Light as a

She stared cross-eyed at the duratyne feather her claws held aloft. It was short for a secondary, but long enough that she could lay it across her armored forearm and link her elbow and wrist. The tip was broad, the body wide—these were the pinions that locked tightly during flight, formed the airfoil and generated lift. Zorina rotated the feather, peering at the leading edge. A very close observation revealed minute serrations that muffled the rush of air through each barb and vane.

Similar feathers were folded into a neat interlocking mesh against her back, miraculously preserved after so many hundreds of years. A curious and elegant affectation, one that favored internal batteries and personal resources for the long haul. A long-term investment, so to speak.

She remembered the mapping process when they’d been installed, the excruciating uplink as each nerve cluster grew into the organic metal. The spinal fusion, skeletal injections, muscle stims that engorged and lengthened her muscle fibers—a new and elaborate internal scaffolding.

And pain. Always pain.

She turned the metallic plumage over and over, recording the minute details between her fingers.

“Whatcha got there?” called one of her charges, swiping a dirty claw at the pristine treasure, jerking her back to reality.

The Maw had been stealing children from the local settlements—for what purpose, she didn’t know. Part of her wondered if they’d be rifted ring-wise to Ryjel for some nefarious scheme, an experiment, a brainwashing campaign, but the rational part of her knew the Maw hated her golden counterparts and their apparent good fortune as much as anyone. Plagued by their own low post-Beam birthrates and an inability to reliably map their neural networks, it was possible they simply wanted young minds to mold. Carriers of ancient cultures and tradition. Still. The sleek-furred Maw had always been secretive, but nabbing children felt strange, a step too far.

But the Coalition wasn’t paying her to speculate, just deliver. After she’d glitched into the Maw’s hanging village and whisked the children through the canopy, the questions from the brats had been ceaseless until they’d fallen asleep.

Zorina flicked the feather to her other hand, watching it gently seesaw through the warm air before plucking it back. A familiar face briefly appeared in her mind’s eye and then ghosted into memory.

“A trophy,” she lied, holding the quill between her first and second claws. She dangled it in front of the youngster’s face. “Sawed it off the first Ryjellian I killed just before he drew his last breath.” She forced a grin, baring a mouthful of teeth for feral effect.

The apparent drama wasn’t lost on the little one, her lips forming a distinct ‘o’ of interest.

“You should tie it to your sword,” she offered, gesturing to one of the blades strapped to Zorina’s waist. “That would look really neat. Can I touch it?”

An ancient patience managed to keep her from flinching away from the grabby claws, but a guilty dread shivered her featherlights beneath the distant twin dawn. Another tight smile.

“You’ll get your own someday. Go wake the others,” Zorina ordered, nodding to the sleeping bundles arranged around a smoldering fire. “It’s about time we break camp and head home. You’ve got folks interested in seeing you.”

Charged with this new task, the girl scampered back over the loose rock to the fire circle. Zorina sighed, starting to carefully tuck the feather back into her pack when she noticed a dark red spot by the root of the quill. Blood? Without thinking, she brought the feather to her lips and touched the cold, hollow point to her tongue.

Tried to remember how he tasted.

The Osprey

The osprey understands the physics of falling

feet-first—talons snatching at soft bellies

shifting beneath the murky surface—and emerging with

nothing save a spray of salt. Mottled wings row

a steady beat, breaking the shallows’ grasp and carving

a tight trajectory clear into the clouds. Its ochre eyes

sight a second flicker of shadowed water. Later,

briny morsels dangling from the hooked grin,

the osprey whistles, tips a beady wink:

the trick, madame, is always being hungry.

A most unapologetic predator.

Reunion

She leaned back on her elbows, kicking a branch into the fire with the heel of her boot. The flames protested briefly, coughing and sputtering on the damp wood, but slowly licked their way back into a crackling cone. The damp hadn’t quite crept through the thick cloak she’d laid out onto the packed snow, and her carefully tended fire kept her organics warm and supple. She kept her blades close to her body, discouraging the formation of frost that could jam the daggers in their scabbards in a time of desperate need.

