got a notification on my phone when the game ended that the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake had tied. One to one and I thought, man… I would have been mad as fuck had I watched that whole boring as fuck game and it ended up in a fucking tie! Fuck me!

It’s incomplete. At least the baseball guys play until something happens. Some thing… a one sided thing. At least they play until some one-sided thing happens and it is lopsided for one set of guys or the other, but it is at least complete and we can all go home knowing that one half of the fans or the other had an orgasm and one half of the fans or the other have earned their post game cigarette.

A fucking tie. Incomplete!

Does that mean Nature loves soccer better? My French friend thinks so. He is also sure Nature loves France better because, I think, France has the best boring ass soccer player at this moment.

-M. Ashley

Stain the Inside Dark (creative nonfiction)

My first instinct is to tell you that my coffee habit is boring, but really it’s not. I had worked up to bankrupting myself with four k-cups a day so I moved on to doing my coffee in the French press. Much more caffeine bang for your buck. I put in a scoop for each squirt of the Keurig, each 10oz squirt. I thought that was a lot and then I realized it should be 8oz, well, I guess I’m not as fast and furious as I thought I was.

I smoked some weed not too long ago and it gave me a three hour long panic attack where I thought my heart was going to explode and I would surely die jogging around the back yard to try to burn off the adrenaline. I jogged 4.5 miles that day. After that, I had chest pain for three days and was terrified of drinking any coffee at all lest it perk up my exhausted heart and start me into another health crisis or a panic attack the felt like a health crisis. And I thought, on the one hand that wasn’t fearing for my life, oh good! This is how Michelle gets off caffeine. What a handy little blessing and all I had to pay for it was a three hour long heart attack. Felt steep in the moment, but surely I would get over it in time, right?

I have to say not really. Just writing about it, I can feel a cold terror pouring down on me over the top of my head and right into my chest that has not been panic attack free since the “weed incident.”

But that was not how I got off caffeine at all. I just had to work myself back up to 26oz of French press coffee with just a little bit of 2% milk to top off my Yeti. The milk is sort of useless. I don’t actually taste it. I might as well put in a few cubes of ice like you do with soup that’s too hot, so ineffectual is this milk. But god says milk is good for me. I think he meant in larger quantities, but some goodness is better than none, so I splash it to top of my black as night, oily coffee in my scuzzy Yeti that I rinse but don’t really wash.

I took a ceramics class once where the teacher, who looked just like Jesus but with blue eyes, and who insisted on making deep eye contact, which was kind of hot actually even if he did look like Jesus—we were all sitting around the room where you color the pots, not a clue, oh yes, glaze. Where you glaze your badly made, crooked crockery, and he said you might want to glaze your coffee mugs a dark color on the inside if you’re one of those people who don’t wash your coffee cups. My best friend looked at me, right in the eyes like blue eyed Jesus did, and I said, “Why is everyone looking at me?” Because, in my mind, the whole room made Jesus style eye contact with me at that moment. That’s right, we all know your sins. We all know your coffee cups are stained.

Look, here’s the thing. Coffee is just black water. How often would you wash a cup that you just had water in? Well, maybe you would, but I wouldn’t do that either. And the milk kind of sits on top, so I run a sponge around the rim, because not washing a milk cup is actually gross, then I rinse out the sediment that the French press can’t get and I’m good to go.

The Yeti isn’t glazed dark, but it’s once silver is stained almost dark as night now so, hey Jesus, mission accomplished.

-M. Ashley

Rib Tat (poetry)

My bestie’s cousin–they call him Sketch
Pad–has a tattoo on his penis
But was too pain-shy to finish
The right half of his left-right
Two word rib tat. He was supposed
To be “Black Sheep.” He ended up

(Ellipsis implied, not actually tatted.)

-M. Ashley

My Mother’s Attempted Slow Suicide by Refusing to Eat (poetry)

I hope this is the last time my
Tired ass leaves the seat of
This gray vinyl hospital chair
Turned forty-five degrees to
My mother’s gray blanketed
Hospital bed. She’s being
Discharged today to better things
I hope.

Today—leaving day—
Is the first day I noticed there is
Color in this room. I have nothing
Poetry profound to say about
This presence—the coral and blue.
Nothing you can carry in your pocket when
Your mom attempts slow suicide too by
Refusing to eat—to comfort you. To
Reckon the anger. All the anger.

Except to say the color is there.
The color is there, aloof
Of whether you see it or not.

But do see it. See the color.
It’s there.

