Categories
Poems

In Mexico

IMG_6394

Where in summer heat the street dogs laze,
Where coconut trees soak the sun and wave
Where dusk paints the coasts, the sand, and the bays,
And the family spirits talk between graves.

Where the Baja mountains lie capped in snow
Behind miles of desert, cacti, and mesquite,
Before the Sea of Cortez, smooth and indigo,
With shoulders of schist and dust at their feet.

In Mexico, where old men sit and stare,
With rheumy eyes and canes in their hands,
Beneath a sky so heavy it can’t just be air,
Near a dog so haggard it barely stands.

In Mexico, where old women mutter and moan,
In rebozos of black with their hair in a braid,
In the cool of the place where their children have grown,
And where they themselves have wrinkled and greyed.

Where there is laughter and drink, bright lights and bars,
Where the churches need priests, and the workers need pay,
Where there is sex in the night, fights, and white scars,
Where mirrors reflect careworn folk and their hard ways.

Categories
Poems

Sweet Kiss

Here’s another poem from the POV of a serial killer: the villain of my in-progress mystery novel, The Murders in the Endicott Hotel.

441px-Evelyn_De_Morgan_-_Angel_of_Death
Evelyn de Morgan – The Angel of Death, 1880.

 

 

Those who call it the sweet kiss of death
Have not seen people die
The way I have.

There’s nothing sweet
There’s nothing like a kiss
In the deaths of the people
Whom I kill.

A more appropriate way
To describe their deaths
Would be the bitter, rancorous clawings
Of untimely death.

But that is not poetic.
That is not
Metered
Or rhyming
Or even illuminating.

But I suppose
That if you want metered
And Rhyming
Then you should go
For Dr. Seuss
And if you want illuminating
Then go
To the light bulb store.

Because if you come to me,
I will give you death
And the kind of death I give you
Will never remind anyone
Of a
Sweet kiss.

Categories
Poems

From Where the Luminous Arise

“From Where the Luminous Arise” is a poem that talks of how underdogs and people at a disadvantage rise to success and triumph.

IMG_7569
The Moon over Mexico, 2019

And when the streets are soft with confetti,
And cheers run riot through the air,
Remember, remember the place
from where the truly luminous arise.

Not from beneath the glittering chandeliers,
Nor emerging from jade-tiled pools,
Nor rocked in rubied cradles,
Nor rising from feathered beds,
Do grim, hard heros emerge.

Those places boast no forge hot enough
To maintain the internal flame.
They cannot compress folk from blackened, dusty coal
Into coruscating jewels.
Nor are they like the urban abattoirs,
That butcher the strong and the weak,
And leave the lucky to survive.

It is the men who, in burning their bridges,
See better through the night.
It is the women who, in casting off their anchors,
Sail to uncharted shores.
It is the people—broken, bent, and mangled—
Whose pain and suffering and want
Drive them relentlessly
onwards, upwards, onwards, upwards,
Until they reach the stars.

It is the weary, the scarred, the undaunted survivor
Who succeeds—against the common prediction—
Despite the overwhelming odds,
In the face of discrimination,
Pushing back the strong hands of hate.

And when these men and women answer
Their calls to greatness and commence
To building structures that will endure—
The band will stand and the gigues will play,
Trumpets forever after:
A marching tune in days of June
And the blues in the winter bleak.
And when these men and women become
Luminaries like those before,
In the times of cold when
All the coats in Sweden
can’t warm a man,
They burn.
And in times of fear when
All the prayers to heaven
Can’t conjure manna,
They give of themselves,
Until there is nothing left to give,
But bone and heart and blood.

And when they have given all of themselves
To field and friend and foe
Then they die like all men will
And are buried down below.

Categories
Poems

July 2020 Poems

My favorite poems from this July are Water, Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe, Salted, and We the Living Tree.

The most popular poems, judging by likes, were The Sunday Limericks, The Housefire, Barcelona, and The Cosmos and Man.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
Paul Limberg – July, a part of The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry


Contents
Barcelona
The Cosmos and Man
The Early Reaper
The Heat
The Housefire
Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe
Once More into the Void
The Prison
Salted
Seraphs in Black
Water
We the Living Tree

Barcelona
The walls are lined with bougainvillea,
And the streets are paved with cobblestone.
Ahead the Basílica de la Sagrada Família
Rises from the earth of Catalonia.

The day is breezeless, dry as bone,
While parakeets wing from tree to tree.
A suckling babe makes her mother moan
As she nurses on the malecón.

Up on the wharf, along the deep blue sea
Come fishermen with their morning catch:
Skipjack tunas, mahi-mahi—
Scales iridescent, fine as filigree.

What cold heart could Barri Gòtic not snatch—
What wounded heart could it not patch—
When lovers go to seek their match?
What locked imagination could it not unlatch?

The Cosmos and Man
It is Independence Day.
All those firecrackers—
Look at them all.
One after another after another.
Each one fascinating to watch,
Each one gone in a flash;
Each one is like a little life.

More are launched.
They are launched
In greater numbers
At ever faster rates.
This is humanity
Approaching its crescendo.

Imagine if we oohed and ahhed,
For every life lived like it was a firework.
Why not?
Folks are gone nearly as quickly, after all.
But we must tell ourselves
That we burn more brightly,
if not brighter, and are far more
important and everlasting.

At last the air is filled with fireworks,
A bright blaze. Thank the stars
That there is something beautiful
Yet to look upon.
The fireworks are captivating.
I don’t say good or bad, but
Certainly enthralling.

As expected, the show ends with a bang.
Some smoke lingers in the atmosphere.
A wind blows.
The stars twinkle high above.
The universe, it turns out,
Never cared that those fireworks
Existed it all.
And that
Is the very definition
Of unrequited love.

The Early Reaper
All men are fields of flowers
Which start from heavy seeds.
In spring, their early buds
Will breast the soil and grow.
In summer, their bright petals
Are upturned before the sun.
In fall the plants are wilting,
Their tender shoots are turned to husks,
And come winter they are withered
As the snow and winds sepulcher stalks.

And I am an early reaper
Who comes as a late frost.
In spring the flowers budding
Are the first of flowers lost.
And in summer I am fire
When the rains have left and gone
I spread amongst the meadows
And leave desert in my trail.
In fall I’m like the wild duck
Consuming every crop
In winter I’m resplendent
In robes of ice and lack and want.

The Heat
In this heat,
With the cicadas buzzing
Like chainsaws
And the dogs panting
Like lovers
There is nothing to do
But sweat
And sleep
Sweat
And sleep
Sweat
And sleep
Until you wash yourself
In the warm ocean
Until the rain falls
And turns the land green
Until the moon rises
And the heat
Like a cat
Curls up for a nap.
And then, only then,
Can you breathe.

The Housefire
She had skin
As smooth
As a watermelon’s
And eyes
As bright
As butterflies.
She stood,
Frozen for a moment,
With her mouth open,
So that her round white teeth
And the tip of her pretty
Pink tongue
Were just visible.

Her arm was outstretched,
Like a medusa
Under a deep sea.

I could understand her.

I suppose that’s
How
I might stand too
If I came home,
And I, like her,
Found my home
Burning.

Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe
There once was a happy giraffe
Whose name was Mr. McGraff
He was brown and yellow
And a very tall fellow
And he had the most wonderful laugh.

Now Mr. McGraff the lovely giraffe
Went down to the mud hole one day
And it was there that he saw in four crocodile’s jaws
The child of a hippo named May.

Now Mr. McGraff was a quiet giraffe,
As it is in a giraffe’s nature to be,
But seeing this calf almost halfway in half
His cries rang from mountain to sea.

Although unable to swim, he charged right on in
And he attacked the grim crocodiles.
After much splishing and splashing
And fighting and thrashing
The giraffe emerged with a smile.

He shouted, You cool crocodiles
With your treacherous smiles
On this sunny day you’ve been beaten!
And my next endeavor
Will be to turn you to leather
For having my hippo friends eaten!

