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QOP's Poems and Stories

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QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby queen_of_painting » Sun Jan 22, 2012 2:05 am

While I'm probably better known for my artwork, I like to write as well, and I'm taking a creative writing class right now to learn how to be better at it. My strength tends to be imagery rather than creating a poetic structure, but I can always play around with that more after studying poetry more. I hope I see some progress in my work over the next few months! :D

The Seasons of Marquette

August in Marquette begins
with a bicycle ride along the shore.
I effortlessly fly across the sun-baked asphalt
while humming a joyous Beatles tune.

In the lush forest of Presque Isle,
I dance between paper-white birch trunks
while a flake of sunlight warms my cheek,
golden rays spilling through the heavy rooftop of leaves.

Scarlet and tangerine waves of leaves
form a tornado of raging autumn color,
thrashing like flames at my ankles,
eventually fizzling down in an empty gutter.

As white clumps of the sky descend,
chirping birds are silenced
and the lullaby of cicadas is hushed;
all wildlife escapes the bitter cold.

I’m left with the lonely stillness of winter,
flooded with an ocean of blank white,
only the whistle of ruthless winds
whipping at my neck.

Electric blue shadows
project onto a blanket of snow,
which crunches, squeaks beneath my boots
like tightly-packed cotton balls.

The cold numbs my swollen, frost-bitten fingers,
but the frozen pain melts
a puddle of misery shed from my mind.
The exhilaration of warm summer symphony approaches.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby JustSoWall-eCrazy » Sun Jan 22, 2012 3:25 am

That was really beautiful! Well done!
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby queen_of_painting » Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:05 pm

Thank you. :) I'm hoping my poetry will get better over this semester.

Here are some haiku I wrote last summer while in Tokyo. These are a little "weirder," and one or two pieces of imagery were used in the previous poem I posted.

Rusty maple leaves
floating overhead, what was
once vibrant scarlet.

Choirs of cicadas
illuminate the forest
with their lullabies.

Branches, puffy leaves
beckoning to passersby.
Forest ghosts ignored.

Trees growing wildly,
crawling into the soft earth,
dark limbs like spiders.

Dancing ants, beetle.
Shell made of shimmering gold.
A lonely carcass.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby pixarmilan » Tue Jan 31, 2012 5:37 am

I like your poems. I really like your imagery and the way you describe it.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby queen_of_painting » Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:33 pm

Thank you. :) It's frustrating when I'm trying to write a story and the poetic side of me becomes a little too strong.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby pixarmilan » Tue Jan 31, 2012 7:17 pm

Your welcome! Whenever I write I like to put alot of facts, so I've had to work on maybe using more descriptive imagery rather than just writing facts about what's happening or whatever I'm writing about.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby queen_of_painting » Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:34 pm

Here's a personal essay (i.e. creative nonfiction piece) I wrote for class about being in Tokyo last summer. There shouldn't be any mature content in it, but I should warn you it's rather long. :lol: This is only an early draft; I'm thinking of incorporating mono no aware into the theme and tying it into the earthquake/tsunami, because mono no aware deals with the bittersweet beauty of impermanence, or things not surviving forever.


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A Lonely American in Tokyo

In Japan, beauty is a lonely figure gazing at the sun in a green rice paddy, cherry blossom petals drifting along the hilly streets like snowflakes, and the soft, crispy whisper of oak leaves shuffling together in the breeze. In America, we overlook those small, poetic moments. Our history is rooted in glorifying historical leaders and religious icons through the arts, whereas Japanese painters have skillfully constructed minimalist landscapes from simple strokes of ink. The simplicity of Japanese art and culture derives from wabi-sabi, an aesthetic that involves feelings of transience and melancholy through imagery as simple as a lone orchid. Sometimes I imagine myself growing up in a country like Japan, and I wonder if doing so would have made me feel more complete.

I’m planning to depart America for the first time in almost a decade. A school in Tokyo, Sophia University, has a three-week program where I can study subjects such as Japanese language and literature. I carefully and meticulously plan my trip, from how many onigiri—or rice balls—I will consume to what Tokyo metro train fare typically costs. Only a small girl embarking on her first trip to Disney World would have such high anticipation.

