shadows

will you see my shadow in the grass when i’m gone

will it move and stretch in the mid-day’s sun

will it disappear in the shrouds of the junipers’ limbs

will you see it in the changing light of all that’s been

will you hear my words in the strong, spring gusts

or catch remnants of my footsteps in the Arizona dust

will the love i tried to nurture here go unfed

will the times i felt i failed you ever leave my head

will the moments that i gave so freely of my heart

be a warm, welcome memory, or lost within the dark

of selfish wants of worthless things

which made us forget the bounty love brings

i will look for your shadow in the change that lies ahead

i will listen for your laughter and will think of you my friend

and if you see my shadow roaming through the neighborhood

i hope you smile and recollect that all that was, was good

This House

This house

now weighs heavy on my heart

where once was light

we nurtured from the dark;

where when we moved ourselves

within these walls,

neighbors turned to friends

and friends turned all.

Where varied folk

met on this dusty road

and found a kinship

worth a weight in gold.

But years have passed

and seeds have scattered

and once things did,

but now don’t matter.

Cause when the world

was forced to shift,

what was once,

no longer fit.

And as the view

began to change

and i unchained

the new within,

these walls –

this world –

became a cage

guarded by a new found rage

of my own making.

And it started me thinking.

Now new worlds lie in wait.

My love and I

can feel the weight

lifting

and roots

shifting.

And this,

our beautiful home,

our past,

lovingly

and finally,

releasing.

Within Close Range: Flying

I dream of flying.

Lifting off the edge of the bluff

and rising quickly

toward the fat, lazy clouds

hovering over the great, grey lake.

Circling the nearby harbor

where scattered sailboats bob,

I swoop and dive

like the swallows nearby,

but seek out more familiar forms

hidden back among the trees,

just far enough

from the crumbling bluff

to put Dad’s mind at ease.

To the glowing kitchen window

and the figure of Mom

in her pink, plaid apron.

Ever regal.

Ever busy

in her blue and yellow kitchen.

I hover there,

in the cool lake air,

listening to the happy clinks and clanks

of pots and plates.

And try to imagine what’s cooking

by what’s wafting through the windows.

Until a strong breeze

lifts the aroma

and me

back over the lake.

Past the sunken, old pier

where giant carp spawn

year after year.

Past the rocky harbor walls

standing hard against the waves.

Until the house

and the cottage

and the beach

disappear,

and I begin to really soar

over endless stretches

of dark and deep.

Unhappy to find my bed

and solid ground

beneath me when I wake.

Within Close Range – Florida Days: the teen years

Driving from the airport

to a new winter retreat –

a 20 story high-rise in Pompano Beach –

it’s clear things aren’t as they have been.

Gone are the Mid-Century neighborhoods

with small, tidy bungalows

and pastel-colored apartment complexes.

Gone are the small, neat streets

crammed with big, American cars

and the quiet, inland canals

with their 90 degree curves.

Modern high-rises now loom along the coast,

casting long shadows over these old ghosts.

Smothered by “The Strip”,

a popular stretch of beach –

and the only way to their new place,-

Nonna and Papa are forced to face

nubile, bikini-clad, beer drinking youth

balanced precariously between child and adult

unkempt,

half-naked –

all god-forsaken.

But Gina and I crave this uncharted world,

which we’re slowly cruising past

in the back seat of a tightly sealed Cadillac,

filled with the sounds of Perry Como

and the smell of Jean Nate.

The closer we get to Nonnie and Papa’s,

the older the demographics begin to slant,

until beers and bikinis are soon replaced

by beer bellies and Platex bras.

The upside to the new zip code

is a bigger abode –

and a separate door to the outside world –

or at least to a corridor,

and an unused stairwell.

To Marlboro Lights

and poorly rolled joints,

and late night escapades with girls from New York.

Gone are our grandparents’ halcyon days

of minding their ways.

These are the carefree days of youth.

Of baby oil and B-52s.

Getting stoned in the sauna.

Drinking beers on the beach.

Somehow convincing Nonnie

to hand us the keys.

Of cranking up the radio

and rolling down the windows

to inhale the salty air

and the sweet smell

of being newly licensed.

Of boys on the beach noticing us

and Nonnie –

from high above –

noticing them, noticing us.

These are the Florida days

of pushing boundaries,

especially ones so poorly guarded.

Well past our very strict curfew.

Nonna is waiting and bleak.

She’s worked herself into such a state,

she’s lifted off her bunioned feet.

She cross-examines,

reprimands,

and threatens to send us home;

then leads us in to Papa

in the unlit living room,

Leaden and pacing.

My heart is breaking.

When all is said –

which isn’t much –

he turns his back

and sends us to bed.

The first thing we see in the morning

taped prominently to the fridge

is a newspaper clip with a giant headline,

“Girls Found Charred on Beach”,

and Nonnie,

with her back to us.

Sighing and tsk-ing,

but not saying anything.

Until behind closed bedroom doors,

on an all-day call with her sister, Rose,

we can hear her tell of all her woes;

heralded, at times, in a pitch so high,

dogs throughout the high-rise begin to cry.

This leads to quieter Florida days,

of shorter visits

and solo stays.

Now more observer than the observed;

studying Nonnie and Papa

in their Florida world.

In their well-aged routine of marital malaise.

Wondering if I know what a happy marriage is?

Hours of watching old ladies by the pool;

with their sun hats and cigarettes

and bad romance books;

their games of Canasta,

and over-tanned skin…

wondering if any

were ever really young?

When Papa leaves to tend to the store,

it’s hours of Gin Rummy,

and little more.

Alone with Nonnie,

playing round after round

on the windy, high-rise balcony,

sixteen floors from the ground.

Where 8-track cassettes

of Liberace and Lawrence Welk

teach me tolerance,

and the importance of a wickedly good game face.

Happy to see the rainy skies.

Happy to stay indoors

and in our nightgowns.

The condo is especially quiet.

No washing machine

or television

reminding us of other things.

Other lives.

No dinner out

or big meal in.

We barely move.

Rarely talk.

