Sticks and stones can break your bones. And words. Well. That’s why we invented them in the first place. Language was a splint we strapped tight against our shin, because sometimes you have to be hobbled before you can be fixed. And words. Well. They started outpouring once we induced vomiting with them. Talking tears in the eyes dry heaves and moaning. Language. Communication. Grammar. Literature. Exposition. Creation. We made up our own emotional placebo. Words. Like medicine. Evolved by means of so much misunderstanding, misguided, miscommunication. Medieval poets placing leeches on feverous people and selling them absolutions for their souls.
The language was basic. Primeval. To us, most times, looked evil. Everything absent context typically does. We just don’t see life clearly until we’re clinging to it dearly. And words let us do that. On our own time and not the world’s. We think. Plan ahead. Wrack our minds. Break our legs. So that when they come for us. Sticks and stones in hand. We’ll say your words can no longer hurt me. Anymore than I already have.
Cracks like a bullet hitting air but tumbles like a football kicked too hard in the head ripples like a river of glass crashes like a sunset into angry ocean.
Fifteen birds sing their songs before roosters ever crow, yet he owns morning. Prematurely. Announcing dawn. How you can almost glimpse his tail in his morning call. His arrow head and jiggly crown and dripping blood beard. What once cut wind now beats chests like mad children, wings folded, tucked voice framed in feather soft quiet of early dying night. He tries, fails, routes his troop of torn up vocal chords and evens the score again until his final crashing crescendo settles like a boot in gravel.
The sound is stickier than a tree. Hornier than wild goats. Ten hens are up already four eggs in the nest at four in the morning so he isn’t anyone’s wake up call.
Roosters don’t sleep eight hour nights. He knows every shade of filtered light. Watching the horizon hours already. Blinking steady, multiple takes, like in a movie set where the sun is about to be peeled open like an orange.
It’s not the human mind, but the stomach that threatens the species most. That control emotion boasts. The part of you that can’t be left off Buddha’s boat. The way chemicals grip the gut. Defies all the tricks logic tries. All the grounding adult responsible ideas. Nullified. Cut and dry.
No one is thinking clearly when they’re clinging dearly to this sinking ship called life. And the sooner that’s recognized, we’ll devote more school to stomachs than lunch. A course for the body. Three courses for the mind. A better answer to the question what to do with my time. How to take it in stride. How to listen to emotions. How that is different than blind obedience.
Think about an alarm clock. Think about the awful feeling it inspires.
If you let it let you, you would crush it into oblivion every time it spoke to you. Its purpose is entirely unpleasant. But to bring a conscience back to present. It’s jolting. Hateful. Awful. But essential. Jarringly. Helpful.
This is the nature of negative feelings. Awareness, not action. To listen. By design, never to obey. Don’t smash it the way you feel you should. Just match it in desire to turn bad feelings into good. Wake up arms. Not take up arms. Wash sleep off and start your day.
An alarm, not a torture device, buried in your gut. Could not care less what you do with today. Just wants to wake you up.
The eyes wear a mask. As does the mouth. Many a closing flap. To keep in and let out. A mask for the mask of lips. A mask to hide the shapes of hips. A mask with laces and rubber soles and leather to cover the leather we swing like levers to power this whole mess on.
The worry isn’t the ask to mask, it’s how they told you to. To do it. Breathe through it. Lose hope. Renew it. Take it in stride, how much there is to hide, if you want to be accepted. But do you?
Human not humane. Can a mask be worn on a name? Is it a guilty face that’s to blame, is that why we wear our shame? Though the hands do the deeds of love, they call their masks gloves, and it hides from whatever you touch, and no one ever called one tyranny.
But a mask to filter your breath, shouting give me liberty or death, like they’re not the same damned thing.
Trees like still-frames of fireworks. Palm leaves off golden white. Pink pom-poms on ends of sulfurous smelling stems. Lone doves on frowning powerlines. Trucks with cracked windshields in teacher’s parking lots. Surgical masks rotting in the gutter. Rocks and robins and cracked orange clay in places grass won’t grow.
We were six weeks in outside for a mask-break and I could not recognize them. They all had different faces than I ever could have imagined. It’s the damnedest thing. I’d known them for weeks. Yet I had never seen their smile.
We loitered on green grass until the birds grew bored of us. I didn’t like it. I wanted to tell them they had their faces wrong. Before I could, thank God, they’d stuffed them back under masks sighing to their self. Smelling their own breath. Confidential grin.
Spied on by the birds and the trees who have waited a long time patiently eagerly for all of us to take a mask-break and step out to breathe.
Salmon patty pinto beans cornbread salt like sand against teeth green beans boiled potato quarters day old macaroni with calluses for cheese short cakes topped by strawberries and whipped cream and powdered sugar the dull metallic taste of a spoon that has known a hundred tongues last night’s dinners dried in groins between forks butter knife clean as a salad plate.
Fruit flies by bananas on the counter food-stained tower by the sink tea that has sugar in it and was cooked on the stove half moon watermelon runes and cans the salmon came in on the back step for a one-eyed cat to lick clean.
The bathroom smells like a whole can of hair spray and half a cigarette. Chase me the child screams. Got you, he types in an email. Compliments are the pallbearers of criticism. Empty plates in place of thanks. Something to sit and sip in front of fire and nurse our old winter desire until we retire and our bowels sing us to sleep melodies we were never meant to keep raise us like lazarus in the morning to roll the stone away or so they say.
Mountain dandelions are different than ones back home. They make fluffy yellow flowers look like housecats. Not lions at all. Yellow fringed and orange centered with green eyelashes all around. Roar pollen in the wind. Dig in the leftovers of a billion years. Root like pigs. Deep into hard gray lichen coated ground. Creep throughout a lawn and launch on eyes like prey where they mindlessly graze
across the hazy dome that crowns sleepy towns.
Grow low, stooped heads. Warn us off, and keep us walking. There are lions in the tall grass. And just like dandelions.
December thirteenth. North Carolina. I hear a tree frog click. Fire crack. The same dog over and over. A layered silhouette of trees against tees misled me into thinking I can glimpse the shape of the gully in front of me. Hard wooded. Known to house turkeys. One fat cornfed squirrel.
I blame the calendar for most problems. They make it too easy to wait. The calendar always made me late. Mark one a holy day. People sacrifice hundreds of others preparing for it. Marking them off as they get in their way. Weak days.
With seasons, on the other hand, we are ahead of the game. Like tonight. It isn’t even winter yet. And already, it’s spring.
Life is frightening or boring. Seldom in between. We grow up educated into fortune telling. Preparation, and expectation, share the quiet part that both of them are predicated on prediction. Gambling, just, the pessimistic edition. Track all the ways shit goes sideways and put money on it. Preempt. Ensure.
Guaranteed duck nine times out of ten just not the one time God calls Goose. Ten bucks says today. That’s all it takes. The pricetag on tomorrow.
Priced it and called it freedom in the same breath. No one blinked. At the irony. All you end up studying in fortune-teller school. Is history.