Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Shape Poem: Pressing Your

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Zuzu's Petals Literary Quarterly

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Fifteen: The Wedding

The Wedding

Zelda trots the asphalt as fast as her pumps will allow. It’s hard to resist the view, but this she does, eyes to the trail. She descends a series of brick steps, then opens a plain white door into the dressing room. Zarita lights up.


“Success.” Zelda hands her a little brown bag.

“I’m so sorry, Z. God, the things I put you through.”

Zelda points a finger. “Don’t you dare cry. You are not going to melt Cecily’s perfect makeup.”

“Someone call the goddess?” Cecily enters from backstage, flashing a snarly smile. “Holy shit, you wouldn’t believe this wall of autographs back here. Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison…”


“Oh! You probably want me to put those on for you, huh? One package, fakey-fakey lashes. You are gonna look like a Disney princess. I’m thinking Jasmine.”

“Oh!” says Zarita. “I love Jasmine. It was so nice to finally get a princess with my skin color.”

“Okay, hold still.” She leans over her subject and applies a lash. “Careful… there. How does that feel?”

“Like my eyelids are lifting tiny barbells.”

“Yep. That’s how it feels.” She leans in and applies the other. “There! You’re fucking gorgeous.” She looks at Zelda. “Oh! But you are not. You have sweat-ted all over my work.”

“A ten-mile dash to the drugstore will do that.”

Cecily grabs a cloth and pats Zelda’s face. Yo, bride, can you nudge that fan in this die-rection?”


“Thank you. Must reconstruct your maid of honor.”

“Dad! Check this out.”

Franklin Geary steps to the poolside, tugging at his cummerbund.

“For God’s sake, Jacks, what now?”

“Well look!”

On the first wide step sits a large frog, giving his tuxedoed visitors a stern once-over.

Franklin laughs. “Well, okay. Y’got me there.”

“I imagine they get some unusual visitors up here. Friend of mine saw a coyote at a Lyle Lovett concert. Trotted right down the aisle.”

“You sure he wasn’t a roadie?”

“Ha! Maybe.”

Franklin stops and gives his son a study. Eventually, Jackson notices.

“What’s up, Dad?”

Franklin chuckles and taps his nose, an age-old habit. “You’re not even nervous.”

Jackson flashes his marketable grin. “Were you nervous at your wedding?”

“Frickin’ terrified.”

Jackson splashes at the frog. He retreats with an impressive leap.

“I’m always in front of crowds, Dad. The stage fright wears off.”

Franklin rubs his chin. “Maybe I should become a team mascot. Those presentations scare the hell out of me.”

“Yeah, but you still do well, right?”

“Yes. I suppose I do.”

They fall into a traditional father-son silence. Jackson peers at the concert area, where the winery staff is setting out chairs.

“Thanks for all of this, Dad. It’s perfect.”

“Just make sure it’s your only one.”

“Oh, it is.”

“That sure?”

Jackson pats a spot over his heart. “Here. That’s where Zarita is.”

Franklin Geary finds that he is frozen in place.

“Dad, if you start crying now, you’re never gonna make it.”

Franklin wipes his face with a handkerchief. “Sorry. You know this whole day is going to make me think of your mother.”

Jackson slaps his father on the shoulder. “She’s here, Dad. Hey, and thanks for being my best man.”

“Will people think that’s… unusual?”

Jackson looks out over the valley, the endless lines of roadwork, the surprising number of trees. “Only had one other candidate and, well, you know…”

“Yeah, I do.”

Barry comes over with a trio of champagne glasses.

“I don’t know if I should start,” says Jackson.

Franklin chuckles. “I don’t think it’ll hurt.”

Barry raises his glass. “To Zarita.”


Franklin sips and smiles. “My team-mascot son is marrying a girl named Zarita. The world is a mysterious and marvelous place.”

The ceremony is bridal-magazine gorgeous. The couple stands before the ancient doors of the winery, their guests seated before them on the stage. Zarita wears a traditional Pakistani wedding outfit: a blood-red gown dotted with green paisleys, laced with beadwork. She wears a necklace of cascading red and black beads. Another arrangement, this of red and white beads, drapes her forehead. Jackson wears a black tuxedo with a red bowtie and vest.

They read poems by an Urdu woman, Kishwar Naheed, and an American, Raymond Carver. A friend delivers vows that are traditional in nature but modern in style, including promises to maintain mutual respect and keep the lines of communication ever-open. All the while, a chair in the front row offers its own testimony, holding a dozen yellow roses to represent Jackson’s late mother. Zelda can’t stop looking at it.

Cecily steps up with a guitarist and sings “Not Too Much To Ask” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Up to this point, Zelda has held firm, but the song offers lines about the simple luxuries of love: speaking the loved one’s name, a touch of the hand, a look into the eyes. She begins to cry, so much that she fears she will disrupt the ceremony. But she looks around to find the other three bridesmaids doing the same – and Cecily, and Zarita, and Jackson. Fortunately, their friend delivers a benediction before they all drown, declares them husband and wife, and sends them off down the aisle.

