The First Time

The first time he saw the sun, he thought it was God. He stood in his nakedness and stared at the glowing disk until it recreated itself everywhere he looked, like a bright hole in everything.

The first time he saw her, she was standing next to a tree where serpents coiled around the large, solid branches when they sought safety and not the afternoon sun. She was staring at the sky, as he had done that time with the sun, but what she saw he could not tell.

At the time, they lacked the words to explain any of it or themselves to one another. It was a wordless time, simpler and also more difficult.

The first time she saw him was before he saw her. She crouched behind the dense undergrowth, scarcely breathing because he was like an animal, his senses alert to danger or food or anything out of the usual in his wood. She moved only her eyes, watching him hunt a small creature, like a serpent himself all sinews and long muscle, except for the hair in places she had never considered, a covering like moss on the forest floor.

The first time they saw the moon, they were together with their naked faces against the sky and his right side pressed against her left until it was her back against the sky and they saw the universe unfold between them like fire sparking into the night.

Texas

Kathleen’s ankle was swollen and throbbed when it didn’t ache. After the sticky day, she longed to float on a lake somewhere with cool water, cold at the deep bottom. She didn’t know, but she thought floating in the water would heal all aches.

Why would anyone think she should go to Texas? Did they even have lakes there? Did they have anything aside from half-witted governors with big ambitions, their lone star attitude, and oil rich ranchers with big ass hats? Why would someone born elsewhere sign on for that?

It was time to re-think the relationship with Cal, although the mere thought of that felt like a punch in the stomach. Looking at him made her dizzy, with his easy smile, the way his hair settled on his head, and the smell of him, like hot salty coco butter and sky. How could she not be with him? But Texas.

She leaned back in the creaky porch swing and looked across the field to where the moon was dangling. She wondered if it changed by state. What did it look like at the furthest dark point from this one. She wondered if it was red in Texas, a dripping red moon over a parched mouth with cracked lips gasping for water.

I’ve changed my mind

I’ve changed my mind  about this whole writing thing. If you’re going to grasp for straws out of thin air, why not become a trapeze artist? My god, imagine the freedom of flying barely tethered, the excitement, the swallow back your stomach, heart in your ears excitement. In all likelihood there would be clowns, however, same as everywhere with their predictable shenanigans and big shoe shuffle.

Grasping for straws now mind you, wouldn’t being a farmer yield more results? Also, too, there would the the cycle—so satisfying—the tilling, planting, weed & water, harvest of it. There would be Friday night Bingo! & bean suppers at the Grange Hall. Do country folk still sup at the Grange? Is there a Halloween fun house with spaghetti for worms, jello for brains & pudding for something unspeakable?

Well, there’s always Miss America or an accordionist, or a kick boxer or a spy—finding the needle in the hay instead of the usual straw detail.

Perhaps, rather than write I’ll develop anorexia nervosa and fade invisibly away or I could hitch hike to Alaska and work on a fishing boat, piling fish guts around my ankles for hours and days.

Perhaps then I would have something to write about. Perhaps then. Perhaps.

5 objects in juxtaposition

Outside the paella restaurant

I am driving under the freeway. Cars above me are inching along like my Grandma in winter with Creepers attached to the bottom of her boots. If I’d planned to get on, I wouldn’t, but watching them is peaceful, no stress, no impatience from here.

A train is blowing its whistle nearby, advising those capitol corridor dwellers to come hither, and reminding me that I, too, can ride the rail, the clickety clack rumble carrying me further on down the line. It rolls slowly between stops until it flies like a winged stallion up the delta, out of the fog and into the oven, like a rocket to the sun.

An older hippie gone button up office worker pedals his bike down Brush Street. His blondish grayish hair trails down his back in ropy pieces, not dreads, but he wishes they were. A bag of oranges is tied on the back of his bicycle, heading toward the ferry.