In the course of a while
After much musing on style
The giraffe was seen with a grin.
He took the lousy old brutes
And turned them into four boots
And those crocs were not heard from again.

Once More into the Void
The Earth revolves, and seasons change.
Foliage turns red, brown, orange, and black.
Horses snort. Their breath rises.
Their hooves crunch through fresh snow.
Now the fawns are born.
They are brown, soft as butter, with white spots.
Their legs tremble.
In comes the sun. High overhead,
Its heat leaves the air shimmering.

At the amphitheater, a musician
Mops the sweat from his eyes,
Folds his cloth, and returns it
To his breast pocket. A crowd
Is sitting in the fresh green grass.
He puts the bow to his cello,
Turns to the band, and he calls,
“One more time around!”

The Prison
It was just a little prison,
But its walls were hard as iron
And its jailers were resolute bastards.
They hung men, day and night,
Hung them even in my dreams
So that as I lay sleeping, fearful,
I watched ghostly rebels
Swinging by their necks,
Dozens of them,
Swinging through the mists,
From nightmare gallows.

It was just a little prison,
But it kept me from being free.
It stopped me from doing
The things that I wanted to do.

It was just a little prison,
But I made it bigger
With bricks of fear
And mortar made of doubt.
The bars were of ignorance,
And I paved the floor
With missed opportunity.
I roofed the ceiling
With a broad sheet of discomposure
That covered up the sky.
Because why the hell not?
I thought I might as well.
I can’t see any distance anyway,
When I lose my temper.

It was just a little prison,
But at least I was my own warden,
And my own jailer too.
I could deny those visitors,
Courage and wisdom.
It was just a little prison,
But I made it
All by myself.

Salted
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than here by the sea
Where the birds are singing all day.
All my worries and cares
Drift away on sea airs
And I’m left to do nothing but play.

The world may be burning
And it’s certainly turning
But here every day feels the same.
I wake and I write
From morning to night
And at times I forget my own name.

Seraphs in Black
Against the rising beauty of the sun,
shimmering over an owl’s watchful eyes,
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Lightless labyrinths of deathly ebon
concealing nightmare beasts, dichotomized
against the rising beauty of the sun.

From trees, then across plains, desolate, dun,
thunder sixteen hooves guided by blind eyes
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Who race from four corners, the bloodless ones
taking, by frozen touch, their living prize
against the rising beauty of the sun.

They, in yawning hoods, take every one
judged guilty of slaying, sadism, lies;
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Who, like bright artists dabbing oils upon
canvases of horizons and dawn skies
against the rising beauty of the sun,
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Water
The pelting pitter patter of precipitation
tick tip tip tap
ppit ppit
on the rain washed window
during the dreary day
sends me, wends me,
bores me, as no sun can gather.
Another rain washed day:
grey and heavy storms,
forms of rain in sheets,
windy wreaths of rain
spin like cyclones in the lane.
The dreary drops go drip drip drip;
the gutter filling rain
makes slipping hours pass, peculating time
on stealthy phantom feet.
The steady clock goes tick tick tock,
Pock pock pick, pick pick pock.
Seconds sound in time to steady drops of rain
clock pock tick tock;
Seconds sound in tune to rain that nurses earth…
A water song, a sing along:
rivulets of rivers run,
languorous lakes will swell.
A water song with wet world words:
moist monsoon, sea storm squall, great ungainly gales;
sails and masts and levies snap in times of wet travails.
Tap tap tap, tip tip tip.
Ships snapped; sailors dead,
sunk in whirling eddies deep, in whirlpools, fish schools,
entombed in worlds of water,
in a never dreaming, seaweed feeding, never ending, sound unceasing sleep.
Such a sad unnecessary slaughter of superstitious sailors,
star-crossed seafarers, unfortunate mariners,
in scenes both past and present has never been succeeded nor never yet surpassed.
What a word is water; what a world is water!
Drip drip drip,
tick tick tock.
Clocks chime ten,
the dusky hour,
and still the rain pours down:
days and nights, nights and days,
months and months of rain.
The endless drip, the dreary dusk,
the weary walks from work
in incessant rain on ho-hum days,
rain interminable as an hour.

We the Living Tree
As a world we are a single tree
And each of us are leaves
We try to be strong and free
Still we shake in a breeze
And in a leaf’s November
When the time it comes to fall
Then it is well to remember
That spring will come to call
And although we may not see
The budding of new leaves
We’ll know they’ll come to be
After the passing of the freeze.

Categories
Poems

Sunday Limericks

Rats
Ferdinand Van Kessel – The Dance of the Rats, 1690.

The Nudists from Sweden
There once were three women from Sweden
Who dressed like they were from Eden
They walked around in the nude
With a happy naturist attitude
And they got even tans from their freedom!

The Dancing Mouse
There once was a mouse who could dance
And he waltzed by a river in France
His beautiful dance was so slow
Beneath the moon wan and low
That it was like he moved in a trance.

Schrödinger’s Cat
There once was Schrödinger’s cat
Who was quite happy and fat
Although physicists said
He could be both living and dead
The cat was indifferent to that!

Categories
Poems

Nostalgia

I am writing a thrilling murder-mystery novel, and it’s called More Punishment than Crime.  Its villain is a poet.  Each time that this villain commits a murder he writes a terrifying poem.  🙂  This is another of the poems from the book.

Picasso - Melancholy Woman
Pablo Picasso – Melancholy Woman, 1902.

A ball once bounced across the street.
I watched it from the window.
Its parabolas were nice and neat.
A child followed it and was struck by a car.

Once upon the merry-go-round,
Never again into the canary-dead mine.
As youth we slept amongst graveyard stones;
At Christmas we sang “Auld Lang Syne.”

There were dogs and cats,
Animals of all kinds.
We petted their heads;
We twisted their spines.

At school we put on such a façade
That it fooled all the others
Who never knew we were odd;
And at Christmas we sang bright carols.

Life is not more merry, nor a better ride,
If we show our true colors;
We must keep our real selves inside,
Because we are a monster.

Categories
Poems

The Early Reaper

I am writing a thrilling murder mystery novel, and its villain is a poet.  Each time that this antagonist commits a murder he writes a terrifying poem.  🙂  This is one of the poems from the book.

Philip Galle - 1574 - the Triumph of time Detail
Philip Galle – The Triumph of Time (detail), c. 1574

 

All men are fields of flowers
Which start from heavy seeds.
In spring, their early buds
Will breast the soil and grow.
In summer, their bright petals
Are upturned before the sun.
In fall the plants are wilting,
Their tender shoots are turned to husks,
And come winter they are withered
As the snow and winds sepulcher stalks.

And I am an early reaper
Who comes as a late frost.
In spring the flowers budding
Are the first of flowers lost.
And in summer I am fire
When the rains have left and gone
I spread amongst the meadows
And leave desert in my trail.
In fall I’m like the wild duck
Consuming every crop
In winter I’m resplendent
In robes of ice and lack and want.

Categories
Poems

Barcelona

Barcelona

 

The walls are lined with bougainvillea,
And the streets are paved with cobblestone.
Ahead the Basílica de la Sagrada Família
Rises from the earth of Catalonia.

The day is breezeless, dry as bone,
While parakeets wing from tree to tree.
A suckling babe makes her mother moan
As she nurses on the malecón.

Up on the wharf, along the deep blue sea
Come fishermen with their morning catch:
Skipjack tunas, mahi-mahi—
Scales iridescent, fine as filigree.

What cold heart could Barri Gòtic not snatch—
What wounded heart could it not patch—
When lovers go to seek their match?
What locked imagination could it not unlatch?

Categories
Poems

Barcelona

435px-Barcelona_-_Carrer_del_Bisbe

The walls are lined with bougainvillea,
And the streets are paved with cobblestone.
Ahead the Basílica de la Sagrada Família
Rises from the earth of Catalonia.

