• 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol

    The wet slides down my throat and again I am unsure: wine or blood? The ceiling spins somewhere far above me, and I can’t tell. I think I smell plums, but I don’t taste anything at all.

    Maybe if I concentrate hard I’ll be able to tell. Maybe the spinning will slow long enough that I won’t throw up and obliterate the flavor of the stickiness I feel in the back of my throat. Is that iron? That doesn’t seem good. But it is kind of a warm sweetness. It could be wine. I was drinking wine, wasn’t I?

    Huh. I don’t remember how I got here. Actually, I’m not even sure where here is. Someone was with me. We were together. She? No, that doesn’t seem right. He. Definitely a he. He should be around here somewhere. How long have I been here? Huh. He. That seems right. Where is he? He should be here. Maybe I could roll over and… no, that seems really hard. I’m really tired.


    WHOA! I’m awake. Really, I’m good. Must’ve just dozed off there. Weird dream. All the air in my body was rushing out my pores, and I couldn’t breathe. Actually, it was just like how it feels… ummm… okay, this isn’t so good. I think I’m not doing too good here. Can’t… breathe… too… well. Kind of. Important.


    I’m here! Still here. Wine! It was wine. Really good wine too. 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol. This stuff’s $200 a bottle! How do I know that? I don’t care about wine. 1995 Chateau L’Evangile Pomerol. He said that, not me. Why can’t I move. Why can’t I breathe. Where…


    It spins. It spins with fins and wins the pins. The ceiling is blinking.


    He left me here. Four years together and he left me here to die on his kitchen tile. His tile. I hate this floor. My money; his floor. It can’t be. He promised. He promised me he’d… No, he must be hurt. Maybe he’s dead too.


    The sink is running. Dishes! He’s doing dishes! HELP!!! HELP ME!! Did any sound come out? HEEELLLLPPP!!! Can’t you see me?? Oh, please come… Ohh… please… Oh. Oh no. He never does dishes. He hates doing… Oh no.


    Four years. But he… he said… he. no. Four years, and he’s killed me with summer and plums.

  • Snowbound

    Horsetail Falls. PC: George Shubin

    I know it’s not spring. The frozen mess from the last few days that has now melted into a soggy blob of dripping grayness outside my window tells me so. However, the single-minded purpose and extreme frustration of the last couple years is wearing off, and my brain is starting to feel that constipated itch that universally means I need to write fiction. The subconscious part of my brain has something to say and it only gets to do so well through fiction. Life is good. Today I wrote this:

    ~ Snowbound ~

    Ripples in the frozen stream
    Flow around the rocks and dream
    Of warmer days to come.

    Ripples in my frozen heart
    Flow in warmth and dream of art
    Of days I’ll write again.

    Spring comes at last
    I’ve made it past
    My snowy heart now thaws.

  • The Sword Maiden

    Trinity Art #2 - The Sword Maiden | LenaStark.com
    Trinity Art #2 - The Sword Maiden | LenaStark.com
    I commissioned my daughter Trinity to draw this for me for another small project I was working on and then liked it so much that I wrote a story about it. This is Trinity’s first paid art piece. She was pretty thrilled. So was I.

    Siobhan unwrapped the sword carefully, noting the position of the blade in relation to her fingers. The heft, the cold solidity of the steel, the straight line from pommel to point – all was as she had left it with no chips or imperfections. Once satisfied, she pulled her shield out of the chest on the floor before her and performed the same inspection on it.

    “Don’t follow me,” Nioklas had commanded before kissing her firmly and riding hard into the night. But that was foolishness. She knew it before the darkness had even swallowed him from sight, and she knew that at some point he would likely realize it too.

    Siobhan was a sword maiden. She had sparred Nioklas since they were children. Her sword style was different but equally deadly to his and her horsemanship slightly better. The hour was late, the need now, and none else was nearby to help. The raiders would attack by morn. With the mist they would rise and drench the white, frosty ground with her own red blood, and Nioklas could not rout them alone.

    Even so, Siobhan placed her shield beside her sword on the earthen floor and fidgeted with the strips of worn cloth that had wrapped the sword. Nioklas had told her to stay, and she usually tried to respect his wishes as he tried to respect hers. He would likely be angry if she disobeyed tonight, this most deadly of eves. 

