Published 2/18/14 here:
Manuel laughs and sets the pace at the lumberyard, salvaging twisted, stained, split lumber, turning short pieces into stakes or pickets. He and his crew replenish plywood, cut orders, load trucks and help customers in 100 degree heat or driving rain.
I’ve carpooled with him since the economy puked in 2008.
first published: Halfway Down the Stairs, June, 2013
About six years ago, a dark-haired, thirtyish man in a white T-shirt pushed an arresting young woman in a wheel chair up the main aisle of the hardware store. She had intense brown eyes, smooth tan skin like her companion, and exuberant, thick eyebrows.
He approached me. “Do you have a little time you can spend with my sister? Anna has a few questions.”
“Sure. What can I help with?” I said. I was grateful. I am a rover in the store, free to help almost anybody with pretty much anything, but especially a pretty girl.
The girl had the same shiny rich, black hair as her brother, shoulder length. Her upper body was brown and broad; her legs were in jeans, but Velcro-wrapped to the foot rests of the chair.
“Well, I hope you can help me with pulleys, because I have to invent some things. I can picture it, but I need help to get the pieces together.”
Her eyes were mirrors into which I didn’t dare look. “Okay. Anna, I’m Jerry. What are we building?” Continue reading
Be blunt: rip the Band-Aid off the truth.
Share: it makes your ownership complete.
And laugh: some days refined, some days uncouth.
Bad news? Scream ugly once, then turn the page,
You are the writer at this theater, not the show.
No bragging rights unless you scar with age;
Drive off the cliff, if what you want’s below.
During the blink of light, the gasp of breath, that’s life,
Some brothers lock their doors, seat belts secured.
Back from the edge, to stay unhurt, to just survive,
They never climb the railing, jump the curb.
But some things aren’t revealed at a distance.
Fledgling egrets or nursing otter pups,
Cliffside terns or parading pelicans,
Fluttering monarchs or rhythmic waves of kelp.
Each day’s unique and sunrise is the proof.
One buffets the beach, like storms attack a boat.
Another fades to gray, with sun aloof.
Then, clouds and sea in stained glass seem to float.
Pete, the image of you that is going to last:
You let each and every morning have its day.
You take the good from all you see go past.
You love, and are loved, more than words can say.
aired on: KZSC radio 6-8-2010
If I squinted, the farm looked pretty much the same as it had when I left, 9 years ago, blinking back tears. The pond had shrunk; the bluegrass had grown longer and gone to seed. The fence lay halfway down.
Frost bleached the roof, yet no smoke rose from the chimney of our farmhouse on the knoll. The front field that the goats used to clear was now overgrown with larkspur, ragwort and blackberry. No sign of livestock, chicken or ducks. The horse barn was leaning at an odd angle, as though reeling from a strong wind. Between the cow barn and the house, the dust seemed as untracked as the snow-powdered mountainsides of the Rockies I had just seen day before yesterday from the train.
I walked over to the corner of the cow barn. The tall splints Pa and I had fashioned were still in place, still straight.
I remembered the young black bull, Napoleon, no higher than Pa’s shoulder, in a sudden burst charging at the big Hereford bull that was temporarily sharing his pen. When the other bull leapt out of the way, Napoleon’s amazing forehead had cracked the eight-inch square post that formed the corner of the barn up to the hayloft; hence the splint.
He reached the parking lot with just enough time to punch in; to beat the clock. His veteran ears had been listening to radio news about the Sarajevo trials. The unpronounceable had committed the unimaginable against the unfamiliar. “Here we go again,” he said.
“There have been countless genocides,” the newscaster said. “The Hugenots, Beziers and Albigensians. Tenochitlan. Pequots. Auschwitz and the Sicherheitsdienst.”
He reached for the off switch. Work time. “Viet Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, My Lai.” The announcer pronounced them perfectly. These names went with his memories of friends: ‘Frank,’ ‘Stace,’ ‘Tom,’ ‘Ryan.’
His hand dropped to the car seat. “Lubyanka and Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky,” she said. “Chmielnitzki. Vijayanagara. Khmer Rouge. Khmer Noir. Rwandi-Burundi. Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith. Kampuchea. Quiripi-Unquachog. Hissane Habre.” He was pinned down.
Millions rolled into a hundred million.
The announcer explained: “This countdown during Atrocity Awareness Week uses the Voice of America Pronunciation Guide,” she said. The irony sparked against the fragment in his heart.
“The names are not so hard. Tianahmen Square. Deng Xiaoping. Try repeating after me,” she said.
“DUH-ng SH-how PEENG.”
“Duhng show peeng,” he said.
“OH-marr HAS-san AL BAS-hir,” he said, after her.
“AWN SAN soo CHEE.” Way too easy.
“RAHT-koh MLAHD-ihch,” they said.
“RAH-doh-van KAHR-ah-jeech.” She had to break for a commercial. He picked up where she left off.
“Tan Son Nhut. Binh Long. Quang Nai. Hue Phu Bai. An Phu. Loc Minh. Nui Ba Den. Bu Prang. Dak Dahm. Quang Tri.” Place names from his personal collection.
Soon, she was back, “Trien Phong. Dien Phuk. Song Be. Khe Sanh. Cu Chi.” And on.
They hadn’t completed the list when the battery, too, died.
He had to look for his hands, because he felt transparent. Powerless.
Had it taken him fifty years to see that everyone was in on it, from their DNA on up? A bus full of his accomplices rumbled by. Though his boots were bloody and his eyes were scarred with horror, they each had kept a hand on his back: Andy, Ellen, Ray, Pat. Citizen perpetrators with less exotic names. Everyone could turn on anyone.
In the silence of his car, he tried to make sense of that single syllable: ‘Work.’
The butterfly lit on the end of my ring finger near the passion vine. I pulled the little lasso tight. She fluttered up to the length of her new silk leash like the loveliest of rising kites.
I sensed no panic, no fear of captivity; her buoyancy teased against the weightless tether, somehow knowing I would wine her on nectar and dine her on pollen and bed her tonight in a blanket of thistle down. I’d thought it through.
We roamed the garden planted for her, reviewing the long sprays, sampling the bright clusters. She was content to ride with folded wings, princess-like, in black and orange velvet.
Toward dusk we settled on the lawn for the night. Neither of us could eat. We went in when dampness reached my bones.
Now I will support her as long as necessary, hand on my heart. I will let her stitch my fingers together with her sticky thread and wait with her, while she slips into something else.
If only I could see the swelling of her tiny heart and hear it beat.