Brush Street ends near the train tracks, its perpendicular end point. On the other side of the tracks, a ferry rises out of the water. It’s not the Casco Bay Ferry of my youth, a slow moving donkey low in the water that carries mail, island dwellers with faces worn by the wind, and occasional cars, although most of the island are too small to use one. The beast before me rises out of the bay like a giant ready to grab cars off the street to swallow them. Lines of buttoned shirted, tie loosened, hair freed travelers line up for passage west, into the sunset only to return with its rise tomorrow.

Overshadowing my parking spot, there’s a squared off, painfully modern building. It sits like a pompous little man in a too-hip bar, forgetting that he’s wearing a Hello My Name Is label with Digital Realty written in block letters. I see Digital Reality and am reflexively disgusted.

I hope the paella is old-fashioned good.

You have 3 Minutes

“She said I had 3 minutes to impress her, man! I came up empty!I put my hands in my pockets and pulled them inside out—I didn’t even have no lint!” Edgar said.

“Bro, why 3 minutes? What do 3 minutes have to do with anything? You can’t even eat a burrito in 3 minutes unless it’s one of those little freezer burritos,” Junior said.

You think I know? What do I know?” Edgar shrugged and shuffled across the hall to his room.

Edgar has a window with a tree in it, so he’s all good. Me, I got the dumpster to look out on. Rain or shine, no buena for this homie, Junior thought.

Edgar shuffled back in with 2 plastic wrapped burritos in his hands.

“Your microwave working, Junior? Mine’s roto. Brought us some lunch.

“That’s good, Edgar. They cook in about 3 minutes, right?

Edgar smiled and nodded.

“So, you going to ask her out?”

“Think I should?”

“I say you better think about it real good. Polish up those words and blind her with ‘em. And I don’t mean with your gold tooth, homie. ” Junior said laughing.

Scar Tissue

As I stood in front of my house, one of our neighbors walked down the street and passed me without speaking. Although we have had pleasant conversations in past months, she seemed not to recognize me.

“Hello, Marie!” I call to her.

She turned back, “Oh! Hello!”

“How have you been? We haven’t seen you and your daughter Frieda for a while.”

We first met them when Frieda was about 2 ½. Marie and her daughter would walk by and Frieda often detoured to climb front our stairs. Our cat Buster always sat looking out the window near the top of them and she looked for him, when she remembered, and squealed with delight when he was there.

“Frieda is doing pretty well, although she has a new sister. An older sister. So it’s a big change.”

“Wow! Congratulations on the addition to your family!”

“We adopted her from Korea. She’s experienced a lot of trauma, especially related to dogs. There were wild dogs running in the streets and she’s horribly afraid of them.

I told Marie about the boxer I’d adopted from a shelter and told her Betty was afraid of a lot of things, especially hoses. We parted ways at the end of the block and over the next few weeks as I walked Betty around the neighborhood; I noticed the changes in the front yard of the little cottage—2 hoola hoops, 2 scooters, 2 of everything.

Lately we’ve had a heat wave and all our windows have been flung wide open. Twice in the last month, I’ve heard a little girl wake up screaming when I sat in the back of the house. Who knows how deep the hurt goes.

Photo #1

sunken boat Michael Leland maine*

It was a perfect spring day to fly fish on the river, Shannon thought, shifting her truck into third gear. The ice had broken a couple weeks earlier and the water had warmed enough to wake the bellies of this slumbering fish, sleeping beauties in the muck and rocks on the riverbed.

She headed north on Route 116 reflexively, not realizing she had decided where to go until she was well on her way to her father’s favorite fishing hole. It was the place where he’d taught her to cast and reel, select flies from those she’d brought, to stand still against the river’s urgency, and to be silent in a thoughtful, even reverent way, inside the rhythm of it.

Shannon rounded the familiar corner and drove another quarter of a mile. Pulling over onto the wide sandy shoulder of the road, she got out and with an economy of movement gathered her fishing pack, pole, and waders. She headed through the underbrush, ducking under the bright green tender ends of young branches, listening for the animal chatter and birdsong to get a sense if all was well in the wood.

