Boxes

What I remember most about my dad was all the boxes.

Every few weeks, my dad loaded up his car with recyclables: boxes heaped with yellowed newspapers, boxes stacked within other boxes, boxes of glass bottles clinking against each other as if toasting to their imminent end. 

The recycling drop-off center was an industrial garage a few miles out of town. My dad drove inside the building, parked his car next to a dumpster, and told my brother and me to start tossing recyclables wildly into their respective containers. The din was tremendous, a cacophony of objects doomed to meet their re-creators. 

For all the times I’d helped my dad unload the recycling before, I still was surprised by the heaviness of the boxes, and I inevitably dropped each one on the floor. Even the smallest box was a bigger burden than my spindly arms could carry—I staggered unsteadily under its weight.

My dad, looking up from across the room, started laughing. He walked over and hoisted the box I was struggling with onto one shoulder and carried it away easily. I felt suddenly unbalanced once the weight was gone; I felt empty-handed, useless.

I busied myself with the glass bottles instead. There was an inexplicable satisfaction in throwing a bottle into the air, watching it fly over the side of the container, and hearing it shatter into pieces in some unseen glass graveyard.

One by one I threw the bottles, until there were none left to throw. 

On the way home, I stared out the window, my eyes glazing over the passing scenery outside, the recycling center already long forgotten from my mind. I never gave it a second thought. I never wondered where the recyclables went or how they would be used in their next lives.

I never considered how destruction could be a catalyst toward creation. 

* * *

She looks like him, pale and frizzy-haired, walking on toothpick legs up the overgrown sidewalk to her grandpa’s old house. 

She hasn’t been here since he died. 

I open the door and wait for her reaction—tears, a gasp, some quiet expression of grief. But she’s surprisingly calm; she says nothing. She knows why we’re here.

The house echoes with emptiness. She walks inside slowly, almost cautiously, and sits down in the living room, looking around at this strange place. It’s only been a week, but everything’s changed. My brother was here a few days ago, cleaning closets, moving furniture, sorting through as much as he could while I was still in the hospital. Now piles of photos, books, and clothes line the living room and hallway, waiting to be packed up and carted off.

We spend the morning in near silence. In a few hours we’ve put everything into cardboard boxes labeled for sale, donation, or trash. 

After sitting on the floor for so long, my body aches. I leave her to explore the photographs stacked on the table and carefully rise to go to the bathroom. The door clicks closed behind me. I lift my shirt and gingerly remove the old bandage from my abdomen, crumpling it into a plastic bag in my purse; there’s not even a trashcan here anymore.

The incision looks fine: raw, full of sutures, but healing. I run two fingers over its rough surface, knowing I shouldn’t touch it but unable to resist. Underneath this scar lies the only thing of his I have left, after all. 

When I finish applying a clean bandage, I look at my reflection in the mirror. It’s then that I see myself through his eyes, that same wide-eyed girl, bigger now but staggering again under an intangible weight. I stare at the mirror for as long as I can stand to; then I pull away, a lump suddenly forming in my throat. You were supposed to help me. You weren’t supposed to die.

Her voice breaks my reverie. “Mom, is this you?” She sounds so small. Quickly wiping my eyes, I open the door and go to her. She’s looking so closely at the photos in one of the albums that her nose nearly touches the page. I look at the photo she’s pointing at: an old one, my dad and me in our front yard, raking leaves into a pile larger than I am. I simply smile.

She turns the page. My dad glances up at her from each photo, his face rooted in memory, his eyes permanently fixed on hers but unseeing. Time passes in the photos as he poses with his daughter, his baby granddaughter, his growing granddaughter—and then time stops. 

One by one we turn the pages, until there are no more photos to see.

She closes the album, stands, and walks to one of the boxes lining the wall, placing the album gently inside. It’s unspoken between us, but we know it’s time to leave. It’s time to pack up this house, these memories.

My doctor told me not to lift heavy things for six to eight weeks. By then I’ll be strong enough.

Until then, she helps me carry the boxes.

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Sonnet #4: Prologue

for JMH

Two roommates, each with dearth of dignity,
Present themselves thus in our pithy scene,
‘Twixt whom new mirth grows from old pleasantry,
And ribald pun makes civil talk unclean.
From forth their biting tongues which farce befits,
A rush of off-color jokes takes the stage,
Rife with bawdy riposte and brazen wit—
Ignoble fools lifted from Shakespeare’s page.
The ceaseless chatter of their droll intent—
Enshrined elsewhere in better comedy—
Which, but their speakers’ hush, nought could prevent,
Falls now the victim to poor parody.
When poetic form lays sonnets to rest,
Fortune spares thine ears prattle manifest.