A hook-beaked bird, perched on the buckle of her haversack, cocked his head to one side and keened quietly. The assassin stirred, shuffling a tattered scrap of blue cloth from her knees. “Bad hunting today, Marcus,” she agreed, brushing the small raptor from her pack. She unthreaded the buckle and produced a worn parcel of waxed paper containing a few dismal scraps of dried fish. The bird hesitated for a moment, yellow eyes glittering in the firelight, and then tore into the flaking meat.

“It wasn’t always this way,” she lamented to the treetops blackening the night sky. Just beyond the grasping branches, Ryjel gleamed bigger and brighter than the surrounding stars. The bird listened, scattering morsels from his curved beak. “There was—”

Even after 500 years she plainly remembered his skin, like the creamy underside of a pre-beam flower petal, and the gold freckles speckling the bridge of his nose, tips of his ears, his shoulders. He practically glowed beneath the sun, radiant in its presence, a testament to a life full of verdant pleasures and warm afternoons. Free from endless night, the klaxon of radiation alarms.

She tracked him through the fungal forest, her figure a flickering green shadow darting between the stalks.  He made steady progress, stopping occasionally for a cube or fluids. She noted the halberd lashed to his back, calculated its potential reach and how quickly he could draw and swing 180 degrees. (Assuming, of course, that it was an unmodified blade.) She counted the number of steps he walked between each break. Though he was wearing what looked like a full suit of duratyne armor, it didn’t seem to slow him down. What was his purpose? What sort of sun-sucking Ryjellian planned a camping trip to the Frill? He was an enigma brazenly striding through the wilds.

On the fourth day he stopped and made a proper camp on the bank of a fetid stream. She watched him unhook a complicated baldric, lay the massive halberd beside the fire, and remove each piece of armor, the fine plates retracting and collapsing in precise lines. She squinted. Duratyne that expensive could have been equipped with optical camouflage. It took one to know one, after all. Even without the armor, he cast a thick shadow.

When he started humming, she froze, fingers curling around the hilts of her daggers. Something about the melody tweaked an old ghost in her brain. But he kept moving, ducking to pull a handful of bright red fruit and a half-plucked bird from a small sack. He arranged these over a crumpled foil, waited for the flames to settle, and shoved the foil into the glowing orange coals.

Before he could straighten up, she melted out of stalks, disengaging her optical camouflage at the precise moment the tip of her poisoned dagger pressed into the back of his neck. An oily green tattoo wicked into his skin.

“You’re a long way from your kisk, friend.” The second stiletto eased into the flesh above his tailbone. In two neat motions she could sever his spinal cord. He didn’t move, and she leaned in to her blades. “Any final words?”

A beat of silence.

“Why do they call you the red fox?”

By the Ring. She stiffened in alarm, and he moved then, a slight pivot of his shoulders and neck, letting the dagger carve a furrow through his deeply tanned skin. Blood welled over the blade and spilled onto his tunic, beading over the fabric. Beautiful, she realized, with a growing sense of unease. So drenched in melanin he probably could have photosynthesized. Envy briefly tempered her anxiety.

“You were always such a sneaky little thing.” His grin met her mismatched eyes.

“Marcus,” she whispered, snatching her daggers away. She sheathed them at her hips without breaking his stare, wondering at the sharp angles of his face. “How did you—”

Unsteadily, the tranquilizing poison singing through his veins, he rose to his feet and tugged his bloodied tunic straight. “When I heard the name, it tickled my memory,” he began, hazel eyes examining her critically. They’d been darker the last time she’d seen him, just like his hair. He was a gilded, resplendent version of his former self. “Ancient by now, but I placed it eventually. Who else would it be?” And if the name was on the lips of Ryjellians, there’d been inquiries. Again.

“So—”

“Your wings would fetch a fair price on Ryjel, Zorina.”

“You’re here to kill me, then.” Her claws itched toward her hips.

“Maybe.” He paused for a beat. “But I’m not foolish enough to chase bounties.” He laughed. It was a distinctly melodious sound, and nothing like she remembered. What had happened to the rough and tumble young man she’d fought beside so long ago? He was all angles and carefully veiled strength now—a threat, she reminded herself. Ryjellian.

