skimming the verge
wobbly half balanced
leaning back away
from the brave shoulders
of the purely insane
at all costs
skimming the verge
wobbly half balanced
leaning back away
from the brave shoulders
of the purely insane
at all costs
Brian leaned back in his chair, one rubber-soled loafer crossed over the other khaki knee. Both arms stretched back behind his neck, resting on his open collar. Occasionally, he reached down and took a carrot from the veggie plate, dipped it in ranch, popped it in his mouth. He was actively listening or talking the entire time, but his posture and overall demeanor dangled out just over the edge of boredom.
They were gathered around two long work tables pushed together in the break room. The surface was covered with assorted food, cupcakes, sliced fruit, potato chips, finger sandwiches, nuts and the veggie plate. Behind them several crocks were plugged in the wall and lined up on the counter, baked beans, meatballs, hot cheese with peppers. Paper plates marked their spaces around the table. Sharing food was fairly routine, the occasion for it, that day, was not.
They were celebrating a coworkers departure. People rarely left. The pay was too good, the work too easy. This assistant department director had lasted only two years. He was not even vested. His name was Peter and he sat across the table, upright and smiling, both feet on the floor, hands folded but relaxed in his lap. He chuckled often and his lips stretched wide and he glanced frequently in Brian’s direction.
"We’ve had a few lookers," Peter answered good-naturedly when the administrative assistant asked about his progress toward selling his house. "But no serious offers yet." He was moving his family, a wife and two babies, seven states away to his new job.
"Huh." said Brian, leaning forward and taking a fresh pea pod from the vegetable tray. "Meanwhile here I am with offers to buy my old house and a wife who won’t even consider selling it." He stripped the seam of the pod and picked each pea out one by one, popping them in his mouth between words. Then, he pushed the shell into his mouth whole, chewed and swallowed, reached for another.
There might have been a moment of awkard silence after the comment, but Peter leaned forward, then, his torso twisting quick in a kind of spontaneous jerk.
"What are you doing with that peapod?" he said. "Why are you eating it like that." The question wasn’t hostile, not a passive aggressive attack of any kind, not a barely suppressed challenge. Rather it seemed impulsive, more a burst of childlike, frustrated curiosity sneaking its way forward and slipping out. Finally. On his next to last day.
Brian, looked up quick, eyes cast through his lashes, over his arm as he slowly reached for his next pea pod. His broad smile belied his coyness, made a joke of it as he shook his head ever so slightly and answered, “Because I like to take things apart into smaller pieces.” he said. “I’m good at it. It’s what I do.”
He swept his eyes around the table once then, before resting them on Peter. He came as close to a wink as one can, without winking. Then he added, “Right?” And he looked around the table again, hands uplifted, palms open.
"It’s what I do." He said it again and laughed.
The rest of the people who worked in the department looked down then, nodded, murmured. Felt bad. Said nothing. The lunch break was over shortly thereafter and Peter left the next day.
The prairie was an ocean of grass. River bluffs were the sole source of ground elevation. Back then there were even less trees than now. Cottonwoods the common species, spread sparse and sprinkled along creeks or rivers.
Cottonwoods are hardwood trees but the softest among them. Fast growing, they often survive strikes of lightening, being tall but thirsty and slow to burn green. Many live to be a hundred years old, with their thick deeply furrowed bark and their seeds floated out on tufts of cottony old lady hair loosed from pods. Wispy it fills the air and lands atop full waterways each spring.
By late summer, the wispy cottonwood seeds were long gone. She was laying back in the wind, by the river. He noticed her watching the leaves dance far up above. They made a silhouette-kaleidoscope in the brisk late afternoon breeze. When she saw him she smiled with her whole face and pointed up at them, naming them her reward, a gift for the work she’d done earlier. He agreed and told her it was a cottonwood tree.
He told her how, as a very young man, working on the summer road crew for the township, he’d once been ordered to cut several cottonwoods down. It was the rainy season, early spring and the water, he said, poured, just poured from the cut in the trunk and down the sides of the stump after the tree was felled.
She gasped and groaned, turned to him and frowned at this part of the story.
"I know." he said. "I felt kind of bad about it, then, too. It didn’t just drip either, I’m telling you. It poured. Water just poured out of that stump. And for nearly an hour afterward."
She read about the cottonwood tree later. Everything he told her was true. She also read that cottonwoods were often considered a nuisance tree and less than useful. Their fast growing limbs had a tendency to become tangled in infrastructure and the soft wood combined with lightning strikes meant dead and falling debris were often an issue for homeowners. The wood produced little heat for its volume and it was too soft for use in construction. The fluffy white cottony seeds had been known to clog drains as had the root structures become an interference with more elaborate underground drainage systems.
Apparently the township had technical reasons for ordering the death of those particular trees. At that time, before conservation was a concern, the trees may have been removed based solely on their reputation as troublemakers.