The day is breezeless, dry as bone,
While parakeets wing from tree to tree.
A suckling babe makes her mother moan
As she nurses on the malecón.

Up on the wharf, along the deep blue sea
Come fishermen with their morning catch:
Skipjack tunas, mahi-mahi—
Scales iridescent, fine as filigree.

What cold heart could Barri Gòtic not snatch—
What wounded heart could it not patch—
When lovers go to seek their match?
What locked imagination could it not unlatch?

Categories
Poems

Sunday Limericks

Franz Marc – White Cat, 1912

The Man from New York
There once was a man from New York
Who never did eat with a fork
So when at home or with friends
He’d just use his hands
No matter if he ate spaghetti or pork!

The Chatty Girl from Cameroon
There was a chatty girl from Cameroon
Who refused to eat with a spoon
She would happily slurp her soup from the bowl
And mop up its dregs with a roll
And she was well loved from here to the moon!

The Cat with a Knife
There once was a cat with a knife
Who had used it for all of his life
He was a delicate cat
Who had manners and sat
And spoke of good fortune and life!

 

Categories
Poems

Salted

Paul Gaugain – By the Sea, 1892.

 

There’s no place I’d rather be
Than here by the sea
Where the birds are singing all day.
All my worries and cares
Drift away on sea airs
And I’m left to do nothing but play.

The world may be burning
And it’s certainly turning
But here every day feels the same.
I wake and I write
From morning to night
And at times I forget my own name.

Categories
Poems

Seraphs in Black

“Seraphs in Black” is a villanelle, a type of French form poetry.  My poem is about the coming of the infamous four horsemen of the apocalypse.

800px-Gustave_Dore_-_Death_on_the_Pale_Horse
Gustave Doré – Death on the Pale Horse, 1865.

 

Villanelle – The villanelle has a strict structure.  There are five verses, each with ten syllables.  There are also two end rhyme words, in this case “sun” and “come”.  The rhyme scheme is as follows:

A1 b  A2          - Lines in first tercet.
  a  b  A1          - Lines in second tercet.
  a  b  A2          - Lines in third tercet.
  a  b  A1          - Lines in fourth tercet.
  a  b  A2          - Lines in fifth tercet.
  a  b  A1 A2       - Lines in final quatrain.

 

Seraphs in Black

“Then another angel came out of the temple
and called in a loud voice to him who was
sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and
reap, because the time to reap has come,
for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So he
who was seated on the cloud swung his
sickle over the earth,
and the earth was harvested.”
-Revelation 14: 15 NIV Bible

Against the rising beauty of the sun,
shimmering over an owl’s watchful eyes,
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Lightless labyrinths of deathly ebon
concealing nightmare beasts, dichotomized
against the rising beauty of the sun.

From trees, then across plains, desolate, dun,
thunder sixteen hooves guided by blind eyes
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Who race from four corners, the bloodless ones
taking, by frozen touch, their living prize
against the rising beauty of the sun.

They, in yawning hoods, take every one
judged guilty of slaying, sadism, lies;
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Who, like bright artists dabbing oils upon
canvases of horizons and dawn skies
against the rising beauty of the sun,
the apocalyptical black dead come.

Categories
Poems

Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe

Mr. McGraff the happy giraffe encounters four vicious crocodiles, and he takes action.

Mother and Baby Giraffe
Mother and baby giraffe. November 11th, 2014. Crescent Island, Naivasha, Kenya.

There once was a happy giraffe
Whose name was Mr. McGraff
He was brown and yellow
And a very tall fellow
And he had the most wonderful laugh.

Now Mr. McGraff the lovely giraffe
Went down to the mud hole one day
And it was there that he saw in four crocodile’s jaws
The child of a hippo named May.

Now Mr. McGraff was a quiet giraffe,
As it is in a giraffe’s nature to be,
But seeing this calf almost halfway in half
His cries rang from mountain to sea.

Although unable to swim, he charged right on in
And he attacked the grim crocodiles.
After much splishing and splashing
And fighting and thrashing
The giraffe emerged with a smile.

He shouted, You cool crocodiles
With your treacherous smiles
On this sunny day you’ve been beaten!
And my next endeavor
Will be to turn you to leather
For having my hippo friends eaten!

In the course of a while
After much musing on style
The giraffe was seen with a grin.
He took the lousy old brutes
And turned them into four boots
And those crocs were not heard from again.

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

Sweets
Josefa de Óbidos – Still Life with Sweets, 1676

The Ballerina
There once was a girl from Argentina,
From the city of Magdalena,
She was as slender as a fawn
As graceful as a swan,
And so she became a ballerina.

The Lucky Kentuckian
There once was a child from Kentucky,
One who was bold and brave and quite plucky
He would bet on horse races,
On dice, and on aces,
And he would win because he was lucky.

The Girl from Berlin
There once was a girl from Berlin
Who thought butter and cream were a sin
She said cakes came at too high a cost
But she never knew what she lost—
For there’s a price for staying too thin!

Categories
Poems

The Heat

Gaugain
Paul Gauguin – Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch, 1892.

In this heat,
With the cicadas buzzing
Like chainsaws
And the dogs panting
Like lovers
There is nothing to do
But sweat
And sleep
Sweat
And sleep
Sweat
And sleep
Until you wash yourself
In the warm ocean
Until the rain falls
And turns the land green
Until the moon rises
And the heat
Like a cat
Curls up for a nap.
And then, only then,
Can you breathe.

Categories
Poems

We the Living Tree

“We the Living Tree” is a poem about how we’re a part of the tree of life.

Its rhyme scheme is abab.

lippi-detail_orig
Filippino Lippi – Madonna and Child with SS Jerome and Dominic (detail), c. 1485.

As a world we are a single tree
And each of us are leaves
We try to be strong and free
Still we shake in a breeze
And in a leaf’s November
When the time it comes to fall
Then it is well to remember
That spring will come to call
And although we may not see
The budding of new leaves
We’ll know they’ll come to be
After the passing of the freeze.

Categories
Stories

House

House is the story of a house that picks itself up off the ground and walks across town.

fullsizeoutput_86a
Grapes, 9/11/2018, Washington state

Then one day the 1926 two story white house with the green shutters at 4224 Whipple Lane—in that green, affluent suburb with the wide winding roads—tugged its foundation from the ground, scattering clumps of dark brown earth and roots, and began moving down the broad road, soon to be lost from view. The house’s family, when they returned from the mall, were quite surprised.

Little chunks of concrete and wood cracked off the house’s foundation as the house ambled down the road that led to the port. Inside the house, a clear glass vase on a hall table shook, and the vase’s water spilled out onto the glossy hardwood floors. The irises and petunias inside the glass trembled and shook, and the grandfather clock, which nearly always kept the wrong time, gonged in protestation. But with a mighty, creaking shrug of its wings, the house yawned through its windows, sucking fresh air through musty passageways. The air was salty from the sea, and the house’s windows drew up and down slowly, as if deeply inhaling. Chips of paint flecked off the sills and the bottoms of the windows, the curtains flapped and stretched themselves, and the fluttering blinds sounded like tambourines as they flexed in the warmth of the summer sun.

The house turned down wide, two-laned Maple Street, a quaint residential road whose houses butted up against one another like the apartments of New York City and whose yards seemingly were the size of postage stamps. At the far end of Maple Street was a cul-de-sac, and beyond the cul-de-sac lay a small grassy hill, a fisherman’s wharf, and the gently lapping ocean. The house continued along Maple, and the house moved so noiselessly and unobtrusively that, despite its colossal mass and concrete foundation, not even a man reading a newspaper at the Maple & 8th street bus stop noticed the house pass. When the house was not more than ten feet in front of him, the man, who was immersed in an article on Pennsylvania football, let a page of the newspaper dip and, for a moment, seemed to have discovered the house which moved blithely by. But the man picked up the drooping page, ruffled the paper, and continued reading, not any more aware of his circumstances than he was a moment before.

