Spun and Spent

 

How quickly our days are spun and spent

like the string of a kite

caught on an updraft,

the spool held in loose hands,

spinning fast and faster.

 

To slow the spinning

is to stop the climb–exultant, liberating.

To wind the string back onto the spool

is to move backward, to sink, to stunt.

How should I live these unraveled days?

How can I rise and yet

come back down?

The spool, its frenzied turning,

burning my hands.

 

I am afraid.

 

The days spin on, uncounted, uncontrolled,

but soon, before I know,

the string will catch,

the spool will slow.

 

Oh help me live these kite-string days!

Truly live them, spinning and wild,

and I, a breathless child

with burning palms and

racing heart,

will hold on lightly, lightly.

 

I will trust the wind that carries me

to the place where earth and heaven overlap;

knowing the string, however long, is short,

and, once spent, will surely snap.

 

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A Child No More

I’ve always wanted to be brave

To face my demons unafraid

And yet I’ve always waited on

Someone, something, far beyond

But there are wolves outside my door

And I’m a child no more

 

Throw open wide this shuttered heart

Let in the light till shadows part

Gaze straight into the the truth of me

Embrace the facts unflinchingly

Unlock the gate, unbar the door

For I’m a child no more

 

I swell beyond these strict confines

Overflow my precious lines

Past the margins, I am free

Expand to the periphery

Plummet down or rise to soar

Either way, a child no more

NPM: Jack and Joy

Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed,” in which he chronicles his own grieving process after losing his wife Joy to cancer.

 

A grief that feels like fear

The tight fist of a heart

The sudden cold sweat

Short, shallow breaths

And the edginess of being pursued

The awful moment of waking up in the night

And wondering why the world feels so wrong

That confusion then being eclipsed

By the horror of remembering, realization

 

 

Colors really are flat

Friends once thought charming really are dull

Conversations that might have been interesting

Are now so much empty, grating air

Full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing

Because when you left,

You took it all with you

 

 

It terrifies me to think

I might regress to the

Pitiful creature I was before you

Before I knew what it was

To be loved by you

And what it was to love you

Even now I feel the creeping thought–

“Maybe it won’t be so bad.

See? You almost felt normal for a moment there.”

Not so bad without a beating heart

Without sight or taste

Not so bad to float in a numb haze,

Only periodically pierced by a thousand hot knives

 

 

I let myself remember you,

But your face is a blurred smudge

How could it be otherwise?

I saw it from every angle,

Gripped with every possible emotion

One image in memory

Could never capture it

Your eyes– I can’t quite recall the color

Only the feeling

And that alone reduces me

to a whimpering child

NPM: The Handless Watch

Monsieur Cotillier had not always been

the remarkable person of fable.

He was once just a child

By the name of Armand

who slept on the hay in a stable.

 

And little Armand woke up every morning

to care for the cows and the hens.

He’d work through the day,

then lay down and pray,

and sleep to start over again.

 

A less magical life can scarce be imagined.

Armand knew that this was his lot.

Until one day there came

a traveling market

and everything changed on the spot.

 

For after the milking and feeding was done,

Young Armand snuck off to the fair.

He saw trinkets and baubles

straight out of his dreams,

enchantment hung thick in the air.

 

A two headed-lizard spoke sonnets of love,

Cards built themselves up into towers.

And out of a wagon,

a wizened old woman

sold beautiful crystallized flowers.

 

Such blossoms have never been seen on this earth

They delighted and dazzled the boy.

Each perfect cut bloom

so vivid and sharp

filled Armand with ineffable joy.

 

The woman looked up and noticed the child

admiring all of her wares.

“Long have I waited

for you, my dear boy.”

Armand could do nothing but stare.

 

She reached into her shawl and pulled out a chain.

A pocketwatch hung from one end.

“This is for you, child.

Now open it up,

It’s time for your tale to begin.

 

Time and Fate are two faces of the very same coin

Together they bend and are bent.

So why should a watch

tell only the Time,

but not Fate, to a certain extent?”

