Author: visceralvindaloo@wordpress.com

writer

Johnny

March threw handfuls of clashing sleet at the rusty aluminum roofs of house and barn, drizzling reminders of the solid cold winter. Winter so ornery, that after seventy-five faithful years of ballerina pink blooms, the peony roots froze to death. A trajectory of needle-sharp ice stung Johnny’s nose, driving him deeper into his rattling shelter, where he nestled in the corner on mildewed hay. Soon it would be March then April. The chill would step aside for the redbuds, dogwoods, and woodsy morels; the peeper frogs would ascend the trees and start their eerie mating chants. Then summer, with swaying lilies and clover, and robotically moving lilacs, heavy with conical blooms. Johnny got sick of the redundancy.

The house, neatly packaged in its splot of acreage, secluded by a mish-mash of scrubby trees and time-ravaged fencing, was home, smelled like home, decade after decade, peppered with the scent of warm cotton waiting to be ironed, steaming oatmeal, and last night’s dinner. In the forest beyond the pasture, ghosts of Confederate soldiers harboring unfinished business, thumped through the shadowy woods and trails. The family cemetery in the far corner, was concealed in poison ivy and berry bushes. Modest chiseled markers, stones, for the miscarried and children. Roots of sassafras anchored them snuggly in the ground, cradling the coffins and wooden boxes. On the ground, crusted with half-melted snow, two faded, dollar store American flags.

The house belonged to Brian’s father, a Vietnam vet, and his father’s father, a Korean War soldier, whose body was never recovered, but indicated by dug grave that contained personal belongs and later, the bones of his beloved spaniel. The men’s uniformed photos hung, tilted with time, over the fireplace mantel. A dusty, triangularly folded flag rested beside them in perpetuity. Brian’s father died early from dioxin poisoning (Agent Orange) and at thirteen, Brian had a cigar box full of his father’s war mementos and an impressive record collection. After high school, he enlisted himself for the steady salary, and soon found himself smack dab in the middle of Afghanistan. He lasted ten months.

It was a humid, cloudy Monday, when the rumbling, propeller plane skipped drunkenly across the tarmac at Roanoke Airport. Janelle hadn’t been told much; she knew about the arm, was prepared, rehearsed. The stump hadn’t completely healed over. She stood by the terminal door, holding the baby, Sarah, in one arm and a diaper bag in the other. When the door opened, warm summer air suctioned into the terminal and her expectations rose. She could see him, taller than the other passengers, and recognized him by his walk; measured, but without the typical swag. But Brian didn’t come through that gate- only the visage of a weary, terrified, scarecrow. His eyes, vacant and troubled, dully searched the room past Janelle’s face. She approached him-he recoiled. In that awkward moment, she wished the plane could land again and the man she remembered replace this one. Finally attempting a response, Brian painfully adjusted his eyes, glazed with the narcotics he’d been given, to lock with hers. His safety-pinned sleeve fell off his shoulder, empty. She held him carefully but his body was rigid. His breath met the back of her neck, empty, vapid. She encouraged him to hold the baby, but he was awkward and emotionless. Sarah connected with his eyes but turned away.

The humble, Depression Era farmhouse was a shrine, a burial chamber, and a cocoon that ensconced the 1940’s furniture chosen by Brian’s grandfather; each item in its respective placement, sagging and worn, covered with the now colorless, antiquated, unlaundered afghan throws his grandmother had made. The dishwater blond carpeting had divots that indicated where each piece of furniture was supposed to stay. Janelle soon learned not to move anything, as it upset him. The familiarity was the only thing that seemed to soothe him.

After several months, Brian became acclimated, but the change in his personality was devastating. At only 27, the jaunty, gregarious, brown-eyed athlete was completely gone, and Janelle was lonelier having him home than when he’d been overseas.

Living in the country allowed him the privacy to engage in fanatical tirades and marital discord- no neighbors to call the police. Still, the house became a refuge from the judgment of others. He’d come back early with nothing to show but an empty shirt sleeve-no medals, no stories of glory; only unrelenting memories of an irrelevant and useless war. Daily, his mind was bombarded with kaleidoscopic imagery: blood and bone, faces stretched in fear and shock at the moment of death; children, dead as bloody plastic dolls, strewn in the endless beige sand and dirt, contorted and naked; civilians begging for their lives, calling to a God that never intervened; a dog in the gutter, its stomach blown out. At his weekly VA hospital visit, he had a brain scan that revealed at least one massive concussion. “Not sick enough to be infirmed.”

His rebuilt Grand Am sat undisturbed in the side yard, covered with tarp. His nerves were too shot to drive, so Janette took over. He decided she resented it and created arguments about his “making her unhappy-she’d be better off with another man.” He’d stare out the passenger window as she drove past places he’d known so well but were no longer integrated in his memory. He was indifferent and distant. If they had sex at all, she was some enemy he was fighting in his mind. He’d sit on the back stoop smoking joints, looking far past the trees and mountains at something no one else could see, and he receded deeper into his interior chaos. A mess screwed together in a blender on high speed, he had what Donald Trump called, “the sickness of weak soldiers:” PTSD.

They settled into a dysfunctional, albeit, predictable routine, but his torments came forth in unpredictable rage. Pots, pans, plates, knick-knacks, regularly smacked the walls, leaving dents and holes to make excuses for. Pictures were glued together multiple times. Sometimes she could sense when one was coming on and made sure the car keys were in her pocket, so she could get out until it was over. Or, she’d preemptively direct him to “go feed Johnny” (the family donkey.) If the phone rang in the middle of the night, she knew it was Brian, calling for a ride home from Billy’s Bar, where he’d no doubt become nasty and couldn’t get a ride home.

The house was a stone’s throw from the Confederate memorial at Hanging Rock, with its dubious Confederate flag that beat tattered in the wind. 311, now abash with commuters, sight-seers, and its steady stream of obnoxiously loud Harleys, sat upon mostly by fat, middle-aged men and their fat, chicken fried spouses, sped along the rocky ridge into Catawba Valley. The noise of a Harley seemed to be a clarion declaration of one’s masculinity. Deer slunk into the road, stared with virginal, innocent expressions at the oncoming vehicles, as if posturing themselves for the kill. Raw flesh of some kind was the usual morning offering. (The bear accident last year was a messy one.)