Further down the road, the house’s oven door fell open, and the scent of burnt casserole wafted out while crumbs of blackened crust pattered to the ground. The refrigerator door swung wide, and the cheese drawer fell open to reveal a healthy wheel of Gouda and three quarters of a cold salami. Shaking from the movement of the house, the milk sloshed in its plastic gallon jug, the zucchinis rolled onto the floor, and two half cut lemons gently bumped the side of the refrigerator. A woman beating her rug against her third floor balcony railing threw her hand to her mouth. The rug slid from her hands and fell at her feet. It wasn’t until the house had nearly passed her balcony that the woman recovered her voice, yet when she found it, she screamed so loudly that even her deaf neighbor shuddered, and the man reading the newspaper four blocks away pulled up his head, frowning in curious mystification.

In an instant, many of the windows were full of gasping faces. Doors opened. Men in slippers and women in curlers flooded into Maple Street, crowding the sidewalks as if a parade were passing. Simultaneously, a bus pulled into the station on 8th and Maple and, when the passengers discerned what was happening, the bus emptied, and the driver turned off the heavy diesel engine, descended, and locked the bus’ doors. The family who owned the house had followed the trail of cement, roots, and broken two by fours, and now they stopped their car a few blocks away, merging with the crowd that was following their house.

A woman with a big black camera which had an enormous flash strode up to the house, contorted her body and drew the camera to her eye. Every time she shot a photo, the people nearby blinked in stupefaction and had what seemed to be an eternal after-image from the blast of the flash. Onlookers began packing together more tightly, jockeying for the superlative view. With flashing red and blue lights, police began slowly motoring through the crowd of pedestrians, who parted like the Red Sea. The police dug barriers out of their car trunks, set the barriers parallel to the sidewalks, and formed lines to keep the crowds confined to the sidewalk.

“Move on back!” yelled an officer, shooing people back to the sidewalk like they were chickens. A family—bustling, grabbing their children’s wrists, and quickly counting to make sure all their children were present—moved back to the sidewalk. “Oh God, John,” said a woman with a baby in her arms and another six or seven year old with curly blonde hair held by the wrist, “I’ve just realized I forgot to take my birth control this morning.”

Staring up at the house, holding a three year old over his shoulder, and calling to a nine year old boy, John replied, “Not the first time… Lord, would you look at that house move!”

Dogs whimpered at the sight of the house, running off with tails tucked between their legs and casting pitiful looks over their shoulders. A girl limped behind the line of people, holding her father’s hand and pointing at the house. The father of the girl, a man with a short cinnamon beard, hairy forearms, and a bag of supplies slung over his free shoulder observed the house in silence while listening to his girl.

Past the cul-de-sac on the wharf, an enterprising vendor was selling fresh-caught shrimp out of his stall when he saw the house approaching his stand.

“You lazy shrub,” said the vendor to the pimply fifteen year old who worked for him. “Go out and tell those people to buy shrimp from me. There’s two thousand people lining those streets, and I’ve got seventy-five pounds of jumbo shrimp to sell. Can’t you see the business? Can’t you do the math?”

The boy saw the people, all of whom were focusing only on the house that was moving quietly down Maple. “I don’t think they’re hungry,” he observed.

Cursing filthily, the shrimper picked the boy up with a hand that only had four fingers, set the boy outside the stand, and kicked him to the ground with all his might, “Do I pay you to use your mouth or do I pay you to work?! Work!”

Picking himself up off the splintered, soggy boards of the wooden wharf and rabbiting away, the pimply fifteen-year old cast fearful glances over his shoulder as he hawked, “Fresh shrimp, fresh shrimp!”

In the crowds, a preacher nudged his wife and mentioned that the house was a parallel to the parable of the prodigal son. “That house… It’ll come back,” the preacher reassured her, and she nodded absently, her mouth agape at the sight of the moving house. A group of construction workers, greasy and unshaven, with thick arms and suntanned skin came over to watch the house.

“Huh,” observed one. “Wonder what happened to its plumbing?”

“Beats me,” replied a tall worker with jet black hair, “Probably broke it off. Whoever laid that foundation did a hell of a job, though, I can tell you that. Look at how fast that house is moving—you don’t have a house that moves that fast with a poor foundation.”

“Yep,” nodded the foreman. “You got that right.”

The sounds of conversation mixed and buzzed through the air, and the people followed the house’s path, making guesses as to where it was going, why it was moving, and how it moved at all.

“I know how it works,” said a fellow with short brown hair and brown eyes, nodding his head up and down and pointing at the house’s foundation. “There’s a motor in the kitchen of the first floor—there! you can almost see it through the window there—and that motor powers the wheels of the house which you can’t see because they’re hidden behind that concrete foundation. I know that much for sure. My only question is, why didn’t I think of it first?”

On the other side of the road, near the preacher and his wife, the wife in the family who owned the house spoke in rapid, rainy tones to her husband, “It’s my fault, isn’t it? I never cleaned the bathroom enough, and I just knew that something would happen—”

“Beatrice!” exclaimed her husband, nearly in a shout, “You didn’t know anything like that would happen. How many times do I have to tell you not to kick yourself for things that aren’t your fault?”

“I knoooow,” Beatrice whined mournfully, “But I just think that if we had treated the house better, it might still be where it belongs?”

Her husbands lips tightened and he shook his head.

“Bill!” said Beatrice, “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” he answered, his tone clipped and short. “I just think it’s silly that you think a house getting up and walking off is your fault. And I kind of wonder where it’s going, that’s all.”

“I can’t help overhearing you,” said the preacher, “But I can tell you, whereever that house is going, it’s sure to come back.”

Soon enough, the house came to the cul-de-sac at the end of Maple drive. A small hill lay to the house’s left, about a quarter of a mile away, and straight in front of the house—just past the end of the cul-de-sac and the fisherman’s wharf—lay the broad ocean. At the cul-de-sac the house veered from its path and climbed to the zenith of the small hill, where sailors and citizens backed out of its way. The house circled partway around, so that its back doors commanded a vista of the ocean, and its front faced the people and their town, and there, with a resounding thump, the house settled.

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

Giraffe
Jacopo Ligozzi – Barbary Moor with Giraffe, c. 1580.

 

The Big Hippopotamus
There once was a big hippopotamus
Who nibbled grass from a lake’s bottomus
He once found there a snail
Who looked up and paled
And cried, “Don’t eat me; I taste like your snotimus!”

The Nudist Pair
There once was a nudist pair
Who ran naked in the open air
They loved to run slow
Along a rippling river that flowed
But they ran faster when chased by a bear!

The Laughing Giraffe
There once was a joking giraffe
Who loved nothing better than to have a good laugh
He stuck his long tongue in the ear of his friend
And then he tried to pretend
That he was just giving a bath!

Categories
Poems

The Housefire

“The Housefire” is a short narrative poem written in free verse.  It describes a moment caught in time.

Fire at the Opera House
Hubert Robert – The Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal, ca. 1781.

 

She had skin
As smooth
As a watermelon’s
And eyes
As bright
As butterflies.
She stood,
Frozen for a moment,
With her mouth open,
So that her round white teeth
And the tip of her pretty
Pink tongue
Were just visible.

Her arm was outstretched,
Like a medusa
Under a deep sea.

I could understand her.

I suppose that’s
How
I might stand too
If I came home,
And I, like her,
Found my home
Burning.

Categories
Poems

Once More Into the Void

This poem tells of four seasons, and of how we continue spinning on and on, through outer space.

It is written in free verse.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger - The Four Seasons
Pieter Brueghel the Younger – The Four Seasons, 1624.

The Earth revolves, and seasons change.
Foliage turns red, brown, orange, and black.
Horses snort. Their breath rises.
Their hooves crunch through fresh snow.
Now the fawns are born.
They are brown, soft as butter, with white spots.
Their legs tremble.
In comes the sun. High overhead,
Its heat leaves the air shimmering.