A week after I send my tuition deposit, Japan is struck by the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that ferociously swallowed people and towns. I simultaneously mourn the possibility of staying in America for another year and, more importantly, the lives lost, homes collapsed, and citizens and Japanese wildlife poisoned by radiation indefinitely. Front-page news stories of the disaster become a regular reminder for the next several months, with growing paranoia over radiation and possible aftershocks. My mother vacillates between supporting my decision to study abroad and being concerned over radiation poisoning and the safety of Japan’s tap water. In the end, I choose to continue my originally planned adventure.

***************

After a plane trip nearly lasting an entire day, the soil of Japan greets my feet. I struggle to keep my eyelids open from exhausting jetlag while staring at the exotic urban landscape with wide-eyed wonder. Even as someone raised in Chicago, Tokyo feels like the biggest city in the world. Tokyo is an ant farm with multiple colonies bustling about, and I am nothing but a lone insect wishing to immerse myself in something different.

My hotel is a rather modest one, with no luxurious velvet couches arranged around mahogany coffee tables in the lobby, but rather plastic-covered benches. The hotel is located in Akasaka, a business district near Midtown and world-famous shopping areas such as Roppongi Hills and Harajuku. I have a full day to explore the city on my own before beginning classes, but my body chooses to pass out on my small hotel room’s full-sized bed. Part of me is relieved I’m not stuck with a compact, efficient, pod-sized hotel room like the ones shown in magazines. It would be difficult to spend three weeks living in a pod.

**************

I awaken at dusk and find myself craving the lively Tokyo outside the hotel walls. Grabbing my camera and tripod, I step into the cool summer night outdoors. I don’t have any maps, cell phone applications, or common tourist phrases to say in Japanese should I get lost. All I have are the pictures I take, which provide a breadcrumb trail back to the hotel. Unlike other cities, including my own Chicago, Tokyo is not known for street crimes, including those involving tourists, so I wander the streets without fear.

The most mundane sights of Japan amaze me: cheap, red paper lanterns strung above the door of a noodle shop, streams of electric red and green street lights trickling onto the shiny, wet asphalt. An elegantly dressed woman hiding underneath a clear umbrella passes me, and I quietly take a picture of her silhouette, hoping she won’t notice the click of the shutter release. I pass many vending machines filled solely with beverages, and the array of bright colors and Japanese text makes it seem worthy of a photograph. Even garbage is beautiful to me in a foreign land.

**************

I experience my first earthquake during my second night in Tokyo. Still suffering from jetlag, I had passed out on my bed during dinner with the lights still on. The earth begins to shake around 4 AM, and I freeze with caution like a deer in headlights. Feeling the room gently yet vigorously tremble back and forth is surreal, as if I’m still asleep and dreaming of being on an old, wooden ship during a vicious storm at sea. But this is only a small earthquake in comparison to what Japan has experienced—not even strong enough to knock an empty water bottle off my desk. News stories crowding the headlines of major news sites tell me that the quake scored 6.0 on the Richter scale, but it occurred in another prefecture and lost strength by the time it reached Tokyo. My thoughts become morbid as I imagine myself among the millions in Japan during a major earthquake: scrambling for secure shelter, ashes caked onto hot skin, crawling into a fetal position while buried beneath debris. I tell myself a tragedy so awful will never happen to me, but the casualties of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami may have also said the same thing once.

************

Something’s different. This Tokyo I wander through post-earthquake lacks the iconic displays of neon lights. I look upwards and see an empty midnight sky with speckles of lights, but they aren’t as vivid as the photographs I’ve seen. The Japanese government is conserving energy and money and has therefore encouraged reducing energy consumption, especially because of the nuclear meltdown, so businesses in fashionable districts are turning off their flashy lights. When I walk into a public restroom, I have nothing to dry my hands with after washing; paper towels are, naturally, considered wasteful and the usual heat-producing drying machines are unplugged everywhere I go. I pat my hands dry on my dress, feeling both accepting about helping in a small way and guilty about my first world problems in a country that has dealt with much worse issues than damp palms. Even garbage cans are difficult to find in Japan, and instead citizens are given rows of recycling bins organized into specific types of waste, from plastic bottles to aluminum cans to bottle caps to gum wrappers. Back in the hotel room, however, I’m given a small trash bag everyday to line my wastebasket. The maids also leave a large bag full of clean towels and casual Japanese robes outside my door every afternoon, which I try to refuse but am ignored, perhaps because I’m a foreigner and I’m supposed to be spoiled during my vacation—not trying to help lessen waste anyway I can. Why would I need three towels to use after showering daily, anyway?