Johnny’s barn creaked and swayed, what was left of it, as though it might snap-and all the glued popsicle stick boards would fall inward like a house of cards on top of him. The donkey stood hunched in his darkened corner. Slim shots of daylight cut through the gaps in the planks. His hooves were caked with mud as was his neck, from rolling in the cool, wet pasture. Unlike Ed, he did not particularly like being on his own. The dog used to visit him, but he was gone. The stray cats did not interest him. A bad tooth gave him constant nagging pain. Death, although he could not wish for it, because he did not know what it was, never came. An aluminum garbage can containing soggy oats rotted behind the barn. He yearned for touch. After all these years, he’d forgotten what it felt like to be brushed and stroked by Sarah and her friends; the thrill his body felt as hairs were brushed and combed, the feel of a garden hose bath. He dreaded the summer and accompanying swarms of insects that riddled his body day and night. But the only thing that really concerned Johnny was losing his barn. It was an extension of himself.

The house had survived several remodels, and now groaned from the weight of them all. Some of the old farmhouse was barricaded off with plywood, too fragile to renovate, too costly to heat. One of Brian’s first jobs after his Iraq stint was to be remodeling the kitchen, which hadn’t been touched since 1945. While deployed, Janelle picked up samples of tile, wallpaper, and cabinet stains, leaving them around the house to remind him. He’d put his beer cans and coffee cups over them. She dusted around the samples and finally tossed them out. The years collected. Janelle, with the help of her father, put up a swing set for six year old Sarah. Brian looked out the kitchen window and watched them struggle with the instructions. He was useless and wished he were dead.

She had her cashier job at the corner store and relished her interactions with the regulars, who often whispered, “how’s he doin’…?” She started wearing makeup and eye shadow that matched her shirts, wore her scraggly brown hair loose, and got her nails done at the eight dollar Chinese joint. Brian pretended not to notice. Friends stopped coming by the house. Their daughter didn’t invite friends. He’d made himself a pain in the ass. When Sarah asked her mother why he’d become such an asshole, Janelle pretended her cooking or other “business” required complete concentration. The truth was, Janelle didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t that Brian didn’t have a reason to feel vengeful and gyped, but more that he’d never been able to get any worthwhile help.

At night, Janelle often calculated how much longer he might live, figuring in his autoimmune disease from the war. She designed a future for herself without him: she’d finally sell that musty, decrepit house and move back to Charlotte. She’d get a new job, an apartment, and buy new furniture. She started tearing pictures out of magazines. She’d only take Sarah and Sassy, the family dog. She was young enough to meet someone if she wanted. She died five years later of uterine cancer.

After her death, any vestige of familiarity between Sarah and Brian ended abruptly and disastrously, like a wild amusement park ride flying off the rails and hitting a wall. They co-existed, barely. His negative nature had matured bitterly, like uncorked wine. Her mother had been the only adhesive in the rocky familial configuration that modern times now coin as “dysfunctional.” The “hub of the wheel” was sitting on the mantel, in a cheap ceramic jar. When the family dog died, (who’d been a huge relational buffer between them, as animals can be) neither spoke of it. Sarah cried and covered him with a bath towel. A case of Miller later, mustered him into action. With his left arm and chin, he somehow dug a shallow hole and covered it Sassy with a rock.

Brian set his coffee cup in the sink and shoved the stray tiger cat, who had snuck in last night and slept with him (unbeknownst to him) back outside. In the day, Janelle was a magnet for scrappy strays, catering to them with bowls of milk and leftover, warmed-up bits of casserole. Brian hated them equally-scavengers: the smell; the mistaken sense of entitlement. They wouldn’t hesitate to feast on his flesh if he died on the kitchen floor. They’d extend their legs and curl their toes, draping themselves over Janelle’s lap, who gazed lovingly into her eyes; inebriated by affection, swaddling themselves in the easy folds of her nightgown. Cats of various colors routinely leapt onto the table, and made good use of the oft-open butter dish. Long after Janelle had been neatly sieved into an urn and placed over the fireplace, the cats continued to push into the house with their whiskered faces, asking for something Brian couldn’t offer.

But Brian found unusual camaraderie with Johnny; perhaps because he was also misunderstood and found verbal discussions useless. He’d purchased him at a discount at a yard sale, and given him to Sarah for her ninth birthday. (A lump rose in her throat- she had wanted a pony.) Johnny lived in the tick-filled field beside the garage, in his three-sided (once four-sided) pole barn he shared with the Grand Am. The barn leaned toward the house, as if the two structures were grasping for common support. Johnny’s date of purchase was scribbled on a barn rafter with a charcoal briquette. His health was surprisingly good considering he’d never seen a vet. Brian used to trim his hooves with a pocket knife. Frostbite had taken a swatch of his ear; toes overgrown, and his eyes were misty with cataracts, otherwise, he was good to go. His pasture mates included a rusty Whirlpool refrigerator, a weed-enmeshed 1939 John Deere, and a set of abandoned bee houses (Janelle was going to have a honey business.)

Johnny curled up in the manure and wood shavings, listening to the engagement of the new season as it climbed and sprouted over the pasture. The sleet changed to snow, and crystals fell from the sky like hungry summer moths. Brian’s deterioration concerned Johnny (about his oats, that is,) until the fence broke with a couple good kicks. In the morning, Johnny was at the kitchen door, cocked ears, pushing his nose into the screen along with a fat white cat. From then on, they had breakfast together. Brian never fixed the fence, but Johnny adhered to his boundaries. He ate whatever Brian was having-cereal, toast, pop tarts…. Brian started buying him Apple Jacks and picked up an old dog bowl at Goodwill. After breakfast, Johnny dutifully returned to his pasture.

Brian’s visits became reliable again. He brought down a folding lawn chair, sat by the creek, and smoked. Johnny sighed and reminisced: Sarah’s birthday parties: balloons tied to his ears, allowing cats rides on his back, baby carrots and Fritos; Johnson Baby shampoos, and colorful manicures. He’d been fine looking then. Now he was matted with dung. Spring’s reemergence was over-rated to him. Colors seemed faded now. Dead things accumulated in the garden (Janelle’s cherry tree, her half-price hibiscus, the parakeet, Jeremy; the obnoxious shiatsu, Betsy, and faithful old Sassy.

Brian got the mail most days. He’d walk carefully around the potholes in the driveway to the mailbox that jut out into 311. He’d cemented that mailbox in the rocky ground before leaving for Iraq. Having been hit by drunk drivers a couple of times, it now it stood at a thirty-degree angle. School busses swerved to avoid it. He had a vague, satisfying idea that it was annoying to people. Poking his head out from the barn, Johnny trotted over to the edge of the fence on his overgrown toes, to watch the mail routine proceed.

