Long live the king…

This was originally posted to my now-defunct LiveJournal five years ago (back when that was the place to be). The prompt was to write about your favorite Michael Jackson song, and today, on this fifth anniversary of his death, I thought it was worth reposting.


Somewhere in the early 80s…

My sister is babysitting me. This is really cool, because my sister is a teenager and in high school (or maybe even college, then), and that means I get to watch MTV. MTV plays all kinds of music videos, and my sister likes the Madonna and Cyndi Lauper stuff, but I’m sitting on the bed and waiting, hoping they’re going to play the only video I want to see.

Yeah. This one.

One of the first videos we rent for our brand-new VCR is the documentary about the making of it.

Another year or two passes, and I’m having a birthday party at the skating rink. (So cool that we have the same birthday.) It’s great, because all my friends are there, and I get tons of jelly bracelets and My Little Pony stuff, and we’ve all been roller skating for so long that it’s going to feel really, really weird to be walking in regular shoes again. And then they turn the lights down, and the disco lights are swirling in the darkness, and they play it. “Thriller” — my favorite song, off my favorite album, the one I have on LP along with my Care Bear records and Disney stuff. I race back out there. I have to be out there for this one.

That is the song, essentially, oddly, wonderfully, that encompasses my childhood. I love so many others of his, from that album and those that followed it, but that is the one that takes me back.

Again, this is why we mourn celebrities. Some of it is for the work we loved, a body of work that becomes now static and unchanging. And some of it is for how our lives entwined with that work. We mourn our own past, and we treasure the things that have the mysterious power to return us there, even just for 14 minutes.


A birthday toast for a master

Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury


I’m not certain when I first read Dandelion Wine, though it was probably about a decade or so ago, during the years when I had a fantastic used-book store to browse through and worked my way through a lot of Ray Bradbury’s books. Ever since, I’ve wondered idly what dandelion wine really tasted like, and while I was able to find dandelion jelly, of all things, I never ran across dandelion wine.

At last, this summer at a craft fair, we happened to stop by the booth of Kirkwood Winery, and there it was (along with elderberry, strawberry, pear — basically every fruit you could think of to make wine from, and a few vegetables thrown in too).

So tonight, in honor of what would have been Ray Bradbury’s 93rd birthday, we open the bottle of dandelion wine, and I drink to summers in a time I never knew, and all the worlds that never were, and the man who brought them all to us.

Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.

I notice the Kirkwood Winery description says “ask your grandparents how this one tastes!” Some might be able to, and if so, you’re lucky. If not?

Ask Ray Bradbury. Because just as you can bottle a bit of summer to keep against the snows, you can keep a whole time, a whole world, a whole universe in a single story, safely preserved in words, all still sweet and tingling and true.

Bradbury often told the story of an encounter he had at age 12 with a magician called Mr. Electrico — who, during the course of his act, touched Bradbury on the head with an electrified sword and told him, “Live forever!” Whoever that Mr. Electrico was, he knew his stuff; it was both a command and a prediction.

Happy birthday, Mr. Bradbury. May you truly live forever.

Flash fiction: “Kitty”

On this date in 1942, Anne Frank received a diary for her 13th birthday, a diary she named Kitty. Here’s a bit of flash fiction to mark the occasion…




by Renee Carter Hall

She stands in the echoing marble space, before the rows of candles. The wall behind the flickering cups reads Bergen-Belsen. Her dress is red and white plaid, her hair iron gray, her eyes black as ink when she turns. Something about her rustles, and she smells of old books, of a room locked for years.

She stares at the flames, her voice a dry whisper. “I loved her, you know. I loved her, and I could never tell her. She told me everything, and I could say nothing in return.”

The patterns across her papery skin are faded but still true, works inked in a young girl’s hand, dreams of a bigger world where no one has to hide.

She carries them all, and they are heavy.

“I wish… sometimes…”

She reaches toward a candle. A curl of smoke rises, the edges of her nails burned black. With a soft cry she draws back, and when the tears spill over, the writing on her cheeks blurs and fades.

Her voice trembles. “She had no idea. No idea what she made. All she wanted was someone to listen.” She longs for the thoughts that were never written, longs to have kept the secrets of a full life. She aches with blank pages.

In the time it takes to light a candle, to assemble a prayer, she is gone. Outside the museum, a flock of pigeons startles into flight, their gray wings beating like loose pages scattered to the wind.



Remembering Mr. Rogers, ten years on…

I was reminded by a tweet today from the blog Letters of Note that Fred Rogers died 10 years ago today. (The tweet linked to a couple of very sweet letters he’d sent to a family back in 1990.)

As usual with anniversary-type dates anymore, it seems both not that long ago, and longer, at the same time. So I dug back into my ancient Works files and found the poem I wrote that year, and thought I’d share…


Elegy for a Neighbor

Fred Rogers, 1928-2003


He’s coming through another front door now,
exchanging that blue sweater for something finer,
hanging it up with the rest of his earthly form,
though I hope he somehow keeps the sneakers,
still tosses one from one hand to the other
where the music ripples in delight.

The Neighborhood of Make-Believe is in official mourning,
their king laid to rest, the trolley still,
Picture Picture solemnly dark.
He will not be back, now, when the day is new.

I remember watching him again
when I was first on my own–
the apartment’s cable hadn’t been hooked up,
PBS and daytime talk the only options,
so I watched him while I ate lunch and thought
how much he was like an old family friend,
that adult who didn’t wave you away
with “you’re too young to understand,”

a little, really, like we think of God,
benevolent, comforting, loving his neighbor.
He didn’t even know my name
but liked me just the way I was,
told me it was okay to feel the way I did,
that everyone felt that way sometimes:
angry, sad, jealous, confused.

It’s okay, then, to feel the way I do now.
Dawn has been only gray and cold,
but I turn away from the news
and stand to look out into the morning.
Snow covers the houses
like a child’s beloved blanket.

It is the beginning
of another beautiful day.