At the amphitheater, a musician
Mops the sweat from his eyes,
Folds his cloth, and returns it
To his breast pocket. A crowd
Is sitting in the fresh green grass.
He puts the bow to his cello,
Turns to the band, and he calls,
“One more time around!”

Categories
Poems

Water

Water is my favorite poem of the bunch, along with Mr. McGraff the Happy Giraffe and the limericks.

The poem was written on a winter’s night in early 2018 at about one in the morning in Washington state.  The rain had been coming down, it seemed, for weeks.  Darkness came early.  It was dark when I went to work, and it was dark when I left work.

In the middle of the night, I woke up, and the sound of rain was extraordinarily strong.  I reached over to get my cell phone to check the time, and I started writing this poem in the Notes section of my phone.  Sometimes I jot down ideas there, but I’d never written a poem before.  I wrote the entire thing, saved it, and went back to bed.

The next morning, I got up, read it while I ate breakfast, and I liked it.  I still do.  I love its music.

Agave Magazine, Vol.2 Issue 2 {Fall 2014}
Lamu, Kenya. 2014.  I love this photo.

The pelting pitter patter of precipitation
tick tip tip tap
ppit ppit
on the rain washed window
during the dreary day
sends me, wends me,
bores me, as no sun can gather.
Another rain washed day:
grey and heavy storms,
forms of rain in sheets,
windy wreaths of rain
spin like cyclones in the lane.
The dreary drops go drip drip drip;
the gutter filling rain
makes slipping hours pass, peculating time
on stealthy phantom feet.
The steady clock goes tick tick tock,
Pock pock pick, pick pick pock.
Seconds sound in time to steady drops of rain
clock pock tick tock;
Seconds sound in tune to rain that nurses earth…
A water song, a sing along:
rivulets of rivers run,
languorous lakes will swell.
A water song with wet world words:
moist monsoon, sea storm squall, great ungainly gales;
sails and masts and levies snap in times of wet travails.
Tap tap tap, tip tip tip.
Ships snapped; sailors dead,
sunk in whirling eddies deep, in whirlpools, fish schools,
entombed in worlds of water,
in a never dreaming, seaweed feeding, never ending, sound unceasing sleep.
Such a sad unnecessary slaughter of superstitious sailors,
star-crossed seafarers, unfortunate mariners,
in scenes both past and present has never been succeeded nor never yet surpassed.
What a word is water; what a world is water!
Drip drip drip,
tick tick tock.
Clocks chime ten,
the dusky hour,
and still the rain pours down:
days and nights, nights and days,
months and months of rain.
The endless drip, the dreary dusk,
the weary walks from work
in incessant rain on ho-hum days,
rain interminable as an hour.

Categories
Poems

The Cosmos and Man

“The Cosmos and Man” is written in free verse and uses fireworks as a metaphor for life.

To those in the United States, Happy Fourth of July!

Fireworks
Giovanni Signorini – Fireworks Over the River Arno

It is Independence Day.
All those firecrackers—
Look at them all.
One after another after another.
Each one fascinating to watch,
Each one gone in a flash;
Each one is like a little life.

More are launched.
They are launched
In greater numbers
At ever faster rates.
This is humanity
Approaching its crescendo.

Imagine if we oohed and ahhed,
For every life lived like it was a firework.
Why not?
Folks are gone nearly as quickly, after all.
But we must tell ourselves
That we burn more brightly,
if not brighter, and are far more
important and everlasting.

At last the air is filled with fireworks,
A bright blaze. Thank the stars
That there is something beautiful
Yet to look upon.
The fireworks are captivating.
I don’t say good or bad, but
Certainly enthralling.

As expected, the show ends with a bang.
Some smoke lingers in the atmosphere.
A wind blows.
The stars twinkle high above.
The universe, it turns out,
Never cared that those fireworks
Existed it all.
And that
Is the very definition
Of unrequited love.

Categories
Poems

The Prison

This poem is about the prisons that we make for ourselves.

It’s written in free verse.

800px-Deliveranceofstpeter
Rafael – The Deliverance of St. Peter, 1514.  Fresco in the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

It was just a little prison,
But its walls were hard as iron
And its jailers were resolute bastards.
They hung men, day and night,
Hung them even in my dreams
So that as I lay sleeping, fearful,
I watched ghostly rebels
Swinging by their necks,
Dozens of them,
Swinging through the mists,
From nightmare gallows.

It was just a little prison,
But it kept me from being free.
It stopped me from doing
The things that I wanted to do.

It was just a little prison,
But I made it bigger
With bricks of fear
And mortar made of doubt.
The bars were of ignorance,
And I paved the floor
With missed opportunity.
I roofed the ceiling
With a broad sheet of discomposure
That covered up the sky.
Because why the hell not?
I thought I might as well.
I can’t see any distance anyway,
When I lose my temper.

It was just a little prison,
But at least I was my own warden,
And my own jailer too.
I could deny those visitors,
Courage and wisdom.
It was just a little prison,
But I made it
All by myself.

Categories
Poems

June 2020 Poems

Of the poems which I posted this June, my favorites are “A Wildebeest Named Gnu”, “The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses”, and “The Stars Above”.

The most popular poems, judging by likes, were “The Stars Above,” “The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle,” and “Quick Folk”.

800px-Les_Très_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_juin
Paul Limberg – June, a part of The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Contents

The Bird
The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle
Disregard the Stars
Fog’s Soliloquy
Music in Winter
Quick Folk
The River to a Trout
The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses
Song at the Dawn of the Universe
The Stars Above
What are Islands
A Wildebeest Named Gnu

 

The Bird

“It’s good,” said the little sparrow in my breast,
As if sparrows could talk,
As if sparrows in breasts could talk.
So saying, the sparrow encouraged the egg to grow.

And so the egg developed.
It grew in its nest,
One made of thorny vines,
Bent sticks, and poison oak.

“And look, soon it will be hatching.”
First its beak pierced
The shell of my bloody heart,
And then out, through that shell, came a head.

Out came the little chick, Wrath,
Whom I’d been nursing for years.
I fed it on worms and belladonna,
Nurtured it, and taught my hate to fly.

“Go on, dear bird, fly far,” I told it.
But it never did, no.
It stayed, circling my head,
Because I had cared for it well.

And now, now that I am old,
I cannot make it leave.

 

The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle

The clouds of passerines are brittle:
One sharp sound, or just the turn of a thrush,
Breaks them as easily as a forced committal.
But real love bleeds as red as indian paintbrush,
And will even alone wage war against armies
With white flags plied only as tourniquets
And no uncouth tactic too mercenary.
To such cogent arrears each heart is convinced of debt—
When innocent youth is mortgaged to adolescence—
That must be paid in full before death does foreclose.
Therefore each heart puts passion before common sense,
Folly before judiciousness, immodesty before clothes.
Still, ancient wisdom would rather be untruth,
Be forgotten, lost to desert scenes,
Than renege upon the human flower of youth
And the honest love of people’s most hopeful dreams.

 

Disregard the Stars

Imagine if each of the stars was a lady
And the sky shone with their allure every night
Or if each leaf in a tree that is shady
Was a girl who was both lovely and bright
Still I would not look from your eyes
When you smile with your hands clasped in mine.

And think if each flash on the ocean
Was an old romance that sparked into flame
Or if each flicker on a land that lay frozen
Was a call to a new and voluptuous game
Still I’d use every means ever devised
To keep our loving hearts well intertwined
For it’s true that love knows no demise
When devotion and affection align.

 

Fog’s Soliloquy

I walk upon the dank, dark moor
And drift from post to post
My feet are wisps on the damp floor
My step is softer than a ghost’s.

My hair’s like tendrils that always waft
My form is a clammy embrace
My figure’s gentle, light, and soft,
I leave no print or trace.

In fancies frightened I make faces
As I wander through the bog
Making eerie, mystique places—
You know me by my name of Fog.

