Wishful Thinking

Wistful thinking,
blissful blinking,
ignorant blissing,
like promiscuous kissing,
brings infectious diseasing
and needless deceasing.
So you do you, Tovarishch,
but right now there’s no bar which,
to the sound of glasses clinking,
you can do any wishful drinking.

So what shall we do
to survive, me and you?
Keeping hope and us alive
is a goal for which I strive.
But is it too much a task
won by merely donning a mask,
or cooping down in my cellar
keeping you distant from this feller?
I pray one day we’ll touch again,
I have no idea where or when,
but just like all the other lonely men
I live to make it to that unknown “then.”

I’m so down and F’d up by these days of sickness and strife, I can’t rub two words together that have any meaning. Not even, and most especially, to me. But if I don’t even try to do what somebody put me on earth to do, why bother leaving the basement for light and air? So here you are. One hundred or so unmasked words infecting one another and me. Now excuse me while I check the furnace filter again for the third time today.

Shelter From These Storms

Rabbit’s a patient boy, who cares not
that it’s Saturday as he hunkers
beneath the porch next door
until the rain lets up.
Cats or coyotes around here
eschew attacking rabbits in the rain
unless they’re starving. Otherwise,
it’d be cruel, and cruelty’s not Nature’s game.
That’s the domain of the allegedly
dominant creature of the planet,
the silly species that will put up with,
hell stand out in the middle of,
the storm as long as they can
stuff their mouths and
fluff their nests with more clover?

But rabbit doesn’t know this,
nor does he care. This rainy Saturday’s
just another “whatever” rabbits
discern as days. I doubt if he understands
it’ll be dark later. Or that the light
will return on that thing we call tomorrow.
Rabbit just cares that he’s
out of the rain and he’s sitting
in a salad bowl full of clover and his buddy
the robin just plopped next to him.
And, as I sit here in the house, I whisper
“Thanks, Rabbit,” for the momentary shelter
he’s given me today. I pray someday
my storms will let up, too.

Ya know? Sometimes Nature will get up on its hind legs, reach out a paw or wing and save me from myself and the storms besetting me. If only for the time I can write about those rabbits, robins and their rainstorms.

In the Canyon of Our Echoes

For years and years
and years and years
I’ve chronicled the echoes
of my woes and yours,
I’ve given voice to
the oohs and ahhhs,
the sniffs and sobs,
I hear with an ear
no one can see.
But I’m tired.
Tired, tired, tired,
retired and re-retired.
I know there’s joy out there
because I can hear
the giggles of little ones,
see the smiles of those
who think they know love
in this moment when I sense
I’m going deaf, blind and,
perhaps, speechless.
Yet there’s hope in this
canyon of our echoes…
because at least
I can still feel.

I just realized how long I’ve chronicled expressions of our emotions, over and over and over again. And I’m so, so tired…but still willing.

Full Circle

“What do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, his benevolent demeanor, but with a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe.

You never think about making the ultimate decision for someone you love. You divert yourself with other thoughts. What’ll the family say? How can I face myself after this?

“There’s no coming back for her,” the doctor said. But there’d be no coming back for me, either.

You stand still for that second, three heartbeats replacing the one normally filling that space.

“Okay.” My throat locking in that word and out the air.

The doctor does what he does. Then we wait. Not long. But a whole life together in an instant. She closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and… Gone.

But in that instant everything changed. All from one second of indecision to decision.

I had to make the same decision for my Dad, a year later. Everything comes full circle, they say. But you don’t want on this ride more than once.

I’m sure the weepers thought me an unfeeling bastard. The doctor gave the same rap about no coming back, for the best, no-resuscitate order. Then…

“Well?”

In that second, the guy for whom agreeing to have his dog put down changed everything, nodded and said, “Okay, Let’s do it.”

Then I began to breathe again, as others began sobbing. They could never make this decision. But, like I said…in less than a second…changed everything.

I’d cry later.

All The Questions Behind Our Masks

If you could hear my voice,
would you know who I am?
If you could see only my eyes,
would you just shrug and move on?
You, who notice so much, how would
I stand or walk or scratch
my nose that’d signal I’m
the one standing before you?

I only ask because years and tears
take their tolls, and to chase life,
we now wear masks to jump the stiles.
Would I recognize you, if you
covered half your face?
Your smile, once so infectious,
would retain some anonymity
and protection from me, though
your laugh might break through
as if shrouded only by Salome’s
diaphanous veils.