********

Many months before I traveled to Japan, my mother mentioned exchanging some US dollars into Japanese Yen because the exchange rate at the time was in our favor. Neither of us had the money to do so, and I regret that now because, somehow, the Yen is growing stronger—even after the earthquake and tsunami. On top of that, items in Japan and especially Tokyo tend to cost more. For instance, a single banana, which happens to be among the cheapest and most common fruits in Japan, is roughly US$1.30. A small bunch of green grapes at various grocery stores will cost US$22.00, and I’ve even seen plain cantaloupes for US$75 each. All the little things I’ve been spending money on in Tokyo are quickly adding up, and while I’m ridiculously stringent with my purchases—I rarely eat at restaurants and I even stoop to eating meals consisting of aburaage (fried tofu) and instant noodles—I am still running low on money due to the exchange rate. Unlike my peers at Sophia University, I haven’t gone shopping in Shibuya or gone out to bars to buy expensive drinks. But because of the exchange rate, I’m desperately running low on money and am having to withdraw from my savings.

I can handle eating cheap food while in Japan, because I expected doing so from the start. I’ve plopped more umeboshi (sour plum) onigiri and inari (fried tofu pockets stuffed with sushi rice) in my mouth for lunch than I can count. One thing I’ve been rather conservative with is transportation money. Most of the Sophia students staying at my hotel, which is barely over a mile from school, choose to take two trains on their daily commute. That totals US$80 for transportation to school a mile away. Needless to say, I’ve been using my good ole feet to walk to school.

My daily commute is a meditative experience in a way; while there are some busy streets I intersect, the rest of my journey is peaceful, quiet, and surprisingly full of nature. In Chicago, we have pigeons, squirrels, rats, and flies. In the middle of Tokyo, a city so technologically advanced and dense and full of skyscrapers and humans, I encounter painted turtles waddling by the sidewalk, giant scarab beetles that remind me of Egyptian mythology, a large snail traversing a stair, and mating swallowtail butterflies clinging to my flower-print clothes. Colonies of cicadas plague every tall tree I pass, buzzing and humming above me like airplane engines, but I don’t mind the noise; they’re louder than the multitude of cars driving past. All those Sophia students choosing to take the train are missing the experience I get. Even though I’m lonely during most of my time in Japan, this certain kind of solitude is what I’ve been striving to feel, while in America I may have felt sorrow from being alone.

**********

I stop during my commute to scribble down a haiku in my sketchbook.

Choirs of cicadas
illuminate the forest
with their lullabies.


*************

During my Japanese literature class, while discussing Haruki Murakami’s short story “Tony Takitani,” a story of a man who has experienced loss, another aftershock begins. There have been a couple small aftershocks, and each time I’m not sure what’s happening initially: is my mind possibly tricking my body into feeling something imaginary due to paranoia of another destructive earthquake occurring? I find out the aftershock is, indeed, happening, but the impact is minimal and causes no damage whatsoever.

I pause for a moment (seconds, minutes—I can’t measure time when I’m scared) and watch as my fellow classmates sit motionless, staring at one another until the quake calms. No one speaks at first, but then we return to our lecture as if nothing happened. My morbid thoughts disappear. I wonder if I’m the only one imagining destruction.

*********

My frizzy-haired Japanese literature professor is a somewhat more eccentric version of the type of person I’d like to become. She’s been fluent in Japanese for decades and has spent most of her summers teaching in Tokyo. While she grew up as an American like I and many of my classmates have, she’s the rare person who has successfully adapted to another culture. She mentions going to exclusive screenings of new Japanese films and writing books about the subject, and I become enamored with her academic background. I can only speak a few sentences in Japanese after a semester of studying it. I don’t know what will become of myself and my love for Japanese culture.