 

Wide-eyed, Armand took and opened the watch,

and stared into a face without hands,

but he heard a small voice

that spoke right in his ear

and revealed a bit of Future’s plans.

 

“You will travel, Armand, you will see wondrous things.

You’ll face danger, betrayal, and fear.

You’ll know love ever-true

but it is not for you

to spend life with the one you hold dear.

 

And much like this bazaar, from your travels afar,

you’ll collect many wonders exquisite.

People will come to you

for a glimpse of true magic.

Only once in their lives can they visit.

 

So go, dear sweet boy, and don’t lose the joy

you hold in your heart like a flame.

You are destined for greatness,

But never forget

the humble start from whence you came.”

 

When Armand looked up from the watch’s blank face

A shiver ran all down his spine,

for the market was gone

and no sound could be heard

but the whistle of wind in the pines.

NPM: We Are the Myth-Makers

We are the myth-makers

the word-weavers

the heart-breakers

 

We are the life-drinkers

the soul-searchers

the deep-thinkers

 

We are the dream-dancers

the night-singers

the riddle-answers

 

We are the time-walkers

the light-bringers

the fate-stalkers

 

We are the glory-bearers

the god-children

the storm-farers

 

We are a moment

a vapor

a breath

Eternally significant

Victors over death

NPM: The Fire’s Heart

Far under the cracked and dying earth

the molten fire had given birth:

a thing of light, almost too bright

it sparked with joy and mirth

 

The fire’s child pushed up through rock and sand

and climbed toward the surface land

The darkness deep, it could not keep

the bright fire child within its hand

 

The child broke into the open air

expecting worlds both rich and fair

Its laughter bright, filled with delight

rang out, fell soft, grew silent in despair

 

A shadow of the glory days of old

A ruined waste none had foretold

The fire child’s glow was dimming low

Its warmth did wane, its heart grew cold

 

There still remains upon that barren ground

the crater where the child was found

and all alone, a glassy stone:

the fire’s heart at last unbound

Guess What May Is?

May is National Short-Story Month.  I celebrated National Poetry Writing Month by writing a new poem every day in April.  I did nothing of the sort in May.  In fact, I did not even write one short story this month.  But I do have a short story to share with you.  I wrote it a few years ago.  I can’t remember if I’ve ever posted it on this blog, so here you go.  I will warn you, it is not a happy story.  It is not anywhere near that.  But writing it was cathartic, and  I still think it contains some spark of truth, difficult though that truth may be.  So here is my story, entitled:

 

The Hour of Lead

 

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—

The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,

And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

 

The Feet, mechanical, go round—

Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—

A Wooden way

Regardless grown,

A Quartz contentment, like a stone—

 

This is the Hour of Lead—

Remembered, if outlived,

As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—

First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—

 

-Emily Dickinson

 

 

I put my son in the earth today.  The tiny coffin held only three years of growth.  Three years of vibrant, jubilant life—smothered and extinguished in an instant.  I stood over the fresh mound of dirt, my wife weeping near my shoulder, and I envied her.  Today, my eyes are dry.  I knelt down in that dirt, willing the tears to come.  Wrestling the anguish inside me towards the surface, but it slipped from my grasp and settled deep in my stomach, heavy and nauseating.  I could smell the earth—the wet, dark, rich, and secret smell of freshly dug soil.  I reached my hand toward the black dirt, unsettled and displaced by my boy’s small frame, then watched my hand drop as though it had forgotten its purpose.  I looked up and noticed I was alone at the grave.  Everyone had moved a respectful distance away; even Kate stood a few yards off, still quietly sobbing.   I lifted myself from the ground, my shoulders sore from the heaviness that clung to me more desperately than my wife ever had.