Would I recognize those pools
of sadness or of anger cascading
over your protective wall, as well
as your mask? It doesn’t matter.
Apart is our part in how life goes on,
and happy face to face need only
happen where there are no masks
and distance is dissolved in time
and the dark mask-drop of dreams.

The Visions of Henry At-the-Water and He Pounds With His Left Hand

Frances Canyon Pueblito ruins, New Mexico. Photo by T. Mietty, June, 2007.

“Another twenty, twenty-five,” Hank Atwater said as he counted the tufts of white drifting on the edge of his property, lonesome as clouds in the late-spring New Mexico sky. 

“They must be dropping like flies,” he said as he scanned the scattered sheep herd. 

“I know. Reminds me of the shipping fever we got back when I was a little one in aught-nine, but they was beeves,” his son Chet said with a chuckle.

“You think this is funny, Chester Mateo?” Hank’s eyes flashed beneath the shade of his sombrero. 

“No sir, I was just comparing how they’re all fine on Tuesday and dead on Thursday.” Chet had learned the hard way that hearing his father use his proper name followed by the baptismal name his mother gave him was akin to the warning of distant thunder. A storm could be coming.

“These ain’t cows we’re talking about, boy. And it ain’t these stinking, bleating blankets on the hoof, either. These are real people, despite what your grandfather would have you believe. And they been here a hell of a lot longer than he was. Even longer than your mama’s supposedly conquering Spaniard ancestors,” Hank said. He would’ve spit if he could work some up in his mouth.

“If these Navajo keep dying off like this, there won’t be any more sheep or wool or people living out here. And if there’s no people, then all you see is the flat nothing you can’t see in an old painting. No spirit, no soul. And if they can get sick, that means we can, too. You understand that, Chet?”

“Yes, Pa. I get it. But how’re you gonna stop these blanket-heads, I mean these folks, from getting sick? Or makin’ us sick?”

“That, Chester Mateo, is the problem. No one knows. Yet.”

Hank spurred his horse east, but veered off the main trail toward the edge of the Navajo reservation, toward the hogan of his friend Klah Etsiddy. Etsiddy’s family lived beneath an old pueblito tower of adobe bricks and mud. Normally, Hank would know his friend was home by the smoke coming from the smithy his grandfather built within the pueblito after The Long Walk from Arizona.

As they rode nearer, even Chet was aware something was different. All he heard was the wind. By now, he should be hearing the ring of Etsiddy’s hammer on his anvil, turning red-hot iron into tools or horseshoes. His father broke the silence as he spurred his horse into a lope toward the hogan, from which no smoke rose either.

“Lefty, you here?” Hank called out his friend’s nickname as he jumped out of the saddle. In the Navajo language, Klah Etsiddy meant He Pounds With His Left Hand. 

As Chet reined up, he saw his father approach the front of the house, then stop short a couple of yards from the entrance as a figure emerged from the shadows in the doorway. 

“Come no closer, Henry At-the-Water,” Etsiddy said. “I wish you well, my friend, so I ask that you stay back from my home. The evil spirit of your war against the Kaiser has invaded the Diné, I think.”

“Are you sick, Lefty? Is Johona all right? Your Mom, The kids?”

“We are not yet sick. But we are not attending the great healing ceremonies with other families because my mother is so feeble now. But you know she is a blessed medicine woman and a hand trembler. She had a vision that this great sickness was coming.”

“A vision? You’re kidding, right?” Chet said as he alit onto the hard-packed dirt in front of the hogan. AS he strode toward the doorway, his father roughly grabbed his arm.

 “Yes. She saw the saddle catch fire on the old horse’s back when was not near any flames. So we have eaten of that horse.”

Chet still couldn’t believe what he heard. “What?” he said as he scanned Etsiddy’s corral. “Out here in the middle of nowhere, no doctor for fifty miles. An old grandma and kids. And you ate one of your only ways of getting help?” Chet asked. Hank shot him another of his thunderstorm looks.

“My mother knows what to do, Chester At-the-Water. I took one of my other horses to warn my neighbors, but they aren’t so…accepting of Mother’s gifts. So we will stay here and follow the old ways.”

“Pa, I can’t take anymore of this blanket-head hocus-pocus shit. I’m gonna start for Gallup. I’m stopping at the Jennings’ spread on the way.”

