Monday, April 15, 2019

Sword People

("Red Wood Cutting" by Vladimir Cush)


“Hey! What the fuck? There’s a sword in my chest!” 

This is how it begins.

You can’t believe it. You see the sword, you feel the sword, but the sword doesn’t register. The initial shock waves carry you through the first days, and then weeks. It hurts having a sword stuck in your chest, and what’s worse, it hurts to see other people—good people—in the same boat as you.

You recognize each other, from a distance. That is one consolation. These are your people now. All of you resolve, with frantic phone calls and nightly incantations, to never forgive the people who stuck the swords through your ribs, caressing your vital organs with their teeth. Because fuck that. Why would you? They knew what they were doing. Most of the sword stabbers admit quite happily to the desire to do it again. It seems they’ve grown an appetite for it. Babies wish they'd sleep so well.   

It’s exhausting waking up every day with a sword sticking out of your chest. It’s also—can we just say it?—a little boring. There are other things you’d rather be thinking about than navigating the world in this awkward, painful fashion. 

For the first year, you expect the sword to be removed, possibly by a hero-in-training or a magic spell conjured by a passing crone. But you’ve tried everything you can think of, and the thing won’t budge. It’s as if the sword was a sword, and your chest were a stone. And if that’s a crappy analogy, it’s because analogies are harder to come by now. Creativity? Yes. Also a stone. 

You’d like very much to forget your sword. But the damn thing keeps getting in the way. Even seemingly trivial tasks—like eating in a restaurant, or talking to your neighbor, whose chest is mercifully free of sharp sabers—takes special effort, provoking spasms of anxiety and second-guessing. 

You don’t want to hate your neighbor—who once lent you his grass trimmer, and who has two terriers he dresses in funny sweaters when the weather turns cold—but you’re troubled by his unblemished chest cavity, and the way his smooth, flannel shirt buttons all the way up his neck. More than that, you hate the way his eyes flash down to your sword whenever he’s speaking to you. You think you read contempt in his eyes, though it could also be allergies. Your judgment feels skewed. Is gravity off somehow? There is some added weight.

Oh, right. The sword. 

Sometimes, you’d like to butt him with it. Whack him good and hard, ass down to dirt. But you don’t. You won’t. You mustn’t. Because manners, for one. 

Also you’re better than them. 

It’s not like you to be angry or vengeful. You don’t enjoy anger, were never one of those half-cocked people who sucked on its fumes like astro fuel. Nor are you a saint. If it were up to you (and it’s not), you’d rather leave the disillusionment and uphill battles to others: the broken-hearted, the organizers, the artists and gardeners.  

Still, you have a sword sticking out of your chest and somebody—lots of somebodies—helped put it there. After the first year, you begin to examine their intentions more coolly, recognizing their contributions to their communities and families, how their soft metal reason had been hammered into armor by slick-tongued carnival barkers and money whisperers, probably to protect some monstrous sadness within (you hope). You begin to entertain the notion that forgiveness is conceivable, because if nothing else, you’re alive and you have the power to forgive. You imagine yourself lighter, angelic, free of all earthly entanglements. Jesus. You imagine Jesus. 

The truth is: that sword would be there, with or without your neighbor. Your boss. Your mother and father.  

Sixty-three million people helped wedge it in there, nice and tight, with a shrug or a grunt, eyes open or shut, depending on the deed’s distaste to them. Individually, each sinner’s sin tips the balance but slight. Perhaps it’s you who’s stuck, in some holier-than-thou state martyrs like to mix up for themselves. Life is short. Just ask the corpses with swords sticking out of their chests you have to step over on the way home from work. You might be the hero-in-training your neighbor, your boss, your parents require. You’re not just your flesh. You’re also the love you shine in the wo—

“Damn it!”

You wake up in the wrong position, and the sword has perforated an artery. Did somebody come into your room last night and sit down on your chest? Was that imagined? It seems unlikely. Have you been dreaming? 