    Deep in the tangled woods behind their lodge, the yip of a fox was followed by the final, harrowing scream of a rabbit before both ended in abrupt silence. Siobhan listened, but only a feathered hush replied. Nioklas’s anger did not matter; his life did. And her life did. And both had a better chance of continuing past tomorrow morning if they fought together instead of being picked off one at a time.

    As she packed her gear and prepared her horse, she finally understood. All those years she had begged for and then insisted upon sword training with her brothers (to her mother’s horror and her father’s amusement), all that time she had spent learning a purposeless skill for a girl destined to domestic life, all the jeers and taunts and lectures – as she paused in the stillness and inhaled the vibrant breath of night, she knew what it had been for.

    She was perfectly fitted for Nioklas: for this night, this hour, this moment. One glance back at the home she loved, one forward towards the inky unknown, and away she rode into the quivering forest with the newfound glow of certainty burning in her heart.

  • Today You Almost Died

    Dear Henry,

    Today you almost died. I was sitting right there, close by and didn’t even see you. You and Faith had been just a few feet behind me on the shore climbing a boulder, and I was keeping an eye on your other sisters splashing in the lake. You were nowhere near the water. The lake was so still; the sky so clear; the sand so soft. And then you almost drowned.

    “Mom, I think I went a little too far out,” you whispered in my ear. I didn’t see you walk up until you appeared beside me, terrified and dripping. Your little six-year-old body was shaking.

    “What?” I said. You had been on the rock behind me, you see.

    “Well, I wanted to see how far out into the water I could go.”

    “What??” my repeated cry echoed across the lake. I could feel the color draining from my face.

    “I got out really far,” you said, “and then I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore, and I couldn’t call for help because the water was covering my mouth.”

    It took a moment before I could coherently respond. “Henry,” I whispered, trying to choke back my own panic, “how did you get back?”

    “Well, I tried to get back closer to where I could touch the bottom, but the water was taking me away from shore.” You fidgeted with the tie on your orange fishy swim shorts and dug your toe in the sand before telling me the rest. “Finally, I sank down into the water and then the bottom was there, and I could touch it with my tippy toes, so I just walked back.”

    You shrugged as you said that last bit as if it wasn’t really that big of a deal, and to tell the truth I’m a little blurry on what happened next. I remember hugging you and trying to purposely speak calmly so you wouldn’t freak out while still trying to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation and how you could have died and I would never have even known you where you went and how I would never be ok again if that had happened and how much I would miss you and cry every day and how you are NEVER to do that again and NEVER EVER EVER!!!

    You’re lucky I didn’t crush you from holding you so tight. And then in some magnificent feat of mothering, I carried you back into the lake myself and held you there, curled up in my arms, and helped you float on the water until you weren’t scared anymore. Swimming lessons start on Monday, and I didn’t want you to be afraid.

    There were other things, though, that I didn’t tell you today. The lake? The still lake with the warm water and gently sloping beach? It’s not actually a lake. It’s a flooded rock quarry. The bottom is uneven and has places that drop off twenty to fifty feet deep. If you had sunk down in one of those places, you would not have found footing so close beneath your feet.

    You would have simply slid away into the water, and since I didn’t even see you sneak into the lake, I would not have known you were gone. I would have looked for you on the shore, in the wrong place. They would have had to drag the lake, and you would have died. On my watch.

    Two families I know of this summer, both friends of friends, have had children die in terrible accidents. I don’t know why. You are alive. You were a shadow away from death, yet you live. Their boys are dead and mine is alive. You are alive, and I don’t know why. Thank you, Lord, for returning my son to me.

    We packed up and came home shortly after that, and you spent the rest of the day playing happily like nothing had happened because you are six. But I didn’t. After you kids went to bed, I sat on the couch with your dad and cried all evening. Because, you see, you scared the shit out of me. You don’t really seem to understand what almost happened today, but I do. I almost lost you today. Today you almost died.


  • Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

    Book Review: The Martian | LenaStark.com
    Book Review: The Martian | LenaStark.com
    Not the ideal vacation destination

    The Martian by Andy Weir

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Mark Watney has a problem. Not a small problem like running out of clean socks or a medium problem like your subordinate trying to maneuver for your position at work. An actual problem. A colossal problem. A marooned on Mars because your crew mates thought you died during the emergency sandstorm evacuation problem. Mark Watney is now The Martian.