Sarah, now 28, paid bills online for him: electric, propane, newspaper; donations to the local rescue squad (although he didn’t know about that.) She called Sundays to make sure he’d answer (which he always did on the fifth ring-just long enough to make her think she was somehow inconveniencing him or that he had been deceased all week, leaking all over the kitchen floor.) He wanted her to wonder about his wellbeing. He ruminated on her ensuing, highly inconvenient twenty-minute trip to see if he was alive; the distress or happiness that would come over her…. Before the weekly call, she’d crack open a Coors and search her pockets for a Bic, exhale her Marlboro contemplatively, and wait for that fifth ring and his inevitably annoyed, “HELL-o.”

Likewise, she’d rehearsed the sequence of events should he not answer: the race down the road, finding him cold, stiff, and mottled; probably the smell of over-cooked coffee burning in the Mr. Coffee. Then she’d call 911 (as stated in Virginia law if such death occurs without notice,) and contact the local funeral home. After the coroner’s John Hancock, the remains would be zipped in a black plastic bag and plunked down on a gurney. She’d watch the funeral home van bouncing down the driveway and turn off down 311. After an afternoon of contemplation and a handful of calls, she’d pen a brief and gratuitous obit for the Roanoke Times that depicted him as an upstanding American. She’d include the photo of him at twenty-three, in his service uniform (when he had both arms and could crack a smile.) He’d be cremated like her mother. It simplified things. He didn’t want one anyway. He’d rant about “greedy undertakers injecting him with formaldehyde, super-gluing his eyes and mouth, jamming his swollen arm and legs into a creepy suit…. “Just throw me into Mason’s Creek.”

The house. It would have to be torn down if there was any chance of selling the property. Then there was, of course, Johnny. He’d just have to be put down, of course.

In his usual pained condition, Brian continued to shower left-handed, rubbing the soap bar over his stump, and make the effort to dress. He’d meet Johnny for breakfast and Good Morning America. The rest of his day generally involved coffee, pacing, yelling at the television, smoking, walking to the convenience store for smokes and beer, and staring suspiciously down the road. The beginning of wrinkles posted themselves around his eyes and forehead; wiry, telltale lines that, rather than harken “wisdom,” reminded him how intrinsically dissatisfying life was.           Every month or so, he’d get a ride to the VA for a “check up.” The doctors told him he was beginning to have symptoms of Parkinson’s: “how and when did I get upstairs, what year is it?” kind of thing. A symptom of war chemicals. He dropped things, had to hold tighter to the railings. He seen the glossy pharmaceutical commercials for that, including the upbeat others, which covered every nasty condition the human body might present. The disease drew shadowy figures, lurking behind the furniture. But Brian was much too jaded to be afraid of specters- he’d seen worse. But he knew this enemy was coming fast and steady. He’d put a gun to his head before it incapacitated him. He had one in his nightstand that had only been used once, to scare off a black bear in his trash.

The last time Brian had seen Sarah was Christmas. (He usually went to the Moose Lodge on Thanksgiving.) She picked him up in the morning and he stayed with them through indigestible dinner chatter. Her kids got what they wanted for Christmas. Always. Their technology taxed his patience and he endured the stupidity of holiday movies, video games, and her husband, Dan’s disingenuous smiles and then glares at her that meant he was counting the minutes until the he’d be gone. Sarah returned him home before 8 o’clock. Bouncing up the beaten driveway in her used Subaru, a deer darted out of the brush and glared at her with red eyes. It snorted and winter vapor left a cloud of exhalation as it trotted off. She hadn’t been inside the house in a long time.

She helped him bring in his packages and leftovers. As she dropped his bags full of mostly useless stuff on the collapsed sofa cushions, she was overcome by the mustiness of cigarettes and dirty carpeting. She snapped the light string in the kitchen. Exactly the same: peeling wallpaper, discolored linoleum floor, and his few dishes, the same ones she ate from as a child, stacked neatly in the drainer, the same drainer her mother used 15 years ago- the same counter where her mother taught her how to sift flour and make scratch cakes and bread, and slice vegetables without cutting her fingers. The window over the sink was always cracked enough in the spring so her mother could hear the “voices of the birds,” she’d say: cardinal, blue jay, chickadee, nuthatch, and woodpecker. A light was out in the hallway. Sarah went to the drawer beside the sink where as always, there was a well-stocked collection of bulbs in faded cardboard G.E. boxes. She noticed a stockade of meds on the counter by a bottle of rye. “Don’t mix your meds with booze, dad!” she called, but Brian had disappeared into the living room and turned on the TV. As she left, she was chilled by the oldness of the house and the antiquity of drapery-like spider webs that served as hammocks for the snow. To her, he was stuck in some cinematic wrap- the main character in some old film that kept rewinding and never had a sequel. Johnny knew it was Sarah, and listened intently as the car as it pulled away. He had a vague, unwanted longing in his chest; a hollowness like a scraped-out jack-o-lantern.

Janelle had given Brian a new TV for Christmas that year so Brian had his choice of channels. He could watch “The Price is Right,” (which he kind of liked,) The Seven Hundred Club, which he despised; he could watch the History or Sci-Fi Channel, or HBO. He sort of liked Drew Carey, so it was The Price. With his toast, jelly and instant coffee, and of course, Johnny, (who was now let in the house for breakfast,) he squinted his eyes out toward 311. “Another fucking spring, Almost time for another goddam time change.”

The sun was still going down by 6:00 pm. The stream was high and Johnny was sleeping on his side, heartily snoring, in the last vestiges of the sun. Brian opened a can of Hormel chili, plopped it in a soup bowl, and pushed into the microwave. It was enough with bread and a Bud. After Wheel of Fortune was “Celebrity Wife Swap” and “some vampire shit,” he decided. Too early for bed, he slipped on his coat and sat on the back stoop. As he opened the back door, a large grey kitten bolted inside. The sky was black and cloudless, a weirdly, not-too-chilly March. It was the month snake eggs hatched and mother bears panted in expectation of their cubs; the month when the wild moved back into civilization to stake their territory and garbage cans. By May, the hummingbirds would be back, swarming the porch where Janelle’s feeders hung empty and brittle, clacking together in the breeze.

The kaleidoscope miasma of battle: the click of a hand grenade and its subsequent echoing thunder, the rattle of machine guns, the splintering of mortar shells, the sickening smell of burning flesh and chemicals, the taste and stickiness of blood and sweat- they never went away for long. Seldom was sleep free from their bondage. He’d bolt upright or fall off the bed, often feeling the weight of boots crushing his chest and kicking his head. Then there was the hum in his head that buffered all of it, before everything was blank. The benzo’s didn’t work completely. Nothing did. Fortunately, he’d magically “forgotten” the horror of seeing his arm come off and left dangling in its socket.

