She asked me what it was like to live up there where it got Winter early and Spring so late. I had to sit for a second to remember. Even though remembering’s almost all we old guys do. Mostly what I recalled was the heat on my face and the chill on my back, like when I would chase the sirens and lights to those trailer fires, where someone’s whole life, and few lives themselves, would go up in a smoke so stinking it clings to my memory harder than it clung to my clothes back then. But the fires weren’t the recollection I was thinking of when she asked me. No, it was heat of your breath on my face and the icy chill of the known unknown coursing down my back and how they melted together and steamed within me ~ and us ~ that one night I’ll never forget.
We used to put tiny tablets, like Lionel locomotive aspirin, down the engine’s stack to make it puff out white smoke while it circled beneath our Christmas tree. But that was back when I was small enough to crawl beneath the real tree’s real branches that would stick me with its real needles while I rectified the inevitable headache derailments certain O-Gauge Casey Joneses always seemed to perpetrate when our Christmas train was rounding the turn behind the presents into the corner of the living room. I didn’t mind too much. It gave me a good reason to roll over again to look up the inside of the tree and get enveloped by the lights and delicate glass ornaments, the tinsel tickling my face like some Christmas angel I didn’t know I’d wish to feel until Christmases to come. Too bad I had to grow up and lose that feeling of being inside Christmas. I don’t have an electric train under my tree anymore and putting all the decorations up can be kind of a headache, but the other day I dropped a plastic ornament in the corner, and something moved me to crawl under my fake tree’s fake branches where the fake needles stuck me and, for a second, looking up at those twinkling lights felt like I was back inside Christmas again. Funny, before crawling out I decided to reach back further because somewhere in that corner I might find more Christmas to re-rail inside me.
I like the way you hold me when I try to speak to you, how your hands close ‘round what my fingers wish to express. I love how you might understand what I have to say, even though I’m not making a sound anyone but you can hear. Perhaps that’s because no one listens so closely to my clumsy, earnest efforts to let you know we’ll be all right. I blush when I see you looking at me so attentively the way you always have, parsing meaning from between my creases and lines that speak to you even when our eyes are closed. But mostly I love how you've always kept a place for me within the warm spot few have entered and even fewer you’ve let stay, even if what you hold, hear and see of me are just your feelings of my feelings.
Wednesday morning, the big doe stepped from the brush girding the stand of pines on the north side of the yard. She was a majestic dream of a deer. Grandest female I’ve ever seen, even hiding her beauty beneath that late autumn coat. Idling halfway across the yard, she stopped, brown eyes looking into mine as I froze in the kitchen window. This dull grey human in the headlights. I broke the connection, blinking loud enough I spooked her. Who am I kidding? She stopped to spook me. How she knew I was intently eyeballing her is probably the same superpower you have when I stare at you, even standing there in my imagination. You just know. So, just like that, soon as she knew I’d been whipped, she trotted the rest of the way into the southside shadows, disappearing with a shake of her tail and three four-beat cloppities of her hooves. And now you’re both shrouded in my forest, your own stand of memory within me. I hope you’ll come back around and see me, even in your dun autumn coat, still shining as grand as you really are. I promise this time I won’t blink.
I used to notice so much in the sky, airliners writing travelogues in white contrail ink, birds penning songs in feathered bunting strung tree to tree, castles and dragons and here and there your face sculpted in billowing vapor, even the poorly cleaned blackboard ceiling upon which crows would scratch their calls. After sundown I’d watch the winter moon rise working hard to escape from the net of limbs the maples tossed skyward to no avail, watch the escapee glide behind windblown clouds, follow stars as they ran their courses as if the gods were twisting the dial on the firmament, and wonder if I was hearing the invisible vee calling the cadence as it sky-marched from Canada to the Chesapeake. I don’t sense so much anymore as I wander alone beneath that world flying above since my neck doesn’t bend back far enough to scan the great dome covering 360 degrees of horizontal wonder. But over there an empty bag of chips is chasing a squirrel up that oak, at dawn the neighborhood windows glow like apricots or 65-inch rainbows, and then there’s this flat me-shaped guy who tripped me the other day when he caught me while I tried sky-gazing again.
