The Knight in the Panther Skin

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BOOK ONE
The Story of Rostevan, King of Arabia

32 1/1
Once there ruled in Arabia, Rostevan, a king by God’s grace
Thriving, majestic, generous- modest though in the highest place.
So just and merciful, many vassals did his service embrace.
Himself a fearless warrior, a peerless speaker, never base.

33 1/2
Rostevan had one child, a daughter, to the world a shining light,
Like unto the stars she was, or a moon that makes the heavens bright.
Whoever looked on her was bereft of his heart and soul and sight.
It needs a wise man to praise her with words both masterful and right.

34 1/3
The name of this daughter was Tinatin, let it be known to all!
When she’d grown to be a woman, her beauty held the sun in thrall.
One day the king, in highest spirits, to his viziers sent a call,
And he spoke graciously to them when they’d assembled in his hall.

35 1/4
He said: “I need your wisest counsel on a matter I’ll declare:
Every rose will fade and wither, no matter though it once was fair.
The dry rose falls within the garden, a new rose arises there.
The sun has set for us, the night is dark. Why should we not despair?

36 1/5
“I grow cold. Old age is like a sickness, a raging plague in me.
It’s the sorrow of the world. Only a few tomorrows we’ll see.
Of what worth is a light when it’s becoming darkness by degree?
So let us crown my daughter now. No sun is worthier than she.”

37 1/6
The viziers said, “King, why do you insist that you are old so soon?
For though it’s true our rose has faded, we all know it as a boon.
It still excels in scent and color though its day is far past noon.
What kind of star dares offer challenge even to a waning moon?

38 1/7
“Oh, king, please don’t speak thus to us: your rose is not faded today.
Bad counsel from you is better than the good another might say.
It is right to do whatever will make your heartache go away.
It is best to give the kingdom to her who holds the sun in sway.

39 1/8
Although a woman, she is a sovereign, ordained by God’s decree.
We are not flattering you; but even in your absence agree.
Like her radiance, her deeds are as bright as the sunshine to see.
Lion’s whelps are equally lions, though female or male they be.

40 1/9
Avtandil was a general, the commander-in-chief’s own son.
Tall and slim as a cypress he was– his presence, the moon and sun
His visage was as pure as the clearest crystal; beard he had none.
By Tinatin’s luxurious lashes he found himself undone.

41 1/10
He kept his love-madness hidden, lodged deep within him like a dart.
Whenever he couldn’t see her, though, his rose’s fading would start;
Whenever he saw her, fire leapt up, his wound more sharply would smart.
Love alone should be blamed– Love with the power to break a man’s heart. (http://amzn.to/1PVppHV)

The Single Woman’s Single Short Lament

It’s not the absence of sex. Sex is a young person’s game. It’s wonderful, yes, but messy and ragged and unsettling, to say the least. And it involves a whole lot of body parts which may not work so well any more, or not nearly so well as they used to. Men have performance anxiety, yes, but women have pleasing anxiety. At least 70-year-old women do. And I’m a grandmother. I wonder– Was my grandmother still actually, you know? Huh.

Anyway, it’s not sex. In a word, it’s intimacy. But not the hand-holding, walking the beach at sunset and afterward sitting by a fire toasting vegetables variety. (Marshmallows is out, so put in something healthy there. Kale? Roasting kale by the fire? Never mind.)

It’s having someone there to tell me the little stories of his/her life and to care about those little stories. To share my own little stories. So then I thought- Speak Without Interruption. I’m going to send this out and hope somebody will share back.

My little story is this. I was headed out for dinner with a friend in Seattle and from there I was going to visit a friend in Olympia (old Nisqually, but that’s hair-splitting) an hour’s drive. I was putting together some pills for the double overnight. (The list holds steady at multi-vitamin, echinacea, selenium, baby aspirin, a melatonin for sleep problems, and (new, recently) a hormone pill to stimulate my sagging thyroid.) So I had the pills in my hand and one dropped into the toilet.

I keep a clean toilet because my dog likes to drink from the toilet bowl so I hesitated a moment, then fish out the hormone pill and realized (it was dripping) I’d better take it right away. So I did.

Then as I was putting the rest of the pills into my Go-Tub (my son invented these; they’re wonderfully handy little things) I saw that I had not dropped the hormone into the toilet, I had dropped (hence, swallowed) the melatonin. Egad.