At 1:35 a.m. a cold breeze tossed the veils of window curtains and he startled. At first he thought it was Janelle coming to visit, as she sometimes did. He kept the ceiling fan going at night to help him breathe, and it spun making the sound of a dog panting: heh heh heh heh…. Round and round….. Then headlights lit the room. There was laughter, the squeal of tires, and the explosion of his mailbox as a car rammed through it. Brian heard it crash in the street. The war sounds were climbing over his back now getting into his head. His stump began to ache. He fumbled with the lamp and it fell off the nightstand. He got up and turned on the hallway light and pulled on his jeans. Out of the window, he could see a car doing a donut, knifing around, and coming back at another mailbox. Johnny cantered to the fence where the car was passing, braying as hard as he could, and was smacked with beer bottles. Johnny hopped over the wire fence and came at the car, but the car crashed into the mailbox and stopped, it’s engine hissing. It had uprooted the post which became a spike that impaled the driver, pretty much slicing him in half at the torso.

Johnny stood in the road, eyes wide and luminous in the night, like dull flashlights. Another car came up fast, its headlights fixed on Johnny’s eyes, and there was a nauseating thud. The car finished going over Johnny and pulled up beside the smashed car. Car doors slammed. Boys were screaming, “FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!” One was vomiting in the road. A far-off siren wailed dreadfully. The second car U-turned and rocketed back down the road into Catawba.

Brian grabbed his loaded handgun and came down the stairs trembling. He blasted out across the pasture toward revolving police lights. He smelled gas and wondered if someone had hit a deer. It was then he saw the grey lump in the road that was Johnny. The lights seared the darkness like hand grenades as more vehicles surrounded the car. He could hear the loud, muffled sounds emitted by their radios. Spotlights hit a pool of liquid reflected off the road. His throat went dry and started to close up as he went over the fence, gun in hand. His left hand with which he couldn’t aim anyway. He momentarily stopped, shaking, and pointed the gun at the policemen. One of them yelled, “It’s ok-don’t shoot! It’s just Brian!” They all knew about him, and one officer slowly approached. “Put the gun down, Buddy. Just an accident. Go home.” He lowered his gun, crossed the road, and looked down. Johnny’s eyes were open and dull. His tongue hung out of his mouth, bloody, as he bled internally. The donkey’s heals flinched as the heaviness of death set in. His eyeballs turned directly to Brian, as if for help. The officer, silhouetted by headlights, walked toward them, his radio cackling, as a continuous stream of emergency vehicles flooded the road, further illuminating the scene. “MY DONKEY’S DEAD YOU MOTHER FUCKERS!” Brian dropped his gun and fell onto Johnny, furiously stroking his face and kissing him. A strange, obsequious emotion came over him, as if Johnny had made his life bearable, and he owed him. That emotional pain throbbed in his throat. He felt of the slow rise and fall of Johnny’s chest as the animal relaxed, shuttered, and was dead.

The willow in the pasture swayed without concern, its graceful fronds electrified in the shock of white and red emergency lights. The light in Ed’s kitchen glowed far away-the smell of new coffee and oatmeal only a few hours away. But the back door hung open, and the callousness of the present invaded the house, infected it with some new poison. A neighborhood rooster on duty, was agitated, and his crow further split the night.

     Johnny whines, shook and stiffened. Brian’s mind went black and the familiar cicada drone in got louder in his ears. The deep vibration of the earth beneath him soothed him as it had on the battlefield, while white hot firecrackers shattered in the night and rained down searing shards on his body, burning through his uniform. A boot containing only an ankle catapulted and struck his side. Tormented screams faded in the distance and he lay useless, ineffectual, and terrified.  The ringing in his ears seemed to switch channels, the frequency become much higher, quickened, a final “pop” and then he was out, above the cliffs, looking down at the moving bodies amid flashing lights: ant-like people, assembled in a dramatic play. Pieces of a body were loaded on a stretcher, and the chink of handcuffs, the thud of car doors. He could see the bedroom light on in his house and the still willow tree that seemed to observe it all from his high vantage point as well, simply storing another piece of history, deep in its core.  A fire engine with its continuous low growl blasted blood off the pavement. A smashed mailbox, his mailbox, in the middle of the road and the release of fluttering junk mail that slid down the road. And then two policemen with a tarp, covering him and Johnny. The war was over-this time for good.

1989 Miscarriage

The loss inside me burns like a flag

in a rainy, October night.

Beaten and dreanched.

My heart pounds on top my chest-I will not let it in.

My feet are numb but I don’t care enough to find socks.

I will never forget this day, I pledge.

And so I haven’t.

“Sincerity flowers” thrown in the garbage.

 

The first hardness of my face I’ve felt in my lifetime-granite.

Like a cold stone or crystal held in my palm I could not warm up.

Something I could not keep close forever-

not allowed to even see.

Perhaps its first resting place was the river when I picked it up-

rolled it through my hand.

But it fell out somehow, some where;

the river takes its new child

given back.

The forest sings its chills of Winter.

I sit in the bay window

looking out at the snow-

more encompassing than any feeling I could have.

 

 

 

For Sale by Owner

We scheduled the appointment during a blizzard. We didn’t want to chance waiting. Suspiciously affordable, we naturally wondered what was the matter with it, but we’d admired it for years, so when we drove by and saw the sign, I hurriedly scribbled down the phone number on a dry cleaning receipt and hoped it wasn’t already under contract. Strange time of year to sell a house in Chicago.

The brick colonial was situated comfortably in the earth, flanked by trees, twice its height and years, settled in their own personal histories. The post WWII home stood as proud memorial to the “American Dream,” (assuming that ever existed,) noble in contrast to the boon of monotonous subdivisions; houses all cut from the same pattern, differing only in the slight color variation of their aluminum siding and roofs; the ones jammed so closely together, they inevitably bred conflict and personal intrusion with the neighbors. A commanding portico centered the front door, and a garden swing moved stiffly in the icy wind. An empty flagpole stood guard.