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Solar Maximum

When her fire burns, she dances.
From a darkness below into another above she rises, and begins swaying to an internal rhythm discernible only to herself and the ineffable cosmos. She is one with the light of her sun—the fire spreads from her
heart to her fingertips as she reaches far out into infinite space.
She dances.
She arches her back, her head held high facing the darkness, and leans to one side, then to the other. She spins to the left, the hem of her dress sparking below her as she glides—then leaps gracefully back to the right, the fire following her with her every step. The inherent rhythm of the universe guides her, as it has guided stars for eternity.
Her spin tightens, quickens. The fire pulses at her fingertips as she
reaches higher into the darkness—beneath her, embers ignite into
red-hot, passionate glow. She unfurls her arms, gestures gracefully back and forth as the vigor of her sun dance increases in a solar wind.
Her movement ignites her.
She is light.
She is fire.

Her dance began billions of years ago.
She was not then what she is now. She was an incarnation yet to be
seen, yet to be felt.
She dwelled then in the darkness below the flames, silent, waiting, an impending disturbance to the simmering sea around her.
She carried a force stronger than herself and did not know it. But,
hopeful, she waited for a spark.
Now is her time. Her movement generates a vortex of violent magnetism, and the electrical ferocity within her body increases as she dances.
One spark is all she needs to light up the darkness, to send waves of
electricity through the galaxy. One spark is all she needs to dance.
She is radiation.
She is energy.

Another dancer emerges from the inferno.
But her dance doesn’t stop. She moves in circles, eyeing the new force from a distance before they approach each other. Back and forth they sway, a mesmerizing near-tango in this sea of fire.
They almost touch. Static swells between them—they are captivated by nothing else but this serendipitous meeting. Sparks fly as she ruffles her dress. The other dancer circles around her, equally flirtatious in her movement.
She extends her hand. Body meets celestial body.
The reaction is immediate—a magnificent detonation from their touch rocks through their bodies, through the universe. The power forged from their nuclear fingertips races away into the cosmos in a resplendent wave, creating a hoop of heat and light above their heads.
They unite, they ignite. They stand firm.
Two dancers become one. Each pulse from their glowing bodies radiates more intensely within their cores until the pressure becomes more than they can bear—they can burn no more—they break free.
They are fusion.
They are explosions.

The light fades. The sun song ends.
The darkness returns to surround them.
The two dancers remain joined in a lingering ray of light. Their
interlocked fingers, moments ago the source of a dazzling blaze, feel
cold, empty, bereft of the intensity that sparked such a blast.
Her dance is over, but the heat she created is not lost—it has a new
destiny. It races across the universe now, each particle hurtling toward planets and moons and galaxies. It will never die, but continue
to manifest itself in new forms.
And the fire will always remain.
She disconnects from the other dancer, slows her rhythm, then stops altogether. She bows to her partner, for the first and last time, and sinks slowly back into herself—into the glowing embers whence she came, where she created herself from sheer force of will.
No more will she dance, but the dance is not over. Someone will rise again from the embers.
For we all smolder with the same potential.
She dances.
She passes the torch.

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Fraternize

Facing an unyielding modernity,
Overcoming history that has been,
It’s time for us women to recognize
The power of female fraternity—
In a culture that ranks us below men—
And decide that we must now fraternize.

Let’s stand against female subjugation;
Let’s rise up and take to the streets; we’ll show
The world our dreams to revolutionize—
For there is strength in collaboration
And fire in the hearts of women, so
We must come together and fraternize.

We’ll wear on our sleeves femininity,
Apply our makeup like war paint and hope
That we will no longer be patronized
Under the toxic masculinity
That ridicules, sneers, abuses and gropes,
And forces us brusquely to fraternize.

We’ll suffer through being called ‘girly,’ lend
Validation in a slut-shaming world
Where male frailty can only criticize.
But it’s said ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’
And there’s no making headway as a girl,
So what else can we do but fraternize?

Women possess ambition ignited—
Upward mobility is appealing.
So we’ll tiptoe into a compromise
With men ’til we women seem united,
Pander to them to break the glass ceiling—
And forget ourselves as we fraternize.