So off I went to dinner and regaled my friend (I hope it was regaled not bored to tears) with visions of my head falling into the soup and, less entertainingly, crashing my car into a tree. We debated and decided Turkish coffee (we were at a Turkish restaurant) was just the thing to keep me awake. So they brought me the coffee but it was Very Strong and Very Bitter and I couldn’t quite manage it.

So my friend drank the coffee and I had Turkish tea which had a nice mint taste but (I was assured) was nonetheless chockfull of caffeine. So off I went, Driving to Olympia (sort of like Sailing to Byzantium) with melatonin and caffeine (as I thought) battling for control of my body.

When I arrived in Olympia, and told my friend the story, she decided I should have some camomile tea to counteract the effects of the caffeine I’d taken to counteract the effects of the melatonin. I felt remarkably normal.

I went to bed after ingesting the camomile tea, and when I went to take the rest of the pills for the night, I discovered I still had the melatonin. What I had taken was the baby aspirin!

The whole “hormone not a hormone melatonin not melatonin baby aspirin” saga was a little nerve-wracking. Plus the tea my friend had given me turned out to be black tea not camomile which made me wonder about the effects of that. So I took the melatonin. At least, I think it was the melatonin.

I slept fine.

That’s the kind of incident I’d like to share with a part.ner. If I could make him laugh or at least smile at the “Great Adventure of the Pills,” it would make me feel good about myself. Then maybe I’d have the heart to read what’s happening in the world, most of which seems to be bad. Maybe I’d even have the energy to do something about it. Volunteer work, maybe.

Then I wouldn’t need the melatonin.

Do you live alone? Or do you live with someone who doesn’t care to hear your little stories? In either case- in any case- would you share the little story with me? I’d really appreciate it. Just a little incident out of your day. I’ll put on the coffee, get out the biscuits, and we’ll talk.

Don’t worry. The coffee is decaf and the biscuits are gluten-free

Mohsen Emadi

A Short Blog on Living Long

A SHORT BLOG ON LIVING LONG

            I remember a decade ago, when I was 60. (Yes, I still remember that far back.) One of my adult sons and I were talking on the phone and he asked me when I first noticed getting older. I said, “I don’t know. When did you?” We laughed.

The process that gets you from “young” to “middle-aged” is a series of inch-by-inch changes. You can’t run or ski or stay up quite like you used to. It takes years and mostly there are no events, no moments that stand out to tell you “Yes, I am middle-aged.”

But yesterday, at the doctor’s office for my physical, there was a marker to let me know I had moved on again. It was during my physical. He was examining my legs and feet. “Your circulation is excellent,” he said. “You have the circulation of someone who is 50.”

So now it’s official. I’m old.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I am a writer. I have been a writer for 65 years. (I began at age 5.) I have had fiction in Best American Short Stories (edited by Joyce Carol Oates), I have won grants (from NEH and NEA and the Michigan Council for the Arts), I have had plays produced in Singapore and Off Off Broadway and Boston and Detroit and Ann Arbor and Seattle. I have had 15 books published and six more are due out this year. I have read poetry with Czeslaw Milosz and Phillip Levine and Joseph Brodsky. I was Brodsky’s teaching assistant. I have had plays on youtube. I won Hopwood Writing Awards in every category when I was at the University- Major Poetry, Major Short Fiction, Major Long Fiction, Major Drama, Major Nonfiction awards. I had a poem in Time. I had my picture in Life. (Though not because of my writing.) I was a playwright in residence in Bucharest. I teach poetry and translation every summer in Tbilisi (at the Rustaveli Institute) I won a golden plaque from the World Congress of Poets for my poem about Gandhi. I teach Literary Fiction at the University of Washington. I am on Chapter 51 of a verse translation of Rustaveli’s “The Knight in the Panther Skin,” which will be published this summer and should make a big splash. There is a substantial Wikipedia entry about me which I didn’t write. (Okay, my kids did. Still–) Through all of this (and a lot more), I have never really promoted myself or my work. All that has changed. I am 70 and I want an audience. This weekend, Amazon is running a promotion of my story. You can download it for free through Sunday, May 4, 2014- After that, it will cost again the princely sum of 99 cents. Go to amazon.com, Enter Counting the Wounds in the search bar. Click on the title, and Click on “Download with 1-click.” After the story is downloaded, click “Deliver to kindle icloud reader.” (This is not really a kindle.) Read at  read.amazon.com– The “free” promotion has been running 1 day, and it has gotten 250 downloads. That may not seem like a lot to you; to me, it seems huge. An agent is looking at my novel and with a strong showing of “Counting the Wounds,” she might agree to represent me. I hope you will download the story. I hope you will go to my website, lyncoffin.com, and click subscribe. I hope you will follow me (@lynco) on twitter. I hope we can be LinkedIn together. I hope you will read my blogs- on “Suicide Survivor” (also posted here) and “WhatDo You Do When A Student Threatens Murder.” I hope if you’re a literary agent, you will write me and agree to represent me. Always behind my back, I hear time’s winged chariot drawing near. I have a children’s book I would like to see published. And another novel after this one. (It’s called “Aftermath”- Chapter One describes a woman being drugged and raped by two US Marshalls. Later, she has sex with her boy friend and when she discovers she’s pregnant, she’s sure it’s the boy friend’s baby. Then–)