*****

Three days ago, I came home to find Kate frantically running through the house, crying Noah’s name.  The shrill hysteria of her voice shot panic through my arms and legs.  Her tearful phone call hadn’t prepared me for the reality that our child was missing.  I clambered up the steps, my foot slipping off one and sending me crashing down on my knee.  I continued without pausing, now calling Noah with a tight throat.  Toys filled his room, strewn on the floor and across the bed, but the emptiness I felt was staggering.  I ran downstairs and out the front door, eyes darting into the road, adjoining yards, under the bushes.  Around back, I saw our gray tabby cat calmly licking its paw.  Its fur looked wetly matted, as if it had been in the birdbath again.  Like the bedroom, the cluttered emptiness of the backyard made me shudder.  We hadn’t opened our pool yet; the dark brown cover still stretched over it like a seal.  My eyes skated over its taught surface, then flicked back to the far corner where the cover’s edge had slipped away from the siding of the pool.  God, no…

Time dragged against me as my feet pounded toward that corner.  I gazed down into the water underneath the cover.  Dark green algae had accumulated from an autumn and winter of disuse.  I couldn’t see anything.  I ripped the cover away, exposing more of the opaque, murky pool.  Kate had come to the back door.  She saw where I was standing and screamed.  The sound became abruptly muffled as I dove under the surface of the water, feeling along the slick bottom of the pool.  My burning eyes strained against the shadowy depths.  Nothing.  My lungs began to spasm, demanding oxygen.  I pressed into the murk, the water getting darker as I swam further away from the uncovered portion of the pool.  My foot brushed against something.  I reached back behind me, and my fingers closed around a thin arm.  The scream that ripped from my throat came out in one hideous bubble, never to be heard by anyone above.  I choked, but forced myself not to inhale the water pressing against my mouth and nose.  In a final wave of frantic energy, I swam back toward the light, dragging my little boy behind me.  As we burst to the surface, my wife’s screams broke on my ears with full force.  I gulped air as I pulled my son out of the water, then with shaking arms, hoisted myself onto the ground next to him.

“Call the ambulance,” I gasped.

“My baby!  Oh God, Noah!”

“Kate!  Call 911!  Now, damn it!”

My fingers pressed against Noah’s neck.  His face looked so cold and pale, his lips blue.  No pulse, not even the weak flicker of a defiant heart wrestling with Death.  I began the first steps of CPR.  I felt for the connecting point in the middle of Noah’s bottom ribs, right above his small, swollen stomach.  I then placed my flat palm slightly above the spot and pressed down with both hands.  The rhythm took over—ten compressions, then breathe into his mouth.  I could hear Kate crying into the phone, “124 Fisher Street… Please, hurry!”  My pace didn’t quicken, but I bore down harder, desperately trying to push blood though my son’s heart.  I felt the horrible crack of a rib under my hands, but I didn’t stop.  Time means nothing when you’re desperate.  It doesn’t pass; it doesn’t even stir.  It hangs thick and drowsy in the air around you, stifling… oppressive.  I felt two strong hands on my shoulders, pulling me back away from the body on the ground.  The medics.  I hadn’t even heard the siren coming down the small road to our house.  Two men in clean uniforms bustled around Noah.  They moved with efficiency, calm, and clinical detachment.  I stood there, doing nothing.  Watching.  Waiting.  It’s strange, the things I noticed in those moments.  I could hear again, and with remarkable clarity.  A Mourning Dove sang in the trees.  I had listened to its song so many times before as I sat on the back porch while Noah played in the yard… oo-wah-hoo, hoo hoo.  Slow and deep and melancholy.  The sound had never been more heart-breaking, more lonely and abandoned.  I noticed the scratchy feel of my soaked, woolen socks, shoved down in my equally soaking shoes.  I then realized that I was shaking violently.  The medics rose at that moment, Noah stretched on a gurney between them.  They hurried toward the ambulance with grim faces.  One motioned to my wife and me to climb in the back.  I don’t remember much about the ride to the hospital… just the feeling of panic squeezing tight fists around my heart and my throat.  My wife kept stroking Noah’s pale hand as if she were comforting him, reassuring him that everything would be alright.

Nothing would be alright.