Occasionally, Nonnie disappears,

returning with something powdery and sweet

or cheesy and crusty

and hot from the oven.

Such deliciously quiet moments

of simply doing nothing.

Oh these my Florida days.

Within Close Range: Florida Days – the early years

It’s a small, but airy, two bedroom

built at the corner of an inland canal;

brightly decorated in yellows, greens, blues and whites,

and perpetually shaded from the Sunshine State.

A peculiar land of tropical scents

and strikingly unfamiliar sights.

Far removed from the only place I know at night,

home.

Put to bed too early,

I lie in the sitting room-turned-my-room,

tossing and turning on the lumpy sofa-bed

for what seems like hours and hours on end.

Listening intensely to the sounds of apartment living

made especially audible by the glass-vented door

opening onto the curved building’s exterior hall.

My slatted portals to an unknown world.

To the sounds of the apartment people

returning from the pool,

the shops,

the grocers,

dinner out.

Of doorbells ringing

and little feet skipping,

and hugs and kisses

and friendly greetings.

Of moist, briny winds

carrying the scents

of jasmine and orange blossoms,

and parking lot asphalt.

And the ladies’ perfumes

as they stroll past my door.

The echo of laughter in the nearby stairwell,

and their happy words

which disappear

with the sudden click of a heavy car door.

Murmurs from the living room TV

add to this strange symphony,

with familiar sounds

and flickering lights

that seep through the bottom of the door,

casting short, cryptic shadows

on the thickly carpeted,

recently vacuumed floor.

Comforting is the knowledge

that Papa is in the room next door.

Feet up,

arms folded high across his belly,

and a large RC Cola at his side.

Grinning at Clem Kadiddlehopper,

or growling at the Chicago Bears.

When Papa finally turns the television off

I lie in the still and unfamiliar dark.

The inland water’s slow, buoyant motion,

lulls me into a deep and scented slumber.

until the morn.

When I linger on the lumpy mattress

and listen to the apartment people

begin their days.

Wooed by the sounds of others stirring,

I stretch toward kitchen utensils clanking

and the smells of breakfast cooking

on the other side of the wall.

Oh these, my Florida days.

Of sand slipping away beneath my tiny feet,

and seashell hunts as the sun dips low;

of Nonnie’s curled and bunioned toes

and skinny, seagull legs

dipping into the foamy waves,

but never past her knees.

These early days of sunset walks

along a stretch of beach

that leads to a lighthouse

and a creaky, tottering wharf

where Papa likes to take a walk.

And I like to walk with him.

Where fishing boats have funny names

and a tiny gift shop,

in a weather-beaten shanty,

sells orange gum-balls

packed in little, wooden crates.

Which Papa buys for his little, Pie-Face.

Of bright, green lizards

skittering across pastel walls,

and pats on the head

by terrycloth clad men

playing cards in the shades of umbrellas.

Where suntanned women

with the giant bosoms

and ever-blooming swim caps

wade in the shallow end,

with big, dentured smiles

for the little one

visiting Lenore.

Oh these, my Florida days.

Within Close Range: Candied Abandon

Something scrumptious always simmering

in an old enamel pot.

Looks to have cooked a million meals

one hopes will never stop.

But as delectable to me as these savory delights,

Nonna and Papa’s home is a sweet-tooth paradise.

A candy-coated, chocolate-covered, fantasyland,

with countless confectionaries ever at hand.

Coffee candy, toffee bits.

Circus peanuts, caramel nips.

Cookie tins with crescents that melt on my tongue,

leaving powdered-sugar fingerprints wherever I’ve gone.

In nightstands, TV stands, and cabinets, wall-to-wall;

in boxes, and pockets, and purses in the hall.

I scan all the shelves for a glimmer of color

through crystal candy dishes in a glass-front cupboard.

On a table right next to the velvety green couch,

I find a lidded coffer that has gone untouched.

Chasing my greedy reflection over the mirrored table top,

I see no misgivings, as I reach for the box.

Those would come later,

when at the dinner table,

Nonna pressed me to eat,

but I simply wasn’t able.

Which is simply

not

done.

Within Close Range: Dinner at the Celanos’

Dinner means waiting.

It means setting the table

with placemats and napkins,

and neatly set silver,

pitchers of water

and plates for your salad;

and waiting and waiting,

as smells from the kitchen,

from sizzling pans and simmering pots,

waft through the house

like intoxicating fog.

Making it hard to concentrate

on anything but the the clock,

and the driveway,

where we turn our attentions

every few minutes,

hoping for headlights.

Stomachs gurgling.

Tempers shortening.

Dad finally showing

and ever so slowly…

shedding his suit.

Un-harried.

Unhurried

to get the meal going.

Though children are moaning.

Haven’t eaten in minutes.

But dinner begins

when Dad’s ready to sit.

And no sooner.

Within Close Range: The Double Date

Home from college,

my dance card empty,

Jean has ignored me

and arranged a double date.

Making my way toward the kitchen

to re-hydrate my bone-dry jitters,

I pass Dad in the den.

He’s sitting in the swivel chair,

with his back to the windows,

pretending he’s reading.

He’s also pretending not to see me.

Isn’t happy about this evening.

With boys ever at the heels of Mia and Chris,

he takes frequent comfort in my constant datelessness.

But really, is the The Garden Journal so utterly absorbing

that my noisy, high-heeled entrance, he’s utterly ignoring?

Not Dad.

Can’t suppress eye roll.

And what about Mom?

Still hovering in the kitchen,

without a purpose in sight.

Both acting like this was my very first date.

Not exactly soothing.

Just need to keep moving.

A difficult task in absurdly high heels

which already feel like burning coals.

Through my water glass,

I watch Dad rotate right

to face the new, oncoming lights

bouncing off the dimly lit walls.

A swivel slowly left,

he’s observing Jean and our dates.

The doorbell’s ringing,

but Dad’s not budging.

Instead, he’s whirled right back around

(that book might as well be upside down).

Can’t suppress eye roll.

I take a deep breath and open the door.

Jean’s smile is enormous.

I look to the floor –

I know she’s trying.