The reception takes place on the far side of Paul Masson’s original chateau. A sprawling terrace of stone tiles offers a devastating view of the valley floor, the low-power suburban streetlamps blinking on as the sun fades behind the Santa Cruz Mountains. From what she has begun to think of as “the royal table,” Zelda surveys the guests and calculates one-third Pakistani, the rest a mix of Zarita’s co-workers, Jackson’s family and random, unfamiliar men who will later prove to be some of the Bay Area’s elite mascots: Sourdough Sam of the ‘49ers, S.J. Sharkey from the NHL Sharks, Lou Seal from the Giants’ big league club, and Mav’riks, the sea turtle who represents the D League Santa Cruz Warriors basketball team. (Many of them have an amusing devotion to their secret identities, as if they were superheroes.)

As if to baffle the gods of diversity, the cuisine is Italian. Zelda picks at a plate of shrimp scaloppini, chatting with the bride between royal visitations.

“God, Z, that Cecily has such a beautiful voice. I think I’m beginning to hate her.”

“I know,” says Zarita. “Save some talent for the rest of us, bitch!”

An older Pakistani woman comes up and rests a hand on Zarita’s.

“I cannot tell you how lovely you look. You remind me of my mother at her wedding.”

“Thank you!” says Zarita (her mouth growing tired from smiling).

Zelda looks at her friend anew. “Z, you are the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen.”

“Zelda! You make me blush.”

“Just reportin’ the facts, ma’am.”

“Well, I…”

A rain of chimes fills the terrace. Zarita turns to kiss her husband (husband! she thinks), but finds that Jackson is standing, holding a microphone.

“Hi. Can you hear me all right?”


“Thanks, Steve. I wanted to thank you all for coming today. We’re honored that you would spend the evening with us in this humble setting.”

He waits a beat for laughter.

“Right now, I’d like to bring up my best man for the toast. And if ever there was a man who was the best, it’s my father, Franklin Geary.”

Franklin sidles over and takes the mic as the guests deliver a golf clap. Although not as adept as his son, Franklin displays a certain ease with the microphone, treating it not as an enemy but an assistant. He clears his throat and begins.

“I remember when Jackson was a wee young lad, he really didn’t display any tendencies that would predict a life as a professional mascot. Unless you count the day that he dressed up all his friends as the superheroes of the League of Justice and forced, er, persuaded them to act out an original script that he himself wrote.”

A gentle roll of laughter.

“Okay. Maybe just a hint. But today… Today he takes on the greatest superhero role of all, that of a husband.” He smiles at Jackson and Zarita. “Perhaps a father. And to accompany him on this journey he has found a Wonder of a Woman. I know that if his mother were…”

That’s where it starts. The tear-filled wrecks of Franklin’s family speeches are well-known. In a way, they deliver a message more profound than anything he could say. He lowers the microphone – the assistant turned enemy – and clears his throat. And wipes his eyes. Clears his throat again. Makes another attempt.

“I’m sorry. But when I saw those roses in the front row, I…”

Strike two. He lowers the mic once more. Jackson is frozen, stuck between a need to get on with his wedding and a need to give his old man a chance to say what he wants to say. The silence stretches to an awkward twenty seconds, and then the silence is broken by footsteps. A man descends the stairs of the chateau and makes his way between the tables. He wears a black suit with a black shirt and a snow-white tie. He arrives at the royal table and extends a hand. Franklin smiles and gives him the microphone. The man turns to face his audience.

“Franklin has more feelings than most of us, and for that we love and admire him. Unfortunately, it deprives us of the pleasure of hearing the ends of his speeches.”

The guests, still a little mystified, give him a guarded laugh.

“Let me tell you a story. My mother was a terrible driver. On the day after I got my driver’s license, barely sixteen years of age, she asked me to drive us to the beach, over the treacherous curves of Highway 17, because already, on my first few hours of legal driving, I was better at it than she was.

“The occasion was Jackson’s birthday. His parents were off on a trip to England, so it was my job to drive our little group, the Future Hoodlums of America, to the coast. We stopped at a little spot called Bean Hollow. While my mother prepared the party, we climbed onto a marvelous rock formation that stood over the water. The crest of the rock looked like the bridge of an ancient ship. I had one of those plastic Kodak cameras, and I climbed an adjacent rock to take a shot. The magic of photography is that occasionally it captures something absolutely essential about someone. As I held the viewfinder to my eye, Jackson perched on the highest point of the rock and saw something on the horizon. He pointed it out to the others, using the entire length of his arm. His friends turned to see what it was and… Click!

“The photograph looked very much like that painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. It’s an apt comparison, because even on his sixteenth birthday, Jackson Geary was a leader of men. That is the role he has always played in our lives. And, like any good and wise ruler, he has found a worthy queen – a beautiful, whip-smart Pakistani girl – to stand beside him.”

He pauses for a second to let the thought sink in.

