Kind of Unkind

“The years have not been kind,”
we’ve often hear people mutter
when they maybe saw some starlet
from their youth on TV wordlessly profess
herself the victim of her excesses,
her exes,
and usually an excess of gravity.
But at least she’s still able to tell
the tales of those years
when they made sure she
always had the right light,
an ex who was the right height
(or at least his wallet was),
and access to the right might
to keep her in sight of a public
who one day wouldn’t notice
she’d disappeared like another day
into night.

I mention this only because I looked
at myself in such retrospect today,
side-eying the mirror,
taking the measure of the man as I might
someone I’d not seen in years.
I there found a guy with more tread
on his face than the figurative tires
upon which he’s bumped along his winding race.
But I’m only a victim of my overabundant daydreams,
always believing a shiny kind of something
lay out there for me, even if for years
most have been but unkind mirage.
Like the starlet, though, I’m still here
to tell, admittedly with not much gravity,
tales of years I one day hope to profess,
while not always kind, have been
in excess.

Yes, I’ve been away from all this for a while…and then I went took a month off to introduce myself to my newest granddaughter. And maybe a little to my ever-gloomy self. So, like that little shorty I spent June with, it’s time to start standing up, looking up, and maybe babble some new stories. Today was my first step. Yeah, I may have fallen, but I always get back up again, eventually.

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Carolina Blue

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

The sky claims the upper third of the view in the blue that bears its name. The bottom of the scene, the blue-gray roadway, stretches out ahead like the world’s longest pair of jeans, top-stitched in a Pass/No Pass yellow thread. It’s singing the sonorous song of tar strips against this Yankee’s tires. The middle ground belongs to the pines that curtain off everything to the right and left as if the hills had something to hide. This is the Carolina I observe that lies between a family stretched 700 miles apart. The road offers somnolent monotony and even comfort to a brain that whispers and wonders about what it thinks might lie ahead and what lies might’ve been left behind. The Honda reels in another semi and peels around it to clear the screen of clutter beyond the bugs who lost their own race from here to there. And just as you think closing your eyes wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all, a deer wanders from its place behind the curtain, stage right. It’s gray-beige coat gleams like a the head of a haloed saint in the golden hour now chiming on the gong of sun preparing to make its exit on a day you remember only in stops for coffee, gas, tolls and men’s rooms dressed in tiles foreign as Delaware is to Virginia. But then that eagle, big as a retriever, swoops across its Carolina blue highway and settles upon some scurrying critter who will scurry no more, and you realize there is more life going on around you than in all the lives you’ve lived and loved and lied and lusted and outlasted in your head since you started your sojourn. That’s when you realize here’s your exit and your journey is only just beginning.

I thought I’d combine a couple of prompts for Day #27 of my Poem a Day Challenge. The prompt was for a story poem, which used to be my stock in trade. Also, May 1st begins Story a Day May, which I enjoy playing in. Julie Duffy the doyen of Story a Day, suggested we crank out a warmup story of 100-1,000 words. So here is my free-written double-header piece to warm down from April and warm up for may. Not sure if it’s either a story OR a poem, but it’s written and that’s the important part.

It Happens Every Spring

The sun came out today like a bear from its winter cave, the air rushing to me fresher than yesterday and the days before that. For a moment or two, I wondered whether the weather had changed or I had. And I asked if you thought I was just another sap running freer in Spring, my coat open and without a hat? Maybe the Sun’s new angle past mere diagonal to the horizon blinded me to reality here at the third point of this seasonal triad?

“But you always get this way in the Spring,” I hear you say. “You get goofy and emotional and see the possibilities in things you want to see, here and there.” I have to admit, as I nod in grudging consent, there’s so much truth in what you’ve always told me, not only today. Then I smile, because, even through it all, deep down I guess you still kinda care.

And I look up to see your face smiling, but it’s in that cloud, up in the tree, in the puddles all around. “There you go again,” I hear, that unspoken tsk in your voice, though there’s no one but me here to make a sound.

Sorry for the delay, folks. I’ve been tied up with things other than writing for the past week. Actually, I was afraid it might be longer than that. Like forever. But I was inspired by a prompt from Julie Duffy at her Story-a-Day blog, which suggested trying to write a flash fiction story in the form of a sonnet. So this is my effort in Shakespearean sonnet form. Did you catch the (non iambic pentameter) abab cdcd ee rhyme scheme to the sentences?