It’s special, this time, as my life dwindles down. I look back at what I can remember of the days and nights that led me to this place and time. But I can’t remember as much as I’d wish, those experiences as much a mystery to me as who wrote the good stuff in these books with my name on them. Or who I was to the world, or to you. I don’t envy those with memories of each little thing most find important. It’d be stupid to envy that which I cannot hold, and, in truth, never did. I do envy those who got to, though I pray that’ll slip away, too. But this time’s special, indeed, because you’re now like a new discovery to my eager, raw and just-learning mind. And that, dear one, is a gift just behind this life and your love to me. Because I got a late start (Let’s admit it, I forgot about it), I combined a batch of Writer’s Digest poem-a-day challenge prompts in this Sunday catch-up special. In fact, one of them is a Special poem. I also tied together two title prompts, the “As (Blank)" and the "(Blank) That” prompts. Finally, I made this one of my Memory poems and threw Raw in there just to complete the handful.
I’m sitting here watching the oaks slowly shed their ragged russet costumes. They tease me like a stripper might, dropping one leaf from way up there, only to stop the drop on a well-placed limb just below. Maybe this tall lady outside my window is like one of those Gypsy Rose Lee talkative strippers. Where a big part of the act is the teasing patter as much as the ecdysiastic matter. I can’t really hear the leaves fall, though. Not from behind this window. I just remember the lyrics of the song they sang when I was a kid, and I’d look upwards along the trunk and watch oak leaves big as catcher’s mitts drift like tulle all the way down atop me there in the first row while the north wind band blew and, just like today, I thought I heard the leaves whisper, Let me entertain you… Combined two prompts today, because I’m running behind. Had to write poems based on Nature and Memory. The title is a quote from Louise Hovick, Gypsy herself.
The heat of August remains in the sidewalk after the sun goes down, like a memory of the day. The girls, barefoot and playing at being ready, would remove their sandals on cool nights, dangle their toes off the stoops to massage them on that warm concrete skin of the city in the humming wake of street traffic. We boys would side-eye stare at their ostensible nakedness, from dirty soles to Promised Land thigh tops, from their bare shoulders to fingertips so small in our hands. I’d dream of massaging my fingers on their city skin. I’ve had such warm memories of those nights, now lying, as concrete as any I recall, in this sun-going-down Autumn of my life. A reposting from my first poetry collection, Penumbra: The Space Between.
Memories fade in the growing dark, which has increased its pace and one day soon will grasp his shadow, the long cutout of light in the shape of a man as featureless as his life. The sun sits lower on the horizon than he’s ever seen and blinds him to what lies ahead as much as the dark conceals the nothing he’s seen and been. He stops to wonder if it’s even worth taking another step toward a future as featureless as his shadow, one he knows will be more nothing and nothing more than a monotonous shuffle of heartbeat steps. “Let the darkness have me,” he sighs, consigned with becoming part of the forgotten. That’s when the voice comes out of the dark past, growing louder and warmer as its memory approaches him. “Why are you in such a hurry toward a light that only blinds you to all around you? And if life only needs you staying one step ahead of the darkness, why must you always walk the straight line, my friend?” the voice says. “Because…” but he could find no answer. He realized while the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, it can be fully colorful off the lines they give you.
Remember when we’d lodge complaints with each other about the dark clouds that followed us everywhere, back when all we needed memories for was what time we had to be back, instead of what we might’ve been. There were some sunny days back then, too. Even I can recall squinting at how it pinked your shining cheeks and gave my own nervous flush a glowing alibi of plausible deniability. Recall how the breeze would cast a field of diamonds like miniature suns across the lake's glassy surface? Then it would rustle the leaves, hiding and unveiling the gold dust in your eyes, a magic trick that was no illusion. But it was an illusion I remember best of those shining days, when the sun revealed what we didn’t yet understand. It joined the shadows of our hands in a bond later hidden by those dark clouds and we only grasped once our storms pushed through.