“I would feel a lot better if you went right home, Chet. Your Mom might be needing you until I get there,” Hank said. But, with a squeak of leather and of huff of breath from his mount, Chet was already in the saddle and headed to his girlfriend’s father’s ranch.

“I swear. That boy will be the death of me, Lefty.”

“He is young and has not found his way yet, Henry. He needs guidance and knowledge of the spirits inside him and around us.”

“He needs a swift kick in the ass is what he needs. So what is it you and your family really gonna do, Lefty? I worry about you out here.”

“Mother said we should be safe. She was taught by her grandfather who was a great hatalii during other such sicknesses. We have seen illness as bad as this before.”

“I don’t know, my friend. The doctors still don’t know what this thing is or where it really came from. Some say France, where they were fighting the war. Some say Kansas, where we trained boys to go fight there,” Hank said, pushing the brim of his hat back.

“As I said, Henry, any way you look it is the evil shadow of that war begun this sickness, as sure as the many rivers like the webs of spiders are born of one, Tółchíʼíkooh, the river you call Colorado.” 

Well, just the same, if I didn’t know you and the Diné as you taught me, I’d haul you back to my place, just to be closer to a doctor.”

“Henry, I am already closer to any doctor than you are. She sleeps on the other side of my hogan,” Etsiddy said with a chuckle.

“What’s she sayin’ to do?” Hank said.

“We are now supposed to stay away from others, keep our life force close within us. After today, I will not see you until this is over or in the next life. I only leave the hogan to go to the pueblito or to tend the animals. We will pray and keep ourselves clean. Mother says I should not go to my forge because it will make my hands too dirty.”

“She wants you to keep your hands clean? How the hell…?”

“Yes, it is what she was taught. We have many things to do. The children will learn from Mother, Johan and me more in the next weeks than they would in many months. This illness could be a good thing for my family.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, compadre, but I learned a long time ago not to pooh-pooh the teachings of the Diné elders. They proved too right too many times. Hell, you’re all still here, aren’t you?”

“Many won’t be after this, Henry. I have cleansed myself in a great sweat and seen this in a vision, too. I pray you take Mother’s warning to heart for yourself and your family. Keep close to home. Keep clean. Stay happy. Pray. That’s the best way I can explain it to…”

“A white man?”

Both men laughed.

“Well, Yá’át’ééh, Klah Etsiddy, my friend. You keep well, okay?”

Yá’át’ééh, Henry At-the-Water. I hope to see you when the sickness is gone.”

But Hank Atwater and Klah Etsiddy did not see one another again.

Hank decided to adhere to his friend’s mother’s advice, but his son did not. That day, Chet stopped off at the Jennings’ place where his girl, Alice, was nursing a tickle in her throat. With a peck on the cheek, he left for home.

In a week, she was dead. 

In ten days, so were Hank Atwater and his wife. But, for some reason, not Chet.

When word of his friend’s death reached the hogan of Klah Etsiddy, the Navajo blacksmith arose from listening to his mother teach his children about how the Diné Bizaad continued to survive in this difficult land over the centuries. His children kept her alive she told her son many times. 

“Even with all our prayers and Mother’s knowledge, the great illness took my friend. But I will always believe Henry At-the-Water had a vision of his end,” Etsiddy said to his wife. 

“He always told me Young Chester Mateo At-the-Water would be the death of him.”

Man, I’ve been aching to write one of my Western stories for months. Who knew that the Coronavirus pandemic would be the impetus for one? Upon rereading it, I believe certain spirits have whispered to me how I might grow this tale into something greater. Nevertheless, I wished to share this infant story with you at this time.

Oh, and I did my usual quick and nerdy research for this this story. The Navajo did, as they are with COVID-19, suffer horribly with the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. But, anecdotally, some families were not touched so severely. And Edittsy’s mother prescribes how they say they did.

 

Engraved In the Alloys of Praise

It’s not that I sought my name on the wall,
yet seeking it was what I found myself doing
one afternoon. I just never sought my name
on the wall while I was doing what allegedly put it there.
I’m just past the middle of the big varnished board,
in the school entrance hall, gold letters engraved
in now-tarnishing brass. And while I’m surrounded
by others who didn’t seek praise, to me,
their names shine brighter than mine.
At home I have more planks on my wall, each with
my name spelled correctly on their plates of praise.
I don’t look at them much. They’re just part of the wall
on most days, covering nail holes that’ll need replastering.
Though, yes, I am honored somebody thought enough
of something I did to recognize it one night
with a nice piece of wall decor.