But there’s something she’s hiding –

like he being just about as happy as I am.

Reaching out a limp, wet hand

(What’s this poor guy’s name again?),

I hear swiveling.

Dad’s up and coming.

Then… passing,

without so much as a greeting.

(Eye roll mentally happening.)

And why is he stopping,

simulating a search for something?

Empty-handed, he’s returning.

I can almost hear the growling.

Keeping his fixed glare –

swiveling like the chair –

on both the boys,

until he quietly disappears.

I push my companions out the door,

hoping the night will hide my humiliation

and breath new life into this double date situation.

But I’m not counting on it,

and neither is Dad,

who’s peeking through the curtains,

shaking his head as he calls to the kitchen,

“She won’t be marrying THAT one.”

Can’t suppress eye roll.

Dad

The doctor’s last count was seven.

Each stroke leaving in its wake

a little less Dad.

Less motivation.

Less vision.

Less presence.

Then he lost his license.

So Dad just sat.

Eventually losing sight

of all that made him tick.

Gave him purpose.

He was good at.

I watched the frustration

when things weren’t clicking

in his once playful eyes,

in his quick and clever mind,

and quietly mourned

the lengthening shadow

that would smother such strong light;

turning weaknesses upon himself,

and others.

The shadow strengthened,

as the once powerful figure

could no longer focus.

Spent the days crying.

The nights wandering.

His underpants,

soiling.

Conversations were now repetitions,

driven by a series of questions

he’d ask again and again

and again.

Always about family,

living and dead.

No steering away

from this endless thread.

But it’s all that remained

as he struggled for thoughts.

For words.

For himself.

The bygone body, swaggering and bold,

began to weaken,

and wither,

and fold

from all those years of sitting.

Doing hours and hours of nothing.

While cherished faces,

and times and places,

steadily stepped into the dark.

Rare became the instants

during my brief, long-distance visits,

when I saw that certain twinkle in his eyes.

When he was pleased,

about to be silly –

or incredibly Dad.

But then

alas

it would pass

and entered this man, instead.

The only thing constant

was his wheezy, cartoon laughter

which he easily summoned

to the great relief of everyone

hovering uncomfortably in his small, sad room

scattered with pictures of loved ones –

now mostly strangers.

Rarest was hearing the voice of his past,

which sang in my ear

when he used my pet name.

Summoned forth in fugitive instants.

Clear and compelling.

Making me unexpectedly ache,

and anxious

to hear Dad speak again.

But Dad never did.

Yet in that flash,

in his strong, familiar voice,

he was my beacon,

my banker

my mentor,

my tormentor,

My father.

And everything felt right.

Then it didn’t.

And I cursed myself

for not plucking from the ether

that all-too-brief moment

to stuff deep within my pockets.

and help me remember

his long and strong hugs

of immeasurable comfort.

His powerful presence.

His stubborn dreaming.

His cocky, foolish, bridge-burning scheming.

The maestro of his successes

and Master of his failures.

But grateful for the moments

we spoke about nothing

and I apologized for everything.

Though he wouldn’t remember anything.

But love is in the giving.

In the times he heard,

I love you.

So, I told him different stories

about faraway lives,

and in between the questions

and his uncontrolled emotions,

I‘d try to fill the ether

with soon forgotten memories.

With love and laughter.

And strong hugs

of immeasurable comfort.

Within Close Range: Curfew

Every mile or so,

I glance to the clock.

Hoping time will stop.

Or that it’s not really five o’clock.

The final mile along the road,

I roll down the windows to air out the smell.

The woodland creatures are beginning to shift,

so once in the driveway, I turn the lights off

and roll slowly along, with the engine hushed.

Safe inside, it’s straight to the fridge.

Grabbing cold pasta, I start up to bed.

But a light from the den stops me instead.

And before I can step a tip to a toe,

Dad rumbles from the den,

strong and low.

And I have nowhere else to go.

Perched on his favorite, swivel chair,

he’s flanked by portraits of ungrateful heirs.

Grumbling at the empty driveway

and disappearing night,

he’s been swiveling there for hours

without a child in sight.

Staring at my bloodshot eyes,

he asks if I know the hour,

and things aren’t looking good

for this early morning flower.

“What could you be doing

until five in the morning?”

All at once, the truth pours forth

without a single warning.

I tell Dad how the day was spent

cooking with some friends,

then going to a drive-in

for a zombie marathon;

about the beautiful night

and the shoreline fire,

and the remarkable moonlight

as we waded in the water.

Baffled by my sudden truths,

Dad takes a moment to recompute.

“I’m just waiting for your sister.”

(as the final plot twister)

were the next

and last

words from his mouth.

Equally confounded,

I leave the scene ungrounded.

Looking from an upstairs window,

just above where Dad keeps vigil,

I see the dawn beginning to dance,

and know, poor Mia,

doesn’t stand

a

chance.

Within Close Range: Chief – in three parts

Part One:

Chief is an ornery Appaloosa,

short and fat,

with black spots on the rump of his dirty, white coat.

And the devil in his eyes.

Of little training and no past consequences,

he’s a 9th birthday present from Dad –

whose childhood pets were porcelain cats;

and mostly Mom,

a self-proclaimed Missouri farm girl,

with a steely, stubborn confidence over competence.

From the other side of the pasture fence,

she urges me to remount:

“Make him know who’s boss!”

I struggle to my feet

and limp toward the answer

now grazing on prairie grass and wildflowers.

In between greedy mouthfuls,

Chief raises his wild, blue eyes,

beneath poorly cut bangs –

which I do myself.

(No wonder he’s ornery.)

He’s quietly watching my pained approach

and just as I get within a few feet,

with a flick of his tail, he’s off –

bucking and snorting as he goes.

Mom’s words are unrecognizable

from the far end of the field.

But the tone is clear.

So I move toward my spotted nemesis,

expecting him to bolt at any moment.

But this time, he lets me mount.

It’s all too easy,

a voice inside warns.

But Mom’s is louder.

Barely settled in the saddle,

Chief lifts his head and pins his fuzzy ears

flat against his thick skull.

Grabbing the reins and the horn,

I know what’s coming.