She couldn’t find any pictures or videos of cottonwood stumps pouring water as he had described, but this did not shed any doubt on the truth of his tale. She felt honestly relieved not to see it herself with her own eyes. The thought of it was enough. She had watched one clip that lasted more than six minutes while a crew waited for a huge dead cottonwood to fall, creaking and cracking, after being sliced more than three quarters through with a giant chainsaw. It had been dead and she was glad there was no water to pour up, already gathered by its roots.
After that, she read that “while cottonwoods are often considered problematic for real estate development…” they are extremely important and useful for wildlife. A large number of insects and birds and small animals eat (and she thought drink, or at least hydrate themselves) from the leaves and bark of the living cottonwood. In addition, fallen rotten limbs and eventually the rotted out trunk of cottonwood trees that die of natural causes provide an excellent home for a wide range of small mammals and insects, including honey bees.
That was the year before their daughter left for college. Whenever she missed her and whenever she cried about it, she thought of the cottonwood trees. They seemed like the same thing somehow and together they seemed not so bad.
and the hard place
tender to ticklish
shy to elusive
a curious stick
in a skittery dish
both poke and draw
ignored and a-path-etic
both the rock
and the hard place
the one disguised
soft back when
In my dream, I am in the shower alone and you are the one singing.
I can hear you and I am forced through into memory.
We are on the beach and you have written.
A story trails along my arm in black ink.
Further down the beach, my name,
Drug in the sand with your footprints in large loping block letters,
Capital in posture but swirling and loopy.
Dream memories fill with raining.
I am lathering myself in the storm,
As grainy lines lettering my name melt,
Fading. We argue over the parts we plan
To trade and what to give away.
I say Jesus was a trickster meant to teach us
The folly of individualism. Spiritualism
Is collaboration. The definition of messiah
Is a lie.
You kick the waves and taste my soap,
plunge and dive and float up
In my ear, your ringing voice.
I am rinsed clean again.
In my dream you are there then a towel humming
the last bars of your song and my skin dry.
i’m pretty excited about it and think it will be a fun read
anyone wants to head on over and follow, that would be grand :)
the piece that “spawned” my piece above is called Wilson Blvd. by epea-pteroenta.
got all that? rock on. check it out, okay? :}
i gather your attention
in tiny bundles
loose hair held
together but for a moment
i won’t choke it
i don’t bind it
instead I let my fingers find
it silky running through
i do not mean to
to a fleeting
touch of you
i am a member of the club
you rejected because
we like you enough
to invite you in
if there was a presumption meter
would rest at negative infinity
for example, i cannot imagine assuming
a reason you like me, yet reckless
i expose us
both to me
in a pool of desperate
to see you
refusing towels off
my face stubborn
against the risk
to feed a monstrous
one need not
eat or be eaten
good tastes shared
there is no
it is meant to kill
and be abandoned
be not bullet
find your field
wide open lay
face up looking
at the underside
of daisies study
you rise and feel
the way kind
wink at the moon
but only after
it winks back
dusky dust winged
whapping air screams
itself to death on light
seeing heaven magnetic
in mundane nights
electrified by humans
down off course
to shed against
in your darkness
Sean said, more than once, that his first impression of her involved a sense of her sexual deviance. He said he was attracted to her because of it. In remembering those occasions, Jenna could never put her finger on what prompted the comment. She knew she conjured the memory often and reflexively in response to her own internal questioning, about his reasons for hanging out with her. For being friends with her, if that’s what they were. But she always felt unsure about the connection. She didn’t think he meant the comment as an answer to her questions.
Besides, if she had a question for him it wasn’t really why he hung out with her. Their connection was largely based on circumstance, on proximity, on work in the same building. But lots of people worked in the building and among them, she and he were connected. Connected in ways they weren’t with other people who worked in the building. If Jenna was honest, her question was truly about whether or not he even liked her. If she pondered anything it was that, and in either case - like or not - what his specific reasons were. Why did he, or didn’t he, like her?
Once in an email, Jenna had said something along the lines of: “I’m glad we’re still friends…” and Sean had replied, not in any hostile way, but with quotes around the word “friends”. ”Why do you think we are still “friends” ?” his email read. The overall context had been lighthearted, but the quotation marks were neon in Jenna’s memory. She always felt utterly baffled by their meaning. To her, the implications seemed full of infinite possibilities, ranging from highly significant to entirely inconsequential.
Another time, when she was upset, he confessed an overwhelming urge to “taker her in [his] arms and hold her whenever [he] saw she was upset.” Saying he had no reason to think it would help her but somehow sensed it was exactly what she needed. Once, when her sister was in a serious car accident, Sean had done just that. He put his arm around her while they were sitting alone on a bench in the outdoor courtyard/smoking lounge. She had leaned into his shoulder. The exchange wasn’t romantic or sexual but she recalled in a sort of distant disconnected way that both of their bodies had responded physically. His being obvious, she’d often wondered if he had sensed her own body’s, less than chaste, reaction.