“So! Allow me to raise a toast. Oh, crap, someone give me a glass.”

Jackson, looking a little dazed, hands him a wine glass half-filled with cabernet.

“Thanks. To King Jackson and Queen Zarita. Long may they rule!”

Steven (who did not win the award as Class Clown for nothing) yells “Huzzah!” No one can resist a “huzzah!” so many of the guests huzzah back. What few of them have noticed is Franklin, who has circumnavigated the table. He attacks the speaker with an embrace.

“Thanks, Edward.”

Zelda is grateful for the quantity of her assignments: posing for photos in front of the chateau, helping with the cake-cutting, videoing the garter toss, jumping for the bouquet (failing to catch the bouquet), and reminding everyone she meets to sign the register. They adjourn to the reception hall next to the swimming pool, where she gives the maid-of-honor toast. It’s largely a series of Irish blessings finishing with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Women are made to be loved, not understood.” Then she introduces the band, a trio with the clever name of Up a Notch.

The drummer sings “Always and Forever” as the dance combinations proceed at a furious pace: bride/groom, bride/father-in-law, groom/mother-in-law; bridal party, and then to All Dance. The drummer lifts a finishing falsetto, waits a second, then revs up a familiar bass-snare beat. It’s “Love Shack” Two chick singers make their way to the stage. One of them is Cecily, wearing a dominatrix bustier. Zelda finds herself next to the groom.

“They only play party songs!” he half-shouts. “It was all we could do to get that slow one for the first dance.”

“I like it!” she shouts back. “Too much sappy shit at weddings.”

Jackson smiles and points. “Back to my bride!” He heads for Zarita and slips an arm around her waist. Zelda takes a dive into the maelstrom, partnerless, moving in any direction she so desires. Cecily rips her way through “Barracuda,” brandishing an impressive soprano. Zelda loses herself in the drive and shimmer, tossing her limbs in dangerous Calderian orbits. She feels the sweat building up inside her bridesmaid dress and does. Not. Care.

The song stops on a hi-hat cutoff. The guitarist, an angular black man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, speaks into his clip-on mic.

“This one’s a special request. We haven’t done it for years, but we’re always willing to try.”

He rings out a minor chord, then another, and gathers them into a galloping beat. The drummer stirs up a roll on the snare. Standing near the band, Zelda gets a sinking feeling. The song is “White Rabbit.” She turns to find the bride and groom motioning everyone to the side, creating a Soul Train path to the back of the room. At the end of the path stands Edward in his black suit, a red rose in his teeth, arms extended. Cecily slithers in on the vocals, but Zelda is frozen in place.

Zelda would like nothing more than to ignore the whole thing. To a dancer, however, there’s nothing more irresistible than a cue. When Cecily reaches the word “small,” Zelda rushes across the floor, geared up with ill intent, but Edward is ready. He matadors to the left, hooks an arm around Zelda’s waist and lifts her into a flying spin. It’s been three years, but the moves are tattooed on her muscles. They finish the spins, the charge, Zelda scratches his knuckles with her nails, into the foot parries she kicks his calf, he doesn’t even flinch, she hasn’t had this thing, this non-sexual sex in eons, her arteries and lungs not fully filled, limbs not wholly employed the end arrives he drags her across the floor in her brand-new useless dress, all the way out of the hall onto the patio to ringing applause.

The drummer shouts Ringo’s “One-two-three-FOUR!” and they’re off to “I Saw Her Standing There.” Edwards lifts Zelda to her feet. He’s different. The hair is groomed, the expression relaxed, but still the sad, dark eyes, the mist in the cold evening and behind him a banner of lights from the valley floor, like a bed of copper sequins.

He regains his breath, ducks his head and swallows. “Listen, I know I have a lot I to…”

She attacks him, tries to suffocate him with her lips, to swallow him whole, clutches her arms around his torso and drives on through. They land in the swimming pool with a bountiful splash and she keeps on going. If she has to drown him, she will. 

Photo by MJV

Shape Poem: Reconnaissance

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Alphabet Faucet

Friday, April 24, 2015

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Michael J. Vaughn, author of Frosted Glass
"A marvelous tale of romance and escape from the Silicon Valley. Vaughn brings his characters and various west coast locales to life with linguistic brilliance and a gentle wit." --William Burman
"…a most unlikely tale of discovery and passion. …a shimmering fable, as delicate and whimsical as a handful of glass." -- Debra Bokur, Many Mountains Moving literary journal
"I love this book! Michael has done an excellent job getting into the mind of a woman." --Nichole Boudreau

Buy the book at Amazon.com 

A painful break-up/break-down chases high-tech marketing wiz Sandy Lowiltry from her Silicon Valley home. She comes to rest on the Oregon Coast, where she seeks solace in the opera-themed sanctuary of the Hotel Bel Canto and the arms of a handsome eccentric who spends his days combing the beach for sea glass.
Sandy soon learns what the tourist ladies already know - it's easy to fall for Frosted Glass Man. Besides great sex and alarmingly intricate campsite cuisine, Frosty offers do-it-yourself mythologies that would melt even the coldest heart. But will it be enough to quiet the whisper of ambition, the voice inside Sandy's head that chides her for settling? Will she really leave behind Silicon Valley for love in such a strange package?

