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.

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: 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.

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.

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.