I am tired of being the most famous writer nobody’s ever heard of. It’s not the money- My unpublished manuscripts are like children who are starving in my basement. I want them to see the light of day. I would be happy to go back to being humble once I have an audience.

I have now, I suppose, done the unthinkable. i have publicly tooted my own horn. Toot! Toot! Thank you for reading.

Counting the Wounds

Counting the Wounds is my new short story available on Amazon Kindle.

If you have Kindle, you can download it here:

Don’t have a Kindle? Read it at Read.Amazon.com

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Praise for Lyn Coffin’s Writing: “Lyn Coffin… respects the contours of reality and gives us, in a most unusual form, a story about illusion and self-deception.”  –Joyce Carol Oates, about Coffin’s story “Falling Off the Scaffold”, published in The Best American Short Stories 1979

In her short story “Counting the Wounds”, Coffin again wrestles with the topics of reality and illusion, truth and facade. It is the seventh day of the rest of Susan’s life — a life in which an unexpected tragedy has called everything into question.

Counting the Wounds is a story told obliquely – its style mirroring Susan’s experience as she is faced with a brutal reality: What Susan wants she has lost; what she says she no longer wants, becomes all she has left. The story circles, never looking directly at the event that has overturned Susan’s world until the end when Susan must accept that the only way past grief is to move directly through it.

Fayetteville: (Spoiler: a story of love and senior sex)

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS

 

 

Given that I’m 67, I don’t necessarily want to tell you about the last time I made love, and you almost certainly don’t want to hear about it. Old people talking about sex is unsettling but, hey, romance in the life of a 67 year old woman is about as likely as being cured at Lourdes, and this is a romantic story.

Of all unlikely places, what happened happened in Arkansas. Not just Arkansas, Fayetteville. For most people, Arkansas means Little Rock and Fayetteville means nothing. I had impulsively agreed to fly there from Seattle to visit a man I only sort of knew, on a wing and a pretext.

His legal name is Thomas Anderson, but his real name is “Thomas Walks Softly.” He’s half Ojibway, a quarter Cree, and a quarter Ohio factory worker. He is tall and lean and muscular. He knows how to tie a fly and clean a knife and tell a story. He’s the wrong side of 70, but plays the flute, piano, saxophone, and guitar in a way to keep death guessing. He has a hawk nose and a gray-black ponytail, a husky voice and keen, woods-savvy eyes.

He’s a poet, Thomas- a good one, and the pretext for my flying to Arkansas was that he and I were going to collaborate on a book. That was the raft to which we both clung as we made travel arrangements.

He met me at the airport and we drove the long drive to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. I kept touching him as we drove– a child’s touch to make sure he was real.

It was snowing when we got to the cabin, so we built a good fire in the fireplace and sat on the futon inches from the hearth.

After a minute, Thomas said he was nervous because he really wanted to make love with me but he hadn’t done that for a long time he wasn’t sure if I wanted that or if he still could. Somehow that led to my suggesting pot might make us less nervous which led to his suggesting we unfold the futon first, while we could. So we opened the futon, working in smooth concert, shedding clothes as we went and laughing.

Then we were sitting together naked in the center of the futon, smoking weed he had grown himself. The old smoke still knew exactly where to make itself home.