Ancient ivy, brown and naked with the season, embraced the sides of the house like skeletal palms, cradling something precious. Despite its suburban setting, it was only three blocks from Main Street, Skokie, directly across from a nostalgic park- the kind with cement water fountains and metal slides, the ones cities no longer deem worthy to build or maintain. The elegant permanency of the neighborhood put one in a melancholy time warp. Snow laced through the mesh baseball fence and stacked up on the benches and old-fashioned playground equipment. We made it a weekly habit to pass down Lorel Avenue after Sunday breakfasts. In the summer, there were bicycles, tricycles, and skateboards zipping around the park on the sidewalk; even an ice cream truck. Now icicles the size of machetes hung from the gutters of the house. My face was stung with cold and I tucked my hands under my armpits, slid on the ice, and cursed. The temperature was falling as we slogged through snow to the sidewalk, one lane, narrowly shoveled. The For Sale sign had all but disappeared. A pair of blue jays flicked through a gargantuan evergreen beside the house, jostling off snow that plopped to the ground. Otherwise, there was only the sound and feel of the snow, blowing, drifting, and cutting at our skin. The elegant permanency of the neighborhood put you in a melancholy time warp.

Christmas lights glowed like hard candies up and down the block. Across the park, someone had put reindeer and a sleigh on top of the roof, as they’d probably done since 1969. Surely, it must be getting harder to climb up a latter and hook them up. But it was necessary. That’s the kind of decorum of such a neighborhood.

A single ball of light illuminated the drawn curtains, otherwise, the house was dark. There was no car in the driveway. The frozen buzzer stuck when we pressed it, creating an endless, reverberating gong, larger and more formative than the house itself. We were a few minutes early. I wondered if someone inside was lighting a Yankee candle, shoving items into kitchen drawers, tightening the bed spread; those house-selling prerequisites people do. The door opened inward, creating an impressive vacuum from which a warm tobacco mustiness escaped. A long, spindly arm reached out and fiddled with the buzzer until it unstuck. “Come in!”

She was old, very old, and unusually tall and lean. Bluish wrinkles wound around her narrow eyes and accentuated their vividness; eyes that darted quickly over the two of us; eyes with black eye liner. Her little fluff of white hair flipped in the breeze. We shuffled the snow off our boots, stepped in, removed them, and left them dripping on a Rubber Maid tray. Miniature snowballs fell off my wool coat, ping- ponging onto the floor. Mike shut the vault-like, solid wood door, shutting us in the house’s muffled world- the house we had hoped to enter one day.

She wore a sweater with parrots and pineapples, red men’s house slippers, and red lipstick. A chunk of turquoise dangled from her thin neck. She waved her thin hand to guide us further in, walking well but slightly bent, like a willow. She had a metallic blue cane with silver sprinkles. “I’m Liz. My husband, Edward, isn’t home yet.” She had a magnetic, peaceful smile, like she’d studied with a swami in India or Jane Goodall, bonding with apes in the deep jungles. Webbed smoker’s wrinkles crept around her lips but did not detract from her overall gracious, albeit unique, appearance. Her long legs were lost in the extra fabric of her navy polyester pants; those stretch pants that are sold three colors for twelve-ninety-nine.

She was the woman who made her husband bacon and eggs and percolated coffee every morning and roast beef on Sundays, she greeted Trick or Treaters with homemade Rice Crispy Treats and candy corn. She dropped pennies for Unicef into their cardboard milk boxes from church. Because that’s how it was in those days. She, in her holiday apron, stood over the stove, clouding up the windows boiling sugar for Divinity Candy, packing neat gift boxes for her neighbors. She volunteered at the nursing home and saved Green Stamps for small appliances; made Campbell’s soup casseroles for others in times of infirmity. She gladly took in little Sally’s gold fish when her family went to Wisconsin for vacation. With her garden trowel, she’d dug graves for her children’s frogs and gerbils and helped them make popsicle stick crosses. Yes, and this was a woman who knew how to entertain. She never broke a sweat lying out a holiday spread. Created clever birthday cakes, played bridge, made cocktails, even pink squirrels and grasshoppers; knew good jokes; used calligraphy to make individual place cards. All completed smoothly and naturally, in a timely, economical fashion. All this I knew right away. Thus, after all these years, Liz had attained the pinnacle of peaceful satisfaction, knowing that she’d lived her life well and appropriately, and would soon put a serene period at the end. (But then, some people say I read too much into things.) “You can leave your coats on this chair,” she said casually, gesticulating with long nails, as if having planned and rehearsed to say it that way. We laid them over the purple velvet parlor chair. None of the furnishing remotely matched. They looked to be picked, plucked, and adopted from estate sales and church bazaars.

“Thanks for letting us come with such short notice. I’m Mike, this is Chris.” We shook hands confluently. Our hands were cold and numb as were hers. Our eyes connected like two night trains barreling head on. The ballroom-size living room had an archway and a ten-foot ceiling with crown moldings that matched the portico. Cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling blew in gentle veils from the heating vents. A blackened fireplace with carved Corinthian columns had a marble hearth. Clean, white birch logs and several sections of faded newspaper, stood ready by a set of brass fireplace tools.

The living room adjoined a screened-in porch that contained a suite of bamboo furniture, dead houseplants, and an empty birdcage that was large enough for a Toucan. As if there was no other good place to put it, a life-size cardboard cutout of John Wayne was wedged behind the wicker sofa; his ten-gallon hat speckled in snow. Quickly, she drew the curtains over the porch doors. “Do you have children?” she whispered to me.

“No,” I simply answered without explanation. I didn’t feel I needed one.

“My children loved to play on the porch, drive their little cars and trucks around… have tea parties. Lots of children in the neighborhood back then. There’s a nice table out there for eating out in the summer, and a stone barbeque under the snow. Just the two of you then?”

“Yes,” I repeated. “And our dogs, of course.”

“Dogs? Seems like a perfect house for children. She nodded, disappointedly.

We’d lost the baby in January. Stillbirth. We hadn’t yet gotten over the shock. Although she was born looking completely normal, I blamed myself for drinking before I knew I was pregnant and several times during. After, there seemed to be every excuse to drink. But I stopped cold turkey. It hurt worse without the alcohol. It still felt like my womb had been yanked out of me. I swore I didn’t deserve another. Buying a house was the first proactive thing we’d done since. Thirty-four and looking for our perfect house. Wherever or whenever it appeared by fate, it would represent years of ground beef, Dollar Store paper towels, and a husband who worked eighty hours a week.

“Beautiful floors,” Mike cut in, changing the subject. The well-seasoned, pegged, oak floor was protected by an antique Aubusson rug, that had earned its satin-slick, faded patina. I braced myself for the inevitable: the dilapidated kitchen (or) bathroom in need of plumbing and/or tiled work. Leaky roof, caved-in ceiling. High water marks in the basement. Raccoons in the attic. Termites. There was a reason for the price. There always was.

“What a beautiful rug.” I said.

