Dust

She was a girl of dust,

speckling the sunlight.

Casting no shadow,

carrying no weight,

A wispy gray smudge upon your fingertips.

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house / a dream i once had part 6

Something about being warmed by the sun made her feel alive.  Everything – all the good and bad – left her head when she felt the sun fall across her face. But more and more, she found the boy and the house casting long shadows in her mind. The plan he had made for her – the food and now the house that he provided – gave her a measure of security and comfort that she had not expected.  But as she watched the house take shape, glimpses of her prior life would find her.  She knew that if she stood still much longer, her memory might catch her.  She would try to shake away these troubles, hoping to hold the light upon her cheeks and chase away her dark thoughts.

But when she would return to the field every evening and stand in front of the unfinished house, the sadness would swell up in her. She knew she could not stay. But she could not bring herself to leave either.  Heavy with indecision, she would tuck herself away in the field for the night and let her worry float up among the stars.  Days and nights passed and soon, the house would be done.  And she would need to make a choice… but for now, she simply walked toward the sunshine.

On the night he finished the house, it was a full moon and frost sparkled across the field.  Overwhelmed by the sight of it, she walked around the structure to take in its fullness.  When she completed one slow circle, she took a deep breath and crossed its threshold.  And the house came alive around her.

Grandmother

When I took a shower this morning, clumps of hair swam toward the drain… so many that the water started to back up.  Stress, I’m sure.  And because I can’t bear to be stressed out about stress and what it’s doing to my body, I ignored the hair.  I stood ankle deep in soapy water and willed the hot water to wash away the sleepy fog in my mind.

Sometime before I rinsed my mind of last night’s dreams, an image of my grandmother floated to the surface of my thoughts.  As she aged, my grandmother lost most of her doll fine silver hair.  Even as it thinned considerably, she would still tend to her hair as many woman of her generation did: once a week, she would put on a freshly pressed cotton print dress, white gloves and a hat and walk to the local “beauty salon”, which in that small town was really just an extra room in someone’s house.  All the women went on the same day and made it a social event.  Coffee and cake would be served, and they would chat while they took turns sitting under the care of the stylist — who was really just a farm widow who needed extra money.  When it was my grandmother’s turn, the stylist would use a beautiful silver handled brush with the softest bristles and gently comb what remained of my grandmother’s hair.  The stylist always managed to stretch this out into what seemed like the better part of an hour, at the end of which she would hold up a small mirror so my grandmother could approve.

I would impatiently watch this grand farce slumped in a chair with my too-long bangs and uncombed mop.  I would not let anyone touch my hair.   I wanted to be playing outside in my bare feet.  I did not want to be sitting in a salon with a bunch of old ladies.   And I did not want to wear frilly white socks with pinchy black patent shoes.  I could not appreciate yet the love that went into the task of the stylist.  I did not know of the importance of feeling like a beautiful woman, even if it was just for a day and even if it was just pretend.

I finished my shower.  I sat in front of the mirror and carefully brushed my hair. Or at least what was left of it.

house / a dream i once had part 5

When he finally finished the house, frost glittered in the morning on the crown of each row.  The girl seemed untouched by the turn in weather, but he brought her a blanket and a warm shawl anyway.  He left these things on the steps of the little earthen house as a sign to her that the house was now complete.  He had fulfilled his promise to her.  He was secretly quite pleased with himself, and he felt it was a fine house for the girl.

While he had been building the house, another plan had taken shape in his mind, but he did not share this plan with the girl.  This plan, he held to himself.  He came to the field the next morning with food for the girl, and she was standing at the threshold of the house, waiting.  She invited him inside, and offered him a place on the blanket to eat with her.  He was delighted by her simple offer and took his place next to her.  They ate in silence, but he did not care.  He was happy.  When they finished eating, she rose quickly, bowed her head to him and left the house.

He was surprised by how swiftly she moved; he had been enjoying the time together and did not want it to end.  He wanted the chance to talk to her.  But she was gone before he could stop her.  He stood in the doorway and watched her walk away – to where, he still did not know.

And then anger seeped into his body and took hold of his mind.  He had expected the house to hold her in place, near him.  He had patiently built this structure, confident in the knowledge that it would bring her to him. And yet, she was leaving the house.  She was leaving him.  He had thought that he knew how to make her stay but now he was not sure.  Doubt filtered into his joints and a tense energy filled his limbs.  He wanted to run after her but wondered if he would just be chasing her shadow.  Instead he sat down on the blanket to wait for her to return to the house.  His house.  He wanted to smell her and touch her and make her real.

As he waited, the uncertainty gnawed at him and fear crept into the corners around him.  Surely she would return.  He wanted her to return.  She would come back.  She must come back.  He had not imagined her existence.  His heart raced at the sounds the wind carried and at the shadows the light brought – surely it was her, he thought.  But it never was.  When she returned, he would make her understand this one thing: he built this house for her and she was his now. And she would not leave again.

He waited well into the dark of night.

Starlight / a fragment of writing

Staring up at the milky way,

she felt herself disappear

and become a star far, far away

from the pain so intense.