As outside winds howled and snow flung itself on the windows, we kissed in the firelight. Thomas was tender and sure. I was warm and wet and wonderful . And just when it was right, he positioned himself over me, and began his descent.

And just when it was wrong, the futon tipped over and spilled us on the edge of the hearth, flesh confronting brick. Later I would learn I had gashed my leg. All I knew then was that Pain came at me but I was in the throes of Desire, and unstoppable….  Unstoppable as only a single 67 year old woman can be, making love on the floor– for the very first time.

 

hearts original

The N Word

THE N WORD

In the fall of 2010, I went back to my boarding school to give a reading and be a visiting writer In the last class I visited, students asked me what it had been like growing up “in terms of” discrimination. I said I thought racism had been worse then, more diffuse.

I grew up (at the top of the middle class?) in Roslyn, Long Island. I remembered nothing explicitly racist ever being said, But, I told them, the most shameful experience of my life occurred when I was in third grade (? – i.e., 1951) and a friend and I crouched in the bushes of our home, bushes bordering on the street, and in the dusk of some fall day saw an African-American woman walking along the street.

We presumably knew she was a “domestic” going home after work. We looked quickly at each other and then yelled “Nigger!” at her.

The woman turned and I could feel her eyes burning into ours, though she couldn’t have seen us in the bushes. I feel those eyes burning into me now. My conclusion, which I shared with the students, was that racism must have been in the air we breathed– We knew the word was shameful, but yet somehow endorsed by our families. We knew to whom it applied.

About two weeks later, I received a letter from the class, written by one of and signed by all of the students and the teacher. After praising my reading, and thanking me for coming, the student got to the heart of the matter and said that a) nobody in the class understood why I had told the story I did, and I should be careful in the future to tell only stories everyone understood and b) that they had been taught, believed, and knew that no one was ever justified in using the N word, which I had done, and which I should never in the future do again.

I wrote back a letter in which I advised her that, first of all, I thought one should beware of advising someone of a different culture what they should and shouldn’t do until one had given thought to the context of that different culture and that I thought she was of a different culture than I given her young age. Second, I said that it was impossible to write (or tell) stories that would prevent “misunderstanding.” (Hence the need for English classes.)

Most importantly, I  told her that in my opinion I had not “used” the N word but had quoted my past use of it when I was a youngster, within the context of a story that said how shameful the incident had been, and how it demonstrated the racism “in the air.” I also wished aloud that she and the other students (and the teacher!) had spoken up during the class period (there was plenty of time) and challenged my story. I said I hoped her teacher would in the future, if not apparently up until then, encourage students to ask questions when they don’t understand something. I lamented the dialogue that could have taken place had someone expressed doubt or confusion.

I wrote up my experience at the school, the student’s letter and my response in the form of an essay, and posted it on Speakwithoutinterruption. I don’t think I got comment- maybe a remark or two.

A year or so later the site crashed and now I have no record of that essay. I post my summary here in the hopes of re-establishing the record.

I would be grateful for comment. (I am saving a copy of this.)

 

Impromptu Fable

Impromptu fable

 

There was once a boy who lived by the seashore.

He liked to bring his parents gifts.

One day he brought home a beautiful stone.

“Rocks are for outside,” said his father,

and dropped the stone on the garden path.

Another time the boy brought home

a perfect pinecone fresh from the forest.

“This is all sticky,” said his mother,

throwing the pinecone in the trash.

But then the boy brought home a ring-

the stone was simple but rather large

and glistened beautifully in the sun.

“Where did you get this?” cried his parents.

“Were there other rings? What did you see?”

And at that moment, the boy decided

never to bring another gift home.

My Father

My father was a P R U D E prude. He couldn’t say or hear, for example, chicken “breast,” it was always “chicken white meat.” We had a family outlier who was a Czech grandmother- She was called “Babicka” (buh-bitch-ka, meaning grandmother) by one and all. Except my dad. He called her “Babushka.”

My father’s prudery was something that dawned on me later. At the time my story takes place, I didn’t know what prudery was. I had just turned six and I had saved up my meager allowance to buy Dad a Christmas present.

I knew right where to go– to the candy store. They carried everything that was good in the world, so I went there and I deposited my monies ($3? $4) on the counter

and I announced to the man who sold us candy after school that I wanted to use my money to buy my father a very special Christmas present.

