Liberty Has Fallen

I knew her when I was younger,
she’d smile at me every morning
when we’d stand and talk to the flag
and the cross. She was so pretty,
adventurous and friendly,
the American Supermodel-in-training
who helped all the kids, even new ones
who transferred in.

Big boys mistook her friendliness,
twisting it into an unspoken promise
of a good ol’ time. They took her
in indulgent shows of power and possession.
When we were older, they perverted her,
trotted her around, showed her off,
gave her a new face, boobs and name.
My friend Freedom became Liberty,
and Liberty became so addled in the end,
she’d do whatever the big guys wished.

I barely recognized her in her obit.
You may have missed it, being so busy
doing whatever it is they let you do.
I’m told they laid her next to her mom,
who men used and scarred until she
was unrecognizable, too.

I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to Kellie Elmore’s prod based on a picture called “Fall of Liberty.” But, a free-write is always there for discovering what you didn’t know before you wrote it. It’s a weak metaphor, but this is what I came up with.

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Friday, the 22nd

Cronkite announcing the death of President Ken...

Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There we were. Sheila and Kathy, smug in their green uniform jumpers, and I with my little clip-on St. Patrick’s Institute tie, the peak of eleven-year old intelligentsia, pitting our burly, burgeoning cerebra against one another and the English language in a battle over who could correctly align letters into concepts that would register as building blocks of discourse in futures irrevocably altered that afternoon by a knock on the classroom door and a whispered exchange between Sister Mary Someone and Mother Superior The Other.

With a face as starkly white and stiffly starched as her wimple—in the middle of calling off the spelling contest, which I was a lock to win, and a throat-catching, out-of-nowhere, low and left Our Father kick-off of a rosary session, something usually reserved for May—Sister told us. All around the classroom, the kids wrestled with confused tangles of thoughts and rosary beads because this was November, a week until Thanksgiving, another odd weekday stuffed with prayer, and Presidents never were shot.

Then the girls began to cry. Staring dully at his desktop, Dennis Mullin turned his dark face sideways to me in its usual position of conspiratorial whisper. This time he breathed a confused statement of a boy of twelve’s coming to his best conclusion, “There’s gonna be a war.”

And, sure enough, there were wars to follow, some of us even grotesquely baptized in them, but not over this. Not a shoooting one, at least. Just wars of jockeying conspiracies Dennis would never dream in his most imaginative moments. These wars were fought with tawdry syllogisms that would arc over the horizon, blaze for a second and then fall to darkness, fewer and fewer over the next half-century.

The nuns sent us home to weepy moms only a few minutes earlier than usual that Friday, after they received word the President had died. They followed us out of school and I looked back from across Central Avenue and saw their faces, framed in their black veils and habits, shining mostly white in the cold afternoon sun. Most of them clutched tissues to their red noses and eyes as they filed into St. Patrick’s, like it was a Good Friday or something.

And, as would be the case for most of the next fifty years, I wandered around, numb to anything but that calm, cold voice within me poring over the information I’d sucked in. All that night and for the next few days I also listened to Uncle Walter’s sad but consoling voice feed me more news from that wooden box with the window of grainy moving newsprint.

At first I had to wrap my head around the fact a cool young President had been shot and killed by what they said was some sad sack Commie mook with a black eye. And then, on Sunday morning, the only person sitting in front of the TV at the time, I witnessed the very real murder of that mook by a better dressed one who all the cops knew. I even heard one say his name…Jack.

That was all kind of a weird final punctuation for me, really. A period rather than an exclamation mark. Some dark nothing of a Jack killed the even lesser nothing of a guy with three weird first names who they say killed the sparkling Jack with the killer smile and Givenchy-draped wife.

Done.

I felt cheated that there would be no fair-is-fair end to the game, like my spelling bee on Friday afternoon. No logical finality where the good guys would eventually win and the bad guys sent to their seats. I know that sounds cold, especially for an eleven-year old, but that weekend the whole world turned very black and white to me, not just what I saw for days and weeks and years thereafter on the TV. Even when we got the color RCA.