Somehow still in the saddle at the canter,

annoys my little, four-hoofed devil,

who swerves from his path toward a cluster of pines.

Two, in particular.

Which stand a pony’s width apart.

I close my eyes and hold on tight.

Like yarn through an embroidery needle,

Chief threads us between the pines.

Scraped from their stirrups,

my little legs bounce off of the pony’s big rear-end

as we leave the trees for pasture

and gallop toward Mom;

who’s still lobbing impractical words over the fence.

I feel my grasp on the saddle-horn weaken,

as my resolve that I’ll soon be tasting earth,

grows.

And I let go.

Part Two:

Mom thinks a pal might keep Chief calmer.

So early one spring, in comes Billy Gold:

a blue ribbon, well-trained, Palomino,

which we trailered behind the wagon

from his Missouri home.

Chief dislikes the new arrival immediately.

I think he’s dreamy

with his white/blonde mane and ginger coat,

still winter thick and warm to the touch.

Feeding him a carrot,

his hot breath and fuzzy lips

tickle the palm of my cold, red hand.

Mark and Mia remain on the fence.

Watching.

Still unsure of whether Billy Gold –

like Chief –

is tarnished.

In my thickly lined hood,

tied tight against the cold, lake winds,

I don’t understand their warnings

until far too late.

Chief’s powerful teeth clamp down.

The pain in my butt is searing.

I’m howling.

Billy Gold bolts.

But Chief just stands there.

A nose length’s away.

Staring.

As I hop around the half-frozen earth,

swearing.

And rubbing the area already swelling.

My siblings’ shocked silence explodes into laughter,

followed by a closely contested race to the house

to see who’ll be the first to blather.

Meanwhile, a purple-red welt,

banded by marks of Chief’s big, front teeth,

grows and throbs with each step toward the house

where Mom greets me with an ice pack

and an ungoverned smile.

Part Three:

When Chief isn’t trying to shed us,

or eat us,

he’s on the lam.

Devilishly clever.

Expected and regular.

The phone rings.

Mom cringes.

Apologizes.

Then sounds the alarm.

Steering the station wagon straight toward town.

We found him in a graveyard once,

a foggy morning, one fall.

Striking terror in the old caretaker

who thought he’d seen it all.

Until galloping across the graves,

he saw a ghostly, pony-sized sight.

Bad bangs bouncing in the soupy light.

Pursued closely by a tall, beautiful, blonde

in flowing, full length, lime-green chiffon.

His hands still trembling

when we waved from the road,

as we slowly crept toward home

with our pony in tow.

But much of the time, Chief’s antics are close

and off I dash with grain and a rope;

tracking my pony’s sod-ripping route

through the blue-blood, buttoned-up neighborhood,

across disapproving neighbors’ pristine lawns.

From behind their glass houses,

shaking heads frown.

One rainy, spring day, while chasing the brat,

he stopped his bucking and turned in his tracks

to face me.

He pinned his ears, which put me on my guard.

Then that damn pony started to charge!

I was quite sure we were going to collide

When a voice –

loud and fed up –

called from inside.

I dropped the bucket of grain.

I dropped the pony’s halter.

I gathered all my courage.

My universe was itching to alter.

Setting my feet and standing my ground,

I watched him close the gap.

And just as he was an arm’s length away…

I gave him a great, big

SLAP

at the tip of his long, white snout.

Suddenly, all Chief’s piss and vinegar

done

run

OUT!

With a half-hearted snort,

he lowered his poorly banged head,

turning his devilish focus

on the grain bucket instead.

And with noses aligned,

we lingered toward home,

understanding more of each other

than we had ever known.

~from “Within Close Range: short stories of an American childhood”

@dogearedstories.com

Within Close Range: Bullies

Because our home’s so far away,

I’m the first picked up by the bus each day

and the very first stop after school –

which makes every student on our route

sit forty minutes more each afternoon

and me, an unwelcome sight.

Full of hormones and hate,

those in last few rows of the long, yellow bus

moan and groan

as soon as I climb on,

making me nervously skitter to the nearest seat

where I crouch and hide and wait.

The hardcore insults come later

and louder

cloaked in the anonymity of the rumbling and motion

of our rolling prison.

Deaf to what he hears,

the bus driver just stares ahead

and goes where he’s told.

United by the same neighborhood,

in the opposite direction,

they snarl and nip at the back of my neck –

piercing my thin skin.

It’s us versus them,

in every nasty word.

But the “them” they think I am

is absolutely absurd.

When their rabid, backseat words

have more than their usual bite,

I step from the bus

and race to the woods,

searching for a way to shake the hurt

in the thick, dim patches of unpeopled forest.

I disappear among the ember-colored leaves

which cap the many trees of Shoreacres

before the heavy freeze

steals the color from the land.

And there, I simply am.

Where I step to the sound of my breathing,

the movement of the clouds,

and to the busy hush of forest life about,

reminding me to go about my own;

and to heal my wounds

with the comforts of home.

Within Close Range: At the Edge of the Bluff

It’s an early spring day in the heartland.

Anemic, damp and miserable.

Clumps of stubborn snow and ice,

grey and grimy,

still dot the sidewalks and lawns.

Faces look pale and anxious for sun.

After the usual sermon of incense and absolution,

followed by stacks of pancakes and sausages,

we know something is up

when Dad drives past our neighborhood,

further and further from home.

by unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar towns,

until backseat boredom’s about to grow horns.

Passing a tiny town,

and a solid white, storybook farm,

Dad finally slows and signals a turn.

“Shoreacres Country Club, Members Only.”,

reads the uninviting sign.

Swallowed by the dark of the woods,

the wide, low wagon drifts silently down the road,

flanked by a small, trickling brook,

winding past towering trees

and long stretches of green.

Everything is covered in a fine, frigid gloom,

including another set of pretty, white buildings

silent and still on this dreary afternoon.

Passing a faded, old, green water tower,

headless and frightening in the fog,

our destination is finally divulged:

a new home.

I sink further into the wagon’s rear seat,

where the unfriendly neighborhood disappears

and I can see nothing but the thick, dark clouds.