We’ll help some women but spurn the others
When they threaten our climb up the ladder;
Our pursuit of success will jeopardize
Our sisters for the sake of our brothers,
Turning vows into mere idle chatter
That hinges on the need to fraternize.

So goodbye to all the bridges we’ve burned;
Goodbye to the women we’ve forgotten;
We will leave them behind and demonize
Each other, shamelessly, at ev’ry turn
To stack up against men in this rotten
And pitiful attempt to fraternize.

The only way up the hierarchy
Is to accept the fate of illusion,
This farce of “girl power” that’s bastardized
Under the pressure of patriarchy—
Which leads to one pitiful conclusion:
All women have left is to fraternize.

Come, then, you spirits, and unsex us here!
Transmogrify us into what we’re not;
Change us into a people socialized
And conditioned to occupy top tier.
Women for women, or all is for naught—
We silence ourselves when we fraternize.

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The Day the Sun Collapsed

I.

The day the sun collapsed, Nick One Feather woke up to a black dawn. Mites of dust floated above his bed, barely visible. His skin cracked from the dry air, his mouth parched from open-mouth breathing in the usual high temperatures all night, Nick glanced up from his bed out the window to see only a slate-colored sky resting dully above the earth.

It was dark. Too dark. Although he felt surprisingly rested, Nick felt sure he had woken up hours too early. He sat up, squinting, and reached for his glasses on the nightstand. His vision cleared immediately, but the darkness was not abated. Nick checked his watch: 8:43 a.m. He was late; his body had tricked him into sleeping in too long.

He swung his legs off his bed onto the floor and stretched wearily. The moment his bare feet touched the floor, he recoiled and pulled them up again—an icy jolt had surged into his skin up his whole body, as if the floor had sprouted frost overnight. Hm, Nick thought. It wasn’t like that yesterday. The geothermal heat setting must be broken again. The air around him even felt colder, an observation made apparent now that he was out from under his blankets and his skin was exposed to the unusually chilld air. He shivered and made a point to jot a note down in his record book about the sudden temperature drop.

Standing up now, Nick felt the blood course through his body and he felt more awake. He cursed himself for sleeping in—it seemed there was never enough time in a day. He walked to his living room, where all of his digital tools for record-keeping were kept, and wrote down a couple notes about the temperature drop; and he was about to walk to the kitchen to make his morning cup of coffee—noting regretfully that he had run out of his favorite coffee blend—when he noticed the people standing just on the other side of the kitchen window.

It was quiet, the crowd standing outside, but large; and when Nick had donned his specialized temperature body suit and went outside, hardly anyone noticed his presence. They were all too busy staring up at the sun through their own veiled visors—or, more accurately, where the sun used to be. Now all that was left was a tiny white dwarf star, a pinprick of a dot in the sky that emanated heat beyond its core.

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The Argument

Little coffee shop, upstairs nook
With good pastries, good company, good books,
Rich conversation, literary dictation.
One friend’s dissertation
Just published—her own treatise—
Her girlfriend’s a genius:
Smartest couple I’ve ever known
And literature is our creed,
So we sit here and read.

The other guy is alone:
This man’s just approached us out of nowhere
Oblivious to our recalcitrant glares
And he swoops in now, leading
With an unfunny comment on the book I’m reading.

Reluctant introductions: I’m struck by his daring—
If that’s what you can call unabashed staring—
But as he sits
I admit
I’m suddenly wary
‘Cause I notice the front of the shirt that he’s wearing:
Some TV show merch he’s proudly bearing.
He points to the book I’m carrying,
And when he says, “I love that show!”
I confess some enmity starts to grow—
And internally I start swearing
When he says, “Haven’t read the book, though.”

Conversation is initially slow and half-hearted
But it’s not long before he gets started:
“I think books are boring. Just my opinion…”
He opines as he surveys his dominion,
Following some unsexy,
Erudite comment made by me.

Not a good start, I think,
You’re already too close to the brink,
And across the table, my friend stares at me,
Silently begs me, Easy….
A telepathic warning that I am ignoring.
Still, I resist the urge to ask if directors reading
Movie scripts before forming
Summer blockbuster masterpieces that he so greatly adores,
Is just as much of a terrible bore.

