Winter Blues

 

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The shadows on the snow are blue,
I think. Are they shivering cold
or shaking in the wind lying there
on that white expanse left unbroken all winter?
I’m sure I’d be blue if I went all cursive
on that pristine page. Instead,
I sit here in an off-gray pallor,
the dermatological equivalent of
an inside voice, while I interview shadows,
present and past, outside my double-paned
Emily Dickinson-autograph model world view.

An orphan orange leaf races blindly across
the tree shadows, like it’s frantic to
be gathered up in their arms again,
while I gather all these
different hues of blues,
all the azures and ultramarines,
cobalts and cyans, sorrows and desolations,
and scatter them like leaves
of complimentary colors across
this snowfield beneath my hand.

The shadows are growing longer now,
wider and darker, too, turning
to indigo and eventually, I would guess,
to midnight, when they’ll be near-black,
mourning the passing of this
sun-bright day, when I could sit
and compare all my blues to theirs
and not once feel sad about.
No, not even once.

Maude Obsession

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Maude Fealy, Photo via Wikipedia

He borrowed her photo from the Internet.
It depicted a beautiful girl from 1908.
She’d infected him with an infatuation
for which he sought no cure and
he carried her around in his phone
the way previous generations kept the photo
of the pretty girl that came with their wallets.
“Sure she was my girlfriend, once,” they’d say,
and quickly slap shut the leather,
lest the guys looked too closely.

He couldn’t do that with Maude.
She obviously was from another era,
though had beauty enough for any.
Whenever the lonelies embraced him,
or the trout pouts and phonies
ignored his goodness, he dialed up Maude.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he’d say,
and slowly click shut the app
after one last longing look at her.
Because, of course, she really was.

So Long, So Long

How is it I get so dizzy
just looking down
from so low a prospect as this?
Why does the pain
of falling from here—
the chronic falling, not
the soon forgotten landings—
strike me as so great
and so long?
Maybe it’s the climb back
to what I’d laughingly call the top—
if I laughed much anymore—
that helps me forget that abrupt stop
at the bottom. It’s an aching,
a back-breaking trek, despite
its short distance. And because
I don’t look down,
fearful always of the misstep,
the inevitable error in my oft-faulty footing,
it’s so long.
Someday I wish to keep climbing,
ascending to the heights
of the smiling ones, whose anti-frowns
ensnare birdsongs from below.
I’d never look down again,
never contemplate that dizzying sight,
the speedy final fall, that one-way flight
from which there’d be no bounce.
Just the close-eyed bliss
like a fleeting last kiss
of one final adieu
and so long.

Unforgettable

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“Okay, Dad,” Rebecca Swann said to Ray Bentley as she showed him old photographs, this one her late mother and Ray’s wife of fifty years, “who’s this woman?”

“I dunno, I can’t make it out and I don’t remember anyway,” Ray said with a toss of his hand, tuning toward the wall of the nursing home’s common room.

“It’s Mom, Dad, don’t you remember?” Rebecca said and put the photo back into the pile of Ray’s black and white forgotten memories.

Rebecca saw a small group enter the common room, touring the facility as a potential home for the elderly woman toddling along with her walker, when she heard her father take two deep sniffs, saw him turn, and watched him beam as he blurted out, “Helen?”

The elderly woman brought her disheartened gaze up from the floor and saw not an 78-year-old man seated at the table in front of her, but rather the 19-year-old who had given her the brand of perfume she wore for the past forty-eight years, the one called Unforgettable, and she smiled a teary smile, broke away from her children, crying “Ray!”

As someone whose certain memories seem to be sifting away more each day, I was moved by Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word FORGOTTEN to express the power certain crazy stimulants have on memories you would think long lost. I love how that works.

Song and Dance

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He never really lied, he said,
just never turned on the lights
to their unspoken truths.
The dancer told him his songs
sounded so true to her, she
made him swear they coalesced
from next to nothing.
He confessed they spilled from
a dark place he dreamed nightly,
where a make-believe dancehall ball
scattered images like snowflakes
that would melt in the light of day.
The singer longed for just one dance,
but the dancer held fast to her darkness,
there in the chairs along the wall,
where she waited to hear each
new song. His lies and all.

A free write from this morning. I can’t figure it out, so I’ll leave that to you. Photo: Disco Ball in Blue by Sarah from Brizzzzzle.

American Neolithic

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Some of the rocks at America’s Stonehenge,
Photo by 
Stan Shebs, via Wikipedia

These words are heavy,
even those that have no weight.
A the or feel, for instance.
I have to drag them from
that deep pit of rubble,
whence they come out
rough and shabby.
Sometimes they stay that way,
these words with which
I build fences and houses,
because I’ve never learned
the polisher’s skill. I can fit and cut
to make a strong wall,
one sturdy enough to hide behind,
but not defend myself.
Today, I hauled up another block
of my quarry to build a cathedral
called a novel. Hope someday
I can erect a Stonehenge at least.

Today, I restarted working on my dream project, a long form work centering around the battles of Saratoga and a young woman named Trish Bodden’s role in the run-up and aftermath of those early autumn days of 1777. As you can see, I find this backbreaking work. But I’ll get to my Stonehenge, Brit or Yankee, someday.

Saturday Shinny

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A group of boys picking teams for a game of shinny, Sarnia, Ontario, 1908.
Photo by John Boyd, via Wikipedia

Criss-crossed with lines
and white as an old man’s face,
the pond ice teems with life
more buoyant than on a July day.
But this February morning
the crick-crack of tree limbs
in the breeze is echoed by
the click-clack of the boys’ sticks
in a game of shinny. Along
the snowy shore, girls call
for their turns on the ice,
while little ones stagger and fall
in someday attempts to be
like the big boys. I wander by,
cheeks red and eyes glistening
and feel my feet flying with
that good freeze again,
zooming down left wing, deking
Mike into the bushes, skimming
a puck into that box of branches.
Then my foot slips and I
fall to knees like one of
those six-year-olds.
That’s when I recall I never did
get the hang of staying upright
for long on my blades those
winter Saturdays, when the pond
was etched like the face I took
a different kind of blade to
just this morning.

