Act of Contrition

In the deep-rooted shadows upon which the forest stands, where nothing grows but moss and the debris of winter-felled branches, Scott Lang and his brother Tony heard the stuttering k-r-r-r-k like someone opening the door to a derelict shack.

But near all around them, there were no such homes except last spring’s birds’s nests and the torn-up insect domicile buried within a pine upon which a woodpecker hammered another k-r-r-r-k.

“This noise where there’s nothing around creeps me out, man,” Tony said.

“Some of us, little brother, find such ‘noise’ a blanket of comfort, the caress of natural music far from the crash and soul-crunching violence in city life, the promise of peace,” said Scott.

“Okay, I get it, but does it take sloshing all the way out here just to find your precious quiet? Besides, it’s so damn dark here, how the hell am I supposed to see anything well enough to shoot it?” Tony said, swinging his rifle in carefree arcs.

“Your life always comes down to noisy violence. It killed Mom. I don’t want to know who else. Can’t you just enjoy some serenity for once?”

“Yeah, but where’s the fun in that? Now where to something I can enjoy?”

“You’ll never get it, will… Wait, what was that?” Scott said.

“Where?” Tony said, swinging the muzzle of the 30.06 toward the shadows.

When the echo of the k-r-r-r-k made by four rapid shots from the .22 Scott pulled from his pocket faded, he sighed. After a few seconds, he heard the birds begin singing again. He could actually hear his heartbeat settle down as the wind strummed the tall pines like harp strings. And he was pretty sure there had been only two witnesses to what he’d done.

He made a silent Act of Contrition to one.

“Peace, Mom, just like I promised. At last, some peace,” he whispered to the other.

Waiting to Fly

The time has come
when we hang here,
dull where we used to shine,
limp and bedraggled
where strong and seamless
were our natural state.
It’s the time when
the winds no longer move us
in The Dance,
a vast corps de ballet,
moving as one to the sound
of what poets might call
an aeolian harp.
But it’s still just the wind,
maybe even of Time,
and we’re still like
those leaves out there,
waiting.
I suppose it is to fall,
to land upon the earth
and become one with the soil.
All of us, as one,
in the grand finale
of our lives’ recital.
When you think about it, though,
once we release our hold
upon that tree, for a moment,
we’re truly airborne, free,
blissfully as one
with ourselves.

One of my oldest, wisest friends reminded me today — as I sat for what seems like two years since I was able to write as I once did — of the words of our favorite poet, William Stafford. If old Bill were to come up behind me, moping and fretting here in my chair, waiting for inspiration that never seems to come, he would no doubt spin me around, look me in the eye and give me his timeless advice for a broken writer: “Lower your standards.” So I sat and just turned my fingers loose. Ten minutes later…

Thanks, Bill. And thank you, dear Helen. You’ve saved me again.

On Hummingbird’s Wings

A hummingbird’s wing
is a whiz of a thing
should you ever get to see him.
They’ll tear through the air
at speed beyond compare
then perch stock still without a tree limb.

I saw one today
as by the window I lay
idly hoping for some poetic spark.
He went down, left, and right,
but what gave me a new insight
was how he suddenly just put it in PARK.

Little guy hung there in space
as that blur of wings whirred apace
his tongue sipping at a red flower.
But it’s what he did next
is why I wrote down this text.
He showed me a magical power.

I saw him fly in reverse,
his wings made my ennui disperse,
and my sour demeanor took flight.
He was no bigger than my finger
but now the sight of him’ll linger
forever on this page of white.

See, the world’s full of blooms,
more than humans have rooms,
and sometimes the muse just stops singing.
So I ceased my staring there,
got up and backed away from that chair,
sipped of nature and with a whir was I winging.

But Never Fell

The wind is a harsh mistress,
pushing the trees away one minute
then caressing and singing songs
older than time to them the next.
She fills their leafy lungs
and billows their chests with
faint whispers and panicked panting,
giving them voice as over decades
they reach skyward, their arms open
to accept as much of her attention
as they dare.

You know that feeling, that sense
of the cold shiver following
the touch that sends your skin
to chattering chill and then heat
like August’s exhalation exultation
when storm is near. You’ve felt
the caress and heard the whispers
that shaped you and carved initials
if not into your skin then for sure
your heartwood.

Thank you, my winds, my zephyrs,
my barely-there passing-throughs,
my gales, my limb-lifting,
branch-breaking darlings.
I bow in your memories as I bent
to your whims. Bent, but never fell.

