Cuckold of the Balm of Hurt Minds

I cannot fight you anymore,
you’ve whittled away
my strength and resolve,
you’ve perverted my instincts
for self-preservation.
I thought it was merely
my obsessions, as much
a part of me as breathing,
my thoughts of this or that,
of her or another her,
that trimmed the ends
off my healing time between
lights-out and pre-dawn awakening.
But it was something stronger
than even the reins of any
preoccupation with the regret,
the maybe and the unattainable
that are killing me in the
too-short, too-broken time
from when I close my eyes and
the few hours until you rip them
open, unraveling this sleeve of care.
Oh, Sleep, why in these my
final days have you forsaken me,
taken your warm caress and
healing gifts from my bed
as would a cheating lover.
I knew you’d become a harridan,
but not, as well, a heartless harlot.

Sleep has returned to her position as the “ossessione di tutte le ossessioni,” the paramount obsession of all my many obsessions, in this miserable dead-man-walking life. The reasons for her desertion are many, but the results are the same—disjointed jeremiads written at 4:45 AM after maybe five broken hours of pathetic toss and yearn, when my brain is firing off short-circuiting sparks I cannot suppress nor control, other than to chronicle this broken relationship I have with a third of my days. This “death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast,” as another poet once wrote.

Working At It

Ed Snyder laid on his back in the dark bedroom with uncertainty and a touch of anger lying on the pillow next to him. The sun peeked around the bedroom curtains and knocked on his locked eyelids with the persistence of a teenager’s mom. Begrudgingly, his peepers responded to the maternal illumination and his ears to the music of the cheepers dancing from one leafy party to another. Even the dust motes floated in amiable ambling through morning’s cataract of light flaring in the cataracts of his sight. His phone decreed it was 7:00 AM and he couldn’t remember of which day. They all had become the same in his lonely retirement. He thought these days would be like heaven but discovered it could be just like the lingering death of his final years on the job, when he would dream of all the things he’d do in his life when he retired and hadn’t started even one yet. The talking hairdo on the television said today was Thursday and he realized he’d reached what would have been the end of a week having accomplished nothing. Again. He shrugged on a jacket and stepped outside into the world. He whistled into the trees, joining their orchestra, and let the sun carry him along like a sentient and content dust fleck on this first day of his new job…Working at Living.

I think we’ll use this piece for Day 4’s shot at my Story-a-Day challenge. It’s written in the form of a prose poem (I guess) and it hits the right buttons in meeting the basic prompt for today from author LJ Cohen, a version of Writer’s Clue:  Mr. ___________ in the _________ room with a __________.

Appetites for Destruction

He didn’t make a sound,
at least not one I could hear,
but the ruckus this pest raises
was like a crack of thunder in my ear.
You’d see him ramble from the kitchen
to dining, and then living room,
looking for a crunchy snack,
without even a hiccup of doom.
I tried not to wince when
I saw his nonchalant mien,
but he’d come not only for dinner, but for
every other meal, even those in-between.
See, it isn’t the taste of sugar
luring this intruder into my house,
he relishes the wood it’s made from,
chewing holes into it like a mouse.
So a hit man I called,
my whole joint to festoon
with a taste-free spray, which
put my fears of collapse to rest soon.
I’m relieved my guest no longer will dine
all around me, my home to lay waste. He
also won’t provoke the dawn wall-hammering
woodpecker, who finds carpenter ants so tasty.
The moral here, friends, if a moral’s your trick,
is don’t be so naive as I, a city boy so thick
I bought a home made of what builders term “stick,”
instead of like my old place, constructed of brick.

For Day 27 of NaPoWriMo, I combined NaPoWriMo.net’s prompt calling for a poem exploring the sense of taste with Robert Lew Brewer’s word bank prompt. In the latter I was to use at least three of the following six words in my poem: pest, crack, ramble, hiccup, wince and festoon. Only three, Robert? You know me better than that.

Also, I’d like to extend my thanks to NaPoWriMo.net, who named yours truly as its featured participant today.

The Answer in a Flash of Morning Sun

I think I’ve passed right over the acme
of my life’s arc, through its payoff middle
and missed it. No Ansel Adams grand vista,
no temporal sweet spot in a man’s life
where he can stand and say to himself,
“Good job, you made it.” I no doubt was head-down
in a reverie about a what, a when, or worse,
a who.