    How do you survive on thirty day’s worth of supplies until the next mission arrives in four years? How do you grow food in dead Martian soil? How do you separate hydrogen from rocket fuel in an oxygen-rich environment so you can make water without blowing yourself up? How can you let someone, anyone, know you are even alive and need help getting to that next mission’s landing site when all of your communications equipment is destroyed? Just a few problems of the variety that can kill you at any given moment.

    First-time author Andy Weir thinks like a scientist (he’s an engineer and son of a particle physicist, both of which absolutely show) but writes Mark like he’s your favorite, snarkily enthusiastic friend (Mark’s first words on being reminded to keep his communications clean because they are now being read around the entire globe? “Boobs”).

    The entire book is problem-solving one catastrophe after another, and the science is both fascinating and apparently accurate based on the amount of vetting done by massive numbers of online fans who are not me but who seem to have lots of available time. If you have one of those brains that constantly formulates the logical scenario within any given parameters, you will adore this book.

    In addition to the general cheeriness that Andy gives his protagonist and the intensity of the writing in general, Andy Weir manages to pull off one of the hardest parts of writing fiction in an utterly satisfying way: the ending. Thank you, Mr. Weir, for writing one of the best closing passages I’ve ever read in fiction.

    The Martian began life as a free serial posted on Andy Weir’s blog, grew into a $.99 ebook due to reader demand, debuted at #12 on the NYT Best Seller list after Crown Publishing picked it up, and is now set for theatrical release in October 2015 with Ridley Scott directing and Matt Damon starring. If you are remotely interested in science, sci-fi, space, Mars, or survival stories, you will love this book.

    View all my reviews

  • Sarah Poetry #2

    Sarah Poetry #2 | LenaStark.com

    Since publishing the first round of Sarah poetry a couple of weeks ago, I have been feeling a little better. The first month after she died was pretty super crap. Publishing the poetry seems to have been pretty cathartic (probably the St. John’ Wort hasn’t hurt either…).

    However, this weekend was rough. Everywhere I looked, it seemed Sarah was looking up at me or talking to me through the mouths and faces of other people. I dreamed of her Friday night and woke up crying Saturday morning. Tough day. Sunday I spent half of church in tears followed by a two hour nap and three hours in the hot tub (don’t bother lecturing me; I didn’t overheat and die).

    Poetry arrived in the middle of all that, which is usually what happens when I’m hurting.

    You’re there in my dream
    Standing far away.
    I jump and wave
    And run toward you,
    But when I arrive
    You’re far away again.
    Still in sight,
    Never near.
    Even in dreams
    you do not stay.

    I’m mad at you
    But I shouldn’t
    I have no cause
    I have no right
    You wanted to stay
    You wanted to live
    You wanted to watch
    Your children grow and
    Your husband gray
    But still you left
    And this morning
    I awoke
    But I have no cause
    And it doesn’t help
    And I wish it would leave
    And I hate it

    There is one more, the first one I wrote (probably the best one, of course), but it isn’t quite right. A verb is wrong. It’s imprecise and won’t say what I want it to say, what I feel inside. I’m beginning to think it might be because there isn’t actually a word that fits the emotion, not in English anyway. Seems like I’ve heard one though, something old, something from when English was young. It’s lurking around, and I can’t find it. Maybe later. Or maybe never.

    Anyway, this is all for today. Monday arrived fresh and new, and this week has been much better overall. The poetry helps.

    If you missed it, here is Sarah Poetry #1

  • Pipe Dream, Part 2

    Pipe Dream #2 | LenaStark.com

    Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

    “I knew you would know where to go,” I said to my friend Angie as we pulled into the alleyway behind the boutique pipe tobacco shop down the street from her house. Knowing where to buy a pipe and tobacco is useful when one wants to take up pipe smoking. She grinned. Angie has a massive cache of unexpected information inexplicably quartered in her miraculous brain. It’s a huge part of why I like her.

    Upon entering the small, acceptably wood-and-leather inspired shop, we were greeted by a gray-haired, amiable looking man with the biggest mutton chop sideburns I’d ever seen.