The silence is broken only by the sound of gravel

crunching beneath the wheels of the wagon,

now weighted with disappointment.

We twist down a long driveway and stop.

So inching my way back up,

I survey at the house.

It’s dark and sullen.

Like the day.

And my mood.

Dad says, “We’ll just take a peek.”

But even I know what that means.

So, like prisoners into an exercise yard,

we file from the car,

and stand in an unhappy cluster in front of the house –

which isn’t yellow –

like ours.

Which has no sign of neighbors,

a school,

the Good Humor Man,

or a new treehouse –

like ours.

We’re coaxed to a long row of windows

which look through the cold, empty rooms,

and beyond,

where lies a huge expanse of lawn.

And water.

Racing to the rear of the house,

we stand the edge of the bluff,

looking out over the grand, Great Lake

right there at our toes.

The Windy City silhouette, 40 miles south.

Excitement now erupts for this strange, new place.

This decades-long breeder of unsupervised fun.

First beers.

First cigarettes

And, of course, first bongs.

Secret rendezvous for teenage loves.

Havens for fainthearted runaways

who soon long for home just a few feet away.

Follies of youth are such glorious days.

Until this world begins to erode.

To implode.

And all begin to scatter.

But, oh, what fertile earth it was

living life in the woods at the edge of the bluff.

Within Close Range: Clogs

Lake Forest High School’s West Campus

is a giant, brick and cinder block monstrosity,

designed with all the charm and comforts

of a state penitentiary.

Sterile,

uninviting,

uninspiring,

practically windowless, colorless,

and completely humorless.

Its warden roams the cinder block dungeons

in his plaid polyester sports coat,

smelling of cigarettes and body odor;

wielding his insignificant power

with more brawn than brain.

I’ve done everything I can to steer clear.

But best laid plans…

Still mocking an outdated documentary

on health, hygiene, and the hazards of smoking;

featuring mildly graphic surgery footage,

phony teens in dungarees,

and from a hole cut in his larynx,

a smiling man blowing smoke rings,

I start down the stairs to my next class

but never see past the very first step

because the clog on my right foot has chosen to go ahead –

getting only as far as the arch, instead –

landing my half-clogged foot on the step’s metal edge.

I plunge toward a stair-ful of surprised friends

and new enemies.

Twisting and hurtling through the innocent

and unsuspecting.

Coming down hard on my back.

With the grim, fluorescent lighting above

and the cold, cement floor below,

I am returned to the moment by the moans

of the stunned and wounded getting to their feet.

I attempt to do the same,

but am gently pushed back to the cold concrete.

“You can’t move.”

“I’m fine,” I sigh in response,

attempting to sit up again.

“No,” says our teacher,

as she pushes me back to the ground

(a little more firmly this time).

“I mean, I can’t let you move until the principal gets here.”

“I’M FINE!” explodes off the cinder block walls.

Faces grimace.

The class is soon sent on their way,

while like a one-shoed idiot, there I lay…

waiting…

imagining how the news of my nose dive

is already spreading.

Sprinting unnecessarily up the flight of stairs;

a figure is soon looming over me on the landing –

an oppressive cloud of Aqua Velva and brown plaid.

And now I’m truly wishing I was dead.

Finally ensuring my captors

There’ll be no need for an ambulance,

to lawyer up

– or even help up –

and hobble away,

bruised and humiliated.

Less than two weeks later,

fate becomes a hater –

as I tumble down another set of steps.

People are beginning to wonder.

Including the school nurse,

who meets me at the office door,

shaking her head.

Scrutinizing my footwear.

She hates clogs.

Thinks they should all be put in a big pile

and burned.

Just wait til she catches sight of my new Dr. Scholl’s.

Within Close Range: Anita

Anita was one of those agile girls

whose limber and daring I envied.

Her front flips and back flips,

backbends and full splits.

I couldn’t even cartwheel.

I did a competent somersault,

but it garnered little praise.

So, I spent a good deal of time

just laying in the grass.

Observing.

Awed by long, lanky, bendy bodies –

especially Anita’s –

twisting, turning, and taking flight.

Wondering why and how

she could do such things so skillfully,

when those skills so skillfully eluded me.

Or was it the passion to try?

But Anita’s dexterity

defied the norms of stretchability

because Anita added double-jointed

to her impressive athletic ability.

She’d often demonstrate her loose-jointed trait

by bending her willowy hand the wrong way;

masterfully mis-shaping her long, freckled arm,

as if made of soft, moist, modeling clay.

She could do the same with her shoulders and knees

until her bowed silhouette looked strange indeed:

a favorite umbrella blown inside out

by a rib-bending gust in a strong, spring shower.

Illogical and ludicrous.

Almost cartoonish.

Watching her move I felt ever defeated,

disjointed,

dysfunctional.

A dyed-in-the-wool, tried and failed tumbler.

Forever to watch from the shade of a tree,

where I marveled at my elastic friend,

who could bend,

and bend,

and bend,

and bend.

Within Close Range: an evening with officer gildemeister

Been sitting here for hours,

finding haunted, frightened faces

in the station floor’s contours.

Don’t know whether to be relieved

that the next person I see,

isn’t Dad.

But I was simply standing there

when someone gave me my first beer.

Just before all hell broke loose

in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Church and School.

Everyone saw the squad car.

Everyone but me –

and the boy who got busted with a bong –

but even he’s now free.

The scene’s a constant loop in my head:

beers flying,

friends fleeing,

voices shouting,

me freezing.

Blinded by flashing.

Too late to fling it.

Too late for dashing.

Why did I leave that stupid dance?

I just went to see the band.

Hoping to spark the lead guitar’s flame,

but the flame from a first crush never came.

“Is there someone else I can call?”

I can think of one name, that’s all.

“They have to be adults,” he sneers.

“Dr. and Mrs.” I mumble.

Of course, he knows the teenage sons.

and thinks they’re nothing but trouble.

Dirty, hippy, smartass punks

with long hair and ripped jeans;

thundering laughs and motorbikes,

and EVERYTHING that he dislikes.