Shape Poem: Windbreaker

By Michael J. Vaughn

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Popcorn Girl

The Popcorn Girl: A Masterful Psychological Thriller for Atheist Readers

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When the owner of an atheist bookshop falls for the girl who works in the moviehouse across the street, he has no idea what he's getting into. Jasmina is the survivor of a toxically religious upbringing, and has managed to escape only by losing her original identity and, when the pressure gets too much, etching a staircase of cuts into her arm. When Paul discovers a missing person flyer with a picture of a twelve-year-old Jasmina, the psychological fireworks are about the begin. A mind-bending thriller from the author of "Billy Saddle."

"The characters have a depth and charm that really drew me in. There is even a very sweet romance. Interwoven throughout is a thought-provoking exploration of religion and atheism. I've read other books by Michael J. Vaughn; The Popcorn Girl is without doubt my favorite." --Michelle Cahn

"THE POPCORN GIRL is a tremendously complex and bittersweet novel masterfully researched and honed." --CSLowe

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Michael J. Vaughn: The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of


Shape Poem: Swerve

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Plainsong (winner, Editor's Choice Award)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shape Poem: Instructions for Finding Frosted Glass at the Beach

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Parting Gifts
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Fourteen: Bachelorettes

Buy the book at Amazon Kindle.

 P  A  R  T    T  W  O


The little blond kid looks four or five, and Gigante knows the type: just getting his verbal skills and ready to call BS on anything. He pulls on Gigante’s leg.

“Yer not a gorilla! Yer a man. I see you in dere!”

So many temptations. Break into a full human voice and say, “No shit, y’little prick.” Ignore him and keep on walking. Find a half-empty soda and “accidentally” pour it over his head. Watch him cry like a little pussy. But no. The only solution is bribery. Gigante grabs him and twirls him into the air. Bratnik yowls. Gigante presents him to Section 23 and coaxes an applause. Bratnik giggles. Gigante sets him down and ruffles his hair.

“I still think yer a man!”

Gigante hears the opening strains of “YMCA” and reports to a platform near the third-base dugout to lead the silly spell-it-out dance. The Y, the M, the C, the A. Amazing that nobody gets tired of this thing. Gigante throws in a finger-point, a hipshake, a raise-the-roof, but the platform is too small for anything elaborate.

The seventh inning starts and Gigante is off the hook. The CO2 smell of the head’s interior is getting old, and God knows how much sweat is going on down below. The big gorilla heads into the tunnel with visions of the couch, the fan, and a big bottle of cold water. Gigante stops for a picture with a grandma and two toddlers, then arrives at the sanctuary door. Gigante locks the door, undoes the Velcro attachments, lifts the great head and takes a deep breath. A second Gigante sits on the couch, wearing the head of Jackson Geary.

“I hate it that you’re so punctual. Now I have to go out there and actually do my job. Hot?”

“As Hades.” She unzips her suit and steps out in nothing but panties and a sports bra.

“It’s a good thing my future wife doesn’t know how much I see of you at work.”

“I’d go buck naked if I didn’t have that regular nightmare about my suit disintegrating. You are so lucky we got the extra outfit. This one needs a fumigation.”

“With that big ass of yours, I don’t think they had much of a choice.”

Zelda smiles sweetly. “Why thank you.”

Jackson laughs. “Hey! You know I mean that in a good way.”

Zelda takes a towel and wipes her forehead. “Yeah. Everybody wants to rent the ass. But do I get any buyers?”

“That’s men.”

“Speaking of men, you ready for the big night?”

Oh yeah. My buds are taking me to San Francisco, the old-school strip joints.”


“Just remember. There’s a strict confidentiality agreement between team mascots. Where are the bachelorettes headed?”

“Same agreement between BFFs, pal. Although I will tell you we’re headed in a southerly direction, so you are free to make a complete ass of yourself.”

“Awesome! Well, time to assume the persona.” He dons the headwear, attaches the Velcro, and uses Gigante’s big paw to slap Zelda’s ass as he slips into the tunnel beneath San Jose Muni.

Surprise is a requirement, so Zelda has taken the reins of Zarita’s sporty electric car. Given the location of the party, she’s supremely grateful for the navigation device.

“In two tenths of a mile, turn left onto Hamilton Road.”

“Your navigator sounds like Mary Poppins.”

Zarita smiles. “I do believe you’re right! I know I’m not supposed to ask, but where the hell are you taking us?”

“I’m not really certain myself.”

“Well that’s reassuring.”

“Turn right on Old Japanese Road.”

“Seriously?” says Zarita. “I think she’s screwing with us.”