The food is delicious, and he, while settling into his seat,
Boorishly sits and eats
As my two friends, slightly bitterly
Hold court on some anachronistic aspect of literary history,
When this guy suddenly insists,
“But those are all old-fashioned stories!
Books are just too out-of-date
To compete with modern cinema in this day and age.”

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2017

it’s bizarre to me that i am alive when all this nazi shit is happening.

not the fact that it’s happening now,

but that it’s happening when i’m alive.

see the difference?

i never expected to see literal nazis,

not when we have the entire 1930s and 1940s as a precedent.

racism has always been around—

i’m not so naive to think otherwise;

i may be white but i’m not blind

—or colorblind—

but it still blows my mind

that this is happening in my lifetime.

again, not that it’s happening now—

‘it’s 2017’ is a poor argument for why racism shouldn’t exist—

but that i happen to be alive when nazis have a voice in the white house

and racism is a major party platform.

i need history to explain this one to me.

i need hindsight of the present.

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Fratricide

A task from the King!

Play’s the thing
Catch the conscience
Of the King

And his bride!

Spend your time
For a while
For hope’s supply

Forth to England

The wind at help
Prepare thyself
Prepare thyself

To censure homicide.

Homicide

The conclusion—

The conclusion
And the retribution

Don’t try to justify—

Standing
Idly by

We were destined

Destined

For fratricide.

Rewind, rewind….

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In Medias Res: Episode Three

Nice to see you—how’ve you been?
Haven’t seen you since I was fourteen
Jedi, Clone Wars veteran
Saw you there and I thought
Anakin, I remember you
From back when I fled Naboo
Times have changed; you have too

Started training with Jedi
When they brought you from Tattooine
Eager, nervous, and in time
Beguiled by Palpatine
Watched your power transcend
Your off-the-charts midichlorians
But in love you’re my equal
I can make the bad guys good for a prequel

So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
Contemplate when it’s over
Was the high ground worth the pain?
You defied the Jedi Council
Who warned us you’re insane
Our love is an uphill battle
But it’s not in vain

But we’re young and we’re reckless
We’ll take this way too far
It’ll leave you breathless
Or with a nasty scar
Got a mess of premonitions
That keep you up at night
Your fate will not kill volition
Don’t give up the fight

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Thresholds

For TDM

When I hear the groan of an old gate open and shut
across one rutted path to another
I like to imagine some boy has jumped over it
and it creaked a few times against the wind
as old gates do. You must have seen them,
the boys running across the farm
in the morning. They tear around
the dusty trails and turn sandy-colored
as the dirt streaks and cracks their skin.
The sun’s warmth rises over the east
elongating the shadows on the dewy grass.
You’d think they’d been waiting for the dawn.
They brace their bodies as their legs leap;
and they seem not to break, though the boys
crash hard; but they right themselves quick.
You may see this gleeful child in your memory
years afterward, hastening toward the gate
like a wild mustang that throws its mane
behind it in the wind as it gallops toward you.

But I was going to say, when the wistfulness broke in
with dreamy longing for the past,
I still yearned to see some boy leap over
the gate as he went in to fetch the cows—
some red-headed boy on his parent’s farm
where the earth smelled fundamentally like home,
summer and winter, morning and night.
One by one he subdued each gate
by hurdling over them again and again
crashing and falling and standing again.
And not one gate left to tame; not one was left
for him to conquer. He learned all there was
to learn about not launching out too soon
and stretching his legs at just the right angle
to clear the ground. He always kept his poise
to the top of the gate, springing carefully
with a gazelle’s rhythmic bound
approaching the gate and over the gate.
Then he leapt upward, pushing with mighty thighs,
clearing the gate and landing on two feet.

And so was the boy a child once, and then he grew,
and now he dreams of going back to be
that same weariless gate-jumper of yore,
when life was a meandering path on a farm
and the only obstacle was a rusty old gate
with a broken chain, and no one judged
the dirt on his elbows or scrapes on his knees.
You’d always jump over the gates,
or as I got older I’d flip over them or hop over them,
and run another lap and begin again.
May no boy be compelled to grow up
and be denied and deprived of what I wish.
The quiet dusty farm is the right place.

I don’t want to give up jumping over gates.
I’d like to go back to walking around the farm
and jumping metal fences with a shameless zeal,
day after summer day, till our legs could bear no more
and we fell, winded, face up on the earth.
It was good, catching the wind and our breaths.
There are worse things than leaping over gates.

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