At last, a fast-moving figure,

in a tousled wig of blonde,

darts through the doors

with a generous smile

to face the big man with the gun.

A lady of very small stature

she is nearly eclipsed by his size.

“Are you going to tell her why you’re here?”

she looks up to the man and she smiles,

“She doesn’t have to tell me a thing.”

was all she had to say,

stunning the big, little, speechless man

bringing joy to my miserable day.

I suppress the urge to hug her.

But she’ll get a tearful later.

And I’ll be forever grateful

to Inga, my saviour.

The Wind and the Woods

The highland winds howl through the valley,
rattling the windows of our house on the hill,
shaking and bending the world at their will,
as the Midwestern in me braces for a storm.

Intense and unforgiving. Possibly spinning.
I feel my body – tense and taut –
preparing for the worst with each swollen gust.
But this is just spring in the southwest.

Pacing through the house, anxious to move,
or for everything to stop,
the dogs and I head out for our walk.
Prepared for a fight against the wind’s tough talk.

Outside I find more bark than bite
the winds are strong, but warmed by the high desert’s light
Layers are shed as we head to where the pronghorn graze
and the sweeping winds blow songs across the tall grass.

Downwind of us and warned,
the herd has up and gone,
prompting me to turn against the unrelenting gusts
and start the journey home again.

Past fuzzy Cholla and Prickly Pear lurking in the grass,
nipping at the paws of distracted dogs
drunk with newly moistened worlds in their noses.
Noses lifting and twirling with the breezes.

But oh the smells, rebirthed by frugal spring rains;
appearing and disappearing, for the cloudless air is always shifting,
enlivening everything, including my spirits,
with its transient sweetness.

Wandering up the hill toward home into the dark of the grey-green pines,
a Great Horned Owl lifts off a nearby branch.
One grand flap of her powerful wings, and then, a silent shadow
moving up the hill to a low limbed Juniper, heavy with slate blue berries.

I follow quietly, passing the fallen remains of a pine long dead,
which looks like an old skeleton without a head.
Hidden in the shadows of the boughs, the owl waits.
Only taking flight again when she is in my sight.

It’s then I start to wonder, who’s taking more delight
in this hide and seek game in the wind and the woods.

I can feel her watching us move up the hill.
And in the still, our eyes finally meet, albeit brief,
before she spreads her broad, stealth wings
and disappears above the trees and tailings of an old pit mine.

We hear a raucous raven at the top of the tree
where I hoped the Great Horned Owl would be.
But the owl is already on the go, into the blow, and out of sight.
Though I very much doubt we’re out of hers.

Unleashing the dogs as home comes in view
Nellie’s off in a flash on her reptile pursuit.
Zigging and zagging, but never succeeding.
(I think she’s just teasing.)

I shout her name, but it’s squandered in the gusts.
so I lose myself in the wind’s white-noise
and pressing my self against its hilltop strength,
find my peace and place in it again.

Coyote

We surprise a small, skinny coyote

as the dogs and I appear from the wash

not far from where she’s also rising from a small ravine.

She sees us first

and tries to make a slow, low retreat

into the scrub oak and pine,

when I see her

and stop.

Holding tight to the leashes

I quietly greet the startled creature

who, instead of fleeing, pauses as well.

The dogs, now aware, wrench my arms,

but I hold on,

smiling silently at the brazen thing almost within reach,

yet standing so still.

And there, we all stare.

Hoping to suggest it best we all part,

I turn from our convergence

and the coyote agrees,

moving away, but in a similar direction.

She pauses for a final look between a gap in the growth,

as if to remember our constrained and quiet trio,

before her shabby, honey-colored hide

slinks over the next ridge

and disappears.

And the dogs and I,

ignoring my instinct to go home,

turn left instead.

Winged Chatter

I try to find a new way to wander across the rolling hills of scrub and pine and stretches of grass each time the dogs and I go walking

So every day, I get to see familiar things in a different sort of way.

Sometimes this leads to new treasures like old, sun-bleached bones for my growing bone collection,

a newly dug den with earth so freshly excavated it’s still moist and brown;

an ancient juniper at the top of a ridge, rounded like a giant, perfect mushroom cap, where generations of cattle resting and rubbing in its shade, helped make its flat-bottomed, fairytale shape.

But mostly, it’s not knowing where the dogs and I are going,

except out

to explore this small patch of hilly land near home

where Mingus Mountain rises behind Chino Valley to the east, Table Top Mesa and Granite Mountain command the views to the south,

and scattered homes along long, dirt roads in the near distance remind us we’re never alone.

As does the jackrabbit springing from shrub to shrub, with its skyscraper ears that quickly disappear,

and a flock of quails lifting noisily from an impenetrable cluster of Apache Plume, in near perpetual bloom, at the side of the wash.

Which, like my path, is always changing.

Crumbling.

Reshaping.

Exposing tunnels dug below the surface

(that look like sunken eyes, sunk deep in deep, dark sockets);

and hardened roots of Pinyon pines clutching eroding walls,

refusing to fall,

to succumb to the changes.

Green clinging on so few branches.

Yet clinging.

And fruiting

and feeding the creatures who live in the washes and brushes and hollowed out trees;

in the boulders and burrows and fields, where me and the dogs keep wandering, because every day it keeps changing.

Each bloom.

Each moon.

Each orbital click.

While the dogs keep on sniffing and sniffing and sniffing, and finding their own unique way, which these days is through a grassy stretch of fleeting monsoon green that tickles my knees and their noses.

Past Prickly Pears with their thorny pads, crowned with green, pink and purple fruit, growing darker and bigger and bolder and sweeter.

Across the grass where the air is fair and the land is electric with tiny, winged voices that buzz here and there.

Humming strange, chatty words in my ear.

While modest patches of yellow, white, orange and purple wildflowers barely boast that they’re there.

But they are.

And so are we.

Blossoming.

Buzzing.

Changing.

One Square Mile

We’d been in Prescott several months

before I felt quite brave enough

to wander a mile of state trust land

neighboring our windy, new hillside home.