They are at the very top of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Old Japanese Road is a toboggan run, snaking downhill between thick groves of redwood. Zelda notes that the asphalt is barely wide enough for one car, much less two. She glances to the left and sees a sudden dropoff, envisions them tumbling downhill in a fireball.

“In one hundred yards, turn left onto Alameda.”

Zelda laughs.

“What?” asks Zarita.

“Apparently, the road is named after our hostess.”

“Wait a minute. Roxy? The Countess?”

“Yes. This will not shock you, but her divorce just came through. Hubby got the San Jose apartment, the Countess got the mountain hideaway. We have become quite the coffee confidantes, and when I told her about my maid-of-honor duties, she said she was dying to have a party at the redwood palace.”


They dip left onto a sharp descent that disintegrates into a gravel drive.

“Shoulda brought a jeep,” says Zelda, bouncing in her seat. They climb to a circular drive with a fountain. The centerpiece is a rough-hewn pillar of stone, water burbling from the top.

“Oh yeah,” says Zelda. “That’s not phallic.”

A series of rectangles ascend the hill, a veritable mountain lodge covered in spanking new cedar siding. The property is surrounded by old-growth redwoods, rising like gods into a salmon afterglow.

Z and Z proceed to a wide front deck under a vine-covered arbor. The front door offers thin strips of blonde hardwood arrowing out from a large, rod-like knocker. Zarita lifts it and lets it fall.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “That’s not phallic.”

Roxy bursts forth in a shower of curls, stripes of strawberry and wheat fresh from the salon.

“The princess bride! Come in, we’re all ready for you.”

They cross a floor of dark slate to a modest stairwell and a kitchen of bright yellows. Seventeen females, a sampler pack of Silicon Valley diversity, raise their drinks and woo-hoo to the skies. Roxy leads Zarita to a chair decorated with white ribbons. A short Latina approaches.

“Would the bride like a cosmo or a mojito?”

Zarita twitches her lips. “Mojito.” The drink arrives seconds later. She sips and sighs. “Thank you so much for this, Roxy.”

Roxy’s smile opens into a singing laugh. “You don’t know how I’ve been craving a party! Mother Nature is a lovely but boring neighbor. Speaking of, enough of this kitchen. Girls, we’re off! Leave your drinks, there’s more on the way.”

They trail Roxy like a besotted Girl Scout troop, and Zelda gets a better view of Roxy’s outfit, a knee-length dress composed of overlapping silver plates. As she walks, it tinkles like wind chimes. They pass a cozy TV room, turn down a dark hall then through a master bedroom to a blood-red deck surrounding a hot tub. Redwood branches feather the railings, and one specimen, an impressive four feet wide, grows through a hole cut into the deck.

Zarita perches on a chaise lounge decorated with white ribbons. The Girl Scouts gather before her, if only to touch the magic bride. Zelda settles with Roxy at a faux-marble patio table, looking up to see newborn stars speckling the sky. A short Latino approaches.

“Would the señorita like a margarita or a mai tai?”

“Mai tai,” she answers.

“Same for me, Carlos.”

Zelda smiles at Roxy. “Two choices for each locale?”

Roxy laughs. “Everyone needs a choice. But not more than two.”

Zelda notes the steam rising from the hot tub. “Are we going for a dip?”


Once the drinks are delivered, Roxy rises for a speech. Zelda checks her lipstick in Roxy’s dress.

“Ladies! And I use the term loosely. I refuse to let the party slow down in the least, so let us proceed to the first exhibition of manmeat!”

She’s greeted by a soprano chorus of woo-hoos.

“Please welcome to the Carson Alameda Memorial Sundeck – Derek, the God of Fire!”

A thin, athletic man, gifted with tight abs and long limbs, rises from the leftward staircase. He wears nothing more than a leather thong, displaying two firm butt-cheeks, and carries a pair of balls, what look like large black marshmallows, on the ends of two ropes. He takes a small bow and dips the balls into a metal bucket. Carlos the waiter approaches with a long barbecue lighter and sets them aflame.

Derek swings the balls into a spin at either side, then he uses a hand-over-hand parlay to send them from one side to the other. He makes a pass beneath his thong, which brings a gasp from the girls. Zelda takes a photo and marvels at the results, a rippling arc of white flame.

He proceeds to his Big Move, arching all the way back till his head touches the deck, then spinning the balls horizontally in opposing orbits. This brings a rousing applause until one of the balls strikes the deck and bounces, causing a mass inhalation. But Derek recovers quickly, regaining the spin and rising to his feet. He gathers the balls together and whips them side-to-side until they cool to a cobalt blue, then stops and lowers them into a water bucket with a snaky hiss. The bachelorettes unloose their screams, and Roxy rises.

“Ladies! And I use the term looselessly. Derek is not generally involved in this seedy Chippendale side of the business, but he has agreed that you may show your appreciation by kissing him hither and yon upon his personage, and/or depositing bills into his rather limited clothing. Attack!”

