The Winds Came Up Today

The winds came up today,
shaking the old man awake
when they tousled the curtains
across his drafty window.
The winds came up today,
bending the trees,
in full late-Spring flutter,
to wave their frayed flags,
some spitting out their whirligig seeds
to fly from there to there.
The winds came up today,
tipping birds in yawing flight
from the old man’s house
to the school, where
cheering kindergartners freed
their new butterflies
each from the safety of
its cracked chrysalis.
The winds came up today
in front of the old man’s house,
tearing away the tag
on the wheelchair by the roadside
which said, “Free, no longer needed.”
“The winds came up today,”
the nurse said to the old man.
But he already knew
after they whispered him
awake from the drafty window.
The winds came up today…
Only the winds.
Only the winds.

Among Many, Alone. Alone, Holding Many

It’s strange how a person
can sit alone,
lie in a lonely bed,
walk solitary in the woods,
wander by himself on city streets,
and not feel alone.
Though quite lonely.
Within his mind, that solitary soul
is beset by lifetimes of images,
regrets, sins, faces of loved ones
and those who never would be,
echoed voices behind those faces
expressing their hatred,
disgust, ignorance, ambivalence and
disappointment, and maybe encouragement,
trust, acceptance, friendship
and even a tad of love.
But probably not.
Around you a world whirls while
every person on it experiences
this same emotional maelstrom.
We are billions.
Yet why are so many of us
still alone among the countless?
Each of us is the center of our own universe
and the shell within which a universe
worth of questions without answers and
answers to questions we never asked
spin toward a black holes of loss.
Or is it a nebula of deliverance?

A Man Can Dream

His eyes were going,
but he said he didn’t mind
too much because he saw things
most clearly in the dark,
especially during those hours
he stared at the starless sky
of his bedroom ceiling.
His hearing was shot long ago,
owing to genetics and
a corresponding need to turn up
his headphones to 11.
But he heard the voice and music
no one else could hear in this dark.
His heart was failing him, too,
what with the stiffened scars
he hated to admit it bore.
Some were idiopathic etchings
of unknown origins, while others
marked wounds self-inflicted,
one way or another.
So now what? no one asked, because
no one heard him whisper through
life’s lightless vacuum.
Not even the one whose caress
he felt on his arm, his cheek,
his chest, when it was really
his own left hand in that meantime.
But a man can dream.

Red Ink

After lunch, lovely Mary the Secretary
returned to her desk, where a half-dozen
pink and red, foily and doily cards
stood at attention, like gate-mouthed swains,
each proclaiming at least $6.95
of their undying love and devotion.
On the center of her desk, though, lay
a folded sheet of blue-lined notebook paper,
one edge ripped into erstwhile wire-bound,
college-ruled lace. Red ink block letters
spelled out her name, and when she unfolded
the supine note, she saw a heart
and a message ooh-so-neatly written
in the same crimson hand:

I watch you sit alone,
listening to voices on the phone,
ponder if two heartbeats do echo
or mirror-beat as only one that’s let go.
But this is only a dream,
one many nights I’ve seen,
in which I’m not the me
by dawn’s light I see,
but one you’d wish hold you
how you’d want enfold you
on nights it’s your dream to
be held by one who dreams that, too.

At workday’s end, Mary shoved
the phalanx of craft paper professions
of infatuation into the wastebasket
beneath her desk. But she once more
read a note on her desk, gently folded it
and slipped into her purse.
With a winsome smile, she bustled
toward the door, idly saying “Good night”
to Just Jane two desks over.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Jane said,
as she waved and ducked back to filling
her spreadsheets. Mary never noticed
the red on Just Jane’s blushing cheeks,
nor the same color ink on her fingers.

Here’s the first of 2018’s Valentine’s Day (or anti-Valentine’s Day) poems/stories. In about thirty minutes, this one bloomed like a hothouse rose. It’s no American beauty, but it’ll do in a pinch. More to come in this year’s bouquet. (I hope.)

Restless

I didn’t know if she awoke before I did or I before she. I only know I could feel her eyes upon me.

Just not her touch.

