Stories, Poetry, & Other Musings

Short and sweet. Just the way we like it.

Madame Marionette

 

Princess-born, you chose to play

the role of peasant perfectly

in secluded Hameau, milkmaid’s paradise,

where make-believe world clashed

with opulence of the French finest.

 

Last daughter of Vienna,

youth wastes in dress and décor;

silk ribbons on perfumed sheep won’t erase

the trouble you mock outside the palace gate

as you dance theatrics and fashion caricature.

 

Madame Marie, even dancing marionettes

have strings that can be severed.

Rebellion breeds a history

that once upon a time can’t deny;

revolution finds none faultless

beneath gilded, golden crown.

 

Dear Madame, Queen of France,

peasant blame points to you,

neglects truth of charity and willful rule.

Child-fantasies brand you mocking traitor,

a pretend-peasant in diamond-dress.


 

Perfect Memory

 

The only thing she remembers is the dog. Not just his name, though that might have been enough, but she remembers the spot behind his ear that makes him growl in satisfaction, remembers the Christmas she found him under the tree, a gift from her family, remembers the days he would curl up beside her when she was sick in bed with the flu, even remembers that he has an upcoming appointment to the vet clinic the following month.

 

The neighbors in town who meet at the market shake their heads in lament and whisper that it had been a result of the trauma; the doctors nod knowingly as they converse at the nurses’ station and confirm that she had been in the cold water for too long, but not long enough.

 

She’s taken to wearing floral house dresses with lace collars, and when I see her I notice that she rubs the fabric rhythmically between her fingers. I try to remember if that’s a new habit and where it came from.

 

She walks the dog at the same time every morning, skipping down the driveway, the dog waiting at the end of the long leash until she catches up to him. She pats him on the head and feeds him a biscuit from her pocket, shakes her finger at him teasingly and says that he won’t get another one unless he’s a good boy on their walk, but she knows that he will be, knows that he won’t run away again, knows that they’re inseparable now.

 

She remembers the dog and the dog is happy to have her back and hasn’t left her side. This she knows as she sits on the grass, rubbing his belly and cooing words of adoration.

 

It’s the only thing she knows.

 

She closes the blinds during the day and opens them at night. She offers the neighborhood kids bottles of beer and invites the adults in for milk and cookies. She jars one corn muffin at a time and forgets rotting peaches in the breadbox. She leaves full bottles for the milkman and sets out a bowl of Apple Juice for the cat.

 

But she remembers the dog. She crochets sweaters for him in the winter and feeds him chopped meat and white rice every evening. She claps her hands together in glee and recalls the first time he ever saw snow, tilts her head back and laughs with delight as he runs through the sprinkler. At night, the neighbors watch curiously through the window as she lifts his now arthritic body onto the couch, his head settling into her lap as she listens to classical music, stroking his fur in time with the tempo.

 

She remembers the dog. She doesn’t remember me.

 

She walks down the driveway to see me as I change the oil on my truck, the ballet slippers she’s taken to wearing sliding along the pavement, her fingers reaching up to remind herself that the lace is still there. I can feel her watching me as I tinker with something lose in the engine. There’s nothing wrong with the truck. It’s just the only excuse I have anymore.

 

“You’ve always been a good neighbor, ain’t that so?” Her southern drawl is nothing new, though her voice is deeper, huskier.

 

“Yup,” I grunt and pick up a wrench, leaning into the engine.

 

“Have I known you long?”

 

“Since you’ve been here.”

 

She pauses, and I can tell that she’s trying to do the calculations in her head. We’ve had this conversation before.

 

“Well, Elvis is 10, so it must be at least ten years.”

 

“At least.”

 

And as I glance up, I can see that her face has changed, and there’s a smile on her lips.

 

“I remember when I first got Elvis -- there was this tiny puppy waiting under the tree for me with a giant red bow wrapped around his neck like a collar. And when he saw me he howled and danced and fit so perfectly into my arms and I knew we were meant to be.”

 

“Who was he from?”

 

At this she pauses, and though I’m not facing her, I know that her smile is sliding into a frown, a cloud of puzzlement crossing her face.

 

“Why, no one. He was just there.”

 

I nod and lean back, grabbing the greasy rag to wipe my hands before giving up and sliding them across my jeans.

