off the concrete
into your eyes.
You let go.
I bandaged my ankle
and loved you.
~from Dancing When the Water Gathers
available at amazon.com
off the concrete
into your eyes.
You let go.
I bandaged my ankle
and loved you.
~from Dancing When the Water Gathers
available at amazon.com
The slow sun turns to morning, burning
through shade and drape like a surgeon’s laser
trims fat. My children ran to catch starfish
when waves peeled back,
ready for one grand
that took homes, gardens,
and laughter. It is too late now
to build arks or prayers,
and no one in particular
to forgive. There is only the sun
and me watching it.
Available in The Scent of Water on Mirrors
What use is this wall
looming between us?
Can we balance along the top of it for miles?
Can we keep from being hurt
when even words
become weapons, laughter
an elixir of belief
in a world torn
bloody from climbing.
From The Scent of Water on Mirrors
With each step, grit rasps more deeply into the soles of her bare feet. Finally, she pauses, sweeps her hand from the ball toward the heel. First right. Then left. Grainy pebbles scatter to the ground. She straightens, wipes her brow with the back of her hand, breathes in, breathes out.
Ahead and to the right a bird sings. Now two birds. Now three. Soon a symphony choruses through the glade.
Thirty years past, her father, a renowned ornithologist, would have told her the names of every feathered vocalist by sound alone . . . whether robin, jay, chickadee, or sparrow. The three of them would stroll twice a day. Going out in the morning before breakfast, then in the evening after supper dishes were cleaned and dried, they went out again. She held his left hand, her sister his right. They moved casually, without hurry and he playfully quizzed them on what they had heard.
She remembers their time together happily – how they laughed, joked, how her father always listened to what she and her sister had to say. After they’d grown and her sister married, she and her father lived in the cottage on their own until her sister divorced and came back. Being around his granddaughter seemed to give her father renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Together, she and her sister watched from the doorway as he strolled along, holding the small child’s hand the same way he had held theirs. The little girl would gleefully try to warble and chirp, mimicking the birds.
The truth of it is, these days, she identifies the birds as simply life.
Often on her journey she encountered skeletons of cows, horses, occasionally raccoons or mountain cats, and far too many once-beloved dogs and cats. For reasons she couldn’t explain, though, all of the plant life remained untouched. The forest quickly overtook trails, houses, and any modes of transportation left behind.
She turns toward the overgrown path winding beyond the glade and hesitates. She knows that if she follows the path far enough, stepping over the weeds and up-heaved bricks, she will come to her family’s cottage. Moss-covered, quarried stone. Roof sagging with age. She visits the cottage, but is careful to avoid bringing attention to it, sleeping each night in a different vacant house or deserted building. It has been illegal to reside in the Reclaimed since the mineral harvesters took over, and even they are trucked in and out daily.
The cottage door is crooked and worm-rotted. If she shoulders it open and makes her way through the four small rooms and up to the loft, her father will be there.
He loved gadgets and was always chasing down the latest technological do-dad. He installed cameras on the perimeter of the cottage, by the outbuildings, and scattered throughout the woods. He used the resulting imagery as part of his scientific journaling, but she looked forward to seeing the livestream with video notes from him saying things like, “that young red-tailed hawk caught a mouse today” or “these squirrels built a nest right next to woodshed.”
That’s how she knew he had been splitting logs behind the cottage when the sun-blast came. She was visiting friends a thousand miles away and had opened the livestream to show them how it worked. Her sister waved lightheartedly at each camera as she passed on her way to town, while the baby lay fast asleep on a quilt in the deep shade near where her father labored.
By the time he could throw down his ax, his exposed skin was blistering. By the time he ran to his granddaughter, peeling. By the time he covered the child completely in the quilt and ran to the cottage, flesh melted from his hands. She would never know how he summoned the strength to surmount the pain and crawl to the loft but he’d sheltered the child there — where no windows could let the inferno of light pour through.
She’d tried to get to them as soon as the sun-blast ended. Her friends piled her into their 10-year-old car and ferried her as far as the city line. They turned back, but she continued, catching rides as she could, but mostly traveling on foot, sometimes creeping through dense underbrush or fording streams when the roads themselves were impassable.
It took weeks.
When she finally arrived she found the cottage abandoned.
Her sister had scrawled across one of kitchen walls in marker, “Dad upstairs. I took the baby to safety.”