The professor grinds her bare teeth and clutches her black puff of hair while pacing the class as she makes an important point about a piece of literature we’re studying. On multiple occasions the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, a significant event that caused several hundred thousand deaths and forced Tokyo citizens to rebuild their great city.

Our literature class is small due to the Tohoku disaster earlier this year; most potential applicants had been scared away by radiation poisoning and another possible tsunami or earthquake, and consequentially the size of Sophia University’s summer student body has been cut in half. But I don’t mind. I prefer smaller classes where I feel more significant, and I also get to experience a slightly different environment and atmosphere during this particular summer. Any other summer wouldn’t have had the same impact on me. I wasn’t unlucky to choose this year as my first chance to travel to Asia; it’s a fortunate and rare opportunity, though obviously at the expense of others.

*************

Sophia University has planned several cultural experiences for students to enjoy, such as ikebana (flower arranging), rakugo (single-man comedy play), and tea ceremony. Tonight, we’re invited to see young, talented taiko players slam their large, primitive appearing drums with thick sticks. As I sit cross-legged on the floor of the narrow, dimly lit room, a pounding song rumbles and pulsates through my ears.

After the drum show, we’re taught how to play the special drums. Not wearing my glasses like I should, I squint at myself in the large mirrors as I timidly thump and pound and slam my drum while smacking and tapping my drumsticks between beats. Some friendly, model-esque Japanese students at Sophia invite us to join them at a trendy bar, but I decline due to a major essay I have to finish by the next morning. Secretly, I’m afraid to spend my limited amount of money on alcohol. I’m also afraid to get drunk in a foreign country and have to find my way back home late at night. I’m afraid of failing at making new friends.

I choose to walk home from the drum center, which is located in Shibuya and is, according to Google Maps, only a 30-minute walk from my hotel in Akasaka. I decide I’d rather spend my money on food and other goods than train fare. Being from Chicago, I’m not as intimidated by major, complex transportation systems as some newcomers to Tokyo may be, but regardless I find the prospect of traveling Tokyo on foot rather appealing and intimate because I can become more familiar with the streets and neighborhoods.

It’s appealing until I become lost, that is. At one of the infamous six-corner intersections in Shibuya, where crowds cross streets in a choreographed manner like a colony of ants, I can’t tell which direction is north and begin heading in the wrong direction. The youthful clothing stores keep me distracted from the fact I’m lost, and by the time I realize how far south I am of my hotel’s location, the sun is setting and my body becomes weaker as the night grows darker. I sit down on a cement ledge, watching people pass as I calm myself. I don’t see any train stations nearby. I stop a middle-aged woman and ask for directions with my broken English.

Ano… Sumimasen. Akasaka wa doko desu ka?

She seems confused, and I honestly can’t tell if it’s because of my grammar or because she does not, in fact, know how to get to my hotel or a nearby train station. Tokyo is crammed with angular and curved streets heading in every direction, and rarely are there street signs. Chicago, however, has a street grid system that keeps things nice and orderly, and as long as I know where Lake Michigan is, I know where I’m going. In Tokyo, I feel as if I’ve been spun around in a circle ten times and have to rely on guessing the correct direction. Tonight is not the first time I’ve been so lost in the city of Tokyo.

Most people would find my decisions strange, and I certainly don’t enjoy the pain walking brings to my feet (especially when I’m wearing non-supportive flats). However, choosing to walk alone whenever possible is really not all about saving money; I’m seeing a different side of Tokyo. I’m seeing narrow side streets with steep hills, ivy-smothered homes, homey ramen restaurants that are generations old, cemeteries with mourning families visiting their loved ones, tiny gardens with koi ponds and lotus flowers.