Raised in the Midwest, it was like another world

harsh and barren – and continuously warned

of giant spiders and big mountain cats,

poisonous snakes and thieving rats.

Instead, I learned of high dessert ways,

where life and death are on display.

In each cow for slaughter in the shade of a pine;

in the shy, white blossoms of the desert moon vine;

which shun the sun all summer long,

closing their beauty to everyone.

Then as the gentle night unfolds,

so does each petal, bright and bold.

And fleeting.

In every piece of a recent kill,

neatly picked clean from above and below,

until nothing remains but an armful of bones

to bleach and decay in the perennial sun.

Each time I’ve wandered this rolling terrain,

it has begged more questions and felt more sane;

and given me moments I’ll relive again

with a broad, happy smile for all that’s been.

Of days making circles within this wild square,

with the weight of the world or nary a care;

the moment the dogs and I walked up a hill,

where a herd of pronghorn stood scattered and still.

Two dozen, or so, at rest and at play.

Not bothered enough to run away.

Even as the dogs whined and pulled at their leashes,

they just raised their heads, and I stood speechless.

With earthy colors of white, black and wheat,

small groups spread out, but young close to teat.

Watching us.

Watching them.

Feeling the ache of the dogs in my arms,

and wanting to keep all present from harm,

I called for calm and aimed for home,

turning my pack from the wondrous tableau.

We hadn’t gone far when I felt the ground shake.

The once placid herd was now wide awake.

The dogs were frantic. Nearly pulled off my feet.

I turned to see the herd and me just about to meet.

Digging in heels and holding on tight,

I stared to the eyes of the leader in sight.

With the herd right behind, and us just ahead,

it was up to this doe as to how this would end.

At the very last moment, the doe darted right,

followed close by her clan, who were now in full flight.

The spray from her hooves shot into my gape,

as we watched the herd and our narrow escape.

Just the other side of a short, fat tree

the pronghorn passed just feet away.

Turning with the herd, thus turning their keeper,

the dogs spun me round, so I dug my heels deeper.

But instead of the group going forward and gone,

the leader turned back from where they had come!

A dust cloud of pronghorns surrounded all sides.

Dogs yanking and whining and losing their minds.

All I can think is, “Keep anchored! Hang tight!”

And that no one was going to concede this wild sight.

For how could I make someone truly believe

that I was in the middle of a pronghorn stampede?

When the final white butt disappeared in the dust,

leaving us trembling, I laughed – as you must.

“Holy shit!”, I screamed out, again and again,

as I looked for my breath and steadied my friends.

We climbed the last hills of this special square mile,

to our tame, little world, where we’d rest a while

and dream of dust clouds.

the anne show

Welcome to the anne show

Welcome one and all

come and watch her rise,

or come to watch her fall?

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

She spins just like a moving top

round and round and round

but never does this spinning mass

seem to leave the ground.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

The other tops beneath the tent

try hard to follow her spin

never quite understanding

the spin that Anne is in.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

Watch her twist and bounce about

within the center ring

ricocheting off the foot high walls

again and again and again.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

The thrills and chills aren’t present

but she’ll take you on a ride

dizzy from all that spinning in place

you’ll laugh until she’s cried.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

The tickets are cheap but not easy

the seats are always front row

but know that when Anne starts spinning

there’ll be no place to go.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

Building up momentum

for nearly sixty years

this spinning top wants no more hands

to keep it spinning here.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

But folks just keep her turning

even though the act is done

‘cause that’s the show they paid to see

until it’s time to move on.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

So get your tickets while you can

all eyes on Anne at center ring

the greatest show’s about to start

don’t mind the state you see her in.

Have a seat!

Sit right down!

Anne’s about to spin right round

here she comes and there she goes

spotlight racing to and fro

almost breaching the wall ahead

stopped by the Circus Ringleader instead.

Toppled and tired Anne sits in the dark

refusing to spin one more spin

this stage is far too small she cries

I feel so trapped within.

She begs to the leader open the ring

and let this old top go

together she vows as she takes his hand

we’ll put on the greatest of shows.

No matter what your reason

come join the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

remember the good times

remember the good times

is all that you wrote

the words i read got stuck in my throat

remember the good times?

when were those?

for I’ve looked as far as my memory goes.

i’ve tried and i’ve tried to find these grand days

but i’m coming up empty

‘cause you’re just one-act plays

of selfish, greedy, immoral plots

never getting what you want

and that’s a lot

remember the good times?

i wish i could

i wish there was something in you I find good

but you’ve lived your life of self-serving deeds

of stealing what you want,

but never need,

of talents gone wasted

cause you’re a damn fool

disappointed the world

hasn’t fawned and drooled

that they haven’t come knocking

to give you the key

that won’t ever come

and won’t set you free

disappointment feeds on asking so much

when you’ve done so little to earn life’s trust

here’s what i’ll remember

and i beg you to, as well

i love you and I truly hope

you give life better stories to tell.

not dead yet

each morning i cry til there’s nothing left

mourning a life that’s not yet dead

heaving up tears til my body shakes

empty of giving and desperate to take

time with my love and time with myself

time in the world and time on the shelf

time to write and time to sleep

with long, sweet dreams I wake to seek

with quiet days and peaceful nights

and ever some adventure in our sights

but death so often takes its time

so i must stop this silly crying

and keep my focus on what’s ahead

and live each day the best i can

for even on empty, my heart remains full

for I know as one fades, the other will fill.

My Friend

My beautiful friend,

with the beautiful smile.


Weighted by fear.


Flattened with worry.


Seeking happiness,

without finding your own.


Keep it simple.


Keep it clear.


Take a long, deep breath.


Then another and another.


Take hold of that which gives you power.


That powers your passion.


That fills you with fire.


Be fearless.


You’ll soon find the you

that smiles more than once in a while,


and made you my beautiful friend,

with the beautiful smile.

Float

Let me float

in the warmth

and the dark

and the quiet.

Let my weariness subside.

Let me float

away the aches

away the worry

away the want.

Let weightless be my guide.

Let me sink

in the drink

of nothing to do but float.

Let me breathe

long and deep

gotta hold that strong, clear note.