She doesn’t know where they went, nor whether they found shelter before the second set of sun-blasts pelted the town itself. She’d hiked there and searched for them, but found only the bodies of strangers. She supposes it doesn’t matter. This deep into the Reclaimed, there is no longer a way to reach them. Like everything powered by electricity, the video cameras had quit functioning immediately.
The Council insists that the sun-blasts have been contained; that there is no longer any threat or reason to fear. Nevertheless, she prays for her family and hopes, perhaps, that they’ll return.
She sighs, brushes hair from her forehead.
Someday she will bury her father in the family plot alongside her mother. She will need to bury the others, too; other folks unlucky enough to be consumed by the sun-blast. She started to do so once, but the vomiting and tears left her body too weak for the duty and her soul too bruised for the rituals. Instead she keeps the bones of the hand that once held hers in the spirit pouch around her neck.
She knows that her father would want to be at rest, and she will give him that when she can.
She nods the promise to herself as she turns from the path home. She cannot stop. Winter here will be long, cold, and dark. She must get to the southland.
High overhead cirrus clouds scratch against the blue sky.
She walks on.
purveyor of old hearts seeking
some final importance:
I was there,
said a word, saw what it was.
I was sad/kind/futile.
The cataclysm arched a decade tall.
All of us plunged when it crashed.
The worthy among us gunned down.
The rest of us tortured
skin by skin
to our resignation.
We struggled to hold
his rent, soaring wings;
shoved unprotected edges
frantically back together.
Wept as we cradled
embers in our vacant hands.
You callously watched
Foster bleeding alone
in the Bowery; Lennon collapsing
on the floor of the Dakota; young
Shakar empty life onto a Vegas street.
He was one more destroyed
in your grand American
slaughter of poets.
We heard your shadowy
whispers. We knew that you swayed
the truth, while we could never
take home and fuck
“only” the astonishing,
even if the man’s smoke
retched from out pillows,
even when his splattered words
raked bitterness under our nails —
even after we recognized
the future closing over his eyes.
Why do you bring no mercy, Beast?
We scorched revolution
into our palms.
From his ashes
we will summon
— from The Scent of Water on Mirrors
It’s an honor. I can’t believe how lucky I was.
They choose 32 others before they even thought of me. Not even 32 – they picked the 33 Sacrifices but somebody refused; I wasn’t told who, but technically that makes me 34. I can’t imagine why anyone would refuse, but it happened, and now here I am; talk about being blessed.
The old ritual hanged the Chosen by wrists and ankles, but lower is easier for the Sacrifices. Our legs are strong, especially the back two, but they aren’t very long. Between that and dipping our heads to aim, we often missed and ended up gouging off a leg, sometimes both legs, and the Chosen bled-out during the ceremony. After that occurred enough times, they started sitting them directly on the ground. Most of them scream. Some cry. A few fight and run.
Not the prince. He crossed his legs and steeled his back as if having 33 horns rammed through him was the most natural thing in the world. His face was like stone except once when 17’s horn caught on something inside and wouldn’t go through. The prince’s face paled; blood pulsed from the wound in long spurts as 17 pulled the tusk back out. Warriors grabbed the prince’s arms and held him immobile while 17 impaled him a second time. What an incompetent buffoon — 17 didn’t even make it to the sacred circle before dying.
That won’t happened to me. I’m not embarrassing myself like that; uh-uh; no-way. My parents are here somewhere; they promised they would be, but my vision is too blurry to pick out anybody in this crowd. It’s such a huge turnout.
Wait, wait, I’m next. Okay. Deep breath. Deep breath. Here goes. For God, the Empire, and Eternity within the Holy Prince!
(Based on the National Geographic photo that goes with this article: http://bit.ly/2yKnQ8A
Originally published on this blog October 2017)
Late afternoon wind
worries the last red leaf, blows
loose thinning white hair
your taste presses
onto my tongue and into
my memory long
The fire house
a full block from my sleep’s
safety. Yet the night is blinding
with sound, pulsating light.
woken to hard news
of one more tomorrow
and not repairable.
Jayne shuffled from foot to foot impatiently while her mother clanged the bronze ship’s bell at the entrance to the garden.
“Put your phone away,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn said, dropping her hand from the rope dangling from the bell’s clapper. “I’ve searched for this sculpture a long time. You don’t need to be yakking away on that thing while we’re doing this.”
“I’m looking it up online,” the teenager protested. She pushed back her mass of blonde hair, rolled her clear blue eyes, and sighed. “You know I need to provide references if I am going to present this at school. I can’t just say ‘Mom told me’.”