What follows is a soft-core running of the bulls. Derek sinks into a scrum of giggling women. Zelda uses the cover of numbers to deposit a twenty in his thong and give his member a friendly yank. Sadly, it’s the first dick she’s touched in months. The loving throng eventually retreats, and Roxy rises.

“Derek, delicious young Prometheus, we thank thee for thy balls o’ fire…”


“…and we suggest you hie thee to the hills.”

Derek disappears down the stairs, blowing kisses and readjusting his thong. He is virtually covered in lipstick.

“Okay!” says Roxy. “Enjoy your drinks, and soon I will surprise you again.”

The deck fills with chatter. A trio of women are literally sitting at Zarita’s feet. Zelda taps Roxy’s mai-tai with hers.

“You should do this for a living.”

Roxy’s smile is tilting like a foundering ship. “When the lovely Carson Alameda met me, I was performing with a melodrama company in Campbell.”

“The Gaslighter?”

“The very one. That job taught me to be fearless.” The sides of her mouth turn downward. “Gave it up when I got married.”

Zelda looks at Roxy and feels her eyes glowing (that, and her mai-tai is very strong). Ten minutes later, the Countess rises once again.

“Ladies! And I use the term unbeloosedly. It is time to put you to the test. Please report to the corner of the deck, where Carlos will send you to our next destination.”

Zelda finds herself next to Zarita at the end of the line. She gives her a kiss on the ear. Zarita giggles.

“That tickles!”

“Having fun, Z-girl?”

“Entirely too much fun, Z-girl. I feel like a celebrity. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but your friend is crazy.”

“Crazy. Divorced. Same thing.”

They’re interrupted by a blood-curdling scream.

“What the fuck!” says Zarita. She watches her assistant, Sara Kabayashi, fly into the woods like a superhero.

Zelda laughs. “It’s a zip-line. Oh my God. A bachelorette party with a zip-line.”

Being at the back of the line, listening to one scream after another, builds up their anticipation in a nerve-jangling kind of way. It’s almost a relief when they reach the front, where a section of railing has been set aside to make way for the arboreal angels. Carlos straps Zarita into her halter. She flies off with a cry of “Cowabungaaaah!” Carlos makes a thorough, professional study of Zelda’s figure.

“I think I will have to make some special accommodations.” He loosens the straps on the halter.

“Oh God,” says Zelda. “Must I always be having this conversation?”

Carlos smiles. “Do not speak to a Mexican man about El Caboose. Have you watched Spanish television? Our women have hips.”

“Well thank you, Carlos.”

“De nada. Here now. Step into these. Make sure the straps don’t fold over.”

Carlos cinches her up and hands her the bar. “Hold on tight. We don’t want you arriving downside-up.”

Zelda stands in the gap, staring into the dark forest, and suddenly remembers who she is: a natural athlete, queen of the stripper pole. She springs from the deck. The trip is a sensory frappuccino, all wind and blur. Strategic lighting reveals needled branches, rough-cut trunks. A patch of cedar sprinkles her nose with spice. She enters a clearing, thirty feet up, and tunnels toward a ring of redwoods. Thankfully, the line is rigged to slow her down before landing. She spots the landing mat and jogs to a stop before a chorus of wind-blown women. Zarita slaps her on the back. A short Latina undoes her buckles.

“Wasn’t that awesome?” says Zarita. “That was awesome! Wasn’t it? Awesome?”

“All in a day’s work,” says Zelda, readjusting her jeans. “What the hell do we have here?”

“What we have here,” says Roxy, “is the world’s most magnificent treehouse. We originally built it for our spoiled children, but once they took off to college I endeavored to turn it into my own private retreat. Inside, ladies!”

Inside is a long room with timbered walls and a parquet floor. The perimeter is lined with twenty folding chairs, a couch and a wicker throne decorated with white ribbons. Zarita knows the drill by now and assumes her proper place. Zelda joins Roxy on the couch and is not surprised at all when the Latina, Leticia, arrives with a drink offer.

“Gin martini or lemon drop?”

“Give me the martini,” she says. Roxy concurs. The girls gather in groups of two and three to discuss their recent flights.

“Aren’t you going to make some kind of speech?”

“No need,” says Roxy. Leticia arrives with their drinks and hands Zelda an engraved money clip. The clip holds twenty singles. She looks around the room to see that all the other women have received clips, as well.

“Has everybody been served?” asks Roxy. Leticia nods. “Okay. Let ‘er rip.”

Leticia retreats behind a dividing wall. The room falls dark, and then fills with flashing lights, a thumping beat and the opening strain of “It’s Raining Men.” Into the frame of the doorway pops a very fake-looking gorilla.

“Ooh!” says a black-haired girl. “It’s Gigante’s cousin.”

“Just your type, Zarita.”

The gorilla romps around the room in an ape-like shuffle, grunting and beating his chest. He swings up to Zarita and sniffs her face; she squeals. He takes a step back, undoes a cord and rips off the fur shirt, revealing a clean-shaven chest and sculptured abs.

“Oh!” says Zelda. “A Brazilian gorilla.”