“That carpet was my mother’s. From Katmandu,” she said. “I forgot how she got it…some prince or something….”

One could tell the house was built in no hurry, no shortcuts, the right way- to get improve with age, like an old screen star;not thrown up in three days like the new ones. A faux Tiffany lamp sat on a dust-encrusted mahogany table, and had created the shadowy light in the window. A campy, ceramic crocodile ashtray that said, “Welcome to Tampa” joined the lamp, by a faded crossword puzzle, pencil, and magnifying glass. There was lipstick on a cigarette butt. Next to the table, a weathered wing chair boasting a mashed-in seat cushion in lively sixties upholstery: Pop Art; like a montage from Laugh In. The arms were darkened from skin contact, and the indentation in the cushion showed about forty years of hard labor: jumping kids, pet hair, and spilled Cheerios. The entire room was an aggregate of mixed jumble, passively glowing through layers of magazines and dust; a time capsule, seemingly satisfied with its efforts to house a generation. Her eyes clouded over and her black eyeliner smeared into her wrinkles. She sighed. “I’ll just sit down while you look around.”

On the wall among years of family photos and all mediums of art, was her wedding photo. It was her, under the Pricilla Presley hair lacquered in a lofty bouffant. The groom was in uniform, holding her hand in a way that displayed her engagement ring and their smooth, young hands. They looked like intelligent and well-bred. In love. The photo had hung there so long the wall around it was discolored. She caught me looking and revived. “My husband was in the service. Navy. Korea.” Her eyes clouded over again and she stared at the photo of another young man also in uniform, not smiling. “That one went to Vietnam but he never came back. Never found him. I haven’t had time to look for him with all that’s going on.” This seemed a strange thing to say. “He painted that picture over there when he was in high school. Had talent.” The picture was of purple oak trees , leaves blowing in the wind.

“I’m sorry.” She shrugged.

I felt a bit claustrophobic. The room had a kaleidoscopic, 360 degree effect; you couldn’t possibly take it all in at once or establish any schematic pattern. It felt as though we had entered a snow globe that had been shaken and couldn’t get out. Squeezed and stacked around the room were all styles of domestic paraphernalia: statuettes, over-sized books, ceramic jars, pots, ashtrays, magazine racks, half-packed boxes-items procured like those in the cellar of Xanadu; not one single piece of anything matching another, and yet all symbiotically belonging together. She had managed to fit it all in, in a permanent fashion. Anything moved would leave an immediate geometric piece of clean surface. And I had the impression nothing wanted to be moved. Books, records, and family albums, all jammed into the built-in shelves on either side of the fireplace, flanked by bronze baby shoes and chintzy keepsakes. What appeared to be an urn, was centered on the mantel, below an enormous painting of Venetian gondoliers.

Somehow, amidst all this, I’d missed the dingy white cat expanded over a burgundy Chesterfield. It had been watching us; thinking…stewing…flicking his tail. It unnerved me. Cats. I’ll take a dog with drool and gas any day of the week. It yawned, displaying pink gums and one fang, then started licking itself. It was missing fur in several places and had startling cataracts like spherical moonstones. “This is Roger’s house.” Roger gave me the glowing eyeball and spread his toes. “He’s over twenty years old. My husband found him in the alley when he was taking out the trash.” I took another look at the cat that was years overdue for a bath, and probably would have a heart attack if you gave him one.

The wallpaper curled at the seams, but the plaster underneath appeared solid. We could strip and paint. I began my mental expenditure list: strip and paint walls, get rid of cat smell. In the dining room, a very dry, overgrown spider plant with many parachuting, dying “babies,” was just managing to survive on a wobbly wrought iron stand. The lady and the cat moved with us into the room., watching us, deeply, as if we were being tested for something. “We love collectibles,” she said, “Edward and I’ve done a great deal of travelling. But my son says it’s time for us to move on.” She sighed, looking around the room.

“You only had one son?”

“And two daughters. Boys are easier in case you were wondering. Mind if I smoke?” Obviously, we wouldn’t say ‘no’ nor did she wait for an answer. “Now where did I put that pack…” she mumbled, shuffling back to the wing chair. I was surprised she was a smoker yet hadn’t coughed. “Feel free to look around,” she again gestured. I’ll just be in the living room. I’m sure Edward will be home soon.”

Mike was intrigued. He always had that perky look when he was. He switched on the chandelier that glowed dimly. The fixture seemed excited to be turned on. The crystal tear drops, and the bulbs that still worked, tried to sparkle and blink inside their nest of cobwebs and grime, like a lighthouse during a storm at sea. The dining room table was covered with half-packed boxes of stemware and fine china. Now I met the reality, worse, because I was expecting it. The wallpaper- gold, with four, enormous yellowed peacocks, one on each wall. I tried not to let it detract from my impartial viewing, but it wasn’t possible.

The bay window matched (yes, remarkably something matched) the one in the living room. I pulled open the dried orange taffeta curtains. The neighborhood was dark now, snow blowing sideways. Beaming snow flakes swarmed beneath the street lamps, illuminated, like a billion July insects. Our car was covered in at least two fresh inches of snow. Hopefully a plow wouldn’t come by and snow us in. Good thing we’d started keeping the shovel in the trunk. If necessary, he could steer while I pushed, but I wasn’t spending the night here.

A black lacquer Japanese hutch with jade inlay, (naturally) did not match the Colonial dining room table, nor the Shaker chairs, nor the surprise of the two-by three foot Peter Max print. The herding together of all these things was truly a challenge to one’s sensibilities. Either the family had energetically eclectic taste or major architectural confusion. I decided they chose to be unique-which in my book, was ok. Besides, we weren’t buying the furniture anyway. (Although I had no idea how the hell they were going to get it all out.)

I saw a price tag hanging off the hutch, attached with a bit of Scotch tape- another hanging off the corner of the table. Now that I looked, these small, hand-written tags were connected to most everything. Either they’d never bothered to take them off or they were selling these yesteryear gems. Maybe they just wanted to be reminded of the good deals they got. I’ve done that. The gilded, neoclassic mirror over the hutch had to weigh at least a hundred pounds and looked like something from of Balmoral. How they found the studs to support it was a mystery to me. It was marked a measly one-hundred-seventy-five, and would be trickier to move than a grand piano or a Brunswick pool table, which might account for the cheap price. The uncovered hardwood floors had plenty of miles on them and were darkened and dented. Could be sanded. Mental Expenditure.