“You don’t need to look it up online,” her mother retorted. She held up an old leather bond journal with ragged pages. “If you want to do ground-breaking research, you must leave behind what other people have done and see things for yourself. This diary I discovered while curating the stacks clearly says that the author was certain The Angel is here.”
“You should have gotten your hair done today,” Jayne said, ignoring her mother’s admonishment. “I can see the gray roots.”
“It was that or help you,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn replied. She yanked her reading glasses from the top of her head and balanced them on her nose. Holding the journal open in one hand, she re-read the handwritten notations.
When the large, wooden door slid open, Jayne turned toward it. Her mother took advantage of the distraction to snatch the phone from Jayne’s hand and deposit it securely into her designer shoulder bag.
“Mom!” Jayne cried, indignantly.
The gatekeeper who appeared in the entrance had thin, straggly hair and round shoulders stooped to the point where he couldn’t stand upright. His nose was bulbous and red, his eyes lost in a multitude of fleshy folds.
“He looks like he’s even older than the park,” Jayne complained to her mother loudly.
Mrs. Marble-Lynn turned a stern, no-nonsense glare on her daughter. When the girl dropped her eyes in defeat, her mother offered the book to the old man, saying, “Good afternoon. We’re interested in looking at your sculptures. This one in particular.”
He took the journal from her hands, shifted it back and forth in front of him as if to find a spot where it would be in focus and then read the page marked with a sticky note.
“Ah, yes. Yes. Our best. You have very discerning taste,” he said, his smile exposing worn, yellow teeth. He peeled the sticky note off the page and crumpled it between his wrinkled fingers.
“Wait. What? You mean it’s really here,” Jayne stammered in disbelief. “Of all places.”
The gatekeeper closed the book and stepped to one side. Smiling kindly at the teenager, he gestured with one hand. “Please come in.”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn said as they crossed the gate’s threshold.
Once inside, both the girl and her mother gazed around in wonder. A quarter-mile wide and three-quarters of a mile long, the garden had been in the historic district longer than anyone alive could remember. Tall stone walls pushed back against skyscrapers, steered traffic away from the garden, and hid it from the eyes of the world. Every inch seemed to be devoted to walkways meandering around a multitude of lifelike sculptures. Jayne danced over to the closest ones and inspected them.
“Look how detailed they are,” she exclaimed, incredulous. “This one has the most delicate tear coming from the corner of his eye. And this one is eating a small section of an orange.”
Glancing triumphantly at her daughter, Mrs. Marble-Lynn waited while the gatekeeper closed door then shuffled over to a cabinet where he hung a ring of keys on an empty hook. Turning back to his guests, he swept his hand in another grand, welcoming gesture. “Will you follow me, please?”
“There must be dozens of sculptures here,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn commented as they walked.
“Hundreds,” he agreed. “From several different eras. A new one comes along every few years. The one you are looking for is at the center.”
“The one of the really hot guy?” Jayne asked, her pout now replaced by a wide grin.
The old man smirked. “Some people say so…”
“I can’t believe it, Mom,” Jayne continued. “You were right. Guillaume Geefs’ L’ange du mal, Jozef Geefs’ Le génie du mal –and this one, the lost, third angel, Le provocateur du mal – The Provocateur of Evil. Right in our neighborhood all this time.”
“We’ll have to examine it carefully,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn cautioned with a smile. “There is no record of either Guillaume or Jozef Geefs sculpting a third angel.”
Jayne bounced from foot to foot excitedly.
“Run ahead, if you’d like,” her mother said indulgently, waving her off with her fingers.
Jayne murmured a quick “thanks” then sprinted off in the direction the gatekeeper indicated. The old man formally held out his arm to Mrs. Marble-Lynn who started to laugh, then composed herself and rested her hand on the inside of his elbow.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn replied. It has taken so long to track it down…so long to…so….” Her voice made a grating sound, like cement in a mixer, and then stopped. Her skin stiffened.
“Why is the dais empty?” Jayne called from the middle of the sculpture garden.
The young gatekeeper removed his arm from Mrs. Marble-Lynn’s stone hand. He extended his arms, bounced on his toes a few times then stretched out his wings and shook them. Lifting the journal on one, open palm, he blew gently across the front cover. Within seconds the journal vanished. He stood with his head slightly tilted as if listening intensely then straighten once he was certain it had reappeared in the stacks of the city’s library.
“Mom?” Jayne called again, the concern in her voice obvious. “Mom, where are you two?”
“Be right there, Pet,” he answered in the old gatekeeper’s voice.
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