I just looked up and out my window I see
jet contrails crisscrossing the dawn sky,
snaring the sun in a web of crystal near-nothing.
A robin’s sitting in the budding red maple
out front singing his love song. And between them
lies a vast expanse of nothing but . . .middle.
A vermillion-breasted sign of new life and
a silver nib etching across the sky the stories
of hundreds of souls, joined in this moment by
whatever I choose to link them.

More than some arbitrary marker signifying
the end of the Beginning or the beginning of the End,
I forgot the Now I’m in and how I choose to fill it.
Like that moment two disparate birds wrote
the story of my life in a flash of morning sun.

On Day 15 of NaPoWriMo, the middle of the month, I present this rather long discovery of where I am in my life. And, at this moment, the view is pretty good. Photo from out my window, by yours truly.

Sparking the Tinder of Unfulfilled Dreams

I once held almost religious
reverence for the enchantment of dawn.
How some metaphysical Firestarter
struck together his celestial
flint and steel out of sight
over the horizon. From that,
some great spark flew into
the dried ball of yesterday’s
unfulfilled dreams, setting them
aglow in smoky possibility,
shrouding the mystery of can I,
should I, why and why not.
I’d awaken to this magic
and breathe into the east,
to give flaming life to
the tinder of my today, this
communion of maybe with the
the solid kindling of certainty.
Now, dawn’s become the crawl
of horizon and me beneath Sun’s
unrelenting glare, wide-eyed,
unblinking and judgmental,
unlike serene Moon’s monthlong wink.
Staring at the birth of this morning’s
slow burn, I realized my dreams
will always be nothing more than
the fluff of Firestarter’s tinder
and dawn is another signal of
what’s left going up in smoke.

The Unblinking Moon at Dawn

Young woman looking at herself in the mirror
It was 5:45 AM, or so his old Honda’s notoriously inaccurate clock glowed, poking Ben to a more lucid wakefulness and the question of where the night had gone.

Even with the windows fogged from the warm breaths inside and the chill pre-dawn air outside, Ben could still make out Paula’s features by the light of the full moon hanging over the western horizon as they parked there at the overlook. Ben noticed how her face took on its own aura when she turned toward him in her sleep and the still-white moonlight caught something he hadn’t noticed before on her skin——an almost imperceptible dusting of fuzz.

For reasons even he didn’t understand, he found this discovery, and its prismatic phenomenon, both exciting and oddly disturbing, and he squirmed in his seat to more intimately examine this girl with whom he had been deeply, and apparently blindly intimate with since Friday night.

The sound of the squeaking leather driver’s seat stirred Paula from her slumber. As she turned toward Ben, she opened her eyes to find him staring closely at her face.

“Wha…? What are you doing?” she said as her eyes opened wide and heart raced as her first waking sight was Ben’s face not ten inches away, tilted to the right and staring with what felt like rapacious intent.

They both snapped into upright positions in their seats. Paula’s fear-startled eyes canting to a more severe expression.

“You scared the hell out of me. What’s your problem?” she said.

Ben, his own face grown red as if she’d caught him with her right hand, rather than red-handed, said, “Oh, um, I was…I mean, I just discovered…You have…I mean, in the moonlight, your face, your skin…um, stunning. I was transfixed by how beautiful you are.”

“Wow, thank you. Such fright and bullshit to wake to,” Paula said. The previously cream-in-a-saucer angelic tranquility of her face at rest had turned into a half-shattered mirror. One side serene, while its no-longer twin side clenched around a disbelieving eye.

“No, I’m serious. You’re just stunning. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.” Ben half-truthed.

“Ben, there’s no need to polish my ego and its connected parts. What were you staring at? What do you find so disturbing about my face that you wake me with this…this…inspection?” Paula said.

Ben turned and traced his finger around the leather-wrapped steering wheel, noting for the first time how its surface went from slick where his hands tended to grip it to soft in the spots he didn’t.

“Okay, but promise you won’t get mad. It only adds to my fascination with you.”

“What?” Paula said in a tone her English teacher mother would have called imperative more than interrogative.

“Your cheeks, your skin so soft and perfect, but…”

“But what?” Paula said, her hand flashing to cover her right cheek.

“Um, there’s a little bit of fuzz on them,” Ben replied.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Fuzz, super tiny hairs. I noticed it when the moonlight shined on your face. That’s all,” Ben said as he looked up at Paula’s face, though focused upon the area below her eyes.