Just keep still

feel the pain

release its grip

on aging limbs.

Fill my chest

with long, slow breaths

letting go and letting in.

Watch the sun

begin to rise

casting red upon the skies.

And as the red seeps into orange

find peace and calm

in the water’s warmth.

From orange to yellow

paler than butter

let myself BE in the pillowy color.

And as the yellow lightens to blue

and the plug is pulled

and the gravity, new.

Take the weight.

Feel the cold.

Face the day.

Be brave.

Be bold.

And keep afloat.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

That’s what you want to hear.

I’m fine.

I’ll say it loud and clear.

I’m fine.

It’s easier this way.

I’m fine.

Pretending everyday.

I’m fine.

It’s normal to wake in tears.

I’m fine.

Haven’t had a break in years.

I’m fine.

Trying to find that level ground.

I’m fine.

Wondering who I hope will stick around.

I’m fine.

Cause that’s the me you want to see.

I’m fine.

But she’s the she I no longer care to be.

I’m fine.

Losing something which never was.

I’m fine.

Just keep going, cause that’s what one does.

I’m fine.

Trying each day to set things right.

I’m fine.

But waking most days too tired to fight.

I’m fine.

Wondering if death came before dawn.

I’m fine.

And if Mom is alive, how to stay kind.

I’m fine.

Cause every day it’s just the same.

I’m fine.

The same recording on endless play.

I’m fine.

While the rest of the world gets on with its day.

I’m fine.

As hair by hair, my years now show.

As lines overtake my burrowed brow.

As my strength builds, then suddenly goes.

As the walls of my home begin to close.

As each day’s remnants turns to dust.

As I do each day what I know I must.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

too bad

you wouldn’t lift my broken heart above your selfish wants

so sad

my anguished words swatted at like tiny, pesky gnats

so sad

the years i gave my all to thee

so glad

extending branches of our tree

so glad

but when my give had given up

so bad

broken and tired i sought your love

so sad

each member of my precious clan

too bad

took the next exit out of town

too sad

leaving this trio to figure it out

not mad

not sad

some times still bad

but glad of the love that’s stuck around

an ode to jim

raise that crucifix nice and high

plant it in your neighbor’s eye

hold that bible in both hands

smack with it your fellow man

twist each word to stoke your fears

of Muslims, Blacks, Liberals, Queers

live your life a real shit

a few short prayers and that is it.

forgiven for your evil thoughts

forgiven for your selfish wants

forgiven for the love you scorned

forgiven for the pain you’ve born

surround yourself with frightened sheep

you are who you are by the company you keep

say your prayers each day and night

your dark deeds still won’t find the light

by sitting in pews and mumbling prayers

searching for peace through all the thick layers

of wrongful acts and shallow words

of broken promises at each turn

sanctimonious and self-loathing

in your dark yet depthless world.

Flies

down in the lean-to,

swatting at flies.

annoying little fuckers,

always at my horses’ eyes.

but that’s flies.

in nothing but shit

they feed and they breed.

pesky and pitiless

and bulging with greed.

never enough

is just one pile of shit,

of biting at ankles

and doing their bit.

they eat at the skin

of the gentle and strong,

who stand there and stomp

and never do harm.

but that’s flies.

appearing in swarms.

one purpose in mind:

feed and breed

off the peaceful and kind.

make wounds fester.

make eyes ooze.

plant eggs in more shit

til the air is abuzz.

such nasty little insects

i relish in killing,

and sending them on

to find light – for those willing.

but my hope is not great

for the pests just keep coming

with their selfish, rotting deeds

and their ceaseless biting and buzzing.

but that’s flies.

so the horses will stomp.

the pests will keep biting.

and i’ll do my best to protect

and keep fighting,

those nasty

fucking

flies.

Death, the Kingbird, and I

Death rapped on our window at dawn

so I leapt from bed and out the door

to shoo it away.

But there, below the window,

in the morning shade of the Mulberry tree

a Western Kingbird lay.

Damn it, I cried aloud to death,

I’ve tried to keep you at bay.

How many window decals do I need

to keep them all away?

You silly thing, I said to the bird,

and scooped to pick her up.

Stunned and afraid

she fluttered her wings,

flipping helplessly in the dust.

With soothing words, i tried again.

cupping hands around my little friend.

Who showed little life.

Who looked near the end.

But I was not interested in welcoming death,

so finding a box and trying my best,

I set the bird down in a soft, cotton nest.

A gentle stroke upon her head

and down her narrow bill.

Her wide, black eyes, now closed.

Her gray and yellow feathers, still.

Death, I see, is stopping by.

So I leave the Kingbird,

– and this mourning scene –

to have a good, long cry.

For the bird,

For the world.

For me.

For death hovers over this house.

It simply can’t be helped

with a 90 year old mother about.

Although uninvited, it came for a visit.

Not much to be done

except to face it.

I returned to the box

with the poor, little bird.

And, once again, I cursed aloud.

Reaching down for one final stroke,

suddenly the Kingbird woke,

and flew in a flash

to a neighboring tree,

leaving me

and death

behind today.

The Eyes

You won’t see my eyes

across this divide

that widens

and deepens

each day.

My gaze is turned

downward

into the rift

where much that was

has slipped away.

Into the dark 

of misaimed deeds

selfish wants

always needs.

Not convenient

if I bleed.

So pardon me 

if our eyes don’t meet

the steps are precarious

below these feet.

I need my focus

on footing strong

on solid ground,

and grounded ones.

I know what lurks

behind those eyes

who make believe

with all those lies

that everything will be okay

and once again I’ll

look your way.

But keep your eyes

upon your path

of weblike turns

and sticky tracks.

And let me keep 

my tired eyes

focused ahead

where my truth lies.

Done is Done

Away they go,

one by one.

Change is change.

Done is done.

Years go by.

Wrinkles arrive.

Needs and wants

don’t always jibe.

Some folk never get enough.

Give too little.

Troubled trust.

Throw that bond

right under the bus.

Time no longer shelters “us”.

Those who once

were all as one.

Away they go.

And done

is done.