 

“He’s a good dog,” I say, and she lights up again, turning around to search the yard for him.

 

“The best,” she says, and she walks away, clapping her hands together as the dog runs up to greet her.

 

I sigh and turn back to my truck. This evening, like every evening before, I’ll prepare dinner for our kids and give them their baths and tell them their bedtime story. And when she opens up the curtains, I’ll close them. And when she goes to bed, I’ll lift Elvis up to be with her, holding him against me a little tighter.

 

For a moment, I understand her connection to this animal. For a moment, this dog is the tie that binds me to the woman I used to know. Because he’s the only thing she remembers. And I want to remember her.

Poem (de Terre)

 

Rose Red lips taste tender skin

Seduced by secret destructive sin.

Pale upon pale,

White blood runs cold;

Mirror, mirror, betray their own.

Kingdom come,

See life succumb,

Sentience spills as she becomes

Tainted, bruised;

Cursed, used.

Second tastes

Like second nature

And second chances

Come too late.

Fabled horror imprisons this

Poisoned core;

Glass tombs crack while hearts react –

A shameful shroud for a forest floor.

Gossiping beaks of flitting birds

Sing empty tunes with tempted words.

Skies falter

And beauties sleep

While innocence blames

And rots and weeps.

Dear Sister, Saint Joan

 

Dear sister, Saint Joan,
pray, don’t fear the phoenix’s fire;
heresy burning truth to ashes,
abandoned directions
heeding raw flames.
Visions falter, splintering faith –
a wood of crucifixions
dedicated humanely by those
whose green eyes don’t dare
face a punishing sun
for fear of blistering, burned.

Centuries lull and stir a truth
that failed you, simple maid.
Sacred duty beckoned –
your destined call to arms.
Battle countries amid religion.
Peasant-girl, beware this intervention
that echoes a thousand bells.

Royalty bends, kneeling hypocrisy;
benefit the crown
and God save your soul.
Providence rides with man –
a maid disguised, disgusted by fevered pride.

Crutches waver and threaten to fall
amid veiled nights and passionate pleas;
a feather of a whisper drowned out
by the shrill of flames
and infinite tendrils of Holy vapor.


 

Metamorphosis

 

My uncle’s son and I are a year apart and separated by fifty acres of farmland. Our farm was always better, he would say, because we have a creek running through the back woods where we can search for slugs and fresh worms, but his has a pond with a rope swing. I was always too little for the rope swing, but one day, I would tell him, I would be tall enough, old enough.

 

During the summers we would play spy and watch our dads work the tractors in the fields or hunt down lost jewelry outside for our moms. Our moms always put a stop to it once they found us trampling through their gardens. In the winter we built igloos and snow forts and made snow angels just below the porch light, so that when we were finally coaxed in for hot chocolate and looked out the window, they really did look like sleeping angels, with halos of light that made them seem warm and glowing, just like I felt, tucked inside the farmhouse on that December piece of night.

 

In the spring, he and I would hunt for birds nests. When his friends were over, they talked about finding eggs and chucking them at Mrs. Simpson’s house, but I would shout at them about the babies and the mom-bird until my face grew hot and I began to cry, and they would run off and I would sniffle and look up into the treetop, the sun glistening through the wind-blown leaves, and imagine that the birds there were thanking me.

 

He wasn’t like his friends, though. Once we watched a baby bird try to fly, only to fall out of the nest. His sister’s cat was watching, too, and pounced as soon as the bird hit the ground. I ran behind him, our sweet tea forgotten on the porch as we shooed the cat away. The bird was hopping around on feet that reminded me of twigs found in the woods; one wing was folded back, the brittle bones broken by its fall. We found a cardboard shoe box and stuffed it full of toilet paper and tried to nurse it back to health, but it died two days later. I didn’t see him for days after that, not even for the funeral I begged my dad to give it.

 

School divided us once the fall came, and although we took the same yellow school bus every morning, he would wordlessly shuffle down the aisle towards the back where his friends hollered and threw paper bits at the back of pony-tailed girls while I slid against the window in the front seat to watch the farmland pass in a blur of wheat and leaves. On the walk home from the bus stop I would ask him who he ate lunch with and what did he learn that day and was it easier than my grade, and he would respond with words like “people” and “stuff” and “yup” and kick at the dirt with his sneaker.