**********

After some time immersed in Japan, I find myself craving unusual things from America. My diet of bananas, rice, tofu, noodles, and basic shiitake shoyu broth has been boring my taste buds, and the beverage vending machines I pass by have started to induce Coke cravings, despite the fact that I’ve almost exclusively been drinking water for years. In America, I’ve long been exposed to images of Coke cans dripping with condensation and sounds of lids snapping open and carbonation fizzling, and those images resurface whenever the summer heat rises. The humidity in Japan is much higher than Chicago, and spending even five minutes outdoors in the July sun will cause my neck to become cold and clammy while sweat forms on my forehead. I take a clean washcloth from the hotel as I depart each morning so I can dab my hot skin. Drinking an ice-cold can of soda, specifically Coke, fulfills some craving, a psychological craving. I’m craving American culture because I’m surrounded by solely Japanese things.

When I’m not completing schoolwork, traveling to some interesting part of Tokyo, or meeting with a classmate somewhere, I relax in the frigid but wonderful air-conditioning of my hotel room and watch marathons of “I Love Lucy,” a show I have only periodically seen reruns of on television. I’m familiar with all the classic catchphrases and goofy situations, but never before have I wanted to consume this classic show in such a large quantity. “I Love Lucy” is my ideal image of mid-twentieth century America—not something I would necessarily want to be part of, but something I nonetheless find comforting and familiar. I try to make myself watch my favorite Japanese films and television series while in Tokyo, but I keep returning to my darling red-haired Lucille Ball, my precious token of classic American culture.

***********

One of my final destinations in Tokyo is Yoyogi Park, a popular public area adjacent to the Harajuku shopping district. I enter on the west side of Yoyogi, a pleasantly placid area with few visitors and plenty of greenery. Instead of the paved bicycle roads, I take the dirt path that wanders through trees and bushes, away from others. Ueno Park is far more stunning to explore, and while it’s known for including a zoo with pandas, I was personally more mesmerized by the towering canopy of emerald leaves that created walls of forests within a bustling city. Yoyogi Park doesn’t captivate me as much, and the wildlife is mostly filled with pesky mosquitoes. The main part of Yoyogi is overwhelmingly covered with dirt and woodchips, but it’s far more lively: laughing, dark-skinned men play bongos, American tourists tote around expensive DSLR cameras (like me), and toddlers roll around in dewy grass and splash in the fountains.

But my favorite part of Yoyogi Park is, by far, the group of rockabillies by the southeast gate. I first notice them when hearing the Grease soundtrack playing from some boom boxes, and then I see a crowd formed around some women twirling in poodle skirts and pompadour-haired men snapping fingers. A high fashion photo shoot is set up directly next to the dancers, and apparently some men with rockabilly style—dark orange tans, traditional Japanese tattoos, greasy and slick hair, heeled leather boots, and snarly facial expressions—have been selected to pose next to a European-looking model with designer clothes. A shirtless, thin man points to my large arm tattoo and nods, which makes me feel somewhat comforted; in Japan, tattoos are traditionally associated with the yakuza and as a result businesses such as public bath houses and even hotels will refuse to accept customers with ink. At this particular moment I don’t feel quite so foreign.

I wonder if I’ve stumbled upon something special and unique in Yoyogi Park, but with my limited time spent in Tokyo, I honestly can’t tell. There are too many items on my tourism checklist, too many photo opportunities and restaurants and shopping districts and festivals—and this is all just the city of Tokyo. Train fare outside of the metropolitan area is costly, so I haven’t been able to visit the various shrines, old farming villages, places where horrible historical events have occurred, other major cities, and grassy fields in the countryside, the latter of which is an image I hold dear to my heart.

More than anything else—more than the kitschy theme parks, the centuries-old landmarks, the cherry blossom festivals, the lolita clothing stores—I have wanted to ride a bicycle through a sparsely populated countryside town with bright green rice paddies and golden wheat fields, the sun glowing onto my skin and the wind whispering through strands of my loose hair, and afterwards I would sit on a Japanese-style porch while spitting watermelon seeds into the grass and fanning myself. That initial image I’ve glorified of a lonely figure standing in a field with her head dreamily pointed towards the puffy clouds is myself, but the image has yet to be translated to a reality, and so it remains an unfulfilled fantasy. These experiences exist somewhere—not this summer, but in the future, a future when I have more time and money. A future when I can become even more familiar with Japan and maybe someday overcome stereotypes and speak Japanese fluently, navigate busy Tokyo streets at night, write decent haiku and tanka poetry, see obscure Japanese films without English subtitles, cook authentic Japanese cuisine, and an endless number of other things. But I still want to keep my occasional can of American soda pop and my classic sitcoms, my native language and my familiar Chicago streets. I see myself, someday, settling into a second home in Japan. Whether this is merely a fantasy is yet to be determined, but it’s ultimately up to me to keep my passion for Japanese culture thriving, or else I may as well be losing a part of myself.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby pixarmilan » Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:49 pm

