Fire and Stars

It is all on fire, she said matter-of-factly,
smoothing the blanket over her thin legs.

What’s on fire, Granny,
I asked, as I searched for flames.

The world, my love;
The whole world is on fire.
Passion, good or bad, is a fuse.
If it is lit, it will explode;
that is what it was made to do.
The fuse has been lit.

I don’t see it, Granny;
I don’t see the fire.

You don’t see it yet, my love,
You don’t see it yet, but you will.
You will feel the heat and the anger.
The smoke will burn your eyes and
steal your breath.

Don’t scare the child, Mama,
there’s no fire.

Granny leaned closer to whisper,
“But behind the clouds, my love,
behind the clouds are billions of
beautiful stars.
Look for the stars.
You will see those one day, too.”

first draft
8/22/17

Japan

Have I told you
how I accidentally ended up in Japan?
Or was it China?
It was a dream, of course.
I was on a tiny ship with friends.
I hadn’t seen them in years,
forgotten them, even.

Yet there we were,
sailing through a dark, turbulent sea
with fierce clouds.
It was odd
how steady the ship was.
Soothing, almost.
A mother
rocking her baby.

My, the sea was angry,
and beautiful.
Mesmerizing.
I wanted to stay
forever.

I had not meant to go that far.
There were meetings scheduled,
laundry to be done,
but there I was
with no choice but to wait
and to sprinkle the ashes
of my routine into the seductive,
eager hands of the waters–
as though leaving an offering
at an altar.

I don’t think it was China, either.
It was too isolated,
too quiet.
A country of companionable
solitude.
Enjoying the silence,
our nearness,
our introspection
together.

Perhaps it was Heaven.
I would believe in Heaven,
yearn for it, even,
if that was it.

But it was not Heaven,
of course,
it was a dream.

Only a dream.

The Wish

I remember the stars the most–
how bright they looked against the
black sky,
and how fiercely I wished upon them.

I remember, too, the waves as they
wrapped around my ankles.
The water was warm, and the
swell of the ocean was as
steady as a heartbeat.

As breath.

The shadows stretched innocently
across the sand,
like children.

There is a sadness to them now,
perhaps it is mine.

I was so young then–
so foolish;
I should have wished for something
better.

St. Louis, 6/25/16

The earth spins

The sun rises.

Our days are a cluttered

kaleidoscope of tasks

and chores;

the relentless drudgery

of responsibility.

But at heart we are all

travelers

shuffling through daydreams–

marching towards Possibility.

The Car Show

That summer had been particularly hot–
the humidity thick and oppressive.
Leather-skinned women with oiled bodies
sat sprawled in beach chairs,
clutching tiny battery-operated fans
in wrinkled hands with yellowed nails
stained from a never-ending chain
of cigarettes.

Even the ocean–
the hallmark for which the town was named–
offered no relief;
its abundant seaweed slowly coiling around
legs and arms
as sinister and unnerving as a serpent.

The weekend of the car show was the
hottest on record.
Out-of-towners flooded the streets,
crowding the already crowded town.

The tourists brought with them
damp body heat and a stench of sweat
acting as a siren for the rage
that had been slowly building
under the surface–
a deep crimson rising
like the mercury in the thermometer
displayed outside the general store.

Nobody is quite sure what started it,
and in the end it doesn’t much matter.
The summer had been ripe with reasons:
the heat had turned rational into irrational;
indifference into hate;
disagreements into wars.

Like a flame exposed to air, the mundane argument
rapidly spread through the crowded town center
blanketing the town with
trash from overturned bins,
shattered glass,
blood from broken noses
broken teeth
broken bodies.

Eventually, it subsided.
Loud sirens from police cars and ambulances
tore the brawlers from their anger-infused haze.
Some went to hospitals
some went to jail.
Horrified children ran home and the
leather-skinned women shook their heads
on their way back to the beach.

The abandoned cars stood out
among the rubble and disarray–
a rainbow of bright colors
serving as a brilliant contrast to the
dark mood of the day.
Their hoods had been propped opened,
showcasing immaculately manicured engines
and transmissions,
exposed like the organs of a
sliced cadaver
lying on the cold slab of a morgue.

Oscar

She was never the same–
there was a vacancy in her
enigmatic gray eyes.
Death had greedily collected
her happiness,
potential,
vitality,
along with the life of
her brother,
twin,
best friend.
She became solitary,
withdrawn.
By rote she completed
what became mundane aspects
of a previously brilliant life.
Each day spent in a fog
until nighttime
when she would go to his bed–
curled up;
as though completing a puzzle
created in the womb.

I’ve been trying to write the story of Oscar and Alphonse for two decades now, so much of this has been taken from previous attempts to describe the lives of the close, ill-fated twins. In early childhood, Oscar proved herself to be a temperamental tomboy, which earned her the unflattering nickname that would stick throughout the remainder of her life. Her brother Alphonse was gentle-tempered, frail and prone to illness. His death in their early teens permanently altered the trajectory of her life. What happens to them has yet to find its way on paper.