 

We used to walk back to his house every afternoon, where my aunt offered us chocolate chip cookies and cold milk in large glasses as we sat at the kitchen table to do our homework before being allowed out to play, before he was called in to dinner and I was called home. I always let him have the last cookie and he would look over my math and show me what I was doing wrong. Both of us would watch for the clock to shift to four o’clock and then our pencils would drop onto our books and chairs would scrape across the tile and the screen door would bounce against the grooves as it slammed shut and we ran outside to play.

 

That was another year, another time. That was a different him. That new school year, I hopped down the bus steps and waited for him to follow, eager to point out the empty beehive I’d found earlier that morning on the way to the bus stop, but he didn’t even pause before starting down the path to his house, the tires of the bus kicking up waves of dust beside us as it drove past, down another road, towards another stop.

 

I waited for him to turn around, to tell me to hurry up and catch up, that he would eat all my cookies if I was going to be such a slowpoke. But he kept walking, adjusting the straps of his bag against his hunched shoulders, sneakers kicking loose stones and leaving faint tracks in the dirt that would quickly be covered up, like the ones from all the mornings before, no trace at all that we had once stood there.

 

I should have known then that we were becoming different people, that snow angels and trips to the creek were distant days, but every afternoon I watched him walk further and further away, still wanting to cling to those memories, seek them out for comfort, not willing to let them go. Like the mother returning year after year to that same oak tree, still looking for her fallen bird.

 

Firestorm

 

Evenings find her fretting,

following trails of wood-grain patterns

that face her towards the wire-screen door.

Grandfather clock boasts a quarter past five --

a lyrical mockery of minute history.

 

Soon, now, he’ll slam shut the

beat-up truck that wastes away in weeds

and lumber up wood-dusted steps

to greet minimal solace waiting, leaning

against a splintered beaming, broken frame.

 

A kick-back with a bottle of beer

frees the sweat that douses smoldering souls

and silences the siren’s beckoning,

resurrecting muted pitches of crackling speech.

 

Dinner for two, they dine alone;

ovens temper, pulses blister,

fumes distinguish among

scorched fortunes and eclipsed chance.

                                   

Mornings find her praying

that evening will never come.

Melodies Chase

 

Melodies chase harmonious notes

Into scores of reflective galaxies;

Change distant air into bitter charm

That defines chance as failure.

Arias greet universal refrains

In wintry daze that unites in

Transparent confinement;

Measures constricting disgrace.

Lyrical blends judge modulated structure;

Rhapsody soothed by smothering scores,

Stirring…motionless.  

Flash Fiction Contest (Winner)

​​

I never expected to make it out alive.

At the recruiting office, they wouldn’t look us in the eye, thin lips set in a grim line. War’s almost over, Kid, they said. Your odds of surviving are good.

They wore the lie well.

First came the parachute jump.

Then the tireless jungle where we plunged into a darkness that left us praying for the Son.

Letters from home, leave me the hell alone. Rejections never go over well.

Wide-eyed stares, mouths agape, right before-

Welcome home, Kid, they said. Looks like you made it.

We all wore that lie well.

Flash Fiction Contest (Finalist)

I stumble up cracked concrete steps

to a brownstone

caught in shadow,

follow you into the house

where cobwebs drape like curtains

and dust scatters beneath our feet.

 

On the floor by the staircase lies a single sock,
shredded heel-to-toe,

and a birch broom stands in the corner

by the open door,

splintering at the grip.

 

There’s a dip in the couch cushions,

an empty wineglass on the table.

 

“I know this place,” I whisper.

“But it’s been so long…”

I sense the rain within me.
“Can we stay?”

 

You pause, hand me the broom.

“I never left,” you say.

Flash Fiction

"Stand down, soldier. I said stand down."

Five, four, three, two--

"You don't want to hurt no one, son."

No. Not no one. Just me. Escape from this hopeless place, our disgrace, where year after year I fall into the cracks and crevices we create…

I was once better than this.

Picked from a lottery, there was no next choice.  Just listen to the words, they said, and not the voices in your head.

"That's an order, soldier. You obey your lieutenant."