Wonderful job! I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Japan. I really like the way you describe things.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby queen_of_painting » Fri Feb 17, 2012 2:40 am

Thank you! My classmates said the same thing (not sure what my professor will say). Still have to work on the actual "meat" of my story...
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby pixarmilan » Fri Feb 17, 2012 2:40 am

Your welcome, it was quite enjoyable.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby queen_of_painting » Fri Mar 30, 2012 3:25 pm

Right now in my creative writing class, we're studying flash fiction, which is fiction under 500 words. One project we did was googling the Life photo archive for anything that inspired us. I looked up '50s housewives and found this picture, so I wanted to write a satire piece about that sort of lifestyle back then.


Peggy is preparing the batter for a chocolate cake. She always sifts her flour when baking to ensure a fluffy, heavenly texture. That’s what mother always said. Peggy, if you don’t sift your flour it just won’t turn out well. You see? Look at how fine and powdery that flour is. No one wants to bite into a hard clump of flour. Nobody. And your husband sure won’t, either.

Cranking away at the sifter, Peggy slightly cringes at the rusty screeching. Perhaps she will ask her darling husband Bruce to fix the sifter with some oil. Bruce will know what to do. He’s usually quite exhausted by the time he returns home from his long day of work at the office, but Peggy makes sure he’s as comfortable as can be. That’s what she’s there for, after all: light his cigar, prepare him a delightful dinner of meat and potatoes (because Bruce loves nothing more than a medium-rare steak!), and place the local newspaper next to his favorite leather armchair. He won’t spot a smidge of dust as long as Peggy is his wife. No, she’ll make sure to dust beneath every drawer and make his house sparkle with her effort.

Bruce always tells Peggy that they are both equal in his household, but Peggy insists that Bruce’s life as an office executive is far more difficult than the life of a housewife and therefore deserves more, though neither job is easy. The toughest job of being a woman is maintaining grace and femininity while still getting the job done. A proper housewife should never have scraped, dry knees or brittle fingernails, because she will always place towels beneath her knees when scrubbing tile floors and hurry to the beauty salon whenever chipping off part of a perfectly painted nail. I think I'll try the pale pink nail polish today, Peggy will tell the manicurist, so it will match my new lipstick! Peggy takes her appearance very seriously, as it is one of the few special things she has to offer Bruce; her scarlet lips always forming a gentle smile, perfectly curled bob of strawberry-blonde hair, and 24-inch waist must be maintained whenever Bruce is around. Why, if Peggy suddenly gave up on herself—Lord forbid—she could never bring herself to look pudgy and unkempt around her darling husband. She would have failed her duties as a beautiful housewife. Peggy's whole world would crumble if she lost her beauty, and what a tragedy that would be!

In only two-and-a-half hours, Bruce will arrive home, remove his hat, and peck Peggy’s cheek, and she will beam while presenting him with a slice of perfectly moist chocolate cake, smothered in layers of raspberry buttercream frosting she borrowed from a Joy of Cooking recipe—one of the many recipes she dog-ears while sitting at home alone. As usual, Bruce will chuckle and shake his head, ask for dinner before dessert, and Peggy will bring him a plate of pot roast and roasted vegetables, hoping everything is cooked to Bruce’s liking. She only wants to please Bruce because he has given her such a wonderful life and so much security, and Peggy desires nothing more than to please her darling husband.
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Re: QOP's Poems and Stories

Postby pixarmilan » Fri Mar 30, 2012 7:46 pm

Good job! You described things nicely and I think it made for a good read.
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