The next items to go are the furry pants, revealing carved calves and a well-packed loin cloth. Zelda wads up a bill and tosses it at his feet. He picks it up and stuffs it into his mouth.

“Don’t eat it, silly monkey!”

Monkeyman turns around and waggles his butt. Zarita gives him a swat and tucks a bill into the cloth. The gorilla reacts by twerking in an impressive piston-like fashion.

“Go go gorilla! Now the mask!”

“Yeah! The mask.”

He unzips the mask and reveals a sly grin, a hawkish nose, a mop of unruly cocoa hair. Zelda would guess him to be Filipino.

“Only one thing left!” Their dancer makes the finger-rub gesture meaning “cash” and points groinward. The girls are not shy. They gather around him in a circle, backing their asses into his crotch, and take turns feeding his loin cloth with currency till it’s about to burst.

At this point, he motions for them to sit down and gives Leticia a “cut” signal. The room goes dark, eliciting another round of woo-hoos. The speakers rumble forth with Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the music hits its second climax, a single shaft of light appears at center stage, revealing an object that is almost beyond description. An oddly shaped tuber. The snout of some exotic sea mammal. A tube of flesh a foot long, four inches wide, a veritable sequoia of penis. The reaction goes in stages: rapt silence, whispers, giggles, a squeal. The penis begins to sway, then to slap from one thigh to the other. The music phases into “Icky Thump” by Jack White. The dancer grabs his member by the base and swings it around like a rope. The spotlight widens out until Monkeyman is revealed in all his glory. He performs several penis-based dance moves until the song screeches to an end. The dancer bows. The women applaud. The dancer grabs his dick like a puppet and makes it bow. The girls scream. Roxy stands in front of him, accidentally backing into him as she speaks.

“Ladies! Ladies!” They continue screaming. “Okay – sluts!” They quiet down. “This is Johnny Sequoia, a bona fide porn star. We have some ground rules. You may take turns examining Johnny’s… star attraction, but please be gentle, and no kissing or licking! We don’t want our bride to get into any trouble.”

The buzz continues for the next fifteen minutes as the women take turns fondling their guest, who does not seem to get beyond a semi-rigid state. Most of them simply heft it in their hands, as if they were judging a salmon at the fish market.

“That is just gorgeous, Johnny.”

“Thanks. It’s opened quite a few doors for me.”

“I’ll bet it actually could.”

“You’re ruining us for other men.”

“Now, now. Size can be a challenge, too.”

“A challenge I would accept.”

After taking her turn, Zelda settles on the couch next to her fairy godmother.

“Rox, you’re an evil, evil, beautiful bitch.”

“Thank you, darling. Divorce teaches one to take what one can in this tormented little world.”

“God, how would you even make use of that monster?”

Roxy laughs. “It would take a woman of great skill and flexibility.”

“And ambition.”

Eventually, Johnny takes his leave and the party simmers down. They take a long plastic slide to the forest floor and return to the house along a path outlined with fluorescent rocks. When they arrive, they find that the front deck has been loaded with temptations: exotic appetizers, a sundae station, a display of pre-rolled joints and engraved lighters (I survived Zarita’s bachelorette party), mini-kegs offering a choice of wheat or pale ales, and two massage stations manned by burly linebacker types. Zelda shares a joint with the bride, whose speech patterns are all off-kilter.

“This is thee… most… extra ordinary bachelor ette partyinhistory. Thanks. For. Have ing richfriends.”

“Ya serve people coffee, ya get friends. You gonna get a massage?”

“Hellzyeah. You?”

“I’m thinking that hot tub is calling my name.”

“Dunno,” says Zarita. “That’s a looooong staircase.” She kisses her on the cheek and giggles like a faerie queen.

Zelda crosses a brick patio and climbs the stairs, holding tight to the railing. She attains the deck to find the hot tub occupied by Johnny Sequoia.

“Hello there! Recovering?”

Johnny stretches his arms. “Oh! Suffering all that female adoration. It’s exhausting.

“Well,” says Zelda. “I guess there’s no reason to be shy.” She pulls off her shirt.

“Turnabout is fair play.” He takes a drag from a ceramic pipe. “Wow, you could get some choice gigs with that ass of yours.”

Zelda steps into the water, settling on a bench neither too far nor too near her companion.

“My life is one long, running commentary on the junk in my trunk.”

“I know how you feel.”

Zelda laughs and covers her mouth. “I guess you do! But at least you can hide that monster with some baggy pants.”


“So. Johnny Sequoia. Is that in the long tradition of timber-based porn names?”

“I thought Dick Hardwood was too obvious.”

“I approve. And it’s beautifully appropriate to the setting.”

Johnny reaches his arms to the surrounding redwoods. “My brothers!”

Zelda laughs and runs a finger along her lips. “So… how do you operate that thing?”

Johnny smiles. “Takes a lot of patience. And carefully selected partners. Which, thankfully, is exactly what my chosen profession provides.”