Through a swinging door, designed to separate the kitchen from the dining room, was “Adventure Land,” as Alice Kramden once described her kitchen on the Honey Mooners. This socially correct design (servant door to the kitchen as ascribed by Amy Vanderbilt’s home etiquette, I’m sure) was to keep the hostess or “Hazel” unseen during dining. Of course, that was in the day when one was a feasibly economic addition.

A tag hanging off an old Austrian Cuckoo clock by the door read, “Price Negotiable.” The little cuckoo was falling out of its hatch, hanging by a tiny spring. I heard the cane approach; tap tap tap, cigarette smoke preceding her. And there she was behind us, cat following with its moon-colored eyeballs. “Do you like the clock? We picked it up on a trip abroad. It’s highly collectable.”

“Are you selling all these things?” Mike asked. Her demeanor changed. For a moment she looked lost and threatened. That cloudiness started in her eyes again.

“Of course not! Why would I do that? Not all of them….” she sharply retorted. I resisted glancing at Mike. Her sudden authoritarian rebuttal caused me to obediently freeze. Her cane tapped with us into the kitchen and she resumed her good cheer. “I picked this linoleum myself! Looks almost new, doesn’t it? Had the girl wax it once a month. The waxer is in the panty.” She looked directly at me.

“They don’t make that stuff anymore,” Mike offered philosophically.

“Do you like to cook, Chris?”

“Mike loves to cook.”

“That’s wonderful. A man should know how to cook, just in case. My Edward never lifted a finger in the kitchen!” I looked around, and there it was…. The old General Electric double-stove-almost as big as a small car, and probably straight out of the 1952 Sears Catalogue. It stood like a confederate monument, stalwart and stubborn, right across from its cohort, the 1952 Kelvinator. House Expenditure.

Pots, pans, and an odd array of dishware, aprons, oven mitts, and gadgets lined the countertops like a brigade. The room had the musty smell of liquor store boxes, cleaning supplies, and the emptiness that always accompanies change. The cupboards were airing out, empty, except for an old nut grinder and lemon squeezer on the very top shelf, way in the back. The second hand of an electric clock on the yellowed wall still ran. There was a small breakfast nook with green Naugahyde seats and a yellow Formica top, barely big enough to fit an adult person, but large enough to accommodate kids having an after school snack. Probably apple slices and juice. Maybe a fresh cookie- back when Liz was brunette. And I knew her kids were allowed to lick the beaters, dripping with cake batter, and set the timer for brownies with their grubby little fingers. I could almost smell meatloaf and potatoes…. We hadn’t eaten. “There’s a rotisserie attachment that goes in the oven, Chris. Should still be in there. My husband loved his chicken that way- just salt and pepper, lemon juice . And you can use the built-in griddle for pancakes and bacon. That’s what we did.”

Gingham window curtains drooped solemnly over the porcelain sink, facing outward into the backyard and numerous snow-laden trees and shrubs, the garden swing, and a snow-filled birdbath. A dingy, bent outside thermometer read fifteen degrees. An empty bird feeder swung crookedly off a tree by the window. “I’ll have to have Edward fill that bird feeder. The birds need their nutrition when it’s this cold! That reminds me… I need to get suet.” The tapping cane was getting on my nerves, as was the cigarette smoke. “Oh, did I mention the floors upstairs are oak, too. ‘Course we carpeted. Shag. Avocado.” Expenditure…. Despite all the negatives and questionables, the house was built like a tank.

“How many bedrooms?”

“Three. My husband and I have the master; the kids each have their own. The boy had his own, of course. They’re away at school now.” I glanced sideways at Mike and did the math. “Well, go ahead and look around. I won’t bug ya.” She tapped out of the kitchen with her cigarette dangling out of her mouth. The cat followed.

“You go upstairs and I’ll check out the basement, ok?” Mike whispered.

“Why are you whispering?”

“I don’t know.” Mike peeked in the living room and asked if he could go downstairs to look at the furnace. She was submerged in the wing chair, blotting out her cigarette into the crocodile, and staring into the blackened fireplace. She held the cane tightly with her spare hand, as though she might need it as a weapon.

“What? The furnace did you say? It’s original. Top of the line. My husband always buys the best. You end up saving money in the long run, he says.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Mike’s brows furrowed as he wondered just what it would look like. Hopefully it wouldn’t look like the last one- a giant black and aluminum octopus. (Turns out that what they’re actually called: Octopus furnaces.) Still gives me the creeps. I decided to go ahead upstairs while he went down, hoping I’d see him again. The carpeting was thread-worn; a stained oatmeal color that bled into matted avocado shag at the top of the stairs. The edges of the carpet were packed with white cat hair. More photos lined the stairway.

Meanwhile, Mike found himself in Club Room, replete with wet bar and smoke-covered fox hunting prints on cedar siding. Not cheap. On the shelves behind the bar were cocktail glasses, a half bottle of Triple Sec, root beer schnapps, Campari, Angostura Bitters, and a flashlight. There was a little packet of cocktail napkins on the bar and an old shot glass with a naked woman inside. Several gaming tables were pushed back against the paneled walls. The room gave off an uncomfortable aura- it felt like a crowd of people behind decks of cards were watching him. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling, unwelcoming, foggy, as if the room resented the intrusion. Lack of lighting, of course.

A blue Maytag washer and dryer were tucked away in the next room by old boxes of detergent on shelves lined with faded contact paper and plastic clothespins. The rumble and hum of the struggling furnace created a vibration across the cold cement floor. It was a ‘58 Bryant, turquois, no gangly arms or pot belly. There were several repair stickers on it; dates of service and the company’s name and phone. Jack’s Furnace and Air, GR6-4186. Beside the washer was it was the sump pump, which meant no water in the basement. If it still worked. A positive.

Shelves of board games: Candyland, Twister, Mouse Trap, Operation, Ouija, Battle Ship, Monopoly, Risk, and ping pong paddles, Halloween costumes, canoe oars, and empty mayonnaise jars (for collecting bugs? Buttons?) lent a very particular smell of old plastic, rubber, glitter and detergent. Oh yes, and the fishing poles, vinyl bowling bags, waders, snow boots, roller skates, ice skates, and plastic Barbie boxes. The obligatory family Ping Pong table leaned against a wall covering more artwork. Lots of it. The entire basement appeared exhausted and caught off guard, during its interminable thirty year nap.

We met at the top of the basement stairs the powder room. The strikingly dated red and white tiles were in perfect condition-the toilet and sink, real porcelain. They were actually gleaming. The medicine cabinet had a slot to dispose razor blades—old glass aspirin bottles, Pepto Bismol, Band Aids, and an ancient Revlon lipstick. (I always notice these things.) No hand towels, soap, or toilet paper.