Music in Winter

In winter, along the grey and green northwestern shore,
the freezing ocean draws its briny waves and bubbling foam
over beach crabs, Nautilus shells, and the crow-combed floor
as the sun sets beyond the sea into her western home.
Then the stars come out. One by one, they start to appear.
They are like lighthouses in the cold, black galaxies of space,
each with a message that says, Here, there are planets here,
circling round and round, far away, revolving round a fiery base.
And then, floating up from the water, comes the crescent moon,
scythe-like, Arabesque, swathed by scudding silver clouds,
and blinking behind a raven who flies, witchlike, through the woven gloom,
through winds whose warp and weft are the cloth of night’s dark shrouds.
In the midst of this a couple wander onto the sands.
They are lit by moonlight. Her hair is long; their feet are bare.
They walk like lovers and intertwine their hands.
They stop at sea’s edge and breathe the salty air.
It is a dark, cold night. A vagrant cloud covers the moon.
Not a light, not a lamp, not a glow can be seen.
The music of the ocean’s combers is an ancient tune.
The rustling of the firs lends woodwinds to the night’s song,
while the girl adds vocals to the primordial, ancient endeavor,
singing into the wind, into the wilderness, into the wild, high and strong,
a song that lasts a moment, with notes that last forever.

 

Quick Folk

We may all be but beings in spheres of glass
Made to march and tumble as hours pass
While some great Being holds us in mighty hand
Or sets us, like a trinket, upon a cabinet stand
Where we exist like strolling shapes in a snow globe,
Or mobile figurines on a topographic lobe
Where the mountains are like grains of rice
And Antarctica is but a trace of ice—
If we are all but tiny beings in these spheres,
Still have we our hopes and loves and dreams and fears
And as we pass through our short years,
We laugh with joy or cry with tears,
For as the hours wind from the mortal clock
With every quick tick and every quick tock
We wonder what lies past the last frontier
And hold our passing lives more dear.

 

The River to a Trout

What a fine and watery home you are!
With currents rippling, cold and clear!
With a sunken gravelly sandbar
To which eggs will easily adhere.

And what a clean, quick sound you make!
As your water burbles over stones—
Aqua drawn from a cold lake,
Where the water’s as silent as bleached bones.

River, you branch and fork and cleft
Beneath the willows and the oak
And entwine with mists of gossamer heft
That mantle your surface with smoke.

 

The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses

I pass a seashell of no significance
as I follow the curves of a whitewashed fence
and the uneven coastline of the sea.

The fence is jagged, hardly even, somewhat ragged,
with braided rope in place of slats,
stretching further than I can see.

Above my head, squawking shrilly, are hoary seagulls on the wing—
circling, circling, flitting, snatching, snatching at a crust of bread
then aloft again to form a ring.

And in the distance, softly scratching their stemmed backs upon the posts,
are coastal grasses, likely latching their seeds upon white painted posts,
for the wind to blow and foster breeding.

To my left are pastel houses, built on stilts with reading nooks
and oriels for those with books
to put their backs to while they thumb through pages of Of Mice and Men.

While from a cattail, singing sweetly, warbles warmly the gentle wren
Brown and round and barred so drably, yet still considered very fair,
The pleasant wren makes moving music then flies upon a gust of air.

I continue on my road to fortune, whistling with the wandering wind,
Getting there as quick as those folk who have in mind no certain end,
And speaking with an amiable neighbor, I’m kindly told a thing or two
That when traveling over any distance, it’s but common sense to enjoy the view.

 

Song at the Dawn of the Universe

With the universe’s dawn came dance culture
When the meteormen flew and sang,
When the starladies played an overture,
That filled the world with song at the Big Bang.
The nebulas they were humming,
While comets whistled choral tunes,
From the blackness, pulsars started drumming
And manly planets danced with ballerina moons.
The noble gases wound themselves like lovers
A singularity flung its arms in celestial scatter
Sending gossamer, sparkling space dust like covers
To blanket those lovers beneath modest dark matter.
Auroras sang in ethereal soprano, lofty and high,
While black holes came in with cosmic violin
And igniting stars waltzed through the early sky.
Like so, the universe pirouetted and then began to spin.

 

The Stars Above

And when I to suit my fancy lie
Beneath the tree and darkened sky
And watch with wondering eyes the stars
That glimmer through the night’s short hours
And find there the constellations bright
With Grecian myths of astral light
I wonder if in the twinkling air
There might be other life up there
For while I lay thinking on our great world
One not much larger than an azure pearl
I send my thoughts to a far, empyrean shore
Where no manmade craft has gone before
And stretching out my hand and mind
I hope to greet one of like kind
One whose curiosity about space
Extends beyond the limits of their race
And lets them dream of far-off lands
With quiescent oceans and rocky sands

 

What are Islands

What are islands
but the very branches of the earth
rising up to break the waves?
And what are pits
But little scalloped holes
Where bats may live,
as they do in darkened caves?
What are these features, high and low,
But the merest bumps
Upon a sphere so smooth
That but a small ways up
From its brilliant atmosphere
These ridges and declines
Vanish into a sleek and satiny luster?
I’ll tell you now.
These islands and these pits
They are our home:
The verdant forest,
The yellow plain,
The milky fog
The chilling rain.
They are our home.
We have no other
On which to roam,
We have no other
To explore
From mountaintop
To ocean floor.
And if we throttle
This pretty planet
If its cerulean face turns grey
Still the sun
Will descend at dusk
And still the sun
Will rise at day
But all those things
That make life happen
The birds, the bees
The air, the trees
Will be killed by cement
Or disease.
Where sentient beings far above
Hopefully can think and dream and love.

 

A Wildebeest Named Gnu

There once was a wildebeest named Gnu
The laziest beast that the veldt ever knew
One day a lion poked him and said,
Now either you run or you’re dead
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
Then the lion scratched the young gnu,
Said, From you I’ll make a gnu stew!
For I have claws that can shred
And I can bite off your head!
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
Then the lion jumped on Gnu’s back
Saying, I’m going to attack!
You’d better start running my friend!
Now I’ll give you some steps out in front
’Fore I start the hunt,
Then we’ll see what takes place in the end!
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
So the lion shook his head
He walked away and he said,
Such a riddle the world never knew:
For though the gnu just seems lazy
To be so idle is crazy
He must be some kind of statue!
And Gnu would have smiled
For he thought it worthwhile
But he couldn’t be bothered to move.

Categories
Poems

A Wildebeest Named Gnu

Wildebeests, or gnus, are the deerlike animals in the background of the photo below.  As you can see, they love to eat.  They are types of antelopes, and they are frequently seen on the Mara (a protected area of grasslands) in southern Kenya.

This poem is about a very lazy wildebeest whose name is Gnu.

IMG_9980
November 11th, 2014. Crescent Island, Naivasha, Kenya.

There once was a wildebeest named Gnu
The laziest beast that the veldt ever knew
One day a lion poked him and said,
Now either you run or you’re dead
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
Then the lion scratched the young gnu,
Said, From you I’ll make a gnu stew!
For I have claws that can shred
And I can bite off your head!
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
Then the lion jumped on Gnu’s back
Saying, I’m going to attack!
You’d better start running my friend!
Now I’ll give you some steps out in front
’Fore I start the hunt,
Then we’ll see what takes place in the end!
But Gnu couldn’t be bothered to move.
So the lion shook his head
He walked away and he said,
Such a riddle the world never knew:
For though the gnu just seems lazy
To be so idle is crazy
He must be some kind of statue!
And Gnu would have smiled
For he thought it worthwhile
But he couldn’t be bothered to move.

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

17.9.1
William the Hippo – c. 1961 BC – c. 1878 BC

 

The Big Hippopotamus
There once was a big hippopotamus
Who nibbled grass from a lake’s bottomus
He once found there a snail
Who looked up and paled
And cried, “Please don’t eat me, I will taste like your snotimus!”

The Nudist Pair
There once was a nudist pair
Who ran naked in the open air
They loved to run slow
Along a rippling river that flowed
But they ran faster when chased by a bear!