“You’ve managed to gain a modicum of wisdom in the past five hundred thirty years. I never would have imagined,” she joked, swallowing hard. Quantifying the distance between their past and present unwound something hard and cruel beneath her ribs. The feeling blossomed from a seed of bitter regret, digging into her lungs and pushing up the back of her throat.

“You look—I don’t know—different. I mean, have you put on weight or something?”

Zorina choked down a hiccup and threw a shaking, balled fist at his face. Even slowed by the poison, it wasn’t difficult for him to catch her sinewy wrist in one of his large hands. Ah, hands. With fingers that tapered into half-moon, chewed up nails. Her claws suddenly felt monstrous. He brought her up short, peering at her face, and stroked the inside of her wrist with his thumb. “You found me,” he offered, flashing a bright white strip of teeth.

“You’re in the Frill,” she spat. “I didn’t find shit. You were looking.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Close enough.”

“And yet here you are,” he started, touching the nape of her neck where a scarlet mane tapered down her spine, “the scourge of Forward Command. New enemy, old tricks. Nothing really changes.” He seemed to ignore the talons, the green cast of her skin, the preternaturally sharp teeth. She could get rid of him then and there, she knew. It would be a simple matter to gut him with the concealed knife in her bracer and watch him bleed out as he gazed longingly into her eyes. She clenched her jaw.

“What do you want, Marcus?”

“What the Beam never gave me a chance to finish.”

Later, she’d remember his hands the most, the way they gently stroked her cold skin and left behind heated fingerprints. In those moments, she was sure he’d marked her with an indelible ink crying her betrayal: Lover of Light, Mistress of Ryjel. She remembered how he’d carelessly draped his blue cloak over them both and tucked the edges around her body, how he’d nestled her close to his breast and fallen asleep. He’d been a veritable furnace, a source of warmth she hadn’t felt since she’d had the sun. Just before what counted for dawn, she’d kicked the cloak to one side, craving the crisp air’s relief. An innocuous looking flim pad slid from a concealed pocket, hit a damp rock, and turned on. It had immediately started broadcasting orders. An impossible order.

The red fox never asked any questions.

In the present, Zorina glared at the faint ring arcing across the night sky. “There was a man with the keys to my past, my feathered little friend.” She paused, fingering the tattered cloak. “And I killed him.”

Dead Letters

Every December I carefully address cards to my extended geography, 

scribe canned sentiments trying to recall faces,

discern whether familial patronymics are appropriate and realize

I can't remember names, new children,

wonder if I'll ever meet them or if I care to,

if this ritual still invokes the belonging I require

knowing persons missed most are already gone,

if I'll ever understand a winter draped in fresh solitude,

if I will be remembered for nothing

more than a clever, areligious greeting,

a careless postcard in a distant box that whispers

happy holidays, I'm sorry for your loss.

I am salt water

When I step off the floating dock into the dragon boat, a clammy band of anxiety cinches my chest. The boat sways precariously as my teammates hop in and adjust themselves, easing their weight to the rails. I white knuckle my paddle, focusing on drums sounding over the water. A moment later, I identify my unease.

It’s been eight years since I nearly drowned.

As someone who grew up with the ocean, this shouldn’t seem so remarkable. There’s always a brief terror as you’re dragged backwards through the trough of a wave and the crest breaks over your head, temporarily trapping you beneath a surge of water; and just when you’re sure you won’t be able to claw back to the surface, the water calms. The power passes.

The ocean requires a requisite surrender of control to enjoy.

~

It was one of the older shells, a wooden four-person relic at least twice as heavy to carry to the dock as its more modern, fiberglass descendant, but we bore the weight with a certain measure of curmudgeonly pride. As one, we hefted the boat up and over our heads and rested the rails on our shoulders. Furrows carved into our skin as we trudged down to the docks with our burden. No, we told our teammates, it’s really not that heavy.