The iron railings that trapped her,

The concrete that held her, all fell away

And her soul opened up to the night sky.

She joined the constellations, and

Shone her starlight upon the little girl she left below

Wrapping her tender heart with a warm glow, and

Holding it through the darkness.

Click clack

I learned to type
To the sway of country western songs

Yellow Rose of Texas
Clattered from my fingertips

I made up words
To fit the syncopation of the beat

My teacher never knew
Until she hummed a bar

Then she realized
How catchy my typing had been

I learned to type
But I never wrote a lyric

Denny’s

She was not the typical latch key kid of her generation:  Instead of sitting at home alone, she became a regular customer at Denny’s – you know, the restaurant that was “always open.”  This was where her mother worked and at one point, where almost her entire family worked.

After school, she would plop herself at the bright pink and orange counter and wait.  She gradually developed a routine.  She would do her homework or read. She would eat a bacon cheeseburger and sip Dr. Pepper slowly through a straw and wait for the evening shift to end.  While she waited, the other regulars, an oddball collection of older men, would keep her company.  They gave her lessons in life, based on their own hard luck woes.  They told her all their stories and jokes – even the ones she was too young to hear – at least twice and sometimes three times for good measure.  And they loaned her books so she would have a way to pass the time when there was a lull in the conversation.

She listened to the tales of these men, which were sometimes every bit fiction, but she preferred the books.

She particularly liked the books that Big John loaned to her. They called him Big John because he was just that: big.  At 6’2″, he towered over the tiny girl.  He had a massive beard and fuzzy hair mashed up under a frayed baseball cap. His booming voice was full of gravel, and he wore thick smudged glasses.  His giant hands were heavily calloused and stained with oil.  He looked dirty and a bit feral. The first time she met him, she cried because when he reached down to shake her hand in greeting, she thought he was going to swallow her whole.  And she was not a child who cried easily.

He was a long distance truck driver who floated in and out of town but always found time to stop in at Denny’s. He would sit at the counter with the rest of the regulars, smoke cigarettes and drink strong black coffee for hours. He said less than the other men and mostly kept to his books.  He loved science fiction – the stranger, the better – and westerns – which were really just love stories for grown men.  She read whatever he read.  And he always had a book in his truck for her.

Big John was a romantic.  And he was a dreamer.  He was one of the first people to give her the idea that another life was possible, one that could be very different and far richer than the one she inhabited.  He would slide a new book toward her and tell her that there was a world beyond the counter at Denny’s.

And luckily, she believed him.

house / a dream I once had part 4

She would just appear at the edge of the cornfield every morning to collect her food from him.  She would eat and then disappear again, usually for the entire day. He did not know where she went but sometimes he caught her watching him from afar, standing under a lone tree that twisted upward between the fields.

He could not tell where she hid herself at night, even though he had walked every row of the fields himself.  He wanted to find evidence of her physical existence. He needed to know that she wasn’t some shadow in his mind, a creature he dreamed up under the hot sun.  He had resisted the desire to touch her, which might have put his fears to rest, but he was worried that she would vanish if he did. So instead he just walked the rows looking for the imprint of her small frame in the dirt.

And he worked. He worked on the house and then he worked the fields. He worked alone and when twilight lined the horizon, he would let nightfall carry him home.

Mouse

The conversation was not going well.

He wanted to know why she wouldn’t take a trip with him.  She knew he was looking for a fight of some kind – that he wanted to hear her say the words so he could twist them back onto her, and make it her fault somehow.  She saw the trap he was laying and she tried desperately to sidestep it.

She made feeble half-excuses.  He pushed her a bit more and then shifted things again.  This was a pattern she knew well.  Her unease grew.

She waited for his next approach.

He switched the topic to something that happened years ago.  A faded memory to her, but sharp in his mind.  It alarmed her that he remembered so many details and that she held so few of them.  It would make it more difficult for her to play the game well.  He pressed her ever so slightly.  He was reshaping the memory as he spoke.  She had a retort, but again, they were not words she could let cross her lips unless she was prepared for the fight.

And she was just looking to avoid the fight, to let it play out until the end without conflict.  But if he kept this up, she would no longer have a choice.  She knew it would be an ugly thing, this fight — and she preferred not to have it.

Then, he suddenly dismissed her, and she was released.

Aged

I rush home early to attend back to school night.
Gradually, I realize that I am surrounded by elderly men who are long beyond retirement age.They have lost their purpose but not their habits.  These worn warriors cling to their battered briefcases like shields as they wander slowly to and from work. They have cloth handkerchiefs tucked in their pockets and a copy of the Wall Street Journal folded crisply under their arms.These men surely rise before dawn, awakened by old dreams and fears that still linger.  They arrive early to the small, musty spaces held aside for them, often a long fall from their once grander offices, to attend to their personal affairs.  They befriend fellow commuters to pass the time.  They take long lunches with old colleagues and scribble notes onto yellowed legal pads for no one in particular to read. Their computers sit unused, mysterious office statuary.  They observe the niceties of a bygone era – and the not-so niceties as well.
These are the aging titans of the Street whose human frailty now shows on their ancient faces.