“Yes, another restless night,” I said.

“No, you didn’t keep me awake,” I lied.

The ceiling did. Consciousness did. Worry did. Old truths did. Fantasies did. Longing did. Guilt did. I did. But I couldn’t tell her that.

“No, I didn’t know I kicked and thrashed all night,” I said. But the covers lying in disarray on my side told a different story. One where if looked as if I ran and swam and crawled my way across this No-Man’s-Land searching for somewhere to tuck in until the barrage lifted. But dawn lifted first.

I looked over at the clock and, as it has for the past weeks, it taunted me with a left-hand number less than six.

“I don’t know if I can make it today,” I said, sensing that sinking feeling in my chest again, an emptiness like it had been crushed dry. But I knew I had to get up and bump my way through another day, fighting off the sleep that never quite came last night.

“No, I haven’t dozed off again, just…gathering myself,” I said. I’d been locked in another bout of the woolgathering inattentiveness on the daydreams that substituted those I never had at night anymore. Night had become a wasteland of artillery flashes, reds and yellows and whites cutting through the darkness, after which the colors of days were smothered by the darkness of exhaustion.

“I wish I knew,” I said when she asked why I’d had another rough night. But she knew why as well as I did.

I took a deep breath, sighed it away like I’d sighed away another restless night, filling the room with wordless exclamations, near-silent calls for rescue. Sighed it away like I sighed away the covers on my side. Sighed it away like I would this day and the last and most likely the next.

But before I pulled myself from the ravaged percale plain upon which we lost another hope without a dream to support it, I kissed my fingers to reach out and touch her, to let her know one more time. But they came to rest upon her empty pillow with which I shared these nightly battles between damned consciousness and blessed oblivion.

My very short story for Day 19 of my May 2017 story-a-day challenge. No outside prompt today. Just a carryover from the poem I woke to at that ungodly hour again. These too-short, dreamless nights can kill you, but they also can inspire you to dreamy inspiration, too. Until you finally drop…

Close and Content

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You’d think otherwise, wouldn’t you,
but sleep has never come easy for me.
Not the tucked-in for the night sleep,
not the snuggled close and content sleep.
Mine is the toss and turn sleep,
the stare at the ceiling dark so long
my eyes adjust to see shadows you’d
never see. Shadows I don’t wish to.
I’d never wake you to tell what I see.
I can’t. If I reach right or left
all I can feel is empty.

Covers twisted and fallen, I turn over
and tell my pillow, but a pillow
will only echo what you lay upon it,
no spontaneity or warmth other than
what I put into it. And still,
sleep evades me, or teases me with
a veiled unconsciousness that lasts
maybe an hour or so, over and over.

So the thing I crave most
is the thing I most fear and despise,
something in the dark that pulls me under
and spits me back out like words
I never said except here. That might be
why sleep does not come easy for me
as it does for you. Because you sleep
just fine, right? Tucked in for the night
and snuggled close and content.

Another night, like so many other nights. Haven’t written about my bête noire in a long time. This morning I couldn’t help but. 

The I of the Storm

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How often I’ve waited for
this storm or that to lift
from my life! Just when I sense
the light breaking through all my
dark clouds, I realize a new one
always takes its place, carried by
the sighing breeze of my wishful desire,
maybe to see even one of the You’s
who’ve framed my life in lightning and gale.
It always felt like more than
the vast, baseless expectation of some
mooning teen sitting by the phone,
waiting for The One to call, if just once.
In a now-dim past, an early You
did, but only as a prank. Despite my
embarrassment and tears cried
within, my callow heart remained
unbroken, a green thing still,
ready for the future bending,
twisting, plaiting, drying,
dying, in a dry-twig SNAP
at the willing hands and
unwilling hearts of You
and You and You

and I.

This is the first of a couple of pieces I’m doing for my friend Annie and her blog, Writing Outside the Lines. This week, our friend Heidi Barnes submitted the prompt of using these words in the piece:  phone,  past,  storm,  twig,  light,  green. Nailed it here. Next comes a short story. Oh, and that photo up there is by yours truly.