Crude, lace-up shoes decorated each foot board. As we haphazardly balanced into the narrow shell, we slipped our feet into the oversized footwear and laced them tightly to avoid slippage. The shoes were nailed to the boards.

We pushed off from the dock just before six a.m., fog of our breath punctuating each stroke. We strained in unison, hyper cognizant of the person in front of us, of the feather and sweep of the oars’ blades. We knifed across the bay, bioluminescent plankton lighting our wake. Catch, check, feather, release, repeat. The rhythm stuttered only once, faltering as a teammate caught the edge of her blade in a small wave. Our momentum compounded the error. The blade jacked the shell like an emergency brake, flipping us toward her buried oar.

Time is fickle. When I replay the capsize, we should have had plenty of time to haul our asses onto the rails and right the boat before it became unrecoverable. We should have been able to reach down and unlace the shoes. In reality it happened in seconds. The shell turtled, shiny wooden hull beaming toward the dark sky, and—still laced to the boat—the water dragged us under. Bay water flooded my mouth and saturated my sweatshirt. The shock of cold water immediately deadened my limbs. I didn’t even think about the other rowers.

I floundered in mute panic, choking as I scrambled to detach myself, to juke my body into a position that would allow my head to break the surface. Wood connected with my skull just as my fingers managed to unknot the laces. Oblivious to the pain, I kicked free from the boat and my teammates, rocketing to the surface. I coughed explosively, water pouring from my mouth and nostrils, and draped my body over a floating oar. Shivering, weighed down by my sodden clothing, I tried my best not to vomit. An eternity of blankness had passed in less than thirty seconds. 

The four of us bobbed in the center of the bay, gently drifting with the current. We said nothing. By the time the crash boat arrived, we were trembling, unable to pull ourselves up and over the sides into safety. Our coach hauled each of us out of the water, raking our skin over the metal gunwales. We stripped away the wet clothes and huddled in misery, willing warmth into our pale bodies.

Rowers don’t wear life jackets.   

~

This river is a trickle compared to the Atlantic. We’re not alone. I’m bundled into a long boat with twenty people, and hundreds of spectators in colorful tents line the banks. I remind myself that a caught paddle will do little more than slow us down. I raise my arms, paddle poised above the water. Our flag catcher huddles near the head of the dragon, waiting to launch himself over the bow.

The gong sounds. For eight seconds, I fly. 

 

Like Stones

Sometimes when it's dark and the quiet rises like a solemn ghost,
I hear my heart thudding past the whisper of my breath, feel my ovaries like stones,
weighing my belly with useless potential, and if I cross-examine the moment,
brush too close to the seat of my anxiety, my lungs swell against my ribs.
I hold the wail in my throat until it burns. Exhale grief and dead calm. I want
to reach across the bed, traverse the yawning gulf between us, grasp the bones
of your hand and lay it over my breast, say, listen, it's not beating, it's ticking.

A Voice

When I say that I haven’t written anything since my grandfather died, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I am not emotionally crippled. His death and my dog’s subsequent euthanasia didn’t dry up some supernatural creative well. I’m exhausted, maybe, but being “too tired” seems a poor excuse for laziness.

Part of my problem is rereading “The Peabody.” Each paragraph convinces me that some stranger wrote it, and I’m pissed and ashamed that it’s apparently the best eulogy I can offer a real person. Who is this pretentious jerk? Why is this person writing about my grandfather? My frustration tightens all the muscles in my jaw. Yes, those are my memories, my abstractions of emotions. Yes, I assembled a collage of moments because I couldn’t manifest a linear narrative. I posted because at the time, it seemed necessary.

I wonder.

I can hear you, you know. Maybe you’re thinking it’s not really about my writing, that I’m unearthing a deeper line of insecurity and inadequacy I’m finally willing to examine. You’re thinking I just don’t know who I am these days. Maybe you’re right.

I’ve turned into a weird, jangled ball of raw nerves. A few nights ago I started in on ghosts. “Listen,” I’d said, rolling over on my side, “let’s just pretend that ghosts are a Thing That Can Happen For Real, and I die tomorrow, and I come back and haunt your ass.” My partner probably rolled his eyes in the dark, but listened, because these ridiculous what-if thought experiments are sort of what I do.