    “I’m looking for a cheap pipe,” I told him.

    “Oh, well I’ve got a wonderful, refurbished Master Craft for $35. Here, take a look at this,” he replied as he removed a small pipe from a glass display case and handed it to me. It was very nice, but not quite what I had in mind.

    “Actually, it’s for me, and I’ve never smoked a pipe before. I’m really just looking for something cheap like a corn cob pipe so I can decide if I even like smoking it or not.”

    “Oh, it’s for you!” he said. He did not seem to be expecting this and immediately became more animated. I got the impression that I was not his usual demographic. “You can buy corn cob pipes anywhere. Well, except here because mine just sold out.” Not a promising start.

    “How about tobacco?” I said. “Do you have Sail?” According to my mother, this was the brand my grandfather used to smoke. My mother does not approve of my pipe smoking.

    “Sail! No, that’s horrible stuff, all chemically processed. I don’t carry any of that here. All of my tobacco is organic, and I blend it myself. Here, smell this,” he said as he shoved an open plastic bag labeled “Grandfather’s Blend” in elaborate calligraphy under my nose. “I made this blend myself fifty years ago for my own grandfather.” The proprietor puffed proudly, and the difficulty with which Angie was stifling her giggles at his rapid demeanor change was becoming a palpable threat to my own attempts to remain collected. “This is eight dollars, but if you buy it today with the pipe, I’ll give it to you for six.”

    The thirty-five dollars in my purse roughly comprised my pipe experiment budget. Maybe I could just buy the tobacco here and get a corn cob pipe at the smoke shop up the road that had “Pipes Here” emblazoned on the iron-barred windows next to the gang signs. “What’s this one?” I asked, pointing to the bag beside the grandpa one. “And can I smell that one too?” I pointed to the one on the other side.

    He seemed rather pleased that I was sniffing and admiring the aromas of his other tobacco blends. “Actually,” he said, “if you buy the pipe, I’ll throw in the tobacco for free. Just for today.” There was my $35! I looked at the smooth, wooden pipe in my hand. It really was beautiful, and it wasn’t too big.

    “Okay, I’ll take it,” I said. “Hey, do you have a pouch I can keep this stuff in?”

    “A pouch? Hmm, I don’t think so. Let me check,” he said as he began pulling out and rifling through each of the drawers behind the cash register. “I don’t usually keep them, but I might have an old one floating around… yes, here’s one. Here are some matches too,” he said as he threw a small box on the counter, “and you’ll need a tamper. Hang on.” He went back to the display case and pulled out a small metal tool that was flat on one end and tapered into a very thin scoop on the other. I could feel Angie snickering again behind me.

    “What is your problem?” I asked her as the man was whizzing around accumulating gear that either wasn’t for sale or that I hadn’t asked for.

    “Nothing. Nothing at all,” she said with amused eyebrows and an abysmally stifled grin. I turned back to the checkout counter which now claimed a pipe, a bag of tobacco, a box of matches, a tamper, and a pouch to carry everything in. This was going to be way over budget.

    “Soooo… what do I owe you for all this?”

    “Oh, you can have it for $35,” he said. I hadn’t told him how much my budget was. I offered to pay for everything, but he declined.

    As soon as we got back outside, Angie exploded in laughter.

    “I think I just snookered some old guy out of a bunch of stuff,” I said.

    “Yeah, I think so.”

    The next week my Mom was over, and she wanted to see my new pipe. Grandpa hadn’t smoked since I was a kid, and although I have fond memories of the smell, I had completely forgotten what his pipe looked like. She hadn’t. “This pipe looks exactly like your grandfather’s,” she said. It wasn’t until she brought over the picture of Grandpa two weeks ago for Pipe Dream, Part 1 that I realized just how right she was.

    Lena Stark | Pipe Dream, Part 2
    Grandpa Style: Me with my pipe on the porch swing.

  • Pipe Dream, Part 1

    Pipe Dream #1 | LenaStark.com

    When I was young, my grandfather smoked a pipe. While cigarettes smell like sweaty gym socks that have been lit on fire, pipe smoke is a lovely wisp. It is the aroma of pungent woods and smoky spices and summer and the old man who called me Sunshine because I smiled so much when I was small.