Five Minutes to August

“Just the bare necessities
that’s all I need,” I used to think.
I could hear the wind blowing
and leaves rustling and imagine
the walnut trees bobbing and heaving
like some portly prizefighters
as invisible hands rained body shots
and tickles on their flabby greenery.
Now I see them move left and right,
back and forth and think about
raking all those leaves come October.

It’s only five minutes to August
and I’m concerning myself with
half past Autumn.
Unless you’re Emily Dickinson,
a poet should never use
a roof and four walls as sunblock.
Sure, windows make fine frames,
but horizons gird much bigger pictures.
And you know what? Everything
encompassed beneath
the dome of the sky can be found
in one raindrop.

Two bird-shaped pieces of night
just crossed the sunny length
of the shed roof. I’ve gotta
get out there. You might say
it’s a necessity.

I’ve been stuck, stuck, stuck for weeks. Maybe months. And today I just gave up, though not like I have been giving up. I grabbed the first book of fiction I could find in that bookcase to my right, turned to page 8, transcribed the eighth sentence, and then started writing from there. It ain’t perfect, but it was a subconscious lesson I needed. And I just realized something about this book. It’s “Kafka on the Shore,” by Haruki Murakami, the first book of fiction I bought myself a decade ago to restart my reading life. And that, my friends, is what’s so magical and spooky about this writing thing. Get out. Get out of your own way. Get it out of your system. Get something close to happy.

E Pluribus Unum


If I asked you the color of grass, you’d probably say green. And if I asked the same of the sky, you’d offer blue. But nowhere do you see all heaven or earth in just green or blue. Each is made of different hues, homogeneously stirred into something, that at a distance or a squint, we call one color or the other. Is the ocean off Cape Cod blue? Then what is it surrounding Tahiti? Do we call the sky over Raleigh a Carolina Blue? Then what of the firmament above Copenhagen, or looking down on Dresden? Is sand colored Sand? Then what of the landscape of the Kalahari, the Gobi, the Sonora, Sydney’s Bondi Beach? Look closely at all of these scoops of Earth, these swaths and swatches of land, sea and air. No, even closer. There is brown and yellow on the greens of Augusta and St. Andrew’s and Schenectady Muni. There are shades of gray, white and purple in the 360-degree frame of the sun. The agua off Málaga is aqua, but a French blue is more than just un bleu. And I celebrate this panoply mixed together into a single great spectrum. Each has its own way of reflecting the same sun under which we all exist. Together and apart. But the magic of turning primaries into secondaries into tertiaries into a prism’s wet dream makes this world so much better. Mere red, yellow and blue makes for as weak a brand of poetry as a world. The Spectrum makes us so much better. Makes for better writing, too.

E pluribus unum.

Our Side of the Fence

“Can I touch one, Mama?” Cody asked.

“I don’t know if that would be wise,” I told her as I pushed the hair back from her eyes.

“But she’s so beautiful. Look how the wind blows her hair just like mine.”

I looked them over, watching how they moved around the enclosure and finally said, “We don’t know if we can trust how tame they are. There’s a good reason they’re behind this four-wire fence. I’ve heard the mothers can be pretty protective of their babies.”

“Pleeeze, can’t I just once? I’ll be careful,” Cody pleaded in that whiney way of hers. I noticed her edging closer to the fence, just as one of the colts ambled nearer to us.

“Cody, I said wait. You don’t know them and they don’t know you. It’s like we’re from different planets, far from home. Lord knows we are.”

I never liked it when we went on these summer trips, even when I was younger. I remember one year my cousin…

“Look, she likes me,” Cody said as she and one of the young ones reached through the fence for one another.

“Cody!” I screamed, just as the colt’s mother came running over. Both kids jumped and scratched themselves on the fence. The mare pushed her little one away favoring a cut on her floppy little white forehoof.

“See? And that’s why they keep them on the other side of the fence,” I told Cody as I licked the blood off her nose.

Here’s a tortured (and whinnied) 250-word first draft bit of flash fiction written for Cara Michaels’ #MondayMenage thingy. A triple-header of prompts here. One: that photo. Two: the phrase “far from home.” And three: The concept of Trust. Someday I’ll figure out if there’s something deeper involved in what my imagination spit out in these words. (I think there might be.) Well see, if I ever cross its fenceline for a proper revision.