*****

Kate sat next to me in silence as we drove home from the funeral.  Her hands looked pale and fragile as they rested on the stark black fabric of her dress.  My hands no longer shook.  They gripped the steering wheel with steadiness, moving methodically to guide the car along the road.  I stared ahead, not really seeing roadsigns or landmarks.  Before I knew it, we pulled into the driveway.  I sat in the parked car for a moment, and Kate rested her small hand on my knee.  Her wet eyes met mine, and the feeling of distant grief whispered over me.  My Kate, my sweet Kate.  She doesn’t deserve this.  No one deserves to bury their own child, but least of all Kate.  I remembered when she was pregnant with Noah.  She had been sick every morning and every night, but she never complained. Did she?  It doesn’t matter.  Regardless, she looked radiant every time anyone mentioned the baby that was growing inside her.  She would lay one hand protectively over the swell of her stomach and smile with a tenderness I hadn’t noticed before.  That tenderness never faded, even when diaper changes and late-night feedings sapped her energy.  It remained through the three years of Noah’s life, and it overflowed even now, even as her precious baby lay buried in the ground.  I rested my own rough hand on top of hers and squeezed it, again staring through the windshield without seeing.

“Come on, Will.  Let’s go inside.”

“He was chasing Rosie, Kate.  He was chasing the cat and it ran near the pool.  And he…”  My throat closed and I sighed.  “Rosie was wet.  I saw her just before I saw the pool cover.”

“It doesn’t matter right now.  Please…let’s just go in the house.”  I heard the pleading in her voice, and the worry.  I nodded, gritting my teeth and swallowing the helplessness that choked me.

We got out of the car and entered the silent house.  What can I say about that afternoon?  Everything reminded me of Noah.  The green ball next to the television, the tiny plastic spoons in the silverware drawer, the book about a hungry caterpillar, and oh God, his handprints on the sliding glass door—they all drove home the reality that Noah should have been there, but wasn’t.  Kate sat at the kitchen table, trying to read from a tattered Bible, but I watched as she kept gazing off into space, eyes unfocused and bleary.  After a while, I went upstairs to our bedroom.  I knelt down at my bedside table and opened the bottom drawer.  I picked up the small pistol I kept there, for emergencies, and loaded it with one bullet.  Then I tucked it into my pocket with the safety on and headed into the backyard.  The sunset cast everything in a peach-golden glow.  I had just stepped out the back door when Rosie came over.  She rubbed against my leg, purring loudly.  I reached down to scratch the soft fur behind her ears, and her already-loud purring increased.  As I straightened up, she sauntered a few steps away from me, in that nonchalant way that only cats walk.  I pulled the pistol out of my pocket, switched off the safety, and pointed it, pulling back the trigger.  The sharp crack broke the dusky silence of the backyard.  Kate rushed to the back door, dread ringing her eyes and tightening her lips.  She looked at me, then at the limp body of the cat, then back at me.  Her eyes filled with confusion, pain, and fear.  Then she simply turned around and walked back into the house.

I went over to the cat and looked closely to see if its ribcage would rise and fall as it breathed.  No, I had aimed well.  I scooped the small, fragile body up in my arms.  There wasn’t much blood, only a light warm trickle on my fingers as I carried the body to a bare patch of dirt behind the garage.  For the second time that day, I knelt down in the dirt.  For the second time that day, I buried something innocent—something that hadn’t done anything to deserve death.  I knew that shooting the cat wouldn’t make things better.  It wouldn’t bring Noah back.  It wouldn’t satisfy the helpless agony I felt yet couldn’t express.  But it felt right.  I began to dig in the soft soil with my hands.  The hole didn’t need to be big.  I could smell the earth again.  It had become a familiar, almost intimate smell.  The sorrow that had lain dormant in the pit of my stomach began to slowly uncoil, a rising snake ready to strike.  I lowered the cat into its grave and began to push the moist soil back into place over the body.  Finally, I patted the dirt firmly and brushed off my hands.  I stared down at the little grave, still on my knees.  She was a good cat.  Suddenly, the stiffness, the heaviness, the cold formality gave way inside me, breaking up like ice on a river and getting swept away by a fresh tide of emotion.  Tears made hot tracks down my face.  Tears.  And then I was sobbing, gasping and shuddering—grateful in the midst of it all to be released from my paralysis.