-M. Ashley
photo taken at Kaiser Ontario Hospital, Ontario, CA

Tongue (Flash Fiction)

There is a man on a gallows whose tongue lolled out of his mouth even before he was hanged. He is unsympathetic because of his tongue and other oddities, such as walking with a left foot hitch and speaking as if he can’t get that lolling tongue out of his way, which wouldn’t have been so bad—we can have sympathy for a defective—but what he said through his obtrusive tongue was usually lies, so we are not so disturbed that he is getting hanged today. Lied about the wrong person, we assume. Offended the wrong ears. Or maybe it was that one time he told the truth and the one time somebody believed him that got him on the gallows today. In any case, we are glad to be rid of him.

We see he has a note in his pocket. It’s about to fall out as the hangman tightens the noose around his neck. He inclines his head toward it and says something urgently through his tongue. He is terrified, naturally, we give him that, so he’s making even less sense than usual, but we know, and the hangman knows, he wants someone to read that note.

Dead men, or just-about-to-be dead men, deserve one final wish, so long as it’s not an evil wish, so the hangman obliges, grabs the note and reads:

“I am Lucifer in the flesh and God has got my tongue. He pulled it so hard the last time I teased him for losing at checkers that he ripped the muscle and I haven’t been able to draw it back in the whole life I have been trapped in this limping body. I thank the hangman in advance and I thank all of you watching for giving me this dramatic new beginning. Out of this ugly carcass I will be restored a handsome devil with a silver tongue I can keep in my mouth, for heaven’s sake, and I can tease and tattle again as eloquently as I was made to do. You all do me a favor this day and I thank you. Hang me quickly! My tongue is sandpaper dry and I’m dying to be dead!”

The hangman frowns and we see the paper trembling in his hand. We are a superstitious people, we don’t mind telling you. We won’t even have decorative devils on our damper pulls because we worry so much about inviting him into our houses. Though those damper pulls are awfully cute, we can’t risk it! So how can we risk releasing the very devil now? What do we do with him? He’s probably lying, but the devil is the best liar, isn’t he? And this would be the very best lie.

We are a God fearing, fearing people too, and if God trapped that rascal in this body and pulled his tongue out, who are we to kill him and have the undertaker respectfully lay that tongue back in the empty corpse’s mouth?

The hangman looks out over us and we look at each other and back at him, and though we are looking at him and not each other now, we all know we are nodding our heads. Let him go. Let God’s punishment stand. Let the flesh be a prison. Let the tongue go so dry it eventually altogether falls off. Up with God’s will and down with this man off the gallows which, we think, must be the hard way God intended.

The hangman, his name is Collin incidentally, nice fellow, lifts the noose from around Lucifer-in-the-Flesh’s neck and Lucifer jumps down off the gallows, spritely as a schoolboy playing hooky. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I can untie my hands myself.” We hear that perfectly despite his tongue. We also hear perfectly his rattling laugh as he hightails it, long fingers working the knot, off into the desert.

-M. Ashley

(No one would believe it, so I had to take a picture. When I originally wrote this, before editing, it came out to exactly 666 words! All by itself. Ha! Wicked cool!)

The Croupier God (prose poem)

The croupier god comped me a suite at The Palace, (offseason), and led me through the hallways personally, making smalltalk, explaining how the elevators work, keeping a steady pace while his scuffed rake dangled from a black elastic loop sewn custom into the lining of his white suit jacket. He opened the coded door for me, (first try), deciphered the thermostat, unstuck the drawers, programmed the remote to new, in-house channels, and turned the well-dressed bed down.

He said, “This luxury is where you lie.”

He handed me a gold card with my name embossed, black laurel in the upper right corner framing a female silhouette with an EZ-Read magnetic strip on the backside hovering over a hotlist of company-owned joints.

He said, “This is how we feed you for free.”

He strummed his swarthy fingers over an orderly row of three-score and ten play-worn purple checks arranged in an open, unfinished wooden box lined in remnant green felt and set on top of the empty honor bar.

He said, “And these? These are a very good start.”

-M. Ashley

As of today, this poem is ten years old. Crazy crazy crazy. Happy New Year everyone!

22 Things I Learned in 2022

1. Being a Horrible Hose Beast to myself doesn’t accomplish anything.

2. Self-Compassion vanquishes the Horrible Hose Beast even if it does look like a big, long-haired sissy.

3. Cold showers are invigorating only in the summer when the “cold” water comes out pool water warm because it’s a million degrees outside.

4. I can wash my hair and my whole body with one stock pot full of stove-heated water. (Did I mention our water heater broke this year?)

5. I can still remember the classical piano pieces I learned last October even though, after I learned them, I didn’t practice again until this October. Muscle memory is righteous.