The Laughing Giraffe
There once was a humorous giraffe
Who loved nothing better than to have a good laugh
He stuck his long tongue in the ear of his friend
And then he tried to pretend
That he was just giving a bath!

Categories
Poems

The Bird

This poem tells of a little bird that grew inside me. The poem is written in free verse.

still-life-with-three-dead-birds-cherries-redcurrants-and-insects-jean-baptiste-oudry-1712-4810f396
Jean-Baptiste Oudry – Still Life with Three Dead Birds, Cherries, Redcurrants, and Insects, 1712.

“It’s good,” said the little sparrow in my breast,
As if sparrows could talk,
As if sparrows in breasts could talk.
So saying, the sparrow encouraged the egg to grow.

And so the egg developed.
It grew in its nest,
One made of thorny vines,
Bent sticks, and poison oak.

“And look, soon it will be hatching.”
First its beak pierced
The shell of my bloody heart,
And then out, through that shell, came a head.

Out came the little chick, Wrath,
Whom I’d been nursing for years.
I fed it on worms and belladonna,
Nurtured it, and taught my hate to fly.

“Go on, dear bird, fly far,” I told it.
But it never did, no.
It stayed, circling my head,
Because I had cared for it well.

And now, now that I am old,
I cannot make it leave.

Categories
Poems

The River to a Trout

This poem presents a trout’s description of home: the river.

The rhyme scheme is abab.

river-landscape-1869.jpg!Large
Gustave Courbet – A River Landscape, 1869.

What a fine and watery home you are!
With currents rippling, cold and clear!
With a sunken gravelly sandbar
To which eggs will easily adhere.

And what a clean, quick sound you make!
As your water burbles over stones—
Aqua drawn from a cold lake,
Where the water’s as silent as bleached bones.

River, you branch and fork and cleft
Beneath the willows and the oak
And entwine with mists of gossamer heft
That mantle your surface with smoke.

Categories
Stories

The Skeleton Train

The Skeleton Train is the story of a train of skeletons who steam into a quiet village on one snowy winter’s night.  They are celebrating a girl, and her father–a terrible, violent man–cannot understand why.

I wrote The Skeleton Train when I was 23, then I did nearly nothing with it for more than a decade.  But the story always stayed on my mind.  When I re-read it yesterday, I only changed a few commas here and there, and I took out a pair of words that I added seven years ago; they were not part of the original draft.

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Skeleton wedding.  Nov. 11th, 2014, Mexico.  For Death don’t us part.

Snow fell, and the wind pushed it into drifts.  Railroad tracks carved past glacial lakes. The night slept: the trees resting their needles, the drowsy flakes blanketing the white hills, the mute town lights in the distance winking good night.

Aboard the screaming train, the skeletons shrieked.

Inside the compartment, fire red rugs rippled, and candles swung on a chandelier, flinging wax and spitting drops of fire. Splintery tables and chipped chairs rocked side to side and beat against one another’s legs as the silver, speeding train yanked around corners and bulleted up and down hills. Scenery whipped by the window: trees, boulders, and mountains.

The skeletons wore gruesome grins, and their heads were bone-white, round, and rough. Their arms flailed, long and fleshless; the skeletons stretched them out above their heads, pushed them down below their waists, sashayed them at their sides. Circling madly the room, shrieking, throwing their heads back, shaking their hands in the air, pushing off chairs and tables, the skeletons clattered their bones with their dance, and their shadows—hideous, porous—were thrown against the walls by the candle chandelier.

Ahead of the silver train, a tunnel yawned.

The train shot through the tunnel, throwing the skeletons’ car into near blackness, the compartment lit only by the swinging chandelier. Magnified in the tunnel, the train’s screams rose shrilly, cracking the silence of the peaceful night. When the train shot out of the tunnel, a light in a hushed, distant town winked yellow. As the train steamed nearer, lights in the town began flicking on. The lights winked one at a time, then a few at a time sporadically throughout the town, then in great numbers, until the whole town was lit, and the town clock—which read twelve minutes to the witching hour—was bathed in an artificial glow.

With a wail of brakes the skeleton train, whose windows were dark nightmares, save for the single lit window through which the skeletons could be seen, screeched into the station. A whoosh of its brakes announced the termination of its journey, and the locomotive exhaled a jet of white steam which hung sleepily in the snow chilled air. Some of the town’s folk nearest the station came to their doorsteps, but none spoke. Many people wore pajamas with slippers on their feet. Other people stayed inside, wrapped in robes, their faces pressed against the glass of a window to see the spectral sight.

The train door slid open, and an inferno of red light silhouetted the skeletons. The skeletons stood in the doorway. There were five, all identical. One stood with crossed legs, and an arm hanging by its side. This skeleton leaned against the frame of the train door, and it drummed its fingers slowly on the metal frame, one after the other. The pinky started first. One. The ring finger followed. Two. Then all the skeleton’s fingers clicked against the cold steel frame. A second skeleton stood with crossed arms, and a third skeleton slowly extended its arm out the train door and turned over its hand. The skeleton extended a single finger, and on its tip landed a snowflake.

A few moments passed in undisturbed silence. Then the five skeletons hopped from the train, their bones bending so their elbows nearly touched the ground when they landed. The snow before the skeletons had already been trampled; footprints meandered across the snow and a red splash lay in a frozen pool from a littered raspberry ice. Slowly, their knees bending, their hollow eye sockets searching, their arms swinging at their ossified sides, the skeletons proceeded up the main street of the town.

The street was an old one, older than the town. The houses that lined the street were pushed together, like the apartments of New York City, and before each house lay a tiny plot of land for a front yard. The land seemed not much bigger than a postage stamp. The houses were narrow, mostly two stories, sometimes three. The windows were lit. The street terminated in a doughnut shaped cul-de-sac, and the tall town clock, which read five minutes to the witching hour, stood stiff as bone in the center of the circle. With a gold façade and architecture like Big Ben, this timekeeper gonged the hours.

The skeletons walked down the street, pausing now and then to look at the numbers on the doors. Snowflakes fluttered through their ribs, and a rogue flake fell into the eye socket of one skeleton. The skeletons turned their heads; they took measured steps. One checked the clock. There still were no sounds in the street, and the white jet of steam that the locomotive had released hung dormant in the air.

Watching from their doorstep was an old couple. The man wore blue striped pajama pants, brown leather insulated shoes, and he held an unlit pipe between his teeth. His wife—stooped, bent, with silver hair kept in a bun by a tortoiseshell clip—stood by his side. She kept a cane in her right hand, gold-rimmed glasses on her nose, and her breath blew pearl smoke from ancient lips. As the skeletons passed by, viscous as deep sleep, her nod of recognition was nearly imperceptible.

The skeletons stopped at a door near the end of the street. It was the door to one of the few single story houses, and a mother and daughter stood staring through a window. She was taller than her mother now, wearing short blue shorts and a t-shirt. One of the skeletons raised its hand to knock. Its hand paused, rapt and pristine in the cemetery silent air, before falling with a hollow sound upon the door. At the precise moment the skeleton’s knuckles rapped the door, the bone stiff clock in the cul-de-sac gonged the witching hour.

The door creaked open, and a man’s head filled the space between the door and the frame. He peered out, ghastly and thin, with a shriveled mustache and brown and white thin hair to his shoulders.

“What do you want? I’ve got nothing for you. Get on with yourselves.”

The man began to shut the door, but the skeleton who had knocked lifted a finger in the air. As the man closed the door further, the skeleton gently laid the tip of its finger against the door and pushed the door open wide. On the skeleton’s face was a hideous grin, and each skeleton behind this first wore the same. The five skeletons walked in, and the last skeleton, nodding, shut the door. It put its arm against the door, turned the handle, and pushed the door closed, never making a sound.

“They’re lovely,” the young woman whispered.

“Yes. They are,” murmured her mother distantly, remembering the time she had seen them before. She squeezed her daughter’s shoulder.