The man grinned– altogether too broadly, I realize now. He told me he had just the present. My father would love it, he proclaimed. Normally, it sold for more money than I had, but he would make an “exception” for me.

He took down a calendar and showed it to me quickly, then wrapped it up. But not before I’d had a chance to see what it was. “Are you sure my dad will like this?” I asked. “Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely, he will like this.”

So I took the wrapped calendar home and on Christmas morning, flew to grab it from the pile of gifts, and presented it to my father.

“Here, dad,” I said. “You are going to love this. I got it for you with my own money.”

My dad unwrapped the present. I watched his eyes as he took in the cover. Then the picture of Miss January, Miss February, Miss March…

They were all so beautiful, those monthly women. They were all beautiful, and completely naked.

Dad made a funny kind of cough. There was a pause. Then, “Look, everybody,” he said. “Look at the beautiful calendar Lynnie got me.”

He put it up on the mantle that Christmas and the next day, he told me he’d decided to keep it downstairs in the basement, where he had his shop, on the specially big desk where he outlined projects.

And put it there he did, and there it sat for the rest of the year. I like to think maybe he did enjoy it.

And as I grew up, I realized that the Bible is right– Love casteth out sin. Or in my father’s case– Prudery.

My One Clear Memory of My Mother

My mother was a very beautiful and serious and woman. People said she looked like Myrna Loy, and she truly did. She was always elegant and poised.
I spent hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of hours with her, but I can only very hazily recall a series of important occasions. I don’t remember clearly most of the things she told me– though she was a woman of wit and wisdom.  Nothing specific is left to me of the many times we played violin (mom) and piano (me) together.
Sad to say, perhaps, but here I am at age 70 with only one very clear memory of my mother that doesn’t come from a photograph. (You know the phenomenon, I think: I see a photograph and recognize the occasion of it, but I don’t remember it, not really.)
I was about twelve at the time my one clear memory of my mother takes place: she and I had been talking on the porch about some serious subject, probably Shakespeare or the Bible, and I made some claim of fact which she disputed.

So we went to the bookcase in the living room, to seek written confirmation of my assertion. The cottage bookcase (at home we had many bookshelves, but there, only one) was a low built-in shelf that was tucked in a corner of the room, at a right angle to the wood box, behind a big overstuffed armchair and ottoman combo.

To get within arm’s reach of the shelf, which mostly had games on it anyway, was a difficult task for one person, and almost impossible for two. But my mother and I were both small of frame, so we managed to wedge ourselves behind the chair, next to the bookshelf, and we both hunkered down, squatting by the shelf to look for whatever book we intended to consult.

And I made a joke, a joke my mother for some reason found very funny. I wish I could remember what that joke was. It was not a usual thing for my mother to laugh. She smiled often; she laughed rarely. But I said something that struck her funny bone, and she began to laugh.

I began to laugh as well. And there we were, my mother and me, squatting in a corner of the cottage, between the shelf and the big overstuffed armchair, laughing.
And the more mother laughed, the more I laughed. And the more I laughed– well, you get the idea. In a matter of seconds, we were guffawing.

And my dignified mother laughed so hard that her legs went out from under her, and she fell backward into the upholstered back of the big chair, which moved forward just enough to allow my mother to land on her butt on the floor, feet in the air.
And that’s my clearest of my mother: on her butt on the floor guffawing, looking odd and foolish and awkward and funny.

The whole clearly remembered experience probably lasted a couple of minutes. It is a memory I treasure and recall often as I play with my granddaughters.             I laugh a lot when I am with them. Sometimes I even guffaw.

An Erased Poem by Billy Collins

“It wasn’t easy, by any means… I had to work very hard on it… But in the end it really worked.
I liked the result. I felt it was a legitimate work of art, created by the technique of erasing.”
–Richard Rauschenberg, talking about “An Erased Drawing by De Kooning”.

The name of the author is
followed by
heartbreak,
which suddenly becomes you.

Long ago, you kissed names goodbye,
and watched equation pack,
and even now as you memorize order,
something is slipping
the address of the capital of
whatever is you
in some obscure corner.

You can recall
your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who forgot to
rise in the middle of the night.

No wonder the moon seems to have drifted
out of love.

From East and West, Mongolia Publications. (2012)