    Lena Stark | Pipe Dream
    My Grandpa and my cousin in 1973.

    Now I have five brothers-in-law plus my own brother, and out of the six of them, five are pipe men. This charms me more than I care to admit, and for several years I tried to con, cajole, or beguile my husband into smoking a pipe too. “Come on, your brothers all do it. It smells so nice!” Alas, he insisted on being his own man and would not be moved to blithely puff on potential carcinogens even on the very occasional basis I was suggesting. So rude![pullquote position=”right”]My husband has a rather curious code that governs what he will and will not flip out about.[/pullquote]

    Last fall I found a picture of a woman I know on Facebook, that purveyor of jealousy and poor habits. She held a book in her hand and a pipe in her mouth, and suddenly I felt very silly. I could smoke a pipe myself! Obviously, I could smoke a pipe since I have this perfectly usable mouth apparatus attached to my very own face. This was worth pondering.

    My husband has a rather curious code that governs what he will and will not flip out about. After nineteen years of marriage, I still have not quite figured out the qualifying factors for flippage. This is the list to date:

    I haven’t actually gotten to the crazy hair colors yet because by the time I actually wanted to put purple streaks in my hair, I had already hennaed it red, and henna + any other hair dye = not good. Really, his list is pretty short. He’s not usually a demanding or pushy fella, but I’d prefer not to have him look at me and think “Ewwww” if possible, so I try to avoid the very few things on the flip list. A pipe was an entirely new question though, which had previously had no call for list assignment. Which way would that go?

    In January we went to Los Angeles and spent the better part of a day driving around the city with his brother (the only non-pipe one). I looked out the passenger window and casually floated the idea.[pullquote position=”right”]”You don’t see a lot of women smoking a pipe.”[/pullquote]

    “I think I’m gonna buy a pipe,” I said. [tweetthis]”I think I’m gonna buy a pipe,” I said.[/tweetthis] The bumps on the pavement seemed especially loud. I was sure the locals meandering down the sidewalk were staring at me.

    “Like a smoking pipe?” said Mike the Brother.


    “Oh! You should talk to Steve [pipe brother]; he’ll get you set up,” said my guy.

    “Uh huh. Or Jon [another pipe one]. They’ll get you all taken care of,” said Mike.

    Huh. That went better than expected. They both passed.

    “You don’t see a lot of women smoking a pipe,” reflected my guy after a minute or two.

    “Yeah. I don’t care about that,” I said. “Do you?”

    “Me? No, I don’t care. If you want to smoke a pipe, then smoke a pipe.”

    Guess I can update the list to this now:

    After we returned home, I grabbed my best friend and we went to buy a pipe. You’ll find that story in Part 2.


  • Sarah Poetry

    Sarah Poetry | LenaStark.com

    Last month my friend Sarah passed away after a two-year journey through the wasteland of breast cancer. She was 32. We became close after she got sick. Life, you big trickster!

    Most of what I’ve been able to write since she died has been poetry that I haven’t really known what to do with other than message it to a couple of close personal friends and post it to the highly impersonal universe of Twitter.

    I want to say what’s on my heart but only to people who I know for sure will be gentle or to people who are removed enough that they can’t hurt me. It’s getting better. Last week I felt normal-er for about three days; but I still ping-pong between that and feeling very fragile, which is beginning to frustrate me.

    In any case, I’ve decided to post the poetry so far here, which feels like a big step. Further forthcoming poetry will go in separate posts (I’m sure there will be more).

    3/30/15 ~ The Midnight Door ~

    Death sneaks in the midnight door
    Silent it creeps along the floor
    Its lengthening shadow snatching more

    Wrapped in sheets, her breath unsound
    Winding love, her soul surrounds
    She calls no more, for she is found

    “Rejoice!” Resurrection cries
    Dying done, pain breaks its ties
    Loved she lived, and loved she flies


    The empty space
    The afternoon I used to visit you
    But now you’re gone
    And all that’s left
    Is fuzz on


    The cursed day
    The day you died
    The day I loved to spend with you
    The day you’re gone the most


    Less tears today
    I sang my songs in peace
    And only wept in prayer.
    You marked my hands, my feet, my heart;
    I sow my grief in silence.

    That’s it for me today.