It's a crazy world, this one now. Everything so upside

"Stand down, soldier. I said stand--"

down.

Convergence

 

The itch can start anytime it pleases -- anywhere it wants -- without you expecting it, without you even wanting it.  It begins as a tingling sensation, and you just know that it’s going to inevitably spread and travel up the length of your body until it begins to invade every area of visible skin. And when it does, there is no stopping it.  It reminds you of the first time you ever tested the ocean water with hesitant steps, realizing as you went further in that at any minute a wave would tumble down and you’d be overwhelmingly engulfed by bitter seawater.

 

Yeah. That’s what it’s like.

 

Only you can’t scream or curse or drown yourself in one of those oatmeal bath remedies that you once read in your wife’s women’s magazine to make it go away. Not with this itch, anyway.  As it lingers, you try to tolerate it and convince yourself that as long as you ignore it, it will eventually wane and you can go back to how you were before the itch. 

 

Only, it won’t ever go away, and you can’t ever go back.  You try to stop the itch, but its stubborn refusal to remain a permanent part of you only increases your frustration.  You realize that no matter how hard you rub or scratch or will it go away, it only grows increasingly overwhelming.  You know that it’s inevitable -- you can only ignore it for so long before you completely succumb; it knows that you’ll have to give in sometime, but you’ll fight it all the way.

 

That’s what it’s like.

 

And they give you strange, knowing looks as you try to ease the sensation, but you grit your teeth and force a smile, pretending everything is perfectly normal while inside you, the itch is growing, getting worse.

 

Soon, you begin cursing under your breath, despite your wife’s warning that the kids will hear, and you furiously begin again, reminding yourself that you hadn’t asked for it -- the itch just happened. Your wife’s agitation rises as she watches you shift uncomfortably. She asks you what in the name of God you are doing, and though you try to explain, she only shakes her head with a bemused smile on her face and walks away to pick up the toys or finish dinner or check on the kids.

 

That’s what the itch is like; that’s how it starts.

 

You follow your wife into the kitchen and watch her show the kids how to set the table. Forks on the left, knife and spoons on the right…

 

You know she doesn’t realize that all of your attention is on her right now, just like she doesn’t think you look at her the same way you did those first few precious years or that you don’t remember what those days were like, as if it is up to her to store all of those special moments for the both of you. Of course that’s what she thinks; after all, they’re supposed to be the romantics.

 

She doesn’t think that you remember particular moments here and there every time you look at her, that when she smiles, you automatically recall the first time she ever smiled at you. She doesn’t believe that you remember the details or that you thought fondly of her everyday -- that you still do. That when you first started dating, you never wanted to leave her side for no special reason except that you knew the other guys would be jealous, and you wanted to keep her. You wanted her to look at you as if you were something special, something worth her time.

 

Protecting came after -- after the first time you saw her frightened or crying, her cheeks flushed and moist, and you honestly felt for her. You thought it was the worst feeling in the world, and you would do anything to fix it and see the smile in her eyes again. You never knew how much you missed that sparkle until she blinked and all that lingered was the endless abyss of sadness clouding dark eyes.

 

And after that -- after the ‘she’s mine’ and ‘I’ll be her hero’ routines -- then came the loving. Sometimes it’s unexpected -- like the itch. You try to convince yourself that you just don’t want her with anyone else; you just don’t want to see her hurt. But eventually you realize that the real reason you want to always be near her is not to protect her, not because you merely enjoy her attention, but because you wouldn’t know what to do without her.

 

And although she already has all of this figured out for herself, you’re still trying to convince yourself that it’s only because…All the excuses you can think of begin with only because. You’re only asking her out on a date because…You’re only holding her hand because…You only want to be with her because…

 

Because you love her.

 

You once asked her, out of pure curiosity, what it was she fell in love with. She replied that it had been your smile, earning her the very expression that she was referring to -- the wide grin filled with a light that brightened whenever she was around…or so she said. She had returned the question, her eyes eagerly awaiting your answer. And you took her hand and pressed your lips against her small fingers and answered honestly, ‘everything.’