Why is reality so—squiggly—of late? Do you need glasses? Is the car engine running? Who let the dog out? Oh, right. It was you. 

Oh, right. You don’t have a dog. 

A very real thing is the blood soaking up your sheets. Darn it. You stuff more gauze inside the hole in your chest, change your sheets, flip the mattress, but the pain persists, dull and affable. It’s a different flavor of pain, two years in, than it was at the outset. It has contours and confidence and throws its roots out like ticklers. But you are benumbed, detachment your drug of cowardice.   

Lately, when running across another sword person, both of you avoid looking at each other’s chests, are careful to position yourself in a way that reduces the incidence of any “ramming” or “clanging.” The sheer persistence of your maladies is embarrassing to you both. Even swords bespeak a powerlessness. And what’s the point in rehashing it all? Blindness is a kind of peace. 

Now, though . . . 

Is there a prescription outside of submission or pain? Leaning, hilt first, into the wall, you deliberate for many months, sliding in and out of consciousness, winter passing into spring, while sunlight spreads a sticky warmth across your eyeballs, like a tarnish marching over wedding silver. 

There is a sword sticking out of your chest. You think it will never quite finish the job. But right now, with your eyes closed, you can feel your heart protest its tip with each beat.  

It isn’t right. 

It’s still not right. 

You fill your lungs and breathe, pausing at maximum intake, before letting it out with a shudder. 

Nope.

Your eyes open. 

You still hate those motherfuckers.

And that you can’t forgive. 



Monday, March 25, 2019

Kissing the Dirt



God help me, I’ve lost my faith in the world. 

Which isn’t the same as losing my love or my fight for it. Rather, I know where I am: on my knees, lips touching dirt, while something very large and distracted is pressing its boot to my neck. 

Why be instilled with a sense of justice, if justice means nothing. Everywhere I look, terrible people are getting away with terrible things, while their cheering sections jeer and crow, celebrating a superficial and cancerous certainty, replacing problems with wins. 

Meanwhile, spring has come, and nature is putting her hope in pretty things. Have you seen the daffodils? Do they still impress, when the sunshine fills them like torches and their brightness lights your way home from work?    

I want to join you there. I want so badly to believe it’s all that’s needed. I miss so much my reveries and dreams.

But I still remember a spring three or four years ago, when our dog discovered a nest of baby bunnies in our backyard and proceeded to swallow them, one by one, before I could do anything to stop it, the tiny creatures screaming from their pink and tender lungs, and me screaming from mine, long after the deed was done.   

You just ate 
You weren't even hungry

He wasn’t sorry, but for months afterward, I felt differently toward him, however unfair the charge against instinct and nature, which manages to be both pretty and terrible, without any evidence of internal contradiction. Then time stepped in and covered things up, as time does, and I gradually returned to finding him adorable.

He still goes out there at this time of year to eagerly sniff and paw at the ground. And I love the beast, in spite of his beastliness. I love this world, not like a child anymore—but like a parent does. Guardedly. Sadly. With loss always threatening, and making the heart sore.   

I have no control when it comes to politics, or the truth’s distortion, or the monstrous pretenders who have their hands on the ropes. 

All I can do is look for the baby bunnies each spring before letting the dog out, and fill my bird feeder with birdseed, and turn off Twitter when I’m choked with sadness or anger, and love my children—who just this year have grown taller than I—and keep putting pen to paper, to try and defend the charge of beauty for one more day and tender hour.




Saturday, January 6, 2018

New


(Photo credit here)


"It's too cold," she says. "I can't bear the thought of those sheets on my skin."

"Or these hands," he says.

"Or those hands."

"A simple kiss, then?" 

"Your kisses are never that simple."

He sniffs. "Somebody's awfully full of herself, wearing seven layers of clothes, a bunchy robe and some indeterminate number of socks."

"I thought all that just made me more mysterious."

He thinks for a moment. "Depends. Is that an invitation?"