It appeared there was no real disaster lurking in this house-yet it didn’t feel right to either of us. All of it was beyond intriguing. There must be something we hadn’t yet seen. Back in the living room, the cat was either sound asleep or deceased on the Chesterfield, as was Ms. Liz in her wing chair. I didn’t see her chest rise or fall. Suddenly, her eyes, opened, just a squint. In a few moments, she was smiling again. “Do you like Burt Bacharach?” I couldn’t recall if I did or not, but nodded yes. “Ed and I have lots of records. All kinds of music. I can put some on while we’re waiting for him….” She struggled out of the sunken upholstery and tapped over to a mammoth glass high-fi and turned a manila-colored button. “Takes a little while for the tubes to warm up.”

“Whatever you like, I’m sure we will,” Mike said, smiling. He had grandparents so he was good with old people. As she was pulling out a Roger Williams album (hi-fidelity,) we heard the grumble and grating sound of the garage door going up. It startled me. A door slammed and I heard someone come through the kitchen. A middle-aged man in a camel coat and glasses came through the dining room andstood in the entryway. He had a surprised look on his face, now beet red from the cold. We stared at one another several moments .

“How did you get in?”

“Liz let us in…we came to see the house. I’m Chris and this is my husband, Mike. Mike put his hand forward toward the man whose face had now turned a motley white.

“Liz, my Grandmother….. It smells like someone’s been smoking in here. So…how did you get in? Sorry I’m late by the way… accident on the highway.” He looked cautiously around the room and removed his glasses to wipe the steam off them.

I turned around toward the stereo. A record was spinning on the rubber turntable and there was an orange glint emitting from the hot tubes. Her cane was propped up against the fireplace. “I’m Mrs. McDanial’s grandson, Connor. He shook Mike’s hand, while simultaneously unwrapping his Burberry scarf . He looked at our coats on the chair and the ashtray.

“Liz let us in. About forty-five minutes ago.

“Yes, my Grandmother.”

“ She said Edward would be here soon. Maybe she’s in the bathroom?,” I offered. He shook his head no.

“My grandmother’s been gone a few months now. She lived here alone for a long time. Died in her sleep. We found her in here-in that chair.” He nodded toward the upholstered wing chair. The cigarette she had twisted out still smoked slightly. The furnace kicked on again to fill the awkwardness. “Sorry to upset you with that. I just come to feed the cat and show the house.” We all stared at the chair, and then I went over and snubbed out the cigarette. There wasn’t anything to say, really.

“And Edward?”

“My Granddad. He’s been gone since 2000. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I should be getting used to it….” We nodded understandingly and got our coats and boots. “Sorry again to surprise you…” he apologized, coming to open the door for us.
“I’ve heard of these things happening,” I said, surprised by my composure. Mike stared at his feet. As the pressure of the cold air sucked us into the outside darkness he added:

“There’s an estate sale this Saturday at ten if you’re interested. Let me know about the house.” We said we would, tried to smile a little, and shakily made our way down the slick steps.

The strained lights from the Catholic Church down the street cut through the snowstorm like a blurry beacons, and the six o’clock bells rang, muffled. Joy to the World. Traffic was hushed. Christmas lights on bushes blinked dully.

The last thing I heard was the soft crunch of the snow under my boots, as it melted down my ankles and between my toes. The car door was heavy to pull open against the deepening snow, and I slid into the seat, like a plastic manikin, unable to feel any physical sensation. My ears rang as if my head was underwater at the bottom of a swimming pool- sounds, far, far away. The back tires spun, but then we were moving through the tire tracks of other cars. The park, quilted in white crystals, was illuminated by the old, outdated street lamps, and the house melded with all the others in the night storm, and went back to sleep.

Sale by Owner 1

Minutia

I.

Owls snuggle in hollow trees. Aware.

I stare at and ascend into the Blue Safire Gin sky.

Angels flit in the stratosphere. Observing.

I grip my walking stick and steady myself.

The river is gone since the flooding,

leaving only a trickle, wet rock and exposed roots.

My life once passed before my eyes, with all its minutia.

But I did not die. Not yet.

The comfort and permanency of the forest,

as it rests on the bones of the past

should not be easily described-.

“Beautiful” and “grateful” are inadequate, over-used, religious words.

The forest can bring the long awaited relief of a lover’s embrace.

Their scent, warmth, breath poured into your soul.

When all is right with the world again.

II.

I know this blissful inebriation is all temporary;

this gin-soaked blue and pine.

Ears flapping and shining,

the Golden gallops into the blue summit,

leaving me far to fend on my own.

And I fear this visual memory of him,

the sting of losing pets.

Unless I go first- (no one knows when except the terminally ill.)

An airplane assaults the sky.

The angels scatter.

Roaring, screaming engines rape the quiet.

The veins of this stream will run toxic one day.

The trees will wither and fall as humans willfully

Accelerate the end times

But I will save my grief for another time.  

No Time to Remember

 

The forest floor is stacked with wet leaves

under a sunless mask glaring through

soaked and falling trees.

But I force myself to look ahead,

rather than down.

Well more than half-way through a human life expectancy,

I fail to see any public summit or pivotal experience

to earmark my life.

A standard, dull obituary.

 

The trail is washed out from the storm; muddy and jagged.

Turning back now, I see the trail I walked just moments before,

empty of me.

I realize I will never forget life’s disappointments.

Embarrassments. Stunted aspirations, desires, and

I simply and naturally no longer care;

the space in my head has been filled with thoughts that tumble like a stone in a sanding machine,

Never reaching smoothness and resolution.

 

Today, the trick is just to live, I think.

Falling

The acorns have stopped bombing the ground and humidity clings around trees like plastic wrap.
No breeze-silent-but the dog’s ears flap to the speed of his gallop as he trolls the woods.
A line of spiders and ants cross my path hurridly;
their days numbered and a piliated wood pecker cuts the sky with a piercing cry.

I see my footprints from the day before- both walking and walking back with my stick, swiping webs from the trees.

A new shelter to gun down deer for sport has been constructed in the clearing.
The dry river is chafed and
aching; the river-molded stones eons old cry out in their nakedness.

Manic

Virginia water tamps hard soil into rivulets.

tears stream creek beds

crayfish peer out in the darkness

excitement-the flow-

it aches and bleeds

lightning in the October sky-

or my flaring neurons

burning off my eyebrows

Clock  ticking

my skin burns

impossible sorrow.

once  so distant

here to drown me once more.