 

She looks up and catches you watching her. Her expression is full of question, but there is a softhearted smile lingering on her lips. You wink at her, and she raises her eyebrows in surprise and throws her head back with a pleasant laugh, causing your daughter to glance curiously between the both of you, wondering what the secret is. You repeat the action in her direction, a sly smile on your face, and a grin quickly spreads across her chubby cheeks as she giggles behind her child’s hand. Her twin brother rolls his eyes, and you know exactly what he’s thinking; it’s the same thought that every boy has when they’re six.

 

Girls.

 

You nod inwardly, sympathetic to his sentiments, and lean forward to ruffle his thick blonde hair before retrieving the plates from your wife’s hands. You know that your son will change, just as you had; you know that he will get older and fall in love. Despite the desperate efforts to keep it from happening, the itch will get to him too, and soon he and his wife will be sharing thoughts in silence - through only a smile, a nod, a wink…

 

You and your wife share the same memory, that sacred, singular moment that changed it all for you.  You were both there, you recall the same events, but your thoughts of the future, the ignorant expectations of that day, and certainly those first few feelings weren’t the same; two distinct memories converging into one.  

 

What was she feeling as she prepared for a visit with her parents’ friends, who just so happened to be your very neighbors? Did she have any idea that, in a few minutes, her life would be changed; that you would be entering into each other’s existence?  You certainly didn’t, but by God, you’ll be forever grateful for it.

 

And what was running through her mind when she followed her parents out of the car and up the newly paved drive? What did she think when she saw you for the first time, out in the flattened wheat field behind the houses, driving the battered golf cart that you and your brother proudly beat the shit out of when you were barely fourteen?

 

Was that curiosity or pleasure in her eyes as you rolled up beside her, pumping the brakes and offering a friendly smile. Was it then? Was that the smile that had captured her; was it then that she fell in love with you?

 

Or was it the casual banter that escalated after you were introduced, or the long conversations you had, sitting on the backyard lounge chairs when you met for frequent visits? It was that same summer, you’re sure of it.

 

Maybe it was the night you stayed for dinner at her house, spending the evening on the couch, gossiping and teasing each other before she drove you home.  That mellow night, the one that found you laughing at her dog as he drooled and gazed at the ice cream snacks that taunted him from the coffee table, had cemented your relationship.  It was then that you realized that you could sit like that forever and never be restless, as long as you were with her. 

 

Eyes met often, and smiles substituted for conversation. Awkward silences were replaced by ripping wrappers, the throaty acceptance of a very grateful canine, and the giggles and subsequent playful shoves as you were scolded.

 

Does she remember that night, you wonder? Does she remember the comfortable ambiance created by the nearness of each other and the entertainment of a panting dog? Does she remember the rare clarity of the sky, the brilliance of the stars as she reluctantly drove you home?  You do. You were in awe of it.

 

And you were in awe of her.

 

You were never one for analyzing every little part of life. Who the hell cared if the moon was half full, if the song playing in the car repeated itself over and over because it was the only one you had recorded for her on that particular tape? What did it matter that you had the windows down because the heat had been close to suffocating and the speed of the car provided just enough relief? Would it really be that important that you noticed the slight caress of the breeze on her dark hair or the smile that reached her eyes as she stole a moment just to look at you? Yeah. It mattered, you admit. Every single detail mattered. Because that was one of the many moments that you wanted to remember for that long time span called forever, one of the moments that changed you, changed your life. It was one of the moments that you fight to keep, that make you prepare for a full-out rumble with both Time and Memory. You have to be the winner.

 

But you won’t be.

 

Despite your desperate desire to capture the familiar notes of the unending song and the secret smiles that had passed between you and her, it all changes, and you lose those details, those strong, vivid feelings. Time passes; memory takes over. You still remember the basics of what had happened, you still remember how you had felt, but that actual feeling is gone, passed.  Though you want to run it through your mind over and over again, the image fades.  And though you’re disappointed that you can’t hold onto that feeling, you realize, in the end, that it doesn’t really matter.  You know it had happened; you had shared that special moment. Besides, you have all you’ll ever need.

 

You have her.

 

The kids are in the midst of a very serious discussion regarding the afternoon’s episode of Sponge Bob Squarepants that your daughter had missed due to her ballet lesson. She’s propped up on her knees, elbows on the table, chin in her hand, watching her brother animatedly recount the events. From what you hear of his narration, you realize your son is repeating the show practically verbatim; your daughter is enthralled.