I’ve learned that this hardware kind of praise is a lot like
somebody’s wake when they die.
More for the living than the dead.
More for that moment of giving than the day after receiving.
More for the engraving than the dusting off.
Better remembered for the day you crushed your thumb
with a hammer than on the day they take your name down.
You cannot capture praise in an alloy of copper and zinc.
Praise is an expression of the moment, an alloy of love
and respect. It’s the warmth of a hand on the shoulder,
the melding of my fist with yours, a hug.
Brass accepts heat like that, too. But it gets cold faster.
You can’t hang a hug on the wall, though. Much the pity.

On this rainy last day of NaPoWriMo Poem-a-Day April 2020, I was tasked with writing a “praise” poem.  All hail to the poets who brought so many poems to ground over the past 30 days. I’d give you all a hug, but you’ll have to settle for this room temperature video screen. 

Total Failure

Where humans are concerned,
there’s no such thing as perfect,
no total either. The problem is,
most of us are totally convinced
there is.
See?
Maybe that’s why we love all
to express the notion of “all.”
“I’m with you 110%,”
said the eager beaver, who’s
0% a beaver but is,
ummm,
allegedly, totally invested
in whatever he’s with you about.
Am I sure? Not 110%, not even 90%,
but I’m fairly sure.

When someone says they’re
totally in love with another
someone, (You know, “She’s
perfect!”) that’s really
a manifestation of
a pheromone-besotted brain
(honest, the heart’s part in this
is a poetic construct).
But isn’t it nice to think
of “total” in this context
rather than such affronts
to word nerds as:
“totally destroyed,” “sum total,”
or that singular affirmation
of a bygone era “Totally!”?

So why do we use a word having
such little basis in actuality?
Maybe it’s because we humans
would like things to be total.
Some word has to capture life
filled to the brim, Nature
abhorring a vacuum and all.
I’d like to think my love
is total for those closest to me.
As is their’s for me.
But we’re humans, pretty much
incapable of certainty or
perfection, so there’s going
to be some wiggle room.
The smaller the better, though.
I’m sorry. I’ve totally wasted
your time with this total failure
of a poem. Rest assured, friend,
I’m totally done now…

No, now that I’ve totaled
250 words I am.

Day 29 of April’s poem-a-day caravan. Today’s effort had to take the word “total,” add something to it to make a title and then write something to that title. And I do consider this spew a failure, so I’ll try again this afternoon.

The Way of The World

My way out ahead is so, so foggy,
in a handful of steps I might meet a wall.
But, my steps these days are so, so wobbly,
before I hit any bricks, I’d probably fall.

Yet behind me, the path is no clearer,
blurred by time, broken walls, and ghosts of sighs.
Backward’s too much like a look in a mirror,
It’s fogged, too, but mostly by all my lies.

So what do I do? Look forward or back?
Seems each way is its own bad direction.
I guess I could stand here with my jaw slack,
and claim I’ve reined in for some reflection.

But I know the truth. Maybe you do, too.
Life’s just a foggy game of hide and seek.
If you must move on, here’s advice for you:
The Way ain’t forward or back. It’s oblique.

Day 28 of NaPoWriMo/Poem-a-Day called for a “look back” or “don’t look back” poem. I kind of chose both.

As Big As That, As Small As This

When I close my eyes,
I can see you clearly.
Not from a distance, like
from all these years away,
but as if you were standing
right in front of me.
And if you really were here,
I’d still not see you,
not as you are, since
I’d be looking through
my glass with the rosy hue.
The one that magnified everything
about you into massive things.
Colossal, monumental, unrealistic.
That’s obsession for you.

I always thought you saw me
through that glass, too,
only from the other end,
where I looked so small.
Diminutive, unimpressive, quixotic.
I never did see you as you are,
a deep and complex forest,
rather than an array of pretty trees.
Too bad I believed the trees,
who saw a pesky weed.
You never were as really big as that,
and I never really as small as this.
So we never really were, were we?

Day 27 called for a “massive” poem. I don’t have the wherewithal today to put together some Homeric monster epic. Nor even an abridged version. And you don’t have the time to devote to reading it. Wait for my book. So here’s an equally fictive piece about how we can blow the normal up out of proportion, as well as diminish it into a gnat. Get rid of that rosy glass, y’all. Left out in the sun, it’ll burn everything down.