Young Woman Washing Plates

Up a long exposed outdoor corridor lined in thirsty late summer grass, she walked. Hands still sheened from the olive oil she kept by the wash basin in her room. She can not keep them from cracking. The fire-hot water, barely not boiling, the lye in the soap, the constancy of filthy clay plates and white ceramic that came to her every color but white. Dust rose behind the fine gravel crunch beneath tight tied, unheeled leather shoes. A branch overhung the path snatched a pinch of dress around her backside, and she scoffed the plant as if it were the gardener. A smile fleeting from her face. At her basin. Her station. In more ways than maybe three. She would be standing in this spot for what seemed eternity.

The clarity, sharp outline of those working hands. Definition, in places it was not desired. Looking tired, only when no one else was watching. Smiling through the doorway at the woman baking bread. She dreamed of lining her hands in dough. More olive oil. Each time they dried, just long enough from the water, the air would touch the tiny pink crevice at the base of each cracked callus and close her eyes. She’d grip her wrist, twist in place, grind the balls of her feet and make an ungodly face. Then turn back to her smooth wooden washbowl like nothing happened. Nothing had. She had absolutely no one in the world to turn to. To even complain to. Like the path that leads from her empty room, she felt walled in and vine-wrapped and forgotten. The opposite of a bridge. The antithesis of a road. The wall. She could hear gulls on the other side. Ever so often, the voices of young children. Scraps leftover from lunches. Which led to the gulls, and children. Her assumption. She didn’t know. But how she could donate hours to wondering. Dreaming. Such earthwhile things.

A clink and a slosh as her table shifts under the weight of a new tower of meat greased plates. The hefty, top heavy man who set them there, oil stained up and down his front, like it had been pouring from his mouth down his chest, lingered. She kept her eyes downturned and reached for a dented pewter bowl she had been working on. The man dipped two fingers in the wash water, held them up in front of his face as if he had never seen fingers before, and tasted them both in his big dry mouth.

“Tastes more like day-old soup than dishwater.”

“Taste a lot of dishwater, do you?”

“Luce, you are a funny one. I’ll fetch you more hot water.”

“Thanks, darling.”

Two Thirty on a Tuesday in December

Five feet toe-tapping quarter notes beneath their seats. A kid in the crowd meows like a kitten and the audience howls. Some poor kid tried to clap between medleys. A teacher with a salt and pepper goatee and a baggy school hoodie on has four different smartphones in his palm. The lights are all up front. When anyone chirps into the microphone the whole system hums. Girlfriend leans on Boyfriend’s shoulder and the teacher sees and says nothing to her. Christmas music for high school students on a Tuesday afternoon in December. The Chorus dismembers and takes up instruments in their hands. They play Rudolph the Red Nosed Flat Note and We Wish You a Merry Solo. They sound perfect for what they are, as does the audience they play for. High School kids who bought two dollar tickets to get out of fourth period had no intention of paying attention to the show. Teachers with fourth period planning impressed into chaperones. The energy is palpable as kids cram together row by row, they know, there aren’t enough teachers to see all the hands. There isn’t enough light to see which mouth threw which knife. That’s what makes it a reward. And for the kids in the choir and band, they’re playing for the toughest audience of their careers: their adolescent peers. Every song speeds up from the start, from the nerves. Each shy note or apprehensive solo is heard. The kids in the crowd are distracted and loud but on the inside they could never do what they heckle. Imaginations set only to meddle. While those kids on the stage cling to metal, and do something with their breath akin to life after death, resuscitating inanimate objects into music.

The man with his back to the crowd shows them how every single day. The band director. The chorus teacher. Two English, two math, one science, all playing usher. It is for them, and they truly, shamelessly, despise us for it. Traps aren’t meant for the masses, but only the one. One animal in a trap could chew off a paw and get out. But three hundred kids, maybe twelve adults in the room, and the lights all turned down and the blinds all closed too, there’s no chewing off a limb. Two thirty on a Tuesday, last week of school, there’s no escape. It’s us or them.