 

By the stove, your wife is testing the spaghetti to make sure that it’s ready.  You remind her of the time her lively grandma tossed a whole plateful of noodles in the air to see if they would stick to the ceiling.

 

None had survived.

 

Your wife laughs at the memory as you step closer to her and tenderly turn her around, searching her eyes for thoughts, words, emotions, hoping that she’ll see the love in your own hazel depths. It’s not the passionate love that would, in any other case, lead you both to the upper quarters of the house that you want her to see. You want to show her the love that everyone talks about, the love you thought your mom made up to teach you to respect girls, rather than chase them around the yard with squirt guns.

 

This is the one that grows with age and wisdom and togetherness, the one that you seem to recognize only in the elderly, their letters preserving their love story. You want her to know that what you’re feeling encompasses all of this, and you are wholeheartedly ready to recognize the itch for what it is. You’re no longer searching for the perfect furnishing or play toy to be an accomplice in gaining relief because you’re no longer trying to escape it. The sensation has become little more than a memory as she stands in your arms, watching and waiting.

 

You reach for her hand, still tiny and unchanged except for the simple promise of forever adorning her fourth finger. The question is back in her eyes again, but her fingers fold naturally around yours. As you lean down for a light kiss, you remember that same night in the car - that night when the sky was so clear and you held her hand while you said your goodbyes; that night when you kissed her and bolted from the car, only to look back and share an affectionate smile, the same one you’re offering each other now.

 

She steps away and gazes at you, making you feel once again that you’re worth all of her love. The kids call out, asking when dinner will be ready so that they can hurry up and play outside before it turns dark. Your wife turns back to the pasta, which has threatened to turn to mush given a few more minutes, and you step beside her and stir the thick sauce. You offer each other a sidelong glance, sharing unspoken thoughts. You wink, she grins.

 

That’s what it’s like.  

Regency

 

Conduct your passive symphony

with tools of your trade

and I will observe in metaphor.

Sculpt silhouettes subjected to scorn,

predestined to perform,

and I will play the silence --

a musical monument

where white marble shimmers raw.

 

Sacred notes chide the flesh

exposing external flaws of the composer’s genius,

forging beauty and reality.

Angles spin and copper turns,

fleeing translucence and discovering depth

tinged with irony.

 

Stroke the shoulder of liberty,

indulge in champagne-scented promises

that devour and decay

this woman’s wit and wile.

 

Bare skin charges a static air

as this marble façade canvases a woman’s secret

beneath carved rock and broken curves

 

A heart is buried there.

Waltz

 

Rebel night partners

with composed existing shadows

that challenge sultry moon,

the demand of dimmed radiance

of her own sun’s reflective birth.

Doubt the morning’s second symphony

and refrain from righteous riot

as bell-lights startle, settle, and withdraw.

 

She calls upon a play of silent music

that enchants the dawn, never destroys

or falters in prophesized movement.

Her partner belongs to the dance

among celestial tiles that trace verbs

along the milky path-away

while she holds fast to the step

of the wintered waltz.

Waltz II

 

Rising night focuses

on cool existing shadows

that challenge the moon

with a light of her own

and doubts the morning’s

second refrain.

 

She calls upon silent music

that enchants, never destroys

or falters --

the dance among celestial tiles

that trace verbs along the milky way

the step of the wallowed waltz.

Abandon

 

If he closes his eyes tightly, he can imagine the speed of the trains riding past as he stands on the platform, feel the slight vibration of the floorboards beneath his feet as the cars pull into the station. If he stops for a moment and listens, he can still hear the tearing of the metal against the tracks, the echo of the whistle’s announcement, the conductor’s hearty bellows.

 

Some days, he sees a woman with long legs made longer by a pencil skirt, stockings, and heels running by, grasping the hand of a little child in a collared sailor dress and a bow nestled in her limp curls. Some days, he imagines her husband trailing behind in a long coat, suitcases and a small rag doll clutched in his hands. Some days, he remembers reunions and goodbyes all in the same moment. Some days, he remembers nothing at all.