It Makes No Difference

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Most of the guests had arrived and were getting into buzzy beat of Jen and Phil’s Valentine’s Day Eve party when the dull pounding started.

“What the hell s that?” Jen’s friend Laurie said, raising her eyes to the ceiling.

Jen said, “Oh, that’s old Manny Blue, the guy upstairs. Whenever we have some get together, or put on some music to…”

“Get busy,” Phil jumped into the conversation, laughing.

“Phil! You know what I mean Laurie. Whenever we’re what Manny thinks is loud, he bangs on his floor and we turn our music lower. Sometimes actually hear him saying ‘Turn it down.’ But not tonight. Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Valentine’s Day with our friends and if Manny has a problem, he can damn well come down to the party and tell us. Maybe loosen up the old crank.”

Nevertheless, Phil turned the stereo down just a notch, which none of their friends seemed to notice, and the pounding slowed and then stopped. After that, the party continued until past midnight.

In the morning, as Jen and Phil picked their way through orange juice, leftover pizza and aspirin for breakfast, they heard it. Above their living room they heard a dull thump…thump..thump.

“What the fuh..?” Phil said.

“We’re not playing the stereo and the TV’s off, God knows,” Jen said and rubbed her temples. “What’s his problem?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go up and settle this with the old bastard once and for all. Shoulda talked about this long ago, if he’d ever come out of his damn apartment.”

Phil climbed the stairs two at a time to the floor above, with Jen slowly following behind him.

When they reached Old Man Blue’s apartment door, they heard the sound of music coming from inside. An electric guitar picked single notes and a quavering voice sang, Without your love, I’m nothing at all. Like an empty hall, it’s a lonely fall…

And then they heard thump…thump…thump and a low moaning and plaintive, “Turn it down, make it stop.”

Phil knocked on the door and said, “Manny” Mr. Blue? It’s Phil Hoover from down in 2B. We gotta talk.”

From inside came the sound of a chorus singing, And the sun don’t shine anymore. And the rains fall down on my door. Then, thump…thump, and “Please turn it down. Please go away.”

“Phil, something’s wrong in there,” Jen said. “Try the door. Try the door.”

Phil turned the knob and found it unlocked. When he opened the door, he saw the back of a sofa, an old stereo like his dad’s beside it, a disc of black vinyl spinning away on its turntable. As they moved into the room, they saw a hand with bloody fingers lift the arm and place it back down onto the record with a scratchy buzz and thup.

Hurrying toward the sofa, they looked over its back and saw the cardboard sleeve that read Northern Lights – Southern Cross, a circle of letters, cards and old photos on the hardwood floor and, in the middle of it all, Manny Blue, kneeling, his forehead bleeding.

For the sixth time since the preceding night, a man named Rick Danko began to sing It makes no difference where I turn. I can’t get over you and the flame still burns. It makes no difference, night or day. The shadow never seems to fade away… Manny Blue, a lonely man who once knew love, lowered his head to the floor one, two, three times. Then he whispered, “Please make it go away.”

A very quickly penned Hesch-style Valentine’s Day story. A poem is on the way…honest.

The Open Gate

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“Did you not set a guard or lock the stockade gate?” The Fort Orange commander asked Simon Schermerhorn, wincing as a surgeon bound up his wounded leg, of the massacre at Schenectady the night before.

“It was so cold, sir, and we had sent out Mohawk scouts to forewarn us if any French or their native allies were coming, so we felt safe and…not exactly,” Schemerhorn said, dropping his chin to his chest and sipping more hot rum to warm him from his freezing cold ride along the Mohawk River to Fort Orange.

Outside, the wind blew the deep snow, almost obscuring the trees from the guards set along the fort’s western stockade, the one facing the place named for Mohawk phrase for “beyond the pines,” where a French and Indian raiding party might be lying in wait to attack after sacking the village, killing many inhabitants still in their night clothes and carrying off many captives.

“With all that potential for attack and wiping us all out, what do you mean, ‘Not exactly,’ Herr Schermerhorn?” the commander said.

“Well, sir, it was horrible cold and we were feeling fairly safe, waiting to hear from our scouts, so we left the stockade open and did set a guard of…two,um, snowmen,” Schermerhorn said, wincing again, but not in pain.

With a slight simplification and distillation, here is a conversation between Simon Schermerhorn and the military commander of what would one day be my hometown, Albany, New York. On the night of Feb. 8, 1690, Schermerhorn escaped the massacre of the village of Schenectady and, wounded in the leg, set off on horseback through the snow and cold, following the Mohawk River east, to warn the garrison at Fort Orange. Legend has it the authorities in the village were feeling safe that night and indeed did set a guard at the open gate of two snowmen. This five-sentence fiction was inspired by the anniversary of that night and Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, OPEN.

Overlooking the Obvious

I’m open to your suggestion,
I said to the sky.
And the wind replied with a sigh,
giving me the cold shoulder
and a shivering, withering brush-off.
I’m willing to look at things
in a new light, I told low winter sun.
She blinked behind a wisp,
a sky-borne snow scarf,
ducked behind a gray curtain,
making shadow puppets
of the passing clouds.
C’mon, Nature, fill me
with inspiration,
I whispered to the cardinals,
these pennants adorning
skeleton maples.
An empty mitten oak leaf
scurried across virgin snowpack
to its slushy demise.
And Nature said, “I just did.”