The five skeletons stood near the end of a long table. The tablecloth was frost white, immaculate, and on it stood two candles with tapered, Christmassy light bulbs in place of wicks. The skeletons looked around the room slowly, and one skeleton picked up a picture off the top of a black piano near the fireplace. The skeleton wiped away a hazy film of dust. The photo showed the young woman as an infant, bundled in pink wool. The skeleton set the photograph back in its place.

The father had backed away when the skeletons came into the house, but now he stepped forward, “You can’t come in here,” he said loudly, gesturing toward the door with his hands. “I didn’t invite you in.” His hands gripped the back of a chair so hard that his veins pulsed.

He tried shooing them to the door again with his hands, then turned his head towards his daughter, “Run to your room Wendy, quick now!”

“No, I’ll stay to see the skeletons.”

“You’ll do what I tell you,” he answered, keeping his eyes on the skeletons.

A skeleton dragged a finger across the tablecloth. The skeleton turned its hand over and looked at its finger, which had not a trace of any dust.

“I washed it today,” said Wendy, before she thought not to let her secret out.

“I’ll thank you to shut your mouth,” said Wendy’s father. “And I’ll ask you another time,” turning back to the skeletons, “—because I’m being as nice as I know how—to get out of my house before I get angry.”

The skeleton who had wiped its finger across the tablecloth showed its spotless finger to the other four skeletons and snapped the fingers of its other hand. One skeleton leaned over to examine the finger. This skeleton stretched out a finger of its own, to touch the finger that had touched the cloth. Bone touched bone.

Another skeleton looked at the finger. This skeleton tossed its rough, bald head back, opening wide its mouth in voiceless laughter, its thin fingers wrapping around its ribs. A fourth began to jig its feet, its toes clicking on the hardwood. It opened its mouth, as if it was shouting.

“What are you doing?” demanded Wendy’s father. “I want you out of my house!” He picked up the dining room chair by its back, and he slammed it against the floor. Its legs produced a cacophonic clatter.

Wendy’s father stood at the corner of the long dining table, his whiskered jaw jutting and his hair hanging down like icicles from bad water. A few feet away stood his wife and Wendy, and across the table, a few steps past its end, a fireplace sunk into the wall with red embers still breathing in the crevices of black logs. Wendy’s father eyed the poker, heavy black iron, standing near the hearth.

Wendy’s mother followed his eyes. “Oh God, Jim,” she murmured so softly only she could hear, “Why is it always violence?”

The skeletons paid him no mind. The skeletons shrieked, circled, linked hands. They tossed back their heads, swinging their shoulders, kicking their feet, laughing soundlessly.

“They’re so joyful,” whispered Wendy.

“I’ve had enough!” Jim roared, gripping the dining room chair and tossing it against the wall so hard that one leg cracked. “Get out, you demons! Get the hell out of my house! You come in here without my permission, and I’ll break your bones!” Rushing to the fireplace, Jim snatched the poker up, accidentally catching its hook on a log in his haste, sending sparks whizzing up the chimney and rolling the logs.

“You two, to your rooms, the both of you! I’m throwing these skeletons out of my house!”

“Don’t you understand?” exclaimed his wife. “They’re celebrating for Wendy!”

He turned, leering through crooked teeth and past the thin strands of hair that covered his eyes. “You’ll both do what I say you will, otherwise I’ll make you feel my palms!”

At that, the skeletons’ dance stopped. The skeletons ceased their muted laughter, silent singing, and noiseless shrieking, craning their necks and peering forward with ghastly grins to observe the scene.

“Daddy, don’t, don’t, don’t!” pleaded Wendy. “Haven’t you seen them before?”

“He hasn’t seen them before,” said her mother, keeping her eyes fixed on Jim. “I never knew your father when they celebrated for me. He can’t know. But we can help him understand. Just listen to us for a moment, will you? The skeletons, Dear, they’re here—”

“They’re here for Wendy! I heard you the first time—But what kind of creature do you want to have in your house? A monster? If you want to be their mistress, Dear, go on and take ’em—side with a skeleton over your own flesh and blood husband.”

“Oh, no no no no no! it’s not that at all!” his wife cried, “You don’t understand! You never understand!” She looked across the long dining room table, seeming to plead him with her eyes. “Say something,” she begged, holding her hands together. “Say anything! Help me, won’t you? Just a little?”

“Just go to bed, will you?” her husband said, tucking his hair behind his ears. “Or do I have to use force?”

She looked at him, knew his face, and clutched her daughter’s arm. “Wendy… Honey… I’m so sorry… Let’s just go to bed, now dear. We have to go to bed.”

“Mom!” cried Wendy. “Don’t! It’s my night!” She yanked her arm away, crossing her arms across her chest. “I want to see them! I’m going to stay!”

“You’ll go to bed, girl, when I say you will!” he said, keeping a wary eye on the skeletons.

“I’m not your girl anymore.”

“You’re my baby until I tell you otherwise. Now. To bed, the both of you!”

“I won’t.”

“Honey, please,” implored Wendy’s mother, taking her daughter’s hand, keeping her eye on the poker the whole while.

“Why?!” exclaimed Wendy, gesturing with her hands, “The skeletons have come to celebrate me!”

“Because I said so!” He took two quick steps towards her, and Wendy and his wife screamed and fled the dining room.

Jim turned to the skeletons, his fist clenched near his chest, “And I’m coming now for you, I am—and I’ll show you the poker. I’ll break your bones!” He heard two doors slam shut in succession and two locks turn. “By God! I won’t have doors locked in my house! They’ll never keep this man out!”

Poker in hand, he darted from the room and disappeared down the poorly lit hallway. A heavy thud could be heard, and a shrill scream flickered from behind a locked door. The sound of crunching, tearing wood could be heard.

The skeletons turned towards one another, staring into one another’s eye sockets. One dragged a finger across the table cloth again and showed it, as if to bring a second chorus of laughter, but the white finger only snuffed the electric candles and threw the room into a darkness so black that the white finger became luminescent. The finger glowed white in the inky darkness, and slowly the house lights were restored, until finally the skeleton’s finger no longer seemed to glow. A woman’s scream reverberated against the walls, and Wendy’s father cursed. The poker sounded again on that locked door. One skeleton opened the house’s front door, and the remaining four skeletons followed it outside. The shutting of the front door muffled the screams within. The street stretched empty. Snow fell. The snow which had been earlier trampled by boots had become soft dimples by the falling snow. The town’s clock, even from a distance, seemed taller.

Chancing to look from her window, the old woman with the silver hair saw the skeletons. “Harry! Come look!” After a few moments, her husband joined her at the window. “The skeletons are going back to their train – it’s only a quarter past the witching hour!”

“Something’s gone wrong,” he agreed.

“I bet it was that awful father,” she mused, “Look at how those skeletons slink! They ought to be dancing!”

“They ought to be, I know.”

“Do you remember what it was like for us, that first time?”

“I do.”

Silence.

“It was that husband!” she said again. “He doesn’t understand anything, and I know Christine had Alan before him; why, everyone in town knew but Jim, he was so blind.”

She paused, tracing her finger up and down the curtain. “They were coming to celebrate Wendy, and he ruined it for her.”

“It’s the way of the world, honey,” her husband said sympathetically. He took one last look at the skeletons then hobbled back to bed.

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

After_the_Hunt_LACMA_M.72.103.1
David Neal – After the Hunt, 1870.

 

The Dog and the Cat
There once was a dog and a cat
Who lived in the very same flat
To friendship they were amenable
A relationship that proved tenable
And together they grew happy and fat!

The Eagle and the Bear
There once was an eagle and bear
Who were an inseparable pair
The bear was a beast in the east
And the eagle would join in the feast
Whenever there was a carcass to share.

The Cat and the Mouse
There once was a cat and a mouse
Who lived in the very same house
They were both unprejudiced
And after much talking they kissed
Now they are each other’s spouse!