At the edge of the river where she turned left to follow it upstream to the hole, she found a completely submerged dinghy. The sun shone through the leaves like a spotlight onto it. So unexpected, she stopped to consider it more closely. The frogs had laid their eggs in a dense gel that covered the grassy end closest to shore where the sides of the boat provided shelter and a little universe inside the boat swayed gently with the river’s flow.

She leaned over the water with her hands on her knees and felt a deep growl building in her chest. In the deepest version of her voice she sang out over the water:
“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord,
But you don’t really care for music, do you…”**

*Photo by Michael Leland

**Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

Describe the Mess

I remember a day when my parents were still married—I was small, maybe in the first grade. There was a fight between them, but was it explosive, or a calm-voiced disagreement, or a slow simmering cauldron with acidic bubbles bursting into the room? The fight, one among countless battles, is lost to me.

Mom was curled up like a cat on the couch, slapping pages of a Cosmopolitan magazine against each other. Dad was in the kitchen, sitting at the counter with his back to her, looking out the window to the pine-dotted meadow, inhaling deeply on a Winston cigarette.

I don’t know how my brother and I became involved, but I remember going into the closet and picking up two of my father’s shoes. My hands were small and his feet were impossibly large and the shoes were heavy. I instructed my brother to get a shoe. He could only carry one at a time.

My father’s feet were riddled with corns and callouses that made him hobble and limp. Working at Dexter Shoes, he bought many pairs in his search to find one magical pair that would mitigate his pain. The back of the closet was lined with boxes full of them.

Like a fireman’s brigade, we gathered his shoes, ran to the kitchen and threw them on the floor in front of him. Back and back we ran until we were out of ammunition, wondering all the while when we would be made to stop. Finally when we came to throw the empty shoeboxes, he rose to yell at us and sent us to our rooms with warm bottoms.

Mom remained on the couch, the corners of her mouth curled into an I-was-right smile.

My brother and I still feel bad.

Along the edge

It was ten o’clock and the leftover heat of the day was still baking the stucco house. Fans spun at the highest setting with windows flung wide open and yet the air wouldn’t budge. One step outside and the temperature dropped eight degrees. It almost made a person want to sleep outside, but in this dense urban environment the idea wasn’t appealing.

Sweat trickled down her ribs and between her breasts, adding a new irritation to her long hot list of complaints. Desperate for some relief, she sat on the edge of the bathtub and filled a basin with cool water to soak her feet. The dog lay outside the door, whimpering and panting, despite her lack of activity.

As she sat, she stared sightlessly out the bathroom window overlooking the small parking area for the building next door. Her thoughts drifted lazily, as if on a rudderless boat, until she realized that there was a tall figure of a person standing in the shadows of the trees between the buildings. It looked like she was in his sightline and a spasm of adrenaline ran through her.

She quickly dried her feet and walked across the room to turn out the light.  She returned to peek through the curtain, but the man was gone. He could be anywhere, now.

What Did You Expect

The sky is blue.
What did you expect?
The bus is full.
What did you expect?
I am going to work.
What did you expect?
My patience for this is taxed, hexed, and vexed.

The sweat popped out the pores on her forehead. She furrowed her brow, an involuntary reflex that had presented in her father and her father’s father. How far back into the shadowy reach of genealogical history does it go?

How did you expect to find your people after swallowing maternal distaste for the geological circumference of familial location? Years lost before you trace your way back with a flashlight.

What, dear girl, what did you expect of this world whose job is simply to spin on angle, to orbit, and try to shake you off like a flea off the back of a pack mule. Off with you and your petty irritations with the discomforts of your host’s provisions, bloodsucker.
What did you expect of your poor mother who felt malnourished? The banquet table was set elsewhere, her poor breasts hung empty. And who did yours ever feed, you of great expectations in the promise of a new day?

Please, we await you. How may we provide all you need with your open hands waiting to receive, but you with your requirements.You are the ungrateful poor.

When she looked up
the sky was blue
yet clouds obscured it.
The air was breathable
though not undamaged.
The bus was full,
but on time.
Expectation be damned.