I read the next day my Giants lost to the Cardinals by a touchdown in the vacuum of that Sunday. And the newspaper confirmed some new theories I developed over the weekend. First, if I ever was asked to spell it— though I never was— there are two groups of double S’s in a-ss-a-ss-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. And second, the lives of millions of people can drastically change in the time it takes a bullet to fly 265 feet. Or even two.

The newspaper never did run a story about how lives changed for any, or even one, of those sixth-graders in the time it took to open a softly knocked door.

So I do.

The Last Hunt ~ A Story

Dogfight

Dogfight (Photo credit: Lens Envy)

A Five Sentence Fiction

That red aeroplane with a yellow nose and tail whips past Cecil Lewis and I take chase as it twists and dives, heading into the clouds, and I know he can’t shake me. 

I recognize the flash of the setting sun on the pilot’s goggles when he glances fearfully over his shoulder at me, as I fire burst after burst into his scout, watching him drop below me and knowing he’s done. 

The craziness and blood lust that overtakes me at such times ebbs away and I break through the clouds, seeing from my altimeter that we’ve dove to only 200 feet. 

But why are the clouds in the wrong place, still below my wings?

The whirling disk in front of me fades away and I see the top of my propeller blade, vertical like that stalactite church steeple hanging down in front of me, and then…that great noise.

Here’s a Five Sentence Fiction using Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word BLADES. It’s a reworked piece of an old short story I wrote, titled Albert Ball Flies Home.

Flowers for the Diva

The ghost bike sits on the corner
where the angel flew away
with the diva beneath her wing.
It wasn’t a peaceful departure.
It was harsh and abrupt in its sweep
and finality,
not like when an angel waits by a bedside
for weeks. This time it came with
the crash of a minivan into a bicycle,
leaving behind a story for cops to write
in white on black.
That’s how I read it the next day
and for weeks thereafter.
Even after the snows came and went,
I could still see where the angel left her halo,
coming and going as fast as she did.
And I still could see the shadow of
of her life there within that halo,
not shiny and dark like on that June morning,
but just as dark in my heart, there next to
the white bicycle and the flowers for the diva.

On June 6, 2007 Diva De Loayza died in a tragic accident near my home. Mollie and I passed the police accident investigation lines on our morning walk the day after and every day for months. Those lines, and the young woman’s blood on the blacktop, affected me for years.

Today, on the anniversary of her death, I “wrote it out”

Last Blue Sky of Summer

The North Tower after the fall of the South. (Photo: Lyle Owerko)

The North Tower after the fall of the South.
(Photo: Lyle Owerko)

The night of my forty-ninth birthday,
I pulled the covers over a part
of my life I knew was ending.
The next morning would be the first
on the path to my autumn,
when everything about life would change.
I awoke to a morning sky
of such infinite azure beauty,
so clean of cloud and worry
that I made a forever memory of it,
something I could carry
in my gray remaining years.
Mercilessly, my memory sky
was smeared by flame and smoke,
by dust and tears.
And soon I realized the selfish dread
I hid behind sleepy eyes
the night of that September 10
would haunt me for all my days.
Always, I’ll feel a sting in my eyes
when I think of that
last blue sky of summer.

(Photo by Lyle Owerko, New York Magazine.)

A Rising Sunset

Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011 (Photo credit: Kasper Nybo)

In a land named for a growing celestial light,
it was earth itself that heaved upon it
the sudden shaking darkness.
The wasted land awakened a frightened ocean
that ran crying to its mother,
pushing people further out of reach
of their rising sun, never to see its light again.
Always the darkness can become darker,
and though fear shortens arms,
we must never fear to embrace
even the dusk when we may.

I wrote this poem two years ago for my friend, poet Heather Grace Stewart’s Poets for Tsunami Relief one-week blogzine of poetry on her website Where the Butterflies Go. That’s so Heather.