The Window

could be cleaned
should
would
in another house
squeaking beneath a different hand
window-broken wall in this house
above this hand
not under it
revealing blurred movement
through a dingy window.

The light
it splashes
across the page
broken by shadows
intersecting lines
zagging dull trails
where moisture
streaked
dripped
leaves a white trail
beside white swipes
of misplaced paint
brushes missing marks by miles
in the center of the pane
shadow most solid on the page.

The window won’t ever be cleaned
yet tells more than the impenetrable tale
of a backyard. Jotted over with notes
off the nose of a dog
a strained prose on the topic
curiosity, poetry of lazy painters
paid hourly and more
fingerprints than detectives dust
proof irrefutable and close to clear
that here
this dingy window
I am closest to the world.

Craftsmanship

The most prevalent theological error seems to be believing God would use a human’s inner voice as a medium to relay instructions. How low and how little do you think of divinity? To choose a method with absolutely no objectivity. No. God is a real God and a God of the physical which the energetic plays like puppets on strings. It won’t whisper. God sings. God shakes the earth and lays down trees though they’ve never seen a saw. God moves in electrons within us all. And if God wants you to change, or do, or alter, or pick up an object and move, it will physically communicate that to you. And I argue, already is. But you don’t listen to your kids.

You graduated school. Now if anyone tries to teach you you defend your own intelligence and call them a fool. But you used to let yourself learn things, and chuckle at criticism. Your kids still do, and my best advice is listen to them. If I was a god, your inner voice would not be my first choice, I don’t know, I’d probably litter the sky with specks of light so dim they can only be seen at night. I’d give unparalleled powers to subatomic particles. And I’d make change subtle, slow, taken out of the hands of the individual and given to the dice-rolling, storm-blowing agents of chaos in the universe. I’d make it all about mutation. I’d put the germ inside the brick and set it loose on a leveled lot and sit back and watch. My favorite part of a garden is after the third weeding when the plants are tall enough to cast down a blanket of shade no lowly plant can evade, for a minute, the farmer’s useless. If I were God, omniscient, omnipotent, I’d create the whole universe in that image. Totally independent. I’d make it so perfect, my hands would stay so clean. My creation would not need me. Some would call it atheism. But I would call it craftsmanship.

Just Because

Is the first cell
that splintered into fusion
following the black path of the atom
still inside me?

Like rings in a tree
are there layers laced
beneath my surface
that formed during the social drought
of my teens?

Are my last good credit score twenties
still swiping cards for bills inside me or beside me
is the kid I once was hiding
waiting
for some impossible seeker to find.

When thirty-five year old
tired and self described wise
lets eyes wander and retire
does that ring on my index finger
pierced through the brow
or the split lip of my former self
see an opportunity?

A take-over.
And thirty-five year old I
deny and declare some crack up
like I don’t know what that was
where that came from
I might even say
it wasn’t me.

Albeit was.
When I was thirteen
and mean
just because.

Where is the horn that was blowing?

Who are you warning, this misty morning?
A day in rough labor attempting to birth its sun.
We asked the rooster. The hen said he abused her.
He’ll call us all to dinner a little sooner than he thought.

Tree frogs croak like night. Daylight whispers,
you should see the other guy. Slow start to say the least,
a strength where I was always weakest.
Last night we passed through tempests.

This morning is distilled by fog.
Where is the horn that was blowing,
where has the horse gone, the rider, the rooster crowing?
How were they louder before my eyes had opened.

Mute morning leaves eyes deaf to noisy warning.
Silent as the trees plunk leaves in twice fallen rain.
Tree frogs explain their stubborn rubber song.
And why it lingers so long. The chicken growls.

The hoot owls. And an ambulance sounds
in the distance and all the neighborhood dogs
start to howl. We are up, the sun is too.
Unfortunately. So are the clouds.