"No."

"Ah. Then no, not mysterious. Just bunchy."

"Come on. Let's lie down, side by side in the dark, with our warm, lovely layers on. We can wait for the new year just like this, before going to bed like proper middle-aged people."

He turns off the bed stand light. Her breath catches. Glow-in-the-dark stars appear on their bedroom ceiling, coursing with a gentle light. 

"When did you—?" she asks, turning on her side to face him.

"Today."

"Right before lunch?"

"Just after."

"Huh. Well. I like this quite a bit."

"I thought you might."

"I like it so well I may have to kiss you."

"And what if I don't want your kiss? What if I just want to lie here, wait for the old year to die, and then go to sleep like the boring middle-aged person I am?"

"Oh, don't worry. You don't."

"I don't?"

"No. In fact, this was your plan all along."

"In fact," he says, turning to face her. "It was."

She leans in to kiss him. He is warm and lovely and deeply good. She wriggles the toes inside her two pairs of socks and slings a leg across his.

"You make me happy," she says into his ear, before catching his mouth with her own.

A star drops from the ceiling and lands atop her cheek. She brushes it away—hopes for more.


----

This is the first piece of flash fiction I've written in quite awhile, and continues my "New" series, begun back in 2008.

Happy New Year to all of you. Let's all endeavor to stay warm, and open. 






Monday, November 13, 2017

Wonder Lust

Plane, cloud


I miss the pause
for mystery

the beguiling crook
of the crone's
withered finger

how a crevice advancing
through a toppled log
can fit the whole
of a kingdom, comfortably

   moss overtop
       to muffle
          the secrets

I miss the wondering wave
of not knowing
collapsing upon
some silver-sighted shore

where the questions sprawl
across rocks
like sirens
calling, calling, calling

for more



Friday, November 10, 2017

Blog Anniversary: 10 Years Later



Ten years ago,
I slipped inside
a backyard rocket
and launched myself
to the moon

Strange thing is—
I live here now.

Not quite as bouncy
as I was back then

Not nearly as beholden
to the eyes of men

And yet—

You should see the Earth
from my perspective

Blue and beautiful

   if full of Martians

and thick with treasure
I long to explore


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

One Year Ago

Memory

How to mark a year like this?

Has it, in fact, been a year? Time seems as slippery as everything else.

A year ago, I woke up to the knowledge that we were about to elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States. I was happy for the historical significance of the milestone, though I was not as excited as I was in 2008, when Barack Obama ascended to that office. The campaign had been too ugly, the divide in the country too troubling, and for as much as I hated Donald Trump, I did not love Hillary. I did, however, believe she'd make a good president, though I doubted she'd be given the chance to succeed by the opposition party in power. Still, when placed next to her competitor, I didn't see how a rational person wouldn't prefer her by a hundred million squintillion to one.

But anyway, that morning I was high on anticipation, filled with the sweet, near-relief of it all being done. In 24 hours, I would never have to think about that man ever again: or not as an existential threat, at any rate. Early in the morning, I went out to fill the bird feeder at the top of our hill which faces a steep, wooded ravine behind our backyard. As I approached the feeder, I stopped short.

There was a stag standing beyond the chainlink fence.

He looked at me. I returned the gaze. In the space between breaths, I counted ten or twelve points on his rack. He was imperious. Imposing. Magnificently wild. I'd never seen a buck so near before. They're notorious loners: people-shy.

In the film of my memory, he snorts and stamps his hoof a little. In reality, I think he simply walked on, crunching the fall leaves as he went.

A little thrilled, I chose to see this encounter as a sign. I'd never seen a stag so close! Our country had never elected a female President! It was meant to be, wasn't it.

That night, as it began to dawn on us that the impossible was fast becoming the nightmarishly probable, I fell off a cliff, like so many of us did.

Today, I'm still down here, struggling. Horrified. Disgusted. Mourning what we've lost and almost despairing of what's to come.