“I’d prefer not to think about you dying.”

“Just, pretend for a minute. That ghosts could be real. I would haunt the bottom of the stairs and endlessly wail, ‘Where’s my kitties?’ so that the cats would keep running into the basement looking for food. It’d drive them nuts.”

“I picture your ghost voice as the sound of a dial-up modem slowed down 700 percent.” He suddenly fiddled with his phone and played back a recording. For a moment, we lay in the dark, listening to the spectral dial-up. A thousand dying modems languishing into tonal static. At once, the hair on my arm prickled.

“What if I’m one of those ghosts stuck repeating a specific task? You have company over and my ghost appears and tries to jerk you off for fifteen minutes and then vanishes.” We laughed and I shut up for a few minutes. Dave put on the soundtrack for Kentucky Route Zero, and I eventually drifted off.

The next day, as I was shrugging into my coat for knitting circle, I read an article my cousin wrote. She’s an excellent writer. While she clearly benefits from a strong command of the written word, her prose is made more powerful by the way her voice manipulates you into the narrative. She is fully present in her work.

I am not.

My recent writing reflects only ghosts. Specters of something interesting. Though I write and edit every day, at work I am not myself; I am a corporation, a parent, a magazine, an elf, a yogi, a salesperson. I’m a goddamn hired gun. While I’ve been busy holding someone else’s megaphone, I’ve developed a case of laryngitis. I open my mouth and vomit static.

The crux of my “Peabody” problem is that I’ve lost my voice. I worry I never had one to begin with.

 

The Peabody

“Do you know where the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ comes from?” my friend asks. We’re staggering up the massive slope of a dune, ground shifting beneath each step. Sand sieves through the mesh lining of my running shoes, entombing my feet.

“No,” I admit, bracing my palms against my quads. My friend isn’t even winded.

“It’s a misquote. The real phrase is, ‘the blood of battle is thicker than the water of the womb.’ The people you fight and bleed with are truer family than the people you’re related to.”

I have no way of knowing whether she’s right, but at that moment, it feels important.

~

I’ve been pondering family, particularly because I’ve never felt good at it. I’m not close with my cousins, aunts, or uncles; I shimmy out of hugs and take long sips of water to avoid conversation. While geography and age play a large role in my distance, the reality is that I don’t think they understand me—or care to. I am insular. I’m a little strange. More than that, I am lazy and slow to trust.

My grandfather isn’t, wasn’t, related by blood. He married my grandmother after she was widowed, while her four kids were still young enough to be causing teenaged-flavored trouble. He embraced the family’s idiosyncrasies—even coddled the vicious Persian cat. Though he was a part of our family for nearly twice as long as I’ve been alive, he understood outsider status. Trying to fit in.

~

I’m less than ten, and we’ve just arrived at the Daytona airport. My grandparents show up at the baggage claim dressed as Raggedy Ann and Andy: handmade red-yarn wigs, rosy cheeks, and gingham. I’m still young enough to be delighted with their hilarity—and they know it. My grandpa stoops and throws his arms wide. “Jenny-penny!” he exclaims.

Everyone must have been staring, but I can’t conjure the faces. I don’t have any recollection beyond my excitement and my grandfather’s embrace.

~

She leans forward. “He was a great dancer, you know. Back in the day he used to do The Peabody. None of the young people knew how to do it. He’d start at one end of the ballroom and just sweep all the way across to the other side.” My grandma flashes a brief smile. “Turned a lot of heads.”

The blanket draped figure on the bed stirs. Without opening his eyes, my grandpa lifts a paper-skinned hand, thumb gently touched to middle finger, and mimes a coupled whirl across an imaginary dance floor.

~

“Why is it taking so long for me to die?” he whispers to my brother. To his God. We have nothing to offer but musty blankets and ginger ale. Tears. What is it to be alive in a disintegrating body, your mind as sharp and quick as razor wire? We are only here to bear witness.