6. I am capable of injuring myself in my sleep. I am gifted like that and also middle-aged.

7. I can withstand hour long phone calls with narcissistic jerks.

8. Other people can stand hour long phone calls with this narcissistic jerk.

9. If I spot it, man oh man do I got it!

10. Eight million twelve step slogans.

11. That even I give in and say “god” when what I mean is “gods.” Stupid three letter words being easier to type. Stupid western world thinking polytheists are weirdos.

12. With all the progress I’ve made at not being a Horrible Hose Beast, the Horrible Hose Beast is still worried about other people thinking I’m a weirdo. Sissy Self-Compassion doesn’t care, but says it’s OK that Hose Beast cares and wants me to give myself a big hug. What a sissy!

13. Life without corn syrup is possible and even preferable. Who knew?

14. My psychiatrist is kind and conscientious enough not to strangle me.

15. I am capable of watching a three hour concert sitting on a hard wooden bench in the Southern California level freezing cold with a spasming back. I am a middle aged endurance hero.

16. I am capable of talking about myself for 25 straight minutes without being a narcissistic jerk. At least I hope I am. If not, I owe about forty people a big apology.

17. Doing service for others is magical. Like, seriously, pop pop pop! Magical. That’s also a sissy thing to say. No less true though.

18. I can keep commitments… most of the time.

19. Tasing yourself hurts like a son of a monkey. Good news! If I ever need to tase anybody, I want it to hurt like a son of a monkey.

20. Wine and lightning are an excellent way to get and stay in the presence of the gods.

21. Gratitude is a superpower. Legit.

And finally… truly worth of a drumroll…

22. Love is patient. Patience is love.

With Love,
This Long Haired Sissy

Never a Bother (creative nonfiction)

In the third grade, waiting for the little bus that, thankfully, came right to my door, I sat in front of the window and sang Silent Night softly to myself. Christmas had been past for a few months, but it was still cold. Fog pushed into the valley obscuring the park across the street. Very few cars passed on the road. It was day and silent night all at once.

My great aunt and uncle’s living room never really made it out of the 60s, which was and is fantastic. They had a cream colored couch with a burnt orange floral and geometric pattern on it. On one wall, next to a curio cabinet holding Lladro figurines was a plush, burnt orange chair. Over the fireplace on the opposite side of the room, a wrought iron “F” for Foltz stood sentinel. In front of the picture window, where I sat, two low, round plush swivel chairs in harvest gold. None of my cousins nor I were allowed to get into those chairs and spin and spin the way we wanted to, but we were allowed to sit there quietly, once in a while, waiting for the school bus mainly, and turn the chair toward the window.

I had my feet tucked under me in the chair—a minor offense. In 1986, stirrup pants were the rage and mine that day were royal purple. With them, I wore a long, white top with puffy paint film rolls and popcorn boxes on it. For eight, I was quite the fashion plate, due more to my mother than myself, but I was happy to take the credit anyway.

As I sang, I heard my great uncle in the kitchen softly ruffling the onion skin pages of his Bible. He woke up every day at 5am and, before he went off to work at the Santa Fe Railroad yard, he spent an hour or more reading the Bible. Over the years, he read the Bible in just about every translation and formation you can think of. He read all the footnotes about all the Greek and Aramaic and Hebrew. He read all the reference books. He read reference books the reference books referenced. He believed organized religion was the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity.

Many times, he told me about a dream he had when he was a younger man of himself on a crowded ship. The ship troughed so low sometimes, the waves seemed as if they would come crashing down from above. The sky stormed and blustered. The heavy, black clouds obscured even a hint of sky. He told me then, in the midst of the storm, he saw the hand of Christ reach down and beckon him with love. He never forgot it. He carried this in his heart as he studied the Bible each morning. This love he carried in his heart always.

I continued to sing softly. I didn’t want to disturb him.

On my third or fourth round, I heard him get up and pad softly across the living room carpet. I looked up startled and more than a little sheepish. I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you.”

A gentle patriarch, he reached his hand out and patted my head and said, “You singing would never bother me.” He smiled. He turned and walked to the back of the house to get ready for work.

Whenever I sing, I carry that touch with me. I try to carry that love in my heart always.

-M. Ashley

Barrel Rings (poetry)

“Flow down and down in always widening rings of being.”

I imagine us bound together by barrel
Rings. Maybe we could go into the lovers’
Protection program under the name
Cooper and you could kiss my clever
Mouth with your clever mouth almost
Out in the open. Only the gods and the
Government would know we were never
Supposed to end up barrel bound to
Each other.

Your people think you married down.
Fuck your people. I married you and
You’re a criminal—with lots of money so…

Is that up or sideways? With you
It’s almost always sideways.

A barrel on its side rolls wobbly.

-M. Ashley