The Purpose of Life

Chores to do. More to move. Horse to shoe. Oh wait.
Horsefly and shoo. Sure. I’m up. Not firing on all fronts.
It’s early. There is energy.
But here I sit. Front porch writing.
Trading grips between a pen and a ceramic lip.
Trading discomfort hip to hip on a hard wood rocker.
Seat of power seems oxymoronic.
Though I am sure that it isn’t.
If more people with power sat on it,
there would be less obstacles to the simple, family-centric
lifestyle poor folk have fought for far too many manly centuries.

It is crazy people pretend we don’t know the purpose of life.
Yet so many live identical expressions of it for the same motivations.
If life had a purpose, why would it be distant and hard to grasp?
No. It comes bubbling up out of us.
Grumbling deep inside of us when we do not feed it enough.
These chores. That bill. This meal. And its cost.
No one can give freedom. In that sense, freedom does not exist.

Freedom is the only sanctioned slavery.
It is ownership of the self.

Hide. (part 3 of 3)

But I’m here now.

We will peel apart the atom like an apple and discover a seed in its center that is carved somehow with the chicken-scratch autograph of what can only be called God. Though that moment will ruin the word, it will rescue the world, and religion will mean story again.

Every action you commit to in this place creates the brightest light. Burned, pulled into the electrons that energize and power you on. And you will remember, lest ye be remembered, by the lives of all you have eaten, the lives you ran down in the road, the lives you put your hands on without permission. There is life, and consciousness, inside the atom, and therefore memory, and the ability to make decisions.

Push. Pull. Hide. That is what an atom can do. 

Ask yourself. Is that so different from you?

The Spotlight

The spotlight is not on. The switch has been flipped and it turned on.
But it clicked off before it was hot, and now it is not. Someone please
turn the spotlight back on. The tricks and switch-flips that turn things on.
Theater. A play. The one kind adults can do respectfully.
Sit in a seat and stare at a stage and give eyes a feast
of only the things that eyes like to eat. The tongue is the eyes,
the teeth are the ears, slurp down every sight,
chew up every word you hear.

There’s a dance in how an actor walks
and a song in how they talk
and if an actor knows their place
they’ll look the audience in the face
they’ll pull them up on stage
they’ll give them up their rage
and clone their tears in you.

That’s the only way you’ll smile later.
For the joy that is tied to sacrifice, some happiness conceives in pain.
The baby born is gut-busting laughter, oh wait, it’s twins, we’re in stitches.

The switches flip on and this time they stay. Two actors eyes locked backstage
tighter than a lock. More like a chestnut. No key quite like a hard object.
They crush it. And uphold buried treasure in the palms of their hands
before frozen styrofoam mannequin face-spaces on the fronts of hollow heads.
Fill them up with likenesses of whatever frightens them
and reminding them of events hard to live through
but delightful to behold through the refracted lens
of other people’s problems.
It helps to spotlight the drama.
We cork and ferment our trauma.
That is why it is opening night.

And after all these years, I find the theater
a place I can play with my pain
and raise a toast to all my fears.

Red Oak Tree

Cut a foot into a century tree and find a maggot who beat me there.
Like a shook soda, black ants pour a fountain out of another cut.
Cut the whole tree down and a twig of a limb throws off my chain.
It’s not a dogwood, but the bark has a bite. We’re both bleeding from the wrists.
I knew the risks. The tree, I’m not so sure. A white oak cherry poplar surprise.
Sourwood, sweetgum, sassafras, sick of more. Maple a muscle. Cedar I’m sore.

I burned gas, and dripped oil, and filed down metal teeth to see where that insect was.
I murdered many burglars when I tore down the house we were robbing.
And I saved a tree by killing it. Given it an eternal death in preservation
its hundred year form could not afford. I went to school with a beetle
in its larval stage and we each learned how to lap our tongues clean
through the limber heart of timber.

The infant who wrote a dissertation in his crib. I cut mine to inch and quarter floorboards.
For a house that will outlive me. But me and my classmates, we’ll forever be the only ones
who knew the sound it made when a hundred years of red oak tree smacked the ground
and made it shake.