~

We’ve spent the day dazedly rolling through airports. Since our departure, my grandfather’s drifted into an unresponsive state and my grandma’s fallen—fracturing her spine. My own bones, brain are brittle with exhaustion, and it’s midnight before we finally shut our garage door. Home.

The ammonia stink of piss greets us. When we flip on the light, the dog smiles next to a cold puddle of urine. It’s clear from her balloon-shaped belly that her mysterious illness returned while we were gone. Of course.

“We’re going to have to put her down, you know.”

There’s nothing left in my personal armory. I admit defeat by dropping my luggage onto the floor and grabbing a roll of paper towels and carpet cleaner.

~

I don’t pick up the phone, even though I know who’s calling, and why. I’m at work, trying desperately to focus on the swamp of tasks that accumulated during my absence, and I have zero privacy. Despite that, I give in and listen to the voicemail twenty minutes later.

“…grandma’s doing better, sitting up and taking calls. Don’t think they’ll be doing surgery. I don’t get any service in her hospital room, and everything calms down around 7 p.m. You should give her a call. We did end up switching funeral homes, and I’m trying to get that figured out today. I thought you’d want to know that I had to get grandpa’s wallet for his license, an ID, and when I opened it, an old picture of you fell out. He loved all of his grandchildren, but I just, I thought you should know. Your picture was the only one.”

~

I can’t call.

Frost

Sorina watched one of the dwarf’s gnarled hands come to an uneasy rest on the heavy hammer suspended from his belt. The other meaty paw white-knuckled the handle of a massive tankard still resting on the bar. She made a point of slowly unfastening the leather baldric that secured her runeblade to her back, carefully propping the entire harness against the wooden stool at her side before taking a seat.

“How d’yae know Raiek again?” the dwarf rumbled, squinting up at her beneath his woolly, red brows.

She paused. “Frost?”

~

“Frost!” she called, the hollow echo of her voice nearly lost in the storm.  She wrenched her battle-axe free from the entrails of a rapidly cooling body and pointed a long finger toward the moaning figure of a shield-bearing woman. With a squeal, a shaggy ghoul leapt from the corpse at her feet and set upon the struggling paladin with his yellow, blunted teeth. The wailing stopped.

“Have you seen these little books they carry around with them, Shackleton?” Raiek Frost smirked, emerging from behind a decrepit cabin. An embossed, leather-bound tome sailed through the red rain and landed at her feet. The pages splayed against the desecrated ground, ink smeared beyond recognition. “Pathetic.” Even with the poor visibility, his eyes were blue lamplights illuminating the pale outline of his face.

She kicked the libram toward an arm that had lost the rest of its person. “Who were they with?” she asked, wiping her axe on a stained tabard before fastening it to her back. The corpses bore no scarlet tabards, argent tokens, or symbols of the so-called Lightbringer. Nothing but their little books and a ramshackle assembly of dented, gray armor.

Done with its feast, her ghoul trundled over, hunkering by her side.

“No one, it seems,” Frost replied, upending a simple leather purse that had been tied to one of their belts. “Just some young fools who think that the Light makes them invincible.”

“Still.” She smoothed back her water-drenched hair. “A little strange, no?”

“Paladins!” he spat, sneering at the spread of bodies steaming in the rain. “Mindless lunatics incapable of perceiving anything beyond their petty cause. Probably some new ‘order’ trying to convert the carrion grubs and make a name for itself.”

She snorted, laying a blood-spattered gauntlet on her ghoul’s shoulder. “Come. Let us be done here. Perhaps there are stragglers we have missed.” With a grin, she started toward a muddied trail where two death chargers stamped impatiently.

“Wait.”

Shackleton turned, arching a thin brow over the glowing sockets of her eyes.

“We’re going to burn them. Every last one.”

~

“Aye, Raiek Frost.” The dwarf nodded, inching his hand from hammer to knee. The tavernkeep deposited a glass of caraway burnwine in front of her, which she briefly considered. She rubbed the slender stem of the glass between her thumb and middle finger before fixing the dwarf with a sunken-eyed smirk.

“We have had a history of ah—how you say? Successful busy-ness ventures.” 

