Walking

I thought walking was the one form of exercise that would always be available to me. It was perfect, in a way, both an activity and a mode of transport.

Walking: It takes you places!

For a while, it was enough and then I grew impatient. I longed to feel the wind in my hair, so I picked up the pace. Then I ran. I loved to run. I felt like a flesh eating predator, like I could kill with my teeth, like I could vanquish a pile of virgins.

Then I got home, bent to untie my shoes, and could not get up. I lay on the floor, waiting to be released from the white hot agony that grabbed me at the slightest move.

These days I walk with a limp and my pace has slowed, but there’s more than one way to walk, so I got a dog to force me into better habits. Goodbye, YMCA, I’ve got a new plan called the Betty Method. Whoever heard of a dog that didn’t like to walk? I found her.

If conditions are perfect (not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, not too loud, some dogs but only certain ones, some people but only nice-good smelling-mostly-quiet ones, flat terrain is best, grid pattern with wide open sight lines are preferred, tall grass is better than sand, natural and less urban, quiet but not too quiet, etc.) she will walk, IF there are treats (really good ones like fresh cooked chicken breast, ground turkey or hamburger and especially with melted cheese, chicken hearts, Grandma’s kosher crackers, hot dogs—turkey or beef-to name a few.) Please rotate treats weekly.

Mostly I sit watching Betty sleep and writing.

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Breasts

I sat on an old woven lawn chair with my portable typewriter on a TV tray in front of me. My handwritten sign read, “Poetry, Hot off the Presses! Only $1 per poem. Any subject!”

It was so hot it hurt, so I’d brought a parasol to hide under, planning for the time in between the few poems I expected to write. By 10 AM, the farmer’s market a half a block away was bustling and I had a line of customers that was almost 10-deep!

First in line were 3 young people with bright dyed hair—blue, green and pink. They chose Marx, Spelunking, and Mt. Everest for their poems. College students.

Two little boys waited sort of patiently towards that back of the line. Every now and then they would run by me, first one chasing, then the other. I heard them talking about a bug on a leaf and one of their balls flew by my head when they were playing catch. Their mom held their place in line and occasionally re-directed their rambunctiousness to quieter things.

The youngest was a daredevil—he was the first to jump in the fountain (to his mother’s dismay), the first to dive head first after a ball or to throw down a challenge, a double dog dare ya to the older brother. At long last, he stood before me grinning with his lower jaw stuck out.

“What should I write your poem about?” I asked.

He squirmed for a few long seconds and then said, “BREASTS!” in a loud voice and ran behind his mother, who flushed purple, but smiled at me.

“Coming right up, young man!”

Breasts

Big and small
Far and wide
Bounce and jiggle,
They sure don’t hide.

You can see ‘em
in the grocery store
and at the market, too.
You can even find ‘em when you go
to buy your baseball shoes.

I pulled it out of the typewriter with flourish. He hid behind his mother, but reached around her to grab his poem. He ran away with it held above his head.

The road not taken

Had Macy gone east on Willow Road, her whole life may have been different. The fact is she went west and fate unfolded.

Traveling west, she drove into the afternoon sun. Had she gone east, the world would have been lit with warm golden tones and she would have marveled at the pain of intense beauty, at the sanctity of everything, at all she saw stretching out ahead of her like the finest tapestry.

She went west and her face soon ached from squinting. Rather than seeing what was there, she saw only that which blocked the setting sun. Shapes appeared as moving shadows that insinuated themselves rather than expressing themselves directly.

It was in this way that she hit the moose square on. The lumbering beast was taller than the height of her car by more than 18”, a fact she could not have known, nor would it have made a difference.

It was the time of day when the moose emerged from the wood and grazed along the sides of the road, where the grass grew salty from the winter snowplow’s runoff, and where the occasional apple core tossed out a passing window was a tasty surprise. This moose was crossing to the unforaged side of the road. It did not occur to him that he might be in danger, strong and virile bull that he was, and the air was absent any scent of predators or danger.

At the impossible distance of 25 feet, the moose loomed before her and stopped, startled by the screaming desperation of brakes, tires, and hot stinking blacktop. At impact his legs were knocked out from under him and his torso rolled over the hood. His rack of antlers bashed into the metal and bounced into the windshield where they found purchase, shattering what had previously been unbreakable. Rolling the moose again and sending 2 hooves into the windshield in front of Macy’s face, where they stayed.

Despite all the mourning that was to come, the sun continued to set and the earth continued on its journey toward darkness.

Blood was everywhere

The rat was dead at the edge of the sidewalk and there was blood everywhere. Apples were half-eaten and strewn around and chaos was king.

“Must’ve been one helluva fight,” some guy said over the top the fence.

“Yeah, but you should see the other guy,” came the ready reply.

Bada Bump Ba

Blood was everywhere, and so was chewed up gum, and spit, and shit, and there was no end to it. No wonder people don’t walk in this neighborhood. They’d have to burn their shoes when they got home each day. If they lived.

And the traffic roared by, and the sun baked the narrator’s brain, and the dead rat’s guts began to rot and the clock struck 9.

Across the street, two guys stood talking over the top of their car, not noticing the rat or anything else. The traffic raced and roared beside them, but the low-talking, men drew the ears of the women who sat on the other side, far from the rat, but in the middle of the nasty sidewalk, sipping coffee, trying not to notice the blood, and straining, ever so slightly, to make out the buzzing whispers. The secrecy was catnip, drawing them in, although in the end it was nothing and the men left, never seeming to notice the rat.

They were regulars here and they knew the coffee was strong and cheap, even if it was a health food store. The men filling the bulk bins with catnip had recognized them, shaking their heads, and they all slipped into a bantering game they had been playing for decades, with their hair thinning and graying, with rats coming and going, with people passing by and seeing only the filth on the sidewalk.

On Top

“On top of Old Smoky,
All covered in cheese,
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.”

The five year old voices were all within a certain pitch range, which was several levels higher than most adults. Although I had been going to the nephews’ ballgames now and again, this was my first concert. I had forgotten Old Smoky after all these years, but now memories were bubbling up like hot gasses out of swamp mud.

Kickball with most of the kids in our tiny school on one of the teams, the smell of spring mud—disgusting and glorious at once—games of marbles in the school yard, finding evidence of fairies and magic on the forest floor, under rocks, and in the center of clusters of white birch trees.

Their voices were angelic until you opened your eyes and saw them poking and pinching each other, and squirming like they had crumbs in their pants. The sound of them sent me back to my childhood and then forward into my nephews’ deep-voiced futures of first dances, kisses, and dates. It took me to the future when they would live through self defining moments of unexpected bravery or foolishness.

I blinked and the last note hung in the air. We all clapped, and the sound of our clapping brought us back to our seats, to the concert, to the day.

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.