I’d heard the phrase “A crime against nature”
more than once in a courtroom of law,
but never : “A crime committed by nature”
until the April days when we were attacked
by howling wind, rumbling thunder, torrential rain
and whatever else Mother Nature could throw at us.
The last gasp of winter was more smash than gasp,
damaging not only our Delta farms, fields and crops,
but the coherence and confidence of Femmes Fatales,
a ladies’ writing group that I served as technical advisor
in matters of crime, mystery and detective investigation.
As the great storm continued its merciless havoc,
the Femmes began calling me to complain
they were losing what they called “the creative process”
and asking how to solve their mysterious affliction.
After all, as one put it, “Even the birds are floundering,
losing the confidence of wings and the mastery of flight.”
The birds weren’t the only ones who’d fallen victim
to the turbulence that showed no sign of slacking
and led fire-and-brimstone preachers to proclaim
the end of the world was at hand.
“It’s stopped my clock,” Gwynne reported,
“I’m absolutely at a loss for words!”
Was there any precedent, was there any cure,
for a storm-induced case of writer’s block
that sabotaged one’s very thoughts?
“I’ve already tried prayer and meditation,” Rachel confessed,
“and a Raymond Chandler special cocktail or two,
but now I’m at my wit’s end, or very nearly there.”
Next came Lucinda, who said she’d given up
her novel in progress and all hope of being
a writer commended by influential critics
for being “creative, engrossing, irresistible”
and whatever else a woman might desire
in order to feel admired, esteemed and fulfilled.
Elsa’s mind had gone “blank as my bank account”
waiting for inspiration that never arrived.
“It might be my nerves, but who wouldn’t be
nervous with all this insane weather
and all the renewed Covid cases
and the horrible, unforgivable war launched
by that genocidal madman in the Kremlin
who ought to be boiled in his own borscht.”
Jasmine said she would take her leave
with an extended stay in a Caribbean Margaritaville
or sleepy puerto where she’d write nothing at all
beyond “pretty postcards” and mingle with other
poolside refugees who’d left the world
and its problems behind to devote themselves
to tropical trivia and the pursuit of pleasure.
Inspiration arrives when least expected
I tried to reassure angry Mrs. Barkley, who condemned
“The cockeyed day I’m having with this hellish weather
and my greedy landlord raising my rent again
and my cleaning lady stuck on the side of the highway,
waiting out an attack of bullet-like hailstones.”
“I can’t tell you how my writing is going,”
Myrtle replied to my sympathetic inquiry,
“because it already went, leaving me flat,
leaving me nothing except wondering
what’s happening to this world of ours
and dreading whatever is coming next.”
Next? Well, that was the question of the day,
answered in short order by woeful Wanda,
certain she’d acquired the latest Covid variant
despite all her reasonable precautions
“And, all right, maybe one party too many.
But you can’t think of everything can you?”
To make matters worse, the distant artillery
of thunder grew louder and closer
until my neighbors’ fearful child
began to shriek and wail “Mommy! Daddy!
The sky is falling!. The sky is falling!”
Exactly as Chicken Little foretold.
I reached the breaking point of patience and tolerance
when Felicia insisted on telling me how, despite all,
she’d devised : “A plot to put me back in the game.
Here goes: a stranger with a gift for impersonation
steals your identity, assumes your name,
usurps your personality and goes about the world
pretending to be you, doing it so convincingly
that even you begin to suspect
you’re not really who you pretend to be…..”
The grievances and impossible plots
kept rolling in until I had no choice
but to instruct Iris not to forward any calls
except those essential to business and profit,
whereupon she forwarded a call from Yolanda Maria Esmeralda Peralta
inviting me to review her plan for celebrating
Cinco de Mayo with a menu of caldo de piedra,
crunchy chapulines, spicy tortas ahogadas and saucy mole chichilo.
What better way than a foodie fiesta to salute spring
and nurture the inspiration my mystery scribblers lost
in the swirling mega storm? Here was a solution
that would restore heart, soul and the courage to write.
“Arriba, Yolanda!” I encouraged my obliging chef,
“y un Ramon Chandler coctel especiale, por favor!”
A retired reporter and editor, Stockton resident Howard Lachtman has written Delta-centered detective stories, Stockton Civic Theatre reviews and a variety of baseball tales for Soundings. In 2006. he was honored by the Stockton Arts Commission for “24 years of superior review and commentary on the performing and literary arts in Stockton.”