Exposure

Leaf peepers, those voyeurs of dappled death, 

perverts accoutered with disposable cameras,

deviants hoping for a bared glimpse of a rouged 

maple or slender birch paling by the roadside.

They delight in nature's subtle malevolence,

the slow turn of chlorophyll unrenewed, the

brilliant rigor mortis of carotenoids, anthocyanins:

a deciduous lividity. Always, they depart before

the end, when the brown, crinkled ghosts of once

splendor, of "Quick, hun! Take a picture!" descend,

waiting to be burned or buried. 

Clowder

When the last cat is chloroformed, and

we swallow the frightened cries, steal the rumbles from their throats;

when we bare our teeth over the pinned bodies,

hold the warm hearts in our hands;

when we draw sanguine whiskers with scalpels and slowly shed our clothes,

stalk the halls wearing their matted coats, and

we forget ourselves, howling 'til we're hoarse—

until the others come to silence us, 

we will revel in our borrowed skins and scratch the bones of our oppression.

Sleepwaking

Misfirings begin at dusk. Already she’s intimate with the minute hand

marching forward, announcing the triumph of a second passing, her skull

buzzing with six thousand anxious insects. There’s no time. She upends

bottles of water into her bromeliads, refolds rows of clothes, piles

Tums in little pyramids. She counts spare cylinders of Chapstick, teeters

on the only two legs of a wooden chair touching the floor

and draws her index fingers beneath her eyes, testing the

almost wrinkles, the soft purple hollow. Endless lists skim the dark lake

of her consciousness, and she flounders, briefly breaking the surface. In that

moment, she stares at nothing, everything, wishing less for sleep

and more for blankness, a certain unrippling quiet. Fear creeps

into curled limbs, but she emerges from the cocoon, shakes the lingering

stiffness from her body. She begins reorganizing the desk, her deliberate

fingers washed white by the monitor’s light. Nothing now but the hum

of a computer, the hushed whisper of breath. She catches her darkened

reflection in the window glass, stares at, through the glare, and considers

the sleeping populace before her. Envies. 

Solicitude

Before it rains,

a low-pressure system swirls beneath my patella

and slips slowly past my internal Coriolis

back into pure atmosphere.

Before it rains,

I feel the aching damp, a catch

in each unhurried step – umbrella spines

briefly declining to align before reaching

an understanding.

Before it rains, I carry

this interminable gray sky, knowing

in the marrow, in the interstitial fluids,

a storm is coming. 

Valentine

At precisely 6:14 p.m., a key turns in a door. As it opens, a slice of fluorescent brilliance knifes into a twilit room, illuminating a white cat. The innocuous bundle of fluff remains impassive until the person attached to the key strides into the isosceles light and pushes the door shut. Locks it.

“Miao,” the cat grouses.

“Seriously,” replies the man.

As he tosses his coat over the back of a couch, loosens his tie, and collapses into a chair, the cat mounts the top of the battered leather throne and warms the nape of his neck.

They sit together in soundless ambivalence, waiting for the next moment to steal them. 

In Just Spring

When the weather is just warm enough, I pass streams of school children spooling around sidewalk bends. They run as part of some morning PE ritual, following the long concrete path from school to street to orange cone. This cone marks a half-mile halfway point, seems to signal, we are in the home stretch.

 

And if I'm waiting at the interminable red light on the corner, I'll watch the first pack of runners round the corner: preteen boys with neon trainers and gangly, long-legged gaits. They easily lope past their friends and make for the cone, slivers of teeth gleaming through open-mouthed grins. Those early runners toss their unruly hair like would-be stallions, offer high fives to the peers they pass. We know we are fast.

 

Eventually the groups of runners thin, and spans pass between one boy and the next. Their frames are not built for knifing through the chill morning air. Doggedly, they pursue their classmates, heads low and chests heaving, fighting their way upstream without the reckless grace of the pack leaders. No smiles. No hand-gesture displays of camaraderie. I see nothing but grim determination, or perhaps desperation. We will catch you, someday.

 

For me, the light is finally green.