She Was So Pretty When We Were Young

I knew her when I was younger,
she’d smile at me every morning
when we’d stand up in class and
talk to the flag and the cross.
She was so pretty then, adventurous
and friendly, the Supermodel-in-training.
She helped all the kids, even new ones
transferred in from other neighborhoods.
But some big kids mistook her friendliness,
for weakness, twisting it into some
unspoken promise of a good ol’ time.
They used her in indulgent perversions
of power and possession.

When we got older, those big kids
corrupted her, trotted her around, showed her off,
gave her a new face, new boobs, new persona.
My friend became so addled by all
of their push, prod and promises that,
in the end, she’d do whatever the big guys said,
even nod hollow-eyed when they lied about her.
I barely recognized her in her obit t’other day.
You may have missed it, being so busy
doing what they let you think you want to do.
I’m told they laid her next to her mom,
who men used, debased and scarred until
she was unrecognizable, too.

I wrote most of this poem, originally titled “Liberty Has Fallen,” almost four years ago. I based it on my friend Kellie Elmore’s prompt of a picture called Fall of Liberty, which I think was something like the one illustrating this marginally updated version. In four years, not much has changed. Maybe just the volume’s turned up.

The Starry Night

Tonight my warm chair wrapped
itself around me in a room
illuminated by a TV
and thoughts of Christmases
I missed, though albums
of photos prove I was there.
Over in the corner stands
the new Christmas tree,
bedazzled in ornaments
of new gold, like Hanukkah gelt,
and in old silver, shiny
and cold as a dead fish
on some frozen shore.
It has yet to be lit
for more than a minute since
that angel alit on its tiptop.
So I withdrew from my chair’s embrace,
crossing the room to plug it in.
But out the window, I saw how
the moon had risen above the trees
and how it ignited swirling breaths
of snow that danced in the dark
like Van Gogh’s stars over Arles.
And above them actual stars
roamed in their courses,
as if looking for Bethlehem
or maybe even Albany.
In that moment, with stellar
guidance from light that traveled
for two thousand years,
traveled past all those nights
I spent without any Sleep to knit up
my ravell’d sleeve of care, woke
warm memories of Christmases past.
Of winking lights in blue eyes
and glittering packages as full of love
as they were knitted sweaters.

Awake in a Flash

It wasn’t lightning nor thunder
that woke me last night.
though I’m certain it was
a flash of something bright.
And I think that’s what
made me sit bolt upright.

So I asked myself
“Could this all be a dream?”
‘Cause at night some things
may not be what they seem,
like seeing the face of an old lover
in the gleam of a high beam.

As I looked ‘round the room
thinking, “Well, now I’m awake,”
that same ache in my chest
started my hands to shake.
Yeah, this latest high beam gleam,
courtesy of that same old heartbreak.

Step Nine

There’s this guy who penned a story
he’ll never share with you.
It’s a tale of two people who
should have, but ultimately never knew

their true feelings for each other
but should have sensed them coming.
Not roaring like a freight train, but
maybe a funeral parade’s muted drumming.

In it he tells her how he’s sorry
for the way he let her down,
though she’s so hurt she’ll forever view
him as a vain and heartless clown.

But he was compelled to tell her,
to again open his scarred wounds,
to make amends for damage he’d done
so he could listen to the old tunes

that always brought to his mind an Us
where only a He and She existed.
And though he fought like hell to forget her,
some of the obsessive feelings persisted.

So he comes clean with his long story,
all of the wherefores and the whys,
of how he one day just disappeared,
bringing her to forever despise

the guy who always lent a sympathetic ear
and a strong shoulder she could lean on.
How he followed some “expert’s” orders
to break away from the damage he was so keen on.

It ends with him saying a last goodbye,
after listening to her side of their tale.
But you’ll never read this story,
that’s always been his white whale.

It’s something he fought for years
to get out of his crippled system,
but now that he has, he feels no catharsis,
only realization of this hard wisdom:

You can follow all the steps prescribed
to cure your crippling addictions,
but until you confess your failings to yourself,
your true stories are nothing but true fictions.

Just so you understand, my poem is only a free-written, first-draft creative exercise in storytelling and rhyme. What is it they say at the beginning of Law & Order episodes? “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.” However, feel free to run it on your mind’s big screen through whatever personal lens you wish. It’s yours now.