I still don't feel like I understand what happened. Nor do I know how we reclaim our footing and place in the world.*

I know this, though: I've stopped believing in signs.


------

*I wrote this before the Tuesday elections, and the subsequent wave of Democratic victories in Virginia, New Jersey, Maine and elsewhere. Citizens came out in high numbers for an off-year election and rejected Trumpism full-throatedly. A startlingly high percentage of the new Virginia officeholders are women—including the first transgender person ever elected to a state legislature—spurred to action by their love of country and hatred for what Trump and the Trump-enabling GOP have wrought. 

I am buoyed by these results. I am heartened. They are a chink in the side of that cliff. Now let's all grab hold and climb. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

January 20, 2017

Blue Autumn


Ever since then,
it goes like this.

We eat. We sleep.
Sometimes we dream
before getting up
and losing the thread.

We walk the same steps
to the bathroom,
the sink.
We sit down
We rise.
The floorboards creak.

We reach for our phones,
inevitably.

Click

and free fall down holes without any roots.
Ghost walk through mirrors which enlarge and distort.
On rooftops patroled by wolves in wolf clothing,
we sit on adrenaline and wait. some. more.

Click.

Why this grief we've invited
that's just within reach?

Trump. Puerto Rico. Mass shooters and "balance."
Nuclear war. The first amendment. Environmental armageddon.

Ire comes early. Shock, then despair.
Because—none of it's as shocking as it was last year.

We put the stone in our pocket,
get ourselves off to work.

Back home, tucked in bed, we dread
what's in store for our children's kids.
Wonder at the blitheness
with which we gifted them life.
Would we change it?
No. But it's a thought.

And yet
the most of us—
we do keep our heads.
We've adjusted—roughly—to
the nightmare we live,
ears barely ringing from the blanket alarms,
eyes blindly scanning for the next savior
or devil.

Denial—oh yeah. But only in spurts.

Hope?

Oh, Obama. Hope is changed.

For fear's made us children
in our abuser's house
and hope is most dangerous
when the tyrant is scared.

And yet, what I want
on this crisp, Sunday morning
that seems, by all appearance, so ordinary
is for someone to cover
my screen with their hands
and to say:

"I don't know, either,
baby bird, little lamb.

But it's autumn outside.
Look.
All the things—they're changing again.

Point your finger out there,
to the ones you can touch.

Take the roof off the sky—
see how high we can jump."


Friday, October 6, 2017

Witness





The insects are settling down

Their chatter is losing its vehement sexual edge

that need to be close to one like ourself—
a cry in the night
now squeezed by the throat

Delirious, they asked too much of the summer 
and summer obliged them, sending all her confections 
to the lilies and the valleys they preyed upon 
where everynight was a feast to completion,
a sigh of the sword passing straight through the heart, 
chain metal bursting, like blossoms in heat

You kings and you queens,
you knights and vassals 

Now bats—
the phantom marauders of autumn—
circle the skies overhead

and I watch their ballet
breathlessly

as they pluck the feckless heathens of August 
into their mouths   
without breaking speed

their madness an engine timed out to the minute 
the silence enthralling, 
the hum within  

So the moon, white and fat, 
parts her trees like a bride
in mourning again

So the leaves and I tremble,
witnesses


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Green heron




I'm not as sold
on you
as I am
on your cousin

You have little
in the way
of her arabesque
angles

and know nothing
of the slow, melodious way
she takes umbrage,
packing up the long legs,
concert hall wings
crook neck 

into an island
she heaves out
and then skyward

raising the calm
of her own private ocean

feet far behind
like a lover's old token

until dropping anchor,
en pointe and alone.


Lucky,
you don't seem to mind
the comparison,
too busy listening
to the indiscreet
secrets
of minnows

feet tucked in slime
eyes grim and primordial

on the shoal of a river

the blue guy
let slide.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

41

I cried to find there was poetry left. 

"Come home," she said. 

I did.