 

The old clock above the arch, despite broken glass and a missing hour hand, is a relic of a once-working time, though there’s no one but him keeping track anymore. It chimes once at half past one, an echo that fills the empty space for scarcely a second, lingering along the air.

 

The newspaper boys hollered their Extra, Extras in front of the corner post office just down the road from the station. The headlines that swept in on the wind — now a decade outdated — claimed the factories were shutting down, and from the window near the telephone booths that never ring he imagines he can still see the line at the clerk’s office wind around the corner, still predict how far it trailed, past the baker who used to give a cream puff to his little girl each Saturday morning and the butcher shop that tossed in the marrow — No, no, free of charge, for the mutt.

 

He had followed behind as his wife and daughter ran to greet a new life, clutching a rag doll and carrying their suitcases, and when it was time to board, he hugged his goodbyes and watched them leave with promises of reunion and change. The dog stayed behind with him and the house, and when he couldn’t keep the house, she followed him to the station where they both waited and remained.

 

This train station is his home now, despite the damaged wooden benches and surface-scratched floors. Glass from shattered windows, an accident of a street stickball game, still litter the ground among dust and debris from broken scaffolding and peeling paint chips. In the winter, he stays far away from those front windows, setting up his home instead behind the ticket counters; in the summer, they offer a cool respite, reawakening the once stale air and carrying memories in on a lost breeze.

 

His home. His memories. As abandoned as the train tracks now, save the wildflowers and weeds that grow alongside raw metal, adjacent to the new tracks that run past the new mill, towards the new station the next town over.

 

He doesn’t know how long it’s been, but he acknowledges the passing of the days by the rise and fall of the sun, by the shadows traveling across the empty marbled lobby, by the gray hairs he sees in the cracked men’s room mirror, in the slow gait of his best friend as she wanders over to nudge his hand.

 

He sits on one of the broken benches, tucks his overcoat around him, and pats the dog on her head. He hasn’t spoken aloud in weeks. There hasn’t been a reason to. He thinks how his voice must have grown stale and opens his mouth to speak, tests out a vowel and emits something like a growl. The dog cocks her head, pricks her ears, but remains sitting.

 

“Good…girl,” he says slowly and the dog opens its mouth, pants a smile, and he forces his lips to curl into a smile, too.

 

He coughs, and the noise echoes off the high ceilings and gives the station new life. Another cough, another smile; the dog wags her tail, lets out a whimper, a whine, a bark. And then they can’t stop, the sounds reverberating off the walls, moving with the wind past the broken windows to where neighborhood boys are playing baseball and, frightened by the sound from the abandoned building, they drop their bats and gloves and run home.

 

For a moment, the train station is alive again.

 

For a moment, the walls are laughing.

 

For a moment, he remembers.

Park Bench

 

The old man sat

on a rusted park bench

used usually by those who tend to feed the birds

the remnants of their morning toast.

Green paint chips here

and there,

threatening the metal to turn copper

like the liberty he saw when he was barely four.

The daily news rested comfortably in his lap,

barely creased but for the centerfold.

Reporters would wonder when

aged blue eyes, wrinkled and tried,

would read their printed words,

but the news was for holding

and not for reading.

Back against the slated rest,

feet squarely on the walkway floor,

knees slightly apart with hands cradling each,

the man would close his eyes,

undisturbed by the joggers and chit chat

and occasional good morning kiss from

an enthusiastic dog-friend. 

Fresh-off-the-press experience

waited idly in his arthritic hand,

but he had enough memories

to last another lifetime

and not enough energy

to read about a war he had been through

the destitution he had risen above

or the memorials of honorable lives

of which he has outlived many.

By three the sun would be dipping lower

and he would stand, resting the paper in his place,

offering up his seat to those

who came to feed the birds

their evening meal.

Finale

 

Winter arrived in early August,

icing chlorinated swimming pools

and refresh-sprinklers.

stripped away raw bark,

hovered over fallen blossoms

and chilled the perfume-scent.

Screen doors permanently closed

to brace against the smothered draft

that stole space from open vents

and slide along under-door fissures.

Dressers inhaled grass-stained play

and bathing beauties

buried under premature farewells,

while closets clung, hangered on

to metal rods and dog-eared days.

Call

T: (717) 826-0375  
 

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© 2020 by
Susan Pogorzelski.