“Are you telling me I have a hairy face?” Paula said, nearly shouting.

“No. No. I just noticed it because of the moonlight  and because I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You’re so….”

“Hairy? Like a guy hairy? Like I need a shave hairy?” Paula’s hand left her cheek and found an abrupt landing spot on Ben’s left cheek.

“No. Hell no. It’s just that I’m so fascinated by everything about you. Can’t get enough of you. You’re the most beautiful…”

“And hairy.”

“…girl I’ve ever met,” Ben said.

Through the car’s back window, sunrise cast its first rays on the couple, while the moon still hung in the western sky. The combined glows filled the car with a rainbow aura in which dust mites spun and tiny prisms of spit flew between Paula and Ben when she said, “Take me home now, Ben. I’m tired and want to go home. Now.”

“There. You see? I knew I should have lied and just said you’re so beautiful I couldn’t taker my eyes off you. Which is so true it almost hurts,” Ben said, still rubbing his cheek where Paula had left a rosy print of three fingers and her palm, almost magenta in the combined glow of the newly risen sun and tenacious evening moon.

“Home, please,” Paula said, only now with a catch in her throat. She turned her face away from Ben toward the window.

“Okay. I’m sorry if I offended you. Ben said. “It’s just that…” He stopped and gave a whisper of a gasp. In the morning glow, he saw the tiny blond hairs on Paula’s neck, running from the hairline of her stylishly cropped ‘do down into and beneath the collar of her blouse.

He saw her shoulders rise and fall rise and fall, rise and fall once he brought his focus back from that singular point to the whole girl.

“I’m sorry, Paula. Offending you is the last ting I wanted to do,” he said.

“Ben, please, before I get out and start walking,” she said and gave a slight snuffle.

Ben turned the key in the ignition and slowly pulled away from the spot where lovers gathered to share intimacy, lust and lies. Even lies of omission like the one Paula had wrapped in ego-stroking compliments the whole time she was with Ben that weekend.

She thought of telling him how, not once, had she appeared to notice, let alone mention, the extra lift in his left shoe, his tiny fingers, the way he snorted when he laughed, how his eyeglasses were so strong his eyes looked owl-like, almost twice their size to any observer, how his clothes were straight out of Miami Vice or how his manly bravado was cover for his true feelings of inferiority to other men.

No, she wouldn’t say anything until she quickly opened the car door and looked down on him like the moon at morning, when the lies she silently told in the night were stripped away and truth hurt like staring into the morning sun. She would only say “Good-bye” and “Thank you.” The she’d walk into her house, ascend to her bedroom slam the door behind her and sit to gaze at her newest imperfections in her make-up mirror for the better part of an hour.

It added one more to the list she chronicled each day that began with her too-close set eyes, how they were a muddy brown color she hid under blue contact lenses, how one side of her face was fatter than the other (something her mother noted when Paula was twelve), how weak her chin was, how one ear sat higher than the other, how large that freckle was above her lip, how her teeth still didn’t seem straight enough, how blatantly that tiny scar at the top of her left cheek stood out  framed by all that hair she could now clearly see under the make-up mirror’s circle of lights. Lights that stared flat, unblinking and stark upon her, like the Ben did and so, too, the face of the accusing moon at dawn.

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First draft of a story based on this photo prompt from Annie Fuller I used for my poem A Handshake of Penumbral Equilibrium.  My thanks to Annie for the little shove back into my chair.

A Handshake of Penumbral Equilibrium

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Dawn Moon Copyright © 2017 Annie

At the hour before sun
takes the celestial stage,
I’ll often rise and push aside
the curtains to face West’s
still-lit horizon.
Above the trees,
hangs proud Moon in
full-faced glare,
training its baleful stare
eastward, as if to dare
sun erase its moon-shadows.
Soon enough, East’s ember glow
stretches its lengthy fingers,
to mesh with West’s
in a handshake
of penumbral equilibrium.
The night things
of field and sky,
retire from Sun’s scrutiny.
They’ll repose until sundown
when fresh moonlight awakens
a new arc of insight,
illuminating all these
brightest nocturnal imaginings,
only I can dream.

A poem inspired by this photo by my friend Annie, as part of her weekly Writing Outside the Lines Challenge. I do my best work when the sun and moon meet in dawn’s penumbral equilibrium. Hell, even named my first poetry collection for that edge-of-shadow state of being.