“Do you ever play with civilians?”

“Is your name Zelda?”

“Why yes.”

“As it so happens, you are my next assignment.”

Zelda feels her body filling with blood. “I don’t know what I put in that woman’s coffee, but I really don’t deserve this.”

Johnny stands up, which for him is a decidedly political act. “I noticed a rather magnificent shower inside. Why don’t we start there?”

“Mmm… yes.”

Zelda wakes on a futon next to a laundry basket filled with towels. When she lifts her legs to set them on the floor, she finds that they are shaking. Her head is throbbing; she reaches up to find a tender spot at the top of her skull. And a crick in her neck. Sore right elbow. Stiff jaw. And what the hell is going on in the groin area?

This generalized broadcast of pain is interrupted by the smell of frying meat, and toast, and coffee. She creaks to her feet, slips on her clothes and limps down the hall. As she descends to the kitchen, she is greeted by applause.

“Zelda!” Roxy stands at the counter in a glorious bronze robe. “Black black coffee or bloody Bloody Mary?”

A curly-haired brunette says, “Would you like some sausage?” A snicker skips around the room.

A young black woman with a piercing above her eyebrow escorts Zelda to the chair that’s decorated with white ribbons. “Hey, fuck them. Have all the sausage you want. You’re a rock star.”

Zelda gives them a puzzled smile. “I wish I had the slightest idea what you were talking about.”

Someone slams a door. Zelda peers through a window to see Zarita on the front deck, arms crossed, staring in to the redwoods.

“Uh-oh,” says a blonde. “Bride’s pissed.”

Someone delivers a huge Bloody Mary with celery and carrots and God knows what else. Zelda takes a sip and lets the spices swirl around her mouth. The black girl holds up her smart phone. “Perhaps this will refresh your memory.”

The audio is a string of half-stifled comments and snickers. The video is dark, but eventually Zelda makes out Johnny Sequoia on a balcony, humping the railing. But then she spots a trail of dark hair dangling between the verticals. The railing is extra wide, and part of it seems to be composed of human flesh – a woman, standing on her head, performing a perfect tabletop split.

“Ho… lee… Is that…? Did I…?” She looks beyond the table to a tall window offering the exact same view of the balcony.

Roxy arrives with a plate of blueberry pancakes. “Honey, there’s no one else here who could even think of doing that.”

“Wow.” She reaches again to the top of her head. “I am a rock star.”

Zelda manages to get down a pancake, then she limps to the front deck, where Zarita is maintaining her redwood stare. Zelda touches her shoulder; she flinches away.

“Leave me alone.”

“What’s the…?”

“You know very well. You couldn’t even let me be the star of my own bachelorette party. You had to fuck the porn star.”

“I really don’t see…”

“Are you going to do this at the wedding? Blow the minister? Hump the caterer?”

“That’s enough!”

A voice booms from above, followed by a canter of footsteps on the stairs. Roxy bursts through the door like a bronze goddess.

“Listen, Zarita. I was a bride once, and I get it: you have completed the great jigsaw puzzle of life. Everyone needs to bow down before you and set their piddly problems aside. Well, listen: the only reason you got the world’s best bachelorette party is this beautiful woman’s patience and kindness, listening to me bitch about my marriage for ceaseless mornings over the coffee counter. And you know what she’s been through. So if I want to throw my protégée a porn star at your bachelorette party, well tough shit, sister, that’s the price of admission. And if your friend’s behavior has you feeling uncomfortable, well you just think about all the nasty shit that you and the groom will be doing on your honeymoon. There are those of us who don’t have it all figured out like you, and we do what we can to get by. So stop being a bitch, and start being a friend.”

Roxy’s out of breath. She looks from Zarita to Zelda, says, “I’m done,” and marches back inside. Several seconds later, a round of applause rings out from the kitchen. Zarita starts to laugh.

“How did you…?” She makes a gesture like someone holding the trunk of an elephant. “It’s so…”

Zelda touches her head. “Ouch. Years of training. Ouch.”

Zarita grins. “It’s very hazardous to insert a Sequoia into one’s vagina.”

Zelda laughs so hard that she ends up on her knees. Zarita joins her, and wraps her in a hug.


“Poor baby. Let’s get you a Bloody Mary.”

 Some time after noon, Roxy’s guests recover sufficiently to drive uphill in a slow caravan. Zelda climbs the last precarious incline, turns onto the wider spaces of Hamilton Road and looks to the passenger seat, where the bride has fallen into a deep slumber.

Photo by MJV

Shape Poem: Redding 50 Miles

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in The Montserrat Review
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shape Poem: Menuetto

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Orange Coast Review
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shape Poem: Tinymind

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Onionhead
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Shape Poem: Luciano

By Michael J. Vaughn
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shape Poem: Mustang Sally

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Eureka Literary Magazine
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo

Friday, April 3, 2015

Shape Poem: RSVP

By Michael J. Vaughn
Read more of Vaughn's poetry in the collection Fields of Satchmo