When she finally “came out” as bi, with her first girlfriend, Sean was warm and genuinely nice at their introduction. Jenna remembered feeling silly, at that moment, for ever having questioned the sincerity or the nature of his “friendship” - quotation marks or not.
It was shortly after that meeting, though, that he called her. Maybe the first time he had ever called her on the phone. Jenna was pretty sure it was a first. She knew she had spoken to his girlfriend in the past, planning the occasional meeting out for dinner with a group, but Jenna was pretty sure that was the first time she’d ever heard Sean’s voice over the phone.
"Hey" he’d said.
She was at an outdoor grassroots chickfest lesbain music festival. It was the middle of rural midwest farm country, literally. There was a decent crowd of lesbians, most out from the city. They had driven two hours with their coolers and tents and in many cases instruments, to entertain and be entertained and generally get intoxicated on fun and drinks and the company of like-minded women. They were parked in a cut alfalfa field between corn on two sides, beans on a third and an even larger grass lot surrounding two huge barns and an old three story traditional farm house.
Porta potties had been hauled in, tents for a handful of vendors erected, a tarot card reader and massage therapist among them. A hooping club performed between musical acts, spinning fire and hoola hoops lit with flashing led lights as they danced among the women sprawled on the grass with a handful of mostly gay men among them.
She recognized Sean’s voice immediately and even though it wasn’t computing why he would call her, exactly, she immediately rose from her place on the grass, on a quilt, next to her girlfriend, where they’d been lounging all the long day. Jenna hadn’t wanted to come at all, but not seeing a way out without pissing her new romantic interest off, she had given in and not only come along but agreed to drive. She remembered being painfully sober when she got his call.
She went around to the back of the house, past the foul smelling johns where an old hired hand’s mobile home sat empty and stacked on concrete blocks over tall grass. She sat on the second step of a tiny wooden porch leading up to the door and she listened to his voice through her cell phone.
Sean had called for a reason, he’d called to tell her about an old old friend, a woman he’d had a small crush on, a woman who had been addicted to bad things and knocked around a lot but was just starting to “get her life back in order” he said, when an ex-boyfriend got her drunk and beat her to death in a hotel room.
It had happened two days before, he’d just found out. He was upset. Maybe crying a tiny bit, she thought. Of course, she remembered thinking. My god! Beat her to death.
Jenna had been sympathetic and empathetic and expressive and engaged and listening to him intensely, the whole conversation. First because she was shocked that he’d called. Second because it had gotten her away from the date situation she was so reluctantly in at the moment and third because he so needed her to be listening and engaged. He’d called her with a purpose, with his own tragedy to share.
Whenever she thought of those moments talking to him on the phone, that night, at the lesbian music festival with all the women getting drunker in the dark and their tents and her tarot card reading that said she had put dangerous men into her past for good — whenever Jenna thought of that phone conversation, there was a sense of sweet peace. And underneath it immediately, but not in a way that spoiled it, there was that same old question. That totally flummoxed question. Why did you call me? Why are we connected. Why for this. Why did you call me for this?
The question had been there screaming, behind Jenna’s dull peace, behind her listening to him and his feelings, behind her distraction, it was there all along. But it never ruined the memory in any way. Instead, it was, somehow, verification. The questions themselves, in this memory, seemed like some sort of verification to Jenna. Of what, she had no idea. But, there it was.
A few years later, they were talking at work one day, the day before he went on a two-week vacation. She looked at his eyes and saw how tired they were. Scorched scuffs under, frayed sizzling black pupils. Jenna understood then, the urge to hold someone, the surety it would be comfort. She looked at him, knowing that, and all her questions surfaced again under a new layer. A new layer of truth, she knew.
warm smell of coconut
oily with cloves and the blend
of sun mixed in detergent on sheets
last night’s camp fire breathing clothes
waft distant from a floored heap
shocked by sights that defy
sleep we did less of
billows against reality
the wind released
to honey white
clover skin connected
sweat sticky hungry
while we wait
the color of raw meat
blue purple crimson leaks
from full to overflowing
for the open door
when the world offers
an endless blue sky
on silver platter clouds
blown over a low
pressure zone into a cool night
revealing all the shiny white
sides of each green growing
thing the silver dollar crowd
waving from infinite rows of soy beans
even the usually stalwart corn
leaning, its yellow cowlicks aquiver
all sound bent to the swoosh
in the trees swirling round
the river bank as it arcs
inland toward the bluff
then count the beats well
between thinking and doing
blend texture and edge
see the questions unglued
tip over the verge of context
riding smooth rough
glides into moments
you can trust